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The McGuinness Principles reaffirmed in New York

Sinn Féin’s representative to the U.S., Rita O’Hare, holds the middle ground at the Labor Coalition gathering. John Samuelson is front row on the left.


By Gerry Adams

Last Friday the Irish American James Connolly Labor Coalition organized a luncheon meeting of trade union leaders in Manhattan, mainly from New York, to introduce them to and seek their endorsement of the McGuinness Principles.

There was a good crowd, good food and good craic. Additional tables were rolled out as more and more trade union delegations arrived.

By the time John Samuelson, the International President of the Transportation Workers Union, called the meeting to order the room was packed.

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John said a few words of introduction and I spoke about the many connections between Ireland and the USA, the McGuinness Principles, and Sinn Féin’s campaign for a unity referendum and a united Ireland.

Irish American Labor leaders played a positive role in the political momentum in the USA and in supporting the peace process.

Many of the great trade union leaders in American history have their family roots in Ireland. Leaders like Mary “Mother” Jones and Peter Maguire, Mathew Maguire and Mike Quill and many others.

That tradition has been carried on to this generation. Leaders like Terry O’Sullivan, the General President of LiUNA, (the Laborers International Union of North America), John Samuelson, Jim Callaghan President of the International Union of Operating Engineers, and Mary Kay Henry, International President of the Service Employees International Union, are all proud Irish American labor leaders. Joe Jamison was one of the Irish Americans for a new Irish agenda in the 1990s.

These same leaders are enormously proud also of their connection with James Connolly and have contributed to keeping alive his spirit and legacy. Currently in Belfast they are supporting the new Áras Uí Chonghaile – the James Connolly Interpretative Centre – which will be at the junction of the Falls Road and St. James Park, close to where James Connolly and his family lived.

Connolly was a hugely influential trade union activist in America. He lived in the USA for seven years where he helped establish the “Independent Workers of the World.” Connolly understood the importance of workers standing together, united against injustice and oppression.

In Belfast he organized the workers of the city, and especially the linen slaves - those thousands of young women who worked in hellish conditions in the mills - which were the backbone of Belfast’s economy.

During the Great Lockout of 1913, in the city of Dublin, he and Big Jim Larkin led an epic struggle for worker’s rights. Larkin too spent time in the USA between 1913 and 1924. This involved three years in various New York prisons, including the notorious Sing Sing, after he was convicted of “criminal anarchy” for fighting for workers’ rights.

Irish American union leaders understand intellectually and emotionally that the cause of Ireland is the cause of labor and that the cause of labor is the cause of Ireland. When the talking at the luncheon was over there was an enthusiastic response as they lined up to sign the McGuinness Principles sitting on a stand to the side of the podium.

Many of these leaders had met Martin, either on his visits to the USA or their visits to Ireland. They admired and respected his efforts to build reconciliation, advance the rights of citizens, and promote peace and Irish unity.

The McGuinness Principles reflect Martin’s core values and the Good Friday Agreement. It is an initiative that was launched in April by an alliance of Irish American organizations. The McGuinness Principles were inspired by the Sullivan and MacBride Principles.

The Sullivan principles were developed in 1977 and are named after an African American preacher Rev. Leon Sullivan, who believed that by applying economic conditions on U.S. investment in South Africa that the apartheid regime could be brought to an end. In the 1970s, the principles called for equal and fair employment practices for all employees and equal pay for all employees doing equal or comparable work for the same period of time.

The MacBride Principles were based on the Sullivan Principles. They were about challenging institutional discrimination against Catholics in the North’s economy. In 1971, male Catholic unemployment was about two and a half times that of Protestant. Catholic women were twice as likely to be unemployed. Catholics were also pushed into low paid and unskilled employment.

Ten years later, and after five years of Britain’s Fair Employment Act, the 1981 figures revealed almost no change. The MacBride Campaign sought to put pressure on U.S. Companies with investments in the North through the enactment of state and municipal laws which would require the companies put the Principles into practice.

The nine MacBride Principles, which were named after Nobel Prize winner Sean MacBride, called for the banning of provocative religious and political emblems form the workplace; all job openings to be advertised publicly and special recruitment practices to attract applicants from under-represented religious groups; the establishment of procedures to assess, identify and actively recruit employees with potential for further advancement; managers appointed to oversee a company’s affirmative action efforts and the setting of timetables.

The Irish government and the SDLP actively worked with the British government in opposing the MacBride Campaign in the USA.

