The 32 County Sovereignty Movement held its Annual General Meeting in Derry on Saturday. The following was the Chairman’s Address, delivered by Francie Mackey.
A chairde, comrades, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen,
On behalf of the outgoing National Executive I both welcome you and thank you for your presence here today. Despite our efforts and the efforts of all republicans our country remains partitioned and occupied. But because of our collective efforts the efforts of those who would seek to normalise this state of affairs have failed to accomplish this task. Many times we are dismissed as fringe activists, micro groups, people of no strategy, but the ever increasing need to demonise us betrays their fear that we have within our gift the real political power to ensure that the Six County Statelet can never function as a normal entity. We have the strategic vision to understand the importance of this and now we need to build a strategic programme which takes us to the next phase of our struggle.
The next step will be achieved through political activism. We have seen the republican base slowly realigning itself throughout the Six Counties. It is by no means an ordered event. Many republicans are disillusioned and will not recommit to the struggle. Others are seeking alternatives which would give them hope that involvement in our struggle can lead to a practical advancement of Irish Unity. We cannot wait for these valued republicans to cross our path but rather we must actively engage them and lay before them our ideas.
Our ideas must be appealing. They must be pragmatic. And they must be realistic. The true test of this will be in our ability to attract new and young members to our ranks. We are now in an environment where young republicans will not be judging us on our stance on previous events but on our policies to shape future events of which they have a deserved interest. The turbulence of our creation is unknown to them. As such they are unfettered by this history and more free to focus on those areas into which we must advance otherwise we remain a movement trapped in history.
I want to commend our activists and our activism. I want to commend our ingenuity and maturity. But above all I want to commend our pragmatism with ourselves. It has been a source of great strength within the Sovereignty Movement that we have never engaged in wishful thinking nor relished the role of the minority martyr. Where we have a presence we have political activity. From this we grow. The next step is to increase this activity and expand into other areas. To do this our structures must function. We must communicate. We must coordinate. This is a task for our organisation as a whole. It is essential that from the Annual General Meeting the democratic views of our membership are translated into political planning by the National Executive and implemented on the ground through our cumann members.
Too often the left hand was not aware of what the right hand was doing. Too much was presumed as opposed to being confirmed. The small but essential tasks which are essential in running an efficient and effective movement were neglected or left in the hands of too few activists. It is clear from motions before us today that we all recognise the problems in this area. But we must remember that the passing of a resolution at our AGM is not in itself a solution but a clear directive to implement one. Communication within our structures would be greatly enhanced by a truly representative National Executive. An All Ireland Movement needs an All Ireland leadership. Let us build on this for the coming year.
Our political thrust since we gathered together last year has been through the Irish Republican Forum for Unity. Over considerable time the 32CSM nurtured the idea of republican cooperation within a defined structure. The National Executive put together a series of documents outlining in detail our views on how this cooperation could be accomplished and given direction. We have actively engaged with other groups and individuals to hear their views so that common ground could be democratically reached. This has yielded mixed results. From a campaigns perspective the outcome has been promising. Those groups who attend the Forum now operate a general policy of invitation to others to participate in campaigns and protests alike. These invitations have been acted upon resulting in more effective activities on a variety of issues. Long may this continue.
As a mechanism to make republicans more accessible to our people the Forum has not enjoyed the hoped for results. Whilst a series of very successful Public Meetings were held in various parts of the Six Counties the momentum behind them has waned. There are many factors behind this but central to it is our collective failure to enact a tangible alternative to what is on offer in the Six Counties by way of administration. Our arguments are correct but our ability to enact them is wanting. Our existence may well make British administration difficult but it does not make it impossible. Our people may applaud us for what we say yet remain indifferent to what we do because is it is not enough. Effective opposition needs to be armed with effective alternatives. We believe that it is the function of the Forum to bring these alternatives about because none of us acting alone has the ability to do so.
