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1 September 2019

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Mary Lou McDonald: 'There is more work needed to achieve a reconciled and peaceful Ireland'

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald

"The conflict is over. Twenty-five years ago, the IRA declared a ceasefire." - Mary Lou McDonald

First published on on 31 August 2019.

This month marks two significant anniversaries in the most recent phase of conflict. Fifty years ago, sectarian pogroms in Belfast resulted in death, injury and the burning out of Catholic families from their homes. It was the start of widespread unrest.

The subsequent 25 years were marked by the longest period of repression and armed resistance in the history of our country. The imposition of partition and the denial of rights sustained conflict and repression in every decade since the foundation of the State.

It was a conflict which claimed the lives of republicans, unionists, civilians and members of the British army and the RUC. The cost of that political failure is still felt by families left bereaved and individuals injured. It is important that we all acknowledge the hurts inflicted and commit to ensuring there is no return to conflict and that we support the needs of all victims.

The conflict is over. Twenty-five years ago, the IRA declared a ceasefire.

It recreated a space for dialogue and for demilitarisation and eventually the Good Friday Agreement, the establishment of power-sharing, equality, rights and a peaceful and democratic pathway to Irish unity.

The actions of the IRA at that time demonstrated that political differences are not intractable and conflict need not be inevitable. The ceasefire and the peace process that followed asserted the primacy of politics and the democratic rights of citizens.

The people of Ireland North and south voted by a huge majority to support the Good Friday Agreement and it remains the will of the Irish people. Ireland North and south has been transformed.

Since the IRA cessation a new generation has grown up, the first generation to live free from conflict since partition, but peace is not only the absence of conflict. There is more to do to realise the opportunities that developed from the IRA ceasefire, to realise the potential of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) and to build the process of reconciliation.

The GFA generation faces a number of challenges. There are some in the leadership of political unionism who continue to oppose equality and power-sharing. Their actions eventually toppled the power-sharing arrangements. We now face Brexit and the potential of a return to the Border of the past and economic devastation for the North. The right to marriage equality, women's healthcare and language rights are available in the rest of Ireland, and in Britain, yet denied to citizens in the North. There are communities that have not had their fair share. Prosperity and opportunity must be shared and felt by all.

I remain convinced that these issues can and will be resolved. History demonstrates that, with leadership, no political issue is intractable.

In 1969 I doubt anyone foresaw 25 years of conflict, and in 1994 I doubt anyone foresaw the vast changes that we now take for granted. It is time to look forward and plan for the next 25 years.

The unionist majority is gone and will not return. A new, united Ireland is developing. There is a peaceful and democratic pathway to Irish unity.

The actions of armed groups offer only death, injury and jail. It is violence for the sake of violence. Those engaged in such activities should pack up and leave the people of Ireland to determine the future, free from threat. Neither Brexit nor Boris Johnson can be allowed to wreck the Good Friday Agreement. They cannot and must not be allowed to impose a hard Border in Ireland.

Some 25 years ago, a progressive coalition of Sinn Féin leaders, the SDLP, the Irish Government and interested parties in the US came together and made a difference.

We need these groups, including the EU and progressive elements within the community, to continue to stand by the Good Friday Agreement.

If the British government continues to ignore the democratic wishes of the people to remain in the EU, the way forward is clear. Irish unity is the way back to the EU. Irish unity is in the economic interests of all.

The EU project has lost its way, but Brexit is not the answer.

We will continue to work to secure the re-establishment of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement, but they must deliver for all in society equally. Now is the time to define a new and united Ireland, to secure and win a border poll in the coming years.

It is not only a constitutional imperative for the Irish Government to plan for unity but also a practical necessity. Unity is on the agenda, the mechanism has been agreed and the Irish Government needs to plan.

Conflict is the past, it must never return. Change is part of life and we must all manage that change. The Ireland of the next 25 years is being built today. It will be a new and united Ireland. A reconciled and peaceful Ireland. A place of shared prosperity and equal opportunity.

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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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