Issue 3-2023-200dpi

29 August 2002 Edition

Resize: A A A Print

Beyond the road map: Preparing for power

Sinn Féin's Declan Kearney delivered the main address at the John Joe McGirl commemorative weekend earlier this month. In a thought-provoking contribution, he addressed the crucial issue of republican strategy for the achievement of a United Ireland.

"To subvert the tyranny of our execrable government, to break the conmnection with England, the never failing source of all our political evils and to assert the independence of my country - these were my objects. To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissentions and to substitute the common name of Irishmen in place of denominations of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter - these were my means."

So said Wolfe Tone, and so it remains for us today. When looking for our historical and contemporary reference point to define the purpose of our struggle, Tone's words crystallise the core of republican ideology and the ultimate aims it espouses.

His words are as relevant today as they were in the past, and especially so, as we reflect on the theme of this commemorative weekend, "Seeking the route to the Ireland of Equals".

Republican aims have remained constant in our struggle because the historical work of securing democracy, equality and national sovereignty remains unfinished business.

The core values of republican ideology and thinking have woven a golden thread throughout the struggle, spanning the decades and linking generations of republican activism. We are commemorating John Joe McGirl, one republican who exemplifies for all that thread of struggle, and the ideological and political continuity that makes modern republicanism the most potent political force in Ireland today.

Accepting the responsibility to become involved or do more in the struggle means we must also recognise the challenge to our patience; the demands upon us to think strategically and act accordingly; and the importance of seriously preparing ourselves for power in all its aspects

Revolutionary role model

This evening, I want to focus my remarks on a notion that underpins your weekend's theme. It is timely to suggest that we are now in a phase which requires us to look beyond the concept of the Road Map to the Republic, and begin the process now of Preparing for Power. There are strategic issues that will require us all to become longheaded revolutionaries and activists in the coming years if we are indeed to secure power in Ireland. The nature of these issues is key to the quest for the route to the Ireland of Equals.

John Joe McGirl was no stranger to tackling the issues central to sustaining our struggle. He not only epitomised continuity; he also had an acute sense of what was needed to organise for victory. Martin McGuinness described him as a progressive thinker, always prepared to consider, propose and support new ways. He recognised that ideas alone were insufficient, unless they were linked to strategy, viable organisation and good leadership. These are the elements, which will place and keep our struggle on a trajectory towards our ultimate aims.

Older comrades in leadership today speak of John Joe's sage-like qualities. They say that he, in very conscious, mature and strategic terms, stepped aside to facilitate the emergence of new leadership people, whilst remaining ever available to impart his wisdom on the strategic progress of the struggle. By anticipating future needs, encouraging flexibility with tactics, promoting political change, and at all times remaining uncompromising in his ideological convictions, John Joe's legacy to us is as a revolutionary role model.

The strength and popularity of our struggle today derives from such qualities of comrades such as John Joe McGirl. We are where we are, and command the strength we do, because of the leadership of older activists. Yet if we consider that republicans have been travelling on a journey through all the various phases and campaigns and acknowledge the distance we have come, today we still have a distance yet to go.

Plans and strategies

My intention here is to reflect on our remaining journey and what it is we need to do. I believe in an historical sense we are on the home straight. Today's republicans stand on the threshold of the Republic, but have yet to open the door.

From roughly 1984, we developed a number of frameworks to illuminate where our struggle has been positioned in periods relative to our ultimate aims and to detail what tactics and strategies we should deploy to become stronger and proceed further. These include the analogy of the Bus to Cork; the discussions on the Broad Front; the inception of the Peace Strategy; the introduction of the 11 strategic objectives; and, within the last two years, our thinking on the Road Map to the Republic.

All of these have evolved seamlessly, adding to and interlocking with each other. They emerged from the context of the armed struggle, the electoral strategy, the cessations and negotiations. Each sought at different times to define our position, based upon assessing our own strengths and weaknesses as a party relative to those of our opponents, and each proposed methods for building the struggle and achieving new political strength.

What was common to each was the recognition that the republican struggle needed to be strategically driven at all times. Power of conviction was crucial, but not enough to sustain the struggle against the power of our enemies and their alliances. We required plans and strategies to outmanoeuvre the strategies our enemies had in place to defeat us.

The politics of power

In recent times the idea of the Road Map has stimulated a healthy debate within republicanism on current strategy. But I want us to look beyond that this evening. We need to start to get a sense that republicanism has historically arrived with regard to the politics of power in Ireland.

