Friday, April 29, 2016

The Challenges Ahead - Five for west Belfast

Against the backdrop of a crisp beautiful Sunday morning in Dublin the raised voices of thousands echoed in song along O’Connell Street.

“When boyhood's fire was in my blood
I read of ancient freemen,
Greece and Rome who bravely stood,
Three hundred men and three men;
And then I prayed I yet might see
fetters rent in twain,
And Ireland, long a province, be.
A Nation once again!

A Nation once again,
A Nation once again,
And Ireland, long a province, be
A Nation once again!”
A Nation once again,
A Nation once again,
And Ireland, long a province, be
A Nation once again!”

Thomas Davis was one of the founding leaders of the Young Ireland Movement in the 1840s and was responsible for some of the best nationalist ballads of that period. He published them in The Nation newspaper. A ‘Nation once again’ is among his best known works and Davis published it in July 1844.
Sinn Féin had organised the event to celebrate exactly 100 years from the commencement of the 1916 Rising and Pearse’s historic reading of the Proclamation at the front of the GPO. In bright sunshine Micheál MacDonnacha, dressed as a Volunteer and Lynn Boylann, dressed in the uniform of Cumann na mBán, introduced the many flags associated with the struggle for freedom and these were accompanied by large posters of each of the leaders of the Rsing, including some, like Tomas Ashe who died subsequently on hunger strike.
Later Martin McGuinness and I joined tens of thousands of citizens, some dressed in period costume, as we walked from Merrion Square to O’Connell Street. The “Reclaim the Vision” march was a citizen’s initiative organised by among others Robert Ballagh. That too was an inspiring event.
The Sinn Féin Ard Fheis on Friday evening and Saturday saw thousands of delegates participate. It was professional, well managed and saw scores of Sinn Féin activists, including many of our new TDs, make thoughtful contributions on over 100 motions on wide ranging issues affecting citizens on this island and internationally.
Some in the media described it as ‘lack-lustre’. But then they generally don’t get republicans. They rarely catch the mood or recognise the underlying changes that are taking place. The Ard Fheis reflected a party in transition. An all-Ireland party developing policy for all sections of our people, in all parts of the country. A growing party, with a breadth of membership in terms of geographical spread and age and gender.
In the last election we had 23 TDs elected. This week seven Sinn Féin Senators were elected to the Seanad, including Belfast Councillor Niall O’Donnghaile from the Short Strand. That's more than double what we had previously.
Next Thursday May 5th – the anniversary of the death on hunger strike of my friend and comrade Bobby Sands – there will an election to the Assembly.
My first ever election was to the Assembly established by British Secretary of State Jim Prior in 1982. It was in the aftermath of the hunger strike and was part of our evolving electoral strategy. There were five Sinn Feiners elected on that occasion on an abstentionist platform and I had the honour to stand for and be elected to represent the people of west Belfast.
I am very honoured to have represented this strong forward looking vibrant community. And in very difficult times the people of west Belfast provided real leadership.
On this occasion we have a strong team of five MLAs seeking re-election:Jennifer McCann; Pat Sheehan; Fra McCann; Rosie McCorley and Alex Maskey. It is a tough battle to hold five out of six seats but it is doable.
They along with our Councillors and Paul Maskey MP have helped transform west Belfast. This would have been impossible without the support of the people of the constituency. In this centenary year of the 1916 Rising their work needs to continue.
Sinn Féin doesn’t take the voters for granted. Our commitment to the electorate is to build on the progress that has been made. To deliver well-paid jobs, especially for our young people. To defend the health service and to continue the redevelopment of the RVH. To support business and build safer communities and ensure that our children get the education and opportunities they need and deserve.
Of course, more jobs are needed; and more homes; and issues like Casement Park, and La Salle School need ongoing attention.The Fresh Start Agreement too needs fully implemented.
Only Sinn Féin candidates are committed to this and will stand up to the bluster of those unionists who seek to attack Irish medium education. We are also the only party committed to the implementation of the rights of citizens, including, worker’s rights, women’s rights, Irish language rights, civil rights, LGBT rights and the rights of citizens with disabilities.
The Assembly election provides an opportunity to build on Sinn Féin’s success in the recent Dáil election and to advance the republican goals of the men and women of 1916 - Irish unity and equality. No other local candidates have this objective.
This is a big challenge. Our opponents say we cannot get five MLAs elected again. They underestimate the people of west Belfast. On May the west Belfast electorate has the opportunity to take another decisive step forward by voting for the best west Belfast Sinn Féin team and our five candidates.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Micheál Martin could play a leadership role in the necessary process of making Irish unity a reality

