"Words mean little unless the spirit behind them is acknowledged and respected"- O'Donnell
The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Liz O'Donnell T.D., says the decommissioning question is for many Unionists in Northern Ireland a fundamental test of the sincerity of the Republican movement and the completeness of its commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means.
Speaking at the Irish Association's 60th anniversary meeting in the Glenview Hotel, Co. Wicklow, Minister O'Donnell said that while Sinn Fein were right to say that the Good Friday Agreement contained no pre-condition to the formation of an inclusive Executive, the differences between them and the Ulster Unionist Party had the capacity to "poison, indeed threaten, the very viability of the Agreement".
Minister O'Donnell urged a fresh approach so both parties could be given the confidence they required to move forward.
"We - the Government and the parties - must do as we have done before and find way through the tangled undergrowth which has arisen around this issue. Fundamentally, what we need is an effective re-embrace of the spirit of the Agreement. We need to re-visit the spirit of compromise which has brought us this far, and, in so doing, respect the wishes of the people, north and south," she added.
Minister O'Donnell said the current impasse over the formation of the Executive, and hence, of other institutions, was not just frustrating and potentially dangerous, but deeply unwise.
"There are elements of justification in both the Sinn Fein and the UUP views of the question. Sinn Fein are right to say that the Agreement contains no pre-condition to the formation of an inclusive Executive. And, although the Agreement says very little about shadow institutions, there Is a clear implication that these should include a shadow Executive and that this should have been set up by now.
"The failure to do this inevitably raises questions in republican minds about the sincerity of unionist commitment to the Agreement - doubts which I personally feel are misplaced, but which I understand," she added.
Minister O'Donnell said turning the test of the Agreement into reality was never going to be easy.
"No process of political and institutional transformation is ever easy and straightforward. The sheer breadth of the Agreement, the range of parties supporting it, and the interlocking nature of the new arrangements, impose particular demands. Issues have to be teased out not only on their merits, but also in terms of their implications for other issues. There will be delays and obstacles. But we need to keep our nerve and remember how far we've come," she added.
Minister O'Donnell said the Government, in its approach to the North/ South dimension of the Agreement, did not want to see a "set of uncontrolled quangos" established.
She said the proposed six Implementation Bodies would have to be capable of achieving mutual benefit and be politically accountable.
"We have not the slightest interest in a take-over of the functions of government in Northern Ireland - rather we see an absolutely equal partnership, in the interests of both parts of the island. If the recognition of diversity and complexity - another theme of the Agreement, means anything, it should be possible for us to construct a rational set of bodies with functions in worthwhile and significant areas, without at the same time threatening the fundamentals of political allegiance and identity," she added.Top