Irish Republican News · February 20, 2006
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: Struggle has changed but goals remain - Adams
Struggle has changed but goals remain - Adams
The following is an abridged version of the speech by Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams to the party’s annual conference on Saturday.

Twenty-five years ago, the men and women in the H-blocks and Armagh had already announced that another hunger strike would begin on March 1st. Many of my generation will remember that time well, although I always find it difficult to talk about it.

It is difficult to do justice to those who died. I am still amazed that I knew such men. And for those who were close to them, there remains a raw emotional wound. It’s also hard to recapture a sense of that time for those who weren’t there.

Twenty-five years ago Nelson Mandela was on Robben Island and apartheid looked set to last forever. Twenty-five years ago dictators of various hues were in the ascendancy. Maggie Thatcher ruled Britain; Pinochet’s Chile was a byword for torture, and war raged on the streets of the six counties.

But for many Irish people, that period brings back immediate memories of those long eight months in 1981 when Bobby Sands, Francie Hughes, Patsy O’Hara, Raymond McCreesh, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Tom McElwee, and Michael Devine, all died on hunger strike. Almost 50 died outside the prison. Seven, including three children, were killed by plastic bullets and hundreds were wounded.

The conditions which led to the hunger strikes were created when London, supported by Dublin, tried to criminalise republicans. The logic was simple. If there were hundreds of political prisoners, how could the struggle be depicted as mere wanton criminality? The British decided that the prisons were to be a breaker’s yard for republicans. The British government didn’t want a settlement, it wanted victory.

But the republican prisoners, the women in Armagh and the blanket men, would not be criminalised. In extraordinary circumstances, they took on the entire might of the British.

Of course the grief and anger at the death of the 10 hunger strikers extended far beyond their families and friends. Here in this city the political establishment sat in silence, but Dublin came to a standstill. People stopped work, young people walked out of schools, many businesses closed, tens of thousands took to the streets in scenes that were replicated across Ireland and the world.

In censored times, the prisoners cut through all the spin and disinformation. Everyone took sides. Either you supported Thatcher or you supported the prisoners.

After the strike ended and 10 men were dead, the British government moved to bring about the prisoners’ five demands. The prisoners won but at a terrible price. British government policy failed, once again.

Ninety years ago, a small number of men and women went out on to the streets of this city and challenged the greatest superpower of the day. Many of the republicans, especially Connolly and Pearse, also saw their endeavour in global terms.

In Ireland in 1916, things changed utterly, for the British, but also for the Irish. A republic was declared, but not just any republic. This republic was uniquely democratic and determinedly inclusive. Its core values were mapped out in the Proclamation. The Proclamation hangs in many homes, it prefaces many books. I would appeal to you all to read it - really read it.

The Proclamation is a freedom charter for this whole island and all the people who live here. And at a time when women did not have the vote, it supported universal suffrage. The Proclamation is a declaration of social and economic intent for a rights-based society in which the people are sovereign. These are not just clever words or empty rhetoric.

I welcome the Taoiseach’s announcement that the State will mark the anniversary of 1916. An inclusive, civic and cultural celebration which educates us all, particularly about Irish republicanism, which measures our society against the Proclamation, is the best way to honour the visionaries of that time, not a military parade.

The reason for the re-establishment of the State event has been the accusation that Sinn Féin hijacked the legacy of 1916. This party is part of that legacy. We never hijacked 1916.

The truth is that Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour and all the rest of them abandoned 1916. They also rewrote the Proclamation.

In their writ, the ownership of Ireland belongs not to the people of this island but to the giants of globalisation. In their writ, the right of the people of this island to the unfettered, indivisible and sovereign control of our destinies has been handed over to the bureaucrats of the European Union.

In their writ, there is no notion of cherishing all the children of the nation equally. They cherish only those who can pay for it. In their writ, our right to national freedom and the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all its parts has been set aside in the interests of the few.

There are more republicans in Ireland today than at any time in our history. There are many more republicans on this island than there are members of Sinn Féin.

It is over 10 years since the IRA’s historic cessation. This last year in some respects saw an even more momentous decision with the IRA’s decision to formally end its armed campaign and put its weapons beyond use.

I want to commend the courageous and confident vision of the IRA volunteers. In the past I have defended the right of the IRA to engage in armed struggle. I did so because there was no alternative for those who would not bend the knee or turn a blind eye to oppression, or for those who wanted a national republic.

Now there is an alternative. I have clearly set out my view of what that alternative is. But if republicans are to prevail, if the peace process is to be successfully concluded and Irish sovereignty and reunification secured, then we have to set the agenda - no one else is going to do that.

