An onslaught like no other

The most important thing in the present political situation is for decent people to keep self-confident and steady.

The real crisis is not about what will happen to Sinn Féin – Sinn Féin will survive this crisis and will come out of it with an even clearer vision of its own policies and meaning. So that is that.

No, the real crisis is the steady and deliberate destruction of democratic rights which people have struggled to create and protect for 100 years and more.

Gay Mitchell, speaking on behalf of Fine Gael, said his party and others had brought Sinn Féin into the democratic political process. They did not. It was the votes of we the voters that did that. And it is our votes, the votes of the people, the voters, that will keep them there.

The Mitchell statement means that his party has rejected the democratic principle that the mandate of politicians comes from the people. According to Mr Mitchell, the mandate of hundreds of thousands of voters can be neutralised by other parties if they choose to do it. That is wrong and a reversal of democratic principles.

It has already been pointed out here many times that an appalling onslaught is being made on what freedoms and liberties we have. As usual this is being done on the backs of people who have been made to appear undesirable. It has happened before. Governments find their black sheep and, on the pretence of curbing the black sheep’s activities, take away everybody's liberties.

Some years ago in the United States I talked often with a man called Jim Hoffman who worked very hard for democracy in Ireland. He said to me:

“When talking to the Irish American community, talk to them about Ireland, certainly, but also, please, talk to them about how their own Bill of Rights and their own Constitution are being dismantled day by day.” Jim Hoffman was right. That taking apart of the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights has been happening ever since and will happen even more in the coming years of the Bush administration. The people over there will be lucky also if there is not a move afoot to change their laws so that Bush can get yet another term of office. The opposition is so weak that it could just happen.

Riding on the back of an IRA which was not a serious threat to them at the time, the old Stormont government created a series of unjust laws of which any dictatorship would be proud. And kept them. On the back of social but not military agitation by republicans, London and Dublin created yet more laws of the same kind. And kept them too.

Riding on the back of a military campaign by republicans, the two governments created further laws including censorship of all opinion contrary to that of governments. And there was not, and there is not, any sign that those laws will be removed once a political crisis is over. Those laws to control the population, from Connemara to East Anglia, are there to stay. If you let them.

The struggle for political power in Ireland is reaching an intensity now which rivals that of the Irish power struggles of the 1920s and the European power struggles of the 1930s. That is the real crisis and standing almost alone in this tornado of hysterical propaganda is Sinn Féin which is under attack not just for its own sake but for the sake of those inconvenient liberties which can be destroyed also if the present mass attack succeeds. How much of our right to due process remains, for instance? Or the rights of property as guaranteed by the 1937 Irish Constitution? Or the duty of police to guard the lives and freedoms of citizens?

Mr Mitchell's statement was not the only disturbing one of the last few days. Seamus Mallon was quoted in the media as saying that people in West Belfast, Tyrone and South Armagh did not want policing because policing would mean an end to criminality. He seems to have issued a ‘clarification’ later but by then the propaganda had been made and the effect probably produced. The labelling of a whole community as lawless has echoes of the 1920s and ’30s. Of the kind of politics we vowed would never happen again. Now it is happening again.

Public representatives being howled down in television and radio programmes by packed panels of antagonists, all the resources of the government and media united in an onslaught which is against Sinn Féin today and will be against SDLP in the North and the Irish Labour Party in the south tomorrow. “They came for the Jews but because I wasn't a Jew I said nothing...”

However, out of evil cometh good. The present whipped-up campaign to destroy Irish republicanism, and after that Irish nationalism, and after that to install what extreme conservatives will call “strong government” will give republicans an opportunity to re-state – and where necessary to re-invigorate – the old and honourable republican traditions of upright behaviour among all its friends and adherents. We all remember with gratitude the republicans who were so insistent on high standards. We even at times felt slightly uncomfortable in their presence, as if we were trying hard but were afraid we might find some guilty secret on our own consciences. Those people are upright and bearers of the best tradition of republicans.
Their day has come, now more than ever.

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