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Alliance Leader Sean Neeson and the party’s Justice Spokesperson Steve McBride will meet tomorrow, Monday 19 October, with General John de Chastelain, Chairman of the Decommissioning Body. Speaking in advance of the meeting Sean Neeson insisted that the decommissioning issue not be allowed to delay the process any longer.

Sean Neeson said:

“Decommissioning has been allowed to fester like an open wound in the side of the Agreement. Republicans and Loyalists should look upon decommissioning as an opportunity to build confidence in the process across the community. But Unionists must not look upon it as a precondition to fulfilling the obligations that rest on David Trimble as First Minister. He must move immediately to establish the Executive.

“If the Executive is not formed then the North-South Ministerial Council cannot be established before the October 31 deadline. If that deadline is missed then David Trimble and the Ulster Unionists will have breached the Agreement. We cannot afford to ignore deadlines as though they do not matter. David Trimble should seize upon the goodwill being shown towards him in the wake of the Nobel Prize and get the implementation of the Agreement back on track.”

NOTES:

The Alliance Party representatives will meet with the Decommissioning Body at 2.00pm on Monday at Rosepark House.

THE President of the Alliance Party, Dr. Philip McGarry has called on the Irish Government to confirm its commitment to releasing – by the year 2000 – paramilitary prisoners convicted of the murders of members of the Garda.

Dr. McGarry said that failure to do so would be an act of “bad faith”, which would indicate an unwillingness to support fully the Good Friday Agreement.

The Alliance President said: “Last week the Irish Government ordered the release of a member of the IRA who had been convicted of attempting to murder a policeman in England in 1992,” said Dr. McGarry.

“This decision, naturally enough, has caused distress to the relatives of the murdered police officer and illustrates clearly the sensitive nature of the early release of prisoners.

“Last Friday I called upon the Irish Government to confirm that those who had murdered members of the Garda would be released, as set out in the Good Friday Agreement, by June 2000. My call has been met with a deafening silence.

“I felt that it was important to do this in view of the fact that the Garda Representatives Association assertion that those convicted of the murder of Garda Hand in 1984 should not be released. This comes after the widespread speculation that if people are convicted of the 1996 murder of Gerry McCabe in Limerick they will not be released.

“This would clearly be an intolerable act of bad faith by the Irish government and would be an unacceptable breach of the Good Friday Agreement which has been endorsed overwhelmingly by the people of Ireland. The only inference that could be drawn from the failure to release such prisoners is that the Irish government is not committed to equality of treatment and fairness for all.

“I repeat my call to the Minister for Justice to make it crystal clear that those who have been convicted of the murders of members of the Garda on behalf of the IRA will all be released by June 2OOO,” added the Alliance Party President.

THE Alliance Party’s Chairperson has issued an impassioned plea to the people of North Down urging them to turn out in force – and vote ‘Yes’ in next Friday’s referendum.

Speaking to North Down Alliance Association members last night, Councillor Eileen Bell said it was “imperative” that a resounding ‘Yes’ vote be recorded on May 22.

Councillor Bell, who is an Alliance Party Constituency Representative for North Down, also insisted that any new assembly in Northern Ireland would have to respect “all traditions”.

The former Stormont Talks Delegate and Northern Ireland Forum member warned against the idea of a Nationalist and Unionist assembly. She said that any assembly would have to include representatives from all political perspectives.

“Over the past few weeks I have listened to certain politicians labelling the Mitchell accord as an accommodation between the ideologies of Nationalism and Unionism. However, this is completely untrue – it is an accommodation between all political perspectives,” she said.

Mrs. Bell added: “Any assembly in Northern Ireland will not work without the support of politicians who don’t consider themselves to be Nationalist or Unionist. It is important that all traditions are equally represented.

“If the agreement is endorsed by the community, then we will do our best to make sure that the government of Northern Ireland is accountable, democratic and representative. We must not have a return to the old system of Stormont.

“The agreement reached on Good Friday presents us with a unique opportunity to move forward. It is not a perfect agreement, but we must realise that there is no alternative.

“And even if some of the people don’t agree with the package, they still have time to change their minds and vote ‘Yes’. It can lead us to a better future and it can give us greater control over our own community.”

The Alliance Party Council – the policy decision making body of the Party – today gave a formal endorsement to the Good Friday Agreement. The Council met at Carrickfergus today for a specially organised discussion on the Agreement. Speaking at the meeting, Alliance Party Chair, Cllr Eileen Bell, welcomed the endorsement of the deal, and hit back at claims by the ‘No’ Campaign that the ‘Yes’ campaign has been badly organised.

Cllr Bell said:

“The Party Council had an excellent and very positive discussion of the Agreement, and as the Party’s Talks Team we were delighted with the endorsement they gave to what had been achieved at Stormont. The Party has committed itself to working for a huge ‘Yes’ vote in the Referendum, and to building on the foundation that we will then have for the creation of a new future for Northern Ireland.

“It is amusing to hear the No Campaigners trying to criticise the ‘Yes’ Campaigners for being disorganised – now that they are losing the argument over the Agreement, they are reduced to arguing over who has the better campaign! We did not have the luxury of sitting on the sidelines for months and months as the DUP and the UKUP had. The parties who forged the Agreement were busy directing our time and energies towards moving Northern Ireland forward, not dragging it backwards. But having done so, we now have an Agreement which the overwhelming majority of people can and will support.”