Micheál Martin is a man with a mission. To trample on the politics of those whose roots are in the radical republican tradition of Tone and Emmet and Pearse and Connolly and to rewrite Irish history in the image of a so-called constitutionalist revisionist republican narrative. In this narrative republican history ended in the GPO in Dublin and Fianna Fáil are the inheritors of the vision of 1916. The rest of us are upstarts, or worse.
So, a Micheál Martin speech at Bodenstown or in the Dáil or at Arbour Hill, where the leaders are buried, would not be complete without an attack on Sinn Féin. I suppose we should take some comfort from this. Teachta Martin does it because he fears the growth of Sinn Féin and the message of radical republicanism that we espouse.
This has been especially evident in recent months when during and after the general election the one thing that all Fianna Fáil spokespersons agreed on was their hostility to Sinn Féin emerging as the official opposition in the Dáil. The last eight weeks of negotiations over the formation of a government have been as much about that as anything else, as the Fianna Fáil leadership tries to construct an outcome in which it supports Enda Kenny in government on the one hand while pretending to be opposed to him on the other.
Micheál was at it again this weekend at his party’s centenary event at Arbour Hill. His speech majored on negativity and invective but offered no message of hope. Instead he sought to rationalise why Fianna Fáil will support the return of a Fine Gael government. He said he would even agree to Labour being back in government! What an abandonment of his electoral commitments and of the mandate he claimed Fianna Fáil was given not to put Enda Kenny and Joan Burton back into power!
But much of his time was spent attacking Sinn Féin – again. Not only do his remarks reveal how far he will go to misrepresent politics in the north but they are evidence of how far this Fianna Fáil leader has departed from the principles and vision that marks the Good Friday Agreement.
For decades Fianna Fáil posed as 'the republican party' while wielding power in the interests of visitors to the Galway Tent as opposed to those of ordinary citizens. Now under Micheál Martin’s leadership they are reinventing themselves as the party of fairness and reform. Even though this is a response to Sinn Féin successes it is to be welcomed.
The centenary celebrations of the 1916 Easter Rising have brought these issues into sharp focus along with the ideals and courage and heroism of the men and women of that period. For them the Proclamation was a Proclamation of a new society – a new Ireland – a real Republic. IN this centenary year the southern establishment parties and sections of the media fear this growing awareness about the men and women of 1916, what they fought for and why the British killed them in an effort to destroy the Republic they had proclaimed.
The Fianna Fáil leadership may defend the actions of 1916 but they want republican history and the legitimacy of that revolutionary option to end there. For their own narrow party political interests there has to be a line drawn between Terence McSwiney and Bobby Sands; between Thomas Ashe and Francie Hughes; between Countess Markievicz and Mairead Farrell.
So, revisionism is alive and well. Alongside Fianna Fáil’s efforts to shape 1916 in its own image there is an unprecedented campaign in some media and political circles to downgrade this seminal event in our nation’s history, and to denigrate many of those who took a leading part in it.
The popular response to, and the genuine pride, in centenary events has highlighted the unacceptability of that position. For our part Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin agree that there would be no Irish state, no level of independence and no amount of sovereignty, however limited, for Ireland but for the revolutionary republican tradition.
