British Government bombs Northern Ireland peace process
by Steve Lawton Hasty action by the British Government to decapitate the Northern Ireland Assembly two weeks ago, despite the significance and knowledge of the second arms decommissioning body report from General John de Chastelain, has, according to Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, left Republicans with no room to manoeuvre. The IRA withdrew both its representative and its proposals tabled since last November from the de Chastelain commission. The Irish Republican Army's statement said that Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson has "reintroduced the unionist veto by suspending the political institutions" and that the Blair Government and Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leaders "rejected" IRA proposals to the commission. The IRA pointed out that they "agreed to appoint a representative" to the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) on November 17, as part of the process of ending the 18-month deadlock which had been "created and maintained by unionist intransigence and a failure of the British Government to advance the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement." Sinn Fein's chairman Mitchel McLaughlin attacked the British Government's actions as an "illegal anti-democratic act". Speaking at Trinity College, Dublin on Tuesday, he said "The British Government are the only parties now in default [of the Good Friday Agreement]. Not even the unionists are in default. At the time the executive was suspended, all parties were honouring their obligations. Peter Mandelson had no legal basis and no political basis for doing what he did." The moment Westminster took over the political institutions, the basis of the IRA's stretched accommodation to unionist dictat by creating a constructive bridge to the decommissioning element in the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) became untenable. The IRA said the context of their engagement had changed. In effect, the British Government has undercut de Chastelain's mandate and is in danger of compromising its avowed independence. The danger to the peace process will be very apparent quickly. If a reversal of direct rule does not happen soon, grave doubts will be raised about the exact direction on the really key issues — British de- militarisation, policing and the RUC, a just legal process and Bloody Sunday truths — that concern the 70 per cent of nationalists and unionists, Catholics and Protestants, who voted for the GFA two years ago. In his interview with the Irish Times (15.2.00), head of the Policing Commission Chris Patten said that the implementation of its 175 recommendations for RUC reform may now be jeopardised by the present suspension since the body is a part of the overall peace process. He said "we argued" for a policing board based on the Assembly's political balance. "Now if there is no acting Assembly, it's much more difficult to establish such an institution. "Not impossible, but you have to do it in rather different ways, and, not inconceivably, less democratically accountable ways. Political vacuum There is now a serious risk of a political vacuum opening up even though the IRA and the key loyalist organisations remain on cease-fire. It would amount to the rejuvenation of RUC terror as a renewed instrument of the British state. Not a point Patten would naturally make. Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein's chief negotiator, speaking on BBC Radio Four on Monday, condemned the response to de Chastelain: "The British Government does not have the right to say that what General de Chastelain said was not enough. [He] was given a very important job and has said that he could report valuable progress. Those are his words, not mine. In my opinion that should have been accepted by the British Government [but] it was rejected." The Sinn Fein leader said the Government had in effect told the de Chastelain commission to "pack their bags and go". He said they should "climb down" and "accept" de Chastelain's report. The Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble, persistently puffed up by Blair's attentions, was emboldened to act the fake facilitator of de Chastelain's supposed predicament. David Trimble demands the IRA declare what they have said to de Chastelain — to protect the general's "integrity" — that is, has the IRA declared its willingness to decommission? This negative move by the British Government, which strengthens unionism and undermines the peace process, enables the UUP leader to denigrate in a crude way the delicate foundations of political diplomacy. As though David Trimble didn't know that. The integrity of the peace process comes second, it seems. We await the outcome of the frantic bi-lateral meetings between British and Irish Governments and key parties to the process, to see whether Blair & Co will pull back.
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