Speech by Gerry Kelly at Bodenstown, Wolfe Tone Commemoration, 18 June 2006
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Speech by Gerry Kelly, then Sinn Féin MLA for North Belfast and member of the Sinn Féin Ard Comhairle, at Bodenstown, Wolfe Tone Commemoration, 18 June 2006
"A Chairde agus a chomradaithe,
Is onóir mór domhsa bheith anseo inniu, ag labhairt libh ar an lá stairiúl seo, comrade ar bhás Wolfe Tone, measc pairceanna Chontae Chill Dára.
Tá sé iontach Sprague domh teach chugaibh ar lá gálanta mar seo go dtí an uaigh seo agus amharc thart ar na slaite ó gach ceann dea tir seo, idir sean agus óg, atá bail the inníu.
Tá muid ag tabhairt ómós don duine ach níos mó ná sin, at muid ag tabhairt ómós don ailing a spreag daoine le níos mó ná dha chéad blain le dul amach chun troid agau eagrú agus obair go crua ar son saoirse na haileáin bheag seo a bhaint amach.
I am very honoured to be here today to speak of those who fought and died for the freedom of the people of Ireland and to do so at the graveside of Theobald Wolfe Tone, the father of Irish Republicanism.
Here was a visionary. An Irish republican, a father, brother, husband and son. A lawyer, a writer, a gun-runner. A civil rights activist who became a revolutionary because in his time freedom and equality was impossible without revolution. Here was a young protestant man, as many in the leadership of the United Irish men were. His commitment and dedication was such that he was able, after arriving in France in February of 1796, on the run, to convince the French Republican government to send a fleet of 15,000 soldiers off to Ireland. He convinced them to put their most experienced General Lazare Hoche in charge of the expedition, who in turn, appointed Wolfe Tone as an Adjutant General in the French army. He was so persuasive that after an atrocious sea storm aborted the landing at Bantry Bay the French sent three further fleets - one in 1797 and the other two in 1798. The year of the great rebellion.
Unfortunately he was captured by the British off the Donegal coast in 1798 and died in jail just before he was due to be hanged on the gallows.
He would find good company here today.
But perhaps his biggest achievement was his vision. His ideas of freedom were boundless and more importantly he acted on them. Those ideas have inspired the oppressed in Ireland and throughout the world ever since. It is a fire still burning in the heart of every Irish republican.
This year is also the 90th anniversary of the 1916 rising and Wolfe Tone's tremendous influence can be seen in Pádraig Pearse's "The Separatist Idea" published in 1916. We can also see the commitment, determination and courage of Tone in those who gave their lives in the Hunger Strike of 1981 some 25 years ago. This is also the 30th anniversary of Vol. Frank Stagg and the 60th anniversary of Seán McCaughey who both died on Hunger Strike.
In commemorating and celebrating the bravery of Wolfe Tone and our fallen comrades since then, I want to pay tribute to the volunteers and leadership of the IRA today because they have shown outstanding valour and vision on and off the battlefield. They have played the most pivotal role in this phase of the struggle and I commend their initiatives, patience, discipline and tenacity.
If courage were the yardstick of success then the British would be long gone.
Indeed individual and collective courage have been the mainstay of this long struggle. It was the courage shown by the leadership of Oglaigh na hEireann in calling a cessation of military operations in 1994 which was the catalyst for not only the overall peace process but for the ongoing development of the republican strategy which has brought us so far.
Since we last gathered here in 2005 the Irish Republican Army announced that it has formally ended its armed campaign. This was a courageous and truly historic step to advance the cause of peace and the cause of Irish freedom.
Although this is the first time I've been on the platform at Bodenstown, I have spoken at the gravesides of many fallen comrades so let me repeat what I have consistently stated, I don't know what Wolfe Tone would think of our present day strategy and tactics or indeed what James Connolly or Bobby Sands or Mairead Farrell or Sheena Campbell or other friends who were killed during the present phase of struggle might say.
