Statement by Gerry Adams (SF) at the opening of the Review of the Good Friday Agreement, 3 February 2004
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at the opening of the Review of the Good Friday Agreement,
3 February 2004
The review as set out in the Good Friday Agreement is about improving the delivery of the Agreement. It was never envisaged that it would take place during a suspension of institutions - indeed the British government had no right to suspend the institutions, and had to step outside the Agreement to unilaterally take that power on themselves and I do not accept for one second the British Secretary of State's defence of this action.
The reality at this time is that instead of stable political institutions with the people's elected representatives making decisions on important issues, which affect all our lives, across a range of social and economic issues; instead of a fully operational Assembly and all-Ireland institutions leading the delivery of change, advancing the equality agenda and championing human rights based society; we have continuing impasse.
It is almost three months since elections to the Assembly.
Those results show that the Good Friday Agreement continues to enjoy the substantial support of the majority of the people. Those who voted did so in the expectation that those they elected would be part of working institutions.
We are entitled therefore to ask the British Government to explain at this point the inconsistency between their assertion that the Agreement cannot be renegotiated and their failure to restore the political institutions which are the democratic core of the Agreement.
We are entitled also to ask the Democratic Unionist Party to explain how they intend to contribute to discussion on how best to implement the Agreement when they have declared their intention to subvert it.
The answers to such questions will at least allow the emergence of some clarity with respect to both the nature of and the likely outcome of the review. The review was never meant to deal with a process which is on hold so it is vital from the outset that we do not lend to any ambiguity about the purpose or expected outcome.
The review is not a renegotiation of the Good Friday Agreement. It is an opportunity to accelerate the process of change promised in the Agreement. It is an opportunity to re-endorse the Agreement. And yet we have parties to this review who are either in breach of the Agreement, ambiguous about the Agreement or determined to destroy it. But you are we welcome. Your presence here is implicit recognition of how, despite our differences, we can discuss these issues.
Sinn Féin is bringing a positive attitude to the review and we will proactively listen to the views of the other parties. We submitted a comprehensive agenda for discussion to the governments and have prepared detailed positions across these; including, the political institutions, the suspension powers, participation in NSMC and expansion of the Implementation Bodies, an All-Ireland Inter-Parliamentary Forum and All-Ireland Consultative Forum, the transfer of powers on policing and justice and many other matters.
The Review must address in particular the lack of progress on the equality and human rights front, identify the causes of this and seek a commitment from all to put it right.
It must address the failure of those in Ministerial Office to adhere to their Pledge of Office. It must deal with the need to define the duties of Ministerial Office, to include a requirement to attend Executive meetings or meetings of the North South Ministerial Council.
And of course it should also reflect on what is working well. It must consider for example the improvements recommended by the Procedures Committee and subsequently endorsed by the Assembly, including all the parties here.
Sinn Fein intends also to raise matters such as electoral registration, collusion, including the refusal of the British government to publish the Cory report, and the absence in many deprived areas, both unionist and nationalist working class neighbourhoods, of a real social economic peace dividend. These are matters directly linked to the Good Friday Agreement and which require focus and discussion and action taken.
Sinn Fein is prepared to play our full part in facing up to our responsibilities. I have set a peaceful direction for all republicans to follow and I reiterate that today.
There is also a heavy responsibility on the two governments - and especially on the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister - to provide the essential political leadership required to move the overall process on. As the leaders of the two governments and the joint and co-equal guarantors of the Agreement, it falls to them to marshal the pro-Agreement forces and implement a strategy to do this.That is the unambiguous desire of the electorate in returning 74 pro-Agreement candidates out of a total of 108.
Of course, Sinn Féin has its own responsibilities in this as the largest pro-Agreement party. The electorate has made clear in successive votes since 1998 that they oppose efforts to turn the clock back or to sustain a status quo, which is not an option. There is an onus on the British government to lift the suspension of the institutions and allow the process defined in the Agreement to take its course.
It also means that the two governments have to honour their obligations made in the Agreement, made in last years Joint Declaration and made in subsequent discussions. In order to advance this entire process of change the British government needs to press ahead with all its commitments to secure peoples rights and entitlements. This has not happened. Instead the tactical approach of the last 5 years has encouraged the rejectionists. This cannot continue.
To be effective this review must defend and accelerate the process of change promised in the Good Friday Agreement And we, sitting around this table must not lose sight of the fact that the Agreement, which as the culmination of an enormous effort by the two governments and the parties to tackle the causes of conflict, continues to hold the promise of a new beginning for everyone.
We should also take encouragement from the fact that we collectively, whatever about our differences, have transformed the situation. There has been huge progress made, not least through the efforts of the people in this room and those who support us on this island.
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