25 February 2006

Advancing the agenda for an Ireland of equals


MLA for North Belfast, Gerry Kelly responds to Gearóid ó Cairealláin’s column in our last edition

In his column last week on the launch of the SDLP’s North-South‚ document, Gearóid Ó Cairealláin set down a challenge for Sinn Féin ‘to tell us what their vision for our future is’. Or rather, what practical measures we propose for all-Ireland development, and what are the concrete steps to be taken in order to achieve that scenario.
I’m only too glad to take Gearóid up on his request, to outline Sinn Féin’s All Ireland Agenda programme of work, to touch on the projects which make it up, and how all our activity fits into our vision of an Ireland of equals - the vision of the 1916 Proclamation.
Sinn Féin welcomed the SDLP proposals as part of a growing consensus on the development of an All Ireland agenda, from political parties, the Irish and British governments, and from industry, educationalists, healthcare workers and other sectors.
In February 2004, Sinn Féin published its 75 page proposals for ‘Expansion of All Ireland Institutions and Areas of Work’ after presenting them to the two governments as part of the review of the Good Friday Agreement.
The paper contained detailed proposals for:
1. Expanding the remits of the existing All-Ireland implementation bodies and areas of cooperation
2. Identification of new areas of cooperation and further implementation bodies
3. The establishment of the all Ireland institutions of the GFA - the All Ireland Parliamentary Forum and All Ireland Consultative Civic Forum
4. The initiation of a process to produce an All Ireland Human Rights Charter to underpin All Ireland governance, asserting comprehensive social economic, cultural and political rights.
With our 32 county wide representation, Sinn Féin are also using these proposals in a campaigning way, with our MLAs and TDs involved in meetings with groups and NGOs in each and every sector, outlining our ideas for All Ireland expansion, and working to create the demand for increased and structured cooperation.
But anyone who watched the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis live on RTÉ on Saturday will know that this is only one of the elements of our All Ireland Agenda project.
In February last year Gerry Adams launched our discussion document, ‘A Green Paper for Irish Unity’ to open up a campaign to urge the Irish government to table a green paper in Leinster House, to begin the practical planning and preparation for re-unification.
Sinn Féin’s document has been launched publicly in many parts across the 32 counties, from Ballinasloe to Lurgan, Portlaoise to Waterford, and distributed locally by our cumann activists. In Council chambers North and South, Sinn Féin councillors have tabled motions on this subject. In the last two weeks, both Omagh and Strabane Councils have passed this motion, and are now to officially write to An Taoiseach, urging him to move on this issue. In November our TDs in Leinster House sponsored a debate on our proposals, to make the other parties in the chamber tell the people where they stood on the aspiration to re-unification, to which they all at least pay lip service.
Sinn Féin councillors in the border corridor region are involved in the Cross Border Corridor Groups (CBCGs) which involve representatives from all the councils in that area coming together and working through the EU Interreg funding partnerships to promote, encourage and fund local projects which cut across the border.
Our councillors come together as the party’s AONTU (Unity) group, to coordinate their strategy on the CBCGs. One of our objectives is to promote and lobby for Integrated Area Plans for this region, to work to make the border irrelevant and invisible for those who live and work in this multi-deprived and isolated region.
Across the 32 counties, Sinn Féin’s councillors are now involved in implementing our Regional Campaigning strategy, where our elected representatives come together on a regional basis, identify the campaigns which are important and relevant to the people in their area.
And they work to both lead and empower local communities to agitate on these issues - whether in the south east, in Connacht, in greater Dublin or in the north-west region of Derry, Donegal and Tyrone.
We are also involved in constant lobbying around the refusal of the Irish government to move on the issue of the representation of Northern MPs in the Oireachtas, and Ógra Shinn Féin have organised an energetic campaign around ‘A President For All’ to enable all Irish citizens to be allowed to vote in Presidential elections
Sinn Féin are also continuing with an island-wide consultation on our “Rights For All Charter”, which was first launched in 2004. This discussion paper will open up the debate on the shape and form of the All Ireland Charter of Human Rights.
And over the past 18 months we have engaged with groups and NGOs, to listen to them and their views of what rights such a charter should contain.
We have met with anti-poverty groups, disability groups, women’s groups and a wide range of others.
The shape and form of the new Ireland is at the centre of Sinn Féin’s activity on our All Ireland Agenda project.
Our vision for the future is for a rights-based society, one which truly does ‘cherish all of the children of the nation equally’, as the Easter Proclamation of 1916 stated.
It’s fitting in this, the 90th anniversary of that historic rising, that modern-day republican activists are carrying on that vision, engaging with the people, right across Ireland, on the detail of the society we aspire to create.

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