The decisions by the IRA were undoubtedly deeply difficult for many. There are republicans still trying to come to terms with it many months later. Indeed, undoubtedly there are some who believe that the IRA has made a mistake. They are entitled to their opinion but to no more than that. No one should harbour the notion that the republican struggle can be advanced any further by an armed campaign. This leadership is firmly opposed to such a departure.

The IRA initiatives also present challenges to others. The IRA has removed themselves from the picture and those genuinely interested in peace need to stop looking for excuses.

Progress in the peace process will create stability, opportunity, wealth, and will improve our standard of living. Failure will set all this back by decades. The months ahead are critical. I have made it clear from the republican perspective - the war is over. But, unfortunately, powerful elements within the British system have both a war mentality and the resources to sustain this. We have told the British prime minister that this is not acceptable.

In my April appeal to the IRA, I made the point that commitments, including commitments from the two governments, were reneged on in the past. History will not be kind to any government, whether it is the PD/Fianna Fail coalition here in Dublin or the one led by Mr Blair in London, if it puts party political considerations above the peace process.

The Taoiseach’s decision to renege on his commitment to proceed with Northern representation in the Oireachtas is not acceptable. Rhetorical words about 1916 and the Republic need to be backed up by action.

I want to direct some remarks to other republicans, to those who are frequently labelled by the media as ‘dissidents’. Obviously there are fundamental differences between us, but all republicans and nationalists want a united Ireland, an end to British involvement in Irish affairs, the release of all political prisoners.

I am asking that you look objectively at the current political situation. I am asking that you carefully consider your options and I am calling upon you to debate these matters.

I have huge reservations about how the two governments are approaching the Good Friday agreement talks. This time they are pandering to the DUP. There can be no dilution of the Good Friday agreement to allow for a two-tier or two stages approach or British-appointed commissioners, to run the North. British direct rule is also not an option.

So, the focus of our negotiators in the weeks ahead is straightforward: an end to the undemocratic suspension of the institutions; the triggering of the mechanism for electing the Executive; delivery on outstanding aspects of the agreement; the conclusion of the policing debate on the basis set out in December 2004 and the delivery of a peace dividend for the North and Border counties.

So there are challenges for unionism and questions they need to answer.

I have a question for Ian Paisley - are you ready to begin the process of building a shared future? One thing is for certain, Sinn Féin is not going away. And there is another thing that all of us can be certain of - change will continue.

For example, the annual crisis caused by the small number of contentious loyal order parades must be sorted out.

The imperative of conflict resolution begs another question of Ian Paisley - Ian, is your war over?

War in Iraq, conflict in the Middle East, countless wars in Africa, unimaginable poverty and deprivation across the globe, hunger, disease, environmental disasters and the fear of more to come, globalisation and the exploitation of workers, racism and sectarianism, injustice and oppression, are all huge issues which need to be tackled.

Ireland has a place in the world and a responsibility to change it. That is why I call again on the Government to immediately suspend the use of Shannon airport for US troops travelling to the Gulf. The recent video footage of British soldiers beating young Iraqis is a stark reminder of the dehumanising aspects of conflict and a familiar experience for many Irish people.

There should be real democracy in Iraq. Sinn Féin calls for the British and US governments to withdraw from that country and allow the Iraqi people to determine their own future.

Society here is more unequal than it was 15 years ago at the beginning of this period of economic growth. Some are much better off, but many are working longer hours and commuting long distances because they cannot afford to live near their place of work. There are also - to the Irish Government’s great shame - tens of thousands living in poverty.

At a time of unprecedented growth, 15 per cent of all children live in consistent poverty, while one-in-four are at risk of poverty.

After 15 years of growth it is a disgrace that people are left waiting for days on hospital trolleys, that people can’t afford a home and that the transport system is gridlocked. In 1980 there were over 17,500 acute hospital beds. Despite the increasing population, there are now only 12,000.

This State has an under-resourced and over-burdened public health system, yet it gives taxpayers’ money to a thriving private health sector. Those who can afford to pay avail of the best that is available in the private system.

Sinn Féin is committed to a public health system accessible to all on the basis of need and delivered to best-practice standards.

Every citizen should have the same standard of care. Why? Because people have rights. That, Ms Harney, includes the right to a public health system. If you want private hospitals, use your own money. Stop using the taxpayers’ money to fund your friends in the private sector.

House prices continue to rise faster than wages. Building land around most cities, especially in Dublin, is controlled by a tiny cartel of builders and land speculators with friends in high places.

They have no interest in letting prices fall - their interest is bigger profits. The current system is not working. Affordable and social housing should be provided directly through local authorities and voluntary organisations.

The money is there to do this.Does anyone think this Government has the will or the strategy? No chance. But Sinn Féin has.

There was a very belated but nonetheless welcome recognition by Fianna Fail and the PDs that their policy on childcare has failed children and families.

