16 July 1997
We are demanding equality now
Article by Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams
EVEN during the trauma of the past four weeks Sinn Fein has been pro-actively engaged with all other players in the search for peace, who have a willingness to rebuild a new peace process.
The British government damaged itself badly in the eyes of many who expected better of it when the Orange march was forced down the Garvaghy Road on July 6.
It was the anger and the disciplined mass mobilisations of nationalists which prevented it from doing the same thing on the Ormeau Road and on other contentious march routes on the 12th, and which led to the Orange Order's postponement of marches.
While acknowledging the significance of this development - it was after all the first time since the Order was founded that such a step was taken - it is crucial that nationalists understand the dynamic which led to this new departure so that the respite created can be built upon.
The watchword in all of this must be equality. The harsh reality, graphically illustrated by the events on the Garvaghy Road, is that nationalists living in the six counties are not equal citizens under British law or in the eyes of the institutions of this statelet.
The `nationalist nightmare' which we were told ended in 1985 after the Anglo-Irish Agreement, remains largely unchanged after almost three decades of direct British rule. Nationalists in the north still live in a society in which the cancer of inequality and injustice pervades all aspects of daily life, and in which basic human, political and civil rights are denied.
The northern state was founded on discrimination, inequality and intolerance. It was and is not a democratic entity. 25 years ago the British government took direct responsibility for the six counties. Since then there have been many fine words uttered but little of practical value to tackle inequality. In reality the anti-discrimination laws which were passed in the 1970s and again in 1989 have been deeply flawed and have made little impact in challenging discrimination and inequality.
Moreover, last week's leaked British government paper, on its approach to the Orange demand to march on the Garvaghy Road, is evidence of a British government attitude which refuses to acknowledge that nationalists have equal rights with unionists. The whole premise of the British position was that the Orange Order would walk the Garvaghy Road trampling over the rights of nationalist residents.
POLITICAL WILL IS REQUIRED
In its recent report the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights reaffirmed that Catholics are over twice as likely to be unemployed as Protestants.
And it found that the main British government policies specifically aimed at tackling inequality - Targeting Social Need (TSN) and Policy Appraisal and Fair Treatment (PAFT) - ``left a lot to be desired in their effectiveness. Indeed research indicated that few government departments and public bodies have pursued these policies in a pro-active way... it is disappointingto find that it (Targeting Social Need) has not been taken seriously in Government Departments and agenices... Policy Appraisal and Fair Treatment too was introduced in 1994 as a major government initiative to build issues of equity and equality into policy formation and the implementation of public services. The research for this review revealed very patchy but largely ineffective implementation''
In 1993 the British government claimed that Policy Appraisal and Fair Treatment would influence ``policy making in all spheres and at all levels of government activity''.
This was a clear and unequivocal statement that the initiative is intended to be comprehensive and apply both to projects and delivery, and also to prior strategic considerations. It didn't happen.
It is now perfectly clear that, as presently constituted, the Policy Appraisal and Fair Treatment guidelines represent another attempt, like the Fair Employment laws, to head-off external criticism rather than a genuine attempt to initiate fundamental change.
There has been no attempt to place Policy Appraisal and Fair Treatment on a statutory footing. This is the least which is required if there is to be any confidence in its ability to deliver change.
The SACHR report makes more than 140 main recommendations. The last time it produced such a comprehensive series of recommendations the British government ignored it.
It appears to nationalists and republicans that the myriad of laws and agreements promising equality for all citizens have actually had no real effect.
What is required to achieve real and measurable change towards equality, and what has been absent on the part of the British government to date, is the political will to do what is right and implement what is required. Equality should be at the heart of government decision-making in London - it isn't.
Successive British governments have lacked the political will to tackle these matters. Their policies are primarily concerned with defending the status quo.
No one should be surprised by this.
As an Irish republican who has watched expediency consistently dictate British policy I am not surprised by the failure of the British government to defend nationalist rights.
A refusal to bring in change - a minimalist approach - dominates the mindset within the corridors of power at Stormont and Westminster.
It isn't just restricted to the ranks of the Orange Order and the RUC. This adherence to the status quo influences all aspects of British policy. It dominates the thinking of government departments, of its officials, and of its advisers. It dominates the thinking of those who successfully argued for an Orange march down the Garvaghy Road; of those who devised the obstacle of decommissioning; of those who wrote Tony Blair's Belfast speech and who have set the security and military agenda here for almost 30 years.
