22 July 2022
Irish unity is the big idea whose time has come: It’s time to plan – Declan Kearney
There is an unprecedented momentum for Irish unity. It is exciting. We are arguably fast approaching a tipping point for Irish unity. Let’s seize the moment we are all living through and shape the opportunities. It is time to prepare and plan for the change which is coming.
The chaotic demise of Boris Johnson as British Conservative party leader and Britain’s Prime Minister was an unsurprising climax to this phase of Tory rule.
It has been a byword for scandal, the Brexit catastrophe and the undermining of relationships with the EU and Ireland. It has been said that Anglo-Irish relations have never been worse.
Johnson’s legacy is one characterised by deceit and irresponsibility in government. He will not be missed by anyone in Ireland.
The weaponising of the Protocol and propensity for both breaking and derogating from international law now defines Tory Britain as an outlier, with respect to internationally accepted behaviour and convention.
Wolfe Tone’s dictum of ‘England, the never-ending source of all our political evils’ comes to mind.
The last 12 years of Tory government have been a disaster for the north of Ireland.
Negative mismanagement of both the peace and political processes; an era of austerity; side deals and alliances with both main unionist parties; a failure to uphold obligations under the Good Friday and successive Agreements; and an undisguised partisan and pro-unionist agenda; have been hallmarks of the Tories approach. The combined effect has been to put huge pressure on the power sharing institutions and fuel political instability in the north.
The Tory government has given cover to the DUP collapsing the power sharing Executive in February and blocking its restoration ever since.
Both the Tories and the DUP have colluded together in manufacturing the current Protocol impasse, which directly caused the present crisis in the power sharing institutions.
The actions of the Tories and DUP are scandalous. The democratic process has now been held to ransom by their respective narrow electoral and ideological goals.
They have jointly inflamed tensions over the Protocol and tried to cast the EU as a ‘bogey man’ in an effort to recapture their lost electoral support.
As a result, for now, the regional government in the north remains collapsed, and a zombie government presides in Westminster.
No one knows what will happen except that another neo-Thatcherite will eventually emerge as the next British PM.
This much is sure, the cost-of-living crisis in Britain and Ireland will deepen.
Inflation has already risen above 9%. Many analysts are forecasting that soaring energy costs, mounting cost of living pressures, and reduced wage levels, (which have already dropped in real terms on average by 3.7% since May), will precipitate a new economic recession.
This is the actual reality within which the DUP’s blocking of power sharing in the north, and the North-South Ministerial Council – with cover from the Tories – needs to be understood. Notably, no DUP minister attended the July British-Irish Council plenary in Guernsey. The DUP is now disengaged from all strands of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA).
- Conor Murphy attends British-Irish Council in Guernsey
And yet significant sections of the media appear to have swallowed a false narrative that the DUP’s indefensible veto is somehow understandable: at a time when businesses are struggling, workers and families are struggling, and public services are at breaking point.
Continued refusal by the next Tory PM to properly reengage with the EU and step back from its unilateral action to break international law, could provoke significant diplomatic and legal retaliation.
A trade war would have serious economic repercussions and cause even greater instability for businesses.
That potential will inevitably strengthen the growing view that the only way to promote and protect regional economic, business and investment priorities will be through Ireland, as a single economic unit, rejoining the EU.
The economic, democratic and constitutional arguments for Irish unity are increasingly influential.
The momentum for constitutional change has never been stronger.
In the meantime, the Scottish government has set out a road map for an independence referendum in 2023.
It is ironic that the biggest catalyst for the breakup of the so-called ‘United Kingdom’ has been the actions of the Conservative and Unionist party itself, aided and abetted by its Brexit cheerleaders in the DUP.
The consequence of the chaos and turmoil created by the Tories has given renewed impetus for Scottish independence, a push for greater autonomy in Wales, and also Irish unity.
All of this is happening in plain sight, even as the Tories and sections of political unionism in Ireland try to avoid the reality.
