Sean Garland oration in Waterford

Oration delivered by Sean Garland, former President of the Workers' Party at the annual Easter 1916 commemoration in Waterford City, Sunday 12th April 2009.

Comrades, Friends –


Ninety three years since the Easter Rising of 1916 it is surely pertinent to ask how far have we come as a state in achieving the aims and objectives of the men and women who took part in that most momentous event.  The 1916 Proclamation is one of the finest and clearest political statements ever made by the revolutionary organisations.  In its statement of principles it sets out how an independent democratic republic would act on behalf of all its citizens.


The first objective of independence has not been realised.  What little freedom of action we had has over the years been stripped away and we no longer have the power in many areas of life to take our own decisions.  More and more the power has been and is being transferred to unelected bureaucrats in Brussels.  We do not see any viable option of withdrawal from the European Union.  What we seek is a democratic Europe accountable to its citizens through their elected representatives who will hold the power and take decisions not unelected commissions or bureaucrats.  If the Lisbon Treaty is ratified this year then we will see this process being strengthened to the detriment of democracy.


In the coming European elections we will support candidates who are progressive and who will work to have the European Parliament the supreme authority with the power to elect commissions, President, and flowing from that the power to dismiss such bodies.  We are also calling for the principle of recall of elected members to be introduced where it can be demonstrated by voters that a member is not fulfilling their duties.


Returning to the Proclamation one of its major passages stated that all the children of the nation would be treated equally.  Well we can certainly say without any fear of contradiction that this has not happened and under the system of capitalism it will never happen.  The cutbacks in education which affects teachers, school building programmes, class sizes, special needs are just the tip of the iceberg.


DeValera’s reactionary statement in 1917, when he had brought together all the conservative forces into what was termed the National Movement, “That Labour Must Wait” still echoes down the years to the present day.  It is clear from the many speeches and writings of the leaders most particularly Connolly and Pearse that as Pearse stated “When Ireland is free it is the people who will be Lord and Masters” Connolly was equally clear with his statement that the “Cause of Ireland is the Cause of Labour and the Cause of Labour is the Cause of Ireland” Connolly had long recognised that unless the people had control of the economic power and natural resources there would never be real independence for the vast majority of the people.


For Connolly in his day Capitalism was the enemy and for us today continuing on their struggle, we face the same enemy no matter how much they may dress it up.  In this present crisis of capitalism we hear many words and slogans being bandied about such as crony capitalism, market capitalism, social capitalism, American capitalism even now we have European capitalism.  Let us be clear as Connolly was, as Liam Mellowes, Frank Ryan and in our day Cathal Goulding was, that capitalism may use many disguises but it cannot conceal the fact that capitalism’s existence is based on the exploitation by the few of the many.  Since its inception and its continuous development the one overriding factor is exploitation.


Let us today recognise and call capitalism for what it is a ruthless and savage economic system which is maintained by greed, corruption and where and when necessary by armed force which in history has led to the slaughter of millions upon millions of people.  Capitalism in the European Union attempts on occasions to present a benign face but as we have seen in this city and around our country and throughout Europe and the world in order to survive it will close factories, drive farmers off the land, deprive fishermen of the right to fish in Irish waters, shut down hospitals and schools, it will curtail civil liberties because at the end of the day its principal aim is profit, not the good of people.


Here in Waterford, as I have said, workers and their families have felt at first hand the effects of capitalism in its drive to cut costs and maximise profits.  Waterford Glass stands out as a telling example of what drives capitalism – profit and more profit.  What were once thriving industries are now reduced to empty shells.  It is a very sharp and painful lesson in capitalist ethics and mentality for it demonstrates that under capitalism no matter how long or hard workers may toil and sweat capitalism has no loyalty to people, only to profit.


This is well captured by the great writer and singer of folk songs, Tommy Sands, in one of his songs; don’t worry I won’t sing it, I’ll just quote a few lines:-


            “We felt the taste of hunger,

            When the factory moves away,

            Then they closed the hospital,

            They said it didn’t pay,

            And all we got were promises

            and coloured flags to fly”.


Except for the immediate and strong reaction by the over seventies when the government threatened to take away the medical card for the over seventies there has been very little sustained action.  The government was forced to backtrack but despite massive marches and many protests and given the scale and depth of this present crisis in capitalism it is remarkable how subdued, indeed bowed down, the working class has become.  Certainly there is anger in society but we must be in the frontline channelling that anger into positive action for society.  For many years we knew that society was being ripped off by banks, by developers, builders and politicians and indeed the media played a part in the charade.  We were fed a diet of you never had it so good and it will last forever.  Well the bubble has well and truly burst now.


