4 November 2004 Edition
Collusion families' gratitude
On behalf of An Fhírínne, the campaign against collusion, please allow me to thank those who came along to our lobby and information day in Parliament Building, Stormont, on October. This was a follow on from similar successful events in Dáil Éireann and at Westminster.
In particular I want to thank Fra McCann, MLA who sponsored the event and provided us with every help, assistance and advice on the day.
I also want to thank everyone who attended, in particular, Eileen Bell from the Alliance Party, Martin McGuinness, who was there despite a busy schedule and the other 19 Sinn Féin MLAs who attended. The four Sinn Féin MLAs who could not attend sent their apologies, as did three SDLP members. I wish to thank them for letting us know that they could not attend.
An Fhírínne was not particularly surprised that no unionist MLA turned up on the day, given their hostility to our campaign. We were, however, very surprised that not one of the 18 SDLP MLAs took the time to meet us or to attend our event, particularly given their recent interest in the issue of collusion.
Despite this, the event was a great success and we will shortly be organising a similar lobby of the European Parliament in Brussels.
Long Kesh's tourist potential
The North's biggest tourist attraction is our troubled history and this is the reality that unionist politicians are going to have to deal with.
The future of the H-Blocks and Long Kesh must not be subject to rash decisions and must be used as a positive force for conflict resolution. The idea of some sort of 'entertainment centre' being placed on the site seems extremely disrespectful to a lot of nationalists, who wouldn't feel comfortable playing a game of soccer on the ground where nationalist prisoners were interned, tortured and, in some cases, murdered.
Long Kesh had a massive impact on every nationalist community in the North; innocent men were detained by the State and taken from their homes across the Six Counties, from the streets of Belfast to the villages and townlands of Tyrone and Fermanagh. The internment of husbands, fathers and sons, because they had what was deemed a 'Catholic' name or because they had been involved in armed conflict some 50 years before, is still well recalled in many areas.
The Cages and the H-Blocks offer massive potential for Irish Tourism and to squander the opportunity to market it would be economic madness. The idea of building a sports complex on this site would be the equivalent of the South African Government building a soccer stadium on Robben Island.
Many tourists today put the black taxi tours at the top of their list of things-to-do during their stay and this is proof enough that the conflict of the past 35 years has become a major selling point.
If the authorities involved were really serious about attracting the support of nationalists for the northern soccer team, they would have stayed clear of such a politically contentious location and respected the feelings of those who were imprisoned there and their families, who still regard it as a significant place in their lives.
It would be a great shame if we were to bury our past without retaining some of the site as a place of reflection and learning for students of all ages who have an interest in conflict resolution, prison history and its importance for political developments on the island
There'd be more chance of nationalists and republicans watching a game of soccer in the loyalist Village area of Belfast than at the site where ten Irishmen died on hunger strike, and given this fact, are the authorities taking a risk in an investment that doesn't have the support of a massive swathe of people from across the North?
At a time when both cultural and political tourism is on the rise here, surely a Long Kesh museum could provide the centrepiece for this market. If other parties would take off their political blinkers, they would realise what a massive economic opportunity they are passing up.
Gerard Casey Cumann,
Rasharkin, County Antrim.
Say no to coalition
The recent statement from the Free State Minister Dermot Ahern regarding coalition has again developed the level of debate within the party on the subject. At a recent meeting of the Wicklow Comhairle Ceantair, all 18 delegates, after a good discussion, in a vote taken, were opposed to coalition.
In my opinion, it is far removed from our political ideals to be even thinking of coalition with Fianna Fáil or any other party that represents broadly the same policy. Fianna Fáil is a right of centre and pro-union party (not many of them will agree), they have upheld and fostered partition since 1926. Surely those beliefs are contrary to ours.
We need to be clear in the message we put to the electorate; we are standing on our issues, the idea that we are different and offer hope for the future. The electorate will not tolerate us saying one thing and doing another, ie opposition to the established parties and then sitting around a cabinet table with them.
I, like all Sinn Féin activists, want to see our policies implemented, and some will say this can only happen by being part of a Government. Which of the present parties in Leinster House are going to drop their policies for our core ideals or even anything that will enhance the lives of the people we represent?
The idea of a special delegate conference after an election is too late in my view. Why not make our position clear before the election and give the electorate a real alternative? We can have influence from the backbenches (it is not where we wish to stay). Have our five TDs not done well from this position?
I have absolutely no opposition to coalition if our policies and ideals are taking centre stage or if we were the majority party.
County Wicklow Sinn Féin.
Not just a sectarian headcount
Reading last week's editorial, PSNI's equality hypocrisy, was one of those moments when you shake your head, check your glasses and make sure that you're reading the right paper.
For why, you ask? Well, maybe it's just me, but I was very concerned at the point underlying the piece I'd just read. The editorial tells us that "the transformation of policing in the north depended upon it renouncing its traditional sectarian allegiance to one community". A correct analysis? Up to a point, but it misses the central point in the whole transformation we need.
Under the current arrangements, I would have no more confidence in a PSNI which is 90% Catholic than in the force we see now. Why? Because the policing issue is not about religion — it is about political persuasion. If the 90% Catholic presence is one of ex-screws, ex-RUC men returning to the fold, anti-republican ex-Gardaí and Catholic unionists (of which there are plenty in some parts of the north) — then it is still a police force I want nothing to do with.
Unless and until my neighbours, the people in my GAA club and the people I socialise with — ie nationalists and republicans — feel any affinity towards the policing system, then a force of 50% Protestants and 50% Catholics is little more than a creation of the Community Relations Council. It is based on a totally mistaken analysis of the situation here — an analysis which republicans, especially the editorial of our paper, should not be seen to be even contemplating.