CAIN: Statement on the present state of the Peace Process by Bertie Ahern, 10 March 1999

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Statement on the present state of the Peace Process by Bertie Ahern, 10 March 1999

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Text: Bertie Ahern ... Research: Fionnuala McKenna
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Statement issued by the Taioseach Mr. Bertie Ahern on the present state of the peace process and the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, 10 March 1999.

"We are today, at the very end of the 20th century, poised on the threshold of one of the most important and hopeful developments in Irish history, the full implementation of the Good Friday peace agreement.

It is a political settlement that has been democratically endorsed by an emphatic majority of people throughout the island, and can legitimately be viewed from every perspective as a real exercise in self-determination. It will go a considerable way towards correcting the fundamental defects in practice of the 1920-1 Partition settlement, which it is now set to supersede.

If the new agreement succeeds it will see the two traditions working together both in Northern Ireland and on the island for the first time in 200 years. It is a unique opportunity for peace and reconciliation in which all the signatories can take pride. The statesmanship of all the parties involved has been widely recognised.

Every right-thinking person wants to see the back of conflict for good, and to create a new and happier future for all. The Agreement pushes out the frontiers of democracy, and provides a model of potential interest and inspiration to divided communities in other countries. The operation of the principle of parallel or two-way consent for fundamental decision-making will be a completely new experience in the government of Northern Ireland.

Over the past few months we have been making progress on every aspect of the agreement. The basis for a new partnership government in Northern Ireland has been agreed. Ministers will be drawn from the unionist and nationalist parties, equally in this Assembly at least. The arrangements are fully inclusive. There is no dispute over the mandate and legitimacy of any of the parties that will be eligible to take up ministerial positions, where they will each together work to shape the future.

On Monday, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, David Andrews, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam, signed four international agreements which will provide the legal basis for bringing into force the other inter-linking political institutions to be established under the agreement - the North-South Ministerial Council, the six North-South Implementation Bodies, the British-Irish Council and a British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference.

The decks have been cleared, and the disagreements over detail resolved. This is not the end, but the beginning, and as the institutions develop they will inevitably break new ground to the real benefit of both parts of the island. Some Loyalists have said, and I agree with them, that the area of North-South co-operation will be one of the most exciting parts of this agreement.

All parts of Ireland and Northern Ireland will have an opportunity to share in the dynamic economic progress on this island that the experience of the last five years has demonstrated to be possible. The new Civic Forum will enable the social partners in the North to play a constructive part with government in planning the way forward.

The new Human Rights Commission in Northern Ireland has received a broad welcome. The Irish Government is well on its way to the establishment of a corresponding Human Rights Commission here. The rigorous impartiality, the full respect for and equality of rights for all citizens, the freedom from discrimination and parity of esteem promised in the agreement will over time lead to a huge transformation of the experience, particularly of those who have felt undervalued or discriminated against.

There has also been some initial progress on the security provisions of the agreement. Security installations have been removed and the army presence has been reduced. The review of the criminal justice system is well under way. The policing commission has been established. Its work is within very clear parameters laid out in the agreement, which involve far-reaching change, and "a new beginning", including with regard to the police becoming more representative in nature, and the fact that it will, assuming peaceful conditions, be like other police services largely unarmed. Large numbers of prisoners have been released on both sides of the Border.

On decommissioning, the guns have remained silent, and there has been extensive contact with Gen de Chastelain. There are, of course, some issues here to be resolved, but, with all sides agreed on the necessity to take the gun out of Irish politics, there is every reason to expect that these issues, too, will be resolved through the intensive contacts and dialogue now under way.

The balanced constitutional accommodation is also ready to become operational. The political security that the future will depend only on peaceful and democratic persuasion and what the people will themselves decide should enable both communities to work the new institutions and establish new relationships with confidence.

I know that all involved will want to live up to their historic responsibilites, so that the agreement can come fully into effect by its anniversary, which is due on Good Friday, 2nd April. The boost to morale in every part of the community as the result of a final breakthrough will be enormous. To make progress on this island, we all have a part in creating a new climate of confidence, co-operation and common action that will replace sterile confrontation and conflict. We all need to continue to rethink the reflex assumptions, demands and patterns of behaviour which have created difficulties for others in the past.

We are making a lot of advances. The level of dialogue between the Irish government and the Northern parties, and between some of the Northern parties who would not have spoken to each other in the past, is extremely encouraging. Dialogue will not necessarily resolve everything. But without it very little can be resolved. It is our responsibility to do all in our power to make the agreement work, as there is no realistic or acceptable alternative. I would also reiterate that there is no "Plan B". Deep demoralisation would be the consequence of failure.

In this process, all parties without exception have already had to swallow, in the interests of peace, many unpalatable things. But the overall prize is far greater than the sacrifice demanded of any of us. In everything of importance still to be done, we have to move together, or not at all. The parties may have different hopes and expectations from the development of the agreement over the longer term. But of one thing I am certain. Everyone stands to gain now from this new beginning and the new dispensation we are collectively putting in place."

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