The Union is Over
RTÉ Radio One
11 September 2014
AC: You're very welcome back to An Grianan in Termonfeckin, Co. Louth. We're here in a beautiful Edwardian manor on about eighty-eight acres of park land. It's a centre, it's a home really, a manor that's run by the ICA and we're here because it is the venue for a meeting of Sinn Féin, the party's think-in, ahead of the resumption of the new Dáil term next Wednesday.
And with me now this morning is the Sinn Féin leader and TD for Louth, Gerry Adams. Good Morning!
GA: Good Morning, Audrey and welcome to An Grianan. The people here are delighted - how you've spoken so well about this beautiful setting and the birdsong and so on.
AC: It's a pleasure to be here. So in terms of your thinking and what you'll be doing over the course of the next couple of days - what policies will you be re-thinking?
GA: Well, first of all we're brought together for the first time - representatives from the Assembly, from the Oireachtas, our MPs, our MEPs and folks from our national Councillors structure. And the first part of our discussion will be to review where we've been and where people are and the political situation across the island since last we met.
And then of course we want to look forward. We want to prepare for government in this state. There are difficulties in the process and in the political institutions in The North. Martin McGuinness will give a keynote address on that then we'll have a discussion on that tomorrow.
We also – because we had a very good European election and we have four MEPs across the island - we want to get some joindy-upness between the people in The North, The South, the border corridor, can we avail of the mandate we have in the European Parliament to deliver for people and to make things better for everyone including of course those we would represent. And then looking forward at campaigning - we've all the time been talking and trying to get a focus on the social consequences of the government's policies. So people need to continue to make a stand against those and we will be looking to how we can campaign against what the government's doing.
AC: Okay. So you're very clearly preparing for government. And I suppose if anyone is wondering what Sinn Féin would be like in government they'd just have to look North. And perhaps the impression they might get is of a party running scared of making tough decisions in government.
GA: Well, this is a narrative which I think is very, very unfair. I think it's a lazy – and I also think it's very, very patronising. Look at the record of Martin McGuinness. Look at the tough decisions that he and our Ministers have taken – that the Sinn Féin leadership have taken - in the course of the peace process. Sinn Féin will defend the political institutions.
What we have is an understandable reluctance by Unionism to be part of the process for change. And the history of the process shows – and this was very evident as we buried Albert Reynolds and there was a lot of talk about how the process was put together - if Unionism are allowed – if political Unionism, against grassroots Unionism which does want change – but if political Unionism and its leaders is allowed room to delay and to dilute that's what they will do.
AC: But you, as a party, are balking at making the tough decisions to cut the welfare budget because it contradicts your policy in this jurisdiction.
GA: No, no, it doesn't contradict our policy in this jurisdiction. It contradicts the very reason for the existence of Sinn Féin which is a Republican party which believes that citizens have rights.
And that includes, and particularly a judgment on the state of a society has to be how you look after those who are vulnerable: the elderly, the sick, the disabled, children and disadvantaged sections of society.
AC: So when those welfare cuts are not introduced Stormont will be slapped with a fine of two hundred million pounds. What effect will that have on services, on health, on education, on people with disabilities, with people on benefits?
GA: Well, there are three things happening at once and you have the convergence of all of these factors against a non-engagement by both governments in the process.
One is the build-up of the failure of political Unionism and the governments to deliver on their commitments.
AC: The governments can't tell Sinn Féin, can't persuade Sinn Féin to do a deal with the DUP on welfare reform which is at the nub of this at this moment.
GA: Well, I'm sorry, that isn't the case, Audrey. There are three things happening: And one is that the Unionist leaders, including Peter Robinson, have reneged on deals which they have done with Sinn Féin in the past.
Second thing is the government have not fulfilled their obligations. And then the British government has been cutting the block grant. So even if they didn't have this ideological position of trying to get rid of the welfare state they have been cutting the block grant and then you have the ideologically driven attempt to just reduce public service.
AC: But being in government means taking tough decisions - not needing to have your hands held.
GA: Sorry. Nobody's holding our hands – that's a silly thing to say.
AC: But you keep putting the momentum, the pressure back on the two governments to get involved.
GA: No. We want the governments to fulfill their obligations. Charles Flanagan made totally inappropriate remarks the other day as opposed to defending the political institutions and promoting the agreements and working and making sure that the British government delivers - he talked about these two problem parties. And that's driven by electoralism in this state. That's not looking at the need to continue to develop and defend and promote the political process.
Let me come back to this issue: We have a responsibility in government to defend people's rights. So Sinn Féin is not going – and we're very, very clear on this – is not going to be part of simply accepting a diktat from a Tory minister - whether it's in Enda Kenny's cabinet or whether it's in David Cameron's cabinet - and then we're just going to administer that for them.
AC: Did you overrule Martin McGuinness when he wanted to do a deal with Peter Robinson on welfare reform?
GA: No, not at all. At our Ard Fheis ... very clearly – at our Ard Chomhairle ... very, very clearly ... and Martin is well up to this at this as I am - decided that we would explore the possibilities of getting – because our fight isn't with the DUP - our fight's with the Torys in London - trying to get the Tory government - and that battle isn't over yet.
AC: But you didn't overrule Martin McGuinness?
GA: No, not at all. Not at all. Martin McGuinness is my leader in The North. And as I said is about defending the rights of those disadvantaged sections of the community. The other thing is this – just if I may say this: Given the stagnant nature of the economy, and Martin and Peter have done good work in getting inward investment and so on - to take the amount of money out of that is just going to build farther on the economic difficulties.
And secondly, it doesn't recognise the fact that we are very uniquely against a bleak situation internationally. We're very uniquely coming out of a conflict process.
AC: We don't have much time left ... I want to ask you about the Scottish independence referendum which takes place this day next week. Would you like to see a yes vote?
GA: We decided some time ago we wouldn't get involved at all in the Scottish referendum - that's essentially a matter for the people of Scotland to decide.
AC: If it is a yes vote what would it mean for The North?
GA: I think whatever happens now in this referendum – given the scramble by the London establishment to make new promises of increased devolution – whatever happens - whether they vote for independence or whether they don't - they're going to have profound effects on the Union.
And the first big dent in the Union was actually the Good Friday Agreement where Sinn Féin succeeded in getting rid of the government of Ireland Act. Actually – the Union as we know it – and this is what's driving Unionist insecurities – the Union as we know it is over. There's a Union there of course - the British still claim jurisdiction. Our island ...
AC: ... But reading comments by your colleague Conor Murphy he seemed pretty excited at the prospect of a yes vote.
GA: Well, everybody who watches these things will be very intent and interested in the outcome. But our task is on this island, to end the Union in a way which brings the people together - to end partition – and all of these issues we've been discussing - fiscal issues, economic issues, social issues that that becomes a matter for the people of the island to decide.
And if I may just say this just in terms as we face into this new Dáil term: There's a lot of sort of “media love-in” with the new leader of the Labour party. Let's remind your listeners that every single decision taken by this government - from property tax to water charges to cuts in child benefits - a whole range of carers allowances - Joan Burton was part - she took all of these decisions. That wasn't Eamon Gilmore doing that on his own. And every single Labour TD went into the voting lobby and voted for all of those cuts.
AC: Okay. Gerry Adams, President of Sinn Féin, thank you very much. (ends)