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Let's go forward to an Ireland of equals – Gildernew

3 August, 2014 - by Michelle Gildernew

The oration by Michelle Gildernew MP for Fermanagh/South Tyrone at today’s Hunger Strike commemoration in Derrylin.

A chairde,

Today we remember with pride the indomitable spirit and strength of the blanket men of the H Blocks and the women in Armagh prison.

We celebrate especially the courage of the ten H-Block hunger strikers.

We also remember Frank Stagg and Michael Gaughan.

I want to extend my solidarity to the families of Bobby, Francie, Raymond, Patsy, Joe, Martin, Kevin, Kieran, Tom and Mickey, and to the families of all of our patriot dead.

Your dignity and your courage is truly inspirational.

Agus ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil libh uilig as bheith i láthair anseo inniu.

Ba mhian liom achan duine a bhí freagrach as an imeacht inniu a eagrú a mholadh go hard.

Tá sé iontach fóirsteanach go bhfuil muid ag bailiú le chéile anseo i bhFear Manach - Deisceart Thír Eoghain, an toghcheantar stairiúil sin a roghnaigh Bobby Sands mar Theachta Parlaiminte.

In the spring of 1981, and in the face of massive opposition from the British and Irish governments, from the political establishments, and a hostile media, over 30,000 people stood with Bobby and the hunger strikers.

They faced down Thatcher, her government and her military machine.


It is also entirely appropriate that we have with us today the Palestinian Ambassador to Ireland, Ahmad Abdelrazek.

No one can ignore nor fail to be moved by the slaughter of innocents taking place in Gaza at the hands of the Israeli military.

Each night on our television screens or on twitter or facebook we see images of murdered men, women and especially of children.

Since July 8 when the current violence erupted around 1300 Palestinians – 80% of them civilians – have been killed. Three Israeli civilians have been killed.

The Israel Army and its defenders claim that it is the most moral army in the world.

The evidence of the last three weeks disproves that.

On the contrary it has demonstrated again and again its capacity to deliberately and systematically target civilians.

Tá muintir na Palaistíne ag fulaingt faoi cheann de na héagóracha is measa den nua-ré.

Le breis is seasca bliain anuas tá cónaí ar na milliúin díobh i gcampaí teifeach.

An chuid is mó díobh ní raibh saol ar bith eile acu, riamh.

Opportunities for political progress and peace have been squandered by successive Israeli governments hungry for Palestinian land and water and determined to ensure that Palestinians remain fractured, impoverished and too weak to challenge Israeli aggression.

Imagine living in an open, over crowded prison, with little work, widespread poverty, and an economy and society under siege.

The powerful governments of the world have stood back and time after time excused Israeli actions, proclaiming that Israel has the right to defend itself.

What of the rights of the Palestinian people to security and defence and a peaceful future?

Let us send a very clear message today from this march and rally that the vast majority of the Irish people reject the aggression of Israel and support the Palestinian people in their struggle for freedom and justice and national rights.

Hunger Strike

The hunger strike was 33 years ago.

It was a tipping point in Irish history.

In the summer of 1981 scores died and over 30,000 plastic bullets were fired.

The hunger strike came at the end of a decade in which the British government had employed every conceivable weapon in its military and political arsenal to defeat the republican struggle.

The British aim was simple – to protect British interests, demonise Irish republicans and to defeat the struggle for Irish unity and independence.

Breaking the prisoners was crucial.

They were supported in this by the northern and southern political establishment.

Shamefully there were politicians north and south more interested in maintaining the status quo than standing up for freedom.

Ach, mar a tharla go minic níor thuig na Sasanaigh buanseasmhacht agus daingne na bpoblachtach Éireannach, ach go háirithe ó thaobh na gcimí de.

As a consequence almost 100 years after 1916, 33 years on from the Hunger Strike and 20 years on from the first IRA cessation, Sinn Féin stands stronger, bigger, more confident and more able to advance our key political objectives of ending partition and of uniting Ireland.

Sinn Féin now receives more votes than any other political party in Ireland.

That did not happen by accident. It happened through organisation, through hard work and through connecting with people in every corner of Ireland.

There are many narratives

There are unionists who will never accept my narrative of 1981 or indeed of the conflict or the causes of it.

Peter Robinson has spoken of today’s march as ‘obnoxious’.

Other unionist leaders have sought to sectarianise it.

The mistake they make is in asserting a single narrative of the conflict.

Of course, there is a unionist narrative, and republicans and nationalists must respect this.

But there is also a nationalist narrative, a republican narrative, a loyalist narrative and a British government narrative.

We will only get to the truth by laying all of these narratives side by side and not by ignoring or seeking to dominate and exclude others.