The others argue that the 1916 Rising was unnecessary. They demand to know by what right and what authority did the 1916 Revolutionaries launch a rebellion? They also seek to elevate what has been termed the ‘constitutional nationalist tradition’ in Irish history at the expense of the revolutionary republican tradition.
They ignore the reality that in the Ireland of 1916 there was no democracy. Repression and militarism were the means by which British interests in Ireland were defended.
Armed resistance was an appropriate response to that. Some who went on to become founder members of Fianna Fáil were part of that resistance. Micheál Martin could not easily disown them, even, and I doubt this, if that is his position.
But he does repudiate in the most vindictive terms those who employed the same methods in our time.
As we move beyond the centenary of 1916 and the revolutionary period to consider the events of the counter-revolution, the civil war, partition, the establishment of two conservative states, and the evolution of Fianna Fáil, there will be many interesting topics to discuss.
The fact is the counter revolutionaries won and the southern state developed into a narrow-minded, mean spirited place which was harsh on the poor, on women and on republicans or radicals of any kind.
Many of the scandals that we have witnessed in that state in recent years are a product of this post-colonial condition. This then was the reality that unfolded in place of the Republic which the 1916 Rising sought to bring about. This was the state constructed by conservative nationalists in the 'constitutional' tradition.
This is the political system which saw the establishment parties in the Irish state – including Fianna Fáil – abandon the citizens of the north; acquiesce to partition; then actively defend it.
Partition and the apartheid type system of governance in the north created the conditions for armed conflict. If 1916 had never happened this was a very likely outcome not least because successive Irish government made no real or consistent effort to engage the British government on its obligations and responsibilities to uphold and promote the rights of all citizens in the six counties.
Instead when the British state resisted the civil rights demands Dublin acquiesced to the British strategy of militarisation. It was in that vacuum that the IRA – which was almost non-existent – came back to life. The continued existence of the revolutionary tradition and its physical force tendency made that more likely, but not inevitable. The democratic, secular and revolutionary tradition of republicanism in Ireland dates back to Wolfe Tone and the 1798 Rebellion. Inspired by the American and French revolutions those progressives and radicals set their faces against sectarianism and in favour of equality, freedom and solidarity.
It is this noble tradition and upon these core values, espoused again in the 1916 Proclamation, that Sinn Féin makes our stand.
Some of this was under consistent and ongoing attack during the long years of conflict but it was the revolutionary republican tradition that recognised the stalemate that had developed and which actively sought to create and build a peace process. It was the initiatives of the IRA and the peace strategy of Sinn Féin, along with the contribution of others, which created the opportunity to end the war and create an alternative way forward.
As a consequence, and for the first time, the roots of conflict were addressed and a democratic route to Irish unity opened up.
Those who subscribed unapologetically to the Irish republican and revolutionary tradition were to the fore in achieving this. 
Micheál Martin could play a leadership role in the necessary process of making Irish unity a reality. There is an imperative on him to do so.
That would require him working with the rest of us who are wedded to that objective. That of course is much more challenging than his current stance. It would also be much more in the interests of the people of this island.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

