Article by Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP
This month marks the tenth anniversary of the historic IRA cessation in 1994, an initiative which helped transform politics on this island.
At that time we were locked into a vicious cycle of injustice, inequality and conflict. But since the early 1990s the political landscape has been transformed and we have built a process which has the potential to ensure that the injustices and failures of the past will never be repeated.
All of this has happened because of courageous and imaginative thinking in the early 1990s. Within republicanism the debate around peacemaking took shape in the Sinn Fein peace strategy and there were others, in Ireland, Britain and the United States of America, who were prepared to step outside the failed policies of marginalisation, criminalisation and repression and who, in so doing, played a key role in the development of the Irish peace process.
As Irish republicans, we sought to engage our opponents, to understand their perspective and from this engagement, to develop ways to over-come difficulties and differences. And, collectively we have had incredible success. The political landscape on the island has been transformed. The challenge now is to continue the forward movement and not allow the advance we have made to be undermined by complacency, intransigence or lack of imagination. In September we will see a new round of discussions designed to resolve the outstanding issues. Sinn Féin‚s objective is to see the political institutions, formed as a result of the Good Friday Agreement re-established on a stable basis, the transfer of powers on policing and justice away from London and completion on a range of other issues, including demilitarisation, equality and human rights.
Of course, there are, at present, deep difficulties in the peace process which must be urgently addressed and overcome. Instead of stable political institutions with the people‚s elected representatives making decisions on important social and economic issues; instead of a fully operational Assembly and all-Ireland institutions leading the delivery of change, advancing the equality agenda and championing a human rights based society; we have continuing impasse. Most importantly we do not have the inclusive power-sharing institutions which are central to making politics work for the first time in the north and for the first time on an all-Ireland basis.
Our task as politicians, as political leaders, is to find a resolution to all of these outstanding matters. There is no alternative. We have already seen enormous change across the island, particularly in the north, as a result of the peace process and Sinn Féin is determined to build on this in the time ahead.
Sinn Féin believes completely in the need to build relationships with unionism. The results of the November election and the more recent European election brought a new political reality. Sinn Fein and the DUP are now the main political parties in the north. The new reality must bring with it a new political realism. It certainly places a huge responsibility on the two governments, the DUP and Sinn Fein to act responsibly to find a way forward.
The best way to do this is through direct dialogue, including between the DUP and Sinn Fein.
For Sinn Féin, the objective is clear - to restore the political institutions and end the crisis in the process.
Our discussions need to focus on a number of key issues. These include:
- full participation in stable political institutions
- the resolution of outstanding matters on policing and justice, including, critically the transfer of powers away form London
- armed groups and arms
- human rights, equality and sectarianism.
There are also matters which are clearly the responsibility of the two governments across the human rights, equality and demilitarization agendas. Progress on many of these issues has been obstructed and blocked by elements in the Northern Ireland Office which, despite the peace process, has adhered to a pro-Unionist and securocratic agenda. This was dramatically evident in the events around disputed loyalist parades over recent weeks which undoubtedly damaged our political project but which had the potential to do much greater damage. The British government needs to bring its system in Ireland under control.
Sinn Fein is committed to playing a full and productive role in resolving all of the outstanding issues, including issues of concern to unionists and we recognise fully that this means more challenges ahead for Irish republicans. Unionism must come at the discussion in the same sprit of generosity and with a willingness to listen to, and deal with, the issues of concern to the nationalist and republican community.
The reality is that if the political will exists then we can all collectively make progress. Sinn Fein believes that it is possible to achieve a comprehensive package, which deals with all of the outstanding matters in a way that is definitive and conclusive. The way to do this is through dialogue. We need to make politics work as a credible and effective alternative to conflict. That has been the lesson of the last 10 years when peace making replaced conflict. We need to build on what works. The enormous progress which we have achieved over the past 10 years is proof positive that an approach based on inclusivity; equality and mutual respect does work. It requires hard work and, at times, even harder decisions. But that is the nature of peace making.
The challenge for all of us in the time ahead is to build on that work and ensure that progress continues. Our history on this island, and our relationship with our closest neighbour, has been difficult and at times destructive. Sinn Fein wants to find a lasting peace between republicanism and unionism on this island and between Britain and Ireland. To do so we must put the failures of the past behind us. We must face into renewed discussions with an energy which matches our duty, as elected representatives, to find agreement and a better future for all our people. We must see the outstanding matters, not as obstacles to progress, but as difficulties which can be overcome. That is the challenge to all of us in political leadership as we face into renewed discussion in September. It is a mammoth task but it has to be done sometime. Why not now? I am confident that if we apply our collective energy, experience and talent that we can be successful. ENDS