By Patrick Markey
Following Sinn Fein’s majority decision last Sunday to back the Good Friday peace document, three senior Sinn Fein leaders arrived in New York Monday for a lightening U.S. tour to shore up party support and touch base with American activists.
Speaking before a supportive audience of several hundred at Rory Dolan’s bar in Yonkers Monday night, Sinn Fein veterans Joe Cahill and Martin Ferris spelled out a simple message: the Republican movement must stay united and the Belfast Agreement, while not a settlement, offered a vehicle for achieving the party’s ultimate objective.
“We have several fears,” Cahill said. “We know that this is not a settlement, but we believe it is the road forward. If we have made a mistake in our strategy, then let’s go into it united.”
Sinn Fein’s national treasurer and a former political prisoner, Cahill, 78, has been involved in the Republican movement for more than half a century. That history was not lost on the audience crammed into the Rory Dolan’s smoky backroom. Indeed, respect for the senior Republican was almost tangible as he described the ard fheis decision.
“I have never felt so happy as I was last night after the ard fheis and the emotion that was there,” Cahill said Monday. Even after six weeks of answering doubts, fears and criticisms, he said, Sinn Fein leadership had difficulty in predicting the ard fheis outcome: an ringing endorsement for the Agreement. The result was a “tremendous surprise.” For Cahill, this was the “greatest opportunity” he had seen in his 60 years in the republican movement.
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Ferris, a leading member of the negotiating team for the London talks, mapped out a more technical breakdown of what the agreement meant, before fielding questions from the audience.
Concerns linger over the loss of the Irish Constitution’s Articles Two and Three, which lay claim to Northern Ireland, but for the first time as part of an assembly in the six counties, nationalists would enjoy a veto, Ferris said. And the Dublin government would have an opportunity to exercise an input in the North.
Touching on the sensitive issue of prisoners, Ferris said Sinn Fein asked for equality: “It’s not going to be selective, no one’s life is more important than another. Each and everyone of our prisoners must be treated equally.” He said he hoped some, especially those being held in the 26 counties, could be home by Christmas. Ferris was imprisoned for 10 years during the 1970s.
Sinn Fein now had the greatest mandate since 1921, he said, but the Belfast Agreement was only a vehicle for further change.”Every single issue in that document is going to be a battle for us, but we’re used to battle,” he said. “We still have a major struggle ahead.”
Unionists, he said, also have an enormous part to play in Ireland’s future. Without keeping above the mistakes of the past, and including the Unionist population, there could be no peace or justice.
Addressing fears of Republican divisions, Ferris said those small numbers were regrettable loss. It would be a disservice to the Republican movement, he said, not to fight your corner from within.
While Cahill and Ferris were scheduled to meet with Irish American activists on the East Coast, another ard chomhairle member, Pat Treanor, was due to tour the Midwest and the West Coast.
Cahill and Ferris will be at the Grasshopper Restaurant in Carlstadt, N.J., on Wednesday, May 13, where Ferris will take part in a debate on the current political situation in Ireland. Cahill will visit Chicago on Thursday, May 14.
Ferris will also be at Finnegan’s Wake Restaurant in Philadelphia on Thursday, May 14.
Treanor will speak at the St. Joseph’s School in Clayton, Mo., near St. Louis, on Wednesday, May 13, and on Thursday, May 14, he will be in Kansas City. He will travel to San Francisco on Friday, May 15. He is expected to meet the H-Block 3 prisoners held in a federal jail in Dublin during his California visit.
Treanor, a native of Clones, Co. Monaghan, has been on the Clones Urban District Council since 1994. He was an elected member of the Monaghan County Council from 1985 until 1991.
Sinn FTin representatives will also attend a public meeting in New York City on Saturday evening, May 16, at O’Neill’s Pub. For further details, call the local Noraid unit.