14 April 2005 Edition
Time of opportunity
As a republican activist for close on 30 years and a former political prisoner, I welcome the statement from Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and the Army's initial response to it.
In doing so, I think of our fallen comrades and their families. They have borne the brunt of our struggle and their courage will always be an inspiration to us as we continue the struggle for an Irish Republic.
If the Army decides to forego the tactic of armed struggle, it will not be a dilution of the cause for which our comrades died. Our comrades did not die in order that those coming behind them would be free to use the tactic of armed struggle; they died so that those coming behind them would live in a free, prosperous and united Ireland.
That objective has not changed.
I was proud to take up armed struggle in the cause of that United Ireland — I will be just as proud to work as a political activist for the same cause.
The republican struggle has been heading in the direction of unarmed, but determined opposition to the British Government's illegal occupation of this part of Ireland for a number of years now.
We should not fear this development but rather we should use it as an opportunity to re-dedicate ourselves to the republican cause and in doing so, bear in mind the words of Bobby Sands that no part of that struggle is too small or too big.
The Pope and peace
One of the highlights of my life was when the late Pope John Paul II came to Ireland. Unfortunately for myself, I was locked up in Crumlin Road Jail and unlike some of my friends, I was unable to travel to Galway and greet the Pope.
The excitement and atmosphere of the Pope's coming did, however, reach those of us unable to attend. We had to close our eyes and listen to the minute by minute account on radio of the visit, imagining what our friends and neighbours would be doing and seeing their faces as the Pope stepped onto Irish soil. All of the prisoners listened to what the Pope had to say when he asked for an end to violence; the enormity of his plea was not lost on the political prisoners and the discussions afterwards were proof of that.
Many years have passed from that visit and we have seen a lot of suffering and pain as a result of the conflict here. I myself have lost many friends, one of whom travelled to Galway to see the Pope.
There is, however, at this moment in time some hope that we can all put the past behind us, and this hope comes to me from the most recent statement by Gerry Adams, in which he has shown great leadership by appealing to the IRA to use alternative means to achieve the goal of a united Ireland. Through confidence in the arguments for political persuasion and change, they can show example to our youth that there are alternative means to struggle as opposed to the limited choices of the past.
Gerry Adams is right; we have come along way, we are more mature, we have both the confidence and ability to engage our enemies in the argument for a United Ireland through better leadership.
In 1979, we couldn't see ahead, but today we are well ahead and just need the courage and foresight that Sinn Féin is showing to bring about change in an all-Ireland context which, in my opinion, would be a great tribute to Pope John Paul ll in the year that he has passed away.
Former Political Prisoner,
A little sacrifice for Ireland
As I write this on Sunday afternoon, I know many republicans throughout Ireland are settling down to their weekly bout of self-flagellation. No, this has nothing to do with the death of the Pope or the insidious influence of Opus Dei. I refer to a phenomenon that never ceases to astonish me — the number of republicans who actually buy the Sunday Independent every week.
Of course, the deranged ranting of Sindo columnists is a great subject of conversation. Many republicans are entertained by the endless stream of abuse and hysteria and the ingenious ways Sindo columnists find to include a rant against 'IRA/Sinn Féin' in articles on every conceivable subject.
But by actually paying money for the Sindo you are helping to further enrich 'Sir' Anthony O'Reilly and to pay the salaries of the likes of Harris, O'Hanlon, O'Connor etc, ad nauseam.
Rest assured, heroic comrades in the Sinn Féin Publicity Department are fulfilling the sickening weekly task of monitoring these papers. They have to buy them. But for other republicans there is no excuse. So it is time to make a little sacrifice for Ireland. Give up your weekly masochistic practice. Do something more useful like writing a letter, tending your neglected garden or watching paint dry, any of which would be more useful than spending your money and your time on the Sindo.
Republicans could easily reduce the sales of this rag by many thousands every week by simply not buying it.
Baile Átha Cliath.
Once again last week we saw Gerry Adams and the leadership of Sinn Féin making a brave and firm gesture to save the Peace Process. Despite the cynicism and opportunism of mainstream unionism, the Irish political establishment and the media, Sinn Féin has, again, shown the way.
At the time of writing a full response has not come, but hopefully, the IRA will act in a way that conclusively reiterates its commitment to the Peace Process. As republicans, no matter what strand, we must all understand the task ahead.
However, I think it is imperative that we also look at the potential problems that progress in the Good Friday Agreement can make. Republicans have strongly defended their right to a fair say in the governing of the Six Counties and rightly so. Nonetheless this is not without its troubles.
In sitting in the executive (as it has before) Sinn Féin has to acknowledge that it will be there with ministers who range from slightly left of centre to firmly right of centre. This will cause troubles for our party, given the committee system in place and the inability of any minister to act unilaterally.
Will we again be faced with the stark practice of having to implement policies that go against our own?
As Minister for Health, Bairbre de Brún had to make that tough decision. I do not believe, however, that it is one we should make again.
I would call on the party leadership not to go into an executive, and instead sit in the Assembly as a radical opposition party.
Pragmatism however, brings me to the realisation that this will not happen. Sinn Féin wants to influence legislation. Fair enough, but we should at least outline definite positions where we will not compromise and will resign if forced to do so.
The party has made major strides for peace. We should embrace our new political strength, but not at the expense of the ideals that make us worth voting for in the first place.
Having Ministers is brilliant, but we have to make sure that it is Sinn Féin that changes the Six-County establishment, rather than the Six-County establishment changing Sinn Féin.
Go raibh maith agaibh
Those who seek to criminalise Sinn Féin and its supporters took a severe blow here in Gaeltacht Tír Chonaill last week. Over 2,800 people voted for Gráinne Mhic Geidigh to represent them in the Údara elections. While Fianna Fáil remains strong in the Gaeltacht, the boat is certainly rocking.
Interesting times lie ahead - roll on the general election.
Gráinne not only became the first Sinn Féin member elected to Údaras, but the first and only female elected. Once again, Sinn Féin is leading the way. Well done Gráinne on your historic result.
Seosamh Ó Cuireáin,
Cloich Cheann Fhaola Sinn Féin.
Ireland forward not back
Ian Paisley's assertion, on his 79th birthday, that he will never speak with the elected representatives of the majority of nationalists under any circumstances, shows that he was never serious about sharing power and his 'sackcloth and ashes' demand of republicans was meant to scupper a peace deal last December.
If the DUP continues to reject the Good Friday Agreement, the only fair and reasonable alternative is to re-activate those parts of the Agreement that unionists can't veto, eg, full implementation of the Human Rights section and the Patten proposals on policing and the re-establishment of the All-Ireland Bodies. This will require the active engagement of the Irish Government.
Obviously, the best way to push Fianna Fáil in the right direction is to vote for an All-Ireland party, as Fianna Fáil will then be under pressure to live up to its 'Republican Party' label for fear of losing more votes to Sinn Féin.
This strategy has already has some success in the north, where the SDLP has been forced to move from being a 'post-nationalist' to a 'republican' party, as a response to the Sinn Féin surge.