Saturday, November 10, 2018

BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME.


This article comes to you from the USA. It’s an interesting time to be here. The mid-term elections for the Congress; for some Senate seats; and for governorship and state legislatures and a host of other elected positions will be over by the time you get to read this. And you will know the results. But at the time of writing on the eve of the election everyone I have spoken to is focussed on what is going to happen. Will President Trump consolidate his position? Or will he lose out? Will the Democrats take the Congress?
Sinn Féin steadfastly refuses to get involved in the domestic politics of the USA. Our cause here is the cause of Ireland. Of course we oppose many aspects of US foreign policy and I myself have raised these with previous administrations.
As I travel from New York to Nashville to Atlanta and back to New York I am also conscious of the homeless people I see in all these cities and the other signs of poverty sitting starkly alongside affluence. This is a time of political discord here. Perhaps it was always thus but there is an edge to it that wasn’t so obvious during other times that RG and I spent here.
The visits to Nashville and Atlanta were a reconnection with the Irish diaspora there. I got a sliotar from Nashville’s local GAA club. But the highlight of that visit was the meeting with veterans of the civil rights struggle last Saturday morning. We visited the Civil Rights Room in the Nashville Public Library. There I was honoured to meet with two former civil rights leaders Rip Patton and King Hollands. They and around 50 local people had come along to hear me talk about the connections between the Civil Rights Movement in the USA and the Civil Rights Association in the North in the 1960s.
The two civil rights leaders had participated in the famous Woolworths Lunchtime sit ins in 1960 and were among the freedom riders, many of whom were arrested and imprisoned. At that time black citizens were not allowed under the draconian segregation laws to sit at whites only lunch counters. There was also violent opposition to the integration of the interstate transport system. So some courageous women and men, black and white – freedom riders – took to the buses and trains to challenge segregation. Many were beaten and hundreds were imprisoned.
The Civil Rights Room is a time capsule of all of this, including imagery, photographs, and books of that dangerous time. Later I visited the Woolworths building and met up again with Rip and King, and with Judge Richard Dinkins, another veteran of those days. We briefly sat at the lunch counter where almost 60 years ago African American citizens were attacked. Later at a lunch they recounted their experiences of those days, including arrests and assaults, before we sang ‘We shall overcome’ to our surprised guests.
In Atlanta Richard and I visited the ‘Centre for Civil and Human Rights’. The filmed reports of those hard days can be watched on screens, including Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech along with the speeches of others. You can relive the sit-in protests at a lunch counter, by closing  your eyes, and putting on ear phones to  hear shouts of abuse which grows steadily until the voices are shouting and your seat shakes. It’s a very visceral experience.
On Tuesday evening I will address the Friendly Sons and Daughters of St. Patrick’s dinner before heading back to New York for the annual Friends of Sinn Féin New York dinner. This will be our 23rd annual dinner. The first was held on May 10th 1995 in the Essex House Hotel in New York. This year Mary Lou McDonald will be making her inaugural speech as Uachtarán Shinn Féin. I will be introducing her. She will then go on to do the same in Toronto in Canada.
Our party has been well served by the people who organise this key fundraising event, especially the Dinner Committee. We have also been well served by those who have worked with us in north America since Friends of Sinn Féin was established. Ciaran Staunton was our first representative. Followed by Mairead Keane. They did exemplary work. And the indominatable Rita O Hare has represented us diligently and tirelessly since then.
Friends of Sinn Fein has been led by Larry Downes, the founding President and mainstay of the organisation for a very long time. He was followed by the late Jim Cullen and we are now fortunate to have Mark Guilfoyle in that post. They have been ably supported by countless others in cities and states across the USA and Canada – too many to mention – who I have had the great pleasure and honour to work with. I have been uplifted, moved, inspired and encouraged by all of them. And I am confident that they will continue to work closely with Mary Lou as we enter a new phase of struggle, under a new leadership determined to secure Irish unity.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

