Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Taoiseach, you see the north as a foreign country - Adams

20 January, 2015 - by Gerry Adams

Full text of Sinn Féin President and Louth TD Gerry Adams full remarks in the Dáil debate this evening on the Stormont House Agreement below.

"Ceann Comhairle

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabhaíl le achan nduine a bhí páirteach sna comhchainteanna, go háirithe an tAire Flannagan agus an tAire Sherlock, na páirtithe uilig, an Seanadóir Gary Hart agus Consul General na Stát Aontaithe sa tuaisceart agus na daoine go háirithe fosta a lean ar aghaidh go stuama nuair a bhí cúrsaí deacair go leor agus ar deireadh a tháinig ar chomhréiteach ag an Nollaig.

I want to especially thank Martin McGuinness and the excellent team of experienced Sinn Féin negotiators who provided consistent, clear and unwavering leadership; who refused to be discouraged and who worked very hard to chart a positive path to a successful conclusion.

And Sinn Féin was very clearly about our objectives.

These were to agree a deal that would protect the most vulnerable in society, to safeguard the rights and entitlements of citizens, to deliver on outstanding agreements, to grow the economy, and to enhance the workings of the institutions.

The failure, principally by the Irish and British governments, to implement outstanding commitments; and the failure of our government to act as a co-equal guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement and other agreement, as well the tensions between the Executive and the British government, most notably around British demands for welfare cuts which were blatantly supported by the Irish government; was the context of the latest crisis.

This Austerity policy is similar to the Irish governments and was actively endorsed by the Taoiseach.

Sinn Féin was steadfast in our opposition to this agenda.

The British government’s failure to honour its commitments made in the Good Friday and other agreements, such as an inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane, was another important factor in the crisis.

The London government’s refusal to back the Haass proposals to deal with the vexed issues of identity, parading and the legacy of past had only succeeded in emboldening unionist hostility to the power sharing arrangements.

And there is never any real incentive for political unionism to move forward in a consistent and progressive way if a British or an Irish government is not giving clear and unambiguous leadership and implementing commitments.

It took between 18 months and two years for Sinn Féin to persuade the two governments to be part of a talks process.

This included, a cathaoirleach, the failure by the Taoiseach to meet with myself and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness over the summer as the Taoiseach had promised  as far back as last spring.

By the time the Taoiseach and British Prime Minister and the Tánaiste arrived in Belfast on December 11th there was no great optimism that progress could be achieved.

And the presentation by the two governments, by the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister, of a deeply flawed paper on a take it or leave it basis, and the approach of both these principals during those talks, was amateurish and ham fisted.

And the departure of Mr. Cameron and Teachta Kenny 24 hours later led many to believe that the negotiations were over and that the political institutions were at real risk of collapsing.

The intervention amounted to little more than a charade.

It was not, in my humble opinion a serious endeavour.

The paper, from the Irish government and form Mr. Cameron sought to nationalise austerity with the Irish government supporting British Tory efforts to hurt the most vulnerable citizens in the north.

Ní raibh Acht na Gaeilge, ní raibh Bille Cearta luaite sa pháipéar sina chuir siad isteach sna cainteanna agus mar eolas don Teachta Martin beidh Acht na Gaeilge curtha amach ag an Aire Ní Chuillin roimh i bhfad agus tchífidh muid cad a tharlóidh ansin.

The Irish government also acquiesced to the British government’s use of ‘national security’ to deny information to victims and to the British demand to end the right of families of victims to an inquest in the coroners’ courts.

If this proposal had been accepted, and it was rejected forthrightly by Sinn Féin, this would have left victim families, including the Ballymurphy families whom the Taoiseach has met, and who have campaigned for decades for the right to Article 2 compliance inquests, with no access to the crucial inquest system.

And without consulting victims families and contrary to these victims families, the Government signed up to ending this system!

This was totally at odds with the Taoiseach’s promise in here to seek an all-party Oireachtas motion – which he has never brought forward – to support the Ballymurphy families.

Nor was there any guarantee in the paper tabled initially by the two governments that the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, again the subject of an all-party Oireachtas motion, whether this would be considered under the proposed ‘civil Inquisitorial’ process under the new Historical Investigations Unit.

So, on December 12th David Cameron returned to London and the Taoiseach returned to Dublin leaving the process in a worse state than it was in when they arrived.

The spin from the governments at that point was that over one billion pounds was available, this was the best deal possible and that quickly evaporated under scrutiny.

As one British journalist put it the British cheque book was ‘all stubs and no cheques. The £1 billion in spending power offered by the prime minister is largely a borrowing facility which the executive can already dip into.’

The Irish government tried to sell this as a gain for the Executive – as something we should be grateful for!

In fact when the two principals left a consensus was reached by the Executive parties, at the initiative of Martin McGuinness and under the leadership of Martin and Peter Robinson, to push for a real and meaningful negotiation.

Six days later and following lengthy discussions, many of them into the small hours of the morning, and at least one all-night session, an Agreement was achieved.

This reversed many of the proposals put by the two governments.

Proof of this can be got by parsing the first draft with the final agreed draft and I would ask anyone who has any doubts about what I’m saying to do that.

And the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Junior Minister may recall that the negotiation eventually only got on the right tracks when Martin McGuinness and I warned the two governments that their proposals were not sustainable.

