Thursday, January 12, 2017

Stand up with Martin

The Christmas and New Year period has been a busy time as Sinn Fein grappled with the DUP created Renewable Heat Incentive scandal, the allegations of corruption and fraud associated with it, and the potential half a billion loss to the North’s exchequer.
The actions of the DUP have been outrageous. The refusal of Arlene Foster to step aside until a preliminary report is published effectively blocked any possibility of a robust comprehensive investigation taking place.
Last Friday the Sinn Féin National Officer Board met to discuss the worsening crisis. On Sunday the Ard Chomhairle convened in Dublin and agreed on a recommendation from Martin McGuinness that the time had come for him to resign as Deputy First Minister.
On Monday I spent time with Martin and our negotiating team at Stormont Castle and Parliament Buildings as we worked through the detail of the day’s events, including preparing for the publication of Martin’s resignation letter.  It was a long day for Martin. He has been ill for some weeks and it has taken a toll on him. His frame is leaner and his voice weaker. Many people who haven’t seen him in a while were shocked at his appearance when he spoke to the media on Monday afternoon and announced his resignation. He made it clear that his health has nothing to do with his decision. I also know that he and his wife Bernie and their family are very grateful for the messages of support they have received.
Martin is getting the very best of medical treatment. He is very resilient and will, God willing, be back to full health soon.
On Monday Martin was sharp, articulate and focussed in his meeting with the journalists. He set out the reasons for his resignation in a clear and logical fashion. He said: "We in Sinn Féin will not tolerate the arrogance of Arlene Foster and the DUP. I believe today is the right time to call a halt to the DUP's arrogance."
In response to a question Martin said that the DUP was living in a "Fool's Paradise" if they thought that the status quo would remain unchanged and they could return to government with Sinn Fein after an election.
So, Monday was a significant day for Sinn Féin and for the political institutions, but also for my friend and comrade Martin McGuinness who has led Sinn Féin in the Assembly and Executive for the last ten years.
When I nominated Martin as Deputy First Minister in 2007, after we and the DUP agreed to restore the political institutions, I knew he was the right activist for the job. Sinn Féin and the DUP in the lead roles in the power sharing executive was not a partnership made in heaven – but in the other place. Challenging doesn’t begin to describe it. In 1985 at a time when unionist death squads were smashing down doors to kill nationalists and Sinn Féin members Ian Paisley had infamously posed for an election photo with a sledgehammer in hand and the threat to smash Sinn Féin.
Of course they never did and now in 2007 Ian Pailsey and this former IRA leader from Derry were going to share power in the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister. Remarkably they hit it off. They became the Chuckle brothers. Always smiling, always laughing, and always respectful to each other.
Like many other Derry ‘wans’ Martin had grown up in a city in which Catholics were victim of widespread political and economic discrimination and in which poverty was endemic. Anti-Catholic sectarianism, especially around the July and August loyal order marches, was an annual feature of life. The unionist state’s violent suppression of the civil rights campaign; the Battle of the Bogside, and the emerging troubles, propelled Martin into a different kind of life.
He spent time on the run and was imprisoned in Portlaoise in the 1970’s. He and Bernie and their clann have, like many republican families, been through difficult and turbulent times in the decades since then. When the British reopened the back channel of contact between it and republicans in the late 1980’s it was Martin and Gerry Kelly who took on that arduous and dangerous role.
Without him I don’t think there could have been a peace process. His contribution to the evolution of republican thinking and the creation of the peace process was enormous. When we entered into formal negotiations with the British and Irish governments after the historic cessations Martin was the obvious choice for Sinn Féin’s Chief negotiator.
After the Good Friday Agreement I nominated him as Minister for Education and then in 2007 he became Deputy First Minister – an equal partner to Ian Paisley. In the decade since he has worked with two other DUP First Ministers. He has proven himself to be an able DFM and his work on behalf of victims, and for peace and reconciliation, in Ireland and internationally, has been widely applauded.
He once said: “When change begins, and we have the confidence to embrace it as an opportunity and a friend, and show honest and positive leadership, then so much is possible.”
Martin’s approach to all of this has been guided by the principles of mutual respect, equality and parity of esteem that underpin the Good Friday Agreement. Regrettably during most of this time, Martin, and we in Sinn Féin, have frequently faced deliberate provocation, arrogance and disrespect. 
Under Martin’s leadership Sinn Féin Ministers and MLAs have remained patient. Even when the DUP were behaving in a disrespectful manner we sought to make the Agreement work. It is only through the Good Friday Agreement that peace can be advanced and reconciliation is possible.
As part of this Martin has met Queen Elizabeth several times. He did so very conscious of the criticism this might lead to. He said: “I was – in a very pointed, deliberate and symbolic way – offering the hand of friendship to unionists through the person of Queen Elizabeth for which many unionists have a deep affinity.”
And when so-called dissident Republicans have killed British soldiers, PSNI officers or prison officers, Martin has stood firm and resolutely opposed their actions. As a result his family home in Derry has been the target of attack and his life has been threatened.
Martin would be the first to acknowledge that some republicans and nationalists were discommoded by his ongoing efforts to reach out to unionists. Nonetheless these initiatives were entirely correct. As of right unionists will have an equal place with the rest of us in the new United Ireland. That work cannot wait until then. That work needs done now.
The real test of leadership is to reach out beyond your base. As Mandela did, to make friends with your enemies - your opponents.  Even when the others are churlish, bad mannered or in some cases downright bigoted. That is the real test of leadership. And it is a test Martin McGuinness has passed every time.
There are some, especially in the DUP, who have seen his attempts to promote reconciliation, to defend the peace process, to be generous and patient, as a sign of weakness. It is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength.
Martin has been my friend for almost 45 years. He is a remarkable and gifted human being and a great leader and a patriot. By resigning in the face of intransigence and arrogance he has taken a huge step in defence of the peace process. In the election that will now follow the people of the North will have an opportunity to stand with Martin and the rest of us in defence of the Good Friday Agreement and against corruption, against bigotry, against disrespect and to help change the status quo.
Some will say what difference will an election make? That depends on the voters. If people don’t vote or if they vote for the wrong parties then the scandal of the RHI will not be properly investigated and there will be no accountability.
However, if people accept their responsibilities as citizens – if you register to vote and come out in defence of equality, unity, fairness and zero tolerance of corruption, then you will make a difference.

