Address by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams to a meeting of the Sinn Féin Ard Comhairle, 24 November 1999
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Text of speech by Gerry Adams, then President of Sinn Féin (SF), to a meeting of the Sinn Féin Ard Comhairle, at Liberty Hall, Dublin, Wednesday 24 November 1999
"These last few weeks have seen some very significant developments in the search for a lasting peace settlement. These developments were created through very hard work and tough decisions taken by all the leaderships involved.
I believe that we have now managed to create the potential to consolidate the peace process and to advance the task of implementing the Good Friday Agreement.
At every slow painful point in the search for peace republicans have taken initiatives which have created a momentum to take the process forward. Our commitment has been matched by others whose efforts I have often acknowledged and commended.
The IRA's proposed appointment of a representative to enter into discussions with the de Chastelain commission is another demonstration of its courage and discipline, and a sign of its willingness to enhance the search for a democratic peace settlement.
This initiative by the Army was secured as a result of the collective efforts of Sinn Féin , the two governments and David Trimble. No one should underestimate the effort, which this initiative involved, and I know that all the delegates at this evening's meeting are very conscious of the wobbles, worries and concerns which are now opened up within republican activism. The reports of our consultation process, which I have received informally so far, indicate a concern about secret deals, hidden agendas and other understandable fears.
It is the nature of a process such as this that media spins, remarks by opponents, or worries bout the compromises or initiatives involved, can have that effect. Everything becomes a negotiation, including this evening's meeting. So let me assure you that there is no secret deal.
This is in everybody's interest: unionist, republican, nationalist and loyalist alike. With the conclusion of the Mitchell Review the deal is now in the public arena for all to see. As Senator Mitchell said, the deal is the Good Friday Agreement. There is no hidden agenda, and this party's public position is also our private position. All the parties in the Mitchell Review are agreed that the issue of arms will finally and satisfactorily be settled by the De Chastelain Commission as set out in the Agreement, that decommissioning is a voluntary process, and that all parties to the Agreement have an obligation to help bring this about. The Good Friday Agreement makes it clear that this issue can only be resolved in the context of an overall settlement.
All of this continues to present huge challenges for all of us. It will also present huge challenges for the two governments, and I do not underestimate the difficulties which have to be overcome in the time and especially for the Ulster Unionist Party and its leadership.
In my view, the success of the next phase of this process is totally dependent on all progressive and forward-looking elements of our people asserting and exerting ourselves in the difficult tasks which leadership involves. I am confident that these difficulties can be overcome if the momentum which has been created is seized upon and utilised for the common good.
Success will also depend on sure-footed and calm management of the situation. Everyone in leadership, whether government or political parties, needs to be mindful that peace-making is more important, it is different from and it is more difficult than conventional politics or what usually passes for politics. It means trying to put yourself in the shoes of your opponents. It means resisting the temptation to go for short-term advantage.
The British government has shown a commitment to this process. That needs a continued focus to bring about real change and to resist the urge to misrepresent, to hype or to exaggerate. In other words, as much as anything else, the success of this next phase may depend on everyone taking a measured and accurate approach in the period ahead.
There was a great brouhaha last weekend over remarks attributed to Pat Doherty and Martin Ferris. Both of them speedily moved to reiterate their commitment to this process and to challenge the spin that was put upon their comments. I myself was moved to give reassurance to the UUP. As far as we are concerned, this matter is now closed, but in closing, let me also say to those who may not know Pat Doherty and Martin Ferris that there would not have been a Sinn Féin peace strategy, and consequently there would not now be a peace process if it wasn't for their commitment and support and endeavours to bring this about. The rejectionist unionsts will again scorn this. They want to destroy the Good Friday Agreement.
Sinn Féin worked during the review to save the Good Friday Agreement. We now want to see it implemented. We want to work with unionists in sorting out those vexed and difficult issues that continue to divide, and confuse, and separate us.
Our immediate goal is to forge a partnership with unionism that will see us labour together within the new institutions and govern in fairness and in honesty, with justice and equality. Unionists have nothing to fear from sharing power with republicans.
