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Nelis - Sinn Féin serious about engagement with Unionists

21 July, 2003

Speaking today in Derry at a party conference dealing with the NorthWest, the Sinn Féin Spokesperson Mary Nelis said 'an increasingly important area of work for our elected representatives is an engagement with all levels of unionist society'. Mrs Nelis said:

"Sinn Féin elected representatives have a number of guiding principles by which they conduct their business:

· Equality

· Reconciliation

· Fair Play

· Openness

· Inclusivity

These principles are more than simply words. Achieving elected office is not enough. It is about what we do when we get there. Sinn Féin will seek to use elected office to advance the work already being done to bring different and diverse sections of our community closer together.

Much focus in recent times has been on the party‚s approach to outreach work with unionism. Alex Maskey the first Sinn Féin Mayor of Belfast, has been appointed to head up this important area of our political activity But the work initiated by him will be continued in Councils across the North that have Sinn Féin Mayors and Chairpersons. Of course all of our councillors and activists will promote and develop this work.

But reaching out to unionism is a two way street. Unionism has a journey to make also. Unionism must accept that there is no going back to the days of inequality and second class citizenship. We want a relationship built upon mutual respect and equality. No one should rationally fear equality.

However implementing an equality agenda has not proved easy. It has presented and continues to present political challenges. But it is an indispensable part of the Good Friday Agreement and the changes, which flow from it. We as Irish republicans have to come to terms with the cultural identity of the unionist and protestant people and the manner in which they express their identity.

Equality is indivisible. We need to seek as much agreement as possible and where that is not achievable then peaceful co-existence in disagreement. Sinn Féin is serious about our project of engagement with the unionist community. We are individually and together going through a period of change in our society. It is important that unionism joins with the rest of us in managing that process." ENDS

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