Just like Martin McGuinness has done.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The institutions are at a defining point

In March 2007 Ian Paisley and I sat side by side and announced the restoration of the political institutions. It was one of many historic little moments that have marked the peace process since 1994. It was an image that few ever thought they would see. The leader of the DUP – who, sledgehammer in hand, had pledged to smash Sinn Féin and oppose power sharing – doing a deal with Sinn Féin and agreeing to share power.

In the year that followed the genuine friendship that developed between Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness was a constant surprise. However, beneath the surface of the DUP others in the leadership of that party and within its grassroots were far from happy. They felt increasingly disconnected from the new Ian Paisley.

The DUP was a party founded on religious intolerance, sectarianism, a belief in the domination of unionism, and a dogged opposition to ending discrimination and inequality. During the decades of conflict it openly colluded with unionist paramilitaries. More than once the DUP leadership led thousands of masked and marching men through the streets of Belfast and of towns across the North. For a time there was the Third Force. This morphed into Ulster Resistance, with its red berets and smuggled weapons from the apartheid South African regime.

But in March 2007, after long and difficult negotiations, all of that was set aside as Ian Paisley committed his party to ‘support and participate fully in government’. This was he said a ‘binding resolution’ and the DUP is ‘committed to playing a full part in all the institutions and delivering the best future.’

The real politick of the peace process had forced a reluctant DUP leadership into agreeing to engage with the political institutions. Not because it had had a Road to Damascus conversion to power sharing but because Ian Paisley and Co. had come to realise that it was the price the DUP had to pay if it wanted to exercise power.  

A year later Ian Paisley was gone – removed as leader by the party he had founded and led for almost four decades. In the years since then the DUP has adopted a negative approach to many important issues facing the Executive. At times there has been a calculated and tactical refusal by it to work the Executive in an inclusive, collective and partnership way. Its attitude in government has often been marked by an arrogance that ignores the rights of others.

Sinn Féin has kept faith with the political institutions because we are mandated to do so. For almost ten years Martin McGuinness and our Assembly team have navigated a way through a number of crises and scandals. A lot of good work has been done by the Executive and the Assembly and significant progress has been made on many issues, including on cross border and all-Ireland matters.  
On other issues there has been little or no progress. I'm thinking here of the long standing absence of a Bill of Rights.

There has also been a shameful lack of respect accorded to the Irish language and to those citizens who wish to live their lives through Gaeilge. The DUP refuse to agree the introduction and implementation of an Acht na Gaeilge. In more recent months decisions by the Minister for Education have undermined the progress that has been made. The reprehensible decision on the eve of Christmas to cut funding for the Líofa programme is just one example of this. This so-called efficiency saving of £50,000 from one Irish language programme has to be seen in the context of the DUP decision to increase funding for orange marching bands. This disgraceful decision has caused justifiable outrage.

Among other examples of DUP messing have been the decision to renege on the Programme for Government commitment on the Long Kesh site; the DUP’s resistance to the legacy and truth recovery mechanisms of the Stormont House agreement; and the Project Eagle debacle.

These issues, and the previous Christmas time crises, mean that even before the emergence of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal the behaviour of the DUP had already led to a considerable lack of public confidence in the institutions. The RHI scandal and the manner in which the DUP has handled it, has significantly deepened a crisis that already existed.  

In addition, if we are to believe the media spin in recent days from ‘DUP sources,’ it would appear that the First Minister Arlene Foster has no intention of stepping aside, even for the four weeks needed for an investigation to produce a preliminary report.

