Sinn Fein in Brisbane
g.maclennan at SPAMqut.edu.au
Mon Dec 4 13:58:58 MST 2000
I went last nite to hear Martin McGuinness speak at Trades Hall here in
Brisbane. There were something like 200 at the meeting which is pretty good
for Brisbane, especially as it was $25/20 to get in. The TLC secretary
spoke welcoming McGuinnes and pledging the support of the Trade Union
Movement for the "peace process". I could not help thinking about the 80s
when we had a solidarity group going and the same TLC did not want to know
about us. The joys of being respectable. Before McGuinness spoke a group
of aboriginal dancers welcomed with the traditional dances and songs. I am
sorry for any listers who have not seen a genuine dance group in
action. The music and the gestures are all thousands of years old. It has
an electrifying effect on the audience. It reminds the whites of a past
before colonialism and it is humbling to see it survive.
The next speaker to welcome McGuinnes was the Aboriginal film maker,
educator and activist Sam Watson. Sam spoke with feeling and passion about
how the Irish and the Aborigines were both victims of the murderous
colonising English. Not one for political niceties at the best of times
I liked that.
McGuinness took up the themes of Aboriginal oppression, international
solidarity with the ANC and the Palestinians in his speech. I have to say
he spoke well. He stood up straight and gave a polished
performance. However over all I was struck by how much more to the right
he sounded than Gerry Adams. When the latter was here he uncompromisingly
showed his audience a plastic bullet and talked of how the British used it
against young people. McGuinness avoided such gestures. Instead he spoke
defending Sinn Fein's engagement with the Peace Process. He mentioned the
gutting of the Patten Report and the new deadline set by Trimble and the
Unionists. He seems to have little time for the former Trotskyist
Mandelsohn. There were oblique references to others who opposed the Peace
Process and who refused to try and listen to the people. These same people
would never achieve anything because they were not engaged.
McGuinness was proud of their strategy of taking the words "peace" and
"equality" away from the British. He averred that N. Ireland could not
exist with true equality for all.
He also talked glowingly of the youth on N. Ireland who would not take any
nonsense and who now demanded their "entitlements". His strategy was
unashamedly reformist. Thus he spoke of how Sinn Fein needed only 4% more
to become the largest party in the Assembly when the British would have to
make a Sinn Feiner chief Minister.
Adams had insisted on speaking in part in Irish. That was of course a
radical gesture. The most that McGuinness would essay was a "Go rabh maith
agaibh" at the end.
But all in all I thought his was as I have said a very moderate
performance. His talk of his hopes for Clinton's visit and the business men
who wanted the border to go all made me wonder if I was really looking at
someone who had taken up the gun against British Imperialism.
Afterwards over drinks I bore up the chair, an old mate of mine Bob Reid,
for his moderate introduction, which repeatedly stressed that Martin had
left school at 15 and had done well because he was now Minister for
Education. Reid is an old ex-Moscow aligned Communist and slips all to
easily into the Popular Front mode. Bob defended himself by saying that
the current Aid for Ireland Committee wanted to downplay all the
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