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Martin McGuinness Address to City of Equals Conference

7 June, 2013


Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness today addressed a Sinn Féin Conference entitled “Belfast: A City of Equals in an Island of Equals”

During the course of a wide ranging address, Mr McGuiness said ‘we have still to address the past in a way that complements and assists the building of the future we are all committed to and will serve our better interests.’

He argued ‘we should also remember that the peace process would not have delivered an end to conflict without a realisation by the combatants on all sides that there would be no victors. We must, I believe, apply the same logic to the task of resolving the legacies of division and conflict.   An approach which seeks to win what was not won in conflict will lead us nowhere.

The voices of all victims must be heard, not simply the loudest voices, not simply the victims on any particular side or those on no side. The views of the many thousand victims who have remained silent must also be heard. 

So, let us have a renewed engagement on this and let us see what we can achieve.’

Addressing the issues of identity and parity of esteem, Mr McGuinness said:

‘ What does respect for the different political identities, ethos or allegiances in this city mean for me as an Irish republican.  

 Do I respect the British identity? Yes I do. A year ago I met with and welcomed Queen Elizabeth to Belfast. I hoped then that this small gesture would offer some assurance to unionists. Can I do more? Yes, of course I can. 

Like the ending of conflict, accommodation will not be achieved on a winners and losers basis.  Nor will it be achieved without leadership, without action.

 If we cast symbols, flags, parade routes, or anything else as things to be won or lost then we will only move forward at the pace of the slowest mover.

There’s a phrase in Irish, “is é an comhréiteach an réiteach is fearr” which translates into English as ‘compromise is the best solution’ We should never be ashamed of compromise, and I am proud of the agreements that we, our communities, have made over the last 15 years.’

Below is the full text of Mr McGuinness’ address

Belfast: A City of Equals in an Island of Equals 
 

Could I begin by welcoming you all to today’s conference.  Fáilte romhaibh go léir. I want to offer a particularly warm and appreciative welcome to those of you here today who are not from the nationalist or republican tradition. Your presence here,  your voice here and your input here will bring significant added value to our discussions and to what we hope to achieve here today.  

 For many of us here today this is a first small step in a discussion which is long overdue. This is the beginning of a discussion which, to be successful, must travel beyond here, beyond today and tomorrow and, one which must become more and more inclusive. The task we have set ourselves is the realisation of a City of Equals in an island of equals.   

A huge task some might say. And I would agree with that.   

An impossible task, others might say. Well, I disagree entirely with that. 

My answer to commentators, journalists and others who tell us we will never find solutions to the big issues that cause division amongst us, is to quote the words of Nelson Mandela, when he said “It always seems impossible until it is done”.

Today we take for granted many ideas and concepts which once upon a time seemed impossible, such as the right to vote, freedom of conscience, religious liberty, the separation of state and church, the public good overriding private interests.  The seeds of many of these were sown by the political ideas that the dissenting Presbyterians of this city introduced to Ireland at the end of the 18th century. 

Their ideas were not just reflected in movements for Irish independence but were the life blood of the reform movements in Irish life for improvements in the status of women, children, education, health, housing and the labour and trade union movements. Those ideas and the people responsible for promoting them still provide us with a link to each other despite generational divisions and the inherited difficulties arising out of those divisions and the associated conflicts which we are here to talk about today. 

And this link, in my opinion, along with our agreements and shared commitment to a better future for all both compels and enables us to forge new relationships, and an inclusive and shared City where harmony and equality are the basis for uniting Catholic, Protestant, Dissenter, people of all religions and none, and those who have chosen Belfast as their new home. And that then essentially is what this conference is about. It is about the future, it is about building. And clearly, this presents huge challenges to all of us, collectively and individually.

But while our concentration is on the future we cannot ignore the past.  

The legacy of conflict is with us and regrettably will always be with us. The pain, the suffering and the tragedies from decades of conflict are, for many, as real today as they were, when they first occurred. Hardly a month goes by that we are not faced with an anniversary of a past tragedy. Each such occasion evokes painful memories.   And each such occasion reminds us that we have still to address the past in a way that complements and assists the building of the future we are all committed to and will serve our better interests.
 
I want to address this very issue. 

I am a firm believer that we can deal with every issue if we get the framework right and the context right. Thus far, on this issue, we have achieved neither. The starting point for me is the reminder that the peace process is a conflict resolution process.  The conflict is over, but the work of conflict resolution goes on.  I  believe that if we locate legacy issues in the framework of conflict resolution and in the context of the broader peace process then we can address these matters in a way which will heal divisions, consolidate the peace and become guarantors of the future.

If we approach these issues on the same basis that we approached the ending the conflict then acknowledgements about the past can become a powerful dynamic which will move us again to new places that many believe are beyond us.

