POLITICAL PROCESS IN CRISIS- GERRY ADAMS

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD in a keynote statement today has warned that the “political process faces its greatest challenge since the Good Friday Agreement negotiations in 1998.”

The Sinn Féin leader said:

·        “the anti-Good Friday Agreement axis within unionism, the pro-unionist stance of the British secretary of state, the refusal of Downing St to honour its own obligations, ad its efforts to impose cuts in the welfare system, are combining to create the most serious threat to the political institutions in the north in recent years.”

·        “Most worryingly there is no evidence from Downing Street or the NIO or the Unionist leaderships of any likelihood of a real negotiation on all of these issues commencing in September. This therefore presents a very significant challenge to everyone who wants to see progress and to all those who support the Good Friday and other agreements, this includes leaders of civic society, the community sector, the trade union movement, the business sector, as well as political parties.

·        David Trimble in his day and Peter Robinson, despite some positive periods, have undermined their role as First Minister. Instead of actively and determinedly working with the Deputy First Minister to maximise the potential for a new beginning they have minimised the promise and potential of the Good Friday Agreement.

·        “The fact is that the anti-agreement axis has been very active in asserting a negative agenda. Too many in the pro-agreement axis, with some notable exceptions, have been passive. This includes the Irish government.

·        “The DUP has repeatedly demonstrated an unwillingness to participate positively in any of the institutions. Instead it has adopted a tactical approach aimed at serving the political agenda of a fundamentalist rump in their party rather than the needs of the whole community.

·        “As Martin McGuinness has noted ‘We are in government with unionists because we want to be. They are in government with us because they have to be.’”

·        “The Tory-led government in London wants to impose changes to the welfare benefits system mirroring similar changes that have been introduced in England, Scotland and Wales – changes that have resulted in disastrous consequences for the disabled, the unemployed and those in low paid jobs.

·        “These should be opposed by a united Executive. These changes are not about reform. They are about cuts and they are part of a Thatcherite agenda designed to dismantle the welfare state. And Sinn Féin will oppose them.

·        “The effect of all of this and of the British government’s handling of the political situation has been to reinforce political logjams.

·        “The political process is in trouble.

·        “The British Secretary of State is contemplating conceding to another of the recent unionist demands by setting up some form of inquiry into the Parades Commission decision on the Ardoyne march – a move that would dangerously damage the integrity of the Parades Commission, undermine the residents and further undermine the Haass proposals.

·        “Regardless of political allegiance everyone who values a future based upon equality must become a champion for progress in their own community, in the workplace, in the voluntary and community sector, across the trade union movement, in the churches and the media.

·        “If the unionist leaderships refuse to engage positively in new negotiations then the Irish and British governments, as co-equal guarantors of the Agreement, must ensure that outstanding issues are implemented.

The Full text of Mr. Adams remarks.

“The Orange state was built on partition, unionist domination, inequality and injustice.

It was an apartheid state in which citizens were denied the right to a vote, to a job, to a fair justice system and to a home.

The failure of unionism and of the British government to agree fundamental reform in the 1960s led to a militarisation of the situation and to decades of conflict.

20 years ago this month unionism responded in a similar vein in response to the unilateral initiative by the IRA to call a complete cessation.

Ian Paisley claimed that unionists now faced the worst crisis in Ulster’s history.

Jim Molyneaux said it was a de-stabilising move. In his view it was not an occasion for celebration, quite the opposite.

For both unionist leaders it was a threat to a status quo which favoured unionism.

An opportunity to build peace

Others saw it differently.

They saw the cessation as an opportunity to end the conflict.

An opportunity to replace violence with peace, and replace discrimination with equality.

The majority of people across the island of Ireland voted in favour of the Good Friday Agreement.

But a small rump within political unionism were vehemently opposed to it.

In the years since the Good Friday Agreement, not least because of the absence of consistent and positive leadership, the pro-Agreement unionist vote has stayed at home.

