Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Words on Wednesday...with Philip McGuigan

Philip McGuigan MLAWelcome to this week's Words on Wednesday feature, a concept pioneered right here on United Irelander, which sees me interview various figures from all walks of Irish political life.

Taking my questions this week is Sinn Féin MLA for North Antrim Philip McGuigan.

I'd like to thank Mr McGuigan for very kindly taking the time to answer my questions. With that being said, let's begin:

What initially attracted you to political life?

Growing up I noticed the obvious inequalities in life for Nationalists living in the North. From my perception I concluded that passive observation wasn’t enough. The British presence in Ireland and its detrimental impact on Irish citizens had to be challenged. It made sense therefore to become active in politics.

You are a Sinn Féin MLA for North Antrim. Talk us through a typical day in your life.

At the minute with the absence of working institutions my activities can be varied from day to day. I have a busy constituency office which deals with many problems on behalf of the entire community of North Antrim. I also attend quite a few meetings on constituency and political issues both in North Antrim and all across Ireland.

I have interviewed another North Antrim MLA, Seán Farren, here on United Irelander. How do you view the relationship between Sinn Féin and the SDLP in your constituency?

The relationship between Sinn Féin and the SDLP in North Antrim I would describe as professional. We have different political positions on many issues and agree on others. I would obviously prefer to work a lot closer with parties and politicians to insure greater change and benefit for our constituents. I suppose the fact that Sinn Féin has now firmly replaced the SDLP as the voice of Nationalism and Republicanism in this constituency has had an impact on their outlook. Many decisions that they take on local authorities disappoint me.

If you could change three things about Irish society, north or south, what would you change and why?

There are many positive aspects of Irish life: our culture, language, the GAA etc. I would change certain aspects of life here though if I could. Firstly and obviously the political decision making process. I want to see a united Ireland with the people in the 32 counties of Ireland deciding their own futures.

In our society today there is a growing element of racism and intolerance in certain quarters towards people viewed as different throughout this island. This is inexcusable and I would like this to change. In the North we have all experienced the problems of sectarianism and bigotry. I as a political representative am working to ensure that Ireland is a welcoming place for people of all religions, colour and culture.

Another issue to be tackled in Ireland today is the widening gap between the wealthy and the deprived. As we celebrate the 90th Anniversary of 1916 I aspire to see the dreams of the proclamation implemented and we can all share from the benefits of a prosperous nation.

What are your thoughts on a United Ireland?

Naturally I would wish to wake up tomorrow in a United Ireland. This isn’t because of some sort of rose tinted idealism. I believe that the people of this island are much better equipped to make our own decisions about issues affecting our daily lives on our own without the active inference of the British. This is a small nation with over 5 million people. I think more and more people are seeing the practical benefits in single all Ireland policies whether this be to benefit the economy, education or health systems, tourism or agriculture.

What should be done to improve the situation in NI?

The full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement would be the starting point. Positive leadership particularly from Unionism would also be helpful. The days of second class citizenship for Northern Nationalists are long gone. We need unionism to realise this and deal with us as their equals. Through working together everyone can benefit.

What are your thoughts on the Easter Rising and how do you intend to mark the occasion?

The Easter Rising was obviously the most momentous event in recent Irish history. It laid the foundations for removing the British presence in part of Ireland. Those who took part in the Rising deserve the admiration of us all. The Proclamation read by Pearse is inspirational and completely relevant in the 21st century.

I don’t thing the 26 county government idea of a military ceremony to mark the 90th Anniversary is appropriate. More thought should focus on how all the people on this island could play a part in the celebrations. This Easter I will be taking part in local commemorations to mark not only the Rising but to remember brave Irish men and woman who made the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of Irish freedom. I hope that by the time the 100th Anniversary comes around that the dream of Pearse, Connolly and others will be realised.

Do you think Sinn Féin and the DUP can work together effectively? When I put this question to Seán Farren he said Sinn Féin needed to "stop prevaricating over involvement in and support for the new policing arrangements". Your thoughts on that?

