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Jeremy Corbyn’s Northern Ireland speech: May 24th 2018

The full text may be read here. Some points made follow:

Twenty years ago, this week, the people of Northern Ireland and of the Republic of Ireland voted in a referendum to accept the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. That vote changed the course of history on this island and represented the clearing of the final hurdle of a long and difficult process that opened the door to two decades of sustained peace.

Many young people across Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain do not remember a time when the bloody hand of conflict held a grip on our respective lands. Communities from Derry to Omagh to Warrington were afflicted by the plague of violence for a generation, leaving deep and long-lasting scars for all those who lived through those troubled times.

All too often in that period, the willingness to use force and reach for weapons instead of dialogue and diplomacy inflicted unnecessary suffering on innocent people.

So as we rightly celebrate the anniversary of the end to those years of violence, it’s important we remember the effort and determination it took on all sides to get where we are today.

I stand here as leader of the British Labour Party, a party that is proud of the part it played in helping to bring peace and stability to this region. Something many believed could never be achieved.

The transformation we have seen in Belfast alone since 1998 is remarkable. I visited this city long before today’s peace became a reality and have witnessed the very visible and cultural transformation that has taken place here.

After paying tribute to Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams, men who led the Republican movement from conflict to negotiation and diplomacy, arts they both mastered in the cause of peace, Corbyn added: “I can’t think of a greater sign of the progress made over the last two decades, when at Martin’s funeral last year, not only were there people in attendance from republican and nationalist communities, but also representatives of the loyalist and unionist side, including First Minister Arlene Foster. It is also right to recognise the work of the British and Irish government leaders of the time, whose determination made the impossible possible. For that, both Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair should both be given credit for their work.”

He also extolled the work of Mo Mowlam in negotiating the peace process, continuing: “I have always believed that to bring about real change, to end conflict, to bring communities together, you have to talk to people with whom you don’t agree. In 1998 we were fortunate to have leaders who were prepared to put that principle into practice . . .

“It was essential we recognised the traditions of each community and recognised and respected the identity of people on either side of the divide. This was and still is important for strong and healthy long-term relationships here, across communities and across borders. Perhaps where the agreement was at it boldest was in its radical reform of Northern Ireland’s political and institutional structures, as well as in creating a framework for North-South relations, and the relationship between Britain and the Republic of Ireland. That gave all parties a basis to find a route out of a generation of conflict together.

“For all the current problems and deadlock, there can be no doubt that devolution and power-sharing have given every community a voice and helped maintain the peace process.

He added that the move to establish the Northern Ireland Victims Commission helped both to promote reconciliation and preserve the memory of victims, bringing a new beginning and laying the ground for the vital work of decommissioning of arms and the removal of military infrastructure.

Looking at Stormont’s achievements, Corbyn noted that it had resisted many of the worst aspects of the government’s punitive social security policies using the powers provided by devolution.

His message to the people of this island: “Labour is as committed to the Good Friday Agreement as we have ever been. It has served us well for twenty years and, with commitment and determination, will provide us with the framework for the next 20. And with that in mind I want to make a plea to all parties and all sides. We must do all we can to make power sharing work again in Stormont. We need all sides to come together and make devolution work again. That means tough choices. It means compromise and give and take. But we owe it to the people of these islands not to allow political disagreements to open the way for any return to the grim days of the past”.

Stormont must be an example throughout the world of how dialogue, negotiation and diplomacy can defeat conflict. Now let’s show we can continue to build on that peace through democracy.

He called on the UK government to reconvene the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference if the current stalemate in Stormont cannot be sorted out in Belfast and to find a creative solution in the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement that avoids a return to direct Westminster rule, and lays the ground for further progress for all communities.

Peace can and must be extended through real social and economic advances for all communities, with the state at regional and national level prepared to act to bring about a full-scale upgrade of the economy.

A Labour government in Westminster would make sure that Northern Ireland has more money to invest in its people and its public services, though many economic decisions for Northern Ireland would rightly be decided in Stormont,

He gave a commitment to supporting manufacturing in Northern Ireland and to reverse the decision to put the £1 billion contract to build the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships out to international tender, in order to keep jobs and prosperity in Britain’s shipyards and benefit Belfast. Northern Ireland can have a high tech, high skilled and exciting future.

Brexit, and the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland must be discussed, in particular the securing of future prosperity and peace on these islands:

“Labour will not support any Brexit deal that includes the return of a hard border to this island . . . By negotiating a new and comprehensive customs union with the EU, which includes a British say in future trade deals, we can ensure trade on this island stays frictionless and free flowing and prevent communities being divided . . . Opposition to the idea of bringing back a hard border to this land isn’t just about avoiding paperwork or tariffs, important though that is. It’s about deep rooted cultural and community ties. An open border is a symbol of peace, two communities living and working together after years of conflict, communities who no longer feel that their traditions are under threat”.

He emphasised that, as we leave the European Union, it is essential to ensure our manufacturers have access to markets and on-time supply chains and the communities of Northern Ireland continue to have access to vital funding for energy, research, agriculture and cultural projects.

Powers returned from Brussels to intervene, upgrade and reshape our economy for the 21st century may be used to deliver real social and economic advances for all our communities.

He ended:

I’m proud to be here in Belfast as leader of the Labour party, a party with a strong record in helping to deliver peace and greater prosperity. I hope to use this visit to talk to people from different communities and listen to their concerns and hopes for the future. We are here to celebrate twenty years of peace, twenty years as an example to the rest of the world of how communities can turn conflict into co-operation.

Let’s work together in the spirit of friendship, co-operation and hope for another twenty and beyond.

 

 

 

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