24 February 1997
THE PEACE PROCESS
The Current Situation and Background
Sinn Fein was established in November 1905. We are an open, legally registered Irish republican political party organized on an all-Ireland basis. Our electoral mandate is regularly subjected to the democratic test at the ballot box.
Sinn Fein believes that the root cause of conflict in Ireland is British policy towards Ireland, particularly the partition of the country. This consistently failed to bring about a just and democratic society.
Sinn Fein, through the use of exclusively peaceful and democratic means, is committed to ending the union with Britain and to the establishment of a new, agreed and inclusive Irish society. The Irish people have the ability talent and vision required to settle their differences through a process of democratic negotiations. We are convinced that an agreed, non-sectarian, pluralist and non-sexist Irish society that guarantees the full protection of all religious and ethnic minorities is the desired wish of the vast majority of the Irish people.
SINN FÉIN - PROMOTING PEACE IN IRELAND
``The island of Ireland, throughout history has been universally regarded as one unit.
The historical and contemporary existence of the Irish nation has never been in dispute.
The Irish people have never relinquished their claim to the right to self-determination.
For centuries, the relationship between the British government and the Irish people has been the relationship between the conqueror and the conquered, the oppressor and the oppressed.
The perennial cycle of oppression/domination/resistance/oppression has been a constant feature of the British government's involvement in Ireland and the Irish people's rejection of that government's usurpation of the right to exercise control over their political, social, economic and cultural identity.''
- ``Scenario For Peace'' A Discussion Paper issued by Sinn Fein May 1987
``I remain convinced...that we can overcome all...obstacles to achieving justice and peace in our country. The task of creating the conditions in which peace can be established in Ireland is a daunting challenge but one which ultimately will be successfully met by the Irish people.''
- Letter from Gerry Adams to John Hume at the commencement of Sinn Fein-SDLP talks in 1988. 17th March 1988.
``The heart-felt aspiration of most people in Ireland is for peace. A genuine peace process needs to recognize that an end to conflict does not, of itself, lead necessarily to a lasting peace. Irish history has taught us that a mere cessation of hostilities leads inevitably to a recurrence of the conflict in the future. A peace process, if it is to be both meaningful and enduring, must address the root causes of the conflict.
``Peace is not simply the absence of war or conflict. It is the existence of conditions of justice, democracy and equality which eradicates the causes of war or conflict. It is the existence of conditions in which the absence of war or conflict is self-sustaining.''
- `Towards a Lasting Peace in Ireland' A discussion document issued by Sinn Fein , February 1992.
THE CURRENT SITUATION AND ITS BACKGROUND
The political talks process at Castle Buildings has been stalemated since the day of its commencement eight months ago on 10 June 1996.
Local government elections will be held in late May of this year. A general election to the British parliament at Westminster will take place before then.
The talks process will soon be adjourned.
A general election to the Irish parliament in June is also a very real possibility.
Participants and political observers, alike, universally share the view that there will be no movement from the British government before the elections.
The credibility of the talks process has diminished apace with the entrenchment of the impasse. The popular attitude, in any case, was already one of suspended hope and expectation arising from the British governments' bad-faith engagement over the three year period of June 1993 - June 1996.
JUNE `93 - JUNE `97
The possibility of an Anglo-Irish peace process was kick-started by the Irish peace initiative of early summer 1993. This was created by the joint efforts of the then Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Albert Reynolds, SDLP party leader John Hume and Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams.
Irish-America played a pivotal role in placing the issue of peace in Ireland on the Presidential agenda. President Clinton's administration in an even-handed and positive way has encouraged the search for peace. So too have members of both sides of the Congress in the Senate and House of Representatives. Indispensable work has been done on issues of democratic rights including jobs discrimination.
In December 1993 - more than three years ago - the two governments produced the Downing St. Declaration. In February 1995 - two years ago - the two governments produced the Joint Framework Document which set out their parameters to a political settlement.
On the back of public commitments to negotiate a settlement by the British government the IRA, on 31 August 1994, declared a complete cessation of military operations to enhance the potential for peace. This brought widespread acknowledgement - including from the British government - that the ``greatest opportunity for peace'' in seventy years had been created.
From the Irish peace initiative until now - a period of three years and eight months, not a single word of negotiation has been spoken on the substantive issues at the core of a peace settlement.
Likewise, matters which require no negotiation whatever - political, social, economic and cultural discrimination, equality of treatment - have not been redressed.
It is entirely conceivable that this situation will still exist, four years on, in June 1997.
GOOD FAITH ENGAGEMENT REQUIRED
The British government has the major political responsibility and power to advance the peace process.
The British governments public commitments to negotiate a settlement proved to be empty. They were immediately supplanted by a strategy of prevarication including the erection of a new precondition of the surrender of IRA weapons prior to the commencement of negotiations; a new precondition around a bogus issue which Albert Reynolds forthrightly and publicly described as a new precondition.
