Comrades and friends,
When we gather here to commemorate the life and ideals of Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen, we also celebrate the entire radical, republican, and socialist tradition from which our party has sprung.
When we look at those who inspire us individually and as a movement they all have certain things in common. From Tone to Cathal Goulding and Tomás Mac Giolla; from Paine to Martin Luther King the people who inspire us as socialists all had fire in their bellies, all had a willingness to step forward and be in the forefront no matter what the danger to themselves; and all shared a deep love of humanity.
But these men and women over the last two centuries shared one other common feature from which we must learn. We must learn from their power to analyse, their power and willingness to identify the guilty in society no matter how great or how powerful. We must learn from their power to propagandise – using every method available in their time. But above all else we must learn that these people offered solutions, practical solutions; solutions that cut through the guff, solutions that made sense to the working man, the peasant, the tenant, the landless labourer. And because they offered solutions which made sense, they offered hope. They provided inspiration and leadership and built their movements from that solid basis.
We must therefore learn that it is not enough to analyse, it is not enough to criticise – we too must provide solutions and offer hope.
This major crisis of capitalism is now in its third year. It is the most devastating crisis that most of us have ever experienced. The myth of the “Market knows best” is a busted flush. Capitalism is built on greed, on avarice, on private accumulation and it was the working of these processes at full tilt that has caused this massive crisis. There is no doubt that certain companies took greed, recklessness and financial stupidity to extremes but it was not these marginal figures that caused the crisis. It was the very nature of the system itself.
But capitalism is fighting back. It has mobilised all its forces – media, academia, financial, political and in places even military – to stabilise, refocus, and maintain its dominance. Our challenge is not only to stop capitalism reorganising but also to seize this unique opportunity to actually overthrow capitalism and replace it with socialism.
We know we are not strong enough as a party to achieve this objective here in
Ireland. We know that none of the other left parties are strong enough individually to achieve this objective. Indeed collectively the principled left, even acting in full cooperation are still too weak to achieve our objective. Therefore we must seek unity across a wider left spectrum that includes Social Democracy. At this time, therefore, a huge responsibility rests on the Labour Party and the Trade Union movement.
Presently Labour is riding high in the opinion polls. After the gangster years of the Celtic Tiger, Fianna Fáil’s support is imploding. But Fine Gael, despite achieving a remarkable resurgence, is not achieving a clear poll-topping position. Labour is therefore at a cross-roads and we have reiterated time and again over the last few years our desire to see them walk away from the political cul-de-sac of right wing coalition.
On the 12th May last, the anniversary of Connolly’s execution, we said: “Connolly’s teachings are as relevant today as when he was alive. His socialism is ageless and we as socialists and trade unionists must strive to ensure that his legacy is kept alive in Ireland today and in the future. Connolly would never have accepted the dictum from the bourgeoisie that “labour must wait”. Labour has waited in vain for 90 years. Now, as capitalism is in deep crisis, the Left has the opportunity to fulfil Connolly’s dream. We call on the entire Left in Ireland, including the Labour Party and the ICTU, to come together to sweep this inept government out of the Oireachtas and, for the first time in our history, install a left-led administration”
In mid-June we said: "The poll presents the Labour Party with a unique opportunity but it is an opportunity that won’t be repeated if Labour fails to deliver on what it promises.
The continuing collapse of support for Fianna Fáil shows that the present government has lost its mandate to continue in power. The refusal of the electorate to transfer their support to Fine Gael shows that for the first time in three generations there is a chance to bury Civil War politics and create a genuine left-right alignment in Ireland. However, what the country does not need is the type of Blair-Brown New Labour politics which Britain has just rejected after 13 years of disappointment, failure and outright cynicism".
If Labour under Gilmore are prepared to walk away from the poisoned embrace of Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil they now have the chance to build a Labour-led Left coalition with a genuine chance of forming the next government. We ask Eamon Gilmore to commit to such a policy. If Gilmore is not prepared to commit to such a policy then, no matter how he wraps it in media spin, he is selling the same failed policy of Norton, Corish and O'Leary".
