Speech by Gerry Adams to the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis, 1993
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Text of a speech by Gerry Adams, then President of Sinn Féin, to the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis, 1993.
"Fearaim fáilte romhaibh chuig an Ard Fheis seo. Bliain eile, bliain chrua, de streachailt ach táimid anseo go fóill agus táimid ar lorg ár gcearta agus ár saoirse. Beidh muid ann go mbainimid amach ár gcearta agus ár saoirse. Is é sin teachtaireacht na hArd Fheise seo. Tá Sinn Féin ann agus beidh Sinn Féin ann.
This is the 88th Ard Fheis of our party. It is also the centenary year of Conradh na Gaeilge. We extend solidarity and best wishes.
When Conradh na Gaeilge was founded the Irish language was still a living language in very large areas, but the decline was already well advanced – the language having been devastated by political, social and economic oppression throughout the 19th Century. The credit for arresting this decline and starting the fight-back goes to Conradh. The Irish people were alerted to what was being lost, and the complete extinction of the language was averted. Today, 100 years later, discrimination against the Irish language remains one of the hallmarks of the political administration in both the Six and 26 Counties. Despite this, the language has not only survived but the fight-back is obvious in the spread of Gaelscoileanna GAELIC ONLY SCHOOLS throughout the country. The Dublin government's attitude, its efforts to reduce the status of the language, is insulting, though hardly surprising. It would be a fitting, though belated gesture by that government to establish an Irish language television station immediately. We note however that no provision has been made for an Irish station in the government estimates published this week. An bhfuil feall eile le teacht? IS THERE ANOTHER BETRAYAL COMING?
For our part, we need to re-emphasise as Dr Douglas Hyde did 100 years ago, that we cannot be complete without our own language and that the language is the language of all the Irish people.
It is traditional at Ard Fheiseanna that we extend greetings to republican prisoners throughout the world. At present there are over 700 republican prisoners. They and their families have borne long years of hardship and loneliness with fortitude and inspiring endurance. It is especially fitting that we remember Roy Walsh, Paul Holmes and Billy Armstrong who were returned to prisons in the North after over 20 years in prisons in Britain. We look forward to their release and the release of all political prisoners. We extend best wishes to those who work for prisoners and their families, through the POW Department, through An Cumann Cabhrach [institution], Green Cross and the prisoners support groups and campaigns. On a sadder note, we remember the death of IRA Volunteer Christy Harford. We extend sympathy to his family. We remember also the murder of IRA Volunteer Pearse Jordan. We do so in the knowledge that republicans have no monopoly on suffering and we are mindful of all the dead of this long conflict. Pearse Jordan was a young man of 22 years. It was my sad duty to speak at his graveside. We and his family were surrounded by British crown forces. His murder had been shrouded by British disinformation. At that time, his parents said about Pearse: "Yes he was an IRA Volunteer, and we shall always respect him for that." In contrast to the dignity and the gentle courtesy of the Jordan family, the British government have yet to officially tell them of Pearse's death. It is as if he never existed. This Ard Fheis extends sympathy to the Jordan family.
The last year has seen an increase of the pressures bearing down on the democratic struggle in Ireland and the protracted national crisis has intensified since our last Ard Fheis. This crisis is not restricted to the conflict in the North, although this remains the greatest running sore in our society today. The national crisis has intensified also on the social and economic fronts, with increased poverty and unemployment in both states on this island. The main victims of this crisis, in whatever form it affects them, are the dispossessed. It has also been a year of elections and of new governments in London and Dublin and a new administration in the USA. It was the year which saw the end of the farce of the Brooke/Mayhew talks and even though this process may be regurgitated in some form in the future, it is now clear to all that it is a flawed process which cannot achieve justice or peace. Before turning to these wider issues let me begin by examining briefly how Sinn Féin, as the party in the vanguard of struggle, has weathered the storms of reaction in both states on this island. Since the last Ard Fheis Malachy Carey and Sheena Campbell, valued friends and activists, have been murdered by pro-British elements. These murders are, of course, part of a protracted campaign which has seen 12 Sinn Féin members killed and scores wounded in the last few years. We extend solidarity to Sheena and Malachy's family and friends.
Women in struggle
I am sure that Malachy's family will forgive me if I dwell for a while on Sheena's murder. Sheena was murdered because she was a republican, because she was a woman, because she was a leader of our struggle.
In the context of the social and political realities of today and particularly in the context of our continuing development as a party committed to equality between men and women, Sheena, like Maire Drumm, was a remarkable woman. They represented the core of this struggle, the unbreakable spirit of resistance of republican women.
This role has been virtually written out of our history. There is little we can do about earlier phases of this struggle but we can do something about this one. We can ensure that the role of women in our struggle and their sacrifices are recognised. Women must have equality of treatment in the making of struggle itself. Women in Irish society are relegated to a secondary role in all institutions. We have to ensure that this is reversed in Sinn Féin and that women have, as of right, equality. If this happens, women, as a matter of course, will take positions of leadership.
