Workers Party NI Conference

Workers' Party annual Northern Ireland regional conference, Belfast, 4th October 2008.

Pic- Michael Finnegan
Michael Finnegan delivers opening address

Opening remarks by Party President Michael Finnegan at the Northern Ireland

Regional Conference, Wellington Park Hotel, Saturday 4th October 2008


Dear Comrades,


I am honoured to have being asked to open the 2008 Northern Ireland Conference of the Workers Party.


This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the start of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. The aim of that organisation was to end discrimination in housing, fair employment legislation, one man one vote and an end to gerrymandering. The demands were clear and in a short space of time won widespread support across the island of Ireland and among progressive people in Britain and elsewhere.


Civil rights marchers faced police brutality on every march. This violence culminated in the murder of 13 innocent marchers in Derry by British paratroopers. However, it became clear to the establishment that repression could never defeat the civil rights movement and many of the demands were conceded The B Specials were disbanded, the R.U.C. disarmed, discrimination in housing was ended, fair employment legislation was introduced and every citizen was granted an equal right to vote.


The Northern Ireland Civil Rights movement was a powerful mass organisation and was instrumental in raising awareness both North and South. Progress was being made. It was an organisation that provoked fear both in the Northern, Southern and British establishments. There was a move among some Nationalists in the North and senior Ministers in the Fianna Fail government m the South to turn the situation into a campaign for a united Ireland. 


The last thing that Mr Haughey, Blaney and Boland wanted was to see socialists coming to the forefront in any part of Ireland. And they were quite willing to fund and arm those Nationalists. They went on to form what is known as the Provisional IRA who went on to wreak violence and destruction and destroy so many lives for three decades.


Northern Ireland was plunged into a vicious sectarian war. Both Loyalist and Nationalist sectarian forces competed with one another in the murder of innocent people. Veterans of this savage sectarianism now like to present their so-called war as one of heroic gun battles with the British army and daring jail-breaks. They would want us to forget the Kingsmill massacre, the La Mons fire-bombing, the Bloody Fridays, Enniskillen and the Teebane murder of building labourers.  All for what? Sunningdale Mark Two? Certainly not the Republic where all people regardless of religion, class, race or sex are treated equally.


Comrades, we must not forget the past. It is crucial to understand the horror that is unleashed when Nationalist and Loyalist sectarian forces are not guarded against. It is an equally important lesson to know the lengths the capitalist establishment will go to in order to undermine legitimate organisations they see as a threat.


We should not forget the past but we have to fight in the here and now for a decent life for workers and to secure the well being of future generations of workers and their families.


Greed and corruption has flourished in the new Ireland, A society devoid of values has robbed public debate of any sense of the common good. The individual and the endless pursuit of more and more luxury goods are promoted in its place. What is being reaped now in Ireland, north and south is the brainchild of the Thatcher, Reagan and Haughey era. Every service that is essential to a decent life - health, education, fundamental rights of workers - has been steadily eroded. The huge wealth created was on the backs of the workers who were told they must sacrifice in order that the economy prospers. The economy prospered resulting in obscene displays of wealth by a greedy minority and prominent among them were the wealthy speculators and bankers. These are the people whose actions now are bringing the economy to its knees. There is international recognition that the Irish banks are fundamentally flawed. The jobs and wellbeing of every citizen in the state is under threat as a result. On the other hand those who have run the banks will

walk away with millions from massive salaries and bonuses they have received over the years - many millions in some cases.


In the good times the call of the ultra conservative, political establishment was for cutting tax and cutting government. Less government was good government. No provision could be made in this climate for improving health, education and other necessary services,


These conservative politicians are now propping up the bankers dodgy practices to the tune of an astounding €400 billion - more than half of what the US government is considering.


Because of greed and corruption in the banking sector the living standards of millions of workers world wide will be cut. Thousands of workers will lose their jobs. Health services will be reduced and education will be cut. The unemployed will see their income reduced. In the South a wage agreement is being imposed on a worker which in reality is a wage cut. Families who can’t pay their mortgages because of unemployment or illness will be evicted from their homes. We should fight for measures that will prevent banks from evicting those families.


Here in the North we have a government which refuses to meet while food, gas and electricity prices soar. Thousands of workers are losing their jobs. Yet Sinn Fein and DUP Ministers and M.L.A.s draw very generous salaries and allowances. They are quite happy to bicker among themselves over policing and justice. There is no concern for the senior citizens who cannot heat their homes. What is being done to provide social housing? Do McGuinness and Robinson believe that families do not need homes? Mr, Adams was elected to represent the people of West Belfast as their MP. His principles will not allow him attend Westminster. How can he justify that position? Sinn Fein is in a British Parliament at Stormont, they draw salaries and serve as Ministers. 


Adams seems more interested in appearing on TV or radio promoting his latest book than standing up for workers’ rights in Westminster. Is it that he is afraid that he will be shown up as someone with little to offer and even less knowledge as happened on the television debates in the run up to the general election in the south? It is time for workers in Northern Ireland to reject the sectarian politics of Adams, McGuinness and Robinson and put their own interests first.


Comrades, young people are challenging the way society is operated in the South and there is a growing interest in the Workers’ Party. Membership is growing. Our magazine Look Left is bringing the socialist ideal to more and more people. Its left wing views and analysis is welcomed now more than ever in the challenging times that we live in. We need to ensure that it is distributed in every part of the country. We are in the process of organising public meetings for various centres throughout Ireland. I am confident that we will rebuild the Party to a strong force that will challenge the establishment North and South.


Finally, comrades, the membership in the Party here in the North have over many years stood firmly by the ideology of Tone and Connolly. When in 1992 there was an attempt by those who had abandoned socialism to destroy the Party it was Marian Donnelly and later Tom French who stepped forward to leadership positions. There is also another person who I want to single out and who has been to the forefront of our struggle for many years. He is well known by all members and supporters from Cork to Antrim. It is determination, such as Dessie O’Hagan has in abundance, which has kept us going in the darker days.  His contribution to the development of the Party and of socialism cannot be measured. And while the rest of us grieved the loss of Marie, who was a true comrade, Dessie lost a friend and partner. I am confident that Dessie will continue to contribute to the Party in the coming years in similar fashion.


The Northern Ireland conference is usually a vibrant and interesting event where the issues affecting the Northern Ireland community are debated and I look forward to hearing the various views.


Thank you for your attention.

Peace, Work, Democracy & Class Politics