5 December 1997
Address by Martin McGuinness MP
Forum for Peace and Reconciliation
Ba mhaith liom a rá ar son Sinn Fein go bhfuil athas orainn bheith anseo. Is lá stáiriúil é seo. In the months since we last met here in Dublin Castle there have been many developments, positive and negative, in the search for peace in Ireland. Sinn Fein's priority, throughout this period, has been the re-building of the peace process and the creation of the more positive atmosphere which now exists. In Ireland today, while we have yet to achieve the peace which we all desire, there exists a potential for change which can benefit everyone living on the island.
I would like to congratulate Judge Catherine McGuinness and all those who have assisted in the re-establishment of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation and to commend the Irish government for the positive role they are playing in the current negotiations.
We are all mindful that this weekend marks the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the southern state and the partition of Ireland. An arrangement which has been a disaster for all the people on this island.
Now for the first time since this period representatives of republicanism, nationalism, unionism, loyalism and the Irish and British governments are all sitting down together. As the talks process now enters a critical period we have within our grasp a chance to fulfil the aspirations of countless generations and build a lasting peace settlement. But this will only happen if prevarication ceases and we begin honest and open dialogue.
In the past the Forum played an important role in facilitating much needed political dialogue and gave a voice to communities and groups who had been marginalised for far too long. Such was the value of its work that I believe the decision to close the Forum in February 1995 was hasty and misguided. This was a time when we should have been continuing dialogue rather than closing it down.
Over the year and a half of the Forum there was a great deal of common ground and commonality of analysis between most of the delegates. One of the few differences lay in the interpretation of the issue of consent.
For Sinn Fein, the issue of consent applies to the whole process, of seeking consent, of negotiating consent, of agreeing consent. But consent must not become a veto, in effect a unionist block on progress of any kind whereby no responsibility is placed on unionists to seek the consent of nationalists to anything, other than to the continued division of Ireland. Consent must be universally applied to all the people of Ireland and not reduced to a matter of arithmetic. Consent should be set within the political context of the acceptance by the British government of the Irish people's right to national self-determination
It is a great disappointment that the leaders of the Unionist and Loyalist parties are not here with us today. I hope that this will soon change. Unionists should join with us, both here and in the Talks, to agree the change they now must come.
Sinn Fein considers the realisation of the right of the Irish people to national self-determination as our primary political objective. We seek the establishment of a 32 County unitary state, independent, free and democratic. A republic economically prosperous and yet socially just.
Republicans are for consent, we are for agreement, we are for national reconciliation, we are for equality and justice. Just as Sinn Fein are encouraging debate about the type a society we want there is a responsibility on all the parties here today to involve people in this wider debate, something will ensure greater openness in the whole process.
There are several key issues which have to be addressed if we are to achieve a democratic peace settlement. The current concentration and focus on Articles 2 and 3 is missing the point. The conflict in the north over the last 30 years didn't occur because of the Irish government's claim to part of our country. The conflict occured because of inequality, injustice, discrimination and domination which is the direct result of Britain's illegal claim to part of the island. I haven't heard any member of the British government say that they are going to change all this, yet.
As we seek to restructure relationships on this island a pro-active equality agenda needs to map out how we can ensure equality in employment, in economic investment, for the Irish language and culture, in education and for political parties and their representatives. It must tackle the difficult issue of cultural symbols, of flags and emblems and of policing.
There must be a total demilitarisation of society with an end to all British military operations and an end to all British military building programmes pending the dismantling of military installations. It is time the British forces called a cessation .
There needs to be immediate action on the release of political prisoners.
We welcome this weeks repatriation of Pat Hayes, Denis Kinsella and Vincent Wood to Portlaoise jail but greater urgency is needed to ensure the repatriation of all republican prisoners from English jails, particularly those who have already served 23 years and have yet to receive a release date.
Within this jurisdiction the Irish government needs to take on its responsibility and show greater initiative in releasing political prisoners in Portlaoise jail. To date only seven republican prisoners have been released, while extradition proceedings are continuing against six others and there has been no serious attempt to address the circumstances of the 40 year men.
The continued vindictive detention of Róisín McAliskey must concern us all. Róisín McAliskey is innocent. Is she to spend a second Christmas in detention, this time with her infant child ?
We know that there is no easy road to peace and freedom. We know that there is much work ahead of us. But let us try to elevate our vision beyond the fears, the suspicions, and the recriminations of the past. Let us look forward to the time of our children and of our children's children. Let us work together to prepare for that future. Let everybody here today, particularly those parties not directly involved in the talks process, will use the opportunity of the re-establishment of the Forum to contribute positively to the developments which lie ahead.
Can I say in conclusion that nothing in seventy five years has given us more hope and encouragement than the opportunity presented by the current peace process but we must act now.
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