Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has called on dissident republicans to listen to the people of Derry and abandon their campaign of violence.
In a wide-ranging interview, the republican leader said the majority of the people of Derry want peace and prosperity for the city.
He also said that the current strategy of the dissident groups will not succeed and that the peace process is “rock solid.”
His comments come following a number of attacks on his home and a verbal attack on his wife. He also claimed there has been a campaign of threats and assaults against Sinn Féin activists and their homes by dissident republicans in recent months.
“There have been attacks on Sinn Féin activists in the Creggan estate, Mitchel McLaughlin’s house has been attacked in the past and now over the course of recent times there have been a number of threats and attacks made against myself.
“My home was attacked by paint and on another occasion, three young people were frightened off by neighbours while trying to throw stones from a neighbour’s back garden,” he said.
Mr McGuinness insisted, however, that he will not be deterred by threats from any quarter. “It does not have any effect on me an individual. Whatever about some of the nonsense going on it pales in comparison to the pressures myself and the people of this city endured over decades.
“What obviously is concerning is that some of these people think it is a good idea to target my family, and I think that is a particularly cowardly way for people to behave.
“The people who are involved in this and egging those on who are doing it need to catch themselves on and realise that there is no support whatsoever for this sort of activity,” he added.
Mr McGuinness said he is prepared to meet with dissident republicans, and revealed that he has held talks with individuals he described as being “hostile to the peace process” in the past.
“I don’t have a problem with people who are politically opposed to what I am doing. I would defend to the bitter end anybody’s right to disagree with me and to manifest that in legitimate and political ways.
“I can defend to anybody the decisions I made over the last 20 years and my involvement in the peace process as Sinn Féin chief negotiator.
“I have repeatedly made my position clear that I am prepared to talk to anybody. I have made that offer on countless occasions and it has not been taken up.
“The only time it was close to being taken up was in the aftermath of the burning of Sean Dolans gaelic club in Creggan whenever it appeared that some of these people appeared to be distressed that some of their membership may have been involved in that.
“There was an occasion when I had an opportunity to talk to two people who are hostile to the peace process. I made my position clear, and there is no backwater with me in confronting anyone who wants to plunge us back to the past. I made it clear that they have no support.
“That said I am still prepared to talk to people. I would not allow a situation where those who are hostile to the peace process could say we are opposed to talking,” he said.
Mr McGuinness insisted that the peace process cannot be derailed by the actions of dissident republicans. “The reality they have to deal with is that the peace process is rock solid. The conflict is over. The difficulty is that they are the only people who don’t realise that.
“We are faced with the situation where, sadly, we have a tiny minority who think they can usurp the wishes and desires of the people of Ireland for what is seen throughout the world as a very successful peace process.
“In spite of all that has been thrown at the political institutions over the last six years those institutions have remained stable and will do so for some considerable time,” he said.
He also contrasted the progress made in the peace process, and its benefits for Derry, with the activities of armed dissidents.
“They surely need to ask themselves a question of what view the people of Derry have of them? Do the people of Derry think they are something noble or courageous to be held up with respect or do the people of Derry regard them as not working in the interests of this city? Overwhelmingly it is the latter.
“This is a city moving forward. Look at the financial commitment that has been made by the institution that I am a part of, the support for the City of Culture, over 30 million put into Ebrington and the building of the Peace Bridge.
“If you count up the infrastructural projects that have taken place and what is going to happen over the coming period it is well over three quarters of a billion pounds commitment to this city,” he said.
Mr McGuinness also called on those opposed to the peace process to explain their strategy to the people of Derry. “Are they trying to tell us that in the face of all the good things that are happening in this city, particularly this year with all the opportunities presented by Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, the prestigious Turner Prize and a plethora of other events, that the majority of people in the city are opposed to this? The reality is that it is only a tiny minority.
“They need to be honest with themselves and with the people they are misguiding on a daily basis. They need to come out and tell us what it is all about and what it is all for,” he said.
He also encouraged opponents of the peace process to enter the political arena and make their case before the electorate.
“I know some of them harbour the notion that at some stage they could garner enough support to politically confront the peace process. I would give them every encouragement to be involved in political opposition. I don’t fear going to the electorate,” he said.
The Deputy First Minister also said the PSNI response to recent incidents highlights the changes that have occurred in policing. “We have seen countless occasions in this city where people have been arrested in possession of deadly weapons designed to plunge us back to the past. The fact that these people have been arrested and not been killed clearly shows how policing has changed. I welcome very much that nobody has lost their lives,” he said.