Speech by Gerry Adams, then President of SF, to the annual Friends of Sinn Féin Dinner in New York, 4 November 2004
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Text of a speech delivered by Gerry Adams, then leader of Sinn Féin, to the annual Friends of Sinn Féin Dinner in New York, 4 November 2004
The Current Crisis
"The peace process has suffered a succession of crises. The British government has stepped outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and suspended the political institutions three times. They have cancelled elections to the Assembly twice.
This refusal by the British to accept the democratic right of citizens to vote for parties of their choice; the failure of some parties to stand by commitments, and London's unwillingness to fulfil its obligations, is partly the cause of the ongoing difficulties.
But the core of the crisis is rooted in the resistance by political unionism to the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, and their opposition to the agenda of change the Agreement heralded. It is rooted in the failure of the British system to challenge this.
Throughout this period Sinn Féin has worked hard and diligently to create a context in which the institutions can be restored and the Good Friday Agreement implemented in full. Our efforts have been made more difficult by a British government approach which consistently allies itself to unionism and seeks to appease unionist demands; even when those demands are clearly at odds with the Agreement. This approach by the British government is not a basis for stability and progress. On the contrary it is a recipe for ongoing uncertainty and crisis. I have told Mr. Blair this.
The British have to move back to the Agreement
I have also told him that the British government has not implemented with 'rigorous impartiality' its responsibilities in respect of equality and 'civil, political, social and cultural rights.' Consequently many in political unionism see no imperative to co-operate with nationalist or republican representatives. In fact British policy tolerates and perpetuates institutionalised inequality.
For example, recent discrimination figures reveal that nothing much has changed in the levels of discrimination faced by Catholics. The areas that were listed in the 1970's as areas of multiple deprivation are the same areas listed today.
None of this should surprise republicans and nationalists. The fact is that British government strategy aims first and foremost to service British national interests. At this time this is essentially about upholding the Union while trying to modernize the way the state is run. At the same time British strategy remains in a strategic alliance with unionism.
So to modernize even within the limits of its own policy means London has to challenge rejectionist unionism.
Mr. Blair conceded this point to me recently and he argued that his government's relationship with unionism has changed. I told him the fundamentals have not changed and if his government's relationship with unionism has changed the rest of us need to see evidence of that.
The fact is that the British state in the North is still a unionist state. Its symbols and emblems are unionist. So too are its agencies. And its management. But the Good Friday Agreement is about changing all of this. It is about equality for all. It is a contract which binds both governments to these objectives. So, while Mr. Blair may be trying to modernise unionism, his strategy and policy mean that inevitably it is the UUP and DUP which are allowed to determine the pace and depth of change. This is in direct contradiction of the Agreement.
We therefore have to change British policy. London has to get back to the Agreement.
We also have to be remember that unionists are against a United Ireland. Many unionists see the Good Friday Agreement as a step in that direction. Some are genuinely afraid that Irish unity will see them dispossessed, discriminated against or worse. They believe that the union maintains the status quo.
Republicans and nationalists therefore have to understand the genuine fears held by unionists and seek to address these by the totality of our commitment to equality and human rights, to inclusiveness and fairness. But we also have a responsibility to ensure that Good Friday Agreement is implemented in full despite the opposition of the rejectionists. None of this will be easy. But whoever said it would be. It has not been easy thus far.
Despite this Sinn Féin is determined to find a resolution to the current crisis in the peace process. We are equally determined to pursue our goals of Irish unity and independence. These are our priorities as a political party. These are my personal priorities as leader of Sinn Féin.
Making a Deal
But Sinn Féin can't make a deal on our own. It needs the British and Irish governments. It needs unionist leaders. For the past 10 months Sinn Féin has been involved in a series of engagements with the two governments to try and achieve this. Our endeavours have been made more difficult by Ian Paisley's refusal to negotiate face to face with Sinn Féin. I have lost count of the number of meetings I have had this year with officials from the two governments. I have lost count of the number of meetings and telephone conversations I have had with the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister. There were months of negotiations leading up to all-party talks at Lancaster House in London in June. Those discussions failed because the DUP wanted to participate in the orange marching season in July and August, and because key leaders of that party were going off on holiday.
Sinn Féin continued to work over the summer and we and others, including some unionist representatives succeeded in keeping the summer peaceful despite the disgraceful decision to deploy the British parachute regiment in Ardoyne to facilitate and orange march there. In September we were back in England for another round of talks, this time at Leeds Castle in Kent. These also failed because the DUP wanted fundamental changes which would subvert the powersharing, equality and all-Ireland nature of the Agreement.
And since then we have been involved in a series of intense private negotiations with the two governments and through them the DUP. So far these too have failed for the same reason.
The DUP's aim is to bring back unionist rule. Those days are gone. There will be no return to unionist domination.
We are told that the DUP is now for power sharing. But last week in Castlereagh Council, a local Council on the outskirts of East Belfast, efforts by several of the smaller parties to have powersharing introduced were thwarted by the DUP. The DUP Deputy Leader Peter Robinson led the opposition to the proposed change. Here was an opportunity for the DUP to show some generosity and imagination with no great risk to its dominance in the council. So what did the DUP do? They did what rejectionist unionism does best. The DUP said No!
None of this surprises us, sad though it is. And there is little point in being annoyed just for the sake of it. There is no question about the DUPs intentions at this time. The real question is about how long the British government will tolerate DUP game playing?
Two Governments have to call it!
So, where to next?
The DUP needs to understand that the Good Friday Agreement is as good as it gets. And the DUP must also understand, and the governments must make it clear, that the refusal by Ian Paisley to reach agreement with the rest of us cannot stop the process of change.
All the political parties in Ireland except the DUP are for the Good Friday Agreement. The vast majority of citizens support the Agreement.
