RSF annual conference
RSF annual conference
Republican Sinn Féin held its centenary annual conference in Dublin at the weekend. The following is an edited version of the speech delivered on Sunday by the party’s President, Ruairi O Bradaigh.


A chairde, this month we celebrate the 100th birthday of Sinn Féin. This, then, is no ordinary Ard-Fheis but the centenary of our historic organisation. Sinn Féin is mentioned in the various encyclopaedias and even in dictionaries. A sample entry (Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary 1981 Edition) reads: “A political movement and party in Ireland championing a republic and later opposing partition”.

Brian O’Higgins, writing in his Wolfe Tone Annual of 1949, stated: “The constitution of Sinn Féin in 1905, and certainly the spirit of it, was at least as clearly Separatist as was the constitution of Sinn Féin in and after 1917”. That constitution of 1905 had as its object “the re-establishment of the Independence of Ireland”.

When, 50 years later, Padraig Mac Logain gave his Presidential Address to the Ard-Fheis of Sinn Féin, Brian O’Higgins and the Donegal author and poet Seamus Mc Manus, who were there in 1905, were still staunch Republicans and supporters of the Movement.

Another 50 years on and the Ard Oifig of Republican Sinn Féin has carried a banner all year saying “Sinn Féin 1905-2005 - One Hundred Years - Unbroken Continuity”. A suitable plaque to mark the centenary was unveiled on the front wall of our Belfast office by veteran Republican Billy McKee.

During the past year the deterioration of the Provisional Movement accelerated towards its inevitable conclusion. The political surrender begun in 1986 with their acceptance of the 26-County parliament at Leinster House was followed in due course by their crawling into Stormont and administering English rule in the Six Counties as Ministers of the Crown.

Offices in Westminster were taken up next with the acceptance of heavy subsidies of #107,000 sterling per year for each of their “Members of (the British) Parliament”. Well and truly can it be said that those “who pay the piper call the tune”. Unlike the Officials who attempted to do all of this in one move, the Provo leadership learned from the Officials and proceeded more cautiously employing deceit and duplicity and even downright untruths to dupe their adherents. Three steps forward and two backwards, making a net advance of one step each time.

Military collapse followed political surrender as surely as day followed night. Arms and volunteers were there as never at any stage since 1922, but leadership was lacking. As it did in the aftermath of the Treaty of Surrender in 1921, the British government forced the counter-revolution on the Provos, first with a unilateral ceasefire and then with the voluntary destruction of arms, ammunition and explosives. This year they completed the demolition of all their military stores. An army without arms is no longer an army and the Provisionals can no longer pretend to oppose British rule here in arms.

All the while they seek to re-write history to their own advantage. They tell the Irish people that the struggle was merely for civil rights under British rule and that they have won! In no way would sacrifices such as were made since 1969 be justified simply to reform English rule in this country. The struggle was to get the British government OUT of Ireland for good and glory and to make the Irish people supreme in their own country - and for nothing less.

To complete the counter-revolution, the British Establishment requires the Provisionals to accept the RUC/PSNI, to take part in their management, to recruit for them and to join their ranks. If their performance to date is anything to go by, they will become the new Broy Harriers, hounding and oppressing their former comrades in the interests of British imperialism. Already they have joined the British forces and the 26-County State forces in threatening and intimidating owners and managers of premises where functions are to be held in support of Republican prisoners’ dependants.

In spite of Mr. Ahern having said that “the constitutional issue is settled”, the struggle will continue until the renowned Irish Question is resolved with an end to the British government presence here. The Eire Nua proposals for a new federation of the four provinces provide for the sharing of power on the basis of local majorities, including a nine-county Ulster.

The fact that the Provos have departed from the stage and no longer pretend even to be a revolutionary organisation is a definite gain. They can now clearly be treated as just another establishment political party. But the use by them - even in this centenary year - of the historic name of Sinn Féin when they have broken its constitution and treacherously abandoned all that Sinn Féin stood for down the decades is an obvious loss and causes confusion in people’s minds.