The pro-British killers who murdered Sheena and Maire had no difficulty in recognising them, in seeing how special and important they were to us. They were killed to send a message to other republican women activists. They were not killed by accident or despite being women. They were murdered because they were women. Many of us knew Sheena. Everyone of us knows a Sheena Campbell or a Maire Drumm. They are our sisters, as she was our sister. She was one of our leaders. There have been many tributes paid to her. The best tribute we can pay to her memory and to the memory of other sisters who have been killed in this struggle and who have died from heartbreak and stress – wives, sisters, mothers and partners – the finest tribute we can pay to them and, just as importantly, perhaps even more importantly, to those who still share this struggle with us is to do our utmost to advance our policy of equality and ensure that no hint of sexism or tokenism remains in our struggle.
Loyalist death squads
In recent weeks, UUP MP John Taylor and DUP MP Peter Robinson, SDLP MP Joe Hendron and others, including British ministers, have sought to present loyalist violence as reactive to that of the IRA. There is also a fiction, sponsored by those who know better, of a tit-for-tat murder campaign. There is no such campaign. One prominent unionist has even claimed that the loyalist death squads have "become so efficient and the Protestant paramilitaries are able to identify better targets and do it more efficiently, that they are not getting caught". From January 1990 to December 1992, the various loyalist murder gangs killed 95 Catholics in the North. Of these, eight were republicans, two of them Sinn Féin councillors. This year, loyalist attacks occur almost on a daily basis. Loyalist violence is not reactive. It pre-dates partition and has been consistently employed by unionists and British governments to deny nationalists our right to democracy and equality.
The British government has repeatedly refused to face up to the threat of loyalist violence. On the contrary it has used that violence to advance its own political agenda in Ireland. It is doing so at present. The comments of senior unionist spokespersons are not the observations of neutral observers. They are cheerleaders of loyalist terrorism with a vested interest in playing the Orange card. This is the historical and political context in which the loyalist death squads operate.
I measc bhfáthanna atá bainte le hathbheochaint na ndronganna dúnmharaithe dílseacha, tá
Among the factors involved in the current resurgence of loyalist death squads are:
In my view, the Brian Nelson case is the tip of the iceberg of British covert operations in Ireland. The use of agents is a long established practice and the use of 'counter-gangs' is a long standing element in British counter-insurgency strategy. Through Nelson, British intelligence controlled and directed the UDA. There is nothing to suggest that they have ceased to do this. They obviously have other agents in the UDA and other loyalist paramilitary groups. These groups have declared war on the entire nationalist community in the Six Counties as well as the Dublin government.
There is an urgent need to have the entire Nelson case fully investigated. There are a number of key aspects about which some details have emerged through his trial and from other sources. These are now a matter of public record and include:
Last month, following detailed revelations by Sinn Féin, Patrick Mayhew denied that the weapons imported by Brian Nelson with the knowledge of British Intelligence, are being used to kill Catholics. Mr Mayhew is wrong.
The modern weapons used in recent killings, including the Milltown Cemetery attack, the Ormeau and Oldpark Bookmakers' shop attacks, and scores of individual killings are part of this consignment.
Mayhew's denial has been contradicted and our claim vindicated by subsequent British Army briefings to the BBC, in which it was admitted that they knew of the shipment, were monitoring it, but "lost track of it!"
As I have already said, the Brian Nelson case is the tip of the iceberg of British covert operations in Ireland. There is an urgent need for a full, public and independent inquiry into this affair. I call upon the SDLP leadership and Dublin government to support the call for such an investigation!
Ní raibh dílseacht s'agaibh riamh in amhras, ach tá níos mó ná sin de dhíth. Tá a fhios againn nach bhfuil aicearra ar bith ann. Nuair a éiríonn linn tarlaíonn sin mar thoradh ar réamhphleanáil, ar obair chrua agus de thairbhe gur féidir linn streachailt in aghaidh gach deacracht.
OUR DEDICATION HAS NEVER BEEN IN QUESTION, BUT IT TAKES MORE THAN THAT TO SUCEED. WE ARE AWARE THAT THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS TO TAKE. WHEN WE SUCEED, IT WILL BE AS A RESULT OF FOREPLANNING, HARD WORK AND THE ABILITY TO STRUGGLE IN THE FACE OF EVERY DIFFICULTY.
That we have survived the establishment-sponsored campaign of vilification, censorship and terrorism, is a tribute to you all and to the thousands of people you represent. We are the only anti-partitionist party with a national organisation and while that is an achievement in itself, it means that we must contend with the challenges presented by the two different political realities on this island. This brings its own difficulties as well as its advantages.