In all the measures that this coalition government has taken and will take to solve the financial crisis in public finances we hear no mention of the 6,000 tax exiles, or fugitives as they are now being called, as to having them to contribute to helping to plug the deep hole.  All of them make money in Ireland, take advantage of Irish citizenship and privileges and yet do not pay one single cent in taxes.  They should be told for a start pay your fair share of taxes or we will deprive you of your Irish citizenship.  That would be a good demonstration that this government is serious about sharing the burden.


The Workers’ Party is first and foremost concerned to defend the interests of the working class.


What can be done?  Indeed what must be done?


First it is essential that the most vulnerable in society are protected which means that a considerable number of men, woman and children are at this present moment feeling the effects of rising prices and low incomes.  Recently the President of the Workers’ Party, Comrade Michael Finnegan, listed a number of measures which if implemented would go some way to easing the plight of the many who are now unable to cope with the cost of living.  The first measure must be to introduce price control on essential items of food – break, milk, vegetables, baby food and fuel including heating oil, petrol and diesel.  Oil has come down in price on international markets but it takes a long, long time before the consumer gets the benefit.  The oil companies are a cartel and they make massive profits in good and bad times.  They are not above rigging the market.


For instance at this moment in time there are about 10 massive oil tankers carrying tens of thousands of tonnes of oil and all are sheltering in British harbours waiting for the price of oil to increase so that the oil companies can make extra profits.  This scene is repeated in other countries around the world.  They can allow these tankers to sit in safe waters with the knowledge that whatever it costs in holding the ship in harbour they will reap huge profits when it suits them to land the oil.  We have long called for a windfall tax to be levied on oil companies who operate a monopoly and who make excessive profits on the back of the consumer.  I heard Peter Sutherland, a former Attorney Gnd EU Commissioner lecturing us the other day about tightening belts this from the Chairman of Goldman Sachs and Chairman of BP who receives million of Euro every year for his services to capitalism.


In times like that the public sector becomes the whipping boy for the media and their bosses who never point out that many, many thousands of public sector workers and also PAYE workers are existing on the minimum wage.  IBEC which acts as the mouthpiece for employers is never done calling for wage cuts and also cuts in the public sector.  Again we need to point out that firemen and women, gardaí, council workers at all levels, nurses, cleaners, teachers – all are the public sector and an attack on them is an attack on the essential services that they provide.  IBEC never talks about the massive amount of money it receives from State companies and taxpayers’ money which goes to fund their generous salaries and perks.


Contrast the public sector pay levels against the pay that those captains of industry who we are supposed to so much admire get.  For instance in 2007 nine directors of eight companies received between them a total of €65 million that works out at €7.25 million each.  How much have these individuals and many more like them contributed to solving the present crisis?  This government like all governments in this system take the easy option such as cutting out the Christmas bonus to pensioners and social welfare recipients and remove child benefits.


We have just had what is called an emergency budget to get us out of the deep, very deep, hole that banks, developers, builders and the government of the day have dug for us.  From the time this crisis became obvious last September the main priority of the government has been to shore up the banks.  It is clear from day one that it is the banks that are setting the agenda and the government have been dancing to their tune.  No real effort has been made to reform or restructure the banks.  Instead the government has given billions of Euro and unqualified guarantees to banks which for decades were allowed to rip off customers and make huge profits.


We have proposed that banks should be nationalised and one major state bank be established to cater for the country’s needs in banking.  Naturally with the government acting at the behest of and for the bank’s interests this will not happen.  We would propose to the trade union movement that it should establish a workers’ co-operative bank which would be run for the benefit of workers and their families.  There are many examples in Britain and elsewhere which would act as a guide as to how such a bank would be structured and managed.  The private banking sector has demonstrated it has no integrity and is solely concerned with profit in pure capitalist terms.  The Irish and international banks have no loyalty to customers or country except to their shareholders and directors.


