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24 January 2002 Edition

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Bringing Irish unity demand to Westminster

Adams tackles Blair on loyalist attacks


Sinn Féin MPs Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, Michelle Gildernew and Pat Doherty arrived at Westminster on Monday afternoon to take possession of their new office space within the House of Commons buildings. In doing so, however, they made it clear that they would never take their seats in the Commons, even if the oath of allegiance to the British crown, which all members are obliged to swear before they can sit as MPs in the debating chamber, is abolished.

Last month, the British government finally overturned the ruling imposed the former speaker of the house Betty Boothroyd which banned Sinn Féin from making use of the facilities extended to all other elected members of the British parliament. While the party will receive an allowance for each of the four MPs, none of them will be paid the salary which goes with the post.

The move was greeted with indignation by much of the British media, particularly ther Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph, but also including borderline racist sneering by the political sketch writers of both the Times and the Guardian. Many Unionist and Conservative MPs, including Ian Paisley, also resorted to complaining about the size and position of the Sinn Féin temporary offices, which they insisted were better than their own.

Inside the House of Commons, Gerry Adams told reporters that they would "never, ever" see Sinn Féin members sitting in the British parliament. He said: "The transfer of power by London and Dublin to the Assembly in the north is all the proof we need of where we see the political centre of gravity on the island of Ireland - in the island of Ireland. We are here, elected, with our mandate renewed and increased."

He added that Sinn Féin was keen to engage public opinion within Britain but observed that "if this parliament did not declare itself to have an involvement in our country we would not be here at all".

Michelle Gildernew, MP for Fermanagh/South Tyrone, said it was "nonsense" for anyone to think they would ever take up their seats at Westminster, despite David Trimble's assertions to the contrary.

"What we are doing is taking up what we are entitled to. This is about providing a better service for our constituents" she said. "It's also about talking to people of influence and decision makers in London and putting forward our case for a united Ireland."

Earlier on Monday, the four had been to 10 Downing Street to meet Prime Minister Tony Blair to discuss the ongoing and increasingly dangerous loyalist campaign against nationalists.

"The British Prime Minister has to face up to the reality that the threat to the peace process within the North of Ireland comes from within loyalism," Gerry Adams said. "The last time we were here, myself and Martin McGuinness talked to the British Prime Minister about policing and about demilitarisation, but particularly about the loyalist campaign. There have been 300 bombs over the last nine or ten months."


Sinn Féin compass points to victory

The conservative vitriol that ensued as four Sinn Féin MPs availed of their new office facilities at Westminster this week was very much out of sync with the political realities on the ground in the Six Counties, and wrongly suggested that Sinn Féin's trajectory is now across the Irish Sea.

Quentin Davies, the self-styled 'shadow Northern Ireland secretary' and Tory Party MP, led the charge against the move on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, complaining that Tony Blair was "deliberately contributing to a great propaganda coup in which the Government are licking [Sinn Féin's] boots".

While Blair responded by saying that his decision was a boost to the peace process, it is evident that for Davies, and many of his Tory colleagues, Ireland is a place that should remain loyally subordinate or meekly disenfranchised.

While this myopic British hullabaloo continued, very little was said about revelations that a crucial logbook from Omagh RUC barracks, it was revealed this week, had been declared 'missing' just as Nuala O'Loan, the Policing Ombudsman, had begun work on her report into the Omagh bombing. Less was said about the UDA's campaign against schoolchildren, teachers and postal workers. There wasn't a word of well-deserved praise for the Irish Congress of Trade Unions' rally in Belfast last Friday, calling for an end to UDA threats against its members.

David Trimble had his own disingenuous spin on the course of events. This was the penultimate step on a course that would lead Sinn Féin to take up seats in the British House of Commons, he proclaimed, an analysis seized upon by many a anti-republican political observers.

Of course, it suited David Trimble and his apologists to peddle this myth as the four Sinn Féin MPs enjoyed widespread media coverage, but Gerry Adams made the republican position clear questioned by reporters:

"There are a lot of things which there can be no certainty of and there are some things of which we can be certain. There will never, ever be Sinn Féin MPs sitting in the British House of Commons.

"What is at issue here is sovereignty," he said. "Our position is that the British parliament has no right in Ireland."

Sinn Féin's recent success in building its electoral strength in Ireland and also in transferring political power to Irish institutions is, he added, a measure of where the party sees its political centre of gravity.

A new Sinn Féin discussion document, which was the main subject of debate at the party's Árd Comhairle meeting on Saturday last, reflected this analysis.

Entitled 'A Road Map to the Republic', the document speaks for itself about the trajectory of Sinn Féin and sets about creating an internal process of debate to the party's strategy to achieve its core aim of a United Ireand.

Doubts about current Sinn Féin strategy have become more vocal in recent times within the party, due to the failure of the British to implement promises on policing and demilitarisation and its inadequate response to loyalist violence, the document states.

Such doubts have created a dynamic for the production of an "all-encompassing strategy for what we presently require". While republicans may normally, even traditionally, avoid creating 'blueprints' for political strategy, says the document, this is the time to do so.

"The contention of this paper is that whether we call it a road map or attach some other label to the concept, the struggle needs to set itself on a trajectory for victory which is tangible and clearly understood by our base."

While a United Ireland is not "imminent" says the document, it is attainable in the forseeable future.

The document says "it is up to us as Irish Republicans to begin now to effectively engage with unionists and to attempt to persuade them and public opinion in Britain of the democratic and economic benefits of Irish independence and unity." At least ten per cent of the unionist community, the document speculates, is open to this kind of persuasion.

While criticising SDLP pseudo-academic jargon about "post-nationalism" and its over-zealous empathy with unionist "alienation", and also the "vacillation and dangerous inconsistency" of British government policy, the document also sets the agenda for a closer and timely scrutiny of Irish republicanism from within - its ideals, tactics and the general wheres, whens and hows that have up until now been left, largely, to chance.

Republicans must look north, south, east and west, but we must also delve within. Creating a clear, cohesive blueprint for political change, complete with specific aims and objectives is the main task that faces republicans today.


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