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Sinn Féin President elect Mary Lou McDonald TD gives her first major speech to party activists


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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Justice, Equality, and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has welcomed the launch of the National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency as "an essential step in the right direction to combat a serious and pervasive social problem affecting nearly one in five Irish women." Attending the launch at Dublin Castle, Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"Sinn Féin believes that every woman, man, older person, and child has an equal right to safety and security in their homes, and to live free of abuse in their personal and family relationships. But we know the appalling statistics -- particularly concerning violence against women in Irish society. Almost one in five Irish women have been abused by a current or former partner. Almost one quarter of perpetrators of sexual violence against women as adults are intimate partners or ex-partners. Fully 88% of domestic violence fatalities have a documented history of physical abuse.

"In Sinn Féin's Pre-Budget Submission we called on the Government to treat this issue with the seriousness it deserves by dedicating more resources to this area and developing an integrated response. So I am very pleased that this initiative has now been launched, and I look forward to positive results for the women, men, and children directly affected, and for our communities as a whole. Studies from other countries have also shown the high economic cost of domestic violence, and so from every point of view - social and economic - this whole initiative is a good investment.

"I pay tribute to the many volunteers and groups like Women's Aid who have worked so hard over many years to bring this issue into the public domain, to destigmatise those who suffer abuse, and to convince politicians of the importance of action on this issue. Their hard work has made this significant development a reality and they deserve to be congratulated."ENDS

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Responding to the publication of the IRA statements, Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said:

"The IRA last night made clear that Gerry Adams answers to Tony Blair's questions accurately reflected their position. There is no lack of clarity on IRA intentions.

"The real problem is, as Jeffrey Donaldson stated unambiguously, that the Joint Declaration would have been rejected by the Ulster Unionist Council. This is the reason that the British government exercised a unionist veto and cancelled the elections.

"The substance of the Joint Declaration is about the rights and entitlements of citizens. It cannot be conditional. It must be implemented."ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP speaking at a press conference in London today said:"The most important thing to say today is that Mr Blair's decision to stop the elections is a serious mistake and a slap in the face to the Good Friday Agreement. Its as if the rule book for conflict resolution has been torn up. Peace requires justice and peace processes are about empowering people, are about a rights centred disposition and are about making politics work. Mr Blair should reverse his decision on the elections and enable them to go forward as soon as possible. There is no reason why there cannot be a June election.

Mr Adams said:

So where is the peace process now?

We have on the one hand a Joint Declaration from the governments that is not an act of completion, but a qualified plan to implement over years the rights and entitlements of citizens. Despite its conditionality this is progress. But the two governments, also stepped outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, and introduced in their Joint Declaration a further concession to Mr. Trimble in respect of sanctions. This process of excluding Ministers and parties is specifically aimed at Sinn Féin, and is to be used against us in the event of any allegations about IRA activities.

On the other hand, we have an IRA leadership that is;

- determined there will be no activities which will undermine in any way the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement;

- has clearly stated its willingness to proceed with the implementation of a process to put arms beyond use at the earliest opportunity.

- despite the suspension of the institutions authorised a third act of putting arms beyond use to be verified under the agreed scheme by the IICD.

And accepts that, if the two governments and all the parties fulfil their commitments this will provide the basis for the complete and final closure of the conflict.

This too is significant progress.

No one should underestimate the significance of the IRA engaging with the IICD while the institutions are suspended, or the IRAs willingness to undertake another act of putting arms beyond use. This followed a suggestion by me to facilitate David Trimbleís stated intention of calling a UUC meeting only after the IRA acted on the arms issue. The sequence of events was to be the Joint Declaration - a statement from me in response to this pointing up the difficulty caused by David Trimbleís refusal to commit to being part of institutions.

He was then to publicly commit himself to recommending participation in the institutions to the UUC. This public pledge would have triggered the IRA putting more arms beyond use.

When the IRA say their arrangements were at an advanced stage they mean that Volunteers sat for days with a substantial amount of equipment waiting for a yes from the UUP or the British government. That yes never came.

So with the UUP implacably opposed to progress at this point and a British government willing to exercise a unionist veto, we now face into a period of political uncertainty.

For our part, Sinn Féin is in this process to the end.

Our objective in the time ahead will be to campaign to have elections held, and to hold the two governments to the commitments which we negotiated with them over many months and which are in the Joint Declaration.

The substance of these commitments and of those contained within the Good Friday Agreement is about the rights and entitlements of citizens. It is about a new political dispensation on the island of Ireland and a new relationship between Ireland and Britain.

