Easter Commemoration 1997
Address by Sinn Fein Negotiator, Gerry Kelly
30 March 1997
Is mór an onoir dom a bheith i bhur measc inniu chun iadsan a fuair bas ar son saoirse na hEireann a chomoradh.
I am proud and honoured to be invited here today to commemorate the men and women who gave their lives and liberty so that the Irish People could achieve national freedom, justice and peace.
In common with the vast majority of Irish people in Ireland and abroad I feel a deep pride in those who went out to fight in the great Easter Uprising of 1916 so that future generations might be free.
The reason I make this point is because over the last quarter of a century watching and listening to the historical revisionists, any outside observer could be forgiven for thinking that Irish people are ashamed of their history. I know this is not the case.
In the anti-republican atmosphere created in the south by years of censorship and revisionism let me take this opportunity to pay a special tribute to you the activists, in Dublin and throughout the 26 Counties.
It is perhaps easier to become an activist in the occupied 6 Counties, on the Falls or in Derry or Coalisland, given the community solidarity and cohesiveness that results from suffering collective oppression. It can be much harder to be an isolated activist somewhere in Dublin or Kerry or Mayo where the support systems may be little more that skeletal and the hard slog goes on unseen and unheard of by most people. Especially under the pressure of the draconian legislation represented by the Offences Against the State Act.
It is the isolated activist or small group of activists working away under that pressure which has been and remains the backbone of our great struggle.
The proclamation read out on the steps of the GPO was a very progressive document for its time and remains very relevant today. We are Irish Republicans. A united Ireland is the goal of Republicans because only in a new Ireland shared by all its people can Catholic, Protestant, Dissenter, Christian and non-Christian by guaranteed equality and justice.
When the 6 County statelet was set up without the consent of the people and maintained by British military force it set in concrete the Unionists domination of nationalists in a one-party state. A sectarin, racist, apartheid Orange statelet was formed which successive British governments actively supported. That sectarian statelet unfortunately remains today. I know because I live in it. In such an unjust state, conflict is inevitable.
Since the imposition of partition and the forming of the Occupied 6 Counties there has been an uprising in every decade. That flame of freedom was kept alight sometimes by a very few courageous activists to whom we all owe a great debt of gratitude. In the late sixities, when the 6 counties erupted over the lack of equality and the suppression of the Civil Rights movement, it was the last historical straw. The croppies were up, never to lie down again.
Many, many have made great sacrifices. Since republicans stood here last year many have gone to jail and young Diarmuid O'Neill was brutally gunned down by Crown Forces. We have friends, comrades, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, mothers and fathers who have given their all. The Republican people, north and south, have shown great courage and determination in the face of British occupation and its worse excesses. We have created a culture of resistance and radical change, which is the envy of resistance movements throughout the world.
For us there is no going back.
There will be no return to Stormont.
There will be no return to Unionist domination.
There will be no return to second-class citizenship.
The Nationalist people in the occupied 6 counties were not, and are not prepared to accept domination or discrimination in any part of their lives; in religion, education, housing, employment, culture, language or anywhere else.
In the absence of justice and equality, conflict is inevitable and conflict has visited us for a quarter of a century. The litany of events of suffering, of brave acts, of grief across the communities is too long to list and is in any case engraved in the mind of all those who lived through it.
But, in 1994 John Hume and Gerry Adams got together with Albert Reynolds and launched an historic initiative based on very simple and reasonable principles. Basically, that there should be talks, inclusive of all parties with everything on the table for discussion. This was an important initiative to try to resolve the conflict once and for all.
When Sinn Fein put the initiative to the IRA leadership, they in turn called a unilateral and unconditional cessation of all military operations to enhance the potential for a negotiated settlement. Some weeks later loyalist paramilitaries declared a very conditional ceasefire - but a ceasefire nonetheless.
The British and unionists however did not reciprocate in kind.
The rest unfortunately is history. While Sinn Fein picked their negotiating team the British and unionists picked obstacles to put in the path of progress. It started off with an absurd quarantine period, then decommissioning, then only political contact with Civil Servants, then limited political contact with politicians, the lock out from the entire talks process.
Instead of grasping the historic nettle the British Government and unionists ran the peace process into the sand, where ostrich like they have tried to bury their own political heads and the peace process ever since.
What Sinn Fein and the other nationalists had been about was building a foundation for a lasting peace, taking risks for peace, through negotiations and change. What the British government and unionists were about was maintaining more of the old discredited status quo and, consequently, building the foundations for future conflict.
But despite all that, despite the fact that John Hume and Gerry Adams brought forward further proposals on October 10th last which were rejected, despite the fact that there has not been one word of genuine negotiations from the British government in two and a half years, Sinn Fein stands ready and willing with a strategy for peace, eager to reconstruct a viable peace process.
We cannot do it alone. The British government and the Irish government need to take up their responsibilities. John Major has not done so.
Presumably there will soon be a new British government in power. Whether it is Tony Blair, Paddy Ashdown or John Major again, they must stop prevaricating, they must remove their support for the Unionists No to everything mentality. Leave the futile military mindset of trying to defeat republicans. They need to give the people of Ireland and of Britain the hope of entering a new millennium with peace, justice and equality for all the people in Ireland. This year, this June, start the real inclusive negotiations which hold out that possibility. What have they to fear from dialogue.
There will be elections in the 26 counties very soon. While John Bruton remains Taoiseach or whoever fills that position post-election, he or she needs to move off this hot and cold approach to the north which only confuses nationalists in the north and south. Whoever is Taoiseach needs to lead this country and its people to reunification. That is the consititutional imperative. That is the historic and pressing challenge for any Irish leader.
In the May elections of last year Sinn Fein asked for and received massive support for its peace strategy. We are going into another election on May 1st which is possibly the most crucial election to be fought in decades.
Each vote for Sinn Fein will be an important contribution to the search for peace in Ireland. Sinn Fein's priority is to rebuild the peace process. We are going to the electorate with a strong team for negotiations; it is a leadership team with a proven record of commitment to peace and inclusive negotiations based on equality.
We are approaching the elections in a confident frame of mind to maximise our vote.
In mid Ulster, West Tyrone, West Belfast and North Belfast we offer nationalists the only credible alternative to years of Unionist misrepresentation.
If there cannot be electoral pacts because the SDLP have rejected the concept then the best way to guarantee the removal of Unionists misrepresenation is to vote for Sinn Fein, especially in the constituencies where Sinn Fein showed the strongest votes last May.
Also in the council elections in the North and the Leinster House elections in the south a strong vote for Sinn Fein will send a clear message to the British government and the Unionists that inclusive dialogue is the only common sense way to move forward. We are in historic times. Let us make the coming elections historic ones.
We are a growing party with a solid and growing mandate. We have the capability and the right to represent those who vote for Sinn Fein in any and all negotiations affecting the future of Ireland and its people.
The logic of dialogue is irresistable, unrelenting and unstopable. The British and unionists should accept it as inevitable and more pro-actively into real negotaitions.
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