11 January 2007 Edition
Seán Sabhat Commemoration: Positive response from Paisley would move situation forward
McGuinness calls on DUP to meet power-sharing challenge
Up to 500 hundred people attended the 50th anniversary commemoration of the death of Seán Sabhat who was killed alongside Feargal Ó hAnnluain in County Fermanagh on New Year’s day 1957 during the IRA’s Border Campaign. The commemoration was organised by Limerick Sinn Féin and was the largest seen in the city in many years.
The march assembled in Bedford Row and marched to Mount St. Laurence Cemetery and proceeded to the Republican Plot where Seán Sabhat is buried. The ceremonies were chaired by Maurice Quinlivan, Sinn Féin candidate for Limerick East in the forthcoming general election.
A wreath on behalf of the Republican Movement was laid by Malachy McCreesh brother of 1981 Hunger Striker Raymond McCreesh.
The main address was delivered by Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness. Below we carry an edited version of that address:
“Fifty years ago when Seán Sabhat and Feargal Ó hAnnluain were killed in County Fermanagh the IRA Border Campaign was only underway a matter of weeks. It was the first significant IRA campaign since the late 1930s and followed decades of state repression and violence against republican activists and supporters.
“Seán was a thoughtful, and sincere individual who plunged himself fully into every activity to which he committed himself. He was highly respected in the Limerick community. Seán was a natural leader and did much to help and encourage young people and had a steadfast commitment to the Irish language. His loss was keenly felt by his family, friends and comrades as witnessed by the massive attendance at his funeral.
“Given the republican experience of the three decades since partition, republicans like Seán Sabhat in the 1950s were left with little alternative but to resort to armed action. It was in its day the right thing to do. The votes of over 150,000 people in the Six Counties in the British General election of 1956 and the election of two Sinn Féin MPs had been ignored. Republicans once again faced a difficult decision.
“And I have to say, just as I believe the IRA were entirely right to embark on the Border Campaign in 1956, I believe the IRA leadership of that time were equally right in responding to the changed circumstances and significant challenges which faced them in 1962 when they called a halt to their campaign.
“By the time the campaign ended 12 republican activists were dead including eight IRA Volunteers and hundreds were imprisoned in both jurisdictions.
“And I think it is worth recalling the statement issued by the IRA ending the Border campaign in February 1962. In that statement the IRA leadership acknowledged that it had failed to mobilise public support for the cause of Irish freedom at that time. However it did call for Irish people to support and mobilise around republican objectives and expressed confidence for the future of our struggle if that happened.
“We now have a transformed situation. There are more republicans on this island now that at any time since Partition. This generation of republicans has risen to the challenge set out by the IRA leadership when it ended the Border campaign. This generation of Irish republicans do look forward with the confidence demanded by the statement of 1962. People now are mobilising around republican objectives like never before.
“And of course, as in the years 1956-62, huge challenges still face Irish republicans. But I also believe that opportunities are now available to advance our struggle which were never available to any other generation. We have built a strong republican party, not yet strong enough, but strong nonetheless. We have brought the republican message to the corridors of power in London, Washington and Dublin. We have sent a team of TDs into Leinster House, into the same chamber from which John A. Costello praised the Unionist regime in the North and condemned the IRA operation in the wake of Seán Sabhat and Feargal Ó hAnnluain being killed; into the same chamber from which De Valera unleashed his wave of internment and repression during the Border campaign.
“At another time of great challenge within our party in the mid-1980s I predicted that the people who walked away from our struggle at that time were unfortunately going to end up walking home. They were going to allow themselves and their talents to be led away from the republican struggle and from the effort to end British rule in our country. I think that few could argue that this hasn’t been the case. So whatever happens in the course of the coming weeks let us emerge united and stronger than ever before. Disunity only benefits our enemies. It benefits those who wish to maintain partition and benefits those who support British rule in part of our country.
“That is why the debate that is currently underway within our party and community is so important. But this debate cannot simply be reduced down to policing or to support for the PSNI. The Ard Chomhairle have indicated that we will move to an Ard Fheis to discuss this issue in the context of a positive response coming from the DUP. We await that response. But people should not become distracted by the DUP. People here need to focus on our strategy, on our objectives.
“The current phase is about much more than policing. It is about the sort of vision we as republicans have for the future shape of this island. It is about how we realise that vision. It is about how we move from a situation of partition and division to a situation where we achieve sovereignty and unity.
“In a similar way, we have managed over recent years to move from a situation of conflict and violence on the streets of the six counties to the peace enjoyed by people at this time.
“That transformation did not happen by accident. It happened because we as republicans had a vision for a peaceful future and we extended ourselves and took risks.
“This current phase is no different for republicans. We must continue to stretch ourselves and take risks. We much continue to seize the opportunities presented to us and we must continue at all times to move forward.
