Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Adams makes keynote address on current crisis in the process

17 April, 2003


Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams tonight spoke at a meeting to launch the Party's Assembly candidates for the Newry and Armagh constituency. Mr. Adams addressed the current crisis in the peace process:

"Tonight is about formally launching our candidates for Newry and Armagh in the Assembly elections. So whatever other issues we have to focus on at this time let's do that first.

So, let me begin by thanking Pat McNamee for his hard work, commitment and dedication over the last five difficult and challenging years in the Assembly.

I also want to thank Margaret and the McNamee family. And seeing as we are nearly in County Down, or in it, I want to thank Mick Murphy and his wife Carol.

I know that all these comrades will remain active in the struggle.

Let me also congratulate Councillor Pat O Rawe, Councillor Davy Hyland and your current MLA Conor Murphy, who is the leader of our Assembly group, for being selected to carry the republican flag in next months elections.

Almost two years ago I stood here in this same room, probably speaking to most of you, about the challenge of the Westminster election that was to take place in June 2002.

At that time no one outside of Newry and Armagh thought you could seriously challenge the SDLP's hold on this seat.

For that matter no one outside Fermanagh and South Tyrone thought Michelle Gildernew could win in that historic constituency which was represented by Bobby Sands.

And sections of the media, the political pundits, the pollsters and the other political parties all promoted Briege Rogers as a dead cert in West Tyrone.

Well, West Tyrone and Fermanagh South Tyrone proved them wrong and here in Newry and Armagh you gave them all the shock of their lives. Conor came close to pulling it off. In the local council elections covering the same area Sinn Fein came out ahead of all our opponents.

Sinn Fein is now the largest party on Newry and Mourne Council and holds 5 seats in Armagh.

Can we do better - yes

You have an excellent team of candidates.

An excellent team of experienced election workers.

And the politics and policies to achieve a great result on May 29th.

The entire organisation should now be on election footing. As Joe Cahill said at the Ard Fheis. We have to proceed on the basis that the elections are going ahead. There is no excuse for not being prepared.

As for the two governments the message is equally clear. A further delay in the elections would erode public confidence in a very significant way.

On Holy Thursday night five years ago your negotiators were locked in discussions in Castle Buildings in Belfast. Cynics thought it was impossible to get an Agreement. But we got the Good Friday Agreement.

87 years ago Irish republicans and socialists, men and women, were mobilising to proclaim a republic on this island. We make no apologies for staying true to that spirit and to that republic. We want to build an Ireland of equals. So, in practical terms, a strong turnout at this weekend's Easter commemorations across the country is vital to show the establishment and the media that we are united, confident and will not be deflected.

The momentum of change is unstoppable. It can be delayed. That is true. But the only question is the timetable. Change cannot be stopped as long as we keep our eyes on the prize, as long as we are able to take risks for peace.

Current Crisis

The roots of the current crisis lie in unionisms inability to come to terms with change, the willingness of the British government to acquiesce to a unionist veto and resistance from elements within the British system -- those who still think that the Force Research Unit and Brian Nelson were doing a great job.

Most immediately this impasse can be tracked to the decision by the Ulster Unionist Council last September when it adopted anti-agreement positions promoted by Jeffrey Donaldson's wing of the party and later endorsed by David Trimble.

In part this was driven by the electoral challenge posed by the DUP. In effect anti-agreement forces have dominated the agenda since then. Allegations about IRA activities, while a genuine concern for the unionist constituency, and others, were seized upon as an excuse to demand and secure suspension of the political institutions.

The British Government did this at the behest of the Ulster Unionists, and in breach of the Good Friday Agreement, throwing the process into crisis. 

This was wrong. The continued suspension of the political institutions remains a critical issue in the current situation.

However, central to the crisis is the failure, five years later, to implement the Agreement.

The British Prime Minister Mr. Blair admitted this in his October speech in Belfast.

The Good Friday Agreement

The substance of the Good Friday Agreement is about the rights and entitlements of citizens. The purpose of the Joint Declaration should be to ensure that those rights and entitlements not yet in place become a reality in the time ahead.

