Martin McGuinness opens Sinn Fein Ard Fheis
26 May 2012Sinn Fein Ard Fheis under way
Sinn Fein is having its Ard Fheis (annual conference) in Killarney. On Friday night the opening address was delivered by Deputy First Minister
We publish the full text of the keynote address.
Partition created two conservative states on our island. The rights and
entitlements of ordinary citizens were secondary to the needs of the
political class in both states. That is why every Irish government,
since partition, including the present one, is happy to pay lip service
to a united Ireland and more importantly to the rights of citizens.
That is why it was acceptable to abandon nationalists in the north to
whims of a unionist regime and the reality of second class citizenship.
That was a political reality that I could never accept as normal.
Through forty years of struggle and our involvement in peace
negotiations we have managed to dismantle one party rule in the north
and brought second class citizenship to an end. We have replaced this
with equality, partnership and power sharing.
We have erased the physical nature of the border. We have constructed
all-Ireland political institutions.
But we have yet to achieve our primary political objective of
re-unification and sovereignty. That is the mighty task which we now
And Irish unity is not simply a republican objective, it is I believe
necessary for our people, catholic, Protestant, Dissenter and others to
achieve our full potential.
There is a better way than the status quo. A re-united Ireland and a New
Republic built in the interests of citizens is the future.
There is massive potential for Republicans in the time ahead. We are in
an entirely new situation legislatively and constitutionally.
There are massive challenges in trying to provide good progressive
government in the north within the constraints we operate in and at the
same time giving hope for tens of thousands of Irish citizens in the
south living under the austerity regime created by the selfishness,
greed and incompetence of bankers, developers and politicians.
We have transformed Ireland in the course of the past decades.
Our role as the driving force at the heart of the peace process has
proven that where there is a desire and a will for change anything is
We have also transformed Irish republicanism, all Ireland Republicans in
government for the first time in 100 years working peacefully and
democratically for Irish freedom.
But our work as Republicans is far from done.
It is now time to move from the peace building phase of the struggle to
the nation building stage of the struggle.
That requires the very same confidence, strategic thinking and
determination that has marked our approach for many years.
This is not about trying to turn unionists into nationalists or to try
and hook wink people about our intentions.
The reality is that much hurt has been caused on all sides during the
conflict and indeed by the very imposition of partition itself.
To date much of the public running in this debate has been undertaken by
Republicans. It is however a mistake to think that many within the broad
unionist community are not thinking their way through the necessity for
And I can report to this Ard Fheis that the process of National
Reconciliation and reconstruction has commenced.
In recent months senior party members under the direction of the party
Chairperson Declan Kearney have been involved in initial discussions
with a range of civic unionism and protestant churches. It is my firm
view that a foundation is being built slowly and steadily upon which we
will as a community jointly move forward.
Indeed one very significant group of people that have been engaged with
us over the past number of weeks have told us, and I quote:
“As a group of people from the Protestant and Unionist tradition we
welcome this initiative which we believe is a genuine invitation to
engage in dialogue. It will provide an opportunity to explore and seek
to understand the concepts, principles and language of the statements of
the National Chair of Sinn Féin and others. It will also provide the
opportunity for those from our community to try to help Sinn Féin
understand our concepts, principles and language. Further, we would wish
to encourage the representatives of Sinn Fein to continue in their
pursuit of this work with a wide range of political and community
interests, and to encourage others to engage. We would wish them to know
that we are keen to engage further on a range of issues as the
This very positive response represents a further crucial building block
on the road of peace and reconciliation.
It is my view, backed I believe by plenty of evidence, including the
lack of co-operation with the Saville, Barron and Smithwick Inquiries
that the British government is not interested in a process which would
deliver truth and reconciliation. This is in the main motivated by self
interest. Put simply it does not suit Britain’s own strategic interests
to face up to its role in Ireland.
However we cannot let the divisions fostered through the decades of
conflict and the British government stalling on the issue of the past to
hold back the potential that now exists to move forward politically and
democratically to a new Republic.
In that context, we have a responsibility to reach out to unionists and
to others to engage with them about the past and indeed even more
importantly about the future.
A united Ireland will succeed with the input of all sections of our
people. We seek an Ireland in which unionists would feel comfortable not
just in being a part of but being in the leadership of.
I have said many times that it is possible for unionists and republicans
to stand together without dilution of our beliefs. The Executive of
which I have jointly led with Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson for the
past five years is evidence of that.
I said in my Easter speech that in the discussions leading to
re-unification we need to be imaginative and generous towards unionists.
The ability to be generous to each other should be seen as a strength
not a weakness. Passport rights, symbols and other issues of identity
crucial to building a fully inclusive united Ireland respecting the
traditions of all our people in all their diversity can be addressed.
And we need to remember at all times that dialogue isn’t a one way
street. We also need to listen to what unionists say to us and indeed
about us. That is the role of nation builders. That means always
stretching ourselves and always taking risks to advance the task of
building a new Ireland.
Ireland as a nation can only truly prosper if we are at peace with
ourselves as a people. Having the confidence to build a new better
relationship with Britain will also be important. It means overcoming
the historic fracture between Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter. In the
Ireland of 2012 it means building a pluralist, ethnically and culturally
diverse society that embraces all our citizens.
In the year ahead I intend to deepen and expand my role to help lead the
process of national reconciliation in Ireland. A process which is
already underway. I hope to do this with your continuing support.
National reconciliation is a necessity for future constitutional change.
It is work that we as Republicans need to energetically embrace.
A peaceful and democratic path to a united Ireland is there. This party
is utterly determined to drive forward along that road.
ANF / KILLARNEY
ANF NEWS AGENCY