See you in Dublin on April 24

Easter Sunday on the Falls Road in west Belfast last weekend had the four seasons in the space of a few hours. As we gathered in Conway St. the sun was shining. It was cold but the air had the feel of a sharp, crisp spring day. The clouds rolled in and for a time it was overcast and autumn-like. The clouds rolled on and the sun shone. The sky was a sharp blue and the temperature rose. Summer had arrived. 
But as we entered Milltown cemetery the clouds returned, low and ominous. They swept in. A cold piercing wind preceded the hailstones that pounded our heads and the ground.
The umbrellas mushroomed throughout the crowds. One in front of me almost immediately blew inside out. The coats were pulled up. And the heads went down.
None of this deterred the thousands who had come to take part in, or to watch the centenary Easter march of the Rising of 1916.
My morning began in Conway Mill were I met with the families of our Belfast patriot dead. Their courage and resilience in the face of grievous loss remains an inspiration for us all. The Belfast National Graves presented each family with a medallion in memory of Winifred Carney. Carney was a trade union activist, friend and associate of James Connolly, a member of Cumann na mBan, and she took part in the occupation of the GPO in 1916. Afterward she was imprisoned by the British.
We were joined by a delegation of Irish American trade unionists led by Terry O’Sullivan from the International Labourer’s Union of North America, and Irish American activists, including some from Friends of Sinn Féin in the USA and Canada. They had especially travelled to Ireland to take part in the centenary events.
Outside the families gathered in Conway St. to join the main parade as it made its way from Divis Tower to Milltown Cemetery. The footpaths and roads were packed to overflowing by the crowds of people. When the leading colour party reached us it faced the relatives and in an act of recognition and solidarity they dipped their flags and stood in silence in honour of the relatives and of their loved ones who paid the supreme sacrifice. It was a poignant moment. The silence was only broken by the drone of the PSNI helicopter hovering overhead.
And then it was onto Milltown. All along the Falls - as we made our way slowly up the road - the young, and not so young, and the older generation, were there in their thousands applauding and shouting words of encouragement.  I knew many of the faces in the crowds of onlookers. Belfast citizens without whose loyalty and support we could not have advanced.
Many of those taking part in the parade were wearing the uniforms of 100 years ago – of the Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army. Like the 50th centenary parade that took place in 1966 a huge wolfhound led the way. I was there that day also. We marched to Casement Park that day. I had just started working in the Ark Bar on the Old Lodge Road. Some of the working class unionist customers spotted me in the TV coverage. They gave me a good slagging but that was the height of it.
It was a wonderful day. Everyone was in great spirits. There was a strong sense of community, of unity, of being part of something great. Yes, it was about remembering the past but we should never lose sight of the fact that those who fought in 1916, or in subsequent generations, had their eye on the future - a different future – a better future.  
And as we approach the Assembly elections on May 5th – Bobby Sands anniversary - that must also be our focus.
The Peace Process and the Good Friday Agreement have marked a historic shift in politics on this island. For the first time, the roots of conflict have been addressed and a democratic route to Irish unity opened up. But there is much yet to be done. Hurts must be healed. Divisions ended. The scourge of sectarianism must be tackled and ended.
With each election the Sinn Féin vote grows and the number of elected representatives increases. Last month’s general election in the south saw Sinn Féin win 23 seats. Next month we expect to double our representation in the Seanad – and we hope this will include our comrade Niall O’Donnghaile from the Short Strand.
But it’s what Irish republicans do with this political strength that is really important. Sinn Féin is now the main opposition party in the Dáil.
Last week the new Sinn Féin team of TDs travelled to Stormont to meet Martin McGuinness and the strong Assembly teams.
In the Assembly Sinn Fein has been the driving force behind the progressive measures that have blocked water charges, protected free prescriptions and defended welfare payments and promoted the Irish language.
Despite the Irish and British government’s negativity Sinn Féin has delivered the Fresh Start deal which protects core public services, particularly in health and education and the most vulnerable in our society.
After the Assembly election we want to emerge with a stronger mandate.
A mandate that will allow us to continue with our work; a mandate to tackle sectarianism, racism, and homophobia; a mandate to deliver marriage equality; and a mandate to deliver a future of equals, in a society of equals for all our citizens.
A mandate that will help us advance the goals of freedom and unity and independence.
How we do this will be hugely guided by the 1916 Proclamation. That is for me the most important aspect of the Rising. It remains the mission statement for Irish republicans today. It is a freedom charter for all the people of this island which guarantees religious and civil liberty and promotes equal rights and opportunities for all citizens. These are the principles on which Sinn Féin stands.
On April 22nd and 23rd in Dublin Sinn Féin will hold our Ard Fheis. On Sunday April 24th – the actual day of the Rising one hundred years ago - there will be a huge march in Dublin to celebrate that event. It is a citizen’s initiative which has our support, as well as the backing of artists, trade unionists and academics and is chaired by the artist Robert Ballagh.
So, why not join us on April 24th in Dublin. Our task as Irish citizens must be that when the centenary has come and gone that there is more left behind that a memory of a good day out.
The reactionaries and revisionists, the naysayers and begrudgers, the modern day Redmonites who pontificate and waffle about how wrong 1916 was, are wrong.
1916 was right.
The men and women of the Rising were right.
It was Republic against Empire.
Republicanism versus Imperialism.
We know what side we are on.
We stand by and for the Republic.
See you in Dublin on the 24th.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