It is about change - fundamental and deep-rooted change - including constitutional and institutional change - across all aspects of society. ENDS

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Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has described as "appalling" the closure of 250 beds in the five Dublin teaching hospitals. He said the decision comes after "a year of lies and cutbacks by Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats" and that the Government had shown itself totally incapable of providing a proper health service. Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"The bed cuts in the major Dublin hospitals are appalling and are a direct result of this government's underfunding and mismanagement of the health services. These massive health cutbacks come a year after Fianna Fáil lied to the electorate in the run-up to the General Election, promising the end of hospital waiting lists within two years and the extension of medical card coverage to a further 200,000 people. Instead we have had a series of cutbacks with health boards unable to maintain services at 2002 levels, let alone expand them as falsely promised by this Government. Patients are now suffering after a year of lies and cuts.

"The bed cuts in Dublin hospitals will have a knock-on effect throughout the State with people who have to attend these hospitals from outside the capital being thrown further back on the waiting lists.

"The government's so-called health policy is in tatters. Health Minister Mícheál Martin has publicly stated that his colleague Minister for Finance McCreevy does not see 'the bigger picture' on health. The Taoiseach has remained silent while two of his senior ministers are at sixes and sevens on this most vital issue of public policy.

"At the weekend we had the revelation that Minister McCreevy is a member of a €35,000 per year exclusive golf club. We can be certain that neither he nor any of his wealthy associates at Carton House Golf Club will be affected by these cuts while the most vulnerable people in our society are made to suffer yet again." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has described as "appalling" the closure of 250 beds in the five Dublin teaching hospitals. He said the decision comes after "a year of lies and cutbacks by Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats" and that the Government had shown itself totally incapable of providing a proper health service. Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"The bed cuts in the major Dublin hospitals are appalling and are a direct result of this government's underfunding and mismanagement of the health services. These massive health cutbacks come a year after Fianna Fáil lied to the electorate in the run-up to the General Election, promising the end of hospital waiting lists within two years and the extension of medical card coverage to a further 200,000 people. Instead we have had a series of cutbacks with health boards unable to maintain services at 2002 levels, let alone expand them as falsely promised by this Government. Patients are now suffering after a year of lies and cuts.

"The bed cuts in Dublin hospitals will have a knock-on effect throughout the State with people who have to attend these hospitals from outside the capital being thrown further back on the waiting lists.

"The government's so-called health policy is in tatters. Health Minister Mícheál Martin has publicly stated that his colleague Minister for Finance McCreevy does not see 'the bigger picture' on health. The Taoiseach has remained silent while two of his senior ministers are at sixes and sevens on this most vital issue of public policy.

"At the weekend we had the revelation that Minister McCreevy is a member of a €35,000 per year exclusive golf club. We can be certain that neither he nor any of his wealthy associates at Carton House Golf Club will be affected by these cuts while the most vulnerable people in our society are made to suffer yet again." ENDS

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Commenting on today's proceedings at the Saville Tribunal in London, Sinn Féin MP Martin McGuinness said:

" During the course of the Saville Tribunal, a number of bogus and wholly unsubstantiated allegations have been made about my role on Bloody Sunday. All of these come from one so-called British security source, name Infliction, whose existence has not even been proven. This person, if he or she exists, will not appear at the Tribunal to give evidence and, critically, my legal team and the legal representatives of the families of those killed on Bloody Sunday will not be able to cross examine this witness or challenge the allegation that have been made.

" My legal team have, additionally, been informed that the cross examination of the various British intelligence "handlers" and other British Security Service officers who are being called to authenticate the evidence of unnamed informers, will be restricted in an unprecedented manner.

• All material in relation to these matters has either been heavily edited or withheld, including any internal assessment of the reliability of any particular informant.

• The cross-examination of any of these witnesses is to be severely restricted as a result of a ruling by the Tribunal,

• Questions must be submitted in writing first with reasons given for asking those questions.

• These will then be shown to the witnesses and their representatives who can object to the questions.

• Only then can the questions be put with the witnesses able to give carefully prepared answers.

Following consultation with my legal representatives, I have decided that they should not participate in this sham of a cross-examination. In circumstances where those who allegedly made these allegations are not to be brought before the

Tribunal then the very least that can be expected is that a rigorous investigation of those who seek to bring those allegations to the Tribunal will be allowed. I am being denied the right to challenge unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations made about me by an anonymous individual. I have therefore instructed my lawyers not to engage in this restricted and meaningless form of cross-examination.

Despite the denial of my rights I will continue to assist the families of those killed on Bloody Sunday in whatever way I can to establish the truth that their loved ones were murdered by the British Army on Bloody Sunday.

My lawyers appeared on my behalf this morning to outline directly to the Tribunal my reasons for this decision.

Unlike Infliction I will be appearing in person before the Tribunal when it returns to Derry" ENDS

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Speaking this morning, after learning of the death of Walter Sisulu of the ANC, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said:

It is with great regret that I heard of the death of Walter Sisulu. I had the honour of meeting him on my first visit to South Africa in 1995 and while he was completely unassuming the strength of his personality and character shone out.

