Thursday, May 21, 2015

Reaching Out


A few years ago I visited NUI Galway to address the students on the peace process. The hall was packed and for reasons I still don’t quite understand there were very few chairs put out for the hundreds of students who turned up. Most sat on the floor and the craic was great.
I was back there again on Tuesday. The heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, was in Ireland with his wife Camilla for a four day visit. At the weekend the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle met and discussed the party’s approach. On her recent visits to Ireland the British Queen Elizabeth had made clear her desire to be part of a process of reconciliation and healing. The meeting between Martin McGuinness and Queen Elizabeth in Belfast and then subsequently during a state visit by President Michael D, were widely acknowledged as historic and a boost to reconciliation efforts.
It was in this context, of peace building, that I raised the possibility of Sinn Féin leaders meeting with Charles during his visit.  I believed that such a meeting could be very helpful as we seek to heal the hurt of decades of conflict. Following several conversations it was agreed. On Tuesday morning Senator Trevor O Clochartaigh and I arrived at NUI Galway.
We were to be joined later by Martin McGuinness for a private meeting when the formal NUIG business was over. By the time Trevor and I arrived most of the guests were already assembled. They included school children from Connemara. At Trevor’s prompting they gave us a rousing rendition of Peigín Ligir Móir. I was delighted especially to meet Colm Seoighe a wonderful young guitarist and his fellow students and singers and their teachers. Colm’s guitar is autographed by Christy Moore.
‘Ride On ‘ dúirt mé leis.
In the meantime it rained. Then the sun shone warmly. Then it rained again. Luckily the meeting with Charles was indoors. We were introduced at the reception by Gearoid O Conluain on behalf of NUIG and shook hands.
I welcomed him in Irish and English. “Cead Mile Fáilte. Tá mé sasta go bhfuil tú arais agus tú ag dul go Mullach Mór”
“Welcome. It’s good that you are back and going to Mullach Mór”.
We spoke briefly before I introduced him to Trevor.

Later Trevor joined Martin and me for a private meeting with Charles. This engagement lasted about 20 minutes or so upstairs in an office. It was a cordial and relaxed discussion. Despite some of the difficult issues we each spoke of it was a positive conversation. We acknowledged that he and his family had been hurt and suffered great loss at Mullaghmore by the actions of Irish republicans. Martin and I said we were very conscious of this and of the sad loss of the Maxwell family whose son Paul was also killed.

We spoke also of the hurt inflicted on our friends and neighbours and on our own communities in Derry and Ballymurphy and Springhill by the actions of the Parachute Regiment and other British regiments. In 1971 and 1972 in Ballymurphy and Springhill sixteen local citizens, including three children, a mother of eight, two Catholic priests and ten unarmed men were killed by the Paras.

I also told him of the campaign by victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings to get the British Government to hand over its files about these events – believed to involve its agents - to Irish authorities.

He shared his own memories of the conflict starting in the 60s. It is obvious that he wants to play a positive role in making conflict a thing of the past. That is the Sinn Fein view also.

Thankfully the conflict is now over. Tuesday’s meeting is part of the necessary process which must now address in a more substantial way than ever before the issue of reconciliation and healing. That must mean that all victims and survivors of the conflict, who are still seeking justice and truth are given the strongest support.

Whether they were bereaved by the IRA, or by the myriad British state agencies, or through state sponsored collusion, the victims and their families and communities deserve justice. In this context it is crucial that the process of healing and of reconciliation is enhanced and strengthened.

Tuesday’s meeting in itself is a significant symbolic and practical step forward in the process of healing and reconciliation. But for substantial progress to be made the Governments and the political parties will have to build on this opportunity.
Reconciliation is an enormous challenge for all of us. It is a personal process of dialogue, engagement, and compromise. It’s about healing the past and building a new, better and fairer future based on equality.

There is now a peaceful way to end partition and the union. All who want a United Ireland have a duty to embrace this and to make friends with our neighbours.

The participation of myself and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Seanadóir Trevor O Clochartaigh and other Sinn Féin leaders in the visit by Prince Charles is a measure of our commitment to resolving outstanding legacy issues and to be part of an inclusive healing and reconciliation process and a new political dispensation between the people of this island.

I have no doubt that some people will be upset at the Galway meeting. That is their right if they are victims or survivors. Others may be upset because of their politics or because they have a narrow view of the past and no real strategy for the future. That also is their right.
But our resolve and responsibility is to ensure that no else suffers as a result of conflict; that no other family is bereaved; that the experience of war and of loss and injury is never repeated.This means all of us working together. That requires generosity and respect from all and for all.
We are all living in a time of transition for the people of the island of Ireland and between Ireland and Britain.  I don’t have a lot in common with a member of the British royal family. But we are of the same age. We have some interests in common. These also were touched upon in our conversation. We have both been bereaved in conflict. This week’s engagements are part of the process of building relationships, breaking down barriers to understanding and creating the space – as Seamus Heaney defined it – ‘in which hope can grow.'

There are many challenges facing the political Institutions established by the Good Friday Agreement and by the popular will of the people of the island of Ireland. These challenges, which are multiple and immediate, must be overcome.

Leaders have a responsibility to lead. That is what we are trying to do. As we face into the future let all our steps be forward steps.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Tiochfaidh ár ngrá - Vótáil Tá


There are no certainties in politics or when it comes to ‘the vote.’ Constitutional decisions are not taken on the basis of opinion polls. The only poll that counts is the one in which citizens exercise their democratic mandate at the poll. Opinion polls may suggest that the marriage equality referendum will be passed on Friday but only the people have the power to make that decision.
As we saw recently in Britain opinion polls can be wrong. The British Labour Party was badly mauled, neither of the north’s unionist parties emerged as ‘kingmakers’, and the Tories were returned with a clear and workable majority. None of the polls forecast those outcomes. So, not for the first time the peoples’ wishes confounded the pollsters predictions.

