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Speech by Bertie Ahern at the Arbour Hill Commemoration, Dublin, (24 April 2005)

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Text: Bertie Ahern ... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn

Speech by Bertie Ahern, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), at the Arbour Hill Commemoration, Dublin, (24 April 2005)


Is iadlaochra sin a bunchloch leagadh.

Is cúis mhór bród dom mar Thaoiseach agus mar Uachtarán Fhianna Fáil gobhfuil an onóir agam arís an óráid bliantúil seo a thabhairt.

In recent years, we have had many good reasons to take pride in the progress and achievements of our country. They show the way that independence can be fulfilled, especially in friendship and partnership as equals with other sovereign countries.

Our independence came about at last, because of the courage of Irish people in every generation, who struggled politically and sometimes militarily, for a freedom and self-determination and for a national identity of our own, to which we always had a right.

To no one do we owe a greater debt than the leaders of the 1916 Rising, who seized the opportunity to put Ireland on an irreversible course that won the subsequent overwhelming endorsement of the people in the 1918 General Election. Pearse, Connolly, McDonagh,Clarke and their fellow signatories of the Proclamation had a noble and idealistic vision, from which there could be no turning back. It was highlighted by the supreme sacrifice they were made to pay.

When people look around, they often take for granted what is directly in front of them. The Republic today is not some distant or nebulous dream. It is a living reality in this State, however imperfect or incomplete.

Here at least, the Republic has come into its own. Our country is widely respected abroad, for the peace process, for the pace of economic development, and for a lively culture.

Fianna Fáil, when it was formed in 1926, united round it the vast majority of those who had taken the Republican side and who shared the Republican ideal. They understood the importance of making independence viable and of first making a success of the wide jurisdiction that had been brought under the exclusive control of the Irish people. The energies that went initially into the struggle for independence subsequently went into state-building and constitution-making.

The original vehicle for separatist politics was Sinn Féin founded by Arthur Griffith a hundred years ago in 1905, and subsequently remoulded under the leadership of Eamon de Valera in 1917.

It placed a heavy emphasis on political, economic and cultural self-sufficiency, later modified and complemented by the much greater interdependence that became a feature of the post-war world and today's European Union.

De Valera, when he resumed the Republican leadership in 1923,had a keen understanding of the requirements and responsibilities of democracy and the limitation that it places on the exercise of power, both State and non-State. Fianna Fáilcomprised both the visionary and the practically minded. They wanted to start building the Republic then and there, rather than reject everything that was not perfect or complete. Where Sinn Féin had become an ineffective, marginalised and overly dogmatic party of protest, Fianna Fáil rapidly became a party of government, that more than any other has shaped the destiny of independent Ireland.

Democracy has always been the fundamental goal of true Republicanism. It is often forgotten that the Easter Rising only took place, after the democratic wishes of the Irish people for a large measure of self-government had been systematically frustrated for over 30 years,indeed back to the time of the Repeal Movement under Daniel O'Connell. The Proclamation looked forward to election by universal franchise of a sovereign Irish Government and the creation of a new constitutional order that would be wholly Irish, and not British, and that would cherish all the children of the nation equally.

In three quarters of Ireland, the situation was fundamentally changed and vastly improved with the creation of an internationally recognised State some years later, despite conflict over its form. Post 1923, Republicans had the choice of going in one of two directions.

They could become exclusively committed to a democratic political path, and seek to advance constitutional goals by peaceful means, recognising that the application of force to Northern Ireland, even if successful, would wreck national life. A small minority chose the other path of a closed anti-democratic militaristic élitism, unaccountable to the people and dangerous to this State and its freedom.

A healthy Republicanism is central to this party's reason for existence, but is shared with other democrats. Apart from the form of government, it is based on an equality of rights, opportunity and treatment, on the rule of law, and respect for human rights. A healthy Republicanism never relied on the proceeds of crime or physical attacks and intimidation of those who dare to speak or behave differently. It does not assume the right to take the law into its own hands. It also sincerely accepts that change leading to unity can only be brought about by peaceful persuasion and consent. It is peace-loving and conciliatory, not politically or culturally aggressive. It is not about the domination of one community over the other.

