Speech by Bertie Ahern, then Taoiseach, at the Wolfe Tone Commemoration, Bodenstown, (16 October 2005)
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Speech by Bertie Ahern, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), at the Wolfe Tone Commemoration, Bodenstown, County Kildare, (Sunday 16 October 2005)
"Eighty years ago, in 1925, Eamon de Valera addressed a republican commemoration in this very place.
De Valera opened his speech by saying:
"Republicans, you have come here today to the tomb of Wolfe Tone on a pilgrimage of loyalty. By your presence you proclaim your undiminished attachment to the ideals of Tone, and your unaltered devotion to the cause for which he gave his life. It is your answer to those who would have it believed that the Republic of Ireland is dead and its cause abandoned."
De Valera spoke at a time when Irish Republicanism was at a particularly low ebb. He, and his followers, had recently experienced the disillusionment of a bitter and bloody civil war and due to the provisions of the Treaty which imposed an Oath of Allegiance, the broad body of Republican opinion remained outside the national parliament.
Within twelve months of this low-point, the founders of Fianna Fail had gathered in the La Scala Theatre and set in train a new political movement which in the words of De Valera "can best serve the nation at this moment by trying to get the Constitutional Republican way adopted."
And from the moment Eamon de Valera led Fianna Fáil into government in 1932, the moral imperative of Constitutional Republicanism - that violence has no place in securing Irish unity - has been at the forefront of our political philosophy.
Like de Valera, and all my other Fianna Fáil predecessors, I have tried to persuade the militant fringe of republicanism to follow our party’s peaceful and democratic Republican path.
A key element of the story of the Irish peace process is how we, in Fianna Fail, have advanced our constitutional republican analysis of partition and unity.
Fianna Fail holds that unity cannot be built on the divisions and fury of ages.
We hold that it must be advanced through greater economic, social and cultural ties and understanding.
We hold fast to Tone’s aim to rid this island of the evil of sectarianism and "to substitute the common name of Irishman in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter."
We oppose all efforts to impose unity through violence or the threat of violence.
We oppose all efforts to transfer the isolation and alienation of nationalists onto the unionist community.
Because such actions drive the wedge deeper between the two communities on this island and thrust any possibility of unity way further into the future.
It is this core analysis which Fianna Fail in Government has brought to the Peace Process.
We have striven to bring all strands of Nationalist Ireland to this analysis while driving forward our agenda of self-determination, equality, justice and normalisation with the British Government.
In 1998, in the first 32-county act of self-determination since 1918, the Irish people backed our analysis.
We in Fianna Fáil judge our success not merely by our electoral support but by the extent to which our arguments, our analysis, our democratic, peaceful, republican philosophy, pervade and shape the Nation.
The Provisional IRA have now yielded to the will of the Irish people. It has taken an unconscionable length of time and unforgivable pain and suffering but finally they have realised that it is the ballot box, and not the armalite, that can bring about change in the Ireland of the 21st century.
I have made it clear that we must see an end to all paramilitary and criminal activity. There will be a report from the Independent Monitoring Commission next week and again in January that will address these issues. Rebuilding trust and confidence is a challenge, but if these reports are positive we will want to get back into serious discussions with the parties in the New Year with a view to the restoration of the institutions as soon as possible thereafter.
At this Party commemoration, I say to all our members that Fianna Fail’s abiding political priority must be to help the process of reconciliation and in Tone’s words "to abolish the memory of all past dissensions."
We need to do everything we can to understand the problems of the North and be sensitive to Northern perceptions and history. There are many things we can achieve together, such as developing the competitiveness of the island economy, building tourism and transport links, improving services and combating poverty and deprivation.
Regardless of the political risks, Fianna Fáil has always put the peace process first. I have given this issue more time, more thought and more commitment than any other. This is the single most important issue of my political life. It is the great opportunity of this generation. If we succeed, and we shall, then we will change life on this island for the better, forever.
We have much work still to do. I want to build upon the last decade of momentum and achievement in the peace process. I want to transform the process into positive results on the ground, North and South. The absence of violence is only the precondition for, not the realisation of, the progress that people desperately want. Peace must be supported by reconciliation and progress must be underpinned by investment, by education and by equal opportunity.
On a personal note, I want today to pay a special tribute to Tony Blair. As far back as 1868, William Gladstone said his mission was to pacify Ireland. In the long line of British Prime Ministers since then, no British Prime Minister has shown such commitment in striving to ensure a closer relationship between our two islands and in furthering the cause of peace.
We now share a great political objective - to see the Good Friday Agreement fully work and its provisions fully implemented.
