13 August 1998 Edition
SF is fastest growing force
John Joe McGirl 10th anniversary commemoration
``Sinn Féin is the fastest growing force in Irish politics'' and is set to make significant gains in local elections in the 26 Counties next year. So said Cavan/Monaghan TD Caoimhghín O Caoláin as he urged all republicans in the 26 Counties to focus on the 1999 elections in order to build Sinn Féin. He was delivering the John Joe McGirl Memorial Lecture in CountyLeitrim last weekend.
The tenth anniversary of the death of Sinn Féin Vice-President John Joe McGirl was marked in his native Ballinamore, with the Memorial Lecture and with a commemoration ceremony at the McGirl monument where Sligo Alderman Sean MacManus was the speaker.
John Joe died in 1988 after a lifetime of service to republicanism, including two periods of internment without trial North and South, and five terms of political imprisonment. He was elected TD for Sligo-Leitrim in 1957 and was a key figure in the rebuilding of the republican struggle in 1969.
John Joe's widow Bridie was in attendance at the lecture on 7 August and was presented with a bouquet of flowers by Owen Carron of Leitrim Sinn Féin. Sharing the platform with the main speaker were Commemoration Committee chair Vincent Kenny, County Councillor Liam McGirl and Owen Carron. We carry here excerpts from the lecture.
``It was because of John Joe and those like him that the radical, progressive, republican tradition survived in Ireland when its enemies were ready to consign it to the grave, the prison cell and the history books.
``John Joe McGirl helped to ensure that not only did republicanism survive but that it thrived. John Joe understood the need to adopt new tactics and strategies to suit new political circumstances. He had the foresight to realise that we must adapt ourselves to the terrain through which we as republicans have to travel on our long journey to our ultimate goal of a democratic All-Ireland Republic. This was because, as Gerry Adams said in his funeral oration ten years ago, John Joe was ``of the people and he was with the people''. John Joe knew that if the republican struggle was not a people's struggle it was nothing.
``Sinn Féin, the party of which John Joe McGirl was vice-president at the time of his death has never been in a stronger position electorally. It is regrettable that John Joe, himself a poll- topping republican TD for Sligo-Leitrim in 1957, did not live to see the success of our party in the Leinster House elections last year. He would have relished too the strides we have made in the past couple of years in greatly increasing our representation in the Six-County area. The magnificent achievement of our party activists in the June elections to the new Assembly is but the latest advance which has been made.
``I would identify three reasons for the electoral successes of recent years: firstly our central role in initiating and sustaining the peace process; secondly the dedicated work of our activists and elected representatives on the ground over many years; thirdly the alternative we offer to the failed politics which have blighted Irish society North and South since partition.
``John Joe McGirl saw that people were ready for real leadership and real representation and Sinn Féin was the party to provide it. He himself was an exemplary public representative for this party in County Leitrim, earning respect in all walks of life and among political friends and foes alike.
``He helped to develop our party's electoral strategy with the benefit of his long experience. Next year's local government elections in the 26 Counties should mark a major milestone in the advance of our electoral strategy and of Sinn Féin in this state. I urge all republicans to set their sights on June 1999 and to ensure that the work done thus far, and the hard work which will be done in the next 11 months, will bear fruit with greatly increased Sinn Féin representation in local government.
``As a border TD I am conscious of the ties that bind the Counties of Cavan and Monaghan to Leitrim and Sligo, Donegal and Louth. As a major political force in this region we in Sinn F?in are foremost in raising the demand that the benefits of both the present economic upturn and the peace process are shared on an equal basis. For too long the border region and the West of Ireland have been discriminated against in the economic management - or rather mismanagement - of this state. Together with deprived communities in the large urban areas this region has lagged far behind. We in Sinn Féin are determined to work to reverse this policy of discrimination.
``We have much work and struggle ahead of us but if we go to it in the spirit of determination and good humour which characterised John Joe McGirl then success will be ours.
``In conclusion let me say that it was my privelege to have known John Joe McGirl. He was an inspirational man both on a personal and on a political level. For family and friends his memory will always be alive. For his comrades it is our duty to ensure that his political legacy is carried on and that the All-Ireland Republic which he so cherished is finally established.''