If you have a vote in the two referendums in the 26 counties – on marriage equality and the lowering of the age for candidate in Presidential elections – then I am asking that you vote YES.
If you don’t have a vote but know someone who does pick up the phone, send an email, or text or direct message them. Of the two referendums the marriage equality vote has become a litmus test for the humanity and tolerance; the understanding and compassion of society in that part of the island. It has sparked one of the most important debates in recent generations. in politics or when it comes to It has now about more than the right of a man or a woman to marry someone of the same sex.

It will in a very real and fundamental way be a profound judgement on the spirt and intent of the citizens of the south of Ireland.
As an Irish republican my starting point is the Proclamation. This document, which is frequently described as the ‘mission statement’ of modern Irish republicanism, is quite definitive. It declares its resolve to ‘pursue the happiness and the prosperity of the whole nation and all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally.’

We are those children. All of us. Without exception. We are all the children of the nation.
But the debate has gone beyond even this concept, this principal. It is about more than equality. It’s about happiness and inclusivity and acceptance. For too long our gay brothers and sisters have been forced by outdated law and prejudice to live a lie or to stay in the shadows.

Now as we have debated the issue of marriage equality the conversation has widened beyond the legal to the personal; beyond the constitutional to the human and emotional. I have listened to gay citizens talk openly and honestly and publicly about their lives and loves; their worries and hopes in a way I never have before. As a consequence this debate has taken on a new dynamic and imperative. It has become more than just a debate about marriage equality – it’s about the right of every single citizen to be comfortable and happy in their skin and for their difference to be embraced and loved.

Many of us are lucky to have found our soul mate. That very special person who shares our lives with us in good times and bad. Others are still searching. Why should the right to love be subject to chauvinism and bigotry and bad law?
Why can’t a gay person fall in love, marry, have a family, be loved, and enjoy intimacy and happiness. Is their love somehow different from the love of heterosexual couples? Are their emotions and feelings somehow different? And why can’t the love of a gay couple be recognised and valued and accepted in the same way as that of a heterosexual couple?

Marriage, if it is to mean anything, must be about love. It’s about two people committing to each other in a very special way. No one should be barred from that experience and that commitment.
All of us know citizens who are gay. They are loved members of our family; they work with us in our jobs; they are our neighbours, our friends and our comrades. They deserve the same rights and protections under the law as everyone else.

They should also have the same rights to the rituals and legal and constitutional protections of our society that provide community and family solidarity and belonging.
It’s easy to be a begrudger. To insist that only your way of thinking and of behaviour is the right way. To insist that society should stick with the rules and regulations that are part of our past. But humanity is thankfully not like that. If it was we would still be living in the stone age; or only the rich and powerful would have the vote; or women would still be chattels not citizens; and the laws which govern and shape our lives would never change and society would stagnate.

Fortunately, there are always courageous people, brave people, who will make a stand against injustice. Brave citizens will endure public humiliation, imprisonment and worse to advance fairness and equality and justice.
I have had the honour to meet many courageous people in the course of this referendum. Good people who don’t want to discriminate or hurt anyone. There is an opportunity on Friday May 22nd to help transform society in one part of this island and help reshape it across the whole island. Padraig Pearse in The Sovereign People says: “The end of freedom is human happiness”. This Friday we have a huge opportunity to make an awful lot of people happy, and wouldn’t that be a great thing to do on Friday. Caith do vóta, agus vótáil tá.

 

 

Friday, May 15, 2015

The next battlefield


 

 
There are lots of lessons to be learned from the Westminster election by all of the parties. The party number crunchers, as well as the political pundits, a host of academics and media columnists, like oracles of old, will closely scrutinise the entrails for sight of the future.

Whose vote went up or down? What are the trends? How did this party perform against that one and against past performances? The statisticians will run it all through their computers to divine future outcomes.

The short hand is pretty straight forward. The Unionist parties agreed an electoral pact against Sinn Féin and the Alliance Party and it worked in two constituencies – East Belfast and Fermanagh South Tyrone.


Despite the Sinn Féin vote rising marginally across the north, and Michelle Gildernew’s campaign attracting the highest vote of any Sinn Féin candidate, the combined unionist vote secured the Fermanagh South Tyrone seat for the Ulster Unionist Party. In the early hours of last Friday morning when the count was declared in Omagh leisure centre Tom Elliot thanked the DUP, the UUP, UKIP, the TUV and the loyal orders for his win. That was his strength.

In the context of a split nationalist vote, courtesy of the SDLP, and with a majority of one in the 2010 election, the republican ability to hold Fermanagh South Tyrone was always going to be a challenge.

Sinn Féin locally put in a huge effort. Comrades travelled from far and near to lend their hand to the campaign. Michelle fought a diligent and disciplined campaign but on the day Sinn Féin was piped at the post.

The result is a disappointment but it is temporary. As someone who once had a similar experience I am confident that Michelle and Sinn Féin will bounce back.

One early trend evident in the results is the inexorable decline of the SDLP. The nationalist vote overall dropped slightly. This was entirely down to the SDLP. For the first time in a Westminster election its vote fell below 100,000. In 2001 the SDLP took out almost 170,000 votes. In 2005 that had declined to 125,000 and last week it stood at 99,809.

The Sinn Féin vote came in at 176,232, just over 4,000 votes up on the 2010 Westminster election. But there can be no complacency in that result for the party. No sets of elections are the same. Westminster elections are different from European elections or Assembly or local elections.

 
Prior to the election the party set itself a number of goals, including; retaining the five seats we then held; consolidating the party vote across the north; as part of a two election strategy build the party organisation in preparation for next year’s Assembly election; and take the lead in opposing the austerity policies and future plans of the government in London. We are able to tick the boxes in all but one of these.

