IT isn’t easy speaking in public and it can be very daunting when faced by a hostile audience who are not interested in what you have to say but simply want to shout you down. Belfast Councillor Clíodhna Nic Bhranair faced this challenge at the weekend and demonstrated enormous strength of character when confronted by a section of people at the pro-Palestinian march in Belfast who chose to ignore what she had to say and tried to drown her out with whistles and boos.

Clíodhna is not the first Sinn Féin Councillor in Belfast to experience that kind of abusive behaviour. When Sinn Féin representatives first entered the Council chamber they were shouted down, whistles were blown, and they faced physical assault inside the chamber and assassination attempts outside.

SPIRIT: Clíodhna Nic Bhranair kept speaking despite attempts to shout her down

SPIRIT: Clíodhna Nic Bhranair kept speaking despite attempts to shout her down

Those who disrupted the pro-Palestinian rally did a grave service to the Palestinian cause. They placed their own narrow anti-Sinn Féin agenda above the needs of the Palestinian people who are enduring genocide by the Israeli government. People have the right to agree or disagree with the Sinn Féin leadership going to Washington. They have no right to deny us the right to speak. Our focus was and is on raising the plight of the Palestinian people and seeking an end to the genocide, a permanent ceasefire, an end to the settlements and the provision of aid. 

These should be the objectives of the solidarity campaign. These objectives should unite all genuine activists. But some campaigns have splitters and opportunists. Amadans who want to shout other people down. 

Michelle O’Neill raised our criticisms of the White House directly with President Biden when she met him. In New York and Washington she and Mary Lou McDonald have spoken out against the Israeli state’s slaughter of women and children in Gaza. In media interviews and in her speech at Georgetown University, Mary Lou warned that the USA in respect of Palestine has “got it dangerously, badly wrong and the ceasefire now has to be the absolute priority for everybody concerned." 

She told Sky News that Sinn Féin has a strong commitment to freedom for Palestine and self-determination, an end to the occupation and to talking to talk to anybody anywhere to stop the genocide. 

And she is right. The White House is arming and funding the Israeli state and blocking efforts in the United Nations to secure a permanent ceasefire. It should stop funding and arming the assault on the people of Palestine. Sinn Féin is clear about that. We who have had experience of negotiating an end to conflict in our own place and who have unique access to the Washington political system have a duty and responsibility to use that access in the interests of the Palestinian people. Those who are against us doing that have the right to say so. I defend their right to do this. But they have no right to censor us and to deny Clíodhna Nic Bhranair the right to speak. 

Sinn Féin has stood with the Palestinian people for decades. We have a close affinity and solidarity with a people struggling to end colonisation and occupation. We will not be shouted down or intimidated or compromise on that solidarity. 

That was our commitment before our leadership travelled to the USA. That commitment was honoured last week. It was also honoured by Clíodhna Nic Bhranair who in the face of the disgraceful behaviour of a section of the crowd on Saturday delivered her speech and expressed our solidarity with the Palestinian people. It is a commitment we will continue to honour in the time ahead. 

It can't be Easter already, can it?

I DID not think Easter is almost upon us. It was our oldest lad’s oldest lad who remarked to me that Easter was early this year. I was bemused that a nine – almost ten – year old would know this and describe it in these words. Of course he is probably thinking of Easter eggs.

For many people Easter also marks an important date in their religious calendar. But for children especially – and for many adults – it is all about Easter eggs. These come in all shapes and sizes and prices and despite the cost of living crisis confronting many families, chocolate eggs will be devoured in most homes this Eastertide. 

For Irish republicans, Easter holds a special significance. It is synonymous with the 1916 Easter Rising and the heroism over a century ago of those who rose up against the British Empire and declared for a Republic. It is also a time when we remember all of those women and men – over countless generations – who gave their lives in pursuit of Irish sovereignty and independence. 

TRIBUTE: Joe Austin with an Easter lily in front of the newly unveiled statue of Republican, socialist and trade union activist Winifred Carney

TRIBUTE: Joe Austin with an Easter lily in front of the newly unveiled statue of Republican, socialist and trade union activist Winifred Carney

In the course of my activism I have travelled widely. I have visited many countries. Time and again I have been struck by the determination of nations to honour the patriots and freedom fighters who gave meaning to their desire for freedom and self-determination.

In Africa and Asia, in Latin America, in Vietnam and in the United States there are countless memorials to those who fought in wars against colonialism. National ceremonies of remembrance are held. Buildings or lands and even prisons associated with struggles for freedom are preserved and protected and are used as aids to teach young people the value of citizenship and the importance of freedom and democracy.

Across this island and beyond there are many such monuments to Irish patriots. Next week tens of thousands of people in towns, villages and cities, at country crossroads and at lonely hillside graveyards across the country, will gather for commemorations.

Most will wear an Easter lily. This is a symbol of our enduring commitment to the ideals of 1916 and of the Proclamation of the Republic and is a mark of respect for all those, from every generation, who paid with their lives in the cause of Irish freedom.

The first Easter lily badges were designed in 1925 by the republican women’s revolutionary organisation, Cumann na mBan. They were hand-made and sold – often at great personal risk – throughout the country. The dual purpose of the Easter lily was to raise money for the Republican Prisoners’ Dependents Fund and to honour the sacrifice made by the men and women of the 1916 Rising.

From the 1930s, successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael governments attempted to suppress sales of the Easter lily. Selling Easter lilies without a permit was an offence. It was illegal in the  North also. Over the decades many republicans have been harassed, arrested and jailed for selling the Easter lily. 

Fortunately those days are now behind us and Easter lily badges of all shapes and sizes, some in metal or cloth or paper, are now readily available. So wear an Easter lily with pride. And if you can, attend your local commemoration next week. Well done to the National Graves Association and all those who organise these events. 

Táim ag iarraidh ar gach duine, óg agus sean, Lilí a chaitheamh um Cháisc mar siombail náisiúnta a chuireann chun cinn na h-idéalacha agus prionsabail a bhain leo siúd a fuair bás um Cháisc 1916.

Last chance for a Moore Street Easter draw ticket

ON Easter Saturday the draw for the Moore Street 1916 Robert Ballagh print will take place. The print is one of a limited edition of 200 that was produced last September by the Moore Street Preservation Trust. Money raised is for the campaign to Save Moore Street The iconic limited edition sold out within days and it is now a valuable collector’s item. One of these is now up for a raffle to raise much-needed finance for the campaign.

The scene depicted by Robert Ballagh is of the meeting in 16 Moore Street attended by Pádraig Pearse, Seán Mac Diarmada, Joseph Plunkett, Tom Clarke and a wounded James Connolly, at which the decision to surrender to the British forces was taken. Also present were Volunteers Winifred Carney, Julia Grennan and Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell. Two weeks ago a statue to Winifred Carney was unveiled in the grounds of Belfast City Hall.

The sale of this print will raise much-needed funding to increase awareness about Moore Street and to fund any future legal actions.

You can buy a raffle for £9 or €10 at

Remember our history. Support this campaign. Stop the demolition of Moore Street.