Barry McElduff MLA – Political Reform
I am very pleased to formally open this section of the Ard Fhéis on the subject of Public Sector and Political Reform. I specifically wish to address motions 2, 3 and 4 and to formally move motion 2 on behalf of the Ard Chomhairle.
Firstly, I want to address the issue of the establishment of the Constitutional Convention, a significant political development, which Sinn Féin welcomes even if we feel that the terms of reference for this convention are too restricted. That said, Sinn Féin is engaging very positively and whole-heartedly in the work of the Constitutional Convention, which is made up of 100 delegates from political parties and randomly selected citizens.
You will know that the purpose of the Convention is to discuss and make recommendations on changing the Constitution in eight specific areas. At the beginning of this process, Sinn Féin sought and secured the requirement that the Constitutional Convention give ‘appropriate regard’ to the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
It is a matter of regret that unionist political parties who have been invited to participate have so far declined the invitation but it is welcome that the Alliance party, the Green party and the SDLP from the north are taking part.
Of course, Sinn Féin looks beyond the 1937 Constitution because that document was essentially written for a 26 county state, newly emerging from British colonisation, partition and a bloody civil war. It was written for a very different society indeed. Sinn Féin recognises the need for comprehensive constitutional reform in the immediate short-term and that is why Sinn Féin is pushing the boat out in attempting to broaden the convention’s scope.
But more than this, motion 2, asks the Ard Fheis to note the necessity of a completely new constitution for a united Ireland, which will follow a referendum vote in favour of unification. That is where we really want to go. I want to emphasise that 75 years after the writing of the 1937 Constitution there is a new all Ireland dynamic at play in politics now, following the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
This dynamic includes all-Ireland institutions and a new political and constitutional imperative. There is a specific Committee working within the Oireachtas, which deals with the out-workings of the Good Friday Agreement and the need to secure the full implementation of the Agreement. This Committee includes TDs and MPs from all parts of Ireland and in the recent past, they travelled, for example, to East Belfast to meet with community and political leaders from loyalist working class areas in that part of Ireland’s second city.
Their voice, the voice of unionists and loyalists needs to be heard within the Constitutional Convention and their voice needs to be heard as we work towards the shaping of a new Ireland and a new constitution. After all Sinn Féin’s vision for a new Ireland is wholly inclusive. In many ways, the Constitutional Convention is an opportunity to reshape things and to be truly national, incorporating each of the 32 counties and all its people, thinking beyond partition.
Aspects of the Constitutional Convention to date, which are very positive include a call for a reduction of the voting age to 16, votes in favour of women’s equality. Sinn Féin feels very strongly that voting rights in future Presidential Elections should be extended to Irish citizens in the North and to the Irish diaspora.
If this requires a constitutional amendment, then so be it, let us go down that road. It wouldn’t be an opening address from me at a Sinn Féin Ard Fheis if I did not make some reference to my own native county of Tyrone…playing in Croke Park this very Sunday against Kildare in the National Football League Division One semi-final. I hear that Mayo are playing Dublin on the same bill. Four teams from different parts of Ireland but only three sets of players are able to elect our national President.
So I am here in Castlebar to open this section and cry discrimination. This is just one of the many political reform issues which we need to address urgently as we journey towards a united Ireland.