The fact is that we live on a small island. It is too small for us to stand alone and aloof from each other. Our destiny is intertwined. Our freedoms are inextricably bound up together. We cannot move forward into a new century separately, isolated and alone. We can only move forward together.
I believe that all our traditions should enjoy equality of treatment and respect. I have consistently defended the rights of Protestants and have advocated the merit of celebrating our diversity. Anti-sectarianism is a fundamental tenet of Irish republicanism. We believe in the unity of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter. I look forward to the day when all our people, nationalist and unionist, Protestant and Catholic, can live side by side as equals in mutual trust and tolerance. In government we will work towards that goal.
I believe that together we can successfully tackle the grave social and economic problems that affect many of our citizens. Wielding power collectively, in the interests of all, I am confident we can make a difference for this and for future generations. Peace is a concern and a responsibility for all of us. To be durable it requires not just the taking of responsibility but the sharing of responsibility. This moment in our history offers nationalists and unionists, republicans and loyalists, an opportunity to find new ways of working together, and celebrating our differences and of realising that we share many common values and goals.
Of course, we also differ on some major fundamentals but it is worth noting that a partnership between us does not require the compromise of principles. It is said that: 'The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.' Let us be wise. Let us try to imagine where we will all be in ten years' time. How will we get there? Are we wise enough to recognise an alternative road to that we have trudged for so long?
The Good Friday Agreement presents all sections of our people with a broad framework within which we can move forward together in peace and justice and towards democracy. Sinn Féin is absolutely committed to its full implementation. It is the historic compromise between nationalism and unionism. It must be made to work effectively in all our interests.
If we are to have true peace it will not only mean the absence of war. It will mean the presence of justice, of goodwill and of brotherhood and sisterhood. The bedrock of this new beginning has to be built upon citizens owning the future.
This requires the total transformation of the situation involving, alongside other developments, the establishment of the institutions, including the all-Ireland Ministerial Council, the Assembly, its Executive, the Civic Forum and the all-Ireland policy and implementation bodies. For the first time ever the political representatives of all parts of this island can work together in these institutions to improve the quality of people's lives.
The all-Ireland Ministerial Council will plot a course to harmonise and strengthen the political, economic, cultural and social relationships among all sections of our people. Taken together we can see that these institutions provide a dynamic that will transform Ireland and its people, and provide a meaningful process of national reconciliation.
This is the common sense approach in a country where the territory and the people have been divided for the best part of this century and engulfed in conflict intermittently for most of this time. All of this will present even more huge challenges for our membership, for our representatives in Leinster House and in the new Assembly, and especially for our two Ministers designate Bairbre de Brun and Martin McGuinness. In my view they and we are up to that challenge. The Assembly and related political institutions will in effect be unprecedented opportunity for Sinn Féin to promote a radical republican programme, to demonstrate our competence and to deliver real change.
It is our intention to be innovative where possible. To be open and democratic. To develop outreach to citizens, so that politics becomes the means of empowering people and not the vehicle for self advancement for a chosen few, or the means to alienate or disadvantage any section of our people. Economic democracy is essential to Sinn Féin 's political programme. We believe that people and local communities have to be at the centre of economic development policy.
Sinn Féin is a 32-county party representing that tradition in Irish politics which is best described as republican labour, the legacy of Pearse, and Connolly and Tone. Our commitment is to bringing forward real all-Ireland policies and to offering an effective alternative to the corruption and failed politics that continue to be a feature of political life here.
People in this state are rightly proud of many aspects of the Celtic Tiger economy. Some perhaps many - citizens are doing better than ever before. But there is another side of the Celtic Tiger - and that is poverty, homelessness and inequality. It may be hard to believe that in the midst of all the talk of the Celtic Tiger economy that more people are living in poverty now than there were 20 years ago.
