The following is the full text of an address by Sinn Fein TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin in Monaghan to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the death of hunger striker Kieran Doherty.
Thirty years have passed since the death of Kieran Doherty, Teachta Dála for Cavan-Monaghan, republican prisoner of war in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh and Irish Republican Army volunteer.
For those of us who campaigned for Kieran and his fellow prisoners the passing of three decades has not dimmed our memories of that tragic year of 1981 when ten of our comrades died on Hunger Strike to defeat the criminalisation policy of the British government led by Margaret Thatcher.
The sacrifice of Bobby, Frank, Ray, Patsy, Joe, Martin, Kevin, Kieran, Tom and Mickey inspired our generation and subsequent generations. It taught us the value of comradeship, it broadened our politics, it helped us to think strategically, it made us focus more clearly on our ultimate goal and on how to achieve it.
Out of the crucible of the terrible H-Block/Armagh struggle a renewed Republican Movement emerged. Nowhere was that more evident than here in Counties Cavan & Monaghan where the circle of friends and comrades who campaigned for Kieran’s election in June 1981 went on to build Irish Republicanism in these Counties.
On 20th August 1981, the last of the ten Hunger Strikers, Michael Devine, died in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh. It was his 60th day on hunger strike and it was also the day the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone went to the polls for the second time that year and elected Owen Carron as their anti-H-Block/Armagh MP. Owen’s election followed a not untypical exercise in British democracy. The Government of Margaret Thatcher refused to recognise the will of the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone when they elected Bobby Sands as their MP. He was allowed to die and the electoral law was changed so that prisoners could not stand for election.
Denying the will of the people, the travesty of democracy and the indifference to the plight of the hunger strikers and their families, was not confined to Westminster and Downing Street. In June 1981 the people of County Louth elected as their TD, H-Block prisoner Paddy Agnew and the people of this constituency of County Cavan and County Monaghan, elected as our Teachta Dála the young man we honour here today. They chose Kieran Doherty of Andersonstown, then not yet 25, but who had already spent five years of his young life in the hell-hole of Long Kesh.
We are proud that we, our friends and comrades and the people of these two proud counties stood with the oppressed in 1981 while the overwhelming number of those in the corridors of power in Leinster House cowered before the intransigence of Margaret Thatcher.
We remember with pride our fallen comrades, the ten in the H-Blocks and all who have since died in the struggle for Irish freedom. We remember too those friends and comrades who have passed away after devoting so much of their lives to the cause of Irish freedom and unity. To all their families we extend our continuing sympathy and solidarity.
We are here not only to remember the struggle of the past. We are here because the struggle continues. Our most important task is to renew our commitment to achieve the free and peaceful and just Ireland for which Kieran and his comrades sacrificed so much.
Today Sinn Féin is the vehicle for carrying forward the real struggle for Irish freedom. The peace process began a new phase of struggle and through it Irish republicans have constructed a peaceful path to Irish unity and independence. That peaceful path was constructed against all the odds because it was, and let there be no mistake about it, it was the British government that created the conditions for conflict in Ireland.
The republican leadership of today has achieved remarkable progress. It has brought Irish republicanism into a conflict resolution phase. It has ended the reliance on physical force. It has challenged the Irish and British governments to engage in a real peace process.
We have dismantled the Orange state, ended one-party Unionist rule, ended direct military rule from London, made huge progress on demilitarisation and made a new beginning to policing. There is still much, much work to be done.
There are still elements in the system who are prepared to block progress. The recent conduct of the PSNI - which has been criticised openly by Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness – is a case in point. So also is the treatment of a seriously ill political prisoner in Maghaberry, Brendan Lillis. We call here today for his immediate release.
The people of Counties Cavan and Monaghan took the lead in 1981 when they elected Kieran Doherty as their TD. They did so again when they elected the first participating Sinn Féin TD to Leinster House in 1997. On that foundation we built a strong and effective Sinn Féin team in Leinster House.
In February last we elected 14 Sinn Féin TDs and three Sinn Féin Senators soon followed. We achieved a record vote in this constituency, 18,500 first preference votes, and we went on to elect Cavan’s own Kathryn Reilly to the Seanad. I commend all Cavan and Monaghan republicans for your tremendous efforts in the General Election and I welcome Kathryn once again to our elected ranks, a young, articulate and able republican woman, she is at the heart of a new emerging youthful leadership.
There is only one real Opposition party in this State – and that is Sinn Féin. There is only one All-Ireland party on this island – and that is Sinn Féin.
We have stood firmly for the Irish people, for Irish sovereignty and against the conspiracy of Fianna Fáil, the Green Party, Fine Gael and the Labour Party who have sold this State and its economy to the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Union.
That act of these parties, in selling out Irish independence, ranks with those who took bribes to abolish the Irish Parliament in 1800 and with those who accepted the Treaty of 1921. All were major betrayals of the Irish people.
When Fine Gael and Labour took office after the General Election they could and should have told the IMF and the ECB that the previous Government had no mandate for the ECB/IMF deal, that the Irish people cannot accept the burden of massive debt imposed on them and that the bondholders who gambled and lost must be made to take their medicine. The new Government, standing on its mandate, should have stood up for Ireland and would have had the backing of the Irish people for such a stand. I for one would have commended them for it.
Instead, what did they do? They have followed exactly the same path as Fianna Fáil and the Greens. Billions are poured out to banks and bondholders. We are told these bondholders cannot wait. But the patients on trolleys and chairs in our hospitals have to wait. The children with special needs have to wait. The young people with no prospect of work have to wait and, in many cases, and all too sadly, like generations before them have to look abroad for a chance in life.
And then, to add insult to injury, a Labour Party Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, tells us that jobless young people who claim social welfare are making a ‘lifestyle choice’! How dare that party claim the legacy of James Connolly. How dare they.
We in Sinn Féin have set out clear alternatives to the disastrous economic path now being followed by the Fine Gael/Labour Government. Austerity is not working. The senior bondholders must bear their burden. Those who can pay more in this society must be made to do so.
We deplore the targeting of older people, hospital patients, children with special needs, the low paid, the unemployed, people on social welfare and carers in the cuts regime now being imposed. We will stand with them and we will resist.
My dear friends, mo chairde dhíl. Much progress has been made over these past twelve months. Republican Ireland is stronger and more confident than ever. Let us year on year incrementally build on these successes recognising that through solid united action we can, and I declare, we will build the political strength and the momentum to bring us to our republican objectives of Irish unity, sovereignty and a true lasting peace and prosperity for all our people. Tiocfaidh ár lá.