Saturday, September 26, 2015

Remembering Tomás Ceannt – soldier, patriot, revolutionary

Mise agus nieces of Tomás Ceannt
On a bright May morning in 2000 I spoke at the unveiling of a memorial in Cork City to the 1916 patriot Tomás Ceannt at Ceannt railway station. The Ceannt Memorial had been commissioned and erected by a committee of railway workers and was unveiled by Kathleen Ceannt, a niece of Tomás Ceannt.

Last Friday the sun shone brightly down again as I laid a wreath at the memorial and later at St. Nicholas’s Church in Castlelyons in north county Cork where the Ceannt family, their friends and neighbours and thousands of admirers of Tomás Ceannt took part in his historic state funeral.
For the last 99 years Tomás – sometimes referred to as ‘The Forgotten Volunteer’ - has lain in a shallow unmarked grave behind the walls of Cork prison. He was one of only two of the 1916 patriots to be executed outside of Dublin. The other was Roger Casement who was hanged in London.  

But in truth he was never forgotten. Not by his family and not by republicans who have celebrated his life and death, and those of the other patriots of 1916, each year since 1916. Nor is he the only Irish republican prisoner executed by the British and buried in the grounds of a prison. Just months before I spoke at the unveiling of the Cork station memorial in 2000 the remains of Tom Williams were finally laid to rest in a family plot in Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast.
Tom Williams was only 19 years of age when he was executed in Crumlin Road Jail. A massive campaign, which included a 200,000-signature petition, to secure his reprieve was ignored by the British and Stormont authorities and the execution went ahead on 2 September 1942. Like Tomás Ceannt the body of Tom Williams had lain buried in an unmarked grave within the prison walls for 58 years.

The Manchester Martyrs continue to lie in unmarked graves in New Bailey prison in Manchester. William Allen, Michael Larkin and Michael O’Brien were hanged in November 1867 for their part in an ambush to free two Fenian leaders. Their bravery in the course of an infamous show trial, their cry of ‘God Save Ireland’ from the dock, and their resolve and courage in the face of death sentences are the stuff of legend.

Tomás Ceannt was born in 1865 at Ban Ard House, Castlelyons, one of nine children. As a young man he emigrated to the United States but returned in his mid-20s and became actively involved in the Land War. The Ceannt family had long been active in agitation against British rule, the Land War and a cousin was involved in the Fenian 'dynamite campaign' in Britain. Tomás was also a member of Cumann Lúthchleas Gael (GAA) and the Gaelic League.

In 1914 Tomás and his brothers were among the first recruits to the Cork Brigade of the Irish Volunteers and they formed the core of that body in the area with Tomás becoming commandant of the Galtee Battalion in 1916. In February 1916 he was imprisoned for two months for agitation. Immediately on his release, he resumed his activities. As preparations got underway for the 1916 Rising, the Irish Volunteers in the East Cork area were led by Tomás Ceannt and Terence McSwiney

However, Eoin MacNeill's countermanding order to the Volunteers not to rise at Easter caused great confusion amongst their ranks outside Dublin. The failure of Roger Casement to get weapons through also meant there was a chronic lack of arms. The Ceannts and their local Volunteer company decided to secure what arms they had and to go into hiding.

When they heard that the Rising in Dublin was over, the brothers decided to return home on the night of 1st May. Early the next morning, the house was surrounded by a party of RIC (Royal Irish Constabulary) who demanded their surrender.

Despite being armed with only one rifle and three shotguns, the brothers gave no consideration to surrender. A fierce gunfight ensued. The Ceannt brothers were supported by their 84-year-old mother who loaded the guns. One brother, David, was injured, and RIC Head Constable Rowe was shot dead. The Ceannt’s were all captured when they ran out of ammunition.

The RIC lined them up against the farmhouse wall and only the intervention of a medical officer prevented their immediate execution. As they were being led away, Richard Ceannt attempted to escape across the fields but was fatally wounded in the back.