Walter was a great servant of the ANC and a fearless champion of the South African freedom struggle. He had a huge interest in Ireland and an affinity in particular with the H-Block hunger strikers and the women prisoners in Armagh. His death is a sad loss to humanity, particularly to all people in struggle. That sadness will be tempered by the celebration of his life and joy that he lived to see the end of Apartheid and the beginning of democracy in his beloved South Africa.

I extend solidarity to the Sisulu family, to his comrades in the ANC and to his many friends around the world. ENDS

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Sinn Féin's Francie Molloy, former Chairperson of the Assembly Finance and Personnel Committee, has said that the British governments scrapping of the May 29th Assembly election must not lead to the imposition of Water Charges.

Mr Molloy said:

"There are a number of important financial and economic decisions that are due to be taken in the next couple of months, not least decisions on the imposition of Water Charges.

"The British Treasury is determined to see water charges imposed here, despite widespread local opposition and the reality that people already pay for the their water supply through their rates. Sinn Féin is totally opposed to the imposition of Water Charges.

"With local accountability and control of local decision making now thrown i nto disarray by the undemocratic decision of the British government to scrap the May 29th Assembly election there is the reality that these decisions now rest in the hands of direct rule ministers.

"The truth is that British direct rule ministers are acting as if the imposition of Water Charges is a certainty. Despite the corner we were backed into by a succession of weak local finance ministers, the Assembly did not agree to Water Charges.

"Other key decisions that need to be taken include how we tackle the massive problems created by spiralling insurance costs, the issue of industrial de-rating and the two interlinked issues around rates increases, water charges and borrowing under the Rates and Reinvestment Initiative.

"Our public services urgently need investment and our economy needs support. That money needs to come from somewhere but we must take a stand against the creeping imposition of back-door taxes - the so-called Durkan taxes. Taxation must be fair and transparent, we need to challenge the unfair Barnett formula by which the British Exchequer decides the level funding available to the North." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP this morning said that he has no confidence in Michael McDowell as a negotiatior either with the British government or the Unionists. He said that Mr. McDowell was wrong in how he described the Irish government role in the process. He said: 'The Irish government are co-equal partners with the British government and they have a primary responsibility to uphold the rights of all Irish citizens. That means acting in Irish national interests and upholding Irish rights including, in particular at this time, the rights of citizens in the north.' Mr. Adams said:

"Mr. McDowell's protestations at the stopping of the election and the disenfranchisement of citizens are not credible.

"It is little wonder that the British government is so dismissive of the views of both the Taoiseach and all parties on the island, with the exception of the UUP, given Mr. McDowell's explanation of the Irish government role.

"The Irish government is a co-equal partner with the British government and signatory of the Good Friday Agreement and should be upholding Irish national interests and the rights and entitlements of all Irish citizens.

"Some of Mr. McDowell's comments make John Bruton sound like Padraig Pearse. Republicans do not need him to interpret our position to Mr. Trimble. We can do that ourselves person to person."ENDS

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Commenting on the British government's postponement of the Assembly elections, Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD, said the Irish Government has "bowed to the unionist veto" and he called for a special Dáil debate and Question and Answer session next week. He said:

"The British government's postponement of the Assembly elections is an insult to democracy in Ireland. They are denying the electorate their right to make a judgement on the conduct of the political parties in the peace process and they are reinforcing a unionist veto on progress.

"It is disgraceful that the Irish Government has also bowed to the Unionist veto. In chorus with Tony Blair, the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has claimed that the clarifications sought and received from republicans are not enough for him. But the Taoiseach knows well that republicans are totally committed to the peace process and to the Good Friday Agreement. In reality all this is a desperate effort to protect David Trimble, despite the fact that he now leads a party that effectively rejected the Agreement.

"The weakness of the Irish Government in the face of British government support for unionist intransigence is a major flaw

"Sinn Féin is also calling for a special Dáil Debate and Question and Answer session with the Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs next week." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has said it is time for the Irish and British governments to "stop shielding David Trimble from the consequences of his own actions". He called for the Assembly elections to go ahead and for the Joint Declaration of the two governments to be published. Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"The unprecedented initiative by the IRA has created a golden opportunity for forward movement. In his statements last Sunday and again on Wednesday, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has made crystal clear the commitment of Irish republicans to this peace process and to ensuring that the Good Friday Agreement is implemented.

"I believe that Sinn Féin has now gone far more than the extra mile to break the impasse. Any objective reading of the Good Friday Agreement will show that we have long fulfilled all our obligations as a political party. There is anger among many republicans that, yet again, it is Sinn Féin that makes the extra effort and the difficult choices while the Ulster Unionist leadership continues to say 'No' and is indulged in its obstructionism by the two governments.

