Comrades and friends
It is a great honour for me to deliver the main address here today at the grave of Wolfe Tone at the Workers Party Bodenstown Commemoration. I feel especially privileged to make this address as this year marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Theobald Wolfe Tone in 1763.
It is right and fitting that we should come here today to honour the memory of those great revolutionaries in Society of the United Irishmen who set out for us a vision of a new order which would place the citizen at the centre of political and social life.
A New Order which would fundamentally change how society is organised, which would challenge and confront privileged elites, the abuse of power and the denial of democratic rights.
Over 200 years have passed since the founding of the Society of United Irishmen but time has not eclipsed the importance and necessity of the basic principles of the United Irishmen and their followers.
The Rights of Man, Democracy and
Independence are today very real political struggles for which we must fight, albeit in different conditions. Arguably the notion of the citizen at the centre of political and public life is as far removed today as it was in the day of Tone.
We may now have Parliaments and elected Assemblies and local councils, but increasingly their relevance and capacity to effect change must be questioned.
In the globalised world in which we now live, dominated as it is by the interests of powerful transnational corporations and conglomerates, what real power do our national parliaments have in determining the social, political and economic destinies of our people?
Not only have our national Parliaments been increasingly sidelined and rendered powerless but local government too has seen power and authority shift from elected members to unelected managers and bureaucrats.
In all spheres of life even those limited bourgeois democratic rights and reforms secured over the years are increasingly eroded.
Nationally and internationally democratic bodies and institutions are bypassed.
The Troika dictates our economic future and, on occasions, has even supplanted elected governments as in Greece and Italy. It has no need to supplant the present occupants in Merrion Square as Fine Gael and Labour are only too happy to impose the wishes of the Troika on Irish workers.
On the world stage - in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and now in Syria - wars are being waged without any semblance of legitimacy or authority.
Locally, councils too are often distant, remote, unaccountable and unresponsive to the needs of citizens. Elected councillors compete with City and County Managers as to who represents the interests of voters. Is it any wonder that voter turnout, and participation in public and civic life is in decline and in a downward spiral against this backdrop of alienation from the political process?
The issue of democracy therefore is a very real one which the Workers Party must bring to the fore of political debate.
There are two areas where this is of immediate relevance, the attempts by the present government to abolish the Seanad, and the European Union.
The Workers Party is opposed to the proposals to abolish the Seanad.
We are only too well aware of the limitations of the Seanad as presently constituted.
However the present government, in describing the Seanad as costly and ineffectual and therefore moving for its abolition, is being absolutely cynical.
Abolishing the Seanad and proposing nothing in its place is simply another nail in the coffin of democracy and accountability. This at a time when the capacity of the Dáil to hold the government to account is in serious question. Increasingly legislation is going through the Dáil with little or no scrutiny or means to amend or change it in any meaningful way because the government has made it difficult, if not impossible, to do so.
What we need is greater democracy and accountability of the Oireachtas not less. We should seek to reform and strengthen the capacity of the Seanad to act as an effective second chamber, not to abolish it.
The Workers Party believes that this anti-democratic proposal by the government can be defeated and we will mount a vigorous campaign to ensure that this opportunistic power-grab by the present government does not succeed.
In 1972 we opposed Ireland’s proposed entry to the then EEC and were to the forefront of a major campaign to defeat the referendum proposal. We also opposed every subsequent Treaty and referendum, which has developed the Common Market into what is now the European Union.
We did so for very good reasons.
We saw them as being essentially detrimental to the economic wellbeing of our people.
The demise of our shipping fleet and fisheries industry is just one proof of that.
Increasingly the European Union has evolved in such a way that it has amassed powers which now surpass those of national governments themselves. For a period this was said by some to be a good thing, as Europe was developing as a peoples’ Europe, a Social Europe where the emphasis was on the citizen and individual.
The reality is now something vastly different.
There is now no pretence of democracy within the EU and the Commission operates with total disregard to the European Parliament.
It is no longer simply a matter of addressing what has come to be described as the democratic deficit. It is the character and nature of the European Union and its institutions themselves that should be a matter of concern.
The EU is the chief architect of capitalism and imperialism in Europe.
It aggressively pursues neo-liberal economics, promoting free enterprise, anti-state and anti-public agendas, it supports wars and is increasingly militarised and erodes the civil and human rights of its citizens.
We applaud President Michael D. Higgins who has publicly challenged the direction and character of the EU and has questioned its claims to be a Social or peoples’ Europe founded on principles of collectivism, solidarity or citizenship.
