Sinn Féin in fresh unity call

Sinn Féin in fresh Irish unity call by Theo Russell

PAT DOHERTY, Sinn Fein MP and former member of the party's negotiating team, spoke at the Hammersmith Irish Cultural Centre towards the end of June on the theme 'Ireland and Britain after 2010', using the platform to promote a new a major new Sinn Féin Irish unity initiative.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams hosted a major conferences on the issue in New York, and in July he will launch the initiative in Britain with a conference planned for London early next year.

"Partition," Doherty said, "holds back the Irish nation from winning its full potential. It makes no sense having two health systems, two education systems, and so on, on such a small island."

Ending partition, he said, would bring "new ways out of our present economic difficulties, through planning on a co-ordinated, all-Ireland basis," adding that Sinn Fein was not alone in calling for a united, independent Ireland.

"Fianna Fáil, 'the Republican Party,' has the same aim and Fine Gael also asserts itself as the 'United Ireland Party', he said. "The SDLP says that it supports a united Ireland, and the former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern declared not long ago that unification is "an imperative, not an empty aspiration". The problem is he didn't say it when he was Taoiseach!"

Doherty said that both the mechanism and the legitimacy of re-unification were embodied in the Good Friday Agreement, "which for the first time contains an acknowledgement by the British government that the Irish people - and the Irish people alone - have the right to determine the future of Ireland through a majority vote in referenda north and south."

But he said a straightforward border poll was not the solution. "Fifty per cent plus one would be very dangerous without adequate dialogue - a hugely important dialogue for the future of Ireland".

He said there was an excellent dialogue between Sinn Féin and Unionist business, church and community organisations, even some dialogue with loyalists, but the weakest point was with the unionist politicians.

He described the dialogue with the unionist community as a highly complex and difficult process. "We are involved in a power-sharing process and we have to be aware that we are bringing unionists along a road that they don't particularly like - power-sharing, human rights, equality, and the all-Ireland dimension".

These same Unionist politicians, he said, "continue to abandon the working class unionist community, which is drifting towards gangsterism and drug-dealing. They put a political flag around it and say it's for the cause, but it's a hugely corrupting process."

Sinn Féin saw major gains as well as some losses in the recent elections in both parts of Ireland. In the north Bairbre de Brun was re-elected as MEP, marking the first time any republican or nationalist party has come first in an election.

This was largely due to the unionist vote being split three ways after the Traditional Unionist Voice party's break with the DUP in 2004. The TUV's leader Jim McAllister did not win a Euro seat, but polled well at 14 per cent. It also means that Martin McGuinness is very likely to become First Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive after the next Assembly elections.

In the republic Sinn Féin vice president Mary Lou McDonald lost her Dublin Euro seat to Joe Higgins of the Socialist party, in what Doherty called "an angry backlash against job and pay cuts, privatisation and savage cuts to public services". Sinn Féin suffered from the reduction in the number of Dublin MEPs from 4 to 3, while the ruling Fianna Fail also lost its only Dublin MEP.

Commenting on the re-negotiation of the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty for Ireland, Doherty said "now we're told we'll have to have another referendum… but are the commitments legally binding?", adding that if the Tories come to power there may be a referendum in Britain as well.

Answering a question from the New Worker, Doherty said that unemployment in the north of Ireland - which is rising faster than any other part of the UK - was hurting nationalists more than unionists. Lack of control of fund-raising and budgets, he said, "makes it very difficult to tackle deep-seated problems such as long-term unemployment, a hugely difficult issue to deal with without allowing for incentives and taking economic initiatives."

Theo Russell's report originally appeared in the New Worker

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