The First Minister is bound to know how damaging her stance is to public confidence.  Yet the DUP chooses to ignore the public outrage over the RHI affair and the potential loss of over half a billion pounds to the Executive’s budget during the next 20 years. At a time when Brexit will see millions stripped from the local economy this substantial loss of revenue will exacerbate an already difficult situation.

The DUP is so wrapped up in its contempt for others that it was prepared to brazen its way through a charade of a debate in the Assembly before Christmas and to knowingly compromise and significantly damage the authority of the Speaker and the Office of First and Deputy First Minister. If Arlene Foster wanted to make a personal statement she should have sought permission from the Assembly to do so and proceeded accordingly. 
When the Assembly resumes in less than two weeks a Sinn Féin motion on the RHI scheme will be debated. It is a common sense proposal which comprehensively addresses the many issues which have given rise to public concern. It calls on the First Minister to stand aside in order to facilitate an independent, time-framed, robust and transparent investigation and until a preliminary report is presented. It will also propose that this investigation would be undertaken by an independent judicial figure from outside this jurisdiction and with the power to compel witnesses and documents.

The investigation would examine how the RHI was established and managed; whether it was done ethically, within the law, and ‘in compliance with the standards established in the Ministerial Code of conduct and principles of public life, and conditions of employment for Special Advisors’.

It would look at who gained from the RHI scheme; look at the role of whistle-blowers; investigate all applications, and when completed the report will be made public and ‘will not require agreement of the First and Deputy First Ministers or the Attorney General'.
Over the Christmas break Sinn Féin took ongoing legal advice on the potential efficacy of our proposals. That advice, and we have accepted it, pointed to the need to address in clear terms the issue of compelling persons and papers in any investigation to make it effective. The Sinn Fein motion scheduled for discussion on 16 January has been brought into line with that advice and will be lodged with the Assembly authorities as soon as possible.
I urge the other parties in the Assembly to support this motion. 

But whatever the outcome of that debate the reality is that the political institutions have reached a defining point. Neither the public nor Sinn Féin can continue to countenance the manner in which the DUP conduct business within the Executive and the Assembly.

Can this be sorted out? Of course it can. That would require Arlene Foster to do what Peter Robinson did.  She should step aside to facilitate an independent process which gets to the facts of the RHI scandal effectively and quickly. This is a straight forward case. The First Minister has been in office for a relatively short time. If she wants to continue in that office she needs to do the right thing.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Jesus is a Palestinian

The obscenity of Israel's apartheid Wall at Bethlehem

I like Christmas. Not the frantic, frenzied stress that possesses some folks at this festive time. Not the Xmas variety. Or the Boxing Day brand. Not the secularisation of a holy day. Nope. I try to opt out of all that.

I like the story of Christmas. A homeless pregnant single mother and her older kindly partner looking for a place to stay. They famously end up in a stable. Probably a smelly little cave. That’s where baby Jesus was born. No grand palace, big mansion or fancy castle. Nope.

And Jesus was not blue eyed or blond haired. Jesus is a Palestinian. So, he probably was a little swarthy skinned black haired wee lad. Just like three year old Aylan Kurdi lying drowned on a beach in Turkey  or other wee kids we see on television fleeing war and poverty and being rescued in the Mediterranean Sea, or scrambling for food in a refugee camp or playing in a bomb site in Gaza city.

I like the simplicity of Christmas. The warmth of it. If you are lucky to have friends and family. Like any good birthday celebration. The shepherds popping in for a quick 'Oh what a lovely wee baby' visit. The wise men - out on the tear following a star - leaving gifts. The donkey who carries a cross on his back to this day. I like all that.

And Joseph? Poor man. Almost written out of the story but obviously a decent man. He minded Mary and the baby Jesus. Even when Herod came calling he stayed calm. On the run with a baby and his mammy. That couldn’t have been easy.

And then after rearing that baby to see him go as a young man to be crucified. Little talk of Joseph at that terrible time on Calvary. Or all the years in between working away at the joinery to provide for his clann.

Joseph is one of my heroes. One of the good people that some of us are lucky to have in our lives. The good uncle. The kind father. The sound teacher or sports  mentor. The decent man who tries to keep us right even if we are intent on doing it our way. Like his oldest lad.

We need more Joseph’s. And Mary’s. Like many Irish mammies Mary thought her son was God. And maybe she was right. She suffered in his coming and his going. It could not have been easy.

All the talk. The gossip. The rumours. Along with the teething, bedwetting, the tantrums, terrible twos and the other joys of baby rearing. But she survived. Like most women. She reared a good son despite it all. Like many Palestinian mammies.

So Christmas is her day also. I enjoyed it. Good food. Good company. A few drinks.

Now its time for a New Year. I wish you well. Bliain úr faoi mhaise daoibhse. Happy birthday Jesus. Lá breithe duit.

So pilgrims, especially Christians remember: Jesus is a Palestinian.

