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27 July 2006 Edition

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INTERVIEW: Sinn Féin's chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness

"Governments need to deliver"

Reviewing the year since the historic 28 July declaration by the IRA, Sinn Féin's chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness spoke to An Phoblacht's Aran Foley about developments since then, and what the future may hold.

Martin McGuinness thinks the IRA decision has had an enormous impact over the last twelve months. He argues that it definitively dealt with issues which had been presented as unionist concerns about the IRA's future intentions. But not only that.

"It has opened up huge opportunities to build momentum towards Irish unity and independence" he says. "I think the two governments fully understand how massive a decision it was for the IRA to respond to Gerry Adams' appeal and they are under no illusion about what republicans expect as we approach the make-your-mind-up time in the political process."

He recognises the frustration of republicans at the slow pace of change.

"Obviously republicans have had to consider the implications of the IRA decision. I think most people understand republicans are impatient for change and given the delays and stalling it is absolutely understandable that republicans have reservations about the commitment of the two governments to implement an agreement which should have been implemented some time ago.

"One thing is clear. If the process doesn't move forward decisively after this present effort to bring the DUP on board the two governments need to map out their strategy to bring about the implementation of the Agreement, particularly the all-Ireland agenda."

And what does he expect to happen in the coming months?

"There is a mood among some of the parties that this doesn't get serious until September, something which I think is a mistake. What is clear is that there is a growing focus on the DUP - yesterday in the Six Counties Michael McDowell and Peter Hain said very clearly that the political institutions need to be up by 24 November and that Sinn Féin needs to be part of it."

Referring to rumours of divisions within the DUP about what strategy they should adopt McGuinness says he would not get into all of that for the simple reason that Ian Paisley was the leader of the DUP and this is a party that, thus far, has opposed power sharing, the Assembly and the implementation of the Agreement.

"Mr Paisley spent the whole of 2004 telling both governments that the only obstacle to the DUP sharing power with Sinn Féin was the issue of arms. Now the issue of arms has been resolved under the auspices of the John De Chastalean body and indeed in the opinion of most governments throughout the world.

"They seem to be intent on finding any dubious grounds on which they would not have to share power with Sinn Féin.

"I think at the end of the day the DUP are going to experience a backlash from their own base. Issues like rural planning, education and development are in the hands of direct rule ministers who clearly don't make decisions in the interest of local people. Certain sections of the unionist community have to be seriously concerned that the DUP has effectively abdicated responsibility for running a part of Ireland to direct rule ministers. They have abdicated local governance to Westminster and in the process their responsibilities and obligations to their constituency."

Asked what real prospect there is that Sinn Féin will be in a power sharing government with Ian Paisley anytime in the near future McGuinness "wouldn't rule out the possibility entirely".

"Ian Paisley has a decision to take in the coming period. Some unionists are toying with the notion that they can move past 24 November and drag all of this out. My sense is that Ian Paisley has to decide whether he is the unionist leader who was responsible for the loss of the very part of Good Friday Agreement which was demanded by unionists. I hope he takes the right decision but my sense from listening to their public comments is that the DUP are not up for it. But no-one should be surprised at the attitude of Ian Paisley. The real focus is on Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern and what they are going to do in the coming period."

McGuinness describes as "a worrying development" the decision by the Taoiseach to publicly renege on commitments to Six-County representation in the Dáil.

"At the same time the two governments are now under pressure to finally move the situation forward one way or another. In the absence of power sharing the two governments have to pursue the all-Ireland agenda and that includes moving ahead with issues like northern representation, developing and enhancing the all-Ireland bodies. This is the cornerstone of the matter and it effectively means both governments instructing the top echelons within both civil services to get on with the job of providing an all-Ireland infrastructure. This would be hugely beneficial in areas such as health, transport, the economy and the environment to name but a few. This would be hugely beneficial to all the people of Ireland. Also we need to press on with the agenda's of equality and human rights for all."

Asked about the PSNI and its recent involvement in controversies such as the Loughinisland cover up, he said the position as we speak is that this is a police force under the control of British securocrats in London, securocrats in the Northern Ireland Office and various other people who are hostile to the peace process and Sinn Féin's participation in it.

"We have already seen their dirty work in the bringing down of the Assembly and indeed many other matters. I believe that republicans and nationalists will be able to see who has got it right on policing. The reality is that we need a police force but it has to be got right. I believe that the SDLP have made a huge mistake on the issue of policing and are now effectively a part of this questionable force."

Asked about the SDLP's position on policing he recalls speaking at the Patrick MacGill Summer School last week.

"Another one of the speakers was actually Alistair Cambell. Now I don't know if it was a mistake on Alistair's part but he said that 90% of Patten had already been achieved, well I'm sorry Alistair but what we want is nothing less than 100% of Patten. What have the SDLP got now? They've gone along with a force which is still controlled by securocrats and now is coming under the auspices of MI5. We all want and deserve a professional and accountable police force, this is certainly not it."

On speculation about Tony Blair's leadership and the consequences, if any, for the peace process McGuinness says that we are in no better a position to predict Blair's future than anybody else. His sense, however, is that Tony Blair was going to be here well into next year and will have to live up to his responsibilities.

"At the end of the day the process of change in this country is going to continue. All-Ireland developments are going to continue. The delivery of basic rights and entitlements will continue. What the coming months will make clear is how quickly all of this will proceed and whether the political institutions in the Six Counties are part of that process of change."

An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
  • There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.

Buy An Phoblacht magazine here

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