The Best Kept Secret of the Irish Peace Process



Countless books have been written about the Irish peace process. Its origins - the principle characters and key dates. Who met who, and when, and where, and what was said? And yet there are still aspects of that process which have not been aired in public. Private meetings that took place. Conversations that were held in quiet, out of the way places involving men and women who are not household names. There is another book – a negotiators book – still to be written. One of these days.
The Negotiators Cookbook is not that book. It lifts the lid on one aspect of the negotiations known to only a few. When you bring a large team of hungry republicans together for days – sometimes weeks on end – how do you feed them? This is not a frivolous matter. There is a psychology to the planning and running of negotiations.
Castle Buildings where the Good Friday Agreement negotiations occurred had a good canteen. Siobhan O’Hanlon and Sue Ramsay developed a great relationship with the catering staff that ensured the Sinn Féin team had tea, coffee, sandwiches, and hot food readily available. Then, and in the years since the Good Friday Agreement was agreed, negotiations would sometimes move to other venues. Downing Street, Leeds Castle, Weston Park, Lancaster House, St. Andrews, Hillsborough Castle, Castle Buildings and Dublin Castle. The hours could be long. Round the clock.
Talks in Downing Street were a particularly hungry event. It may not look it but the building on the inside is very large. And there are lots of people working between the interconnecting buildings that run the length of the street. But the British idea of welcoming the negotiating teams didn’t extend to providing food. It didn’t matter if you were there from early morning to late at night, or whether you were a unionist or republican, all that was provided was an occasional cup of tea or coffee and maybe a biscuit.
The late Brian Faulkner, the last Prime Minister from the old unionist regime, once complained that there was no food provided during crisis meetings in Downing Street on 19th August 1969.
Food is a simple way to break down barriers and create a relaxed atmosphere. Martin McGuinness and I met Tony Blair regularly for ten years or so. Some of our better conversations were held in Chequers over dinner. But in the main food was generally in short supply when the British side were organising meetings.
Others are less tight fisted when it comes to food. I have especially fond memories of a visit to Cuba in December 2001. I was part of a Sinn Féin delegation visiting Havana to meet with Cuban President Fidel Castro. The meeting with Fidel want on for three hours and after a short break it resumed over a dinner that began around 10pm and finished about 3am. Good food, good company, great craic.
When the negotiations went into the wee hours at Hillsborough Castle and elsewhere we would send someone off to the local chip shop. Eventually, however, Ted Howell stepped into the breach. As well as being an indispensible member of our negotiating team from the days when I was first meeting John Hume and the SDLP in the 1980s, Ted is also a first class cook. A culinary master. His occasional soirees are happy events for their great atmosphere but especially for the quality, quantity and diversity of dishes.
Ted started to make soups and bake bread and bring it up to the negotiations. It evolved over time into him arriving with bags laden with tubs of pasta, spaghetti bolognese, lasagne, salads, pies, hams, fish dishes, curries, soups and beans. Ted loves to cook with beans and his home-made breads, still warm, are delicious.
Padraic Wilson is another master baker. His specialities are fine deserts and pastries of all kinds, including exotic moist fruit cakes. Delicious and delightful.
This cookbook is dedicated to the ate Siobhan O’Hanlon and the Sinn Féin negotiations team, especially Ted and Padraic. It is a tribute to them. While the rest of us would go home and head to our beds for some sleep Ted and Padraic would be in their kitchens preparing for the next day. So, thanks to both. And thanks also to all of those who helped in the compiling and publication of the Negotiators Cookbook.
Finally, with this cookbook you have the opportunity to try out the recipes and the dishes that fed the Sinn Fein negotiating team. They would grace any dinner table. They are also healthy and nourishing. So, enjoy and bon appetite.
If you’re interested in purchasing a copy for yourself or a copy for someone’s Christmas stockings its available at www.sinnfeinbookshop.comor sales@sinnfeinbookshop.com or phone 00 353 18726100

