The last time I stood in this cemetery was to attend the funeral of JB O Hagan in 2001.
As a youngster growing up, I often heard of JB spoken about. I formed a childlike impression of this seemingly mythic republican figure.
In later years I came to know him and his family. The mythic impressions ended then, but he was no less iconic in my eyes.
One of the qualities I attribute to him, and John Joe Mc Girl of that same generation, was to eventually stand aside from leadership, but not activism, in a very conscious way, to bring new young people through.
They did so in order to ensure that our struggle regenerated itself.
There is a lesson in that; our patriot dead were real men and women. We should not dehumanise their memories by placing them onto pedestals, but neither should we ever forget their sacrifice and legacy to the struggle.
On reading this Roll of Honour I recognised others of the local patriot dead familiar to me. I knew Sheena Campbell best; but I met Sam Marshall at meetings before his death; and, I remember Gervaise Mc Kerr during the hunger strikes taking photographs.
I vividly remember the wet and wintry night he, and Sean Burns and Eugene Toman were assassinated.
Every person on this local Roll of Honour was an important person.
Thomas Harte. Michael Crossey. Julie Dougan. John Francis Green.
The veteran volunteers, Terry Brady and Henry Heaney; and of course, Gervaise, Sean, Eugene, Sam, and Sheena.
Some of them like John Francis, Gervaise and Sheena left behind young families.
The obituary to Gervaise from his son says, “We often wonder how things might have been.”
That’s a poignant reflection appropriate to all our patriot dead.
But we can be sure of this; they all left us a political legacy. They and all the many others.
Those others who rest in graves across places like Derrymacash, Portadown, Craigavon, Gilford, Lurgan, and elsewhere: the invisible heroes.
During the war British state strategy tried to turn areas like this into a killing zone against republicans in the 1980s and ‘90s.
Of the 11 on this Roll of Honour, 6 activists were assassinated by British forces, or their death squads. Other local republicans survived, but still bear the scars of attacks.
The shadow of state sponsored assassination and collusion remains with us to this day. Sam Marshall’s 20thanniversary has just passed; and 28 years on the families of Gervaise, Sean and Eugene continue to campaign for their inquests and the truth.
We pay tribute to them today, and repeat our support for their campaigns.
The 1981 hunger strike destroyed Britain’s strategy to criminalise the IRA and republican struggle.
After that in the 1980s they began a policy of attempting to terrorise our struggle with a directed campaign of assassination, re organised death squads, attacks on republican funerals, and more.
But as in 1981, they fundamentally miscalculated.
Yes, they killed Sheena Campbell, but they could not kill her spirit.
Ideas can’t be assassinated.
Determination and commitment cannot be imprisoned.
Vision can’t be repressed.
The reason. We carry these things in our hearts and minds.
Just causes are never vanquished. The proof of that is the spirit of 1916.
The Proclamation set out a vision which continues to inspire.
Its ideas remain unfulfilled, but they also remain timeless. The task of today’s generations is to translate them into action.
James Connolly said, “The only true prophets are they who carve out the future which they announce.”
As activists today, we should be guided by Connolly’s assertion.
The relevance of the Proclamation for contemporary Ireland is unchallengeable.
Today, 1 out of 4 men aged between 18 and 25 is out of work: ½ million are unemployed: more than 1 child in 7 lives in real poverty.
These realities and the Proclamation remind us that today our society should be built upon equal rights and opportunities, and happiness, prosperity, and freedom for everyone.
That’s what inspired our patriot dead. They dedicated themselves to making the Proclamation a reality.
Today we pay tribute to that collective sacrifice of generations from 1916 to the present day.
Our Easter commemorations must also be about celebration: celebrations of the indomitable spirit of republicanism.
But we should also be proud of, and celebrate our achievements.
This Easter falls at a time of great progress for our struggle towards a united Ireland.
Inspired by the spirit of 1916, our generations have made Irish republicanism bigger, stronger, more powerful and relevant than at any stage since the Tan War.
Some here grew up in the old unionism’s orange state, of “B Men” and institutionalised bigotry.
40 years ago, who here could have imagined Sinn Fein displacing the unionist one party state to become the biggest party in the north? And that unionism could only exercise power once more in Stormont on the basis of equal partnership.
But even more, who in unionism 40 years ago could have fore seen all this?
There has been unprecedented change in Ireland, north and south. And republicanism has been central to that.
None of this was achieved by accident. Republican strategy has been pivotal throughout.
