(Edited for length by Sabina Clarke)
On November 7th at the Sheraton Hotel in New York at an event hosted by Friends of Sinn Fein President Mark Guilfoyle, guest speaker Jim Donaghy introduced Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald. Following is an edited version of her talk:
“It is an honor to be here tonight. America has always been a friend of Ireland; bonds of kinship and friendship bind us together. I want to reflect on the passing of two of our dear friends this year-Gene McCarthy and Cormach Murrihey – our sincere condolences to their families.
Sinn Féin in North America is also at a point of renewal. For twenty years Rita O’Hare represented Sinn Féin in the US and in Canada. Many in this room know her or know of her. She has led from the front; she has been a great ambassador for Sinn Féin and for a united Ireland. Her legacy can be seen in this room and across the US.
The progress that we have achieved in the US is due to the leadership of Rita O’Hare. The depth and breadth of our support base, the continuity of support and the encouragement of a new generation is testament to the tenacity of one woman.
It is a legacy that she is handing on to Ciarán Quinn. I am sure that you will be all as welcoming and accommodating of Ciarán as you have been with Rita.
Twenty five years ago, this month, Friends of Sinn Fein was formed.
Ireland was a different place then. Our conflict, our struggle and our loss were daily played out in the streets of the north and on TV screens across the world.
That year Irish America campaigned for a visa for Gerry Adams, there was opposition from the British Government and the State Department.
But the people in this room and others refused to take no for an answer.
President Clinton to his credit granted the visa.
Gerry Adams made that historic and faithful journey to brief Irish America and political leaders on the potential for peace. Within a few months the IRA ceasefire was called, and the peace process was born.
It was a watershed moment. A moment of change. A moment of history.
Irish America made the call for a peace envoy to the North. Against opposition, George Mitchell was appointed; the Good Friday Agreement was signed and endorsed by the majority of Citizens, North and South.
The success of the peace process is a landmark achievement, in Irish History but also in world politics. Its significance should not be underestimated. And the contribution of America cannot be overstated. Irish America continues to play a decisive role in the politics of Ireland. The politics of Brexit bears this out.
Ireland cannot and will not be the collateral damage of their Brexit.
Brexit is a constitutional earthquake. It undermines the Good Friday Agreement. It puts our economic stability, our prosperity and our progress in great jeopardy. We will not accept, we will never accept, a border and division on our island again. We want to end the border, to remove it forever. To replace division with unity. To make peace permanent and justice and equality the right of all.
I want to recognize and appreciate the leadership of Nancy Pelosi, Richard Neal, Eliot Engel, Peter King, and Tom Souzzi and many more in standing with us, at this time, in defense of the Good Friday Agreement.
This has been true throughout the years. Irish America played a central role in all phases of republican struggle. The Fenians, Clann Na Gael, the Irish Republican Brotherhood and Irish Northern Aid.
Friends of Sinn Féin, we are entering a new phase in our history.
As part of the Good Friday Agreement, Sinn Féin negotiators, led by Martin McGuinness, secured a democratic pathway to Irish unity. A unity referendum.
The very basis of the Northern state and partition is gone. The trend is clear. A new and united Ireland is emerging.
In the coming months we face general elections in the North and South. It is an opportunity to say again to British Government your time is over. We will not attend a British parliament at Westminster. We will not take an oath to any Queen.
We are not subjects. We are free citizens. We are proud Irish Republicans; our loyalty is to the people of Ireland. To the Irish Nation at home and abroad.
It is also an opportunity to say to the Irish Government you can no longer stand idly by.
Now is the time to plan for unity and to build the republic. It is the responsibility and the imperative for any Irish Government. We will see a new and united Ireland. We will ensure a peaceful, inclusive and democratic way forward.
A unity referendum was enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement twenty-five years ago. Now is the time.
Change is coming, it can be chaotic, or it can be planned. But make no mistake; change is coming. The lesson of Brexit is clear. No British Government has the right to impose their will on any part of Ireland. Brexit demonstrates the failure of partition.
The way forward is simple. It is democratic. Let the people have their say.
Let the people have their say. The path is clear - secure a unity referendum. Win a unity referendum. We are the generation to deliver a new and united Ireland.
All of us, together. Up the Republic."
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(Edited for length by Sabina Clarke)