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8 January 2004 Edition

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For a radical campaigning party - Think national, act local

BY PAT TREANOR, Sinn Féin National Organiser

Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh go léir.

The first edition of the paper in 2004 might be a good time to continue the debate about using strategic watersheds like the recent Assembly election results to develop and strengthen our struggle for Irish Unity and Equality.

Declan Kearney, in his article of 11 December stated:

"Managed transition is the optimum basis for moving beyond partition. Our long-term strategy needs to be geared towards bringing the weight of popular opinion behind a progressive and revolutionary influence in this process, and reducing that of minimalist constitutionalism. It is in this particular context, best characterised by the Road Map to the Republic, that the election results need to be viewed as a watershed.

"In the final analysis, however, it is up to grass-roots republican activists to get our collective heads around the fact that we do shape the reality of our struggle. Leadership initiatives and high wire negotiations can indeed impact directly on the progress of the struggle, but equally, producing election results such as we did, and then what we do next, literally places the future of the struggle in all our hands."

It is this last point that I would like to develop. There is no doubt that our strength is our membership - the committed, determined and hard working activists, the skills and talents brought to the party by the approximately 5,000 members throughout the island of Ireland. But we need efficient and highly organised party structures to channel this energy, structures that empower, communicate, appreciate, educate, strategise. We need structures that are forward looking and enthusiastic, with an ethos of comradeship and equality.

We need to strengthen and build our party across every county, town and village on this island. Planned campaigns and activity gives us the opportunity to grow, attract new members and set new watersheds. There are a number of events during the year that require us to mobilise in a cohesive way throughout the island. These include the AGMs, the Ard Fheis, Easter Commemorations, Elections in June, and the National Draw in September.

Can we agree to make these the biggest and best events to date?

The Sinn Féin party will be renewing itself between now and the end of February. AGMs are taking place at Cumainn, Comhairle Ceantair and Cúige levels. We need to put in place, through these AGMs, strong Cúigí, Comhairle Ceantair and Cumainn to develop the party in all its parts. This is a task to which all of us, as activists, must apply ourselves.

The Ard Fheis, on the last weekend of February, allows us to debate the important issues for the party, focus on objectives for the coming year, and elect a leadership that will direct our struggle until the next Ard Fheis.

We need to use these opportunities to carefully consider how we can do things better. Do we ensure full participation in the AGMs, themselves? Does the clár, structure, venue, and time of the meeting encourage involvement?

We need to think national and act local. We need to develop and implement workplans that promotes the republican struggle locally and fits into the national strategic objectives.

Each Cúige Organiser has a draft development plan template, which might be useful for Cumainn and Comhairle Ceantair to work from.

Irrespective of what happens in the Political/Peace Process, we still have to develop an effective and efficient organisation. It doesn't matter what our opponents do or say - and we know that for every strategy we pursue our opponents will come at us with a counter strategy — we still must build winning teams throughout the country. Of course, our work will be easier or more difficult depending on actions taken or not taken by our opponents, but we cannot be deflected from building a permanent struggle for freedom and equality.

There are real dangers of stagnation, of just holding the fort, of waiting on the next republican initiative or the next elections. Electoralism is a permanent site of struggle and we must maximise support for our party next June, but we also need to develop in a radical way all the other sites of struggle.

There are other watersheds. As activists of a radical movement, we should ask ourselves regularly some questions that challenge us. Are each of the party's organisational structures as strong as we will need them to be, to achieve our objectives?

For example, has your cumann got 50/50 membership in terms of gender? Is the Officer Board 50/50? What time-framed plans are in place to reach this watershed?

Are we involved in every aspect of community life, locally, regionally and nationally? We need to bring Sinn Féin politics to the community debates on housing, health, environment issues, the new 'development charges', etc.

EU directives require that local government involve the community in consultation around major decisions. Most County Councils and local authorities are currently reviewing their County Development Plans and have some form of community consultation in place. This presents an opportunity and a challenge for us. It requires political integration between our elected and unelected activists. These are avenues of growth and ways in which we can all empower ourselves in some ways.

Who says there isn't much happening?

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