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Speech by Ruairi O’Bradaigh opposing the motion on abstentionism (Resolution 162), Sinn Féin Ard Fheis, Dublin, (2 November 1986)

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Speech by Ruairi O’Bradaigh, former President of Sinn Féin, opposing the motion on abstentionism (Resolution 162), Sinn Féin Ard Fheis, Dublin, (2 November 1986)


"Fellow delegates, I have to say this, and I said this in Strokestown when we had our Comhairle meeting there on 14 September. There’s a total contradiction in this discussion, in fact, the discussion is totally out of order if this constitution of Sinn Fein means anything. Because it says there that no person who approves or supports candidates going into Leinster House, Stormont or Westminster shall be admitted to membership or allowed to retain membership, and yet on this floor we have plenty of resolutions proposing to go into Leinster House and indeed some of them proposing to go into Westminster and Stormont as well because they want abstentionism ended altogether. The constitution has been, and is being, flouted and has not been made effective.

The first step was to remove that article, have a year’s discussion and come back the following year and make the necessary changes. Instead, it’s all telescoped and I would submit that it’s totally out of order. Number two, the resolution that proposes, when strong enough, a 32 county constituent assembly, to be joined there by other revolutionary forces, is a re-affirmation of the fundamental principles of our constitution a and b. And it says here, and this is a document which I take seriously, because I’ve worked on it for many, many years, and for many Ard Fheiseanna in between, and it says first the allegiance of Irish men and Irish women is due to the sovereign Irish republic proclaimed in 1916. It doesn’t say that we go into Leinster House or Stormont or Westminster.

The fundamental principle, that every thing is a tactic, but outstanding on this document it says it’s a fundamental principle, but secondly that the sovereignty and unity of the republic are inalienable and non-renunciable. In other words, they can’t be given away and are not a matter for reconsideration. They are absolute.

We were told last night that we can agree to disagree on fundamentals, how in the name of heavens can we do that? If there are fundamentals there we either accept them as in the constitution or we go another road and we disagree with them. Now [motion] 162 is clearly a departure from those two basic principles enshrined in our constitution and there’s no proposal on the floor of the Ard Fheis to do away with that. How can those two principles stand while proposals to go into Leinster House or any of these other places stand at the same time? They will not fit in the one house.

Further, the resolution from Roscommon proposes to re-assemble the constituent assembly, an all-Ireland parliament.

And I want to ask the Ard Fheis this, where are our revolutionary socialists, how do you expect to build a democratic socialist republic out of Leinster House? How can serious social change come out of Leinster House? How can the fundamental change in property relations come out of Leinster House? No way can it do that. What we are asked to do today is to tip the scales that little bit in favour of parliamentary, constitutional and reformist action. What about Stormont and Westminster? If you raise that you’ll be told they’re not an issue. But naturally people want to know what’s down the road. Are they in doubt or are they also for consideration in due course. People want to know and they want to know now, and they have not been told.

A few years ago, if you mentioned about Leinster House you were told you were raising bogey men. Did you want to make accusations? Did you want to make charges? What were you talking about? And then suddenly it all collapses on it.

The courts have been mentioned, the courts were always a tactic in capital charges, in test cases and when permitted by the military authority of this movement to do so. They were never a principle.

With regards to Councils, Sinn Fein has always been in the Councils and that is as near as to the enemy system that we dare to go. Sitting in Leinster House is not a revolutionary activity. Once you go in there, you sign the roll of the House and accept the institutions of the state. Once you accept the Ceann Comhairle's rulings you will not be able to do it according to your rules. You will have to go according to their rules and they can stand up and gang up on you, and put you outside in the street and keep you outside in the street.

John A. Murphy was quoted here today. I'd like to quote Dick Walsh, political correspondent of The Irish Times last Thursday. He said about us, "The party is struggling with its own contradictions, if its delegates this weekend give adequate support that their candidates should take their seats in the Dail ", he calls it, " they will whether they say so or not, be recognising the legitimacy of the Oireachtas and as a direct and inescapable consequence of that the illegitimacy of any force other than the army, the Free State army, claiming to wage war on behalf of the Irish people"

I will not accept the Free State Army. The media, the Irish Times on 30 August said, wherever it got its information, in a leading article "There’s a considerable body of support within the Provisional movement (as they called it) for entering parliament," and then went on to say it is the only road forward. The Irish Press in an editorial on 20 October said "Politicians may object to sitting down with these terrible people, but, after all, isn’t it a small price to pay to emesh them in the constitutional system." They’re very clear as to what’s happening.

The destabilisation of the state, we are told, will result and the movement will be strengthened. Always has it been otherwise, every time has it been otherwise, the movement suffered and the state was strengthened. Four times since 1922 it happened, all ended in failure and ended ultimately in the degradation and shame of collaborating with the British, of handing over our political prisoners to them and running counter to what they originally set out to do.

A Chairde, I put it to you this way, we have not been wrong for 65 years, we have not been wrong for all those 70 years — we have been right and we should continue to be right. I ask you to reject 162 and to accept 184, and, in Gods name, don’t let it come about that tomorrow, the next day or the day after, that Haughey, FitzGerald, Spring, and those in London and Belfast who oppose it so much, can come out and say, "Ah, it took 65 years, but we have them at last," and those in Leinster House who have done everything, the firing squad, the prison cells, the internment camps, the hunger strike, the lot, and weren’t able to break this movement, that they can come and say at last we have them towing the line. It took us 65 years but they come in from the polls, they come in from the wilderness and we have them now. Never, that’s what I say to you — never."


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