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Brexit changes everything - Michelle O’Neill MLA delivers main oration at Dublin Easter Commemoration

16 April, 2017 - by Michelle O'Neill


Sinn Féin Leader in the North Michelle O’Neill MLA has delivered the main oration at today’s Easter Commemoration in Dublin.

During the course of her remarks Ms O’Neill said Ireland’s political landscape, North and South, will change dramatically as a result of Brexit.

She said the issue has brought the issue of Irish reunification firmly back on the politicala agenda.

Ms O’Neill said;

“The Brexit referendum result has swept away many of the previous political assumptions about the constitutional, political and economic status quo in Ireland.

“Ireland’s political landscape, North and South, will change dramatically – and this poses a severe threat to the Good Friday Agreement and the political and economic future of the island. 

“This has brought the issue of Irish reunification firmly back on to the political agenda.   

“The people of the North clearly voted to see their future in the European Union in the referendum last June.  Those who voted remain came from all walks of life. They were nationalists, unionists, republicans and others.

“They did so not because the EU is such a great institution, but because it is in their best interests politically, socially and economically and because they did not want to see any strengthening of the border in Ireland. 

“The British government's reckless Brexit agenda offers nothing to the people of the north who are being dragged out against our will. 

“The Brexit referendum was driven by the narrow, right-wing interests of the most hardline elements of the British Tory party and the far right of UKIP. These parties have never shown any regard for the North of Ireland or our people. 

“Since the referendum, Theresa May and her government have done nothing to indicate this has changed. In fact they have blatantly ignored the democratic will of the majority of the people of the north. 

“Sinn Féin called for the Dublin Government to establish an all-Ireland forum to discuss the impact of Brexit and where successful in securing that.

“But what Enda Kenny must now do is stop standing by and start to take serious his moral duty and political responsibility to act in the national interest of all Irish citizens.

“He needs to make it clear that his government will formally adopt the case for designated special status for the North within the EU as a negotiating position when he enters the Brexit negotiations.”

Full text of Michelle O'Neill's speech

A chairde agus a chomrádaithe,

I want to thank Sinn Féin Báile áth Cliath for the invitation to address you all here today in this historic and sacred place of Glasnevin cemetery.

It is great to see such a great crowd gathered to pay respect and to honour our patriot dead.

I especially want to welcome the families and friends of our patriot dead here today.

Fáilte mhór riomh gach duine.

Easter 1916 was so hugely significant in both Irish and republican history because it captured not only the public imagination, but also the spirit of generations since, who have for over a century of revolutionary struggle worked, fought and died for Irish freedom.

Last year’s centenary of 1916 was a massive success.

Political, cultural, historical organisations and communities stretched themselves to organise what were successful events to celebrate the Leaders and the rank and file volunteers and the organisations that participated in the Rising of 1916.

For Sinn Féin this was at the heart of all that we did in Ireland and across the globe, particularly in North America and Britain – and I want to thank everyone involved from Dublin Sinn Féin who helped make the year the great success that it was.

You will recall that it was here in Glasnevin back in August 2015 where we showcased through pageantry and politics what we had in store for the centenary year to follow, with a spectacular re-enactment of the Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa funeral.

This saw scores of thousands travel from across Ireland and further to participate.

I have fond memories from that day of our dear friend and comrade Martin McGuinness taking part in period dress and enjoying the sun with everyone else.

TRIBUTE TO MARTIN McGUINNESS

His death on 21st March has come as a huge shock and loss to the party and his comrades, the people of Ireland and of course his wife Bernie and close family circle.

Martin McGuinness was a towering pillar of strength and his commitment and determination never once faltered over forty years of struggle.

His leadership alongside that of Gerry Adams, and our collective leadership has brought us to the position of political strength that we are in today as the biggest party on this island and the leaders of progressive political change, north and south. 

I had the personal honour of serving alongside Martin as an MLA for Mid-Ulster and as Minister for 5 years under his stewardship.

I want to pay tribute to Martin and to the family which he was devoted to and which stood behind him through all those difficult years. To them he was a husband, father and grandfather.

