By Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams (for Village)
The question of Sinn Féin involvement in a future coalition government is one which appears to particularly exercise Fianna Fáil. For some years now that party’s leading lights have returned again and again to this issue. Depending on who is talking they either signal a willingness to form a coalition with Sinn Féin or they rule that out.
The Taoiseach has led this debate on a number of occasions. In fact in an interview with the Sunday Times in February 1999 he handed the unionists a stick to beat the peace process with when he declared, ‘no powersharing before arms handover.’ Or so the Sunday Times told us. Charlie McCreevy suggested that his leader was ‘too open’ when dealing with journalists. The Taoiseach dissented, ‘I do not detract from what I said in the article in the Sunday Times.’
And so it has gone on. A senior Fianna Fáil person would say one thing. Some other party person or anonymous source would put some other interpretation on it.
Of course, what it’s all about is politics. That is a fact. There are no preconditions whatsoever in the Good Friday Agreement and nor should there be. Powersharing is compulsory for those parties, which have sufficient mandate, and the wish to be in government. That is not the case in the south. So why the fuss?
For some time now the prospect of a single party government here has been remote. So coalition is the order of the day and parties, which have sufficient mandate have the right to form such alliances.
Fianna Fáil remains the dominant political party on this island. By mobilising its own core vote and by clever vote management it has been able to stay well ahead of all the opposition. And it has been blessed by a very poor opposition. In fact arguably the real coalition should be between elements of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
All of these questions were given new life by Dermot Ahern. The new Minister reiterated the government’s stance that Sinn Féin cannot be in government ‘for so long as the IRA holds on to its weapons,. He then went on to say ‘there will come a time, I envisage, when Sinn Féin will be in government in the Republic, as they will be in the north, and I hope that happens in the future’.
It wasn’t long before Fianna Fáil sources moved to distance the party from the Minister’s remarks. So what’s this all about?
It’s all about Sinn Féin, stupid. It’s all about the changing politics of this island.
Fianna Fáil and the other parties are fixated with the growth of Sinn Féin. The government’s position and that of the other conservative parties, that they will not form a coalition with us until the IRA deals with the weapons issue, is a nonsense which flies in the face of the rights of the electorate. I’ve told the Taoiseach that.
But whether Sinn Féin wants to be involved in such a coalition is another matter entirely. Our party is about bringing about change right across this island. Equality is our watchword. We live in a prosperous country. There is sufficient wealth in our society to ensure that no one should want for any of the basics of life. Yet the ESRI and Combat Poverty tell us that a fifth of our people are living in poverty. We have a two-tier health system and a housing crisis. Our children are being educated in dilapidated and run down school buildings. There is no sign of decent child-care services. At every turn punitive measures are taken against the disadvantaged.
Sinn Féin wants to build an alternative to this. We want to change the status quo. We don’t want to join it. The measure of our success can only be judged in the amount of change we bring about. We should not be judged by how many Cabinet seats we get or indeed how many votes we get, although that is a crucial part of building political strength. Without political strength you cannot bring about change. But having built that strength the real test is how to use it to improve society.
Other parties have been in government, some for decades. But they have failed to bring about the changes, which the majority of people desire and deserve. That is why the Sinn Féin vote is growing.
Most people are fair minded. They are against exploitation. They understand that the basics of life and the right to a chance is within the gift of society in modern Ireland. They want to help others, for example through the provision of decent health facilities and other rights.
What Sinn Féin is trying to do at this time is unprecedented. We are dealing with the ongoing challenges of the peace process, but continuing at the same time to build for Irish unity and independence, while preparing to be in government in the future. But we want social and economic change in the here and now. We want equality now.
So, we are also building a political party right across all 32 counties. We are building a campaigning party and building political strength and alliances with others to bring about the changes now, by trying to set the political agenda so that those in government have to respond, even if they are not happy to do so.
Sinn Féin will be in government in the north in the time ahead. But while I am Party President we will only consider coalition in the south if that advances the process of change and the struggle for equality. We have no interest in Ministerial seats for the sake of it. And we certainly could not embrace, never mind support, the punitive anti-people measures, which the conservative parties advocate. Neither could we proceed without a real strategy for Irish unity.
So there will be lots more talk of Sinn Féin. There will ongoing attempts to vilify us and to criminalise or demonise us. As in the past there will be no concern of how this will effect developments in the peace process. The only interest will be self-interest or sectional party concerns. There will also be efforts to dismiss the thrust of our policies. Again and again it will be said that we will destroy the economy, that we will bankrupt the state. This from parties which are selling off public services and which believe inequality is a good thing for society.
Those who ask would Fianna Fáil be in coalition with Sinn Féin are asking the wrong question. Of course Fianna Fáil would if it suited them. But the real question is will Sinn Féin join such a coalition?