The following is the oration of Karen Collins (Mayfield, Cork) at the Workers’ Party annual Wolfe Tone Commemoration at Bodenstown, Co. Kildare – Sunday, 25th June 2017:-


The Workers Party annual Wolfe Tone Commemoration

Bodenstown, Co. Kildare

Sunday 25th June 2017


Comrades and friends,


Once again we have gathered here in Bodenstown, in the graveyard where Theobald Wolfe Tone is buried. For us this is not some ritual, or some unthinking glorification of the past, or deification of heroes. For us this is a meaningful event because we can relate to what Tone had to say in his lifetime, and we can translate what Tone was saying over 220 years ago to the Ireland of today.


The era of the United Irishmen was one of great political ferment and upheaval. The American Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789 generated a heightened level of political debate and, despite the massive levels of poverty and illiteracy, there was a high degree of political involvement. We are again in an era of high political tension internationally, and perhaps the most volatile political situation since the late 1980s. We are five months into the Trump presidency.  While US imperialism continued under Obama to present a threat to the world, Trump’s record, his campaign promises, his cabinet, his actions since inauguration all paint a grim picture for the immediate future of the entire planet. His backward steps in US-Cuba relations, his total embrace of Saudi Arabia and Israel, and his reckless actions in directly attacking the Syrian Airforce in Syrian airspace continue to make our world a more dangerous place. Some people may see the shelving of TTIP as a beneficial outcome of the Trump presidency. However, the speed and ruthlessness with which the EU and Canada concluded the CETA deal – an equally dangerous international trade and investment treaty – must warn us that the forces of global capitalism are relentless and that as we speak TTIP-2 is probably being drafted. The Workers’ Party actively opposed the original TTIP proposals and we will equally be to the forefront in opposing any resurrected version of it.


When we gathered here one year ago the result of the referendum where the UK decided to leave the European Union was, literally, hot off the presses. The EU and UK both, like the Irish government, committed to the capitalist project, were still trying to digest the momentous decision of the UK to leave the EU and there was no blueprint as to how the process might unfold. One year later and the reality is that there is still no clarity as to how the Brexit process will proceed and what the EU / UK relationship might be in June 2019. Ireland, for very well-rehearsed reasons, is in a unique position in this process. The Workers’ Party, as a socialist and as an all-Ireland Party, has a unique standpoint. We recognise that every development within a capitalist economic system will have implications for the working class. Our priority, firmly anchored in our class perspective, is to promote and defend the interests of the Irish working class. We recognise that certain sectors of the economy, due to their high dependency on the UK market, face specific difficulties with a direct threat to jobs. We also recognise that many people have legitimate worries about potential difficulties with cross-border travel or trade. The government is not engaging with these realities. Instead, wishing to avoid the real issues, it has prioritised the Good Friday Agreement – on which both the EU and the UK are agreed – as the centre-piece of its negotiation strategy. While other parties may play the green or orange card, we will not be diverted into a nationalist cul-de-sac.


Even before the first day of formal Brexit negotiations there are already attempts by the employer organisations to use the uncertainties of Brexit as an excuse for a further erosion of wages and conditions, and as another lever in the race to the bottom. We will lead the fight to protect jobs, wages and conditions on the streets, within the trade unions, and through our publications. This issue has been, and will continue to be, a major agenda item for the Ard Comhairle. The interests of the European working class, including the UK and Ireland, must not be placed in the hands of the capitalist class and its various factions, which act and make choices in their own interests and to the detriment of the working class. In our struggle for socialism we share a common struggle with the British and European working class, and recognise that we need to abolish the entire capitalist system and to replace it by working class power and socialism.


When I look at our audience here today I can see many individuals who fit the term Water Warrior. These are the people, like Cllr Tynan and many others, who have held the line against the installation of water meters in housing estate after housing estate; who have picketed government ministers and local councillors; who have defended the right of the Irish people to a public water supply paid for through central taxation. Our record of principled opposition to water charges is second to none and long predates the activities of some who have used this campaign solely to gain political office.


For us the water tax is a two-pronged war. Of course, there was the issue of double taxation which was unfair, unjust and another helping of the Troika austerity medicine. But equally as important we recognised that water charges, if successful, would be the thin end of the wedge in the process of the privatisation of our water and sewage services. Despite some victories water charges are not dead and contractors are continuing their attempts to install domestic water meters. We will continue our fight and maintain constant vigilance because the unprincipled deal between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil leaves a loophole through which domestic charges could be reintroduced in the future.


