Reforming the Republic
Reforming the Republic

The full text of the Hume Lecture delivered by Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness at the McGill Summer School over the weekend.

I am very pleased to have been given the opportunity to deliver this year’s John Hume Lecture. When I was in Liverpool this week for the awarding of the City of Culture title to Derry I was very pleased to see John and Pat Hume celebrating in Derry’s Guildhall, an announcement of immense cultural and economic significance for the North-West and our entire island. I have no doubt that those passionate about arts and culture in Ireland will rally to the cause for 2013.

And whilst the past week brought a great result for Derry, we who are from Derry are deeply sensitive to the fact that the Buncrana area of Inis Eoin, a place very close to my heart, was plunged into unbearable grief and sadness, with the deaths of eight people, seven of them young men, with their lives before them and the eight man in his sixties.

On this occasion here in County Donegal I want to extend sympathy to the families and the people of Inis Eoin who suffered this appalling tragedy at around this time last Sunday. Suaimhneas siorai doibh uile.

John Hume, like Gerry Adams, myself and others in the Sinn Fein leadership, took huge political risks and faced, at times, vilification in order to make a beginning to the Irish Peace Process.

For that enormous contribution John Hume has quite rightly been honoured and he continues to be recognised fittingly in this Annual Lecture. I am happy to join the list of speakers who have given the lecture and to acknowledge again John Hume’s pivotal role in helping to initiate and to build the Peace Process and all that has flowed from it.

The fundamental premise for that was that the status quo was not an option; and that a process of change was required.

The Peace Process moved us from the tragedy of conflict to an era of dialogue, negotiation and a new political dispensation. As a result, the political landscape in the North has been utterly transformed in recent years. The demilitarisation of society, the existence of fully functioning all-Ireland political institutions and the transfer of powers on policing and justice from Britain to the North are all evidence that the Peace Process is delivering and that politics is working. This is a work in progress.

However, there remain small groups and individuals who cannot grasp the political realities of Ireland in 2010; that is, that change has happened, that it is ongoing, that it is unstoppable and that the status quo they hanker back to is unacceptable. They can be found in the unrepresentative militarist factions who continue to carry out armed actions and the criminal elements who operate under the cover of bogus patriots. This was graphically illustrated last week in Ardoyne, where it is widely believed that many of those who sat on the road wearing t-shirts describing themselves as, residents not dissidents, told those anxious for a riot, many of them children, to do so only after they had left the road. Regrettably the Orange Order also appear rooted to the past and unwilling to join with the rest of us in making necessary compromises in the interests of peace and progress. They continue to refuse to talk to nationalists and hold the rest of society to ransom, over a tiny number of contentious parades out of thousands of Loyal Order marches each summer.

The sectarianism played out on the streets of Belfast in recent days needs to be tackled. I have long argued that the Orange Order themselves could transform relationships by taking a bold initiative, by thinking of the greater good and by stepping forward and making their contribution to a new and better future. By dealing with the issue of contentious parades in a generous fashion the Orange Order has the potential to build a new relationship with their Catholic neighbours. My door remains open to them always.

These issues are the legacies of an island emerging from four decades of conflict and point to the fact that Ireland needs a process of National Reconciliation. The recent publication of the report of the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday, the reaction of the new British Prime Minister David Cameron and the exoneration of the 14 people murdered on the streets of my home city that day has the potential to be a defining moment in such a process.

Republicans caused much hurt during the conflict. I have acknowledged that and as a republican leader I accept my responsibilities both for the past, for building a new future and importantly for ensuring that the truth about the past is told - for the victims and survivors but also to ensure that mistakes are not repeated in the future.

I repeat here tonight a call for the establishment of an independent international truth recovery process - one which is victim-centred and which can generate the confidence necessary for full participation.

I along with other republican leaders have made it clear that we will participate in such a process. We now need the same commitment from the British Government and from unionist leaders. We need to go beyond simply telling the stories of the past 40 years. We need to examine the root causes of the conflict as well as the consequences.

Within civic society across the island we have much to share and to learn from. One of the effects of partition has been the separate development of communities whether on religious grounds in the North or between the communities North and South. Yet we all share common problems that do not recognise any border.

I believe that greater cooperation within civic society can bring about innovation, create change and promote best practice. In particular we need to jointly address the issues of community regeneration, sustainable economic growth, environmental protection, sectarianism, racism, road safety, child protection and social inclusion. Again I would ask what more can civic society do to deepen our understanding and our actions in addressing these issues.

While highlighting areas for additional activity I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to those in civic society who have and continue to be vital to social cohesion in Ireland. In some cases they are the very threads that hold our society together.

I am thinking of the community sector, the trade union movement, the GAA and other sporting bodies, the credit union movement, and ordinary grassroots activists across this island.

The recent cycle of economic growth and recession demonstrates the interdependent nature of the economy North and South. The establishment of the Northern committee of NAMA, dealing with 5 Billion Euro worth of loans, demonstrates the level of our interdependence.

