By John Williams
A watershed vote last week by members of Sinn Fein, the Irish political party long associated with the Irish Republican Army (IRA), may change the face of Irish politics.
On Jan. 28, party leaders gathered in Dublin and voted overwhelmingly to cooperate with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), a move that may mark the end to the IRA’s 27-year campaign to forcefully free Northern Ireland from British sovereignty.
In recent years, Gerry Adams, the figurehead of Sinn Fein who was rumored to have been a long-standing commander of the Irish Republican Army, has been leading the party away from radical politics and more toward a conventional peace accord.
“This shows that the war is over,” Adams was quoted as saying Sunday. “And if the war is over, we have to build the peace.’
Violence between Unionists, who support Great Britain, and Republicans, who work for Irish independence, has been largely responsible for an estimated 1,800 deaths, including thoseof 300 police officers, between 1960 and 1990. But the move by Sinn Fein, which has been recognized as the political arm of the IRA, signals a possible end to the violence that has come to be known as “The Troubles.”
“This is a major shift in the party’s political orientation,” said Bruce Thompson, UC Santa Cruz professor of history. “It may open up whole new frontiers of fragmentation, but it will probably create peace.”Â  Thompson, who teaches a seminar on the troubles in Ireland, echoed the popular opinion among analysts who believe the vote may represent a turning point in the struggle to reach the terms of the 1998 Good Friday peace accord. Since President Clinton helped draw up that agreement eight years ago, the conflict has continued.
The perceived step toward peace is good news to Tom McCormick, an Irish native and literature major at UCSC.
“This is a turning point in nationalist politics,” he said. “People are realizing we have to participate in the system, or things will go on without us.”
Neil Bramley, a native of Belfast, the capitol of Northern Ireland, and currently a student at the University of Glasgow, gave City on a Hill Press an up-close view of the situation.
“Even here in Scotland, people are talking about the vote, all over, in the streets, in pubs,” Bramley said.Â “Mostly people think it’s a pretty sound idea, and I’m hopeful for peace.”
However, 800 years of conflict between the Irish and British die hard. The troubles are rooted in religious tensions between Irish Catholics and British Protestants in Northern Ireland—issues that politics often fail to transcend.Â
While the vote certainly shows a newfound willingness to cooperate with police on the part of Sinn Fein, some party members warn that all is not forgotten.
â€˜’We have to boss policing, because we are the bosses,” Martin McGuiness, the deputy leader of Sinn Fein, was quoted as saying. “They’re going to have to earn our trust. And we will let them know that they are going to be the servants of the people, not the other way around.”
Whether the move will result in a permanent peace in Northern Ireland remains to be seen, but in a region that has seen so much suffering, any change is accompanied with newfound hope.