The peace process would not have happened without an important contribution from many people. I have always commended that contribution.  But we should also remember that the peace process would not have delivered an end to conflict without a realisation by the combatants on all sides that there would be no victors. 

We must, I believe, apply the same logic to the task of resolving the legacies of division and conflict.   

An approach which seeks to win what was not won in conflict will lead us nowhere.  

Many victims seek truth recovery; the acknowledgement of corporate responsibility for what happened to them and/or their loved ones. They are entitled to hold this position.

But these, I believe, will only be advanced on the same basis that we secured an end to conflict. There are no winners.

The voices of all victims must be heard, not simply the loudest voices, not simply the victims on any particular side or those on no side. The views of the many thousand victims who have remained silent must also be heard. 

So, let us have a renewed engagement on this and let us see what we can achieve.  

 I am confident the outcome will be positive. Others will have justifiable doubts about such a context, about the outworking of such an approach. They are entitled to feel so. The onus is on those who are in leadership to show leadership.

Let us concentrate our collective genius on dealing with the past, on the here and now and on building a better future. The present status quo serves none of our people well. We can do so much better.

We need to set a new direction of travel, towards the future, towards new generations, towards the embrace of new possibilities and I dearly hope, the emergence of new human and political relationships. We need an inclusive public discourse on reconciliation in our society.

Agreeing through dialogue and engagement with each other that we should unite in shaping a new context for ourselves, will in itself become a catalyst for change. The dismantling of fear, distrust, division and segregation in our community is a must do for all of us.

If we can agree a common charter on the way forward, one premised on the principles of equality, mutual respect and parity of esteem then we can surely make huge advances.

These are not new concepts of course. Like the idea of a City of Equals, they are easy to verbalise, easy to commit to. Yes that is the easy bit. But what do they ask of us in terms of action.
 
Maybe today is too early to define the actions. As an opener though lets try and define the context that is broader than the cliché but not too broad to allow us to hide within it without, in the same way as I alluded to with respect to dealing with the past, challenging our thinking.

 For me, equality means equality for everyone. A city of equals means the promotion of inclusivity, it means eradicating marginalisation.   It means equality for the old, young, male, female, gay, straight, religious, atheists, black, white, football supporters, punks, Irish speakers, orange, green, workers, drinkers, ex-prisoners, business people, Chinese, Indian, Polish and all other ethnic minorities. It means equality for the able, the disabled, for runners, walkers and musicians and on and on and on…

And similarly with parity of esteem and mutual respect.  We can ask each other difficult questions about all of these matters.  But first of all let us ask ourselves some difficult questions.
 
Almost half of this city is unionist. Almost half of this city is nationalist.

 What does respect for the different political identities, ethos or allegiances in this city mean for me as an Irish republican.  

 Do I respect the British identity? Yes I do. A year ago I met with and welcomed Queen Elizabeth to Belfast. I hoped then that this small gesture would offer some assurance to unionists. Can I do more? Yes, of course I can. 

Like the ending of conflict, accommodation will not be achieved on a winners and losers basis.  Nor will it be achieved without leadership, without action.

 If we cast symbols, flags, parade routes, or anything else as things to be won or lost then we will only move forward at the pace of the slowest mover.

There’s a phrase in Irish, “is é an comhréiteach an réiteach is fearr” which translates into English as ‘compromise is the best solution’ We should never be ashamed of compromise, and I am proud of the agreements that we, our communities, have made over the last 15 years.

The Good Friday Agreement was 15 years ago. For the majority of people it represented an end to war, the triumph of dialogue over violent conflict, inclusion over exclusion, equality over hierarchy. The outworking of it means that all decisions are based upon power sharing as equals, and that our people are represented as equals in a power sharing Executive.

The Agreement was a leveling of the political playing field in the north - the first time since partition. It allows me as an Irish Republican to map out a peaceful and democratic path to the reunification of Ireland. It enshrines in law the rights of citizens in the north to their Irish identity and offers the same checks, balances, rights and responsibilities to the unionist people.

What we need to do now is build on the success of the past rather than try to unpick it or watch it unravel. 

Let us  start with a commitment to a City of Equals. We can do this easily. 

Let us define then what it should or could mean for everyone, especially those less well-off and disadvantaged. We can do that easily also.
And then there is the harder bit. Let each of us set out what we can do on our own steam to advance this objective. And let us act accordingly. 

Let us deal with the past but not become entrapped by it. Let us rebuild relationships not on the basis of recrimination but on the basis of equality.

A new agreed equal Ireland will not build itself. The foundations are there for a better future, a future that is shared and for a future based on respect and parity of esteem for identity, on the basis of respect and tolerance.

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