31st January 2002
Republicanism offers a radical alternative
Sinn Fein representative for Dublin North Central Frances McCole speaking at a debate on republicanism in Maynooth College this evening said:
Republicanism, in essence embody a coherent system of political beliefs, an ideology that is inclusive, vibrant and full of hope for how we could all live together on this planet.
But how does someone come to advocate republicanism?. Who is a republican?
Is it someone who comes from a republican family, a genetic trait - well that's not me
Is it someone who's a catholic - well that's not me
Someone from the north, again that's not me.
So what was the journey that took me here tonight.. I'd like to tell you about some of the milestones because I think republicanism is a journey of discovery. A journey that some of you may already have started. And it is my hope that through dialogue and debate we will come to a richer fuller understanding of what republicanism can offer to us all.
I was 17 when Bobby Sands died on hunger strike. And I didn't understand why. I believed the troubles as it was referred to - in the north was sectarian. Two communities who hated each other. It was all irrational and therefore all unsolvable. One side as bad as the other. We all knew that, RTE told us everyday. Anyway, we had our own troubles down here. Emigration, unemployment and dole queues were tearing lives and families apart.
Twenty years ago I came to Maynooth as a wide eyed student. Hoping to find the answer to a big question -What is the meaning of life, the universe and everything? Even back then, 20 years ago coming to maynooth to study theology and philosophy was not considered cool. I told as few people as possible.
I went to lectures, sometimes listened, just about passed my exams. I didn't find the answer to the question. The world was presented as a place of imperfection, but one that we should accept all the same. That wasn't a good enough answer for me.
But I got another education during my years here. I met people who were home from the Philipinnes, from Peru and Nicaragua. Religious and lay people, who talked about liberation. They talked about Oscar Romero, Nelson Mandela , the Sandinistas, the arms race and cruise missiles. I came to talks like this one, organised by the student union and college societies and realised that I was listening to people who were changing the world, who were devoting their lives to making it a better place. They were energetic, enthusiastic, passionate, they owned little or nothing, and they were happy. And they challenged us. What were we going to do with our college educations? Were we going to be part of the problem or part of the solution. I was inspired. I knew which side I wanted to be on.
The talks I came to raised one big question about the state of the world. Was there inequality and injustice in the world because the structures weren't working properly. Or was there inequality and hunger in the world because of the structures. The more I listened the more I became convinced that the economics of capitalism and politics of imperialism that dominated the world were only ever going make the rich, richer , the poor, poorer. That the problems of unemployment, substance abuse, ill health, bad housing that effected peoples everyday lives all had political solutions.
30 years ago Irish people took to the streets of Derry, looking for civil rights. They weren't asking the Dublin government for their rights, they were asking London. And London gave their answer.
In Dublin the Taoiseach wouldn't stand idly by, Paddy Hillary said it was now the republic or nothing, Fine words, but there was no action.
Nationalists knew now that they were abandoned by the 26 county establishment. Hemmed in to areas, with hostile British troops on their streets. Loyalists filling the ranks of the UDR and RUC and unionists keeping the state Orange. People turned to Republicans for an answer.
Who were the Republicans?
People who had kept alive a dream of a republic based on the ideals of the French revolution. Liberty, equality fraternity. Still to be found on the back of the French euro coin. These were the words of people who believed another world is possible.
And what was the answer going to be? The answer was the same as it was in 1798 for Wolfe Tone and Anne Devlin,and as it was in 1916 for Connolly and Marcievizc as it was in 1972 for a young Mairead Farrell and Martin McGuinness, and still is for us today us in Sinn Fein. The connection with Britain must be ended. And a new relationship based on respect can then begin.
So what is this republic? Well if you believe that people should be free. Free to discover who they are, and free to be who they are, then you may agree that republicanism is the ideology that will build new structures that can create and sustain freedom. And what will shape the structures?
Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. These three words embody the big idea that we call republicanism.
But republicanism is not just fine ideals on a page,but it is the driving inspiration for Sinn Fein activists, in every county in Ireland. We come from all backgrounds, and are of all ages, but we share an impatience, we cannot live at ease in the world until the dream is realised.
So what do we do? We work on all levels. We are involved in community politics because we believe we can act as catalysts for change. People get involved in local issues and start to become empowered and go on to ask bigger questions and move bigger mountains. We are involved in building electoral strength, to bring the question of British occupation and issues of injustice and inequality to every elected forum in the country. But we don't just come to argue and protest. We come with alternatives. We have policies on education, health, waste management, policies that offer radical alternatives to the policies that fail to meet the needs of so many of our people.
It is easy to see whose interests have been served in this state in the last 80 years. And its easy to see who has been left behind. But could you be left behinds? George Lee tells us that first time buyers of houses now borrow 70% of the price of the house. The other 30% or 50 thousand euros is made up for by their parents. How many of your parents will have 50 thousand euros for you, and you brothers and sisters to buy houses?
Take a walk around Dublin and see young people old before their time. Listen to the stories of the families who have buried the children they couldn't save from heroine. Watch the mothers struggle with toddlers on their way to their methadone clinic. Witness the young men as they spend their lives in and out of Mountjoy. The housing crisis, the health crisis, the prisons crisis, the drug crisis. Tearing peoples lives apart. We can do better than this. We could do so much better than this. And we will do better than this.
It's worth thinking about the future now- You're going to spend the rest of your life there. What do you want? More of the same Fianna Fáil/ Labour, Fianna Fáil/ Progressive Democrats, Fine Gael/Labour and a few independents thrown in to make it interesting? Isn't this just rearranging the political deck chairs. Or is it time to change make real changes? The choice is yours before the summer. Five more years of the same old bankrupt politics. Or is it time to read again the Proclamation of 1916 that has become nothing more than furniture on the wall of Leinster house.
Republicanism is over 200 years old but it is still radical and relevant, offering concrete solutions to everyday problems. Republicanism has been distilling for over 2 centuries . It's time to take it off the wall and use it.
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