Gerry Kelly Easter Speech – Dublin 2010
A Chairde agus a chomradaithe,
Is onóir mór domhsa bheith anseo ag labhairt libh inniu ar an lá stairiúl seo.
Agus is fior lá stairiúl é de thairbhe go bhfuil muid cruinnithe anseo ag cuimhniú ar na fir agus na mná a chuaigh amach ar Domhnach na Cásca agus lás said tine ar fud an tír cithre bliain is nochto o shin.
It’s great to be here amongst friends and comrades to commemorate all those who have given their lives for Ireland over the generations, especially here in this great city of Dublin, which fought so courageously in 1916 against overwhelming British military forces.
Easter week 1916 started the bush fire of decolonisation, which was to engulf what was then the British Empire. It inspired generations of Irish Republicans and peoples throughout the world who rose up against the tyranny of colonial rule, imperialism and oppression. It is a fire still burning bright in the heart of every republican.
Our comrades who gave their lives then and in generations since and those of us who survived to take up their mantle were and are about bringing about achieving a free independent and united Ireland.
I want to welcome, especially the families of our fallen comrades who suffered so much personal loss and grief in our struggle. There are 355 republican activists on the roll of honour. Most of them were IRA volunteers who were killed in action. I want to pay tribute to the bravery, leadership and commitment of the IRA in the generation who took to the streets of our towns and the highways, byways and fields of our countryside.
If courage was the measure of success then all of Ireland would have had freedom many generations before this. However, volunteers in the IRA knew that military action on its own could not win Independence. They and others knew they could not do it alone, that our opponents and enemies had to be faced up to in every sphere of life.
Whether it was in the civil rights movement, or on the battlefield; or fighting against discrimination in housing or unemployment North and South; or fighting for and learning the Irish language or protecting our culture, or creating jobs or building communities or dealing with social problems or standing up for working class people in the various political institutions.
As Bobby Sands said, “there is a place in our struggle for everyone”, whether they want to be at it 24/7 or do a couple of hours a day.
So when we remember activists who gave their lives we commemorate them all equally and respect the role each and everyone of them played in the struggle.
There are turning points in a nation’s history that change the course of that nation’s people. The 1916 rising was such an event as was the events surrounding 1969, the hunger strike of 1981 and the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The IRA statement of July 28th, 2005 stating that the War is over is another such event. The IRA provided a golden opportunity to advance a new era in our long struggle. The agreement between Sinn Féin and the DUP, leading to the setting up of the power sharing executive and the all-Ireland institutions on May 8th 2007 is another crucial event in driving our struggle forward. We will witness a further huge step forward on April the 12th with the transfer of powers for policing and justice away from London and into Irish hands.
Republicans are exercising real political power. We are taking decisions which can change people’s lives for the better. We cannot and do not want to do this on our own. Republican people on the ground must make their voices heard in the corridors of power. Together we can make a difference.
Sinn Féin is different from other political parties and is proud of that fact and determined to remain so. 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 understand and reflect the needs of people trying to survive in their daily lives. That understanding and connection with our community is the bedrock of our politics. Every year thousands of republicans across Ireland turn out for commemorations to honour the sacrifice of those who have died for a united Ireland many thousands more support Sinn Féin through political campaigns, elections and commemorations, you work with us at all levels and many, many more of you come out and vote for us.
In recent weeks we have radically changed our party structures to make joining Sinn Féin easier. We want you to be a party member by working in what ever way you can. If you want a real Republic, make a stand. You believe in a better way, in a just society, in a United Ireland make that stand as an activist. This Easter we are putting to you to support Sinn Féin by becoming a member.
I am proud of my time as an IRA volunteer. I am also proud to have been a Political Prisoner and Hunger Striker along with Michael Gaughan and Frank Stagg.
Not because I am proud to have been in jail but because while in jail we were still part of a vibrant and effective strategy.
