McGuinness and Sinn Fein finally return to the pluralist language of Tone…

Martin McGuinness’ keynote speech to the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis is up on the party website. It’s worth quoting at length, because at risk of invoking a trite pun it is worth noting at least as much for its reference to Tone (Wolf Theobald) and its generally emollient tone.

Partition created two conservative states on our island. The rights and entitlements of ordinary citizens were secondary to the needs of the political class in both states. That is why every Irish government, since partition, including the present one, is happy to pay lip service to a united Ireland and more importantly to the rights of citizens.

That is why it was acceptable to abandon nationalists in the north to whims of a unionist regime and the reality of second class citizenship.

That was a political reality that I could never accept as normal. Through forty years of struggle and our involvement in peace negotiations we have managed to dismantle one party rule in the north and brought second class citizenship to an end. We have replaced this with equality, partnership and power sharing.

We have erased the physical nature of the border. We have constructed all-Ireland political institutions. But we have yet to achieve our primary political objective of re unification and sovereignty. That is the mighty task which we now face.

And Irish unity is not simply a republican objective, it is I believe necessary for our people, catholic, Protestant, Dissenter and others to achieve our full potential.

And then:

It is now time to move from the peace building phase of the struggle to the nation building stage of the struggle. That requires the very same confidence, strategic thinking and determination that has marked our approach for many years.

This is not about trying to turn unionists into nationalists or to try and hook wink people about our intentions. The reality is that much hurt has been caused on all sides during the conflict and indeed by the very imposition of partition itself.

To date much of the public running in this debate has been undertaken by Republicans. It is however a mistake to think that many within the broad unionist community are not thinking their way through the necessity for reconciliation.

Shades of Peter Robinson’s ‘Only those who can adapt to changing circumstances’? Well, not quite. Instead it’s a mention of how the British are, like Sinn Fein themselves, not co-operating with the Smithwick Inquiry:

It is my view, backed I believe by plenty of evidence, including the lack of co-operation with the Saville, Barron and Smithwick Inquiries that the British government is not interested in a process which would deliver truth and reconciliation. This is in the main motivated by self interest. Put simply it does not suit

Britain’s own strategic interests to face up to its role in Ireland.

However we cannot let the divisions fostered through the decades of conflict and the British government stalling on the issue of the past to hold back the potential that now exists to move forward politically and democratically to a new Republic.

In that context, we have a responsibility to reach out to unionists and to others to engage with them about the past and indeed even more importantly about the future.

A united Ireland will succeed with the input of all sections of our people. We seek an Ireland in which unionists would feel comfortable not just in being a part of but being in the leadership of.

I have said many times that it is possible for unionists and republicans to stand together without dilution of our beliefs. The Executive of which I have jointly led with Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson for the past five years is evidence of that.

I said in my Easter speech that in the discussions leading to re-unification we need to be imaginative and generous towards unionists. The ability to be generous to each other should be seen as a strength not a weakness. Passport rights, symbols and other issues of identity crucial to building a fully inclusive united Ireland respecting the traditions of all our people in all their diversity can be addressed.

And we need to remember at all times that dialogue isn’t a one way street. We also need to listen to what unionists say to us and indeed about us. That is the role of nation builders. That means always stretching ourselves and always taking risks to advance the task of building a new Ireland.

Ireland as a nation can only truly prosper if we are at peace with ourselves as a people. Having the confidence to build a new better relationship with Britain will also be important.

It means overcoming the historic fracture between Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter. In the Ireland of 2012 it means building a pluralist, ethnically and culturally diverse society that embraces all our citizens.

It’s pretty clunky in places, and as you might expect at a party conference somewhat washes out the contribution those other than Sinn Fein to the establishment of stability in Northern Ireland.

But it carries something of, if not a reciprocation towards Robinson’s long bid for an new and open pluralist space, and a mild iteration of Adams’ seven goals towards unification.

Such public espousal of Tone’s pluralist vision may indicate a welcome turn in the party’s thinking about the future…

But after twenty five years of prosecuting an inter communual war and nearly twenty of relative peace, they’ve a long march ahead to open up the narrow ground into which succeeding (and ever dwindling) numbers of Protestant Republicans have been squeezed, by both sides.

Something, ironically, that’s probably been understood best amongst Irish nationalist parties by Fianna Fail up to now…

Still, tus maith, agus eile…

, , , , ,

  • Turgon

    Still McGuinness remains trapped in a completely unrealistic understanding of unionists and unionism. The idea that they are British just cannot be accepted. He remains trapped in this Protestant and Dissenter nonsense. There is no ignificant inference between Protestants and Dissenters in political terms. Indeed unionists do not even understand the difference. Even if there was a difference it leaves out the non religious unionists. If this is McGuinness at outreach it is utterly unconvincing. Much more likely of course is that he is speaking to his own SF constituency.

