Bold Initiative Would Help Heal Republican Divisions
During the prison protests and hunger strikes of the late 1970s and early 80s, we protesting prisoners, and our republican leaders on the outside, constantly appealed to the SDLP to pull out of the local council chambers in support of our five demands. The SDLP refused to countenance such a move and consequently, the party were pilloried and criticised at every opportunity.
It is now generally accepted that the prison protests and the hunger strikes were the catalysts for Sinn Fein’s incursion into constitutional politics. It could also be argued that the SDLP’s inertia during this period of protest and mass-mobilization seriously damaged the standing of the party among many nationalists who may not have been natural Sinn Fein supporters.
Today, in the twenty-first century, in a supposedly liberal democracy, Marian Price, a Republican, a mother, and a former prisoner, is being held infinitum in a British goal - effectively interned without trial. Tellingly, the British government, through their Secretary of State, make no attempt to offer a rationale for Marian’s continued detention, and if they have a strategic position on the matter, it is to simply ignore the issue and hope it will go away.
If history tells us anything about the British it is that they don’t move unless they are forced to do so. That being the case, perhaps the time has come for the nationalist political parties to pull out of the council chambers; perhaps even the Northern Ireland Assembly? Will the SDLP be found wanting again? Will those Sinn Fein leaders who called for the SDLP to pull out of the local councils back in 1980/81 practise now what they preached then? Will Sinn Fein lead the way and pull out of the local government councils in protest at the disgraceful internment of Marian Price? Such a bold initiative, I suggest, would do much to heal the divisions within republicanism.