28 June 2007 Edition
Bodenstown - "Front line is now clearly shifting South"
Over a thousand republicans from all parts of Ireland and abroad gathered in the County Kildare Village of Sallins last Sunday for the annual Wolfe Tone Commemoration.
A colour party from the Roddy McCorley Society in Belfast led the parade, involving various marching bands and numerous colourful banners representing Sinn Féin cumainn throughout the country, to the commemoration ceremonies at Bodenstown Churchyard, the final resting place of the father of Irish republicanism, Theobald Wole Tone.
Proceedings in Bodenstown were chaired by Sinn Féin Dublin Mid West representative, Joanne Spain following an introduction by Francie Molloy MLA of the National Commemoration Committee.
Following playing of the Last Post, a wreath was laid by Belfast republican and wife of the late Joe Cahill, Annie Cahill.
Chairperson of the National commemoration Committee, Francie Molloy introduced the chairperson
Joanne Spain said that the gathering was taking place at a “a mixed time” for republicans, with great success for Sinn Féin at the Assembly elections in the Six Counties, an unprecedented decision on the issue of policing and Martin McGuinness elected as deputy First Minister in the North, but that in recent weeks Sinn Féin had not done aswell as the party had expected in the 26 County elections.
The main address was delivered by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams.
Below we carry an edited version of his address:
‘We have entered a new phase of our struggle’ — Adams
Today, as we do every June, republicans from throughout the four corners of Ireland, gather here in Bodenstown to remember the father of Irish republicanism, Theobald Wolfe Tone.
We gather to remember Tone and to rededicate ourselves once again to the ideals and the cause, which he propagated and for which he fought and died at a tragically young age.
And what were Tone’s ideals?
“To break the connection with England, the never-failing source of all our political evils, and to assert the independence of my country – these were my objects.”
“To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissensions, and to substitute the common name of Irishman in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter – these were my means.”
These words remain guiding principles for modern day Irish republicans.
The task outlined by Tone remains our historic mission. It is a huge and challenging one.
As we gather here this year we also recall in particular Irish republican activists of the 1950s. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the IRA Border Campaign of 1956-’62.
The ‘50s campaign occurred in an Ireland stunted by social conservatism North and South, and blighted with unemployment and emigration.
In spite of – or perhaps because of this – there were Irish men and women willing to risk their all to achieve a truly free nation.
The men and women of that republican generation deserve our gratitude and I welcome activists from that phase of struggle who are with us here today.
The past year has been an important one for republicans. The last six months have seen groundbreaking historic political developments, which provide both enormous challenges and opportunities.
As well as fighting two major elections Sinn Féin successfully negotiated an unprecedented deal with the DUP that led to the restoration of the power-sharing and all-Ireland institutions. Many thought this impossible.
At a special Ard Fheis, the party overwhelmingly endorsed the progress won on policing after long and difficult negotiations with the British government. Since then we have appointed three Assembly members to the new Policing Board where they have already made their presence felt in holding the PSNI to account.
We have every confidence in Martina Anderson, Alex Maskey and Daithí McKay.
In the Assembly elections Sinn Féin won 28 seats, an increase of four from the last Assembly election. 180,573 citizens gave us their first preference votes. That equals 26% of the votes cast. Martin McGuinness is now the joint leader of a unique political arrangement between the various political representatives of Irish republicanism and nationalism, and unionism.
This arrangement, worked out and agreed in the Good Friday Agreement negotiations, is a necessary milestone on the road to national reconciliation, and to building a future based on the republican and democratic objective of Wolfe Tone, of peace between Orange and Green.
The delivery of an inclusive, power-sharing Executive, Assembly and All-Ireland Ministerial Council is a hugely important development in the politics and history of this island.
The momentous events of the peace process and the fact that republicans are now exercising real political power, impacting on the lives of people throughout the North and, through the All-Ireland Ministerial Council, throughout Ireland, are evidence of the current strength and relevance of Irish republicanism.
In the 26 Counties the general election was held only eight weeks after the Assembly election in the North. The result was a disappointment for republicans.
Expectations had been raised and while our party’s overall vote-share increased by over 20,000 and Sinn Féin candidates advanced, and some were within close reach of taking seats, the party’s vote in other areas fell back and Seán Crowe, an extremely hardworking TD for Dublin South West, lost his seat.
However, given the nature of the election campaign, the increase in the Sinn Féin vote was no mean achievement particularly in Cavan-Monaghan; Limerick; Clare; Tipperary; Meath; Donegal, Kerry North; Louth; and lots of places in between all the way down to Cork.
I want to thank everyone who voted for us, all our candidates, their families and everyone who worked for Sinn Féin.
After the general election our party leadership immediately commenced a critical and inclusive analysis of our performance and the campaign. This process will continue in the weeks ahead. It is important that all party members, particularly those in the 26 Counties have their say.
Each one of us, leadership, party organisers, and membership must look at what we can individually and collectively do better. This requires a level of leadership to be discharged from within party structures at all levels. Interventions by national leadership are no substitute for this.
Of course, our national leadership has to face up to our responsibilities but we need leaders everywhere. There are more and more young republicans emerging as effective political leaders. And they need as of right to take up their places as we further develop the public profile of the 26 county element of our national leadership.
