40TH ANNIVERSARY COMMEMORATION
SUNDAY 5TH JANUARY 1997
Address by MITCHEL McLAUGHLIN
I would like to begin by thanking the organising committee for giving me the honour of delivering this, the 40th anniversary address in commemoration of Seán Sabhat who, along with his brave comrade, Fergal O Hanlon, gave his life for Irish freedom during an attack on Brookeborough Barracks on the Eve of 1957. 40 years after their deaths, their names are spoken throughout Ireland alongside those of Tone, Pearse and Connolly. They recognised, as did many other young Irishmen and woman, that Irish constitutional nationalism had failed to address the issues that underpin injustice and conflict in our society. Not only was there a consistent failure to protect nationalists in the North, not only has the nationalist nightmare not ended, as Peter Barry once boasted, but they also failed to actively work for the reunification of our country.
Seán Sabhat, like so many Irishmen and women before and since, decided to strike for Irish freedom in an attempt to force Britain to negotiate a withdrawal from the occupied Six-Counties. Like so many of this generation, Seán and Fergal gave their lives in pursuit of their ideals and in so doing, sowed the seed of freedom in a new generation of republicans. Todays republicans are determined that we will see that seed bear fruit, we are determined to win a negotiated settlement based on freedom and democratic principles.
Seán Sabhat and Fergal OHanlon, as todays republicans, believed that: ``Irelands right to sovereignty, independence and unity are inalienable and indefeasible. It is for the Irish people as a whole to determine the future status of Ireland. ........Neither Britain, nor a small minority selected by Britain, has any right to partition the island of Ireland, nor to determine its future as a sovereign nation.''
75 years ago the British, in pursuit of their own self-interest, partitioned Ireland, subverting the clearly expressed decision of the people of Ireland and disregarding the principles of self-determination. In so doing, Britain and its pro-union allies in Ireland, laid down the foundations of decades of conflict and division.
It is now generally accepted that the partition of Ireland imposed by violence and exercised without the consent of the Irish people, has had a damaging effect on political development in both parts of our country. Its effects have been particularly disastrous in the occupied Six-Counties. Partition, as imposed and defended by successive British governments, is now internationally recognised as a grievous historical injustice.
Partition has inhibited our ability to resolve the causes of poverty, emigration, unemployment and the growing scourge of drug addiction as well as the other more obvious causes of death and destruction arising from the conflict itself. By any standards, partition and the denial of self-determination to the Irish nation has been a political failure, which has sustained injustice, discrimination, conflict and which has ultimately made victims of us all..... Republican, Nationalist and Unionist.
The denial of self-determination to the Irish nation and the means deployed by successive British governments to uphold its claim to jurisdiction over a part of Irish national territory are the reasons for the continuous conflict and instability in our country. But the past two years have provided the political education of a lifetime for all of us. Would any honest and clear thinking person now deny the obvious truth, that it has been the British government and the Unionist political leadership which has been afraid of negotiation?
Irish Republicans believe that self-determination is fundamental to national democracies and international harmony. British and some Irish politicians, have sought to convince public opinion that notions like Irish freedom, Irish self-determination and Irish Nationality have become irrelevant. Not so, not in Ireland, not anywhere, South Africa, Palestine, Eastern Europe and least of all in England.
The reality is, until the issue of self-determination is resolved satisfactorily, there can be no equality of treatment or parity of esteem on this island. There can be no permanent end to conflict, there can be no lasting peace settlement and there can be no democratic progress. The reality is, so long as the unionist veto is underpinned by British government policy, then there will be no imperative logic for unionists to enter into real negotiations and there will be no peace for any of us.
The heart felt desire of all sensible people is for a democratic peace. If this desire remains as no more than a dream for some and a popular aspiration for others, then it will never become a reality. It is clear therefore that the achievement of peace, wherever it is sought, must be inclusive and requires a genuine and viable political process.
It is clear from Irish history, and indeed from freedom struggles throughout the world, that unless a cessation of hostilities is consolidated through meaningful negotiations then inevitably, we will all be condemned to a recurrence of the conflict.
A peace process, if it is to be both productive and enduring, must address the root causes of the conflict. A true process must focus on the need for democracy and self-determination in Ireland. The exercise, through inclusive agreement and consent, of the right to national self-determination, is the core from which flows the ability to promote, exercise and defend all other rights.
