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Unionists must work with republicans for reconciliation, says Martin McGuinness

Published 23/11/2016

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness launched a party policy document on peace building
Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness launched a party policy document on peace building

Martin McGuinness has urged political unionism to do more to foster reconciliation in Northern Ireland, claiming republicans cannot achieve it alone.

Launching a new party policy document on peace building, Stormont's deputy first minister said there was concern among republicans that gestures that he and senior colleagues had undertaken had not been reciprocated by unionist counterparts.

He singled out his historic meeting with the Queen as an example where he had taken a lead.

The Sinn Fein veteran said it was important for unionists, in turn, to reach out to republicans, noting the need for respect for the Irish language and culture.

Mr McGuinness said he was not criticising his partners in government, the DUP, but said he wanted to have a "gentle" conversation on how political unionism could do more.

He said there were many within the broader unionist community who were passionate about reconciliation but said some leaders had a "psychological" fear that republican talk about shared futures was a "ruse or trick" to forward a united Ireland agenda.

Mr McGuinness said nothing could be further from the truth.

"This is saying clearly to leaders of unionism that we can all be involved in reconciliation without giving up our aspirations or our political allegiances," he said.

The deputy first minister added: "Republicans have rightly embraced the challenge of reconciliation.

"Sinn Fein has demonstrated our commitment to this process through a number of public initiatives which at times have also presented challenges for republicans.

"But in order for that process to be successful, for our people to be truly reconciled, there needs to be a reciprocation of our efforts - this cannot be a one-way process.

"There needs to be respect for all the traditions on this island, for all narratives. The Irish language, Irish identity, culture and aspiration is as valid as any other and needs to be respected as such.

"That will require mature leadership from political unionism because we alone cannot deliver reconciliation."

He added: "It would be wrong for me to come along today and not articulate a view that is often expressed to me within the broad nationalist/republican community - a disappointment that the efforts that I have made and other leaders of Sinn Fein have made in the work of reconciliation does not appear to them to be reciprocated."

The 16-page document, A Pathway To A Better Future, was launched at Clifton House in Belfast. It outlines Sinn Fein's vision on how reconciliation can be forwarded.

The event was addressed by Canon David Porter, the Archbishop of Canterbury's Chief of Staff and Strategy.

The Northern Ireland-born cleric, who was speaking in a personal capacity and not on behalf of Lambeth Palace, welcomed elements of the document but expressed concern on others.

Offering what he said was a "constructive critique", he said republicans should not view reconciliation as something that was only obtainable through the reunification of Ireland.

"Uniting Ireland is a legitimate political goal for republicans to hold and to advocate. However, it falls short as the ultimate test of reconciliation, which is essentially relational and not constitutional," he said.

Mr Porter said the blueprint also failed to acknowledge those in civic society who had taken steps to build community bridges before the peace process gained momentum.

"Good relations did not begin when Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists came to share power and a programme for government together," he said.

"Many laid the foundations of the bridge you were able to cross, they did so because they thought it was the right thing to do."

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