[Sinn Fein]

7 July 1998



During some of my more recent visits to the USA, and as I have come to learn more about the situation there, in a series of speeches and comments I have drawn comparisons between the situation here in the north of Ireland nowadays and events in the southern states of the USA in the late 50's and 60's.

This week at the height of the seige of Garvaghy Road I met with my friend Tom Hayden, the Californian Senator, who is here with Barbara Williams and his son Troy. They along with Congress member Donald Payne had travelled to Portadown along with eighty other human rights observers at the request of the Garvaghy Road residents. Tom drew direct comparisons between the two situations. He recalled the time when ``southern segregationists, with the acquiescence of local police, were burning buses and brutally assaulting civil rights workers'' like himself.

``The sit-ins and the Freedom Rides were very controversial and local activists very much alone. There was presure for them to stop even from within the Kennedy administration which feared alienating elements of their southern base. But the activists who were struggling for change would not call a moral moratorium'' The Kennedy administration had to make the call. They came down on history's right side.

That is what the British and Irish governments have to do if the crisis created by orange marches is to be resolved. Only one percent of these marches are involved. The issue of inclusive and direct dialogue, based on equality, is at the crux of this matter. The Orangemen refuse to talk. They refuse to accept the rights of nationalists to be consulted or for them to chose their own representatives. In other words they refuse to come to terms with the reality that if there is to be truly a new era then no group has the right to dominate another. I accept that this is a difficult concept for unionism and orangeism to embrace at this time.

This statelet was established as an orange state. And the orange order was the cement which held unionism, of all classes and social groupings, together. The orange order is an anti-catholic organisation which has members well placed in all of the institutions of the state, through the Churches, sections of the business community, the RUC, the Judiciary, and the Civil Service. It has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

The growing confidence of the nationalist section of our people, efforts to implement an equality agenda, and the need to build a new society on this island is seen by orangeism as a threat to its position. It is presented by its leaders as a threat to the protestant way of life. It is not. But it is only through dialogue that the two sides, that is those of us who want change and those who feel threatened by change, will get to understand each others positions.

So, the main objective of all who wish to see these matters resolved must be to bring about dialogue.

The responsibility upon the British government must be to uphold the rights of all citizens to be free from sectarian harassment.

If it genuinely means to do this then the British government risks alienating substantive elements of unionism, if only on a temporary basis. So London, and the establishment on this island, have only come to this proposition reluctantly as the example of other years on Garvaghy Road testify.

The temptation now is for the pressure to go on the residents because it will be suggested, as it has been already, that they need to make concessions to orangeism rather than risk David Trimble's position within unionism. This suggestion underestimates the strength of Mr Trimble's position and it ignores his responsibility as recently elected First Minister designate.

Mr Trimble's new position compels him to take an non-partisan position on these matters and a pro-active role in seeking their resolution. He cannot refuse to talk. Only last week the representatives of all of the political parties in this state, including many orange leaders, were present in the inaugural meeting of the shadow Assembly. Unionists, including orange members sit in local government with representatives of all of the other parties, and do business with them. The same thing must happen now if a voluntary accommodation is to be found to the current crisis.

The Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition have already put forward a five point initiative to resolve the stand-off at Garvaghy Road. Unfortunately this was rejected by the Unionists and the orange order. I have appealed to them to reconsider this initiative or to propose an alternative. In any case they need to enter into dialogue because without dialogue an accommodation is impossible. With dialogue a solution is always a possibility.

As the Twelfth of July approaches the seige of Garvaghy Road is intensifying. This morning trades people - milkmen, breadservers and so on were prevented for a short while from entering and residents were blocked from leaving Garvaghy Road by a crowd of loyalists. Young children going to the USA were delayed and some elderly people could not get to Mass. The on-going machinations of mob rule prevail and the efforts to intimidate are undisguised.

But there can be no backing down now in the face of pressure and threats from the massed ranks of orangeism. This current difficult phase must be managed calmly and with an eye to the future. We must come down on the right side of history. And the right side of history is the side of change. We cannot expect those who fear change to come on board until they know that they cannot stop it. Only when this is clear will they seek to play a role in shaping it. I have always made it clear that the best way to bring about change is by managing it in a shared way. That is the challenge facing us all today.

That was the challenge facing Americans in Birmingham Alabama in 1963 when President Kennedy sent in 3000 federal troops to protect black citizens from intimidation when the courts ordered integration at the University of Alabama.

That was the challenge in 1962 when President Kennedy sent 20,000 federal troops to Mississippi to guarantee the enrollment of black student James Meredith.

That was the challenge in 1957 in Little Rock after Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus defied a court order to integrate a Little Rock public school and when President Eisenhower sent in 12,000 federal troops to guarantee that six black children could be admitted as pupils.

That is why America must stand by the people of Garvaghy Road.

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