The talks were aimed at resolving the difficult issues of parades, identity and dealing with the past. Republicans and others embraced the compromise Haass proposals but they were ultimately rejected by the unionist parties, and failed to get support from the British government. This was a lost opportunity. It also reflected a growing reality that the main unionist parties were not prepared to work positively to take forward the political process.
One year later, we are here again, back in talks, aimed at breaking out of the current destructive impasse. Sinn Féin entered these latest talks in a positive and constructive fashion. We have done this despite the failure of unionism and the British government to back Haass and the unionist walkout from all-party talks earlier this year over their demand for an Orange Order parade to be pushed through a nationalist community.
Sinn Féin remains fully committed to the peace process, to the Good Friday and other agreements and the political institutions, including the North South bodies. However, over the past two years we have faced a negative anti-Agreement unionist axis, which is attempting to turn the clock back. Programme for Government commitments have been reneged on, public agreements have been set aside and positive proposals blocked.
The difficulties in the political process have been accentuated by the British government acting in a partisan fashion pandering to the negative unionist agenda. They failed to back Haass, they have failed to honour commitments and agreements, they have obstructed investigations into state and state sponsored killings and have tried to appease the most anti-Agreement elements of unionism including the Orange Order.
The problems in the Executive have been further exacerbated by the British government’s savage year-on-year reductions to the block grant damaging the Executive’s ability to finance core public services. On top of this the British Tories are trying to impose vicious welfare cuts which would hit the most vulnerable people in society, the low paid, people with disabilities and people on benefits. It is Sinn Féin’s view that the Executive parties need to speak with a single voice on these issues, which affect our people right across our communities. We need to stand together in bringing our case on the impact of the Tory cuts to the block grant to David Cameron and his cabinet of millionaires.
So clearly the British government is a major part of the problem, it is not a neutral broker. If we are to make progress however, the British government needs to become part of the solution. The talks process requires the British government to meet the outstanding commitments it made in the Good Friday and other agreements. It requires the Irish government to live up to its responsibilities as co-equal guarantors of the agreements and we welcome the continued support of the US administration in sending former Senator Gary Harte over as an envoy to assist the process.
The positive steps forward as a result of the peace process are much too important to be held to ransom by a negative anti-Agreement axis. It’s important that progressive proagreement voices in Britain, who care about and support the peace and political processes, makes themselves heard and applies positive pressure on the British government to honour its commitments.