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Speech by party president, Gerry Adams to Border Poll conference in Dublin today

19 January, 2013 - by Gerry Adams TD


Irish Unity – Let the people decide – A Border Poll

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD, speaking today at a conference in Dublin, calls for a border poll to be held under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement in the next term of the Assembly and Oireachtas.

In a wide ranging speech the Sinn Féin leader says:

  • The Good Friday Agreement states, “that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment, to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish, accepting that this right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people” in the north of Ireland.

  • The Good Friday Agreement also commits the British government to holding a border poll and London has undertaken to legislate for a united Ireland if a majority of those voting express a wish that the north should cease to be part of the British union.

  • It is time for the governments to set a date.

  • We will be looking for the referendum in the next term of the Assembly and Oireachtas.

The Sinn Fein leader addresses the issue of political geography of the north.

  • The northern state was gerrymandered to allow for a permanent unionist two thirds majority.

  • But the census figures published in December reveal that only 40% of citizens there stated that they had a British only identity.

  • A quarter (25%) stated that they had an Irish only identity and just over a fifth (21%) had a Northern Irish only identity.

  • That’s 46% of citizens consciously opting for some form of Irish only identity.

  • The political and demographic landscape in the north is changing.  

Commenting on the issue of identities and traditions Gerry Adams says:

  • We want to hear what unionists have to say.

  • We must use every opportunity to engage in dialogue at a personal level as well as in more formal ways.

  • Protect all citizens, including rigorously and unequivocally seeking to protect all identities and traditions.

  • Like the Good Friday Agreement we are for the “principles of full respect for, and equality of, civil, political, social and cultural rights, of freedom from discrimination for all citizens, and of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos, and aspirations of both communities …”

  • The Agreement also guarantees in the event of a united Ireland that the right of those who define themselves as British will not be affected.

The Sinn Féin leader tackles the issue of the economy and the British subvention:

  • The actual amount the British Government allocates to the north is £17.5 billion.

  • Revenue generated in the North has been estimated by the Department of Finance and Personnel to be £12.7bn.

  • The real gap, therefore, between what the British actually allocate and what is raised in the north is £4.8 billion.

  • But the British government will not disclose how much revenue it takes out of the north.

  • There are significant gaps – for example, the amount raised by the British from corporation tax from stores and businesses which operate in the north, but which have their headquarters in England, or the amount of VAT generated through purchases in these stores.

  • So, the actual gap between what is raised and what is spent is likely to be significantly less than the £4.8 billion that we have identified.

Concluding Mr. Adams says:

  • A planned single island economy would be good for prosperity; good for jobs; good for investment.

  • Greater co-operation and harmonisation and unity would transform the economic and political landscape on this island.

  • Imagine the financial and efficiency benefits if there was one education system, one health service, one energy network and all island investment practices.

  • Imagine one economy, not two and without the differing rates in VAT, in corporation tax, in excise duties as well as currency.

  • Imagine how much better off citizens would be if there was a comprehensive all-Ireland Economic Recovery Plan which was able to deliver prosperity and sustainable economic growth.

  • Imagine ‘Brand Ireland’ being employed creatively to grow our exports and create jobs.

 Full Text of Gerry Adams' remarks:

Irish Unity – Let the People Decide

A chairde Gael, táim fíor buíoch díbh ar fad  as ucht teacht anseo inniu. 

Tá sé deacair a chreidiúint ar an Cháisc seo, go bhfuil cúig bliana déag imithe ó déanadh Comhaontú Aoine an Chéasta.

This Easter marks 15 years since the Good Friday Agreement.

In those negotiations Sinn Féin secured the removal of the Government of Ireland Act, by which the British claimed jurisdiction over a part of Ireland.

In its place the Good Friday Agreement recognised – and I quote – “that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment, to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish, accepting that this right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people” in the north of Ireland.

The Good Friday Agreement also commits the British government to holding a border poll and London has undertaken to legislate for a united Ireland if a majority of those voting express a wish that the north should cease to be part of the British union.

