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Speech by Declan Kearney at Sinn Féin Easter Commemoration, Belfast, (8 April 2012)

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Text: Declan Kearney ... Page compiled: Martin Melaugh

Speech by Declan Kearney, Sinn Féin National Chairperson, at the Sinn Féin Easter Commemoration, Milltown Cemetery, Belfast, (8 April 2012)


"TA SE de phribhléid domsa glacadh leis an cuireadh oráid na Casca a thabhairt anseo i mBéal Feirste trathnóna.

Treaslaim le ceannaracht na gluaiseachta sa chathair ar achan ghné d’eagar an chomoradh bliaintiúl seo.

Agus molaim go h-ard Cumann na n-Uaigheanna Naisiúnta ar an leacht cuimhneachain galanta seo, a athnochtaiodh inniu.

Easter is about commemoration of our patriot dead.

It is a humbling thought that 40 years ago, when the greatest number of all deaths occurred in the North, 34 Volunteers and 11 Fianna of the Belfast Command were killed.

We extend solidarity to the families of our patriot dead this Easter. Our hearts are with you all today.

Easter is also a celebration of our republicanism: our ideals, our vision, where we came from – and where we are going.

The best aspect of today’s celebration is to be found in the numbers of young people participating. I want to especially welcome and congratulate the members of Republican Youth/Oige Phoblachtach who paraded earlier. They represent republicanism at its best in Belfast. I would urge all young people to join Republican Youth. We should be very proud of our young republicans. Go n-eiri go geal libh go leir.

1972 was a dark year in the political conflict in Belfast and right across the North. Thankfully, this city and Six Counties are a different place to 40 or even 20 years ago. The engine for that change was this republican strategy and leadership.

Everything has changed.

The ‘B’ men, the RUC, the UDR, militarisation are all gone. These generations of nationalists don’t do second-class citizenship or inequality.

Sinn Féin is driving an equality agenda through government in the Six Counties, opposition in the 26 Counties, and the all-Ireland institutions.

Our party is the second largest in the North and on the rise in the South. Republicanism has never been stronger since 1919.

Republican strategy is working. It is a roadmap for Irish unity. And that’s where some who oppose Sinn Féin get it so wrong.

I look into this crowd and see veterans of the IRA’s campaign, from those in their 30s, to others in their 70s. Men and women political soldiers who have committed themselves to achieving a united Ireland by political and democratic programmes since the IRA leadership declared the conditions of conflict had been removed. That IRA fought the war to a conclusion.

Make no mistake: there is no other IRA – here in Belfast or anywhere else. And there is no armed struggle to be finished.

Many of us here have been involved in persuading for and helping to take risks for peace. We have all benefited from those risks being taken.

Republicans are not strangers to the challenges of negotiating difficult issues and providing consistent political leadership. The product of that risk-taking and leadership are the present-day political stability and irreversible peace we enjoy.

Equality, democratic rights, political partnership and all-Ireland institutions enshrined in the Good Friday and other Agreements are the basis for continued change.

So, yes, we have travelled a great distance but as republicans we know that journey has still to be completed.

Many challenges remain arising from the legacy of the conflict.

We have much work to do and we need the maximum goodwill for, and active involvement in, continuing to successfully build this political strategy from within the republican community.

Most republicans support our strategy but not all are involved; and others have disengaged. Where political disenchantment, doubt or division exists among republicans we need to outreach and address that constructively and sensitively.

As our strategy advances we should constantly seek new ways to inclusively discuss how best to move forward.

Some republicans oppose the Peace Process by militarist and political means. There is a political imperative upon us to attempt purposeful engagement with all republicans – and that includes those who oppose Sinn Féin.

Increased dialogue and engagement with the wider unionist and Protestant community is also essential.

That presents a huge challenge for us. Unionists continue to harbour suspicions about republicans.

Unionists have been hurt by the war; and so too have republicans.

WB Yeats wrote that too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart. Republicans have endured many sacrifices indeed but our hearts have never turned to stone.

The war changed our lives but not our humanity. We share this place with the unionist and Protestant people and we also share a collective humanity with them.

