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National Hunger Strike Commemoration Baile Mhuineacháin 4 Lúnasa 2013 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD

4 August, 2013 - by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD

Cuirim fáilte romhaibh uile ó gach cearn den tír agus ó thar lear.

Tháinig sibh go Baile Mhuineacháin inniu chun omós a thabhairt do stailceoirí ocrais na hÉireann, iad siúd a fuair bás ar son saoirse na hÉireann.

Táimíd bródúil as an ócáid mór náisiúnta seo a bheith lonnaithe linn i Muineachán, Baile agus Contae agus Dáil-cheantair, le stair fada poblachtánach.

Ach ní stair amháin atá ann. Anseo tá Sinn Féin láidir agus ag éirí níos láidre agus is cuimhin linn i gcónaí gur sa bhliain 1981 a thosaigh an turas sin atá fós á thaisteal againn.

We are delighted to welcome you all here today to the town and county of Monaghan and we are very proud to host the National Hunger Strike Commemoration for the first time.

You are standing in a town and a county and a Dáil constituency where Sinn Féin and Irish republicanism are at their strongest in the 26 Counties.

For many gathered here today, their republican journey of activism and politicisation began 32 years ago in 1981 with the H-Block Hunger Strike and the selfless sacrifice of ten young Irish men.

For all of you this is a special event. However, for all the surviving H-Block and Armagh activists from right across the counties of Cavan and Monaghan, hosting this national event in our constituency is both a recognition and a great honour. Together, we all remember with sadness and with pride those who died for the freedom of the Irish people while enduring the prison protest fast.

We remember and are proud of all who died for Irish freedom and the hunger strikers, in a special way, stand out and are representative of them all.

For my generation of republicans 1981 was our Easter Week, our 1916.

Its impact and influence was every bit as profound for us as the Easter Rising was for the post-1916 generation.

Bobby Sands, in the very first entry in his prison hunger strike diary, linked 1916 and 1981 when he said:

I am dying not just to attempt to end the barbarity of H-Block, or to gain the rightful recognition of a political prisoner, but primarily because what is lost here is lost for the Republic’.

The Republic Bobby wrote about was not, of course, the 26-County state but the Irish Republic proclaimed in 1916 which successive generations of republicans have worked and fought and died to establish as the sovereign, independent state of our 32 Counties.

Bobby and his nine comrades did the Republic proud.

Their unequalled heroism and sacrifice not only broke Thatcher’s cruel and futile criminalisation policy; it saved and revived and renewed the republican ideal, republican politics and the Republican Movement.

Bobby was elected MP by the people of Fermanagh/South Tyrone.

Paddy Agnew was elected TD by the people of County Louth.

And we are as proud to say today as we were back then that Kieran Doherty was elected TD by the people of Cavan and Monaghan.

On the foundations of their tremendous courage we have built a stronger republican struggle.

Thanks to them, young republicans today do not have to face what they faced and we have before us a peaceful and democratic path towards a new Ireland.

Out of that tragic phase of struggle, new phases emerged.

And the new Ireland we are building today will be the lasting legacy of Bobby Sands, Francis Hughes, Ray McCreesh, Patsy O’Hara, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kieran Doherty, Kevin Lynch, Tom McElwee and Mickey Devine.

One of our themes for this National Commemoration is ‘Many Phases – One Struggle’. And so we recall here today not only the ten men who died in 1981 but all 22 Irish Republicans who died on hunger strike in the 20th century.

We recall County Mayo’s Michael Gaughan and Frank Stagg who died in English prisons in 1974 and 1976. Their story is a constant reminder of what was endured by Irish political prisoners in England.

The hunger strikers of the 1940s remind us of the reactionary regime that was Fianna Fáil under de Valera. On his watch Tony Darcy, Seán McNeela and Seán McCaughey died on hunger strike.

The Treaty and Civil War had been followed by the internment of thousands of republicans by the Free State government in 1923 and a mass hunger strike for release in which Denis Barry, Andy O’Sullivan and Joseph Whitty died.

Under the British regime that tried to suppress the Republic proclaimed in 1916 we saw the deaths on hunger strike of Thomas Ashe in 1917 and of Terence MacSwiney, Michael Fitzgerald and Joseph Murphy in 1920.

The form of protest itself, the hunger strike, had been pioneered in Ireland in the 20th century by courageous women who were imprisoned for demanding the right to vote. In 1912 in Mountjoy Jail they fasted and were force fed.

This year we mark the Centenary of the Great Lockout of 1913 and during that struggle for workers’ rights James Connolly and Hanna Sheehy Skeffington went on hunger strike in Mountjoy and were released after a week.

