Extracts from 'Signposts to Independence and Socialism' by Gerry Adams (1988)
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These extracts are taken from the book:
Signposts to Independence and Socialism
by Gerry Adams (1988)
Paperback 31pp Out of Print
Originally published by:
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This pamphlet contains a small selection of recent speeches by Gerry Adams and an article written while he was in Long Kesh.
In these writings Gerry Adams addresses himself and those who are seeking political and social revolution in Ireland to the urgent task of building a mass movement for national democracy and socialism. He places emphasis on making republican politics relevant to the lives of the working class and small farmers — the majority class in this country — and outlines the way in which this should be done.
Gerry Adams is President of Sinn Fein
SPEECH GIVEN DURING A
IT IS Important to restate briefly the broad objectives of Sinn Fein. In general terms they encompass a vision of an Ireland free from foreign Interference, free from exploitation, deprivation, sectarianism and poverty. Sinn Fein has a very specific view of the world and of the type of Irish society required to serve the material, spiritual and cultural needs of our people. If there Is to be an end to inequality; If the resources of this Island and this nation are to be used for the benefit of the majority of our people rather than for the enrichment of an elite and wealthy capitalist minority then Sinn Fein believes that Irish society should be organised by its citizens so that the ownership of Ireland belongs to them.
Such a society, we believe, should be organised along a system of economic democracy — that is a system of socialism tailored to meet Irish needs as well as a system of political democracy which places power where it belongs — with Irish citizens and their representatives. In other words, the working people of this island, regardless of religious differences and consisting of both urban and rural communities, should be in control of their lives. How this system is created and indeed whether or not it is created at all is of course a question for the people of this island.
It is Sinn Fein’s main business to convert people to our view and to organise alongside them to make this vision a reality. This is our right, and the choice of the type of society they would choose is also the right of our people.
This is the essence of the meaning of the right to national self-determination, Of course, the exercise of this right has its external as well as its internal aspects. Our attitude to other nations, our respect for their rights, our role in the struggle for a better and peaceful world are all part of the exercising of our right to national self-determination.
Despite all the prostestations to the contrary, we are denied this right. How could it be otherwise? How can we exercise national self-determination? You cannot use what you do not have. Therefore we cannot shape a system to serve our needs when we are denied the right to the means for doing just that. Of course, those with a partitionist view, those who have tried to present this state as a nation, those who promote the belief that the border is a permanent boundary, will cite the many freedoms enjoyed by citizens here. In a way they are right of course — things here are not as bad as they are in the North. Citizens here do have the right to elect a government and at different periods such governments have advanced slightly in terms of the restrictions placed upon this state by the treaty arrangements of 1922.
The symbols of freedom have been won but the essence of freedom is still denied us. Freedom is much more than the right to vote. It is the right to fulfilment, the right to equality, the right to meaningful employment, the right not to be forced to emigrate, the right not to be poor. There are always ‘good’ reasons advanced to explain away such difficulties — after all ‘we can’t all live on a small island,’ ‘foreign debt can only be paid off by cuts in public spending, by cuts in Health and Education’ etc., etc.
A lot of the blame lies with successive Dublin governments and it is not my intention to try to absolve them from their share of the responsibility for the economic and social mess over which they preside. But even if the conservative political parties were sacked by the electorate and even if we could imagine a less conservative administration was elected then that administration could only improve the situation. It could not correct it, unless it was prepared to set aside the parameters enforced upon it by a foreign power. In other words unless it was prepared to win back the right to national self-determination it could not exercise the means to correct the situation because without the means we cannot exercise the right. How then is national self-determination denied us? It is denied us by the partition of this country.
Partition, as much as the conservative governments of this state whose election it guarantees, is as big an obstruction to improvements in this state as it is to our progress nationally, on every issue of importance. Whether economic, social or cultural, whether in terms of the ethos by which society here is guided, whether in terms of social justice, partition is the single greatest evil from which all these great defects flow.
Partition distorts our politics, sets restrictions on our economic growth, and dictates our social outlook and our cultural values.
Partition divides our people not just in the six counties but between the six counties and the twenty-six counties.
Partition saps our national morale and diverts our energies as a nation as well as the ‘carnival of reaction’ which is established and maintains in the six counties, partition has a real and in-depth effect on affairs in this state.
