Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Mary Lou McDonald addresses Parnell Summer School on the Peace Process

20 August, 2004


Sinn Féin Dublin MEP today addressed the annual Parnell Summer School at the Wooden Bridge Hotel, Co Wicklow, and said that 'Sinn Fein's objective going into the negotiations in September is to end the crisis in the process and restore the political institutions'.

Addressing the gathering Ms McDonald said:

"The democratic position in any society is that the people should govern through those they democratically elect. Sinn Féin‚s primary political objective is a national representative democracy in Ireland. In the shorter term our objective is to see the political institutions, formed as a result of the peace process, re-established. This is the challenge in the months ahead as we attempt to resolve outstanding issues and difficulties. Sinn Fein‚s objective going into the negotiations in September is to end the crisis in the process and restore the political institutions.

"If Republicans and nationalists are to be convinced that the British government is serious about making this process work we need to see evidence that the Good Friday Agreement is being implemented, positively, constructively, speedily. Sinn Fein‚s goal is to achieve a comprehensive definitive agreement on all the outstanding issues. But to achieve that the two governments and the DUP have to play their part. The British government has the pivotal role in creating the context for this. So far we have seen little evidence to suggest that it is up to this challenge". ENDS

Full text of speech:

I want to thank D. PJ Matthews, the director of the Parnell Summer School, for the invitation to speak here and I want to congratulate everyone involved in the Summer School for the impressive success of this year‚s school.

Our discussion in this session is a reflection upon the journey we have made over the past decade and more, and the distance we still have to travel in the time ahead.

The democratic position in any society is that the people should govern through those they democratically elect. Sinn Féin‚s primary political objective is a national representative democracy in Ireland. In the shorter term our objective is to see the political institutions, formed as a result of the peace process, re-established. This is the challenge in the months ahead as we attempt to resolve outstanding issues and difficulties.

This month marks the tenth anniversary of the first IRA cessation. It was a time of great hope and indeed for some a time of great uncertainty. Indeed it was the former UUP leader Jim Molyneaux who described the IRA cessation as the most destabilising event since partition.

The establishments throughout the island were in many ways comfortable with the certainties of conflict and division and in many cases feared and shied away from the challenges presented by peace and the possibility of a developing peace process.

From the beginning it was very obvious that there were those at the very heart of the British system who were opposed to the embryonic peace process and were determined to erect obstacles to dialogue beginning. So-called Decontamination periods and the issue of arms were deliberately introduced into the process in a determined effort by elements of the British system within the NIO to scupper the opportunity for peace before the process could even get moving. Disgracefully the then Taoiseach John Bruton adopted the British and unionist position and fractured the Irish nationalist consensus upon which the opportunity had been built.

But Republicans then, as now, were not naive. We never believed that those people in both states who wanted to defeat Irish Republicanism and the pursuit of Irish unity and independence would simply go away. We knew they would continue their efforts to frustrate progress and ghettoise and demonise our struggle.

But I believe that these people have underestimated the will of republicans to make this process work. They underestimated our absolute commitment to the peace process. When republicans say they are committed to the peace process we have time and again backed it with actions.

After agreement was finally reached in 1998, the Sinn Féin leadership, mirroring the approach adopted by our colleagues in the ANC, went out into the country and actively sold the benefits of the Good Friday Agreement. We had the arguments. We had the debate and we emerged ready to go about the business of seeing the changes demanded within the Agreement implemented.

Others, particularly the UUP, adopted a different approach. They didn't do the job of selling the Agreement. David Trimble knows the Agreement is good for our society. But since April 1998 he has allowed his political compass to be set by Ian Paisley.

This is what has driven his 'in - out' approach to the political institutions. For this has been part of his wider battle within unionism. As Ian Paisley set the unionist agenda of opposition to the Good Friday Agreement David Trimble's biggest mistake was to respond by trying to out Paisley-Paisley. It is therefore not surprising the DUP overtook the UUP in recent electoral contests.

Even when the IRA leadership moved to save the peace process by putting arms beyond use in October 2001 and in October 2003, David Trimble responded in the same vein as before. Mr Trimble's bluff had been called. He was now preoccupied with Mr Paisley at his shoulder rather than the Agreement or the peace process or indeed the issue of arms.

It is however, important to first set out the political context in which all of this was and is taking place: that is, a political crisis in the process which has existed in its current acute form for well over 2 years now. This crisis has essentially two different but related elements, one is the refusal or inability of unionist leaders to come to terms with the changes heralded by the Good Friday Agreement, and the other, and deeper element of the crisis, is the failure of the British Government to fulfil their obligations and commitments which have flowed from the Agreement.

It has left us in a situation 6 years on from the Good Friday Agreement where we have no political institutions, policing is still not right, the criminal justice system in the six counties still has not been transformed. Basic equality and human rights entitlements have been stalled and nationalist and border communities are still blighted by the British apparatus of war. In short the governments have allowed large sections of the Agreement to be filtered through an increasingly right wing and reactionary unionist prism. This approach is completely unacceptable.

Republicans are rightly impatient. We want equality now. We want human rights now. We want maximum political and constitutional change now. Others are opposed to this. Our challenge is to be imaginative and determined in delivering on the Agreement's agenda for change. Despite the protestations of the DUP and others it is the delivery of the GFA agenda which will be at the core of any political deal.

Sinn Fein's objective going into the negotiations in September is to end the crisis in the process and restore the political institutions.

However, republicans are not convinced of the commitment to progress by the two governments, especially the British government, and the DUP. Indeed, given the British governments track record of failing to implement the Agreement, its breach of commitments made last October, its creation of the IMC and much more, there are many who believe it is failing the peace process.

The British government therefore faces a major challenge in the immediate time ahead. Either it stands with the Good Friday Agreement, and builds a bridge toward democracy and equality, or it sides with the forces of reaction as successive British government's did for decades.

The reality at this time is that elements within the British system, the securocrats and the faceless pro-union bureaucrats of the NIO, are doing their best to subvert progress and to encourage the backward slide.

If Republicans and nationalists are to be convinced that the British government is serious about making this process work we need to see evidence that the Good Friday Agreement is being implemented, positively, constructively, speedily.

In our discussions over the summer with the two governments we have focused on the key problem issues which we believe all of the participants have a duty to resolve. These include:

The need for all parties to participate fully in the political institutions;

The issues of policing and justice, and especially agreement by unionists on the transfer of powers to the Executive and Assembly within a specific timeframe.

The issue of armed groups and of arms

And, the issues of human rights, equality and sectarianism.

The British and Irish governments also have responsibility for other matters.

However, the fact is that the DUP is refusing to talk directly to Sinn Féin and has set so many pre conditions for progress is a challenge for that party but also for the two governments if the institutions are to be restored.

We also raised with the governments but particularly the British government the Pat Finucane case and its reneging on its commitment to hold an inquiry, as well as the wider issue of collusion.

Sinn Fein's goal is to achieve a comprehensive definitive agreement on all the outstanding issues. But to achieve that the two governments and the DUP have to play their part. The British government has the pivotal role in creating the context for this. So far we have seen little evidence to suggest that it is up to this challenge. ENDS

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