[Sinn Fein]

15th October 2002

We all must redouble our efforts to save Agreement

Speaking in Leinster House today on the suspension of the institutions in the Six Counties, Sinn Fein Dáil group leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said:

``The suspension of the Good Friday Agreement institutions by the British government represents a temporary success for the anti-Agreement unionists - but only a temporary success. Their strategy to block political change can only be short-term. They know that this process will have to be revived, and the Good Friday Agreement fully implemented.

``The current crisis dates not from the raid on Sinn Fein's offices in Stormont but from the Ulster Unionist Council meeting of 21 September when the anti-Agreement forces in that party finally succeeded in having their programme adopted. That programme seeks the rolling back of changes which have taken place, the exclusion of Sinn Fein and the renegotiation of the Agreement.

``We in Sinn Fein are totally committed to ensuring the full implementation of the Agreement, which was supported in referenda by the overwhelming majority of the Irish people. It must not be forgotten that the people of the 26 Counties made very significant changes to the Constitution on the basis that the Agreement provided for an inclusive Executive, an all-Ireland Ministerial Council and all-Ireland Implementation Bodies. There is an obligation on the Irish Government, therefore, to help ensure that these institutions are re-established at the earliest opportunity.

``Sinn Fein is fully aware of our obligations under the Agreement which we have fulfilled throughout this process. All parties and both governments must work to achieve complete demilitarisation and the ending of all armed groups. Both governments, in particular, must ensure that a political vacuum is not created.

``Last night's suspension of the institutions will do nothing to advance the Good Friday Agreement. On the contrary it will serve to exacerbate an already difficult situation by providing anti-Agreement unionists and members of the British establishment, including a large section of their `security' apparatus, with the impetus to attempt to row back even further on the Agreement. This must not and cannot be allowed to happen.

``This is the people's agreement. It was massively endorsed throughout the island. It was a contract achieved on our part and on the part of the Irish government in good faith. It involved compromise on all sides and had in its uncomfortable aspects for all parties. This was the nature of the agreement and the long drawn-out negotiations that led to it.

``John Reid in suspending the institutions, for the third time, has done the Ulster Unionists dirty work. He has slavishly played out their threat to bring down the executive if, as they demanded, my party was not excluded. He and his government have joined with David Trimble and the other nay-sayers in the Ulster Unionists to undermine an Agreement that had already brought us a long way from the bitter conflict that preceded it.

``An internal unionist battle for party political advantage is now being waged between the UUP and the DUP with the Assembly and the Executive being used as the battleground and the destruction of Good Friday Agreement as the ultimate prize. Last night's suspension was never about Colombia; it was not about Castlereagh; and was not about the raids on Sinn Fein's offices in Stormont. It is about bringing an end to changes that were required of unionism in respect of the Agreement. It is their reluctance to share power and to be part of real change that is driving their agenda to have Sinn Fein ejected from Stormont.

``For our part I would defy anybody to point to areas where Sinn Fein have not lived up to our responsibilities in relation to the Agreement. We have been one of the main driving forces behind it. Our commitment to the peace process and to the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement is absolute. It is a pity that others have not also been so committed.

``The British government must not be allowed to present themselves as some sort of impartial arbiter; that they too have responsibilities in all of this. There are a range of issues, involving all aspects of the Agreement which are within their power and indeed within the power of the Irish government. The British Secretary of State, John Reid, in particular has been slow to fulfil his responsibilities in relation to demilitarisation, policing, criminal justice and other matters.

``We need to know from the two governments what they intend to do to address these matters. We need to know how they plan to honour the commitments they made yesterday.

``We are waiting to play a full and constructive role in re-establishing the institutions and to having the Good Friday Agreement implemented in full.

``We need to focus on the benefits the Good Friday Agreement has brought us over the last number of years. We need to be mindful of the fact that the situation in Ireland today is dramatically better today than it was ten years ago and that by building on the progress made since the beginning of the peace process it can improve still further. We know that it isn't yet a perfect peace. We know that there are difficulties now and probably will be more difficulties ahead but the reality is that the Good Friday Agreement offers the best and in my view the only way forward.

``We all need to redouble our efforts to save the Agreement from collapse. We have worked too hard to allow Unionist party political interests and British security services to destroy it. The Irish government must play a more robust role in defending the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement.''

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