Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Sinn Fein Ard Fheis: Attitudes showing real signs of change

Sinn Fein Ard Fheis Day 2. (LtoR) Deputy first Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness, TD Caoimhghin O Caolain and President of Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams greet delegates after he delivered his Presidential address at the end of the Party's Ard Fheis at the INEC, Killarney.

Is Sinn Fein schizophrenic or just growing into democracy?

Inconsistencies were easy to spot at the ard fheis.

Party members, our survey shows, are still reluctant to shop dissidents to gardai or the PSNI.

Yet they say they support law and order and at last year’s poll very few (15%) would oppose a relative joining the PSNI.

Martin McGuinness claims outreach to unionists isn’t meant to turn them into nationalists but Gerry Adams says a united Ireland will come about by persuading unionists and that is the strategy now.

In Northern Ireland Sinn Fein implements cuts, but in the Republic it opposes austerities. If you freeze these attitudes, like a picture, republicans appear divided and contradictory on key issues.

If you view them over time, like a film, it seems obvious that they are really evolving quite fast. The party is midway through a learning curve.

The number (36%) prepared to report a dissident arms dump to the police is far higher than it would have been 10 years ago and it will probably be higher still in another decade.

The notion of informing on those fighting British rule is one which republicans take time to get their heads round, but the process is under way. The party is confident, there is strong support for the leadership’s ability to chart a course and there are no signs of a split.

Declan Kearney, the party’s national chair, talks of a continuing peace process which is “not without difficulties ... but which is irreversible”.

Once the need for a peaceful strategy is accepted, a lot follows and it takes time to sink in.

Unqualified opposition to the dissidents is one implication. Another is accepting that unity requires unionist consent. If you accept that, it follows that if unionists do not consent you have to make the best of it.

Sinn Fein’s strategic focus is on a strengthening cross-border co-operation and governing in Dublin as well as Belfast.

Doing this by peaceful means involves taking account of what non-republicans say — a big shift from preaching that every generation must shed its blood.

Republicans believe they are driving change across society but the most noticeable changes are in their own attitudes.

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