Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Constitution for a new Republic

Martin McGuinness, Mary Lou McDonald, Tom Arnold, Chairperson of the Constitutional Convention and mise

Saturday saw the inaugural meeting of the Constitutional Convention. 100 delegates from political parties and randomly selected citizens have come together for the next year to discuss and make recommendations on changing the constitution on 8 specific areas, including reducing the Presidential term of office to five years; reducing the voting age to 17; giving citizens resident outside the State the right to vote in Presidential elections at Irish embassies, or otherwise; provision for same-sex marriage, and following completion of the above reports, to make other relevant constitutional amendments they may feel appropriate.
Unionist parties who were invited to participate have declined the invitation. However, the SDLP, the Alliance and the Green Party from the north are taking part.

Martin McGuinness and Mary Lou McDonald and I are the three representatives from Sinn Féin. Addressing the Convention I said that even “though Sinn Féin is disappointed at the way the government has limited this initiative I want to commend the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste for proceeding with it and give them fraternal notice of our intent to work with all delegates to achieve the fullest potential of this Convention.

Sinn Féin welcomes especially the adjustments at our request to the process which include the requirement that the Convention give ‘appropriate regard’ to the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Cuirim fáilte romhaibh uilig anseo inniu chuig an chead chruinniú den Tionol Bunreachtúil

Buíochas fosta don Justice Ó Hógáin, an tOllamh Dermot Keogh, an tOllamh David Farrell agus an Dochtúir Jane Suiter as a gcuid ionchur.

I want to commend all the participants.

I remain hopeful that the unionist parties will yet see the value of taking part.

We should continue to try and persuade them to participate.

And to those citizens who have agreed to embark on this extraordinary journey on behalf of their fellow citizens - Buíochas mór libh.

Tá sibh ag tabhairt faoi chúram agus freagracht an-mhór.

Sinn Féin welcomed the proposal to convene the Convention.

The 1937 Constitution was written in the aftermath of partition, a bloody civil war and in the context of a very different society.

It was for a state newly emerging from British colonization.

Centuries of foreign domination had almost destroyed the Irish language and culture.

Seven million of our citizens had fled overseas.

British policy ensured that the vast majority of citizens were impoverished and except for agriculture and the Lagan basin, most of the island had little industrial infrastructure.

The conflict in the north and the peace process, the enormous economic changes of recent decades, the revelations of child abuse, the diminished influence of the Catholic Hierarchy, and the disclosure of corruption in the golden circles and in politics, have also dramatically and fundamentally changed societal attitudes.

75 years after the 1937 Constitution was produced, and though Ireland is still partitioned, the Good Friday Agreement has created a new all-Ireland dynamic, all-Ireland institutions, and a new political and constitutional imperative.

Last week the Good Friday Agreement Committee, including representatives from all of the Oireachtas parties and independents, travelled to East Belfast and met with community and political leaders from loyalist working class areas.

On Wednesday another delegation of Oireachtas members visited Maghaberry prison.

Unionist leaders regularly visit Dublin.

Co-operation across this island is now commonplace.

But in the days of austerity and Troika governance citizens are asking where are our rights?

They are asking for more accountability.

More transparency.

They want equality.

Neither gender or race, age or disability, sexual orientation or class, or creed or skin colour or location should be used to deny citizens their full rights and entitlements.

The right to a job; to a home; to a decent standard of education and health, and to equality in all matters including the Irish language should be enshrined in our constitution and evident in the lives all our people.

Sinn Féin is for a constitution which reaches out to our neighbours and the children of the diaspora scattered around the globe.

Why can’t Irish passport holders in the north or the USA or Canada or Australia vote in Presidential elections?

Sinn Féin is for a constitution that also embraces all of the citizens of this island especially those who feel themselves to be British.

A constitution which builds reconciliation between Orange and Green.

A constitution that is part of shaping a new Republic for the 21st century and whick draws on best international practice.

A Republic that is democratic and inclusive and based on equality, freedom and social solidarity.

A Republic that shares its wealth more equitably, looks after its’ aged and young, provides full rights for people with disabilities, liberates women, and delivers the highest standards of public services.

The constitution of a real Republic must reflect these core values.

These are not new concepts.

Take up the Proclamation and read it.

Read too the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil.

These visionary documents contain great words.

Pursuing the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all its parts; guaranteeing civil and religious liberty, and equal rights and equal opportunities; and cherishing all the children of the nation equally.

And making provision for the well-being of children, so that ‘no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing or shelter.’

These are words that speak to us today in a society where children and adults go hungry; half a million citizens are out of work, and emigration is thriving.

This Constitutional Convention is an opportunity to re-imagine Ireland.

To think nationally; in the real meaning of that word.

As an Irish citizen from the north I find the use of the term ‘national’ offensive when it is really being applied improperly and solely to this state.

So, let’s think beyond partition.

Let’s think of the citizens of Antrim and Down, Armagh, Derry, Fermanagh and Tyrone, as well as our other 26 counties - and our off-shore islands.

Let’s re-imagine the Ireland of the 21st century as a place where conflict and violence are in the past.

This Convention needs to think big and be prepared to act big.

Demand more time for your deliberations; open the agenda up; ensure that the Convention travels into and meet citizens from rural Ireland and the border corridor and the Gaeltacht areas and the north.

Why don’t we invite representatives from the Travelling Community to present their rightful claim to be treated as an ethnic minority?

Why should the Diaspora be limited to ‘conference calls’?

Why don’t we open up dialogue with unionism at community and civic level as well as political level?

And most importantly ensure that the Constitutional Convention is open and transparent and builds public confidence in it.

Is obair thromchúiseach tabhairt faoi phroiséis leasú bunreachtúil

Leasú a láidreoidh athmhuintearas, síochán agus rathúnas ar oileán na hÉireann agus idir ár gcuid daoine.

There is the potential to create a new Republic.

Theobald Wolfe Tone captured the spirit of this when he wrote of “a cordial union among all the people of Ireland, to maintain that balance which is essential to the preservation of our liberties and the extension of our commerce.”

Dublin Castle where we meet today used to be the centre of British power in Ireland.

It was here that James Connolly was held before being executed.

Go to the room where he was incarcerated and ponder on the mission we are embarking on today.

We know that citizens of this island deserve better than the society we have inherited.

Ireland north and south is changing.

We are an island people in transition.

For that we need a new Republic - a new constitution - that reflects our genius and diversity, our dignity and our strengths – a constitution that is inclusive and visionary.

A Constitution that belongs to all.

Go raibh maith agaibh.


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