15 November 2001 Edition
Acceptable policing service still to be negotiated - Gerry Kelly
On a Monday night 11 November 1957 five people lost their lives in a premature explosion at Edentubber - Oliver Craven, Dominic Street, Newry; Paul Smith, The Gardens, Bessbrook; George Keegan, Enniscorthy; Patrick Parle, Wexford. They were in a cottage belonging to Michael Watters, who also died in the explosion.
On Sunday 11 November, republican activists and supporters travelled from many parts of Ireland to attend the annual "Edentubber Martyrs Commemoration". Having assembled at the Ravensdale House car park, the crowd, estimated at nearly 1,000 people, lined up behind the colour party and seven bands to make their way to the monument.
Arthur Morgan, County Louth Sinn Féin councillor, chaired the proceedings. Davy Hyland, Chairperson of Newry & Mourne District Council and Seán Kenna, Chairperson Dundalk Urban Council, attended the ceremony.
The main speaker was North Belfast Assembly member Gerry Kelly. The following is an edited version of his address.
"We are here to pay homage to five Irishmen who lost their lives in the struggle for a united Ireland. They died in November 1957 on this spot, yards away from an invisible border which they did not recognise and which we also do not recognise. Indeed, if you walked the backroads and fields of this area you wouldn't know if you were North or South unless you were local or an IRA volunteer trying to avoid either the Brits or the Gardaí. The partition of this island was wrong in 1920. It was wrong when these IRA Volunteers went out to end it in 1957 and it is wrong today. And let us be clear - we are out to end that partition and to get the British out of our country.
I cannot speak personally about Oliver Craven, Paul Smith, George Keegan, Patrick Parle or Michael Watters. However, I have listened to Bob Keogh, who was the sole survivor of the explosion. Anyone who listened to him talking of his comrades could not help being affected by their loss and I know on these occasions we all have vivid images of the close friends and comrades we have lost over the years.
I joined this struggle in earnest when I was 17 years old. It has been my privilege to have known many brave Irishmen and women who have given their lives for a United Ireland, for the freedom of this country. From PJ Campbell in Ballymurphy in 1972 to Annmarie Pettigrew, from Bobby Sands to Mairead Farrell to your own Brendan Burns and Brendan Moley and unfortunately many in between. We have buried our soldiers and we remember them in our hearts and in our actions.
The one thing I am sure of, the one thing I have said at any commemoration I have spoken at since my release from jail in 1989, is that neither I, nor anyone else, can tell you what James Connolly, Kevin Barry, Bobby Sands, Máire Drumm, Brendan Moley or any other fallen comrade thinks of how the struggle is going at this time in our history. In struggle we lose many of our bravest hearts and bravest leaders. They died because they led from the front. The other thing that I can say for sure is that the duty of those who live on, who survive, is to do their very best to move that struggle onwards. The duty of leadership is to do its best in the circumstances it faces. It can make easy decisions but it must make hard decisions as well.
There is not a republican in this crowd, there is not a republican in this country and that includes myself, who has not gone through mental turmoil and heartache over the IRA initiative a few weeks ago. We dug deep emotionally and politically and are still coming to terms with it. And there is nothing wrong with that. But we have to remember the people who made this decision; the IRA's Army Council are comrades of ours. They were at the coalface of the military struggle for 30 years. These are people who know all about the consequences of their decisions. They know and have a proven record when it comes to waging war, to taking on the might of the British Army. And it is clear from the many decisions, many difficult decisions, including the most recent one, they also know how to be part of a peace strategy. We can be, and it is legitimate to be, critical of the IRA's initiative, but I wish to praise the IRA leadership for their bravery and for their commitment. Without them we would not be where we are today.
They were faced with a dilemma. The Peace Process was on the verge of collapse. Those opposed to the Peace Process were using the IRA's guns as an excuse not to engage with republicans, as an excuse to prevent the change that they are afraid to face. They ran us all perilously close to the edge of the cliff.
Had the IRA not acted as they did then we would have been over the cliff. The Peace Process would have been in freefall. Such a situation would have suited the unionist wreckers and those in the British establishment, the 'securocrats', who have been trying for years to provoke the IRA and also to defeat them.
