McAleese calls for end to armed struggle

Irish President Mary McAleese was forced to abandon plans to visit a school in a loyalist area of Belfast due to the threat of protests and possible violence.

A visit to a primary school on the Shankill Road had to be cancelled after unionist anger over a recent comment in an Irish radio interview by the President, in which she referred to Protestant antagonism towards Catholics in the North of Ireland as an example of hate.

The comment, made in remarks on the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, caused a storm of anger among unionists. The comment was criticised as sectarian without the balancing example of Catholic antagonism towards Protestants.

In a lecture at St Malachy’s College, north Belfast on Friday night, the president said it was “time to close the door on the tradition of armed struggle” .

The president said this would bring a “dignified and principled end to the debate started by Daniel O’Connell” when he laid the foundation to the peace process long ago.

“This is the time to exhibit fidelity to the vision at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement and, as it happens, at the heart of O’Connell’s vision too.”

The Good Friday Agreement “was built on a shared hope and a capacity for mutual forgiveness unequalled in any conflict situation in modern times with the exception of the creation of the European Union out of the appalling suffering of World War II,” she said.

It was time to “reflect on the opportunity we have so nearly in our grasp which so many have invested in and so much of our future depends upon”. It was also the moment for “conscientiously seeing things through, for making good on promises given and accepted in good faith”.

The speech was welcomed by Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness. Mr McGuinness said everyone had “a duty to listen very intently to what the President says.

“There is no doubt whatsoever that whenever she speaks, people, particularly from the nationalist-republican tradition, place a lot of store in what she has to say.”

Asked if the IRA would abandon armed struggle, Mr McGuinnes said “I hope that everyone would heed what the President has to say, and from our perspective in Sinn Féin we are not going to shirk the difficult questions and challenges that lie ahead.”

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