For too long the economy of the border counties has been the victim of the changing tides of cross border trade. This level of volatility and instability undermines the economy of the community living along the Border. We need to develop joint processes that will create the stability vital to sustainable development.

On a national level there is no advantage to having two competing economic development agencies vying with each other for Foreign Direct Investment. It is counter-productive. It confuses investors and drives down value as we compete to provide the cheapest option.

As one US investor recently said in relation to the North -- “It is hard to get excited about a market place and labour pool of 1.5 million people, but when you look at 6 million people then it gets interesting.”

So we need to plan our economy on an all-Ireland basis. The plan must identify how to use our assets, our people, our universities and our reputation to grow the economy in a sustainable and beneficial way.

We do not have the luxury of a long time to ponder this. We are in the middle of the greatest economic challenge to our nation and we need to act quickly and strategically. The decisions we arrive at will have implications for generations to come. Let’s not repeat the past. Let’s not circle the wagons. Let’s look at how we grow the economy and how we can deliver for all.

We are told that statistically the recession is over but anyone who believes that has to be living in cloud cuckoo land.

We have close to half a million people unemployed in Ireland, some 450,000 of them in this State. Emigration from our country is now being measured once again in the tens of thousands per year. Nowhere is it worse than here in County Donegal which, even during the Celtic Tiger years, did not enjoy the benefits of the economic upturn to the extent of other parts of the state.

Businesses of all sizes are closing. Families are struggling with massive mortgage debt. People dependent on social welfare are being pushed further into poverty. Our public services are subject to cuts that are challenging their ability to meet basic needs in health and education.

And alongside that we have the spectacle of the bankers walking away with super huge golden handshakes.

Over 70 percent of the population live in debt on a week-to-week, year-by-year basis.

The top five percent of the population held 40 percent of the state’s wealth whilst those on the lowest ten percent household income group struggle to get by on less than O158 a week.

The vast majority of people see and understand clearly where the responsibility for all of this lies.

There is a myth that everyone in Ireland was having a wild party during the Celtic Tiger years. This is untrue. It is also insulting to the vast majority of people. It is important to point this out because if we forget what happened in the very recent past we are liable to repeat the same mistakes. There were alternative roads to follow, roads that we now need to travel.

The question we have to ask now is not just what to do next but how well equipped are the people of Ireland to address the huge problems we face.

The growing gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have noughts’, the rewarding of private greed at the expense of the public good, the failure to think strategically and in the long term interests of the citizens needs to end.

As always, partition complicates matters. In the North we are tied to the British Exchequer and our Executive and Assembly are denied fiscal autonomy. We do not have revenue-raising powers and are dependent on a block grant from London which is based on Barnett- a population statistic based formula rather than need and which takes no account of the legacy of partition and decades of underfunding by the British government.

In the 6 Counties Catholics remain twice as likely as Protestants to be unemployed.

100,000 children in relative poverty and 44,000 children living in severe poverty

Of the 20 areas in the north suffering highest levels of deprivation 17 are nationalist.

We are now faced with a massive reduction in the block grant to the North. In this situation we in the Executive and Assembly must battle to protect public services from cuts. It is a huge challenge.

The current situation emphasises, as never before, the need for the Executive and the Assembly to have fiscal autonomy and for the economy in the North to be more closely integrated with the rest of Ireland.

The effects of recession are worsened and our ability to respond effectively is hampered by the existence of two currencies, two different tax and social welfare regimes, two sets of public services and all the inefficiency and duplication that entails.

I need not tell people in County Donegal, the neighbouring County to my native County of Derry, about the disruptive effect of Partition on the Border Counties themselves. Greater cross-border co-operation and integration is an economic necessity.

My party has continually raised the issue of duplication of administration in an island the size of ours. We cannot sustain such duplication. We have two Health systems, two education systems, two Arts councils, two sports councils, three bodies with responsibility for tourism, and as I already highlighted two competing economic development agencies.

We have patients and families in the North having to travel to England for treatment that is available in Dublin. We have patients in Letterkenny travelling to Dublin when the same services are available in Derry.

The Border has a negative impact on all communities who live along it.

Two currencies, two tax systems and a myriad of issues which affect citizens’ everyday existence -- things like wages, pensions, benefits, terms and conditions -- all of these are daily ‘bugbears’ for people living in this region, and especially for those who have to cross the invisible border to work in the “other jurisdiction”.

These are only examples of duplication of administration and while they have a cost implication the lack of co-ordination also impacts on the quality of service.

To get the best out of our public spending, we need to end this duplication and competition and develop and deliver co-ordinated services on an all-Ireland basis.

The North-South Ministerial Council and the All-Ireland bodies are doing good work in this regard but much, much more needs to be done.

Both in terms of democratic governance in Ireland North, South, East and West and in terms of the economy of the island, I believe that we need to be bold in our thinking and to aim high.

The theme ‘Reforming the Republic’ for me does not mean tinkering with two partitioned political and economic systems on our small island!

