The following oration was given by Sinn Féin (Official) Ard Comhairle member Billy McMillen at the Party’s Wolfe Tone commemoration in June 1973, in the early stages of the party’s transition from Sinn Féin to the Workers’ Party.
“It is well to remember that nations which submit to conquest or races which abandon their language in favour of that of an oppressor do so, not because of altruistic motives, or because of a love of brotherhood of man, but from a slavish and cringing spirit, from a spirit which cannot exist side by side with the revolutionary idea.”
Dúirt an Conghaileach na focla seo 70 blian ó shoin nuair a d‘athain sé go raibh na Gaeil ag treigbheail an tuirlis a bhfearr a bhí acu le troid in aghaidh impiriúlachas Shasana. D‘athain sé fosta go raibh slánú na Gaeilge fighte fuaite le slánú na ndaoine nuair a duirt sé le Gluaiseacht na Gaeilge san am: “Ní féidir Gaeilge a theagasc do dhaoine ocracha agus seanfar saibhreas ar litriocht náisiúnta ar sclábhaithe bochta atá daortha ag an gCoras Sóisialta atá againn le bheith streachailt ó dhubh go dubh ar mhaith le paighe mioful gortach — Dá bhrí sin deirim lenár gcomrádaithe i ngluaiseacht na Gaeilge — cuidaí finn saol saor sona iomlán a bhaint amach dar ncois mhuintir agus ansin beidh an bealach reidh do threithre uaisle ar aicne fás agus teacht i meadaíocht”.
Ach is beag a thug aird ar an gConghaileach — threig gluaiseacht na Gaeilge an choismhuintir agus dfheoigh siad i measulacht, d‘a barr. Ghreamaigh siad den ‘ascendancy’ úr a dfhás ar mhaithe le lucht gaimbín agus thacht siad sin an beatha astu. Siad Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael agus Pairtí Lucht Oibre searbhontaí an lucht gaimbín sin agus is dearg-namhaid duinne-lucht labhartha na Gaeilge-iad. Níl de dhifríocht eatorra ach dath a gcuid leinteacha agus suibheacht a bhfuath don chultúr Gaelach.
“We recognise” adeir an Conghaileach “that those who drop Irish in favour of English are generally actuated by the meanest of motives and are lickspittles desirous of aping the gentry.” Ná creid focal ona boic sin a rinne striopaigh an lucht gaimbin diobhtha fhein fiú má i nGaeilge fein a labhrann siad faoi shlánú na Gaeilge— ciathfidh siad a radh gur ar shon na Gaeilge ata siad nó caillfidh siad tacaiocht mor chuid den choismhuintir nar chaill a gcreidiuint i dtabhacht na Gaeilge da n-aindeoin.
Mar sin deirim libhse Gaeilgeoirí na tíre seo smaointu oraibh féin agus smaointiú ar fhuascailt na ceiste seo: An feidir an Cultúr Gaelach a shlánú agus beith neamartach i gcoimhlint na ndaoine in aghaidh na rachmasoiri? Deirimse libh nach feidir — tá slánú agus fuascailt na ndaoine fighte fuaite Ie slánú na teanga agus nuair a cuirtear deighilt eatorra, mar atá deanta ag Gluaiseacht na Gaeilge le fada, is tú namhad an choismhuintir agus is tú namhad na Gaeilge cé bith acu fios duit é no nach fios. Is le coismhuintir iomlan na tíre seo, Protastúnach, agus Caitiliceach an Cultúr Gaelach agus ní leis an mean-aicme feoighte a rinne rud tóir tirim gan beatha as an athbheochan.
Sé do dhualgas a bheith do reabhloidí Sóisialach.
“Caithfidh tú“ mar aduirt Mairtín O‘Cadhain, a bheith pairteach nó feidhmuil feasta i gcoimhlint mhuintir na hEireann le cuspóiri Fhoruagra na Casca a thabhairt i gcríoch. Seo i Athghabhai na hEireann, An Reabhlóid, reabhlóid intinne agus reabhlóid anamna, reabhlóid i gcursaí maoine, seilbhe agus maireachtala, maireactail mar Ghaeil leis na rudaí is dual duinn mar Ghaeil”.
Mar sin a Ghaelgeoiri na tíre seo is le Gluaiseacht na Poblachta a ba chóir diobh tapu — sé athghabhail na hEireann atá sinne an Sabhail ina cheann — Reabhlóid lomlan — ní athrú maistrí. “Bíodh an Ghaeilge ag stiuriú na reabhlóide, ar an gcaoi seo bíodh an Ghaeilge ar na smaointe is forasai in Éirinn” adeir an Cadhanach. “Sí an Ghaeilge Athghabhail na hÉireann agus sí Athghabhail na hÉireann slúnú na Gaeilge. Sí teanga na muintir a shlanos an mhuintir”.
