Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has stated that talk of a soft Irish border after Brexit is nonsense, saying it “will be a hard border” if the British government has its way. Adams was speaking in New York to IrishCentral in an exclusive and wide-ranging interview.
“The British are very good at looking after their national interest. If the British government has its way all the talk about soft border, invisible border is nonsense. It’s the frontier between the European Union and the non-European Union and it is on the island of Ireland.
“It will be a hard border and that will be devastating for everybody, the island economically, in terms of the Good Friday agreement, protections that are there for human rights.”
He wants the Irish government to up the ante in discussions with Britain.
“I have made the case quite a few times that the Irish government not be mesmerized by what the British might be going to do. We should focus on what we want to do. What we have argued for is a special designated status for the North. That means tackling the British and our government won’t do that.
“The people in the North have voted to stay in the European Union and I am very critical of the European Union, but the prospect of one part of the island being in and one being out just is just too dire and you need to swallow your reservations and stick with what the people in the North look for.”
He added, “What the Irish government appear to be doing is seeking a specially designated status for the North outside the European Union as opposed to a designated state in the European Union.”
Orange Order marches
With the annual 12th of July celebrations looming, Adams revealed he had also written to the leadership of the Orange Order requesting an urgent meeting to discuss the celebrations and stated he would go to any Orange Hall in Northern Ireland to do so.
Adams stated, “I’ve written a letter to the Grand Master of the Orange Order seeking a meeting. I’m happy going to any Orange Hall in the North to meet them.
“I think they just have to get real. Obviously Orange is part of our tradition and the Orange Order is an all-Ireland body. It’s one of our national colors. It is clearly one of our biggest challenges that all of us need to meet to get that unity between orange and green.
“It has to be done in the name of equality and we have to have people within the Orange Order standing up and seeking to transform that part of their lives and to get rid of the sectarian part that is in it.
“I remember very clearly where there was a huge Orange march in County Donegal and about four or five years ago I remember listening to an interview of the Grand Master on Radio Ulster. He was asked how come this can go off with cheerfulness and people have a good day out and all of that while over the border it’s very tense and he said, “We don’t threaten anyone here.” I thought that was a very honest sort of exposure of what the problem really is."
Adams stated the massive Orange bonfires around the 12th have also become a real health and safety hazard.
“I think a very interesting thing to focus on is the burning of these bonfires. They’re colossal. They are stories-high and they’re beside residential streets and also hospitals and highways. They burn literally thousands of tires and if people want bonfires, and it’s not my taste, but if they want them it should be done in a very supervised way, some space set aside for it.
Sinn Fein policy on abstention from Westminster
“It’s first of all not an issue in the party at all. I personally would be a very strong advocate for active abstentionism. It’s a talking point if we are, for example, challenging to get seats. Once we get the seats it disappears. For the constituents involved they realized the Sinn Fein MP [Member of Parliament] works just as hard and is as able to make presentations and so on.”
He said, “More nationalists and republicans voted for Sinn Fein than at any time ever in the history of the state. The Westminster election was clearly evidence of people turning their backs on Westminster. Ireland is the center of political gravity and how we can shape that is a big challenge.”
Restoration of North Assembly
As for Sinn Fein being happy without an assembly in the North, Adams is adamant that is not so.
“I’d like to think that in the summer there is some sort of reflection done because we are very firm in this – we want institutions in place. Any suggestion we have some other strategy is wrong. We don’t.
"You read lazy journalism writing about Sinn Fein not wanting the institutions in the North because it will affect the South, but all of that is just wrong. The situation in the North has polarized politically and I’m strongly of the view that there needs to be a space to moderate that which would be in the Assembly.
“Stagnation doesn’t help our strategy. It might actually in a way suit unionism, but it doesn’t suit a forward momentum. What we are very firm about is that we are not going into the assembly unless agreements that have already been made are implemented (Irish language act, bill of rights, a range of issues.)”
“A big issue now is marriage equality because the majority of the assembly now would favor marriage equality and the DUP are against that, which is fair enough that’s their entitlement, but they misuse some of the mechanisms that are there to safeguard the majority.”
Ireland’s new Taoiseach
On Ireland’s new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Adams is adopting a wait and see attitude.
“I would be a bit concerned that you're going to have a manufactured image of a taoiseach. How much of it is real? He is quite conservative in his views and I don’t know if he has any understanding of the North. I’ve asked him to get to know the North, its people, Sinn Fein, the unionists. The results count in all of this. When you have the opportunity to be a prime minister or taoiseach you come to understand the issues of the partition of the North just has to be tackled.”