17 April 2003 Edition
Ard Fheis review
It seems that everybody had a good enjoyable Ard Fheis. Most delegates and visitors were impressed with the smooth running and organisation of the event. Even the media, in their backhanded way, complimented the skill and ability that the Sinn Féin organisation displayed in organising such a major event.
While this might not have been news to us, it does not mean we can be complacent. The Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle is convening an Ard Fheis review group to see how we can develop the Ard Fheis further, ensuring it is a platform for debate and discussion for all party members as well as an enjoyable and accessible event.
We are looking for any views on how we can develop or improve the Ard Fheis in the future and the remit of this review is wide ranging, covering literally every aspect of the event.
If you have any thoughts, proposals or criticisms please forward them to Robbie Smyth, Sinn Féin General Secretary, 44 Parnell Square, Dublin 1 or
SDLP plays truant
Throughout the years, the SDLP have been constantly arguing that Sinn Féin voters were being disenfranchised due to the fact that Sinn Féin MPs have not taken their seats at Westminster (more to do with cheap political point-scoring than concern for people's rights being represented).
It is, therefore, ironic to hear that the SDLP failed to attend an important debate on the peace process delivered from their sister party - the British Labour Party.
Andrew Mackinlay said he was "sick to his back teeth" of going to debates on 'Northern Ireland' to discover that the SDLP had not turned up and that other MPs were acting as proxies for the SDLP and it had to stop.
It is apparent that the only real difference between the SDLP and Sinn Féin on the issue of Westminster attendance is that the SDLP swear an oath of allegiance to the British queen and Sinn Féin don't.
John G Lyons PRO
Barney Morris Cumann
Wrong on Iraq
Several years ago, in the aftermath of an IRA operation that would have been particularily difficult to pass off as an "act of liberation", Gerry Adams admonished IRA operatives to be more "circumspect" in their actions and to be mindful of the fact that they had the ability to advance or retard the struggle by those same actions. So this may be as good a time as any for republicans to revisit those words of wisdom.
For many months now, Sinn Féin have been to the forefront of the campaign to get as much opposition to the war in Iraq on to the streets of Ireland as possible. The entire republican movement was placed on a 32-County "anti-war" footing. A few weeks ago almost half of this very paper was given over to discussion of the war. And all to what end?
There was never the slightest possibility that Irish opposition would have made a diference. Nor should it be otherwise. No Irish troops were being sought or given to the task at hand. No vested Interests of Ireland were threatened, at any time. There was no stake in it for Ireland, Shannon notwithstanding.
Yet, inexplicably, republicans, like so many others, became so aroused by the prospect of thwarting the US in its efforts to oust a heinous brute from Baghdad, that they lost all sense of perspective. To go to bat for Saddam as republicans have, simply defies comprehension. No amount of "anti-imperialist" chest thumping by republicans will ever alter the fact that if they were taken seriously by the coalition side then the murderer of hundred of thousands of people, would still be in power today. Didn't republicans also oppose the US ousting of the Taliban in Afghanistan? Another imperialist adventure, yes?
In last week's paper, Matt Treacy talks about how republicans were engaged in "real politics and not the juvenile games being played by the Trotskyites". It's certainly helpful that Matt pointed this out as it wouldn't be obvious to the uninitiated observer. In fact, the very same nonsense spewed by the ultra-left crowd about this war could be had in this fine oracle just about every week for the past several months.
Here in the US, where Irish Americans have put so much effort into "real politics" like the task of getting and keeping government involvement in the Irish peace process, many are shaking their heads in disbelief. People who have supported Sinn Féin from the dark old days right through to the present, are simply dismayed by these actions. And it's not that Americans believe that one cannot have a genuine difference of opinion on the matter either. The entire manner of SF involvement and the energy expended by them, and with no horse in this particular race, has lead many republican supporters here to feel betrayed. It makes one long for the time in which Sinn Féin wouldn't "engage in the politics of condemnation". The only one smiling now is David Trimble.
So the next time Sinn Féin leaders plan their panhandling excursion to the US they may want to give a little thought to mending some of the fences they've damage in the recent past. Not too long ago republicans were apoplectic at the prospect that the Dáil might enact measures that would greatly restrict foreign fund-raising by political parties, which republicans deemed to be aimed at them. If Sinn Féin insist on acting as the vanguard of the America-is-always-wrong crowd, such restrictions may no longer matter.
Bush meeting was wrong
I was very disapointed by Sinn Féin meeting with George Bush. There are several reasons why it would have been a good idea to boycott that meeting.
I can kind of understand how SF did go to Washington DC for St. Patrick's Day, as that was before Bush had completely abandoned the UN route and was not in the middle of a unilateral invasion. But at Hillsborough there were many reasons to support a boycott.
Bush went to Hillborough to gain credibility as a peacemaker, to counter his image as a warmonger. It was for public relations purposes. If the anti-war parties, including SF, had boycotted the meeting, it would have been a major embarrassment to Bush, both internationally, and in the US. It might have boosted Irish-American voices against the war. Handing him a letter hardly means anything - they KNOW that SF opposes the war, and the letter was completely ignored by the American media, it had NO impact at all.
Also, it seems to me that, having attended the meeting, SF will lose a lot of votes in the Assembly elections (if/when they happen), and even more in next year's 26-County elections. On the other hand, if SF had boycotted the meeting, it would have boosted their vote in the South, and probably in the North as well, especially if the SDLP and Women's Coalition had gone ahead and met Bush.
But in that sense, it would have been a win-win situation, because if the SDLP and WC had also boycotted the meeting (and they might have, to avoid losing votes to SF), that would have negated any negative consequences, as Blair and Bush would have been reluctant to sanction both SF and the SDLP.
And SF should have expressed more outrage (at first they said nothing negative about the visit) about this. First, the presence of a "US-British" summit on Irish soil offered legitimacy to the British claim over the Six Counties. Second, for a couple days, the war against Iraq was being directed from Irish soil - there's no doubt Bush spent a lot of time being briefed by generals.
SF's move was definitely motivated by concern for the Peace Process. But I think the possible damage caused by a boycott was exaggerated. First, as far as offending Bush, what's he going to do? It's not like he's supporting the republican position. He and his envoy Haass have been piling on the preassure for SF to join the Policing Board with or without further reforms; for the IRA to unilaterally and immediately and completely disarm. The CIA and conservatives in Congress have contributed to the case against the Columbia Three. Bush's Immigration and Naturalization Service deported Bernadette Devlin-McAliskey and has locked up ex-POW Kiernan Ferry in a detention center in Denver, Colorado. What else can he do? And you need to remember that (as a result of racism), the Irish-American vote is a check on how far he can go in punishing SF.
As far as missing one negotiation session in the Peace Process, I doubt that would set back SF's position, especially if it was for this reason, instead of something directly related to the Peace Process. And like I said, either SF would be joined by the SDLP and WC, or any small sanction imposed would be outweighed by the massive gain in votes, North and South. The extra seats those votes would translate to would strengthen SF's position in the near future. Now, I fear that SF will lose votes and seats.
I know this is all after the fact, but unfortunately Bush and Blair didn't give me any time to talk about it in advance.