I do know that we all agree with Tone's words, still relevant two hundred and more years after his death;
To subvert the tyranny of our execrable government,
We strive for that same independence and unity.
I do know that those who are left behind, those who survive must take up the mantle and do the best we can in the era that we live in. We must lead, we must strategise and use tactics suitable and workable to the 21st century. That is the onerous task our fallen comrades leave to us.
Now there are turning points in a nation's history that change the course of that nations people. 1798 was such a point, the 1916 rising was such an event as was the Hunger Strike of 1981. Despite the profound difficulties for many Republicans the IRA statement of July 28th, 2005 is another such event. The IRA has provided a golden opportunity to advance a new era in our long struggle. It is crucial that this opportunity be grasped by Republicans and opponents alike.
In the coming weeks there will be renewed efforts to advance the peace process. Republicans had taken hugely important decisions. It is time for others to respond in like manner. The challenge is there not just for the DUP but more importantly for the British and Irish government.
The inescapable question for the DUP is whether they are prepared to join with the rest of us in sharing power. If they refuse then it is the two governments who must deliver on their commitments to jointly implement all other elements of the Good Friday Agreement. Unionism must be shown that power sharing is much more preferable than British ministers implementing policies over their heads which are detrimental to the lives of everyone living in Ireland, nationalist or unionist.
Many people will be frustrated at the slow pace of progress and angry that those opposed to change are being pandered to. However these are the perennial tactics of our opponents.
Our response lies in our strengths; Sinn Féin has become the largest nationalist party in the North. We became the 3rd largest party in Ireland. We are the only all-Ireland party. We have the capability of achieving a united Ireland and we must continue constantly building the capacity to achieve that goal.
We will only do that by leading with courage and imagination, by taking initiatives and above all by hard work. More and more people in Ireland North and South are joining us and looking to us for leadership. It has meant activists changing and adapting their role in our struggle. Perhaps few activists thought they could adapt, but, as they say "the proof is in the pudding". It has been the Republican ability to face each new situation, each new obstacle to overcome, in an open and imaginative way which has proven the versatility and ability of the Republican activist. There is no lack of work and make no mistake, the effort that republicans put into this struggle is the envy of political struggles the world over.
Sinn Féin is not going to stand by and allow Human rights, equality, ending discrimination, the rights of Irish language speakers, the achievement of an acceptable policing service or any other of our rights, to be subject to any unionist veto. These are our rights and we will persist until they are achieved. Let's also remember POW's still incarcerated. There are still political prisoners in jail. There are people on the run. They all should be free to be with their families.
Let us also here today pledge our ongoing support for the families of those killed across this island through the British State policy of collusion over many decades. Their refusal to accept the lies and cover-up of the British State is an inspiration for the rest of us, and more importantly is a clear reminder for the British government that this issue will not go away.
Sinn Féin believes in people. We believe in empowering people, in working in partnership with local communities to tackle problems and map out new alternative policies.
One of the most encouraging aspects of this phase of our struggle has been the numbers of young people attracted to our party. A new generation of activists are taking their place in the struggle and we must ensure that place is secured. We are the only political party, which is experiencing such growth, and it is a sign that young men and women see this party as a vehicle for change for a new generation. The first people out to defend our areas against physical attack are youth - they are needed in the vanguard of our political project.
Our goal is to see a united Ireland, which delivers real social and economic change. We are the only party with a strategy and policies for achieving Irish unity and independence. An all-Ireland democracy. An Ireland of Equals.
We will never again accept the status of second class citizens North or South. Neither will we ever impose second class citizenship upon anyone else.
But unionists too have responsibilities and this includes the need to break with sectarian politics. The politics of domination.
However, we are mindful that for many unionists the change we have embarked upon is a terrifying prospect. Change is always difficult. When taken in the context of a conflict resolution process, change can be traumatic. And this can be mr party would go into coalition with anybody to make up the numbers.
