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21 October 2004 Edition

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Ireland high on agenda of European Social Forum

Gerry Adams addresses the European Social Forum

Gerry Adams addresses the European Social Forum

The European Social Forum was held last week in London, from Friday up to the march against the war in Iraq on Sunday. Thousands of people attended the event from all over Europe, many of them making, finally, some usage out of the Millennium Dome at Greenwich by paying £10 for the weekend to sleep on the floor.

The Irish involvement over the whole weekend was a high profile one, which began with welcoming speeches at Southwark Cathedral on the Thursday evening, in which Gerry Adams was one of the invited speakers, alongside others such as Che Guevara's daughter and the host, London Mayor Ken Livingstone. The overriding message from Adams was to ask the fundamental question of the couple of thousand present — what makes them feel that they can make a difference?

"We face many challenges. War in Iraq, conflict in the Middle East, countless wars in Africa, the Peace Process in Ireland in crisis, unimaginable poverty and deprivation across the globe, hunger, environmental disasters and the fear of more to come, globalisation and the exploitation of workers, racism and sectarianism, injustice and oppression.

"These are some of the matters which confront us. And these are the issues which have brought us together here in London as we seek to strategise and develop alternatives.

"What makes us think we can face up to all these issues?

"What makes us think that we can change things?

"This is a fundamental question. And the answer is straightforward.

"It is a belief that we can make a difference.

"It is a belief that another world is possible."

He elucidated this possibility by describing how Bobby Sands knew in his heart and mind that he could help change.

"We need to be willing to share the burden of struggle and the lessons of our own experiences," said Adams. "And that's also what this Forum is about.

"It's about demonstrating that another world is possible.

"This potential for progress, for real and meaningful change, is something that Irish republicans passionately believe in. It is wrong that anyone should have to suffer because of their nationality, sexual orientation, disability, colour or creed.

"It is wrong that the third world should be crippled with debt while the first world is affluent. That debt should be cancelled. It is wrong that over one billion people live on less than one dollar a day and that eleven million children under five die each year from preventable causes.

"Our goal, emerging from this Forum and other similar discussions, must be to build peace, freedom, human rights, tolerance and an international society based upon the rule of law, on justice and equality — a truly united human family.

"Irish republicans are committed and determined to play our full part in working with others to achieve this."

He also addressed the respective roles of the EU and the UN. "Sinn Féin wants to build an Ireland of Equals in a Europe of Equals. In keeping with our commitment to demilitarise the conflict in Ireland, we are actively campaigning for the demilitarisation of the EU.

Irish republicans are also for economic and social justice within Europe. We want the EU to prioritise the elimination of poverty within and beyond its borders.

"Sinn Féin believes the European Union must conduct itself in a globally responsible way. This means fair trade has to prevail over free trade and we should all campaign for the human rights-proofing of EU aid and trade policies. The massive EU overspend on the military, presently at €160 billion, must be challenged.

"We must also turn our urgent attention to the crisis in UN Peacekeeping.

"The genocidal consequences of UN failures in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and now Darfur, must not be repeated. But we also know that the answer is not to abdicate responsibility for peacekeeping to regional military alliances.

"The UN has to be reformed, modernised and strengthened And the Forum needs to send a clear message that we do not accept that any state has the right to act unilaterally. I welcome the fact that the World Social Forum's Charter of Principles commits to equal respect for the rights of all citizens of all nations, and to "the development of an international system that will serve social justice, equality and the sovereignty of peoples.

"The need to focus on corporate-led globalisation can sometimes fool us into believing that imperialism, the oldest form of globalisation, is a thing of the past. It isn't. There is still a need to be against Empires."

The Irish elements to the ESF were diverse and pertinent, participants asking questions and looking for answers. Gerry Adams gave a packed question and answer session on the lessons of Ireland, which many left, some with the help of translators, with more of an understanding of why Irish republicans have been seen internationally as an inspiration to many others in the process of dealing with the whole gamut from colonialism to the groundwork of supporting the least vulnerable, like the prisoners' families on visits to England.

Sinn Féin MEPs Bairbre de Brún and Mary Lou McDonald also spoke on Irish issues.

The weekend's activities were rounded off on Saturday evening with 700 people singing along — as best they could — to a night of rebel music, organised by the Wolfe Tone Society, by Paul Ahern and his band — except for the 20 minutes given over to our Basque comrades, who entertained us all with their enchanting whistle playing.

Why trust Britain in Ireland if not in Iraq? -- Adams


Speaking at a seminar on The Lessons of Ireland at last week's European Social Forum in London, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams questioned why, if people in Britain do not trust the government over Iraq, they continue to trust them on Ireland.

Addressing a session of the European Social Forum organised by the Wolfe Tone Society, Adams recalled how the various abuses now being revealed in Iraq, such as the beating of prisoners and dirty tricks, had all been used by the British Army in Ireland. "It is important for people who live here in Britain to grasp the necessity to campaign for Irish independence. If you don't trust this government on Iraq then why do you trust them on Ireland? Remember, if you come from Britain it is being done in your name," said Adams.

The Sinn Féin president stressed the lessons that people in Britain can learn from the experience of the Irish. "What the British establishment did to my country they will do here to you. The approach has already been seen with first the miners and now the Muslim community," said Adams. He called for an end to the Union and the establishment of a relationship of equality between the island of Ireland and Britain.