The IRA acted to save the Peace Process. No one else was going to do it. Tony Blair was not going to do it; Bertie Ahern was not going to do it; David Trimble was not going to do it. The IRA did do it and fair play to them. They had the courage of their convictions and I applaud them for their boldness and decisive leadership They took an issue, which our opponents were trying to use to beat republicans over the head with at home and internationally and gave it straight back to them. Let us see what the British Government is going to do to drive this process forward, let us see their actions on demilitarising the whole Six Counties, let us see the colour of their money on policing amendments, on emergency legislation etc.
People want to know what Bertie Ahern is going to do about Northern representation in the Oireachtas. What will happen to people on the run, how long will the Castlerea political prisoners have to wait to get released? When will TDs and government ministers walk with the children of Holy Cross Girls' School?
Now I know that there are republicans out there questioning whether the Peace Process is working or worth it. There are those wondering if our peace strategy is worth the effort. This is understandable. We are standing on the most militarised border in Europe. The dismantling of two military watchtowers when many others remain and the two can be replaced in days does not impress people in South Armagh. People in Armagh, Tyrone and Fermanagh know that military patrolling has actually increased in many areas. People with a generation of experience in Belfast and Derry are still looking at cityscapes blighted with bottle green military camps and observation posts.
The parents at Holy Cross or the besieged Catholics in North Belfast are still facing the same RUC men who beat them off the streets and raided and wrecked their homes and attacked them with plastic bullets. They can call themselves PSNI or "Peter Mandelson's Mighty Marauders" if they want - the fact is that we do not have a new policing service as agreed by all parties in the Good Friday Agreement. We still have the RUC under another title.
While we are on the subject of policing, let me clarify a few things about Sinn Féin's attitude to the current Police Act and Policing Board. I have listened to members of the SDLP and others speaking about our intentions. Let me be clear about our attitude to all of this. Firstly, people are entitled to a police service they can support and can join. In particular, the nationalist and republican people of the Six Counties require such a service given that they have been on the receiving end of the violence of the RUC since that force was set up in the 1920s. What is currently on offer is not a new beginning to policing as was promised in the Good Friday Agreement. What we have is the RUC with a new name. What we have is a police force, which has human rights abusers in it from top to bottom. A force with those still in it who colluded with loyalists to kill our people. A force which cannot and will not investigate the killing of Pat Finucane, Rosemary Nelson, Robert Hamill. A force that is armed to the teeth with guns and plastic bullets and only too willing to use them. A force that is controlled by the Special Branch who continue to wage a dirty war against the nationalist people. This is the same Special Branch that ran the RUC for 30 years.
I want to hear from the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and from the SDLP. How can they justify calling on people to join this discredited force?
Sinn Féin is not casually waiting to see how the Policing Board functions before joining it. We already know, under the Police Act what powers it has. That is why we refuse to go on it. It is a toothless tiger. It cannot change the legislation to prevent the veto of Ronnie Flanagan or John Reid over its decisions.
The ironic thing is that the SDLP, Catholic Church and Irish Government agree that we need amending legislation but they are collectively asking republicans and nationalists who have suffered at the hands of British rule over generations to trust the British to make it all right. We are not joining the policing boards and we are and will vigorously campaign against any republican or nationalist making the mistake of joining a reconstituted RUC.
We are trying to get the police service right. The negotiations to get it right are far from over. We will continue to negotiate until it is put right. Certain unionists are crowing that the IRA and republicans moved because of pressure. They are making a huge mistake if that is their analysis.
This struggle for independence, for a united Ireland, has gone through a number of phases. But a new phase does not mean we have a new analysis or strategy. As republicans we have identified the British military and political occupation of part of this country as being the source of all our political ills. That analysis is correct and will withstand anyone critically examining it. But I do accept that the unionist people have rights, just as you and I have rights. And we have to work with them to ensure that everyone's rights are secured.
Let it be said we continue to dialogue and engage with unionists despite the hundreds of bomb attacks on Catholics by loyalists and the dozens of Catholic homes that have been wrecked; we have done it despite the muted condemnation of these attacks by unionist and loyalist politicians. We have worked hard at dialogue despite the despicable blockade of four- to eleven-year-old Catholic schoolgirls of Holy Cross School and their parents, by Glenbryn residents. We persist despite the fact that loyalist and unionist politicians defend the actions and bigotry of many Glenbyrn residents on the blockade.
Why do republicans persist and persevere? Why do republicans take risks and initiatives in good times and bad? Because we have a vision of the future and we have a strategy to achieve that vision of a future as equals in a United Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement, while not a republican document, fitted into that strategy.