The Irish Republicanism I believe in holds that a national republic has yet to be achieved. It holds that it is futile to speak of ‘renewing the republic’ or ‘reforming the republic’ without addressing the need to end partition and to bring together all the people of Ireland. And to achieve this through purely peaceful and democratic means is I believe a flag we can all rally to.

We need a national debate on the desirability of Irish unity and on how it can be brought about. That debate must, of necessity, involve unionists. I reject the view that to even speak of unity is ‘damaging’ or ‘backward looking’ or a threat to the institutions established under the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrew’s Agreement.

The Good Friday Agreement provides an agreed mechanism for bringing about the reunification of Ireland. Unity is not an issue of the past. It is a live issue of the present and, I firmly believe, the direction in which we are all ultimately heading. How best and how soon to reach that goal is the question we need to address.

A start could be made next year by granting to Irish citizens in the Six Counties the right to vote in the Presidential Election. The current Uachtaran na hEireann is a native of Belfast but if she had still lived there at the time of her election she would not have been able to vote for herself.

Provision should be made for such voting rights, not only for citizens in the North, but also for Irish citizens living abroad. Voting rights are granted by many states to their citizens living abroad, within a reasonable period from their leaving the home country. At a time of renewed mass emigration it would be a real recognition of the importance and value of our recent exiles if such rights were granted. Patrick MacGuill was, after all, one of our exiles forced out by poverty.

We need a re-built the Irish economy, an all-Ireland economy. We need strategies for saving and creating jobs; reforming the tax system to ensure the wealthy are paying their fair share; eradicating waste in public spending, such as exorbitant executive salaries; drawing up a realistic debt repayment structure on the basis of a growing economy, that will grow if it is invested in; and fully regulating a new finance system with necessary secure measures like stronger capital requirements for banks and the supervision of credit rating agencies.

All of this should be done with the aim of building an economy to serve the people. This would provide the basis for a transformed, equitable and efficient health service, education with access for all, decent and affordable housing, sound social welfare support for everyone who needs it and security for our older citizens.

A political system in which careerism for personal gain has for some come before commitment to public service must look seriously at itself to ensure our island economy is run not on the basis of individual greed but the good of all.

We need to renew our commitment to public service and to the common good. When we as a people have achieved great things in the past we have done so because individuals put the nation before themselves. That is the spirit of the 1916 Proclamation of the Republic and the Democratic Programme of the first Dail Eireann.

For me, renewing the Republic, means applying the principles of those documents to our own time. It means unity, equality and lasting peace for all the people who share this island. It means building an Ireland of Equals.

This 30th Patrick MacGuill Summer School gathers as we enter the decade which marks the centenary of a number of defining events in Irish history including the Great Lockout of 1913, the Easter Rising, the Battle of the Somme, the Ulster Covenant and the Partition of Ireland. Nobody should be afraid of commemorating or debating these landmarks in our history.

It is right to recognise the heroism of those who stood for the vision of the Irish republic articulated on Easter Sunday 1916. A republic that pledged:

‘religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all of its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally’

The Proclamation remains a living testimony to the vision and commitment of the leaders of 1916.

And it continues to represent a charter for change for Irish Republicans. It spells out the unfinished business and what is required to complete it.

To build the united independent Ireland of Equals it invites us once again to bring together all strands of Irish nationalism, republicanism and the labour movement.

It challenges us to become persuaders, to reach out the hand of friendship to all who share this island with us, particularly unionists, to build new alliances, to devise and develop new strategies and shared positions and to build and broaden support for this objective.

It is also right to recognise in the period ahead the sacrifice of those Irishmen who fought in the First World War. While some may question the value of their actions no one can set aside the scale of the loss or doubt the personal tragedy.

Republicans have no wish to erase the memory of their bravery or their part in Irish history. Many working class Irishmen fought in the British Army at that time because of the unrelenting poverty that they and their families experienced. Their motivation and their experience were articulated by Tom Kettle, an Irish National Volunteer, who shortly before his death at the Somme in September 1916 wrote these lines to his daughter:

Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,
Died not for Flag, nor King, nor Emperor,
But for a dream, born in a herdsman’s shed,
And for the Secret Scripture of the poor.

Among the courageous Irishmen who gave their lives in that war also were those who fully believed in their actions and the choices they took. Their sacrifice and their loss are no less worthy of remembrance.

The experiences of republicans, nationalists, unionists and all others form part of our collective memory. They are part of who we are as a community, as a nation.

While we must remember these events we also must critically engage with our past. The past one hundred years, while a fraction of the life of the nation, was taken up by partition, divergence, exclusion and conflict.

These failures must be consigned to the past. I believe that Ireland is now set on a course towards unity, convergence, inclusion, and lasting peace.

This is not a bland aspiration. In this way we will deliver equality, prosperity and reconciliation for all our people in all their diversity. In this way we will build a nation of which our children can be proud and a republic worthy of the name.

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