The following is an edited version of the address by Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams at the annual Easter commemoration in Belfast.
Ninety years ago this Easter an alliance of Irish republican organisations and others, including elements of the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army, Sinn Féin, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the woman’s movement, socialists, trade unionists, nationalists and Irish language activists, rose up against British rule in Ireland and declared a Republic.
Much of this occurred in Dublin but republicans also took up arms elsewhere in the country, including the north.
Six days later, and with the centre of Dublin in ruins the leaders of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic ordered the surrender. In the weeks which followed 15 of the leaders were executed, and four months after that Roger Casement from this county was hanged in London.
The British hoped by the speed of their actions and the scale of the executions that the flame of freedom would be extinguished. They were wrong.
At his court martial Padraig Pearse got it exactly right:
‘Believe that we, too, love freedom and desire it. To us it is more desirable than anything in the world. If you strike us down now, we shall rise again to renew the fight. You cannot conquer Ireland. You cannot extinguish the Irish passion for freedom.’
In my view the vast majority of Irish people recognise this. That is why the decision by the Irish government to re-establish the state commemoration of 1916 is a popular decision.
That is why the streets of Dublin were packed this morning.
That is why in every county on this island, and in the United States and Canada and Australia, and in England and other parts of the world, Irish republicans will gather to celebrate and commemorate the men and women of 1916 and of all the generations since then.
I welcome the reinstatement of the government’s commemoration of 1916. It should never have been abandoned in the first place.
And let us not forget that successive governments didn’t just abandon this event, they also banned other commemorations.
On one shameful occasion, the daughter of James Connolly, Nora Connolly O’Brien, by then an old woman, was arrested for daring to do what Irish republicans have never failed to do - to honour our patriot dead.
All of us are proud to be part of that struggle. It is a struggle which continues.There is now a need for a great national effort to bring it to a conclusion. The Irish government should be part of that effort. The Taoiseach has called for a return to the core values of Irish republicanism.
I welcome that call.
The men and women of 1916 were very definite about the type of Republic they wanted to create.
The Proclamation makes that clear.
It is the heart and soul of Irish republicanism today. But in truth The Proclamation is also unfinished business. It is unfinished business which the vast majority of the Irish people want to see brought to completion.
Are there any real doubts about where Tom Clarke, Sean Mac Diarmada, Thomas MacDonagh; Padraig Pearse; Ceannt, Connolly or Joseph Plunkett, would stand on the great issues of our time?
The Proclamation is about self-determination and democracy. Does anyone think that the men and women of 1916 would settle for a partitioned Ireland?
They fought for and I quote; “A permanent National Government, representative of the whole people of Ireland and elected by the suffrage of all her men and women.”
Does anyone believe that they would block northern representatives being accorded speaking rights in the Dail?
Does anyone believe that they would settle for anything less than an active engagement with the British government and unionism to promote and seek support for reunification?
A central part of the work of Irish republicans in the time ahead is to engage with unionists, to talk to, debate with, but ultimately to seek to persuade unionists that their future and that of their children, lies with the rest of us on this island.
The fact is that no British politician has ever governed in any part of Ireland in the interests of nationalists and republicans and unionists.
They have always governed and exercised power in British interests. And they have used and exploited and deepened the divisions and fears of people to advance British interests.
The result has been exclusion, conflict, division, inequality and poverty.
Let’s talk about these matters. And let us begin by reassuring unionists that we are not in the business of coercing them into a united Ireland.
Instead as we seek to build a shared space in which we can move forward we all must appreciate that, as some northern protestants have said to me, ‘the wise man builds his house upon the rock’.
In this case that means a meaningful, working partnership between nationalists and republicans, unionists and loyalists.
I believe the opportunity to do that now exists.
I believe there is a huge opportunity to fulfil the historic destiny of our people by uniting orange and green in unity and justice and on the basis of equality.
The Peace Process
And it exists in no small measure because of the courage and wisdom of IRA Volunteers.
The announcement by the Irish Republican Army on 28 July to formally end its armed campaign was a historic development.
I want to pay tribute to the Volunteers of the IRA for taking this courageous and unprecedented step in order to advance the cause of peace with justice in Ireland.
Despite the profound difficulties of all this for many republicans, the IRA has provided a unique opportunity to significantly advance the peace process and to open up a new era in politics and relationships on this island and between Ireland and Britain.It is vital that this opportunity is availed of and the peace process advanced.This must include the release of all republican prisoners and an end to the ongoing discrimination against republican ex-prisoners.
The two governments are now faced with a stark choice. Are they going to stand by the Good Friday Agreement or are they going to continue to pander to rejectionist unionism?
The answer to that question will become clear in the time ahead.
The governments have said that they will lift the suspension of the Assembly on May 15th. Sinn Féin will be in Stormont that day. We will be there for one reason and one reason only - the election of a government in line with the Good Friday Agreement.
This also has to be the focus of the Irish and British governments.
Ian Paisley has a decision to make. He has failed in his campaign to smash Sinn Féin. The only way Ian Paisley will exercise political power is in an Executive with Sinn Féin. I do not say that to be triumphalist in any way. I say that because that is the reality which faces him today.
Building unity - building peace
As we gather today to remember the momentous events of Easter week 90 years ago, we should also reflect on those long and difficult months 25 years ago when a British government cruelly and cynically allowed ten of our comrades to die on hunger strike.
The Irish government of the day stood back and let the hunger strikers and their families down, safe in the knowledge that republicans at that time had neither the political strength nor organisation to stop them.
That is a lesson which we all must learn from.
The women in Armagh and the men in the H Blocks were extraordinary people who faced up to repression and resisted it in the only way they could.
Their stand, their determination to assert their rights and the rights of the Irish people continue to inspire us, and we owe them and their families a massive and continuing debt.
It is vitally important that all of us use this anniversary year to tell a new generation of Irish republicans the story of 1981 alongside the history of 1916.
We are right to be proud of the sacrifices of all our patriot dead. And we are determined to make the Proclamation a reality.