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Resignation Statement by Deputy First Minister Designate, Mr Seamus Mallon, 15 July 1999

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Resignation statement by Deputy First Minister Designate, Mr Seamus Mallon to the members of the Northern Ireland Assembly on Thursday 15 July 1999

"On July 1st, 1998, I was honoured to be elected on a crosscommunity basis as the Deputy First Minister (designate) to serve all of the people of Northern Ireland.

On taking that office I affirmed:

  • My commitment to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means;

  • My opposition to any use or threat of force by others for any political purpose;

  • My commitment to work in good faith to bring into being the arrangements set out in the Good Friday agreement;

  • My commitment to observe the spirit of the pledge of office.

  • That I have done to the best of my ability.

Since July 1st, I and my colleagues in the SDLP have worked with the two governments and all of the parties to give effect to the pledge. Over a year on, the fundamental institutional elements of the agreement have yet to be implemented.

We have benefited from unparalleled time, support and energy from both the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern. And though it has become fashionable in recent weeks to criticise the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the reality is that without her efforts, her willingness to think the unthinkable, her resolve, we would never have reached an agreement.

The key element of the pledge taken by the First Minister and myself was our commitment to work in good faith to bring in to being the arrangements set out in the Good Friday agreement. That agreement received overwhelming support North and South, unionist and nationalist, in the referendums of May 22nd, 1998. That overwhelming support endures, despite the frustrations of implementation and the limitations of leadership.

Since July 1st, deadline after deadline has been missed, October 31st, March 10th, April 1st, May 22nd, June 30th. We have tried permutation after permutation. We have tried and tried again.

Most recently, on July 2nd, in The Way Forward document presented by the two prime ministers, the governments set out the best possible way of resolving the impasse. It embodies principles that I have always espoused. That decommissioning is not a prior condition. That it is an obligation.

Reflecting this in The Way For- ward, the governments set out three commitments agreed by all the parties.

  • An inclusive executive exercising devolved powers;

  • Decommissioning of all paramilitary arms by May 2000;

  • Decommissioning to be carried out in a manner determined by the International Commission on Decommissioning.

Most importantly, in order to provide reassurance, the governments agreed a failsafe clause. It provided that if decommissioning was not carried out as specified by the commission, all institutions would be suspended. It also provided that if there were no inclusive executive, all institutions would be suspended.

This reflected guarantees that I had given in November of last year. One to unionists in the event that decommissioning did not occur and one to Sinn Féin in the event that the executive was not truly inclusive.

Both guarantees given then were rooted in the conviction that those who reneged on the agreement could not expect to continue in office. Those two guarantees are now formally copper-fastened into a failsafe clause.

But the Ulster Unionist Party says that this is not enough. They use this crisis to bleed more concessions out of the governments. To bleed this very process dry.

They stand by their demand of prior decommissioning. A condition found nowhere in the agreement. A condition alien to its principles. What they are doing is worse than failing to operate an inclusive executive. They are actually preventing its very creation. They are dishonouring the agreement. They are insulting its principles.

What we have seen throughout this last year is that more space has been sought and been given. Only to find that on each occasion that more space is then required. More time needed. More understanding of the supposed difficulties faced. Only to find that the best efforts of the two governments and of the parties, even in recent days, have borne no fruit.

Not just my efforts as Deputy First Minister, not just those of the Secretary of State, not just those of the Prime Minister and of the Taoiseach, not just those of the President of the United States. When in the past have we had such support? When in the future could we hope to have such support again?

It is a matter of genuine regret that others could not respond to their relentless efforts. Visit after visit. Meeting after meeting. Day after day.

Regrettably, and I say this more in sorrow than anger, those efforts have not just been spurned - they have been scorned.

It is now clear that the two governments will have to initiate a review under the terms of the agreement. The governments must ensure that that review is not a means to buy time for any one political party but is the fundamental review envisaged by the agreement. Everyone must go into that review as equals.

I and the SDLP will co-operate fully with a review on those terms. Without the trappings of office. Without the benefits of title. That review is now the future of the political process.

If the UUP leader wishes to speak for the Ulster Unionist Party then he should do so as leader of that party. And only as leader of that party. He cannot do so from the privileged position as First Minister of this Assembly.

This agreement does not belong to any one individual or political party. It belongs to the people. They voted for it. They own it.

Consistent with my pledge, I am obliged to uphold it on their behalf. It is for that reason, and that reason alone, that I have concluded that it is my overriding responsibility to uphold above all else the democratic will of the people of Ireland, North and South, expressed as never before in the referendums of May 1998, endorsing the Good Friday agreement.

It is therefore necessary that I resign as Deputy First Minister. I wish to inform the Assembly that accordingly I offer my resignation with immediate effect.

I do this with great reluctance and with recognition of the awesome responsibility that we all have towards lasting peace and the future of all the people of Northern Ireland. I now believe that it is the only way in which a meaningful review of all aspects of the agreement will be carried out and, subsequent to that, a fully inclusive executive can be created on the basis of cross-community support."

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