Comrades and friends,
We are gathered here today to commemorate the Easter Rising of 1916 and the vision of a democratic, independent and progressive Republic, espoused by the leaders of the Rising and set out in the Proclamation, declaring “the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland” and “equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens”.
It is clear that Ireland today, North and South, is a long way from realising the democratic and egalitarian and intent of the leaders of 1916. The Easter proclamation is clear in content and sentiment. It declared for an Irish Republic, where the social, political and economic destiny of its people lay in the hands of the people free from outside interference and the future was to be built in the interests of all its citizens, guaranteeing not only political but social and economic freedom as well.
How far removed is that vision of Ireland from what we experience today?
The Fine Gael/Labour Coalition have surrendered our economic destiny to the diktats of the EU/IMF/ECB troika, imposing a vicious austerity programme which forces the working class to pay for the failures of capitalism. The bank bailouts which rescued greedy speculators and their political cronies are to be paid for by imposing job losses, cuts in wages, the privatisation of our valuable and profitable state companies, the giving away of our natural resources, by slashing the education and health services, and penalising even further those on social welfare. Thousands of our young people are once again driven to emigrate, forcibly scattered across the globe because this state cannot afford them the most basic of human rights, the right to a job, the right to a home.
Successive Governments, particularly but not exclusively those led by Fianna Fáil have besmirched and betrayed the democratic principles and ideals of the Easter Proclamation. No more so than in the manner in which they have conducted political life and public affairs. The recently published Mahon Tribunal Report found that fraud and corruption were at the heart of developer, banking and government practices in relation to planning. Many people believed that developers had bribed councillors and public officials in order to get the decisions they wanted. The tribunal found that,
“It is clear that these concerns were well founded…corruption in Irish political life was both endemic and systemic. It affected every level of government from some holders of top Ministerial offices to some local councillors and its existence was widely known and widely tolerated.”
Northern Ireland today, in spite of the welcome ending of violence and the improvements in people’s lives that that has brought, remains a deeply divided, segregated and sectarian society. The Republican ideal of the unity of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter remains a long way off and is still opposed by the same reactionary practices of unionism and nationalism, even if they are described as new unionism and new nationalism.
In short the ideal, the vision of the Republic is still something we in The Workers Party must strive for and struggle to achieve. There may have been many changes and social advances since 1916 but in many ways the same reactionary elements remain in control.
The Easter proclamation was printed in Liberty Hall on Easter Sunday 1916. The influence of James Connolly in its content is clear. Connolly wounded in the rebellion was executed amid growing political pressure for clemency. On May 10th, 11th and 12th the Irish Independent ran editorials strongly urging the execution of the remaining leaders, MacDiarmada and Connolly.
Connolly, a union organiser and a leader of the 1913 lockout, was a hated figure of the-then owner of the Independent and employers’ leader William Martin Murphy. This was the ideological battle of the 1900s.
What has changed?
A few weeks ago Taoiseach Enda Kenny stood at the opening of the New York Stock Exchange with Denis O’Brien on one side and Gavin O’Reilly on the other, both co-owners of today’s Irish Independent—and both tax exiles from Ireland. These are the big “Irish” boys of global capitalism encouraging the Taoiseach to sell off anything of value to the highest international capitalist bidder, be they American or Chinese.
It is clear that we live in an era when international capitalism and its native allies are strengthening their hold on life. This is no more evident than in the subservience of the Irish government to the demands of European Capitalism, its slavish implementation of economic measures which punish the most vulnerable and needy and now its willingness to change our constitution to meet the demands of its European masters.
We must be aware of the ideological battle being fought by the forces of capitalism against the public good. It may now be a fairly one sided battle but with Connolly’s formula and one which The Workers Party have put to good use in the past, “agitate, educate, organise” we can begin to draw up our battle lines. The forces of capitalism are clear as to what the battle is all about: our job is to organise our side.
Workers Party members must take up the fight of defending our class interests, those of the working class.
The challenge to 21st century neo liberalism can begin to grow and the future reclaimed for our children and grandchildren. There are people who seem content to wait and hope for a change across Europe to social democracy. They believe conditions for workers will once again improve. This belief is totally misguided and ignores the reality and power of global capitalist forces who have capably adapted to changing situations. Social democratic parties have proved themselves capable of working side by side with these forces and introducing anti-worker and privatisation measures that the most ultra conservative party would be proud of. New Labour is an example. In Connolly’s words they ally themselves to the “master class”.
We call on those social democrats and in particular those in the Irish Labour Party who have expressed opposition to austerity policies, to join with those on the left who recognise that it is the capitalist system that is responsible for the current malaise and to create a socialist and left alternative to the neo liberal model.
The Trade Union Movement too must play its part as the leading organisation of organised workers in promoting and defending the rights and interests of the working class.
Let us be clear about one thing. The opposition to capitalism can only come from socialism…from an aware and class conscious working class who realise how they as a class are being robbed and who want to fight for what is rightfully theirs. In this struggle we ally ourselves as Connolly did with workers internationally. We stand shoulder to shoulder with Greek workers as they set an example to workers across Europe and fight the crippling measures imposed on them by a rapacious imperialist Europe. These measures under the pretext of dealing with public debt in Greece, have in reality the goal of strengthening capitalism in Greece. Just like Ireland’s tax exiled but green shirted heroes of capitalism, the Greek capitalists are equally lacking in a sense of civic duty and patriotism. 600 billion euros, almost double Greece’s public debt can be found deposited by Greek capitalists in Switzerland’s banks alone.
