Defending the Good Friday Agreement, and the lessons of 1916

Next week will see the 15th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, described recently by Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness as ‘the single most important political agreement in our time’.

In his speech to the Dublin Commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising, Martin McGuinness speaks of the Agreement as a turning point in Irish history, and resulting in a period in which republican objectives can be realised. He also warns against complacency and of the threats posed to the Good Friday Agreement by those who oppose equality and change.

Situating today’s struggle for a united Ireland in the context of the revolutionary struggle of 1916 which ‘started a bush fire of decolonisation, which engulfed the British Empire’, he spoke of the inspiration it inspired in ‘generations of people throughout the world who rose up against colonial rule’.

In his speech he draws particular attention to the advanced economic and social political programme of the Proclamation and spells out why a similar political programme is urgently needed today to achieve an Ireland of equals, which unites the country and provides an alternative to discrimination and to austerity and cuts.

The issue of a border poll to determine Ireland’s constitutional future, as outlined in the Good Friday Agreement, is also explained – and, along with defending the Good Friday agreement – this demand should be supported fully by socialists in Britain.

We reproduced his speech in full below.


Speech of Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness MLA at Sinn Féin’s Easter Commemoration in Dublin Easter Sunday 31st March 2013

Ninety-seven years ago an alliance of organisations, including the Irish Volunteers, Irish Citizen Army, Irish Republican Brotherhood, the women’s movement, trade unionists and Irish language activists, rose up against British rule in Ireland and declared a Republic.

Pearse stood here at Dublin’s GPO and read the Proclamation.

Six days later, and with the centre of this city in ruins the leaders of the Army of the Irish Republic ordered surrender.

In the weeks which followed 15 of the suspected leaders of the Rising were executed, and four months after that Roger Casement was hanged in London.

The British hoped that by the speed of their actions and the scale of the executions, that the flame of freedom would be extinguished in Ireland. They were wrong.

I am very honoured to be here today in our capital city to honour those who died in 1916 and in each subsequent generation in the cause of Irish freedom.

1916 started a bush fire of decolonisation, which engulfed the British Empire. It inspired generations of Irish Republicans and people throughout the world who rose up against colonial rule. It is a fire still burning in the heart of every Irish republican.

Sinn Féin today stands by the Proclamation and for a genuine republic that can embrace the whole island of Ireland and all of its people.

Today we remember all those republicans who have died and who gave service in the latest phase of the Irish people’s long struggle for freedom.

We particularly remember with pride those from this city and county who decided that they could not stand idly by and watch the injustice and discrimination being inflicted upon nationalists in the North and paid the ultimate price. We send ongoing solidarity to their families at this time.

We remember also ALL of those who lost their lives because of conflict. We are proud as Irish republicans that we have played such a crucial role in bringing that conflict to and end.

There are many turning points in a nation’s history. The 1916 Rising was such an event as was the Hunger Strike of 1981.

Fifteen years ago the single most important political agreement in our time was reached. The Good Friday Agreement continues to deliver day and daily in terms of peace, equality and mutual respect.

The Agreement opened up a new chapter in our history in which republican objectives could be pursued peacefully. It levelled the political playing field and changed the North forever.

But the Agreement and the Peace Process cannot be taken for granted. While much progress has been made, more needs to be done. Recent events on our streets have shown that.

There remain small, unrepresentative minorities within both the unionist and nationalist communities who are opposed to the principles upon which our peace has been built and who continue in their futile attempts to undermine it. They are the enemy of society as a whole and have nothing to offer.

Increased dialogue and engagement between republicans and the wider unionist community is vital. We must strive to understand the fears and apprehensions of unionists in 2013. A real reconciliation process is essential in order to create trust between communities.

Republicans seek to build such a process but we need partners. Unionist leaders must end the practice of seeking to appeal to the lowest sectarian denominator. There is no future in that.

Some supporters of the peace process have commented in recent years that Republican Ministers are in government sharing power on the basis of equality because we want to be, on the other hand unionist Ministers are in the Executive because they have to be. This approach needs to change.

Equality and parity of esteem must be accepted as touchstones for the way forward. Such concepts threaten no community but safeguard the rights of all citizens.