Tiocfiodh an Sóisialachas i réim in Éirinn luath no mall ach tá an chontúirt ann gur ro-mhall a thiocfas sé ó thaobh an chultúr Gaelach do má leannann doini den tuairim go bhfuil se ceart go leor Athbheochan na Gaeilge a fhágáil ar leataobh go mbeidh an Reabhlóid thart. Gan an Ghaeilge ní reabhlóid a bheas againn ach coscairt corais agus muna ndéanann muid gníomh fiúntach anois leis an Ghaeltacht a shlanú marofai lucht gaimbín na tíre seo í.
“Siad muintir na Gaeltachta an aicme is direoile agus is buailte den mhuintir seo againne in Eirinn. Is mar a cheile an t-aicme sin “Pobal na Gaeilge a shlanú agus an Ghaeilge a shlanú” adúirt an Cadhanach. Mar sin goide atá le deanamh? Caithfear iomlan neart agus brí na Gluaiseachta a chuir i dtacaíocht agóidi mhuintir na Gaeltachta.
Aithníonn sinne go gcaithfidh muintir na Gaeltachta Údarás Áitiúl a fháil – Údarás láidir eifeachtúil — seort Soviet Gaeltachta. Caithfidh smacht a bheith ag an Udaras d‘aonfhlaitheach seo ar Fhorbairt agus Pleanáil sa Ghaeltacht agus smacht ar Radio na Gaeltachta fosta. Caithfidh seilbh a bheith aige ar na príomh fhoinnsi saibhris le go mbeadh sé i ndon iad a fhorbairt ar mhaithe leis an gcois-muintir. Tuigeann sinne fosta nach bhfuil an capital insan Ghaeltacht fhéin leis an Ghaeltacht a chuir ar a chosa mar go raibh an lucht gaimbín da ghoid uatha is da charnu dobhtha fhein leis na cianta agus mar sin do sé an rud is lú a ba choir do Rialtas na tíre seo a dheanamh ce bith airgead atá dhith a chuir ar fáil don Údarás. Troidfidh Gluaiseacht na Poblachta gualain a ghualain le muintir na Gaeltachta le Údarás mar seo a fhail agus no ghlacfaidh siad leis an seort “Údarás” gan mhaith gan eifeacht gur mian le Tom O‘Donnell — “The statutory Uncle Tom of the Coalition Cabinet” chuir trasna ar na ndaoine.
Is leis duinne chomh fimineach is atá an Rialtas faoi cheist na Gaeltachta — an cuir i gceill faoi Scoil Dhun Chaoin — scoil amháin a ath-oscailt agus na scorthaí scoltacha a ndruid an forsaí eacnamaíocht atá ag ruaigeadh na ndaoine as an tír. Ní mó na go bhfuil duine ar bith sa Ghaeltacht a chreideann gur slanú na Gaeltachta a bhí a dhith ar Dick Burke — Ní hea ach votaí na Gaeltachta.
Agus Conor Cruise O‘Brien — fear atá ar theann agus dithcheall ag iarraidh neamh-chultúr damanta an impiriulachas a thabhairt isteach sa tír seo trí mhean Piped Television le borr feabhais a chuir ar thruailliu RTÉ — ní shamlodh sé coras Telefís Lán Ghaelach a chuir ar fáil do lucht labhartha na Gaeilge — a gceart faoi an Bhun-reacht.
Ach cá bhfuil mé ag cainnt faoi an Bhun-reacht nó cearta — ní Cearta atá ag muintir na Gaeltachta ach naimhde agus siad na naimhde céanna atá againn fosta.
Caithfimid an namhad a throid i ngach cearn ina gcuireann sé daor-smacht orainn ach go hairthe sa Ghaeltacht — mar má chailleann muid an cath sa Ghaeltacht caillfidh muid cogadh na hAthghabhala.
Each generation of Irish Republicans, taking to itself the philosophy of Tone, has come to Bodenstown to remember the man and renew its conviction in the correctness of his beliefs. Each generation, in coming here, has added to the vision of Tone its view of contemporary events. If this were not the case, your journey today from the four corners of Ireland would be a mere commemoration of the man who lived with passionate pride the life of a soldier of the Irish Republic and died the death of a consummate patriot. But thus to commemorate Tone — without adding the vision of today — would be as meaningless as any sentimental pilgrimage to a place that had associations with the great and the dead.
