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23 October 1997 Edition

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Campaign has started national debate

Gerry Adams argues that the controversy surrounding the Presidential campaign can develop into a debate about the type of country Ireland can become.

For every negative there is a positive and the negative campaigning which has marred the presidential election contest has sparked off a debate which is truly national and which I hope will continue beyond polling day.

I also hope that this debate will be conducted in a more reasoned, inclusive and informative way than we have seen so far. I appeal to those political leaders who have taken up positions of trenchant opposition to the views espoused by Sinn Féin to play a constructive role in informing this debate. For my part I will seek to do the same.

The debate is about how we, the people of Ireland, see ourselves.

Is Ireland, no matter how positively it may be described, a narrow, partitionist, factionalised and dysfunctional society which has never come to terms with our own history or our own potential to grow in an inclusive and equitable way?

Or do we have an all-Ireland view which tries to embrace all the people of this island as equals? Have we a vision of an island with people at peace with ourselves and our neighbours, developing our own society in a way which reflects our diversity as a nation?

Or does ``official'' Ireland stop at the border? Are we two nations? What is our relationship with Britain? What should it be? What role has unionism in all this? What role do unionists want?

There are many other questions which need to be answered as part of this debate. They include core issues like how we see the peace process and its objectives. What is Irish nationalism? Or unionism? What is our attitude to partition? To the Union? What is republicanism? What effect does the political dimension of partition have on the social or economic well being of the people of Ireland? What is our Irishness? What is Irish culture? What is our vision for the future?

There are other issues about the conduct of politics - north and south - which need to be explored in a balanced way. These go to the very core of what politics should be about. I believe that politics should be about empowering people. Do they? Can they?

There have been many instances recently of the corruption and selfishness which drives some political ambitions. The leaking of sensitive confidential government documents is just as reprehensible. So too is the way in which these documents were seized upon to advance a narrow political agenda. The national interest was put to one side.

It is also a matter of some concern and an insight into the mindsets of the politicians and commentators involved that my observations on the election are misrepresented negatively by them as being in some way more worthy of controversy than the leaking of these documents.

It has also been said that my comments on the presidential candidates were a strategic intervention in the election as part of my plan to ``colonise'' the presidency. This is patent nonsense. My comments on the election were a reasonable response to reasonable questions and not part of any calculated intervention.

As I have made clear Sinn Féin has not endorsed any candidate but we do have the right to express opinions. I and other Sinn Féin spokespersons will continue to do so as part of our legitimate agenda of promoting a better understanding of our political views and of informing public debate on the issues of the day.

It is no accident that those who pursue a narrow partitionist agenda seek also to exclude or to misrepresent all other views. It is no accident that these are the people who criticised John Hume and myself when we started the peace process.

They are the same people who condemned President Mary Robinson's visit to West Belfast in June 1993. Theirs is a neo-unionist and pro-Union agenda.

In the past censorship and revisionism made their task a relatively easy one. Negative campaigning, misrepresentation, disinformation and campaigns of McCarthyism are the easy option. Now much more is demanded of them. Are they up to the challenge?

Are they capable of being part of a real debate on the real issues?
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