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29 May 2003 Edition

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Sinn Féin launches interface initiative

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams says there is a collective responsibility on both governments and all the political parties - along with community, church and civic leaders - to work together to ensure a peaceful summer.

Speaking in Belfast this Wednesday, 28 May, Adams said: "For some months now we have focused in our dealings with the other parties and with the governments, on trying to ensure the summer is peaceful, particularly with this whole atmosphere that comes around the marching season.

"We have engaged both locally and at executive level with all those who would talk to us, and we have also dealt with community and civil society. Our sense of this is that there is a collective responsibility, an onus on the two governments and on the political parties with all sectors of society, to work together to ensure that this year there is a peaceful summer."

The Sinn Féin President pointed out that his party had been consistant in its position and that Sinn Féin had proposed that the two governments and all the parties agree to a common approach to tackling the issue of interface violence and sectarianism last year.

"Unfortunately, this approach was not fully embraced and people living in interface areas had to endure a totally unacceptable summer of violence," he said.

"There is now a deep concern within the community that the present political vacuum could be filled with the type of violence that caused so much devastation last summer. Our focus is to avoid this."

"Sinn Féin, locally and nationally, has engaged in a wide range of initiatives and attempts to ensure that we do not see a repeat of last year's violence. We are holding meetings at both political and community levels and we are encouraging and backing attempts by local communities to resolve interface tensions.

"Yesterday, we saw a meeting between the Ulster Unionist Party and loyalist political and paramilitary leaders and we welcome that. We recognise that there are many, within both unionism and nationalism, who are working hard to try and ensure that there is a calm summer and this is vital. And it is work that needs to continue.

Reaching out

"Republicans are ready and willing to engage with unionism on these matters. We don't have a problem meeting unionism - even unionism without a mandate. We don't have a problem meeting with unionist paramilitaries - even those who continue to be engaged in acts of violence - because we think that the only way forward is through dialogue.

"Alex Maskey had been appointed to head up our outreach work with the unionist community and today we are announcing a city wide approach to tackling problems on the interfaces. Good intentions aren't enough. There needs to be processes, mechanisms, contacts put in place.

"We remain in contact with unionism generally, but specifically with the Ulster Unionist Party. They are very much aware of our concerns about this, going back some time. Even before the recent breakdown in the political process, in meetings in Hillsborough, we said these were issues that needed to be sorted out. There was no point in leaving it until the last minute. So we do have ongoing contact with unionism and they are very much aware of our concerns.

"We also have to face up to the reality that there are others who are intent on cynically manipulating the tensions that occur at this time of the year for their own political ends and they must not be allowed to succeed.

"It is our intention to meet directly with unionist and loyalist leaders. Obviously, we are not meeting with the loyalist commission because they have a position that belies their stated intentions. The only way to sort any of these matters out is by direct dialogue, by setting an example, and our engagement with mainstream unionism on this issue continues.

"I made remarks at the weekend in which I tried to stress my personal commitment to dealing with all of these issues, and in fact I quoted the IRA statement - which was ironically rejected - which pointed out that it presented no threat to unionism. So I'm hopeful that wise heads within loyalism and working class unionism will see that the only way to sort these things out is by face to face dialogue.

Garvaghy and Donaldson

"Ulster Unionist Jeffrey Donaldson has challenged me to provide evidence of my 'good intentions towards unionism by allowing the Orange Order to parade down Garvaghy Road in Portadown this July'.

"Mr Donaldson knows that the solution to that particular problem will only be found in dialogue between the Orange Order and the Garvaghy Road residents.

"The Orange Order has stubbornly refused to talk to the people of Garvaghy Road. It is obvious to me that the issue of an Orange march down Garvaghy Road is an important one for Orangeism and for sections of unionism. I am prepared to use my good offices to faciliate such talks and Sinn Féin is willing to assist in creating a meaningful and genuine process of dialogue so that the Orange Order can meet for face-to-face discussions with the nationalist people of Portadown.

"The people of Garvaghy Road have always made it clear they will talk to the Orange men. Mr Donaldson should try to understand their concerns. Neither he nor I can resolve these problems but we can lead by example and we can make it clear that for us, the only way forward is through dialogue."

Adams pointed out that Sinn Féin is not opposed to Orange marches, and that most nationalist and republicans show tremendous tolerance towards the nearly 3,000 Orange parades every year.

"I support the right of the Orange men to march," he said, "I have said so publically on many occassions. There are no more than a dozen or so contentious Orange parades. Surely it is not outside the imagination of Orange and Unionist leaders to envisage talking to the people involved. Jeffrey Donaldson, as a member of the Orange Order, should use his undoubted influence to bring this about.

"Many will question Mr Donaldson raising this issue on the cusp of the Orange marching season. All of us have responsibilities to do our best to ensure that the marching season is calm and peaceful this year in contrast to other years.

"For that reason, I welcome the announcement of discussions between the UUP, PUP, and UPRG.

"Genuine efforts to bring calm, particularly for people in troubled interface areas, are crucial. Sinn Féin is willing to engage with anyone on all these matters. This includes the Orange Order and Jeffrey Donaldson."

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
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