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14 January 2010 Edition

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Sinn Féin to host major Irish unity conference in London

BY JAYNE FISHER

AS the media and political commentators focus on the current difficulties of the DUP and speculate about the consequences for the political process, elsewhere interest is growing in a conference to be hosted by Sinn Féin at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in London on 20 February which aims to present a serious discussion on Irish unity.  Far from being an issue which is off the agenda, the breadth of speakers and contributors, and the initial response, is demonstrating that this remains the central underlying question to be addressed.  
The context of the event is, of course, the Peace Process and the Good Friday Agreement, which, as organisers point out, has overwhelming support in Ireland, North and South, and in Britain, and which has positively transformed the situation in Ireland and the relationship between Britain and Ireland.
Underpinning much of the debate is the fact that the Good Friday Agreement which, despite the current problems, has led to historic power sharing in the North. There are clear mechanisms for ensuring equality and rights and parity of esteem also enshrines the principle of self-determination, including the provision for a possible constitutional route to a united Ireland. Indeed, many may not even realise that, for the first time ever, a British government is signed up to such a commitment, should a majority in Ireland wish it.
The conference aims to get this point across and, together with economic, demographic, social and political trends, make a case for why Irish unity is a realistic and feasible objective within a meaningful timescale. In other words, as Irish unity could and (in our view) should happen, it makes sense to discuss this matter now.

SERIOUS DISCUSSION
The conference is seeking to initiate a serious discussion around this, setting out the case for Irish unity and discussing the merits and arguments in important areas. It will see a wide range of people discussing and debating the issues from differing perspectives, including the Irish community, the political sphere, from business, the trade unions, academia, the media, arts and culture and others. It will put Irish unity on the agenda.
Different strands of society and opinion in Britain and in Ireland have been invited to speak and to identify key issues and develop the debate, dealing with the diverse fields of life which will be affected — such as the economy, tourism, culture, social justice, equality and inclusion, policing, international policy, constitutional mechanisms and issues, the media and the specific concerns of the Irish in Britain reaching back over many generations.
Keynote speakers will include Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP, British Labour MP Diane Abbott, former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, a representative of the SDLP, the Unite union’s Ireland Secretary Jimmy Kelly and Unite London’s regional secretary Steve Hart, SIPTU’s Mick Halpenny, Lord Alf Dubs and GAA personality Jarlath Burns. ‘Irish Times’ columnist and former loyalist politician David Adams and Professor Paul Bew will be among speakers at a session on creating a dialogue with unionism.
Other sessions will see speakers including Labour shadow Secretary of State Kevin McNamara and Sinn Féin MPs Pat Doherty and Michelle Gildernew.  Also speaking during the sessions are Sinn Féin economy spokesperson, Mitchel McLaughlin; London-based economist Mick Burke from Socialist Economic Bulletin; academic and founder of the London Metropolitan University’s Irish Studies Centre, Professor Mary Hickman; writer Professor Christine Kinealy; Patricia McKeown from Unison; journalist and former ‘Irish Post’ editor Jon Myles; Andy Pollak from the Centre for Cross-Border Studies and prominent anti-war leader Councillor Salma Yaqoob.
The day will focus on two main plenaries: ‘Prospects for Irish Unity – Opening the Debate’ and ‘The Next Steps’.
In the afternoon there will be seminar discussions on the key issues of ‘Ireland’s Economy – From Crisis to Reunification’; ‘The Constitutional and Political Future’; ‘The Rise and Role of the Irish in Britain’; and, importantly, ‘Building an Ireland of Equals - Creating a Dialogue with Unionism’.

  • ‘Putting Irish Unity on the Agenda’ – a conference to open the debate. Saturday 20 February, TUC Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B. 9.30am-5pm.
  • Advance registration is now open at £8/£4 unwaged, by post to: London Irish Unity conference, PO Box 65845, London EC1P 1LS. Send cheques made payable to: ‘London Irish Unity Conference’.
  • Online registration also now available at the website on www.londonirishunityconference.org
  • For all enquiries, such as stall bookings: [email protected] Help is also needed with events on the day and with publicity in advance.

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