John McCallister says Sinn Fein already have a “new Ireland” while Gerry Adams calls for “an entirely new dispensation”

By coincidence, while John McCallister didn’t have the opportunity to speak at the UUP conference today, he did get an invite to address Sinn Fein’s Towards a New Ireland – A new phase of the peace process conference in London this afternoon.

John McCallister NI21He started a little apologetically …

If my comments at any time seem unduly harsh or perhaps unfair, be assured that such is not my intention. I am here in good faith to promote political dialogue and debate which will aid reconciliation and mutual understanding in Northern Ireland.

… but then questioned Sinn Fein’s definition or need for a “New Ireland”.

The New Ireland?

It is somewhat strange that Sinn Fein has described this conference as “Towards a New Ireland”. I say strange because for the overwhelming majority of people on the island of Ireland …

We now live, post-1998, in the New Ireland. We no longer live on an island scarred by conflict. We no longer live on an island in which there is undisguised hostility between Dublin and Belfast. We no longer live on an island in which economic, social, cultural and political relationships stop at the border.

We already live in the New Ireland.

The New Ireland in which shared interests produce close co-operation between Belfast and Dublin. Shared interests which find institutional expression in cross-border bodies. The New Ireland in which the vast, overwhelming majority of citizens share democratic values and reject the path of violence. The New Ireland in which we realise that the intricate network of relationships in these Islands is not something we can – or desire to – opt out of. It is in this context that Sinn Fein’s campaign for a border poll is distinctly odd.

A mere 15 years into these new relationships and new institutions, why should we even consider a border poll … Not least when opinion polls indicate a near complete lack of desire for significant constitutional change? Why seek to inject a toxic dose of 1950s politics into the institutions and relationships of the New Ireland in the 21st century?

John McCallister reminded the London audience that one of republicanism’s founding principles was “the belief in popular sovereignty”. He described it as “an honourable principle”.

The referenda on the Good Friday Agreement were an act of popular sovereignty. The institutions of the Agreement were created and are sustained by the overwhelming consent of the people of the island of Ireland. Contrast that overwhelming consent – that exercise in popular sovereignty – with the latest opinion poll indicating that only 3.8% of people in Northern Ireland want a United Ireland as soon as possible.

Popular sovereignty can be uncomfortable for politicians of all persuasions, but the will of the people, North and South, has been given clear expression. The institutions created by the Agreement, the new relationships established by the Agreement, are grounded in the will of the people. And it is not the will of the people to replace the existing constitutional settlement on the island of Ireland with something different.

… The call for a border poll may satisfy the demands for ideological purity, but it fails in heeding the will of the people, in building on the achievement of 1998.

There is another important and destabilising aspect to the campaign for a border poll. Perhaps I can illustrate this by pointing to two words missing from the publicity associated with this conference … ‘Northern Ireland’.

The inability of Sinn Fein representatives to utter these two words is not merely cosmetic. When Her Majesty the Queen spoke in Irish at the reception in Dublin Castle, it was not merely cosmetic … It was a historic declaration of respect for the nationalist tradition.

When the discourse of unionist representatives embraces both ‘Londonderry’ and ‘Derry’, it is not merely cosmetic … It is a sign of respect for both traditions in the Maiden City. The respect I mention in these two examples both contributes to and is an expression of a desire to build a shared and reconciled society.

The campaign for a border poll … The inability to utter the phrase ‘Northern Ireland’ … These suggest a hesitancy on the part of Sinn Fein when it comes to building a shared and reconciled community in Northern Ireland.

Be reminded delegates:

Perception is, of course, important in politics. Its importance is greatly magnified in a divided society. The perception outside of the republican constituency is that the border poll campaign … And the continued inability to speak of ‘Northern Ireland’ is suggestive of a lack of vision on the part of Sinn Fein when it comes to the political challenge facing us over the next generation.

John McCallister acknowledged that “Sinn Fein has travelled far from the 1970s and 1980s” but hoped “that the journey is not yet over”.

In fact, for the sake of our society, the journey cannot yet be over.

He finished:

Many at this conference will disagree with me.

Perhaps even some other unioinists pro-Union supporters will disagree with him too!

I hope, however, that out of our disagreements and debates can come a shared commitment to building a Northern Ireland for all, in the New Ireland and in a new era in the history of these Islands.

