Irish Republican News · August 8, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Self-determination for all
The following is an edited address by Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty MP MLA to the second International Conference on Self Determination, the United Nations and International Civil Society, organised by the International Human Rights Association of American Minorities and International Council for Human Rights in Geneva today.


The historical and contemporary existence of the Irish nation has never been disputed. The Irish people have never relinquished their claim to the right of self-determination.

What has been contested is the right of the Irish people, as a whole, to self-determination and their freedom to exercise that right.

For centuries, the relationship between the British government and the Irish people has been the relationship between the conqueror and the conquered, the oppressor and the oppressed.

The cycle of oppression, domination, resistance and oppression has been a constant feature of the British government’s involvement in Ireland and the Irish people’s rejection of that government’s usurpation of the right to exercise control over their political, social, economic and cultural destiny.

From the late 17th century onwards, that usurpation provoked both revolutionary resistance and, within the narrowest confines of British constitutional legality, constitutional opposition. In the course of the 19th century, British oppression and famine caused the population of Ireland to be halved.

The only occasion on which the people of all Ireland have been permitted to hold free and fair elections to determine their political future was in the 1918 Westminster election. Sinn Féin, with a political programme demanding complete independence for the unitary state of Ireland, won the election with 69% of the vote. Those democratically elected representatives of the Irish people formed Dail Eireann and, on January 21st, 1919, enacted the Declaration of Independence.

The Anglo-lrish Treaty of 1922, the partition of Ireland and the Constitution of the Irish Free State were imposed on the Irish people under the threat of ‘immediate and terrible war’.

They were not submitted to the Irish people for ratification and their imposition represents a denial to the Irish people of the freedom to exercise their right to self-determination. The pretext for partition - the wishes of a national minority to maintain British rule - holds no validity against the express wishes of the vast majority of the Irish people.

Partition perpetuates the British government’s denial of the Irish people’s right to self-determination. It perpetuates the cycle of oppression, domination, resistance and oppression.

The challenge throughout the negotiations that led up to the historic signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and in the many negotiations since is to build new and lasting relationships between the peoples of Ireland and Britain. Those relationships must be based on trust and they must be based on justice.

However, as I am sure that you are well aware the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 was a high water mark in terms of moving the process forward.

Since then the British government has introduced legislation that undermines the very nature of that Agreement. It has put the political institutions into cold storage. It has even interfered with fundamental aspects of the democratic process by postponing elections and introducing electoral legislation that, whatever the intent, has disenfranchised over 200,000 people.

In a recent discussion with the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, Sinn Féin put it to him that the problem with British policy on Ireland is that it is essentially about upholding the Union. While Mr Blair may think he is modernising unionism, his strategy and policy mean that inevitably it is the UUP and DUP, which are allowed to set the pace.

British strategy today remains a strategic alliance with unionism. Historically there is no dispute about this.

The British state in the North is a unionist state. Its symbols and emblems are unionist. So are its agencies. And its management especially the Northern Ireland Office - the NIO. These are the elements that Mr Blair is depending on to implement his policy on Ireland.

We are told that the British and Irish governments have a common strategy. It is the Good Friday Agreement. The governments are as one on this issue. But the Good Friday Agreement, in its essence, is about changing the north of Ireland so that it becomes a shared place for the people who live here. As part of this, its agencies, its management, have to stop being exclusively unionist.

The best way to secure all of our futures is for the British to make a new strategic alliance with Irish nationalism and republicanism. Unionism’s future, and this is at the core of the Good Friday Agreement, is with the rest of the people of Ireland in terms freely entered into by all of us.

If British policy is the Good Friday Agreement and if it is to mean anything, then the two governments need a common strategy to bring it about. But have they?

For example, the Irish Government wants an inquiry into Pat Finucane’s killing. The British government, despite saying that it would do so, has refused to establish an inquiry. London’s refusal to deal properly with the issue of collusion between the British state and unionism is of particular significance. The British government’s handling of the Human Rights Commission and equality issues also go to the heart of this issue and in many ways is the clearest example of what the appeasement of unionism has led to.

All of these matters taken together have sent a very bad signal about the prospects of agreement in September. The reality is that the securocrats are back in the ascendancy. And the British government are very dependent on them.

Added to this is the British government’s strategic need to keep unionism in the driving seat, even at the risk of losing republicans and nationalists.

There is a considerable challenge for all of us involved in the Irish Peace Process and those committed to the right to seek national self-determination.

Sinn Féin will not shy away from Unionism. We want to make peace with unionism. This means agreeing measures within the terms of the Good Friday Agreement to bring all outstanding issues to definitive and conclusive closure.