In the last year, we fought two parliamentary elections. In the North, although the loss of the West Belfast seat was a symbolic one, our vote increased there and held up at 10% of the overall electorate and 30% of the nationalist electorate. This is a remarkable testament to the staunchness of our electorate and to the tenacity of our activists. In the course of the election we put our peace proposals firmly on the political agenda.
We are facing another electoral challenge in May in the local government elections. Sinn Féin is represented on 17 of the 26 district councils in the Six Counties and is the second largest party on Belfast and Derry city councils, and a significant force on a number of others.
Our councillors have consistently challenged and exposed loyalist bigotry and discrimination at all levels and a number of court cases taken by the party have successfully highlighted such practices.
Sinn Féin has been to the fore in introducing motions in councils attacking repression, harassment, cutbacks in health and social services, opposing privatisation and the destruction of our environment.
Sinn Féin has also been to the fore in exposing discrimination against the Irish culture and language and discrimination in employment. Discrimination perpetrated by the councils themselves has been consistently exposed over the last five years by our party. Our councillors also spear-headed a campaign to expose the thousands of pounds of rate-payers money which has been squandered every year on 'junkets'. Unionist behaviour on the councils, and I mean all the councils not just Belfast, shows how little the unionist parties have learned. In many ways, our councillors have been in the front line. I commend them and the northern leadership of our party. We enter the May election unbowed and unbroken and confident of renewing our mandate.
IN THE SOUTH
Our results in the Leinster House election show clearly that our party has yet to develop a niche in electoral politics in this state. This is hardly surprising given our underdevelopment and the impact of the censorship ethos. Indeed, that we were able to contest on such a wide basis is to the credit of our candidates and activists. I commend you all. Your loyalty has never been in question but we need more than that. We know there are no short cuts. Our successes come only as the result of serious preplanning, sheer hard work and our ability to struggle against the odds.
Sinn Féin's objectives in the Leinster House election were limited ones. In the state sponsored climate of McCarthyism we were asserting our right to exist and utilising the limited publicity outlets available to us during the election so that citizens can receive our material and hear our views, so that we can strengthen our party structures and mobilise local activists. While the vote we received was a disappointing one, we must examine, in detail, the reasons why. I have found that there is widespread and general sympathy with the national aims of our party throughout this state. The political establishment here know this. That is why we are denied access to the media. That is why we are harassed by the secret police. That is why our opponents seek to marginalise us.
Political debate is increasingly conducted through the broadcasting media. This is especially so during elections and the big parties have the resources and the ability to create and present an image of themselves and their leaders which most times has little to do with the reality of their record or policies. How well would any of the other parties have done if they were denied the right to party political broadcasts; to involvement in the election programmes or even the right to have the name of their party or candidates carried on television and radio programmes? Of course it is not enough to rail against this or the other obstacles which are placed in our way. Our failure, so far, to advance electorally in the 26 Counties is broader than electoralism. It is to do also with the management of our struggle and of our political project in this state. It is not possible to successfully contest elections purely on an electoral basis or during an election campaign. We need to be involved on a daily basis in political struggle of which elections is a part.
There are many areas throughout this state in which sterling work has been done. Our councillors, in particular, like their colleagues in the North, have advanced our agenda and against all the odds, the 26 County comhairle social SERVICES have provided leadership on many issues.
We are a small party but we need to continue to put the issue of partition on the electoral agenda. Our activists need to be campaigning on the issues of unemployment and low pay, women's rights and local issues which affect their communities. We must continue to build this party in this state, to assert our right to exist, to build links with others, to put forward our analysis. We must prepare now – and on an agreed and realistic basis – for the next local government election; not a few months or weeks before polling day but now, coming out of this Ard Fheis.
A party which is committed to progressive social and economic changes and to Irish unity would be in accord with the thinking of great numbers of people in the 26 Counties. That is the challenge facing us all – to build such a party.
Articles 2 and 3
The last 12 months has seen a heightening of efforts by some politicians and media commentators to have a referendum called to delete or dilute Articles 2 and 3. We should be very clear about the motivations of those involved. The campaign being led by John Bruton and Patrick Mayhew is an attempt to put the blame for the ongoing conflict on the backs of nationalists north and south. It is an attempt to say that British rule and the British claim to sovereignty is right and just and superior to any claims to Irish reunification. Any amendment of Articles 2 and 3 would be used around the world by the British government as an indication of support for British rule and the full apparatus of British repression. It would leave the British claim uncontested in law.
Amending Articles 2 and 3 would also remove from northern nationalists (and indeed unionists) their right to hold an Irish passport and would be a repudiation of the birthright of Irish people born and living in the Six Counties.
This must be resisted and republicans should be joining with all those opposed to ditching Articles 2 and 3. This ties in with the need for a broad-based movement for Irish unity and peace. The desire of the vast majority of Irish people for the resolution of the conflict, with an end to British involvement and the peaceful unification of Ireland, has been ignored by most of those who claim to represent us. The building of a movement to translate that desire into action must continue.
