Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Gerry Adams keynote address on peace process

27 April, 2003


Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP MLA today gave a keynote address to senior Sinn Féin activists at Parliament Buildings.

 

Mr. Adams said:

Sinn Féin’s focus in the last five years has been to see the Good Friday Agreement fully and faithfully implemented.

 

The Agreement was born out of decades of division and conflict, and almost 30 years of war. It reflects a deep desire on the part of the vast majority of people on this island to build a just and lasting peace for everyone.

 

The substance of the Good Friday Agreement is about the rights and entitlements of citizens. It is about a new political dispensation on the island of Ireland and a new relationship between Ireland and Britain.

 

It is about change - fundamental and deep-rooted change - including constitutional and institutional change - across all aspects of society.

 

Five years after the Agreement there has been progress. The institutions, when they functioned, did so effectively and were very popular.

 

While for some people, including bereaved families and victims of sectarianism, the situation is worse the reality is that for most people things are much better today than they have ever been.

 

We have all come a long way in recent years. A problem, which was previously described as intractable, has proven not to be so.

 

But we still have a lot more to do.

 

Important aspects of the Agreement have not been delivered on, as Prime Minister Blair freely acknowledged last October.

 

The purpose of the Joint Declaration and of the negotiations which Sinn Fein and the two governments were locked in for months, was to ensure that those rights and entitlements not yet in place become a reality in the time ahead.

 

While committed to our republican objectives it is Sinn Féin’s view that the Good Friday Agreement, despite the difficulties, continues to hold the promise of a new beginning for everyone.

 

I believe we have now reached a defining moment in that endeavour.

 

The Joint Declaration commits to progress across a range of issues and indeed significant progress in some areas; albeit on a conditional basis.  It also contains other difficulties, some of which are wholly unacceptable to Sinn Fein. We have made this clear to the two governments.

 

The two governments, for example, intend to introduce sanctions aimed at Sinn Fein and the Sinn Fein electorate, which are outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. These sanctions would contravene the safeguards built into the Agreement and are unacceptable.

 

Let us be clear about the Joint Declaration. The commitments given by the two governments, and especially the British government, in the Good Friday Agreement and the Joint Declaration, if and when acted upon would see the commencement of a process. This could see the implementation in full of the Good Friday Agreement.

 

The Joint Declaration is not an act of completion. It is, at best, a commitment to a process towards completion.

 

Nor is there any certainty about the UUP's position or its intentions in respect of the stability of the political institutions, a timeframe for the transfer of powers on policing and criminal justice, or the establishment of the north/south inter-parliamentary forum and so forth.

 

There is no certainty from the Unionist paramilitaries.

 

There is no certainty about the positions or the intentions of British securocrats.

 

But despite these very real and serious difficulties, it is Sinn Féin’s view that on balance the Joint Declaration presents an important opportunity to move the process forward.

 

Consequently, the IRA leadership was persuaded to take yet another initiative to support and give space and momentum to the peace process. A draft text and other concepts were passed to the two governments and the Ulster Unionist Party. There followed a period of sustained leaking and misleading briefings to the media about this.

 

Then on April 12 the two governments, in a public statement said that it is important that all parties and groups join the governments in upholding and implementing the Good Friday Agreement in full. They also said that ‘fulfilling the promise and potential of the Good Friday Agreement is a collective responsibility.’

 

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

 

On Sunday, 13 April, Martin McGuinness and I gave the two governments t he final copy of the IRA statement.

 

This detailed statement setting out the IRA leaderships view of the current phase of the peace process was accomplished in the most difficult circumstances. 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 previous phase of their struggle.

 

A copy was also shown to the Ulster Unionist Party leadership.

 

The two governments have publicly recognised the many positive aspects of the IRA statement, the obvious progress and, crucially, the British and Irish governments said that the statement shows a clear desire to make the peace process work.

 

Such an IRA statement and such a response to it would have been unimaginable ten or even five years ago.

 

The IRA statement sets out the status of the IRA cessation, its future intentions and its attitude to the issue of arms. It also makes clear the IRA’s resolve to a complete and final closure of the conflict, and its support for efforts to make conflict a thing of the past. This is unequivocal.

 

On the 23 April the British Prime Minister publicly raised three questions about the IRA statement.

 

Mr. Blair asked first, whether activities inconsistent with the Good Friday Agreement, such as targeting, procurement of weapons, punishment beatings and so forth, were at an end; second, whether the IRAs commitment was to put all arms beyond use; and thirdly, whether the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and commitments in the Joint Declaration would bring complete and final closure of the conflict.

 

I have stated in the course of the extensive private contacts that have taken place with the governments my belief that the IRA statement is clear on the issues raised, but for the public record, my answers are as follows.