Sinn Féin ran a positive, forward looking campaign. Our party platform was based on the progressive politics of Irish unity and equality for all citizens.


Much was made by our political opponents of abstentionism. All made exaggerated claims about what they would achieve in the Westminster Parliament. They were all to be ‘kingmakers’ but in the end they are little more than the court jesters. None of it was real. Even a cursory glance back at the role of smaller parties propping up the bigger parties in government at Westminster should have warned that all fared badly. Nothing of substance or long term was ever won. The bigger parties survived. The smaller parties were electorally punished.

Unionists should have been especially mindful of this but in their eagerness to spin relevance to the electorate they ignored their past treatment at the hands of Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan, Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair and even David Cameron. All of these British Prime Ministers placed British self-interest and those of their own parties above the needs and interests of unionists. And time after time Unionists politicians whined about ‘betrayal’

The real politick is that substantial political change, whether in Scotland or on the island of Ireland will only occur within those places and not at Westminster.

The Liberal Democrats paid the price of keeping David Cameron in power for five years. They failed to learn the lesson of coalition politics in the south where the smaller coalition partners almost always lost votes and seats in general elections while the larger party did well.


 
The outcome of last week’s Westminster election presents enormous dangers to Ireland, north and south. During its first five years in office The Tories under Cameron largely disconnected from the peace process and the political institutions. And when they did engage it was almost entirely in a negative way creating significant difficulties for the Executive and cutting huge amounts of funding from the block grant.



As part of its election manifesto the Conservative party pledged to cut another €30 billion with €12 billion of this impacting on welfare, including child benefit. Cameron has also pledged that by 2017, he will hold a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union. The stark reality of this is could be to take the north out of the European Union.

In effect the attitude of English voters will dictate the future relationship of the north with the EU. This will affect the entire island.

So, what happens next?

When all of the parties act together it is clear that we can deliver real change.

That means that all of the parties in the Executive and Assembly need to urgently develop a common approach to address the challenges presented by the new Tory government, especially their attacks on public services and jobs.

Martin McGuinness has taken the first step. He has called on all of the Assembly parties to unite against austerity and to seek the additional powers from London to grow the economy. This will be the battlefield for the next term of British Tory rule.

Finally, a word of thanks to all of our candidates and their families, and to our party activists who worked tirelessly throughout this campaign. I would also like to thank the tens of thousands who came out to support Sinn Féin and entrust us with the mandate to oppose austerity, and build an inclusive, equal and united Ireland.

Finally - finally –there are two referendum votes in the south on May 22nd and a key by-election in Carlow Kilkenny on the same day. A general election will take place to Leinster House sometime in less than a year and possibly sooner. And in exactly one year there will be Assembly elections.

Republicans have a busy and hugely important year ahead of us.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

James Connolly Commemoration: Government being dishonest on economic choices



The life and death of James Connolly is a story of heroism in the struggle against injustice and inequality.
 
Connolly was born in 1868 into a poor family in an Irish ghetto in Edinburgh. 

He was a self-educated man whose contribution to Ireland and to Irish labour is unequalled. 

Connolly first came to Ireland as a member of the British Army. Aged 14, he forged documents to enlist to escape poverty and was posted to Cork, Dublin and later the Curragh in Kildare.

Here in Dublin Connolly met Lillie Reynolds and they married in 1890.
 

First and foremost Connolly was a workers' leader. In 1911 he was appointed Belfast organiser of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union.

He organised the workers of Belfast, and especially the linen slaves - those thousands of young women who worked in hellish conditions in the Mills which were the backbone of Belfast’s economy.
 

In the years before the 1916 Rising, Connolly was central to a wave of strikes across Ireland designed to improve working conditions and wages.

The Great Lockout of 1913, here in the city of Dublin, is still recalled as one of the greatest battles between Labour and workers anywhere.
 

This was an epic struggle in which the Dublin bosses and owner of the Irish Independent newspaper, William Martin Murphy, set out to crush the workers and their organisations. 

Eventually the Dublin workers were starved back to work. But Connolly remained defiant and continued to organise and mobilize.

Out of the Lockout emerged the Irish Citizen Army. Its task was to defend workers against the brutal attacks of police and hired thugs of the employers.

Connolly saw the Citizen Army not only as a defence force, but as a revolutionary army, dedicated to the overthrow of capitalism and imperialism.
 

When Connolly entered into an alliance with the IRB to participate in the 1916 Easter Rising, during the 1916 Rising he was the Commandant General of the Dublin Division of the Army of the Irish Republic – and the man whom Pearse described as ‘the guiding brain of our resistance’. 

Connolly died fighting to establish a republic on this island in which the people were sovereign and citizens would be ensured their fundamental rights. 

He was one of signatories of the 1916 Proclamation which guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens.

It contains a commitment to cherish all the children of the nation equally. Sadly, real equality does not exist in this society.

Partition created two conservative states, administered by two elites who entrenched their own power and privilege to the detriment of ordinary citizens.

While the North became a one-party Orange State, the South has been run since Partition by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, often with the support of the Labour Party.

The result has been the perpetuation of inequality and conservatism and the continued division of Ireland.

Following the calamity of the economic crash under the last Fianna Fáil-led Government, a Fine Gael/Labour coalition assumed office with a huge mandate for political change.

But as citizens have learned to their cost, nothing has changed.

According to the most recent CSO figures the top 10% own over half of the wealth while the poorest 20% own more than they own. 

According to the ESRI, only the top 40% of households actually benefited from the last Budget with the greatest benefits going to the top 10%.

Fine Gael and Labour’s four Budgets have been the most unfair and unequal since the economic crash.
 

There has been a huge growth in social inequality.

A third of our children now live in consistent poverty. 

Over 1,000 children are homeless in this city.

