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Statements on the Peace Process 9.2.10 - Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD

9 February, 2010 - by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD

(Full text of speech follows)

“I believe that Friday 5 February 2010 was a very significant day in the development of positive and constructive politics in Ireland. The Agreement reached on that day represents a step forward for all the people of this island. The Agreement was not easily reached and it will not be easily implemented but it is essential that it works and that all parties and both Governments play their part in full to ensure its success.

"I commend the Sinn Féin negotiators, the DUP negotiators and those of all parties and both Governments who contributed to this very welcome and positive development.

"Céim chun tosaigh atá sa Chomhaontú. Molaim iad siúd a ghlac páirt sna cainteanna. Bhí dul chun cinn maidir le póilíneacht agus an córas dlí agus le feidhmiú an Choiste Feidhmiúcháin. Pléadh ceisteanna tábhachtacha eile, paráideanna agus an gá le Acht na Gaeilge sna Sé Chontae san áireamh. Chuir Sinn Féin an Acht sin ar chlár na gcainteanna agus beimíd ag obair go dian chun an Acht a fháil agus a chur i bhfeidhm.

"The Agreement reached last Friday has the potential to ensure a stronger Executive on the basis of equity and respect for the mandates of all parties. The Agreement is broader than the issue of policing alone because the working of the Executive had effectively seized up due to the blocking tactics of obstructionist unionist elements. That obstruction had to be overcome.

"A date has now finally been set for the long overdue transfer of policing and justice powers from London to Belfast. That is a major achievement and it will also be a major challenge to ensure that policing services are delivered equitably and efficiently for all communities and that the justice system is independent and fully rights-based.

"Much exasperation was expressed at the time it took to reach agreement. From many that expression was understandable, especially from people in the Six Counties, in all communities, who want to see real improvements in social and economic terms and who want the Executive and the Assembly to work. However, some of the impatience expressed by commentators on this side of the Border was less acceptable and reflected a partitionist outlook.

"Make no mistake, republicans more than anyone had a right to be impatient and to express deep frustration at the delay in delivering on policing and justice. Republicans throughout Ireland have been very patient not only over recent weeks but over recent years with regard to the vital issue of policing.

"Just over three years ago, after a process of intense internal debate and consultation, we in Sinn Féin brought our party members to an Extraordinary Ard Fheis to debate proposed changes to our policy on policing.

"We expressed our support for civic policing through a police service which is representative of the community it serves, free from partisan political control and democratically accountable. We pointed out that the Good Friday Agreement requires and defines a ‘new beginning to policing’ as an essential element of the peace process. The Good Friday Agreement also requires functioning, power-sharing and all-Ireland institutions.

"Before that Ard Fheis in 2007 the British government had agreed to the transfer of powers on policing and justice away from Westminster to locally elected political institutions and set out the departmental model to which these powers were to be transferred.

"On the basis that a new beginning to policing had commenced and that policing and justice powers would be transferred to Ireland within a reasonable period, Sinn Féin agreed to support the PSNI and the criminal justice system in the Six Counties, hold the police and criminal justice systems fully to account North and South and participate in local policing structures in the North. We appointed Sinn Féin representatives to the Policing Board and the District Policing Partnership Boards. Their role was and is to ensure full accountability of the PSNI and the achievement of policing with the community as the core function of the PSNI.

"The decision of the membership of Sinn Féin to critically engage with policing in the Six Counties was a momentous step that took courage and determination. We needed to see the same courage and determination from both Governments and all parties, especially the DUP, to ensure the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

"Throughout the debate and consultation which took place prior to that 2007 Ard Fheis, a key point raised by party members was the weakness of the Irish Government in failing to press the British Government on a whole range of issues, but especially on policing itself. The ‘heavy lifting' in negotiations was done by Sinn Féin. The Irish Government joined with the SDLP in accepting far less than was needed to ensure a new beginning to policing.

"Sinn Féin took these political risks because we wanted to see the process back on track. The Executive was re-established and it worked well across departments but only up to a point and that point was the essential and overdue next step of transfer of policing and justice powers. This was clearly a touchstone issue.

"The Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle motion adopted by the 2007 Extraodinary Ard Fheis on policing also pointed out that elements of the DUP were determined to use policing and other issues to prevent progress, resist power-sharing and equality and oppose any all-Ireland development and that this was unacceptable. They were prophetic words and they were borne out over the past two years.

"I hope and believe that the 5 February 2010 Agreement represents a new beginning for the relationship between the DUP and Sinn Féin, a new beginning for the Executive, the Assembly and the all-Ireland structures, as well as a new beginning to policing.

