There will be no return to the status quo or business as usual. It is time to open up a new era of politics which delivers equality for everyone.
For almost three decades our friend and comrade Martin McGuinness was the Sinn Féin chief negotiator and led us through many long and difficult talks’ processes.
His recent death has come as a huge shock and loss to the party, broader community and of course his family.
Martin was a towering pillar of strength and his commitment and determination never once faltered.
His leadership alongside Gerry Adams and our collective leadership has brought us to the position we are in today as the biggest party on this island, the engine for progressive political change, north and south.
Today I want to pay tribute to Martin and to the family which he was devoted to and which stood behind him through all those difficult years.
In January, Martin was left with no other option but to resign as Deputy First Minister because of the RHI scandal and the total failure of the DUP leader to accept her party’s responsibility for this. This scandal alongside the arrogance and disrespect of the DUP towards whole sections of our society was entirely unacceptable.
Martin made clear that there can be no return to the status quo or business as usual.
We are at an important stage in the political and peace process – make no mistake about it.
The recent election was a watershed moment for the people of the North.
The people understood the importance of the election. There can be no tolerance of incompetence and financial scandals such as Red Sky, NAMA, RHI or arrogance or bigotry in public office.
We cannot be part of institutions which are being corrupted.
The results are a rejection of narrow-minded self-interest and bigotry. They are a rejection of the politics of fear and are in my opinion an endorsement of a new way – a demand for absolute respect, integrity and common decency within the political institutions.
People were once again re-engaged in the political process. This is a good thing.
We won the support of over 224,000 people – and I want to wholeheartedly thank everyone for that support.
We must now make a difference.
I want to tell you how I see it.
We have taken the political risks necessary for the benefit of all the people of this island.
We have gone with an open hand to our unionist neighbours in order to build the peace – because it is the right thing to do.
And I want to continue this important work. I too am a bridge builder. I too want to heal the wounds of the past.
But it will be on the basis of equality and with unionist partners fit for the job.
The days of second-class citizenship for anyone are gone forever.
The Good Friday Agreement was declared in 1998 which promised a new beginning for everyone on this island.
And without doubt serious progress and transformation of this society from one of conflict to peace has been achieved over almost 20 years, and more.
But let’s be clear – the political process is broken. That is why we called time on the DUP in order to stop and fix it.
To date there has been little progress on the key political issues.
The next week is critical in the political talks. The political stakes are high.
Getting the political institutions back in place will be a challenge given the DUP’s stated position on an Irish Language Act, a Bill of Rights and other fundamental requirements, and the British government’s obstructive approach to legacy issues and other matters.
Over recent weeks Sinn Féin has been meeting all the Assembly parties and the British and Irish Governments and setting out our plan for getting out of this mess – for getting the power sharing institutions back up and running and for securing the place of the North within the EU.
The reality is that the British Government has abjectly failed to honour its commitments on equality and rights. They must now step up and deliver on their commitments otherwise restoring the institutions is in serious doubt.
The institutions will not be restored without movement on these key issues. The northern Executive is not sustainable unless it delivers and respects basic equality and human rights for all our citizens.
Unionism needs to understand this central point;
The British government needs to understand this central point; and
The Irish government needs also to understand this central point.
Equality, integrity and respect are not election slogans. they are the only basis on which Sinn Féin will return to the Executive.
If the British Secretary of State brings in new legislation to restore direct rule that will be an act of enormous bad faith and a clear breach of an agreement between the Irish and British Governments in 2006.
Direct Rule is unacceptable.
The Irish government has a huge responsibility to prevent any return to direct rule and to ensure that the partnership arrangements agreed in 2006 are put in place to defend and build on the Good Friday Agreement principles of equality and mutual respect.
I am glad to hear the Taoiseach say that the restoration of the power sharing institutions is one of his key priorities. If that is to mean anything then we need to see a complete step change from them. We need the Irish government to leave the sidelines and come into the talks as a joint and co-equal guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement and ensure that full implementation is delivered.
The DUP now needs to live up to its responsibility to share power on the basis of equality and the terms established in the Good Friday Agreement.
Yes, this election has ended the perpetual unionist majority at Stormont, however Sinn Féin does not want minorities or majorities – we want equality – for everyone and for every community.
The significant mandate we received is a mandate for partnership, reconciliation and genuine power sharing. We will use our mandate wisely.
We will stand up for all citizens who want to see progress, who want to see genuine equality and respect regardless of political aspiration, gender, the language they speak, their race or sexuality.
I believe that for the first time there is the potential for a progressive political consensus among the majority of MLAs and parties on these issues. This is something which could be ground breaking.
Our absolute commitment is to the agreements we have made and their implementation. If others including the two governments do likewise then it is game on.
Brexit and the Future
The DUP position on Brexit is entirely wrong and will have huge consequences for the people of the North. It is already clear that Brexit will mean a hard economic border, that Brexit will cost jobs, that Brexit will have a devastating impact on our agriculture sector.
That is why Sinn Féin opposed Brexit. That is why we developed our proposal ‘The Case for the North to achieve Designated Special Status within the EU’ and went on a major offensive to build support for it. The position of Special Status is now supported by Fianna Fáil and Labour in Leinster House, and by the majority of parties and MLAs in the Assembly.
If the people of the north are dragged out of the EU, the political landscape, North and South, will change dramatically. This poses a severe threat to the Good Friday Agreement and the political and economic future of the island.
This has brought the issue of Irish reunification firmly back on to the political agenda.
A new conversation about the future is underway. It is happening in living rooms and workplaces across the country.
The triggering of Article 50 and the imminent start of Brexit negotiations; the Assembly election results, which saw the Unionist parties lose their Assembly majority; and the Scottish government’s call for a second Independent referendum, are the context for the current discussions on a United Ireland.
The determination of the British government to impose Brexit on the North, despite the vote of the people, underlines the undemocratic nature of partition and the unequal relationship between London and Belfast.
Sinn Féin is about strategising, organising, and persuading for a new and united Ireland we believe can be delivered.
A new Ireland built on the principles of equality and inclusion.
A new Ireland with a new constitution and Bill of Rights.
A new Ireland with symbols and emblems to reflect an inclusive Ireland, that includes the safeguarding of British Citizenship and recognition of the Unionist Identity.
The Good Friday Agreement obliges the Irish and British governments to legislate for unity if that is the choice of the people north and south.
We are seeking to initiate a genuine, respectful and inclusive debate about the reunification of Ireland and the prospects for new constitutional, political and economic arrangements which better serve the whole island and its entire people in the future – together.
I am confident that despite the political challenges we face now and in the coming period with Brexit, that with imagination and generosity the future can be a momentous time for this island and our people.
Go raibh mile maith agaibh go leir.