The leaderships of unionism have moved increasingly to the right; more concerned with election rivalry than the common good.

Consequently the potential for the Agreement to create a new society and to demolish the sectarian mindsets and the physical walls which divide communities, has been delayed as some unionist leaders pander to sectarianism and racism.

David Trimble in his day and Peter Robinson, despite some positive periods, have undermined their role as First Minister.

Instead of actively and determinedly working with the Deputy First Minister to maximise the potential for a new beginning they have minimised the promise and potential of the Good Friday Agreement.

The DUP is undermining the institutions

Last year the leaderships of political unionism ignored the democratic decision of Belfast City Council on the flying of the union flag and helped stoke months of street disturbances and attacks on the Alliance Party and threats against Sinn Féin members.

Later Peter Robinson reneged on the Programme for Government commitment to develop the old Maze/Long Kesh site.

This commitment was to create an economic hub with the potential for thousands of much needed jobs alongside a peace and conflict resolution centre with enormous tourism and education potential.

Money from the EU and private money from the USA had been secured.

The announcement of the breaking of this Programme for Government commitment was contained in a letter from Florida by Mr. Robinson to the DUP.

Martin McGuinness was given no notice of this and neither was he contacted by Peter Robinson after the letter was publicised.

This was bad manners, bad politics and bad economics.

Job creation opportunities were lost.

That has increasingly been the mark of the DUP’s participation in the political institutions, within the Executive, and within the Office of OFMDFM over the last year.

The DUP has repeatedly demonstrated an unwillingness to participate positively in any of the institutions.

Instead it has adopted a tactical approach aimed at serving the political agenda of a fundamentalist rump in their party rather than the needs of the whole community.

As Martin McGuinness has noted ‘We are in government with unionists because we want to be. They are in government with us because they have to be.’

In other words the DUP and UUP have bought into the political institutions in terms of elections, salaries, and status but not into the need for real partnership government, the effective development of north-south co-operation, equality, mutual respect and parity of esteem.

This overall shift to the right has left the DUP’s tactical engagement with the institutions threadbare.

The strategy of stalling and blocking has seriously undermined the credibility of the Assembly and Executive.

This has been added to by the assertion of some that the difficulties in the institutions are the fault of two dysfunctional parties, that is Sinn Féin and the DUP.

This idea is pedalled by elements in the media, the Fianna Fáil leader and Irish government spokespersons.

This despite all of the evidence to the contrary, including the positive and patient role of Martin McGuinness.

An anti-Agreement axis

After years of refusal by the unionist parties to engage properly to resolve issues which were dogging the political process US diplomat Richard Haass and Professor Meghan O Sullivan were invited by OFMDFM to facilitate a process to bring forward proposals to deal with the past, contious parades and issues of identity.

When these two eminent public servants brought forward proposals based on discussions with all of the political parties and a outreach into civic society they were rejected by the unionist parties.

Subsequently after the elections the DUP and UUP forged a negative political axis with the Loyal Orders, the parties linked to the UDA and UVF and Jim Allister’s Traditional Unionist Voice.

Within 48 hours of all-party negotiations commencing they staged a walk out over the Parades Commissions determination on the Ardoyne march.

But the walk out was never really about Ardoyne and the right of the orange to march.

There are more loyalist and orange parades taking place this year than ever before.

Nine years ago in 2005 there were 2120 marches in the north.

By last year that had more than doubled to 4,637.

Two thirds of these are loyalist parades.

Claims by unionists and loyalists that the objections of a handful of nationalist areas to orange parades going through their communities is an attack on the Orange is clearly a nonsense.

The construction of an anti-Agreement unionist axis and the walk out are part of a unionist political agenda aimed at subverting the Good Friday Agreement and its equality and parity of esteem ethos.

It’s about turning the clock back to the days when unionism was dominant.

