Aim of 'united Irelandism' is not to unsettle unionists


OPINION:Sinn Féin politicians are working hard on behalf of unionists in their constituencies, writes GERRY ADAMS.

SO DAVY Adams reckons that Sinn Féin’s commitment to a united Ireland is little more than a strategy “to keep unionism in a constant state of anxiety and upheaval” (Opinion and Analysis, June 18th). Or so he says.

This assertion is as inaccurate as his claims that I ignore the unionists of West Belfast. According to Davy: “When he isn’t being insulting or patronising, he studiously ignores them. Like the substantial unionist minority within his own parliamentary constituency for whom, to the best of my knowledge, he has yet to provide a single job, or indeed lobby on their behalf for anything.”

To the best of his knowledge. A few phone calls about Sinn Féin’s constituency service would make Davy very knowledgeable indeed. It is an open secret that we are very diligent on all these issues, and not in a clientelist way. But then it’s easier to tilt at windmills than face up to truths.

The truth is many working class unionist areas in West Belfast and other places have been abandoned by the great and the good. With the exception of some church and community representatives, including women’s groups and some very fine teachers, most proud unionist heartlands are left to their own devices. Old friends of Davy’s like Johnny Adair and John White were left to rule these particular roosts. For our part, Sinn Féin and mé féin are doing our best to work with citizens in these neighbourhoods.

Examples of this work include the establishment of the West Belfast and Shankill Task Force; lobbying in support of the creation of an Employment Services Coard; job assist centres; a programme for children and young people, creating up to 90 jobs in West Belfast, including the Shankill; an Enterprise Council; ongoing work with educationalists and schools in the greater Shankill area; intense lobbying on suicide prevention work.

There is also work on behalf of citizens in a number of smaller unionist neighbourhoods. And most recently work on behalf of employees at the Visteon plant, including many who told me privately that they were unionists.

I do this work because I am the representative of all the people of West Belfast, not just republican voters. I do my best to represent everyone and to act as advocate for people in trouble, particularly working class people. That is my duty. It is their entitlement.

Secondly it is my view that unionists in places like West Belfast, where they are in a minority, will judge how they might be treated in a united Ireland by how they are treated in these constituencies.

Thirdly, I am very mindful about the hurt that all of us have inflicted. Davy will also, I believe, be mindful of this. He was in a delegation representing unionist paramilitaries in talks leading to the Good Friday Agreement and I always found him decent and straightforward.

And so to Davy’s assertion that our united Irelanding is all about unsettling unionists. Nonsense. Unsettled unionism is in no one’s interests. A lot of what Sinn Féin is doing is about trying to get unionism to engage with the rest of us constructively and on the basis of equality. There’s the rub.

Davy knows this. He also knows, or he should, that political unionism has the capacity to unsettle itself when faced with embracing equality. But embrace equality it must if there is to be a settled future. In my view unionist grassroots know this. And a settled future has to include the prospect of a united Ireland. This is a big challenge. For those of us who want it. And for those who don’t. Dodging the issue won’t make it go away. Far better to engage properly on the issues, including the feelings of northern unionists.

Gerry Adams is MP and MLA for West Belfast