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Uniting Ireland – An Agreed Future

24 June, 2017 - by Gerry Adams TD


Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD speaking in the Waterfront Hall today at Sinn Féin’s National United Ireland conference – An Agreed Future?


The Sinn Féin leader spoke on the theme of ‘Let’s talk about the future’. These are extracts from his speech.

Gerry Adams said:

“Republicans are neither naïve or insensitive to the opposition of unionists to the concept, never mind the reality of Irish unity…

We need a new approach, one which unlocks unionist opposition to a new Ireland by reminding them of their historic place here and of the positive contribution they have made to society on this island.

Instead of concentrating on the negative aspects of our four centuries of shared history I suggest that we embrace the areas of agreement and of co-operation; of good neighbourliness and the common good…

Rarely have we lived through so much change in such a short space of time. The imperative, for the peaceful transition to an agreed Ireland, will increasingly be the need for the ongoing social and economic stability and security and prosperity for the whole island and all its people…

The reality is that in the four hundred years of their presence on this island Protestants and especially northern Protestants, have been woven into the narrative that constitutes the history of Ireland…

While that narrative has been at times a troubled one it has also been dynamic. So, we have a shared history – we will also have a shared future…

Our task must be to ensure that it is a shared future which looks after every citizen, and in which everyone accepts the right of the other to be Irish or British – to be Unionist or Nationalist or Republican…

We need to address the future role of the Orange, its place in an agreed Ireland. Of course, that is a challenge also for the Orange and I invite their leaders once again to meet with Sinn Féin.

It is unacceptable for the Orange to refuse to meet at leadership level with our leadership. I have met with Orangemen as have other Republicans. These have been useful and necessary engagements. They need to be built upon.

Unionist leaders, including genuinely moderate people find it difficult to take public, as opposed to private, reconciliation initiatives. Or to publicly reciprocate to goodwill from Republicans.

Martin McGuinness’s resignation letter and his concern about this, should give thoughtful leaders of unionism some encouragement if they genuinely want to build a future based on mutual respect.
Perhaps they should tell us if reconciliation means the same thing to them as it does to the rest of us…

I would urge anyone interested in a united Ireland to join this conversation. Organise your own conferences or forums. Publish your proposals - for and against. Sinn Féin has already gone some way in doing this. For example, we are for a new Ireland with a new constitution and a Bill of Rights.

A new Ireland with symbols and emblems to reflect an inclusive Ireland, that includes the safeguarding of British Citizenship and recognition of the Unionist Identity. Others will have opposing or similar views to us. Let us hear them.

The days of leaving the debate on a united Ireland for another time are over. It can’t be done. The debate has already begun. The changes – demographic, political, social and economic - are happening as we speak.”

GERRY ADAMS SPEECH TO UNITING IRELAND CONFERENCE EMBARGOED UNTIL 3.30pm JUNE 24 2017

Let’s talk about the future

Ar dtús ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le gach duine a d’eagraigh an imeacht seo inniu agus le gach duine a ghlac páirt ann. Gabhaim buíochas leis an lucht éisteachta fosta.

I want to thank the organisers of today’s conference and all of the participants for their insightful and stimulating contributions.

Thanks also to you the audience.

Your positive engagement with the speakers made for an intriguing series of discussions.

Today’s conference is the latest of these events that Sinn Féin has held in recent years.

They have been held across all parts of this island, in Britain, the USA, Australia and Canada.

They have heard from a wide range of different voices.

Their focus has been to open up a conversation about the future.

Mar phoblachtóirí ní scéal rúin é go bhfuil muid ag iarraidh Éire bheith aontaithe agus saor.

Ba mhian linn deireadh leis an chríochdheighilt agus ba mhian linn Éire nua aontaithe, ina bhfuil gach duine cothrom, agus ina bhfuil a gcearta cosanta ag an dlí.  

As Irish republicans we make no secret of our desire for Irish unity, and our belief in the sovereignty of the Irish people.

We want an end to partition and the creation of a new Ireland, an agreed Ireland, in which all citizens are equal under the law, and where their rights and entitlements are protected in law.

In our view the right to the basics of life should include economic, as well as political and social rights.

The right to a home, a job, access to education, to universal health care, to a clean and safe environment.

Gender or disability, or race or class, or skin colour or creed, or the place where you live, should not deny any citizen his or her full rights as human beings.

Tá fís s’againne d’Éirinn nua bunaithe ar an Fhorográ. Baineann sé le cothromas, le tiarnas agus le neamhspleáchas.

Our vision of a new Ireland is rooted in the Republic that was envisaged by the leaders of 1916 and contained in the Proclamation.

It’s about equality and sovereignty and independence.

That is the type of united Ireland we want.

But of course that is a matter to be decided democratically.

There are also other models.

We have heard some of them today.

Others, specifically our unionist neighbours, have a different view of the kind of future they want - a future connected to Britain.

Chuala muid cuid de na hargóintí sin inniu.

We have heard some of these arguments today.

