I thank the Republicans of County Donegal for the opportunity to address you on this the 96th anniversary of the Easter Rising of 1916. It is a privilege to join with you as we recall the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and pay tribute to all those who have given their lives in the cause of Irish freedom. We make no distinction between the men and women of 1916 and the men and women of 1981. We honour equally the Republicans who fell in the years of struggle 1916 to 1923 and those who gave their lives in our own era since 1969.
To the families, friends and comrades of all those who died we extend our continuing sympathy and solidarity.
We are gathered at a poignant and historic place, the scene of a tragedy of the Irish Civil War. Charlie Daly, Seán Larkin, Daniel Enright and Tim O’Sullivan were put to death on this spot by Free State forces. They stood against the disastrous Partition of our country. James Connolly predicted that the Partition of Ireland would lead to a carnival of reaction. The four martyrs of Drumboe were among the victims of that carnival of reaction which saw thousands imprisoned and interned on both sides of the border, scores of prison executions and roadside killings of Republican prisoners and pogroms against the nationalist population in the Six Counties.
Charlie Daly, Sean Larkin, Daniel Enright and Tim O’Sullivan were executed because they remained firm in their allegiance to the All-Ireland Republic proclaimed in 1916. The Easter Rising is the defining event and the Proclamation of the Republic is the defining document in the history of Irish Republicanism. You have heard the Proclamation read here today. Our task is to apply its principles to the Ireland of 2012 and to build a new Republic on this island.
There are key turning points that change the course of every nation’s history. In Ireland, the 1916 rising was such an event as was the hunger strike of 1981. The Good Friday, St. Andrews and Hillsborough Agreements, and the IRA statement that the war is over were other such landmarks on a road that I firmly believe will lead to Irish reunification.
The historic engagement we are now involved in with unionism within the political institutions provides a solid basis upon which to move forward to a new future for politics on this island.
Sinn Féin is different from other political parties and is proud of that fact and determined to remain so. For us politics is not just about winning seats or achieving ministerial posts. Sinn Féin is a party born in struggle with our membership and elected representatives coming from the communities most under the strain of political and economic exclusion North and South. We must always understand and reflect the needs of people struggling to survive in their daily lives. That understanding and connection with our community is the bedrock of our struggle.
Here in County Donegal, the people have spoken, the election of Pearse Doherty and Padraig MacLochlainn just over a year ago have placed our party in the leadership of this proud Republican County, The Elections saw spectacular growth for Sinn Féin and with further gains for our Party in the Assembly elections shows that as the only all-Ireland party with substantial electoral support we have now, in a decisive step in the last year moved into the mainstream of Irish political life throughout all 32 counties,
We gather here at a time of great challenge in Ireland. Hundreds of thousands of people are struggling to survive. Tens of thousands of our most talented young people are leaving our shores. It is unacceptable and the direct result of the actions of corrupt political and business elites whose actions have been laid bare by the Mahon and Moriarty Tribunals.
Partition created two conservative states on our island. They served the needs of the political elites north and south instead of the needs of ordinary citizens across the island. That is why the southern establishment was happy to pay lip service to a united Ireland and why some continue to do so.
Republicans have a different vision. We believe there is a better way. A re-united Ireland and a New Republic built in the interests of citizens is the future.
There is massive potential for Republicans in the time ahead. The Good Friday Agreement has levelled the political playing field. Unionism no longer has a veto over Irish unity.
The Government of Ireland Act by which Britain claimed a part of Ireland has been repealed. While Orangeism may remain, the spectre of the Orange state has gone, and it will never return.
We are in an entirely new situation legislatively and constitutionally. Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement the British Government has agreed to legislate to end its jurisdiction over the North of Ireland if a majority of people in the North want it.
In that context, republicans have a responsibility to reach out to unionists and to others to engage with them about the nature and form of the future structures on this island. The development of an all-island economy is clearly in the interests of everyone in Ireland. The construction of the new Radiotherapy unit in the North-West will be of huge benefit to the people of Donegal, Tyrone and Derry. We stood by this commitment and we delivered it. We also stood firm and are delivering on the new first class roads from the North-West to Dublin and Belfast with construction to begin in a few months time. These are but two of the many initiatives which bring mutual benefits North and South that can improve the lives of our people no matter what their political or religious affiliation
We seek a united Ireland in which the unionist section of our people feel comfortable and play a full part in the life of the nation. I believe that it is possible for unionists and republicans to stand together without dilution of our beliefs. As was stated to me very clearly by a unionist Leader, ‘Martin we can rule ourselves. We don’t need direct rulers coming over from London telling us what to do’. That statement provided common ground on which we can all stand. We must be open to practical ways of giving expression to the unionist sense of Britishness within a united Ireland.
In the discussions leading to re-unification we will be imaginative in terms of passport rights, symbols and other issues of identity crucial to building a fully inclusive united Ireland respecting the traditions of all our people in all their diversity.
Unionist participation in large numbers at our Uniting Ireland conferences is most encouraging and proves that a large section of unionist opinion is willing to contribute to the debate on the new politics which the Good Friday Agreement has brought. We also must listen to what unionists say. We must truly act as nation builders, and peacemakers. That means always stretching ourselves and always taking risks to advance the task of building a new Ireland.
All Republicans have an obligation to participate in this task. This means, first of all, firmly rejecting sectarianism, bigotry and violence in all its forms – no matter what its source and no matter what its target.
Secondly it means engaging in positive and active dialogue with unionists and demonstrating to them, not just by our words but by our deeds, that equality means equality for all – not just for nationalists and republicans but for all those who share this island.
Ireland as a nation can only truly prosper if we are at peace with ourselves as a people. It means overcoming the historic fracture between Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter. In the Ireland of 2012 it means building a pluralist, ethnically and culturally diverse society that embraces all citizens.
I want to deepen and expand my role to lead the process of national reconciliation in Ireland - a process that I believe is already underway. There is now a greater tolerance of difference and diversity which is borne out of better understanding of each other.
I am very confident in my Irishness. I am also very aware of my responsibilities as the deputy First Minister and very conscious that I am elected as deputy First Minister for all people – I take that responsibility seriously particularly to the unionist community.
I am also very conscious of my responsibility as a Republican leader –to defend and promote the integrity of our struggle.
Let the message go out very clearly from Drumboe today - Sinn Féin will not be deflected from the historic work we are engaged in. We are the Nation builders. We are not motivated by self interest or personal gain. We have set ourselves high standards and even bigger goals – but we are determined and we are united. We are the engine driving historic political, social and constitutional change on this island.
I urge each and every one of you to be part of that movement for real change in our country, for social and economic and cultural freedom, for a real Republic embracing all 32 Counties and all of our people.
Many of you are supporters of Sinn Féin who assist in elections and fundraising and who attend commemorations and other events such as these. I ask you, if you have not already done so, to take the next step and to join Sinn Féin.
Play your part, have your say, empower yourself and your community. Encourage your friends and family to join Sinn Féin. We need a mighty movement across this land to reach our goal of freedom and unity.
We are on the road to freedom. If we go forward together, firmly united and in greater numbers, we will complete our historic task — a united Ireland and a New Republic.
An Phoblacht Abú!