24 March 2005

Irelandclick.com

Attwood hails SDLP unity paper

SDLP West Belfast MLA, Alex Attwood, has slammed Sinn Fein’s green paper on Irish unity, saying it wouldn’t persuade a single unionist to agree to a united Ireland.

In the week that the SDLP’s ‘Better Way’ document on Irish unity was launched by party leader Mark Durkan, Mr Attwood told the Andersonstown News: “People now have very clear choices between a party that stands fully behind democracy and policing, and one that stands for injustice in their policing. The SDLP is the only party that can bring about Irish unity on an agreed basis. Only the SDLP has the ability to persuade enough unionists to vote for Irish unity.”

The SDLP councillor suggested Sinn Féin’s recently released green paper on Irish unity was unworkable. “They couldn’t persuade a single unionist to agree to it,” he said. “Sinn Féin talk about Irish unity but there’s no strategy to bring it about. Gerry Adams said that a united Ireland cannot come about unless there is unionist consent and assent. For the president of a united Ireland party, I find it bizarre that he used those words.

“Our view under the Good Friday Agreement is that if a majority in the North vote for unity, it will be brought about. We don’t give unionists a veto, but we want them to be reassured by it. If you look at our document, we shape out what Irish unity would look like. We can reassure unionists that they have nothing to fear in a united Ireland – that their rights, identity and culture will be respected and their position guaranteed.”

The ‘Better Way’ document, launched at Belfast Castle on Monday, details the party's support for “the will of the people”.

It adds: “We are 100 per cent for the Good Friday Agreement, just as we are 100 per cent for a united Ireland.

“And that is why, in our strategy for a united Ireland, we believe the Agreement must endure.”

Cllr Attwood added: “We make no apology for working to reassure unionism that our objective is not domination but equal partnership. That's what persuasion politics is all about. That’s what any party that is serious about achieving unity should be about.”

Responding to Cllr Attwood’s comments, Sinn Féin MLA Michael Ferguson vigorously defended his party’s green paper.

“Sinn Féin have a strategy based on demonstrating the practical benefits and the huge potential of Irish unification. The green paper is the culmination of much of that.

“But we have also a detailed strategy relating to the working relationships of councils throughout the border region that will pay practical dividends. We have a strategy for engaging with civic society on issues such as an All-Ireland Charter of Rights, as well as an agenda for business, community and other sectoral interests, as persuaders for unification.

“We have a strategy to demonstrate to the farming and rural community how their interests are best served within the All-Ireland context, from movement on lifting the beef ban to the implementation of CAP reform.

“There is no point diluting our aspirations to appeal to unionists who I believe deserve to be engaged with honestly. Sinn Féin are totally committed to Irish unification. Unionists know that. Everyone knows that. The job of work is to engage with the unionist community through many different channels – at grass roots level, in and around the community sector, through arguments about the economic potential of unification, and to farming and rural communities.

“The SDLP should appreciate that no-one, unionist or otherwise, will welcome being patronised if all they are looking for is transfers to stave off electoral decline.”

SDLP V SINN Féin: YOU DECIDE

SDLP strategy for a United Ireland

• The Assembly would continue as a regional parliament of a United Ireland with all its cross-community protections. The Irish Constitution would be changed to accommodate this.
• The Executive would be kept, bringing together all political parties.
• The right to identify oneself as British, Irish or both would endure, as would the right to hold British and Irish passports.
• Just as the Irish Government has a say in the North now, the British Government would have a say in the North as a United Ireland.
• Just as there is a northern representation in the Seanad at present, those in the North who want it should have representation in the House of Lords in a United Ireland.
• The party pledges to campaign vigorously in favour of a Yes vote on unity while assuring unionists of their guaranteed place in a United Ireland.
Sinn Fein strategy for a United Ireland

• It would require specific forms of support from popular and political opinion in Britain.
• The existing 18 Westminster MPs would be automatically accorded membership of the Dáil, with consultative and speaking rights.
• A determined number of seats would be allocated to six-county parties in proportion to their electoral representation.
• Voting rights in presidential elections and elections to the Seanad would be extended to citizens in the North.
• The British Government would have no say in the North in a United Ireland.
• The Oireachtas would open the door to those of the unionist tradition who may, in the future, wish to avail of representation. Unionist seats would be left vacant as a constant assertion of the recognition of the Irish nation that they have the right of entitlement in national institutions.

Journalist:: Staff Reporter

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