Sinn Fein Gerry Adams shadow at 2011 manifesto launchGerry Adams was also due to address the Sinn Fein conference today. His remarks were trailed on the party website last night. The advance speech makes no reference to Liam Adams’ trial or the questions surrounding Gerry Adams alleged inaction in reporting the abuse of his niece.

The situation in the north has changed out of all recognition. Today power sharing and peace, have replaced inequality and conflict. The Good Friday Agreement has created a new dynamic, a new political dispensation. For the first time we have an agreement that is comprehensive and inclusive…

Unfortunately there are still those – within the unionist leaderships and the British political system and on the fringes of nationalism – who are resistant to change. Since the Agreement was reached 15 years ago they have fought a rearguard action seeking to destabilise, to dilute and to obstruct its implementation.

He cited examples of inaction: no Bill of Rights, no Irish Language Act, no north-south consultative forum, and a reneging on the commitment to hold an inquiry into the murder of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane.

On the trouble around flags protests:

Recently in parts of Belfast we have seen the most naked sectarian elements of unionism stirred up for short term political purpose. There has been months of organised sectarian violence on the streets of Belfast.

Hundreds of members of the PSNI have been injured, some seriously. Three weeks ago a young woman was shot five times by the UVF in East Belfast. The PSNI have accused that organisation of “involvement in drug dealing, all forms of gangsterism, serious assaults and intimidation.”

Unionist leaders failed to stand up to this at a time when decisive positive leadership may have made a real difference. In stark contrast when so-called dissidents killed PSNI officers and British soldiers Martin McGuinness stood shoulder to shoulder with Peter Robinson and the Chief Constable to condemn those actions in assertive, clear and robust language. There was no equivocation by Martin. No delay. He showed leadership.

That’s what unionism needs. Positive leadership to build the process; to take a stand against illegal marches, sectarianism and violence, and the provocative actions of the Orange Order in Belfast. I retain the hope that such leadership will develop.

Gerry Adams welcomed Peter Robinson’s remarks at the Co-Operation Ireland GAA dinner.

Sinn Féin holds out the hand of friendship to unionists, including the Orange, and former unionist paramilitaries. We do so on the basis of equality and partnership.

There is a need for the First Minister to join with the Deputy First Minister and others to build an entirely new dispensation.

A “new dispensation” as a result of the Haass talks perhaps?

Sinn Féin is committed to building a new society and achieving a new Ireland that is representative of all the people of our island.

That includes the unionists. Peter Robinson expressed the need for respect. I agree with him completely. The GAA has indeed played a very significant role in encouraging better community relations.

One thing that most sportspeople have for their rivals is respect. Politicians could learn a lot from that ethos.

The Sinn Fein president recited a list of questions as he explored what was acceptable community behaviour around flags, targeting places of worship, sectarian hatred, and a tolerance of criminality in loyalist and republican gangs.

Citizens of London or Dublin would not have to endure that which is foisted on the citizens of Belfast and other places and defended or tolerated by some political leaders. Solutions are needed to resolve these difficult issues of symbols, marches and the past. But this will only be done if leaders lead.

It needs political will. I believe this is a time to refresh the peace process; to develop a new phase. A new phase which tackles the past; seeks to repair broken relationships; promotes reconciliation and maps a new course for the future.

Touching on a subject that Lord Empey would also raise in the UUP party conference

The recent decision by the Constitutional Convention to recommend that Irish citizens in the north and overseas can vote in Presidential elections is a positive development. There is now a clear onus on the Irish government to act on this recommendation.

Citizens in the north who wish to vote in Presidential elections should be accorded that right. But that is only part of what is needed. This new phase of the peace process means harnessing the power and influence and expertise of the diaspora. It also means giving the diaspora its right, like citizens of other states, to vote in Presidential elections.

Gerry Adams finished:

I invite all of you and who of you who are not Irish but would like to be to join with us in this great historic task of building a new Ireland that this new phase of the peace process is opening up.

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  • Ever since the end of 1937 when the Irish constitution claimed that Ireland was the correct English translation and name in short for the state controlled from Dublin, it has been inappropriate to use that term to refer to Northern Ireland unless one was advancing a claim to that area’s territory. Since December 1999 Dublin has given up that claim but apparently Sinn Fein still has not. It was good that John MacAllister called them out on this. Sinn Fein is forever talking about unionists not doing enough to implement the agreement. But that agreement says that Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom until a majority of its voters say no in a referendum.

  • Morpheus

    Yes it does tmictch57 and I see nothing to the contrary in anything above. Northern Ireland is part of the UK until such times as the majority vote differently – if they ever do – but in the meantime that does not mean those who wish to see a ‘New Ireland’ have to sit there, shut up and put up with everything political unionism has to throw at them.

