From Socialist Voice, April 2005

Republicanism at a crossroads

The recent speech by the president of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams, was important in marking a very serious juncture in the history of physical-force republicanism. Adams realises—like the majority of Republicans—that if they are to achieve their political goals they have a hard decision to make. “The way forward,” he stated, “is in building political support for republican and democratic objectives across Ireland and by winning support for these goals internationally.” We couldn’t agree more with these sentiments and these objectives.
     The political establishment in the Republic is acutely aware of the rise of political forces of the left—not just Sinn Féin but also left independents and the Socialist Party—and is very concerned about the possible consequences of these developments for the future political direction of this state.
     Sinn Féin in particular are aware that they can make greater progress in the Republic if they can fully put former methods of struggle behind them and develop a political struggle free of past methods and hindrances. Adams knows that the Republican movement will always be held up to ridicule for every misdemeanour, large or small, by IRA members, either in Belfast or Dublin. The political establishment will use any and every opportunity to demonise Republicans and the left.
     It may not affect the core of Republican support but it hinders their ability to reach into those sections of society that see their life filled with long working hours, high mortgages, extended overdrafts, and personal debt.
     As they reach this crossroads, ending the role of the IRA and bringing all Republicans under one structure and one leadership will prove difficult, as it has in the past, but not impossible. There will always be some who cannot see the bigger picture and will prefer old methods and practices. As has been pointed out in the past, you cannot allow the backwardness of unionism to determine the course of political demands and the extent and direction of that change; so also, those too slow to change cannot hold back or determine the advances to be made for Irish national democratic demands.
     But this is not the sole responsibility of Sinn Féin: it is also imperative for all democratic forces to be involved in shaping the future political direction of the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement. The Good Friday Agreement is not the property of the political establishment in the South, of unionism, or of Sinn Féin: it is the property of all. The only sure way of ending physical-force politics is to ensure that democratic politics works, that the national question is not sidelined but rather is central to political demands and is in fact the key to unlocking a progressive solution to poverty, educational disadvantage, unemployment, sectarianism, and division.
     The left and the labour movement can make their contribution, particularly in relation to building and strengthening cross-border bodies and especially in economic and political co-operation. There is much to be gained from the reconfiguration of economic priorities, investment priorities and long-term planning in such areas as health, education, tourism, fishing, and natural resources. The left argued for years for Republicans to take the political road, that more could be achieved politically than by military methods. We have been proved right; but flowing from that analysis we have responsibilities. There is a clear need for greater unity and co-operation among all on the left, both parties and independents. There is certainly a hunger within the Irish people for real and meaningful change.
     The left has a number of historical lessons to learn at this stage:
     (1) that we cannot ignore the national question: that we cannot call for an alternative form of struggle from others when they succeed in moving to a new form of struggle, walking away from it simply because the violence has stopped and it ceases to appear to be an urgent political question;
     (2) that the left has propped up various combinations of coalition governments and has ended up worse off for that experience. We now have the opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of our people and the life of our nation.
     The Labour Party has an alternative to joining and propping up Fine Gael, or some combination of establishment parties. If we adopt a more long-term approach, not looking just at the next election, the future is ours. Fine Gael has nothing to offer that is any different from Fianna Fáil. Fianna Fáil is losing support in urban areas, and the farming vote is shrinking. The large industrial farmers have economic clout but have limited numbers.
     So a long-term pact between the left parties and independents, in alliance with the many current and emerging local and national movements, is the only way forward. The proportional representation form of voting gives scope for building local alliances while maintaining political independence. The diversity of opinions on the left can be a strength rather than a weakness.
     Our economic condition and present life-style are not sustainable in the long term, either nationally or globally. Capitalism can provide only for a limited period what people need: it cannot provide what people really want and need. The “I want” of consumerist capitalism is not sustainable. We need to be arguing for a new approach and a new set of economic, political, environmental, cultural and social priorities, for a more planned social and environmental approach to economic and social development, both nationally and globally.

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