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5 July 2007 Edition

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OPINION : Time to prepare people for a longer, deeper political battle

More than a political party











BY
CAOILFHIONN
Ní DHONNABHÁIN

How do we deliver change?  How do we deliver unity? How do we deliver a rights based social programme that ensures access to universal public services, wealth redistribution, raises standards of living and improves quality of life?  How do we succeed in our objective of delivering a socialist republic?
We need to refocus and set about building a vibrant movement capable of delivering that change.  A movement for change is a very different beast to a political party. The forces that pull us towards a purely electoral focus want us to be just another political party because they long ago realised that only in that way can they hope to subjugate us. 
The number of elections which we have fought in recent years is staggering.  In the last seven years the only year when we weren’t engaged in fighting at least one election was 2006, and even then activists were already engaging in the campaigns for the 2007 elections.  We have to accept that this has taken its toll.  Education — politicisation — has taken a back seat as we have busied ourselves fighting endless elections. It is time to sharpen our tools. It is time for education and debate.  It is time to prepare people for a longer, deeper political battle.
We need to focus on grassroots participation in order to build political strength.  We need to create a popular movement for change.   We need to go back into our communities, secure our existing base and build wider popular support for our project. Only in this way can we build real political strength that  enables us to deliver change. 
In order to do this we need a far deeper engagement within our communities.   People need to feel involved in our project and our struggle.  Our base must be more than our ‘core vote’ — they must be stakeholders and participants in our project — they must be part of that popular movement for change.
In order to work towards the creation of such a popular movement every member of our party must be an ambassador for our project, empowered, educated and politicised to be ready to engage at every opportunity in persuasion and argument to bring more supporters and members to our cause. Party members must be prepared and enabled to engage people on all aspects of our socio-economic agenda at a local level. 
We need to be more challenging in our engagements with the trade unions and the other social forces.  We need to engage them in a far-reaching debate about the future of Ireland, politically, socially and economically. Only in this way can we build a mandate for change won on the basis of a change in the mindsets of the electorate.
We need to engage the artistic community with our struggle and make them part of our movement so that they can assist us in our battle of persuasion.  We need to persuade the electorate of the imperative of unity and of our radical social and economic programme. 
There is a reality that we need to except if we are to live up to our ‘others promise we deliver’ slogan. That is that you cannot  - in a coalition government for example - implement your policies if people have not been persuaded of the correctness of those policies.   Unfortunately, as the Green Party is now finding out, you can have power without political strength and that is next to worthless.
In the 26 Counties we need to build that mandate while building alliances in a period of constructive opposition. 
Objective conditions are changing - the economic climate is changing.  We need to grasp this opportunity and begin a debate with the trade unions and others about the future direction of the economy. We need to start a discussion with them around how we protect jobs, improve standards of living and quality of life, how we build a consensus among those who share these objectives  and the goals of stamping out exploitation and poverty.
We need to consider how to influence the climate in which we operate - the public mood - the public appetite for our agenda. For example how do we better create a greater public demand for a United Ireland?
The success of the peace process has also affected the conditions in which we seek to create a popular demand for a United Ireland. We need to adapt to these changed conditions so that we continue to stir hearts to the cause of Unity.  A renewed appeal to nationalist sentiments is now necessary.  Merely talking about cross border cooperation and the all-Ireland economy loses all except those already convinced or directly affected.  
What has happened to nationalism?  Nationalism should not be looked at in a negative light.  We are in danger of recoiling from nationalism in a mistaken notion that nationalism is something it is not - out of fear of being associated with xenophobes and racists who seek to attach themselves to nationalism for their own nefarious agenda.  We need to focus on culture, language and identity in a positive manner in order to create a mood for the Irish unity.
As European Union federalism seeks to further advance its own agenda through the new EU constitution, a space is opening up for a debate where we can set out our alternative vision, at the centre of which stands the nation state and Irish Unity. 
Progressive nationalism now has a new raison d’etre in challenging globalisation and cultural imperialism both of which are dominant forces in Ireland today  - as seen in our clone towns and in many of the values that characterise modern Ireland. As consumerism and individualism flourish nowhere is the statement that ‘capitalism creates a world after its own image’ more true.  We need to establish an alternative to that reality with which many people are unhappy as the quality of their lives deteriorates.    In this regard there is much potential for Ogra Shinn Féin to act as an auxiliary in the battle of persuasion -  in challenging consumerism,  in questioning corporate power, in subverting the signs and symbols of this dominant culture and in undermining the ideals with which we are bombarded with by the media and by advertisers.  Ogra Shinn Féin’s activism needs to be more relevant to our overall project — it must adapt its agitation and its campaigns to ensure that this is the case. 
The existing dominant culture affects the public mood   -  the cultural nationalist movement of the late 19th century Ireland helped create a public mood that brought about the events of the  revolutionary years of the early 20th century.  In working to affect the public mood for our wider platform and our agenda we need to show that an alternative to the status quo is possible - challenging cultural imperialism and globalisation is a step on that road.
While we have always been to the fore in fighting for the restoration of economic sovereignty, in economic terms nationalism has never been more relevant.  Climate change and fears over a future oil shock drives us towards relocalisation (bringing the location of production closer to location of consumption). In such a context relocalisation replaces the protectionism traditionally associated with economic nationalism. 
We need to adapt our struggle to the changed circumstances. It is well within our capabilities to do this.  By going forward with increased fervour and creating a popular movement and building a mandate we can be sure that we will actually deliver where others promise - that we will succeed in delivering the social, economic and political change for which we fight.

• Caoilfhionn Ní Dhonnabháin is the Head of  Sinn Féin’s Trade Union Department and member of the party’s Ard Comhairle


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