    The Orange State is dead, as is a ‘Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people’ because Northern Ireland now belongs to all of the people of Northern Ireland. They are perfectly entitled to bring in their own furniture and redecorate a little to make it more homely because for a very long time it simply wasn’t. [I could carry on the home metaphor by saying it was a ‘cold house’ but I’ll resist the urge]

    NI is evolving – in the U80s age-group (which makes up 96% of the population) there is already a Catholic majority with Protestants in the 80+ category outnumbering Catholics by more than 2:1. As the Catholic majority is ushered in things will change and if NI is to survive then its up to unionism to leave behind the ‘not an inch’ and ‘no surrender’ mentality and embrace (lead?) change (as per PR’s comments) rather than fighting it every step of the way.

  • Alan N/Ards

    Would you say that the republic is no longer controlled by the Vatican and is no longer a catholic nation? It wasn’t so long ago that leading republicans in the south were proclaiming that they were “catholic first and irishman second”. You are right to say the orange state is dead and hopefully the “Vatican puppet state” in the south is also dead.

    Well done to John for articulating the unionist point of view.

  • keano10

    Pretty condescending stuff from John McAllister. Let’s not forget amid all the hype surrounding NI21, that they are a Unionist party. Full stop. If McAllister is trying to lecture Northern Republicans that living in the current arrangements is the end game of their aspirations, then he perhaps illustrates why NI21 is just another intransigent Unionist Party. (The only difference being that they represent affluent middle class Unionism more than the other protagonists).

    Republicans can and do assert the right for a future somewhat better than the current bitter little state infested by the rabble who cause mayhem up at Twaddell Avenue every night. (With the full support of elected representatives of the main Unionist parties).

    If John McAllister believes that The Good Friday Agreement turned the North into some sort of all-encompassing utopia then he really needs an urgent reality check. If anything, working-class Unionism and Loyalism has actually regressed since 1996. Unable to stomach even the most basic of compromises with their Nationalist neighbours.
    Unionism has become a sceptic mess where the Flag Protesting unemployed rabble get full support from the constitutional leadership of the DUP and UUP.

    The utopia which John recognises or aspires to will never happen. Nationalists and Republicans have every right to aspire to an all Ireland solution, however much NI21 dislike that aspiration.

    I look forward to seeing these respective aspirations tested at the next election…

  • Morpheus

    I don’t live in the RoI so I don’t know if the republic is controlled by the Vatican – but from what I have read the relationship between the 2 is strained to say the least.

    I too hope that the ‘Vatican puppet state’ is dead

  • Mick Fealty

    Not sure you meant ‘sceptic, but unionism has long since been a sceptic mess, sceptical of its own leadership as much as of the current leadership of northern republicanism.

  • Son of Strongbow

    Militant Irish nationalists have often tried to eradicate the “infestation” on the island. Many graveyards stand testament to that.

    However it is always useful when nationalists remind us, as keano10 has done today, that in the ‘Ireland of equals’ that unfinished work will remain a priority.

    John McCallister will come to learn that his proffered hand of friendship across the divide is more than likely to be snapped off.

  • ArdoyneUnionist

    A serious question, can someone remind me/us what was the shinners stance on the GFA and the referendum???

  • Morpheus

    It was not a SF referendum nor was it DUP, SDLP, UUP or any other party. It was a referendum of the people and they spoke very loudly – the parties have not delivered

  • ArdoyneUnionist

    Morpheus that is not the question I asked. What was the stance to the GFA and referendum. Did they support it or not???

  • Morpheus


    1. We, the participants in the multi-party negotiations, believe that the agreement we have negotiated offers a truly historic opportunity for a new beginning.

    2. The tragedies of the past have left a deep and profoundly regrettable legacy of suffering. We must never forget those who have died or been injured, and their families. But we can best honour them through a fresh start, in which we firmly dedicate ourselves to the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance, and mutual trust, and to the protection and vindication of the human rights of all.

    3. We are committed to partnership, equality and mutual respect as the basis of relationships within Northern Ireland, between North and South, and between these islands.

    4. We reaffirm our total and absolute commitment to exclusively democratic and peaceful means of resolving differences on political issues, and our opposition to any use or threat of force by others for any political purpose, whether in regard to this agreement or otherwise.