Tomás was taken to Cork Detention Barracks where he was strictly isolated from the other prisoners. There is a famous photograph of him and his brother William walking across the bridge at Fermoy. The hands of both are tied and Tomás is in his stockinged feet. They are accompanied by a British Army officer and three British Army soldiers shouldering rifles with bayonets attached. Behind them is a horse and cart in which it is believed lay the wounded David and Richard and their mother.

Tomás Ceannt was charged with ‘waging war against His Majesty the King’ quickly court-martialled and sentenced to death. He was shot by firing squad on May 9th in Victoria Barracks, now Cork Prison by a British naval detachment from Cobh. He died, in the words of the British officer in charge, "very bravely, not a feather out of him''.

The British had by that stage already executed 12 of the leaders, including Tom Clarke, and Padraig Pearse. Tomás Ceannt’s execution was followed three days later, on May 12th, by those of James Connolly and Sean MacDiarmada and finally by Roger Casement on August 3rd.

The executions caused profound shock and there was rising anger across the country. The reaction of many Irish people was summed up by the writer George Bernard Shaw in a letter to the Daily News:

"My own view... is that the men who were shot in cold blood after capture or surrender were prisoners of war, and that it was, therefore, entirely incorrect to slaughter them.

"The shot Irishmen will now take their places beside Emmett and the Manchester Martyrs in Ireland and beside the heroes of Poland and Serbia and Belgium in Europe; and nothing in heaven and earth can prevent it.''

That is the calibre, spirit and fearless determination of the man re-interred last Friday. Like many other men and women before and since Tomás Ceannt demonstrated incredible courage and selflessness in the struggle to free Ireland from British occupation.

Enda Kenny in his oration at the graveside was right when he said that “Ireland needs people who believe in their community, their country and in putting others before themselves” but his Ireland is 26 counties. His remarks are set in the context of partition and ignore the reality that a part of Ireland is still under the control of the British government.

The approach of the Fine Gael/Labour Government to this Centenary has been shallow and wholly self-serving. Tomás Ceannt engaged directly in revolutionary armed activity against British rule in Ireland. He was what many successive Dublin Governments would have termed a 'gunman'.

Unlike the Government, Sinn Féin makes no apology for recognising this fact. We salute Tomás Ceannt's stand and will not attempt, like the Labour leader Joan Burton, to re-write history to fit narrow party political objectives or to misrepresent the facts.

This Government has nothing in common with men like Ceannt, nor any intention of promoting the ideals to which he dedicated his life. The Government's Centenary commemorative events will not discuss the unfinished business of securing the full independence of Ireland. They will not seek to debate the failure of partition.

Nor will they seek to debate the ideals of social equality which are at the heart of the 1916 Proclamation.

They do not wish people to be reminded of the unfinished business of the Rising and the struggle for independence. The most fitting tribute to Tomás Ceannt and to the men and women of 1916 is to deliver the type of republic promised on the steps of the GPO on Easter Monday 1916  - a sovereign, 32-County republic in based on the principles of equality and social justice.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Addressing the Dublin Chamber of Commerce

This morning I spoke to a breakfast meeting of Dublin Chamber of Commerce and set out some of the party’s plans for business and the economy and Sinn Fein's vision for Dublin. Below is the text of my remarks to the Chamber. 


A chairde,

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh Chomhairle Trádála Bhaile Átha Cliath.

I would like to open my remarks by extending warmest congratulations to the Dublin football team on their marvellous victory in the All-Ireland Final. Comhghairdeas!

Commiserations of course to worthy opponents Kerry.


Dublin is a proud city with a long and illustrious history.

Many key events in the history of the nation happened here. It was site of the Easter Rising, the Centenary of which we will commemorate next year.

Dublin is also internationally renowned for its contribution to literature and has produced many prominent literary figures, including Nobel laureates Yeats, Shaw and Beckett.

