10 June 1996
Transforming Hope into Reality
Negotiating a New Beginning
This is the speech which Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams planned to make to the Plenary Session of the All-Party talks. Sinn Fein received 15.47% of the vote in the elections of 30 May 1996. The British government stated that these elections would provide a clear, direct and automatic route into all party talks. Despite this Sinn Fein are excluded from these talks.
In the opening line from Bobby Sands diary on the first day of his hunger strike he wrote, ``I am standing on the threshold of another trembling world.''
Today there are many in Ireland and throughout the world, who at this defining moment in our history are fearful of the future. There is an undercurrent of hope, coupled with uncertainty, of optimism combined with apprehension. This is clearly evident as they watch and listen to those of us gathered here.
The people of Ireland, from every corner of our country, and from throughout the Irish diaspora across the world, have expressed that hope in their yearning for a lasting peace settlement and new democracy. This gathering represents the historical opportunity to translate that hope into reality.
Today will be indelibly imprinted in the history of our country. We have before us a unique and unprecedented opportunity to forge a peace accord for all the people of the island. If this opportunity is to be translated into reality, we must all respond to it with courage and imagination.
Más féidir linne atá bailithe anseo inniu - daoine as gach aicme agus as gach tráidisiún sa tír seo - más féidir linne an dúshlán seo a fhreagairt, beimid ag cur tús leis an turas ó chomrac agus aigheas go dtí síocháin agus daonlathas.
If we who are gathered here, representing all sections and strands of opinion on this island can meet these challenges, today will mark the commencement of the transition from conflict and division to peace and democracy.
Sinn Fein have played a pivotal role in creating today's opportunity. We are here as peacemakers.
Building a new democracy
It is our collective responsibility to make an outstanding success of the process in which we are engaged. It is our task to build a democracy which will be owned by every woman, man and child, on this island. This democracy is one which they must have a part in creating because it is they who must benefit from the political, economic, social and cultural benefits which will inevitably flow from it. That means removing the causes of conflict. British policy in Ireland has manifestly failed. Partition has failed. The decades of unionist rule in the north were exclusive and partisan. Those days are gone forever. There is 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. There can be no return to the abuses and bitterness which marked the Stormont period. We must move forward. How do we do that? How do we fulfil the potential, the ideals and dreams, so that our children and future generations can enjoy peace and justice?
Is é rún daingean Shinn Fein an próiseas síochána seo a athbheochan. Creidimid gur cóir na fadhbanna atá againn a fhuascailt go daonlathach agus go síochánta agus tá fúinn réiteach cothrom agus buan a bhaint amach - réiteach atá le toil gach duine ar an oileán seo.
Sinn Fein is absolutely committed to democratic and peaceful methods of resolving problems and we are determined to win an equitable and lasting agreement which can command the allegiance of all the people of this island by accomodating diversity and providing for national reconciliation.
This will not be easy. The road ahead will be difficult and dangerous and risky for all of us, but working together I am convinced we can succeed. It is my conviction that we will have a peace settlement. I am convinced that if we are resilient, if we dig deep, we can overcome all obstacles.
Heal the Wounds
I believe that we can put the anguish of the past behind us; we can heal the wounds; we can learn to forgive. We have all suffered over the generations, we have all lost loved ones, and friends and neighbours. We must learn the lessons of the past - not to recriminate, for as William Butler Yeats said:
``We need not feel the bitterness of the past to discover its meaning for the present and future''.
I acknowledge here the hurt which republicans have caused and I pledge Sinn Fein's total commitment to the task of ensuring that that never happens again.
Part of our joint responsibility is to help illuminate the way, to chart the road forward and provide the people of Ireland with beacons or guide-lines, based on international experiences, as we traverse this period of transition. We must embark upon this journey from the past, through our transition and into a new future.
A Viable Process of Negotiation
If it is to be successful, the process of negotiation must tackle the many issues which lie at the heart of the conflict.A viable process of negotiation requires a good faith engagement on all sides. That is Sinn Fein's commitment. These negotiations need to be inclusive and with all relevant issues addressed in a full and comprehensive fashion.
Sovereignty is the Key Issue
Sinn Fein is an Irish republican party. Our objective is to end British rule in Ireland. We want to see a society on this island which reflects the diversity of our people. This is not therefore a northern issue only. Partition effects all of us. Irish freedom, democracy and peace are in the interests of all the people on the island. Sinn Fein seeks national self-determination, the unity and independence of Ireland as a sovereign state.
In our view this issue of sovereignty, the claim of the British government to sovereignty in Ireland, is the key matter which must be addressed in any negotiation.
The British government have stated that it ``has no selfish strategic or economic interest in northern Ireland. Our role is to help, enable and encourage''. If this be the case then the London government should join with the Dublin government to help, enable and encourage the transfer of sovereignty to the people of Ireland.
And while a peace settlement may create conditions for peaceful co-existence, the prosperity and well-being of the people of this island rests on the restoration of sovereignty to them
We know that others hold a different view but it is our intention to put the issue of the union on the agenda. Negotiations are an area of struggle for Irish republicans. We know there are difficulties for everyone, not least the unionist section of our people but I think it is fair to say that there is a broad acceptance that these negotiations must bring about substantive and significant change. From Sinn Fein's point of view these changes must be in the following areas:
Let us discuss these and other matters in a positive and constructive atmosphere.