We recall the many republicans down the decades who took part in prison fasts, some of whom died prematurely in later years as a result of the damage to their health. I want to acknowledge the presence in our number here today of comrades who participated in hunger strikes while imprisoned north and south of the border, including in the hell holes of Long Kesh in 1980 and 1981 and who have lived exemplary lives as Irish Republicans, giving real leadership in their communities and in our struggle. We salute you all here today.

Tugaimíd ómós dóibh go léir a fuair bás ar son na Poblachta. Beidh cuimhne orthu go deo.

Like Bobby Sands, Terence MacSwiney was an elected representative of the Irish people and a prolific writer. Today as we build bridges across divided communities and as we continue to construct a process of national reconciliation we recall MacSwiney’s words when he wrote of the prejudice that makes “hopelessly hostile divisions” among the people of Ireland. And he went on:

If Ireland is to be regenerated, we must have internal unity; if the world is to be regenerated we must have world-wide unity – not of government but of brotherhood….and we must turn to the common origin of the human race, the beauty of the world that is the heritage of all, our common hopes and fears and the mutual interests of the peoples of the earth.

Here we have, in the words of one of the 22 hunger strikers, a summing up of Irish republicanism that is as relevant as ever today – an end to all sectarianism, bigotry and racism, the building of Irish unity and independence, and international solidarity.

How far the ideals and selflessness of these heroes of Ireland are from the greed and selfishness and corruption that have dominated Irish politics for so long in our own time. Bobby Sands identified that and in his Diary he wrote:

There is no equality in a society that stands upon the political and economic bog of only the strongest make it good or survive. Compare the lives, comforts, habits, wealth of all those political conmen (who allegedly are concerned for us, the people) with that of the wretchedly deprived and oppressed.

Those were prophetic words from Bobby Sands. In the following years we saw corruption proliferate in Irish politics. And we have every right to ask a very important question:

Thousands of young Irish people since 1969 were imprisoned because they fought for Irish freedom. But how many of the privileged and the powerful and the wealthy in big business, in the banks, in the church and in politics were jailed for the corruption, the covering up of abuse, the bribery and the betrayal of public trust that we have seen exposed in tribunal after tribunal and report after report?

We know the answer too well.

They can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Just as the jailed members of the British crown forces who carried out killings in Ireland, or contracted them out to loyalist gangs, can be counted on the fingers of one hand also.

But one thing is certain. The wheels of truth and justice continue to turn and they will turn until justice is done and truth is told.

In the legacy of conflict in our country there must be no hierarchy of victims and the way forward that we have consistently advocated is the establishment of an Independent International Truth Commission.

Corruption in the 26 Counties led ultimately to the collapse of the economy and the surrender to the international Troika of what remained of economic sovereignty.

Fianna Fáil’s greed and stupidity collapsed the economy; their futile austerity policy deepened the recession; that futile policy is continued now by Fine Gael & Labour.

This Coalition Government may boast that the Troika will soon be gone. But the legacy is half a million unemployed on this island, and mass emigration from this island.

And of course we still have the Irish Troika, the three puppets of Irish politics – Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party.

Real and lasting change in Ireland cannot be based on the bankrupt strategy of these parties. A new way forward is needed.

We in Sinn Féin do not claim to have all the answers but we have a commitment, we have a record of work and struggle for people’s rights and we have a determination to build a New Republic. We ask everyone to join us on that journey. Bí linn i Sinn Féin.

The greatest enemy of change is apathy.

Many people in Ireland are apathetic, they see little hope of change.

But there is no shortage of inspiration in Irish history. There is no shortage of motivation in the political and social and economic injustice we see around us.

Today we marched through the pages of our history. We stood shoulder to shoulder with the Pike Men in 1798.

We stood shoulder to shoulder with the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army in 1916.

We stood shoulder to shoulder with the Irish Republican Army volunteers through Operation Harvest.

We stood shoulder to shoulder with the risen people in 1969 in the north of our country and through all the years of the resistance that followed.

We stood shoulder to shoulder with the Hunger Strikers and their families in 1981.

We stood shoulder to shoulder with the Republican Movement leadership when they proposed and developed a new strategy to move our struggle forward, a strategy based on peaceful and political activism.

But, my dear friends and comrades, as Irish Republican activists our task is not only to remember history but to make it.

So let us make history by ending the partition of Ireland.

Let us make history by reuniting our people and building a New Republic.

Let us make history by fulfilling the promise of the Proclamation and truly cherishing all the children of the Nation equally.

Today we have symbolically rekindled the flame of freedom. Let us rekindle that flame, that spirit within our hearts and go forward from this place united in our purpose. Let us go from here, together, determined to achieve our Republican goals.

Ar aghaidh linn le chéile chun Saoirse Mhuintir na hÉireann.  

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