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18 September 1997 Edition

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Huge Saoirse rally calls for freedom for POWs

By Deirdre Feehan

There was a massive turnout at the Saoirse rally on the eve of all-party talks, Sunday 14 September, at Belfast City Hall.

Thousands of people turned out from all over the country to show their support for the prisoners and to keep the issue at the top of the talks agenda. Sinn Féin negotiator Gerry Kelly was the main speaker along with former Long Kesh escaper Bik McFarlane, Sinn Féin councillor Chrissie McAuley and Saoirse chairperson Martin Meehan.

There was a significant RUC presence as marchers made their way from the North, South, East and West of the city to the City Hall where proceedings began with entertainment from Letterkenny band Summerfly, followed by Irish dancing and street theatre which depicted events during the last thirty years.

Kelly told the crowd that Sinn Féin's presence at the talks table would not be sufficient if they are to achieve their objective of seeing all republican prisoners released. He stressed the importance of the organisation of rallies and the need to raise public awareness on the prisoners issue.

``Governments move under political pressure not because they want to. The demand for movement will not come of its own volition. Everyone must play their part.

``Sinn Féin will keep the POWs high on the talks agenda, but Saoirse and the campaigns are what will move it.

``So it is very, very important that every street protest increase in size and people use their imagination to put the message out internationally.

``We are nearly 30 years into this struggle for British withdrawal and a united Ireland and many thousands of nationalists have been through jail during that period and that means many, many more thousands of relatives have suffered for the same period outside jail. And I would like to send out my greeting to all the political prisoners and to their families because I am deeply proud of the men and women who have given their all and have suffered for us.''

At this point Kelly turned to the City Hall to see a youth from Crossmaglen climb up on the statue of Queen Victoria and place a Tricolour under its arm. This was greeted with cheers, laughter and applause by the crowd. Martin Meehan then called on all the young people in the grounds of the City Hall to move back to avoid confrontation as the ``heavies are moving in to remove a Tricolour''. This was also greeted with laughter by the large crowd. Kelly concluded by saying that this was the second time in three years that there was an historic opportunity for the resolution of the conflict. But he recalled how, after the 1994 cessation, present conditions worsened for IRA inmates. He ended by calling for the repatriation of Irish prisoners from English jails to Ireland ``pending their release''.

Dublin Day of Action

Dublin Sinn Féin held a successful Day of Action across the city on Saturday, 13 September in advance of the Stormont talks.

Pickets, demonstrations and leafletting took place at the GPO in the city centre, in Thomas Street and Pearse Street in the South Inner City, and in Coolock, Ballymun, Rathfarnham and Blanchardstown.

Sinn Féin members displayed posters proclaiming a new opportunity for peace and calling for the release of political prisoners and the disbandment of the RUC. Leaflets explaining the Sinn Féin position in relation to the talks were distributed to Saturday shoppers at the various venues.

The Day of Action attracted much attention and several young people who approached the pickets applied to join Sinn Féin.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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