Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, speaking at a commemoration in Belfast to mark the 30th Anniversary for IRA Volunteers Joey Surgeoner, Paul Marlowe and Francie Fitzsimmons who were killed in an explosion in the gasworks in October 1976, said “bringing rejectionist unionism into the peace process would be an enormous achievement”. The following is trhe full text of his remarks.
Let me begin by commending all of those involved in organising today’s event. I also want to thank all of you who came here today. We are very proud of our patriot dead and commemorations like this allow us to honour their memory, reflect on their lives and courage in struggle, reminisce about our friends, and remember that each was a son and a brother, a husband.
And so it is with IRA Volunteers Joey Surgenor, Francie Fitzsimons and Paul Marlow.
I want to especially thank their families. Joey was a single man. Francie was married with two children and Paul was married with 3 children.
We owe you the families a huge debt of gratitude. We are proud of you, as we are proud of your loved ones.
They were brave IRA Volunteers who like thousands of other men and women took up arms to defend their families and community, and to resist British oppression and injustice.
Their aim, like Tone and Emmet, Pearse and Connolly, was to establish a new Ireland, a free Ireland, a United Ireland in which orange and green can live together in peace and harmony.
Joey, Francie and Paul were deeply committed to this struggle. All three had been in prison and had returned to the struggle on their release. Paul and I spent some time in Cage 6 in Long Kesh. He was in the bed next to me until he got out. He was one of the good guys. So were his two comrades. They were well known in their districts as decent, honest young men.
They had no illusions about the strength of the enemy or its determination to smash republicanism. All were seasoned Volunteers who had been in the front line of battle.
7 months before their deaths the British government had removed political status. The H Blocks were open for business.
The British policy of criminalisation was in full swing as the Labour government of that time tried to convince the people of the Short Strand, the Markets and the Lower Ormeau that Joey, Francie and Paul and their comrades were criminals. It was a propaganda battle the British could never win.
The people of the Short Strand, the Markets and the Lower Ormeau have endured much hardship at the hands of the Unionist regime and the British military machine.
Sectarian attacks by loyalist death squads have taken its toll. All Catholics were legitimate targets and up until recently these neighbourhoods were burying loved ones killed by sectarian death squads.
Tomorrow is the anniversary of the killing of Sheena Campbell. She was a young mother and a Sinn Féin activist. I mention Sheena because tomorrow is her anniversary but I am mindful of all those who have been killed.
The IRA in this part of our city also lost other volunteers but despite this it remained strong and resolute. But the IRA could not have existed without popular support.
That support saw ordinary families run enormous risks to feed and clothe and shelter and protect IRA Volunteers. Without doubt the republican people of these neighbourhoods are unbowed and unbroken. But the IRA is not merely an army of soldiers; it is an army of political activists.
In every successful liberation struggle there is a phase of reconstruction, of securing peace with justice, of national reconciliation, of nation building. This requires negotiation and outreach. It demands patience and generosity. To move from one phase of struggle is not only a matter of political judgement and strategic or tactical planning. It requires political courage.
The IRA cessation in 1994 demonstrated that courage. Army men and women took decisions which provided a space in which a peace process could be developed. Again and again and again republicans have demonstrated commitment to that peace process.
The decisions last year by the IRA to end its armed campaign and to deal with the issue of weapons were truly historic and represented a brave and confident initiative. It was a momentous and defining point in the search for a lasting peace with justice.
And it opened up the possibility of making significant progress. It also presented a significant challenge to the British and Irish governments and to the Unionists, as well as to republicans.
And Sinn Féin has worked hard to seize the opportunities created by the IRA. Today Irish republicanism is stronger and there are more Irish republicans on this island than at any time since partition. We have to continue to build political strength as we advance our republican goals of independence and freedom. But with political strength comes a responsibility to deliver for the people we represent. Our responsibility is also to see beyond our own support base. And we take these responsibilities very seriously.
I know that many of you have been watching the events of this week closely. I know that many of you are coe Troubles’.