Of course, neither the British or Irish governments have any intention of holding a border poll at this time.

Our objective is to change that.

Tá sé mar aidhm againn é seo a athrú.

It is time for the governments to set a date.

Sinn Féin is open to suggestions about the timing of this.

However we will be looking for the referendum in the next term of the Assembly and Oireachtas.

Our focus therefore coming out of this conference must be on building popular support for a date to be set.

But most importantly we also have to secure sufficient votes to win a border poll.

Creidim gur féidir linn é seo a dhéanamh.

The Good Friday Agreement provides a peaceful and democratic process to facilitate change and usher in equality.

I believe that the discussion around a border poll will also provide a unique opportunity for a historic debate on the future shape and direction of this island.

Sinn Féin is ea Páirtí poblachtánach bródúil na hÉireann.

We want to live in a real republic, a new republic. We are not on our own.

Politics across this island are in transition.

Societal attitudes are changing as a consequence of the peace process and the recent revelations of corruption, the economic crisis and the austerity policies of successive conservative governments in this state.

Sinn Féin is doing our best to engage with those sectors of society who are part of this transition.

We want to learn from and to influence these tendencies.

We have held a series of very successful conferences and consulted widely and we will continue to do so.

Leading economists, business people and trade unionists participated along with senior unionist politicians.  

We also organised major conferences in the USA, Canada and Britain as part of a process of reaching out to the Irish diaspora and to potential allies in those places.

The next step is a border poll.

Political landscape changing

It is an undeniable fact that the impact of partition on this island has been hugely detrimental to the majority of people who live here, regardless of our religious or political views.

The additional and unnecessary costs of running two competing economies and states on an island this size; the inefficiencies in the duplication of essential public services, like health and education, energy and agriculture; and a relatively small population, have undermined our ability as an island people to maximise our economic potential, create jobs and build prosperity.

Partition also created two conservative states on the island.

In the south this was characterised by economic failure, by emigration, and by corruption within the golden circles of politics and business.

In the north this led to institutionalised and structured discrimination and sectarianism, and to nine decades of division and conflict.

Sectarianaism has to be eradicated. It cannot be tolerated.

And there needs to be genuine educational and information initiatives to understand it causes and to remove it.

However, despite the efforts of tiny minorities to cling to the past the peace and political processes have allowed an entire generation to live in relatively peaceful conditions.

One consequence of this is that the political geography of the north is changing.

The northern state was gerrymandered to allow for a permanent unionist two thirds majority.

Three of the nine Ulster counties were jettisoned to guarantee this.

Margaret Thatcher once claimed famously, and wrongly, that the north was as British as Finchley.

But the census figures published in December reveal that only  40% of citizens there stated that they had a British only identity.

A quarter (25%) stated that they had an Irish only identity and just over a fifth (21%) had a Northern Irish only identity.

That’s 46% of citizens consciously opting for some form of Irish only identity.

Statisticians and politicians will argue over the significance of this. 

But what is certain is that the political and demographic landscape in the north is changing.  

Protecting identities and traditions

All of this argues for a step change in Sinn Féin’s approach to those who are unionist or who would once have described themselves as such and a greater focus on our engagement with them.

This work has been ongoing for some time now.

Tá tús curtha leis an obair.

But we must do more.

Republicans need a process of pro-active listening.

We want to hear what unionists have to say.

We must use every opportunity to engage in dialogue at a personal level as well as in more formal ways.

Sinn Féin also needs to spell out in an explicit and unambiguous fashion the core values that will shape our vision of a new inclusive Ireland.

Core values that will protect all citizens, including rigorously and unequivocally seeking to protect all identities and traditions.

Like the Good Friday Agreement we are for the “principles of full respect for, and equality of, civil, political, social and cultural rights, of freedom from discrimination for all citizens, and of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos, and aspirations of both communities …”

The Agreement also guarantees in the event of a united Ireland that the right of those who define themselves as British will not be affected.

We must articulate that position clearly.

The British subvention

There is also a very clear economic dimension to all of this.