"There is also a need for a new focus on the Peace Process and the All-Ireland Process from the Irish Government, from all the political parties and from the media in this State. I have already referred to partitionism and I am afraid it is widespread in this jurisdiction. We heard it in the type of commentary which lamented the fact that the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister had to alter their schedules to attend the negotiations in Hillsborough. It was as if these were some parochial issues that shouldn’t be troubling the minds of two international statesmen.

"The issues at stake in the negotiations go to the core of the relationship between Ireland and Britain and between the people who share this island. They are about the survival and future working of the structures established under the Good Friday Agreement. They are about the continuing development of a peace process into a viable political process. Policing and justice, public safety and human rights are not trivial or parochial issues.

"The other myth peddled in recent times is the portrayal of the DUP and Sinn Féin as the two extreme parties. Related to this have been some efforts to disparage the power-sharing structures and the requirements for cross-community support in the Executive and the Assembly. In the Seanad a member claimed that the d’Hondt system “rewards people from the extremes and does not reward people who bring together communities and serve all of the people within their communities”. This position was praised by a political commentator in a national newspaper who also painted Sinn Féin as extremists along with the DUP and bracketed the two parties together in their attitude to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. I would remind the commentator in question that while the DUP excluded itself from the talks in 1998, Sinn Féin played a key role in negotiating the Good Friday Agreement, in delivering it and in implementing it.

"The same commentator proposed a return to direct rule. I am glad to say that the patience and persistence of negotiators won out and that an agreement was reached a few days after the article was written. A return to direct rule would do nothing to heal community divisions or foster co-operation and compromise. On the contrary, it would be a step backwards for everyone. What is needed is the full working of the Agreements on the basis of partnership and equality and a determination to deliver for all the people. That is the essence of the pledge taken by each Minister in the Executive.

"Yes, there is understandable frustration at the slowness of movement. But the slowness of movement at Executive and Assembly level is only part of the picture. There is an appreciation across the North that great progress has been made, that there is local accountability of Ministers and Departments and, above all, that many barriers between communities and individuals are being broken down. It is happening slowly but I believe it is also happening surely.
For the same reason the issue of parading needs to be handled with the greatest care. Remember, there is no contention about the vast majority of parades in the North. Sinn Féin acknowledges parades by the loyal orders as an expression of heritage and culture. All citizens have a right to that expression, the right to assemble and to parade. All citizens also have the right to be free from sectarian harassment. No-one should want to parade down a road or through a community where they are not welcome. This is a problem now in relatively few places and the problem must be addressed through dialogue. I hope that the arrangements put in place last Friday will bring progress in this area and that we will see a trouble-free marching season this summer. I guarantee it will not be for want of effort on the part of Sinn Féin and I want to pay tribute to our party members who have worked extremely hard over recent years to prevent conflict in inter-face areas.

"A new beginning to policing and justice is not solely a Six-County issue. We need far more robust accountability structures to ensure an end to political policing, corrupt policing and inefficient policing in this jurisdiction. The repeal of the draconian Offences Against the State Acts is long overdue.

"On the issue of collusion the current Taoiseach and the last Taoiseach have been far too accepting of the claims by the British authorities that they can do no more. We have seen the British government's continuing refusal to establish an independent international inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane, as demanded in a Dáil motion passed unanimously four years ago. We have seen their refusal to respond positively to the Dáil motion seeking complete disclosure and a Parliamanetary debate on collusion, including the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of May 1974. The Taoiseach’s responses to me on collusion have been disappointing and show a lack of appreciation of the importance of these legacy issues for all who have been directly affected by the conflict. That must change.

"The title of these Statements here today is incorrect. What we are addressing is not ‘Northern Ireland’ - it is the Peace Process and the All-Ireland Political Process. It is of vital concern to everyone on this island. I represent a Border constituency and the communities that elect me and my constituency colleagues obviously have a very particular interest in the success of the process. They have seen the very physical barriers of the Border taken down, they have seen many of the benefits of peace and dialogue and new co-operation between the two jurisdictions. But the border remains and it still causes social and economic and political disruption to communities on both sides of the frontier. It distorts the economy of this island and the lives of all who view Ireland as home.

"I welcome especially the commitment in the 5 February Agreement to work on the outstanding issues from the St. Andrew's Agreement. That must include completion and full working of the all-Ireland structures, including the North-South Parliamentary Forum. Last week in the Good Friday Agreement Implementation Committee in the Oireachtas we discussed the progress being made in all-Ireland co-operation on education and how so much more can yet be done. The same applies in areas like health, transport, employment creation, agriculture and so on.

"The real test of this Agreement will be how it delivers improvements in the daily life condition of ordinary people, not only in the Six Counties but across this island.

"The Sinn Féin Extraordinary Ard Fheis on Policing three years ago reiterated our republican commitment to bringing about Irish re-unification and the full integration of political, economic, social and cultural life on the island. We hold that commitment as firmly as ever and we look forward to its fulfilment." ENDS

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