We return to Tone, as we return to Bodenstown, because we know the central relevance to our time of Tone‘s philosophy. We draw strength and courage from that philosophy. But, in coming here, we acknowledge too the greatness of men of other generations who followed his clear, cool thought and who sought, by their actions, to make his vision the reality of Irish life. We salute the contributions of Lalor and Mitchel, of Davitt and Connolly, of Pearse and Mellows to the fullness of the philosophy we now hold, as we remember McCracken and Hope and Tone. Where Tone began, at the core of our thinking, with the ideas of separation from Britain and independent nationhood, with unity and brotherhood and equality, these others applied to his thinking the vision of their days, adding to that body of social, political and cultural thought, which is now the essence of socialist republicanism, our philosophy, the philosophy & our time.
Tone and the United Irishmen, with little international revolutionary experience to draw on, succeeded in-formulating a classic example of how to build a revolution. Tone’s secretaryship of the Catholic Committee and the early objectives which the United Irishmen set themselves to achieve — the complete emancipation of Catholics — were reformist in character and designed to unite the mass of the people behind a number of democratic demands which were clearly just and achievable. They were however, demands, which if conceded, would smash the power of the ascendency class in Ireland which was the pillar on which British Imperial control rested. Thus when these reformist demands were answered with coercion Acts it became obvious that a Republican form of government in Ireland would only be possible with the destruction of British Imperial control — a point which Connolly was later to emphasise again and again.
One of the greatest achievements of the Society of United Irishmen was to unite the urban and rural working class right across the sectarian divide. The primary unifying factor in the situation was a clear Republican ideology, and of the many lessons we can learn from this period, this perhaps, is the greatest. One of the main reasons the ‘98 Rising failed was the indecision of the national leadership due to its being, in many cases, in the hands of people who had too much to lose.
The year 1963 marked the 200th Anniversary of Tone’s birth. It also marked the establishment of Wolfe Tone Societies in many centres throughout the country and the re-assessment of the Movement’s policies and strategies.
Since then all our policies have been based on the people’s struggle for the ownership of the wealth of their country and for the full control of their lives and destinies. All our actions since have been designed to strengthen the people’s resistance against the economic and political forces which are oppressing them.
When the Republican Movement decided in the 1960’s as part of its revolutionary programme to involve itself in the struggle for basic Civil Rights in the Six Counties it did so in the full knowledge that the lessons learned by the people in the course of their struggle for democracy and equality of citizenship would later be used by them in the further struggles for their economic, social and national rights. The Civil Rights Association united for the first time in 50 years all the opposing and sometimes hostile factions within the nationalist community.
Those who remember the events of 1969 and early 1970 will recall how invincible were the people and how confusion and disarray was spreading among the forces of the establishment. There was no way by which Stormont, or the British government could defeat the people’s demands or break their unity and determination. Furthermore, a vast reservoir of support and good will had been created throughout the world for the Irish cause and for the first time in 50 years the apathy of the people of the 26 Counties towards their fellow-countrymen in the North was dispelled. The Dublin Government had lost all control of the situation since the eclipse of the Nationalist Party in 1969 and the insidious dissemination of the two nations theory, so carefully fostered by successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael spokesmen over the years was thrown back in their teeth.
Control of events and the leadership of the peoples’ struggle was in the hands of the Republican Movement although many other forces were also at work. The revolutionary potential of that period posed a greater threat to the Establishment than had confronted them for many years. In this situation the forces of Imperialism consciously decided to change the course and the character of the struggle and to take it out of the hands of the mass of the people. Their objective was twofold:
1. Escalate sectarian confrontations to create the maximum bitterness and division among the common people and,
2. Provoke a military confrontation by increasingly aggressive tactics by the State forces, both RUC and British Army.
In the Spring and Summer of 1969, the RUC became increasingly aggressive resulting in the first deaths on the streets. Eventually the RUC launched an all-out attack on the Bogside in Derry in August 1969 and in Belfast a vicious pogrom was carefully organised and carried out by the B Specials and some orange sectarian bigots in which a number of people were killed, and hundreds of homes burned. This was no spontaneous uprising by the Protestant people against their Catholic neighbours. It was organised by the forces of the State following a political decision at the highest level. It was protected and assisted by the RUC who actually participated in the shooting into Catholic homes. The political purpose of this was to terrify the people, smash the Civil Rights Movement and change the course of the struggle from one of civil rights to one of defence of people’s homes. This they succeeded in doing temporarily but by the spring of 1970 important contacts were being made between members of the Movement and the Protestant working class people and the potential for united action on class issues was developing to a high level.
