23 October 2003 Edition

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Sinn Féin launches Cross-Border strategy

Bairbre de Brún addresses the conference

Bairbre de Brún addresses the conference

Building the community for Irish unity

Sinn Féin held a conference last Saturday in Armagh on the theme of building a community for the unification of Ireland. The conference marked a watershed in the progress of the party's all-Ireland strategy for the development of a new Ireland of Equals. It also discussed ways to address the huge disadvantage the border counties have suffered over 80 years as a result of the artificial division of the island.

Over 100 attendees, including Sinn Féin councillors from both sides of the border, representatives of civil society and the social partners, discussed together the new Sinn Féin strategy paper, Building towards unity through integrated planning and development, which was launched at the conference.

Pat O'Rawe, as mayor of Armagh and prospective Assembly candidate for the Newry-Mourne Constituency, welcomed delegates to the launch in the Palace Stables Heritage Centre.

Councillor Oliver Molloy led off the discussion with a review of the history and current activities of the three cross-border corridor groups, which have a central role in administering the fund for integrative projects under Measures 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3 of INTERREG, an EU funding programme to address poverty in border regions.

He gave an account of the threats and difficulties faced by these bodies in ensuring that funding is used to serve the needs of those who have experienced poverty and discrimination. He stressed the need for republicans and representatives from the Social Partners to approach this task with a strategic focus on the great potential, through INTERREG funding, to advance integration and equality.

Domhnall Ó Cobhthaigh, a member of the Party Oversight Committee All-Ireland sub-group, gave a presentation of the strategy paper. He indicated the links between partition and Irish underdevelopment and the more directly associated deprivation suffered on both sides of the border.

His presentation stressed the absolute requirement for the production of Integrated Area Plans by each of the three cross-border corridor groups and the need for these to be research-based, based on meaningful input from those communities most affected by poverty. He said there is a need for republicans to play a strategic role in arguing for their implementation at all levels.

Domhnall pointed towards the availability of INTERREG III money, which could act as a lever for 'central' funds for local integrative projects in terms of transport and telecommunications infrastructure, cross-border environmental and ecological projects, cross-border tourism and a variety of social programmes.

He raised the central need for these proposed Integrated Area Plans to inform both local and regional planning and development strategies at all levels, and especially the need to have these plans incorporated into the plans of statutory bodies and authorities. The partitionist mindset and culture needs to be dismantled. It is not an easy task.

Bairbre de Brún, Sinn Féin candidate for the Six-County European Elections, dealt with the implications for Equality and Human Rights associated with the process of producing Integrated Area Plans and in advancing cross-border integrated development. She noted the role of the EU in regard to legislating for equality and provided a brief republican critique of this and presented the case for republicans to actively engage in the process of building constructive and socially beneficial projects from the ground up.

Marylou McDonald, Sinn Féin candidate for the Dublin European Parliamentary seat, took up this theme and talked of the nature of participation envisaged by republicans and contrasted it with the social partnership model currently adopted by the ruling coalition in Dublin. She quoted recent statements from Bertie Ahern challenging his commitment to meaningful partnership and the inadequacy of current investment under the National Development Plan.

Martina Anderson, who anchors Party Oversight Committee All-Ireland sub-group, chaired a lively discussion that engaged speakers on a variety of issues.

There was discussion on questions of cross-border poverty, the sense of building broad alliances to pursue integration, the difference between working for integration and for reunification and the need to 'sell' the reunification project to the business sector.

Mitchel McLaughlin, party chair, ended the conference with an important speech on the strategic sense of using the cross-border corridor groups among other available 'sites of struggle' to advance the cause of Irish unity and equality.

He focused on the concept of building a 'community for reintegration' and placed the party strategy document in the context of building a consensus for unity premised on a progressive social and economic agenda.

Mitchel pointed out that Sinn Féin is the only party in Ireland with a strategy to effect Irish reunification, "something that clearly differentiates our party from the so-called parties of the establishment". He urged Sinn Féin activists to see their party in the light of the considerable influence it will bring to bear upon the future development of this island.

He concluded by stressing the strategy that aims to develop broad localised and participatory campaigns within communities, where the party could 'use power to build empowerment of the people' and advance towards the creation of a new Ireland, an Ireland of Equals.

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