By Fr Des Wilson (for the Andersonstown News)
There have always been differences between nationalist and republican parties in Ireland.
It goes back a long way. Differences between the old Nationalist Party (forerunner of the SDLP) and republicans and socialists were deep.
Joe Devlin, one time nationalist hero for many people, was always deeply criticised by the more radical.
When the unionist regime was founded in the 1920s, people were told - even from some church pulpits - that if a unionist and a republican or socialist were standing in elections people had a duty to vote unionist rather than either republican or socialist.
Whether this dread of republicans and socialists went back to the French Revolution, the American Revolution or Cromwell, or was based mostly on class, was never clear - it was probably a mixture of all of those.
The Russian Revolution of 1917 gave a focus to those nationalists who said avoid republicans and socialists at all costs.
When the unionists’ Great Offensive occurred in 1969, some nationalist people thought they had more to fear in the long run from left-wing republicans than from unionists.
The mid-sixties had seen many people abandoning the nationalist tactics of looking for favours from an unchangeable unionist regime and demanding rights, whatever changes that might make.
When the SDLP was formed in the early seventies, the old Nationalist Party was exhausted. We were assured that the new party, the SDLP, was going to be a coalition of many interests, Paddy Devlin and Gerry Fitt giving the promise of a socialist and republican content to it.
The assurance was given that the SDLP would not be, as the Nationalist Party had been, closely influenced by clergy - in the old days conventions to choose nationalist election candidates were often presided over by parish priests while clergy who favoured more radical politics stayed in the wings or fought lonely propaganda battles against the regime.
Those of us who thought the emergence of the SDLP would herald reconciliation between nationalists and republicans and socialists in new and non-clerical politics were disappointed.
The departure of Paddy Devlin and Gerry Fitt took away the SDLP republican and socialist banner and in the sad and terrible hunger strike period, clergy and SDLP began to drift towards each other once again, away from radical republican and socialist policies and politicians.
Coming towards any fresh election, as we are now, it is to be expected that any differences between nationalists and republicans will be made clear.
The important thing is not that this happens, it is how it happens. All the groups are asking for a regime of respect and equality - but that has to mean not just respect by unionists for others, it has to mean respect by nationalists and republicans and socialists for each other.
We all favour different methods tactics, policies, we have different ideas of class, ownership, society in general, but we all have a policy of working towards a society of equality and respect, self respect included.
We benefit by exchanging ideas, ideals and views, but only when we acknowledge the worth of our neighbours’.
When Ireland is once more a unified state, we will have to use all our ideas and views to decide issues about economic policy, education - all kinds of things.
Just now it would be appropriate for us to have a united policy about one most important issue: Our right to make our own political, economic and cultural decisions.
Agreeing and disagreeing in dignity, uniting on major issues without fear, most of all without fear of each other.
With the respect our dignity requires.