Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Gerry Adams on the way in which the Good Friday Agreement and St Andrew's Agreement can lead to a reunification of Ireland.

Below are comments made by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams to the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly in Swansea. Here he outlines what he sees as the way forward in terms of achieving a United Ireland and the way in which the Good Friday and St Andrew's Agreements can help (and indeed have helped) in this process.

Clearly within such a short set of comments there are many areas that need to be addressed in greater detail, but as an overview of Sinn Féin's policy on how to achieve reunification it is an interesting article. Yet as we all now the devil is in the detail.


I want to begin by thanking the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly for the invitation to speak here today.

Over the years this Assembly, through its committees and plenary meetings, has created a context in which parliamentarians from Ireland and Britain are able to come together and discuss issues of mutual importance.

This Assembly especially allows TDs and MLAs, from the two elected bodies on the island of Ireland, to come together to discuss all-Ireland co-operation and related subjects.

While this institution, through the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body, predates the Good Friday Agreement, there can be no doubt that the focus of much of your work is rooted in that Agreement and the political institutions that emerged from it.

This is very important.

The Good Friday Agreement is a unique document.

It was born out of centuries of British involvement in Irish affairs. This resulted in conflict, communal division and sectarianism, the partition of the island of Ireland, the partition of Ulster, and the creation of a unionist dominated state in the north eastern part of our country.

Partition was not just a line on the map; it was the construction of a system of political apartheid which relied on discrimination and denied democracy and justice.

Resolving the many complexities resulting from this was never going to be easy.

The Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrews Agreement put in place mechanisms and arrangements which seek to do that.

These include political matters, institutional arrangements, human rights, equality, policing, justice, language and culture issues.

As well as the crucial issue of constitutional matters.

And it does all of this in an all-Ireland context.

These Agreements are also significant instruments of change; real change in real ways in peoples daily lives.

For this reason elements of political unionism opposed to this new dispensation seek to minimise, to dilute and to delay its potential or to oppose it entirely.

So, the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrews Agreement continue to face huge challenges, not least in the failure of the British government to fulfil its obligations, for example, on Irish language rights.

But for the purpose of today’s remarks let me focus on the issue that has dominated politics from before partition – the constitutional issue! That is the relationship between Ireland and Britain.

The Good Friday Agreement clearly sets out the political realities.

It recognises that it is for the people of the island of Ireland to determine our own future – to exercise our self-determination.

In the event that a majority of people in the north prefer a sovereign United Ireland then the British government will legislate for it.

The agreement also sets out the mechanism by which this will happen – by means of a ‘border poll’.

So, there you have it.

The people living on the island of Ireland can determine our own future, and–when a majority in the north and a majority in the south opt for Irish re-unification, the constitutional process to bring that about will kick in.

The Good Friday Agreement therefore provides for a constitutional route to Irish unity.

That is a significant achievement.

Sinn Féin seeks to build on this by:

Working in partnership with others of like mind in Ireland to build political support for Irish reunification.

There is a particular responsibility for all parties in the Oireachtas and particularly for the government in Dublin to actively work for reunification.

We have to persuade unionists – or at least a section of unionism – that such a development makes political, social and economic sense – that it serves their self-interest.

There is already a growing awareness of the importance to our future prosperity and growth, of the all-Ireland economy and of all-Ireland connections in health, education, energy, the environment and much more.

These are commonsense arrangements which must be built upon.

Sinn Féin is also currently engaged with unionists and especially with disadvantaged unionist working class areas, to a greater extent than ever before.

We need to address the genuine fears and concerns of unionists in a meaningful way.

We need to look at what they mean by their sense of Britishness and be willing to explore and to be open to new concepts.

We need to look at ways in which the unionist people can find their place in a new Ireland.

In other words it needs to be their United Ireland.

So, there are many issues for republicans and unionists to talk about. However it is worth noting that within the current British system, unionists are fewer than 2 per cent of the population; they cannot hope to have any significant say in the direction of their own affairs.

As 20 per cent of a new Ireland, unionists will be able to assert their full rights and entitlements and exercise real political power and influence.

So, Sinn Féin’s vision of a new Ireland is of a shared Ireland, an integrated Ireland, an Ireland in which unionists have equal ownership; an Ireland in which there will be respect for cultural diversity, and a place in which there is political, social, economic and cultural equality.

There is no desire on the part of Irish republicans to conquer or humiliate unionists.

There can be no place for revenge in the thinking or vocabulary of Irish Republicanism.

Nationalists and republicans want our rights, but we do not seek to deny the rights of anybody else. The real distinction that we have always drawn is between justice and privilege. Justice for all and privilege for none.

This means, for example, that Orange marches will have their place, in a new Ireland albeit on the basis of respect and cooperation.

But the Irish question, as it has been described over the years by some, is not simply one for the Irish.

There is not only a democratic requirement on the part of the peoples of Britain to adopt a positive stance on how the Irish question should be finally settled, there is a moral imperative.

