Unveiling of the Commemorative Plaque
to the International Brigade

Speech by Margaret Ritchie (Minister for Social Development in the NI Assembly) on 13th October 2007

This is an extract from her speech. I’ve left out the references to her history in the Social Democratic and Labour Party, and to the contemporary developments with the Ulster Defence Association. Should anyone want the full text, just email and I’ll send it on.

Ciaran Crossey
16th October 2007.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to participate in this very welcome commemorative event today, and to offer some personal reflections on what is, undoubtedly, a unique occasion.

I am pleased also to be able to do so as the Minister for Social Development in our new devolved, power-sharing Government. I am sure you hope, as I do, that we can make a genuine difference for people. …..But that is not my intention here

For today I stand here with you in solidarity as a citizen who shares in the values and ideals of the members of the International Brigade whom you now commemorate.

And it is the Brigade’s values and ideals, even more than their achievements in the civil war, that we do truly celebrate. For surely there is no more honourable enterprise than to go voluntarily to foreign parts, ready to sacrifice your own life to defend the freedom of others. To risk everything to counter the darkness of fascism.

And alongside an opposition to fascism, Brigade members were, for the most part, socialists with an unshakeable faith in democracy and a desire to better the lot of those who had least. A combination of courage and vision.

I am not sure I can measure up to the bravery of those who went to Spain in 1939. But I can say that I have been motivated all my political life by a belief in freedom and democracy as well as a desire for greater social justice.

To these ends, I joined a party that shared these ideals and, to this day, the SDLP still embodies many of those qualities that set apart the International Brigade. For some years I was International Secretary of the SDLP and acutely aware of the importance of maintaining solidarity and fraternity with our friends all over the world.

Over this time I came to realize that our efforts – not unlike the Brigade’s struggle nearly 70 years ago – are part of a global undertaking and a continuous campaign for justice.

For fascism must surely be confronted wherever it exists around the world, because it is, fundamentally, an affront to us all. And we must support each other across international frontiers because fascism still lurks in many places.

Even in Spain where democracy now reigns supreme, the goal of the International Brigade is not yet fully accomplished. Spain still has those who would oppress and murder fellow citizens to advance a political agenda.

Standing here, drawing inspiration from the presence of veteran Bob Doyle I tell you that as Minister, public representative and citizen, I will continue to do the very best I can for the cause of freedom and justice in Northern Ireland.

Thank you, May I wish you a very successful day as you commemorate the struggle of those brave Irish people who joined the International Brigade.

More articles/photos from the Memorial and AGM weekend here