A new set of “principles” to commemorate the late Six County Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness have been advanced by Sinn Fein with the support of a prominent US politician.
They are drawn from unimplemented agreements in the peace process, and were formally published at a ceremony at Molloy College on Long Island last week.
The campaign is modelled on the MacBride principles against employment discrimination, and it is hoped the effort will re-engage Irish-Americans who may have become disenchanted in recent years.
The organisers are calling for a Bill of Rights; full statutory equality for the Irish language; and funding for legacy inquests as part of a process of healing and reconciliation. They are also seeking a Six County “self-determination” border poll.
The MacBride Principles, adopted widely in the US, committed companies setting up in the north of Ireland to fair employment and working conditions. Sean MacBride was a former Chief of Staff of the IRA who founded or participated in many international organisations and was awarded both the Nobel Peace Prize and the Lenin Peace Prize.
The leader of the US Democratic Party in the Senate, Charles Schumer, has now endorsed the ‘McGuinness Principles’.
An event was also held in Manhattan to promote the campaign, with the support of New York State Comptroller Tom Di Napoli and his aide Pat Doherty, who played a major part in drafting the MacBride Principles.
After meeting with the two sons of the late Martin McGuinness, Mr Schumer said: “The torch of Martin McGuinness is being carried forward by his two sons, Fiachra and Emmett, who have courageously and correctly called on all parties to the Good Friday Agreement, including the British government, to uphold critical, yet unfulfilled elements of the Agreement, so that full equality, mutual respect, lasting peace and a shared prosperity can be fully realised in the North - and throughout all of Ireland.”
Schumer said he had held discussions with the Laborers International President Terry O’Sullivan, the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Brehon Law Society.
“I have a long and proud history of supporting efforts to achieve peace, justice, reconciliation and self-determination for all the people of Ireland. From the Scots Irish influx in the 1700’s to the waves of immigrants that shaped the physical landscape and very future of this nation, the people of Ireland have a deep and enduring bond with America and with the State of New York, and this meeting is a continuation of that abiding relationship. I am hopeful and confident that all parties working together can achieve these vital goals.”
Other US groups backing the campaign include the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, American Irish Historical Society, the James Connolly Irish-American Labor Coalition, Irish National Caucus, International Transport Workers Union, Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union, the Institute of Irish Studies at Molloy College, and the Hudson Valley Irish Centre.
In a related development, a cross-party group of US Congress members has called on the British government to implement agreed legacy mechanisms and release funds for coroners’ inquests.
Marty Glennon of the Nassau County Brehon Law Society, said the new campaign is also stressing the urgent need for the appointment of a US Special Envoy to the north of Ireland.
The Principles are:
(1) EQUALITY - THE ENACTMENT OF A BILL OF RIGHTS:
The terms of the Good Friday Agreement called for the adoption of a Bill of Rights in the North of Ireland. Twenty years after the Good Friday Agreement was ratified by more than 70% of the voters in the North of Ireland and 94% of the people in the Republic there is still no Bill of Rights.
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission was mandated to put forward recommendations. In 2008, the Commission made proposals to the UK government recommending the recognition of a broad range of social and economic rights.
Successive British governments have failed to affirmatively act on these recommendations. Now, with significant opposition from within the British government to continuing to accept the jurisdiction of European human rights conventions, and a determination to scrap the Human rights Act, it becomes even more important that the rights of Ireland’s citizens in the North be protected when it comes to critical human rights issues.
2) RESPECT - FULL STATUTORY EQUALITY FOR THE IRISH LANGUAGE:
The Good Friday Agreement affirmed: “the importance of respect, understanding, and tolerance in relation to linguistic diversity, including in Northern Ireland, the Irish language, Ulster-Scots and the languages of the various ethnic communities, all of which are part of the cultural wealth of the island of Ireland... the British Government will, in particular in relation to the Irish language, where appropriate and where people so desire it: take resolute action to promote the language; facilitate and encourage the use of the language in speech and writing in public and private life where there is appropriate demand ...”
Eight years later, under the terms of the St. Andrews Agreement of 2006, the British Government committed to introducing an Act to give the Irish language official status equal to that accorded the Scots Gaelic and Welsh languages.
They failed to honor this obligation, and the Democratic Unionist Party explicitly repudiated it. Subsequent DUP moves in government to defund Irish language study was a major contributing factor to the resignation of Martin McGuinness as Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister in 2017 when he cited that party’s lack of “respect” for the rights and cultural traditions of the Irish nationalist community in the North.
(3) TRUTH - EQUAL JUSTICE FOR VICTIMS OF THE CONFLICT AND THEIR FAMILIES:
Many victims of the conflict in the North and their families have waited decades to learn the full truth about what happened to them and their loved ones. Funding must be provided for proper inquests to move forward. The full story of collusion and cover-ups must be told, and those responsible for human rights abuses must be brought to justice.
(4) SELF-DETERMINATION - THERE MUST BE A REFERENDUM ON IRISH UNITY TO AFFIRM IRISH SELF-DETERMINATION:
Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, the British government committed to formally “recognise that it is for the people of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent...”
Provisions were included for referenda on Irish unity, whose results would be given effect by the governmental parties to the Agreement. The Agreement went on to commit that the signatory parties (including the British Government) should not “make any change in the status of Northern Ireland save with the consent of a majority of its people.”
Despite the fact that Brexit clearly represents a “change in status” of Northern Ireland, and despite the fact that the people of the North voted by a large majority to reject Brexit and remain inside the European Union, the British government is determined to impose this very significant change (having potentially profound consequences for Ireland), on the people of Ireland north and south, against their democratically expressed wishes.
If the Good Friday Agreement commitments to self-determination are to have any meaning, the British Government must allow the Irish people the opportunity to determine their future.