6 November 2008 Edition
'Way forward to equality is available' - Adams
Forty years on from the Civil Rights Movement and ten years on from the Good Friday Agreement unionism in the North once again finds itself at a crossroads. The shift from not an inch politics, from the outright opposition to sharing power with nationalists and republicans to the situation where unionism now finds itself in, has been a traumatic, if slow process, for political unionism.
From control of the parliament, the Cabinet, local government, the justice system and the police the reality for political unionism in 2008 is that the only way it will be able to exercise any political power is within the all Ireland political architecture set out in the Good Friday Agreement - with all of its built in checks and balances. Despite all of the provocative posturing and over the top rhetoric, this is the reality.
The challenge for successive unionist leadership has been to come to terms with this reality and to act accordingly. None have succeeded so far. What does this mean for unionism today? It means the leadership making a fundamental decision.
Do they want to move forward with the rest of us or do they still harbour the notion of returning to the past? Everything hinges on the answer to this simple question. I hope that in the coming period unionism makes it clear that it is up for the challenges of moving forward together as equals.
That means working the joint office of the First and Deputy First Minister in true partnership.
It means operating within the Executive and the Departments and the all-Ireland bodies in the same way. Sharing power means sharing power. It does not mean operating institutions on your own terms. The Good Friday Agreement institutions cannot operate on this basis. They require unionism to commit to true partnership and equality for the first time. The core of the current dispute is about defending the Good Friday Agreement and its institutions.
We are on the right side of that argument. There is a way forward available; it is the road of equality and partnership - the question is whether or not unionist politicians are prepared to lead their people along that path.
A successful EU election campaign in 2009 is especially important as Sinn Féin continues to build political strength and to move ever closer to our primary goals of ending partition and achieving the reunification of our country. It is also important given the role of the European Parliament and of the EU in the lives of the people of this island in the years ahead. The Union is also moving in an overly centralised, privatised and militarised direction. Sinn Féin’s approach to all of this is rooted in our republicanism. And it is this that marks us out from all of the other political parties. Republicanism is historically a European movement.
It is about citizenship and a rights-based society. Republicans want to see a social Europe and a democratic, citizen based EU. Be very conscious that throughout the Union there are citizens who share our view.
Current Economic Crisis
The current economic challenges are affecting all the people of this island. Successive Fianna Fáil-led governments wasted the surpluses of the boom years, leaving the Irish exchequer facing a €15 billion deficit by the end of 2009. The recent Budget 2009 did not include one new initiative or intervention to simulate the economy; nothing for small business and indigenous businesses; nothing for our farming or fishing communities; and nothing to give hope or solace to ordinary workers that this Fianna Fail/Green Party government can turn this economy around. It targets the old, the sick and children. It is punitive, it is anti-citizen and anti-republican.
It goes against the grain of everything republicanism means. Fianna Fáil never had any real commitment to the provision of universal healthcare, improving our education system or protecting those most vulnerable in society. And the actions of the Green Party indicate a party that has only been paying lip service to these ideals.
The FF/Green budget is the final nail in the Green Party’s social policy and makes crystal clear whose interests the Government has most at heart; big developers, bankers, tax exiles, but most certainly not the ordinary citizens. The Green Party and others may back peddle and backbench TDs may protest but this is a Government that punishes the young and the elderly and then has the audacity to call it our patriotic duty. You and I both know they know nothing about patriotic duty.
The Sinn Féin Alternative
But Sinn Féin believes that the economy can be turned around. The next twelve months are crucial.
Sinn Féin has presented the government with our budget proposal. It contains solid proposals to address the economic crisis, generate jobs, stimulate the economy and all based on the principles of equality and fairness. The EU and local elections will give us the opportunity to present our economic and social alternative policies; to defend the rights of our elderly against cutbacks in their health care; to oppose education cuts that will adversely impact on the education of our children, and to promote the republican vision of Ireland in Europe, playing a positive and constructive role.
The EU election will allow us to win more people to our cause, and convince more people to join Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin has also been active on the ground over the past few weeks taking part in protests against the cuts and supporting our elderly, parents, children, teachers, workers and rural communities. We will continue our activity in the run up to Christmas and beyond with our “Reverse the Cuts” campaign with a particular focus on Education.
A recently Oireachtas Joint Committee has been tasked with addressing the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty. Senator Pearse Doherty and Mary Lou McDonald have reaffirmed that we would play a constructive and positive role in the committee. But Sinn Féin has made it clear we will not be part of a cynical exercise to clear the way for a re-run of the Lisbon Treaty. The government, and all the parties who supported Lisbon should note that the people will not accept empty opt outs and meaningless declarations. The debate must centre on how a better deal for Ireland in the EU can be secured.