Thursday, February 27, 2020

IF YOU WANT TO GET AHEAD GET A HAT.


Bairbre de Brún, Mise, Lucilita Breathnach and Martin at the centenary celebrations in Dublin 2016

I like hats. And caps. I have quite a nice collection of headwear, worn and aged, like myself, dispersed between Dublin and Belfast, Donegal, the car boot and all the places in between. It used to be customary for men to wear headware. Look at any old photos. Dunchers and flatcaps galore. Peaky blinders in multitudes outside factories, mills, shipyards, farmyards, public houses, marts, markets, country fairs. Hats were also popular. Paddy hats, trilbys, bowlers. Though bowlers were more for Orangemen on parade or English civil servants on The Mall. Country men were hat and cap people. Christy Ring even played hurling in a cap. So my grá for head gear used to be widespread. And now its coming back into vogue. Especially the omnipresent baseball cap. It is the preferred head covering for rappers, golfers, other sports people, urban youth.

Mise agus Cleaky

I have a couple of baseball caps. And a few hand knitted wooly hats. Síle Darragh knitted me a dark blue Tea Cosy type one. Lucilita a white one. Both were too big. But very warm all the same. Wooly ear warmers. There are really fine knitted yokes for sale in expensive shops in the west of Ireland. But they are very dear. I covet one of those. Hint hint. Extra Large.

I also have a Stetson. It was presented to me in Texas. It has an enormous brim. I only wear it indoors, usually while watching Westerns on TV. I haven’t the nerve to wear it outdoors. Before the presentation our man in America, Larry Downes, was very concerned that the Stetson should not be a black one. Apparently the bad guys wore black ones. So he insisted that my Stetson would be white. So it is. I never told Larry but I preferred a black one. I favour Jesse James or Billy the Kid over Hopalong Cassidy or The Lone Ranger. But Larry had his way.

I have another hat which I’m also shy about wearing outdoors although I like it very much. It’s not unlike the one Martin McGuinness wore during the Easter Centenary events. I wore mine as well. I would like to have the nerve to wear it more often the way Martin started to do. Martins hat now features in many posters and pictures of him. I think the hat darkens his face too much and he looks too stern. He was stern sometimes but my best memories of Martin are when he was hatless and happy.

One day he and I were going to see Brit Secretary of State Peter Mandelson. On the coat stand outside his office a hat was perched. To Martin’s chagrin I put the hat on my head and we breezed in to talk to Peter.

“I have a hat like that” Peter told me cheerfully. “I wear it in the grounds of Hillsborough House”.

“If you want to get ahead get a hat” I replied, removing it and placing it on my knee. “You have very good taste in headware. That’s something we have in common.”

When we finished our meeting I put Peter’s hat back on my head and Martin and I left.

“You can’t take his hat” Martin hissed at me “That’s stealing”.

“Stealing! They stole our country” I said. “In the gospel according to Cleaky, I’m liberating it. This is appropriating the Imperialist Misappropriators”. Cleaky was a great liberator. An outstanding appropriator.

One time in Australia John Little gave RG and me some fine head covers. We picked up two Koalas as well. Ach is é sín sceal eile. But that’s another story. No Koalas were harmed in the telling of this tale.

I like tweed caps. I have one which belonged to my friend the late Kevin McKenna. We swapped caps one time. I wear Kevin’s cap regularly. I also have a cap belonging to another friend, the late Stan Corrigan. His lovely wife Kathleen gave me it. It is that cap which triggered this column. I lost it last week after the recent Ard Chomairle meeting in Dublin which mandated Mary Lou to explore the possibilty of agreeing a Programme for A Government For Change.

I was distraught about the loss of Stan’s cap. I realised very quickly after the meeting that it was missing. But where? I enlisted the help of Saint Anthony. Again.

Was it in Dawn Doyle’s car? No she told me when I phoned her. Or out the back of Ard Oifig where RG picked me up? No. There was no sight of it when Keith searched the back lane in the dark in the midst of Storm Ciara.

Next morning the search continued. I prowled the back lane of Ard Oifig before being summoned heartbroken into a meeting. While I was so engaged, that darling man Mick O Brien drove back to the CWU building where the Ard Chomairle met.

