Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Martin McGuinness report on negotiations to Ard Fheis 2006

19 February, 2006


For the past few years at this point of our Ard Fheis there has been a presentation of the detail of the what is happening in the negotiations and an assessment of the progress we have made.



But negotiations are just one part of what we need to do. Our negotiating position will be strengthened by building political strength, by campaigning, by getting more people to support the peace process and our political objectives.



One of the most important lessons that we learned from the ANC was that the most important thing that happens in negotiations is what is happening outside the door.



The last twelve months have been momentous. The leadership shown by republicans contrasts sharply with that of unionists.



In the run-up to the last year's Ard Fheis and in the weeks that followed it the political impasse deepened. The peace process threatened to go into freefall.



At that critical point, in April last, Gerry Adams, once again leading from the front , made his appeal to the IRA.



And again not for the first time the IRA leadership filled the political vacuum with a substantive and courageous initiative.



In July last year the IRA responded in dramatic and definitive terms. They called an end to their campaign. They committed to putting all their arms beyond use. This was a unilateral decision and a deeply courageous one. And one they have delivered in equally definitive terms.



The IRA acted to rescue the peace process and to re-energise the political process.



In the 7 months since then and given the evident lack of energy in political talks you could be forgiven for asking or wondering occasionally why we in Sinn Féin persist with our negotiations with the two governments.



The response to all of has been covered in some of the contributions on Friday night and again yesterday. We don't judge the value of negotiations solely on the detail of change on specific issues that negotiations might deliver. Negotiations are about more than that.



When we embarked upon our peace strategy we did so in the full knowledge that were bringing the battle to our opponents. Correctly we anticipated a battle a day.



We knew when we signed up for the Good Friday Agreement that there would be a long and frustrating battle to realise its promise, to fulfil its potential. We knew that we would immediately be faced with attempts to frustrate, delay and dilute the scale of the transformation it demanded. And we knew that we would return time and again to negotiations to defend the efficacy of our peace strategy as the template for change. And in that important respect our approach has been a success.



But this success has not been as a result of compelling argument put by our negotiators. No! It has come about because we have managed to maximise popular support for this demand,. It has come about as result of our collective efforts as a party



Today we are entering another important phase of discussions with the governments and other political parties, a critical phase of our peace strategy. The future of the Good Friday Agreement is on the line. But we are not unnerved by that. Rather we are emboldened by it, because even if it falls we are confident that, as Declan Kearney pointed out on Friday night, its substance has been secured as the minimal threshold for anything that might replace or supersede it.



And that is why in each and every negotiation over the past number of years we have time and time again brought the governments and the other political parties back onto Good Friday Agreement ground in any discussions designed to map out a future direction for the political process.



So, we are confident that whatever about delays, stalling and whatever other tactics are deployed to hold back the tide of change we will eventually move forward on the basis mapped out on the Agreement, on the basis of equality, mutual respect and on an all-Ireland basis.



And we are confident also that we will be able to build on that. But we will only do so if we can popularise and build support for our demands.



In our discussions with the governments over the past year we have of course repeatedly brought them back to their commitments arising from the Agreement and from negotiations subsequent to that.



National and Democratic rights, peace and prosperity have been the unshakeable focus of our endeavours.



In line with that we have pressed consistently on a number of issues - most of which are situated in what the Governments were prepared to do in the context of the December 04 negotiations. And we continue to press on these same issues as we go into this new round of discussions



These include:

the restoration of the political institutions

northern representation in the Oireachtas

demilitarisation

advancing the equality agenda

additional powers for the Human Rights Commission

the establishment of a Bill of Rights in the north and an all-Ireland Charter of Rights

an economic peace dividend from both governments

measures to restore the electoral register in the north

legislation to transfer powers on policing and justice

the repeal of repressive legislation

the removal of British Government sanctions against Sinn Féin

the release of republican prisoners and a resolution of the issue of OTRs



There has been limited progress on some of these issues,



The British Government has begun its programme of demilitarisation. They have also initiated separate consultation processes to enable the repair of the electoral register and the provision of additional powers to the Human Rights Commission. And they have removed their illegal sanctions against Sinn Féin.



And there has been evidence of increasing recognition and practical expression of the benefits of all-Ireland economic activity.



There has also been regression - just last week the Taoiseach announced that he is not proceeding with the proposal to facilitate northern representation in the Oireachtas on the basis set out in the All-Party Oireachtas Committee. He cites trenchant opposition from his coalition partners, the PDs, from Fine Gael and from the SDLP's sister party, the Labour Party led by Pat Rabbitte, as the cause of this..



And a few months ago we had the attempted political sleight of hand by Peter Hain by his inclusion of British Crown forces in the OTRs Bill.



Let me dwell on this for a moment - so that there is no confusion about what Sinn Féin sought, negotiated for or agreed to on OTRs.



