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New realities, big opportunities – govts should start planning for Irish reunification – Kearney

8 September, 2018 - by Declan Kearney


New realities,  big opportunities –  governments should start planning for Irish reunification – Kearney

Sinn Féin MLA and National Chairperson Declan Kearney told the British Irish Association conference today that the debate on Irish unity and the timing of a unity referendum have now moved centre stage.

Declan Kearney said:

“Ireland faces huge political and economic challenges at this time.

“There is a real risk that 25 years of progress could be squandered.

“The absence of functioning political institutions is bad for society.

“The failure to fully implement and defend the Good Friday Agreement damages both the peace and political processes.

“And the catastrophe of Brexit has been torpedoed into the midst of these difficulties.

“There is a need for us all to look beyond the existing crises and challenges and to provide hope and positive vision.

“Sinn Féin has sought, and seeks to be generous, flexible and compassionate, in the interests of the greater good and a shared society in the north; in developing new relations in Ireland; and, between Ireland and Britain.”

The South Antrim MLA said that a new generation is now questioning partition and its abject failure.

“Partition is the central fault line at the heart of Irish politics and society.

"It has been an abject failure from its imposition.

“The greater majority of citizens in the north are committed to the Good Friday Agreement.

“They want rights to be guaranteed which are already enjoyed by others in Dublin, London, Edinburgh and Cardiff.

“They seek a rights based society copper fastened by the Bill of Rights enshrined within the Good Friday Agreement.

:The political earthquake of Brexit has again exposed the negative role that partition continues to play in Irish affairs, and the fundamentally anti-democratic nature of the union with Britain.

“A new generation is questioning partition.

“Brexit has become a defining moment for these islands.

“The debate on Irish unity and the timing of a unity referendum have now moved centre stage.

“Negative mismanagement of the Irish peace process and the Good Friday Agreement by successive British governments, and the particular pro unionist bias of the Conservative government since 2010, must be replaced with a recognition that the transition towards Irish unity should begin.

“Brexit means that change in the political relations between Britain and Ireland is now unavoidable.

"In parallel, the Irish government needs to begin to prepare for the constitutional, political and economic transition towards Irish unity.

“The Irish government should commence a discussion with the EU commission and institutions to explore their practical role and support in facilitating an efficient process of reunification.”

And Declan Kearney said that republicans and nationalists need to recognize and deal with real apprehensions within the unionist community. 

“Political unionism must open itself up to the new reality that Ireland has changed dramatically.

“Some voices within unionism – few in number, but notable – have recognised these realities and urge fellow unionists to join the debate and to become pioneers of our collective future.

“However, republicans and nationalists need to recognise the existence of real apprehensions and fears within the unionist constituency.

“Unionist citizens need to be convinced that the failures and injustices of the past will never be repeated and that the new transformational challenges to be faced will be managed with generosity and magnanimity.

“The opportunity is emerging to create a unity of belonging for those who define themselves as British as well as Irish; and, who share the unionist political identity and orange cultural traditions.

“Irish unity is both reasonable and achievable.

“This is a time for us all to become pioneers for the future; to be visionary with our politics; and to make the decisions now about planning and designing the future.” ENDS/CRÍOCH

FULL TEXT OF DECLAN KEARNEY’S SPEECH TO THE BRITISH IRISH ASSOCIATION CONFERENCE 

New Realities. Big opportunities. – The British and Irish governments should start planning for Irish reunification

"The seminal lesson of the Irish peace process is that, regardless to the extent of adversity, engagement and dialogue is essential at all times.

Events like this are to be welcomed as a forum for bringing together diverse political and governmental perspectives from across these islands.

These can be important opportunities to listen to other perspectives if preconceptions, and also misconceptions, about the analysis and ideas of others are suspended, in order to hear the actual messages being communicated by contributors, and to politically reflect on and internalise what is actually being said, rather than applying the political filter of what we think should be said, according to our own positions.

My remarks are framed on that basis.

Ireland faces huge political and economic challenges at this time.

The political crisis in the north continues to deepen by the day. 

The community is becoming increasingly polarised.

There is a real risk that 25 years of progress could be squandered.

The absence of functioning political institutions is bad for society. 

The failure to fully implement and defend the Good Friday Agreement damages both the peace and political processes.

And the catastrophe of Brexit has been torpedoed into the midst of these difficulties.

