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16 November 2006 Edition

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OPINION - Take risks, seize opportunities to make strategic advances from the front room to the frontline

The position the Ard Chomhairle adopted on the St Andrews proposals creates a new negotiations opportunity from which to advance national, democratic objectives

There's an old fashioned saying, 'sometimes it's hard to see the wood for the trees'. It aptly applies to the current intensive negotiations that dominate this phase of the peace process.

But now more than ever before it is vital that the republican activist perspective has a 20/20 vision of the wider strategic landscape, and balance of political forces.

Republican activists and members are inclined to fixate on the political cohesion and internal unity of our membership and party structures. And it's good that this is so. After all, if we fail to observe this objective, who else will do it for us? It remains a counter strategic objective of our political opponents and enemies to foment republican disquiet. But our attention to internal cohesion and unity has to be balanced with equal appreciation for the wider context within which Sinn Féin must build political strength, both nationally and internationally.

The position the Ard Chom

There's an old fashioned saying, 'sometimes it's hard to see the wood for the trees'. It aptly applies to the current intensive negotiations that dominate this phase of the peace process.

But now more than ever before it is vital that the republican activist perspective has a 20/20 vision of the wider strategic landscape, and balance of political forces.

Republican activists and members are inclined to fixate on the political cohesion and internal unity of our membership and party structures. And it's good that this is so. After all, if we fail to observe this objective, who else will do it for us? It remains a counter strategic objective of our political opponents and enemies to foment republican disquiet. But our attention to internal cohesion and unity has to be balanced with equal appreciation for the wider context within which Sinn Féin must build political strength, both nationally and internationally.

The position the Ard Chomhairle adopted on the St. Andrews proposals was the correct decision. From a strategic perspective, three potentials arise from the two governments' framework. First, it creates a new negotiation beach head from which to continue advancing national and democratic objectives. Second, it helps define a new context within which to engage with the DUP, and in turn press for power-sharing in the Six Counties and wider all-Ireland co-operation and harmonisation. And, crucially, it creates a space in which republicans can continue to act as a catalyst to ensure continued momentum in the peace process, and build political strength across the 32 counties.

 

Strategy, counter-strategy and negotiations

In this period republicans do well to remember that we have been the key dynamic in the Irish peace process. Its inherent popularity has been the harbinger for mobilising more and more popular support for Irish indehairle adopted on the St. Andrews proposals was the correct decision. From a strategic perspective, three potentials arise from the two governments' framework. First, it creates a new negotiation beach head from which to continue advancing national and democratic objectives. Second, it helps define a new context within which to engage with the DUP, and in turn press for power-sharing in the Six Counties and wider all-Ireland co-operation and harmonisation. And, crucially, it creates a space in which republicans can continue to act as a catalyst to ensure continued momentum in the peace process, and build political strength across the 32 counties.

 

Strategy, counter-strategy and negotiations

In this period republicans do well to remember that we have been the key dynamic in the Irish peace process. Its inherent popularity has been the harbinger for mobilising more and more popular support for Irish independence.

As a result some of our opponents would seek to disable the Good Friday Agreement and fossilise the peace process. Other opponents from within both unionism, nationalism and of course the NIO, are currently attempting to derail the negotiations on the transfer of policing and justice with active complicity from sectional, strategic interests in both the London and Dublin establishments. Their strategic objective is to prevent Sinn Féin ending British and unionist hegemony over policing and justice powers and creating democratic, politically accountable and civic policing in the Six Counties. Republicans need to combat this counter strategy.

Albeit that much of this interplay between republican strategy and our opponents' counter-strategy is confined to the current primacy of negotiations, we as activists must be focussed on the maxim that those who seek the maximum change have a duty to exercise extraordinary patience, discipline, objectpendence.

As a result some of our opponents would seek to disable the Good Friday Agreement and fossilise the peace process. Other opponents from within both unionism, nationalism and of course the NIO, are currently attempting to derail the negotiations on the transfer of policing and justice with active complicity from sectional, strategic interests in both the London and Dublin establishments. Their strategic objective is to prevent Sinn Féin ending British and unionist hegemony over policing and justice powers and creating democratic, politically accountable and civic policing in the Six Counties. Republicans need to combat this counter strategy.