    5. We acknowledge the substantial differences between our continuing, and equally legitimate, political aspirations. However, we will endeavour to strive in every practical way towards reconciliation and rapprochement within the framework of democratic and agreed arrangements. We pledge that we will, in good faith, work to ensure the success of each and every one of the arrangements to be established under this agreement. It is accepted that all of the institutional and constitutional arrangements – an Assembly in Northern Ireland, a North/South Ministerial Council, implementation bodies, a British-Irish Council and a British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and any amendments to British Acts of Parliament and the Constitution of Ireland – are interlocking and interdependent and that in particular the functioning of the Assembly and the North/South Council are so closely inter-related that the success of each depends on that of the other.

    6. Accordingly, in a spirit of concord, we strongly commend this agreement to the people, North and South, for their approval.”

    What relevance does it have on this thread?

  • mr x


    If Sinn Fein wants peace why send its thugs round Castlederg?

  • “The Orange State is dead, as is a ‘Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people’ because Northern Ireland now belongs to all of the people of Northern Ireland.”


    Yes it is, but for now the people of Northern Ireland, including those that claim membership in the Irish nation, are one of four parts that make up the UK instead of part of a 32-county entity and it is high time that Sinn Fein recognize that reality and whatever its aspirations for the future stop pretending otherwise.

    “They are perfectly entitled to bring in their own furniture and redecorate a little to make it more homely because for a very long time it simply wasn’t.”

    The Union flag may be a sectarian symbol to some but it is also the flag of the country that NI is part of and hence belongs over public buildings on designated days. In the house that I rent with others we all decorate our own rooms as we wish, but common rooms are common property and we all know whom we are paying rent to.

  • Morpheus

    Mr X

    I find what went on in Castlederg just as reprehensible as you do but for me that was about one thing only, holding up a mirror just in time for the Haass talks. Judging from the reaction what Unionism saw staring back at them wasn’t at all pretty. The ‘leaders’ who shouted loudest were the same ones who remained silent at the annual UVF parade for 4 guys who blew themselves up in their way to bomb the town – sound familiar? – and those same ‘leaders’ either remained silent on the UVF parade for Brian Robinson or embarassingly mumbled some guff about not knowing anything about it. To many Castlederg was unacceptable but it sure as hell broadcast the gross hypocrisy which exists in Northern Ireland. The same Castlederg, with a significant Catholic majority has ‘hosted’ 5 OO parades, 3 Black parades, 5 Apprentice Boys, 7 Loyalist Band Parades and a Union flag parade without restriction since January 1st. That doesn’t make the SF parade right but it does offer perspective.

    The people of Northern Ireland will democratically decide what does and does not fly outside public buildings in the same way as they do all over the UK. Why you feel Belfast City Hall should be different to any other part of the UK and go against Crown recommendation is beyond me.

    I agree with you last paragraph right up until the last few words – common areas should be neutral and not dominated. But you need to remember that everyone in the house we are talking about is a joint owner, there is no ‘tenants agreement’ here.

  • SK

    A few Christmases ago, the unionist parties in Belfast City council saw fit to oppose the inclusion of something as innocuous as a ‘Happy Christmas’ sign on council property for the simple reason that it happened to be written in Irish. A few months later the union flag came down.

    it may not be within nationalisms gift to raise tricolours over official buildings, but what they can deliver is a policy of complete cultural sterility should unionists not come around to the idea of accepting the odd bit of fenian symbolism here and there.

  • Morpheus

    The changing of the flag flying policy was in discussion for close on a decade before it was actually changed SK – I don’t think the ‘Happy Christmas’ sign was much to do with it.

    ‘Cultural sterility’ is overstating the situation significantly. I don’t see anything wrong with being neutral and welcoming to all in the absence of equality, especially on this tiny piece of land. I would strongly endorse something new that we can all get behind in the same way as Scotland has The Saltire, Wales has Y Ddraig Goch and England has the St George’s Cross.

  • cynic2

    I am all for a new dispensation Gerry.

    Lets start with one where Child Rape isn’t covered up and the victims don’t have to wait 20 years for justice then hear you twisting and evading at the trial of their abusers

  • cynic2


    Wasn’t that what they said BEFORE they robbed the Northern Bank?

    And what about all those guns and that Semtex they said they had destroyed but we now know that they didn’t and some it has now made its way to the dissidents?

    Then there was all the smuggling, cigarette hijacking and murders of people like McCartney along with the odd alleged local drug dealer (or as Mo would have said ‘housekeeping’)

  • Red Lion

    Well done to John McCallister. Moderate but assertive, and very well articulated I think reflective of what a lot of people in Northern Ireland believe.