Low and middle-income earners have been severely penalised by Fine Gael and Labour.

The abolition of the PRSI ceiling, increase in VAT, the introduction of a Family Home Tax and Water Charge have significantly increased the tax bill of ordinary workers.

The abject failure to do anything practical to alleviate the plight of those in mortgage distress or those struggling with spiralling rents has further increased financial pressure on ordinary families.

These are the same damaging policies agreed by Fianna Fáil with the Troika in 2010 and implemented by Fine Gael and Labour since 2011.

These policies have already led to massive emigration and an increase in low-paid and insecure jobs.

They have accelerated the crises in our health, education and community services.

But there is a better, fairer way.
 

Sinn Féin advocates a reform of the tax system to ease the burden on low and middle-income earners while also increasing revenue to invest in a fair and just recovery.

In Government Sinn Féin would do this by:

● Abolishing the Property Tax and Water Charges;

● Reforming the USC to ease the burden on lower earners;

● Ensuring high-earners pay their fair share of income tax;

● Increasing employer’s PRSI to address the deficit in the Social Insurance Fund;

● Introducing a wealth tax to generate funds for investment in job creation.

Sinn Féin passionately believes that the economy must serve society, not the other way around. We would introduce measures to support and promote small and medium enterprises.

We believe that citizens are entitled to secure jobs with decent pay and conditions, adequate housing and quality public services.

Fine Gael and Labour are perpetuating a lie that it is possible to reduce the overall tax take while increasing investment in frontline services.

This approach means that high-earners will be the winners while those on low and middle incomes and citizens most dependent on public services will lose out yet again.

Sinn Féin’s economic alternative offers a route to a fair recovery. Our politics are about empowering citizens on the basis of equality.
 

Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party seek to limit the possibilities of political engagement. 

Unlike Connolly, they have no over-arching vision of a better society which politics and democracy can bring about. 

It was James Connolly who coined the phrase ‘We serve neither King nor Kaiser but Ireland.’  

Such clear sighted comment has no place in today’s Labour leadership. 

They capitulated to the elites of the EU, to the Troika, to the bankers and the golden circles and forced working people to bear the burden for this indulgence. 

It is appropriate on Connolly's anniversary that we welcome the 'Policy Principles for a Progressive Irish Government' published on May Day by the unions affiliated to the Right to Water Campaign.

These Principles are very much in line with the rights advocated by Sinn Féin for many years.

We welcome this initiative and look forward to engaging in the debate in the weeks ahead.
 

But debate is not enough. We need to see tangible progress to make change happen. 

Citizens desperately need, for the first time ever in this State, a Government that is not led by Fine Gael nor by Fianna Fáil.

More than that, they need a progressive Government that will pursue real and viable alternative policies based on equality not austerity, rights not privilege and that will govern in the interests of the people and not the elites.

We need to show that those policies are workable and can yield actual results that will make a difference in the lives of people.

Like Connolly, we need to be both practical and visionary.

James Connolly declared that ‘the cause of labour is the cause of Ireland and the cause of Ireland is the cause of labour’.

For Connolly, socialism and national self-determination were two sides of the same coin.

In the recent Westminster elections Sinn Féin was confronted by a reactionary alliance of Tories, unionists and the Orange Order determined to halt political and social progress.

The newly re-elected Tory Government in London is wedded to austerity and this presents severe challenges for society and citizens in the North.

These include the threat of more destructive cuts to the North's budget and to the social welfare system as well as a referendum that could remove the North from the EU with obvious negative effects for all the people of this island.

It is now clearer than ever that austerity is the price of the Union.

Sinn Féin's immediate focus is to work with others to confront these challenges.

We are seeking to develop an All-Ireland alternative to the reactionary politics that has long dominated both states.

Austerity must be actively opposed no matter if it's from a Tory Government in London or a Fine Gael/Labour Party government in Dublin.

The Marriage Equality referendum on 22nd May is another opportunity to advance the cause of equality in Ireland.

Sinn Féin has been running a strong, positive campaign for a 'Yes' vote.

Every vote will count. So, I would also appeal again for everyone to join the campaign for a Yes Vote.

Kathleen Funchion, a young mother and trade unionist, is also contesting the Carlow/Kilkenny by-election under Sinn Féin's banner of equality, social justice and Irish unity.

Kathleen is in the by-election to win and such a result would be a huge boost for the cause of a fair recovery.

Sinn Féin is seeking to build an unstoppable momentum for positive political change across this island.

I am mindful also that today, the anniversary of Connolly’s execution, is also the anniversary of the death on hunger strike of Francis Hughes in the H Blocks of Long Kesh in 1981.
 

Those of us who were privileged to know Francie or who campaigned during that awful summer on behalf of the H Block prisoners and the Armagh women are very mindful of their sacrifices. 

We are also mindful that Francie, like James Connolly was about the future.  

So my friends let us continue to work to build a better future based on fairness, equality and peoples’ rights.

That will be the only fitting monument to James Connolly.

A real republic.

Go raibh maith agaibh go léir.





 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Managing change will define us


Well the Westminster election is over and the shape of the next British government is now known.  We also know the strengths of the parties in the north.

For the political anorak it’s an early Christmas present. The election opens up months, even years of debate and analysis. For most citizens its importance will be in who delivers jobs and housing; peace and prosperity; and how we answer critical questions around the future of the Health Service, and the threat to other public services.  In the immediate term the big question will be whether the Stormont House Agreement can finally be made to work.

These are significant challenges, especially given the very different ideological positions the parties hold. And all of this will be made more problematic given that we are only 12 months away from an Assembly election.

However, there is another underlying and formidable challenge which must also be addressed. How do we break down the sectarian barriers that have bedevilled society in this part of the island since the plantation? How do we build an inclusive community?

