Sunday, February 12, 2012
Freedom is shaped by people
Last Friday was spent in the Boyne Valley Hotel in Drogheda where key leadership activists from all levels of Sinn Féin and from all parts of the island, Britain, and the USA came together to discuss the party’s strategy of building toward a united Ireland.
This blog had the honour of opening the day’s proceedings before several keynote speakers set out the multiplicity of tasks before us. Martin McGuinness, Mary Lou McDonald, Caral Ní Chuilin and Lucilita Bhreatnach who has the onerous task of leading our uniting Ireland project, were among those taking part in the workshops and discussions.
The ‘away day’ took place after a very successful conference in the Millennium Forum in Derry. Almost 1000 people, including a sizeable section of unionist opinion, attended that event. The Millennium conference was the sixth in a series that have attracted large numbers of people from every walk of life to capacity packed halls in Monaghan, Dublin, Cork, Galway, Newry and Derry.
Uniting Ireland is Sinn Féin’s key political objective. The Good Friday Agreement and the all-Ireland political institutions are an important step in this direction but more effort is needed.
Suffice to say there are many difficulties and challenges facing us but this blog believes there are also many, many opportunities.
Republicans need to have the confidence to rise to these challenges and to seize the opportunities to advance our cause.
We are republicans, we are socialist republicans. We want to see that type of society shaped on this island. We can’t get that until we get rid of partition. Partition has failed the people of Ireland, north and south, the unionists and the rest of us.
A new agreed Ireland based on the rights of citizens is needed. This is best achieved by unity through reconciliation. That means building on the progress that has been made toward uniting Ireland.
So, this isn’t just an emotional or patriotic or inspirational dream that we have. This is a very hardnosed realisable objective as part of that process of building a new republic.
It is worth going back to read Tone. Read Connolly and Pearse. Take a half an hour and read what Bobby Sands wrote about these big issues.
What they all had in common, and Connolly famously talked about the re-conquest of Ireland by the Irish people, is a recognition that we can’t free Ireland. An elite, a vanguard cannot free Ireland. Obviously there is work for a vanguard. The people who take the initiatives; who take the chances; who make the sacrifices; and who go on the offence, can create the political conditions for change.
But the only true freedom of people is when people shape that for themselves. So this is the big democratic phase of our struggle.
It’s also worth reminding ourselves that this isn’t 1798. This isn’t 1916. This isn’t 1981. So what did all these men and women have in common with us?
They took these core principles of republicanism and they modernised them and made them relevant to their own times. That’s what we have to do – we have to take the core values of our political ethos and make them relevant to our time.
That’s what Friday’s meeting was about.
The fact is Sinn Féin is still too small. Republicans therefore have to punch above our weight. We have to find ways to get the maximum effect, of making the maximum contribution, while at the same time we have to build capacity; build the party; educate; and recruit and fundraise. We have to build the necessary critical mass of activism to make a difference in a very positive way.
We also need cohesion. We need joined-up-ness. We need political integration across the island, from the national down to the local of all of our structures, our programmes of work and our agendas.
We also need to tap into the international good will. Sinn Féin and the broad republican struggle enjoy huge support, sympathy, affection and admiration from progressive people throughout the world, not least in our own diaspora, and it is not limited to our own diaspora. Wherever people struggle for freedom they know about Ireland.
As well as doing all these things we also need time to think. That’s what today’s about. It’s about arguing; it’s about debating; it’s about strategising; it’s about finding ways for us to integrate our uniting Ireland project into our daily work.
Wherever that work is the uniting Ireland objective and process must be part of it. This has to become as natural to us as breathing.
A new structure is in place within the party leadership to drive this project. So we will continue to come forward with initiatives, events, publications and so on but that has to be integrated into the party as well.
The key objective is to turn the broad emotional, in many cases passive, support for Irish unity, into core political commitment. It’s also to win over a section of unionist opinion and persuade them that Irish unity serves their interests better than partition.
So, Friday’s conference was about raising awareness about how the party integrates this big historic project into our work and to agree a consensus around a number of big things that we can do in the upcoming period.
It was a good days work but only the beginning. There will be other ‘away days’ as this process of integration and cohesion moves up a gear. If you are interested in joining this endeavour than join Sinn Féin and help complete the work of Tone and Emmet, of McCracken and Pearse and Connolly and Sands and Farrell.