OPINION : ‘A better way forward is available’

Foyle Sinn Fein MLA Raymond McCartney
Foyle Sinn Fein MLA Raymond McCartney

Dialogue between Republicanism and Unionism has always been difficult.

The present political impasse demonstrates just how difficult it is but also challenges us to redouble our efforts to find a resolution. It was only through dialogue coming out of conflict that we were able to foster and develop the present peace and political process, however fragile that may be.

A comprehensive agreement to restore the Executive is in the best interests of all citizens here. The issues which caused the collapse of Stormont can be resolved with political will and mutual respect.

Marriage equality, an Irish language act, legacy inquests, rights, respect and integrity in government should not be politically contentious.

A polarised society is not good for any community and Sinn Féin want to be part of changing that, of building a more reconciled society.

The twin threats of Brexit and Tory-imposed cuts will impact on every citizen here. A restored Executive with genuine power-sharing at its heart and acting in the interests of all citizens is the best way to confront these challenges.

It can help ensure the needs of our citizens, both unionist and nationalist and that the economy and our public services are protected. That is in the best interests of all citizens and in this round of talks, that is what Sinn Féin will be determined to achieve.

I sincerely hope that the political will is there from all parties and both governments to ensure we get a resolution that comprehensively deals with the issues and puts sustainable, genuine power-sharing institutions in place.

Sinn Féin is serious in our efforts to restore the Assembly but it must be on the basis of real partnership and respect. Genuine dialogue based on respect and equality remains critical to progress the overall situation but particularly to resolve the current difficulties that have threatened political stability. Because of the experience of conflict and division, all too often political opponents are viewed with suspicion.

Too many within political unionism seem to view the process from the point of, if nationalists want it, even if it will enhance the lives of the unionist people also, then it is nevertheless bad for unionism. Political unionism over the years has suffered from a leadership that has fluctuated between supremacist arrogance and a fearful, inarticulate uncertainty. This instilled a fear in many Unionists that, if respective roles were ever reversed, nationalists would imitate the sectarian excesses of Unionism.

Republicans must deal with these fears by redoubling our efforts to communicate with the unionist constituency not just through their political representatives but also directly, with a reassuring message that under no circumstances will we visit upon any section of society the exclusion, domination and discrimination from which we are emerging.

Republicans want peace and democratic change and are convinced that, unless radical decisions are agreed with the various representatives of unionism, then we are in danger of condemning future generations to continued political instability and economic uncertainty.

I believe that there is a better way forward. The British Government, which is not trusted or respected by any constituency in Ireland, has been the common denominator that has divided the people of Ireland for generations. It has never acted in the best interests of our people.

I believe that with patience and in a spirit of mutual respect that nationalists and unionists can agree on our relationships to and with each other in peaceful co-existence without a British Government setting terms that are always set to suit only its own selfish political interests.

Republicanism and unionism must reach a sustainable compromise through respectful dialogue, grounded in anti-sectarianism that will move us beyond the impasse of the present into a bright future.

To achieve that, we must explore how we can accommodate each other’s aspirations in a manner which does not demand the surrender of cultural or traditional identity.

What is needed is a determined, strong leadership that does not seek a selfish outcome for our respective constituencies but one which will bring real benefit to all.

Republicans believe that Irish unity, on the basis of equality, offers the best future for all the people of this island. Therefore it is our responsibility to spell out to unionists what sort of agreed Ireland we seek and to reassure the unionist people of their place in an Ireland of equals.

Whilst we demand the entitlement to promote and to persuade for our vision of a United Ireland, we are also open to engage with unionism on their vision for the future. We’re willing to listen to unionism about why they believe the union is the best option.

Opening up a public debate around these key issues can provide a better way forward.