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Speech by Pat Doherty proposing the motion on abstentionism (Resolution 162), Sinn Féin Ard Fheis, Dublin, (2 November 1986)

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Speech by Pat Doherty, then Sinn Féin National Organiser, proposing the motion on abstentionism (Resolution 162), Sinn Féin Ard Fheis, Dublin, (2 November 1986)


"I am speaking here as proposer of resolution 162. I am opening this debate on behalf of the Ard Chomhairle at a big disadvantage. Other Sinn Fein members have already started this debate in a coordinated publicity campaign in the establishment media in a highly immoral personalised effort to influence delegates. This campaign has largely been directed at our president Gerry Adams.

Let me remind you that this decision was arrived at collectively by our leadership. The Ard Chomhairle, despite abusive attacks on some of its members, refused to make any contribution, or play any part in this campaign. We believe it should have been kept within republican ranks. Others obviously didn’t and for this reason, as I have said, I start with a disadvantage.

You will be told here today, during the course of this debate, that other sound people advocated this position in previous years and that, in due course, they became absorbed into the system. Even our opponents see the difference. Johnny Murphy would have spoken for all of them when he wrote in the Irish Independent in an analysis of this debate: "There is a fundamental and striking difference. They will be the first attending republican group who are avowedly and unequivocally supporters of armed struggle".

I am going to approach this debate under four headings. Firstly of Sinn Fein’s right to choose. The last sentence of our constitution reads, and I quote: "Any alterations or amendments to the foregoing constitution shall require a supporting vote of not less than two-thirds of the duly elected delegates present at the Ard-Fheis."

This sentence was in the constitution before any of us joined Sinn Fein and since our constitution was originally drawn up by Shin Fein members, and not by God, it clearly indicates that other Sinn Fein members who are the duly elected delegates have the authority to change the constitution at an Ard-Fheis.

I am pointing this out to you because some of those who are opposed to the leadership have been implying and saying, with the attitude of theologians, that we have no right or authority to even propose change. It ill-becomes this grouping to take on this self-righteous attitude and try to play the role of God. This is as principled a leadership as any previous leadership.

Secondly, our leadership, your leadership, who are these people who are spearheading change; where did they come from? Well let me tell you. They were the people who, along with others, were doing all the things that were required to be done on the ground at local level during the years 1969 to 1975. They were the people who after the disastrous 1975 truce moved into middle leadership and national leadership and started to pick up the pieces and push the Movement forward once again. They are the people who moved into the Sinn Fein leadership from 1980 to the present, and have led Sinn Fein to various electoral propaganda successes.

What I am saying is that the present leadership did not drop out of the sky in the last few months, they have always been in our organisation. There are no long rifles or armchair generals amongst them. They have always led from the front. Some of them come from the war zone, others come from, and work day and night throughout, the 26 Counties.

This leadership is totally committed to this Movement and what is perhaps more important, they are absolutely and totally committed to achieving victory.

As to the question of abstentionism itself. The Ard Chomhairle position has been clearly stated in the presidential address last night; of the need for Sinn Fein to develop republican politics. But picking up on one or two points, it is our analysis that partition is as bad a blight on the 26 Counties as it is on the 6 Counties. It is also our belief that the Free State establishment and the Dublin government are as intent as the British government on stopping the Irish people from becoming a sovereign people.

This being the case then, how best can we confront this attack from the Free State?

From as far back as the ‘5Os, military action in the 26 Counties has been ruled out. Is there anyone in this hall today seriously saying that we should confront, the Free State on a military front? Of course there is not. Therefore the only way we can confront the Free State is by political means, as part of an overall national struggle.

In other words, armed struggle in the 6 Counties in pursuance of British withdrawal and political struggle throughout the whole 32 Counties in pursuance of the Republic. By political struggle we mean to confront the establishment on social, economic and cultural issues. We also, as an organisation, intend to confront them on the electoral field. On this and other issues we have come to learn that we have got to start to work at the level of the understanding of the people.

The people just do not understand abstentionism. Ninety-five percent of them accept Leinster House as being their government. Of course Leinster House is a partitionist institution pretending to be a national parliament. We need to explain this reality to people, but we also need to accept the reality of their view of this institution.

And finally, the people who are opposed to us taking seats in Leinster House are basically in two groupings. Those who are opposed to this move, but are quite prepared to accept the democratic wishes of this Ard-Fheis, and those who have suggested that they will not accept the outcome unless it is in their favour. Indeed some of them have been facilitated by the British media in giving credibility to media speculation about a split. It is indeed our enemies’ wishes that we do split.

If those who are opposed to this change, those who have been canvassing around the country and have been engaging in public abuse and personalised attacks on the leadership, had used even 10% of their energy building the republican base this last few years in the Free State, then we might not even be having this debate today. They have allowed themselves to be used by our enemies, but they are still our comrades and we will not desert them. It is not too late, they should catch themselves on and stop allowing themselves to be exploited by the Free State and British establishments.


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