PRESIDENT OF Sinn Féin Mary Lou McDonald has addressed Irish people in Australia, saying that they have been "badly let down," but that she hopes they will be able to return to home "and be part of the new Ireland that we must build."
Addressing the National Press Club of Australia as part of the many engagements Ms McDonald is having across the country this week, she spoke about several issues facing Ireland, particularly emigration, Brexit, unity and the changing political landscape of Ireland.
"I want to take this opportunity to speak directly to the generation of Irish people who are today building a life for yourselves here in Australia," McDonald said.
"Many of you have made your homes here and you will stay. We are very proud of you; proud of the immense contribution you make to Australian society."
She noted how Jim Stynes, a Gaelic footballer from her home city of Dublin emigrated to Australia and became one of the AFL's all-time greats.
"Such was the esteem in which he was held, he was afforded a state funeral in Melbourne when he tragically passed away in 2012.
"His inspiring legacy reflects the trailblazing influence of those Irish who make Australia their home.
However, McDonald recognised a different story of Irish emigration, "a story of the frustration and the anger of many young Irish people who feel robbed of a life in Ireland.
"I know you have been badly let down, particularly by a housing system characterised by unaffordable homes and extortionate rents, by living costs that were out of control long before we experienced the inflationary crisis of today.
"I understand that you are heartbroken that your hard work and potential could have been wasted had you stayed at home.
"You want to be with your friends, with your family, with your communities, playing for your home GAA club."
She urged Irish people in Australia to enjoy their time in the country, but asked them to return home to be part of a new Ireland that is in the process of being made.
A wonderful welcome at the Parliament of Western Australia today. Many thanks to Speaker Michelle Roberts and President of Legislative Council Alanna Clohessy for hosting us. Great to meet members and ministers with such a huge connection to and interest in Ireland. pic.twitter.com/q9Qu0MUAcf
— Mary Lou McDonald (@MaryLouMcDonald) July 18, 2022
Ms McDonald thanked the nation of Australia for accepting Irish people into society, "for the fair go and the boundless opportunities, for the new lives created and the families raised in this special land."
"It is true to say that for a great many Irish people, Australia has been their light on the hill.
She also recognised how Ireland is changing, making reference to the Marriage Equality referendum in 2015 and the repeal of the Eighth Amendment in 2018.
The partition of Ireland one hundred years ago, she said, was "catastrophic."
"In the northern Six Counties, a one-party State excluded nationalists from power, denied them opportunity and subjected them to sectarian pogrom.
"While the south became a deeply conservative place, which marginalised women, the poor, and political progressives."
"A new generation is moving on together - a fact underscored by the result of the Northern Assembly Election in May in which Sinn Féin emerged as the largest party.
"It was a vote for equality, for progress and for real partnership. It was the vote of a generation.
"Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill, a nationalist woman, has been elected as First Minister in a state that was designed to ensure that this could never ever happen."
Commenting on the 2020 general election, which saw Sinn Féin win more votes than other parties, she said it "fundamentally changed the Irish political landscape."
"While the establishment parties clubbed together to deny the people a government for change, Sinn Féin now, for the first time, leads an opposition that stands up for them every day.
"Sinn Féin is leading change right across Ireland. The prospect of Sinn Féin leading government, north and south, is now very real."
Walking in the steps of Fenian rebels at Fremantle Prison. Meeting with the Irish community, enjoying the hospitality of @KidogoArthouse and a warm First Nation welcome @BarryCorrIACC @IrishChamber pic.twitter.com/FfCLTFG5DZ
— Mary Lou McDonald (@MaryLouMcDonald) July 19, 2022
Ms McDonald described Brexit as "toxic and divisive" and said that there "is no goof Brexit for Ireland."
"Throughout the Brexit negotiations with the EU, the British government has used Ireland’s peace, our political stability and our prosperity as bargaining chips.
"However, the Irish Protocol, negotiated and agreed by Britain and the EU, limits the worst impacts of Brexit and protects the Good Friday Agreement, the All-Ireland economy, and prevents a hard border on our island.
"Yet it has been the agenda of successive Tory Prime Ministers, including the departing Boris Johnson, to turn their backs on their agreements, sowing confrontation rather than good will."
She described Johnson's interactions with Ireland as "wholly negative," and said his successor must change direction and re-engage with the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.
On unity, Ms McDonald said Ireland needs international friends like Australia to join the country on its journey.
"We ask our friends to be energetic and proactive in advocating for Irish Unity at every opportunity.
"Unifying Ireland is not about reclaiming territory. It is about uniting our people. It is about building the Irish nation anew.
"Sinn Féin’s vision for Ireland is of a country where you are celebrated when you are at your strongest and supported in your weaker moments.
"A country where, as you Australians would say, every person gets a fair go."
If you missed out on today's @MaryLouMcDonald - Leader of Sinn Féin & Leader of the Opposition in the Irish Parliament #NPC @Westpac Address or would like to rewatch visit https://t.co/WbYIcAo8vo
Photo Credit - @GaryRamagePhoto pic.twitter.com/twKn3PjQaZ
— National Press Club (@PressClubAust) July 20, 2022
As part of her trip to Australia, McDonald has taken part in an intensive series of engagements in Perth, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Brisbane.
During the trip she briefed federal and state representatives, delivered a keynote address to the National Press Club in Canberra and spoke at events hosted by the Irish Australian Chamber of Commerce and the Sydney Chapter of Trinity Alumni.
She also met with trade union leaders, representatives of indigenous organisations and attended Irish community events.
She also met with young Irish people, including construction workers and nurses.