28 August 1997 Edition
DIY Demilitarisation - Just Do It
Sinn Féin Youth confront British post on Camlough Mountain
Only one week after the British government finished the expansion and reinforcement of the Army base at Faughill Mountain South Armagh, more than 100 young republicans took matters into their own hands and showed the British army just how easy it is to demilitarise. The protest, held on Sunday 24 August and organised by Sinn Fein Youth, was the first in a series of militant mobilisations by young people across the Six Counties, all of which will be calling on Tony Blair's government to match their `constitutional' rhetoric with deeds and dismantle the British war machine in Ireland.
The mountain top protest, which took place at Camlough Mountain in South Armagh, brought young republicans from Belfast, Down and Armagh together for a day of political activity and good craic. Before the march, the young people enjoyed the good weather, and played football at a barbecue organised by the local Camlough Sinn Féin Youth.
At 3.30 the march took off, passing through Camlough village and meandering up the mountain road. One hundred youths, complete with tricolours and `Demilitarise Now' t-shirts brought a clear message to the British army in occupation. As one local youth put it, ``this is our mountain and the soldiers and their barracks are not welcome''.
On reaching the perimeter of the barracks, the demonstrators attached tricolours and four-foot letters to the barbed wire, which read, `Demilitarise Now, Sinn Féin Youth'. Booby-trapped flares were set off as young children threw stones across the fence at the trip wires. As the British heliccopters hovered close by they were greeted with shouts, whistles and a sea of green, white and orange.
As the crowd began to descend from the mountain, a group of protesters armed with petrol, set fire to a large section of two pipes which supply water and electricity to the army base. As the flames grew, the crowd cheered, watching the army's vital supplies being cut. One young girl wryly remarked `if they want water and electricity then let them go back to their own country'.
Afterwards the protesters returned to Camlough village, for a rest and celebratory drink for a job well done, before returning home.
Speaking before the protest, Sinn Féin Youth organiser Deirdre Feehan told An Phoblacht that ``young people, more than anyone else, have a right to protest against the militarisation of our environment. We were born into this conflict, and all our lives have known nothing but violence. Now with the IRA cessation we have a new opportunity where demilitarisation can become a reality. But that means that all weapons, all military personnel, and all army installations must go''.
Sinn Fein Youth Belfast organiser Eoin O'Broin said that ``today's mobilisation is the start of a campaign against the British war machine in Ireland. British soldiers, helicopters, spy towers and barracks are part of a system designed to make all our lives more difficult. So in response we are going to make the job of the British military as difficult as possible, in whatever way we can. Our protests will be non-violent but equally they will be militant. The message we are sending out today is a simple one. If the British government aren't willing to demilitarise our environment, then we will do it ourselves.''
Speaking to young republicans throughout the Six Counties O'Broin said, ``you don't have to wait for a protest or action to be organised in your own areas, just get up and organise yourselves. The message is simple, DIY demilitarisation, Just Do It.''
Confident republican youth movement up and running
Young republicans in Belfast and South Armagh have launched a new youth initiative in an attempt to mobilise young people across the Six Counties. Calling itself Sinn Féin Youth, and targeting young people between the ages of 15 and 25, the initiative has already organised a series of successful protests in Belfast and Camlough. With an emphasis on militant street protest and innovative forms of making politics, Sinn Féin Youth is set to spread across the country.
Speaking to An Phoblacht South Armagh youth activist Deirdre Feehan called the initiative, ``a much needed shot in the arm'' for both young nationalists and the republican movement in general. ``Sinn Féin has in recent years failed to capture the minds and imaginations of our young people and equally, young people have failed to organise themselves. What we are trying to develop is a movement of young republicans which not only addresses the needs and concerns of young people today, but also sets an example for the broader movement, to bring new ideas, new experiences, a more up-to-date approach to politics,'' she said.
Identifying their key campaigns as demilitarisation, RUC disbandment and equality, Feehan went on to say that ``we are not interested in simply becoming an extension of the already existing structures in Sinn Féin. We want to campaign around all those other issues which affect young people as young people. Issues like education, substance abuse, joyriding, sexuality and teenage pregnancy, all those things which make up the reality of young people's lives today''.
Feehan also stressed the need to understand the `politics of free time'. ``Young people in republican areas, like many other young people, have a lack of leisure facilities, a lack of social amenities and this is a serious political issue. Sinn Féin Youth is committing itself to tackling these problems at their root, not simply by highlighting what everybody knows - that there's nothing for young people to do - but by providing real alternatives. We will be organising raves, mountain marches, festivals, education, but also undertaking serious campaigning work on a range of local and national issues''.
Speaking on the importance of the broader political context, Belfast Sinn Féin Youth activist Eoin O'Broin said, ``it makes no sense to talk about national self determination without individual self determination. Young people need that right recognised if the political project of the republican movement is to have any meaning for them. This means engaging with the realities of young people's lives, in a meaningful way. But also, it means an end to the criminalisation of young people, it means an end to seeing our youth as a problem. It also means bringing young people into every aspect of the political process, giving us ownership at every level. But most importantly it means allowing young people to create a political space inside the movement within which they can create their own politics, in their own way. If this doesn't happen then our initiative will go the same way as all those which came before''.
O'Broin highlighted that ``although earlier youth initiatives such as Glór na nOg have failed, we have learned from those mistakes, and are building that understanding into our new work. Our focus will be on generating as much street activity as possible, whether in the form of protests, militant actions, stickers or posters. Bringing young people onto the street and using politics to reclaim those streets for ourselves will be our primary aim''.
Speaking to young people across the Six Counties, O'Broin said ``the time when young people had to ask permission from adults to make politics is over. If we are to have ownership of this political process we must take it for ourselves. This means taking initiatives, taking risks but equally taking responsibility. Don't wait for others to do things for you and then complain afterwards that nothing happened. Get up, get out and get active. There is a mountain of work to be done, and every young person has a role to play. If this initiative fails, we have only ourselves to blame''.
In the last number of weeks, in addition to organising two successfull protests, Sinn Féin Youth has produced thousands of stickers calling for the disbandment of the RUC. T-shirts commemorating internment and denouncing state violence have also been produced. Meetings have been held across Belfast and South Armagh, and interest is developing in Derry and elsewhere in the Six Counties. Sinn Féin Youth has also been hosting a delegation of youth activists from the Basque youth independence movement, Jarrai (a full report will appear in next week's An Phoblacht). The bottom line is that the opportunity to build a strong and vibrant youth movement is here, all we need to do is grasp that opportunity, a move which will benefit both young republicans and the movement generally. Let's stop talking and just do it!
For more information leave a name and contact number with the Sinn Féin Six County office, Belfast 439300.