The Week in Review
16-23 July 2015
Britain must recognise `unique challenges facing the North’
David Cameron’s government must recognise the unique difficulties facing the Stormont Executive if the power sharing institutions are to survive, Martin McGuinness said this week.
Speaking on 21 July, as a Sinn Féin delegation, including Martin McGuinness, party President Gerry Adams, Vice President Mary Lou McDonald and former MP Michelle Gildernew, met with the British Prime Minister at Westminster, the Deputy First Minister called for a renewed effort to restore the political and economic viability of the political institutions.
He described the engagement as `useful’ and said that David Cameron `can be in no doubt about the seriousness of the crisis we are facing’. He said the political structures created by the Good Friday Agreement `are at the point of imminent collapse due to the British Government’s austerity agenda’.
Sinn Féin would `do everything in our power to prevent a collapse from happening’ he said, adding `others – particularly the British Government – must do the same’.
However, he said `for the institutions to survive, they need to deliver for all citizens, be they unionists, republicans or others. That requires a workable budget and a new approach and new investment from Westminster’. He urged the British Government to `accept the special circumstances of the north, as a society coming out of conflict, which lasted for almost 30 years’.
If we are to deliver for citizens, consolidate and build on the peace, create a peace dividend, which is tangible in deprived communities which suffered most as a result of the conflict, then the Executive needs the tools and the resources to address these deep-seated issues’ he said.
He concluded: `Successive British governments invested enormous, at times limitless, resources in pursuing a military agenda. They now need to bring a similar commitment to building a still fragile peace.’
Tories pushing more people into poverty
On 21 July Sinn Féin MP Francie Molloy said the Tory government was `intent on attacking low-paid workers and the unemployed and pushing more people into poverty’.
Speaking after the British parliament voted for the latest welfare bill, introducing new cuts to child and working tax credits and social protections Mr Molloy said it was `a further attack on low-paid workers and families on low incomes’. He said the Tory `assault’ on public services and the most vulnerable in society remained `the greatest threat to the political institutions in the north’.
He said the Tories had `no mandate in the north for their austerity cuts agenda which clearly isn’t working in Ireland, in Britain or in Europe’ and concluded `political leaders in the north need to stand together with civic society and demand a sustainable budget for the Executive which delivers public services and social protections for those most in need.’
Sinn Fein Chairperson urges `Coalition for reconciliation’
Speaking on 16 July, Sinn Féin National Chairperson Declan Kearney has called for a `coalition for reconciliation’ to `unlock the next phase of the peace process’.
Speaking a few days after addressing a packed public meeting in Westminster’s Portcullis House, Mr Kearney said `those who share a strategic vision for the future of the peace process must reach out to each other and make alliances for the greater good’.
He said that a coalition for reconciliation, `drawn from all sections of society and throughout Ireland and Britain’ was necessary to `unlock a new phase of the peace process’.
`The time has come for us all to develop reconciliation, promote healing and to embrace forgiveness’, he said, adding `that is a challenge which will be both difficult and painful because uncomfortable compromises inevitably need to be considered.’
He said it challenged everyone to `open our hearts and minds and embrace respect, generosity, forgiveness and trust’, as `the foundations of a shared future’.
He concluded that `reconciliation and healing must be our future otherwise society and politics will remain trapped in the pain and resentment of the past.’
Other speakers at the Westminster meeting included former British Government Minister for the North Peter Hain, Liberal Democrat Peer and former Assembly Speaker Lord John Alderdice, Irish in Britain Chief Executive Jennie McShannon, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Canon for Reconciliation David Porter, and Professor Mary Hickman of St Mary’s University London in the Chair. A full report of the meeting will be published in the August issue of An Phoblacht.
A series of articles on the theme `Uncomfortable Conversations’, initiated by Declan Kearney, can be found here.
`Zero tolerance’ against sectarianism
Later, on 17 July, Declan Kearney urged `a change in mindsets’ and tougher laws to tackle sectarianism.
Mr Kearney said the `deep-rooted levels of sectarianism in Northern society’ were `graphically in evidence during the last fortnight’.
He said that `an unambiguous zero tolerance must be shown against sectarian mind sets and actions by all sections of our community and towards every form of sectarian hatred – regardless of the source’.
He reiterated his call for forming a coalition for reconciliation `from within all sections of society and taking that agenda forward would be an important start’, adding `sectarianism needs to be stamped out and the bigots wedded to sectarian violence and vandalism dealt with by effective legislation, the police and the courts’.
He said `reconciliation, healing and a shared future is the only way forward. It is time for that agenda to have primacy, particularly in the North’, and concluded `none of us have anything to fear from the exercise of mutual respect and in fact much to learn from each other and our differing political and cultural traditions.’
