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  • Writer's pictureGreg O'Loughlin

Pat Sheehan in New England hails Irish American engagement - "We all live in each other's shelter"

On Saturday Night Pat Sheehan West Belfast MLA and former hunger striker addressed a meeting organized by the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick in New Bedford, MA. He traveled to Massachusetts directly from campaigning in the elections in the North.

Speaking at the historic Seamen’s Bethel, he said, "It is a privilege to be in New Bedford. The home of Captain George Smith Anthony. The casting off point for the Catalpa and the opening chapter in one of the greatest prison escapes in history.

"In Irish we have a proverb "Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine". We live in each other's shelter. All of us rely on others, and we in turn are responsible for their welfare. We are not alone. The Fenians in America knew that. Captain Anthony, a Quaker with no strong links to Ireland, acted on it.

"We are all connected. All that separated us was the sea. Ships sailing from Ireland brought news, supplies, family, and friends to New Bedford. Over generations, the character of the connection between America and Ireland endured.

"It is a two-way relationship. The Irish helped build America, and Irish America has been in lockstep with us in our journey to build a new and united Ireland.

"They stood by Wolfe Tone when he was banished to the US, and provided a home for the Fenians. The Easter Rising was made possible by “our exiled children in America”.

“Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine”. We were not alone.

"In 1994, at the urging of Irish America, President Clinton agreed to issue a visa for Gerry Adams, the President of Sinn Féin, and appointed a Special Envoy, Senator George Mitchel.

"It should be remembered that at this time, Sinn Féin leaders were banned from traveling to Britain, censored from the media, our offices were attacked, and our members were assassinated.

"The British wanted to keep the international community out. President Clinton saw the opportunity for peace, and he acted.

"On Good Friday 1998, Senator Mitchell chaired the final session of the peace talks that signed off on an agreement.

"Six weeks later the Good Friday Agreement was put to the people. It was supported by over 71% in the North and 94% in the South. The political agreement became the people's agreement. In turn, it would become incorporated into international and domestic law.

"This ended the longest-running period of continuous conflict in Irish history. A generation has now grown up knowing peace.

Pat added, “The agreement is not a settlement, it is a set of rules, principles, and institutions for managing a divided society emerging from conflict. It asserts the primacy of politics and democracy over the threat of violence. Equality, partnership, and power-sharing replaced discrimination and exclusion.

"It is a vehicle for moving forward. The destination is in the hands of the people. There is now a peaceful and democratic pathway to Irish Unity. The people can vote in referendums to end partition and build a new and united Ireland. Support for the Good Friday Agreement is support for the people of Ireland to determine their own future.

"This week in the North the People came out and made history. Sinn Féin secured the highest number of votes and council seats of any party across the North. For the first time, there were more votes for pro-Irish unity parties than Unionist parties”

"Against the backdrop of an economic crisis, the North has been without a government. Unionism refuses to recognize the vote of the people to get back to work, the loss of their majority or to nominate a deputy First Minister to work alongside the Sinn Féin First Minister. They are living in denial.

"We have a current British Government that has no care for Ireland and our agreements. They have unilaterally brought forward legislation to ban families bereaved in the conflict from accessing the courts, inquests, or judicial investigations. They claim this is to promote reconciliation. It is not. Reconciliation requires acknowledgment. This is a continuation of the cover-up of their actions during the conflict.

"Both governments, acting in partnership must plan to implement all the aspects of the Good Friday Agreement including the re-establishment of the institutions. The DUP cannot be allowed a veto over the implementation of the Agreement.

"There is an urgent need for an Irish Government to begin to plan and prepare for unity referendums. To become advocates for unity. That is what a Sinn Féin led government can and will do.

"The US continues to have a role in all of this. Making clear to the British Government that if they continue to set aside their international obligations, they are stepping outside of the international order. Britain must do the right thing by Ireland if it wants a trade deal.“

Pat finished by saying, “Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine. We all live in each other's shelter. The people in this room have shaped Irish History. We ask you to continue the journey, to ensure that the US acts to safeguard peace and progress, and that Britain honors its obligations.

"To ensure that the Irish Government begins to plan and prepare for Irish Unity.

"Our diaspora is part of our nation. You can help build a new and united Ireland. A home for all. We have plenty more to do. I hope you will continue the journey with us.

"Stay in contact with local representatives, stay informed and continue to support Friends of Sinn Féin.”

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