[Sinn Fein]

16th January 2003

Adams - Unionism in a new Ireland

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams MP speaking at today's meeting of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in Dublin titled `Political issues in and affecting Northern Ireland - views of Unionists and Protestants - said: ``We need to look at ways in which the unionist people can find their place in a new Ireland. All of this requires a willingness on our part to explore and to be open to new concepts.'' Mr. Adams said:

Sinn Fein has been engaging in dialogue with members of the Protestant and Unionist community particularly in the Six Counties for many years now. This engagement took on an added intensity and gained added importance with the public emergence of the embryonic peace process in 1993; in a few short weeks it will be ten years since John Hume and I issued our first public statement in April of that year.

The engagement takes place at a number of different levels: with the Churches and business people; with mainstream political parties and individuals from these parties; with loyalist representatives and people from the community and voluntary sector. Many of these exchanges are ongoing and remain an important part of our work.

We have sought through this dialogue to get to the root of the deep-seated misunderstanding and mistrust that separates nationalists and unionists and which contributes to the divisions on this island; and to pursue this as an essential element of the desired and required process of reconciliation.

We also came face to face with the human legacy of pain and hurt suffered by unionists over the last thirty years of the conflict. I have acknowledged this in the past and I do so again here today. Much hurt was inflicted on all sides and by all sides in the conflict.

I would describe the engagement with unionists and Protestants as a journey of discovery and understanding for all involved.

It has not been an easy process. It is also not possible to come to a political understanding of the complexities involved without taking into account the influence of British policy and the British connection.

Sinn Fein has brought an Irish Republican perspective and analysis to all of this. In our dialogue we sought to develop a comprehensive appreciation of the complexity of the people who live on this island.

I believe that one example of this is to be found in the actions of Belfast's Mayor Alex Maskey. In his time as Mayor Alex Maskey has made a good faith attempt to be a Mayor for all the people of Belfast.

I know there is deep concern among unionists about the future and in particular about a threat to their identity. I want to assure them that republicans are committed to a future based on democratic principles and to creating a pluralist society on this island.

I know from my own personal experience as a citizen denied by successive British and Unionist governments the right to express my cultural identity how much this type of discrimination fanned the flames of conflict.

Let me make it quite clear it is not our intention to put unionists into the political space that nationalists and republicans have long sought to escape from. There is of course much that is wrong and much injustice remains to be eradicated. But I am convinced if the leaders of unionism, nationalism and republicanism work together then the causes of conflict will be resolved peacefully. However difficult, I am committed to intensifying the required dialogue. The Good Friday agreement emphasises respect for cultural diversity. It creates a political framework in which there can be peaceful co-existence with Britain and on this island. The cornerstone of such diversity is equality. Political, social, economic and cultural equality; equality of opportunity; equality of treatment and parity of esteem. These remain both objectives and ingredients of peace.

Peace will emerge through dialogue, through negotiations. No one should be afraid of peace. No one should be afraid of dialogue.

Talking especially to those who have different political views can be a liberating process. It can also be an empowering process.

Irish republicans believe that Irish unity, on the basis of equality, offers the best future for all the people of this island. Therefore there is a responsibility on republicans to spell out to unionists what sort of united Ireland we seek. We need to look at ways in which the unionist people can find their place in a new Ireland. All of this requires a willingness on our part to explore and to be open to new concepts.

Republicans are also happy to engage with unionism on their vision for the future. We're open to listening to unionism about what they believe the union offers citizens. The opening up of a public debate around these key issues can only be a positive step forward.

In negotiations we all try to change each other's perspectives. In doing so there is the prospect and very often the reality that the negotiations will change everybody.

Possibilities not seen before begin to emerge. New ways of seeing an old problem begin to take shape.

New solutions have their seeds in such dialogue and engagement. This is how the future is shaped. This is how republicans want to shape the future with unionists.

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