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Border poll a logical step in campaign to end partition – McDonald

31 March, 2013 - by Mary Lou McDonald TD


Speaking in Belfast today at the annual Easter Commemoration Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald said her party’s call for a border poll is a logical step in the campaign to end partition by peaceful mean and to build a new democracy.

Deputy McDonald said a border poll is a threat to no one.

She said:

“The Peace Process and the republican peace strategy have helped to transform our country. They have opened up new possibilities and unlocked the huge potential of our island and its people.

“They are the essential starting point for the next phase of struggle – the move towards a united Ireland, a new Republic.

“We fully recognise that the majority within the unionist community do not share this aim, that many fear such a future and believe their identity will be subsumed and they will become a discriminated-against minority on this island. Words alone from us will not convince them otherwise. That said, we must always reaffirm our opposition to sectarianism in all its forms, our commitment to equality and parity of esteem and our respect for people’s chosen identity whether Irish or British.

“We must above all seek to convince by our actions and Sinn Féin has been involved for some considerable time now in a long-term process of dialogue and engagement with people from the unionist community. That must and will continue.

“Because we believe that a United Ireland is essential and because we recognise that the agreement of a significant section of unionists is required, we are calling for a Border Poll. This is a provision of the Good Friday Agreement which was concluded in this city 15 years ago.

“Such a poll is a threat to no-one. It is a logical step and by making this call we are demonstrating our firm resolve to end partition peacefully and to build a new democracy.”

Full text of Deputy McDonald’s speech follows:

Comóradh na Cásca, Béal Feirste 2013

Easter Commemoration Belfast 2013

Mary Lou McDonald TD, Leas-Uachtarán Sinn Féin

A chairde agus a Phoblachtánaigh Bhéal Feirste,

Is onóir mór domsa seasamh libh inniú cois uaigheanna na laochra atá curtha anseo agus muid ag Comóradh Éirí Amach na Cásca.

Tá stair fíor- tragóideach ach stair fíor-bródúil ag Poblachtánaigh sa chathair seo ó aimsir Henry Joy McCracken go dtí aimsir Bobby Sands agus Máiréad Farrell. Táimíd fós ag leanúint na laochra sin agus cuimhnímid orthu go speisialta um Cháisc.

It is a deeply humbling experience to stand with you in this cemetery among the graves of so many heroes of the Irish Republic, so many men and women and boys and girls who lived and worked and struggled and died for the freedom of our country.

Belfast has been a place of tragedy but also a place of hope and inspiration in the story of Ireland since the days of the United Irishmen and Irishwomen who founded Irish Republicanism in this city over 200 years ago.

Their principles – Irish independence, anti-sectarianism, unity, equality, fraternity and liberty – have endured through all the decades. They are still our inspiration as republicans today, a vision as constant as the sight of historic Cave Hill which overlooks this City.

Countless numbers of republicans have given their lives in defence of those principles. Many of them are laid to rest here. Many of their loved ones are with us at these gravesides today. We extend to them and to the families of all our patriot dead our continuing sympathy and solidarity.

Easter 2013 comes at the start of a decade of centenaries of key events in the struggle for Irish freedom.

This year we mark the Centenary of the Great Lockout of 1913 when the bosses of Dublin declared war on the workers and their families.

The choice presented to the workers was stark.

They could obey the bosses, resign from their union and go back to their tenement slums and their poverty with their heads down.

Or they could resist. Thousands chose resistance.

Through the summer and autumn and winter of 1913 and 1914 they faced police brutality, press vilification, Church condemnation and starvation. They seemed defeated but out of their struggle arose a revived trade union movement and a proud working class.

Like Wolfe Tone before him, James Connolly knew the two cities of Belfast and Dublin intimately. Here in Belfast he organised the ITGWU and from here he went to Dublin in 1913 to take his place in the front line of the struggle. Jailed in Mountjoy during the Lockout, he undertook one of the first hunger strikes in Ireland – the very first was the year before by women demanding the right to vote.

Writing at the start of the Lockout, Connolly declared that, faced with the choice of resign or resist, there was only one answer. He wrote:

“Shall we, who have been carving out for our children a brighter future, a cleaner city, a freer life, consent to betray them instead into the grasp of the blood-suckers from whom we have dreamt of escaping? No, no, and yet again no! Let them declare their lockout; it will only hasten the day when the working class will lock out the capitalist class for good and all.”

Again and again, in the decades since the Lockout, those whom Wolfe Tone called the people of no property were offered that same choice – resign or resist.

They were told to resign themselves to their fate when our country was partitioned and a sectarian Orange state established in these Six Counties. But the followers of Tone and Connolly refused to resign and they resisted. Many of them are laid to rest here – the republican men and women of the 1920s & ‘30s and ‘40s and ‘50s who stood by the Proclamation of the Republic.

