[Sinn Fein]

Both Peace and Freedom

Speech by Sinn Fein Chief Negotiator
Martin McGuinness MP


John F. Kennedy School of Government
Harvard University

4.30pm Friday 14th November 1997

It was a US President John F Kennedy who said ``our goal is not the victory of might; but the vindication of right; not peace at the expense of freedom but both peace and freedom ... ``

History occasionally grants each of us a unique opportunity to contribute to the future well being of others - to help achieve both peace and freedom. This is just such a moment in the long and tragic history of Ireland.

A new century, a new millenium beckons to us all. It holds out the hope of a new beginning for the people of Ireland. What we need is the courage - the political will - to work together, and the vision of a democratic peace settlement acceptable to all the people of our island.

If the participants around the negotiating table in Belfast can meet these challenges, then we are at the start of a process of transition from conflict and division, to peace and democracy. This places an onerous responsibility upon us all. We will face difficulties but they must be overcome.

Sinn Fein is absolutely committed to democratic and peaceful methods of resolving problems. We are determined to win an equitable and lasting agreement which can accommodate diversity and provide for national reconciliation in a representative democracy.

Building a new democracy

The task before us all is a difficult one; to remove the causes of centuries of conflict. In its place there must be a durable peace and stability.

After 75 years of partition there is widespread acceptance that the division of Ireland has damaged the political, social, economic and cultural development of the island.

The northern statelet is a failed entity. It has depended for its survival on discrimination, repression and injustice. There has been an absence of democracy. For over 50 years it was a one party state controlled by unionists and governed largely in their interests. The dominant ethos, as enunciated by Lord Brookborough, was ``a protestant state for a protestant people.''

The cost of the past 30 years of conflict in human and economic terms has been enormous. Over 3000 killed, many more injured and crippled. The scars of sectarianism, division and fear run deep. Since 1969 it is estimated that the military costs of the north for Britain have been between 20 - 25 billion. The drain on the 26 counties has also been substantial. There too, citizens have been killed and injured. In 1994 it was estimated that since 1969 the Dublin government has spent over 2.5 billion on security. In real terms this means that annually, the Irish government has been spending twice as much on maintaining the border as on its budget for the Industrial Development Authority.

Apart from the political conflict and sectarian divisions which partition reinforced, the social and economic consequences have been disastrous for working people North and South. As the New Ireland Forum stated in 1983: ``The division of the island has been a source of continuing costs, especially for trade and development in border areas, but in general also to the two separate administrations which have been pursuing separate economic policies on a small island with shared problems and resources. The North was not a natural economic or administrative unit and its separation from the rest of the island, resulting in separate approaches rather than a single policy for each sector, without provision even for joint planning or capital investment programmes, had heavy economic penalties ... In addition, there has been duplication of effort at official and private level and an absence of economies of scale in the transport, tourism and energy sectors and in the health and education services.''

The border economies have also been devastated by partition. It divided up naturally balanced local economies, depriving them of the ability to be commercially viable. Partition destroyed businesses in both sides of the border, increased emigration and rural depopulation as families moved to urban centres.

Clearly partition has failed the people of our island, nationalist and unionist. It has failed for the British too. The political structures and institutions in the north, born out of partition, fail the democratic test. There can be no going back to the failed policies and structures of the past, to the domination of a one-party unionist state supported by the British government.

It is our hope that the peace process sees the closing of the door on that part of our history. We are opening a new door. A start has been made. There is widespread acceptance that the status quo cannot work.

President Nelson Mandela spoke of what this requires when he said: ``What challenges us, is to ensure that none should enjoy lesser rights; and none tormented because they are born different, hold contrary political views or pray to God in a different manner.''

So, we are tasked with looking to the future. In plotting that course we must effect a comprehensive agenda for change. We believe that the search for agreement through negotiation must address three broad areas: constitutional and political matters, issues of demilitarisation and issues of democratic rights.

Self-determination is the key human right

If the peace process is to be effective it must remove the root causes of the conflict.

Our starting point must be the recognition, particularly by the British government, that British policy in Ireland has manifestly failed. British policy imposed the union of ``Great Britain and Ireland''. It sustained the union by various means including coercion and the creation of divisions. Today that policy upholds the union. This is undeniably the root cause of the conflict in Ireland. From that core position flows the divisions and other issues which have fuelled the conflict.

Britain's policy of upholding the union should change to one of ending the union. Democratic opinion in Ireland and Britain should seek to persuade the British government to such a policy change.

