30th March 2003
Sinn Fein Ard Fheis 2003
Michelle Gildernew MP speaking during the peace process debate
Five years ago the British government committed themselves to removing their war machine in Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement was very clear. It demanded the removal of security installations and the removal of the Crown Forces from our streets.
After Weston Park the British again publicly committed themselves to a rolling programme of demilitarisation. Indeed it was ten years ago that the then British Secretary of State Peter Brooke publicly claimed that an IRA cessation would be immediately met with imaginative moves on this issue from the British side.
Yet five years on from Good Friday and ten years on from the first IRA cessation, the spy posts are still there. The British Army are still on our streets. The apparatus of war is staring us in the face every day of the week. And Mr Blair wonders why republicans and nationalists are sceptical of his commitment to acts of completion.
We are not interested in rationalisation. We are not interested in the British view of normalisation. We are only interested in what the Agreement demanded. Either the British are serious about resolving conflict or they are not. Their positive public soundings have not been matched by their actions on the ground. The Crown forces continue to harass nationalists on a daily basis. The use of Plastic Bullets has dramatically increased, particularly by the British Army. The PSNI travel around in armoured jeeps and operate from military barracks. South Armagh and other areas are still blighted by spy posts. Mr Blair you don't have to tell us that you have not implemented the Agreement - we see it everyday.
At Weston Park a senior member of the SDLP said that the issue of demilitarisation was only an issue for Sinn Fein and the British government. He was wrong. It is an issue for every citizen in the six counties and indeed beyond. Recent public statements from the SDLP seem to indicate a change in their view of this matter. We welcome this. However if they think that dressing up a three year old Police Authority rationalisation document and selling it as demilitarisation is on then they are very much mistaken. If the SDLP are genuine in wanting to see demilitarisation then well and good - but they should be warned that as with policing the nationalist and republican community will not accept the SDLP entering a negotiation and then settling for less than the Agreement demanded. As with policing Sinn Fein will not be letting the British off the Good Friday Agreement hook on this matter.
The Dublin government have responsibilities in this regard also. They committed themselves to dealing with the oppressive Offences Against the State Act. Five years on there is no change. The process is stalled and it seems that many within the establishment in the 26 Counties are predictably resisting removing this particular weapon of oppression.
The message coming from this Ard Fheis cannot be any clearer for the British government. We don't want to hear the excuses any more. We don't buy any rubbish about so called republican dissidents or the level of threat being posed by the IRA. You are stalling, you are breaching an international treaty and the time for you to get your act together has long since passed.
We don't want to look at your troops any more. We don't want to live underneath your spy posts. If your are so keen on these installations then relocate them to London or Birmingham.
Over the past two years the various British pseudo gangs - the UDA, UVF and LVF have been engaged to varying degrees in an anti-Catholic pogrom in Belfast and elsewhere in the six counties. Predictably the security apparatus was not deployed to prevent attacks on the Short Strand or North Belfast. Predictably no pipe bomb factories where uncovered. Predictably what we got from the PSNI was endless media briefings indicating that this was a tit for tat situation. We all know the reality to be very different.
This is the reality of the British presence on our streets. No amount of briefing or spin can distort this reality. The best defenders of the peace process on this island are the republican community in our heartlands in Tyrone, Fermanagh and South Armagh. Tony Blair knows this. He knows that one republican committed to making this process work is worth more in terms of building a peaceful future than any number of British soldiers stuck in spy posts or fortified barracks. He knows that one republican prepared to walk the streets selling this process is worth more than any number of armed PSNI members skulking through our areas in armoured cars.
It is time for Mr Blair to face down the Generals in Whitehall. To challenge the securocrats at the heart of his system. The people still fighting the war. Those still seeking to defeat Irish Republicanism. Those people who created the unionist paramilitaries. Who invented shoot to kill. Who organised the murder of Pat Finucane and countless others. Because the reality is that these are the same people who have sought to subvert and stall progress on the range of issues. Not just demilitarisation - but Policing, Criminal Justice, Human Rights and Equality.
These are the people responsible for the slow pace of this process. These are the people who Blair has to pull into line. His track record up to now is not good. We will be watching closely in the time ahead. The message is very clear. It is time to deliver on your commitments. Time to complete the job of removing the apparatus of war. And time to complete the job of implementing the Agreement.
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