Sinn Fein Doubts Whether Robinson Can Ever Be A Partner

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BY JOHN COULTER, IRISH POLITICAL JOURNALIST

THE current Stormont impasse which has politically crippled the Northern power-sharing Executive for almost five months deepened this week when Sinn Fein questioned DUP First Minister Peter Robinson’s ability to lead Unionism.

The major hard-hitting republican policy statement was issued by Sinn Fein’s Northern MEP Bairbre de Brún, addressing the annual Edentubber Martyrs commemoration on the Louth/Armagh border.

The Edentubber event is one of the most important events in the republican calendar and commemorates the deaths of five IRA men in a premature landmine explosion during the 1956-62 Border Campaign.

Ms de Brún is defending her seat in next June’s European elections and is a former health minister in the Stormont Executive.

She told thousands of republicans from across Ireland that she seriously questioned whether First Minister Robinson, the current DUP leader, was capable of leading unionism into a future built upon partnership.

Republicans have upgraded the event into a major annual commemoration to counter how British and Unionist politicians use the annual Armistice Day remembrance events to honour those who fought and died in the British Army, especially in the Great War.

Ms de Brún told the massive crowd that Sinn Féin remained focussed on ending partition. The theme of this year’s Edentubber Commemoration was the role of women in the struggle for Irish freedom.

She added: ‘Fifty one years is a long time, however, in every year since that tragic night republicans have come together to remember those who lost their lives and take stock on where our struggle was at.

‘In the course of recent years and again over the past 12 months our struggle has undergone significant changes. Different times have placed different demands on us all as activists.

‘But we are not driven by circumstances – we are driven by our republican vision and in our absolute belief that the partition of our country is wrong and that the British government has no place in running the affairs of Irish people.

‘For us as Irish Republicans in 2008, the end of partition and the unity of our country is a live political project, as is our commitment to the equality agenda.  We have set out a clear political strategy to achieve our republican and democratic goals. In the new phase of struggle, those goals will be pursued through exclusively peaceful means.

‘The building of political strength and the use of that strength to bring about fundamental political, social and constitutional change is key. Women today are proud to carry forward that progressive republican and feminist tradition.’

Turning to the importance of the Edentubber Martyrs in republican commemorations, he added:

‘Fifty-one years ago close to the spot where we gather today, five Republicans, IRA Volunteers, lost their lives in a premature explosion. Paul Smith from Bessbrook, Oliver Craven from Newry, George Keegan from Enniscorthy, Paddy Parle from Wexford Town and Michael Watters, who owned the cottage where the fatal explosion occurred.’

Ms de Brún quoted from the words of the then Sinn Féin TD John Joe McGirl in his oration at one of the funerals.

He had 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 South to join together to end the tragedy of our nation and her people.’

Ms de Brún continued: ‘This year, we have taken the role of women in the struggle for Irish freedom as a theme of our commemoration. It is a very appropriate theme because this very week marks the centenary of the organisation which fought for and won the right to vote for Irish women – the Irish Women’s Franchise League.’

The IWFL was founded on 11 November 1908 by Hanna Sheehy Skeffington and Margaret Cousins. Hanna was a staunch republican as well as an active feminist.

Her terms in prison reflected her activism – in 1912 for women’s rights, in 1913 for supporting the workers in the Great Lockout, in 1914 for opposing recruiting to the British Army, in 1918 for demanding Irish independence and in 1933 for breaking the ban on her entering the Six Counties.

Ms de Brún added: ‘And there were thousands of women like Hanna, most of whom never gained the limelight of history but without whom there could be no freedom struggle. 90 years ago in December 1918 Irishwomen had the vote for the first time. They played a key role in the Sinn Féin victory which led to the establishment of the First Dáil Éireann.

‘Women’s rights were enshrined in the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic and the commitment to equality was continued in the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil. Constance Markievicz was one of the first women Cabinet ministers in the world.

‘And like Hanna Sheehy Skeffington and the vast majority of women republicans she was a strong opponent of the Treaty and the Partition of our country.

‘For us as Irish Republicans in 2008, the end of partition and the unity of our country is a live political project, as is our commitment to the equality agenda.  We have set out a clear political strategy to achieve our republican and democratic goals. In the new phase of struggle, those goals will be pursued through exclusively peaceful means.

‘The building of political strength and the use of that strength to bring about fundamental political, social and constitutional change is key.

‘Women today are proud to carry forward that progressive republican and feminist tradition. We recall the words of Mairéad Farrell that Irishwomen have been oppressed both as women and as Irish people.

Much progress has been made through the efforts of women in struggle but much remains to be done.’

Mairéad Farrell was one of three unarmed IRA members shot dead in Gibraltar by British undercover soldiers during the late 1980s.

Ms de Brún continued: ‘This generation of Republicans has a responsibility to finish the job. Nobody will hand us freedom. Partition won’t simply end. Our job as Republicans is to make this happen.

‘We will shortly face into elections, north and south. There will be a sustained effort in these campaigns by the opponents of Irish Unity and Irish republicanism to stop the advances we have made in recent years. But I believe that we as Irish Republicans are up to the task.

‘So let us be reinvigorated and determined, focused on what we have to do in the time ahead, and let us ensure that when we come back again next year this party and struggle is stronger and we are further along the road to realising the objectives which saw five IRA volunteers lose their lives here 51 years ago,’ said Ms de Brún.