Sinn Féin activist yesterday gathered in Guladuff, County Derry for the annual Six County Cuige AGM. The meeting was addressed by deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. In the course of a wide ranging address Mr McGuinness dealt with the ongoing political fallout in the wake of the Haass negotiation.
Mr McGuinness said:
“The Haass Talks were like previous negotiations marked by a willingness by Republicans to take risks, to stretch ourselves and to seek to make agreements which consolidate the Peace Process, bed down further the political institutions and offer hope and opportunity for all citizens, particularly our young people.
It is a matter of regret that political unionism did not come to the table with the same objectives or intent. I believe not only was this a mistake, it is a disservice not just to the political process but more importantly to the vast majority of people from whatever background or tradition they come from.
I believe strongly that ordinary unionists want to see their political leaders make agreements. They want to see their political leaders reach compromises. They want to see their political leaders be peace makers.
Unfortunately over the past 12 months it is the tiny minority have shouted the loudest; who have thrown the most stones and petrol bombs; who have blocked the most roads have been the ones allowed to influence the political direction of unionism instead of the silent majority who seek peace with their neighbours and an Assembly and Executive delivering for them and their children.
Despite this I am proud of the fact that despite the provocations, despite the negativity and the deliberate attempts to derail the efforts, Republicans were able to respond with generosity and with a total desire to see progress made. That was evidenced by the decision of the Ard Chomhairle last weekend to endorse the Haass package as the basis for moving forward. The five political parties, supported by the Irish and British governments now need to make this happen.
The final Haass document is a compromise. It is not a Republican script. How would it ever be, it was the product of negotiations involving five parties. One party leader Mike Nesbitt claimed before the end of the talks that he was 80 or 90% content with the text. Well I have some advice for Mr Nesbitt as someone who is new to these sorts of negotiations from someone who has been around them all – if you have 80 or 90% of what you want in a negotiation – close the deal!!
I note that Peter Robinson has responded in the media to my interview on the View on Thursday evening. Suffice to say this. There has been a leadership deficit within some sections of political unionism for a long time. There is very important work to do to give all our people the society they deserve. That is the responsibility of every party not some.
Peter says I have a visceral hatred of the Orange Order. This is not true. I want to see the Orange treating its catholic neighbours with respect. I want to see it upholding law and order. I respect the Loyal Orders right to march. They do that without incident in my city. That is what should happen everywhere. I am happy to meet the Orange at any time and discuss these matters. Orange is one of our country's national colours. The Orange Order of Ireland is one of our national traditions. I want all our traditions to live together in peace and respect and with tolerance from everyone for everyone.
I have to say I am frustrated at the failure of political unionism to so far take that leap into a better future. The issues involved in the Haass Talks are not going away. They need resolved. It is simply not tolerable to allow these matters to hold back progress and even worse contaminate the daily business of trying to deliver for citizens who want to see welfare, education, health and other issues to the fore, not those we have spent so much time on over the past 12 months.
But to your credit as activists and members of Sinn Féin you have not allowed the issues around flags or parades to deflect you from our job – to build our party, to advance our struggle and to create the political conditions within which Irish reunification will happen.”