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30 June 2005 Edition

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We need to think big

We need to think big

Gerry Adams praises honourees

I'm really pleased to be with you here this evening. Think back in your imagination to 100 years ago when this island was entirely under English rule. 100 years ago we had just come out of the Great Hunger. The country was devastated, our population was halved. Millions of people were forced to leave. Millions died on coffin ships going across the Atlantic and people's morale was low.

I often think that, when people succeed in struggle, they have to begin with a dream. Yet in the middle of all that devastation and cruelty men and women dreamed that there was a different way. That the people of this island had the right to be free. That we could govern ourselves.

In the middle of it all people had a dream and out of it came Cumann Luthcleas Gael, Conradh na Gaeilge, na Fianna Éireann, Cumann na mBan. There was a whole renaissance of writing, story-telling and drama, all in Irish, all drawing upon what we are as a people.

At that time also, amid all the difficulties and horrors, Sinn Féin was founded. Not all of those who joined or founded Sinn Féin were republicans, though a lot of them were. The name Sinn Féin was proposed by a republican woman, Máire de Buitléar.

The core value of Sinn Féin is self-reliance, that we as an island people can govern ourselves. That was a time when constitutional nationalism was campaigning for Home Rule. It was a time, not long after Parnell had been shafted because the English ruling class wanted to puncture the Home Rule Movement.

When Sinn Féin was putting forward the idea of self-reliance, the core value was about independence. Then, as the Home Rule Movement collapsed, people had to put forward some idea of what independence meant and you know the rest.

In 1916, when Britain had an empire; when most of the world was part of that empire; when there was an imperialistic adventure in Europe with the great world war, Irish men and women made a stand against the empire. In India, Asia and Africa the empire ceased to be, just as it did here in Ireland. People went out and stood against it.

The Proclamation of Easter 1916 elaborated on the core values of self-reliance. It was one of the first times ever that men, who were striking for their freedom, declared that women had to be part of that freedom — "Irish men and Irish women..."

I think that it is one of the great historical documents of recent times. It is up there with the Magna Carta, the Gettysburg Address and all the great historical papers. And they got it all on one page.

So the people we are honouring tonight come out of all of that. I know that there are things worrying people, in fact I was just saying that we're becoming Sinn Féin the Worriers Party! People are worrying about what decisions the Army are going to take; about what's going to happen in the times ahead.

Indeed, there are huge difficulties around Orange marches. The arrest of Seán Kelly was another stupid mistake by the British Government. But I was in Cork a few months ago and we were in the eye of a storm. Yet here we are months later and we have weathered that storm. Not because of people like me, but because of people like yourselves.

In Meath, Joe Reilly increased the Sinn Féin vote. Gráinne Mhic Géidigh was the first woman elected to Údarás na Gaeilge. In the elections in the North, we won an extra seat in Newry/Armagh, where Sinn Féin elected its first MP since the 1920s, Conor Murphy, and our vote went up tight across the Six Counties.

That is the essence of what Irish republicans are made of. That is the essence of the marriage between us and ordinary people who don't want a partitioned Ireland; don't want British rule in the North; don't want a two-tier health system and all of the other inequities which are built into the system.

There is nowhere in this state that the promise of the Good Friday Agreement is reflected. Nowhere. "Cherish the children of the national equally..." In terms of age, rural people etc. Nowhere are any of the issues which are spelled out so clearly in the Proclamation part of life in this part of the island. And people want that changed.

If there was fairness in the world, it wouldn't be like this. If there was fairness in the world, Ireland would have been free a very long time ago. If it was down to courage, endurance and bravery no-one deserves it better than the Irish in terms of the age long struggle for independence. But it doesn't work like that. If you're not strong you have to be smart. That's what we're about. We're about building right across this island.

In the province of Munster, right back until the French landed here when Wolfe Tone wanted help, your history is steeped in indomitable Irishness. It's no accident that the best hurling in the country is played here. No accident that you have a sense of republicanism. No accident that the Black and Tans were beaten here in this part of the country.

So if it was down to just what we have all done, things would have been sorted out long ago. But when people are in power in the type of system there is here, they won't give it up easily. When he was in Mountjoy before he was executed, Liam Mellows wrote about men who get into power will not give up that power easily.

So we have a job to do in continuing that process and I think we're doing ok. I think you people have a huge amount to be proud of. I don't think that republicans value themselves enough. I know we've got our faults and I don't think we have all the answers. But people here have come through the last 30 years and are resolute and determined about the future, no matter about the worries and apprehensions, they are still out there prepared to work.

If the idea of Sinn Féin wasn't popular, if Irish republicanism wasn't popular, if you people were not a threat, there wouldn't be the rí rá that there is. So that's how you measure your success, by how your opponents behave towards you.

I know there's a long way to go and a lot to do. We're bringing in plans for growing the party, for bringing in modern technology. We're re-launching An Phoblacht. There's a big Céad Bliain rally in September. So there's a lot of work to be done.

But tonight's about a celebration. It's about 100 years of the party which gave birth to most of the non-unionist parties on this island. The centre of republicanism which went on to influence people in other parts of the world.

The men and women who we honour here probably don't feel that they need to be honoured or feel that they've done anything important, but they have our thanks and gratitude. So well done in Munster.

I don't think I'm an arrogant person, but the one thing I know when I go to meet Tony Blair or Peter Hain is that I'm morally superior to them on the issue of their government's involvement in my country.

Be certain about one thing, we make mistakes, we do things wrong and we annoy each other, but as long as we stay united we can get there. If we continue to build the party... we need a membership 40,000, 50,000, 200,000 strong. Remember there are now 234,000 people who vote for us. We need to think big. We need to think about the next ten years and where we want to be.

My job here isn't to take people through all the twists and turns of what's ahead. My job here is to say thanks and to pay tribute to you all and say well done. For not only were you not beaten, but Michael McDowell wouldn't have a chance against you.

When we get a Republic and when we have a political party which can get into power in that Republic, when we have actually made the Proclamation a reality, when we can make peace with the Orangemen, when we can recognise orange as one of our national colours and they can recognise that too, then the people we honour here tonight will have been those people who brought that about.

An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
  • There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.

Buy An Phoblacht magazine here

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