McGuinness - resistance to change must end
The Good Friday Agreement was 5 years old on April 10. Five years on, the British government has failed to implement key sections of the Good Friday Agreement they have suspended the institutions on four separate occasions. They have now cancelled an election in Ireland, which derives directly from an Agreement endorsed by the majority of people in Ireland. This has come after months of intensive talks, leading up to the Joint Declaration and unprecedented initiatives from Irish republicans.
From the beginning the peace process has been stalled, blocked and frustrated by unionism's resistance to change and by those elements of the British political and military establishment who cling to the old notion of empire.
Since John Major's refusal to hold the promised inclusive talks in 1994 to the cancelling of elections by Tony Blair, the pattern has been sadly consistent. The rights and entitlements of Irish citizens are subject to British political interests and a unionist veto.
From the earliest days of no talks, talks about talks, talks where the unionists would not speak directly to Sinn Féin, to the events of the last few weeks, unionists have had to be dragged begrudgingly every inch of the way. They have used every tactic, from the disruption of the all-Ireland Ministerial Council to Trimble's multiple threats to walk out of the Executive, so as to slow down or halt the democratic process.
And ever-present behind the scenes are the securocrats, the nameless, faceless men who ran the north of Ireland, politically and militarily, for 30 years, who killed citizens, who controlled death squads, who spied on their own government, who would be the envy of any totalitarian state.
Some of what they were involved in is well known. Our assertions of systematic collusion, dismissed for so long, have been vindicated by the initial summary of the Stevens Report. Not just State tolerated sectarian
murder, but state initiated, armed and directed sectarian murder. And that is only the tip of the iceberg. Is it over? The turning on and off of loyalist violence to suit the British military agenda is an indication that
they haven't gone away you know. Is their war over? Is the war of the unionist paramilitaries over? They continue to attack nationalist communities and isolated catholic families.
Overall unionist reaction to the revelations of the Stevens Report is a glaring example of double-think. As has been pointed in several newspapers, unionists, either dismissed it, justified it or ignored it. Their attitude to unionist violence is the same.
In spite of all this, Sinn Féin has held firm to the Good Friday Agreement. We have refused to be provoked, as David Trimble obviously hoped by his succession of offensive, puerile remarks. We are not going to walk out or going to be put out. Sinn Féin is there as of right. We were not 'allowed' into government. We were not 'persuaded' into politics. Our aim, for the last twenty years or more has been to replace conflict with a democratic political process. But there must be democracy for a political process to work. And democracy demands equality. And this is at the heart of the present impasse just as it was at the heart of the conflict itself.
For almost four months now Sinn Féin has been involved in a very intensive round of talks with both the British and Irish governments and various political parties in an attempt to resolve the current impasse in the peace process. Throughout all of these negotiations we worked exhaustively to achieve a plan for the full implementation of the Agreement and to counter any attempt to have this implementation thwarted by unionist obstruction. Over the last two weeks we have seen republicans make unprecedented statements to bring this about.
The unprecedented statement by the IRA provided a clear basis to move forward for those who wished to do so. In his statements last Sunday and again on Wednesday, Gerry Adams made absolutely clear the commitment of Irish republicans to this peace process and to ensuring that the Good Friday Agreement is implemented, something acknowledged time and time again by the two governments.
Sinn Féin has now gone to the limit of its responsibility under the Agreement and far beyond in order to break the impasse. Any objective reading of the Good Friday Agreement will show that we have long fulfilled
all our obligations as a political party. There is anger among many republicans that, yet again, it is Sinn Féin that makes the extra effort and the difficult choices while the Ulster Unionist leadership continues to say 'No' and is indulged in its obstructionism by the two governments.
It is important that the legitimate concerns of the unionist community are addressed but what has happened this week is that unionism have been allowed to exercise a veto over the election, institutions, the Agreement and the peace process.
The reality is that, despite their assertions to the contrary, neither the Irish or British governments have any difficulty with the clarity of the IRA statement. They are simply trying to ensure that David Trimble and the
Unionist Party do not have to bear the political burden of their responsibility for the current impasse. It is totally unacceptable for the Irish government to continue with such a charade. The Irish government must
act on behalf of the Irish people and demand the implementation of the Agreement and an end to unionist obstructionism.
The publication of the Joint Declaration is welcome. But it is not an act of completion. It is conditional and qualified. It is a commitment to a process towards completion. It is accompanied by sanctions, dictated by the unionists, aimed at Sinn Féin and outside of the terms of the Agreement.
The volume of the Joint Declaration is a testimony to the tenacity of the Sinn Féin negotiating team in trying to get the Good Friday Agreement implemented. Its size also demonstrates the large gap, which the two
governments need to close to achieve implementation - 5 years on.
However now that the two governments have published their plan they must proceed and implement it and all other elements of the Agreement. Policing, human rights, justice and equality should not be conditional and qualified. Commitments mean nothing if they are not implemented. All commitments given should now be implemented in full. That is our focus.
Ironically, the first page of the Joint Declaration states: "The best way of ensuring that peace remains permanent is by demonstrating that politics work." This week the British government has damaged this project by preventing an Irish election. They have no right to do so. They did this against the wishes of the Taoiseach and all the political parties accept the UUP.
People are rightly angry but that anger must be channelled constructively in protecting and advancing the Irish peace process. The Irish government has a particular duty to defend the rights and entitlements of Irish people. These rights are not optional. They cannot be subject to a unionist veto.