Displays of sectarian hate need to be challenged – Adams
On 17 July, Sinn Féin Leader Gerry Adams TD called for political and legal action to end what he called `displays of sectarian hate’ that had accompanied 12th July events in the North.
Gerry Adams said the `open displays of sectarian hatred and intimidation which we witnessed around this year’s Twelfth celebrations are, regrettably, an increasing occurrence’.
Describing these as `hate crimes’ he said they were `completely unacceptable in any modern democratic society’. He said the public burning of the Irish national flag, `the burning of the effigies of nationalist and republican representatives and candidates’ election posters are hate crimes pure and simple’.
The organisers of bonfires where these crimes are committed `need to be rigorously investigated by the PSNI and the perpetrators prosecuted’, he said, adding `Police action to date has been derisory, but it is no longer acceptable for the PSNI to stand back while an entire community is demonised and subjected to an annual campaign of sectarian hatred.’
Mr Adams said he had initiated a complaint to the PSNI last July around an incident involving an effigy of him which he intended to press ahead.
He said `I do not believe that the disgraceful scenes we witnessed around some Twelfth bonfires represent genuine Orangeism. Sinn Féin fully support the rights of the loyal orders to parade and to celebrate but we need to see more leadership from unionist political parties and from the Orange Order on this issue.’
O’Dowd condemns attack on PSNI in Lurgan
On 19 July, Sinn Féin MLA John O’Dowd has condemned those responsible for an attempt to kill PSNI officers in Lurgan. The Upper Bann MLA said `This bomb attack in Lurgan was wrong and should be condemned by everyone. Thankfully no one was injured by these devices but several local families had to be moved from their homes.
He added `Not only did this attack endanger the lives of PSNI officers but it also could have killed or injured anyone else in the vicinity. It was attack on the entire community. Those responsible for this bomb showed absolutely no regard for the people of Lurgan with this attack.
He concluded `The community in Lurgan and people right across the North do not want this and we will not allow a tiny minority to attempt to drag us back to the past.’
United Ireland economy can deliver sustainable prosperity
On 23 July, Sinn Fein activists and leading economics experts gathered in Derry for a major economic strategy conference.
Sinn Fein MLA and Agriculture minister Michelle O’Neill was among speakers and asserted that a stronger economy in a united Ireland could deliver `sustainable prosperity for all’.
She said Sinn Fein wanted `a New and Equal United Ireland’ and were gathering for a `robust debate’ on how to achieve that.
The party would continue to `argue the case for greater economic powers for the north of Ireland [and] will argue the case for Irish Unity’, she said, adding `the more power the people of Ireland have, the more we can achieve and that extends to delivering a New and United Ireland’.
She said that the north faced `the daily challenges of the current financial and budgetary crisis’ which Sinn Fein sought `positive solutions’.
Sinn Féin’s approach to governance in the north, she said `acting in Ireland’s interest, demonstrates clearly what is possible even within the very severe financial and economic challenges that we face’.
She said that while `Westminster and Dublin cut during the crunch years, we invested what we could, where we could’ and had `invested all that we could in the northern economy’. They had also protected our Health Service from privatisation; protected people from water charges and prescription charges; ensured that older people benefit from free transport; and had retained the Educational Maintenance Allowance to support young people from poorer backgrounds to stay in education. She said Sinn Fein’s approach was one which `protected the people, invested in business, created jobs’.
This had been done `within the crippling constraints of British budget cuts that show no sign of going away’ she said.
She said `much more’ could be achieved within a United Ireland, `which is a just fair and equal Ireland’. She said `two competing, fractured economies on this island will not deliver prosperity for the people of Ireland’.
She added that `where joint enterprise is applied, such as in Health, not only does it provide a higher standard of care but it produces better economic outcomes also. It improves the economic and physical well-being of our citizens’.
She said Sinn Fein supported the creation of a Border Economic Zone as a means of fostering economic recovery in the border counties ensure that there is a timetable and plan for the full integration of public services in Ireland; and stood for an integrated economic strategy for Ireland.
British government austerity biggest threat to institutions – Murphy
Meanwhile, also speaking at the conference, Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy said the British government’s austerity agenda remained `the biggest threat to the political institutions in the North’.
He said `austerity isn’t working’, but was `all that is on offer from Britain’. In its place `we need to see sustainable and workable finances for the Executive to enable it to deliver core public services, protect the most vulnerable and create jobs’, he said, adding `we need to see a united campaign from a broad rage of society, including political parties, trade unions, community groups and others to fight austerity, protect public services and grow the economy.’
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