Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Kelly - Huge opportunity for progress in time ahead

16 April, 2006


Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle member Gerry Kelly MLA speaking in Carrickmore, County Tyrone this afternoon said:

“There are turning points in a nation’s history that change the course of that nations people.  The 1916 rising was such an event as was the Hunger Strike of 1981.  Despite the profound difficulties for many Republicans the IRA statement of July 28th, 2005 could be another such event.  The IRA has provided a golden opportunity to advance a new era in our long struggle.  It is crucial that this opportunity be grasped by Republicans and opponents alike.

 

In the coming weeks there will be renewed efforts to advance the peace process.  Republicans have taken hugely important decisions.  It is time for others to respond in like manner.  The challenge is there not just for the DUP but for the British and Irish governments also.”

 

“Sinn Féin is a republican party.  We are the only All-Ireland party.  Our goal is to see a United Ireland, which delivers real social and economic change.  We are the only party with a strategy and policies for achieving Irish unity and independence.  An All Ireland democracy.  An Ireland of equals

 

We will never again accept the status of second-class citizens.  Neither will we ever impose second-class citizenship upon anyone else.  But unionists too have responsibilities and this includes the need to break with sectarian politics.  The politics of domination. 

 

However, in this process we also have to remember that for many unionists the change we have embarked upon is a terrifying prospect.  Change is always difficult.  When taken in the context of a conflict resolution process, change can be traumatic.  And this can be made even more difficult when there are those, both within sections of unionism and within the British political and military establishment who still want to hold on to the old ways.  The effect of political policing over the last few years, especially where the institutions were collapsed on a lie, demonstrates the dangers.  That is where the most serious threat to the peace process comes from at this time.

 

Our goal as Irish republicans is an Irish unity that is inclusive, that unionists will feel welcome in, that they are a part of.  There is much work to do.  But we believe that we are in the countdown to a united Ireland.  We believe that together we can make further progress and truly transform society on this island forever.

Is the British government up for this? 

Time will tell.

Is the Irish government up for this?

Let’s test that. The Irish  Government has after all a constitutional imperative to work for a United Ireland.

We are commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Hunger Strike, we can mirror the 5 demands of the Hunger strikers with the Irish government. 

  1. The Irish government should produce a Green paper on Irish unity.
  2. The work of the all-Ireland ministerial council should be expanded and additional all-Ireland implementation bodies created.
  3. MP’s elected in the 6 counties should be accorded speaking rights in the Dail.
  4. Voting rights for Presidential elections should be extended to citizens in the six counties.
  5. The Irish government should actively engage with the British government and unionism to promote and seek support for reunification.

 

Is Sinn Féin up for it?

The answer is a word unionist political leaders need to learn.  The answer is YES.

Sinn Fèin is up for making this work.  Our activists and supporters are up for it.

 

Is the IRA up for it?

Who, except for the most vitriolic and blind anti republican elements could doubt that the IRA is up for it.  Republicans have stretched themselves repeatedly to keep the peace process on track. 

 

The people we represent have rights.  So does everyone on this island, unionist and others alike. We have been through pre-condition, after pre-condition, after pre-condition. 

 

We are all on the journey.  It is always easier to begin a journey.  The hard thing is to end it.

 

Sinn Féin is in this process to the end.  We want the British government and the Irish government and the unionists to work with us and to finish the work we have all started.  The length of the journey can be shortened and the ups and downs on the road can be smoothed out if we go at it collectively.  If we do it together.”

 

 

Full text of speech

A Chairde agus a chomradaithe,

 

Is onóir mór domhsa bheith anseo inniu, ag labhairt libh  ar an lá stairiúl seo.

 

Agus is fior lá stairiúl é de thairbhe go bhfuil muid cruinnithe anseo ag cuimhniú ar na fir agus na mná a chuaigh amach ar Domhnach na Cásca i mBaile Atha Cliath agus lás  said tine ar fud an domhain nócha bliana ó shin.

 

I am very honoured to be here today in Carrickmore to speak of those who died in 1916 and in every generation since. 

 

Easter week 1916 was one of the greatest historical events of the last century.  It started the bush fire of decolonisation, which was to engulf what, was the then British Empire.  It inspired generations of Irish Republicans and peoples throughout the world who rose up against the tyranny of colonial rule, imperialism and oppression.  It is a fire still burning in the heart of every Irish republican. 