Republicans are neither naïve or insensitive to the opposition of unionists to the concept, never mind the reality of Irish unity.

The recent Assembly and Westminster election results are evidence of the deep political schism that exists in the North around what is generally referred to as the constitutional issue.

We understand that many unionists are committed today to the union with Britain.

We realise that this is not a commitment, which rests solely on the perceived economic benefits of the Union.

Imagine if an economist was able to put a strong argument that the people of the North are economically better off within the Union?

Would that make Irish republicans less committed to our Republican and democratic ideals and goals?

Of course not.

So, similarly with unionists.

While the economic case for unity is important in defusing one argument used to object to Irish unity, it will not on its own win some Unionists over to the possibility of supporting a United Ireland.

Even though others will be attracted by the economic benefits.


We need a new approach, one which unlocks unionist opposition to a new Ireland by reminding them of their historic place here and of the positive contribution they have made to society on this island.

Instead of concentrating on the negative aspects of our four centuries of shared history I suggest that we embrace the areas of agreement and of co-operation; of good neighbourliness and the common good.

Tiocfaidh Éire Nua aontaithe ón athmhuintearas idir muintir an oileáin seo atá bunaithe ar chothromas.

A truly united Ireland will emerge from the reconciliation of the people of this island based on equality.

As Wolfe Tone asserted; “To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissensions, and to substitute the common name of Irishman (and women) in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter – these were my means.”

We need to look to the imperative of working together in the interests of all our people as the island of Ireland faces into the consequences of Brexit, and the enormous economic and environmental challenges of the 21st century.

Tá sé cúig chéad bliana ón Reifeirméisean. Is deis é le hamharc arís ar an mhéid a rinne an pobal Protastúnach in Éireann.

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

It is an opportunity to reflect on the contribution made by the Protestant community in Ireland.

From Dean Swift in 18th century Dublin to JB Armour, the liberal clergyman of early 20th century Ballymoney and others.

Those who live in the Protestant faith have contributed to the intellectual, social and economic life of this island for hundreds of years.

Internationally, the Reformation contributed enormously to the democratic ethos and political structures that are taken for granted in most states today.In Ireland this democratic ethos, which sits at the centre of the Presbyterian church, brought dynamic political ideas which moved out from that church into the body politic.  

Their experience of exclusion from civic life in Ireland drove thousands of these Scotch Irish across the Atlantic.

It is no coincidence that Presbyterians became a key influence on the revolutionary movement in the American colonies, which produced the American War of Independence and subsequently the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.

Their example came back to fellow Presbyterians in Ireland, many of whom were then deeply involved in the United Irish Rebellion of 1798.  

Here in this city, Presbyterian voices cried out for ‘Government for the People, Government by the People and Government with the People’.  

While the 19th century witnessed many Presbyterians moving in a more conservative direction, their democratic values surfaced in campaigns for the tenant rights of small farmers. 

In this city their intellectual curiosity shaped them as the leaders of an industrial revolution, and in the process they created philosophical societies, libraries, museums, botanical gardens, colleges and schools and a naturalist field club.


Bhunaigh daoine ón chumann seo craobh de Chonradh na Gaeilge i mBéal Feirste i Mí Lúnasa ocht gcéad nócha a cúig. Chosain daoine eile an teanga.

Several members of this club helped found the Belfast branch of the Gaelic League in August 1895.

Others defended the Irish language.

They saved much of our traditional music, believing that both the language and music are rightly the property of all.

The reality is that in the four hundred years of their presence on this island Protestants and especially northern Protestants, have been woven into the narrative that constitutes the history of Ireland.

While that narrative has been at times a troubled one it has also been dynamic.

Mar sin tá stair coiteann againn – agus beidh todhchaí coiteann againn.

So, we have a shared history – we will also have a shared future.

Our task must be to ensure that it is a shared future which looks after every citizen, and in which everyone accepts the right of the other to be Irish or British – to be Unionist or Nationalist or Republican.

The Good Friday Agreement is very explicit on this.


In dealing with Constitutional Issues and acknowledging that the Irish and British governments will legislate for Irish unity in the event that a majority in the North vote for this, it also recognises the birthright of all the people of the North, and I quote,  “to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose, and accordingly confirm that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both Governments and would not be affected by any future change in the status of Northern Ireland”.

The Good Friday Agreement is binding on this.

It guarantees the right to British citizenship in a united Ireland.

So constitutional change can be achieved without sacrificing identity or citizenship.

Dual citizenship is a long established entitlement.

For me this is one of the big issues arising from the discussion about a united Ireland.

How do we create the circumstances in which a new Ireland can embrace every citizen, on the basis of equality, while respecting their political allegiance and their differing sense of identity?

This is crucial.

It is especially so at this time of great opportunity and of huge challenges.

Rarely have we lived through so much change in such a short space of time.

The imperative, for the peaceful transition to an agreed Ireland, will increasingly be the need for the ongoing social and economic stability and security and prosperity for the whole island and all its people.