He returned triumphantly.
“I have your hat” he declared and handed me a Russian Cossack type piece of hairy millinery.

“That’s not my hat” I told him as I tried it on.

“It’s lovely on you” Mick told me. And so it was.

But I was still fretting for big Stan’s cap. Negotiations for Government? The Sinn Féin surge? The posturing by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael’s leaders? Shadowy friggers running Sinn Féin? I focussed with my comrades on all this but beneath my new, well nearly new, Cossack hat my wee mind refused to give up on big Stan’s missing cap. Apart from the sense of loss how could I face Kathleen? She’s a Tyrone woman. Hell hath no fury like a Tyrone woman chastising a man, particularly a Belfast man. My nerves were wrecked.

“An bhfuil cead agam dul amach?” I asked Mary Lou. “May I go out?”

“Tá” she said “Yes, but please take off that Russian hat.... and get your hair cut.”

I exited despondently stage left, as sheepishly as Micheál Martin after Mary Lou scalped his arse. Out the back of Ard Oifig the old Dominic Street flats, now demolished, are a building site. I made my way gingerly through the muck. A burly workman greeted me.

“A great election result” he said.

“Yup” I replied, “Did you find a cap?”

“Is it a Bugatti?” He asked.

I wondered if he had a selection of caps. A Malloy. A Hanna. A Magee. But no he only had one. Stan’s Bugatti. He pulled it out - a grey wet crumpled item - from beneath his yellow High Vis Vest.

“That’s it” I cried as I resisted the urge to hug him. Instead I told him about big Stan. His eyes welled up with tears.

“I’m glad I found it” he told me.

“You look very like a painting my Granny had of Saint Anthony” I told him.

He looked at me warily.

“Thank you” I gushed.

“No problem. Tell me one thing” he asked.

“Anything” I replied.

“When are you getting your hair cut?” He asked.

“Soon” I told him. After all he did find big Stan’s cap.

He smiled at me and as he turned away I really could see that he looked remarkably like my Granny’s picture of Saint Anthony. I felt an urge to fall on my knees in the muck to offer a prayer of thanks to him but I suppressed this. So instead I just thanked him again. He smiled beatifically.

Now I’ve Mick’s Russian hat as well as big Stan’s cap. It’s great. No need to worry about the wrath of Kathleen. Or Mary Lou. Unlike Micheál Martin. If I had two heads I’d be landed.
 

Friday, February 21, 2020

The Myth Of “Shadowy Figures”



Mise agus Martin and Ted in Stormont Castle 2018
The demonising of republicans has long been an integral part of politics on this island, and especially in the lead into and during electoral campaigns. Through the decades of conflict Unionist leaders and British governments regularly posed as democrats while supporting anti-democratic laws, censorship and the denial of the rights of citizens who voted for Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin Councillors, party activists and family members were killed by unionist death squads, often in collusion with British state forces.

Successive Irish governments embraced this demonization strategy through Section 31 and state censorship. Sinn Féin was portrayed as undemocratic and dangerous. We were denied municipal or other public buildings to hold events including Ard Fheiseanna. In the years since the Good Friday Agreement these same elements have sought to sustain this narrative. The leaderships of Fianna Fáil, the Irish Labour Party, the SDLP and unionists, have been at one on this. Self-interest has shaped their approach.

Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin regularly uses the Dáil to attack Sinn Féin. At one point in September 2015 he called on the two governments to suspend the institutions in the North! When the institutions did collapse in 2017, over the Renewable Heating Incentive scheme and the denial of rights, he changed his tack to one of “not comprehending” why there is no Executive and Assembly in the North.
In January Micheál Martin kicked off the current negative campaigning with a claim that Sinn Féin is not a “normal” democratic party. Decisions he said were being made by “shadowy figures”, by an unaccountable Ard Comhairle and by people in the Felons Club and Connolly House in west Belfast. Stupid, yes, but recent loyalist threats and death threats against Michelle O’Neill and Gerry Kelly mean that vacuous claims of “shadowy figures” feeds into a context in which people can be targeted.
Previously in the Dáil Micheál Martin identified two of these as Ted Howell and Padraic Wilson. In more recent days Marty Lynch, Sean Murray, and Bobby Storey have all been named. Teachta Martin knows all this to be rubbish.