 

This is also the 25th Anniversary of the Great Hunger Strike of 1981. Our comrades who gave their lives and those of us who survived to take up their mantle were and are about bringing about British withdrawal and achieving a free independent and united Ireland based on equality for all those living on this island.

 

In commemorating and celebrating the bravery of our fallen comrades, I want to pay tribute to the volunteers and leadership of the IRA of today because they have shown outstanding valour and vision on and off the battlefield.  They have played a central role in this phase of the struggle and I commend their initiatives, patience, discipline and tenacity.

 

If courage were the yardstick of success then the British would be long gone.

 

Indeed individual and collective courage have been the mainstay of this long struggle.  It was the courage shown by the leadership of the IRA in calling a cessation of military operations in 1994 which was the catalyst for not only the overall peace process but for the ongoing development of the republican strategy which has brought us so far.

 

Since we last gathered on Easter 2005 the Irish Republican Army announced that it has formally ended its armed campaign.  This was a courageous and truly historic step to advance the cause of peace and the cause of Irish freedom.

There are turning points in a nation’s history that change the course of that nations people.  The 1916 rising was such an event as was the Hunger Strike of 1981.  Despite the profound difficulties for many Republicans the IRA statement of July 28th, 2005 could be another such event.  The IRA has provided a golden opportunity to advance a new era in our long struggle.  It is crucial that this opportunity be grasped by Republicans and opponents alike.

In the coming weeks there will be renewed efforts to advance the peace process.  Republicans have taken hugely important decisions.  It is time for others to respond in like manner.  The challenge is there not just for the DUP but for the British and Irish governments also.

The Assembly will be reconvened on May 15th.  Sinn Féin will be there with a focus on forming a power sharing government on the basis of the Good Friday Agreement.  The inescapable question for the DUP is whether they are prepared to join with the rest of us in sharing power.  If they refuse then the 2 governments must deliver on their commitments to jointly implement all other elements of the Good Friday Agreement. 

 

Many people will be frustrated at the slow pace of progress and angry that those opposed to change are being pandered to. However these are the perennial tactics of our opponents.

 

Our response lies in our strengths, Sinn Féin has become the largest political party in the North.  We became the 3rd largest party in Ireland.  We are the only all-Ireland party.  Republicans have the capability of achieving a united Ireland and we are constantly building the capacity to achieve that goal.

We will only do that by leading with courage and imagination, by taking initiatives and above all by hard work.  More and more people in Ireland North and South are joining us and looking to us for leadership.  It has meant activists changing and adapting their role in our struggle.  Perhaps few activists thought they could adopt, but, as they say – “the proof is in the pudding”.  It has been the Republican ability to face each new situation, each new obstacle to overcome, in an open and imaginative way which has proven the versatility and ability of the Republican activist.  There is no lack of work in this struggle and make no mistake the work that republicans put into this struggle is the envy of political struggles the world over.

The Good Friday Agreement is about the rights and entitlements of citizens.  They are not negotiating chips to be bartered for, or withheld.  They are absolute and should be defended.  Sinn Féin is not going to stand by and allow Human rights, equality, ending discrimination, the rights of Irish language speakers, the achievement of an acceptable policing service or any other of our rights, to be subject to any unionist veto.  These are our rights and we will persist until they are achieved.

 

 

Sinn Féin believes in people.  Sinn Fein believes in empowering people, in working in partnership with local communities to tackle problems and map out new policies.

 

One of the most encouraging aspects of this phase of our struggle has been the numbers of young people attracted to our party.  A new generation of activists are taking their place in the struggle and we must ensure that place is secured.  We are the only political party, which is experiencing such growth, and it is a sign that young people see this party as a vehicle for change for a new generation.  The first people out to defend our areas against physical attack are youth – they should also be in the vanguard of our political project.

Sinn Féin is a republican party.  We are the only All-Ireland party.  Our goal is to see a United Ireland, which delivers real social and economic change.  We are the only party with a strategy and policies for achieving Irish unity and independence.  An All Ireland democracy.  An Ireland of equals

We will never again accept the status of second-class citizens.  Neither will we ever impose second-class citizenship upon anyone else.  But unionists too have responsibilities and this includes the need to break with sectarian politics.  The politics of domination. 

