Sunday, 4 December 2011

The Makers of Change

 Momentum with McGuinness
The Green Tide Surges Forward

It is a measure of the sense of political urgency with which the Sinn Féin leadership views the economic crisis in Ireland and particularly the 26 Cos. that we decided to stand Martin McGuinness in the Presidential election.

To borrow a phrase first used by the same political establishment which institutionalised the corrupt and gombeen practices, now a template for modern Irish politics and economic policy; the last 2 years in particular have been ‘GUBU-esque’ – grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented.

The southern economy is now mortgaged to the IMF, ECB and EU. Fine Gael and Labour are recycling the same policies which wrecked the economy, while Fianna Fail try to ‘con’ us all that none of this had anything to do with them while in government. Meanwhile in the 6 cos the British Government has slashed 4 billion sterling from the northern economy.

Currently there are 507,700 unemployed in Ireland.

Politics and economics are always about choices. Today Ireland is a byword for what happens when the wrong choices are made.

This economic crisis and the political establishment’s response to it are an anathema to republicanism.

Instead we choose change. Our political strategy is based upon a vision of change in Irish society. It’s all about attracting, persuading and winning the popular support to make positive change in citizens’ lives, while advancing our vision of a new united Republic.

The defining characteristics of modern republicanism are our strategy and leadership. So faced with crushing austerity, cutbacks, unemployment and emigration, it was an obvious decision to contest the Presidential election.

We judged that Martin’s candidacy was the most strategic way to positively impact upon the prevailing political situation in the 26 Cos, and nationally. The decision was made carefully with due consideration to building upon the electoral and political alternative Sinn Féin has delivered since the February 2011 general election; providing leadership and a real political choice in the midst of the economic crisis gripping the country; and our overall strategy for change.

Standing Martin in this election campaign was a bold move. And yes, it was a strategic initiative – unlike any undertaken before.

It was also high risk, because the negative offensive from establishment politicians and media were inevitable.

But the potential to popularise republican politics among a greater cross section of popular opinion, north and south, and to give voters the choice of positive leadership, in the face of hopelessness, far outweighed any reservations or doubts.

Put simply; contesting this election was the right thing to do!

Sinn Féin chose to give leadership.

And, 243,000 voters vindicated that decision.

Sinn Féin’s vote increased. New political momentum was injected into the party project in the south. The election agenda was set by Sinn Féin; republicanism was further mainstreamed, and the politics of a united Ireland were popularised. It was also an election which energised republican people everywhere, throughout Ireland and the Diaspora.

Sometime after the February general election the Party leadership set an organisational and electoral growth target to achieve 13% share of the vote by 2014 in the south. That target was eclipsed by this Presidential election result in 8 months!

But more, Martin McGuinness attracted an overall total of 391,000 first and second preference votes, representing 22% of all first and second preference votes cast.

In fact, during 2011 arising from the general election, Assembly and Presidential election campaigns over 420,000 citizens gave their first preferences to Sinn Féin.

A mighty result indeed. Testament to the steady application of Sinn Féin’s political strategy for change and its incremental, but growing relevance among our people. Vindication also, of our refusal to stay static, or to accept the status quo.

Of course this takes time. Our trajectory is long-term.

But consider: in 1982, at the outset of our electoral strategy Sinn Féin secured 10.1% and 1% of the vote respectively in Assembly and general elections north and south. Today our share % of the total vote is 26.9 and 13.7 north and south, respectively.

All-Ireland politics were placed centre stage during this Presidential election campaign. Sinn Féin is now irreversibly part of the 26 counties’ political discourse. Our political message struck a massive chord with voters. And, through our work in the Oireachtas and political campaigns in the coming months, it will continue to do so. Simultaneously the Party’s focus in the 6 county Assembly and Executive continues to be on delivering and championing change and equality on a cross-departmental and all-Ireland basis.

Sinn Féin strategy is never static. Republicanism has not advanced by standing still. We must constantly seek new political momentum; set new political challenges for ourselves; and, then adapt with appropriate electoral and organisational plans and programmes.

We need to be very ambitious. Brave, and ambitious enough to always set the bar higher for ourselves.

So what next for republicans?

The next scheduled election will be European elections across the 32 counties, and council elections in the 26 counties in June 2014.

Our electoral ambitions by then should be to achieve 500,000 first preference votes for Sinn Féin.

Yes, half a million!

To elect the maximum number of MEPs; and, a record number of county and town councillors in the south.

But, that will mean building and regenerating the Party organisation; developing political and organisational capacity, and financial and human resources. Specifically Sinn Féin must:

  • recruit more new members;
  • expand the membership base; and in particular, encourage the formation of area Youth Committees;
  • promote the national youth strategy at every level in the Party;
  • devise and implement DEA and LEA based organisational and electoral plans north and south;
  • focus upon localised electoral organisation, structure and training;
  • increase our fundraising efforts;
  • prioritise growth in sales of An Phoblacht in every county and city;
  • integrate all of these tasks with the political strategies and work plans of the 6 and 26 counties Political Directorates;
  • timeframe our approach to delivering on these programmes of work;
  • and, ensure we do so on a strategic, national basis, with maximum political cohesion, at all times.

In the immediate term, our political, publicity and campaign focus must be upon challenging austerity, cutbacks and unemployment north and south; the 26 counties budget and ‘handover’ to the Anglo Irish bondholders; the potential for another European referendum aimed at undermining the 26 counties economic and fiscal sovereignty again; and, the British government inspired welfare reform measures, and continued contraction in the Treasury block grant to the 6 counties economy. Meanwhile, the campaign for a united Ireland needs driven forward here and abroad.

This Presidential campaign was the most ideological election in the south since 1922.

The political fault lines of the 26 counties state were exposed – partitionism, graft and cronyism, gombeenism, and the ascendancy of a political, corporate elite with no regard for the welfare of citizens.

Republicanism was energised by the campaign across the island. That translated into enormous practical support, especially in the north.

Many from the diverse worlds of culture, arts, business, sport and civic society both north and south, publicly endorsed the leadership that Martin’s candidacy represented.

A national conversation began through this outreach and interaction, which now needs to be continued by Sinn Féin. The language and concepts underpinning that conversation on a new Republic, and what it should mean politically, economically, culturally and socially need to be addressed by republicans, and mainstreamed within wider society.

The challenge now for each republican is to work collectively to start that discussion within every sector of Irish society, and particularly, with unionist people.

Moving forward from this election we need to actualise, and demonstrate our ambition for change in every way possible: to be inspirational – with the language we use, our political activism and campaigns, and the vision we promote.

The republican project and vision for change was powerfully advanced by the Presidential election. Republican values went toe to toe with the hydra of partitionism, cronyism and gombeenism.

Another milestone on the road to a new republic. A new Green Tide.

But we also need to listen to what the people said during this election. And, we need to absorb the lessons of the campaign. Complacency is our enemy.

This wasn’t just another election.

New strategic opportunities now exist. They are national. In every county. But to continue successfully making change we need to raise the bar higher. There has never been a better time to popularise republicanism, to build the republican alternative, and grow Sinn Féin.

We need to harness the potential this strategic initiative created, by applying ourselves with energy, organisation, unity of purpose, cohesion and renewed strategic focus.

Let’s ensure it’s ‘game on’ for 2014.

Change is the talisman of today’s republicans. Think about it.

We are the change makers!

Campaign for a United Ireland

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