15 September 2005 Edition
BACK TO THE ROAD MAP
The IRA statement of 28 July emerged from an historic consultation process and launched a potentially decisive strategic contribution to realising national democratic objectives, from which we can achieve the Republic.
(Cathaoirleach, Sinn Féin Cuige na Sé Chondae)
In no other phase in the history of the IRA, did a leadership engage its grassroots personnel in a strategic consultation on the way forward. The effect of the decision has been to develop an unprecedented space to reach out to popular opinion in Ireland and abroad. A potential now exists for the Peace Process to move into a new phase and for republicans to persuade and inspire more support for Irish unity and independence.
History and the future are not made by accident. Momentous events are shaped by other decisions and these in turn effect the development of new conditions. The IRA recognised the opportunity for the struggle to take an enormous leap forward with their decision. The rest of us now need to work out how to harness that momentum. A historical question now presents itself, in terms of how republican activists, supporters and voters respond to the new context of struggle. Opponents of Irish republicanism will of course continue to seek to frustrate, minimise and destroy this new potential, but all of this is diversionary. They wish to stop Sinn Féin popularising the struggle, building political strength and achieving republican aims.
Revisiting the Road Map
Some years ago a few of us initiated discussion within the struggle about the idea of a road map to the Republic. Through An Phoblacht it was outlined how the road map could be underpinned by the concept of 'sites of struggle', as a means to bring strategic coherence to the diversity of our activism. In the new context, its a good time to get back to focusing on the road map.
At this juncture the following realities are set to prevail.
o Our opponents remain tactically allied in their continued support for partition.
o The political and social forces of resistance to change remain intact island wide.
o Other things are clearer still; unionism will continue to lurch to the political right in reaction to the Peace Process and the DUP will stay ascendant. More disturbingly however, local unionist communities appear locked in a spiral of unstoppable social meltdown, and/or, without any coherent political leadership. The outworking of all this then is taking the form of renewed rampant sectarianism, conflict with the state, and continuing implosive feuds among the death squads.
o The mindset of the securocrats and senior elements of the PSNI remains unchanged; as the belligerent interventions during August by Colin Cramphorn, former PSNI ACC, and now living in England, indicates.
o Sinn Féin's overall strategy specifically, will be strongly opposed by our opponents' old and new counter strategies.
Though republicanism is stronger than ever, the context of struggle is more sophisticated. We must look at how we prosecute the battle for hearts and minds on a 32-County basis in the time ahead. Since 2002, and at a level entirely distinct from the cut and thrust of political campaigning, the ideological landscape has become deeply polarised. An offensive has been waged against national and democratic ideas, especially evidenced in the 26 Counties. The focus has been the IRA.
The 28 July announcement exposed the establishment's opposition to the IRA as an excuse disguising its real raison d'etre. Their own balaclava politics now stand revealed. This goes to the heart of the continuing attacks on Sinn Féin and the IRA by among others, Mark Durkan, Alasdair McDonald, Michael McDowell and Liz McManus.
Attacks from within the two political establishments are likely to worsen, because the dynamics of the Peace Process threaten the hegemony of conservative nationalism, gombeenism, and unionism, each of which have developed entrenched state power structures since partition. We are arguably witnessing the re-positioning of the ideological battlelines outlined by Liam Mellowes in 1922, because over 80 years later the status quo fundamentally fears the prospect of a national political re-alignment. A significant clue to this is to be found in Liz McManus' recent remarks, when she asserted that northern speaking rights in the Oireachtas had the potential to compromise the sovereignty of that institution!
Back to Mellowes
The implications of the Oglaigh na hÉireann decision resurrect the unfinished ideological business of the 1921-'23 counter-revolution and places it into a modern-day setting. Republicanism faces into a sharpened battle for hearts and minds. Liam Mellows wrote from his cell in Mountjoy: "We are back to Tone — and it is just as well — relying on that great body 'the men of no property.' The 'stake in the country' people were never with the Republic. They are not with it now — and they will always be against it — until it wins." In 2005, we are 'back to Mellows'.
Sinn Féin does not yet command sufficient political strength to achieve independence. The new phase demands that we are focused on how to mobilise the greater number of Irish people to support that aim. Our immediate priority must be to reposition republicanism, to make republican objectives more accessible and popular than ever. We must establish the reasonableness and achievability of Irish independence.
In the new context republicanism is liberated to confront conservatism and unionism and mainstream an ideological consensus, which puts people before profit. This throws up greater workloads and challenges for republicans.
Responding to Challenges
An historic onus sits on the Party to respond to the army announcement. Radical, exciting, times lie ahead. Every republican needs to engage in discussion about what this entails. An initial step will be to organise republican family meetings in the coming weeks. Our support base deserves the opportunity to articulate its views and ideas on the way forward. Sinn Féin needs to facilitate political interaction for as many republicans as possible.
Such meetings can also highlight that if we are to make partition history, new people need to join Sinn Féin and become involved in political struggle. Four programmes of work need to be advanced by republicans. They are political, economic and social campaigns, all-Ireland agenda, electoral struggle and building Sinn Féin as a mass party throughout the island. Meetings should outline opportunities for the support base to become involved.
This is also a period in which to regenerate the party organisation. It is vital that our structures are not just equipped to absorb new workloads, but provide space for recruits to flourish. While recruitment needs stratified across Irish society, Sinn Féin needs to grow particularly from increased involvement by female and young members.