Some progress has been made in recent years. But sectarianism remains the greatest obstacle to political stability and equality for citizens. And how could it be otherwise.

The plantation of Ulster introduced a new dynamic into Irish society. Unlike other colonies, where colour and race where the distinctive features between the colonists and natives, in Ireland, and especially in the north, it was religion. Protestants were loyal to the union. Catholics wanted independence.

The partition of the island almost 100 years ago exasperated this problem. The northern state was forged out of a sectarian headcount. Two thirds of the population was protestant and loyal to the union; and one third was Catholic and excluded and discriminated against. Neither section where well served by partition.

In the decades since then that broad political characterization of society in this part of the island has not changed. And election results for the different parties up to now have reflected this.

But under the surface change has been and is taking place. 

Last week ‘The Detail’ –an investigative news and analysis website which produces in-depth reporting on issues of public interest - published several days of articles and statistics about the north. They looked at demographics, orange marches, the Irish language and much more. It is a must read for anyone interested in developments in this part of the island.

Its focus was the future and the need for political leaders to realise that however hard some may try to avoid change that they can’t. It is happening every single day. Whether you are a unionist or a nationalist, a republican or loyalist, or none of these, political and societal transformation is taking place.

The census results in December 2012 reflect this. For the first time since partition the protestant population is less than half of the north’s population. It stands at 48%. The Catholic population is identified as 45%.

But as The Detail reveals, “census data asking people to state a current religion or religious belief, showed that an increased portion fell outside the two main blocs. A total of 17% did not state a religion or indicated they had no religion”.

The erosion of previously established certainties was further highlighted when the census figures looked at the issue of ‘national identity’. Only 40% (39.89%) of citizens in the north stated that they had a British only identity. A quarter (25.26%) stated that they had an Irish only identity and just over a fifth (20.94%) had a northern Irish only identity. That’s a long way from 1920 when some two thirds of people were unionist and British. It also reflects a growth in the number of citizens who increasingly see themselves as Irish.

The figures also reveal that 11% of the population was born outside of the north. Sectarian violence has always been a major problem but in recent years racist, homophobic and hate crime have also been on the increase.

The response of the institutions in the north has, for many reasons, been inadequate in dealing with this problem. Much more is needed to provide tough measures to defend and promote the equal rights of all citizens, including the introduction of a Bill of Rights.

In the same year as the census figures were published ‘The Detail’ released figures from the annual school census which showed that significant demographic change was taking place. In the 1,070 schools in the north 51% of the 311,559 schoolchildren were Catholic, 37% Protestant and 12 'other', which includes other Christian, non-Christian and no religion/religion unknown.

The demographic and societal changes that are taking place in the north, as well as in the rest of the island, and even across the sea to Scotland and England and Wales, mean that Irish republicans and nationalists must look afresh at how we engage with our unionist neighbours and the increasing numbers of citizens in the six counties who define themselves as northern Irish, as well as those who have consciously set themselves outside the traditional definitions of Catholic and Protestant.

For a republican party, rooted in secularism; committed to equality for every citizen; and eager to achieve a united Ireland, this is a unique and exciting opportunity. There is an onus on us who want maximum change to persuade others of its desirability.

In part it means that we must demonstrate in a tangible way our objective of building a fair and inclusive, multi-cultural and pluralist society. A society which celebrates the diversity of all our people regardless of religious persuasion, cultural identity, political affiliation, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation. For example, in those Councils where Sinn Féin is the largest party we must prove by our policies and our actions that we are serious about protecting and defending the rights of citizens. In the Assembly and Executive too our words and actions must match our republican rhetoric.

Republicans have long recognised and stated publicly that change is inevitable. It is how we manage that change that will define all of us.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Bricfeasta na hAoine - my own 'grá' for our native language


Inné bhí mé ag caint ag Bricfeasta na hAoine, ócáid eagrithe ag Glór na nGael. Bhí slua maith de Ghaeilgeoirí ann. Daoine le Gaeilge ag teacht le chéile ar son phroinn na maidine san ArdChathair.

At Bricfeasta na hAoine in Dublin  I spoke as a guest of Glór na nGael. I spoke of my own 'grá' for our native language.

Tá mé thar a bheith sásta a bheith libh anseo go moch ar maidin. Tá sé chomh maith go bhfuil an oiread seo daoine a bhfuil suim acu i ndul chun cinn na Gaeilge anseo linn inniu.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh as cuireadh a thabhairt dom bheith in bhur measc.

Tréaslaím an obair iontach atá idir lámha ag Glór na nGael. Táim den tuairim go gcaithfear an Ghaeilge a scaoileadh saor ón seomra ranga agus beocht a thabhairt di in achan gné den tsaol.

Beatha teanga í a labhairt. Tugann Glór na nGael go leor dieseanna do dhaoine an Ghaeilge a labhairt i níos mó áiteanna.

Chuir mé féin suim sa teanga nuair a bhí me ag freastal ar bhunscoil Naomh Finian De La Salle ar Bhóthar na bhFál.

Ach nuair a chuaigh mé go dtí Scoil na mBráithre Críostaí chuir mé tús le gaol leis an teanga a mhaireann go dtí an lá atá inniu ann.

Cuid mhór de sin ná an Bráthair Beusang a d’eagraigh turasanna chuig an Ghaeltacht i dTír Chonanaill.

An chéad deis eile a bhí agam mo chuid eolais ar an Ghaeilge a leathnú ná sa phríosún.

Chruthaigh na cimí polaitiúla, go háirithe sna cásanna sa Cheis Fhada, pobail bheaga Gaeilge – botháin Gaeltachta – áit a raibh an teanga beo gach lá.

Agus mar gheall ar an stádas polaitiúil a bhí againn bhí cead leabhair Ghaeilge a bheith againn.

