The countdown to a united Ireland is under way, according to Stormont’s Deputy First Minister in waiting, Martin McGuinness.
As Sinn Féin members took part in over 100 Easter Rising commemorations across Ireland, Mr McGuinness told an event at Drumboe in Co Donegal yesterday that 2007 had been a big year for republicans who are shaping history once again.
The Mid-Ulster MP, who will jointly head the new Northern Executive when it is re-established on May 8 with the Democratic Unionist leader, the Ian Paisley, as First Minister, insisted Sinn Féin was ready for government.
And he also said the party’s republicanism did not stop on the northern side of the border, with it aiming to be in government in both parts of the island.
“As the process progresses, more people are recognising that we have now entered the end phase of our struggle,” Mr McGuinness said.
“I truly believe that we have begun the countdown to a united Ireland, and we are continuing to get that message out as widely as possible.
“But Sinn Féin is the only party with the courage to say it aloud, and encourage proper management of the transition.
“Denying the obvious will serve no purpose, other than to give false hope to those wishing it were not so.”
Mr McGuinness said, in recent times, other parties in the Ireland had been anxious to show their united Ireland credentials.
However, while this was welcome, he said rhetorical republicanism at election time would fool nobody.
“If they are serious about their aspirations for a united Ireland, then I challenge them to join with us and with like-minded campaign groups, trade unions and other interested sections of our society to create an alliance for Irish unity,” he said.
“The potential to progress an all-Ireland strategy for ensuring full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement is tremendous.
“Those who attempt to interpret our participation in implementing the Agreement as a dilution of our determination to achieve Irish unity and independence could not be more mistaken.”
The Sinn Féin MP said that, as republicans entered the final lap in the journey towards a united Ireland, they must try to understand the anxieties of unionists for whom such change was a terrifying prospect.
However, he said, unionists also had responsibilities, including the need to face down sectarian politics, which had been used by loyalist paramilitaries to justify their refusal to follow the IRA lead and disarm.
He asked why loyalists still felt the need to retain their weapons.
“Who are they intended for use against?” he asked.
“It requires that they (unionist leaders) use their influence to encourage these groups to embrace the political path. “It requires them to participate in the political debate on the basis of factual argument.
“It requires that they refrain from continuing to play on fears and superstitions.”
Mr McGuinness called on the Irish Government to release republican prisoners in Castlerea jail, where the killers of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe are being held.
He said Sinn Fein wanted to change the political landscape of the Irish Republic as dramatically as it had transformed politics north of the border.
He criticised the two-tier health system, which, he said, existed in the Irish Republic and also expressed alarm that the gap between the wealthy and the rest of the population was widening.
“I believe that the story of this election will be the growth of the Sinn Féin vote, and the increased number of seats that we will win in Leinster House,” he said.
“Preparation for this election did not begin today, or yesterday, but began the day after the last election, and our workers in every constituency have been busy ever since.
“Our task in the weeks and months ahead is to reap what we have sown – to ensure that the support won by your hard work is mobilised on polling day.
“It is our task to ensure that we continue to work to bring the goals of Irish unity and independence to realisation.”