Article by Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams MP
14 July 1999
At every stage in the peace process, there have been conflicting and confusing signals from some of the participants and from the media. Most of this is unhelpful, though not always malicious. But when seeking to get across a particular view of events, no party can match the British government in resources and influence.
After the latest round of negotiations, the British have been blowing up a storm of media spin. If this had had the effect of settling the unionists, Sinn Fein could take the pain. But it is my certain view that it will not settle the unionist leadership, even if they go into the Executive. On the contrary, it will only unsettle them.
Mr Trimble clearly understands his responsibilities under the terms of the Good Friday agreement. The problem is that these conflict with his role, as he sees it, as UUP leader. It is difficult to know in the twists and turns of the situation how Mr Blair could successfully manage the unionist constituency, but allowing the UUP to open up a process of perpetual negotiation or renegotiation is not the way.
There are frenzied, intense bouts of negotiation within ``absolute deadlines'' which the unionists generally ignore, and then when the negotiations are finished they continue negotiating bilaterally with the British government in pursuit of more assurances. This is what is happening at the moment.
Mr Blair, for example, asserts: ``I can ensure Sinn Fein aren't in the Executive, if they default''. The impression is given that Sinn Fein can be expelled if Mr Blair's or General de Chastelain's version of how decommissioning can be accomplished does not succeed. But of course there can be no question of Sinn Fein being expelled or excluded while our party keeps to the terms of the agreement.
There is no need for the exclusion legislation published yesterday under the terms of the agreement. Moreover, its provisions contradict the agreement.
The role of the decommissioning commission is to ``facilitate the voluntary decommissioning of firearms''. This legislation would significantly change its remit and allow it to lay down ultimatums. It is clear that decommissioning can only be a voluntary act by those in possession of arms.
The legislative change proposed in this week's bill is a fundamental change in the ethos of the agreement. The whole thrust of this bill is to plan for failure, not success. It is a begrudger's charter. It suggests a policy change by the British government which could, in the hands of unreconstructed unionists, become a cover for the return to the failed agenda of exclusion.
It also causes problems for the Irish government who are being asked to put through changes to their constitution, even though the basis of the referendum permitting them to do this has been changed by this British legislation.
These recent developments occurred after an exhausting week of intense negotiations, coming 14 months after the agreement. For 12 of those months, Mr Trimble has been first minister designate. He has refused to fulfil any of the responsibilities which that office entails and he has breached the agreement on a range of issues. He has blocked the establishment of the Executive.
The all-Ireland ministerial council should also have met by this stage. The British government is also in breach of the agreement, most particularly around the issue of demilitarisation. It has refused so far to publish an ``overall strategy'' on demilitarisation as promised in the Good Friday agreement and by British ministers since then. So the peace process is reduced in many ways to tactical manoeuvrings with little strategic overview.
Of course, Downing Street may argue that the British government has a strategy and that these assurances are aimed not at the unionist leadership but at unionist grassroots opinion. But what of republican and nationalist grassroots opinion? What of the assertion that this process is all about building trust?
Sinn Fein took an initiative in the course of the negotiations which we had carefully worked on for some time. That involved a declaration by me which was much more advanced than anything our party had said on this issue. It contained a genuine belief of how the decommissioning issue could be resolved. It was rejected by the unionists - twice.
I accept that Mr Trimble needed space to get his party policy changed on this matter. I understand his task: in order to sign on for the agreement the Sinn Fein leadership had to convince two Ard Fheiseanna to bring about a change in our constitution, requiring two thirds majority support.
Let me reiterate once again that Sinn Fein's public position on the question of arms is also our private position. I am totally committed to doing everything in my power to maintain the peace process and to removing the guns forever from the politics of our country. But I do not accept any block whatsoever on the right of all sections of our people to enjoy full rights and entitlements. Under the terms of the agreement all of the participants have a responsibility to deal with the decommissioning issue. This includes the two governments.
I believe this British government can be different from its predecessors. I also believe that Mr Blair has a sense of responsibility and has given more time than any other British prime minister to the quest for peace between our two islands and among the people of this island. He knows that Sinn Fein's position has been consistent and that we too want to play a full and advanced role in this quest.
But he knows also, as does the Taoiseach, that we do not represent any other organisation, that Sinn Fein is not the IRA, and that we cannot and we will not enter into any commitments on behalf of the IRA.
Throughout all of our engagements the Sinn Fein team have publicly and privately insisted that it is only through the full implementation of all elements of the agreement, and all the parties discharging our collective responsibility in regards to its terms, that the issue of arms can be finally and satisfactorily settled. This is the best guarantee that guns will never again have a role in the politics of this island.
Our negotiating team has recently been asked by other republicans what assurances were given to the governments with regard to decommissioning. We are asked by other republicans to explain why the British government is so certain that decommissioning will take place shortly after the Executive is formed. We are asked if the IRA will make a statement.
The answer to the first question is contained in the paragraph above. The answer to the second question is one which only the British government can answer. It is not contained in the agreement and Sinn Fein's attitude to any measure is that it has to be in the terms of the agreement. The answer to the third question can only be given by the IRA.
The single most significant act of the past 30 years was the IRA cessation of August 1994. The risk for peace which the IRA took, created what has been universally recognised as the best opportunity for peace in Ireland this century. IRA guns and bombs have remained silent for almost four years.
The IRA cessation holds firm. Its decision to call a ``complete cessation of military operations'' was built on the work of Sinn Fein, John Hume, Albert Reynolds and Irish America. For the first time the combined efforts of these diverse groups and individuals held out the prospect of fundamental change through an evolving peace process.
The first IRA cessation lasted for 18 months and then collapsed because continuing unionist intransigence was being underpinned by a British Tory strategy which devalued the process, obstructed inclusive negotiations and blocked progress.
A new Labour British government and the continuing efforts of Sinn Fein and others, succeeded in creating the climate in which a second IRA cessation was called. That cessation was built upon the foundation stones of inclusion, dialogue, the removal of preconditions and the honouring of commitments by the British government.
There should be no doubt about Sinn Fein's total commitment to implementing the Good Friday agreement, including resolving the impasse over decommissioning. We want all aspects of this process to work. The choice for the UUP and the British government is clear. Either the unionist veto continues or the Good Friday agreement is implemented.
Sinn Fein Press Office, 44 Parnell Square, Dublin 1
Tel: +353-1-8726100 and +353-1-8726839 · Fax +353-1-8733074
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org · Website: http://www.sinnfein.org
Web publication by email@example.com
Sinn Fein · Sinn Fein Documents