THOUSANDS of republicans from across Belfast and further afield turned out to remember their dead in a series of Easter parades and commemorations over the weekend. Large crowds lined the Falls Road, where children waved tricolours, to welcome the main National Graves Association Parade on Easter Sunday. The largest of all the parades, the annual Milltown speech is always listened to carefully by political observers to gauge the current Sinn Féin position and this year was no exception.
Speaking to several hundred people who had gathered in Milltown Cemetery, Sinn Féin National Chairman Declan Kearney told dissident republicans that there was no armed struggle to be finished and added that although republicans had travelled “a great distance” the journey still had to be completed.
“Make no mistake, there is no other IRA, here in Belfast, or anywhere else,” he said. “Many of us have been involved in helping to take risks for peace. We have all benefited from those risks being taken.”
Mr Kearney said many challenges remain arising from the legacy of the conflict.
“Some republicans oppose the peace process by militarist and political means. There is a political imperative upon us to attempt purposeful engagement with all republicans – and that includes those who oppose Sinn Féin.”
Mr Kearney spoke of how increased dialogue and engagement with the wider unionist and Protestant community was also needed.
“That presents a huge challenge for us. Unionists continue to harbour suspicions about republicans. Unionists have been hurt by the war, so too have republicans. We need to keep moving the peace process into new phases and on to new ground. National reconciliation is integral to our strategic project.”
On Easter Monday and Easter Tuesday leading Sinn Féin representatives gave similar messages at other Easter commemorations in Belfast.
In its annual Easter address, the Republican Sinn Féin leadership, in a statement read out by Geraldine Taylor, spoke of the prisoners in Maghaberry Prison “who have been on protest for political status these past two years.” The party also launched a stinging attack on the GAA, accusing the sporting body of “selling out” over the redevelopment of Casement Park.
“In February the GAA sold out its independence and the ideals of its founders when it accepted a massive amount of English money – £61 million sterling or €77 million euro – to develop Casement Park in Belfast.
“Roger Casement got the English hangman’s rope but those who use his name allow themselves to be exploited by Stormont just as others contribute to the city of Derry – historic Doire Cholm Cille – being the British City of Culture in 2013. Those who pay the piper undoubtedly call the tune.”
The small number who had gathered also heard how “the British and the Stormont regime, which includes our former comrades who have accepted and now administer British rule in the six occupied counties, entered into an agreement with the prisoners in August 2010 to end strip-searching. They reneged on that arrangement. They never implemented the alternative of the BOSS chair and so the no-wash strike continues. Even the secretary of the prison warders’ union has stated publicly that the protest should be settled. Meanwhile there is a publicity blackout on the plight of the prisoners while their comrades outside do their utmost to support them.”
The Workers’ Party address was delivered by Party President Michael Finnegan who spoke of how the Ireland of today “is a long way from realising the democratic and egalitarian intent of the leaders of 1916”.
“Northern Ireland today, in spite of the welcome ending of violence and the improvements in people’s lives that that has brought, remains a deeply divided, segregated and sectarian society. The republican ideal of the unity of Protestant, Catholic and dissenter remains a long way off and is still opposed by the same reactionary practices of unionism and nationalism, even if they are described as new unionism and new nationalism.
“In short, the ideal, the vision of the Republic is still something we in the Workers’ Party must strive for and struggle to achieve. There may have been many changes and social advances since 1916, but in many ways the same reactionary elements remain in control.”
The Republican Socialist Movement speech was delivered by Jason Nott from the party’s Cork office.
He said: “In the past year the IRSP has built on our working class base and felt confident to enter a number of candidates in local council elections in the North and to work with the others in the south. Our intervention into electoral politics is not a sign of our acceptance in any way, shape or form of the continuing British occupation of the six counties, it is however a clear message from the Republican Socialist Movement that we are no longer prepared to let our political message be marginalised or ignored. Across Ireland IRSP electoral intervention demonstrated that the IRSP have a credible working class message that we will continue to propagate.
“The IRSP will continue to play a role in raising class consciousness and constantly seek to identify and play our part in the emergence of such new fields of working class struggle.”
On Monday, Pat John Kelly, Chairman of the Official Republican Movement, addressed their gathering in Milltown Cemetery where he spoke of the lack of equality and justice for working class communities being perpetrated by “a self-serving unholy alliance of elites”.
“Elites with the wealth and power to look after their own by forcing the poor to pay for the greed of unscrupulous financiers and speculators and for the theft by this same class of 120 billion pounds in tax avoidance while vital services and the hopes and aspirations of working class people are sent to hell in a handcart.
“It is clear that it is the less well off who are forced to shoulder the burden, a burden which will only get heavier with welfare changes due to merge several benefits into a so-called universal credit which will make many more of the poorest as much as £68 a week worse off, potentially pushing 250,000 children further into poverty. To our local politicians we say, stop wasting time and start fighting back.
“Official republicans stand shoulder to shoulder with those most in need and we demand that the politicians do the same, or at least have the decency and moral courage and conviction to state their true position.
“Comrades and friends, there is a new generation that wants to play their part in bringing forward the Official Republican project, they know how far away we are from realising our vision for Ireland but they have shown that they are determined to work towards that goal. All of us must be ready to do what we can to build towards the Ireland that our young people deserve and so many of our comrades gave their lives for.”
éirígí’s annual Easter commemoration address was a chance to reflect on the state of Ireland today, said party chair Brian Leeson.
“Hundreds of thousands of people are unemployed in this country, the population in the six counties continues to live under an occupation enforced by the British government’s armed forces, while the political institutions in both states serve no one but the wealthy,” he went on.
“The resting places of Ireland’s patriot dead are the perfect venues for socialist republicans to recommit themselves to ending these injustices and building an Ireland that the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation would be proud of.”