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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.

Parties Now Have a Chance to MoveTowards Peace

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 of force.

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 decommissioning scheme.

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 progress.

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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