Sinn Féin - On Your Side

McGuinness - it's time for action - it's time for everyone to move forward

22 July, 2005


Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness speaking at the Magill summer school tonight said:

"The Irish peace process has changed the political landscape on the island of Ireland irreversibly. And the absence of conflict has brought new responsibilities and new challenges for all of us. The then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, James Molyneaux, famously commented that the IRA cessation in 1994 was the most destabilising event since partition.

This was a candid acknowledgement that the leadership of Unionism felt more comfortable with the certainties of conflict and division than with the challenges of negotiations, of compromise and of peace making, And the unprecedented, if incomplete, engagement between Irish republicans and Irish unionists which developed from the peace process has challenged pre-conceptions and prejudices an all sides.

That engagement is still imperfect with Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson and the DUP refusing to talk directly to Sinn Fein. But that position is untenable. I believe they will come to accept that agreement requires, indeed, demands dialogue, something, which the Orange Order recognised in Derry, this year and the outcome as we all know was an accommodation, which everyone could live with.

The significance of that development should not be underestimated. It proves that James Molyneaux's approach is wrong. It is unacceptable. It is untenable. So at some point the DUP will come to realise that there is no alternative to sitting down with their neighbours, talking out our differences and tackling the many problems that our constituents have in common.

In stating this I am not being naïve. Sinn Féin is not being naïve. We fully recognise that few historical events are inevitable. Rather it is human action that makes them happen or prevents them from happening. Irish republicans have been in the vanguard of making things happen in the peace process and in the full knowledge that those who want change carry a disproportionate burden for generating the momentum which gives this effect.

James Molyneaux knew all of that. That's why he sat on his hands and did nothing for so long. Ian Paisley knows it too. "Ulster says no" is the universally recognised expression of that policy. No movement. No change. No equality. And who could blame them when they can get away with it. Unionists by and large are impervious to Sinn Féin's blandishments. And they are not attracted to a process of change which impacts on the old certainties or the failed status quo.

Yet the truism remains. Few historical events are inevitable. Human action makes them happen or prevents them from happening. Sinn Fein and republicans generally have not been found wanting in this. But we are only part of the equation. There is a collective burden and responsibility for action to make things happen. That means especially the British Government.

Also the Irish Government, which has the onerous task of promoting and defending national and democratic rights in the interests of all of the people of this island. And national and democratic rights transcend the interests of all political parties. Also, all political parties which support the agreement have a responsibility to demand and to see its full implementation in all its aspects.

It means too that everyone in civic society has an active public and private role in moving all of this and the entire situation forward.

So it's time for action, time to end the excuses, time to end the inertia, time for everyone to move forward."ENDS

Full text of Speech

The question we are addressing here this evening is "Ireland North and South - the way forward?".

The answer, in my view, is obvious. The way forward for all of the Irish people is Irish unity achieved through accommodation, mutual respect and agreement.

The Irish peace process has changed the political landscape on the island of Ireland irreversibly. And the absence of conflict has brought new responsibilities and new challenges for all of us. The then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, James Molyneaux, famously commented that the IRA cessation in 1994 was the most destabilising event since partition.

This was a candid acknowledgement that the leadership of Unionism felt more comfortable with the certainties of conflict and division than with the challenges of negotiations, of compromise and of peace making, And the unprecedented, if incomplete, engagement between Irish republicans and Irish unionists which developed from the peace process has challenged pre-conceptions and prejudices an all sides.

That engagement is still imperfect with Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson and the DUP refusing to talk directly to Sinn Fein. But that position is untenable. I believe they will come to accept that agreement requires, indeed, demands dialogue, something, which the Orange Order recognised in Derry, this year and the outcome as we all know was an accommodation, which everyone could live with.

The significance of that development should not be underestimated. It proves that James Molyneaux‚s approach is wrong. It is unacceptable. It is untenable. So at some point the DUP will come to realise that there is no alternative to sitting down with their neighbours, talking out our differences and tackling the many problems that our constituents have in common.