Other influential Dublin writers and playwrights include Wilde, Swift, Stoker, Synge, O'Casey, Behan, Maeve Binchy, and Roddy Doyle.

Of course Dublin is arguably best known as the location of the greatest works of James Joyce, including Ulysses, which is set in the city.

Reputedly one of Europe's most youthful cities, with an estimate of 50% of citizens being younger than 25, Dublin is also the centre of the political media and communications activity on the state.

The Dublin region has always been the economic centre of the state and is now home to large numbers of global pharmaceutical, information and communications technology companies, with many having their European headquarters or operational bases in the city.

Dublin's challenges

Like many large, capital cities across the world, Dublin faces particular infrastructural and environmental challenges.

A lack of strategic integrated planning – a multi-agency approach - has been a feature of the city's growth over the decades. This has created many problems for those who live, work and visit Dublin.

The city is choked by traffic gridlock, and a big issue for Dublin businesses is the lack of an integrated public transport system, despite the investments of recent years.

Workers living on one side of the city, or from neighbouring counties (like Louth) must have a car in order to travel to work.

Years of underinvestment in water infrastructure threatens future supplies with serious implications for businesses and householders.

I know that Dublin Chambers is specifically focussed on Dublin’s water supply for the longer term.

Householders and businesses in Dublin face the prospect of water rationing unless the supply crisis is tackled.

Dublin's population is expected to rise from the current 1.5 million, to 2.15 million by 2050. Water demand in Dublin and outlying regions is expected to grow by that time.

The existing water infrastructure - much of it built more than 100 years ago - is not capable of delivering extra capacity.

Sinn Féin is very conscious of this crisis and we understand the need to invest and expand our water services and believe this can and should be done under the control and direction of a democratically accountable body.

Dublin also faces challenges if it is to become an inclusive and equal city. There is much social deprivation, poverty and problems associated with drug addiction and crime.

There is a chronic lack of social housing and recent years have witnessed huge increases of people sleeping rough with some dying as consequence. This cannot continue.

Like many European cities Dublin now faces the challenge of accommodating and integrating people from all parts of the globe in a way which enhances and enriches the city's cultural mix.

All of this points to the urgent need for Government to work more strategically with the 4 local authorities to ensure the capital city’s infrastructure is fit for the 21st century.

This is something Sinn Féin will seek to do if given a mandate.

Mar is eol daoibh tá Sinn Féin glórach i gcoinne téarnamh nach bhfuil measta tríd an Stát.

Economic growth has been focussed almost entirely on the large urban centres.

That said, businesses in the greater Dublin area face unique challenges of their own.

Over 40% of GDP is generated from the capital city and its surrounds.

Sinn Féin believes there are now key infrastructural challenges for the economy and that these challenges are particularly acute in Dublin.

Costs associated with housing, childcare and health affect businesses and citizens alike.

We cannot attract new businesses into the city if their employees face astronomical crèche fees and cannot find a home.

Over the coming months Sinn Féin will publish detailed policies to tackle these challenges for the longer term.

Sinn Féin - a pro-enterprise party

As a republican party, Sinn Féin puts the welfare of citizens – the rights of citizens - first and foremost in all our considerations.

To achieve this and to develop the type of fair, just and prosperous society which Sinn Féin advocates, we need a strong economy.

We believe that such an economy, including a thriving enterprise sector, is essential to sustain decent, accessible public services and to protect vulnerable citizens.

For that reason, Sinn Féin is a pro-enterprise party.

We know that businesses across this state have faced unprecedented challenges over the last seven years.

Those that have survived have had to make tough decisions to keep their doors open.

Despite the trauma of the great recession and the significant problems that remain, new businesses are emerging and some who weathered the storm are expanding.

The Government has been the first to claim credit as the macroeconomic figures have slowly improved. All new job creation has been claimed by Fine Gael and Labour as being a result of Government policies.

Ach tá an fhírinne searbh éagsúil.

