A Process in trouble
While significant progress has been made in recent years much more should have occurred by now. Irish republicans do not underestimate the seriousness of the current situation. We share the concern of people across this island that years of hard work and progress is now being cast aside.
We also share their concern at the brutal and savage murder of Robert McCartney. Our goal must be to bring about the closure and truth and justice the McCartney family are campaigning for and deserve.
At our recent Ard Fheis I said that I was not letting this issue go until those who have sullied the republican cause are made to account for their actions.
Thus far those who killed Robert McCartney have refused to obey instructions from the IRA, and appeals from republican leaders. They have refused to behave in a brave and courageous way.
I know that many republicans and nationalists are outraged at how this murder is being cynically exploited to undermine republicanism.
What annoys me the most is not the criticism from the two governments, our political opponents, or those sections of the media who are clearly delighted to have a go at us. We are used to that and we can take it. What else do we expect? If those who fear the growth of Irish republicanism are given an opportunity to undermine it they will take that chance.
What annoys me the most is that a small group of individuals are not prepared to face up to their responsibilities. Instead these cowardly individuals will allow an avalanche of propaganda aimed at criminalising republicanism.
So let me be clear I am not letting this issue go.
Whatever way people feel about how the McCartney’s are running their campaign this family have the right to truth and justice. And we as a party have a duty not to allow republicanism to be diminished in any way.
How we deal with this killing is very important. It is about us. It is about how we see ourselves.
The women prisoners in Armagh and the blanketmen and the hunger strikers in Long Kesh wouldn’t allow Margaret Thatcher to criminalise our struggle. We will not allow anyone within republican ranks to criminalise this party or this struggle.
Irish government self-interest
Irish republicans pride ourselves on our ability to face up to challenges and find solutions to problems. Look at the record of the peace process. Time and time again Irish republicans have taken initiatives to help move the process forward. Last December we stood ready to do that again. Just three months ago the process was close to a deal which many thought impossible. Now the momentum is going the other way.
The process is in serious difficulty.
Much of this is being driven by an Irish government fearful of the growth of Sinn Féin and our determination to challenge the mess the establishment parties in Dublin are making of the economy, of health, of education and of the peace process.
Partitionism, self interest and incompetence are the factors underlying the Irish government’s current approach to the process.
Too often Irish government Ministers have behaved like junior partners to the British government; frequently dismissed or ignored by London, and forever desperate to facilitate the unionists, even when it is obvious that such an approach smacks of weakness and reinforces unionist intransigence.
Since December the British and Irish governments have sought to reduce all of the issues to one - that is the issue of the IRA - even though they know that the IRA is not the only issue. What about policing? Demilitarisation? Human rights and Equality? The political institutions?
The current shallow and short sighted approach, especially by the Irish government, as well as its vitriolic attacks on Irish republicans, has further eroded confidence in the process, especially among nationalists and republicans.
We will be meeting the Taoiseach after Easter to discuss all of the issues. Be assured that Sinn Féin will not be kow-towing to the agenda being set by the Irish government. We will not be lectured to by anyone. We will treat everyone with respect. We expect to be treated in the same way. We do not let unionism walk over us. We do not let the British government walk over us. We will not let the Irish government walk over us.
Challenges and solutions - Irish republicans must be strategic
But while others are being tactical we have to be strategic - we have to be thinking not just about the upcoming electoral battle but also about the peace process.
As Irish republicans we have a responsibility to look at where we want to be - a free and independent Ireland - and set about the task of getting there.
Guided by our peace strategy this will inevitably mean more hard choices, more hard decisions for Irish republicans as we push ahead with our political project, and as we seek to achieve a united Ireland.
The fact is that those who want the greatest change have to take the greatest risks. Time and time again we have demonstrated our willingness to do this. Are we ready to do that again? Are we ready to take more risks, to step up to the plate and demonstrate again the courage and tenacity which is the hallmark of Irish republicanism?
I believe we are. I believe we must. I intend to return to this issue in the short period ahead. Our preparedness to act as the dynamic for change has brought the peace process thus far. Sinn Féin,s peace strategy and the initiatives Irish republicans have taken are what have made the progress of the last 10 years possible.
Of course others have played their part. But does anyone doubt that but for our efforts the war, which dominated this island for much of the latter part of the 20th century would still be raging? It is Irish republicans who have made the difference and it is we who must continue to make the difference.
I appeal to all Irish republicans to give long and serious and calm consideration to the current situation. Talk to friends and comrades. Reflect on where Irish republicanism is today, how we got here and where we now need to go. Do what we do best - strategise, plan and be prepared to act.”