across the island should lend an ear to the present
separate political debates taking place amongst
the Left in Britain and Northern Unionism on the
concept of party unity.
General and local council elections in the North
have placed Sinn Fein firmly in the middle ground
as the main voice of Northern nationalism.
may not have delivered the same electoral annihilation
to the moderate SDLP in the same way Ian Paisley's
DUP hammered Ulster Unionism, but it has confirmed
Sinn Fein's place as the lead negotiator of the
muddied waters of 'who speaks for Northern nationalists'
is now crystal clear - last year's European election
victory over the SDLP was not a 'one-off fluke'.
republican movement should use this new, reinforced
mandate not simply to advance the peace process,
but to further strengthen the concept of the pan-nationalist
front throughout the island.
immediate tactic it should deploy is for Sinn Fein
to outflank the DUP by dropping its ban on MPs taking
their Westminster seats. The stumbling block has
always been the oath of allegiance, but in this
respect Sinn Fein needs to listen closely to the
sound advice of one of the great stalwarts of the
Left, Tony Benn.
abstentionist policy may have been central to the
republican electoral strategy in 1918 when Sinn
Fein clinched the majority of Irish seats when the
entire island was ruled by Britain.
the time is right for the republican movement to
prove it is a truly democratic nationalist party
like the Scottish National Party.
as the DUP needs to deliver on power-sharing with
nationalists, so too Sinn Fein can shake off the
perception it is merely the IRA Army Council's wee
political puppet by having the vision to scrap abstentionism
and take the oath at Westminster.
it is not being asked to take any other oath which
is different from that taken by the Left or nationalist
MPs, or indeed any future radical Islamic movement
supposedly true republicans are as much opposed
to the Dail in Dublin as they are to British rule
in the North. Yet Sinn Fein TDs sit in Leinster
House and participate fully in debates to such a
degree the party could become a serious contender
for coalition government with Fianna Fail after
next year's Southern General Election.
should remember the impact which a young Bernadette
Devlin made in 1969, when as a Unity candidate,
she won the Mid Ulster Westminster by-election and
took her seat in the Commons.
did almost as much to highlight and progress the
republican cause at Westminster than a generation
of Provisional IRA bloodshed on Northern streets.
As things currently stand, many republicans are
asking themselves the question - did IRA hunger
striker Bobby Sands MP die so Sinn Fein could agree
a deal to make Ian Paisley the de facto Prime Minister
of a partitionist parliament at Stormont?
question has been the key one in fuelling the growth
of the militant dissident republican cause in Ireland,
as espoused by the Real and Continuity IRA's and
political movements such as Republican Sinn Fein.
Fein needs to convince its ranks and file supporters
that a purely democratic strategy will take the
movement closer to the historical goal of a 32-county,
Fein needs to look to the example of Eamon de Valera.
As a vehement anti-Treaty activist, he lost the
Civil War. But he became leader of the South by
joining Fianna Fail and going into democratic government.
Now that Sinn Fein has moved from the perceived
'extremes' to the middle ground of Northern politics,
it is imperative abstentionism is ditched otherwise
it will become a Biblical mill stone around Sinn
of Biblical mill stones, there is also the real
danger Paisleyism's highly volatile fundamentalist
clique could become the DUP's Achilles' Heel. The
Sinn Fein leadership can outgun the Paisleyites
by confronting them on their newfound 'home turf'
- the Chamber floor of the House of Commons.
the Provisionals' side, they need to transform the
IRA into an old comrades' group known as the Irish
Republican Association. Eventually, too, Sinn Fein
once it is totally democratic could merge with the
SDLP to become a united, single movement known as
The Republican Party of Ireland.
Ireland should have only one republican party. In
the South, Fianna Fail pushed the ethos of 'The
Republican Party'. Now is the time to start building
the foundations of transforming the pan-nationalist
front into this single republican party.
Fail needs an all-Ireland credibility. Sinn Fein
needs a democratic credibility free from the perceptions
of criminality. The SDLP needs to maintain its middle
class power base.
terms of mergers, the time has come to unite all
three nationalist movements - not into a 1974 loyalist-style
Unionist Coalition, but into a single party wedged
firmly in the Catholic middle class and ensuring
the working class never feel the need to return
to armed struggle.
the time has also come, for the sake of republican
unity, not simply to transform the IRA into an association,
but also to consider the unthinkable - mothballing
the title 'Sinn Fein' itself.