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Labour should not wait in transition to United Ireland – Kearney

7 October, 2017 - by Declan Kearney


Speaking today at a Sinn Féin conference on workers’ rights entitled ‘Brexit, Workers’ Rights & Industrial Democracy’, Sinn Féin Chairperson Declan Kearney has urged the Irish trade union movement to ensure its voice is heard in shaping Ireland’s future.

The Six-County spokesperson on Employment & Workers Rights said:

“The two most significant and defining discussions now facing Irish society are the challenge from Brexit, and opportunity to begin the transition towards Irish unity.

“Brexit poses massive challenges for Ireland north and south.

“However, the outcome of the EU referendum in June 2016 has now introduced a new national discussion about a transition towards a united Ireland.

“Brexit and Irish unity are now dominating the political discourse.

“Workers’ rights must be made central to these debates. 

“The priorities of Irish workers and their families should not be pushed to the periphery while others seek to control the terms and direction of these discussions. 

“Today the new focus upon Irish unity provides Irish trade unionists and workers with an opportunity to influence the policy discourse underpinning future constitutional and political change.

“The Irish trade union movement should put its mark on that debate.

“Republicans, trade unionists and other progressives need to popularise a political narrative which promotes economic democracy and a vision of an Ireland which represents the many and not just the few.

“This is a moment in time to begin developing the policy foundations of a new agreed united Ireland.

“Practical and pioneering thinking will be required to ensure workers’ rights become central to that process.

“I am proposing that we work together to develop a new paradigm for workers rights in Ireland.

“I want to encourage a national engagement on how to harmonise best industrial relations policy and practice north and south, in order to develop an exemplar model for industrial democracy and workers rights in an all-Ireland context.

“Workers and other rights should be hard wired into any transition towards a united Ireland.

“The question which arises is... if not now, then when; and if not by us, then by whom...

“Labour should not wait." ENDS/CRÍOCH

Full text of Declan Kearney’s speech on

BREXIT, WORKERS RIGHTS & INDUSTRIAL DEMOCRACY

ag Cultúrlann Mhac Adaim Ó Fiaich, Satharn 7ú Deireadh Fómhair 2017

The two most significant and defining discussions now facing Irish society are the challenge from Brexit, and opportunity to begin the transition towards Irish unity.

Brexit poses massive challenges for Ireland north and south.

However, the outcome of the EU referendum in June 2016 has now introduced a new national discussion about a transition towards a united Ireland.

Brexit and Irish unity are now dominating the political discourse.

These interlocking discussions will have a defining effect upon the future of Irish society for generations.

Workers rights must be made central to these debates.

Economists and business interests have been dominant in these debates to date. It is essential that the voice of labour is heard.

The priorities of Irish workers and their families should not be pushed to the periphery while others seek to control the terms and direction of these discussions.

The reality is that the onset of Brexit has changed everything.

It highlights again the contradiction and undemocratic nature of Ireland's partition.

The British state has been pushed into an unprecedented, existential political crisis.

 This Tory government driving the Brexit agenda is also committed to a new wave of austerity policies.

Brexit is opposite to Irish national interests.

Ireland is being increasingly pushed into uncharted territory.

That is manifest with the prospect of the northern region of the island economy being pulled out of the Single European Market and Customs Union, against the stated democratic will of the people in the north, while the southern state remains a member of the European Union.

The real potential for the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement being undermined also exists.

Sinn Féin believes the only effective alternative to the fall out from Brexit is to secure Designated Special Status for the north within the EU and in an all Ireland framework.

That is the best strategic option for protecting the peace process; Irish national interests; economic opportunity; and, to defend workers, as well as social, democratic and human rights.

In the north, workers’ rights and the required investment in pubic services are confronted with the combination of Tory Brexit and Tory austerity.

One scourge is set to exacerbate the effect of the other.

Current pressures upon public services are set to intensify.

Real term cuts in public funding are now confirmed of 2% between 2018-19 and of 3% between 2019-20.

The Bombardier C-Series crisis raises the actual danger of further erosion of the north's already reduced manufacturing base.

These challenges are accentuated by:

·      net cuts in take home pay for public and private workers;

·      welfare cuts;

·      higher inflation and increased living costs;

·      the public sector pay cap;

·      zero hours contracts;

·      and, obstacles to union organisation in the work place, including disagreement over maintaining facility time in the civil service.

