[Sinn Fein]

29th June 2002

`A first class mayor for first class people' - Adams

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams will tonight give the keynote speech at the Inaugural dinner in the City Hall for Alex Maskey as Mayor of Belfast. Mr Adams will say:

``Belfast is a small city.

It is the 2nd city of this island but it holds less than half a million souls.

And like this island Belfast is a divided city.

But then most cities are.

Like Belfast these cities are divided geographically and physically, by religion or by politics, by culture or by social class.

But in our city these divisions have led to violence and conflict, death and destruction.

Belfast is a city of contradictions.

200 years ago, in the late 18th century, fired by the example of the American Revolution and of the French revolution. Irish Presbyterians, many from this city. rallied to the aid of their catholic neighbours seeking redress for the discrimination and injustices they endured. They embraced the concept of Irish independence and freedom from Britain and formed the Society of United Irishmen.

The main leaders, the founders of Irish republicanism were Protestant. They include Wolfe Tone, Henry Joy McCracken, Mary Anne McCracken Jemmy Hope and Robert Emmet.

At that time the writings of Thomas Paine were widely read. The fall of the Bastille was celebrated here and the slave trade was banned.

But Belfast even then and increasingly as the decades passed, became embroiled in sectarianism, and bedevilled by the scourge of sectarian violence, it is so today.

Many of the districts and street names of conflict on interlace areas today can be found facing the same problems in the 1920s and 30s and before that in the previous century.

Some of the slogans and chants may be different but the consequences for the people of this city in deaths and injuries, and destruction and division were and are the same.

Belfast was also a city of innovation in industry and commerce. It was at one time the industrial heart of Ireland,

A lot of this has changed - indeed Belfast continues to change - in what is sometimes a very painful process of transition.

It is this Belfast, our Belfast, at this challenging time that has elected Alex Maskey as Mayor.

I am confident that he will be an exemplary First Citizen. A first class mayor for first class people.

Mar sin ta me go han sasta a bheith ag caint libhse. Ta me go han bhroduil agus ta fhois agam go bfhuil poblachtoiri ar fud na cathrach seo agus ar fud na tire go han bhroduil mar ta Alex Maskey ina chead Ardmheara Sinn Fein imBeal Feirste.

Agus ba mhaith liom mo bhuiochas a thabhairt do na daoine a thug votai do Shinn Fein i rith na blianta. Agus mo bhuiochas fosta do chomairleoiri eile anseo a thug taca do Alex. Comhghairdeas.

As a young man growing up in North Belfast Alex Maskey experienced at first hand the horrors of communal conflict.

As a young nationalist he knew the anger and pain of being treated as a second- class citizen in his own city - in his own country.

As a political activist he has been imprisoned without trial, been shot, been attacked on numerous occasions, his home and family targeted. His friend Alan Lundy was shot and killed in the Maskey family living room.

As a Councillor in this building he endured years of daily verbal and physical abuse, and was denied any opportunity to properly represent in the Chamber or on the Committees those who elected him. He was marginalized and excluded.

Alex Maskey could so easily have become a bitter man.

But he has already demonstrated in the few short weeks that he has held the post of Mayor that he is prepared to take risks, to reach out to political opponents and enemies and to show by deed as well as word that he genuinely and sincerely wants to be a Mayor for all the people of Belfast.

Nowhere is this more evident, and nowhere has Alex's personal courage and integrity been clearer than in his decision to lay a floral tribute on Monday at the Cenotaph for those who died at the Somme, in the First World War and for all their families.

Mar a dheirtear as Gaeilge, `Tus maith, leath na hoibre'

But neither Alex nor Sinn Fein wants to stop there.

Of course we want a United Ireland. We are Irish republicans. That is the reason for our very existence as a political party.

We believe in people and we believe that a republic, a truly national republic, is the best form of government for the people of this island. We believe that the conflict in Ireland is rooted in Britain's involvement, the partition of our country, and the differing political allegiances and divisions that British policy has fostered.

That is our view, our opinion. Others, many in this room perhaps, will have a different opinion. Fine. Let's talk about it,

Irish republicans seek an inclusive society not a divided one - an equal society not a two tier one.

We want to build a viable, working, effective partnership that radically changes society for the better.

We want to bridge the enormous gap of distrust that exists.

None of that will be easy but it is to everyone's advantage,

Belfast people have hurt each other deeply over many generations. This hurt has to be healed.

The unity of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter was the foundation stone of Irish republicanism. It remains so today. That sentiment has to be made a reality.

There are those, who are opposed to the peace process and to the Good Friday Agreement and who seek to undermine them by exploiting unionist fears about change and what it means for the future.

They must not be allowed to succeed.

Tonight, I want to reiterate once again that republicans can have no truck with sectarianism of any kind or from any source.

Everyone should have the right to live, to shop, to work, to travel, to be educated or entertained wherever they wish free from sectarian harassment of any kind.

I want to reiterate once again that Irish republicans are absolutely and firmly committed to the peace process.

I want to assure unionists that republican promotion of the equality and justice and human rights agenda is about securing the entitlements of every citizen and of building a strong and open democracy in which we can all promote and articulate our differing goals peacefully and democratically. Equality should threaten no one,

Republicans and nationalists will never ever again accept the status of second-class citizens - but neither will we ever impose second-class citizenship upon anyone else.

I want to repeat again tonight what I said last July in London, that I am totally committed to playing a leadership role in bringing a permanent end to political conflict on our island, including the end of physical force republicanism.

But this, like defending the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process, has to be a collective effort.

Building confidence and trust is a two way street. Ni neart go cur le cheile.

We are now individually and together going through a great period of change in our society. Tonight's event is part of all that.

But there is no real alternative to change and progress. So in committing ourselves to promoting that change in as constructive a way as possible let us also be vigilant and mindful of the efforts of those who want to destroy this process. They remain a powerful element within the British system and its agencies as well as within political unionism.

As we face into a week of more talks, including meetings with the Taoiseach and British Prime Minister let me give notice of the fundamental responsibility that Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern have to implement all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement.

All of us deserve a better future.

And there is no magic formula that will get us there.

What is required is a real partnership between the pro-Agreement parties and the two governments and all sections of our people which seeks to consolidate the peace process and which plans and carefully manages the process of transition we have now embarked on.

We have all come a long way in recent years.

We are on a journey, a journey of hope and discovery.

But a journey which has already shown that apparent intractable problems can be solved.

But we still have a lot more to do. This includes a fundamental commitment to eradicate sectarianism. That is what the vast majority of people want and despite the current and difficult challenges facing us all it remains my firm view that we will resolve all the difficulties facing us.

On a personal note I want to give thanks to Liz Maskey, and to Sean, Niall, Constance and bay Tierna, to Alex's parents and to the wider Maskey and McKee clanns.

Liz is a wonderful, generous, kindhearted human being, a republican of standing in her own right. She too was imprisoned without trial and suffered, maybe even more than Alex, enduring in the way that women do, all the tribulations visited upon herself, her husband and their family.

I would like to conclude with best wishes to Alex and all of his 50 other colleagues on Belfast City Council who have a daunting year ahead of them but who can in that year make a real difference for every citizen in this City, and to remind them of the words of a US President Abraham Lincoln, w/ho at a time of great stress in his country, ravaged by civil war, mindful of the multiple hurts inflicted on each side. of the grief of bereavement, and facing enormous challenges in the years ahead said:

`With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us that right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the Nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his Widow and orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.'

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