We stand with the Greek Communist Party as they expose the arguments for class “collaboration” and “social cohesion” as farcical in light of the impoverishment of a people. Their struggle is at one with ours that of achieving “the ultimate goal… the abolition of capitalist power and the construction of socialism”.
We could do well here in Ireland North and South to follow their example of resistance.
No issue is too small or unimportant and throughout society on a daily basis we witness the effects of capitalism on people. It must be the task of The Workers Party to lead a fightback on behalf of the working class. In the trade unions, in the communities in which we live, there are no shortages of issues and grievances which adversely impact on the working class.
The Campaign Against the Household Charge has channelled the anger of people against the economic policy of austerity and making those who can least afford to pay pick up the tab whilst the rich carry on getting richer. The huge numbers of people, over 1 million households who have refused to register for this charge, represents a rejection of what the government stands for and who they represent. It is clear that by not registering for the household charge, in spite of a vigorous campaign by the Government to get people to do so, that people are sending a clear message. Enough is enough. People are rightly angry at being asked to pay yet another charge whilst the rich and the tax exiles pay little or nothing. We call on people to stand firm, resist the pressure and intimidation to pay.
If the people have a sent a message to the Government by not registering for the household charge another opportunity to fight back presents itself on May 31st. The Referendum on the European Fiscal Treaty illustrates the total subservience of this government. The Workers Party in alliance with other progressive groups will campaign vigorously for a NO vote. We have demonstrated before by rejecting the Nice and the Lisbon Treaties that a NO vote is achievable. It is an opportunity for the people of the South to reject the austerity policies which make the working class pay for the failure of bankers and the corruption of politicians. It is an opportunity for the Irish working class to strike a blow for all workers throughout Europe, like those in Greece, Portugal, and those who recently staged a general strike in Spain. The treaty is a profoundly ideological statement by the right, placing the economics of the free market centre stage and in fact by writing it into our constitution preventing future governments adopting an interventionist and state led economic policy in the future, regardless of the democratic mandate obtained to do so. Having imposed unelected leaders on the people of Greece and Italy in order to protect their economic interests this is an attempt to subvert the democratic will of the Irish people also.
Comrades this year marks the 40th anniversary of one of the most seminal and profound political documents of our recent history. I refer to the Carrickmore speech of July 1972, delivered by our late Comrade Tomás MacGiolla to Republican Club members in County Tyrone. The speech was delivered in one of the most violent years of Northern Ireland’s history in an atmosphere of political confusion, turmoil and when sectarian tensions were at their greatest and militarists of all sides at their most active. At a time of despair and hopelessness the speech stands out for its far reaching analysis of the situation, its foresight and its clarity as to the way ahead. It emphasised the need for Peace and an end to all armed campaigns, the recognition of the need for civil rights and democratic reform, the importance of winning the Protestant working class to our side and explaining the true meaning of the Irish Revolution.
Despite appeals to all armed groups to end their campaigns the words went unheeded and we know only too well the consequences of that. After the signing of the Good Friday Agreement Tomas reflected that if that represented all that happened, then, and I quote, “What a waste of lives, what a waste of years.”
It remains to us today to pick up the pieces as it were and return to the central themes of the Carrickmore speech. Tomás described the main thrust of the 1972 speech thus,
“to emphasise the revolutionary effect of the purely reformist demands of the civil rights association when it united the people in mass struggle; to reject as counter revolutionary the imposition of an elitist military force which pushed the civil rights association off the stage , smashed the mass struggle of the people when it was on the point of total victory and by promoting sectarian confrontation and slaughter, set back by 30 years the possibility of uniting Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter, which should be the bedrock of republicanism.”
The struggle against sectarianism and the division of our people must remain a central priority for our Party. But transforming the struggle for civil rights into a struggle for class rights must now also be a central plank of our political programme in Northern Ireland. The same neo liberal political agenda is pursued by the Stormont Executive. Indeed Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley got to strike the New York Stock Exchange Bell before the present owners of Independent Newspapers who also by the way own some of the biggest newspapers in Northern Ireland.
Unemployment and poverty persist in the most disadvantaged working class areas of Northern Ireland. Youth Unemployment is running at 20% and rising, thousands of working class young people continue to leave school with little or no educational qualifications. The health service is in crisis and it is little surprise that the highest levels of ill health are to be found in the economically deprived working class areas. As in other European countries those on social welfare have been targeted. Wage cuts and reductions in pensions and attacks on the public sector are accompanied by a vicious programme of Stormont Austerity measures. Oh how different Stormont is from the rest!
The politics of unionism and nationalism have failed the working class of Northern Ireland.
It is the task of The Workers Party to present the socialist alternative, to unite the working class around our common interests.
We are a long way from the Republic envisaged in 1916.
We are a longer way still from a democratic socialist republic.
But the events nationally and internationally in the last number of years have demonstrated throughout the world that Capitalism is flawed and will only survive so long as workers and their families tolerate the exploitation of the many by the few.
Socialism is the only alternative to Capitalism.
Class struggle is the means to bring about the realisation of socialism and class consciousness is the most important element of that struggle.
Our task now is the building of a strong, disciplined and class conscious Workers Party so that the ideals and vision of the men and women of Easter 1916 and those after them, our own deceased Comrades among them, who strove for the democratic socialist republic, can be realised in our time.
Thank you for your attention.