It is always a privilege to be asked to speak at an Easter commemoration.
Much more than just a Dublin rebellion, the Easter Rising was not only Ireland’s declaration to the world that it existed as a sovereign nation, but it had major international significance.
News of a small band of dedicated rebels taking on a much greater force spread like wildfire and gave hope and renewed vigour to those seeking freedom around the world.
Indeed, while we have always relied in the first on our own strength, ours was and is an international struggle.
We have forged fraternal bonds with others fighting oppression across the globe, from Palestine to the Basque country to Latin America.
The Proclamation that Pearse read from the steps of the GPO made special reference to exiled children in America and gallant allies in Europe.
In that spirit I would like to take this opportunity, as we mark a key milestone in our own struggle for freedom, to send a message of solidarity and support to our friends and comrades in Catalonia.
For the crime of voting, the Catalonian people faced and continue to face brutal and violent repression from the Spanish state. Nine members of the Catalonian government now face up to 30 years in prison having been charged with the offence of rebellion.
As we stand here to commemorate the men and women of Easter week I say to them to hold their heads up high; to be branded a rebel is not a slur, it is the bravest and most noble of pursuits.
The shame belongs to the Spanish state, whose actions Franco would be proud of.
And the shame belongs to the European Union, whose silence has been deafening.
While we are gathered here to commemorate the Easter Rising it is also worth remembering that the events of Easter Week do not stand in isolation. They set off a chain of events, the repercussions of which we are still feeling today.
As well as the hundred and second anniversary of the Easter Rising this year marks the hundredth anniversary of the 1918 General Election, in which the Irish people overwhelmingly rejected British rule and voted en masse for Sinn Féin.
Just like our MPs today, those elected refused to take their seats in Westminster and instead set up the first Dáil. Among them was the irrepressible Constance Markievicz, the first female MP.
It is poetic that as we mark the hundredth anniversary of this historic election our party should find itself lead by two equally irrepressible women.
So let me take this opportunity to send my congratulations and support to our new Uachtaráin agus Leas-Uachtarán, Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill. I have no doubt these unmanageable revolutionaries, as the women of Cumann na mBan were called, will carry on the fearless and tireless work of Gerry Adams, the much missed Martin McGuinness and all those who came before them.
Chairde, while we gather here to commemorate the declaration to the world that the Irish Republic existed, it is worth remembering that the republic Pearse proclaimed on the steps of the GPO is not the republic that we stand in today.
The Proclamation was a revolutionary document.
At a time when women didn’t even have the vote it addressed itself, equally and in bold, to Irishmen and Irishwomen.
It declared civil and religious liberty for all, pledged itself to equal rights and equal opportunities and resolved to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation.
The visionaries who wrote this would not have stood by while a wholly preventable and wholly solvable homeless crisis developed.
They would not have allowed the emergence of a two tier health system that judges some lives more worthy than others.
They would not have allowed the country to be run, and indeed run into the ground, by gombeen politicians more concerned with the happiness and prosperity of big business than the population.
They certainly would not have stood by while the country was, in the words of James Connolly, dissected like a corpse upon the table, into two, repressive, right wing, conservative and anti-democratic statelets.
This is not the Republic that they envisaged but that doesn’t mean that their dream is dead.
It lives on today. It lives on in you, the people gathered here and all across the country who are commemorating the men and women of Easter Week.
It lives on even in those who have no knowledge of The Proclamation, but who have recognised that things are not as they should be and have used their vote to reject the old orange state in the north and the two party carve up in the south.
Their numbers are growing. More and more people are recognising that a new Ireland, an agreed Ireland, a united Ireland is not only desirable, not only achievable but is absolutely necessary.
There are of course challenges ahead.
As we speak, aimless and flailing Tories in Britain, propped up by the DUP, are attempting to repartition our country.
Time and again they have been shown that Brexit will be disastrous for Ireland, will damage our economy and shake the foundations of a 20 year peace process.
They do not care. They are determined to blindly plough on with no plan and no goal in sight.
We cannot allow our country to become collateral damage in a Tory power grab.
We must stand together, Irishmen and Irishwomen of every persuasion, and declare resolutely that we will have no borders in our country. Hard or soft.
We will not ever again allow Ireland to be dissected like a corpse upon the table.
Every party in this state, even those resolutely opposed to Sinn Féin, have now acknowledged that Special Status for the north is the only realistic solution to the problems posed by Brexit.
All 27 EU member states have acknowledged that Special Status is the only realistic solution.
The Tories and the DUP can delude themselves with talk of regulatory alignment and fantasy technology all they like but when it comes down to it they too will have to recognise that Special Status is the only realistic solution.
And if they don’t like that then there is only one other option. They must go to the people in a unity referendum and ask them if they want to be ruled by an inward looking, isolationist Britain, run by Tories and little englanders, obsessed with recapturing an empire on which the sun has long set, or be part of a modern, progressive, inclusive Ireland that relies in the first on its own strength, but stands also with gallant allies around the world.
Chairde, we do not pursue a united Ireland out of some vain sense of nationalistic pride.
A united Ireland is not about territory, it is about people.
Partition is the root cause of so many of the problems that have shackled this country for the past century and continue to shackle it today.
If we are to reach our full potential as a nation, economically, socially, politically, internationally, then we must do it as one people, not only, as the Proclamation says, oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, but welcoming those differences, celebrating them, inviting them to be part of the modern milieu that makes up what it means to be Irish.
After fighting broke out in Dublin and a few other places across the country the Irish Independent and other unionist papers described it as the Sinn Féin Rebellion and while I admire the Indo and others for their consistency when it comes to their approach to fact checking and unbiased reporting over the past hundred or so years, certainly little has changed in that regard, the fact is it was not a Sinn Féin rebellion.
Certainly Sinn Féiners were bravely and proudly among the ranks of those who made up the Irish Volunteers, Irish Citizens Army, Irish Republican Brotherhood and Cumann na mBan, but those who stood, fought and died together on Easter Week were from a broad section of Irish society.
They were nationalists, republicans, socialists, feminists, suffragettes, trade unionists, artists, poets, pragmatists, realists and dreamers.
Theirs was a broad movement, and just like Irish freedom back then didn’t belong to one section of society, Irish reunification today is not, cannot, and must not be the preserve of Sinn Féin alone.
Reunification benefits all of society so the call for a referendum on Irish unity must reflect that.
Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and others can no longer afford to be like the Tories and the DUP, dancing around the obvious. Irish reunification must no longer be a distant prospect they reference once a year. With almost all of Irish society united against a hard border and the Tories bent on delivering one, it is a more palpable probability than it has been since the foundation of the state.
The government has a responsibility to prepare for such an outcome, indeed to do otherwise for such a seismic shift would be a dereliction of their duty. They must produce a green paper on how reunification would work and what a new Ireland would look like.
Certainly Sinn Féin have done this already and continue to produce new reports as events unfold and situations change but it cannot be our voice alone.
James Connolly declared that to drive the British out and then change nothing but the colour of the flag would make the whole endeavour pointless. All too aware of how his warning was ignored and just such a reality came to pass it is incumbent on us to recognise that a united Ireland must be a new Ireland, and a new Ireland must be an agreed Ireland.
So comrades, today of course is a day for remembering and reflecting, but it is also a day for regrouping, reorganising, reenergising and rededicating ourselves to the cause of Pearse and Connolly, Tone and Emmet, Sands and Farrell. The cause of a true republic.
An Phoblacht abú!