"It is time the two governments stopped shielding David Trimble from the consequences of his own actions. I do not believe for a second that either the Irish or British governments have a real problem with the clarity of the IRA statement. I believe they are simply trying to unburden David Trimble and the Unionist Party of their political responsibility for the current impasse. The Irish government in particular should not continue in this manner. The question must be asked 'Have they acted out of a desire to make Sinn Féin appear as the villains of the piece?' If so it would be for purely electoral reasons and should not be tolerated. The Irish government must act on behalf of the Irish people and demand the implementation of the Agreement and an end to unionist obstructionism." ENDS

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Sinn Féin European Candidate for Dublin, Mary Lou McDonald has called for Trade Unionists to fight back against the encroaching privatisation of public industries and the growing social divide in Irish society. Speaking in Sinn Féin's May Day statement, Ms McDonald said that the economic boom for big business of the last few years meant "We're working harder, they're getting richer."

"90 years after the 1913 Lockout Irish Trade Unionism is on the back foot. The last 20 years have seen the introduction of anti-Trade Union legislation in the form of the Industrial Relations Act, 1990 and the Amendment Act, 2001. There has been no legislation introduced to oblige business to recognise Trade Unions.

"The latest so-called Partnership deal pledges Unions to Compulsory Binding Arbitration, IBEC called it a 'ground breaking move' by the Union leadership. Trade Unionists have put their fates in the hands of the Labour Relations Commission and the Labour Court.

"As for the rich and big business, a recent Revenue survey showed that almost one in five of the top 400 earners has an effective tax rate of 15% or less and 29 of those individuals pay no tax at all. The profit share of the national income has risen from 25% to 38% since 1987, the largest such increase in the EU, Japan or the US. At the same time as business profits have increased so much productivity output per head has almost doubled. Corporation Tax is the lowest in Europe.

"We're working harder, they're getting richer.

"Public utilities are being privatised. They have already sold off the telecommunication industry and it's only a matter of time before the ESB, Aer Lingus, CIE, Dublin Bus and others are sold off unless workers organise to campaign against privatisation.

"This state is now one of the most unequal in the world. In 1987 6.2% of families lived in relative poverty. In 2000, this had doubled to 12%. The number of people living on the streets is increasing.

"In 1886 eight Trade Unionists were sentenced to be executed for fighting for the right to an eight-hour day. It is this great sacrifice that we march to remember every May Day. It is this spirit of Trade Unionism that must be awoken. It's time to fight back."ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Natural Resources Martin Ferris TD has welcomed the decision of An Bord Pleanala to refuse the application by the Shell subsidiary Enterprise Energy to build a natural gas facility to be built at Ballinaboy, County Mayo.

Deputy Ferris said; "This is a tremendous victory for the people of North Mayo who objected to this proposal. It is also a vindication of what those of us have consistently said regarding the attitude of the multi-nationals to the people of this country. I would strongly urge the Government to use this as an opportunity to totally reassess the manner in which our natural resources are developed.

"This ought to include a complete revision of the licensing terms currently on offer. At a time when Shell and other multi-nationals are now talking in optimistic terms of the prospects at Dooish and in the Seven Heads, it is vital that the State ensures that from now on there is proper supervision of oil and gas exploitation, and that steps are taken to ensure that real benefits accrue to the people". ENDS

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"Last Sunday I made a lengthy statement about the future of the peace process which has been widely welcomed. In the course of my statement I answered three questions raised by the British Prime Minister.

"It is my belief that all three questions were answered fully. However the Taoiseach, the British Prime Minister and others have queried my answer about alleged IRA activities.

"I want now in the interests of moving matters forward to eliminate any doubt which might exist in that regard.

"The IRA leadership makes it clear in its statement that it is determined that its activities will be consistent with its resolve to see the complete and final closure of the conflict.

"The IRA leadership is determined that there will be no activities which will undermine in any way the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement.

"The IRA statement is a statement of completely peaceful intent. Both governments have already acknowledged this.

"The Joint Declaration and all other statements should now be published. The commitments contained in all statements should be implemented."ENDS

ts have already acknowledged this.

"The Joint Declaration and all other statements should now be published. The commitments contained in all statements should be implemented."ENDS

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ghout the island. As part of this we pointed to the deficiencies of the current CAP, and for the need to make changes that will benefit small to medium farmers, and which will ensure the survival and prosperity of rural communities.

"Much concern has been expressed in particular with regard to the proposal to de-couple payments made to farmers. While Sinn Féin would share some of that concern, particularly as it will effect young farmers entering after 2000, we would also believe that there are opportunities there to ensure the survival and future prosperity of small to medium farmers who are currently experiencing an income and debt crisis.

"What is required more than anything else is that those who claim to represent Irish farmers make an honest assessment of the proposals and present alternatives where they believe them to be deficient. Otherwise, we will end up in the worst of all worlds; allowing possibly favourable aspects to be lost, while those that will be harmful will be carried.

