Date: Mon, 6 Mar 1995 16:18:50 CST
Sender: Activists Mailing List <>
From: Brian Wright <$62;
Subject: IRELAND: Gerry Adams address at Sinn Fein Ard Fheis

Gerry Adams' address to the Sinn Fein Ard Fheils

Extracted by Brian Wright <>, 4 March 1995

THE following are extracts from the address by the Sinn Fein president, Mr Gerry Adams, to the party's ard-fheis in the Mansion House, Dublin, on Saturday:

1994 was the year which saw the first fruits of our recent efforts to strengthen the nationalist agenda and to end British and unionist domination. It was the year when Sinn Fein's crucial and pivotal role in laying the foundation for the peace process became clear.

But we have yet to get peace. There is a hard road yet to, be travelled. Peace means justice. Justice demands freedom.

I extend a special word of solidarity to the families of republican prisoners, and especially those prisoners in Britain and in other jails outside Ireland. I extend a hearty cead mile failte to those who have come from prisons to this ard-fheis. We are totally committed to the release of all political prisoners. There cannot be a peace settlement without them.

The most significant contribution to the peace process came on 31 August when the IRA leadership announced the cessation of military operations. This was a courageous initiative, universally recognised and applauded throughout the world.

For many republicans it was also unsettling, difficult and traumatic. For over two decades, IRA volunteers had conducted an unprecedented and unbroken period of armed resistance. For many republicans this was one of the certainties of our time and of our struggle.

The 31 August statement changed all that. But it not only removed one of the certainties for us, it also put the onus on the British and persuaded the loyalists to call a tactical halt to their campaign. It put a moral obligation on all who portrayed the IRA operations as the cause of our troubles.

Now in the absence of these operations, how have they dealt with the real cause of our troubles?

The IRA's initiative has also placed a heavy responsibility upon us and upon everyone committed to ending conflict in this country. We must all become guarantors of the peace process. We must bring it to a democratic conclusion. That is the implicit and explicit import of the IRA's statement.

The IRA's initiative was a brave one. To sue for peace is a noble thing and the 31 August initiative was undertaken by a confident united and unbroken army.

This ard-fheis commends them for their courage. In commending this initiative and the men and women volunteers who brought it about, we are mindful also of our responsibility to ensure that this opportunity for peace is not squandered, that it is built upon and that it leads to a permanent peace settlement.

All of this presents a daunting challenge for us. Sinn Fein is still a small party and we have worked at full stretch to meet the new demands of the new situation. In my view we have yet to fully realise the potential which has been opened up for us.

In order to do this, we need to continually enhance our skills and abilities. We also need to be sure about our strategy and about our objectives. This requires constant review, self-examination and self criticism.

As a means of improving our collective political cohesiveness and unity, I intend to ask the incoming ard-chomhairle to call a national review conference, organised in the same way as the last delegate conference at Letterkenny. Every single one of us needs to be part of the process of preparing this party to fulfil its historic responsibility in the time ahead. Our principles have not and must not change but our strategic objectives, our strategy and our tactics must be rooted in objective reality.

Great new possibilities have been opened up. In many ways we represent potentially the most potent political tendency on this island. Our struggle has not ended. We are in another phase—a new phase of struggle which needs new thinking and new tactics.

We are currently engaged in discussions with representatives of the British government, with the Dublin government, and with the US government. We are in contact with all of the main political parties on this island except the Ulster Unionist Party and the Democratic Unionist Party.

In time, I hope we can engage with them. I believe it is only a matter of time until we do.

Our task is to articulate the core republican demands in a way which is reasonable and attractive to the broad mass of the Irish people. In so doing and we have had some measure of success in that regard we will reverse the years of revisionism, censorship and isolation. We will heighten national consciousness and nationalist confidence and we will put the British and their allies on the defensive.

One of the most significant advances of recent times is the widespread acceptance that an internal six-county settlement is not a solution. Some have come to this position because they recognise the failure of partition, and the reality that it is not only the governance of the six counties which has been the problem—it is the existence of the statelet itself.

Others who may not share that view or who see no other way forward have concluded also that an internal settlement is not a solution because all other options have failed.We want to see an end to partition. This is our primary objective at this time.

Our strategy between now and the ending of partition should be based upon the widely-accepted view that there can be no internal solution, that there has to be fundamental change and that during a transitional phase there must be maximum democracy. There has also to be equality of treatment and parity of esteem.

