|John Finucane speaking|
By Theo Russell
Francie Molloy, Sinn Féin MP for Mid Ulster, told a meeting in London last week that the problems the party experienced with registering voters in the North of Ireland for the December 2019 election “were the most difficult Sinn Féin has ever experienced”.
He said: “There are increasing restrictions on who gets onto the electoral register and who can send postal votes.
“We need to prepare for a unified electoral system in the north and south that is completely out of the hands of the British government. Every Irish citizen should be on the register and have the right to vote.
“Demography is changing in the North but it’s not reflected on the electoral register, and that could mean the unionists maintain control even when they’ve lost the popular majority.”
The keynote speaker at the meeting, A decade of opportunity: towards a United Ireland at the Westminster Parliament, was John Finucane, new Sinn Féin MP for North Belfast.
Finucane reminded the meeting that the Good Friday Agreement “is an evolving process” that “requires constant nurturing and active oversight and involvement by the Irish and British Governments”.
But his main focus was on Brexit, which he said “has exposed the failure and undemocratic nature of partition – a political problem, which requires a political solution”.
He added that: “The majority of MLAs and MPs in the North of Ireland are anti-Brexit. Neither the people, nor their political representatives here have consented to the North leaving the EU today. There is a justifiable anger about this.”
In April 2017 the European Union announced that in the event of Irish reunification, the North “would automatically re-join the EU with the rest of Ireland,” Finucane said.
He predicted that recent changes “will inevitably lead to the final break-up of the constitutional structures of the United Kingdom” and said: “It is no longer a question of if, but when the referendum on Irish unity will be held, and many of those of a British or Unionist identity are now considering the merits of reunification.”
Finucane called on the new Irish government after next month’s elections to publish a Green Paper and appoint a minister on how to prepare “a successful transition to a united Ireland”.
He added that the debate on reunification was bringing in wide sections of society in the North of Ireland.
Last year Baroness Paisley, the widow of Ian Paisley and vice-president of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), said: “I just wonder why (Ireland) had to be divided... and I think it was the wrong decision,” adding that she could live in a united Ireland as long as there was freedom of religion – in contrast to her own party leader, Arlene Foster.
Also Billy Hutchinson, leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, which had one seat in the Northern Ireland Assembly until 2007, told the party conference the a reunification referendum was inevitable.
On a so-called border referendum – ie to end partition – he said: “For our part, Sinn Féin believes there should be one within the next five years.
“That means the Irish Government need to begin to plan for a referendum, promote the discussion, and build a vision of a new and united Ireland.”
He called on the Irish diaspora in Britain to lobby MPs and the British government “to live up to its responsibilities under the Good Friday Agreement to announce a unity referendum”.
John Finucane is the son of lawyer Patrick Finucane, who was murdered in 1989 by Ulster Defence Association (UDA) members who were colluding with MI5, which was confirmed in parliament by David Cameron in 2012.
Finucane pointed out that in Belfast: “The absolute unionist majority has been lost in the last four elections and it is not coming back. I say this not out of triumph but as a challenge.” His seat was exclusively held by unionists until December 2019.
Amongst his predecessors was Edward Carson, who led a revolt against Irish Home Rule, paved the way for partition and established the Ulster Volunteers, who received arms shipments from Germany. Lenin famously cited Carson as an example of the British government supporting treason against against their own state.
In the discussion a speaker from the floor spoke about the ‘Magnitsky amendments’ unanimously added to two new laws by parliament, allowing the freezing of assets of “international human rights violators”. (According to the USA and UK, the US lawyer Sergei Magnitsky was murdered by the Russian Government.)
The speaker asked: “If they were so concerned about human rights, why didn’t they pass a law after the murder of Pat Finucane?”