See you on the Falls Road on Sunday - Easter 1916 Centenary

In 1966 Nelson’s Pillar was blown up in O’Connell Street in Dublin. It was a hugely symbolic and largely popular act which took place four weeks before the 50th anniversary celebrations of the 1916 Rising.
A group of Belfast teachers responded by producing one of the most popular songs of the period - ‘Up went Nelson’ - which stayed at number one in the Irish charts for eight weeks.
One early mornin' in the year of '66
A band of Irish laddies were knockin' up some tricks
They thought Horatio Nelson had overstayed a mite
So they helped him on his way with some sticks of gelignite”
Four weeks later I was one of thousands in Belfast who took part in the Easter 50th anniversary of the Rising. It was one of the biggest commemorations ever held in the city. The Falls Road was packed with marching men and women and thousands more lined the route to the republican plot in Milltown cemetery. It was a formidable expression of solidarity with those who had participated in the Rising and a manifestation of the determination of Irish republicans to continue the struggle for Irish freedom and independence.
This Easter Sunday history will be made as Belfast republicans follow in the footsteps of those who walked the Falls Road in 1966. The commemoration will gather at 11.45 and leave Divis Tower at 12.15 pm. It will then make its way to the Republican Plot in Milltown.
It will be a spectacular celebration of 1916 including hundreds of participants in period dress. As in 1966 the parade will be led by an Irish Wolfhound. People in period dress representing the leaders of the rising will led the rest of the parade and will be followed by a full flag bearing colour party in period dress. Other participants will include former political prisoners, the GAA and representatives from many of the local clubs in west Belfast. The families of our patriot dead will carry photographs of their loved ones. And a large delegation from the American Labour Movement will also be joining us.
There will be pageantry from the Brassneck Theatre Company at various locations in the cemetery and on the specially erected stage truck that will be situated at the side of the republican plot. 
It’s all shaping up to be an exciting and emotive day. I’m looking forward to it. Belfast is always special at Easter time. The crowds are enthusiastic and the turn-out is impressive and this year promises to be the best in decades.
The centenary of the 1916 Rising will also be marked across the island. Tens of thousands of citizens in towns, villages and cities, at country crossroads, up isolated bóithríns, and in lonely hillside graveyards will gather in every corner of Ireland. Wreaths will be laid, words of pride and honour will be said and the last post and laments will sound out.
In the United States and Canada; in Australia and Britain, and in other locations around the world similar commemorations will take place.
As we participate in these events it is important that we appreciate that those who took part were ordinary men and women who were enthused by the desire for freedom and justice and who went to extraordinary lengths – even to making the supreme sacrifice – to advance those objectives.

Their goal was to undo centuries of colonisation by building a new future; a better future. The astonishing bravery of the women and men who participated in that seminal Rising is a huge source of wonderment and pride a century later.

The more I read of the steadfastness and resolve of the leaders’ who faced death with great dignity and courage I stand in amazement of them.

Many years ago, in 1971, I read ‘Last Words’. It is a remarkable book that contains the last written words of the men who were executed in the weeks after the Rising. 100 years later their words still resonate across the century.

The words and poems of Pearse, the personal letters from those about to be executed to their wives and family, the words of defiance spoken at court martials, stir the heart all of these years later. In his address to the court martial on May 2nd 1916 Thomas MacDonagh spoke of the importance of the Proclamation for its time and ours.

“The Proclamation of the Irish Republic has been adduced in evidence against me as one of the signatories; you think it already a dead and buried letter, but it lives, it lives. From minds alight with Ireland’s vivid intellect it sprang, in hearts aflame with Ireland’s mighty love it was conceived. Such documents do not die.”

1916 was a transformative moment in Irish history. On Easter Sunday we will remember those events and those who participated in them with pride.

Sean Cronin, writer and revolutionary, wrote of them:
“None considered himself a hero but all were heroes… 
They were ordinary men and women and their military training was minimal
 – in that lies their glory – they believed that Ireland should be free 
– in that lies their greatness.”
See you on the Falls Road on Sunday.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

A historic election

Tuesday was the 35th anniversary of the first day of Bobby Sands’s hunger strike. Much has been written about the traumatic events of that time; of the death of the hunger strikers, and the political and historical importance of the hunger strike. For many it was our 1916 – a watershed moment that changed the course of politics on this island.
It is worth recalling that in 1981 Sinn Féin had one lone MP. Bobby had been elected as a prisoner candidate MP for Fermanagh South Tyrone and on his death he was replaced by Owen Carron. Ciaran Doherty and Paddy Agnew had been elected as two prisoner TDs.
Today, Sinn Féin receives the largest vote of any party on the island of Ireland. In the north there are 29 Sinn Féin MLAs, including five Ministers in the Executive, and four MPs. Across the island we have four MEPs, and over 260 local government councillors and three Senators. Following last week’s election, and at the time of writing with the Longford–Westmeath still in play, there will be an increased Sinn Féin team of 23 TDs entering the Dáil next week.
We stand on the shoulders of others.
I want to thank everyone who voted for Sinn Féin last week. Go raibh maith agaibh also to all of our candidates and our families.
Sinn Féin went into the election with the objective to get rid of a very bad Fine Gael and Labour government. We have succeeded in that. We also set ourselves the goal of seeking a mandate to be in government. That was always going to be a challenge.

