It is a great pleasure to be invited here this afternoon to close this year’s An Comhdail
I know the past 12 months have been one of reorganisation and building for the youth wing of the party.
And like everything else we do organisationally this is a vital area of work.
Republicanism all of the time needs to be renewing – renewing our membership, renewing our politics and renewing the way we do our business.
We do not have the luxury of standing still.
You are the first generation of young Republicans sine partition who have grew up without the scourge of war as a backdrop to your politics.
You are the generation of Republican leaders who have developed your politics and your aspirations in a political playing field that was for the first time level. Levelled by the Good Friday Agreement and the principles of equality and respect, which underpin it.
Your identity, your politics and your outlook is rooted in Irish Republicanism but secure enough in its own right to be open to debate and discussion with others from a different viewpoint.
And I commend the event you have put together this weekend. It would be very easy to construct a conference where we simply talk to ourselves. It shows a certain confidence to open this event to other voices and other opinions and sets out a marker to us all about how we need to do politics going forward.
And I also commend those unionist voices who are confident enough in their politics to come here to the Felons club and engage in debate and discussion about the sort of society we want to build on this island in the years ahead.
The past three months have been bad ones for the peace process and for those of us wedded to the creation of a new type of politics and a new type of society.
I have listened very carefully to the various reasons being put forward by those involved in the protests and in the violence. Indeed I have met with some of those involved. None of them can excuse what has been happened on our streets.
I know from experience what it is like to feel discriminated against, to feel powerless and to feel under threat. Nobody should be in that position in 2013. The unique political structures we operate within lend themselves to political opponents being able to exercise power jointly and in a spirit of respect and equality for the benefit of all citizens. There is space for everyone in the process.
It is my firm view that issues of identity and culture have been quite cynically used by some to promote their own narrow sectarian agenda. The result has seen dozens of young Protestants arrested and jailed and the community in the Short Strand put under siege while those who set the path sit happily in their ivory tower denying culpability and blame.
Far better those young people, who clearly care about their community, where in forums like this, discussing the future with their republican peers, than lying in Hydebank or Maghaberry.
There is a better way to do business. We must return to the basics of the Good Friday Agreement. A commitment to non violence, a need for inclusivity, a respect for difference and a commitment to reach agreements.
Difficult issues are not insurmountable issues. But difficult issues will not be resolved on the streets or at the front of City Hall on a Saturday afternoon. Difficult issues are resolved through dialogue, through engagement and ultimately through compromise and agreement.
I will absolutely guarantee the right of any citizen here to their British identity. All I ask in return is for the same respect and recognition to be given to my Irishness. For too long we have approached issues of identity as wins or losses for one community or another. That is not sustainable going forward.
It disappoints me that we have not yet got to the stage where political unionism can give the same absolute guarantee that I have just given about identity going forward. I genuinely want to hear from a Gregory Campbell or Mike Nesbitt about how they see protecting and respecting the Irish identity of their neighbours as we build a shared society and likewise I am sure unionists are interested in how their British identity is given equal respect and protection by political leaders like me.
But building the sort of new Ireland I want to see has to be about much more than issues of identity or symbolism. It must be about real substance – it must be about delivering a future where young people aren’t forced to emigrate and can get access to a first class education system across the island. We have made a welcome move in recent months when we as an Executive have managed to secure EMA for students here at the same time the British government have abolished it in their jurisdiction.
In the course of the past year or so Sinn Féin have sought to engage with a cross section of society in exploring the prospects for constructing a genuine process of reconciliation. This has involved private events and indeed public events like the one here this afternoon.
I have to say the response from political unionism while predictable has been a disappointment. I think the political leadership of unionism is behind where many ordinary unionists are on this issue. I think there is a realisation across society that the sticking plaster approach or even the head in the sand approach to dealing with the past isn’t sustainable going forward.
Such an approach is not only short sighted it is in my opinion selling all of your generation short. It is simply wrong that people like those gathered here, who have developed your politics in an environment of peace see the political process contaminated and distorted by a failure to tackle in a proper way the legacy of our troubled past.
And that provokes challenges for republicans also. Reconciliation is not a one way street. Republicans caused much hurt also. We need to recognise that and deal with it in a proper fashion. Declan Kearney has characterised this as a difficult conversation we as a society need to have. Difficult as it may be not having it stores much more difficulties for us and for you in the future.
I am an optimist. I am confident in you and your generation. I am also confident in the political system we have built. I am also confident that in the future new negotiations will be had. New agreements will be reached. More positive change will be delivered. More relationships will be built.
The sort of society I want to see, at peace with itself, built upon equality and mutual respect has the foundations already laid. That happened 15 years ago in Castle Buildings. Since then despite ups and downs steady sure progress has been made. Now is the time to grasp the potential that is there and raise us to a new level. You as young political activists need to play your role in that. Your voice is important, but even more important is your contribution. You need to step forward and you need to actively build the sort of Ireland you want to see. You need to engage with your peers from whatever political background or none.
