Conor Murphy speaks at annual Edentubber Commemoration
Annual Edentubber Commemoration 8 November 2009
Conor Murphy MP, MLA, Minister for Regional Development
A chairde agus a chomrádaithe,
We gather today, as republicans have done every year since 1957, to honour the memory of the five republicans who died in this place. It is a quiet place on a border hillside, a name that would never have been known outside this area but for the tragedy of 11 November 1957 when Edentubber entered the consciousness of republicans.
Ever since, that name has spelt tragedy but also bravery and commitment and dedication to the cause of Irish freedom.
We recall with pride the five republicans who died here – George Keegan and Patrick Parle from Co. Wexford, Paul Smith from Bessbrook Co. Armagh, Oliver Craven from Newry, Co. Down and Michael Watters from Co. Louth, whose home at Edentubber was shattered in the explosion.
On that fateful night these five men from four counties were joined together in pursuit of the struggle against British occupation in the Six Counties. Their names are forever linked in the memory of republicans. To their surviving family members we extend our continuing solidarity.
The Edentubber Martyrs were part of the latest effort by Irish Republicans to end partition and British jurisdiction in our country and to achieve national independence and the sovereignty of the Irish people.
Our dual purpose in gathering here today is to honour their memory and to state clearly that the republicans of 2009 are as determined and as committed to the achievement of full freedom as the republicans of 1981 or 1957 or 1916. Different times and different conditions require different strategies but the goal and the commitment to that goal remain the same.
I believe that today we are closer than ever to the achievement of Irish unity and independence. The tireless work of republicans of this generation has helped to ensure that the final stages of the journey to national freedom can be completed by peaceful means and that no young man or woman should have to risk imprisonment, injury or death in the struggle.
But the journey will not be completed without huge effort and we must ensure that Sinn Féin today is equal to the task and that we mobilise people at home and abroad in support of the great national project of reunification.
The achievement of Irish unity and independence remains the key objective of Sinn Féin. It is the very basis of our existence as a political party. All our political work is based on the belief that political, social and economic progress for the Irish people requires an end to partition and the establishment of an All-Ireland Republic.
This commitment informs all of our work in the Assembly and the Executive and the Oireachtas. Sinn Féin has established a Task Force on Irish Unity with the purpose of focussing and stepping up our work on national reunification. Already this Task Force has hosted meetings in the United States and Britain. Obviously its most important work will be carried out in Ireland and it is currently planning the rollout of its campaign here in Ireland.
The peace process has created a peaceful and democratic way forward for republicans to pursue our objectives. Of course it has also created a new accommodation between unionists and republicans and nationalists as manifested in the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrew’s Agreement and the institutions established by them. Sinn Féin has been pivotal to the creation of that new accommodation which has the support of the vast majority of people North and South.
We have been working diligently to ensure that the Executive and the Assembly function fully and serve the people. I want to commend colleagues of all parties in the Executive and the Assembly who are committed to working together to deliver for the people that we collectively represent, to delivery equitably and fairly regardless of political or religious creed.
But it needs to be said that that work cannot continue successfully unless the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrew’s Agreement are implemented in full. And that requires an immediate end to the delay and prevarication and attempted obstruction of the transfer of policing and justice powers from the British government to the Executive and Assembly.
The transfer of policing and justice was agreed as long ago as October 2006. There is no excuse for the long delay ever since then on the questions of funding and timing. The issue of funding has now been resolved. The only thing remaining is for the leadership of the Democratic Unionist Party to accept that the time has come for transfer and to get on with it.
Instead, what are we seeing? We are seeing a DUP leadership acting in the same manner as their former arch-enemy David Trimble – constantly looking over their shoulder, prevaricating, delaying and attempting to obstruct.
The latest DUP tactic is to introduce totally extraneous issues as a way of further putting off the inevitable. They are seeking a €20 million payment for former RUC reservists. I can think of many better uses for £20 million – hospital beds, classrooms and roads to name but three. The DUP are also seeking legal weapons for former UDR and RUC members. Isn’t it ironic that those who held up the political process for years over the issue of getting rid of weapons now want to hold it up again to bring back weapons?
Most recklessly of all, the DUP has tried to introduce the issue of parades as a further delaying mechanism. This is the opposite of what should be their approach.