Irish businesses are resilient and have understood the need to adapt and reinvent.

Wage bills were cut, investment plans scaled back and operations downsized.

But for many businesses these measures were not enough to secure their future.

Debt overhang continues to hinder re-investment.

The Central Bank says SMEs still face investment difficulties which are limiting growth potential. This has obvious, negative consequences for employment.

The Banks

The Fine Gael/Labour Government has taken little concrete action to address the Irish banking sector's failure to work with businesses.

The most recent Red C/SME Credit Demand Survey points to SMEs re-investing their own funds for working capital purposes rather than applying for bank funding.

Interest rates charged by the banks here remain higher than in other European states.

We need to see banks passing on these low interest rates to business lending.

If the Government cannot achieve this through engagement with the banks that it owns in part or in whole, then the banks need to know that alternative, emergency measures can be taken.

Irish banks need to face up to their responsibilities to the wider economy.

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)

I would like to take a moment today to debunk a myth regarding Sinn Féin’s view of Foreign Direct Investment.

Tá infheistíocht níos tábhachtaí ná ariamh.

Let me be very clear. Sinn Féin supports and encourages FDI businesses into Ireland.

We understand the value of FDI in a small, open economy.

As the political party with perhaps the best record on international engagement, Sinn Féin experiences first-hand the high regard for Ireland as a place for investment.

We do not see FDI as an either/or choice.

We see it as part and parcel of the island’s enterprise landscape.

In fact we believe we are much more ambitious than the Government for what can be achieved through FDI.

We believe more work needs to be done to increase links between Irish indigenous business and FDI.

In my view these companies are open to exploring how this can be achieved.

Dublin-Belfast economic corridor

There is now widespread support across the political and economic spectrum for an integrated, economic structure for the island of Ireland. 

All those who share the island can only benefit from the creation of a vibrant, dynamic all-Ireland economy.

Every firm operating in an all-Ireland economy would immediately see an increase in its potential home market.

Of course, no-one believes that this would be sufficient to resolve all the economic problems of all regions.

However Dublin, in particular, stands to benefit from further development of the Dublin-Belfast economic corridor.

This has the potential to bring enormous social and economic benefits to both cities and to all areas in between.

Sinn Féin wants to see the removal of barriers to promote intercity travel between Belfast and Dublin by tourists and non-tourists alike.

Crucially we need improved telecommunications services and removal of the virtual barrier caused by connectivity issues at the border.

There should be no “roaming” charges for phone users across the island of Ireland and issues regarding loss of coverage at the border should be urgently addressed. 

Utilising NAMA

Ach cinnte tá fadhbanna eile ann roimh mhuintir Bhaile Átha Cliath.

A shortage of office space is a real problem, particularly in the city centre.

Sinn Féin has called for a renewed emphasis on the use of NAMA development funds here in Ireland.

In the past, NAMA’s development funding has been skewed away from Ireland, which is wrong.

This is despite the fact that the large bulk of NAMA loans are Irish.

This imbalance must be addressed in the time ahead.

NAMA's current funding activities are focused on shortages in the Dublin office and residential sectors.

NAMA initiated a 3-year plan in 2014 for 4,500 new residential properties in the Dublin area and the delivery of key Grade A office, retail and residential space in the Dublin Docklands Strategic Development Zone (SDZ) and wider central business district.

NAMA has indicated that, if required, it could advance a further €3 billion over the remainder of its life to support the delivery of Grade A office space and residential development in Dublin and in key urban centres in which debtor and receiver properties are located.

While this funding is dependent on planning, cost evaluations and demand, we believe it can be used as stimulus for the construction sector at a time when there is a need for both housing and commercial property in Dublin and across the state.

Tax breaks/development levies

There is no single solution to the shortage of office space in Dublin.

Even those economists who advocate for tax breaks accept they have not always worked.

Dublin Chambers has called for a 2-year waiver on development levies to address the shortage of offices, housing and hotel space.

