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25 September 2003 Edition

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Breaking new ground for United Ireland of Equals

BY ROISIN DE ROSA

Gerry Adams had come to Stormont to break new ground - to address a meeting of Sinn Féin MPs, TDs, former Assembly members and councillors in Stormont, to discuss and debate strategies to build and strengthen the community for reunification, mapping the road to the realising of an Ireland of Equals.

"Republicanism is about change - it's about empowering people to make that change," said Adams. "Sinn Fein is the voice of an idea. We've come together to take that idea forward - to plan for reintegration, to plan for building and strengthening that community for an Ireland of equals. Where other parties only talk about it, we are in the process of actioning it - developing the all-Ireland architecture", putting flesh on the bones, as one of the participants in the forum said.

Former prisoner Martina Anderson delivered a path-breaking presentation to this forum. She outlined the architecture that exists within the Good Friday Agreement that allows us to set about empowering all the people of this island, to frame an Ireland that will create a better future for everyone living here.

It starts with an engagement of civil society in the discussion of a Charter of Human Rights, mapping out, as the ANC did back in 1957, the rights that not just Sinn Féin, but all the people of this country want to see.

"A dispensation to create a better future for everyone living on this island - challenging social exclusion and disadvantage, inequality, across the island," said Mitchel McLaughlin, in a powerful address to the meeting. "The seeds of social, economic, spatial reintegration have already been sown. They now need to be developed in a way that promotes balance and equality - a way that creates opportunity and unleashes the potential for reunification."

The architecture of all-Ireland governance in Strand 2 of the Agreement contains the framework of new governance. Democratically elected government is bounded by a Charter of enforceable Human Rights on the one hand, and on the other, participatory involvement, through a Consultative Forum, to engage those who are disadvantaged, who have been marginalised and discriminated against, whose voice is not heard in society today.

It is only a skeleton, but nonetheless a skeleton within which an Ireland that places centre stage human rights, equality and an end to the discrimination that has resulted from British rule and the partition of our island. This is the map this meeting of elected party representatives, and all those who work with them, discussed on Tuesday.

"Our task," Mitchel McLaughlin said, "and that of all political leaders, is to prepare for this reunification. We can be the catalyst that empowers a people to make this an Ireland of equals."

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