By Gerry Kelly
This week most Irish political leaders are in the United States to mark St. Patrick's Day. Unfortunately it is not all about celebrating Ireland's national day. Serious political work also needs to be done.
The Irish Peace Process remains delicate and must be nurtured. Peace-making always requires a determined effort on all sides and fully resolving a conflict as old and as imbedded as the conflict between Britain and Ireland will continue to be particularly difficult. And that has been our experience.
This week Sinn Fein, representing the Irish republican people of Ireland, has been engaging with the U.S. administration to advance the search for a lasting peace in Ireland.
We are also having extensive discussions with the Irish-American community, which has played such a central role in the development of the Irish peace process.
For the past few weeks and months, Sinn Fein has been concentrating on the current negotiations and attempting to ensure we see progress made over the next few months. Central to what we have been about over the past 10 years or more has been building a peace process based on the principles of equality, inclusion and democracy. This focus has helped create the progress achieved so far. The last 10 years, indeed the entire time since the partition of Ireland by Britain, has proven that exclusion, discrimination and inequality are wrong and create conditions of conflict and division.
As we move to conclude this phase of negotiations, these basic principles remain central to our approach. In the tactical thrust of negotiations it is crucial to actually remember what all of this is about and what we are trying to achieve - ending conflict and division on the island of Ireland and building a new Ireland based on equality, justice and freedom.
Of course, the last five years of interminable discussion and negotiation have been frustrating. Getting the peace agreement implemented has been even more difficult than achieving it on paper. Progress has been slow and painstaking. Making peace between former adversaries was never going to be easy, but that is the challenge to which we must all rise.
We must reach out to and respect former opponents while defending our own political objectives and principles. We must find a way of resolving difficulties peacefully. In short we must make politics and democracy work.
There has, without doubt, been progress. Ireland today is a far better place than it was 10 years ago. That is the measure of our success. And despite the current difficulties in our peace process, despite the frustration and, at times, exhaustion, we must and will continue our efforts to make the Irish peace process a success.
The terrible events which we see unfolding on our television screens every day throughout the world is a tragic reminder of the failure of dialogue and politics. Making peace is not an easy task, but it is what we must continue to strive to achieve.
Gerry Kelly is Sinn Fein spokesman on policing and a member of the Legislative Assembly.
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