For these reasons as well as for the crying need to end the unjust and immoral system, which is the essence of British rule in the North, partition should be ended. That should be the single greatest priority of all progressive elements in this state and the primary task of a Dublin government, especially a government composed of a party which calls itself the Republican party. That this is not the case is a national disgrace.
The fundamental republican aim has always been to get Britain to abandon its partition policy and adopt instead a policy of reunifying Ireland — that is withdrawing from Ireland and handing over sovereignty to an all-Ireland government.
Republicans seek to force Britain to stop supporting the Irish minority — the unionists — and to concede to the indivisible national rights of the Irish people as a whole. All Irish democrats, republicans and socialists as well as nationalists, deny that unionists have any right of veto over the partition of Ireland and the British connection. That is a matter of principle.
But all sensible people agree that the consent of Northern Protestants, like any other interest group, is desirable on the constitutional, financial and political arrangements needed to replace partition. Sinn Fein has long accepted that Northern Protestants have fears about their civil and religious liberties and we have consistently insisted that these liberties must be guaranteed and protected.
We do not intend to turn back the pages of history. We offer unionists a settlement based on their uniting with the rest of the Irish people and ending sectarianism. We offer them equality. We need them because a peaceful, just and united society in Ireland must include them and because,, despite differences fostered by foreign interference, the Protestant working class are our brothers and sisters. We do not seek to exclude them. On the contrary, we seek to include them.
The present ‘unity by consent’ formula is a confused fudge, a Catch 22, which shifts the terms of the debate about partition away from Britain’s intransigence and policy to maintain the union. It puts the responsibility for the British connection on to the unionists. But of course it is not a loyalty or a love for the unionists which keeps the British government in Ireland. There is no such thing as a unilateral right to union. if the British wished they have every right to seek a separation.
The problem is that at present their government does not want to do this. The terms of the debate need to focus on this. The focus of pressure must be applied on this key issue — that British policy is not to disengage or reunify Ireland at present but to stay here indefinitely and uphold unionism as a means of doing this.
It is hardly surprising that this is the case. The Hillsborough Treaty, as Margaret Thatcher correctly says, does not represent ‘any threat to the union of Northern Ireland with the United Kingdom, the Agreement reinforces the union.
This is the treaty which Dublin governments and the SDLP were committed to. It is little wonder that London can treat them with contempt.
What is needed in Ireland is the broadest possible agreement and endorsement of the internationally established principle of the right of the Irish people to national self-determination coupled with an acceptance that Britain has no legitimate right to be in Ireland. Maximum Irish political unity based on these principles and geared towards persuading the British government to change from its present policy to one of disengagement would put the responsibility where it belongs — with the British government.
It would also represent a strategy which would win allies for the Irish side among progressive forces in Britain itself and internationally. Such a strategy would include an international and diplomatic offensive by the Dublin government. It would also be the first time that Dublin and others professing a united Ireland objective — whatever happened to the Dublin Forum Report? —actually had a strategy for reunification. At present, within the terms of Hillsborough, their strategy is, as Thatcher says, ‘to reinforce the union.
The strategy must be to end the union. The strategy must be to persuade the British government to make disengagement in the context of a united Ireland the objective of British government policy. Once that becomes the British objective, the democratic principle contained in it is continued through its implementation.
That is, the political, constitutional, financial and security aspects of such a new policy would be based on the wishes of the majority with due provision for safeguarding minority (i.e. unionist) rights.
In our document Scenario for Peace, Sinn Fein has suggested, for discussion, measures by which such a course could be undertaken. The important, crucial and most fundamental step is of course that the British government changes its current policy. It will do this much more speedily if it can no longer count on support from Dublin and if it is faced with pressure from Dublin, supported by the international good-will which Ireland enjoys and which we can enlist to support the Irish cause.
Coupled with such a strategy there is also a continued need to win improvements on the ground on the issue of democratic rights for nationalists in the six counties. In this the 20th anniversary of the Civil Rights struggle. the denial of these rights continues. They were rediscovered, in the wake of the hunger-strikes, by the Irish establishment and produced by them as ‘causes of alienation’. They were to be erased, we were told, by the Hillsborough Treaty. Mention of these issues in inter-governmental meetings has, however, had no effect on the British. The issues remain and British willingness to increase them is proven by the events of the past few months.