We still crucify him. Every day.

Friday, December 23, 2016

DUP arrogance damages institutions

Not since Michael Stone’s abortive ‘performance art’ attack on Parliament Buildings in 2006, in an attempt to kill myself and Martin McGuinness, has the Assembly chamber cleared more quickly.
Monday’s session of the Assembly was called to order at 11am by the Speaker. He was met by a barrage of ‘points of order’ as one MLA after another, beginning with Sinn Féin’s Carál Ní Chuilín, challenged him on the nature of the Assembly meeting; its legitimacy under standing orders; and the right of the DUP leader Arlene Foster to speak at all given that Martin McGuinness had made it clear she was not speaking as First Minister and with the approval of the Executive Office.
Carál also warned of the potential damage to the integrity of the Office of First and Deputy First Minister if the joined-up nature of that office was breached in the spirit and the letter by the DUP leader making a statement to the Assembly.
The Speaker repeated again and again his mantra that he was acting within standing orders – without ever saying which orders he was referring to. After 30 minutes of this the DUP Chief Whip got up - said it was time to move on and the Speaker obliged by calling Arlene Foster. At that everyone else in the chamber left – including Jonathon Bell the former DUP Minister whose allegations of corruption and abuse of the Renewable Heating Initiative scheme have fuelled (sorry for the pun) the current crisis.
The DUP was left on its own - speaking to itself. DUP MLAs even went through the charade of asking Arlene questions after she finished her remarks.
The arrogance displayed by the DUP is typical of its approach to most issues. Monday’s episode only served to bring the political institutions further into disrepute in the eyes of most of the public.
The DUP has a long record of trying to walk over the rights of others. They are in the Assembly because they have no choice. If they want to hold public office they have to share power with Sinn Féin. For our part Sinn Féin is in the political institutions, sharing power with them, because we want to. At a personal level even the most hardline DUP politician knows that the old days are gone and some in private will be friendly and on good terms with the rest of us. But that’s where it’s kept – in private.
Remember Ian Paisley was dumped because it was felt he was too friendly with Martin McGuinness.
Every day therefore is a battle. The DUP still actively block key elements of the Good Friday and subsequent agreements.
Sinn Féin is for a united Ireland. The DUP and unionists are opposed to this.
Sinn Féin is opposed to austerity measures and conservative politics. The DUP embrace these.
Sinn Féin is for a Bill of Rights. The DUP are against it.
Sinn Féin opposed Brexit. The DUP supports Brexit.
Sinn Féin believes in marriage equality. The DUP don’t.
Sinn Féin is for an Acht na Gaeilge and for the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement around legacy and truth issues. The DUP oppose these. They support the British government’s national security veto.
They usually present their opposition to all these modest measures in an offensive and provocative way.
The DUP has been particularly disrespectful about the Irish language and Irish medium education. And to add to the difficulties the British and Irish governments humour them.
However, despite our differences with the DUP Martin McGuinness and our Ministerial team work hard every day to ensure the stability of the political institutions. Good work is being done by the Assembly and especially by Sinn Féin Ministers and MLAs.
The current crisis is not about orange versus green. The scandal around the RHI was created by the DUP. The crisis that has grown from it is their responsibility.
Internal manoeuvrings and intrigues within the DUP have brought all of this to a head. The allegations of serious corruption, irregularity, abuse, and fraud in the working of the Renewal Heating Incentive scheme by the former DUP Minister Jonathon Bell have outraged citizens. Mr. Bell has accused his former colleagues of keeping open a scheme that could well cost the taxpayers of the North over 400 million pounds. This would strip away essential financial resources from government departments at a time when the British government has already slashed the block grant.
A motion to exclude Arlene Foster was put on Monday’s Assembly agenda by the SDLP and Ulster Unionists. It was rooted in the legislation that established the institutions in 1998 and consequently it required cross community support to pass. In other words the DUP would have to vote for it to pass.
Did the opposition parties really expect that like Turkeys voting for Christmas the DUP would support their motion? Of course not. This motion was playacting by the opposition parties. It was about giving the pretence of doing something when in reality they were doing nothing. The opposition motion was always going nowhere, except into the dustbin. Worse it was allowing the DUP off the hook in respect of the Renewable Heating Incentive scheme. It didn’t mention the scheme or set as an objective any attempt to recoup taxpayers money.
Over last weekend the Sinn Féin leadership and Assembly team met in Derry to discuss our approach to Monday’s Assembly meeting. We agreed our own amendment to that proposed by the opposition parties. The Speakers office would not accept it on the Monday but it will now be the substantive motion at the top of the agenda on the first day the Assembly returns.
What does it seek? The First Minister to stand aside to facilitate an independent, time-framed, robust and transparent investigation and until a preliminary report is presented; to recoup taxpayers money; and to determine whether corruption played any part in the process.
It is a balanced, sensible proposal which deals with all of the issues in dispute around the creation of the Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI) scheme.
The public is right to be concerned with this scheme and the allegations surrounding the DUP’s handling of it. The scheme was set up without costs controls and there were ample opportunities for such controls to be included throughout the life of the scheme.  These opportunities were not taken.
Martin McGuinness asked Arlene Foster to stand aside while an investigation is taking place. He outlined to her his serious concern that the credibility of the political institutions is being undermined.  He told her that that’s what he would do if he were in her shoes. Peter Robinson did that. She has refused.
Martin has asked her to reflect carefully over the Christmas and New Year period about the next steps in this crisis. For that’s what it is – the most serious crisis to threaten the political institutions in the last ten years.
Understandably many nationalists and republicans, and some unionists, are appalled by the behaviour of the DUP. Given the offensive way that DUP Ministers behave it is little wonder that some want revenge. But revenge is not a policy. Politics is too important to be left to politicians.
If you want marriage equality? Then campaign for it. If you want Irish language rights? Campaign for them. If you want a Bill of Rights? Make your voice heard. If you want legacy inquests and British files made available to victim’s families? Join with them in demanding it.
Monday’s antics by the DUP in the Assembly have seriously damaged its credibility and that of the Executive and of the First and Deputy First Ministers office. The DUP’s actions are not acceptable and this issue is not going away.

