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Article by Gerry Adams for 'The Irish Times', 22 November 2004
Text: Gerry Adams ... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn
Article by Gerry Adams, then President of Sinn Féin,
for 'The Irish Times', 22 November 2004
Eyes on the Prize
Will there or will there not be a comprehensive agreement arising out of the current negotiations? That question cannot be answered at this time. But it surely will be answered in the next few weeks. The outline for a comprehensive agreement presented by the two governments to Sinn Féin and the DUP is a work in progress. The governments may deny that, but that is the reality. If the current effort fails the governments may also, particularly the Irish government, say that the outline is not their position but their best guess at a compromise between the parties involved. The problem with this is that there cannot be a compromise between rejectionist unionism and the Good Friday Agreement. Nor about the principles of equality, partnership, the all-Ireland structures and institutionalised power sharing. Does the outline provide for a comprehensive agreement? It could. But only if it is about the delivery of the Good Friday Agreement.
No one should argue about the need to find better ways to implement the Agreement or to iron out some of the technical or procedural flaws which have emerged and which were exploited by both the UUP and the DUP. Indeed Sinn Féin has put forward a series of proposals to correct these. Of course, there can be compromises on delivery. But even on these issues compromise is a two way street. Negotiations aren't just about putting forward a shopping list of demands. It's not just a matter of taking. It's also about giving. Thus far the DUP have given nothing.
It may be in the week or so ahead that this will change. They may come to a position where they declare that they will share power with Sinn Féin. And work the institutions which were voted for by the majority of people in both states on this island. The focus of Sinn Féin 's efforts at this time is to get the DUP to do just that.
We are also trying to ensure that the governments' proposals do not weaken any aspect of the principles of the Agreement and that they help and not hinder its delivery. Obviously the fact that we spent so much time with the Taoiseach and later with the British Prime Minister last week is an indicator that we have concerns. But because of the sensitivity and the importance of these negotiations we have refused to disclose any of the details. Unfortunately others have not been so restrained.
The SDLP in particular have been attacking Sinn Féin on the dubious premise that we have signed up for a deal which is a good deal for the DUP. The truth of course is that there is no deal. That's why the work continues.
It is no accident that the Labour Party is making similar noises. Pat Rabbitte's article in the Irish Times (Monday, 15 November) - typical of his rare comments on the Irish peace process - is a negative attack on Sinn Féin. This is not surprising given that the Labour leader - whether in the Workers Party, Democratic Left, or the Labour Party - is one of the few senior Irish politicians to have made no positive contribution to the Irish peace process. Indeed he is so fixated with the electoral challenge to his party from Sinn Féin that he ignores entirely the real obstacles to the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement - the rejectionist position at this time of Ian Paisley and the role of the British government.
He also accuses Sinn Féin of being unenthusiastic about the political institutions and cites our rejection of the absurd proposal that the north should be governed by a British government appointed quango. Let me be absolutely clear. Sinn Féin has a proven record of working the institutions. We want a comprehensive agreement with both governments and with unionism; we want the political institutions which were democratically endorsed by the Irish people restored. That is why we are making such an enormous effort this week and why our talks with the governments are so intensive.
When the two governments told us before Leeds Castle that the DUP were up for a deal based on the fundamentals of the Agreement, despite the absence of any real evidence of this, we suspended our scepticism and asked the two governments to come forward with proposals, bedded in the Good Friday Agreement, to move the process on. We also made the point that if the DUP is not prepared to join with the rest of us, it is both necessary and legitimate to identify other options for securing the principles of the Agreement.
In other words, if the parties, or to be more precise, if one party in the north adopts a rejectionist position, and if, as a result, vetoes the institutions, then the two governments need to compensate for this with new, imaginative and dynamic alternatives. This includes joint responsibility for the areas of government which would otherwise have been administered on a power-sharing basis. In the absence of power sharing in the north, power sharing between the two governments is the only way that this fundamental of the Agreement, and equality in the north can, be expressed. Irish nationalists living in the north can never again be abandoned to the mercy of the pro-Unionist mandarins in the British Government's 'Northern Ireland Office'.
The Labour leader may not relish an increased role for the Irish government in the north. But the Irish government is a co-equal partner in the Good Friday Agreement and it has a responsibility to give immediate and tangible expression to this. That is why Sinn Féin has put forward proposals on this issue.
There has been enormous progress over the past 10 years; progress that many imagined would not be possible. Sinn Féin wants that progress to continue. That means political unionism joining us in this historic enterprise. Does that mean diluting the Good Friday Agreement? It does not. The Agreement is not the property of Sinn Féin in any case. It belongs to the people of the island. Sinn Féin, as the largest pro-Agreement party in the north, has a special responsibility to defend and promote the Agreement. Unionists have expressed other concerns about republican intentions and that is a different matter. Within reason there is a duty on us to try, if we can, to remove those fears without undermining our electoral rights or our mandate. But there is also a duty on political unionism to face up to its responsibilities. The next week or so will clarify whether their leaders are prepared to do that at this time.
As this phase of the process draws to a close no doubt the clamour from the hurlers on the ditch will intensify. That's politics for you. For our part Sinn Fein will not be distracted. Our eyes are firmly fixed on the prize.