Republican News · Thursday 13 April 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Let's liberate the future - McGuinness

``Since last year's Ard Fheis, Bairbre and I have been doing a little bit of ministering. Yes it was only a few short weeks but it will stand us in good stead for the future. It was an important education for the party and me personally.

More than any other political decision, Peter Mandelson's collapsing of the executive and other political institutions has caused the greatest low, the worst crisis yet to effect the Irish peace process.

As ministers, Bairbre and I were working in that Executive with unionists. We were also working with them in the Assembly, on countless committees and in our departments. We led our departments at meetings with our counterparts in Dublin through the All-Ireland Ministerial Council. I also visited Washington and met with the Secretary of Education Richard Riley.

In my capacity as Education Minister, I provided money for building much needed new schools, supported integrated schools, Irish language schools, special education for children with this need, pre school nursery education and was dealing with the challenge of the 11+ exam which Sinn Féin wants to see abolished.

Those in my department, many of them from a unionist background, worked diligently, professionally and cordially with me and I with them. I could not have asked for better assistance from those around me. They knew I was a republican. I knew that they were unionists. They could have sabotaged the work of the Department. They didn't. Did their unionist world collapse? Hardly. Did it make them any less unionist because their minister was a republican? I would like to think so but I'm sure it did not.

Throughout my 74 days in office the old stereotypes on both sides were breaking down. Unionists could see that I, as a republican minister, was working for everyone equally. And yes surprise, surprise, it was working and working well. The fact that there was such broad support for the work of the institutions show what a huge blunder it was for a British minister to wipe all of this good work away and set aside the Good Friday Agreement.

Much of the hope and expectation which existed following the establishment of the institutions has eroded following this decision.

With all of the attention on the political wrangling within unionism, some people seem to have forgotten that a huge number of unionists supported the Good Friday Agreement and want to move forward.

I am proud and honoured to be associated and to have worked with people from the unionist community who want the Agreement to work and want to be part of a new political way forward. But we have to ask where is the political leadership of unionism?. The UUP negotiated the Agreement and supported it in 1998. But they have failed to give leadership since then.

Instead they have time and again surrendered the initiative given to them by the Good Friday Agreement They are seeking to re-negotiate the Agreement in order to placate unionist rejectionists who have made no bones about their desire to prevent change and have made no bones about their desire to return to the past of unionist domination. David Trimble has said that he needs clarity and certainty. Let me be clear Sinn Féin is absolutely committed to a peaceful resolution of this conflict. That is a certainty.

But this is not about decommissioning. The No unionists have made that abundantly clear themselves by inserting yet another obstacle. This is about not wanting to share power with Catholics, nationalists or republicans. These people hark back to an era of majority rule. They are living in the past and are prisoners to it. But there is NO going back to that past. If unionists are to be brought out of the time warp that they are presently in then it is up to Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson to immediately reinstate the people's institutions.

I don't want to be a prisoner of the past. I want to be a liberator of the future. That is Sinn Féin's task. We are working to build a future where we - all of us unionist, nationalist and republican - can live and work and grow together as equals in a just and peaceful Ireland. And the only way that this can happen is when politicians make politics work for the people. That is not only our right but our duty.''

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