25 years ago next week Mairead Farrell, Dan McCann and Sean Savage died on the streets of Gibraltar. They were three extraordinary republicans. In their short lives they repeatedly demonstrated courage; resilience in the face of brutality, imprisonment and hunger strike; compassion; loyalty and a fierce commitment to building a different society on this island – a better Ireland – than that in which they had grown up.
Their deaths at Gibraltar were a huge blow to their families. They were robbed of three warm, loving, and compassionate human beings. A father, a daughter, a sister, a brother, a son, a husband. For those of us who knew them we lost three good friends who still had much to offer the republican struggle, their communities and Ireland.
Mairead, Dan and Sean were shaped by the political conditions into which they were born but also by the republicanism they espoused. They were all well read, articulate and politically very well informed. They had read Tone and Connolly and Pearse and all the great Irish thinkers.
They were with Connolly in his belief in the re-conquest of Ireland by the Irish people. But they also understood that an elite cannot free Ireland. Yes, there is work for a vanguard; for the people who take initiatives, who take chances, who make sacrifices and who go on the political offensive.
But the only true freedom of people is that which is shaped by the people themselves.
James Connolly observed in 1913 during the dark days of the Dublin lock-out that: “we fought as conditions dictate; we meet new conditions with new policies. Those who choose may keep old policies to meet new conditions. We cannot and will not try.”
Connolly and his comrades applied that in 1916. Tone and Emmet and the Young Irelanders and the Fenians and those who led the Land League did the same. As did the republicans of this generation.
Each took Irish republicanism and shaped it to their specific political conditions. And that is what Sinn Féin is doing in 2013. We are taking Connolly’s maxim and our core republican values and making them relevant in our time and in our place of activism; whether that is in the community, in school, in our places of work, in local government, in the Assembly or the Oireachtas.
We are creating new strategies, formulating new policies, building political strength all with an eye on the prize. Like 25 years ago it is about achieving a united independent Ireland; bringing an end to partition; ending the union with Britain; and constructing on this island a new national democracy, a new republic based on equality and reconciliation between orange and green.
The struggle for freedom continues. Today it takes a different form from that in the past. Irish republicanism is now stronger and more vibrant and more relevant to people in their daily lives than at any time since partition. Sinn Féin in government in the Assembly and in opposition in the Oireachtas is leading the fight against austerity and in defence of citizen’s rights.
Across this island Sinn Féin activists are building a republican alternative to the bad and corrupt politics of the conservative elites north and south.
Our focus is on constructing a new Ireland that embraces all of the citizens of this island and especially those who feel themselves to be British.
A new Ireland that shares its wealth more equitably, looks after its’ aged and young, provides full rights for people with disabilities, liberates women, and delivers the highest standards of public services.
These are not new concepts. Take up the Proclamation and read it. Read too the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil. These visionary documents contain great words.
Pursuing the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all its parts; guaranteeing civil and religious liberty, and equal rights and equal opportunities; and cherishing all the children of the nation equally.
These words speak to the people of this island today.
This generation of Irish republicans are re-imagining Ireland. A new Ireland for this century.
Tone captured the spirit of this when he wrote of “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.”
We are an island people in transition. For that we need a new Republic that reflects our genius and diversity, our dignity and our strengths – a new Republic that is inclusive and visionary.
A new Ireland where neither gender or race, age or disability, sexual orientation or class, or creed or skin colour or location will be used to deny citizens their full rights and entitlements.
A new Ireland where citizens will have the right to a job; to a home; to a decent standard of education and health, and to equality in the Irish language.
And a new Ireland that reaches out to our unionist neighbours and the children of the diaspora scattered around the globe.
This is the context in which I called several weeks ago for a border poll. The Good Friday Agreement allows for such a poll. Sinn Féin believes the time is right to campaign for the British and Irish governments to set a date in the next term of the Assembly and Oireachtas for a border poll.
This provides ample time for the debate that is necessary and the time that is needed to persuade unionists – or at least a section of unionism – that a united Ireland makes political, economic, social and cultural sense.
This is the great historic challenge for the Irish people. To undo centuries of English and then British government involvement in Ireland and bring an end to the artificial divisions that involvement have created.
Irish republicans are in the vanguard of the struggle to achieve this.
Join Sinn Féin. Join with us and help achieve the goals that Mairead and Dan and Sean and many others died for.