There comes a time in every negotiation when parties to the negotiation have to call it. In this phase of the negotiation the DUP have had enough time.
They obviously do not want to do a deal except on their own unacceptable terms. It is now time for the two governments to call it. So in the next few weeks I am looking to the two governments to bring forward proposals, rooted in the Agreement, to see the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
Both governments need no reminding that Sinn Féin is a United Ireland party. For us the Agreement is a significant compromise, a strategic and transitional compromise but a compromise nonetheless. Many republicans will tolerate that for the sake of progress. But without progress the management difficulties which challenge the Sinn Féin leadership will magnify.
Compromise is a two way street. In fairness to the DUP they were no part of that. They rejected the Agreement and walked out of the negotiations. Mr. Blair did not. He signed up to deliver his end of the compromise. Six and a half years later his day has come.
Powersharing by the Governments
The British and Irish governments have to defend the principles and core values of the agreement. They also have to ensure that these are reflected in the their policy decisions. The Irish and British governments are co-equal partners in the implementation of the Agreement.
Direct rule by a British government from London is not acceptable nor is it sustainable in the long term. The British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach know this. The all-Ireland architecture of the Agreement points the way forward.
While the DUP refuses to share power with its republican and nationalist neighbours, and until unionists are prepared to work with the rest of us as equals, the two governments must drive the process of change forward.
Its not just parties who can share power - governments can share power also. The British and Irish governments must look to formal institutionalised power sharing at governmental level.
The structures already established under the Agreement, around issues as diverse as health, and education, tourism and investment, energy and waterways must be built on and expanded. These include the existing Implementation Bodies, as well as the Areas of Co-operation.
Greater effort and emphasis must go into co-ordinating our human and economic resources to entrench and strengthen the co-operative and partnership nature of the Agreement. For example, economic co-operation and joint planning and an all-Ireland investment programme could be planned on a joint Ministerial basis.
And there are many good reasons for the governments to go ahead with the All-Ireland Consultative Civic Forum and the All-Ireland Charter of Human Rights.
Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair have to send a clear message to the rejectionists, and to all those who would frustrate the work of the peace process, that there is going to be a substantial and significant investment of effort and resources, into powersharing by the governments to bring about the full implementation of the Agreement.
And if the DUP still refuses to engage properly then the British government should dissolve the Assembly. It is necessary for the governments to do all this because they are obliged to do so under the terms of the Agreement. Because it is the right thing to do, though this has rarely, if ever, been a factor in British policy on Ireland. But it is also the tactically smart thing to do because without encouragement political unionism will have no incentive to join the process.
Why should they engage positively if they can delay progress and be rewared for messing about? Why should the rest of us have to wait on them so that citizens can have basic rights?
Mr. Blair needs to give the DUP a choice. They need to know they can be part of the process now but that if they don't, or won't, or cannot bring themselves to join with the rest of us then the process is not waiting any longer.
It is my view that unionism will eventually engage. Civic unionism, the business community, the broad raft of unionist opinion is for moving on. In many ways political unionism is lagging behind its own broad constituency. But none of us received a mandate to behave in an irresponsible way. Political parties which are serious about representing their constituents will come to terms with a new dispensation when they know they have to.
The onus is now firmly on Mr. Blair to lay the foundations for that new dispensation. So, although there are clearly great difficulties and challenges ahead I would urge you all to keep the faith and to press ahead. Look at how far we have come.
The US Contribution
Ten years ago it was all very different. Ten years ago there was no peace process.
Ten years ago Sinn Féin was a demonised organisation sowing the seeds of our peace strategy to a censored and sceptical media, pioneering delicate and difficult talks in a society which was polarised by the relentless cycle of ongoing injustice and violence.
Ten years ago we were told that peace was impossible and that Irish unity was a pipe dream.
And then came the IRA cessation and the political landscape began to change.
Not least as a consequence of the work of Irish America - and the support of Irish America - of the people in this room - to the efforts for peace.
Ten years ago Irish America committed itself to working to end visa restrictions on Irish republicans; to helping to secure equal access to the Administration and political opinion; to encourage private and corporate investment, and aid from the government; and to persuade the Administration here to act as a guarantor of any agreement which might be achieved.
Much of this was accomplished but much remains to be done. Whatever happens in the discussions over the next few weeks the peace process is now entering a new and more intense phase. Since I arrived yesterday I have met Republicans who are justifiably pleased and Democrats who are justifiably on a downer in the wake of your election. I know there are many issues of contention between you but there are Republicans and Democrats in this room. Why?
Because despite your political differences you care about Ireland. You my friends - Irish America - is what the democrats and the republicans have in common on Ireland. So as an outsider as I extend congratulations to George Bush and commiserations to John Kerry I call upon you all to redouble your efforts in the time ahead. Here in the United States we need a reinvigorated, renewed focus on peace in Ireland.
That means Irish America working as never before for the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. That means Irish America strategically engaging with the White House and Capitol Hill in support of Irish unity and independence and changing British policy.
There are a wide range of Irish organisations and solidarity groups in the U.S. - come together, discuss, argue if you must, but agree a plan of campaign that will ensure that as Sinn Féin grows in political strength in Ireland that here in the United States there is a growth in the popular demand for Irish unity and independence.
You can do it. We can do it together. We have now seen what is possible. Any of you who have visited the north in recent years will have seen the transformation. The reality is that across the island of Ireland life is better for the vast majority of our people. There are hundreds of people, thousands of people, who are alive today who might otherwise be dead and many more who would have been injured. That progress cannot be squandered.
Peace is possible, real and lasting and permanent - and a united, independent Ireland is ours if we want it badly enough, if we win support for that objective and if we are prepared to work hard to achieve it. So my friends stay with us in this great endeavour ."
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