Easter Commemoration 1997
Address by Sinn Fein Party Chairman Mitchel McLaughlin
30 March 1997
The Easter Rising of 1916 which Irish republicans commemorate this week-end throughout Ireland and indeed the world, was the catalyst for many anti-imperialist struggles which saw the dismantling of the British Empire. It inspired Freedom Fighters throughout the world. Many former colonies became Free Nations in the decades, which followed that momentous effort mounted in Dublin by courageous Irish republicans who had a vision of an Ireland free from British interference. Although many other liberation struggles resulted in the British being forced to withdraw; the dream of the 1916 leaders for Ireland has not yet been accomplished. Ireland has not yet attained full Nationhood.
Ireland did not achieve what the sacrifice of the men and women of 1916 inspired other nations to achieve - National self-determination. Without the consent of the people of Ireland, our land was partitioned. It was partitioned under the threat of violence and this artificial statelet has been maintained ever since through British and loyalist violence. In almost every decade since 1916 Irishmen and Irishwoman have laid down their lives in the quest of fulfilling the goals of the men and woman of Easter Week.
Here in Derry, at this republican plot, we remember those from this area and the hundreds more across this country and further afield who gave their lives in the pursuit of Freedom and Independence. We pledge to them that the freedom for which they fought and died will be achieved. Our ultimate goal of course, is a democratic socialist republic. Our primary goal at this time is an Irish national democracy. Today's republicans remain committed to the legitimacy of these goals. The partition of our country and the division of our people have created this failed political entity. The inequality and the discrimination against nationalists and the military and political occupation of part of our country must end.
This requires a negotiated and democratic settlement of the conflict in our country. The Sinn Fein strategy is to create the political conditions, which will prepare the way for those negotiations to take place against a peaceful background and on the basis of equality of all the participants. There can be no preconditions, no vetoes either on the table or under the table.
Sinn Fein is committed to a peace strategy. It was Sinn Fein who initiated the peace process and nurtured it through many difficult times. It was Sinn Fein who initially reached out to other political parties on this island with a blueprint for a peaceful and negotiated settlement of this conflict.
It was Sinn Fein who brought these parties in Ireland and further afield to the realisation that in order to resolve the problem you must remove the causes of the problem. It was Sinn Fein who convinced other parties that constitutional and political change was required in order to address the inequality and discriminatory nature of British rule in Ireland. It was Sinn Fein who convinced constitutional nationalism to declare that there can be no internal Six-County settlement to this conflict.
Sinn Fein took enormous political risks to create the conditions under which the IRA felt it could announce its historic cessation of August 1994. Sinn Fein is still totally committed to that peace strategy although the first attempt to create the conditions where real credible and inclusive negotiations could take place, was sabotaged by John Major, David Trimble and Ian Paisley. No effort should be spared to rebuild a real and meaningful process of peace negotiations. Every party must accept responsibility for its part in the collapse of the first cessation. But the major responsibility rests with the British government's criminal refusal to seriously engage in the search for a peaceful settlement during the IRA cessation. Every effort put forward by republicans to reach accommodation has so far been met with a belligerent refusal by John Major to consider anything other than his own narrow pro-unionist agenda.
John Bruton and his administration in Dublin cannot escape their share of responsibility either. When John Bruton assumed power he inherited a peace process, an IRA cessation and a loyalist conditional cease-fire.
Today we have none of these. Through his lack of vision and his blind determination to appease unionism he has succeeded only in weakening and undermining the nationalist consensus.
John Major and David Trimble recognised this confusion in John Bruton's analysis of the Peace Process and used it to frustrate all efforts to move forward towards an inclusive process of negotiations. John Bruton's failure to recognise the fact that nationalists trapped in the northern statelet, without their consent, are Irish citizens and therefore constitutionally entitled to the support and protection of the Dublin government, was one of the reasons why the painstakingly constructed nationalist consensus began to fragment. An Taoiseach must recognise the Irish constitutional imperative to actively pursue the reunification of the national territory and by that means to heal the divisions among our people.