We face a new round of negotiations in September, we are promised they will be intensive. But as we go into a new mode, the British government has a clear-cut choice. Either it stands with the Good Friday Agreement, and builds a bridge toward democracy and equality, or it sides with the forces of reaction. The challenge is for Mr Blair to get his system on board the Good Friday Agreement. So far he has failed to do this.

The aim in all of our negotiations is to begin a new era in the history of Ireland. The Irish political parties here are obliged to represent all our people. The people expect progress. We can make that progress and build a new Ireland on a constitutional basis.

The primary aim of Irish republicans is to dispense once and for all with the legacy of that unjust and coercive Union and to replace it with a new relationship of trust between independent nations. Mutual independence and a new union of mind must be our goal. For Ireland that means the right to national self-determination.

Partition thwarted the full achievement of Irish independence. It deepened divisions within Ireland and embittered further the relationships between Ireland and our nearest neighbour. Most tragic of all was the division of the Irish people.

To our unionist brothers and sisters we offer the hand of friendship.

We look forward to joining with them in building a new Ireland where political relationships are based on respect for the rights of each individual citizen within the nation, and of each section of the nation.

We represent a section of the Irish nation, which has suffered discrimination and repression for many decades. We have a vested interest in ensuring that in a new Ireland the rights of minorities are protected by the soundest of constitutional guarantees.

The constitutional and political status quo with which we have had to live for the past 82 years has manifestly failed. The root of the failure is the constitutional connection with England. As an Irish republican party we say clearly that that connection must be broken. We assert the independence of our country. We wish to replace the denomination Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter with the common name of Irishmen and Irishwomen.

We believe that it is possible for all of us on this island to move together to a new political and constitutional dispensation. We have the right and ability to determine our future.

Sean MacBride, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize said - “Ireland’s right to sovereignty, independence and unity are inalienable and indefeasible. It is for the Irish people as a whole to determine the future status of Ireland. Neither Britain nor a small minority selected by Britain has any right to partition the ancient island of Ireland, nor to determine its future as a sovereign nation.”

Self-determination is a nation’s exercise of the political freedom to determine its own economic, social and cultural development, without external influence and without partial or total disruption of the national unity or territorial integrity. Ireland today clearly does not have this freedom, nor does the pretext for partition hold good against these criteria.

The right of the Irish people, as a whole, to national self-determination is supported by universally recognised principles of international law. The Good Friday Agreement has not changed or diminished that right.

Britain’s policy of maintaining the union between Great Britain and the six counties runs contrary to the Charter of the United Nations and its declaration on the ‘Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and People.

This asserts that the subjection of peoples to alien subjugation is a denial of fundamental human rights and the right of all peoples to self-determination. The Charter affirms the right of all peoples to the exercise of national self-determination without external interference. It also proclaims the duty of all states to promote, through joint and separate action, the realisation of this right.

The right to self-determination is enshrined in the two United Nations’ Covenants of 1966, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights.

We in Sinn Féin believe that the processes involved in the exercise of national self determination will create a dynamic which empowers all sections of the people of Ireland to face the core issues of our time be they social, political, economic or cultural. Rigidity of position will be replaced by consultation, dialogue, and freshness of approach, something that can only benefit the people of Ireland.

Britain’s presence and influence has been divisive and destructive and has prevented the Irish people from resolving our differences. The divisions in Ireland today, as in the past, stem from the immediate realities of the British presence. The ‘Northern Ireland’ state was created by Britain in 1921 when London partitioned our country, without the consent and against the wishes of the vast majority of the Irish people. Since its creation there has been perpetual crisis, repression and injustice and a permanent ‘state of emergency’.

Since 1969 when the reality of life for Irish nationalists living in the British created sectarian state was exposed to international scrutiny the overall situation has not improved for nationalists. The inequalities and injustice on which the state was founded have not been removed. Instead layers of repression and injustice have been added.

The British Government should act upon that position, without qualification and encourage, facilitate and enable the agreements, which are for the people of Ireland alone to determine. Britain’s policy of maintaining the Union is an impediment to and clear interference with the right of the people of Ireland alone to national self-determination. British policy obstructs the pursuit of agreement by the people of Ireland alone on the exercise of self-determination.

The unity and sovereignty of the people of Ireland is the cornerstone of Sinn Féin’s republican objective. Sinn Féin has a vision of the future which cherishes the existence of diversity, and challenges the negative influence of division.

