Sinn Féin - On Your Side

de Brún - coming months will be critical for the peace process

17 April, 2006


Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre deBrún today delivered the Presidents Lecture at the Hobart and William Smith University in New York. The theme of the lecture was 'Building Peace in Ireland and the EU'.During the course of a wide ranging speech Ms deBrún said that the peace process was entering a critical number of months and that the DUP now faced a big decision - to share power with nationalists and republicans on the basis of equality for the first time.

She also warned the two governments that 'history will not be kind to any government that puts party political considerations above the peace process, whether it is the coalition government of Bertie Ahern in Dublin or the one led by Tony Blair in London.'

Please find the full text of the speech below

Building Peace in Ireland and in the EU

Bairbre de Brún MEP

Introduction

Sinn Féin was founded in 1905, one hundred years ago last year. We celebrated the centenary of our party through lectures, concerts and debates throughout Ireland.

This year, 2006, we mark two other important historical dates.It is the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising of 1916 when Irish men and women challenged the right of the British Empire to rule Ireland and declared a Republic through the Easter Proclamation.

It is also the 25th anniversary of the 1981 Hunger strike in which ten young men died so that Irish republicanism would not be labeled a criminal conspiracy.

The Easter Rising of 1916 brought together for the first time the main movements of the period in Ireland:-

The national movement

The movement for women's rights

The labour movement

The 1916 Proclamation reflects this. It is a unique document because of the social values it espoused at that time and for the resonance it still holds today. It guaranteed religious and civil liberty and rejected the sectarianism which, in the words of the proclamation, was 'carefully fostered' and which had 'divided a minority from the majority'. It upheld women's rights at a time when women did not have a vote. It envisioned an Ireland based on equality and justice and spoke of 'cherishing all the children of the nation equally'.

Although limited independence was won, and a now flourishing Irish state was established in the southern part of the island, the principles set out in the 1916 Proclamation have yet to be put fully into effect in Ireland.

We do not have independence and unity for the whole island nor do we have equality and justice. Of course the vision of the Proclamation has to be interpreted for our own time. The men and women of 1916 declared the Republic but the task of making their vision real has been carried on by following generations, including our own.

Twenty-five years ago, in 1981, ten young men died on hunger strike in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh prison.They were at the forefront of a struggle against British attempts to portray republican prisoners, and therefore the republican struggle, as criminal.

Their refusal to accept the criminal tag led to prolonged campaigning inside and outside the jail, and to the last resort of hunger strike.Just as 1916 had been a catalyst that led to the measure of independence won and the establishment of an Irish state, so the 1981 Hunger strike was a further catalyst in the long and torturous road towards freedom, justice and peace in Ireland.

Across the island of Ireland and all around the world, people responded to the prisoners demands for recognition as political prisoners. Here in America, there was a huge reaction to the hunger strikers‚ deaths, with marches, rallies and a strong lobby of the British government.

Several of the hunger strikers were elected in general elections, north and south.

Towards a Lasting Peace

These two events, which are celebrated in Ireland this year, were watersheds in Irish history. They inspire the generation that are actively building peace, and transforming the prospects for future generations of Irish men and women. Sinn Féin is playing a leading part in that.

The negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 sought a way to tackle the many and varied issues facing us as a society and to build a bridge out of conflict towards a better future for all.

Sinn Féin

Today Sinn Féin is the third largest political party in Ireland. We are the largest pro-Good Friday Agreement party in the north of Ireland. We are contending for government in both legislatures on the island, and we have representation on every elected body that affects the lives of Irish people, from the local to the regional and the European.

Sinn Féin is committed to promoting gender equality, within our party and across society more generally.We are simultaneously the oldest political party in Ireland and the youngest, having been founded before any other and having the most youthful membership.

We have increased our vote and our share of the vote in every election in the past decade.We are a party on the move and are wielding greater influence in the shaping the future of our country.

Reviving the Peace Process

For more than ten years Irish republicans have played a leading role in the peace process. The peace process is in many ways the reworking of the relationships between unionism and the rest of the people of this island, and between all of us and the British government.

British policy in Ireland has historically been the catalyst for conflict and division in our country. From our point of view, British government policy ultimately needs to be about ending British jurisdiction on this island.

But building peace is not only about constitutional change. It is also about developing a fair and equal society, changing social, economic and political structures, building good relations and developing a culture that is respectful of human rights and the dignity of all.

Time and time again risks have been taken to advance the agenda for change. In July 2005 the IRA took the unprecedented stop of formally ending its armed campaign.

This was a massive development.

It dealt conclusively with many of the genuine concerns raised by unionists and opened up a huge opportunity to create a new era in Irish politics.In recent months we have seen the peace process continue to stagnate, as the unionist political parties, often with the active support of the British ort is vital for the Irish peace process.

From the very early stages of this process, such as President Clinton‚s granting of a visa for our party president Gerry Adams in 1994, through to the continued interest of the present Bush administration, international interest and support have given the process momentum, particularly at times when forces opposed to progress at home have tried to slow that momentum down.

Today the situation is no different.

The Irish diaspora in this and other countries and all other people who want to see peace in Ireland have a positive role to play in encouraging your own politicians and governments to press for political movement.