The anti-Good Friday Agreement axis within unionism, the pro-unionist stance of the British secretary of state, the refusal of Downing St to honour its own obligations, and its efforts to impose cuts in the welfare system, are combining to create the most serious threat to the political institutions in the north in recent years.

The result of all of this is directly undermining power sharing and partnership government.

A partisan British government

The unionist leaderships have been encouraged in their posture by a British government that has not been fully engaged with the political process for four years.

Evidence of this can be found in the British failure to back the Haass compromise proposals on dealing with the past and legacy issues, flags and symbols, and parades.

It can be found in the speed with which the Cameron government acquiesced to Peter Robinson’s demand for the establishment of the Hallett Inquiry into the OTR issue.

It is a fact that the Cameron government, like the Major government in the 1990’s, has been explicitly partisan in championing a unionist agenda.

The Tory government has also failed to make progress on those matters arising out of the various agreements, including the Good Friday Agreement, the Weston Park Agreement, and the St Andrew’s and Hillsborough agreements which have not been implemented.

These include the Bill of Rights, the all-Ireland Charter of Rights, Acht na Gaeilge, the North South Consultative Forum, the Civic Forum and the inquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane. These are not matters for negotiation.

They are agreements made and are the responsibility of the British and Irish governments to implement.

The effect of all of this and of the British government’s handling of the political situation has been to reinforce political logjams.

The political process is in trouble.

The British Secretary of State is contemplating conceding to another of the recent unionist demands by setting up some form of inquiry into the Parades Commission decision on the Ardoyne march – a move that would dangerously damage the integrity of the Parades Commission, undermine the residents and further undermine the Haass proposals.

In addition the Tory-led government in London wants to impose changes to the welfare benefits system mirroring similar changes that have been introduced in England, Scotland and Wales – changes that have resulted in disastrous consequences for the disabled, the unemployed and those in low paid jobs.

These should be opposed by a united Executive.

These changes are not about reform.

They are about cuts and they are part of a Thatcherite agenda designed to dismantle the welfare state. And Sinn Féin will oppose them.

Political process faces greatest challenge

Most worryingly there is no evidence from Downing Street or the NIO or the Unionist leaderships of any likelihood of a real negotiation on all of these issues commencing in September.

This therefore presents a very significant challenge to everyone who wants to see progress and to all those who support the Good Friday and other agreements. This includes leaders of civic society, the community sector, the trade union movement, the business sector, as well as political parties.

The fact is that the anti-agreement axis has been very active in asserting a negative agenda. Too many in the pro-agreement axis, with some notable exceptions have been passive. This includes the Irish government.

We are moving into another election cycle with the Westminster elections next May and Assembly elections the following year.

Elections invariably see unionist leaders adopt ever more strident language and an unwillingness to find solutions to difficulties.

I believe that the political process faces its greatest challenge since the Good Friday Agreement negotiations in 1998.

I also believe that the vast majority of citizens value the political institutions.

Sinn Féin is committed to the Good Friday Agreement and to the political institutions.

We will resist all efforts by unionist leaders to roll the agreement back or return to the darker days of unionist misrule.

With a deepening political crisis there is an onus on the Irish and British governments to create a different paradigm, a different political context to that which currently exists.

That requires the two governments, in conjunction with the US government, establishing a pro-Agreement axis with those parties in the north that want the Good Friday Agreement to work.

It means the Irish and British governments making progress on those issues which are their direct responsibility.

It means the governments and pro-Agreement parties standing resolutely in support of the Agreement.

This will require citizens from all sectors and none raising their voices for progress and positive change.

Regardless of political allegiance everyone who values a future based upon equality must become a champion for progress in their own community, in the workplace, in the voluntary and community sector, across the trade union movement, in the churches and the media.

If the unionist leaderships refuse to engage positively in new negotiations then the Irish and British governments, as co-equal guarantors of the Agreement, must ensure that outstanding issues are implemented.

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