Sin an áit ar fhoghliam Bobby Sands a chuid Gaeilge.

Bhí Prionsias Mac Airt, seanPhoblachtánach, amhránaí ar an sean-nós mar mhúinteoir aige.

Múinteior eile as Luimneach a bhí ag múineadh ná Coireal Mac Curtain.

Ansin, nuair a scaoileadh saor na cimí, lean siad ar aghaidh ag obair ar a gcuid Gaeilge sa phobal.

Bhí pobal Gaeilge láidir ann i mBéal Feirste roimhe sin le Gaeltacht Bhóthar Seoighe agus Cumann Chluain Aird.

Níos déanaí nuair a tháinig na Blocanna H in áit na gcásanna, agus nuiar a bhí an Ghaeilge mar ghnátheanga laethúil, bhí tionchar ollmhór aige seo ar dhaoine óga ó na ceantair náisiúnach agus lucht oibre sa tuaisceart.

Ag an tráth sin fosta, cuireadh lasair síos i measc an phobail mar gheall ar na stailceanna ocrais.

Nuiar a scaoileadh saor na daoine sin a bhí sna blocanna, thóg siad na scileanna sin amach chuig an phobal. Chuir said ranganna ar siúl i bpubanna, clubanna, ionaid phobail agus i dtithe.

Inniu i m’áit dhúchais in iarthar Bhéal Feirste thig liom dul isteach chuig mo shiopa lóganta agus an nuachtán a cheannacht trí mheán na Gaeilge.

Thig liom dul chuig an bhairbeoir aitiúil agus bearradh gruaige a fháil le comhrá fada as Gaeilge.

Thig liom dul chuig an chaifé lóganta agus cupán caifé a ordú trí mheán na Gaeilge.

Tá pobal Gaeilge atá beomhar ar Bhóthar na bhFál agus tá Ceathrú Gaeltachta againn.

Tá naíonraí, Gaelscoileanna agus Meánscoil Feirste ann.

Tá na mílte páiste dulta agus ag dul faoi láthair trí oideachas le Gaeilge.

Ó mo cheantar féin, Baile Uí Mhurchú fuair dhá mhíle páiste oideachas trí mheán na Gaeilge le déanaí.

Tá seo uilig an-tábhachtach.

Nuair a chuirtear teanga faoi chois boilg éilíonn an pobal cearta teanga,

Céad bliain ó shin chuidigh athbheochan na Gaeilge, an cheoil, na litríochta agus na drámaíochta dúchais, borradh a chur faoi dhaoine saoirse na tíre a bhaint amach agus ar ndóiche lean sin ar aghaidh go dtí Éirí Amach 1916.

I 1987 i Soweto san Aifric Theas nuair a bhí mic léinn ag iarraidh oideachais ina dteanga dhúchais féin chuir said tús le rud an-tábhachtach.

Bhí an Stát in aghaidh athrú agus d’éirigh na mic léinn amach.

Rugadh spiorad iontu. Sheas siad an fód.

Cosúil le cóilíneachtaí eile bhí an teanga agus an cultúr faoi ionsaí go rialta in Éirinn.

I ndiaidh na gcéadta bliain de chólínteacht tá a rian láidir fágtha linn in Éirinn.

Rinne Séan Mac Giolla Bhríde, iar-cheannaire an IRA, buaiteoir Duais Nobel agus Lenin na Síochána, cur síos air mar ‘intinn an sclábhaí’

Bhí an dearcadh nó an mheoin sin chomh láidir in Éirinn gur nós leis na húdair agus na filí, tagairt a dhéanamh d’Éirinn le tagairtí casta.

Léirigh siad Éire mar Kathleen Ní Houlihan.

Mar atá a fhios agaibh go maith bhí fáth leis seo.

Má bhí duine ag lorg post bhí an Béarla de dheol orthu.

Go háirithe iad siúd a bhí ag dul ar imirce chuig na Stáit Aontaithe, An Asráil nó Sasana.

Bhí dlí na Breataine an-dian orthu siúd a bhí ag maireachtáil trí mheán na Gaeilge.

Tá sin fós ag tarlú sa tuaisceart mar a bhfuil cosc iomlán ar an Ghaeilge a úsáid sna Cúirteanna.

Ach bhí an scéal mar an gcéanna in Albain agus sa Bhreatain Bheag go dtí gur tháinig an féinriail.

Mar sin is iad an DUP agus an UUP atá in aghaidh Acht na Gaeilge. Ar an lámh eile bhí páirt láidir ag go leor Protastún in athbheochan na Gaeilge cosúil le Robert Shipbuoy McAdam agus féach an obair atá ar siúl san ionad Skainos ar Bhóthar Bhaile Nua na hArda inniu mar shampla.

Maidir leis na Gaelscoileanna a tháinig chun cinn le tríocha bliain, dhiúltaigh Rialtas na Breataine aon airgeadas a chur ar fáil daofa.

Níor chuir sin stop leis na Gaelscoileanna, agus níor chuir sé stop leis na Gaelscoileanna sa Stát seo ach oiread.

Smaoiním ar na daoine a tháinig ón Ghaeltacht chun na cathrach chun freastal ar phobal Gaeilge nua seo agus an nath a bhí ag Máirtín Ó Díreáin “An Charraig agus an Chathair”

Tháinig an pobal le chéile, cheannaigh said sean-bhotháin déanta as adhmaid, agus d’oscail said scoileanna nach raibh go leor áiseanna acu ach a raibh grá láidir don teanga iontu.

Cuireann Sinn Féin an-bhéim ar an oideachas, sin an fáth go bhfuil an aireacht sin againn ó tháinig an Feidhmeannas ar an saol.

Faoin scéim roinnt-chumhachta chinntigh na hAirí oideachais John O’Dowd, Caitríona Ruane agus Martin McGuinness go mbeadh airgead ann don GhaelOideachas agus go rachadh sé ó neart go neart.

