"That Seanad Éireann:
- reaffirms its commitment to the Good Friday Agreement and requests the full implementation of all aspects of this international agreement;
- requests that politicians North and South lead in a manner that is respectful and cognisant of the Good Friday Agreement which is built on respect, equality and partnership;
- is committed to ensuring the protection of the rights of all the people that live on the island;
- is committed to working towards a prosperous and peaceful shared future, where everyone has equal access to education and employment opportunities;
- underlines the need for balanced regional development across the island;
- underlines its commitment to breaking down barriers and creating a new beginning for relationships between the peoples and traditions of this island, on the basis of the Good Friday Agreement;
- recognises the birthright under the Good Friday Agreement of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose. That this right be respected and upheld by all on the island;
- welcomes the Shared Island Initiative, including the financial commitment of €500 million over five years for cross-border projects such as the Shared Island Dialogues and a research programme, which are currently underway;
- notes the priorities of the Shared Island Initiative are to:
- work in partnership with the Executive, through the North-South Ministerial Council, and with the British Government to address shared challenges on the island;
- enable priority delivery of key all-island commitments and foster new investment and development opportunities on a North/South basis, supported by the Shared Island Fund;
- foster constructive and inclusive dialogue and support a comprehensive programme of research to support the building of consensus around a shared future;
- deliver a financial commitment of €500 million over five years for cross-border projects through the Shared Island Fund;
- looks forward to strengthening cooperation North and South; to re-invigorating relationships on an East/West basis; and to working with all communities and traditions on the island on a shared future underpinned by the Good Friday Agreement.”
On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the death of one of Ireland's greatest republicans, Seán Lemass, the man responsible for persuading my grandfather to enter politics in 1926 when he visited my home place in Rosnakill in Donegal, it is with a great sense of pride that I take this opportunity to formally propose this joint Private Members' business motion, which I co-sponsor with my colleague, Senator Erin McGreehan, a motion which outlines the importance of the work of the shared island initiative, which An Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, has championed. It is also about reaffirming the commitments of the Good Friday Agreement and the opportunities it has afforded to us within this island. My grandfather fought in the War of Independence and I have always considered myself and Fianna Fáil to be a republican party. Anyone familiar with Neil T. Blayney will also know the connection I have to Northern Ireland and the hardship and struggle that our island went through. It was a struggle that seemed endless at the time but that ended with the Good Friday Agreement. We now have political representation for all communities and governance that is shared between the communities, a difficult decision but one that is important and may have seemed impossible. However, progress cannot stop here.
The question now is how quickly we respond to these setbacks and evolve with the changing times on the basis of the agreement. I for one deplore the actions of one Deputy, Matt Carthy, in the last few weeks when he commemorated a former IRA man who inflicted death and harm on our society for no gain. This country has had its divisions caused by British occupation for many decades. The war is over. Contrary to popular belief, our day has actually come. It came to this island on the tenth day of April 1998 when this agreement was signed and peace was won. The above mentioned Deputy’s actions fly in the face of republicanism and are more akin to playing to those responsible for the murder of Paul Quinn. Actions like this need to be called out and they have no cause of gain to any community on the island of Ireland.
The Good Friday Agreement was a victory after long and violent conflict. This motion seeks to reaffirm our commitment to this historic document that has put an end to decades of violence. Overall, we will have had peace in Northern Ireland. We have a society, a strive for harmony and as this motion underlines, in the true spirit of the Good Friday agreement and its signatories, we too need now to strive for that very same respect, equality and partnership. Equality and partnership are crucial to any society but they are most certainly important in Northern Ireland. I fear these two aspects may be breaking down in recent years. As a member of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement of these Houses I am acutely aware of the damage done to trust and partnership between communities by Brexit and its effects on Northern Ireland and its people. We must continue to repair the damage done and to strive for effective and pragmatic solutions to deep and complex issues and divisions that exist. At the Good Friday Agreement committee we have had representations from members on all sides but we have also seen attempts at playing partition politics through a forum that is dedicated to partnership, respect and equality.
I am somebody who holds my republican credentials in high esteem. I want to see the creation of the space for the people of this island to learn how to get along and learn to live among each other in harmony. As someone who represents an area that has been historically and geographically cut off from the rest of the island, I implore Members of this House to keep it in mind that our communities are intertwined. There is no them versus us; there is simply us. I am hearing the rhetoric of running a border poll as, apparently, the Good Friday Agreement gives the constitutional grounds for it to happen. I hear the constant rhetoric that a citizens' assembly be put in place as soon as possible. That rhetoric needs to stop. If Irish unity was that easily won it would have formed part of the Good Friday Agreement. It was not part of it. Our problems are much more complex than that but some do not want to admit that. What the Good Friday Agreement does allow for is the opportunity to plan for unity for all the people of this island, the opportunity to bring the people of this island as one, people of many identities. The politicians and political leaders in the run up to the Good Friday Agreement had the ability and foresight to create this space. Are we really saying that we as an island nation do not have the foresight, vision and leadership to finish the job?
Unionist leaders allowed that space in the Good Friday Agreement. Are we really blaming them when we try to bring about a border poll or a citizens' assembly by coercion without the minority at the table? We have been handed a great opportunity to bring an end to decades of division and mistrust. We cannot afford to muck this up. We owe it to future generations.
The parties to the Good Friday Agreement, including the two governments and the US Administration, have shown us that a path was achievable. I believe we all need to ask ourselves and all parties who our leaders are going to be. What can we do to restore that trust that has been damaged by the taking down of Stormont for three years, Brexit and the approach taken by the British Government? What can we do to restore trust so that the North-South institutions can be fully implemented. This is key. If we achieve this much and really grasp the opportunity given, we will be on a road to much more lasting peace and prosperity for all of the island.
I have every confidence in the US Administration. It would be only too willing to begin negotiations on a shared future. Using the same model that worked so well for the Good Friday Agreement, I believe that if and when we get to the space, great things can be achieved collectively for our shared future.
We have seen setbacks to cross-Border relations through the breakdown of communications through the cross-Border institutions created by the Good Friday Agreement. We saw setbacks in our communities last April when anger and frustration cumulated in unrest. We have also seen setbacks in relations between the two government parties in Northern Ireland, who at times seem to be more interested in antagonising each other than working with each other.
All these setbacks are the reason we tabled the motion. We need reminding of the opportunity afforded to us - the opportunity to decide our own destiny. The shared island dialogue is a real effort to bring trust and cohesion to communities on the island. The shared island fund is there to kick start that cross-Border inter-agency approach to tackling the lack of balanced regional development and let the people of Northern Ireland know that this Republic of Ireland Government cares by implementing infrastructural cross-Border projects that Northern Ireland and by extension the Border region have been starved of for too long.
Peace has been hard-won and is not guaranteed. We must evolve and work together to ensure that peace lasts. There is no room for divisions when it comes to peace. We either have peace or we do not. Deep divisions in countries require leadership that is willing to co-operate and we call for that here today. We need to break down barriers, not build them back up again. As members of both this House and the Northern Ireland Executive, the decisions of Sinn Féin will play a pivotal role in the future of Northern Ireland. The peace process, and it is a process, cannot continue without the support and consent of Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin must be a part of the solution, not a cause of the problems. Anti-establishment views may generate clicks and headlines but they only go so far when the party is an established party in Northern Ireland. Sinn Féin is part of a large majority that wishes for a united Ireland when it is feasible and realistic. It is a simply a fact that we must mind the minority on our island as well. I believe peace is within our grasp. We accept the Sinn Féin amendment. I spoke to the second amendment but in the interest of moving forward, we will not oppose it on the day.