Corbyn: ‘The campaign for Bloody Sunday is an inspiration’
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The event was part of the One World One Struggle series of events to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.
Speaking at the event, Corbyn said, “I’m honoured and humbled to do this on the 50th anniversary of that absolute historic day. The welcome that I have had here in Derry and this morning in Donegal has been fantastic.
“Yesterday we planted an oak tree to mark the 30th anniversary of Creggan Enterprise. That oak tree we planted with children from St John’s and Holy Child Primary School and Rathmore 50 plus club. That oak tree is a beacon of hope for the future. And an oak tree is the most significant tree of any sort because of the biodiversity to brings The Rathmore Centre, which serves as a fantastic beacon for the outstanding community spirit that goes with it. At the centre yesterdays, I met with Unheard Voices, a support group of relatives of the victims of violence. Standing together in solidarity and grief as they attempt to heal the deep wounds of the past. What struck me in that and other discussions with people at the centre was the way in which women bear the brunt of all this. They bear the brunt of holding families together, of supporting children with mental health stress, they themselves often withholding any expression of their own anguish because they want to be strong for their children, their relatives and their family. And so I say to the women of Creggan, the Bogside and Derry - what fantastic things you’ve done and fantastic things you do. The role of women in all of our struggles should be better recognised than it is.
“I was also very honoured to meet pupils of St Joseph’s and St Cecilia’s School. I had a very wide ranging and honest discussion with them. They’re inspiring, they’re optimistic, they’re imaginative and they’re hopeful. I want them to grow up in a Derry free of deprivation that was inflicted on this city by so many successive governments and administrations. We want a future for them. This is a city where housing was left to rot, railways closed, a city that was refused its own university, denied the economic support it deserved, resulting in catastrophic unemployment, underemployment and poverty. And a city where still, the average wage is much less - I believe half as much - than Belfast.
“Yesterday I spoke with a group of sixth formers. They look to the future with optimism and hopes for the new university, which I absolutely support. A university in Derry to give that beacon and further opportunities in Creggan and the Bogside.
“But what brings us together today is Bloody Sunday. Half a century ago, in an era where people around the world were rising up to demand civil rights, protesters came onto the streets of this city, peaceful protesters, to rise against the most fragrant denials of their rights. The protest of the 30th of January 1972 was against internment without trial. A grotesque example of the discrimination felt by the community at that time. But one introduced precisely because of their resistance to second class status when it came to jobs, status and representation. Think about it - internment without trial. That’s the stuff of dictatorship in other parts of the world.
“Those protestors were gunned down on the streets. Shot as they fled the soldiers who were intent on killing. Shot in the back as they ran. Shot as they tried to crawl to safety. Shot as they lay wounded on the cold ground that day. 13 innocent civilians, a number of them only 17 years old, almost children, were shot by those paratroopers. A 14th died later from his injuries. When you look at the memorial and see their ages, you feel a sense of horror.
“In a video that’s shown in the (Free Derry) Museum, Eamonn McCann says, in response to the eventual result of the enquiry, that nothing would have happened without the work of the families and the community and their determination. I want to pay tribute to the families and the victims and many more who were wounded over the years that came on in overcoming all they faced.
“It’s poetry and music that’s written in a place of adversity that makes a massive difference. I’m a great admirer of the works of Seamus Heaney and indeed, Michael D Higgins, the President, gave me a full volume of Seamus Heaney’s works. After Bloody Sunday, he (Heaney) wrote The Road To Derry, as he came from Belfast on the day of the funerals. I’m sure many of you have heard the poem before but I think as something that was published on the 25th anniversary, it is very appropriate to read it now, on the 50th anniversary:
‘Along Glenshane and Foreglen
And the cold woods of Hillhead:
A wet wind in the hedges and a dark cloud on the mountain,
And flags like black frost
Mourning that the thirteen men were dead.
The Roe wept at Dungiven and the Foyle cried out to heaven,
Burntollet’s old wound opened and again the Bogside bled;
By Shipquay Gate I shivered and by Lone Moor I enquired
Where I might find the coffins where the thirteen men lay dead.
My heart besieged by anger, my mind a gap of danger.
I walked among their old haunts.
The home ground where they bled;
And in the dirt lay justice like an acorn in the winter.
Till its oak would sprout in Derry
Where the thirteen men lay dead.’
