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We must continue the fight of Constance Markievicz and her comrades – McDonald

8 December, 2018 - by Mary Lou McDonald TD

Speaking at the ‘Suffrage, Rebellion, Liberation - The unfinished business of Irish Republican Women’ event in Lissadell House this afternoon, Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald TD gave the following address.

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Dia dhaoibh go léir a chairde,

Táim an-sásta bheith libh inniu anseo i Sligeach.

I can think of no better place to be than Lissadell House to remember Constance Markievicz.

This was her home; a place she loved and a place she gave up to serve the people of Ireland.

There is no better place to recall the victory of Sinn Féin in the 1918 general election, one hundred years ago.

Am ciniúnach i stair na hÉireann ab ea é.

Bhí ollbhua ag Pobachtánaigh sa toghchán ar a dtugtar 'Toghchán Shinn Féin'.

Thogh muintir na hÉirean tromlach ar son Saoirse na hÉireann.

Údár bróid é gur thoghadh Constance Markievicz san toghcháin sin.

Bhí sí páirteach sa traidisiún uasal de mhná Poblachtánacha sin a bhí ina réabhlódaithe ó smacht.

And there is no better place to remember that generation of poets and patriots who looked beyond their time, who fought with bravery and carried an unquenchable thirst for justice, for equality and for Irish freedom.

There is no better place to be and no better people to be with than you.

The Rebels, the Radicals and Republicans of today.

For we carry the mantel of Eva and Constance, Margaret Skinnider and Kathleen Lynn, Winnifred Carney and Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington, Margaret Buckley, Máire Drumm and Mairead Farrell.

We are the generation to make good their promises and deliver their legacy.

We do this, not out of duty. This is not a weight of history.

This is a choice we made.

A choice to build a new and united Ireland.

And we make that choice freely.

Markievicz could have taken the easy path, could have turned a blind eye and lived in comfort.

But she didn’t. She chose a life of struggle. A life of service, a life of hope and a life dedicated to change.

Like Markievicz, we are the difficult women, the disruptors and the most unmanageable of revolutionaries.

We make no apologies for that.

One hundred years ago was a time when a British government believed that it could dictate to the Irish people.

A time of tenements and profiteering landlords.

A time of poverty, ill health and inequality.

Markievicz championed the role of women, she was a friend to the poor.

She stood on the picket lines with workers and opposed landlordism.

She fought and sacrificed much.  

She was a soldier. And that still troubles those in power today.

There are those who want to co-opt Markievicz, to sanitise and neuter her revolutionary spirit and revise her actions.

This rewriting of her legacy is nothing new.

Hanna Sheehy Skeffington wrote in 1932 of a dedication to Markievicz by Eamonn De Valera:

“The picture painted by Eamonn de Valera of labour’s revolutionary heroine is conventionalised beyond recognition. It resembles those portraits by “studio artists” that improve away the real features of the sitter, smoothing out the wrinkles and furrows for a touched-up image of their own, the image of a chocolate-box heroine. It is an apologia where none is needed.”

Hanna called out their revisionism in 1932 and so too must we today.

These revisionists celebrate the election of Markievicz as the first woman elected to Westminster, as they should. What they ignore is her principled abstention from that parliament, her pledge to never take an oath of allegiance to the power she meant to overthrow.

These revisionists attack Sinn Féin for that same principled stance. That unwillingness to take an oath of allegiance to a foreign power.

I ask those revisionists would they take that oath?

Across Dublin posters have been erected to commemorate the Sinn Féin election of 1918 and the election of Constance Markievicz.

One such poster hangs directly outside the gates of Leinster House.

That same poster hangs across the road from where homeless man Jonathan Corry died alone on the streets of Dublin. Flowers and ornaments still lay where he slept.

As I walk through Dublin city and see these posters and see the devastation that years of neglect and bad governance have brought to our people and to our country I can’t help but wonder what Markievicz would say.

I can’t help but wonder what the Markievicz, who pledged her life, not just to the cause of Irish freedom, but to equality and to taking a stand for the poor would say about the obscenity of people who are sleeping in doorways and who queue for hot food on cold nights.

What would she say about the continued partition of our country? What would she say about the denial of basic rights to our people – the right to speak our language, to health care and to love and marry who we want?

And what would she say to those professional politicians south of the border who claim her legacy but would trade off the health and well-being of our nation’s children for the sake of power?

What would she make of this Dáil and the partnership of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

Parties that take the side of the landlords.

That have stolen the dream of many to own a home. That stand over a system in which a working wage is not a living wage.

What would she make of a Dáil that still behaves like a boys club.

What would she say to Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin?

My guess is that she would have a lot to say. She isn’t here to say it.

So we must. We will and we will be heard.

We will not rest until Ireland is united and free.

We will not rest until every child is cherished equally.

Until the wealth of the nation is used for the people of the nation.

Until, as the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil states, we recognise “the right of every citizen to an adequate share of the produce of the Nation’s labour”.

Until our country is ruled in accordance with the principles of liberty, equality and justice for all.

When Constance died, she died poor and the then Free State would not honour her. 

It was the people of Dublin. The poor, the workers and the rebels who lined the streets. Markievicz’ people. 

One hundred years on and Constance Markievicz remains a troubling figure for those in power.

Because she stands against the hypocrisy of Irish Political Leaders calling on others to swear an oath to a queen.

Because she reminds them than no republic worthy of that title would tolerate homelessness or partition or would be a home to poverty and inequality.

One hundred years on their failures are measure against the vision and actions of Markievicz.

I would hope that if she was alive today Markievicz would be in this room.

Standing here, standing with us, inspiring us and berating those in power.  

I have no doubt she would forever be a republican and a rebel.

She may be gone but she lives on. She lives on in her ideals and her actions

So, we must continue the fight of Constance and her comrades.

Because their business is unfinished. Their business is our business.

We must continue on the road to true equality and finishing what they started – we must continue the fight for a new, inclusive, united Ireland.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.

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