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  • Writer's pictureFriends of Sinn Féin USA

Ireland is Changing. Time to Manage the Transition.

Another Day and Another Must Read. In an article carried on Irish Central, Ciarán Quinn presses the case for a US policy change to match the changes underway in Ireland, to be part of the discussion on the connotational future in line with the Good Friday Agreement.

ARTICLE PUBLISHER TODAY ON IRISH CENTRAL Northern Ireland: New thinking needed to match challenges of transition |

On the 20th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, speaking in the Library of Congress, Senator George Mitchell reminded us that, “Life is Change”. Nothing stands still. Given political developments, it is timely to look at the trends in Ireland and plot a course forward.

Ireland today is changed and is changing. The Good Friday Agreement endorsed by the people in 1998, remains valid and essential.

The principles of the Agreement are a constant in a changing world; the commitment to peaceful and democratic means, respect, reconciliation, and equal rights for all and support for the rule of the law. The commitment that the constitutional future of the island will be determined by the democratic will of the people.

Much has changed since 1998. Sinn Féin has emerged as the largest party across Ireland. It jointly leads the Assembly and Executive in the North. Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald (Inset with deputy President Michelle O'Neill) is the first woman to lead the official opposition in Dublin. Citizens in the twenty-six counties have led progressive change in LBGT rights and women's health.

In the North, the Assembly and Government no longer have a unionist majority. It is a chamber and executive of equals. It is a young, diverse, and progressive society in transition.

Sinn Féin is ahead in the polls and it is not inconceivable that the party could lead governments North and South.

At the time of the signing of the Agreement, working-class unionism/loyalism was a force for peace and challenge to the DUP. The loyalist political project, hamstrung by feuds and criminality, failed to build popular support and withered, endorsing the main unionist parties in subsequent elections.

Unionist paramilitaries continue to exist, recruit and remain active. Their latest project the Loyalist Community Council with no mandate or popular support issues countless statements of condemnation of Irish republicans, the Irish Government, other unionists, the British Government, America, and the EU. All accompanied by thinly veiled threats of violence.

The Tory Government of Boris Johnston is not a trustworthy partner in peace. It acts like a rogue state, with no care for international agreements or law.

Its policies in Ireland are driven by selfish party political interest. They set aside, truth, justice, and reconciliation to continue a cover-up of the actions of their military during the conflict

Successive Tory governments have given up any pretense of impartiality, viewed the north as collateral damage in the pursuit of Brexit, courted unionists to remain in power, dropped unionists when expedient, and now play the orange card and threats of unionist violence in their negotiations with the EU.

The DUP is the lead party of political unionism. The party refused to sign up to the Good Friday Agreement, yet jointly lead the institutions of the same agreement. A paradox that they have never resolved.

The old assumption of a perpetual unionist majority no longer holds. Political unionism has failed to acknowledge this simple fact. It is living in denial and acting in the desperate belief that it can turn back time.

There is a need for a paradigm shift in terms of American policy in the peace process. To acknowledge that the agreement was not a settlement, but a process to manage political differences in a society in transition.

Stability will not come from censuring the future. Irish unity is not an aspiration. It is an achievable outcome. There will be a Unity Referendum and it can be won.

Talk of Irish Unity does not create instability.

Instability arises from those who reject the democratic premise of the Good Friday Agreement and the fundamental equality of all.

Instability is created in the blocking of rights of citizens be they Irish Speakers, women, ethnic minorities, or the LGBT Community against the will of a majority.

Instability is promoted in elevating active paramilitary groups and their threats of violence.

The continued refusal to implement agreements devalues the political process.

Stability will be found in the embrace of the principles of the Good Friday Agreement. Equality and Rights. Peaceful and Democratic means free from threat. Reconciliation and respect. In asserting the primacy of the political process over the threats of violence.

All of this calls for a new approach. A paradigm shift in policy.

The constitutional discussion can be a force for stability. Acknowledging and normalizing the discussion is to embrace the diversity of opinion.

Recognition that a majority determines the constitutional future fundamentally changes the political process. Stability is built on democratic values.

The politics of threat and violence will not secure a majority for continued partition or Irish unity and has no place in our society.

America has a role to play in endorsing and safeguarding the principles of the Good Friday Agreement.

It can use its position to hold the British Government to its agreements. The appointment of a special envoy is an essential safeguard and guarantor for the political process.

The US can assert that the discussion on continued partition or Irish Unity is part of the Good Friday Agreement. It can contribute to the normalization of the discussion and facilitate an informed and respectful debate.

There is a minority who say now is not the time. Don’t rock the boat. This short-term expediency undermines the agreement. The boat has set sail, it is about navigating the way forward.

The Good Friday Agreement remains the mechanism for managing and not denying change. To realize its full potential there is a need to acknowledge that Ireland is in transition as we strive to build a more perfect union.

This will require new thinking and new approaches to match the challenges of today and tomorrow.

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