[Sinn Fein]

Address by

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams MP

to the Institute of Directors, Dublin

26 November 1998


May I begin by thanking the Institute of Directors for inviting me to speak here today.

I know that the Institute of Directors has contributed much to the economic debate in recent years, both on your own terms, and along with other representative bodies as part of the Group of 7 in the six counties. I'm therefore pleased to place on the record Sinn Fein's view on what we consider to be a critical issue for the future.

While I would not expect all of you to agree with everything I say on economic issues, never mind other matters, I believe that we do have much in common. For example, we each want to see Ireland achieve its full economic potential. Sinn Fein believe that this should be based on a fair distribution of wealth, aimed at eradicating poverty, providing meaningful employment, and based on an equality ethos.

In seeking to understand Sinn Fein's approach to economic policy it is important to set our attitude in context. Sinn Fein seeks a new Ireland - an agreed Ireland - a United Ireland.

We are coming to the end of the year which marked the 200th anniversary of the rising by the United Irish movement.

The republican and democratic goal of that time; of uniting catholic, protestant and dissenter is as valid today as it was then. It requires the creation of an entirely new social and economic order in Ireland - one which cherishes all the children of the nation equally and prizes equality and justice.

Sinn Fein is a radical party, a party of innovation, with new policies and new voices. We have demonstrated a capacity and a willingness to create and to adapt to changing circumstances. We are willing to suffer the discomfiture of change for a better future. We have a political vision of the future founded on the belief that the gap between the potential of Ireland today and the reality that is Ireland today can be closed.

Despite the record economic growth rates achieved over the past few years in the so-called `Celtic Tiger economy' of this state - and I commend all involved because this growth was unimaginable as recently as ten years ago - much of this wealth creation has yet to touch large sections of Irish society. Ordinary people and whole communities within urban and rural Ireland continue to endure entrenched unemployment, poverty, emigration, multifaceted disadvantage, social exclusion and endemic inequalities. Recent research from the ESRI shows that economic inequalities have actually increased in recent years. This is a damning indictment of the economic policies of successive governments in Dublin.

It is our view that the continuation of economic division within Ireland will simply continue to frustrate Irish efforts to maximise economic and social benefits for all on the island. We welcome greatly the efforts of those in the business sector who have promoted the idea of the single island economy. I urge you to continue your efforts. Let us promote economic networks and corridors across the island. Let us push for the harmonisation of economic policy on this island.

Let us increase business links throughout the island and harmonise the tax regimes and create a new economic reality in which the border no longer matters.

I know that many northern businesses are concerned about the differences between tax regimes in the six and 26 counties. The disparity between the 10% and 30% corporation tax rates in both states is an impediment to economic development. Sinn Fein supports tax equality on the island. This change in tax must be matched by an equity in income tax. This is not just a challenge for the British government. It is a challenge for the British government. It is a challenge for the Irish government also.

It is worth recording at this point that in their recent joint report on Strand 2 of the Agreement the CBI and Irish Business and Employers Confederation have travelled a long way down this road in their support for all-Ireland approaches to many areas of policy. I applaud their initiatives.

As they have recently stated, other policy changes should be enacted in an all-Ireland context, such as the integration of telephone dialling codes, postal services and charges, and the development of transport infrastructure. In the case of postal services, this would eradicate the ridiculous situation where it costs significantly more to send a parcel from Newry to Dundalk than it does from Belfast to the Shetland Isles.

Business, both the small and medium sized indigenous firms and the multi-national corporations, must facilitate investment and economic development. In particular, Sinn Fein believes that business has a central role to play in helping to regenerate disadvantaged areas, such as those that I represent in West Belfast, but also in so many other parts of this island.

Business must show a commitment to these areas, not only by investing in new factories or services or by expanding those facilities that already exist, but by injecting private resources to build the social infrastructure which is so clearly lacking at present.

