Remarks by John Finucane MP at South Armagh commemoration
11 June 2023
I want to begin by thanking you for the invitation to be with you here today and for the welcome, as we gather on the historic land of South Armagh, in glorious weather, to stand in solidarity with the families to remember their loved ones, and to remember their sacrifices and contributions.
Remembrance is a time of mixed emotions for us all, especially for those who knew and loved the very people who are being remembered. It raises feelings of sadness and loss, as well as pride and joy at the lives that were lived and lost.
Such basic and understandable human reactions to loss are no different here in south Armagh than in north Belfast, or indeed anywhere else. And it is for those very basic human reasons that we should always cherish our right to remember those who are no longer with us.
This of course is a right that should apply without prejudice to every section of the society which we now live in today.
I hope you can indulge me to speak personally for a few moments.
As you know, I was eight years-old when two gunmen burst into my family kitchen and shot my father 14 times, and my mother once, in front of me and my brother and my sister.
This loss, and the brutality of it, is something that will never leave me, just as such loss will never leave anyone who ever experienced such a thing.
You will know that what followed for us as a family was a campaign for truth and justice. And over the subsequent decades we uncovered that the loyalist gunmen who entered my home, did so as part of a system alongside the police, the British army, MI5, and along with political cover and sanction, resulted in the deaths of so many, too many, for an incredibly long and sustained period of time.
Throughout our campaign for truth and justice, I have been clear, repeatedly, that truth and justice is something which every person who has been impacted by our conflict deserves, and is entitled to, irrespective of whether those that inflicted the harm were loyalists, the British state or republicans. I have been consistent in this view whether it be personally as a campaigner, professionally as a lawyer, or politically as the MP for north Belfast.
And I would like to expand on that belief for today. For just as truth and justice applies equally to everyone, so too does the right to remember, and the right to commemorate.
I suffered a very personal and up-close loss by those I have mentioned. And those same organisations, within loyalism, the police, the British army and military intelligence, all commemorate, remember and stand with the families of their loved ones and those that they respect. Those commemorations take place right across our society and are regularly attended by civic and political representatives.
And I will defend, without hesitation, their right to do so. There is nothing to celebrate in conflict, or in our difficult and painful past, but to commemorate those we have loved and lost is a right which everyone, including every single one of us gathered here today, is entitled to, and we do so with dignity and with pride.
And while there are very different and often conflicting perspectives of the causes of conflict, conflict is thankfully now a thing of the past.
So, today, we remember with pride the many Irish republicans who gave or lost their lives, with deep sympathy for their grieving families and also respectful of all those who continue to suffer the grief and trauma of conflict.
As I was eight years-old in 1989, I was 18 years-old in 1998, voting for the first time in my life for the Good Friday Agreement. The Good Friday Agreement provided a peaceful and democratic pathway to constitutional change and created institutions, inclusive of all communities.
It addressed the many causes and effects of conflict and allowed us all to consign conflict to the past and to move forward. While there is still work to be done, particularly in relation to legacy issues, the last 25 years of relative peace is a truly remarkable achievement.
As recent elections have shown, the democratic and peaceful pathway to constitutional change has been enthusiastically embraced and built upon by proud and committed republican communities, among them the indomitable Irish republicans of South Armagh.
I am wholeheartedly committed both personally and politically to reconciliation and healing the wounds of the past and am focused on the future.
Thankfully we have celebrated 25 years of peace and the transformation of our society. I, as someone of the Good Friday Agreement generation, am looking towards building on that progress, and building a better society for us all to live side by side on this island.
And our responsibility to achieve that, as political leaders, as political activists, as political communities, needs to be focused on the future, on tackling the many challenges that our people face on a daily basis and, critically, on building a better society in a new Ireland based on respect, inclusion and tolerance, in which all our people, all our communities are welcome and celebrated.
The new Ireland has to be built upon a willingness to move beyond what happened in the past. Reconciliation and generosity should be embraced as the foundation for managing the constitutional change which is now fixed on the political horizon.
Our commitment must be to put reconciliation at the heart of all political and civic institutions in a new national constitutional framework.
