"The Nineteenth century saw a great Springtime of Nations as the revolutions of 1848 saw new countries created the length and breadth of Europe. In our world today we are now seeing our own Spring Awakening with people and cultures that have long been dormant and subdued asserting their right to exist, their right to dream." Adam Price MP
We have recently completed a lengthy and difficult negotiation at Hillsborough aimed at consolidating our political institutions and implementing outstanding previous agreements.
It should not be a surprise that these were difficult negotiations, as I am an Irish republican and others here have a completely different view. I believe in a united Ireland. Others wish to maintain the union.
This should not, however, mean that we are incapable of respecting each other, treating one another as equals or proceeding on the basis of partnership, respect, fairness and equality. I am utterly determined to work in good faith and with a good heart with my unionist colleagues, for the good of the entire community.
Sinn Féin signed up for previous agreements on Good Friday and at St Andrews and we believe that an agreement made must be an agreement implemented. At Hillsborough we agreed to: a date to give effect to the transfer of policing and justice responsibilities to our power sharing government; a process to see powers on parading transferred to our administration before the end of this year; and a process to implement the outstanding issues from St Andrews, including progressing Irish language rights and north/south institutions.
However, our considerations are not limited to today. We are looking and working towards tomorrow. This Saturday I will be in London to address a conference Sinn Féin is hosting on the question of Irish unity. We believe it is important, in the context of the Good Friday agreement, that we begin to discuss and plan for a united Ireland. This is not a hollow ideological discussion. There are a number of identifiable trends leading to Irish unity within a meaningful timeframe. Ireland is too small for two separate administrations. Partition is costing communities across our island.
There is a draw towards the greater integration of services, structures and bodies on an all-Ireland basis in order to deliver quality services and economies of scale. I am encouraged that many unionists support the development of these types of structures on the basis that they are mutually beneficial. Further administrative changes need to take place alongside important social, economic and civic trends. These all point towards the realisation of reintegration of both states presently on the island of Ireland into one independent country.
This analysis is supported by the rise in support for Sinn Féin. The most recent electoral test – the European election – gave Sinn Féin the largest share of the vote, while the assembly election of 2007 showed around a 4% spread between the four top parties in the north – the DUP, Sinn Féin, Ulster Unionists and SDLP.
In this context, Sinn Féin is committed to promoting a united Ireland in the interests of all of the people of every part of Ireland. Dialogue between republicanism and unionism has always been difficult, but it was only through dialogue that we were able to foster and develop the present peace and political process. Genuine dialogue based on respect and equality still remains critical.
With patience and mutual respect, grounded in anti-sectarianism, we can move forward into a better future in which we cherish all our people equally. We can accommodate each other's aspirations in a manner which does not demand the surrender of cultural or traditional identity.
We believe that Irish unity, on the basis of equality, offers the best future for all the people of this island. But we want to listen to unionism about why they believe the union is the best option. Opening up a debate around these key issues is the way forward.
It is particularly important that people in Britain, and in particular the huge Irish diaspora, are part of this discussion, in particular to influence British government policy.
The British government, as a signatory to the Good Friday agreement, accepted that it is for the people of Ireland, north and south, to determine the island's future. The peaceful progressive realisation of Irish unity is the best way forward. Governments and all interested sections of society should consider and begin to plan for reunification.