The Alliance Party today launched their ‘Yes’ Campaign for the May 22 Referendum, at a press conference in their Party Headquarters.

Lord Alderdice said:

“From now to Referendum Day our single priority is to tell the people of Northern Ireland the truth about the Good Friday Agreement. The level of lies and misinformation that has been inspired by the ‘No’ campaign has been disappointing. Their campaign for a ‘No’ vote began long before the parties that had the courage to stay at the Talks had reached any agreement. With that in mind, it is perhaps not surprising that the information that they are giving people bears little similarity to the contents of the Agreement.”

At the Press Conference, Campaign Director Cllr. Richard Good showed journalists a room in the Party’s headquarters building which has been converted to an information room for the Referendum Campaign. Posters on the wall of the room read ‘Welcome to the Alliance Truth Commission’.

Cllr Good said:

“The volume of letters and calls received here at Party Headquarters and by our Councillors across Northern Ireland has shown us that many people who want to support this Agreement are becoming confused by the ‘No’ campaign. They are left in confusion when the DUP/UKUP campaign tell them things about the Agreement that, upon further reading, simply cannot be found anywhere in the Agreement. Our campaign is designed to do one thing – to tell it as it is to the people of Northern Ireland. When we do, I am convinced that people will recognise that the Agreement is a compromise – and the best way forward for all of us.”

Alliance Vice Chair, Councillor Peter Osborne, expressed concern and disappointment after last nights Castlereagh Council Meeting when:

  • The Council endorsed a DUP motion attacking the Agreement.
  • The Ulster Unionist Group Leadership voted with the DUP against the Agreement.
  • The Ulster Unionist Group turned down his request for a meeting to discuss co-ordination of a local ‘Yes’ Campaign.

Councillor Osborne said:

“I am dismayed Castlereagh is yet again, standing out as a bastion of backwoodsmen. I believe the Council is out of touch with grass roots feeling in the area.

“People want a Yes vote on 22 May. I am particularly annoyed with the Ulster Unionist Group. For months they have all attacked their Party Leadership.

“It is especially appalling that they will not countenance ever meeting with us to discuss a Yes Campaign in the Borough.”

Only 2 Unionists turned up for the vote, one backing the DUP and one voting against the DUP motion.

The Good Friday Agreement: The Alliance View
April 1998

1. Alliance believes that this is a Good Deal for all the People of Northern Ireland. We have always argued for an honourable compromise or accommodation, and shaped our policies on the constitutional question accordingly. This is now what we have achieved.

2. While it is a ground-breaking document, it is not perfect, and is not a solution to all our problems. No party can be entirely happy, every one has had to compromise. This is true for Alliance as much as any other party. NI has been paralysed for years through Unionists and Nationalists insisting on mutually incompatible objectives.

3. The Agreement must be either accepted or rejected as a whole package. After years of negotiations, there can be no cherry-picking. No other Agreement is capable of generating broad-based support across the community.

4. The Agreement reflects many of our ideas: 1. a power-sharing regional Assembly with legislative powers and a proper Executive; 2. accountable North-South structures; 3. a new more democratic East-West relationship; 4. protections for every person’s human rights; 5. entrenchment of the Principle of Consent.

5. There have been two types of compromise. The first are the political ones between Nationalists, Unionists and Alliance. The old quarrel over Northern Ireland’s constitutional status has been aside through near universal acceptance of consent. Institutions have been created that involve sharing. Uniting people within Northern Ireland is more important than fighting over territory.

6. The second type of compromise is about ending the violence. The deal is essentially between the parties with firm democratic roots, such as Alliance, SDLP & UUP, and the paramilitary parties – the UDP, PUP, and Sinn Fein. These compromises involved issues such as decommissioning and the release of politically-motivated prisoners.

7. Alliance is uneasy over these elements of the Agreement. There pose a moral dilemma for us all. These parts of the package where necessary to ensure that the paramilitary parties would accept the deal. Having them on board may increase the prospects of peace, but there are no guarantees.

8. These concessions are not all one way. The release of prisoners will be linked to the wider confidence of the community in the quality of the ceasefires. The places of these parties in the Executive are subject to the acceptance of purely democratic and peaceful means.

9. A strong Alliance voice will be necessary to make the Agreement work. We need to overcome the rigid divisions in our society, otherwise our future remains fragile. Too many people think about ‘two communities’ rather than realising we have one community whose divisions must be healed. Sectarian divisions must not be entrenched. People must be encouraged to move from fixed positions, otherwise the whole structure could eventually collapse. Alliance will designate themselves as “non-aligned” in the Assembly, rather than Unionist or Nationalists. The number of people so described will be an important indicator of any realignment.

10. Finally, the Agreement by itself does not guarantee peace, justice, stability and prosperity, nor the end of sectarianism. But it does provide a solid foundation on which we can build a better tomorrow. This Agreement can lead to the type of non-sectarian society that Alliance wants to see. But to achieve this vision we must work hard.

This is a edited version of an article from John Alderdice to appear in the Belfast Telegraph.