"We will be presenting our views on de-coupling, modulation, rural development, and on the other aspects of the reform proposals to the Agriculture Commission, and will shortly be publishing a comprehensive republican analysis of the proposals that will outline Sinn Féin's strategy for the future of Irish agriculture, and in particular for the need to plan for the future development of farming and rural development on an all Ireland basis". ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP MLA today gave a keynote address to senior Sinn Féin activists at Parliament Buildings.

 

Mr. Adams said:

Sinn Féin’s focus in the last five years has been to see the Good Friday Agreement fully and faithfully implemented.

 

The Agreement was born out of decades of division and conflict, and almost 30 years of war. It reflects a deep desire on the part of the vast majority of people on this island to build a just and lasting peace for everyone.

 

The substance of the Good Friday Agreement is about the rights and entitlements of citizens. It is about a new political dispensation on the island of Ireland and a new relationship between Ireland and Britain.

 

It is about change - fundamental and deep-rooted change - including constitutional and institutional change - across all aspects of society.

 

Five years after the Agreement there has been progress. The institutions, when they functioned, did so effectively and were very popular.

 

While for some people, including bereaved families and victims of sectarianism, the situation is worse the reality is that for most people things are much better today than they have ever been.

 

We have all come a long way in recent years. A problem, which was previously described as intractable, has proven not to be so.

 

But we still have a lot more to do.

 

Important aspects of the Agreement have not been delivered on, as Prime Minister Blair freely acknowledged last October.

 

The purpose of the Joint Declaration and of the negotiations which Sinn Fein and the two governments were locked in for months, was to ensure that those rights and entitlements not yet in place become a reality in the time ahead.

 

While committed to our republican objectives it is Sinn Féin’s view that the Good Friday Agreement, despite the difficulties, continues to hold the promise of a new beginning for everyone.

 

I believe we have now reached a defining moment in that endeavour.

 

The Joint Declaration commits to progress across a range of issues and indeed significant progress in some areas; albeit on a conditional basis.  It also contains other difficulties, some of which are wholly unacceptable to Sinn Fein. We have made this clear to the two governments.

 

The two governments, for example, intend to introduce sanctions aimed at Sinn Fein and the Sinn Fein electorate, which are outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. These sanctions would contravene the safeguards built into the Agreement and are unacceptable.

 

Let us be clear about the Joint Declaration. The commitments given by the two governments, and especially the British government, in the Good Friday Agreement and the Joint Declaration, if and when acted upon would see the commencement of a process. This could see the implementation in full of the Good Friday Agreement.

 

The Joint Declaration is not an act of completion. It is, at best, a commitment to a process towards completion.

 

Nor is there any certainty about the UUP's position or its intentions in respect of the stability of the political institutions, a timeframe for the transfer of powers on policing and criminal justice, or the establishment of the north/south inter-parliamentary forum and so forth.

 

There is no certainty from the Unionist paramilitaries.

 

There is no certainty about the positions or the intentions of British securocrats.

 

But despite these very real and serious difficulties, it is Sinn Féin’s view that on balance the Joint Declaration presents an important opportunity to move the process forward.

 

Consequently, the IRA leadership was persuaded to take yet another initiative to support and give space and momentum to the peace process. A draft text and other concepts were passed to the two governments and the Ulster Unionist Party. There followed a period of sustained leaking and misleading briefings to the media about this.

 

Then on April 12 the two governments, in a public statement said that it is important that all parties and groups join the governments in upholding and implementing the Good Friday Agreement in full. They also said that ‘fulfilling the promise and potential of the Good Friday Agreement is a collective responsibility.’

 

So there was agreement that the basis for definitively ending conflict – conflict resolution - is a collective one.

 

On Sunday, 13 April, Martin McGuinness and I gave the two governments t he final copy of the IRA statement.

 

This detailed statement setting out the IRA leaderships view of the current phase of the peace process was accomplished in the most difficult circumstances. It contains a number of highly significant and positive elements unparalleled in any previous statement by the IRA leadership, either in this or in any previous phase of their struggle.

 

A copy was also shown to the Ulster Unionist Party leadership.

 

The two governments have publicly recognised the many positive aspects of the IRA statement, the obvious progress and, crucially, the British and Irish governments said that the statement shows a clear desire to make the peace process work.

 

Such an IRA statement and such a response to it would have been unimaginable ten or even five years ago.

 

The IRA statement sets out the status of the IRA cessation, its future intentions and its attitude to the issue of arms. It also makes clear the IRA’s resolve to a complete and final closure of the conflict, and its support for efforts to make conflict a thing of the past. This is unequivocal.

 

On the 23 April the British Prime Minister publicly raised three questions about the IRA statement.

