Sinn Féin - On Your Side

We will not accept efforts to slow political progress or lower expectations - Ó Caoláin

22 June, 2006


Speaking at a commemorative event in Leinster House marking the 25th anniversary of the death of ten Republican prisoners on Hunger Strike, Sinn Fein Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the seeds of a "renewed and transformed Republicanism" were sown in 1981. He said Republicans would not accept current attempts to slow down political progress and to lower expectations. He called on the Taoiseach to provide for Six-County representation in the Dáil.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said, "The seeds of a renewed and transformed Irish Republicanism were sown in 1981. I believe that period was crucial in all that has developed since and in the pivotal role Republicans have played in transforming Irish politics. The Sinn Féin peace strategy has ended the isolation of Republicanism, popularised the Republican message and accelerated our advance towards unity, equality and lasting peace.

"It is important to state that Sinn Féin is determined to continue with this strategy and with this process and that we will not accept any attempts to slow the pace of political progress. Eight years on since the Good Friday Agreement we are involved in renewed efforts to implement the Agreement in full. No-one can now doubt that it is the refusal of unionism to embrace equality, and the historic backing for unionism by the British government in that refusal, that has stood in the way of progress. No-one can now doubt the enormous contribution of Republicans to building peace and working towards an agreed settlement, not least the contribution made by the IRA with its historic decision of last year to end its armed campaign. That decision confirmed Sinn Féin as the driving force towards Irish unity and independence and to achieve that goal we are building Sinn Féin throughout the length and breadth of this island.

"We will not accept any attempt to slow political progress to a standstill; equally we will not accept any effort to lower people's expectations. Our political opponents would like to confine us once again to the margins of politics. They would like to set limits on what can be achieved. In doing so they hope to stem the growth of Sinn Féin. They will not succeed.

"The challenge of the peace process is a challenge for all parties, not least the Irish Government. Here in the Dáil we are constantly challenging the Government to live up to its obligations under the Agreement and as a key player in the peace process. In 1981 the people of Fermanagh/South Tyrone, Louth and Cavan/Monaghan supported the prisoners with their votes and elected prisoner TDs. 25 years on, the people of Fermanagh/South Tyrone and all the other constituencies in the Six Counties, are still denied the right to have their elected representatives heard here in Leinster House. That must change and we call again on the Taoiseach to provide for Six-County representation in the Dáil without further delay.

"The Sinn Féin TDs are proud to represent Irish Republicanism here in Leinster House. That Republicanism encompasses not just the demand for Irish unity and independence but for social and economic justice, real equality and real improvement in the lives of the people we represent." ENDS

FULL TEXT OF ADDRESS

On my own behalf and on behalf of the Sinn Féin TDs and our team in Leinster House I want to welcome the families of the Hunger Strikers here. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the death on Hunger Strike of ten brave young republicans in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh. To the families of those men here present and to the families of Hunger Strikers from other eras also represented we extend our continuing sympathy and solidarity. Your loss can never be measured and the depth of your sorrow can only be imagined by those who have not experienced such a loss and in such circumstances. We salute your courage.

We felt it was appropriate to mark the Hunger Strike 25th anniversary year with an event here in Leinster House. 25 years ago this month two Republican Prisoners were elected to the Dáil in the General Election of June 1981. In County Louth the people elected H-Block prisoner and Louth man Paddy Agnew. Paddy could not be with us today and sends his good wishes. The prisoners' stand was also endorsed by the people of Counties Cavan and Monaghan when they elected Kieran Doherty and members of Kieran's family are here with us today.

It is a special honour for me to welcome members of Kieran's family as I was director of his election campaign and am proud to serve as the current Republican Teachta Dála for Cavan/Monaghan.

It cannot be stressed strongly enough that the prisoners in the H-Blocks and Armagh had the support and good will of the great mass of the Irish people North and South of the border. That was shown in the electoral support for the prisoner candidates not only in the two constituencies where TDs were elected but also in those where prisoner candidates stood and polled strongly. Throughout the length and breadth of the country people worked tirelessly in solidarity with the prisoners and their families. We remember them all, including those many friends who have passed away since that time.

There was a vast gulf between the people of Ireland and the political establishment in this State during the H-Block-Armagh crisis. With very few exceptions, Kieran and Paddy's fellow TDs stood idly by while the agony of the prisoners and their families went on from 1976 when criminalisation was first imposed until the end of the Hunger Strike in 1981. Yet the Hunger Strikers will be long remembered by the Irish people and by freedom-loving people all over the world when most of those who held public office in 1981 are long forgotten.

The Dáil record has very few references to the death of Kieran Doherty, TD for Cavan/Monaghan, at the hands of a callous British Prime Minister. There was no special debate. No motion of support for the prisoners' demands. No unity in the face of a British government that was wreaking havoc in our country. There was a shameful silence within these walls.

