The 100th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence at the 1st Dáil Éireann and the 21st Anniversary of Good Friday Agreement
April 10th, 2019
Roosevelt House, Public Policy Institute at Hunter College 47-49 East 65th Street, New York
Remarks by Niall Murphy
Is mór an onóir é domsa, le bheith anseo libh anocht ar an oiche airneal seo, mar táimid ag conaithe in ámanna stairiúla, ám den athrú. Guím buíochas chuig an chomhairle bainisteoichta, go h-áirithe Pat Doherty, nó NYPD mar ab ainm air, agus ar nfoigh an Comptroller é féin, Tom di Napoli.
Recent months have seen a realigning of the political dynamic, not just in the north but right across the island, in a fashion not seen in generations. I truly believe we are living in an historic moment, which many nationalists might not have considered possible, for perhaps another 15 or 20 years.
It is a particular honour to be asked to speak to the Principles launched last year in honour of Martin McGuinness. I had the privilege to meet with Martin on several occasions and just 6 months before his passing he spent an evening with the Loughinisland families in O’Toole’s Bar, listening to their story with wit, dignity and humility. His wisdom and assuredness are greatly missed.
That a set of principles have been named in his honour could not be more appropriate. Colin has spoken to the need for equality and how same should be enshrined in a Bill of Rights and also on the right to self-determination and how a constitutional pathway already exists to redeem our European rights which are about to evaporate with Brexit.
On 23rd June 2016 of the people of the north voted to remain in the EU. They did so because it is in our best interests politically and economically. The reckless and irresponsible rhetoric which has conditioned the British Government’s approach to effecting the party political
intention of the British Conservative Party, has thrust the entire viability of the United Kingdom into terminal constitutional decline, heralding the inevitability of a second Independence Referendum in Scotland and also paralysing our own society with a constitutional convulsion, which in the early part of 2016, was not on the immediate envision of anyone, protestant, catholic or dissenter.
The vast majority of people in Ireland, do not want Brexit.
No one in Ireland sought a Brexit referendum.
The overwhelming decision of the Referendum was that we want to remain in the European Union.
Brexit is being forced upon us against our will.
Notwithstanding this clear democratic mandate, we as a society and a people are being dragged out of the European Union, against our will. We are expected to silently comply as the British Government plays Russian Roulette with our economic and constitutional futures and our rights as citizens. Our EU rights are being ripped from us.
The conviction of wider nationalist, democratic and progressive opinion in 1998 was that the GFA would ensure a break with the past and guarantee us and future generations peace, guaranteed rights, equality and respect in an Ireland which continued to democratically transform itself.
Nearly twenty-one years on, the GFA has still not been fully implemented. Some sections of political unionism still oppose its very existence. Many of the political fault lines within our politics and society remain unresolved. Our hard-won peace process and its political architecture have too often been taken for granted. We may have peace, but we have not seen enough progress, and Brexit does not occur in a vacuum. When over 200 Irish citizens from the north signed an open letter to An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in December 2017 it came at the end of a tumultuous and politically defining year.
That January the Good Friday Agreement political institutions collapsed amidst the political and financial scandal of RHI. It served to confirm the growing view of northern nationalists that political unionism was not committed to proper power sharing through the denial and refusal of equality, rights and respect towards the section of the community to which we belong, rights such as,
1. Access to Justice :
An impasse still exists in terms of the legal mechanisms as to how our society Deals with the Past. It is easy to utter the words ‘why can’t people move on’ but I dare anyone to say that to someone who has lost a loved one.
- Over 3600 people died out of a population of about 1.5 million.
- That figure extrapolated to Britain is the equivalent of about 150,000 deaths, which is over twice the number of British civilians that died in World War 2.
- Extrapolated to the US, it is a figure of 720,000 deaths, more one and a half times the total US casualties in World War 2, or the equivalent of 8 9/11 attacks for each of the thirty years of the conflict.
All of this occurred in Western Europe. The causes, features and responses to such a conflict are of abiding significance.
The nature of the human rights abuses that were perpetrated by the State during the conflict include
| state sanctioned murder|
collusion with extra judicial paramilitary groups
detention without trial
denial of a fair trial
Allied with a culture of impunity together with the toleration of religious, linguistic, cultural and other forms of discrimination, this created a potent hotbed for human rights abuses.
- The exposure and holding to account of elements of the State for these crimes is so far an uncompleted task, All victims of the conflict had the right to avail of mechanisms in accordance with European defined laws, to have access to Justice.
- Compliance with article 2 of the ECHR is not an issue for Stormont, as Stormont is not a sovereign entity, Westminster is, and it is Westminster that signed the ECHR.
- That Westminster seek to then derogate from its ECHR duties, by somehow alleging that their compliance with the ECHR is a matter for political consensus at Stormont, is a deft sleight of hand of Machiavellian proportions
2. Marriage Equality :
| Leo Varadkar and indeed the Irish Govt, rightly speak with pride in respect of the referendum vote in 2016 which brought Marriage Equality to the south.|
Marriage equality was promoted by the Irish Government as a fundamental rights issue in the referendum yet it is relegated to a matter of political consensus here. Rights are not negotiable or a matter of consensus.
Many Americans voted for slavery but thankfully it was considered to be an abomination and was ended.
