Beyond the Road Map - New Discussions within Sinn Fein

D OC donaloc at peterquinn.com
Mon Sep 2 11:10:21 MDT 2002


This article was carried in this week's APRN - as such it is an indication
of the mood among key leadership figures - the author is someone I have
great respect for. I certainly don't agree with some of his points although
there is much sense there too. My primary difficulty with this strategy lies
in an area not fully discussed here - the ability of the party to actually
advance to state power from a coalition - what he terms the correct
'strategic circumstances'. That for me will be highly dependent on the party
being sufficiently coordinated to make the most of opportunities arising in
its term in authority.

It is my own view that experience in Stormont highlights our inability to
match the Civil Servants - to the extent that they are getting off with far
too much. As such, this strategic conception needs reappraisal against the
very real limitations of our own organisational power and poorly developed
support base. As an aside, I must note that these issues are arising out of
the lack of development of concepts of economic self-determination and
poorly distributed understandings of imperialism - activists rarely see the
connection between national and economic struggles in a wider sense.

I was preparing a polemic against those points I disagree with but have
failed to get the time today - perhaps next week. If there are any responses
appearing over the next few weeks I will post these on - it may be an
indication of where the body-politic truly lies.

D OC.


Beyond the road map: Preparing for power

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Sinn Féin's Declan Kearney delivered the main address at the John Joe McGirl
commemorative weekend earlier this month. In a thought-provoking
contribution, he addressed the crucial issue of republican strategy for the
achievement of a United Ireland.

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"To subvert the tyranny of our execrable government, to break the
conmnection with England, the never failing source of all our political
evils and to assert the independence of my country - these were my objects.
To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past
dissentions and to substitute the common name of Irishmen in place of
denominations of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter - these were my means."

So said Wolfe Tone, and so it remains for us today. When looking for our
historical and contemporary reference point to define the purpose of our
struggle, Tone's words crystallise the core of republican ideology and the
ultimate aims it espouses.

His words are as relevant today as they were in the past, and especially so,
as we reflect on the theme of this commemorative weekend, "Seeking the route
to the Ireland of Equals".

Republican aims have remained constant in our struggle because the
historical work of securing democracy, equality and national sovereignty
remains unfinished business.

The core values of republican ideology and thinking have woven a golden
thread throughout the struggle, spanning the decades and linking generations
of republican activism. We are commemorating John Joe McGirl, one republican
who exemplifies for all that thread of struggle, and the ideological and
political continuity that makes modern republicanism the most potent
political force in Ireland today.

Revolutionary role model

This evening, I want to focus my remarks on a notion that underpins your
weekend's theme. It is timely to suggest that we are now in a phase which
requires us to look beyond the concept of the Road Map to the Republic, and
begin the process now of Preparing for Power. There are strategic issues
that will require us all to become longheaded revolutionaries and activists
in the coming years if we are indeed to secure power in Ireland. The nature
of these issues is key to the quest for the route to the Ireland of Equals.

John Joe McGirl was no stranger to tackling the issues central to sustaining
our struggle. He not only epitomised continuity; he also had an acute sense
of what was needed to organise for victory. Martin McGuinness described him
as a progressive thinker, always prepared to consider, propose and support
new ways. He recognised that ideas alone were insufficient, unless they were
linked to strategy, viable organisation and good leadership. These are the
elements, which will place and keep our struggle on a trajectory towards our
ultimate aims.

Older comrades in leadership today speak of John Joe's sage-like qualities.
They say that he, in very conscious, mature and strategic terms, stepped
aside to facilitate the emergence of new leadership people, whilst remaining
ever available to impart his wisdom on the strategic progress of the
struggle. By anticipating future needs, encouraging flexibility with
tactics, promoting political change, and at all times remaining
uncompromising in his ideological convictions, John Joe's legacy to us is as
a revolutionary role model.

The strength and popularity of our struggle today derives from such
qualities of comrades such as John Joe McGirl. We are where we are, and
command the strength we do, because of the leadership of older activists.
Yet if we consider that republicans have been travelling on a journey
through all the various phases and campaigns and acknowledge the distance we
have come, today we still have a distance yet to go.

Plans and strategies

My intention here is to reflect on our remaining journey and what it is we
need to do. I believe in an historical sense we are on the home straight.
Today's republicans stand on the threshold of the Republic, but have yet to
open the door.

>From roughly 1984, we developed a number of frameworks to illuminate where
our struggle has been positioned in periods relative to our ultimate aims
and to detail what tactics and strategies we should deploy to become
stronger and proceed further. These include the analogy of the Bus to Cork;
the discussions on the Broad Front; the inception of the Peace Strategy; the
introduction of the 11 strategic objectives; and, within the last two years,
our thinking on the Road Map to the Republic.

All of these have evolved seamlessly, adding to and interlocking with each
other. They emerged from the context of the armed struggle, the electoral
strategy, the cessations and negotiations. Each sought at different times to
define our position, based upon assessing our own strengths and weaknesses
as a party relative to those of our opponents, and each proposed methods for
building the struggle and achieving new political strength.

