26 June 2003 Edition
Republicans must continue to be agents of change
Sinn Féin is an Irish republican party. Our strategy is to achieve a united, independent Ireland and I am certain that we will succeed. We have the right to be free from division, foreign occupation, and injustice.
Equality was my guiding principle as Mayor
The city of Belfast, the city where I was born and grew up, was the cradle of Irish republicanism in the 18th century. Today, Belfast is better known for images of sectarianism. Interface violence and a concerted campaign against vulnerable nationalist communities was the context in which I became the first Sinn Féin Mayor in the history of my city and I was determined to tackle directly the sectarianism that divides our city.
Being Mayor of Belfast was both challenging and rewarding. During my tenure I reached out to the unionist section of our community and tried to show them that they have a place in the Ireland we are trying to build, a place that we want them to embrace and to shape. I also tried to show by example that the Republican ethos and ideals which Wolfe Tone fought for have a place in the new Ireland.
In this spirit I was proud to host an event in City Hall for the families of Belfast Sinn Féin activists and IRA Volunteers who lost their lives in the conflict. In doing this, I was able as the Mayor of Ireland's second city, to recognise the contribution and courage of these men and women and their families.
I believe that last year we made a difference in Belfast. I believe that Sinn Féin has set a standard that other parties will have to work hard to match. And I want to wish Anne Brolly, who is the new Chair of Limavady Council and the other incoming Sinn Féin Chairs and Mayors all the best for the coming year.
But for me and for Sinn Féin our efforts to reach out to unionists now enter a new phase, a new period of intensive activity. I have been given the responsibility within the party of organising this outreach work to the protestant and unionist people.
Let me be also clear building confidence and trust is a two way street. We cannot do this alone
I have to say that to date David Trimble's stewardship of the peace process has been a cause for concern. He has shown himself to be an increasingly reluctant participant in it. His victory over Jeffrey Donaldson will only be a victory if it moves the peace process forward.
Peace Process can deliver real change
There is real concern and indeed fear that the political vacuum created by the British government's cancellation of the election and the indulgence of unionist intransigence will degenerate further over the summer. There is a strong feeling that republicans are being taken for granted and the heaviest burden put on our shoulders. But if we can look at all this as objectively as possible in the current circumstance we can see that we did anticipate the obstacles to freedom and justice and peace that would have to be overcome and that it would be us who would have the most work to do in keeping it going.
For it is republicans who see what the success of the peace process can bring. It is us who want the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement because we have a vision for the future, of real peace, reconciliation, justice and equality. And it is we who see that the denial of these is what keeps the Six-County state in existence. It is we who ensured that the all-Ireland dimension was firmly entrenched in the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement. We want it to work because we want to progress to a united, independent country.
Republicans will not settle only for what Britain is prepared to give, be it in policing, equality, cultural rights or identity. That is why people all over Ireland see Sinn Féin as an alternative.
People know we will fight for their rights. And there will always be a heavy price for us to pay for that, not only in terms of the political work we must be prepared to do but also in the initiatives and risks we need to take to ensure that this process does not stagnate or unravel into failure.
This peace process is our agenda. We were the architects of it. We initiated it. We have pushed it on. We must not now lose ownership of it. And we must not lose sight of the gains we have made and the benefits that the majority of people have got from it.
I know this is little comfort to the people of Larne or Ardoyne or the Short Strand. It's hard to see the big picture when bombs and stones are raining down on you and your children can't play in their own street.
But through the peace process we have exposed the poison of sectarianiam and more than that, courageously set about removing it. We have exposed collusion. We made Ireland an international concern. The question is what next. Well, for a start, the British government has to stop allowing unionism to dictate the pace of change and stop encouraging rejectionism. I want to say to the British government here today in clear and unambiguous terms:
We demand the right to vote.
We demand that the elections are held immediately.
We demand our equality and human rights.
We demand that the Agreement is implemented.
And to the Irish government I want to say - you must stand up and be counted. You must act on behalf of the Irish people and not allow yourself to be treated as a junior partner or as secondary in this.