The criterion by which any initiative which claims peace as its goal must be judged, is the degree to which it promotes the conditions in which the right to national self-determination can be exercised. Justice and an end to conflict is of course a shared objective for most people, but for it to have any lasting effect, it must be in the context of an inclusive peace process which eradicates the causes of the conflict and creates conditions of justice, democracy and equality. Therefore it follows that an end to hostilities is not of itself a durable peace.
In the early years of this decade, Gerry Adams and John Hume began the work of creating an Irish Peace Process. Their efforts were given timely and absolutely crucial governmental support by Albert Reynolds and Bill Clinton. As events have proven, John Major never came on board and he eventually spurned not only the original gift-wrapped opportunity for an honourable settlement, but in recent weeks, he again rejected a serious attempt to revive the Peace Process.
When John Bruton came to office two years ago he inherited a Peace Process and cessations from both the Loyalists and the IRA. Today, we donít have any of these all-important and essential elements.
Now it would be wrong to totally blame John Bruton, because over the past two years many mistakes have been made and no-one is completely free from responsibility for the present situation.
But let me paraphrase Mr Bruton;
``Please, Please. Please''........ stop blaming Sinn FÈin for the failures of others. ``Please, Please, Please''....... accept responsibility; especially for your own misunderstandings, mistakes and failures in your dealings with the British government and the Unionists and your own handling of the Peace Process. In the coming months, the electorates North and South will have the opportunity to vote in three critical elections. Some have speculated that the Peace Process should be put on hold, primarily because the paralysis of John Majorís government means that there is very little prospect of inclusive negotiations until a newly mandated British government is put in place. However, none of us should shirk our responsibility to persist in trying to re-build the badly damaged project in the meantime . Sinn Fein believes that the Peace Process is irrevocable, which is why it is and will remain our No.1 priority. The British government and the Unionist leaderships have demonstrated that it can be stalled, that it can be damaged, but they could not, and they cannot, kill it off. So long as Gerry Adams and John Hume continue their collective enterprise, then we have grounds for hope and reasons to weigh in behind their endeavours. For example, whilst the Governments have foolishly ruled out political dialogue as the means of restoring the cessations, does that necessarily apply to the political parties in Britain and in Ireland? The governments, British and Irish, have failed to sustain or to recover the unique potential of Autumn 1994, why then should we all be guided by their failure?
In the pre-election scenario, why not a bi-partisan agreement on dialogue with, and between, all parties with an established mandate? Is that so unreasonable? Would it not be in accordance with democratic principles? Would the search for Peace not challenge the complacency and rhetoric of those who have the mandate to negotiate an end to conflict and injustice? Is it beyond the capacity of the political parties to stop looking over their shoulders and to act with courage and conviction?
All parties should develop the present existing contacts into full blown bi-lateral discussions. Some parties will talk to some parties but not to others, but those who wish to change the political conditions which sustain division and conflict, should be prepared to talk to all parties. This applies equally to those parties who are presently ingovernment and to those who aspire to be in government after the impending elections.
Let us all engage in determined and immediate `Talks about Negotiations' which are seen to be both necessary and inevitable, not any repeat of the stalling exercise of `Talks about Talks'. Republicans are saying to those who cherish their `Britishness', that we must recognise our mutual responsibility to design a political settlement which willsafeguard all our children equally.
To the Unionist Leaderships ,we are offering a genuine hand of friendship. Do not permit any temporary leverage at Westminster to blind you to the need to negotiate a democratic settlement here on this island. Trust yourselves, do not repeat the mistakes of history. Ireland needs your contribution, do you really believe that Britain does?
Let all of the political parties, use the time before the impending elections, to give strong, ``LEADERSHIP FOR PEACE'' so that, despite the frustrations and difficulties, the political process itself, becomes an irresistible and irreversible march towards a democratic accommodation which all people in Ireland can embrace. We need to talk now. We need to articulate with each others expectations of the consequences of an end to armed conflict, of political and constitutional change, as well as how we reach that stage. This is the opportunity that was squandered during the past two years. The current crisis calls for courage and vision of the highest order.
All civilised societies have accepted that in the final analysis, conflict must be resolved by dialogue rather than force. That is why republicans are determined to be part of a meaningful negotiating process. That is why we argue that self-determination, exercised with consent and by agreement, is the key to the matter. Its application is an essential requirement for peace. That is the ideal for which Seán Sabhat and so many others died. That is the ideal which we must make a reality, so that future generations in Ireland can live in Freedom, Justice and Peace.
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