National Hunger Strike Commemoration 2011
Oration by Lucy Campbell:
Friends and comrades,
It is an honour and a privilege to be speaking here today at the 30th anniversary of the historic hunger strike of 1981.
This was a turbulent time for our people and it is entirely appropriate that we gather here at the graves of Patsy and Mickey to pay tribute to their memory and the memories of their comrades. Not only do we gather to remember them as friends, brothers, fathers and sons, we also remember them as comrades and as political activists, as soldiers and as revolutionary fighters. These men were the bravest of the brave and the strongest of the strong.
In the hell hole of Long Kesh these men had no weapons and nothing to defend themselves with when the screws came to drag them naked from their cells to beat them and strip search them. They maintained they dignity and strength by standing together as one and faced down the sectarian bullies and thugs who ran that prison.
The hunger strikers, like many thousands of men and women at the time, ended up in British and Irish prisons as a result of their desire to affect real and lasting political change on the island of Ireland. They fought to establish a 32 county socialist republic with no political or military interference from Britain. They were driven to fight for the establishment of a republic based on fairness and equality. A republic based on serving the needs of the people and not pandering to the desires of the rich and the greedy. Sadly the ideals and objectives of the men of 1981 have not yet been realised.
What those men in Long Kesh did achieve was that they defeated the criminalization of the republican struggle, they spoke to the world, through their actions, and they said loud and clear that the republican struggle for freedom was a legitimate and honourable struggle.
They shouted through their pain and suffering that the British government has no right in Ireland. They united all republicans behind their message and stood firm against murder and discrimination against working class people which was entirely political and driven by right wing ideologies of superiority, the same superiority of the unionist system that denied ordinary people a fair vote, the right to a job or to a decent home. Whilst there has been progress in this regard there simply hasn’t been enough and too many people remain without a job or without a decent home. The political system in Stormont, or the Dail for that matter, has neither the will nor the power to seriously affect change in this regard and will not bring change to local working class communities. A radical political opposition needs to be built and in the recent past I am proud to have played my part in laying the foundations for this to happen.
From a personal perspective, I wasn’t born in 1981. I did not have first hand experience of the historic events of that year but I have spoken to and listened to many people who were central to the hunger strike from a Republican Socialist Movement perspective and I am in awe of what these men were forced to do to fight for their dignity. I spoke to people such as Peggy O’Hara who went through so much as she watched Patsy fight to the very last second. Amidst all that was going on these were ordinary families who were watching their sons die in front of the world’s gaze. I cannot be anything but overwhelmed by hearing about these experiences. They fill me with a great sense of pride but also respect for what they achieved.
When Patsy O’Hara died, the British, through the RUC, brutalized his body, they broke his nose and burned his skin with cigarettes and then threatened to dump his body on his mother’s doorstep. These people had no morals, no backbone, no politics and no honour. This was the hateful enemy that Patsy and his comrades stood against.
The same enemy who today hold Marian Price in Maghaberry. She has recently had her life sentence licence revoked by the British. From this platform we would like to express our solidarity to Marian and the other republican prisoners who have also been taken off the streets in a similar manner in recent times. Not only that but there was an agreement made in regards to the Republican Prisoners in Maghaberry in August last year in which the Republican Socialist Movement were centrally involved. This agreement was the basis for giving the current republican prisoners some dignity as they spend their time in this British prison in Ireland. The failure by the British to fully implement all aspects of this agreement is a travesty and has again forced republican prisoners to go back on protest. We make the call again for the agreement reached in August 2010 to be implemented in full.
Compare the treatment of the republican prisoners to the scenes in Dublin this past week when the queen of England paid a visit to our country. She was lauded and applauded and wined and dined, all to the tune of 30million euros whilst the 26 county economy stares into the abyss created by the greed. We are told that Elizabeth Windsor is only a figurehead, but she is head of the British government which still occupies the six counties, she is commander in chief of the British military and she is the only person legally within Britain who can declare when Britain is at war and when that war is ended. With this in mind the IRSP opposed her visit to Ireland. I am proud to say that the IRSP were in Dublin and stood united with other republican groups and opposed the visit on anti-imperialist grounds.
As we stand here today we remain mindful of the struggle for liberation and socialism that Patsy and Mickey and their comrades fought. It is not enough to talk of history and evoke the memory of the dead and expect the people to follow. There were not too many suits, too many Mercs, too many clergy or too many builders rushing to protest about the denial of political status. No it was the plain ordinary people of Ireland’s working class from both urban and rural areas who stood by the prisoners. It was the men and women of no property who stood in the vanguard of the struggle and comrades they are the only solid foundation upon which the struggle can be won.
It is clear to us that in the present climate the only road is the political road but we can not nor will not condemn any republican for taking military action against the British state, but we simply do not believe that armed actions at this time can achieve our republican objectives. The road for us is the road of unremitting opposition to the capitalist systems and the building of class consciousness among the working class in all of Ireland.
Comrades the capitalist system has spawned sectarianism, racism, sexism, unemployment, poverty and wars. It is a system that turns the finest humans into mere servants of the great god of greed. Its never-ending quest for profit has endangered not only the individual health of millions as a result of factory farming but also endangered the earth’s environment.
Friends we struggle not only for this generation but for the future generations to come for we want to pass onto them a world build on the finest values of our class, the working class.
Bobby, Francis, Ray, Patsy Joe, Kieran, Kevin, Thomas, Martin and Mickey died for that better world.
It is with pride that we remember them and in spreading the Devine gospel of discontent with the status quo we know that they walk with us.
Friends, Comrades and fellow workers, in the words of Patsy O’Hara:
“Let the fight go on!”