A Letter from Ireland

A Letter from Ireland
By Ciáran Quinn

Hello and greetings from Ireland. Let me introduce myself. I have the grand title of Sinn Féin representative to the US and Canada. Originally from Belfast but living just outside Dublin, I act as a bridge between Sinn Féin and supporters in North America.

Sinn Féin is the oldest political party in Ireland, established over 100 years ago at a time when all of Ireland was under British rule. Our party was founded to secure an independent Irish Republic.

Every decade since the island was divided by the British threat of “an immediate and terrible war” had been marked by conflict. At the time of partition, the northern political state was 66% Protestant and 100% pro-British Unionist. The one-third catholic minority that was largely Irish was locked into a state in which they were culturally and politically excluded. But all that has changed.

Sinn Féin is once again the largest political party in Ireland, North and South. We are an all-Ireland party. Our president, Mary Lou McDonald, is now the first Sinn Féin TD (member of Parliament) and the first woman to lead the official opposition in the Dáil (Irish Parliament) in Dublin.

In the North, our vice President, Michelle O’Neill, is the First Minister (elect). She is the first Irish Republican and Catholic to hold that position since the foundation of the state, another extraordinary historic development.

The re-emergence of Sinn Féin as the dominant political party reflects changing demographics that have forced a realignment of politics across the island. All these changes have their roots in a political agreement that was only made possible by Irish Americans and the U.S. administration.

Twenty-five ago this April, the Good Friday Agreement was signed. The longest period of continuous conflict in Irish history ended. The agreement was made possible under the guidance of a special envoy, Senator George Michell, and the direct intervention of President Clinton. A generation has grown up in peace.

After an intensive period of negotiation, the agreement was signed and Senator Michell remarked, “and now the hard work begins.” Every step of the way, U.S. Presidents, Congress, and supporters have continued to do the heavy lifting.

The agreement is not a constitutional settlement. It is a dynamic arrangement, future-proofed to manage political differences based on peace, equality, democracy, and rights. The constitutional future – continued partition or Irish unity – is in the hands of the people in future referendums. When the British Government imposed Brexit on the North against the will of the majority, a growing number began to look beyond Westminster and partition.

The North has been transformed. It is now a shared space. Unionism, once dominant, can no longer claim to be the majority in the Assembly and the Government. The latest census returned a higher number of Catholics than Protestants. Change is all around.

Political unionism is in denial of the fundamental changes that are underway and a refusal to establish a government and serve alongside a Sinn Féin First Minister. This is an exciting time for those of us working for Irish unity. The majority of political commentators and people believe there will be unity referendums within the next ten years.

Good Friday Agreement
Change can either be chaotic or planned. That is why the Good Friday Agreement remains as important today as it was twenty-five years ago. It provides for a peaceful, planned, and democratic pathway to navigate the future.

Yet the Irish Government is failing to advocate and plan for Irish Unity. A Sinn Féin led government in Dublin would and will begin to plan for unity by establishing an inclusive citizens’ assembly. The Ireland we want is a break from the past, taking the best from the North and the South to create a new state. This is an opportunity denied to the previous generation, and one that cannot be missed. There will be challenges ahead by those opposed to the Good Friday Agreement and its principles. Change cannot be denied. The US remains our partner in peace. As guarantors and guardians of our agreement. The success of our peace agreements is your success.

The words of Senator Michell hold true. The hard work continues, but the prize is great. A new and united Ireland, a prosperous and peaceful home for all, is possible.

*Ciarán Quinn is the Sinn Féin Representative to North America. He is originally from Belfast but now lives just outside Dublin. Ciarán also serves on the Sinn Féin National Officer Board and Ard Chomhairle. An activist of long standing, he is the link between Sinn Féin and North America, providing support and briefings to American and Canadian civic and political leaders.

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