Clearly there are those who remain suspicious, doubtful or even confused as to what the Unity project actually represents. In so far as we can the 32CSM will try to address these concerns. But we will not abdicate our responsibility to bring decisive leadership to bear in the interests of Irish republicanism. Few can doubt our track record on this front. We cannot wait forever. There will never be agreement on everything. There will never be a risk free period for republicanism to try and move forward. Events at Stormont may give the impression that all is not well concerning devolution. But that is just an impression. Stormont is functioning exactly the way the British want it to. Seemingly intractable divisions between Unionists and establishment nationalists do not end in stalemate or collapse but in a slow and laborious process of fudge and compromise. That suits the British perfectly. The charade at Stormont is a process of political theatre. Provisional Sinn Fein acts out the role of being seen to be resisting Unionist demands knowing full well that these are political inevitabilities. It is a charade which we want no part of.
Under an occupation policing is always political. The nonsense that you can separate its role of defending the realm from its civil role in preventing crime is as delusional as thinking that the British government is neutral in Ireland. They smash through our homes and attack our families as a deliberate counter insurgency tactic. The so called devolution of Policing and Justice powers to Stormont merely represents a temporary transfer of local responsibility of minimal policing activity. The Constitutional position which gives cause for the RUC/PSNI’s existence remains robustly defended by London. The practice of MI5 attempting to recruit informers continues unabated and with the blessing of the largest establishment nationalist party. This is the nature of the policing which confronts us be it administered by Stormont or Westminster. Our task in the 32CSM is twofold; we must first expose this type of policing for what it is and provide a suitable alternative to address the needs of society as it exists today. Our community deserves no less from us.
As we grow and expand and make ourselves more known in our communities we are faced with the problems within these communities. These problems can be the focus of our people’s lives. We cannot ignore them. To be truly republican is to be one with the people. But as organised republicans we must also bring disciplined initiatives to tackle these problems. As Fintan Lalor said; we cannot separate the struggle of the tenant with the landlord from our people’s struggle with the Crown. These prophetic words resonate deeply today. The playing of politics with the Policing issue has reached a point where policing is administered only in return for political favours.
We have long contended that as an occupying power the British Government has an obligation under international law to provide policing. This remains our position. But we also recognise that policing is a social necessity. Clearly this creates a political vacuum that we need to fill. Simplistic vigilantism cannot be our answer. We need to put in place a mechanism through which our people see us as a body of people to whom it can turn, as opposed to having to turn to the political bodies established to sanitise British policing in Ireland. We have held very successful protests against District Policing Partnerships but the ultimate objective must be to supplant those DPP’s with bodies of our own. Only through this type of action can we truly bring the issue of our sovereignty to bear on the solutions to our people’s social ills.
But it must be emphasised here today that we cannot approach this issue in piecemeal fashion. We cannot be part time in our engagement with it. This sort of political activity requires the same commitment as our commitment to restoring our sovereignty. But neither can we allow it to overshadow our efforts to restore that sovereignty. This is why we must engage on this issue with a political framework which satisfies Fintan Lalor’s astute observation. We must address the policing and justice issue as the British government addresses it; as a means to a greater political end.
At this point I would like to extend solidarity greetings to all imprisoned republicans both here and abroad. I wish to extend to their families our solidarity with you and our availability to assist you in whatever way we can. I wish to express our deepest sympathies with those within our family who have suffered the loss of loved ones. The Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association is deserving of our praise for their consistency in staging protests in support of republican prisoners throughout the year. We have endeavoured to spread the locations and frequency of these protests. Our activists in Dublin, Cork, Derry and Belfast have been joined recently by comrades in Meath who, with the assistance of other republican organisations, staged some very high profile protests on the Drogheda bypass securing a large audience for their message. Republican unity works. We can make it work better.
The financial crisis has exposed a bankruptcy of purpose and foresight within the body politic on the island. Not content with a partitioned Ireland the Dublin government is hell bent on bringing the ethos of partition to the people of the twenty six counties itself. Rather than bringing a republican ethos to bear the Dublin government is setting worker against worker in order to distract from its failure to deal with the real culprits for the crisis. Turning Public Sector against Private Sector is a very dangerous strategy simply to keep Fianna Fail in power. The only losers will be the low paid workers in either sector. If this strategy is allowed to succeed it will be a major indictment of the Trade Union Movement also. We cannot have credible Trade Union leaders who, on the one hand, condemn the bankers for their recklessness, whilst they themselves take seats on the boards of these very same banks.
