Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has said that the attainment of Irish unity through reconciliation would represent the “big democratic phase” of his party’s struggle as he and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin clashed over the mantle of constitutional Irish nationalism this week.
In a statement of Sinn Fein’s political aspirations at the opening of a new office in County Meath, Mr Adams said his party believed in “unity through reconciliation”, which could only be achieved by all the people acting in unison, not by an “elite” or a “vanguard”.
His statement marked a response to an unusually direct speech last weekend by the Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin. The conflicting statements have laid bare the growing enmity between the two parties.
Speaking at the grave of 1798 revolutionary leader Wolfe Tone at Bodenstown, Mr Martin claimed Sinn Féin constantly put party interests ahead of the common good at Stormont. He accused Sinn Fein and other parties North and South of ignoring serious problems in the Six Counties, such as sectarianism and poverty.
“Playing politics and putting their party interest first is a consistent part of [Sinn Féin’s] ideology,” he said. “Something we see every day in the Dáil.
“They have also refused to acknowledge the founding logic of the peace process.. that the campaign of violence and division was wrong.”
In his remarks in Meath, Mr Adams said that the strong surge by Sinn Féin in the 26 Counties had prompted other parties to take a renewed interest in the North, for political gain.
“People might take the Fianna Fáil leader more seriously if he supported the efforts to get fiscal powers transferred to the North’s Executive,” he said. “Or if Fianna Fáil organised in the North as they have frequently pledged to do.”
He also set out a more constitutional direction for his party.
“It’s worth reminding ourselves that this isn’t 1798. This isn’t 1916. This isn’t 1981,” he said.
“The men and women of those generations took the core principles of republicanism and modernised them and made them relevant to their own times. That’s what we have to do – we have to take the core values of our political ethos and make them relevant to our time, and in our place of activism, whether that is in the community, in local government, in the Assembly or in the Dáil.”
Outlining his new vision, Mr Adams said an “agreed Ireland” based on the rights of citizens was needed. “This is best achieved by unity through reconciliation. This isn’t just an emotional or patriotic or inspirational dream. This is a very hardnosed realisable objective as part of the process of building a new republic.”
He said individuals and organisations could still make the sacrifices and shape the political conditions for change. “But the only true freedom of people is when people shape that for themselves,” he said. “So this is the big democratic phase of our struggle.”
KEARNEY ROWS WITH DUP
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein’s chairman Declan Kearney has clashed with the DUP after he accused unionists of being “in a time warp”.
The comments came during a speech by the party chairman in Westminster this week.
Speaking at an event called ‘National Reconciliation in Ireland: the Need for Uncomfortable Conversations’, Mr Kearney was scathing of unionist politicians for their disinterest in reconciliation.
He accused the DUP’s First Minister Peter Robinson of “talking out of both sides of his mouth” and urged the party to “start doing grown-up politics”.
“This summer political unionism singularly failed to give leadership and say or do the right things to confront sectarianism and the violence which it provoked,” he said.
“Instead of going out front and forcefully defending the principles of equality and mutual respect the leadership of political unionism and specifically the DUP caved in to the lowest common denominators of sectarian triumphalism.”
Mr Kearney also said unionists have refused to acknowledge “50 years of one party misrule” and their relationship with unionist paramilitaries.
The speech was a change of tone for Kearney, who provoked republican ourtrage earlier this year when he urged Sinn Fein members to apologise for the “hurt” caused by the Provisional IRA’s armed struggle.
Lagan Valley DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson described Kearney’s latest remarks as a “a rant”. He also condemned a Sinn Fein motion in Dungannon council recently, calling for the release of independent Tyrone republican Gerry McGeough. Mr McGeough, a former member of the Sinn Fein leadership, was convicted last year for the 1981 IRA attack on councillor Samuel Brush, then a serving member of the British Army’s Ulster Defence Regiment.
“Declan Kearney’s lecture to unionism is more about distracting from the issues which republicans have yet to face up to in terms of dealing with the past,” he claimed.