Thousands of republicans from across Ireland gathered on July 20 in Sallins, County Kildare, to honour Theobald Wolfe Tone, known as “the father of Irish republicanism”. Tone led an uprising against British rule and for an Irish republic in 1798. When it was defeated, Tone was sentenced to death.
The main speaker at the event was republican party Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew, the newly re-elected member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone in the six northern Irish counties still claimed by Britain. An abridged version of her speech is reprinted below from Sinn Fein’s paper An Phoblacht. The full version can be found at Sinnfein.ie.
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On June 20, 1763, Theobald Wolfe Tone was born in Dublin. A mere 35 years later, he died a young man in a prison cell, having devoted his life to the fight for Irish freedom. More than any other individual, it was he who first brought to the Irish people the idea of democracy and the ideal of an Irish republic.
As proud Irish republicans, we salute Tone’s memory.
My first message is one of thanks to the people of Fermanagh/South Tyrone who elected me and to the Sinn Fein members and supporters from across Ireland who helped in our campaign.
My second message is one of solidarity to the people of Derry and the families of the victims of Bloody Sunday [the January 30, 1972 massacre of unarmed protesters by British soldiers occupying the six counties].
The achievement of the British government’s Saville Report into the murders of 14 innocent civilians and the wounding of 13 others, published on June 15, is your achievement. Finally, the lies of the Widgery report [a whitewash published in April 1972] have been consigned to the dustbin of history.
Saville has also brought to an end a four-decade-long cover-up of the Bloody Sunday massacre, authorised at the highest levels of the British establishment.
Bloody Sunday was not some aberration by rogue soldiers. Just a few months earlier, 11 innocent civilians were shot dead by the British Army in the greater Ballymurphy area of west Belfast.
The Ballymurphy Massacre and Bloody Sunday exposed the malign role of the British Army in Ireland and contributed in a major way to the unfolding conflict.
The ultimate act of justice for all our people will be the final removal of the British Army from Ireland and the end of British rule in our country.
My third message is an international one. Wolfe Tone was an internationalist, a passionate advocate of human liberty across the globe, as are all true Irish republicans.
So a message of solidarity today goes to the people of Gaza and all Palestine. You are an imprisoned people, a ghettoised people, a tortured people.
We salute you and we salute those courageous citizens from all over the world who joined the relief flotilla for Gaza. We remember the members of that flotilla murdered by Israel.
We ask the Irish government and all the governments of the European Union: What more does the Israeli regime have to do before Israeli ambassadors are told to go home, and before the EU ends its special trade agreements with Israel?
The demands are clear: End the blockade of Gaza; free the people of Palestine; and real peace based on justice and human rights.
I want to also thank voters across the six counties who re-elected our five MPs and made Sinn Fein the largest party in that part of our country.
That is a huge achievement for Sinn Fein. But far more important is what we do with the people’s mandate.
In the executive and in the assembly [in the six counties claimed by Britain, in which Sinn Fein share power with the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party as part of the peace process], we will soon be faced with demands for major spending cuts.
Sinn Fein will resist those efforts and work to our utmost to defend services and livelihoods.
But let there be no illusions. We are faced with this situation because the six counties are still under British jurisdiction. Britain denies the assembly the fiscal powers to run our own economy, in our own way, as part of the wider Irish economy.
Elected representatives of all shades in the north should realise that it is in the interests of all the people to work for an all-Ireland economy and for an all-Ireland democracy.
And what is true of elected representatives in the six counties is equally true of those in the 26 counties [that make up the southern state]. There has been much debate recently about the future, economic and political.
However, most of the debate has been deeply partitionist in nature. Few have faced the fact that for a truly new Ireland to emerge, the partition that means six counties are separated from the rest must be ended.
So let us in Sinn Fein again lead that demand.
We need to remind the other political parties what they say they stand for: Fine Gael (FG) — “The United Ireland Party”; Labour, which claims the mantle of socialist republican James Connolly; and Fianna Fáil (FF), which calls itself — god help us — “The Republican Party”.
The parties maintain these claims — token and insincere though they are — because they know that a peaceful, united Ireland is still the sincere aspiration of the majority of people on this island.
But is it more than an aspiration. It is a right.
It is a democratic imperative. It is an economic necessity.
Some commentators have said that to speak of a united Ireland now in the midst of an economic recession is folly. But, in reality, talk of a transformation in Irish politics without addressing the division of our country and people is the talk of fools.
Wolfe Tone said Irish independence would be based on that “numerous and respectable class of the community, the men of no property”.
The people of no property did not cause the economic collapse in Ireland, but they are being made to pay the price.
That price is being paid by half-a-million unemployed, by workers in the public service, industry and agriculture whose incomes have been slashed, by those dependent on social welfare, by patients in hospitals and children in schools who suffer the effects of cuts.
We know who should have paid the price — the top bankers and speculators, the so-called regulators and the corrupt politicians.
But has a single one of them spent even a night behind bars? Not a chance.
And let it be said very clearly — it didn’t have to be this way.
Sinn Fein warned that the property bubble created by FF and their cronies was a disaster waiting to happen. We called for the privileged to be made to pay their way. We called for the wealth to be shared.
We called for a housing policy based on housing need not speculators’ greed.
They refused to listen to us and others who warned against their folly. And now, in their arrogance, they try to wriggle out of responsibility for the huge social and economic mess they created.
We say to FF and their Green mudguards [The Irish Green Party is in coalition with FF in the south and supports neoliberal, anti-environmental policies] — get out of office, call a general election and let the people give you their answer.
We say to Labour: if your vision of a “new politics” is coalition with FG then you are about to let the people down again.
What would be different about economic policy under an FG-led government? The knife making the cuts would have a different coloured handle, that’s all.
The government in the south has abjectly failed the people and the country. It does not have any mandate for cuts to vital public services. Its most recent refusal to hold overdue by-elections because it fears the people’s verdict is shameful.
We have put forward a realistic alternative to the government’s slash and burn policies. We have shown where money could be raised and saved without touching frontline public services or social welfare.
We have launched proposals for retaining and creating jobs, including a specific set of proposals for creating jobs for the young unemployed.
Sinn Fein has joined with huge numbers of people as part of local and state-wide campaigns on all these issues. People are clearly looking for an alternative. They are fed up with the establishment parties.
I am very proud to represent the same constituency as Bobby Sands [the first of 10 republican political prisoners to die on hunger strike in 1981].
Bobby wrote on the first day of his hunger strike diary that he was “born of a risen generation with a deeply rooted and unquenchable desire for freedom”.
We still have that unquenchable desire and we know what freedom will mean. It will mean the slogan for today’s event: “A new republic — a united Ireland”.