Neither is it sufficient for Irish political leaders to claim that we are a divided people and therefore it is people who have to be united and not territory. This land is more than a clod of earth to the people who inhabit it. Ask any nationalist. Ask any unionist. Ask those who are part of the Irish Diaspora. The fact is that it is the undemocratic partition of our national territory, which sustains division among our people, and it follows that one cannot be united while the other remains divided. It is therefore incumbent on all political leaders to work towards the removal of British government political and military interference in our country so that the people of Ireland can determine without external influence how we should govern ourselves.
In the coming weeks you will have the opportunity to deliver a message to both governments. That message must be strong and unequivocal in telling both governments that all sections of the electorate must be included in the inevitable negotiations.
A strong mandate for Sinn Fein in the forthcoming elections will make it well nigh impossible for the incoming British government to ignore our democratic right to represent our electorate in negotiations. I have no doubt that these elections will be the most important since partition. A strong vote for Sinn Fein could change the political landscape in this country forever. It would have a far-reaching impact beyond the north of Ireland. It would reverberate around the world and put untold pressure on the incoming British government to engage in a credible process of negotiations.
The eventuality which both the British and the unionists seek to postpone is the prospect of having to sit down across a negotiating table from Sinn Fein.
The unionist political leaderships recognise that to accept the concept of negotiations even on the marching issue means conceding on equality of treatment and parity of esteem. Consent is an inclusive principle, it means much more than nationalists conceding a unionist veto. Should they concede on the equality issue then the whole ethos of unionism comes into question, because unionism as represented by David Trimble and Ian Paisley is synonymous with a supremacist philosophy.
The present British government are also scared to face Sinn Fein across the negotiating table because they know that to concede the need to negotiate is to accept that there must be change which will be fundamental, constitutional and political. They are afraid to negotiate with Sinn Fein because they are aware that republicans are confident and forthright in our ability to articulate our analysis. They know that we have a democratic and unstoppable argument.
But John Major is a self-proclaimed unionist. He is a British unionist who fears that just as the actions of republicans in Easter 1916 signalled the break-up of the mighty British Empire, so today a negotiated settlement in the North may herald the dismantling of his precious United Kingdom.
If a Peace Process is to be rebuilt there will have to be explicit guarantees from the British Government. This time the negotiations will be called immediately and they will be open to all parties without pre-conditions. This time there will be no collusion with the Unionists parties or political vetoes of any kind. Furthermore, given the experience of the 18 months of time wasting by the Unionists and the British Government, this time Republicans are resolved that there must be a pre-determined time-frame for the negotiations, so as to inject the necessary dynamic into the process.
As we prepare to take our place at the negotiating table - and make no mistake about it - we will be there, Sinn Fein will be demanding swift action on a number of confidence building measures. The prisoners for example and 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 attitude to the Irish Peace Process.
We will also, without any apology for `rocking the boat' raise such issues as nationalist rights, equality of treatment, an end to discrimination, the removal of all impediments to progress in negotiations such as decommissioning and other distractions. We will also want the negotiations to take place a peaceful atmosphere. We will play our full part to make that happen. Others must play their part also.
You too can play your part by making sure that you cast your vote for Sinn Fein. Impress on everyone you have any influence on, the importance of a strong vote for Sinn Fein. You can create a new opportunity for peace by voting for Sinn Fein.
Send a message to the new British government that republicans will no longer be ignored. There will be no more `croppies' lie down.
To the families and comrades of fallen volunteers of Derry Brigade Óglaigh Na hÉireann, we send our solidarity and support. To the many activists still incarcerated in prison we pledge our commitment to continue to campaign for your unconditional release and to the nationalists and republicans of Derry, we ask your continuing support for the ideals laid down in the 1916 Easter Proclamation.
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