An equality ethos
This approach must be confronted and changed. Equality cannot be simply an illusion. It must be a fact.
We need a whole-hearted commitment to ensuring equality in decision making and delivery of services.
This is a central component of any democratic process.
There must be full accountability for equality measures; transparent and testable procedures governing their implementation; genuine and full participation to ensure that citizens feel their concerns are taken into account and reflected in decisions which affect them; goals and time-tables for its implementation, and regular review and assessment of progress and impact.
To achieve that we need:
* equality in employment opportunities; * equality in economic investment into areas of high unemployment; * equality for the Irish language and culture; * equality in the provision of resources for education; * equality for political representatives;
* to tackle the difficult issue of cultural symbols, of flags and emblems * an end to repressive legislation; * a new unarmed policing service under democratic control; * speedy progress on the issue of political prisoners, their conditions, transfer and release;
These and much more are matters for the British government - not for negotiation. These are matters of policy - not negotiation. These are rights, civil and political rights, which every citizen in every democratic state should be entitled to. They are enshrined in international law, they have been advocated by international courts and human rights forums and organisations world wide.
The report of the International Body chaired by Senator George Mitchell recognises the need for action on these issues.
Even within the Framework Document there are many references to continuing inequalities and the need for them to be addressed.
Reference is made to ``secure and satisfactory political, social and cultural rights and freedom from discrimination for all citizens, on parity of esteem, and on just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of both communities''.
These are laudable aspirations but they must be taken beyond aspirations.
The responsibility for that rests primarily with the British government. It must propose and implement a culture of rights to bring about equality for all citizens.
It must be developed in our schools, in our homes, in places of work and entertainment but especially in Government Departments and agencies and in government policy. The British government must propose and ultimately implement policies which will make equality and parity of esteem a reality.
There is a responsibility on the British Prime Minister, who claims to have placed human rights at the top of his international agenda, to place it at the top of his Irish policy.
If Tony Blair wants to demonstrate his good faith 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.
There is also a democratic imperative on the Irish government to assert the right of Irish citizens living in the north to equality of treatment.
It must seek international support, through the European Union, the United Nations, the other forums and bodies it holds membership of and through the diplomatic relationships it shares with other nations.
If a durable settlement is to be reached there must be a constructive context within which to resolve the conflict. Experience of the management of peace process elsewhere, most significantly in South Africa, has demonstrated the importance of creating such a context in ensuring a successful resolution of conflict. That context is a shared responsibility and can only be created by creating a level playing pitch in which the rights and the equality of all is guaranteed. Unionist rights
Equality means civil and political rights for unionists as well as nationalists and republicans. Whether it is the right to march, or the right to worship or the right to vote or the right to seek their consent - these are civil and religious and political rights which must be guaranteed and protected.
I freely acknowledge that northern Protestants have fears and that there is a huge gulf of distrust and misunderstanding and suspicion between republicans and unionists. I know that bridging that gulf will not be easy but republicans want to try.
What we seek are political conditions in which for the first time the people of this island can reach a democratic accommodation, in which the consent and agreement of both nationalists and unionists can be achieved, and in which a process of national reconciliation and healing can begin. Unionist participation in this is essential.
We want to make peace with unionists, to work with Unionists so that when we achieve a democratic settlement we will be able to accommodate and celebrate our diversity as equals.
Republicans recognise that there will be no peace in Ireland if unionists are not a part of shaping that peace. Our wish is to reach an accommodation with unionism. Our wish is to see a 12th July which we can all enjoy.
Inequality and social exclusion are the enemies of peace. We need a partnership, based on equality, which will empower and improve the quality of life of citizens by being open, inclusive and democratic.
Marginalising and demonising and refusing to talk to others reinforces intolerance and prejudice and intransigence.
The imperative now must be to intensify the work of building a meaningful and credible negotiations process. Sinn Fein will not be deflected from this task. There is a common responsibility on all of us, but especially the two governments, to remove the obstacles which still stand in the way of real peace talks.
This will not be easy. The road ahead will be difficult and dangerous and risky for all of us but we can succeed. Crucial to that success is a willingness to sit down and engage in good faith in a process of honest dialogue.
During these talks Sinn Fein will press for maximum constitutional change, for a renegotiation of the union, for the political, economic and democratic transformation of this island.
We will encourage the Irish government and others to pursue a strategy for Irish unity. And inside and outside of the negotiations, we will press for equality. Now.
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