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Unity cannot be the job of Sinn Féin alone - Ní Riada

27 November, 2016 - by Liadh Ní Riada MEP


Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ni Riada has called on all parties that describe themselves as republican to work together to deliver realistic plans and proposals for the reunification of Ireland.

Speaking at the annual Kilmichael Commemoration in County Cork today she said the responsibility for reuniting Ireland is not and cannot be Sinn Féin's alone. 

"There are those who only pay lip service to reunification. They tell us now is not the time. Now is exactly the time. The current political landscape does not only present an opportunity for reunification, it demands it.  

"They tell us we can't afford reunification but every major study carried out in the past few years tells us the exact opposite; that we can't afford partition.  That we can't afford the duplication, bureaucracy, inefficiencies and barriers caused by having two competing entities on our tiny island.  

"They tell us it's not realistic; but how realistic was the prospect of an Irish Republic at a time when the British Empire was at the peak of its powers?  How realistic was the prospect of a largely untrained underground guerrilla army taking on the strongest military force on the planet? 

"This week Sinn Féin has launched a series of campaigns on our vision for a united Ireland. They cover a broad range of issues, from the price of partition and the possibilities opened up by reunification to our proposals on national reconciliation and an all-Ireland health service, free at the point of delivery.   

"On Monday we will publish a discussion document based on these campaigns and more entitled ‘Toward a United Ireland’. 

"While the document highlights the case for unity the type of new Ireland we build is still very much up for discussion and debate.

"A lot has happened since the flying column set out for Kilmicheal. Much of which was unseen by the volunteers. Time has divided republicans. However, all republicans from our many traditions share the common objective of Irish Unity and the building of the hard fought for republic.  

"Reunification is not, indeed cannot, be the responsibility of  Sinn Féin alone. 

"If we mean to build an Ireland for all of the people then we all have a responsibility to plan, to act and to deliver unity. 

"So to those who have yet to get involved in the discussion on reunification, I say now is the time to make your voice heard.  

"To those hard working activists in other parties, now is the time to play a meaningful role in the discussion that will shape a new Ireland.  

"To our unionist brothers and sisters, I say your input is as essential as everyone else's.  Take part in the conversation, even from an opposing point of view.  Share with us your hopes, concerns and ideas and we will share with you our vision of a fair, free and progressive country that cherishes all the children of the nation equally. 

"This is a fine monument.  A fitting tribute to the nationally significant event that happened here and the brave people who made it happen.  but if we really want to honour their memory and live up to their ideals, then the only fitting memorial we can build is a free, sovereign, united Ireland.  Let us come together to build it."

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Full speech

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A chairde, 

It is 96 years since Tomy Barry's Flying Column changed the trajectory of the War of Independence. A week prior to the Kilmichael Ambush Michael Collins' Squad dealt a devastating blow to the British Government's intelligence operations in Dublin, executing more than a dozen agents and informers across the city.  The British may have been prepared to write this off as an anomaly, a freak incident in which they were caught on the hop.  However,  when the Third West Cork Brigade wiped out a convoy of Auxiliaries at this spot seven days later, the reality must have dawned on them that they were facing a new challenge. A reinvigorated,and fearless guerrilla army. 

Kilmichael was quite unlike anything that had come before in the War of Independence.  This would not be a hit and run operation.  Barry had deliberately picked a spot that gave good cover and vantage points but no route of retreat.  This would be a fight to the death.  In his own words the British had "gone down in the mire to destroy us and our nation and down after them we had to go." 

After a ferocious battle, which involved everything from rifles and grenades to hand to hand combat, all but one of the British convoy lay dead. Three IRA volunteers; Jim O'Sullivan, Michael McCarthy and Pat Deasy were also killed in the fighting. 

The ambush had been an outstanding military victory for the IRA and it marked the beginning of a series of large scale encounters with the British that continued right up until the end of the War of Independence, with similar successes for IRA units at Dromkeen, Coolavokig, Crossbarry, Clonbanin and Carrowkennedy to name but a few. 

More importantly than any military victory, however; Kilmichael sent out a message to the world that what was happening in Ireland was not an inexplicable crime wave; was not "unrest" or "Troubles".  Ireland was at war.  The British were fighting to hold onto their empire and the Irish Republic was fighting for its very existence. 

It sent a message to IRA units across the country that the Auxiliaries, believed to be the elite of the British Army, practically invincible, were far from it, and they responded accordingly.

So why do we gather here every year? Certainly not to revel in the deaths of 17 Auxiliaries, loathed though they were by the local population for their brutality.  

We of course remember the sacrifices of those revolutionaries who risked all for a better Ireland and in particular we honour Jim, Michael and Pat who made the ultimate sacrifice. 

However, the reason this battle holds such significance, the reason we continue to remember Kilmichael 96 years on is because it was a turning point in the birth of our nation. 

