The unparalleled security arrangements that have been put in place in Dublin to accommodate the visit of the Queen of England, forced the organisers of the An Gorta Mór Commemorative Famine Walk on Sunday, to change their arrangements.
Originally the walk was to commence at the Garden of Remembrance. However that’s now closed off as part of the massive security precautions that have put in place around the city.
Sundays ‘Famine Walk’ started from the bottom of O'Connell Street and finished at the Famine Memorial on the Quays.
An Gorta Mór (the Great Hunger) had a profound impact on Irish society. While its cause was the failure of the potato crop it was the political decisions taken by the British colonial authorities which exacerbated the human misery.
As food left Ireland for export and thousands were thrown off their land by a landlord class eager to evict families, the human and economic impact was significant. In the five years between 1845 and 1850, approximately 1.5 million Irish men, women and children died of starvation or related diseases. In the following decades millions more fled Ireland.
An Gorta Mór, like Britain’s colonial occupation, shaped Irish society in the 19th and 20th and now the 21st century. It is long past the time that the relationship between our two islands and peoples was placed on an equal footing.
The visit by the Queen of England has brought a renewed focus to this unequal relationship.
This blog wants to see a real and profoundly new and better relationship between the peoples of Ireland and Britain — one built on equality and mutual respect. Sinn Féin has been to the forefront in working to bring this about and we will continue to do so. Sinn Féin is for a new relationship.
As I wrote in a previous publication I have nothing against the Queen of England being the Queen of England. That is a matter for the people of England. But it is not the way I want Irish society to be organised.
I am a republican. I believe that the people are sovereign and not subjects. I am against monarchies.
I am also Irish. And while I am conscious of the sense of affinity which unionists have with the English monarch, I am offended at having to live in a partitioned Ireland with the Queen of England ruling over a part of us.
I believe the visit of the English Queen is troubling for many Irish citizens, particularly victims of British rule and those with legacy issues in this state and in the North.
It is for precisely this reason that we in Sinn Féin oppose this visit and believe that it is premature and insensitive. This is why the party is holding alternative events in Dublin and across the state during the visit.
I am for a new relationship between the people of Ireland and between the people of Ireland and Britain based on equality and mutual respect.
I hope this visit will hasten that day but much will depend on what the British monarch says. As an Irish citizen who was detained without charge or trial a number of times on a British prison ship, in a prison camp and a H Block, as well as a more conventional prison, at ‘Her Majesty’s Pleasure’, I hope so.
So too will many of the families of victims in the conflict, including victims of British terrorism and collusion. This includes families of those killed in the Dublin Monaghan bombs whose anniversary takes place on the first day of the visit.
British interference in Irish affairs has come at a huge cost to the Irish people.
It has been marked by invasion, occupation, subjugation, famine and cycles of Irish resistance and British repression.
The impact of this, including partition and its consequences, are still being felt to this day.
Irish republicans too have caused much hurt to people in Britain. I regret this.
The full normalisation of relationships between Ireland and Britain is important.
This will require the ending of partition and the emergence of a New Ireland.
The Peace Process, which Sinn Féin has contributed significantly to, has transformed the political landscape in Ireland and resulted in a peaceful political dispensation based on an historic accord between Irish nationalism and unionism.
The Good Friday Agreement is the foundation upon which new relationships between unionists and nationalists and between Ireland and Britain can be forged. It has fundamentally altered the political landscape, levelled the political playing field, removing the despicable Government of Ireland Act and opening up a peaceful, democratic route to a united Ireland.
And because nationalists and unionists are governing the north decisions affecting the lives of people there are being increasingly made in Ireland and not in Britain.
Republicans want to continue and to accelerate this process.
The united Ireland that republicans seek to build encompasses all the people of this island, including unionists. It will be a pluralist, egalitarian society in which citizens rights are protected and in which everyone will be treated equally. Sinn Féin wants a New Republic. That of course is a matter for the people of this island to decide.
But no matter how we shape our society, the new Ireland must embrace our islands diversity in its fullest sense. This includes English and Scottish influences, the sense of Britishness felt by many unionists, as well as indigenous and traditional Irish culture and the cultures of people who have come to Ireland in recent times.
Ireland and England are not strangers to each other. We should build on what we have in common while at the same time respecting each other’s sovereignty and independence.
Maybe the events of this week will assist that process. This blog hopes so.