“It is certainly time Labour did join the conversation about Irish unity. In most recent times, the leadership of the party has said it supports the continuation of the union between Britain and Northern Ireland, but this is becoming increasingly untenable.”
By Geoff Bell, Labour for Irish Unity
Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill, the First Minister designate will be one of a number of prominent speakers at a Labour Conference Fringe Meeting on Irish unity.
It was last May when Sinn Fein won the election for the Northern Ireland Assembly, although still that Assembly has not met to confirm its northern leader as Northern Ireland’s Fist Minister. Neither has a power-sharing executive been formed, as the Good Friday Agreement designates it should be, following an Assembly election. Instead, the six north eastern counties are, at least in theory, under the direct rule of the UK government. Although, given its current concerns, it is not paying very much attention to this.
The is that the DUP refuse to abide by the election result, saying that they will ignore it until the UK sorts out its relationship with the European Community.
Now, most people assume this has been sorted out; that Brexit was agreed and that as part of it the Irish Protocol was also agreed, to prevent the re-imposition of an economic border in Ireland, which would be against the Good Friday Agreement. But this assumption is not shared by the DUP, who despite initially supporting the Protocol have now said they don’t like it, and, as a result, refuse to attend the Assembly, making it inoperative, as it must have cross-community support. That the DUP lost votes in the Assembly election because of this strand, does not bother them.
In this anti-democratic chicanery the DUP was backed by the British Tory Government of Boris Johnson, most notably by one Liz Truss who as Foreign Secretary brushed aside the European Community’s protest that by threatening to forget about the Protocol she was acting illegally and in bad faith.
This chain of events has played its part in once again not only confirming the DUP and other Northern Ireland unionist’s anti-democratic intransigence, but also the traditional colonialism of the British who favour their own settler community above Irish majorities, even Northern Irish majorities.
Given all of this it is not surprising the reunification of Ireland is back on the agenda. It has been ever since Brexit, and indeed before that when the electoral successes of Sinn Fein pointed to a new national and radical consciousness both in the north and south of Ireland. Sinn Fein not only won the election in the north, but are also streets ahead in opinion polls in the south.
So, a serious conversation is now under way in Ireland about the future of the entire country and the potential for Iris re-unification. Participants include not just Sinn Fein, but the other leading Irish political parties who, often reluctantly, have joined the conversation. There are also grass roots organisations, such as Ireland’s Future, a 32 county organisation who, in its, is own words, “was established to advocate for, and promote, debate and discussion about Ireland’s future, including the possibility and viability of new constitutional arrangements on the Island….We are guided by the values of the Good Friday Agreement and dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights, equality and fostering mutual respect between all views and traditions that share this island.”
Ireland’s Future leading spokesperson Colin Harvey will be joining Michelle O’Neill in addressing the rally in Liverpool coinciding with the Labour Party conference. They will be joined by Gerald McDonald of SDLP, Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy and a spokesperson for Labour for Irish Unity (LFIU), who campaign for Irish re-unification both in the labour movement and in the Irish community in Britain*.
It is LFIU who have organised this rally, which, it can be said, is one of the most significant political meetings concerning Ireland to be held in Britain for a long time.
It is certainly time Labour did join the conversation about Irish unity. In most recent times, the leadership of the party has said it supports the continuation of the union between Britain and Northern Ireland, but this is becoming increasingly untenable as the majority in Northern Ireland is no longer unionist, and the majority of the Irish people never has been.
The Liverpool meeting illustrates the range of participants now discussing the prospect of Irish unity, and is another indication of the importance of preparing for this.
- “A New and United Ireland – Join the Conversation” – Monday 26 September. Quaker Meeting House, 22 School Lane, Liverpool 1 3BT, 7pm. Free Admission.
- Geoff Bell’s The Twilight if Unionism will be published this November by Verso. Now available to pre-order here.
- You can follow Labour for Irish Unity on twitter here.