At the conclusion of some very long counts Sinn Féin has 23 seats. That’s the best result the party has achieved since 1923. We have secured a significant increase in our vote as well as in the geographical spread of the party across the state. We also secured greater numbers of transfers than ever before.
At the start of this election Sinn Féin had 14 TDs. We are now the third largest party in the 26 counties. All of our candidates did very well and some, including in Donegal, Wexford and Dublin West, hit the cross bar. We did not match our full potential at this time but we had a very good election.
Labour has suffered probably its’ worst ever election result. In 2011 Labour won 37 seats. Along the way some of their TDs jumped ship and in this election they ended with 7 TDs. In 2011 Fine Gael received 36% of the  vote and won 76 seats. This year that figure is done to 50. Which is also one less than they won in 2007.
Fianna Fáil saw a resurgence in their vote. But it is worth remembering that this election still remains the second worst election result for the party since its foundation. In 2007 Fianna Fáil commanded 42% of the vote and had 77 seats. In 2011 that dropped to 20. The extra votes and seats for Fianna Fáil were not unexpected. Despite the drubbing that party took in the 2011 election their grass roots organisation, which has been built up over decades of government, remained largely intact.
The drama of this election – of who won and who lost - has now shifted to the machinations of forming a government. Fine Gael remains the largest party on 50 seats. Fianna Fáil has 44 seats. Sinn Féin has 23 seats. Labour has 7; the Social Democrats have 3. The AAAPBP have 6; the Greens have 2; the Independent Alliance – a loose alliance of independents has 6; and then there are 17 independents.
It is a dolly mixture of parties, politics and personalities. Somehow a minimum of 79 TDs have to agree a common platform and programme for government if a new government is to be formed. Can it be done? The radio shows, the news programme and the newspaper columns are full of speculation about who will do business with whom.
All of this amounts to a sham fight between the establishment parties. However they construct their arrangement it will have no long term impact on the numbers of citizens homeless or on the housing lists or those on trolleys in the emergency departments.
Sinn Féin went into the election to provide a progressive alternative to the establishment parties. We succeeded in that. We said we would stand up for citizens and for those who have suffered most from Fine Gael/Labour and Fianna Fáil governments. We will continue to do that.
We also made it clear that we will not prop up the establishment parties that created and have sustained the crisis. That is the mandate we received. That is the mandate we will honour. Sinn Féin will not play junior partner to either Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil. 
In my view none of these parties will do anything substantially different from what they have done in the past. All of the talk of Dáil reform has been heard before.
However, no one should lose sight of the fact that this election has witnessed a significant shift in the political landscape. Where once Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil reigned supreme, with Labour occasionally tugging its forelock and bolstering one or the other, their supremacy has now been further eroded. Ten years ago the two big establishment parties held 70% of the vote. Today that has dropped sharply to just under 50%.
As I write this Sinn Féin is speaking to others who have been elected; to the smaller parties and the independents, to see what common ground there is between us and whether we can agree how we collectively approach the next Dáil session. Sinn Fein, smaller parties and Independents represent almost half the electorate. Although some of these smaller parties and individuals represent a wide political spectrum this is a significant achievement. 
But be in no doubt that republicans would have done marginally better but for the barrage of negative campaigning that was targeted at Sinn Féin by the establishment parties and their lackeys in the conservative press. That negativity probably cost one or two points and several seats. We also made some mistakes organisationally but every election is a learning process and it’s up to us to learn the lessons and implement them. 
At the beginning of this campaign as I travelled around the constituencies I reminded everyone of Connolly’s New Year message for 1916. He said: “…opportunities are for those who seize them”. Many opportunities have now arisen as a result of this election and this will be enhanced by the Assembly election in May – we must grasp all of these with both hands.

