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Speech by Gerry Adams, then Sinn Féin President, at St Malachy's College, Belfast, Thursday 15 January 2004
Text: Gerry Adams ... Page Compiled: Brendan Lynn
Speech by Gerry Adams, Thursday 15 January 2004
at St. Malachy's College, North Belfast
There is undoubtedly a dangerous and deeply worrying sense of drift in the political situation since the Assembly elections in November.
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 a human rights based society; we have continuing impasse and an ever deepening political crisis.
Some commentators argue that the last election caused all this. That is nonsense.
Yes, there are difficulties, major difficulties. However it is my view that these difficulties can be resolved.
A starting point for this can only be found in an accurate analysis of the current situation.
The difficulties did not begin when or because the people cast their votes.
They are rooted in the British government's tactical approach to the Good Friday Agreement.
In other words, for the last five years rather than fully implementing the Agreement over all its aspects and particularly those elements for which the British government has direct responsibility, London has proceeded at a pace which the UUP and its own government agencies were prepared to tolerate.
In order to understand why it did so it is important to appreciate that the British government is a unionist government. Not unionist of the Irish variety but British unionism.
But it is prepared to modernise and in terms of the Good Friday Agreement Mr. Blair's government was moved to a range of all-Ireland positions, and British policy has been shifted quite profoundly, including on the status of the union.
But in a state like this which is entirely unionist in its ethos, symbolism and management, any effort to modernise is bound to be very challenging indeed.
And it isn't just about the section of people here who are unionist. I think that they know that London has little loyalty to them. But the senior policy makers within all the agencies here and particularly those unaccountable branches of the so-called security agencies, are entirely anti-republican, anti-nationalist and pro-union.
And these elements have an affinity with local unionism; the NIO for example is the main body for propagating unionist policy and still stands outside the equality agenda.
So it is easy to see why a British establishment panders to unionism.
It is also fairly easy to see how a British Prime Minister who wants to bring about change can be challenged at many levels within his own system.
For example, the continuing power and influence of the securocrats is evident in the on-going attempts by the British system to hide its real role in Ireland over three decades of conflict.
The British government's refusal to co-operate with the Barron Inquiry into the Dublin Monaghan bombings, the obstruction of the Saville Inquiry at all levels of the British system, the refusal to publish the Cory report and establish independent judicial inquiries and the continuing refusal of the PSNI to disclose vital information to inquest hearings are all symptomatic of a culture of concealment which infects the entire British system.
It is worth looking at British strategy.
Notionally it could be argued that British strategic objectives until the Good Friday Agreement were quite limited.
To defeat the IRA.
To bring about a coalition of Ulster Unionism and the SDLP.
To bring in a limited process of change which would satisfy these political interests and to gain Irish government political support for this.
In other words the ingredients of a classical and limited pacification programme when what was and is required is a conflict resolution process. The Good Friday Agreement changed this. It committed the British government to such an approach.
How wedded or united the British political leadership was to this approach is a matter of opinion. What is for certain is that other elements of the British system did not buy into the new dispensation. They were wedded to the old agenda and to pursuing the old objectives.
But in any case none of these three political objectives materialised.
The IRA was not defeated. And after ten years of cessations the question of beating the IRA or trying to demoralise, split or humiliate it should no longer be an issue.
Unless of course no value is placed on the IRA's support for the development of the peace process and its endeavours to facilitate a sustainable process of change to build the peace or unless Sinn Fein?s peace strategy and our contribution to the process which includes our efforts to bring an end of physical force, is to be set to one side.
The coalition most favoured by the British government did not work even when it came together in a partial form in the first term of the Assembly.
Instead, the crisis within political unionism dominated Assembly politics.
And finally the Good Friday Agreement was a charter for very significant change, not least because republicans were part of negotiating it.
So instead of a limited process of change the British government signed up for a fundamental transformation in which the Irish government is a joint and co-equal partner in the shared responsibility for its implementation.
In fact Mr. Blair on October 17th 2002 claimed that this was such a vast undertaking that 'only in the first flush of a new government could we have contemplated it.'
I'm not seeking to exaggerate the radical or progressive nature of the Good Friday Agreement, although there are both radical and progressive elements in it.
But it is in essence a compromise which republicans and nationalists have signed up to even though some may feel that it falls short of what we are entitled to or expect.
It is a charter for change, which deals with a spectrum of issues.
Apart from anything else, it points up the width and depth of the denial of people's rights and is an indicator of what has to be done if these rights are to be restored.
This is necessary as a point of principle and also in order to anchor a peace process through a programme of sustainable change which shows that politics works.
So, in order to advance this entire process of change a British government was required to press ahead with all its commitments. By so doing peoples rights and entitlements would have been secured.
It would also have changed the political conditions here in such a way as to encourage pragmatic unionism while thwarting rejectionist unionism.
