03/10/2002

Republicans urged to 'complete journey' to democracy

In his speech to the Labour Party Conference this afternoon, the Northern Ireland Secretaryof State, Dr John Reid made a plea to republicans to "complete your journey to democracy" and put an end to violence.

Directly addressing the republican community, he urged republicans to bring forward steps to allay doubts and fears within unionism, saying that if partnership with unionists is to be sustained, "then you need to convince them, to reassure them".

The Northern Ireland Secretary was clear in how he thought republicans could "reassure" unionists:

"You cannot continue to ride two horses at once. Especially if the two horses are as far apart as violence and democracy," he said.

"In short, the people of Northern Ireland are asking you now to have the courage of your democratic convictions. Complete your journey to democracy."

However, Dr Reid said the government was convinced that the republican leadership is "committed to pursuing its aims for a united Ireland through democratic means".

He also called on political representatives from both nationalist and republican traditions to make moves to "reassure" their opposite numbers.

In his speech, Dr Reid was scathing is his dismissal of the belief that the agreement can be renegotiated, saying: "It’s sometimes said that there are politicians in Northern Ireland who would be rendered speechless if the word 'no' was taken out of the English language.

"There is no fantasy agreement out there in a fantasy Northern Ireland where you can negotiate an agreement with the British government, or with yourselves for yourselves. So, to those who doubt the government’s conviction let me say: we will not wind back the clock."

The Secretary of State also emphasised the positive impact the agreement had made on society in the north in terms of economic growth, rising living standards and falling employment. He then drew upon the comparison between the rates of sectarian murder before and after the agreement, and challenged the anti-agreement elements to recognise that progress had been made.

He said: "[There has been] A reduction in the tragic death toll, from almost 500 a year at the height of the troubles, to one hundred, then 19 last year and seven this year. Seven deaths are still seven too many, but it’s a damned sight better than 500 a year and it’s about time that was recognised by the detractors of the agreement."

Dr Reid added that the there was "no limit to this government’s commitment to the values of the agreement," and as such he pledged "endless patience and endurance" to see the agreement through.

(GMcG)

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