16th June 2002
Wolfe Tone Commemoration
Bodenstown, County Kildare
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD
We assemble today at the graveside of Theobald Wolfe Tone to pay tribute to the pioneer of Irish republicanism, the key man at the beginning of the Republican Movement in Ireland and the man who laid the foundation stone of Irish independence. We gather here as the United Irishmen and Irishwomen of 2002 to signal our determination and to renew our pledge to carry on the work of Tone and to achieve the complete unity and independence of Ireland.
Cois uaigh Theobald Wolfe Tone táimíd bailithe chun omós a thabhairt don bhfear a chuir tús le Gluaiseacht na Poblachta in Éirinn. Tagaimíd anseo mar Éireannaigh Aontaithe le cur in iúl go bhfuilimíd ag dul ar aghaidh le obair Wolfe Tone.
Through good times and bad times, republicans of every generation have come together in this graveyard in the beautiful countryside of County Kildare to rededicate themselves to the cause of Irish freedom. In days of severe State repression, imprisonment and censorship on both sides of the Border, republicans gathered here to demonstrate their unity of purpose and their irrepressible spirit of resistance. On several occasions in the 1930s and `40s this commemoration was banned by the Dublin government. In every decade in the past century there were hundreds of republicans who could not be here because they were sentenced prisoners or interned without trial. Through many years of tragic conflict there were faces missing from the crowd, faces of our republican comrades who lost their lives in struggle since last they gathered at Bodenstown.
In such times it was people like Joe Cahill who ensured that the flame of freedom kept burning and I want to pay special tribute to Joe who for many years has been one of the chief organisers of Bodenstown and one of the leading comrades in our struggle. Joe and others like him saw the dark days. But they have lived to see brighter days and we owe a special debt of gratitude to all our older comrades who have kept alive the spirit of freedom.
I would also like us to recall those republicans who have died in the past year. I mention especially the late Oliver de Brún who asked that his ashes be scattered on Tone's grave today. Oliver worked tirelessly over decades for the Republican Movement in London. We do not acknowledge often enough those who have worked and who continue to work for Irish republicanism on the island of Britain, often in the most difficult of circumstances. Their contribution is invaluable.
While we gather at Wolfe Tone's grave today the residents of a small nationalist community in East Belfast are under siege. The people of Short Strand have been under daily attack from loyalist gangs, led by loyalist paramilitaries, for weeks now. The population of this nationalist enclave is only around 3,000 and it is surrounded on all sides by a predominantly loyalist population of 60,000. Many homes have been badly damaged again in the past couple of days and deaths only narrowly avoided.
On 7 June a loyalist force of 100 masked men entered the campus of the Belfast Institutue of Higher Education near Short Strand. Their aim was to terrorise Catholic students in a college where Protestants and Catholics are educated together. Death threats were issued by the loyalists and the college has had to close early for the summer. On 5 June a loyalist mob carrying banners attacked a funeral outside St. Matthew's Chapel in Short Strand, raining bricks and stones on the coffin, the bereaved family and the cortege. These are just two of many incidents affecting Short Strand.
There has also been a series of similar attacks throughout Belfast and in other parts of the Six Counties, with nationalist homes and schools, as well as Catholic churches, coming under vicious attack. I want, on your behalf, to send a strong message of solidarity to all those besieged communities and to assure them of our full support. They are not alone.
I want also to send a message to First Minister David Trimble. Mr. Trimble has attempted to blame republicans for recent disturbances but he knows very well that the latest sectarian onslaught has been initiated and orchestrated by loyalist paramilitaries. In his failure to confront these forces and in his attempts to falsely blame republicans Mr. Trimble is highly irresponsible and his public attitude does nothing to dampen the flames of hatred and sectarianism.
