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Speech by Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin President, 22 October 2001

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Research: Martin Melaugh
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The following is the text of a speech made by Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin President,
Conway Mill, west Belfast, 22 October 2001

Looking To The Future

It is in many ways appropriate that I am making these remarks today in Conway Mill.

As many of you will know the network of homes which used to nestle in the shadow of this mill bore the brunt of an RUC and B Special led pogrom in 1969 against Catholics across this city - from Ardoyne in the north, through West Belfast, to the Short Strand in the east of the city.

Entire streets here in West Belfast and in North Belfast were burned to the ground, 7 people were killed and thousands of families fled the unionist mobs in what was, at that time, the biggest forced movement of civilians in Western Europe since the end of last world war.

A lot has happened since then.

In that time and indeed throughout the history of Ireland, there have been many defining moments. Sometimes these have been swamped and lost, not least in the last forty years because of the violent legacy of partition. But in the last decade or so the peace process has brought the people of this island to a series of crossroads.

These have uniquely offered up a choice, an opportunity to move forward to a better future, to stay stuck in the present or to slip back into the past.

The current crisis in the peace process has for many been a source of great frustration, annoyance and anger.

Nationalists and republicans see the potential of the peace process being frittered away by a British government not honouring its commitments, and a unionist leadership obstructing the fundamental change that is required.

Unionists tell us that they are prepared to share power with nationalists and republicans. They argue that they see the issue of IRA arms as crucial to this. For this reason David Trimble says he has triggered this latest crisis.

The British government's suspension of the institutions, its remilitarisation of many republican communities, its emasculation of the policing issue, and the premature movement by others towards this inadequate position, along with the loyalist campaigns have all created difficulties which are coming to a head.

From this clash of positions and perceptions has emerged a threat to the peace process that risks undoing the advances of the last decade.

This must not be allowed to succeed.

Our aim is to Save the Good Friday Agreement

Sinn Fein's commitment to the process is absolute. The initiatives we have taken, the initiatives we have encouraged others to take, including the IRA, have contributed decisively to the peace process.

Our focus in recent times has been on seeking a resolution to this crisis.

Our aim has been to save the Good Friday Agreement.

As you are all aware, your party leadership has been involved in intense negotiations with the Irish and British governments and with the leadership of the UUP.

I recently travelled to South Africa and spoke to former President Nelson Mandela and later to the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki and others, about this crisis. I have spoken to President Mbeki again today.

Martin McGuinness has also been in discussions with President Bush's Special Ambassador Richard Haas. Martin is today in the USA in dialogue with political representatives there and with Irish America.

From South Africa to North America there are commitments and promises to support our efforts. I welcome these commitments. Sinn Fein have worked hard to secure them but while we recognise that international goodwill is crucial, on its own it is no substitute for good will and good faith efforts here at home.

So our approach has been to create a context in which politics work, in which institutions are stable, inclusive and sustained, and in which the process towards equality and justice is underpinned.

In our view it is not only possible but imperative that everyone committed to a new future play their part fully in bringing about the achievement of a lasting peace in Ireland.

The Sinn Fein leadership has been seeking to create a context in which all of the key players in this crisis can share in the effort to end it, and share in the effort to build trust and confidence.

If all the pro-Agreement parties genuinely have a vision of a peaceful future built on justice, equality and a respect for our diversity, then we must look to each other to find ways of realising that vision.

Republicans and nationalists want to be convinced that unionism is facing up to its responsibilities.

Most fair minded people on this island want to believe that a British government is prepared to usher in a new dispensation based on equality.

But Sinn Fein is not naive. Our strategy is determined by objective realities. It is guided among other things by the fact that the democratic rights and entitlements of nationalists and republicans cannot be conditional. These rights are universal rights. They effect all citizens.

In the Good Friday Agreement matters such as policing, the political institutions, demilitarisation, human rights, the justice system and the equality agenda are stand alone issues. These are issues to be resolved in their own right.

We have put this to all of those we have been in negotiation with.

It is clear to the Sinn Fein leadership that the issue of IRA weapons has been used as an excuse to undermine the peace process as well as the Good Friday Agreement.

But at the same time I do not underestimate the emotiveness and confusions which arise at different phases in struggle and in particular the effects of media and propaganda spins. This is particularly so on the weapons issue.

Many republicans are angry at the unrelenting focus on silent IRA weapons. This is in marked contrast to the attitude to loyalist weapons and bombs in daily use, and the remilitarisation by the British Army of republican heartlands in the north.

The issue of all arms must be resolved. But not just IRA weapons - British weapons as well.

This is a necessary part of any conflict resolution process.

Martin McGuinness and I have also held discussions with the IRA and we have put to the IRA the view that if it could make a groundbreaking move on the arms issue that this could save the peace process from collapse and transform the situation.

However, I do not underestimate the difficulties this involves for the Army. Genuine republicans will have concerns about such a move. It is to them that I address this section of my remarks.

