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Breaking the Impasse: A Sinn Féin Declaration, 30 June 1999

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Research: Fionnuala McKenna
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Breaking the impasse: A Sinn Féin declaration

`Following the establishment of the political institutions by 30th June:'

Sinn Féin are totally committed to the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement in all its aspects. We believe that the wholehearted implementation of the agreement has the capacity to transform the existing situation through constructive and dynamic political development.

It is a matter of the deepest regret and frustration to Sinn Féin, and indeed to all who voted for the agreement on May 22nd last year, that the process of implementation has been repeatedly stalled.

The agreement, particularly in terms of the political institutions, has been in default for 12 months as a result of the Unionist precondition which is no part of the Good Friday Agreement. There are other aspects of the agreement also outstanding.

Human rights, justice and equality on political, economic, social and cultural matters are central requirements. Policing is a key issue. The impact of demilitarisation on the day-to-day lives of people would be widespread. The promised British government strategy to give effect to this, as required by the agreement, is yet to be produced.

Despite all of this, in an attempt to save the agreement, Sinn Féin was prepared to try to create space for David Trimble. Sinn Féin proposed a new and far-reaching approach in discussions with the two governments and the US administration which would allow the UUP to move if it wanted. This approach went beyond anything we are obliged or required to do under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Gerry Adams alluded to this in the US in March when he said there was no point in Sinn Féin moving if David Trimble was not in the loop - that we needed to jump together. This would mean stretching the republican constituency but we made clear that if this had the effect of moving the process beyond the impasse we were prepared to do this.

Martin McGuinness outlined our ideas to US officials on May 5th and these were further developed in discussions with the Taoiseach and British Prime Minister on May 6th.

In Downing Street on May 14th there was an agreement between Sinn Féin, UUP, SDLP and the British and Irish governments that d'Hondt would be triggered on the following Thursday, all the institutions would come into place in shadow formation and that power would be devolved on July 1st.

Despite the subsequent collapse of that deal Sinn Féin persisted with our initiative but now, and because of the above, we felt that this could only work if it had the immediate effect of the full implementation and operation of the overall agreement, including in particular the removal of the preconditions as set by the UUP and the immediate establishment of the political institutions agreed on Good Friday 1998.

At the core of this approach was:

- A clear statement from the two governments that they were returning to Good Friday Agreement.

- That the impasse could be removed only within the terms of Good Friday Agreement

- That there were no preconditions in Good Friday Agreement

- That a deadline would be set for the transfer of power to the political institutions

- An acknowledgement that all the parties to the agreement have an obligation to help bring decommissioning about

- Our assessment that, in the context of the full implementation of the overall agreement, all the participants acting in good faith could successfully persuade those with guns that decommissioning should take place within the time frame set out in the agreement and Gerry Adams's preparedness to make a declaration in that regard.

This initiative was to be expressed publicly in
a) A Sinn Féin declaration - Annex 1; and
b) Elements of an IICD report acceptable to Sinn Féin - Annex 2.

This approach could only succeed following the immediate establishment of the institutions by June 30th as promised by the two governments.

This required, in response to Sinn Féin's substantive initiative, UUP agreement to move into the institutions consistent with the Good Friday Agreement.

At the beginning of the current phase of negotiations Sinn Féin tabled papers on these positions, the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, informed Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness that he showed the Sinn Féin position to the UUP.

In the course of the negotiations Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness explained our proposals directly, and on two occasions, to the leader and deputy leader of the UUP.

They also met with and explained the Sinn Féin proposals in detail to the UUP negotiation team.

Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness requested a meeting with the entire UUP Assembly team. This request was rejected.

The UUP rejected our proposals late last night.

Tonight, in a final attempt to overcome the impasse and see the political institutions put in place, we again met with the UUP leadership and showed them our detailed written proposals. These were again rejected by the UUP.

Annex 1

Sinn Féin Declaration

Sinn Féin have long argued that it is only through the full implementation of the agreement, in particular the operation of its institutions and delivering of equality and justice, that the issue of arms will be finally and satisfactorily settled. Sinn Féin have also emphasised the key role to be played by Gen de Chastelain and his colleagues. We have specifically said in our reply to the Independent Commission on Decommissioning that the "full implementation of the agreement would demonstrably facilitate the decommissioning process".

Sinn Féin acknowledge the UUP statement in response to the commission's report that they will now proceed, with the SDLP and Sinn Féin, to be part of the inculsive executive. Against that background we believe that all of us, as participants acting in good faith, could succeed in persuading those with arms to decommission them in accordance with the agreement. We agree that this should be in the manner set down by the Independent Commission on Decommissioning within the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

This reflects our conviction that through the overall implementation of the Good Friday Agreement we are working to remove the cause of conflict. Conflict must be finished forever - it must for all of us a thing of the past.

Annex 2

Elements of an IICD Report acceptable to Sinn Féin

- Notes that, all the parties are committed to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations and are obliged to use their influence to bring this about by May 2000

- Notes that, under the relevant regulations, different methods of decommissioning are provided for and also that decommissioning can take place in accordance with arrangements made with the Commission;

- Recommends that the decommissioning process be advanced this week through urgent discussions with the parties and a choice from the options available under the regulations;

- Recommends that these discussions be conducted urgently so that the commission can report to the two governments in October;

- Following this, the commission will recommend the earliest possible beginning of decommissioning, noting that decommissioning of all paramilitary arms be concluded by May 2000 as set out above.

- Will submit progress reports to the two governments in October next, in December and in May 2000.

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