Prior disarmament as a requirement of parties coming to the table has no precedent in peace negotiations anywhere in the world. The erection of this new precondition and the disingenuous demand that it be resolved ahead of other negotiations that are all based on the principle that `nothing' is finally agreed, until everything is agreed' saw the beginnings of the slide in the credibility in the process itself.
Sixteen months after the start of the IRA cessation, but with yet no prospect in view for the commencement of a negotiation process, an opportunity for the resolution of this specific British stall was created by the report of the International Body - chaired by Senator George Mitchell and established by the two governments on the eve of President Clinton's visit in December 1995. Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams immediately welcomed the report as a basis for progress. John Major later that day binned the report in favor of the unionist demand for elections to a local assembly and representation at any future negotiations.
Shortly after this and in its eighteenth month the IRA cessation broke down. The greatest opportunity for peace in seventy years had been frittered away and ultimately squandered by British bad faith marked by broken commitments, stalling and prevarication.
HUME-ADAMS - A NEW INITIATIVE
In the wake of this breakdown the British retrieved the Mitchell report from the bin, set a May date for elections to a Forum and participation in a talks process to commence on 10 June, 1996. In a joint statement by the two governments on 28 February and in subsequent British government legislation Sinn Fein was excluded from participation in the talks process save on the precondition of an `unequivocal restoration' by the IRA of its cessation of August 1994.
In the elections which took place in May 1996 Sinn Fein gained 15.5% of the votes cast but were locked out of the talks which commenced shortly afterwards.
In June 1996 John Hume and Gerry Adams picked up the pieces of what by now was an increasingly shattered process in an attempt to make progress. A new initiative was developed over the next three months to the point where they were able to present the British Prime Minister on 10 October 1996 with a set of reasonable proposals. They firmly believed these had the capacity to move things forward.
This itself was a remarkable achievement, because for almost all of that period the north of Ireland was caught up in acts of violence and the threat of acts of violence from unionists and loyalists arising out of their demand to hold supremacist marches through catholic and nationalist neighborhoods. Remarkable also given the fact that the British government and its armed forces (British army and RUC) buckled once again under the unionist strategy of force or the threat of the use of force which has marked unionism since its inception. And in the course of which the Mitchell Principles were cast to the side and multiple blatant breaches of the Mitchell Principles were ignored by the two governments. A situation in which Sinn Fein took - as the public record shows - the major role in keeping the lid on a highly volatile situation. But with the political blessing of London and the armed backing of the RUC and British army the supremacist marches proceeded. The British army killed one young nationalist, loyalist paramilitaries another. Scores of Catholics were driven from or burnt out of their homes, 6,000 lethal baton rounds were fired by British forces at nationalist youths.
The essence of the Hume-Adams proposals to the British Prime Minister on 10 October were the elements necessary to the restoration of a credible peace process. All of these were matters which Sinn Fein had put to British government officials and political representatives since the series of meetings which began almost three years earlier in December 1994.
WIDENING THE GAP
Throughout the development of this initiative Gerry Adams sought and received verification that the single precondition to Sinn Fein participation in the talks process was the ``unequivocal restoration'' of the IRA cessation.
On December 14 1996 the British Prime Minister publicly rejected the proposals and erected a whole new range of obstacles to Sinn Fein participation in the talks process.
The gap which has to be bridged for a restoration of a credible peace process was thus widened.
SINN FÉIN'S PEACE STRATEGY
In all of our efforts and endeavors over the past decade Sinn Fein has been guided by our peace strategy. The objectives of this are:
- to eradicate the causes of conflict in Ireland.
- to bring about the exercise of the right to self-determination by the Irish people as a whole.
- to assist and promote the establishment of a peace process to bring this about.
We hold that progress in that direction will only come about through a credible, inclusive negotiations process leading to a negotiated settlement involving:
- political and constitutional change.
- the demilitarization of Irish society.
- the ending of all forms of discrimination and in its place equality of treatment and opportunity.
Where the broad objective of a restoration of a credible peace process is concerned Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams remains in contact with a range of interested parties and individuals and in particular with SDLP leader John Hume. Despite the very real and unavoidable distraction provided by the forthcoming elections the focus and endeavors of the two party leaders remains firmly fixed on this critical matter.
BRIDGING THE GAP
In an article by Gerry Adams in the Irish Times on Saturday 22 February 1997 Sinn Fein attempted to clarify its position on the issues of concern to the British government in a way which allowed space for the British to respond positively.
Gerry Adams wrote:
It remains my firm view that an opportunity to rebuild the peace process and secure a permanent peace still exists. In seeking to break through the current impasse and to move the situation forward I would like to set out clearly Sinn Fein's view of the issues, which we believe are central to the creation of a credible and meaningful process of negotiations.