Instead the tactical approach of the last 5 years has encouraged the rejectionists.
This cannot continue.
This is not to underestimate the progress that has been made. There is now a profound difference in the political landscape here and everyone involved, including the British Prime Minister, the Taoiseach and the leaders of pragmatic unionism are to be commended for their contribution.
The Irish government has played a significant and essential role in this process. But the challenges facing it are every bit as daunting as those facing London.
Arguably an Irish government required different or at least additional and more far-reaching strategic objectives than a British government. Any consideration by Dublin advisors or Ministers of a way forward has to consider whether its objectives for the last five years were devised to promote Irish national and democratic interests and the rights of Irish citizens. Or were its objectives the same as the British?
The Good Friday Agreement is an all-Ireland Agreement. While its cutting edge was to create a changed political landscape in the north, because it is an all-Ireland agreement it effects all parts of the island.
But that too brings difficulties and conservative elements have been uncomfortable with such a prospect, because it involves change in the southern state, and particularly as this has been accompanied by a repopularisation of republicanism - national and democratic ideals - and a growing support for Sinn Féin.
So at times those in the Dublin political establishment who know better have put party political electoral or narrow self interest above the national interest, and the interests of the peace process.
At other times the failure of the Irish government to prevent the British government from breaching the Agreement has caused difficulties throughout nationalist Ireland.
Maybe with the best will in the world an Irish government could not have stopped a British government from departing from its commitments, but the effects of this on national morale cannot be ignored especially because people from all over Ireland voted for the Agreement and the Irish constitution was changed on the understanding that the Good Friday Agreement would be implemented.
So any perception that the British are taking the Irish government for granted is a cause of concern.
Republicans are not exempt from criticism and on a number of occasions I have acknowledged this in a very public way.
But sometimes I have to say that some of this criticism is without foundation. It gives succour to those who claim that no matter what republicans do it will not be enough.
There is criticism, for example, of what is referred to as a lack of transparency on the IRAs acts of putting arms beyond use.
This criticism ignores the enormity of this issue for the IRA and its support base. But more importantly it ignores the Good Friday Agreement position on weapons and the role of the IICD.
It also ignores the issue of other weapons in use in the hands of unionist paramilitaries and British state forces, as against the IRA's silenced arms. And it ignores the lengths to which the British system has gone to protect their state agencies, which put guns into the hands of unionist paramilitaries.
All of this was brought very much into stark profile when the sequence of initiatives agreed for last October 21st was aborted by Mr. Trimble, after republicans honoured commitments as part of an agreed sequence of statements and actions.
Mr. Trimble's commitments and probably more importantly at this time, the British government and Irish government's commitments have been put on hold. Neither government has moved one inch on the commitments which they made.
Only Sinn Fein and the IRA upheld their parts of the agreed sequence.
This has caused profound difficulties for the Sinn Fein leadership. And the irony of it all is that there is no doubt, even among its detractors and opponents, about the significance of the IRA's act. This has been acknowledged by governments and rejectionist unionists alike.
Despite what happened consequently I want to make it clear that I stand over the remarks I made that day.
I set out a peaceful direction for republicans because I believe that is the proper position. But myself and Martin McGuinness and others had negotiated and received commitments from London, Dublin and the UUP leadership which persuaded the IRA leadership to put beyond use the largest amount of arms to date. And also to set out its view of my remarks.
It was bad enough that Mr. Trimble walked away from this but there is little that can be done about that now.
But the two governments can fulfil their commitments and it is intolerable that the British and Irish governments have not done so.
They have also failed to provide any satisfactory explanation for reneging on their commitments.
All of this brings us back to the Assembly elections which could have been conducted in a positive atmosphere and which could have seen the process move decisively forward, if others had kept their commitments.
It is unfortunate that for their own reasons others did not see the merit in this. But the elections did see Sinn Féin make a significant and historic breakthrough emerging with the second highest vote, an increased number of seats and our status confirmed as the largest nationalist party in the north, and the third largest on the island.
But of course none of this counts. Britannia waves the rules. The electoral rights of all those citizens who voted for our party and all the pro-Agreement parties are set aside by the British government and the Sinn Fein electorate is told that we have to pass a series of tests before we are acceptable.
It is rather ironic that those who are loudest on this issue also demand that their mandate has to be respected and British Ministers who have no mandate here whatsoever can change the rules to suit their government.
Most nationalists have no real conviction that the DUP will move speedily to engage with the current process.
They voted for Sinn Fein in this knowledge also.
Let me reiterate Sinn Fein's attitude to the DUP. Sinn Féin sets no preconditions whatsoever on talking to the DUP. Neither are we against sharing power with them, despite the record of some of its most senior members.
Our record shows clearly that we are for the peace process, the political process and the wider process of conflict resolution. This is unchallengeable.
So what does the DUP vote mean?
