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McDonald challenges government to convene Irish unity forum

26 January, 2019 - by Mary Lou McDonald TD


Speaking today at the ‘Beyond Brexit’ conference in Belfast’s Waterfront Hall, Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald TD challenged the Irish government to convene a forum to begin planning for Irish unity. 

Mary Lou McDonald said:

“To those that say, ‘now is not the time for unity', I say otherwise.

“History is unfolding. The next chapter is being written. Now is the time.

“The biggest mistake – and most reckless course of action – is for leaders to set their face against the inevitable and to try to deny the people their democratic right to define their future.

“It is irresponsible and arrogant for a Dublin government to shout down any prospect of a unity referendum.

“The responsible thing to do is to play a part in shaping change and engage in the debate that is underway.

“I want to, again, challenge the government in Dublin to convene a forum to begin the planning for Irish unity.” 

Full text of Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald’s speech to the Beyond Brexit conference at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast on Saturday 26 January 2019

McDonald challenges Irish government to convene forum for Irish Unity

“Dia dhaoibh go léir a chairde.

Go raibh míle maith agat ... agus do gach éinne agaibh as ucht an fáilte sin a thabhairt.

Ar dtús, ba mhaith liom a rá go bhfuil mé thar a bheith sásta bheith libh anseo i mBéal Feirste um thráthnona agus tá sé iontach slua chomh mór seo a fheiceáil anseo inniu.

Welcome and thank you to the organisers for the invite to attend today and the opportunity to address you after a stimulating, engaging and challenging day of discussions.

We have today the confident, assertive and creative voices of progressive Irish nationalism.

We are not a homogenous group.

Irish nationalism has many strands, tendencies, traditions and regional differences.

I, for example, am a proud Dub.

Nationalists are diverse and we are ambitious. We are united in our belief that Ireland can best develop, prosper and deliver for every citizen through the means of self-government.

We believe that our economy, our public services and our people are best served on a thirty-two county basis.

There are no narrow nationalists here.

We are citizens of Ireland. We should all have same rights as other Irish Citizens including the right to vote for an Uachtarán na hÉireann.

We want to be citizens of a united, socially just and prosperous Ireland.

We are citizens of the world.

There are no ‘little Irelanders’ here and we will not tolerate the narrowness of the Brexiteers.

We will not tolerate a policy of isolation imposed by Brexiteers.

We insist that the British State honour its obligations to Ireland under international law.

We insist our rights are recognised and our voice heard.

The people here voted to remain in the European Union and that vote should be respected.

Sinn Féin is critical of the direction the EU project has taken. We believe the EU has lost its way.

We believe there needs to be a fundamental discussion and a fundamental reorientation in the direction and priorities of Europe.

An EU that respects the independence of nations. An EU that acts in the interests of citizens rather than the markets; that acts in the interests of the many and not the few.

But for all our criticism of Europe, Brexit is not the answer.

Brexit was never the answer.

We want to change Europe; not leave it.

At all times we are guided by a duty of care; a duty of care that puts Ireland’s interests, our agreements, our economy and the rights of citizens front and centre.

That is why we called for special status for the north.

This is now the position of the Irish government and the EU.

The Withdrawal Agreement between Britain and the EU with the ‘backstop’ is the bottom line, and the bare minimum required to protect Irish interests.

We also have a duty of candour; to call out cant, hypocrisy and delusion.

That is why we call out the reckless behaviour of the DUP and Tories.

That is why we say clearly and consistently – there is no good Brexit.

If the Brexit fantasists have their way – and if there is a crash - there will be serious consequences for our island.

No ‘backstop’ means:

* a hardening of the border;

* the undermining of the Good Friday Agreement;

* the loss of rights;

* continued uncertainty and instability.

That is why the Irish government cannot, and must not, blink at this time.

We say loudly and clearly that a hardening of the border is inconceivable and will be met by the demand for a unity referendum.

In other words, if Brexit cannot be managed and mitigated, then the people must have the opportunity to remove the border for once and for all.

The absolute ‘backstop’ for citizens is the Good Friday Agreement.

It is a unity referendum.

That fact has to be respected.

The honest truth is that we do not know what will happen over the coming weeks and months; a deal, no deal, a hard Brexit, a soft Brexit or no Brexit.

It is not in our hands but in the hands of a minority Tory government in London.

And that is the crux of the problem.

The current Brexit crisis is but a symptom of a much deeper problem.

Friends, that problem is partition.