The achievement of equality of treatment for nationalists in the North will erode the very reason for the existence of that statelet. The unionist leaders know this. That is why they so dogmatically turn their faces against change.

Unionists traditionally support the union because it enables them to be top of the heap in the six counties. A level playing pitch will make this impossible for them in practice and much of unionism will be left without any rational basis.

Apart from this, all citizens have the right to equality of treatment. We do not seek preferential treatment or privilege for any section of our people. We have always demanded equality.

The wording of all the statutory undertakings by the British is intended to maintain the union. There is a general debate about how committed the British are to this and there can be no doubt about our commitment to bring an end to it.

But it is important to note that the current British position does not prevent, without the stated consent, other constitutional changes or political advance which falls short of that.

This is important, for it is in this area of political and even constitutional change that the British can be subjected to a test.

They need to remove all anti-nationalist symbols and appearances from the six-county statelet by providing parity of esteem in that area and by eliminating as far as possible all obvious and visible difference between there and the rest of the island of Ireland. They need to bring about legislative change to improve the position of nationalists while protecting the rights of other citizens.

Democratic rights include national rights. Nationalists in the occupied area are not an ethnic minority living in a foreign country. We are Irish people living in Ireland against our consent under foreign rule. In this respect a phrase which is increasingly gaining currency is parity of esteem. In a literal sense it implies an equality of respect; an equality of opportunity. In the current political context it has come to mean an equality of respect and treatment for nationalists in the North. Ultimately it must apply to everyone on the island.

What does parity of esteem mean in practice? Sinn Fein believes that this term would be better replaced by the more specific term, equality of treatment.

There is a need for:

  1. Equality of opportunity in employment;
  2. Equality of treatment for the Irish culture and identity;
  3. Equality of treatment of elected representatives and voters;
  4. Proper security provision for all citizens according to need;
  5. Equality in the provision of education, particularly through the medium of Irish;
  6. Equality of treatment in economic development.

The absence of equality of treatment is one of the clearest examples of the failure of past and current political and constitutional structures. The reality is that the status quo is unacceptable and will have to be changed.

It is often said that there are two traditions, or two cultures, in Ireland. There are not. There are scores of traditions, maybe hundreds. All making up a diverse and rich culture. All equally valid. All part of what we are. Female and male. Urban and rural. Small town and hill village. Fishing port and island. Inner city and farming community. Gaeltacht and Galltacht. Labour and artisan. Literary and oral. Feminist. Song and dance. Orange and green. Pagan and Christian. Protestant and Catholic. North and South. East and West.

The sum total of all of this and all that it represents is part of the diversity of Irishness.

I have consistently argued that the consent and allegiance of unionists is needed to secure a peace settlement. But unionists cannot have a veto over British policy and Mr Major and others must stop pretending they have. The balance must be tilted away from the negative power of veto towards the positive power of consent, of seeking consent, of considering consent, of negotiating consent. Our proposal that the British join the persuaders is the logical extension of this.

The publication of the Framework Document by London and Dublin should now clear the way for inclusive peace talks and for the next phase of this process.

Sinn Fein will enter these peace talks on the basis of our republican analysis. We will put our view that a lasting peace in Ireland can only be based on the right of the Irish people to national self-determination and an end to British jurisdiction in our country and the creation of a new agreed Irish jurisdiction.

The Framework Document is a discussion document. But its publication by the two governments is a clear recognition that partition has failed, that British rule in Ireland has failed and that there is no going back to the failed policies and structures of the past.

While the political framework envisaged is clearly an all-Ireland one and even though we would like to see this more deeply rooted, prescriptive and thoroughgoing, Sinn Fein will judge the framework document pragmatically and in the context of our objectives, policy and strategy.

There are three main areas which need to be dealt with to consolidate the peace process.

These are:

  1. Constitutional and political change;
  2. Demilitarisation;
  3. Democratic rights.

There is a need for fundamental constitutional and political change if we are to bring this phase of the peace process to a democratic conclusion. Sinn Fein's objective is to bring about an inclusive and negotiated end to British jurisdiction in Ireland. We seek to replace it with a new and agreed Irish jurisdiction.

In our view this poses no threat to any section of our people, including the unionists. However, we know that others hold a different view. Therefore agreement is required. New relationships will have to be forged between all the people of our country.