Some of the Sinn Féin negotiation team at Stormont: Michelle O'Neill, Seán MagYidhir, Mary Lou McDonald, Conor Murphy, Pádraic Wilson, Carál Ní Cuilín, Gerry Kelly, Declan Kearney, red Howell and Stephen McGlade
 The reality is that Ted, Padraic, Big Bob, Sean, and Marty have been part of the Sinn Fein negotiating team for a very long time. Mr. Martin knows some of them. Ted was part of the team which produced the two seminal documents Scenario for Peace in 1987 and Towards a Lasting Peace in Ireland in 1992. At different times he has been part of delegations which met with John Bruton, Dick Spring, Pronnsias de Rossa, Leo Varadkar, Charlie Flanagan, Simon Coveney, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Theresa May. He has also met Bertie Ahern, Brian Cowan and Micheál Martin and the DUP and UUP.
Ted worked closely with Tony Blair’s former Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell and attended meetings in Downing Street and Hillsborough Castle with Micheál Martin. Pádraic and Marty too were often part of these delegations and often held meetings outside of the negotiating events with senior Irish government officials.
Ted and Pádraic also have deserved reputations for the provision of first class meals and pastries during negotiations. We have shared these with some of those above, including with Simon Coveney.
Just before Christmas 2018 I published ‘The Negotiators Cookbook” co-authored with Ted and Pádraic and with recipes in the main from both. The Negotiators Cookbook was very well publicised. Ted and Pádraic were widely credited for their culinary skills. Hardly “shadowy figures”.
The single most important aspect of the Stormont House negotiation in 2014 was the effort to address the legacy issues. The Sinn Fein working group handling this important issue included Gerry Kelly MLA, Sean Murray, Caral ni Chuilin MLA and Bobby Storey. All former political prisoners. The then British PM David Cameron was present in Stormont House for some of the last hours of that negotiation. So too was Charlie Flanagan. When a roundtable meeting was held to conclude on this issue, Sean Murray represented Sinn Fein. He played a pivotal and constructive role in this as he has in resolving many of the contentious Orange marches which used to create serious difficulties in Belfast.