Another kind of silence was imposed on the media as Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act was used to bar the prisoners and their representatives from the airwaves. The BBC could interview Owen Carron who succeeded Bobby Sands as MP for Fermanagh/Sth. Tyrone but not RTÉ. Despite censorship, despite harassment from the Garda Special Branch, despite the scorn of the political establishment, the message of the prisoners broke through prison walls and reached the hearts and minds of countless thousands of Irish people. They were inspired to take up the struggle of the prisoners and to work for freedom, justice, unity and peace in our country.

Two of those who died on Hunger Strike in 1981 -- Kieran and Bobby -- were elected representatives of the Irish people. They followed in the footsteps of that other elected representative who died on Hunger Strike, Terence McSwiney TD, Mayor of Cork. In all 22 Republicans trod the lonely path of Hunger Strike to death from Thomas Ashe in 1917 to Mickey Devine in 1981. We remember them all equally and our tribute here today encompasses those who died in every phase of our nation's struggle for freedom.

The Hunger Strikers are a continuing inspiration to freedom-loving people in Ireland and throughout the world. Here in Ireland their legacy is at the core of our ongoing struggle for a new Ireland, a united Ireland of equals. The Sinn Féin team in Leinster House are very proud to play our part in that struggle as we bring the republican commitment and the republican message to the Dáil and to the people of Ireland. We are conscious of the proud republican tradition of which we are part and of the sacrifices made by those who have gone before us in pursuit of Irish unity and independence.

The most important memorial to the Hunger Strikers will be the Ireland we build -- a united Ireland, an Ireland where equality is the foundation stone. We have survived the days of censorship and of repression in the prisons and on the streets. Republicans have helped to transform politics in Ireland through the peace process. Our commitment is to move forward with the same determination today as in the past to achieve our republican objectives. We believe we are closer than ever to the realisation of those goals.

We are very conscious of the contribution of our fallen comrades in all of this, and none more so than the Hunger Strikers of 1981. The campaign in solidarity with the prisoners helped to transform the Republican struggle. The prisoners smashed criminalisation in the prisons. On the outside, the campaign broke down the attempted isolation of Irish Republicanism by the political establishment North and South. It connected directly with the people and opened Republican minds to new methods of struggle and to building wider and deeper support. And this was not just about elections. The prisoners themselves emphasised the need to campaign by all means possible -- through lobbying, political education, publicity, street protests and elections. Those lessons were brought into the wider Republican struggle. The words of Bobby Sands were heeded when he said that everyone had a role to play and that everyone's role was important, no matter how great or how small.

The seeds of a renewed and transformed Irish Republicanism were sown in 1981. I believe that period was crucial in all that has developed since and in the pivotal role Republicans have played in transforming Irish politics. The Sinn Féin peace strategy has ended the isolation of Republicanism, popularised the Republican message and accelerated our advance towards unity, equality and lasting peace.

It is important to state that Sinn Féin is determined to continue with this strategy and with this process and that we will not accept any attempts to slow the pace of political progress. Eight years on since the Good Friday Agreement we are involved in renewed efforts to implement the Agreement in full. No-one can now doubt that it is the refusal of unionism to embrace equality, and the historic backing for unionism by the British government in that refusal, that has stood in the way of progress. No-one can now doubt the enormous contribution of Republicans to building peace and working towards an agreed settlement, not least the contribution made by the IRA with its historic decision of last year to end its armed campaign. That decision confirmed Sinn Féin as the driving force towards Irish unity and independence and to achieve that goal we are building Sinn Féin throughout the length and breadth of this island.

We will not accept any attempt to slow political progress to a standstill; equally we will not accept any effort to lower people's expectations. Our political opponents would like to confine us once again to the margins of politics. They would like to set limits on what can be achieved. In doing so they hope to stem the growth of Sinn Féin. They will not succeed.

The challenge of the peace process is a challenge for all parties, not least the Irish Government. Here in the Dáil we are constantly challenging the Government to live up to its obligations under the Agreement and as a key player in the peace process. In 1981 the people of Fermanagh/South Tyrone, Louth and Cavan/Monaghan supported the prisoners with their votes and elected prisoner TDs. 25 years on, the people of Fermanagh/South Tyrone and all the other constituencies in the Six Counties, are still denied the right to have their elected representatives heard here in Leinster House. That must change and we call again on the Taoiseach to provide for Six-County representation in the Dáil without further delay.

The Sinn Féin TDs are proud to represent Irish Republicanism here in Leinster House. That Republicanism encompasses not just the demand for Irish unity and independence but for social and economic justice, real equality and real improvement in the lives of the people we represent.

The legacy of the Hunger Strikers is our inspiration as we advance towards the Irish Republic for which they gave their lives. To their families we extend our continuing sympathy and solidarity and we renew our pledge to make the dream of their loved ones a reality.

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