Kevin Meagher reports on the further progress towards a concrete plan for Irish unity from Sinn Féin, and asks whether this shows how far Northern Ireland has come in the last few years.
The leadership of Sinn Féin will meet today to take stock of the party’s historic mission to unify the island of Ireland.
90 years after the partition of the country, following Ireland’s War of Independence and the subsequent treaty with Britain, 100 key party figures will gather at a hotel in Drogheda Co Louth in the Irish Republic to plot their next moves in turning a long-cherished dream into reality.
This gathering of the republican elite follows a series of mass meetings across Ireland – both North and South – in a bid to begin the process of building a consensus around unifying the country. There have also been events in London, the US and Canada involving the Irish Diaspora.
Last month Derry’s Millennium Fort was host to 1000 people at a Uniting Ireland conference which included protestant ministers and even Ulster Unionist Party MLA, Basil McRae.
This kind of involvement – even when restating established political differences – would have been utterly unthinkable just a handful of years ago. Now, Northern Ireland’s fast-evolving political dispensation is making dialogue – if not always agreement – possible.
Such is the change in atmosphere that a joint call was made earlier this week from Northern Ireland’s first minister and Democratic Unionist Party leader Peter Robinson and deputy first minister, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, for prayers to be offered-up for the recovery of one-time unionist hardliner, the Rev Ian Paisley – who remains in intensive care following heart problems.
Speaking ahead of today’s meeting, Sinn Féin’s president, Gerry Adams TD, said that Irish unity remained his movement’s “key political objective”.
“Making progress on this involves building political strength, developing strategies, challenging partitionism, engaging with other political parties and society, reaching out to the diaspora and taking part in a dialogue with our unionist neighbours.”
“The Good Friday Agreement and the all-Ireland political institutions are an important step in this direction, but more effort is needed.”
He argued that the party needed to focus on popularising Irish re-unification while building “structures and policies which transcend the border and engage with unionist opinion” saying that “their identity, self-interest and quality of life will be best served in a new Ireland, a new republic for the 21st century.”
Today’s event follows a call last week from Martin McGuinness for a referendum on Irish unity sometime after 2016.
• The Week Outside Westminster – UUP down, Leanne Wood up, and Miliband in Scotland – Ed Jacobs, February 4th 2012
• McGuinness in Irish unity poll call – Kevin Meagher, January 31st 2012
• UUP infighting as McNarry says he feels “abused” and has been “kicked in the teeth” – Ed Jacobs, January 31st 2012
• The Week Outside Westminster – Leading questions and questioning leaders – Ed Jacobs, January 28th 2012
• What’s the point of the UUP? – Ed Jacobs, January 19th 2012