by Theo Russell
Michelle Gildernew, Sinn Féin minister for agriculture and rural development in the Northern Ireland, told friends and supporters in London last week that the meeting of the North-South ministerial council on 16 July in Dublin had been highly successful and constructive.
It was the first real meeting of the council with the Northern Ireland executive fully in place and not beset by crises, attended by 12 northern and 14 southern ministers.
Just after the meeting Dublin announced it was spending €650m on cross-border road links and restoring the Ulster Canal between Monaghan in the republic and Fermanagh in the north. Sinn Féin welcomed the news as a boost to the economies and tourism both in the north and in the Republic’s neglected and deprived north-west.
Speaking at Sinn Féin’s summer reception, Michelle said that almost 10 years since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement many issues still need to be delivered with much work still needed in the crucial area of policing and justice, due to be transferred to Belfast next spring.
Other issues requiring a major effort are the equalities and human rights agendas, aimed at tackling decades of social and economic discrimination against catholics and nationalists in the north, a key aspect of the Good Friday and Saint Andrews agreements.
Michelle pointed out that the two states were still duplicating work on health, education and many other areas, and said “the only way we are going to bring full peace, justice and equality to the island of Ireland is through Irish unity.”
She added “the best people to govern Ireland are the Irish themselves. Whether they are of unionist persuasion or nationalist persuasion they are the best people to decide Ireland’s destiny.”
Michelle told the New Worker correspondent that despite Gordon Brown’s promised £51 billion “peace dividend” for the north, “they aren’t giving us buttons”.
The package not only includes contributions from Dublin and money already allocated by London, but the proceeds of selling British bases to private developers. She said Sinn Féin wanted these bases to be handed over for use by local communities in the north.