This is a big ask and if pursued needs to be accurately quantified.

If the predicted additional revenues were realised, Dublin’s local authorities would still need to provide for the lost revenue during the waiver period.

There are many lessons to be learned from the macroeconomic mistakes made since 2001.

In that time hard won gains in employment, living standards and infrastructure were squandered.

All mechanisms to address critical infrastructural deficits that hinder growth and employment must be on the table.

But so too must be the cost/benefit checks and balances to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself.  

Public Procurement 

Sinn Féin wants to maximise the value of public procurement which amounts to about €12 billion annually in goods, services and capital projects.

I note that Chambers Ireland has described a continued sense of frustration amongst SMEs at the Government’s focus on the lowest tender price above wider social and economic benefits.

Sinn Féin has argued that public procurement acts as a critical stimulus for the domestic economy.

It is an important driver for recovery both in terms of employment and employment standards across the economy.

Sinn Féin's has set out a number of recommendations to increase the participation in public procurement tendering of SMEs, particularly micro and small businesses.

We also note the new EU Directive on Public Procurement provides SMEs and their representatives with an opportunity to make a increased demand of Government.

Budget 2016

As Budget 2016 approaches, Sinn Féin is in the process of finalising our alternative Budget proposals. This is due to be launched in the next two weeks.

Sinn Féin's budgets are costed in full by the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and have withstood public scrutiny by senior economists.

Of course budgets are not just about balancing the books.

They also offer an opportunity for the opposition to set out our alternatives to the Government’s policy agenda.

Sinn Féin's budget submission for 2016 will include measures to support and encourage business and entrepreneurship.

Dublin Chambers has set a very clear policy agenda in relation to Budget 2016.

You have also set out more long term proposals.

These include tripling of investment in Dublin’s infrastructure and a new water supply for the Eastern and Midlands region.

These are ambitious goals and Sinn Féin looks forward to a continued engagement with Chambers on how these can be best addressed.

Dublin Chambers has specific demands regarding taxation.

While our methods may differ we share an objective in making a taxation system that is fair.

We have long called for a more progressive approach to commercial rates and have committed to pursue this matter in government.

As with all taxation measures, new taxation expenditure must be found elsewhere.

That is why the costing element of any taxation or expenditure proposals is so central to budget preparations.

Sinn Féin’s first response to the emerging recession in 2008 was to publish a detailed job retention and creation document.

We have retained a focus on jobs since, through numerous policy papers and our work in the political institutions.

We support the proposition that business is a critical component in the economic and societal landscape.

As a political party we must address all of these components.

As republicans we do so in a manner that is fair to all – businesses and citizens alike.

The massive shortfalls in investment and the failure of political leadership by successive of governments are causing fundamental fissures in our society and economy.
Businesses and citizens alike will pay an extraordinary cost if we do not plan for the medium and long term, particularly in the policy areas of housing, childcare and health.

If you ask our best and brightest why they are still emigrating, they will cite poor pay, lack of career progression opportunities, poor access to housing and childcare costs.

Sinn Féin's understands that we must support enterprise to ensure work pays, businesses can grow and new entrepreneurs can flourish.

This will require investment to address serious infrastructural deficits.

These are just some of the challenges we face in developing a programme that achieves our objective of delivering a fair recovery.

Sinn Féin is ambitious for Ireland, we are proud of our workforce and we understand that we do our business in a fast paced, globalised world.

There are numerous policy areas on which we must enhance our shared discussion.

These include Transport, Dublin’s water supply and how we can boost indigenous e-commerce trade to stem the excessive leakage of sales outside the state.

We won’t always agree on everything.

As a progressive political party Sinn Féin has a duty to consider all sections of society and the economy.

We passionately believe that inequality is bad for society, bad for the economy and bad for business.

We want to deliver the best and fairest result for all.

If I am to impart one key message from today’s event, it is that we in Sinn Féin are pro-business, just as we are pro-citizen and pro-fair play.