The Republican Movement and the Civil Rights Movement had their faces set against all forms of sectarianism and the A.O.H. and the Nationalist Party were dead. So, a new Catholic sectarian force was needed if the plans of the Imperialist forces were to succeed. The ground-work for this had already been done. As early as February 1969 the Dublin Government had begun their part in the Imperialist plot by making their first contact with Republicans and Civil Rights workers in the North.
Following the August pogroms, they intensified their efforts on much more fertile ground. By concentrating their efforts on those Belfast Republicans and ex-Republicans who saw their role as Catholic defence groups and by playing on their latest sectarianism and militarist desires, they created a split among Republicans and offered money and guns to those who would reject the leadership of the Republican Movement. Thus, the Provisionals were born, and the mindless violence and senseless sectarianism which followed their birth fitted perfectly into the plans of the Imperialists.
Sectarianism, ably assisted on its way by special units of the British Army, has been raised to new heights of viciousness and the purely militaristic activities of the Provisionals provided the British government with the excuse they sought for so long to subject the people of the North to a deliberate policy of harassment, murder, internment and torture and to develop a purely military response to all their actions. Now at last the British forces and their agents in Ireland feel that they are winning.
The horror and revulsion generated by the Provisional bombing campaign has irreparably destroyed that vast reservoir of support and good will which existed throughout the world. We now find that the people of the 26 Counties have washed their hands of what they term the “troubles in the North”, fearful that the awful violence there will overspill and engulf them. Protestant extremists are killing Catholic workers and Catholic extremists are killing Protestant workers, while the two communities eye each other with fear and hostility from their respective armed camps. And we had the tragi-comic spectacle of prominent Provisionals standing here last week saying (and I quote) “If we do not subscribe to the non-sectarian programme of Tone, then we are hypocrites.” Their obvious confusion reflects the enormous confusion that exists among the general public about events and policies. This confusion has been produced by a deliberate lack of informed and intelligent comment in the Establishment press and is of course of considerable assistance to those who wish to take advantage of public confusion: the forces of Imperialism and their agents.
For while there have been changes in the elements that go to make up the historic republican movement, so too have there been changes in the face and operation of capitalism and imperialism. If once the imperialist sought control of trading post and territory, today his trading post is at every street corner and his territory is measured in square feet in the gutted centres of our cities and towns. The Six Counties at peace, if that could be achieved by a combination of war-weariness, subjugation, repression and political trickery, would be more valuable to the imperialist than the Six Counties risen in resistance against him. We may even ask if the 32 Counties, united as one market place but free of resistance by any group, would not serve his purpose even better? For the lesson which has been underlined by fifty years of the Free State‘s existence has been that a mockery of independence without the reality of control by and for the people is a petty and a useless thing. And a government of Irishmen which would betray its working people, to the British Army, the RUC or the sectarian UDR finds it no great contradiction to betray its people to the international capitalists whom it pays to come and control its industry, its mines, and its people.
Strong in the belief that they have intimidated one half of the Irish people and that they have purchased the other half, Cosgrave and his cohorts are preparing to perpetrate the final act of treachery by handing over to the British government Irishmen and women whose only offence was to oppose the occupation of part of our sovereign territory. Let them take heed now that this proposed act of national apostasy could well be the straw to break the back of a long-suffering people’s patience.
Day after day we see many important changes in the pattern of Irish life. Imperialism which was once represented simply in territorial control is now being extended in a thousand insidious ways. Our people in the North are still subject to the territorial demands of imperialism expressed in murderous attacks and repressive force while the people of the South have long since become the victims of an economic imperialism, which has insinuated itself into the daily lives of the mass of the Irish people crippling them with high food prices, exorbitant mortgage rates and disastrous interest rates. The sell-out to foreign speculators of our national wealth and resources initiated by Fianna Fáil continues unabated under Cosgrave and his coalition while the insidious uses of education and propaganda, in schools, enriches, newspapers, radio and television are ruthlessly employed to condition the Irish people to the acceptance of foreign masters, and not only British masters. The economic and revolutionary progress of the Irish people will never be achieved unless we recognise this, and the people are organised and educated to fight against it.
