26th November 2002
Planning for a New Ireland - a New Future
Forum for Peace and Reconciliation
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams MP speaking at a re-convened meeting of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in Dublin Castle this afternoon said:
Ba mhaith liom a rá ar son Shinn Fein go bhfuil áthas orainn bheith anseo inniu.
I dtosach, ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil ar an Bhreitheamh Caitríona Bean Mhic Aonghusa, agus ar an Uasal Muiris Mac Aoidh agus ar ndóigh, ar gach duine anseo, as an sár-obair atá deánta acu ar son an Fhóraim Um Shíocháin agus Athmhuintearas.
At times in this process we all get carried along with the twists and turns, the ups and downs, and the highs and lows.
However, sometimes it is worth stopping and taking stock of where we are, where we have come from, and where we collectively want to go.
We should cast our minds back to when we first came together in this Forum.
It was in the aftermath of the historic IRA cessation of August 1994 - over eight years ago.
It was a time when the then British government was still refusing to hold inclusive peace talks. When it was more interested in playing word games and talking about `decontamination periods' than in real peace.
And while this Forum was no substitute for multi-party talks, it did strengthen the embryonic Peace Process.
It provided a Forum for discussion on key issues on an essential all-Ireland basis.
It asserted that the Irish government and the parties in this state supported the Peace Process and had a stake in it.
And those of us, who met here, and wider nationalist and indeed unionist Ireland, knew that we were beginning a journey that could eventually allow us to emerge from decades, centuries of bitter and divisive conflict.
Think about the events since then.
At that time many thought that we could not have successful negotiations. But we did, and we reached an Agreement, and we saw that Agreement ratified overwhelmingly by the people of this island?
Could anyone here have envisaged that we would also see the establishment of the first all-Ireland political institutions since partition?
Or that Irish republicans would be sharing power alongside unionists and others in a unique system of government in the North, with all-Ireland interlocking structures and political institutions?
But we did achieve this.
At that time in the early 1990s, other countries were also embarking upon similar journeys to resolve long standing political conflicts. We only have to look now at the situation in the Middle East to remind us of the devastation that has resulted from a failed conflict resolution process.
A process in crisis
Our own conflict resolution process has not been without its difficulties.
Yes, we have achieved much but the work of building peace, of reconciling differences, of fashioning a new political dispensation for this island, has not been an easy one.
So despite achieving much we still also face many problems and challenges.
Since the Good Friday Agreement was signed four and a half years ago we have been through a succession of protracted crises and detailed negotiations.
Following each of these republicans took initiatives, some quite unprecedented in their scope, to save the process.
For its part the British government repeatedly promised to do what it promised to do initially in April 1998 - to implement the Good Friday Agreement. Regrettably, over the last four and a half years these commitments on policing, demilitarisation, equality, human rights and the Irish language have not been honoured.
The result is that the process has been destabilised and republican and nationalist confidence in its ability to bring about the promised change has been undermined. And this is not the belief of nationalists alone.
During Tony Blair's recent highly publicised Belfast speech the British Prime Minister admitted:
- That the British government has not implemented the Good Friday Agreement;
- He said that talk of progress sounds hollow to people living in interface areas in North Belfast or others such as the Short Strand, who are living under siege from unionist paramilitaries;
- He admitted that nationalists `were treated as second-class citizens;
While Mr. Blair's recognition of the reality of discrimination is welcome, his government's failure to act on these matters and its decision to move outside of the Agreement and suspend the political institutions, in the midst of an ongoing unionist paramilitary murder campaign, is disastrous.
Multi-party talks - What next?
The question now is where do we go from here.
This is a very serious crisis - clearly the most serious since the Agreement was reached - but one important thing on which all of us here today must agree and that is that the Good Friday Agreement is the only show in town.
There is no alternative.
If anyone here today, in government or opposition has a different view then let them spell it out.
If not then let our attention be focused on implementing the Agreement, the whole Agreement and nothing but the Agreement.
Last week saw the commencement of all-party discussions. I welcome the commitment of the two governments to bring forward a comprehensive agenda for the talks dealing with all of the outstanding issues.
If this is our starting point then I believe that we must begin by persuading the British government to reinstate the political institutions, to bring an end to the suspension legislation that has now been used by it on four separate occasions so far.
But resolving this crisis requires more - it requires the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement on policing, on demilitarisation, on the issue of arms, on equality and human rights.
These are not Sinn Fein positions. They are universal rights.
These are not concessions. They are entitlements. As Irish people living in our own country these fundamental and modest statements to equality should be our birthright.
Every party here in government or opposition therefore has a duty to unequivocally promote and defend these entitlements.
Tony Blair, I believe, should see Britain's strategic interest being best served by the democratic resolution of the long-standing quarrel between the people of these two islands and by a process of reconciliation.
That requires the British government to break with its partisan past and build a future of equality as required by the Agreement.
It is up to us collectively to bring London to that point.
Looking to an Ireland of Equals
I am not attempting to minimise the very serious problems we all face, but I believe we are best served by looking forward to the opportunities which are in front of us.
We should explore the potential that exists to bring about fundamental social, political and ultimately constitutional change on this island and in our relationship with our closest neighbour, Britain.
Our collective goals should be to promote and plan for the establishment in the short term of:
- The full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
- A National Campaign against Sectarianism and for Equality
- Irish national rights
In the longer term this Forum could play a leading role in working and planning for:
- A National Representative Democracy on this island. That is an end to the union, and the achievement of national reconciliation and unity.
These are all entirely legitimate and appropriate political objectives. Progress toward them can be made by not only calling upon the British to honour their obligations, but for example, the Irish government moving to fulfil its commitment to provide for northern representation in the houses of the Oireachtas as it has promised to do.
For our part the Sinn Fein group in Leinster House will bring forward a Green paper on Irish unity during the course of the present Dail.
There is no point decrying the absence of unionists here today.
All of us need to engage on all these issues with them.
We need to be tenacious in our determination to continue a genuine process with unionism to resolve conflict and to shape our shared future on the island.
This Forum also has a responsibility to defend the rights and entitlements of all Irish citizens.
Tá sé de dhualgas ar an Fhóram seo fosta, cearta gach saoránach sa tír seo a chosaint go dlúth.
That includes the people of North Belfast, of the Short Strand or Larne.. This means addressing the issue of ongoing unionist paramilitary violence, of discrimination, of inequality, of human rights abuse and demilitarisation.
This means taking up and supporting the right of Irish Citizens to be represented in all aspects of the public life of the nation. We know that there is no easy road to peace and freedom.
We know that there is much work ahead of us.
And each day will bring new difficulties and new challenges.
We will have to be very resilient, tenacious, determined and magnanimous.
But if you want to do something worthwhile with your life, if you want to make a difference ? then there is nothing more important ? more patriotic than to build peace and justice in your own place.
And that's what we have to be about.
So let us elevate our vision beyond the suspicions and fears of the past.
Let us work to prepare for that future.
Let everybody here today use this opportunity recommit ourselves to the Good Friday Agreement.
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