Sinn Fein chairperson Declan Kearney delivered the party’s annual Wolfe Tone commemoration in Bodenstown last Sunday.
This time 220 years ago Ireland was in the midst of dramatic political and revolutionary change.
It was described as ‘The time of the Hurry’ in the poem ‘The man from God knows where’ dedicated to Thomas Russell.
The United Irishmen were the engine of that change.
They took their inspiration from the new democratic and egalitarian ideals of the American and French revolutions.
They were Republican separatists committed to the promotion of anti-sectarianism, fraternity and equality.
They forged alliances across Irish society and mounted an unprecedented military insurgency in every Province.
In my own county the United Irishmen took control of towns like Randalstown and Ballymena. Local United Irish leaders such as Henry Joy McCracken, Roddy McCorley and William Orr remain household names to this day.
Jemmy Hope “The Weaver” from Templepatrick and his farseeing revolutionary vision became an ideological reference point for Fintan Lawlor and later generations of Irish Revolutionaries.
These and others personified the central tenet of emergent Irish Republicanism - the unity of Protestant, Catholic and dissenter.
Wolfe Tone famously summarised the United Irish Republican programme:
“To break the connection with England...and to assert the independence of my country, these were my objects. To unite the whole people of Ireland... and to substitute the common name of Irishman, in place of Protestant, Catholic and dissenter, these were my means.”
As modern day Irish Republicans in the tradition of Tone, we are dedicated to the establishment of a national Republic, built upon equality, fraternity, unity and reconciliation between all citizens in Ireland.
Our primary aim is for an agreed, multicultural united Ireland, which celebrates diversity and equality, and shuns bigotry and discrimination.
Sinn Fein stands against all forms of sectarianism, racism, homophobia, sexism, and intolerance in society.
Today’s Ireland is one of huge social change and political realignment.
Partition continues to be the central fault line at the heart of Irish politics and society.
The imposition of the Brexit decision upon the people of the six counties has now magnified that fault line.
We are clear; Brexit is a by-product of partition and continued British jurisdiction in the North of our country.
It has now become a catalyst for a new realignment of politics in Ireland; in relations between this island and Britain: and, it is redefining politics in the British State and Europe itself.
Irish Unity has become central to the political discourse.
Next Saturday in Belfast at the Waterfront our party will host a major national conference on Irish Unity to build on that discussion.
Many citizens are now looking beyond the Brexit fall out and towards new constitutional and political opportunities.
In the North, greater numbers of ordinary people are now more engaged with politics.
Young people have become increasingly politicised.
All that is reflected in the Assembly and General election results in March and just last week.
The election of 27 Sinn Fein MLA’s and 7 MPs with 239,000 votes is an historic high in electoral support for our party, and for progressive politics.
I want to thank every activist and supporter and all their families who contributed to these spectacular achievements; and also to all of our voters.
There is a building momentum for Irish Unity and in support of anti-unionist and progressive politics.
There is also a new, popular expectation of real, and substantial political change.
The people of the North have spoken.
Sinn Fein respects the mandate secured by the DUP.
But make no mistake Sinn Fein’s electoral mandate is a vindication of our pledge that there will be no return to the status quo: and I repeat; no citizen or section of society will be put to the back of the bus again.
In 1967 our parents and grandparents and others in this gathering set out to demand civil rights in the North. They were beaten and shot off the streets.
Fifty years later an equality revolution is happening in the six counties and it is being led by young people.
Agus ta siad tiomanta agus diongbhailte. Ta siad dearg le fearg agus ta muid go leir dearg le fearg.
For the first time since partition electoral support for political unionism has fallen below 50%.
These are the new realities.
And this is the new context for the current round of political talks.
Let us be clear - the political crisis in the North can be resolved.
The political institutions can be re-established.
However, that means the DUP and British government need to get the message - which they have ignored since Martin McGuinness’ resignation on 9th January.
So I will spell it out.
The equality and rights agenda is not negotiable.
Agreements previously made on equality, rights, parity of esteem and legacy must be implemented.
The Good Friday Agreement cannot be unpicked.
The political institutions must not be misused to advance institutionalised bigotry.
Continued refusal by the DUP and British government to accept these fundamental positions will create only one outcome: a future of permanent political instability.
The DUP have spent the last week in talks with the British Government trying to strike a deal which will keep the Tories in power.
As with Brexit, any deal with Tories will be bad for the economy, public services and for citizens.
This Tory government cares as little for working-class unionists as it does for working-class republicans.
Working-class unionists did not vote for Tories.
The DUP leadership know that. They know the north is of no consequence in Westminster.
Even Edward Carson recognised this nearly 100 years ago. He said:
“What a fool I was... in the political game that was to get the Conservative party into power.”
The central fact is the political process in the North remains overshadowed by financial scandals.
That is why Sinn Fein stood the DUP leader down from her position last January.
The focus on her future role in an Executive is completely misdirected and premature.
That discussion will only arise when there is an acceptable implementation plan to restore public confidence in the political process and ensures that the institutions will work on the basis of proper power sharing, equality, respect and integrity.
This is a serious situation, which demands a serious focus by all parties.
It is not a game, and it is certainly not a dance.
If the DUP really wants to go into the Executive, that party needs to decide whether it is now prepared to embrace a rights-based approach to government in the North.
Instead of pretending that a crisis does not really exist, the DUP should get with the programme.
