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Speech by Bertie Ahern to the Dáil, Dublin, (28 September 2005)

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Text: Bertie Ahern ... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn

Speech by Bertie Ahern, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), to the Dáil, on Recent Developments in the Peace Prcess (28 September 2005)


"I am very pleased to have this opportunity to address the House on recent developments in the peace process.

I do so, not in a spirit of elation, but fully conscious of the long and difficult history of our island and the enormous burden placed upon it and our people in recent decades by the threat and use of physical force by the Provisional IRA.

Finally, after many false starts, the IRA have yielded to the will of the people, as expressed in the Referendum on the Good Friday Agreement.

In July, they announced an end to their campaign and a commitment to exclusively peaceful means. And this week we have the very welcome news that they have decommissioned their weapons.

I will not dwell on a past that is all too familiar.

It is a past that involved untold suffering for many people and inflicted grievous damage on our country.

It is a past that we can never forget.

Future generations will look back and shake their heads in disbelief and horror at the totally unnecessary loss of life and suffering that was inflicted over more that three decades.

I have invested a considerable amount of my political life in the peace process.

I have worked unstintingly for the past seven years to fulfil the mandate that the people gave me in the Referendum to secure a permanent peace on this island.

I have continued to pursue that goal because, as a Constitutional Republican, I was convinced that it was the only way to achieve a final resolution to the Northern conflict.

I was joined in this endeavour by many people and from parties in this House and elsewhere. Our united voice has been important. The cross-party support that we have enjoyed has greatly helped in making the progress that we are acknowledging today.

This is a real moment in Irish history.

The IICD has certified that the weapons of the IRA are gone. And they are gone in a manner which has been witnessed and verified.

Many believed that this day would never come. Many people will lament, and I would be among them, that these developments have been too-long delayed. Done earlier, they would have consolidated a peace process that badly needed reassurance and promised outcomes.

The history of this country is littered with missed opportunity and unmet challenges.

But this day has now come.

And we are enormously relieved that we can finally close this difficult chapter of the peace process.

The report of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning confirms that the Commission has overseen the completion of IRA decommissioning.

It states that the IRA has now placed the totality of its arsenal beyond use.

This was the IICD’s fourth report on IRA decommissioning. They have spoken of very large quantities of weapons - ammunition, rifles, machine guns, mortars, missiles, handguns, explosives, explosive substances and other arms. They made clear that the amounts involved were consistent with the inventory prepared by the security forces.

Very detailed inventories have been made and these will be published when all decommissioning, including loyalist weapons, has been completed.

I accept the IICD’s view that an amount of confidentiality was necessary in order to ensure that decommissioning happened.

I hope that the IICD will now also make progress on the removal of loyalist weapons from the equation and that everyone in a position to encourage this will do so.

I would like to thank General De Chastelain and his team for their work. They have done the people of this island a great service. They are professional and honourable people.

I would also like to pay particular tribute to the independent witnesses, the Reverend Harold Good and Fr Alec Reid. Their reputations - as men, as Christians, as workers for peace and reconciliation – are impeccable. The entire community recognises that.

They told of how they watched the entire process, minute by minute.

They said that beyond any shadow of doubt, the arms of the IRA have now been decommissioned.

Their statement was compelling. And it was clear.

And if it was good enough for all these upstanding, independent and honourable people, it is certainly good enough for me.

The Governments did not take the job of decommissioning upon themselves. We asked international independent experts to do so.

This House passed legislation to allow this to happen. Theirs was a difficult, demanding and, at times, frustrating job. But I am obviously pleased that they have now finished this part of their mandate.

Experience has taught us all harsh lessons. I would not ask anybody to rely on the words of the IRA alone. The Governments are not doing so. But we do place our trust in the IICD. It is what they say that matters.

There are those who remain unconvinced about recent developments. I hope as the period ahead unfolds that they can be reassured and become convinced.

I can understand that it will take some time for the full consequences of an ending of the IRA campaign and the decommissioning of all their weapons to be fully comprehended.

But it is important also to begin to move on.

We have to do so as it would be unconscionable and unacceptable to fall back or to accept a political stalemate.