We are going through a period of intense effort on the part of the British government and its allies to defeat Irish republicanism, the most intense effort for many years. The first task of republicans in the 26 Counties, as elsewhere, is to stand their ground, strengthen our organisation and be ready to move forward again.
I want to touch briefly again on the issue of censorship. It is widely acknowledged that censorship of Sinn Féin prevents public opinion from being properly informed. Censorship helps to create a political climate which is consistently flawed. There is a relationship between the censorship of Sinn Féin and the murder campaign against our members in so far as censorship helps to create the climate in which these murders happen. Political censorship also disinforms, it encourages ignorance, it breeds and perpetuates conflict.
Above and beyond state censorship there is always an additional danger of self-censorship by sections of the media. Broadcasters often tell us that they must be careful that they do not become party to the propaganda war. They are right but their caution must be in all aspects of this issue. They should never allow themselves to become an instrument of state propaganda against dissidents or of the more general McCarthyism which is so prevalent today. I appeal to broadcasters to recognise the importance of their role in these matters. They need to be impartial and courageous in defending and fulfilling this role.
It is regrettable that at times local broadcasters in BBC, RTE and UTV appear to lack these qualities. In saying this, I am mindful of the problems which they face but I am especially mindful of the censorship ethos which springs from state censorship. These difficulties should never be permitted to become an excuse for the media acceptance of censorship or for broadcasters to become complacent about their role.
While some sections of the media have endeavoured to focus attention on alternative views to the establishment attitude to unemployment, emigration, public spending cuts, partition, the war in the Six Counties, sectarianism, poverty, women's rights and the other pressing problems which bear down on huge sections of our people, the general media coverage is exclusive, not inclusive, and reflects the status quo.
I am thinking here specifically of RTE where news manipulation and censorship is blatant and obvious. The RTE Authority now actively and unapologetically seeks to disinform, not inform; to cover up, not investigate.
RTE coverage panders to the big parties and reduces politics to the level of a televised auction of promises and counter promises. The first to be censored over 20 years ago was Sinn Féin. Now all nationalists are censored. Censorship was broadened to include alienated people in the Six Counties. Now the alienated of the 26 Counties are censored also. The unemployed, the disadvantaged, the poor. They have little say in the RTE view of things.
In those conditions, it may be difficult for journalists or presenters to fulfill their responsibilities, to stand up and to demand proper coverage of the crisis in Irish society, and of those marginalised by it, north and south. Difficult or not there must be an end to media manipulation and censorship.
The British government excuses its use of censorship of Sinn Féin by citing the long standing employment by Dublin of Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act.
Michael D Higgins is Minister for Art and Culture. We wish him well. He is also responsible for Section 31. He would be the first to admit, poetically perhaps, the irony of a situation where the Minister of Culture is in charge of censorship. Michael D Higgins knows what he must do about that. Amending the Censorship Act to allow the broadcasting of the voices of trade unionists, or prize winning Gaelgeoiri NATIVE IRISH SPEAKER, or mushroom growers, or authors who are members of Sinn Féin, will not be good enough. Sinn Féin should not be censored. Michael D knows that. He and his party is opposed to Section 31. He has the power to end this injustice. He knows that also. He must end the censorship of this party.
The basic facts of the failed economic entities that are the Six and 26 County states are depressingly familiar; in the 26 Counties we are heading for 400,000 unemployed, there are well over one million living in poverty and another million in economic exile. Poverty is commonplace in both parts of Ireland. Poverty is obviously about the lack of money. It is also about rights and relationships; about how people are treated and how they regard themselves; about powerlessness, exclusion and loss of dignity. The lack of inadequate incomes is at its heart.
In the 1980s, poverty increased faster in the North than in any other part of the EC. Over 27% of people live in poverty. A staggering 39% of our children live in poor households. Support for people on low income has been reduced. Some benefits have been abolished. Basic essentials, particularly fuel, costs more.
In a recent analysis of unemployment figures which included both Britain and the North, out of the top ten areas with the highest levels of unemployment, eight were in the North, and almost all were predominantly nationalist areas. These were led by Strabane and included Cookstown, Derry, Newry and Magherafelt. This scandalous situation predates the current conflict.
Clearly some of the disadvantages of the Irish economies are directly attributable to the partition of the country. Ireland is not a poor country. It is a relatively wealthy one but the development of the 26 County and Six county economies have been unnaturally isolated from each other.
The political division of Ireland is becoming increasingly indefensible in the context of greater economic integration and unity. More than ever before the economic argument against partition is compelling and in the last year a range of business and conservative interests have publicly supported an agenda for economic unity. These include the Confederation of Irish Industry, Co-operation North and George Quigley, Chairperson of the Ulster Bank. The Dublin government itself produced `Ireland – Europe – A Shared Challenge'. All of these favour (or outline the benefits of) a common financial system across the two economies.