Such action could, for example, include the development of training and educational facilities, research and development units or the expansion of tourism and cultural activities.

It has almost become the conventional wisdom, in Ireland as elsewhere, that globalisation is now so dominant that little or nothing can be done through policy to affect national economic change.

The strength of global market forces are said to be so great that they dictate the economic fortunes of national or state economies and limit, if not exclude completely, the possibility of effective national policy.

We fully reject this thinking and believe that substantial scope still exists for domestic economic policy that can make a huge difference to people's economic and social position. Public expenditure and taxation policy, together with the whole range of industry, technology, employment and training policies, never mind education and health policies, all have a deep impact on the economic course of nations. In the specific case of Ireland, domestic economic policy would be greatly facilitated if we could build a fully integrated island economy, with fully integrated policy across the board.

We all have a responsibility to do what we can together to meet the many challenges which we face. The full and pro-active implementation of the all-Ireland policy and implementation bodies presents as big a challenge to the Irish government as anyone else, including the unionists. I believe that Mr Ahern recognises this and Sinn Fein have made our position very clear indeed.

For example, it also seems to me imperative that the IDA and the IDB should be merged, especially in the light of the latest findings by the Audit Office in the six counties which highlighted the failure and incompetence of the IDB in attracting inward investment.

Sinn Fein will continue to sit down with the business sector and with others to tackle the deep economic and social problems which continue to disfigure too much of Ireland today.

Sinn Fein wants to demolish the physical, the psychological and the political barriers which divide the people of this island. These owe much to the legacy of our past and continued British jurisdiction in Ireland, as well as to partition.

The peace process is about tearing down those barriers. It is about creating a new dispensation on this island for the new millenium which raises our common humanity above the prejudices and divisions of our past.

The Good Friday Agreement was the result of many years of hard work and months of difficult negotiations. No one got everything they wanted but we each secured enough to give the Agreement a fair wind. It is not a peace settlement but it is the basis for progress towards one. The Good Friday Agreement is a charter for change.

The Agreement was reached on April 10th. That was 7 months ago. Since then the sense of hope and expectation which swept through this island and beyond has been slowly and deliberately eroded. The forward momentum and the potential for real and immediate change has been slowed to the point of stagnation.

The UUP is now engaged in a planned and determined attempt to hollow out the core of the Agreement which is based on inclusivity and equality. The UUP will apparently accept change but only on its own narrowly defined terms.

During the Good Friday negotiations the Sinn Fein delegation pointed out to both governments the difficulties which lay ahead. I did the same thing in telephone conversations with the US President Bill Clinton.

In fairness both the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister and the U.S. President were very conscious that the path to peace would be a problematic one because a real peace settlement requires justice, and justice demands change. So even though the majority of unionists signed up to the Agreement they clearly would have great difficulties in embracing the changes which this entailed.

So no one can be really surprised that David Trimble has successfully stalled the establishment of the Executive and, most crucially for nationalists, the all-island Ministerial Council. This means that unionists have been allowed to exercise a veto over the implementation of the agreement, which was endorsed by the rest of the parties, by the two governments and, most importantly, by the vast majority of the people of this island. I told the British Prime Minister this yesterday when I met him.

Every element of the agreement which would have signaled change and a new beginning for nationalists is under attack from unionism. In short the unionist strategy is to undermine the substance of the agreement from within.

When I met Mr Blair a fortnight ago in London I asked him to enter directly into this process and to use his influence in an assertive way.

Since he indicated his intention to go to the north, we have seen some progress made in the negotiation of the all-Ireland policy and implementation bodies. Sinn Fein has been positively engaged in this work and we welcome any progress towards agreement in this crucial area.

This morning I listened to Mr Blair's address to the Oireachtas. I was pleased to have been invited there. And Sinn Fein have actively lobbied for northern representation in institutions here in the south and particularly in the Oireachtas.

