7 February 2002 Edition
United Ireland will not be a cold house for unionists
Adams in New York
Gerry Adams‚ trip to New York last week and the World Economic Forum coincidently marked the eighth anniversary of his first visit to the Big Apple in February 1994. On that occasion, it was a 48-hour special visa issued by the then President Bill Clinton. Last weekend, Gerry shared a platform with Clinton as they and UN Human Rights Commission Mary Robinson; Archbishop Desmond Tutu; Irene Khan, Secretary General Amnesty International; and Jose Ramos-Horta, Senior Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of East Timor, discussed the issue of national sovereignty and minority rights.
On Sunday, the discussion on the Irish peace process attracted a large audience. The First and Deputy First Ministers David Trimble and Mark Durkan, the PUP's David Ervine, President Bush's Special Ambassador Richard Haass and Labour Leader John Sweeney joined Gerry Adams on a panel chaired by former US Senator George Mitchell.
Asked by one participant if unionists had a right to secede from a United Ireland, Gerry Adams said no. The Sinn Féin President pointed out that legislatively, constitutionally and under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, the British government is obliged to legislate for a united Ireland if a majority of people in the north vote for that option.
Adams told his audience that republicans are seeking a strategic engagement with unionism to begin a debate now about the nature and form of a new Ireland. The Sinn Féin leader said: "We want a republic. And the most important part of that word is public - meaning the people. So we need to look at ways in which the unionist people can find their place in a new Ireland. We need to look at decentralisation. We need to look at what they mean by their sense of 'Britishness'. That is not for me to say. That is for us to proactively listen to."
He told the Forum audience: "I don't think we can force upon unionism an all-Ireland which does not have their assent or consent and doesn't reflect their sense of being comfortable, of them having their place‚. He told journalists later: "This is not about a veto. Unionists have no right to secede from a United Ireland. If republicans continue to work as hard as we are at building our political strength, a United Ireland will be achieved but our job is also to ensure that unionists are ready for this development. That means opening up a debate now."
Later, as he prepared to leave New York, the Sinn Féin leader again returned to this theme of preparing for a United Ireland. Adams urged unionists to "take a leap of imagination. Unionism now needs to begin seriously thinking about, discussing, and engaging with nationalists and republicans about the nature and form a new and acceptable united Ireland might take. A United Ireland will not be a cold house for unionists if it guarantees their rights and entitlements, if they have their own place, their own stake in it and a sense of security and ownership.
"The main focus at this time for the pro-Agreement parties has to be about sustaining the progress that has been made in recent years and working hard to build a collective partnership which, with the two governments, overcomes the outstanding difficulties and seeks the full implementation of the Agreement. Sustaining and stabalising the peace process, including the eradication of sectarianism, is central to this.
"While dealing with these priorities in the immediate future there is still room for unionists and nationalists to examine each other's vision for the future. Sinn Féin is very clear about this. Irish republicans are working to achieve a united independent Ireland. We believe that that outcome would be in the interests of all the people of the island, including unionists.
"Unionists need to take a hard look at where they currently are and where they could be in the future. Many Unionist and loyalist leaders have said at different times that a united Ireland is inevitable.
"At present, unionists are 2% in a British state, whose government they distrust. They are constantly told in public opinion polls that the British people really don't want to have anything to do with them. In a new Ireland, in which they will make up 20% of the population, there lies greater potential and protection for their needs and interests.
"Republicans are committed to ensuring that a United Ireland will not be a cold house for unionists."
The trip to New York also involved private meetings with, among others, US Ambassador Richard Haass; Congressman Ben Gilman, Honourary Chair of the Congressional International Relations Committee; Senator Chris Dodd and Congressman Peter King.
Last Friday night, Gerry Adams also participated in a discussion on World Hunger and Poverty. Representatives from Concern, as well as a number of US-based third world aid agencies, discussed with senior Chief Executives of multi-national companies the role of business and government in tackling these issues. U2's Bono, who sat with Gerry Adams throughout the evening, gave a hard hitting assessment of the lack of commitment by business and governments to hunger and poverty and spoke movingly of his visit to Uganda a week earlier, where he had met nurses and others battling against the ravishes of the Aids virus.
Speaking on the issue before the meeting, Gerry Adams spelt out some of the measures he feels are necessary if this issue is to be properly tackled. He said:
"To effectively tackle poverty and hunger we have to understand the context in which they occur and the policies and problems that create this human disaster.
"The reality is that the policies of the IMF and the World Bank have locked third world nations into a vicious cycle of borrowing and repayment of loans and interest on loans that can never be paid. To make matters worse, these countries are forced to adopt economic policies that force further reductions in social welfare spending.
"Let me say this clearly. It is wrong that the third world should be crippled with debt while the first world is affluent. That debt should be cancelled now.
"What can we do?
"We have a responsibility to persuade the multinational corporations and the World Bank and IMF that ending poverty, ending hunger and increasing health provision and education is the moral and humanitarian imperative.
"It means the debts should be cancelled now. These countries need to be rid of the cyclical trap of loans, interest payments and further borrowing that entraps them in poverty.
"It means banks and countries should not make loans to repressive regimes which misuse money and violate human rights.
"It means democratising the financial and trading organisations that legislate over world trade to ensure that all nations can play a full and equal role in trade negotiations.
"It means seeking to ensure that globalisation becomes an agent of development.
Advancing the All-Ireland agenda
While others have paid lip service to the re-unification of Ireland, republicans have stood fast in exploring and advancing the mechanisms we need to make the aspiration of a united Ireland a reality.
The Good Friday Agreement has given form to the All-Ireland Implementation Bodies and the North South Ministerial Council, encompassing Waterways, Trade, Tourism, Transport, Inland Fisheries, Agriculture, the Environment, EU support programmes, Health and Education. Now we have the foundations created by these institutions and the framework of the Good Friday Agreement, we need to build the house.
As part of maximising and developing the All-Ireland strand of the Good Friday Agreement, we need to whip up the same level of enthusiasm and participation that we have generated around the debates on policing and demilitarisation.
A special Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle meeting last month discussed the route map towards a united Ireland. An internal party All-Ireland Seminar will be held in the Ardboyne Hotel in Navan on Friday 22 February. It is the next step.
The All-Ireland project is a republican project and we will be identified with it, so the importance of understanding the opportunities within the current structures and the potential to push past current boundaries and claim ownership of this process cannot be underestimated.
It is a challenge that the entire party needs to be involved in. Yes, there are many many different priorities, not least the forthcoming election in the South, but if we do not inject our enthusiasm into the debate no one else will.
Delivering on our commitments and objectives as well as challenging political and structural inertia will not be an easy task. But for the re-unification of Ireland to become more than rhetoricm, we must turn ideas and analysis into action. People throughout Ireland and the Irish community spread across the globe depend on us to deliver.
We need to challenge not just unionist preconceptions or the lack of popular debate in both the 26 Counties and the Six Counties about how we move towards re-unification - we also need to challenge our own structures and personally held beliefs.
We need to examine our vision for the future, to sustain momentum and tackle political inertia. All this calls for clear analysis and perhaps most fundamentally, the building and nurturing of genuine All-Ireland networks within the party. We need to talk to each other, to explore the work programmes of the structures as they stand and we have to ask serious questions about how the work of the All-Ireland Implementation Bodies and the North South Ministerial Council can be expanded.