Sinn Féin “are the only republican movement,” Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill told the thousands of people who attended the National Hunger Strike Commemoration march in Dungiven on Sunday.
More than ten thousand people took part in the march through the county Derry town on Saturday afternoon to remember the hunger strikers. Relatives of the hunger strikers were joined by senior Sinn Féin politicians, including Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, and marchers and bands form all over Ireland, as well as bands from Scotland and Liverpool.
The march began at Owenbeg and made its way though the town, which was packed with onlookers, en route to a field on the outskirts of Dungiven where the speeches were held.
Former East Derry MLA Francie Brolly sang his ‘H Block Song’ from the platform ahead of the speeches.
Ms O’Neill, who was the main speaker at the event, criticised dissident republicans, and said their “mindless militarism” would not achieve Irish freedom.
“We are the only Republican movement. We are the only Republicans with a strategy to bring about Irish unity. We are the only collective of activists carrying the glowing baton of national freedom and national reconciliation based on a framework of human rights, social justice and equality,” she said.
Following the recent announcement that a number of dissident republican factions - including the Real IRA and RAAD - have joined forces, Ms O’Neill said they are not republicans.
“It is anyone’s right to disagree with Sinn Féin’s political and peace strategies, and our practical promotion of the 1916 Proclamation and 1919 Declaration of Independence. I will absolutely defend that political right. But I will not condone their apolitical actions. “They have no Republican strategy and no political programme - and clearly some of them have no politics either. They are united only in their opposition to the Sinn Féin strategy and in their desire to reverse political progress. They fear the onward rise of Sinn Féin and only they can explain why.
“Mindless militarism, adventurism and egotism had no place in the Irish freedom struggle in 1916, in 1971, in 1981, and it has no place in this same struggle that we carry forward in Ireland today.
“Those who are promising young, and sometimes vulnerable, people nothing more than imprisonment, injury or death should desist and disband. ” she explained.
The West Tyrone MLA also repeated her party’s call for the release of high profile dissident republican prisoners, Marian Price, Gerry McGeough, and Martin Corey.
The Executive Minister also said Sinn Féin will continue its negotiations with unionists to work towards reconciliation and insisted that the British Government also has a key role to play.
“It could start by butting out of our country once and for all. Disband the NIO. Devolve outstanding powers. And take the Spooks back to London,” she said.
The Sinn Féin MLA also called for a referendum on Irish unity to be called immediately. “In the immediate term, the British Government, and Irish Government must fulfil their outstanding commitments to the peace process. They must prepare for, and become persuaders for Irish unity.
“The British must disclose the truth about their dirty war. They must now call an immediate border poll, so that the people of this country can determine their own future. And they must realise that the Agreement’s power-sharing, all-Ireland and equality provisions won’t be reversed,” she said.