February 23, 2013
More questions ...
Friday morning we had a meeting with Pat Sheehan, Sinn Fein MLA for West Belfast. (hwww.westbelfastsinnfein.com/representatives/18094). I had heard Pat speak two years ago when he met with the Saint Mary’s group, and knew that he was an engaging and informative speaker. He didn’t disappoint. He gave us two hours of his time, and wove together a history lesson (from a republican viewpoint, of course), his own personal story as one of the 1980 hunger strikers in Long Kesh prison, and political ideology and philosophy in our time together. He was 55 days on a hunger strike, near death when the strike was called off. We met at the offices of Tar Anall, an organization that offers a wide range of support to republican ex-prisoners and their families (taranall.ie/cms), and has an IRA museum on the bottom floor.
As usual, most of us left with more questions to ponder. When asked about Sinn Fein’s platform, he stated that it is a party that advocates equality, and is a party of independence. Sheehan stated openly that Sinn Fein sees The Good Friday Agreement as a route to a united Ireland through political and peaceful means. However, he also said that didn’t necessarily mean one government, for example, the government in the south, which many regard as corrupt. Sheehan stated that Sinn Fein has always had socialist principles, with basic human rights as a cornerstone of its platform. Since being in the government, Sinn Fein has always held the education portfolio because of their belief that education is the key to addressing issues of poverty.
When asked about a possible emerging Northern Ireland identity, he was doubtful, but pondered the possibilities. On the current partnership government in Stormont, he asked what many are asking – can you have an effective government without an opposition? Sheehan contends that yes, you can, and that many effective governments around the world have the same model. On what he calls a “truth recovery” process, similar to truth and reconciliation processes in South Africa or Canada, he said that unless there is some kind of investigation process at the top, ie with the British state, he did not believe that folks would have much investment in the process.
I expressed my confusion about the way an outsider might refer to the north/Northern Ireland outside of this country. What were we to do with all of our “Northern Ireland Dialogue for Peace” t-shirts? Is there any non-biased way to refer to the region? He laughed and said perhaps we could alternate ... also that I could probably let myself off the hook a bit – the most important thing was to understand and be aware of the difference.
After a quick tour of the IRA museum downstairs, most of us headed off to catch a “Hop On Hop Off” tour of Belfast, then home to Farset to watch the Canada/US hockey game.
Saturday was a day off – most went off in groups to explore more of the city. Many (including myself) ended up at a Belfast Giants hockey game. I was amazed at the packed arena – mostly filled with kids under 10. It was an excited and animated crowd that was there to cheer for their Elite League champions. Today, we evaluate and reflect for a couple of hours, then head to Robinsons where we have been promised a TV set to watch the Gold Medal game ... that is until 1:30 when the advertised football game starts. Then we will have to watch the game without sound – a small sacrifice I suppose. Will post some pictures of the Canadian infiltration of ice hockey into a Belfast sports bar. Go Canada Go!