3 August 1998
NO MORE WORD GAMES
BY GERRY ADAMS MP
There is no big secret about republican strategy, just as there is no big secret about British government and unionist strategy. They want to maintain the union and we want to end it in order to secure our objective - Irish reunification and independence. We are Irish republicans. We want an end to partition, an end to conflict and division.
The talks process and the Belfast Agreement did not settle centuries of British interference in Ireland. Major issues remain unresolved. As Irish republicans we believe that Britain's involvement in our country has been disastrous for us and for them also. Britain has never had any right to be in Ireland. Britain will never have any right to be in Ireland. But the British government can play a positive role by trying to redress some of its wrongs and by helping to create the conditions for a peaceful transition to a just settlement and an independent and united Ireland.
This requires more than words or word games about whether the war is over.
It demands action, consistent and continuous until we have a democratic peace settlement. Sinn Fein is working for an end to war on this island. Our peace strategy is the cornerstone of our party policy. The process of conflict resolution has been difficult and frustrating for everyone. In particular I am very conscious of the difficulties which unionists face in participating in a process of change and engaging with those which it sees as its enemies. But they should stop making excuses. They should start talking. Now.
The war will be over, when:
- all of those who have engaged in war - and some are still engaging in war - stop;
- when the British army of occupation, which still maintains a huge military presence in republican areas, demilitarises instead of remilitarising;
- when all of the prisoners are free;
- when there is justice and equality;
- when we have a proper policing service;
When all of these matters have been tackled and resolved and we have a democratic peace settlement, then we will with some sense of certainty be able to say that conflict is now part of our past - that the war is over.
Sinn Fein's peace strategy seeks to achieve this goal. We are totally wedded to democratic and peaceful means of advancing our political objectives. In the context of the peace process we have delivered. We have demonstrated our good faith by taking an entire constituency of republican activists into a totally new phase which I think the people of this island recognise has the potential to bring about a peace settlement.
Mr Trimble and his colleagues could help us all to move more quickly toward peace if they were prepared to join in partnership with nationalists and republicans in managing the changes which are coming. Demanding a formula of words, which is yet another pre-condition, and saying that they won't talk to Sinn Fein unless we say this, or that, is foolishness and I believe is seen as foolishness by increasing numbers of people within unionism.
We have an unprecedented opportunity to build a new future and what do the unionist leaders do? They indulge in word games instead of leading their people positively towards the future.
Delivering a peace settlement needs dialogue. Yet the unionists still refuse to talk to republicans or to deal with us on the basis of the rights of our electorate. If unionist leaders would embrace the need for change, realise that we want a shared future with them, and that the best change is one which we and they manage, then a peace settlement and the benefits which would flow from it would be within our grasp.
The reality is that the Good Friday Agreement is not a peace settlement. It does not claim to be. However, it is a basis for advancement. It is transitional. It is an accommodation. It heralds a change in the status quo. It is a transitional stage towards a democratic peace settlement. And it could become a transitional stage towards reunification. But that will require hard work, determination and commitment on the part of Irish nationalists and republicans.
From Sinn Fein's perspective it is absolutely essential that there is no departure from the Good Friday Agreement in legislation which the British government introduces into the British Parliament. We signed up to the Good Friday Agreement in good faith and we expect that it will be implemented in full.
The Agreement identified those areas where change has to come, including demilitarisation, constitutional issues, the equality agenda, the Irish language, prisoners and human rights.
Since Good Friday the unionists have attempted to dilute the changes contained in the Agreement. The pro-unionist elements within the civil service and British establishment who are against change, have attempted to hollow out key areas of the agreement.
For example, the `Northern Ireland Bill' currently going through the British House of Commons is supposed to deliver on some of the changes agreed on Good Friday. When it was published the draft Bill raised for Sinn Fein a number of serious concerns. Our analysis of the Bill concluded that the way in which it was drafted weakened provisions of the Agreement. This was particularly true in the areas of equality and human rights.
Sinn Fein produced a preliminary response to the Bill; a comparative response, and then a comprehensive list of amendments.
The Bill has now moved from the British Commons to its House of Lords where Unionists will continue their attempts to alter its content.
At this point the British government has accepted amendments which strengthen the Bill, thus bringing it closer to the Agreement. And we are maintaining a constant vigilance and dialogue with the British government which involves scrutinising the Bill, amendments which have been put, as well as commitments made in contributions to the debates by British government Ministers.
For Sinn Fein the task of building on the Good Friday Agreement is ongoing and a priority. Many of the matters not covered in this Bill can and should be dealt with through supplementary legislation. We have already seen this in relation to prisoners, but this should also happen in respect of equality, symbols and emblems, the Irish language, demilitarisation, policing and to the all-Ireland bodies.
There is a heavy onus on Mr Blair to ensure that the Agreement is not undermined. The key word now must be `delivery'.
It is essential that the Agreement also delivers on the Executive, and on the all-Ireland Ministerial Council; it must deliver on the equality agenda; deliver on the release of prisoners; deliver on demilitarisation; deliver on the promised constitutional change; deliver on equality for the Irish language; deliver on a new policing service, and deliver on the other elements of the Good Friday Agreement. And all of this on the basis of equality.
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