Oration for Tomás MacGiolla - Michael Finnegan, President of The Workers' Party
I am honoured to be able to speak today on the life of a remarkable and unique human being such as Tomás MacGiolla was. Giving a funeral oration on such a man is not an easy task.
I have known Tomás for four decades and got to know him especially well working beside him in
Dublin West. He was both gentle and fierce. Gentle and warm with family and friends. Callers to Tomás were always welcomed warmly. He was a great listener and both young and old, men and women could open their souls and know they were respected and heard. Fierce, when pursuing the rightness and justice of the cause he dedicated his life to. Tomás would be the first to acknowledge that he would never be able to do all he did without his wife, May. She shared and supported. She was the rock that he came back to. Even when he worked in the Dáil at lunch time he returned to his home. Because of the strength of his home life he was able to devote himself so completely and unselfishly to public life.
He committed himself and the party he led to:
- The right of men and women to work, to house their families and feed their
- Education free from the control of clergy of any denomination
- Fight discrimination based on class, creed, race or sex.
- The right of the people to own and control the mineral wealth of the country and to ensure that oil, gas and other mineral resources were processed in Ireland so that the people would reap the maximum benefit from them.
In order to do this he knew he was taking on the powerful vested interests at home and abroad. There were the multi-nationals who grew fat on profits made from seizing our natural resources while the people enjoyed no benefit whatever. There were 'the political gombeen men and women who for a few pounds and a seat in a Mercedes,' were prepared to sell their people out. He was aware of how power was wielded and knew that change was possible. If other wealthy interest groups could unite to make demands for their sectors then so could workers. If these sectors were represented politically then so should workers. They must build a party to represent workers.
Tomás gave confidence to people whose only experience was accepting their second class status because they saw no other way. He convinced them that their issues were important and that change was possible. They must organise themselves. Gradually their daily struggles were given a platform. In the place of passively enduring the unacceptable as normal they became aware that they had rights as human beings. They had a right to a job, to health care, to a decent education for their children without suffering discrimination. Their struggles were given a status and a dignity with Tomás championing their cause. Why for example, he argued, should children from Ballyfermot and other working class areas not have the right to avail of third level education? This inequality must be addressed and should be addressed from pre-school and primary school. Tomás placed these issues on a national platform and in doing so gave dignity to the lives of many.
Similarly, he tirelessly sought justice for the abandoned communities in Dublin West. He exposed the bribery and corruption that allowed speculator developers and the financial institutions that backed them make vast fortunes by abuse of the planning system while people went without essential facilities and services. This is the same reckless activity based on naked greed that has undermined the economy which workers are once again paying dearly for. This disreputable clique spent vast sums trying to undermine Tomás' electoral base - knowing that he was not to be bought. There was nothing they would not stoop to. Despite this Tomás missed out by only a handful of votes when he finally lost his seat. He has expressed his concern about the conduct of that particular election count many times. There is no doubt that there are questions to be answered as prominent elected representatives of the Fianna Fáil party came to us and voiced their concern about how the count was conducted. Despite all their efforts and money they had to resort in the end to a shameful interference with the democratic process itself to unseat Tomás MacGiolla. If one is to be judged by the enemies they have made in their lifetime then Tomás stands head and shoulders above the rest - as he did in many other ways.
It was in times of heated emotion and public controversy that Tomás showed his singular leadership abilities. When other leaders caved in to fundamentalist pressure groups he coolly and rationally spelled out his approach and took pains to explain his position. The divorce and abortion referenda debates were painful episodes. His republicanism was the basis of his stand on these issues. No single religious group could be allowed impose their beliefs on a nation, he argued.
The primacy of politics was sacred to Tomás - the politics that served the people and gave people the power to choose. He was scathing of both media figures and politicians who undermined by word or action the trust of people in politics and democracy.
The protection of Ireland's natural resources and their use for the good of the people was a consistent issue for Tomás throughout his political life. He often looked to countries with similar experiences and expressed solidarity with their struggles. He raged about the exploitation of Africa and the criminal interference by Western powers. Tomás was steadfast in his support for Irish neutrality. Ireland had fought for independence and should be able to act and speak on any international issue without reference to any other country. He based his thinking on the United Irishmen's approach. Wolfe Tone wrote in 1790, “we should spurn the idea of moving a humble satellite round any power ... and ... claim ... our rank among the primary nations of the earth.” This neutrality is deeply rooted and, he felt, too precious to hand over to any power, EU or any other.
Tomás MacGiolla was a strong supporter of women's struggle for equal rights. He knew at first hand the difficulties women faced in both work places - where they were underpaid and the home - where their rights were often not regarded. As ever Tomás thought highly of fighters and he admired greatly the women who demanded their rights and a better life for their children.
Dominic Behan dedicated his book Teems of Times and Happy Returns to Malachy McGurran and Billy McMillen and said, 'We will, none of us, be long after them, so while we are able let us do what's right for our fellow man and leave a reputation behind that our children won't be ashamed of.' It can truly be said of Tomás that he 'did what was right" for his fellow men and women and most certainly he has left behind a rich legacy of ideas - ideas for freedom that anyone interested in a fair society can look to for inspiration. He has left a high standard of honesty and integrity that those of us active in politics would do well to live up to both. He has left a legacy of perseverance - if a cause is just then it should be fought for. Above all he has left the working class people of this country - north and south - a legacy of dignity. Dignity in their struggle - the socialist struggle. His voice championed their concerns. He showed that there is a dignity in protest and the struggle for rights - whether it be better pay and conditions, decent housing, a fair education system, discrimination or decent facilities for abandoned communities. The only indignity as far as he was concerned was in accepting injustice without a fight.
Tomás MacGiolla was a totally committed person. Having set himself the highest standards and the most difficult of tasks - he lived up to them all with every fibre of his being. This powerful voice may be stilled but his spirit will live to strengthen and inspire all those who are willing to struggle for a fairer and more just world for all people.
Slán leat, Tomás.