McGuinness claims unionists open to idea of a united Ireland

Sat, May 26, 2012, 01:00

SINN FÉIN ARDFHEIS:IT IS time for Irish republicans to move on from “peace-building” to “nation-building” and dialogue with unionists was part of that, the North’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness told the Sinn Féin Ardfheis.

He told delegates at the opening of the two-day party conference in Killarney, Co Kerry, that it would be a mistake to think many unionists were not “thinking their way through the necessity for reconciliation”.

He recalled that the last time he was in Killarney was on a “battlebus” during what he described as a “very eventful” and “even exciting” presidential election campaign.

The Sinn Féin campaign had been “an important building-block” for the future and the party could be proud of that, he said.

The party could also be proud of its ability “to change the course of a presidential election”.

Mr McGuinness expressed his “best wishes” to the winner of the election, President Michael D Higgins, “who’s doing a good job”.

“The people of Ireland in the final analysis made a wise decision,” Mr McGuinness said.

He said partition had created “two conservative states” on the island in which “the rights and entitlements of ordinary citizens were secondary to the needs of the political class”.

“Through 40 years of struggle and our involvement in peace negotiations, we have managed to dismantle one-party rule in the North,” he said.

In addition, he said, “we have erased the physical nature of the Border. We have constructed all-Ireland political institutions”. But what he called “our primary political objective” of Irish unity remained to be achieved.

“We are in an entirely new situation legislatively and constitutionally,” he added.

Republicans had “transformed Ireland in the course of the past decades”. “It is now time to move from the peace-building phase of the struggle to the nation-building phase,” he said.

But he added that this was “not about trying to turn unionists into nationalists” or hoodwinking people.

“The reality is that much hurt has been caused on all sides during the conflict and indeed by the very imposition of partition itself.” Although much of the “public running” in this debate had been made by republicans, it was “a mistake to think that many within the broad unionist community are not thinking their way through the necessity for reconciliation”.

Discussions had been taking place with “a range of civic unionism and Protestant churches”.

He quoted a message received in recent weeks from what he described as a “very significant group of people” in the Protestant and unionist tradition.

In their message, the unidentified group welcomed Sinn Féin’s “genuine invitation to engage in dialogue” and added: “We are keen to engage further on a range of issues as the initiative develops.” Mr McGuinness said: “Having the confidence to build a new better relationship with Britain will also be important.”

National reconciliation was a necessity for constitutional change: “A peaceful and democratic path to a united Ireland is there.”

The ardfheis continues today with debates on housing and the environment, health, education, social welfare, the economy and human rights.

The presidential address by Gerry Adams, which will be televised, has been moved to 5.25pm, thereby avoiding a clash with the Eurovision Song Contest.

The time devoted by Mr Adams to the referendum on the fiscal treaty is to be matched by the time given to Taoiseach Enda Kenny in a subsequent address on RTÉ tomorrow night, just ahead of the Six O’Clock News.