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26 October 2006 Edition

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Peace Process Republicans must be magnanimous but vigilant

Paisley's conditional 'yes' a positive shift

An important all-Ireland conference on cross border integration in Ireland organised by Sinn Féin, took place in Newry last Tuesday.

Featuring individuals and groups involved in delivering cross-border projects, aswell as policy makers from departmental and local government level, North and South, the conference was addressed by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams.

In the course of his remarks Adams spoke about the wider political situation. Below we carry an edited version of his address.

"Partition institutionalised sectarianism. It created a one party state in which to be a nationalist or a Catholic was to be labelled 'a non citizen'. This institutionalised sectarian approach to economic development and social provision saw border counties robbed of resources. Under British direct rule this structured discrimination continued.

Even now eight years after the Good Friday Agreement, and the acceptance by the British government of an equality agenda, there is a daily battle to overturn the bad policies of the past.

Social, economic and spatial deprivation is directly linked to the effect of the border. This in turn adversely impacts on the life chances of the people who live there.

It isn't just Sinn Féin that points to the detrimental effects of the border. Anyone who farms along the border, trys to do business along the border, wants to travel along or across the border can testify to this.

Then there are those who are sick, or have to travel long distances to visit doctors or hospitals when the nearest facility is just a few minutes away across the border. Or the children who spend too long in school buses when the nearest school is a few minutes away across the border. The list is endless.

If the border counties are to maximise their full potential the key to achieving that will be found in strategies built on the twin foundations of integration and participation. It was with this process in mind that in October 2003 in Armagh, Sinn Féin launched its policy document - Reunification through Planned Reintegration. This document was primarily aimed at the Border Corridor Area. It called for development of Integrated Area Planning. In summary it seeks:

  • Integrated Spatial Planning
  • Integrated Economic Planning
  • Utilising the Common Chapter and the Strategic use of EU Funds
  • Developing a Multi Agency approach to Cross Border Integration
  • The need for training in the Public Sector on Cross Border Development
  • The enhanced development of the Cross-Border Corridor groups
  • The Integration of Social Partner Networks to develop a community of stakeholders to promote cross-border integration

Since then Sinn Féin has been working, consulting and debating with the business community, farming sector, voluntary and statutory bodies and others to deliver these goals.

The various levels of local government, implementation bodies, cross-border corridor groups, development agencies, the community and business sectors, are moving ahead in developing linkages across the border.

Six years ago the two governments said they were committed to developing the Letterkenny-Derry Gateway. More recently they launched their North West Gateway Initiative. But all of this is non-statutory - government agencies are under no direct obligation to implement it. So despite an extensive consultation the people of that region are left with an initiative which might not be worth the paper it's written on. Six years on - the people of North West deserve better.

But so too do the people in the Border Corridor who live and work and seek to build a future for themselves and their families in the most difficult of conditions.

The governments have also said that the next ten years will see tens of billions spent on infrastructure projects across this island.

So let all of us, in business, in the rural and farming sector, in local communities, work together and define and cost the complete infrastructural needs for the entire Border Corridor region. Let this be presented to the two governments as an agreed plan for the future development of the counties affected. If we are successful than in a relatively short time the border will in every way imaginable be redundant. It will serve no purpose.

In his inaugural speech when becoming President of a new, free South Africa Nelson Mandela said: "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness, that most frightens us".

What do those words say to us?

Do not fear the economic, social, cultural, political opportunities that the peace process have opened up and are expanding each day - reach out and grasp them. Understand that if we work together no problem is insurmountable; no difficulty is beyond our ability to resolve.

Republicans are convinced of this. Why? Because we have a vision for the future which goes beyond the current, troubled and protracted phase of Anglo-Irish relationships. It is far-sighted and strategic. It is inclusive.

Ireland today is a country in transition. There have been many positive developments in recent years. I include the talks at St Andrews though there are elements of the British and Irish governments agreement at Saint Andrews which many republicans and nationalists would have difficulties with. The text needs to be scrutinised carefully and needs to be looked at in the context of the overall peace process.

The most important outcome of the Saint Andrews talks is that DUP leader Ian Paisley said yes, even if it was a qualified yes and even if he has wobbled since then. The fact is that Ian Paisley's conditional yes at Saint Andrews is a positive shift for rejectionist unionism. That is good for the rest of the people of this island.

There are justifiable concerns that the Programme for Government has still not met as was planned. Sinn Féin continues to be engaged with the two governments as we try and work through the current difficulties which are primarily between the DUP and the British government.

Republicans have to be magnanimous but we also have to be vigilant that the two governments do nothing that would undermine the Good Friday Agreement or its political institutions.

The British government has to stop pandering to the unrealistic demands of the DUP. And the Irish government needs to assert it's role as co-equal partner with the British.

It is crucially important that the Irish government doesn't stand back from the process. They need to ensure that the British government don't take short sighted decisions now which could cause greater problems down the road.

A lot of the old certainties are gone. A lot of the old conservatism has been weakened. The peace process and the Celtic Tiger have brought about great changes. Our task is to make best use of the opportunity for progress that all of the hard work of recent years have created.

Our task is to ensure that the people of Ireland, and in the context of today's conference, the people of the border counties experience a new future, a new beginning, a change for the better in their daily lives.

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An Phoblacht
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