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For a united Ireland, workers' rights and democracy
What would be the benefits of a united Ireland to the people of Ireland, North and South?
My idea is a united Ireland as the ultimate goal. It will be beneficial for the economy in the North, without a doubt. But either way, I'd be looking at it from a Republican point of view, and a united Ireland is the Republican goal. Its the way things are meant to be; our island was never meant to be divided.
In the North, a lot of the people who are employed are employed in public services, by the state, because the economy was so slow there, due to the troubles. So peace is going to bring about changes, anyway. For example, there will be quite a big investment there, 70 million euros over the next couple of years from an American pensions group, and Sinn Fein had quite a lot to do with that, talking it over with the businessmen in America. The economy is going to improve anyway, because there is stability and peace. It could only benefit them even more if there was a united Ireland. Because in the North they get sidelined, forgotten about by the so-called 'mainland', by Britain; they're always last in the post. So it will benefit them more to be linked in to the whole-Ireland policy, I mean structure and development on an all-Ireland basis, instead of always trying to get the attention of Britain.
Do you see the beginnings of that at the moment?
Through the St Andrews Agreement, there is a system where for areas of mutual concern, you have these cross-border bodies set up to deal with them. Now, I sit on one of those cross-border bodies; my one is only an advisory board, dealing with the area of safe food, food control, looked at as an all-Ireland thing. It makes no sense otherwise- if a disease comes to the country for example, it's not going to be restricted to one jurisdiction. There is also the issue of trade, because obviously trade should be developed on an all-Ireland basis as well.
There's also the arrangements made between the Six Counties [of Northern Ireland] and the Twenty Six Counties [of the Republic of Ireland] in terms of infrastructure, for instance roads; where it makes more sense for a road to go through the Six Counties than to go around them, they're going to share the funding of those roads. And you've got the airports, and the health services. For people in Donegal, trying to travel to the nearest hospital; if the nearest hospital is in Derry, it makes more sense for them to use the hospital in Derry. So there are these steps being taken that will benefit the people in both the the Six Counties and the Twenty Six Counties. And from a logical point of view, it would tremendously benefit the Six Counties to be part of a united Ireland.
What about the political conditions for bringing about a united Ireland? We are talking about a massive change which has been resisted not just by the British government but by the majority in the Protestant / Loyalist section of the population in the North.
And I think there's also been resistance in the Twenty Six Counties over the years, and that definitely hampered progress. Because everybody would look at Britain and at the Unionists, as that was what was hampering progress, but if there's no desire by the Twenty Six Counties... It was all a facade, basically, with Fianna Fail saying that they were a Republican Party. It was only on the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising that they decided that they were going to remember it again. For forty years it was forgotten about, they pushed it under the carpet. Because there wasn't peace in the North, they looked at it as something dirty to deal with.
So, they called themselves a Republican party, but they'd forgotten about Republicanism, and they'd forgotten about the brothers and sisters that are in the Six Counties. And now suddenly, there's a reversal there, and since the 90th anniversary, they're celebrating the 1916 Rising. And when Bertie Ahern resigned, everyone was saying, what would he be remembered for? The peace process. Well, Albert Reynolds came before Bertie, and he made the first moves from the government of the South, and you have Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and the formidable Brian Keenan who sadly passed away last week, a man who played a major role in the peace process but who fails to get the recognition he deserves from many political parties in the South and the mainstream media.
You can't take credit for something that you didn't do, and ignore all the work that was done before. I think that there is this thing now within Fianna Fail, that they are going to try to monopolise the peace process and take it as their own, and use it to build their party that way.
So, there is a desire now from the Twenty Six Counties which will be looking towards a united Ireland. As they consider it, it's OK, it's fashionable again now. And, putting aside your political differences, this should be considered a good thing, because we all want to be on board; if it helps to bring about a united Ireland, then so be it.
From the Northern point of view, the 'celtic tiger' in the Twenty Six Counties created a situation where Unionists looked south a bit more, unsurprisingly they wanted a piece of the economic boom. Whether or not that continues now that the economy is turning down, you wouldn't know. But then again, there's going to be an economic downturn in Britain, and the Six Counties have always been a side-thought. So, if there's going to be a downturn in Britain and a downturn in Ireland, they're going to fare a lot worse being members of the UK.
It's difficult to tell if the working relationship will change with [new Unionist Leader] Peter Robinson. And down here we now have Brian Cowen as Taoiseach, and in Britain Gordon Brown as well, so you have three new leaders and we have to see how their relationship is going to be together; and Gordon Brown might not be around too long.
In the Six Counties, it is a case of trying to show that the Assembly is functioning and that it is working for both communities. I think that if people can see that, particularly in the Unionist community, because a lot of them feel that they are very disadvantaged as well, that they were left behind. So if they can see the benefits, that the Assembly is working for them, as opposed to being part of Britain, that will be a step, and then one can try and take them a little bit further. On the ground, they need to feel that it is beneficial to them, that this is a better way of life than it was before.
