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20 March 1997 Edition

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Six weeks to claim a critical prize

John Major has decided to launch the longest ever de-election campaign in British parliamentary history. It looks likely that his slide into political oblivion will take up the next six weeks. It can't come soon enough.

Before he goes his ministers are engaged in a scorched earth policy which seems designed to leave the next British government with an almighty mess. In the Six Counties cuts in health and education in particular have come faster in the last couple of months than at any time in the last years of Tory rule.

That is not to say that Tony Blair, if elected, plans any great change in style or substance. We shall have to wait and see.

It will be a tough six weeks of campaigning, not least in the Six Counties. Already there has been plenty of evidence that elements in the SDLP have decided to fight this election with smears against Sinn Féin. These are from people who sniped at the Hume-Adams peace initiative, who encouraged British stalling over decommissioning and who raced to rehabilitate the RUC right up to the Orange mutiny at Drumcree. They are hardly the proper people to attack anyone's record in the peace process.

Republicans are well used to such tactics and they will not be deflected from getting their message across. They should, with energy and determination, keep their eyes on the prize. This election presents a great opportunity at a critical moment in Irish history. Those who support a truly democratic resolution to this conflict and who wish to see inclusive talks on the basis of equality can make their voices heard by voting for Sinn Féin. They could elect as many as three Sinn Féin MPs and send a message to the world that the days of Irish nationalists being treated as second-class citizens are over.

As Martin McGuinness put it this week: ``The nationalist people of the Six Counties have an opportunity in this election to change the political map in such a way that no British government will be able to refuse to negotiate with the chosen representatives of the nationalist electorate.''

That is the prize. There are six weeks to gain it.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1