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Who wants to be a republican? Parties vie for nationalist vote

(Barry McCaffrey, Irish News)

One hundred years after the founding of Sinn Féin, Barry McCaffrey hears how a range of parties now claim to be the true voice of 'republicanism'.

On Saturday, Gerry Adams was the main speaker at a conference in Co Monaghan to mark Sinn Féin's centenary celebrations.

However, over the last year a number of other nationalist parties, north and south of the border, have been laying claim to the title of Ireland's true republican party.

In October Fianna Fail leader Bertie Ahern revealed plans to reinstate a military parade to commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising and the War of Independence.

In what was seen as a direct attack on Sinn Féin, Mr Ahern said the Irish people needed to "reclaim the spirit of 1916, which is not the property of those who have abused and debased the title of republicanism".

In August, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny also announced that his party intended to commemorate the founding of Sinn Féin and the legacy of former IRA leader Michael Collins.

Mr Kenny too claimed there was a huge gulf between the party's founder Arthur Griffith and Gerry Adams's leadership of Sinn Féin.

"Today's Sinn Féin merely offers outdated and discredited policies, and an approach to politics that only serves as a warning to the present generation of the risks associated with a flirtation with a party that shares nothing but the wording of the party founded by Griffith and none of the true republican idealism of Collins," he said.

SDLP leader and Foyle MP Mark Durkan has also claimed that his party reflects"true republicanism".

"In the 21st century, Irish republicanism must not be allowed to be used as a synonym for a narrow nationalism," he said.

"Those of us that share in the true republican ideals of unity among Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter must stand against those that would denigrate and degrade those ideals in a rush for domination over other traditions."

Sinn Féin assembly member Gerry Kelly claimed that the electorate would not be taken in by political rivals' apparent "new-found interest in republicanism".

"People will not be fooled by what Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the SDLP are trying to do," he said.

"They chose to ignore the ideals of republicanism for decades and are now trying to rebrand themselves for political gain."

However, despite a political dogfight as to who is the 'real' republican party, Professor Paul Bew of Queen's University Belfast believes none of the present-day nationalist parties has any direct connection with the founders of Sinn Féin.

"The problem for all the parties is that they can all claim to be the inheritors of Sinn Féin's founders, but the textures of opinion of modern-day nationalists bear little or no connection with the likes of de Valera and Collins," he said.

"In the 1920s de Valera said that he would rather have an unfree Ireland if the Irish language was to remain intact.

"If Bertie Ahern or any of the other leaders stood up and said that today they would be laughed at.

"Every generation of politicians that comes along tries to reinvent the traditional ideological mantle, but the reality is that things move on.

"Despite what the various leaders have said about laying claim to the title of republicanism there is no sense that anyone has gained any ground.

"The reality is that the status quo has remained the same.

"It remains to be seen who, if anyone, will win out in the end."

November 29, 2005

This article appeared first in the November 28, 2005 edition of the Irish News.

This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News