It is one thing saying that unionists should not be frogmarched into a united Ireland; it is another to adopt the position of silence in the face of whether or not a united Ireland should come into being, in whatever negotiated form that will entail.

The peoples of Britain have a duty to themselves, to unionists in particular, to the Irish in general, and even to the world, to stand up and speak their opinion on the issue of the reunification of Ireland.

I believe that the economic and political dynamics in Ireland today make Irish reunification a realistic and realisable goal in a reasonable period of time.

I invite the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly to join in this historic endeavour.

We have to persuade the British government to change its policy from one of upholding the union to one of becoming a persuader for Irish unity.

This also involves persuading the other political representatives of the peoples of these islands – whether in Scotland or Wales or the North of England or London or the Isle of Man or Guernsey, that their interests are also served by helping the people of Ireland achieve reunification.

There are also common sense economic and social and environmental and health and many other reasons why Irish reunification makes sense over partition.

In reality the border is more than just an inconvenience.

It is an obstacle to progress and while its adverse affects are most clearly felt in the communities that straddle the border, it also impacts negatively throughout the island.

The reality is that the economy of the North is too small to exist in isolation.

The economies of both parts of the island are interlinked and interdependent.

The delivery of public services is restricted and inefficient.

There are two competing industrial development bodies seeking inward investment, with no coordination in supporting local industries.

We have two arts councils and two sports councils and three tourists’ bodies.

This is not efficient.

There are some who suggest that because we live in a period of severe economic difficulty that Irish reunification should be put off for the foreseeable future.

In fact the opposite is the case.

There is now a need, more than ever, for the island economy to be brought into being in the fullest sense, and for the political and administrative structures to be instituted with that in mind.

Many in the business community, north and south, already recognise this fact.

And all the indications are that the European Union also understands how the needs of Ireland can best be met by treating it as an island rather than as two entities on an island.

Geography does not necessarily determine politics, but neither can it be ignored in assessing what is the most effective approach to meeting the challenges of economic development and satisfying the needs of communities.

The Good Friday agreement is an opportunity to develop understanding and to advocate rationally, the benefits of Irish reunification.

The institutional elements of the Good Friday Agreement and of St. Andrews are therefore important mechanisms to be built upon.

The Good Friday Agreement also proposed the establishment of an All-Ireland Civic Forum and an All-Ireland Parliamentary Forum.

An All-Ireland Civic Forum could offer a very important input for citizens throughout the island to discuss problems of a common nature.

It could also enable a greater level of mutual understanding to develop.

As for an All-Ireland Parliamentary Forum, the important work of this body provides ample evidence of the benefits that would derive from the establishment of such a body.

So, my friends if I was to reduce all of these remarks to one sentence it would be to repeat what I have said earlier; there is a democratic requirement and moral imperative on the part of the peoples of Britain to adopt a positive stance on how the Irish question should be finally settled.

This means initiating and supporting measures to bring about the reunification of the people of Ireland."


  1. Interesting enough article, but doesn't tell us any more than we already know about this strategy. Fine Gael/Fianna Fail might as well have proposed the same strategy, for the unity of Ireland is pointless if there isn't a radical political change involved in re-unification.

    If this revolutionary change is not incorporated as part and parcel of re-unification, it will NEVER happen, as momentum will be lost and those supporting radical social and economic change will be shunted to the sidelines of politics like the Sticks and Militant/Socialist Party have been for the past 40 years.

    Last night we had a review meeting in my area, with an Ard Comharle member in attendance, and a key item on the strategic plan was the gaining of "governmental power". It really hit home to me how important this factor now is, as we only get one shot at this (as outlined above) and if one comes without the other, it will lead to further generations of wasted lives.

  2. Bryan H, I don't think many people would disagree with your reaction to the article; myself included. I also wondered if the article was aimed at the present negotiations surrounding devolution of justice. As for a revolutionary repsonse, I don't see much baseline support in the country however, as for radical changes, they are a priority imo.

    I also think we have to take into account the entire country's disposition, and also that of the main Irish political parties. While Blair of Labour has no problem coming to our country and declaring himself a Unionist, when was the last time a Taoiseach or party leader from 26 counties declared their Republicanism and clearly announced their desire for reunification?

    I'll also mention an article by someone called Emerson (many people seem to love his so-called wit, but I just see another hack journalist trying to create a status quo in 6 counties) who explored the big unanswered question regarding the diametrically opposed goals of Republicanism and Unionism. From the excerpts I read on another site, I got the impression that he and others in the establishment were perplexed that SF in particular, and Republicanism in general, hadn't softened our stand on reunification. Imo, it easy to see that the brits believe that they've secured their colony and that we'll eventually become loyal card carrying members of their septred uk mythology. What's not so apparent, is that many, if not most, of the establishment in 26 counties believed that we would act in a selfish self-interested manner once the assembly was up in running. The establishment in 26 counties just can't understand a party, its reps, or supporters who don't think in a short term, money making manner. And lets face it, a good rump, including imo Kenny, would like closer ties to the UK if not some formal arrangement.

