Sinn Féin seeks support for Irish unity in Britain

Tom Griffin
27 June 2008

Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon): As the only major party in Ireland to oppose the Lisbon Treaty, Sinn Féin has been enjoying its biggest political boost for some time in the aftermath of the treaty's rejection by the Irish people.

"Last week In Ireland some of the political analysis of republicanism had a major success," the party's Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald said in London on Wednesday. "When Irish people came out and voted down the Lisbon treaty, it wasn't a vote against Europe. We are a European nation. We are at the heart of Europe and that's where we'll stay, but it was a very clear demand from Irish people for real democracy in the European project."

McDonald was speaking at a public meeting at the London Irish Centre, where Sinn Féin was attempting to rally support in Britain for its vision of Irish unity.

"We need to get people here to become persuaders for Irish unity," party president Gerry Adams said. "We need to figure out campaigns, consciousness-raising, find whatever means to get this into the mainstream of the opinion-making and decision-making processes on this island."

" We need to develop a very concentrated programmatic and sustained lobby of all the political parties," he added.

"I'm not just restricting that to Westminster. There are potential friends and allies in the Parliament up in Scotland, in Wales, and if they ever put together some devolved administration, here in England."

Amidst the bouyant post-Lisbon mood, some significant questions were raised by members of the audience. Professor Mary Hickman of London Metropolitan University questioned how much credit Sinn Féin could claim for the referendum result given the right-wing forces that also opposed to the treaty.

Martin Collins, a long-time ally of Labour's former Northern Ireland spokesman, Kevin McNamara asked for more details of Sinn Féin's strategy for political engagement in Britain.

"I've always said when I come here that I don't know how to do that here," Adams responded. "I know how to do it at home. I could come and say the totally wrong thing on the television and annoy everybody."

"People here know how to do that. People here know how to engage. There are brilliant examples of work done in very hard times by people like Martin and others. So if you like I throw that question back to you."

"We will resist the temptation to set up another organisation here, which will immediately seek the correct ideological position and decide on the most sectarian position possible about how to be more ultra-left than the other factions, but we will seek to harness the energy which is out there."

Sinn Féin's strategy for acheving Irish unity ultimately depends on winning a referendum in Northern Ireland. In his speech, Adams gave some clues as to how he sees that happening.

"Some unionist leaders have recently begun expressing concern at what they describe as 'apathy' among unionist voters."

"It is clear that some unionist leaders are fearful that a substantial section of the unionist electorate is increasingly becoming indifferent to politics."

"They are afraid that that may evolve into an indifference to the union, and they know that the potential exists to persuade a section of the unionist electorate that partition does not serve their best interests and that a united Ireland does. "

For Stormont-watchers the main meat of the event may have been an insight into Sinn Féin's attitude to its current difficulties with the DUP. In that respect there was some tough language from both Adams and Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy, who warned:

"The institutions are only of use to Irish republicans if they deliver for Irish republicans and the people of Ireland generally. Sinn Féin's participation in the institutions is based on that and we do intend to deliver for our people. We have been doing that but we have key issues that need to be resolved."

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