Overturning 285 years of discrimination
A Letter From Ireland
The road ahead is always full of twists and turns. I remember during one particularly frustrating period in the peace process a member of our team decided to cheer us up with his incisive political insight. He informed us, mischievously, that by his calculation, we were over halfway through a sixteen-hundred-year struggle and that the first eight hundred were the hardest. Only eight hundred more to go. He certainly changed the mood of the meeting.
I was thinking about that comment this week when the British Government signed into law an Irish Language Act. It is the first legal framework to protect and promote the Irish language in the history of the state. Part of the act ended the ban on the use of Irish in courts. That law had been in effect since 1737. a time when the US was a British Colony. It was the last remaining Penal Law and was designed to prevent native Irish speakers from accessing justice.
The British Government committed to an Irish Language Act as part of the St. Andrews Agreement in 2006. Sixteen frustrating years later it is now in place thanks to the relentless campaign of Gaels across Ireland and the US.
There are two ways of measuring success in any campaign, “How much we have traveled” and “How much further is left to go”. Either measure on their own is inadequate and can lead to complacency or despair.
This week two other stories got my eye. The first was an interview with Glenn Bradley a former British soldier who was raised in a unionist heartland, who is now examining the options of a new and united Ireland. This type of discussion would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.
The second was a new poll on Irish Unity. The findings of this poll have support for unionism at 50% (poll of polls 47%) but it is very much an outlier in terms of support for unity at 27% (poll of poll average is 37%).
However, the poll found a large majority, North and South, in favor of a unity referendum as provided for in the Good Friday Agreement.
Ireland has changed, and the unity debate is advancing. People are engaged and energized with the potential to define and build a new and united Ireland. It is telling that Glenn Bradley has a place at the table discussing Irish Unity and the Irish Government refuses to take a seat.
The British Government may try to frustrate and stall change, but they cannot stop it. Imagine what would be possible if an Irish Government planned and advocated for unity. That is what a Sinn Féin government would do.
Yes, we have come a long way. Yes, we have a lot more to do including how to maximize support for unity.
The potential is clear for all to see. Building a new and united Ireland will take hard work, relentless focus, generosity, and patience. But sure hasn’t that always been the way?
Have a great weekend.
Ciarán Quinn is the Sinn Féin Representative to North America. Each week he writes a letter from Ireland with news and analysis. It is featured in the weekly Friends of Sinn Féin USA Newsletter. Be sure you are subscribed to stay up to date.