Finally, can I wish all of you Nollaig Shona Daoibh go léir. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

FF and FG turn their back on truth recovery

‘Count your fingers after you shake their hands’ was what one Dublin comrade advised me when I first broached with him the idea of resigning my west Belfast seat and standing for the Dáil.

‘If you think politics in the North are nasty think again. It is a pale imitation of what you need to prepare for in this state. Partitionism is ingrained – it runs deep within the political establishment, and decades of gombeenism has taken its toll. And be warned the leaderships of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael don’t care about the North – they pretend to but most don’t. It’s up there and that’s where they want to keep it.”

He was right. During every negotiation, however big or small, the Irish government were at times more of a hindrance than an ally. And we were more often the enemy as they cosied up to the Brits. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the approach of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour to the issue of the past. Long before I entered the Dáil, but with increasing intensity since then, one issue after another has been seized on, especially at election time, to attack Sinn Féin.

The real politick of course is that this suits their own narrow political agenda. Fianna Fáil especially sees Sinn Féin as an electoral competitor.

This isn’t about truth or victims it’s about political expediency and party political advantage.

And they are aided and abetted in this by elements of the media, especially within the Independent Group and other establishments hacks.

After nearly thirty years of conflict, and before that decades of state injustice and institutional discrimination, society in the North needs a process of truth recovery and reconciliation that can heal the hurt.

The southern parties failed to do this after the Tan War and Civil War. Society in that part of the island has been blighted by the failure to address the divisions arising from that period of history. As a result civil war politics continues to exert a destructive influence. Although as politics slowly realigns many citizens are learning that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael share many of the same conservative values and establishment mores.

The parties in the North, haven’t always agreed on how the past should be dealt with and unionist leaders have refused to publicly acknowledge a responsibility for the conflict, but we have reached agreements. Our main difficulty at this time is the malign involvement of a British government that wants to avoid any meaningful exposure of its role in the conflict and of an Irish government that doesn’t really care.

There are hundreds of cases in the North where families are seeking acknowledgment, truth and information about the deaths of their loved ones. The British government is actively blocking this. What does the Irish government do? Nothing.

British agencies and agents were active participants in the bombing of Kay’s Tavern, in Dundalk in which Jack Rooney and Hugh Watters were killed, and the murder of Seamus Ludlow. They were also responsible for the Dublin Monaghan Bombings. After conducting an extensive examination of the Barron Commission reports the sub-committee reported, “that given that we are dealing with acts of international terrorism that were colluded in by the British security forces, the British Government cannot legitimately refuse to co-operate with investigations and attempts to get to the truth.”

Where is the outrage that a neighbouring government engaged in international acts of terrorism within the Irish state? Where are the demands for British Ministers, police officers, intelligence chiefs and unionist paramilitary members to be questioned about what they know?

The British government has also failed to establish the public inquiry, agreed at Weston Park in 2001, into the murder of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane.

And it is thwarting at this moment the north’s Lord Chief Justice’s efforts to hold legacy inquests.
This isn’t just a passive British government. This is an active effort to thwart the creation of processes that can get to the truth. It is blocking families having access to files held in the public archives. And the refusal to fund legacy inquests and investigations are all in clear breech of Britain’s international human rights obligations.

What has been the Irish government’s response? It has failed to challenge the British stand. Ticking the box at a meeting with a British Prime Minister or Secretary of State is not the same as having a consistent domestic and international strategy in Britain and Europe, and at the United Nations, to persuade the British government to co-operate.

