Fáilte roimh chairde agus comrádaithe,
Once again we gather at the grave of Wolfe Tone to celebrate and commemorate his revolutionary vision and that of the United Irishmen. Their belief in secular republicanism, in a free and equal Ireland where false religious divisions would give way to the ‘common name of Irishman’ remains central to the ideology of the Workers’ Party in our battle for a secular, socialist republic.
This annual commemoration is not some empty ritual or token gesture. Rather it is an important opportunity both to remember and reassert the founding principles of republicanism as first clearly enunciated by Tone and also to assess our own movement, our tasks and the challenges ahead.
The history of Irish Republicanism begins with the founding of the Society of United Irishmen in 1791. The clear, profound and yet simple statement which bound them together, ‘the unity of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter’ remains the basic and fundamental principle of Irish republicans which has yet to be realised over two hundred years later. Without this unity there can be no Independent Irish Republic.
From Antrim to Wexford and from Dublin to Mayo thousands of pikemen rose to declare Irish independence. Many fierce battles were fought and there were notable military victories, particularly in Wexford. But the greatest victory was undoubtedly political and philosophical. The unity of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter would become the critical benchmark by which future times and organisations could be judged. A republican consciousness became part of the modern Irish political landscape. And although ’98 ended in bitter defeat the historic experience would inspire future generations to pursue not only political independence but to link that aim with the economic and social welfare of the citizenry, “to cherish all our children equally”.
We in the Workers’ Party of Ireland, are proud to be the inheritors of the democratic revolutionary tradition of the United Irishmen. We continue to draw inspiration from the revolutionary content of 1798 and to the enduring principles of the French Revolution, the same principles which inspired Tone, Russell, McCracken, Hope and so many others in that great period of human history when Reason triumphed, if only for a short time.
In the last century Lenin and his party made that significant breakthrough which humanity is constantly struggling to achieve. For a time it seemed that the colour of the world was changing. That this effort too ended in defeat we well recognise and once again reaction succeeded in overturning the victory of the people.
The struggle to reclaim the principles of the United Irishmen remains. Reaction has never and will never stop in its attempt to turn back the clock.
In reflecting on the development of our Party we acknowledge that we are just about to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Tomás Mac Giolla’s Carrickmore Speech – one of the most seminal speeches in modern Republican history. In this speech Tomás set out two principles very clearly: That while we remained steadfast in our aspiration for a United Ireland, we wished to build a new republic – and most definitely not some enlarged version of the gombeen 26-county Free State; and that one million Unionists cannot be bombed or otherwise coerced into a United Ireland. To forge a United Ireland would be a political struggle based not on some kind of all-class alliance but on the unity of the working class whatever their religion or lack thereof. Sectarianism is the enemy of our class unity and we recall Tomás, Seán Garland and Dessie O’Hagan arguing ceaselessly on the evil of sectarianism and the necessity for the Party to be in the forefront of the fight against it.
The first concern of everyone of us committed to building the vanguard party is the expansion and strengthening of the Workers’ Party. Never in recent history has there been a greater need for a class conscious party devoted solely to the interests of workers and their families, and indeed anyone who is mugged by capitalism.
Second and equally important is to mobilise as many people as possible around critical issues which impinge upon the nature of our society and directly affect the working class.These obviously include using every available channel and opportunity to assert the democratic rights of workers and at the same time to seek out ways and means of enhancing class consciousness; building a strong party, defending existing jobs and demanding greater state job creation programmes; campaigning for public housing, an all Ireland NHS, secular education, achieving a zero carbon future through developing Nuclear power, defending our neutrality and the very real need to raise all our citizens out of poverty through a fair and new republic.
The recent election results in the north have heralded increased and louder calls for an immediate border poll or, at a minimum, the setting of a definite date for such a poll. Any conversation around a united Ireland must have at its core the need for all Ireland systems that work for the benefit of all workers. One of the major issues that came to the fore during the pandemic was the need for an all Ireland healthcare system, one that worked across both jurisdictions and benefited the population as a whole rather than one that was based on partition. Healthcare must be a priority area however so too must public housing, education, workers rights, and our neutrality. It is disingenuous for anyone to speak of border polls without first having the necessary conversations on what this entails and how a new state can best benefit workers and their families. Our Party was the first to call for a civic forum or citizens assembly on this important issue and we remain committed to taking part in all of those conversations inclusive of all communities.
