Sinn Fein is committed to peace and there can be no return to the past, Martin McGuinness, the party's chief negotiator said yesterday. Speaking at Sinn Fein's annual conference in Dublin, Mr McGuinness blamed Unionists for the breakdown in the power-sharing agreement and said that Britain's suspension of the province's short-lived government earlier this year was a "huge blunder".
"One thing is clear: it [the suspension] had little to do with decommissioning and everything to do with the antics of some Unionist politicians locked in a time warp and who are dedicated to preventing change," he said.
Mr McGuinness, MP for Mid Ulster, was speaking at the second day of the party conference. On Saturday, he had denied firing the opening shot that lead to the massacre of 14 unarmed Catholics by British paratroops on Bloody Sunday in 1972. British intelligence reports passed to the Saville Inquiry last week claimed that Mr McGuinness, then an IRA officer in Londonderry, had fired at British soldiers.
In his presidential address, Gerry Adams had denounced the allegations against Mr McGuinness: "In an Orwellian stroke, the British military tried to distract attention from its responsibility for the deaths of 14 civilians and pointed the finger at none other than Martin McGuinness." Mr Adams also warned that the collapse of the peace process meant that the IRA may resume hostilities.
In yesterday's keynote speech, Mr McGuinness alleged that Unionist demands for de-commissioning indicated their resistance to power-sharing and were about blocking political programmes. "Let me be clear, Sinn Fein are absolutely committed to a peaceful resolution of this conflict. That is a certainty."
He said that Peter Mandelson, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, had "floundered in the face of Unionist opposition to change". He said that Unionists were "prisoners" of the past and warned: "There is no going back to that past."
Meanwhile, US Republican Congressman Peter King denounced the British Government for suspending the new political institutions at Stormont in February.