The auditorium at the Ontario Institute For Studies in Education (OISE) in Toronto was filled with Irish nationalism on Saturday.
Posters with photos of men and women such as Michael Collins, an Irish revolutionary leader and Bobby Sands, a hunger striker who was elected into the British government in the 1980s, were spread, among other Irish nationalists, along the stage.
At the podium in the middle of the stage, with a large white banner across the front stood, a bearded man with glasses and a thick Northern Irish accent.
Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein (www.sinnfein.ie), Ireland’s political party devoted to reunifying the north and south, calmly addressed the hundreds in attendance with a proclamation:
“Irish freedom and an end to British rule in Ireland has been the goal of generations of Irish people… I believe this generation can make it real,” he said.
Adams was speaking at the public forum sponsored by Friends of Sinn Fein Canada entitled: “A United Ireland: How do we get there?”
Alongside Adams, prominent speakers at the forum included former Solicitor General for Canada Warren Allmand, former Attorney General and minister of justice of Saskatchewan Chris Axworthy, Member of Parliament Charlie Angus and Manon Perron, secretary/treasurer of the Montreal executive of the Confederation of National Trade Unions.
But it was Adams who brought out the crowd and encouraged them to support Sinn Fein’s cause.
“For Sinn Fein, we’re not just about changing flags,” Adams said. “We want a real republic, a national democratic republic. It isn’t a matter of if we get a united Ireland… It’s a matter of when we get a united Ireland and how we get a united Ireland.
“So this conference should be about what you can do and what you can get others to do about re-uniting the people of our country.”
Adams said although the peace process and the overall state of things in Northern Ireland have improved since ‘the Troubles’, there remains work to be done.
“There are still rigid differences, attitudes, opinions, separate interests, bigotry and particularly sectarianism that have to be overcome,” he said.
Adams spoke of times when his involvement with a political party devoted to achieving Irish unity prevented him from travelling to certain places.
“Twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have been allowed and wasn’t allowed to come to Canada,” he said. “But that has changed. It’s changed because people like you have made it an issue.”
Adams said that Toronto is home to a large population of people who have supported and continue to support Irish unification and that continued support in Canada is vital.
“I find the people here are clued into what’s happening,” he said. “It will require thoughtful strategies, huge outreach to our unionist brothers and sisters and a patient process of nation building to unite orange and green, but it can be done and we can do it together.”
For the roomful of supporters who turned up to promote Irish unity, Adams ended with the idea that their efforts count, no matter how big or small, and their goal is in sight.
“This is an important moment here in Toronto,” he said. “It’s all of us together to make this happen. This is not just a conference here. This is a winning phase of our struggle and you people here can make a huge difference because our team is Ireland and we can win
“Whether you’re going off and doing your own thing in your own way, you’re on the winning team,” he said. “You have to have it in your head as we leave this hall today that we can win. Let’s go out and play the best game we can play across Canada.”