3 July 2008 Edition
ENGLAND : Friends of Sinn Féin, London, launched
‘Become persuaders for Irish unity’ – Gerry Adams
LONDON was the location last week for a series of important meetings between senior figures in the Irish community, MPs, trade union leaders, key business figures and many other people including academics, human rights lawyers, grassroots activists and Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP, Party Chairperson Mary Lou McDonald MEP and Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy MP.
The focus of the meetings was to advance Sinn Féin's agenda for Irish unity and to promote a debate and dialogue in Britain through engagement with the Irish diaspora in Britain, the political parties and other key organisations and sections of society.
After briefing the international media at the Foreign Press Association, Gerry Adams spoke to business leaders at a lunch in central London, and then travelled to Westminster for a reception in the House of Commons.
The reception drew a wide attendance from many areas of society and political life. Dozens of MPs from all parties were present, including former direct rule minister Peter Hain MP, and former Labour ministers Charles Clarke and Angela Smith.
Other Labour MPs present included Steve Hepburn, Steve Pound, Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Dave Anderson and Diane Abbott.
Liberal Democrat peers Baroness Angela Harris and Baroness Jenny Tongue, plus Liberal Democrat MP, and shadow spokesperson, Lembit Opik were also in attendance.
Former Labour MP Tony Benn who had recently travelled to Dublin to join Sinn Féin in the victorious ‘No’ vote campaign in the Lisbon Treaty referendum, was also present.
Trade union leaders included Unite co-General Secretary Derek Simpson, Unison deputy general secretary Keith Sonnett, rail union TSSA General Secretary Gerry Doherty, and London region Unite General Secretary Steve Hart.
Irish community groups from as far afield as Liverpool were also present, including the St Michaels Irish Centre Liverpool, the Aisling Return to Ireland Project, the Irish Travellers’ Movement, the Labour Party Irish Society, the Brent Irish Advisory Service, the Connolly Association, Wolfe Tone Society, Agreed Ireland Forum, London Irish Centre and many others. Irish Ambassador David Cooney joined fellow diplomats, including Luis Marron, Charges d’Affaires at the Cuban Embassy, and Canadian High Commissioner James Wright.
Veteran human rights lawyer Gareth Pierce, friends from Howe and Company and Jeff Shears from labour rights’ lawyers Thompson’s were among those representing the legal profession. Writer and academic Christine Kinealy and Dr Mary Hickman of the London Metropolitan University also attended.
In a speech entitled ‘Towards a United Ireland’, Gerry Adams gave a historical, social and political background to the growth of the Irish community in Britain, to where the Irish are, by far, the largest ethnic community in London. In 2001, it was noted that there were 675,000 people living in England who had been born in Ireland.
Highlighting Michael Davitt’s support for Keir Hardie in founding the British Labour Party, Adams outlined Sinn Féin’s vision for a future united Ireland and why political and other leaders – across the political and social spectrum – had an interest and a responsibility in engaging in this debate now and in becoming persuaders for a future united Ireland.
“We are asking all of those who support Irish unity and the right of the Irish people to determine our own future to join with us in this extraordinary endeavour, and to make it a genuine movement for change over the next number of years.
“We have to develop a viable strategy, and positive arguments around that strategy, that can win the assent of unionists, or a significant section of unionists to a united Ireland... to persuade a section of the unionist electorate that partition does not serve their best interests and that a united Ireland does.
“And to achieve our goals we need to mobilise opinion here in Britain, not just among the Irish in Britain but also among progressive organisations and individuals.
“So, Sinn Féin is asking people in Britain to join with us in becoming persuaders for Irish reunification: to sign up for a campaign which seeks to forge a new and positive relationship between Ireland and Britain, based on mutual respect, and an acceptance of the Irish people’s right to self-determination and independence.
“We need to reach out to figures in public life: the business sector and writers and journalists, actors and entertainers, people involved in sport and culture, the arts, academia – wherever there is someone willing to listen and play a role.
“We need a concentrated and sustained lobby of all the political parties. And that lobby should not be restricted to the Westminster parliament.
“We have friends and potential friends and allies in the London, Welsh, and Scottish assemblies, as well as in local government.
“But making all of this work, providing the engine for the necessary momentum, will be the Irish and our friends in Britain.
“Our message is simple: the Irish people have the right to independence and self-determination; partition will end; Irish reunification will happen.
“Irish unity makes sense. Political sense. Economic sense. And it is in the best interests of the great majorities in Ireland and Britain.
“The Good Friday Agreement provides a legislative, peaceful and democratic route to achieve this.
“And the economic and demographic dynamics in Ireland make Irish reunification a realistic objective within a reasonable time scale.
“We need your support and the support of the Irish in Britain, as well as of progressive forces in Britain to achieve this.”
The Sinn Féin president said the London event was an important first step in opening up a debate in Britain around the goal of achieving Irish unity. Announcing the formation of Friends of Sinn Féin in London, he said:
“Let’s make it the first of many successful and forward steps toward our goal.”
And he reminded people of a piece from Padraig Pearse’s poem, The Fool:
O wise men riddle me this: what if the dream come true?
What is the dream come true? And if millions unborn shall dwell
In the house that I shaped in my heart, the noble house of my thought?
Gerry Adams concluded:
“Making this dream come true has not and will not be easy. But it can be done.
“Things have already changed profoundly, especially in the mindset of this generation of nationalists and republicans.
“Let us finish the work that previous generations fought and struggled and strived for.”