Having recognised the problem, the response was pathetic. They should have brought in an immediate increase in paid maternity leave to six months, with a rapid extension of leave to one year thereafter. They can also afford to introduce paid paternity leave and a comprehensive and free pre-school system for all under-fours.

The experience of the Irish abroad in the 19th and for much of the 20th centuries is now a depressing feature of life for others in 21st-century Ireland.

There has been a gradual EU- wide drive to erode workers’ conditions. The amendments to the EU services directive this week were deceptive - the country of origin principle may have been renamed, but it remains at the heart of the directive.

Sinn Féin welcomes new communities of all nationalities. We reject racism and discrimination in any form. Immigrant workers are not the problem. The problem is unscrupulous employers who exploit immigrant workers with low pay and poor conditions.

Unlike the Labour Party leader, Sinn Féin will not embrace populist policies which risk setting one group of workers in the existing workforce against migrant workers. If Irish and migrant workers have the same pay and conditions, this removes any financial benefit for unscrupulous employers who might otherwise seek to displace existing workers. That’s common sense.

The wellbeing of a state cannot be measured only by how much wealth it produces. The real test is in how that wealth is used, the real test is equality. This State fails that test - miserably.

In 2005, the country’s two major banks, AIB and Bank of Ireland, made profits of almost O2.8 billion - and are liable for corporation tax at only 12.5 per cent. These banks are not even the worst.

Of the top 100 individual earners in the South in 2005, 41 of them paid less than 5 per cent income tax. Sinn Féin would effectively tax high earners. Sinn Féin would increase taxes on capital gains, property speculation and corporate profits.

Of course, our policies will be attacked by those who have mismanaged the Celtic Tiger’s boom years.

They privatise highways and give their friends permission to erect toll booths. They sell off public services, penalise working people and reward the wealthy. They hand over natural resources to multinationals like Shell and jail the victims of this sell-out.

The Mahon tribunal has focused on the payments made to crooked politicians by corrupt developers. There is a certain irony that many of these payments were made in Conway’s bar at the corner of Parnell Street and Moore Lane, close to where Padraic Pearse ended the Rising.

It is little wonder that the establishment abandoned the 1916 commemoration when they did. For many of them, they probably think of the GPO only as a place to buy brown envelopes.

We have, along with others, been key architects of the peace process. Of course, there have been difficulties. Last year I pledged our support for the family of Robert McCartney. We continue to support them in their campaign for justice. Let no one be in any doubt about that.

There now exists time and opportunity for all political parties which espouse Irish unity, and democrats generally, to build a broad movement to debate and plan the type of Ireland we want.

Ireland and the world is a different place today from when the Rising’s leaders assembled on Easter Monday. It is a different place from when Bobby Sands began his hunger strike on March 1st 25 years ago.

Our struggle has changed, but our values and objectives remain. They are the Proclamation’s core values. And don’t let the preoccupation of the other parties with Sinn Féin go to your head. It will be the voters who will choose.

We will be in a power-sharing government in the North once again and, if we have the mandate and if we can secure an inter-party government and a programme for government which is consistent with our republican objectives, we will look at being in government in the South.

But we have no interest in positions for the sake of them, or for ministerial perks or to make up the numbers; others have shown themselves more than suited to this task. Our sole purpose of going into government is to bring about the maximum change.

We will never meekly serve our time. Our objective is an all-Ireland parliament for all of the people of Ireland.

The men and women of 1916 were visionaries. So were the hunger strikers. We need to be visionaries too. This is a time to be confident. And to have faith in the changes we are making.

It has become almost a national pastime for Irish people to run ourselves down. Occasionally it is good to remind ourselves that Ireland - all 32 counties - is a great country. And we are proud of it. Let’s make it a better place for everyone who lives here. Deanaimis cinnte go mbeidh saol nios fearr ag ar gcuid paisti na an saol a bhi againn Féin.

Bobby Sands had a word for all of us. ‘Never give up’ he said. ‘No matter how bad or black or painful or heartbreaking, never give up, never despair, never lose hope.’ We, who live in much better times, have every reason to be equally determined and positive.

On Wednesday July 29th 1981 I visited the prison hospital in Long Kesh to meet the hungerstrikers. By that point Bobby, Francie, Raymond, Patsy, Joe and Martin were dead. Kevin, Tom and Micky died later Among those I spoke to was Kieran Doherty. He died three days later after 71 days on hungerstrike.. I was awed by his dignity, as he lay propped up on one elbow, in his prison hospital bed, blind as a result of the hungerstrike.

Doc had a word for us all also. ‘Lean ar aghaidh’ he said. Advance. ‘They think they can break us. Well they can’t. Lean ar aghaidh, he said. Tiocfaidh ar la’.

© 2006 Irish Republican News