[Sinn Fein]

Easter Commemoration 1997

Address by Sinn Fein Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness
The Loup, Co. Derry
31 March 1997

Failte romhaibh a chairde agus a gcomradaithe.

Thank you all for joining us here in the Loup at the graveside of Sean Larkin on this Easter Sunday. This is hallowed ground, the resting place of a gallant and heroic South Derry Irish Republican Army Volunteer who lived and died defending the rights of his people.

Francis Hughes was also an inspirational and heroic south Derry Freedom Fighter who lived, struggled and died for his people. His spirit of Freedom is with us here today.

The treatment meted out to Francis Hughes and his comrades in prison continues to the present day. The cruel and disgusting treatment of Róisín McAliskey and the vindictive retribution meted out to the POW's in the H-Blocks tells us much about the British Governments vindictive attitude to Irish political prisoners.

On this Easter Sunday we send our greetings and best wishes to all republican prisoners throughout the world.

Throughout our Island, Republicans are assembled to commemorate, honour and pay tribute to all those who in every generation have given their lives to uphold the dignity and right of the people of Ireland to freedom, justice, democracy and peace.

The Easter Rising of 1916, was a product of British domination and injustice. Those seeds of domination and injustice scattered through the decades from Tone and Emmett to Tomas Mc Elwee and Kevin Lynch, reaped for the British a harvest of bitterness, resistance and rebellion which has endured to the present day. That line of resistance has run through every generation of Irishmen and Irishwoman who value and cherish Irish independence and freedom. It produced patriots and freedom fighters like Martin Lee, John Bateson, James Sheridan, Danny Mc Mullan, Antoine McGiolla Bhrighe and James Kelly.

We remember also those who gave their lives in the political battle for Irish Freedom, Councillors John Davey and Bernard O Hagan .

I would like to especially welcome here today the families and friends of all our republican dead. May your grief be lessened by the knowledge that history made us Irish Nationalists but your loved ones made us equal. Their deaths were the result of ingrained British violence and injustice.

Their deaths were also a direct result of the pig headed refusal of successive British governments and their Unionist bedfellows to recognise and accept what history will eventually prove.

That change, real, fundamental, political and constitutional change is required if there is to be any hope of a just and lasting peace settlement in this country.

Repression rather than change has always been the characteristic British response to those who would oppose, peacefully or otherwise the undemocratic nature of British rule in Ireland. The executions of Padraig Pearse, James Connolly, Tom Clarke, Sean Mac Diarmiada, Eamon Ceannt, Joseph Plunkett, Tomas Mac Donagh and many others were a futile attempt by the British establishment to extinguish the Spirit of Freedom released throughout Ireland by the Leaders of the Easter Rising.

The Easter Rising was a monumental political failure for the British establishment and 81 years later both the people of Ireland and the people of Britain are still living with the consequences of the repeated political failures of successive British governments to resolve the endemic injustice and conflict which their continuing undemocratic involvement in our country inflicts on all our people.

The Partition of Ireland and the establishment of a unionist State for unionist people was not only one of those failures, it was a ruthless denial of the democratic rights of all those in Ireland who aspired to an Ireland free from British rule.

The partition of Ireland and the ensuing injustice and conflict of the last 76 years can rightly be described as a shameless and interminable act of violence perpetrated by Britain against the Irish people ruled without their consent in the Northern part of our island.

A more recent British failure was its refusal to grasp the opportunity for a peace settlement presented by nationalist Ireland through its political leaders, Gerry Adams, John Hume and Albert Reynolds.

The announcement of a May 1st election has heightened expectations among the British people that at long last change will soon arrive for them. According to the leader of the British Labour Party, Tony Blair, eighteen years of Tory rule has resulted in a failed John Major government which is bereft of new ideas and is incapable of governing.

Nowhere are the consequences of Mr. Blair's analysis felt more deeply than they are here in the north of Ireland. The comments, in the last week of his Deputy leader John Prescott, that John Major was the person responsible for the destruction of the peace process, through his sordid little deals with the unionists, would suggest that Mr. Blair's view is an all-embracing one. I trust that it is.

It is certainly my opinion that John Major's failure in the Irish Peace Process was a total absence of vision, courage and leadership. His dependence on unionist votes and his stubborn unwillingness to face down the intransigence of unionist leaders, coupled with his increasingly outdated role as a defender of the union effectively cheated all our people of a chance to consolidate and progress the golden opportunity presented by nationalist Ireland for a just and lasting peace settlement.

Major's dismal performance also blows out of the water the notion that the British government is neutral in this conflict. Of course, the capitulation of the Major government and his military forces to David Trimble and the Orange Order at Drumcree is further evidence that John Major is, in fact, a unionist wolf in sheeps' clothing.

The forthcoming election can restore the opportunity passed up by John Major.

I am convinced that if Tony Blair - now almost certainly the next British Prime Minister - is prepared to display the courage required to rebuild a new, vibrant and meaningful peace process, then we can, all of us, working together, create a dynamic opportunity to bring to an end all the injustice and conflict and put in place a comprehensive, just and deeply rooted peace settlement. It is said that the performance of other Labour governments in the past were hopeless. That is indeed the case. But we must not allow ourselves to be put off by that.