However, the darkest hour is always just before the dawn.

That’s an echo of the Deepak Chopra quote: “Every great change is preceded by chaos”

There is a need for us all to look beyond the scale of existing crises and challenges and to provide hope and positive vision.

I am more taken by another Deepak Chopra quote: “Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future.”

Consider for a moment the years leading up to the Good Friday Agreement when political conflict and violence across these islands intensified rather than reduced. 

Yet, once a roadmap to peace and democratic change had been identified, those committed to that path were not deflected.

They delivered the Good Friday Agreement and in so doing created the political architecture upon which the peace process could be sustained.

I represent a republican tradition which is rooted in the timeless principles of equality, fraternity and liberty; of anti-sectarianism; of civil and religious liberties, and, the rights and emancipation of all citizens.

That philosophical framework is what has guided Sinn Féin’s peace strategy for the last thirty years.

The politics of Sinn Féin, and our investment in the wider Irish peace process, has consistently been about the future and the aspiration of a new society based upon inclusion, equality, mutual respect and rights.

We have sought, and seek to be generous, flexible and compassionate, in the interests of the greater good and a shared society in the north; in developing new relations in Ireland; and, between Ireland and Britain.

We have stretched ourselves and our base in taking unparalleled initiatives. 

Much has been accomplished by the Irish peace process.

It has proved to be the most important, transformative and successful political project in the history of modern Ireland.

Sinn Féin is absolutely dedicated and authentic in our commitment to opening a new phase of the peace process which secures a permanent reconciliation and healing process throughout the island of Ireland.

Partition is the central fault line at the heart of Irish politics and society.

It has been an abject failure from its imposition. 

The sectarian structure of the northern state post partition ensured that a substantial minority were destined never to be treated as equals.

The civil rights movement 50 years ago highlighted graphically the inability of the unionist state to treat the minority as equals and to accommodate modest reform.

Peaceful protest for change was met with violent opposition from the state.

This belligerent opposition from powerful sections within political unionism against reform of the northern state continues today in the form of political unionist hostility towards implementation of the Good Friday Agreement since 1998. 

The refusal of political unionism to embrace a rights-based society and equality has culminated in the political instability besetting the political process since 2012, and ultimately the collapse of the political institutions and associated crisis in the north for the last 18 months.

The greater majority of citizens in the north are committed to the Good Friday Agreement. 

They support proper power sharing and partnership government.

They want rights to be guaranteed which are already enjoyed by others in Dublin, London, Edinburgh and Cardiff.

They seek a rights based society copper fastened by the Bill of Rights enshrined within the Good Friday Agreement.

All that is best illustrated in the ending of the unionist political majority in the north at the Assembly election of March 2017, and the subsequent Westminster election in June 2017, when Sinn Féin received an historic mandate on an abstentionist platform.

Since the EU referendum in June 2016 the denial of the majority will in the north to remain within the EU has created further instability for politics and society.

The political earthquake of Brexit has again exposed the negative role that partition continues to play in Irish affairs, and the fundamentally anti-democratic nature of the union with Britain.

It has swept away all the previously established constitutional, political and economic assumptions about the political status quo on the island of Ireland, and relations between Ireland and Britain.

Over twenty years into the Irish peace process, Irish citizens in the north now face the very real and frightening potential of partition, as the main source of division and conflict in Ireland, being reinforced.

Importantly, arising from this convergence of political and economic crisis, a seismic shift has occurred in the ambition and expectation of republicans, nationalists and other citizens in the north.

A new generation is questioning partition.

The republican and nationalist constituency is now looking beyond Brexit and towards the prospect of accelerated Irish reunification.

Everything has changed.

Brexit has become a defining moment for these islands.

It is the point of departure for the next phase of politics and transformation.

It has introduced a new political discourse about the future of Ireland north and south, and the relationship with Britain and Europe.

The debate on Irish unity and the timing of a unity referendum have now moved centre stage.

Such conversations are taking place everywhere; at dinner tables, workplaces, at school gates and in every section of society and in places which were unthinkable ten years ago.

These new unprecedented realities in turn present new strategic challenges for all of us in political leadership.

They demand that we act as pioneers of the future not prisoners of the past.

So, I want to briefly reflect on what this means in four respects.

First, it is time for a paradigm shift in British government policy towards Ireland.

