Members of the Irish community and supporters of Irish freedom gathered at the Irish Martyr's memorial Waverley Cemetery in Sydney on April 20 to commemorate the 98th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. Leaders of the rising proclaimed Irish independence from Britain. The rising was crushed, but it became a powerful symbol of Ireland's struggle for freedom.
The event was organised by the Irish National Association and commemorations were also held in Melbourne and Perth. Below is an abridged version of the speech delivered in Sydney by Emma Clancy on behalf of the Cairde Sinn Fein Australia. The full version is published at Cairde Sinn Fein.
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We are fast approaching the centenary of the Easter Rising. In 1916, Dublin was the city that fought an empire. On Easter Monday, 1200 men and women set out to bring an end to British rule in Ireland during World War I ― in their words, to “strike a blow for freedom”.
The leaders, including the seven signatories to the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, were executed by the British.
The nationalist women’s group Cumann na mBan, founded 100 years ago this year, created the Easter lily in 1925 as a tribute to all those who died in the struggle for independence from British rule.
Wearing Easter lilies to honour Ireland’s patriot dead, we make no distinction between those who died in 1916 and the republicans who died in the 1981 hunger strikes.
We honour equally the republican men and women who fell in the years of struggle from 1916 to 1923 and those who gave their lives in the more recent conflict that broke out in 1969.
And we remember not only the individuals who led the Easter Rising, but their vision and the ideals they died for. These ideals were best articulated by James Connolly, Padaric Pearse and the other signatories of the proclamation ― of national sovereignty, equality, social justice, and democratic rights for all.
Decade of centenaries
Last year marked the start of a decade of centenaries of pivotal events in Ireland’s struggle for independence.
Last year, we marked the centenary of the Great Lockout of 1913, when Dublin's bosses declared war on workers and their families.
The choice presented to the workers was stark. They could obey the bosses, resign from their union and go back to their tenement slums and poverty with their heads down. Or they could resist. Thousands chose resistance.
Through 1913 and 1914, they faced police brutality, press vilification, Church condemnation and starvation. They seemed defeated, but out of their struggle arose a revived trade union movement and a proud working class.
In the decades since the lockout, those whom the leader of the 1798 rebellion Wolfe Tone called the people of no property, were offered that same choice ― resign or resist.
They were told to resign themselves to their fate when Ireland was partitioned and a sectarian Orange state was established in the six counties in Ireland's north. But the followers of Tone and Connolly resisted, and stood by the Proclamation of the Republic.
Half a century after the proclamation, the civil rights movement in the six counties stepped forward and was met with the same choice ― resign yourselves to the reality of a one-party sectarian state or resist.
They chose resistance. Police brutality was resisted. Internment was resisted. The British Army was resisted. Criminalisation in the H-Blocks and Armagh prison was resisted. Collusion and censorship and the demonisation of whole communities were resisted.
They could not defeat a risen people.
But as we know, the struggle is not over. Republicans had always made clear that if a peaceful and democratic path of struggle towards our objectives was opened up, then we were morally and politically obliged to take that path.
The peace process opened that new way forward and the Irish Republican Army endorsed that new strategy, that new road to our objectives, and set aside armed actions for good.
The peace process must be built upon and this is a work in progress. The scourge of sectarianism remains. The past threatens to trip up the future.
Dealing with the past
Overcoming sectarianism and taking steps towards reconciliation involves reaching out to the unionist community [supporters of the six counties' “union” with Britain]. A real reconciliation process is essential to create trust between unionists and nationalists, and between both parts of Ireland.
Those who follow Irish politics closely would know it is more than three months now since Dr Richard Haass and Professor Meghan O’Sullivan presented compromise proposals to deal with the outstanding issues of flags, parades and the past in the six counties.
The unionist political parties have either rejected the Haass proposals or prevaricated. The British government has walked away from its commitments under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, and subsequent agreements, and this is emboldening intransigent unionism.
There is an effort on the part of unionist parties to roll back the progress made since the Good Friday Agreement. This cannot be allowed to happen.
There remain many outstanding justice and legacy issues in the north that need to be addressed. These include ongoing struggles over truth recovery, and ensuring there is transparency, accountability and a rights-based approach to policing and justice.
Republicans in Ireland are engaged in political struggles over these issues every day. We in Australia can play our part in bringing pressure to bear on the British and Irish governments to fulfill their obligations under the Good Friday and other agreements.
Supporters of Irish independence in Australia have added to international pressure to defend the rights of republican communities in the past.
During the 1981 hunger strike, in which 10 republican prisoners died demanding basic rights in the British-run H-Blocks, people around the world mobilised in support of the prisoners’ rights. Thousands marched through the streets of Australian cities.
After Bobby Sands died, shipworkers in Wollongong refused to handle British ships in protest. Support like this is very much appreciated from those in Ireland.
The Proclamation of 1916 continues to motivate Irish republicans struggling for reunification and equality. Its message of freedom, of cherishing all the nation's children equally, is still relevant today.
Connolly predicted the partition of Ireland would lead to a carnival of reaction. And it did. Partition created two reactionary states in Ireland ― the six county statelet in the north and the 26 county state in the south ― which the conservative political, church and business elites shaped to protect their self-interests.
The southern Irish state today is not a place that lives up to the principles of the Proclamation.
It is, on the contrary, a state in which a corrupt political elite has brought the economy to its knees to prop up and pay their equally corrupt allies in the Irish banking sector. It is not a state of equal opportunities for all citizens; it is a state of brown envelopes and golden circles.
Irish people, north and south, have faced a considerable period of economic hardship. Hundreds of thousands are unemployed. Many more struggle to survive.
Highly educated young people are leaving the country as emigration continues to be used by the Irish government as a safety valve. Many of them are arriving here in Australia.
The Irish people have been forced to witness the spectacle of an Irish government acting as a mere agent for the European Union and International Monetary Fund in Ireland.
The enforced austerity by the Fine Gael/Labour coalition in Dublin and the Tory-led coalition in London is the antithesis of everything the Rising and Proclamation envisaged. To stand for the ideals of 1916, must mean standing against austerity; and standing up for the vulnerable, those unable to care for themselves, and the working poor, north and south.
There is no middle way between the inequality driven by British and Irish conservatives, and the egalitarian values of our Proclamation.
The Irish people have once again been faced with the choice between resigning themselves to vicious austerity or resisting.
We can take heart in the fact that people are standing up and fighting back. Republican ideas and politics have more popular support today than they have for almost 100 years.
More and more people are getting involved in a new political struggle for the Irish people to be able to determine their own affairs and have ownership of the country’s resources.
Young people are increasingly getting involved in the struggle for this new republic and, guided by the principles of the proclamation, are working to make republican politics relevant to a new generation.
Today, the mobilisation of the Irish diaspora and supporters in support of Irish unity is a central part of Sinn Fein’s strategy for reunification.
In recent years, we launched the Uniting Ireland campaign. This is a broad national and international campaign to build support for Irish reunification through a border poll under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
Large, successful conferences have been held on this theme in the US, Canada and Britain. This year, the campaign is being launched in Australia, and we urge all supporters of Irish unity to support it.
We are delighted to announce that Sinn Fein vice-president Mary Lou McDonald will visit Australia to support this campaign in September.
Video: Speech by Sinn Fein vice-president Mary Lou McDonald at the Derry Easter Rising commemoration on April 20. She will be touring Australia in September. Sinn Fein Derry.
Video: Thousands of people attend Easter Rising commemoration in Belfast on April 20. Sinn Féin.