10 April 1996
I feel particularly honoured to be speaking here in Belfast on the 80th Anniversary of the Easter Rising of 1916.
I come from Donegal the most northern of northern counties. Donegal has suffered greatly from the centuries of dispossession and marginalisation. The people of Donegal know only too well what British rule meant. In the past we were driven out by the greed and cruelty of landlords and in the present our children are forced out through emigration. Partition, and the legacy it has created was no solution for Ireland, no solution for the six-counties, was certainly no solution for Donegal. We were cut off from the 26 Counties by our geographical position and cut off from our neighbours in the rest of the North. But there is a spirit in Donegal - a spirit of Nationalism and Republicanism that has never been crushed - it has only been silenced and sidelined but it is there and must be tapped. I am making these points because I am here in Belfast speaking at this Republican plot. The price paid for Britain's continued interference in Ireland is portrayed here in an immediate and striking way. In this plot lie Irish men and women who sacrificed their young lives for freedom over the last 25 years. They died for the same cause of freedom as those men and women of 1916. All over Ireland, at Republican plots, at graveside memorials, at prison gates, Republicans today will pay tribute to those who died in the fight for our right to be a free united and independent nation.
Continuity of Struggle
That struggle and those sacrifices have been continuous. There are here among you the families and friends of those that lie in this plot. That personal experience is the same all over the north and at many of the Easter commemorations in the South. This not a past history that we mark here, it is our personal, political and immediate history. It is our own, present day struggle and those that died in that struggle that we commemorate together with those that died in 1916 and ever since. At Easter we mark in a public way the continuity of our struggle and our commitment to achieving our Republican vision for Ireland. That vision was proclaimed outside the GPO in Dublin 80 Years ago. The proclamation declared the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, to the control of Irish destinies, it guaranteed religious and civil liberty, equal rights and promised to cherish all the children of the nation equally. That vision has not dimmed. It is as vibrant and as viable now as it was then. It is that vision that guided us in our search for peace and it is our commitment to our Republican ideals and our determination to achieve them that will guide us in rebuilding the peace process. Our strategy for peace is rooted in our Republicanism and honed by our experience of struggle. Our struggle has been the engine of change in this country for the last 25 years. We want a real change, a new Ireland.
A New Beginning
That change will come about through negotiations for a real democracy in Ireland. It has not been easy to get to this point. It has been hard won through the sacrifices of those who gave their lives and all those who have lost family and friends in this long war. It is natural that we are cautious and suspicious of the intentions of the British government. Did any of us, from our experience, think that the British government would willingly engage in honourable or democratic politics in Ireland? Of course we knew that it would take all our efforts to keep them to even a modicum of the commitments they gave. And I know that few nationalists or republicans have confidence in John Bruton and none trust John Major. That knowledge and experience must not and will not deflect us from our strategy of securing of just and lasting peace.
Let us be clear. It was not a failure of our peace strategy that has brought about the present crisis but a failure of the peace process. Our strategy for peace is based on the democratic imperative of political and constitutional change and for democratic rights for all. The peace process had to secure agreement for change. That required the British government to encourage and promote willingness on the part of the Unionists to agree to sit down with the rest of the representatives of the Irish people. That did not happen. This was where the strength of the Nationalist Consensus had to come in. It had to be a bulwark against the British government renaging on commitments to facilitate for change. The Dublin government's role is crucial. Nobody thought it was going to be easy. And nobody was naive enough to think that the British government would not be treacherous. And nobody thought the Unionists would easily or of their own volition come to the table. There had to be that inexorbable momentum towards negotiations. The consensus had to provide that momentum. Any weakness in the consensus was exploited mericilessly by the British government and the Unionists to stall the progress to talks --- with the result that the peace process was run into the ground. But there is a huge difference between the deliberate bad faith of the British and the mistakes of the Dublin government. Britain's deliberate placing of obstacles in the way showed that they feared change
We want change. Our opponents fear it. That is why they have done everything to avoid real negotiations. The last eighteen months have proved that. The IRA cessation of August 1994 presented everyone but particularly the two governments with an unprecedented opportunity to build a lasting peace. As Republicans, we tried to increase that space so that out of it would grow a new beginning for all the Irish people. We had 18 months of an absence of war. We did not have peace, what we had was a chance to build it. What destroyed that chance was Britains inability to rise above its own narrow concerns and to change its attitude to Ireland. The British government could not even act compassionately towards the prisoners. Conditions in English prisons actually got worse during those 18 months. Our prisoners are being used as political hostages. This is proved particularly by the way Paddy Kelly is being treated. When convicted Paddy Kelly was put into one of the notorious ``special secure units'' in an English gaol. He has cancer but was given no treatment until his condition became life threatening. Only through pressure from many and I have to say some unexpected quarters, was he moved to Maghaberry prison. He should be released immediately. Paddy Kelly's case was so stark an example of the British governments grudging and negative attitude that it galvanised politicians right across the political parties in the South. And through the knowledge they gained by visiting him in England they also realised how blind and ignorant they were about other aspects of this struggle. There have been many such results from those 18 months. We must not lose sight of those gains through our anger and frustration at those who refused or failed to build on the opportunity for lasting peace. We have got out our message that partition has failed. We have exposed British and Unionist intransigence. We have put the national question at the top of the political and media agenda. Britain's role in Ireland has been shown to be a negative and destructive one. We have got international support for a lasting and just peace in Ireland. Never since partition has Britain's occupation of part of our country been held up to the spotlight of national and international opinion. We have to build on all of that.
This is a Unionist agenda - the structure of these elections is essentially unionist. The agenda suggested for the June 10th talks is a Unionist one, designed to make decommissioning the only item on it. The forum proposal is unionist. It denies the very basis of the peace process which is inclusive, democratic and set in an all Ireland context. We are opposed to these elections and to this forum - there is no need for them, no reason why there should not be direct entry into negotiations by all parties with a mandate. We would prefer not to take part in these elections but we will not abandon our voters. But be sure of this - Sinn Fein will be no part of a return to Stormont.
If the peace process is to be rebuilt there will have to be clear and specific assurances from the British government that negotiations will be inclusive. There must be no preconditions, no vetos and there must be a timeframe in which negotiations will be conducted. The Dublin government must show real resolve and hold Britain to its commitments. They cannot allow a unionist agenda to be imposed on the peace process. But in spite of the negativity of the unionist leadership there are real and encouraging signs that among grassroots unionism there is an openess developing. Sinn Fein members have had contact with community groups and with other unionist representatives. We as Republicans must whole-heartedly welcome this and play our part in helping contact to grow. Unionists must be reassured that there is nothing to fear from dialogue, that we need and want their contribution and involvement in building a new Ireland that will ``cherish all the children of the nation''.
We are Republicans. It was as Republicans that we formed our strategy for peace and it was as Republicans that we sought allies in the peace process. Our struggle for a united independent Ireland and our commitment to achieving it is stronger than ever. This Easter, as at every Easter for 80 years, we look forward with confidence in ourselves, in our strength and unity of purpose, to a future for ourselves and for all the people of Ireland. These commemorations are important and this year they take on particular significance. A just and lasting peace, a new Ireland, is going to be achieved.
To mark the 80th Anniversary nationally, a march is being organised in Dublin on April 27th. I urge all of you to organise in your local areas for this march. The message it will send out is that people all over Ireland want peace based on justice and democracy, an end to division and a realisation of the vision of an Ireland proclamed outside the GPO 80 years ago.
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