The actions of those who have set their minds against change can be seen in the provocation created by the Orange Order’s refusal to engage with residents, the antics of many of those involved in illegal union flag protests, and in the actions of those anti-Peace Process militarists responsible for the bomb in Lurgan yesterday, and other recent armed activity.

There are people who dream of wrecking the structures of change. They want to destroy rather than build. Their tools are bigotry, mistrust, militarism and sectarianism.

Those who prefer conflict and confrontation must be opposed by political leaders united in a vision a peaceful, inclusive and shared future.

Sinn Féin has a vision of a better future. We believe that peace is not merely the absence of war. While the North in particular has been transformed for the better in recent years, the scourge of sectarianism remains. Republicans must be to the forefront in tackling and eradicating this.

I believe in the Irish people and I believe in our ability to organise our own affairs.

We face difficult challenges ahead but also great opportunities.

The British and Irish governments have, in my view, become complacent about the peace process.

The continued imprisonment of Martin Corey and Marian Price is an injustice which needs to end. Recently I made representation and gave evidence to the parole commissioners hearing Marian Price’s case. And I believe that the case I made was a compelling one.

This week I met with David Cameron in London. The meeting was one of the least satisfactory engagements I have had with a British Prime Minister in the course of the Peace Process.

Fifteen years on from the Good Friday Agreement there is an absolute need for both governments to return and honour all of the commitments made in it and in subsequent Agreements at St. Andrews and Hillsborough.

The Good Friday Agreement provides for a Poll on Irish unity. Such a Poll provides an opportunity for debate on the future of Ireland.

The political geography of the North is changing. Recent census figures show that.

Politics across Ireland is in flux. A new Ireland can be what we make it.

A Border poll is part of the process of building a modern and dynamic New Republic on this island – an agreed Ireland achieved by peaceful and democratic means.

It’s time to let the people have their say.

I believe we stand on the threshold of great change. Previous generations have struggled for a united Ireland. But our generation has the best opportunity of achieving it.

Ending partition is only one part of building a New Republic.

2013 is the Centenary of the Great Lockout of 1913 here in Dublin.

It was an event that showed the tremendous fighting spirit and courage of the working class in this city. They were offered the choice of resignation from their union, the ITGWU, or resistance against great odds.

They chose resistance.

In doing so they prevented the destruction of trade unionism in Ireland and contributed to the radicalisation which paved the way for the 1916 Rising.

Today Sinn Féin in Dublin is to the fore in resisting the policies of austerity imposed on ordinary families as a result of failure by governments to curb the excesses of the greedy and the powerful.

What would Larkin and Connolly have made of the current state of Irish Labour 100 years on from their historic stand in 1913?

There are over 100,000 people unemployed here in Dublin. The only reduction in jobless figures is showing because of emigration, now at levels not seen since the 1950s. That is a national scandal. It is unacceptable and will not change as the current government slavishly follow the disastrous agenda set by their Fianna Fáil predecessors.

In the Dáil, Sinn Féin has put forward realistic and costed alternative proposals that are about fairness. They are about making the necessary deficit adjustment without harming families or frontline services, but by asking the wealthiest to pay more and cutting waste from public spending.

Sinn Féin’s focus is on job creation and stimulating the economy. Our approach is based on fair taxes, investing in jobs, debt restructuring and growing the all-Ireland economy. It is about protecting public services and those on low and middle incomes.

There are eight Sinn Féin councillors, four TDs and hundreds of activists across Dublin city and county.

Sinn Féin is giving real leadership side by side with the community.

Our vision is of a New Republic for the 21st century which, like the Proclamation of 1916, guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities for all citizens and cherishes all the children of the nation equally.

The new, agreed Ireland we seek to build is inclusive, where all the elements of the Irish nation – including those in this country who regard themselves as British – are comfortable, secure and can find the fullest expression of their identity.

But we need more people to join with us in building a New Republic based on social justice and equality.

Just as our predecessors laid the foundation blocks for the Republic here in 1916, you can play your part in that historic work in the here and now.

We are moving forward to the Republic.

Join Sinn Féin and play your part in completing this historic task.