Maskey calls on republicans to continue to be agents of change
Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle member and former Mayor of Belfast Alex Maskey this afternoon delivered a keynote address to the annual Wolfe Tone Commemoration in Bodenstown, Co. Kildare. Cllr. Maskey said:
Ireland's struggle for freedom has produced many heroes, men and women of enormous courage and self-sacrifice who were and are prepared to give everything in the cause of Irish freedom. Two hundred years ago in the late 18th century, fired by the example of the American and French revolutions, Irish Presbyterians and members of the Church of Ireland, stood side by side with their catholic neighbours seeking redress for the discrimination and injustices they endured. They included Wolfe Tone, Henry Joy McCracken, Mary Anne McCracken, and Robert Emmet - men and women, who embraced the concept of Irish independence and freedom from Britain, formed the Society of United Irishmen.
As we honour the men and women of 1798, let us also remember all of those republicans who in this and previous generations gave their lives for Irish freedom. They were ordinary men and women who in extraordinary and difficult circumstances found the inner strength, determination and courage to stand against injustice and oppression, and to demand the rights and entitlements of the Irish people. They had the vision to see beyond the conflict, beyond the centuries of occupation, and to embrace the republican spirit of Tone, of Emmet and Connolly, and to stand up for justice and equality. I also want to salute their families and to particularly welcome those who are with us here today.
There will be a united Ireland
Sinn Féin is an Irish republican party. Our strategy is to achieve a united, independent Ireland and I am certain that we will succeed. Republicanism is about the people. It's about self-determination and democracy. Two concepts denied to the Irish people for many centuries by Britain's involvement in our affairs. Irish republicanism has a vision of a new society that is democratic. That is economic as well as political. A society, which is inclusive of all citizens. Our republicanism is about change and it's about empowering people to make that change.
That means each of us have to be agents of change. This is an enormous responsibility and challenge but it is a challenge that I believe this generation of Irish republicans will achieve. The people of this island have the right to be free, to live free from discrimination and inequality, without violence and conflict. Free to shape our own destiny - our own sovereignty. We have the right to be free from division, foreign occupation, and injustice.
Equality was my guiding principle as Mayor
The city of Belfast, the city where I was born and grew up, was the cradle of Irish republicanism in the eighteenth century. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the labour movement battled against the religious bigotry, which was used to divide workers and communities.
Today Belfast is better known for images of sectarianism. Interface violence and a concerted campaign against vulnerable nationalist communities was the context in which I became the first Sinn Féin Mayor in the history of my city and I was determined to tackle directly the sectarianism which divides our city.
Being Mayor of Belfast was both challenging and rewarding. During my tenure as Mayor I reached out to the Unionist section of our community and tried to show them that they have a place in the Ireland we are trying to build, a place that we want them to embrace and to shape. I also tried to show by example that the Republican ethos and ideals which Wolfe Tone fought for have a place in the new Ireland.
In this spirit I was proud to host an event in City Hall for the families of Belfast Sinn Féin activists and IRA Volunteers who lost their lives in the conflict. In doing this, I was able as the Mayor of Ireland's second city, to recognise the contribution and courage of these men and women and their families.
The unionist people of Belfast also opened their doors to me in a way many would have found unimaginable only a short time ago. I have to say I encountered little hostility. Indeed the contrary was the case, particularly when I made it clear that I wanted to confront the alienation and discrimination, which are still a part of daily life there, including in unionist and loyalist working class areas. The establishment has abandoned many of these areas to drug dealers and pushers and the criminal gangs.
Republicans are about changing all of that.
I believe that last year we made a difference in Belfast. I believe that Sinn Féin has set a standard that other parties will have to work hard to match. And I want to wish Anne Brolly, who is the new Chair of Limavady Council and the other incoming Sinn Féin Chairs and Mayors all the best for the coming year.
But for me and for Sinn Féin our efforts to reach out to unionists now enter a new phase, a new period of intensive activity. I have been given the responsibility within the party of organising this outreach work to the protestant and unionist people.