The announcement by the Scottish First Minister will have political implications across these islands in the coming months.
That is why the Irish government’s refusal to even begin the preparations for Irish unity is increasingly untenable.
If the three current government coalition parties are unable to grasp this political reality, others within the Irish government system need to begin developing new thinking and policy proposals on how future Irish governments should prepare for re-unification.
In the last four most significant opinion polls in the south of Ireland, Sinn Féin has consistently recorded all time high 36% popular approval ratings.
It may not be inevitable, but it is certainly ‘game on’ for a Sinn Féin led government in the south.
Irish unity will be a central political, and policy objective of that administration.
Much better then to begin preparing the essential policy frameworks of constitutional and political transition: to be looking at them, rather than for them.
This Irish government should finally do the sensible thing and convene an all-island Citizens’ Assembly on constitutional change, instead of creating silly distractions around the timing of a unity referendum.
A Citizens’ Assembly should be established immediately to structure and anchor the current discussion on Irish unity, as a stage in advance of holding a unity referendum.
Next year is the 25th anniversary of the GFA.
The milestones pointing the way of continued of democratic transformation are clearly presenting themselves.
Sinn Féin believes the debate on how to achieve Irish unity needs to be informed and considered.
It should not be like the negative political discourse and sordid fake news agenda synonymous with the Brexit referendum, and even the current Protocol impasse.
We can do better than that.
And more, we deserve better.
Every single citizen who lives in the north of Ireland has been failed by the partition of this island.
Partition has distorted politics and society.
The role played by this Tory government has exacerbated the political and sectarian division, societal disruption and inequality upon which the northern state was built.
The end game of partition is now being played out.
Having endured a one-party state, direct rule from Westminster, and in recent decades, concerted attempts to hollow out the basis of our peace settlement and the GFA.
The one democratic option always denied is the exercise of self-determination by the people of Ireland.
Sinn Féin has described this current era as a decade of opportunity, for all Irish people, north and south. A decade for big, new, dynamic ideas. A time to reimagine the way our future can be.
Irish unity is both a reasonable and achievable objective.
But the transition towards constitutional change and a new national, democratic framework of governance in Ireland needs to be carefully planned, and resourced.
It should be orderly, incremental and taken forward in phases.
We need to be both ambitious and inclusive. The way forward should be guided by dialogue and a process of popular democratic participation involving all sectors of Irish society.
Hope, aspiration, and a better future for all should be our ‘north star’.
Irish unity is the big idea whose time has come.
We owe it to ourselves and future generations to get it right. The new Ireland cannot be the old Ireland.
Last summer, the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle agreed to establish a ‘Commission on the Future of Ireland’ as an ambitious, open consultation on the future of the island.
It was delayed then by the worsening COVID-19 public health emergency.
This week Uachtarán Shinn Féin, Mary Lou McDonald, launched the initiative by announcing that an inaugural People’s Assembly will take place in Belfast’s Waterfront conference centre on 12 October.
The Commission is not a substitute for an all-island Citizens’ Assembly, but it is a genuine initiative from Sinn Féin to constructively nurture the ongoing public debate. Its mission is to encourage alternative proposals to be presented by those with different visions of Ireland. To widen the current discussion.
The process will emphasise that everyone and every sector in society should be part of planning for the new Ireland.
It is intended as a forum for citizens from across society to have their say on themes as diverse as maximising economic opportunities; new constitutional arrangements; democratic structures and governance; rights and equality issues; the protection of minorities; the role of the Irish government; and future economic and public policy models, including an Irish national health service, pension arrangements, and social protections in a united Ireland.
Importantly the Commission will seek to engage with the protestant and unionist sections of our people.
There is an unprecedented momentum for Irish unity. It is exciting.
We are arguably fast approaching a tipping point for Irish unity.
Let’s seize the moment we are all living through and shape the opportunities.
It is time to prepare and plan for the change which is coming.