25 November 2004 Edition
It's about equality
Regarding Owen Smyth's letter (Mála Poist, 18 November), it is true to say a certain percentage of American voters in the recent Presidential election would have been scared off by some of Kerry's more progressive policies. However, all the evidence points to "fear of terrorism" being the decisive factor in voting patterns, rather than internal issues such as same-sex marriages. The perception that Bush would be tougher on terror, thus preserving the American people from external threats, has resulted in the election of a man who sees nothing irrational in frowning on gay/lesbian relationships whilst giving the thumbs-up to universal gun ownership.
So while the likelihood of world stability has been compromised still further, we in our corner of the globe are getting steamed up about a perfectly reasonable request from a same-sex couple to legitimise their relationship.
Sinn Féin is a growing party. I like to think it is a "growing-up" party too. Changing needs in Irish society need to be reflected in our policies. Timing is important, but this is not about jumping on any PC bandwagon, or trying to please everyone, in the manner of some parties who rate holding power far above principles. It is about trying to establish an Ireland of equals that really delivers what it says.
We really should be learning from other parts of the world, as well as our own glaring examples, that religion allied to politics is a pernicious mix. Irish society comprises people of various faiths and none. Respect is due those who believe abortion and single-sex unions to be wrong, but similarly, respect and tolerance must be shown to those with differing beliefs. Incidentally, "pro-choice" is a misnomer, as it seems to have almost a consumerist ring about it. Most women and men, I am sure, would regard abortion as a very serious and sensitive issue, and one contemplated only in the most extreme circumstances. At such times, understanding is called for, not persecution.
But back to the case of Anne and Katherine that is raising the hackles of conservative Ireland. In some homes all over Ireland, "traditionally" married couples are living where there is no love at all, where physical and emotional abuse is inflicted on a regular basis, and children are being reared against this ugly backdrop. Wholesome family values? Morality? I don't think so.
Rather than being a millstone round our necks, surely Sinn Féin's progressive policies demonstrate a welcome shift from the heartless hypocrisy of former decades that resulted in so much suffering, especially for women, children and anyone perceived as different. By replacing tolerance and prejudice with more thoughtful and caring attitudes, we grow as people, and as a political party.
And no; I don't believe those genuinely interested in equality will withhold their votes from us.
I write in response to last week's letter from Owen Smyth regarding gay marriage.
I understand the arguments around abortion and the notion that Sinn Féin should not take a position that is divisive within the party and electorally damaging among the public. Society is genuinely and bitterly divided on this issue, and it is possible to be a leftist and oppose a woman's right to choose, or a rightist who supports abortion rights. It is for this reason that no party in mainstream Irish politics will adopt a clear-cut position on this issue.
There is a valid case to be made for constructive ambiguity in this case. However, that same case does not apply to the issue of gay marriage. Those who oppose gay marriage do so out of ignorance or bigotry.
Sinn Féin has been stating its support for gay marriage for some time, and has actively pursued this agenda in Leinster House. Despite sniping articles from the usual sources in the media, this has caused little stir.
It certainly has not set Sinn Féin voters railing against what Owen identifies as "political correctness in overdrive". This issue simply does not have the same divisive effect as abortion. No matter how many times we debate or discuss abortion, the battle lines remain the same, and few minds are changed. There has been little discussion on gay marriage, but what little there has been hasn't generated nearly as much division as abortion.
Owen argues that the issue of gay marriage was "a political millstone" around John Kerry's neck during the US campaign. However, the US is a radically different case. Fundamentalist Christians make up 25% of the electorate, and these voters were never going to vote for Kerry in any case.
Bush has cultivated this constituency over his first four years of presidency, with a ban on partial birth abortion and billions of dollars in funding for fundamentalist Christian groups. The republican strategy rested on energising those voters; they knew these people would not vote for Kerry, it was simply a matter of motivating them to vote.
Thomas Frank, in his excellent book What's The Matter With America — which chronicles the rise of the fundamentalist right — makes a compelling argument that, by abandoning working-class people and subscribing to republican economics, the Democrats essentially left moral and cultural issues as the only battleground between the parties.
Sinn Féin, by contrast, is firmly committed to the economic advancement of the working class, and to social equality for all. We ought not argue against gay civil rights simply for the sake of political expediency. Following the logic of Owen's argument, Sinn Féin ought to abandon anti-racism, following the thumping victory of the citizenship referendum. Fianna Fáil attempts to be 'all things to all people'. Sinn Féin should not follow that same path.
As you will be well aware, in 2005 Sinn Féin will celebrate its 100th anniversary. A photographic exhibition is being designed at present as part of the series of events planned to mark this momentous occasion.
It is our intention also to incorporate, if possible, the use of historic artifacts (copies of cumann cards, posters, medals, constitutions, etc) into this exhibition. It would be very much appreciated and greatly contribute towards the success of the exhibition if relevant photographs and artifacts can be forwarded to the address below.
All items will be catalogued and treated with the greatest of care and returned after the exhibition has finished. Those who have any suggestions regarding the above and the exhibition in general should not hesitate to get in contact.
Ard Oifig Sinn Féin,
44 Cearnóg Pharnell, BAC 1,
Tel: (01) 8726100.
Britain's war dead
Why do some Irish republicans feel it necessary to commemorate England's war dead? I have heard the argument put forward that a lot of good Irish people fought for the British Army. I am not denying that many were sincere in what they were doing but we need to bear in mind that they were fighting for a foreign government, which was and still is occupying our country.
I am reading Liam Mellows and the Irish Revolution and part of the book goes into the intense debate that took part amongst republicans and nationalists as to whether they should join the British Army and fight during the First World War. Pearse, Connolly, Mac Diarmada and many others, some of whom were executed by the British, felt very strongly that Irish men should not. Redmond and others in the Irish Parliamentary Party supported conscription and within a small number of years, this party was almost destroyed at elections.
If republicans continue to pay homage to Britain's war dead, where do we stop?