IRA ‘were no criminals’, former Sinn Féin TD tells commemoration

Last IRA member killed during Troubles ‘continues to inspire us’, Martin Ferris says

Martin Ferris delivers the oration at the Diarmuid O’ Neill commemoration at Timoleague cemetery, Co Cork, on Sunday. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Martin Ferris delivers the oration at the Diarmuid O’ Neill commemoration at Timoleague cemetery, Co Cork, on Sunday. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

 

Irish republicans who gave their lives for Irish freedom were not criminals and attempts to demonise them as such would be rebutted, former Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris told a commemoration in west Cork to honour the last Provisional IRA member to die during the Troubles.

Mr Ferris told a commemoration to mark the 25th anniversary of the killing of Diarmuid O’Neill in London by British police that the IRA member was just one of hundreds of Irish republicans who gave their lives since 1969 to build a 32-county democratic socialist republic.

Delivering the oration at Mr O’Neill’s graveside in Timoleague at a ceremony attended by close to 100 people, Mr Ferris recalled how London-born Mr O’Neill (27) was “the last IRA volunteer to die on active service against the British and the British presence in Ireland”.

“On 23rd of September 1996, Diarmuid O’Neill, Paddy Kelly and Brian McHugh were in a flat in Hammersmith in London and at 4.30am in the morning, British police broke into the flat, arrested two and brutally killed Diarmuid O’Neill – there was no need for it but they killed him.

“And they thought by doing that they would destroy that determination by IRA volunteers to prosecute the struggle against the British presence in our country but your presence here today and your support and solidarity with the O’Neill family gives the lie to that.”

‘Internationalist’

Mr Ferris, who served time in Portlaoise prison for IRA activity, said Mr O’Neill was an internationalist who opposed oppression wherever it existed.

He “continues to inspire us in the political struggle” and to “take on the oppressors who have demonised and tried to criminalise” those involved.

“We were no criminals. We gave up our liberty and many of us gave up our lives for that struggle, to continue that struggle and to follow the way that was laid before us from 1798, from 1867, from 1916 right through to the present day,” he said to loud applause.

Mr Ferris said Mr O’Neill and fellow IRA member Edward O’Brien from Wexford, who was killed when a bomb he was carrying exploded on a bus in London on February 18th, 1996, were among the IRA members who helped bring the British government to the negotiating table.

“They are among hundreds and hundreds of IRA volunteers that have died since 1969. They were the people that brought the British government to the negotiating table and, when the ceasefire came in in 1994, John Major and his government had an opportunity to make peace . . . but John Major chose not to do that.”

Mr Ferris said it was only as a result of Mr Major’s refusal to avail of that opportunity for peace in 1994 that the IRA ceasefire broke down. It was only after the breakdown of the ceasefire that both Mr O’Neill and Mr O’Brien died and they need not have died, Mr Ferris added.