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Address by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, to the second annual Congress of Ógra Shinn Féin, 2 October 1999

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Research: Fionnuala McKenna
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Address by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, to the second annual Congress of Ógra Shinn Féin, 2 October 1999

"The UUP leadership is engaged in a high risk strategy which is, essentially, about preventing the establishment of the Executive and the interlocking all-Ireland structures. The objective is to suck the dynamic and the potential out of these elements of the Good Friday Agreement.

The issue of decommissioning presents a problem to some elements within unionism. I recognise this and I have acknowledged this in discussions with Unionists, and this is what has underpinned Sinn Féin's initiatives to resolve this issue for them. But all sections of unionism, including the UUP leader, David Trimble, know that decommissioning is not a precondition to the implementation of other elements of the Agreement. He knows that the issue of decommissioning cannot, under the terms of the Agreement, be used as a bar on the establishment of the institutions, and he knows that this matter cannot be the basis of a sanction against any party or any section of the electorate.

Mr. Trimble also knows that the responsibility for dealing with the issue of decommissioning was give by him and other parties to the Good Friday Agreement, to the International Decommissioning Body.

The UUP slogan, `no guns, no government' is clearly a contradiction of the agreement. Mr. Trimble knows this also. So do other leading members of his party.

Given the UUP position, and given the reality that no armed group is prepared to decommission on terms demanded by the UUP, and given the rejection by the Unionists of the decommissoining body, it is hardly surprisiong that there is not a great expectation that the Mitchell review will succeed.

I am asked what is the point therefore in being involved in the review ? The aswer is obvious. Success is only possible through dialogue. There is no other way to work out or to find a way forward out of the protracted difficulties, which have bogged down the process from day one. So the Mitchell review presents the best chance of achieving that. Let me also say that there is no sign that the UUP is prepared to accept any alternative to its demand, and at this time it seems likely to continue with this position. So there can be no certainty of success from this review.

Nonetheless, we have to keep trying because whether Mr. Trimble accepts this or not, or whether he knows or cares how much his stance is disappointing and frustrating all those people who voted - north and south - for the Good Friday Agreement, the reality is that he represents the best chance, at this time, for the rest of us.

Of course the British government has a huge role - the central role - to play. But the reality is that if Mr. Trimble does not face up to his responsibilities then the Good Friday Agreement is finished. That is the only possible consequence of the UUP's current position.

Such an outcome is not in the interests of democrats, of republicans or of nationalists - and of unionists either for that matter. So, Sinn Féin will persevere with the effort to save the agreement and to see it implemented fully, and we are engaging positively and constructively in the review in the hope that it can succeed. Unionists - even those who have resolutely set their faces against any change whatsoever - should take no succour from the failure of the Good Friday Agreement. It cannot be dismissed as easily as that. The changes involved in the Good Friday Agreement will be secured anyway.

Unionist resistance to change, whether from within the anti-agreement camp or from those elements which purport to support the agreement is what underpins the current difficulties. British management of the process and unionist tactical maneuvering against change is the cause of the crisis. It is my view that the British government should have learned a lot in the last eighteen months. If they have then the success of the process will depend on the British government using this experience in order to advance the process in the time ahead, and to do so in a way which allows all those genuinely committed to change or those prepared to accept change, to actually manage that change in a way which people voted for in the Good Friday referendum.

Because one thing is certain. All the changes envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement will be secured anyway. Those of us who are resolutely committed to a complete transformation of Irish society are not going to be deflected by the shortcomings of unionism. Furthermore, this British government could never justify its position if it failed to anchor the peace process on the foundation which is required for a truly just and lasting peace.

Mr. Blair knows this. Mr. Trimble probably knows this also. He and his party leadership should take their courage in their hands now and do the right thing. He should join with the rest of us in the political institutions and tackle all of the outstanding matters. He will not find Sinn Féin lacking in our willingness to do business with him and those he represents."

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