Parity of Esteem
There are many issues which fuel the conflict and which need to be tackled and which do not require negotiation. For example; parity of esteem and equality of treatment will have to be dealt with; the imbalance in the employment ratio; equality in economic development; greater and more equally shared prosperity; the Irish language and culture need equality of treatment; there is a long overdue need to bring about the empowerment and inclusion of deprived and marginalised communities. These should be pursued inside and outside negotiations.
The whole issue of demilitarisation needs to be resolved. This includes the release of all political prisoners, disarmament, policing, the administration of justice and an end to repressive legislation.
Bridging the Gap of Distrust
Tá an méid seo soiléir. Glactar leis go forleathan go bhfuil gá le hathruithe bhunúsacha. Is é an t-athrú atá ó Shinn Fein. Níl eagla orainn roimh an athrú sin. Ghlac muid go fonnmhar le hathruithe. Is é an t-athrú bunchloch na streachailte polaitiúla agus is ar an athrú a bhunófar réiteach buan síochána. Tá sé de dhualgas orainne déanamh cinnte de nach féidir na hathruithe a philleadh ar ais.
Sinn Fein seeks change. We are not afraid of change. We have embraced change. It is the life-blood of political struggle and the basis for a lasting peace agreement. Our task must be to make change irreversible.
Some weeks ago, in a spirit of generosity and of trying to create a space in which progress could be made I stated Sinn Fein's preparedness, in the context of proper all-party talks and in a situation in which all the other parties sign up to the Mitchell principles and report, that Sinn Fein will do so also.
I welcome the appointment of Senator Mitchell and his colleagues to this negotiating process. 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. Failure through negotiations is inconceivable. There is no room for failure through error. We need to be persistent and pragmatic.
Clearly, there is a huge gap of distrust between nationalists and unionists. It must be bridged. We need to secure an accommodation, based on equality, which rejects the possibility of any individual, or any section of people, irrespective of religion, gender, age, disability or politics from being discriminated against. No process which excludes any section of opinion can hope to be successful.
Does anyone here doubt that Irish nationalists and unionists together have the ability to govern ourselves better than any British Ministers? Do even those here who profess a loyalty to the British connection trust the British government? Would it not be better for us to build trust among ourselves.
I believe that Ian Paisley and David Trimble, with whom I have many disagreements, but who care about their people, can with the rest of us do a much better job of running our economy and looking after our health service, our elderly, our young, our urban and rural communities.
We don't need British Ministers. The people of this island have the right and the ability to govern ourselves.
Theip ar ar tharla go dtí seo. Caithfimim a thuiscint anois - mar nár thuig muid ariamh - gur ar scáth a chéile a mhairimid. Caithfear tabhairt agus glacadh a bheith ann. Tá sé in am againn an dearcadh claonta a fhágáil ar leataoibh agus aghaidh a thabhairt ar na deacrachtaí atá ann. Caithfimid ár gcloigne a ardú os cionn na mbaracáidí - baracáidí na heagla agus an amhrais atá ina gcuid lárnach dár stair.
What has gone before has failed all of us. We must realise now as we never have before, our interdependence on each other; that we must give as well as take.
It is time to set aside our prejudices, to acknowledge the difficulties which exist and to lift our heads above the barricades of fear and suspicion which have been part of our history for much too long.
This is equally true of the relationship between Irish republicans and the British. Mr Major, let each of us put behind us the failures of the past, the lack of confidence, the distrust. We can do business, we can find agreement if we are prepared to take risks and if the political will exists on all sides.
The Hand of Friendship
Today I offer the hand of friendship to all our political opponents. I pledge Sinn Fein's commitment to peace and to negotiations and to agreement. We have the political will to pursue these goals and we ask others to demonstrate that same commitment.
That is the only reliable guarantor for all our future. The imperative of peace demands that we apply ourselves to the enormous task before us. Peace cannot be built unilaterally. Peace cannot be based on inequality or injustice or exclusion. Peace demands justice. It requires freedom, 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 dignityof all sections of our people.
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 foresees the unity of the people of this island. East with west, north with south, urban with rural, Catholic with Protestant and dissenter.
Our vision is 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 rejects forced emigration and unemployment, the destruction of the environment, cultural oppression, sexism and inequality.
Our vision embraces education. It embraces democracy. It is economic, as well as political. 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 visions which sustains our struggle. It demands that we take risks. Negotiations are an area of struggle for us. It demands that we persevere in our efforts to reach agreement and a new accommodation between all our people.
Seo uair na cinniúna inár stair agus caithfimid an uair a fhreastail. Seo an t-am ag muintir an oileáin seo chun seasamh le chéile agus muid ag cur chun bóthair ar turas achrannach a thabharfaidh chun reeitigh sinn.
Tá a bhfuil i ndán dúinn feasta - cé acu ann chun tosaigh nó ar gcúl a ghluaisimid - ag brath ar na cinnidh agus na gníomhartha a dhéanfaimid as seo amach. D'fhág an stair dúshlán ag an doras againnn. Tá sé riachtanach go n-éireofar linn dár muintir uile agus dona glúnta atá fós le theacht.
This is a watershed moment in our history which must be seized. Now is the time for all the people of this island to stand together as we embark on this difficult journey toward agreement.
Our decisions and actions will determine whether we move forward. History has placed a challenge at all our doors. We must succeed in this for all our people and for generations yet to be born. Poet Laureate Seamus Heaney put it well:
``......once in a lifetime the longed for tidal wave of justice can rise up and hope and history rhyme''.
Let us make hope and history rhyme.
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