The positions of Taoiseach and Uachtarán Fianna Fáil bring with them a clear and historic responsibility at the head of Nationalist Ireland. It is a role I take seriously and one that I will not shirk.I will not play the politics of exclusion. I will always seek to persuade and convince all elements of Nationalist Ireland of the veracity of our analysis of Republicanism.

The peace process is based on a shared desire to put conflict behind us. It provides a balanced and equitable framework for progressive cooperation and the ultimate peaceful resolution of constitutional issues.

Enormous time and commitment have been given to making the peace process a success by governments and by the different mainstream parties. The Good Friday Agreement represents an historic opportunity for all traditions on this island. It could and can only succeed with a sincere and complete abandonment of violence and law-breaking by all organisationspreviously involved in that. If this is both the intent and the understanding, then it has to be demonstrated by both word and deed outside of any short-term electoral context.

I have asked the question. The question has been echoed. We have yet to receive an answer. The prospects of resuming fruitful dialogue depend on that answer. Rebuilding trust, which has been seriously damaged, will not be quick, and it will not be easy.

We honour today what was, in different times and circumstances, the beginning of a successful, democratic revolution. We acknowledge the rightofall people to be free of injustice and discrimination.

In modern times, nearly all the successful revolutions have been brought about peacefully by people power, of the type witnessed in the liberation of countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

Creating terror, even when employed by a frustrated minority with real grievances, has been a costly and singularly unsuccessful method ofliberationin the modern world.

If we are not to be faced with an historic missed opportunity, a radical response to the demand of people all over Ireland for strict adherence to democratic standards, the rule of law and human rights, is required not just from political parties but from associated paramilitary organisations. We here, as the democratically elected Government of the Irish people, have the right to lay down the high standards required of true Republicans, rejecting false ideology that has held sway for far too long and that is no fault of those who, 90 years ago, gave this nation the freedom it enjoys today.

In the Government of the Republic, and in the Government of Northern Ireland, there is only a place for those who are unequivocally democrats. If some cannot do what is needed of them to make the Good Friday Agreement and its power-sharing institutions work, there is little prospect of achieving more ambitious objectives.

What we want to see implemented is what the people North and South voted for in the first act of concurrent self-determination since 1918. The Agreement makes an honourable and constructive contribution, in keeping with the spirit of Republicanism as well as of other traditions, to peace, stability and reconciliation. If adhered to, it will gradually allow a new era and a new politics to dawn on this island.

In 1998, the people did not vote for an armed peace. Or for a criminal peace.They voted for a democratic peace. We must have closure to build that democratic peace. Closure on decommissioning.An end to all illegal activities. No more threats and no more intimidation.

If we can achieve that, then the unionist community must live up to its commitments to participate in government with all democratic parties. If the IRA is decisively removed from the equation, it benefits nobody for unionism to turn its back on partnership politics.

The Good Friday Agreement is the bedrock on which sensible and sensitive politics can be conducted in Northern Ireland. There is no other basis. And there is no other agreement.

I am as committed and determined as ever to see this process through and to work with all those who genuinely share this commitment.

We will be returning to the agenda of the Agreement after the elections. Its full implementation is a historic mission and the Government's main national priority.

It is the best way to honour the men and women of 1916.

It is the only way to fulfil their dream of a country built on principles of liberty, equality and the pursuit of happiness and prosperity for all.

We have come a long way. We must now complete the journey.

Is Fhianna Fáilé an chomóradh bhliantúil seo. Tápréamhacha ár bpáirtí i 1916.Agus, inniuaran talamh beannaithe seo, ní dhéanfaimid dearmad go deo ar na ndaoine a thit ar son nah-Éirinnin eiríamach na Cásca.

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