Friday, February 26, 2016

All brought on by their own actions

By the time you read this column/blog the election will be all but over bar the most important bit – the peoples vote on Friday. Today it’s over to the electorate in the 26 counties to decide which parties will make up the next government in Dublin. We will know their decision at the weekend.
For readers in the north it will come as no surprise that the entirely negative and partitionist attitude of the Irish establishment toward the people of this part of the island disappointingly emerged frequently in recent weeks.
First, it was an opinion piece in the Sunday Independent two weeks ago from the Labour leader Joan Burton in which she unsurprisingly took 600 words to reveal her deeply partitionist, ‘little Irelander’ side. According to Joan, and because I come from the north, I don’t understand ‘the Republic’. I suspect the elections results will show that she understands it even less.
More disturbing was a studio discussion I had with Meath Fine Gael TD Regina Doherty whose attitude to victims in the north shocked many who heard or subsequently read her remarks. Along with mise and Emma Coffey, a candidate from Fianna Fáil, we were all in Drogheda for a discussion on the local LMFM radio – which covers counties Louth and Meath.
In the course of it the issue of legacy matters arising out of the conflict came up. When Ms Doherty attacked me on this issue I reminded her that the family of Seamus Ludlow have taken the government to court because of its refusal to implement the Barron Commission proposal for a Commission of Investigation. Seamus Ludlow was killed by Unionist paramilitaries in collusion with members of the British forces in May 1976.
I also reminded her of the two Dundalk men, Hugh Watters and Jack Rooney, who were killed in an explosion at Kay’s Tavern in December 1975 an attack also carried out with the collusion of British forces.
I was making the case that all victims needed to be treated equally and their families needed to be supported and helped to find closure where that is possible. In trying to explain why this is not an academic issue for me or for Sinn Féin I also said:
“When I talk about people who have been bereaved or who are grieving, it isn't an academic exercise… Two members of my family were killed, one by unionist paramilitaries and the other by the British Army. My sister was six months pregnant when her husband was killed in Ballymurphy by the Parachute Regiment. My brother was seriously shot; I have been shot. 
My family home has been bombed, my office has been bombed, in my constituency office in west Belfast – three people in the waiting room were killed.”
Regina Doherty’s response was; “All brought on by your own actions, Gerry.”
So, according to Doherty I am responsible for the RUC officer, Allen Moore, who came to my office and using a shotgun killed two constituency workers Pat McBride (40) and Paddy Loughran (61) and Michael O'Dwyer (21), who had called into the office with his two-year-old son to seek advice on a local constituency issue.
Regrettably these truly awful comments are part and parcel of the narrative of the establishment parties – Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour – when it comes to addressing the consequences of partition and the impact of the conflict.
In their world – as former Fine Gael leader John Bruton likes to claim at every opportunity – the Rising was wrong. It wasn’t necessary. The British were going to concede independence anyway.
And when partition created the conditions for recurring conflict in the north it was everyone else’s fault except the British or the unionists. Forget the violent suppression by the RUC of the civil rights campaign; or the permanent existence and use of the Special Powers Act; or the institutional political, economic and religious discrimination against Catholics; or the violence of the unionist state and of unionist paramilitary groups; or of British state collusion; or of shoot-to-kill; or the torture of detainees. Forget all of that. None of it matters. In the narrative of the establishment parties and of politicians like Regina Doherty it was all the fault of republicans.
In the south the issue of victims is only introduced by these parties in a narrow self-serving manner – mainly during elections but also in the cut and thrust of Dáil debates when they want to distract from their bad decisions in cutting benefits or allowances or their cosy arrangements with developers and bankers and the golden circles.
Between elections these same parties are deaf to the wishes of victims, and especially of the need to get the British government to honour its commitments on legacy agreements and to end its legal and political obstruction to families getting to the truth.
Like the Unionists in the North, these establishment parties have dominated Irish politics since partition and have been responsible for the deeply conservative political culture which has been to the disadvantage of the vast majority of citizens.

