Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

Campaign for a united Ireland set to go global

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams says his party wants to encourage debate towards ending partition

Gerry Adams

Campaigns to lobby for a united Ireland could tap into the huge Irish populations living in the US and in Britain, Sinn Fein said today.

Later this month the party is to stage a major event at Dublin's Mansion House marking the sitting of the first Dail, which followed the rise of Sinn Fein nearly a century ago.

But 90 years after the events that led to the war of independence in Ireland, modern republicans hope to build on the current peace process to lobby internationally for Irish unity.

While the Good Friday Agreement ensured Northern Ireland's constitutional position within the UK cannot change without the consent of a majority of voters, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said his party wanted to encourage debate towards ending partition.

“All of this is part of a process,” he said.

“If you consider what things were like here [across Ireland] 40 years ago, in terms of both the Orange state, the conservative, impoverished state in the south, the fragmented and very minimalist republican development.

“And then you fast forward to now — without for a moment minimising all the tragedies and difficulties that have occurred in between — you can see how things have moved ahead.

“That's what's going to happen in the up-coming period. It's an incremental process of building the republic day-by-day.”

He conceded the international media had moved on from focusing on Ireland.

“But the Irish diaspora haven't,” he said.

“And if you move outside the diaspora and talk to anyone, they will tell you — and I defy anyone to contradict this — that most people who know anything about Ireland know the British government should have no claim or jurisdiction.”

Mr Adams added that they have “to engage in a way which makes unionists comfortable with a new Ireland” and with an Ireland where the people who live here, would be sovereign.

Meanwhile, Mr Adams has also spoke about the strength of the Irish language community.

He made his comments in the Culturlann — a converted church in the heart of |west Belfast — housing the city's best known Irish language centre, complete with bilingual restaurant and book shop.

Census figures show 167,000 people have knowledge of Irish in Northern Ireland, while 4,000 children are educated through the language.

There is a big job of work which has to be done to |persuade unionists that the language does not threaten them

Mr Adams said there was now growing demand for Irish language services.

“That is what sustains a culturlann. You could build a culturlann and it could be a white elephant,” he said.

"But there is a demand for it. That's the difference.

He added: “It's going to grow from strength to strength. That is what we have said to the DUP.”

The St Andrews political agreement of 2006, which paved the way for power-sharing government at Stormont, promised an Irish language act for Northern Ireland to protect gaelic through legislation similar to that in place in Wales and Scotland.

But the DUP has blocked the move, with the party's Stormont Culture Minister Gregory Campbell instead set to deliver a minority languages strategy to the Executive in early 2009.

He said of Mr Campbell: “He's a minister of culture whose avowed aim is to not preside over rights for the native indigenous language.

“So Gregory is an oxymoron in terms of those matters.”

Mr Campbell has accused republicans of using Irish as a political weapon and has pledged to give equal funding to the Ulster Scots tongue.

But Mr Adams said: “There is a big job of work which has to be done to persuade unionists that the language does not threaten them.

“It's not party political ... it's a wonderful heritage and the fact that it is alive is to the great credit to all of those people who have nurtured it and who continue to use it.”

The Sinn Fein president also touched on the Celtic Tiger economic boom, describing the Irish governments that presided over that period as lottery winners who ‘went on the tear’ and squandered their money.

Mr Adams said republicans had called for better use of the wealth and believed those warnings were now being fulfilled in the economic crisis gripping the Republic.

Prior to the last election pollsters had predicted major gains for Sinn Fein, but in the end it lost one of its five Dail seats, claiming it had been squeezed out in the major battle between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

But Mr Adams said: “The message that we had in the election — I think you can see now given what has happened since.

“The unprecedented wealth was not used in a sensible, egalitarian way to build public services, to plan strategically for when there was going to be a decline in the economy.

“It was as if you won the lotto and went off on the tear and treated all your friends, then you woke-up one morning and your money had all gone, but in this case it was public money.”

He added: “But all of the conservative parties are guilty of that.”

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