Gerry Kelly, Martin McGuinness and Ted Howell in Weston Park in 2001
Irish governments quite rightly celebrate advances in the North. They like to claim some of the credit for advances when they are made. In its Election 2020 manifesto Fine Gael has a whole section boasting of its intensive work in supporting the political parties in North in achieving the recent ‘New Decade, New Approach’ agreement. Apart from Bobby Storey who is unwell, all of those named as “shadowy figures” played key roles in that agreement.
All of these activists are well known. They have held senior public and elected positions in the party. Many have had long and fruitful relationships with senior Irish and British government Ministers and officials as we have charted a course from conflict, through a peace process, to an end to conflict and peace.
The role of sections of the media is also reprehensible.The Pat Kenny’s, Sean O Rourke’s and Miriam O Callaghan’s interrogate Sinn Fein spokespersons ad nuseaum about these claims. They dominate many interviews. Surely they could have checked the names out. All of the facts set out above about these decent highly respected and hard working republicans is readily available.  Some of the media heads involved are old enough to have known the goings on in the Fianna Fail leaderships or the terrible treatment of sections of Irish society, particularly women in the past. With some honourable exceptions the record of the Irish media, and particularly RTE is tawdry on these scandals. So too is their historical coverage of the north. The truth is sections of the Irish media are part of the Establishments cosy consensus. They are against challenging the status quo because they are part of the status quo.
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have selective memories. Both parties emerged out of conflict and a close relationship to the IRA. Many of their leaders, including Michael Collins, De Valera, Sean Lemass and others, all served time in prison. Some were responsible for acts of violence that mirrored those of more recent decades. Fine Gael’s relationship with the pro-fascist blueshirts is well documented. In the 1990s Fine Gael was in coalition with Democratic Left shortly after that party was formed following a split in the Workers Party. The history of the Workers Party and the so-called Official IRA is well known.
During the conflict republicans were challenged and it was demanded of us that we embrace unarmed politics. Protestations by me and other Sinn Fein representatives that this was exactly what Sinn Fein was about were dismissed as was our growing electoral support. Now that some who were political prisoners or former combatants have fully embraced the new dispensation we are being told that this is not good enough.
Not only is this stupid, unfair and self serving it also ignores the positive influence that activists from this background have with other republicans. The reason the anti peace process armed groups have so little support in republican heartlands is because  men and women of integrity with long records of hard struggle have stood up against them. Incidentally, the two governments accept and work with Sinn Fein elected representative with exactly the same history as those named as “shadowy figures”. I am certain if Pádraic Wilson, Ted, Big Bob or Marty Lynch, Seán Murray or others like them stood for election in their communities they would be elected.   
As for the role of the Ard Comhairle and elected representatives ? Sinn Féin agrees policy at our Ard Fheis which is entirely open to the media and is widely covered by it. Our Ard Comhairle and party leader are elected at the Ard Fheis. Very democratic. Very public, very open.
 One Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness rebutted his own leaders claims. He said that the decision making process in Fianna Fáil is similar to that of Sinn Féin and he said: “I find it strange that they would say that [Fianna Fáil] TDs are consulted – sometimes we are not consulted at all.”