Tá próiseas na síochána agus Comhaontú Aoine an Chéasta i ndiaidh an saol a athrú do gach duine ar an oileán seo, go mór mór ó thuaidh.

The peace process and the Good Friday Agreement have transformed the lives of every citizen on this island, especially in the North.

But much needs to be done to end poverty and inequality and to reverse disadvantage and tackle sectarianism.

The Brexit referendum vote last year, the Assembly results in March, the Westminster election results this month and the census conclusions from 2011, are evidence of a shifting demographic and political dynamic in northern politics.

Those who defined themselves as ‘British’ in the census were for the first time in almost 100 years a minority in the northern state.

The March Assembly election and the Westminster results, which saw Unionists lose their Assembly majority and become less than 50% of the vote, emphasise the changing political demographics that are working away below the surface.

Within a few short years the potential for a vote to end partition and unite Ireland is a very real possibility.

So I return to my earlier point.

How do we create a new Ireland which comprises all of our narratives, embraces all our cultures, respects all our languages, and excludes no one?

To achieve this demands that the Irish government, Irish political parties, Irish society North and South, consciously address the genuine fears and concerns of unionists in a meaningful way.

It also demands that we look at what unionists mean by their sense of Britishness and be willing to explore and to be open to new concepts.


 I do not believe that the homophobic, sectarian and narrow-minded views sometimes articulated by unionist leaders is in keeping with the better instincts of broader unionism.

Caithfidh guthanna eile teacht chun tosaigh.

Caithfimid éisteacht leo.

Other voices need to emerge.

They need to be listened to.

Hopefully as part of this process they too will be willing to explore what is meant by Irishness.

In my view this should be as inclusive and as broad a concept as possible.

In particular, we need to address the future role of the Orange, its place in an agreed Ireland.

Of course, that is a challenge also for the Orange and I invite their leaders once again to meet with Sinn Féin.

It is unacceptable for the Orange to refuse to meet at leadership level with our leadership.

I have met with Orangemen as have other Republicans.

These have been useful and necessary engagements.

They need to be built upon.

Unionist leaders, including genuinely moderate people find it difficult to take public, as opposed to private, reconciliation initiatives.

Or to publicly reciprocate to goodwill from Republicans.


Martin McGuinness’s resignation letter and his concern about this, should give thoughtful leaders of unionism some encouragement if they genuinely want to build a future based on mutual respect.

Perhaps they should tell us if reconciliation means the same thing to them as it does to the rest of us.

Finally, let me remind everyone that the objective of uniting Ireland is not the property of any one grouping or party. 

Tá Sinn Féin ag iarraidh an rialtas agus páirtithe eile a spreagadh chun Coiste Dála a bhunú ar aontú na hÉireann.

For our part, Sinn Féin is currently trying to encourage the government and others to establish a Dáil Committee on Irish Unity.

It could bring forward proposals for what a United Ireland might look like, and how the Irish State needs to plan for reunification across all areas of the economy and society.

To inform that discussion Sinn Féin is also working on a follow-up paper to our recently published 'Towards a United Ireland' discussion document that we launched in November.

Tá mé ag iarraidh ar dhuine ar bith ar spéis leo Éire aontaithe bheith ann páirt a ghlacadh sa chomhrá seo.

Eagraigí bhur gcruinnithe féin.

Cuir amach bhur moltaí – i bhfabhar nó in aghaidh.

I would urge anyone interested in a united Ireland to join this conversation.

Organise your own conferences or forums.

Publish your proposals - for and against.

Sinn Féin has already gone some way in doing this.

For example, we are for a new Ireland with a new constitution and a Bill of Rights.

A new Ireland with symbols and emblems to reflect an inclusive Ireland, that includes the safeguarding of British Citizenship and recognition of the Unionist Identity.

Others will have opposing or similar views to us.

Let us hear them.

The days of leaving the debate on a united Ireland for another time are over.

It can’t be done.

The debate has already begun.

The changes – demographic, political, social and economic - are happening as we speak.

Intransigence, narrow-mindedness, the old ways will no longer work.

So, do we stay stuck in the past or do we move forward together.

Creidim go bhfuil deis againn Éire nua a thógáil ina bhfuil spas ann do gach duine agus do gach pobal, sean agus nua.

I believe we have the opportunity to build a new Ireland which values all of its citizens and all of its communities, old and new.

A new Ireland that will open the door of education to all; provide homes for all; create a health service for all.

A new Ireland that will forever lay to rest the violent ghosts of our past and end any possibility of their re-emergence.

To achieve this we must work together in common purpose.

For my part I want to work with that complex array of believers, whether they are Subscribers or Non-subscribers, Covenanters or Seceders, Baptists or Congregationalists, or members of the many other independent congregations that constitute the Protestant community in Ireland today.

My appeal at the end of a very successful conference is for all of us – together – in respect and tolerance enter into a dialogue about the future.

Thank you for coming. Míle buíochas as bheith linn.

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