Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Super storm Sandy and a Border Poll


Martin Ferris TD, Rita O Hare, Jennifer McCann MLA and mise

I was in the USA and Canada for a few days for a series of Sinn Féin events. My first stop was Manhattan.

The media images of the damage wrought on New Jersey and New York by the super storm Sandy became very real with the succession of accounts from friends of the damage they and their families had suffered.

I listened to good, solid Irish American activists, some of whom I have known over many years, and who had lost everything or whose families had suffered dramatically from the violence of Sandy.

For some their homes were gone. Others face months of major rebuilding. Many had been without power – no lighting, no heating - for over a week through bitter cold weather.

As I arrived in New York Mayor Bloomberg was urging citizens with no power to go to the shelters for heat. Another nor-wester was blowing in and the temperature was dropping. Imagine elderly people trapped in their homes at the top of tall apartment buildings with no power and no way of getting down. And thousands of utility workers, public service workers, construction workers and volunteers from the Red Cross and other organisations, desperately trying to provide hot meals to the trapped and those in need.

In some places the damage done by Sandy was apparent in the wrecked homes, or boats lying in the middle of roads or the fallen trees and flooded buildings but the invisible danger brought by the plummeting temperature was even greater.

Despite all of this and as other events were being cancelled, the Friends of Sinn Féin Committee decided to proceed with our annual New York dinner. The packed ballroom last Thursday evening was a testament to their good judgement and the loyalty and commitment of Irish America. It was a great evening made all the more memorable by the late arrival of Martin Ferris TD from the Kingdom of Kerry and Jennifer McCann, Executive Minister and MLA from west Belfast who walked into the ballroom just as I was finishing.

They received a rousing welcome and were swamped by well wishers and folks wanting to have their photos taken with them.

I spoke to many that evening and listened to their stories of devastation and loss and their determination to ensure that Sandy didn’t have the last word. One friend, Regina, who works in the New York City Comptrollers office turned up wearing a beautiful shawl over her jeans and heavy boots. She was leaving the event to go straight back to Breezy Point where over 100 homes had been destroyed in a raging fire during the storm and many other homes in this largely Irish American community were destroyed or badly damaged.

That evening and in subsequent speeches and briefings my main theme was seeking support for a border poll on ending partition and a united Ireland. I specifically urged Irish America to use its considerable influence to persuade political opinion in that country that a United Ireland is in the best strategic interests of the USA and to persuade their new President and Secretary of State to use their considerable influence with the British government to move them in that direction also.

I reminded them that the Good Friday Agreement provides for a border poll on Irish unity and I told them that Sinn Fein in the new year will commence a campaign to achieve this. The support of Irish America and Irish Canadians is very important in this.

I noticed that Nigel Dodds of the DUP was out almost immediately out of the blocks dismissing my remarks and claiming that I am "detached from reality”.

According to Nigel, "The DUP is not concerned about the likelihood of such a poll being held, nor are we worried about what the outcome would be”.

Well if that is true and not just bravado then I expect to receive Nigel’s support when we begin our campaign for a border poll in the new year. Let him put his confidence to the test.

The next day your man and I were up early to catch a packed train to Philadelphia. I was the guest speaker at the annual dinner of the Irish Society.

The United Ireland Cup
The last leg of the journey took us in Canada. The Toronto Gaelic Athletic Association inaugural United Ireland Cup was being contested and it was my task to present the Cup, sponsored by Friends of Sinn Féin, to the winners of the competition. It was a tremendous success and I enjoyed several hours of great sport. Over 200 players and fans gathered at Polson Pier for the tournament. The winners were: Men – Connaught: Women – Canada: Co-ed Under Sixteens - the Chieftains.

When it was over we have a briefing session with some senior Canadian politicians and trade unionists, including Joe Comartin MP, Olivia Chow MP, OFL President Sid Ryan, Toronto City Councillor Pam McConnell, Pickering City Councillor Kevin Ashe, former Saskatchewan Attorney General Chris Axworthy, and Carolyn Egan President of the United Steelworkers Toronto Area Council. Also at the briefing were activists from the Quebec Ireland Committee in Montreal and the Ottawa Group for the Irish Unity Pledge.

And finally, the annual dinner was another packed affair. Over 200 people attended the event. There was also strong representation from the Gaelic Athletic Association, the Laborers International Union, the Ironworkers, and the Steelworkers.

All in all it was an eventful few days on the other side of the Atlantic speaking to friends of Ireland, as well as of Sinn Féin, and preparing the ground for the next phase in the struggle – a border poll on ending partition.

I also got to see my favourite Aunt Rita. She unfortunately isn’t well but I was delighted to spend quality time with her and my Canadian cousins. So was your man.


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