The halting of the government’s plan for water and sewage service privatisation has not curtailed other privatisation projects. Over the last couple of months there has been a very carefully stage-managed set of events and stage-managed crises in our public transport services. These sets of events have one purpose only – to pave the way for the privatisation of all profitable public transport services. Our present Taoiseach, our Minister for Transport, and the head of the National Transport Authority are all ideologically opposed to the concept of profitable public enterprise and equally ideologically committed to wholesale privatisation. This is another theatre of political struggle.


Fifty years ago the Republican Movement was changing, engaging with the real needs of the people, and developing as a political movement. Back then we saw the appalling slum conditions in which many families lived and the catastrophic housing shortage across the entire country. Our movement became the driving force behind the Dublin Housing Action Campaign and the many other housing campaigns around the country. This brought us political rewards but equally it forced the government into starting a massive council-house building programme for the benefit of many thousands of families and individuals. It is a visible demonstration of the failure of capitalism in this country; and the failure of the Irish gombeen class that we now have an equally catastrophic housing crisis.


The Workers’ Party has responded to this crisis with both energy and imagination. We have developed a costed programme for a massive expansion of Local Authority housing under the title Solidarity Housing – and we have brought that policy to the people through media launches, numerous public meetings, through LookLeft and through other public events. This activity is reconnecting us to communities, revitalising and re-energising Party branches, and rebuilding our public profile, while at the same time heaping pressure on the government to fund an immediate large-scale local authority housing programme.


We proudly carry the banner demanding a secular Ireland. Despite the huge scandals of institutionalised child abuse by the Catholic Church, and the efforts by the Church to hide their crimes and silence their victims, the deep-seated power of the Catholic Church in the institutional life of the Republic has barely been altered. This is particularly true in Health and Education where, for example, the Catholic Church controls 3,000 National Schools out of the total 3,300 primary schools in the state. The recent decision of a hand-picked group of so-called experts to hand over a brand new, taxpayer funded, €300 million National Maternity Hospital to the Sisters of Charity rightly provoked widespread public anger. We must note the leading role of the Workers Party and our Councillor in Dublin, Éilis Ryan, in leading the campaign firstly to highlight this disgraceful decision and then to oppose its implementation. The withdrawal of the nuns from the project is a notable victory but we must continue with our campaign to have the new maternity hospital as a fully publicly managed and controlled facility.


The 1983 8th Amendment to the Constitution was, and continues to be, a direct attack on the bodily integrity of Irish women. After many years campaigning by a broad coalition of groups the incoming Taoiseach has stated publicly that he is committed to holding a referendum on this issue within the next 12 months. This referendum must be held and it must be clear – the 8th Amendment must go and the power to legislate handed to the legislature. Anything less than complete repeal will continue to lead to tragedies like Savita Halapinavar or appalling scenarios like we have recently where a pregnant young woman who was suicidal and seeking an abortion was legally kidnapped and locked up in a mental hospital. Across the entire island we reiterate our demand for free, safe, legal and accessible abortion services.


When we look back to 1791 we can still see the two key principles that marked Tone and the United Irishmen as both revolutionary and republican. In an era of deep sectarian division Tone called for the Unity of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter, and equally stated that he placed his reliance on the “men of no property”. All those years ago Tone and the United Irishmen placed class, and opposition to sectarian division, at the centre of their programme. We are proud to follow in that tradition.


It is a sad reality that the sectarian division and lack of class unity which existed in Tone’s lifetime still flourishes today. We may merely look at the most recent Assembly and Westminster election results in Northern Ireland. Firstly, it is appropriate from this platform to thank our candidates, our election workers and the entire membership in Northern Ireland for fighting these two elections in what was scheduled as an election-free year. Both of these elections in Northern Ireland were reduced to a blatant sectarian headcount – an electoral version of tribal warfare.  Sinn Fein and the DUP are mirror images of each other; the need each other and they feed off each other.


While sectarianism sky-rockets, working class people in Northern Ireland – employed, unemployed, young people and pensioners – have never been more marginalised from the major issues which affect their lives.


  • there are more than 100,000 children living in poverty.


  • the average weekly pay in Northern Ireland is lower than it was a decade ago.


  • it has the second highest level of workless households of all regions in the UK.


  • there are at least 15,000 homeless people.


  • there is a crisis in education, health and social care.


  • there are cutbacks to social welfare, and


  • funding to culture and the arts has been very significantly reduced.


In every aspect of social, economic, cultural and community life working class people have been subjected to public expenditure cuts, marginalisation and exclusion.


