London conference tackles challenges to Irish peace process

by Theo Russell

AROUND 300 people attended the conference “Towards a new Ireland” in north London on Saturday which was addressed by Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who said that 15 years after the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) there is still strong resistance from many sides to implementing the agreement in full.

Adams said: “There are still those within the unionist leaderships, the British political system, and on the fringes of nationalism who are fighting a rear-guard action, seeking to destabilise, to dilute and to obstruct” the agreement.”

He pointed out there is still no Bill of Rights in the north, no Irish Language Act, and no north-south consultative forum Meanwhile: “In the week that saw the Finucane family bury their mother Kathleen, the British government has reneged on the commitment to hold an inquiry into the murder of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane.

“Recently in parts of Belfast we have seen the most naked sectarian elements of unionism stirred up for short term political purpose,” he added involving the Orange Order in alliance with the UVF and the PUP. He said Unionist leaders had failed to stand up to this “organised sectarian violence”.

Describing partition in 1921 as “an act of grave, grave terrorism”, Adams said a referendum on the border, provided for in the GFA, would be “an opportunity to focus on the future and to build a modern, dynamic new Ireland.” He pointed out that out that London and Dublin have been silent on this.

The meeting was also addressed by Unionist MP John McCallister, former deputy leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, who broke away to set up NI21, a non-sectarian, pro-union party which supports gay marriage. He said Sinn Féin’s call for a border poll was “distinctly odd,” claiming it has virtually no popular backing.

McCallister was strongly challenged by Labour MP Diane Abbott, who said: “The border is best understood as an issue of colonialism and is one of the major unresolved issues for the peace of the whole of Ireland. Only when it has been resolved can the tragedy of austerity in Ireland be confronted.”

About 20 people from the “Justice for the 21” campaign for victims of the Birmingham pub bombings held a loud protest outside the venue, the London Irish Centre in Camden.

Police intervened when the protesters shouted abuse at peace campaigner Colin Parry, whose son was killed by an IRA bomb in Warrington and who also spoke at the conference. Parry, who had attempted to talk to the protestors, said: “The idea that I am some kind of IRA apologist is disgraceful.”

Alongside the Birmingham campaigners, according to Ireland’s RTE TV: “A group of far right-wingers carrying a loyalist flag confronted Sinn Féin members and sympathisers and accused them of attending a ‘murderers’ covenant’.”