The issue of sovereignty - the power to enact domestic legislation and make international treaties - is a key matter in the negotiations. This is critical to much that affects the day to day lives of the people of Ireland. Democratic imperatives apart, who is better placed to recognise and deal with the needs of the people of Ireland, in legislative terms, than the people of Ireland ourselves.

The chief enabling factor in this direction is the free exercise by the people of Ireland of our right to self-determination without external impediment of interference; the right to determine our own social, economic and cultural development without partial or total disruption of the national unity or territorial integrity.

These criteria are not observed in Ireland.

The legacy of British colonialism in Ireland must be addressed and resolved. How this is accomplished is a matter for the people of Ireland alone to determine. So too the outcome.

Self-determination by the people of Ireland alone is the key right which must be upheld in the search for an agreement which can provide durable peace and stability.

Sinn Fein has entered the negotiations as an Irish republican party seeking to promote the broad nationalist objective of an end to British rule in Ireland. It is our firm view that the resolution of this conflict will only be found in an all-Ireland context.

Our objective is to achieve through dialogue among the Irish people an agreed Ireland. The political and historical evidence shows that political independence, a united Ireland, offers the best guarantee of equality and the most durable basis for peace and stability. An internal Six-County arrangement cannot work.


Many other issues fuel the conflict. For example there needs to be equality of treatment in terms of employment, economic development and the Irish language and culture, as well as on the difficult issue of cultural symbols, of flags and emblems. In other words there needs to be equality in all sectors of society - in social, economic, cultural, education, justice and democratic rights issues.

These issues do not require negotiation. They are issues of basic civil and human rights. As such they are non-negotiable. The British government should act on these issues immediately by outlining a programmatic approach which delivers real change, which makes equality a reality and which builds confidence in the wider peace process. The immediate responsibility for equality rests with the British government and there should be no artificial distinctions, no arbitrary barriers placed in the way of these rights.

But the Irish government and Irish nationalists also have a responsibility; a responsibility to ensure that the concerns and fears of the unionist population are addressed and resolved through negotiation; a responsibility to ensure the rights of all citizens. A process of national reconciliation must secure the political, religious and democratic rights of the northern unionist population. That is not only the democratic norm but a practical necessity if we are to advance the cause of peace in Ireland. Demilitarisation

It is self-evident that peace requires the demilitarisation of our society. The political climate in which these talks occur could be significantly improved if the British government acted positively and speedily to demilitarise the situation.

Repressive legislation should end. The deployment of military and para-military forces by the British government should end. The ongoing construction programme of new fortifications should end. The issue of political prisoners must be fully resolved. There must be urgent movement on the release of all political prisoners

Regrettably I have to tell you that four months into this cessation none of these things have happened. On the contrary it would appear that the `securocrats', those with a military agenda within the British establishment, are still successfully pursuing a strategy of war by another means. There has been no change in British military policy since July. Events on the ground are causing serious concern. There has been no significant movement on the prisoners issue. Specifically we have the case of republican prisoner, Pat Martin, held in Britain, who two weeks ago was taken from his cell, stripped naked, beaten and placed in solitary confinement, where he remains at this time. No explanation has been given for this brutal treatment. If relatives ask me, as they do, `what peace process ?' what do I tell them ?

In West Belfast, Derry, Tyrone, South Armagh and other nationalist areas, raids continue, harassment continues, surveillance and targeting by British military forces and loyalists continues, Sinn Fein Councillors and others are told that loyalist death squads have, in collusion with elements in the British forces, secured information on them and are targeting them for attack, new state-of-the-art fortifications are being built, other are being reconstructed - where is the evidence of a peace process for the people, and especially the young people who live in nationalist areas ?

No Progress in the Talks

In recent days we have agreed new structures for the talks process. This was necessary because of the refusal of the unionist party - the Ulster Unionist Party - to engage properly in the talks.

Of course, there has been a considerable amount achieved in getting most of the parties into one room but what is required to make it work is political will. Political will is the fuel that is needed to drive the engine to bring about the changes which are required. That political will does not exist among the unionists.

Why ? Because they are determined to maintain a failed undemocratic, inequitable status quo, because they are determined to resist change.

So while there is clearly a division within Unionism on its approach to the peace process this is only on the issue of tactics. The peace process is itself seen as running counter to unionist interest, involving a renegotiation of present political arrangements and, as the inevitable consequence of such negotiations, political and constitutional change. And change, no matter how modest, is opposed by unionism.