 

Firstly, the IRA leadership has stated its determination to ensure that its activities will be consistent with its resolve to see the complete and final closure of the conflict.

 

I have already acknowledged in my address to the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis, and at other times, the difficulties caused for the pro-Agreement unionists and others by allegations of IRA activities in the recent past.

 

In particular these have been cited as an excuse for the suspension of the political institutions and the current impasse in the Good Friday Agreement process.

 

Sinn Fein is, with others, an architect of the Good Friday Agreement. Martin McGuinness and I have raised allegations of IRA activity with the IRA leadership.

 

Mr. Blair has also raised these issues in one of his questions.

 

In my view the IRA statement deals definitively with these concerns about alleged IRA activity. And any such activities which in any way undermine the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement should not be happening.

 

The IRA statement is a statement of completely peaceful intent. Its logic is that there should be no activities inconsistent with this.

 

 

 

Secondly, the IRA has clearly stated its willingness to proceed with the implementation of a process to put arms beyond use at the earliest opportunity. Obviously this is not about putting some arms beyond use. It is about all arms.

 

And thirdly, if the two governments and all the parties fulfil their commitments this will provide the basis for the complete and final closure of the conflict.

 

Sinn Féin’s peace strategy has always been about bringing an end to physical force republicanism by creating an alternative way to achieve democratic and republican objectives. We have negotiated, and campaigned and argued to have the Good Friday Agreement implemented not only because that is our obligation, not only because it is the right thing, but also because it fits into a strategy of creating an alternative to war and a means of sustaining and anchoring the peace process.

 

The IRA statement contains another key element. Some time ago the Ulster Unionist Party leader publicly stated that he would not call a UUC meeting to discuss his party going back into the institutions until after the IRA had acted on the arms issue.  For its part the IRA had set its engagement with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning in the context of functioning political institutions.

 

 

 

There was also deep scepticism within the republican constituency because there was no indication that the UUP would reciprocate even if the IRA moved on the arms issue.

 

This stand off had to be broken.

 

So, despite the suspension of the institutions the IRA leadership authorised a third act of putting arms beyond use to be verified under the agreed scheme by the IICD. This act was timed to facilitate the Ulster Unionist Party holding a UUC meeting. This followed a suggestion by me that I would point up this difficulty in a public statement. Mr. Trimble was to respond to this with a public commitment that he would recommend to his party that they actively support the sustained working of the political institutions and other elements of the Good Friday Agreement.

 

The IRA leadership was then prepared to act in advance of the UUC meeting and in the context of suspended institutions.

 

My understanding is that all of this is still doable at this time if there is a positive response from the two governments and Mr. Trimble.

 

Let me tell you that the Sinn Féin leadership have put in a huge amount of effort to save this process. But there is a limit to what we can do.

 

 

There is considerable unease within the republican activist base and the wider republican constituency over recent developments. The Sinn Féin leadership, while mindful of this, has not been deterred because our commitment is to making this process work. We are also conscious that other constituencies have their problems.

 

The IRA leadership has once again demonstrated in an unprecedented way its clear willingness to support the peace process.

 

I, along with the vast majority of people in Ireland, value the IRA cessation. It is the main anchor for the peace process. But let me be clear, the political process is the responsibility of political leaders. We created the Good Friday Agreement. It is our job, whatever about the approaches or actions of others, to make politics work, to make conflict resolution work.

 

This is a collective responsibility. We all have a choice to make. The Sinn Fein leadership's position is clear.

 

I believe that the IRA statement, unmatched by any from the IRA leadership in this or indeed any other phase of their struggle, points the way forward.

 

Now the two governments and the leadership of the UUP have to make a choice.

 

So what has to be done? There is no magic formula waiting to be discovered. The next steps in this process are not secret. Everyone knows what is required.

 

The Joint Declaration and all other statements should be published. It is as simple as that. The commitments contained in all the statements, including the IRA statement, should be implemented in full.

 

The Assembly Elections should proceed as planned.

 

Republicans have stretched ourselves repeatedly to keep the peace process on track. Sinn Féin is in this process to the end.

 

Nationalists and unionists, republicans and loyalists have to come to terms with and recognise each others integrity. We need to forge a real partnership that manages the changes that are taking place and builds a better future, a democratic and inclusive future.

 

Our collective task, in fact our collective obligation, is to make that change peaceful and constructive for all.

 

We have to work together to move this process forward.

 

That is the challenge for all of us, for Sinn Fein for the two governments and, critically, for the leadership of the UUP.

 

That is the way to achieve a permanent peace.

 

 

 

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