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No equivalence between those who fought for Irish freedom and those who sought to deny it - Matt Carthy MEP

25 November, 2018 - by Matt Carthy MEP


Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy has said Irish republicans will always commemorate those who fought for Irish freedom "proudly and unapologetically".

Addressing the annual Kilmichael and Crossbarry Commemoration today in west Cork, Carthy said that remembering one aspect of Ireland's history should not mean forgetting another and criticised efforts by some, to construct an equivalence in official commemoration of those who fought for Irish independence with the forces who sought to deny it.

Matt Carthy said:

"For our part, Irish Republicans will always remember and commemorate and honour the sacrifice of those heroes who fought and laid down their lives for Irish freedom.

"Despite many years of revisionism in some academia and Dublin-based media and among many politicians, we will do so very proudly and unapologetically.

"We have heard much recent public discussion about remembrance. This has intensified during the period of these centenaries.

"Let me be clear, it is absolutely right that all Irish people who died in all wars be remembered with respect.

"It is an historic fact that thousands of Irish people died while wearing British uniforms and to ignore that fact would be historically wrong.

"Families, communities and the state are right to remember all Irish who died in the world wars or other conflicts.

"In doing so, we should recall the reasons why so many Irish fought, particularly in the first world war.

"Many did so because they were misled by Redmonites and the British government - they believed they were helping to secure Home Rule and freedom for small nations.

"Others did so because they were financially desolate, Ireland being riven with poverty, it was, after all, just over half a century since that genocide that is often called a famine.

"Tom Barry gave very honest reasons for going to the trenches including 'Above all I went because I knew no Irish history and had no national consciousness'.

"We should remember all Irish who went, for whatever reasons they had.

"However, remembering one aspect of our history shouldn’t mean forgetting another.

"The truth is that the history of the British military in Ireland has been a negative one - it has been a history marred by aggression, hostility and massacre - their role has that of an unwelcome, oppressive, occupation force.

"Unfortunately there has I believe, been a conscious effort in some quarters, to equate Irishmen who fought in British uniform, with those who fought for Irish freedom.

"The objective has been to create a position of equivalence in official commemoration of those who fought for our independence with the forces who sought to deny it.

"This is a ludicrous concept that would never be accepted by any self-respecting nation on the face of the earth.

"To suggest that there should be an equality in commemoration between those Irish people who resisted foreign rule & fought oppression with the forces of those who were doing the oppressing would be laughable were it not so insulting to the memory of our patriot dead.

"The 1916 Rising, the 1918 general election and the suppression of Irish democracy were the backdrops to the Tan War, of which Kilmichael and Crossbarry were part.

"This year marks the centenary of the 1918 Election in which a majority of Irish citizens turned their backs on Westminster and voted overwhelmingly for an Independent, United Ireland.

"It is vitally important that this pivotal moment in the history of our nation is appropriately marked, not just by the state, but by ordinary people the length and breadth of Ireland.

"And, I want to take this opportunity to state very clearly to certain hurlers on the ditch in Leinster House that my party will never heed their calls to break our pledge to voters and sit in the British parliament.

"We will do, as Markievicz did and reject British interference in Ireland, working instead towards an all-Ireland republic.

"Unlike other parties, we do not break our pledges, we are not Redmondites and we are not prepared to swear of an oath of allegiance to a foreign monarch.

"Many will note that while Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil call on us to do this, they both refuse to allow Irish citizens from the north to have a voice in the Oireachtas."

ENDS

Editor's note:

- Find below full text of Matt Carthy speech:

A chairde,

Go raibh míle maith agaibh as ucht ar dheis a thabhairt dom labhairt anseo inniu.
It is an honour and a privilege to address you all at this spot today.

Of course, every speaker at every commemoration says that. But, let me tell you this - the very first book on Irish history that I read was Tom Barry’s - Guerrilla Days in Ireland - as a young person who had just began to be interested in Irish history and politics, that interest was well & truly ignited by learning of the Boys of Kilmichael.

So, while I, like every other speaker, am always gratified to be asked to address a commemoration, this invite was a little bit different. When I was told that Carmel O’Mahony had been in touch to see if I could be here today to commemorate the Kilmichael & Crossbarry ambushes I was more than just honoured and privileged, I was actually giddy with pride.

So, míle buíchas Carmel agus an coiste go leor.

“They said I was ruthless, daring, savage, blood thirsty, even heartless” Tom Barry recalled “The clergy called me and my comrades murderers; but the British were met with their own weapons. They had gone in the mire to destroy us and our nation and down after them we had to go”.

