An introduction to the present state of the Anglo-Irish conflict can be found in Freedom, a publication of Sinn Fein's Education Department.
Modern Irish Republicans trace their political origins to the movement of the United Irishmen of the 1790s. They took their inspiration from the French Revolution and fought for the breaking of the political connection between Ireland and Britain, believing that only an independent Ireland could guarantee equality and prosperity for the Irish people.
Most of the leading figures of the United Irishmen were Presbyterian's and Protestants and a key part of their programme was unity between Irish people of all religions in the cause of liberty. Their rebellion in 1798 was ruthlessly suppressed, but their ideas continued to inspire Irish nationalists for over a century and a half.
The separatist strand of Irish nationalism waxed and waned in the 19th Century, enjoying it's biggest popular following in the Fenian movement in Ireland and the United States in the late 1850s and 1860s, but by the end of the century, the organised demand for complete separation was almost nonexistent.
The name Sinn Fein (We Ourselves) first emerged in the early 1900s. It was a federation of nationalist clubs and eventually, all nationalists to the left of the Irish Parliamentary Party at Westminster came to be popularly known as Sinn Feiners. The press of the time called the 1916 Rising the "Sinn Fein Rebellion".
The Sinn Fein party, reorganised in 1917, was based on the demand for an Irish Republic. It won the 1918 general election overwhelmingly and set up Dáil Éireann (Assembly of Ireland). Following three years of guerrilla war, led by the underground republican government, the party split in 1922 on the issue of the Treaty which partitioned Ireland.
Throughout the 1920s, following a devastating Civil War, Sinn Fein continued as the republican party. The departure of its leader Eamon de Valera to form Fianna Fáil in 1926 meant that it was to remain as a small abstentionist party for the next two decades. It's fortunes ebbed and flowed in the late 1950s and early 1960s with the IRA's border campaign, during which it enjoyed some electoral success.
In the 1960s, Sinn Fein adopted a more radical stance on social and economic affairs and campaigned politically to gain support on issues other than partition. But differing approaches to the Civil Rights Movement and to the outbreak of the present conflict in the Six Counties led to another split. One section of Sinn Fein was in the process of abandoning the republican demand for complete British withdrawal from Ireland and went on to become what are now Democratic Left and the Workers Party.
The Sinn Fein which emerged in 1970 - popularly known at the time as 'Provisional' Sinn Fein - was to evolve through the '70s and ' 80s to the party we know today. It was to the forefront of the resistance of the nationalist people in the Six Counties, as they saw their peaceful demand for civil rights met with state violence. Sinn Fein again took on the role of the leading advocate of British withdrawal and a 32-county Ireland and campaigned on the streets throughout Ireland in the 1970s.
It was only in the early 1980s that the challenge of Sinn Fein as a serious political force and central element in the republican struggle was first fully felt. The re-evaluation of strategy and reorganisation which resulted from the mass campaign in support of republican prisoners in the H-Blocks and Armagh before and during the 1981 Hunger Strike (when ten prisoners died) set Sinn Fein on its course for the 1980s.
Despite the efforts of its political opponents, especially the British government which has adopted many measures to curb its electoral success, Sinn Fein, over the last 13 years, has been a formidable electoral force. Since 1982 the party contested 21 elections across Ireland and has contested elections in all but two of the last 13 years. This is a unique record for any political party in Ireland.
In the Six Counties, Sinn Fein has this year registered votes of more than sixteen per cent of the total electorate and over 40% of the nationalist electorate. In the 26 counties, the republican alternative has been consistently offered under conditions where republicans are censored, demonised and lack the financial resources of the establishment parties.
Elections in the Six Counties have been conducted under conditions where election candidates have been denied access to the media, where election workers have been harassed, arrested and murdered, where combined opposition to Sinn Fein was the sole electoral plank of our opponents.
In the last elections in the 26 Counties, Sinn Fein got 33 council seats. In Monaghan, there are ten councillors on county and urban authorities. Sinn Fein representatives also sit in a number of councils including Donegal, Leitrim, Dundalk, Navan, Birr, Kildare, Tralee, Listowel, Cashel, Cobh, Youghal, Clonakility, Dublin Corporation and Shannon. Sinn Fein Councillor Michael McKee is Chairperson of Shannon Town Commission and Councillor Michael Brown is Chair of Cashel Urban District Council.
In the Six Counties, Sinn Fein is currently represented by 74 councillors with 16.9% of the overall vote and 45% of the nationalist electorate. It was their their highest percentage vote in the current phase of the struggle in the ninth consecutive Six County election. Sinn Fein is represented on 17 of the 26 councils in the Six Counties and This year it increased its representation by 23 seats. In Belfast, the largest elected assembly in the Six Counties, Sinn Fein again won the largest share of first-preference votes giving them thirteen seats, the joint largest grouping on the council. Extra seats on the council this year led to a nationalist mayor for the first time in Belfast history. In West Belfast, Gerry Adams this year regained the seat lost in the 1992 Westminster election despite tactical voting by unionists, and Martin McGuinness captured the Mid-Ulster seat from DUP man Willy McCrea.
Sinn Fein's Sean Begley is now chairperson of Cookstown council and Patsy Groogan is chair of Magharafelt District Councils. Sinn Fein gained seats in these councils and in Armagh, Belfast, Derry, Down, Fermanagh, Limavady, Lisburn, Newry and Mourne, and Strabane. Sinn Fein candidates topped the poll in sixteen wards in a surge of support that ended unionist control of four councils.
