Sinn Fein continues to look left

David Granville examines the latest developments in Sinn Féin's efforts to forge a progressive alliance of the left in Ireland

SINN FÉIN is continuing to appeal to trade unions and the left in Ireland in its efforts to forge a new progressive alliance aimed at challenging the conservative agenda of the mainstream political parties.

Speaking at this year's ceremony at the GPO commemorating the Easter rising of 1916, party vice president Mary Lou MacDonald reiterated that Sinn Féin wanted to join up with other political parties, trade unions and community and voluntary organisations which sought "a real political alternative".

In a speech that was laden with references to labour's positive and progressive contribution to national and democratic struggles in Ireland, she reminded her audience that Larkin, Connolly and the Irish Transport and General Workers Union had played a pivotal role in defending low-paid, vulnerable and previously unorganised workers in the years after the union's formation in 1909.

Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army's vanguard role in the revolt against British rule in 1916, organised labour's defeat of conscription in Ireland in 1918 and the progressive and democratic ideals of Connolly, adopted in the Democratic Programme by the First Dáil, were among other key nods to labour's progressive and revolutionary past.

What she didn't allude to was the fact that progressives in either the republican or labour movement camps have often been in short supply - at least in sufficient numbers to change the course of history in a more radical direction than actually panned out throughout the decades of the last century.

Much the same could be said of those within the British labour movement who understood British imperialism in relation to Ireland (or for that matter, who understood it at all) and who therefore sympathised with and actively strove to assist Ireland's democratic struggle for unity and independence.

Had this been the case, the words uttered by Connolly just prior to the rising in April 1916: "The cause of labour is the cause of Ireland, the cause of Ireland is the cause of labour. They cannot be dissevered", would almost certainly have had a far greater impact than they did.

Had this been the case, one could add, the discrimination, repression, sectarianism and bloodshed of the years following partition - especially in the years from the civil rights movement to the signing of the Good Friday deal - could almost certainly have been averted too.

It would certainly not have been necessary for Mary Lou MacDonald to love bomb the Irish labour movement in the way that she did on the steps of the GPO this Easter. The history of enmity between republicans and large sections of the labour movement runs deep. This will be difficult - some may argue impossible - to overcome, even given developments within mainstream republicanism over the last 15 or so years.

Yet, Sinn Féin's appeal appears to be both laudable and broadly progressive, and certainly one which is worthy of serious consideration.

As interested observers with strong ties to Ireland, historical, political and economic, we should wish the initiative well.

This is especially so given the severity of the crisis that monopoly capitalism is facing in Ireland and the damage and misery it continues to inflict on the lives of working people there, in Britain and around the globe.

For our part, we should continue to emphasise that, despite their weaknesses and shortcomings, the Belfast and St Andrews agreements provide the best framework and opportunity for developing and building cross-community reconciliation.

However, in doing so we must not forget or ignore Britain's responsibility for, and past involvement in, the conflict, or the inescapable fact that Northern Ireland remains within the British state, with ultimate control residing in Westminster, and not Belfast as some would like us to believe, albeit within the framework of an evolving devolved settlement.

Those of us here in Britain must continue to take seriously our responsibilities to the forces of national democracy in Ireland struggling for Irish unity, social justice and reconciliation.

Given the large numbers of Irish people residing in Britain, some of whom belong to families who've been here for several generations, wide levels of support amongst people in Britain for the Good Friday settlement and the legacy of colonial relations between Britain and Ireland, it is not surprising to learn that Sinn Féin now wants to engage more constructively with people in Britain with the aim of winning support for its campaign for Irish unity.

As with the party's attempts to reach out to the Labour Party and progressive and trade union movement in the 26-counties, such an initiative will not be unproblematic. If such an initiative is to bear fruit old suspicions, enmities, and perhaps just as importantly, old ways of working, will have to be set aside and new relationships forged.

Yet, if parties are treated equally and with respect, such a campaign, working within the spirit and framework of the Good Friday arrangements, can undoubtedly be built and play its part in removing the last shackles of Britain's imperial legacy in Ireland and of opening up a bright new chapter based on national sovereignty, equality and mutual respect between neighbouring peoples.

The above article originally appeared in the Morning Star

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2009-04-29 22:33:39.
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