It means that they succeeded in mopping up all the anti-Agreement sentiment in the last Assembly. And with the transfer of Jeffrey Donaldson and his colleagues from the UUP, there is now a quantifiable and significant unionist majority in the Assembly against the Good Friday Agreement.
They now can count on 34 anti-agreement votes in the Assembly. On the other hand the pro-agreement parties can marshal 74 votes.
Indeed those who promote the second Assembly election results as a 'victory for the extremes' are seeking to serve some other agenda by camouflaging the realities behind the vote. The majority of people want the Agreement to work and they are represented by two thirds of the MLAs.
One third, the DUP, have a desire to destroy the Agreement, ignore the wishes of the Irish and British people, and turn the clock back to the bad old days of domination and supremacy of one section of people over another.
But they know, if they reflect at all, that this cannot happen. The process of change can be frustrated or delayed, but it cannot be stopped.
The DUP can be moved. And there is no doubt that unionism; even of the Paisleyite kind will have to face in time the same reality that led the UUP to agree the Good Friday Agreement.
But this will take too long and the process of change and the rights of citizens cannot wait.
The two governments have to face up to that reality.
Sinn Féin believes completely in the need to build relationships with unionism. The dialogue between the UUP and us was a central part of our strategy and we are determined despite all the difficulties to deepen and extend this dialogue to all elements of unionism.
The DUP has an opportunity to demonstrate its good intentions, but it must not be allowed to use the review to unravel the progress we have made.
The principles, structures and obligations of the Agreement cannot and must not be subverted.
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 has no right to suspend the institutions, and had to step outside the Agreement to unilaterally take that power on themselves.
The review was never meant to deal with a process which is on hold. So while the review may find there are ways of improving the delivery of the Agreement it cannot resolve the current difficulties.
Sinn Féin will bring a positive attitude to the review even though it can only perform a limited function and must therefore be short, sharp and focussed, as the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister promised.
Sinn Fein has asked that the review be completed within a month. In reality it could be conducted in a week. Any attempt to make it a protracted exercise has to be resisted.
And the two governments have to be energised in how they approach the next phase.
With the application of proper strategies and political will I believe the process can be moved on.
However, if the next five years is to be a continuation of the past five years, then we face continuous stalemate, stagnation and eventual breakdown. No political process could be sustained on such a diet.
This places a heavy responsibility on the two governments ? and especially on Mr. Blair and Mr. Ahern ? to provide the essential political leadership that this dangerous crisis urgently demands.
As the leaders of the two sovereign 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 defeat the wreckers and move the process forward.
This may mean the pro-Agreement, pro-peace parties and governments agreeing and setting out an agenda for progress. Obviously such a task is outside the remit of the review and may require a different mechanism.
But whatever else happens the British government must 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 in subsequent discussions.
We were told this would happen, irrespective of the outcome of the election.
On the contrary there has been a paralysis affecting all of the many matters which are the responsibility of the two governments and which are of particular concern to nationalists and republicans.
The institutions remain suspended.
Important changes on policing and on the transfer of powers on policing and justice are now on hold.
The programme of Demilitarisation outlined in the Joint Declaration has not materialised.
The deep rooted and serious problems around the Human Rights Commission, and the Equality Commission, have not been resolved. The issues they are meant to address are not resolved.
And promises on the Irish language issue have not been delivered. In fact the Irish government has failed even to seek official status for the language in the EU.
The anomalous situation of people On The Run continues.
The rights of northern citizens to participate in southern institutions are continuously long fingered.
This sends out entirely the wrong message.
The reality is that when the governments decide to do something they do it.
The suspension of the institutions and the introduction of the International Monitoring Commission are proof of this.
But it appears to nationalists and republicans that the governments are going to let the DUP set the agenda in respect of citizens rights and entitlements. This is unacceptable.
Mr. Blair and Mr. Ahern must do what they promised without any further delay.
Mr. Blair and Mr. Ahern also know that a vacuum will encourage those who want to tear down this process.
They have to build trust and confidence back into a process badly damaged, especially at this time, by their failure to keep to commitments.
For our part republicans recognise that building peace is a collective endeavour.
We have demonstrated time and time again our preparedness to take risks for peace; to reach out to others; to seek to build new and better relationships between the people of this island and between us and the people of Britain.
In the time ahead we all of us have to refocus on what is needed to make the Agreement viable and successful.
No matter how daunting, tedious and frustrating this may be there is no alternative way forward and the resolution of the difficulties will only be found through dialogue and keeping commitments made.
Whatever solutions this involves will emerge in the time ahead. For now I can say with certainty that progress will not be secured by pandering to rejectionists or recycling the distractions, diversions and the failed policies of the past.
One thing is certain change will continue - you like all our young people - all our people of all ages - are entitled to and you will have a future based on equality, justice and freedom.