It is a privilege to address you all today as we gather to remember the men and women of Easter week 1916, as well as those who have came through the ranks of our own movement.
This year, once again, we stand here not at the usual time or even on the usual day. The reason for this is because we do not wish to subject ourselves to unnecessary conflict, to see former comrades at odds in the street. We seek to preserve the dignity of the day and to ensure that we can continue to hold our heads high knowing that we have done the right thing, that the Workers’ Party understands the fundamental purpose of our Easter commemoration: to honour the men and women of 1916, as well as our own fallen comrades, with pride.
Many of you will be understandably disappointed that we are not marching up the road at 3 o’clock, as has been the case for many years. For many of you, that march and time slot hold great significance and importance, as you have bravely marched up that road before despite threats and intimidation, facing the danger down because of your steadfast belief in our party, in our comrades, in our class and in our socialist republican cause.
In the republican calendar, Easter is, of course, a time for reflection on the past; on those who have come before us, from the heroes of 1916 to the heroes of living memory. It is also, however, a time to look forward at the tasks that lie ahead of us. Not only does this offer us the opportunity to ensure that we are doing good by the legacy of our predecessors, but it also offers us the opportunity to ensure that we are giving our successors a strong point to start from. This is true of what we seek to do for both our party and our class.
Our republicanism is not just a badge that we wear once a year, or a speech that we make at the graves of fallen comrades. Our republicanism is part and parcel of who we are as a revolutionary party. Never once have we hidden who we are or where we came from, nor should we. Despite the attempts of some, we have held true to our principles. Our republicanism speaks to the most advanced of radical and socialist traditions. The words of Liam Mellows, “We are back with Tone and Connolly and the men of no property,” remain as true to our principles today as it did 25 years ago or 50 years ago.
Unlike others, the Workers’ Party has never been afraid to move forward. We have never been afraid to admit our mistakes, and we hope to learn from them and to rethink our approach. We must continue to do this; to reflect, to reevaluate and to ask ourselves how we can best achieve our aims and serve our class.
Politics in the north remains entrenched in sectarianism. The DUP continue to drive division and refuse to do the job that they have been elected to do. Both the DUP and Sinn Féin continue to dissolve Stormont whenever they do not get their own way, each blaming the other, instead of working to ensure that working people have public housing, a well-funded healthcare system, integrated education, a livable wage. The cost of living crisis is now pushing more and more workers and their families into desperate circumstances and dire poverty, with more people reliant on food banks and charity to survive. This is not the vision we were promised in the Proclamation read out by Padraig Pearse on Easter week. The number of children living in poverty, north and south, is at a record high. Any party who have been in government for over 20 years, who seek to present themselves as republicans true to the ideals of Connolly and the leaders of 1916, can only ever be hypocrites and liars while they stand over such a scenario.
The Workers’ Party is dedicated to the establishment of a democratic, secular, socialist Republic: a unitary state on the island of Ireland. We are very clear that the unitary state we envision is not merely the 26-county state expanded to a 32-county basis. Tomás MacGiolla, as early as his presidential address to the 1968 Ard Fheis, stated: “It must be made clear however, that republicans do not ask the people of the Six Counties to come into the existing Twenty Six-county state. We would not wish that fate on anyone. We ask the people of the Six Counties to join with the people of the Twenty Six counties in abolishing both states which serve only British imperialism, and in establishing a Democratic Socialist Republic for the whole island in which the workers who create the wealth decide how and where it is used”.
As a revolutionary party, we must examine the political situation as it faces us. At our Ard Fheis, we unanimously passed a motion that a Civic Forum or Citizens Assembly must be convened for the specific purposes of looking at all aspects of the future political formation on this island, involving all shades of political opinion. This is the only way to ensure that the electorate have all the options on which they are voting. In recognising the necessity of active engagement on Irish unity, and in our call for the convention of a Civic Forum, we reaffirm our commitment to the tradition of republicanism, and our rejection of narrow-minded sectarian nationalism.
As republicans and as socialists, we recognise that capitalist society is based on class divisions. Such divisions are not related to immutable human characteristics, but are related to a particular form of social and economic organisation based on the exploitation of labour by capital. The only route to the abolition of this particular social form, and with it, all forms of exploitation, is through the organisation of the only revolutionary class: the working class. The vehicle of this liberation is the mass workers’ party.
In his pamphlet, The Concept of Republicanism, Desi O’Hagan outlined the four interdependent aspects of the concept: Republicanism is democratic, socialist, secular, and internationalist. In adhering to the republican ideal as outlined by Desi, we recognise the need to battle all forms of sectarian and nationalist bigotry, while also recognising the need for our party to engage proactively and creatively with the national question.
The simplistic denunciation of this latter point as some form of nationalism is not only factually false, but it is also theoretically wrong and, in practical terms, it is a sure road to political stagnation, decline and irrelevance. “So long as one remains a monk, one can keep tolling the bell.” That cloister may offer solace to some, but not to us. To build a mass workers’ party, we cannot be content with fighting shadows, and we will gladly leave that luxury to others.
This brings us to the vital subject of party work and party building. In order for us to be the mass party that we set out to be, we must ensure that, as members of the Workers’ Party, we are actively engaged with the day-to-day struggles of working people. We must ensure that we are with the working class in every area of their lives. We cannot be too quick to dismiss issues as too small, insignificant or below us if, from our current position and with our current size, we want to prove our worth to the working class. We must prove ourselves to be serious and committed. This will take sacrifice on behalf of us all, but in the words of the poet Walt Whitman,: “What we believe in waits latent forever through all the continents, invites no one, promises nothing, sits in calmness and light, is positive and composed, knows no discouragement, waiting patiently, waiting its time.” Comrades, we must be ready for our time, we must be organised, disciplined and we must, as comrades, support each other in our objectives and our tasks. No one or two people can build a revolutionary party – we must do this together.
Our aim, comrades, is of course to become a party of and for the working class. However, we must be honest with ourselves and admit that we are far from reaching that goal. While we have made progress in rebuilding the party over the past few years, we simply must do better. We are all members of the Workers’ Party and we all bear a responsibility to do our part in building the organisation. To quote our late comrade Seán Garland: “As the vanguard party we must continually act as the vanguard. It is not enough, as Lenin has said, to attach revolutionary sounding names or labels to ourselves. We must be with the people in every area of struggle”.
No doubt mistakes will be made, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. We have made mistakes in the past, and we have shown a capacity to learn from them. We need to revive this tradition of working hard for our party and learning together through experience.
Commemorations such as these are not an excuse to bask in former glories or to rue past defeats. We gather at these events to pay our respects to a great historical tradition which has yet to bear fruit: the republican tradition. To truly honour the memories of our republican forbearers and our fallen comrades, we must dedicate ourselves to the political struggle and to building the Workers’ Party.
Comrades and friends, when we gather here to commemorate 1916, we do so in the realisation that we must go beyond it, as the great James Connolly realised even then. It is only through the socialist transformation of society that the republican vision can be fulfilled.
Today, as we remember the men and women who bravely fought an Empire, we in the Workers’ Party once again commit ourselves to the achievement of a united, democratic, secular and socialist republic. Free from oppression, free from sectarian division and free from class exploitation.
This is the vision that Connolly died for, it is the vision our fallen comrades dedicated their lives to – let us honour them and endeavour to bring that vision to completion at last. Go raibh maith agaibh go leir.