Adams stressed the need at home to persuade the unionist community to step forward into a more peaceful future. "While the Good Friday Agreement has lots of guarantees for the rights of nationalists and unionists, if the unionists could come round to seeing that then it would be a huge step forward," he said. "There is no point in having a united Ireland if the unionists don't feel comfortable in it. It is key that people feel a sense of empowerment."

The Sinn Féin leader stressed the need for people to seize freedom for themselves. "There needs to be a movement for social progress that empowers people to take ownership of their own lives," said Adams.

To a question about whether Sinn Féin would go into partnership in government with Fianna Fáil, Adams did not rule out the possibility but thought it highly unlikely. "I cannot see us being involved in a coalition with a conservative party without a strategy for Irish unity," said Adams.

He was highly critical of the role of the mass media over the years in reporting Six-County affairs, which he described as disgraceful. He recalled that even now they are not reporting bombings and shootings against people in the nationalist community. "One huge issue is collusion and that has never been dealt with properly in the breadth of the media," said Adams. "I have enough confidence in the British people that if they were told what had gone on in Ireland they would not stand for it. For that reason they are not told. They are given misinformation and disinformation."

Addressing the issue of the wall being built to separate Palestinians and Israelis in the Middle East, Adams called for its immediate removal. "The peace walls in the North will have to come down in time, but the wall in Palestine should be abolished forthwith."

The Sinn Féin leader called on people in Britain to campaign against the indefinite internment without trial of people in British prisons. Adams, who was interned himself in the 1970s, drew a vivid picture of what it was like to be confined in a small space for day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year. He drew a comparison with being held indefinitely in a bathroom, having to ask when you want to go to the toilet, having no TV, no radio and no link with the outside world. "Many in Ireland spent 24 years in prison in such conditions and walked straight back out into the struggle. The fact is that the British Government could hold people as long as 24 years in those degrading conditions. They will do it unless you actually campaign against it. There also needs to be support for the families," said Adams, who the praised the work of prisoners' support groups in London, who had helped the families of Irish political prisoners over the years.

Living with Sectarianism and Racism

The president of the Belfast Islamic centre told a workshop at the European Social Forum how Muslims are being subjected to physical and verbal abuse at least two or three times a day in the city.

Jamal Iweida, president of the Belfast Islamic Centre, told a session at the European Social Forum how ten years ago Belfast was peaceful for ethnic minorities but now, in the post 9/11 environment, attacks had increased. "I get such abuse at least two or three times a day," said Iweida. He told how his wife, who was born in Ireland, is now told to 'go back home'. Iweida pointed out that if the 150 Muslims and 300 nurses from overseas who work in the hospitals did leave, then 25% of the services would have to be closed down. "Muslim girls get attacked and their head scarves removed. The racism is not just at an individual level but with institutions like the police and prison service. Sometimes it is accidental but it is also deliberate," said Iweida.

He highlighted how the PSNI fail to act when attacks are reported to them. Iweida recalled how a man had set his dog on him. "My wife rang 999 and it took the police 45 minutes to arrive. There was no apology. They cautioned the man, though he admitted what he'd done," said Iweida.

On another occasion he received intimidatory memos. The emailer threatened at one point that a named Muslim cab driver would be killed. Upon reporting the incident to the PSNI, Iweida was initially told to find the cab driver himself. It was only when he threatened to expose the PSNI's conduct to the media that they acted, warning the cabbie and apprehending the man who had been sending the emails.

Iweida also recalled how, when Muslims are forced out of their homes, the Housing Executive refuses to rehouse or help them in their plight. "These families are being forced to board up the windows and just stay," said Iweida. He argued that as time goes by and the police and authorities do nothing to confront such attacks, so they become more frequent and more aggressive. In some churches in the Six Counties there is open preaching against ethnic groups, he said. In one such establishment, it has been suggested that Muslims be put on a plane and sent home.

He claimed that politicians and church leaders had proved ineffectual in standing up against racism.

Joe O'Donnell, the Sinn Féin Deputy Mayor of Belfast, focused on the sectarian hatred that the nationalist people of the Short Strand in East Belfast had been forced to endure. The area is an enclave of 3,500 Catholics set amongst 90,000 unionists. "The people live in an enclave with a fence around the outside, one access in and one access out," said O'Donnell. He said that whenever the unionists are forced to move in the Peace Process, there is a volatile reaction against the nationalist community. In areas like the Short Strand, this manifests itself in physical attacks.

O'Donnell questioned why Tony Blair has not stood up and said he will not tolerate the recent declaration of the Ulster Defence Association that it will draw an arms line across Belfast. No one will be allowed to move across this unofficial sectarian divide.

"We've tried to put practical processes in place but you cannot legislate for violence that comes from within the loyalist community," said O'Donnell.

Paul O'Connor, from the Pat Finucane Centre, Derry, answered a question posed by a loyalist in the audience, on racism in the nationalist areas in the north and the south in general, by first admitting that racism did exist and that it should be attacked wherever it exists. But he added that whilst republican ideology challenges racism, the same could not be said of loyalist policies.

The Chair, Shelagh O'Connor of the Wolfe Tone Society, concluded by inviting the speakers back to London in the near future, "as by highlighting the level of sectarian and racist attacks that the PSNI refuse to record or investigate, we can attempt to force the government to take action".

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