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Gerry Adams: It is time to talk about Irish unity

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams. Picture by Hugh Russell 
Gerry Adams

WOULD anybody with the benefit of hindsight, propose the partition of Ireland as a measure to resolve conflict, build a prosperous and fair society or to reconcile people?

Partition is a failure. A miserable divisive failure. It created decades of economic decline in the north and in the south, including forced emigration.

Partition broke essential trade links across the island, sustained decades of conflict and injustice and established two conservative elites north and south. The lack of equality and plurality in politics led to unjust governance and discrimination.

The revolutionary social, economic, and cultural promise of 1916 was replaced by a conservative counter revolution.

During the years of conflict, raising unity was dismissed by some as tacit support for armed struggle. The conflict is over.

When the issue of reunification is raised in the Dáil, as it is regularly by Sinn Féin, the response is that now is not the time to talk about this.

The closing down of the debate on unity is akin to saying that we cannot talk about the future.

The imposition of Brexit, despite the vote of the people in the north, underlines the undemocratic nature of partition and the unequal relationship between London and Belfast.

The future constitutional position of the north lies in the hands of the people of the north and of the south. The Good Friday Agreement obliges the Irish and British governments to legislate for unity if that is the choice of the people north and south.

So now is the time to look to the future. We can redefine the relationships across the island and between Ireland and Britain. This is an exciting time when we can create a new Ireland.

The reunification of Ireland is about more than adding the north onto the south. It is about building on what is best in both jurisdictions. A United Ireland means a new Ireland.

Last week the Taoiseach is reported to have repeated his earlier remarks in September about the possibility of a referendum on Irish unity.

The Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin also acknowledged in Belfast that the Brexit vote means that the north should have a special status within the EU.

Both these leaders need to move beyond the rhetoric and have a strategy for Irish unity. I have sent them both a copy of Sinn Féin’s discussion document, ‘Towards a United Ireland’ that we are publishing today.

There is a responsibility on all of those who want to achieve Irish unity to co-operate on this issue. The discussion document is available on the Sinn Féin website www.sinnfein.ie.

The document lays out the rationale for reunification in terms of the economy, public services and reconciliation. However, the document looks beyond the benefits of unity. The document details the type of new and united Ireland we believe can be delivered.

Sinn Féin’s vision of a new Ireland would be built on the principles of equality and inclusion.

We believe that this would require a new constitution and Bill of Rights and a discussion on symbols and emblems to reflect an inclusive Ireland, the safeguarding of British citizenship and recognition of the unionist identity.

Sinn Féin recognises that unionists are against Irish unity. But the vast majority of unionists are content with the Good Friday Agreement. That includes a referendum on Irish unity.

There clearly is an onus on those of us who want unity to persuade others of the merits and efficacy of this position. Sinn Féin is up for that challenge.

A new and united Ireland may also require constitutional models other than a single unitary state to ensure the highest democratic standards and safeguards.

Greater plurality and inclusion in the political process will radically change the current political status quo and act as a challenge for all parties.

There is an onus on the Irish government to begin to plan for unity, to draft a green paper for unity.

To become a persuader for unity. To drive the process and build the maximum agreement and to secure and win a border poll.

Brexit has demonstrated again the failure of partition. Now is the time to look to the future and to talk about, to plan and to deliver a new and united Ireland.

Sinn Féin will be flexible on the shape of the united Ireland. The people of this island have the opportunity, not afforded to many generations, to build a new Ireland.

:: Gerry Adams is president of Sinn Féin

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