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Ó Caoláin - Notion that IRA can be wished away absurd

7 April, 2004


Sinn Féin Dáil leader, Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin accused Fine Gael, the Labour Party and the Greens of joining the anti-Sinn Féin crusade of the Minister for Justice Michael McDowell. However, he said, "Sinn Féin will not be distracted by any of this. We will not take party political point-scoring dressed up as solemn homilies on our commitment to democracy."

Deputy Ó Caoláin went on to say that "Both governments and all political parties who have been party to the Good Friday Agreement are supposed to be involved in a process of conflict resolution. A key part of that is to recognise that all armed groups, the IRA, the British state forces and their auxiliaries the unionist paramilitaries have been involved in the conflict. The British state has yet to acknowledge even a share of responsibility for the conflict, including the deaths of hundreds of people at its hands since 1969. It has yet to dismantle its military apparatus in our country.

"This alone exposes as absurd the notion that the IRA can be wished away or made to disappear with a magic wand waved by Sinn Féin, " he said.

Full text of speech by Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin to Fine Gael Private Members Motion

I move the amendment in the name of the Sinn Féin Deputies.

I welcome the fact that Fine Gael has at last used its Private Members time to address an aspect of the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement. This is a very rare occurrence and Fine Gael has been joined on this occasion by the Labour and Green Party deputies. It is a pity then, that the motion to which they have put their names is so fundamentally flawed. The motion is ostensibly based on the Good Friday Agreement. Its real political context, however, is the anti-Sinn Féin crusade of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and President of the Progressive Democrats, Deputy Michael McDowell. Minister McDowell has decided that such a crusade is a good electoral ploy for his party, especially in its battle for Fine Gael votes, just as he did when he launched his own personal election campaign in 2002. But the Minister and his colleagues in Government have no regard for the impact of his utterances on the wider peace process, as distinct from the electoral contest in this State.

Many of the Fianna Fáil Front Bench are happy to see the Minister unleashed, happy to benefit from any damage they think he may inflict on Sinn Féin electorally. I hope the weather keeps fine for them. No doubt Minister McDowell has sneaking regarders also in the Fianna Fáil back benches, but I believe that many in that party, and many more among their current supporters, are very concerned at the leading role Minister McDowell has now been given in driving Government policy on the peace process and the Six Counties. The Minister's increasingly hysterical statements have been manna from heaven to those unionists who do not wish to share power with nationalists and to those in the British state system who are determined to deny Sinn Féin's democratic mandate. Ian Paisley himself, in an RTE Prime Time interview on 10 February defended the DUP's refusal to deal with Sinn Féin by citing Minister McDowell's accusations. "What better witness could I call?" asked Mr. Paisley. Is that the kind of endorsement the Deputies who support this Cabinet want to receive for their policy on the peace process?

Sinn Féin will not be distracted by any of this. We are committed to the Good Friday Agreement and to its full implementation. We recognise what has been achieved so far and what has yet to be achieved. We take our responsibility very seriously and we stand on our record of achievement. We have delivered and we continue to deliver. So we will not take party political point-scoring dressed up as solemn homilies on our commitment to democracy. We are democrats and we are committed to totally peaceful and democratic means of achieving our political objectives. Both governments and all political parties who have been party to the Good Friday Agreement are supposed to be involved in a process of conflict resolution. A key part of that is to recognise that all armed groups ? the IRA, the British state forces and their auxiliaries the unionist paramilitaries have been involved in the conflict. The British state has yet to acknowledge even a share of responsibility for the conflict, including the deaths of hundreds of people at its hands since 1969. It has yet to dismantle its military apparatus in our country. This alone exposes as absurd the notion that the IRA can be wished away or made to disappear with a magic wand waved by Sinn Féin.

Equally absurd was the statement from Deputy Kenny that the IRA won't go away without what he called the full rigours of the law. For Deputy Kenny's information that was tried for decades North and South of the Border. A so-called law and order solution failed and failed miserably. The lesson was learned and that is why we have a peace process.

Deputy Kenny and others praised the DUP. Fair enough. Sinn Féin has also recognised movement on the part of the DUP where appropriate and we will continue to encourage them. But what Deputy Kenny and others prefer to forget is that the DUP is an anti-Agreement party. They are in no position to accuse Sinn Féin of being in breach of the Agreement since they themselves reject and denounce that Agreement.

