Working towards Irish Unity



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Irish Unity: Change is Coming

“I believe that the constitutional conversation in Ireland is like a Kettle on a gas hob – it’s just beginning to bubble – But very soon- it going to whistle”.

John Finucane

Below is the speech delivered by Sinn Fein MP John Finucane at our  Irish Unity debate in Westminster last week. Other speakers were Former Alliance party leader Lord Alderdice. SNP MP and spokesperson on Northern Ireland, Richard Thomson and Kevin Meagher author – A United Ireland: Why Unification IS Inevitable And How It Will Come About’.

Thank you very much for the invite to speak at tonight’s meeting.

I wish to commend the organisers for putting together tonight’s discussion – and I was glad that I could assist with sponsoring the room.

As someone who believes in a United Ireland – I very much welcome the opportunity to speak on tonight’s topic.

Particularly – to speak about it here in Westminster.

Because conversations like tonight’s are precisely the sort of conversations that Westminster needs to be hearing.

At one point in time – Sinn Féin was a minority voice when it came to discussing Irish unity.

But today – and this is a welcome development – we are just one of the many voices that are exploring the possibilities and opportunities of the future.

The current pace of political and civic change on the island now presents us with all mainstream parties on the island – with the exception of political unionism – sharing a consensus that a referendum on constitutional change is coming.

We might differ on timelines and trajectories – but we are agreed that change will come.

Because when we look at society on our island today – it is evident that we know each other better than we ever have before.

And what unites us best – from our sport, to our arts, to our culture — is well known and rightly celebrated the world over.

Across the island there is also an overwhelming appreciation of our European identity.

It cannot be forgotten that in the event of reunification automatic re-entry back into the EU will be a big selling point for people.

Because when we look at the present realities we find ourselves in, there can be little doubt that Brexit has – and continues to be – a huge catalyst for the conversation around constitutional change.

And it will undoubtedly prove integral to the ending of the Union as we currently know it.

We are still seeing a marked increase in people – from all shades of opinion, from all traditions and backgrounds – applying for Irish passports.

Precisely so that they can utilise their EU citizenship.

Last year we heard a great deal about the Good Friday Agreement.

The Good Friday Agreement cemented our peace.

It changed lives and it saved lives.

But – crucially for tonight’s discussion – it also contained core elements of equality and human rights protections for minority communities.

And this is important.

Because while we may not have any political representative of unionism present on tonight’s panel.

We all have – each and every one of us – a shared responsibility, I feel, to present our vision for a new Ireland in an inclusive manner.

This is why the protections of the GFA are so important as we progress.

These guarantees – parity of esteem and equality measures – must be sustained so everybody has equal treatment and protection within law on our island.

So, whilst conversations such as tonight’s are of both significance and importance, there is a growing imperative that conversations like this reach out much further.

We need to see structured conversations, supported by the Irish government.

Because one thing is clear, the conversations are happening anyway.

We are seeing vast amounts of academic research and wider research projects on both general and bespoke aspects of unity.

Inaction at this point can justifiably be described as negligent in my opinion.

Preparation for a United Ireland should begin without delay in an organised, systemic way involving a Green paper and a White paper by the government in Dublin.

A Green paper sets out the constitutional, political, social and economic vision which we submit should be followed by a Citizens Assembly to discuss its contents.

A White paper would then follow establishing the agreed specifics on policy, constitutional and legislative changes leading to a Constitutional Convention involving civic society and political parties across the island to negotiate the political structures and more.

In this regard we benefit from previous positive experiences, which also included representatives from parties in the North.

Such processes have led to the biggest social reforms in modern times and ushered subsequent referendums which introduced marriage equality and more enhanced abortion rights in the South.

For our business communities – the dramatic increase in trade in goods across the border in recent years has only highlighted the advantages of an all-island economy.

Despite what some Tory Ministers might say – the all-island economy is happening organically.

The North’s business community is investing in increasing numbers into the South.

People can now recognise opportunities like never before – and we are seeing a real time market adjustment on our island.

The pandemic period resulted in a greater number of people on our island south-north and north-south holidaying.

Just last week – we saw the Dublin Government issuing major announcements.

From €50m worth of funding to aid the development of Casement Park – To €600m of funding to help build the A5 road.

And confirmation of the launch of hourly train services between Dublin to Belfast.

The greater connection between Ireland’s two main cities – and I hope there are no Corkmen in the audience to dispute that status! – will help support the growing needs of business, retail and tourism North and South.

It will create greater access for jobs and better opportunities for our young people.

And the Dublin government isn’t doing this out of some newfound altruism towards the North.

This is long-term, strategic, investment.

Because we have learned – or at least we should have – from the shambles of the Tory Brexit process, that preparation and planning in advance of any referendum is key.

People went into the Brexit referendum with multiple varieties of Brexit on the table.

The consequences have been disastrous.

