27 May 2003
Contribution by Martin Ferris TD to Sinn Fein Private Members debate on Cancellation of Elections in the Six Counties
This morning in Belfast Sinn Fein launched a document ``Who sanctioned Britain'sDeath Squads? - Time for the truth''. A copy of it if not already available willbe distributed to all members of the House over the next two days. I would askDeputies to read it carefully.
While not directly related to the issue we are debating here today - thecontents of this document will give people an understanding as to why so many northern nationalists and republicans are alienated from and mistrustful of theSix County state and those who run it - and also why they are becomingincreasingly angry and disillusioned with the so-called `democratic process'.I don't need to rehearse the arguments here today but it must be remembered thatthe nationalist/republican population of the Six Counties never asked to be partof that Statelet. They never asked to be abandoned by successive Irishgovernments. They never asked to be treated as second-class citizens in theirown country. It was something foisted upon them without even the slightestreference to their consent - and then they were left to struggle on their own inthe situation in which they found themselves.
In that situation they were at best ignored and disenfranchised by the Britishstate in terms of social and economic opportunities and resources and at worstconsidered a threat to Unionist dominance that could and should be dispensedwith. The recent limited Steven's report, which is strongly referenced to inthe document launched this morning, estimates conservatively that since the1980s up to 80 citizens have been set up for targeting by the British State. Twenty-nine of those were shot dead or blown-up.
Bearing this in mind there is nobody here that could argue that thenationalist/republican population of the Six Counties hasn't absolutejustification for distrusting the intentions of not only the British Governmentand the Unionists but of the 26 County Establishment as well. However, they didthrough the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement try to understand andreach a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict.
And so following over a decade of an intensive peace process ? the signing ofthe Good Friday Agreement, the establishment of the Assembly, the election of across-party Executive what do we have. The Good Friday Agreement still waitingto be fully implemented. The Assembly suspended. And democratic electionscancelled. The British Government at the behest of the Unionists did all ofthis.
Republicans have lived up to all of our responsibilities under the terms of theGood Friday Agreement. Indeed we have gone way beyond our responsibilities inthe interests of making the Agreement work, while others have been activelyengaged in trying to wreck it. We have stretched ourselves to breaking point toensure that the Agreement doesn't unravel.
We have reached out to Unionism. We have sought to accommodate them where wecould. We have made, to what is to many of our supporters, painful andprofound compromises to reassure Unionists of our bona fides. But to manynationalists and republicans it seems that this is all one-way traffic. Thereis no evidence from either the British Government or the Unionists that they arereally interested in bringing about the changes that are necessary to ensurethat the Agreement not only survives but also flourishes.
The recent actions of the British Government have compounded the sense of angerand frustration that exists within nationalist and republican communities notonly the Six Counties but throughout the island of Ireland. It is extremelyironic that for years and years Sinn Fein was being constantly lectured at bynot only parties in here but by the British Government about putting ourarguments to the test and standing in elections and getting a mandate from thepeople.
Of course these arguments were being promoted in the misguided belief thatRepublicans had not got widespread or popular support. The steady rise of SinnFein both north and south has exposed that as nothing more than wishfulthinking.
Now the rules, according to Britannia, are to be rewritten to suit this newreality. Elections can be cancelled. Institutions suspended. Democracydenied.
It is not good enough to declare that you are opposed to the activities of the British Government. It is not good enough to say that it is wrong. There hasto be a vocal and physical manifestation of that opposition. The BritishGovernment cannot be permitted to continue to just walk over the democraticrights and entitlements of Irish people, living north or south.
But to force the British Government to live up to its responsibilities the IrishGovernment must fulfil its own responsibilities under the Good Friday Agreement. They must repeal their draconian and repressive legislation that has beenintroduced during the course of the conflict. They must also release allqualifying prisoners still detained years after they were supposed to bereleased.
For our part in this House we have this evening and tomorrow evening in thecourse of this debate an opportunity to put some of the wrongs that this State as responsible for right. We can state in unequivocal terms, on an all-partybasis, our opposition to the anti-democratic actions of the British Governmentin unilaterally cancelling the May 29th elections. We can demand that TonyBlair re-enfranchise the people of the Six Counties by re-scheduling theelections for the earliest possible date in June. And we can ensure that thosepeople in the Six Counties who aspire to representation in an Irish electedforum rather than Westminster can speak and take part in debates in this House.I would urge deputies of all parties to support the motion before us today.
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