Partition was designed to serve a British economic agenda for Ireland, splitting a natural economic unity, an island economy, into two unequal imbalanced segments. Even the New Ireland Forum which was set up to halt the increase in support for Sinn Féin admits: "The division of the island has been a source of continuing costs, especially for trade and development in border areas, but in general also to the two separate administrations which have been pursuing separate economic policies on a small island with shared problems and resources."
In addition, Irish tax payers in the 26 County state must bear the enormous financial burden of defending Britain's border. Ray Burke, as Minister for Justice in January 1992, admitted that the state had spent more than £2 billion pounds on border "security" since 1971. In 1991, the figure was £180 million. These figures suggest that the true costs of partition have never been counted. How many hospitals, houses, schools or roads could have been built with this finance?
The joining together of two economies or cross border co-operation on a range of economic projects will not bring an end to the economic and social problems which dispossess the majority of Irish people, though it would help to reduce some of them. The end of partition and the establishment of a national democracy would however be a positive development as it would set the stage for the democratic transformation of the economy allied to the radical transformation of Irish society and the securing of a lasting peace which is needed to give hope to the jobless, the poor, the emigrants, women and all those who are marginalised and disadvantaged by the present failed system.
This is not to say that we have to wait until partition ends before economic progress can be made. Of course not. It has long been our view that even within the limits of partition, there is a need for a change of the social and economic ethos which governs society, and which has created and sustained a two-tier society in this country. Republicans have consistently argued that the conservative nature of both states in this island is a direct result of partition. We have asserted that a national democracy is the natural basis on which a just society can be established but, at the same time, we have also insisted that things don't have to be as bad as they are. In the 26 Counties, the responsibility for this lies with the Dublin establishment. The North is a peripheral part of the British economy. It is governed in British not Irish interests. In the South we have an economy where job creation, wages, the environment, health and welfare considerations all come secondary to profit.
The record of successive Dublin governments show how the limited freedom won for them has been squandered and abused in the sectional interests of a wealthy elite in this state. The record shows how the Dublin establishment has established a golden circle as the centre of a relatively comfortable tier of ‘haves’ surrounded by an increasingly alienated and cynical mass of dispossessed, unemployed and disillusioned 'have-nots'.
THE FIANNA FAIL / LABOUR COALITION
The Programme for Partnership adopted by the Fianna Fáil/Labour coalition, gives little hope that a successful salvage operation will be mounted. Although job creation is the alleged priority, there is no recognition of the need for a major change in economic strategy to achieve this end. Instead there is a ritual reaffirmation of the plan which has produced the unemployment blight.
We are told repeatedly that the basics are right. These basics, exports, growth, reduction in debt and low inflation have proven to be an illusory quantity. The economy of the 26 Counties had the fastest growth rate in the industrialised world in 1991 with record growth figures. Yet the 26 Counties also has the worst record for unemployment. Unemployment has risen by over 70,000 in the last two years; a rise which the government policy makers had not envisaged possible in January 1991.
Over the past five months, the Dublin government has been forced to intervene in day-to-day business activity, not to create jobs, not to create public sector enterprise, but to protect profit margins. Profit is what has been at stake, profits of the banks and building societies, profits of business.
There is no long-term policy, only crisis management. The punt has never been an independent autonomous currency. It has moved from parity with sterling in 1979 to the EC Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). Never has there been an agenda for economic autonomy and we are now caught between two imperialist economic powers – Britain and Germany. As we face into mortgage interest rate increases and an economy rife with sectional interests, we see that not only has membership of the ERM dissipated our limited economic sovereignty, it has also turned sectors within the economy against each other.
The only option left is to float the punt and only re-enter the ERM if basic conditions of equity and democracy are adhered to. Otherwise the ERM will remain dominated by the Germans and their chosen economic satellites, and the 26 County economy will face another costly ‘crisis'.
The viability of domestic economy has been eroded under the distorting weight of the multinationals, instant radical change is not possible. But transitional short-term measures can be introduced to initiate a new era of economic change. The outflow of profits, investment funds and capital must be staunched. Wasteful pampering of big business must be halted. Such transitional measures would include:
The Sunday Tribune on 27 December listed "the top 500 companies in Ireland in 1992". Of these it identified the profits of 246 firms which came to almost £2.4 billion. A corporate tax of 40% (the norm in most countries) on these profits would have yielded nearly £1 billion, ie, twice the sum actually handed up by the entire corporate sector.
Apart from tax avoidance there is also the problem of endemic tax evasion. The 1992 report of the Comptroller and Auditor General indicates that there was a total of £563 million in recoverable corporate capital and property taxes outstanding from the previous year. Using a perspective quite different from the establishment consensus, these measures would mobilise over £7 billion of finance which could be used democratically to create tens of thousands of jobs.