In stating this I am not being naïve. Sinn Féin is not being naïve. We fully recognise that few historical events are inevitable. Rather it is human action that makes them happen or prevents them from happening. Irish republicans have been in the vanguard of making things happen in the peace process and in the full knowledge that those who want change carry a disproportionate burden for generating the momentum which gives this effect.

James Molyneaux knew all of that. That‚s why he sat on his hands and did nothing for so long. Ian Paisley knows it too. „Ulster says no‰ is the universally recognised expression of that policy. No movement. No change. No equality. And who could blame them when they can get away with it. Unionists by and large are impervious to Sinn Féin‚s blandishments. And they are not attracted to a process of change which impacts on the old certainties or the failed status quo. Yet the truism remains. Few historical events are inevitable. Human action makes them happen or prevents them from happening. Sinn Fein and republicans generally have not been found wanting in this. But we are only part of the equation. There is a collective burden and responsibility for action to make things happen. That means especially the British Government. Also the Irish Government which has the onerous task of promoting and defending national and democratic rights in the interests of all of the people of this island. And national and democratic rights transcend the interests of all political parties. Also, all political parties which support the agreement have a responsibility to demand and to see its full implementation in all its aspects.

It means too that everyone in civic society has an active public and private role in moving all of this and the entire situation forward.

So it‚s time for action, time to end the excuses, time to end the inertia, time for everyone to move forward. And the only way forward is through dialogue. We are a small island of some 5 million people. Partition does not make sense. The duplication of services and investment is enormous. It does make sense to address island wide issues on an island wide basis.

So the challenge for those of us who define ourselves as Irish republican or Irish nationalist is to open up an engagement with unionism on the logic and benefits of Irish unity ˆ in short to become persuaders for Irish unity. And of course we have a concurrent responsibility to listen intently to their counter arguments, to take these issues on board and to respond intelligently to them. The challenge is to persuade unionists that they have an important and valuable role to play in a free and united Ireland and to convince those who feel threatened that they have nothing to fear in the inevitability of Irish unity

Earlier this year Sinn Féin launched a campaign calling for the publication of a Green Paper on Irish unity by the Irish Government. This call was made not only because the primary objective of Sinn Féin is Irish unity but also because Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Labour Party and the SDLP all say they are in favour of it.

Surely, then, the next logical step is to develop a strategy to bring this about and to challenge those in Irish society, including some in Dublin who believe that Ireland stops at the British imposed border.

And we also need to show in practical terms that an Irish democracy will not tolerate corruption, cover-up or injustice.

The Morris Tribunal focusing on Garda misconduct in this county make for shocking reading.

Everyone involved in this serious misconduct must be held to full account. That means the former and serving Gardaí named in the Morris Tribunal reports; that means the senior Garda management; that means the Attorney Generals who advised successive Governments and the three Ministers for Justice who presided over this state of affairs without taking the decisive action needed. Retirements and transfers are not only insufficient, they indicate cover-up.

Many questions also remain unanswered in relation to the murder of Councillor Eddie Fullerton in Donegal. We asked that the Morris Tribunal look at the circumstances, and subsequent investigation, of Eddie‚s murder, but the Justice Minister, Michael McDowell, refused our request. The corruption exposed in the Morris reports tells us the real reason - to prevent the truth coming out. The only way the truth can now be established is through a full independent public inquiry into Eddie Fullerton's murder.

This is a vital and immediate issue not just here in Donegal, but the response of the government to this injustice has implications far beyond this county. State cover up and secrecy are not signs of a healthy democracy. And there are many other issues which affect the Irish people, north and south, on a day-to-day basis and which need to be addressed.

In a modern, prosperous Ireland all of our people are entitled to decent hospitals and schools; to decent healthcare and housing; to a fair share of the wealth which exists on our island. If the British Direct Rule ministers in the Six Counties and the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrat coalition government have one thing in common - it is that they have both failed to deliver for the people of this island. Instead, despite economic growth, we have a widening gap between rich and poor, ongoing attempts to sell off public services, overcrowding in our schools, hospital waiting lists and tax breaks for the rich.