    Mick hits the nail on the head by reminding us (not that anyone has forgotten) that after 25 years of prosecuting a sectarian murder campaign attempts at reaching out by Sinn Fein are doomed to failure except amongst he most gullible of unionists. Once again, however, like last year the possibility of a very few naive or self publicising so caled

  • Turgon

    Sorry I pad malfunction.

    Once again, however, like last year the possibility of a very few naive or self serving so called unionists participitating in SF’s so called outreach and reconciliation will be presented as progress towards the illusory goal of unity: at least the 2016 nonsense seems to have been dropped.

  • Alias

    The Shinners often quote Tone (probably the only passage most of them know) in reference to uniting “Protestant, Catholic, and Dissenter” but miss the part where he was seeking to unite religion groups under a common nationality and nationalism which, of course, is not something that the British state or its regional ministers (such as McGuinness) is seeking to do.

    The essential Wolfe Tone component of the sovereign nation and its sovereign state is duly discarded with the GFA and replaced with a grotesque ‘bi-national’ state where two nations on the island of Ireland, Irish and British, are both to forego their respective rights to national self-determination by subjecting each to the other’s veto.

    In effect, the legitimised state(let) of Northern Ireland is to annex the state of Ireland, and the Irish are to dismantle their nation-state, replacing it with a replica of Northern Ireland, and duly convert themselves into a non-sovereign nation. It is only the Irish who are to be “imaginative and generous” in this way since Great Britain will continue to exist as a sovereign homeland for the British.

    It’s little wonder why the British state protects and promotes Marty as a valuable regional asset.

  • Pete Baker

    “It is my view, backed I believe by plenty of evidence, including the lack of co-operation with the Saville, Barron and Smithwick Inquiries that the British government is not interested in a process which would deliver truth and reconciliation. This is in the main motivated by self interest. Put simply it does not suit.”

    [That’ll be the Dark Side, again… – Ed] Indeed.

    Pot. Kettle. Black.

    “However we cannot let the divisions fostered through the decades of conflict and the British government stalling on the issue of the past to hold back the potential that now exists to move forward politically and democratically to a new Republic.”

    [But it’s inevitable! – Ed] You might very well think that…

    As for “a reciprocation towards Robinson’s long bid for an new and open pluralist space, and a mild iteration of Adams’ seven goals towards unification.” Try again, Martin.

    Btw, Mick, what makes you think this attempt to hijack Tone is in any way new?

    There are few republican occasions which instil a sense of reflection, a sense of questioning, not only in terms of “what stage are we at” in the struggle for independence but also “what are we about”… and Bodenstown Sunday is one of these It is so because we stand before Wolfe Tone – a figure who challenged the conservative and established order of his day by embracing new and revolutionary ideas which centred around the international notions of liberating the oppressed, in Ireland’s case Catholic peasants, Presbyterians, tenant farmers and women.

    I could go on…

  • Mick Fealty

    That’s Bodenstown Pete. They talk about him there every year. But it’s the publicness of the occasion and they way they’ve woven that classic theme through the keynote of the party conference.

    Here’s younger Jim:

    ‘Some years ago at an internal Sinn Fein education seminar in Derry I picked up a telling phrase from a member of the Protestant community who, very bravely, took the step of addressing us. He talked about attitudes within the Protestant community towards us and he said that our appeals to them can’t be heard above the “deadly sound of gunfire”.’

    He doesn’t skip a beat before he blames that on state censorship. Sooner or later, if they want to taken seriously by Protestant voters they need to at least sound like they mean it rather than using contradictory codes that cancel one another out.

  • Pete Baker


    “Sooner or later, if they want to taken seriously by Protestant voters they need to at least sound like they mean it rather than using contradictory codes that cancel one another out.”

    Well, I wouldn’t rely on one single speech for evidence of “contradictory codes”. Not that they aren’t there.

    Nor that there aren’t many other recent examples… See previous comment.

    But, hey! Gerry’s going to stay in charge into the next general election. [To infinity and beyond! – Ed] Well, 2016…

    Rejecting speculation about his leadership intentions, he said it wasn’t an issue. Asked when it would become an issue he said: “Whenever I make a decision. Who knows when that could happen. It isn’t an issue.”

    Whenever you’re ready, Gerry…

  • Have to agree with Pete here that there’s nothing new in this (nor in the getting the order in which Tone listed the three groups wrong). If we want to see their real attitude to Tone’s anti-sectarianism, have a look at the abortion that is the CSI programme of the DUP/PSF coalition.

    And if it’s not about turning unionists into nationalists, then are we back to outbreeding them, a la Mitchell McLaughlin’s contribution a book on the meaning of republicanism published in 1998 for the bicentenary of the United Irish attempted revolution?

