Address by Workers Party General Secretary John Lowry, at funeral of Tomas MacGiolla.
Comrades friends and distinguished guests,
On behalf of the Ard Comhairle of The Workers Party and all members of The Workers Party, I wish to conveyor deep sadness on the passing of our much loved comrade Tomas. We express our deepest sympathies to May, his beloved wife, but also his fellow comrade, political activist and his collaborator as a disturber of the political peace. To his sister Evelyn, his nephews and nieces and wider family, our sincerest condolences on your sad loss of a kind and loving brother and uncle.
Although we have all known for some time that Tomas was not in good health, nonetheless news of his death came as a shock and a sense of disbelief that someone who has been such a central part of all our lives and of our Party, for so long is no longer with us. We will miss him greatly but we are heartened and strengthened that in life he has given us so much that will stand us in good stead in the years of struggle that still lie ahead of us.
Tomas was truly an inspirational figure. He was a giant of a man, both physically and politically. He possessed a great love of his country, its traditions, culture and in particular its language. He was a true patriot. But above all else what he cared about most was its people. He never held to any romantic notion of Irishness nor to any narrow understanding of the concept of freedom. He believed in both. But he realised that without jobs, decent homes, healthcare when it was needed, education for all, without the means to live a full and socially rewarding life, the Irish people would never be free. In his Presidential address to the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis held in Jan 1970, held only months after the outbreak of sectarian conflagration in Northern Ireland and in a highly charged political atmosphere North and South, he declared the republican struggle to be for,
“the ownership of the land and resources and wealth of the nation by the mass of the Irish people against the foreign exploiters and the native gombeen men”
That was in keeping with the New Departure in the republican movement, initiated by his great friend and comrade Cathal Goulding, which Tomas not only supported but in which he himself was to play a pivotal role. The new thinking set in motion a transition from a narrow conservative and militaristic organisation, to a modern, democratic and socialist Party of the working class. Tomas saw that the real enemy of the Irish people was not just partition but the rotten and oppressive political and economic system north and south which gave free rein to corruption and bigotry that destroyed communities in the cities as well as the countryside, that exiled the young and that divided the people of
Ireland. To address this in a serious way required change in the republican movement too. Not change from its principles or objectives but from forms of organisation and practice which left it elitist and isolated
From the very people it sought to make free. So change was needed. The real struggle became the Dublin Housing Action Committee, the struggle for civil rights in Northern Ireland, one man one vote there and the campaign to stop abolition of proportional representation in the south. The campaign to protect our natural resources, create jobs, protect the cultural and political rights of those living in gaeltacht areas and the west generally, against sectarianism and state and paramilitary violence in the North, against repressive social legislation which banned contraception and divorce, equal rights for women and support for the trade union movement.
But for the working class to achieve all of this needed something else, a Party of their own, a Party of the working class. That Tomas played a central role in bringing such a Party into being will be one of his greatest legacies. He did so in the face of much adversity, opposition and outright hostility. But he fully understood that permanent change is a condition of a truly revolutionary organisation. Yet he did not subscribe to vacuous notions of change for the sake of change, always able to distinguish between principles deriving from a serious philosophical understanding of the world, and dogma or indeed opportunists who simply looking to hitch a ride on the next available means of social mobility.
Always acutely aware of the huge changes which have taken place in the modes of production and the impact of these on modern societies, Ireland included, Tomas never once accepted that capitalism or imperialism had changed. The pursuit of profit, the exploitation of man by man, these have remained constant. Recent banking scandals, social welfare cuts, job losses, media attacks on public sector workers and the trade union movement, none of these anti working class measures came as a surprise to Tomas. His mind was as politically alert as ever and his outrage at the injustices of the capitalist system was as strong as ever. The gombeen class he had railed against in the 70s had developed into fully paid up members of the advanced capitalist club reaping obscene profits whilst workers and their families continue to live in hardship in cities blighted by the consequences of social and economic failure,
Comrades and friends we have much to learn still from the life of Tomas. Throughout the country there are many thousands of people who all have their own recollections of a great man and of how he has changed their lives, in big and small ways. The tributes paid to Tomas these last few days are a testament to his integrity and standing in the country.
But for the members and supporters of The Workers Party he will always be special.
To hear MacGiolla take hold of the microphone and talk about the unity of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter was to hear the authentic voice of republicanism. When he spoke about Iraq or Serbia you understood clearly what internationalism meant. And when he spoke about the oppression inherent in the capitalist system you were reminded of Swifts savage indignation or Guervas statement that the revolutionary was motivated by the love of mankind.
It brought back memories of why you became a socialist in the first place.
Vivacious, passionate, human.
A visionary, a socialist, a Republican, a true leader and a giant of the Irish Left.
That was Tomas.