We need to take the political heat out of the parades issue. Sinn Féin fully recognises the right of the Orange Order to parade and to celebrate their heritage. This happens without controversy across most of the North. There are a handful of very contentious parades and these must be resolved by direct dialogue between the Orange Order and local residents. The Order should also agree to meet Sinn Féin. Much progress has been made on this matter in recent years. That should continue but it is not helped by dragging the parades issue into the middle of the policing and justice debate in the manner the DUP have attempted.
What is worse than this conduct by the DUP is that they are being indulged by the British government. Gordon Brown must re-commit to the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrew’s Agreement and he must not allow obstructionist tactics to further delay long overdue progress on policing and justice. No other approach is acceptable from the British government. And no other approach is acceptable to Sinn Féin.
This is a time for strong and progressive leadership. I firmly believe that the vast majority of unionists want the institutions to work fully, including with justice and policing powers transferred. These are the voices Peter Robinson should listen to and not the ranting of Jim Allister and Gregory Campbell.
Now above all we need more decision-making powers taken from London and placed in the hands of elected representatives here. In Government in the North we in Sinn Féin have defended public services; indeed we have extended them and reformed them. Our ministers have been responsible for many solid achievements that have benefited the entire community. But we are all faced with the double challenge of the recession and the British Treasury’s grip on the purse-strings.
Sinn Féin in the period ahead will work to defend threatened public services and jobs, especially in healthcare, while pressing for more economic powers for the Executive and Assembly and for all-Ireland approaches to our economic problems.
The Border distorts the national and regional economy, never more so than now as we are in the grip of a deep recession. Measures must be taken to address that distortion, including tax harmonisation, so that we do not see such unsustainable shifts in trade from one side of the Border to the other. These shifts have happened repeatedly over the years, damaging trade first on one side of the Border and then on the other. In the long run everyone loses out and the only long-term solution is to get rid of the Border altogether.
Recent days have seen people across Ireland uniting to demand action on unemployment, to oppose cuts in our public services and to defend the declining income of people on low wages and social welfare. We commend the trade union movement for these mobilisations and applaud the many tens of thousands who took the streets throughout the country.
There is a global recession but, make no mistake about it, the recession is deepest in Ireland not because of what happened in New York or London or Tokyo but because of the disastrous policies pursued by Governments in Dublin. They allowed bankers and speculators to destroy the Irish economy by their insatiable greed. And who is paying the price? Not those same wealthy elites but the ordinary people, the low-paid workers, the unemployed, people on social welfare, families struggling with massive mortgages, the children in overcrowded classrooms, the old people living alone and without proper services.
Sinn Féin, with others, pointed out at the start of the Celtic Tiger that the Government was heading in the wrong direction that the property boom could not and should not go on, that they could not base the finances of the State on a property bubble and that we needed sound investment in infrastructure and in equitable public services.
Fianna Fáil refused to listen because they only had ears for their friends in the golden circle.
And now that they have sunk the economy they are coming to the rescue of the golden circle of bankers and speculators with NAMA, pouring tens of billions of taxpayers’ money into a bailout for the very people and institutions that dragged us into this mess. Sinn Féin totally rejects NAMA and we totally reject the slash and burn policies of the Fianna Fáil-Green Government. Not only that, we have alternative strategies and policies that would protect public services and incomes for the less well off, target the most wealthy to pay their fair share and protect and create jobs.
We will be presenting those alternative policies in advance of the Budget and I take this opportunity to commend our Sinn Féin Oireachtas team, including Louth TD Arthur Morgan who has presented the republican case for social and economic justice so well in recent times.
The Ireland of 1957, when the Edentubber martyrs died, was a very different Ireland. We have progressed greatly in many ways since then. And republicans are determined that there can be no turning back.
There can be no turning back to armed conflict, no matter how much some micro-groups would wish it, groups with no honesty to admit that they lost the argument, with no courage to tell their few misguided followers that they have no strategy and no way forward.
There can be no turning back to Unionist one-party rule, to jails and internment camps, to British soldiers on our hillsides and on our streets.
And there can be no turning back to the Ireland of mass emigration, dire poverty and obedience to corrupt authority in State and Church. Those days are gone and gone forever.
We have a New Ireland to build - an Ireland beyond partition where, in the words of Pádraig Pearse, the people will be lord and master. Sinn Féin is building that New Ireland. We invite others to join with us so that we can make the vision of Pearse and Connolly a reality, so that we can unite our people and our country as the Edentubber Martyrs sought to do.
Their most lasting monument and only revenge will be, as Bobby Sands said, the laughter of our children.
An Phoblacht abú!