Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Ferris calls on Dáil to support immediate holding of elections

27 May, 2003

Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris to Sinn Féin Private Members debate on Cancellation of Elections in the Six Counties called on members of the Oireachtas to state in unequivocal terms, on an all-party basis, our opposition to the anti-democratic actions of the British Government in unilaterally cancelling the May 29th elections.' Mr. Ferris said:

This morning in Belfast Sinn Féin launched a document "Who sanctioned Britain's Death Squads? - Time for the truth". A copy of it will be distributed to all members of the House over the next two days. I would ask Deputies to read it carefully.

While not directly related to the issue we are debating here today - the contents of this document will give people an understanding as to why so many northern nationalists and republicans are alienated from and mistrustful of the Six County state and those who run it - and also why they are becoming increasingly angry and disillusioned with the so-called 'democratic process'.

I don't need to rehearse the arguments here today but it must be remembered that the nationalist/republican population of the Six Counties never asked to be part of that Statelet. They never asked to be abandoned by successive Irish governments. They never asked to be treated as second-class citizens in their own country. It was something foisted upon them without even the slightest reference to their consent - and then they were left to struggle on their own in the situation in which they found themselves.

In that situation they were at best ignored and disenfranchised by the British state in terms of social and economic opportunities and resources and at worst considered a threat to Unionist dominance that could and should be dispensed with. The recent limited Steven's report, which is strongly referenced to in the document launched this morning, estimates conservatively that since the 1980s up to 80 citizens have been set up for targeting by the British State. Twenty-nine of those were shot dead or blown-up.

Bearing this in mind there is nobody here that could argue that the nationalist/republican population of the Six Counties hasn't absolute justification for distrusting the intentions of not only the British Government and the Unionists but of the 26 County Establishment as well. However, they did through the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement try to understand and reach a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict.

And so following over a decade of an intensive peace process, the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, the establishment of the Assembly, the election of a cross-party Executive what do we have. The Good Friday Agreement still waiting to be fully implemented. The Assembly suspended. And democratic elections cancelled. The British Government at the behest of the Unionists did all of this.

Republicans have lived up to all of our responsibilities under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Indeed we have gone way beyond our responsibilities in the interests of making the Agreement work, while others have been actively engaged in trying to wreck it. We have stretched ourselves to breaking point to ensure that the Agreement doesn't unravel.

We have reached out to Unionism. We have sought to accommodate them where we could. We have made, to what is to many of our supporters, painful and profound compromises to reassure Unionists of our bona fides. But to many nationalists and republicans it seems that this is all one-way traffic. There is no evidence from either the British Government or the Unionists that they are really interested in bringing about the changes that are necessary to ensure that the Agreement not only survives but also flourishes.

The recent actions of the British Government have compounded the sense of anger and frustration that exists within nationalist and republican communities not only the Six Counties but throughout the island of Ireland. It is extremely ironic that for years and years Sinn Féin was being constantly lectured at by not only parties in here but by the British Government about putting our arguments to the test and standing in elections and getting a mandate from the people.

Of course these arguments were being promoted in the misguided belief that Republicans had not got widespread or popular support. The steady rise of Sinn Féin both north and south has exposed that as nothing more than wishful thinking.

Now the rules, according to Britannia, are to be rewritten to suit this new reality. Elections can be cancelled. Institutions suspended. Democracy denied.

It is not good enough to declare that you are opposed to the activities of the British Government. It is not good enough to say that it is wrong. There has to be a vocal and physical manifestation of that opposition. The British Government cannot be permitted to continue to just walk over the democratic rights and entitlements of Irish people, living north or south.

But to force the British Government to live up to its responsibilities the Irish Government must fulfil its own responsibilities under the Good Friday Agreement. They must repeal their draconian and repressive legislation that has been introduced during the course of the conflict. They must also release all qualifying prisoners still detained years after they were supposed to be released.

For our part in this House we have this evening and tomorrow evening in the course of this debate an opportunity to put some of the wrongs that this State was responsible for right. We can state in unequivocal terms, on an all-party basis, our opposition to the anti-democratic actions of the British Government in unilaterally cancelling the May 29th elections. We can demand that Tony Blair re-enfranchise the people of the Six Counties by re-scheduling the elections for the earliest possible date in June. And we can ensure that those people in the Six Counties who aspire to representation in an Irish elected forum rather than Westminster can speak and take part in debates in this House. I would urge deputies of all parties to support the motion before us today.

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