Pathway to Change

A Letter From Ireland

a Chara,

“What would Irish Unity mean in one word?” was the question asked. “Freedom” was the answer from Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald. The loudest cheer of the day went up to the rafters.

Last weekend I and several thousand attended Ireland’s Future, “Pathway to Change” event in Belfast. The venue was the SSE arena, home to the Belfast Giants Ice Hockey team. But this was no cold house for supporters of Irish Unity.

The first thing that struck me was the production value. The staging, lighting, and huge video screens were a signal of intent. This was a serious and professional event.

The second thing was the normality of the event. There was no obtrusive security, no overt police presence, no protests, and no drama. It was only in the mid-1990s that Irish Republicans were first allowed to demonstrate in Belfast’s city center.

Here we were in the largest indoor arena in the city, overlooked by the iconic cranes of Harland and Wolf and not an eye or angry voice raised.

Belfast is now a shared and changing city.

Professor Brendan O’Leary brilliantly set the scene for the day, outlining the opportunities and challenges for those supporting Irish unity. Working back from a referendum in 2030 his contribution was informative, engaging, and entertaining.

As the day progressed the quality of the speakers and the depth of discussion became apparent. All major political parties on the Island were represented, except for the Unionists. The conference was to examine the pathway to Irish Unity, so it was hardly surprising that unionists boycotted the event.

However, members from a unionist background did contribute to panels. Their contributions were informative proving again that the unionist/protestant identity is open, diverse, and seeking to define their place in the debate. The discussion on the future should be respectful of all.

Other contributions looked at the economics of Irish unity, the role of the arts, health care in a united Ireland, and the role of labor. The labor panel included the great friend of Ireland, Terry O’Sullivan, the former International President of LiUNA. Terry spoke passionately about the role of labor in securing peace and progress and committed to continuing the work until Irish unity was achieved.

Between panel discussions were individual contributions from medical practitioner Dr. Tom Black, disability rights campaigner Joanne Sansome, First Minister Michelle O’Neill, former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, and GAA President Jarlath Burns.

The day was broken up by comedy thanks to Grimes and McKee and the great Paddy Cullivan and his unique vision of the future United Ireland.  

As we emerged into the sunlight of late afternoon the abiding feeling was one of opportunity and potential. The project is to create a new and united Ireland, a place that is a prosperous and peaceful home for all.  

Congratulations to Gerry Carlile, Niall Murphy, Senator Frances Black, Colin Harvey, and all at Ireland’s Future for putting together a great event and another waymarker on the road to Irish Unity.

Have a great weekend.

Is mise,

Ciarán

Ciarán Quinn is the Sinn Féin Representative to North AmericaEach 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.