I remember standing in O'Connell Street for the 70th anniversary commemoration of the Easter Rising in 1986 and listening to Joe Cahill saying, "the Provos are a force in this country". Sixteen years later, can anyone doubt the evidence of Joe's assertion?

Sinn Féin is the third largest political party on the island. We are the only national political organisation, and the fastest growing at that. Our public representatives sit in government in the Six Counties, and our share of seats in Leinster House is disproportionately less than our actual electoral strength in this state.

The politics of this island have been permanently moulded by our growth in recent years, and still we have not maximised our political strength. If electoral support is a measure of the growing popular momentum of republicanism, we have still not peaked.

We are arguably on the cusp of delivering on the Republic.

But, what does this mean for us as a struggle?

What do we collectively have to do?

How do we conceptualise bringing into being an Ireland of equals?

What does delivery mean?

Dangerous phase

It is my belief that we are entering a profoundly revolutionary phase for the republican struggle. This hinges on the prospect of Sinn Féin building new political strength; becoming more involved in the institutions of government North and South, so generating still further strength. All of this has the potential to act as a catalyst for Sinn Féin sitting in government in a future Republic.

However, the onset of our endgame means we are already in and are facing an even more dangerous phase. As our activist base applies itself to finishing the unfinished revolution, the seeds of the counter-revolution are already been sown. The reality of our arrival in government in the Six Counties has triggered hysteria in the establishments North and South.

This reality lies at the root of the coordinated offensive orchestrated in the North by the loyalist death squads and the securocrats. The present crisis and instability in Ulster Unionism derives from tactical divisions within broad unionism over how to combat Irish republicans and maintain power unionist power in the North. Moreover, the strategy of the British establishment and the NIO is presently predicated upon the politics of continuing to prosecute its war against Irish republicans, except by other means.

And in the 26 Counties, the media's reaction to Sinn Féin's recent electoral breakthrough reflected the Southern establishment's fear of a growing radical republican alternative in this state. Their hysteria stems from our challenge to the complacency of gombeen politics, which has reduced counties like Leitrim to pale shadows of their potential. They are right to be fearful of Sinn Féin's challenge in the next Udarás, Local, European and Leinster House elections. Our struggle must aim to develop the same dynamic in the 26 Counties as it has assumed in the North.

So this is the context against which we should look beyond our Road Map and begin methodically preparing ourselves for power. The struggle now needs to keep one eye on present requirements and the other on future direction.

Key priorities

Our preparations in the coming period are a collective job of work and will have to address key priorities. These are:

to continue building our political strength throughout Ireland;
to grow electorally and increase public representation;
to use our positions in the transitional institutions where we sit, as training camps to skill up our personnel;
to deepen our capacity for assuming government responsibility;
to build Sinn Féin nationally and regionally and to strengthen the role of local leadership;
to create new alliances for Irish unity;
to get us all thinking as activists and supporters about the work of the struggle; and
to concentrate our minds on developing the fabric of republican politics in order to firewall our core ideas against being compromised by pragmatic realities of realpolitik.

Sites of struggle

Addressing ourselves to these tasks throws up a vast multitude of different sites of struggle to be waged; from internal party building through to the public representation of the party and everything in between. These sites of struggle arise from immediate, albeit transitional, programmes of work.

Sinn Féin faces a process of slow, laborious, long-term activism, with a potential 15-20 year trajectory. There is no fast track to the Ireland of equals. We need to take cognisance of the certainty that new and complicated realities will confront republicans in the future, with their own particular implications.

For example, we will have to adapt to managing the Six-County economy in all its aspects for the foreseeable future. This means finding the money from a dwindling pot to fund the ministries we manage. In time, if and when the legislative, political and practical conditions are fully met, we will have to assume roles in the oversight of the Six-County policing service. And, with growing political strength and continued diffusion of 26-County political forces; according to the right strategic circumstances, the party may face the prospect of sitting in coalition government in this state also: with all the institutional implications this scenario would bring.

Staging posts

All of these future scenarios, and more, arise beyond our Road Map, and before we achieve the Republic. But as activists in struggle we must see them as opportunities to move steadily forward. The republican struggle is not threatened by any of these situations if our activists and base are absolutely clear, from a revolutionary republican point of view, why we enter such sites of struggle and then how we strategically organise our approach.

This means we will have to ensure none of us get blinded by the political dust created by the immediate and transitional activity republicans will have to undertake. The Six-County Assembly, The Six-County policing boards, Leinster House and other scenarios are by their nature staging posts.