 

Mr. Blair asked first, whether activities inconsistent with the Good Friday Agreement, such as targeting, procurement of weapons, punishment beatings and so forth, were at an end; second, whether the IRAs commitment was to put all arms beyond use; and thirdly, whether the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and commitments in the Joint Declaration would bring complete and final closure of the conflict.

 

I have stated in the course of the extensive private contacts that have taken place with the governments my belief that the IRA statement is clear on the issues raised, but for the public record, my answers are as follows.

 

Firstly, the IRA leadership has stated its determination to ensure that its activities will be consistent with its resolve to see the complete and final closure of the conflict.

 

I have already acknowledged in my address to the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis, and at other times, the difficulties caused for the pro-Agreement unionists and others by allegations of IRA activities in the recent past.

 

In particular these have been cited as an excuse for the suspension of the political institutions and the current impasse in the Good Friday Agreement process.

 

Sinn Fein is, with others, an architect of the Good Friday Agreement. Martin McGuinness and I have raised allegations of IRA activity with the IRA leadership.

 

Mr. Blair has also raised these issues in one of his questions.

 

In my view the IRA statement deals definitively with these concerns about alleged IRA activity. And any such activities which in any way undermine the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement should not be happening.

 

The IRA statement is a statement of completely peaceful intent. Its logic is that there should be no activities inconsistent with this.

 

 

 

Secondly, the IRA has clearly stated its willingness to proceed with the implementation of a process to put arms beyond use at the earliest opportunity. Obviously this is not about putting some arms beyond use. It is about all arms.

 

And thirdly, if the two governments and all the parties fulfil their commitments this will provide the basis for the complete and final closure of the conflict.

 

Sinn Féin’s peace strategy has always been about bringing an end to physical force republicanism by creating an alternative way to achieve democratic and republican objectives. We have negotiated, and campaigned and argued to have the Good Friday Agreement implemented not only because that is our obligation, not only because it is the right thing, but also because it fits into a strategy of creating an alternative to war and a means of sustaining and anchoring the peace process.

 

The IRA statement contains another key element. Some time ago the Ulster Unionist Party leader publicly stated that he would not call a UUC meeting to discuss his party going back into the institutions until after the IRA had acted on the arms issue.  For its part the IRA had set its engagement with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning in the context of functioning political institutions.

 

 

 

There was also deep scepticism within the republican constituency because there was no indication that the UUP would reciprocate even if the IRA moved on the arms issue.

 

This stand off had to be broken.

 

So, despite the suspension of the institutions the IRA leadership authorised a third act of putting arms beyond use to be verified under the agreed scheme by the IICD. This act was timed to facilitate the Ulster Unionist Party holding a UUC meeting. This followed a suggestion by me that I would point up this difficulty in a public statement. Mr. Trimble was to respond to this with a public commitment that he would recommend to his party that they actively support the sustained working of the political institutions and other elements of the Good Friday Agreement.

 

The IRA leadership was then prepared to act in advance of the UUC meeting and in the context of suspended institutions.

 

My understanding is that all of this is still doable at this time if there is a positive response from the two governments and Mr. Trimble.

 

Let me tell you that the Sinn Féin leadership have put in a huge amount of effort to save this process. But there is a limit to what we can do.

 

 

There is considerable unease within the republican activist base and the wider republican constituency over recent developments. The Sinn Féin leadership, while mindful of this, has not been deterred because our commitment is to making this process work. We are also conscious that other constituencies have their problems.

 

The IRA leadership has once again demonstrated in an unprecedented way its clear willingness to support the peace process.

 

I, along with the vast majority of people in Ireland, value the IRA cessation. It is the main anchor for the peace process. But let me be clear, the political process is the responsibility of political leaders. We created the Good Friday Agreement. It is our job, whatever about the approaches or actions of others, to make politics work, to make conflict resolution work.

 

This is a collective responsibility. We all have a choice to make. The Sinn Fein leadership's position is clear.

 

I believe that the IRA statement, unmatched by any from the IRA leadership in this or indeed any other phase of their struggle, points the way forward.

 

Now the two governments and the leadership of the UUP have to make a choice.

 

So what has to be done? There is no magic formula waiting to be discovered. The next steps in this process are not secret. Everyone knows what is required.

 

The Joint Declaration and all other statements should be published. It is as simple as that. The commitments contained in all the statements, including the IRA statement, should be implemented in full.

 

The Assembly Elections should proceed as planned.

 

Republicans have stretched ourselves repeatedly to keep the peace process on track. Sinn Féin is in this process to the end.

 

Nationalists and unionists, republicans and loyalists have to come to terms with and recognise each others integrity. We need to forge a real partnership that manages the changes that are taking place and builds a better future, a democratic and inclusive future.

 

Our collective task, in fact our collective obligation, is to make that change peaceful and constructive for all.

