27 January 2006

Gerry Kelly speaks exclusively to the North Belfast News about the year ahead for Sinn Féin


Republican heads are up as Sinn Féin prepares for next month’s talks

In all the years that have followed the signing of the Good Friday Agreement the events of 2005 will be marked as being the most significant in terms of the peace process.
In December 2004 the North came within a hair’s breadth of having the assembly restored, only for the progress to stall over DUP demands for photographic evidence of agreed IRA decommissioning. Despite this setback in July 2005 a momentous statement was released from the leadership of the IRA declaring their willingness to take the gun out of Irish politics followed in September by a pledge to put their arms verifiably beyond use in a final act of decommissioning.
The decommissioning did not have the desired effect with the DUP and the year closed with the assembly packed in mothballs where it still lies in 2006.
Speaking exclusively to the North Belfast News, Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly said that against the backdrop of the IRA’s historic move, all excuses for keeping the assembly in suspension had been removed.
“If you were looking for action, then Republicans took action in a very historical statement on July 28. Anyone who understands republicanism, and indeed Irish history, would know how substantial a statement that was.
“The IRA took itself out of the equation and ended its armed campaign. Then it acted further and brought acts of completion in terms of the arms issue in September.
“There are no excuses left; all the issues that anti agreement unionists were looking for are now gone.”
Gerry Kelly says that despite Unionists’ continuous reference to the IMC - which he refers to as an unelected body staffed by secrurocrats and political opponents - it is up to every political party to drive the process forward and look ahead to talks that will begin in February.
“What we need now is to create momentum and when I say we, I mean the collective we. The two governments are the ones in charge of this and are the ones who have continued the suspension. Sinn Féin thinks that the institutions should be restored and we believe that bluffs should be called and the d’Hondt system should be triggered. There are talks starting in February and as we understand all the political parties are going and our concentration at these talks will be on getting the institutions up and running because at the bottom of all of this, the Good Friday Agreement was a platform on which to build the institutions.”
Commenting on the DUP rejection of the Good Friday Agreement, Gerry Kelly said it was up to the two governments to “stand up to the DUP” and stop giving them concessions to try and buy their support for the agreement.
“The DUP are now in charge of unionism and they are clearly against the Good Friday Agreement. They have openly stated they want to undermine the agreement but they need to know that they can’t do that. This is about coming to a working agreement and institutions that actually help everyone involved.
“The two governments were given, across the island of Ireland, a massive mandate and they need to use that to stand up to the DUP because when it comes down to the actual facts you have to ask the question ‘who is preventing the institutions going up?’.
“It is certainly not Sinn Féin, the SDLP or the UUP so the people stopping it are the DUP and they need to know there is no alternative.
“In their effort to bring the DUP back into the fold the government is giving them concessions which are foolish concessions. When you get a parades commission that has two Orangemen on it what message does that send out? It might send out a very good message to the DUP but it certainly doesn’t send out a good message to anyone else, and I think that may include other unionists.”
In one of the biggest shocks of last year, senior Sinn Féin member Denis Donaldson confessed to being a British spy. The revelation that he had been giving information to handlers in the RUC and PSNI Special Branch shocked many republicans, but Gerry Kelly believes that far from making republicanism weaker, these revelations and the campaigning against Sinn Féin will make the party stronger.
“You do not go through 30 years of struggle and not have spies and state agents and all of that but I think that republicans will come out stronger.
“We are now some time past the revelation and I think people are now more confident - they have decided to move on.
“He was not involved in the negotiations team and he was not in the Ard Comhairle of Sinn Féin and although I don’t want to play down what he did, because clearly it was a very personal betrayal of people that he worked with for years, I don’t think it should be exaggerated either. I think people will move on and I hope people will get stronger from it and certainly my experience from going round talking to people is that heads are up. We have a political project and it’s about getting some momentum back into the peace process and I think that’s what people are working for.
“Republicans are generally confident and there is nearly a back handed compliment in some of this stuff. The way Michael McDowell attacks Sinn Féin and the way Alex Attwood is going at Sinn Féin, there is a bit of a panic on because we are growing both North and South.
“We are an all Ireland party and we are showing people an alternative politics. I think people are up for alternative politics now. More and more people are saying there is a dynamic in Sinn Féin and our policies and that is what is needed.”

Journalist:: Evan Short

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