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Citizens’ rights can no longer be put on hold – Kearney

4 January, 2019 - by Declan Kearney


Speaking tonight at an event in the O’Neill Arms Country House Hotel, Toome, on the 50th anniversary of the Belfast to Derry Long March, Sinn Féin national chair and South Antrim MLA Declan Kearney said:

”Just as the unionist state in 1969 opposed the Civil Rights Movement, today significant sections of political unionism have pushed back against the Good Friday Agreement since 1998.

"It is a scandal fifty years after political extremists beat Civil Rights marchers from Belfast to Derry off the roads in opposition to a rights-based society, that a new generation of political unionists continue to oppose the development of a rights-based society and proper power sharing.

"Make no mistake, there is a deep systemic crisis in the north of Ireland.

"It is a crisis caused and perpetuated by a denial of democratic rights and failure to implement the Good Friday Agreement. 

"Now that crisis is deepening with the onset of the Brexit catastrophe.

"A solution to the depth of this crisis will only be found through negotiation and decisive political leadership, which commands the authority to make and keep agreements, and embrace and deliver change.

"Bellicose, sabre rattling new year statements are no substitute for what is required of real leaders.

"We need progressive and democratic alliances to defend the GFA; to stand up against the scourge of Brexit; to achieve a Bill of Rights; and, to secure the fundamental language, legacy, marriage, and women's health rights which are enjoyed elsewhere in Ireland and Britain.

“Citizens' rights can no longer be put on hold.

"The days of second class citizenship are over.

"The post civil rights generations will never again be pushed to the back of the bus.

"As we look forward towards 2019, we do so with optimism and an unchanged commitment to build a future based upon rights, respect and reconciliation for all our people.”

The full text of Declan’s Kearney’s speech is below, also embargoed until 7.30pm tonight

"Following on from the RUC assault on Civil Rights marchers in Duke Street on 5th October 1968, the 'Long March to Derry' once again exposed to the world, the institutionalised sectarianism of the northern state, and unionist opposition to the equality and rights agenda.

"The violence orchestrated by the unionist state and others, in denying the modest reforms sought by the Civil Rights Movement (CRM) was the catalyst for the political conflict which later consumed this island for thirty years.

"It took a further thirty years before the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) drew a line under the use of political violence; provided the political architecture of the Irish peace process; and, established in legislation equality and human rights for all citizens. 

"In ways the GFA addressed what the CRM did not resolve.

"It gave expression in an internationally binding treaty to the CRM agenda by establishing the bench marks of equality, rights and respect for all citizens.

"It became our road map away from the legacy of political violence towards the achievement of a rights based society with parity of esteem, mutual respect and anti-sectarianism, at its core.

"However, that vision has yet to be realised.

"Both the British and Irish governments have failed to fully implement the GFA.

"Just as the unionist state in 1969 opposed the CRM, today significant sections of political unionism have pushed back against the GFA since 1998.

"It is a scandal that still fifty years after political extremists beat Civil Rights marchers from Belfast to Derry off the roads in opposition to a rights based society, today a new generation of political unionists continue to oppose the development of a rights based society and proper power sharing.

"And, that is the reason why the democratic political institutions in the north remain suspended; and why the GFA faces its greatest ever threat.

"Make no mistake, there is a deep systemic crisis in the north of Ireland.

"It is a crisis caused and perpetuated by a denial of democratic rights and failure to implement the GFA.

"Now that crisis is deepening with the onset of the Brexit catastrophe.

"A solution to the depth of this crisis will only be found through negotiation and decisive political leadership, which commands the authority to make and keep agreements, and embrace and deliver change.

"Bellicose, sabre rattling new year statements are no substitute for what is required of real leaders.

"Those who marched through this area from Belfast to Derry fifty years ago this week were a microcosm of the wider CRM.

"They were students and others, including, republicans, social democrats, communists, socialists, trade unionists, and labour members. They were from all religious back grounds and none.

"The timeless lesson of the CRM which applies to our current situation is that the type of progressive alliances which stood up for rights in 1969 are still required today in 2019.

"We need progressive and democratic alliances to defend the GFA; to stand up against the scourge of Brexit; to achieve a Bill of Rights; and, to secure the fundamental language, legacy, marriage, and women's health rights which are enjoyed elsewhere in Ireland and Britain.

"The British and Irish governments should not make the mistake of underestimating the momentum for change which exists, or by taking nationalist and other sections of progressive opinion for granted.

“Citizens' rights can no longer be put on hold.

"We have come full circle. The extremists within political unionism must not be allowed to hold back change.

"The days of second-class citizenship are over.

"The post civil rights generations will never again be pushed to the back of the bus.

"As we look forward towards 2019, we do so with optimism and an unchanged commitment to build a future based upon rights, respect and reconciliation for all our people.” CRÍOCH/ENDS

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