After years of austerity imposed on the working class by capital and its able lieutenants in the Stormont Executive, working people have suffered in terms of jobs, pensions, benefits, facilities and services.


Vulnerable people with long-term sickness or disability and with great reliance on both welfare benefits and key public services, such as social care, have suffered and are suffering.


This long list of social economic and political problems is further compounded by the cancer of sectarianism


It has been said that Northern Ireland has no real strategy to deal with sectarianism, the scourge of our society for decade after decade.


Unfortunately, it does.


The strategy, which we are witnessing time and time again is to ramp up sectarianism, to increase communal tension, to whip up hysteria about sectarian issues, to institutionalise sectarianism in housing, education and at the heart of government, to divide workers and to distract them from their class interests.


This is the strategy to deal with sectarianism in Northern Ireland.


It is also quite clear that Northern Ireland is still dominated by socially conservative voices and that these are having an adverse and traumatising effect on local women.


The Assembly does not trust women to make choices about their own bodies and their own fertility.


The Workers Party recognises that women have the right to control their own bodies, including their fertility, and to pursue all reproductive choices.


The Workers Party believes in a woman’s right to choose and supports the provision of free safe and accessible abortion in her own country which will include practical facilities to support women seeking an abortion and quality post-abortion care. We seek immediate legislation to ensure free, safe and accessible abortion in Northern Ireland.


There is of course the real possibility that another Assembly election will be called in early autumn and a Westminster election cannot be ruled out.  The Party in Northern Ireland therefore remains on an election footing.


Parallel to this the Party in Northern Ireland is setting about implementing its two-year work and development programme which addresses a number of operational, organisational, ideological and financial priorities. Central to the development programme is a campaign to recruit new members from throughout Northern Ireland, host a series of public meetings and to continue to build the Party.


Comrades, there are people at this ceremony today who, fifty years ago in January 1967, attended the historic inaugural meeting of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association – NICRA. This was a broad-based organisation with an openly reformist agenda of five basic demands mostly centred on the right to vote, an end to the practice of gerrymandering constituencies, and fair access to housing. At the same time, the very fact that the demands of NICRA were so basic but at the same time demanded a total democratisation of the Northern Irish state make NICRA a truly revolutionary organisation. Within three years of the creation of NICRA the RUC would be disarmed and reformed, and the B Specials disbanded. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive would have assumed responsibility for housing, allocated by a fair system. One adult would have One vote. And local government would be transformed. All this was achieved as a result of the peaceful struggle for civil rights. Over the next few months we will hold several events to mark this important milestone.


We trace a direct line from Tone, Lalor, Davitt and Connolly on to the Workers’ Party. Each, in their own era embodied the most advanced political ideas of their time and each were profoundly internationalist. In 1914 when the 2nd International was disintegrating into national chauvinism and support for militarism James Connolly and Vladimir Lenin were lone voices calling for opposition to war and international working-class solidarity. Two years later, Connolly and the Citizen Army took a leading role in the 1916 rising and the taking of the first step towards national independence. Lenin, in his writing, supported the Rising and Connolly’s role as a military leader. One year later, in 1917, Lenin was to be leader of one of the most momentous events in world history – the creation of the world’s first Workers’ State.


The creation of the USSR was a rallying cry for communists and socialists throughout the world and provided a beacon of hope for oppressed peoples everywhere. The decisive battles of the 2nd World War were fought and won on the Eastern Front. The Red Army inflicted the major and fatal blows to Hitler and German fascists. Can we comprehend that in that war alone at least 20 million citizens of the USSR were killed and thousands of square miles of homes, towns, farmland, infrastructure laid waste. This is something we should never forget. Nor should we forget that the success of the anti-colonial struggles across Asia and Africa in many instances relied on financial, technical and military support from the USSR.


A special publication, and a series of events, is being planned to appropriately celebrate this seminal event in the history of socialism.


Comrades, as I said at the start, our visit here is no tokenistic gesture. Here we recommit to the ideals of Tone, the ideals of a Republic based on the needs of the modern “men of no property”. And when we commit to build the new Republic, a socialist state in which the workers hold the levers of power, we also commit to continue to build and rebuild the Workers’ Party. As a Party we have a history to commemorate – men and women who developed revolutionary ideas, men and women who suffered and died in the course of the struggle to build a workers’ republic, and who were ambushed and murdered because of their ideals and party affiliation. We can best honour these people by finishing what they started, by building our party and getting out there amongst the people and winning support for our ideas and our candidates.


Comrades and friends – Thank you for your attention and Slán Abhaile.