What are Martin McGuinness’ thoughts on abortion, parades and even the Royal baby? Here he sits down with Liam Clarke to discuss a wide range of issues ...
Deputy First Minister issues invite to Orange Order: let’s sit down and talk about parades
By Liam Clarke
Martin McGuinness has launched a personal initiative to try to resolve disputed Orange Parades by meeting directly with the lodges concerned.
In an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph, the deputy First Minister revealed he had written to Orange districts where there are disputed parades.
“I have invited them to sit down with me as an elected representative of the nationalist people,” Mr McGuinness said.
Letters were sent out yesterday to Orange districts covering Ardoyne, Clifton Street and Rasharkin amongst others. The key Sinn Fein figure said that he had earlier written to Drew Nelson, the Orange Order’s secretary.
He believes the Order should follow the example of the Apprentice Boys of Derry.
They negotiated a once disputed parade with traders and residents in Londonderry, and it now passes off peacefully as part of the annual Maiden City Festival.
Mr McGuinness refused to confirm or deny that he had already met Portadown Orangemen, but said that he saw no prospect of residents agreeing to a re-run of their Drumcree Parade.
His initiative comes after a particularly fraught parading season which saw rioting break out on various occasions in north Belfast.
The behaviour of bands passing St Patrick’s Church on Donegall Street has been a particularly contentious issue for the Parades Commission to deal with amid unionist anger over restrictions.
The deputy First Minister revealed his thoughts on a wide range of other topics in the interview — including abortion, gay marriage and the impending royal birth. In another gesture to the unionist tradition he said he was using the Belfast Telegraph to offer his best wishes to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the duchess’s pregnancy.
He described them as a “nice young couple” and hoped that the Duchess would soon recover from the severe morning sickness that has hospitalised her.
He also predicted that the long awaited Cohesion Sharing and Integration Strategy, a framework for a shared future, would be released before Christmas, if necessary without the agreement of some of the parties.
While Mr McGuinness said he wanted to make it “as easy as possible” for them all to sign up, he was critical of Alliance. The party had walked out of discussions saying that the document agreed by Sinn Fein and the DUP would not deliver on a shared future.
Mr McGuinness spoke warmly of his relationship with the First Minister, Peter Robinson.
He said that the two of them were determined that troubles on the street would never divide their administration.
He also said that he had worked well with DUP ministers including Arlene Foster and Sammy Wilson while lobbying for the devolution of corporation tax, and was hopeful that it could be achieved.
He believes that he and Mr Robinson will meet the leaders of the world’s eight most powerful countries at the G8 summit next June in Fermanagh.
“I would be very surprised if Peter Robinson and I don’t meet the world leaders who will be attending” he said. “The fact that those people are coming is a vote of confidence in the stability of the institutions that we have.
“That sends a very powerful message to the world about the way this place has changed,” Mr McGuinness stated.
And, in a surprise comment, he said that Northern Ireland might consider introducing its own Press regulator if there was not a satisfactory outcome to the Leveson Inquiry. Scotland has already agreed to do so and the prospect of a local regulator would be contentious.
However, Mr McGuinness said that he would prefer a regulator “that is independent of the Press and also independent of government”.
On the prospects of Catholics voting for the DUP and against Irish Unity as Peter Robinson predicts:
(Laughs) Peter is suggesting that there is going to be an avalanche of Catholics voting for the DUP. I smiled when I heard him because I knew it would go down like a lead balloon in the nationalist and republican community.
If he is so confident about the outcome of a border poll, you would think he would be anxious to have one to prove his point. In my view a united Ireland is inevitable and it is certainly more likely than a voluntary coalition which doesn’t include Sinn Fein.
Perhaps Peter is saying these things because he was anticipating that the census results on the 11th will show a rise in the number of Catholics.
The Mid Ulster by election:
[Mr McGuinness is due to step down as MP for Mid Ulster but hasn’t yet done so.]
I will be gone from the Mid Ulster parliamentary constituency this month, certainly before Christmas. One concern I had was that if I had to resign too early they could have called a by election at the height of winter. I am still very proud to represent Mid Ulster in the Assembly and will continue to do so.
The prospects of more long haul flights to Belfast now that we are reducing passenger duty:
There are some discussions taking place in the United Arab Emirates about the prospects of a long haul flight into Belfast. Besides that, it is important to point out that there are long haul flights into Dublin and because of the first class road it is less than two hours away. While fighting for direct flights into Belfast we need to capitalise on that.
