Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Uncomfortable Conversations: Building new relationships – Adams

17 September, 2015 - by Gerry Adams

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams today spoke at “Uncomfortable Conversations”, an initiative by Sinn Féin and civil society stakeholders to explore the avenues by which a meaningful resolution and process of reconciliation can be achieved post-conflict in the north.

Hosted in the Mansion House, Dublin by Ardmheara Críona Ní Dhálaigh, speakers included party Chairman Declan Kearney and British Ambassador to Ireland, Dominick Chilcott. Teachta Adams gave the following address.


(Check against delivery)

Ard Mhéara, Ambassador, Reverend Morris, agus a chairde.

I am very pleased to have been invited to speak at this launch of "Uncomfortable Conversations for Reconciliation" by Declan Kearney.

The islands of Ireland and Britain have had a long, entangled, conflicted and tragic relationship.

Because of our shared centuries of occupation, conflict and open war, nationalists and unionists historically have defined themselves, their cultures and their aspirations in terms of their relationship with Britain.

Because of our experience of colonialism and oppression nationalists have largely rejected Britishness in its entirety, whilst unionists have embraced every British symbol and gesture.

Consequently many unionists distrust the entire nationalist population fearing that if our respective roles are ever reversed we would imitate and repeat their excesses.

In Belfast parlance, the boot would be on the other foot.

There is an onus on Irish republicans to address these fears.

We must do so in a genuine and meaningful way.

Most people in England consider anyone who comes from the island of Ireland as Irish – as Paddy’s or Patricia’s.

The same is true in the USA and Canada and elsewhere.

This can come as a shock to unionists when they travel there.

And of course England itself has changed much in recent decades.

In cities like London and Birmingham there is now a cosmopolitan mix.

Most citizens in England would have little in common with what unionists describe as ‘British culture’ most often represented by ‘blood and thunder’ loyalist marching bands and demands to walk through nationalist areas.

At the same time the story of colonisation and conflict has run parallel with many positive and shared experiences over the centuries.

Irish people have settled in Britain for generations.

Irish artists have contributed enormously to English literature, music and the arts.

On the sports field our people enjoy a robust and healthy rivalry.

In more recent years Irish personalities have been popular and prominent in the British entertainment industry.

The relationships between Ireland and Britain as well as those among the people of Ireland itself, are currently in transition.

Tá na caidrimh atá ann idir Éire agus an Bhreatain agus na caidrimh idir na pobail in Éirinn fosta, ag athrú anois.

The Peace Process and the Good Friday Agreement have provided the basis for building a new relationship between our two islands based on partnership, equality and mutual respect.

All of us - the Irish and British governments, as well as Irish republicans, nationalists and unionists must play a full role in developing this process.

And let us remember that it is a process. There will be ups and downs but the trajectory is clear.

Agus ná dean dearmad gur próiséas é seo. Beidh idir mhaith agus olc ann ach tá an bealach chun tosaigh soiléir.

Sinn Féin is committed to this process and to working with the political representatives of unionism to implement in full the Good Friday Agreement.

During her historic visit to Ireland in 2011, Queen Elizabeth made clear her desire to be part of a process of reconciliation and healing.

The subsequent meeting between Martin McGuinness and Queen Elizabeth in Belfast and the state visit by President Michael D Higgins to Britain were widely acknowledged as groundbreaking.

Last May, Martin McGuinness, Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and I met Prince Charles in Sligo.

I mí na Bealtaine anuraidh bhuail Martin Mc Guiness, An Seanadóir Trevor Ó Clochartaigh agus mé féin leis an Phrionsa Searlas i gContae Shligigh.

We had a cordial and relaxed discussion. Despite some of the difficult issues we spoke of, it was a positive conversation.

Bhí comhrá eadrainn a bhí cairdiúil agus suaimhneach. Is Cuma faoi na deacrachtaí, comhrá fiúntach maith a bhí ann.

We acknowledged that Charles and his family had been hurt and suffered great loss at Mullaghmore by the actions of Irish republicans.

We spoke also of the hurt inflicted on our friends and neighbours and on our own communities in Derry and Ballymurphy and Springhill by the actions of the Parachute Regiment and other British Army regiments.

He shared his own memories of the conflict starting in the 1960s. It was obvious to me that he wishes to play a positive role in making conflict a thing of the past.

Thankfully the conflict is now over.

The past is not another country; it shapes our lives, our politics and our present.

The sense of loss remains with families and communities.

I’m mindful that this week two of the disappeared were buried, and tomorrow we reinter Tomas Kent.

I also recognise that the Ambassador’s predecessor, Mr Ewart Biggs was killed by republicans.

We cannot undo these things but we can work to ensure that they are never repeated.

We can work to reconcile ourselves to each other and the past.   To build a future based on equality, respect and inclusion. 

The peace must be sustained. It needs to be nurtured. It needs to be inclusive.

The resolve and responsibility of all political leaders now must be to ensure this; to ensure that no else suffers as a result of conflict; that no other family is bereaved; that the experience of war and of loss and injury is never repeated.

This means all of us working together. It requires generosity and respect from all and for all.

Ciallaíonn sé go mbeidh muid ag obair le chéile. Beidh gá le meas agus féile ó achan duine do achan duine eile.

The British government has a key role in encouraging and developing this process of healing and reconciliation. It must act on this. Mr. Cameron’s government has not done so.

Victims and survivors of the conflict, who are still seeking justice and truth, must be given the strongest possible support and assistance.

Whether they were bereaved by the IRA, by British state agencies, or through collusion with unionist paramilitaries, the victims and their families and communities deserve justice. That is an essential ingredient in the reconciliation process.

I know only too well from speaking directly to families of victims of the conflict, including victims of the IRA, that the past is part of their present.

I also know from talking to these families that closure and healing is possible.

For that reason the Stormont House Agreement which deals with these matters must be implemented.

When we speak about reconciliation it cannot be confined merely to a reconciliation between this state and the British state.

What is required is a genuine process of reconciliation between the people of the island of Ireland and Britain, between North and South and between the various traditions on this island.

Ta gá le próiséas athmhuintearas ceart, idir oileán na hEireann agus oileán na Breataine, idir Tuaisceart agus Deisceart agus idir na traidisiúin éagsúla ar an oileán seo.

Reconciliation must go beyond the big houses and palaces. It must be felt on the streets of Belfast and Derry and elsewhere.

Reflect on this. If Martin McGuinness and Sinn Féin had not taken our recent initiatives the people of the north, despite the presence of the President, would not have felt part of those historic developments.

In fact many may have felt alienated from this state as well as the British state in Ireland.

So any future initiatives must try to involve those communities in the north who have borne the brunt of the conflict.

Connect with Sinn Féin