[Sinn Fein]


Crossing the Rubicon

By Sinn Fin President Gerry Adams MP, May 18th 2000 Today's decision by the UUP leader David Trimble to recommend his party's return to government is welcome news. This decision should have been taken two weeks ago. The IRA initiative was universally recognised as courageous and imaginative. It provided the opportunity to move forward. It is now time for the pro-Agreement majority in the UUP to enthusiastically embrace this opportunity, face down the rejectionists and join with the other pro-Agreement parties in implementing the Good Friday Agreement. The two governments also have to convince nationalists and republicans that they have not departed from the commitments made in their Joint statement, Joint letter and in the Good Friday Agreement. So once again the peace process has come to a defining point. But by now we have learnt, or we should have learned, that this will not be the last defining point. It appears to be the character of a process such as this. This time the defining moment is for the Ulster Unionists. But they are not on their own. In order to advance the process to where it is now Republicans had to make hard choices. The magnitude of these should not be underestimated or undervalued. 30 years of war was the consequence of all that passed since Ireland was partitioned. Those who waged the conflict have a special responsibility but as we have all acknowledged by now those who acquiesced to, or sustained, tolerated or ignored the political conditions in which conflict endured, cannot absolve themselves of responsibility The absence of peace is caused by the presence of injustice, inequality, and a lack of democracy. Conflict arises when people feel they have no alternative way to influence the situation. That is what the peace process is about. The Good Friday Agreement is a product of that process. That is what it is about also. It is about the management of change. Our future depends on how that change is managed. So far the management of the process has been totally unsatisfactory. In all of this the policy and the strategy and the attitude of the British government is crucial. Of all the players its role is the central one. The objective reality at this time is that it is the government which has jurisdiction over this part of the island. Republicans and unionists cannot make progress unless the British government is prepared to change the political conditions in which we live. The best way to manage change is through an inclusive process, based on equality, in which the participants agree on what has to be done and then act collectively in partnership to achieve this. This would not be easy even in an enterprise where the participants have common objectives. It is enormously more difficult when the participants have opposite and conflicting objectives. So compromise is required. But compromise after 30 years of conflict can be the biggest challenge of all. Unless self-interest takes over. It is or it should be patently obvious to all political leaders that the self-interest of all sections of the people of this island are served by the creation and the maintenance of a new dispensation which can guarantee a peaceful future. In other words peace is in the best interests of everyone. And therein lies the worm at the heart of the peace process. What price peace? Rejectionist unionism, sections of the British establishment, the Tories and the securocrats, don't want peace. A conflict resolution process leading to a negotiated settlement causes great problems for them. They prefer a more simple definition of conflict resolution. That is one side -- their side -- wins. But in a successful conflict resolution the only winners are the vast bulk of the citizens not any of the combatant groups. So a conflict resolution process is hugely threatening to these elements. For them a peace process is war by another means. And in the throes of all the propaganda, fears, rumours, and the hurt inflicted on all sides during 30 years of armed conflict, those who are committed enough to their political objectives to join political parties or armed groups are faced with real challenges and difficult choices. No longer is it as straightforward as it used to be when the war was the reason or the excuse to avoid such decisions. Everyone has to come to terms with that. The British government, the Irish government, all the political parties and all the people of this island. Things are never going to be the same again. That is what unionism has to recognise. In fairness some already have. But they have yet to cross the Rubicon. Will they do so on Saturday week? No one knows. Two weeks ago in an atmosphere of despondency and very low expectations a joint statement and joint letter from the two governments triggered an unprecedented IRA statement. Together these were universally welcomed has having the potential to break the deadlock in the process. This was rejected by all the usual suspects. But the response from the UUP was one of cautious welcome, with some of its leaders, in particular John Taylor, going much further than that. After this initial welcome however the UUP went on to raise other issues, to seek more concessions and to open up other negotiations. They were encouraged in this, despite Sinn Fin protests and representations, by the attitude of the British government. The hard reality is that the UUP leadership has never fully embraced the Good Friday Agreement. Despite protestations to the contrary the UUP strategy has been based upon an effort to hollow out the Agreement, and to reshape the effect of its implementation so that these reflect the unionist view. This has been the basis of every move forward by the UUP. At every juncture they have moved on their own terms and in a conditional way based on those terms. While the rest of us may have to live with some of this the fact is that the process cannot survive if there is a change in the context represented by the Good Friday Agreement, or indeed by the recent joint position of the two governments. Mr. Trimble and his colleagues will have to take this on board as they approach their defining moment. But so too must Mr. Blair and Peter Mandelson. They should not misjudge how their response to unionist hardboiling has effected republican attitudes this week. Equality has been a fundamental tenet of Irish republicanism since it was founded over 200 years ago, and has been the campaigning focus of Sinn Fin for decades. In itself this a problem for some unionists -- if we are for it they believe they have to be against it. In many ways Sinn Fin has been the engine for change. Sinn Fin's resounding success in two recent by-elections in the north indicates that this is appreciated by the electorate. However gratifying that is for our party it presents difficulties for other parties and anyway a nationalist or republican driven process was never likely to be very attractive to most unionists anyway. So none of us should underestimate how challenging all of this is for the Ulster Unionist Party. Despite this, equality also has to be a central tenet of this process. It has to be its outcome. But some unionists feel threatened even by the concept, or the idea of equality. This is one of the gaps that has to be bridged because when unionist leaders realise that equality is in unionist interests also, then this process will click. Because then a partnership and a basis for trust, based upon this common self-interest will have been established. Will they embrace this concept? Yes, in my view, eventually. But only after more difficult, agonising, and frustrating ups and downs, false dawns and convoluted perambulations and only, as I have told Tony Blair many times, when a British government makes it clear by deed instead of semantics, that there is no other option. That is why republicans have to be long-headed and strategic in our approach. We are the ones who want the maximum change. Sinn Fin is the one party that wants to see a total transformation of the situation, so we have to be patient, resolute, and magnanimous. But we must be assertive in how we create the conditions to achieve this. There will be much frustration that yet another week has to pass before the UUP makes up its mind to do what it agreed to do over two years ago. There is also widespread suspicion that the governments, particularly the British government, has moved towards the UUP position. I am told that this is not the case. When Sinn Fin negotiated the package which created the present opportunity we did so having learned from the Mitchell Review and from the period leading up to the British government's suspension of the institutions. That is how and why Mr. Trimble has a deal to put to the UUP but that deal has to be the one agreed at Hillsborough on May 5th. I reminded both governments of that again last night.