Martin McGuinness

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:

–          Ceasefires

–          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.

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Bloody Sunday Deemed Unjustifiable

The day that the Saville report was to be released was a day of overwhelming anxiety for the families of those 27 shot and 14 killed on the streets of Derry some 38 years ago by the British Army.  The families were seeking a resolution – seeking the truth to come from a report that was headed by Lord Saville in a report that many felt would once again cover the facts of what happened on Bloody Sunday in 1972.  The original Widgery Tribunal that investigated the tragic shootings claimed that those killed were in someway guilty and complicit in there own deaths. The British Government maintained that position for 38 years.

On June 15, 2010, 4,520 days after the inquiry had begun, the findings were to be provided by British Prime Minister Cameron to the British House of Commons and broadcast live on television.  A large video screen was set up in Derry in front of the city’s Guildhall to accommodate a large crowd of viewers.  That day the families of the victims that have awaited justice for so many years and their supporters walked together through the streets of Derry to Guildhall to watch the report’s findings on the large screen.  They carried posters containing the pictures of those victims that did not survive those many years ago.  Their faces were distraught with the fear that once again those innocent victims would not meet justice and the facts would again be covered up by the British government.

Several Bloody Sunday family members now walking in Derry awaiting the report’s release had come to Washington, DC a few months earlier to meet Representative Chris Smith at his Capitol Hill office.  The meeting had been organized by Sean Pender our Freedom for all Ireland chairman.  A congressman from New Jersey, Chris is a great friend of the AOH and was the first chairman of a congressional committee to ever hold hearings on Northern Ireland.  These families came from Derry to request support from the Chris Smith and the U.S. Congress to pressure the British Government to be open with the release of the report, not delay it any longer and to not redact [conceal] vital information in the report when it was released.  Chris expressed his solidarity with the families and said that he would keep pressure on based upon the outcome of the report.

The inquiry took 12 years to produce – the longest public inquiry in British history at an estimated cost of £190.3 million (as of February 2010).  Investigators interviewed and received statements from around 2,500 people and 922 of these were called to give oral evidence including 505 civilians, nine experts and forensic scientists, 49 members of the media including photographers, 245 military, 35 paramilitary or former paramilitaries, 39 politicians and civil servants including intelligence officers, 33 Royal Ulster Constabulary officers and 7 priests.  The evidence included 160 volumes of data with an estimated 30 million words. This included 13 volumes of photographs, 121 audiotapes and 10 videotapes. The finished report is 5000 pages long and weighs 45 pounds.

The large crowd in Derry watched the live video as the findings were made public.  Anticipating the worst, they watched with growing anxiety.  Then the words of Prime Minister Cameron, the Conservative Party Leader wrung out on the large televised screen in the public gathering like victorious church bells signalling the enemies defeat.  “There is no doubt. There’s nothing equivocal, there are no ambiguities. What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong,” Cameron told the House of Commons.  “It was an act of murder that cried out for justice and truth,” he continued, “The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces. And for that, on behalf of the [British] government, indeed on behalf of our country, I am deeply sorry.”

The families and the crowd gathered in Derry reacted with cheers and fists pumped into the air.  They were jubilant; their smiles, tears and happy faces showed that justice had finally come.  Their long struggle for the truth had now become their victory with the words emanating from the screen.

The report concluded that the first shot in the vicinity of the march was fired by British soldiers and no warning was given to civilians. None of the casualties was carrying a firearm and while there was some shooting by republican paramilitaries, none of this firing provided any justification for the shooting of civilian casualties.  It also determined that the British soldiers had lost their self-control and that that some of those who were killed or injured were clearly fleeing from paratroopers, or going to the assistance of others who were dying.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams expressed that, “The facts of what happened on Bloody Sunday are clear. The British Paras came to Derry and murdered 14 civil rights marchers and injured 13 others. They were unarmed, they posed no threat and they were completely innocent.”  Adams added “Today, Saville has put the lies of Widgery into the dustbin of history and with it the cover-up which was authorized of the highest levels within the British establishment and lasted for almost four decades.”

In a letter to AOH President Boyle one family member stated, “I never understood what an impact this could have had – probably because I thought it would never happen, it did and I wish everyone who is reading this could have felt the atmosphere in the City that day and since. It was amazing – a large dark cloud was lifted and people were taken back in time, Derry City will never be the same. The injustice that was done not only on the day but by the Widgery report ripped the life out of a once proud people. My mother’s family was deeply affected and regularly harassed by the British army – raids on houses etc. all is in the past. My Uncle Mickey was wearing his Sunday best; he was walking towards a civilian who was shot to help get him to safety. He was subsequently shot in the head by a high velocity bullet… he did not die yet and I will not go into further details at this point but his body went missing for several hours before any doctor was allowed to examine him.”  He added, “The 15th of June 2010 banished the ghost of the British Army from our streets; today our dignity and pride remain intact. We will continue to work peacefully until we are free from foreign interference. One Island, One Ireland. I felt compelled to write this to thank the AOH in the USA. Not a year went past from 1972 that AOH members from all over the U.S. did not congregate on our streets to demand TRUTH. Now we have it my friends, this is a victory for you as much as for us. You are always welcome on the Streets of Derry.”

Back in Washington, Representative Chris Smith joined his New York colleagues and Co-Chairs of the Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs, Eliot Engel .Peter King and Joseph Crowley to say, “With the release of the Saville report on the ‘Bloody Sunday’ tragedy of January 30, 1972, and its principal findings that British paratroopers initiated gunfire without warning and that the fourteen men they killed were unarmed, the British government has finally given the families and friends of those killed a measure of justice. Nothing can return to them their husbands, fathers, and sons. Yet the report and the British Prime Minister’s apology and statement that the British army’s actions “were ‘unjustified and unjustifiable’ is an official recognition of truth and a prerequisite for a lasting peace and justice throughout Northern Ireland. We thank the survivors—the families of those killed—for their faithfulness in the quest for truth, and recognize the service they have performed for Northern Ireland.”

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