6 June 1997 Edition
Republicans and elections
Sinn Féin's excellent election performances are a tremendous boost for all republicans. Against universal hostility to Sinn Féin, and with IRA activity up to election week, these successes confirm a solid base for republicanism and hint at the potential a radical republicanism could release.
Tony Blair, in Belfast, exposed continuing realities. Blair essentially equated the talks process with acceptance of consent, ie the unionist veto. Attempts to downplay his stridently pro-union approach failed to convince.
In reply, Gerry Adams reasserted the core republican position that partition is undemocratic and unacceptable. In setting out requirements for talks and conflict resolution however, he offered no clues as to how partition might be overturned and democracy reinstated.
Some commentators (eg Mary Holland) sought to distort the Sinn Féin mandate and encourage a split between those who would favour constitutionalism alone and those who would continue to pursue republican objectives. Such manipulations are transparent: no republican believes that constitutional politics alone can achieve our objectives. We recognise electoral intervention as a tactic: one component of a wider strategy.
Our electoral and constitutional activity should understand this and contain a built-in thrust towards a radical, democratic politics, and away from the cul-de-sac of constitutionalism.
opposing clientelism, our elected representatives should help people to empower themselves;
against a majoritarianism which limits freedoms, we should seek democratic approaches which empower everybody. Majoritarianism is an obstacle to democracy across issues as diverse as divorce, censorship, women's control of their bodies, Orange marches, and even partition;
our economic policies should not support partnerships which ally central government departments, local government, business, community and party activists and EU money. We should seek ways for people to take control of their own lives and communities, and take power away from the interests served by such partnerships.
Our electoral successes are also being manipulated to create a momentum for a permament ceasefire. Against this manipulation we must pose a number of questions:
do these talks allow any outcome not based on consent/the unionist veto?
can the Framework Document formula, clearly defined by Blair as not threatening to the union, offer a way forward?
having entered talks, what cost will opposing such a settlement exact?
does such a settlement offer any future other than as another constitutional party?
will republicans accept such a constitutional role now, when we have always regarded it as reformist and an obstacle to our objectives?
how can an unarmed, constitutional party oppose what Gerry Adams calls the Six County state's ``life support unit of British militarism''?
The Sinn Féin vote was achieved against universal efforts to undermine it. This electorate is represented by Sinn Féin and no-one else. There is hope here, and a solid base to advance from, towards a socialist republic.
`No other law',
Seanad for all
John Robb, chairperson of the New Ireland Group, expressed support for my candidature in the Dublin University panel in the forthcoming election to Seanad Eireann. I am very grateful for his backing, as he himself has made a significant and distinguished contribution to the Seanad in the recent past, and his views would be very close to my own.
May I clarify some matters, however, to avoid any ambiguity. Although I am from a Presbyterian family background, I do not regard myself as a representative of ``the Protestant community''. In contrast, I am standing as an independent who believes that the only way we can make peaceful and prosperous progress is to respect and accept cultural diversity and work together in our common social and economic interests. Since the Seanad was created originally under the Irish Constitution to provide a forum for the widest cross-section possible of the people of this island, it can only be healthy if more Northern Irish people enter that debating chamber, regardless of their religion or indeed social class. I happen to believe, and I know that John Robb shares my view, that simplistic divisions between Northern Protestants and the rest of the Irish people belie the real truth. The island is in fact a rich mixture of different cultures and traditions, north, south, east and west.
As a political realist, I know that interim political arrangements in the North are essential to build trust through joint decision making, underpinned by a Bill of Rights. Ultimately I would love to see a new confident North enter into a debate about a federal relationship throughout the island on the basis of the ancient Provinces.
Incidentally, no one can tell me if Trinity graduates ever elected an Ulster resident on the Seanad in its history. Would it not be a fine thing if, this year, the University constituency made a little bit of history!
Dr Brian Caul,
Del Monte's sour grapes
The Man from Del Monte would have been saying no to all the sour grapes going around after the local elections in the North. Wasn't it great the way all the other parties were able to unite in whingeing about and explaining away the magnificent Sinn Féin vote? Hopefully that momentum can be maintained in the election here.
The thing is that we're too cosy in this part of the island. People seem reluctant to rattle the cage of the Celtic Tiger (whatever that means) so issues like poverty, long-term unemployment, the two-tier health system, access to education are being swept under the carpet by the Rainbow and the Alternative. The problem is that the alternative is between a rock and a hard place. As regards the North it's as if it has nothing to do with us and I think that's because successive Dublin governments have abandoned Nationalists in the Six Counties. We should realise that we're all in this together and one positive thing people can do on 6 June is to vote for the only All-Ireland party of the peole. Best of luck to all the Sinn Féin candidates.
P.S. Any chance of a Sunday An Phoblacht? What's needed is a 32 county independent (not owned by Tony O'Reilly) Sunday paper.