Change the system
Don't be changed by it
Speaking at a public meeting in Clones, County Monaghan, on Friday night, 29 April, Ard Chomhairle member Jim Gibney addressed Sinn Féin's vision of the future and how that vision is to be achieved.
He pointed out that the political changes in the development of the struggle for national independence, reunification and freedom in recent years have been profound and unforeseen by most republicans.
``Such have been the political changes over the last six years, it is at times hard to remember what the political conditions were prior to the IRA's first cessation,'' he said. ``We were dealing with the human cost of a war that was claiming lives on an almost daily basis, with hundreds of political prisoners. Sinn Féin was banned from the airwaves and resisting a sustained government-led campaign in both states aimed at demonising and isolating republicans.
``Few republicans thought beyond the immediacy of their day-to-day work, whether political or military, as for most this was all-consuming.
``In the midst of the war, which had in effect become a military stalemate, there was little or no debate among republicans about how they were going to achieve their objectives.
``After 25 years of unbroken resistance, it was not surprising that for many republican activists and supporters, the struggle had become an end in itself. And while this involvement required bravery and selflessness, such dedication and commitment, of itself, was not bound to lead to freedom.
``This challenged the republican leadership to consider how the struggle could be developed in a way which would maintain the potency and power of what had gone before but which would break us out of the constraints imposed by the nature of the struggle and our political opponents.
``The peace process, driven by Sinn Féin and involving periodic initiatives from the IRA and Sinn Féin, provided the required dynamic.
``The issue facing us now, as republicans seeking a united Ireland, democratic in the first instance and socialist as a necessary but not inevitable corollary, unless voted for by the people, is how do we in these new and improved conditions struggle for freedom.
``We need to take on board a number of realities, which are pressing and require a clear understanding and response from republicans. Of necessity, the context within which republicans will make future progress must be peaceful. The IRA's cessation in practice means that politics alone are centre stage.
``In my view, the political culture on this island is based on change emerging in an incremental or evolutionary way. Republicans must challenge this slow pace of change. They can do so by giving public and positive leadership to people who want to see change in their lives now, not in five or ten years time.
``The entire political context within which republicans both think and act politically has totally changed. Republicans, through the political advances they have made, and this includes the Good Friday Agreement, are in a position to influence and shape the quality of people's lives across this island.
``This new situation brings with it all sorts of challenges and of course difficulties. Some republicans fear that republicans in the system will lose their radical approach, that they will become institutionalised and swallowed up by the system.
``But because other parties became systematised, it does not follow that Sinn Féin will. We have the correct politics. We have the correct analysis. We will bring both into the system. We intend to change the system and not allow the system to change us.
``Whatever institutions we are in should be viewed as public arenas or platforms to promote Sinn Féin's objectives and profile the party as one that can bring radical change to people's lives.
``Supporting the Good Friday Agreement and striving for unity and independence are compatible. The sharing of power and being a part of the decision-making process will not only reduce the suspicion and fear among unionists and between nationalists, unionists and republicans; it will encourage people who are currently unionist in outlook to overcome their fears of a united Ireland.
``The potential of the politics generated by the peace process and the Agreement in my opinion hold out the prospect, if properly handled, of a united and independent Ireland emerging peacefully and democratically.
``We require a substantial increase of support throughout this island to advance towards this goal.''
Gibney concluded by saying that what sets Sinn Féin apart from the other parties is that republicans realise that democracy means more than voting. It also means participation in politics. ``The party's future development is twin-track: on the one hand increasing our share of the vote across the island while on the other maintaining our cutting edge as a campaigning party.''