This is not a time for pessimism and undue delay. Real opportunity is opening up for Northern Ireland and for all of this island.

I believe that we can now look forward with renewed hope and promise to face other challenges.

The challenges were set out by Prime Minister Blair and I in July.

They include the restoration of the political institutions, the ending of loyalist paramilitary and criminal activity and the resolution of policing issues.

The path to resolution of these issues is also clear.

We needed to see the completion of IRA decommissioning. That has now happened.

We need to be convinced that all IRA paramilitary and criminal activity has come to an end.

And let me make clear the Gardai will, of course, continue with all ongoing investigations and undertake their responsibilities in every respect and to the fullest.

The next report of the Independent Monitoring Commission will be published in October and that will give an indication of progress on this issue. There will be a further IMC report in January.

The role of the Police Service of Northern Ireland is central to a future free of paramilitary threat. Support for policing by all sides is essential to assure hard-won peace. The PSNI have grown in stature as the Patten reforms have been rolled out. Their bravery and impartiality in recent weeks has been outstanding.

The Government continues to call on all parties to give their support to the PSNI. We stand four-square behind the Patten reforms. There will be no turning back from the new beginning in policing.

I understand the fears and uncertainties of the Unionist community. I understand that trust needs to be rebuilt. I know they may need time to reflect. They are entitled to that time.

But it is also important that the new realities are recognised.

I believe that trust and confidence can be rebuilt.

The task before us all now is to build a better future, a better Ireland. An Ireland that is a warm home for everybody who lives here.

The Good Friday Agreement has delivered peace to Ireland. It has helped bring about the end of the IRA’s armed campaign and it has now brought about the decommissioning of the IRA’s weapons.

Within the next two years the process of security normalisation in Northern Ireland should be completed. British army levels and military installations will be drastically reduced.

The Agreement must now begin to deliver the remainder of its promise to the fullest.

The Government will in every way uphold the Good Friday Agreement and the principle of equality.

There is no going back to past and failed ways.

The Agreement is the way of the future. And it is the only way.

Subject to satisfactory reports by the Independent Monitoring Commission, the verified delivery by the IRA of full decommissioning clears the way for the renewal of discussions among the political parties on the restoration of the institutions.

We will expect all the parties to play their part constructively in that process.

The Agreement remains central to all we are seeking to achieve. The principles of consent, partnership, equality and mutual respect enshrined in it are the clear reference points for relationships on the island of Ireland.

The IRA statement at the end of July was a belated and long awaited acknowledgement of a central tenet of the Agreement: constitutional change will only ever be brought about by peaceful means, political persuasion and respecting the principle of consent.

While pressing for the earliest possible resumption of full negotiations, we will continue to be in close contact with all the parties. And our firm partnership with the British Government will remain indispensable.

Our goal and our message will be to ensure that this unprecedented opportunity for lasting progress is not wasted.

Future generations would not forgive us that omission.

Realising the full and rich potential of the Good Friday Agreement will require leadership of a high order, from all the parties. For its part, the Government is determined to spare no effort in achieving this objective.

I call on everybody to now seize the opportunity that is opening in front of us to build a better Ireland for all its people.

When the founders of Fianna Fáil gathered in the La Scala Theatre many of them had experienced the disillusionment of a bitter and bloody civil war. Their foundation of a new political movement was a courageous recognition that continuation of the armed struggle provided no way forward, that political methods were the only means of progress towards national objectives, and that democratic order must prevail.

And from the moment Eamon de Valera led Fianna Fáil into government in 1932, the moral imperative of constitutional republicanism – that violence has no place in securing Irish unity- has been at the forefront of our political philosophy. Like de Valera, and all my other predecessors, I have tried to persuade militant republicans to accept the peaceful Republican path of Fianna Fáil.

I have tried to persuade them that the unity of Irish people can never be achieved through violence.

I have made it clear that you cannot build Irish unity on violence and pain.

I hope, that the Provisional IRA’s actions in ending their campaign and disposing of their arms offers a firm indication that they have now come around to this peaceful analysis.

Though this has taken a long time - too long a time - it is nonetheless welcome.

Finally, they have realised that it is the ballot box, and not the armalite, that can bring about change in the Ireland of the 21st century."


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