Thursday, October 25, 2018

This must be last time citizens in North are denied Vote in Presidential election


 Deirdre Hargey, Liadh Ní Riada, Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill

Saturday is count day to elect the next President of Ireland. Irish citizens living in the North do not have a vote in this election. But that shouldn’t stop you from having your say. Almost all of us have relatives, friends, associates who will have a vote. So it’s not too late. With less than 48 hours to go before polls close give them a ring. Send them a text. Email. Facebook. Instagram. Urge them to vote for the only Presidential candidate who has put the North and the issue of Irish Unity front and centre in her campaign – Liadh Ní Riada. 
Liadh is the Sinn Féin candidate. A gaelgeoir. A musician. An activist. A republican. A woman. A member of the European Parliament representing the Munster constituency. The daughter of Sean O’Riada who was the single most important figure in the revival of Irish traditional music in the 1960s and who wrote the acclaimed Mise Éire.
For weeks now Liadh, along with her team of party activists, have been a familiar sight on the roads and motorways as they crisscross the island of Ireland. This week she was in Belfast.
Whatever the outcome of this Presidential election we all need to ensure that this is the last time that Irish citizens in the north are denied the vote to elect the President of Ireland.
Next May there will be an opportunity to change this. On May 24th, the same date as the EU and local government elections in the south, a referendum will be held on extending the vote in presidential elections.
Sinn Féin has consistently argued for Irish citizens in the north and those who in live in the diaspora to have a say in the life of the nation, including the right of northern representatives to speak in the Oireachtas. When we raised it during the Good Friday Agreement negotiations the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, committed to facilitate this. However, in 2006 the Fianna Fáil government reneged on this commitment.
In 2011 the newly Fine Gael/Labour government agreed to establish a Constitutional Convention to recommend constitutional reform. Sinn Féin made a detailed submission including the proposition that Irish citizens in the north and the Irish diaspora should have the right to vote in Presidential elections.
Two years later in September 2013 the Constitutional Convention heard evidence on this from academic and legal experts. The views of representatives of Irish communities living in the USA, Britain, Canada, Australia and elsewhere around the world, were also heard via a live video link-up.
I was there along with Martin McGuinness and Mary Lou McDonald. It was a good debate. Many speakers took the view that the opportunity for unionists to vote for an Irish President – if they choose to – was a positive way of engaging with unionists. It is also a natural extension of the Good Friday Agreement.
78% said yes to citizens’ resident outside the State having the right to vote in a Presidential election. When specifically asked about citizens resident in the north 73% said yes.
It has taken five years of constant lobbying to get to get a date for this referendum. In May the Taoiseach said that: “Following through on a Citizens’ Assembly proposal, we will have a referendum next year on extending the right to vote in presidential elections to all Irish citizens, including those living in the North and across the world …”
The date set is May 24th next year.
That gives all of us who support this concept the time to plan, strategise and prepare a campaign to win that referendum. Inevitably parties, including Sinn Féin, will be very busy fighting the local and European elections, and possibly a general election. Despite this there must be a significant and priority focus on the referendum vote.
It will also require a dialogue with unionism. A widening of the franchise for Presidential elections will offer those who are unionist the opportunity to engage in a positive and inclusive way and to participate in the life of the Irish nation. It will enhance the role of the President as the representative of all the citizens of Ireland and will be seen as a modernising measure in the context of Irish citizenship and of the institution. So, once the count concludes on Saturday this is our next big project.


