McGuinness criticises unionist Ministers in Northern Executive

North’s Deputy First Minister acknowleges tensions between unionists and nationalists

12/04/2013. Sinn Fein Ard Fheis. Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness delivers his keynote address at the Royal Theatre Hotel in Castlebar, Co Mayo on the first evening of the party's Ard Fheis. Photo: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

12/04/2013. Sinn Fein Ard Fheis. Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness delivers his keynote address at the Royal Theatre Hotel in Castlebar, Co Mayo on the first evening of the party's Ard Fheis. Photo: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Fri, Apr 12, 2013, 21:23

The North's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has acknowledged tensions within the Northern Executive between unionist and nationalist Ministers.

At the Sinn Fein ardfheis in Castlebar, Co Mayo tonight - the first to be held in Connacht - Mr McGuinness said that commentators "with some justification" were critical of the "lack of cohesion between unionist and republican Ministers". He did not mention First Minister Peter Robinson by name but it appeared clear he was also adverting to the DUP leader.

Mr McGuinness was critical of unionist Ministers in the Northern Executive and also complained that unionist politicians had failed to stand up to loyalist violence over the flags controversy and were failing to tackle the issue of parading.

"More than once in recent months the observation has been made to me that Sinn Féin Ministers are in government with unionist Ministers because we want to be, but that unionist Ministers are in government with Sinn Féin because they have to be," Mr McGuinness told delegates. "Speaking frankly this isn't good enough."

This week on the 15th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement Mr Robinson insisted that the 1998 accord was not the "template" for the current powersharing arrangements.

Again in an implicit criticism Mr McGuinness said tonight that political progress would be helped greatly "if some within unionism ended the pretence that they are not working the Good Friday agreement institutions".

"People need to be in government not because they have to be but because they want to be - and approach decision-making in that spirit," he said.

Continuing his criticism of his unionist partners in the Executive Mr McGuinness added, "I have no difficulty whatsoever in respecting Unionist's allegiance to their Britishness - but it gives me no satisfaction to tell you that there is a marked reluctance by unionist leaders to respect the Irish identity of nationalists and republicans."

Mr McGuinness said that the Belfast Agreement "while not a political settlement" was a "levelling of the political playing field in the North for the first time since partition".

He condemned the actions of dissident republicans, adding, "Whatever else about those groups responsible it is obvious that they have now been swamped by ruthless criminal elements with an island-wide network."

4Cavan-Monaghan TD Caoimhghin O Caolain said that Sinn Fein would continue to press for a Border poll on a united Ireland, stating that not only would such a referendum be held but that ultimately Irish "unity is going to happen".

The ardfheis is being held in Castlebar as part of Sinn Fein's policy of rotating the annual conferences between the four provinces.