15 June 2006 Edition
Conference: Spirit of McElwaine evident among delegates
BY JIM GIBNEY
Activists look forward to republicans in power
About 100 yards away from the Sliabh Beag hotel in Knockatallon, north Monaghan, is a monument to one of the IRA's legendary freedom fighters, shot dead in an SAS ambush a few miles away in Fermanagh's Roslea.
Séamus Mc Elwaine was summarily executed as he lay wounded following an ambush on him and his comrade Seán Lynch in April 1986. Although gravely wounded Seán survived and now plays a leading role in Sinn Féin.
The inscription on the monument, a quote from Pearse reads: "As long as Ireland is unfree the only honourable attitude for Irishmen and Irishwomen is an attitude of revolt.' It sums up the mood of the more than 100 republicans from across Ulster who met in conference last weekend in the Sliabh Beag.
The title of the conference organised by an Cuige na Sé Chondae was Training for Transformation, Training for Power. Delegates debated the politics of the struggle, regularly described as being in transition, led by Sinn Féin, a party in transition.
Delegates looked back to a time when the methods used by Séamas McElwaine were centre stage while looking forward to a time when republicans are in power, using power to achieve unity and independence and a society based on socialist principles.
The delegates were a mixture of seasoned activists from a Sinn Féin and IRA backgrounds, many of whom spent years behind bars North and South. They were joined by younger activists.
The tone of the two day event was set by Declan Kearney, Chairperson of an Cuige na Sé Chondae. In a wide ranging presentation titled Power in Ireland: A Road Map to Victory, he encouraged republicans to think big. Assessing the growth of Sinn Féin over the last 10 years he predicted the party in government in the North, in government in the South, if that was our wish and if not shaping who is.
The central message of his speech was the need for political training and education for activists.
Independence and reunification were prerequisites for a democratic socialist republic. Without independence a socialist society was not possible.
Sinn Féin was the party who would and are leading the struggle for independence but to achieve it the party had to become much bigger than it is.
The short term objective is to build a mass political party, leading a mass popular movement for independence and social change across the country.
Leadership Kearney said can "stimulate or stifle". Sinn Féin and the struggle needed leadership at local, middle and national levels which would stimulate and motivate activists and supporters to campaign for the maximum amount of change.
Sinn Féin had to reflect the society it was trying to shape. This means more women in leadership and elected positions, more youth given responsibility to use their energy and passion for radical politics.
Leo Green, one of Sinn Féin's main negotiators in his presentation on the Centrality of Negotiations, recalled a conversation he was told took place a few weeks before Kieran Doherty died on hunger strike. Kieran asked one of his visitors would the British government give the prisoners their five demands. His visitor said there was 'No chance. If you continue you'll die.' Asked by his visitor what he intended doing Kieran replied, "I know the road I'm on and I'm not turning back."
Negotiations said Leo are about knowing the 'road you are on'. He quoted from the first note he ever wrote in 1995 about negotiations, 'you need to know where you are coming from, the road you are on and where you are going to.' Then he was being advised by ANC negotiators when he was with a Sinn Féin delegation in South Africa.
Negotiations are a part of struggle. They are not about tidying up loose ends. They are about taking political power away from your enemies, building political strength and using that strength to impact on the political situation to create change.
We need to constantly remind ourselves we are fighting a big system. Negotiators will only get what people are demanding and once that is achieved those in the system will immediately set about trying to undo the progress.
When the two governments are negotiating with republicans they are dealing with history. Republicans bring their history into the room with them.
Green said he is often asked by republicans in a frustrating tone will the negotiations ever be over and his answer is. "They'll be over when the British leave, when we achieve our objectives."
Building on the theme of using Sinn Féin's power to make change Séan Murray said republicans must prepare themselves for Sinn Féin moving from a party of protest to a party, confident and capable enough, of taking state power. Republicans have had their share of 'glorious defeats'. We are engaged in a "political war of attrition", wearing down our opponents by building on and using the political strength we have acquired over the years of struggle.
Republicans will get out of the struggle what they put into it. The harder they work the quicker freedom will be secured. He urged republicans to turn "passive Sinn Féin voters into republican activists", to build strong and politicised communities across the country, to bring the republican vision to trade unionists, to unionists and to others not opposed to a united Ireland but unsure about Sinn Féin.
Brian Tumelty speaking on the theme, Building A Radical Movement, said the dedication and determination which republicans showed during the armed struggle is what is now required to deliver a united Ireland.
Republicans had a political outlook different from most other parties. When it came to delivering real change in Ireland republicans were the only people to follow through. That is why republicans were fighting Shell in Mayo, sectarianism in Belfast or imperialism in the middle-east.
This period of struggle should be seen as a time of renewal for republicans. A time to bring more people to the republican struggle.
The spirit that led Séamus McElwaine into the IRA as a 16-year-old, the determination that led him to walk 30 miles across fields rather than risk being spotted in a car, the dedication which saw him return to active service after escaping from jail was evident among the conference delegates.
It is this commitment to struggle which will secure this country's independence.