Part of the problem is the limited vision of the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael leaderships. They are mostly motivated by the desire for political office and their vision is limited to the parameters of the southern state. They rarely think all-Ireland. They have no strategy for unity and whether it is Brexit or the peace process their approach to the North is wholly clumsy and hesitant. The most glaring example of Irish government indifference and ineptness is around the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement on the past that was agreed in December 2014.

The Stormont House Agreement proposes the establishment of an Independent Commission on Information Retrieval which will cover both jurisdictions on this island and deal with all conflict related deaths.

The core of this proposal is based on confidentiality and trust and it agrees that any information it receives will not be disclosed to law enforcement and intelligence agencies and the information will be inadmissible in criminal and civil proceedings.

As part of this process the governments, drafted and published an international agreement to establish the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval. This was laid jointly in the houses of the Oireachtas and Westminster in January of this year.

It has not yet commenced as the British Government continues to seek to exercise a national security veto regarding the judicial process.

So, the Irish government agreed a process to secure information for victims based on confidentiality and trust. It has legislation sitting waiting to be enacted but the British are blocking it. What is the government doing about this? Where is the public, and the private campaigns to push the British to honour another agreement? There is none.

In the absence of a formal truth recovery process I agreed in 2013 a confidential process with the Stack brothers to secure for them acknowledgement and information about who killed their father. I delivered what they asked of me and now I have become the target of a despicable and opportunistic campaign led by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and the Taoiseach.

Could someone please tell me how they expect a truth recovery process to be implemented if I break my word? Why would anyone, IRA volunteer or British soldier, RUC officer, or Unionist paramilitary, or British or unionist politician ever contemplate speaking about their role in the conflict?

Micheál Martin and Enda Kenny have turned their back on the principles of information retrieval, and of helping victims, that the Irish government signed up to December 2014 in the Stormont House Agreement.

Their actions also mean that I will now have to carefully review whether I can ever engage in this kind of ad hoc process again. The Stack family were not the first I helped. But if another family come to me I may now have to say, sorry I can’t help. Or maybe I should send them to Micheál Martin or Enda.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Na h’Abair é – Dean é: Don’t say it-do it.

There is busy and there is BUSY. And the last few weeks have been BUSY. I returned to Ireland on Friday after four days in Cuba attending the funeral of Fidel Castro. The following morning, with my jet lag in full mode, I was in Richmond Barracks in Dublin for our annual Slógadh - Sinn Féin’s Irish language conference.  Later that afternoon I was over in the Red Cow Hotel attending the Sinn Féin Women’s Conference.
 Amongst the guests attending the Slógadh were a number of Irish language advocacy and community organisations - from Conradh na Gaeilge, to Gaeloideachas, from Iontabhas na Gaelscolaíochta and to Norman Uprichard from the East Belfast Mission; who spoke in the morning session on the issue of identity.
The theme of this year’s Slógadh was “Fíorú na Físe - Realising the Vision”. I told the Slógadh that realising a vision for the language requires increased co-operation amongst Irish language organisations, and for a reinvigorated community driven campaign for an Acht na Gaeilge in the North.
In the south it requires a proper and effective rights based Bille na dTeangacha Oifigiúla and adequate investment in the language and in our Gaeltacht regions.
There are serious concerns in both parts of the island about the attitude of officialdom to the language. In the North Sinn Féin has been criticised because of the absence of an Irish language strategy in the draft Programme for Government. This absence is because of the DUP. Carál Ní Chuilín brought an Irish language strategy to the Executive in the last term, but it was rejected by the DUP and UUP and the DUP continues to block its inclusion.
This should come as no surprise. For 50 years political unionism ran an ultra-conservative regime in the North which actively engaged in structured political, economic and religious discrimination. For over two decades under British Direct Rule the unionist leadership used its influence with successive British Secretaries of State to oppose any progressive reform.
The Good Friday and subsequent agreements forced the Ulster Unionist Party leadership and subsequently the DUP leadership to agree with, or acquiesce to, a significant programme of constitutional and institutional change that many within political unionism were and still are deeply unhappy with. Unionist leaders rarely embrace these necessary and modest changes.
Among these is the Irish language. From Sinn Féin’s perspective the language is the property of all irrespective of political affiliation. But for some unionists the language is an excuse for messing, for expressions of offensive bigotry and downright
For much of the time since the Executive and Assembly were established Sinn Féin held the Department of Education and the Department of Culture, Arts and Learning. Now a DUP Minister has responsibility for Education and the Liofa project is the responsibility of another DUP Minister.
As a result of decisions that have been taken, especially by the Minister for Education, there are very real and justifiable concerns amongst the Irish language community. This is a challenge we cannot shy away from and which needs the combined effort and co-operation of Irish language groups as well as all of those who believe in equality and fairness and parity of esteem.
It means demanding that the DUP steps up to the plate. It means that party acknowledging that the Irish identity, culture and Irish language are as equal and valid as any other and must be treated as such. And that respect must begin in government. It also means respecting and assisting Gaelscoileanna to develop and to reach their full potential as a sector that positively contributes to society and to the lives of thousands of citizens.
None of this will be easy. There is a deep rooted antipathy within elements of political unionism to anything it believes puts at risk their clinging to the dominance of the ‘British way of life’ in the North. It is a legacy of our colonial experience. But it can be overcome. If can be changed. The reality is that the North is not the one party, unionist dominated, sectarian based, repressive little statelet it once was. A lot has changed. The Brexit vote to Remain is just one example of that.
Nor should we forget that despite the opposition of the leaders of Unionism, the Irish language is not the marginalised, ostracised minority issue it once was. There are around five and a half thousand young people attending nurseries, as well as primary and secondary schools across the North, and many thousand more speak the language every day of our lives.
Through the negotiations process Sinn Féin successfully secured the establishment of an all-Ireland body to support and promote it (Foras na Gaeilge); the signing of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages by the British government; the extension of Irish language broadcasting into the North; continued funding for an Irish Language Broadcasting Fund; as well as new funding for an Irish Language Capital Investment Fund – Ciste Infheistíochta Ghaeilge.
The Líofa initiative, which had a modest aim of encouraging one thousand new Irish language speakers, now has almost 18,500 people registered.
In relation to the recent Programme for Government, we were successful in including a commitment to an tAcadamh, taking forward the Gaeltacht Quarter Action Plan and securing an acknowledgement of the importance of Gaeilge to our cultural heritage.
In the time ahead we must increase pressure on the Irish and British governments to fulfil the commitment made in the St. Andrew’s Agreement to an Acht na Gaeilge. The Irish government especially has been less than enthusiastic in supporting the Irish language. In its recent budget it cut funding to the Irish language, the Gaeltacht and the Islands by 9%. Nonetheless it has a responsibility under the terms of the Good Friday and subsequent agreements to defend the rights of all citizens to equality. That includes Irish speakers.
Finally, there are currently Judicial Review proceedings underway in to why the Executive did not agree the Irish Language Strategy in the previous term. This action is being taken by Conradh na Gaeilge. There is a second Judicial Review being taken by an individual citizen against the British Government in relation to Acht na Gaeilge and their responsibilities under St. Andrew’s Agreement.