Sinn Féin wants to change all that. We believe that economic growth should be used to the benefit of all of us living on the island. We want equality to be a cornerstone of Irish society. We want to see investment in health and education, rights for the disabled, an end to poverty. We want to see government priorities change from investing in the rich to investing in the people. We want to see co-operation and joint action on a north south and all-Ireland basis to maximise the benefits of public spending and investment for all the people of the island. Such practical co-operation and harmonisation threatens no one and benefits everyone.

For example, the education of children with autism has, justifiably been in the headlines over recent years as parents campaigned for adequate state provision for their children. It has always been my view that the real measure of progress and development in any society is the way it responds to those in most need. Certainly the response to children with autism, north and south, falls far short of the equality that they are entitled to. During the time of the short lived Executive in the north, in an attempt to address this deficit, the Education Departments north and south, acted jointly to establish a centre of excellence for the education of children with autism right on the Armagh/Monaghan border. There have been delays in getting the centre up and running, not least in my view because of the absence of a local elected Education minister in the north. But when the centre is fully operational it will provide a new and important resource for children, parents and teachers. How can any unionist in the north feel in any way threatened by such an important and worthwhile initiative.

So the point of this example is that if we set ourselves a clear objective of building to Irish unity through a combination of political persuasion and practical co-operation we can demonstrate the very real benefits that would flow from the political and economic unity of this island.

Of course the best, perhaps the only context, in which this process of persuasion and accommodation can successfully occur, is the context of a peace process which is moving visibly forward. So the most important and urgent issue facing all of us is to revive the faltering peace process.

The downward spiral of recrimination and blame in the months following the negotiations of last December threatened to destroy the enormous progress we have collectively made over recent years. I think it was his recognition of this that prompted Gerry Adams to make a direct appeal to the men and women volunteers of the IRA to embrace purely political and democratic activity.

The IRA leadership responded to this appeal by initiating an internal debate and we await the conclusion of those discussions. I have no intention today of commenting on this internal discussion. That is a matter for the IRA and, as Gerry Adams has repeatedly said, that organisation should be given the space to thoroughly debate these matters.

What I will say is that I fully support Gerry Adams‚ appeal and I sincerely hope that the IRA does respond to it positively. And it is clear that a positive response from the IRA would have an immediate and enormous impact on the political situation. It would give much needed new momentum to the peace process; deal with genuine unionist concerns, remove from the leadership of unionism its excuse for non-engagement and it would put enormous pressure on the DUP to come on board the peace process for the first time.

Of course the DUP may choose not to do so. Their current public position gives little cause for optimism. Their political role over the three decades of their existence has been singularly negative and divisive.

But despite all of this Sinn Fein is prepared to engage with the DUP because non-engagement is not an option. Refusing to talk to ones opponents is a failure of politics; a failure of political leadership and creates the conditions in which conflict can occur. Sinn Fein recognises and accepts the DUP‚s electoral mandate. We disagree with them fundamentally but we are prepared to do political business with them just as they must do business with Sinn Fein because we have an electoral mandate; because we are the largest nationalist party in the north; the largest pro-Agreement party in the north and the third largest party on the island of Ireland.

At some point the DUP will have to enter the world of political dialogue, compromise and agreement. The days of second-class citizenship, of unionist domination, of the one party state are gone forever. There is no alternative to sharing power with Irish republicans; there is no alterative to the all-Ireland architecture and the equality agenda of the Good Friday Agreement. In the meantime the two governments must push ahead with the agenda of change set out in the Agreement and mandated by the people of Ireland, north and south.

The road map is clear. The future for all the people of Ireland north and south has to be based on equality, on inclusivity and mutual respect. The divisions in the north have to be resolved peacefully through open and direct dialogue. Injustice, prejudice and intolerance, whether sectarian, racist or sexist must be confronted. The growing diversity of the Irish nation, including the large section of people who define themselves as British, must be accommodated in a new and modern Ireland. The way forward for all of us, north and south, lies in ending divisions through direct dialogue and in celebrating difference and diversity as something which enriches our society.

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