Monday, January 19, 2009
First we take Manhattan
FIRST WE TAKE MANHATTAN. 19 JANUARY 2009.
This blog comes to you from Penn Station New York. At least that’s where it starts. On the train. En route to Washington DC. And to the Inauguration of Barack Obama. I arrived here with our trusty leader, RG McAuley late yesterday. The city as usual was buzzing. And snowing. Go han-fhuar. Up early for a quick walk around the block and then to where I now sit, waiting for the three hour journey to commence. The train is a good way to travel. It also means we get to avoid the Hudson.
This morning’s newspapers are filled with news of the Obama family, tomorrow's inauguration and yesterday's big concert at the National Mall. Seisún iontach mór. There is a great photograph (above) in USA Today of Bruce Springsteen and Pete Seeger bopping it up with This Land is Your Land. Seeger, a special hero of mine, was there risking life and limb during the civil rights struggle and all the other great causes. He and thousands of other unsung, and unsinging, heroes and heroines helped make tomorrow.
Seventy years ago Marian Anderson, a famed American contralto, was banned from singing in the Daughters of the American Revolution’s Constitution Hall because of her skin colour. Instead she performed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to an integrated audience of 75,000. She sang My Country, ‘Tis of Thee. Last night it was sung again. With gusto. Marian helped make tomorrow also.
Today is Martin Luther King Day. That gives tomorrow's event a special significance. He especially made tomorrow.
Barack Obama, I am sure, knows all this and more that I can only speculate about. Expectations here are very high about what he can deliver. I wish him well. Go n-éirí an t-ádh leis. I feel very privileged to be a guest at such a watershed moment in the history of the USA. The world needs change. Republican Ireland will look to the new administration to help encourage movement towards unity and end to the partition of our small island. Plenty of work for Irish America and our friends. The rest of the world including Ireland will look also for peace in the Middle East and Iraq. For even-handedness everywhere. For progress on the big environmental issues. So tomorrow marks the beginning of all that. We hope.
Next week this blog hopes to give you my sense of the Inaurguration. We are only in Washington for one night. Back on the plane tomorrow. Tuesday, to London and then Dublin for the First Dáil celebration on Wednesday. With a good tail wind we should make it.
The Irish government has its commemoration tomorrow. It almost forgot about it. Or at least by the time it remembered it was too late to book the Mansion House. Sinn Féin had got there first. Not that we would have denied the Oireachtas access. No indeed not, as this blog has noted before this. When we were approached we offered to share the space if the event was truly a national one with co-equal speaking rights. No thanks was the reply. Ach well.
But no matter. The focus on these commemorations and the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil should allow some discussion about what all this means for Ireland today. I think we need a national conversation on the core values that we want for our country and our communities.
That will also mean addressing the genuine fears and concerns of unionists. We need to look at ways in which the unionist people can find their place in a new Ireland.
There are many issues for republicans and unionists to talk about. Within the British system, unionists are fewer than two per cent of the population; they cannot hope to have any significant say in the direction of their own affairs. As 20 per cent of a new Ireland, unionists will be able to assert their full rights and entitlements and exercise real political power and influence.
So, our vision of this new Ireland must be a shared Ireland, an integrated Ireland, an Ireland of which unionists have equal ownership.
I believe 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.
The celebration of the First Dáil Éireann is one example of how we can begin to promote and explain the need for a fair, just and united Ireland. See you in the Mansion House. I hope. Bígí linn.