 

We have to work together to move this process forward.

 

That is the challenge for all of us, for Sinn Fein for the two governments and, critically, for the leadership of the UUP.

 

That is the way to achieve a permanent peace.

 

 

 

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The Good Friday Agreement was 5 years old on April 10. Five years on, the British government has failed to implement key sections of the Good Friday Agreement they have suspended the institutions on four separate occasions. They have now cancelled an election in Ireland, which derives directly from an Agreement endorsed by the majority of people in Ireland. This has come after months of intensive talks, leading up to the Joint Declaration and unprecedented initiatives from Irish republicans.

From the beginning the peace process has been stalled, blocked and frustrated by unionism's resistance to change and by those elements of the British political and military establishment who cling to the old notion of empire.

Since John Major's refusal to hold the promised inclusive talks in 1994 to the cancelling of elections by Tony Blair, the pattern has been sadly consistent. The rights and entitlements of Irish citizens are subject to British political interests and a unionist veto.

From the earliest days of no talks, talks about talks, talks where the unionists would not speak directly to Sinn Féin, to the events of the last few weeks, unionists have had to be dragged begrudgingly every inch of the way. They have used every tactic, from the disruption of the all-Ireland Ministerial Council to Trimble's multiple threats to walk out of the Executive, so as to slow down or halt the democratic process.

And ever-present behind the scenes are the securocrats, the nameless, faceless men who ran the north of Ireland, politically and militarily, for 30 years, who killed citizens, who controlled death squads, who spied on their own government, who would be the envy of any totalitarian state.

Some of what they were involved in is well known. Our assertions of systematic collusion, dismissed for so long, have been vindicated by the initial summary of the Stevens Report. Not just State tolerated sectarian

murder, but state initiated, armed and directed sectarian murder. And that is only the tip of the iceberg. Is it over? The turning on and off of loyalist violence to suit the British military agenda is an indication that

they haven't gone away you know. Is their war over? Is the war of the unionist paramilitaries over? They continue to attack nationalist communities and isolated catholic families.

Overall unionist reaction to the revelations of the Stevens Report is a glaring example of double-think. As has been pointed in several newspapers, unionists, either dismissed it, justified it or ignored it. Their attitude to unionist violence is the same.

In spite of all this, Sinn Féin has held firm to the Good Friday Agreement. We have refused to be provoked, as David Trimble obviously hoped by his succession of offensive, puerile remarks. We are not going to walk out or going to be put out. Sinn Féin is there as of right. We were not 'allowed' into government. We were not 'persuaded' into politics. Our aim, for the last twenty years or more has been to replace conflict with a democratic political process. But there must be democracy for a political process to work. And democracy demands equality. And this is at the heart of the present impasse just as it was at the heart of the conflict itself.

For almost four months now Sinn Féin has been involved in a very intensive round of talks with both the British and Irish governments and various political parties in an attempt to resolve the current impasse in the peace process. Throughout all of these negotiations we worked exhaustively to achieve a plan for the full implementation of the Agreement and to counter any attempt to have this implementation thwarted by unionist obstruction. Over the last two weeks we have seen republicans make unprecedented statements to bring this about.

The unprecedented statement by the IRA provided a clear basis to move forward for those who wished to do so. In his statements last Sunday and again on Wednesday, Gerry Adams made absolutely clear the commitment of Irish republicans to this peace process and to ensuring that the Good Friday Agreement is implemented, something acknowledged time and time again by the two governments.

Sinn Féin has now gone to the limit of its responsibility under the Agreement and far beyond in order to break the impasse. Any objective reading of the Good Friday Agreement will show that we have long fulfilled

all our obligations as a political party. There is anger among many republicans that, yet again, it is Sinn Féin that makes the extra effort and the difficult choices while the Ulster Unionist leadership continues to say 'No' and is indulged in its obstructionism by the two governments.

It is important that the legitimate concerns of the unionist community are addressed but what has happened this week is that unionism have been allowed to exercise a veto over the election, institutions, the Agreement and the peace process.

The reality is that, despite their assertions to the contrary, neither the Irish or British governments have any difficulty with the clarity of the IRA statement. They are simply trying to ensure that David Trimble and the

Unionist Party do not have to bear the political burden of their responsibility for the current impasse. It is totally unacceptable for the Irish government to continue with such a charade. The Irish government must

act on behalf of the Irish people and demand the implementation of the Agreement and an end to unionist obstructionism.

The publication of the Joint Declaration is welcome. But it is not an act of completion. It is conditional and qualified. It is a commitment to a process towards completion. It is accompanied by sanctions, dictated by the unionists, aimed at Sinn Féin and outside of the terms of the Agreement.

The volume of the Joint Declaration is a testimony to the tenacity of the Sinn Féin negotiating team in trying to get the Good Friday Agreement implemented. Its size also demonstrates the large gap, which the two

governments need to close to achieve implementation - 5 years on.

