Rigorous impartiality and a parity of esteem
A Letter from Ireland
Sometimes I do things so you don’t have to. For instance, I read the speech that Chris Heaton-Harris delivered at his party conference last weekend.
Mr. Heaton-Harris, a Tory, was elected by the good people of Daventry (you will have to google it) to represent them in the British Parliament. His party in government appointed him as Secretary of State for the North of Ireland. Far away from the people of Daventry. Their loss has been our tragedy.
This was likely to be the last party conference before the next British General Election.
The striking feature of the speech was his promotion of both the unionist cause and his unionist credentials as a challenge to the British Labor Party. He proudly boasted, “This party and this government will never shy away from our support for the Union.”
When speaking about their Legacy Law, he also said the quiet part out loud, saying “And whilst it delivers on a manifesto commitment we made to our Veterans – it’s also of genuine help to all those affected by the Troubles.” Victims are the afterthought!
There was no mention in his speech of any nationalist opinion. No acknowledgment that the Irish Republican party Sinn Féin is the largest in the North, Michelle O’Neill is the First Minister (elect) or that the pro-united Ireland candidates outpolled unionist candidates in the last election.
It was a throwback to Margaret Thatcher who in 1981 ridiculously claimed, “Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom; as much as my constituency is". Under her watch, shoot-to-kill operated, and arming, directing, and covering up for murders by loyalists became policy.
By the end of that decade, the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed, and the peace process that would lead to the Good Friday Agreement was beginning to take shape.
In 1990, Peter Brooke, Secretary of State, said in a speech that the Thatcher Government had "no selfish economic or strategic interest“ in “Northern Ireland”.
All demonstrating that the North was never as British as Finchley.
But why does a speech by an English MP speaking to the party faithful in England matter? As Secretary of State, he is responsible, along with his partners in the Irish government, for the honoring and implementing the Good Friday Agreement.
The Agreement explicitly places a duty on the current British Government to act, “with rigorous impartiality ….. and a parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos, and aspirations of both communities;”
Chris Heaton-Harris knows this. It is in the first section of the Agreement. He is choosing to ignore this obligation on his office and government.
It lays bare his party's approach. They speak and behave as though they are not bound by agreements and do not consider the Irish Government equal partners.
The Tories are once again playing politics with Ireland, our agreements, and international law.
Thankfully Mr. Heaton-Harris will not have a vote in a future unity referendum and will hopefully be free to spend all his time in Daventry.
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.