Gerry Kelly has used the republican Easter uprising commemoration in Belfast to praise what he called the “bravery, leadership and commitment” of the Troubles-era IRA.
Speaking at the Milltown Cemetery gathering, the North Belfast MLA also evoked an infamous Gerry Adams quip from August 1995, saying: “Let us send out this political message. Not only have we not gone away but we are getting stronger by the day.”
The former Maze escapee said: “I also want to pay tribute to the bravery, leadership and commitment of the IRA in this generation who fought in the streets of our towns and in the highways, byways and fields of our countryside.
“If courage was the measure of success then Ireland would have had her freedom long ago.”
Mr Kelly added: “So on a personal note, I think I can speak for many thousands of Irish republicans who came through the conflict when I say that we are proud of our time as volunteers in the Irish Republican Army. We are also proud to have been political prisoners. We are closer to our goal of a free, independent and united Ireland than ever before.
“I am equally honoured, as a political activist, to have been involved in peace and political negotiations and to be one of the many Sinn Féin members to be elected to represent our people.”
Speaking at an Easter commemoration in Roslea, Co Fermanagh, Sinn Fein president Mr Adams said: “Ireland today needs another rising – a peaceful rising to take control of the ideals of the proclamation and to put them into practice.
“Partition has retarded and distorted the political, social and economic life of this island. But politics in both parts of this island is now in flux.”