22 September 2005 Edition
Unity is our primary goal
2005 HAS been a big year for republicans. Just a few short weeks ago the IRA, in a widely acclaimed move, formally ended its armed campaign. I am certain that in the near future they will honour their commitment to put arms beyond use. The impact of all of this has yet to be fully absorbed either amongst republicans or people across the island. But what it has already done is to open up the opportunity to revive the Peace Process and to put the debate for Irish unity centre stage. Gone are the excuses for non-engagement, gone are the days when our opponents can simply rely on anti-republican rhetoric to get by. But none of this means that we can take anything for granted. There are many who want to maintain the status quo, who believe that Ireland ends at the border and who will do all in their power to minimise the potential which now exists. It is our job to ensure that they do not succeed. It is our job to drive this process forward and to build public support for re-unification.
The coming weeks and months will be vitally important for the Peace Process and for the campaign to build Irish unity. This weekend in Dublin, as part of our centenary celebrations, a national rally for Irish unity will take place. It is important that this event is as successful as possible.
The momentum which has been created needs to be built upon. Republicans, socialists, trade unionists and all strands of progressive opinion in Ireland have to take ownership of the Peace Process and have to take on the task of shaping the future direction of this island for the decades ahead. Central to that effort has to be nation building — planning in a very strategic way the steps towards Irish unity. Part of this has to be about eliminating sectarianism and racism from our society.
As Irish republicans we have, at all times, to be willing to examine our strategies. We have to engage with our opponents and allies alike. We have to continue to build our political strength and drive forward the agenda of maximum social, political, economic and constitutional change.
Sinn Féin activists do not have the luxury of being able to sit back and watch events unfold. We have to be at the core of shaping events, of moulding this island into the sort of united republic which will deliver equality, which will deliver real and meaningful change to people's everyday lives. That is not an easy task. Those of us who want maximum change have always to take the maximum risks. Those who wish to maintain the status quo within the political establishment in the South or in the ranks of rejectionist unionism in the North will simply attempt to 'batten down the hatches' and hope that the process of change will disappear without achieving its maximum potential. Sinn Féin activists whether on the streets, in council chambers, on the floor of the Assembly, Leinster House or the European Parliament or in community organisations have a duty to ensure that this does not happen.
We have to stand up for the Good Friday Agreement. We have to defend the Peace Process and ensure that those who wish to see inequality and discrimination across the island continue are not allowed to further stall the political process.
Sinn Féin is rightly proud of the contribution which it has made to the development of the Peace Process over many years. We are also proud of the reality that we kept faith with the demand for a united Ireland when others had long left that path. However we do not pretend to have all of the answers. We do not pretend to have a monopoly on the united Ireland agenda. If we are to build a truly united Republic then we have to be open to building alliances for freedom with progressive forces and thinkers across our increasingly diverse country.
Irish re-unification is now on the political agenda. It can no longer be dismissed as simply an aspiration of a few. There are more republicans on this island now that at any time in the recent past. Irish unity is our primary political goal. We must continue to drive forward the agenda of change to ensure that the potential which now exists to deliver unity is harnessed. We want all those who share the goal of ending partition and building Irish unity and independence to work together to plan for that re-unification. Otherwise it will never happen.
Sinn Féin wants to see the Irish government bring forward a Green Paper. It seems shocking that in the years since partition successive Irish Governments have allowed the entire issue of unity to be an add-on to the political agenda rather that an integral element of it. Indeed an argument can easily be constructed that Irish unity should be the object of every Irish Government's political programme. If the Irish Government is not actively campaigning for Irish unity and independence and actively planning in a structured way how to bring it about then those forces intent on maintaining the status quo are clearly being handed an unwarranted advantage. Make no mistake about it the British Government has shown time and again that it is unashamed about promoting and protecting the British and unionist position. The Irish Government needs to be equally robust in defending the Irish nationalist and republican viewpoint.
There have been many high points over the years since the first IRA cessation in 1994. But there have been many low points also. There remains a major job in the coming months for us to rebuild the political institutions in the North and shore up and defend the Good Friday Agreement. But as political activists none of this should worry us. We have displayed time and again our ability to take the necessary hard decisions to move the process forward. But in this phase much of the focus will fall onto the two governments. Are they going to stand by the Good Friday Agreement and the principles which underpin it or are they going to allow the DUP and other rejectionists to continue to stall and prevaricate. The political process needs momentum. We will again play our part. But others must now step up to the plate also.