2 June 2005 Edition
Irish Unity firmly on political agenda
Speaking at the annual conference of the Institute for British — Irish Studies at UCD in Dublin last Friday 27 May, West Tyrone Sinn Féin MLA Barry McElduff said that "Irish unity is firmly on the political agenda within the minds of civil servants, government departments, economists, bankers and academics alike.
The conference was formally opened by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who stated that "the period of icy silence which prevailed for decades in relation to all-Ireland co-operation is no longer viable". The Conference was also addressed by the Chief Executive Officers of the North/South Implementation Bodies on the subject of "Implementing the Agreement: The North-South Bodies, Five Years on."
In his submission, McElduff said: "The level of acceptance of Irish unity that it is fast approaching, in the words of Dr Peter Smyth, Northern Secretary of the North South Ministerial Council, brings with it no real ideological difficulty for the unionist population vis-à-vis Areas of Cooperation on an all-Ireland basis. The all-Ireland agenda is an integral part of our shared future.
"Integrated Area and Strategic Planning, on health, education, economics, transport, energy, telecommunications, community development, environment, tourism and commerce is the way forward. The border remains a serious obstacle to such planning and development."
Responding to comments from Lord Laird, who was critical of the "expensive machinery" of the North-South bodies, McElduff said that this was rich coming from someone who sits in the upper reaches of the British House of Lords.
There were major contributions from An Taoiseach, the joint Secretaries of the NSMC, Tim O'Connor and Dr Peter Smyth, Chief Executives of the Implementation Bodies, including Pat Colgan of SEUPB and Niall Gibbons of Tourism Ireland.
With almost 700 staff based in 17 locations, 72 Directors and some £100 million invested in the Strand Two provisions of the Good Friday Agreement, Sinn Féin wants to see the full realisation of the potential and capacity for creating social cohesion, redressing the history of neglect by successive British Administrations in essential services by expanding the role and remit of North South Bodies and Areas of Cooperation.
McElduff headed a team of party representatives, which included Laois Councillor Brian Stanley, Monaghan Councillor Matt Carthy, Rathmines activist Joanne McDonald and Derry activist Joe Doherty. The West Tyrone MLA highlighted that the issue of regional disparity remains a huge stumbling block to developing the role and remit of the Implementation Bodies. The fact that the continued suspension of Northern Political Institutions has set the all-Ireland Bodies in limbo or 'care and maintenance' mode is not what was envisaged when the Agreement came into being, he said.
"The border impacts in a hugely negative way on the day-to-day lives of those communities who live on, near, or at the Border itself. The issue of back-to-back planning represents the failure of past thinking and what we need is integrated planning on an all-Ireland basis.
"With specific relevance to the border area of Tyrone, Fermanagh, Cavan, Monaghan and Sligo, I believe that the back-to-back planning of Acute Hospital Provision has been nothing short of disastrous and it is in the area of health provision that the negative impact of the border has been most keenly felt."
McElduff welcomed moves by the energy regulators to develop an all-Ireland Energy Provider. "The Dublin Government has a major role in delivering the political goodwill to meet at the crucial Ministerial level to drive all-Ireland Areas of Cooperation forward, to provide, deliver and implement the needs of people in the Border region," he said. "One such case is the location of a Regional Cancer Unit to ease the trauma of cancer patients in the North West.
"The Taoiseach must do more to show northern nationalists and republicans that our rights as Irish citizens must be represented and that we have a crucial role not in the shaping of a 32-County Free State, but to build an Ireland that allows a rights based society to develop. Sinn Féin is committed to building and defending the rights of all our people. The goal of an Ireland of Equals is no longer a far off dream but a living reality."