Belfast Telegraph

Michelle O'Neill: Brokenshire must stop pandering to those standing in the way of progress

By Michelle O'Neill MLA

Over the past two decades Ireland has been transformed as a result of the peace process. Peace was declared 19 years ago in 1998 with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, which promised a new political dispensation in the North.

It recognised that the constitutional and political conditions of the North had to fundamentally change.

No longer could the British/unionist state deny nationalists equality of opportunity, parity of esteem, recognition of our Irish national identity or political power.

It also offered a democratic alternative to political conflict.

The Agreement was hard won after the culmination of months and years of protracted all-party talks, political negotiation with the governments and not least the loyalist and republican ceasefires.

The people of Ireland voted overwhelmingly in support of the Agreement in referenda held north and south.

It was hailed across the world as an historic event in modern Irish history and forever changed the relationships within, and between, Ireland and Britain.

However, almost 20 years on, there remains unfinished business to resolve which is of critical importance to the Agreement's continued relevance and therefore success.

Yes, of course, huge progress has been made and there is no doubt that our society has been transformed for the better.

We have moved from a society in conflict to one of peace.

Sinn Fein and others, have acted faithfully to the spirit and principles of the peace process and the Good Friday and subsequent agreements.

The problem is, however, that not everyone signed up to the Agreement in 1998, most obviously the DUP as former partners in the power-sharing Executive.

The DUP opposed the Good Friday Agreement at the time and, in essence, have opposed it ever since. They may participate in the structures and institutions created by the Agreement, but as Martin McGuinness made very clear in his letter of resignation, the DUP have never fully embraced the principles of equality and respect, which underpin it.

They may have paid lip service to it on occasions, but when it comes down to it; they have never supported the spirit or principles of the Good Friday Agreement itself.

This is at the core of the political breakdown we face today.

And that is what has to change if there is to be any return to the political institutions.

Sinn Fein, as the voice of Irish nationalism and republicanism, cannot return to the status quo or return to business as usual. We must have unionist partners who accept equal partnership government and rights for all.

There will be no return to petty-minded and bigoted ministerial decisions, which seek only to antagonise and insult the nationalist community.

There will be no return to the treatment of any group of people as second-class citizens based on their ethnicity, religion, who they love or what language they speak.

There will be no return to the arrogant disregard for the squandering of public money which risks investment in frontline public services and the integrity of the whole Executive and Assembly.

There will be no return to the short-sighted dismissal of the need for genuine reconciliation and peace-building where we work to heal the wounds of our society together.

Because, it was this lack of respect for others, this failure to embrace equality, and this disregard shown to the Agreement and the hundreds of thousands who supported it that helped create the situation where Martin McGuinness called time on the DUP's actions and behaviour.

There is now an opportunity to fix what is fundamentally broken in the political process, to move society forward into a new era together and to organise a modern, progressive society, which treats citizens fairly and decently. To provide inclusive, good government and quality public services which better people's everyday lives.

That is not a republican wish-list or a radical agenda. It is a reasonable expectation in 2017 and 19 years after the Good Friday Agreement.

We are asking for basic standards of equality, fairness and good governance.

The Good Friday Agreement isn't dead but the political process is certainly broken.

However, it can be fixed and that is what Sinn Fein is determined to achieve.

That is the challenge which Martin McGuinness set us all.

That is why we set out our stall before the people, and there can be no doubt - the message was made clear at the ballot boxes on March 2.

The onus is on the DUP to live up to its responsibility to share power on the basis of equality and the terms established in the Good Friday Agreement.

The British Government and James Brokenshire must stop pandering to those holding our society back from progress and towards a future. It is now time to at last deliver on the unfinished business and face towards the future rather than live in the past.

It is about the politics of hope over fear, and for nationalists and republicans it is now or never.

Belfast Telegraph


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