McDowell calls for SF to compromise


Minister for Justice's address: The "hand of history" is on the republican movement, which should "come out into the light of day" and abandon all paramilitary activity, the PD conference was told.

In a sharply worded address, the party president and Minister for Justice, Mr McDowell, said Sinn Féin could not talk about human rights "while their friends wield baseball bats and lump hammers in the lanes of west Belfast and the by-roads of south Armagh".

The capacity to compromise was almost always needed and generosity was almost always rewarded he said, but warned that "self belief, loyalty to the truth and a commitment to rock solid decent values should not be replaced by a mindless abandonment of all that we care for, in the futile hope of appeasing a small handful of people who are as inflexible as they are insatiable".

His remarks came as the two Governments issued a statement that fulfilling the promise and potential of the Belfast Agreement was a collective responsibility.

Mr McDowell rejected suggestions that his remarks were intemperate at a time when efforts were being made to get agreement with the republican movement in the peace process.

"I'm certainly not in the business of throttling back on the fundamental nature of Sinn Féin, for the purposes of encouraging them to take one step or another," he told reporters.

On the other hand, he said, "I am part of a team which at Government level has worked hard and long to sustain the peace process and I believe that the two governments have put together a package which should attract the support of everybody of goodwill in Ireland and that includes the republican movement".

Sinn Féin "has everything to gain from going forward into the elections on the basis of accepting the Governments' package", he said. "I deeply regret that there is something holding them back from what I believe would be a golden opportunity to rich electoral reward from making that leap to democratic politics exclusively. If they need the space and time to sort themselves out, it should be given to them because the prize is too great to be sacrificed against arbitrary time limits. At the same time I am not in the business of fudging the nature of Sinn Féin in order to cod the public into thinking they're something they're not."

He said Sinn Féin spokespersons seemed to think that there was nothing in the Belfast Agreement that makes SF as a party accountable for anything that the IRA may or may not do in the future or how it conducts itself. That's due to a fundamental misreading of the agreement," he said. It bound them to opposing violence by others.

During the debate on justice a delegate, Mr Jason O'Mahony, criticised Sinn Féin and the republican movement for "running about with the tricolour as if it's their own private property". Mr McDowell agreed and said the term "republicanism" had brought "so much shame on the tricolour which is and always has been a challenge to the Irish people to stand up for tolerance, pluralism and the rule of law".