It is a great honour to speak here today, as we gather in tribute to the men of ’81 — who laid down their lives in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh, that others might know a better tomorrow.
We remember with them Gaughan and Stagg — also martyred on Hunger Strike, during the most recent phase of the war for freedom — as we remember all who made the supreme sacrifice in service of the Republican Movement.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anama uasal.
There are no words to properly convey the horror — the sheer utter horror — of what happened that dreadful summer in Ireland, when these brave men went to their deaths on the Long Kesh Hunger Strike.
The horrific deaths they endured are testament to their courage and conviction but also of the need, on our part, to ensure they were not for nothing.
Bobby Sands, Francis Hughes, Raymond McCreesh, Patsy O’Hara, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Tom McElwee, Mickey Devine; we speak their names with pride.
We speak, too, of Michael Gaughan, who died in Parkhurst Prison, and of Frank Stagg, who laid down his life in Wakefield.
We salute their courage and pay tribute to their sacrifice. May God give rest to their brave and noble Irish souls.
We command their families — who bore with great dignity the deaths of their loved ones, and who suffer still their loss.
We remember especially at this time Margaret Doherty, mother of Volunteer Kieran Doherty, who passed to her eternal reward just this month, and Patsy Lynch, brother of Volunteer Kevin Lynch, who was buried during the week.
May they know peace.
It is only right that we acknowledge, too, their friends and comrades — the ‘300 Spartans’ — who endured with them the Blanket Protest, who watched their comrades leave the wing for the last time, never to return, and who live with the pain to this day.
We also pay tribute to the women of Armagh Gaol.
The courage of this group of Irish Patriots, who suffered unimaginable horror in the depths of those gaols, for me is beyond compare. We will never forget what you lived through and what you put yourselves through in defence of the Republic. From this platform today, sincerely, we thank you.
We are mindful also that there are those, still, who endure imprisonment for the cause of the Republic in 2019. We extend to them our support and solidarity.
The Republican war for freedom was not a criminal enterprise, as presented by those who allowed the Hunger Strikers to go to their deaths, and such painful deaths.
The Republican war for freedom carried not only a moral right — of the dispossessed and downtrodden; of the colonised and occupied. It carried the lawful right and authority of the Irish Republic. The criminal in Ireland was and remains Britain.
Those ten men suffered death to uphold the right of the Republic, their demand to be treated as political prisoners — to be afforded the status thus warranted — born of the enduring reality that they were not mere British criminals, as labelled, but Irish soldiers.
They went to their deaths asserting that Britain had no right or title to Ireland — that her actions in Ireland had no lawful basis.
It remains the case.
What was at stake in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh remains at stake today. For the battle in the H-Blocks was ultimately one for the right of the Republic to stand — a battle yet to be won.
The revisionist notion that the struggle in Ireland is to uphold the Good Friday Agreement is a fallacy. Our struggle remains as it has always been; to uphold the integrity of the Irish Republic, that its sovereignty extend over all Ireland.
It was for this and no less that the Hunger Strikers died.
This demands of us, today, that we renew our commitment to the Irish Republic — not only in a mere rhetorical sense but in a real and lived way.
At this time of renewed opportunity, as Brexit and demographic change speed new political realities, we must better engage the political terrain with the Irish Republic as our masthead.
Our ambition must be that Ireland, first and before all else, be constituted as a 32-county republic — as set out and envisaged under the 1916 Proclamation and as demanded, indeed, by the Hunger Strikers.
This must be the starting point on which future strategies are premised.
Whatever be those strategies, their forward intent and outcome must be to end the usurp of the Republic. It was for this that the Hunger Strikers joined the movement and ultimately for this that they died.
A century ago at the Mansion House, on 21st January 1919, the Easter Republic was constituted in law under the Declaration of Irish Independence.
100 years forward, its revolutionary vision of an Ireland free and sovereign — where her people would control their own destinies — where the divisions of the past would be no more — a vision shared by no less than the Hunger Strikers, who laid down their lives in its pursuit — remains for ourselves to realise.
As Mexican proverb attests: ‘they tried to bury us; they did not know we were seeds’. In that dark year of 1981, Britain tried to bury the Republic by targeting the most vulnerable of its pillars — the imprisoned.
She did not succeed. The iron men of Long Kesh, with those who went before them, stood fast in the face of the coloniser.
Those brave men show the world, through steadfast heroism and selfless sacrifice, through that grim summer of 1981, that Ireland could not be defeated.
And we have not been defeated — for still we are here.
In the name and memory of our brave Hunger Strikers — who died that we might be free — we will achieve that shining Republic for which they fought and died.
May this be the generation that sees the flag unfurled. An Phoblacht Abú.
Sean Bresnahan is an independent Republican from Co. Tyrone who blogs @ Claidheamh Soluis. Follow Sean Bresnahan on Twitter @bres79