I’m writing this on the anniversary of the killings of three IRA members, including Mairéad Farrell, in Gibraltar. When Unionist majoritarianism is over, and nationalism has secured democratic equality at the ballot box. Two days before International Women’s Day in an Ireland which is uncovering babies born to unmarried mothers thrown into a septic tank.
I don’t know if hope and history is rhyming right now, and if it is it’s like one of those complex poems that intellectuals in black polo necks get, but leave me confused. But I do know this, we are a people with opportunity and challenge presenting themselves to us in an unprecedented form. An Irish people who have suffered centuries of occupation, oppression, famine, murder and torture, the disgusting outworking of the failures of partition, particularly for women and children, and yet we look to the bright new day where we can repair and move forward.
I could write a long piece on the challenges we face. Because we do. An intransigent, intellectually void Tory Government, who cannot discern opportunity from threat, on any level. A Unionism so engrossed in itself, it cannot see the hand of friendship when freely offered. A southern establishment, incapable of addressing its own failings and history and terrified of its own culpability in abandoning citizens north of the border. The challenges are long. But today, in the context of our history and our experience, let us be hopeful and determined.
Thousands upon thousands of nationalist and republican voters walked out of their homes last Thursday to their ballot boxes and demanded they are afforded equal citizenship. Not a few Taigs on another quango. Not a feasibility study for a potential Irish language acts. Not another load of empty baloney on victims. They voted for equality of Irish citizenship in the context of the Good Friday Agreement arrangements. They voted for peace and reconciliation efforts to be reciprocated. With determination and dignity, in the face of insult and ignominy, the message is clear.
Unlike the portrayal in the media they were not voting against something, they were voting for the realisation of rights and commitments. For everyone in love to have the right to marry. For Irish citizens living in their own country to be afforded rightful status. For our language, denied, degraded and diminished for too long to be protected in law. For all victims, affected by all of the combatant groups, to be acknowledged, and their rights realised in practice not just in words. The media pretence that this is a form of extremist politics needs to end. This is the centre ground. This is where rights, equality and democracy live, breathes and grows.
The Good Friday Agreement promised us equal citizenship under its arrangements. If the current talks do not deliver this in practical meaningful form, then the British Government and unionism will demonstrate that they are incapable of embracingIrish identity and rights in their frameworks. Right now, it appears that they are incapable of even trying. If that is the case,there will be only one logical conclusion that can be reached by all of those thousands who voted positively last week. That the centre ground and realisation of equal rights lie in a united Ireland. We have entered a new phase of Irish history.