Political process ‘untenable’ MP tells Labour conference

Posted By: September 26, 2014

Impartial Reporter. September 25,  2014 .
SINN Fein MP Michelle Gildernew has told a Labour Party Conference fringe meeting that the political process in Northern Ireland is in a perilous and untenable position.

Michelle Gildernew.
Addressing the theme, ‘Labour, Ireland and defending the peace process’ the Fermanagh-south Tyrone representative laid the blame on political unionism having what she said “moved into an anti-Agreement mode”.
Ms. Gildernew told delegates on Sunday: “In 2012 we saw the violent unionist and loyalist reaction to the lawful, democratic decision of Belfast City Council to reduce the flying of the union flag to ‘designated’ days – the same as in the Assembly, where unionists accept this state of affairs quite quietly. In 2013 we saw the violent unionist and loyalist reaction to the lawful decision of the Parades Commission to prevent an unwanted Orange Order march to pass nationalist Ardoyne in North Belfast. And then in 2013, DUP leader Peter Robinson reneged on the agreed Programme for Government commitment to develop the Long Kesh/Maze site – by way of a letter sent from Florida, not to his joint First Minister Martin McGuinness, but to DUP party colleagues.”
This approach, said Ms. Gildernew, “has increasingly defined the nature of DUP participation in the political institutions in the North”.
The Sinn Fein MP told delegates that the Good Friday Agreement 16 years ago had been “a watershed moment in Irish politics” and one of the Labour Party’s “greatest recent achievements”.
“Much work was put in by many people to get the Agreement and to slowly and painstakingly work to get it implemented. That implementation is far, far from over – but to continue with that task needs momentum – the bicycle syndrome where at least slow pedalling is needed to keep moving forwards. However at present, our political process is in a perilous – I would actually say untenable – position. And this is because not only is the bike not being moved forwards, but there are significant elements looking to find a reverse gear,” she said.
In another swipe at the Democratic Unionist Party, Ms. Gildernew said: “We see no genuine willingness to share power with republicans in a real partnership government, or to embrace things like mutual respect, parity of esteem or reconciliation. And the reasons for this are clear. Many in the DUP entered the arrangement unwillingly back in 2007, and are still lukewarm – to say the least – about the new dispensation. But since the May elections, we have seen the makings of a pan-unionist coalition of the unionist political parties – including those aligned to the paramilitary UDA and UVF.
“It is primarily focussed on the parades issue, and trying to reverse the Ardoyne decision – but it’s wider than that – it is an anti-Good Friday axis, aiming to subvert the Good Friday Agreement’s principles and processes,” she said.
Ms. Gildernew said “unionist obstruction” such as “delaying, sitting on their hands and seeking reverse gear back to the 1960s” is being facilitated by the London government.
“It has repeatedly shown its willingness to capitulate, and an unwillingness to stand up to unionist threats and intransigence. Reasons or explanations are various – a total lack of interest or engagement? Possibly, but it can be argued they are engaged – engaged in doing the wrong things. An ideological sympathy with where unionists are at? Remember, the Tories did not negotiate the Good Friday Agreement or St Andrews – to them republicans are still the enemy. And the small matter of eight DUP seats – and votes – post 2015 general election cannot be ignored,” she said.
Describing the current political situation in Northern Ireland as “untenable”, Ms. Gildernew said the British and Irish governments – with support from the United States – must “step up, get engaged positively and get things moving again”.
“We need to talk – there are too many issues sitting unresolved and unagreed,” she said.
On the subject of welfare reforms, Ms. Gildernew said: “The British welfare reform process has not been implemented in the North. This is due to our party stalling the passage of the Welfare Reform Bill, which the Assembly must pass. We had hoped for much more cross-party efforts to fight the London government on this. This has not happened. Unionism are content to bring this insidious Bill into force, and all that flows from it.
“Last week Martin McGuinness made it clear – the DUP minister responsible should bring the Bill to the floor of the Assembly for debate and votes, and let them explain how foisting this welfare cuts agenda on their own working class constituents, as well as everyone else, is in any way desirable. If they refuse to bring the Bill, then this issue should go to the people, by way of an election to the Assembly. We fear no election.
“Sinn Fein will not deliver the cuts demanded by a cabinet of millionaires in London, who have not one vote in Ireland, and we stand alongside the poor, the low paid and the disadvantaged in this battle,” she said.
“Things are not good,” added Ms. Gildernew, “What unionism’s aim is is not always clear – to collapse the institutions so as not to be handcuffed to Sinn Fein in the run-up to next year’s general election?
“These institutions are part and parcel of the Good Friday arrangements, and those need developed and strengthened, not thrown to the side. The Good Friday Agreement must be seen as one of Labour’s biggest achievements, and we certainly believe that there is a big onus on the present Labour party to help in ensuring that things do not go down,” she said