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Adams - The Irish peace process has transformed the situation in Ireland.

22 May, 2003


Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP writing in the Irish Echo said that 't he key to making politics work is democracy. That means that people have the right to vote. It means elections.'

The Irish peace process has transformed the situation in Ireland.

Only a very short time ago a vicious circle of injustice, inequality and conflict afflicted us in the north of Ireland. All of this was the legacy of the undemocratic partition of Ireland. We seemed trapped in a conflict that many believed to be intractable. In a relatively short period of time the political landscape has been transformed and we have provided the hope, if not yet the certainty, that the injustices and failures of the past will never be repeated.

All of this has flowed from the peace process and the consequent political negotiations. For 25 years armed groups - on all sides, dictated the agenda in the north of Ireland and between Britain and Ireland. But the peace process has changed all of that. For the first time in a quarter of a century political leaders are in the driving seat.

The Irish/American community and their political representatives have played a full and highly valued role in the development of the Irish peace process.

But the involvement and interest goes way beyond the Irish/American community. The historic agreement reached between Britain and the representatives of all of the Iris people on Good Friday 1998 would not have happened without the energetic involvement of President Clinton. The current administration under President Bush is also fully engaged in the efforts to defend and advance the peace process in Ireland and I welcome and commend those efforts.

Unfortunately our peace process is again in deep crisis:

• First, the British government unilaterally suspended the democratic institutions agreed and established under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and endorsed by the Irish people 5 years ago this month.

• Second, the British government has publicly accepted that, five years on, it has failed to fully implement its commitments under the terms of the Agreement.

• Third, the British government have now cancelled elections in the north of Ireland scheduled for May of this years and there is no guarantee when these elections will take place

• Fourth, the British government has ignored the Irish government's status as joint and co-equal partner in the Agreement. Irish government opposition to unilateral British decisions has been ignored.

The British government has no right to cancel elections in Ireland, which derive directly from the Good Friday Agreement and the endorsement of that Agreement by the overwhelming majority of the Irish people.

The Irish government opposed this. Indeed every political party in Ireland opposed it. Only UUP leader David Tumble and the British government supported this undemocratic action.

The cancellation of elections is a subversion of democracy.

In any normal democratic society, a crisis in the political institutions would lead directly to elections to establish a fresh mandate for the political parties. That is the way of democracy. That is the way of politics.

But the cancellation of elections has created a dangerous political vacuum which those opposed to the peace process will seek to fill.

The process of conflict resolution in Ireland as else where is premised on the creation of a viable political, democratic and peaceful alternative to war. In short it is about making politics work.

The British and Irish governments accepted this logic in their recently published Joint Declaration when they said,

" The best way of ensuring that peace remains permanent is by demonstrating that politics work."

How does canceling democratic elections demonstrate, in any way, that politics work?

And the damage is compounded because the failure to implement the agreement in full, the suspension of the political institutions and the cancellation of the elections all result from the opposition of the Ulster Unionist Party to a new political reality based on equality and inclusivity.

No party should have a veto over change.

The elections unilaterally cancelled by the British government must be rescheduled without delay.

The political institutions unilaterally suspended by the British government need to be put back in place urgently.

There can be no renegotiation of the Good Friday Agreement. The Agreement must be implemented in full.

The commitment contained in the recent joint statement from the two governments should not be conditional. They are about the rights and entitlements of citizens and they should be delivered now.

We must see an end to political and paramilitary policing.

Our society must be demilitarized, on all sides.

There must be an end to discrimination, inequality and sectarianism.

Human rights must become a reality for all our people.

There is a particular onus on the British government to deliver on these obligations.

Of course, the Ulster Unionist Party and their allies in the British system have attempted to blame Irish republicans, and in particular the IRA, for the present hiatus. This is nonsense. The willingness of the IRA to contribute to the peace process was spelt out in a statement given to the two governments on April 13. The Irish government, and incredibly, the British government also, recognised the many positive aspects of the IRA statement, the obvious progress and, crucially, the clear desire of the IRA to make the peace process work.

This represented a phenomenal opportunity, which would not have been imaginable only a few years ago. That opportunity should have been built upon. In any other conflict situation an acknowledgement by one side of the peaceful intent of the other would have been seized and built upon. But not so in Ireland.

Instead we had a word game, which continued for weeks and ended ultimately with the rejection by the Ulster Unionists and the British government of the most recent, and unprecedented IRA initiative.

There was no lack of clarity in the IRA positions. Their commitment to the peace process and their willingness to contribute to its success was explicit and unambiguous.

The word game was, in fact, a cover for the rejection of the IRA initiative by an Ulster Unionist Party now dominated by anti-peace process elements and whose agenda is to halt the process of democracy and change.

But despite the present and on-going difficulties that we face, I can say without any fear of contradiction that where we are now is a far better place than where we were 10 years ago. There is a heavy onus on those in political leadership to build on this progress and to avoid the complacency or short-sightedness that wrecked hopes of peace elsewhere in the world. That is my commitment and that of Sinn Fein.

The key to making politics work is democracy. That means that people have the right to vote. It means elections.

Sinn Féin is totally wedded to the peace process. We want an end to conflict in our country. I firmly believe that, if there is political will and common sense and a determination to leave the failures of the past behind us, we can collectively achieve a new, better and peaceful future for all of the people of Ireland.

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