That’s probably true of all these parties. But there is no media scrutiny of the small group of advisers who aid Micheál Martin. Who is Deirdre Gillane or Pat Mc Parland or Sean Dorgan?  I’m sure they are decent people doing their best by their own lights.  I might not agree with them but I have no reason or desire to cast aspersions upon them. Ditto with Leo Varadkar’s team.
So thank you Ted, Pádraic, Marty, Séan and Big Bob and all the other “shadowy friggers”. Onwards and upwards. 

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Remembering Lily Fitzsimons – a proud United Irelander


The Sinn Fein team going into City Hall. Lily Fitzsimons is flanked by Alex Maskey, Tish Holland, Sean McKight, , 
Fra McCann is hiding behind Alex; Paddy McManus, Joe O'Donnell, Sean Keenan, Mick Conlon and Joe Austin  
Former west Belfast MP and Party President Gerry Adams has expressed his deep sorrow at the death of Lily Fitzsimons.
He said: “I want to extend my deepest condolences and solidarity to the family of my friend and comrade Lily Fitzsimons.
Like many other residents of Turf Lodge Lily was originally from North Belfast where she was born in 1937. After she married she moved to Turf Lodge.
Lily’s politics were shaped by her family, her community, her class, her gender and her life experience. She was inspired by Máire Drumm and Marie Moore and the hundreds of women who daily challenged the actions of the RUC and British Army. In July 1970 she was one of thousands of women, led by Máire and Marie, who broke the British Army’s curfew of the Falls.
She was a strong immensely able woman. She was a key activist in the Political Status campaign in the 1970s and during the subsequent Hunger Strikes when her son Sean was on the Blanket Protest. Lily, along with many other Turf Lodge mothers, sisters and wives took to the streets to highlight the conditions under which republican POWs were being held. She travelled widely to Britain and the USA to highlight the appalling conditions in the H-Blocks and Armagh Women’s Prison.
The Relatives Action Committees took over buildings and blocked streets and when the British Army and RUC were sent in to beat them off the streets, the women faced them down.
Lily said of that time: “We endured a lot of harassment and threats from the British Army and RUC during these times, but instead of intimidating us, it made us all the more determined to carry on.''
In 1985 Lily was elected for the Upper Falls as a Belfast City Councillor along with Alex Maskey, Sean McKnight, Bobby Lavery, Sean Keenan, Gerard McGuigan and Tish Holland.
It sparked a vicious campaign by unionist Councillors to deny Sinn Fein representatives any real say in the running of the council. Lily and her 6 comrades ran a daily gauntlet of physical and verbal threats and abuse. They were denied speaking rights in the Chamber. They were shouted down. Deodorant and other sprays were used against them.
Lilly and Tish were especially targeted by some of the largely male unionist Councillors. But they never backed down. They fought their corner and represented those who elected them. Today Belfast City Hall is a different place because of the resilience of Lily, Tish and their comrades.
Lily was hugely respected and loved. She stood strong in defence of her community at a time when Sinn Fein Councillors and activists and families were being attacked by unionist death squads. Three Sinn Fein Councillors and 14 party activists were killed during the time she was a Councillor. Family members were also killed when homes were attacked.
Lily loved Turf Lodge and the people of west Belfast. She believed passionately in the rights of citizens and she brought that passion to all of her work.
She was an unapologetic united Irelander. A woman of compassion – who believed in equality and in citizens’ rights.
Lily was also a wife, a mother, a grandmother. She was a writer who wrote insightfully of the role of women in the struggle. And she was a great singer whose party piece was Crazy by Patsy Cline.
I want to extend my condolences to Sean, Bobby, Margo, Gerard and the wider family circle.