The Republic that was envisaged by the leaders of 1916 and the Proclamation was at the core of his political beliefs – as it is ours.

SIGNIFICANCE OF 1916

101 years ago Irish women and men from the four corners of Ireland – nationalists, republicans, socialists, trade unionists, gaelgeoirí, feminists – were gathering together in rooms in this city and across this country and beyond in Britain and the USA to plan the overthrow of the British empire in Ireland.

They envisaged a new Republic, where the people would be sovereign as citizens, not subjects; where people have fundamental political, cultural, social and economic rights, not arbitrary privileges; where there is equality, not elitism; where there is peace and unity, not partition and division.

On Easter Monday April 24th 1916 Pádraig Pearse marched with a small number of comrades to the General Post Office and read aloud the Proclamation of a new Republic.

A few hundred, poorly equipped Irish men and women took on the might of the largest empire in history.

After six days of heroic resistance by the republicans the centre of Dublin was in ruins.

Hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned and seeking to avoid further death and destruction, the leaders of the Provisional Government met for the last time in 16 Moore Street and ordered a surrender.

The leaders were court martialled and fifteen were executed over the following two weeks.

Roger Casement was later hanged in London.

The British hoped that by the speed of their actions and the scale of the executions that the flame of Irish freedom would be extinguished in Ireland, and for good.

But, as we know their actions had the opposite effect, spearheading a century of struggle which has shaped Irish politics from then until now 101 years later.

The 1916 Easter Rising was a declaration of freedom heard all around the world.

The patriots of 1916 believed that a better Ireland is possible.

So do we.

And to achieve it – to win their freedom – to win our freedom - they put everything on the line - including their own lives.

The Irish revolutionary period was followed by a counter-revolution and Civil War.

Thousands more died and were imprisoned.

The revolution was defeated.

Narrow, conservative, elitist, sectarian regimes were established north and south.

In the north the unionist regime imposed decades of political and religious discrimination, repression and conservatism.

In this state there was the horror of institutional abuse in the Magdalene laundries, in the Reformatory and Industrial Schools and in other institutions.

Poverty, emigration and inequality were rampant – as was censorship in the arts and politics.

The old, British imperial administration was replaced by new, native Irish political and economic elites.

A century on Irish republicans continue to strive towards the New Republic as imagined by the Citizen Army and Irish Volunteers of 1913 and Cumann na mBan in 1914, the Leaders of the Easter Rising in 1916, the First Dáil and the Democratic Programme of 1919 and the modern day republican icons of 1981.

ENDING PARTITION

The ending of partition, a British government disengagement from the North and the restoration to the Irish people of the right to exercise self-sovereignty, independence and national self-determination remain the only political solution for everyone on this island concerned with its future.

Over the past two decades the island of Ireland has been transformed as a result of the Irish peace process of which the Good Friday Agreement is its foundation stone.

It provides for a peaceful and democratic way to end partition and to unite Ireland.

When the Good Friday Agreement was signed 19 years ago on April 10, 1998 it offered hope of a new future.

It recognised that the constitutional and political conditions of the North had to fundamentally change and that no longer could the British/unionist state deny nationalists equality of opportunity, parity of esteem, recognition of our Irish national identity or political power.

It also offered a democratic alternative to political conflict.

And while without doubt much progress has been achieved, almost 20 years on, we have yet to realise the potential of the Good Friday Agreement.

On March 2nd the Assembly election was brought to a head by the lack of respect and arrogance of the the DUP towards Sinn Féin as their partners in Government.

The DUP sought to set aside the principles of equality and respect.

The serial allegations of financial scandals undermined public confidence in the institutions. The DUP insulted broad nationalism, Irish language speakers, ethnic minorities and our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

The British government have repeatedly refused to honour previous agreements and sought to continue the cover-up of their dirty war.

The Irish government have failed in their duty and responsibility as joint guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement to stand up to the British Government or the DUP, therefore allowing the hard-won political dispensation to be threatened and undermined.

It was not acceptable to Sinn Féin and Martin McGuinness acted.

