23 March 2005 Edition
Stronger than ever
Hundreds of republicans gathered outside the GPO on Dublin's O'Connell Street last Saturday with one message — republicanism will not be criminalised.
Wearing t-shirts proclaiming '340,000 voters can't be wrong' on the front, and 'Republican and proud' on the back, Sinn Féin MLAs, TDs, councillors, activists and supporters rallied in the capital in response to the recent onslaught on republicanism by the political establishment and the media.
Dublin TD Seán Crowe was cheered and clapped for what seemed like an age when he told the crowd the real reason for it being open season on republicans.
"Our struggle is stronger now than at any time in recent history," he said. "Let us reiterate here today that it is not a crime and never was a crime to seek to end the injustice of partition."
Crowe described how every day a new or rehashed anti-republican story appears in the print, radio or television media.
"Republicans are to blame, that is the mantra, the lie that is being peddled," he said. "Peace talks break down over unionist intransigence, republicans are to blame. More British troops in the North than in Iraq nearly ten years into a cessation, republicans are to blame. More repressive laws introduced North and South, republicans must be blamed."
Crowe pointed to the inequalities throughout Ireland, the state of the two health services, the inability of couples to buy their own homes, children going to school hungry, and asked: "Are republicans to blame for this too?"
He added that politicians in the southern state wanted to criminalise not only the current generation of republicans, but the legacy of people like those who fought in the GPO in 1916.
"In doing so, they are attempting to criminalise men and women without whom the very existence of this state would not have been possible," he said.
"In every generation the powers that be have attempted to criminalise the freedom seekers and the revolutionaries. The British have always found willing Irish allies in this. It was the Irish Independent newspaper that called for the execution of James Connolly in 1916.
"Every generation of republicans was labelled criminal in its time. Bobby Sands and his fellow hunger strikers gave the answer to Britain's criminalisation policy in the 1980s. It is never a crime to pursue the independence and freedom of Ireland."
Asking why the establishment had become so rabid in its attacks, Crowe said the crowd just had to look at Sinn Féin's progress in Dublin.
"As we stand here today, Sinn Féin in Dublin is represented by 14 councillors, two TDs and an MEP. We represent over 60,000 Dubliners.
"That is why our opponents have turned up the volume against us. But it is also why their tactics will fail. There are republicans gathered here who maintained the republican flame during leaner times and they can attest to the fact that we have been through all of this before. This time their tactics will fail more conclusively because of the huge support that we command across this country."
The Dublin TD told the crowd that there was much work to be done in the time ahead.
"Soon our organisation will face into the Westminster elections," he said. "We will undoubtedly increase our representation there, confirming that Sinn Féin is the undisputed political voice of Northern nationalists. And of course the next General Election in this state is not too far away. We are deadly serious about bringing about change in our lifetime. That involves increasing our electoral and political strength across this island so that we can begin to build the new Ireland that republicans have struggled for down through the centuries."
Demonisation of South Armagh
Newry and Mourne District Councillor Terry Hearty also addressed the rally. He spoke of the ever-increasing militarisation of South Armagh by the British war machine. "The spy towers, the complex surveillance paraphernalia, the military communication TETRA masts, the constant 24 hour helicopter flights, the ever present military road checks and the continued practice of encouraging people, particularly young people involved in car crimes, to become informers, are just some of the conditions that we who live in the region have to tolerate," the Slieve Gullion councillor said.
He said that the continued demonisation and criminalisation campaign against the South Armagh people was there to conveniently provide excuses for the military occupation.
Hearty had harsh words for the SDLP MP for the area, Séamus Mallon, who in a recent live TV interview implied that people living in the South Armagh community were criminal and lawless.
"We who live in the area do not accept Seamus Mallon's portrayal of our people," he said. "The British have spewed that same vitriolic and poisonous propaganda out for generations."
Hearty also expressed disappointment at the continued failure of the Dublin Government to stand up for the rights of Irish citizens.
"Cosmetic words and expressions of concerns serve no purpose," he said. "The Dublin government do not care about the lives of those who live in South Armagh. The fact that the ESB supplies the network of spy towers and surveillance paraphernalia along the border with the power to operate illustrates their hypocrisy."
Border leaflet campaign
Counties Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan, Leitrim and Louth are to be targeted this weekend in a 50,000 leaflet drop calling on people to defend the peace process and reject the efforts of anti-Agreement politicians, North and South, to destroy it. The leaflet also calls on people to work for Irish unity and an Ireland of equals.