Now is time to 'forge new friendships'

Sat, May 26, 2012, 01:00

PEACE PROCESS:REPUBLICANS AND unionists must become partners and leaders in reconciliation, the Sinn Féin chairman Declan Kearney told delegates at the party ardfheis in Killarney, Co Kerry yesterday.

Mr Kearney said that now was the time to begin forging new friendships “among and between our diverse communities North and South”. During a general debate on Irish unity and the peace process, he called on unionist politicians to engage directly with republicans to help achieve an end to divisions.

“A range of Protestant and unionist people have been engaged privately with myself and other party colleagues to explore our respective concepts, principles and language,” he said. “They have come from within Protestant churches, loyalism, business, community and civic life.”

Mr Kearney said Sinn Féin wanted to build on this project.

“I particularly urge political unionism to help us develop that dialogue. Unionist leaders have an important contribution to make,” he said.

Kerry North TD Martin Ferris said Sinn Féin must become “persuaders” for unity. The party needed to demonstrate that unification was “not an esoteric and unrealistic pursuit but a practical and realistic objective”.

The ardfheis passed a motion from its ruling ardchomhairle pledging members to continue campaigning for a united Ireland and urging the Government to commission a Green Paper on unity.

Derry Assembly member Raymond McCartney called for the release of Marian Price and Martin Corey, who are in prison in the North in relation to suspected dissident republican activity.

Licences which released them from previous life sentences imposed for IRA activity were revoked by Northern Secretary Owen Paterson because of their alleged dissident involvement.

Mr McCartney also said that another republican, Gerry McGeough, imprisoned last year after he was convicted of attempted murder going back to 1981, should be released immediately.

McGeough is eligible under the Belfast Agreement early release scheme.

Mr McCartney also called for an end to the PSNI’s policy of rehiring officers on temporary contracts without those positions being advertised. “The policy of retiring and rehiring must end,” he said.