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30 April 1998 Edition

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Saoirse is the call in South Armagh

By Deirdre Feehan

There was a massive turnout at a Saoirse rally in the South Armagh town of Crossmaglen last Sunday.

3,000 people turned out from all parts of Ireland to call for the immediate release of all political prisoners. The rally, which was organised by South Armagh Sinn Fein Youth was a hugh success. The large crowd decorated with colourful banners and flags made its way up through the town and assembled in the square where procedings began with entertainment from Letterkenny band Summerfly. Mitchel McLaughlin was the main speaker joined by Shane Feeney from Crosmaglem Republican Youth, Martin Meehan, Gerry McCartney (a recently released POW), Declan Fearon Chairperson of South Armagh Farmers and Residents Association (FARM) and Catriona Ruane from Cearta. Procedings were chaired by local well known republican Jim McAllister.

Feeney read a statement from Crossmaglen Republican Youth calling for the immediate release of all political prisoners. He highlighted the determination of the local youth despite increased harrassment by the RUC and British army. He also voiced the concerns of the young people at the proposed removal of Rule 21, he proclaimed these discussions to be an insult. Feeney concluded by stating ``there will be no peace in South Armagh without complete withdrawal.''

Martin Meehan, Six county Saoirse chairperson, called for an immediate amnesty for political prisoners. ``Two years is far too long,'' he said.

Ex-POW Gerry McCartney read out statments from prisoners in Portlaoise and Long Kesh. ``The release of all POWs remains our priority, prisoners will not be traded for anything or anyone,'' he said. He ended by stressing the importance of unity: ``now more than ever, our struggle demands unity''.

Declan Fearon reaffirmed FARM's determination to rid the area of the British Army. ``We will continue to fight for the day when these British army installations are removed''.

Cearta representitive Catriona Ruane outlined the main objectives of the organisation and discussed the Good Friday Document. Ruane was followed by Mitchel McLaughlin who thanked the people of South Armagh for ``keeping the dream of a liberated Ireland alive''.

He declared that the Good Friday document was not a basis for a settlement but he added that it may contain some good things for republicans and he said if this was the case, ``it is our duty to explore it'' McLaughlin praised the young people of the area; he stated that they were the guarantee that this struggle would continue. He concluded by saying, ``these issues written down on paper mean nothing if you are not free in your mind. The leadership role and inspirational role of this area must be commended, the people of South Armagh have never had any identity crises!''
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