SINN FEIN UPBEAT DESPITE TALKS PESSIMISM
Amid ongoing turbulence in the peace process, Sinn Fein
held a confident annual conference at the weekend, defiantly
attacking the two governments and the unionist parties for their
failure to secure the peace in the North.
In his keynote address to his party's ard fheis in Dublin, party
president Gerry Adams said that his party intends to make the
peace process work, but it would not be bullied.
Mr Adams said there was no alternative way forward other than the
full implementation of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. He said
the opportunity existed for the IRA to "definitively set aside
arms" and it should not be wasted.
Mr Adams made his comments as allegations were made by the
British and Irish governments about continuing IRA activity. He
accused both London and Dublin are engaged in an anti-Sinn Fein
Mr Adams said that "efforts to put Sinn Fein under pressure are a
waste of time". Difficulties could only be resolved through
dialogue and keeping commitments, he said, adding: "I state this
as a fact, plainly and simply, not through any wish to be macho."
A political vacuum in the north of Ireland, he said, would only
encourage those who wanted to tear down the peace process. He
cited the Middle East as an example of the dangers of a "stalled
Mr Adams said that, for their part, his party recognised that
building peace was a collective endeavour. "We who want to see
the maximum change are called upon to take the greatest risks,"
he said. "So there can be no doubt if the British and Irish
governments apply themselves to acts of completion of the Good
Friday Agreement then others must do likewise."
He said the IRA leadership clearly put its position on the public
record in May last year when it said that the full and
irreversible implementation of the agreement and other
commitments would provide a context in which it can proceed to
definitively set aside arms to further its political objectives.
"Such a commitment would have been unimaginable 10 years ago,"
"So too would the last decade of IRA cessations. The opportunity
provided by these developments should not be wasted. This party
is actively working to ensure this. But threats, ultimatums, or
the imposing of preconditions can be no part of this."
Mr Adams said that for the past six years, rather than fully
enforcing the Good Friday Agreement, London had proceeded only
at a pace which unionism and its own government agencies had
been prepared to tolerate.
"This process, any process by its nature cannot be static. It
either moves forward or it moves back. We are determined that it
He pointed out that the Human Rights Commission was in chaos;
that there was no Bill of Rights; that discrimination remained
endemic; and that there the new beginning to policing and justice
promised in the Good Friday Agreement had not happened.
"They have obstructed the Saville Inquiry into the events of
Bloody Sunday, the Barron inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan
bombings; they have refused to initiate full and independent
inquiries into a number of controversial killings, and vital
inquest evidence in respect of numerous state and state-linked
killings is being withheld by the PSNI. The British government
has also refused to publish the Cory report."
The British and Irish governments cancelled today's meeting of
the review of the Good Friday Agreement and tomorrow's meeting
will "focus on paramilitarism", according to reports.
The move follows threats by Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble
to lead his party out of the review today following the alleged
abduction attempt of a republican dissident in Belfast last week.
Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble has threatened to walk out
of the review if sanctions are not imposed on Sinn Fein.
Meanwhile, the DUP has said it would not boycott the review, but
is instead seeking to put together a coalition to exclude Sinn
Fein from government. Ian Paisley's party held a lunchtime
meeting with the nationalist SDLP and the cross community
Alliance Party at Stormont outside Belfast which it described as
It is believed that both governments have sent letters to the
political parties pointing out that "the review needs to focus
now on paramilitarism and its detrimental impact on collective
efforts to find a basis for sustainable devolution".
The two governments proposed at the end of last week that there
should be meetings with the parties tomorrow "on the question of
how paramilitary activity should be handled in the review, with a
view to achieving the full and complete ending of paramilitary
According to the governments, this is about addressing the
current deficit of trust and confidence in the process.
On March 8 the British government propose to discuss with the
parties the implications of paramilitarism for the operation of
the Strand One institutions of the Good Friday Agreement.
Among the questions to be considered tomorrow will be whether a
round-table session on this subject would be appropriate for
Sinn Fein has said they will have no difficulty in addressing the
review's focus on paramilitary activity, and intend to raise
questions about the declared "ceasefire" by the loyalist UDA
continuing British government involvement in loyalist
The party has dismissed claims that the IRA was chiefly
responsible for the current political logjam, and this was made
emphatically clear at the weekend Ard Fheis.
Mr Adams told the conference that republicans had taken risks for
peace yet unionists were also walking away from commitments.
He accused UUP leader David Trimble of aborting the sequence of
initiatives agreed on October 21 last year, after republicans
honoured commitments as part of an agreed sequence of statements
and actions. This included the IRA putting its third and largest
amount of arms beyond use.
"But Mr Trimble wasn't the only one to dishonour his commitments.
