24 April 2008 Edition
Meetings across North mark Agreement's 10th anniversary
Taking ownership of the political process
A SERIES of well-attended public meetings organised by Sinn Féin took place across the North over the past two weeks to mark the first anniversary of the restoration of the political institutions and 10 years since the Good Friday Agreement.
The nine public meetings involved Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin’s Northern ministerial team, MLAs, TDs, MEPs and the party’s Policing Board members.
Another series of meetings is planned for the 26 Counties later in the year.
The meetings in the Six Counties over the past fortnight gave Sinn Féin the opportunity to provide the community with a detailed assessment of the political progress that has been made.
Members of the public at all the meetings used the opportunity to talk directly to Sinn Féin ministers and other senior party figures.
According to Gerry Adams, this direct engagement with local communities is a crucial element of Sinn Féin’s political strategy of “ensuring that people have a real sense of ownership of the political process”.
The meetings over the past two weeks in Belfast, Derry, Strabane, Lurgan, Toomebridge, Cavan, Hilltown in County Down, South Armagh and Galbally in Tyrone included an engagement with the families of the republican patriot dead and with victims of state murder and collusion.
Sinn Féin believes that substantial progress has been made in the last year and especially in the last decade on a wide range of issues, including policing, demilitarisation, human rights and equality, and more.
The party believes that there are outstanding issues still to be resolved, some of which are directly affected by the process of leadership change taking place within the DUP. These include the transfer of powers on policing and justice, Irish language rights, and issues of equality and human rights. Despite this, Gerry Adams said he believes that more progress will be made in the time ahead.
“Sinn Féin expects the DUP and the two governments to honour the commitments they have entered into.”
“WE WILL see a united Ireland within our lifetime but the real test is that can we make it better,” Gerry Adams told the first of the nine public meetings in Belfast on 8 April.
Held in Belfast’s Europa Hotel, the hall was packed to capacity with up to 800 people present and was chaired by Sinn Féin MLA and party whip Carál Ní Chuilín.
As well as Gerry Adams, the panel included Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald; the North’s Minister for Education, Caitríona Ruane; Gerry Kelly, Junior Minister in the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister; Alex Maskey MLA and member of the Policing Board.
Questions on equality, education, the Irish language, unionist outreach, discrimination against Travellers and opposition to the Lisbon Treaty surfaced at the meeting.
Other topics included the transfer of policing and justice powers, development of community policing and safer neighbourhood projects, support for victims and survivors of state violence, and the issue of British state collusion with unionist paramilitaries.
Gerry Adams highlighted the political progress made so far and on what remains to be done:
“On the tenth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement it is perhaps useful to reflect on where we are at this time and consider where we want to go. We want to see a national republic on the island of Ireland, an end to partition, the unity of Orange and Green, harmony between the people who live here, and an end to the union with Britain. That’s what guides us and informs us every day as we work at it.”
Gerry Adams recalled the imposition of partition, the dark days of unionist misrule and the Dublin Government’s abandonment of the Northern nationalist community and the long journey since.
“If we reflect back on where we’ve come from, it’s clear that we are in a better place. Most people have some sense that things are moving forward.”
On the issue of anti-social behaviour, criminality and dealing with the PSNI, the West Belfast MP said he is confident that the community “which has never bowed a knee” won’t allow small groups of thugs to set the agenda.
A LARGE crowd of people turned up to the Fountain Street Community Centre in Strabane on Sunday, 13 April, for the second in the series of public meetings. Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams was joined on the platform by Martina Anderson MLA, Bairbre de Brún MEP, Gerry Kelly MLA, Pat Doherty MP, Claire McGill MLA, and Senator Pearse Doherty.
If the media had expected significant disapproval or disillusioned republicans, they were disappointed as only very minor criticism was levelled at the Sinn Féin leadership.
Opening the meeting, Gerry Adams assured the audience that Sinn Féin’s goal is as it always has been: “To end British jurisdiction and partition.”
But, he added, this goal needs to be pursued by “a process of positive change” which involves convincing unionists that a united Ireland would be the best scenario for everyone on this island.
Following Adams’s address, the meeting was opened to the floor.
Fountain Street Centre Manager Teresa Stewart urged the Sinn Féin leadership to help deliver local services and to give positive direction to community groups.
The role of Sinn Féin representatives on the North’s District Policing Partnerships was raised by several speakers.
Gerry Adams said such involvement is “a change of tact for us but we have a duty to communities who have never had proper policing”. He continued:
“Whether we get that or not is another issue but what we can’t be doing is simply stepping back from it. As a party, we have always kept moving forward and that is what we are doing now.”
There were several questions on issues such as anti-social behaviour and the lack of leisure facilities for young people in the Strabane area.
Despite a strong criticism of the republican leadership by one speaker over the issue of IRA weapons and the ending of the armed campaign, the Strabane meeting was largely an evening of comradely discussion, information sharing and assurance.
THE Guildhall was the venue for Derry’s public meeting on 16 April where the North’s Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, told more than 500 people that the march to a united Ireland is “unstoppable”.
