25 January 1998
Bloody Sunday Rally
Address by Sinn Fein Ard Chomhairle member
We have travelled a long and difficult road since that day 26 years ago when fourteen young men were murdered by British troops in Derry and just as our work in trying to achieve a lasting peace settlement has suffered highs and lows, so to has the campaign of the families of those murdered on Bloody Sunday.
The theme of this year's Bloody Sunday Commemoration is `Truth and Justice''. This refers to the demand of the families and friends of those murdered 26 years ago for the truth about what happened in Derry on Bloody Sunday and for justice to prevail.
For some time now we have listened to the British political and military establishment agonise over whether to apologise to the families. Indeed just this week we heard Derek Wilford who was commander of the Paras in Derry on that awful day defend their actions which he described as `magnificent'. He said that they had `nothing to apologise for'.
All this is an attempt to disguise the fact that the last twelve months have seen major developments for the campaign with the making public of fresh evidence to support the demands of the families. These include new eyewitness accounts, the dossier submitted by the Irish government and the investigative work carried out by Channel 4 News. It is a tribute to the commitment of the families of those murdered that the demand for an independent international inquiry is still at the top of the political agenda.
I have no doubt that if this work is continued we will see truth and justice for John Duddy, Kevin McElhinney, Hugh Gilmore, John Young, Michael Kelly, Gerald Donaghy, William Nash, Michael McDaid, James Wray, William McKinney, Patrick Doherty, Gerald McKinney, Bernard McGuigan and John Johnson
At the time of the Bloody Sunday murders people in Derry and throughout Ireland were campaigning for civil rights - `one man one vote', decent housing, jobs. We were attempting to build a truly democratic society in Ireland. Work that continues today.
On many occasions we have been told that the nationalist nightmare is over. First it was the Sunningdale Agreement, then the Anglo Irish Agreement, then the Downing Street Declaration Such agreements did not work as they singularly failed to address the causes of conflict. Now we have the Proposition on Heads of Agreement document where the governments have once again reverted to form and conceded to Unionist threats and Loyalist murders.
In recent days we have seen almost daily attacks on Catholics by loyalist death squads who have made it abundantly clear that they intend to continue killing Catholics in order to intimidate nationalist people into lowering their expectations. By destroying the credibility and validity of the peace process they hope to prevent any possibility of real change. They will not succeed.
The Unionist leaders in the talks must bear responsibility for the vacuum which their refusal to engage in genuine political dialogue has created. Their inaction has created an atmosphere of uncertainty outside the process which is being exploited by the Loyalist death squads
Writing in the Irish News, former SDLP Councillor, Brian Feeney, said
``1997 has been no different from 1966, 1969, 1972, 1975, 1986. In each of those years government of one kind or another began to address nationalist grievances. Whenever that happens unionist leaders start to bleat about reforms and as night follows day murder gangs start to kill Catholics. The modern loyalist murder campaign began in 1966 to prevent reform. Loyalists began bombing in 1969 to prevent reform. A myth has developed that loyalist violence was in some way in retaliation against republican violence. Not so. Each upsurge of loyalist violence was and at present is, a retaliation against `perceived' reform which unionist leaders denounce.''
Sinn Fein are calling on Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, as a matter of urgency, to meet with Gerry Adams in an attempt to diffuse the deteriorating situation. To date he has refused to agree to such a meeting. From the beginning of this process the Ulster Unionist Party have refused to engage constructively in the talks and have turned down all requests from our party to meet. Instead they have made bogus claims about ``concessions'' which they have been unable to list and continuously played the orange card. Both inside and outside the talks they have tried to prevent the peace process moving to real negotiations which will deliver meaningful change.
In talking about meaningful change we have highlighted three main areas - constitutional and political change, demilitarisation and the equality agenda. Just to clarify one matter from the Proposition on Heads of Agreement Paper we do not want equity, we do not want concessions. We want rights. We want equality of treatment. This is a simple concept - it means redressing the imbalance of years of both Stormont rule and direct rule whereby nationalists have suffered discrimination in all areas of life.