This will be difficult. It will take time. It will require negotiation. It demands inclusive democratic dialogue. It demands a process of inclusive negotiations without preconditions and without any predetermined outcome. Negotiations need to take place in a climate where no section of our people holds an undemocratic power of veto.

The British have successfully militarised an essentially political problem. The process of demilitarising the occupied area has been too slow. There needs to be an end to all forms of repressive legislation an end to house raids, arrests and harassment; all our cross-Border roads should be opened now.

There needs to be a decommissioning of all the British crown forces, including the disbandment of the RUC. British spy posts, whether in housing estates, in sports fields, in farming land, on hillsides—wherever they are they should be dismantled. If we are to agree a lasting peace, then there needs to be the permanent removal of all the guns—British, loyalist, unionist as well as republican.

There needs to be speedy movement on the release of all political prisoners, whether in Ireland, Britain, Europe or the USA. In the immediate future, Irish prisoners held in Britain should be transferred to Ireland to be closer to their families.

It could be argued that some of these issues need careful management, that they are part of the give and take, the evolution of a peace process. The same thing cannot be said about the need to restore democratic rights. The peace process can be moved significantly forward by the immediate dismantling of undemocratic measures which have contributed to the conflict.

These are not present only in repressive legislation. They are part of the system of apartheid—of religious, political and economic discrimination upon which unionist and British domination was built. They are part of cultural discrimination.

We need to build an all-Ireland struggle with maximum solidarity with Irish nationalists in the North, combined with active support for all things national and progressive in the South.

This includes the need to uphold Ireland's right to sovereignty over the entire island. The British assertion of a claim of sovereignty over a part of our country must be accepted.In the USA, and in Britain, the European Union and internationally solidarity work must aim to bring maximum pressure on the British government to adopt a policy of disengagement based on Britain becoming positive persuaders for ending the union.

For a number of years now, I have promoted the notion of a freedom charter or a charter for a new Ireland around which the widest section of Irish opinion might rally. Such a charter would be useful as an outline of the fundamentals of a new national democratic programme around which to build, in time, an alliance of progressive opinion in Ireland.

We have already commenced preliminary discussions about this with others and this is an idea which we will return to in the future.

But what kind of peace do we seek? Certainly not Pax Brittanica. Not one which is imposed at the point of a British gun nor one which is dictated by one section of Irish people and inflicted on another. We seek a genuine peace that enables men and women and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children.

There is no single, simple key to this peace, no grand or magic formula. Genuine peace must be the product of everyone, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenges confronting it. For peace is a process, a way of solving problems, democratically and with mutual respect and understanding.

Sinn Fein believes that there is a need for the transformation of all Irish society, not only in the occupied area but throughout the entire island. We believe that there must be fundamental changes in the whole structure and nature of Irish political, social, economic and cultural life.

Our vision is of a new beginning for all our people. We seek an end to conflict and division. To reverse inequality and poverty. To establish and to protect the rights of children. We seek to enshrine and guarantee the rights of women in a new and non-sexist society.

We demand civil and religious liberties and the separation of church from state. We seek a redistribution of wealth, a new economic democracy to end unemployment and emigration, to guarantee education, houses and jobs. We seek to turn this vision into a reality.

In all of this there is a need for a healing process. This means all of us acknowledging the hurt we have inflicted.It is essential in this new era of possibilities that we all address honestly and openly the hurt we have caused. I have publicly acknowledged the hurt which republicans have inflicted on others. I do so again today. For a healing process to work everyone must do this. Republicans and unionists and loyalists and especially the British government.

Bloody Sunday and the countless other atrocities committed by the British and their allies in the loyalist death squads are a terrible indictment of British policy in Ireland. That policy has failed.

We, in generosity, are prepared to put it all behind us. I call upon the British to do likewise. I call upon the unionists to join us. To build a new beginning. To face into the future.

I don't believe for one moment that there is one republican who does not understand or appreciate that we are engaged in a mighty endeavour. We acre seeking to conclude what countless others sought and failed to achieve—the ending of British involvement in our country. We are seeking also to make peace with a section of our people whose political leadership has sought so far only to oppress us. This is our historic task. A peace process has been built, 1994 was a year of change, 1995 must consolidate the peace and make change irreversible.