Friday, October 19, 2018

We need a new Union


Conor Murphy, Mary Lou McDonald, Michelle O'Neill and Paul Maskey in London for meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May. They told her there has to be a unity referendum
We need a new union
Captain Jack Doyle in Sean O’Casey’s “Juno and the Paycock” has a word for it – ‘chassis.’ He says: “I’m telling you … Joxer …th’ whole worl’s … in a terr … ible state o’ … chassis.”
Last week, Denis Naughten the Minister for Communications in the Irish government resigned in bad temper. His decision was as a result of accusations of inappropriate meetings he had held with a businessman who now leads the only bid still in place for a billion-euro state contract to supply broadband to half a million rural homes. It was a grievous blow to the Fine Gael minority government which depends on a confidence and supply agreement with Fianna Fáil. With Fianna Fáil committed to abstain in key votes An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar needs 57 votes in the Dáil to sustain his government and pass legislation.
Naughten’s resignation and the recent departure of another Fine Gael TD Peter Fitzpatrick, meant that the government had only 55 reliable votes. It has again achieved the 57 figure following commitments from Independent TDs Noel Grealish and Michael Lowry. Lowry, is a previous Fine Gael Minister for Communications who was heavily criticised in the report of the Moriarty Tribunal which was published in 2011. Moriarty was set up to investigate payments to politicians and the sale of the state’s second mobile phone licence to Esat, a consortium led by Denis O’Brien.
In the final report of the Moriarty Tribunal Lowry was accused of having “provided substantive information to Denis O’Brien, of significant value and assistance to him in securing the licence”, that he “conferred a benefit on Mr. Denis O’Brien, a person who made payments to Mr. Lowry” which according to the Tribunal “not only influenced but delivered the result” when ESAT won the mobile phone licence.
How would O’Casey describe the irony of a Fine Gael minority government losing one Minister for Communications over questions about his handling of a billion-euro contract now being dependent for its survival on the vote of a previous Fine Gael Minister for Communications who was accused by Moriarty of “cynical and venal abuse of office” and of attempting to influence a contract in a way that was “profoundly corrupt to a degree that was nothing short of breathtaking”?
The question most commentators are now asking is when will the general election take place? The speculation among the political commentators is of a spring election. Who knows? Who can tell?
But chassis is not limited to the south. There is no power sharing government in the north. The DUP failed that test. They will fail the Brexit test also. Perhaps more than any other word chassis describes the chaos that is Brexit.
In the middle of this mess is Arlene Foster. Foster’s stated view that a no-deal outcome is better than a deal which sees the north stay within the EU Customs Union, and her vehement opposition to any backstop agreement which protects the north’s agricultural sector and economy, have left the people of the island of Ireland facing the real possibility of a hard economic border.
It is little wonder that Brexit and the current political crises have together generated increasing interest in and support for a united Ireland. While it is always necessary to apply a health warning when looking at opinion polls nonetheless the consistent pattern of recent polls is indicative of a trend. At the weekend the Paddy Power/Red C poll concluded that a majority of people in the south – 61% - would like to see a United Ireland emerging out of Brexit. This percentage has remained largely consistent over recent polls.
Another poll published during the Tory Party conference by the Centre on Constitutional Change, which is based in Edinburgh University, caught the media attention in the north because it claimed that “87% of (overwhelmingly unionists) leave voters in Northern Ireland see the collapse of the peace process as an acceptable price for Brexit.”
What went largely unreported was the fact that in this poll 77% of Conservative voters thought Brexit would be worthwhile even if it led to Scottish Independence and to the collapse of the peace process. Professor Richard Wyn Jones from Cardiff University said that; “The bonds that have tied the union together have frayed to such an extent that, frankly it’s hard to imagine that the proposed festival of ‘national renewal’ is going to do anything more than emphasise the extent to which we continue to drift apart.”
English nationalism is asserting itself. The North and Scotland are of lesser concern than securing the end of the union with Europe. The jingoism of Rees Mogg, of Boris Johnson, David Davis and others who obsess over the glory days of Empire, when the sun never set on Britain’s occupied colonial territories, is straining the boundaries of Britain’s disunited Kingdom.
All of this underpins the accuracy of the Irish republican analysis over two centuries of struggle. We need a new union. As Tone described it “a cordial union among all the people of Ireland, to maintain that balance which is essential to the preservation of our liberties and the extension of our commerce.” Whatever happens with Brexit that has to remain our focus and endeavour in the time ahead otherwise chassis will continue to be a way of life.



Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Traveller Ethnicity and their contribution to Irish Society


March 1st last year witnessed the formal recognition by the government and the Dáil of the ethnicity of Travellers. It came after a long and difficult campaign and those of us who were part of that knew that recognition was only one step - albeit an important step - in challenging discrimination and achieving equality for Travellers. 
For those who don't accept Traveller ethnicity I publish again my remarks in the Dáil on that important occasion.
Traveller Ethnicity
Tá mé fíor-bhuíoch as an deis labhairt ar an ábhar tábhachtach anocht. Is lá agus oíche fíor-thábhachtach don Lucht Taistil é. Cuirim fáilte roimh na grúpaí anseo, na daoine sa Gallery and elsewhere in Leinster House and I extend solidarity to all Travellers on this historic day. It is their day, and a momentous step forward for equality.
Some are outside and I am sure we all regret that. Perhaps, if the Taoiseach's schedule allows, he could address them. I understand there are 70 members of the Traveller community in Buswells and some of us could go and give them some sense of what has happened here this evening.
On behalf of Sinn Féin, I very much welcome this and thank the Taoiseach for recognising Traveller ethnicity. I pay tribute, in particular, to those who have advocated on behalf of the Traveller community, from within the Traveller community itself but also those from the settled community, who have done so much to advance this cause. Some have done so for decades, for which we are thankful to them.
We need to be mindful also of those who have suffered because they were Travellers. I particularly remember the Lynch, Connors and Gilbert families who died in Glenamuck.
I pay tribute to the women of the Traveller community. Like their sisters in disadvantaged sections of the settled community, the women of the Traveller community have been the great heroines and champions who have kept their families going through thick and thin. I acknowledge the work of Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy David Stanton. Maith thú, a Aire Stáit Stanton. Táimid buíoch duitse feasta.
I commend also the work of the justice committees, both the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, chaired by Deputy Stanton, in the previous Dáil which adopted a report by Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn recommending the recognition of Traveller ethnicity, and also the current committee, chaired by Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.
Today's decision to recognise Traveller ethnicity is the right thing to do. The Taoiseach's statement finally brings the Irish State into line with existing recognition already in place in the North, as well as in England, Scotland and Wales. The distinct culture, traditions and ethnicity of the Traveller community need to be cherished and valued.
One of the main characteristics of Irish Travellers is their nomadic lifestyle. This was particularly the case until the 1950s and 1960s. Until then, many earned a living from repairing and making household utensils which were usually made from tin. The rapid pace of new technologies, the use of plastic and other cheap goods brought about major changes in Travellers' lifestyles.
The Commission on Itinerancy report of 1963 also had a huge bearing on the lives of Travellers in this State. The report established policy on Travellers for the following 20 years. It is one of the most shameful reports in the history of the State. If Teachtaí want an insight into its agenda or views, they need only look at the terms of reference for the commission. These were: (1) to enquire into the problem arising from the presence in the country of itinerants in considerable numbers; (2) to examine the economic, educational, health and social problems inherent in their way of life [and] to promote their absorption into the general community. These terms were dripping in racism and elitism. They were ignorant, stupid and ill-informed.
