A letter to 26 County Taoiseach Leo Varadkar signed by more than 200 northern nationalists, urging him to protect the rights of citizens in the Six Counties, is a new attempt to bypass the North’s stalemated political process.
The signatories include high-earning nationalist professionals from the arts, sport, business, law and academia, including well known names such as boxer Michael Conlan, soccer player James McClean, GAA captain Peter Canavan and writer Terry George.
It expresses “growing concern at the ongoing political crises” in the context of the Tory-DUP pact at Westminster, the collapse of Stormont and Brexit. It appeals to Mr Varadkar to “protect the rights of all citizens in the north of Ireland”.
The letter said that the current political crisis had come about because of a failure to “both implement and defend the Good Friday and St Andrew’s agreements”.
“The result has been a denial and refusal of equality, rights and respect towards the section of the community to which we belong, as well as everyone living here,” it said.
The letter urged Leo Varadkar to “reassure us of your commitment to stand for equality”. It is published in full below.
While there was some criticism of the letter by republicans as being elitist, it was welcomed by both of the main nationalist parties in the north.
Niall Murphy, a Belfast-based lawyer who was involved in drawing up the letter, said that the Dublin government must “robustly represent and protect the interest of a broad nationalist voice here in the north”.
“There is an onus, I believe, on the taoiseach to hold the British government to account for the denial of rights and to secure the implementation of previous agreements,” he said.
Mr Murphy said that the issues are “much wider than any single political party”.
“They are rights that can be enjoyed by all citizens on this island.”
He noted: “Rights enjoyed in Donegal should be enjoyed just as equally in Derry, rights enjoyed in Edinburgh and Cardiff should be enjoyed in Belfast - I’m speaking here in relation to marriage equality and language equality.”
He also cited the failure to fund and continue legacy inquests into state and/or collusion killings as adding to the “frustration” expressed in the letter.
“One would hope that this initiative is to supplement and assist more appropriate politics,” he said.
Although some signatories wouldn’t answer questions about how the letter was organised, it is no coincidence that many of those who signed the list have direct or indirect links to Sinn Fein.
Sinn Fein’s northern leader Michelle O’Neill welcomed the letter which she said called “for respect and equality at the heart of the process”.
However, she accused the DUP of blocking the creation of a new Stormont Executive.
“The DUP needs to end this stubborn anti-equality blockade which would allow us all to get back to the work that we were elected to do,” she said.
“The British government also needs to stop pandering to the DUP by allowing them to block rights they afford their own constituents.”
Sinn Fein’s Declan Kearney described the letter as “important”
He said it showed there is “huge anger and frustration within wider nationalism at the continued disrespect from political unionism and the British for the Irish cultural traditions and nationalist/republican political identity in this part of Ireland”.
However, DUP MP Ian Paisley was scathing of the letter, claiming those who signed it “realise Leo Varadkar has been done over” in Brexit negotiations.
He also said both Sinn Fein and the SDLP “should be in the place they are elected to, doing the job, but have let nationalists down so they are left to write to Leo”.
The following is the full text of the letter:
OPEN LETTER TO TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR
A Thaoisigh, a chara,
We are writing this letter to you as Irish citizens living in the north of Ireland to express our frustration and growing concern over the deepening nature of the ongoing political crises in the north.
We are committed to human rights and cherish our Irish cultural traditions and our Irish national identity, as do hundreds of thousands of others living in this part of our country.
We value equality for all citizens yet continue to be denied rights afforded to all others living on these islands.
We fully endorse the recent call from human rights groups and others on this island for no regression on rights and equality and respect for the principle of equivalence.
In 1998 the overwhelming population of the country voted in favour of the Good Friday Agreement.
In recent years we have observed a concerted undermining of the political institutions established under the Good Friday Agreement and a laissez-faire approach being adopted by the two governments as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement.
We believe that the current crisis has come about fundamentally due to a failure to both implement & defend the Good Friday and St Andrew’s Agreements.
The result has been a denial and refusal of equality, rights and respect towards the section of the community to which we belong, as well as everyone living here.
The impending reality of Brexit now threatens to reinforce partition on this island and revisit a sense of abandonment as experienced by our parents and grandparents.
The fact that a majority of voters in the north of Ireland voted to remain within the EU must not be ignored.
Against the stated will of a majority of voters in the north, and notwithstanding recent announcements, Brexit pushes us all into unchartered territory, with huge uncertainty for business and the economy, and continuing doubts about what this will mean in reality for Irish and European citizens living in this region.
We, our children and grandchildren should not be forced out of the EU against our democratic will.
All of this is offensive and unacceptable to us and many others.
Despite the British government’s co-equal and internationally binding responsibility for overseeing the Peace Process with the Irish government, we have no confidence in its commitment to do so with impartiality or objectivity.
This is most recently instanced in the British Government’s refusal to move on legacy inquest rights. The Conservative Party’s political pact with the DUP has now become a grave threat to political progress.
We appeal urgently to you taoiseach, and to the Irish government, to reassure us of your commitment to stand for equality and a human rights based society and your determination to secure and protect the rights of all citizens in the north of Ireland.