Albeit that much of this interplay between republican strategy and our opponents' counter-strategy is confined to the current primacy of negotiations, we as activists must be focussed on the maxim that those who seek the maximum change have a duty to exercise extraordinary patience, discipline, objectivity and long headedness in pursuit of our aims.

In our present reality this means recognising changes, and shifts, and the potential for encouraging more of these among our opponents, and the wider conditions of struggle. Although direct participation in negotiations is understandably limited to a few, in the context of our strategy and the central role of negotiations therein, we in the wider activist base need to know when to take risks and seize opportunities to make strategic advances.

At this time Sinn Féin is locked in decisive negotiations. Whatever their outcome, we must be prepared to turn this negotiation phase into a strategic beach head and ensure our opponents don't succeed in putting us on the back foot.

 

Risk is ever present

In recent weeks activists have engaged in unparalleled formal and informal debate. Comrades speak of Cumainn meetings producing the most compelling and intereivity and long headedness in pursuit of our aims.

In our present reality this means recognising changes, and shifts, and the potential for encouraging more of these among our opponents, and the wider conditions of struggle. Although direct participation in negotiations is understandably limited to a few, in the context of our strategy and the central role of negotiations therein, we in the wider activist base need to know when to take risks and seize opportunities to make strategic advances.

At this time Sinn Féin is locked in decisive negotiations. Whatever their outcome, we must be prepared to turn this negotiation phase into a strategic beach head and ensure our opponents don't succeed in putting us on the back foot.

 

Risk is ever present

In recent weeks activists have engaged in unparalleled formal and informal debate. Comrades speak of Cumainn meetings producing the most compelling and interesting discussions ever. This impetus for enhanced levels of critical strategic discussion must be sustained, with the diversity of opinion expressed fully validated. Republican strategy can only be enriched by such debate.

At the same time however, we must be fearless and absolutely single-minded in our assessment of how our strategy can be deployed to continue making gains, and winning the battle for hearts and minds North and South. For republicans risk is ever present in struggle - but we also have most to gain.

We should remind ourselves that when we negotiate we do so with political opponents whose strategy is to block Sinn Féin's national electoral growth and political popularity. Risks and initiatives by republicans should be understood in strategic terms and not because we expect an altruistic response or reciprocation from opponents.

The potential for or opponents to negotiate in bad faith, or to booby trap agreements is a constansting discussions ever. This impetus for enhanced levels of critical strategic discussion must be sustained, with the diversity of opinion expressed fully validated. Republican strategy can only be enriched by such debate.

At the same time however, we must be fearless and absolutely single-minded in our assessment of how our strategy can be deployed to continue making gains, and winning the battle for hearts and minds North and South. For republicans risk is ever present in struggle - but we also have most to gain.

We should remind ourselves that when we negotiate we do so with political opponents whose strategy is to block Sinn Féin's national electoral growth and political popularity. Risks and initiatives by republicans should be understood in strategic terms and not because we expect an altruistic response or reciprocation from opponents.

The potential for or opponents to negotiate in bad faith, or to booby trap agreements is a constant. But, that's why negotiations represent a site of struggle for Sinn Féin. If negotiations were a guaranteed lottery ticket to a united Ireland we'd have won that a long time ago.

These negotiations present enormous challenges for republican activists, not least because popular nationalism and the Irish Diaspora look to us to champion their aspirations and expectations. But they also challenge our opponents. So too, do they challenge others who purport  to support republicanism and oppose Sinn Féin's peace strategy.

 

Pro State Agents and Pseudo Republicans

Last January this columnist observed that we may well be entering the most dangerous period of the peace process to date. Nothing since has invalidated this assessment - on the contrary, and concurrent to the developing political potential in this period, there has been an upswing in counter-insurgency and counter-revolutionary activities. A simt. But, that's why negotiations represent a site of struggle for Sinn Féin. If negotiations were a guaranteed lottery ticket to a united Ireland we'd have won that a long time ago.

These negotiations present enormous challenges for republican activists, not least because popular nationalism and the Irish Diaspora look to us to champion their aspirations and expectations. But they also challenge our opponents. So too, do they challenge others who purport  to support republicanism and oppose Sinn Féin's peace strategy.

