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Article by Gerry Adams for 'The Guardian', 30 November 2004
Text: Gerry Adams ... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn
Article by Gerry Adams, then President of Sinn Féin,
for 'The Guardian' newspaper, 30 November 2004
A peace process - any peace process - is enormously difficult. But with determination and a preparedness to take risks and make compromises, a peace process can succeed. South Africa is the most obvious example. But peace processes can also fail. Witness the tragedy unfolding each day in the Middle East.
The IRA cessations are now more than 10 years old. The Good Friday agreement is almost seven years old. There have been enormous changes in the island of Ireland. Progress, yes, but the peace process is not bedded down, organic and dynamically moving forward. This is principally because of political unionism's resistance to the fundamental constitutional, political and social changes promised by the agreement. Also, elements of the British system, fearful of the erosion of their power and influence, have sought to undermine efforts for progress.
The current negotiations started at the beginning of the year. In June, I set the goal for Sinn Féin (and for any successful outcome) as "a comprehensive and holistic package, which deals with all of the outstanding matters in a way that is definitive and conclusive". A tall order - especially given the refusal by Ian Paisley to talk to Sinn Féin, and his party's oft-stated opposition to the Good Friday agreement.
Sinn Féin's approach has been twofold. We are trying to get the Democratic Unionist party on board. We are also seeking to ensure that any propositions from the British and Irish governments, and any agreement emerging from these discussions,are rooted in the Good Friday agreement. The governments' propositions have to be about delivery of the agreement. The integrity of the power-sharing institutions, the human rights and equality agenda, and the all-Ireland architecture of the agreement have to be safeguarded. This is essential if any deal is to be sustainable.
No one should doubt the size of the task being undertaken by the Sinn Féin leadership. I have no doubt that, if we are successful, we are going to challenge our activists and supporters.
There are three big elements in our approach. There is the challenge for Sinn Féin of actually being in government with the DUP - a party with a certain sectarian record and a declared opposition to equality. As we seek to bed down the Good Friday agreement and move towards Irish unity and independence, it will be a battle a day to persuade unionism of the merits. Republican patience with how unionism deals with the political institutions, and with key issues such as equality and human rights, will be tested.
Unionists have expressed concerns about the IRA's intentions. Within reason, the Sinn Féin leadership must try, if we can, to remove those fears without undermining our electoral rights or our mandate. That is another huge challenge.
And then there is the vexed issue of policing. The police force and judicial system were designed to oppress nationalists and republicans. And they did this ruthlessly for decades. If the British government and the DUP deliver on outstanding matters, including the transfer of powers on policing and justice in a short timeframe, republicans will have to face up to whether we change our attitude to the Northern Ireland police service.
The fact that our ongoing dialogue with the governments has been so intense is an indication that there are still serious matters to be resolved. Among these is the DUP's refusal thus far to declare its willingness to share power with Sinn Féin, to accept Sinn Féin's democratic mandate and to respect the rights and entitlements of our electorate.
There is a duty on the leadership of political unionism to face up to its responsibilities. At the beginning of the year, when Sinn Féin urged the two governments to move the process forward, we also told them that if the DUP refused to engage properly, then the two governments must move ahead without them. The process of change cannot be frozen if unionism refuses to come to terms with the new political realities. Political unionism cannot be allowed to veto the fundamental rights of citizens or other changes necessary for a peaceful society.
The governments will have to promote a new, imaginative and dynamic alternative in which both will share power in the north. The Good Friday agreement and the basic rights and entitlements of citizens that it enshrines must be defended and actively promoted by London and Dublin.
All these matters can be resolved if the governments are genuinely committed to the Good Friday agreement. In other words, with political will a comprehensive agreement is possible. In every negotiation there is a time when you have to call it. For Ian Paisley, that time is now.