Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald TD has called for a vision of Ireland as a European leader of prosperity, peace, and hope.
She made the comments in an address at the Institute of International and European Affairs in Brussels this evening.
The full text of Teachta McDonald’s speech is below.
Note to editors: Check against delivery
At the outset, I would like to thank the Institute of International and European Affairs for the invitation to address you all today.
These engagements are crucial. They present an opportunity to air ideas and to test unique and differing perspectives. To discuss the direction of travel and to confront social, economic, and political challenges.
Importantly, they allow us to discuss Ireland’s future within the European Union.
Ireland is a proud and ancient European nation.
Our future is not only to be part of the European Union but to be at the very forefront of the European project, driving change and improvements that benefit progress, prosperity, and the uplift of ordinary citizens.
The last few years have taught us that we are at our best when we work together and for each other.
The Covid Pandemic, Russia’s criminal invasion of Ukraine, the climate and energy emergencies form an unprecedented era of crisis and challenge for the nations of Europe.
It is our shared values of unity, peace, social solidarity, and justice that provide us with the strength to face these daunting challenges with a determination to overcome and with the ambition to seek a better future for all.
It is my hope that this enduring sense of solidarity and togetherness will drive and shape the future of Europe, and Ireland’s role within the European Union.
This year marks fifty years since Ireland joined what was then the European Economic Community.
The benefits are clear. Our membership has coincided with the transformation of Ireland from one of Europe’s poorest countries to one of economic progress and progressive social change.
There have been many positive advances in the areas of equality, workers’ rights, and environmental standards.
Let it be said that membership of the European Union was the catalyst for the advancement of the rights of women in Ireland and for our uplift as equal citizens.
However, friends must speak honestly to each other.
The future we are trying to build together calls on us to critique and confront the points of real concern – growing militarisation, deregulation, privatisation, and the reflexive unleashing of austerity at times of economic crisis.
These are all choices that made people feel that the European Union had strayed from the vision that has brought our nations together.
To strengthen the European Union, we must enhance its democratic legitimacy, and build a future in which every woman, man and child has a real stake.
We are living through times of great volatility and change, and I believe that we as European nations face a crossroads and a choice.
Does Europe choose a path where the Union becomes more disconnected and removed from the lives of ordinary people or do we together revive the vision of Europe as a beacon of partnership, solidarity, and equality?
That means working together to ensure our people have affordable housing, access to world class public healthcare and education, the foundations of a good life where every person has the opportunity to reach their full potential.
In the past, there were those who used crises as alibis to retreat into narrow thinking and to block progress.
To cut our way out of economic difficulty and assert that working people must pay the heavy price.
To say that we must arm our way out of military conflict.
To say that Ireland should surrender our neutrality.
They’re wrong. Our future, Ireland’s future in Europe, is too big and too bright for such a retreat.
Now is the time for a vision of Ireland as a European leader of prosperity, peace and hope.
Friends, we have an opportunity to lead towards a greener, cleaner world, to protect our children’s futures by protecting the environment through ambitious and fair change.
We must bring our agricultural communities with us. In any new dispensation, we need fairness for our family farmers and fairness for our fishing communities.
The crisis we now face shows the importance of access to secure, affordable energy.
I believe Ireland can achieve energy independence.
Ireland can lead the way by becoming an international hub of clean energy through the development of our wind energy and renewable resources.
I want us to be at the very centre of decarbonising the economies of Europe.
It can be done; we just have to show the determination and ambition to get it done.
By showing leadership now, we can carve out a legacy to leave the generations that follow us. A legacy of a just, green, and clean environment.
Ireland’s future within Europe must be to spreadhead a union of equals that is about advancing the empowerment of citizens and communities,
About building a future of opportunity, inclusion, and prosperity for all,
About shaping Europe as bastion of peace, human rights, and the championing of justice rather than fortifying as another military powerhouse.
In the last year, the European Union has shown the power of unity in standing against military might.
The unified stance taken on Russia’s invasion, shows just how powerful a force Europe can be in the quest for peace, freedom, and human rights throughout the world.
This principled leadership has united the peoples of the European Union in the face of a despot and against the dogma of ‘might is right.’
Putin must understand that the international community will remain united with Ukraine for however long it takes to face down his brutal invasion.
There can be no victory for Russian military aggression over Ukrainian sovereignty.
No victory for a power that brazenly violates international law.
So, Putin must immediately withdraw his army and end the invasion. The journey to peace must begin now.
The people of Ukraine have shown the world that they will not give in to Putin’s onslaught.
Today, against all the odds and in the face of immense brutality, they are holding their country.
I believe Ukraine will win-out and its people will again live in the peace and freedom that they so cherish.
This principled stand that the European Union has taken for Ukrainian Sovereignty and self-determination, against military belligerence and invasion, and for the upholding and application of International Law, must be applied beyond Ukraine.
There can be no double standards. Where Europe has lapsed into those double standards, it should be called out.
I name simply, the case of Palestine.