We shouldn’t be surprised by any of this. Throughout the years of war successive Irish governments embraced the British narrative. In the USA they supported Britain’s efforts to prevent the passing of the McBride anti-discrimination laws to tackle discrimination in the north. They refused to engage with the peace process and when they eventually did they consistently failed to defend Irish national interests while acquiescing to the demands of successive British governments.
Toward the end of the recent negotiations both Fianna Fáil and the Fine Gael/Labour government supported the adjournment or the suspension of the political institutions in the north. Why? Because they thought it would damage Sinn Féin. For no other reason. Local partisan politics were more important that the imperative of the peace process.
And so it is with the issue of victims. Ignored for most of the year some cases are opportunistically exploited if Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour think it can impact negatively on Sinn Féin. The fact is that there is a lot of mock outrage against Sinn Fein from these parties which trivialises the issue of victims.
If Sinn Féin and the unionist parties in the north behaved in this way then there would be no work done there. There would be no peace process.
And incidentally it’s worth pointing out that none of these parties had this problem with the Workers Party or Democratic Left back in the day when they served in coalition governments with these parties or when Democratic Left took over the leadership of the Labour Party. .
For Sinn Féin and for me the issue of victims is not just an issue for elections. It is an issue which we address every single day, talking to victims; speaking to groups that represent them; and pushing the Irish and British governments to honour their commitments on this issue.
On Monday Fine Gael’s Regina Doherty represented Fine Gael very well. The deaths and injuries of victims of the British state and of unionist paramilitaries were and I quote, all brought on by their own actions.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The article the Sunday Indo refused to publish

On Sunday February 14th the Sunday Independent carried an article from Labour Leader Joan Burton in which she claimed that I didn’t understand this state. I wrote a response. The Sunday Independent refused to carry it yesterday.
So, for those who are interested in what I said this is the response the Independent refused to publish.

Hope over fear by Gerry Adams TD

I was disappointed but not surprised by Joan Burton’s opinion piece in last week’s Sunday Independent, which highlighted a deeply partitionist, ‘little Irelander’ attitude on the part of the Tánaiste.

Despite what Joan Burton claims I never used the phrase ‘'them others' during last week’s TV3 Leaders Debate or at any other time for that matter.

However, she is correct when she says that I differentiate Sinn Féin from the establishment parties of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour.

She is also correct in stating that those parties have a shared history and experience in Government. But it is not a history to be proud of.

Like the Unionists in the North, these establishment  parties have dominated Irish politics since Partition and have been responsible for the deeply conservative political culture which has been to the disadvantage of the vast majority of citizens.

The legacy of the Labour Party in Government over the past five years is a litany of broken promises and failing to stand up for working people or vulnerable citizens.

Labour claimed it would stand up to the European Central Bank but instead of ‘Labour’s way’, we got ‘Frankfurt’s way’.

Labour claimed it was going into Government to protect citizens from the ravages of Fine Gael. Remember the infamous Tesco-like ad? Instead, Labour Ministers were the most enthusiastic in imposing vicious cuts to the living standards of average families.

As a senior Cabinet member, Joan Burton oversaw the implementation of Water Charges, the Family Home Tax, cuts to child benefit, removal of medical cards, cuts to health and welfare, and a succession of stealth taxes.

Joan Burton's attacks on Sinn Féin and her personalised and offensive invective against me are getting increasingly desperate as each day of the election campaign passes.

That is hardly surprising as the Labour Party is facing the imminent wrath of the electorate for its litany of broken promises in Government.

But citizens see through this. They look at the leadership provided by Sinn Féin.

They look at the type of change that we helped deliver in the peace process.

They look at things that they never believed were possible – a power sharing government in the north. If we had listened to the Dublin parties including Labour there would be no political institutions at this time.

As Joan Burton openly admits, a vote for Labour in this election is a vote for another Fine Gael-led Government with all the attendant hardship that entails for citizens. James Connolly would never countenance that.

Labour’s time is up. Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour
have alternated the Government since the foundation of the State.

There is a widespread desire for change. The establishment parties know this. In desperation the government has resorted to trying to scare the electorate. Just like Fianna Fáil in 2007.

Fine Gael and Labour are promoting the entirely spurious position that a progressive government will undermine the two tier recovery.

People are sick of the old politics of the establishment parties and have a desire and a hunger to see something new. For the first time ever, that’s now possible and it is incumbent on all of us who share that desire to seize the opportunity for change in this, the centenary year of the 1916 Rising.

The choice is simple - a new Government backed by costed, comprehensive, and deliverable policies and the Right2Change principles that will deliver a fair recovery than benefits all of our citizens, or a Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil/Labour  carve-up, backed by the politics of fear.

Citizens know the only choice next Friday is between a Fine Gael-led Government or a progressive, Sinn Féin-led Government committed to ending austerity and implementing fairer policies based on equality and social justice.