Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Sinn Féin will challenge Cowen Government at every opportunity – Ó Caoláin

25 April, 2008


Speaking at a commemoration this evening to mark the life of former Republican TD Larry Ginnel in his old constituency of Westmeath, Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin warned incoming Taoiseach Brian Cowen that Sinn Féin will continue to grow and develop and to challenge his Government at every opportunity.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said his party be standing side by side with communities and workers as they resist cuts in public services and demand fair and decent wages.

He said, "I commend the Republicans of County Westmeath for organising this event and for commemorating a man who up to now has been largely forgotten but who made an enormous contribution to the struggle for freedom and who deserves to live in the memory of the Irish people. You can be justly proud of Larry Ginnell, this patriot son of Delvin and of Co. Westmeath, this fearless elected representative of the Irish people, this staunch republican.

"Sinn Féin in 2008 is carrying on the work of Larry Ginnell and his comrades, the work of all who have struggled for Irish unity and independence through the generations. Make no mistake about it, the ending of Partition and the reunification of Ireland is the primary aim of Sinn Féin and we are more determined than ever to achieve that goal in our day. And we are closer to its achievement than ever before.

"Following last year's General Election there were many attempts to write off Sinn Féin. Let our opponents continue to do so. We will continue to grow and develop and to challenge them at every opportunity. We are electorally stronger than ever before. Here in the 26 Counties we are the only political party campaigning against the Lisbon Treaty and we are bringing that message across the entire State. In the Six Counties we have held a series of major public meetings, mobilising the republican base.

"Now with an economic slowdown, we are seeing the old pattern emerging. Those who can least afford it are being made to suffer. Health cuts are being imposed. Schools are running out of funding. Well, we have a message for the outgoing Taoiseach and the incoming Taoiseach, for Mary Harney who should have gone long ago and for whoever Brian Cowen brings into his Cabinet. Cuts in public services will be resisted. Workers will demand decent wages. When job losses come as they have in large numbers here in the Midlands recently, people will demand new employment opportunities, improved training and better support for the local economy. Farming families will stand up for their way of life and for the proper development of our agricultural industry, as Larry Ginnell did in his time. And in all of these struggles Sinn Féin will be campaigning side by side with communities." ENDS

Note to editor - Full text of Deputy Ó Caoláin's speech follows:

Full text of Deputy Ó Caoláin's speech follows:

A Phoblachtánaigh Iarmhí agus a chairde go léir,

Tá moladh tuillte agaibh don obair a rinne sibh chun an comóradh seo a eagrú agus chun cuimhneachán a dhéanamh ar phoblachtánach dearmadta - Larry Ginnell as an ceantar seo. Fear tábhachtach a bhí ann ní hamháin sa chontae seo ach go náisiúnta agus fiú go hidirnáisiúnta leis an obair a rinne sé ar son saoirse mhuintir na hÉireann. Is féidir le muintir an chontae seo agus le muintir ár dtíre a bheith bródúil as an méid a rinne sé agus as a seasamh ar son Poblacht na hÉireann.

I commend the Republicans of County Westmeath for organising this event and for commemorating a man who up to now has been largely forgotten but who made an enormous contribution to the struggle for freedom and who deserves to live in the memory of the Irish people. You can be justly proud of Larry Ginnell, this patriot son of Delvin and of Co. Westmeath, this fearless elected representative of the Irish people, this staunch republican. His tireless work on behalf of the people should inspire us as we apply in our own day the principles of social justice and Irish independence which were the bedrock of Larry Ginnell's beliefs.

Born in Delvin

Larry Ginnell was born here in Delvin in 1854. He was born among the community of small tenant farmers. It was the aftermath of an Gorta Mór, the Great Hunger, when the spectre of starvation, emigration and eviction still stalked the land. Against the odds, this intelligent young man managed to advance himself through education and he obtained a degree in law. He was interested in economics and in land law and so, with his background in rural Ireland, it was inevitable that he would play an active role in the Land War. He was private secretary to John Dillon during the Plan of Campaign of the late 1880s when tenants used rent strikes to resist rack-renting landlords.

Larry Ginnell was also a journalist and author and among his works was one of the first detailed studies of the ancient Irish Brehon Laws. He stood for election for the first time as a candidate of the Irish Parliamentary Party here in the old single-seat Westminster constituency of North Westmeath in 1901. He did not secure election on that occasion. Larry Ginnell was obviously never at home in the Home Rule Party and by the time of the 1906 general election he had been expelled from it. But this time he won the seat by a large majority and he was to represent North Westmeath until his death in 1923.