  • Mick Fealty

    I do think they’re moving on that, though I’d be delighted if you could quote from that book you mention.

    It fell to Mitchel of course to tell the rest of us what the prior objective of undermining the confidence of Protestants and Dissenters..

  • Mick,

    I don’t have the book to hand here and so can’t quote it verbatim but it did contain an argument to the effect that the Catholic or nationalist part of the population was on the rise and would soon be the majority, so unionists should cut the best deal possible for a post-unification Ireland while they still can. The book is Norman Porter (ed.), The Republican Ideal: Current Perspectives (Belfast, 1998).

    You give this rhetoric a lot more credit than I do. I see no signs of either Robinson and co or McGuinness and co making serious efforts to promote a genuinely integrated community. No wonder of course, given their politics depend on separation, but they also appreciate it the publicity value of the right noise every now and again.

  • Mick Fealty

    I have It! Or I did…

  • A fine book. But one that alas is only available as a snippet view on google books.

  • Mister Joe

    A good starting point for the future would be to have a logo which could be presented everywhere and no where more important than all stages of school education:


  • Comrade Stalin

    Listening to McGuinness last night I was surprised, not for the first time admittedly, to find that in this process of reconciliation SF have embarked upon that they have chosen to consult everyone except the people unionists actually elected to represent them.

    It may be craven of me to point this out, but I still remember SF saying that people could not expect to choose who they negotiate with, and yet SF seem to be trying to do exactly that.

  • Alan N/Ards


    Totally agree with you. Why are SF not consulting elected unionist reps about a pluralist new ireland? I know that republicans have come a long way since they stood down their killer gangs but to many unionist’s, and indeed nationalist’s, they still speak with a forked tongue. To be totally honest there is nothing that SF could say that would persuade me of the merit’s of a united Ireland. They would be best to leave that to people who walked the path of peace during the nightmare years.

  • Drumlins Rock

    “It means overcoming the historic fracture between Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter.”

    As a dissenter I would just like to let Marty know that any fracture between between us and the “Protestant” Church of Ireland is so miniscule as to be irrelevant,I also believe in many areas (outside of the inner city interfaces at least) the fracture with the Catholic community is lessening, if there is any drift to a common national identity, it isn’t to an Irish one on British one but a seperate Northern Irish one.

    I do welcome SFs much belated attempt to talk to the Unionist people, it has a long long way to go, but is certainly an improvement on a history of ill diguised comtempt of their neighbours, where statments etc. were always targeted at “The British State” but the reality it provided a figleaf cover a petty sectarian campaign.

    It is a start but certainly has a long way to go, a co-author of the farcical Eames-Bradley report certainly dosn’t represent me or many people I know, maybe some of the other are more represenative? My advice is if your looking communities views don’t go by well known names in the media, but well respected people on the ground, I could come up with a few locally, ordinary folk but their views could be much more informative.

  • OOPS, too many links once again 🙁

    I think Martin’s roots are more in the Ribbonmen and the Defenders than in the United Irishmen. The UI folks in North Antrim will have been influenced by events in the US and France but their opposition to the establishment goes back much further. The actions of the Defender element in 1798, Catholic emancipation in 1829 and the actions of Daniel O’Connell brought the Protestants and Dissenters much closer together and the actions of militant republicanism under Martin’s direction in more recent times reinforced the bond.

  • Comrade Stalin


    It’s not even the question of persuading people of a UI or whether or not SF can be trusted. It’s the fake way they are going about it, talking to people like churchmen and community leaders who are representative of only a tiny fraction of unionist voters, as if they can somehow bypass the politicians. It shows that this is not really a serious effort but a sideshow being put on for the benefit of their own supporters who can console themselves with saying “I hugged a Prod today, a UI must be nearly here”.

    Imagine how ridiculous it would be if Peter Robinson announced that he was going to talk to the Bishop of Down and Connor, together with a few people from the INLA, to find out how nationalist voters really thought. It would be considered patronizing and offensive.

  • Forced emigration
    Tweedledum by tweed ledge followed y tweedledumber British nursery rhyme
    No promises they can,t kee
    1981 leaders came forward
    Demand our freedom,take our country back
    Have to break cycle of inequality and austerity
    13 billion stimulus,130’000 jobs
    Expand agrifood sector,tourism
    Safety net for the se
    F unemployed

  • Oops, teach me to take notes live on Slugger, as ever please ignore

  • “It’s the fake way they are going about it”

    They might gain political benefit from this dual approach, CS. Looking reasonable might help them eat further into the SDLP vote.

    The Redemptorists also used the dual approach. On the one hand they operated a charm offensive through the Clonard-Fitzroy Fellowship; on the other, they helped devise the ‘Stepping Stones’ anti-Unionist strategy. Perhaps Gerry thinks he can on from where his Clonard friends laid off.

