29 September 2005 Edition
Huge turnout for Irish unity rally
THE national rally for Irish unity on Saturday 24 September, organised by Sinn Féin as part its Céad Bliain celebrations, saw people from every corner of Ireland and abroad travel in their thousands to Dublin for one of the biggest and most colourful spectacles the capital has seen in many years.
The huge numbers and broad spectrum of areas represented was evident from the many Sinn Féin cumainn banners, themed banners, placards, floats, props, republican flute bands, pipe bands, flags, and GAA county jerseys, all of which added to the spectacular nature of this huge national pageant.
The course of the parade took participants from the Garden of Remembrance through O'Connell Street, across the River Liffey, past Leinster House and back by College Green to the GPO.
The weather was slightly breezy, but rain held off for the duration of the parade and rally which attracted the attention of thousands of onlookers and Saturday shoppers, many of whom applauded the various banners, floats and bands.
The day's events kicked off with a concert at the Garden of Remembrance where Sinn Féin Dublin City Councillor Larry O'Toole acted as Fear an Tí. Attractions on stage included music from Bik McFarlane and Cruncher O'Neill. Face-painting was eagerly engaged in by many of the young people at the Garden of Remembrance before the parade began to move off at 2:30pm.
The march itself was led off by nine large flags -- three greens, three white and three orange, followed by a Sinn Féin 100 Céad Bliain banner carried by Sinn Féin elected representatives from all over Ireland.
The first section of the march consisted of a 1916 Colour Party of Dublin Ógra Shinn Féin members dressed in period uniforms representing the Irish Citizen Army, the Irish Volunteers and the Hibernian Rifles and a 'Spirit of 1916' banner was followed by the Longstone Pipe Band from South Down.
Other sections of the huge parade included ones highlighting themes such as state violence and collusion, Bloody Sunday, the republican Hunger Strikers, the 1798 Rebellion and the Great Lockout of 1913.
Various imaginative floats featured themes such as a replica of Free Derry corner; the murder of Aidan McAnespie by the British Army; Tyrone republicans in a mock protest against British Army occupation and British military spy posts in South Armagh. Several floats featured British soldiers harassing passers by and these were particularly greeted with interest and enthusiasm by members of the public. Street theatre featured many similar themes with Tyrone and Armagh republicans making a particularly notable effort in this regard.
The huge scale of Saturday's event could be gauged by the fact that the tail end of the march had met the middle at College Green when the head had already reached the GPO.
During the rally at the GPO, chaired by Sinn Féin Chairperson and Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald, various entertainers, musicians and singers kept the crowd entertained as the marchers continued to arrive. Brush Sheils greeted the crowd with a rock version of well known folk melodies. This was followed by the beautiful yet powerful singing voice of Mary Mullen and traditional music from Tony McMahon.
Actor Jack Moylett recited The Rebel by Pádraig Mac Piarais. Mayor of Kerry Toiréasa Ferris recited a speech by assasinated Sinn Féin Vice President Máire Drumm while a man dressed only in a blanket, representing the sacrifice of the Blanketmen of the 1980s, read from the last writings of Bobby Sands.
The main address was delivered by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP. He reminded those in attendance that as well as being the 100th anniversary of Sinn Féin, this year also marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Irish writer, republican and Irish language activist Máirtín O Cadhain. He said that Sinn Féin believed that the issue of the Irish language was crucially important for the the future of the Irish nation. Encouraging all republicans to support and, more importantly, to learn the the language, he echoed the words of O Cadhain: "Sí an Ghaeilge athghabháil na hEireann agus is í athghabháil na hEireann slánú na Gaeilge."
Addressing the issue of mounting speculation regarding moves by the IRA and the prospect for political progress Adams said: "In the opening line of the diary he kept during the first two weeks of his Hunger Strike, Bobby Sands wrote: 'I am standing on the threshold of another trembling world.'
"As Sinn Féin celebrates our first 100 years, Irish republicanism stands on the threshold of great change, of difficult challenges and great opportunities, and the possibility of achieving the united, independent, free Ireland previous generations have struggled for.
"On 28 July the IRA formally ended its armed campaign. This was a hugely courageous and important decision. It has changed the political context utterly. And I believe that the IRA in the near future is going to honour its commitment to put its weapons beyond use. Such an announcement will have a huge impact on the political process. I know it will be difficult for many republicans. There will be some who are concerned about the future. But I believe that we need to face up to this opportunity in a positive mood. This is not a time to be uncertain it is a time to be confident and energised and forward looking.
This is something that in many, many ways is a potentially huge sea change, not just for us but for the entire island. I don't think republicans have absorbed what it is about. I don't think the media have absorbed what it is about. I don't think our opponents have absorbed what it is about.
But when the IRA delivers, when our opponents and our enemies no longer have the IRA to use as an excuse, what are they going to do? Harking back to the old days is clearly not an option and I suspect that in their heart of hearts they know that.
"We have a clear message for unionists. The days of second-class citizenship are well and truly over. At the same time let no Irish republican or nationalist underestimate our responsibility to reach out to unionism, to pro-actively listen to their concerns and to find a space that they can share with us on the basis of equality. In calling upon unionists to think beyond the moment, to think about the future, we are mindful that we need to do the same. We need to unite orange and green. We need to create a space that unionists can share with us on the basis of equality. That is a huge challenge for republicans.
"There is a lot of work to do if we are to get the process back on track and get all of the guns out of Irish politics. Sinn Féin is about taking all of the guns out of Irish politics. That includes those of the unionist paramilitaries, the British Army and PSNI. I would like to think that the two governments and others in the political establishment will pay as much attention to this task as they did to silenced IRA weapons. We also need to see the Irish and British Governments show real leadership and deal with all of the outstanding issues. These are not new issues. They are not new demands. There are key parts of the Good Friday Agreement that have still to be implemented. As part of the outworking of the IRA's decision to end its campaign we need to see the release of all republican prisoners and an end to the ongoing discrimination against republican ex-prisoners."
In the course of his speech Adams also called for the release of the Rossport 5 saying: "It is a disgrace that these five men have been locked up in Cloverhill Prison for almost 90 days for simply highlighting the fact that the pipeline bringing the oil in from the Corrib gas field is dangerous and poses a real threat to the community of Rossport. We need to be shouting from the rooftops that their detention is immoral as is the deal which saw the Irish Government hand away natural resources worth billions of Euros to a small number of multi-national corporations with no return for the Irish people. These five men should be released immediately. I want to call on everyone here today to attend the rally next weekend and to increase the pressure on Shell, Statoil and the government."