Let me say, I am equally proud to have been involved in peace and political negotiations, to be elected as one of the many Sinn Féin elected representatives and I am honoured that the party asked me to be one of the 5 Republican Ministers in the Assembly.
Now, why do I give you a wee list of different roles I have fulfilled in the struggle? I am proud of them all precisely because they were part of a coherent strategy, right up to the present day and the latest agreement at Hillsborough Castle. We must use tactics that can make a difference; that will move us all closer to freedom and independence.
Sometimes we have to step back from the particular role we fulfil as individuals in the struggle to get a clearer view.
We are in a very different place than we were when I was a teenager, believe me. The Orange state is long gone. A Protestant state for a Protestant people has disintegrated. Loyalist Pogroms will not be happening because Republicans stood up to all of it. There is no going back to sectarian domination or a two-tier citizenship. This generation of Republicans coming up behind my generation are supremely confident and capable because Republicans in previous generations fought that battle around equality and parity of esteem.
Republicans and Nationalists continue to take ownership in every sphere of public, political and institutional life in the North and the South.
This island has been transformed, and more importantly Republicans have opened up an alternative democratic route to a United Ireland.
There is massive potential in the All Ireland developments under the Good Friday Agreement. 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 remains, the spectre of the orange state has gone never to return.
What we are left with is a new situation. Legislatively, constitutionally and under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement the British government have agreed to legislate to end its jurisdiction over the North of Ireland if a majority of people in the North want it.
As always, there is much work to do. The British Government will only leave Ireland when the Irish people make them leave. Our job is to popularise Republicanism and make sure all the institutions deliver for all of our people.
Everything won’t be fixed miraculously when a United Ireland is declared. We have to work and prepare for it now. We can’t wait about, not dealing with the economic downturn, or unemployment, health, education, social justice or other issues which touch the lives of our people. We have to use the power that we’ve gained to make a difference to peoples’ lives.
This is a state in crisis. People just can’t understand how things could have got to this point. People are furious that €18.3 billion can be found to put into the black hole that is Anglo Irish Bank when they were told that there was no money for health or education. They are asking how €32 billion can be found to recapitalise the banks when no money can be found for a jobs stimulus package to get people back to work.
This state has been brought to the point of collapse by the actions of a small golden circle who for years have enjoyed a position of privilege and influence at the expense of ordinary citizens. The reality is that this is even worse than the corruption of the Haughey era.
But it all comes from the same source – the rot at the heart of this state predicted by James Connolly when he spoke of the carnival of reaction that would result from partition. This chaos for which ordinary people are now expected to pay is the result of almost 90 years of government by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael who fostered and pandered to the interests of people like Sean Fitzparick, Michael Fingelton and Liam Carroll. They cannot now distance themselves from them.
We need political change. We need a United Ireland with a very different set of values at its core. The values which are represented in the 1916 Proclamation and in the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil. The values of Irish Republicanism.
In the words of James Connolly “the cause of Ireland is the cause of labour and the cause of labour is the cause of Ireland – they cannot be separated”.
These words are as relevant today as they were then. More relevant when you see working people getting hit hardest with companies closing down on a daily basis and the government turning on workers, cutting rights and entitlements while those who caused the crisis get away free.
Turning to unionism. Republicans have a responsibility to reach out to unionists and to others to engage with them about the nature and form of our future. We seek a united Ireland and we must convince unionists that we are implacably opposed to doing to them what was done to nationalists and republicans.
We will never again accept the status of second-class citizens. Neither will we ever impose second-class citizenship upon anyone else.
In the weeks ahead elements in the DUP and UUP will be sounding increasingly offensive and abusive, perhaps particularly on the Irish Language Act. There is after all an election coming up. Despite this we will make progress. We will not allow those opposed to change to stop the agenda of change. Unionists should be assured that Republicans are totally committed to Equality. That is equality for everybody. Despite the objectionable behaviour of some bigots good work is being done at grass roots level by some local unionist and republican leaders in areas across the North and North and South of the border. I commend this work wholeheartedly.
