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Coming up on Sunday Politics in Northern Ireland - Alex Maskey on
issues raised at Sinn Fein's weekend ard fheis in Castlebar. And
is it time for the Civic Forum to make a comeback? Join me in half an
Apology for the loss of subtitles for 2180 seconds
Hello and welcome to Sunday Politics in Northern Ireland. It
was into the west for Sinn Fein this weekend as the party held its
annual Ard Fheis in County Mayo. Staged at the Royal Theatre in
Castlebar, some 2000 delegates last night heard the party president,
Gerry Adams, mark his thirtieth year in charge with a promise to
continue to build alliances with unionists and loyalists. We'll be
picking up on that theme along with some of the others raised in the
course of the conference with Alex Maskey who is with me in the studio.
And remember this? The Civic Forum - costly talking shop or vital link
with the society? Whatever you think, is now the right time to
bring it back? Joining me to discuss that and more
are Liam Clarke, the Political Editor of the Belfast Telegraph,
and the journalist and commentator Fionnuala O Connor.
The weather didn't quite manage to top the soaring temperatures in
Killarney for last year's Ard Fheis - but the agenda for this year's
conference touched on a number of familiar themes including
continuing dialogue with loyalists and unionists. Here's our
correspondent, Shane Harrison. Castlebar in the heart of County
Mayo. The political base where this party holds four of the five seats.
A Sinn Fein is to continue growing, it will have to do so in places
like this in the West. That is why this year ard fehis attracted the
party faithful and some new. would like to take this opportunity
to welcome a representative of all three British... The shadow British
Secretary of State, a member of the Labour Party. I am very pleased to
have been asked. It was a significant moment for me. I
understand it to be the first British shake-up -- Shadow
Secretary of state to be invited to the conference. Anti-abortion
campaigners picketed the conference. They say they are not pro-life. It
allows for abortion. But the party believes the option to terminate
should be available in cases of rape, incest and sexual abuse or
where a woman's life is in danger. As for free will as far elected
representatives, they said, no way. Sinn Fein is a party that is not
afraid to take on challenges. It is not a collection of independence.
We consistently criticise our opponents. Although beaten in the
vote by the leadership, some suggested abortion was the main
issue the party has faced since it started on the peace process.
can sit here all weekend, but it is a sad state of affairs that the
Tory party and Cameron will allow a free vote on the marriage. They in
his leadership speech, Gerry Adams said it was essential an imperative
that Republicans try to build alliances with working-class
loyalists and Unionists about social and economic issues. He said
Republicans should not shirk away from their obligations to those who
died as a result because -- he says cause the conflict. I am prepared
to meet the victim's families in the state debt they think this will
be helpful. Before leaving County Mayo, delegates voted to call on
Alex Attwood to find a more up suitable name for the Royal
shopping Exchange development in north Belfast. The vote took place
in Castlebar's Royal Theatre. Joining me now is Sinn Fein's Alex
Maskey. Gerry Adams talked in his speech last night about the
importance of continuing dialogue with unionists and loyalists.
They're not going to go away, he said & Sinn Fein doesn't want them
to. But Martin McGuinness talked about unionists being inward-
looking and intransigent. So which is it? You got the impression that
abortion was a divisive issue. There was a farm mood of optimism
about the future. The North was being held up as a shining example.
The several speakers boasted of we have stopped water charges in the
north. Northern Ministers talked about the achievements there, it is
being held up as an example of what Sinn Fein can do, which was a bit
of a change of what we think of Stormont. What about the mixed
message in that people pointed out? Gerry Adams talking about
continuing dialogue with Unionists and loyalists. Martin McGuinness
told to bet -- talked about stepping up to the plate. I do not
think anybody would see that as a message at all. The supporters was
that this is what the party should be doing. Gerry and Martin have to
keep reaching out and say we want a further reconciliation. But
Unionists are not doing their bit and Unionists are putting us back.
They are always saying there is no reason to reconcile. I do not think
that sense a mixed message at all. There is a two audience there.
There is the wider audience who are also paying attention to what is
happening. They might see that as a mixed message. Her they might see
that as that. Sinn Fein is working very hard to reach out. There is a
limited sector of them that will talk to them. I don't think they
are at all worried about saying this. It is the other way round, if
there is a mixed message to the, Martin McGuinness wants to say
Peter Robinson has not been sharing. There are unionists, we have heard
them saying it, do not stock about reaching out. Sinn Fein would say
the Unionists are the ones who are refusing to move forward. You did
sense frustration from Martin McGuinness. The message was that he
believes Unionists lacked confidence. They are not coming for
words. I do not get a sense it was any threat of pulling out of
Government. He just said, we need to do business more quickly and
more efficiently. What about some of the other issues that were in
the background? Like for example, Economics north and south, welfare
and changes that are happening in Northern Ireland. And of course the
abortion debate. We saw that in the report there. These are big things
for Sinn Fein. I do not think they are giving them that much trouble.
There was a debate, there is division regarding abortion. It is
not something that will tear them apart. I think there is an attitude
of we must be compassionate. It fits very well with the general
feeling in the south. I think Sinn Fein have this luxury of being in
opposition, they can move back and forward on various issues. There is
very little opposition in the south, I think, for bashing them for what
they say. They can do that will the cows come home and not be
criticised by the people they want to reach. High what about those
issues, Economics? On economics, the main focus was on the economy
of the South. They held up the north as an example of what Sinn
Fein can do in Government to stabilise the economy. They send
out a signal that they would do some reform on the Bedroom Tax.
