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16 March 2005 Edition

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Turning defence into offence

Recent events and the underlying trends that they belie indicate that the Peace Process is in a new phase, with new opportunities, argues DOMHNALL Ó COBHTHAIGH

The recent combined assault upon Sinn Féin's credibility by the panoply of political forces on this island and their media, put republicans temporarily on the defensive. This phase has passed; people now understand the political nature of that assault and once again republicans are determined to move forward confidently and positively.

In my opinion, the current situation, far from being a crisis for Sinn Féin, marks the opening of an opportunity for actually promoting the cause of Irish unity. Every reactionary blow always yields an opportunity for the growth of progressive forces. We need to be able to turn a negative situation into its opposite. In determining a course forward, we must always start from analysing the multiple contradictions of the current situation and the associated underlying trends. The current situation is no different.

The attempt to criminalise republicans can easily be traced back to the duplicity of both governments during the latest negotiations in December, when they complied with Paisleyite demands for photographic 'sackcloth and ashes', despite being clear that this was unachievable. This is their Plan B.

However, in assaulting our party and our voters, internal splits have opened up within our opponents themselves. Not just between Fianna Fáil and the PDs but within Fianna Fáil itself. There might even be sensed an unease within the Fianna Fáil leadership at the potential of extensive investigations into money laundering coming too close to home within the upper tiers of the Irish business class.

Our opponents began to sing from different hymnbooks, some going further than others dared. Fianna Fáil's opportunism, paradoxically, suddenly forced its leadership to more forcefully sell the line that they, not Sinn Féin, were the defenders of republicanism. We should welcome these outcomes and seek to develop them.

The reaction among the broad mass of nationalist minded people was a process: initial uncertainty turned into concern, then to an angry determination. I think we must all recognise that for our supporters, the greatest concern was that the Peace Process itself was under attack.

There is a substantial level of self-identification within the nationalist community, North and South, with the gains made since the initiation of the peace process — a fact reflected in the electoral growth of Sinn Féin as the party most vigorously defending its provisions.

Republicans need to project a positive confidence that the recent assault will not distract us from our project or from growing in political strength. It is, therefore, perhaps most fortunate that the party recently launched its campaign for the Dublin Government to produce a Green Paper on Irish Unity.

We need to be clear that this campaign needs to be taken out across Ireland and that its success depends on each of us. We need to engage across civil society to build a collective demand that the Irish Government become pro-active persuaders of the cause of political reunification. If Fianna Fáil claim to be republicans, then let's see how well they compare to our efforts.

I believe that the recent assaults on Sinn Féin mark a turning point in the process. In momentarily conjoining with the anti-Agreement axis, the Dublin Government has opened up a scenario where we began to see the development of a future all-Ireland polity. Anti-Agreement unionists were ringing up 'Talkback' saying that with the likes of McDowell in place, they were better placed to consider a united Ireland! We should not miss the importance of what we all witnessed over the past week in this regard.

Fianna Fáil have a role to play in further developing that dynamic. Their recent assaults on Sinn Féin and the internal reaction to that will have created the impetus and necessity of them assuming the mantle of republicanism in a more pro-active manner than in the past.

They must now compete with republicans to maintain that position, so let's push them. If they are Irish republicans, where is their equivalent of our Green Paper document? If they are Irish republicans, how are they outreaching with civil society and northern business interests to develop the obvious economic and social imperatives for reunification?

Similar arguments can be raised in relation to the SDLP, now that they have finally ditched their 'post-nationalism' in favour of Irish unity. However, the initial response to the Green Paper from SDLP councillors in Derry has been characteristically partitionist. They pointed to the (purported) inability of Dublin to consult groups in the Six Counties - despite the fact that the Dublin authorities felt able to 'commend the [Good Friday] Agreement to the people, North and South' in the words of the Agreement itself.

Of course, there is absolutely nothing to stop the Irish Government from engaging with any groups across Ireland, North or South, if it has the political will.

The push for the publication of the Green Paper, therefore, affords republicans a chance to do what we should do best, to campaign for Irish unity. Every issue coming before us, whether related to economic, social or cultural policy, can be viewed through the all-Ireland agenda prism and related back to the need for Irish political reunification.

Every local campaign, from Derry to Kerry, needs to be viewed through that national prism and made relevant to the demand for government to take concrete and planned steps to all-Ireland governance. The Green Paper needs to be taken out to community groups, trade unions, business interests, the churches and individuals within other political parties.

It can be integrated into all electoral campaign work and used to publicise our alternative agenda and vision.

Through such progressive campaign work, republicans will assuage the justified fears and concerns of those who feared for the progress made within the Peace Process. By campaigning, outreach and engagement in the pursuit of the national interest, we can identify just who are the true 'criminals' of Irish political life.

An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
  • There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.

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