Article from The Irish Times by Mo Mowlam in response to the IRA Ceasefire, 22 July 1997
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Text of an article written by the then Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam in response to the resumption of the IRA Ceasefire, and published in the Irish Times on 22 July 1997.
by Mo Mowlam
The restoration of the IRA ceasefire represents a new opportunity
for peace in Northern Ireland. Compared to the jubilant scenes
in 1994, there is a marked difference in how people in Northern
Ireland have responded this time. There is a great deal of hope
but people are holding back - waiting to see if this is genuine.
Naturally, after the murderous breakdown of the last one and all
the atrocities we have seen since then, people are very wary.
But there is an unprecedented opportunity now both to test whether
the republicans really are committed to the path of peace and
democracy and to forge a new and lasting settlement for the people
of Northern Ireland.
First, whether the ceasefire is genuine or not has to be tested.
It has to be genuine in word and deed. My judgment on whether
or not that is the case will be made in the round looking at their
words and deeds over the next six weeks.
If, after six weeks, I am convinced that this is a genuine restoration
of the ceasefire, I shall invite Sinn Féin to take part
in the talks. They will then have to make their total and absolute
commitment to the six principles set out in the Mitchell report.
This requires, firstly, that they commit themselves to democratic
and exclusively peaceful means of resolving political issues.
Secondly, they must be committed to the total disarmament of all
paramilitary organisations and, thirdly, to agree that such disarmament
must be verifiable to the satisfaction of an independent commission.
Fourthly, like all the other parties in the talks, Sinn Féin
must renounce for themselves and oppose any effort by others to
use force or to threaten to use force to influence the course
or the outcome of all-party negotiations.
Mitchell's fifth principle requires that all parties in the talks
agree to abide by the terms of any agreement reached in all-party
negotiations and to resort to democratic and exclusively peaceful
methods in trying to alter any aspect of that outcome with which
they may disagree. A pledge to this from Sinn Féin would
remove at a stroke any shred of justification by republicans for
the pursuit of an alternative outcome by means of the bomb and
the bullet. Finally, Mitchell requires that participants urge
that punishment killings and beatings stop and that they take
effective steps to prevent such actions.
These principles are the basis for participation in the talks.
Mr George Mitchell says that "these commitments, when made
and honoured, would remove the threat of force before, during
and after all-party negotiations".
Any party that makes the commitment to them and then "demonstrably
dishonours" that commitment would no longer be entitled to
participate in the negotiations.
Before we can get down to the substantive talks, we need to complete
the address on the issue of decommissioning illegal weapons. After
nearly 10 months of talking about the issues involved, a timetable
is agreed for a decision to be made at a talks plenary tomorrow.
To try to find a basis for agreement over decommissioning, the
two governments tabled a joint set of proposals. These reflect
the months of discussion and are based four square on the Mitchell
approach under which "some decommissioning would take place
during the negotiations, rather than before or after".
Decommissioning is not an arbitrary or unreal issue. It is, and
always has been, an issue of trust and confidence. No one wants
to negotiate against the threat of force or the implied threat
We are committed to the total disarmament of all paramilitary
organisations. The same must be true for all the participants
in the talks. In practice, the best way to achieve this is through
the implementation of all aspects of the Mitchell report. The
government (British) believes decommissioning should happen now
- but we are realistic about how it can be achieved.
We have ensured that there will be no legal or technical obstacles
in the way. We are ready to set up an international commission
in the next few weeks to oversee the decommissioning process.
We will ask the commission to prepare options for draft decommissioning
schemes to be ready for the start of the negotiations on September
15th. Whichever scheme is chosen can be brought into effect immediately.
Both governments have made it absolutely clear that no delay or
obstacle to decommissioning will be caused by lack of government
preparation. Neither do we envisage that progress will be blocked
by the absence of agreement among the parties on an appropriate
Our thinking - like that of the Mitchell report - is based on
the possibility of creating a "progressive pattern of mounting
trust and confidence" in the talks. We want all parties to
work constructively in all areas to help build trust and confidence
which includes progress on decommissioning alongside political
For the first time we could now face the prospect of all the parties
who were elected to take part in the negotiations being there.
When he called those elections, the former Prime Minister, Mr
John Major, said they were an "alternative" basis for
confidence between the parties in the absence of decommissioning
beginning before the talks. We supported his commitment to the
Mitchell approach in opposition and we are honouring that in government.
Now it is for the parties themselves to decide. Agreement tomorrow
could herald the start of a talks process against a background
of peace. We have always said that a process of that kind would
have the best chance of success.
But we have no illusions about the difficulties the parties face.
Unionist parties wanted weapons handed over before they would
sit down with Sinn Féin. Mr Mitchell was resigned to the
fact that "that will not happen". He said: "That
is the reality with which all must deal".
It is a reality we may not like. But for the sake of all the people
in Northern Ireland, it is one we have to work with. Our goal
is a fair and lasting settlement that both communities can support.
That settlement will be based on the central and inviolable principle
of consent. There will be no change in the status of Northern
Ireland unless a majority of the people there want it. Agreement
between the parties and the consent of the people of Northern
Ireland and of parliament are required for any new settlement.
That "triple lock" ensures that neither community -
unionist or nationalist - will be forced into an outcome they
do not support. That is our cast-iron guarantee.
The restoration of the IRA ceasefire is one element in a highly-charged
and complex situation. Many have worked hard to see the ceasefire
restored and I commend them. Now we must work to bring all the
other elements together. Principally, we must maintain a talks
process with all the eligible parties present dealing with the
substantive issues before us.
No one else can offer hope to the people of Northern Ireland. It is up to the parties themselves to work through their differences with the two governments and reach an agreement for the future.
Distrust is rife and the anger is real. But we need not let our fears hold us back from doing what is right. And that is to forge a new future based on peace and agreement for all the people who live in Northern Ireland.
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