Republicanism in Ireland ‘has never been stronger’
by Theo Russell
FORMER hunger striker Jackie McMullan last Saturday told a London meeting: “Republicanism in Ireland has never been stronger – it’s on the march. Men and women have come out of prison and re-joined the struggle, and the vast majority are still involved.”
He was talking to the annual James Connolly-Bobby Sands commemoration meeting, held this year at the London Irish Centre – in the year that marks the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising, in which James Connolly played a leading role and was wounded, taken prisoner and shot by the British occupation forces.
This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the famous Long Kesh hunger strike, in which Bobby Sands and eight other prisoners gave their lives rather than be classed as common criminals for fighting to free the occupied six counties of the north of Ireland. During the strike Bobby Sands was elected as an MP to Westminster, though of course he was never able to take his seat.
Jackie McMullan reminded his audience that there were significant hunger strikes apart from at Long Kesh, in Portlaoise, Limerick and the Crumlin in Belfast, some involving force-feeding for over a year.
He recalled Bobby Sands saying that “what is won or lost in the prisons will be won for the republic,” and that “the British government is trying to turn the prisons into a breaker’s yard for republicanism.”
Jackie continued: “The struggle against criminalisation had become central to the republican movement. Their struggle and sacrifice has been imprinted on the history of our country like no other. It was a watershed event. British rule in Ireland was once again exposed as a criminal act.”
“The elections of Bobby Sands as MP and one of his close comrades as TD (Member of the Irish Parliament) sent shockwaves through the political establishment in Ireland.”
Jackie ended by saying: “Our objectives have still not been realised, and the need for solidarity still applies.” The meeting was organised by the Wolfe Tone Society and during a workshop on campaign work Dennis Grace listed the many areas of work the society had been involved with over the years.
• Working closely with left Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell;
• Regular (and highly appreciated) contact with republican prisoners, including those at Portlaoise, sending cards, books, music and DVDs;
• Playing a major part in campaigns for justice for Diarmuid O’Neill, the release of Roisin McAliskey, the Colombia Three, the Bloody Sunday campaign, the Holy Cross school, the Garvaghy Road, the Short Strand, opposing Orange Order marches and many other issues;
• Cultural events, including a commemoration of the United Irish Rising in songs and poems, a Cuban-Irish night and annual Dinner Dances;
• Fact-finding and solidarity visits to combat media distortion and disinformation, and a trip to London for children from the Short Strand including meeting an MP at Parliament and Mayor Ken Livingstone at City Hall.
• A regular campaign newsletter, Fuascailt, now available on the Wolfe Tone Society website;
• Solidarity with Cuba, Palestine and the Basque Country, and support for the Muslim community, the target of the new anti-terror laws.
Dennis said: “Realising peace and justice in Ireland requires people to actually do the necessary work,” and recalled that at Sinn Féin’s Ard Fheis last February Gerry Adams had spoken of “the huge debt of gratitude to solidarity in England”, making solidarity there one the party’s top five priorities.
He stressed the importance of actually writing to MPs, giving the example of John McDonnell being asked to raise an issue in Parliament when he hadn’t received a single letter about it.
Francis Brolly, Sinn Féin MLA (Member of the suspended Northern Ireland Assembly) for Limavady and well known singer and songwriter, said: “The 1966 commemoration of the Easter Rising in Dublin re-kindled a flame, especially in the north, but also provoked the fear and hatred of the Northern Ireland establishment and the British ruling class.
“Two years later men and women in the north took to the streets to protest against the humiliation which their mothers and fathers had endured.
“The IRA campaign was difficult and terrible, and people knew there would be a legacy which would be very difficult to deal with.
“The British establishment was shaken by the campaign, and came up with a plan to ‘get them in the prisons’ through the criminalisation campaign.”
Peter Middleton of the WTS ended the rally by speaking of the need to lobby the British government to re-vitalise the Northern Ireland Assembly, hold new elections, and to end its appeasement of the DUP, adding that “we need to re-focus our campaign on the whole of the 32 counties”.