Gerry Adams article in the Irish Times
Sinn Fein is approaching the discussions in Leeds Castle later this week positively and with a determination to see the crisis in the political process resolved, the political institutions restored and the process of change outlined in the Good Friday Agreement accelerated. It is my firm belief that agreement is possible but that requires that the other parties, and particularly the DUP, also come at the discussion with a sense of what is possible.
Despite DUP posturing, the reality is that the majority of the electorate is pro-Agreement; all of the parties in these discussions, with the sole exception of the DUP, regard themselves as pro-Agreement; the Irish government is pro-Agreement; and the British government professes, also, to be pro-Agreement. The DUP represents the anti-agreement minority of the electorate. The logic of all of this is that, if there is to be an agreement involving the DUP and the other parties then the DUP will have to abandon their rejectionist policy and move away from positions which are designed to destroy the fundamental principles of the Agreement.
Whether the DUP will do this remains to be seen. But let me be clear. There will no erosion of the core elements, principles and safeguards of the Good Friday Agreement. These include:
- the power-sharing arrangements in the north and specifically
- the joint office of First and Deputy First Ministers and
- the executive authority of ministers over their own departments
- the all-Ireland political architecture and
- the equality and human rights agendas.
For this reason, many of the DUP positions outlined in 'Devolution Now' are non-starters. In particular, Sinn Fein is determined that:
- There will be no return to Unionist rule, under cover of either a voluntary coalition or a Corporate Assembly.
- There will be no erosion of the independence of ministers.
- There will be no de-coupling of the conjoined office of First and Deputy First Ministers
- Key votes will continue to take place on a cross community basis and will not be subject to a unionist majority
- There will be no 30 year moratorium on a border poll
- There will be no dilution of the all-Ireland structures
- There will be no reversal of the equality and human rights agendas
It has yet to be established whether the DUP are capable or willing to share power with nationalists and republicans and of accepting us as equals. Many nationalists and republicans look at the record of the DUP, its links with unionist paramilitaries, in particular its participation in the founding of Ulster Resistance, and are sceptical to the point of disbelief that the DUP are prepared to reach an agreement within the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. This view has been reinforced by Ian Paisley's recent outbursts. Despite this, Sinn Fein is approaching this engagement constructively and with the objective of achieving a comprehensive agreement.
But if the DUP are incapable of accepting equality, if they are incapable of sharing power and the all-Ireland shape of the agreement, then there is an onus on the two governments, and the British government in particular, to move immediately on the human rights, equality, policing and demilitarisation agendas.
The British government needs to stop rewarding negative unionism. It is also not credible for the British Government to claim that the outstanding issues of the Good Friday Agreement are now reduced to 'paramilitarism' and 'power sharing'. These matters certainly must be resolved but so to must all of the issues which are the responsibility of the two governments. These include equality, human rights, demilitarisation, outstanding matters on policing, including an inquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane and representation by elected representatives for the North in the Oireachtas, and other matters.
The British Government must advance and accelerate the agenda of change set out in the Good Friday Agreement. It must stop filtering basic rights and entitlements through the prism of negative unionism. The Good Friday Agreement was endorsed democratically by the majority of the Irish people, north and south. Sinn Fein wants an agreement with unionism, including the DUP. We want to see an end to the sectarian bigotry, discrimination and division which has characterized this state since its foundation.
But the process of change must not be frozen if unionism cannot come to terms with new political realties. The political leadership of unionism cannot be allowed to continue to veto the fundamental rights and entitlements of citizens or to veto other changes necessary to the development of a society at peace with itself. Sinn Fein is working to build an accommodation with unionism but such an accommodation must be on the basis of equality, inclusivity and mutual respect. Unionism, if it is not up to the challenge of equality, cannot be allowed a veto over progress and cannot be allowed to destroy an agreement democratically endorsed by the vast majority of the people on this island. ENDS