I think that it is also important, in the interest of clarity, that I set out clearly Sinn Fein's view of how these issues can be resolved and the approach which Sinn Fein will take on entering inclusive and credible peace negotiations.''
Sinn Fein wants to see an end to all armed actions and our party is committed to work for an end to conflict regardless of the difficulties involved. Our peace strategy and our commitment to peaceful and democratic methods is the cornerstone of our party policy.
Sinn Fein is committed to inclusive democratic negotiations. These will best be conducted in a wholly peaceful environment. But even if there was such an environment at this time no one knows when Sinn Fein will be admitted into substantive talks. The British government has retained a veto over our entry into substantive negotiations and neither myself; John Hume or the Irish government have so far been able to elicit a direct answer from London.
When a meaningful and inclusive process of negotiations is genuinely being offered we could, with credibility, seek to persuade the IRA to restore the cessation of August 1994. In our view this is the only effective way to proceed.
With this in mind Sinn Fein has identified both publicly and privately, a number of key issues which we feel need to be dealt with, adequately and unambiguously, if we are to make a credible argument that an inclusive and meaningful process of negotiations is an offer.''
The issues are:
- The removal of preconditions to and in negotiations.
Given that preconditions to negotiations caused the collapse of the peace process last February.......preconditions need to be removed.
The removal of the gun from the political equation in Ireland is a clear objective of a lasting peace settlement.
Given the importance of this.......the approach should be one which is most likely to succeed.......The issue of disarmament needs to be resolved but without blocking the negotiations.
Sinn Fein have already stated our willingness to address all aspects of the Report of the International Body.....
Sinn Fein is prepared to consider any proposals which address the need to take all the guns out of Irish politics and we will be putting forward.....our proposals on this issue.
- The issue of a timeframe for the negotiations.
The need for a timeframe to generate and sustain momentum in the negotiations is obvious.......The two governments clearly need to take a lead on this crucial issue, a point which our party has made consistently over the past two years.
The two governments should, therefore, agree themselves and then propose to the participants a concentrated timeframe.....
- Confidence building measures.
Sinn Fein believes that an unequivocal restoration of the IRA cessation would represent the most important confidence building initiative on the IRA's part.
For its part.....the British government should outline.......the substance of a programmatic approach on issues which will generate confidence. Sinn Fein endorses the suggestions on confidence building made by the International Body in Chapter VII of their report.....
In particular, issues of equality which are democratic or human rights matters do not require any negotiation. The British government could.....act on these issues immediately.....
The issues which should.......be addressed.....are:
- Those issues which fall into the equality and democratic rights agenda.... These.....can and should be addressed immediately.
The principles of equality of treatment, equality of opportunity and parity of esteem should apply across the political, cultural, economic, social, legal and security spectrum.
- Both governments also need to urgently address a demilitarization agenda dealing with issues such as: political prisoners, emergency legislation,and policing.
- Sinn Fein's entry into negotiations.
Sinn Fein will approach the negotiations on the sole basis of our democratic mandate. We are totally committed to peaceful and democratic means of resolving political problems.....
Sinn Fein has the democratic right to be involved in negotiations and to represent our electorate on the basis of our established electoral mandate.
....Sinn Fein believes.....that any restoration by the IRA of its cessation of August 1994 will be genuinely unequivocal, containing a clear and unambiguous commitment to enhance a genuine peace process.
Sinn Fein have already publicly made clear our commitment to the Mitchell Principles and we will do so formally when we enter negotiations....Sinn Fein is not the IRA. But we recognize and acknowledge the IRA's stated intention of enhancing the democratic peace process and the IRA's definitive commitment to its success.
Sinn Fein is wholly committed to democratic negotiations and to a democratic outcome of those negotiations.
.....It is iself-evident that threats of any description from any quarter have no role to play in such a process of democratic negotiations.
I firmly believe that if clear assurances are given by the British government.....the peace process can be restored and that the opportunity to finally resolve the conflict can then be brought to a successful conclusion.
The need to address these issues should not be put off until after the British general election....
If the British government is serious about peace in Ireland, if John Major is honestly offering to deal with the outstanding issues of concern, then electoral considerations should be set aside and this should be done without further delay.
OUT OF HAND REJECTION
Forty-eight hours after the publication of the above article Patrick Mayhew summarily dismissed this renewed thrust by Gerry Adams to put the process back on the rails.
When questioned by reporters on Monday 24 February he said that the contents of the article ``were insufficient''. Interestingly The Sunday Business Post of the previous day quoted a senior Whitehall source as saying ``If you look at what is happening in parliament it is clear that the government has to protect itself with the unionists. The government is....vulnerable....there can be no great initiative.''
These remarks - allied to those of Mayhew - support the conclusion drawn by Business Post's Frank Connolly that ``The Tory government's dependency on unionist votes for survival will prevent any
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