We are far from imagining that all this finance could be acquired instantly or painlessly but the objectives of more equity and environmental control converge to a common conclusion; the need for a bottom up, participatory democracy which seeks to reverse urban alienation, rural underdevelopment, the urban rural divide and the crisis of poverty and unemployment. There is no evidence in the Fianna Fáil/Labour Programme for Partnership of a strategy to address these issues. Indeed the conditions which sustain them are liable to worsen. No matter what the desire for change among Irish people, no matter what the aspirations of those who voted for change, these aspirations will not be fulfilled unless the newly elected TDs are prepared to implement radical change. This means tackling the issue of partition and the related social and economic malaise which affects both party of Ireland. They must initiate a process for the democratic resolution of the conflict in the Six Counties and encourage open debate about all these matters.
The clear message from the electorate here has been for an end to the politics of strokes and selfish conservatism and the main party political benefactors of that so far have been the Labour Party.
Labour took many years to rid itself of the stigma of the 1982-'87 Thatcherite coalition with Fine Gael. Its support in this election has been built up on the basis of opposition to the antipeople policies of the Fianna Fail/Progressive Democrats Coalition.
Admittedly this coalition has the potential for being much more progressive than its predecessors but only if those who represent its republican and socialist tendencies are prepared to stand by their political principles. All nationalists, republicans and socialists must demand that they do so.
THE POLITICS OF PEACE
The establishment and development of a peace process remains a priority for Sinn Féin and a personal and political priority for me. Unfortunately this commitment is not shared by the British government at this time. That government is engaged in intensified efforts to force British terms on Irish nationalists and is currently waging one of its most intense counterinsurgency campaigns of the last 20 years. We are in the eye of the storm, the centre and the object of a massive British offensive which is most keenly felt in the Six Counties but which has its 26 County dimension as well as an international focus. The aim is pacification of nationalist and republican dissent so that the main British political objective can be secured. As minister Mayhew has pointed out this is to "return to the situation to the extent at least that it was when Stormont had jurisdiction. That is our objective".
Níl amhras ar bith ann ach go bhfuil Rialtas na Breataine faoi bhrú mhór go hidirnáisiúnta déaláil le diúitú cearta náisiúnta agus cearta daonlathacha in Éirinn go háirithe le na hathruithe móra atá ag tarlúint fríd an domhain mhóir. Téann na hathruithe seo uilig i bhfeidhm ar an suíomh Angla-Éireannach, go speisialta i gcomhthéacs na hEorpa.
There is no doubt that the British government is under considerable pressure internationally to resolve the many instances of denials of national and democratic rights arising from its involvement in Ireland. This is especially so as the world order goes through many profound changes, all of which affect the Anglo-Irish situation especially in the European context. In particular, the reports of international human rights organisations such as the Helsinki Committee and Amnesty International can be credited with restraining the British from even greater excesses.
The international community can do much more to inhibit the British government in its use of repressive acts. The European Community through the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and the United Nations through the UN Commission on Human Rights are mandated to perform that role.
Likewise the parent bodies are mandated to address the central issue of national selfdetermination; the denial of which is at the core of the conflict in Ireland. The main responsibility for putting all of this on the agendas of international forums lies with the Dublin government. It is a constitutional imperative that it do so and Dublin's consistent refusal to take up that responsibility is a key element in the prolongation of the conflict. It is in this general context that the pre-election comments of President Bill Clinton are to be welcomed. So too are the endeavours of those in the Irish American community who put Ireland on the Presidential election agenda; and who, as media reports have since demonstrated, are determined to keep Ireland on the agenda of the President.
None of this would be possible of course, if it was not for the continued struggle here in Ireland and it is clear that the republican struggle remains the main catalyst for any potential change on the national question. It is the resilience of nationalist resistance which has kept the British government under pressure over its failure to ‘settle the Irish question' and which has acted also as a brake on Dublin and the SDLP.
Our peace strategy is central to this project and we have been generally successful, despite all the difficulties, in promoting our position. The evolution of party policy and its public promotion will, of course, be seized and has been seized upon in an effort to confuse us and our base of support. This exploitation and misrepresentation of our position is part of the British sponsored 'psyching-out' process which aims to wear us down. Again and again we are told that we cannot win and every effort is made to marginalise us and our political programme, to make us feel irrelevant and to make us give up.
As part of this 'wearing down' process elements of the republican struggle, whether they are aspects of armed actions of the armed struggle itself, or Sinn Féin's electoral strategy, will be utilised as our opponents attempt to isolate and defeat us. As experienced political activists, Sinn Féin accepts this as part of the daily grind of political struggle. We know that we have to exhaust the British – that we have to survive every offensive against us and that our will to secure a lasting and peaceful settlement – our desire for freedom – is greater than the British will to remain in our country.
