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Unionism needs to move now rather than later for the sake of all - Gerry Kelly

7 February, 2014 - by Gerry Kelly

Addressing the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in Wexford tonight, Gerry Kelly said:

"Richard Haass was invited to Ireland by the Joint First Ministers; Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson because the discussions around Flags and Emblems, Parades and Protests as well as contending with the past had been going around in circles for a number of years.

Neither Haass or Meghan O’Sullivan had any agenda outside of assisting and facilitating agreement on the three seemingly intractable issues. After six months of intense negotiations, which ended in late December the final Haass/O’Sullivan report was published.

This was by no means a Sinn Féin document. We presented and published our Republican submissions at the beginning of the process. Neither was the document a Unionist manifesto. It was, however, a workable compromise, which if implemented, could have been a huge step forward on the road to post conflict reconciliation.

The document was the best call of international, independent, facilitators who had completed a wide-ranging consultation and negotiation. What they asked at the end was for the five parties represented on the power-sharing Executive to agree to their findings.

Despite our reservations the Sinn Féin Negotiating Team agreed that, if implemented, it provided a basis to move forward and this was endorsed by the Ard Comhairle. The SDLP and Alliance Party took a similar view.

While Mike Nesbitt of the UUP stated publicly that he believed the document went 80% to 90% of the way to their position he politically summersaulted to rejecting it at the last moment. The DUP followed suit.

Republicans stretched themselves, as they rightly should, for the greater good of the people. Unionists on the other hand failed to show the necessary leadership. This failure of leadership is not new and manifests itself in the competitive rush of Unionist political parties to brief such arch bigots as Willie Frazer and Jamie Bryson. While abandoning ‘Middle Unionism’ they court the lowest common denominator of active loyalist paramilitaries, flag protesters and intransigent members of urban loyal orders.

This is not a new phenomenon since these same political parties have used and abused these elements from their inception.

Yet, for all the rhetoric around the philosophy of never, never, never, never, Political Unionism has been moved.  The once large Party that was the UUP was brought across the line in the GFA in 1998. The DUP was brought into the Power-Sharing Executive in 2007 and moved yet again in the Hillsborough Agreement of 2010. They are not immune to public opinion though they often act as if they are.

Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan are home in the USA but good work was done here. The document is still on the table and it isn’t going to go away you know!

Neither are the three toxic issues which bedevil political progress. What Unionism must realise by now is that it’s better to make the move sooner rather than later perhaps for their own sake but certainly, for the sake of the people we collectively represent.”

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