Exclusive - Full Text OF Seán MacManus’ Speech at Clan na Gael/Irish Northern Aid Dinner - April 23, 2016
Address given at Leonard's Restaurant in Great Neck, New York
Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends,
I am proud and honoured to be here with you tonight on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in Ireland.
It is a privilege to speak a few words to such a dedicated gathering of Irish Republicans--- many of you who have given years of your lives in support the cause of Irish freedom.
On 24th April 1916, in the centre of Dublin, a small band of revolutionaries proclaimed an independent Irish republic.
This fearless group of a few hundred, poorly equipped Irish men and women had the nerve, the audacity and the courage to take on the might of the largest empire the world had ever seen.
This was a momentous event in Irish history.
They were a varied group. There were nationalists, republicans, language activists, Trade Unionists and members of the women’s movement.
But at the heart of it they were all just ordinary women and men, yet united in one dream of an independent Ireland, free from British rule, taking its place amongst the free nations of the world.
Think about that for a moment.
Imagine the thoughts which must have filled the minds of those who assembled to strike this blow, to take this daring step. Given their number, and the might of the forces which they faced, they must have been conscious of the probable fate which awaited them.
They must have thought of their families, of friends and lovers, of homes and parents.
But they were brave and they persisted, undaunted. They confronted the might of an empire.
They faced massive odds, with up to 20,000 British troops opposing them by end of Rising.
Following six days of heroic resistance, the centre of Dublin lay in ruins. The leaders of the Provisional Government met for the last time in 16 Moore Street and ordered a surrender.
They were court martialled and fifteen were executed over the following two weeks. Roger Casement was later hanged in London.
The British hoped that by the speed of their actions and the scale of the executions that the flame of freedom would be extinguished in Ireland.
But they were mistaken.
The executions of these men provoked widespread outrage in Ireland and among the Irish here in the United States, and huge sympathy for their cause.
At his court martial Pádraig Pearse accurately prophesied:
"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 Rising and the subsequent guerrilla war for independence became a catalyst for other freedom struggles across the world, inspiring other oppressed people who laboured under the shackles of the British Empire, encouraging them too, to break free of their chains of slavery and not just dream of liberty, but achieve it.
Irish in America
For centuries the Irish have found a home in America and throughout that time, Irish America has played a truly invaluable role in the struggle for Irish freedom.
The United Irishmen of 1798 took their lead from the American Revolution and the republican ideas of democracy, liberty and equality.
Just half a century later, the Great Hunger/Irish Famine began a new phase in the history of Irish emigration to America.
Many of those immigrants would fight in the American Civil War, and some used that experience to inspire another rebellion in Ireland in 1867.
In the 19th century Clan na Gael became the central Irish republican organisation in the United States, and in 1877 it aligned with the Irish Republican Brotherhood in Ireland.
Irish republicans in the US such as Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, Joe McGarrity and John Devoy, amongst many others, were of central importance to the 1916 Rising.
In 1914, Padraig Pearse visited America, and later the same year Roger Casement worked with Clan na Gael in raising money in order to arm the Irish Volunteers.
James Connolly spent seven years of his life in the United States and helped establish and organise the Independent Workers of the World. Tom Clarke also lived in the US.
Sinn Féin proudly celebrates the role Irish America has played and continues to play in the struggle for a free and united Ireland.
Central to the 1916 Rising was the declaration of an independent Irish republic.
Not just any republic, but a republic that was uniquely democratic and egalitarian.
But Civil War and counter-revolution, saw the partition of Ireland and the creation of two conservative states in place of the 32 County Republic which was the aim of the Rising.
The North became a one-party, Orange State where Irish nationalists were excluded from power and denied opportunity.
As all of you here know, that power and privilege was protected by British guns.
Republican resistance was offered at various stages over the decades.
In the late 1960s, the violent state response to the democratic demands of the nationalist population, developed into full scale armed struggle.
This evening I wish pay tribute to the men and women who struck for Irish freedom in 1916 and to all of those who, in every decade since, have stood by Ireland and stood by the Republic.
That includes those young men and women who rose in arms against British rule in the North in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s.
Also prominent among those who stood by Ireland and who stood by the Republic are the members of Clan Na nGael and Irish Northern Aid here in the US.
You can be rightly proud of your role over those long decades of work and struggle.
Clann Na nGael, first established in 1867, whose lineage comes directly from the Fenians and the Irish Republican Brotherhood, has a long and distinguished history of continuous help to the Irish liberation struggle.
Likewise, Irish Northern Aid has been of crucial importance to the Irish freedom struggle.
Over the past four-and-a-half decades, Noraid has faithfully supported the families and dependants of Irish political prisoners, highlighted the harsh injustices of British occupation of the Six Counties, and garnered support for the right of the Irish people to self-determination.
Noraid and Clan Na nGael are truly in the great tradition of Irish republican support groups in the United States stretching back to the 1916 Rising and beyond.
Tonight, on behalf of Sinn Féin and republicans throughout Ireland, I wish to extend our great appreciation and heartfelt gratitude to you for all your work.
Ireland and its people suffered hugely as a result of conflict but progress has been made in recent years.
The Peace Process and the Good Friday Agreement marked a historic shift in Irish politics.