Sinn Féin accepts the need to work harder to build our relationship with enterprise and those who represent you.

We won’t be able to do all that you ask of us, but we assure you that our door is always open and we will work with you to deliver the fairest outcome. Go raibh maith agaibh.



Friday, September 18, 2015

Uncomfortable Conversations for Reconciliation


Declan Kearney, Cllr Críona Ní Dhálaigh, Dominick Chilcott, Gerry Adams

 Uncomfortable Conversations – An Initiative for Dialogue towards Reconciliation is a book published by Sinn Féin which contains contributions from key figures in the Churches, academia and wider civic society, as well as senior republican figures.

On Thursday in Dublin the Mansion House was the scene for the southern launch of the book. The Mayor of Dublin, Sinn Féin Councillor Críona Ní Dhálaigh, welcomed everyone to the event which was hosted by the party’s National Chairperson Declan Kearney, who was responsible for collating the articles first published in An Phoblacht.

The speakers included Rev Dr. Heather Morris who in 2012 was elected as the Methodist Church in Ireland’s first female President; the British Ambassador to Dublin Dominick Chilcott; agus mise.

Below is the text of my remarks:

Building new relationships 

Ard Mhéara, Ambassador, Reverend Morris, agus a chairde.

I am very pleased to have been invited to speak at this launch of "Uncomfortable Conversations for Reconciliation" by Declan Kearney.

The islands of Ireland and Britain have had a long, entangled, conflicted and tragic relationship.

Because of our shared centuries of occupation, conflict and open war, nationalists and unionists historically have defined themselves, our cultures and aspirations in terms of our relationship with Britain.

Because of our experience of colonisation and oppression nationalists have largely rejected Britishness in its entirety, whilst unionists have embraced every British symbol and gesture.

Consequently many unionists distrust the entire nationalist population fearing that if our respective roles are ever reversed we would imitate and repeat their excesses.

In Belfast parlance the boot would be on the other foot.

There is an onus on Irish republicans to address these fears.

We must do so in a genuine and meaningful way.

Most people in England consider anyone who comes from the island of Ireland as Irish – as Paddy’s or Patricia’s.

The same is true in the USA and Canada and elsewhere.

This can come as a shock to unionists when they travel there.

And of course England itself has changed much in recent decades.

In cities like London and Birmingham there is now a cosmopolitan mix.

Most citizens in England would have little in common with what unionists describe as ‘British culture’ most often represented by ‘blood and thunder’ loyalist marching bands and demands to walk through nationalist areas.
Declan Kearney

At the same time the story of colonisation and conflict has run parallel with many positive and shared experiences over the centuries.

Irish people have settled in Britain for generations.

Irish artists have contributed enormously to English literature, music and the arts.

On the sports field our people enjoy a robust and healthy rivalry.

In more recent years Irish personalities have been popular and prominent in the British entertainment industry.

The relationships between Ireland and Britain as well as those among the people of Ireland itself, are currently in transition.

Tá na caidrimh atá ann idir Éire agus an Bhreatain agus na caidrimh idir na pobail in Éirinn fosta, ag athrú anois.

The Peace Process and the Good Friday Agreement have provided the basis for building an entirely new relationship between our two islands based on partnership, equality and mutual respect.

All of us - the Irish and British governments, as well as Irish republicans, nationalists and unionists must play a full role in developing this process.
Rev Dr. Heather Morris agus mise

And let us remember that it is a process. There will be ups and downs but the direction is clear.

Sinn Féin is committed to this process and to working with the political representatives of unionism to fully implement the Good Friday Agreement.

Uncomfortable Conversations opens up the pages of what is possible is people are prepared to listen and to talk to each other.

During her historic visit to Ireland in 2011, Queen Elizabeth made clear her desire to be part of a process of reconciliation and healing.

The subsequent meeting between Martin McGuinness and Queen Elizabeth in Belfast and the state visit by President Michael D Higgins to Britain were widely acknowledged as groundbreaking.