While the Brexiteers dream of an Empire long gone, there are those within Unionism with a burning nostalgia for the good old days that never were and a perpetual majority that has ended.

We have to be straight with each other.

The north has changed.

The Unionist majority is no more and nationalist strength is growing. Modernity beckons and a more progressive society is emerging.

Once upon a time, the economic engine of Ireland was the north-east.

Belfast was the biggest city and Home Rule was, justifiably, seen as Rome Rule.

Those days are over.

It is our job as leaders – each and every one of us – to now manage the evolving process of change with care, patience and generosity.

To those that say, ‘now is not the time for unity', I say otherwise.

History is unfolding. The next chapter is being written.

Now is the time.

The biggest mistake – and most reckless course of action – is for leaders to set their face against the inevitable and to try to deny the people their democratic right to define their future.

It is irresponsible and arrogant for a Dublin government to shout down any prospect of a unity referendum.

The responsible thing to do is to play a part in shaping change and engage in the debate that is underway.

I want to, again, challenge the government in Dublin to convene a forum to begin the planning for Irish unity.

And for the avoidance of any doubt, let me say there is no contradiction in seeking the establishment of a functioning Assembly and an Executive, and calling for a unity referendum.

Both are grounded in the Good Friday Agreement.

It is not a case of either/or.

We can have institutions operating to the highest standards of governance that safeguard rights and deliver for all.

Sinn Féin is determined to re-establish the institutions and deliver genuine powersharing in line with the Good Friday and subsequent agreements.

In our time we now have an opportunity that was denied to generations – a peaceful and democratic route to Irish unity; to build a new and united Ireland.

I’m not talking about bolting north to south.

I am talking about a new and united Ireland that must be just that; new and united.

The failed conservative states of the past are gone.

The failed policies of successive Irish governments must also go.

The south is a place of potential, prosperity and opportunity, but it is also blighted by inequality, a housing crisis, homelessness and a chaotic health service.

Together, united, we change that.

To paraphrase Connolly; our future cannot be merely about changing the colour of a flag.

Ireland, north and south, has great wealth and great resources, and we are blessed with an industrious and innovative population.

The wealth of the nation can be shared with the people of the nation.

A new Ireland must be a place of equal rights, equal opportunities and shared prosperity.

It must have a truly national healthcare system operating to the highest standards, delivering for all on the basis of need and not ability to pay.

It must be the Ireland of the helping hand and the safety net.

It must be a place for all to call home and it must provide a home for all.

A place where we are united in our diversity.

Where you can be British, Irish, both or neither.

Where you are respected and your rights safeguarded.

The Good Friday Agreement not only provides a road map to Irish unity, but also safeguards the right to citizenship, equality and parity of esteem.

There can be no diminution of these rights in a new and united Ireland.

The Unionist community will not only have a home in Ireland, they will have a place at the table. A place at the centre of political life and not left in the margins of Westminster.

The Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist community are part of the diversity of our nation.

They are part of the discussion to shape a new Ireland. They are partners in building a new Ireland.

Our shared, but oft times, troubled history can be reconciled.

We are unique and diverse in our traditions, but I believe that together, united, the people of our nation add up to a sum greater than our individual parts.

We seek to unite Protestant, Catholic and dissenter.

There are no second-class citizens in this land.

We are about reaching out, and we are about building anew.

Brexit will play its way out over the coming weeks.

It brings into stark relief the failure of partition and presents the opportunity to look ahead and to challenge prevailing views and notions.

To look to a future free from recrimination of what has been; and to look towards what can be.

Regardless of Brexit, there will be a unity referendum.

It is our job to win that – and win it well.

We have no interest in fighting battles long over.

It is not about what we have; we hold. It is about how we share our future and this island.

It will require a collective national event. All here must have a role to play and all must find a voice.

There will always be those who hide behind the mantra the time is not right.

Now is the time.

And the people must have that choice.

Is rogha an phobail é agus ní mór do na daoine an rogha sin a bheith acu.

Caithfear an cheist sin a chur.

Continued partition or a new and united Ireland.

That question must be put.

I am confident that this is the time.

This is your time, our time.

It will require an collective national event.

Rights can no longer be delayed.

Aspirations can longer be curbed.

Voices can no longer be stilled.

Those days are gone.

Now is the time to look to the future; with confidence, patience and generosity.

Now is the time to make history.

To break from the past and think anew.

To build a new and united Ireland.

Prosperous, free and home to all.

So sin é a chairde.

Míle buíochas agus go raibh míle maith agaibh.

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