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Securing the Future – Martin McGuinness MLA (Address to Sinn Féin Youth An Comhdail)

2 March, 2013


Securing the Future – Martin McGuinness MLA

Address to Sinn Féin Youth An Comhdail

It is a great pleasure to be invited here this afternoon to close this year’s An Comhdail

I know the past 12 months have been one of reorganisation and building for the youth wing of the party.

And like everything else we do organisationally this is a vital area of work.

Republicanism all of the time needs to be renewing – renewing our membership, renewing our politics and renewing the way we do our business.

We do not have the luxury of standing still.

You are the first generation of young Republicans sine partition who have grew up without the scourge of war as a backdrop to your politics.

You are the generation of Republican leaders who have developed your politics and your aspirations in a political playing field that was for the first time level. Levelled by the Good Friday Agreement and the principles of equality and respect, which underpin it.

Your identity, your politics and your outlook is rooted in Irish Republicanism but secure enough in its own right to be open to debate and discussion with others from a different viewpoint.

And I commend the event you have put together this weekend. It would be very easy to construct a conference where we simply talk to ourselves. It shows a certain confidence to open this event to other voices and other opinions and sets out a marker to us all about how we need to do politics going forward.

And I also commend those unionist voices who are confident enough in their politics to come here to the Felons club and engage in debate and discussion about the sort of society we want to build on this island in the years ahead.

The past three months have been bad ones for the peace process and for those of us wedded to the creation of a new type of politics and a new type of society.

I have listened very carefully to the various reasons being put forward by those involved in the protests and in the violence. Indeed I have met with some of those involved. None of them can excuse what has been happened on our streets.

I know from experience what it is like to feel discriminated against, to feel powerless and to feel under threat. Nobody should be in that position in 2013. The unique political structures we operate within lend themselves to political opponents being able to exercise power jointly and in a spirit of respect and equality for the benefit of all citizens. There is space for everyone in the process.

It is my firm view that issues of identity and culture have been quite cynically used by some to promote their own narrow sectarian agenda. The result has seen dozens of young Protestants arrested and jailed and the community in the Short Strand put under siege while those who set the path sit happily in their ivory tower denying culpability and blame.

Far better those young people, who clearly care about their community, where in forums like this, discussing the future with their republican peers, than lying in Hydebank or Maghaberry.

There is a better way to do business. We must return to the basics of the Good Friday Agreement. A commitment to non violence, a need for inclusivity, a respect for difference and a commitment to reach agreements.

Difficult issues are not insurmountable issues. But difficult issues will not be resolved on the streets or at the front of City Hall on a Saturday afternoon. Difficult issues are resolved through dialogue, through engagement and ultimately through compromise and agreement.

I will absolutely guarantee the right of any citizen here to their British identity. All I ask in return is for the same respect and recognition to be given to my Irishness. For too long we have approached issues of identity as wins or losses for one community or another. That is not sustainable going forward.

It disappoints me that we have not yet got to the stage where political unionism can give the same absolute guarantee that I have just given about identity going forward. I genuinely want to hear from a Gregory Campbell or Mike Nesbitt about how they see protecting and respecting the Irish identity of their neighbours as we build a shared society and likewise I am sure unionists are interested in how their British identity is given equal respect and protection by political leaders like me.

But building the sort of new Ireland I want to see has to be about much more than issues of identity or symbolism. It must be about real substance – it must be about delivering a future where young people aren’t forced to emigrate and can get access to a first class education system across the island. We have made a welcome move in recent months when we as an Executive have managed to secure EMA for students here at the same time the British government have abolished it in their jurisdiction.

In the course of the past year or so Sinn Féin have sought to engage with a cross section of society in exploring the prospects for constructing a genuine process of reconciliation. This has involved private events and indeed public events like the one here this afternoon.

I have to say the response from political unionism while predictable has been a disappointment. I think the political leadership of unionism is behind where many ordinary unionists are on this issue. I think there is a realisation across society that the sticking plaster approach or even the head in the sand approach to dealing with the past isn’t sustainable going forward.

Such an approach is not only short sighted it is in my opinion selling all of your generation short. It is simply wrong that people like those gathered here, who have developed your politics in an environment of peace see the political process contaminated and distorted by a failure to tackle in a proper way the legacy of our troubled past.

And that provokes challenges for republicans also. Reconciliation is not a one way street. Republicans caused much hurt also. We need to recognise that and deal with it in a proper fashion. Declan Kearney has characterised this as a difficult conversation we as a society need to have. Difficult as it may be not having it stores much more difficulties for us and for you in the future.

I am an optimist. I am confident in you and your generation. I am also confident in the political system we have built. I am also confident that in the future new negotiations will be had. New agreements will be reached. More positive change will be delivered. More relationships will be built.

The sort of society I want to see, at peace with itself, built upon equality and mutual respect has the foundations already laid. That happened 15 years ago in Castle Buildings. Since then despite ups and downs steady sure progress has been made. Now is the time to grasp the potential that is there and raise us to a new level. You as young political activists need to play your role in that. Your voice is important, but even more important is your contribution. You need to step forward and you need to actively build the sort of Ireland you want to see. You need to engage with your peers from whatever political background or none.

Transforming our island is a massive challenge. Rebuilding broken relationships and creating new ones is central to that nation building task. But as Republicans it is our duty to reach out and to build. To stretch ourselves and our politics. You can only do that if we are confident in our own vision and our own belief that a united Ireland offers the best hope for the future and for all of the citizens who live on this island.

Let us secure the new future that is out there. Not doing so is not an option for me, for you or for Ireland.

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