20 November 1997
Towards A United Ireland
Extracts of a speech delivered by Sinn Fein Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin at a public meeting in the ATGWU, Middle Abbey Street at 8pm tonight.
During more than 50 years of one-party rule at Stormont, it was very obvious that neither constitutional Irish nationalism, nor the various Irish Governments throughout that period had effectively countered the discrimination and repression experienced by the Northern nationalist community. The North functioned throughout that period as a Unionist State for a Unionist population.
Many people who knew the truth about the excesses of one-party Unionist rule chose instead to close their eyes and their mouths! The indifference of the majority of Westminster and Leinster House politicians demonstrated the failure of the political process and led many in our society to resort to armed struggle to oppose state violence.
The second class citizenship of the nationalist community was never seriously examined nor effectively challenged throughout the 25 years of Direct Rule either. Indeed it is arguable that the conditions actually worsened from 1969.
However the Nationalist Consensus that emerged from the Hume/Adams dialogue in 1993 broke the mould of Irish/British politics. Hume/Adams began a process that was strengthened when the Irish Government led by Albert Reynolds came on board. In turn important players in Irish American society also became a part of that consensus.
The Peace process was built on positions that were already common to the parties.
- That the people of Ireland had the right to exercise National self determination.
- That the people of Ireland were divided at present on how that right was to be exercised.
- That Stormont rule had been undemocratic, exclusionist and discriminatory.
- That no solution was possible within the Six-Counties.
- The status quo of Direct Rule is not an option for a democratic future.
- That we all subscribed, with different emphasis of course, to the political option of a United Ireland.
- That we all recognise the changes that are already underway in our society and that such change should be managed in the interests of all of the people of Ireland.
Whilst it is obvious that these understandings have had a radical effect on us all, nevertheless there remains all of those many differences on social
and economic issues. However all of us have developed new and confident expectations for the future of our people.
The Irish Peace Process emerged because of the Nationalist Consensus. If the Process is to succeed then the Nationalist Consensus will have to move to defend it from those who would separate or divide us. We must do so and ensure that eventually the full potential of a lasting, durable and democratic settlement is found within the negotiations.
Let me state from the very outset that I recognise a clear difference between a Nationalist Consensus and a Pan-Nationalist Front. I am equally clear on the distinction between a National and a Nationalist Consensus.
Pan Nationalism implies a subsuming of identities and a merging of all of the nationalist parties. John Bruton in his own unique fashion regularly demonstrates that the accusations about the existence of A Pan Nationalist front are a figment of Unionist paranoia.
There is much to divide us, but we each recognise a potential to achieve the primary objective of a political settlement without surrendering up our respective ultimate objectives.
One serious deficiency of the Storrnont Talks process is that they are conducted literally in secret. There are reasons for this of course, but public interest must also be catered for and maximum transparency within the constraints of confidentiality must be the watchword.
Discussions such as tonight's are a vital means of extending ownership and participation in the Peace Process. This debate, or variations of it, should be organised throughout the country as an effective mechanism for achieving that objective. The mood within the broad community, if not yet within political unionism, is for negotiation and agreement on constitutional and political change. Partition has failed and all who recognise that fact, unionist and nationalist, are part of a de-facto political Consensus. We are pointing the way to an agreement that will in its time become known as the National Consensus.
I am a convinced and unapologetic advocate of a Nationalist Consensus as a means of building towards a political and constitutional settlement.
Since the early part of this decade and arising from the endeavours of Hume, Adams and Reynolds, it has become apparent that more and more nationalists in the North are becoming electorally active. In parallel with
this there has been a discernible insecurity within the unionist community, probably exacerbated by an absence of visionary political leadership. Instead of providing courageous political leadership David Trimble is behaving like King Canute and attempting to turn back the tide of political history. All parties must try to convince Trimble that to refuse to deal with reality is to continue to fail our communities. The responsibility of political parties is to seize the present opportunity to demonstrate that the political process can become an effective alternative to division and conflict.
The election of Mary McAleese is evidence of the effect of the Nationalist Consensus in this section of Irish society. It is reasonable to query whether Fianna Fail or indeed any other party would have selected a northern nationalist, who still resided in the North, as a presidential candidate even a few years ago (and yes, I do remember Austin Currie)? Or if Mary McAleese would have been given such a decisive mandate by the electorate in the 26 Counties? Would political and historical revisionism be in such disarray, would Eoghean Harris be licking his wounds now, if it were not for the resurgence in hope and expectation that permeates society in our country?
But despite all our hopes, it could all come to naught. The negativity and begrudgery displayed during the presidential campaign mirrors in a perverse fashion the sentiments of many within the Unionist political leadership. The risks and the threats to peace are as great as ever.
The maximum agreement amongst nationalists on the evolving Peace Process is absolutely essential if we are to move away from the failure of Partition.
The Nationalist Consensus must act as a consistent and coherent political voice to counter the policy of the British government that is unapologetic about its defence of the union.
The unionist parties, within or outside the Talks, remain determined to wreck the process. Both Governments must be persuaded to make it absolutely clear to all of the political parties, and indeed to the many sceptics, that this will not be allowed to happen.
Partition has failed and this is a common position within the Nationalist Consensus. Its failure is demonstrated by the history of conflict and division that has riven Irish society. Tinkering with the status quo will not resolve the violence and instability that is inherent in the Six-County statelet.
Fundamental constitutional political change in the context of national self-determination can provide that solution, despite the difficulties.
Current British government policy is a clear impediment to establishing a historic agreement. David Trimble has publicly made it clear that their engagement in the Stormont Talks is purely tactical. He has spelt out his understanding that the DSD formula on Consent means that he and his party have a veto on political change. The current phase of bilateral discussions between all of the parties and Senator George Mitchell will demonstrate in the next few weeks whether he is correct in that analysis or he his mistaken.
A Nationalist Consensus can and must be established on the issue of Consent as an each-way option for measuring the depth and quality of agreements reached through inclusive negotiations. Only then can we repair the fault lines that effect the nationalist consensus. Only then can we counter the veto of the unionist leadership and the futility of zero-sum politics. Only then can a National Consensus emerge which will supplant the current reality of inequality, second-class citizenship, division and endemic conflict.
The nationalist consensus can and will deliver on the Equality Agenda, on Justice issues and on the Prisoners issues. Everyone recognises that these issues are matters for government policy and do not require negotiations.
A combined focus will ensure consistent progress on all of these issues and will be vital to the continued development of the Peace Process.
Finally I would like to share a quote from a Scottish contemporary writer and thinker, Tom Leonard.
``Democracy is daily dialogue, and true democracy lies in the equality and the equal power of all parties to that dialogue''.
Peace in Ireland will be achieved when the political parties can agree and form a government of National Consensus. Sinn Fein's mission is to point the way.
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