Partition argument central
Partition argument central

By Jim Gibney (for Irish News)

There has never been a time in the history of Irish republicanism when republicans were not faced with challenges in terms of bringing about an independent and a united Ireland. The most casual examination of the history of the last two centuries of the republican struggle will tell you that. Republicans have paid a very heavy personal price for their beliefs and their activities and of course the consequences of British occupation of this island have been disastrous for all the people who live here, nationalist and unionist.

British government policy has also distorted the relationships between the peoples of Ireland and Britain.

The challenges that this generation of republicans faced was different to others on a number of fronts. The duration of the armed conflict itself went way beyond any previous armed campaigns. Previous armed campaigns lasted a few years or in some cases even less.

With the exception of the period from the 1916 Rising until the end of the Civil War in 1923, which includes partition, republicans did not try to build a political party in the form of Sinn Féin as this generation has done.

The period after partition was dominated by armed republicanism. That was also the case in this phase of the struggle for a united Ireland until the election results that emerged for republicans during the hunger strike of 1981. There are very understandable reasons why this armed tradition, devoid of a political party, existed, but I do not have the space to outline it here.

This generation of republicans has also had to grapple with the impact of partition on Irish society. Partition in practice created two states within one country. These states developed different political societies and required different approaches to remedy the maladies arising. Republicans and many others correctly believe that it is partition that lies at the heart of the difficulties facing the people of this island whether they are political, economic, social or cultural.

If this is misunderstood, missed or glossed over for whatever reason then the person or party doing so will find themselves, perhaps inadvertently, aiding partition.

They may as in the case of Fianna Fail or the SDLP have electoral support in their respective jurisdictions but that support will not bring independence closer it has to be actively pursued. This requires a political shift by both parties.

Today’s Sinn Féin exists and campaigns in all parts of Ireland. Its existence and activities give a national focus to the need for a united Ireland.

Its presence in both parliaments, Dublin and Belfast, ensures that the Irish and British governments face the question of Irish unity on an ongoing basis.

The party also holds out to the electorate an alternative view on the big issues of the day, apart from Irish reunification.

In terms of the economic recession Sinn Féin presents a different analysis to the origins of the recession, is arguing against using tax payers’ money to bail out the banks and is arguing for the protection of workers’ rights and public services.

It was the only significant voice campaigning for a ‘NO’ vote in the recent Lisbon Treaty referendum. It did so to ensure that there is an alternative argument out there that people can mobilise around. It is also leading the debate on the broad left for the realignment of Irish politics between those who espouse a more progressive outlook and conservatives. Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams articulated this view several times last year.

He is trying to create a new and different consensus to that which exists in the 26 counties where conservative parties like Fianna Fail and Fine Gael command the most electoral support and in the six counties where unionists and the SDLP do the same.

Gerry Adams’s argument is pitched at all the people of this island and at activists in parties like the Irish Labour Party, the numerous trades unions north and south. parties like the Greens, the loyalist PUP and people who align themselves to progressive campaigns and electorally float between parties. It is a timeless argument central to the achievement of a united Ireland and a different and more equal society.

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