The peace process has created the space in which the possibility of a different kind of relationship between the people of this island, and between Ireland and Britain has been made possible.
That relationship is still evolving. Nationalists and unionists in the north are engaged in a unique power sharing and partnership mode of governance – and all-Ireland political structures are established and beginning to work well.
But our country and our people are still divided. The British still claim jurisdiction over the north, even though this is now in a conditional way, and there remain many legacy and justice issues that are unresolved.
For all these reasons Sinn Féin set out our concerns about the visit of the English Queen at this time.
Nonetheless, mindful that the people of this island are on a journey out of conflict, and that unionists have a close affinity with the British Monarchy, Irish republicans have sought to be constructive in how we responded to this event.
I have also expressed my hope that some good will come from it.
The political reality in Britain of course is that the legal and constitutional powers of the Queen rest with the British Prime Minister of the day. It is David Cameron who personally exercises all of the Crown Prerogatives and does so without recourse to the British Parliament.
This includes approving Queen Elizabeth’s speeches.
Many people who I have spoken to, particularly people from the North, are disappointed that she did not apologise for Britain’s role in Irish affairs in her remarks on Wednesday. This disappointment is understandable given the huge hype around the visit, the difficulties surrounding it and the expectations raised by it.
For my part I believe that the expression by the Queen of England of sincere sympathy for those who have suffered as a result of the conflict is genuine, and I welcome that. Many victims and victims’ families will expect her Government to now act on that as quickly as possible and to deal with legacy issues, particularly those involving British state forces and collusion in a forthright manner.
As we have said many times, Sinn Féin wants to see a real, new and profoundly better relationship between the peoples of Ireland and Britain, one built on equality and respect.
There were a number of important symbolic gestures during this visit. The laying of a wreath in the Garden of Remembrance at the memorial to the men and women who died for Irish freedom was one of these, not least because many of the heroes remembered there were executed by British crown forces. The laying of the wreath was a recognition that they fought in a just cause.
The Irish Government and the other political parties in this state know that their sacrifices were not for a partitioned Ireland or a 26 County Republic, though they rarely admit it.
Interestingly during the recent General election the Fine Gael party did say that, “In any Republic the people are supposed to be supreme. Judged by that standard Ireland today is a Republic in name only”. They need to act on this and all the parties here need to act on the imperative of the Proclamation of the Republic.
For her part President Mary McAleese and her husband Martin have shown an ability to reach out to others. That has been a mark of her office.
I welcome the President’s acknowledgement that ‘inevitably where there are colonisers and the colonised, the past is a repository of sources of bitter division. The harsh facts cannot be altered nor grief erased.
I also agree with her assertion ‘that with time and generosity, interpretations and perspectives can soften and open up space for new accommodations’.
This will not happen of its own accord.
It will require ongoing work and a committed focus in the time ahead, particularly by the Irish Government.
Building healthy, friendly ’normalised’ relations with our nearest neighbour is in everyone’s interest. The peace process creates a democratic, inclusive way to do this.
All of us have come some way – the process has delivered. This week’s events are evidence of that but there is still a journey to be completed.
As the President remarked ‘this may still be a work in progress’ as well as ‘a work of progress, of partnership and friendship’ … ‘an important sign – among a growing number of signs’ of the fresh start envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement.
The challenge is to ensure that this is built upon and that reconciliation gestures, though important in themselves, do not become substitutes for real political action and positive change.
In practice that means there is an outstanding need for the Irish and British governments to honour their obligations and guarantee full implementation of all the terms of both the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements.
The Irish Government and the British Government have spoken a lot in recent days about new beginnings and that is welcome. However, the British Government has thus far steadfastly refused to release files on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, and on other attacks which have involved their agents in this state.
Mr Cameron needs to act on this issue on the terms outlined by the families of victims of these attacks.
So the Royal visit will be judged by the actions that spring from it, particularly how Mr Cameron responds to the very modest and legitimate demand that we work together to find ways of dealing with the past.
This is an opportune time for Irish Government to plan for the future in partnership with our unionist friends for a new Ireland, for genuine national reconciliation and healing across this island and for Irish Unity. This means having a real, inclusive national conversation about the future of our island including the need to bring all of our traditions together and building a better future for all the people of this island. This, along with building the peace, is the work of practical patriotism. It is work for us all to be getting on with.
Sinn Féin is working with our unionist partners in the North and every day we are seeking to explore possibilities for the future based upon equality, respect and tolerance. Like all democrats we seek an end to partition and the reunification of our people and our island.
So this week’s visit by the Queen of England to this part of Ireland has to be seen as part of a journey.
It is a page in a book – not the end of that book.
We need to continue that journey and to write the next chapter of that book.
Note to Readers
Sinn Féin will be holding two conferences in June on the theme of ‘Uniting Ireland’.
The conferences are titled: Towards a New Republic – I dtreo an Poblacht Nua.
They first will be held in Dublin on Saturday June 18th in the Rotunda Pillar Room Complex, Parnell Square, Dublin 1 beginning at 10am.
The second conference will be on Saturday June 25th in Cork City Council Concert Hall beginning at 7.30pm.
Details are available at www.unitingireland.ie