We share the same objectives of Irish Reunification by Peaceful and Democratic means. We know that it is not enough to hold the aspiration; it is about what we do to make our objective real. I am proud that the AOH, LAOH and the bulk of Irish America has worked to make our shared objective of reunification a job under way.
Tom Paulin in his poem, ‘The Wild Birds Act of 1931’, likened the experience of nationalists and republicans in the northern state as being like tapping through granite with a spoon. We have always recognized that our struggle would not be easy. No grand gesture by a few would win freedom. Change comes from the small steps, and the resolute actions of the many.
38 years ago the British Army shot 27 innocent people on the streets of Derry. 14 of them died. These were people who were on a march for civil rights. A march which was banned from entering the centre of their own city! The British compounded that tragedy by setting up the Widgery Tribunal and claiming that those killed were in some way guilty and complicit in their own deaths. They maintained that lie for 38 years. But Bloody Sunday cannot be taken in isolation from the many acts that led up to it. The actions of the same troops in Ballymurphy left 11 innocent people dead. The same army enforced the Falls Curfew and internment without trial! It cannot be divorced from the countless acts of collusion, shoot to kill and intimidation that was visited on the nationalist community.
I also recognize and sympathize with that loss endured by the unionists and other communities due to the actions of Irish Republicans. Over the most recent period of the conflict in Ireland we have all suffered grievous loss. No one was exempt. But over that period we built a movement for peace, a movement for equality and a movement for reunification; we had many partners including the Irish Government and British Government led by Tony Blair. We have moved from conflict, through negotiations and towards an inclusive power-sharing administration in the North.
At times it did indeed feel like tapping through granite with a spoon. But by working together with the Irish Government other political parties and the involvement of America we have achieved:
– British Army being taken off the streets and returned to barracks
– The signing of the Good Friday Agreement
– The ending of the IRA campaign
– The establishment of the Executive and Assembly
– The establishment of the North South Ministerial council. Only last Monday a crucial meeting with Taoiseach Brian Cowan and Cabinet sitting with Ministers from the north including Unionists to share ideas and solutions for economic recovery took place in Dublin.
– The signing of St. Andrews agreement which led to the establishment of power sharing between Ian Paisleys ‘s party the DUP and ourselves in Sinn Féin
– Most recently we have successfully negotiated for the return of policing and justice powers from London to our administration in the North. We have now a policing and court service which recognizes human rights and is accountable to the people it serves.
– And over the last two elections Sinn Féin emerged as the largest party in the North.
At all these junctions we were told that no further progress could be made. But we continued. In all of this progress we have been accompanied by the AOH, LAOH and our friends in Irish America and the American political establishment. Clinton, Bush and Obama and Hilary Clinton
The recent release of the Saville Tribunal into Bloody Sunday demonstrates how far we have travelled together. A British Prime Minister recognized that those killed and injured on Bloody Sunday were innocent. He said that the actions of the British Parachute Regiment were unjustified and unjustifiable. Maybe now after nearly 4 decades the British media will call it what it was in the words of the coroner of the time, ‘Unadulterated Murder’. When David Cameron apologized on behalf of the British Governments and acknowledged the injustice of Widgery his words were beamed directly into the centre of Derry where the families were gathered. The very place to which the original march was barred!
This only came about because of the lobbying and campaigning by the families of those injured and murdered. It came about because of the pressure of those who marched every year in the biting wind of January to mark the anniversary of the original march. The people of Derry and the north are grateful for the support of the AOH and LAOH who marched loyally with us in Derry and who were part of making the apology possible. For the past 38 years, the AOH and LAOH have marched in support of the families. When others thought that it was pointless you persevered. I was delighted to be invited here, because the families and the people of Derry owe the AOH and LAOH a debt of honor. You stood with the people of Derry and we never forget our friends.
Yes a thousand spoons tapping through granite long and hard enough can reduce a mountain to rubble. Yet we cannot rest on our laurels if we are to achieve our objective of a unified Ireland. We support reunification because it is the right of the Irish people in the fullest sense to define our own destiny. We support reunification because it makes sense. It makes economic sense, it makes political sense and it is the way to heal the divisions in our society.
We need to continually build support here and at home for peaceful democratic change. I thank the many legislative and other bodies across this great nation that has supported resolutions in favor of reunification. We also have much to do to build support at home for reunification. Partition had an impact not just along the border. It infested a mindset in the 26 counties that turned its back on the north and it entrenched community division and promoted sectarianism in the North.
We need to unpick 90 years of partition and knit our society back together. We are working with Unionists and the Irish government in this regard. The visit to the Bogside of the leaders of the main Protestant Churches in the aftermath of the Bloody Sunday Report to meet with the relatives of those killed and injured was inspiring. It was an act of leadership born out of compassion and respect for the families and people of Derry. I know you will applaud them for it. Everyone in the community needs to feel the benefits of peace and change. As we build our coalition to support reunification there are those that seek to take us back to conflict, whose actions seek to have the British Army returned to our streets. They offer no strategy or plan to achieve Irish reunification and have repeatedly been rejected by the community. They should now go away.
I am mindful that we are in the lead up to the 12th July at home. A tense time for many communities! A time when another fraternal organization celebrates its heritage! I am of course referring to the Orange Order. I think that the Orange Order has much to learn from the open, generous and pragmatic approach to marching and working with host communities demonstrated by the AOH at home.
We recognize that the Orange Order is part of our shared heritage. They are part of our diverse nation and history. There is no greater symbol of this than our national flag. A symbol of peace and equality between green and orange!
All communities want to move forward together with equality and respect. I look forward to the day when the leaders of the Orange Order are willing to engage positively with the political and civic representatives of the Nationalist people of the North in the process of creating a better future for all our people. Recent attacks on Orange Halls, places of worship, GAA, Sinn Féin Offices and other premises are to be unreservedly condemned for the hate crimes they are and I know you will all wholeheartedly agree with me that sectarianism like racism has no place in the New Ireland which is under way.
In republican parlance we refer to the cause of reunification as ‘the struggle’. We use the term because it will only be achieved by hard work, commitment and sacrifice. I am confident that it will be achieved. I am confident it will be achieved when I look back at how far we have come working together. And I am confident because it is the way to secure prosperity, inclusion and peace for all in our diverse community across Ireland.