Article by Gerry Adams on the new safeguard legislation, published in the Irish News, 14 July 1999
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Article by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, outlining his party's position on the new safeguard legislation. The article was published in the Irish News on Wednesday 14 July 1999
At every stage in the peace process, particularly before, during and after periods of negotiation, there are conflicting and confusing signals from some of the participants and from the media.
Most of this is unhelpful, though not always malign or malicious. But when seeking to get across a particular view of events, no party can match the British government in resources and influence.
In fairness, after the latest round of negotiations the Irish government has, by and large, been measured in its pronouncements and media briefings.
The British government on the other hand has been blowing up a storm of media spin
This has been totally unhelpful. Of course, if the British government media campaign had the effect of settling the unionists, Sinn Féin could take the pain and given the messing, prevarication, delay (and deceit) of the last number of years that would be a small price to pay.
But it is my certain view that the British government’s media campaign will not settle the unionist leadership, even if they go into the executive. On the contrary it will only unsettle them, even in the executive.
You see Mr Trimble knows exactly what he is supposed to do. It is there in the terms of the Good Friday agreement which he voted for. It is there in all of the other agreements which he has made and broken since then. There is no question whatsoever of him not understanding his responsibilities under the terms of the agreement.
The problem is that these conflict with his role, as he sees it, as UUP leader. It is difficult to know in the twists and turns of the situation how Mr Blair, as British prime minister, could successfully manage the unionist constituency, because let there be no doubt this is Mr Blair’s responsibility as much as Mr Trimble’s, but allowing the UUP to open up a process of perpetual negotiation or renegotiation is not the way.
An example of this is to be found in the ri ra surrounding the letters signed by Mr Blair after the Good Friday agreement negotiations last year.
In fairness to Mr Trimble, he did receive letters from Mr Blair after the negotiation was closed. Yet they were hyped out of all proportion to their worth.
Of course the British advisers responsible for these publicity coups could argue that such events helped to win the referendum campaign and they were necessary given the ineffectual unionist involvement in that campaign. This may be true but it misses the point.
The unionist leadership was not settled by these assurances or by other assurances at different times since then. In fact, in this regard the process has taken on a certain character. There are frenzied intense bouts of negotiation within 'absolute deadlines’ which the unionists generally ignore, and then when the negotiations are finished they continue negotiating bilaterally with the British government in pursuit of more assurances.
This is what is happening at the moment. Last week Mr Blair made a number of comments which may reflect a British government perspective, but which are not part of the Good Friday agreement or of the joint statement — the Way Forward — released the two governments on July 2.
I'm thinking here particularly of Mr Blair’s assertion that "I can ensure Sinn Féin aren’t in the executive if they default". Here the impression is given that Sinn Féin can be expelled if Mr Blair’s or General de Chastelain’s version of how decommissioning can be accomplished does not succeed.
But of course this cannot be so. There can be no question of Sinn Féin being expelled or excluded or of Mr Blair ensuring that Sinn Féin aren’t in the executive while our party keep to the terms of the Good Friday agreement. And let there be no doubt about this, Sinn Féin strategy is wedded to the Good Friday agreement and we are working to see this agreement Implemented.
Exclusion legislation - planning for failure
The role of the decommissioning commission is to "facilitate the voluntary decommissioning of firearms". Under the agreement its remit is to "monitor, review and verify progress on decommissioning". This legislation would significantly change its remit and allow it to lay down ultimatums.
It is clear that decommissioning can only be a voluntary act by those In possession of arms. This formally accepted reality is acknowledged in the terms of the Good Friday agreement itself and was accepted by the two governments in June 1997 and by the international commission on July 2.
The legislative change proposed in this week’s bill therefore is a fundamental change in the ethos of the agreement.
It formalises the unionist demand for first-class and second-class institutions established on a conditional basis and while the draft legislation may not go far enough for Mr Trimble, unionist dissatisfaction and Tory party politicking should not disguise the fact that the balance of the Good Friday agreement is compromised by this legislative move.
The whole thrust of this bill Is to plan for failure, not success. It is a begrudgers’ charter. It suggests a policy change by the British government which could, In the hands of unreconstructed unionists, become a cover for the return to the failed agenda of exclusion.
It also causes problems for the Irish government who are being asked to put through changes to their constitution even though the basis of the referendum permitting them to do this has been changed by this British legislation.
British and unionists default
He has refused to fulfil any of the responsibilities which that office entails and he has breached the Good Friday agreement on a range of issues.
For example, according to the agreement "following the election of the First Minister and deputy First Minister the posts of Ministers will be allocated to parties on the basis of d’Hondt".
That was over one year ago and Mr Trimble has blocked the establishment of the executive since then.
The all-Ireland Ministerial Council should also have met by this stage but has been unable to do so because of Mr Trimble’s stance. Moreover in the transitional period between the elections to the assembly and the transfer of power to it ministers from the assembly and the Irish government were to undertake a work programme.
No discussions have taken place because Mr Trimble has ensured that there is no executive. Mr Trimble is clearly in default of the agreement.
