Progress possible but still a mountain to climb

This piece by Michelle O’Neill appeared in this morning’s Irish News Monday, 11 September.

I laid out the Sinn Féin position last week while addressing our All-Ireland parliamentary teams in North county Dublin. 20170128_154209

I said that the route-map to an agreement in the Stormont talks is clear.

That is still the case.

And the destination at the end of that route-map is equally clear.

It is a society where all citizens are treated with equality and respect by the Executive whom they democratically elect to serve the people.

Where no one faces discrimination because of the language they speak, where they come from or who they love.

Where families who have lost loved ones during the conflict are afforded compassion and their right to due process through the courts.

Can anyone logically explain why a loving couple cannot marry in the North, but can do so across the rest of these islands?

Why children being educated through the medium of Irish are being denied the same language rights as enjoyed by their peers in other parts of these islands?

Or why some bereaved families have now been waiting over 40 years for inquests to be held?

That wouldn’t be tolerated anywhere else and it will not be tolerated here.

So our destination is a society that puts an end to the denial of rights.

A society governed by political institutions on the basis of integrity, mutual respect and equal partnership government. A government where commitments given and agreements made are honoured and implemented to the benefit of all of society.

No one who is genuinely committed to the well-being of citizens, to good governance and the delivery of the very best public services has anything to fear from that.

It is not a republican agenda; it is a progressive agenda. A people-first agenda.

That is what Sinn Féin spent ten years in the Executive trying to build under the leadership of Martin McGuinness.

As a member of the Executive I witnessed how he worked with successive DUP leaders, to continually reach out to unionists on the basis of equality, respect and reconciliation.

It pained him greatly that his leadership wasn’t reciprocated.

There is a mutual obligation on the First and deputy First Ministers to represent their respective communities, who have distinct identities. There is also a special responsibility on the joint office to bridge the divide between those communities by representing everyone together.

Martin persevered because it was the right thing to do and no one can question SInn Féin’s track record in the Executive. We not only worked the institutions, but heavily invested in them up until the point of collapse.

They are an integral part of our strategy, pivotal to our plans to transform society for the better on this island.

Sinn Féin wants to bring about fundamental societal change North and South. This therefore requires us to be in government in both Dublin and Belfast.

So we are absolutely committed to seeing the political institutions re-established. We are determined to build on Martin’s legacy, but not at any cost.

That is what success in the talks looks like – new institutions founded on their original guiding principles of equality and mutual respect.

This would be an important advance for citizens who want the parties to turn a corner and who want to see a significant step change. A new political era which looks to the future, rather than the past.

To date, there have been three phases of talks, which have not yet produced the right basis to form a sustainable executive.

However, I remain convinced that we can find a resolution and I welcome the recent intensification of talks with the DUP and Arlene Foster’s acknowledgment that legislative protections should be afforded to Irish speakers.

That is common ground, a good starting point. However nobody can be in any doubt that we still have a mountain to climb.

We need to build on that in the days ahead. To broaden the common ground further.

To re-establish the institutions on the basis they were originally designed and endorsed by the people of Ireland in the Good Friday Agreement.

It is doable, it is achievable. It doesn’t require anyone to compromise their principles or lose face. I have said time and again, I do not want to see majorities or minorities – only equality and respect.

Citizens rights need to be underpinned in law.

Citizens must have the means to legally challenge any denial of their rights.

This means all citizens regardless of political allegiance.

And it’s the key to unlocking the current impasse and the restoration of institutions that can deliver for all of our people.