If the DUP imagines it can wind back the clock, with a Tory side deal or not, and reestablish the institutions without adherence to equality and rights, then the DUP is indeed living in a fool’s paradise.
As for the two governments, instead of talking up the prospect of a successful outcome to these talks, they and the DUP should reread Martin McGuinness’ resignation letter on the 9th January.
It sets out exactly what is required to restore public confidence, and to create the conditions for proper government in the North.
We don’t need optical illusions; we expect change!
The new Irish government now carries a huge responsibility.
The failure of the last Irish government to fulfil its obligations as a co-guarantor for the Good Friday Agreement is a national scandal.
This dereliction of political leadership must end.
The new Taoiseach and his administration should now publicly disassociate itself from the pro-unionist, partisan position of the British government.
This Irish government should bring forward a comprehensive plan for Irish reunification, including:
- A joint Oireachtas committee on preparing for Irish unity;
- A government White Paper on national reunification;
- And, specific proposals for a unity referendum on the island.
This month 40 years ago and here at Tone’s grave our comrade Jimmy Drumm correctly observed that the achievement of national and social liberation relied upon the development of a popular progressive movement for change throughout Ireland.
Today we live in an Ireland of endemic financial scandal, political corruption, gombeen elites, discrimination and sectarianism.
The strategic position articulated by Jimmy Drumm in 1977 is now more relevant than ever.
The austerity programmes imposed by Fine Gael and the British Tories have entrenched social inequality, both North and South.
None of our children should have to live in fear from poverty or austerity; inequality or discrimination; or from intolerance or sectarianism.
Social inequality is the antithesis of values enshrined in the 1916 Proclamation and the democratic programme of 1919.
Every Irish citizen is entitled to a home, an education, comprehensive health care free at the point of delivery, and, equal pay for equal work.
Instead social inequality, political corruption and financial scandal have become bywords for public policy under Fine Gael.
The new Taoiseach seems determined to take his government further to the right.
If that is his intention, then he should call a general election now, and let the people cast its verdict on that political programme.
In those circumstances Sinn Fein will go forward with our progressive political agenda.
We know where we stand, and it’s not with the gombeen men, the crooks, or fat cats.
To paraphrase Tone Sinn Fein stands with:
“That numerous and respectable class of the community, the men of no property.”
Irish unity has never been more achievable.
But that goal is only inevitable when Republicans successfully persuade sufficient numbers of our people that an agreed, united Ireland will serve their interests.
The refusal of significant sections of political unionism to embrace a shared future, and divisions caused by deep-seated sectarianism, create enormous challenges for Republicans.
Yet despite that, we must continue to show generosity of spirit, and reassurance to our unionist neighbours in the North.
As agents of change it is up to us to reach into the wider unionist constituency.
As republicans in the United Irish tradition we have to demonstrate how their rights, traditions, and identity will be accommodated in a new constitutional framework of an agreed Ireland.
It is for us to convince them that it is far better for Irish unionists to exert their influence over a progressive Ireland, instead of being reduced to stage props for a right-wing British Tory government.
Sinn Fein’s policies on reconciliation and anti-sectarianism represent genuine contributions towards the development of reconciliation between Republicans and unionists, within Irish society, and, between Ireland and Britain.
These need to be internalised and mainstreamed within our political work, both North and South.
Our generation of Republicans are history makers.
Martin McGuinness ata anois ar shli na firinne, and whom we greatly miss here today, as well as others in our leadership, have brought us to this point.
Now it is for the rest of us to finish that work.
We must become the nation builders.
We must continue the transformation of Irish society.
Meeting these responsibilities requires a step change in our party.
We need to be always strategically focused, cohesive, flexible and creative.
Let us be clear: building popular support and political strength is not a plan for opposition.
Our political strategy is a road map for governmental power.
So that means Sinn Fein being in government North and South.
This is our road map to achieving national democracy and a united Ireland.
But being in government is not a vanity contest.
This party is not interested in acting as a prop for the status quo North or South.
Political institutions are not ends in themselves: they should be made to work as the means to make positive change.
And of course, we must avoid being defined by the nature of the political institutions.
Sinn Fein participation in the Dail, Assembly, all-Ireland institutions and European Parliament must be at the heart of a broader momentum for political and social change in Ireland.
If change is to be people centred, then change must be driven by the people.
A popular democratic movement for transformation needs to be developed across Ireland.
That is a progressive coalition of political, civic, community, cultural and labour activists united in support of economic democracy, sustainable public services, equality, rights, and the welfare of citizens.
These are the means of modern Republicans today.
Ireland is in transition. Our party is in transition.
The process of leadership succession has already commenced.
We have begun to implement a ten-year plan to regenerate our party with more youth and women; and enhanced skills and capacity.
Mar sin, mas cearta, cothromas agus Poblacht ata uaibh - na habraigi e - eagraigi, togaigi, agus deanaigi e.
If you want equality and rights - if you want fairness in Irish society:
If you really want a Republic - then just don’t vote Sinn Fein:
Join Sinn Fein - and get your family and friends to do the same.
We continue to take our inspiration from Tone.
This afternoon in Bodenstown we stand resolute in the tradition of Henry Joy McCracken, William Orr, Roddy McCorley, Jemmy Hope, Betsy Gray and Mary-Anne McCracken.
Now let us go forward reenergised and confident, to mobilise and organise, and to achieve national independence and Irish Unity.