In recent years we have made significant progress in this area. Jim Gibney and Tom Hartley and others have been quietly engaging with Protestant Church leaders, meeting civic and business unionism, and seeking to break down the barriers that generations of institutionalised sectarianism and conflict have erected.
But now is the time to move up a gear. We have to build on the foundation already laid and we have to intensify this engagement to consolidate and build on the opportunities created by the peace process.
Let me be also clear building confidence and trust is a two way street. We cannot do this alone
I have to say that to date David Trimble‚s stewardship of the peace process has been a cause for concern. He has shown himself to be an increasingly reluctant participant in it. His victory over Jeffrey Donaldson last Monday night will only be a victory if it moves the peace process forward.
Peace Process can deliver real change
There is real concern and indeed fear that the political vacuum created by the British government‚s cancellation of the election and the indulgence of unionist intransigence will degenerate further over the summer. There is a strong feeling that republicans are being taken for granted and the heaviest burden put on our shoulders. But if we can look at all this as objectively as possible in the current circumstance we can see that we did anticipate the obstacles to freedom and justice and peace that would have to be overcome. And that it would be us who would have the most work to do in keeping it going.
For it is republicans who see what the success of the peace process can bring. It is us who want the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement because we have a vision for the future, of real peace, reconciliation, justice and equality. And it is we who see that the denial of these is what keeps the Six County state in existence. It is we who ensured that the all Ireland dimension was firmly entrenched in the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement. We want it to work because we want to progress to a united, independent country.
Republicans will not settle only for what Britain is prepared to give, be it in policing, equality, cultural rights, identity. That is why people all over Ireland see Sinn Féin as an alternative and are voting Sinn Féin.
People know we will fight for their rights. And there will always be a heavy price for us to pay for that, not only in terms of the political work we must be prepared to do but also in the initiatives and risks we need to take to ensure that this process does not stagnate or unravel into failure.
Yeats, in his poem 1916 said „for the British may keep faith after all‰ knowing that they would not and that the republic had to be fought for. But knowing what history tells us, has to be seen as a strength in our negotiations. This peace process is our agenda. We were the architects of it. We initiated it. We have pushed it on. We must not now lose ownership of it. And we must not lose sight of the gains we have made and the benefits that the majority of people have got from it.
I know this is little comfort to the people of Larne or Ardoyne or the Short Strand. It‚s hard to see the big picture when bombs and stones are raining down on you and your children can‚t play in their own street.
But through the peace process we have exposed the poison of sectarianiam and more than that, courageously set about removing it. We have exposed collusion. We made Ireland an international concern. In spite of its problems, the Irish peace process is held up as an example to the world. We have done well. But it‚s not over yet.
The question is what next. Well for a start the British government has to stop allowing unionism to dictate the pace of change and stop encouraging rejectionism. I want to say to the British government here today in clear and unambiguous terms:
We demand the right to vote.
We demand that the elections are held immediately.
We demand our equality and human rights.
We demand that the Agreement is implemented.
And to the Irish government I want to say ˆ you must stand up and be counted. You must act on behalf of the Irish people and not allow yourself to be treated as a junior partner or as secondary in this.
You have a responsibility to defend the fundamental rights of all citizens in the north and to persuade the British government to normalise relationships between these islands on a basis of national sovereignty and international co-operation. Among the issues the Irish government must confront is the need for the truth about the involvement of the British state in the murder of its citizens.
Time for the Truth about State sanctioned murder
People here today didn‚t need a Stevens Report to tell you there is collusion. Many of you, like me, experienced it at first hand.
You know that for thirty years, British military intelligence and RUC Special Branch organised and directed loyalist paramilitary death squads, most notably the UDA, who were effectively given license to murder with impunity. And this was not the action of a few rogue officers passing on information, this was institutionalised collaboration and it led directly to the deaths of many people.