However, in this process we also have to remember that for many unionists the change we have embarked upon is a terrifying prospect.  Change is always difficult.  When taken in the context of a conflict resolution process, change can be traumatic.  And this can be made even more difficult when there are those, both within sections of unionism and within the British political and military establishment who still want to hold on to the old ways.  The effect of political policing over the last few years, especially where the institutions were collapsed on a lie, demonstrates the dangers.  That is where the most serious threat to the peace process comes from at this time.

 

 

Our goal as Irish republicans is an Irish unity that is inclusive, that unionists will feel welcome in, that they are a part of.

 

There is much work to do.  But we believe that we are in the countdown to a united Ireland.  We believe that together we can make further progress and truly transform society on this island forever.

Is the British government up for this? 

Time will tell.

Is the Irish government up for this?

Let’s test that. The Irish  Government has after all a constitutional imperative to work for a United Ireland.

We are commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Hunger Strike, we can mirror the 5 demands of the Hunger strikers with the Irish government. 

  •  The Irish government should produce a Green paper on Irish unity.
  • The work of the all-Ireland ministerial council should be expanded and additional all-Ireland implementation bodies created.
  • MP’s elected in the 6 counties should be accorded speaking rights in the Dail.
  • Voting rights for Presidential elections should be extended to citizens in the six counties.
  • The Irish government should actively engage with the British government and unionism to promote and seek support for reunification.

  

Is Sinn Féin up for it?

The answer is a word unionist political leaders need to learn.  The answer is YES.

Sinn Fèin is up for making this work.  Our activists and supporters are up for it.

Is the IRA up for it?

Who, except for the most vitriolic and blind anti republican elements could doubt that the IRA is up for it.  Republicans have stretched themselves repeatedly to keep the peace process on track. 

 

The people we represent have rights.  So does everyone on this island, unionist and others alike. We have been through pre-condition, after pre-condition, after pre-condition. 

We are all on the journey.  It is always easier to begin a journey.  The hard thing is to end it.

Sinn Féin is in this process to the end.  We want the British government and the Irish government and the unionists to work with us and to finish the work we have all started.  The length of the journey can be shortened and the ups and downs on the road can be smoothed out if we go at it collectively.  If we do it together.

All of you here today are part of the fastest growing party in Ireland.  Whether it is here in Carrickmore, or in Derry or Upper Bann, or North Antrim or Wexford, or Dublin or Belfast, or South Armagh, or Cork it is clear that Sinn Féin is winning more and more hearts and minds right across the island.  Everyday there are more and more Irish republicans.  We are building our political strength. 

 

This is our day for remembering fallen comrades.  We remember those we knew in our own personal way.  We are here to celebrate their lives and we send out solidarity greetings to their families and friends. 

 

Let me take a moment to mention a comrade and a friend of many of us.  Siobhán O’Hanlon was laid to rest on Good Friday after a prolonged fight against cancer.  She was only 44 years old but her whole adult life was dedicated to our Republican ideals.  In the 1980’s I wrote a simple epitaph to another Republican activist who died.  It is, I think, appropriate for Siobhán.

 

A woman:

Strength of our struggle

In life:

A tireless worker

In death:

A ceaseless inspiration.

 

Let’s also remember POW’s still incarcerated.  There are still political prisoners in jail.  They should be released immediately.  There are people on the run.  They should be with their families.

 

Republicans are not chained by history.  They learn from it and use it.  That is why important initiatives have been taken on so many occasions.  While unionists are fixated with slowing down and frustrating change republicans want more change, want to move on from the past.  But there will be a need for more discipline and a well of patience by republicans.  More courage is called for.  Those who have set their minds against change will be more provocative.  The bigots and the securocrats dream of wrecking the structures of change.  They want to destroy rather than build.  Their tools are bigotry, mistrust, political policing and paramilitary attacks.  They should be starved of anything that feeds their frenzy. 

 

Republicans have a better vision.

 

I am confident that we will build on our achievements and substantially increase our political strength.  We must continue to build on that strength, the stronger we are the closer our goal of a free independent, and united Ireland will come.

 

We face difficult challenges ahead but also with great opportunities.  We stand on the threshold of great change.  Previous generations have struggled for a united Ireland.  It is, however, our generation who have the possibility of achieving that goal.  So go out and do what we do best.

 

Bígí cinnte go dtiocfaidh ar lá.   

 

 

 

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