This extract from Barry’s work is important because it contextualises the conditions in which Irish Republicans engage in armed struggle. It was never an easy choice, rarely a popular course but all too often it was the necessary option in order to defend the Irish people and protect the dream of an independent Irish republic.

And, so it was, that having made that choice and taken that course, that the volunteers of the Irish Republican Army’s Third West Cork Brigade came to this spot and comprehensively routed a convoy of British Auxiliaries on 28th November 1920.

The battle at Kilmichael was ferocious, involving rifles, grenades and even to hand-to-hand combat.
When the fighting was over, all but one of the British convoy were dead, while three IRA volunteers - Jim O'Sullivan, Michael McCarthy and Pat Deasy were also killed.

Volunteer Diarmuid Ó Mathúna died some months later.

The British establishment could not comprehend how 18 battle-hardened officers had fallen in combat against a local group of poorly equipped Volunteer fighters.

Kilmichael was the clearest signal to the British yet that they faced in Ireland an effective and fearless guerrilla army.

The ambush changed the course of the Tan War and was followed by similar IRA successes at other spots including, of course, Crossbarry.

The IRA in west Cork became an inspiration for the wider resistance to British rule across Ireland and indeed for future freedom fighters around the world.

The men of Kilmichael and Crossbarry, and the women of who supported them, epitomise that sentiment that was best explained in the words of their successor Bobby Sands when he wrote: “They have nothing in their whole imperial arsenal that can break the spirit of one Irishman who doesn’t want to be broken”.

We must not forget that those British soldiers who were killed in Kilmichael and Crossbarry were in Cork with a job of work to do. They were here to intimidate, suppress and even murder the local population.

The actions of the occupying forces were curtailed because of the resistance of the IRA - and that is why the volunteers of the IRA were and remain our heroes. That is why they deserve a special place in our hearts, in our memories and in Irish history.

For our part, Irish Republicans will always remember and commemorate and honour the sacrifice of those heroes who fought and laid down their lives for Irish freedom.

Despite many years of revisionism in some academia and Dublin-based media and among many politicians, we will do so very proudly and unapologetically.

We have heard much recent public discussion about remembrance. This has intensified during the period of these centenaries.

Let me be clear, it is absolutely right that all Irish people who died in all wars be remembered with respect. It is an historic fact that thousands of Irish people died while wearing British uniforms and to ignore that fact would be historically wrong.

Families, communities and the state are right to remember all Irish who died in the world wars or other conflicts.

In doing so we should recall the reasons why so many Irish fought, particularly in the first world war.

Many did so because they were misled by Redmonites and the British government - they believed they were helping to secure Home Rule and freedom for small nations.

Others did so because they were financially desolate, Ireland being riven with poverty, it was, after all, just over half a century since that genocide that is often called a famine.

Tom Barry gave very honest reasons for going to the trenches including “Above all I went because I knew no Irish history and had no national consciousness”.

We should remember all Irish who went, for whatever reasons they had.

However, remembering one aspect of our history shouldn’t mean forgetting another. The truth is that the history of the British military in Ireland has been a negative one - it has been a history marred by aggression, hostility and massacre - their role has that of an unwelcome, oppressive, occupation force.

Unfortunately there has I believe, been a conscious effort in some quarters, to equate Irishmen who fought in British uniform, with those who fought for Irish freedom.

The objective has been to create a position of equivalence in official commemoration of those who fought for our independence with the forces who sought to deny it.

This is a ludicrous concept that would never be accepted by any self-respecting nation on the face of the earth.
To suggest that there should be an equality in commemoration between those Irish people who resisted foreign rule & fought oppression with the forces of those who were doing the oppressing would be laughable were it not so insulting to the memory of our patriot dead.

The 1916 Rising, the 1918 general election and the suppression of Irish democracy were the backdrops to the Tan War, of which Kilmichael and Crossbarry were part.

This year marks the centenary of the 1918 Election in which a majority of Irish citizens turned their backs on Westminster and voted overwhelmingly for an Independent, United Ireland.

It is vitally important that this pivotal moment in the history of our nation is appropriately marked, not just by the state, but by ordinary people the length and breadth of Ireland.

And, I want to take this opportunity to state very clearly to certain hurlers on the ditch in Leinster House that my party will never heed their calls to break our pledge to voters and sit in the British parliament.

We will do, as Markievicz did and reject British interference in Ireland, working instead towards an all-Ireland republic.