You have a responsibility to defend the fundamental rights of all citizens in the north and to persuade the British government to normalise relationships between these islands on a basis of national sovereignty and international co-operation. Among the issues the Irish government must confront is the need for the truth about the involvement of the British state in the murder of its citizens.
Building an Ireland of equals
Uniting this country without addressing the fundamental economic and social problems that cause such inequality and poverty is a completely futile exercise.
In Ireland today the greatest number are exploited, creating wealth for big business and foreign multinationals. Republicanism is about changing that, about empowering the people of Ireland to decide our own destiny.
This weekend, European Union heads of government have been meeting in Greece where they were presented with a proposed draft Constitution for the EU. That draft, if adopted, would be a giant step in the ongoing project to transform the EU from a partnership of states into a single state. That is not a people's project. The demand for a single EU state, which would be another world power, does not come from the peoples of Europe.
Like Wolfe Tone, we are Europeans and we are internationalists. But like Tone we also value Irish sovereignty and independence and we say that the basis for democracy and the basis for peaceful co-operation and mutual respect between nations is the democratic nation-state. Sinn Féin believes that too much of our sovereignty has already been ceded to EU institutions.
These are the principles we will bring to the debate on the proposed new EU Constitution.
We value Irish neutrality and we want to deepen and develop positive neutrality and progressive foreign policy. Independent foreign policy and military neutrality were grossly violated by the Fianna Fáil/PD government when they facilitated the war on Iraq through allowing the US military to use Shannon Airport. To the FF/PD government and to the Fine Gael party, which wants to abandon Irish neutrality completely, we say "Not in our name".
The challenges we now face
We have much work to do in the year ahead. We have to build our political strength in the Assembly, Local Government and European elections and I know that the excellent all-Ireland co-operation within Sinn Féin, which demonstrated itself during the General Election will be repeated in the year ahead.
We need to forge alliances with like-minded people in Trade Unions, in the Community & Voluntary sector, in the streets and neighbourhoods of our towns and cities.
We have to increase our membership
We have to lead the campaign for radical social and economic change
We have to advance our strategy for Irish unity
For all this to happen we need to remain active. We have already made a good start. Sinn Féin is the engine for change in Ireland. Every day we grow stronger, each week sees new people joining the struggle. The struggle begun by Tone and Emmet continues today and the responsibility for carrying it on lies with you, with me, with all of us. It is a responsibility we will not shirk, a legacy we will fulfil. As Irish republicans let us go forward to Irish unity and independence and to freedom, justice and peace for all our people.
Sun shines on Emmet at Bodenstown
Thousands of republicans turned out for the annual commemoration at Bodenstown on Sunday - and luckily there was no repeat of last year, when torrential rain put a dampener on everyone's day.
In the usual Sinn Féin tardy style, the parade kicked off at about 3:15pm, 45 minutes after the advertised assembly time.
A colourful array of bands, banners and flags peppered the procession, which made its way along the winding road from Sallins to Wolfe Tone's final resting place.
Once in the cemetery, the proceedings were placed in the capable hands of chief marshal Deirdre Whelan and chairperson Frances McCole.
Deirdre told the crowd that she was standing in for Joe Cahill, who was just acting as a spectator this year, but added that Joe had never been much of a spectator when it came to republican events and that he had always performed whatever function was assigned to him with excellence.
Frances reminded the crowd that this year marks the 200th anniversary of Robert Emmet's 1803 rising. Everyone was delighted when Emmet himself (brought to life by actor Patrick Brennan) took to the stage to read an excerpt from his famous speech from the dock, made just before he was executed. As he deliverted his stirring oration, concluding with the defiant "let no man write my epitaph until..." the sun broke through the clouds for the first time that day, making the moment even more memorable.
The main speaker, Alex Maskey, opened by paying tribute to the Special Olympics athletes and volunteers. He also asked those present to think of Con McHugh, a comrade in Belfast who at the moment is very ill.
After the main speech the Feargal Caraher Memorial Trophy for the best band was presented by Theresa Caraher to the William Orr Republican Flute Band from Antrim Town, which will have the honour of leading next year's march.