Bunting/Little Memorial Speech by Bernadette McAliskey
Saturday November 16, 2002 15:32 by Bernadette McAliskey
Bunting/Little Memorial Speech delivered by Bernadette McAliskey in Belfast on 13 October 2002.
13 October 2002
Bunting/Little Memorial Speech
By Bernadette McAliskey
First of all I would like to thank the memorial committee for
inviting me here today to the unveiling of a fitting memorial to two
fine republican socialists.
Standing watching our slight mishaps, I am reminded that the IRSP was
never quite as good at the choreography as the big organisations but
they were always sounder on the principles. I think that it is
important to remember in the context of republicanism, which is a
very broad church with many different tendencies within it, the small
socialist movement within that.
It has always been much smaller and much more vulnerable than the
broad church itself. But its history is as old, as honourable and as
brave as that of any other sections of the Republican movement. As I
already said before and repeat here today, the IRSP probably made
more mistakes than anybody else, I don't think that even in the days
in which I was in it we did not leave any mistake that could be made
unmade. But we learnt from our mistakes, and as a small grouping, the
IRSP certainly had a higher percentage of good people, of brave
people, of incorruptible people, of socialist people than any other
organisations within the independence and resistance movement. And
for a small organisation per head of its population of members,
probably suffered more than any other organisations.
Just listening to Paul speaking of Noel Little, I am reminded of how
many comrades went to their grave with the red flag placed on their
coffin. I am particularly mindful of Noel and Ronnie at the time of
the hunger strike movement and many people here were maybe too young
to remember that time.
They were two different characters. As Paul said, my memory of Noel
Little is precisely that of a valued critical thinker. Noel had a
great mind, and it didn't matter what you said, he could shake it up
and state it in six different ways to make sure that you had all
aspects of your thinking covered. He was a keen organiser. He was
older than Ronnie.
Ronnie was an activist. He was very active in both the political and
military movements here in Belfast. In many ways, one was a thinker
and the other a doer, but both of them contributed to that very small
and dedicated group of socialists within the republican movement at
the crucial time of the hunger strikes.
It is important to remember the contribution that was made by people
like them, because when we look back over history now, it is almost
forgotten that in terms of organisations and prisoners, the IRSM and
the inla, in comparison with its size within the struggle,
contributed volunteers and men sacrificed their lives on that hunger
strike. Their personal political ideology and their organisational
affiliation are now virtually forgotten. They are just part of the
ten hunger strikers. By default, people who never knew them assume
them to have been simply members of the broad republican movement and
represented by the Irish Republican Army.
It is important to make that distinction not to be politically
sectarian, not to be divisive, but because in the days, years and
months that are coming, there will be no Irish Republican Army. We
are looking at this point at the final stage of the Peace Process,
which is the disbanding of the main organisation of military
resistance for over 100 years.
In order to facilitate the development of the Good Friday Agreement
and in order to facilitate the setting up of devolved government and
local power sharing systems, it was crucially necessary and could not
have been done, had the British not been able to enlist within that
process the leadership of the broad republican movement, both
politically and military. But equally in order to maintain the
British position, while it was necessary to draw them in to
facilitate its creation, the maintenance of those systems and their
smooth running mean that they must now be excluded. They were
necessary to create devolved administration. They are not necessary
to maintain it. It is as simple as that.
Sinn Fein as the leadership of the single biggest organisation in the
broad republican movement is now facing two choices. One is to stay
in the Assembly by conceding to the demands of the other people who
wish to maintain it: disband the Army. It is as simple as that. Not
my organisation, not my army, not my choice, not my nightmare. I
didn't vote for the Good Friday Agreement and told them this day was
coming as early as 1994, as did many other people here. That's their
choice. Their other choice is to walk away from government.
I would have preferred to have seen the instinct of the republican
movement demonstrated when the police invaded Stormont. There was a
day when Gerry Kelly would have walked out on his heel and told them
where to stick their Assembly. There was a day when Bairbre de Brun
would have walked down the steps of Stormont pulling the door behind
her and saying, "When you are serious about democracy, call me back".
That's not to say that they should embark upon taking people back to
war, embark in some increase of violence or threat to the public
peace. Those are not the choices. The choice, no matter how long they
take about it, will simply be to disband, demobilise and demilitarise
entirely their organisation, and go as Mr Trimble has said,
wholeheartedly into constitutional government and the constitutional
running of the state or to walk away from government.
We have always had choices, and maybe part of the distinction of this
small grouping and the small number of leftists and socialists, is
that we have always known there were choices and have always taken
responsibility for the choices that we make. Nobody ever made me do
anything. I made my own choices and stood by them, some of them were
hard choices, some of them were bad choices, but I took
responsibility for them. So did Noel Little, so did Ronnie Bunting.
Some of the choices people took led them to their graves.
I remember the time when one after another my colleagues and comrades
were brought down, for no reason other than they were part of the
National H Block Armagh Committee.
That committee was set up to create mass support for the men and
women in prison. It was a very strong committee. Miriam Daly was
crucial to it, because of her knowledge of foreign languages. She
spent timeless hours translating documents in other languages and
circulating them for consumption in Europe before there was email.
Ronnie Bunting was crucial to that because he organised and
maintained and contributed to the defence of local people who stood
out in the street in the dark campaigning and praying for the
prisoners. Noel Little was crucial to it because of his critical mind
and organisational ability.
John McMichael, the leader of the UDA, made a public statement on
television that he would take the leaders of the National H Block
Armagh Committee out. That his men would go into the areas in which
we lived and execute - that is the word he used - one by one the
leaders. And so he did. As Noel Little and Ronnie Bunting were both
appointed to take the positions of people who had been killed, they
too were killed in their turn.
Not one single loyalist was arrested. John McMichael was never
arrested or questioned about the statement that he made. The
slaughter of the leaders of the unarmed, non-party political, openly
democratic and peaceful organisation known as the National H Block
Armagh Committee continued until it suited the British government to
arrest Mr. Smallwood, Mr. Watson, and Mr. Graham outside my own door
in the belief that I and my husband were already dead.
Ronnie Bunting was shot in front of his wife and his children, and
his wife Suzanne, good friend, colleague and comrade of my own, has
in my opinion never been recognised not simply for her loss, but for
her attempt to defend the life of Ronnie Bunting and Noel Little with
her own life. And she did. And she suffered grievously as a result.
Those things only came to an end when the British government had
another agenda. Not because anybody changed their mind, not because
the fundamental conditions of this country had changed, not because
the needs or principles of the struggle had changed or because the
people involved in the struggle had changed. The tactics changed
because the British government needed them to change. And many years
later, the same remains true.
The end of that hunger strike period came when the British government
decided that a better option would be to see, since it was clear that
there were people in this country who were prepared to die hour by
hour, minute by minute, second by second during a period of 75 days,
that there were thousand of people who would stand with them, that as
they slaughtered their leaders, people simply grew in number, it
would be a better tactic to see who could be bought, since it
appeared that very few could be intimidated.
We have been embarked from the 1980s until now in separating out
those who could be bought, those who could be fooled and those who
could be intimidated for the rest. People standing here today are
small in number, but there are other people like us. We constitute
the soul of socialism in this country: we constitute the spirit of
republicanism in this country.
Like Noel, like Ronnie, we constitute the people who can't be bought,
who can't be fooled, who can't be intimidated. It's time, comrades,