In underlining the importance of this work, I ask all of you to cast your minds back to less than a decade ago when murder, fear and terror constantly stalked the streets of Northern Ireland. Due to the combined efforts of many men and women of goodwill, I believe we remain on course to forge a brighter and better reality.
Our generation has borne witness to the tragic results of a conflict that has cost well over 3,000 lives and caused colossal damage and disturbance to the lives of many more people, holding back the natural progress of a whole society and indeed an entire island.
Yet, today, we stand on an exciting threshold of a new era of peace and prosperity where, when fully implemented, the Good Friday Agreement has the potential to wholly change the river flow of history, to consolidate peace and slam the door on over 30 years of conflict, 80 years of alienation and hundreds of years of bitter enmity and hate.
I am determined, and this Party demands, that there can be no turning the clock back to the violence of the past. A fully implemented Agreement will provide a new beginning - based on partnership, co-operation and mutual respect - in relationships within Northern Ireland, between North and South, and between Ireland and Britain. It does not mean an end to difference. It does not spell defeat for either of the two great traditions of Republicanism or Unionism. Instead, it spells victory for all the people who want to co-exist in peace and harmony on this island.
My political roots are in republican politics. All of my adult life, I am proud to have been a member of the Fianna Fail Party, a national organisation with its genesis in the Easter Rising. Our party was established by the sole surviving commandant of 1916. From the outset, Fianna Fáil existed as a Constitutional Republican Party with the expressed aim of giving effect to the aims of the Proclamation read by Pearse on the steps of the General Post Office.
For those of us from this republican perspective, I contend that the Good Friday Agreement fulfils the ideals of all those in this and past generations - to which the 1916 Proclamation refers - who have worked for reconciliation and peace between the different traditions on this island.
The central tenet of Irish republicanism today is that the people are sovereign. Where the Irish people reject violence and sectarianism, a republican cannot condone these methods. Any individual who does so is not a republican.
Article 1 of the Good Friday Agreement recognises that it is for the people of Ireland alone, by peaceful agreement, between the two parts but without external impediment, to exercise the right of self-determination.
I want today to say to the Unionist community that there is no constitutional threat to the position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom from this part of the island. Those who used violence to try to force you into a united Ireland have, thankfully, not only stopped their war, but have decommissioned the means by which they waged that war.
The Good Friday Agreement has delivered us to this point today and we must all now take account of the realities of the changes that have taken place. Now, more than ever, there is a need for frank and inclusive engagement right across the political divide in Northern Ireland.
In particular, Loyalism must now also be carried forward by the tide of opportunity that is at hand. In the end, the peace process must leave no one behind. I am convinced that there are many within Loyalism who wish to play a constructive part in the new landscape of relationships emerging. As with the journey embarked upon by militant Republicans, I recognise that they need space, encouragement and support to move beyond their recent past.
I pledge today that those seeking genuine efforts at transformation will see a positive and open response from my government. It will be a response that will not diminish my commitment to a united Ireland, no more than it will make Loyalists any less Unionist, but a response that seeks to live out the true spirit of Wolfe Tone in the Republican ideals of liberty of conscience, equality of opportunity and fraternity of relationships.
I have a message too for those who refuse to journey down the road to final peace. To those involved in sectarian attacks on Catholic schools or Orange Halls. To those who offer nothing but simmering ancient hatreds. To those who continue with their criminality, creating nothing but misery.
They need to know their actions will not be tolerated. They need to know they will face the full rigour of the law. They need to know that they will not succeed. Because we are not going to be diverted from creating the reality of a better island for all the people, Nationalist and Unionist.
What any future generation achieves will be for them to shape. But we, in our time, have done much to break the cycle of violence and we must continue down that road. I believe that through the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement our nation will continue to forge ahead in the years to come on a path of peace and prosperity for our children and our children’s children.
James Connolly wrote that "the greatness of Wolfe Tone lay in the fact that he imitated nobody." And it is up to all of us in our generation, in the nationalist-republican family, to give the same leadership as Tone and the United Irishmen and the men of 1916 did in theirs, breaking new ground, as they once did, not being prisoners to the tyranny of history and past prejudices nor confining ourselves to such approaches as may or may not have worked in the past.
We, in Ireland, at the beginning of the 21st century find ourselves in a very different situation from those past patriots who struggled for the self-determination we are the heirs to. In many respects, we are in a stronger position, as a now long-established and well-respected member of the international community. It is the historic task of our generation to finally heal the wounds of division that have festered on this island for too long.
Working together, we will not - and cannot - permit the loss of this great opportunity given uniquely to us. For my part, I am determined to pursue the goal of peace, prosperity and reconciliation on this island so that future generations do not have to endure the conflict, deprivation and sectarianism that have been for too long a cancer in our midst."
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