'Gerry Adams does not understand the Republic'
Joan Burton says Labour has a 'shared history' with Fine Gael and Fianna Fail that the Sinn Fein leader just doesn't appreaciate
In last week's TV3 leaders' debate, I said that Gerry Adams doesn't understand the Republic. This deserves some lengthier explanation.
During the debate, Deputy Adams kept on referring to us, the other political leaders, as 'them others'. Sinn Fein, he made clear, were not of us. That's what prompted me to respond that Gerry doesn't understand this Republic. He doesn't understand our shared history, our common experiences, our successes or failures.
I have my differences with Fine Gael and Fianna Fail - lots of them. But their history is my history too. Both parties have made a contribution to our State and I hope they recognise that Labour has done likewise.
Sinn Fein, by contrast, see little to be proud of in this State. To them, it's a matter of regret. A second best. An also-ran. But I'm proud of this State's enduring commitment to democracy throughout periods when democracy was none too popular. Proud of a constitution which, though dated, stood as a beacon of moderation in different times. Proud of a literary and artistic contribution that has punched way above its weight. Proud of the liberalisation of our society over the past 40 years - a process driven by Labour and most recently visible on the joyous day the marriage equality referendum passed.
I'm a proud Irish republican - in the true sense of the word 'republican'. Proud of rule by law. Proud of democracy. Proud of our free press and the vital role it plays. Proud of our Defence Forces. Proud of our friendship with the UK. Proud of our commitment to building a better EU. Proud we no longer live in a clerical State. Proud we are increasingly liberal on issues.
I'm an Irish nationalist, too. I have spoken in the past of my regret at partition and its consequences. And I recognise that Northern nationalists were the worst losers in this, though southern Protestants also suffered. But my Irishness is inclusive. The broader our definition of Irishness is, the better we can work within it.
I'm particularly proud of those who have worked on a cross-border and cultural basis to bring Irish people together - nationalist and unionists. Proud of cross-border bodies like the IRFU, referred to recently by a Sinn Fein election candidate as West Brits, who have advanced an inclusive definition of Irishness. Like my own professional body, the Institute of Chartered Accountants, whose presidency alternates between north and south.
Sinn Fein, it seems to me, don't get it. They don't really do inclusivity. Their inference regarding 1916 is that nobody else owns it. For all the talk of a united Ireland - and their manifesto is full of it - how could you persuade unionists when you hold your fellow nationalists in such disdain?
I made the point the other night that Gerry Adams doesn't 'get' the Republic. But more than that, I never get the impression he is proud of it either. The IRA's armed campaign did more to encourage partitionism than any other event in my lifetime. The devastating effects are still with us today. Sinn Fein and Gerry Adams need to recognise that.
There is much to improve in our State, many problems we still have to put right. And it's fashionable to talk down our State and society.
But not everything about this State is wrong. We have made considerable progress over a century and I, for one, am proud of it. Labour, for our part, will continue to drive economic and social progress. We will strengthen our economy and use it to build a decent society.