The shallow calls of Jobs For Lisbon has equally been exposed for the lie that it is. Preying on the fears of the people the second referendum was passed. But there are no jobs. There is only a massive bill of 54 Billion Euros to bail out the bankers whilst unemployment soars ever upwards. In our limited way we warned against this but our message was drowned out under the weight of the entire establishment and the fears of the people.
The 32CSM would like to see a new economic model constructed. An economic model that is truly an All Ireland approach and not a cross border approach. The economic crisis is a call for an end to the insanity of partition. How many billions were squandered over the years maintaining this affront to the economic welfare of all our people? It is the elephant in the room which the economic debate cannot ignore. As republicans fighting for the restoration of our sovereignty we also bring into this debate our sovereignty over our natural resources. Our fishing industry was surrendered to Brussels. As we speak a massive pipeline is draining our natural gas from our western shores into the bank account of one of the most despicable multinationals ever to exist. The Corrib Gas Field is conservatively estimated at 50 billion euro of which the Irish people stand to gain very little. Yet a similar sum is wrestled from the taxes of workers to bail out bankers and developers. Former Labour Party leader **** Spring was correct when he called this deal with Shell ‘economic treason’. I invoke the spirit of Ken Saro Wiwa when I say; this cannot be the way forward.
In 2005 we submitted a document to Unionism entitled ‘An Irish Democratic Framework, Its Unionist Construction’. It was an attempt to engage unionists in dialogue on the political future of the island. Whilst both governments were fixated on the notion that a million unionists could not be forced into a United Ireland we had countered that neither should four million people be forced out of one. We made the point to unionism that a major cause of instability on the island historically was the fact that unionism pledges loyalty to an entity it will never trust. That mistrust is well placed. The British government have a notorious track record of abandoning former colonies and their peoples when it suited them to do so. All platitudes concerning the defence of democracy were rendered meaningless. This also applies to Ireland. In the recent disclosure of State Papers then British Prime Minister Harold Wilson also intimated that withdrawal was an option despite constant reassurances of no constitutional change without majority consent.
We asked unionism to concede that Irish unity was at least a real probability and as such should be addressed in terms of how a unified Ireland should be governed. It was not a case of republicans throwing blueprints at them but a means of constructing a blueprint together which maximised the role of both viewpoints. If both governments stand over their claim that the aspiration to Irish unity is on a par with the maintenance of partition then let them engage in political dialogue which gives substance to that claim. Partition Assemblies are not the answer because they merely reinforce the sectarian divide and allow both governments opt out of their responsibilities. Differing views are not catered for because they are caught in a continuous cycle of conflict. For eight hundred years we have had failure after failure in trying to reconcile British occupation with the sovereign rights of the Irish people. The time has now come to develop democratic governance in Ireland based on the integrity of that sovereignty. We can no longer indulge the practice of decimating democracy simply to facilitate the insecurities of a particular point of view. Unionism must come to grips with the reality that their core values are not served nor secured by hiding behind a sectarian headcount in order to maintain a link with a Parliament which would unilaterally abandon them if it was in its interests to do so. Our door remains open.
In concluding comrades I would like you to join me in sending a message of solidarity and appreciation to Ruairi O’Bradaigh who has announced his intention to stand down as Sinn Fein President after more than twenty years at the helm. His dignified adherence to his republican beliefs has been an inspiration to us all and we wish him every success in whatever new role his party will undoubtedly choose for him.
As we face into yet another year let us do so with a growing confidence that we can make a difference. It is within our gift to end partition not least because all those attempting to maintain it cannot administer it without prostituting democracy in the process. We are the democrats they fear to speak of, but the time is fast approaching when they will have to speak to us.