[Sinn Fein]

30 July 1996

Equality and Parity are needed NOW!

In an article for today's Irish News, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams outlines the task now facing the Irish and British governments in the aftermath of the siege at Garvaghy Road.

In the wake of the Garvaghy Road capitulation by the British government there has been some public focus on the issue of nationalist rights in the 6 counties. For very obvious reasons, given the scale of the British government cave in, a lot of this debate has been depressingly negative. But the fact is that nationalist rights exist only as a gift of unionism. Those who are most outraged by the actions of the RUC, the Unionist leaderships or the British government, in recent times are from those sections of the Catholic professional classes who imagined or who hoped that this was not the case. They are understandably annoyed, outraged and angry.

But there is another side to all this. It is in seeking to understand the actions of David Trimble and Ian Paisley. There is a rationale behind their actions. They know that the achievement of equality of treatment for all citizens in the North will erode the very reason for the existence of that statelet. That is why they so dogmatically turn their faces against change. Even of a marching route.

Unionists traditionally support the Union because it enables them to be `top of the heap' in the Six Counties. A level playing pitch will make this impossible for them in practice and much of unionism will be left without any rational basis. Apart from this, all citizens have the right to equality of treatment. Irish republicans do not seek preferential treatment or privilege for any section of our people. We have always demanded equality.

The northern state was founded and is sustained on discrimination. It was and is underwritten by policies determined by London. Unionists can no longer be blamed for London's failure through 24 years of direct rule to effectively tackle economic and structural political discrimination against Catholics; unionists alone cannot be held responsible for the continuing cultural discrimination which denies Irish children their right to be taught through the medium of Irish, our national language; it is British policy which labels nationalists generally and Sinn Fein voters in particular, as inferior and second class. That much was made clear once again in the Lower Ormeau and on the Garvaghy Road. None of this can be tolerated any longer.

The wording of all the constitutional undertakings by the British is intended to maintain the union. There has been a general debate for some years now about British intentions and about how committed the British are to this and many who argued that London was neutral have had to review their position.

But it is important to note that the current British position does not prevent other constitutional changes or political advance. In fact the British government is committed to bring about equality of treatment. These commitments are contained in policy statements by successive Prime Ministers and in a number of agreements with Dublin.

This is important, for it is in this area of political and even constitutional change that the British can be subjected to a test. They need to remove all anti-nationalist symbols and appearances from the Six-County statelet by providing `parity of esteem' and by eliminating as far as possible all obvious and visible difference between there and the rest of the island of Ireland. They need to bring about legislative change to improve the position of nationalists while protecting the rights of other citizens.

This is also a task for the Irish government. It is now over eleven years since Garret Fitzgerald told us and the world that ``the nationalist nightmare is over.'

Democratic rights include national rights. Nationalists in the 6 counties are not an ethnic minority living in a foreign country. We are Irish people living in Ireland against our consent under foreign rule. In this respect a phrase which is often used is `parity of esteem'. I believe that this term would be better replaced by the more specific term of `equality of treatment'. What does this mean?

There is a pressing need for physical, legislative and practical expressions to deliver positive proof that nationalist rights, identities and allegiances are guaranteed actual parity. In political terms. It must mean all citizens and all political parties being treated equally.

In employment terms, we need effective anti-discrimination laws to remove the disparities in employment levels and opportunities between Catholics and Protestants. These have not changed in any real sense since the first Fair Employment Act in 1976, almost 20 years ago. Unemployment among Catholics today is more than twice that of Protestants. It is still significantly harder for Catholic to find work. New anti-discrimination laws, with effective affirmative action programmes and realistic goals and timetables, have to be introduced

There is a need for:

  1. Equality of opportunity. in employment;
  2. Equality of treatment for the Irish culture and identity;
  3. Equality of treatment of elected representatives and voters;
  4. Proper security provision for all citizens according to need;
  5. Equality in the provision of education, particularly through the medium of Irish;
  6. Equality of treatment in economic development.

It is in these areas of our daily lives that the quickest changes can occur. These changes do not require negotiation-they should happen as of right.

The absence of equality of treatment is one of the clearest examples of the failure of past and current political and constitutional structures. The reality is that the status quo is unacceptable and will have to be changed.

We do not seek to exclude. On the contrary, the search for peace - a new peace process - must be founded on inclusiveness; of bringing together people of different opinions on the basis of equality with the objective of finding agreement.

I have consistently argued that the consent and allegiance of unionists is needed to secure a peace settlement. But unionists cannot have a veto over British policy and Mr Major and others must stop pretending they have. The balance must be tilted away from the negative power of veto towards the positive power of consent, of seeking consent, of considering consent, of negotiating consent. Our proposal that the British join the persuaders is the logical extension of this.

Unionist allegiance to the British crown is matched by a deep distrust of the British government. The unionist leaderships desire for an internal settlement with a devolved administration comes from their wish to restore unionist rule, that is unionist domination. Inequality.

The Unionist furore over the agenda and procedural points which have bogged down the ``discussions `` at Stormont which ended on Monday night for a summer break is a case in point. It is a mark of those discussions that the only thing the parties agreed upon was the need for a holiday. It is also universally agreed among all creeds and political opinions that those `talks' are going no where.

While some of us are about the business of trying to create a real peace process the British government could inject some sense of confidence into the atmosphere here at this highly volatile time. Mr Major could begin to bring about equality of treatment.

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