What is needed is firm pressure on Britain and a campaign of international lobbying and publicity coupled with national political activity.
By such means will Britain be forced to review its attitudes to the use of plastic bullets, strip-searching, crown forces’ brutalities, ill treatment of prisoners, torture in interrogation centres, the repatriation of prisoners, the release of SOSPs, discrimination in employment and high nationalist unemployment, the PTA, reviews of life sentences and cultural rights.
Of course Dublin would be better able to pursue such objectives if it was free from criticism itself on similar issues.
Thus there should be an end to indeterminate sentences for life prisoners in Portlaoise. They should be given release dates.
Don O’Leary, serving five years in Portlaoise Prison for possession of a poster, should be released.
Censorship laws should be scrapped.
Extradition should end.
Some of the Irish taxpayers’ money now used to maintain partition should be used to fund a European Court Appeal by the Birmingham Six.
The British government needs to be taught to respect the rights. of Irish citizens. The education of the British government in this regard starts by our standing up for our rights and by our insisting that our public representatives do likewise.
Similarly, the task of persuading the British government to adopt a policy of disengagement from Ireland in the context of Irish reunification would be hastened by the adoption of this policy in Ireland as a national demand which transcends all party political differences.
Such a policy will not only ensure a permanent peace in the north and an end to sectarianism and division there, it will also advance the economic, spiritual and social welfare of this nation and initiate the healing process which we all deserve and desire.
A BUS RIDE TO INDEPENDENCE
SPEECH GIVEN TO SINN FEIN
AT LAST YEAR’S internal conference I dealt in a general sense with the theme ‘The Importance of Republican Politics’. This year much of what I have to say is based also on that theme, and should be seen as part of the continuing process of the development of my own politics and of republican politics in general.
Very little of what I have to say today is new. It has all been said and written before and most of what I outline here contains the classical position on the relationship between nationalism and socialism and the ingredients for achieving a successful revolution.
Indirectly, I have attempted to address some but not all of the issues which are currently subjects of debate within Sinn Fein. I do this by putting them into their general political context.
In some cases I can be accused of not facing issues directly. If this is so, it is because this address is not an egotistical attempt to provide neat solutions to the many problems facing us. Such solutions will only be found in the widest possible discussions and open debate as people of different degrees of consciousness work things out.
This paper attempts to assist this necessary and on-going process by outlining some considerations which I hope you will find helpful in future discussions.
We are all engaged in a process of co-education and collective consciousness-raising, therefore, I welcome comments and constructive criticisms on what I have to say. It is through such a process of co-education and by the formulation of policy that we will achieve the crucial aim of republican politics, which is the maximising of all our resources towards the attainment of real and complete national self-determination and independence.
This objective can be compared, perhaps in a silly way, to a destination which we want to travel to. For example, let us say for some unimaginable reason somebody persuaded us that if a hundred of us were to get to Cork City by next week we could use our combined skills there to secure a much better way of life and that this was conditional only on a hundred of us getting there.
Of course there would be obstacles on our route which would have to be overcome but these would be merely logistical difficulties which could be overcome by handpicking our contingent.
Now, if a hundred of us were persuaded to set off for Cork merely because of rhetoric we wouldn’t have travelled very far outside this hall before doubts would set in.
After walking for a while some of us would be tired and drop out. They only went along for the crack. They hadn’t really thought it out.
After some time some of us would get hungry. They would also drop out.
Somewhere else along the route somebody else may decide, for example that Cashel is as nice a place as Cork and anyway they never really intended to go any further from the start.
In the course of the journey recriminations would start — it’s better going this way or that — it’s better doing it like this— so eventually if any of us ever got to Cork our original one hundred would have diminished and those remaining would be disunited and divided.
However, if first of all we got agreement on going to Cork, an agreement on what that meant, we could more easily get agreement on how to get there. We could deploy ourselves accordingly, developing a policy from this basis and planning our strategy and tactics to suit our resources, and the prevailing conditions.
We could agree to take a bus, or a train or even to walk. We could know that not everybody wanted to go the whole way but if we planned accordingly on short-term objectives we could pick up new recruits on route. We could even agree on going from bus-stop to bus-stop, from short-term objective to short-term objective, taking the maximum number with us each time.
