Northern Ireland Official
By LYNNE TUOHY
The Hartford Courant
March 17, 2001
HARTFORD - Friday was Martin McGuinness Day in
Hartford, by proclamation of the city council, and the
Northern Ireland minister of education was on hand briefly to
accept the honor and vow that peace would prevail over
political animosities and the violence that has flared anew in
McGuinness, a member of the Sinn Fein party, which
advocates a united Ireland and an end to British control over
the northern six counties, was among the small cadre of
politicians who negotiated the 1998 Good Friday peace
agreement. The agreement is the foundation of the Northern
Ireland Assembly, which includes representatives from the
major political parties and is another landmark effort at
self-rule by the territory.
"It was a huge challenge to come together, sit down and
sensibly move forward,'' McGuinness said of the
negotiations, adding that it never would have happened
without the help of then-President Clinton and other U.S.
officials and support.
"There are people, mostly in the unionist community, mostly
led by Ian Paisley, who are hell-bent on destroying the
agreement. There are loyalists and death squads hell-bent
on destroying the agreement.'' And, he acknowledged, "there
is a small group of dissident republicans hell-bent on
destroying the agreement.''
What those who would undermine the agreement forget,
McGuinness said, is that the majority of the people of
Northern Ireland - Catholic and Protestant, unionist,
nationalist and republican alike - endorsed the historic peace
pact in a referendum in May 1998.
But the integrity of the agreement and continued existence
of the Assembly are in jeopardy, amid accusations of bad
faith and broken promises. The unionists, who favor British
rule and are led by Assembly First Minister David Trimble,
blame the Sinn Fein-allied Irish Republican Army for not
promptly handing over its weapons. For its part, the British
government has reneged on pledges to overhaul the Royal
Ulster Constabulary police force and to remove its military
installations throughout the six counties.
The Assembly continues to meet weekly, however, and
McGuinness has infused the education system with funds
for much-needed renovations and construction, and is
making headway toward eliminating the controversial 11-plus
exam. The test is given to the 10- and 11-year-old students
each year, and determines whether they proceed to college
preparatory classes or are routed to a curriculum geared
more to a life of blue-collar labor.
This week, McGuinness said, both major parties in Northern
Ireland - the Ulster Unionist Party and the Social,
Democratic and Labour Party - endorsed eliminating the
On his lapel Friday, McGuinness wore a simple round pin
with a bright green stone and no lettering. Asked if it was a
Sinn Fein party pin, McGuinness explained that it's the
symbol of a campaign for the prevention of cruelty to
"As education minister, I've made it clear the only emblem I
would wear is one acceptable to everyone,'' McGuinness
said. "It's a gesture.''
McGuinness visited Kentucky and New York before coming
to Hartford Friday morning. He left Hartford for stops in
Springfield, Boston and Toronto. His rallying cry is for
continued U.S. support - political and public - for the quest
for peace and justice in Northern Ireland.
When he returns to Derry, McGuinness will carry with him
his Hartford council proclamation, a Connecticut flag and a
framed photograph of the Celtic monument at Bobby Sands
Circle on Maple Avenue in Hartford - a monument to the 10
IRA hunger strikers whose deaths 20 years ago propelled
the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland.
And he left behind a vision, one his audience endorsed with
a sustained standing ovation.
"The year 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the Easter
uprising in Dublin,'' McGuinness told more than 100
lawmakers and supporters gathered at the state Legislative
Office Building Friday morning. "I am confident, if the Good
Friday agreement is fully implemented, we can, by 2016,
see an end to British rule in our country. That's the objective
we have before us.''