The Guardian March 1, 2000


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. 

* * *
New Worker

Back to index page