The Irish Republic was proclaimed in 1916, ratified by the people in 1918, it's vision laid out in the Democratic programme of the First Dail in 1919 but it was here, in 1920, that it firmly asserted its right to exist in the face of aggression; that it showed the world that it was determined to survive.  

It was no longer an academic exercise, nor the romantic aspiration of poets and playwrights.  It was here,  now, alive, as real as the ground we are standing on and any jackboot that attempted to come down on it was on it was going to find itself booted right back. 

There are those who talk about the War of Independence as if it were a civilised and dignified occasion.  A gentleman's disagreement, sorted out with all the civility and ceremony of pistols at dawn. 

It was not. It was, a dangerous time to be alive in which brutality was an everyday fact of life and could be visited upon you whether you were involved in the war or not. 

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the people who endured such times for us and in doing so it is worth remembering what they endured it for. 

They did not endure it so that we could let people sleep in doorways and alleys while entire estates of houses lie empty. 

They did not endure it so that working Irish families could scrape through years of austerity in order to pay off a debt that was not theirs. 

They did not endure it so that the country they fought for could be, in Connolly's words, "cut to pieces as a corpse upon the dissecting table" and her sovereignty sold off. 

The War of Independence occurred because the British Government ignored the democratically expressed will of the people of Ireland.  Now, having apparently learned nothing in the intervening 96 years, the British Government has once again ignored the clearly expressed wishes of the people of Ireland.  In June, the people of the north east of this country voted very clearly to remain with the rest of Ireland in the European Union.   

Regardless of what your views on the EU are, Ireland must make decisions regarding it as one unit.  Having one part of Ireland in and one part out will spell disaster for the entire island; it will effectively repartition the country.  Partition was a bad idea in 1921; to entrench it after 95 years of abject failure is utter madness.  

Financially it will be an enormous setback to a fragile economy that we are told is in recovery but has yet to share the benefits of this supposed recovery with the low and middle income families that make up the bulk of our population.  It will effect trade, not just internationally but within the island and the imposition of a physical border will have effects that will spread far beyond the border counties.  

Partition has stunted the growth of this island's economy for almost a century.  We must make it clear to the British Irish and European governments that we, the Irish people, reject borders, hard or soft, British or European, in our country. 

The reunification of Ireland is the only realistic, achievable and permanent solution to the problem. 

There are those who only pay lip service to reunification. They tell us now is not the time. Now is exactly the time. The current political landscape does not only present an opportunity for reunification, it demands it.  

They tell us we can't afford reunification but every major study carried out in the past few years tells us the exact opposite; that we can't afford partition.  That we can't afford the duplication, bureaucracy, inefficiencies and barriers caused by having two competing entities on our tiny island.  

They tell us it's not realistic; but how realistic was the prospect of an Irish Republic at a time when the British Empire was at the peak of its powers?  How realistic was the prospect of a largely untrained underground guerilla army taking on the strongest military force on the planet? 

The Good Friday Agreement provides a peaceful and democratic pathway to reunification. Unity is not in the gift of the British Government it now rests in the hands of the people north and south to be expressed in concurrent referendums. We need to secure a vote for the people and to win the vote for unity. 

This week Sinn Féin has launched a series of campaigns on our vision for a united Ireland. They cover a broad range of issues, from the price of partition and the possibilities opened up by reunification to our proposals on national reconciliation and an all-Ireland health service, free at the point of delivery.   

On Monday we will publish a discussion document based on these campaigns and more entitled ‘Toward a United Ireland’. 

The document will outline the case for unity and show that a united Ireland by definition must be a new Ireland. It is more than the sum of its parts.

The document highlights that a new, united Ireland makes sense in terms of economy, reconciliation, inclusion and equality, public services, investment and exports, agriculture and agrifoods, policing and justice and even sport. 

While the document highlights the case for unity the type of new Ireland we build is still very much up for discussion and debate.

A lot has happened since the flying column set out for Kilmicheal. Much of which was unseen by the volunteers. Time has divided republicans. However, all republicans from our many traditions share the common objective of Irish Unity and the building of the hard fought for republic.  

Reunification is not, indeed cannot, be the responsibility of  Sinn Féin alone. 

If we mean to build an Ireland for all of the people then we all have a reponsibility to plan, to act and to deliver unity. 

So to those who have yet to get involved in the discussion on reunification, I say now is the time to make your voice heard.  

To those hard working activists in other parties, now is the time to play a meaningful role in the discussion that will shape a new Ireland.  

To our unionist brothers and sisters, I say your input is as essential as everyone else's.  Take part in the conversation, even from an opposing point of view.  Share with us your hopes, concerns and ideas and we will share with you our vision of a fair, free and progressive country that cherishes all the children of the nation equally. 

This is a fine monument.  A fitting tribute to the nationally significant event that happened here and the brave people who made it happen.  but if we really want to honour their memory and live up to their ideals, then the only fitting memorial we can build is a free, sovereign, united Ireland.  Let us come together to build it.

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