To the Labour leader we reiterate the simple question, as first posed in that great miners’ song by Florence Reece: “Which side are you on Eamon, which side are you on?”
For an entire generation, as different speakers have stood on this podium and addressed themselves to the problems in Northern Ireland the pall of one particularly foul deed continued to hang in the air. It is 38 years since the British Army, in cold blood and without provocation, murdered 14 people on the streets of Derry as they marched for an end to Internment without Trial. This was murder most blatant but the truth was denied by the authorities and the truth was attempted to be airbrushed away by the infamous Whigery Inquiry.
We welcome the report of the Saville Inquiry. Yes, we know it took too long and cost too much, but we welcome the clear language which he uses and the absolutely unambiguous conclusions which he draws. Bloody Sunday was a disaster on so many fronts. For those who died, and for their immediate and extended families we can all see and appreciate the horror of the situation. To have the truth denied for almost forty years only added to that horror.
It is in the broader context of Northern Irish politics that the real disaster lay. Bloody Sunday occured just six months after internment had been introduced. If internment had enraged the catholic population and alienated them from politics, then Bloody Sunday drove them straight into the arms of the waiting Provisional IRA. For thirty years it was a potent recruitment agent for nationalist militarism and fed the cycle of murder and mayhem which we have analysed and criticised from this platform and elsewhere over that dark period.
But Northern Ireland has moved on. There is a new situation. The gunmen have put away their guns and we have a devolved Assembly sitting at Stormont. Sinn Féin and the DUP are holding hands around the cabinet table and the full range of powers which were agreed to be devolved have been devolved. In 10 months’ time there will be elections for a new Assembly.
It is helpful in analysing this situation to look at the slogan which we adopted more than 25 years ago. Our slogan then, as now, was: Peace, Work, Democracy, and Class Politics. This slogan was not a la carte. Everything was interlinked. We wanted peace and a democratic devolved Assembly as democratic objectives in their own right. We knew, and always stated clearly, that a local Assembly would not, just by its existence, transform people’s lives and Northern Ireland’s society. It was and is self-evident that right-wing parties will follow a similar policy whether they are in Belfast or Berlin, London or Limavady. We know that it is only when a Parliament is sitting in Northern Ireland, debating the bread and butter issues of Northern Ireland, and making decisions that impact directly on the people of Northern Ireland that the possibility of real politics – class politics – exists.
Looking at our slogan, and at the policies we adopted, we can safely say we were largely correct in our analysis and even congratulate ourselves on this fact. But self-congratulation will not build class-politics, will not revitalise and rebuild the Workers’ Party. To stabilise and build our party we need to analyse the present, we need to build a programme for the future, and transmit that to the people. We need to dissect the Reaganite policies going through Stormont – on health, on local government, on service charges, on the destruction of industry and the sell-out of agriculture, and expose it. We need to develop our own policies – on jobs, on education, on transport, on tourism, on policing, and on every other aspect of life in Northern Ireland. We need to get out, on the street corners, in the housing estates, at public meetings which we organise, and sell our message.
The widespread distribution of Look Left in Belfast, which I know is happening at the present time, is a welcome step in this direction. As we said, Assembly elections will be held in ten months. If we are to meaningfully contest these vital elections, we must do it in a full-blooded way – with proper planning, strategy, building our teams, developing our programme of work. Above all, and at all times, we must be involved with the people. For Northern Ireland it is simple. To see what Peace without Class Politics Looks like - all that has to be done is look across the border.
It will not have gone unnoticed by this audience that the Celtic Tiger illusion has well and truly vanished and we have been in a massive recession for the last two years. The empty factories, the derelict building sites, the boarded up shops, the return of the boat-train are all public indicators of this deep recession – this crisis of capitalism. The economists, the media apologists, the propagandists have all scurried around trying to find a scapegoat for the crisis and hoping for some sort of Wall Street miracle to do what King Canute failed to do – turn an incoming tide. And only the other day the economists claimed they had seen the miracle and they proclaimed – the recession is over! Exactly who do they think they are fooling???
