At present, the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement seems to be in a catch-22 stalemate. Unionists are not prepared to countenance the restoration of the political institutions in the absence of sufficient progress on decommissioning. Republicans are insistent that there will not be an appropriate context for decommissioning unless the political institutions are restored.
The Agreement is too valuable an opportunity to be wasted. Alliance is concerned about some of its flaws, ambiguities and contradictions, in particular, the danger of institutionalised sectarianism. It is not a perfect document, but it has the capacity to build peace and stability, and to create a fair, just and non-sectarian society.
Fundamentally, it is the only show in town. It took a substantial effort, and a careful balanced set of compromises to create this Agreement. The notion of abandoning it to negotiate a new deal would be an enormous undertaking. Surely it is better to make this Agreement work.
There is an overwhelming desire across the community to see progress on both devolution and decommissioning. A formula needs to be found to break the current deadlock, and to create the necessary progress on both the restoration of the political institutions, and verifiable decommissioning. The issues of devolution and decommissioning are not intractable in themselves. But ultimately, progress will only occur when there is sufficient trust and confidence between the actors, and the obvious will to make the necessary moves exists.
Alliance believes that a formula based upon a series of sequenced steps is the best way to overcome the barriers, and to build up the required trust and confidence. Our suggestions form a coherent set of proposals as to how the deadlock could be broken.
Substantial drift is entering into this suspension, and a political vacuum, with all the associated dangers, could emerge. I am concerned that some other parties seem prepared to play it long, and to try to build up their mandates at the next General Election. Alliance has always put people first.
Ultimately, it is the job of the British and Irish Governments to take forward an initiative. Hopefully, our ideas are one possible template for the way forward.
The pro-Agreement parties would collectively restate their commitment to the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
This would serve a useful purpose in helping to restore confidence for the 71% of the people of Northern Ireland who voted for the Agreement, plus the Agreement’s supporters in Great Britain, the Republic of Ireland, and internationally that all parties remain committed to the process.
Both Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries should provide a new form of words that makes clear that they have completely renounced the use of violence for both ‘military’ and ‘non-military’ objectives.
All the parties to the Agreement have renounced the use of violence. But the paramilitary groups currently on ceasefire have not produced a form of words to express their renunciation of the use of violence. There is also a significant concern in the community as to the breadth of the ceasefires, in that certain activities such as so-called ‘punishment attacks’ and murders have occurred notwithstanding the presence of official ceasefires. Accordingly, there is scope for tightening definitions.
An appropriate form of words could provide greater confidence in the totality of their respective ceasefires, and provide a better security environment for the British Government to make progress on normalisation.
The Government should accelerate the process of ‘normalisation’ in Northern Ireland.
The Mitchell Report (1996) rightly refuses to make any formal linkage between the weapons of the state which are used to protect the wider community from terrorism, and those held by paramilitary groups.
In the light of positive statements from Loyalists and Republicans, as suggested above, it may be possible for the British Government to take steps to increase the process of ‘normalisation’, subject to security assessments.
This step could help to provide a better context for paramilitary groups to make progress towards decommissioning.
Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries should intensify their engagement with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD), and in particular provide information regarding inventories and timetables for decommissioning. In this context, the IRA may reinstate the commitments that they had made to the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning prior to the suspension of devolution and elaborate upon them.
These actions should hopefully provide sufficient confidence for sufficient consensus on the reinstatement of the political institutions, and a context in which actual decommissioning can occur.
The political parties would collectively agree to a meeting of the Executive and the first acts of decommissioning occurring on a fixed date to be determined. This step should be sufficient for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to rescind the order suspending the political institutions.
With this consensus, the Secretary of State would be in a position to reinstate the political institutions, providing the legal basis for a meeting of the Executive and a context for decommissioning to begin. Through, this formula the Ulster Unionists would be able to return to the Executive virtually simultaneous with the first acts of decommissioning. Furthermore, Republicans would be able to commence decommissioning in a context in which the institutions were operative.
On the appropriate date – the ‘Day of Reconciliation’, the Executive would reconvene and the first acts of Republican and Loyalist decommissioning would occur. Further progress on decommissioning would continue according to timetables and modalities agreed with the IICD.