Tina Tully, Sinn Fein
Speech on May 4 2001
Kent State University
Dia dhaoibh a chairde agus tá an-áthas orm bheith anseo libh inniu. Good afternoon
ladies and gentlemen and I am delighted to be here with you today. I would like to thank
the May 4th Task Force for inviting me here to speak to you today, on this the 31st
anniversary of the killing of four students and the injuring of many more. I wish to
extend solidarity to you on this occasion from Sinn Féin, the only all-island party in
I would like to commend you on your choice of theme and it is one, which, in the case of
Ireland, an entire library of speeches could be written. However, on this the 20th
anniversary of the Hunger Strikes in Ireland in which ten men died and many more men and
women suffered, I would like to concentrate mainly on the huge contribution these people
made to the struggle for Irish freedom in which they paid the highest price of all, their
own lives and the lives of their loved ones.
I was about ten years of age when the Hunger Strikes began and while I was probably a
relatively politically aware ten-year-old, my memories are mainly of marches and protests,
black flags and other such activity. But I remember well when Bobby Sands, the first of
the ten to die, finally died after up on 70 days on hunger strike, on May 5th, twenty
years from tomorrow. My mother and sisters were some of the many thousands that attended
his funeral and on their route home, not one window on the bus they traveled on was left
unbroken. At a time of great sorrow and depression, loyalists in the north had nothing
better to do than stone the people on their way home from a funeral. I also remember
sharing in the sense of elation when the constituency in which I live elected Kieran
Doherty, another one of the hunger strikers to the Dáil, that is the Irish Parliament.
But do you think that being a member of the Irish Government would prompt that Government
into speaking out on his behalf? No, silent as ever, with the British Government, they let
him die that August.
Many of you, if you lived in Ireland, might be too young to remember the Hunger Strikers,
and this is something with the present generation of young people in Ireland, that we
often forget. So what was it all about? Why did these people suffer so much and what did
they die for?
In response to the civil rights campaign in northern Ireland in1968-69, the Unionist
Government in the six counties, backed up by their British masters unleashed a bitter and
terrible war on the people of Ireland. Rapidly, the British Government took over the war
and introduced direct rule. Stories abound of men, women and children being murdered, of
internment in prison without trial, of thousands of prisoners and of the families left
behind to cope. As time passed and the British were no nearer to defeating Irish
Republicans, they devised a strategy, of which one leg was to criminalise the struggle, to
portray the conflict as arising from the greed of a small, unrepresentative bunch of
gangsters intent on making money and exploiting our people. The prisoners were perceived
to be the soft underbelly of the struggle. In jail the British thought they could be
isolated, beaten, intimidated and coerced into accepting the label of criminal.
The H-Block and Armagh prisoners resisted. They endured horrendous conditions and bore
great physical cruelty with fortitude and courage because Republican prisoners are
political prisoners, men and women of conviction, commitment and determination. And at the
end when no other as republican political prisoners, in defense of the struggle, in
defense of their comrades in the prison, and to assert their humanity. None of this was
part of any clever republican strategy. It was at its core a very individual response by
prisoners in Armagh Women's Prison and in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh. They were responding
to a British strategy, but in their fight for political status, they politicized our
struggle all over the world. In the course of their protest, the Hunger Strikers smashed
British policy. Their legacy is still unfolding and their idealism remains as an example
to the rest of us. And what a cost that was - ten men died, many others' physical and
mental health deteriorated to a point from which they could never fully recover, and many
families have had
to live with that pain for 20 years.
On this the anniversary, we sometimes, unintentionally, give out the impression that it
was mainly men who suffered. However, apart from the mothers, wives, daughters and sisters
who watched their men die, apart from the brave women who organized and led the protest
campaigns on the street, there were also women in Armagh Prison who suffered immeasurably,
and who went on Hunger Strike. We don't hear their stories often enough but when we do
it's as painful now as it was then. Even as a child, I remember feeling sick and horrified
at the use of strip-searching, bad enough for men, but worse for women, surrounded by male
so-called prison officers. Recently, I was reminded of this at a conference in Dublin at
which a woman ex-prisoner spoke. She talked of the strip-searches and she said, when the
women came back into their cells, you never had to ask them how they were or what had
happened, she said you could see it in their faces.
The men and women who suffered at that time were very young, almost all of the ten men
that died were in their twenties. You might wonder of yourself if you could ever give up
so much but these were ordinary people, like you and me, living in extraordinary times.
And who were they doing it for? - not for themselves, but for the children, that they
might never have to suffer in the same way.
So what can we, who were then the children, do in what can be described as more ordinary
times? Although we have a Peace Process, our struggle continues, not for a United Ireland
just for the sake of it, but in order that all the people of Ireland might have equality.
Still at this time, while the great ugly British Army installations are being dismantled
to give people the impression of a normal society, the same Army patrols Nationalist areas
and harasses the people. The RUC, a State organization, and one that is currently
promoting itself as a "new" policing service, breaks down the doors of people's
homes and drags the occupants from their beds in the middle of the night and early in the
morning, questions children in their bedrooms and ransacks the houses. But then, they are
the defenders of the British State. And on the Garvaghy Road, "ordinary" life
there is a different experience to "ordinary" life elsewhere. There the children
play games - not of cops and robbers - or the like, but of "orangies" (the
Orange Order) and Nationalists.
Sometimes people ask us in Sinn Fein what we will have to do if or when we achieve our
goal of a United Ireland and when there is a lasting peace. Our fight for equality will be
a long one. We envisage not only the political independence of our country but also the
social and economic liberation of all citizens within it. This means freedom from foreign
domination, freedom from poverty and inequality, freedom from the scourge of drugs, from
crowded classrooms and hospital queues and housing shortages. At what cost will this be?
As yet we don't know, but whatever it is we will pay it.
And as long as people like you and people like us stand together, we will achieve our
goals and our freedom. The women and men of Armagh and the H-Blocks set an example for all
other Republicans to follow, the students being commemorated here today have set an
example for you. Let us draw strength from them and their example, their unselfishness,
their generosity, their commitment and idealism. And to quote part of a song that Gerry
Adams quoted recently, by an ex-prisoner called Brendan McFarlane -
"We're stronger now,
You showed us how
Freedom's fight can be won
If we all stand as one".
Let us stand as one, let us achieve the freedom for which they gave their lives.
Ar aghaidh linn!
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