The democratic rights and entitlements of citizens are not negotiating chips to be bartered for or withheld. They are absolute and should be defended. Human rights, equality, the tackling of unemployment differential, the targeting of social need, the rights of Irish language speakers, the achievement of an acceptable policing service and an accountable criminal justice system, none of these should be subject to barter or a veto. They should have been delivered under the terms of the Agreement. That is the position of the Good Friday Agreement. That is our position. That is the position the two governments and the UUP signed up for five years ago.

The Good Friday Agreement was the culmination of an enormous collective effort by the two governments and the parties to tackle the causes of conflict.

It was about change - fundamental and deep-rooted change across all aspects of society.

The Agreement with its new institutions, including its all-Ireland structures, was voted for by the overwhelming majority of people on this island.

It continues to hold the promise of a new beginning for everyone.

The Sinn Féin focus in the last five years has been to see the Agreement implemented, to deal with all of the issues, including that of arms; all arms and all armed groups.

There has been progress. The institutions didn't function for very long but when they did they worked. And were very popular. Everyone would accept that for most people things are much better today than they were 5 or 10 years ago.

However, the reality is that the Good Friday Agreement has not been implemented in full.

It has been suspended again and again.

And the effect of each suspension is to encourage anti-agreement forces, to damage confidence in the Agreement and to damage the credibility of the Agreement as an effective tool for change. This highlights the fundamental problem that besets us -- British policy in Ireland, even a benign policy -- is an interfence in Irish affairs.

Sinn Féin has been addressing all of this in our discussions with the two governments and the other parties.

During all of this the SDLP has spent its time attacking Sinn Féin with language which makes Jeffrey Donaldson look like a moderate.

These negotiations have been very long and difficult but we have made considerable progress on a number of specific areas. These include policing, criminal justice, demilitarisation, the stability of the institutions, human rights and equality.

But critical issues remain. These include; the continuing suspension of the political institutions, the UUP commitment to the stability of the institutions, sanctions and a timeframe for the transfer of powers on policing and criminal justice.

However, we have done our best and over a week ago we closed on all this.

I have said this many times and I repeat it again this evening. The sanctions mechanism proposed by the two governments contravenes the safeguards built in the Agreement. Sinn Féin objects to and rejects its inclusion in the Joint Declaration. It is specifically aimed at this party. Sanctions against any party are unacceptable unless they are within the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Demands that we accept or collude with the proposed sanctions are absurd.

Last Thursday the two governments were expected to issue their Joint Declaration but they did not do so.

Instead, there was a huge amount of disinformation as they tried to put their own 'spin' on events, briefing the media that the hold-up was due to a lack of movement on the part of republicans. This is not true.

There were ongoing contacts between the two governments and Sinn Féin in the course of which Sinn Fein asked that the Joint Declaration should be published. We said so publicly.

Last Saturday, Martin McGuinness and I met with the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. I spoke by phone with Tony Blair. As a consequence the two governments announced that they hoped to publish the Declaration shortly. They also acknowledged that it is important that all parties and groups join the governments in upholding and implementing the Good Friday Agreement in full. They said that 'fulfilling the promise and potential of the Good Friday Agreement is a collective responsibility.'

So there is agreement that the basis for definitively ending conflict -- conflict resolution - is a collective one.

Martin and I again met with the two governments on Sunday, we also met with the Taoiseach and I spoke again at length with Mr. Blair.

We gave them the final copy of the IRA statement was passed to the two governments.

The following day Martin and I travelled to Belfast where we met Mr. Trimble and the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party.

The IRA Statement

They were shown a copy of the IRA statement. I can tell you that this statement is clear and unambiguous.

It contains a number of highly significant and positive elements unparalleled in any previous statement by the IRA leadership, either in this or in any other phase of their struggle.

In my view the importance of this is not lost on the two governments. Why otherwise, did the two governments publicly commend the Army statement as proof of the IRAs desire to make the peace process work. I find it incredible therefore that they have not yet acted on the basis of this unprecedented contribution.

