27 November 2017 Edition
A new chapter begins
The decisions by Gerry, Martin, Pat and Martin McGuinness are a statement of confidence in a new generation of leaders from those who have personified the republican struggle
THE political momentum which has led to over half a million people voting for Sinn Féin in Ireland was clearly in evidence at the 2017 Ard Fheis.
It was a mighty event with delegates and visitors from all over Ireland and all walks of life.
There have been many landmark Ard Fheiseanna, particularly during the last 50 years.
I remember saying to a friend in 1983 I believed that year’s Ard Fheis, which elected Gerry Adams as Uachtarán Shinn Féin, would be historic because of what I thought (from a very youthful perspective) this might mean for the development of the republican struggle.
And so it proved to be – history making.
Gerry – along with Martin McGuinness, Martin Ferris, Pat Doherty and others – emerged as a cadre of leaders which laid the foundations for republican strategy, the Peace Process itself, a collective national leadership, and a growing party organisation and project which is today poised for government in the North and the South of Ireland.
Since our previous Ard Fheis, in 2016, Sinn Féin has been developing a 10-Year Plan to set the strategic, political and organisational direction of the party.
Regeneration and renewal at all levels of the organisation are integral to that.
Gerry’s announcement not to stand again as Uachtarán is another element of Sinn Féin’s planned leadership transition. Much of the public commentary since the Ard Fheis about what this means for our party, whilst predictable, is also completely misplaced.
One of Gerry’s enduring contributions to modern republicanism has been to ensure that political strategy and our national strategic objectives have been hardwired into the operation of the party.
He has always emphasised the importance of and need to take strategic initiatives to make political advances.
His announcement represents a positive strategic initiative.
And that is the real story behind his decision not to stand again as Uachtarán Shinn Féin.
His other decision, alongside Martin Ferris and Pat Doherty, not to contest another parliamentary election is also about opening up new space for further internal change.
The decisions made by Gerry, Martin, Pat and that which had already been made by Martin McGuinness before his death are a statement of confidence in a new generation of leaders from those who have personified the republican struggle for so long.
This emergent generation represents a collective and truly national leadership which is cohesive and strategically focused on the way forward.
So there is not a ‘What’s next?’ crossroads or Rubicon for the Sinn Féin leadership.
The fact is that the national liberation stage of the struggle is still not completed.
Partition remains the central fault line at the heart of Irish politics and society.
Brexit has brought Irish unity centre stage.
Our strategy is geared towards achieving national independence and ultimately ‘An Ireland of Equals’.
Our political priority going forward is to democratically persuade the greater number of citizens throughout the country that an agreed, united Ireland is in their interests.
That will require a political programme based upon real world policies which attract maximum popular support, and a cohesive, united, ideologically-centred party.
We intend to be in government both North and South, to secure and win a unity referendum, and to move towards Irish unity.
Re-establishing the Northern political institutions on a rights-based framework is an imperative.
If the DUP and British Government pact continues to stop that happening in the short-term, the reality is we will come back to the same point: the absolute requirement for a rights-based government with proper power sharing.
The scourge of sectarianism must also be tackled to pave the way for a truly reconciled, shared future and a new phase of the Peace Process.
Sinn Féin in the Dáil will bring forward a White Paper on Irish unity. We will continue to campaign relentlessly across the 26 Counties to build support for an agenda of sustainable public services, quality housing and equal pay for equal work.
Our entry into government in the South will not be dictated by either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael but rather by the number of TDs we elect and our future political strength.
This is the future work programme facing the leadership of Sinn Féin.
Gerry Adams’s decision does not represent the end of an era. It represents renewal and heralds the next stage of leadership succession and transition in our party.
History did not stop at the Ard Fheis in Dublin; instead, the next chapter was being written.
Now it falls to a new generation to build and take forward the politics of transformation in Ireland.
The struggle continues.