It is little wonder, after decades of discrimination and demonisation, there is a sense of demoralisation, low self-worth and inferiority among some in the Travelling community. The prejudice and discrimination many Travellers face has worsened in recent years. We need only look to the opposition to a temporary halting site for those bereaved by the fire in late 2015, for example, or the treatment of Travellers in my own constituency who were evicted from a halting site in Dundalk this time last year.
There is that sense of a much wider institutional discrimination faced by members of the Traveller community in areas such as health and education provision. That has been a hallmark of the relationship between settled people and Travellers. That relationship has been blighted by suspicion, resentment and animosity based on false perceptions and fears. A lot of it is based on ignorance.
Ignorance breeds fear. The only cure for ignorance is knowledge and that comes from education and engagement. The Proclamation of 1916 should be the mission statement of a modern Irish republic. It addresses itself to Irishmen and Irishwomen. It does not state, "unless one is a member of the Traveller community".
All of us have rights. These include the right to receive equal service in shops and pubs, the right to access education, health services and work, and the right to accommodation, on the basis of equality. Every Irish citizen should enjoy the rights and entitlements that come with that citizenship. Regrettably, this has not been the case for our Traveller brothers and sisters.
The Traveller child born today faces a life in which he or she will be part of the most socially disadvantaged group in Irish society. That child will leave school earlier, have little prospect of work, will suffer ill-health and poverty, and will die younger. He or she will endure substandard living conditions. Many will have no access to basic facilities such as sanitation, water and electricity. They will face discrimination in employment and most will never work. Cutbacks in education, health and other services have impacted severely on the Traveller community. The suicide rate for Traveller women is six times that of the settled community. It is seven times higher for Traveller men. At the root of all these problems are the unacceptable levels of prejudice, discrimination and social exclusion experienced by Travellers at institutional and other levels. That has to be combatted, and it can be.
Alongside tonight's recognition of Traveller ethnicity, there needs to be a process established to improve relations between the settled and Traveller communities. Sinn Féin has called in the past for the establishment of a national forum, across the island of Ireland, involving Travellers and the settled community, including representatives of all political parties, of government, local authorities, health and education sectors, and representatives of media organisations to plan a way ahead. I repeat that call this evening. Such a forum could discuss openly, and in detail, how discrimination and prejudice against Travellers can be confronted, including prejudicial attitudes facilitated by the actions of some politicians and media outlets.
Despite those decades of discrimination, the Traveller community are a proud people. They are a resilient people. I acknowledge, in particular, the significant contribution and influence on Irish traditional music by Irish Traveller families, particularly uilleann pipers and fiddlers.
In their excellent book, Free Spirits, Tommy Fagan and Oliver O’Connell make the point that "Ireland and Irish culture is richer because of the music and songs of the Traveller community". They say, "wherever Irish music is played, wherever Irish songs are sung, wherever Irish stories are told, and wherever Irish dances are performed the influences of the Dorans, the Keenans, the Fureys, the Dunnes, the Dohertys and other great Traveller and musical families will be very much in evidence". We can add to that Maggie Barry and the Pecker Dunne.