Unlike other parties, we do not break our pledges, we are not Redmondites and we are not prepared to swear of an oath of allegiance to a foreign monarch.

Many will note that while Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil call on us to do this, they both refuse to allow Irish citizens from the north to have a voice in the Oireachtas.

Of course, the democratically expressed will of the Irish people in 1918 was not respected by the British.

The Tan War was followed by the Treaty and the tragedy of Partition which blighted Ireland's political, economic and social development and led to inevitably to the re-emergence of conflict in the North.

Now, Brexit and the denial of people's rights in the North, is again exposing the fact that a divided Ireland does not serve the needs of our people.

Partition is a huge obstacle to building a modern, open and forward-looking society with a dynamic economy.
Irish unity is back at the centre of political discourse. A referendum on a United Ireland is a provision of the Good Friday Agreement.

We are entering a defining period in Irish political history and the Irish Government in particular has a responsibility to lead an informed, and respectful public dialogue on a United Ireland.

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement. And, while the Orange state is gone, many within the political leadership of unionism remain in denial.

The current political crisis in the North is merely the culmination of 20 years of DUP efforts to undermine the Good Friday Agreement.

An Irish Language Act, marriage equality, women’s rights, and legacy rights, are the 2018 version of ‘one person, one vote’.

The Irish Government must take a lead in defending the democratic rights of people in the North.
Recently Leo Varadkar received a letter signed by 1,000 prominent individuals from civic society asking him to do just that, and I would urge him again here today, to do so.

Republicans want the power sharing institutions restored, but we will not do so if discrimination, disrespect, intimidation, bigotry, and corruption are the price.

The nationalist community have had enough of that.

Of course, the Partition of Ireland was a tragedy not just for the people of the North, but for the South also.
What developed here was not the Republic envisaged by the 1916 leaders, by the First Dáil, or fought for by the Volunteers in Kilmichael and Crossbarry.

What emerged instead was a conservative, narrow-minded state with an economy designed to serve the interests of a wealthy, privileged minority.

So the struggle for a real republic continues. A republic built in the interest of its citizens and not a golden circle of political and business insiders.

We have seen much progress in recent years in the development of a more open society in Ireland in which equality is respected.

However, we have much further to go. Sinn Féin stands for a broader and deeper equality. Crucially, we stand for economic equality where the economy serves the people, not the other way around.

We stand for the creation of a real republic where housing, healthcare and education are rights, free and accessible to all.

We know that to achieve those aims, we must be in government.

Sinn Féin want to be in government North and South.

But, not at any price.

We don't want to be part of the system. We want to change the system.

We will not enter any government that doesn’t result in real, positive change in the lives of the families and communities of Ireland; that doesn’t create an fairer economic system, that doesn’t address that imbalances in wealth between Irish workers and the vulture funds or speculators or beef barons or other elites; that doesn’t set out to solve the crises in our public services, that doesn’t have a plan to reunify our country.

I know there are many republicans who fear the prospect of Sinn Féin being a bit-player in a a Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael led government. Well, there’s a way of addressing that fear - it’s by making Sinn Féin the largest party in this state.

“Not possible!” some will say.

As a good friend of Irish freedom - Madiba - Nelson Mandela - once said “It always seems impossible until it’s done”.

Some would have said that it wasn’t possible for a small group of volunteer soldiers to send the regiments of the British empire running back to England but that’s exactly what West Cork Republicans did.

We know that there are no shortcuts to the achievement of a united Ireland or the delivery of the Irish Republic.
It will require hard work, determination and yes, self sacrifice. And, there will be setbacks.

I want to acknowledge my colleague MEP Liadh Ní Riada here today and thank her for standing for Sinn Féin in the recent presidential election and for the dignity in which she presented herself at all times during that campaign.

In congratulating Michael D. Higgins on his victory I also want to acknowledge that for Sinn Féin it was a disappointing result. But, I want to assure you that we will re-group, learn the lessons and re-build.

We will do so undaunted because we remain inspired by those - such as the fighters at Kilmichael and Crossbarry and in generations since - who were prepared to sacrifice all for the Republic and for the freedom and welfare of the Irish people.

We will meet the resistance that will undoubtedly present, preciously because we learn the lessons of past and have a plan for a better future.

Mar a deir an seanfhocal “An té nach bhfuil láidir ní folair dó a bheith glic”.

Today, in memory of Jim O'Sullivan, Michael McCarthy, Pat Deasy & Diarmuid Ó Mathúna; and of all those before and since who died for our freedom we pledge to build the republic for which they fought so bravely.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

ENDS

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