Tony Blair should learn from others. He could begin by recognising that the process of negotiations in the Middle East between Yasser Arrafat and the Israelis were initiated by an imaginative leader of that region's Labour party, Yitzak Rabin.

So where do we in Sinn Fein stand now. We stand ready for peace, ready for peace negotiations. Real, credible and meaningful peace negotiations. For the past two and a half years, those peace negotiations were denied us because the John Major government refused to subscribe to the need for inclusive negotiations, refused to clearly answer simple and straight forward proposals put to it by Gerry Adams and John Hume last October.

Inadequate and unrealistic responses from the British Ministers clearly show a government more at home with a security strategy rather than a peace strategy.

Sinn Fein's peace strategy and commitment to exclusively democratic and peaceful methods of conflict resolution is a rock solid cornerstone of our party policy. We are not afraid of negotiations.

We are Irish Republicans and we will negotiate constructively as Irish Republicans who believe that the unity of Ireland and of all the Irish people is ultimately the best solution to this conflict.

Unionists too must not fear peace negotiations. I urge the Unionist people to consider the prospect that an agreed settlement will bring wide ranging benefits for all the people of Ireland.

I appeal to those unionists who are honest enough to recognise that change is coming, not to allow themselves to be held back by the advocates of the Eugene Terre Blanche school of backwardness and unreality.

Unionists must prepare for change and see change for the liberating concept that it is.

Unionist leaders have made it clear that they have no intentions of negotiating with anyone. Not with the SDLP. Not with the Dublin government or anybody else. Why do they persist in this stance? They do so because the British government allows them to.

While there is an onus on all of us to encourage unionists to negotiate, the major responsibility is on the British government to persuade them that it is in everyone's long-term interest for them to negotiate with the rest of us who have to share this island.

The unionists will only change their stance when there is a British government that is strong enough to admit that its historical approach to resolving its conflict in Ireland has been an absolute failure. The unionists attitude to negotiations will only change when the British government reverses its belligerent opposition to the need for all inclusive and wide ranging negotiations.

Change is unavoidable. It will either come now or it will come later but come it will. Sinn Fein has been in the front line in the struggle for change. We have played a central role in the search for peace. We have taken great risks for peace and even though this British governments bad faith brought the peace process down, we are still totally dedicated and committed to the work which we know is required to rebuild the peace process.

The Irish government also has an important role to play. It has a clear responsibility to end the sense of abandonment again felt by the nationalist people in the north in the aftermath of the fall of the Reynolds government. John Bruton's unwillingness to challenge more effectively the British governments military agenda within the process will see history judge him as the weakest link on the Irish side. Dialogue is the key to progress. Nelson Mandela and F.W. DeKlerk proved that in South Africa. Albert Reynolds, Gerry Adams and John Hume also proved it here in Ireland.

The present situation requires a genuine and credible process of negotiations and if that can be guaranteed I am convinced that we can get another IRA cessation. The offering of a credible process of peace negotiations will in effect be the British government announcing a cease-fire in the war it has conducted against the nationalist community since their forcible Partition of Ireland.

Sinn Fein and the people we represent have a democratic entitlement to be in negotiations. Negotiations without Sinn Fein are meaningless. Our mandate, 43% of the nationalist community in last May's elections must be respected.

At the forthcoming Westminster elections on May 1st., the election of several Sinn Fein M.P's will deal a body blow to those who attempt to undemocratically deny the rights of our people. I believe that this is the most important election to be fought in the North of Ireland since partition. Like most nationalists Iim deeply disappointed that the SDLP, rather than put the interests of the nationalist people before their party self-interest rejected an electoral pact with Sinn Fein which would have guaranteed the end of the misrepresentation of overwhelmingly nationalist constituencies by Unionist MP's. In spite of that rejection, we are convinced that Sinn Fein has an excellent opportunity to have four M.P.'s elected - in West Belfast, North Belfast, the new constituency of West Tyrone and here in Mid-Ulster.

Nationalists voting tactically in these constituencies can make this happen.

I appeal to the nationalist people to use their vote to enable us to create a new opportunity for peace which can result from this election. Here in Mid-Ulster where I have had the honour to be selected as your Sinn Fein candidate, we are in pole position to win the seat. At last May's elections Sinn Fein came through not just as the largest nationalist party in Mid-Ulster but we also achieved the distinction of becoming the largest political party in Mid-Ulster and the only party to win two seats.

The new boundaries in the Mid-Ulster constituency means that the nationalist people have it within their power to end William Mc Crea's misrepresentation of this area.

In the Mid-Ulster election on May 1st, my main opponent will not even be on the ballot paper. My main opponent is the man most responsible for the sabotaging of the peace process.

That man is the British Prime Minister, John Major. Here in Mid-Ulster the people will have a golden opportunity to send a powerful message to the new British government in support of rebuilding the peace process and in support of Sinn Fein's right to be involved in the inevitable negotiations which must follow this election.

The winning of this seat by Sinn Fein will reverberate around the world and will put tremendous international pressure on the incoming British government to move decisively towards real and fully inclusive negotiations.

Sinn Fein is confident in our analysis, we are confident in our ability and we have the confidence and support of our people. We will not be deterred, change is coming and we United Irish Republicans are spearheading the drive for a just settlement. Partition and division have failed. British rule must end. We are entitled to Freedom.

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