The Week in Review
28 October – 04 November 2015
Sinn Fein MPs urge London meeting: `work with us to defend the Agreement’
Sinn Fein MPs Paul Maskey and Mickey Brady told a packed House of Commons public meeting that Sinn Fein were fully committed to working towards agreement during the current crucial talks at Stormont. The meeting took place as talks intensified.
From the Chair Jayne Fisher welcomed the broad attendance, including MPs, the Irish community, the trade unions, a number of Embassies and many others, and underlined the need for people to keep the issue of the peace process on the political agenda in Westminster, and more broadly in England, Scotland and Wales.
Mickey Brady urged people to `support what we’re doing and defend the Good Friday Agreement’. He said that a return to direct rule would be disastrous, pointing to a number of gains which had been defended by Sinn Fein and others under devolution, including `free travel for the over 60s, no prescription charges, lower tuition fees, and holding off the worst excesses of the Tory welfare reform cuts. All of this would go if there was direct rule.’
In terms of the economy he said that the Good Friday Agreement had `created a society which is more stable and is attracting more jobs in the North’ and that had to be defended and progressed. He said the north had specific circumstances: `We have higher rates of deprivation and poverty. We are not a post-conflict society. We are a society coming out of conflict – which is an important distinction’. He said Tory cuts were threatening the institutions and stability. On the threatened tax credit cuts, some 120,000 families `will be affected by the proposed cuts – we have to fight this’.
West Belfast MP Paul Maskey raised concerns over the British government’s plans for legislation to deal with the past. He said it was `important to remember that there is hurt on all sides. There can be no hierarchy of victims.’ He also raised the case of the Ballymurphy massacre and the recent bullet found in the case of Joseph Murphy. On the current talks he reiterated Sinn Fein’s approach – which was to work to get an agreement on these issues across the parties.
He underlined the need for people to `do all you can, don’t let any government take its eye off the peace process’. He said there were many issues remaining in the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent agreements which had not been carried out, including the Bill of Rights, which he said the British government `must implement’. On current Tory threats to the Human Rights Act, he said Sinn Fein was `is in favour of defending the Human rights Act’ and had `extensively lobbied for that’.
However on progress towards reconciliation and change he said he was `hopeful’, pointing out that `50 per cent of people coming into my constituency office on the Falls road are from the Shankill’.
On austerity, Paul Maskey said that the Tories `were forced to climb down on tax credits’ due to opposition. He said that in relation to the cuts and budget issues for the North, `we need to go as five parties to also force the Tories to climb down’.
In relation to equality, both speakers reiterated the centrality of fighting for equality. On the recent vote on marriage equality Paul Maskey said it was a big step forward that `the majority of Assembly members voted for it’. However, he said that the DUP use of the petition of concern, something designed to protect minorities, was being misused to block a measure to ensure equality for a minority.
Labour’s Vernon Coaker, speaking from the floor, told the meeting that Labour would `continue to fight austerity’.
Sinn Fein MPs support trade union Westminster lobby supporting Good Friday Agreement
Earlier on 4 November Sinn Fein MPs Mickey Brady and Paul Maskey attended a Westminster lobby meeting organised by the North of Ireland committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU).
The Lobby, hosted by Lord John Monks, raised concerns about the impact of austerity on the peace process and the political instutitions, and the failure to progress the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, including on crucial matters such as the Bill of Rights.
Circulating a briefing paper `Why Northern Ireland is Different’, the unions presented a strong argument underlining the particular circumstances of the north of Ireland in terms of economic deprivation and social problems, and the devastating impact of Tory cuts on a people coming out of conflict.
Paul Maskey said Sinn Fein were pleased to support the meeting and echoed the concerns at the effects of Tory economic policy. He said it was vital that all the parties supported the implementation of measures in the Agreement – such as equality measures – as Sinn Fein would continue to do.
British government legislation `in breach of agreement’
On 3 November Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams urged the Taoiseach to stop `prioritise his engagement with the British Prime Minister with the objective of stabilising and sustaining the political institutions set up under the Good Friday Agreement’.
The Sinn Féin leader was speaking in the Dáil during ‘Statements on the North.’ He made strong criticism of the British government and of MI5, `and the old guard of the RUC’, who produced the recent report on para militarism and their efforts to thwart effective legacy legislation being introduced for victims.
Deputy Adams said `The very people – in MI5 and in the old guard of the RUC – who produced the recent report, have also brought in a veto to stop the families of victims of British terrorism from getting the truth about what happened to their loved ones.’
He said `These are the same people who directed agents and informers and paramilitary organisations that killed hundreds of citizens, including citizens in this city with the Dublin-Monaghan bombs and stirred sectarian violence and colluded in murder.’
`They are prepared to put the peace and political processes at risk in an effort to stop the growth of Sinn Féin north and south. These are the people some in this Dáil choose to believe; probably for the same reason. The Fianna Fáil leader does not believe the Garda Commissioner. But he does believe MI5.
`MI5, some in the PSNI, and the British government, have also attempted to use the new legacy legislation to elevate British interests above those of the victims and their families. Victims’ groups are seriously concerned about the British government attempting to roll back from commitments on dealing with the legacy of the past.
`The British and Irish governments agreed at Stormont House on the need to provide justice and truth recovery mechanisms that would give disclosure to families of victims of the conflict.
`The British government’s legislation is in clear breach of that Agreement. This legislation is all about hiding the British state’s role as a central player in the conflict and its collusion with unionist paramilitary death squads. That is unacceptable.”
The Sinn Féin leader said it was `the responsibility of the Irish government and of the parties in this Dáil should be to support the efforts to make progress – not to place narrow self-serving party political objectives above the necessary process of change and progress’.
“The said the Irish Government needed to `play a more active and constructive role in the North. Citizens in this State expect the Government to be proactively pursuing and promoting the peace process.’ He said he had “urged the Taoiseach many times, to prioritise his engagement with the British Prime Minister with the objective of stabilising and sustaining the political institutions set up under the Good Friday Agreement.’
Speaking about the current negotiations, Gerry Adams said the British Government `must accept its role as a participant in the conflict. British political and economic policy towards the North also has to change.’ He said `Political stability, commitment to proper power sharing, and securing a sustainable, workable budget are central to the negotiations.’
He added, `Led by Martin McGuinness, Sinn Féin is engaged positively in the current talks. We are dealing with all of the difficult issues. The business of making peace is challenging and the business of societal change is challenging, but that is Sinn Féin’s priority.
He concluded: `In the short time available, we need to see a return to the vision, energy and inspiration that was evident at time of the Good Friday Agreement negotiations. In short, we need to usher in a new phase of the peace process.’
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