Thursday, February 13, 2020

Election 2020 – a tipping point


The votes have been cast and counted. Sinn Féin has emerged as the largest party by votes in the southern state. Over half a million (535,595) citizens gave their first preference to Sinn Fein. We have 37 seats in the Dáil.
It was a remarkable election and an equally remarkable result. There had been a sense in the lead into the campaign that something was stirring within the electorate. The early opinion polls and the first canvas had indicated a greater than usual frustration at the Tweedledee – Tweedledum politics of the two larger parties of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. For four years Fianna Fáil worked in partnership with Fine Gael. Propping it up in government. Empowering its disastrous policies on health and housing. Echoing its lines against a Unity Referendum as set out in the Good Friday Agreement and outdoing its vitriol against Sinn Féin. And then, as if the electorate are fools, Fianna Fáil tried to tell citizens that it was different from Fine Gael. That it was the alternative. That it could deliver change. A con job.
Last week, before a vote had been cast, I wrote of the growing frustration and anger with the empty promises of the two bigger parties … anger at the willingness of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to protect the wealthy, the banking elite and the developers… anger at children made homeless and our elderly citizens and sick relatives languishing on hospital trolleys… anger at the witholding of state pensions to workers who have earned them.”
I wrote also of the “anger at the Fianna Fail Leader Micheál Martin’s shrill political paranoia and hysterical ranting against Sinn Féin ...” and his insistence that “Sinn Féin is not fit to be in government.”
All of this, and much more in recent decades, has seen a gradual process of realignment of electoral politics taking place in the southern state.  This has been most evident in the diminishing vote of the two conservative parties who in the past could have expected to pick up over three quarters of the total vote. That share has been in decline for the last 30 years and this week Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael secured less than half (44%) of the total vote.
In my column last week I pointed out that this process of realignment “has been slow and hesitant at times but that’s the way change happens. You work away, arguing, advocating, debating, organising and campaigning. At times with little visible results. Sometimes with setbacks or distractions. But you keep at it strategically, energetically, patiently and intelligently. You keep sowing seeds of resistance and hope and republican values. Seeds to grow alternative democratic dispensations. Egalitarian ideas. You never give up. You focus on the future. You believe. Then all of a sudden a tipping point emerges. Or a series of tipping points.  The seeds grow.  They flourish. They burst into flower. This election looks like being such an event.”
And it was. And it is. I hesitated before publishing the above. What if the vote didn’t come out? What if the weather was too bad? What if …? But sometimes the pessimism of the intellect is superseded by the optimism of the will, and the certainty of instinct. So I’m delighted to say I told you so but while I expected Sinn Fein to do better than the usual naysayers and begrudgers were predicting I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by the strength of the vote. Why the increase for Sinn Fein at this time? In short, because people want change – real change. And they increasingly see Sinn Féin as the best vehicle for this.
For our part Sinn Féin spent the recent months analyzing the failures of the Presidential election and our local government and European elections. We had an honest and thorough conversation which identified the flaws and the gaps and we then set about plugging them.
As Mary Lou has said, we learned our lesson. We re-engaged with our base. The Ard Fheis was the first evidence of a refocused Sinn Féin. The by-elections, especially the election of Mark Ward in Dublin Mid West and the near election of Tommy Gould in Cork North Central were the first sign of recovery. John Finucane’s election was another positive, as was the end of unionism’s electoral majority and the establishment of the Northern Assembly.
Our general election campaign in the South was very well run. Everyone was on message. The benefits of our outstanding Front Bench team on Finance, Health, Housing, the Environment and other issues alongside a strong team of TDs and Seanadóirí was visible everywhere. Mary Lou has played a blinder. We set the agenda.
In Louth I told our activists that people, our voters, have the right to be critical of us. We need to listen to them and we need to have the confidence in ourselves to do that. If we did that I was certain that we would get Imelda Munster and Ruairí Ó Murchú elected. And we did. With style. Comhgairdeas Imelda agus Ruairí.
The party also produced a manifesto for the future that is radical, costed and deliverable. A manifesto for Irish Unity, with solutions to the crises in health and housing, childcare and the environment and for rural Ireland. A manifesto which clearly captured the imagination and the hope of many.
Sinn Féin’s success in 2020 has to be set in the context of the party’s strategy development over many years; the systematic building of political strength to advance our national objectives; the building of capacity and organizational structure within the party; and the recognition that republicans have to have a long headed view and that we have to be united and cohesive if we are to achieve our objectives.
The outworking of our electoral progress was most obvious in the North following the hunger strike elections intervention in 1981. We now have 7 MPs, 105 Councilors, and 27 MLAs. Michelle O’Neill is the Joint First Minister.
This expansion of the party was less obvious in the South. But careful strategic planning has also witnessed an upward trend in support in that part of the island. The general election results for the last twenty three years are evidence of this.
·        In 1997 Sinn Fein took 2.5% or 44,901. We won 1 seat.
·        In 2002 we took 6.5% or 121,020 votes. We won 5 seats.
·        In 2007 we took 6.9% or 143,410 votes. We won 4 seats.
·        In 2011 we took 9.9% or 220,661 votes. We won 14 seats.
·        In 2016 we took 13.8% or 295,319 votes. We won 23 seats.
·        In 2020 we took 24.5% or 535,595 votes. We won 37 seats.
And we can win more in the future if we stay on course. Extra candidates would have left us the largest number of TDs in the Dáil. Hindsight is a great person to have at a meeting.
And there you have it. Of course the most important issue is to use our political strength for the peoples’ benefit and to advance our cause.
The focus now is on whether Sinn Féin can find a pathway into government. To achieve this we need a Programme fora Government for Change. It’s all about strategy. Knowing what you want to achieve. And mapping out a plan to get you there. We are currently in the national liberation phase of Ireland’s long struggle for freedom. We also have to right the economic and social inequities insofar as that can be done during the period of transition to a New Republic. Our manifesto is clear evidence that we can do both.
So, we are with Connolly again - with the national and social elements of the struggle in primary focus.
This election is a tipping point. Mary Lou has begun the work of speaking to other party leaders about agreeing a programme for government. The political landscape on the island of Ireland has changed.


