Dodie McGuinness address
25th Anniversary Internment Rally
11 August 1996
It is with great pride and it is a tremendous privilege to be here speaking to you today.
Several months ago I was delighted to be chosen as an honorary West Belfast woman and to stand for that area in the May election. I had the honour to be elected, as part of Sinn Fein's negotiating team, with Alex Maskey, Annie Armstrong and of course Gerry Adams.
In North Belfast Gerry Kelly was elected. A total of 17 Sinn Fein representatives were elected throughout the north with a 49 per cent increase in the vote.
It is worth remembering today, in this city, as we recall the folly and stupidity of internment, that the Unionist parties showing that they have learned nothing in the past 25 years called for this march to be banned. Maybe the unionist parties and some other politicians both in this city and in other parts of the country need to be reminded that in the May election Sinn Fein received more votes than any other party in this city - than the UUP or the DUP or Alliance.
More people vote for Sinn Fein on this island than for the Democratic Left and the Progressive Democrats combined. That is an achievement of which you all can be justly pleased and proud.
There has inevitably been a focus on the controversy surrounding contentious parades by the various loyalist institutions. While that focus is perhaps greater this year, following the cave in by the British government over the siege of Garvaghy Road, and the curfew of the isolated Catholic communities being placed under curfew and facing intimidation and sectarian threats, is not new.
People of all generations all over the north but particularly here in Belfast will have experienced sectarian coat-trailing marches, loyalist attacks and the eviction of Catholic families by Orange mobs, condoned and indeed encouraged by successive Stormont regimes and ignored by the British government.
The fact is of course that this problem of triumphalist parades is a symptom of a greater problem - Britain's involvement in Ireland and the creation 75 years ago of a six county state for unionists. We must never forget in the immediacy of what is happening right now that those responsible for all the problems in this country are the British government and John Major.
That we still face this annual crisis is a measure of the failure to make any progress in the search for a negotiated settlement.
It is a measure of the extent to which Unionists will go to prevent change.
It has also reinforced many of the lessons which years of conflict had taught us about the British.
Two years ago this month the IRA announced its historic cessation. That was a unique and historic opportunity to create a lasting peace in our country. It lasted 18 months and eventually collapsed under the weight of British intransigence. John Major spurned the opportunity presented to him by nationalist Ireland. John Major wasted the best chance in 75 years to build a meaningful peace process which had the potential to created a new Ireland which could co-exist as a new neighbour with the island of Britain. Reflecting on events then and since it appears that the British sought to secure the victory which had eluded them during almost three decades of war.
The British too, are afraid of change.
But they have the primary responsibility for resolving the crisis over marches, as well as the broader political and constitutional issues; the issues of democratic rights and of demilitarisation.
John Major cannot walk away from his responsibilities. Through the 18 months of the IRA's cessation we saw no new ideas, no fulfilling of his public commitments, and most importantly, absolutely no engagement in goodfaith with the people of this island.
There is an onerous responsibility on his government to provide proper leadership and engage honest dialogue and to create the inclusive process of negotiations, based on equality, which is essential if we are to achieve a peace settlement.
There is also a heavy responsibility on the Irish government. It has a constitutional and moral duty to ensure that the rights of all sections of our people are upheld.
Regrettably, so far, there has been little evidence of any willingness on the party of the Unionist leaders to step back from the old and failed policies of the past. The events of Garvaghy Road, Lower Ormeau Road and just yesterday in Dunloy and Bellaghy and elsewhere and the language of threats which seems to be an integral part of Unionist rhetoric, have all made it difficult situation much worse.
It is also as if it is easier for Unionists to pursue the old ways. But the old ways have failed us and them.
It is madness for peace to be postponed because of narrow political or sectarian interests.
Let me spell out Sinn Fein's attitude to marches by the Loyal institutions.
It is time Unionist leaders stopped misleading their people.
We uphold the right of the Loyal institutions to march but that does not include the right to march over anyone; to trample the rights of others underfoot.
We don't have to like what unionism represents; in fact we are dogmatically opposed to unionism, but we do not seek to destroy the heritage or culture of that broad section of our people who are Protestant.
Just look at the facts surrounding the marches by the Loyal institutions. There are over 3000 of these. Less than one percent are in contention. Is that a threat? Of course not.
However we do say that all marches require the consent of those host communities through which they want to walk. That is not a threat - it is good manners - it is common sense. And it applies to republicans as much as it should apply to Unionists.
What is clearly needed now is an overall comprehensive settlement which puts behind us this annual crisis created by the marching season.
Sinn Fein stands for equality of treatment. Mutual respect and mutual integrity are essential to achieving that settlement. These are absent from our situation at present.
But despite the refusal of the British government and of the unionist leaderships to accept that things have changed, we will not be put off from seeking justice; we will not stop struggling freedom; for democracy for an Ireland free from British interference.
What is now urgently needed is action. If the Opportunity for a lasting peace which still exists is not to be lost we need real talks, comprehensive negotiation, about substantive and significant constitutional and political change, demilitarisation and democratic rights. We need a dialogue in which old enemies, in good faith, begin the process of reconciliation.
It is about a good faith engagement which seeks with honesty and integrity and through substantive negotiations to resolve deep-rooted controversial issues; replacing confrontation with dialogue; inequality with equality; injustice with justice; replacing violence with peace.
That will not be easy. But nationalists and republicans stand ready to talk.
Nationalists and republicans stand ready to take risks for peace.
Nationalists and republicans stand ready to find an accommodation between all the people of this island which enjoys their consent and allegiance.
Despite the efforts of the Stormont regime; despite Interment; despite censorship; despite the combined efforts of the British establishment, its military wing; and of Unionists; Sinn Fein's popularity and strength has grown.
We are not going away.
We will not accept a second class status.
There is no going back to the failed policies of the past.
The ``croppies'' are off their knees.
Sinn Fein stands shoulder to shoulder with you in demanding equality of treatment; in demanding parity of esteem; in demanding our democratic and national rights. In demanding that the British government leave the people of this island in peace.
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