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Article on Decommissioning by John Hume, 7 February 2000

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'Time to Save the Process', Article on Decommissioning by John Hume, Monday 7 February 2000

We have now entered a critical period in the political process. The word "crisis" has often been used to describe the roller-coaster of events which have tried the patience and tested the nerves of everyone involved. Now we face perhaps the greatest crisis since the process began, with the very real threat of suspension of the institutions, the committees and the North-South bodies.

Over the last 10 years we have achieved an incredible amount of progress. From the darkest days of the Troubles emerged a hunger for peace in the hearts of our people. That hunger was transformed into action, with staggering results. Ten years ago, would it have seemed likely that the leaders of the republican movement would have committed themselves to exclusively peaceful and democratic means, and be taking part in an inclusive Executive? Who could have envisaged how well that Executive would be working?

Who could have envisaged an SDLP Minister for Agriculture addressing a protest by the Ulster Farmers' Union on the steps of Stormont, convincing them of her intent to help them in every way she could, and walking away to the sound of rapturous applause?

Who could have foreseen committees made up of members of all the parties, including Sinn Féin and the DUP, working together to organise the running of Northern Ireland for the good of all its people? Would it have seemed likely that the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party would be committed to a fully inclusive partnership approach, and would have negotiated meaningful North-South structures?

Would it have seemed likely that the British Prime Minister would be working closely and deeply in co-operation with the Taoiseach and the US President? Would it have seemed likely that every party in Ireland, North and South, with a nationalist tradition would accept the principle of consent?

But best of all, who could have envisaged the peace on our streets, which has transformed our society, and touched the lives of all our people? Living in Northern Ireland, settling in Northern Ireland, investing in Northern Ireland is now an attractive proposition. The economic regeneration which has been such an integral aspect of the landscape here has been made possible by the absence of violence, and the growth of the political process.

The new beginning which we have witnessed is clear for all to see. It is the will of the people, who voted overwhelmingly for the implementation of the Good Friday agreement, that the growth which I have talked about has been made possible. It is the responsibility of every true democrat, and any organisation which respects the will of the people to implement that agreement. The republican movement has shown itself to be committed to the peace process through its ceasefire, and its maintenance. The silence of its weapons, as the IRA pointed out last week, demonstrates that.

However, the Ulster Unionist Party feels that by setting up the institutions, as it agreed to do during the Mitchell review, expectations of greater progress on decommissioning had been created. That is why another voluntary act by the IRA could transform the situation, and allow us to continue to grow as a society and as a people.

I have, on a number of occasions, suggested that such a gesture should take place. There are many different ways in which it could be done, but I believe that if the IRA were to arrange with Gen de Chastelain for an amount of Semtex to be left in a certain location, the current difficulties could be swiftly overcome.

THERE are terrible choices for all of us to make if the agreement falls. This is a very historic time. For the very first time the will of the Irish people as to how they share this island has been established and made clear in joint referendums.

It took immense effort by two governments, the US President, all the political parties on this island and the massive support of the people of Ireland to achieve this prize. I now appeal to the IRA to show its deep respect for the will of the Irish people. I ask it to demonstrate for all to see its patriotism and desire to move the situation forward by strengthening the peace process through beginning voluntarily the process of decommissioning.

The Good Friday agreement allows the difficulties of our past to be put behind us. It creates the circumstances where at last Catholic, Protestant and dissenter are working together in mutual respect. It allows all of our people to feel and be treated as equals, free from injustice and fear.

Each of us wish to see our dreams become reality. If the institutions fall, no matter who is at fault, the dreams of republicans, nationalists and unionists may well fall with them. Let us make sure that does not happen.

Source: The above article appeared in the Irish News and the Irish Times on 7 February 2000

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