When I was in India I met with one of the representatives of Wrightbus on the way back and he sent me an invitation to come and visit the plant in Ballymena. I took it up on my return from Hong Kong just a couple of weeks ago.
It is amazing that you now have a bus company in Ballymena producing world class buses for Hong Kong, Singapore, London and Las Vegas. There is every prospect of more orders from what I hear.
Reducing the number of MLAs and departments at Stormont:
We are having discussions with the other parties about that. It is also around the whole north south bit — there is a holistic discussion taking place.
I don’t want to pre-empt things. We will be meeting again before Christmas and we are looking for good outcomes.
I have never had a closed mind to any of that.
I am opposed to abortion on demand and I am opposed to the 1967 Act in Britain being transferred to the north.
We are currently waiting on Edwin Poots to issue regulations on abortion. The terrible case of Savita Halappanavar and her death in Galway has raised this issue to a new level.
Sinn Fein’s position is that where there is a grave risk to the life of the mother, abortion should be an option.
Suicide risk is something that we will have to consider along with the other parties.
Here in the north we have been working on the basis that where there is a grave risk to the life of the mother, that is being dealt with satisfactorily.
When someone has been raped then it is incumbent on all of us to be very compassionate and to recognise the views of those directly affected.
The prospects for an agreed cohesion sharing and |integration strategy (CSI) for a shared future:
We need to make it as easy as possible for all the party leaders to come on board but at some stage, if people are not prepared to come on board, we have to put out what we believe is the maximum achieved.
It would be very wrong for us this trundle over into the early part of next year so I hope it will come out before Christmas.
It is unfortunate that the Alliance Party, which describes itself as a party of consensus, has stepped out of discussions but we are very close to finalising the document and I hope that the Ulster Unionists will recognise the importance of all of us moving forward together.
[Peter Robinson has said that Sinn Fein and the SDLP had limited what could be agreed in this area.]
If we were starting to build a new education system from scratch there wouldn’t be a blade of grass between what he (Robinson) wanted and I wanted in relation to integrated education.
I am a big fan of integrated education but I also support families who choose to have their children educated in different sectors whether it is integrated, Irish medium or the Catholic schools system.
You cannot just steamroller over those groups by walking in and pushing them aside and saying “all your children are going to an integrated school”. That would be chaos.
More sharing between schools would be a good start and we support that.
The Attorney General John Larkin:
I was party to his appointment and I certainly do have confidence in his ability to do the job.
The flags row at Belfast City Hall:
I come from a city where the overwhelming majority of public representatives are republican and nationalist. I have never argued for a tricolour to fly over Derry Guildhall and it is mind boggling that people work themselves into a frenzy over an issue that doesn’t deserve it.
I would be shocked if there was not a major police investigation into the violent protest the council and the disorder that surrounded it. There seems to be enough television footage and first hand sightings by the police to identify the key protagonists.
The naming of a Newry playground after Raymond McCreesh, an IRA activist and hunger striker:
This was a democratic decision taken by Newry council and I can live with that. If it is in a nationalist area it is hardly likely to be offensive to anyone using the park. I think it would be offensive if it was in an area where there was cross-community participation.
Why he didn’t add his name to Peter Robinson’s congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the Duchess’s pregnancy:
Nobody asked me to offer them official congratulations so I will wish them well now through you. They seem to be a nice young couple.
I hope everything goes well for them, that the illness that the Duchess is now dealing with passes and that the baby will be born healthy. I naturally wish them well but there are many people who have babies and I am not one for elevating one above the other.
In a situation like that most statements go out in the name of the First or Deputy First Minister but agreed jointly. So no statement could go out without me being involved.
Same sex marriage:
I believe sex relationships should be recognised in a way that protects inheritance and other rights.
There are many people, both women and men, who have very loving same sex relationships and I would be last person to make life more difficult for them.
I generally support the legislation in England which protects the rights of both couples and of churches.
Dealing with the legacy of the Troubles:
Very senior members of the last Labour government told me things about the Thatcher administration that would make the hair stand on the back of your head.
Take ‘Shoot to Kill’. Politicians were prepared not just to turn a blind eye but to support and condone the activities of elements of the British army and their manipulation of loyalist death squads.
And, of course, the importation of arms that took place from South Africa. Who doesn’t believe that there was a British governmental hand in that?
No matter what mechanism is used you have to ask yourself, and be very honest about the question, “how many people are going to come forward?”