Thursday, February 6, 2020

Be The Change You Want To See.



The general election in the South is drawing to a close. Polling day is Saturday – the first time an election has taken place on a Saturday since the historic 1918 election which saw Sinn Féin win a landslide victory. 
It has been a relatively short but very intense campaign. Many in the media tried to reduce it to a beauty contest between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. RTE went so far as to exclude Mary Lou McDonald from the Leader’s Debate. Then on the eve of the debate they reneged in the face of intense public outrage and Mary Lou, as she was entitled, debated with the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael leaders. As in all of the other interviews and debates Mary Lou emerged head and shoulders above the other leaders.  
Meanwhile, notwithstanding my broken foot I have hobbled my way from door to door primarily in Louth where the republican effort is to re-elect Imelda Munster and elect Ruairí Ó Murchú – our Sinn Féin team in the wee county. There have been excursions into other constituencies as well. I have met hundreds of citizens. The feedback is the same everywhere.
There is a growing frustration and anger with the empty promises of the two bigger parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail. Anger at their attempt to fabricate differences between themselves despite both parties having been in government together for the last four years. Anger at the willingness of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to protect the wealthy, the banking elite and the developers. Anger at successive governments for failing to hold these elites to account. Anger because they also are the elites. Anger at children made homeless and our elderly citizens and sick relatives languishing on hospital trolleys. Anger at the witholding of state pensions to workers who have earned them. Anger at insurance companies fleecing motorists and small businesses. Anger that citizens may have to work until their late 60s just to survive
One result of this and of opinion polls that have suggested a surge in the Sinn Féin vote was a tsunami of negative campaigning against the party by elements of the media and the two larger parties. Both Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar attacked our manifesto commitments and especially our economic programme as ‘dangerous’.  This, as Mary Lou retorted in one debate, was ironic given that a Fianna Fáil/Green Party government, in which Micheál Martin and Eamonn Ryan (the Green party leader) were Ministers, bankrupted the State, and a Fine Gael/Labour government imposed years of austerity with Fianna Fail support. 
There is also anger at Fianna Fail Leader Micheál Martins shrill political paranoia and hysterical ranting against Sinn Féin. There is annoyance that the North usually only gets mentioned by him and the Fine Gael Leader Leo Varadkar as part of their attacks on Sinn Féin. Those voters who are United Irelanders are very disappointed that both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail leaders have ruled out support for a referendum on Irish unity or a Citizens’ Assembly as part of a process to plan for this.
So too with their insistence that Sinn Féin is not fit to be in government. That is seen correctly as a slight on Sinn Féin voters. Vintage yesterday Unionist rhetoric. Of course parties may not be able to agree a programme for government and it is difficult to see either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael supporting the type of republican programme for government proposed by Sinn Féin. That’s fair enough. But to insult a section of the electorate is unfair. Many people see that and they don’t like it. 
They also don’t like Fine Gaels plans to commemorate the RIC and Micheál Martin’s support for this. Patriotic citizens, regardless of their party politics, are proud of our revolutionary history. The Irish establishment is not.  Most Irish people resent and reject that slíbhín approach. 
So southern electoral politics are going through a considerable process of realignment. This has been slow and hesitant at times but that’s the way change happens. You work away, arguing, advocating, debating, organising and campaigning. At times with little visible results. Sometimes with setbacks or distractions. But you keep at it strategically, energetically, patiently and intelligently. You keep sowing seeds of resistance and hope and republican values. Seeds to grow alternative democratic dispensations. Egalitarian ideas. You never give up. You focus on the future. You believe. Then all of a sudden a tipping point emerges. Or a series of tipping points.  The seeds grow.  They flourish. They burst into flower. This election looks like being such an event.
If this election campaign has produced one message from voters it is that people want change – real and meaningful change. And many are looking beyond the tired ideas and failed policies of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. They’ve seen it all before and now they are actively looking for a viable alternative. Sinn Féin is that alternative. 
Sinn Féin is offering a genuine vision for change; to fix the housing crisis, reduce the cost of childcare, and give workers and families a break. We are for a government that works for Irish unity and for the people. 
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have had their chance. They have failed. In the last Dáil they smothered and suffocated any prospect of real change. Fianna Fails support for Fine Gael was a brake on that. Politics was more or less confined  and reduced in that Do Nothing Dáil. But now the people will have their say on all that. Fine Gael and Fianna Fail are standing more candidates than us. We need to contest more constituencies with them. But that also will happen. It’s a long game but this cadre of republicans are long headed and in for the long run. It’s all about bringing about positive change. Planting seeds of resistance and republican values.
This election could see the political landscape changing once again. It may not be as transforming as many of us want and as many citizens need, at this time. Fianna Fail could do better than the polls suggest. Some Fine Gael voters may swap to them to keep Sinn Fein out.  And both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail are each standing more than double the number of Candidates that Sinn Fein is standing. Nonetheless change is coming. If you want that change, be the change you want. 
Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar do not represent change. Mary Lou and the leadership team and Sinn Féin do. So on Sunday as the votes are counted we will see if the southern electorate agree. Ádh mór to all Sinn Féin candidates and activists and their families. Àdh mór to our leadership. And a word of thanks in advance to all Sinn Féin voters. 

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