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20 April 2018

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Time to deal with the past and look to the Future

The war in Ireland is over. It is in the past. Embracing the Good Friday Agreement twenty years ago was about ensuring political conflict will never again be part of our lives.

During the most recent phase of Stormont negotiations the British government agreed with Sinn Féin to release the legacy inquest funds requested by the Lord Chief Justice, and to commence the consultation on legacy legislation minus reference to a statute of limitations in order to establish the Stormont House legacy mechanisms.

We have said, notwithstanding the political crisis in the north, the British should honour those commitments, and that both it and the Irish government should immediately establish the British and Irish Inter-Governmental Conference.

The past continues to cast a long shadow over the political crisis.

The Stormont House Agreement represents an agreed template for how it can be addressed.

That agreement is another which has yet to be fully implemented.

In the meantime, legacy issues remain deeply vexed and contentious.

Republicans continue to be attacked by unionist politicians for remembering our Patriot Dead.

I and others have repeatedly said that we have every right to respectfully remember our Patriot Dead, and we respect the rights of others to do the same.

Acts of war can never be romanticised regardless to the wider context in which these occur.

In an Irish context, no right thinking Irish republican has ever glamourised war, or indeed the actions of the IRA, in this or any previous generation. There was never a ‘good old IRA’ as some revisionists insinuate.

However, to demand that Sinn Féin repudiate the IRA is just as futile as expecting unionists to repudiate British armed forces.

Multiple narratives do exist about the political conflict in the north (those of republicans; the British state; unionism; constitutional nationalism; and those who purport to suggest the conflict was nothing to do with them!)

Sinn Féin accepts this reality and believes our society must move to a point where we can collectively agree to disagree.

Fundamentally republicans believe that the war came to us; we did not go to war.

We reject the efforts by some to weaponise the past, to effectively create a new battleground, and who insist in continuing a war long since over, by other means.

That serves no purpose.

Instead we need to deal with the past.

Sinn Féin’s preferred policy option has always been the establishment of an Independent International Truth Commission.

In the interests of achieving a wider consensus and fully inclusive process, we compromised that position to support the measures contained in the Stormont House Agreement of 2014.

However, the British government’s decision to renege on the Stormont House Agreement in 2014, and subsequent reversion to use of its national security veto in 2015 after the Fresh Start Agreement, in order to prevent maximum information disclosure about state actions, is now stopping that from happening.

The actions of British state forces and their agents through the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s are the reason why the past is so contested today. Thatcher’s war cabinet of the 1980s in particular, introduced an intensified politico-military strategy to the north and brought state aggression to a new level.

British state opposition to maximum information disclosure on the actions of its forces and agents has made legacy into a touchstone issue.

The fact is that powerful sections of the British politico-military establishment are still psychologically at war in the north.

But they must not be allowed to set the agenda or to narrow our horizons.

All our citizens have the right to a future which is not burdened by the legacy of the past.

That is why republicans are absolutely committed to finding new understandings and accommodations with unionists.

We want to replace old hostilities and suspicion with new friendships and trust.

Republicans continue to seek authentic reconciliation with unionism.

A new phase of the peace process based upon reconciliation and healing must be our future. Sinn Féin looks beyond the current recrimination and resentment about past actions, towards reconciliation.

Our project is to achieve an Ireland with rights, equality, fraternity and anti-sectarianism at its core.

We aim to be in government north and south and we want to help build an agreed united Ireland for the many, not the few.

However, we will only accept the re-establishment of political institutions in the north that are based upon proper power sharing and parity of esteem.

The prospect of Brexit borders, shared economic and social challenges, the welfare of our children, elderly and future generations represents common ground for all sections of society.

No citizen should live in fear of poverty, exclusion, discrimination of any kind, or the scourge of sectarianism.

That is what Sinn Féin means by our stated resolve not to return to the status quo.

Brexit has changed everything.

The political and electoral majority once exercised by the dominant forces of political unionism has ended in the north.

The old constitutional, political and economic assumptions or orthodoxies no longer apply.

Greater numbers within society north and south are now discussing the inevitability of change and the potential for Irish unity.

Sinn Féin wants to encourage a dialogue about a managed transition towards an all-Ireland pluralist, constitutional democracy.

Republicans need to convince unionists and others that we want to make, and mutually agree the accommodations and comprises required to create a shared society which guarantees religious and civil liberties, and equal rights for all citizens regardless of creed, culture, class, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.

A new Ireland is not only possible; it is an imperative.

It is time to accept the reality that we cannot change the past.

The war in Ireland is over. It is in the past. Embracing the Good Friday Agreement twenty years ago was about ensuring political conflict will never again be part of our lives.

There will not be agreement about the different experiences of the conflict. What was won and lost in past conflict will not be reversed now, or in the future.

The republican political narrative will not change. Neither will that of the British state or unionism.

So the challenge is to agree to disagree, and move on: and to do so by honouring and implementing the measures we have agreed to deal with the past.

And in doing that, and looking towards the future, let’s begin a new discussion about how the Irish, British and other identities which share this place can design a rainbow future, embracing Ireland’s green and orange traditions; cultural and ethnic diversity; and serves equally all citizens and sections of Irish society.

An Phoblacht Magazine


  • Don't miss your chance to get the first edition of 2019 published to coincide with the 100th anniversary of An Chéad Dáil and Soloheadbeg.
  • In this edition Gerry Adams sets out the case for active abstentionism, Mícheál Mac Donncha takes us back to January 21st 1919, that fateful day after which here was no going back and Aengus Ó Snodaigh gives an account of the IRA attack carried out on the same day of the First Dáil, something that was to have a profound effect on the course of Irish history.
  • There are also articles about the aftermath of the 8th amendment campaign, the Rise of the Right and the civil rights movement.

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An initiative for dialogue 

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Contributions from key figures in the churches, academia and wider civic society as well as senior republican figures

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