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The People Who Can't Be Bought
Speech at the launch of a commemorative plaque dedicated to Ronnie Bunting and Noel Little, Turf Lodge

Bernadette McAliskey • 13 October, 2002

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 (Little) 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 thousands 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, we organised!





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It is better to be defeated on principle than to win on lies.
- Arthur Calwell
Index: Current Articles

17 November 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


The People Who Can't Be Bought
Bernadette McAliskey


Liam Mellows and the Irish Revolutions
Liam O Ruairc


For Stormont & PSNI

Brian Mór


Should Adams Be Meeting With US Warmongers?
Eamonn McCann


Justice Not Revenge
Anthony McIntyre


Arbitrary Imprisonment

Sam Bahour and Michael Dahan


Support The Life Savers and Not The Life Takers
Davy Carlin


14 November 2002


The Legacy of Seamus Costello
Liam O Ruairc


A Balancing Act
Martin Patriquin


The Legal Fictions And The Awkward Questions
Anthony McIntyre



Brian Mór



Brian Mór


Guess Who's Back

Brian Mór


Arbitrary Imprisonment

Sam Bahour and Paul de Rooij


Iraq. Palestine. Give Your Support.
Davy Carlin


The Letters page has been updated.




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