7 January 1999
No Further Equivocation on Executive - Adams
Gerry Adams in an article in todays Irish News bluntly spells out Sinn Fein's view on the current state of the peace process and what is required now to inject new momentum and dynamic into the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. It is, he argues, ``now a matter of implementation, not interpretation, unless the two governments acquiesce to the unionist game plan and abandon the Good Friday Agreement.
Therefore, the next steps in the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement are clearly visible. The Executive must be set-up and the all-Ireland Ministerial Council established. There can be no further equivocation on this issue. The Good Friday Agreement is very clear on both the time frame and the chronology for the establishment of these institutions''.
Full Text of article:
Sinn Fein's peace strategy, and the many political and personal risks which we have taken, allied to the efforts of Irish nationalists, the Irish government, Irish America, and most recently the Blair government in London, have brought about a situation unthinkable only a few short years ago.
Hundreds of people, who would otherwise have died in the conflict, are alive and well today because of these endeavours. And there is hope where for almost three decades there was nothing but despair and tragedy.
The Good Friday Agreement was the best deal which the participants to those negotiations could reach. It was painstakingly and exhaustively put together.
We sought to tackle honestly and openly all those issues which have given rise to conflict, as well as those matters which are symptoms and a legacy of that conflict.
Almost 10 months have passed since that historic day. During that time unionists have sought to minimise the intent and potential of the Agreement, exclude Sinn Fein from our rightful positions on the Executive, and reshape the Agreement in a way which will spell the continuation of inequality and exclusion for nationalists.
The negotiations prior to Christmas on the all-Ireland policy and implementation bodies, and the 10 departments, including an equality department, are recent evidence of this unionist strategy. The `deal' which was announced at 4.a.m. on Friday 18 December was the culmination of a very lengthy negotiation between the Irish and British governments, the Unionists, Sinn Fein and the SDLP.
While some progress was achieved with final agreement on the 10 departments, and we now have 6 all-Ireland policy and implementation bodies, some of which are significant, Sinn Fein retains considerable reservations about the outcome of these negotiations and about some aspects of how they were conducted and I have put these very firmly on the record with everyone involved.
The success of the unionist tactical go-slow approach; the decision not to establish a separate Equality department, but to place it at the `centre'; the exclusion of inward investment from the all-Ireland business and trade body, and the debacle around tourism, give rise to serious concerns as we now enter a critical period in the peace process.
But leaving this to one side, one thing is for certain, that is that the conclusion of these negotiations has cleared the way for the establishment of the executive and the other institutions. That is why Sinn Fein entered into the recent negotiations.
For us the priority was strategic and political. We wanted to ensure that the legislative timetable required by the two governments was kept to; we wanted to ensure that the UUP did not succeed in achieving its short term aim of limiting the potential of the Strand Two aspects of the Agreement; and we wanted to clear away the ``undergrowth'' and to move towards the actual formation of the executive with Unionist, SDLP and Sinn Fein membership.
The position on this is now a matter of implementation, not interpretation, unless the two governments acquiesce to the unionist game plan and abandon the Good Friday Agreement.
Therefore, the next steps in the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement are clearly visible. The Executive must be set-up and the all-Ireland Ministerial Council established. There can be no further equivocation on this issue. The Good Friday Agreement is very clear on both the time frame and the chronology for the establishment of these institutions.
Under Executive Authority in Strand One it is stated: ``Executive authority to be discharged on behalf of the Assembly by a First Minister and Deputy First Minister and up to ten Ministers with Departmental responsibilities........
Following the election of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, the posts of Ministers will be allocated to parties on the basis of the d'Hondt system by reference to the number of seats each party has in the Assembly''.
David Trimble and Seamus Mallon were elected in June of last year to their positions. Unionist tactical delays have stretched the meaning of the word `following'' out of all recognition, both to their discredit and the erosion of confidence in the process.
This same section of the Agreement goes on to state: ``The Ministers will constitute an Executive Committee, which will be convened, and presided over, by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.
The Assembly will meet first for the purpose of organisation, without legislative or executive powers, to resolve its standing orders and working practices and make preparations for the effective functioning of the Assembly, the British-Irish Council and the North/South Ministerial Council and associated implementation bodies. In this transitional period, those members of the Assembly serving as shadow Ministers shall affirm their commitment to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means and their opposition to any use or threat of force by others for any political purpose; to work in good faith to bring the new arrangements into being; and to observe the spirit of the Pledge of Office applying to appointed Ministers''.
The Unionists have successfully resisted establishing the shadow bodies and have succeeded in forcing the governments to negotiate the all-Ireland policy and implementation bodies outside the structure outlined in the Agreement.
Paragraph 7 under Strand 2 The North South Ministerial Council sets out most clearly the time-table. ``As soon as practically possible after elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly, inaugural meetings will take place of the Assembly, the British/Irish Council and the North/South Ministerial Council in their transitional forms.
All three institutions will meet regularly and frequently on this basis during the period between the elections to the Assembly, and the transfer of powers to the Assembly, in order to establish their modus operandi''. None of this has happened because of the UUPs obstructive tactics.
David Trimble has skilfully exercised a veto which he has used to drive a coach and horses through the letter and spirit of the Agreement.
His use of the decommissioning issue is probably the most obvious example.
There is nothing in the Agreement which requires the IRA to decommission before Sinn Fein, or the other parties with the required mandate, can take up the ministerial positions which is the entitlement of their respective electorates.
All of the participants to the agreement accepted that the ``resolution of the decommissioning issue is an indispensable part of the process of negotiation''. We noted the progress made by the Independent International Commission and confirmed our intention ``to continue to work constructively and in good faith with the Independent Commission, and to use any influence they may have, to achieve the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms within the two years following endorsement in referendums North and South of the agreement and in the context of the implementation of the overall settlement''.
The decommissioning issue is not a pre-condition or an obstacle to progress on the establishment of the institutions, nor is it linked with progress on the release of prisoners, the creation of a new policing service, or the British government's commitment to publish an ``overall strategy'' dealing with demilitarisation.
Mr Trimble is using this issue, like the last British government, to frustrate progress within the peace process and to prevent movement toward an inclusive, democratic peace settlement. Mr Trimble is deliberately seeking to delay the implementation of the Agreement. Indeed, there is an increasing number of republicans and nationalists who are coming round to the view that he is seeking the collapse of the Agreement. They believe that Mr Trimble wants to create a new negotiation process which would produce another and different Agreement, more to the liking of unionists, and which excludes Sinn Fein.
Regrettably the leaderships of all of the unionist parties still see the peace process in terms of victories and defeats. They are frightened by the prospect of fundamental change in the fabric of our daily lives and in the institutions which will govern this island, which is the promise of the peace process. This was best articulated by Jim Molyneaux who described the IRA cessation in 1994 was probably the most destabalising development in 70 years. There is a sense that there are those among the unionist parties who would favour a return to the apparent certainties of conflict rather than pursue a process full of new and unpredictable challenges and change.
They must not be allowed to dictate the agenda or stand in the way of the momentum for peace which has developed over the past 5 years.
The American poet Langston Hughes has written:
Hold on to dreams
for if dreams die,
life is a broken winged bird
And cannot fly
The Irish people in referendums last May gave voice to their dream of a new future of peace and justice and freedom. It is our collective responsibility to vigorously and unrelentingly pursue the goal of peace. The next steps in achieving this involve the full implementation of the Agreement which the parties who signed up to that Agreement promised they would do and which the people fully endorsed in the May referendums. Sinn Fein is totally committed to the full implementation of all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement. That means the urgent establishment of the Executive and the all-Ireland Ministerial Council.
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