More profoundly however, a range of submerged politically challenges will come centre stage for Sinn Féin. These will test our capacity to convert ideology into practical politics; to put theory into practice, and vision into action; and to subordinate emotionalism to the intense engagement of new battlegrounds. Our ability to come to terms with their complexity will directly affect the party's ability to mould a new, robust republican consensus in Irish society.
Managing Public Finance
With the prospect of the Six-County Executive being re-instated sometime in the future, we should look back to our previous experience in which Sinn Féin was simultaneously in government and opposition. This presented unavoidable political contradictions, especially in regard to the investment of public finance and delivery of services. Such contradictions will re-emerge in a reformed executive. In the time available we should, formulate strategies to manage this juxtaposition.
Similar analysis should inform a policy appraisal of public finance, in the context of two distinct fiscal realities North and South. The politics of our road map requires a robust fiscal basis. It is essential that our critiques of unjust tax regimes also project coherent strategies for the investment of public finance on service specific bases.
Our policy platform needs to provide for an all-island fiscal strategy for rolling harmonisation of the tax regimes and public finance systems. We need to bring to indigenous business and enterprise particularly, a vision which guarantees economic support for, and growth of small to medium-sized enterprises, while also nurturing the growth of local community enterprise and the social economy.
Sinn Féin Ministers North and South need to have fiscal and economic strategies which ensure wealth re-distribution and eradication of poverty, but which are also strategically designed to maximise national prosperity.
Left Debate and Coalition
Our approach needs to be driven by a dialogue with all sectors of Irish society. In the 26 Counties, the independents' political tradition, recent emergence of smaller left parties, and indeed the phenomenon of green politics, provides no cohesive alternative leadership to the establishment.
To succeed, radical political projects need to become mainstreamed to maximise their popular appeal. We should promote and champion discussion and debate with other progressive forces, including the Trade Union Movement and non-governmental organisations. Sinn Féin has a distinct ideological focus, but this can be strengthened by encouraging greater co-operation among progressive tendencies, and by mainstreaming alternative political ideas.
Already some debate has occurred within the party on the future possibility of Sinn Féin entering coalition in the 26 Counties. Valid reservations have been expressed about this prospect. However, it is inconceivable according to the political trajectory of support for Sinn Féin that our road map does not provide for the probability of a time when Sinn Féin Ministers will sit in government, simultaneously North and South. We should not ignore the strategic implications such a scenario would have for promoting the achievability of the republican vision.
We should face into this prospective challenge by deliberating the strategic options which may develop, for accelerating new forms of all-Ireland economic, social and political integration through sitting in government, North and South.
One site of struggle, extant for Sinn Féin, is the future of policing on the island. Many republicans find the prospect of deeper engagement with this particular challenge in the Six Counties repellent. The reality is that our communities need, and want acceptable policing; our function as agents of change must be to deliver outcomes through campaigning which will effect acceptable policing arrangements in the North.
Discussion among republicans is underdeveloped in relation to how we put these arrangements into practical effect; yet our strategy is clear. We need link intensified political negotiation and campaigning on policing to our communities' desire to see the policing vacuum filled.
The challenge is to popularise a vision of all-Ireland policing and justice arrangements, with democratic political control and community accountability. No republican should underestimate the importance of the platform this issue represents, for outlining Sinn Féin's practical vision of how such a key state institution would function in the new Ireland.
Community politics are increasingly spoken of as a site of struggle neglected by republicans; notwithstanding the number of supporters involved in such a setting. Increased republican involvement within community life creates opportunities to effect more than localised or incremental change. Renewed strategic involvement and a vision driven approach by republican activists to this site of struggle can point up the actual potential to foster community based models and institutions which become templates for the future social structure of a national Republic.
Combined with a re-prioritisation of outreach by Sinn Féin towards unionism and the wider Protestant community and pro-actively confronting sectarianism from within nationalism, particularly at this time of crisis and deep introspection within unionist areas, republicans can by example, act as exemplars and role models in practical nation building.
Harbingers of the Republic
So, if the leadership shown by Oglaigh na hÉireann has now clearly defined the road map, in terms of a nationwide struggle for hearts and minds and the sites of struggle and strategic beachheads from which to popularise republican ideas; what then is the end point of the map? How do we sum up the achievement of the Ireland of equals?
James Connolly aptly did so, with his perspective on what he described as the re-conquest of Ireland. He analysed an inexorable dialectic at work in Irish history, which was destined to bring about not just political independence but also economic democracy. The evidence of that dialectic is undoubtedly as visible today as ever before.
Although it's impossible to predict how all the historical processes Connolly attempted to envisage, will eventually take shape, we as political activists can, in a planned way, accelerate contemporary radical, democratic currents that will impact on the entrenched power relations sustaining partition. This phase of struggle creates the potential to acquire the political power to do this, and so, create many new opportunities to republicanise popular opinion.
Ultimately, it is through developing our strategic political programmes and building a mass party which thrives in every parish and neighbourhood in Ireland, that Sinn Féin will become a harbinger for an ideological revolution in Irish political, social and economic values. Our purpose in the days, months, and years ahead must be to give expression to a vision reflecting new and re-invigorated hopes and aspirations of ordinary Irish people. The idea of a modern day re-conquest of Ireland has to be rooted in the principle of giving real hope that an alternative does exist. Our road map to the Republic therefore must provide not only the tactical, strategic organisational and political projections, or signposts for the time period ahead, but also the ideas and visions, with which Sinn Féin can generate the momentum to achieve, and build the Republic in this generation.
Surely this is the only appropriate revolutionary response to the historical enormity of 28 July 2005.