Last May, Martin McGuinness, Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and I met Prince Charles in Sligo.

This arose because I originally went to the British Ambassador Dominick Chilcott and suggested the possibility of such a meeting and he worked behind the scenes to make it happen.

We had a cordial and relaxed discussion with Prince Charles. Despite some of the difficult issues we spoke of, it was a positive conversation.

We acknowledged that Charles and his family had been hurt and suffered great loss at Mullaghmore by the actions of Irish republicans.

We spoke also of the hurt inflicted on our friends and neighbours and on our own communities in Derry and Ballymurphy and Springhill by the actions of the Parachute Regiment and other British Army regiments.

He shared his own memories of the conflict starting in the 1960s. It was obvious to me that he wishes to play a positive role in making conflict a thing of the past.

Thankfully the conflict is now over.

The past is not another country; it shapes our lives, our politics and our present.

The sense of loss remains with families and communities.

I’m mindful that this week two of the disappeared were buried, and tomorrow we reinter Tomas Ceannt.

I also recognise that the Ambassador’s predecessor, Mr Ewart Biggs was killed by the IRA.

We cannot undo these things but we can work to ensure that they are never repeated.

We can work to reconcile ourselves to each other and to the past.   To build a future based on equality, respect and inclusion. 

So, the peace must be sustained. It needs to be nurtured. It needs to be inclusive.

The resolve and responsibility of all political leaders now must be to ensure this; to ensure that no else suffers as a result of conflict; that no other family is bereaved; that the experience of war and of loss and injury is never repeated.

This means all of us working together. It requires generosity and respect from all and for all.

The British government has a key role in encouraging and developing this process of healing and reconciliation. It must act on this. Mr. Cameron’s government has not done so.

Victims and survivors of the conflict, who are still seeking justice and truth, must be given the strongest possible support and assistance.

Whether they were bereaved by the IRA, by British state agencies, or through collusion with unionist paramilitaries, the victims and their families and communities deserve justice. That is an essential ingredient in the reconciliation process.

I know only too well from speaking directly to families of victims of the conflict, including victims of the IRA, that the past is part of their present.

I also know from talking to these families that closure and healing is possible.

For that reason the Stormont House Agreement which deals with these matters must be implemented.

When we speak about reconciliation it cannot be confined merely to a reconciliation between this state and the British state.

What is required is a genuine process of reconciliation between the people of the island of Ireland and Britain, between North and South and between the various traditions on this island.

Reconciliation must go beyond the big houses and palaces. It must be felt on the streets of Belfast and Derry and everywhere else.

Forgiveness is also and important element in all of this.

Many years ago during the 1970s I was arrested and taken for interrogation by the British Army and RUC. British soldiers beat me unconscious several times in the course of this. On one occasion a British Army doctor came in to see if I was fit for the beatings to continue.

Many years later I was in Parliament Buildings when this wee man came up to me and said; “I used to be a British soldier and I battered you when you were arrested and I’m sorry.”

I said: “Do you promise not to do it again?”

We shook hands and he went off happy and so did I.

Reflect on this. If Martin McGuinness and Sinn Féin had not taken our recent initiatives the people of the north, despite the presence of the President, would not have felt part of those historic developments.

In fact many may have felt alienated from this state as well as the British state in Ireland.

So any future initiatives must try to involve those communities in the north who have borne the brunt of the conflict.


This should include the consistent and non-threatening presence of Irish government ministers in all communities in the north working to break down misunderstanding, to assist regenerational work and to build working relationships.

It also must include the government here delivering on important projects like the Narrow Water Bridge, the A5 motorway and delivering on cross border co-operation.

It must have a tangible presence in those communities who have borne the brunt of the conflict.

The North has been transformed in recent years by the peace process. 

However it remains a work in progress. 

As we have witnessed in recent weeks, there are serious and significant challenges facing the political Institutions established by the Good Friday Agreement.

