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Short, sharp negotiation should begin immediately – O'Neill

6 September, 2017 - by Michelle O'Neill


INTRODUCTION

Dia daoibh agus maidin mhaith.

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chuir romhaibh go dtí an comhdháil seo.

Ar dtús ba mhaith liom a leagan amach cá háit a bhfuil rudaí ó thuaidh.

Good morning and welcome to today’s conference.

Yesterday we discussed a wide range of issues and planned the way forward.

This morning I want to focus on the Talks in the North and Brexit.

This Saturday will mark nine months since our dear friend, leader and colleague, Martin McGuinness announced his resignation as deputy First Minister as a direct result of the DUP's failure to accept the principles of power sharing and parity of esteem, to implement previous agreements and because of their handling of the RHI crisis.

Let there be no doubt – Martin McGuinness did the right thing, at the right time.

As a member of the Executive I witnessed how he led the way in working with successive DUP leaders, he continually reached out to unionists on the basis of equality, respect and reconciliation.

He did so because it was the right thing to do and I am firmly committed to continuing on with that legacy.

The Sinn Féin track record in the Executive speaks for itself.  We not only worked the institutions, but heavily invested in them over the last ten years up unto the point of collapse.

Over the course of the last nine months we have fought two elections.  The people understood the importance of these elections and this was reflected in voter turnout – the largest since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

The support for the Sinn Féin party in both the Assembly and Westminster elections was an endorsement of a new way – a demand for absolute respect, integrity and common decency and rights for all – a demand for power-sharing as it was originally agreed.

An overwhelming majority of the nationalist community have given their support to our party.

And we will use that support to be a driving force for good and lead the North forward into a new political era where citizens have rights, and those rights are delivered and respected regardless of who you are or where you come from.

There cannot be and won't be any tolerance of inequality, discrimination or second-class citizenship for anyone in our society – women, LGBT, Irish speakers, ethnic minorities.

POLITICAL TALKS

There has been 3 phases of talks to date, 3 phases, which have not produced the right basis to form a sustainable executive.

I will update you on the current state of play.

But first, I want to take the opportunity today to address directly, the claims by some of our political opponents that Sinn Fein does not want the political institutions restored in the north - either because, they claim, we want to destabilise the north or even more bizarrely, that we do not want to re-enter the Executive so as to maximise our electoral prospects here in the South.

These assertions are not only untrue, but are patently absurd, illogical and do not stack up – and here is why;

Firstly, and put simply, it is not in our strategic interests. Our political strategy is premised on effective and functioning Government.

We are fully committed to the Good Friday Agreement - an agreement, which we negotiated and signed up to.

We are committed to these institutions because they provide the democratic vehicle for addressing the day-to-day issues, which confront the people of the North.

Secondly, we want the political institutions restored because they include critical all-Ireland structures, delivering important benefits for all the people of this island and under-scoring the benefits of all-Ireland approaches and actions. These include practical examples of co-operation in areas such as children’s cardiac services and cancer services in the North-West at Altnagelvin.

Lastly, Micheál Martin cannot genuinely believe what he is saying, and if he does, he is being badly advised in relation to the North. He and others who make such bogus arguments know that they fly in the face of logic, do so only to serve their own narrow self-interests.

Sinn Féin wants to bring about fundamental societal change North and South. This therefore requires us to be in government in both Dublin and Belfast.

I reject absolutely the arrogance of the Fianna Fáil Leader and others in Fine Gael who say Sinn Féin is not fit for government in Dublin. I have a message for them. The people will decide that.

For us part of delivering this societal change means the implementation of outstanding agreements in the North. The Irish government has a leadership responsibility to hold the British government to account on these issues. Thus far it has not succeeded in doing so.

Irish language rights are a central part of the Good Friday Agreement and Acht na Gaeilge is a part of the 2006 St Andrew’s Agreement.

This issue has both practical and symbolic importance in recognising and respecting Irish national identity.

Many citizens may not speak Irish but believe that those citizens who wish to should have the protection of the law. And I welcome Arlene Foster’s recent acknowledgement of this.

Irish language speakers are entitled to the same language rights as enjoyed by citizens in other parts of these islands.

Marriage equality is another one of the rights based issues that is at the heart of the current political impasse. Who can logically explain to a loving couple why they cannot marry in the North, but can do so here in this State and elsewhere on these isles?

It is time for progressive politics. A new era and a shared society, which means equality and respect for every citizen regardless of who you are, where you’re from, or who you love.

It's time for the British government to stop denying families access to legacy inquest funding. They need to stop hiding behind the guise of so called national security and make the funding available in line with the lord chief justice request. They must act without further delay.

So many challenges remain and we in the Sinn Féin leadership will continue to play our part to make every effort to find a political solution to the political crisis that exists.

However, any attempt to put the cart before the horse and form an Executive while at the same time having a parallel negotiation would guarantee failure from the outset. A new Executive would be hamstrung from the beginning, so let’s get it right.

In the past fortnight I have met with all the party leaders and both Governments.

And the Sinn Féin and DUP leaderships have for more than a week now been engaged in intensified dialogue to determine whether political progress is possible.

We do believe progress is possible and are therefore ready to re-engage in formal negotiations together, and with the other parties and both Governments, to try and reach agreement in a short, sharp and focussed negotiation.

This process should begin immediately.

BREXIT

One of the most severe challenges Ireland will face is Brexit.

It will dominate and radically change the political landscape for years to come.

We all know the impact it will have on our business, trade, agri food, tourism and other sectors of the economy, with the imposition of trade tariffs, a border and other detrimental limitations placed upon us.

Our economy, just like our population, does not exist in splendid isolation. Our collective economic future lies with relationships north, south and east and west. The threat to the economy arising from Brexit cannot be over stated.

There is growing concern in the north and on the entire island of Ireland about the economic consequences of Brexit, the negative implications of which are already becoming clear.

A special status relationship outside of the EU would do little to deal with the massive political, social and economic challenges thrown up by Brexit.

The North of Ireland is collateral damage in what is a reckless Tory agenda and while the majority of Assembly members in the North are anti-Brexit who will argue the case for our unique and special circumstances, the onus is firmly on Simon Coveney and the Irish government to defend the national interests of the entire island.

We cannot withstand exclusion from the single market and customs union, allow the return of borders of the past or deny citizen’s access to the European Courts of Justice.

There is an urgent need for new thinking.

Sinn Féin believes that the only credible approach is for the north to be designated a special status within the EU and for the whole island of Ireland to remain within the EU together.

We also believe strongly that the EU itself must be radically reformed which must be decided by all member states as equals rather than the dominant forces within it.

CONCLUSION

There are clear challenges that need to be addressed head on.

The route map to establishing the executive is clear, it’s reasonable and it’s achievable. Implement previous agreements, deliver equality for all and embrace genuine partnership government.

That’s when we will establish a sustainable executive.

That respects all citizens now;

That delivers citizen’s rights now;

And wins public confidence now.

Míle buíochas.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go leor.

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