It is clear from Mr Blair's engagement in the peace process so far that he can be the British Prime Minister who can change Anglo-Irish relations utterly, and to the mutual benefit of the people of these islands. Sinn Fein believes that democratic opinion in Ireland, Britain and internationally should be working for Irish unity and independence.

This is the big challenge facing political leaders in Ireland and Britain in the middle to long term. But in the short term the challenge is to see the full implementation of all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement.

I have already noted that the British government tried to set quite modest public expectations about this visit, but the Agreement is meaningless unless its rhetoric becomes reality. Mr Blair knows this. There are three steps which have to be taken now.

These are the establishment of the Executive; the establishment of the Ministerial Council and the establishment of the policy and implementation bodies. All the substantive work has been done. Every other aspect of the Agreement which is the responsibility of local parties is being honoured by these parties with the exception of the unionists. So Mr Blair has to make the difference.

It is not enough for any of us to endlessly lampoon David Trimble on the one hand or to pretend that there is no crisis. The lesson of the Good Friday negotiations is obvious. Unionism will not voluntarily move away from the status quo. For example, only when Mr Blair and the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, along with President Clinton focussed together on the need to reach agreement did we secure the Good Friday Agreement.

It is clear that when the two governments take the initiative, movement is possible, and when the British government decides to use its influence unionism can be moved into a real engagement.

I am very conscious of the difficulties and the fears that unionists face. They don't trust nationalists and republicans, they don't trust the Irish government and they don't trust Mr Blair's government.

Nationalists and republicans too have our fears, uncertainties and our doubts. We do not have all the answers but we are prepared to talk and we are prepared to listen and we do have a vision for change.

We want to see a pluralist Ireland which recognises and celebrates the diversity of all the people of this island. We want to make peace with our unionist brothers and sisters. We want to share the island of Ireland with unionists on a democratic and equal basis.

Equality for all citizens is central to any appreciation that the Agreement is working, particularly for those who are still labelled second class within the six county state. There can be no settlement without equality. This means the full implementation of the equality agenda, of human rights and justice. Equality is not a threat to unionists.

It means civil and political rights for unionists as well as nationalists and republicans.

The responsibility for progress, for overseeing the implementation of the agreement lies fully with the two governments. Obviously we all have a responsibility to play our roles but it is the governments who must lead the way. Already we can see a deterioration of the situation;

These are all worrying signs that the old agenda prevails.

In the absence of a decisive and determined approach by the two governments the agreement will suffer a slow collapse through default and a consequent loss of credibility. Already there are worrying signs of frustration and disillusionment within nationalism. While everyone is reluctant to use the word crisis to describe the current state of the peace process there can be no doubt about the seriousness of the situation.

The lack of movement, the failure to deliver on agreements reached and commitments made, can only erode confidence in this process and give credibility to those who have argued that politics cannot deliver real change.

I have detected in communities where hope was high only 7 months ago, a psychological detachment from the process, a sign that those communities are preparing themselves against anticipated disappointment.

I believe we can overcome these difficulties. I believe we can still turn it around. I believe we can achieve a democratic peace settlement.

If we are to realise the potential of the agreement, if we are to deliver real change and prove that politics works, then the two governments must take joint initiatives. The focus of recent days must be accelerated and consolidated so that we stop the drift and quickly move on.

Any further attempts to rewrite the agreement must be firmly rebuked; the stalling must stop; the structures must be set in place; and the deadlines must be met. In short the agreement must be implemented.

If we are successful in achieving this then the economic potential, contained both in the Agreement and on this island, will be unlocked.

The challenge before us is formidable. We are not only trying to solve the problems of today but we are attempting to fulfil the promise of a new Ireland and a new beginning for all of our people.

For all of its uncertainty we cannot turn our backs on the future. We must face-up to its challenges. We must face the future together - as partners regardless of where we live on this island and oblivious of our denominational or political differences. This must be our common endeavour - it is the imperative of peace.

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