Half a century after the Proclamation, the Civil Rights movement stepped forward and was met with the same choice – resign yourselves to the reality of this one-party sectarian state or resist.

They chose resistance. RUC brutality was resisted. Internment was resisted. The British Army was resisted. Criminalisation in the H-Blocks and Armagh was resisted. Collusion and censorship and the demonization of whole communities were resisted.

And do you know what?

That resistance succeeded because our oppressors failed in their plan to crush us. They could not defeat a risen people.

They could not defeat us and they had to come to terms with us.

Does that mean the struggle is over? Far from it.

Republicans had always made clear that if a peaceful and democratic path of struggle towards our objectives was opened up before us then we were morally and politically obliged to take that path.

The Peace Process opened that new way forward and the Irish Republican Army, with the same courage they showed during every phase of the struggle, endorsed that new strategy, that new road to our objectives, and set aside armed actions for good.

Armed conflict is in the past; it has no place in the present; no-one has the right to inflict it on our children’s future. The splinter groups who pursue armed actions today are acting out a travesty that too often has turned to tragedy. They should desist and desist immediately. To those who are sincerely republican and who do not agree with Sinn Féin’s strategy we have made clear that we are open to dialogue and engagement, recognising the common goal of Irish unity and independence.

The Peace Process and the republican peace strategy have helped to transform our country. They have opened up new possibilities and unlocked the huge potential of our island and its people.

They are the essential starting point for the next phase of struggle – the move towards a united Ireland, a new Republic.

We fully recognise that the majority within the unionist community do not share this aim, that many fear such a future and believe their identity will be subsumed and they will become a discriminated-against minority on this island. Words alone from us will not convince them otherwise. That said, we must always reaffirm our opposition to sectarianism in all its forms, our commitment to equality and parity of esteem and our respect for people’s chosen identity whether Irish or British.

We must above all seek to convince by our actions and Sinn Féin has been involved for some considerable time now in a long-term process of dialogue and engagement with people from the Unionist community. That must and will continue.

We believe that all who share this island have a place in a new Republic. We seek to build an inclusive nation. It was well put by a native of County Antrim who gave his life in 1916. Roger Casement said:

“Remember that a Nation is a very complex thing – it never does consist, it never has consisted solely of men [and women] of one blood or of one single race. It is like a river which rises far off in the hills and has many sources, many converging streams before it becomes one great stream.”

Because we believe that a United Ireland is essential and because we recognise that the agreement of a significant section of Unionists is required, we are calling for a Border Poll. This is a provision of the Good Friday Agreement which was concluded in this city 15 years ago.

Such a poll is a threat to no-one. It is a logical step and by making this call we are demonstrating our firm resolve to end partition peacefully and to build a new democracy.

What kind of new democracy do we want?

We certainly do not want a continuation of the inequality and poverty and mass unemployment and emigration which plague our country North and South today.

Sinn Féin is battling in the Executive and the Assembly and the Dáil and the Seanad and on local councils and in communities across Ireland for a better, fairer way forward, out of this recession.

And we are back to the question ‘Resign or Resist?’

Do we resign ourselves to austerity imposed by the same wealthy elites in this country and globally who caused the economic collapse in the first place?

Recently James Connolly’s great-grandson visited this city and he put it well when he said that in 1916 they sacrificed their lives for their country but those who destroyed the Irish economy sacrificed their country for their lifestyles.

Our answer is that we will resist. We will resist austerity, whether imposed by the Tory Government in London or the Fine Gael/Labour Government in Dublin. We will continue to demand, in the words of the Proclamation, the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland.

We are not only resisting, we are presenting real alternatives based on the fair distribution of wealth, the defence of public services and the creation of jobs. There is a better way forward and we need to show people that it is possible and they can be part of it.

We can’t achieve any of these things, we can’t go on to build a New Republic without a stronger Sinn Féin organisation throughout the length and breadth of this island. It might be pleasant as a spectator watching the Sinn Féin representatives battling in the Assembly and the Dáil. But we are only as strong as the political movement behind us. We need everyone to take his or her place in the struggle. Join Sinn Féin – it was never easier to do so. Be active in your community, in campaigns for justice, in your trade union, with your friends and neighbours.

Together we can make great strides and we are doing so. I take this opportunity to commend Francie Molloy and the Sinn Féin team in Mid-Ulster for retaining that republican seat. And to commend also Darren O’Rourke, the Sinn Féin candidate in Meath East, for a major increase in the Sinn Féin vote. Maith sibh uile.

Comhar na gComharsan –  the great Irish tradition of neighbourly co-operation, community spirit, has always been alive and well in Belfast. That spirit will help us to overcome the economic recession that weighs down so heavily on so many people. It provides a guide for the future, for the Ireland we are building, an Ireland where need will take precedence over greed and where all the children of the nation will be cherished equally.

A chairde, the New Republic of Ireland is ours to achieve.

Ar aghaidh linn le chéile agus an Phoblacht abú!

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