8 June 2006 Edition
All Ireland agenda: Proposals are achievable within short time frame
BY Gerry Adams
All-Ireland approach makes sense
Ireland has changed dramatically in recent years. The peace process has impacted in a positive way on all aspects of life right across the island, including enhancing the opportunities in the 26 counties for growth arising from the Celtic Tiger.
Its effect in the North has been particularly profound. For decades the effect of partition in that part of the island meant conflict and division, sectarianism and discrimination.
While we continue to face major political, social and economic challenges in dealing with the legacy of partition the situation has changed significantly for the better - and this is especially apparent in the numbers of people alive today who might otherwise have been killed or injured in the conflict.
The Good Friday Agreement was achieved almost eight years ago. It was a major step forward. In particular its all-island architecture, and agenda for change, challenged the systems North and South. The all-Ireland Ministerial Council, the Implementation Bodies and Areas of Co-operation were all designed to reduce duplication of services and maximise efficiency across crucial areas like health, education and transport, in the interests of all the people of this island.
The Agreement also advocated the establishment of other bodies; the Consultative Civic Forum and an all-Ireland Parliamentary Forum which have yet to meet, as well as the provision of a Bill of Rights for every Irish citizen.
Those who are afraid of progress, as well as fearful of a united Ireland, have stalled and delayed the potential of all of this over recent years. And these elements exist on both sides of the border, as well as within the British system in London.
Despite this almost everyone, except for a few entrenched hard-line unionists, would accept that the all-Ireland element of the Agreement has worked to the benefit of all the people of this island.
Currently the two governments and the parties in the North are engaged in a process the aim of which is to end the political impasse and restore the political institutions. No one knows whether it will be successful. The pandering by the British government of the DUP, which last week saw Peter Hain cave-in once again to Ian Paisley's demands on the Preparation for Government Committee, does not bode well.
The Taoiseach's breach of his commitment on facilitating Northern representatives' speaking rights in the Dáil is also a serious matter which has undermined confidence.
And then there is the issue of dirty tricks. At key points in the peace process those elements of the British system and of unionism opposed to the Good Friday Agreement have intervened to try and destroy it. These have ranged from accusations during the Good Friday Agreement negotiations of an affair between Gerry Kelly and Martha Pope (George Mitchell's senior aide at that time), to leaks from the NIO to undermine Mo Mowlam, through Stormontgate, to the now very sinister efforts to blacken Martin McGuinness, and in my opinion set him up to be killed.
The challenges and obstacles are therefore many and obvious. Nonetheless whatever the outcome of the next short period the two governments have a duty and responsibility under the Good Friday Agreement to build on the all-Ireland structures. And they should do so not simply because it's part of the Agreement they signed up to, but because it makes sense.
Harmonising our island wide economic, health, environmental, energy, and transport structures and policies will cut costs, deliver better services, create jobs, reduce pollution, improve our education system, and modernize and make more efficient our health care provision.
It especially makes sense on an island as small as ours and with a population of only five million. Why?
Take for example the issue of health care provision. North and south it is in crisis. Several weeks ago Sinn Féin launched our Health for All proposals for the creation of an all-Ireland public health care system. In recent weeks I have been in Dundalk, Navan, Drogheda, Wexford, Cork and Waterford and several other places in between promoting our proposals but also meeting with health care professionals and trade union representatives to talk to them about the health service.
It makes sense to mould the two health departments into one. As that process proceeds the two governments should also agree to put in place all-Ireland institutions to deal with issues as diverse as cancer research and clinical investigations; to create an all-Ireland Institute of Public Health; and a Health Information and Research Institute.
This would free up more resources for healthcare and new technology, it would create a better planned and co-ordinated service, and all of this would have obvious benefits to patients.
Or take transport. An efficient road and rail system is one essential element if we are to hope to compete with the new emerging economies of Asia in the 21st century. The two governments should establish an all-Ireland Road and Rail Integrated Public Transportation Strategy. This would link our major towns and rural areas and enhance the potential for every area, however isolated, to secure economic investment and jobs.
Or take the example of agriculture. A common all-Ireland Agricultural Policy would benefit farmers, especially in negotiations with the European Union.
In the field of the environment the two governments should agree an all-Ireland zero-waste policy, with the necessary planned investment.
An all-Ireland Community Development Body should be established, as well as all-Ireland integrated cross-departmental plans to tackle poverty, drug abuse, and youth provision.
Economic co-operation is essential and no more so than in the area of inward investment. The governments should set about creating linkages between the existing bodies to enhance Ireland's location for employers.
There should be an all-Ireland Irish speaking consultative group to ensure that the needs of Irish-speakers across Ireland are being addressed properly by the two governments.
Sinn Féin has also identified at least nine further all-Ireland Implementation Bodies covering issues as diverse as the social economy, energy, policing, justice, rural development, communications and e-Commerce, pollution control, further and higher education and mental health.
Integrated Area Plans should be produced by the three existing Cross-Border Corridor Groups to harmonise and develop the border region.
Building on the Progress
The Good Friday Agreement also called for the establishment of an all-Ireland Consultative Civic Forum representative of civil society. Such a forum holds the potential to bring all those who are marginalised in society, along with the other social partners, together and to influence Government plans and projections for the implementation of a human rights based society. This can go ahead without an Assembly. The two governments should plan to establish this body as quickly as practical.
The Agreement also proposed the establishing of an all-Ireland Charter for the Protection of Human Rights. This charter would assert the comprehensive social, economic, political, cultural and civil rights, for all of the people of this island. The governments should now expedite this by ensuring the establishment of a joint-committee of the two Human Rights Commissions. The Bill of Rights for the North should also now be completed within a short time-frame.
So, an objective of Irish and British government policy must be to pro-actively build on the progress made in the various areas of co-operation and implementation.
All of these proposals are doable and achievable within a very short time frame.
The Irish and British governments have the authority and power to make it happen. They do not cut across the efforts to restore the political institutions.
The decisions the governments take, whatever the results of current political efforts, can dramatically improve the quality of life of every single Irish person.
There is no facet of life on this island which cannot be improved by adopting an all-Ireland approach.
An Phoblacht Magazine
AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:
- The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
- It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
- There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.