What was common to each was the recognition that the republican struggle
needed to be strategically driven at all times. Power of conviction was
crucial, but not enough to sustain the struggle against the power of our
enemies and their alliances. We required plans and strategies to
outmanoeuvre the strategies our enemies had in place to defeat us.

The politics of power

In recent times the idea of the Road Map has stimulated a healthy debate
within republicanism on current strategy. But I want us to look beyond that
this evening. We need to start to get a sense that republicanism has
historically arrived with regard to the politics of power in Ireland.

I remember standing in O'Connell Street for the 70th anniversary
commemoration of the Easter Rising in 1986 and listening to Joe Cahill
saying, "the Provos are a force in this country". Sixteen years later, can
anyone doubt the evidence of Joe's assertion?

Sinn Féin is the third largest political party on the island. We are the
only national political organisation, and the fastest growing at that. Our
public representatives sit in government in the Six Counties, and our share
of seats in Leinster House is disproportionately less than our actual
electoral strength in this state.

The politics of this island have been permanently moulded by our growth in
recent years, and still we have not maximised our political strength. If
electoral support is a measure of the growing popular momentum of
republicanism, we have still not peaked.

We are arguably on the cusp of delivering on the Republic.

But, what does this mean for us as a struggle?

What do we collectively have to do?

How do we conceptualise bringing into being an Ireland of equals?

What does delivery mean?

Dangerous phase

It is my belief that we are entering a profoundly revolutionary phase for
the republican struggle. This hinges on the prospect of Sinn Féin building
new political strength; becoming more involved in the institutions of
government North and South, so generating still further strength. All of
this has the potential to act as a catalyst for Sinn Féin sitting in
government in a future Republic.

However, the onset of our endgame means we are already in and are facing an
even more dangerous phase. As our activist base applies itself to finishing
the unfinished revolution, the seeds of the counter-revolution are already
been sown. The reality of our arrival in government in the Six Counties has
triggered hysteria in the establishments North and South.

This reality lies at the root of the coordinated offensive orchestrated in
the North by the loyalist death squads and the securocrats. The present
crisis and instability in Ulster Unionism derives from tactical divisions
within broad unionism over how to combat Irish republicans and maintain
power unionist power in the North. Moreover, the strategy of the British
establishment and the NIO is presently predicated upon the politics of
continuing to prosecute its war against Irish republicans, except by other
means.

And in the 26 Counties, the media's reaction to Sinn Féin's recent electoral
breakthrough reflected the Southern establishment's fear of a growing
radical republican alternative in this state. Their hysteria stems from our
challenge to the complacency of gombeen politics, which has reduced counties
like Leitrim to pale shadows of their potential. They are right to be
fearful of Sinn Féin's challenge in the next Udarás, Local, European and
Leinster House elections. Our struggle must aim to develop the same dynamic
in the 26 Counties as it has assumed in the North.

So this is the context against which we should look beyond our Road Map and
begin methodically preparing ourselves for power. The struggle now needs to
keep one eye on present requirements and the other on future direction.

Key priorities

Our preparations in the coming period are a collective job of work and will
have to address key priorities. These are:

to continue building our political strength throughout Ireland;
to grow electorally and increase public representation;
to use our positions in the transitional institutions where we sit, as
training camps to skill up our personnel;
to deepen our capacity for assuming government responsibility;
to build Sinn Féin nationally and regionally and to strengthen the role of
local leadership;
to create new alliances for Irish unity;
to get us all thinking as activists and supporters about the work of the
struggle; and
to concentrate our minds on developing the fabric of republican politics in
order to firewall our core ideas against being compromised by pragmatic
realities of realpolitik.

Sites of struggle

Addressing ourselves to these tasks throws up a vast multitude of different
sites of struggle to be waged; from internal party building through to the
public representation of the party and everything in between. These sites of
struggle arise from immediate, albeit transitional, programmes of work.

Sinn Féin faces a process of slow, laborious, long-term activism, with a
potential 15-20 year trajectory. There is no fast track to the Ireland of
equals. We need to take cognisance of the certainty that new and complicated
realities will confront republicans in the future, with their own particular
implications.

For example, we will have to adapt to managing the Six-County economy in all
its aspects for the foreseeable future. This means finding the money from a
dwindling pot to fund the ministries we manage. In time, if and when the
legislative, political and practical conditions are fully met, we will have
to assume roles in the oversight of the Six-County policing service. And,
with growing political strength and continued diffusion of 26-County
political forces; according to the right strategic circumstances, the party
may face the prospect of sitting in coalition government in this state also:
with all the institutional implications this scenario would bring.

Staging posts

All of these future scenarios, and more, arise beyond our Road Map, and
before we achieve the Republic. But as activists in struggle we must see
them as opportunities to move steadily forward. The republican struggle is
not threatened by any of these situations if our activists and base are
absolutely clear, from a revolutionary republican point of view, why we
enter such sites of struggle and then how we strategically organise our
approach.

