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28 February 2002 Edition

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Build our All-Ireland Strategy

"Irish unity is no longer a vision. It's within our grasp to bring Irish unity into reality. But we need space to get a common rooted ideology. We need space to strategise, to think of how our activity can fit into an all Ireland framework, to create the kind of Ireland we want to see."

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams was delivering the closing address to the All-Ireland Seminar organised by Martina Anderson, Sinn Féin's Assembly Political Coordinator.

Over 300 party representatives and political activists from all parts of the country came together to participate in a working conference to examine ways forward to achieve a united Ireland.

"We were never just a Brits out party," said Adams. "We're not just changing the colour of the post boxes. We need to widen the democratic basis within the party, through the Cúige structures. We're about empowering people, not controlling people. We've no monopoly on Irish republicanism.

"We've a huge responsibility to take from here, to strategise not only for Irish unity but for the Ireland we want to see. Unless you've a party ideologically sure of itself, you are going to get a hollowing out, a Fianna Fáil party: a Fianna Fáil Ireland.

"There is a very good mood in the party, and on the streets. There will be harder times. But this conference has been a good start."



The All-Ireland Agenda


The conference represented a landmark in the development of the party. Martina set the scene, under the chairmanship of Joe Reilly, who welcomed all to his native town of Navan. "This is a working seminar to undertake a strategic and political analysis of our All-Ireland programme," she said. "We have a vision predicated on knowledge that we are in an irreversible process, moving power from Westminster to the Assembly and from there into All-Ireland structures. But some of us are unclear about the tactics we're using to steer our strategy. We need a 'trajectory for victory' that is tangible and clearly understood by all. We must not allow ourselves to get bogged down in tactics.

"Today we will talk about some of the activities of the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC). At these sessions, we need to make sure that our activities here are demonstrating to the people of Ireland the real benefits of reunification. Are there potential dangers in such projects accelerating cross border activity in ways that are normalising the border?

"Today should lead into a discussion about opening up new sites of struggle, injecting a republican dynamic into the existing areas of cooperation, such as energy and waste management. We need to identify a number of manageable All-Ireland projects to pursue in local areas.

"As a part of this process, it is imperative that unionists enter into discussions now about the kind of united Ireland that will undoubtedly emerge.

"Our work here today is to see how to drive forward our All-Ireland strategy. Hopefully we will go home today even more determined to do what people of Ireland rightly expect of us - work to reunite our country."


Implementation Bodies


The Good Friday Agreement provided, at a minimum, for 12 subject areas identified for co-operation and implementation for mutual benefit under the aegis of the NSMC. In the case of six of these areas, new North-South Implementation bodies were set up.

These are: Trade and Business Development (InterTradeIreland), the Food Safety Promotion Board, the Language Body and the Foyle Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission, each with an implementation board (The other two Bodies, the Special EU Programmes Body, and Waterways Ireland, do not have boards).

The ongoing work of these bodies, the problems that arise and the potential they offer for the All-Ireland agenda, were reviewed by the Sinn Féin activists who are members of these boards, respectively Robbie Smyth, Anne Speed, Gearoid Mac Siacais and Arthur Morgan. All spoke of the hold-ups each of their boards faced from foot dragging by those who were reluctant participants to the All-Ireland agenda and from civil servants who saw the bodies as challenging their established practice and domains.



InterTradeIreland


For example, the largest of these boards is the InterTradeIreland Board, with 50 full time staff. Robbie Smyth outlined the huge potential for the All-Ireland strategy. He spoke of how 18 bodies, with broad remits for economic development, had never met together before the body was et up. Likewise for 65 other projects in the border regions.

He spoke of the need for a common currency, a common tax system and the urgency of ending competition between North and South.

Smyth called on all Sinn Féin political representatives and activists to start asking of InterTradeIreland what this body is doing for their area, and to begin to grasp the opportunities for local development strategies within the overall All-Ireland agenda.


Areas for Cooperation


The further six areas identified for cooperation are Transport, Agriculture, Education, Health, Environment and Tourism. All these subject areas were discussed in workshops at the conference.

The workshops ranged widely from the smallest detail of opportunities for cross border cooperation to general overviews of how we can promote the republican vision through cross border strategies. For example, people spelt out the advantages of the rationalisation of health resources, or of education and training cooperation, North and South of the border. We need better cross-border roads, for example from Belfast to Letterkenny, or Dublin to Donegal, if we are to succeed in addressing rural development and reversing the continuing underdevelopment of the periphery, away from the Eastern seaboard.

But at the same time, people talked of the need to move beyond these manageable All-Ireland projects towards developing an All-Ireland strategy to promote an Ireland of equals, North and South. For example, we need to promote a policy for an All-Ireland health service based on equality for all: we are not just there to promote the rationalisation of an inadequate two-tier health service on either side of the border.

Similarly, in waste management, people argued that we could address the sensible rationalisation of facilities for cross-border waste disposal, but we could also look, through cross-border co-operation, to develop and promote an All-Ireland vision for the preservation of our clean, green, environment, and the retention of waste management in state control.

All workshops agreed on the need for Sinn Féin members across the whole country to engage in researching opportunities for and development of North-South cooperation in each of the subject areas coming out of the Good Friday Agreement. All agreed on the need to generate understanding of the distinct advantages of North-South cooperation in every area.



Evaluation


Alex Maskey gave an evaluation of the conference. He pointed out that the All-Ireland bodies are a reflection of our strength, and "the stronger we are, the stronger they become". The whole party needs to be engaged in taking on strategies to engage with these institutions so that we can maximise the potential which they offer, he said.

"If we come away from today energised to the point of being prepared to actively obtain a better understanding and to volunteer for follow-up action in our respective local areas, this seminar will have been a success," said Martina Anderson.

As Gerry Adams said, "we need the space to get a common rooted ideology. It would be an awful sin, for want of learning the lessons of the last 30 years, if we failed in this. This conference has been a good start."

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