McGuinness says ready to help with Basque peace

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Martin McGuinness, the ex-IRA commander turned Northern Ireland's deputy first minister, said Wednesday he is ready to help seize a "golden opportunity" to forge a lasting peace in the Basque Country.

McGuinness was the chief negotiator for Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army paramilitaries, during the process that brought about the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Joined in Dublin by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams on one of his final campaign stops ahead of Thursday's Irish presidential election -- polls put McGuinness third out of seven -- he said last week's decision by Basque separatists ETA to end their armed campaign should be seized upon.

Asked if he would be prepared to help personally, the 61-year-old McGuinness told AFP: "Absolutely. Gerry Adams has been to the Basque Country, I've been there myself.

"Our hearts go out to everybody in the Basque Country and in Spain and all those people who want to see a peaceful resolution of the conflict now have, I think, a golden opportunity which they should seize with both hands.

"That applies to people in the Basque Country and the people who are leading the Spanish government."

He said that entering a political negotiation meant dealing with tough choices.

"Once you go into a political negotiation you're not going to get everything that you're looking for, so some compromises will have to be made.

"But compromise isn't a dirty word as long as the compromise is an honourable compromise.

"That's what we did and as a result of that we are now, effectively, part of what is seen as one of the most successful peace processes in the word today."

The Northern Ireland peace accords largely ended the three decades of sectarian violence between Protestants loyal to Britain and Catholics wanting to get the area out of the United Kingdom and into the Republic of Ireland.

© 2011 AFP

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