For the first time, the roots of conflict were addressed and a democratic route to Irish unity opened up.
The Partition of Ireland and the political counter revolution which it ushered in, also had a profound and lasting impact on the South.
In the Civil War, the forces of conservatism - the Church hierarchy, the media and big business - all supported the Free State regime and opposed those who held out for the Republic proclaimed in Easter Week 1916.
Many republicans were forced to emigrate after the Civil War and, from the United States and elsewhere, many of them looked with horror at what the new Irish state developed into.
It was a narrow-minded, mean spirited state which was harsh on the poor, on women and on republicans or radicals of any kind.
This was the reality that unfolded in place of the Republic proclaimed at the GPO in 1916.
The 26 Counties is not the Republic proclaimed in 1916 and current efforts by some to pretend that it is are an insult to the leaders of the Easter Rising.
A genuine republic would not facilitate the huge levels of disadvantage and inequality which exist in Irish society which has seen crises in homelessness, health-care and the continued scandal of mass emigration.
The Southern political system remains deeply conservative and partitionist.
Those who oppose the ideals of the Proclamation remain influential within the political and media establishment there
For Sinn Féin, the 1916 Proclamation remains our mission statement.
It is a freedom charter for all the people of Ireland, from whatever background or tradition.
It guarantees religious and civil liberty and promotes equal rights and opportunities for all citizens.
It addressed Irishmen and Irishwomen at a time when women did not have the vote.
The Proclamation is also a declaration of social and economic intent for a rights-based society in which the people are sovereign.
In this Centenary Year, the vast majority of Irish people at home and abroad, proudly celebrate the 1916 Rising and the Proclamation of a Republic.
And Sinn Féin, stronger than ever in both parts of Ireland, remains determined to deliver the 32-County Republic envisaged in that Proclamation.
Sinn Fein are an Irish Republican party and we make no apology to anyone for that.
We are now the largest political party on the island of Ireland.
February saw the election of 23 Sinn Féin TDs, the party's best General Election performance since 1923.
Elections to the North’s Assembly in May could bring further advances.
This centenary year is an historic opportunity to look realistically at how we end Partition, sectarianism and division in Ireland.
An opportunity to see how we can make the United, Independent Ireland envisaged in 1916 a reality.
These should be the goals of all progressive political forces in Ireland and all friends of Ireland abroad.
A united Ireland means the unity of all the people of Ireland, including those who see themselves as British.
That is why Irish governments must pursue every avenue to promote all-Ireland co-operation and to build relationships between all our people.
This must include genuine efforts to outreach to the unionists on the basis of equality.
It means the undoing of any ingrained partitionist thinking by policy makers.
There was never a better time to plan and deliver on an all-Ireland basis.
Many aspects of the Good Friday and subsequent Agreements remain to be implemented.
There is an urgent need for the Irish Government to face up to the British Government’s refusal to fulfil its obligations.
There is also an ongoing need to enlist the support for this necessary endeavour of our friends internationally, including and especially here in the USA.
So it is fitting that we gather here today to remember with pride those who have fought and died for Irish freedom.
We are humbled by their sacrifices, they did not fight or die for the past but for the future.
But they live on in our hearts and in our memories.
Their stories are still told around the fireside. Their heroism is remembered in song and verse.
We do not mourn them. We celebrate their lives.
And they continue to inspire us. We will not allow their memory or their sacrifice to be ever forgotten.
We owe them a debt. A debt which can only be repaid if our generation of Irish Republicans, using the Proclamation and it’s ideals to guide us, can make good the promise of 1916 and help build the Republic for which they fought and died.
A united Ireland and a real republic is the only fitting monument to the memory of those who fought on the streets of Dublin in Easter Week, 1916.
And let me be very clear tonight that the Irish republican leadership of 2016 is as determined to achieve those objectives as were those who fought in 1916.
We are crystal clear on this. 1916 was right. The men and women of that rising were right.
We stand by and for the Republic.
That is our resolve.
Up the Republic - An Phoblacht abu!
Go raibh maith agaibh go léir.
Seán MacManus lives in Sligo with his wife Helen who is a native of Glenfarne, Co. Leitrim. A carpenter by trade, Seán has been a fulltime public representative for a number of years as a member of both Sligo County Council and Sligo Borough Council.
Seán served on the party's Ard Comhairle (National Executive) for many years and was National Chairperson of the party from 1984 to 1990. He has played a central part in developing the party's current peace strategy and was a senior member of Sinn Fein's negotiating team. He has been an important member of many delegations in meetings with British Cabinet ministers, including with British Prime Minister Tony Blair at 10 Downing Street. He has also extensively represented Sinn Fein throughout North America and Europe.
Seán received over 5,000 first preference votes in the 2002 General Election in the Sligo/Leitrim constituency and has also contested the European elections in the Connaught/Ulster constituency. Mayor of Sligo in 2000 and again in 2004, he also contested the 2007 General Election in the new constituency of Sligo/ North Leitrim. He has been the promoter of numerous local initiatives including the North West Economic Forum, the retention of Borough status for Sligo city and the "Save Lisadell" campaign. Sean is also recognised as a leading campaigner on local health issues, he was the first politician in this area to raise issues such as the lack of "Breastcheck" and radiotherapy in Sligo General Hospital.