The failure to share the prosperity of the Celtic Tiger is widely felt at many levels, by low-paid workers in service industries, by farmers, health workers, buildings workers and the ongoing scandal of homelessness. We want to see the wealth shared by greatly increasing spending on health and education, childcare, and by the introduction of the minimum wage and widespread tax reform.
Successive governments have completely failed in their responsibilities and have shown themselves incapable of - or unwilling to prioritise - the interests of ordinary people. We should remember that during the 1980s, when young people in this city were dying in their hundreds, the wealthiest in our society were robbing their fellow citizens of essential state services by stealing massive amounts of tax as Ansbacher account holders. We are about changing all of that. It is worth noting that while revelations continue about how the wealthy have been dodging tax, the coalition government is still dragging its feet on introducing the promised National Minimum Wage - and the gap between the rich and the poor in our society is ever widening.
We believe that this present period of economic prosperity should and must be used to build equality and social justice in our society. That is the demand which we made today in our pre-Budget submission.
The new institutions, the new politics they represent and the potential they contain will be resisted by reactionary forces within and outside the British system. There are strong elements who have set their face against change. They have never reconciled themselves to the reality that they never smashed Sinn Féin , that they never defeated us. They are against equality, against a new policing service, against all of the changes that are required if we are to build a durable and lasting peace. These elements are exploiting and will continue to exploit the genuine fears engendered by the process of change.
This process has been consistently under attack from rejectionists, who range from those who on almost a daily basis are attacking Catholic homes, to those who are challenging their own political leadership.
This leadership understands the difficulties and the challenges that this process presents to unionism and its leadership. But it is also the best opportunity for political leaders to take charge, and like all political opportunities it has to be seized; it has to be seized sooner rather than later, and we need to make progress, and make that progress urgently.
But for every movement forward in the last number of years there has also been a series of failed efforts. It is the responsibility of the two governments and all our political leaderships to ensure that this does not happen again.
No-one out there within the British establishment or unionist constituency should under-estimate the limits to which Sinn Féin have stretched ourselves and our constituency in our endeavours to make this process work.
The reason that Sinn Féin has stretched ourselves and our constituency is because we have always had our eyes fixed firmly on the prize.
We want a New Ireland in which all the people of this island will be cherished equally and in which everyone will be politically, socially and economically empowered. Sinn Féin see a 32county republic and a new relationship with our nearest neighbour based upon our mutual independence, as the best way to eradicate the range of political, social and economic and other inequalities which affect the people of this island. This does not represent a threat to the unionist section of our people.
The vast majority of people want peace. Nationalists and republicans support the objective of a united Ireland and therefore would like to see a new democratic dispensation which transcends partition and which makes a difference to them in their daily lives.
They want to see an effective, peaceful political strategy to give effect to that. They understand and support the agreement which we are trying to forge with unionism because it is based on the principles of inclusivity and equality.
It is essential in all of this that the British government faces up to its historical and contemporary responsibilities to the people of this island. The London government is a player with its own political interests. Sinn Féin fully recognises this and it is for this reason that Sinn Féin 's commitment to our political objectives will continue. We must continue to build support for an end to partition, an end to the British government's involvement in our country and a united Ireland. These are entirely legitimate, democratic and desirable objectives.
I want to thank all of you gathered here tonight and through you the different structures of our party that you represent. That we have come so far is in no small measure due to your endeavours and your capacity to make struggle. Building democracy on this island and creating a healing process is not easy. I have no doubt that for the foreseeable future that this will present all of us with difficulties.
Peace demands justice and justice requires fundamental change. I have also no doubt that we will succeed in our endeavours to bring this about. You are part of the fastest-growing political party in Ireland today. Whether it is here in our capital city, or in Cavan or Monaghan, or Kerry or Wexford, or Belfast or South Armagh, it is clear that Sinn Féin is winning more and more hearts and minds right across the island.
Sinn Féin is a truly nationalist party, the only all-Ireland party and our vision is of one island people emancipated and at peace with each other. We want a just and lasting peace. So do the vast majority of people in these islands. Let us ensure that none of us fail the people."
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