Extracts from Sinn Féin Leader Gerry Adams’s speech to the opening panel of ‘Towards a New Ireland – A new phase of the peace process’
‘The situation in the north has changed out of all recognition. Today power sharing and peace, have replaced inequality and conflict. The Good Friday Agreement has created a new dynamic, a new political dispensation. For the first time we have an agreement that is comprehensive and inclusive.
‘Unfortunately there are still those – within the unionist leaderships and the British political system and on the fringes of nationalism – who are resistant to change. Since the Agreement was reached 15 years ago they have fought a rearguard action seeking to destabilise, to dilute and to obstruct its implementation. For example, there is no Bill of Rights for the north to protect the rights of citizens; there is no Acht na Gaeilge; there is no north-south consultative forum, and in the week that saw the Finucane family bury their mother Kathleen – the British government has reneged on the commitment to hold an inquiry into the murder of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane.
‘Recently in parts of Belfast we have seen the most naked sectarian elements of unionism stirred up for short term political purpose. There have been months of organised sectarian violence on the streets of Belfast.’
In his speech Mr Adams also spoke about recent tensions in Belfast, stoked up by the Orange Order in alliance with the UVF and the PUP at interface areas with provocative marches:
‘Hundreds of members of the PSNI have been injured, some seriously. Three weeks ago a young woman was shot five times by the UVF in East Belfast. The PSNI have accused that organisation of “involvement in drug dealing, all forms of gangsterism, serious assaults and intimidation.”
‘Unionist leaders failed to stand up to this at a time when decisive positive leadership may have made a real difference. In stark contrast when so-called dissidents killed PSNI officers and British soldiers Martin McGuinness stood shoulder to shoulder with Peter Robinson and the Chief Constable to condemn those actions in assertive, clear and robust language. There was no equivocation by Martin. No delay. He showed leadership.
‘That’s what unionism needs. Positive leadership to build the process; to take a stand against illegal marches, sectarianism and violence, and the provocative actions of the Orange Order in Belfast. I retain the hope that such leadership will develop.’
The Sinn Féin Leader welcomed remarks by DUP Leader and First Minister Peter Robinson on Thursday night at a Co-Operation Ireland event which acknowledged the GAA’s contribution to better community relations and emphasised that: ‘Sinn Féin holds out the hand of friendship to unionists, including the Orange, and former unionist paramilitaries. We do so on the basis of equality and partnership.
‘There is a need for the First Minister to join with the Deputy First Minister and others to build an entirely new dispensation.
‘Sinn Féin is committed to building a new society and achieving a new Ireland that is representative of all the people of our island. That includes the unionists. Peter Robinson expressed the need for respect. I agree with him completely. The GAA has indeed played a very significant role in encouraging better community relations. One thing that most sportspeople have for their rivals is respect. Politicians could learn a lot from that ethos.’
On the Haass talks he said:
‘Notwithstanding the expertise and standing of Richard Haass and Megan O’Sullivan they would be the first to acknowledge that the only people who can resolve these issues are the people who live in the communities affected and their leaders. The first question to be asked therefore is: what is acceptable behaviour? Is it acceptable that there can be public displays and in some cases saturation of public thoroughfares, of flags or emblems of illegal organisations responsible for killing hundreds of people, mostly because they were Catholic? Is it acceptable that places of worship are targeted? That there are regular incitements to hatred? Is it acceptable that the union flag is used in an offensive way? I would certainly wholeheartedly condemn the use of the Irish national flag if it is used in any disrespectful or offensive way. Is it acceptable that young people are actively encouraged to hate their neighbours on the basis of their religion? Is it acceptable that there should be a tolerance of gangs engaged in criminality because they masquerade as either loyalist or republican? I believe it is not. I believe that it is contrary to the wishes of the vast majority of people.I believe it is also unlawful.
‘Citizens of London or Dublin would not have to endure that which is foisted on the citizens of Belfast and other places and defended or tolerated by some political leaders. Solutions are needed to resolve these difficult issues of symbols, marches and the past. But this will only be done if leaders lead. It needs political will. I believe this is a time to refresh the peace process; to develop a new phase. A new phase which tackles the past; seeks to repair broken relationships; promotes reconciliation and maps a new course for the future. Mr Robinson spoke of the need for respect for constitutional choice. I agree with that also.
‘There is now a peaceful and democratic way for everyone to pursue political goals. There is no excuse or reason for violence from any quarter. The people can decide on the future.’
The Sinn Féin leader also called for the two governments to set a date for a border poll:
‘If the British government or unionist leaders are so convinced of their position then they should have no objection to letting the people have their say – that’s democracy. I believe that a border poll provides an opportunity to focus on the future; to build a modern, dynamic new Ireland in which there is genuine reconciliation and a more equitable society.’
He also addressed the issue of the Irish diaspora in Britain:
‘The recent decision by the Constitutional Convention to recommend that Irish citizens in the north and overseas can vote in Presidential elections is a positive development. There is now a clear onus on the Irish government to act on this recommendation. Citizens in the north who wish to vote in Presidential elections should be accorded that right. But that is only part of what is needed. This new phase of the peace process means harnessing the power and influence and expertise of the diaspora. It also means giving the diaspora its right, like citizens of other states, to vote in Presidential elections. I invite all of you and who of you who are not Irish but would like to be to join with us in this great historic task of building a new Ireland that this new phase of the peace process is opening up.’