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Adams - Reaching out to Unionists

25 May, 2003

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP this morning vowed to continue to reach out to unionism, not only to move beyond the current crisis but also as part of a genuine process of national reconciliation. The Sinn Féin leader said that a lasting peace is a collective responsibility, which we all share and that republicans will continue to lead by word and deed.

Mr. Adams said:

Despite the difficulties we all currently face due to the collapse of the institutions, the cancellation of the elections and the failure to implement the Good Friday Agreement, I strongly believe that republicans and nationalists need to approach northern Protestants in the language of invitation. This should be reflected in the words and political concepts we use daily.

Sinn Féin's engagement with the unionist community is a sincere effort to listen to and understand unionist concerns. I am aware of the gulf of mistrust that exists between republicans and unionists. I know that thirty years of conflict makes it difficult for Unionists to hear what I have to say but I would ask them to listen to and accept my words as my personal attempt to address their concerns.

I would also ask that Unionists, in the same spirit, to recognise and address republican and nationalist concerns about unionist intentions. Today more than ever, I am convinced that the only way forward is through dialogue, reconciliation and accommodation. These values continue to underpin my engagement with the unionist community. These are the values, which are the foundation of change in our society.

Sinn Féin recognises and accepts the difficulties caused for pro-Agreement unionists and others by allegations of IRA activities in the recent past. These allegations have added to the difficulties within unionism. I also know that rejectionists have exploited these difficulties in an attempt to subvert the peace process and to undermine the process of political change. Republicans must rise above that narrow agenda. We must recognise that unionists do have real concerns and republicans must genuinely address these concerns.

I also believe that the IRA recognises and accepts those difficulties. In its April 13 statement the IRA directly addressed the unionist community, expressing its willingness to listen and learn in an effort to understand unionists perceptions. The IRA said that they want to enhance the climate at all levels of society so that unionists and loyalists, nationalists and republicans, free from threats to their rights and safety, can engage together in community, political and other areas of cooperation and work. The IRA also made clear that it poses no threat to the unionist people or to the peace process.

I believe that these comments are a sincere effort by the IRA to address unionist concerns. That is how it should be. Republicans at all levels must reach out to unionists as part of a process of national reconciliation.

Irish republicans do not want anyone to go into the space that nationalists and republicans in the north are vacating. We want to close that space down. We do not want anyone to be treated the way we were treated. But the truth must be faced if we are to leave the past behind. Unionism presided over a system of institutionalised sectarianism for over 50 years. The refusal to face that fact and accept that there must be change disturbs nationalists. The constant stalling of the Good Friday Agreement, particularly in the areas of equality and justice undermines the peace process and the process of reconciliation.

I say this, not by way of recrimination but in the context of looking f orward and ensuring that as we move closer to our goals that we do not repeat a similar injustice. We know that the social disadvantage and deprivation, which exists in republican and nationalist communities across this island also exists in loyalist and unionist communities in the north.

The Protestant working class in many ways have been politically abandoned and in some cases left to the mercy of sectarian gangs, which are now engaged in wholesale criminality.

The people of the Shankill and other unionist working class areas deserve a better future than this. Sinn Féin wants to see the standard of living of all sections of the community raised through meaningful employment, and the provision of social amenities, places of recreation and better housing.

There is a particular problem at interfaces, which has made life intolerable for those living in these areas. Sinn Féin has been involved in attempts to deal with this issue over recent years and we will return to this with specific proposals in the coming days.

In the immediate short-term steps must be taken by all sides to ensure that the marching season is peaceful. Everyone has the right to live free from sectarian harassment and every effort must be made to prevent a reoccurrence of the disturbances which makes life insufferable, particularly for communities on interface areas.

But a prolonged and consistent policy, which will remove social grievances and reduce alienation in loyalist and unionist working class areas, is essential. We have been arguing for this consistently, including in the recent negotiations with both governments.

Sinn Féin has also argued publicly and in the political negotiations that there must be safeguards and protection for the identity and culture of Unionists in the context of a United Ireland. They have a right to ownership in a new Ireland and that new Ireland must reflect this.

Nationalists and unionists, republicans and loyalists have to come to terms with and recognise each other's integrity. We recognise that for many people who live in the north of Ireland their sense of Britishness, however that is defined, is as important to them as being Irish is to us.

Sinn Féin is wedded to the peace process. We want to share the future with unionists on a democratic and equal basis. We are committed to partnership, to an agreement that binds us to a common purpose of a fair and equal society, free from violence, intimidation and in which the rights of all are respected.

Republicans are committed to working with unionists to secure for everyone the political structures and democratic processes that allow us to achieve the kind of society that truly serves the needs of all our people.

We are committed to a peaceful future, where unionists and nationalists alike benefit from a new political system. But for this to happen we need to work together. Our collective task, in fact our collective obligation, is to make the process of change peaceful and constructive for all. It is this imperative that will guide our engagement with unionism in the time ahead."ENDS

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