The Good Friday Agreement is the template. It is the compromise between all sides to the conflict. It has clear democratic legitimacy and support. On that basis the only option for us all is to ensure its full implementation.

As a member of the European Parliament I and my colleague Mary Lou McDonald MEP are actively working to ensure European governments and EU institutions play an active role in breaking the political deadlock in the Irish peace process.

International pressure is crucial if those forces opposed to peace and reconciliation in Ireland are to be convinced that the only way forward is through dialogue, power-sharing, equality and building a new Ireland together.

Europe & the Wider World

Of course our problems and difficulties in Ireland pale in comparison to many of the conflicts and crises in the wider world. Again as a member of the European parliament I am very conscious of this.

Sinn Féin is not just concerned about the future of our own country. We have a similarly progressive agenda for Europe and the wider world.

Sinn Féin has a policy of critical but constructive engagement with the European Union. This means we decide to support or oppose the many and complex developments in the EU each on their own merits. We have supported EU and other Europe-wide measures that promote and enhance human rights, equality, the environment and the all-Ireland agenda - measures which are an example of the EU at its best, promoting a guarantee of a basic level of rights protection in all member states.

But Sinn Féin has also never been afraid to stand up against EU measures damaging to Irish interests or to the vision we have of where Europe should stand in relation to the wider world.

We want to build a Europe of Equals - a true partnership of equal sovereign states, co-operating in social and economic development in Europe and beyond. We want an EU that promotes peace, demilitarisation and nuclear disarmament and the just resolution of conflicts under the leadership of a reformed, renewed and democratised United Nations.

Ultimately, we want a future United Ireland to take an active, leading role in such a reformed EU.

The European Union of today is a very unequal place; extreme wealth and poverty sit side by side. Millions of Euros are spent every year in the pursuit of a regional military army, whilst many member states, including our own, renege on their promise to increase overseas development aid spending to some of the world‚s poorest nations.Sinn Féin is about challenging all of this.

We are not anti-European, but we do want to see a different type of EU. We take the same approach to politics in Brussels and Strasbourg as we do in Ireland - this means building a true democracy, where both political and economic power is distributed as widely as possible - an Ireland and a Europe based on equality, justice, rights and empowerment.

However, we also recognised that as one of the wealthiest regions of the world, the European Union has a responsibility to redress the global imbalance of power and economic well being, which in many respects is part of the legacy of European colonisation and industrialisation. We want to promote a global justice agenda that includes arguing strongly for the democratisation of the United Nations; the immediate cancellation of developing world debt; the fulfilment of Millennium Development Goals; and playing a central part in tackling the ever growing challenge of HIV/AIDS.

As a party and as individuals we know first hand the reality of conflict.Our own focus on conflict resolution and peace building in Ireland has led us to be increasingly concerned at the way in which EU foreign and security policy is being framed. Rather than focusing on the causes of global conflict and instability, the dominant EU discourse is feeding the cycles of conflict by developing a security and military response, and wasting billions of euros of European taxpayers‚ money in return. In turn this security focus is influencing other areas of policy such as migration and trade policy.

Sinn Féin wants to see a demilitarised, nuclear free EU, which is actively addressing global inequality and disease, promoting disarmament and conflict resolution.

Women in Politics

As a woman I am very conscious of the way in which mainstream politics actively discourages and blocks many young women from playing an active part in public life.

It is my own personal view that a society is only truly democratic when such barriers have been removed, and participation in public life is a real opportunity open to all. Recently I participated in a debate on this question in the European Parliament and voted for the establishment of a European Institute for Gender Equality to address the fundamental societal inequalities between women and men.

Often data collected on gender is not comparable between one EU member state and another and where the broad range of EU policies is concerned no data on the gender impact is available at all. The establishment of this institute would ensure that data is properly analysed so that promoting and achieving gender equality becomes a part of all EU policies in the future. Whilst the principle of equality has been established in Ireland and throughout the EU, the practice has not yet lived up to this.

I welcome the decision to establish the European Institute for Gender Equality by next year at the latest.

At an event which I hosted in Brussels last month, the Centre for Advancement of Women in Politics at Queens University Belfast presented the findings of research into the issue of gender inequality in a range of countries in Central and Eastern Europe. This highlighted that once a pattern of under representation has been established, the same pattern will keep repeating itself, unless concrete steps are taken to break the cycle.

Just as we are trying to break the cycle of inequality and disadvantage in the North of Ireland caused by discrimination on the basis of religious and political belief, we recognise that an Ireland of Equals in A Europe of Equals ˆ on which I stood for election in 2004 ˆ requires gender equality in all its aspects.

Conclusion

Bobby Sands, who led the 1981 hunger strike, was elected to the British parliament during the hunger strike and tragically died on May 5th of that year. He continues to inspire Irish republicans across the world today.

He once said: 'Our revenge will be the laughter of our children and the liberation of us all'

We, who live in much better times, have every reason to be equally determined and positive.Sinn Féin wants to build a peaceful, democratic and egalitarian Ireland. We want Ireland to play its role in promoting these objectives in Europe and across the broader world. As Bobby Sands said, everyone has a part to play.ENDS

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