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News at One
Conor Brophy (CB) speaks to Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams (GA) via telephone about Martin McGuinness’ retirement and today’s release of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIA or Hart) report. (begins)
CB: Sinn Féin is to name the person who will succeed Martin McGuinness as the party’s leader in The North on Monday next. Martin McGuinness announced his retirement from politics yesterday. Ill health means he’s not physically capable of continuing in his current role, he said, and will prevent him from contesting the upcoming Assembly elections. Well we’re joined now by Sinn Féin President, Gerry Adams. Good Afternoon, Gerry Adams.
GA: Good Afternoon, Conor.
CB: You paid tribute yesterday to a man you described a ‘friend and comrade’ whom you first met over forty-five years ago behind the barricades in Free Derry. It’s a long time ago both in temporal and in political terms.
GA: Yeah, before I deal with that, Conor, may I just welcome the publication of the historical abuse report. It’s a vindication of those who campaigned and those who gave evidence and I hope they have a sense of vindication today. Yes, forty-five years ago and the barricades were up in the Bogside and the Brandywell and the west bank of the Foyle I suppose and that’s the first time I met with Martin McGuinness and we have been on a journey since. Good comrades. Good friends. I think he’s been a remarkable leader, a remarkable and very, very decent human being and I value the role that he has played. And I know that he and Bernie are empowered and uplifted by the warm messages that have come to them and the best wishes for their good health so hopefully he will get the space to get better. And he’s not retiring, you know he’s stepped down from elected office but he intends to continue as best he can and hopefully in the fullness of health will be back with the rest of us moving forward against the Brexit consequences, facing up to the bad policies of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael but in the meantime making sure we get the best result by good negotiations out of this election in The North.
CB: What happens between now and Monday?
GA: Well, we’ve a big united Ireland conference in the Mansion House on the very day, on the very date, in the very place that the First Dáil met. We will make our – we will consult with our Ard Comhairle over the weekend and we will make the announcement, as I said earlier, of Martin’s successor. And I was making the point: You know, we’re not replacing Martin McGuinness because he’s irreplaceable but the new person coming into the job needs to be able to put his or her mark on that job within our general – you know, reconciliation towards unity, making the institutions work for everyone – we just have to give that new person a bit of a space and we’re blessed with a huge number of candidates who could do that job.
CB: Such as?
GA: Well I’m not gong to name names now but they’re all in the public arena and you know, we are a party which is in generational transition and it’s very, very good to have the benefit of a panel of people – older people down to people in their twenties and all the sort of ages in between with various talents and experiences – and right across the entire island of Ireland.
CB: Yourself and Martin McGuinness have been inseparable over a long period of years now. Does his departure from active politics, if we can put it that way, give you pause for thought now about the timeline preceding, perhaps, your own departure?
GA: Well Martin made it clear and I actually said this publicly last year that we are a party in transition and then that means a change of leadership. But I think one big announcement at the beginning of the year – and you know that wasn’t planned – Martin’s illness intruded and you know that’s the way life is at times – but we do have a plan and we will stick to that plan but it’s enough that we absorb Martin’s vacating of that office and get the very best person into that office and they’ll assist at making the election as sensible as possible and then get the political institutions back in place based upon the foundations which always should have guided them and that is equality, parity of esteem, treating people fairly, and moving forward in that direction.
CB: Mary Lou McDonald said this morning: ‘All of us understand that we’re in transition’. She said: ‘Gerry hasn’t set a date’. Will you be setting one or will you set one now?
GA: No, as I’ve said – one big announcement’s enough for anybody so that’s the only announcement you’re going to get at this time. We’ll return to this at some other time.
CB: You mentioned at the outset your comments on the Hart Inquiry which says the Stormont Executive and the institutions who ran homes should offer a wholehearted and unconditional apology. Of course we have, realistically, no government in place now neither to issue an apology nor to deal with some of the pressing issues that may come out of that inquiry and survivors of abuse, victims of abuse, talking for instance, about the requirement for compensation.
GA: Well we wanted to make an interim compensationry commitment to those victims some time ago – it was the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) who blocked that. You know, why are we into an election, Conor? Because half a billion pounds went down the drain amid allegations of corruption and fraud and because the minister who presided over that refused to countenance the type of proper inquiry or investigation which would have given the people the facts of all of that and that’s just not sustainable at all and that’s why we’re into an election at this point. Be sure – I know some of the victims. I’ve worked with them. I admire them. They have met all of our ministers, including Mary Lou McDonald and others in the Oireachtas, so we support them fully and that’s why I welcome so much the Hart report.
CB: You have heard, for example, be that as it may, that the institutions have collapsed and wherever we ascribe blame for that, you have heard, for example, Margaret McGuckin, who helped set up Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse, or SAVIA, and talking in recent weeks about her concerns about how long it will be before there’s a government in place to deal in practical terms with the findings of this inquiry and all these clouds hanging over the future of power-sharing now, if we’re into a period of direct rule realistically that’s not going to be a priority for Westminster.
GA: Well that’s not countenanced and I know Margaret, I know her well and I have supported her and her campaign and Sinn Féin was the party which brought about this necessary historic abuse inquiry, that’s why I said in my earlier remarks – let’s have a decent election, that’s everybody – and this includes the SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party) and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) – move forward, ask the people for their votes based upon those principles of the Good Friday Agreement and then get the institutions back in place – we don’t have any other notion of doing it in any other way except through the political institutions which were set up and then that issue, that urgent issue, will be dealt with along with many other urgent issues but I do have a particular affection for that campaign because I met some of the people and they weren’t believed and they were dismissed for decades and now they’ve had their vindication and now it’s up to us to ensure that the recommendations are acted upon.
CB: And finally, Gerry Adams, if we can return to the issue of leadership and of Martin McGuinness’ departure from the scene at least in terms of active politics, obviously you’re not going to name names but what does a new leader need to possess? What attributes do they need to possess if they’re going to emulate Martin McGuinness’ example?
GA: Well I just want to stress the point that Martin hasn’t retired. He has stood down from elected office if you like. He remains a member of our Ard Comhairle. I was in touch with him this morning. He’s regularly in touch with us across a range of issues but anybody coming in, as I said earlier I think, it’s not about replacing Martin McGuinness – he’s, he’s you know, a one-off. But what we are is to have somebody there that will show a generosity of spirit, to be totally committed to the notion of equality. Obviously, every Sinn Féiner, as you said, is an islander but we have to persuade the Unionists that that’s the way forward and also to be tough in terms of the way, at times, the governments are nonchalant about how they handle these issues, in particular the British government, doesn’t want to handle the issues of equality and fairness and so also the Irish government needs to be all the time briefed fully on what it needs to do in terms of keeping the British government right. So it’s a big challenge but we’re also a collective leadership. You know and Martin obviously brought his own personality and his own particular way and his say as to all of this but he would be the first to say that he was backed up by a team of Sinn Féin people at the Assembly, the people who worked, you know the Special Advisers (SpADs), both from within the civil service and particularly within Sinn Féin who worked with him, so we’d ensure that the person coming into that job has all that support.
CB: Alright. We will wait and see how that leadership question will be resolved. Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin president, thank you. (ends)