Women in Struggle
Women in Struggle

The theme of Sinn Fein's Edentubber Commemoration this year was the role of women in the struggle for Irish freedom. The following is the text of the address by Bairbre de Brun, MEP.

Fifty-one years ago close to the spot where we gather today, five Republicans, IRA Volunteers lost their lives in a premature explosion. Paul Smith from Bessbrook, Oliver Craven from Newry, George Keegan from Enniscorthy, Paddy Parle from Wexford Town and Michael Watters, who owned the cottage where the fatal explosion occurred.

Bliain is caoga o shin, congarach don ait ina bhfuilimid bailithe le cheile inniu, chaill Cuigear Poblachtach, baill Oglaigh na hEireann, a mbeatha ag pleascadh roimh am. Paul Smith on Sruthan, Oliver Craven on Iur, George Keegan o Inis Corthaidh, Paddy Parle o Bhaile Loch Garman agus Michael Watters, ar leis an teach e san ait ar tharla an pleascadh marfach.

Is fada an t-am sin bliain is caoga, agus sin raite gach bliain o tharla se on oiche thubaisteach sin thainig Poblachtaigh le cheile anseo, chun cuimhneamh a dheanamh orthu siud a chaill a mbeatha agus chun machnamh a dheanamh ar an ait a raibh ar streachailt.

Fifty one years is a long time, however in every year since that tragic night Republicans have came together here, to remember those who lost their lives and take stock on where our struggle was at.

In the course of recent years and again over the past 12 months our struggle has undergone significant changes. Different times have placed different demands on us all as activists.

But we are not driven by circumstances - we are driven by our republican vision and in our absolute belief that the partition of our country is wrong and that the British government has no place in running the affairs of Irish people. These were the very same ideals which brought the IRA to this place all those years ago.

Indeed the then Sinn Féin TD John Joe McGirl in his oration at one of the funerals said:

“The tragedy which brought to a sudden end the lives of five great Irishmen is a tragedy of the Irish nation, the tragedy of an Ireland that is unfree and divided. These men came from the North and South to join together to end the tragedy of our nation and her people.”

This year we have taken the role of women in the struggle for Irish freedom as a theme of our commemoration. It is a very appropriate theme because this very week marks the centenary of the organisation which fought for and won the right to vote for Irish women - the Irish Women’s Franchise League.

The IWFL was founded on 11 November 1908 by Hanna Sheehy Skeffington and Margaret Cousins. Hanna was a staunch republican as well as an active feminist. Her terms in prison reflected her activism - in 1912 for women’s rights, in 1913 for supporting the workers in the Great Lockout, in 1914 for opposing recruiting to the British Army, in 1918 for demanding Irish independence and in 1933 for breaking the ban on her entering the Six Counties. And there were thousands of women like Hanna, most of whom never gained the limelight of history but without whom there could be no freedom struggle.

90 years ago in December 1918 Irishwomen had the vote for the first time. They played a key role in the Sinn Féin victory which led to the establishment of the First Dail Eireann. Women’s rights were enshrined in the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic and the commitment to equality was continued in the Democratic Programme of the First Dail. Constance Markievicz was one of the first women Cabinet ministers in the world. And like Hanna Sheehy Skeffington and the vast majority of women republicans she was a strong opponent of the Treaty and the Partition of our country.

For us as Irish Republicans in 2008, the end of partition and the unity of our country is a live political project, as is our commitment to the equality agenda. We have set out a clear political strategy to achieve our republican and democratic goals. In the new phase of struggle, those goals will be pursued through exclusively peaceful means.

The building of political strength and the use of that strength to bring about fundamental political, social and constitutional change is key.

Women today are proud to carry forward that progressive republican and feminist tradition. We recall the words of Mairead Farrell that Irishwomen have been oppressed both as women and as Irish people. Much progress has been made through the efforts of women in struggle but much remains to be done.

There are the powerful forces in both jurisdictions, however, who will continue to do their best to maintain the status quo. They may not put it in as clear terms as they once did - but there are those whose primary political objective is the defeat of Sinn Féin and the defeat of the Republican struggle. We must be conscious that there are those who have benefited from partition, even though it has been very damaging for the country as a whole. There are those who have benefited from inequality and injustice.

Let me say to them today - be you a rejectionist unionist in the north or an opponent of re-unification in the south - the cause of Irish Unity is going forward, and an ever growing number of people see it as the way ahead.

