Below is a speech delivered by Emma Clancy on behalf of Cairde Sinn Féin Australia on April 20, 2014, at Waverly Cemetery, Sydney
I’d like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land we’re meeting on today, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and pay my respects to their elders past and present. It’s only fitting as we meet to commemorate a rising against injustices perpetrated by British colonial power that we remember the devastating consequences of this same power on the Aboriginal peoples of Australia.
I want to thank the Irish National Association for inviting me to speak today. I want to thank them too for the enormous amount of effort they have put in over many decades to maintain this monument in honour of Michael Dwyer, and all those who fought for full independence and equality in the 1798 rebellion. 1798 marked the birth of the modern Irish republican movement.
Michael Dwyer, who remains were brought here in 1898, was a leader of the United Irishmen during the 1798 rebellion. He was 26 when the rebellion began, and after fighting in Wexford, he led a guerrilla campaign against British forces from the Wicklow mountains for more than five years before being transported to Australia with his wife in 1806.
Sydney’s Irish community built this remarkable monument in 1898, on the centenary of the United Irish rebellion.
Now we are fast approaching another centenary – that of the Easter Rising, which we commemorate today.
Republicans across Ireland and around the world are gathering this weekend to remember those who gave their lives in pursuit of Irish freedom in 1916. This year is the 98th anniversary of the Rising.
In 1916, Dublin was the city that fought an empire. On Easter Monday, 1200 men and women set out to bring an end to British rule in Ireland during the First World War – in their words, to “strike a blow for freedom”. The leaders, including the seven signatories to the Proclamation, were all executed by the British in the weeks that followed.
The nationalist women’s organisation Cumann na mBan, founded 100 years ago this year, created the Easter lily in 1925 as a tribute to all those who died in the struggle for independence from British rule.
Wearing Easter lilies to honour Ireland’s patriot dead today, we make no distinction between those who died in 1916 and those who died in 1981. We honour equally the Republican men and women who fell in the years of struggle from 1916 to 1923 and those who gave their lives in the recent conflict that broke out in 1969.
And we remember not only the individuals who led the Easter Rising, but also their vision and the ideals they died for. These ideals were best articulated by James Connolly, Pádaric Pearse and the other signatories of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic – of national sovereignty, equality, social justice, and democratic rights for all.
The fact that almost 100 years later we are meeting here today to remember the Rising, halfway across the world in Sydney, is testament to the impact that the vision and action of the men and women of 1916 has had.
Decade of centenaries
Last year marked the beginning of a decade of centenaries of pivotal events in Ireland’s struggle for independence.
Last year we marked the Centenary of the Great Lockout of 1913 when the bosses of Dublin declared war on the workers and their families.
The choice presented to the workers was stark. They could obey the bosses, resign from their union and go back to their tenement slums and their poverty with their heads down. Or they could resist. Thousands chose resistance.
Through the summer and autumn and winter of 1913 and 1914 they faced police brutality, press vilification, Church condemnation and starvation. They seemed defeated but out of their struggle arose a revived trade union movement and a proud working class.
Again and again, in the decades since the Lockout, those whom Wolfe Tone called the people of no property were offered that same choice – resign or resist.
They were told to resign themselves to their fate when Ireland was partitioned and a sectarian Orange state established in the Six Counties. But the followers of Tone and Connolly refused again resisted, and stood by the Proclamation of the Republic.
Half a century after the Proclamation, the Civil Rights movement stepped forward and was met with the same choice – resign yourselves to the reality of this one-party sectarian state or resist.
They chose resistance. RUC brutality was resisted. Internment was resisted. The British Army was resisted. Criminalisation in the H-Blocks and Armagh was resisted. Collusion and censorship and the demonization of whole communities were resisted.
They could not defeat a risen people.
But as we know, the struggle isn’t over. Republicans had always made clear that if a peaceful and democratic path of struggle towards our objectives was opened up then we were morally and politically obliged to take that path.
The peace process opened that new way forward and the IRA, with the same courage they showed during every phase of the struggle, endorsed that new strategy, that new road to our objectives, and set aside armed actions for good.
The peace process must be built upon and this is a work in progress. While the North in particular has been transformed for the better in recent years, the scourge of sectarianism remains. The past threatens to trip up the future.
Dealing with the past
Overcoming sectarianism and taking steps towards reconciliation involves reaching out to the unionist community. A real reconciliation process is essential in order to create trust between unionists and nationalists and between both parts of Ireland.
Those of you who follow Irish politics closely would know it is over three months now since Dr Richard Haass and Professor Meghan O’Sullivan presented compromise proposals to deal with the outstanding issues of flags, parades and the past.
