In his keynote address at the launch of the Céad Bliain/Sinn Féin 100 event, Gerry Adams looked back at 100 years and defined his vision of the future.
While mentioning current difficulties, the message was of progress and optimism. However an article in The Irish Family reports that “serious disillusionment with the current leadership and its overall strategy has taken root within the wider Republican movement”.
Mr Adams in a carefully crafted speech, that contains olive branches to Unionism, was rightly proud of Sinn Féin’s electoral success.
“in November 2003 this party became the largest pro Agreement party in the north – a significant achievement. Last June Sinn Féin broke the mould of Irish politics in the European elections by electing Mary Lou McDonald and Bairbre de Brún to the European Parliament and by electing Councillors right across the southern state. The front page of the Phoblacht then summed it up – 342,000 votes, 2 MEPs, 232 Councillors, 24 MLAs, 5TDs and 4MPs.”
Sinn Féin is now politically and organizationally stronger than at any time since the 1920s.
On the other hand The Irish Family reports:
“Media hype surrounding the party’s gains in last year’s local and European elections succeeded in masking a deep malaise within Sinn Féin that has led to a haemorrhaging of its traditional membership throughout the country. Even the successes of the European elections, which saw two Sinn Féin candidates take seats, were short-lived. One of the candidates, Mary-Lou McDonald, who was elected for Dublin managed to enrage large swathes of her voters when, after the election, she revealed her pro-abortion position, having given the impression that she was somehow pro-life during electioneering. While some voters expressed their disgust on radio programmes, The Irish Family has learned that Sinn Féin offices in Dublin and Belfast were bombarded by angry callers vowing never to vote for the party again.”
“The past twelve months have seen several leading Republicans break ranks with the leadership and condemn its flawed policies and control-obsessed arrogance. Included among these were a number of elected figures. It now emerges that up to 40% of party activists in areas of Dublin and across the North have turned their backs on an organisation that some had served for decades. Most fail to see how administering British rule from Stormont can lead to the party’s stated objective of a united Ireland.”
In his speech Mr Adams seems to acknowledge a return to the hated Stages theory that was in part responsible for the turmoil that led to the birth of P.I.R.A.
” Sinn Féin is an Irish republican party. Our strategy to achieve a united, independent Ireland marks us out from other Irish political parties. Later this year we will be launching a campaign for the Irish government to bring forward a Green Paper on Irish Unity. Our primary political objectives are; an end to partition, an end to the union, the construction of a new national democracy a new republic on the island of Ireland, and reconciliation between orange and green. But we are not prepared to wait until we have achieved these goals for people to have their rights to a decent home, to a job and a decent wage, to decent public services like health and education, and a safer cleaner environment.
And indeed that formidable critic of Sinn Féin and P.I.R.A, Anthony McIntyre stresses that the wheel has turned full circle in an article, Criminalising Republicanism, that is savagely critical of the current strategy.
“The current Provisional IRA is in real danger of becoming criminal by consequence rather than intent. There are very few IRA volunteers known to me who are motivated by a criminal urges. But the organisation to which they belong is heavily involved in the exact same activity that it accused the Official IRA of being caught up in three decades ago. One of the Provisional IRA’s stated reasons for purging the Official IRA in 1975 was that it was involved in a widespread criminal activity. The Officials had recognised the legitimacy of the Northern state; they had ceased to fight a war; their leadership always mislead its membership. All of which allowed the Provisionals to assign to them a criminal status and subsequently kill and maim them.”
“What made the actions of the Provisional IRA political rather than criminal was that partition was held to be fundamentally wrong, anti-democratic and gave rise to massive repression in order to sustain itself. Now that the Provisional leadership has accepted the consent principle it legitimises partition and gives it a democratic basis. The British are merely here now because the consent principle, which is just, permits them to be.
Having signed up for this the Sinn Fein leadership has stripped away any claim the IRA might have had for violently resisting the state. It is not possible to legitimately fight by armed means the existence of the state you have just ordained legitimate. After that the IRA has no more legitimacy than an armed militia linked to the SDLP. The Provisional leadership by its current actions is well on the road to ensuring that the manner in which the IRA moved into its final years is the prism though which its entire existence will be viewed and interpreted. The hunger strikers whose own voices were silenced by death, are left with no one who can stand up and defend current IRA activity.”
Gerry Adams accepts that these are rough times, and indeed acknowledges the concerted attack. In fact, the attack could be said to be a sign of success. There aren’t many pages devoted to attacks on the SDLP in the North. However early in his speech he betrays just a hint of concern –
” What is this year about? It is about education and debate. It is about the re-popularising of republicanism.”
So – republicanism needs to be “re-popularised”. A concession that ground has been lost, not gained. Would the real Sinn Féin please stand up.