[Sinn Fein]

7th January 2002

Irish unity debate must begin

Speaking to an elected representative's conference in Belfast on Saturday the Sinn Fein Chairperson and Foyle MLA, Mitchel Mc Laughlin said that the major political topic for debate still outstanding is the issue of Irish unity.

Mr Mc Laughlin told the conference:

"Republicans at every opportunity must begin discussions with unionists and other political opponents on the benefits of Irish unity. We can not afford to wait for anyone else to initiate these discussions because who else other than republicans have the motivation do so.

As our electoral strength continues to grow across the 32 counties of Ireland we need to use that strength to bring about a United Ireland which will accommodate unionist concerns. With the increase of political strength comes the responsibility for advancing the type of united Ireland that can accommodate all.

We will have to begin discussions that will bring that about by engaging with our political opponents - unionist, nationalists and others. Coming from a strong constituency of nationalism and republicanism - one that is getting stronger, we need to address the fears of those concerned about future constitutional change.

The core outstanding issue of political debate in Ireland at present is that of constitutional change leading to the dismantling of partition. It can no longer be ignored.

The advances made by Sinn Fein in last years Westminster and Local Government elections in the North will be replicated in the forthcoming general election in the 26 counties. But we should not allow ourselves become complacent by listening to predictions in the media of an increase of as many as eight Dáil seats. These wild predictions are being made by political pundits that have no love of republicans so that if they do not transpire then it can be claimed that Sinn Fein did not do as well as expected. We will do very well but this is not a short-term project it needs long term commitment to build the strength required to complete our political project.

Our success in acquiring Westminster facilities as of right will also assist us in this project. I believe that it will be as significant and as successful as our Washington Bureau since its opening a number of years ago.

I also expect progress in the coming months on northern representation in the Irish political system. This will be highly significant as it will for the first time since partition give Irish citizens in the North a voice - albeit one limited to those issues not explicit to the 26 counties - in the affairs of the 'Nation'.

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