To ignore that reality, to feed DUP intransigence, to play to the agenda of the British securocrats who are trying to defeat republicans in peace as they failed

to do in war is to subvert the entire peace process. It is to act as recruiting sergeants for so-called dissidents who will try to say that peaceful methods

have failed. I urge Deputies to think very carefully about that and to measure their approach accordingly.

Sinn Féin does not seek a slap on the back for our role in bringing about a new direction for republicanism, including the IRA cessations since 1994. That was not our role alone. What we do seek is a continued commitment from the Irish Government and from all sides in this House to the process of change which made that new direction possible.

Deputy Rabitte said he wanted to see a post-IRA Ireland. So do I. I want to see a post-IRA Ireland, a post-British Army Ireland, a post-collusion Ireland and a post-British colonial Ireland. He referred to the dark secrets of the past. I will avoid the temptation to delve into the dark past of the so-called Official Republican Movement of which Deputy Rabbitte was once a member. I will just say that I am glad that no obstacles or preconditions were placed in his path to the Cabinet table and that his democratic mandate has been recognised at all times.

I don't think it is too much to ask Deputies on all sides of the House to acknowledge that the use of force, necessitated by the intransigence of successive British governments, played a crucial role in the achievement of independence for 26 of the 32 Counties and that recognition of the right to use force to achieve independence has been a central tenet of Irish nationalism for generations, including among the founders of most political parties in the Dáil. In that context the transformation achieved in Irish republicanism over the past decade is truly historic.

As the Sinn Féin amendment states, the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning was provided for in legislation by both Governments to deal with the issue of arms. The IRA has put substantial quantities of arms and ammunition beyond use on three occasions. Anyone who knows anything about Irish politics recognises that such a development would have been inconceivable up to the very recent past. The Taoiseach himself has acknowledged in this House that the latest such action on the part of the IRA, carried out as part of the agreed sequence of statements and actions of 21st October last, was sufficient for the Irish Government.

There were real and protracted negotiations between the UUP and Sinn Féin which were to culminate on 21st October. This was the second such attempt to break the deadlock in 2003. The first had been scuppered by the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party.

Despite this massive setback and the outrageous decision of the British government to cancel Assembly elections last May, Sinn Féin again entered negotiations with the UUP. At Hillsborough Castle on October 19th Sinn Féin and the UUP reached agreement on a sequence of events.

When the two governments were informed that agreement had been reached they also signed on for it.

This agreed sequence was the product of many weeks of intense discussions involving Sinn Féin, the UUP and the British and Irish governments and would allow for the restoration of the political institutions and the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and allow elections to be held in a positive context. It involved many hours of direct engagement between Sinn Féin and the leadership of the UUP.

All elements of the sequence were agreed in advance, including the public statements containing the commitments, which we would all make as part of this agreement. The sequence involved:

· An announcement by the British Government confirming the date for an Assembly election.

· A statement by Gerry Adams

· A statement by the IRA

· A further act of putting arms beyond use by the IRA, verified by the IICD.

· A report by the IICD

· A statement by David Trimble

· A joint statement by the two governments.

Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinnes have in their possession copies of the statement that David Trimble was to make. They have copies of the Joint Statement that the two governments were to issue.

Sinn Féin delivered our part of this sequence. The IRA delivered their part of the sequence as agreed. The IICD presided over a substantial act of putting arms beyond use and reported this. The UUP however, at the point of delivery on their side, effectively walked away.

The two governments failed to publish their joint statement and, thus far, they have failed to follow through on a range of commitments which formed part of this agreement.

The Irish Government cannot have it both ways. It cannot be party to such an agreement, acknowledge that republicans played their part and then demand more after unionists walk away. When the electioneering is over the Irish Government will have to come back to the correct position and deal with the realities of the situation.

Sinn Féin wants to see force and violence in all its forms removed forever from the political equation in Ireland. To respond positively to Deputy Jim O'Keeence of one point or another or the phrasing of this or that element, let us at least pledge to each other and to all who have placed their trust in this process our commitment to continue to engage, to search and ultimately to succeed in delivering on the hope and promise of the Good Friday Agreement and the potential that flows from it. For my part, as Dáil leader of Sinn Féin, I do so pledge on my own behalf, on behalf of my colleague Dáil deputies and on behalf of Sinn Féin.

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