By JOHN COULTER Irish political journalist
THE sectarian war in Ireland is over, but the war on racism has begun.
That was the pledge from Sinn Fein’s newly re-elected deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness as a new post Paisley era in the Northern peace process got underway.
And he also warned the political honeymoon period for himself and new First Minister Peter Robinson of the DUP was already over.
Speaking at Stormont, Mr McGuinness unveiled his strategy for the future development of political stability in the North.
Sinn Féin deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness spoke in the Assembly following the nomination of Mr Robinson and himself as First and deputy First Minister.
McGuinness said: ‘I thank my party leader and friend Gerry Adams for the nomination as Deputy First Minister. I accept this post fully aware of the responsibility and the potential of the post as a co-equal partner in leading this Executive.
‘I wish to congratulate Peter Robinson on his appointment. I agree with Peter that neither of us are afraid of hard work and I look forward to working with him in the time ahead.
‘I am conscious that leading the Executive along with Peter Robinson brings a high level of expectation. We must deliver a real and marked improvement in people’s lives. How we conduct our business and resolve our differences impacts directly on this task.
‘I am an Irish Republican. I want to see a re-united Ireland created by peaceful and democratic means. I want to see the unity of the Orange and the Green.
‘I am committed to working these institutions with the new First Minister, a committed unionist.
Delivering for all of our community, for citizens and for the most disadvantaged and bringing about change does not impact on our respective political ideologies.
‘I am also committed to working with every party and member in this Assembly in delivering a new and better future.
‘The eyes of the world have been upon us in the course of recent years, as regions have looked to Ireland and our peace process as an example of conflict resolution. I have no doubt that this will continue into the future as we seek to continue as a society moving forward in partnership.
‘Despite what the cynics and begrudgers might say over the past year we have made huge progress.
We have achieved what many said was impossible. We are in a stable power sharing and all-Ireland institutions. We have agreed a Programme for Government, a Budget and an investment strategy.
‘There is much hurt within every section of our community. People have lost loved ones and many others have been injured in the course of the conflict. They are an important constituency. And we now have in place a Commission to address the needs of victims and survivors.
‘As an Executive we are pro-actively tackling the divisions within our society and will continue to do so.
‘Across a range of issues we have confounded the critics and from differing positions we came to effective agreement. We have shown that we can work together. Peter Robinson and myself were part of the Executive which has achieved this and I am committed to working with Peter Robinson positively as we meet the new challenges which we now face.
‘The all-Ireland political institutions are up and running and delivering for all of the people on this island. They offer us an island wide approach to dealing with problems and offering solutions and bringing benefit to all of us.
‘Over the past year, the institutions have been bedded down under the leadership of Ian Paisley and myself. It has indeed been a remarkably historic year.
‘From the beginning both of us treated each other with respect, and I wish to pay tribute to Ian Paisley for his role in this and I wish him and his wife Eileen well in the future. Throughout the past year, we have enjoyed much support and goodwill from the people of Ireland.
‘But we are now entering a new phase. As far as I am concerned, the honeymoon period is over. This is now about hard work. People out there are expecting results. We come here to deliver for the people.
‘Our people want a future for their children and prosperity at a time when the cost of living is spiralling. We must continue to grow our economy in order to generate wealth to deliver effective public services and protect the most vulnerable in our society.
‘The recent Investment Conference was a success and I am confident that it will lead to tangible results.
‘Our people want an end to division and to be valued equally. As an Irish Republican I want equality for everyone not just republicans and nationalists. We must promote tolerance and celebrate our cultural and linguistic diversity.
‘We must be open to the new communities who have enriched our society in recent years and we must stand with them in the battle against racism.
‘The war is over. Ian Paisley in generous remarks, after a meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council in Armagh, said that we had to end the divisions and old hatreds on our island.
‘That means pro-actively tackling the scourge of sectarianism. Difference in our past meant division. In the future we need to ensure that difference isn’t seen as a threat but instead as something to cherish and celebrate.
‘We need to start talking to each other and not at each other. And we as political leaders must take the lead,’ said McGuinness.
‘Our people want to feel safe in their homes and on the streets. I want to see this Assembly having the powers on policing and justice to ensure that this happens.
‘We must continue investing in health, education and the elderly.
‘We face significant challenges in the global economy with rising prices and a down turn in the housing market. We also face challenges as we journey out of conflict and attempt to reconcile our past with a new and better future.
‘I believe that despite all of the challenges which lie ahead we will continue to make progress across the island.
‘We are determined to bring an early conclusion to the talks which will begin tomorrow to resolve all of the outstanding issues from the St. Andrews Agreement. The public want stability and progress and acting together with the new First Minister we intend to deliver both.
‘In a speech in the United States in 2006, the new First Minister made the following remarks;
“I hope that the sons and daughters of the Planter and Gael have found a way to share the land of their birth and live together in peace.”
‘I share that hope and as joint First Ministers, the new First Minister and I, as the leaders of the Planter and the Gael, are charged with the responsibility to lead the way on behalf of the Executive.’