Sinn Féin is a serious political party. We are the 3rd largest on this island and we are prepared to work with all party’s who have a mandate and that includes the DUP. This happened in committees during the life of the Northern assembly and it happens in councils were Sinn Féin are in majority position.

With regards to Sean Farren’s comments on policing, I think the electorate certainly supports our stance. They know that this type of sectarian, political and partisan policing service needs to be replaced. The SDLP have been unable to affect the change from within the Policing Board. Only by achieving legislative change can we bring about a new beginning to policing. Sinn Féin is determined to achieve this.

Sinn Féin are the only all-Ireland party. Do you think Fianna Fáil for example should follow suit and work on a 32 county basis?

Yes, Sinn Féin have quite clearly brought the aim of reunification to the fore. This has forced others to follow many of our policies. I want to see all political parties organised and operating in a 32 county governed Ireland. Fianna Fail are good about talking republican politics. Unfortunately rhetoric is were it ends.

What are your thoughts on the current conflict in Iraq right now and Ireland's position?

The war in Iraq was wrong. I disagree fundamentally with the US and British foreign policy. Ireland should play no part in supporting them in their war. This includes allowing Shannon airport to be used for transportation of prisoners to bases of torture.

Where should Ireland be twenty years from now?

United is the short answer. But more than that it should be in a place as envisaged in 1916 were all ‘the children of the nation are cherished equally’. It should be a place were poverty is eradicated and were we have a health and education system we can be proud of.

I was personally very disappointed to see the Taoiseach backtrack in relation to giving Northern MPs speaking rights in the Oireachtas. What are your thoughts on that?

I’m also very disappointed. This goes back to one of my earlier answers. If Bertie Ahern is a Republican then the doors of our National Parliament should be open to elected representatives in the North. My suspicions are that Bertie’s policies on the North are to do more with electoral consideration in the South than trying to bring peace and justice in Ireland. As an Irish citizen my rights are being diminished. The president of Ireland can come from the North but yet we who live in the six counties cannot vote for her. This also needs addressed.

Sinn Féin have made great strides in the Republic in recent years. Will they be in government in the South do you think?

I certainly hope so. I see Sinn Féin as being politically motivated to bring about change. The greater the mandate we receive the greater change we can make. I want Sinn Féin to be the government of the island of Ireland one day. In the meantime we will work hard to increase our support particularly in the South.

How do you think the British government feels about NI?

It is difficult to answer that conclusively. As an Irish Republican I see mixed messages. If the current British Government is genuine about ending conflict in Ireland it needs to stand up to the DUP in particular and implement in full what the people voted for in the GFA. It should stand up to the securocrats in its own system that are continually (as we seen over the collapse of the Northern Assembly) trying to continue their war.

I've read on the Sinn Féin website that you are a keen supporter of Irish culture and that your children are being educated through Irish. What do you think should be done to improve the state of the national language? Do you personally think Irish should be a required subject for Leaving Cert students?

Again more leadership is needed by the Government. More funding and resources should be put into our native language. Everybody should have the right to send their children to Irish medium schools. I do also believe that Irish should be a required subject and that more opportunities should be made available of broadcasting in television and radio through the medium of Irish.

What would you say to someone from the North reading now who isn't sure who to vote for in the next general election?

Look at the record of Sinn Féin over the recent years. We have been the driving force behind the peace process and the attempt to create a just, human rights based society here in the North. The constituency service that we provide is second to none and we will continue to campaign on the social and economic issues that are important to all our communities.

Finally, I'd like to play a small round of word association. I'm sure you know what it entails. Basically just outline what word comes into your head when you hear the following names:

Bertie Ahern - Fraud
Tony Blair - Last Brit Prime Minister in Ireland (Sorry more than a word)
George W. Bush - Lunatic
Mary McAleese - Decent
Ian Paisley - Bigot
Gerry Adams - Genius
Mark Durkan - Waffler
Michael McDowell - Right-wing
Padraig Pearse - Heroic
Philip McGuigan - Not enough space!

Information on who I will interview next week should be posted up in the next few days. Be sure to keep clicking in to United Irelander for all you need to know on Irish politics.


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