It is time for progressive politics and shared society

Posted By: November 27, 2017

Michelle O’Neill Platform. Irish News. Belfast. November 27, 2017

Martin McGuinness

Michelle O’Neill with outgoing party president Gerry Adams. Picture by Mal McCann

NEXT year marks the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

The agreement defines the new relationships that now exist within and between Ireland and Britain.

It also enshrines the right of the Irish people alone to self-determination and a united Ireland by consent.

I am in no doubt that the people of Ireland value the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement.

In January the late Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister in the executive.

He did so as a last resort because of the RHI scandal, the DUP’s denial of rights for all citizens, and the failure to fully implement previous political agreements.

These include language rights, a bill of rights and the right to an inquest into legacy cases. It also includes marriage equality – a right enjoyed in the south and across Britain.

Martin McGuinness did the right thing, at the right time.

Sinn Féin has invested hugely in the peace process and the political institutions for the benefit of everyone.

We remain committed to making them work.

Locally elected ministers are best placed to run local public services and fight back against the threats of Brexit and the brutal austerity imposed by the British government.

For over ten months Sinn Féin has sought a resolution through dialogue and negotiations with the DUP and both governments.

We were flexible and willing to stretch ourselves to achieve a breakthrough.

However, despite our best endeavors, the discussions have been unsuccessful.

Theresa May and her party acquiesced in their own self-interests to the DUP by blocking the equality agenda and denying rights which are the norm in all other parts of our islands.

But the institutions only have value if they enjoy the confidence and support of the people they were established to serve.

Irish language rights are a central part of the Good Friday Agreement and an Irish Language Act is a part of the 2006 St Andrews Agreement.

It has both practical and symbolic importance in recognizing and respecting Irish national identity.

Marriage equality is another issue at the heart of the current impasse. Who can logically explain to a loving couple why they cannot marry in the north, but can do so in the south and elsewhere on these isles?

It is time for progressive politics. A new era and a shared society which means equality and respect for everyone regardless of who you are, where you’re from, or who you love.

It’s time for the British government to stop denying families access to legacy inquest funding and make this finance available in line with the Lord Chief Justice’s request.

Instead, they demonstrated extreme bad faith by inserting an effective amnesty for British crown forces in their consultation on the Stormont House Agreement Bill.

That is entirely unacceptable.

Sinn Féin will continue to seek a political solution.

However, there is no public appetite or point in another endless cycle of talks unless they are meaningful and address the root causes of the political breakdown.

The onus is therefore on the two governments to spell out how they intend to ensure the implementation of previous agreements and pave a pathway to restoring the institutions on the basis of equal partnership and respect.

We have told them they should begin that process by convening an urgent meeting of the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference.

I want to lead Sinn Féin back into a new executive, but only if it represents genuine and equal partnership government for all our people.

Michelle O’Neill is Sinn Féin leader in the north.