Martin made it clear there could be no return to the status quo or business as usual and there would be zero tolerance of incompetence, arrogance and inequality.

We fought a second election and significantly increased our mandate.

On the basis of this mandate we have entered political talks to re-establish the Executive on the principles of equality, respect and integrity and to have the agreements fully implemented.

Let me be clear - Sinn Féin are only interested in participating in the power sharing institutions if they deliver for all of our citizens and operate on the basis of equality and respect.

Agreements made must be honoured.

Commitments given must be delivered.

Partnership government must mean exactly that.

The Good Friday Agreement isn’t dead but the political process is certainly broken.

It can be fixed and that is what Sinn Féin is determined to achieve.

It is now time to at last deliver on the unfinished business and face towards the future rather than live in the past. It is about the politics of hope over fear, and for nationalists and republicans the time is now.

TWENTY-SIX COUNTY POLITICS OF PAST YEAR

In the South, Enda Kenny became Taoiseach only through the support of Mícheál Martin who has supported a Fine Gael minority Government.

It continues to limp from one crisis to another week by week.

This cosy consensus of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil has turned a blind eye to the scandals in the Garda Síochána and NAMA.

They stand for zero accountability and the avoidance of responsibility.

True to form they take the side of the landlords against the tenants, the bosses against the strikers.

They have failed to end the crises in housing and health care.

The only thing they have succeeded in is avoiding an election.

The people should have their say and the opportunity at the ballot box to tell both Enda Kenny and Mícháel Martin that their game is up – the people see through it and they want change.

BREXIT

The Brexit referendum result has swept away many of the previous political assumptions about the constitutional, political and economic status quo in Ireland.

Ireland’s political landscape, North and South, will change dramatically – and this poses a severe threat to the Good Friday Agreement and the political and economic future of the island.

This has brought the issue of Irish reunification firmly back on to the political agenda.  

A new conversation about the future is underway.

The people of the North clearly voted to see their future in the European Union in the referendum last June.

Those who voted remain came from all walks of life. They were nationalists, unionists, republicans and others.

They did so not because the EU is such a great institution, but because it is in their best interests politically, socially and economically and because they did not want to see any strengthening of the border in Ireland.

The British government's reckless Brexit agenda offers nothing to the people of the north who are being dragged out against our will.

The Brexit referendum was driven by the narrow, right-wing interests of the most hardline elements of the British Tory party and the far right of UKIP. These parties have never shown any regard for the North of Ireland or our people.

Since the referendum, Theresa May and her government have done nothing to indicate this has changed. In fact they have blatantly ignored the democratic will of the majority of the people of the north.

The Tory party, with no mandate in the north is attempting to ride roughshod over the views of the people of the north with their undemocratic Brexit agenda.

Sinn Féin called for the Dublin Government to establish an all-Ireland forum to discuss the impact of Brexit and were successful in securing that.

But what Enda Kenny must now do is stop standing by and start to take serious his  moral duty and political responsibility to act in the national interest of all Irish citizens.

He needs to make it clear that his government will formally adopt the case for designated special status for the North within the EU as a negotiating position when he enters the Brexit negotiations.

Across the north, particularly in border areas, thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest against the British government's Brexit agenda.

Sinn Féin believes that the only credible approach is for the north to receive designated special status within the EU.

In order to secure designated special status people need to mobilise, make their views known, and build support to ensure their democratic will is recognised.

Conclusion

We are entering a defining period in Irish political history.

The opportunities for real change are within our grasp.

The old certainties are gone.

The grip of the old parties is loosening.

The perpetual unionist majority has ended.

Europe is in a state of flux.

It is a time for big ideas. 

Now is the time to build a new Ireland.

We want to deliver a real Republic.

Sinn Féin wants a society based on equality and fairness. 

We want to be in government both parts of Ireland in order to serve the Irish people and to deliver a Real Republic.

To finish the business of 1916 and the great challenge of the Proclamation in uniting all the people of this island, whatever their background or tradition, in equality and mutual respect together.

Go raibh maith agaibh go léir.

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