The oration this year was given by Peter Sullivan, West Belfast.
Comrades and friends,
After two years of meeting virtually for our Easter commemoration we are finally able to gather in person. As many of you will know, our commemoration this year faced difficulties, due to a total abdication of responsibility from the Parades Commission and a complete unwillingness to compromise by the breakaway business committee group. I know that many of you are disappointed that we are not marching up the road at 3pm on Easter Sunday as we have historically done. I also know that for many of you that march and that time slot hold great significance and importance, as so many of you have bravely marched up that road despite threats, intimidation and physical violence. You faced the danger down over many years because of your belief in our Party, in our comrades, in our class and in our socialist republican ideals.
We stand here today not at our usual time or even our usual day, the reason for this is because we did not wish to subject ourselves to any sort of conflict, to see former comrades at odds in the street, 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 our Party fundamentally understands the purpose of our Easter commemoration: to honour the men and women who fought in 1916 and our own fallen comrades with pride.
Easter is a time for reflection on the tasks ahead, it is a time for contemplation on those who have gone before us, our own comrades and those who fought against the might of an Empire for an independent Irish Republic during Easter week in 1916.
For us our Republicanism is not just a badge that we wear once a year or a speech that we make at the graves of our fallen comrades. Our Republicanism is part and parcel of who we are as a revolutionary Party. Never once have we or should we hide who we are or where we came from. Despite the attempts of many individuals and factions we have held true to our principles. Our republicanism speaks to the most advanced of radical and socialist traditions. The quote by Liam Mellows: “We are back with Tone and Connolly and the men of no property” remains as true to our principles today as it did 25 years ago and 50 years ago.
Unlike many others, our Party has never been afraid to move forward. For many years we have been at the radical edge of the working class movement. We have never been afraid to admit our mistakes – and we hope learn from them – and to rethink our approach when necessary. We must continue to do this, to reflect, to re-evaluate and to ask ourselves how we can best achieve our aims and to serve our class.
This year, indeed only yesterday, marks 50 years since the murder of Joe McCann by British forces. 45 years ago Kevin McMenamin and John Short were murdered. Young Kevin McMenamin, son of Paul and Sue, was brutally murdered at the Easter parade in Beechmount Avenue by a bomb left by the UVF. This caused friction between us and the Provisionals resulting in the murder of John short and wounding of Dan Mateer in Turf Lodge after clashes at the gates of the cemetery. A dastardly deed after John’s nephew was murdered by the bomb and many more injured.
Big Joe was murdered by the Paras and the Special Branch in Joy Street in the Markets. After being followed he was shot down – unarmed and alone. To this day his family, like so many others, continue to seek justice and truth. We send our full solidarity to them and all other families fighting for truth and justice.
Down the years many of our comrades have withstood attacks on our party from a wide range of reactionary forces, state and sectarian, all committed to stop the advancement of progressive politics. Many of our friends and comrades gave their lives so that we could go on to create and build an organisation fit for heroes which has made it possible for workers and their families to recognise that there is a way forward and that is to build a Workers Party, of all religions and of none, that the most important thing is who you are and where you stand in the class struggle. This is Tone’s way, it is Connolly’s way, and it is Billy McMillan and Cathal Goulding’s way. It is to our comrades who have never hesitated, never surrendered, who in the most dangerous of times held the line, that we are able to say we will not only survive but we will win the day.
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 envisioned was not merely the 26 county Republic expanded to a 32-county basis. As early as his presidential address to the 1968 Ard Fheis Tomás Mac Giolla 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”.
For many months prior to our Ard Fheis, we examined the question of a Border Poll. We recognise that a border poll at this time would increase political instability and sectarian tension. However, we also recognise that we cannot put our head in the sand and ignore political developments. 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 and 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.
Politics in the north remains entrenched in sectarianism. The DUP and the TUV continue to drive division around the protocol and their scare tactics around a nationalist first minister in the forthcoming Assembly elections. Both sides continue to dissolve Stormont whenever they do not get their own way, each blaming the other, instead of doing the job they have been elected to do. Instead of ensuring that workers 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, reliant on food banks and charity to survive. This is not the vision we were promised in the proclamation. The number of children living in poverty is at a record high – anyone who has been in government for more than 20 years and presents themselves as republicans, true to the ideals of Connolly, the leaders of 1916 and the proclamation are nothing but hypocrites and liars.
In order for us to be the revolutionary Party that we set out to be we must ensure that as members we are actively engaged with the day to day struggles of the working class. Without this our objective of building a mass party will never be achieved. We must ensure that we are with the working class in every area of their lives and in every area of struggle. We must prove ourselves to be serious and committed. This will take sacrifice on behalf of us all but as the famous poet Walt Whitman once said: “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.” 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. 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”.
Commemorations such as this 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 and the vision of a society free from exploitation and oppression. To truly honour the memories of our Republican forbears and fallen Comrades we must dedicate ourselves to the political struggle and to building the Party. 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 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.
I will leave you with a final quote from Connolly: “It matters not the extent of your march but the direction in which you are marching.” We have started on the right road comrades, let us leave here today with a renewed commitment to continue on that road that we set out on so many years ago and ensure that we succeed.
Thank you comrades.