People in Nationalist areas relied on the IRA to protect their communities. Using the PSNI [Police Service of Northern Ireland] is a new and and at times hard situation for them, but this is why it is so essential that there is no further delay in the transfer of policing powers.
The PSNI has not filled that gap as yet?
No. So there is a vacuum there at the moment, definitely. What Sinn Fein are doing is meeting people, talking to people at the ground level, and explaining that this is where we are but it is changing; that this is a process and we have a plan, and this is how it's going to pan out. This seems to be the thing- dialogue with the people, informing people. It's when people don't understand why things are happening that you get all the trouble.
From the Unionists, there's been no weapons handed over, there's been no de-commissioning. Ian Paisley called for photographs of the IRA weapons being handed over, but there's been no de-commissioning by the Unionist side, by the UDA, the UVF, none of them.
On the Nationalist side, everything is being explained. Like on the PSNI- meetings were held in every parish. It was explained, so the people can understand, and don't have to figure it out in their own heads and come to the conclusion that two plus two equals five.
On June 12th, there will be a referendum here on the EU Lisbon Treaty. Is it the case that the Irish Republic is the only country where the people are being allowed to vote on the Lisbon Treaty?
Yes. I find it rich when you get some of the parties coming around and saying, we're giving the Irish people the opportunity to have a vote on it. The only reason why they are doing it is that there was a legal challenge in the late 1980s by the late Raymond Crotty. He challenged and won this right, that anything that would affect the constitution would have to go to a referendum. So we're in that priveleged position thanks to Raymond Crotty's challenge.
In campaigning for a No vote, does Sinn Fein not have some difficulties given that people tend to associate the increased economic prosperity in the Republic of Ireland with EU membership?
Fianna Fail And Fine Gael are both using the argument that we benefitted from EU membership, instead of debating the issues in the Lisbon Treaty.
Sinn Fein has opposed in every referendum, and Sinn Fein opposed membership of the EU. So that will always be thrown back in your face. But what we would argue is that we were right a lot of the time. With Nice, a lot of the issues were around neutrality, and we were proven right, even with the small changes they made to re-run the referendum on Nice. So we are now in this European Defence Agency, and successive Irish governments have never sought an opt-out like the Danes under Protocol 22.
But obviously we are not now advocating pulling out of the EU. This is not an issue about whether you want to be in the EU or not, it is about whether you want to accept this deal. The farmers are politically aware about it, but the workers are not as aware about what's involved. For instance, with the Laval Ruling and the Ruffert Ruling.
How will these rulings affect workers' rights?
The Laval Ruling was in December 2007, where a Latvian company tendered to build a school in Sweden. The EU Court ruled that the company only had to abide by the Latvian regulations on collective agreements which set workers' pay, and it undermined the right to strike. But the argument that we were getting, in my debate with Fianna Fail, is that the minimum wage was safe, because in Sweden the workers' wages had been protected by collective agreements with the unions and not by a state minimum wage. And then you had the Ruffert Ruling in April this year, whereby a Polish sub-contractor, hired by a German company, could pay workers from Poland, who were working in Germany, less than half the German minimum wage; so that does undermine the minimum wage. And because of the EU, you have to open your tenders to all EU member states.
They're saying here that the right to strike and the right to protest is not being affected, because the Charter of Fundamental Rights protects that right to strike. But the right to strike is not protected under the constitution; so unless we have a constitutional change, they cannot honestly say that it will not affect the right to strike.
So it really is a race to the bottom, and also a ticking time-bomb for racism.
And there is another reason why Fianna Fail is in favour of it, because the EU is great as a way of bringing in your policies through the back door. Like the water rates; the Irish Government had an opportunity to have an opt-out on that. The schools are going to have to start paying thousands of euros for their water from January 2009, and the government is saying, oh, we're sorry, there is absolutely nothing we can do about that, it's a European directive. Mary Lou McDonald [Sinn Fein MEP for Dublin] went and met the commissioner, and he said, they never asked for an opt-out. It's because they want to bring it in- it's costing them to provide water for schools and community centres.
The biggest concern I have in terms of the Lisbon Treaty Referendum is that people are being bullied into voting Yes; the biggest mis-truth of the Yes campaign is that Ireland will be punished for voting No. It's strange when in one breath the Yes side talk of so-called 'increases in democracy' under Lisbon, yet in the next breath it's vote Yes or else! I think some of the parties could do with a lesson in democracy. Only yesterday we had a former Fine Gael Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald, say that the goodwill to Ireland will end if we vote No. Blackmail and democracy are strange running mates.
Lynn Ni Bhaoigheallain by the Republican Monument in Killarney, County Kerry
For more information on Ireland, read An Phoblacht.