By Jim Gibney (for Irish News)
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams is at his absolute best when he is challenging the powerful, the elite, for abusing their power; when he is instilling confidence in the powerless to recognise their innatestrength; when he is using important figures and events from history as examples to motivate others to follow their lead; when he is encouraging people to reach forthe stars to fulfil their destiny; when he is appealing to people to stand up for their rights, to combine with others to shape society to benefit working people.
Gerry Adams was at his absolute best a few weeks ago when he addressed his party in his presidential ard fheis speech. The speech was a stirring and emotional call to those with a vision of a new and different Ireland to step forward and be counted at this time - a time when the dividing line is sharpest between those who inhabit a world of privilege and are determined to hold on to it and those who pay for that privilege and live a life of economic uncertainty and fear.
Gerry Adams is a great believer in the inner strength and capacity of a single individual, when he or she is taken by an idea, by an issue, or a community in the throes of a crisis rallying to each other’s side.
To illustrete the individual and community resolve in a challenging time he recalled from history the actions of Rosa Parks, a black woman in America’s racist deep south in the 1950s who refused to give up her seet in the front of the bus for a seat at the back. And he recalled the armed resistance, 40 years ago this year, of the people of Ballymacarrett’s Short Strand who, with the help of the IRA and delence volunteers, repelled a loyalist invasion aimed at razing the district to the ground and driving the people out ofthat part of Belfast.
The actions of Rosa Parks changed American society and the place in that society of its black people.
The actions of the IRA and others in the Short Strand strengthened the determination of the nationalist people to end their status as second-class citizens in their own country and out of this cauldron on the streets of Ballymacarrett the modern IRA was born.
It is this quality of leadership that the people of Ireland need, said Gerry Adams.
“If ever Ireland needed leadership it needs it now...
“Leaders who will make a stand.
“We need leaders, who will give voice on the ground and from the ground up, to the belief they have in their hearts so that hope and networks for change can be built.
The theme that the people are “sovereign” and that republicanism is in many ways the conscience of the Irish people was a key message of the speech. As was the “belief in people”, the “idea” that “starts in the heart” and moves “to the head”.
Out of this, Gerry Adams said, come little acts “of resistance, of rebellion, of protest”.
Time after time he emphasised the potential that people have to change the circumstances of their lives.
“Most struggles aren’t won by single actions or by iconic leaders though they have their role. They are won by people taking individual actions which accumulate into irreversible change.”
And irreversible change is needed in southern Irish society with its half a million citizens unemployed; social welfare payments and wages cut; health and education in a crisis; families facing eviction; mass emigration back again and billions of taxpayers’ money gifted to a dysfunctional, toxic banking system.
These circumstances have induced widespread anger and a sense of hopelessness and disbelief.
But very often - and this is a lesson handed down to us from history - it is precisely at the point when all seems lost that the idea that “starts in the heart” and moves “to the head” generates an unstoppable momentum and people, about to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task facing them, are liberated by their own strength and that of others.
And out of this self-belief the people become the architects of the future.
Then anything and everything, including a new society and a free and united Ireland, becomes a real possibility.