Nobody is well served by the current machinations at Stormont.

Let’s remind ourselves that the pledge of office taken by Ministers in the Executive commits them to discharging their duties of office in good faith and to serve all the people of the north “equally, and to act in accordance with the general obligations on government to promote equality and prevent discrimination.”

The Code of Conduct demands that Ministers “operate in a way conducive to promoting good community relations and equality of treatment.”

How are these commitments honoured by resigning or standing aside from Ministerial office one week, only to be reinstated in post a week later, and to then resign again?

How does this assist the efforts to resolve the crisis or build confidence in the political process?

I welcome Peter Robinson’s indication yesterday that he will join the talks on Monday.

Mr. Robinson knows that there is an urgent need for real talks to commence and solutions found.

Sinn Féin is up for that and that should be the goal of all political parties.

Building on the peace and developing reconciliation is not just a matter for people in the North.

There is a particular responsibility also on leaders in this state, in the government and in Opposition - and let me say also - in the media, to deal with legacy issues in a way which takes us all beyond invective.

The partitionist mindset in this part of the island poses particular difficulties.

The government and its permanent government – the civil service – think in 26 county terms.

A recent example of this was Labour Minister  Aodhan O Riordain tweeting his annoyance at the branding of a chicken product from Tyrone as ‘Irish’.

So too is Micheál Martin’s call for the suspension of the political institutions of the Good Friday Agreement and the Taoiseach’s support for the DUP’s move to adjourn the Assembly.

Policy decisions in this state on the economy, on planning, on health and education and infrastructure are all generally taken in that context.

They need to broaden out and have an all-island context.

There have been some exceptions as a result of the north-south bodies established under the Good Friday Agreement.

The policy makers have to think outside the narrow frame of partition.

Greater cohesion and co-operation and the normalising of relations would be good for every part of this island, especially the border region.

I have always regarded reconciliation as a personal issue. There are things such as the Partition of Ireland to which I and most Irish people will never be reconciled.

However, as an Irish republican I believe fundamentally in what Wolfe Tone termed a 'cordial union' between all our people.

I firmly contend that all those of us who, want to see a united Ireland have a duty to reach out, to stretch themselves, to go the extra mile.

The united Ireland that emerges in the future may not be the one traditionally envisaged over the years.

But it must be pluralist, inclusive and accommodating to all our people in all their diversity including those citizens who currently regard themselves as British

Orange is one of our national colours.

There will be Orange parades in a united Ireland.

I would appeal directly today to the Orange Order to also begin playing its part in the Peace Process by following the example set by Queen Elizabeth.

I would remind people also of the words of Britain's King George V Message on 7th June, 1921:

"May this historic gathering be the prelude of a day in which the Irish people, North and South, under one Parliament or two, as those Parliaments may themselves decide, shall work together in common love for Ireland upon the sure foundations of mutual justice and respect."

So, we need republicans need to be open, imaginative and accommodating in our approach to achieving Irish unity.

We must be open to listening to unionism about what they believe are the virtues of the union.

We need to look at what they mean by their sense of Britishness and be willing to explore and to be open to new concepts.

We need to look at ways in which the unionist people can be comfortable and secure; ways in which they have real ownership in a new Ireland.

We need to able to consider transitional arrangements which could mean continued devolution to Belfast within an all-Ireland structure.

While much of the history of our two islands has been marked by sadness and tragedy, we now have a unique opportunity to be the authors of a new, peaceful, hopeful and exciting chapter.

To forge a new chapter of peace and reconciliation in our long history of division and conflict.

The future is not written yet.

All the people of this island and the governments of these islands can do this. Together.

Sinn Féin is up for that challenge. I know others within unionism and the British establishment who are also.

I believe we can do it – all of us working together.

It needs political will and a vision of a new Ireland that appreciates that Ireland is the island and the people of the island.

That is our challenge and our opportunity.