He was joined by the British and Irish governments and neither
one of them have moved one inch since then on the undertakings
"Only Sinn Fein and the IRA upheld their parts of the agreed
"This has caused profound difficulties for the Sinn Fein
leadership. Many republicans have raised what they and I consider
to be reasonable questions about our handling of that episode,"
"The irony of it all is that there is no doubt, even among its
detractors and opponents, about the significance of the IRA's
act," Mr Adams said.
He said that despite what happened subsequently, he wanted to
make it clear that he stood over the remarks he made then in
setting out a peaceful direction for his movement because he
believed that to be the "proper position".
"I will argue that position with anyone... But the British prime
minister and the Taoiseach must deliver also. They must stand up
to the rejectionists. They too must take risks for peace."
Mr Adams said DUP leader Ian Paisley and UUP leader David Trimble
were fighting for control of unionism, both trying to prove how
tough they were. But he cautioned that while they played their
power games, "the peace process stalls and withers".
Sooner or later Sinn Fein and the unionists must begin a real,
anti-sectarian dialogue, he said. He said the DUP was now the
senior unionist party and the logic of its position was that it
should be in government with Sinn Fein.
He rejected any attempt to exclude Sinn Fein from power-sharing
in the North.
"We recognise and respect the mandate of the DUP - they must
recognise and respect our mandate."
Turning to the 26 Counties, he said parties in the south must
also respect the Sinn Fein mandate.
"The battle lines have been drawn for the next contest. Between
now and June and the local government and European Union
elections we can expect more nonsense from Minister McDowell (the
minister for justice in the 26 Counties).
"The Taoiseach and Fianna Fail should not be part of this
short-sighted anti-republican agenda."
Mr Adams criticised the Dublin government for failing to
represent Irish national interests and insisted his party had an
"alternative, radical republican" point of view.
"British government strategy aims first and foremost to serve
British national interests. Are Irish national interests the
primary focus of Irish government strategy, now or over the past
five, or 30, or 80 years? The answer, unfortunately, is no. The
Barron report is eloquent, tragic, pathetic testimony to that.
"Conservative and neo-unionist elements in the south serve only
their own narrow interests which in some cases are fundamentally
anti-republican and pro-partitionist; and at times against the
national interest. They are comfortable with the status quo. It
has served them well."
More than 2,000 Sinn Féin members attended the Sinn Fein annual
conference over the weekend, as well as visitors and dignitaries
from a number of countries.
The Ard Fheis was opened by the party's European election
candidate in Dublin, Marylou McDonald, under the theme 'Building
an Ireland of Equals'.
In a speech on Sunday, Sinn Fein chief negotiator, Martin
McGuinness, said he was pessimistic about the ongoing review of
the Good Friday Agreement.
"As to the prospects of the review, well, we can be certain of
one thing. It will not lead us out of the current stalemate. It
was not designed to deal with a crisis in the agreement," he
Mr McGuinness described the current stalemate in the peace
process as "a dangerous crisis", adding that it had not begun
week ago outside a bar in Belfast -- referring to the alleged
abduction of a dissident republican in an incident which the
mainstream IRA has denied it sanctioned.
"It is not a crisis around the IRA or IRA intentions. The
institutions have been suspended now for almost 18 months. This
is the fourth suspension.
"In the same period, the IRA have taken a number of initiatives
to move the process forward, whereas both governments, and
particularly the British government, have failed repeatedly to
deliver on their commitments. In the same period, the securocrats
have succeeded in stalling the process of change. But that is all
they have managed to do. They have not halted this process, nor
have they reversed it. Nor will we allow them to."
He said it would be interesting to see how the review addressed
the issue of loyalist violence and DUP links to paramilitarism.
Mr McGuinness said that anti-agreement unionist political forces,
with the assistance of sections of the British system, were now
setting the political agenda. He added that the British security
system, in the form of the PSNI, had stepped in with the bogus
raid of Sinn Fein government offices known as 'Stormontgate'
"This was pure street-theatre," he said. "In the past few
it has been exposed as no more than an attempt to provide a
spurious validation to David Trimble and provide a pretext for
British government suspension of the institutions again."
He said that instead of holding up its end of the agreement, and
in a vain attempt to preserve him as the leader of unionism, the
British government had chosen to cosset Mr David Trimble.
Sinn Fein's job, however, was to confront setbacks, deal with
them and move on. Mr McGuinness said that it was "absolute
rubbish" to blame republicans for the breakdown in the peace
He added that Sinn Fein and the IRA had delivered their part of
the agreement as agreed.
"The IICD presided over a substantial act of putting arms beyond
use and reported this. The UUP, however, at the point of delivery
on their side, effectively walked away. Only they can explain
why. And likewise with the two Governments. They failed to
publish their joint statement and, thus far, they have failed to
follow through on a range of commitments which formed part of