This means we will have to ensure none of us get blinded by the political
dust created by the immediate and transitional activity republicans will
have to undertake. The Six-County Assembly, The Six-County policing boards,
Leinster House and other scenarios are by their nature staging posts.

Our job is to bring a clearly focused republican approach to this work. We
need to push all these institutions to their democratic and radical limits
and constantly seize on the strategic opportunities to maximise cross border
cooperation and advance to a united Ireland.

One important aspect of this work resides in the All-Ireland implementation
bodies. Sinn Féin is the only political force that will seek to maximise
these institutions as engines for Irish unity. Our job is to strategically
push their limits, while others are, and will, strategically resist our
efforts.

Our role in the councils, Leinster House and the Assembly are other equally
important dimensions of this site of struggle. And while these arenas must
be understood as staging posts, they are also opportunities for republicans
to build beachheads from which to popularise republicanism, continue growing
in national strength and learn the craft of efficient government.

And it is vital that while this site of struggle continues apace, a strong
and organised base of activists and supporters is built on the outside to be
active in all other spheres of work.

Strategy, activism, debate

As we navigate our way through the complexity of this period, there are
three political and interlocking dynamics that will keep the struggle
focused and ideologically centred. These are: the role of strategy, the role
of the activist and the role of political debate.

In recent years, comrades from the ANC have constantly advised us that the
revolutionary must always stay ahead of his or her opponents by seizing the
strategic initiative; strategy is not rocket science, it is the method by
which to plot our path from one point to the next. Our strategy will trigger
counter strategy from our enemies, so strategy is never cast in stone or
static. It must be adapted and revised according to the given need at the
given time.

Clear and coherent strategy is the framework into which all forms of our
activism should be placed and organised. Strategy needs always to be based
on the reality of the existing situation. It is the means by which to
outmanoeuvre opponents and develop new political alliances. In the coming
period, our immediate strategic projects should be to continue building
political strength in the 26 Counties and make genuine outreach to, and seek
dialogue with, the Protestant community nationally to discuss our shared
future.

Strategy provides the armour for our ideology. If we get our heads around
the use of strategy, this struggle can accomplish anything. Without
strategic thinking, we expose our work to the dangers of being diverted and
deflected by our enemies and opponents. Strategic thinking is not an
abstraction; it is critical to realising republican aims. The successful
prosecution of the struggle will depend on us all developing our collective
strategic instincts.

The management of this period will also be conditional on the role of our
activist base. When the Bus to Cork analogy was first used in the early to
mid 1980s, one of its preoccupations was with passengers who may leave or
join the journey. Insofar as this analogy has a resonance today, then
republican activists are the drivers, navigators and mechanics who maintain
the vehicle.

Now, more than ever, activists need to be longheaded and strategic thinkers,
capable of providing political leadership within all the sites of struggle
we occupy. Specifically, we need to focus upon integrating all aspects of
the struggle and ensure we put in place structures that can carry the weight
of our work. We need to be concerned with creating the space for the
activist and support base to take ownership of modern republicanism. In
practical terms, this should mean giving new comrades the confidence to step
forward, encouraging older comrades to become reinvolved and fostering a
culture of self-confidence in us all, to play full roles.

The development of future strategy and definition of activist's work needs
to come from debate and discussion within our base. This struggle cannot
afford the luxury of constantly relying on a leadership to take initiatives
or bring forward the strategic issues. Over-dependancy on leadership by
activist should be anathema. Republican strategy needs to be the political
and intellectual property of all activists, but the only people who can take
ownership are ourselves. All activists and supporters should accept the
responsibility to become involved in debate on the future. Without such
input, the struggle is weakened. However, with mass participation in debate
from within the republican family, our internal cohesion and political unity
is guaranteed, and in the process we bring a collective genius to the big
issues. Three of these are:


How we protect the revolutionary integrity of the struggle in this lengthy
transitional phase.

How we get a balance into our future activism between being radical,
inventive and properly anchored in reality.

How we design a radical and popular model of democracy and equality for a
new Ireland.
Criticism of leadership driven strategy may well have some basis; but the
only credible alternative is an activist driven approach, and this can only
develop when we take the role of political debate seriously.

Everyone is a stakeholder

Everyone here is a stakeholder in the Ireland of Equals; we are its
guarantors, because no one else will do it for us, but that responsibility
must be shared by many. The alternative to not accepting this responsibility
is to cod ourselves and be deflected by pretenders to the struggle, or fall
victim to the counter-revolution of the establishments, North and South. But
accepting the responsibility to become involved or do more in the struggle
means we must also recognise the challenge to our patience; the demands upon
us to think strategically and act accordingly; and the importance of
seriously preparing ourselves for power in all its aspects.

Today in Cuban society, youngsters often proclaim "We will be like Che", so
enduring is the influence that revolutionary figures such as Guevara have
had on that country's struggle, even to the present day. We are richer for
the contribution of comrades like John Joe to our struggle. He is one role
model we can all seek to emulate as we move towards the Ireland of Equals.


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