What we stand for now is not simply the separation of this country from Britain, but the separation of the people of this country from the interference of any other group or international boss who finds it profitable and easy to indulge in exploitation here, North or South, in Ballyfermot or Ballymurphy, in the Shankill Rd. of Belfast or in Burranabraher of Cork. We are a country with sufficient resources to maintain a growing population, if these resources were to be used for the benefit of the people rather than for the enrichment of the few. A combination of greed and accommodation of the greedy by Tory Governments in Belfast and Dublin has deprived the workers of the right to live and work at home, has needlessly increased the price of food for Irish housewives and destroyed native industry, such as the woolen and linen industries while keeping up the flow of emigration to the centres in Britain where the factories flourish. The continued economic enslavement of the people of the South shows clearly that mere withdrawal of the British Army will not bring freedom to people.
We say that Sinn Féin means the development of our resources for the benefit of our people in a system in which the people will control the means of production and exchange; in which preference will be given to those who have a stake in the country rather than fly-by-night junkateers; a system in which the workers will have real control through democratic workers’ organisations, beginning with consultation on all issues that affect them and ending with workers’ control of the factories which will be theirs.
Sinn Féin means no ostrich-like isolation from the influences of the world, no lessening of trade with other countries — rather does it mean that influence will be accepted where they are beneficial to the mass of the working people and rejected where they are not. It means that we would trade with more countries, not less, for we would break the bonds that tie us to Britain as a controlling market and single dominant partner, and we will continue to fight North and South the decision to join the Common Market, the disastrous affects of which are rapidly making themselves felt on the workers and small farmers of the country. Understanding the justified impatience and frustrations of our many volunteers especially those from the North who daily witness and experience harassment and excesses of armed, uniformed Englishmen in their Irish towns and villages — understanding your desire to blaze forth in the red rage of war, I would say to you, be patient yet for it is as important to know when not to fight as it is to know when to fight. The immediate task of the Republican Movement is to clarify for the people what the alternatives are at this point in time, what the British plan is and how to subvert it; what the objectives of the Irish people are and how to achieve them.
We are not on the brink of victory, but on the brink of sectarian disaster and sell-out by Free-State free-booters.
But we can avoid the disaster, we can prevent the sell-out if we are constantly at work among the people educating them as to the true nature of imperialism. We must dig in deeply in the organisations of the people and provide them with leadership in every crisis. If we prepare for every eventuality, if we keep a cool head, stand fast by our policies and remain with the people in their struggle we will maintain our revolutionary impetus right through whatever settlements may come from the imperialists conference tables. We must be prepared in every way possible to fight for the God-given rights of the Irish people.
Recognising as we must that the vast majority of the Protestant population in the North are not members of, nor do they condone the activities of the various fascist murder gangs that operate there we now say to them: together we can solve our people’s problems. Divided and opposed we can only benefit the rulers who have gained from our divisions in the past and who will sell you out just as soon as their interest requires it. We believe that the future happiness, prosperity and progress of the Irish people, North and South, Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter can only be guaranteed in breaking the connection with England and in establishing a 32 County Democratic Socialist Republic. Any interim solution which arises out of the present crisis must guarantee the freedom of the Irish people to move towards this objective.
Our immediate demands remain: that the British government publicly commit themselves to a complete withdrawal of its military and political control from the Six Counties; the ending of internment; an amnesty for all political prisoners and for all those forced to leave their homes through their activities in the people’s struggle; an end to the harassment of working people; there must be freedom of political expression for all, cancellation of all debts arising from the rents and rates strike; a Bill of Rights which would provide guarantees that the people would be delivered from the morass of neo-fascism now existing there. We demand the immediate withdrawal of British troops to their barracks as a preliminary to their final withdrawal.
Only a people united behind a leadership of principled men and women can secure these demands. The Republican Movement has that leadership and has begun to organise the people in political action, while preparing to defend whatever gains are made against attacks from whatever source. We will demonstrate to all by our involvement in the people’s struggle that the alternative to the corrupt sectarian Unionist and so-called Nationalist is the policy of the Republican Movement.
In the 26 Counties we will continue to give leadership in the struggle for the rights of men and women to work, to house their families and feed their children, to enjoy education free from the control of clergy of any denomination and class discrimination of any kind. We will fight by whatever means we deem necessary, for the rights of all people to control all the resources of this country which is theirs, and theirs alone. We will fight the mine operator who grows fat on the profits which belong of right to the Irish people and we will fight the gombeen agents who for a few pounds and a pat on the back from his imperialist master is prepared to sell his people out.
Wherever there is conflict between the masses and the interests of the ruling few, between capital and the value of human life, the Republican Movement will take its stand with the people to educate, agitate, organise and fight so that they people may go forward in dignity and consciousness to the final success — ownership of their resources, control of their own destinies.