It is appropriate at the grave of Theobald Wolfe Tone, a member of the Church of Ireland, that I make it clear on behalf of republicans that we are totally opposed to all forms of sectarianism. Sectarian attacks of any kind, whether deemed retaliatory or not, are always wrong and we sympathise as much with innocent Protestants whose homes have been damaged as we do with innocent Catholics. Sectarianism must be rejected in all its manifestations.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the latest sectarian attacks is the way in which large sections of the media have failed to report them, misreported them or, most often, totally misrepresented what is taking place. Many in the media seem determined to maintain the myth that this is a spontaneous eruption of sectarianism with what they call `both sides' being equally responsible. They promote the myth that these communities are inherently incapable of living side by side. This very conveniently makes further inquiry and research unnecessary and absolves the loyalist and unionist politicians and the RUC/PSNI of their responsibility.
In recent days we have seen loyalists turn their attacks on those within the Protestant community who have attempted to build bridges with their Catholic neighbours and to advance the cause of peace. This points to the real motivation for the current sectarian attacks. Reactionary loyalism is seeking to roll back every advance towards equality. At the same time factions within loyalism are competeing for supremacy in the time-honoured manner by attempting to outdo one another in their sectarian deeds. And the unreformed RUC/PSNI is either standing aside or joining loyalist mobs in their attacks on nationalists.
Now more than ever political leadership is needed to prevent an escalation of violence. I call on the leaders of political unionism to join with their nationalist counterparts in the Executive, in the Assembly, in local councils and in the community to confront sectarianism and to advance those areas of common ground which we share since the achievement of the Good Friday Agreement. The Agreement provides the way out of the cul de sac of sectarianism. The political leaders of unionism should promote that Agreement and the principles of equality on which it is based. That is the best guarantee of security for all our people.
For our part we in Sinn Fein are conscious of our obligations also. We recognise that many in the unionist community have deep fears and suspicions of republicans. We acknowledge that great hurt has been inflicted on them during the conflict, just as great hurt has been inflicted on the nationalist community. But it is in our mutual interest to build on the achievements of the peace process, achievements which we share and in which we can take pride, and to work together for reconciliation and progress on this island.
As we seek to overcome decades of division in our country and to look to a new future, republicans take continuing inspiration from the political legacy of Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen. We seek, in the words of Tone, ``to unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissensions, and to substitute the common name of Irishman in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter...''
Tone and his comrades knew that only a tiny privileged minority in Ireland held political power and only they benefited from British rule. His republicanism was based on the principle of EQUALITY, the single word emblazoned on the crest of the United Irishmen. He was vehemently opposed to all abuse of privilege and power. We need to challenge those abuses today also. In the Six Counties the privileged position of the Orange establishment is broken and there can never be a return to one-party rule in a sectarian state. Republicans have made sure of that. But much more remains to be done if all our people are to enjoy equal rights.
The Good Friday Agreement must be fully implemented. Further progress is long overdue in the areas of demilitarisation and policing. The events of the past weeks have vindicated Sinn Fein's assertion that the RUC/PSNI is not the new policing service which was promised under the Agreement. It has not abandoned its legacy as a counter-insurgency force with the RUC Special Branch in the driving seat.
Throughout the past 30 years republicans and nationalists have highlighted the institutionalised collusion between British military forces, the RUC and loyalist paramilitaries. Very often those claims were dismissed as propaganda. But from the bombing of Dublin and Monaghan in 1974, through numerous murders of nationalists and republicans, including members of Sinn Fein, to the murders of Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson, the pattern of widespread collusion was clear for all who cared to examine what was really happening in the North of our country. It seems that the imminent report of the Stevens Inquiry is about to acknowledge this institutionalised collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and British forces. Be prepared for another backlash from the securocrats and those with a vested interest in covering up the crimes of the British forces and their allies.
A sustained effort is under way to prevent the truth being exposed and questions must be raised about the recent killings of a number of loyalists who were prime suspects or key witnesses in cases of collusion.
Parallel with this effort to hide the truth about Britain's dirty war in Ireland are ongoing attempts to expel Sinn Fein from the political process. Unionists and Tories are returning to the old agenda by which they sought to prevent the peace talks which led to the Good Friday Agreement. Let the message go out loud and clear. We in Sinn Fein have a democratic mandate and we will fulfil that mandate in the Assembly, in the Executive, in the All-Ireland Ministerial Council and in all the institutions established under the Agreement. There will be no return to the days of exclusion. Sinn Fein is here to stay and unionist leaders must come to terms with us now and in the future.
