by Theo Russell
THE WOLFE Tone Society last Saturday held a well attended conference on Irish Unity at the London Irish centre.
Speakers included Sinn Féin’s Barry McElduff who represents Omagh in Tyrone on the Northern Ireland Assembly; Billy Leonard, Sinn Féin Councillor on Coleraine District Council, an ex RUC reservist and after initially joining the SDLP moved to Sinn Féin; Maurice Quinlivan, Sinn Féin’s Limerick representative and former convenor of the Wolfe Tone Society; Barry McColgan of Ogra (youth) Sinn Féin and Eibhlin Glenholmes, National Co-coordinator for Sinn Féin, an ex-prisoner and now working on Sinn Fein’s National Strategy on achieving Irish Unity.
Eibhlin outlined Sinn Féin’s current strategic challenges: the contentious issue of policing; developing engagement with the unionist community; building solidarity in Britain, and building an Ireland of equals.
She described engaging with the unionist community “a major challenge for us and I’ve no doubt for them as well”.
“Our intention is to break down all the barriers which prevent unionists from seeing our goal of re-unification as no threat – a massive mindset change for them. We are meeting with unionists on a day-to-day basis.”
The Northern Ireland Assembly election in March saw Sinn Féin achieve its highest ever vote in the north, gaining 28 MLAs and five ministerial places.
Billy Leonard said: “There is a sense among Ulster unionists – or two thirds of Ulster unionists – that the sense of ‘Britishness’ was always conditional. There was never complete trust in London and how things evolve in Great Britain and the island of Ireland will impact on that sense of Britishness.
“There is a saying that we unionists are ‘British in Belfast and Irish in Berlin.
“A new mood has been created by the Good Friday Agreement. We have seen peace and the growth of political debate, but the restoration of power to the north in terms of finance means that what happens in Belfast is really only distribution of the ‘London cake’.”
Barry McElduff said: “We do look to Dublin for leadership and responsibility – I look to Dublin as my capital. As far as I am concerned Stormont is only a stepping-stone.”
He added: “I have a problem with being denied the right to be Irish in the six counties. I have a problem when FIFA has problems with people from the six counties playing for the Republic.”
There followed a deep debate from the floor that ranged from British censorship and propaganda to Iraq and Afghanistan and recent pro-socialist developments in Latin America.