The important thing of course is that those really committed to getting to Cork would be in charge and that they would proceed with the maximum support from the maximum number involved. In that way we would arrive united and intact.
To understand our struggle it is worthwhile starting with this basic proposition. To use Connolly’s phrase, our main objective, our destination, is the reconquest of Ireland by the Irish people. This means the expulsion of imperialism in all its forms, political, economic, military, social and cultural.
It means the establishment of a real Irish Republic and the organisation of the economy so that all its resources are under Irish control and organised to bring maximum benefit to the people of a 32 county state in which Irish culture and the national identity are strong and confident.
The movement for the reconquest of Ireland, in this sense, must be led by the most radical social forces within the nation. In particular, by the working class — without whom it cannot succeed so that conditions will develop for the establishment of a democratic, socialist state, the reconquest of Ireland by the Irish working class.
Only by understanding this will we understand the relationship between republicanism and socialism. I have heard some of our membership refer to us as a socialist party, or as revolutionary socialists, or as a nationalist party. All very confusing. We need clarity on these issues.
Real national independence, such as I have outlined above, is the prerequisite of socialism. You cannot have socialism in a colony or a neo-colony.
You must have your own government with the power to institute the political and economic policies which constitute socialism.
Socialism is a definite system of society in which the main means of production, distribution and exchange are socially owned and controlled and in which production is based on human need rather than private profit. A socialist society is one where the working class directly or through their representatives run the state. A capitalist society is one where the private owners of capital or their representatives do so.
Republicanism is not a word which defines such a definite system of society. In our case it refers to the struggle to establish national independence in its widest sense and defines a state which is not a monarchy, tyranny or aristocracy but which is democratic. Republicanism is not inherently socialist in the sense that I have defined socialism above, yet, as I have said, it is the prerequisite of socialism in Ireland.
It is also a term most easily understood by the majority of Irish people. They understand it to mean national ‘independence, sovereignty, unity and an end to foreign interference in our affairs. And this is despite the best efforts of the Fianna Fail and SDLP leaderships or Fine Gael to distort its meaning.
Socialism, on the other hand, as far as most people can judge is what socialism does. It means different things to different people and nothing to most people and as we have seen it is in the interests only of one section of people — the working class.
Republicanism, however, is in the interests of wider sections of our people, is more easily understood by them and is seen as a formidable and important political opinion in Irish society.
A republican movement therefore has the potential to be the mass movement for Irish democracy, consisting of all who seek to establish a united and genuinely independent Irish Republic.
Such a Republic is one in which social sections other than the working class may have an interest. Socialists and non-socialists will therefore have a common interest in getting rid of imperialism. In all of this the question of socialist republicanism or republican socialism is an important one for radicals in Ireland today. The term ‘Republican Socialism’ has been used by some, but strictly speaking it is a misnomer. If you say you are a republican socialist you are implying that there is such a thing as a ‘non-republican’ socialist; but of course there is not and cannot be, at least if socialism is used in the classical sense of the term defined here. One cannot be a socialist and NOT be a republican. Connolly, as usual, indicated what the correct term was when he called the party he founded in 1896 the Irish Socialist Republican Party. It follows that if one wishes to use the term ‘socialist’ in defining one’s political position today, the proper term is ‘socialist republican’ and socialist republicanism’, in order to distinguish oneself from non-socialist republicans. The Republican Movement has for decades been the movement of the most radical and determined advocates of Irish unity and real independence. That is what republicanism has meant and means to most people in Ireland.
If people are socialists as well as republicans, it is, of course, perfectly valid that they should call themselves ‘socialist republicans’. But if the Republican Movement as a whole decides to style itself ‘socialist republican’, this implies that there is no place in it for non-socialist republicans, or that non-socialist republicans are in some way second-rate, inferior or less genuine republicans.
This inevitably must narrow the potential support-base of the Republican Movement and enable other movements to claim that they are ‘republican’ though they are not socialist; for example, Fianna Fail or the SDLP. This carries the danger of letting these parties off the political hook, for their leaders will be able to claim that they are the real republicans and that what the ‘republicans’ are offering is some foreign importation called ‘socialism’.
Thus the possibilities of driving a political wedge between the leadership of Fianna Fail and the SDLP on the one hand and their members and rank-and-file supporters on the other will be diminished. But if ‘socialism’ is what is offered as the alternative, it cannot have the same popular appeal and will leave the leadership of these sham ‘republican’ parties politically unscathed.