There is no real secret about what the IRA did in the conflict. In the aftermath of the IRA’s actions they accepted responsibility though there were a number of instances where there was uncertainty.
But there is considerable uncertainty about all the things that the British army, and indeed the RUC and UDR, were involved in.
Is the most effective mechanism to arrest people and bring them before the courts? I don’t think so. We believe an independent international tribunal would be the most effective mechanism. I personally would attend and tell it all I know about the conflict.
There is a strong body of opinion that something needs to be done but I am also someone who supports a free Press and a free Press that behaves responsibly.
The Press can’t regulate itself and the Press Complaints Commission is a totally discredited organisation. Some people are putting forward an argument that there needs to be an independent regulatory approach that is independent of the Press and also independent of government.
We could consider a separate regulator here as they are doing in Scotland.
Disputed Orange parades and his reputed meeting with Portadown Orangemen:
I have written to Orange districts where there are disputed parades. I have invited them to sit down with me as an elected representative of the nationalist people.
The Orange Order is one organisation that could have done much more to create stability in the peace process. It is a huge mistake on their part that they haven’t done so.
As a result we ended up with the ridiculous scenes in north Belfast which were reported all around the world.
That is crazy stuff and it is incumbent on people in leadership positions within the Orange Order to recognise that they are doing great damage. In my own city we set out to resolve the parading situation and for years now there has been a totally trouble-free scenario when the Apprentice Boys and Orange Order march.
Why can’t you do in Belfast what we have done in Derry? In Portadown the residents believe that the Drumcree issue is over, it is finished.
I think any attempt to try and relight that very contentious situation would be folly of the worst kind.
Next year’s G8 in Fermanagh:
There is going to be a huge focus on us next year when President Obama and other world leaders come to Fermanagh. The fact that those people are coming is a vote of confidence in the stability of the institutions that we have. That sends a very powerful message to the world about the way this place has changed.
I would be very surprised if Peter Robinson and I don’t meet the world leaders who will be attending.
I would like to think that any discussions that take place in this country will be focused on the damage that is being done to our world, to human beings whether it be in the Middle East, Syria and people who are dying of hunger in Africa. I have met President Obama on a number of occasions and I think he is a humanitarian. He has a real opportunity in this second term to drive forward with initiatives that can save life on the planet.
Peter Robinson and I, along with Sammy Wilson and Arlene Foster, have done everything that we can and it is now going to be a political decision.
Whenever David Cameron was here a short while ago we had a very useful discussion with him about it.
I think that he clearly understands that this would be a game changer.
I took the opportunity to say that his administration had reneged on a commitment from the previous Labour administration to the tune of a 40% cut in our capital budget for important infrastructural projects.
Gordon Brown called it a lifetime’s guarantee on our capital budget.
From cold to cordial: the end of a conflict
By Chris Kilpatrick
Martin McGuinness has had his share of symbolic reconciliations in recent years. His unlikely friendship with former First Minister Ian Paisley, that handshake with the Queen.
His sit down with the Belfast Telegraph’s Political Editor, Liam Clarke, is not on par with those. But the move did mark a seismic shift in a turbulent relationship between both men.
He previously accused Mr Clarke — who was in the past subjected to a death threat from the IRA of which Mr McGuinness is a former commander — of being in league with the British security forces.
For today’s interview Mr McGuinness opened up to give forthright insights into a number of key issues Northern Ireland’s leaders must tackle in the coming weeks and months.
His willingness to do so is a world away from his attempts to censor sources for a book Mr Clarke and his wife Kathryn Johnston wrote when he accused the journalists of working with anti-republican elements.
They penned a biography of the current Deputy First Minister — From Guns To Government — detailing his rise from butcher’s boy to an IRA leader in Derry, and ultimately, then Education Minister.
Mr Clarke was informed of his subject’s attempts to prevent people from assisting him piece together a period of his life Mr McGuinness was anxious remain out of the public eye.
Mr McGuinness dismissed the book as ‘‘a load of rubbish” and denied one of its revelations — that he distributed blast bombs to young IRA members ahead of the civil rights march on Bloody Sunday.
Leaked transcripts of telephone calls between Mr McGuinness and Tony Blair's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, featured in the book, which led to the arrest of Mr Clarke and his wife, as well as raids on his office and their home.
Subsequently, then Police Ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan, outlined 32 failings by police in relation to their actions against the couple and described the operation as “poorly led and unprofessional”.