Towards a United Ireland Campaign in Britain

Published: 25 June, 2008

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, are in London today for a series of meetings, including a public meeting tonight in the London Irish Centre in Camden.

The meetings are part of Sinn Fein’s strategy to advance its goal of Irish re-unification.

The party is embarking on a more active engagement with those in Britain who support Irish unity and is seeking to produce a renewed strategy able to advance republican goals. Mr. Adams spelt out some of that this strategy will entail in the time ahead.

The Sinn Fein leader also spoke about current difficulties in the political process and the important issue of truth and victims.

This is an edited version of Mr. Adams speech.

Towards a United Ireland

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. In the last year in the north Sinn Fein 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 also the outworking of a thoughtful, carefully managed Sinn Fein 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.”

Mr. 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”.

He added:

“And last month there was a very successful Investment Conference for US business. But these are not the only changes to have been brought about by the Good Friday Agreement.

There have been scores. Some hugely significant; others less so but all nonetheless all contributing to a sea change in the political life and fortunes of the people of this island.”

The Sinn Féin leader spoke about current efforts to resolve outstanding issues. He said: “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 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 Agreement.”

In his speech Mr. 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 Fein President set out the party’s confidence in achieving a United Ireland and asked those present to play their part in achieving this goal.

Mr. Adams said:

“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.

In the 1980s as the Sinn Fein leadership was developing our peace strategy we knew that if we were to have any chance of success we needed to internationalise our effort.

Sinn Fein was too small, too isolated, and too under developed to persuade a British government – and at that time a Thatcher and then Major government, to take the steps we were seeking.

It was all the more difficult when the British government, through its connections into the EU and the USA were insisting that the conflict in Ireland was an internal matter and that they should keep out.

But as history now records we confounded our opponents.

Sinn Fein succeeded, primarily through Irish America, to mobilise a political lobby that achieved enormous progress.

Now we want to bring that same strategic thinking and planning to our current strategies and to putting in place a new strategy to achieve our primary goal of Irish reunification.

And we are asking all of those who support Irish unity and the right of the Irish people to determine our own future, to join with us in this extraordinary endeavour, and to make it a genuine movement for change over the next number of years.

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 peoples right to self-determination and independence.

We need to reach out to figures in public life, the business sector and writers and journalists, actors and entertainers, people involved in sport and culture, the arts, academia; wherever there is someone willing to listen and play a role.

We need a concentrated and sustained lobby of all the political parties. And that lobby should not be restricted to the Westminster parliament. We have friends and potential friends and allies in the London, Welsh, and Scottish assemblies, as well as in local government.

But making all of this work; providing the engine for the necessary momentum will be the Irish and our friends in Britain.

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 time scale.

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.” ENDS