[Sinn Fein]

5th May 1999

Peace Process to dominate 1999 Ard Fheis

Sinn Fein Vice President Pat Doherty speaking at the announcement of details of the party's Ard Fheis which will be taking place in Dublin this weekend said:

As we come together this week-end the most pressing issue for Sinn Fein and the one which preoccupies the party's daily work is the peace process. There is no doubt that there is a clear and stark difference both in context and mood between this year's and last year's Ard Fheiseanna.

Last year republicans met at a time of great hope, optimism and expectation. The Good Friday agreement had just been negotiated. It was a challenging time for republicans but we positively set about the task of making our contribution to shaping the new political situation promised by the Good Friday agreement.

It is worth remembering that republicans took great risks when they endorsed the agreement, ended abstentionism to a northern Assembly, supported the referenda and accepted changes in relation to Articles 2 and 3.

The year we have passed through has been one of broken promises and missed opportunities. The implementation of the Good Friday agreement was the litmus test that politics not conflict were centre stage; that political dialogue was the key instrument for resolving the many issues of injustice not confrontation and violence.

One year on from the agreement we are no nearer the setting up of the Executive and the all-Ireland Council. One year on the peace process has been reduced to the single issue of decommissioning. One year on the unionists with the assistance of the British and Irish governments are proving that normal politics do not work. The unionists are demonstrating that their veto over change remains in place and that by threatening, by intimidating and refusing to talk they can impose their very narrow will on the rest of us. David Trimble has been rewarded for his intransigence.

But it is not just the intransigence of the unionists which is undermining the peace process. There are many others as vehemently opposed to change well placed in the system who are actively blocking progress. That change of a fundamental nature is required has been brought home with dramatic effect in recent days. The report on collusion between the British forces and loyalists highlighted in a report from the British Irish Watch and taken up by the Irish government proves the corrupt and rotten nature of society in the six counties. The issue of collusion is endemic and systematic and stretches back over twenty years. It cannot be dealt with on a piece-meal, case by case basis. What is urgently required is an inquiry similar to the one carried out by Judge Goldstone, in South Africa, who unearthed the State's involvement in killings there.

It is therefore not surprising that republicans are both angry and frustrated at the manner in which the two governments have repeatedly failed to honour the commitments they made in the agreement. They are not only in breach of the agreement, they are dismissing the wishes of the almost two million people who voted YES in the referenda. We are bitterly disappointed at the performance of the two governments. They are squandering the best opportunity for resolving this conflict since partition. But all is not lost. The two governments have it within their power to reverse the downward spiral. They can restore people's confidence in the flagging peace process by immediately setting up the Executive and the all-Ireland Ministerial Council.

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