We also need to find a consensus on ensuring that the past is not used as a barrier to progress.

I once listened to someone talking about legacy in the wake of the conflict in Rwanda.  He said “Anyone who was killed or injured was a victim.  The rest of us are survivors.”

That is very true of those who came through not just the summer of 1981 but the long years of armed conflict in Ireland.

Is brónach an fhíric í, go bhfuair beagnach 4,000 bás agus go raibh na mílte eile gortaithe go dona.

Caithfidh muid glacadh lenár ndaonnacht choiteann, cibé Gaza nó Éire atá i gceist

Human beings cry, die, bleed and grieve and are mourned.

We have to acknowledge this.

So, today, as we commemorate the hunger strikers, republicans acknowledge the ongoing pain of many living in this county and elsewhere who will be saddened, offended or angered by this event. 

That was never our intention.

We also acknowledge that, as republicans, we are sometimes saddened, offended or angered by commemorations and parades carried out by members of the loyalist and unionist tradition. 

It is clear to all of us that we are never going to share interpretations and sentiments about many historical events and issues which divide us.    

At times our communities have deliberately hurt each other, at others we have simply misunderstand the other.    

Our history is shared and yet deeply divided.  

Let us agree to accept this fact and resolve not to allow it to hinder our determination to continue to create and, in time, enjoy a shared and peaceful future.   

As a step towards this we remember that all deaths, whatever the circumstances, leave loved ones grieving.   

We must therefore treat all the bereaved with sensitivity and respect.

 In the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, republicans are committed to affording parity of esteem to our neighbours.  

Accordingly we respect our neighbours’ rights to hold their celebrations and commemorations, so long as they are sensitive and carried out in a dignified and non-triumphalist manner, without threatening overtones.   

We will strive to do likewise with our commemorations and parades. 

 Above all, as republicans, we are fully committed to doing all we can to ensure that there will be no more casualties of conflict.

Role Models

I also believe that for those today who want to know what it means to be a republican you need look no further than the men and women in Armagh and the Blocks and to the hunger strikers.

They are our role models.

They were noble, selfless, decent men and women who demonstrated enormous heroism in the face of great hardship.

Bhí siad iomlán tiomanta do chur i gcoinne na héagóra agus an cos ar bolg. Agus le sin bhí siad go hiomlán ar son sochaí úr a thógáil a bheadh bunaithe ar an chomhionannas agus ar an tsaoirse.

They were for equality.

Today equality is our watchword.

Wherever racism raises its ugly head – republicans need to meet it head on. Likewise sectarianism or homophobia. 

Wherever we see sexism or discrimination we need to challenge it – be it inside or outside our own ranks. 


The events of recent months and in particular the coalescing of political unionism around negative and an anti-Agreement position should come as no surprise.

It is the inevitable working out of a particular set of political conditions.

On the one hand the unionist agenda has been driven by the extremes.

On the other both the British and Irish governments became so disengaged from the process that the Haass compromise proposals and their potential to unlock the logjam was denied.

The British Secretary of State has also pandered to political unionism and undermined the political process.

That has to change.

The British and Irish governments must stand by the Good Friday and subsequent agreements.

As unionism as created an axis to oppose the Good Friday Agreement those who support it, including the governments, need to build a pro-Agreement axis.

An Ireland of Equals

In 2016 the people of Ireland will mark the centenary of the Easter Rising.

It will also be the 35th anniversary of the hunger strike.

Two seminal moments in Irish history.

Our task as Irish republicans is to define our future in the vision of the men and women who were involved in those great historic enterprises.

That means building an Ireland of equals; of cherishing all the children of the nation equally and of creating a new and inclusive Republic.

The goal of a United Ireland is achievable and it is deliverable.

We have to persuade others of this and of its desirability.

That is the road we are on.

It is the road all people who want to see equality and justice should be on also.

People should step forward, should join the struggle and join Sinn Féin.

Next year there will be a Westminster general election and this constituency will be the focus of the battle between those who want progress and justice, and those who prefer the past.

In 2016 there will be a general election in the south.

Both present Sinn Féin with major challenges and opportunities.

We are up for these challenges.

In the last two years our party has trebled in size.

If we are to achieve our goals we need to be bigger and stronger.

But let us not forget that the struggle will not be won alone by republican activists.

It will be won by the people.

Bobby Sands understood this.

In the last entry in his diary he says:

 “The day will dawn when all the people of Ireland will have the desire for freedom to show. It is then we'll see the rising of the moon.”

Muintir uilig na hÉireann.

Tá sin ríthábhachtach.

So let’s all go forward and build the ultimate monument to our patriot dead – a united Ireland – an Ireland of equals.

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