Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Address by Pat Doherty MP - Liam Lynch Commemoration

3 September, 2005


'We have declared for an Irish Republic and will live under no other law' - so said Liam Lynch.

Liam Lynch was an Irish Republican. Despite great personal sacrifices but safe in the knowledge of the righteousness of his cause he was prepared to face the might of the British Empire at a time when they still occupied much of the world.

His legacy has of course been the subject of much revisionism and counter revisionism over the decades. But what can be in no dispute is that Liam Lynch continues to rank as one of the most influential Irish figures of the last century. Republicans, particularly here in Munster are rightly proud of the contribution which he made and indeed it says much that more than 80 years after his death Republicans from Munster still come together each year to commemorate his life and ensure that his memory is cherished and honored.

Liam Lynch was first and foremost a republican revolutionary, a visionary, and was proud to play his part in the development of the struggle for Irish Freedom.

Republicans of my generation have sought to continue that work. We have sought to undo the damage caused by partition and undo the damage caused by the creation of artificial barriers between the Irish people.

The flawed policy of partition and the establishment of a sectarian statelet in the north-east of our country resulted in decades of institutional discrimination and violence against catholics and nationalists in the six counties. In 1969 the contradictions of artificial divisions imposed by a British government on Irish people exploded onto the streets in a wave of sectarian pogroms and killings. In the months after the burning of Bombay Street and the forced migration of tens of thousands of northern nationalists the modern day IRA re-emerged onto the streets of Belfast to defend the ordinary people form the sectarian onslaught of the state.

Unfortunately the anti-Catholic sectarian ethos which binds together the Orange state in the north has once again raised its ugly head in attacks on isolated catholic homes, business and churches in recent weeks in North Antrim and elsewhere and the absolute contradictions of Ulster unionism and loyalism have been laid bare in yet another bloody internecine feud.

In the decades since 1969 we have witnessed a cycle of resistance met by repression. We have lived through many difficult and dangerous days. We have endured the protests on the streets and in the prisons. We saw our communities demonized and degraded. Yet throughout all of this we never once left behind our republican ideology or our absolute commitment to the establishment of a 32 County Republic on this island.

In 1994 the IRA called a cessation of its military operations. They did so to allow what was then an embryonic peace process the space to bed down and develop. Republicans for the first time since partition entered into a formal process of political negotiations with the British government and the other parties in the north. The resulting Good Friday Agreement received the overwhelming support of the Irish people north and south.

Yet despite this endorsement the process has become stalled. The British government has pandered to rejectionist unionism while the Irish government has failed to assert itself as a co-equal partner with the British government in driving forward this process. The Irish government has an obligation to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement is no longer stalled or subverted by those opponents of change be they within unionism or the British system.

In July the leadership of the IRA, after an extensive period of internal negotiation and debate, announced a formal end to the armed campaign. They stated very clearly that they believed that the conditions now existed to advance the struggle for Irish unity through peaceful and democratic activity. This was a courageous move from an undefeated army. It was a move which could only be taken from a position of strength. I know and acknowledge the difficulties and challenges which such an initiative has for republicans, but I am absolutely convinced that the IRA leadership has taken the correct decision for our struggle and for Irish people generally.

The IRA statement of course now provides both challenges and opportunities for many people. Unionism has lost its excuse for non-engagement. The British government has lost its excuse for failing to deliver key elements of the Good Friday Agreement.

But more importantly for Irish republicans and nationalists - for those of us who want to see an end to British rule and the establishment of the republic it provides an opportunity to build new alliances, to devise and develop new strategies and shared positions and to drive forward the united Ireland agenda in the time ahead.

Of course we must ensure that the Good Friday Agreement is implemented in full. That the outstanding issues on policing, justice, human rights and demiltarisation and swiftly concluded. We of course want to see the all-Ireland power sharing institutions re-established and re-established soon. However that is only part of our work. The big challenge is to get moving on the work of Irish unity.

We must begin planning for Irish unity in a very structured and scientific fashion. I believe that the Irish government should bring forward a Green Paper on this issue and appoint a Minister with responsibility for developing and advancing the all-Ireland agenda. I see no reason why those of us elected as in the north MPs - nationalist, republican and unionist - should not be afforded the opportunity to represent those Irish citizens who elect us in the Dail. I see no reason why Irish citizens in the six counties should not be part of electing the Irish President. These are the sort of practical measures which need to be undertaken in the short term as we actively drive forward the republican project in the coming months and years.

Sinn Féin cannot do this on our own. Irish freedom and Irish unity is too big a job to be delivered and undertaken by one party. Bobby Sands said that everyone had a role to play, now is the time for Irish nationalists and republicans who for whatever reason have shied away from contributing to the struggle or who have so far not stepped forward to make that step. Together as republicans and nationalists we can complete this job. But for the first time since partition we all need to pull together.

Injustice and inequality however isn‚t justice confined to the Six Counties - It is an all-Ireland issue. We only have to look at our TV screens the range of injustices and inequalities in almost every aspect of life that face very many people across the 26 Counties as well. Look at the tribunals including those into Garda corruption; look at the chronic state of our hospitals; look at our overcrowded schools; look at the Governments failure on childcare; look at the outrageous cost of housing.

But it doesn‚t stop there. Look what this Government has done in County Mayo - the home of Michael Davitt and the Land League. Working hand in glove with multi-national oil companies they have sought to sell off our natural resources with no benefit to either the people of Mayo or Ireland. And in the process have been quite happy to see five honourable men locked up for defending the rights of their community and the wider interests of the people of this State.

It would have been considered inconceivable that the Rossport Five would still be in jail today when they first embarked on their protest. But it is even more inconceivable that this Government has done absolutely nothing to challenge the hegemony of the oil companies in relation to this very serious issue.

The Rossport Five should be released and released immediately. There should be a full investigation in to the circumstances which have led to this sorry mess. The role of Ray Burke, a disgraced former Minister and his successors in granting licences to Shell needs to be rigorously pursued. It is not credible that Ray Burke or successive Governments just gave away the rights to our natural resources for nothing. Somebody got paid and paid handsomely somewhere along the line. We need to know who.

In conclusion I would just say that struggles for justice or freedom are not easy. Whether that struggle is for reunification, for better housing or for the protection of our natural resources the history of Liam Lynch tells us that. Freedom, or change, or equality do not come to those who wait. They come to those who demand it. It will require political will and political courage. Republicans have time and again displayed such traits. So collectively we have a responsibility to move forward. We have now a responsibility to deliver the sort of Irish democracy which Liam Lynch, or Mairead Farrell or Bobby Sands selflessly gave their lives for.

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