That some social democrats recognise this is a measure of just how far the EU has shifted even in its outward appearances.
Before the Ard Fheis next year we must produce a policy paper on the European Union which addresses these issues.
We are not narrow nationalists and do not believe in splendid isolation but we cannot ignore the trends in the EU which are clearly anti people and anti worker.
Central to our understanding of Republicanism is its fundamental opposition to sectarianism.
Tone clearly identified the unity of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter as a central to his project. How disappointed he would be to see Northern Ireland today.
Despite the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement it is an undeniable fact that sectarianism and segregation are deeply embedded in Northern Ireland society.
There is no issue more urgent in NI than ending sectarian division.
The established parties mouth platitudes about sectarianism but the reality is that without it they would have no reason to exist. Therefore they seek to manage, but not to eradicate it, as that would sound their own death knell. That is why they lecture everyone else about sectarianism but never look in their own backyard.
The political institutions themselves are built on sectarian division and if the major parties were serious about ending sectarianism that is where they should start. Those parts of the Good Friday Agreement which describe how the political institutions are set up and function should be amended as is allowed by the Agreement itself.
Unionism and Nationalism have nothing to offer the people of Northern Ireland. The way forward lies in the creation of an Integrated Society based on the common identity of citizenship. As a Party we must step our efforts to achieve this.
We must start by demanding an immediate bringing down of those so-called Peace Walls which are not dependent on residents’ consent.
We must demand more provision for integrated schooling as so many parents want but are denied access to.
And let us not forget that Northern Ireland too is subject to the neo liberal policies which are blighting the lives of working class people.
We must make determined efforts to reach out to those people in Northern Ireland who do not describe themselves as unionists or nationalists, catholic or protestant.
There is a constituency for anti-sectarian and socialist politics in NI which is not currently adequately catered for. This should be the natural base for The Workers Party organisation and support.
Defeating sectarianism remains as it has consistently been for The Workers Party our paramount task in Northern Ireland.
Of course sectarianism is not merely a problem in Northern Ireland. The Republic, in its laws, its public discourse, its church control of education, health and large tracts of social services reflected Roman Catholicism at its most dominant and intolerant. The 1937 constitution was, from its very conception, a sectarian document and the 8th amendment in 1983 promoted by the Catholic Hierarchy and SPUC, promised by Fianna Fáil and introduced by a Fine Gael Labour coalition compounded that sectarianism. In 1983 we opposed that amendment with the slogan: “For Democracy and Tolerance – Vote NO”. As this government seems particularly trigger happy in calling referendums we call on them now to grasp this nettle and undo the harm they did 30 years ago.
The Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill, presently before the Oireachtas, is a very minimal step in addressing the rights of women. We support this bill: we wish it to be introduced without delay; and we regret that it has taken 20 years for a decision of the Supreme Court to be transposed into actual legislation.
We recognise that the present bill is the absolute minimum which this government can do to conform to the European Court ruling in the ABC case. We must repeat however that we see this legislation as a missed opportunity in vindicating the rights of women during pregnancy. The legislation ignores the plight of women pregnant as a result of rape or incest. It ignores the plight of women carrying a foetus which will never live outside the womb.
The hoops through which women on the verge of suicide have to jump in order to have a termination are draconian, and possibly unworkable. In reality it will mean that women who should have their right to life vindicated in this country will be forced to travel abroad for a termination or, if for whatever reason this is not an option, they may be driven in desperation to take their own life.
It is important to reiterate that it is the policy of the Workers Party that free and safe abortion should be available through the public health service both in Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Comrades, in conclusion it is very clear that we face a huge task if we are to achieve the goal first started by Tone and his comrades, that of the building of a democratic, secular, socialist Republic.
Since Tone’s time his political philosophy has evolved nationally and internationally and today is best encapsulated in the struggle for Socialism and against Capitalism.
The forces of Capitalism are certainly at this point in time in the ascendency and their values and beliefs are dominant in the world in which we live today.
It will not however always be this way.
We must engage in the battle of ideas which is a necessary precursor to the defeat of capitalism. We must work to re establish the values of the left and socialism as once again mainstream in public life.
We must demonstrate the superiority of ideology over opportunism, of collectivism and social solidarity as against individualism, of public over private, of socialist internationalism over imperialism, and republicanism and secularism against fundamentalism.
A committed and determined class consciousness Party is the only means to achieve our goal of a Socialist Republic. Building that Party is now our primary task.
To that end we look forward to the Ard Fheis next year when we can examine how far we are on the road to achieving that goal.
Thank you for your attention Comrades.
Click HERE for chairperson's opening address.