The statement sets out the status of the IRA cessation. Whatever your attitude to the armed struggle the reality is that there have been cessations for almost nine years. Hundreds of lives have been saved and despite huge provocation by the British Crown Forces and killings by their allies in the unionist paramilitaries alongside attacks on beleaguered communities, the IRA has held its discipline.

You don't have to be an IRA supporter to recognise the strains and stresses on that organisation and the sacrifices of its volunteers, its families and its support base, over a long period. I, along with the vast majority of people in Ireland, value the IRA cessation. It is the main anchor for the peace process.

It was achieved by a huge amount of work at a time when those who are presently attacking republicans with their editorial comment and their snide commentary were loud also in the useless politics of denunciation and censorship.

The IRA statement also outlines its future intentions. I come back to the British governments attitude to this statement. It welcomed the many positive aspects of the Army statement, the obvious progress and the clear desire of the IRA to make the peace process work. Imagine that!

So, again we have to ask after 30 years of conflict, and almost a decade of peace making, why the huge effort to wring different words out of P. O'Neill? Why not let people use words of their own choice. Actions or lack of actions speak louder than words.

Does anyone expect to get an IRA statement written on a securocrats laptop? Does anyone expect that rejectionist unionism which dismisses republican words as meaningless, will now provide the dictionary for the IRA?

The IRA also stated its attitude to the issue of arms. The statement is clear about the Army's willingness to put arms beyond use.

So what more do they want? Who is setting the agenda? Are the lessons of conflict resolution lost? Or have those who never learned it back in the ascendancy?

I consider it to be a great honour to be an Irish republican, and to be a leader of this party. Leaders lead. We do not drive people before us as if they were a flock of sheep. Whatever else can be said about Irish republicans they are not sheep. Our leadership has a strategy. It is working. It has transformed the situation. Others have played their part and I commend them.

The Taoiseach has a huge responsibility in all of this.

So too has Mr. Blair. He has done a lot. He has to do more. He has to embrace the contribution that republicans have made to this process. We are not asking him for plaudits. We are asking him to build on the contribution we have single-mindedly built over a long period.

All of us have a lot to do, that includes Mr Trimble. And us.

We will not dodge our responsibilities.

A primary objective of the peace process is the end to the conflict. It is also a clear objective of Sinn Féin's strategy. Sinn Féin is unequivocal about this. Furthermore we are wedded to the Mitchell Principles.

So what is to be done?

The Joint Declaration and all other statements should be published.  It is as simple as that. 

The commitments contained in all the statements should be implemented. By all sides. The Brits. The IRA. The Irish government. The unionists. Everyone.

Is the British government up for this?

Time will tell.

Are the unionists up for it?

There is a sizeable unionist constituency which is up for it. Unionists have concerns and republicans must move to meet these concerns. Those who claim to be in the leadership of pro-Agreement unionism need to set a pro-Agreement agenda. They need to stop the agenda being set by rejectionist unionists both inside and outside the unionist party.

Is Sinn Féin up for it?

The answer is a word unionist political leaders need to learn. The answer is Yes.

Sinn Féin is up for making this work. Our activists and supporters are up for it.

Is the IRA up for it?

In my view they are.

Republicans have stretched ourselves repeatedly to keep the peace process on track. The people have responded positively to this.

The people we represent have rights. So does everyone else on this island -- unionist and others alike. We have been through pre-condition, after pre-condition, after pre-condition.

We have seen a new Labour government starting the work which its predecessors refused to contemplate. We have seen a Fianna Fáil led government doing what successive Dublin governments refused to do. We have seen unionism or a majority of it voting for an agreement with the rest of the people of our island.

We are all on a journey. It is always easier to begin a journey. The hard thing is to end it.

Sinn Fein is in this process to the end. We want the British government and the Irish government and the unionists to work with us and to finish the work we have all started. The length of the journey can be shortened and the ups and downs on the road can be smoothed out if we go at it collectively.

If we do it together.

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