Brexit will deepen an existing race to the bottom, which undermines workers terms and conditions, and sustainable public services in the north.

Our Party will continue to work and campaign with Congress on these and other challenges here in the north and across Ireland.

We agree that Brexit is not only bad for Ireland, but will also threaten jobs and investment across mainland Europe.

That will fuel the growth of right wing populism and xenophobia.

Sinn Féin recognises Ireland's place is in Europe, but we want to see the current model replaced with a new democratic and social Europe built upon solidarity.

We believe that Congress as the largest civic organisation on the island has a pivotal role in helping to build a progressive consensus of civic stakeholders to ensure protection of the peace process and that the north remains within the CTA, SEM and CU.

Connolly was right when he said the cause of Ireland is the cause of Labour, and the cause of Labour is the cause of Ireland.

Historically the counter revolution in Ireland represented a strategic set back for labour and working class interests in the new free state.

It reversed the seminal influence which socialist republican thinking had upon the proclamation and democratic programme.

The rights of workers and the people of no property became subordinated to the conservative elites, which came to dominate state power north and south.

Today the new focus upon Irish unity provides Irish trade unionists and workers with an opportunity to influence the policy discourse underpinning future constitutional and political change.

The Irish trade union movement should put its mark on that debate.

Previous moments of political change have suggested labour should wait, or pushed workers' interests to the margins.

Today in modern Ireland there is a battle for hearts and minds about how society is organised.

Republicans, trade unionists and other progressives need to popularise a political narrative, which promotes economic democracy and vision of an Ireland, which represents the many and not just the few.

Irish trade unionists should take ownership of the current debate by campaigning for a united Ireland agenda which is rights based, and relevant to the needs of working people, and enshrines new progressive thresholds and standards of workers’ rights.

We are now at a critical phase of the political talks in the north.

Sinn Féin has been engaged in intensified dialogue over the past month to determine whether political progress is possible.

The political institutions will only be sustainable and credible if they are re-established on the basis of rights and equality.

The resolution of these issues goes to the crux of the political crisis.

A political breakthrough is entirely possible, but only if we grasp the opportunity to guarantee the right of every citizen to their democratic, social, economic, civil and political rights.

These are rights that are enjoyed in the rest of these islands.

The Tory austerity onslaught in the north was introduced with an electoral pact in 2010 between the Tories and UUP. 

Now in 2017, and within three weeks of the Westminster election, the DUP has signed itself up to a five-year alliance to keep the latest Tory government in power.

The institutions need to act as a bulwark against austerity and Brexit.

As our party's six county spokesperson on employment and workers rights I want to bring forward legislation in a future assembly which would build upon and improve existing legislation in the areas of industrial relations, trade union and employment law.

I am committed to developing effective anti-sectarianism legislation, which incorporates sectarianism as a hate crime with appropriate enforcement and sanction.

Our party is totally committed to re-establishing the northern executive on the correct basis.

Our ambition is to be in government both north and south.

But like the north, we do not want to be in government in the south simply for its own sake or for the optics.

In the south any decision to enter government will be made by our membership on the basis of a rights-based Programme for Government which fundamentally realigns fiscal and tax priorities; prioritises investment in services; tackles the housing and health crises; and progresses Irish Unity. 

This is a moment in time to begin developing the policy foundations of a new agreed united Ireland.

Practical and pioneering thinking will be required to ensure workers’ rights become central to that process.

I am proposing that we work together to develop a new paradigm for workers rights in Ireland.

I want to encourage a national engagement on how to harmonise best industrial relations policy and practice north and south, in order to develop an exemplar model for industrial democracy and workers rights in an all Ireland context.

Workers and other rights should be hard wired into any transition towards a united Ireland.

The question which arises is... if not now, then when; and if not by us, then by whom...

Labour should not wait.

The vision for labour interests and workers rights should be elevated in terms of aspiration, relevance and delivery in a future united Ireland context.

A national focus upon pioneering a new model of workers rights should be guided by Connolly's ambitious metaphor to become a 'beacon light' in the 21st century international context.

This seminar is a contribution to encouraging innovative and practical thinking in relation to our collective challenges, and promoting a new phase of modern industrial democracy in Ireland.

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