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14 February 2002 Edition

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Republicans and unionists must engage on Irish unity - Adams

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams this week dealt again with the need to include unionists in the new dispensation

"Republicans have got to get our heads around the need to persuade a section of unionism that its interests will be better served in a united Ireland - a new agreed Ireland," he said. "How do we do that? By making sure that we don't do onto others what was done onto us. That involves ensuring that the national unity fractured by British policy in Ireland is repaired. In part this means actively seeking unionist consent and assent.

"That means beginning the process of persuasion now - and not when the Brits are leaving.

"Some may believe that this provides unionism with a veto. It does not. The unionists nolonger have a veto over Irish unity.

"But, remember what we are trying to do. We are trying to unravel centuries of conflict. That means centuries of hostility between human beings, powerful emotions clashing with each other at an individual and community level. Powerful memories of hurt and pain on all sides. And this pain runs deep in the psyche of unionists and nationalists, republicans and loyalists.

"We are also dealing with a chasm of distrust and suspicion.

"The process of change that we are involved in is about creating the conditions for a new, democratic, pluralist dispensation on the island of Ireland and a new relationship between Ireland and Britain. It is about fundamental constitutional and institutional change and a range of political cultural, social and economic safeguards for all citizens.

"For many unionists this is a terrifying prospect. Change can be frightening. Change can be seen as a threat. Change is always difficult, even in our personal lives - even when it is for the better. When taken in the context of a conflict, change can be traumatic.

"And this can be made even more difficult when there are those, both within sections of unionism and within the British political and military establishment which still want to hold on to the old ways. In my view that is where the serious threat to the peace process comes from at this time.

"There is therefore an imperative for republicans to reach out to unionists and there is a particular onus on republicans to spell out to unionists what sort of united Ireland we seek - one that is inclusive, built on equality and justice and human rights. We need to look at ways in which the unionist people can find their place in a new Ireland. We need to look at decentralisation. We need to look at what they mean by their sense of 'Britishness'.

"In this context of constructing a new Ireland in which British government jurisdiction has ended, it is our responsibility to ensure that unionists are open to accepting this development. To do this requires a willingness on our part to explore and to be open to new concepts. We are Irish republicans. We want a new national republic on this island. The most important part of the word republic is 'public', meaning the people. So we need to make the republic a people-centred democracy. That includes the unionist section of our people.

"The challenge to unionists should not be underestimated by republicans. But neither should unionists ignore the fact that they represent 20% of the population of this island. Their potential is greater in an Irish state which wants their vital and essential contribution than it is as 2% of a British state which has consistently demonstrated no real interest in them except when it serves British establishment interests.

"Our goal as Irish republicans is an Irish unity that is inclusive, that unionists will feel welcome in, that they are part of. So we have to quietly, persuasively, and as friends and neighbours persuade unionists that they should not be afraid of taking a leap of imagination.

"Unionists should be prepared to put forward their vision for the future and to consider, discuss and engage with nationalists and republicans about the nature and form a new united Ireland will take.

"A United Ireland cannot by definition be a cold house for unionists. It must guarantee their rights and entitlements so that they have their own place, their own stake in and a sense of security and ownership."

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An Phoblacht
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