The last Provisional IRA Volunteer killed during the conflict “continues to inspire us”, former Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris has said.
The former Kerry TD was speaking at a commemoration in west Cork to honour Diarmuid O’Neill, who was gunned down in a hail of bullets 25 years ago in a planned raid by the ‘elite’ SO19 unit of the London police.
Mr Ferris told a commemoration to mark the killing in Hammersmith, London that Vol. O’Neill was just one of hundreds of Irish republicans who gave their lives since 1969 to build a 32-county democratic socialist republic.
Delivering the oration at the graveside in Timoleague at a ceremony attended by close to 100 people, Mr Ferris recalled how the 27-year-old was “the last IRA vVolunteer to die on active service against the British and the British presence in Ireland”.
“On 23rd of September 1996, Diarmuid O’Neill, Paddy Kelly and Brian McHugh were in a flat in Hammersmith in London and at 4.30am in the morning, British police broke into the flat, arrested two and brutally killed Diarmuid O’Neill – there was no need for it but they killed him.
“And they thought by doing that they would destroy that determination by IRA Volunteers to prosecute the struggle against the British presence in our country but your presence here today and your support and solidarity with the O’Neill family gives the lie to that.”
Mr Ferris, who has himself served time for IRA activity, said Mr O’Neill was an internationalist who opposed oppression wherever it existed.
He “continues to inspire us in the political struggle” and to “take on the oppressors who have demonised and tried to criminalise” those involved.
“We were no criminals. We gave up our liberty and many of us gave up our lives for that struggle, to continue that struggle and to follow the way that was laid before us from 1798, from 1867, from 1916 right through to the present day,” he said to loud applause.
Mr Ferris said Mr O’Neill and fellow IRA Volunteer Edward O’Brien from Wexford, who was killed when a bomb he was carrying exploded prematurely, were among the IRA fighters who helped return the British government following the breakdown of the 1994 ceasefire.
“They are among hundreds and hundreds of IRA Volunteers that have died since 1969. They were the people that brought the British government to the negotiating table and, when the ceasefire came in in 1994, John Major and his government had an opportunity to make peace . . . but John Major chose not to do that.”
Mr Ferris said it was only as a result of Mr Major’s refusal to avail of that opportunity for peace in 1994 that the IRA ceasefire broke down. It was only after the breakdown of the ceasefire that both Mr O’Neill and Mr O’Brien died, and they need not have, Mr Ferris added.