I am 18, I have never experienced the tragic war that was brought to Ireland. I have never been subjected to war because of the great people who came before me. If they hadn’t had given what they had, I may have become a “casualty” of the war in Ireland. For this, I respect the Good Friday Agreement and I appreciate the sacrifice and struggle that went into earning it.
I live in west Belfast, a community that was brutalised and continually attacked by British forces, and where many people lost their lives. Would I have had to stand at the barricades or engage in military activity to defend my community? Potentially.
Thankfully, I am the first generation in Ireland since 1171 who haven’t been engaged in conflict. I can attribute this success to the Republican leadership. I can now prosper, educate myself about our history, and confidently express my views as a Republican.
It was courageous people like Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams that decided to sit down and negotiate in order to make this possible. Moreover, they were both charismatic enough to ‘sell it’ to the wider movement so that the theory of a United Ireland through political means could work in practice.
In 1981, would anyone have thought they would see Martin McGuinness and the Rev. Ian Paisley sharing power, working together and genuinely enjoying each other’s company? Isn’t it great that today that we can thrash out injustice with debate, instead of weapons? It was the Republican leadership that changed the political dynamic of Ireland to make such things possible. The agreement was simply a manifestation of that changing dynamic. For example, it enshrined in law the right of people to be whatever nationality they wished and it created a clear, democratic and peaceful path to a united Ireland. It recognised that the situation in the north was different and that it required a different approach.
The most important part of the agreement is that across Ireland over 85% of votes cast on the agreement’s referenda were in favour of it, percentages practically unheard of in politics.
The point being made here is that the Good Friday Agreement changed Ireland in a positive way. It removed the need for an armed struggle because freedom could be won politically. It created peace because it created a viable political situation. As well as uniting people, the agreement gave a common cause of peace. Now, the “two communities” can live together, work together and socialise together, something that was relatively impossible during the conflict. There is a consensus that each has a right to their own identity and politics.
We can’t throw this away.
Sinn Féin will not throw this away. We have progressed as a party and are moving with the times. When our leader Martin passed, Michelle took the lead and oversaw two huge victories, in terms of Westminster and Stormont. We then had the Ard Fheis in which Gerry Adams announced he would step down as Uachtarán, signalling a major shift for the party. Mary Lou was elected at the special Ard Fheis and the one thing I took away, was that she wouldn’t be filling Gerry’s shoes because she had brought her own. I get the sense that
Mary Lou wants to change the party even more, which can only be a good thing, as on the arrival of a new leader, change is needed in order to avoid stagnation.
So, what does the future hold for Sinn Féin and Republicanism? I feel that we are on the road towards a United Ireland. However, nothing is certain and it will be Sinn Féin’s grassroots activism that will clinch a referendum. Michelle O’Neill has outlined the job we need to do. That is, to convince those who “may not want a United Ireland” that it is better for all. (A potentially difficult task, but it is one that is one that will be undertaken with the same vigour and determination as always.)
In the immediate future, we need to get the local government in the 6 counties back up and running on the right basis. We can’t spend another ten years standing still and there can be “no return to the status quo.” If we "jump back" into government on the wrong terms or in bad faith, we will see Stormont collapse over and over again. It is Sinn Féin that wants the institutions to work, not the DUP. They have always been against the Good Friday Agreement and are currently using their position in Westminster to attempt to destroy it. They attempt to destroy the agreement by acting in bad faith, seeking a hard Brexit, undermining the institutions and disrespecting the nationality of people on our island, the list is almost endless. We must reject this, as the Good Friday Agreement needs to be respected and nurtured because it is what is best for all.
From the Armalite to the ballot box, the Republican movement is forever transformed. I can only thank Adams, McGuinness and the rest of the leadership for changing the political dynamic enough so that an agreed Ireland is just within our grasp. To my friends from other political persuasions, we need to work together to protect and defend the Good Friday Agreement as it is under attack, but together we can. Within my own party, I look forward to the continued leadership of Mary Lou and Michelle, and there are exciting times ahead. We are the “risen people” who will continue the “fight for freedom”, equality and peace.
Caoimhín McCann attends Rathmore Grammar School in Dunmurry and studies Religion, Sociology and Spanish. He is also a Sinn Féin activist in Lagmore.