The Ulster Unionist Party is, therefore, participating in the talks process reluctantly, because of political pressure from the present British government and because elements of their own constituency, realising that change is inevitable, feel that it is better that they should be in there managing and attempting to limit the degree of change. Unionist involvement is, as their leader candidly admits, purely tactical, designed to maintain the status quo, to undermine the potential of the process to deliver a settlement and, failing this, to ensure that change is minimal.

By destroying the credibility and validity of the process they also hope to drive Sinn Fein out of the talks and some of them even have difficulty in disguising their hope that the IRA will return to war.

If the Unionists don't want to engage that's fair enough, that's their right, but the two governments cannot cave-in because the unionists choose to sit on their hands. The onus is very firmly on the British and Irish governments to apply themselves to moving the process forward.

Pushing the Process Forward

There are huge gaps of distrust to be bridged. We need to secure an accommodation, based on equality. There is no alternative. Everyone must fact up to that reality. Building peace is a collective responsibility. In setting out the republican position I also want to stress our willingness to listen to other positions and to see and to uphold the dignity of all sections of our people.

The British government also has a crucial and constructive role to play in persuading unionists to reach a democratic agreement on the issue of Irish national reunification with the rest of the people of our island and to encourage, facilitate and enable such agreement. In the Downing Street Declaration the British government agree that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone to exercise their right to self-determination. The British government, without qualification, should act upon that position and encourage, facilitate and enable the agreements which are for the people of Ireland alone to determine.

International Support

I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the contribution of Senator Mitchell and his colleagues in the negotiating process. The President of the United States Bill Clinton and his administration have also played, and continue to play, a pivotal role in the peace process. The balanced and even handed approach of the United States has helped create the opportunity which currently exists.

Sinn Fein has long argued for an international dimension to the search for peace in Ireland. The international dimension is one which can play a crucial part in maintaining the momentum and dynamic through the negotiations.


A viable opportunity now exists to remove the causes of conflict, to overcome the legacy of history and to heal the divisions which have resulted, to set aside the failures of the past and to build a democratic, just and equal society in Ireland which is fashioned by the people of Ireland alone to meet our needs.

Everyone shares a responsibility to bring about a real and new and lasting peace in Ireland.

Republicans have demonstrated the political will to face up to our responsibility in this. This is evident in the initiatives we have taken, both unflattering and with others in Ireland to advance the search for peace. The courageous initiative taken by the leadership of the Irish Republican Army on July 20, in restoring its cessation of August 31, 1994 is most significant.

Our long standing position has been one of willingness to enter into dialogue with a view to removing the causes of conflict. Democratic, political and practical imperatives clearly require the involvement of all political views if a democratic resolution is to be sought and achieved.

Much difficult work lies ahead if the potential that currently exists is to be realised to the full.

Transforming Irish Society

Sinn Fein is committed to a transformation of Irish society. We know that peace is not simply the absence of violence. Our vision sees beyond the present conflict and beyond the present phase of our history.

Our vision embraces democracy, it is economic as well as political. We are for the redistribution of wealth, for the well-being of the aged, for the advancement of youth, for the liberation of women and for the protection of our children.

Our vision is for a free Ireland and for a free people. It is for an end to war.

It foresees the relationship between Britain and Ireland resting upon our mutual independence. It is this vision which sustains our efforts to reach agreement and a new accommodation between all our people.

There is nothing complicated, or unreasonable about these goals or their achievement.

In an island of only 5 million people it makes sense to have a single unitary state, with decentralised powers, making decisions in the best interests of the Irish people and economy. We are more capable, we have a greater incentive, than British Ministers who fly in and out, to determine the needs and harness the resources and make the decisions necessary to improving the quality of life of our people. We don't need British Ministers to rule us. We Irish are will able to agree our own future and dictate the direction which it will take. We believe that nationalists and unionists, republicans and loyalists can do a much better job of running our economy and looking after our health service, our elderly, our young, our urban and rural communities, than any British government.

In an island of 5 million a single currency, a unified financial system, tax harmonisation and so on, make sense. Other aspects of economic development such as infrastructural development, electricity generation, tourism, agriculture, fishing, rural development and much more, can be advanced and can significantly improve the standard of living of all the people of our island.

Freed of the shackles of partition, and division, and foreign interference, we can transform Irish society, removing inequalities, tackling poverty, redistributing wealth and protecting civil and religious liberties. This new society can be one in which we live together in mutual respect and work together in mutual regard and partnership - a society in which peace is not a mere interlude between wars but an incentive to the creative and collective energies of all the people of our island.

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