FATHER Alec Reid, hailed by some as the Irish Ghandi for his crucial behind-the-scenes role in preparing the ground for the Good Friday Agreement told the Bulletin last night that the conflict is over and now reconciliation can begin. Reid knew of Sinn Fein's decision to reverse decades of opposition to the province's law and order system a month ago when Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams called him to announce that they were prepared to agree with the British government on all issues. Events over the weekend are historic, the Irish have been fighting invaders, the English and the Normans, for 800 years, the English for the past 400. That is now over, Father Reid said. Sinn Fein's decision to back the Police Service of Northern Ireland is a monumental move which will now have a domino effect and speed up the peace process and power-sharing. The security forces of the North have been instrumental in the conflict but now Sinn Fein has agreed to help and work with the police force, and help Northern Ireland continue as part of the United Kingdom, the Unionists will see they have nothing to fear from the Nationalists and that they can work together. The Unionists can now relax and we can all set about reconciliation, Father Reid said. Sinn Fein made a really big decision, he added. We have known all along that, once the police issue was settled, everything else would be settled too. Sinn Fein's u-turn would have given Reid a great deal of satisfaction, in 1994 he persuaded the IRA to lay down their arms for the first time and has been pivotal to the peace process ever since.
And it is his experience that brings him to Spain.
Father Reid now spends much of his time in the Basque Country and has been invited by the Basque separatists group ETA to participate in the Spanish peace process.
Yesterday he said that the Spanish process is still very much alive, despite ETA's car bomb which killed two people at Madrid airport last month.
Reid said that the bombing was carried out in response to the Spanish government's apparent failure and sluggishness in fulfilling its part of the ceasefire, the tenth ETA has called in the past ten years. In fairness, the government is working hard at the process but until the rights of the Basque community are recognised, there can never be an agreement without their consent. Whatever is decided affects them and they have to be consulted. They have rights just like the Unionists and the Nationalists in Ireland. Once there is respect, there can be dialogue and that is going to be the only way a solution can be found. ETA want peace and if it was a simple case of the Socialists and the Nationalists sitting round the same table, it would be reached, but the Partido Popular with its ten million voters continue to be a big problem, said Reid. At the end of the day, the Nationalists and the Socialists want the same thing. But while the judges declare Batasuna, ETA's political wing, illegal, and ban all marches and public meetings, how can the peace process move forward? The government cannot legalise Batasuna but what it can, and should do, is change the political party law and then Batasuna would be able to establish itself as a legal party with a new constitution and serious cross-party talks can then take place. ETA's demands are far from outrageous. For example, they are not asking for an amnesty on ETA prisoners, just that they are moved to prisons closer to home, in particular those prisoners who are extremely sick. There is common ground and ETA are committed to peace but, in the end, we're all in the hands of God. All we can do is provide the human resources.
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