Reunification is solution to partition problem
Reunification is solution to partition problem

By Jim Gibney (for the Irish News)

Overwhelming is the word that springs to mind to describe the decision and the mood at Sinn Féin’s Ard Fheis last Sunday when more than 800 delegates backed the party leadership’s policing proposal.

Overwhelming in terms of the historical departure for republicans that support for the motion indicates.

Overwhelming emotionally for a people who lost so much at the hands of the crown forces during a quarter of a century of armed conflict; representatives of a people who endured so much since the partition of Ireland.

Overwhelming in terms of the unprecedented number of people at the conference. In 25 years of attending Ard Fheiseanna I never saw such a crowd.

Gerry Adams captured in his speech the historical import of the debate; Martin McGuinness the emotional trauma for republicans; Mary Lou McDonald and Martina Anderson the practical implications for republicans of adopting the motion and Tom Hartley highlighted important ideas about the relationship between the citizen, the police and the state.

Joanne Spain, one of Sinn Féin’s youngest candidates and a possible TD the other side of the next southern election, summed up where the struggle for a united Ireland is and how far it has come when she said republicans would now achieve political power in Ireland with a ‘ballot box in both hands’.

I well remember a different Ireland, a different Ard Fheis, a different point in the freedom struggle, some 25 years ago and Danny Morrison’s famous declaration that republicans would come to power using the ‘ballot box and the armalite’.

Danny’s assertion spoke for a community at war steeled by the hardship they had endured. But it was also visionary. It marked a new phase in the struggle for independence. It reflected a movement in transition and challenged the traditional republican mindset of exclusively relying on armed struggle.

Both phrases are separated not only by time but also by circumstances.

However, without the indispensable and inherent reality of Danny Morrison’s remark, that is the willingness and determination of republicans to use armed struggle then Joanne Spain’s remark would be less relevant than it actually is.

It would not be possible for a young republican to urge with credibility such a course of action were it not for the IRA, who as Martin McGuinness said at the Ard Fheis, “fought the British to a standstill”.

Furthermore, such a course of action would not be viable but for the progress that nationalists have made over the course of the peace process.

A political stage has been reached and this is reflected in the institutional framework of

the Good Friday Agreement which allows republicans and nationalists to work peacefully and democratically for a united Ireland.

The commitment and determination to achieve this primary objective was evident and tangible at Sinn Féin’s Ard Fheis last Sunday.

The decision taken by the delegates was a statement of intent. It was about much more than policing. It was a signal that as far as republicans are concerned there are no more no-go areas for them.

Republicans would move into and make every institution of political power answerable to the people. They would bring with them their view that the fundamental problem in this country is partition and the solution reunification.

Republicans inside the political and policing systems will use and stretch these institutions to the outer limits of their all-Ireland potential.

This approach of critically engaging with all institutions will make the border irrelevant. It is a huge undertaking. It requires the combined efforts of all nationalist parties north and south led by a pro-active Irish government acting at all times in the national interest.

Sinn Féin’s Ard Fheis acted in the national interest as did Gerry Adams when he said Sinn Féin would support nationalists and republicans who joined the police while he encouraged people to cooperate with the PSNI in dealing with ordinary crime.

Sinn Féin will of course endeavour to foster a new and different culture and ethos inside the PSNI, what Tom Hartley described as “reshaping the relationship between the citizen, the police and the state”.

That will take time. Here and now the national interest is best served by the re-establishment of the Good Friday Agreement institutions.

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© 2007 Irish Republican News