Sinn Féin is an all-Ireland party operating in two jurisdictions with their own political cultures and different political realities that have developed since partition. What we are attempting to do is unprecedented. It is about building republicanism in both parts of Ireland and making it relevant to citizens in the political conditions in which they live, while at the same time winning support for an end to partition and for the egalitarian 32 county republic envisioned by Wolfe Tone. This is a mighty task requiring the building of much greater political strength throughout the length and breadth of this country.
So our disappointment at the election result in this state must persuade us all to do some reflective thinking on how to advance the cause of republicanism in this state over the coming decade. There needs to be a consensus on how this can be accomplished, and a consensus also on the nature of social and political forces in this part of Ireland. We need to do things differently from here in.
The leaderships of all the establishment parties were united in their opposition to Sinn Féin. Why is this so? It is because our aims and our genuine republicanism are anathema to the vested political and economic interests of the Dublin establishment.
They know that the strategic direction of our struggle is to build in the South. Their efforts are to stop this and to frustrate our efforts to win support for our objectives. All of this is confirmation that we are now embarked on the most difficult but potentially the most rewarding phase of our struggle.
So, the election result is a wake up call. It is not a time for navel gazing and it cannot be an excuse for wishful thinking. We are where we are. But we don’t intend to stay here.
We have already formulated distinct strategic objectives to ensure party structures are fit for purpose in the time ahead; and to effectively combat the establishment’s efforts to stop the revival of republicanism on this island.
In the run in to this year’s elections we had identified weaknesses and put in place plans for the development of our party, particularly in this state. These were to be implemented after the elections.
The election results should have alerted all activists across the island to these weaknesses, so now we can proceed positively in this knowledge, though in a slightly different context.
This means a comprehensive and inclusive consultation with our Southern cúigí over the summer to agree a two-year programme of work, which will consolidate our 26 counties public leadership and make detailed organisational and electoral preparations for the elections in 2009.
This is the first phase of a longer-term strategy to consolidate, build and mainstream Sinn Féin as a coherent political alternative in this state. Huge goodwill towards the party was evident on the doorsteps of every constituency during the recent election, despite the manner in which our candidates were squeezed on polling day. Our job is to build on this goodwill.
The election brought thousands of people out to work for Sinn Féin. Our job is to build structures to keep these people working with us. We must also open up our party to new members. We must re-energise ourselves and ensure there is space for everyone who wants to play their part in building republican politics. We especially need to build republican programmes, which rally the broad mass of people behind republican goals.
However, we also face considerable opposition. This election witnessed a massive ideological offensive by the forces of conservatism in this state. Parties representing those interests successfully exploited the concerns of the people about the future of the economy but they failed to offer a vision of a better, fairer Ireland.
Our responsibility is to sustain a vibrant economy, create opportunity, deliver equality and end poverty. It is to defend such national independence and democracy as this state has left. It is to oppose further sell outs. In other words we need to have common sense programmes, which rally the broad mass of people behind real republican values, as opposed to the bogus republicanism of the other parties.
Of course at the same time we need to develop good working relationships with those in other parties who are open to republican values. But the most important thing is to develop a republican programme that is more than just a promise to do more effectively what the other parties are also promising to do.
If any republican was ever in any doubt it must now be clear that we have entered a new phase of our struggle. While we must continue to advance in the North the front line is now clearly shifting South.
The new Irish Government, even with the presence of the Greens, will not resolve many of the problems facing Irish society.
Labour’s achievement in recent times has been to revive Fine Gael.
For their part Fianna Fáil continue to plough ahead as the supreme verbalised republicans. Long on republican rhetoric and short on republican substance.
The Taoiseach, who has just returned from another EU summit, will be asking us to sign up for a new version of the EU constitution which was rejected by the people of France and the Netherlands two years ago. And he will be supported in that by Fine Gael, Labour and possibly the Greens. So there is lots of work for us to do in the time ahead.
The reality is that Sinn Féin candidates are poised to take new seats at the local elections in 2009 – if we do the work. That means building strong, active and campaigning local structures and ensuring that Sinn Féin is rooted in every local community. Above all, our republicanism must be made relevant to the daily experience of people living in every part of this island.
The party needs to engage more than ever before in campaigning politics. Our progressive republican message is correct but we have more work to prove that.
Just as we met the huge challenges of the peace process – we can meet the many other problems and issues that confront people in their daily lives throughout Ireland.
It is clear that the new government and the auction politics that underpinned the election will not deliver a republican programme. The health system is in disarray. Parents have to weigh up when they can take a child to the doctor. Older people are afraid to go to hospital.
Does anyone believe that this government, which is hell bent on privatising medicine, will resolve these problems? Young people cannot afford a home. There are thousands on waiting lists. Parents cannot afford childcare. Public services are still in crisis.
We are republicans. We believe people are equal and should be treated equally. We have put forward clear proposals on all these matters. If we really want to be in a position to deliver on these proposals then we must win support for them. That means getting better at what we do and learning the lessons of this time.
Our responsibility is to deliver Tone’s vision. No one ever said it would be easy. But huge progress has been made and much, much more is possible.
It can be done. So let’s do it. Patiently, intelligently, with great tenacity and most importantly successfully.
Ar aghaidh linn.