Analysis: Proposals must work Agreement
by Michael Pierse
Originally published between July 19th and 22nd, 2001
Republicans will look forward to receiving the package of proposals announced by the British and Dublin governments last week, according to the Sinn Féin president, Gerry Adams. However, he warned, the proposals must not, as recent signs have suggested, deviate from the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
Adams was speaking after a week of gridlock at the Weston Park summit in the English countryside. As was seen at the summit, attacking republicans as a smokescreen for their deviation from the Good Friday Agreement is the main strategy now being employed by unionists and the British government.
"While some progress had been made in the party's discussions with the British and Irish governments, the British government was still resisting the need to fully deliver on its obligations under the Good Friday Agreement," Adams continued. "The positions outlined fall short of public commitments already given."
The present crisis in the peace process has been created by the failure of the British government to live up to its responsibilities under the Agreement. On policing, demilitarisation, the institutions, human rights, criminal justice and equality they have failed to deliver what was promised.
This failure, on the part of the British government, has provided unionists with a cover to renege on their commitments and further frustrate the process of implemeting change. Essentially, they have acted as a roadblock on the way to a society centred on the principle of equality - a society, which the Agreement was meant to deliver.
The amazing thing about all this is that unionist politicians, supported by a compliant media and an election-bruised SDLP, continue to insist that Sinn Féin is in default of its commitments to the Agreement. The reality is that this is simply not true. Sinn Féin's commitment to the Agreement is beyond doubt. The party has honoured every promise it made since the signing of the Agreement in 1998. In the face of British intransigence, and consistent unionist attempts to subvert the peace process, Sinn Féin has consistently argued for negotiations, inclusion and progress.
For its part, the IRA has gone further than anyone could have expected to demonstrate its commitment to the conflict resolution process. A cessation that began seven years ago, engagement with the De Chastelain Commission and inspection of arms dumps are all significant moves forward in this regard. Moves, indeed, that were not made by any other armed groups in the history of this country.
Sinn Féin has, more than any other party, argued for the full implementation of all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement. This includes the issue of arms, but as Adams has pointed out on several occasions, this issue must be solved by all the parties to the agreement in unison, and must be seen as an objective to the conflict resolutions process, rather than as a precondition.
The IRA is not the only armed group in this country, though to read the papers one might be forgiven for thinking so. The weapons of the RUC, the British Army, the loyalist death squads as well as the 140,000 licensed weapons in the Six County state must also be dealt with in the context of the Agreement.
The manipulation of comments made by US President George Bush on Wednesday was yet another example of the fixation of many media commentators on the issue of IRA arms. Bush stated his wish to see a resolution of the arms issue, a wish that is shared by Sinn Féin. Reports in the immediate aftermath of his comments, were used, however, as a stick with which to beat Sinn Fein and call again for immediate IRA decommissioning.
"There has been much media spin this morning surrounding the President's remarks on the arms issue. In fact President Bush shares the Sinn Féin position on this matter," noted Sinn Fein Assembly member for North Belfast, Gerry Kelly. He said that a resolution of the arms issue was something Sinn Fein hopes to achieve and is actively working towards.
Indeed, the only weapons being used in recent times in the Six Counties are those of the RUC and loyalist death squads. Loyalists, it emerged this week, have carried out 76 pipe bomb attacks since the beginning of January this year, a meteoric rise from just five in the same period last year.
Plastic bullet row
The RUC have also been criticised for harassing nationalist and republican communities. Professor Brice Dickson of the Human Rights Commission took the opportunity to urge RUC Chief Constable, Ronnie Flanagan to follow the lead of English police by declaring he would no longer use plastic bullets as a method of "crowd control." This followed a week where upwards of 50 of the RUC's new, even more lethal, version of the plastic bullet were fired at republicans and nationalists in the Ardoyne area of Belfast. Not unusually, the bullets were used almost entirely against the nationalist community, despite loyalist rioting in North and East Belfast and in Portadown. In Oldham and Bradford in England, unprecedented rioting by anti-racism protestors, much larger and more vicious rioting than that in Ardoyne, was not met with any plastic bullet fire by English police. Neither does footage of an RUC Land Rover driving up onto a footpath and straight for a group of Ardoyne children do anything for nationalist and republican confidence.
Resolving the current crisis requires the two governments to return to the Agreement and produce a clear, strategic plan for its full implementation. A new beginning to policing is an essential ingredient in that plan.
The Patten Commission's findings are not being implemented. The requirements of the Agreement in respect of accountability, community representation, and freedom from partisan political control are not being met. There is no mechanism to remove human rights abusers. Plastic bullets, as we have seen, are being used in a racist and sectarian way.
The "justice" system in the Six Counties remains the same. Three years and three months after the Agreement, the British government has not produced the draft legislation and implementation plan to give affect to a fair and impartial system of justice.
The Human Rights Commission has been denied the powers and resources to be effective. Community representation is imbalanced. There is still no bill of rights.
The crucial issue of demilitarisation has been sidelined by the British government. A policy of rationalisation, as opposed to the conflict resolution process of demilitarisation, has supplanted the Agreement's requirement for a demilitarisation process. Hundreds of thousands of licensed weapons remain in the hands of unionists. The RUC and RIR are heavily armed and drawn exclusively from the unionist community. The British Army is now patrolling areas such as South Armagh, where for 20 years they refused to move about, other than by helicopter.
While they fixate on the silent arms held by the IRA, unionists are silent when it comes to the hundreds of pipe and petrol bomb attacks that have been carried out by loyalists so far this year, and the substantial, outstanding issues outlined above. It's clear that their strategy is not about resolving the conflict, but about attempting to force a triumph over the IRA.
"Republicans have to rise above this and while Sinn Féin will defend our position we will not be drawn into a distracting sideshow," Gerry Adams said this week. "The challenge for all the parties is to reach an understanding of each other's views and to collectively shoulder our responsibilities in order to resolve the outstanding difficulties."
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