Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has called on Irish Americans to use their influence to support the party’s calls for a referendum on Irish unity.
Declaring in a speech in New York that it was a “live issue” which “has been given added impetus by the recent decision to hold a referendum in 2014 on Scottish independence”, Adams cited the Good Friday Agreement which grants the Northern Ireland secretary the power to hold such a poll at any point.
It seems likely to them “a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland”. Such a poll could only be held once every seven years.
He told those present:
“The Good Friday Agreement provides for a border poll on Irish unity. Sinn Fein in the new year will commence a campaign to achieve this. That means we need to build momentum and support so that the Irish and British governments are persuaded to hold a border poll.
“We will then have to campaign for a YES vote and to persuade the people of the island of Ireland to support unity and the creation of a new Republic.
“It especially means persuading those, north and south, who don’t want Irish unity that it will be better for them and for their children.”
Pleading with Irish Americans to support such efforts, he continued:
“Irish America needs to persuade political opinion in America that a United Ireland is in the best strategic interests of the USA.
“Irish America needs to get your new President and Secretary of State and the USA to use your enormous influence with the British to move them in that direction also.
“And we need Irish America to support the holding of a border poll.”
In June, polling by Lucid Talk for the Belfast Telegraph showed a substantial majority of people in the north rejecting Irish unity, with just 7% of respondents saying they would vote to remove the border between the north and south of Ireland immediately, while just a quarter would support removing it before 2032.
Overall, 55% came out against any change, with 13% stating they had no opinion on the subject.
Declaring Gerry Adams to be “detached from reality”, the DUP’s Deputy Leader, Nigel Dodds has said of the comments:
“With Gerry Adams having turned himself into a figure of ridicule within Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland it would seem he is intent on now taking this to the United States of America. In a country less than eight weeks away from a ‘fiscal cliff’ it highlights Adams’s complete detachment from reality that he believes the biggest issue in the minds of Americans must be a border poll and a united Ireland.
“Even if by some miracle Gerry Adams were able to persuade Americans that the future of Cork is of greater “strategic interest” to the USA than the future of Chicago or even China, the decision on a border poll would not actually be affected. A border poll can only be called by the Secretary of State when there is likely to be a vote in favour of changing our constitutional status. The DUP is not concerned about the likelihood of such a poll being held, nor are we worried about what the outcome would be.”
Agreeing Adams’s speech was in part motivated by events in Scotland, Dodds concluded:
“Whether the irony is lost on Adams’s American audience, it is not lost on many others that Scotland might leave the Union without the murder of a single innocent person or the bombing of any town centre. Whilst I am confident the people of Scotland will choose to remain stronger within the Union, it is notable that years of terrorism and bloodshed in Ulster did not deliver the republican dream. Instead the people of Northern Ireland are focused on building a better future, leaving Gerry Adams to peddle his myth to an increasingly weary audience.”
Meanwhile, the deputy leader of the SDLP has sparked a fundamental debate about the future of the party by concluding it should now consider leaving the statutory coalition executive at Stormont in favour of forming an effective opposition.
Speaking at her party’s annual conference in Armagh over the weekend, Dolores Kelly explained:
“I know there is no formal provision for Opposition – but shouldn’t we be thinking about where this is going?”
Whilst maintaining it would mean the SDLP losing ministerial posts, she argued the party could “lose its soul” if it remains within the Northern Ireland Executive.
Her comments were followed by a pledge by the party leader, Alasdair McDonnell, that the party would robustly challenge the DUP and Sinn Fein’s “stagnant strategies”.
He told the conference:
“Since the Assembly reconvened in September the SDLP has already made a marked difference. When the DUP and Sinn Fein get it wrong, we will challenge them. We will challenge their stagnant strategies on the floor of the Assembly.”
Whilst Kelly’s remarks have ruffled some feathers, the former UUP leadership candidate, Basil McCrea – who along with the party’s former deputy leader, John McCallister, has called for the UUP to enter opposition – has supported her stance.
Speaking to the Newsletter, McCrea explained:
“I find it hard to disagree with anything that she’s said. I definitely think this is a significant statement from Dolores Kelly. The key message is that there are those who think that Opposition is somehow negative. That’s not the case.
“We’re trying to provide an oversight and alternative but that is particularly confusing if you’re in government.
“I think that it is inevitable that in the future there will be an Opposition.”
Declaring the SDLP to be “deluded” and “irrelevant”, however, Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy MP said of the development:
“What is clear this weekend is that the SDLP is increasingly deluded about its own position as it becomes increasingly irrelevant to the task of bringing about meaningful change in society.”
In October, the Northern Ireland Office closed a consultation on improving the operation of the Northern Ireland Assembly, which included a question on whether Stormont should move to a system of a Government with an “effective opposition”.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.