When late last year Irish American organizations began talking about how they could help secure the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and support efforts to advance Irish unity, they looked to these previous examples of successful campaigns. As a result, they agreed to launch a campaign around the McGuinness Principles.

These four core principles - equality, respect, truth and self-determination - seek to address the current difficulties in the political process by defending human rights, supporting equality for the Irish language, the victims of the conflict and their families, and endorsing the demand for a referendum on Irish unity. In summary the campaign seeks:

  • A Bill of Rights.

  • Full statutory equality for the Irish Language.

  • Funding for legacy inquests as part of the process of healing and reconciliation.

  • A referendum on Irish unity in keeping with the Good Friday Agreement.

In the few months that the campaign has been running it has attracted significant political support. The active endorsement of the Labor Movement in the USA is a crucial addition. If you want to know more about the McGuinness Principles log on to

Here are the Martin McGuinness Principles and some of his words, in quotes, about them:

“I believe we stand on the threshold of great change. Previous generations have struggled for a United Ireland. But our generation has the best opportunity to achieve it.”



“We have pressed consistently for the establishment of a Bill of Rights in the North and an all-Ireland Charter of Rights.”

The terms of the Good Friday Agreement called for the adoption of a Bill of Rights in the North of Ireland. Twenty years after the Good Friday Agreement was ratified by more than 70% of the voters in the North of Ireland and 94% of the people in the Republic there is still no Bill of Rights. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission was mandated to put forward recommendations. In 2008, the Commission made proposals to the UK government recommending the recognition of a broad range of social and economic rights. Successive British governments have failed to affirmatively act on these recommendations. Now, with significant opposition from within the British government to continuing to accept the jurisdiction of European human rights conventions, and a determination to scrap the Human rights Act, it becomes even more important that the rights of Ireland’s citizens in the North be protected when it comes to critical human rights issues.



“Successive British Governments…have totally failed to meet their obligations…to protect the rights of the Irish language community.”

The Good Friday Agreement affirmed “the importance of respect, understanding and tolerance in relation to linguistic diversity, including in Northern Ireland, the Irish language, Ulster-Scots and the languages of the various ethnic communities, all of which are part of the cultural wealth of the island of Ireland… the British Government will, in particular in relation to the Irish language, where appropriate and where people so desire it: take resolute action to promote the language; facilitate and encourage the use of the language in speech and writing in public and private life where there is appropriate demand …”

Eight years later, under the terms of the St. Andrews Agreement of 2006, the British Government committed to introduce an Act to give the Irish language official status equal to that accorded the Scots Gaelic and Welsh languages. They failed to honor this obligation, and the Democratic Unionist Party explicitly repudiated it. Subsequent DUP moves in government to defund Irish language study were a major contributing factor to the resignation of Martin McGuinness as Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister in 2017, when he cited that party’s lack of “respect” for the rights and cultural traditions of the Irish nationalist community in the North.



“Dealing with the legacy of the past remains one of the key outstanding challenges of our peace process. Unless it is dealt with in a comprehensive manner then the essential process of healing and reconciliation cannot gain momentum.

“Instead of working constructively to address the hurt and pain caused by the legacy of our recent conflict, the British Government has, at every turn, blocked and frustrated all efforts to reach a solution.”

Many victims of the conflict in the North and their families have waited decades to learn the full truth about what happened to them and their loved ones. Funding must be provided for proper inquests to move forward. The full story of collusion and cover-ups must be told, and those responsible for human rights abuses must be brought to justice.



“There is a democratic imperative to provide Irish citizens with the right to vote in a border poll on Irish unity to end partition and retain a role in the EU. A border poll on Irish unity is part of the process of building a modern and dynamic New Republic on this island – an agreed Ireland achieved by peaceful and democratic means.”

Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, the British Government committed to formally “recognize that it is for the people of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent…” Provisions were included for referenda on Irish unity, whose results would be given effect by the governmental parties to the Agreement. The Agreement went on to commit that the signatory parties (including the British Government) should not “make any change in the status of Northern Ireland save with the consent of a majority of its people”.

Despite the fact that Brexit clearly represents a “change in status” of Northern Ireland, and despite the fact that the people of the north voted by a large majority to reject Brexit and remain inside the European Union, the British government is determined to impose this very significant change (having potentially profound consequences for Ireland), on the people of Ireland north and south, against their democratically expressed wishes.

If the Good Friday Agreement’s commitments to self-determination are to have any meaning, the British Government must allow the Irish people the opportunity to determine their future.

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