I attended Sinn Féin’s ‘Towards a United Ireland’ conference in the Mansion House yesterday (Saturday 21st January), which was an excellent event with brilliant debates on one of the most pressing issues facing us in Ireland today – the partition of our country.Contributions from Mary Lou McDonald, the unionist commentator Alex Kane and Cat Boyd of Scotland’s Radical Independence Campaign were particularly insightful. What struck me about the conference was the undeniable vibrancy that exists within Sinn Féin at the minute, something that’s lacking in most other political parties.
However, the conference highlighted many of the shortcomings of Sinn Féin’s vision for a united Ireland. Predictably, one of the arguments put forward by a range of Sinn Féin speakers in favour of a united Ireland was “tax harmonisation” and “foreign investment’, which actually means extending the gombeen tax haven economy of the south to our six north-eastern counties. If the price of ending partition is taking part in the one of the greatest injustices of our age – global tax avoidance – then it’s not something that’s going to engage working class communities, and justifiably so.
A few mentions were made about bringing in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil into a broad coalition to achieve a united Ireland. There was even mention of “social partners” in an era when the bosses have ripped up social partnership agreements and are going on the offensive against workers’ pay and basic rights. This stems from the false idea that there is such thing as a “national interest”, which ignores the reality of class conflict within any given nation. FG and FF are the parties of landlords, developers and unscrupulous bosses. Indeed, just a few days ago, these parties prevented a bill being passed in the Dáil which would have made it more difficult for landlords to evict people and make them homeless. And recently Blueshirt beast Michael Noonan sang the praises of foreign vulture funds that are driving up rents and forcing families to sleep in cars and damp, miserable hotel rooms. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are not our allies and progressives have nothing in common with them. They’re our enemies of our people.
All that being said, Sinn Féin’s event was a positive one that will hopefully kick start a long overdue debate on the ridiculous division of our country. The main thing I took from it was to reinforce something I’ve been thinking to myself for a while. If Irish independence is seen as the cause of only Sinn Féin, it will never happen. A campaign for independence needs to be broad, encompassing socailists, trade unionists, feminists, environmentalists and other progressives including, of course, Sinn Féin. In order to do this, Sinn Féin supporters need to stop claiming that People Before Profit do not support a united Ireland, a falsehood repeated by Gerry Adams again yesterday. Whatever about the Socialist Party/AAA, whose views on partition is atrocious, People Before Profit have always supported Irish independence. Misrepresenting the views of people who are your natural allies will do nothing to build a mass movement.
The encouraging thing is, there are already cross-border campaigns today that can be built on; the campaign for marriage equality, for instance, as well as the struggle for abortion rights, the Right2Water movement and the huge demonstrations we saw all over the country in summer 2014 in solidarity with Palestine.
A campaign for our full independence needs to tap into the seething anger we are seeing here and across Europe against neoliberal capitalism. We need to be clear that our vision of Ireland is one that repudiates the counter-revolutionary Ireland of Blueshirts, landlords, priests and gombeens. We want to see a society that does not help multinational corporations to avoid paying tax; one that does not force families to sleep in cars; one where we have more to offer our young people than oppressive low-paid call centre jobs or the prospect of emigration; one that makes the necessary shift away from fossil fuels and towards green energy; a society where our children are not segregated at the age of four in order to be indoctrinated by religious institutions; a country that opens its borders to refugees fleeing war and famine, and puts an end to the inhumanity of direct provision.
Realising this vision of another Ireland is entirely possible, but it’s up to progressives to get the strategy right and ensure it happens in our lifetime. Otherwise, we’ll be left with the rotten sectarian colony in the north and the tax haven racket in the south for the foreseeable future. Let’s grasp the opportunity to build a radical independence campaign and change our country for the better.
Onwards to the socialist republic.