Sinn Féin’s determination is to focus in a strategic way on ensuring that the political institutions work and that they deliver for citizens. We are totally wedded to this.
However, we are not blind to the current difficulties.
Despite the best efforts of Martin McGuinness and other ministers on the Executive, from all parties, this term of the Executive has been marked by a lack of progress on some very important issues.
It is almost three years since Ian Paisley and I announced an historic agreement to restore the political institutions. That was in March 2007.
At that event Ian Paisley, speaking on behalf of the DUP, said that the Party Executive had “overwhelmingly endorsed a motion committing the party to support and participate fully in Government” and he went to say that “this is a binding resolution”, and that the DUP is “committed to playing a full part in all the institutions and delivering the best future”.
The DUP went on to say “Devolution has never been an end in itself but is about making a positive difference to people’s lives. I want to make it clear that I am committed to delivering not only for those who voted for the DUP but for all the people ”.
The institutions were re-established on May 2007.
A year later Ian Paisley was removed as party leader. There followed a difficult period as Sinn Féin sought to get the DUP to keep to its agreement with us.
There were particular concerns around equality, partnership government and parity of esteem. These issues are all part of the St. Andrews and Good Friday agreements and have been endorsed by the people of Ireland.
A lot of good work has been done by the Executive and the Assembly and significant progress has been made and is being made on cross border and all-Ireland matters, as well as social and economic priorities.
However, the DUP have adopted a negative and tactical approach to many important issues. For example, they have sought to block necessary and long overdue reform of education; they have refused to accord the Irish language community their full rights; and they have refused to deliver on the transfer of policing and justice powers.
There has also been a calculated and tactical refusal to work the Executive in an inclusive and collective and partnership way.
This has been particularly evident in the functioning of the Office of First and Deputy First Minister.
In my view the DUP have been encouraged in this approach by the stance of the British Secretary of State Shaun Woodward. He knows that the difficulties in the political process are a result of the failure of the DUP to fulfil its obligations under the terms of the Good Friday and St. Andrews agreements. Yet he has consistently presented these as “difficulties between the DUP and Sinn Féin.”
Sinn Féin is and has been at all times prepared to work through issues with the DUP, and Martin McGuinness has shown remarkable leadership and patience in this endeavour.
The failure of the DUP to fulfil its political commitments and work the political institutions, as it agreed, on the basis of partnership and equality, has led to a considerable lack of public confidence.
Whatever happens in the short term the need for partnership, and equality will not go away. Delivering for all the people, honouring agreements, is essential for good governance.
Partnership and equality, a date for the transfer of policing and justice powers, Acht na Gaeilge and other issues are all matters which need to be delivered on. This is not about the Robinson’s private family matters. Sinn Féin respect their right to privacy. I have huge sympathy for them at a personal level.
It may be now dawning eventually and belatedly on the two governments that they need to act as guarantors of the agreements they are charged with upholding.
Their responsibility is to oversee the delivery of outstanding issues that are essential to good government and public confidence. They need to do this as a matter of urgency.