Uniting Ireland Conference Dublin
Mapping out the Road to Irish Unity
On Saturday Sinn Féin held the first of a series of conferences this year on the theme of uniting Ireland.
Several hundred people attended the conference in Dublin’s Rotunda Pillar Room Complex in Parnell Square. A major focus of the conference was the economics of Irish unity. Speakers included, Dr. John Bradley, an economic consultant, who was formerly a Research Professor at the ESRI and regularly advises the European Commission, the World Bank and other international organisations and governments; Dr. Pádraic White, Former IDA Managing Director, Entrepreneur & Chairman Employers Services Board West Belfast and Greater Shankhill; and Michael D'Arcy, a Dublin-based economic and business consultant. Other speakers included Norah Gibbon of Barnardos, Director of Advocacy, and Geoffrey Shannon, Child Law expert; and Rev Gary Mason.
Next week there will be a conference in Cork and later in the year in October another in Galway. Plans are also advanced for a fourth in the north.
These conferences are part of a strategy by Sinn Féin to raise awareness and encourage a national conversation around the goal of a United Ireland and create inclusive platforms for an engagement on this crucially important issue.
In recent years Sinn Féin has held conferences in London, in the United States and in Canada.
These were part of a process of consciously reaching out to the millions who make up the Irish diaspora.
All of the conferences were well attended and have generated activity and momentum around the Uniting Ireland project.
Our friends in Irish America have been particularly successful and resolutions in support of Irish unity have been passed at State, County and City levels in many areas.
But of course, it is here on this island that the arguments and debates and persuasion must take place.
The Dublin conference, and the one in Monaghan last November, are a part of this process.
Partition created two states and two governments on this small island of six million people. As a consequence there there is a significant duplication of public and private services, two sets of currencies, and two tax systems, laws and regulations.
It makes no sense politically, economically or socially except as it was at that time – part of a counter revolution.
Much has changed since then and today, and at a time when every cent or pence is needed to rebuild the economy, this duplication of government and public services is wasteful and costly.
The most recent live register figures for this state show that there are at least 443,400 people unemployed while in the north the figure is around 60,000. At the same time 50,000, mainly young people, will emigrate this year – 1,000 each week.
There is an opportunity to change all of this.
It is inefficient that on an island this small there are two contending political systems; two health services; two education structures; and two economic systems competing with each other for jobs and investment.
The Good Friday Agreement provides a roadmap to build all-island approaches.
Already there are many who accept the logic of an all-island economy, in which all of our interests in health, the environment, education, agriculture, transport, job creation, taxation and strategic investment, are planned together.
Uniting Ireland makes sense. Together is better.
Sinn Féin seeks to erase the border and its adverse impact on the lives of citizens, through practical co-operation and imaginative policies, including the full utilization of the all-island institutions that were created by the Good Friday Agreement.
In the negotiations which led to the Good Friday Agreement Sinn Fein succeeded in getting the British to scrap the Government of Ireland Act through which it claimed jurisdiction over a part of Ireland.
This was a significant development.
Last week in his speech to the Assembly the British Prime Minister David Cameron repeated this position. He said, ‘as the Agreement makes very clear’, the constitutional future of the north does not rest in his hands or those of his government but in the hands of the people.
As a unionist Mr. Cameron made his preference clear but he was equally frank in his public declaration that the British government will always back the democratic wishes of the people whether ‘to remain part of the United Kingdom, as is my strong wish…or whether it’s to be part of a united Ireland’.
Later when he was privately challenged on this by the leader of the UUP the British Prime Minister stuck by this position.
The reality is that contrary to Margaret Thatcher’s claim many years ago, the north is not as British as Finchley!
We need to create a national – all-island – conversation about the kind of new Ireland citizens want to serve the common interest.
Sinn Féin wants a republic.
Our belief is that the interests of citizens and society on this island will be best served by a republican system of governance based on the rights of people. But that is a matter for the people to decide.
There are other models which can be considered, including federal arrangements. They could serve transitional measures or as governmental systems in their own right.
A key part of the debate about the future must be a discussion with unionists about what they mean by Britishness and how a new Ireland – whether or not it is a Republic - can accommodate this.
It also means mapping out the steps necessary in the time ahead to progress toward uniting Ireland.
• The Taoiseach commissioning a Green Paper on Irish unity which would address all aspects of this national and democratic project including its political, social, economic, cultural, legal, administrative and international dimensions.
• A Joint Committee of the Oireachtas on Irish Unity to monitor, assess and report progress on its implementation should be established.
• And a new constitution – discussed and debated and agreed by all sections of people on this island, which would enshrine citizens rights in law.
There is a yearning in Ireland today for a new way forward. Citizens north and south are looking for something new.
They want a society which is equitable and just. The 1916 Proclamation is the template for this. It used language that was appropriate for that time.
We need a new all-Ireland constitution that enshrines the principles and ideals of 1916 and gives expression to them for the 21st century.
Real social, economic and political change is not easily achieved but all those who have a genuine commitment towards building an Irish Republic worthy of the name must work together towards that end.