    Bascially I fully agree with you. SF, almost alone amongst Irish parties, has a national agenda that goes beyond making a few quick Euros for its cronies and key supporters, but we need to wed truely radical policies with benefits that the average wage earner throughout the island can understand and support.

  3. Power for power's sake should not and never can be the sole aim of any party. However power for the sake of implementing radical change is of course the purpose of our party.

    Sinn Fein finds itself with a unique inbuilt safegaurd. In order for SF to achieve island wide political strenght in depth we need to radically upset the power balance in the state. There is no choice in the matter even if we imagined there was. For SF to progress requires a radical challenge to current structure of both state. The dynamic of building the political power of this movement means we will be forced without choice to disrupt both states.

    That this is how we wish to proceed as a progressive political party means that we are fortunate because we willing choose to disrupt these states and to build a new unitary state.

    The losing of a radical momentum in a political movement is a very important issue.

    In my humble opinion those who wish to see a radical implementation of change must do 2 things:

    (1) We must continue to speak our minds in the party. We may not agree with everyone in the party but thats democracy. Those with a radical vision must stay and fight for a radical vision.

    (2) The radical vision needs to be credibly delivered such that the irreducible logic of it persuades and allows for it to happen. Radical vision that speaks to the choir is not a radical vision. Radical vision that wins over sceptics and persuades doubters gets implemented. Radical visions that persuade no one look good but do little.

    As regards the strategy. We are now fortunate that our fellow Gaels in Scotland are pursuing a similar strategy of ending the union. Every year the difference in how Scotland is governed to the rest of the UK accentuates the national consciousness in Scotland and threatens the union further. Roll on the constitutional referendum next year.

    But just like we are forced to be socially radical as we remould two states into one so they are forced to challenge the social structures as they strive to break one state into many.

    A good example of how they are effecting independent social protection in Scotland at variance with London is the SNP's commitment to end the practice of selling social housing so that a pool of housing remains available for those most at need.
    A thatcher era proposal is ended by a preogressive party committed to smashing the union in favour of a proposal that defends the community's interest.


  4. Interesting comments, but where's the beef? I support SF goal of a United Ireland, but i see nothing above that could not be out forward by any middle of the road nationalist party.

    SF has put a structure in place whereby a return to real politics is possible. Namely ending the war and devolving power to Irish people from the UK parliament. Now SF has to put its case to the people of Ireland in how the institutions we have can be used to make a United Ireland real and worthwhile. This is the bit of the Sinn Féin message i am not hearing.

    What does Sinn Féin want to change in people's lives and how will they do it? These are the big questions.

  5. last anon. think SF are looking for power south of the boarder. if they get this, under strand 3 of the agreement though mutual co - operation they can increasse the areas of authority under the north south bodies. similer to the gradual process of control that happens in the EU, with governments over time agreeing to pool more and more decision making areas.

    the problem with this so far is that FF or FG the two must haves of government down here won't touch SF with a barge pole useing reasons like marx 'connections' past etc. in response to this SF toned down its politics at the same time the army went through a process of winding up shop and to be fair to SF they don't disown the past. any way come the 2007 election all this is done and melt down in dublin oh and FF and FG still wonth touch Sf with a barge poll so maybe they have other reasons.

    any way the next chapter. adams at the last ard fheis and have to hand it to the provos, allways the most creative of all the republicans, in my view, has articulated a new path to government. a left - green - labour - SF - indepentent - community allience. i.e aceept that SF has stagnated, that progressive people are not all flocking to SF that there going all over the place and instead take SF to them and forge some sort of broad allience that can get in to government without FF or FG.

    any way thats where we are.

    sumerise. SF have to get into government to use provisions of GFA.
    SF tried to position them selfs close to the centre to get into government. didn't work.
    SF now trying to position its self out on the left. ceative idea. i don't know how other progressives are responding yet but do know, gilmore is talking about a labour led government, pbp and socialist party are haveing there own debate on a similar topic, greens are prepareing for the after life. but any way thats the story so far. stay tuned!

  6. "The establishment in 26 counties just can't understand a party, its reps, or supporters who don't think in a short term, money making manner. " - which party do you mean? I live in the 6 counties and I don't know any party here that would fit this your description!

  7. My comments related to 26 county parties as per the quote - "The establishment in 26 counties..." reference point. If you need reference to the point I was trying to convey, I'd point out NAMA as an obvious example but there are numerous other examples.

    I'd not really make the distinction between jurisdictions, as I hail from Tyrone originally, but can understand why one would do so. In the fullness of time, and if the assemply in six counties continues to function, I think it is worthwhile, imho, to take this view on all the parties involved. While parties must by necessity take into account election time constraints, the primary 26 county party, imo, is able to wed is NLC doctrines with both its long term objective to stay in power and their short term objectives to make their rich cronies richer by the day.