Cattle-driving

It was in the early 1900s that Larry Ginnell again took up the fight on behalf of the landless people, the farm labourers and the small tenant farmers. Throughout the Midlands large cattle ranches had been built up, denying families access to fertile land and helping to fill the emigration ships to Britain and the United States. It was not the land for the people but, in the old saying, the land for the bullock and the men for the road. Larry Ginnell led a campaign of civil resistance which involved driving the cattle off the ranches, forcing the rancher farmers to travel long distances to retrieve them and making their large holdings unprofitable. It was known as the 'hazel campaign' after the hazel rods used to drive the cattle. It was opposed by Larry Ginnell's former colleagues in the Irish Party and by the conservative elements in the country but it was supported by the mass of the people who responded to the leadership of their campaigning MP.

1916 executions

While Larry Ginnell continued to attend Westminster he did so primarily to act as a thorn in the side of the British government in Ireland. When the 1916 Easter Rising came and the British government executed the 16 republican leaders, Larry Ginnell was one of the very few voices in the House of Commons to protest. He shouted "Murderers!" across the chamber at the British Cabinet. He had little business left to do in that place.

Larry Ginnell was in James Connnolly's thoughts in the hours before his execution. Connolly's daughter Nora says in her description of her last visit with her father in Dublin Castle that she told him: "Larry Ginnell is fighting for the men in the House of Commons." Connolly replied, "Good man, Larry, he can always be depended on."

Clearly, this man was respected by republicans long before he withdrew from Westminster.

In 1917 Larry Ginnell resigned his seat in the House of Commons and came home to join Sinn Féin. The Ard Fheis of 1917 adopted Sinn Féin's first republican constitution and Larry Ginnell was elected Joint National Treasurer. For the next six years he worked tirelessly for Sinn Féin.

Though now at an age when most people retire, he plunged himself into the struggle and took part in the by-election campaigns of 1917 and 1918. These victories were preludes to the great election victory of December 1918, 90 years ago, when Sinn Féin triumphed on the basis of a manifesto mandating the establishment of the Irish Republic proclaimed in 1916.

An Chéad Dáil Éireann

Larry Ginnell became the Teachta Dála for North Westmeath. He was unable to attend the first meeting of An Chéad Dáil Éireann in the Mansion House on 21 January 1919 as he was, like many of the TDs, "faoi ghlas ag Gallaibh" - imprisoned by England. This now elderly man was to endure several terms of imprisonment during the Black and Tan war. The harsh prison conditions of the time were to prove fatal to his health.

Following his release from prison in early 1919 Larry Ginnell's qualities were recognised when he was appointed Director of Propaganda in the Government of the Republic elected by an Chéad Dáil. He was based at Ard Oifig Shinn Féin, 6 Harcourt Street, now Ard Oifig of Conradh na Gaeilge. The author Frank Gallagher worked with him there and described him as "lion-hearted old Larry Ginnell". He also worked on plans for land redistribution and for co-operatives with Fr. Michael O'Flanagan and others.

Arrested in May 1919 Larry spent four months in prison. In 1920 he was sent to the United States where he became head of the Chicago-based Labour Bureau for Irish Independence. In the following year he was sent as a roving Republican ambassador to South America, based in Argentina.

Stood by the Republic

Larry Ginnell opposed the Treaty of 1921 and stood by the Republic. During the Civil War he kept the Irish Republican flag flying in the United States, carrying out the near impossible task of maintaining support for the Irish cause at this time of division and disillusionment. He returned to Ireland and then re-crossed the Atlantic to the US again where on one occasion he led a group who seized the Free State consulate in New York on behalf of the Republic.

But Larry Ginnell was by now an elderly man, worn out by his untiring work for the Irish people. He died in Washington on 17 April 1923.

Larry Ginnell's body was brought back here to his native Delvin. At the graveside where we gather this evening the oration was delivered by Mrs. Margaret Pearse, mother of Pádraig and Willie Pearse.

Work goes on

I have gone into some detail about the life of Larry Ginnell because, sadly, he has been largely forgotten and this commemoration should mark a revival of interest in his life and work. But this is not only of historic interest. We take inspiration from the lives of republicans of the past as we apply their principles and their example to the struggle of today.

