Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Murphy challenges British to begin debate on future relationship with Ireland

28 September, 2005

Sinn Féin MP for Newry & Armagh Conor Murphy today addressed the Sinn Féin fringe meeting at the Labour party conference in Brighton. Mr Murphy challenged people in Britain to use the ending of the IRA armed campaign to launch a debate in that country about the future of the relationship between Britain and Ireland.

Mr Murphy said:

People are very welcome here to the annual Sinn Féin fringe meeting at the Labour party conference in Brighton.

Much has changed in the 12 months since we were last here. Mo Mowlam who made such a significant contribution to the development of the Irish peace process and the achievement of the Good Friday Agreement sadly passed away a number of weeks ago. Her contribution to Labour politics in Britain was also immense and I am sure that her loss is being felt throughout the Labour movement in Britain and especially here in Brighton this week. In Ireland recent historic initiatives by the IRA have profoundly changed the political landscape forever.

Sinn Féin set out over ten years ago a strategy which we said could remove the guns from Irish politics - all of the guns British, unionist and republican.

In April of this year Gerry Adams made a direct appeal to the men and woman volunteers of the IRA to embrace wholly peaceful and democratic activity to advance the goal of Irish unity and independence.

In July the IRA formally ended its armed campaign and on Monday of this week the IICD announced that the IRA had fulfilled its stated commitment to put all of its arms beyond use.

I want to commend the leadership of the IRA for moving so decisively.

But resolving the issue of IRA arms which the securocrats and others opposed to change have used to try and strangle the peace process over the last decade is only one piece in the jigsaw. The other arms need to be dealt with also. So to the crucially important political issues which need to be resolved.

Both governments now need to be focused, decisive and creative. They need to implement the Good Friday Agreement as they have promised to do. The British government must make progress on equality, policing, human rights, people on the run and victims. There must also be progress on other issues, including prisoners and Northern representation in the Oireachtas.

There must be a proper peace dividend to tackle inequality, discrimination, deprivation and sectarianism wherever it exists.

The political institutions must be restored. In the absence of this Peter Hain has indicated very clearly that the British Direct Rule Administration has mapped out a plan of increased privatisation of public services, a sell off of public buildings, a programme of school closures and the imposition of a double taxation on water.

Sinn Féin oppose this absolutely. But the reality remains that the only way in which these types of policies can be stopped and proper locally controlled public services can be secured is through local politicians taking power and taking decisions.

Unionism needs to face up to this reality also. Are they prepared to stand back and allow part time British Ministers to take decisions like this which will impact negatively on their own constituency or are they going to sit down with Sinn Féin and others and work the all-Ireland political institutions demanded by the Good Friday Agreement.

Unionists say they do not trust republicans. But they do need to trust themselves. The IRA's decision to formally end its armed campaign and its decision to put its arms beyond use are genuine initiatives to revive the peace process by conclusively resolving the concerns of unionists.

Issues relating to the IRA, which were presented as difficulties for unionists, have now been definitively dealt with.

I would appeal therefore to political leaders to respond carefully. The words of some in the past have fuelled sectarian violence against Catholics and nationalists.

This initiative has opened up a new phase in Irish political life. This is not just about the peace process and conflict resolution. It is bigger than the question of arms or the IRA.

It is about the future of Ireland, the type of country that we want to live in, the sort of society that we desire for the future. And for people here it provides an opportunity to address in a fundamental way the relationship between Britain and Ireland.

For too long, generations in fact, British policy towards Ireland has been based solely upon military considerations and maintenance of the union. Decades of military occupation, decades of repressive legislation and decades of misunderstanding have inevitably resulted in Irish people viewing Britain's role in Ireland with suspicion and hostility.

The removal of the IRA weapons from the equation should now allow an honest debate to take place on the future direction of British policy towards Ireland and the role of future British governments as persuaders for Irish unity must form part of that.

The fact remains that despite all of the good work and effort put into the political and peace process by this Labour government, and I commend Tony Blair for his efforts since 1997 in advancing the search for peace, British policy towards Ireland is still one of maintaining the union and the constitutional status quo. This needs to be the focus of an intense discussion both within the Labour Movement in Britain and within society as a whole.

The Sinn Féin strategy is to bring about Irish unity and independence. The context for this is the Good Friday Agreement. It is my firm belief that it is simply not sustainable for an island of less than 5 million people to continue to waste scarce resources duplicating its public services and economies.

The core problem remains Britain's involvement in Irish affairs. But we must plan in a structured way for the ending of partition and the establishment of a truly united country on the island. We have sought that the Irish government bring forward a Green Paper and appoint a Minister with responsibility for planning for Irish unity.

That is not just the task of republicans or the Irish government. If people in Britain share our vision of an Ireland at peace with itself and with its nearest neighbour, and I believe that the vast majority do, then pressure needs to be brought to bear on the British government to abandon the policy of maintaining the union, and even ridding themselves of the notion that they are ambivalent on the issue, but to shift their position onto the ground of joining with Irish republicans and nationalists in attempting to persuade the unionist section of our people that their future is best secured within the context of a united and independent Ireland.

We are not naive about the hard work and the difficulties which have yet to be overcome. But a new dynamic has been created. Republicans face into this with confidence. But we cannot be expected to do this on our own. Developing a viable political process is not a spectator sport. It requires input from everyone involved.

Shaping a new Ireland is what we are about. We have sought and will continue to build alliances with Trade Unions, other political parties and progressive opinion on the island as we try a build a new future based upon equality, human rights and justice.

We also clearly have a job of work to do in the time ahead building such alliances with similar groups here in Britain as we seek to alter Britain's attitude and policy towards Ireland in the months and years ahead." ENDS

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