However now that the two governments have published their plan they must proceed and implement it and all other elements of the Agreement. Policing, human rights, justice and equality should not be conditional and qualified. Commitments mean nothing if they are not implemented. All commitments given should now be implemented in full. That is our focus.

Ironically, the first page of the Joint Declaration states: "The best way of ensuring that peace remains permanent is by demonstrating that politics work." This week the British government has damaged this project by preventing an Irish election. They have no right to do so. They did this against the wishes of the Taoiseach and all the political parties accept the UUP.

People are rightly angry but that anger must be channelled constructively in protecting and advancing the Irish peace process. The Irish government has a particular duty to defend the rights and entitlements of Irish people. These rights are not optional. They cannot be subject to a unionist veto.

ENDS

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Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin speaking following a meeting of the party's regional leadership in Dublin this morning said that Tony Blair's statement yesterday was a smokescreen designed to provide political cover for David Trimble being allowed to exercise a unionist veto over the process. Mr. McLaughlin said it was imperative that the elections went ahead as scheduled on May 29th. Mr. McLaughlin said:

"Tony Blair yesterday claimed that the IRA statement was not clear or unambiguous. This was a smokescreen. The real issue is that it is unacceptable to David Trimble. That is what Tony Blair's statement was really about.

"Mr. Blair is, in reality, attempting to get a statement from the IRA, which will satisfy the Ulster Unionist Council -- the same Council which moved into the rejectionist camp last year. You have to ask yourself what kind of statement would be required to achieve that task.

"This is about the exercise of the unionist veto and about unionism being allowed to dictate the pace of the peace process and also it seems the holding of the Assembly elections. It is not about moving us forward collectively. We have to be very clear. Any further delay or postponement of the election will only serve to undermine the democratic process and peoples' rights and entitlements.

"People want Tony Blair to state clearly now whether there is going to be an election on 29th May or not and they want to know whether David Trimble going to commit to sustaining the political institutions of the Good Friday Agreement or not?"ENDS

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Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness, responding to comments from Tony Blair in Downing Street this morning, said:

"The IRA statement is clear and unambiguous. As you would expect it does not use British or unionist words - but it does set out in clear and unambiguous terms the IRA's position. Both the British and Irish governments have recognised the positive nature of the statement and crucially the clear desire of the IRA to see the peace process work. Of course we have to have clarity and certainty in this process - and in my view the IRA statement is the clearest and most certain element in this current negotiation.

"We do not have any clarity or certainty from the UUP about their intentions:-

  • no commitment to sustain the political institutions;
  • no commitment to the transfer power on policing and justice;
  • no commitment on the all Ireland inter parliamentary forum;
  • no commitment on equality or human rights issues.

"In fact the unionist party leadership will not even take the decision themselves. They insist on holding a council meeting, which in effect puts a veto over the entire process.

"We do not have certainly and clarity from the two governments. The Joint Declaration is not clear or unambiguous. It is conditional, qualified and at best is a process towards implementation. And we have the introduction of sanctions outside the terms of the Agreement aimed specifically at Sinn Féin.

"We have no certainty or clarity from the loyalist paramilitaries who only last week were involved in orchestrating attacks on catholic homes in Belfast. And no attention or focus on those groups at all.

"So of course we need certainty - but certainty all round - not just from the IRA."ENDS

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Sinn Féin MLA for North Belfast Gerry Kelly, responding to comments from British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Downing Street this morning, said:

"It has been made clear by Gerry Adams that the IRA statement is clear and unambiguous. As you would expect it does not use British or unionist words - but it does set out in clear and unambiguous terms the IRA's position. Both the British and Irish governments have recognised the positive nature of the statement and crucially the clear desire of the IRA to see the peace process work. Of course we have to have clarity and certainty in this process - and in my view the IRA statement is the clearest and most certain element in this current negotiation.

"We do not have any clarity or certainty from the UUP about their intentions:

  • no commitment to sustain the political institutions;
  • no commitment to the transfer of power on policing and justice;
  • no commitment to the all Ireland inter parliamentary forum;
  • no commitment to equality or human rights issues.

"In fact the unionist party leadership will not even take the decision themselves, they insist on holding a council meeting, which in effect puts a veto over the entire process.

"We do not have certainly and clarity from the two governments. The Joint Declaration is not clear or unambiguous. It is conditional, qualified and at best is a process towards implementation. And we have the introduction of sanctions outside the terms of the Agreement aimed specifically at Sinn Féin.

"We have no certainty or clarity from the loyalist paramilitaries who only last week were involved in orchestrating attacks on catholic homes in Belfast. And no attention or focus on those groups at all.

"So of course we need certainty - but certainty all round - not just from the IRA."ENDS

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