Challenging Sectarianism and Bigotry – Adams
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD will this evening address a public meeting in St. Kevin’s Hall, north Queen Street, Belfast.
It is the latest in a series of ‘town hall’ meetings that Mr Adams and other senior Sinn Féin figures have been holding.
In his remarks this evening, which will focus on the need to combat bigotry and sectarianism the Sinn Féin leader will call for:
A legal definition of sectarianism in anti-sectarian legislation, including robust provisions to deal with incitement to hatred.
And the development of a citizens anti-sectarian charter.
A Bill of Rights to copper fasten the entitlement of all citizens to live free from all forms of sectarian harassment, bigotry and intolerance.
Text of Mr Adams remarks:
“I want to return to the theme that I addressed in Enniskillen.
My mistake then was to use a swear word.
For that I have said mea culpa.
That’s Latin Gregory not Irish.
I accept that some people have been offended by my use of a swear word but sometimes even when something is said in an inappropriate way it can spark a positive debate.
It is my strong hope that this might be the case.
It is also my strong view that we need to face up to intolerance, bigotry, racism, homophobia and misogyny.
Earlier this evening I looked up the definition of a bigot on the web site Dictionary.com.
It described a bigot as a person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion.
It went on to say that, ‘The bigot is like the pupil of the eye; the more light you put upon it, the more it will contract’.
And that took my fancy.
Because my understanding of that is that the more you shine a light on bigotry the more you force it to contract.
And of course we should start with ourselves.
Republicanism cannot, by its very nature, be ‘intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion’.
Of course we can disagree with others and we should be totally intolerant of poverty, injustice, inequality and bigotry but we have to uphold the right to religious and political freedom.
In other words we must defend the right of citizens to have different creeds, beliefs and opinions.
Because republicanism has to be about the empowerment of citizens and about citizen’s rights.
It is about equality, solidarity, and freedom.
So, anyone who expresses sectarian or racist or homophobic or misogynist views has no place in our ranks.
But how do we deal with bigots within wider society?
How do we deal with sectarianism?
The northern state is a sectarian state.
It was established on this basis.
When Unionism was in control it abused these institutions and used its political power to sustain its control.
It was as one unionist Prime Minister put it; ‘a protestant Parliament for a Protestant people.’
Catholics were the main target of this sectarianism and victims of state policies of discrimination.
Sectarianism is a device to keep citizens in their place.
Nationalists in north Belfast know this.
But sectarianism also keeps working class Protestants in their place, divided from their Catholic neighbours and distrustful of them even though in many cases living conditions, particularly for all poor working class people, are similar.
Because this is a sectarian state and because unionism could not be trusted to govern fairly the outcomes of the Good Friday Agreement and the Saint Andrews Agreement are all-Ireland in nature, particularly in their institutions.
There are also many equality and other legal safe guards built into the new political dispensation.
These include compulsory powersharing and partnership.
Thinking unionism knows that this will be the case for as long as the new dispensation lasts.
Fair minded unionist MLAs have come to terms with this reality.
They fulfil their political duties in a positive way.
They also appreciate that these safeguards are to their advantage and for their protection, as the constitutional position changes in the future.
Others, inside and outside the Northern Assembly, toy with the idea that the system of governance can be changed back to the old failed system.
The truth is the new political dispensation will deliver for everyone when all of the political parties entered into the spirit as well as the letter of power sharing.
The bigots will not like that but they will contract as a result.
Any suggestion that the compulsory nature of the power sharing arrangements can be changed is dishonest and misleading.
That’s the reality.
Those who argue for this position know that it is unattainable.
All politicians who have a real interest in a future that embraces everyone must set their faces against sectarianism.
Shameful racist attacks show another unacceptable aspect of our society.
Racism and sectarianism are two sides of the one coin.
If there is any tolerance for sectarianism, and in my view there is, it is little wonder that racism thrives.
It also needs to be confronted.
On a positive note and there’s always a focus here on parading; one of the most successful and popular, and biggest parades in this city, is the pride parade.
That’s the real face of the new Belfast.
Political leaders need to work together to challenge those who prefer the old ways.
The key to ending sectarianism is in the hands of political and civic leaders.
The Good Friday Agreement provides the political framework and governing principles to facilitate the conduct of politics and the co-existence of distinct and competing political traditions and aspirations.
However, the failure of all parties, including the two governments, to fully embrace and promote the principles of mutual respect, parity of esteem, equality and the right to live free from sectarian harassment, and to pursue political goals through peaceful politics, means that the culture of sectarianism retards the primacy of democratic politics.
The fact is that for as long as the attitudes and agents of sectarianism and segregation remain unchallenged division and polarisation will be perpetuated, intolerance and bigotry will continue, and the potential for instability will remain.
The culture and practice of sectarianism and associated community segregation remain politically and socially endemic today.
They are not a working class phenomenon.
They are not exclusive to poor and disadvantaged neighbourhoods, although they are most obvious there.
Sectarianism significantly influences our society’s approach to educational preference, choice of sport, where we live, how and where we socialise and to some degree where we secure employment.
In my view the vast majority of citizens don’t want to live like this.
They don’t want our children or grandchildren to live like this.
Sectarianism demeans us all.
It cannot be tolerated and it must be eradicated.
Republicans and nationalists have to accept that someone who is British has the right to be comfortable and cherished and comfortable on this island.
We have to accept that a citizen can be Irish and unionist.
Our vision is one where orange and green can unite in cordial union.
Interestingly enough James Craig recognised this when he said, ‘In this island we cannot live always separated from one another. We are too small to be apart or for the border to be there for all time. The change will not come in my time but it will come.’
Are these issues being discussed during the current talks?
I’m afraid not.
But they need to be.
There is an urgent need for a Bill of Rights to copper fasten the entitlement of all citizens to live free from all forms of sectarian harassment, bigotry and intolerance.
In addition international best practice should inform the entrenchment of a legal definition of sectarianism in anti-sectarian legislation, including robust provisions to deal with incitement to hatred.
Sinn Féin also favours the development of a citizens anti-sectarian charter, as has been promoted by some progressive elements who are seeking to build an inclusive reconciliation process.
Such a process, if it had critical mass support and momentum could re-energise politics and open up a new phase of the peace process.
That needs to be the focus of all parties, including the two governments as the talks become more intense.
We need to be problem solvers.
The bigots cannot be allowed to win.
That is not the will of the people.
The will of the people is for an inclusive tolerant peaceful future.”