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Speech by Gerry Adams setting out Sinn Féin's approach to the reconvened assembly, Belfast, (10 May 2006)

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Text: Gerry Adams... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn

Speech by Gerry Adams, then President of Sinn Féin, setting out Sinn Féin's approach to the reconvened Assembly, Belfast, (10 May 2006)


"This is an emotional week for Irish republicans. Last Friday we marked the 25th anniversary of the death of Bobby Sands.

This Friday is the anniversary of Francie Hughes.

Their deaths and almost 50 others came during an immensely challenging period in our history. As we remember that time and celebrate the lives of these brave men we should also reflect on the hunger strikers commitment to the future.

That is essentially what the hunger strike was about. That is also what we are about.

Republicans need no reminding that building a future based on equality and justice is immensely challenging. No one should be under any illusion about the challenges and risks facing the British and Irish governments and all of the parties in the period ahead.

In recent years, despite the setbacks, there has been significant progress. The situation today bears little relation to that of 25 years ago. But there are still difficulties to be overcome.

Not least of these is the issue of sectarianism which manifested itself in its most brutal form last weekend with the murder of 15 year old Michael McIlveen.

Let us be clear and honest about this. Sectarianism is rampant in this society. It needs to be eradicated. The peace process is consequently the most important issue facing the people of this island today.

The Good Friday Agreement is central to its stability and progress. Progress within the peace process will create opportunity, will create wealth, will improve our standard of living and contribute to further progress. It will usher in equality and remove the causes of sectarianism. Failure will set all this back by decades.

Therefore the next few months are pivotal. For our part, Republicans have demonstrated time and time again our desire and determination to make the peace process work.

We want to work in partnership with unionists to create a better place, a shared space for all our people.

In my opinion the current phase of the political talks will decide the future of the Good Friday Agreement - the stakes are that high.

Next Monday the British Secretary of State is convening an Assembly. It is important that everyone understand that this is not the Assembly envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement. This is an inferior model designed by Mr. Hain. This is the 'Peter Hain Assembly'.

Sinn Féin understands the rationale behind the strategy of the two governments at this time, and the positives involved. But we are equally clear about the shortcomings. The British legislation which underpins this approach provides for an Assembly period between May15 and the end of June in which to form an Executive. If that does not happen, a further period after the summer recess has been set ending on November 25.

Although the two governments have declared that the primary purpose is the appointment of the Executive, this legislation authorises the British Secretary of State to allow other business to be conducted. The Assembly's rules have also been changed.

Sinn Féin will not acquiesce to this. Our singular focus will be on the formation of the Executive. We will use our mandate for this purpose and to prevent either the governments or any party here from diverting proceedings into time wasting distractions.

Understandably there is a lot of scepticism and cynicism about whether Ian Paisley will do the business. The early goodwill and high hopes that were invested in the Assembly after the Good Friday Agreement was achieved over 8 years ago have also eroded.

Despite this I detect an undercurrent of optimism that progress can be made.

The significant moves by republicans last year have emboldened many to hope that this time it will be different - that this time real progress can be made. There is also a very clear feeling that business, the economy needs local politicians to take charge. So, if so the focus can be kept on the formation of the Executive and away from other distractions progress is possible.

For these reasons scepticism should be suspended and the upcoming period approached in a very positive way. In this context a big effort has to be made to keep the two governments on the right lines.

For example, it emerged recently that the two governments were considering assembly arrangements put forward by the DUP that would over-ride the Good Friday Agreement safeguards.

At a meeting with the Taoiseach I made it clear that this was unacceptable. And the following day after a meeting with Mr. Blair in Downing Street Sinn Féin publicly ruled out participating in any form of Shadow Assembly.

It is also worth noting, despite the understandable goodwill that the Taoiseach receives for his work on the process, that any initiatives, imperfect though they may be, have come from the British government, mostly at the behest of Sinn Féin. For some time now Sinn Féin has campaigned for the Assembly to be reconvened with the purpose of forming the power sharing Executive.

All of our public and private discussions with the two governments have had that priority.

Next Monday's meeting here is the result of that work. However not unexpectedly, instead of stoutly defending the Good Friday Agreement, the governments have pandered to the DUP.

For example, in March Peter Hain put forward a proposition which would have excluded Sinn Fein from negotiations. He didn't push the issue. He was only trying it on. And we immediately blocked his proposal. But what was even more significant is that he was supported by the Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern. So for all these reasons there is a need for great vigilance in the time ahead.

The Sinn Féin leadership has thoroughly examined the current situation and its possible potential and pitfalls.

After a thorough discussion we have agreed very strict guidelines and conditions for our party's participation in the Peter Hain Assembly. Consequently;

Our focus will be on the restoration of the institutions. So, I intend to nominate The Reverend Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness for the positions of First and Deputy First Ministers.

If this is unsuccessful we will seek to return to this business at the earliest possible time.

We will also participate in a Business Committee to ensure that the election of the First and Deputy First Minster, and any business for the urgent preparation of the restoration of government is discussed by the Assembly.

It has been suggested that the Peter Hain Assembly will provide the opportunity for discussion of important issues, like education reform, water charges, health and rates increases. This would be pointless. In reality the Peter Hain Assembly is powerless on all these issues. It would be nothing more than a talking shop.

Of course, there is a way to effectively tackle these matters but that depends on local politicians taking up their responsibilities. We have an opportunity to send British Ministers home and for local politicians, who know the issues, to take responsibility for deciding the future direction of Health and Education, the Environment, Policing and Justice and much more.

What are the chances for success? I don't know. It is too early to tell.

What I do know is that Sinn Féin is here to do business and totally committed and determined to rise to the needs of the situation.

I have no doubt that the DUP will enter into power sharing arrangements. But for understandable reasons they want to do so on their terms.

That is not possible unless the Good Friday Agreement is torn up. The objective therefore has to be to get Ian Paisley into the power sharing arrangements on the terms contained in the Agreement. Until this is achieved the Assembly should have no other role.

However, while Sinn Féin is deeply opposed to the politics and the polices of the DUP we recognise their electoral mandate and the right of their leader to be First Minster under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. For their part the DUP want the Assembly to stay away from the formation of the Executive. They want a shadow forum, including shadow committees. Sinn Féin will not permit this.

Having said all of this, do I believe Ian Paisley will be First Minister? I don't know. I don't even know if he knows. But I'm sure he will be conscious of the irony involved in Sinn Féin preparing to go to Stormont to have him elected as First Minister.

That's the politics of the peace process. Sinn Féin's resolve is to make these politics work. If politicians fail or effuse to do this, then they cannot with credibility condemn the politics of sectarianism or sectarian killings like that of Michael McIlveen. Like it or not we are the role models. Our duty is to lead by example."


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