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  • Writer's pictureFriends of Sinn Féin USA

"We Are Living in the End Days of Partition" - Mary Lou McDonald

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald last night spoke at the New York Bar Association to an audience of a couple of hundred. Her introductory remarks were an incisive analysis of the present and inspiring vision of a new and united Ireland.

The speech was followed by a lively, engaging, and humorous question and answer session.

We believe that the speech should be shared beyond those who were able to attend and have reproduced it in full below.

Brexit and a Changing Ireland

New York Bar Association Thursday, December 2nd 2021

Friends, it’s great to be back with you all again and I want to thank the New York Bar Association for the invitation to speak to you about Brexit and a changing Ireland.

Much has happened in the two years since I last stood at this podium and spoke to you.

At that time we were in talks to get the political institutions in the north re-established, we were preparing for what would be a historic election in the south where Sinn Féin emerged as the largest party, we were dealing with Brexit and planning for the future.

It was a time of change, a time of challenge, and a time of opportunity.

No one in this room foresaw what would happen next.

The Covid-19 pandemic up-ended our way of life in the most tragic and dramatic manner. It has been a time of struggle, loss, and uncertainty.

Our world has changed.

Tonight after two long years, we renew the bonds of our friendship and our common purpose. Covid has demonstrated how we are all interlinked and interdependent. The world is a smaller place than we imagined. In a time of great uncertainty held together by hope and compassion.

Change is all around us. It is part of life. It is as natural as night follows day.

Ireland has changed, is changing. Some of this is driven by a generational shift, some by Brexit, much of it by the growing realization that the old order must give way to new horizons and opportunities.

Growing numbers of people want a new Ireland and the preparations for constitutional change need to start now.

We need to prepare for the future, for a new Ireland, for a united Ireland.

There can be no delay, no stalling, this is work for now.

That was my message on Capitol Hill yesterday.

It is very encouraging that the US continues to be so engaged and understands that the Good Friday Agreement was never the final destination in the journey that we are on

In 1962 then US Secretary of State Dean Acheson reflected that “Great Britain lost an empire and has yet to find its role”. His words resonate to this day.

Britain has lost its empire and Ireland; our Peace Agreements and prosperity are under threat because the current British government still fails to acknowledge that fundamental fact.

Brexit is the outworking of Britain in denial. A product of narrow English Nationalism and a hankering for the days of Empire.

The Tory government in London dragged the North of Ireland out of the EU against the democratic vote of the people.

Now Britain wishes to use Ireland as a bargaining chip, and ramp-ups interference and disruption in the north as a tactic in its confrontation with the EU.

Britain’s empire is gone but its legacy remains. We live with it in Ireland. Its scars the lives of many in our society.

The British Government's proposals on the past conflict are denial writ large in law. They propose to end judicial investigations, close down coroners courts, and refuse victims’ families access to civil actions.

Their proposal for a comprehensive amnesty for actions by British state forces is a fundamental breach of the human rights commitments of the Good Friday Agreement, a binning of their own Stormont House Agreement, and a walking away from their commitments made only two years ago in the New Decade, New Approach Agreement.

The imposition of an unconditional amnesty is not to promote openness and truth as the British government have claimed. It is designed to close down all scrutiny and absolve their military for their actions. Reconciliation can only be built on acknowledgment, acceptance, and respect.

There is unanimity between all parties, the churches, the Irish Government, the US Congress, and victim groups against these proposals.

The only group outside of this consensus is the British Government.

The North of Ireland is a changed place. Sinn Féin jointly leads a government of equals in Stormont.

The Assembly that meets in Belfast is the first in the history of the state that does not have a unionist majority. That majority is gone and with it the very basis for the partitioning of Ireland a century ago.

Elements within political Unionism believed that flag-waving of Boris Johnston was to their advantage. They believed that Brexit would bind the north closer to London and build a border across the island of Ireland.

They were wrong.

The defense of the Good Friday Agreement, of the peaceful progress, charted over decades has been resolute. There is no going back.

The Good Friday Agreement provides a peaceful and democratic pathway to Irish Unity. The Good Friday Agreement was never the endpoint, it was never a final constitutional settlement. It is a framework, a set of rules for managing political differences today and tomorrow.

It asserts the primacy of politics over conflict. The rights of all over; the interests of the few. That is why Agreements made must be delivered. Anything less undermines the political process.

That is why the voice of the US is so important. When Washington talks, Westminster listens.

President Biden made this crystal clear when he issued a formal diplomatic rebuke, to Britain for failing to honor their agreements.

This is also seen in the ongoing bipartisan support in Congress to end the threat of a hard border being imposed on our island and in the rejection of the British Government’s legacy proposals.

We all stand together against Britain’s efforts to unravel the Good Friday Agreement.

This is the people’s agreement, it is also a US foreign policy success.

It stands as a shining example of what can be achieved through dialogue, not just in Ireland but throughout the world.

Boris Johnson’s careless approach to this historic agreement is on show to the world

British Prime Ministers come and they go. The Good Friday Agreement will outlast Boris Johnson too.

We will defend it to the hilt. With everything. It means too much. Of course, the Good Friday Agreement provides for a referendum on Irish Unity.

A United Ireland is the ultimate answer to Brexit and the power of Britain to impose its will on the North.

A century on from the forced and violent partition of our island, the conversation on unity is alive in every city, town, and village in Ireland.

There will be referendums and the people will have their say.

So now is not a time for complacency. It is time for energy and action. It is time to plan and prepare for change.

The British government must respect the will of the people and honor their commitments.

The onus is on the Irish government to take the lead in preparations. The government in Dublin, particularly the Taoiseach must move from bystanders to persuaders for Unity.

Sinn Féin has called for a Citizens’ Assembly on unity to be urgently established. This would allow everyone to bring forward their ideas, concerns, and challenges for the future. It would also be the very best forum for intensifying outreach and dialogue with our unionist communities on unity.

Make no mistake, we are living in the end days of partition in Ireland.

Irish America has an important role to play to ensure the days comes when all the people of Ireland decide our future together.


Brexit presents massive challenges for us all. But it is a symptom of a larger problem, the ability of a London government to impose its will on the North.

It is a policy rooted in the past. Nostalgia cannot be mistaken for vision. The past cannot define our future. That is the job of this and future generations.

A new generation is rising up with great hope, casting off the limitations of the past to seize a new destiny.

We look at Ireland not as it is, but as it could be.

We look to break from the past and we strive for tomorrow. Stay with us on our journey to a New and United Ireland.

There is much work to be done but we are getting closer every day. The continued support and goodwill of the United States will be critical as we take the final steps to a brighter future.

Friends we live in challenging and exciting days. We have nothing to fear from the future. It is ours to define. I believe that we will be the generation to build a new and united Ireland.

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