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Maskey - can the Good Friday Agreement survive in 2003?

5 January, 2003


WILL THE GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT SURVIVE 2003?

The Good Friday Agreement is a binding international treaty between the British and Irish governments.

It was endorsed in a referendum across this island in 1996. The vast majority of the people voted for its provisions. It is therefore the people's property. Their expressed wishes cannot be set aside by either government or political party.

It is obvious five years later that the Agreement has not been implemented in full. The primary responsibility for this failure lies with the British government and they have admitted this failure. Anti agreement elements inside the British government and the unionist parties are setting the agenda. They have filtered the proposed changes through a unionist view of the world. The dead hand of these forces has held back the pace and the extent of the changes promised in the Good Friday Agreement.

However the Irish government are joint co-equal partners with the British government in the shaping and the protection of the agreement. They have a joint co-equal responsibility for its implementation. They also have an onerous responsibility to promote and defend Irish national interests and the rights of all Irish citizens living in the six counties.

It is my view that there have been a number of occasions in the last few years when they should have been more vocal and assertive in ensuring the British government honored their commitments.

I believe this is particularly relevant in at least two crucial areas: the development of the all-Ireland institutions and the implementation of the Patten recommendations on policing.

On the issue of the all-Ireland institutions. They are a pale reflection of the Assembly and the Executive when they were functioning. Yet to republicans and nationalists this particular institution is the one they are most keen to see developed to its maximum extent.

We expected the Irish government would use their considerable resources as a government to advance this institution. They failed to do so.

When it came to the issue of policing they were also found wanting. What was required was a united nationalist position to pressurise the British government to ensure Patten was implemented without amendment.

They also failed to honour their commitment to the release of all political prisoners. They have no justification for the continuing imprisonment of those republicans in Castlerea prison. They should be released immediately.

This reality however does not in anyway invalidate the agreement or the proposed solutions it brought forward to the many political problems facing this country as a result of partition, unionist misrule and the last thirty years of conflict.

The fundamental reality facing the people of these islands and the two governments is that partition has failed. The Good Friday Agreement is a clear recognition of that fact.

That is why we have three interlocking and interdependent institutions: the all Ireland Ministerial Council, the northern Executive and the Assembly. These institutions seek to give political expression and legitimacy to the nationalist and unionist interests in the short to medium term.

That is why we need a new police service which nationalists and republicans can support and join.

That is why we need irreversible and transparent legislation securing human rights and justice for everyone.

That is why we need parity of esteem for cultural rights and identity across society.

Much publicity has been given and rightly so to the revelations in the British Cabinet papers of thirty years ago. These papers not only show the absurd and shallow nature of British government thinking and policy at the time they also highlight the colonial nature of the problem here.

This crisis management approach to the situation in Ireland has perpetuated the crisis itself.

The Good Friday Agreement provided an opportunity for this approach by the British government to 'over, done with, a thing of the past'. Now however the spectre of crisis management is coming to the fore.

Quick fix solutions like repartition in 1972 were and are as unworkable as the partition of Ireland in 1920.

But there is another reality where this thinking is evident today and that is in how British military policy has assisted the forced movement of many thousands of Catholics because they have failed to deal with sectarian violence by loyalist paramilitaries.

Nationalists and Catholics in Belfast's Ardoyne, New Lodge and Short Strand and other parts of Antrim, in north Armagh and north Down are being targeted and forced to leave their homes and find security among other nationalists.

This is a form of hidden repartition. It is the blind eye approach by the British military authorities, which leaves Catholics and nationalists vulnerable and uncertain about where to live in their own country.

The Good Friday Agreement offers everyone on this island a peaceful future. It offers everyone equality and the opportunity to begin again. An opportunity to reshape Irish politics within the six counties, within Ireland and between Ireland and Britain.

It has withstood the pressures and there have been many over the last five years. I am satisfied with the proper will on all sides it can not only withstand the pressures of this year it can grow in strength and prove for the first time in centuries that the people of this island and Britain can work out their difficulties peacefully and politically.

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