BY JOHN COULTER, IRISH POLITICAL JOURNALIST
SINN FEIN has called for the immediate ending of the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
In a major speech, one of the party’s top Stormont Executive members, Northern Farming Minister Michelle Gildernew, used a key republican commemoration to issue her call.
She was addressing the annual Theobald Wolfe Tone Commemoration at Bodenstown at the weekend. Michelle Gildernew is also MP for Fermanagh/South Tyrone, the Commons seat she has held for the past nine years as an abstentionist MP.
In last month’s General Election, she fought off opposition from a unionist unity candidate and the rival nationalist SDLP to hold her seat by four votes following a number of recounts.
Wolfe Tone is a republican icon, having been one of the leaders of the failed 1798 United Irishmen’s rebellion against English rule in Ireland.
1798 was to be one of the last occasions when Irish Presbyterian Protestants and Catholics joined forces to confront the English armies.
The formation a few years earlier of the exclusively Protestant Loyal Orders, the Orange Order and Royal Black Institution, encouraged many traditional Protestant dissenters to abandon their campaign against the English and become supporters of the English Throne.
In her major speech, MP Gildernew said: ‘On this day, the 20th of June 1763, Theobald Wolfe Tone was born in Dublin. A mere thirty-five years later he died a young man in a prison cell, having devoted his life to the fight for Irish freedom.
‘More than any other individual it was he who first brought to the Irish people the idea of democracy and the ideal of an Irish Republic.
‘As proud Irish republicans we salute Tone’s memory and that of the United Irishmen and Irishwomen. We are the United men and women of 2010 and I am especially proud to address you here today as the Irish Republican representative for the constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
‘My first message is one of thanks to the people of Fermanagh/South Tyrone who elected me and to the Sinn Féin members and supporters from across Ireland who helped in our campaign.
‘My second message is one of solidarity to the people of Derry and the families of the victims of Bloody Sunday. The achievement of the Saville Report into the murders of 14 innocent civilians and the wounding of 13 others, published last Tuesday – is your achievement. Finally the lies of Widgery have been consigned to the dustbin of history.
‘Saville has also brought to an end a four-decade long cover-up of the Bloody Sunday massacre, authorised at the highest levels of the British establishment.
‘And let there be no mistake about it, Bloody Sunday was not some aberration by rogue soldiers. Just a few months earlier 11 innocent civilians were shot dead by the British Army in the greater Ballymurphy area of west Belfast. The Ballymurphy massacre and Bloody Sunday exposed the malign role of the British army in Ireland and contributed in a major way to the unfolding conflict in Ireland.
‘The ultimate act of justice for all our people will be the final removal from Ireland of the British Army and the end of British rule in our country.
‘My third message is an international one. Wolfe Tone was an internationalist, a passionate advocate of human liberty across the globe, as are all true Irish republicans. So a message of solidarity today goes to the people of Gaza and all Palestine.
‘You are an imprisoned people, a ghettoised people, a tortured people. We salute you and we salute those courageous citizens from all over the world who joined the relief flotilla for Gaza. We remember the members of that flotilla murdered by Israel.
‘We ask the Irish Government and all the governments of the EU: What more does the Israeli regime have to do before Israeli ambassadors are told to go home, and before the EU ends its special trade agreements with Israel?
‘The demands are clear: End the blockade of Gaza. Free the people of Palestine. Real peace based on justice and human rights.
‘I have thanked the people of Fermanagh/South Tyrone and I want to thank also the voters across the Six Counties who re-elected our five MPs and made Sinn Féin the largest party in that part of our country.
‘That is a huge achievement for Sinn Féin and for the people we represent. But far more important is what we do with the people’s mandate.
‘In the Executive and in the Assembly we will soon be faced with demands for major cuts as a result of the Budget to be introduced by the new Conservative/Liberal Democrat government in Britain.
‘We anticipate that the block grant to the Six Counties will be reduced and that efforts will be made to cut public services and social supports. Be assured that Sinn Féin will resist those efforts and work to our utmost to defend services and livelihoods, especially for the most vulnerable.
‘But let there be no illusions. We are faced with this situation because the Six Counties is still under British jurisdiction and the Assembly is denied the fiscal powers to run our own economy in our own way and as part of the wider Irish economy.
‘Elected representatives of all shades in the North should realise that it is in the interests of all the people to work for an all-Ireland economy and for an all-Ireland democracy.
‘And what is true of elected representatives in the Six Counties is equally true of those in the 26 Counties. There has been much debate recently about the future – both economic and political.
However, in this State most of the debate has been deeply partitionist in nature. Few have faced the fact that for a truly new Ireland to emerge partition must be ended.
‘So let us in Sinn Féin again lead that demand. It is the theme of our commemoration this year – ‘Towards a New Republic – a United Ireland.’
‘We need to remind the other political parties what they say they stand for: Fine Gael – the United Ireland party; Labour, which claims the mantle of James Connolly; and Fianna Fáil which calls itself – God help us – the Republican Party.
‘The parties maintain these claims – token and insincere though they are – because they know that a peaceful, united Ireland is still the sincere aspiration of the majority of people on this island.
‘But is it more than an aspiration. It is a right. It is a democratic imperative. It is an economic necessity. Some commentators have said that to speak of a united Ireland now in the midst of an economic recession is folly. But, in reality, talk of a transformation in Irish politics without addressing the division of our country and of our people is the talk of fools.
‘Wolfe Tone said that Irish independence would be based on that “numerous and respectable class of the community the men of no property”. The people of no property did not cause the economic collapse in Ireland but they are being made to pay the price.
‘That price is being paid by half a million unemployed, by workers in public service, industry and agriculture whose incomes have been slashed, by those dependent on social welfare, by patients in hospitals and children in schools who suffer the effects of cuts.
‘We know who should have paid the price – the top bankers and speculators, the so-called regulators and the corrupt politicians. But has a single one of them spent even a night behind bars? Not a chance.
‘And let it be said very clearly – it didn’t have to be this way. We in Sinn Féin warned that the property bubble created by Fianna Fáil and their cronies was a disaster waiting to happen. We called for the privileged to be made to pay their way. We called for the wealth to be shared. We called for housing policy based on housing need not speculators’ greed.
‘They refused to listen to us and to others who warned against their folly. And now in their arrogance they try to wriggle out of responsibility for the massive social and economic mess they created.
‘We say to Brian Cowen and Fianna Fáil and to their Green mudguards – get out of office, call a General Election, let the people give you their answer and let’s build a new politics. . .
‘In the next decade we will mark the centenaries of key events in Irish history. These include the hundredth anniversaries of the Great Lockout and the Easter Rising in 2016, the Sinn Fein General Election victory in 2018, the First Dáil Éireann in 2019. For republicans these are very important milestones.
‘In commemorating great events and honouring our patriot dead we are doing more than recalling history. We are stating our determination to complete the struggle and achieve the full freedom for which so many have given their lives – from Wolfe Tone and the United Irish of 1798 to the IRA Volunteers of our own time.
‘Let’s begin this year and next with the 30th anniversary of the H-Block hunger strikes. I am very proud to represent the same constituency as Bobby Sands. Bobby wrote on the first day of his Hunger Strike Diary that he was “born of a risen generation with a deeply rooted and unquenchable desire for freedom”.
‘We still have that unquenchable desire and we know what freedom will mean. It will mean a New Republic – a United Ireland,’ urged Ms Gildernew.