Negative mismanagement of the Irish peace process and the Good Friday Agreement by successive British governments, and the particular pro unionist bias of the Conservative government since 2010, must be replaced with a recognition that the transition towards Irish unity should begin.

Initially that should take the form of preparing for a unity referendum and by engaging in a new political discussion with the Irish government and all political parties on the island of Ireland in relation to reunification.

For many in the British establishment this will be an anathema.

For those in the Tory party leadership who have tied their electoral survival to an alliance with the DUP this prospect will be unthinkable.

However, Brexit means that change in the political relations between Britain and Ireland is now unavoidable, and, while partition never had any democratic legitimacy, its continued imposition is no longer sustainable.

It is time for historic, decisive and brave leadership to be shown by the British state.

In parallel, the Irish government needs to begin to prepare for the constitutional, political and economic transition towards Irish unity.

It should facilitate an open and inclusive national conversation on Irish unity involving all citizens, political parties, social partners and civic society.

A Green paper on Irish unity should be published detailing the constitutional, political, fiscal and economic measures for a successful transition to a united Ireland.

Sinn Féin advocates the establishment of an Oireachtas Joint Committee on Irish reunification.

An Irish government Minister for State should be appointed with responsibility for advancing Irish unity and coordinating a new governmental all Ireland policy.

The Irish government should commence a discussion with the EU commission and institutions to explore their practical role and support in facilitating an efficient process of reunification.

Thirdly, political unionism must open itself up to the new reality that Ireland has changed dramatically. 

Too many within the leadership of the DUP, and other unionist parties, seek refuge in the past, preferring to refight old battles, instead of looking forward to new opportunities.

Societal change brought about through referenda on Equal Marriage and women’s reproductive health rights means that political unionism can no longer conjure up the spectre of “Rome Rule”.

Increasing numbers of economic studies have empirically established the benefits of a unitary state.

Demographic shifts in the north are irreversible.

It is important to note that political unionism and indeed the DUP are not monolithic.

Some voices within unionism – few in number, but notable – have recognised these realities and urge fellow unionists to join the debate and to become pioneers of our collective future.

However, republicans and nationalists need to recognise the existence of real apprehensions and fears within the unionist constituency.

Unionist citizens need to be convinced that the failures and injustices of the past will never be repeated and that the new transformational challenges to be faced will be managed with generosity and magnanimity.

No one will have any reason to leave their home in an agreed united Ireland.

The 20% which would make up a new Ireland, who would not identify as Irish, must never feel the exclusion from society that was experienced by Irish citizens in the north under unionist rule.

We have learnt that lesson.

A minority should be cherished because it enriches society. 

Diversity should be celebrated and respected.

This presents a strategic challenge for republicans and nationalists.

I recognise that unionism needs to be persuaded that it can own a significant stake within a new, pluralist, constitutional, national democracy.

Republicans have a responsibility to develop a sense of belonging for all of those who should be welcomed, and cherished equally as children of a new Ireland.

This will require compromises and accommodation to guarantee religious, political and constitutional rights.

The spirit and principles of the Good Friday Agreement, so painstakingly developed and democratically endorsed by the people of Ireland twenty years ago, represent a constitutional and political framework to enshrine and guarantee equality and civil and religious liberties for all citizens.

The opportunity is emerging to reimagine Ireland; to reshape relationships; and create a unity of belonging for those who define themselves as British as well as Irish; and, who share the unionist political identity and orange cultural traditions. 

That is an Ireland where our distinct and historic political identities and cultural traditions can share their birthplace comfortably in common purpose and harmony.

Sinn Féin will act as a guarantor for the British identity and the unionist tradition.

But fundamental change can not be left to happenstance. It must be planned and resourced.

Who could have imagined thirty years ago that Germany would be reunited so successfully, or that the edifice of South African apartheid would fall five years later.

The modern precedents exist for successful political and economic transformation and transition.

Mandela was right: “It only seems impossible until it is done.”

Irish unity is both reasonable and achievable.

When I look to the future of Ireland I see only hope and opportunity.

Ireland today is a multi-cultural society, north and south. 

We are stronger as a people for that.

Sinn Féin’s vision is of a new inclusive, constitutional, rights-based democracy on the island of Ireland.

There is so much to be excited about the rainbow diversity of modern Ireland.

This is a time for us all to become pioneers for the future; to be visionary with our politics; and to make the decisions now about planning and designing the future." ENDS/CRÍOCH

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