“What matters in the end is achieving our republican and democratic objectives. What matters most for us is mapping out a strategy which will take us there.
“I do not underestimate the difficulties republicans have in addressing this issue. Republicans across this island have all lived through the days of political policing. The violent excesses of the RUC or their surrogates are well documented. Less so, the activities of the Heavy Gang here in the South. Republicans in this city and across the state were brutalised in a deliberate campaign to undermine support for legitimate republican objectives. It is a disgraceful chapter in modern Irish history and one which must be told. Our approach has to be about ending all of that. Ignoring policing is simply not an option.
“But this current phase is not simply about republicans taking risks or facing big challenges. Significant advances have been made in recent times. The DUP, the party formed to oppose power sharing, has been brought to a point of sharing power. Consider the prospect of Ian Paisley the ‘No’ man of Irish politics, sitting on the all-Ireland Ministerial Council with Sinn Féin and the rest of the parties on this island. That is what will happen if the process moves ahead. That is the challenge facing the DUP today?
“If DUP members are to hold Ministerial office it will be within the power sharing and all-Ireland arrangements set out in the Good Friday Agreement. But while the DUP have without any doubt been brought closer to that point – ignore the spin of London and Dublin that they have arrived there, they have not. There is no point pretending otherwise. After St. Andrews talks Ian Paisley indicated that he would share power. He has yet to say when. He has yet to say he will do so by 26 March following the elections. He has yet to say he agrees with the the transfer of powers on policing and justice by May 2008. So let me put a challenge out to a man who describes himself as a plain speaking Ulsterman.
“Ian, are you going to share power with nationalists and republicans by 26 March? This is a simple question. It requires a simple answer.
“A positive response from Ian Paisley clearly moves the current situation forward. It would be seen by many as the DUP finally beginning the journey towards accepting equality for all citizens. So let Ian Paisley rise to the challenge set for him and his party. Sinn Féin has continually demonstrated our willingness to stretch ourselves and take risks in order to make this process work. We want the process to move forward, we want to share power with the DUP, we want to see the issue of policing resolved. But others have responsibilities they need to meet.
“While the main focus needs to remain on the British government and the DUP, there also needs to be an examination of the disappointing role played by the Irish government throughout these negotiations. Today’s comments from the Taoiseach, challenging the DUP, while welcome, are not sufficient. Much more is required than his commentary. The Irish government needs to re-engage fully in the process.
“We need to remember at all times what this struggle is about. What we believe we will deliver in the coming years. We owe that much to ourselves as activists but also to our patriot dead who at different times and in different phases of this long struggle have paid a mighty price for their belief in freedom and justice on this island.
“The Peace Process presents challenges, not just for republicans, but for all political leaders. There is a responsibility to make politics work and be seen to work so that violent conflict and all of its symptoms are firmly consigned to the past. Both Governments need to uphold their responsibilities to fully and faithfully implement all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement.
“In this regard those qualifying political prisoners in this state who should have been released before now must be released without further delay. In the past, with the formal ending of IRA campaigns, republican prisoners were released. This is also a necessary element in the current process of conflict resolution.
“The current republican strategy is about building and maximising political strength. It is an offensive strategy. It is about breaking down all of the old barriers, engaging with the people, electing Sinn Féin representatives in every part of this island. But ultimately it is about using that political strength to shift the British and indeed the Irish government from their positions of supporting Partition and division onto our ground of Irish Unity, Peace and Equality.
“Just as it was not easy for the IRA Volunteers of the Pearse Column all those years ago when they embarked upon their dangerous operation in Brookeborough, this phase of struggle has undoubted risks and challenges for us all.
“But we have come through darker days than we face now. None of us lack courage, conviction or dedication. So let us grasp the opportunities which will come our way in the course of the next year. Let us be sure that when we gather here again next year that we have all here done our bit. That we have ensured that seats are not left behind in any of the elections we will face this year through lack of effort or petty squabbles. Our struggle is bigger than that.
Maurice Quinlivan here in Limerick has been making steady progress over recent years. Anna Prior in Clare will this time out seek build upon the impressive vote which came out of that county for Pearse Doherty in the last EU election. So people here need to get involved, to get active and to get organised in the coming weeks.
“Seán Sabhat and Feargal Ó hAnnluain when faced with a difficult choice made the right decision. They paid a heavy price. Their families continue to pay that price and I salute them here today and send our continuing solidarity to them.
“I believe that we are on the road to freedom. The final phase of liberation struggle is often the most difficult. Diarmaid Ó Donnchadha giving the oration at the graveside of Seán Sabhat said: ‘He died for my freedom; for my sake, for your sake, for the sake of the generations that are to come ... let his life and his death be a lesson and a guide to all of us.’ All of our patriot dead continue to guide us and provide inspiration for us. If we stay solid and stay focused on our objectives and ideals then I believe that we can turn the vision which Seán Sabhat held into reality.”