22 June 2006 Edition
Republicans, leadership and the Good Friday Agreement
It is with interest that I read Chris Ó Rálaigh's letter (An Phoblacht 15/6/06). As a republican activist for 25 years I wish to point out that the Good Friday Agreement has been debated at great length by all sections of the Republican Movement, constantly, for many years. The republican position is that the Agreement is not an end in iteslf but a step towards the ultimate conclusion of the republican struggle.
The Agreement came about after 30 years of struggle by republicans. Some of our younger comrades may not remember it but it was not always popular to be a republican. The process we are currently engaged in took great vision and many difficult and courageous decisions by all republicans, who were shown great leadership through what was a new journey for all.
What I would say to comrade Ó Rálaigh and others who were not with us through those difficult years and are feeling a little shaky is that many, including our present leadership, have invested three decades of struggle and more, including imprisonment in this cause. I think they know their duty. Fear not. We will achieve the Republic.
This Summer marks the 25th Anniversary of the deaths of 10 brave and selfless men on the H-Block Hunger Strike. In remembering the past, we must also think of the future. The Ireland of 1981 bears very little resemblance to the Ireland of today, economically, socially or politically. This is due in no small part to the Peace Process and Good Friday Agreement.
That is not to say that all the work is done. It is not. This was tragically demonstrated with the sectarian murder of Michael McIlveen in Ballymena. It is no accident that the three sectarian murders which have happened since November 2004, coincide with the DUP becoming the lead party of Unionism. All three murders happened in areas where the DUP are in the majority at Council level. The DUP has consistently refused to share power with nationalist neighbours in areas such as Ballymena, Lisburn and Larne. They have also refused to share power with nationalists and republicans in an Executive. Sectarianism will always be a problem as long as the message is sent out from Unionist Political Leaders that Nationalists are not equal citizens. This is the challenge now facing the DUP.
What is also worrying is the approach of the two Governments. Peter Hain has indulged the DUP by caving in to the unreasonable demands of Ian Paisley.
What is at stake here is the future of the Good Friday Agreement. There are many aspects of the Agreement which can be implemented by both governments, without the need for an Assembly or Executive.
The Good Friday Agreement provides the way forward for all of the people living on the Island of Ireland. Like it or not, the success or failure of the GFA will affect everyone on this Island. If the DUP show that they are incapable of grasping the concept of equality, then it is the responsibility of both Governments to press ahead with everyone who wants to see progress. This means scrapping the Assembly, stopping payments to MLA's, and getting together with all parties interested in pressing ahead with outstanding aspects. It also means carrying through commitments made in relation to the All-Ireland agenda. Positive leadership is needed in the time ahead, particularly from the Dublin Government.
Unionist MEPs' tactics potentially disastrous
Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson's recent outburst calling for a halt to EU spending is worrying for a number of reasons.
Nicholson called for a halt to cross-border EU spending because he claims unionists are inadequately represented on the management board of the Irish Central Border Area Network (ICBAN), even though it appears his own party and the SDLP may be over-represented compared to their council strengths in that area and that Sinn Féin and the DUP are underrepresented.
Since election to the EU Parliament, Unionist MEPs Nicholson and Allister have sought to use the issue of EU funding to claim unionist communities are discriminated against through the implementation of funding projects. All independent assessments verify this is not the case. Indeed, Jim Nicholson's broadside against ICBAN is all the more disingenuous given that ICBAN carry out superb work in the promotion of all-Ireland cross border work on infrastructure, tourism and regional strategic planning between councils in the Six and 26 counties.
This latest attack is indicative of the bullying tactics employed by both unionist MEPs since their election in 2004. They have set out to attack a range of EU funding and co-operation bodies, with a view to ensuring EU funding is not equality-proofed for the next period.
Jim Nicholson needs to be careful what he wishes for, in calling for a halt to EU funding. EU money has been of great benefit and assistance to local communities throughout the North in assisting sustainable community development. A halt to funding could have disastrous consequences for community initiatives including cross community work, tackling discrimination and addressing socio-economic disparities.
Councillor Bernice Swift,
ICBAN Board Member.