Mar sin, i mo bharúil féin, ceann de na dúshláin is mó atá roimh phobal na hÉireann ná díchóilíniú.

Mar a dúirt Máirtín Ó Cadhain ‘Is í an Ghaeilge Athghabháil na hÉireann agus is í athghabháil na hÉireann slánú na Gaeilge’

Sin é an fáth go bhfuil gá ann le hAcht Gaeilge ó Thuaidh a thugann cosaint do chearta saoránaigh an Ghaeilge a úsáid.

D’fhoilsigh an tAire Caral Ní Chuilin dréachtAcht na Gaeilge le comhairliúchán ar siúl anois.

Chuir Caral tús leis an fheachtas 'Líofa', a bhfuil ag éirí go breá leis, agus An Club Leabhar fosta.

Agus sa Stát seo sin an fáth go gcaithfimid deireadh a chur leis an ghearradh siar a bhaineann leis an teanga, níos mó airgid a thabhairt ar ais do Foras na Gaeilge agus airgead ceart a chur ar fail chun Scéim Fiche Bliain a chur i gcrích.

Nuair a bhí mé ag siúl chuig an áit seo ar maidin tháinig gliondar croí orm nuair a chonaic mé go leor pósataer ag tacú le 'TÁ' sa reifreann atá le teacht. Dhá rud a bhí iontach faoi sin.

An chéad rud ná go raibh Gaeilge ar na póstaeir ó go leor páirtithe, ní amháin Sinn Féin. Is linn ar fad an Ghaeilge.

Ní bhaineann sí le haon ghrúpa, aon chine nó aon chreideamh amháin.

Tá sí uilíoch.

Clúdaíonn an dátheangachas gach duine.

Agus ní bhaineann an Ghaeilge le Sinn Féin nó le poblachtánaigh amháin.

An dara rud ná an focal comhionannas a bheith chun tosaigh ar na póstaeir.

Is breá liom na focail a thosaíonn le ‘comhComhoibriú, comhpáirtíocht, agus ar ndóigh comhionannas.

Sin bunús an phoblachtánachais. Comhionannas.

Ba cheart go mbeidh deis ag gach duine saol a chaitheamh le compáird agus sonas.

Tá cearta tábhachtach fosta.

Ba chóir an ceart a bheith againn ár dteanga dhúchais in achan gné den tsaol.

Léigh mé altanna le polaiteoirí eile a shíleann gur masla daofa agus don teanga é nuair a labhraím as Gaeilge sa Dáil.

Caitheann said anuas ar an chanúint is agamsa agus go mbímse ag plé rudaí tábhachtacha as Gaeilge.

Sin an barúil atá acu.

An rud a chuireann isteach orm ná go bhfuil daoine sa Dáil a bhfuil an teanga acu, ach seachas í a úsáid, baineann siad spoc as daoine nach bhfuil an teanga acu.

Nó i gcás an Taoiseach agus An Teachta Mick Wallace is bealach é chun ceist thábhachtach a chur ar leataobh.

Creidim nach bhfuil bealach níos fear ann chun deireadh a chur le meath na Gaeilge ná chun í a úsáid sna hinstitiúdí is airde sa tír.

Tá Teachtaí sa Dáil atá i bhfad níos líofa ná mé féin ach nach labhraíonn smid Gaeilge sa Dáil.

Cad chuige seo?

Ar an ábhar seo creidim nach bhfuil áit ar bith nach féidir an Ghaeilge a úsáid ann.

Ba cheart go mbeadh an Dáil oscailte agus tacúil do dhaoine atá ag iarraidh an teanga a úsáid gach lá.

Le sampla maith leanfaidh na daoine eile.

Mar fhocal scor, maidir le hÉirí Amach 1916 agus an céad bliain.

Níos luaithe labhair mé faoin nasc sin idir an teanga, an cultúr agus an ceol le comhthéacs an Éirí Amach a chruthú.

Tá sé an-tábhachtach agus muid réidh le céiliúradh a dhéanamh ar an céad bliain, go mbeidh an Ghaeilge ina cuid lárnach de na himeachtaí sin.

Arís míle buíochas as cuireadh a thabhairt dom. Tugann sé ardú meanmar dom nuair a fheicim daoine anseo le Gaeilge agus chomh gníomhach. Leanaigí ar aghaidh leis an obair thábhachtach seo.

Translation

I am delighted to be here with you early this morning.

It is great to see so many people active in the Irish language.

Thank you very much for inviting me to be here with you this morning.

I want to praise the work undertaken by Glór na nGael.

I am strongly of the opinion that Irish must be liberated from the classroom and inserted into every aspect of life.

The life of a language is in its speaking.

Glór na nGael gives people the opportunity to speak Irish in more and more settings.

My own interest in the language began when I started primary school at St. Finian’s De La Salle School on the Falls Road.

 However it was St. Mary’s Grammar School run by the Christian Brothers which really bonded me to the language.

A big part of that was Brother Beausang who helped organise our summer breaks to the Donegal Gaeltacht.

My next real opportunity to extend my limited knowledge of the language was in prison. 

Political prisoners, particularly in the cages of Long Kesh, created Irish language communities in prison – Gaeltacht huts – where we lived and breathed the language each day.

And because we had political status we were permitted Irish language text books.

It was there that Bobby Sands learned Irish.

He was taught by, amongst others, Prionsias Mac Airt, a veteran republican, a sean-nós singer and a man from Limerick, Coireal Mac Curtain.

Subsequently, many of these prisoners and others who had been interned continued with their work on the language when they were released.

Later when the cages were replaced by the H Blocks and when the Irish language became the daily language of most of the protesting prisoners at that time, this had a huge impact on the consciousness, particularly of young working-class nationalists.

