From imprisonment to Belfast, chronicle of Oriol Junqueras’ journey to Ireland

The president of Esquerra Republicana and the vicesecretary general of international relations, Jordi Solé, visit Ireland to strengthen the alliance with Sinn Féin and to collaborate on strategies to resolve the political conflict between Catalonia and Spain

On Christmas Eve 2020, Gerry Adams, the former president of Sinn Féin and a key player in the negotiations that culminated in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement for the North of Ireland, appeared on a video conference screen in Lledoners prison. At the other end, behind bars, was Oriol Junqueras, the president of Esquerra Republicana convicted of sedition for having organized the referendum on 1 October 2017. Almost three years later, the conversation resumed face-to-face in Belfast, where, coincidentally, Adams was also imprisoned on Christmas 1973.

The meeting of the two republican leaders took place on Thursday, 26 October, as part of the visit that Oriol Junqueras and the Deputy Secretary General for International Relations of Esquerra Republicana, Jordi Solé, made to the Irish Republic and the North of Ireland to bolster cooperation with Sinn Féin and to collaborate in the negotiation strategies for the resolution of the political conflict between Catalonia and the Spanish State.

Throughout the week they have been meeting with the party's top leaders, including the president, Mary Lou McDonald, and national chairperson, Declan Kearney. “With Sinn Féin we share the wish for the future of our countries to be decided by the people in the ballot, the wish to generate wealth for our countries and for the world, and the wish to make fairer societies, with greater opportunities for everyone,” Mr Junqueras assured at the end of the meeting in statements to the media.

The historical links between the Irish and the Catalan peoples, the struggle for self-determination of both nations, the negotiation strategies that were used to reach the Good Friday Agreement, the amnesty and the referendum, are just some of the issues they addressed at the meeting held between the two leaders at the headquarters of Sinn Féin in Belfast. After a fruitful conversation, Mr Junqueras and Mr Adams decided to stay in touch and strengthen the collaboration.

In the hours following the meeting, Mr Junqueras and Mr Solé walked the streets of Belfast and witnessed first-hand
the memorial spaces in the streets of the city erected by each of the communities, the Protestant-Unionist and the Catholic-Republican, and that the two communities have learned to respect. And then the last political meeting of the trip: with the Speaker of the North of Ireland Assembly, Sinn Féin’s Alex Maskey.

With Sinn Féin we share the will that the future of our countries will be decided by our citizens by voting.
Oriol Junqueras President of Esquerra Republicana
  From imprisonment to Belfast, chronicle of Oriol Junqueras’ journey to Ireland

Start of the journey in Cork

The trip began on Monday, 23 October with a visit to the City Hall of the Irish city of Cork where Oriol Junqueras met with Sinn Féin municipal councillors. Esquerra’s leader presented them with a copy of the poem that [Catalan poet and politician] Ventura Gassol dedicated to playwright and author Terence MacSwiney, the Lord Mayor of Cork arrested in 1920 in Dublin by the occupying British authorities accused of “possession of seditious articles and documents.”

Meeting with the president of Sinn Féin

From there he travelled to Dublin, where on Tuesday he held the first of a series of political high-profile meetings with Sinn Féin’s president Mary Lou McDonald and the party’s Foreign Affairs spokesman Matt Carthy. Mr Junqueras had the opportunity to detail the work carried out relating to the negotiating table established between the Catalan Generalitat government and the government of Spain, as well as the need for an amnesty for those suffering retaliation by the Spanish State and the path to the independence of Catalonia.

In this regard, Mr Junqueras and Ms McDonald agreed to collaborate in the processes of social and national liberation of the Catalan and Irish peoples.

Belfast, the capital of the North of Ireland

In Belfast on Wednesday 25, Mr Junqueras and Mr Solé visited the Áras Ui Chonghaile visitor centre dedicated to the Irish trade union leader James Connolly, where they witnessed the coincidences in the struggle for the 8-hour working day fought in Catalonia, with the Barcelona Traction, Light and Power strike as one of the cornerstones, and in Ireland, under the leadership of James Connolly. “Connolly had been a member of the British army and had left to fight for the cause of workers and of Ireland. The parallel with Francesc Macià is obvious: he was also a colonel in the Spanish army and left to fight for the cause of Catalonia,” Mr Junqueras explained.

At the end of the visit, they met with Sinn Féin's national chairperson, Declan Kearney. They addressed fundamental issues, such as the exercise of the right to self-determination and the ways to achieve it in Catalonia, the positive trend that various sovereignist progressives are experiencing in countries such as Catalonia, the Basque Country and Ireland, as well as the strategies for negotiation in political conflicts, in which Kearney conveyed to Esquerra’s representatives how they learned from the experience of the African National Congress in South Africa.

In addition, they analysed how to establish links and collaboration in terms of research and economics. Indeed, Catalonia and Ireland have many economic similarities, with very open economies which feature export capacity, the ability to attract investments, and generate employment. At the same time, they suffer similar problems, such as the difficulty in accessing housing due to the soaring prices of rentals and mortgages, with a high level of gentrification in which many young people and the elderly have to leave the cities.

The coexistence of two communities

On Wednesday afternoon, Mr Junqueras and Mr Solé took the opportunity to visit the Lord Mayor of Belfast Ryan Murphy at the city hall of the capital of the North of Ireland. Belfast is a city divided into two communities, Catholic and Republican on the one hand, and Protestant and Loyalist, on the other.

During their conversation, they learned that the Lord Mayor, a member of Sinn Féin, the republican party par excellence, does not hesitate to participate in the celebrations of the Protestant community, which is why he goes to watch Protestant club football matches and participates in religious celebrations of both communities. “The City Hall building and the current mayor’s office are a symbol of how the two communities live together and how the relationships between them have changed,” concludes Mr Junqueras.