Transforming our island is a massive challenge. Rebuilding broken relationships and creating new ones is central to that nation building task. But as Republicans it is our duty to reach out and to build. To stretch ourselves and our politics. You can only do that if we are confident in our own vision and our own belief that a united Ireland offers the best hope for the future and for all of the citizens who live on this island.
Let us secure the new future that is out there. Not doing so is not an option for me, for you or for Ireland.
Friday, March 15, 2013
Students of Queen’s University Belfast gathered on Wednesday the 6th of March in remembrance of former QUB student Mairéad Farrell. Mairéad was a member of the cumann at the time of her murder 25 years ago.
The memorial opened with the showing of a documentary recording the events surrounding the fortnight of tragic occurrences which began on the 6th of March 1988. This was both informative and emotional for the audience. The documentary (as seen below) detailed the attack, by Michael Stone, on the funeral on March 16th and the bravery shown by those who attempted to stop him. Tributes were paid to Thomas McErlean, John Murray and Volunteers Kevin McCracken and Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh who died protecting their community.
Barry McElduff, who was a student at QUB at the time, addressed the event as did Jennifer McCann, a close friend of both Mairéad Farrell and Dan McCann, Seán Bateson, chair of QUB SF, chaired the event.
McElduff gave an account of the university cumann’s reaction to the murders in Gibraltar. He recounted the cumann occupying the Chancellor’s Office at Queen’s in an attempt to have the murders marked by the university. Upon the death of a student it was common practice for QUB to lower the flag to half mast; however, they refused to do so for Mairéad, labelling her a ‘terrorist’. McElduff and others, in an act of comradeship, took over the office and lowered the flag to half mast themselves. He also spoke of the tough and tense times at the University in the months that followed.
Jennifer McCann spoke of Dan McCann, Seán Savage and Mairéad Farrell, describing them as ordinary young people, full of life, who happened to live in extraordinary times. She detailed their dedication to the struggle.
Seán Bateson, speaking after the event, stated “We are delighted with the turn out and interest shown in tonight’s proceedings. As a cumann, we felt that it was important to remember all that happened in March 1988 and in particular Mairéad, as a former student. The speakers were very informative and I think everyone left this evening better educated as to what happened 25 years ago this week.”
Monday, March 11, 2013
|Simon Gillespie speaking during the Mock Dáil debate|
SINN FÉIN REPUBLICAN YOUTH scooped first prize at last week’s Dublin-wide Mock Dáil competition held in the Garrett Fitzgerald chamber in UCD. The Sinn Féin team claimed victory over Young Fine Gael, Labour Youth and Ógra Fianna Fáil in a fiercely contested and often heated debate. Speaking after the event, Simon Gillespie said that the victory showed the realistic alternatives to partition and austerity that were being offered by Sinn Féin across the island.
“In tackling and defeating the establishment rhetoric that the Government parties and Fianna Fáil offered, Sinn Féin has proven yet again that there is a credible and achievable alternative to the status quo,” said Gillespie.
The Sinn Féin Republican Youth front bench comprised of Simon Gillespie, Jonathan Graham, and brothers Eamonn and Mairtín Arbuckle. The debate was chaired by former Deputy Government Press Secretary, John Downing.
|Eamonn Arbuckle is applauded by the Sinn Féin team for his contribution to the debate|
A number of Dublin SFRY representatives made-up the Sinn Féin back-bench and were praised for their articulate contributions to the debate.
“The Sinn Féin Republican Youth team were great ambassadors for the party and proved themselves to be talented orators and gifted debaters. Each and every one of them is a credit to Sinn Féin and their performances on the night ensure that the future is bright for our party,” Gillespie added.
There were three motions debated on the night. The Government motion concerned the pending Family Home Tax and faced tough criticism from the Sinn Féin team. From the opposition benches came two motions, the first being a motion relating to the failure of the Nursing Graduate Scheme and the second being a general motion of No Confidence in the Government.
In striking similarity to the Dáil, the Sinn Féin speakers faced constant heckling and childishness from Government and Fianna Fáil benches but overcame the interruptions to be described by the Judges as ‘by far the most cohesive and comprehensive group.’ The judges, from the Department of Politics and International Relation in UCD, also praised Simon Gillespie as being ‘the most impressive and convincing speaker’ on the night.
“I suppose you could say we swept the board,” said Gillespie. “It was a fantastic opportunity to advance the Sinn Féin vision and challenge those who believe that the actions of this Government and previous Governments are acceptable. The politics of austerity and hardship must end. There are clear choices and alternatives.”
“While we sit and listen to the same nonsense from Government about how Ireland is the ‘best small country’ in which to do business, grow old with dignity and respect, and in which to raise a family, the reality is we have shop owners who can’t access credit, old age pensioners who can’t afford to heat their homes and families in mortgage distress who can’t afford to put food on the table. The effects of austerity, unemployment and emigration have taken their toll on towns and communities across the island and the Sinn Féin Republican Youth message to the youth wings of the establishment parties was simple: Ireland has had enough!” he concluded.
“Never has this country needed an alternative approach more than it needs it now. Sinn Féin is that alternative and I’m proud to be part of that.”
|Jonathan Graham of SFRY speaking|