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5 January 2006 Edition

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Interview: 2006 - a year of hope and expectation

Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness

An Phoblacht spoke this week with Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness about prospects for political progress in the New Year and the political atmosphere for negotiations around the restoration of the All-Ireland institutions.

Expanding on his recent call for the Irish and British Governments to bring forward a plan to restore political institutions in the Six Counties Martin McGuinness says: "Given that prior to Christmas there were positive soundings coming from both the Irish and British Governments around the issue of a big push to restore the institutions, followed now by further statements from Dermot Ahern and Peter Hain, clearly indicating that both governments are going to pump up the volume on this issue -- clearly makes it incumbent upon them to explain to the rest of us their plan for getting the DUP to play its part in contributing to the restoration of the Good Friday institutions.

"A huge effort was made by republicans last year. The IRA delivered big time on an end to their armed campaign and on the issue of arms. As I predicted last year, a spotlight is now going to be turned on the leadership of the DUP and my hope obviously is that they will rise to the challenge; that they will recognise that we all have a responsibility to the people we represent and they have to recognise that, as Gerry Adams has said, a genuine effort is needed to end the stalemate.

"We are determined that the IRA initiatives of last year are not squandered and that collectively we all play our part in restoring institutions that the people of Ireland voted for."

McGuinness says that in the negotiations that took place in Autumn 2004, the DUP effectively signed up to the Good Friday institutions. "That's a huge situation for us to achieve and I think that the DUP's difficulty at this time is coming to terms with how they are gong to play their part in all of that. The other issue that needs to remembered is that Paisley spent the whole of 2004 imploring the two governments to accept that if the issue of arms was resolved that he would go into government with Sinn Féin. The issue of arms is now gone -- dead as a dodo. And effectively now I think Ian Paisley is seeing a spotlight turned on him and he is going to be under considerable pressure in the time ahead."

Asked about the capacity of recent activities by British Intelligence and security agencies to undermine political progress McGuinness reiterated Gerry Adams' point that British Intelligence agencies are working day and night to prevent political progress in the North. He said: "These are people with the same mentality as rejectionist unionism; people who are hostile to the peace process; who are hostile to the Good Friday Agreement and to the prospect of that all-Ireland agreement effectively up and running with unionist, nationalist and republican politicians sitting down together to map out a better future for the 32 Counties.

"Clearly those people will continue with their work. They are negative influences. But at the end of the day the person who has to curtail the activities, to bring these people to heel is the British Prime Minister. It is his responsibility. The book stops with him. And of course when we speak to him, as we will, we will make it very, very clear that we are prepared to play our part as we have done over many years in trying to put these institutions back together but he also has to play his part along with the Taoiseach in making it clear, to the DUP that it is time for them to do the business and to make it clear to those elements within the British Intelligence Services, who are hostile to the process, that their activities have to end."

Asked whether the anti-Sinn Féin utterances of some Irish Government Ministers, which have been parroted by the DUP as excuses not to go into government with Sinn Féin, undermined his faith in that government's good intent McGuinness said: "I think we are all very conscious that much of what we have heard from some elements within the Irish Government in recent times has all to do with the prospect of elections in 2007 and their fear of the growth of Sinn Féin and the increasing political and electoral strength of Sinn Féin on a 32-County basis. I think they are finding it very difficult to come to terms with the reality that there is huge support for Sinn Féin's all-Ireland agenda and for Sinn Féin's social and economic policies. That said, the Taoiseach has flagged up the importance of a big push this year and that has been paralleled by statements from Downing Street. So I think we have to come at all of this with a good heart. We have to come at this with the hope and expectation."

He went on to say: "It is my sense that we are into a vital year in the Peace Process and that the responsibilities for everyone are clear. They are collective responsibilities. There needs to a genuine effort to end the stalemate and the Taoiseach and British Prime Minister have to effectively lay a plan before us about how that is going to come about. And I have considerable hope and expectation that we will see that plan unfold in the coming weeks.

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