The naysayers, the armchair generals and the begrudgers, and the enemies of Irish republicanism and of the peace process, will present a positive IRA move in disparaging terms. That is only to be expected.

Others will say that the IRA has acted under pressure. But everyone else knows that the IRA is not an organisation that bows to pressure or which moves on British or unionist terms. IRA volunteers have a view of themselves and a vision of the Ireland they want to be part of. This is what will shape their attitude to this issue.

Republicans in Ireland and elsewhere will have to strategically think this issue through.

We have all been part of something very powerful. Each of us have struggled in difficult and hard times.

We are now in a good but challenging period for Irish republicanism. We have made significant advances this year. There is a continued need for all of us to stay connected and to keep fulfilling our roles. Our focus is on building the peace. Everyone of us have a role in that daunting task. We have to ensure that we have done our utmost to prevent the situation from slipping back into conflict.

Our activists have been the heart beat of the struggle for justice and freedom. It is the sum total of all our efforts that drives this process forward, that advances our struggle, and which builds the political strength to achieve our goals.

In my view the IRA is genuinely committed to building a peace process in which the objectives of Irish republicanism can be argued and advanced.

The Army has repeatedly demonstrated leadership and patience and vision and I respect absolutely its right to make its own decision on this issue.

I would appeal to republicans to stay united. I would particularly appeal to IRA Volunteers and their families, and to the IRA support base, to stay together in comradeship. This is the time for commitment to the republican cause. It is a time for clear heads and brave hearts.

The IRA must stand out as an example of a peoples army, in touch with the people, responsive to their needs and enjoying their genuine allegiance and support.

But building a genuine process of change is not only the responsibility of republicans. A positive IRA move must be responded to with generosity and vision. The Church of Ireland Archbishop Robin Eames made this point in a recent helpful intervention. Generosity and vision on all sides can turn these current difficulties around and transform a crisis-riven process into an organic and a people centred movement towards a democratic peace settlement.

None of this will be easy. Those of us who want the most change, who seek the transformation of society, are called upon to stretch ourselves again and again. Those who are against change or for minimum movement see no reason to embrace the current process. But unionism has to come to terms with the new realities and progressive leaders must embrace and be part of the new dispensation.

I have no intention of lecturing unionists on their responsibilities. Our collective responsibility at this time is to settle our differences and I appeal to the leaders of unionism to join with us in doing that so that all sections of our people can go forward on the basis of equality. I firmly believe that republicans have to listen and learn about how unionism views its relationship with the rest of the people of this island. I reiterate our commitment as Irish republicans to uphold the rights and entitlements of all citizens to civil and religious liberties.

Sinn Fein's strategy commits and compels us to be part of the effort to establish a fair and just society for all the people of this island. Our effort is to replace conflict and strife with genuine partnership and equality.

Irish republicans hold that the British connection is the source of all our political ills. The British government has inflicted and continues to sustain historic wrongs upon the people of this island and even today there are elements within the British establishment which are against the peace process. There are elements which against the changes that are necessary if new relationships are to be built within Ireland and between Ireland and Britain.

There is a responsibility upon the British Prime Minister to right the wrongs and to be part of building a new future. In fairness to Mr Blair he has spent a great deal of time on the issue of Ireland but in my view this British government has been too tactical in its approach. It has pandered too much to conservative elements within its own system and here in the north. It has not driven the process with the vigour and assertiveness that is required.

The Good Friday Agreement is after all an agreement that the British government is part of.

The implementation of that agreement is not secondary to the issue of IRA weapons.

It has been the consistent view of Sinn Fein that the arms question can be resolved as part of a collective move forward in which the issue of weapons is completely removed as a precondition for progress on all the other issues.

This how is the Good Friday Agreement deals with this matter. If the political process had developed as the Agreement demands much more progress would have been achieved on the arms issue and the peace process would have been consolidated by now.

So if the IRA takes yet another initiative on the arms issue then the British government needs to build upon the dynamic created by that. The British political leadership has to show by deeds, not just words, that they also want to take the gun out of Irish politics and that they accept the imperative of politics and the imperative of peace making.

The Irish government too is a party to the Good Friday Agreement, and it has a particular mandate and a responsibility to promote and defend Irish national and democratic interests, and to uphold the rights of all citizens and the sovereignty of the nation. These fundamental positions are above and beyond party politics.

My appeal therefore at this crucial time, at this defining moment, is to all of the pro-Agreement parties and the two governments to work together to ensure that we put crisis politics behind us. It will not be easy but this it what has to be done.

It would be easier for all of us to dwell on the past but it is also futile. It is harder and more difficult to build a new future. But that is what we are collectively mandated to do.

We are in a time when world events are dominated by imagery and stories of conflict and violence and terror. At this time these events are replicated locally in provocative and deadly sectarian actions, both in the intimidation of little school girls and in bomb and gun attacks on nationalist families.

This then is the time for all of us do everything in our power to make our peace process a success, for the benefit of all our own people, for a decent and just and democratic future and as a beacon of hope for people everywhere.

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