 

Pro State Agents and Pseudo Republicans

Last January this columnist observed that we may well be entering the most dangerous period of the peace process to date. Nothing since has invalidated this assessment - on the contrary, and concurrent to the developing political potential in this period, there has been an upswing in counter-insurgency and counter-revolutionary activities. A similar period in the political history of the South African struggle resulted in attempts to destabilise the ANC  by means including the assassination of key ANC leaders,most noticeably the MK Chief of Staff, Chris Hani.

The coming months exhibit all the potential for the most sinister counter offensive yet, being orchestrated by pro-state agents and pseudo republican strategy elements opposed to Sinn Féin strategy, operating in collusion with, and separately from,  each other.

For all these reasons, it is essential that we do not allow the struggle in this phase to be  deflected or reduced to negotiations alone. Our current ability to negotiate successfully is interdependent upon the role of activists "outside the room". There is a always the potential in the midst of intense negotiations, for confusion to be caused, for inertia to be fostered within popular opinion and for activists to become spectators. Confusion, inertiailar period in the political history of the South African struggle resulted in attempts to destabilise the ANC  by means including the assassination of key ANC leaders,most noticeably the MK Chief of Staff, Chris Hani.

The coming months exhibit all the potential for the most sinister counter offensive yet, being orchestrated by pro-state agents and pseudo republican strategy elements opposed to Sinn Féin strategy, operating in collusion with, and separately from,  each other.

For all these reasons, it is essential that we do not allow the struggle in this phase to be  deflected or reduced to negotiations alone. Our current ability to negotiate successfully is interdependent upon the role of activists "outside the room". There is a always the potential in the midst of intense negotiations, for confusion to be caused, for inertia to be fostered within popular opinion and for activists to become spectators. Confusion, inertia and spectatorism run counter to our strategy - they breed stagnation. So, in direct proportion to the intensity of negotiations the party needs to maximise political communication amongst all republican activists and the wider republican base.

Cúigí and Comhairle Ceantair leaderships and key activists carry special responsibilities to ensure this does not happen by facilitating communication and discussion, and providing proper local leadership.

 

Getting on the political frontline

The strategic importance of wider political activism in consolidating the effect of negotiations, by articulating and giving leadership to popular demands for change cannot be over-emphasised. Just as the Sinn Féin project is not solely about elections, neither can it become solely dependent upon negotiations. Indeed the more decisive the negotiation, the more vital the role of our activist base becomes within local commu and spectatorism run counter to our strategy - they breed stagnation. So, in direct proportion to the intensity of negotiations the party needs to maximise political communication amongst all republican activists and the wider republican base.

Cúigí and Comhairle Ceantair leaderships and key activists carry special responsibilities to ensure this does not happen by facilitating communication and discussion, and providing proper local leadership.

 

Getting on the political frontline

The strategic importance of wider political activism in consolidating the effect of negotiations, by articulating and giving leadership to popular demands for change cannot be over-emphasised. Just as the Sinn Féin project is not solely about elections, neither can it become solely dependent upon negotiations. Indeed the more decisive the negotiation, the more vital the role of our activist base becomes within local communities and wider Irish society.

In tandem with negotiations, every republican needs to be on the frontline of delivering change, leading campaigns and mobilisations, alliance building and outreach, and constantly engaging popular opinion within wider Irish society. This cannot be a time for inertia or stagnation, or retiring into our front rooms to be fed a diet of analysis set by the agenda of our opponents through the establishment media.

This is a time to be on the frontline of republican debate and activity - planning how we maximise the impact of our strategy. And yes, preparing to take new risks to win the struggle. This is a seminal period to be a republican activist. It's a time comrades, for us all to ignore the comfort zone of the front room and get on the political frontline.

 

• Declan Kearney is Chairperson of Sinn Féin's Cúige Uladh. nities and wider Irish society.

In tandem with negotiations, every republican needs to be on the frontline of delivering change, leading campaigns and mobilisations, alliance building and outreach, and constantly engaging popular opinion within wider Irish society. This cannot be a time for inertia or stagnation, or retiring into our front rooms to be fed a diet of analysis set by the agenda of our opponents through the establishment media.

This is a time to be on the frontline of republican debate and activity - planning how we maximise the impact of our strategy. And yes, preparing to take new risks to win the struggle. This is a seminal period to be a republican activist. It's a time comrades, for us all to ignore the comfort zone of the front room and get on the political frontline.

 

• Declan Kearney is Chairperson of Sinn Féin's Cúige Uladh.

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