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Speech by Gerry Adams (SF), 'Building an Integrated Future for the Border Region', Newry, (24 October 2006)

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Text: Gerry Adams... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn

Speech by Gerry Adams, then President of Sinn Féin (SF), to a SF organised conference, 'Building an Integrated Future for the Border Region', Canal Court, Newry, (24 October 2006)


Building an Integrated Future for the Border Region

"Let me begin by congratulating all of those who helped in any way to plan and organise today's conference. Today's theme is "Building an Integrated Future for Ireland's Border Region".

This is a project central to Sinn Féin's political vision - A New Ireland, an Ireland of Equals. Partition has been an unmitigated disaster for all the people of this island, nationalist and unionist; republican and loyalist. Its imposition was not in the interests of the people of Ireland. Its impact on the south was and remains profound. Successive policies by governments in Dublin have undermined the quality of life in rural communities, in areas west of the Shannon and in the southern counties along the border.

In the north we have survived over three decades of conflict, preceded by 50 years of institutionalised violence, discrimination and sectarianism. Partition institutionalised sectarianism. It created a one party state - an orange state - in which to be a nationalist or to be a Catholic - was to be labelled not just second class but in many ways 'a non citizen'. Citizens have rights. In the north nationalists had no rights. This institutionalised sectarian approach to economic development and social provision saw border counties robbed of resources.

Under British direct rule this structured discrimination continued. And even now 8 years after the Good Friday Agreement, and the acceptance at that time by the British government of an equality agenda, there is a daily battle to overturn the bad policies of the past. So should we be surprised by the similarity of deprivation to be found on both sides of the border? Should we be surprised that the problems of dire economic planning, lack of investment, poor housing, bad roads - and for the most part non existent rail services - are common features of border counties? Of course not.

The fact is that social, economic and spatial deprivation is directly linked to the effect of the border.

And this in turn adversely impacts on the life chances of the people who live there.

And, it isn't just Sinn Féin that is pointing to the detrimental effects of the border.

Anyone who farms along the border can testify to this.

Anyone trying to do business along the border can testify to this.

Anyone who wants to travel along or across the border can testify to this.

And then there are those who are sick, or have to travel long distances to visit doctors or hospitals when the nearest facility is just a few minutes away across the border.

Or the children who spend too long in school buses when the nearest school is a few minutes away across the border.

The list is endless.

The operational plan for INTERREG IIIA confirms the undesirable effect of partition.

"In general, borders can constrain economic activity by limiting market areas, preventing optimal allocation of resources and preventing competition. The Border has certainly thus affected economic relationships in the past.

[the border] remains a social and psychological barrier which is an impediment to the exchange of ideas and information and a barrier to effective co-operation and the development of effective local policies/strategies.[.] The economic weaknesses of the Border area are characteristic of rural areas outside the dynamic growth centres on the island.Moreover, the existence of the border is an obstacle to the remediation of economic problems."

These are damning words - their meaning is clear - but they point us in a definite direction.

If the border counties are to maximise their full potential the key to achieving that will be found in strategies which are built on the twin foundations of integration and participation. It was with this process in mind that in October 2003 in Armagh, Sinn Féin launched its policy document - Reunification through Planned Reintegration.

This document was primarily aimed at the Border Corridor Area.

It called for development of Integrated Area Planning. In summary it seeks:

  • Integrated Spatial Planning
  • Integrated Economic Planning
  • Utilising the Common Chapter and the Strategic use of EU Funds
  • Developing a Multi Agency approach to Cross Border Integration
  • The need for training in the Public Sector on Cross Border Development
  • The enhanced development of the Cross-Border Corridor groups
  • The Integration of Social Partner Networks to develop a "Community" of stakeholders to promote cross-border integration

That was just over three years ago.

Since then Sinn Féin has been working, consulting and debating with the business community, the farming sector, voluntary and statutory bodies and others to deliver these goals.

Sinn Féin doesn't have all the answers. We know that.

Through this process of engagement we have sought to fine tune our ideas.

A crucial part of conferences like this is that we learn from each other and help shape and reshape our opinions and ideas.

In the area of cross border work it is possible to report progress.

The various levels of local government, along with implementation bodies, cross-border corridor groups, development agencies, the community sector and business sectors, are moving ahead in developing linkages across the border.

So, we all have a part to play in advancing the all-Ireland agenda and improving the quality of life of citizens living within the border corridor.

And we have a role to play in challenging government or governments when they fail to deliver what is required.

For example: six years ago the two governments said they were committed to developing the Letterkenny-Derry Gateway.

More recently they launched their North West Gateway Initiative.

But all of this is non-statutory - it is not obligatory - government agencies are under no direct obligation to implement it.

So despite an extensive consultation the people of that region are left with an initiative which might not be worth the paper it's written on.

Six years on - the people of North West deserve better.

But so too do the people in the Border Corridor who live and work and seek to build a future for themselves and their families in the most difficult of conditions.

The governments have also said that the next ten years will see tens of billions spent on infrastructure projects across this island.

So let all of us, in business, in the rural and farming sector, in local communities, work together and define and cost the complete infrastructural needs for the entire Border Corridor region.

And then let this be presented to the two governments as an agreed plan for the future development of the counties affected.

And if we are successful than in a relatively short time the border will in every way imaginable be redundant. It will serve no purpose.

In his inaugural speech when becoming President of a new, free South Africa Nelson Mandela said:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness, that most frightens us".

What do those words say to us?

Do not fear the economic, social, cultural, political opportunities that the peace process have opened up and are expanding each day - reach out and grasp them.

Understand that if we work together no problem is insurmountable; no difficulty is beyond our ability to resolve.

Republicans are convinced of this.

Why? Because we have a vision for the future.

A vision which goes beyond the current, troubled and protracted phase of Anglo-Irish relationships.

It is far-sighted and strategic.

It is inclusive.

Ireland today is a country in transition.

There have been many positive developments in recent years. I include the talks at St Andrews though there are elements of the British and Irish governments agreement at Saint Andrews which many republicans and nationalists would have difficulties with. The text needs to be scrutinised carefully and needs to be looked at in the context of the overall peace process.

The most important outcome of the Saint Andrews talks is that DUP leader Ian Paisley said yes, even if it was a qualified yes and even if he has wobbled since then. The fact is that Ian Paisley's conditional yes at Saint Andrews is a positive shift for rejectionist unionism. That is good for the rest of the people of this island.

There are justifiable concerns that the Programme for Government has still not met as was planned. Sinn Féin continues to be engaged with the two governments as we try and work through the current difficulties which are primarily between the DUP and the British government.

Republicans have to be magnanimous but we also have to be vigilant that the two governments do nothing that would undermine the Good FridayAgreement or its political institutions.

The British government has to stop pandering to the unrealistic demands of the DUP. And the Irish government needs to assert it's role as co-equal partner with the British.

It is crucially important that the Irish government doesn't stand back from the process. They need to ensure that the British government don't take short sighted decisions now which could cause greater problems down the road.

A lot of the old certainties are gone.

A lot of the old conservatism has been weakened.

The peace process and the Celtic Tiger have brought about great changes.

Our task is to make best use of the opportunity for progress that all of the hard work of recent years have created.

Our task is to ensure that the people of Ireland, and in the context of today's conference, the people of the border counties experience a new future, a new beginning, a change for the better in their daily lives."


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