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11 March 2004 Edition

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Talking and listening

Vincent Wood

Vincent Wood

The Peace Process took hold because republicans identified the need to build alliances and then went about the business of not only talking to others, but also listening to the genuine concerns, fears and aspirations of people who shared some or part of our vision of a United Ireland of Equals. Some were more focused on the national question, others on social and economic issues, but all shared our desire to see a lasting peace on this Ireland.

The series of meetings that have been organised by the team built around Martina Anderson on Sinn Féin's All-Ireland agenda and particularly around the Human Rights charter, offer us another opportunity to engage with individuals and groups throughout the island and to offer our analysis of the potential contained in aspects of the GFA. This is an opportunity to listen to and debate with civic society as represented by the voluntary sector, NGOs, Trade Unions and other bodies.

We have become a party building for, and between, elections and this is a vital part of what we need to do to build political strength. This keeps us busy, but means that Cumann and Comhairle Ceantair clárs and work programmes can often be based on the amount of money raised for the election, the shape of the directorate, canvassing, green register — you get the picture.

What has to become a core part of any local or regional workplan is the need to engage with others on this island who share some, if not all, of our aims and objectives. Who, for example, in the voluntary and community sector could disagree with a Human Rights based agenda that opens up real potential for equality? On the other hand, how can we not want to take on board sound advice, encouragement or criticism from groups and individuals who have a wealth of experience dealing with equality and rights-based issues.

Sinn Féin has published a consultation document called Rights for All. This has been sent out to the voluntary and community sector for comment. It has also been distributed through the Sinn Féin structures so that we can use it as a tool to engage with civic society and to work towards building alliances on equality issues.

This Human Rights Charter comes out of the GFA. People would be forgiven for doubting this, as neither the British nor Irish Governments ever mention the fact that the GFA contains the provision for such an all-Ireland charter. There is also the provision for an all-Ireland Civic Forum. This revolutionary concept entails the widest consultation and input from civic society into the All-Ireland Ministerial Council, or the All-Ireland government in waiting if you prefer. That's the theory at least. These are the progressive elements put into the GFA and negotiated by the Sinn Féin team. Given our relative political strength in 1998, this was a massive achievement.

Yet, we hear nothing of these parts of the GFA from the two governments or the other parties. Is it that these are the most progressive parts of the agreement with the most radical potential for democracy and equality throughout the Island? Does the conservatism of the DUP, UUP and SDLP have more in common with Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the PDs than just the antipathy that exists towards Sinn Féin on the national question?

The fact remains, that these parties do not want to see progress on these issues. If they did, they would be singing this from the hilltops. There are people out there who do care about equality and we need to proactively engage with them and build sufficient political (as well as electoral) strength to ensure that the people of Ireland are made aware of the potential that exists for creating a rights-based democracy and that they only need to demand it.

Sinn Féin activists should use the Charter as part of their developing workplans throughout the structures. The potential exists comrades; use it.

An Phoblacht Magazine


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