Why is it that citizens of England, Scotland, Wales and the South all
benefit from marriage equality but it is a right denied to citizens of our
3. Language rights.
As a parent who raises my three children through the medium of Irish, the right to have my cultural identity respected is intensely personal. With two friends, we founded an Irish medium school in 2004, with just 7 children. There are now 213 children educated in their own language on the site of our GAA club every day.
Martin McGuinness correctly observed that “Successive British Governments…have totally failed to meet their obligations…to protect the rights of the Irish language community”
The Good Friday Agreement affirmed the importance of respect, understanding and tolerance in relation to linguistic diversity, including the Irish language, and that the Government would take resolute action to promote the language; facilitate and encourage the use of the language in speech and writing in public and private life where there is appropriate demand.
Eight years later, under the terms of the St. Andrews Agreement of 2006, the British Government committed to introduce an Act to give the Irish language official status equal to that accorded the Scots Gaelic and Welsh languages. They failed to honour this obligation, and the Democratic Unionist Party explicitly repudiated it. Their sneering contempt for parity of esteem, is their sneering contempt for Acht na Gaeilge.
Subsequent DUP moves in government to defund Irish language study were a major contributing factor to the resignation of Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minister in 2017, when he cited that party’s lack of “respect” for the rights and cultural traditions of the Irish nationalist community in the North.
| Our language is an intrinsic part of all of our identity as citizens, yet |
we endure contemptuous taunts, such as Curry My Yoghurt and Crocodiles and the cancellation of microscopic bursaries for the Donegal Gaeltacht.
The fact is that this jurisdiction is the only region in Britain or Ireland
that makes no statutory provision for the protection of a minority language in accordance with the European Charter for Regional or Minority
Irish is an official language in the Republic of Ireland, with Welsh
given statutory protection under the Welsh Language Act 1993, with Scots Gaelic protected under the Achd na Gàidhlig (Alba) 2005.
Why is it that citizens of Scotland, Wales and the South all benefit from statutory protection for an indigenous language but it is a right denied to citizens of our micro jurisdiction?
It would seem that there can be no regulatory alignment on this island, and Bangor must be as British as Finchley, unless you are gay and want to be married or seek to live a life through the medium of Irish with statutory protection.
Rights aren’t British or Irish. Rights are for everyone. Everyone benefits with a strong framework for protection and everyone loses when rights are deprived.
This contempt mobilised the nationalist and republican electorate. On Friday 2nd November 2018, over 1000 citizens endorsed another direct appeal to An Taoiseach and his government to act in defence of the Good Friday Agreement and citizens’ rights. Individuals with political affiliations and none made a direct public appeal to the Taoiseach to stand by his government’s stated commitment that no Irish citizen living in the north would ever be left behind by an Irish Government.
The letter was signed by 323 business people, the employers of tens of thousands of people, 115 senior educationalists including over 30 school principals along with prominent figures from third-level institutions and teachers from all parts of the north, 82 lawyers, 75 healthcare professionals, including over 20 Doctors and Consultants, dozens of international caps, 30 senior All Ireland medals, doyens of our arts sector and the leaders of our communities. Dozens of senior journalists and trade unionists, 7 University Professors, 3 Olympic medals, 3 Oscar winners, 2 men who lifted Sam Maguire, and one man who climbed Everest.
In total, the letter was signed by over a thousand leaders from the nationalist community. This bears testament to an evolving earthquake in terms of an awakening of nationalist confidence. The 1012 names are symbolic – the letter was not a petition, but a representative sample of the views of hundreds of thousands of people across the north and indeed across the entire island.
That correspondence was then followed up with a truly unique conference on the last Saturday in January 2019, when over 1500 people filled the Waterfront Hall in Belfast to attend what the Irish News described as the most significant constitutional event in a century, as the leaders of the SDLP and Sinn Féin and senior figures from the Irish Government and Fianna Fáil attended to give their respective views on Brexit. Constitutional law experts, legacy and language activists, environmentalists, economic experts and political commentator all spoke to the topic of the viability of a new constitutional arrangement.
Conversations about the future, and future constitutional change, are happening in unexpected places. In recent weeks the trade union movement and senior figures from the GAA have spoken publicly about new constitutional arrangements. Ireland has changed dramatically over the course of the past twenty years.
The event of Brexit has changed everything, forever. The constitutional security of the north as a part of the United Kingdom, has been thrust into terminal decline by Brexit. Project Northern Ireland is finished. Rights are inalienable and will not wait.
The Good Friday Agreement which was overwhelmingly mandated by the people of Ireland on both sides of the Border, provides an inbuilt democratic and legislative pathway out of this madness, with a Border Poll.
To call for a Border Poll is not reckless or irresponsible. It is our fundamental democratic right, and
- we will not be lectured that our fundamental aspiration is divisive,
- we will not be told that now is not the time,
- we will not be told that the debate is not happening.
The debate is happening, and it is happening because Brexit has changed everything. In recent weeks this debate has been acknowledged by the former President of Ireland and by the most senior members of our judiciary. This is a conversation which is happening in staff rooms, coffee shops, school car parks, at the side of football pitches up and down the country.
This debate needs to be informed by rationality and planning, because this debate will not be characterised by the recklessness, ill preparedness and arrogance of the Brexit debate. The Irish Government, the EU and the US administration need to begin planning for the inevitable.