Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams talks to Political Editor David Gordon about the unresolved issue of contentious marches, the policing and justice deal, and the controversy surrounding allegations against his brother Liam
Q The transfer of policing and justice has been described as symbolic and the last piece of the devolution jigsaw. How does it in any way advance the goal of Irish unity?
A There are three dimensions of the policing and justice transfer which are important. Number one — the practicalities. We are a legislative assembly which could not legislate on public safety, community safety and public order, policing matters.
Number two, we need to have as much political power and to have the political centre of gravity on this island. The unionists themselves will tell you, they would rather rule themselves.
Then in terms of how of you get to a united Ireland — the old Wolfe Tone adage was unity of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter.
In the course of those [Hillsborough] talks, at quiet moments of those talks, I said to some of the people on the unionist side — see the phase we are going into now, let's just get to the point where we're comfortable with each other, that you can be a unionist and I can be a republican.
Q On parading, has Sinn Fein given in to DUP demands for the scalp of the Parades Commission?
A We have put forward processes to get better means of dealing with this issue of Orange parades and protests, and also the issue of contentious parades. There is a long-term need for the Orange and the rest of us to have calm, tolerant relationships.
The old Orange state, where the Orange used to be the cement that held everything together — that's gone. But Orange clearly is part of Irish history, it's a legitimate tradition within Ireland. It's part of the three sections of the Irish national flag — green, white and orange. People like me who do know the words of The Sash, who do know old Orange songs, need to be part of a learning process. The Orange need to be emboldened to come and talk to people.
Q You can live with the Commission being replaced — that's obviously going to be part of what comes next?
A We will get out of this |working group draft legislation which will then go out to
consultation. That will then go through the procedures of the Assembly.
So let's not prejudice all of that. What we will get also hopefully in tandem with that to deal with the more immediate contentious parades are locally led — and by locally led, I mean politically led — engagements between all the stakeholders.
Q There are clearly some on the unionist side who hope there will be a tilt in the balance of power, a changing of the rules to make it easier for Orangemen to get down contentious routes.
A What are the contentious routes? Garvaghy Road — I mean there could be no parade down Garvaghy Road unless the people of Garvaghy Road consent to it.
Q Do you think that's absolute — that the situation is never going to change for the sake of the bigger picture?
A If it did change, I would be opposed to it and I would show my opposition and I would stand by the people of Garvaghy Road. And I say that as an Irish republican who genuinely wants to make peace with the Orange. The other one is the lower Ormeau. The same thing goes.
Q No march down lower Ormeau unless the residents consent?
A That's the de facto situation at this time. If the Orange can persuade residents, if they can make some arrangements between themselves, of course we would all support that.
There is the one in my own constituency, the Whiterock Lodge. I'm quite happy to go into the Whiterock Lodge. I'm quite happy to co-chair or be part of any facilitation of discussions between anybody on the Orange side and anybody on the nationalist side.
I'm quite happy to learn, to be educated and to play a positive role in all of that because I'm the constituency MP. If I'm too contentious a figure, that's fair enough. I'm not precious about that. Ardoyne is another contentious one. Again we need to have the same process. And Rasharkin, we need to have the same process.
Q On the Hillsborough Castle talks, were they close to collapse at any stage?
A I always thought we were going to get there and we were able to be both patient and assertive. This was a crisis that was three years in the making.
We got a deal with Ian Paisley, a year later he was gone. Peter came in, he set out a different platform and therein lay the seeds of the fractures within the workings of that Office and the Executive.
Q There are some in the DUP who don't want to be in the same room as you.
A There are still some DUP members who won't even say hello. But there are people in there who know that the only way that unionism can exercise power is on the basis of equality and partnership. They know that. They mightn't like it, but they know it.
Q It's pretty clear — not least from a recent Belfast Telegraph snap poll of unionist MLAs — that unionists would not serve under a Sinn Fein First Minister. Would Sinn Fein accept a Joint First Minister title?
A The deputy First Minister has exactly the same power as the First Minister. So it's entirely symbolic. Martin McGuinness has exactly the same power as Peter. It's just ridiculous. What's more ridiculous is that some sections of the media repeat it almost as a truism — you couldn't have a republican First Minister because unionists wouldn't accept it. Why not?
What sort of democrats are they? What are they going to do? Are they going to do away with their ability to deal with housing, education, health and all of the issues that are pressing down on people?
Q You don't think a joint role is a way round that?
A It is a joint role. We're not that interested, to tell you the truth. We are not in this to have a First Minister, we are in this to drive a process of change.
Q On the controversy surrounding the abuse allegations against your brother Liam, would you accept there is a case for an official inquiry to look at how this case was handled by everyone, including yourself, the police and the social services.
A I've no problem with any sort of an investigation into any of these matters. I stand over everything that I said in the process of dealing with this publicly. I have desisted from dealing with it in a big way in interviews recently because the PSNI have warned me it could end up being prejudicial to whatever kind of legal process is upcoming.
Q The criticism is that you were informed of allegations in 1987, which you believed, and that despite this for 10 years or longer your brother continued in youth work and the republican movement. Is it not that child protection was a poor second?
A The issues were reported to the social services and to the RUC. That's where the issues should have been processed and should have been dealt with. I make the point again, anything I said or did in the course of trying to deal with this issue as a means of getting the victim the justice which she deserved, I stand over that.
Q To end with a question on last week's agreement — will it work?
A Absolutely. The fact is, to quote Sammy Wilson, it's made in Ulster. And to suit Martin McGuinness, this could be the most important agreement of all, not least because there was nobody in the way of it. I certainly think it will work. And if it doesn't work, then those who are not prepared to ensure that they deliver for people should never go and seek one person's vote.