The issue of OTRs has been on the table many years now.



At Weston Park in 2001 the two governments publicly committed to resolve the issue on the basis that it was an anomaly arising from the Good Friday Agreement.



Alongside the Joint Declaration in 2003 they published proposals on how they would address it - this included legislation brought forward by the British Government.



These proposals did not relate to or include British State forces - there are no British state forces on the run.



In the negotiations previous to, at, or since Weston Park Sinn Féin did not support, propose, discuss or accept that members of the British state forces should be included in this scheme.



On the contrary we were mindful to ensure that any scheme proposed to address the issue of OTRs would not provide an amnesty for British State forces who carried out or were responsible for state killings or collusion.



The British Government unilaterally took the decision to attach provisions in the Bill which would allow Crown forces to benefit from the OTR Scheme.



We opposed this - we pressed them to remove these provisions from the Bill or to withdraw the Bill altogether.



They withdrew the draft legislation in January and the Irish Government followed suit with the particular scheme they were proposing to address the same issue.



We continue to press both governments to resolve the issue on the basis agreed at Weston Park.



And unlike some other political parties who have ignored their plight for many years we have emphasised repeatedly to the British Government our support for the families of the victims of state violence and collusion in their pursuit of justice.



And just as we will continue to hold both governments to their commitments with respect to OTRs we will continue to hold the Irish Government to its commitment on northern representation in the Oireachtas and the release of political prisoners.



I want now to comment briefly on the Independent Monitoring Commission.



What we predicted when the IMC was established in 2003 has come true. We said then that it would be a tool of the securocrats, an instrument to be used by the opponents of change. And we said of course that it was outside the terms of the Agreement and would be used to undermine the Agreement's democratic mandate.



Over the last year we have challenged the IMC in every possible way. Our activists took to the streets to oppose them. We put in place a legal team to challenge their very existence.



We did meet with the IMC - not as part of any recognition of their role - but for the purpose of examining their procedures and, consequently, exposing their political bias, their lack of independence and their failure to employ any of the normal standards of proof required of other tribunals or similar bodies.



Last November we challenged them to clarify allegations they made about IRA involvement in incidents in July and August of last year. We also challenged both governments to clarify these allegations.



To date they have failed to do so. It is my view that the incidents in question did not even happen.



The IMC's latest report of a few weeks ago was more of the same - unsubstantiated allegation, fantasy and fiction presented as fact.



In one particular bizarre line they report six unreported assaults - just think about that for a minute - they say they considered six unreported assaults!



We have told both governments that the IMC is a problem they created and it is one which they must resolve - that unless the issue of the IMC is addressed this latest round of political discussions which began at Hillsborough two weeks ago will run aground.



The IMC can be summed in one word. Balderdice. It is time they were decommissioned.



When Sinn Féin met with the Irish and British governments at the beginning of these discussions at Hillsborough two weeks ago we proposed to them that they set a timescale for moving the political process forward.



In a further meeting at Stormont 3 days ago we set out for them how to create momentum and focus the minds of those political parties who seek to hold up progress.


This included:

the lifting of suspension now the setting of a date for the running of d'Hondt, which is the process for appointing Ministers to the Executive the repeal of the legislation which gives the British Secretary of State the power to suspend the political institutions amendments to legislation which would enhance the working of the Agreement and prevent the abuses of procedures employed by both the UUP and the DUP in the last Executive, and Convening the Bill of Rights Forum



Other parties have put forward proposals which fall short of full restoration.



The DUP argue for a phased return of the institutions - an Assembly without an Executive. This is a reworking of their proposal of two years ago for a Corporate Assembly which is essentially about a stepping stone approach to the return of unionist majority rule.



The SDLP have put forward proposals for the British appointment of unelected Commissioners instead of Ministers to run the various departments - in effect an abdication of responsibility.



We are opposed to these approaches. We are pressing for a full restoration of the political institutions, for the full implementation of the Agreement in all its aspects.



We have told both governments that a continuation indefinitely of what exists at present is untenable and that if it becomes clear in the next few months that full restoration cannot be achieved in the short term the Assembly should be scrapped and the salaries of MLAs withdrawn,



We have emphasised that our priority for movement forward is on the basis of the Agreement and this is our plan A. But we have also reminded them of what needs to be done if unionist leaders continue their rejectionism. Rights and entitlements cannot be subject to a veto and there are commitments the governments can deliver on without the institutions, without agreement from unionist political leaders. And that without and until we have power sharing the governments need to press ahead with joint government decision making, alongside all other elements of the Good Friday Agreement.



We have already entered a new phase of discussions. Sinn Féin's objective is to defend and consolidate the advances already made. To open up new arenas of negotiations and struggle and to continue to build the bridge to our ultimate objective - a united democratic and socialist republic.

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