More than 2,000 republicans gathered in Belfast city centre at the weekend for the 23rd annual commemoration of the 1981 hunger strikes.
Sinn Féin’s Bairbre de Brun addressed a rally in front of the city hall, where feeder parades from north, south, east and west Belfast had converged.
Republicans from south Armagh, south Derry and County Louth walked with the west Belfast parade.
Ms de Brun criticised the Independent Monitoring Commission, which recently alleged that senior members of Sinn Féin were also members of the IRA, as an attempt “to criminalise republicans”.
“In 1981 the British government attempted to criminalise the republican struggle for Irish unity and independence,” she said.
“In 2004 they are once again attempting to criminalise republicans in order to halt our political advance and the advance of our agenda for change.
“Then, like now, the objective of the British government was to prevent change. Now, like then, republican objectives are to bring change about.
“Sinn Féin will refuse to bow to this policy of criminalisation and disenfranchisement, and the march today sends out a clear message to the British government that we will not be criminalised and we will not be marginalised,” she said.
One of the dominant themes of Ms de Brun’s speech was collusion between the state and loyalist groups, which she described as “a human rights scandal”.
“The policy of collusion has never been reversed. It remains intact. The British agencies, which carried out this policy, remain in place today,” she said.
“This is an unresolved issue and in the interests of justice and reconciliation it must be addressed.
“The murder of citizens through collusion with unionist death squads has been and remains a British state policy in Ireland.
“Collusion was sanctioned at the highest level of the British government. The British government need to tell us how it intends to bring about an end to collusion,” she said.
Ms de Brun further criticised the British government’s handling of the peace process.
“Another echo from the hunger strike period is the apparent inability of the British government to stand over agreement it has reached with republicans,” she said.
“The last five years have seen Tony Blair’s government renege on key elements of the Good Friday Agreement and on subsequent agreements emerging from negotiations,” she said.
Ms de Brun also criticised the Independent Monitoring Commission as a “blatant attempt by the British government to criminalise Sinn Féin and our electorate”.