Christy Moore has consistently paid a tribute to John Reilly, who kept alive songs like "Well Below the Valley", which have been sung for 200 years. That is the Traveller community I know - creative, strong, resilient and generous.

In the summer of 1969, when sectarian evictions were incited in the North in reaction to the demands of the civil rights movement, I was one of a small group of activists who helped families to move their belongings from their homes. It should be noted that it was people from the Traveller community in Belfast who provided and drove the lorries, at great risk to themselves, which took these families out of danger.

Among Travellers today there is an articulate grassroots leadership well able to voice Traveller issues and who have consistently raised their community's awareness of their rights. Some of them are in the Visitor’s Gallery. I know they are up for the challenge of ensuring that all of us together resolve lingering issues and ensure our society embraces the differences that make up the diversity and uniqueness of our the people of our island.

Through strong and resolute leadership like that which was shown tonight and co-operation at all levels in political and civic society, and in our settled and Traveller communities, we can ensure a society that underpins equality for every citizen.

This debate is a major step in the right direction. We need to keep moving in that direction. It is a very historic moment for the 40,000 members of the Traveller community. It is an important symbolic acknowledgement but it must also pave the way for real, practical change. Action must follow ethnicity.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Thank you John Hume




Mise agus John serenading Irish America at the White House St. Patrick's Day event in March 1995

The Thursday evening before last I was part of a panel in the Helix Theatre at Dublin City University (DCU) to discuss the contribution of John Hume to the work of civil rights and peace. There were around 200 people present. We watched Maurice Fitzpatrick's film ‘John Hume in America’. Afterward Brid Rodgers, a former Deputy Leader of the SDLP; Liz O Donnell, a former Minister of State at the Dept. of Foreign Affairs; Maurice Fitzpatrick; and I, joinedJohn Doyle, the Executive Dean of DCU's Faculty of Humanities and Social Science, to discuss the film.
Fitzpatrick’s film recalls John Hume’s connections on Capitol Hill and his efforts to encourage US governments to engage positively in efforts to support civil rights in the North. Through archive footage and interviews with Presidents Clinton, Carter, Bruce Morrison, Richie Neal and others it records John’s frequent visits to Washington and the impact on US policy of his engagements with Teddy Kennedy, Tip O’Neill and others.
The film also covers the private conversations John and I held over many years, and our efforts, through ‘Hume-Adams’, to put in place a process of inclusive dialogue that would create a peace process and end the conflict. While it records the hysterical political reaction in the South to our conversations, and especially within elements of the southern media establishment, in my opinion it skips over this full frontal, sustained personal and venomous attack on John. They were difficult years. 
Elements within the SDLP leadership were opposed to what John was trying to do. The Irish and British governments preferred to stick with the old strategy of refusing to talk to Sinn Féin. But John and I stuck with it, and with the help of the Fr. Alec Reid, Fr. Des and others, cessations were realised, negotiations succeeded, and in 1998 the Good Friday Agreement was achieved and endorsed in referendum North and South.
In one of my contributions at the Helix I outlined the efforts – stretching over years to get talks – dialogue – started and how after setbacks, prevarications and refusals, Fr Alec got a prompt and positive response from John to a request to speak to me.
I put the question to the panel and the audience – ‘what if John had said No? What if he had taken the line of the other parties and governments and the Church leaderships?’


Still singing
That remains a pertinent question. Success has many parents. Many good people played positive roles in developing the peace process but to John’s great credit he did the right thing and stuck with it. He engaged in dialogue. He was ably assisted and supported by his wife Pat. John and I met often in his home in Derry or Donegal. Pat was always welcoming and helpful and positive. I believe she was probably his closest and best adviser. Of course, John and I disagreed on many issues but we focussed on the need to develop an alternative way to achieve political objectives that would make armed struggle redundant.
That was our achievement. With the input of then Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, friends in Irish America and others, this became a peace package. The IRA embraced it. That is to its credit and a testimony to the vision and intelligence of the vast majority of its volunteers and supporters.
Much has been written about how John sacrificed the SDLP. This is untrue. The SDLP should have done much better than it did. But a house divided against itself cannot stand. Remember David Trimble and Seamus Mallon led the first Executive. The SDLPs failure to make the most of that potential does not rest with John Hume. And in fairness David Trimble and Seamus Mallon were hardly the Chuckle Brothers. Neither should Sinn Féin be criticised for being more successful than the SDLP. It is to our credit that we were more united, efficient and in tune with the electorate.
Fifty years after Duke Street in Derry there have been huge changes across this island. With more to come. The struggle goes on. The negative elements which dominated political unionism then and which resisted modest civil rights reform continue to lead political unionism today. So, there is as much, if not more need, for a broad based mass movement for rights across Ireland at this time, as there was then.
Clearly there is a peaceful way – a way through dialogue, activism and campaigning to achieve these. Thank you John Hume and everyone else involved, including Pat Hume, for making this possible. Today there is an urgent need for an island wide peaceful uprising. A modern version of the civil rights campaign. Let’s create this. Now.

