Former IRA chief Martin McGuinness says the relative success of the Irish peace process is a “beacon of hope” for other conflicts around the world, including Syria and Iraq. Speaking in Brussels, the deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland also warned of a “certain complacency creeping into the peace process” which, he fears, threatens to undermine its achievements.
McGuinness, addressing a conference in the European Parliament, spoke of his “pride” at what the Irish peace process had achieved, including his relationship with former “bitter” rivals like the late Ian Paisley.
The Sinn Fein politician said, “What we have achieved in the last seven years is quite remarkable and it is no mean achievement. It has surprised not just ourselves but the rest of the world.
“I believe this can serve as a beacon of hope for other conflicts, including those in the Sri Lanka and between the warring factions in Iraq.”
However, McGuinness, who has been in his current post since 2007, warned of possible “instability” in Northern Ireland as a result of current “tensions.”
His comments, at an event organised by the parliament´s GUE group on Tuesday, come said after the UK Coalition government recently announced new round of cross party negotiations in Northern Ireland.
They will focus on the outstanding issues, including disagreements on how to deal with flags, parades and the past.
The latest attempt to overcome outstanding issues in Northern Ireland follow the failure last year of talks led by US diplomat Richard Haass to broker an agreement on flags, parades and the past.
Both the British and Irish governments have come under pressure in recent months about their commitment to a resolution.
McGuinness told an audience of MEPs and other stakeholders that a “certain complacency” had crept into the peace process which needed to be tackled.
The 64-year-old Irish republican said, “We need to remove this complacency from the equation. It is desperately important for the peace process.
“If we fail in these upcoming talks there is a serious risk that all the amazing accomplishments achieved so far will be undermined.”
He also spoke warmly of his relationship in recent times with Dr Paisley, the unionist leader, who died recently and whose memorial service takes place in Belfast on Sunday.
“We used to be bitter political rivals but have worked together to bring peace to the North. It has been very heart warming to be part of this.”
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has said his party stood ready to enter negotiations on political progress on the flags, parades and past issues.
Speaking at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, Northern Ireland secretary of state Theresa Villiers, a former MEP, said,”I fully appreciate how very difficult these issues are, the roots of some of them date back centuries, but there are huge benefits for Northern Ireland if a way can be found to make progress on them.”
By Martin Banks