I want to deal briefly with the peace process and in particular with the DUP’s attitude to the Good Friday Agreement. We are Irish republicans, the Good Friday Agreement is a compromise for us. Republicans should not be afraid of the idea of making such compromises, it is essentially a strategic decision by us to advance the process of change - the process of reconquest - in our country. Our analysis is a democratic one. The British government has no right to be in our country. Partition is immoral; and illegitimate. The British connection, the Union, needs to be replaced by an entirely new relationship based on equality.
Unionism is a child of the British connection. It has depended on force or the threat of force to get its way since the orange card was first played by British politicians in the 19th century. No one has mastered that tactic better than Ian Paisley.
Mr. Paisley’s connections with unionist paramilitarism go back over 40 years and in that time he has, at one time or another, publicly allied himself to every major unionist paramilitary group.
When he disagreed with the existing paramilitary groups he simply went out and formed his own - the Third Force and subsequently Ulster Resistance are two examples.
Today Ian Paisley will address his party conference in Belfast.
25 years ago this weekend it was a different setting. On that occasion Mr. Paisley was standing on a hillside in the semi-darkness near Ballymena in County Antrim. He was facing 500 men drawn up in military formation. At the blast of a whistle they jumped to attention and each displayed what Ian Paisley described as ‘a legally held firearms certificate’.
When asked what this meant he told the watching journalists; ‘It means that these men hold guns legally and they are prepared to defend their province and their rights in the same way as Lord Carson and the men of the UVF were prepared’.
A few days earlier the DUP leader had launched his Carson Trail series of rallies and signed a ‘covenant’ in imitation of that signed in 1912 by unionists opposed to Home Rule. Mr. Paisley’s ‘covenant’ committed the signatories to ‘using all means which may be found necessary’ to defend their piece of Ulster.
Today these sort of theatrics will not work. The DUP’s ‘Smash Sinn Féin’ campaign in the 1980’s did not work.
Even when Loyalist murder gangs operating in collusion with British intelligence and the RUC Special Branch gunned down more than 20 Sinn Féin Councillors, party members and family members in their efforts to smash Sinn Féin that did not work. They failed also.
The political conditions have changed and the DUP’s ostrich like approach to this reality will not reverse that.
Today, and in no small part because of the refusal of republicans to be smashed, the context for Ian Paisley’s conference has changed.
No amount of rhetoric or bombast can disguise that.
Sinn Féin is now the largest nationalist party in the north - we are the largest pro-Agreement party - we are the guarantee that there will be no return to unionist domination or second class citizenship.
Sinn Féin has demonstrated a determination and resolve to vigorously oppose any diminution, erosion, or subversion of the Good Friday Agreement.
Sinn Féin rejects any two-tier approach, any two stages proposition, or British appointed Commissioners to run the north.
The Good Friday Agreement is an inclusive agreement rooted in equality and inclusiveness. It underpins the rights of all sections of our people.
It is an international Treaty voted for overwhelmingly in referendum by the people in both states on this island.
Sinn Féin’s objective is to secure full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the restoration of the political institutions.
That is the reality facing Ian Paisley today as he addresses his party conference.
This party stands ready to work with the DUP. We do so already in Councils across the north and we did in the Assembly when it functioned.
Each day British direct rule Ministers take decisions on spending reviews, health, education, the environment, energy and other matters which adversely effect every citizen in the north and have a knock-on effect throughout the whole island.
The DUP’s refusal to work with Sinn Féin in government is allowing this to continue.
That is the challenge for the DUP. It is also a challenge for the unionist business community, for civic society, for community groups and church groups.
Another round of talks starts on Monday. The talks cannot be only for the optics.
The DUP have to be given the chance to put their ideas to the rest of us and Sinn Féin will listen attentively and respectfully to everyone’s ideas.
But the main objective of these talks has to be to end the suspension of the political institutions within a short time-frame.
The two governments have received that very clear message from us. Now is the time for the two governments to act. Rhetoric is not enough.”