Sinn Féin wants to be in government, North and South. We want to see change in the here and now. We are about building a complete alternative to the kind of government which presides over one of the wealthiest economies in the world yet is failing to deliver.
Despite 15 years of unprecedented economic growth. 15% of our children live in constant poverty.
Patients are left for days on end on hospital trolleys.
Remember that in 1980 there were over 17,500 acute hospital beds now there are only 12,000 for an increased population. And, if you are rich you many jump the queue for treatment - a queue that for the poor is never ending.
44,000 families are on the social housing waiting list while building land around our cities is controlled by a small cartel of speculators who have friends in high places.
And to cap it all the government hands over our natural resources to multi nationals like Shell and then jails a few brave Mayo men for standing up to Shell.
The people Sinn Féin represents have rights. So does everyone on this island, North and South alike. We have a vision. Our goal is an Irish unity that is inclusive, that everyone including unionists will feel welcome in, that they are a part of.
There is much work to do. But we believe that we are in the countdown to a united Ireland. We believe that together we can make great strides forward and truly transform Irish society on this island forever.
Is the British government up for this?
Time will tell.
Is the Irish government up for this?
Let's test that. The Irish government has after all a constitutional imperative to work for a united Ireland.
There are simple things the government in Dublin can do but inexplicably refuse to do.
MP's elected in the 6 counties should be accorded speaking rights in the Dail.
Voting rights for Presidential elections should be extended to citizens in the six counties.
Let us see action on these rights as a small beginning.
Is Sinn Féin up for it?The answer is a word unionist political leaders need to learn. The answer is an emphatic YES. Sinn Féin is up for making this work. Our activists and supporters are up for it.
Is the IRA up for it?
Who, except for the most vitriolic and blind anti-republican elements could doubt that the IRA is up for it. Republicans have stretched themselves repeatedly to put the process back on track.
Sinn Féin is in this process to the end. We want the British government and the Irish government and the unionists to work with us and finish the work we have all started. The length of the journey can be shortened and the ups and downs on the road can be smoothed out if we go at it collectively. If we do it together.
All of you here today are part of the fastest growing party in Ireland. Whether it is here in Bodenstown, or in Derry, or Upper Bann, or North Antrim or Wexford, or Dublin or Belfast, or South Armagh, or Cork it is clear that Sinn Féin is winning more and more hearts and minds right across the island. Everyday there are more and more Irish republicans. We are building our political strength.
Republicans are not chained by history. They learn from it and use it. That is why important initiatives have been taken on so many occasions. While unionists are fixated with slowing down and frustrating change republicans want more change, want to move on from the past. But there will be a need for more discipline and a well of patience by republicans. More courage is called for. Those who have set their minds against change will be more provocative. The bigots and the securocrats dream of wrecking the structure of change. They want to destroy rather than build. Their tools are bigotry, mistrust, political policing and paramilitary attacks. They should be starved of anything that feeds their frenzy.
Republicans have a better vision. I am confident that we will build on our achievements and substantially increase our political strength. We must continue to build on that strength, the stronger we are the closer our goal of a free independent, and united Ireland will come.
We face difficult challenges ahead but also there are great opportunities. We stand on the threshold of historic change. Standing on the deck of a ship heading into battle as Wolfe Tone did, is one way to experience the historical moment. Many generations before us have struggled for a united Ireland. For hundreds of years we have struggled. It is, however, our generation who have the potential of achieving that goal. All struggles are won on the accumulation of many smaller battles. Do your bit, win your battle and you will have brought the day of freedom of our country that much closer. Remember our fallen comrades were ordinary people in extradionary circumstances who rose to the challenge. There are young people here today who have that same ability. So go out and do what we do best.
Mar sin, sin mo mheíd ata go leir ráite agam ach, Bígí cinnte go dtiocfaidh ar lá."
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