Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Mary Lou McDonald delivers main oration at Kilmichael Commemoration

27 November, 2005


Sinn Féin National Chairperson and MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald will this afternoon deliver the main speech at the annual Kilmichael Commemoration in Co Cork this afternoon.

Ms McDonald said that

"In July of this year the IRA undefeated and confident in the future declared a formal end to the armed campaign. They have now dealt decisively with the issue of arms. These courageous initiatives by the IRA were about creating the conditions where discrimination and the injustice which flowed from the partition of our country would never happen again. They were about advancing the freedom struggle.

"The IRA decisions of course now provide both challenges and opportunities for many people. Unionism has lost its excuse for non-engagement and 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. There is space for everyone on the ground of Irish republican politics and plenty more work to be done. Irish unity will come about much more speedily if we can build a broad based coalition to end partition and create an Ireland of Equals.

"Such a coalition needs to be built on the realisation that partition has failed - and failed miserably. 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." ENDS

Full Text of Speech: (Check against delivery)

On the 28th November 1920, the first engagement between the IRA and the Auxilaries took place here in Kilmichael - in the rebel county. The significance of that first engagement between Óglaigh na hÉireann and the Auxiliaries should not be underestimated. It set the benchmark for resistance against the forces of occupation, not only in this county but across Ireland.

It is perhaps not surprising that the British establishment could not comprehend how eighteen of their battle-hardened officers had fallen in combat against what they had previously dismissed as 'rabble'. But of course, you and I know different. Throughout the ages those who had the courage and tenacity to fight the British Army were consistently underestimated. They were demonised in the media, their families were subjected to harassment and hardship.

Whilst we are here today to pay particular tribute to Michael McCarthy, Jim Sullivan and Pat Deasy who fell here 85 years ago, we must remember also all of those who have fallen in the cause of Irish freedom, from whatever generation, in what has been a long a difficult journey over many many years.

The republicans of the early part of the last century were visionaries. They saw a future beyond the British Empire at a time when British expansionism across the globe was still the order of the day. They dared to be different. They refused to accept a future built upon occupation and colonialism. The aftershock of the rebellion on the streets of Dublin in 1916 reverberated far beyond that city and indeed these shores.

The failure of Parnell and Redmond and the limitations of so called constitutional nationalism and the debacle of Home Rule and conscription. This was the back drop to this period of our struggle.

The most important principle which that generation of republicans established was self-reliance. Only the people of this island can secure our liberation and mould our society to suit our unique heritage, our character, our economic needs and our place in the wider world. And that is still true today.

It was the time when the tributaries of separatism, anti-sectarianism, feminism, cultural revival, socialism and the physical force tradition flowed into the river of Irish Republicanism. These are traditions of which we can rightly be proud.

And as we stand here at Kilmichael and recall what happened here on that day we also recall who introduced the gun into 20th century Irish politics. It was not republicans, not the Irish Volunteers, not Sinn Féin, not the IRA. It was Tory England. It was they who ignored the democratically expressed wishes of the people, when in 1918 the Irish people endorsed the Republic at the ballot box, Dáil Éireann was established and people looked forward to a better future.

And with the British gun came not only hardship and suffering for that generation of republicans, the failed and idiotic notion of partition was introduced. An injustice which we are still trying to undo. An injustice whose legacy still causes and fosters artificial divisions on this island.

The removal of partition and the establishment of a national democracy is the work of my generation of republicans. It is work which must be completed if the sacrifices which occurred here and across the island throughout every generation and decade are to be made count.

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 from the sectarian onslaught of the state.

In July of this year the IRA undefeated and confident in the future declared a formal end to the armed campaign. They have now dealt decisively with the issue of arms. These courageous initiatives by the IRA were about creating the conditions where discrimination and the injustice which flowed from the partition of our country would never happen again. They were about advancing the freedom struggle.

The IRA decisions of course now provide both challenges and opportunities for many people. Unionism has lost its excuse for non-engagement and 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. There is space for everyone on the ground of Irish republican politics and plenty more work to be done. Irish unity will come about much more speedily if we can build a broad based coalition to end partition and create an Ireland of Equals.

Such a coalition needs to be built on the realisation that partition has failed - and failed miserably. 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.

Following the launch of our campaign earlier this year to get the Irish Government to bring forward a Green Paper on Irish unity, we have seen the opening up of the debate right across the island. Fine Gael is celebrating the 100th anniversary of Sinn Féin and last month we had the first ever debate on Irish unity in the Dáil. The SDLP appear to have dropped the nonsense of post nationalism and now say they are for Irish unity. But Irish unity must be more than an aspiration or an objective.

The Taoiseach's announcement that a committee is to be established to commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising is a welcome development. The decision is indicative of the changed political climate across Ireland and is reflective of the fact that republicanism is more popular now than at any period since the time of Tom Barry and his famous flying columns.

If we are serious, then we need to work together towards Irish unity and we must work to a strategy for its achievement. To do otherwise is to do no more than to pay lip service to the issue. Worse than that, we will be failing the previous generations of men and women who have fought for freedom, justice and peace on this island.

I can see no rationale for example, why those elected by Irish citizens in the six counties should not represent their constituents in the Dail. I cannot see any logical reason for denying Irish citizens in the six counties the right to vote for their President. I believe the vast majority of people on the island would agree with these sort of practical measures, measures which send out a very clear signal that the Irish government is serious about Irish unity and serious about tackling and ending the injustice of partition.

As we celebrate the foundation of Sinn Féin one hundred years ago this very weekend, now is an appropriate time to reflect on the type of Ireland we want to see. We must begin to use the wealth of this country to tackle poverty and social division. There is no excuse for the failure to address the growing gap between rich and poor. The lack of affordable housing, the spiralling costs of childcare, and the two tier health system are all a testament to the failure of political will in successive Free State governments to build a society of equals.

There is a mood for change in the country. Sinn Féin, more than any other political party, represents that changed mood. That is why the parties of the establishment fear us and will do everything in their power to block our path. The question is not of who might want us to go into coalition with them. The question is who Sinn Féin will accept as a partner in government.

That participation will be based on their commitment to a radical and fundamental change in our country; to a government delivering for the people; to a clear strategy for bringing about a united Ireland and a programme for equality, justice and social change.

So, as we leave here today, let us pay tribute to the sacrifice of those who lost their lives on that November day in 1920. But let us do more than that. Let us never forget that these men fought for a 32 County Republic. As long as the crime of partition remains, as long as Britain holds jurisdiction over part of our country then the task for Irish Republicans remains great.

Let all of us redouble our efforts in the coming period. Republicanism is not a spectator sport. It is activist led and activist driven. Freedom struggles are not easy, Kilmichael is a testament to that, but as Booby Sands wrote in his H-Block cell 60 years after Kilmichael, this freedom struggle is right.

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