What will make a movement like ours revolutionary is not whether it is committed to any particular means of achieving revolution, for example street agitation or physical force, but whether all the means it uses — political work, propaganda and mass education, armed struggle, projects of economic resistance— are conducive to achieving the revolutionary end, which in our case is the achievement of real national unity and independence, the reconquest of Ireland. The test of a real revolutionary is his or her consistent, determined and intelligent work for real national independence, whatever the area of the struggle that might be in.
The people who provided us with tea today are doing as sound a job as those who spoke at this podium. Revolutionary work is work which advances the national independence revolution, and it is the art of politics and political judgement which should determine what work should have priority at any moment of time.
As a general principle it can be said that no one form of revolutionary work is inherently superior to any other. The judgement of what form of work is required must be made on the basis of what form is most conducive to and necessary for the national independence struggle in the particular circumstances currently existing.
The armed struggle against occupation forces in the six counties is essential and has been essential for putting Britain under pressure and for indicting the British presence before international opinion. It is equally clear however that armed struggle on its own cannot be successful because the IRA cannot possibly bring enough armed pressure on its own to shift Britain in circumstances from which the Republic would be established.
The armed struggle, as an essential part of the politics of pressure, cannot be abandoned but must be enhanced by the development of a popular anti-imperialist struggle. Sinn Fein must assume major responsibility for developing conditions in which this can happen.
This struggle for national independence requires therefore, the organisation of a mass independence struggle which is republican, progressively nationalist, anti-imperialist and democratic in character. There is no possibility of ending partition and achieving real national independence — never mind socialism — unless a very sizeable section of the Irish people are mobilised to achieve this end.
Mass national independence struggles encompass all the social elements in the nation which are oppressed or held back by imperialism to one degree or another. National independence struggles which are successful, however, are those which are led by the most radical social groups. Independence struggles which are led by the conservative or middle classes, as in Ireland in 1921, tend to compromise with imperialism, because their leading sections benefit from such a compromise.
In Ireland, until partition is got rid of and a united Ireland established, being genuinely left-wing is to be an out-and-out republican. This was the key lesson of James Connolly to socialists in Ireland. That is why he was led, as a socialist, to join Pearse and the other radical republicans and democrats, in a fight to establish an Irish Republic.
If that fight had been successful, Connolly and the socialists would then have been in the best position to advocate the economic and social changes which constitute socialism. They would have proved themselves by their leadership of the independence struggle. That is why it is a political mistake to counterpose republicanism and socialism in Ireland as if they are opposites or antagonistic.
The reality is that socialism, or indeed any other ‘ism’, grounded in Irish circumstances, cannot be achieved without the other. That is why the true socialist will be an active supporter of the republican character of the national independence movement. She/he will realise that unless this character is maintained and unless the most radical social forces are in the leadership of the independence struggle then inevitably it must fail or compromise.
This classical view of the matter contrasts with the ultra-left view, which counterposes republicanism and socialism and which breaks up the unity of the national independence movement by putting forward ‘socialist’ demands that have no possibility of being achieved until real independence is won; the result is that one gets neither independence nor socialism.
Examples of national independence struggles which were broad, multi-class struggles involving all the forces of their respective nations but which were under the control of the conservative or middle class would be India (Nehru), Kenya (Kenyatta), Cyprus (Makarios) and Ireland (De Valera). Examples of national independence struggles with working-class or socialist leadership would be Cuba (Castro), Angola (Neto), Mozambique (Machel) and Nicaragua (Ortega).
In a general sense, therefore, I have outlined the broad character of this phase of our struggle. In a more particular sense we have a job of developing strategies and tactics, of setting objectives and of building a disciplined organisation capable of implementing these strategies and achieving these objectives.
As with the journey to Cork we have first to have agreement on where we are on our objectives. Unless we have agreement on where we are going we will never agree on how to get there.
We have to proceed on the basis of the lowest possible common denominator and at the level of people’s understanding. We have to have not only a common goal but an agreed analysis of the major obstacles in our way. We have to understand those who oppose us. We have to understand why they oppose us. We have to view all this in political terms and develop policies accordingly. The guiding light for such policies must be that they are based on general republican principles and that they bring us somewhere along the road towards our objectives, meeting the needs of the people and the particular conditions which exist. If conditions or people’s perspectives change, policies can change accordingly. The principles don’t change. The objectives can change.