As this gang of economists was telling a disbelieving populace that the recession was over, the Central Statistics Office was telling us that unemployment was rising – that it had now reached more than 450,000. All indications are that unemployment will continue to rise – even the economists agree. Are we being asked to believe that the economy is getting better when people’s lives are getting worse? Are we being asked to believe that factory closures, low pay, slashed benefits, unaffordable hospitals, and rising youth emigration are the indicators of an improving economy? Because if these are truly the signs then I, for one, do not want to live in such a society.
450,000 people signing-on know the reality of this economy. Hundreds of thousands of others hanging on to their jobs by their fingernails know the truth about this economy. Workers, especially women workers in the service sector, in part-time and temporary work who face daily uncertainty, reduced wages and worsening conditions know the reality of this economy. It is easy to analyse the situation, to identify the thieves, the robbers, the fat cats, and the corrupt. Families eking out an existence on Social Welfare benefit or women trying to feed and clothe a family on Social Assistance don’t need confirmation of their condition; don’t need a list of missing billionaires who should face trial; don’t need a litany of the lost opportunities of the decade 1995 – 2005.
What people need to see are policies they can understand, in clear language, in a format they understand and can access. When we correctly state that our Natural Resources could revitalise our economy we must put flesh on those bones. We must explain that our oil and gas resources can offer fuel security, can offer export income, can be the basis of a vast array of petrochemical industries. A huge resource – which is now destined to line the pockets of international firms like Shell, Statoil and BP – could and should be ours for the benefit of all the people.
No sane person, least of all us, wants the construction industry to return to the cowboy days of the last decade. We don’t need any more hotels, ghost estates or outer suburban retail parks. What we do need is infrastructure, local authority housing, and upgraded environmental standards amongst other things. There is no shortage of labour for these tasks – indeed tens of thousands of construction workers are languishing on the dole. The cry of course from the establishment is that there is no money. Untrue. There is money – it is just not in plain sight. Each year hundreds of millions of Euro is handed over to private landlords by Local Authorities to provide social housing. By stealth, social housing has been privatised. If this massive transfer to private landlords was ended then there would be oodles of money for long-term, sustainable, good quality Local Authority housing which would actually be a social asset rather that a constant debit on the balance sheet.
What we have outlined above are simple things, practical things, sensible proposals that everybody can understand. There are hundreds of other areas where we need to propose equally simple, straightforward and innovative proposals which both make sense to people and give hope to people. This is a task where everybody must be involved – because the experience of a member or supporter in the retail sector is clearly different than somebody in the construction or education sector. We need policies for every sector and that can only happen when our people in every sector get together to bring forward proposals.
In this economic climate, no matter what proposal is brought forward there is one massive cloud which overhangs everything – our banks. The amount of money which the banks have taken from the public purse and from the public’s savings is almost beyond comprehension.
Anglo Irish Bank, a minnow even by Irish standards, has already eaten up twenty two thousand million – THAT IS 22 BILLION - Euro of our money. Our Money. And according to Alan Dukes, that failed politician and new Chairman of the Board of Anglo, we have no chance of getting a red cent back. We may even be asked for more and should be willing to pay up. Anybody who witnessed his performance at the Oireachtas sub-committee will have noted the sheer arrogance of the man and his brazen assertion that we owe this money to the banks. I am reminded here of Thomas Paine in his attack on the arch-royalist Edmund Burke during the French revolution. Mr Burke, said Paine “has taken up a contemptible opinion of mankind, who, in their turn, are taking up the same of him”. How equally true now, on both counts, of Mr Dukes.
