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Sinn Fein: Let's start debate about all-island republic

By Liam Clarke

Sinn Fein intends to hold a five- year "national conversation on the future of this island" between now and 2016, Martin McGuinness told the Sinn Fein ard fheis in his keynote address.

In the past, 2016, the centenary of the 1916 Rising, was seen as a target date for Irish unity. Now the aim is to make significant progress through discussion.

Mr McGuinness pointed out how much progress had been made in the past five years: "This time five years ago our negotiating team was preparing to head to St Andrews," he said.

"Would anybody here, hand on heart, seriously have suggested five years ago that Gerry Adams would be leading a Sinn Fein Oireachtas team of 14 TDs and 3 Senators - that Fianna Fail would be in the position they now find themselves in?" he asked.

Mr McGuinness went on: "In 2006 when we gathered, would anybody have predicted an Executive jointly led by myself and Peter Robinson seeing out a full term? A new Republic can be built. But it will only be built if we take the lead in building it.

"I trust in the Irish people... five years isn't a long time in the history of any nation, but in five years, as we have already shown, political conditions can be transformed." He outlined a programme of talks on what an all-island republic would mean "in every Irish county in the next year", as well as in the Irish diaspora.

In the meantime he pledged to work "in a proper partnership of all the parties around the Executive table" at Stormont aimed, on the one hand, at "protecting the most vulnerable and on the other in sustaining and, indeed, creating new jobs for our people". He quoted the agreement to freeze student fees as an example of what could be achieved through cross community co-operation.

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