An internal six-county arrangement cannot work. There has to be fundamental constitutional and political change. The partition of Ireland has failed. The political settlements imposed by the Act of Union 1800 and the Government of Ireland Act 1920 have failed the people of Ireland and the people of these islands. They have failed the fundamental test of providing lasting peace and stability. Instead there has been division, inequality and conflict.

The partitioning Ireland was contrived by a British government to ensure an artificially constructed unionist majority. The partitioned area had no basis in geography or history, and its proposal had the distinction of being opposed by both nationalists and unionists of the time. Not a single Irish member, nationalist or unionist, of the Westminster Parliament voted for the ‘Partition Act’ - the Government of Ireland Act, 1920. The consent of the Irish people to the division of our country was never sought and has never been given and the continuing wish of the overwhelming majority of the people of this island is for national unity.

Partition meant the arbitrary division of Ireland. Areas and communities with nationalist majorities were incorporated into a statelet which sought, with the financial and military support of the British government, to create in the words of one of its advocates ‘a Protestant state for a Protestant people’.

Indeed a leading Unionist of the time, Walter Long in a letter to Lloyd George explained that the exclusion of three of the Ulster counties was on the basis that this would guarantee ‘Unionist supremacy’ in the new state.

For over 50 years the Unionist leadership implemented a repressive regime through the use of the Special Powers Act, the RUC and the B Specials and the use of internment without trial in every decade from the 1920’s to the 1970’s, a clear illustration of the permanent state of crisis which existed in the six counties.

Coercive legislation continues today with the Emergency Provisions Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

The most obvious symptom of the failure of partition is that it has not produced durable peace or stability. A fundamental consequence of partition has been the institutionalising of injustice and sectarianism.

Other indicators of its failure are the fact that the six-county statelet exists on a life support machine of British government subventions, furthermore it is the most militarised area in Western Europe, the poorest region under the jurisdiction of Westminster and one of the most disadvantaged regions in the EU.

Business organisations throughout Ireland have given support to the creation of what they term an island economy. There are a range of sound economic and fiscal reasons for such a stance. A single currency, a unified financial system, tax harmonisation etc. A 1992 Confederation of Irish Industry report said that up to 75,000 extra jobs could be created through measures to overcome the economic effects of partition. This is a fraction of what could be developed if the entire partitionist system, with all its distorting effects, was dismantled.

Sinn Féin’s vision is of a society that grants economic justice to its entire people. Everyone, irrespective of their background should be able to gain meaningful well paid long-term employment in jobs that provide genuine security and fair working conditions. Everyone should have a meaningful role to play in developing the economy, particularly at a local level.

The particular structure of political unity desired by nationalists and which they would wish to see established is a unitary state, achieved as a result of negotiations, determined by the people of Ireland alone embracing the whole island of Ireland and providing irrevocable guarantees for the protection of the rights and liberties of every citizen on this island including the communal and cultural rights of both nationalists and unionists.

It is essential that any structures of a new Ireland recognise fully the diversity as well as the unity of the people of Ireland and ensure constitutional stability.

In devising and determining the structure of Irish unity and in devising the guarantees they require it is essential to have unionist agreement and participation. The best people to identify the interests of the unionist tradition are the unionist people themselves. It would thus be essential that they should negotiate their role in any arrangements which would embody Irish unity.

Agreement on how the Irish people will govern ourselves must reverse not only the effects of partition itself; it must also reverse the effects of decades of neglect of rural Ireland and particularly the west. Agreement must also advance the process of national reconciliation.

Greater participation of citizens in the decisions that affect them should be an aim of government.

In a democratic state, power rests with the people. The constitution for a united, independent Ireland would set out the basis of a democratic system through which the wishes of the people would be expressed.

The constitution would protect the individual rights of the people of the nation in regard to social justice, including the right to an adequate income, to a job to housing, to education and health care.

The constitution would be secular, pluralist, anti-sectarian, anti-racist and anti-sexist.

Minority rights would be entrenched with effective safeguards.

It would also state the nation’s commitment to protect and provide for the most vulnerable sections of society, children, the elderly and those unable to care or provide for themselves through illness or disability.

We recognise that a section of the people of Ireland cherish a British heritage. We do not seek to end the expression of this legitimate sense of identity. What we do seek is an end to British sovereignty, partition, and the denial of basic human and civil rights.

When Irish Republicans talk about British interference and the British presence we do not mean the Unionist section of the people of Ireland. Being marginalised, abandoned and disempowered is wrong for nationalists. It would also be wrong for unionists.

With the demise of the divisiveness of partition the vibrant expression of the libertarian tradition of Protestantism would have a key and far reaching role in the creation of an Ireland in which all are cherished.

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