Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Address by Declan Kearney to St. Andrews University

16 October, 2013


Sinn Féin National Chairperson Declan Kearney will this afternoon address a gathering at St. Andrews University in Scotland entitled, “Political Transformation in the North of Ireland”. Also speaking at the event was PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Judith Gillespie and Senior NIO representative Mark Larmour.


Full Text of Declan Kearney speech:

“This weekend twenty years ago an IRA operation on the Shankill Road resulted in the deaths of nine civilians and one IRA Volunteer, and a massive number of injuries.

The legacy of the Shankill Bomb will stay with each bereaved family and our entire community for many years. It is a legacy all republicans will share with deep regret and sorrow.

In the subsequent days unionist paramilitaries engaged in multiple killings of Catholic civilians. Several years previously they had been rearmed and reorganised under the direction of British military intelligence agencies.

Between the 23rd and 30th of October 1993 24 people were killed.

It was a very dark time in the North of Ireland.

Terrible devastation and human loss were caused by the political conflict in Ireland and in Britain.

Victims were created on and by all sides; by republicans; the British state; its forces and agencies, and by unionists.

All sides were part of the context in which the conflict occurred and continued.

Sadly that past cannot be changed or undone. Neither can it be disowned by republicans or anyone else.

However, at the same time twenty years ago engagement was taking place behind the scenes between the Sinn Féin leadership and British Government.

Republicans and the British Government knew that the only solution would be found through dialogue. There was no military solution to the political conflict.

Once that fact was embraced it became the catalyst for a huge transformation of the political situation.

From the midst of a relentless war, a peace process, which seemed unimaginable back then twenty years ago, became possible.

Within ten months of that period in October 1993 the IRA announced its first cessation in August 1994. That helped pave the way for the talks process which culminated in the Good Friday Agreement.

The Agreement was a historic compromise between former enemies. It created a framework for the Irish Peace Process.

New political institutions were established and these have become the basis of new political relationships within Ireland and between Ireland and Britain.

The Agreement itself and these institutions were based upon principles of power sharing, partnership, equality, respect and parity of esteem.

Today the North of Ireland is unrecognisable from fifteen or twenty years ago.

The Peace Process is now irreversible.

For the first time in centuries the people of Ireland and Britain have put engagement and dialogue at the heart of our relationships.

The transformation caused by this phase of our peace process now means no more citizens from Ireland or Britain need risk the lives of others, or their own lives due to political disagreement.

Indeed the Irish Peace Process is held up internationally as an example of a successful conflict resolution model. Progress is being made on a new beginning to policing, the political institutions are the only show in town, and all-Ireland institutions are in place.

However, the peace process cannot be taken for granted. We are still not at peace with ourselves. Our society is still in conflict-resolution mode.

Key fault lines continue to exist in the North in the form of endemic sectarianism, segregation in society, and enormous distrust and division created by the hurt caused during the political conflict.

The peace and political processes remain under threat from a minority of violent wreckers and militarists from within unionism and nationalism.

Many nationalist and unionist areas worst affected by the conflict continue to experience severe economic and social disadvantage.

All these represent great challenges for the peace process and the political institutions and the continuing transformation which the Good Friday Agreement began.

All the more reason then for united political partnership between unionism and republicanism, and an absolute commitment from all parties in government to power sharing and common purpose.

All the more reason for politicians to work in partnership to ensure that the Peace Process and political institutions stay on course, and continue transforming our society with new thinking, new initiatives and united leadership.

However that is not the case.

Very significant sections of political unionism are opposed to progressive political and social change.

The political actions, words and silence of unionist leaders in the face of the ongoing instability and impasse in the North over the last eighteen months, hark back to an ideology of the one party state and mono-community identity and ethos.

At its core this impasse contains an anti-democratic backlash against the change which is happening.

The current stasis in the North has been driven by a negative unionism.

Instead of embracing the process of transformation and giving courageous leadership unionist leaders have acquiesced to extremists and rejectionists.

Unionist politicians and paramilitaries are now vying with each other in a sectarian race to the bottom for votes and turf before next year’s election.

