Saturday, March 10, 2012
There will be a border poll
Gulladuff is a small picturesque village in south County Derry. It’s home to an impressive Republican Garden of Remembrance, Lavey GAC grounds and one of the best Sinn Féin centres in Ireland.
I travelled there this morning for the Annual General Meeting of the party’s Cuige organisation. Scores of party activists came to discuss recent developments and strategise on party plans for the next year.
It was a very good meeting on the back of what has been a good year for the party. Since the Cuige last met the party has fought a general election in the south, as well as Seanad, Assembly, Local Government and Presidential elections and the Dublin West by-election.
Most political parties would fell stressed after fighting one election! But the Sinn Féin organisation rose to the challenge and by any standards we have had a good year electorally. And now we’re preparing for the referendum contest on the European austerity treaty.
We are also moving into the second phase of a new approach to party membership which is all about opening up our structures and facilitating a growth in membership and participation in Sinn Féin activities by ever greater numbers of people.
We have established new structures to manage the day-to-day running of party activity and have also re-organised our youth structures.
At the same time the last year has also held a series of major conferences promoting our united Ireland objective.
We are entering a period in which the anniversaries of a series of seminal events in Irish history that culminated in the partition of Ireland will be commemorated.
This provides a unique opportunty to examine the legacy of partition and to initiate a public debate on the desirablilty and viability of a new, united Ireland that can serve the interests of all our people.
During the week the British Secretary of State Owen Patterson entered that debate by dismissing the possibility of a border poll.
He has also blocked an enquiry into the killing of Human Rights lawyer Pat Finucane despite this being part of an inter-governmental agreement at Weston Park.
He is also blocking a Bill of Rights.
And he has been less than helpful on other matters like the Irish language.
And his imprisonment of Marion Price is entirely stupid and unjust.
But Mr. Patterson would not be one the most adroit or skillful British Secretaries of State to have been imposed on us. His remarks on the border poll have to be seen in this context.
Mr. Patterson is also a supporter of the Union. That is the position of his government at this time. Sinn Féin is not naive about this. The Tory party had to be pulled kicking and squealing into the peace process.
But now under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement the Tory/lib Dem government has specific obligations.
Despite the foot dragging that has characterised its attitude to this agreement and other agreements so far, Sinn Féin has no intention of acquiescing to British Tory game playing. Owen Patterson is but one of a long line of political overlords that Irish republicans have had to deal with, with great patience in the past.
Obviously there are elements of the Good Friday Agreement that Owen Patterson is unhappy about but he should not presume to arrogantly dictate to people here how we will conduct our affairs. Those days are over.
There will be a united Ireland. By definition that will come when the people of our island have formed a cordial union of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter.
When a border poll is held Owen Patterson will have no vote on that issue. That is as it should be, entirely a matter for the people of Ireland.
The political landscape in the North has been transformed in recent years and there is growing support for a united Ireland.
A border poll is inevitable. Mr Patterson knows this. It is only a matter of timing. The united Ireland that Sinn Féin seeks is inclusive.
All elements of society on the island of Ireland must be comfortable and secure in the system of governance that is agreed.
It is essential that everyone has the fullest expression of their identity without intruding on the rights and entitlements of others. Diversity, equality and tolerance is the key to this.
Sinn Féin wants a united Ireland. Both governments are obliged to legislate for this. And as we continue building towards a united Ireland, Sinn Féin must also offer solutions to the problems faced by citizens in the here and now.
We want a New Republic rooted in citizens rights and people centred.
That also means the right to a decent quality of life, a job and social protections.