Address to John Joe McGirl commemoration


The following is the full prepared text of the speech delivered by Martin McGuinness to the John Joe McGirl Commemoration, Ballinamore, County Leitrim, on Saturday 17th August.


When people mention the town of Ballinamore, the inevitably mention John Joe McGirl.

John Joe epitomised everything that is good about our struggle.

Be it his involvement in the IRA in the 1930s, to his leadership role in the Border Campaign, or his election to Leinster House, or his key part in reorganising Republicanism in the early 1970s, or his decisive contribution in 1986, John Joe always led from the front.

He was, and he remains for Republicans, not just here in Leitrim, or the border, but across our country, an inspirational leader.

25 years on from the time we laid John Joe to rest he continues to inspire.

Why is this?

It is because John Joe knew about struggle.

He knew about strategy.

He knew what it meant to carry the burden and the responsibility leadership and he knew that at all time the struggle needed to move forward.

He also knew about our past - but he was never a hostage to it.

He was a County Councillor from 1960 up until the time of his death, during years when for some Republicans electoralism was a bad word.

Not for John Joe. He knew that popularising our struggle and making it relevant to people was the way we would bring about Irish reunification and freedom.

He didn’t fear carrying the Republican message of freedom and justice and peace into political institutions - indeed it was John Joe and people like him who led the way for the people like me coming behind him.

Partition was an injustice and it was an injustice that John Joe committed his entire adult life to ending.

And it is an injustice that we remain committed to ending today.

The past few weeks have not been good weeks for the political process in the north.

The peace process needs political leaders with the skills and craft of John Joe McGirl at this time.

Political unionism needs to realise that nothing can be gained by continually feeding the insatiable appetite of those who see life through a red, white and blue prism. They are violently opposed to this process because at the heart of it they are opposed to Equality.

History is littered with unionist leaders who made this mistake.

I have never been selective in condemning and challenging violent attacks on the peace process from whatever quarter. I do not look over my shoulder, my face and the face of this party is firmly focused on the future.

And I believe that the future will be better than the past.

The history of our Peace Process tells any observer one thing.

When Republicans make agreements - we implement them.

This week’s decision by the DUP to abandon the agreement reached on the future development of the Maze/Long Kesh site is a mistake.

It is a mistake not just because it jeopardises much needed investment and jobs, but also for the message it sends to the vast majority of people -nationalist and unionist - who are rock solid behind the peace process.

Some in the extremes of political unionism believe that they can unpick Good Friday Agreement. Moves like this give them succour.

However it ignores the political reality and ignores the fact that the vast majority of unionists want to see this process succeed. They are not interested in re-fighting battles that are long over, or harking back to a time that has long gone.

They want to see their political leaders get on with the job of reconciliation and delivering in the government.

They are embarrassed by the antics of the thugs who attacked the police in recent weeks in Belfast while wrapped in the Union flag.

The Orange State that I grew up in is gone - and most sensible unionists realise that is a good thing - it is time that political unionism woke up to this reality.

So the choice for unionism is very clear - come a share power on the basis of equality and real partnership - and when you do that you will find genuine nationalist and republican partners - or pander to rejectionists who abhor equality, fairness and parity of esteem.

Richard Haas will come to Ireland next month to chair all-party discussions. We will approach these talks with the objective of advancing the peace process and further underpinning the political institutions.

We want to see agreement on parades, on flags and emblems and on dealing with the legacy of the past. The Haas talks are not about replacing the Parades Commission to satisfy the demands of the Orange Order.

I am entirely comfortable with unionists seeking to express a British identity in a sensible and non-confrontational fashion.

Likewise I expect them to acknowledge and recognise my Irishness in the same spirit. I do not believe that is too much to ask or expect.

The Haas talks can succeed if everyone approaches them in this spirit.

Confidence in the political process can be built. Progress on difficult issues can be made. But we cannot do this on our own. There needs to be unionists who are willing to be partners in peace.

John Joe McGirl would have understood well the events of the past month. He would not have been surprised.

He would also have understood well the plight of many young people across this island, especially in this region, once again facing the prospect of emigration.

Partition has distorted the economy of this and other areas.

The best way for the people of Leitrim to honour the memory of John Joe McGirl is to work harder to deliver on what he worked for - a real Republic, a united Ireland based on the principles of equality and social justice for all. For counties like Leitrim and towns like Ballinmore, all-Ireland cooperation is key to economic development and job creation.

For the republicans of Leitrim, I would say that if you wish to ensure John Joe McGirl’s legacy is maintained and built upon you need to build and organise Sinn Fein throughout this county and increase the party’s representation at all levels.

That is the path John Joe set us on 60 years ago. It is a path which offers a peaceful and democratic way to a United Ireland.

There are Local and European elections next year. This provides a real opportunity to increase the Sinn Fein representation on Leitrim County council and to elect a Sinn Fein MEP in the north west constituency.

I would call on the people of Ballinamore and of Leitrim to get behind the Sinn Fein EU candidate Matt Carthy. It’s time to put a voice into Europe that will stand up for the ordinary people of this region.

In 1957 at the gravesides of those killed at Edentubber, John Joe McGirl 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 the South to join together to end the tragedy of our nation and her people.’

This generation of Irish Republicans have ended the conflict, we have put in place a political process and strategy which can end partition, division and inequality.

We need to always move ahead along that road. I believe that we are up to the task. We have an opportunity to realise the objective for which John Joe dedicated his life.

A united, independent Irish Republic is not rhetoric for us, it is a real and live political project which, if we are prepared to work hard and win even more people to our objective, will be achieved. That is a responsibility we all share.

Go raibh maith against go leir.

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© 2013 Irish Republican News