Last week also saw a very well attended meeting in the Cultúrlann in west Belfast to discuss a campaign and a protest march - along the same lines of the 'Dearg le Fearg' protests that took place two years ago. The objective is to raise awareness about this issue.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Gerry Adams TD statement to the Dáil on the death of Brian Stack

Let me begin by saying once again that the shooting of Brian Stack was wrong. 
It was a grievous loss for his family and should never have happened.
In the absence of the two governments agreeing to a process to deal with the past I sought to try and assist the family of Brian Stack to gain a degree of acknowledgement and closure.
I did so at their request.
What has happened over the last year points up the challenges of this course of action and the urgent need for a proper legacy process to be established.
For the record I will again set out the sequence of events and my efforts to assist the family of Brian Stack. 
Austin Stack approached me in 2013 seeking acknowledgment for what happened to his father. 
I met Austin a number of times over the course of the following months, mostly on my own.
Austin and his brother Oliver made it clear to me personally and said publicly that they were not looking for people to go to gaol.
They wanted acknowledgement. They wanted closure.
There is a note of that initial meeting,
I am releasing that today.
The computer stamp shows that this note was typed into the computer on May 16th seven days after the first meeting with the family.
Austin Stack speaks of his commitment to restorative justice processes. I believe him.
I told the Stack brothers that I could only help on the basis of confidentiality.
This was the same basis on which I had been able to assist other families.
Both Austin and Oliver agreed to respect the confidential nature of the process we were going to try to put in place.
Without that commitment I could never have pursued the meeting they were seeking which took place later that summer.
The brothers were given a statement by a former IRA leader.
The statement was made available publicly by the Stack family.
The statement acknowledged that the IRA was responsible for their father’s death; that it regretted it took so long to clarify this for them; that the shooting of Brian Stack was not authorised by the IRA leadership; and that the person who gave the instruction was disciplined.
The statement expressed sorrow for the pain and hurt the Stack family suffered.
Following the meeting the family acknowledged that the process, and I quote, “has provided us with some answers that three separate Garda investigations failed to deliver. We would like to thank Deputy Adams for the role he has played in facilitating this outcome.”
Since then the position of Austin Stack has changed.
In 2013 Austin Stack gave me the names of four people whom he believed might have information on the case.
He told me that he had been given these names by journalistic and Garda sources.
Now Austin Austin Stack has denied giving me names. 
Why on earth would I say that I received the names from him if I didn’t?
In February of this year Austin Stack also claimed that he gave names to the Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.
If Austin Stack was prepared to give names to Mr. Martin, why would he not have given them to me?
I was after all the person he was asking to arrange a meeting.
At Austin Stack’s request I contacted those I could from the names he gave me.
They denied having any information about the killing of Brian Stack.
I told Austin Stack this.
During the election campaign earlier this year the Fianna Fáil leader and others repeated a lot of what was said in 2013.
It was part of his election strategy against Sinn Féin.
However, in addition allegations were made that I was withholding information from the Garda.
It was in this context, and to remove any uncertainty or ambiguity I emailed the Garda Commissioner the names that Austin Stack had given me and which he said had come from Garda and journalistic sources.
I have never at any time described those named as suspects.
I made it clear to the Garda Commissioner that I have no information on the death of Brian Stack.
The email was only sent after I had spoken to three of the four.
There is a live Garda investigation.
I am prepared to cooperate with this.
The position of Fianna Fáil leader, who was a Minister in successive Fianna Fáil government’s during the peace process, and of the Taoiseach on this issue is hypocritical, inconsistent and disappointing. 
I have never sought publicity on these issues.
Any public comments I have made have been in response to others.
Firstly, when Austin Stack publicly asked to meet me, and during the process we established in 2013.
Secondly when Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil sought to exploit this issue as part of their election campaign.
