The Workers’ Party 2021 Easter Commemoration was held online due to the covid pandemic. Caoimhe Garland, Ard Comhairle and Belfast Workers’ Party gave the oration below.
Fáilte, a chairde agus a chomrádaithe chuig ár gcomóradh Éirí Amach na Cásca.
Welcome to the Easter commemoration of the Workers’ Party. For the second year in a row we gather centrally online rather than regionally at various centres where we traditionally hold commemorations and to which we will return whenever health regulations allow.
We in no way object to the restrictions imposed by the present health regulations. We recognise the very serious nature of this virus which has caused over 6,700 deaths on this island over the past 12 months. We totally support all public health measures needed to fight this pandemic. Our issue is that governments have been both cowardly in the face of vested interests and too often inefficient in delivery. Both the Dublin and Belfast administrations have failed the people because they would not take the tough decisions needed. Frankly, the Covid related restrictions were too little, too late, too disjointed and were not implemented on an all-island basis. Six months ago, The Workers’ Party proposed a coherent, all-island Zero Covid strategy which would have involved a short, sharp and perhaps difficult Lockdown for a three week period. This proposal was ignored. Had such a strategy been adopted then the deadly Third Wave, which has been the most deadly by far, could have been avoided.
Once again we pay tribute to those workers who are on the frontline of the battle against Covid, especially those in healthcare and other similar services but also those far from the public eye in the meat plants, in the food processing plants or in food transportation, in the supermarkets and other retail outlets, in our schools as the education system moves offline and back into the classroom, who are putting their lives at risk for the good of society.
Within our own country, we are not all in this together. We know that the old and those already ill have suffered the bulk of the fatalities. Amongst workers, we know that frontline workers across all sectors that cannot work from home are those in most danger. We have heard of many meat plant workers dying. Yet no meat plant owner died. Many female, part-time, non-unionised care workers in the nursing home sector were infected with Covid and sadly there were many fatalities. Have we heard of any of the corporate bosses running these homes getting ill, having to go on sick leave or even losing a cent in profits?
Lockdown is difficult. But it is not equal. A family where everybody has their own bedroom, where there are spare rooms that can double as a work room, where there is a large, private garden, where the cost of technology is not a problem cannot be compared to a family jammed into an overcrowded apartment, where the bedroom doubles as a workplace, with no outdoor green space, and several people try to share technology.
The USA, the richest, most militarily powerful country in the world failed catastrophically to tackle the pandemic and the number of recorded deaths is now approaching 600,000. Yet smaller, poorer countries, countries who are continuing to suffer from US imperialism like Vietnam or Cuba have had a much less severe experience during this pandemic. Their public services, their health services and their populations have all cooperated to effectively prevent the pandemic gaining any foothold in their countries. In this context comrades we must again take this opportunity to commend the Cuban people and the Cuban health services for their work internationally in fighting this pandemic despite the barbaric embargo imposed by the Trump administration and cynically left in place by Biden. We again pledge our support to the campaign to have the Henry Reeve Medical Brigade become the recipients of the 2021 Nobel Peace prize.
Our Easter commemoration is an occasion in which we look back and remember those who fought for freedom and socialism, we also look back to the history of our own movement and those comrades who fought and struggled to bring our party to where we are today. We look back because it is correct to recognise and honour the battles of the past and also because it is our duty, as socialists, to learn from both the successes and the failures of the past.
Two events have notable anniversaries this year. One hundred years ago, 1921, saw the end of the Irish War of Independence. While all past events impinge, in some way, on the present it cannot be denied that the July truce, the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 6th December and the proceeding Government of Ireland Act from May that year continue to have major repercussions on Irish politics to the present day.
Fifty years ago, on the 9th August 1971 Operation Demetrius, internment without trial, was introduced by the Stormont government with the approval of the UK Secretary of State and the Tory government. The introduction of internment, the fact that only republicans were targeted, the abuse of all victims and the torture of those who became known as the hooded men officially marked the militarisation of the UK government’s response to the democratic and peaceful demands of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. NICRA was pushed to one side as the North suffered a death filled 18th months. Over the next four and a half months 150 people were killed, with many hundreds injured. The following year, 1972, almost 500 people were killed, the worst year of the Troubles.
Even in those fraught and tension filled years of 1971 and 1972 the Republican movement still sought to concentrate on the issues of housing, on the robbery of our natural resources, on the destruction of Irish language and the Gaeltacht communities, and on the gross exploitation of workers and the blatant use of many employers of scab labour to break legitimate strike actions. It was in defence of the rights of striking workers in the silver mines in Co Tipperary that on July 6th 1971 Martin O’Leary, a 21 year old volunteer from Cork city, suffered such catastrophic injuries that he died later in Limerick Hospital.
Down the years our own 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.
In our Party constitution the Workers’ Party is dedicated to the establishment of ‘’a democratic, secular, socialist Republic: a unitary state on the island of Ireland.” When we adopted this constitution almost thirty years ago, and indeed for many years previously we were 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, we have 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. We must examine the political situation as it faces us, and we have done so. Our demand is that the Civic Forum be reconstituted and reconvened for the specific purposes of looking at all aspects of the future political formation on this island and involving all shades of political opinion. Such a forum, if it is to be successful must also engage all elements of civic society, including the trade union movement. If there is to be a border poll, and that decision is not ours to make, then the electorate have a right to know the options on which they are voting. An all-encompassing Civic Forum is the only democratic way to ensure that clarity.
In recognising the necessity of our active engagement with the question of the Border Poll, and in our call for the convention of a Civic Forum we reaffirm our commitment to the tradition of Republicanism and our rejection of Nationalism.
As Republicans and as Socialists we recognise that capitalist society is based on Class divisions. We recognise that these Class divisions are not 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, our late Comrade Desi O’Hagan outlined the four interdependent aspects of the concept. Republicanism is Democratic, Socialist, Secular, and Internationalist. In staunchly adhering to this Republican Ideal as outlined by Desi we recognise both the need to battle all forms of Nationalist and Sectarian 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 ‘Nationalism’ is not only factually false, but it is also both 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.’ The cloister may offer solace to some but not for 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. It should be obvious to everyone that without the membership actively engaging with the day-to-day struggles of the Working Class our objective of building a mass Party will not be fulfilled. The pandemic has, of course, seriously limited our ability to engage in day-to-day work. However, as restrictions ease over the coming months and we begin to resume political activity it is incumbent on all members to once again get actively involved in campaigning on working class issues in their locality.
Our aim is to become a Party of and for the Working Class but we must be honest and admit that we are far from reaching that goal. While we have of course made progress in rebuilding the Party over the past few years, WE MUST DO BETTER. It is not enough to blame ‘the system’ or this or that individual or group of individuals. We are all members of the Workers’ Party and we all bear a responsibility to do our part in building the organisation 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”.
No doubt, mistakes will be made and this is not necessarily a bad thing. The Party has made mistakes in the past and has shown a capacity to learn from them. We need to revive this tradition of working hard and learning through experience.
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.
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 even then realised. 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.
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 léir.