SF owes debt of gratitude to Marie Moore

By Jim Gibney (for Irish News)

To me, Marie Moore, who passed away a few weeks ago, belonged to a heroic generation - those women and men who were politically born at a time of great upheaval inside the nationalist community, inside the northern state.

The significance of Marie Moore and those of her time lies in the stance they took at what might well be described as a ‘tipping point’ at a personal and political level.

Had Marie Moore - and those around her in Belfast and elsewhere across the north - shied away from the challenge that the ‘tipping point’ put to them then the history of the six counties, the history of this nation, over the last 40 years might well have been different.

Sometimes it is easier to see heroes in other countries than closer to home.

Nelson Mandela and his peers come to mind as do Yasser Arafat and those of his generation.

Mandela and Arafat owe their acclaim in part to the equivalents of Marie Moore in their countries.

Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and the IRA owe their acclaim to people like Marie Moore and the many women who stepped forward when it was not easy to do so - indeed when it was costly and life-threatening.

That is why the republican struggle was able to not only weather the excesses of the war but grow in strength.

Marie Moore was instrumental in undermining the edifice that was the six-county state and she did it by fighting for her neighbours’ rights.

She did it because she had an amazing level of courage and commitment that saw her marry, raise a family and help raise grandchildren and great-grandchildren while she was at the forefront of republican politics primarily in Belfast - but not exclusively so - for four decades.

Marie Moore crossed the line in 1968 when she joined the Belfast branch of the Civil Rights Association.

From that point onwards Marie Moore moved between her family home and the streets.

The line between parental responsibility and responsibility to one’s community - a community in the midst of an uprising - was constantly blurred for Marie.

Marie Moore learned to be a leader in a very difficult arena - on the streets.

In his graveside oration Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said Marie Moore’s life mirrored that of this phase of struggle.

He described her as a Rosa Parks figure - the woman whose refusal to give up her seat on an Alabama bus for a white person led to the spontaneous growth of the black civil rights movement in the US in the 1950s.

Marie was part of the civil rights movement and defended the people of Bombay Street in 1969 when they were attacked by the RUC B Specials and loyalists.

She was on the streets opposing internment without trial in 1971 until its end in 1975.

She was a member of the Relatives Action Committee and the H-Block/Armagh Committee supporting political prisoners between 1976 and 1981.

Marie organised a group of women, which included herself, who smuggled comms - messages written on cigarette papers - from the leadership of Sinn Féin to the leadership of the prisoners.

She visited Bobby Sands, Raymond McCreesh and Tom McElwee, who died on hunger strike.

Marie joined Sinn Féin in the early 1970s and was a close friend of Maire Drumm, then vice-president of the party, who was killed by loyalists in 1976.

She helped develop the party’s political project and moved with it as it embraced electoral politics, becoming a councillor and the first ever Sinn Féin deputy mayor of Belfast.

Marie was in prison twice, was shot and maimed by the British army while protesting and at the age of four had a gun put to her head by an RUC man when she was caught up in an incident in her grandmother’s house during which an RUC man was shot dead in the kitchen and Tom Williams was seriously wounded and subsequently hanged when convicted for the killing.

Marie, by her actions and profile, encouraged women to be active in politics, especially republican politics.

She was very proud of the fact that today there are many women representing Sinn Féin and it is to Marie Moore that debt of gratitude is owed.

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