And today I make this statement in the Dáil following an email that I wrote to the Garda Commissioner being put inappropriately in my opinion into the public realm and then raised here in the Dáil twice by the Fianna Fáil leader.
I say inappropriately because there is a live investigation into the murder of Brian Stack and we in this chamber should be mindful not to say anything which might prejudice this or any future court proceedings.
The Fianna Fáil leader and the Taoiseach seem to be unconcerned about this.
Micheál Martin says, I named four people who I understand to be suspects in the murder of Mr Stack.
Teachta Martin has misled the Dáil.
I never made such a statement.
I have never described those named as suspects.
He says, that I said, I took a note of the meeting between Austin and Oliver Stack and a former IRA leader.
I never said this.
I took no note of that meeting.
He says I took Austin and Oliver Stack to that meeting in a blacked out van.
The Taoiseach even went so far as to say I drove the van.
Not true. I travelled with the Stack brothers in my car to a prearranged place on the border and then we were all taken in a van to the meeting in the north and as had been arranged.
The Fianna Fáil leader and the Taoiseach should correct the Dáil record on these.
Since Fr. Alex Reid and Fr. Des Wilson, myself and John Hume began our work to develop a peace process successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael governments, encouraged and facilitated meetings between myself and Martin McGuinness and the IRA leadership. 
Is the Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader now demanding that we should have named those we met?
Do you think this would have helped the peace process which we all now hopefully appreciate?
I recall one specific occasion when a meeting in St. Luke’s with the then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair’s Chief of Staff Jonathon Powell was suspended to allow Martin McGuinness and I to meet the IRA.
On other occasions initiatives involving the Irish and British government, the IRA, the Ulster Unionist Party and Sinn Féin were constructed to advance the process.
Meetings were adjourned to facilitate this.
These conversations helped to secure historic cessations.
Should those involved be named.
None of these would have been possible without talking to the IRA.
Micheál Martin knows this.
Our efforts led in July 2005 to the IRA announcing an end to the armed campaign and to engaging with the International Independent Commission on Decommissioning to put its arms beyond use.
Progress that could only have been secured on the basis of direct contact and confidentially.
Is Micheál Martin demanding that Martin McGuinness and I should name those we were meeting in the IRA leadership and who decided to put their arms beyond use? 
Is he demanding that the Decommissioning Body name those IRA members it met and put their weapons beyond use?
Are they demanding that Cyril Ramaphosa and Martii Ahtisaari name those in the IRA they engaged with to facilitate the arms beyond use process?
Should we now name all of those in the IRA who supported the peace process and took difficult but courageous decisions?
I and others also assisted the Smithwick Commission. Should they be named?
One of the most difficult legacy issues that we have had to deal with is that of the disappeared. A grave injustice was done to these families.
The governments established the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains at my request and with Fr. Reid’s support.
As a result of our efforts 12 of the 16 victims have been recovered and work continues on seeking information on the remain four.
I haven’t given up on this.
Martin McGuinness and I continue to meet regularly with the Commission.
The Commission also meets with former IRA people.
Should they be named.
Mícheál Martin knows all of this. He was a senior member of the government which established the commission.
Progress was only possible on the basis of confidentially and trust. That is why no IRA people where named during any of these initiatives and why they should not be named today.
It is an essential part of any conflict resolution process.
Sinn Féin has worked consistently to resolve the issues of the past.
As part of our commitment to this I have met many families, like that of Brian Stack, who have lost loved ones.
If the Taoiseach and Micheál Martin are interested in healing the legacy of the past for all families, including the Stacks, the Finucane’s, the families of the Dublin Monaghan bombs and hundreds more, then they could begin by putting in place an International based independent truth recovery process or by making the Fresh Start and other legacy agreements we have made to work.
My generation of republican activists who lived through and survived the war have a responsibility to try and bring the families of victims of the war, irrespective of who they are, was responsible, to a better place. 

That is what I have tried to do with my engagement in 2013 with the Stack Family.