Fergal Moore sets out the approach of Republican Sinn Féin to the possibility of talks with the British Government.
A few weeks ago Gerry Adams announced that he wished to enter into dialogue with Republicans. He even went so far as to send Republican Sinn Féin a letter regarding this matter although on reading it the first words to spring to mind were ‘organ grinder’ and ‘monkey’. A few days later he criticised British Secretary of State Owen Patterson for ruling out talks with Republicans. Meanwhile his party colleague and Crown Minister Martin McGuinness claims that the British are talking to Republicans. Is it any wonder then that the print media and the internet are regularly discussing the possibility of such talks?
Republican Sinn Féin’s stance on talks with the British Government is quite clear cut: we have nothing to discuss except the terms for a British withdrawal from Ireland. This has always been the Republican position and Republican Sinn Féin will not waver from it. The Irish Declaration of Independence of January 1919 states: ‘We solemnly declare foreign government in Ireland to be an invasion of our national right which we will never tolerate.’ Republicans believe, in the words of the Easter Proclamation, that the Irish Republic is ‘sovereign and indefeasible’. These are not mere aspirations but rock solid principles that cannot be negotiated away. Theobald Wolf Tone called the connection with England ‘the never failing source of all our political evils’. It is obvious then that before Republicans can enter into talks with the British that there must be a declaration of intent to withdraw from Ireland by the British Government. There would be no point in Republicans entering into talks if the British were determined to stay as it is the British governmental and military presence coupled with the absence of Irish national self determination that is the root cause of conflict in the first place.
Any negotiations that have taken place with the British where those claiming to be Republicans have wavered from basic Republican principles have ended disastrously for the Irish people. The Treaty of 1921 brought us partition and the Stormont Agreement of 1998 gave us institutionalised sectarianism. In both these cases those negotiating from the ‘Irish’ side were willing to negotiate anything including negotiating away the sovereignty of Ireland. The British on the other hand were happy enough to discuss anything except their eventual departure from Ireland. That is why such talks are doomed to failure from an Irish Republican perspective: the British are determining what can and cannot be negotiated. Irish sovereignty can only be talked about as an aspiration while British rule remains a cold hard fact for an indeterminate length of time. The title ‘perfidious Albion’ is well earned. Only when the British declare their intentions to leave Ireland will Republicans be able to enter talks with them to discuss the when and how of their going.
Republican Sinn Féin’s policy document Towards A Peaceful Ireland, which was first drafted by the late Dáithí Ó Conaill, proposes that following a British declaration of intent to withdraw a Constituent Assembly would be elected by the Irish people. This assembly would draft a new constitution for the 32 counties of Ireland and put it to the people for acceptance or rejection. To this assembly Republican Sinn Féin would bring our Éire Nua – A New Ireland – policy document which proposes a federal Ireland based on the four historical provinces and a nine county Ulster with maximum devolution of power down to local level. This would help guarantee that no one section of our community could come to dominate another. The Ireland that would result from the Constituent Assembly would be one free from British interference as they would have no part to play beyond removing themselves from our shores. The Irish people would at last be free to determine our own future without fear or threat of violence.
I look forward to the day when Republican Sinn Féin can sit round a table with the British Government and discuss the ferry timetables from Larne.