The equality agenda which Sinn Féin brings to the table descends
directly from the nascent civil rights movement in the North in
the late 1960s. If any event can be taken as a watershed, it is
Bloody Sunday in Derry. Sinn Féin can now mark full circle. What
began as a nonviolent march ends with a commitment to ``democratic
and exclusively peaceful means of resolving political issues.''
Sinn Féin can lay claim to the same dictum ``We are not going to
allow violence to dictate,'' claimed by Northern Ireland Secretary
Mowlam on behalf of the British government.
The legitimate demands of Sinn Fein for equal opportunity in
employment, for a police force reflective of the religious and
political make-up of the communities being served, for social and
cultural equality are self-evident rights in democratic societies
which honour diversity and should be the ends of any democratic
The first two objectives, while easily measured, are not easily
met. The present state of employment and the composition of the
RUC are outcomes of entrenched British policy and its
implementation; equal opportunity in employment and
representative policing call for glide paths of change with end
points clearly defined for all.
The private sector, education and government have all recently
demonstrated effects addressed by Sinn Fein's equality agenda.
Ford Motor Company excluded MP Gerry Adams from a luncheon for
newly elected MPs representing constituencies in which there are
Ford plants. At Queen's University in Belfast signs in English
and Irish were arbitrarily removed from the Student Union. And
the Speaker of the House of Commons denied MPs Gerry Adams and
Martin McGuinness access to government facilities with a special
ruling on their refusal to take an oath of allegiance to the
While these are highly visible and well publicised examples of
inequality, they are but the tip of the iceberg. They underscore
the profound disparity of treatment of nationalists on a daily
basis. As Martin McGuinness comments: ``Equality - political,
social, economic and cultural - requires no negotiation whatever.
These are fundamental rights, not matters to be bartered for in a
Sinn Féin's mandate is for change. Sinn Féin is committed to
democratic and peaceful means consistent with the ends of a just,
diverse and peaceful society. Sinn Féin's equality agenda is a
blueprint, the tools for construction are inclusive dialogue
among all parties, including the British and Irish governments.
The consequent structure is yet to be revealed.
Portland, Oregon, USA
Time for democracy is now
In the coming weeks in the run-up to the talks on the 15
September, we can expect the use of the term ``consent'' to become
a mantra to some, to be repeated ad nauseum, in the hope
repetition may dissuade analysis of the historical basis of, or
the cynical nature of this tactic which gives a veto to Unionism
over the majority of people in Ireland and Britain who seek a
just and equitable solution to the conflict.
The establishment of the Six County state proceeded without
seeking or having the consent of the vast majority of the Irish
people, including those who found themselves within the
boundaries of the new artificial state. The establishment of the
Six County state also entailed the Unionist leadership of the
time dishonouring the often invoked Solemn League and Convenant
of 1912, by abandoning the Unionists of Cavan, Donegal, and
Monaghan despite their pleas articulated in the pamphlet entitled
``No partition of Ulster'' that partition would be wrong.
What is of interest in relation to the debate around the
consent/veto issue of today, is the thinking that informed this
betrayal of the Unionists of the three omitted Ulster counties.
The reason was stated quite clearly by Walter Long, a leading
Unionist and chairperson of the Irish Committee of the British
cabinet, when he informed Lloyd George in early 1920 ``the
inclusion of Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan would provide such an
access of strength to the Roman Catholic party, that the
supremacy of the Unionists would be seriously threatened''.
This was the rationale which gave birth to the Six Counties and
has sadly been its guiding principle to this day; namely
supremacy with the violence and inequality needed to maintain it.
This continuity of the principle of inequality to the present day
is best illustrated by the fact that David Trimble has opposed
any move that even hinted at reform. For example, he opposed
Sunningdale as a member of Vanguard, and the Anglo-Irish
Agreement as a member of the Ulster Clubs, both these
organisations included leading Loyalist paramilitaries.
The British government's position of support for the Unionist
veto empowers Unionism to block any political change which
involves accommodation among the people of Ireland. This
perversion of democracy is unacceptable by any norms. What about
the wishes of the British people, a majority of whom in each and
every opinion poll carried out have called for British withdrawal
from Ireland. When will their wishes be respected?
Unionism armed with the veto can also block the wishes of the
majority of the people on the island of Ireland who wish to see
an end to the presence of the British state in Ireland. If
consent is a principle, its application must be universal.
Consent as applied by Unionists is a coercive measure.
It must be for the peolpe of Ireland as a whole, those who
cherish their British heritage and others to forge a future based
on equality and respect.
The respected Palestinian writer Edward Said's words in relation
to the situation in his own homeland have resonance for us here
in Ireland. He said ``a special burden is laid on the intellectual
conscience today not to accept general theories that postpone or
defer the question of democracy until some time later. The time
is now, and no amount of verbal fumbling and shuffling is
adequate to an occasion that is both urgent and demanding''.
All year Féile
``...As I walked home a neighbour asked forlornly, `What will we
do now Laurence? The festival's over and the radio station has
closed'... (An Phoblacht 14 August).
In a sense McKeown, in his usual, wonderfully-positive way, is
asking how is the energy, the creativity, the sheer human
exuberance of the festival, to be maintained until the next time?
Of course, from reading the paper, it appears to be maintained on
a day-to-day basis in the continuing struggle for freedom. That
is to the eternal credit of the Republican people. But it is
events like the festival which produce this incredible burst of
community and creative energy. I suggest that the people don't
wait for another year, but immediately re-direct this energy and
talent into the everyday life of their villages, town and cities.
The planners, the creators of the environment (which is nothing
less than the `backcloth' of everyday living) would be dumbstruck
if faced by the creative talent of the people.
The people can't shy away from this duty; they have shown they
have the talent. Years ago, working with a mining community in
Germany's Rhur district, I was told, ``Wer kampfen will, muss auch
feiern konnen'' - `Whoever wants to fight must also be able to
celebrate'. So let the Feile continue - every day. What a fight
that would be!
What the hell is Sinn Féin doing issuing sympathy statements to
the British royal family? Isn't this the same parasite family
that has its members as patrons of British Army regiments? The
same army that continues to occupy our country and harass our
people. The same family that is financed on the backs of English,
Scottish and Welsh workers? They are the enemy of
anti-inperialists, republicans and socialists everywhere. As a
member of Sinn Féin, I am sickened.