However in the midst of this great journey of ours with all its twists and turns and difficulties I have a message not just for bigots but for those so called “dissidents” whose only tactic is to undermine and wreck the peace process and the Republican Political Strategy. You will not, you can not stop us. You will not, you can not turn the clock back.
There are some young people amongst them who are sincere; there are those who believe in purely physical force republicanism. I can only say that you’re on the wrong road in 2010. I want to appeal to you to study the last 40 years and learn from it. There are also some in it for personal gain; some involved in drugs. These are the users and abusers of the community who hide behind a façade of political dissent. Add to the mix that sprinkling of agent provocateurs who are still fighting the war for the securocrats in the British and Unionist system. They will be used, abused and thrown to the wolves by their handlers when it suits them.
Whatever the reason for joining these groups, the one thing that is certain is that they have no viable strategy to advance the cause of Irish Freedom or to bring about equality in peoples lives.
If they really want to do that then join with the rest of us. We haven’t achieved our primary goal of a United Ireland yet but we’re closer now than we have ever been in Irish History.
One of the most encouraging aspects of this phase of our struggle has been the numbers of young people attracted to Sinn Féin. A new generation of activists are taking their place in the struggle and we must ensure that place is secured. We are the only party which has experienced such growth, and it is a sign that young people see our party as a vehicle of change for a new generation.
Many of our activists who gave their lives were young men and women; they made a brave choice in life. They could have chosen a different path of work, marriage, children, and grandchildren. It is worth remembering also that they were ordinary men and women like any one here today. But they rose to an extraordinary challenge. There are young people standing here today who have that extraordinary ability but don’t yet know it.
I don’t know 94 years after the death of our 1916 martyrs what they might have said standing in my place today. I can’t be sure what my friends and comrades who gave their lives in the latest phase of our long struggle might say.
I do know that those who are left behind, those who survive must take up the mantle and do the best we can in the era that we live in. This is not 1798 or 1916 or the 1960’s or 70’s or 90’s. We must lead; we must strategise and use tactics suitable and workable to the 21st century, to 2010. That is the onerous task our fallen comrades leave us.
There is much work to do. But we believe that we are in the countdown to a united Ireland. We believe that together we can make further progress and truly transform society on this island forever.
All of you here today are part of the fastest growing movement in Ireland. Whether it is in Dublin, or in Kerry or Wexford, or Belfast, or Donegal, it is clear that Sinn Féin is winning more and more hearts and minds right across the island. Everyday there are more and more republicans in Ireland. We are building our political strength.
We are facing into a Westminster Election in the North in early May; I believe the results will show we are continuing to build our political strength. We are a party in government. We have 5 ministers; we are using that power to change people’s lives on a daily basis. That’s what holding power is about. We are ready for any challenge we may face. I am confident that we will build on our hard work and substantially increase our political strength in the North. We are an all island party so we need to continue to build strength throughout the island. The stronger we are the closer our goal of a free independent, and united Ireland will come.
We remain guided by the noble ideals of the 1916 leaders, but we struggle in the context of 2010. We are now in a phase of nation building. What Connolly called “the re-conquest of Ireland by the Irish people” that requires building the political clout to bring about fundamental change.
Let me leave you with this quote, again from James Connolly. This time speaking of Wolfe Tone, the father of modern Irish Republicanism: “We who hold his principles believe that any movement which would successfully grapple with the problem of national freedom must draw its inspiration, not from the moulding records of the past, but from the glowing hopes of the living present, the vast possibilities of the mighty future.”
A Chairde agus a Chomradaithe, we are the living present. The young republicans standing about us here today are the mighty future!
Bigí Cinnte go dtiocfaidh ar lá.
I would like on behalf of everyone here to thank Michael Tallon for his work as a Sinn Féin Councillor and welcome his replacement Noel McGeown. We wish them both well as republican activists.