|Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP MLA, Party Chairperson Mary Lou McDonald MEP, and Conor Murphy MP MLA, Minister for the Department of Regional Development in the Northern Ireland Executive, spoke in London on 25 June, in one of a series of meetings designed to advance Sinn Féin’s goal of Irish reunification.
Gerry Adams made the following points:
“This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. In the last year, in the north, Sinn Féin has entered into a power-sharing government with the DUP. Until recently, Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley led the executive. Today it is Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson as equal partners who lead the executive.
“For many people, all of this must seem incredible – unimaginable. And in many ways it is. But it is also the outworking of a thoughtful, carefully managed Sinn Féin strategy whose primary political goals remain unchanged: an end to partition, an end to the union with Britain, a new relationship between Ireland and our nearest off-shore island, and the construction of a new national democracy – a new republic – on the island of Ireland, with reconciliation between orange and green.
“That is the context of all our endeavours. These objectives shaped our peace strategy; our engagement with the British and Irish governments, with unionists and others; and our efforts to construct a peace process and achieve a political agreement.
“And it is important that you understand that the achievement of the Good Friday Agreement, and the formation of the executive, the assembly and the all-Ireland Ministerial Council and other institutional arrangements, have not ended our efforts to secure Irish unity and independence.
“On the contrary, the political institutions are part of our political strategy – markers – on the road to achieving our priority goals.”
Comrade Adams set out some of the progress that has been made since the Good Friday Agreement and in the last year, including; “agreement on a programme for government, a budget and an investment strategy. The all-Ireland political institutions are up and running.”
The Sinn Féin leader explained that the Good Friday Agreement was viewed by his party as a “bridge” that was helping to create a more level playing field for the nationalist population; a step on the way to resolving the bigger issue of a sovereign and peaceful united Ireland, characterised by the equality of all its citizens and free from all colonial interference.
He explained the need to mobilise the support of as broad a section of the population as possible for each step of the political process, and spoke about current efforts to resolve outstanding issues, saying:
“We still have a lot to do. There are difficulties to address and nobody should seek to minimise these or ignore them.
“The devolution of policing and justice powers away from Whitehall and into the hands of Irish political leaders is not an optional extra for the DUP. An Acht na Gaeilge [Irish Language Act] is not an optional extra. These are part of an agreement made between all of the parties and the two governments.
“Sinn Féin has recently entered into a negotiation with the DUP and the two governments. We do not envisage this being a long process. The outstanding issues from St Andrews, including the Irish Language Act, can be sorted out if there is the necessary political leadership and resolve.
“But let me be very clear. The rights and entitlements of citizens cannot and will not be subject to the whims of the most right-wing or reactionary elements within political unionism. We will simply not allow it.
“The potential for progress that exists has to be turned into delivery. That is the key word – delivery. If this process is not delivering for citizens than it is failing and we may need to return to the drawing board.
“I believe this process can deliver. I believe the institutions can deliver. But only if there is political will on the part of the DUP leadership to do that, and if not then there is an onus on the two governments to fulfil their obligations under the Good Friday and St Andrew’s agreements.”
In his speech, Comrade Adams also addressed the issue of victims and truth. He said:
“One of the important advances to have been made is the equal recognition of victims and survivors from every background – particularly republicans and state forces – in the composition of the new Victims Commission.
“Sinn Féin is totally committed to ensuring the past is dealt with in a manner that treats all victims equally and focuses on acknowledgement, apology and truth. In other words, there can be no drawing a line under the past. There has to be closure.
“To ensure this, society as a whole has a responsibility to create a credible mechanism, based on international scrutiny and independent of the parties to the conflict, which can examine not only individual bereavement as a result of the conflict but also the causes, nature and extent of the conflict itself.”
And the Sinn Féin president set out the party’s confidence in achieving a united Ireland and asked those present to play their part in achieving this goal:
“I believe that, as a result of our efforts, the people of Ireland are closer to bringing about Irish unity than at any time in our past. There is growing support for Irish unity and there is a growing awareness of the importance of the all-Ireland economy to our nation’s future prosperity and growth.
“But none of this will happen by chance. Republicans need to set out how we can reach this historic goal and create the conditions for a united Ireland ...
“We have to develop a viable strategy, and positive arguments around that strategy, that can win the assent of unionists, or a significant section of unionists to a united Ireland.
“Some unionist leaders have recently begun expressing concern at what they describe as ‘apathy’ among unionist voters. It is clear that some unionist leaders are fearful that a substantial section of the unionist electorate is increasingly becoming indifferent to politics.
“They are afraid that that may evolve into an indifference to the union, and they know that the potential exists to persuade a section of the unionist electorate that partition does not serve their best interests and that a united Ireland does.
“And to achieve our goals we need to mobilise opinion here in Britain, not just among the Irish in Britain but also among progressive organisations and individuals.
“So, Sinn Féin is asking people in Britain to join with us in becoming persuaders for Irish reunification: to sign up for a campaign which seeks to forge a new and positive relationship between Ireland and Britain, based on mutual respect, and an acceptance of the Irish people’s right to self-determination and independence.”
Gerry and Mary Lou both emphasised that the question of a 32-county Irish republic is not the concern of Irish republicans alone; that it is a national-democratic project that all progressive people should be supporting, and that it is an issue of vital importance for British workers and progressives in particular.
They spoke about the need to rally the widest possible support to create an “engine” that would help to mobilise the most diverse voices from all over Britain, Ireland and elsewhere, and drive the campaign for Irish unity forward.
Reminding the audience of all that had been sacrificed and achieved to date by many generations of Irish republicans and their supporters, Gerry said that it had been a “hard auld trudge”, but that if we were prepared to shake ourselves up and do a “wee bit more”, a united Ireland was surely within our grasp.
Summing up the party’s position, Comrade Adams said:
“Our message is simple:
“The Irish people have the right to independence and self-determination. Partition will end. Irish reunification will happen.
“Irish unity makes sense. Political sense. Economic sense. And it is in the best interests of the great majorities in Ireland and Britain.
“The Good Friday Agreement provides a legislative, peaceful and democratic route to achieve this. And the economic and demographic dynamics in Ireland make Irish reunification a realistic objective within a reasonable timescale.
“We need your support and the support of the Irish in Britain, as well as of progressive forces in Britain to achieve this.
“Tonight's event is, I believe, an important first step in opening up a debate in Britain around the goal of achieving Irish unity.”
Reminding the audience that the creation of a unified and independent Ireland was a task that was far bigger and more important than any particular political party, Gerry referred to the anecdotes of today’s expatriate Irish who often talk about how great it is now to go back home, saying “If it’s good going back now, how much better would it be to go back to a united Ireland and know that you had been a part of creating that?”
Comrade Adams ended by quoting Easter Rising leader Pádraig Pearse’s famous poem, ‘The Fool’. In the poem, the poet contrasts the apparently reckless squandering of his youth with the behaviour of all the “wise men” who consider his striving after a free Ireland as nothing more than a crazy dream, and replies:
“O wise men, riddle me this: what if the dream come true?
“What if the dream come true? and if millions unborn shall dwell
“In the house that I shaped in my heart, the noble house of my thought?”
Our job, said Gerry, is to make the dream come true.