The platform also featured Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, Education Minister Caitríona Ruane, Bairbre de Brún MEP, Foyle MLA Martina Anderson, East Derry MLA Francie Brolly, and Donegal Councillor Pádraig Mac Lochlainn. The event was chaired by Foyle MLA Raymond McCartney.
Martin McGuinness said:
“Massive changes have occurred in the last 12 months. The pace of change may be slow but change is happening. Prior to 26 March last year, I had never had a conversation with Ian Paisley about anything but that has changed.
“One thing that I have learned since then is that, as much as we disliked politicians from London telling us what to do, the DUP also disliked it. That was something we could build on.
“The march towards Irish reunification is unstoppable. I have no doubt about that. The people who know that best are not the people here tonight or the people who vote for us but the people who vote for the DUP or the UUP.
“There are unionists who believed that if you give power to nationalists it means the end of the union as they know it – and they are absolutely right.”
HUNDREDS of republicans from across counties Derry and Antrim packed a public meting in Toomebridge on 17 April which was attended by Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, Bairbre de Brún MEP, and Policing Board member Daithí McKay as well as MLAs Francie Molloy, Michelle O’Neill and Mitchel McLaughlin.
Hailing the meeting a huge success, the party’s Slaughtneil councillor, Kate
McEldowney, said:“A crucial element of Sinn Féin’s political strategy is ensuring that people have a real sense of ownership of the political process.
“Thursday night’s successful meeting at The Elk provided the nationalist and republican community across rural counties Derry and Antrim as well as those working in the community and voluntary sector with an opportunity to come along and robustly debate the real issues of the day.”
Planning in terms of keeping our rural communities vibrant, policing and justice in relation to community safety as well as important issues such as autism and the rights of disabled people as well as sheltered accommodation for older people were some of the concerns raised by the audience and addressed by the Sinn Féin leadership panel.
TWO HUNDRED people from Fermanagh, Cavan and Monaghan packed into the Slieve Russell Hotel in Ballyconnell on Friday, 18 April.
The meeting was addressed by Gerry Adams, Ministers Michelle Gildernew and Caitríona Ruane, by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD, Alex Maskey MLA and Leas Ard-Rúnaí Declan Kearney.
Gerry Adams said:
“The type of Ireland we want is based on the proclamation of 1916. We won’t get that without building a party across the 32 Counties.”
He asked where had the wealth generated by the Celtic Tiger gone and highlighted the problems experienced by republicans who are administering institutions with a right-wing party, the DUP, a party in transition.
He said that we have moved from “a period of popular uprising, through the long war to a period of negotiation and now we are emerging into a period of nation-building”. He said that republicans had to create a dialogue to “convince unionists that they’d be better off without British rule”.
A PACKED Downshire Arms Hotel in Hilltown was the venue for a public meeting organised by Sinn Féin’s Cúige Uladh and attended by more than 250 people.
South Down Assembly Member Willie Clarke chaired the night’s proceedings and the panel of speakers included Education Minister Caitríona Ruane MLA, Regional Development Minister and MP and MLA for South Armagh Conor Murphy Tyrone MLA Francie Molly, South Belfast MLA, Sinn Féin Policing Board Member Alex Maskey MLA, Louth TD Arthur Morgan, Barbrie de Brún MEP, and Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams.
Caitríona Ruane said that a wide range of topics were discussed, including Sinn Féin’s role in policing, the scrapping of the transfer exam, the future of the fishing and agriculture industry and how Sinn Féin envisages achieving a united and more equal Ireland.
Sliverbridge Resource Centre was the venue for a Public meeting covering the South Armagh amd Newry areas. The meeting was chaired by Newry and Mourne Councillor Brendan Curran and panellists included Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, Newry/Armagh MP and the North’s Minister for Regional Development Conor Murphy, Louth TD Arthur Morgan, Bairbre de Brún MEP, Six County Education Minister and South Down MLA Caitríona Ruane, and MLAs Martina Anderson and Francie Molloy.
The meeting helped provide Sinn Féin with an opportunity to give an assessment of the progress made and of the effectiveness of the institutional and other changes that have been implemented.
Nearly 600 people listened to a keynote address from Gerry Adams where he stated: “Substantial progress has been made in the last year and especially in the last decade on a wide range of issues, including policing, demilitarisation, human rights and equality and more. Crucially the Good Friday Agreement, with its inclusive process and power sharing governmental structures, is the framework within which the current political institutions work.
Newry/Armagh MP Conor Murphy said that he had been impressed by the large crowd present and the open, honest and frank discussions that had taken place. Murphy said that this direct engagement with local communities was “a crucial element of Sinn Féin’s political strategy of ensuring that people have a real sense of ownership of the political process”.
He also explained that the series of meetings that Sinn Féin were currently engaged in would allow the party and the public to assess the significant contribution the Agreement had made to bringing about positive change. He concluded by stating “I believe that this round of meetings have been very positive and productive.”