The Good Friday Agreement, fully functioning and without preconditions, is a giant step in the guarantee for us all that people's rights will not only be accepted but they will be respected and safeguarded.
The Good Friday Agreement, fully functioning without preconditions, can be legitimately used by republicans, indeed it must be used to move our struggle for a United Ireland forward. It is no coincidence that the first part of the Agreement that the unionists moved to disrupt was the All-Ireland part. It is the dynamic for change they were trying to slow down. On an island this small it does not make sense to have two Education Ministries, two Health Ministries, two Ministers in charge of the economy, two Agriculture Ministers, etc. There is obvious scope for harmonisation and mutual cooperation on a whole range of issues North and South. Only those who hanker back to the bad old days of unionist domination are opposed to such change. The IRA's initiative has opened up an entirely new political situation and we intend not only to fasttrack the work of the All-Ireland Ministerial Council but also to expand its area of responsibility.
If republicans want a rule of thumb on how well we're doing then perhaps the thing to do is compare the last five years with the previous five years. While elections are far from the only method of measuring political strength, they are certainly the most scientific. Over the last eight elections we have increased our vote in the Six Counties to the point that we are now the largest nationalist political party. In the 26 Counties, from a very low base, we have a TD as well as many councillors and are poised to increase our representation in the upcoming elections. Sinn Féin is the fastest growing party in Ireland and is the only All-Ireland party.
No one ever said it would be easy. This is perhaps one of the most difficult periods for republicans but to be honest we have faced worse and come through it. If we stay determined, committed and united in our primary aim then we will get stronger and see this through to its conclusion. I can say that I feel more certain today of achieving a United Ireland based on freedom, justice and a lasting peace than at any time in the last 30 years. We have a job to do; everyone has a part to play.
Let us rededicate ourselves today at Edentubber to redouble our efforts to achieve the United Ireland that those who gave their lives on this spot died for. Beirigí bua."
NIPS/RUC refuse details of loyalist threats
Sinn Féin South Belfast representative Alex Maskey has hit out at the RUC/NIPS over its refusal to give additional information to a man whose details are in loyalist hands.
According to Maskey, the RUC/NIPS arrived at the home of the man in the Markets area of South Belfast to tell him his personal details were found on a computer owned by someone believed to have connections with a loyalist grouping. He was advised to review his security.
But when the man's solicitor contacted the RUC/NIPS, they refused to give any further information to the solicitor. "They refused to reveal who had this information, which grouping this person was associated with, how this information fell into person's hands," said Maskey. "Over the last year, dozens of people in this area have been informed by the RUC that their details have fallen into the hands of loyalist death squads. Each time the RUC refused to give sufficient information to allow these people to take the necessary security measures. The RUC's actions raise a number of serious questions, particularly whether or not they supplied these details in the first place. Clearly, despite changing their name in a PR exercise, its business as usual."
And Derry City councillor Billy Page has accused the RUC of using young people to gather information on people in the Hatmore and Kylemore communities in the Ballymagroarty area of the city.
Page explained that over the last three Friday nights the RUC were coming into the area and taking youngsters hanging out drinking at Lowry's Lane to RUC bases in either Maydown or Roe Valley.
"Most of these youngsters are drinking under age and are afraid the RUC will inform their parents so they are going with the RUC. In reality, they are being coerced into going with the RUC," said Page.
The Sinn Féin councillor said that while the youngsters are at these bases the RUC are asking them about people in the estates where they live. The RUC have also taken home phone numbers from the young people and in some instances have phoned their houses asking for them. It was only because of these phone calls that the parents of some of the teenagers found out what was going on.
The Sinn Féin councillor has called for a multiagency approach to the problems associated with the Lowry's Lane area and for a strategy to tackle the needs of young people.
RUC members invited to donate their final pay packet to a fund for the relatives of their fallen colleagues in New York after the 11 September attack came up with a miserly £35,000, it has been revealed. Less than one in four of the RUC members stumped up, despite the backing of the Police Federation and the support of Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan for the idea.
A Police Federation spokesperson said that he always knew a "certain few would let themselves down" but added that the decision whether or not to donate was up to each officer personally. He cited NYPD links to hunger strike commemorations and the fact that former NYPD chief Tom Constantine is in charge of overseeing policing changes in the Six Counties as possible reasons for the reluctance of the RUC to show compassion.