A Letter From Ireland
The election of Michelle O’Neill as First Minister in the North of Ireland was truly historic. A measure of how far we have traveled on the road to peace and equality. A tangible symbol of the fundamental changes in society.
Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald spoke of progressing the cause of Irish Unity. The response of others was predictable and a measure of how far we have yet to travel. Unionists, political opponents, and British Ministers feigned shock and horror. Words lost all meaning. Talk of unity was divisive, and the future cannot be contemplated.
Michelle O’Neill stated that she would be a First Minister for all. She committed to respect all traditions and work for the common good.
Some called for her to stop talking about the potential of Irish Unity and focus solely on the immediate work. As if it was impossible to work today and plan for tomorrow. Evidentially those promoting this approach have never witnessed the ability of an Irish woman to multitask.
While some have tried to minimise the significance of the election or close down the discussion on Irish Unity, the British Government have decided to oppose the concept of unity with a highly partisan approach which breaks with their existing policy and obligations.
The Good Friday Agreement is explicit on the equal legitimacy of those who favor Irish unity and those who favor continued partition. It will be up to the people of the island of Ireland alone to determine their constitutional future in referendums free from external impediments.
The same agreement places an obligation on the Government with jurisdiction to act with “rigorous impartiality”.
This British government has now aligned itself with the Unionist political minority.
It brought forward an 80-page document entitled, “Safeguarding the Union” in which it explicitly stated that it was not neutral on the constitutional question. The document brought forward policies, plans, and proposals to promote continued partition.
From the establishment of the state, the British have maintained that they were neutral peacekeepers acting on the wishes of a majority. That fiction is now exposed. They are players taking a side in a divided community.
The partisan actions of this current British Government undermine its credibility in the setting and running of a unity Referendum.
These actions have the potential to undermine years of progress and are a challenge to the Good Friday Agreement. The US as guarantors of the agreement should remind the British of their obligations and need for democracy free from their partisan interventions.
The election of Michelle O’Neill charts a new future for Ireland. The new executive will face many challenges in delivering public services and building prosperity. It does not need a partisan British Government acting to undermine the democratic process of the Good Friday Agreement.
A nationalist First Minister demonstrates that progress is possible, and the future is ours to write.
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.