The following is the text of the IRSP oration for Volunteer Mickey Devine.
It was delivered at the IRSP Commemoration in Derry and the Independent Hunger strike commemoration in Belfast today by comrades Paul Gallagher and Paul Little respectively.
It is an honour to be asked to speak here today on the 30th anniversary of the death of our friend and comrade, Irish National Liberation Army Volunteer Michael Devine in Long Kesh, to remember not only Mickey but all of those who were forced to undertake protest action in order to defeat the futile British policy of criminalisation. The hunger strike was a struggle fought by Ireland’s most dedicated revolutionaries. It was among the most heroic battles in the course of recent struggles for national liberation in Ireland. A battle that began with the simple refusal to wear a convict’s uniform and slowly grew into a mass movement, that struggle eventually led to the hunger strikes of 1980 and 1981.
Today thirty years ago Mickey gave his life in Long Kesh. He was the last of the ten men to die during the hunger strike and shortly after his death the protest came to an end. As well as the ten young republicans who died within Long Kesh many more were to die on the outside during that summer including prominent activists in the H Block/Armagh committees; Miriam Daly, Ronnie Bunting, Noel Little of the IRSP, John Turnley of the IIP , John Dempsey, Na Fianna Eireann and INLA Volunteers Matt McLarnon and Jim Power who were both killed in action as they engaged British forces. Many others were killed or maimed by plastic bullets. It was against this backdrop that Mickey and his nine comrades bravely faced death.
As we stand and remember the hunger strikers today, let us not forget that Irish republican prisoners are lying incarcerated, protesting in a British Gaol in Ireland. It does not matter if we agree or disagree with armed struggle at this moment in time; the prisoners today are every bit political prisoners as all those Irish republicans who went before them.
As we remember Mickey and his nine comrades we also honour the hundreds of prisoners who endured the blanket and no-wash protests in Long Kesh, Armagh and elsewhere, many now suffering ill health as a result. Likewise we honour the thousands on the outside who campaigned tirelessly for the prisoners. And we honour the volunteers of the INLA and IRA who took the war to the British on the streets of this city and across the north. They all played an important role in the struggle and we acknowledge and remember their roles because ultimately the hunger strikers and the campaign around them was successful and it was successful only because the people came out and gave them their support and showed a unity that has yet to be matched.
Whilst the hunger strike was thirty years ago and we should never ever forget the sacrifices of our comrades. In fact we are duty bound by their legacy to continue to fight for the ideals that they gave their lives for. Our question today is how do we all as republicans hope to advance the republican ideal? Well the IRSP will carry on playing our part in advocating and arguing and convincing. But we are a relatively small organisation and there are many small organisations out there doing the same, but overall, if we are honest, not much progress has been made. The IRSP were at the forefront in 1975 of advocating broad front of political groups within republicanism and the left, of coming together on common issues in order to make progress for our class.
Whilst we remember the hunger strikers we should never lose track of the political road that they took. Mickey Devine chose Republican Socialism because he believed that the only truly free Ireland is an Ireland in which exploitation is no more, an Ireland where democracy is in the hands of the people and an Ireland in which the working class decides their own economic destiny. Mickey was a Republican Socialist who believed building a working class led movement whose ultimate aim was to defeat partition and to defeat capitalism and replace these with socialism and freedom.
Ireland is still partitioned, sectarianism is rife, we are still ruled by capitalists and the working class is still being exploited day and daily. We haven’t made much progress since 1981, the capitalist class retains and strengthens its iron grip on the levers of power north and south.
The IRSP believe that far from being beaten or held to a draw, the British have strengthened and consolidated their influence in Ireland. All to Irelands shame, through the 1998 agreement, they sold our souls for penny rolls and lumps of hairy bacon.
In 1981 the Blanket men and women in H Block and Armagh found a unity of purpose and determination, we all drew strength from within that unity. Inside Long Kesh the prisoners, whilst coming from different organisations, came together in order to defeat a common enemy. Their political differences were accepted and respected, when faced with a tyrant enemy, standing together under a common struggle meant that the prisoners were ultimately victorious. Recently, working together, Irish republicans and republican socialists forced the Stormont regime to release seriously ill POW Brendan Lillis from his internment in Maghaberry. We stand united today on the issue of the continued internment of Marion Price and Martin Corry, we demand their release from their unjust detention. Today though that unity is sadly no longer in place, for there to be any progress towards our ultimate goal of defeating partition and overturning capitalism, then unity of purpose must prevail.
Republicans and other progressive forces must work together, when necessary, and as equals. We cannot forget the political differences that exist, but for there to be real progress there has to be co-operation with all the political groups.
Failing to work towards unity of purpose within republicanism and failing to defeat elitist attitudes will ultimately mean defeat for our common goals.
Even Provisional Sinn Fein must now recognise, there is no victory, there is no Irish freedom and there is no liberty, in being the top dog of Irish republicanism. Any republican who continues to argue for popularist and clientelist politics, is preaching the gospel of defeat and of failure.
It allows our enemies, the Brits, the capitalists and our own home-grown entrepreneurs and opportunists to define the parameters of the Irish freedom struggle. It has to be resisted at all costs and exposed for the fraud that it is. There is no single route to a 32 county socialist Irish republic through Stormont or any other partitionist establishment. Electoralism is a useful tool in the revolutionary toolbox, but in itself it is not a revolutionary strategy. On its own it can never secure our aims.
We need to organise, we need to agitate and we need to spread the gospel of discontent. We need to build bridges and forge new spearheads for revolutionary struggle in Ireland.
That is the task that we inherit from Mickey and his nine comrades, their legacy is the Irish socialist republic and it has yet to be achieved.
Today many different Irish Republican groups are engaged in trying to remove the British from Ireland, we all have different strategies and different political emphasis, for our part the IRSP will continue to build an anti imperialist broad front of the occupied, the dispossessed, the marginalised, the exploited and disenfranchised, a broad front that will confront capitalism in Ireland and promote the interests of the Irish Working Class first and foremost.
As we go about our business, the various republican groups, it is inevitable that our paths will cross as we move forward. Let that engagement be positive, let us all demonstrate that we are fully focused to the task in hand.
Volunteers- Bobby Sands, Francis Hughes, Raymond McCreesh, Patsy O Hara, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kieran Doherty, Kevin Lynch, Tom McElwee and Mickey Devine. We salute you, and in the words of Patsy O Hara to his mother Peggy on his death bed- LET THE FIGHT GO ON
BEIR BUA, go raibh mhaith agaibh.