Reconciling Orange and Green

The full text of a wide-ranging address delivered by Martin McGuinness to the MacGill Summer School at the weekend.

Only three weeks ago I visited one of the most heavily militarised region in the world - the border between the government and the rebel held areas of Sri Lanka. That stark and frightening frontier was a very visible expression of the political legacy of colonial occupation in that small island. Ethnic groups, which had co-existed in relative peace for centuries, became sworn enemies as a result of the destructive and divisive effects of imperial domination. In many ways the divisions in Sri Lanka mirror our own and the method of resolving them is, in my view, the same. A process of national reconciliation and peace making is essential and central to that process is dialogue, dialogue and more dialogue.

One big difference between the situations here in Ireland and that in Sri Lanka is the enormous progress we have already made. The absence of a real and credible process of engagement in Sri Lanka threatens all out civil war. In contrast, the progress we have made over the last 12 years is a direct result of the real and meaningful engagement between nationalism and the British government, between unionism and the Irish government and to a more limited extent between unionism and nationalism on this island. Our peace process is far from perfect but it is an undoubted success. The Ireland we live in now is a very different place from the Ireland of war and conflict that existed 12 years ago. It is a very different place from the totalitarian Orange state that existed in the north 40 years ago. The Irish peace process is in many ways the reworking of the relationships between unionism and the rest of the people of this island. And between all of us on this island and the British government.

British policy in Ireland has historically been the catalyst for conflict and division in our country. That has to end.

A successful peace process is ultimately about ending the divisive influence and effects of the British jurisdiction on this island. That is Sinn Féin’s core political objective.

In the interim, the Good Friday Agreement is about removing the most extreme aspects and consequences of partition. It is about delivering acceptable policing arrangements, ending discrimination, protecting cultural and language rights, defending human rights and delivering a demilitarised, politically tolerant and inclusive society.

The current phase of the political talks are not about the future of the Good Friday Agreement. The Good Friday Agreement is non-negotiable. It has the democratic endorsement of referenda both north and south and its is binding on both governments. The Good Friday Agreement must be implemented come what may. So the current phase of discussion is about whether or not the implementation of the Agreement will include a 6 county Assembly. No more and no less.

The only obstacle to the restoration of that Assembly and the power-sharing executive is the refusal of the DUP to be part of these institutions. That is their prerogative but let there be no doubt that the process of change will continue and it is better for all of us in political leadership, and for our constituents, if we are directing and managing that process of change through a functioning power-sharing Executive. That would certainly be preferable to the bad decisions that are being taken every day by British direct rule ministers.

But I also believe that a functioning Assembly, with a power-sharing Executive and cross-community safeguards, is the best and most efficient means of building trust, confidence and mutual understanding between Irish Republicans and unionists. It is the best way of sustaining and progressing the enormous work already achieved in reconciling Orange and Green.

It is also the best way of tackling the very real issues that affect all of the people of the north - and on the island of Ireland. The reality is that partition has failed. It has failed the people in the south. It has failed nationalists in the north. It has failed the very community it was designed to safeguard. It has failed unionists.

Unionist working class communities suffer high unemployment and educational under achievement.

No one any longer argues that there is any economic merit in the partition of this small island. On the contrary all economic advantage lies in Ireland as a single island economy.

No unionist leader can believe that British direct rule is a good thing. It has resulted in job losses, privatisation, increased rates, water charges, education cuts, falling incomes for those working in agriculture, a failure to produce any strategy to deal with suicide prevention, and much more. The best people to make decisions about the lives of people in the north are people who live there. That is the case with education, the economy, health, the environment and housing. It is widely recognised that local ministers in the short-lived power-sharing executive, including DUP ministers did a much better job that part-time British ministers.

So also with policing and justice. Last week, here at the Mac Gill Summer School, the British Secretary of State addressed this issue and criticised Sinn Féin for demanding that the Good Friday Agreement commitments on policing and justice be implemented and delivered in full. So I want to address this issue directly. Sinn Féin wants to see a community police service, representative and democratically accountable to the people they serve through a locally elected minister.

People have a basic right to feel safe in their homes and communities. They have a right to a police service which will act impartially and which will behave in a responsible and accountable way. They have a right to a police service which does not engage in political policing. They have a right to a police service which is not run by MI5 or any other British security agency.

