Irish America vital then, essential now

Easter is a very special time. A time for family. A time especially for children. New "Easter" clothes have been bought and there are the chocolate eggs to be eaten.

For Christians, Easter is the most important date in the calendar. The resurrection. A time for hope, new life and renewal.

Easter also has an added historical significance for the Irish, at home, and scattered around the globe.

95 years ago the British Empire was the greatest the world had ever seen. Britain was the superpower nation of its day.

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At Easter 1916 an alliance of Irish republican organizations and others, including elements of the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army, Sinn Féin, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the woman's movement, socialists, trade unionists, nationalists, and Irish language activists, came together to rise up against British rule in Ireland and declare a Republic.

Easter 1916, like the hunger strike of 1981, was a seminal moment in the struggle for Irish freedom, and each changed the course of Irish history for the better.

Key to the Easter Rising was the role of the Irish in America. The 1916 Proclamation explicitly praises Irish America ..."having patiently perfected her discipline, having resolutely waited for the right moment to reveal itself, she now seizes that moment, and, supported by her exiled children in America and by gallant allies in Europe, but relying in the first on her own strength, she strikes in full confidence of victory."

It has been said many times that the Rising and the subsequent Tan War wouldn't have occurred without the financial and political support of Irish America.

It was crucial then, and it has been crucial in more recent times.

On May 5th the people of the North go to the polls to elect a new Assembly and power sharing Executive. That would not be happening but for the efforts of Irish America.

The Good Friday Agreement, which is the foundation block for this progress, would not have happened without Irish America.

The British "Government of Ireland Act" from 1920 is gone and there now exists an all-Ireland Ministerial Council, all-Ireland policy and implementation bodies, and areas of co-operation and harmonization.

We are, through these interlocking and interdependent all-Ireland institutions, and the British constitutional change, loosening the knot of British involvement in Irish affairs.

For the first time in 90 years there is now an all-Ireland political dispensation working for all of the people of Ireland. This would not been have achieved without the determination and commitment of Irish America.

Irish America can rightly feel proud of the contribution it has made to the search for peace in Ireland. From the media battle against British propaganda, to the political battle for visas and fundraising, and political lobbying, Irish America has played a blinder in promoting Irish democratic demands in the United States.

Thirteen years after the Good Friday Agreement, the issue of peace in Ireland remains high on the political agenda of the U.S. administration. As if to prove that point, President Obama is due to visit next month.

The success of Irish America did not happen by chance.

For decades, the British had been largely successful in arguing internationally that the war in Ireland was an internal matter for the "United Kingdom" and that everyone else should keep their noses out of it. Successive U.S. administrations had acquiesced in this.

In seeking to develop and advance the Sinn Féin peace strategy, Irish republicans had long understood the importance of engaging with, and winning support from, the international community. We recognized that the Irish diaspora had an important role to play in this and that Irish America was the most advanced part of this. Irish republicans found in America willing partners and allies in our endeavors.

In the years since the Clinton days, through the Bush administration, and now with President Obama, Irish America has remained a constant source of support and encouragement for the peace process. It has consistently contributed to the efforts to overcome each of the crises that have bedeviled the process, kept the White House and U.S. political system engaged with the process, and has never given up on the democratic imperative of Irish reunification.

In this context, across the United States there have been several well attended conferences to the theme of Irish reunification, and countless resolutions expressing support for a United Ireland passed by town, city and state bodies.

There is much work still to be done. A united Ireland is our goal. A United Ireland is what we will achieve if we remain focused and determined.

Ireland needs its exiled children to remain strong and committed to the achievement of this historic goal. I am confident that you will.

At his court martial, Pádraig Pearse got it exactly right: "Believe that we, too, love freedom and desire it. To us it is more desirable than anything in the world. If you strike us down now, we shall rise again to renew the fight. You cannot conquer Ireland. You cannot extinguish the Irish passion for freedom."

As we celebrate the blessings of Easter, I am confident that Irish America will stick with it, and with us, and that together we will succeed in building a free, independent, sovereign United Ireland.