A spark was lit in the community during the Hunger Strikes.

When prisoners were released from the Blocks, many of them brought the language skills and teaching methods they had learned back into their communities conducting classes in pubs, clubs, community centres and homes.

In my own native West Belfast I can go into my local shop and buy my newspaper using Irish.

I can go to my local barber and get my hair cut and have a long conversation with my barber using Irish.

I can go to my local café and buy my coffee through the medium of the Irish language.

We have a thriving Irish language community n Belfast and on the Falls there is Ceathrú na Gaeltachta.

There are Irish medium nurseries, primary schools and a Meánscoil Féirste.

Thousands of our children have and are going through education using Irish as their first language.

All of this s very important.

Culture and language are catalysts for change and development.

Often the effect is a dynamic.

The suppression of language leads to the demand for language rights.

Just over 100 years ago the revival of the Irish language and of native music and culture, of literature and theatre helped spur the national and republican struggle for independence and laid the foundations for Easter 1916.

In the context of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, the simple assertion of the right to be taught through their native tongue by students in Soweto in 1976 was a key moment.

The state resisted change and the students rebelled.

A renewed spirit of resistance was born.

In Ireland, as in other colonies, culture and language have been a frequent target.

Hundreds of years of colonialism have left an indelible impression on Irish society.

Human rights campaigner Sean MacBride, once an IRA commander, later a winner of both the Nobel and the Lenin Peace Prize, described the problem as being ‘a slave mentality’.

British imperialism and colonialism has been so pervasive in Ireland over such  a long time that in the past artists and writers gave expression to their Irishness only in veiled references.

Ireland was disguised as Kathleen Ní Houlihan.

Of course, as you may well know, there was a sound historical reason for this.

If you wanted a job you needed English.

Especially if you wanted to go to the USA, Australia or England.

British law severely penalised those giving outward expression to Irishness, including our language.

That remains a real issue in the north where, for example the use of Irish in the courts is specifically outlawed.

It was likewise in Wales and Scotland until they asserted devolution.

Therefore it is the DUP and the UUP who are against an Irish Language Act in the north. On the other hand, there were many Protestants active in the language revival, like Robert Shipbuoy McAdam and the  wonderful work being done by Linda Ervine at the Skainos Centre on the Newtonards Road.         

Irish language schools, of which many have grown up over the last 30 years, were refused public funding under British direct rule.

That did not stop the formation of gaelscoileanna.

I often think of those that left the Gaeltacht to come to the cities to nurture these new Irish language communities. The phrase coined by Máirtín Ó Direáin sums up that period "An Charraig agus an Chathair"

Families and local communities worked hard to raise funds, buy second hand wooden huts, and open schools that were short on resources but in which there was a strong love for the language.

Recognising the importance of education Sinn Féin has held the education department in the Executive since it was established.

Under power-sharing, Education Ministers John O Dowd, Caitríona Ruane and Martin McGuinness have ensured funding is provided and Irish medium education grows from strength to strength.

So, one of the greatest challenges we face today is the decolonisation.

As Máirtín Ó Cadhain rallied: ‘Is í an Ghaeilge Athghabháil na hÉireann agus is í athghabháil na hÉireann slánú na Gaeilge’

That is why an Irish language Act is needed in the north that protects the rights of Irish speakers. Caral Ní Chuilin has published  a draft Irish Language Act.

Caral initaited a great scheme called 'Líofa' which is flourishing, and a scheme for Irish language books.

And it is why in this state we need an end to cuts affecting the language, a restoration of funding for Foras na Gaeilge and finance for the implementation of the 20 year strategy for the Irish language.

When I was walking here this morning I was uplifted when I saw many posters that were supporting a YES vote written in Irish.

Two things about that I found fantastic.

Firstly, there were signs in Irish from most of the parties, not just Sinn Féin.

We all own the Irish language.

It is not confined exclusively to any religious, ethnic or racial group.

It is inclusive.

And developing bilingualism includes everyone.

Nor does the Irish language belong solely to Sinn Féin or Irish republicans.

The second thing that uplifted me is that the word Comhionannas is to the fore on all the posters.

I like words that begin with comh ; comhoibriú cooperation, comhpháirtíocht solidarity.

And of course Comhionannas.

That is what is at the heart of Republicanism.

Equality of condition for all citizens.

Rights are also at the heart of Republicanism.

We should have the right to speak one’s native language in all facets of our lives.

I have read articles by other politicians who seem to think that my using the Irish language in the Dáil is an affront to them and to the language.

They make fun of my Ulster dialect and Belfast accent and are critical of the fact that I try to discuss ‘important’ matters through the medium of Irish

That’s their opinion.

What I find frustrating is that so many of those in the Dáil have the language and instead of using it they poke fun at those who try.

Or as in the recent case of the Taoiseach and Mick Wallace it becomes a means of dismissing the concerns of a Teachta Dála on an important issue.

I believe there is no better way to show commitment to the reversal of language decline than using the language in public in some of the highest institutions.

Thre are Teachtaí in the Dáil far more proficient in the Irish language than I am, yet they don't utter a word as Gaeilge in the Dáil.

Why not?

To this end I believe it is important to show that there is no forum unsuitable for using Irish.

The Dáil, more that any other institution should be openly and enthusiastically encouraging the use of the Irish language every day.

If we set the example then others might follow.

Finally, a word about the centenary celebrations for 1916.

Earlier I remarked on the importance of the language and culture and music and literature in creating the context for the Rising.

It is very important that as we plan to celebrate the centenary that this aspect of that period in our history is given expression.

That may be something you have already discussed in this group.

So, congratulations for liberating an Ghaeilge and bringing it to the breakfast table. I commend the work of Glór na nGael for providing practical and living examples of  how the very essence of Irishness can be part of our lives.

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