“‘In the dirt lay justice like an acorn in the winter’
“It’s because of those who fought for justice from that day until this, those who kept the pressure up, despite the disgraceful whitewash of the Widgery tribunals, that we finally saw some of the truth emerge from the Saville enquiry. And the British government, in the person of David Cameron, were forced to make a substantial of parliament on that day.
“The movement was centred here in Derry, of course, but it was also international. Just as the world watched Derry on the day of the funeral of those 14, the day watched Derry on the day of the result. Something people may not know that there were many other demonstrations around the world. A week after Bloody Sunday, we organised a march in London from Kilburn to Whitehall carrying mock coffins to lay at the gates of Downing Street for the then Prime Minister to see. We marched there and I was one of the people that, when we arrived in Trafalgar Square, was arrested with a whole gang of other people. It was that sense of solidarity of people all around the world and all around Britain that I think made a very big difference. But every single obstacle was put in the way of those seeking justice, trying to find their way to the truth.
“The victims were blamed. The media got hold of the story. The army press releases and the briefings went on. They were blamed for being victims. Like, somehow or other, it was their fault they were there and shot dead by soldiers.
“Remember, it was 50 years ago tomorrow since Bloody Sunday but its only been 12 years since the unambiguous exoneration of all of those victims. All of those years there was this question mark over whether the victims were the guilty ones.
“Here in Derry, the state can begin to address the wrongs of the past by ending the economic injustice that inflicted this city both before and after Bloody Sunday. The state should be supporting growth in Derry, investing in infrastructure, a university the city deserves and backing the amazing work being done by the community itself.
“The longing for justice runs through the history of Ireland like a bright green thread. Ireland was the proving ground for English colonialism, where the English and then the British learned their trade of plunder of trade and empire. The sequence is well known; conquest, plantation, Cromwell’s mass murder, the Penal Laws, the Great Hunger.
“If someone had told me at the time of the Good Friday agreement in 1998, that abortion and gay marriage would be legal across the island of Ireland in 2021, I would have said ‘dream on, it wont happen!’ Yet it has, things have changed.
“People young and old from different religions, from the north and the south have come together to campaign for many of those social advances. They know that discrimination in any form is wrong. This society that is no longer two separate communities at loggerheads. The role of the catholic and protestant churches are very different now than they were 50 years ago. There’s also been a significant migration to Ireland and a significant refugee population in Ireland who are making a massive contribution to the lives of all of us as they do in England and other places as well. The economy across this Ireland has to become more integrated. The effects of Brexit have brought that home to just about everybody, well except perhaps Boris Johnson.”
Talking about a border poll in the future, Corbyn said, “The fact that we’re talking about democratic mechanisms for self determination is a testament to how far we’ve come since the 30th of January 1972. And of how people can overcome seemingly insurmountable power. The people of Derry did that and are still doing it. Half a century on, there isn’t just a fight for accountability but Irish people are finally able to reach towards self determination and social justice, although massive obstacles remain. Their efforts are an inspiration, not just here, but throughout the world. In places as far flung in Palestine, the occupation widely seen as a parallel to what’s happening here. Wherever there is colonial rule, occupation and denial of self determination, it’s followed by oppression, by massacres, by cover-ups. We seen that again and again, including other places - Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, where countless lives have been lost and justice absent. The atrocities of colonialism and empire can never be accepted and will never be forgotten.
“The words carved into the Bloody Sunday monument say the epitaph is the continuing struggle for democracy. The theme this year is One World One Struggle, you’ve seen it on the posters and the badge I’ve got here. But the future is the one that belongs to youth and young people. Young people growing up, going through mental health stress, through covid, going through insecure, underpaid employment, paying too much for university and college education, paying to much for housing and having too much insecurity in their lives. It’s the generation of young people growing up now with all their inspiration, their love of music and their imagination and their wish to live in a decent equal society where men and women can achieve equally, where justice can prevail and justice is a thing of the past. So we owe it to them to try and create a world that is fit for the next generation. Because it’s that generation that is going to be faced with the environmental disasters that this generation has left behind.
“In remembering everything that happened in derry 50 years ago, we can take inspiration from the work of all those people who worked to bring about and achieve a form of justice but above all to come together and create that better world full of equality and hope rather than inequality, injustice, unaccountable power and greed.
“To me, Derry is an inspiration. The campaign for the Bloody Sunday memorial is an inspiration and to me it’s an enormous honour to be invited here to share my thoughts with you.“
Jeremy Corbyn was then presented with a plaque of Free Derry Corner emblazoned with the Palestinian flag by Tony Doherty.