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Irish America holds the key to a united Ireland.
That's according to Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, who was speaking at the annual Sinn Fein forum in San Francisco on Saturday.
Speaking to a crowd of over 400 people at St. Anne's Hall, Adams said that Irish Americans and the Irish Diaspora would be crucial in any attempt to unite the 32 counties.
"This generation can make that dream a reality," Adams said, "That means not just dreaming about or singing about it, but actually doing something about it."
Social media will form a crucial part of Sinn Fein's outreach. The new PR campaign will use Twitter and YouTube to virtually unite major American cities on St. Patrick's Day in calling for a "united Ireland."
"Now is the time to take the unification of Ireland to the next level," said Pat Uniacke, chairman of the San Francisco chapter of the Gaelic Athletic Association.
"I believe the Irish Diaspora and Irish America have a critical role in our quest to a united Ireland." He added that there will be many obstacles along the way, but that forums such as the ones in San Francisco and New York City will provide new insight and serve as stepping stones in the process.
"Irish unity is bigger than Sinn Fein," Adams said, calling it both a national and international issue." A Sinn Fein task force is planning forums throughout Ireland, as well as events in Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and in continental Europe. He added that this new process would require more "thoughtful strategies," including a huge outreach to "Unionist brothers and sisters."
Along with Sinn Fein, which organized the event, other participating organizations included the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Irish Northern Aid, and the Irish American Unity Conference.
"Its an initiative that seeks to create an all-island dialogue, which must be open to all ideas," said Robert Ballagh, an Irish artist and political activist. Ballagh added that he is confident that this initiative can succeed.
Adams acknowledged that there are still many obstacles including political differences and sectarianism that have yet to be overcome.
And, Ballagh added; "There will be those who will enthusiastically support such a proposal," Ballagh added, continuing that "there will also be those who immediately oppose such a proposition."
"Far more troubling is the resistance that will come from both the Irish government and most of the southern establishment," Ballagh said.
Actress Fionnula Flanagan said that many issues needed to be addressed in Ireland including substance and addicition issues as well as the political issues.
She said that the concept of a united Ireland had moved from being an unspoken issue to being understood as a disease needing open dialogue and treatment.
John Burton, chairman of the California State Democratic Party, said he is looking into putting together a resolution calling for a united Ireland at the party's next executive board meeting.
"Whatever we can do, we will do until Ireland is a united nation once again," Burton said.
Diarmuid Philpott, president of the United Irish Societies of San Francisco, said that he and his organization are in favor of a united Ireland, but pressing issues like the weak economy need to be addressed as well.
"In the south of Ireland, we need an economic plan. In the north of Ireland, we need an economic plan," said. "We need that kind of a plan to explain to the people what Sinn Fein is doing for an all-Ireland. If we get that, we can move forward."
Irish journalist Eamonn Gormley, said that one of the problems is the Catholic Church influence. "It should be a secular state and reflect the Ireland of today, which includes Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and atheists."
Lisa Scott, a community activist from Los Angeles who cited her home city has one of the most diverse in the world, suggested reaching out to other ethnic community groups for help as well. "There's lot of education that needs to be done," she said, adding that many Americans don't realize know about current issues in Ireland. "I want to encourage people to talk to other communities and use media to do that."
Adams responded to the comments and suggestions from the crowd, noting that one strategy would be to follow a major social media campaign similar to those used in during the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign. He also noted that one of the strategies strongly advocated at the forums in both New York and San Francisco was the push for municipal and state legislature resolutions and referendums across the country.
"This isn't a talking shop," he concluded, telling the audience, " to take these ideas and the ones that suit you as individuals or your organizations or agency, and then make them a reality. That will be the mark of the success or failure of this initiative.