[Sinn Fein]

13 July 1997

Nationalists have equal political and civil rights - Adams

The forcing of last Sunday's Orange march down Garvaghy Road again shows how expediency rules British policy on the North, writes Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams MP


Those who are unfamiliar with the workings of colonialism, or with how unjust societies function, may be confused into thinking that the North is a muddled mess of ethnic conflict and sectarian division between two intransigent groups.

That certainly is the view expressed by the Northern Secretary as she sought to explain why an Orange march was forced down Garvaghy Road last Sunday morning. It was, she declared, the fault of two intransigent groups. She had done her best.

The people of the Garvaghy Road cannot be described as an intransigent group. They were not planning to march into an area where they were not wanted. All they asked was that the Orangemen should speak to them, sit down with them and give them their place. The Orangemen refused.

Mr David Trimble, the local MP, refused to talk to his own constituents. The onus was then clearly on the British government to stand up for the residents.

Do you remember the Downing Street Declaration or the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which talked about the nationalist ``nightmare'' and the alienation of Northern nationalists? These said there had to be equality of treatment.

Do you remember the phrase ``parity of esteem''? Do you remember Dr Garret FitzGerald saying the nationalist nightmare was over? Do you remember the two governments signing up to a Framework Document which set out a whole process to introduce equality in employment, economic issues, democratic issues, language and culture? These matters should have been implemented a long time ago.

As for the accusation that there are two intransigent groups, there is no comparison between a secret, anti-Catholic organisation and people in a neighbourhood who were organising peacefully and within the law. What was unlawful about the peace camp on the roadside at Garvaghy? What was the legal basis on which the RUC attacked those people?

We are still waiting answers to these questions and many more. The publication, however, of a leaked British government report which shows that London had made plans over two weeks ago to force last weekend's Orange march down the nationalist Garvaghy Road does clarify matters.

This revelation shattered claims by the Northern Secretary that she was engaged in a genuine attempt to find an accommodation or that up to the morning of the march, no decision had been taken on what to do.

It also exposed as a lie the claims by the boss of the RUC, Mr Ronnie Flanagan, that the decision to force the march through was taken to protect nationalists against a loyalist backlash. There is no mention of this concern in the leaked British report.

There is a real sense among nationalists that all of this is evidence that the British were involved in a planned betrayal of the residents of Garvaghy Road.

As an Irish republican, I am not surprised that the British government behaves in this way. Those who are surprised nurtured an innocent, if naive, hope that with this new government things here were going to be different. It doesn't work like that. Expediency rules British policy in Ireland. I learned that many moons ago.

That is not to say that I did not hope for better things. Of course I did, but I think it was inevitable that unionism would test this new British government. Faced with a government with a massive majority, unionists needed to see how far they could push it.

Unionist influence is very negative. It's about ``not an inch'', it's about stopping change, it's about slowing change down.

And unionism is also very much on the defensive. The vision of unionism isn't about a new Ireland, or a new society; it is about the old order.

And, unfortunately for the rest of us, the influence of unionism isn't restricted to the Orange lodges. It has its champions in the establishment, its champions in the RUC.

If you look at the leaked British document, you find that it's the product of the same officials and advisers from the old regime. The same people who advised this same decision last year, and the year before; the same people who advised the last government to hold up the peace process; who devised the obstacle of decommissioning.

I made this point when Mr Tony Blair made his first keynote speech as British prime minister in Belfast a few weeks ago. I pointed out to those who were dismayed by the pro-Union and pro-unionist content of his script that the script writers were from the old school. That it was the old advisers and officials and that he would have to stand up to them if he wanted to have some positive movement forward.

Either Mr Blair, as the British prime minister, runs this place on a political agenda or the people who want war and conflict and a security agenda run it.

Last weekend's decision and the way it was implemented shows once again that it is the security/military and intelligence people who are in charge.

The crux of the problem is that British Northern Secretaries come to this part of Ireland to defend British interests. British policy, which lies at the heart of this conflict, is based on the Union and the Union is founded on the unionist veto.

British policy, therefore, is primarily concerned with defending the status quo. That much at least is clear. But what signal does it send to those of us who are trying to rebuild a new peace process? How does Mr Blair hope to build on this basis? He needs to tell us and everyone else.

I am asked where all of this leaves Irish republicans? How could Sinn Fein trust Dr Mo Mowlam? We don't need to. It's ourselves and our allies we need to trust.

Sir Patrick Mayhew was the last British Northern Secretary. He told lies about Sinn Fein. He put papers into the library of the British parliament which the media exposed as lies. Did that stop us talking to Sir Patrick? Of course not. Because we have a vested interest in peace. Real peace. Peace with justice.

So we will not be deflected by the stance of the new British government. Of course it has made our task more difficult but we face up to all of this with an expectation that the British government will deal with us in the way they do. And we must face up to them intelligently, coherently and give calm, reflective leadership to the people we seek to lead.

There's a saying in Irish which loosely translates as: ``Beware the horns of the bull; the hooves of the horse and the smile of the Englishmen.'' Or English women.

I'm an Irish republican. I think the people of our island can do a much better job of running this place than any English politician. I have no doubt about that because whatever we do we will do in the broad interest of the people of this island.

And I believe that many people here are increasingly coming round to the republican view that the British government is not a neutral referee but is a government which has vested interests and policies to advance those interests.

The democratic imperative is now on the Irish Government to assertively state the case for equality of treatment. It needs to apply itself to seeking international support for the rights of people in this part of Ireland to equality. It has to uphold the legitimacy of Irish unity as a policy objective and to outline a vision of generosity to the unionists - who, despite all our difficulties with them or their difficulties with us, have as much right to be here as we do.

The challenge for those in the USA who want peace in Ireland must be to seek a change in British policy, away from security measures and into politics. Away from the easy rhetoric of peace and into the reality of peace-making.

There is an onus on Mr Blair if he wants to do business with Sinn Fein. If Mr Blair wants to be different from his predecessors and be part of the movement towards peace, he will have to prove that he accepts that Irish nationalists have equal political and civil rights and that his government will respect those rights.

Sinn Fein Press Office, 44 Parnell Square, Dublin 1
Tel: +353-1-8726100 and +353-1-8726839   ·   Fax +353-1-8733074
E-mail: sinnfein@irlnet.com   ·   Website: http://www.sinnfein.org

Released in the US by:

Friends of Sinn Fein, 510 C Street, NE, Washington DC 20002
Tel: +1-202-547-8883   ·   Fax +1-202-547-7889
E-mail: fosf@nicom.com   ·   Website: http://www.sinnfein.org

Sinn Fein   ·   Sinn Fein Documents
Web publication by sfweb@irlnet.com