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19 February 1998 Edition

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Anger and deep, deep determination

Brian Campbell was in Liberty Hall on Monday night to hear the Sinn Féin leadership make a rousing call for people-power


A day of high political drama ended with a surging display of confidence and determination from a packed political meeting in Dublin's Liberty Hall. It was a fitting end to a day full of historic symbolism.

There was something significant that attempts to expel Sinn Féin from peace talks in Dublin Castle - the former seat of British rule in Ireland - should be followed by this call to mobilise the power of the people in Liberty Hall, a site with links to Ireland's great radical movements - national, labour and women.

``They made one sad miscalculation today,'' Gerry Adams told the crowd. ``They thought they could bring us into Dublin Castle, kick us in the arse and send us home again. That's where they underestimated the commitment of our party and our constituents and our supporters to building a proper peace process, a real peace process.''

His speech summed up the anger and deep, deep determination which have gripped republicans and nationalists in these last few days.

It also seemed significant that as 800 people were giving a standing ovation to the Sinn Féin talks team inside the hall, another meeting was taking place outside.

Three hundred had been unable to get in and Gerry Kelly addressed them on the steps of the building. As he finished applause and cheers rang out through the cold night in Dublin city centre.

Inside, the standing ovation lasted several minutes as members of Sinn Féin's talks team and candidates in the forthcoming by-elections, Paul Donnelly and Jenny Shapland, were introduced.

``We initiated these talks. If we're out, then the talks are over,'' Martin McGuinness said. ``Now, in order to make the process a success we need people-participation, we need people all over our island to face up to what is required to resolve this conflict.

``There is a responsibility on each and every single person living on this island to take ownership of this peace process, to be part of it, to be part of challenging what the British and the Unionists are doing by forcing the British to face up to the equality agenda which is required if we are to have any hope of resolving conflict on this island.''

He spoke about the complete lack of engagement by Unionists. ``We have bent over backwards and what we have been rewarded with is a blank wall of Unionist intransigence. And it is now time to tell the British government to face up to the intransigence of the Unionist leadership.

``It is now time for the British government to tell David Trimble, Ian Paisley and Robert McCartney and all the rest of them that the only way forward in this process is through inclusive, meaningful decent negotiations. And if the British government isn't prepared to do that, this British government, under Tony Blair and Mo Mowlam will fail this process because we need - we demand, we're entitled to - fundamental political and constitutional change. We're entitled to be treated, not as second-class citizens in our own country but as first class Irish men and women. Because that's what we are. I'm not a second-class MP. Gerry Adams isn't a second-class MP. The people we represent are not second-class people. We have spent our entire lives struggling for justice, for equality, for peace and for freedom on this island.

``The next few weeks are going to be critical and crucial on that long, hard road. But with the support of the people of Ireland we can bring about all of those things. We're absolutely confident that we can bring about all of those things because it's the people - it's the power of the people, it's the message they send to political leaders that make governments change their policy, change their attitudes, change their strategies.

``There is a real opportunity for peace on this island. Have no doubt or question about that whatsoever. We want you to be part of it.''

The theme of people power, of `taking ownership of the peace process' was repeated in Gerry Adams's speech.

``Tomorrow there's going to be an attempt to dump our party out of these talks,'' he said. ``There was an attempt today and it failed but they're coming back tomorrow to try the same thing again. And say we are dumped out, tomorrow or the day after or whenever, what do we do about it? What can you do about it? Do you seethe at the TV screen? Do you get annoyed at what's going on? How do you in some way get involved in sorting it out?''

He spoke about the need for people to make the space to contribute in their own way. They could wear a green ribbon, persuade others to do the same. Everyone had to find their own way to contribute,

``In terms of the big picture, think beyond May. Think beyond this year. Think beyond next year. What kind of Ireland do we want? Do we want an Ireland which in perpetuity is going to be divided? Do we want an Ireland in which the most reactionary elements are central to the entire life of the island and all its aspects? Do we want forever to live in a situation where nationalists are divided from Unionists? Do we want one third of our people here in this state to live below the poverty level? Do we want this city contaminated by the scourge of drugs?

``What sort of an island do we want? And how do you go about changing that? Because those of us who live in the North would still be living under the heel and under the euphemism of `croppies lie down' if we hadn't decided in 1968 that enough is enough, that we were no longer going to be treated as second-class citizens. And similarly in this situation here, people here need to take ownership because as a political activist I have grown to learn that what politics has to be about is empowering people. What politics has to be about is bringing about a situation where people in all the social, economic and cultural space can actually take charge of it. Are any of the big parties going to bring about those changes? ...So think beyond what is going to happen in the next few days.

``In terms of the party politics - I come into Dublin and there's no difference in the social conditions of the people of this city and of the city I come from... but in West Belfast there is a Sinn Féin MP. There's no Sinn Féin TD in Dublin. But for those of you who are interested we're fighting an election and that man Paul Donnelly is fighting in Dublin so if people want to do something in terms of giving a party political effort, of sending a very clear message then you get involved in his campaign.

``If the middle class areas of Dublin had been hit with the contamination of the drugs scourge, would it have been tolerated? If the communities had not mobilised against drugs would there even be the type of efforts to bring some sort of pressure to resolve it? So the lesson in all of that is that the people of Dublin or the Six Counties or nationally have to find - have to find - some space in this struggle.

``You should decide tonight that you are going to do something, no matter how small it is. In this city. It's your struggle. And you're going to shape it out yourselves, the bit you want done. Which means all sorts of things become possible. No Irish government would dare to make the type of constitutional changes the Unionists want if you people were alert and vigilant on that issue. No British government could afford not to make the type of constitutional arrangements which are required if you people were vigilant and alert to the possibilities of that. They couldn't even suggest that the prisoners should be kept in jail one day longer if you people were active on that.''

Paul Donnelly told the crowd that the struggle is not just about equality of treatment for people in the North, ``it's also about the people of the South. It's about equality of treatment for people on issues like housing - you just have to drive around the north inner city to see the terrible housing in the area. Also it's about unemployment. You have the Celtic Tiger but there are serious problems. And also low pay. We're in Liberty Hall, the seat of trade unionism and we look at Ryanair and the type of companies that are coming into Ireland which are denying the right of Irish people to join trade unions. That is an absolute disgrace.''

In questions from the floor it was clear what the mood of the audience was. The party which had initiated the peace process was now being expelled without any evidence that they had dishonoured any of their commitments.

Gerry Adams answered one question by analysing what had happened in the past days and repeating that Sinn Féin would be put off their peace strategy. ``Unionists know in their bones that change is inevitable and their political leadership is resisting that change. And Unionists are not just confined to the UUP. The RUC has been the armed wing of Unionism. And all the leadership of Unionism has seized on these two killings and exploited them to resist change. And in all of this there is a need to focus on the big picture: there cannot be peace without change and there will continue to be resistance to change. We should not be deflected or shouldered off the process by anything that happens.''
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