02 November 2005

Rabbitte leads Labour away from politics of James Connolly

Sinn Féin

Published: 2 November, 2005

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Martin Ferris

Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris has said failure to pursue Irish unity “will condemn the north eastern counties of this country to another prolonged period of crisis.” Speaking on the Sinn Féin Private Members Motion in the Dáil this evening he said, “Republicans do not believe that political normality can ever be achieved while the British claim and exercise jurisdiction over that part of Ireland.”

Speaking on the Sinn Féin Private Members motion on Irish Unity in the Dáil Deputy Ferris said, “There is a clear and pressing need for the case for Irish unity to be actively promoted. Not to do so will condemn the north eastern counties of this country to another prolonged period of crisis. There are those like Deputy Rabbitte who argue the opposite. In his speech here on September 28, Deputy Rabbitte spoke about the six counties as though it was some exotic country the other side of the world, and its inhabitants a strange band of beings whose actions and motivations are a constant puzzle to all of us ‘down here’.

“Deputy Rabbitte and others contend that the solution to their problems is to engineer a permanent settlement in which the six counties remain forever under British sovereignty. Republicans who argue to the contrary are accused of going beyond the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, and of deepening divisions.

“Republicans do not believe that political normality can ever be achieved while the British claim and exercise jurisdiction over that part of Ireland. Far from that jurisdiction being “bedded down” as hoped for by Deputy Rabbitte and others, the period since 1998 has proven that it is the ultimate and ongoing cause of tension and instability. Therefore, the logical solution to that is to bring about a situation in which all of the people of Ireland can create a state in which all cultural identities and interests are accommodated. It is our belief that that can be best achieved in an All Ireland republic.

“Deputy Rabbitte also accused republicans of failing to recognise or to address what he terms inter-communal divisions. That is patronising nonsense. How could republicans in the six counties fail to recognise differences that govern every aspect of life there.

“As for failing to do anything to address those divisions, I can assure Deputy Rabbitte that my party has far closer and more genuine links with members of the unionist community than either himself or anyone else “down here”. Those links are extensive and ongoing and sometimes, in the light of sensitivities, of necessity low-key. They are something we take very seriously and not as something to be used as occasional publicity stunts.

“Over the course of our dialogue with unionism we have come to recognise deeply held beliefs and fears, and have sought in various ways to address them. We have no wish to oppress or to dominate those with different belief systems and cultures, but we are none the less convinced that the best way in which to protect all differences is through the creation of a genuinely republican society as envisaged by the founders of Irish republicans and by the framers of the 1916 Proclamation and the Democratic Programme.” ENDS

Full text of speech follows:

As this motion states, there is a clear and pressing need for the case for Irish unity to be actively promoted. Not to do so will condemn the north eastern counties of this country to another prolonged period of crisis.

There are those like Deputy Rabbitte who argue the opposite. In his speech here on September 28, Deputy Rabbitte spoke about the six counties as though it was some exotic country the other side of the world, and its inhabitants a strange band of beings whose actions and motivations are a constant puzzle to all of us “down here”.

I wonder, however, to what extent the leader of the Labour Party speaks for all of his members when he adopts this attitude. The vast majority of Labour members and supporters that I know see themselves in the tradition of James Connolly and strongly support the aspiration for a united Ireland. But then perhaps Deputy Rabbitte is speaking more from the perspective of the anti-republican ideology that dominated Democratic Left.

Deputy Rabbitte and others contend that the solution to their problems is to engineer a permanent settlement in which the six counties remain forever under British sovereignty. Republicans who argue to the contrary are accused of going beyond the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, and of deepening divisions.

Republicans have never made any secret of the fact that we do not regard a devolved administration as the final settlement. What we have done, and along with others who do not include Deputy Rabbitte, is bring about a situation in which advocates of Irish unity and defenders of the union can argue their respective positions in something approaching a normal political environment.

However, we do not believe that political normality can ever be achieved while the British claim and exercise jurisdiction over that part of Ireland. Far from that jurisdiction being “bedded down” as hoped for by Deputy Rabbitte and others, the period since 1998 has proven that it is the ultimate and ongoing cause of tension and instability. Therefore, the logical solution to that is to bring about a situation in which all of the people of Ireland can create a state in which all cultural identities and interests are accommodated. It is our belief that that can be best achieved in an All Ireland republic.

Deputy Rabbitte also accused republicans of failing to recognise or to address what he terms inter-communal divisions. That is patronising nonsense. How could republicans in the six counties fail to recognise differences that govern every aspect of life there.

As for failing to do anything to address those divisions, I can assure Deputy Rabbitte that my party has far closer and more genuine links with members of the unionist community than either himself or anyone else “down here”. Those links are extensive and ongoing and sometimes, in the light of sensitivities, of necessity low-key. They are something we take very seriously and not as something to be used as occasional publicity stunts.

Over the course of our dialogue with unionism we have come to recognise deeply held beliefs and fears, and have sought in various ways to address them. We have no wish to oppress or to dominate those with different belief systems and cultures, but we are none the less convinced that the best way in which to protect all differences is through the creation of a genuinely republican society as envisaged by the founders of Irish republicans and by the framers of the 1916 Proclamation and the Democratic Programme.

It was not Irish republicans who allowed this state to be turned into a narrow clerical dominated society in which the sort of horrors we read about in the Ferns Report were allowed take place. A society of mass poverty and emigration. The people responsible for that were successive Fianna Fáil governments and coalitions that included Fine Gael and the Labour Party. Republicans did not create that society and we have no wish to recreate it and foist it on our fellow Irish men and women in the Six Counties.

I must also refer to the positive role that has been played in attempting to bring about a settlement by the IRA. The IRA helped to initiate the peace process and the ceasefires declared by the organisation were crucial steps on the way to the Good Friday Agreement.

Unfortunately the goodwill displayed by the IRA and the risks taken by that organisation, have not always been reciprocated. Nonetheless the IRA has continued to take bold initiatives. In September it took an unprecedented step in relation to its structures and arms. That was done despite considerable unease among republicans conscious of the dangers inherent in a situation where unionism retains the physical means to attack nationalists.

Again, while I know that there has been a generally positive reaction from members of the unionist community, there is little leadership among its political representatives who appear either unwilling or afraid to reciprocate in a way that would lead to a re-establishment of the political institutions.

It is of course also the responsibility of the two governments, and particularly of the British Government, to ensure that this does take place and as soon as possible. Once that is done there can be some semblance of normal democratic politics. Unionists will be free to argue their positions and Sinn Féin will certainly not be found wanting in promoting the need for an all island settlement.

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