Sunday, July 28, 2019

Micheál Martin should take positive leadership role in Irish unity process

In the same week that Boris Johnson achieved his long held ambition to be British PM, Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin said he “can’t comprehend” why there is no Executive and Assembly in the North.
I don’t believe this. Micheál Martin understands exactly why the institutions collapsed. He knows why they have not been restored. But he doesn’t let this get in the way of his totally self serving narrative.
Micheál Martin has long been obsessed with the perceived threat to Fianna Fáil posed by Sinn Féin. He rarely misses an opportunity, in or outside the Dáil, to attack the party. Facts are irrelevant. The crisis in the North is shamefully exploited time and time again.
Last year when the deal agreed between Sinn Fein and the DUP collapsed, because the DUP walked away, Martin was out of the traps almost immediately with his irresponsible and inaccurate tweet: “The continued failure of the two dominant political parties in the North to agree restoration of government is bitterly disappointing… “
There was no failure by Sinn Féin. The deliberate attempt to present Sinn Fein as unwilling to negotiate in good faith and of being one of the two problem parties, has been a constant refrain of Martin’s since Fianna Fáil lost power in 2011.
He knows it is untrue. He knows the obstacles to progress in the North arise from British government stupidity and indifference to Ireland, allied to failures by successive Irish governments, and to resistance from the DUP and others within political unionism who oppose the Good Friday Agreement.
This week Mr. Martin was at it again. Speaking at the MacGill Summer School he said that he “can’t comprehend” why there is no Executive and Assembly. This from the same Fianna Fáil leader who in September 2015 called on the two governments to suspend the institutions in the North!
He also repeated his claim that Sinn Féin conspired to bring down the Executive in January 2017. Micheál Martin knows this is untrue. Why on earth would Sinn Féin do that? He also knows that Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O Neill have made exhaustive efforts, alongside the Irish Government and others, to establish the basis for the power sharing government to be restored. As far as Sinn Féin is concerned this has to be is on the basis of equality as set out by the Good Friday Agreement. That basis has yet to be achieved.
So why should citizens in the North be expected to tolerate the denial of human rights available to Irish citizens elsewhere on the island of Ireland – or indeed by citizens living in Britain? Why should they embrace a system of governance which denies these rights? Micheál Martin clearly thinks they should.
He also knows that the Renewable Heat Initiative scandal, which brought the crisis to a head and which was inextricably linked to serious allegations of DUP corruption at a cost of hundreds of millions to taxpayers- could not be ignored by any responsible partner in government. His own long tenure in various Ministerial roles saw Fianna Fail ministers accused of corruption. Mr Martin did nothing about this. He should now know how this undermines public confidence. That is why Martin McGuinness took the action he did. Martin McGuinness was right.
In addition, Micheál Martin’s claim that marriage equality would already be on the statue books in the North, if the institutions had not collapsed, ignores the record of Sinn Féin and others within the Assembly who tried to get the necessary legislation passed. Marriage equality was blocked five times in the Assembly by the DUP. Five times. On the last occasion, despite a clear majority of MLAs in favour, the DUP used a petition of concern to oppose it. There remain sufficient DUP and unionist MLAs to use the petition of concern again, if they wish.
These are the facts.
Finally, Micheál Martin’s can also be judged by his abject failure to produce the 12 point plan on Unity he announced two and a half years ago. Not only has there been no progress on that front but a commitment to organise Fianna Fáil in the North has not materialised.
When leading Fianna Fáil representatives Éamon Ó Cuiv TD and Seanadóir Mark Daly attempted to launch the Fianna Fáil party in Tyrone they were publicly censured by their leader. Ó Cuiv was sacked from the party’s front bench and Mark Daly was sacked as deputy Seanad leader for Fianna Fáil and spokesperson for foreign affairs.
Two years ago I wrote to the Fianna Fáil leader and I met him to ask for his support in establishing an Oireachtas Committee to prepare for Irish Unity. This is a modest common sense attempt to plan for the future. If we want to persuade unionists or anyone else to vote Yes in a referendum for Irish unity then we need to examine all the issues involved in a thoughtful and inclusive way. An Oireachtas Committee could look at the economic arguments, as well as the cultural and societal elements of such a process to create an agreed Ireland.
Micheál Martin said no.
The Fianna Fáil leader’s negative campaigning against Sinn Fein is not about the interests of citizens in the North. It is not about the national interest. Like Boris Johnson it is about  narrow self-interest. Its real focus is the electoral contest between Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin in the South. This approach does a disservice to citizens who live here and to the genuine desire of many across this island for unity.
As the relationships on this island and between us and Britain continue to change, as more people look to a future, which is more democratic and hopeful than that envisaged for us by Boris Johnson, my hope is that Mr. Martin will take a more positive leadership role. I urge to him to do so.

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