Sinn Féin in 2008 is carrying on the work of Larry Ginnell and his comrades, the work of all who have struggled for Irish unity and independence through the generations. By their efforts the men and women of Ginnell's time forced the ending of British rule in most of our country. But the Six Counties remained under British occupation and Partition distorted the political, social and economic life of the whole nation. Make no mistake about it, the ending of Partition and the reunification of Ireland is the primary aim of Sinn Féin and we are more determined than ever to achieve that goal in our day. And we are closer to its achievement than ever before.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and the Agreement and the peace process from which it flowed have helped to transform Ireland. It was republicans who initiated and sustained that process from beginning to end.

We have moved from spiralling conflict to conflict resolution, from stalemate to progress. It has been an extremely difficult process and it took nine years to finally put in place, on a secure basis, the core elements of the Agreement. As a result we now have a power-sharing government in the Six Counties involving Sinn Féin and the DUP.

Republican journey

Tribute must be paid to the Sinn Féin negotiators, the wider party leadership and, above all, grassroots republicans throughout Ireland who have ensured the success of challenging new strategies in the ever-developing republican journey.

We now have a working Executive and Assembly, an all-Ireland Ministerial Council and structures to develop co-operation across the island on a wide range of public policy. Demilitarisation was one of the core demands of republicans in the peace process and as a result we have seen the removal of the British military blockade of the Border and the opening up of the frontier in a way not seen since Partition was first imposed. This has been a massive boost to previously disrupted communities. Policing has also been transformed, with Sinn Féin fully engaged and determined to ensure that the new dispensation delivers for the people.

We need to see further progress and greater co-operation and integration of public services on an all-Ireland basis - healthcare being the prime example. All outstanding aspects of the Agreement need to be fully implemented. We need full truth from the British government on collusion. The withdrawal of British military forces must be completed.

One of the most hopeful signs is the developing dialogue and work at grassroots level involving republicans and unionists. We see that engagement as crucial.

Real alternative

Here in the 26 Counties Sinn Féin is presenting the only real alternative to the policies of the Fianna Fáil-PD governments which have been in power since 1997. They have been in office during the most prosperous period in the history of the 26-County state but preside over one of the most unequal societies in Europe. The top 20% of wage-earners in the 26 Counties earn 12 times more than the lowest 20%. One in seven children live in relative poverty. Our two-tier public-private health service is grossly inequitable and limps from crisis to crisis. On this small island lavish wealth lives side by side with avoidable poverty.

Now with an economic slowdown, we are seeing the old pattern emerging. Those who can least afford it are being made to suffer. Health cuts are being imposed. Schools are running out of funding. Well, we have a message for the outgoing Taoiseach and the incoming Taoiseach, for Mary Harney who should have gone long ago and for whoever Brian Cowen brings into his Cabinet. Cuts in public services will be resisted. Workers will demand decent wages. When job losses come as they have in large numbers here in the Midlands recently, people will demand new employment opportunities, improved training and better support for the local economy. Farming families will stand up for their way of life and for the proper development of our agricultural industry, as Larry Ginnell did in his time. And in all of these struggles Sinn Féin will be campaigning side by side with communities.

Sinn Féin continues to grow

Following last year's General Election there were many attempts to write off Sinn Féin. Let our opponents continue to do so. We will continue to grow and develop and to challenge them at every opportunity. We are electorally stronger than ever before. Here in the 26 Counties we are the only political party campaigning against the Lisbon Treaty and we are bringing that message across the entire State. In the Six Counties we have held a series of major public meetings, mobilising the republican base.

Republicans here in Co. Westmeath have just as important and as significant a part to play in our developing struggle as republicans in any of the 32 Counties. I commend you on your re-organisation as you bring the Sinn Féin message to more people and as you present the republican vision to a new generation.

All-Ireland Dáil

Before concluding I want to mention one final episode in the life of Larry Ginnell. The Free State parliament elected in 1922 first assembled on 9 September that year. Larry Ginnell was the only republican to attend. He refused to take the Oath of Allegiance to the British monarch but he demanded to be given his place. And he also asked if TDs from the Six Counties would be allowed to participate. The answer he received was that he himself was expelled from the parliament and escorted from the precincts of Leinster House. Larry Ginnell was thus the last Sinn Féin TD in Leinster House before I had the honour to be elected to represent Sinn Féin and the people of Cavan and Monaghan in 1997.

We will honour Larry Ginnell's memory in the most fitting manner of all when we see Teachtaí Dála from all 32 Counties assembling to legislate for an all-Ireland Republic, for a united people and country. And I hope that among them will be a Sinn Féin Teachta Dála representing the people of Westmeath and Longford.

Tá an lá sin ag teacht, a chairde. Ar aghaidh linn le chéile.

Connect with Sinn Féin