[Sinn Fein]

27ú Feabhra 2002

Sinn Fein President gives guarded welcome to SDLP call for `persuasion exercise' for Irish unity

Speaking in Rosscommon today while visiting the constituencies of Laois/Offaly and Longford/Roscommon Mr. Adams rejected Mark Durkan's remarks yesterday on policing but gave a guarded welcome to the SDLP leaders call for a Ogenuine persuasion exercise' with unionists about Irish unity.

Mr. Adams said:

``In recent weeks Mitchel McLaughlin and I have publicly called for nationalists and republicans to engage in a dialogue with unionism about the shape, form and nature of a united Ireland'.

``Republicans accept that we have to seek to persuade unionism that its interests will be better served in a united Ireland - a new agreed Ireland. And that process of persuasion should begin now.

``I therefore welcome Mr. Durkan's support for this position. If his remarks indicate that the SDLP is moving away from its post nationalist position that is also to be welcomed.

``Yesterday in Dublin I reiterated my view of the need for a dialogue with unionists but I also called for the creation of an Alliance for Irish unity.

``I would like to think that the SDLP or members of the SDLP will be prepared to examine this proposal and be prepared to embrace such a development. This means building a consensus for a new Ireland and encouraging the Irish government to engage with the British government on this basis so that London moves to a pro-Irish unity policy.

``Of course the priority at this time is to bed down the Good Friday Agreement, to implement all aspects of it and to stabilize the pp.

``We have to remember that for many unionists the change we are embarked upon is a terrifying prospect. Change can be frightening. Change can be seen as a threat. Change is always difficult, even in our personal lives - even when it is for the better. When taken in the context of a conflict change can be traumatic.

``There is therefore an imperative for republicans to reach out to unionists and there is a particular onus on republicans to spell out to unionists what sort of united Ireland we seek - one that is inclusive, built on equality and justice and human rights. We need to look at ways in which the unionist people can find their place in a new Ireland. We need to look at decentralisation. We need to look at what they mean by their sense of OBritishness'.

``In this context of constructing a new Ireland, an Ireland in which British government jurisdiction has ended, it is our responsibility to ensure that unionists are open to accepting this development.

``The reality is that unionists no longer have a veto over Irish unity. But at the same time in order to have the type of inclusive society which republicans desire we need unionists assent. So we have to quietly, persuasively, and as friends and neighbours persuade unionists that they should not be afraid of taking a leap of imagination. Unionists should be prepared to put forward their vision for the future and to consider, discuss, and engage with nationalists and republicans about the nature and form a new and acceptable united Ireland might take.

``A United Ireland will not be a cold house for unionists if it guarantees their rights and entitlements, if they have their own place, their own stake in it and a sense of security and ownership.''

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