Martin McAleese, Mise, Maurice Fitzpatrick, Brid Rodgers, Liz O'Donnell, John Doylen DCU, and Brian MCraith, President DCU

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Duke Street - 50 years later



Duke Street – 50 years later
Last Saturday in Derry was a great day. The 50th anniversary of the October 5th 1968 civil rights march was a colourful and optimistic event attended by thousands. I want to commend all of those who helped organise and who participated in it. The mood was upbeat, positive and determined. Where 50 years ago a peaceful demonstration was attacked by the RUC and people left bloodied and scattered, this year Derry resounded to the sound of thousands of voices laughing, singing, happy, confidant. The raised voices of an indomitable people singing ‘We shall overcome’ echoed around the Guild Hall.
50 years ago the Stormont regime’s uncompromising response to the civil rights campaign saw the then Ulster Unionist Home Affairs Minister Bill Craig ban the march. Craig went on to form the ultra-right wing Ulster Vanguard Movement. During one speech several years later he spoke about the need to “build dossiers on the men and women who are a menace to this country, because one day, ladies and gentlemen, if the politicians fail, it may be our job to liquidate the enemy.”
Last weekend Derry marked the Duke Street anniversary with a series of events. It was an occasion to reflect on the courage and vision of those who, participated in a march that was to become a pivotal moment in our recent history and which for some marks the beginning of what has been described as ‘the Troubles’.
The RUC’s violent assault on the civil rights demonstrators resulted in street fighting in different parts of Derry City and witnessed the first barricades of the conflict erected in the Bogside. Ten days later the nationalist representatives withdrew as the official opposition in the Stormont Parliament, and more civil rights marches were held and banned. A month later the Unionist regime, led by Terence O’Neill, announced a series of reforms. These included Councils being encouraged to use a points system for allocating homes, the company vote – whereby business people had a vote for each building they owned - was to be abolished and the government would consider suspending parts of the Special Powers Act.

It was an inadequate response to the crisis that was building. There was no acceptance of the right of every person to vote in local elections; no commitment to end the gerrymandering of electoral boundaries; no obligation to end discrimination in employment or in housing; and no commitment to end the Special Powers Act or disband the B Specials.
The refusal of the Unionist government to introduce basic rights for all citizens, and the failure of the British and Irish governments to take decisive action against the sectarian policies of the Stormont regime, set the context for the decades of instability and conflict that followed.
50 years later much of society in the North has been transformed. The Orange State is gone. In the last Assembly election unionists lost their majority. But the sectarian philosophy that dominated the northern state under unionism can still be found in the desire of some to deny equality to Irish language speakers and reproductive rights for women. Marriage equality now exists in all parts of these islands except the north because the DUP oppose it.  And the legacy proposals that emerged out of the Stormont House Agreement have been blocked by the DUP/British government alliance.
Regrettably, elements of the media chose to ignore the weekend march just as they had ignored the civil rights march 50 years ago. Watching the local BBC news it was as if no march had occurred. The Belfast Telegraph even went so far as to speak of the “perceived injustices against Catholics” at that time. A minority of voices chose to criticise Sinn Féin for organising the demonstration. Their claim was that as Sinn Féin was not part of the 1968 demonstration we couldn’t commemorate the event. Indeed some have tried to erase the role of republicans entirely from the story of the civil rights campaign.
The truth, of course, is that many republicans helped to organise, steward and participate in most of the events planned by the Civil Rights Association at that time. We were part of that narrative and that initiative. Sinn Féin was a banned organisation but through the Wolfe Tone Societies, the Republican Clubs, the Belfast and Derry Housing Action Committees, the Civil Rights Association and as individuals Republican activists played our part in campaigning for civil rights. Many others played their part too. Among them Eamonn McCann, Paddy Kennedy and Bernadette McAlliskey and others like Gerry Fitt, Ivan Cooper and John Hume who would later form the SDLP.
In 1967-68 hundreds of people came together in Derry to take a stand against inequality and injustice in a sectarian, one party dominated state that did not respect or want them. They refused to give their consent to this. They refused to consent to being treated as second class. They demanded equality.
The thousands who marched last Saturday were acknowledging the vision and courage of those who marched that route 50 years ago. But they were also taking a stand against inequality and injustice today and demonstrating their determination to complete that journey.




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