On 19 January Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD gave a keynote speech at a party conference in Dublin, arguing for a border poll to be held under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement in the next term of the Assembly and Oireachtas. The speech provoked wide debate.
In his wide ranging speech, the Sinn Féin leader pointed out that the Good Friday Agreement states, “that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment, to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish, accepting that this right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people” in the north of Ireland.
The Good Friday Agreement also, Mr Adams argued, `commits the British government to holding a border poll and London has undertaken to legislate for a united Ireland if a majority of those voting express a wish that the north should cease to be part of the British union.’, adding `it is time for the governments to set a date’.
On the issue of the political geography of the north, Mr Adams said that the northern state was `gerrymandered to allow for a permanent unionist two thirds majority’, but pointed out that recent census figures reveal that only 40% of citizens there `stated that they had a British only identity’, and a quarter stated that they had an Irish only identity. Just over a fifth (21%) had a Northern Irish only identity: `some 46% of citizens consciously opting for some form of Irish only identity’. This, he said was evidence that `the political and demographic landscape in the north is changing’.
Commenting on the issue of identities and traditions Gerry Adams said that Sinn Fein wanted to `hear what unionists have to say’ and would `use every opportunity to engage in dialogue at a personal level as well as in more formal ways’. He said it was important to `protect all citizens, including rigorously and unequivocally seeking to protect all identities and traditions’ and added, `like the Good Friday Agreement we are for the “principles of full respect for, and equality of, civil, political, social and cultural rights, of freedom from discrimination for all citizens, and of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos, and aspirations of both communities …”’. He said the Agreement `also guarantees in the event of a united Ireland that the right of those who define themselves as British will not be affected’.
On the economy and challenging the notion of a British subvention, Gerry Adams said that while the actual amount the British Government allocated to the north of Ireland is £17.5 billion, this was but part of the picture. Revenue generated in the North has been estimated by the Department of Finance and Personnel to be £12.7bn, he said, so `the real gap, therefore, between what the British actually allocate and what is raised in the north is £4.8 billion’. But, he added, the British government will not disclose how much revenue it takes out of the north’. He said there were `significant gaps – for example, the amount raised by the British from corporation tax from stores and businesses which operate in the north, but which have their headquarters in England, or the amount of VAT generated through purchases in these stores’, and so `the actual gap between what is raised and what is spent is likely to be significantly less than the £4.8 billion that we have identified’.
Concluding Mr. Adams said that a `planned single island economy would be good for prosperity; good for jobs; good for investment’ and that greater co-operation and harmonisation and unity would transform the economic and political landscape on this island’. He said there were immense `financial and efficiency benefits if there was one education system, one health service, one energy network and all island investment practices’.
He said that Sinn Fein wanted a new Ireland, `to build a modern, dynamic new Ireland – in which there is genuine reconciliation, and out of which a more equitable society can emerge’.
The changing economic and demographic dynamics `make Irish unity a realisable, achievable, doable objective’ he said, and that `many of those who dismiss our vision also said there would be no peace process, no cessations, no deal on policing or arms, and that Ian Paisley and the DUP would never share power with nationalists and republicans’.