29 July 2004 Edition
One of Ireland's greatest
The news of Joe Cahill's death caused a huge lump in my throat. I only ever chatted to Joe on a couple of occasions, usually POW gatherings in Belfast, and he came over as such a gentle person, with a quiet voice, but there was no mistaking his intelligence and natural authority.
He is an historic figure in the true sense of the word, an Irishman of whom the whole Irish nation should and can be proud.
When Ireland throws up great men, they are genuinely great, because greatness can only be measured against the cause for which they fought, and if an independent and united Ireland is not a great cause, I want to know what is?
One can only hope a fitting memorial will be erected to his illustrious memory.
Every good wish,
Moya St Leger
Death of Joe Cahill
I feel it my duty to highlight the cynical media gagging of the death of veteran Republican Joe Cahill in Belfast last weekend.
Joe Cahill represented many different things to many different people. He was a committed Irish republican who served the cause of Irsih freedom for over 60 years. In the difficult times of the 1930s and '40s he and his contemporaries stood against the partition of Ireland and for Irish unity. His involvement saw him imprisoned many times and once sentenced to death, a decision that was commuted to life imprisonment after the intervention of the then Pope.
He was an unappologetic military man and as Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army took on the full force of British military intervention in the Six Counties. He actively challenged the British military and political presence in this country for 60 years. His life was constantly under threat and acts of harassment and intimidation by the British establishment and their allies in this country are something that few would have encountered or believed.
He saw the direction of the struggle traverse from the strictly military to cessation and negotiation on more than one occasion. His support of the Peace Process helped many within the Republican Movement come to grips with tough and pricipled decisions. He supported the natural progression of Revolution: After a long and often bloody struggle, conditions are achieved whereby advancement can be met by political means. This opportunity did not exist for most of Joe's life.
Political expression was not accessible to Irish republicans in this country 20 years ago. Through censorship, internment and repression through the court system, police and military, both here and in the Six Counties, there were few options but to fight back. Joe Cahill knew this, engaged this and was unapologetic in his course of action. He was likewise unapologetic in his decision to support the IRA cessation in order to facilitate political negotiations.
The IRA cessation of military action has been in effect for ten years now. Political advancement has benefited but we cannot ignore the fact that the British military machine is still actively engaged in the Six Counties. Britain's 'Private Army', now called the PSNI, are still armed and active, and the Government here still hold republican prisoners hostage in Castlerea when they clearly were eligible for release under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
Regardless of the reader's opinion of Irish republicanism or of people like Joe Cahill, it cannot be underestimated how this man contributed to Irish history. In 40 or 50 years time, will the media feel it safe to report on the life of Joe Cahill? Hopefully it will not take that many years until Ireland, like Joe Cahill, is unapologetic of her past and of those who not only stand up and combat injustice, but have enough vision to facilitate change when change has come.
Tuam Sinn Féin extend our sympathy and solidarity to the Cahill family. I measc laochra na nGael a raibh sé.
Tuam Sinn Féin
An Phoblacht and the Dunnes Strikers
In your excellent feature last week marking the 20th anniversary of the anti-apartheid strike by young shop workers at Dunnes Stores in Dublin, modesty no doubt prevented you from highlighting the important role played not only by Sinn Féin members but also by An Phoblacht staff in a bitter dispute.
The proximity of the An Phoblacht and Sinn Féin offices in Dublin ensured that there was always a core of eager activists ready to provide flying pickets to engage in robust discussions about workers' solidarity with strike-breaking knuckleheads who thought they would have an easy ride scabbing on young workers. The direct action response by An Phoblacht reporters and lay-out staff to night-time incursions on production night proved a testing time for the then editor and was officially discouraged, although acknowledged as a revolutionary duty.
Sinn Féin activists also introduced from overseas anti-apartheid activists the highly disruptive "shop-ins" to disrupt what little trade there was when the store tried to put on a façade of normality. Republican 'shoppers' wheeled their trolleys, groaning under hundreds of pounds' worth of frozen foods, yoghurts and perishable goods piled high, around the store for ages on end, under the beady eyes of security and management. But cash registers were brought to a standstill en masse as dozens of appalled republicans found that the tiny bag of oranges lying in the bottom was from the apartheid state and refused to pay.
And security staff are still puzzled as to what one mischievous An Phoblacht staffer was up to when he turned up one Saturday morning with a steel rule to size up the doors and bark out measurements to a fellow republican armed with just a notepad and pencil. No midnight welders or bulldozers subsequently appeared but every little ruse helped.
Republicans should be proud of the part they played in supporting the heroes of Henry Street. The Dunnes Stores strikers should still be proud today and forever for their part in Irish labour history and their selfless, internationalist solidarity.