The end to war gave way to an irreversible peace process and the now-stable political institutions. We are right to be satisfied at our progress . . . but we have no right to be complacent. We need to keep moving the Peace Process into new phases and onto new ground.

National reconciliation is integral to our strategic project. It is the basis from which to persuade for and to build a new Ireland.

We are agents of change which means the status quo for us is not good enough. Bringing about an Ireland at peace with itself is a prerequisite to achieving our ultimate aim of ‘An Ireland of Equals’.

So it is time to begin discussing how shared hurts can be acknowledged, lessened and, if possible, healed.

Part of that will mean attempting to better understand each other and trying to imagine what it might be like to walk in each other’s shoes – to identify with and make sense of our different experiences.

None of that will be possible without an authentic reconciliation process. And this will require new conversations between republicans and the unionist and Protestant community.

And there is never a right moment for that type of dialogue.

However, we may wait indefinitely if we are to wait on others to engage with new thinking and accept the inevitability of taking next steps.

Our generations of republicans are confident about the future and how to go forward because we are visionaries, leaders and nation builders.

We have inherited the proud tradition of Tone, McCracken and Hope – absolutely dedicated to breaking the connection with England but also achieving the unity of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter.

Our strategy sits on a long-term trajectory. It needs to be constantly energised with new challenges and momentum. Had we waited for others during watershed moments over the past 20 years then we would not be here today.

This now is another time for republicans to think long-term and imagine the new possibilities that can emerge from national reconciliation in our time for the benefit of future generations.

Ninety years ago, the Civil War raged in Ireland. In its aftermath, nothing was done to reconcile the seismic hurt and fractures caused.

The result was trans-generational divisions which lasted for decades.

We can stop history repeating itself by leading on the priority for an inclusive reconciliation process in which all sections of our society listen and engage unconditionally with each another, and on the basis of equality and mutual respect.

Republicans should listen carefully to the diverse voices from within the wider unionist and Protestant community: those voices from that community which are committed to engagement and making common purpose based upon an acceptance of our shared humanity; voices which recognise the importance of taking our peace and political processes into a new future.

There are indeed new possibilities to be explored, with imagination, generosity, new language, and new thinking.

Authentic reconciliation needs a process in which dialogue is unconditional, language is humanised, and all voices are heard – republican, unionist, loyalist, and nationalist.

But authentic reconciliation is not a one-way street.

Political unionism has a responsibility to positively embrace this opportunity and engage with the rest of us. And it should do so.

Republicans and unionists are partners in government. We should also become partners in reconciliation.

As republicans across Ireland reflect on the Proclamation this Easter and the new society it envisaged, we should give deep consideration to what more we can do to help meaningfully heal divisions in our country and build national reconciliation.

Our strategy thrives on progressive debate.

We need to keep discussing how we continue to popularise republican objectives across the island; strengthen the Peace Process; and create a future which every Irish citizen can celebrate – based on equality, mutual respect, and understanding.

And we have to relentlessly set out our vision and provide the leadership to bring all that about.

Sinn Féin’s aim is a united Ireland with equality and civil liberties at its core.

We want an Irish Republic based on the Proclamation, which is in control of its own economic and political affairs – free from the grip of austerity, native gombeenism and foreign banks.

We are committed to building an Ireland which takes pride in and cherishes the diversity of its citizens regardless of religion, ethnicity, identity or tradition.

National reconciliation is fundamental to that.

The republican struggle has never been more determined. We are committed and energised to see our objectives achieved.

This is an exciting time to be a republican. There are no limits to what we can do or the potential of our political strength.

It is an important time for new members to become involved and help organise Sinn Féin in every community and neighbourhood. Our party wants your talent, ideas, and energy.

Our republican vision is inspired by the sacrifice of our patriot dead but reinforced by our obligation to the children of the present and future generations.

Today the strategic work of Irish republicans is to bring about an Ireland at peace with itself and which guarantees equality and social justice for all its citizens.

Let us go from here with renewed momentum and confidence and make that vision our shared reality."


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