Our strategy is based upon building political strength and increasing widespread popular support for national and democratic objectives. In short, popularising our politics, and making more republicans.
Today we are witnessing the end game of partition being played out.
Change is unstoppable. Irish unity is inevitable.
The big strategic work is to deliver on Irish unity whilst beginning now to prepare for the next phase of struggle.
That means to start now building the political foundations of a new republic: one which repudiates gombeenism and greed, and golden circles of bankers and profiteers; and truly embodies the vision of equality and social justice contained in the Proclamation
No other generations of republicans have ever attempted what present day IRA volunteers and Sinn Fein activists have undertaken: from armed struggle to prison campaigns; to negotiations and strategic initiatives; to new modes of struggle; using political institutions and positions in government as sites of struggle; and all, while remaining united and cohesive throughout.
Sinn Fein has sought to use our political power north and south to improve the lives of ordinary people.
The equality agenda is a central aspect of our political project. It goes to the heart of every citizen’s quality of life. It is the basis of new alliances; to raising the bar; and, making more change.
And, that’s why unionism has set its face against the Bill of Rights. Equality means more change in the future. And big house political unionism wants less.
Its agenda is about hollowing out equality in order to frustrate change, and hold back the future.
The peace process has changed the future of the entire island. It has thrown up new dynamics, potential, and opportunities for progress.
There has never been a better opportunity since 1916 to successfully bring about national and democratic objectives.
Sinn Fein’s role in negotiations since 1998 has created a whole new momentum.
The Good Friday, St Andrew’s, and Hillsborough Caste Agreements represent a continuum of political change. They cannot be changed, air brushed, or reversed.
Everything has changed. The “B Men”, RUC, UDR are all gone. Unionist one party rule is finished.
These generations of nationalists don’t do 2nd class citizenship. We won’t be sitting at the back of the bus anymore. We’re in the driver’s seat now, and this is a non stop journey to Irish independence.
Our strategy sign posts a road map to Irish unity. And that’s were some on the edges of republicanism and nationalism get it so wrong.
The IRA fought the war to a conclusion. There is no other IRA...in Lurgan, Craigavon, Portadown, or anywhere else. And there’s no armed campaign to be finished.
The IRA’s volunteers today are involved in political and democratic programmes to achieve Irish unity, because that’s what works.
The actions of militarist factions are totally counter productive.
IRA volunteers fought the armed struggle to remove British soldiers from the north. Today the actions of these groups are designed to bring them back.
These groups contain individuals pursuing different agendas. Some are working directly in concert with M15, and other anti peace process agencies within the British state. Others are involved in undisguised criminality.
But they also include some who are motivated by patriotism. And, we need to reach out and engage with them.
Those who politically oppose republican strategy and the peace process are entitled to do so. But that doesn’t mean they are right; and they are absolutely wrong to use militarism to advance their position.
The best place to organise for republican objectives is in Sinn Fein. Make no mistake about it; Sinn Fein is the only united Ireland show in town.
The Hillsborough Castle Agreement is the product of a republican strategy that works.
It demonstrates how we will achieve a united Ireland...through political strength, political momentum, determination, and, a clear trajectory.
The Hillsborough Castle Agreement gives us all an advance preview of how the redundancy notice will look for British rule in Ireland!
The future is all about a united Ireland and Sinn Fein is central to that. So this is the time for republican politics.
But we should not be complacent. There is much more work to be done.
That includes making all the all Ireland and northern political institutions work to their potential.
Our other key priorities are; to conclude the transfer of policing and justice powers on the 12 April; creating locally based democratic legislation to address contentious parades; and continuing to advance the case for Acht na Gaeilge.
There is also no short cut to building support for Sinn Fein in the 26 counties. That is a long term project.
But with patience, and a keen emphasis upon making our politics increasingly relevant to local communities in the south; Sinn Fein can, and will grow in popularity.
Today there is a road map for making the 1916 Proclamation a reality. Sinn Fein is clearing that path to the future. We follow Connolly in carving out the future we announce.
But we want many more Irish citizens to join us in that project.
At our last Ard Fheis we changed the Party constitution to make active involvement in Sinn Fein more flexible. We want to vastly grow our membership.
Each of you has a stake in seeing the ideas of the Proclamation achieved, to improve your own lives now, and shape the quality of society we pass onto future generations.
This Easter commit again to playing your part in the year ahead. We can all do more. In May we fight another Westminster election; play your part in that campaign.
Let us all make a decision to do more. You can join Sinn Fein; you can help Sinn Fein. You can drive our struggle forward.