The Irish people owe the banks nothing. The Irish people owe developers and builders nothing. The Irish people owe international bond holders absolutely nothing. Yet we have been landed with a bill of about £80 billion – let me repeat, Eighty thousand million Euro – for this triumvirate of powerful vested interests. The debt should be the other way about. For years we have been robbed by the banks. From the start of the mohair-suit brigade fifty years ago we have documented the robbery and fraud perpetrated by developers. We are still being robbed by the international markets. Even as they have their hand out for compensation for Anglo they are undermining our economy, robbing us on the international money markets, forcing sovereign nations like Greece, Iceland and possibly Portugal as well as the Irish state to the brink of bankruptcy. Bankers or speculators give no loyalty to any person or any state. As their motivation is greed, their only loyalty is to profit at any cost.
We again state, as we have consistently over many years, that the banks must be nationalised, and rationalised, to provide a solid basis for a solid and sustainable economy and society. There is now a new audience for this simple message. As we stated earlier the myth of the superiority of the market has been broken. But a new myth is being hatched to take its place.
This new myth is that we are all responsible for this crisis – we are all in it together. We know that this myth is rubbish but it is being pushed relentlessly by the vested interests and by their hacks and serfs not only in the media but also in Civil Society. We must not allow victims of this crisis be labelled as perpetrators of the crisis. The family who bought a grossly overpriced first house are victims not criminals. The family that bought two cars on credit because they now live in a county they only ever previously visited on long-distance holiday are victims not criminals. The patient on a hospital trolley, the school child with special needs, the social welfare recipient - all are our fellow citizens who should be defended by the state, not robbed by the state. They are being robbed because the state apparatus and the EU are hiding behind the twin shields of “We are all in this together” and “there is no alternative”. They are 100% wrong on both counts. There is no “we”, there is no collective responsibility. There is a simple divide between them and us, the guilty and the innocent, the perpetrators and the victims. And as we have demonstrated, most recently at the 2010 Ard Fheis, There IS AN Alternative - and we will bring it before the people.
Comrades, before we leave this place, the burial place of the Internationalist Wolfe Tone, and a place of central importance for our late comrade Tomás Mac Giolla for all his political life, we must look beyond our own borders at the wider international struggle. Tomás had a passionate interest in the struggle of the Palestinian people, a passion which is shared by all of us here. There are many peoples who are oppressed and many struggles which we support but we cannot leave here today without again reiterating our support for the Palestinian people, and for the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
We salute the people of Palestine and particularly the people of Gaza who have been subjected to a brutal occupation and now to a genocidal blockade. When the international aid flotilla set sail for Gaza we offered them our support and now, sadly we must offer them our condolences for the nine peace activists murdered in cold blood in international waters by the Israeli Defence Forces under the direct command of the Israeli cabinet. It was a crime of international piracy verging on an international war-crime. Sadly it is unlikely that those guilty of this crime will even be brought to justice because in the final analysis they have the shelter and support of the USA. The continuing hypocrisy of the US in their Middle East policy as they viciously pressurise Turkey to simply sweep the murder of nine innocent people under the carpet of history and allow Israeli military planes overfly their country, is breathtaking.
US double standards, not least in the State Department, should not of course surprise our party. The State department has used every judicial trick to prevent the extradition of mass-murderer, international terrorist, and former CIA operative Luis Carriles Posada to either Cuba or Venezuela for plane-hijacking and the murder of 76 innocent civilians. Yet simultaneously they relentlessly pursue Seán Garland, an entirely innocent man, a man who spent the last 40 years trying to create peace on this island. It is now almost five years since the US secret service launched their judicial smash and grab attempt in Belfast in October 2005 in conjunction with MI5. Following the failure of that attempt they re-launched their attack on Seán in January 2009. Not only did he spend almost a month in Jail, but he has since been dragged in and out of the High Court like a yoyo. It is unjust. It is unfair. It must end. AS we leave here today we recommit ourselves to ensure “Seán Garland will NOT be extradited”, and furthermore the slur and the attacks upon the man and his character and his politics will be repudiated.
A chairde, míle buíochas, agus Slán Abhaile.