Political unionism has either rejected the Haass proposals or prevaricated. The negative approach of the British government has facilitated this. The British have walked away from their commitments under the Good Friday and subsequent Agreements and this is having the effect of emboldening intransigent unionism.
The Irish Government has already agreed that Haass represents the best way forward. But to achieve progress on implementation of the Haass proposals requires the British Government to take up a clear and unambiguous position in support of Haass.
There is currently an effort on the part of political unionism to roll back on the progress that has been made since the Good Friday Agreement was achieved 16 years ago. This cannot be allowed to happen.
There remain many outstanding justice and legacy issues in the North that need to be addressed. These include ongoing struggles over truth recovery, and ensuring there is transparency, accountability and a rights-based approach to policing and justice. Republicans in Ireland are engaged in political struggles over these issues every day. We here in Australia can play our part in bringing pressure to bear on the British and Irish governments to fulfil their obligations under the Good Friday and other Agreements.
Irish republicans in Australia have added to international pressure to defend the rights of republican communities in the North in the past. During the 1981 hunger strike, the Diaspora mobilised around the world in support of the prisoners’ rights, including here in Australia. Thousands marched through the streets of Australian cities. After Bobby Sands died on hunger strike, shipworkers in Wollongong refused to handle British ships coming through the port in protest. Support like this is very much appreciated from those in Ireland.
The Proclamation of 1916 continues to enthuse and motivate Irish republicans struggling for reunification, and for equality. Its message of freedom, and of cherishing all the children of the nation equally, is as relevant today as it was then.
Before his execution in 1916, James Connolly predicted that the Partition of Ireland would lead to a carnival of reaction. And so it did. Partition created two reactionary states in Ireland, which the conservative political, church and business elites shaped to protect their self-interests.
The southern Irish state of today is not a place where the principles of the Proclamation have been lived up to. Far from it.
It is, on the contrary, a state in which a corrupt political elite has brought the economy to its knees in order to prop up and pay their equally corrupt allies in the Irish banking sector. It is not a state of equal opportunities for all citizens; it is instead a state of brown envelopes and golden circles.
Irish people North and South have faced a considerable period of economic hardship. Hundreds of thousands are unemployed. Many more are struggling to survive. Highly educated, intelligent young people are leaving the country as emigration continues to be used by the Irish Government as a safety valve. Many of them are arriving here in Australia.
The Irish people have been forced to witness the spectacle of an Irish government acting as a mere agent for the EU and IMF in Ireland.
The enforced austerity by the Fine Gael/Labour coalition in Dublin and the Tory-led coalition in London is the antithesis of everything the Rising and Proclamation envisaged. To stand for the ideals of 1916, must mean standing against austerity; and standing up for the vulnerable, those unable to care for themselves, and the working poor, north and south.
There is no middle way between the inequality driven by British and Irish conservatives, and the egalitarian values of our Proclamation.
The Irish people have once again been faced with the choice of resigning to vicious austerity or resisting.
We can take heart in the fact that people are standing up and fighting back. Republican ideas and politics have more popular support today than they have for almost 100 years. More and more people are getting involved in a new political struggle for the Irish people to be able to determine their own affairs and have ownership of the country’s resources.
Young people are increasingly getting involved in the struggle for this New Republic, including taking up challenging leadership roles across Ireland and making republican politics relevant to a new generation.
They are guided by the principles of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic and putting forward realistic alternative policies based on that vision.
Role of diaspora
Today, the mobilisation of the diaspora in support of Irish unity is a central part of Sinn Féin’s strategy for reunification.
In recent years we launched the Uniting Ireland campaign – a broad national and international campaign to build political support for Irish reunification through a border poll. Large and successful conferences have been held on this theme in the US, Canada and Britain. This year this important campaign is being launched in Australia, and we urge all republicans in Australia to support it.
We’re delighted to be able to announce that Sinn Féin Vp MLM will be visiting Australia to support this campaign in September this year.
In the lead-up to the Centenary events to commemorate the Easter Rising in 2016, we also urge republicans in Australia and around the world to ensure a renewed focus is placed on Easter events in the coming years. The INA, Cairde Sinn Féin Australia, together with others, are now initiating planning for nationally coordinated Easter commemorations across the country in 2016.
The launch of the Uniting Ireland campaign in Australia, and the momentum that will gather in the lead-up to 2016, provide an important opportunity for republicans in Australia to play their part in the struggle for Irish unity.
Bobby Sands once said: “Everyone, republican or otherwise, has their own particular role to play.” Each of us can contribute to achieving the historic task set by the men and women of 1916 – a united Ireland and a New Republic.