This week Good Relations Week in the North celebrates 30 years of effort to promote cross-community relations, cultural diversity and peace building. It’s important we do so; a lot has been achieved.
It can be a moment to take stock and consider the distance we have travelled, and our unfinished journey of change.
The Good Friday Agreement (GFA) drew a line under political conflict.
It established the centrality of equality, mutual respect and parity of esteem to political progress.
It created a new space to build for the future. Now the welcome restoration of our power sharing government has got the regional and all-Ireland political institutions working again.
Notwithstanding the actions of paramilitary and criminal elements the peace process is solid.
But despite widespread good will in Irish society, we have yet to develop a reconciliation process.
Communal division, sectarianism, segregation and intolerance remain characteristics of our society.
A minority want this to continue.
But other significant challenges also exist.
The premeditated recklessness of this British Government towards the withdrawal negotiations with the European Union (EU), and its cavalier approach to implementation of its obligations and the Irish Protocol hold potentially destabilising consequences for our political process; posing a serious threat to the terms of the GFA itself.
In addition, the Scottish Government has said the new British Internal Market Bill constitutes a full-frontal attack on devolution arrangements for Scotland and Wales.
Obvious damage has been done to British/EU relations.
The fact is the cabal of right wing ‘little Englanders’ in charge don’t care.
This British Government has form in arbitrarily ignoring its international obligations and ripping up agreements.
Twenty-two years on, the GFA has still not been fully implemented.
This administration has more recently undermined the Stormont House Agreement, for dealing with the legacy of the past, by putting discriminatory criteria at the heart of the Victim’s Pension Scheme.
In doing so it has ensured that dealing with the past will continue to be contentious.
A high-handed arrogance and pro unionist, and British Military of Defence agenda has defined its policy approach since taking power in 2010.
In these circumstances reconciliation and healing appear to be far beyond our reach.
But those of us committed to developing a new phase of the peace process based upon reconciliation cannot give up, nor must we become deflected.
That is especially so as the centenary of partition approaches.
Unsurprisingly the British Government has proposed it should be the occasion for a celebration.
The partition of Ireland is nothing to celebrate.
Like Brexit, there was and is no good partition. It cannot be sugar coated.
Discrimination and state repression were the lived experience for successive generations.
Unionists have a separate narrative: their’s was a different lived experience.
The bottom line is that partition did not have an upside. It created an exclusionary ‘Orange State’, the consequence of which was political conflict.
Eventually the GFA transformed that context. That is why it is so important for it to be fully implemented.
Now we have a decision to make about how we engage with the history and politics of next year.
2021 and the centenary of partition will be a source of political and community rancour and division if the objective reality that partition rests at the heart of our many divisions here in the North, and between Britain and Ireland, is ignored.
We can continue arguing over the past throughout 2021.
Or, we can choose a different discourse, by beginning a new progressive conversation about how our divided traditions can share a future of opportunity on this island: To begin mapping out an agreed future together.
The fact is that Brexit has swept away all of the previous assumptions about the constitutional, political and economic status quo between Britain, Ireland and the EU.
Brexit itself, the fact of demographic changes, and latterly, COVID-19 have mainstreamed the Irish Unity debate in Ireland, North and South, and internationally.
In November 2019 Sinn Féin adopted our new policy paper, ‘Towards an Agreed & Reconciled Future’.
It sets out our party’s conviction that Irish reunification and reconciliation are inseparable.
A new constitutional settlement in Ireland based upon a progressive national democracy would provide a durable framework guaranteeing civil and religious liberties and democratic rights for all citizens.
Sinn Féin believes a new agreed Ireland built upon the unity of all its people should put reconciliation and healing at the heart of its civil and political institutions.
That is, a society which embraces acknowledgment of the past, but will make healing central to our future.
We are all victims of partition.
2021 should be about an inclusive conversation on the continued transformation of this society towards the achievement of reconciliation and Irish Unity.
Sinn Féin is prepared to be challenged in that conversation, and I particularly invite civic and community leaders within the wider unionist constituency to join us in having this dialogue.