December 2nd 2002
Onus on British and Irish governments in Talks - Adams
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams will be speaking tonight at Fitzroy Presbyterian Church at a public meeting sponsored by the zero28 Project Citizenship as part of a series of events called 'The People's Process'.
At tonight's meeting speakers are being asked to specifically address the following questions.
What do you want to say to the unionist/loyalist communities at this time?
What do you want to hear from the unionist/loyalist communities at this time?
Mr. Adams will tell the meeting:
"Sinn Fein is totally committed to the peace process. The proof of that lies in the contribution that we have made, despite all of the difficulties and challenges that this process has thrown up for republicans.
There is a frustration within the wider republican constituency that there never has been any acknowledgement of this by the unionist leadership. I believe that this has a direct effect on the process and particularly upon republican and unionist confidence, or lack of confidence in the process.
I also want to acknowledge once again and in a very clear way, that the difficulties within unionism have been exacerbated by the ongoing focus on alleged IRA activities. Whether it's Colombia, allegations of IRA spying at the NIO, the break-in at Castlereagh, or ongoing reports of other alleged IRA activity, all of this is having a negative effect on unionist confidence.
Whatever Sinn Fein say, and I am increasingly annoyed at the effort to put responsibility on Sinn Fein to answer these allegations, or whatever for that matter the IRA say about these allegations, wall to wall daily coverage in the media ensure that denials are dismissed or doubted.
And of course on the republican and nationalist side there is anger, frustration and annoyance that there is little focus on the ongoing killing and sectarian campaign by unionist paramilitaries or the actions of the British forces. For example: On Saturday night a young man is killed in Ballygowan, on Sunday morning three shots are fired, two cars are burned out and a caravan destroyed in Westland drive in North Belfast, 15 families have fled the lower Shankill in recent weeks and last night two families were targeted in pipe bomb attacks and a young man was shot and wounded on the Shankill.
And yet we are told that the present crisis within the political process is fuelled by a concern about paramilitarism. I have no doubt that there is concern. However, there is a perception within nationalism that there is a different attitude towards the actions of unionist paramilitaries. Unionist leaders will reject this notion or will explain it away on the basis that Sinn Fein has an electoral mandate and, to quote our critics, that makes 'republican terrorism' different from other forms of terrorism.
This notion has to be very firmly repudiated. The use of the term terrorist to describe Sinn Fein is highly insulting to our party and our electorate. The refusal to accept our mandate and the imposition of pre-conditions shows a failure to face up to the democratic imperative of this or any other process and it denies citizens their right to vote for parties of their choice.
But it does bring us to the nub of the problem and that is that Sinn Fein has a growing mandate. That increasing mandate - we are now the largest nationalist party in the north - allied to the process of change contained in the Good Friday Agreement, is what has created the present crisis. That is the core of Mr. Blair's position. It is also the core of the unionist position. In other words if Sinn Fein did not have the support we have there would be no question of suspending the institutions, even if the allegations about the IRA were proven.
And what does the suspension of the institutions mean? It means an end to local accountability, in the all-Ireland institutions as well as the local Assembly. It shows that politics doesn't work. It underpins the point that unionism will only deal on its own terms and that the British government isn't up to the challenges presented by even the modest reforms of the Good Friday Agreement.
We are all losers in this. The Executive and the other institutions brought a measure of accountability to citizens that we have never enjoyed before. Local politicians succeeded in a very short time to bring a greater focus on daily issues - in the economy, on job creation, education, transport, health, agriculture and much more - that affect ordinary people throughout this island, but especially here in the north.
Local politicians introduced free nursing care and free transport for pensioners, scrapped the hated 11+ and oversaw a sweeping review of the health service.
As someone who believes in self-government for the island, the limited powers of the Assembly do not go far enough. But I am sure even if you do not agree with Sinn Fein on this issue, that you will agree that there is no way that a British Minister can be as democratically accountable as a local representative.
Let me deal with the current talks.
So far in our efforts to bring back the institutions there has been no substantive progress. And there will not be until the British and Irish governments come forward with time-framed programmatic implementation plans for those aspects of the Agreement which are their responsibility.
While Sinn Fein believes that the institutions need to be reinstated as soon as possible - they should not have been suspended in the first place - even if the institutions are not reinstated all other aspects of the Good Friday Agreement must be and will be fully implemented.
I say 'will be fully implemented' not because I have any great confidence in the British government, ironically unionists and the rest of us on this island have that in common, but because there is no way that we can accept anything less than the changes that are required to bed down a sustainable process.
The unionists need to face up to this.
No one should be afraid of peace.
And the outstanding issues are not Sinn Fein positions.
They are universal rights. They are not concessions.
They are entitlements. As Irish people living in our own country these are fundamental and modest movements towards equality which should be our birthright.
Equality works for everyone and rather than see it as a threat or as part of a zero sum game, unionists who want to move beyond the old agenda should be supporting and promoting this concept.
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