A Letter from the road
I am writing from the road. Over the past 10 ten days, I have been in Washington, DC, Philadelphia, New York City, New Jersey, and Pearl River. The reception has been warm and welcoming, the engagements have been informative and constructive, and the craic has been good.
Frustration and anger at the British Government pushing through their plan to end all investigations into conflict-related killings was evident. These actions are opposed by all parties in the North of Ireland, the Irish Government, the US Congress, the EU and UN Human rights experts, and most importantly, by those families that have been denied inquests or investigations.
Bewilderment was expressed that the government in the North and the operation of All-Ireland and cross-border bodies have been blocked for over 18 months by the DUP.
There was a curiosity about the debate on a United Ireland, the loss of the Unionist majority, the election of Michelle O’Neill as First Minister in the North, and Sinn Féin becoming the largest party in the South of Ireland.
Frustration, anger, bewilderment, and curiosity are understandable reactions to events. It allows us to assess, understand and importantly to act. The US government and Irish American have skin in the game.
You are not spectators but players. The US has acted as a guarantor for the Good Friday Agreement and for peace and progress in Ireland. Our agreements are your agreements.
It is right to be angry about the British Government’s unilateral actions to deny justice to the victims of the conflict. But anger is no replacement for action. The Irish Government can and should take an interstate case against the British Government to the European Courts as their proposals not only breach the Good Friday and Stormont House Agreements but are also incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. You can add your voice to the call on the Irish Government to act.
The institutions of the Good Friday Agreement should be up and working. The people voted last year for a government to be led by a Sinn Féin First Minister. The British Government has allowed the DUP to dictate the terms and timing of the operation of the institutions.
A vocal section of unionism would rather have direct rule from London than serve in government where they are a minority. Direct rule is not an option in the Good Friday Agreement.
There is an urgent need for the US to push the British Government to act in partnership with the Irish Government to ensure the continued operation of North/South and All Ireland working.
Both governments should have an agreed contingency plan for the institutions in the north while the DUP blocks government formation.
The north of Ireland was gerrymandered into existence to ensure a British pro-union majority. That majority is now gone. The real issue is managing change. The debate on Irish Unity is growing. In the Local Government elections in May, pro-unity candidates outpolled pro-partition candidates.
Unionists want to deny these changes.
Change can either be managed or chaotic. It cannot be denied.
The US has a role in managing the process and supporting the democratic right to determine the constitutional future of Ireland as provided for in the Good Friday Agreement.
The responsible thing for governments to do is to plan and prepare for unity referendums as provided for in the Good Friday Agreement and let the people decide.
Have a great weekend.
Ciarán Quinn is the Sinn Féin Representative to North America. Each week he writes a letter from Ireland with news and analysis. It is featured in the weekly Friends of Sinn Féin USA Newsletter. Be sure you are subscribed to stay up to date.