Declan Kearney, National Chairperson of Sinn Féin, address to the British Irish Association
“The events of the last few weeks in Belfast have been first and foremost a tragedy for the families of Jock Davison and Kevin McGuigan.
“Those murders were appalling and have been publicly condemned by Sinn Féin leaders. We have called for every assistance to be given to the police investigation so those responsible can be brought to justice.
"Let me be clear; both murders were carried out by criminals. Those responsible were not republicans; they were criminals and enemies of the peace process. In the weeks that followed, these murders have been cynically exploited by political unionism for narrow party political self interest.
“Some within political unionism, most notably Mike Nesbitt, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, have chosen to play fast and loose with the future of the political institutions at Stormont. The posturing by the DUP and UUP is not about the killings in Belfast, instead it is the latest round of the sham fight between the unionist parties for electoral success.
“The UUP in particular have run the risk of collapsing the political institutions, despite the enormous impact this would have on society in the North, in an effort to score a victory over their unionist rivals. Such appalling cynicism not only jeopardises the future of the institutions, but also the relationships that have been built up in recent years.
“Much has been said about damage to confidence and trust in the last three weeks, and the need for that to be rebuilt; with an exclusive focus upon Sinn Féin.
“Significantly, there has been no focus or concern on the damage done to confidence within the republican and nationalist constituency for policing as a result of the commentary from the PSNI.
“Comments made during a murder inquiry press conference quickly morphed a tragic situation into political and media frenzy.
“However, confidence within republicanism and nationalism towards political unionism has been seriously undermined due to the double standards and base hypocrisy displayed by the unionist parties, as the UUP jockey for electoral and political advantage over the DUP.
“There is also anger at the partisan and hostile attitude of representatives from both the British and Irish governments about the building crisis, whilst posturing as neutral referees.
“The most recent instance being the unwarranted and highly partisan attack by An Taoiseach on the Sinn Fein leadership last night. An escalating political crisis does exist. But it has nothing to do with the fiction of an existing IRA.
“Attempting to explain away the current serious political situation by using the pretext of an IRA, which has gone away, is a complete diversion. What's now unfolding is the culmination of five years of political instability within the political process.
“Central to that has been the political failure of both the British and Irish governments to fulfil their responsibilities to act as co guarantors for both the peace and political processes. That is evidenced by the negative mismanagement of the British government since 2010, and the semi-detached approach adopted by the Irish government in the same period.
“No amount of negative intervention now by either government can disguise that objective reality. This British government in particular has reduced the north to a political backwater through its negative mismanagement of both the peace and political processes.
“The imposition of its austerity agenda has directly contributed to political instability. This strategic failure in political policy has fuelled the refusal of political unionism to embrace and promote power-sharing, due to intra-unionist electoral rivalry; and to act in subordination to the lowest common sectarian denominator.
“These are the negative dynamics now embedded within the political context which have shaped the media and political fall out from the killings of Jock Davison and Kevin McGuigan. Arising from all that, questions have been put to Sinn Féin, which we have robustly answered.
“Our record in challenging and confronting criminality and threats to the peace and political processes is absolutely clear in our words and actions; following the murder of two British soldiers in Antrim, the murders of Constables Stephen Carroll and Ronan Kerr, the murder of Prison Officer David Black; and many other actions by anti-peace process militarists.
“We have stood shoulder to shoulder with PSNI Chief Constables and the leader of the DUP in condemning efforts to drag us back to the past.
“There have also been violent actions from elements within the unionist section of our community. Martin McGuinness has made countless attempts to get joint statements from the five party leaders in the Executive condemning those actions. Not once could he get a unionist leader to stand with him, but still some of those same unionists have questioned Sinn Féin’s commitment to peace.
“There have been public demands to remove us from the Executive, and threats to suspend the institutions if that does not happen. The electoral mandate of Sinn Féin has been attacked, and the rights of half a million Irish citizens who vote for our Party have been directly challenged.
“We have come to expect such attacks from politically hostile elements north and south, especially as we face into two elections.
“However, there are questions for others to answer, regarding their commitment to the peace and political processes; their obligations to implement commitments, still not fulfilled from every negotiation and agreement since 1998; for those who refuse to share power properly at both the level of regional and local government in the north; and for those who oppose reconciliation and a shared future based upon equality, mutual respect and parity of esteem.
“The current British government's economic and political policy is pushing the North’s economy and political process into a negative downward trajectory.
“That can only have extreme and long term adverse consequences, including potentially fatal repercussions for the Good Friday Agreement itself and the North’s relationship with Europe.
“A key question which all of that poses is whether such an outcome has become a calculation of this British government's approach towards the North. Many within republicanism and nationalism doubt the commitment of the British state and its agencies to join with the rest of us in finally addressing the legacy of the past: particularly the role of British state forces and their Unionist allies in the conflict; and, their actual commitment to supporting the mechanisms agreed under the Stormont House Agreement.
“The continued resistance of certain British state agencies and their surrogates towards the Peace Process continues to cast a very long and destabilising shadow over our society, including until recent times. There is now an emphasis on the need for new talks.
“Sinn Féin has been calling for a new negotiation process for some time. The status quo is neither acceptable nor sustainable. We are now preparing to enter into fresh talks and we do so in the way in which we approach all negotiations; with a willingness and readiness to address all the difficulties we face.
“Sinn Féin has repeatedly called for all political parties and the two governments to enter into talks to achieve a resolution and progress the peace and political processes.
“This will demand leadership from all parties. A new deal is required.
“Government in the North must be made and seen to work for all citizens, all sections of society, and west, as well as east of the Bann.
“No political system can function without a viable economic framework, a fair and workable budget, and sustainable public services.
The SHA needs to be implemented, alongside other unfulfilled commitments.
“Sectarianism, racism, homophobia and inequality must be tackled and eradicated.
“Reconciliation and healing have to be advanced. Any new talks process should address all of these issues.
“Undermining the political institutions and attempting to narrow the purpose and format of any talks agenda in order to dilute the GFA; to
disenfranchise voters; or undermine Sinn Féin's mandate will inevitably fail.
“Seeking to predicate any talks upon partisan, electoral or sectional Party interests will only create a massive set back for both the peace and political processes. That is the opposite of what is required at this time.
“Instead, we need to see leadership, genuine leadership from all parties – and both governments – and a willingness to engage positively and meaningfully to build a better, prosperous and reconciled society for all of our citizens.
“It is time for us all to agree that we need a new phase of the peace