Sinn Féin is not holding back on policing as Peter Hain tried to suggest. Indeed many nationalists are puzzled by the foot dragging of the British government and ask why seven years on from the Patten Commission’s report we are still awaiting further policing legislation. Has it anything to do with Britain’s efforts to cover up decades of state collusion with loyalist death squads?

Republicans have a vested interest in the creation and delivery of proper policing. It is our communities which have suffered most as a result of decades of a unionist militia posing as a police service. We are determined that an effective police service, which is democratic and accountable, becomes part of the fabric of life in the Six Counties and the entire island..

Substantial progress has been made in relation to policing because of the work of republicans. We have made sure that the British can’t walk away from this issue. Policing has been and continues to be a central part of ongoing political negotiations.

I am absolutely convinced that the final pieces can be put in place if the two governments live up to their commitments on transfer of powers and if the political will exists amongst all the political parties.

I have no doubt that we can achieve with others a transformation on policing which will make it democratic, and accountable and which enjoys community support.

Republicans and nationalists who have suffered from partisan policing want a new beginning based on impartiality and accountability more than anyone else.

I have no doubt that some day a republican could hold Ministerial responsibility for policing north and south. The need for accountable policing is nowhere more obvious than in the activities of some members of the Garda Siochana in this county over many, many years. The focus of Sinn Féin is on transforming policing, not accepting a failed status quo.

Sinn Féin wants to work with unionist to deliver this and to deliver the wider benefits of a stable and effective local administration. I know that many unionists care deeply about their community. They want to see stability, peace and prosperity and they have worked with Sinn Féin in committees and in local council chambers councils. Yet the DUP remains implacably opposed to the restoration of a locally elected and accountable Assembly.

Unionism, and the DUP in particular, need to come to terms with the new political world in which we are living. There is no excuse any longer for non-engagement.

Last year the Sinn Féin President appealed to the IRA to take the courageous step of committing themselves to purely political means and resolving the issue of IRA weapons. I endorsed Gerry Adams appeal in the speech I made here in the Glenties last July. The IRA responded by definitively and comprehensively addressing all of these issues, which had been presented as unionist concerns about the IRA’s future intentions.

Those IRA decisions opened up new and unprecedented opportunities for progress towards national reconciliation and of an historic accommodation between Orange and Green. But unionism also faces challenges and choices in this project. If they claim to be democrats, then the Democratic Unionist Party has to accept and respect the electoral mandate of Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin is the largest nationalist party in the north; Sinn Féin is the third largest and the fastest growing party on the island. Republicans and nationalists have great difficulty in the concept of sharing power with Ian Paisley who for decades churned out sectarian and religious extremism. On July 12 this year we were treated to more of the same. But despite this, Sinn Féin does recognise and accept the DUP’s electoral mandate.

These are the current political realities which we all have to come to terms with if we are to put conflict, hatred and division behind us. We can continue to disagree politically but that should not prevent us delivering accountable, democratic government for our shared constituencies. It should certainly not prevent us building a better more peaceful future for all our children. And the only way to do this is through political dialogue.

But whatever the approach of Ian Paisley in the months ahead, the reality is that the process of change will continue. And the best option for unionists and the rest of us is to collectively manage the changes that are coming.

Regardless of the disposition of the DUP, republicans will continue to engage with unionist communities. Republicans and loyalists are already working together with enormous benefits for their respective communities in interface areas. This summer these on-the-ground efforts and initiatives delivered the most peaceful marching season in decades. The DUP played no part in any of this. However, the DUP need to acknowledge and learn the positive lessons of these local engagements.

Ten years ago we would have been talking theoretically about the need to reconcile Orange and Green. In the Ireland of 2006, we are now taking about completing a process that is already well underway and which has already been enormously successful.

The process of reconciling Orange and Green is already happening based on principles of equality, inclusivity and mutual respect.

And as this process progresses we have new challenges to deal with. We can no longer talk only about two historic traditions on the island. We now have many new Irish who bring their own traditions, perspectives and cultures to our island. A small minority on this island have responded to these challenges negatively through racist intolerance and violence. We need to confront sectarianism wherever it occurs and we also need to confront, with as much determination and energy, racism wherever it occurs. The New Ireland that we are all part of needs to reconcile Orange and Green but it also needs to embrace new cultures and people. We all need to acknowledge and accept difference - to celebrate the enriching diversity of our modern, multi-cultural Ireland.

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© 2006 Irish Republican News