For example, as some objectives are achieved new ones will be needed. Strategy is the planning and directing of all of this and organisation is the uniting of a group of people who can perform a useful role in a co-ordinated, cohesive and disciplined fashion so that the struggle can proceed towards victory. Tactics are merely the methods by which this is managed.
There are no short cuts. Countless people in the past, many of them more capable than us, have fought and died for Irish freedom. We need to have patience. The benefits of opportunistic actions are usually short-lived. Nothing succeeds better than the painstaking business of winning support, many times through mundane, humdrum work. All of us need to be doing this. Winning passive support, converting it into active support, continuously pitching our appeal at the level of people’s understanding.
I wish to give two examples. We need to avoid ultra-republican positions. For example, some Ard Fheis motions demand unconditional support for all IRA actions. Some even call for this to be included in all election material. This is quite unnecessary and merely gives the establishment media the opportunity of diverting public attention from more pertinent Ard Fheis issues.
Similarly in relation to the last Ard Fheis debate on abortion. Sinn Fein’s position on issues like abortion were the most progressive of any party in Ireland today. Before the last Ard Fheis we were also united on this. Now we are divided on our current policy and a considerable lobby is being mobilised to reverse it, a development which if successful will be seen by some observers as a setback.
Our current policy also had a considerable effect on our voters in the Hillsborough by-elections and our opponents exploited this to their best advantage. I raise this not to undermine the current policy. I voted against it but I accept it and defend it as policy. Neither do I want to gag the Ard Fheis on this or any other issue. I merely point it out as an example of an issue which cuts across the strategy of a successful national liberation movement which must be to rally the broadest mass of the people around certain fundamentals and upon an easily grasped programme of points on which people can agree. We need to avoid issues which are too local, partial or divisive.
This is not to say that we should be anti-feminist. On the contrary, I am proud to say that we are not. It is a question of using political judgement in taking up issues and never adopting positions which weaken the overall thrust of the movement towards national freedom.
Other issues can be taken up on other campaigns or in other forms.
And so to the question of abstentionism, an issue which has consistently split this movement. It also needs to be judged in the political context I have outlined here of the general character needed for successful conclusion to this phase of our struggle. Those who argue for the retention of this policy need to do so within a general plan of advancement of this struggle and those who wish to retain it need to understand that the majority of people of this state have given it a legitimacy of sorts. Over the last sixty years partition has had its effects here as much as in the six counties.
Despite its origins in the so-called treaty and civil war and the pro-British settlement of that time, and despite the reactionary nature of its laws and the pro-imperialist character of many of its institutions, the vast majority of people in the 26 counties see the state as their own — imperfect, but their own, nonetheless.
Similarly those who advocate an end to abstentionism, in order to keep pace with the above, need to understand also that everything we do must be as part of a general strategy. They also need to understand the emotiveness of this issue and the strong feelings of many people on this subject. If the debate which has started is to continue, it needs to be conducted with this in mind and in as comradely and as fraternal a way as is possible. Everyone must be bound by the democratic decisions of our Ard Fheiseanna.
In the meantime, we need to continue to progress on the slow and painstaking work of building a solid, dedicated and radical base around republican issues, that is, issues which can be related to ‘the reconquest of Ireland for its people’. We need to educate ourselves on all of this and we need especially to realise that unless we educate ourselves we cannot hope to educate anyone else. In this regard while head office needs to play a central role by providing educational guidelines, the onus is on all of us to develop a co-educational ethos at every level of Sinn Fein.
The establishment of an organisers department in the 26 counties and a six-county Comhairle for that area are a major advance in this task, but much more attention needs to be given to developing a middle-rank leadership of first-class quality. The development of such a leadership is crucial to the success of this struggle. The experience of all successful revolutionary movements in modern times shows that the development and political formation of middle-rank leadership is crucial if the struggle is to have a broad, mass base and yet be under real revolutionary leadership. This leadership starts from the bottom up.
These then are some thoughts on how we can make our struggle succeed. Some of what I have said may be controversial. It may be considered by some to be provocative but as I said at the beginning they are presented here as an aid to discussion. In this regard I hope they are helpful.
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