Sinn Fein has become a formidable electoral force in the Six Counties and has advanced rapidly in the 26 Counties. In May of 1997, Sinn Fein contested a general election in the 26 Counties. Caoimhghín O Caoláin captured a seat in Cavan/Monaghan, topping the poll and becoming Sinn Fein's first representative to enter Leinster House. In the constituencies Sinn Fein contested, the party reached an average bote of 7.5% and came close to winning two more seats in Dublin and Kerry. Continued Sinn Fein campaigning reaffirms that there is a large nationalist population who continue to demand and work for justice, freedom and real democracy across Ireland.
A RADICAL VOICE
Sinn Fein is a 32-County legal registered political party with a wide range of policies, not just relating to the conflict in Ireland but reflecting all Irish political, economic and social issues. Partition has caused political, social and economic devastation throughout this island The separation of the two economies has contributed to the external dependency of both states, which has resulted in levels of industrial underdevelopment, unemployment, emigration and poverty in the 32 Counties. The creation of two states, both of which were dominated by the most conservative elements on this island also set back social progress for decades.
Sinn Fein's objective is the achieving of national self-determination and the creation of a secular, socialist republic with a democratic island economy based on the principles of the Proclamation of 1916, the Democratic Programme of 1919 and the beliefs of Tone, Pearse and Connolly.
Sinn Fein has radical policies on national self-determination, neutrality, the European Union, employment, workers' rights and unemployment, industrial relations, privatisation, emigration, agriculture, poverty, women, the environment, fisheries, culture, local government, health and social services, education, the Irish language and international issues.
The party also campaigns on justice issues arising directly out of the partition of Ireland, including discrimination in employment, censorship, prisoners' issues, shoot-to-kill, plastic bullets, collusion and other repressive legislation.
SINN FÉIN'S PEACE STRATEGY
Sinn Fein's involvement in the attempts to rebuild the shattered peace process has its origins in the mid 1980s. It was then that Sinn Fein sought to engage in dialogue with as wide a spectrum of opinion as possible for the purposes of achieving a just and lasting peace in Ireland. These engagements initially began with the SDLP through its leader John Hume. They went on to include the British government through secret negotiations with Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness from 1991 - 1993, the Irish government and Irish America. It was through the engagements with the SDLP, the Dublin government and Irish America that the Irish Peace Initiative emerged.
On August 31, 1994 the Irish Republican Army took the courageous and unprecedented step of calling a "complete cessation of military operations". This provided a window of opportunity through which we could all attempt to forge a new future based on justice and peace.
Unfortunately the British government failed to engage in this process and in doing so encouraged the Unionists to adopt the same negative attitude. It was this attitude and the fact they prevaricated and postured at every stage in the process, unwilling to respond "imaginatively and generously" as promised, that made the cessation breakdown inevitable.
The IRA in their statement announcing the resumption of military activity said that "instead of embracing the peace process, the British government acted in bad faith with Mr Major and the Unionist leaders squandering this unprecedented opportunity to resolve the conflict."
Sinn Fein regrets the IRA's ending of the cessation. We remain totally committed to our peace strategy and to the need for the peace process to be rebuilt. Our goal is to make peace between all the people of this island. What is required is a meaningful process of dialogue and negotiations without preconditions. The British government must stop pursuing policies which have abused the process in the past and which continue to set back the goal of securing a real Irish consensus.
Ard Fheis The Ultimate governing and legislative body within Sinn Fein is the annual Ard Fheis (conference). It consists of (a) The officers and members of the Ard Chomhairle. (b) Two delegates from each comhairle limistear. (c) Two delegates from each comhairle ceantair. (d) Two delegates from each affiliated cumann of 20 members or less.
Ard Chomhairle When the Ard Fheis is not in session, control of the party is vested in the Ard Chomhairle (National Executive) which is comprised of the president, vice-president, general secretary, two national treasurers, the publicity director, party chairperson, nine other members and one representative from each of the comhairlí limistéir.
The officers and nine other members are elected by the Ard Fheis delegates. The Ard Chomhairle has the power to co-opt five members for specific posts and the power for additional co-options to ensure that no less than one quarter of Ard Chomhairle positions are held by women.
Coiste Seasta The Ard Chomhairle elects from its members a Coiste Seasta of eight members who meet regularly and have full power to carry out routine business between Ard Chomhairle meetings.
Comhairlí Limistéir The Ard Chomhairle, in consultation with local Sinn Fein membership, can establish comhairlí limistéir. These are based on county or constituency boundaries and have charge of the Sinn Fein organisation in the region. Delegates from Cumainn in the area attend the Comhairle Limistéir AGM to elect officers and formulate policy for the ensuing year.
Comhairlí Ceantair Each comhairle ceantair is based on a county electoral area as defined from time to time by the county council, and has charge of all cumainn in the area,. The comhairle ceantair consists of its officers and two delegates from each cumann in the area.
Cumainn The base of Sinn Fein is the cumann. Cumainn are established in such areas as the Ard Chomhairle or authorised comhairle ceantair directs. A Cumann consists of not less than five members, the recommended maximum number of members being 12. The cumann, as a component part of Sinn Fein, brings the policies of the party to the people in their local area.
Departments There are a number of departments within Sinn Fein which specialise in different areas of political work. These include Publicity, Prisoner of War, Cultural, Women, Education and Trade Union Departments, and Foreign Affairs Bureau which deals with international affairs and Irish solidarity abroad.
Sinn Fein Press Office, 44 Parnell Square, Dublin 1