7 April 1998
Adams: History can be written this week
As the northern talks process enters its most crucial stage this week, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams MP has laid out his views on what must be done to reach an agreement. Writing for the Belfast Irish News, Mr Adams says any settlement must include all Ireland institutions with strong executive powers and meaningful British constitutional change
This peace process, if it is to mean anything, it has to be about righting wrongs; it has to be about resolving those issues which have given rise to conflict, inequality and injustice; it has to be about overcoming the fears and divisions which have for centuries blighted our island and the relationships within it, and with Britain.
It is a mighty endeavour, an awesome challenge, which no other Irish or British political leaders have succeeded in tackling before. This week, this generation of political leaders have the opportunity to begin the process of writing a new history in the relationship between the people of Ireland and Britain.
The great Irish writer George Bernard Shaw once wrote: ``Other people see things and say: Why...? but I dream things that never were and I say: Why not?''
That's the question which must be on the lips of every person who dreams of peace in Ireland. Why not? Why can't we find agreement? Why can't we reach out and embrace our enemies? Why can't we build a better future for our children?
TURNING HOPE INTO REALITY
It is the task of all of us engaged in the talks process to take that question, and the hope implicit within it, and answer it in a way which turns that hope into reality.
That is the goal of Irish republicans today as we commence the final week of our deliberations at Castle Buildings.
If the participants want an agreement badly enough there is now an opportunity to achieve it. What has gone before has failed us. Partition has not worked. British policy in Ireland has obviously failed. The days of unionist rule are gone for ever. There can be no going back to the failed policies and structures of the past. There can be no return to the abuses and bitterness which marked the Stormont period.
The Ireland of the 21st century will be shaped by what we do from this point. We have before us a unique and unprecedented opportunity to forge a democratic peace accord for all the people of the island. If this opportunity is to be translated into reality, we must all respond to it with courage and imagination.
It is our collective responsibility to make a success of the process in which we are engaged. There is no single simple policy or measure which can guarantee success. Real peace, a durable peace must be the product of hard work, a willingness to leave the mind-set of war and domination behind, and the desire to make friends with our enemies.
Irish republicans and nationalists want to move forward. To achieve that we need a partnership for peace which involves the active participation of all sections of our people; which seeks to collectively manage the massive changes which are needed; and which sees the transformation of the day to day lives of the people of this island as the essential outcome of the peace process.
It will require leadership from political leaders whose responsibility must be to take us from where we are into a democratic settlement.
REALISING OUR FULL POTENTIAL
The challenge is enormous. It is to devise constitutional and political arrangements which will allow people to realise their full potential and which will enable all the people of this island to work together in peace and harmony and with a shared destiny. It is also to agree immediate up-front changes in relation to equality, discrimination, culture, prisoners and policing which speedily impact on the day to day lives of people.
In the next four days Irish nationalists want to see their political representatives concentrating our efforts on bringing about a just and lasting peace. They are encouraged by what they see as their leaders talking and working together to normalise relationships within the island and between Ireland and Britain.
They want to see the Irish government playing a leadership role in all of this with common positions agreed with Sinn Fein and the SDLP, and together pursuing nationalist entitlements and rights. Working together we can achieve more than working separately. Working together we have the ability to persuade the British government to do what is right.
BRITISH CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGE ESSENTIAL
What is clearly needed this week is an agreement which -- constitutionally and institutionally -- is inherently transitional. An agreement which, furthermore, in the short term effects real and significant change in the nature of the everyday lives of the people.
Specifically this means placing the issue of British constitutional change at the top of the agenda. Over the last few weeks there has been an entirely one
sided focus on proposals to change the Irish constitution while ignoring key pieces of British constitutional legislation which must be dealt with as part of any agreement. Fundamental constitutional change is required in relation to the Act of Union, the Government of Ireland Act and the NI Constitution Act and other relevant legislation.
These acts represent an aggressive exercise of jurisdiction by the British government to a part of Ireland. In nature and effect they differ entirely from the legitimate, national democratic response to this interference in Irish affairs contained in the Irish constitution.
If the Irish constitution is to be changed then it must ensure that the definition of the Irish national territory is not diluted and the constitutional imperative remains. Furthermore, Irish citizens' rights must be strengthened.
At present Irish citizens in the north have no way of participating in the political life of the nation. Citizens who do not wish their representatives to take an Oath of Allegiance to the British Crown have no forum to which their representatives can go.
An important development from a northern nationalist point of view would be the right of participation in Irish political institutions. Irish citizens in the north should have the right to elect TDs to Leinster House and these representatives should be entitled to participate in all areas of government. This is something which could be facilitated through minor amendments to the Irish constitution.
A constitution should be precise and should set out legal rights and political facts. In the words of the 1916 Proclamation it must ``cherish all of the children of the nation equally''. That includes ensuring that Irish people living in the north have the same rights to representation in Leinster House, and to citizenship, as do citizens in the 26 counties.
A TRANSITIONAL AGREEMENT
We are seeking the establishment of powerful all-Ireland institutions, legislated for in both Parliaments, which can exercise executive and harmonising powers alongside consultative functions across the broadest range of functions.
What does this mean in practical terms?
Sinn Fein sees all-Ireland institutions as performing two important functions. One, a clear political role which has the dynamic and ability to develop and grow. Two, the wide range of common sense functions extending across economic, social, educational, cultural, industrial policy, policing, human rights, legal system and the administration of justice.
One simple example of how this would work in practice is in relation to economic policy. Currently we have two economies on this island pursuing separate economic strategies with massive duplication of resources and effort. It is self-evident that the development of a single island economy, the harmonisation of economic policy, a merging of the existing industrial development agencies, north and south with the same policy throughout the island, would clearly benefit everyone on the island.
If it is to be successful, all-Ireland institutions, and the area over which it has a say, must be open-ended in character, capable of evolution and of dealing with and implementing wider and wider areas of public policy. It must also operate independently with a distinct identity and be completely immune from the veto of any proposed six-county institution.
The objective of this is to diminish the negative impact of partition, encourage co-operation, common purpose and untied action throughout Ireland in political, economic and social areas.
We believe that all-Ireland institutions must be the back-bone of the future working of any agreement and its transition towards an independent Ireland.
EQUALITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS
The comprehensive, systematic, effective and entrenched protection of human rights -- civil, political, economic, cultural, justice and social -- should underpin the establishment and operation of any agreement. Specifically, the establishment of an all
Ireland human rights apparatus, as well as a constitutional court are essential.
This means any agreement must detail positions on all matters, including programmes, time-frames, mechanisms for implementation, delivery and monitoring.
The speedy release of all political prisoners through an amnesty is an immediate priority. The prisoners are a symptom of this conflict. If we are serious about resolving the causes of conflict we must also tackle the symptoms. The release of all political prisoners is an indispensable part of any agreement.
A viable opportunity now exists ``to remove the causes of conflict, to overcome the legacy of history and to heal the divisions which have resulted'', by setting setting aside the failures of the past and by building towards democratic, just and equal society in Ireland which is fashioned by the people of Ireland alone to meet our needs.
Everyone shares a responsibility to bring about a real and lasting peace in Ireland.
Republicans have demonstrated the political will to face up to our responsibilities in this. This is evident in the initiatives we have taken, both unilaterally and with others in Ireland to advance the search for peace. In the next four days we will see whether others also have the political will necessary to secure an agreement.
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