23 October 2017
International axis to defend Good Friday Agreement needed – call by Declan Kearney at European conference
‘Sinn Féin believes Ireland’s place is in Europe but that Europe needs to change’
BREXIT presents added challenges to the Left on top of attacks on people’s rights, resurgent right-wing parties and attempts to undermine the Good Friday Agreement, Sinn Féin National Chairperson Declan Kearney MLA told an international conference in Portugal at the weekend.
It is an era in which the “significant influence of the Left in Europe and wider international community” is being asked to assist Sinn Féin in building opposition to both Brexit and austerity, the South Antrim MLA told an audience of Left leaders and activists.
The conference in Lisbon was organised by the European United Left/Nordic Green Left in the European Parliament (GUE/NGL).
Speaking on the theme The Challenge of Austerity & Brexit: Towards an Ireland and Europe of Equals, the Sinn Féin National Chairperson said that there is an inherent danger that Brexit will create new political instability for the peace and political processes in Ireland.
“The Brexit decision highlights again the contradiction and undemocratic nature of Ireland’s partition. The North of Ireland, like Scotland, voted to remain in the EU.
“Against this backdrop, Sinn Féin believes an unprecedented opportunity exists to advance the democratic argument for an end to Ireland’s partition and to persuade for Irish unity both domestically and internationally.
“Sinn Féin believes Ireland’s place is in Europe but that Europe needs to change.
“We look to comrades on the Left and progressive civic opinion in Europe to support the strategic objective of getting Designated Special Status for the North of Ireland.”
● International Left activists and leaders at the GUE/NGL conference in Lisbon
In the days before the conference, Sinn Féin – with the support of GUE/NGL – launched in Brussels crucial legal opinion by the prestigious London barristers Doughty Street Chambers confirming that there is no legal impediment to the introduction of Designated Special Status.
“In the post-Brexit context, that is the only way to protect the Peace Process and Irish national interests,” Declan Kearney said, and to defend workers’ and social, democratic and human rights.
The magnitude of the political crisis in the North of Ireland is becoming deeper, he warned progressive parties at the conference in Lisbon.
“The nature of the crisis is sharpened by those in the Democratic Unionist Party who have always opposed the Good Friday Agreement.
“That has found particular expression in their hostility and resistance to sharing power with Sinn Féin and to equality for republicans, the Irish identity, ethnic minorities, women, and the LGBT community.”
● Belfast rally against DUP opposition to marriage equality
Since the Westminster general election in June, the DUP has agreed with the British Conservatives to act as a prop to keep its minority government in power - at the same time as a new round of talks began in the North, he said.
“The British Government/DUP alliance is based upon a unionist agenda defined in terms of support for Brexit, austerity and opposition to a rights-based framework for government.
“What has now been brought directly into focus is whether political unionism can accept and co-exist in partnership with the Irish cultural tradition and Irish nationalist and republican identity.
“The need for an international axis and in Europe itself to defend the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement and Peace Process is now more urgent than before.”
● Tens of thousands call for release of Catalan civil rights activists Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez, jailed by Spain on charges of sedition
We also need a new Europe based upon equality and social solidarity, the senior Sinn Féin figure said to activists.
“Europe should be a vehicle for co-operation and friendship.
“Sinn Féin believes the alternative must be a social Europe – a Europe of solidarity which puts people first.
“The absence of such fraternity and solidarity has been graphically exposed with the compliance of the EU towards the anti-democratic actions of the Spanish state in Catalonia.
“We advocate a democratic Europe which respects national sovereignty and accountability.
“We oppose moves towards the creation of a European army and pan-European militarism.”
Brexit creates new circumstances within which to develop important political and civic alliances for social and economic transformation across Europe, Declan Kearney said.
“Parties of the Left and other progressives must engage closely with each other and agree how to maximise popular support in pursuit of shared strategic objectives.”
A new phase of political change has arrived; Brexit is a strategic moment, he said.
“We are asking that the significant influence of the Left in Europe and wider international community mobilises to assist us in building opposition to both Brexit and austerity.
“Maintaining Ireland’s position in Europe is an important beachhead at this stage in the pursuit of Irish national independence.
“The struggle for ‘An Ireland of Equals’ and ‘A Europe of Equals’ are inseparable.”
Highlighting the gains by right-wing parties in the EU and the crises in housing and homelessness, health and attacks on social and workers’ rights, the Sinn Féin figure said:
“This is a defining phase of politics for those of us who seek a better way in Ireland and wider Europe.
“The task of building societies for the many and not for the few requires that the Left and progressive civic forces develop agreed political strategies and on the basis of maximum solidarity and fraternity.”
● GUE/NGL is the European United Left/Nordic Green Left in the European Parliament and is made up of 52 members from 19 different political delegations and 14 EU member states.
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Contributions from key figures in the churches, academia and wider civic society as well as senior republican figures