12 September 1997
Unionists must honour pledges in the agreement
By Gerry Adams
Last week Tony Blair said that this is an anxious time and that we are facing into a crisis. He said it is right that the alarm bells are ringing. As to resolution, he said, `We must return to the Good Friday agreement.' I fully concur with that. The alarm bells are ringing because the agreement has not been anchored. The anxiety results from the fear that in its unanchored state it will drift onto the rocks. That is where the no camp want to take it. No change. No peace. No hope. No expectation. No justice. No equality. No reconciliation. No future but back to the past. That is their vision.
The pro-agreement parties, all pro-agreement parties - the two governments, the UUP, the SDLP, Sinn Fein, Alliance, the PUP, the Women's Coalition and the UDP - must speak with a single voice. `No U-turn into the past. The agreement must be implemented.'
The last British prime minister, John Major, squandered the opportunity for peace. He did so because he was a British unionist. But Tony Blair's government is unassailable from the negative forces of unionism inside and outside his government.
Therefore the onus on Mr Blair is greater because he has the power to bring about real and meaningful change. He should use the power he has to forge ahead. He should not allow himself to be deflected, distracted or knocked off course by pro-unionist elements inside and outside the system who are still at war with republicans and who are using every device and lever to block progress.
With or without the agreement human rights, equality, justice, an acceptable policing service and many more key issues in the north of Ireland addressed by the agreement, are the direct responsibility of the British government for as long as it has jurisdiction here. The Irish government too has a political responsibility to uphold the rights of all Irish citizens.
These are the norms of a society which purports to be driven and governed by a democratic ethos. They are some of the bricks in the all of peace. But this wall needs a solid foundation.
The agreement holds out the hope and expectation that this will be built. Indeed it is that hope and expectation which has buoyed the agreement through almost 15 months of debilitating inertia. Inertia is the enemy of the peace process, the chief ally of the no camp.
The no camp, whatever party badge they wear, could have their way if the agreement is not anchored. The political institutions were designed to be the anchor. They have not been established. They are not operating. There is therefore an onerous responsibility on the taoiseach and the British prime minister and all the parties to the agreement to ensure that it is implemented as negotiated.
The agreement is viable. It can work. As with so much in the process to date the political will to make this happen is the key requirement. The negotiations which will take place over the next week are the most critical since the emergence of the peace process six years ago. Indeed they could be the most critical in the modern history of this island. By June 30 we must collectively move forward. There is no alternative.
While the outcome of the discussions is not certain there is absolutely no doubt that June 30 must see an end to the stalling, the delaying and the obstruction which have been the consistent characteristic of the unionist approach to the peace process since its conception. The present state of political limbo is untenable. Even in the most favourable circumstances the failure to implement the Good Friday agreement would create a dangerous vacuum.
Against a backdrop of escalating loyalist gun and bomb attacks and the relentless persecution of the nationalist community in Portadown, the failure of politics to deliver generates a volatile situation which is being exploited by the no camp and loyalist death squads are filling the vacuum.
There is a very real danger that events on the ground could spiral out of control. The next few weeks is, for many reasons, critical. The current growing sense of apprehension is in sharp contrast to the hope and optimism which existed 12 months ago when the vast majority of people in both states on this island voted in favour of the Good Friday agreement.
The results of the referenda north and south mean that there is a democratic imperative to implement the agreement and to implement it in the terms negotiated and agreed last Good Friday. It is not open for renegotiation or change. It cannot be cherry-picked or selectively applied. Its terms are binding on all of us who negotiated and signed up to it.
The reality of the last six years is that the UUP has been brought reluctantly into the peace process, reluctantly into negotiations and just as reluctantly to the Good Friday agreement. In this context their resistance to the implementation of the agreement is entirely consistent. But their present political paralysis cannot be allowed to deprive the rest of us, including those in their own community who support the agreement, of the benefit of that agreement.
The UUP approach has been to publicly support the agreement while trying to prevent its implementation. But there is no longer any room or time for this ambivalence. The UUP have to make a choice in the next two weeks - either to support the agreement and to participate in its implementation and consolidation, or, at the insistence of a vocal but small minority in the party, to walk away from it.
All of us in positions of political leadership have had our own rejectionists to deal with. The Good Friday agreement was a political compromise between opponents. It did not represent victory nor defeat, nor should it have. Instead it was to be an new and collective approach to resolving our differences.
Despite deep reservations about the Good Friday agreement, republicans embraced the new approach. The choice was difficult but republicans faced up to these difficulties and to the rejectionists in our own constituency.
The problems within unionism - and specifically within the UUP - are the direct result of David Trimble's failure, to date, to take on his rejectionists. Instead he has tried to outdo them. He presented the Good Friday agreement as a unionist agreement, when it clearly was not, as a defeat for nationalism, when it clearly was not. This misrepresentation of the agreement has now returned, as was entirely predictable, to haunt his every move. What is required now is honesty and positive leadership.
David Trimble needs to seize the historic opportunity before it slips through his fingers. The rejectionists need to be faced down. The UUP need to accept that they have to work with nationalists and republicans if we are to collectively build a better society. This was the promise and the potential of the Good Friday agreement. This is what we all signed up for and what the electorate voted for last year.
Sinn Fein wants the agreement to work. We want to prove that politics do work, that politics can deliver real and meaningful change. We want to co-operate with the UUP, the SDLP and the other pro-agreement parties to make the agreement work. We are willing to help David Trimble out of the corner he has so tightly painted himself into. But we can only do so if he wants out of that corner, if he wants to take unionism forward. That is a decision which only he can make.
We have begun a process of change on an agenda which is wide and deep. The joint task for all involved is to implement what was agreed in a good faith effort to make change irreversible. To ensure that the no camp are denied their objective of bringing about a U-turn into the past.
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