4 September 1997 Edition
The equality agenda which Sinn Féin brings to the table descends directly from the nascent civil rights movement in the North in the late 1960s. If any event can be taken as a watershed, it is Bloody Sunday in Derry. Sinn Féin can now mark full circle. What began as a nonviolent march ends with a commitment to ``democratic and exclusively peaceful means of resolving political issues.'' Sinn Féin can lay claim to the same dictum ``We are not going to allow violence to dictate,'' claimed by Northern Ireland Secretary Mowlam on behalf of the British government.
The legitimate demands of Sinn Fein for equal opportunity in employment, for a police force reflective of the religious and political make-up of the communities being served, for social and cultural equality are self-evident rights in democratic societies which honour diversity and should be the ends of any democratic process.
The first two objectives, while easily measured, are not easily met. The present state of employment and the composition of the RUC are outcomes of entrenched British policy and its implementation; equal opportunity in employment and representative policing call for glide paths of change with end points clearly defined for all.
The private sector, education and government have all recently demonstrated effects addressed by Sinn Fein's equality agenda. Ford Motor Company excluded MP Gerry Adams from a luncheon for newly elected MPs representing constituencies in which there are Ford plants. At Queen's University in Belfast signs in English and Irish were arbitrarily removed from the Student Union. And the Speaker of the House of Commons denied MPs Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness access to government facilities with a special ruling on their refusal to take an oath of allegiance to the British monarch.
While these are highly visible and well publicised examples of inequality, they are but the tip of the iceberg. They underscore the profound disparity of treatment of nationalists on a daily basis. As Martin McGuinness comments: ``Equality - political, social, economic and cultural - requires no negotiation whatever. These are fundamental rights, not matters to be bartered for in a negotiations process.''
Sinn Féin's mandate is for change. Sinn Féin is committed to democratic and peaceful means consistent with the ends of a just, diverse and peaceful society. Sinn Féin's equality agenda is a blueprint, the tools for construction are inclusive dialogue among all parties, including the British and Irish governments. The consequent structure is yet to be revealed.
Portland, Oregon, USA
Time for democracy is now
In the coming weeks in the run-up to the talks on the 15 September, we can expect the use of the term ``consent'' to become a mantra to some, to be repeated ad nauseum, in the hope repetition may dissuade analysis of the historical basis of, or the cynical nature of this tactic which gives a veto to Unionism over the majority of people in Ireland and Britain who seek a just and equitable solution to the conflict.
The establishment of the Six County state proceeded without seeking or having the consent of the vast majority of the Irish people, including those who found themselves within the boundaries of the new artificial state. The establishment of the Six County state also entailed the Unionist leadership of the time dishonouring the often invoked Solemn League and Convenant of 1912, by abandoning the Unionists of Cavan, Donegal, and Monaghan despite their pleas articulated in the pamphlet entitled ``No partition of Ulster'' that partition would be wrong.
What is of interest in relation to the debate around the consent/veto issue of today, is the thinking that informed this betrayal of the Unionists of the three omitted Ulster counties. The reason was stated quite clearly by Walter Long, a leading Unionist and chairperson of the Irish Committee of the British cabinet, when he informed Lloyd George in early 1920 ``the inclusion of Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan would provide such an access of strength to the Roman Catholic party, that the supremacy of the Unionists would be seriously threatened''.
This was the rationale which gave birth to the Six Counties and has sadly been its guiding principle to this day; namely supremacy with the violence and inequality needed to maintain it.
This continuity of the principle of inequality to the present day is best illustrated by the fact that David Trimble has opposed any move that even hinted at reform. For example, he opposed Sunningdale as a member of Vanguard, and the Anglo-Irish Agreement as a member of the Ulster Clubs, both these organisations included leading Loyalist paramilitaries.
The British government's position of support for the Unionist veto empowers Unionism to block any political change which involves accommodation among the people of Ireland. This perversion of democracy is unacceptable by any norms. What about the wishes of the British people, a majority of whom in each and every opinion poll carried out have called for British withdrawal from Ireland. When will their wishes be respected?
Unionism armed with the veto can also block the wishes of the majority of the people on the island of Ireland who wish to see an end to the presence of the British state in Ireland. If consent is a principle, its application must be universal. Consent as applied by Unionists is a coercive measure.
It must be for the peolpe of Ireland as a whole, those who cherish their British heritage and others to forge a future based on equality and respect.
The respected Palestinian writer Edward Said's words in relation to the situation in his own homeland have resonance for us here in Ireland. He said ``a special burden is laid on the intellectual conscience today not to accept general theories that postpone or defer the question of democracy until some time later. The time is now, and no amount of verbal fumbling and shuffling is adequate to an occasion that is both urgent and demanding''.
All year Féile
``...As I walked home a neighbour asked forlornly, `What will we do now Laurence? The festival's over and the radio station has closed'... (An Phoblacht 14 August).
In a sense McKeown, in his usual, wonderfully-positive way, is asking how is the energy, the creativity, the sheer human exuberance of the festival, to be maintained until the next time?
Of course, from reading the paper, it appears to be maintained on a day-to-day basis in the continuing struggle for freedom. That is to the eternal credit of the Republican people. But it is events like the festival which produce this incredible burst of community and creative energy. I suggest that the people don't wait for another year, but immediately re-direct this energy and talent into the everyday life of their villages, town and cities. The planners, the creators of the environment (which is nothing less than the `backcloth' of everyday living) would be dumbstruck if faced by the creative talent of the people.
The people can't shy away from this duty; they have shown they have the talent. Years ago, working with a mining community in Germany's Rhur district, I was told, ``Wer kampfen will, muss auch feiern konnen'' - `Whoever wants to fight must also be able to celebrate'. So let the Feile continue - every day. What a fight that would be!
What the hell is Sinn Féin doing issuing sympathy statements to the British royal family? Isn't this the same parasite family that has its members as patrons of British Army regiments? The same army that continues to occupy our country and harass our people. The same family that is financed on the backs of English, Scottish and Welsh workers? They are the enemy of anti-inperialists, republicans and socialists everywhere. As a member of Sinn Féin, I am sickened.