Sinn Féin - On Your Side

McLaughlin challenges British government to meet the demands of the peace process

9 September, 2004


Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchal McLaughlin today addressed the INCORE conference at the waterfront Hall in Belfast. In his speech Mr McLaughlin challenged the British government to meet the demands of the peace process and said that 'current British policy perpetuates an institutionalised inequality and many unionists consequently see no imperative to co-operate with or to promote the concept of reform or change'.

Full Text of Mitchel McLaughlin's Speech

" Thirty years ago Ireland was engulfed in a spiralling and tragic conflict. Here in the North, the IRA was building up its campaign, internment without trial was in force and the British Army was on the rampage throughout nationalist areas. British forces were openly colluding with loyalists paramilitaries and had bombed Dublin and Monaghan in May, killing 33 people. That same month, the Sunningdale Executive collapsed after the then Labour Government capitulated to the strike staged by the Ulster Workers‚ Council. Loyalist paramilitaries with the active support of many leading members of both Unionist Parties, kept workers out of their workplaces and mounted patrols and checkpoints under the noses of the RUC and British Army. Loyalist death squads carried out sectarian killings at will. In Parkhurst Prison, Michael Gaughan died on Hunger Strike on the 3rd June of that year. But in Dublin, the Irish government demonstrated no concern for the behaviour of the British Government or its security agencies but instead focussed its‚ energy in combating the IRA!

" That was then and who nowadays would risk a return to that nightmare or invite a repeat of that conflict ridden history? The media recently has been full of the events of ten years ago when the IRA declared a complete cessation of military operations. There was much analysis and not a little revisionism as we remember the howls of protest at that time of the prospect of inclusive negotiations. Indeed some are still howling, or so it seems.

" A lot has changed since that dramatic event but more needs to be done to achieve a stable and democratic future.

" We have all, British and Irish, been victims of a historic tension that has poisoned relationships between our islands. Our history on this island, and our relationship with our closest neighbour, has been difficult and at times destructive. The shared history of tragic conflict is ample testimony to all of that.

" But what of the future and the achievement of a more peaceful co-existence?It seems obvious to me that the British government has a blind spot in accepting that its present policy of upholding the Union constitutes an obstacle to a comprehensive resolution of the conflict or indeed effective community relations. History makes prisoners of Governments as well as political movements and community organisations. Sinn Féin negotiators will once again seek to persuade that so long as the British government holds to this position; it subverts the spirit and substance of the Agreement and is a contradiction of its obligations on Equality and Parity of Esteem.

" The unaccountable ŒNorthern Ireland Office‚ is a particular example of the need for urgent change. The NIO with its in-built Unionist bias runs the six-counties virtually as the old Stormont government. Direct Rule Ministers fly in for a few hours a week simply to rubber stamp decisions pre-formulated by senior Civil Servants.

" Too often, progress on many crucial issues has been obstructed by elements in the Northern Ireland Office which, despite the peace process, has clung to a redundant agenda. Current British policy perpetuates an institutionalised inequality and many unionists consequently see no imperative to co-operate with or to promote the concept of reform or change, so how then could a community relations policy succeed?. Political Unionism continues to rely on a Œprivileged access‚ with official government organs that share and reflect a unionist ethos. And as we have witnessed on many occasions, they can also depend on a flow of leaked confidential Government memo‚s to help put manners on Ministers or to assist in projecting a Unionist analysis of ongoing political developments.

" The absence of an objective community relations policy was furthermore dramatically evident in the events around disputed loyalist parades over recent weeks which undoubtedly had the potential to do calamitous damage to the Peace process had people been killed. This malign and anti-Agreement attitude within the NIO has been underscored by the discovery in recent days that NIO ministers and whoever is pulling their strings had authorised the planting of a bugging device in the home of a Sinn Fein constituency worker.

" Republicans are perplexed and frustrated by the British Governments approach. Are they again following a security driven agenda, controlled and directed by the spooks in the NIO? Despite the commitments of Tony Blair, are elements of his Government still at war in Ireland? Is that why there remains in the North, twice as many British troops as in Iraq and deliberate foot-dragging on the demolishing of the look-out towers? Is it the case that perhaps the British Government cannot deliver on the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement because of the implications of accepting responsibility for murderous collusion with Unionist paramilitaries? Small wonder then that many within the Unionist constituency are generally in favour of the status quo, no matter how undemocratic.

" Current British policy guarantees only continued division and undermines the efforts of those attempting to build non-threatening relationships that would encompass all of our divergent philosophies and aspirations in peace and harmony and that is why the Good Friday Agreement is so vitally important. Under the terms of the Agreement the British government has a duty to guarantee that it is at all times and in all circumstances rigorously impartial in its dealings with Irish nationalism and Unionism. For this scenario to fully develop it is imperative that the British government takes immediate steps to root the spooks out of the NIO and to change its policy to one based on Equality and Parity of Esteem.

" If the British government has any specific obligation to unionists it is to use its influence to persuade them that they have nothing to fear and indeed much to gain from equality. So has the Community Relations project.

Sinn Féin has sought to engage our opponents, to understand their perspective and to develop ways to overcome difficulties and differences. " And, in concert with others, we have had some success. The political landscape on the island has been transformed. The challenge now is to continue the forward movement and not allow the advance we have made to be undermined by complacency, intransigence or a lack of imagination.

Indeed to facilitate the process, Sinn Féin has argued that it is time for the British Government to build a strategic alliance with Irish nationalists to compliment its‚ existing relationship with Unionism.

" Of course there are at present, deep difficulties in the peace process which must be urgently addressed and overcome. Instead of stable political institutions with the people‚s elected representatives making decisions on important social and economic issues; instead of a fully operational Assembly and all-Ireland institutions leading the delivery of change, advancing the equality agenda and championing a human rights based society; we have continuing impasse. Most importantly we do not have the inclusive power-sharing institutions which are central to making politics work for the first time in the north and for the first time on an all-Ireland basis.

" Our task as politicians, as political leaders, is to find a resolution to all of these outstanding matters. There is no alternative. We will have to do it sometime, so why not now? The best way to do this is through direct dialogue, including between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

" The main political objective in the immediate term is of course to establish whether or not the DUP are up for agreeing the sort of holistic package which is necessary to see the political institutions re-established and the other outstanding Good Friday Agreement issues resolved. This is of course proving somewhat difficult given the mixed signals being sent by the DUP over recent weeks.

" However I have to say that the comments made by Peter Robinson regarding the need for the British Government to pay a peace dividend to undo the decades of neglect and under funding mirrors the position which has been advanced by Sinn Féin for many years.

" In every negotiation and indeed within the Executive Sinn Féin argued strongly that all of the local parties needed to adopt a united approach in demanding that the British government deliver a substantial and meaningful peace dividend.

" Sinn Fein believes that it is possible within the terms set out in the Good Friday Agreement to achieve a comprehensive package, which deals with all of the outstanding matters, including those issues that have fixated the Unionist Parties and to do so in a manner that is definitive and conclusive. Of course such a package will require all participants to step up to the plate.

"We need to make politics work as a credible and effective alternative to conflict. That has been the lesson of the last 10 years when peace making replaced conflict. We need to build on what works.

" The enormous progress which we have achieved over the past 10 years is proof positive that an approach based on inclusivity; equality and mutual respect does work. It requires hard work and at times, even harder decisions. But that is the nature of peace making. It is a mammoth task but it has to be finished sometime. Why not now?." ENDS

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