Building a new, agreed and united Ireland – Michelle O'Neill
I wish to begin by welcoming and thanking you all for coming here today to take part in what is a critical discussion on the political future of this island – an agreed future and a New Ireland.
The Brexit referendum result a year ago has swept away many of the previous political assumptions about the constitutional, political and economic status quo of the North.
Ireland’s political landscape, North and South, will change dramatically over the next number of years.
Added to this has been the recent Assembly and Westminster election results which show that the electorate and the wider population are once again re-engaged in the political process.
This is a good and necessary thing.
These elections have activated a transformation unimaginable to the founders of the Northern state.
For Sinn Féin this is all about defending people’s rights, interests and shaping our constitutional, political and economic future on this island.
Make no mistake about it - there is a strong sense across the island that we are now entering into a new political era and a new conversation about the future is underway outside and beyond the political classes.
People understand that this is all about our future and that the political stakes are high.
The old certainties are gone.
The perpetual unionist majority has ended.
Europe is in a state of flux.
People know that Brexit will be a disaster for our economy. That is why a cross-community majority here voted against it last June.
It will be a disaster for local business, for farmers and the wider agri-food industry, for the health service, for workers’ rights, border communities and our peace process.
Brexit and the Good Friday Agreement are incompatible. It undermines the constitutional, institutional and political framework and is literally an act of political vandalism.
It is unacceptable. It is not in our economic interests.
And it is being forced upon us by a reckless and dangerous self-serving Tory government in London who do not care if this island becomes collateral damage – to be frank.
Partition divided our people, our economy, our public services, and the democratic system. It was wrong and it has failed.
And ending partition has now taken on a new dynamic following the Brexit referendum.
Sinn Féin is sensibly arguing the case for the North to be designated special status within the EU giving us access to the single market, no borders, and securing the entire island of Ireland in the EU together, including special provisions to allow the North to seamlessly resume full status within the EU in the aftermath of a successful Irish Unity referendum.
This can be done within the current constitutional arrangements.
The Good Friday Agreement political institutions, human rights guarantees, all-Ireland bodies, and the constitutional and legal right of the people to exercise their right to self-determination and a united Ireland through consent, by referendum north and south, must all be protected.
I am confident that as the consequences of Brexit become clearer more and more people from a unionist background will be open to the idea of exploring new relationships on this island.
Brexit demonstrates the undemocratic nature of partition.
The political landscape is starting to dramatically change – the onus is absolutely on all of us to shape that change, by organising and intelligently putting the argument for unity and for a referendum as set out in the Good Friday Agreement.
The Good Friday Agreement provides a peaceful democratic pathway to Irish Unity.
Sinn Féin believes there should be a referendum vote on Irish unity within the next five years.
I believe that the opportunities for real change are within our grasp.
I believe that now is the time to plan a new, agreed and united Ireland.
A progressive, prosperous and inclusive Ireland.
One in which all identities and traditions have a place and the opportunity to contribute to our shared nation – unionist and nationalist together.
There is an onus and responsibility on republicans and United Irelanders to persuade others and win hearts and minds to the merits of reunification and how it is in all our best longer term interests.
We must advocate for it, campaign for it and win the debate for it.
But Sinn Féin do not own the debate or the idea of a United Ireland. It belongs to everyone who shares this island together.
However, it is our primary objective and we are clearly up for the debate because we are confident in our vision.
We are confident about the economic, social and political benefits that a new Ireland will bring.
Independent studies have already concluded that the island’s economy would benefit to the tune of €35billion.
I am sure we will hear much more about the benefits throughout the course of today’s discussions.
Irish unity is now firmly on the agenda.
Today will also demonstrate that the debate doesn’t have to be divisive.
It doesn’t have to be rancorous.
It can be mature, rational and respectful. Exploring, debating and discussing the evidence to deliver constitutional and political change in an objective manner – and surely that’s what politics is about.