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Gerry Adams Reply to John Hume and David Trimble, 5 February 1998

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Response by Gerry Adams, President of Sinn Féin, to remarks by John Hume, leader of the SDLP, and to David Trimble's, leader of UUP, reply to a previous letter from Adams

"Sinn Féin has consistently approached discussions in the peace process in a positive and constructive frame of mind. Our position on institutions for the six counties is clear and straightforward. The status quo has failed. An internal settlement will not work. It therefore follows that an Assembly which would be dominated by unionists is unacceptable to Sinn Féin and we believe to many nationalists.

Our experience of unionists abusing power for 75 years reinforces us in our belief that an Assembly would be divisive. The unionists have not shown any willingness to change their attitude when in positions of power. Look at Belfast City Hall. The unionists continue to discriminate against nationalists. Look at their behaviour at the Forum. Sinn Féin's judgment was correct. The SDLP went in and then had to leave.

Can anyone point to any institution in the north, currently dominated by unionists, where there is an inclusive approach, where equality is embraced, and where unionists treat nationalists as first-class citizens?

Mr Trimble's leaking of my recent letter to him (in The Irish Times), his arrogant refusal to accept the rights of the Sinn Féin electorate, his behaviour on the Garvaghy Road, events at the Forum and in local councils, are all proof of unionism's dogged opposition to the fundamental change which is essential for a democratic peace settlement.

The reality is that unionism has not proven itself able or willing to treat nationalists with anything other than discrimination, injustice and contempt. The British government cannot dodge its responsibility for this. The onus is on London to rectify the situation. Partition has failed.

Sinn Féin has made it clear that we are prepared to discuss all issues in the context of our analysis and our peace strategy. This includes transitional arrangements. But all-Ireland institutions which are subordinate or subservient to a six-county Assembly will be unable to create the dynamic required for a durable and democratic settlement.

A singular focus on institutions and structures ignores the fact that a peace process must address many other issues in a direct and effective manner. The success of this process will not only be judged on what structures emerge from it but on how the lives of people from day to day are improved.

Fundamental, therefore, to the effectiveness of what we are about is the delivery of change on the ground. This process must secure equality and justice now. It must deliver human, civil, economic, political and cultural rights. It must involve the release of all political prisoners. It must create a normal and acceptable policing service. The British government must implement the equality agenda. This does not need negotiations.

These are the issues on which an agreement will be measured. They are issues which are crucial to our ultimate approach to any possible agreement in the months ahead.

When John Hume and I first launched the peace process we made it clear that an internal settlement is not a solution. We set out our commitment to seek agreement with the unionists and we highlighted the responsibilities of the two governments. The search for agreement with the unionists is hampered by the refusal of every unionist party to engage. The UUP view of an Assembly is clear. 'The new body would be a tier of administration between the sovereign Parliament at Westminster and Local Government in Northern Ireland.'

I know this is a negotiating position. The negotiations are not over. Sinn Féin remains totally committed to negotiations as the means of managing change. Sinn Féin strategy is to seek the maximum possible change - not the minimum. No nationalist leader could sell the positions outlined by Mr Trimble even if they wanted to.

Our focus should be on bringing about fundamental political and constitutional change. This is not the responsibility of future generations as Séamus Mallon and Reg Empey tell us. This is our responsibility."

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