In no way does that celebrated title belong in Westminster, Stormont or Leinster House. After all, was not Sinn Féin founded a hundred years ago to withdraw from Westminster and all its works and pomp - the fountain-head of imperialism - and yet the Provos sup there. They take the shilling and drink the soup.

Under the Stormont Agreement in 1998 the Provos signed away political status for future Republican prisoners - a right dearly won by our hunger-strikers. In the years since then a hard struggle has been engaged in, both inside and outside the prisons to reclaim political status. This has been successful to a degree but the Republican Prisoners Action Group has this year listed the outstanding demands of the prisoners in Maghaberry Jail.

These are: the right to education, to adequate medical treatment, to free association, to open family visits and an end to humiliating strip-searching. An end to harassment of visitors, and in some cases of lawyers, is also sought. We must stand by the Republican prisoners in Maghaberry and Portlaoise Prisons and their families. We salute them all in their stand and their endurance, and send warmest greetings to them from this Ard-Fheis.

This summer, according to published RUC/PSNI reports, the number of sectarian attacks in the five months April to August has doubled. Nationalist families, throughout Co Antrim particularly, have been pipe-bombed, paint-bombed and petrol-bombed out their homes. Schools and churches have been targeted and we condemn equally the attacks on Protestant as well as on Catholic places of worship. Over 700 attacks took place in the five months, twice the number in the same period last year.

The nationalist nightmare has increased in intensity. Indeed it was pathetic to see a delegation from the last remaining nationalist families in Ahoghill, Co Antrim making its way to Leinster House in August asking for help and protection. Many of you are, no doubt, too young to remember but is this not a repeat of such events in 1969 - only this time the delegation was accompanied by a Provo councillor.

After 36 years and all that sacrifice, this is where the Provisionals have led the people - back to where they started out. Unfortunately for the nationalists of the Six Counties, assistance and defence for them from Leinster House are like Free State

“Republicanism”, purely verbal in nature.

The unionist-oriented people, for their part, have seen the certainties of the past give way to uncertainty, confusion and bewilderment. England, on whom they relied so much in the past, has little or nothing to offer them at this stage. Many of them have come to realise this.

The nationalists, on the other hand, have cultural and psychological links and a sense of belonging to the people of the rest of Ireland. Continuous rebuffs by England will increase the unionists’ sense of isolation and they could become the great losers in all of this.

We would remind them that their place in the Irish nation was long since bought in their own blood. We can visualise Henry Joy McCracken leading his men into Antrim town and Henry Munro at the head of the United Irishmen at Ballynahinch. The names of Betsy Gray and Jemmy Hope come to mind.

The ground the unionists stand on politically narrows all the time, as can be seen from the results of each successive local council election. We ask them, once more, to consider the EIRE NUA programme which offers the most secure and generous means of taking their rightful place, as equals, in the historic Irish nation.

While wealth accumulates but at social and environmental cost, an anti-national agenda is being pursued on a wide scale. Unionist demands are increasing as political commentators and letters to editors of newspapers seek to have us as a people forget the whole idea of a free and united Ireland. Unless British rule in the Six Counties and the status quo since 1921 is accepted, there will never be peace in Ireland, they tell us. Neither the 26-County Establishment nor the Provo political party who have the ear of the media stand up to these people and answer them.

The coming year requires renewed dedication and energy from our members. Our political education programme needs to be stepped up to counter the acceptance of English rule here and the normalisation of English influence; to foster matters Gaelic and strengthen working class resistance to exploitation; to step up our opposition to imperialist wars and protect our environment and natural resources; to promote EIRE NUA - a New Democracy, SAOL NUA - a New Way of Life and Towards a Peaceful Ireland. We need to develop a many-sided approach to our objectives and prevent them being misrepresented to the people.

The year 2006 marks the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising of 1916 as well as the 25th commemoration of the sacrifices on hunger-strike in 1981. We must be up and doing, losing no opportunity to reach the Irish people and make them aware of our glorious past, our stimulating present and our vision of the future.

Let us arise! Victory to the Irish people An Phoblacht Abu.

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© 2005 Irish Republican News