Speech by Mark Durkan, then leader of the SDLP, at the launch of the SDLP Unity Document, 'A Better Way to a Better Ireland', Belfast, 21 March 2005
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Speech by Mark Durkan, then leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), at the launch of the SDLP Unity Document 'A United Ireland and The Agreement: A Better Way to a Better Ireland', Belfast Castle, Belfast, (21 March 2005)
"You are all very welcome this morning to the launch of the SDLP strategy document, 'A Better Way to a Better Ireland' [PDF; 781KB].
This document contains our vision for a united Ireland in which the Good Friday Agreement will endure. It confirms our 100% commitment to both. This afternoon, we will be promoting this 'Better Way' with the southern parties at the Mansion House in Dublin. This evening in Newry, Dominic Bradley will be joined by Dermot Ahern as part of our ongoing series of public seminars, where we will further articulate our vision and argue our case for unitybuilt on the Agreement. This evening's event follows on from the first in the series, held here in Belfast last month, which was addressed by Enda Kenny and Alasdair McDonnell.
But there could be no better setting to launch this vision than here at Belfast Castle.
History behind us on Cavehill. In front of us - Belfast. A city moving in the right direction - desperate to leave its tragic past behind - but needing the certainty of political stability to get there faster.
A community longing for real peace and stronger prospects. Crying out for paramilitaries to get off their backs so that they can get off their knees. Hoping for more for their children than another generation of lost opportunities and broken promises of a better future. Wanting nothing more than to be able to live their lives in peace and do the best they can for themselves and their families.
From the Short Strand to the Shankill - and in communities all across the North - it is long past time to give the people what they want and need. The end of paramilitary violence, control and fear. The opportunity to move on. The fulfilment of lasting peace and genuine political stability. The achievement of economic prosperity and social justice. The guarantee of freedom and the promise of a fair society.
Delivering this is the SDLP's work. Because we put the people above all. We do not put ourselves above the people.
As true republicans, we strive to protect - not disgrace - the ideal of the United Irishmen that all people are equal, 'Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter'.
We stand by the 1916 Proclamation's commitment to 'cherish all the children of the nation equally'. We don't rob children of their fathers. We don't deny child poverty the priority it needs or child services the support they deserve.
We stand for justice - not in the way of justice.
We respect the will of the people. That is why we are 100% for the Good Friday Agreement, just as we are 100% for a united Ireland. And it is why,in our strategy for a united Ireland, we believe the Agreement must endure.
The SDLP's vision of a united Ireland is based on equality. We are genuine, open and honest persuaders for unity.
We seek a united Ireland that is not only confident, pluralist and non-sectarian - but is avowedly anti-sectarian, anti-racist and anti-homophobic as well.
An Ireland that can find the magnanimity to offer a home not only to those of us who are Irish, but also to those who are British. And to those who come here to escape the circumstances of other lands. An Ireland that is unafraid of differing identities and allegiances. One that will respect and protect them all.
An Ireland that has - as its heartbeat - the Good Friday Agreement.
We believe that the same guarantees that were written into the Agreement to provide reassurances to Nationalists for as long as the North remains in the United Kingdom must at least equally apply in a united Ireland.
So the Agreement's basic structures and safeguards will endure. The institutions in the North will continue with cross-community protections. The East West agenda will be expanded - becoming more prominent and permanent. The big new dynamic would be in Strand Two with the representatives from the North having so strong a presence in a new all-Ireland parliament and government. That scenario will create it's own context and case for working adjustments. Any necessary changes to the Agreement will be made through a review as the Agreement itself provides for. We can agree good changes for good reasons. The rights of all people will be vigorously protected.
By guaranteeing that the Agreement will be upheld in the context of a united Ireland, we can do four things.
Firstly, we can reassure unionists that they have nothing to fear in a united Ireland - that their rights, identity and culture will be respected and their position guaranteed. We make no apology for working to reassure Unionism that our objective is not domination but equal partnership. That's what persuasion politics is all about. That's what any party that is serious about achieving unity should be about.
Secondly, by making it clear that the Agreement is not tactical, transitional or temporary - but that it will be at the core of our future together - we can reaffirm people's commitment to the Agreement now and renew public confidence in it. We can remind those who would destroy the Agreement that it is the will of the people and that it cannot be over-ridden or undermined. And we can restore the Agreement to its rightful position as the only way forward for the political process.
Thirdly, we can assure all the people of Ireland that, come a referendum, they will not be voting against the Agreement if they vote for a united Ireland - that a vote for a united Ireland is an affirmation of the Agreement, not an aberration of it.
And fourthly, by making the Agreement's institutions work now, we can get on with the real job now of building economic prosperity, safeguarding social justice and protecting equal rights - clear that this positive and necessary agenda will neither be derailed nor delayed by future constitutional uncertainty.
As the party that has set the compass for democratic nationalist politics on this island, the SDLP is uniquely placed to deliver this vision.
We have the credibility to persuade the necessary majority in the North to vote for it. Because our approach to unity doesn't threaten the Agreement's fundamentals and, therefore, there is no reason why it should threaten unionists.
We can build the required consensus among parties and the public in the South that unity would be an opportunity for us all.
So let us lead the way.
Let us show the people that we have a better way, a stronger vision, a clearer purpose.
Let us stand strong for a better republicanism. One that is the watchword for the relentless pursuit of equality, the unflinching defence of social justice and the pursuit of unity, peacefully and by democratic consent - not the by-word for criminality.
Let us measure our patriotism by the standards we raise in our schools, hospitals and across all our public services - not the standards others raise to hang torn and tattered on telegraph poles.
History may well be at our shoulder this morning. But within our reach - if we want it - is the capacity to build a future together on this island the limits of which are set only at the limits of our own creativity. Our self-belief and our belief in each other. Our desire to work together as partners. Our demand for change as equals.
So let us grasp those opportunities with both hands. Let us lead the way in building a better Ireland. Because we have the better way."
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