Almost the first argument made by the unionist leaders who spoke at our conferences was to claim that the north could not survive without the British subvention.

This was variously stated as either £9 billion or £10.5 billion.

It was also said that the south could not afford to take on that financial burden.

This subvention argument is deeply flawed and the known facts bear this out.

The British Treasury projects expenditure attached to the North at £23.2bn annually.

This comprises £5.7 billion of expenditure which includes £3.2 billion that is spent on the British military and wars in Afghanistan; British Debt; and the British Civil list; and £1.5 billion that is spent by British Civil Servants in Whitehall on War Pensions, Royal Travel and palaces, Military Museums etc. 

There is also millions spent on the NIO. 

So, the actual amount the British Government allocates to the north is £17.5 billion.

Revenue generated in the North has been estimated by the Department of Finance and Personnel to be £12.7bn.

The real gap, therefore, between what the British actually allocate and what is raised in the north is £4.8 billion.

But the British government will not disclose how much revenue it takes out of the north.

Níl rialtas na Breataine ag tabhairt aon eolas cruinn agus fírinneach dúinn ar chúrsaí airgeadais.

Anyone trying to establish this has to rely on estimates from the Department of Finance and Personnel.

These contain significant gaps – for example, the amount raised by the British from corporation tax from stores and businesses which operate in the north, but which have their headquarters in England, or the amount of VAT generated through purchases in these stores.

So, the actual gap between what is raised and what is spent is likely to be significantly less than the £4.8 billion that we have identified.

Moreover as we investigate further I am confident that the economic argument in favour of unity will grow stronger.

Good For jobs – good for growth

Republicans believe that partition has been bad for the people of this island and for our economy.

It has been bad for investment. Bad for growth. Bad for jobs 

A planned single island economy would be good for prosperity; good for jobs; good for investment.

It would benefit everyone. Together is stronger

Greater co-operation and harmonisation and unity would transform the economic and political landscape on this island.

Imagine the financial and efficiency benefits if there was one education system, one health service, one energy network and all island investment practices.

Imagine one economy, not two and without the differing rates in VAT, in corporation tax, in excise duties as well as currency.

Imagine how much better off citizens would be if there was a comprehensive all-Ireland Economic Recovery Plan which was able to deliver prosperity and sustainable economic growth.

Imagine ‘Brand Ireland’ being employed creatively to grow our exports and create jobs.

All of these things and more are possible.

Seo cúis dóchas – go bhfuil na rudaí seo ar fad indéanta.

Let the people decide

Chairde, a new Ireland can be what we make it.

Tá sé suas chugainne. 

The border poll is a key element of this.

It provides an opportunity to focus on the future: to build a modern, dynamic new Ireland – in which there is genuine reconciliation, and out of which a more equitable society can emerge.

Irish unity makes sense.

Eire aontaithe, déanann sé ciall.

It makes political sense.

It makes economic sense.

It is in the best interests of the people of these islands.

The Good Friday Agreement provides a legislative, peaceful and democratic route to Irish unity.

A Border Poll is the means.

Let the people decide!

The changing economic and demographic dynamics make Irish unity a realisable, achievable, doable objective.

Of course this will be challenging.

Gan dabht, beidh sé dúshlánach

There will be those who will say it’s impossible.

Sinn Féin is a movement of realists.

We don’t underestimate the challenges ahead but we know that nothing is impossible.

So, let’s remember that many of those who dismiss our vision also said there would be no peace process, no cessations, no deal on policing or arms, and that Ian Paisley and the DUP would never share power with nationalists and republicans.

All of those things came to pass.

Níl aon rud dodhéanta má chuirimid chuige agus aghaidh a thabhairt air.

Wolfe Tone, a Protestant and the father of Irish republicanism, captured the spirit of what Irish republicans of this generation seek to achieve when he wrote that “the weight of English influence in the government of this country is so great as to require a cordial union among all the people of Ireland.”

That’s our goal – a free, united Ireland – and a cordial union between the peoples of this island.

So, its time for a debate.

It’s time for a date.

It’s time for a border poll.

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