Europe should be a champion for the upholding of human rights for Palestine, for the ending of Israel’s occupation and the apartheid regime, for the building of a lasting peace based on justice, freedom, and nationhood.
In an increasingly complex world, Ireland stands as a strong voice for peace and justice in our world.
We have achieved this powerful position not through military might or military alliance but by way of our respected tradition of neutrality and through our strong, unequivocal moral principles and values.
I stand before a European audience, but I borrow the words of a leader from the southern hemisphere.
Former Australian Prime Minister, Bob Hawke captured all of this perfectly in his speech to the Dáil in 1987.
“Ireland is the head of a huge empire in which Australia and the United States are the principal provinces.
“It is an empire acquired not by force of Irish arms but by force of Irish character, an empire not of political coercion but of spiritual affiliation, created by the thousands upon thousands of Irish men and women who chose to leave their shores, or who were banished from them, to help in the building of new societies over the years.”
This is the essence of Ireland’s powerful influence. We are a small island nation buy we have a huge international footprint.
And we must be true to who we are as a country and a people, as a nation that experienced colonisation, hunger, dispossession, and conflict.
So, the efforts by Irish governments to erode Ireland’s military neutrality are wrong.
I believe there must be recognition and acknowledgement of military neutrals and non-aligned countries within the EU treaties. This must happen within Ireland’s constitution also.
Of course, we in Ireland know, better than most, about the importance of peace winning out, of peace prevailing.
This month, we mark the 25th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement; an agreement that ended more than three decades of conflict on our island.
The Agreement stands as a successful blueprint for peace making, a framework for resolving even the most intractable of conflicts.
It brought a peace that many thought was impossible, utterly transformed Ireland, and opened a pathway to a better future.
The achievement of the Good Friday Agreement is a gift from a generation of courageous peacemakers to this generation to protect and advance.
Twenty-five years on, we are challenged with impasse again.
We are challenged to recapture the spirit and determination of 1998 and to make progress happen.
Almost a year on from the Assembly election, we need a functioning government, we need the north-south bodies up and running, and we need the east-west relationship back on a sustainable footing.
We need a renewed commitment from all political leaders that we will work together, that we will share power together and that we have a government that will work in the interests of everyone.
The DUP is now at a crossroads and a moment of decision. I hope that the decision they make is the right one because it is unconscionable that we stay in this limbo and that things continue to drift.
As time ticks away, we are missing immense economic and investment opportunities.
Brexit threatened disaster for Ireland.
It should be acknowledged that in Brexit negotiations, the EU defended Ireland’s interests to the hilt and defended Good Friday Agreement.
I want to make special mention of Michel Barnier, Maros Sefcovic and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. We are indebted to them for their efforts.
The negotiations between the EU Commission and the British government are over.
The people of the north need the government back up and running.
Together, we can make power sharing work again. We can make politics work for everyone.
The European Union, and our international partners – especially the United States, played a vital role in the success of the peace process and in the achievement of the Good Friday Agreement.
It is so important that we have that support again today as we seek to build political stability and progress in Ireland.
Brexit demonstrated the undemocratic nature of partition.
The people of the north of Ireland were dragged out of the European Union against their democratically expressed wishes.
I believe that our future must see the whole of Ireland back within the European Union.
We have built the peace, now it is the time to write the next chapter – the reunification of our country.
This is the time of seismic, generational change in Ireland.
Reunification represents an immense opportunity for all the people of our island.
That is why we now need to plan for peaceful and democratic constitutional change.
The conversation belongs to everyone who calls Ireland home.
So, we need a proactive Irish government.
We need good relations with the British government.
We need active preparation for referendums on reunification.
We need a Citizens Assembly to allow for the airing of views and ideas on what a United Ireland will look like.
I include in this our Unionist citizens, those who are British in a partitioned and who will remain British in a reunified Ireland.
There is no limit to what we can achieve if we chart the future with respect, trust, and dignity for everyone. We can build the nation home for all our people.
A United Ireland would stand as indisputable testimony that we can overcome conflict. That we can fix what is broken. That we can chart that new future.
Reunification would not only be good for Ireland, but I also believe it would be good for Europe and for the world.
A new, modern, engaged Ireland shaped by the positive current of change sweeping across our country, shaped by opportunity and by the ambitions of workers and families, shape by the power and aspirations of our young people.
An Ireland at the very heart of a Europe that is changing, evolving, and working together for the betterment of citizens and communities.
Change is a powerful thing.
Sometimes it flows slowly like a babbling brook, sometimes it rushes fast like white waters.
How we harness change is the real challenge for us all.
So, let us not cling nervously to the past or to old ways for an old time.
Now is the time to embrace positive change and empowerment, to confidently step forward with big and ambitious ideas to build a better Europe and a better Ireland.
Let us boldly move forward in partnership, in common purpose, but above all, in hope.
As a new Ireland comes into view, as change shapes tomorrow, lets us move forward together to reignite the vision of a social Europe for all our people.