Our job is to bring a clearly focused republican approach to this work. We need to push all these institutions to their democratic and radical limits and constantly seize on the strategic opportunities to maximise cross border cooperation and advance to a united Ireland.

One important aspect of this work resides in the All-Ireland implementation bodies. Sinn Féin is the only political force that will seek to maximise these institutions as engines for Irish unity. Our job is to strategically push their limits, while others are, and will, strategically resist our efforts.

Our role in the councils, Leinster House and the Assembly are other equally important dimensions of this site of struggle. And while these arenas must be understood as staging posts, they are also opportunities for republicans to build beachheads from which to popularise republicanism, continue growing in national strength and learn the craft of efficient government.

And it is vital that while this site of struggle continues apace, a strong and organised base of activists and supporters is built on the outside to be active in all other spheres of work.

Strategy, activism, debate

As we navigate our way through the complexity of this period, there are three political and interlocking dynamics that will keep the struggle focused and ideologically centred. These are: the role of strategy, the role of the activist and the role of political debate.

In recent years, comrades from the ANC have constantly advised us that the revolutionary must always stay ahead of his or her opponents by seizing the strategic initiative; strategy is not rocket science, it is the method by which to plot our path from one point to the next. Our strategy will trigger counter strategy from our enemies, so strategy is never cast in stone or static. It must be adapted and revised according to the given need at the given time.

Clear and coherent strategy is the framework into which all forms of our activism should be placed and organised. Strategy needs always to be based on the reality of the existing situation. It is the means by which to outmanoeuvre opponents and develop new political alliances. In the coming period, our immediate strategic projects should be to continue building political strength in the 26 Counties and make genuine outreach to, and seek dialogue with, the Protestant community nationally to discuss our shared future.

Strategy provides the armour for our ideology. If we get our heads around the use of strategy, this struggle can accomplish anything. Without strategic thinking, we expose our work to the dangers of being diverted and deflected by our enemies and opponents. Strategic thinking is not an abstraction; it is critical to realising republican aims. The successful prosecution of the struggle will depend on us all developing our collective strategic instincts.

The management of this period will also be conditional on the role of our activist base. When the Bus to Cork analogy was first used in the early to mid 1980s, one of its preoccupations was with passengers who may leave or join the journey. Insofar as this analogy has a resonance today, then republican activists are the drivers, navigators and mechanics who maintain the vehicle.

Now, more than ever, activists need to be longheaded and strategic thinkers, capable of providing political leadership within all the sites of struggle we occupy. Specifically, we need to focus upon integrating all aspects of the struggle and ensure we put in place structures that can carry the weight of our work. We need to be concerned with creating the space for the activist and support base to take ownership of modern republicanism. In practical terms, this should mean giving new comrades the confidence to step forward, encouraging older comrades to become reinvolved and fostering a culture of self-confidence in us all, to play full roles.

The development of future strategy and definition of activist's work needs to come from debate and discussion within our base. This struggle cannot afford the luxury of constantly relying on a leadership to take initiatives or bring forward the strategic issues. Over-dependancy on leadership by activist should be anathema. Republican strategy needs to be the political and intellectual property of all activists, but the only people who can take ownership are ourselves. All activists and supporters should accept the responsibility to become involved in debate on the future. Without such input, the struggle is weakened. However, with mass participation in debate from within the republican family, our internal cohesion and political unity is guaranteed, and in the process we bring a collective genius to the big issues. Three of these are:

How we protect the revolutionary integrity of the struggle in this lengthy transitional phase.
How we get a balance into our future activism between being radical, inventive and properly anchored in reality.
How we design a radical and popular model of democracy and equality for a new Ireland.
Criticism of leadership driven strategy may well have some basis; but the only credible alternative is an activist driven approach, and this can only develop when we take the role of political debate seriously.

Everyone is a stakeholder

Everyone here is a stakeholder in the Ireland of Equals; we are its guarantors, because no one else will do it for us, but that responsibility must be shared by many. The alternative to not accepting this responsibility is to cod ourselves and be deflected by pretenders to the struggle, or fall victim to the counter-revolution of the establishments, North and South. But accepting the responsibility to become involved or do more in the struggle means we must also recognise the challenge to our patience; the demands upon us to think strategically and act accordingly; and the importance of seriously preparing ourselves for power in all its aspects.

Today in Cuban society, youngsters often proclaim "We will be like Che", so enduring is the influence that revolutionary figures such as Guevara have had on that country's struggle, even to the present day. We are richer for the contribution of comrades like John Joe to our struggle. He is one role model we can all seek to emulate as we move towards the Ireland of Equals.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1