Deputy First Minister opens Hidden Connections

Martin McGuinness opens Slavery Exhibition at the Linen Hall Library

Opening the Hidden Connections - Ulster and Slavery exhibition at the Linen Hall Library, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness thanked the President and Governors of the Library and congratulated all involved in the exhibition's production.

Exploring the links between Ulster and the Slave Trade, the exhibition opens as a nationwide programme of events marking the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the United Kingdom.

'I would like to congratulate everyone who has been involved in putting together this impressive exhibition, which I know forms the heart of an extensive programme of events to be held over the coming weeks,' said McGuinness.

'I think it is particularly appropriate that it should be the Linen Hall Library which is putting on this exhibition. Many of the founder members of the Library were key figures in the fight against slavery in the North.

'As the title of the exhibition implies, Ireland’s involvement in the slave trade has remained largely hidden. It has long been assumed that society here had little or no involvement in the slave trade. But the slave trade was enormously significant to the history of this island. There were many people in the north and south of the island who were involved, either as opponents of slavery or as traders with the slave colonies.'

The Deputy First Minister acknowledged the legacy of the slave trade, and that insidious forms of modern slavery persist today.

'Many will be familiar with Daniel O’Connell’s statement to the House of Commons in 1831 when he said that “Ireland has its glory, that no slave ship was ever launched from any of its numerous ports”. While this is true, we need to face the fact that many Irish people became rich on the proceeds of black slavery.

'And we should pay tribute to the many people, form all walks of life and all traditions, who campaigned and fought against slavery.

'Looking back today, it is hard to believe that slavery was ever acceptable. Slavery was the manifestation of racism and greed. Sadly, it continues to this day with an estimated 20 million people living their lives in slavery and servitude.'

The Minister highlighted the importance of leading by example, and of the the role of local action in challenging racism and sectarianism.

'Slavery has left behind its own pernicious legacy of the racism that was developed to justify the vile trade in human beings. We continue to witness racism in our own society here. It the responsibility of everyone to challenge it when it occurs. Government itself, of course, has a vital role to play in leading the fight against racism and it is important that we lead by example.

'We recognise that the long standing divisions in our community, combined with the recent increase in migration here, call for an imaginative and pro-active approach to improving good relations and combating discrimination.

'If we are truly to build the better shared future which the First Minister and I spoke about during the Programme for Government debate a few weeks ago, we must acknowledge and tackle all forms of division and prejudice, whatever their basis.

'Some of you may be aware that we have had two extremely helpful debates in the Assembly on a shared future and the racial equality strategy. In the course of these debates OFMDFM committed to “bring forward detailed plans, consistent with the pledge of office, to promote the interests of the whole community towards the goal of a shared future and a prosperous, peaceful and settled society” and “proposals for… detailed plans for the period 2008-2011 to achieve racial equality and an inclusive society for our increasingly diverse community”.

'At the core of these proposals will be action to tackle racism and sectarianism.

'We intend to bring forward these proposals for discussion with the Committee of the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister and in the Assembly, within the next few months.

'However, I would say now that we see local action as the cornerstone of our future work. To build a new society here – to develop the construction analogy – local action is the cornerstone; local communities and local councils are the building blocks; and relationships are the mortar which holds it all together.

'People’s life opportunities continue to be curtailed and their lives blighted by sectarianism and racism. Both sectarianism and racism, and fear of them, limit where our people work, where they play, where they shop, where they socialise – and even where they worship.

'We cannot have meaningful equality in a society which remains profoundly segregated. Genuine equality of opportunity is only possible if people have the opportunity to live in the way that they value and would choose.

'To close, let me just reiterate, the commitment of the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister to embracing the development of a diverse and equal society, with all the challenges and opportunities that entails.

'I fully recognise that this will not be easy. Nor will change happen overnight. There are no quick fixes. But perhaps we can all draw inspiration from the people whose courage and determination we are celebrating today.'Hidden Connections: click to view previous articleHidden Connections: click to view next article