The current cost of living crisis is pushing more and more workers into poverty north and south. This is not a new phenomenon. We have been here many times before. Each time workers have borne the brunt of the capitalist system which pits worker against worker. It has been heartening in the last week to see the RMT union under the leadership of their General Secretary Mick Lynch loudly and definitely defend their workers rights, pay and conditions and to see more unions begin to follow suit. A strong trade union movement is vital for workers. We have seen in recent weeks how a corrupt and venal media have attempted to vilify the RMT for defending their workers and how the hand clapping of our essential workers during the pandemic has turned to hostility because they dare to stand up against the vicious cuts implemented by governments in both jurisdictions and their friends the big bosses of industry. We must be at the forefront of these battles with workers – labour cannot wait.
We also take this opportunity to send our continued solidarity to Julian Assange who’s extradition order was recently signed by the British Home Secretary. Julian Assange has now suffered a decade of persecution. His crime – exposing the imperialist war crimes of the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even more worrying is that this is all part of a concerted strategy to criminalise and deter whistle-blowers, committed journalists and, in truth, anyone who dares to challenge or differs with the security state politically.
We are internationalists, proudly walking in the footsteps of Tone and Connolly. Tone’s second published pamphlet was against Irish involvement in the Peninsular War. Connolly, in October 1914, was one of the organisers of the Irish Neutrality League in an attempt to stop Irish people enlisting for the slaughter of WW1. Now we must return to that struggle for peace, that struggle to keep Ireland out of imperialist, international military alliances as the government make underhanded moves for us to become part of NATO against the wishes of the majority of people. NATO is not a defensive force. It is an aggressive military alliance that serves the interests of U.S. Imperialism across the globe. We will continue to campaign for Irish neutrality, against the imperialist machinations of NATO and U.S. capitalism. Our Party’s long cry of peace, work, democracy and class politics remains as important as ever.
We continue to face many tasks and challenges if we are to be a credible force. In some areas we must consolidate and strengthen branches and constituencies that have been rebuilt over the last eight years. In other areas we recognise that we must rebuild our organisation from the foundations up. We must recruit new members, build new branches and expand our support base. We must increase our profile amongst the people using whatever media, be it traditional or modern, to help us achieve this profile. We must build links with other organisations from community, cultural, campaign groups and peace groups. And as always the need for finance remains essential for us to achieve our objectives. Equally the need for our members to understand this importance is vital to building the party.
The contribution and sacrifice made by those who have gone before us continues to inspire us. It continues to motivate us and it drives our own commitment to the Republican socialist ideology and our fight in the class struggle. It is because of them we remain focused in our belief and our commitment to a 32 County Socialist Republic on the island of Ireland, free from sectarianism, free from exploitation and free from oppression. Our ultimate goal remains a workers republic in the tradition of Tone and Connolly, of Carney and Mellows, of Goulding, Garland, O’Hagan and MacGiolla.
In order for us to be the revolutionary Party that we set out to be and to truly honour the memory of Tone, the United Irishmen and all those who have gone before us we must commit to the rebuilding of our Party and the fight for our class. This means sacrifice on behalf of us all, it means working together as comrades with a common purpose, being active in our communities and ensuring we are among our class in every aspect of their lives and their struggles. It is only through building a mass party of the working class that we can ensure that the sacrifice of those who have gone before us is not in vain.
Despite the many setbacks we have faced throughout the years, and continue to face, our time is coming and we must ensure we are ready, we must be organised and disciplined. It is not possible for one or two people to build a revolutionary Party – we must do this together. As Seán Garland said: “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”.
Comrades, the fight for freedom is a class struggle. Let us leave here today with a renewed commitment to build our party and to continue the fight on behalf of the working class.