On 11 May 2003, a memorial to four martyrs of the Irish National Liberation Army was dedicated in the Markets area of South Belfast.
[Chair's Opening Remarks]
On behalf of the Republican Socialist Ex-Prisoners Memorial Committee, I would like to say that it is an honour and privilege to be asked to introduce this unveiling of this memorial to our dead comrades.
The main reason that this committee was set up is to make sure that all our dead volunteers and comrades memories should live on. Our committee is composed of comrades, ex-prisoners and ex-combatants who survived the struggle. We felt it appropriate that we should honour those of our comrades who did not.
I would like to thank everyone who has gathered here today to honour fallen comrades. And I would like to extend a special welcome to the families of the dead comrades. Sad memories can be revived by occasions like these. But let today be one of pride for each and every one of our comrades. They were not only a credit to their families but a credit to the neighbourhoods from which they came. These comrades gave their time, their energy and ultimately their lives for the freedom and empowerment of the working class.
Throughout Ireland, in many little country roads, in village towns and city sites, are memorials to those who died during the past three centuries to achieve Irish freedom. The number of monuments that have been erected in so many out of the way places is amazing. Many of the present generation of young people have never noticed those monuments, or thought about the cost, not merely in lives but also the pain that went into the making of this country.
Those who have survived the seventies, eighties and nineties in the North have known oppression and wanted freedom, have known violence and wanted peace, have known repression and wanted justice, and known discrimination and wanted equality. These are things that have affected the daily lives of everyone here.
As a result of our experiences we believe that the struggle for a republic is the only way forward. But that struggle must be like today's event, inclusive. We have no desire to re-open old wounds or denigrate anyone else.
Sniping among ourselves while Britannia divides and rules us is no longer an option. That's where the energies of all republicans, socialists and democrats should be directed. We are strongest when we work together.
We are here today to honour the memory of four brave volunteers.
Jim Power, killed in action 7 May 1981,
"Revolutionaries are dead men on leave -- this saying sums up the type of life ahead for all who dare to oppose British rule in Ireland and indeed oppression and imperialism anywhere in the world. Life as a revolutionary offers no material rewards, no medals, only the joy of participating in the struggle for freedom. As individuals we only have a limited time to achieve this task."
Those words, written by one of those volunteers, epitomises best the spirit of republicanism. It is a revolutionary doctrine, it is a radical doctrine, it is a progressive doctrine. Those of us here today who call ourselves republicans should wear the mantle of republicanism with pride.
For there is pride in participating in the struggle for freedom. Those who we honour today knew some of that for they played their very active part in the struggle against imperialism. Dedicated soldiers of the republican tradition, they grew up amidst repression, violence, discrimination and injustice. These things they observed but they did not ignore. They, like thousands of others, had enough of the daily humiliations from the unionist state, enough of the casual brutality of the RUC, enough of the imperialist swagger of the racists in the British Army, enough of the "croppy lie down" mentality.
They had had enough of the cant and hypocrisy of the ruling elites who preached passivity in the face of violence, preached acceptance in the face of injustice, preached resignation in the face of inequality. Like thousands others, Jim, Ta, John and Emmanuel had had enough.
They did what any right thinking individual would do in the face of British and unionist tyranny. They took up arms and fought in the streets of Belfast and elsewhere for the liberation of their people. In so doing they were following in a proud tradition stretching back to the United Irishmen, and including the Fenian Brotherhood, and the volunteers of the 1916-22 period.
Tomorrow, May 12th marks the 87th anniversary of the execution of James Connolly, socialist republican, founder of the Irish Citizen Army, murdered by the British establishment who tied a badly wounded man to a chair and shot him. Like our comrades we honour today, James Connolly walked the streets of Belfast organising the mill workers, the dockers, the low paid. He organised the Irish working class in both political and military resistance. Connolly recognised that different situations require different responses. During the first world war he recognised that the time was ripe to take up arms against imperialism. He saw that the struggle for the dignity and rights of the working class was part of the same struggle for national independence and that the social and economic parts of struggle could not be separated from the national struggle.
James Connolly was an inspiration, a guide, for all radicals and republicans. He inspired the volunteers we honour today. He was an example that each of those volunteers would have followed in their own ways if death had not intervened. They each had but a limited time to contribute to the struggle before death stole them away from us.
When we look at this memorial, and when people think of the dead volunteers, we should also spare a thought for the families of the same volunteers. They have had much pain to endure, sorrow to bear and grief to contend with.
Jim Power was one of only two republicans to die in action during the 1981 hunger strike. He was killed defusing a bomb. Ta and John died together when they were gunned down outside Drogheda where they had gone to peacefully resolve differences with others. Emmanuel was killed two moths later by others in a pub on the Ormeau Road.
The latter three deaths at the hands of former comrades was a disgrace. Never again should any of us allow ourselves to view other republicans either with hatred or as the enemy.
A few weeks before his death I spoke with Ta in his home in the Markets here and he handed me a document which included the following phrase:
"We must be vigilant that we don't sink into the morass of sectarianism, mixing, pettiness etc. We must not get involved in unprincipled slanging matches etc, into positions that are sectarian, anti-revolutionary, morally damaging, that give succour to the enemy and that confuse and divide the working class."
Those wise words should be engraved in the minds of anyone who calls themselves a republican. Friends and comrades, the main enemy we all have is British imperialism. Never ever forget that.
It has been clear for some time that the vast majority of the Irish people favour Republicans using peaceful methods of struggle. That has to be respected for we all realise that different situations require different methods of struggle. There are huge social, economic and political problems facing us all. If these are to be tackled then we need republicans and republican socialists to throw their full weight into the political struggle for our full emancipation.
The unveiling of this plaque has been part of a process by which the Republican Socialist Movement pays homage to our dead volunteers and comrades. But friends and comrades, they died trying to change this society. As indeed did many other republicans in other organisations who were good, decent, honest men and women who lost their lives fighting against injustice. Like so many others, they never knew any life other than that of violent state repression firstly under the Stormont regime and then under the direct rule of the British government.
Life here should never have been such that young volunteers gave their lives to battle injustice. From whichever organisations volunteers came, their sacrifices should be honoured by us all.
To conclude quoting the words of Ta, writing about his own brother Jim, but which equally apples to all our comrades:
"He was born under a regime of repression and died fighting for liberty. In the words of George Jackson, on the death of his own brother: 'I want people to wonder at the forces which created him, terrible, calm man-child, courage in one hand, the machine gun in the other, scourge of the unrighteous, an ox for the people to ride!'"
Martyred Volunteers of the Irish National Liberation Army, we salute you!