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Deputy First Minister opens Abolition of Slavery Exhibition

6 November, 2007

Sinn Féin deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MP MLA today described slavery as a manifestation of racism and greed as he opened a new exhibition in Belfast to mark the abolition of the slave trade.

Speaking at the "Hidden Connections" exhibition at the Linenhall Library, Mr McGuinness said he found it hard to believe that slavery was ever acceptable.

"As the title of the exhibition implies, Ireland's involvement in the slave trade has remained largely hidden. It has long been assumed that society here had little or no involvement in the slave trade. But it was enormously significant to the history of this island.

"There were many people who were involved, either as opponents of slavery or as traders with slave colonies. We need to face the fact that many Irish people became rich on the proceeds of black slavery.

"Slavery, a manifestation of racism and greed, sadly continues to this day with an estimated 20 million people living their lives in slavery and servitude. We still witness racism in our own society and while government has a vital role to play, it is the responsibility of everyone to challenge it when it occurs," the Minister added.

Mr McGuinness also paid tribute to those who campaigned and fought against slavery including many of the founders of the Linenhall Library.

"In Government we are determined to challenge racism in whatever form it manifests itself and to lead in the fight against it. We recognise that the long standing divisions in our community, combined with the recent increase in migration here, call for an imaginative and pro-active approach to improving relations and combating discrimination.

"As we build an inclusive society for our increasingly diverse community we must acknowledge and tackle all forms of division and prejudice, whatever their basis. I recognise that it will not be easy but perhaps we can all draw inspiration from the people whose courage and determination in the past helped fight slavery and whom we are celebrating in this exhibition." ENDS

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