3 February 2005 Edition
Motivate, Educate and Inspire
BY BARRY (Ógra Shinn Féin Six-County Organiser McCOLGAN
Ógra activists from all over Ireland converged in Derry last weekend for a packed Ógra Shinn Féin National Congress. Activists from Tyrone, Derry, Antrim, Down, Armagh, Dublin, Waterford, Cork, Leitrim, Limerick, Louth, Galway, Sligo, Donegal, Monaghan, Cavan, Meath, Kerry, and from all the main universities and colleges were joined by international comrades from the Basque Country, Palestine, Catalonia, and the Socialist Labour Party from Britain.
The proceedings got under way on Saturday morning at the Gasyard Centre, with an introductory address from National Organiser Mickey Bravender, who reflected on Ógra's successes in 2004 and urged those present to build on past achievements and to ensure further growth and activism in the youth movement.
Next up was the official launch of National Congress '05 by Derry City Mayor Gerry Ó hEára. Gerry spoke of the importance and the role of youth in the struggle. He spoke of his involvement in Na Fianna and of Na Fianna's invaluable contribution in the early days of the struggle, saying "it was the motivation, determination and ingenuity of the youth that give life to the struggle for national liberation" and added, "there is no reason why young people should not aspire to the same today".
Following the official launch, each Cúige area, Six Counties, Munster, Leinster, Dublin and Connacht/Uladh formed into their groups, prepared their annual reports, their stance on motions to Congress, and decided upon delegates they would put forward to Ógra's National Executive.
After a short break, the Gasyard Centre filled to capacity again, to hear the annual reports from each Cúige area. From the reports it was clear that Ógra Shinn Fein is indeed an organisation on the move; each area reported a surge in recruitment, in activity, and on the increased coverage on all media outlets, climaxing in an appearance on BBC's Give My Head Peace.
From the reports was also evident the youth's increased resolve, determination and confidence to overcome the current onslaught to criminalise the republican struggle. As the Six-County report put it: "The republican struggle is legitimate, it is the British occupation that is criminal, Ógra's message leaving this Congress today must be clear, we would not be criminalised in 1981, we will not be criminalised now!"
Following the inspiring Cúige reports, activists broke up into different workshops on Policing, Structure and Organisation, and on Coalition Building.
The workshops were thought provoking and sparked debate on these most topical of issues.
After the workshops finished and lunch was consumed, it was back to the Congress where Mitchel McLaughlin formally launched Ógra's National Anti-Collusion Campaign.
This was followed by delegates voting on motions put forward to Congress. Motions ranged from calling for the demilitarisation of the British war machine in Ireland to calling for the decriminalisation of cannabis.
There was a wide range of motions, but those that caused controversy were those on policing, decriminalisation of cannabis, secular education and abortion.
On the policing issue, Ógra voted to call on Sinn Féin never to accept, join or endorse policing arrangements until we have complete British withdrawal and the establishment of a Sovereign United Ireland.
The motion calling for the decriminalisation of drugs also caused a fierce debate but in the end was defeated.
Other motions called for the release of our imprisoned comrades around the world, and for solidarity with oppressed people's the world over.
We also dedicated ourselves to actively promote the increased sales of An Phoblacht/Republican News.
Following the very interesting debates around the motions and after the voting took place; Dr Jamal Zahalka took to the stage. Dr Zahalka, a Palestinian MP who sits in the Israeli Knesset, spoke inspirationally about the comparisons between the oppressed peoples of Ireland and Palestine, and how they learn much from the republican struggle.
Dr Zahalka has been centrally involved in the struggle for truth and justice around Israel's own 'Bloody Sunday' against the Palestinian people. As Palestinians living inside Israel came out onto the streets in support of their comrades staging of a second intifada in the occupied territories, the Israeli police force opened fire, shooting 13 people dead. Since that day in October 2000, Jamal Zahalka has been working closely with the families of the dead in their efforts to take a legal case against the Israeli police force and its government.
Dr Zahalka's speech was followed by Derry's own Martina Anderson, who gave the leadership address. Martina spoke of how inspiring it was to see the Gasyard filled to capacity with young republicans from all over Ireland. She spoke about her own involvement in the Republican Movement, which involved her spending 13 years in jail, but as Martina put it "I would do another 13 years tomorrow, if that's what it takes to ensure freedom". She also spoke of the importance of the All-Ireland Agenda, the role of youth and the role of women in the struggle.
After Martina's speech, the motivated and politicised activists in the room piled out onto the streets, where they finished the day and National Congress '05 with an Anti-Collusion protest at Strand Road RUC/PSNI Barracks.
Ógra launches National Anti-Collusion campaign
Ógra launched its national anti-collusion campaign at Comhdháil Náisúinta 2005. The campaign was officially launched by Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin, who outlined the importance of the campaign and the role young activists can play in the heightening of awareness of the policy of collusion between the British Government and loyalist death squads.
Ógra activist Andrea O'Kane also spoke of the immense importance of this campaign for young people to sink their teeth into, as "collusion was part of British State policy in Ireland and this State-sponsored murder was not the action of a few rogue officers but rather a formal, politically sanctioned tactic.
"The British Government has never accepted responsibility and the higher levels of the British State, the politicians and securocrats who sanctioned this policy, have never been called to account for their actions. The only way to stop this from happening ever again is to expose the culprits and secure the right for families of victims of collusion to the truth."
"Throughout this campaign we will be working in conjunction with An Fhírinne, and the families of the victims of collusion, to ensure that the policy of collusion is ended, that there is full disclosure by the British Government of all information on its policy of collusion, and the dismantling of the structures and agencies which implemented this policy of state murder."
The launch of the campaign was followed by a protest outside Strand Road PSNI/ RUC Barracks. The Ógra activists blocked the entrance of the barracks, and sprayed anti-collusion slogans on the wall to protest against the policy used by the British Government in Ireland over the past 30 years.
Although the protest was a success, the protesters hit out at the filming of the actions by PSNI members with handheld cameras. They said: "it is a major source of concern that this footage will be in the hands of PSNI members, given the history of State-sponsored murder in Ireland".