Approaching the tenth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has said Sinn Féin is proud of the role they have played in the course of the negotiations which led to the Good Friday Agreement and in the years since in securing its implementation.
The then Sinn Féin chief negotiator said politics on the island of Ireland have been transformed and the process of change would continue.
Mr. McGuinness said: “Politics in the north had for years been a scene of failed political initiative after failed political initiative by the British government as they sought to undermine support for Sinn Féin and bolster the so-called centre ground of the SDLP and UUP.
“Each of these efforts failed. They failed in the main because they were based on the exclusion of Sinn Féin and the people we represent. Within seven months of Sinn Féin joining the talks process, and after decades of failure, we had the Good Friday Agreement. “
However, the peace process nearly collapsed on a number of occasions due to the failure of the British government, under unionist pressure, to implement key elements of the Agreement. The process survived when it became clear a deal was possible involving the DUP, which had stayed out of the 1998 negotiations.
McGuinness continued: “Last year Sinn Féin achieved what many considered impossible, a comprehensive agreement with Ian Paisley and the DUP. There could never have been a successful accommodation without the involvement of Irish Republicans. Inclusive dialogue was the key.
“After the historic deal made between Sinn Féin and the DUP last May the power-sharing and all-Ireland political institutions are in place, stable and delivering.
“Sinn Féin is proud of the role we have played in the course of the negotiations which led to the Good Friday Agreement and in the years since in securing its implementation. Politics on the island of Ireland have been transformed and the process of change will undoubtedly continue and undoubtedly continue to deliver for citizens across the island in the years ahead.”
Meanwhile, British Secretary Shaun Woodward has said there is “no question” of the north of Ireland ever going back to the violence of the past.
In an interview to mark the tenth anniversary, Mr Woodward said that the principles it enshrined would guarantee “Northern Ireland” stability, peace and prosperity for the future.
He predicted that the next major step in the peace process would take place later this year, when control of policing and criminal justice would be handed over from London to the devolved institutions in Belfast.
Mr Woodward said the Provisional IRA was now involved only in peaceful activities. and dismissed republican groups like the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA as “isolated remnants” who he said were “hated and reviled”.
Meanwhile, the northern Executive, under First Minister Ian Paisley and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, had become “one of the most successful governments anywhere”.
Mr Woodward said that the Queen’s visit to Armagh was a symbol of how “deeply embedded” peace now was. The visit was opposed by a number of republican groups.
“This is something we couldn’t have done two years ago, couldn’t have dreamt of doing two years ago,” he said.
“I think nothing really could better symbolise the huge steps forward which the people of Northern Ireland - both sides of the community -- have chosen to take and required their political leaders to lead on.”
However, Sinn Féin’s Martin Ferris said the Queen would not be welcome on a state visit to the 26 Counties.
Speaking at an Easter commemoration in County Waterford, Mr Ferris said that if it goes ahead it will be challenged by Sinn Féin.
“Sinn Féin is opposed to a state visit by the British monarch or by members of the British royal family to any part of Ireland,” he said.
Mr Ferris said however that such a stance was consistent with a desire to maintain friendly relations with Britain.
“The British government still claims jurisdiction over part of Ireland and this is expressed through the monarch who claims to be queen of the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”.
“Sinn Féin regards that claim as illegitimate and we will not participate in any welcome for the British monarch,” he told the crowd.
“As democrats and republicans we are implacably opposed to an outdated and archaic system of government that has at its head a monarch,” he said.
Mr Ferris added that many people in Britain reject what has been done in their name in Ireland “by the ruling elite in their country under the monarchy”.