That is why – in anticipation of any potential referendum – the planning, the preparation, and the consultation must begin now.

Because people have a right to know what the choice before them will be.

What exactly is the proposition that they will be voting on.

Every available resource and expertise should be pooled.

Local forums and civic consultation should be utilised.

Much of this work will obviously be done in Ireland.

But there is a role for a parallel discussion in Britain.

There has to be consideration of what Britain’s obligations and responsibilities will be.

In the event of a successful unity referendum – what will jurisdictional transfer entail for Britain?

What legacy costs will there be? What financial packages?

Perhaps most importantly what provisions will there be for the continued citizenship rights of Northern Unionists?

These are all questions that require serious consideration and detailed answers.

It is clear that there will be a choice for Ireland in the time ahead.

Any potential British government must be ready to facilitate that choice – be it Conservative or Labour.

Because for too long politicians in Britain only begin to notice Ireland when there’s a crisis or a precipice.

No party – Sinn Fein or otherwise – is going to determine every issue.

The title of tonight’s meeting asks us whether – in our lifetimes – we will see a ‘United Kingdom of England and Wales’.

As a politician I’m reluctant to make such bold predictions – But I will say I believe that we will see a referendum on Irish Unity within this decade.

Indeed – I work each and every day to realise such a referendum. I will say that I am not convinced that the flame of Scottish independence has been snuffed out – In fact – some of the scenes in the House of Commons last week might serve as a timely reminder of why the case for Scottish independence still holds merit.

Equally – I believe that Wales will see greater devolution of powers and democratic autonomy in the years ahead.

But – if we are to win a unity referendum – And if we are to win it well – Republicans will have to reach out and create space for others.

United Irelanders must build alliances right across our society.

Because we want to create a nation-home for all our people, where the rights of everyone are protected and advanced.

There is no room for trading one form of domination or discrimination for another.

There can be no victories and no defeats.

Our peace process brought to an end to a terrible, terrible conflict.

Few came out of it without their own scars.

Considerable pain and hurt was caused by all of us – towards each other.

As a republican leader – as someone touched by the conflict personally – I am sorry that it was so.

It is time to heal those wounds of the past – in order to move forward together.

I firmly believe that Irish unity and reconciliation are inseparable. Because – while our past was divided – our future must be shared.

We envision a new Ireland – based on the vision of Wolfe Tone – This demands an enduring reconciliation – and genuine union between the Orange and the Green – Between every community on our island.

Any new Ireland – that follows a successful unity referendum – must be for a home for everyone regardless of creed, culture, ethnicity, tradition, identity, or sexual-orientation.

Of course, there will be challenges. But just look at what we have already overcome.

The Good Friday Agreement showed how much can be achieved when we act with common purpose.

Looking back at that moment – consider all the changes that have taken place.

We now see an Irish republican holding the position of First Minister.

We now see a new generation – one that did not live through the conflict of their parents and grandparents – finding a voice for itself.

We owe it to them to build for a brighter future.

Because as we look back with pride at just how far we have all come, – and all that has been achieved in Ireland, North and South.

We must also look forward with hope, ambition, and opportunity to the next 25 years.

Increasingly, people in the North are aspiring to a society based upon modern, liberal, democratic, and pluralist values.

We know that there are those of a traditionally British identity beginning to think outside the contours of partition and the northern state.

There is a growing body of opinion – not primarily motivated by republican or nationalist politics – recognising the potential which an orderly transition to Irish unity can unlock for the development of a new society and economy.

One which is modern, pluralist, multi-cultural, and outward looking.

A united Ireland would allow for the economy and society on the island to be organised and managed in the interests of the people of Ireland.

Those of us from a pro-independence political or civic position must carefully navigate this landscape with sensitivity and generosity.

These are seminal times.

I believe the British government should begin to work in genuine collaboration to manage this transition.

Acceptance of the right to Irish self determination and full implementation of the GFA – in all its parts – should be adopted within British government policy.

Both governments should set out a proposed timetable to facilitate a reasoned, inclusive, and respectful discussion.

Huge change is on the horizon.

In fact, it’s already underway.

Now is a time for real change and big ideas.

Now is a time to be ambitious for all of the citizens on our island.

The poet WB Yeats once wrote that “peace comes dropping slow”.

And he was correct.

But – as with peace – it is equally true that change comes dropping slowly.

Right up and until – it suddenly doesn’t.

And we have seen such change over recent years.

Change once believed to be impossible – until it was done.

Old wisdoms have been overturned.

Out-dated assumptions have fallen.

I believe that the constitutional conversation in Ireland is like a kettle on a gas hob – It’s just beginning to bubble.

But – very soon – it’s going to whistle. And – when it does – there’s an onus on people living here in Britain to hear that sound – and to be ready to respond to it.

Because – my friends – change is coming.

We have built a peace. Now let us build a future.