People should not be surprised or confused by the current situation in Stormont. Remember the DUP were a party formed to oppose power sharing.

Remember Peter Robinson fronted the Smash Sinn Féin campaign. They led the opposition to the Good Friday Agreement before embracing the all-Ireland institutions it established.

They are reluctant partners in government. But we knew that when we brought them over the line in the first place. But the core of the current difficulties goes beyond policing and justice. This is about holding the DUP to their commitments. It is about ensuring that the equality demands of the Good Friday Agreement are delivered. It is about puncturing the notion held by some within the ranks of the DUP that they will operate these institutions on their terms and their terms alone.

That isn’t going to happen. If unionists are ever going to exercise power then they will do so acting in partnership with nationalists and republicans and within the framework set out in the Good Friday Agreement, with all of the checks and balances that includes. One aspect of that will be the joint nature of the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister.

Unionism needs to grasp this reality. It remains to be seen whether Peter Robinson is capable of leading unionism into a new future built upon equality and partnership or whether he will repeat the failures of past unionist leaders harking back to days of domination, discrimination and inequality.

But whatever decision he makes, and I hope he opts to show political leadership and courage, our task of building the struggle continues. Sinn Féin has already demonstrated a commitment to this process and to finding a resolution to the current crisis. But make no mistake we are equally determined to pursue our primary goal of Irish unity and independence.

Nuair a cuireadh deireadh le hOibriocht Harvest 1962, chreid cuid mhor daoine go raibh deireadh le Poblachtachas Eireannach. Shil ar namhaid, gan chuis, nach mbeimis abalta atogail a dheanamh agus an streachailt a chur i mbeal an phobail aris eile. Chruthaiomar go raibh siad micheart. Ta nios mo Poblachtach ins an oilean seo anois na mar a bhi ag am ar bith eile on chriochdheighilt. Is e an rol ata againn seilbh a ghlacadh ar an dea-thoil ata againn amuigh ansin agus gluaiseacht fhiornaisiunta ar son an athraithe a neartu. Gluaiseacht a bhfuil borradh fuithi gan stad gan staonadh. Gluaiseacht ata abalta tionchar a imirt ar mhaithe leis an athru. Cinnteoidh sin todhchai bunaithe ar an aontacht agus ar an chomhionannas agus todhchai a fhagann teipeanna san am ata chuaigh thart sna leabhair staire.

When Operation Harvest came to an end in 1962, many believed that Irish Republicanism was finished. Our opponents foolishly thought that we would never be able to rebuild and more importantly re-popularise the struggle. We have proved them wrong. There are more Republicans on this island now than at any time since partition. Our job is to harness the goodwill towards us that is out there and build a truly national movement for change. A movement whose momentum will become unstoppable and whose ability to effect change will guarantee a future built upon unity and equality and one which consigns the failures of past to the history books.

Ach nil an streachailt furasta. Ni raibh si furasta i 1957, ni raibh si furasta i 1969 no i 1981 agus b’fheidir go bhfuil si difriuil, ach nil si furasta i 2008. Ach nior chreid duine ar bith againn nach mbeadh se amhlaidh. Taimid reidh don bhothar fada romhainn. Caithfidh iad siud ata ag eileamh an t-athru is mo na rioscai is mo a thabhairt orthu Féin. Ni feidir linn fanacht inar seasamh gan bogadh. Ach ta freagracht ar an ghluin seo de Phoblachtaigh chun an jab a chriochnu. Ni thabharfaidh duine ar bith saoirse duinn ar phlata. Ni bheidh deireadh simpli le criochdheighilt. Is e an rol ata againn mar Phoblachtaigh e seo a bhaint amach.

But struggle is not easy. It was not easy in 1957, it was not easy in 1969 or 1981 and it may be different, but it is not easy in 2008. But none of us expect it to be. We are in this for the long haul. Those of us who demand the most change have to take the biggest risks. We cannot stand still. But this generation of Republicans have a responsibility to finish the job. Nobody will hand us freedom. Partition won’t simply end. Our job as Republicans is to make this happen.

We will shortly face into elections, north and south. There will be a sustained effort in these campaigns by the opponents of Irish Unity and Irish republicanism to stop the advances we have made in recent years. But I believe that we as Irish Republicans are up to the task. So let us leave here today, reinvigorated and determined, focused on what we have to do in the time ahead, and let us ensure that when we come back again here next year this party and struggle is stronger and we are further along the road to realising the objectives which saw five IRA volunteers lose their lives here 51 years ago.

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