Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Murphy tells Tories demand for Irish Unity legitimate and achievable

4 October, 2005


Sinn Féin MP Conor Murphy today became the first Irish Republican to address an event attached to the annual British Conservative Party Conference. Speaking at the 'CHAMP' debate which also involved DUP MP Jeffery Donaldson, UUP member David Burnside and Tory MP David Lidington Conor Murphy challenged politicians to grasp the opportunity provided by the IRA initiative and set about the task of rebuilding the political institutions.

Mr Murphy said:

" The construction of the Irish peace process over the past decade and more has essentially been a series of steps, some big, some small, but all in their own way important as we seek to move away from conflict and into a new future on the island.

" Today with Sinn Féin appearing at the British Tory conference is another small step upon the road to trying to build a normal relationship between Ireland and Britain. A relationship which has been characterised by colonialism, conflict, misunderstanding and division.

" British policy towards Ireland in the late 1970s and 1980s under the stewardship of Margaret Thatcher, in my view, contributed to prolonging conflict and division and preventing the earlier development of the Irish peace process. She presided over the policy of shoot to kill, state murder through collusion and the disastrous policy of criminalisation in the prisons.

" Irish Republicans have a legitimate political demand for the reunification of Ireland and the establishment of a national democracy on the island. It is entirely legitimate to demand an end to partition. To demand an end to sectarianism and to demand an end to discrimination.

" I accept that others share a different view. That others wish to maintain the status quo. Indeed there are those who still hark back to the days of the old Stormont regime when 'a Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people' was the war cry. But what I demand is the creation of a level political playing field to allow nationalists and republicans to pursue in a peaceful and democratic way legitimate and achievable political goals. That is what the Good Friday Agreement is all about. It is about removing a unionist stranglehold upon all aspects of political , social and economic life in the six counties. Essentially it is about Equality.

" The Good Friday Agreement was also a belated admission by the British political establishment that what was a political problem required political solutions. It was an admission that the policy followed by successive Tory and Labour governments of trying to defeat Irish republicanism through state violence and repression had failed. It was an admission that dialogue was the way forward in resolving conflict. Crucially it was an admission that Belfast was not as British as Finchley.

" The Good Friday Agreement has of course also presented major political challenges for all of us. The Sinn Féin leadership has sought to rise to these, and also involve a wide range of nationalist and republican opinion as we tried to move the process forward. We have also worked hard to engage in a dialogue with unionists outside the political process.

Sinn Féin amended our constitution to enable us to sit in the Good Friday Agreement institutions. We attempted to create the political environment to enable the IRA to take historic and unprecedented initiatives. We are prepared to share power with political opponents on the basis of equality. Like all of the other parties we have placed our analysis in front of the electorate and sought their support for our position. Sinn Féin are now the largest nationalist party in the north and the third largest Irish political party. Our mandate can no longer be ignored. That is the democratic way.

" On the other hand unionism has sought to minimise and stall the process of change demanded by the Agreement. In short they have adopted a strategy to filter basic rights and entitlements through the prism of rejectionist and reactionary unionism. Unionism has opposed the creation of an accountable and acceptable policing service. They are fighting to retain a unionist militia in the RIR. They are trying to prevent the criminal justice system being made accountable and acceptable. They have sought to stifle the equality and human rights agendas and continue to rile against proper funding for the Irish language and the publication of a comprehensive Bill of Rights.

" Unionism needs to get real. Nationalists and republicans are no longer second class citizens. Nationalists and republicans will never accept a return to the days of the unionist junta in Stormont. If unionism wants to exercise executive power, if unionism wants to deliver for the people of the North then they are going to have to do that alongside Sinn Féin in the power sharing institutions detailed in the Good Friday Agreement. There is no alternative plan. The Agreement is as good as it gets.

" And if British Tories do genuinely support an end to conflict in Ireland, and if they do, as they say, genuinely support the Good Friday Agreement then they need to grasp the opportunity presented by the recent historic initiatives by the IRA and encourage those unionists over whom they have an undoubted influence to engage with Sinn Féin and others on the basis of our political mandates and through a process of meaningful dialogue see the political institutions re-established. This has to be a political priority in the time ahead.

" The two governments must make it clear to political unionism the fact that the only aspect of the Agreement over which they have a veto is the northern institution. All other outstanding aspects can and will move ahead as planned.

" We have heard much in recent weeks about a disengagement from the process by working class unionists. We have witnessed all of the main unionist parties try and justify the violence witnessed on the streets of Belfast in recent weeks on the basis of social exclusion or deprivation. The violence on the streets of Belfast as with the ongoing campaign against Catholics over the summer months by the unionist paramilitaries had nothing to do with deprivation. It was about sectarianism. It was about the Orange Order failing to be allowed to march through a catholic area. As was Sunday's protest at a graveyard in Newtownabby, where Catholics were abused and threatened as they attended a memorial service. This behaviour is completely unacceptable.

" The political leadership of unionism needs to wake up to this reality. If unionist communities are voiceless then that is a reflection on those elected to represent them. The figures for poverty and deprivation in the north indicate that the vast majority of areas suffering social exclusion and poverty are nationalist. Deprivation needs tackled on the basis of need - not on the basis of perception, or to service a particular political agenda.

" The decision of the IRA to formally end the armed campaign and put its weaponry beyond use is clearly a landmark moment. I accept that unionism, like all of us, need a little time to absorb the implications of this move. But that is not an invitation to evade political responsibilities. Unionism does not need to trust republicans, just as republicans do not need to trust unionists. That is why we have a written contract in the Agreement. Unionism needs to trust itself.

" We need to put this process back on track. The Good Friday Agreement provides the road map. The DUP signed on for the Agreement last December. It is my view that we can, given the necessary political will see significant progress made in the time ahead. The IRA have dealt in a definitive way with any genuine concerns which unionists had about republican intentions. Now it is time to move ahead. A process of change cannot stand still. We need to see real momentum in the coming weeks if the opportunity which now exists is to be grasped." ENDS

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