The Irish government should continue to fulfil its obligations under the Agreement. It is committed to carry out a comprehensive review of the Offences Against the State Acts. Instead it has actually reinforced that repressive legislation and established a very limited review with little public participation. We in Sinn Fein believe this legislation must be repealed. It is time to end the shameful legacy of the Special Court in Green Street and to fully vindicate the rights of all citizens.
The Irish government should also fulfil its obligation to release all qualifying political prisoners, including the remaining republican prisoners in Castlerea, County Roscommon.
I have referred to the sad spectacle of sectarian attacks in Belfast but there are also signs of hope and progress in the city which was the cradle of Irish republicanism at the time of the United Irishmen. Last week there was a momentous event in Belfast City Hall when for the first time in its history the Council elected a Sinn Fein Mayor. We extend our congratulations to the First Citizen of Ireland's second city, Mayor Alex Maskey.
Comhghairdeas dó agus do na poblachtánaigh uile i mBéal Feirste cois cuain. Bhí sibh i gcónaí chun tosaigh sa streachailt ar son saoirse agus tá sibh fós ann.
Alex has pledged that he will be a Mayor for all the citizens regardless of political or religious affiliation and one of his first tasks was to attend the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. This was a very important step and a difficult one for many of those in attendance. But the voices of reason prevailed and the democratic wishes of the people of Belfast were recognised. This is a small but significant advance towards greater tolerance and peaceful co-existence and one we warmly welcome. It should be noted that there have been many similar small but significant steps taken by people from seemingly opposing positions, that have gone unnoticed and unheralded but each of which are equally important and positive.
On the day after Alex Maskey became Mayor of Belfast I kept a promise. When I was first elected to Leinster House five years ago I pledged that after the next general election I would not walk through those gates alone. I want to thank all those who worked so diligently over the past five years for Sinn Fein in constituencies throughout the 26 Counties and who made it possible to fulfil that promise. I want to thank all who voted for our party and I want you to congratulate my four new colleagues in the Dáil - Seán Crowe TD, Martin Ferris TD, Arthur Morgan TD and Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD.
There were other candidates who came very close to gaining seats and all our candidates, their election directorates and election teams worked without stint for months on end. Their day will come also. Comhghairdeas agus go raibh míle maith acu uile.
As leader of the Sinn Fein team in Leinster House I pledge that we will provide the best representation for our electorate, for this party and for Irish republicanism.
Last year at Bodenstown we celebrated the election of four Sinn Fein MPs. This year we are celebrating the election of five Sinn Fein TDs. And what of next year? Assembly elections are due in May 2003 and Sinn Fein is on course to increase its support very significantly and even to become the largest single party in the Six Counties. Watch this space.
Despite what some posters may have said during the general election Sinn Fein is the republican party and the only all-Ireland party on this island. We are growing from strength to strength and are the only party with significantly increasing support among young people. But remember we do not seek electoral success and elected office for their own sake. We want to use our political strength to advance the objectives of Irish republicanism, to build the peace process, to end sectarianism, to bring together our divided people, to unite our country and to create social and economic equality. In Leinster House, in the Assembly, in council chambers throughout this land, and among our party activists on the ground, these must be the principles which guide us. We must continue to represent those people whom Wolfe Tone called the men and women of no property.
We have much work to do in the year ahead.
There is re-run referendum to be fought in defence of Irish neutrality and sovereignty and against the Treaty of Nice. As republicans in the tradition of Tone we will again play a leading part in the campaign against a treaty which paves the way for an undemocratic and militarised European Union superstate. Instead we seek an EU based on liberty, equality and fraternity - the liberty of each sovereign people, equality between states and fraternity between the nations of Europe and the wider world.
There is another election to be fought next year and I know that the excellent all-Ireland co-operation within Sinn Fein which demonstrated itself during the General Election just past will be repeated in the Assembly elections.
In conclusion we recall that Wolfe Tone's primary objective was ``to break the connection with England'' and ``to assert the independence of my country''. That is still our objective and we are more determined than ever to achieve it.
Let us go forward to Irish unity and independence and to freedom, justice and peace for all our people.
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