Mary Lou McDonald’s address at the John Boyle O’Reilly Club

A Chairde,

It is an honor to be with you today.

I would like to thank the John Boyle O’Reilly Club for hosting us. For the great work of Eammon Burke from Galway, the aptly named Mike Ireland from Springfield and Billy Tranghese, liberated by the Irish.  

I am delighted to share a stage with Representative Richie Neal and co-chair of the Friends of Ireland Caucus, a lifelong supporter of peace and progress.

The impact of the work of Richie and the people in this room cannot be overstated or underplayed.

You have all made a difference.

The peace and progress that we enjoy have been aided by the people in this room. The Good Friday Agreement would not have been possible without Irish America. Without you.

When the British Government sought to impose a hard border on Ireland, it was both parties in Congress under the leadership of Richie Neal as chair of the Ways and Means committee that put a stop to that.

The actions of political, community, and labor leaders brought the British Government back to the negotiating table.

For that Richie, the people of Ireland are eternally thankful.

I am told that I am the third Sinn Féin President to address the club, the first being Éamon de Valera.

The second was Gerry Adams who made Springfield his first stop in Massachusetts.

And here I am, I’d say two out of three isn’t bad.   

We come to celebrate the people who have done so much to keep our culture alive.

You sang our songs, danced our jigs, and played our reels. You shared our stories and held on to a sense of place for generations  

You have stood with Ireland, traveling every step of the way as we build a new and united Ireland.

Friends, the future is ours to write.

We now have a peaceful and democratic pathway to Unity.  A free and sovereign nation. An idea, a hope, and a vision that bound our exiled children to Ireland

The walls of this Club bear witness to the struggles of decades.

We should look no further than the life and writing of John Boyle O’Reilly to define the Ireland we can build.

A prosperous home for all. A republic of equal citizens.

John Boyle O’Reilly was a revolutionary leader in revolutionary times. A constitutionalist in constitutional times.

A militant Republican. A prisoner who escaped penal servitude in Australia and made his way to America.

He was unwavering in his support for the cause of Ireland. Alongside John Devoy and the Clann na nGael he set up the rescue of the remaining Fenian prisoners for Australia.

His Irish republicanism and belief in equality were steadfast and unyielding. He challenged injustice in Ireland, in the US, and across the globe.

As editor of the Pilot in 1871, he responded to those in the Irish Community who opposed equality and integration,

‘There is nothing Irish about that principle…The Pilot holds that the colored man stands on perfect equality with the white man.’

Years later after his death, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People described him as  “a poet-prophet of democracy”

At this moment we have the opportunity to build a new Ireland. A home where we do not lose more generations to emigration. A place of opportunity and hope.

We will face many challenges along the way. Challenges that we must meet and overcome.

We have a British Government that believes that it is not bound by international laws and agreements. Believes that it can continue to cover up its past actions.

The US and the people in this room will be key in holding the British to their obligations.

To ensure rights enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement are vindicated.

That includes adherence to the European Charter of Human Rights for full disclosure of their actions during the conflict.

It also means upholding the right of the people of Ireland to National self-determination.

The Good Friday Agreement places the constitutional future in the hands of the people.  It provides for referendums North and South.

Ireland has changed. The electoral unionist majority that defined the North is gone.

Now is the time to plan and prepare for the future. To have a respectful and inclusive discussion and to let the people decide. The options are simple continued division or unity.

The Irish Government should be planning and preparing for unity. That is what a Sinn Féin government would do.

That is what a Sinn Féin government will DO.

The people in this room are not spectators. You are part of our nation. We are family.

You can shape this process, ensuring that the British honor their obligations, and demand that the Irish Government begin to plan, prepare, and advocate for unity.

Both governments should agree on a timetable and process for the referendums.

Friends, we can and must meet these challenges. We want to hear about your vision of a new and united Ireland, where our nation abroad meets our nation at home.

We have an opportunity denied to generations. We can build a new Ireland that will be a fitting tribute to John Boyle O’Reilly, to the generations that filled this club, those who built a new life in the US but always remembered Ireland.

Most importantly it will be our legacy to our children and to all that follow.

Together we will build a new and united Ireland and it will echo with the laughter of all our children.