The present British policy is untenable, and most observers know it. They say they "will not talk to Sinn Féin", they "will not countenance meetings until a significant and lengthy ceasefire has held", and yet Mr Mayhew devotes and directs the bulk of his recent speech at the University of Ulster, Coleraine, to the republican community in Ireland. Such keynote speeches are evidence of the continued centrality of the republican struggle and of our ability to affect the political agenda.
As I said after the Mayhew speech, "despite the flaws in his analysis, nationalist and republicans will be concerned that this should be built upon and so I approach Mr Mayhew's remarks, as Sinn Féin always seeks to approach such developments, in a positive way". I am aware that there are vast gulfs between ourselves and the British and the unionists. It is foolish to declare otherwise but if the desire for peace and reconciliation is to be fulfilled then we must all of us, examine all options. This war has been ongoing for almost a quarter of a century. There are over 3,000 people dead and countless thousands others damaged and maimed, physically and psychologically.
There can be no solution that denies the existence of any protagonist to the conflict. Dialogue will require courage, perhaps a leap of faith, certainly an imaginative empathy so sadly lacking in Anglo-Irish affairs and undoubtedly also, democratic compromise.
Every British initiative to date has been within the context of partition, a British political agenda and with the unionist veto underwritten.
A peace process, if it is to be meaningful and genuine must address the political problem which has been a part of our history for generations. Such a policy shift by the British would meet with a positive response from republicans and usher in a new era.
What is needed is a strategy for change and peace. This means London adopting a policy aimed at ending partition and which seeks, with Dublin, to achieve this is in the shortest possible time consistent with obtaining maximum consent to the process and minimising costs of every kind and recognising the centrality of inclusive dialogue in this process. As I have said many times, the international community can help the peace process in Ireland. The European Community, which is involved in a process of economic and political restructuring, can provide valuable assistance, while the UN, which has the authority to monitor a decolonisation process in Ireland, could during any transitional period convene an international conference on the democratic resolution of the conflict in Ireland. Every British effort to rule Ireland has failed. The Irish people have been the main victims of this failure. It is ironic in this year of "Europe Without Frontiers" that Britain's imposed border still remains; that this is an increasingly militarised zone and that the military closure of 173 cross border roads denies Irish citizens the right to travel within our own country. The Partition Act – the Government of Ireland Act – is obviously not a solution. Since its creation 70 years ago, the Six County state has been in a permanent state of crisis and for the last two decades there has been open conflict. Partition has failed. Britain's presence in Ireland and peace are incompatible.
A new approach is needed. One which would involve comprehensive negotiations between all of the parties. This brings me to the role of the Dublin government.
A new initiative
For those who may have forgotten, the Hillsborough Treaty was signed by Garret FitzGerald and Margaret Thatcher in November 1985. It was intended, as admitted by Garret FitzGerald in his memoirs two years ago, to assist the SDLP and to defeat republicanism.
Publicly it was meant to end "nationalist alienation" from the Northern state and give the Dublin government a role in policy making for the Six Counties.
Like so many previous British sponsored initiatives it was heralded as a new beginning for nationalists. The "nationalist nightmare" was at an end, we were told. That was the wrapping paper on the treaty. What it really contained was a strategy for the Dublin government to assist the British in governing the North as part of the United Kingdom.
Recently one of the key negotiators of the Hillsborough Treaty criticised the Dublin government for not making full use of the Hillsborough process.
Former top Irish diplomat and civil servant Michael Lillis urged the incoming government to "work the agreement vigorously and creatively as though from a new beginning". He called for agreement with the British on a "drastic scenario of new structures which would come into effect immediately the violence clearly ended". This should include, he argued, "(British) army withdrawal, disarming and local recruitment of police, drastic reduction of sentences for special court prisoners and an appropriate role in future negotiations [for republicans]".
Coming from the former head of the Dublin government group at the Maryfield secretariat set up under the Hillsborough treaty, these remarks are interesting. I welcome the recognition that a new approach is needed. Republicans have made clear in the past that we would welcome a new initiative, a real initiative, to break the political log-jam. That initiative must involve all parties to the conflict in discussions.
The Dublin government has a responsibility to take such an initiative. I have outlined above the strategy for change and peace which is required.
As part of such an initiative the British government should be invited by Dublin to explore in discussion with all interested parties the steps that would be needed to get northern majority consent to Irish reunification, and the guarantees and assurances that would be needed to safeguard Protestant rights and interests in such a situation.
Surely the British government could not refuse such an invitation? Surely Mr Mayhew with "no blue print or master plan" would be eager to facilitate such a discussion?
It is important that voices from within the unionist section of our people rise above the sectarian and other pressures of this time. I welcome therefore the recent statement from Jack Weir and Godfrey Brown that: "We also recognise that 80,000 of our fellow citizens by their votes have shown their support and sympathies for Sinn Féin… However, deeply we may disagree with them they will not disappear because we choose to ignore or suppress them but the fact remains that they are part of our society with whom, we as Christians must try to find a way to live and find a better future". This sentiment represents, I believe, the feelings of a significant section of unionism.
