[Sinn Fein]

15th April 2003

Fifth anniversary of Agreement marks ``crucial stage'' in peace process - Ó Caoláin

Speaking in the Dáil debate on the peace process Sinn Fein Dáil leader Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin TD said the process was at a ``very crucial stage''. He said the IRA had taken an ``unprecedented initiative'' and the two governments and all parties should respond. He urged the publication of the governments' Joint Declaration.

He said: ``This week marks the fifth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and it also marks another very crucial stage in the peace process. As we speak it is an inconclusive stage and the future implementation of the Agreement may depend on decisions made in the next few days.

``It is very important, therefore, that we approach these Statements with some restraint. Sinn Fein negotiators are working at full stretch to achieve progress. I know that both Governments are working diligently also. It is my wish and that of my Sinn Fein colleagues that collectively, all parties and both governments will overcome the difficulties of this phase and move forward together.

``I urge the two Governments to publish their Joint Declaration. It should have been published last Thursday when my party colleagues and I, along with the others parties, were in Hillsborough.

``While the Joint Declaration has not yet been published, we have had a quite unprecedented initiative by the IRA in which they have outlined to both governments their position in detail in an effort to move the process forward.

``Sinn Fein has been engaged in intensive efforts to see the current deadlock ended and the Good Friday Agreement implemented in full. The IRA has responded positively to this. The two governments have recognised the positive nature of the IRA response and have acknowledged the desire of the IRA to make the peace process work. So what is the current delay about? The two governments, the UUP, all of us, should seize this opportunity.

``On Sunday 13 April the IRA undertook to draw up a statement setting out their views on recent developments in the peace process. They said they did so because of their commitment to this process and their desire to see it succeed. In their statement to the governments they set out their attitude on the current disposition of the IRA and the status of their cessation, their future intentions, their attitude to a re-engagement with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning and engagement in a process of putting arms beyond use and a third act of putting arms beyond use to be verified under the agreed scheme.

``The IRA said they shared concepts and draft elements on these matters with others and, following an internal consultation, closed on a statement which was passed onto the two Governments.

``I believe this was indeed an unprecedented engagement by the IRA. It deserves to be recognised as such. All parties and both governments should respond positively.

``On Sunday evening last Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams stated that the governments had acknowledged that the IRA statement was positive. He found it incredible that they had not acted on the basis of this unprecedented intervention. He also stated that if their request for clarification was, as they claimed, a genuine attempt to advance matters at this point then all obstacles to progress should be removed. I understand that clarification was subsequently given.

``We need to put all this in context. The reality is that the Good Friday Agreement has not been fully implemented. The Agreement was the culmination of an enormous collective effort by the two governments and the parties to tackle the causes of conflict. It was about change - fundamental and deep-rooted change in Ireland.

``There has been significant progress. In the limited time that the institutions existed they worked and were popular. Real progress was made and the hope of further progress was generated.

``The talks have been focused on implementing the Agreement. In our discussions with the two governments and the other parties we have made considerable progress on a number of specific areas. These include policing, criminal justice, and the stability of the institutions, demilitarisation, human rights and equality.

``But critical issues remain. These include, the transfer of power on policing and justice and the suspended status of the institutions and the absence of any clear commitment from the Ulster Unionist Party that it will work the institutions in a sustainable way. There is also the attempt to introduce sanctions against Sinn Fein, which are clearly outside the terms of the Agreement. This is unacceptable.

``However, we continue to engage on these issues.

``All of the issues in the Good Friday Agreement are issues of entitlements and rights - not subject to precondition by governments, political parties or armed groups. This time five years ago the Good Friday Agreement would have been seen as an impossible achievement. Five years on let us not underestimate the advances that have been made.

``I wish all the negotiators well and look forward to real progress in the coming days.''

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