[Sinn Fein]

6 November 1996

Adams writes on current political situation

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams in a lengthy article in todays edition of the New York based Irish Voice restated Sinn Fein's absolute belief that: ``Dialogue and negotiations are the only way to resolve conflict.''

Regular readers of the Irish Voice will have noticed and hopefully lamented the absence of this column this last few months. Because of the pressure of work here I skipped one or two editions and then fell out of the routine that writing requires. But now by popular acclaim we're back again.

Actually I like writing these pieces. They help me to focus and these days there's a lot to focus on - in fact even in the short period since my last column too much has happened for me to attempt any proper review. So I won't even make the effort. I'll start with last weekend.

The media here and all the political parties have been pre-occupied with a Sunday Tribune story which claims in great detail to be the inside story of an effort by John Hume and myself to restore the peace process by way of contact with the British government. I have refused to comment on this story. It is probably reproduced elsewhere in the Irish Voice so you can judge it for yourself.

However I do feel entirely justified in dealing with the reaction to the story.

It is no secret that John Hume and I have kept in very close contact - in fact we never at any point ceased our contact. Last February he and I met representatives of the IRA leadership. That was after the collapse of the peace process and our efforts since then have been to rebuild that process. That nine months have passed since then is proof, if proof is needed, that this is a difficult task. But the reality is that conflict can't be wished away. We have to work hard - we have to reach out - we have to become partners with our opponents - we have to make friends with our enemies. And then together - collectively - we have to tackle and remove the causes of conflict. In short we need to create the conditions for peace.

It would be nice if there was a magic formula which meant no more war, no more divisions, no more fear, no more threats, no more inequality , no more second class citizens - no more conflict - but we all know that there is no magic formula.

It is three and a half since John Hume and I issued our first joint statement. We said ``everyone has a solemn duty to change the political climate away from conflict and towards a process of national reconciliation, which sees the peaceful accommodation of the differences between the people of Britain and Ireland and the Irish people themselves.''

So what are we trying to do?

Dialogue and negotiations are the only way to resolve conflict. It was dialogue, between Sinn Fein, John Hume, the Irish government and Irish America which worked in August `94, to bring about a too brief respite. That opportunity was not consolidated.

Reconstructing this and getting the British on board this time is our most urgent task.

The fact is that we need a viable peace process which can achieve a negotiated settlement by tackling the substantive issues which are at the root of this conflict. Not simply to bring about an IRA cessation, though that is a central element, but a credible and effective peace process which can make peace a reality.

So what is a viable peace process?

It clearly has to be inclusive. Excluding people won't work. It hasn't worked anywhere else in the world and it hasn't worked here since this little Orange state was founded.

Similarly, preconditions are obstacles to dialogue and progress. They allow those who are afraid of negotiations and of change, an excuse not to get involved. The harder the preconditions, the higher the hurdle, the less likely it is that negotiations will take place. That's why there must be no preconditions placed on any of the parties if there is to be progress.

An important element of any process of negotiation must be a time-frame. In other conflict resolution situations, as well as in disputes between trade unions and employers and between governments, a timetable or time-frame for discussion provides the dynamic and momentum essential to focus minds and produce agreement. The experience of stalling and obstruction at Stormont since June 10th illustrates the need for the two governments to agree a realistic timeframe for the conduct of these negotiations.

And as we all know to our cost, a successful peace process will only be built if confidence and trust exist. This is a matter for all the parties to the negotiations but especially for the British government. Its approach to the 18 month IRA cessation subverted confidence. Mr. Major must show that he will not treat a second IRA cessation and a restored peace process in the same cavalier fashion as he did the last one.

The British government knew that the IRA was undefeated in August 1994. It knew exactly and precisely the basis for the IRA cessation. It knew that the space created would have to be filled with a viable peace process. Instead of encouraging this the British government sought to micro-manage the process and to reduce the momentum for change so that the dynamic could be controlled by London.

Mr. Major and his advisers calculated that if the peace process was stretched and stretched and stretched that the IRA would find it impossible to go back to war. In other words that the IRA would be defeated. The British would then only have to make the minimal changes necessary to underpin this `new' situation. That was London's mindset. Mr. Major miscalculated. He stretched the process to breaking point on a number of occasions. Eventually it snapped. The result was the collapse of the peace process, and regrettably as we all know, an end to the IRA's cessation after eighteen months.

Today sadly but predictably the unionist leaderships are knee jerking in the wake of the Tribune story. They have set their face against Sinn Fein's involvement in talks. This is because they are afraid of change. They have used the preconditions introduced by the British as a means of preventing real negotiations. In ways the loyalist parties have shown more openness and imagination than the mainstream unionist leaderships. But the unionist leaders stance cannot be divorced from the British. Neither Mr. Trimble nor Mr. Paisley will engage in meaningful negotiations until the British government does.

Recent days have also seen the return to the calls for more ``security'' and for the demonisation of Sinn Fein.

It is a fact that there are some politicians and others who remain stuck in the old psychology - those who three years ago vilified John Hume, Albert Reynolds and myself, are again part of the very same chorus which is demanding a return to the old ways - they have learned little and want censorship, marginalisation and repression. Back to shoot-to-kill, back to torture and mass imprisonments, back to the past. Yesterday's failures with yesterday's agenda and no vision of tomorrow.

Well, there are some of us who want something better for our children. If John Hume and I proved anything it is that there is another way. It doesn't have to be the same old story - it is possible to change the script and look to the future with renewed hope and optimism.

The objective reality of this moment in our history is that we are now all faced with hard and difficult choices.

But the challenge of peace is there for all of us. It is there for Mr. Major. It is there for the Unionist leaders. It is there for Irish nationalists and republicans. For Irish America. For the new US administration. It is there for Sinn Fein. For the Irish government. For the IRA.

This struggle has been a challenging one for republicans. I continue to work with others to create the conditions for real talks in a peaceful environment. But there has been no indication so far that the British are really interested. So the question has to be asked of John Major. Will he treat another IRA cessation the way he treated the last one? The key is in his hands.

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