    Very good to hear John’s view of modern Northern Irishness articulated to an audience outside NI.

    I would very much like to hear either John or Basil speak at a meeting of the ‘Better Together’ campaign in Scotland.

  • sherdy

    Good on you, John for taking part in this event.
    But ou seem to think that because things have improved we should put the brakes on.
    Try to cast off the remainder of your old unionist nature and open your eyes and your mind to possibilities which are not limited by history.
    You might even find that you will enjoy the possibility of blue sky thinking – even true blue!

  • paulG

    Mr X, What makes you think Sinn Fein simply want peace?

    Catholics, Nationalists and Republicans had ‘peace’ for 50 years. If they wanted to remain second class citizens,discriminated against and disenframchised, they could have returned to that at any time since 69, and they Unionists would happily have repositioned they jack boot where it had been.

    They want Equlity and Justice first with Peace and hopefully Unity consequent to that.

    Castlederg held up the mirror to unionism and surprise surprise…, they didn’t like what they saw.

    When the anger subsides they may just realise how insulting their militaristic marches have been and find some way that marches (if they still be deemed necessary) can take place without causing offence or carrying threat.

  • “I agree with you last paragraph right up until the last few words – common areas should be neutral and not dominated. But you need to remember that everyone in the house we are talking about is a joint owner, there is no ‘tenants agreement’ here.”


    To whom are taxes (rent) paid and who then uses that to then fund repairs to the common house?

  • Morpheus

    All the people of Northern Ireland pay their taxes and as such have the right to democratically decide if common areas should be neutral or not. What issue do you have with common areas being neutral and welcoming to all the citizens of Northern Ireland?

  • Morpheus

    tmitch57, straight question: are Catholics joint-owners of Northern Ireland or are they tenants in Northern Ireland?

  • @Morpheus,

    They are in the same position as Protestants: both are tenants with the power to choose jointly who the landlord is.

  • ThomasPaine

    SF’s non-use of “Northern Ireland” is every bit as ridiculous as unionists’ use of “Ulster” and “The Province” as substitutes for Northern Ireland.

    McCallister is one of the few good guys in politics in NI. And in this speech we see why. Respectful, articulate, confrontational but not for its own sake and sensible.

    But his disagreement on SF’s wish for a new Ireland is strange. SF want a united Ireland, hence a new Ireland. What a shock. McCallister is correct in that we do live in a different Ireland, a new Ireland, a new Northern Ireland since 1998. But SF want a new, New Ireland. Nothing wrong with wanting that as there are so many problems facing us today, south of the border as well as north.

    However the only way to sort such issues out is for the people of NI to show the same respect and goodwill towards each other as McCallister displays.

    Even if there was a monumental shift in opinion for a united Ireland and a reunification referendum was a success, we’d still be left with a crisis as loyalists simply wouldn’t accept it, no matter how democratic the process would be. See 1912, 1914 and 1918 for proof, as well as modern political unionism’s “no comment” when they are asked if they would stand by the will of the people if reunification was voted for (despite signing up for it in the GFA/SAA).

    Craig’s “Protestant Parliament and a Protestant State” is gone. As is De Valera’s almost equally vile “Catholic government for a Catholic people” down south. But still we have serious problems that mostly arise out of loyalism’s backward, defensive, paranoid, always-under-siege, hypocritical mentality.

    And until we all sort that out together, we will never have a new Ireland, united, United or not.

  • Red Lion

    Thomas, I think we will always have the polarised fringe, both republican and loyalist, who will not settle for anything less than their absolutes.

    Moving along the spectrum Sinn Fein and DUP/UUP have a habit to whip up these polarised fringes whenever it regularly suits them.

    Until this ‘whipping up’ and manipulation of the more-fringe positions by so called parties of government, SF/DUP etc, we will be going nowhere.

    I see John’s statement, and NI21 in general, as a challenge to so-called mainstream parties to quit adopting polarised positions for short-term party political ends. He is right to do so.

    Even better, it would be great if voters stopped quit such SF/DUP behaviour, and in future gave the likes of John and NI21 a chance.

  • Seamuscamp

    Is JMcC saying that the current dispensation – flegs, parades, riots, sectarian politics, paramilitary drug-running, extra-legal punishments etc – is the last word in evolution? Like we said at school: “Be reasonable, see it my way.”