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29 March 2007 Edition

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Opinion : New political situation opens up radical new possibilities

May you live in exciting times!


‘May you live in exciting times!’ is a common Chinese exhortation to the respected ones, as events move on, apparently driven by the very logic of those events themselves.
But this is only the appearance.  The events in question here are driven by real political forces – the result of changes in political strengths, and reflected of course in the relentless tittle-tattle of the media of the times, that purports to write history on the hoof.
After the latest Assembly election successes, no doubt Irish republicans rightly feel they live in very exciting times! With the advent of elections in the South, there are yet more exciting times on the horizon. 
It is good to take stock – to ask just how and why are these times so exciting?
For one thing, the British have clearly recognised the inevitability of a unified All Ireland economy. But what follows on from this inevitability?
The answer lies with the setting up and running of the Six County Executive. No longer will the Taoiseach alone speak on behalf of ‘the people of Ireland’. The Taoiseach will have to share this status and honour with the Office of First and Deputy First Ministers.  They too will have a role as spokespeople for the island of Ireland.
But the changes go far deeper.  Under the Good Friday Agreement, Ministers from both parts of Ireland will meet together as the North South Ministerial Council, part of a model of All Ireland governance.  Four of these ministers will be from Sinn Féin.
The ministers for Health, Agriculture, Education, Environment, Tourism, and Transport will meet jointly in all-Ireland Areas of Co-operation.  These ministers are accountable to the elected representatives in both the Assembly and in Leinster House.
The coming elections in the 26 counties will elect that body of TDs whose responsibility will include making those ministers accountable, jointly, for their actual All Ireland governance, through their work to progress the Areas of Co-operation.
These All Ireland institutions have been created by the logic of reunification, and must be driven forward.
The reality is in the logic of events, necessitating an all-Ireland economy, which Peter Hain has been anxious to announce – no doubt in the hope that the All Ireland economy will save the British purse from having to solely fund the infrastructural investment, so long denied to the Six Counties by the Treasury.
But that is only a start. The reality is about the real re-unification of the island.
The election results in the 26 counties will help frame, through the votes for Sinn Féin, and other TDs, the type of Ireland this new dispensation will create. 
In voting for Sinn Féin, people across that part of the island will have the opportunity to reject the Ireland of a two tier health system, or of an education system which guarantees private educational privilege, and disadvantages the rest with huge classes, inadequate school buildings and a limited curriculum, a system which denies access to third-level education to half the students in the island
The two parts of Ireland will share services – that is the logic, but now we can strive to make these services work for the whole island of Ireland, based on equality.
Ministers working jointly in co-operation must address rural development and agriculture, to ensure that rural areas west of the Bann, but equally rural areas on the Western seaboard, must share equally in the economic development of the island. 
Ministers of tourism must strive to ensure that the huge potential for all Ireland tourism is developed to meet the needs of local communities, which for too long, have been peripheral to the development plans of the two separate governments on the congested Eastern seaboard.
Ministers must also address perhaps the key question of the age: how to adjust our fossil fuelled economy to meet the needs of CO2 emission saving – the impending crisis, of which the Stern Report has warned the developed countries’ economies. The need is to change our very pattern of living to avoid, in time, an otherwise catastrophic slump, and an economic collapse that will be far worse than the slump of the Thirties.
Together exploiting our unique natural advantages, joint government – with foresight – can develop the green energy capacity upon which our future economic growth, and competitiveness, must rely.
Re-unification will not happen of its own accord.  It requires shaping a vision of a new united Ireland, based on equality. Sinn Féin cannot deliver this New Ireland without the people, all of the people, engaged in the struggle to achieve it. We are about revolution, not about delivering a 32 county version of the current ‘rip-off’ Republic of Ireland – one of the richest and most unequal states in the Western world.
The 26 County general elections offers us the opportunity which Connolly made real – of uniting the socialist and nationalist in a common struggle for reunification driven by our vision of a new Ireland  – “The Cause of Ireland and the Cause of Labour”.
It is a struggle about accountability, to ensure that the new institutions of government set about framing a new state, which enshrines equality, human rights and participatory governance at its heart.
That accountability must be made effective in the Assembly and Leinster House.
This is the huge challenge, which lies with our MLAs, and with our TDs who will be elected at the forthcoming election.  In so far as these institutions are based in democracy - government by, and accountable to, the people - our work in them to shape the new Ireland will be through our electoral strength  – the mandate that our representatives receive from the people.
But there are two strands, through which we must build our political strength – within the communities and in the institutions themselves.  These strands are but two sides of the same coin.
They are the two strands envisaged in the strategies of Sinn Féin's All Ireland Department, the involvement of our communities (POBAL), and the co-ordination of our work in the institutions  (AONTU), so that we can focus on making real the equality, which Sinn Féin needs to put at the heart of the GFA institutions. It is these two strands that we have to develop and co-ordinate, as we move forward towards a united equality-based Ireland.
These are the exciting times in which we live. It is the opportunity to shape a new united Ireland driven by the people in their communities, as well as by the MLAs and TDs, who they elect to represent them.
We need to be sure that the people of the 26 counties know just how exciting the times in which they live are.  That politics is not just about an auction of taxation cuts, mindless statistics and false promises. 
Politics for once is about the chance to progress equality for all and implement all Ireland governance to meet the needs of all of the people.
It is the chance we have to build a New Ireland – The Republic. These are exciting times.

Seán Oliver is Co-ordinator of Sinn Féin's All Ireland Department

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