The Ireland of today is however a very different place, thankfully. An Ireland where the signs of change are all around us, but an Ireland where the signs of further change, the demands and desires for further change, are very much all around us too.
It is that enduring desire for change that drives Sinn Féin’s ambition to lead government, north and south.
Fine Gael, and Fianna Fáil have governed for the last century.
Our young people see a government devoid of energy and ambition.
That’s why we need change like never before.
We need a government with the vision, energy, and determination to fix housing, to fix healthcare and build a fairer economy that works for everyone.
A government that really sees our young people, gets the challenges they face, and responds with urgency to allow them to fulfil their potential.
A government that will get the basics right in the here and now, and drive ambitious, positive plans for the future.
Sinn Féin wants to lead that government for change.
Sinn Féin is ready. Ready to lead. Ready to get the job done.
Here in the North, the people have spoken, and spoken emphatically twice in 12 months.
Last year’s historic Assembly Election, which pointed to the real change happening right across this island, was followed up by local government elections, last month, which again returned our republican party as the largest party with a clear mandate to deliver and work for all.
Today, Michelle O’Neill stands elected as First Minister designate in a state that was designed to ensure this could never happen.
Well, it did happen, and now Michelle stands ready to lead an Executive for all.
An Executive that will roll up its sleeves and get down to the hard work of delivering real change in people’s lives.
There is an onus on the two governments and in particular the one party which is blocking the restoration of an Assembly, an Executive and North-South bodies, to work together to get the institutions back up and running.
On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, the political institutions should be up and running.
The Agreement brought an end to a terrible conflict.
It delivered peace.
It transformed Ireland.
It transcended the hurt and division of the past and shone as a beacon of hope for a better future.
Thanks to that era of heroic peacemakers, an entire generation has grown-up free of conflict.
We owe it to our young people to overcome our differences and to make progress happen.
The true test of political leadership is to make things better for our children. It’s a test to which we must all rise.
By restoring the institutions, we can move forward. We can make politics work for everyone. That is what Martin McGuinness did, and this generation must make power sharing work once more.
The Good Friday Agreement shows how much can be achieved when we act with common purpose.
We have built the peace.
Now, we look to write the next chapter - the reunification of Ireland.
I believe that we will see unity referendums within this decade.
To win these referendums, and win them well, republicans will have to reach out, create space for others and build alliances right across society.
We want to create a nation home for all the people who live on this island, where the rights of everyone are protected and advanced.
There is no room for trading one form of discrimination for another.
We want an end to second-class citizenship in all its forms.
To build opportunities for everyone.
A new Ireland based on the vision of Tone, an enduring reconciliation and a real union of all the people who call this island their home, and between every community on this island.
To those who remain unconvinced of reunification I say to you, this is your future too.
Your culture, your traditions, your history matter.
Your voice, your opinions, and your ideas matter.
Be part of what is an exciting, positive, and engaging discussion.
And of course, the very best forum now for the Unity conversation is a Citizens’ Assembly.
An inclusive and positive forum, promoting positive discussions on what a new, united Ireland would look like.
Let’s also be clear on this, if this government refuses to establish a Citizens’ Assembly on Irish Unity, a Sinn Féin government will.
The change sweeping across Ireland is led by ordinary people.
By workers, families and communities determined to achieve a new Ireland.
An Ireland that is fairer, stronger, and better for everyone.
A united Ireland of equals.
This is the rising of a new generation.
A rising fuelled by the enduring values of the Irish people - community, compassion, togetherness, and kindness.
We seek to build the Irish nation anew. To end partition in our time. To unite our people and our country.
For the United Ireland which republicans seek is one built on equality, pluralism and inclusion.
A stronger Ireland. A fairer Ireland. An Ireland fit for all her people.
A United Ireland that will be a fitting tribute to the patriots we remember every Easter and at our local commemorations.
A chairde, our journey continues. The direction of travel is clear. Further change is coming.
The challenge for republicans now is to build and broaden support for Irish unity.
It is to win an inevitable unity referendum.
On this Sunday our pledge to the families of the people we commemorate today is that together we will complete the journey to a 32-County Republic based on social justice and equality. That is the prize.
Let us go forward and finish the journey, Go raibh maith agaibh.