By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — Sinn Fein has called on the British government to issue a white paper in preparation for the reunification of Ireland. The call came from the party chairman, Mitchel McLaughlin, during the annual Gasyard Feile lecture in Derry.
McLaughlin said there was evidence that a shift in voting power in Northern Ireland was moving toward nationalism. He pointed out that nationalist voters outnumbered unionists in four of the six counties of Northern Ireland and was strengthening in Antrim and Down.
McLaughlin said that a recent academic survey, the so-called “Life and Times” study by the University of Ulster, showed a growing trend “that we are on the road to radical constitutional reform.”
“I am confident that reform will result in the creation of a unitary state in Ireland free from London rule and with a set of mechanisms in place that provides maximum confidence in the people of Ireland that all of their rights and cultures will be upheld and respected,” he said.
The Derry politician said his party had already asked the Irish government to start preparations for the reunification of the country by publishing a white paper. “I would call on the British government to make similar preparations,” he said.
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McLaughlin stressed that he was not making his claims to cause panic among unionists but was calling for positive leadership. He said his party believes it is on the “last lap” of a journey toward a united Ireland.
“We believe that many of the unionist tradition recognize this course of events too,” he said. “The signposts are already there, pointing toward 2016 and the realization of the vision of a free and sovereign united Ireland.”
Referring to the effects of what he called “partitionist politics,” McLaughlin said: “It is ironic that the system and political conditions against which nationalists rebelled and which Unionism was determined to retain, served no section of society in the North.
“It failed nationalists in that it treated them as second-class citizens and sought to perpetuate a sectarian state. It also failed unionists because it reserved all power and administration in unionist hands, leaving them ill prepared for inevitable change.”
McLaughlin said those most ill-served by the “apartheid-style” government administered in the North since the inception of the state were the unionist working class.
“The segregation in housing ensured that few in the unionist working class ever got to realize that in reality, their living conditions were no better than nationalists, in fact in some instances it was inferior,” he said.
On the peace process, McLaughlin said republicans and nationalists continued their efforts to establish common ground on which to approach the British government. “This was the basis on which the Good Friday agreement was negotiated,” he said.
“The Good Friday Agreement can be used as the foundation on which to construct the New Ireland of equals that we wish to see. It is recognized — yes, even by many unionists — that the outworking of the Good Friday agreement will lead to the reunification of Ireland.”