I want to reiterate that the republican demand for a British withdrawal is not aimed at Northern Protestants. It is a demand that the people of Ireland, and that includes the essential contribution and participation of northern Protestants, be allowed to control our own destiny and shape a society which is pluralist and reflective of the diversity of all our people. I wish also to reassure Protestants that there is no desire among nationalists or republicans that they should be made to suffer for the actions of British sponsored murders of nationalists or Catholics. And I repeat my firm conviction that attacks on Protestants are wrong for exactly the same reason that attacks on Catholics are wrong.
The unionist veto over the future of the Irish people is undemocratic. It is sustained by force but it will inevitably come to an end. Unionist consent on the shape of a new Ireland is clearly desirable but this cannot entail a veto over the future of the Irish nation.
Unionists can take reassurance from the fact that electorally in an all-Ireland democracy they would command far greater weight than they do now in union with Britain. Because, under British rule, the political status of the Six Counties is exactly what the unionists say it is – a province of the United Kingdom – and its people cannot hope to have any significant say in the direction of their own affairs until they choose to democratically exercise their influence within an all-Ireland system.
A genuinely free Ireland will reduce all forms of religious fundamentalism, privilege and sectarianism and new political alliances will emerge as the current divisions arising from the British connection disappear and social and class lines become the main points of unity. This cannot occur without the full involvement of the Protestant people.
Their future lies with the rest of the Irish people. I appeal to unionists to come to terms with this reality. It is a challenge facing us all. It is our future.
'Se todhchaí na hÉireann daonlathas náisiúnta. Sa daonlathas sin beidh ár muintir, idir Caitlicigh, Protastúnaigh agus uile, in ann teacht le chéile chun poblacht ina mbeidh an cothrom i réim a thógáil. Bí linn sa daonlathas sin’.
‘THE FUTURE OF IRELAND IS A NATIONWIDE DEMOCRACY. IN THAT DEMOCRACY, WILL BE OUR PEOPLE, CATHOLICS, PROTESTANTS AND ALL, ABLE TO JOIN TOGETHER TO FORM A SOCIETY WHERE EQUALITY REIGNS. BE WITH US IN THAT DEMOCRACY’.
At the beginning of this decade I warned that we were entering into a period of high risk which would also involve great potential for our struggle. At that time, I outlined my view that the pressures upon us would intensify as the situation moves hesitantly towards resolution. It appeared to me that we needed to manage our affairs even more diligently than usual as the British and their allies intensified their already frenzied efforts to defeat us so that a settlement could be made which excluded the democratic option of Irish national self determination. It is important that we all realise the difficulties facing the British because of their failure to resolve the conflict – even temporarily – on their terms. For as long as they fail to do this and for so long as we succeed in exhausting and surviving their offensives – then the irreversible thrust of this struggle moves relentlessly towards the end of British rule in our country. The loyalists know this. The British establishment knows it also and sections of the British political establishment favour a change in British government attitude to Ireland. There is no significant international support for the partition of this country. On the contrary it is widely acknowledged that international opinion is dissatisfied with British handling of its involvement in Irish affairs. Public and political opinion throughout the world favours inclusive dialogue as a means of ending conflict. That is what is advocated and supported by the majority of governments including the British, in conflict situations in other parts of the world.
In Ireland all opinion, except the unionists, want a peaceful and democratic end to the conflict and British domestic opinion would welcome the end to the long strife between our countries. It is important that we always keep our eye on this big picture and that we are mindful of the strength of our struggle and of the weaknesses in the British position. Our political position has an integrity which the British one lacks.
When asked, as I often am, if the British government will talk to Sinn Féin, I give my view that such talks are inevitable and long overdue. It is the British government which is causing the delay. It has already conceded the principle and is currently setting down its conditions. This issue of talks and of the conditions in which they will be conducted is an area of struggle for us but Sinn Féin does not make it difficult for the British government to play a positive role in creating the conditions for a peace process in Ireland. On the contrary, we seek to persuade that government that such a role should be its main function at this time in our history. The British Prime Minister, so far, has rejected this role. By so doing he is swimming against the tide of history. But while he persists with such folly the pressures upon us will remain and indeed they may intensify yet again. This therefore is a critical stage in the affairs of our nation. It remains one of high risk and also of great potential as we experience and influence the working out of our future.
Already this year our anti-partitionist and democratic position has been vindicated by the abject failure of the Brooke/Mayhew process to re-establish Stormont. The inevitable and widely predicted collapse of the recent Stormont talks, despite the efforts of both governments, proves beyond any doubt that there are no partial solutions and that there cannot be partial negotiations about the future on this island.
The position has now moved on irreversibly beyond such arrangements. All the main players know that and as the British cast about for another option, we must continue to face them with the democratic one. That is, an end to the British presence and for a lasting peace in our country."
CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.
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