The British government is also in breach of the agreement, most particularly around the issue of demilitarisation. It has refused so far to publish an "overall strategy" on demilitarisation as promised in the Good Friday agreement and by British ministers since then.
There are other elements of the agreement which are also in default. These are all within the British government’s competence and responsibility to implement.
So the peace process is reduced in many ways to tactical manoeuvrings with little strategic overview.
Of course, Downing Street may argue that the British government has a strategy and that these assurances are aimed not at the unionist leadership but at unionist grassroots opinion.
Sinn Féin Initiative
Sinn Féin took an initiative in the course of the negotiations which we had carefully worked on for some time.
That initiative, which was clearly in the terms of the Good Friday agreement, involved a declaration by me which was much more advanced than anything our party had said on this issue.
It contained a genuine and advanced belief of how the decommissioning issue could be resolved, It was rejected by the unionists —twice!
In the wake of this initiative and at the conclusion of the negotiations, the governments issued a joint statement and asked the parties to consult on this.
I accept that Mr Trimble needed space to get his party policy changed on this matter. I have some understanding of his task because in order to sign on for the Good Friday agreement the Sinn Féin leadership had to call and convince two ard fheiseanna to bring about a change in our constitution, which required two-thirds majority support.
But the UUP cannot keep renegotiating or prevaricating or delaying this decision. Not if they are really committed to the Good Friday agreement.
The issue of arms
I am totally committed to doing everything in my power to maintain the peace process and to removing the guns forever from the politics of our country.
But I do not accept any block whatsoever on the right of all sections of our people to enjoy full rights and entitlements.
Under the terms of the Good Friday agreement all of the participants have a responsibility to deal with the decommissioning issue.
This includes the two governments. The British government in particular has been a hugely negative factor in the development of the conditions of conflict in Ireland. It was the British government which brought the gun into Irish politics.
I believe this British government can be different and that Mr Blair has a sense of responsibility and has given more time than any other British prime minister to the quest for peace between our two islands and among the people of this island.
He knows that Sinn Féin’s position has been consistent and that we too want to play a full and advanced role in this quest. But he knows also, as does the taoiseach, that we have made it clear that we do not represent any other organisation, that we have made it clear that Sinn Féin is not the IRA, and we have made it clear that we cannot and we will not enter into any commitments on behalf of the IRA
Throughout all of our engagements the Sinn Féin team have publicly and privately insisted that it is only through the full implementation of all elements of the Good Friday agreement, and all the parties and the two governments discharging our collective responsibility in regards to its terms, that the issue of arms, under the aegis of the de Chastelain commission acting within the terms of the agreement, can be finally and satisfactorily settled. This is the best guarantee that guns will never again have a role in the politics of this island.
Since the last phase of negotiations finished our negotiating team have been asked by other republicans what assurances were given to the governments with regard to decommissioning. We are asked by other republicans to explain why the British government is so certain that decommissioning will take place shortly after the executive is formed.
We are asked if the IRA will make a statement.
The answer to the first question is straightforward and is contained in the paragraph above.
The answer to the second question is one which only the British government can answer. It is not contained in the Good Friday agreement and Sinn Féin’s attitude to any measure is that it has to be in the terms of the Good Friday agreement.
The answer to the third question can only be given by the IRA.
Third year of cessation
The single most significant act of the past 30 years was the IRA cessation of August 1994. The risk for peace, which the IRA took, created what has been widely recognised and universally applauded as the best opportunity for peace in Ireland this century.
Only the British government and the unionists struck a sour note in their response. The then leader of the UUP, Jim Molyneaux, described it as the most destabilising event since partition. Unionists, or at least their leaders, appeared to prefer the certainties of war and conflict than the challenges of making peace.
Along with the first cessation IRA guns and bombs have been silent for almost four years. The IRA cessation holds firm.
There can be no doubt that the August 94 and July ‘97 initiatives by the IRA opened the door to the political progress we have witnessed and to the potential of the Good Friday agreement.
Indeed, the hope for a better future has been largely kept alive during the past 14 months of unionist prevarication, stalling, bomb attacks and killings, by the maintenance of the cessation.
The IRA initiative was based in its own words on a desire to "enhance the democratic peace process and underline our definitive commitment to its success".
The IRA decision to call a "complete cessation of military operations" was built on the work of Sinn Féin, John Hume, Albert Reynolds and Irish America and developed an inclusively based political initiative.
For the first time the combined efforts of these diverse groups and individuals held out the prospect of fundamental change through an evolving peace process.
The first IRA cessation lasted for 18 months and then collapsed because continuing unionist intransigence was being underpinned by a British Tory strategy which devalued the process, obstructed inclusive negotiations and blocked progress.
A new Labour British government and the continuing efforts of Sinn Féin and others succeeded in creating the climate in which a second IRA cessation was called. That cessation was built upon the foundation stones of inclusion, dialogue, the removal of preconditions and the honouring of commitments by the British government.
There should be no doubt about Sinn Féin’s total commitment to implementing the Good Friday agreement, including resolving the impasse over decommissioning.
We want all aspects of this process to work. The choice for the UUP and the British government is clear. Either the unionist veto continues or the Good Friday agreement is implemented.
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