Extracts from Speech by Connor Murphy to an Easter Commemoration, Milltown Cemetery, Belfast, (23 March 2008)
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Extracts from Speech by Connor Murphy, then Sinn Féin MP for Newry and Armagh, to an Easter Commemoration, Milltown Cemetery, Belfast, (23 March 2008)
"It is a great honour for me to here with you in Belfast today speaking at the graveside of some of the finest volunteers this generation or any other generation has produced to serve the cause of Ireland's freedom. The people we commemorate here today and who will be commemorated this weekend in graveyards all over Ireland continue to inspire us as we seek to conclude this centuries old struggle.
"The ideals which drove Republicans in Belfast to sacrifice their livelihoods, their freedoms and, ultimately, their lives are the same ideals which drove Tone and Emmett, the ideals which Pearse articulated on the steps of the GPO 92 years ago in the Proclamation, that is the true Irish Republic. A Republic in which the ownership of Ireland is in the hands of the people of Ireland, where the government cherishes all of the children of the nation equally and where the divisions of the past, fostered by an alien government, are addressed in a spirit of generosity underpinned by a determination to uphold the rights of every citizen. These are not simply phrases in an historic document but political principles worthy of great struggle and great sacrifice. They represent the fire that exists in the belly of every republican activist and that fire is burning still in Belfast, in South Armagh, in Derry, in Dublin and Cork and all over Ireland, stronger than ever before.
"What the Proclamation speaks of is a vision of a better society in a nation at peace with itself. It speaks of freedom, of justice, of rights, of patriotism, of selflessness, of community, of happiness. If you look at the lives of any of the volunteers buried in Milltown, the Hunger Strikers, the Gilbraltar Martyrs and all of the others you will find that spirit imbued in all of them, they were of this community and they fought, against great odds, for this community. So too have many of you here, men and women who have dedicated their entire lives to this struggle, who have forsaken normality, family lives, personal ambition and many other freedoms because you have believed that the people of Belfast, like the people of Ireland, have a right to a better future. And because you believed this you stood up to oppression and all that it could throw at you. The people of this community respect you for that and they know that that the freedoms that they will enjoy have been built on the back of your sacrifice and the sacrifices of our patriot dead.
"I had the pleasure of attending a youth event in Colin last Wednesday where the young people of that part of West Belfast were launching their own campaigns for a cleaner environment and against drug use. The Youth Centre was packed and the talent, energy and confidence that were on display highlighted all that is good and positive about the vast, vast majority of young people in this community. What a shame that the actions of the few have cast a cloud of fear and negativity over West Belfast. What a shame also that those who are tasked, and well paid, to protect this community are not up to that task.
"The murders of Harry Holland, John Mongan and Frank McGreevy were brutal and unforgivable. Harry and Frank would have probably been here with us today, remembering the dead and meeting up with old friends and comrades had they not so cruelly lost their lives, our sympathies go out to all the families bereaved.
"Those responsible for these murders and those who inflict violence and intimidation on this community should be getting the message loud and clear that the people of West Belfast will not tolerate you or your thuggish behaviour. This community has not withstood decades of Unionist and British violence and oppression to now allow a handful of hoods to prey on the vulnerable. The people of West Belfast will stand together, as they have always done, and face down this threat and those who are charged with statutory responsibilities need to stand shoulder to shoulder with this community and convince the people that they have their interests at heart. Now is not the time for despair, despite the understandable grief and anger, now is the time for resolute action. This time twenty years ago, in the aftermath of the Gibraltar killings, the people of West Belfast were being attacked and demonised, you rose to meet those challenges and I have no doubt you will do so again.
"Of course challenges are nothing new to Republicans. We may be closer than ever to Irish unity but we find that our opponents in Ireland and Britain continue to try and frustrate and side-track us. This is why Sinn Fein is concentrating on bringing the focus back to the central question in Irish politics; the partition of our country. Republicans need to organize, to build even more support and alliances in Ireland and abroad, to expand the all-Ireland institutions and to force the Irish government to begin the engagements and practical preparations necessary for Irish reunification. In stead of handing our sovereignty over to the European Union under the Lisbon Treaty, the Dublin government should be working to resolve the national question and return the ownership of Ireland to the people of Ireland, all 32 counties of it.
"Sharing power with the DUP has also presented its challenges. While we defied the odds and the critics to reach agreement with the DUP and while the power-sharing institution has functioned uninterrupted, as have the all-Ireland Ministerial meetings, none the less the sight of Ian Paisley working so readily with Martin McGuinness has excited the rejectionist elements within the DUP. Ian Paisley's departure from leadership is a timely reminder to us of the depth of the anti power sharing anti equality sentiment within unionism.
"In recent times senior DUP figures have become increasingly hostile and offensive around the prospects of agreement on issues like the transfer of powers on policing and justice, the Long Kesh project and the Irish Language Act. The best way to resolve these matters is through mature and sensible negotiation, to recognise that change is happening, that the old certainties of the past are gone -- never to return and to lead for your community in dealing with all of this. That type of approach will benefit us all and give confidence to those who want power sharing to work. But let me make it clear to the DUP. If you think by being belligerent and abusive Republicans will simply shrug our shoulders and give up on things which are important to this community then you had better think again. If you want to do battle on these issues then so be it, we are well used to lengthy struggle. We will not allow the agenda of change to be halted.
"The DUP would be safer taking their lead from working class communities across this city, Loyalist and Republican, who have been quietly working together to ensure the safety and well-being of their neighbours in inter-face areas. We commend them for their efforts. That type of approach yields benefits for all communities. Knee-jerk reactions to perceived electoral set-backs may placate the bigots in the short term but do little to give positive leadership to unionism in the longer term. We have been down enough cul de sacs in the past, now is the time for leadership.
"Sinn Fein will not allow ourselves to be distracted by the posturing of unionists in the time ahead. We have too much of our own work to do. We must build a national movement towards reunification, we must deliver equality and real change and our work within our own communities remains a priority for us. All of this requires huge effort and the active participation of all republicans, young and old, women and men. So I would appeal to all of you, become active, encourage others, particularly women and young people, to get involved in this struggle and let us ensure that we make space in this movement for all who share our ideals.
"We must also reach out to others, to those who share our objectives in building a Republic and to those who don't, remembering, as the Proclamation says, that we rely in the first instance on our own strength. Easter is the time we remember our comrades and their sacrifice. Let us build on the platform they have created for us and realise the goals that they gave their lives for, freedom, justice and national self-determination."
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