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Gerry Adams' ard fheis tribute H Blocks Provo inmates riles Arlene Foster

By Noel McAdam

Published 25/04/2016

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, Vice-President Mary Lou McDonald and deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis in Dublin on Saturday
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, Vice-President Mary Lou McDonald and deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis in Dublin on Saturday
Noel McCurdy welcomes First Minister Arlene Foster to Rathlin during her visit to Northern Ireland’s only inhabited island

Arlene Foster has accused Gerry Adams of insulting her and other IRA victims through his praise for republican activists.

And she labelled as a "backward step" his call for fresh efforts by the next Irish Government towards a united Ireland.

Responding to the Sinn Fein president's speech at the party's ard fheis, the First Minister also argued Mr Adams' project had "run out of steam".

The two-day congress in Dublin was timed to coincide with the calender anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising, and Irish unity was the main theme of the weekend.

In his keynote address closing the ard fheis, Mr Adams told delegates: "We are proud of the men and women of 1916."

And to sustained applause, cheering and whistling, he went on: "We are equally proud of the men and women of the H Blocks and Armagh and of the 1981 hunger strikers and of the patriot dead from our time. We remember them all here tonight."

Mrs Foster's RUC father John Kelly survived an IRA shooting, and when she was 16 she was on a school bus attacked by the Provos in an attempt to murder the driver, a part-time member of the UDR.

She said the comments were "insulting to those of us who were victims of the PIRA".

The DUP leader went on: "This is a clear reference to the PIRA. In an attempt to shore up the base, Sinn Fein ditched any concern for innocent victims. Is Sinn Fein proud of the cowards who planted the Enniskillen bomb, the La Mon bomb or who masterminded the Disappeared?

"Gerry Adams is very clever at selectively quoting the past but he can rest assured that I will not allow him or anyone else in Sinn Fein to rewrite the past."

Setting out his vision, Mr Adams also said: "A united Ireland must be inclusive, agreed and welcoming for all the people of this island. That includes our unionist neighbours. This is their homeland also."

He argued the Good Friday Agreement provided a peaceful and democratic route towards Irish unity, and the "Orange state" that was once Northern Ireland no longer existed.

"The northern state is still in place; and yes the majority of people there are unionists, but the Union is no longer unconditionally upheld in British law.

"The British Government is now obliged to legislate for Irish unity if a majority wants that. The duty of the Irish Government is to achieve this.

"Of course, from a republican and democratic perspective, the British Government has no right to be in any part of Ireland. But from a unionist perspective all has changed, changed utterly from the days of a one-party state where nationalists were excluded from power; denied equality in housing, employment and voting rights; and where expressions of Irish national identity were criminalised."

Mrs Foster said: "In 2016 more people than ever support Northern Ireland's place in the Union. People can see that it makes sense politically, economically and socially. Gerry Adams' call for any new government in the Republic of Ireland to increase their efforts in bringing about 'Irish unity' is unwise and a step backwards."

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