The New Year will be as bright as we chose to make it
It is amazing the difference a year makes. 12 months ago this blog was the MP for west Belfast. Bar one brief interlude in the 90’s I was humbled and privileged to represent the people of that historic constituency as MP since 1983.
I was and still am very attached to west Belfast. It is where I grew up. It’s where I went to school. It’s where as a young boy I played with my friends in the lanes and parks and streets and had wonderful adventures on the Black Mountain. It was where I first witnessed the brutality of sectarianism and the injustice of the northern state. It’s where I discovered republican politics. It’s where my family live.
During the 70’s as a republican activist on the run this blog relied on the generosity of many families. I experienced for myself many times the solidarity of the west Belfast community.
It was the same with my experience of elections. My first foray into electoralism was in the 1982 Assembly elections. It was the year after the hunger strike and Bobby Sands and then Owen Carron’s successes in Fermanagh South Tyrone. Sinn Féin was dismissed by the pundits as ‘no-hopers’ who would barely register a vote. But the sound nationalist and republican people of west Belfast and Tyrone and South Armagh and Derry and Fermanagh and elsewhere gave the Brits, and others, another in a long list of electoral shocks.
This blog was an abstentionist MP. I refused to sit in the British Parliament or swear an oath of allegiance to the English Queen. In my view the British have no right to be in our country or to exercise any jurisdiction over it. The people of west Belfast had no difficulty understanding this. But I was an active absentionist. Absent from the British Parliament, but active representing the electorate of west Belfast.
Until last December. Then after almost 30 continuous years of being a west Belfast representative, this blog went south. A Sinn Féin selection convention in Dundalk, just before Christmas 2010, selected me to stand for Louth.
I have described this move as a ‘wrench’ but in truth that description doesn’t really do it justice. The move out of west Belfast and into Louth and the Dáil has been an exhausting, exhilarating, and exciting process.
I miss west Belfast but I am thoroughly enjoying County Louth. The people are just as sound and the Shinners just as committed as those in Belfast. The challenges and the issues as they impact on people’s daily lives are the same.
It’s about unemployment and housing and suicide prevention and a proper health service and education and a safer environment. But it’s in a different political context.
In the north Sinn Féin and the DUP are trying to win fiscal powers from the British state. The Irish government is in the process of handing these same powers away to bureaucrats in the EU.
In the power sharing system in the north Sinn Fein has developed innovative economic initiatives to minimise some of the worst affects of the economic recession and of British Tory cuts.
In the south the Irish Labour party is supporting the conservative Fine Gael party in implementing a Thatcherite strategy that is stripping away essential public services and inflicting huge damage on the social fabric of society.
For Sinn Féin it is a relentless battle criticising and challenging bad government policy while promoting sound practical republican solutions.
A year of elections and ten months as the real voice of opposition in the Dáil means that Sinn Féin has emerged stronger and more vibrant and more popular than ever.
However, it is important that we do not lose sight of what all of this hard work is about achieving. Irish republicans are about equality and inclusiveness and citizenship and sovereignty. We are about the historic work of uniting Ireland and uniting the people of Ireland.
We follow proudly in the tradition of James Connolly and Padraig Pearse, and Anne Devlin and Wolfe Tone, and Countess Markievicz and Bobby Sands and Mairead Farrell and many more.
That is a huge agenda of change for the future. It’s about building a new Republic for the 21st century that takes the 1916 Proclamation as its template but seeks to shape it for a new century and new conditions.
This blog, despite the dire economic circumstances north and south, is very optimistic about this new future. If I have learned anything in my years of activism it is that the Irish people have the wit and intelligence to see beyond the current problems and intelligently chart a way through it.
Wishing his readers ‘A Happy New Year’ James Connolly, writing in the Workers Republic on January 1st 1916, and addressing the ‘rebels in heart’ wrote: ‘...let us remind them that opportunities are for those who seize them, and that the coming year may be as bright as we choose to make it.’
So, dear readers wherever you are in the world enjoy Christmas and the New Year – nollaig shona daoibhse agus áthbhliain faoi mháise daoibh. And remember that the New Year is a new year of struggle. An opportunity to build on the progress we have made in recent years and to continue to build political strength and to take real and tangible steps toward Irish unity. It will be as bright as we chose to make it