Last Sunday this blog spoke at two Easter commemorations in Louth and East Meath. They were the first in that constituency since I became its Teachta Dála.
It was a beautiful spring day. A nice day to remember our patriot dead.
All across this island, and beyond, there are monuments and plaques, on roadsides, in cemeteries and in town centres, in rural lanes and housing estates, in memory of those who over many centuries have lost their lives in pursuit of Irish freedom and independence.
Many thousands of people contribute to their upkeep and to organising events like Easter so that the sacrifice of this and previous generations is properly honoured .
So, I want to commend all of those who organise events and who contribute to the upkeep of these graves and monuments. It is right and proper that we remember and celebrate the lives of our patriot dead.
This year Irish republicans mark 95 years since the Easter Rising. It is also the 30th anniversary of the 1981 Hunger Strike.
Each event was a seminal moment in the struggle for Irish freedom, and each changed the course of Irish history for the better.
Easter 1916 witnessed an alliance of Irish republican organisations and others, including the diaspora in the USA, come together to declare a Republic.
Much of this occurred in Dublin but republicans also took up arms elsewhere in the country, including Louth.
After the Rising sixteen leaders were executed. The British hoped that the executions would extinguish the flame of freedom. They were wrong. At his court martial Pádraig Mac Piarais got it exactly right:
'Believe that we, too, love freedom and desire it. To us it is more desirable than anything in the world. If you strike us down now, we shall rise again to renew the fight. You cannot conquer Ireland. You cannot extinguish the Irish passion for freedom.'
The vast majority of Irish people understand this. So too do many in the diaspora. It is a part of who we are.
Regrettably, it is equally true that the republic which was proclaimed in 1916 has been set aside by those in the political establishment, and the limited freedom won after the rising has been squandered.
Imagine what the leaders of 1916 would think of the state of the health service, and especially of our elderly patients who are stuck on hospital trolleys for days or of the half a million people unemployed across this island?
What would they say about the way working people are being treated, while big bankers are paid millions?
We can imagine their response to the sell-off of our natural resources. Or to the EU/IMF bailout!
We can say with certainty that the men and women of 1916 would not be part of the golden circle of greedy financiers and developers and corrupt politicians who have practically bankrupted the southern state.
In the north, Sinn Fein is fighting hard to secure fiscal powers from London, while in the south the government and its predecessor have given away our economic sovereignty.
In their time the leaders of the Rising warned against partition and its divisive and debilitating potential. Connolly predicted it would cause a carnival of reaction. He was right.
Partition is uneconomic. It holds back Ireland’s potential for economic growth. People in County Louth and in other border counties know this.
This blog believes that the commemoration of the Rising and the run into the centenary anniversary needs to become a rallying point for Irish citizens to stand up for our rights. For that reason I have already raised this issue in the Dáil with the Taoiseach.
Irish unity makes political and economic sense. And the template for the new Ireland we seek is powerfully expressed in the Proclamation.
“The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and pros perity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally”.
It is about Irish self-determination and democracy.
There is a logic to greater and closer co-operation between north and south.
So, in the time ahead there is an onus on Irish republicans to use our collective imagination and our political strength to eraze the border. To make it irrelevant. And let us not leave it to the next generation to achieve this – let us do it in our time.
Next Thursday, May 5th, is the anniversary of Bobby Sands death. It is also the day the people of the north will go to the polls in the Assembly and local government elections. Sinn Féin’s aim is to consolidate our support in that part of our country and to continue to build across the island.
The story of 1916, like the story of the hunger strike of 1981 is the story of courage and heroism and an example of the heights to which the human spirit can rise in pursuit of freedom.