of us who have been involved in the Stop the War Coalition
have been encouraged by the ability of various organisations
and individuals to come together and develop a real
and meaningful broad based campaign against the ongoing
war in Iraq. Unlike earlier attempts, such as during
the NATO bombing of Serbia, there is now a serious
political force which has expressed itself in small
and large demonstrations and protests around the country.
The Coalition combines different political parties,
trade unions, NGO's and individuals, many of whom
have profound disagreements which each other on the
detail of the anti-war campaign and political issues
closer to home.
Yet despite all of these differences, the Coalition
continues to grow and clearly has captured the popular
mood across the country.
Yet just at the very moment when it looks like we
are overcoming the pettey bickering and infighting
which disabled earlier campaigns, the same immaturity
appears to be raising its head. Monday nights hijacking
of the Stop The War Rally in Sprucefield by sectional
interests within the Coalition serves nobody's interests.
Ignoring the agreed plan of action by the Coalition,
heckling speakers, and embarking on opportunistic
protests is counter productive and weakens the overall
campaign. This is not to say that individual organisations
within the Coalition do not have the right to criticise
others publicly - clearly they do - but such criticism
must be in a form which does not damage the cohesion
and effectiveness of the Coalition itself.
A simple example of such opportunism is to be found
on the Indymenia website this afternoon. A discussion
link begins with a spoof statement placed by someone
claiming to represent the Sinn Fein press office.
Clearly there are activists out there who are failing
to recognise the task at hand, which is focusing our
energies on the anti-war protests. These activists
want to waste time and energy on trying to fragment
and split the most successfull anti-war coalition
in Ireland in the last number of decades.
Sinn Fein's position on the war is clear. We are opposed
to Bush and Blair's intervention in Iraq. We have
stated it publicly. We have stated it in meetings
with Bush and Blair directly. We have mobilised and
protested and spoken at rallies.
The reality of Tuesday's meeting in Hillsborough is
that the current round of negotiations on the Irish
peace process are crucial for the survival of the
Good Friday Agreement. Refusing to attend any of the
sessions, including that with Bush and Blair, would
mean leaving the talks to the unionists, with all
the likely consequences that would bring.
Many Sinn Fein activists such as myself are uncomfortable
about engaging with Bush and Blair, but the successful
development of the peace process is vital, and in
that context we must engage with all relevant parties
and leaders, domestic and international, to ensure
that the republican position is effective.
While I respect the feelings of anger and disapointment
expressed by many comrades outside the Sinn Fein organisation
on this issue, people need to realise the importance
of these negotiations, and the negative impact if
Sinn Fein withdrew from them.
It does not surprise me that some organisations fail
to understand the importance of these negotiations,
or indeed that others want to make short term political
capital out of attacking Sinn Fein. Thats the nature
of politics. Nor does it surprise me that anti-Sinn
Fein republicans chose to take the opportunity to
attack Sinn Fein. But then that's politics.
However, people need to think of the consequences
of fragmenting the anti-war coalition. Our objective,
throughout this campaign, is to manage the diverse
organisational and ideological differences which exist
between the constitutent parts of the coalition, and
to mobilise effective, joint action. Individual organisations
have the right to criticise others, but hijacking
rallys, heckling speakers, engaging in negative and
wasteful debate, or indeed posting fake statements
is counter productive and only serves the interests
of those supporting the war.
This anti-war coalition is a positive and refreshing
development for all radical, left and progressive
forces in Ireland. Lets ensure that it doesn't go
the way of earlier failed attempts, through petty
bickering and narrow point scoring. Less diversions
and more united action is what we need.
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