Comrades and Friends
We gather today, on the 106th anniversary of the Easter Rising, to remember and honour those who fought in Easter Week 1916; to acknowledge the importance of the progressive and democratic ideals of Pearse and Connolly and of the Easter Proclamation, and to build on them.
Our Easter Commemoration also offers us the opportunity to reflect on the sacrifice of our own comrades who have gone before us in the struggle for a Socialist Republic and on what we can learn from their struggle.
It is a time, also, to reassert our claim to the true Republican tradition, and to put forward our vision – the vision of Connolly and the Citizen Army – of a new Republic, a united, democratic, secular Socialist Republic.
In 1916 war had thrown the European socialist movement into disarray.
In Ireland, the tide of trade union and class struggle had ebbed in the years after the Dublin Lockout.
In that time of war, and of national and international crisis, Connolly, Pearse, and the men and women of the Citizen Army and the Volunteers led by example and organised to strike a blow for Irish freedom against the overwhelming might of the British Empire.
That blow for freedom, that sacrifice, set an example that has inspired generations of republicans and socialists, and continues to do so, over 100 years later.
Our own Party’s fight has long moved on to the terrain of democratic struggle.
It is now 50 years since Tomas Mac Giolla, in his speech at Carrickmore, outlined the position of the Republican Movement and the necessity for a peaceful and democratic political struggle for working class unity, democracy and socialism.
But as a Party we aspire to be the vanguard of the working class – and to build a Party that can give leadership to the working class is a task that requires a spirit of sacrifice and dedication – the same spirit and dedication that drove James Connolly and the men and women of Easter Week.
In the history of our movement few better embody dedication to the cause of revolutionary struggle than Liam Mellows.
From his early work as a Na Fianna Eireann organiser; his leadership in Galway during Easter week 1916; his work in the US; until his capture in the Four Courts in June 1922 in an event which marked the commencement of the civil war, that ultimate betrayal of the sacrifice of Pearse and Connolly.
Six months later, in December 1922, 100 years ago this year, Liam Mellows and his three comrades, were murdered in a cold-blooded, and illegal, reprisal killing by the Free State.
But as well as his example, Mellows also left us his writings. He understood the need to connect the struggle for an independent Irish Republic with the needs of the people. He identified the nature of the Free State.
Imprisoned in Mountjoy Jail, Mellows wrote of the Free State that it was ‘’British created, British controlled and serves British Imperialist interests. It is the buffer erected between British Capitalism and the Irish Republic.’
Times have changed, the British empire has long since been replaced by the USA in its domination of our politics, our popular culture and our political economy. But while empires may rise and fall the nature of imperialism, and the tools of economic control and coercion remain the same.
In 1914, as the imperial powers of Europe plunged the world into war, the men and women of the citizen army had no doubt where their loyalty should lie. Rejecting the call to war, they raised their banner over liberty hall proclaiming “We serve neither King nor kaiser, but Ireland”.
Today we again refuse to join in the power struggles of the ruling classes, to be either lackeys of empire or apologists for nationalist aggression.
In poll after poll, the Irish people have shown their commitment to neutrality, and their proud refusal to participate in the wars of the Western powers.
As a Party, we must fight to protect Irish neutrality. We must oppose any move to join NATO and demand an end to the use of Shannon Airport by US troops.
As socialists we are internationalists. We take pride in being part of a larger international movement and we take inspiration from the struggles and victories of those parties wherever they occur.
We defend the political gains of our class whether that is in Cuba, Venezuela, or Nicaragua. It is, also, our obligation to fight the illegal and immoral US blockades imposed on these countries and to see through the fog of US propaganda and misinformation.
We must also seek deeper co-operation with our comrades across Europe in the rebuilding of the working class movement.
The struggle for peace and against both US imperialism and reactionary nationalism is one that must be taken up across Europe if we are to succeed ultimately.
Europe is the home of socialism and republicanism – it is the home of the best of the radical ideas and traditions that have permeated the world and inspired revolutionary change.
It is time that working people in Europe did justice to those ideas and forged our own path of democracy and socialism, in alliance with the workers and oppressed around the world, serving their interests, rather than those of the US and its ruling elite.
Comrades, in the words of Tomas Mac Giolla:
‘’No member of the Workers’ Party should have any hang-ups about commemorating men like Connolly and Pearse and the historic events which took place in Dublin in Easter Week 1916.’’
We remain unapologetic about the centrality of the Republican tradition and ideology to the Workers’ Party.
It is one of the foundations upon which our politics are built.
It links us with the great thinkers and doers of the past in Ireland and abroad; from Tom Paine to Karl Marx to Tone and Connolly.
Our republicanism leads us to reject the artificial division of the people on this island. We understand the necessity of ending the partition of our working class communities as being as essential a step forward as ending the partition of our country.
We know, through hard experience, that it is a difficult task to build working class unity and so far we have not succeeded.
Nevertheless, we stand clearly and unambiguously for the unity of all working people in Ireland in a 32 county socialist republic.
Comrades, to truly honour the memories of our Republican forbears and our 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.
We have a long way to go in building a party of the working class, a socialist party, that can confront the ruling class and imperialism.
To do so we have to re-engage with working class communities and make the Workers’ Party a household name again
We have to fight on the issues that matter to working people and bring them to our side.
Time and again we are reminded of the warnings of Connolly and mellows, that freedom for the Irish people cannot be achieved by changing one flag for another. The republic we seek can only command the loyalty of all its people when it can provide for the health and welfare of its citizens, and protect them from capitalist exploitation.
No issue is more pressing to working people at this time than the rising cost of living. This crisis is a direct result of decades of privatisation, the appropriation of our national resources and public services by a financial elite. The ne-liberal state has no answer to this crisis but to pump ever more public money into private hands through payments, subsidies and tax breaks – more of our money into hands of the landlords and developers, the private healthcare industry, the energy suppliers.
Our answer is to campaign for the nationalisation of our energy companies and for the development of nuclear power – to give Ireland energy independence, to break our reliance on the petro-dollar and on fossil fuels that are bringing us towards climate catastrophe, and to provide a secure and abundant future for working people.
We call for the establishment of a state construction company to build hundreds of thousands of public housing units that can relieve the misery that so many families are living through – of cramped accommodation, of life in hotel rooms and hostels, of extortionate rents.
We call for a state that provides well funded public services – in transport, childcare, and health.
This is the real answer to the cost of living crisis – for the state to take the lead in developing and building our industry, energy and public services; not to throw more money at those who have caused this crisis, and have profited from it.
Comrades, we live in a time when class politics has never been more sorely needed and in a time that demands more, much more, of the workers’ movement than it is currently giving.
If we are to have a better future, it will not be handed down to us by a political elite that is driving us towards war and climate change.
For much of the 19th and 20th Century the victory of socialism seemed inevitable – the working class struggle would herald a better future for all.
In 1891 James Connolly could confidently write that: ‘‘Socialism represents the dominant and conquering force of our age; the hope of the worker, the terror of the oppressor, the light of the future.’’
In the last three decades of intense neo-liberal reaction, the organisations of working people – our parties, our unions have been set on the back foot.
Our confidence as a class and as a movement in the certainty of victory, in the centrality of class politics to a better future, has been shaken.
It is our task to remedy that by re-asserting the central and fundamental role of the working class in changing society, by organising and leading, and by building the Workers’ Party.
Each of us here, individually and collectively, has to play our part in rebuilding a movement that can put class politics back on the political agenda, where it belongs and where it is needed.
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.
Let us leave here today with a renewed commitment to continue on the road that we set out on so many years ago and to ensure that we succeed.
Thank you comrades.