Governments' Statement on the Suspension of Sinn Féin from Talks, 19 February 1998
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CONCLUSIONS OF THE GOVERNMENTS ON THE POSITION OF SINN FÉIN IN THE TALKS
1. This document sets out the conclusions of the Governments on the position of Sinn Féin in the Talks.
Background: The Rules and Principles
Rules of procedure
2. Rule 29 of the Rules of Procedure for the Negotiations agreed on 29 July 1996 says:
The Mitchell Principles
3. The relevant passage of the International Body's Report reads:
Accordingly, we recommend that the parties to such negotiations affirm their total and absolute commitment:
The murders of Mr Campbell and Mr Dougan
4. Following the murders last week of Mr Brendan Campbell and Mr Robert Dougan, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland announced that she had been fully briefed by the Chief Constable of the RUC, and his assessment was that the IRA were involved in both these murders. She considered that the issue would need to be examined with the Irish Government and the other Talks participants in accordance with the proper procedures.
The British Government's representation
5. Shortly after the start of proceedings in Strand Two of the talks on 16 February, the Chairman (Senator Mitchell) indicated that the Governments had advised him that an issue had been raised under rule 29. The Secretary of State spoke, at his invitation: her speaking note is attached at A. The note was circulated to other participants, and the Chairman later ruled (in response to objections from Sinn Féin) that it constituted a formal representation under rule 29. The Minister for Foreign Affairs spoke in the terms at Annex B.
The Alliance party representation
6. The Alliance Party made to the Chairmen on 17 February a representation under rule 29, based on the same facts as the British Government had raised, that "Sinn Féin is no longer entitled to participate in these talks on the grounds that they have demonstrably dishonoured the principles of democracy and non-violence". It was circulated and considered at the same time as the British Government representation.
7. The Independent Chairmen, having consulted Sinn Féin and other participants over the timing and other details of proceedings, concluded that to permit Sinn Féin further time to prepare its response, a plenary session of the talks should be postponed until 2.00pm on 17 February. Senator Mitchell's statement covering the point is at C.
8. When the plenary session met, a total of three adjournments (totalling more than four hours) were granted at the request of Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin announced its intention to take legal action over the British Government representation, and sought a further adjournment pending its outcome: Senator Mitchell concluded that such an adjournment would be unjustifiable.
9. At the start of substantive business, the two Governments were first invited to make statements; then the Alliance Party spoke to its representation. Sinn Féin then responded orally, and later circulated a written response (D). Other participants were then permitted to contribute, in accordance with Rule 29; finally Sinn Féin was permitted to reply. The Governments have since considered the question of appropriate action, in the light of all the material available to them, including previous determinations in regard to Rule 29, and having due regard to the Sinn Féin response and the views of participants.
10. In their submission, Sinn Féin drew attention to the statement issued by the IRA on 12 February 1998, to the effect that "contrary to speculation surrounding recent killings in Belfast, the IRA cessation of military operations remains intact." The President of Sinn Féin went on to state:
11. Sinn Féin were strongly of the view that they had not demonstrably dishonoured their commitment to the principles of democracy and non-violence set out in the Report of the International Body.
12. Other points made by Sinn Féin in the plenary discussion and in its written response may be summarised as follows:
13. In discussion the following further points were made by one or more delegations:
14. The Governments have taken into account, in reaching their conclusions, all the information in their possession. On the British side, the Secretary of State was fully briefed on the circumstances of the two murders by the Chief Constable, and the Prime Minister and she have had the opportunity to examine fully the information and evidence available to him.
15. The Irish Government have taken account of information and judgements given to them by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, as well as the assessment of the Commissioner of the Garda Siochana.
16. The Governments have also paid careful attention within the terms of the rules of procedure to the views expressed both by Sinn Féin and by other participants. They have taken fully into account the previous cases under rule 29. They draw attention however to the fact that the circumstances of each of those cases differed from the present one, whether in the gravity of the actions in question, the statements of the parties concerned and the relationships with the paramilitary organisations involved. They have sought to be as fair as possible within the rules and conventions adopted by participants, in the context that the process is a political not a legal one.
17. Taking into account the information in their possession, both Governments conclude that there was IRA involvement in the murders and that this constitutes a clear infringement of the Mitchell principles. They note that the IRA did not in explicit terms deny involvement in the killings. This is in contrast with an earlier case under rule 29, where they denied involvement in the Markethill bomb (Governments' conclusions of 24 September 1997).
18. The Governments have previously made clear (in their conclusions of 24 September 1997) that they would expect the Republican Movement as a whole - that is Sinn Féin and the IRA - to honour the commitment to the Mitchell principles observed by Sinn Féin. They said on that occasion that they 'found it hard to conceive of circumstances where, after a group with a clear link to any party in the negotiations had used force or threatened to use force to influence the course or the outcome of the all-party negotiations, the relevant party could be allowed to remain in the talks'. They characterised the IRA as a group 'with a clear link to Sinn Féin'. That reflects the position that has been taken throughout the negotiations (and which underlay the Governments' requirement that Sinn Féin could only be admitted to the negotiations in the event of an unequivocal restoration of the IRA ceasefire). Whatever the personal position of Sinn Féin delegates, the Governments believe it remains justifiable and indeed necessary to proceed on that basis.
19. Taking into account the principles and procedures of the Talks process, including the provisions of Rule 29, previous determinations in regard to that rule, the statements by all participants, including Sinn Féin and all the other considerations outlined above, the Governments are obliged to conclude that the representations under Rule 29, specified in paragraphs 5 and 6 above, have been upheld and accordingly that Sinn Féin should not be allowed to participate in the Talks.
20. The aim of both Governments is to maintain an inclusive process, on the basis that this is the best way to achieve a comprehensive and balanced settlement likely to secure the agreement of all sides. Both Governments remain determined that the deadline of May as the target date for the conclusion of the Talks shall be met and the completion of the process is now approaching. It is particularly important, therefore, that as many parties as possible, consistent with the fundamental principles on which these negotiations are based, have the opportunity to make their contribution to the Talks during the critical period.
21. The Governments acknowledge the positive contribution that has been made to the peace process by the IRA ceasefire of August 1994 and its restoration of July 1997. They also acknowledge the very significant and genuine efforts which have been made, and are being made, by Sinn Féin in working for peace. The Governments believe that Sinn Féin will continue, together with the other parties, to have an important role to play in the bringing about of a comprehensive, inclusive settlement, and that the maintenance of the IRA cessation will also be critical in that regard.
22. The IRA statement, as noted in paragraph 10 above, asserts that the IRA cessation of military operations remains intact. Having regard to the fact that the term set for the completion of the process is now close, to the strong determination of the two Governments to work with the parties to produce a settlement in the coming six weeks and to the desirability and importance of as many parties as possible, consistent with the fundamental principles on which these negotiations are based, having the opportunity to contribute to the talks during this critical period, the two Governments have come to the following view. Subject crucially to events on the ground and to convincing demonstration in word and deed that a complete, unqualified and unequivocal IRA ceasefire is being fully and continuously observed, it is the expectation of the two Governments that Sinn Féin will be able to return to the talks on 9 March. Contacts with Sinn Féin would be maintained in the intervening period. However, the Governments also reaffirm the paramount importance of the integrity of the process, which depends on the total and absolute commitment of all participants to democratic and exclusively peaceful means of resolving political issues as required by the Mitchell Principles.
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