61 YEARS ago this month South African police acting for the apartheid regime shot and killed 69 demonstrators and wounded almost 200 more as they protested against the Pass Laws which were part of the racist apartheid system.
The 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, like Bloody Sunday in Derry just 12 years later, reverberated around the world. It drew huge international criticism of the apartheid South African government, including by the UN Security Council. The British government abstained in the vote.
In 1979 the United Nations General Assembly agreed that a week-long series of activities would be held annually in solidarity with people struggling against racism and racist discrimination. March 21 – the date of the Sharpeville Massacre – was set as its starting point.
This year the theme of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was ‘Youth Standing Up Against Racism’. The aim of the campaign is to “foster a global culture of tolerance, equality and anti-discrimination and calls on each and every one of us to stand up against racial prejudice and intolerant attitudes”.
Despite these efforts, racism, intolerance and misogyny are still very much part of societies around the world. The Black Lives Matters campaign has been very successful in drawing attention to it, especially in recent years. So too has the Me Too movement which has put a focus on violence and discrimination against women. The recent cartoon in the Sunday Independent which depicted Úachtaran Shinn Féin Mary Lou McDonald as a witch is just one deplorable example of misogyny as well as of the anti-Sinn Fein agenda of many in the southern media establishment.
Hate crime, intolerance of and discrimination against citizens take many forms. Violence against people because of their race or colour, their sexual orientation or gender, their nationality or religion or their disability is wrong. All of us have a responsibility to make a stand against such injustice and intolerance whatever form it takes.
Irish republicans believe that society must reflect and include the entirety of its people, not some of them. People have rights and entitlements. Their human dignity must be acknowledged and upheld. Inclusivity is vital. Equality is vital.
The colonisation and partition of Ireland and the periods of intense conflict which resulted from it created significant divisions within Irish society. These remain unresolved. Foremost among these is the right of the people of the island of Ireland to self-government and to have maximum control of that government.
A second crucial challenge is posed by political and religious sectarianism. As the debate increases around Irish unity so too must the debate on building an inclusive and reconciled society evolve and grow. Reconciliation and healing must be at the heart of the transition to Irish unity. But they cannot be a precondition to achieving it.
As part of our desire for a greater understanding of the issues involved and of the measures needed to confront sectarianism and hate Sinn Féin this month commenced an internal dialogue on inclusion and reconciliation.
Declan Kearney and others in our leadership are holding online conversations in the coming weeks with activists across the island to examine what practical steps are required to tackle sectarianism and provide for a reconciliation strategy. Among the contentious issues that will be discussed will be the role of commemorations, the legacy of the past, as well as examining the function of political institutions, political leadership and policy and community and civic society.
So, as the discussion on a unity referendum and a united Ireland increases, as new ideas and proposals emerge with increasing momentum around the shape and form of that new Ireland, we need the most informed debate possible. Everything should be on the table for discussion. That’s the way forward.
Engagement is the key in time to come
IN recent months unionist politicians and parties have been increasingly turning to the age-old tactic of talking up the potential for conflict and the alleged threat posed by the legitimate aspirations of nationalists and republicans, as a way of preventing democratic and constitutional change.
For nationalists and republicans the playing of the Orange Card is older than the northern state. It has its roots in the Home Rule battles of the late 19th century and the machinations of people like arch Tory Randolph Churchill and the unionist business and landed class to defeat the Gladstone government’s efforts to pass a series of Home Rule Bills for Ireland.
It was used again in the years leading to the partition of Ireland and the creation of this dysfunctional, deeply corrupt and sectarian northern state. It was consistently used in the 1960s to stymie the desperately needed democratic reforms identified by the civil rights movement. It was used to justify the use of sectarian violence by loyalist mobs and the RUC and B Specials, against Catholic areas in 1969.
During the more recent decades of conflict time and time again we witnessed the leadership of political unionism whip up unionist anger and fear against any proposal that was deemed to threaten their political hegemony. This was the Orange state and in it unionists had the right to walk where they chose to walk; pass what discriminatory laws they wanted without any concern for their neighbours; and use whatever means necessary, up to and including state violence and collusion with death squads, to impose their will. For political unionism it was and still is a zero sum game in which they must reject any change, however democratic, because they believe change threatens their dominance, their culture, their Britishness.
Change can be difficult. It can be challenging. This is part of the human condition. But no-one is seeking to erode the sense of Britishness held by anyone in the North. We leave that to British governments who constantly stab unionists in the back when English national interests are at risk. Nor is anyone threatening their sense of culture. Nor are republicans and nationalists looking to “put the boot on the other foot” by treating the unionist or PUL community in the same way that we were treated. That’s the road to ongoing conflict. What we do believe absolutely, and without apology, is that the rights of every citizen to equality, to respect and to parity of esteem must be accepted by all.
‘The Good Friday Agreement stipulates that if “at any time it appears likely” to a British secretary of state that a majority of those voting in the North of Ireland “would express a wish for a united Ireland”, they are obliged to call a referendum.’#Time4Unity pic.twitter.com/s7s36vo892— Irish Unity 🇮🇪 (@IrishUnity) April 2, 2021
The Good Friday Agreement, which a clear majority in the North and an overwhelming majority on this island, voted for in May 1998 upholds the right of citizens to identify as Irish or British or none. And it also asserts that the right of those who identify as British will be protected and defended in the event of constitutional change.
Unionist leaders claim that they are democrats. Well, the Good Friday Agreement and the constitutional and political changes it contains were democratically endorsed in a referendum. Brexit was democratically rejected by the people of the North in a referendum. The debate on the unity referendum provided for by the GFA is open to all.
So, my appeal to unionist leaders is to engage.
Engage in the democratic process – open a meaningful dialogue with the rest of us. Together we have the wit and the intelligence to reach a new accommodation on the island of Ireland. With a little generosity and openness of spirit we can create a better future from the past we have all known.
A victim of our own Easter egg success
THE recent United Ireland Easter Egg – Bronntanas Mhála na Cásca (above) – was a great success. The problem was there were not enough of them. We knew that from the start. But I made a mistake of saying they were available only in Belfast. That angered some of our non-Belfast Easter egg lovers. I should not have mentioned Belfast and said limited availability instead. Fact is we did distribute to other places. From Dublin, all of the six counties except Fermanagh as well as Leinster, Dublin, South East Ulster and Louth. So, well done me and RG.
Now this was always going to be a tester and a teaser for next Easter. On the basis of the current and ongoing interest it is a success. Getting a United Ireland Easter Egg is like the search for All-Ireland tickets.
Le cuidiú Dé next year we will do a big United Ireland Easter Egg extravaganza. And intensify our Uniting Ireland activism in the meantime. Have a good Easter. Wear a lily. Honour our Patriot Dead.
Place names are put online
IN my recent Saint Patrick’s Day musings I reminisced about my Uncle Paddy and his books of Joyce’s place names. Luke Callinan from the West contacted me with the very welcome news of a link to electronic versions of these wonderful tomes.
Their proper name is The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places, published in 1910. The author is Patrick Weston Joyce. They are in the University of Toronto collection which can be accessed online (see YouTube reading of entire volume above). And the digitising sponsor is MSN.
If you have a grá for the names of our townlands and other places then you will find Mr Joyce’s research very interesting. Go raibh maith agat, Luke.