The question arises whether, faced with three years of successive elections, unionism can break from that cycle, or is it now locked into a long-term mode of negative politics.

The answer to that question is now fundamental to the future.

We have had eighteen months of poor unionist leadership; sectarian street violence, orchestrated by significant sections of unionist paramilitaries; and two destabilising marching seasons.

All of that climaxed in August with the DUP decision to renege on a decision to build a Peace and Reconciliation Centre on the Maze/Long Kesh site.

This initiative was a cornerstone of the Programme for Government agreed by the DUP, Sinn Féin and the other parties.

Against the ongoing toxic political situation, that decision has undermined partnership and power sharing at the very heart of government.

Power sharing and partnership need to be wholeheartedly embraced.

Equality, respect for difference and trust must be the bedrock of their existence.

There is no alternative to the Peace Process or the equality agenda.

Unionist leaders at this stage in our peace process need to accept that reality, and recognise it is the only way forward for all sections of our community.

It is not an option to allow politics in the North to be damaged by a destructive logic which suggests this is as good as it gets, or implies that there is an acceptable level of sectarianism, instability and political division.

The days of benchmarking politics against the lowest sectarian denominator are over.

That is the antithesis of transformation; and a barrier to a shared future. It’s the exact opposite of what our people deserve.

There is only one choice to make and that is for partnership, power sharing and reconciliation.

Republicans cannot do that on our own. We need unionist partners. And between us we need to agree new approaches, new relationships and new outcomes together.

That can be achieved by opening a new phase of our peace process which prizes the common ground of equality, respect and parity of esteem.

And, in political terms, that is the common ground which confers equal legitimacy upon the British and Irish identities, Orange and Gaelic traditions, and unionist and republican aspirations.

The principles of the Good Friday Agreement have set a standard for how our society must move forward.  They set a test for all Parties; republican and unionist.

The Peace Process continues to teach us all new lessons.

Sinn Fein is willing to be tested on our commitment to equality, mutual respect, and parity of esteem, again and again.  We will continue to pass that test.

Whether political unionism can give a similar guarantee is a question those Parties should also answer during the coming days and weeks.

How they choose to answer that question is also now fundamental to the future.

Our conflict is over.

Creating a new society at peace with itself is the next stage on our journey of transformation.

Reconciliation is the key to replacing current divisions with new human and political relationships.

None of that will be easy but engagement and dialogue are the key to build trust and agree the new compromises needed for a new beginning.

One sided discussions on any or all of this are doomed to repeat the past.

New thinking and leadership from all political leaders will be required to encourage generosity, compromise and forgiveness from us all.

Bold initiatives are needed to encourage momentum.

An initiative of common acknowledgement by all sides – British, Irish, republican and unionist – of the hurt and injustices caused by and to each other could introduce a peaceful new dynamic to the Peace Process. It could make a significant contribution to healing and create new opportunities for friendship, trust and forgiveness to grow.

Of course it would challenge us all – that is what conflict resolution is about.

But neither should we allow ourselves to be held back by the past, paralysed by the present, or frightened by the future.

The legacy of the past has become a political weapon to refight old battles and revisit change.

There are different political narratives and there is not, and may never be, a consensus.

But an inclusive reconciliation process in the here and now may create a new potential to successfully address our past.

However, the longer the British Government and political unionism play poker with our past, the more it will continue to have destabilising repercussions for the peace process.

There is much more to do to give all our people and new generations the transformed future they deserve.

Serious difficulties currently beset our political process, and whilst the Haass Talks represent an enormously important initiative, it will not substitute for the strategic interventions required from the British, Irish and US governments.

A new process of engagement between the two governments and all the parties is absolutely necessary to address the past and its implications, and all other unfinished business of the peace process through negotiation, agreement and implementation.

A new framework is needed, and sooner not later.

That is a roadmap away from the past towards a new phase of the peace process.

Towards a future based upon partnership, new relationships, and reconciliation.

Our shared ambition must be to complete that journey of political transformation begun over twenty years ago.”

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