As we seek to restructure relationships this equality agenda needs to map out how we can ensure equality in employment, in economic investment, for the Irish language and culture, in education and for political representatives. It must tackle the difficult issue of cultural symbols, of flags and emblems and of policing. Redressing these imbalances are not `concessions', they are rights which nationalists should always have had and on which there must be immediate progress.
Last week our party President Gerry Adams was here in London with Martin McGuinness, Lucilita Bhreatnach and Pat Doherty to meet Tony Blair to express our concerns about the thrust of the `Propositions on Heads of Agreement' paper, the killing campaign being carried out by loyalists and the lack of progress on the equality agenda including the lack of movement on the release of political prisoners and demilitarisation. They also outlined the concerns of a wide section of the nationalist community that the two governments had conceded in the face of Unionist threats and Loyalist killings.
We believe that the peace process should be the means through which we collectively negotiate a democratic settlement but to succeed it needs political will and engagement from all of the parties and a level playing pitch. This has not yet happened.
Sinn Fein are keenly aware that the situation is now very grave but as representatives of a substantial section of the nationalist community we are aware of our responsibilities. Republicans have always demonstrated the political will to face up to our responsibility in all of this. This is evident in the initiatives we have taken to advance the search for peace. Indeed the courageous decision taken by the leadership of the Irish Republican Army on July 20, in restoring its cessation of August 1994 is most significant.
In its statement on Wednesday the leadership of the IRA said: ``We have pointed out repeatedly in the past that meaningful negotiations are crucial to the resolution of the conflict. We affirmed our willingness to facilitate such negotiations. We have matched this commitment with deeds in announcing and maintaining a cessation of military operations since 20 July last year.''
They continued saying that instead of facing up to the pressure of a Unionist leadership refusing to meaningfully engage in the talks process and the continuing assassinations by loyalist death squads the British government has again yielded to it. ``The responsibility for undoing the damage done to the prospects for a just and lasting peace settlement rests squarely with the British government.''
As the talks prepare to move to London next week Sinn Fein believe that the situation can be rectified but only if all of the parties engage in meaningful talks. Our long standing position has been one of willingness to enter into dialogue with a view to removing the causes of conflict. Democratic, political and practical imperatives clearly require the involvement of all political views if a democratic resolution is to be sought and achieved. We must see the beginning of an inclusive, balanced and comprehensive process which deals with all of the issues at the heart of this conflict.
There can be no return to the abuses and bitterness which marked the Stormont period. We have made clear that we will not accept the status quo. We will not accept a partitionist settlement. What is needed is real change and a total transformation of the situation.
As Irish republicans Sinn Fein want to see Irish unity and our involvement in the talks is on the basis of our republican perspective.
Despite all of the problems we believe that the opportunity still exists to advance us all into a new era. The bad faith and lack of courage of the last British government which destroyed the first opportunity for peace must not be repeated. The failed constitutional settlement imposed upon us when the century began needs to be replaced. That is the task facing us. The Ireland of the 21st century will be shaped by what we do from this point. We have before us a unique and unprecedented opportunity to forge a democratic peace accord for all the people of the island. If this opportunity is to be translated into reality, we must all respond to it with courage and imagination.
The search for a resolution cannot be left entirely to those involved in the talks process. Each and every individual has their own part to play. It is important that those interested in a democratic resolution of this conflict become involved in pressure campaigns to demand the release of all political prisoners, demilitarisation and equality of treatment.
Ireland and Britain are now at a crossroads in their history. Irish and British public opinion demands that the opportunity to achieve a just peace in not squandered. Our lives and those of future generations depend on it.
I would ask you to leave here today determined to make the best contribution that you can to the building of a new Irish democracy and just as the campaign for `Truth and Justice' for the Bloody Sunday families moves towards a successful resolution so too will the march of the Irish people towards national self-determination.
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