  • Little James

    Mary Lou and Conor Murphy want increased fiscal powers for the executive, of course they do, who are they trying to kid. Cutbacks in the north? It was the Brits. Hospital closing? Public service pension cuts? It was the Brits. Is anyone really seriously telling me that they want the power to raise taxes and gain more fiscal power? What would they gain from it? Nothing. Their safety net of blaming a reduced block grant would be gone.

    It would then be “normal” big boy politics and we know there is no appetite for that on the hill.

  • Drumlins Rock

    nevin, whats stepping stones?

  • weidm7

    I liked the way Adams talked about the SoS as an Englishman, rather than British, I think SF should take more about English domination rather than the evils of the British state, the fact is, unionists are British, if you attack the British state, you attack them, which obviously isn’t going to win you any of their votes, but NI unionists, especially the most extreme, don’t feel English, as the CUNF debacle showed, appeal to the Ulster sense of identity, embrace the Lambeg drum and the unique elements to Northern culture as ‘Irish’, full stop, or even as ‘Northern Irish’, but change that to mean north of the Nation of Ireland, the same way the South, West and East have their regional varieties, rather than as if it were somehow outside Ireland while still bearing its name. In a sense, out-DUP the DUP.

  • Ulidian


    Nice try, but it rather misses the point – “Northern Irish” means “of or pertaining to Northern Ireland explicitly” to most people who use the term, not “Irish, but northern”. And I really can’t see that changing.

  • lamhdearg2

    from bbc web news,
    “Reverend Harold Good says Sinn Fein reconciliation talks ‘open and frank”
    “Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said republicans had been talking privately to a “very significant group of Protestants and unionists”.
    Mr good again
    “There were those of us who felt within the broader unionist, Protestant, loyalist community that it was important that we explore what this was all about.”

    The details of the talks emerged on Friday in an address by Mr McGuinness to the Sinn Fein ard fheis.

    Its too good a day to spend it trawling through the news, so, would/could anyone , put (any) name’s to the
    “very significant group “, thanks.

  • sonofstrongbow

    Ah Harold Good. Given the weaponry being used to murder (again) I have little confidence that Harold’s insights on the “talks” are any more useful than his counting abilities.

    Then again a pattern is emerging. As before the Shinners are perhaps telling Harold what he is witnessing and his role is to simply nod his head and then spread the ‘good’ news.

    Of course more importantly one could ask where is the likes of Harold Good’s mandate. I seem to recall the Shinners were very big on respecting mandates at one time. Perhaps in common with most of Sinn Fein’s delusions that too is a one-way street?

    Btw the call on this thread earlier this morning to champion a racist approach from Sinn Fein is as weird as suggesting that the BNP should big-up the immigration issue as its Big New Idea.

  • “nevin, whats stepping stones?”

    Drumlins Rock, you might find it interesting to Gerry’s speech in the context of both the pan-Nationalist Stepping Stones document and some quotations from John Hume’s Personal Views [linked].

    Both Hume and Adams are locked into an ‘island of Ireland’ mindset. Unionism and Nationalism are rather more than two traditions in Northern Ireland; they are opposing constitutional aspirations – continuing membership of the UK v membership of a UI. Hume’s accusation that Unionists have a ‘laager mentality’ rings rather hollow in the context of the Nationalist ‘laager’/‘society within a society’.

  • MrPMartin

    “when a snake wants to eats its victims, he first covers them with salvia”
    Churchill on Hitler’s tactics

    We all know McGuinness’s aims but what can the Unionist chicken gain from negotiations with the republican fox?

  • Dixie Elliott

    I notice that the Shinners no longer quote Connolly. Not really surprising…

    Do not be misled by the promises of politicians. Remember that the whole history of Ireland is a record of betrayals by politicians and statesmen, and remembering this, spurn their lying promises and stand up for a United Ireland – an Ireland broad based upon the union of Labour and Nationality.

    James Connolly

    Irish Worker, April 4, 1914.

  • williewombat

    significant group of unionists, then we hear a few of the names Harold Good, john alderdice, jackie mcdonald come on then all you self and government promoted significant names put yourselves before the electorate the only real judges as to whether your significant or not. Sucking up to government and pretending you have huge swathes of support may mislead some but not for long. The so called Republican movement spent 100% of its energy on a sectarian campaign of murder and mayhem now wants us all to embrace them warmly when you have been murdering and bombing for so long telling a few porkies is no problem ask Gerry. If you had spent more of your energy telling people the economic, social and real benefits if there were any of a united ireland instead of channelling it all into your blatent sectarian and campaign of hate your current outreach might have had more credibility

  • Actions not words are needed. SF seem to be in Government in NI, but making every effort to be not ‘of’ Government. Emphasised by going off and setting up their own process, and not for the first time.