There is a paper trail of murder, and conspiracy to murder, from the streets of Belfast and Derry, Dublin and Monaghan, from the roads and lanes of Armagh, Tyrone and elsewhere, to 10 Downing Street.
Sinn Féin fully supports the inquiry demands of the Finucane, Nelson and Hamill families. We also support public inquiries into the bombings in Dublin and Monaghan and the killing of Seamas Ludlow and Cllr. Eddie Fullerton.
There needs to be full and proper disclosure on the British state‚s involvement in the killing and attempted killing of hundreds of citizens through collusion with their proxy groups in loyalist paramilitaries; collusion which continues to this day and must be ended.
Building an Ireland of equals
As we work to advance the peace process we also need to be conscious that the struggle to win a united Ireland cannot be separate from the struggle for the kind of united Ireland we want.
In the 26 counties today, 250,000 of our children are living in poverty. 54,000 of our families are on the housing waiting list. Over 35,000 of our people are on the hospital waiting list. Throughout Ireland 8,000 people die prematurely each year due to poverty and inequality and rural communities are suffering increasing neglect. Uniting this country without addressing the fundamental economic and social problems that cause such inequality and poverty is a completely futile exercise.
The United Irishmen wanted a free and independent Ireland, but they also wanted one where the Rights of Man could be vindicated and a country established based on what Tone called „the rock of this principle, the greatest happiness of the greatest number‰. The truth is that in Ireland today the greatest number are exploited, creating wealth for big business and foreign multinationals. Republicanism is about changing that, about empowering the people of Ireland to decide our own destiny.
This weekend European Union heads of government have been meeting in Greece where they were presented with a proposed draft Constitution for the EU. That draft, if adopted, would be a giant step in the ongoing project to transform the EU from a partnership of states into a single state. That is not a people's project. The demand for a single EU state, which would be another world power, does not come from the peoples of Europe.
Like Wolfe Tone, we are Europeans and we are internationalists. But like Tone we also value Irish sovereignty and independence and we say that the basis for democracy and the basis for peaceful co-operation and mutual respect between nations is the democratic nation-state. Sinn Féin believes that too much of our sovereignty has already been ceded to EU institutions.
These are the principles we will bring to the debate on the proposed new EU Constitution.
We value Irish neutrality and we want to deepen and develop positive neutrality and progressive foreign policy. Independent foreign policy and military neutrality were grossly violated by the Fianna Fáil/PD government when they facilitated the war on Iraq through allowing the US military to use Shannon Airport. To the FF/PD government and to the Fine Gael party, which wants to abandon Irish neutrality completely, we say "Not in our name." That was the
slogan also of the mass movement of Irish people, and the mass movement of people around the world, which we in Sinn Féin were proud to be a part of, and which opposed the war on Iraq. The people who came out on the streets in such numbers throughout the 32 Counties have pointed the way forward for Irish foreign policy.
We do not want to see another power bloc or another empire. Sinn Féin believes that the way to build international peace and security is through the United Nations, strengthened and reformed, and freed of the total domination of the big military and economic powers.
The Challenges we now face
We have much work to do in the year ahead. We have to build our political strength in the Assembly, Local Government and European elections and I know that the excellent all-Ireland co-operation within Sinn Féin, which demonstrated itself during the General Election will be repeated in the year ahead.
We need to forge alliances with like-minded people in Trade Unions, in the Community & Voluntary sector, in the streets and neighbourhoods of our towns and cities.
We have to increase our membership
We have to lead the campaign for radical social and economic change
We have to advance our strategy for Irish unity
For all this to happen we need to remain active. We have already made a good start. Sinn Féin is the engine for change in Ireland. Every day we grow stronger, each week sees new people joining the struggle. The struggle begun by Tone and Emmet continues today and the responsibility for carrying it on lies with you, with me, with all of us. It is a responsibility we will not shirk, a legacy we will fulfil. As Irish Republicans let us go forward to Irish unity and independence and to freedom, justice and peace for all our people.