Abortion I think is a serious issue because it is the sort of issue
that people will vote on. You might not agree with them on education,
but you could agree with them on abortion. We are joined now by Alex
Maskey. There you were down in the conference, you picked up on some
of the issues dealt with there. Gerry Adams talked about the
continuing need for discussion. We heard Martin McGuinness talking
about Unionists being inward- looking and intransigent. Which is
it? It is both, actually. There are a lot of people within Unionism
across society who know that there has to be dialogue and want to have
dialogue. NI recent attempts over last year to have dialogue around
reconciliation, we do not believe... Sinn Fein talks the top, but
doesn't walk the walk. You say you want to work with Unionists, you
want engagement. Then you adopt what they regard a belligerent
attitude. We think our position on the flanks is consistent. -- flaks.
-- flags. That is the purpose of having a dialogue. The T U P was
meant to argue it around the Good Friday Agreement. -- DUP. It
compels the parties in both governments to deal with the issue
of flax. -- flags. Equality is at the cornerstone of the Good Friday
Agreement. That was a tricky issue for you or party to navigate over
the weekend, given it is such up divisive issue both north and south.
You are not a pro-abortion party, but nobody said you are pro-choice.
I think the debate on that question on the weekend was appropriate. I
think the recent arguments, and scandalous debate in the north
around the Assembly debate, it was to exploit the issue. The party
rejected that motion. The party has a very settled view. There are
people in it who are very pro-life and there. They have spoken
publicly. There are people in our party who have views on abortion in
the same way that people in every other walk of life in Ireland. When
I hear people talking, it is an issue of conscience for every
person. People have a pinions and every party, but the clear debate
at the weekend shows that we have a settled view on it. Her let's talk
about the welfare issues that we have discussed on his programme
before. Her you are in Government in Northern Ireland, you are
commenting on austerity measures. We will argue, we are a Government
in the north that doesn't have tax raising powers which we want to
have transferred here. We are operating a Government were we have
had �4 billion taken away from our Government. We have the ministerial
influence and that cuts across the programme for Government. On only
on one issue, that is the Spare Room Subsidy, has your party
threatened to use, promised to use, a petition of concern. We might do
that. I have had a number of bilateral with a number of people
from other parties, we made it clear that there are issues of
welfare reform that we are not going to support and we are not
going to except. Give me an example of another issue of where you might
use the Petition of concern? There are issues around disability
entitlements which the British Government want to take away 20%.
That is a real conversation you are having within the party? Absolutely.
This kind of austerity has been imposed on us by London. This
battle is not over yet. We will leave it there. Thank you very much
for joining us. Tributes to Baroness Thatcher,
tough talking from the Secretary of State and the troubled A5 dual
carriageway project. It's all in the week in 60 seconds, with Gareth
Gordon. Baroness Thatcher's debt -- death
is marked by the divisions in her life. I am in the despatch box
making positive remarks. Others held street parties to the
displeasure of Martin McGuinness. It is not something I would do.
Government warned that the economic package could be withdrawn if
progress was not being made. If we cannot agree, it is a fact that we
may not be able to deliver some of the things we have been talking
about. Which could also apply to the troubled a five dual-
carriageway project between two towns.
Fifteen years on from the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, the
Assembly has supported a motion by the SDLP calling on the First and
Deputy First Ministers to reconvene the Civic Forum. The body was set
up to allow people from outside the political world to influence
decision-making over social, economic and cultural issues. It
was suspended along with the devolved institutions in 2002.
Unionists are not happy the motion squeaked through by one vote - many
of them say it was a costly talking shop. Community worker Alan McBride
was a member of the Forum between 2000 and 2002 - and he joins me now.
Thank you for joining us. Do you think it is an organisation they
should be brought back and does have an contribution to make?
not think it ever achieved its potential because when it was put
in place in 2002, I think that the idea of bringing other voices from
civic society to be a rotten, is a good idea. It should be something
that should be thought more about. Does it need to be established as a
Civic Forum when individuals are Brotton, when there is a
significant cost to the public purse? There is a cost to their
public purse. It does cost money to set the thing up. Depending on how
you set it up, we could save money. We might not need to go to big
fancy hotels for meetings. We could go to community centres, there are
ways to save money. In terms of working out whether it will because
they are not, it should be about what it achieves and delivers.
you aware of other individuals like you come into contact with as you
work -- through your work as a community worker, who feel that
this would be of value? Absolutely. If you had people around a table
from the business community, from the church is talking about issues,
something could come from that which could make a difference.
have a public debate, you have it on the air ways and newspapers. To
have those public debates, their argument seems to be, we'll listen
to people who vote to us, we'll listen to these organisations, we
do not need to set up a separate forum to do that because it was not
successful the last time. It did not go far enough to let it run its
course. It was not just a talking shop. Those things had to run their
course and could have achieved positive things in Northern Ireland.
There was a view on the Civic Forum was -- and there was no desire to
see a reconstituted. Do you think there was a change in view? I think
there is a potential for it to achieve something. The idea, the
concept, I think is still a good concept. Her thank you very much
were coming in. Picking up on what Alan had to say,
do you think it is something that would contribute? An irate bomb
killed Alan's relatives. -- IRA. It is two big parties that run the
show. It is not something they would want. That was a bad time to
give it a try in the first place. To talk about practical things is
one of the few ways we are going to have any kind of reconciliation
here. It will give more victims and bereaved people a voice, what could
be wrong? Asking you about looking ahead, there is the funeral of
Margaret Thatcher. Is that likely to continue to dominate the
political discussions? Her I think it will dominate the agenda with