So it is a big concession by republicans to share power with the DUP.
Remember it’s not so long ago that Ian Paisley was vowing to smash Sinn Féin. He failed miserably in that enterprise.
Our endeavour is to make peace with him and those he represents because we are avowedly anti-sectarian. We are prepared to make peace. Our watchword is equality. Equality includes those citizens represented by the DUP.
We are Irish republicans. We are first class citizens. Those we represent are first class citizens and we will have our rights and entitlements.
Last Friday the two governments set out their proposals.
I want to ask everyone here today, and republicans the length and breadth of the country to be part of our efforts to plot a way forward.
Let me remind everyone here that negotiations have been an integral part of our struggle, of your struggle for some time. What we achieve we achieve together as we move forward in a united and cohesive way.
That does not mean that we cannot disagree with each other. Of course we can and we should when appropriate and be secure in our right to dissent.
We are a democratic community of activists and all of us must take ownership of this process.
So far no one has agreed to these proposals except the British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach.
Issues of this importance, with such major implications, require careful study. They need comradely debate and thorough discussion.
Our leadership will consult with our party membership and the wider republican community to see if these proposals contain the potential to resolve outstanding issues and deliver the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
We need to do this calmly and with political maturity but critically, if Sinn Féin is to respond positively to these proposals they must have the potential to deliver equality, accountable civic policing, human rights and the full restoration of the institutions.
The party leadership will meet in the coming days to start this process when I will brief the Ard Chomhairle.
And Sinn Féin will also continue to discuss these and other related matters with the two governments.
There is still much work to be done.
Of course, the DUP will try to portray any movement by them as a series of unionist victories. That is only to be expected. If there is to be agreement by the DUP to the governments proposals they will be sold by them in these terms. And probably in language that many people will find objectionable.
But we have to be more mature than that.
As Bobby Sands, said,” Our victory will be the liberation of all”.
If there is any potential for victory in these proposals it must be a victory not for one party over another, not for one section of our people over another, it must be a victory, as Bobby said for all.
So Irish republicans will, and must, judge these proposals on whether they can move us nearer to the Ireland that we have struggled so long to achieve.
The Irish government too has a particular responsibility.
If the peace process is going to advance, if the promise of the Good Friday Agreement is to be realized then the Irish government needs to look beyond its own narrow interests.
It needs to think in terms of the national interest -- that is the interests of all the people of this island.
It needs to look at nationalists and unionists in the Six Counties as fellow countrymen and women.
This will involve a major change in mindset by the conservative parties in Leinster House.
It means no longer taking decisions that stop at Dundalk but living up to the often used rhetoric of Irish republicanism and talk of a United Ireland.
The Sinn Féin project is straightforward.
We are about ending domination, division, discrimination and British rule in our country. We are about delivering a better Ireland for all of our people.
We are about equality, justice, freedom and peace. We are about a future for all the Irish people, nationalist and unionist alike which puts the conflict and injustice of the past behind us.
Standing here today I see many who have been involved in this struggle for more years than we care to remember. I also see many young people.
In the time ahead we need you to join with us in advancing the republican goals.
But today is also a day for remembering Joey, Francie and Paul, who along with hundreds of others gave their lives that we might be free.
In their time the only way to demand our national rights was through armed actions or support for armed actions. That was an option not least because all other options were brutally closed down by the British state in Ireland, by the Orange state in which Ian Paisley was a critical influence.
Joey, Francie and Paul responded to that. Now there are other options. Now we are in a phase of transition from an unacceptable form of society towards a national republic.
This will continue to challenge us. Have no doubt about that.
We are also mindful that we would not be where we are today if it were not for the sacrifices of those we commemorate. Their absence reminds us of how much we and particularly their families have lost. Each one was a unique, irreplaceable human being.
These were ordinary men and women who in extraordinary and difficult circumstances found the inner strength, determination and courage to stand against injustice and oppression, to demand the rights and entitlements of the Irish people.
Our task - our duty - is to make their vision their dream - a reality.