Now the Taoiseach has made a habit of saying that Martin McGuinness was prepared to accept a lesser deal than I was.

He actually described my behaviour as ‘outrageous’.

I could take that as a backhanded compliment, but I don’t.

Because his assertion is totally untruthful.

Martin McGuinness is as committed to all of these issues as I am and he described your remark as stupid.

So why should a Taoiseach say such a thing?

If the Taoiseach put any thought into this remark it is obviously to distract attention from this government’s refusal to develop any strategy for engagement with the British as a co-equal guarantor of the Good Fridayand other agreements.

In fact as someone who has dealt with every Irish government since Charlie Haughey’s time, including another Fine Gael government, this administration led by Mr. Kenny is the most deficient, inefficient and incompetent in dealing with the north.

I do not say that lightly. It is my considered opinion.

You Taoiseach see the north as a foreign country.

Rather than facing across the border and extending the hand of friendship to all the people of the north, you face away from the border and turn your back on the people there.

I ask you to reflect seriously on what I am saying and for you and your government to develop a strategy to fully implement the Good Friday and other agreements as you are obliged to do.

So what was the outcome of our ‘outrageous negotiation?’

The total value of the British government’s revised financial proposals amount now to almost £2 billion –double what was originally offered.

This includes £650 million of new and additional funding, including up to £500 million over 10 years of new capital to support shared and integrated education.

Crucially, Tánaiste, crucially there will be no reductions in welfare payments under the control of the Executive.

The new welfare protections are unique to the north and are in sharp contrast to the austerity-driven welfare system being rolled out in Britain or the austerity driven focus of the government in Dublin.

Anti-poverty measures will be funded. They will remain in place.

On the wider political issues significant progress was achieved.

I described this, and the two Ministers will recall this, as a defensive negotiation by Sinn Féin.

Defending what had been gained previously and what was being diluted as a result of the ongoing process.

The progress included:

  • The effort to close off access to inquests to the families of victims of the conflict that was defeated.

  • Ghlacfaidh an dá rialtas le stádas agus meas a bhronnadh ar an Ghaeilege ag teacht le Cart na dTeangacha Réigiúnacha nó Mionlacha ó Chomhairle na hEorpa.

  • Work has also commenced on the devolution of additional fiscal powers needed to grow the economy. And that it being progressed.

  • A detailed proposal on a Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition was agreed, including its make-up and remit.

  • Legislation on parades will be prepared with proper regard for fundamental rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Parades Commission remains in place.

And these proposals are all in my view Haass proofed.

The Historical Investigations Unit will have the full co-operation of all relevant Irish authorities, including disclosure of information and documentation.

Important changes to the working arrangements of the Assembly and Executive were also agreed.

Of course, the Stormont House Agreement, like all previous agreements, is only as good as the determination on the part of those to implement it.

It is another key staging post in the peace process.

But the priority now needs to be on implementation.

Thus far the involvement of the two governments, in the term of this government, has been totally inadequate.

I have commended Minister Sherlock and Minister Flanagan.

It is still a matter of wonderment for me what the Tánaiste was doing there.

I still haven’t figured that out.

Of course you have the right to be there and I welcome you but I still haven’t figured your role because you said nothing in my presence during any of the talks we were in together.

I would urge the government to accept that the success and stability of the peace and political process in the north and the all-island institutions are bigger and more important than any short-sighted selfish electoral political agenda.

The north is generally raised here in this chamber by the other parties in a futile effort to score political points against Sinn Féin.

Some of the progress that has been made has been the subject of some ill-informed and indeed some untruthful comment, including by the Taoiseach earlier today, by the Tánaiste and by the leader of Fianna Fáil.

For example, there is a claim that the Agreement will see redundancies in the public sector.

Now this may have been the intention of the proposals put by the governments initially but let me be clear there will be no compulsory redundancies.

The Stormont House Agreement provides for a voluntary redundancy scheme for public sector workers who want it.

The scale of the take-up will be driven by public sector workers, balanced with the need to maintain public services.

We will not make the mistake that the government made here and allow any scheme to undermine public services in pursuit of savings.

Any scheme will be agreed in consultation with the Trade Unions and the Executive Ministers.

The peace process is the most important political project on this island at this time.

It needs to be nurtured, protected and enhanced.

It must remain, not regardless of all the priorities, but alongside all the other priorities, it must be at the top of the government’s agenda.

I welcome financial commitments, including €25 million annually for the A5 project; that will assist people in Tír Chonaill, as well as in Derry, Fermanagh and Tyrone.

I welcome additional funding for reconciliation and for EU Peace and Interreg programmes.

And the renewed commitment by the government to Narrow Water and the Ulster Canal projects.

These are important developments.

But we need to see delivery on them.

There is also action, outside of what happened at Stormont House, by the government on the extension of voting rights to citizens in the north in Presidential elections.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs in another capacity spoke at the Constitutional Convention in favour of that.

I think he was serious and genuine about that.

But the decision by the government not to proceed on this recommendation of the Constitutional Convention is deeply disappointing and let’s down many citizens in the north who are Irish citizens and who believe they should have a say in the election of the President of Ireland.

Finally let me say that the joint paper tabled by the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister is not the paper agreed in the absence of the British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach at Stormont House.

I very much welcome that.

What you were putting forward was not sustainable and was entirely inadequate and in breach of your own obligations under the Good FridayAgreement and I very much welcome the Stormont House Agreement."

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