For the Workers’ Party this has to be a time for organising the working class to point out to them who is the enemy and how best we can organise to build a new society of equals where exploitation is a feature of the past.  We must remember in these difficult times Connolly’s statement “that the workers of another land are my natural ally just as the native capitalist is my natural enemy”.  There are many elements in this society, at times aided and abetted by a cynical mass media controlled by press barons who owe allegiance to no country of people other than to themselves who would attempt to create division among workers who in order to preserve capitalism would have workers compete and fight each other for the crumbs from the rich man’s table.  The trade unions have a major role to play in defending and building the unity of workers.  United we stand, Divided we fall is as relevant today as it was one hundred years ago when trade unions were fighting for the right to organise.


Our publication Look Left has a most important role in building the party.  In every constituency in which it is distributed it has made a significant impact and made a worthwhile contribution to recruiting new members and strengthening the influence of the party amongst the working class.  Look Left is one of our most valuable assets and it is essential that all members are involved in its expansion.  The coming local elections in June will provide the party with a good opportunity to expand our voice on local councils.  Here in Waterford our priority is to elect our three candidates standing for us, comrades who have demonstrated their commitment to the party and to their class in Councillor Davy Walsh, in Joe Tobin and Willie Moore.  These comrades when elected will place the interests of workers and their families top of their agenda when on the council.  Workers’ Party representatives on Waterford Council have always been to the forefront in defending workers’ rights and in opposing cuts in health, education, social services and in opposition to double taxation such as service charges.


From its signing in 1998 we have supported the Belfast Agreement.  We have expressed our serious doubts about aspects of the Agreement.  In particular we strongly disagree with the system under which the Assembly and Executive are elected and functions.  This system in our view copper fastens sectarianism - one of the most poisonous elements in Northern Ireland.  Until citizens are able to express their preferences in an election to a totally democratic Assembly then sectarianism will continue to be a major obstacle in building a society of equals.  To us it is more than a tragedy, it is a downright disgrace that the two governments have not taken any meaningful progressive measures to even begin to defeat sectarianism.  Nevertheless despite its flaws the Agreement is a move forward.  It can become a step on the road to democracy.


Many lives have been saved and whilst the major terrorist organisations have ceased their activities we still have the remnants of the organisations who will not see that they are on the road to nowhere.  The only results of their murders are sorrow for families and society being thrust back into repression and more violence.  We know that these who are living in the dark past will not succeed but there will still be a price to pay for our history shows us that there will always be a rump, a small number, who will pursue their own blind agenda.  For decades we have made it clear that any person or group who seek to divide people are the enemy of the working class on this island and of the Workers’ Party.  Our party members in the north continue on a daily basis in very difficult conditions – a divided society – to build a united working class party.


We send our fraternal greetings and warm wishes to the Cuban Party and People who this year celebrate the 50th anniversary of the triumph of the revolution, under the leadership of Comrade Fidel Castro and his comrades of the 26th July Movement, with the defeat of the reactionary oppressive regime of Batista.  We are heartened by the victories of the progressive forces in Latin America, in Venezuela, Bolivia, in Ecuador and El Salvador.  The future is bright for the long-suffering people of the Americas.  Nevertheless progressive all over the world must be always on their guard against reaction and native collaborators who would deny the people their rights and subvert the revolutionary process.


With our comrades and friends internationally we have played our part in maintaining an alternative to the aggressive capitalist policies which have been carried out over the past decades, in particular by the US administration.  By now there is no person of any sense or reason who does not see that the invasion of Iraq by Bush and his lackey Blair was and continues to be an unmitigated disaster for the world.  It has brought about a revival of terrorism which using the labels of religion and nationalism has inflicted great damage on society in many countries and also enabled capitalism to impose many repressive policies and illegal acts which have curtailed civil liberties.


Again I would like to quote some lines from Tommy Sands when he sings his song:-


            “Time for Asking Why:

            A People Excluded will say it’s not fair

            There’s enough to go round so why don’t you share

            You’re preaching equality yet you go there

            And grab all the food from their table

            Is it hunger for power that’s blinding your sights

            Do you block out the stars do you tear up the stripes

            Each time you deny your proud freedom and rights

            Who is betraying America

            It’s time for asking why.


For us the answer to any international or national problem must lie with the United Nationals.  We are seeking a reformed, strengthened, Democratic United Nations.  A Democratic General Assembly in which all countries would be equal, a reformed Security Council in which no country would have a veto and in which all countries would be entitled toe membership with no permanent members.  The democratic struggle, whether it be in Ireland, in the European Union, in the United Nations, or any country is as always the most critical for which its success the road is open to other victories for the people of the world.


Comrades, we have a long and hard road ahead.  We have in the past achieved many victories and overcome many serious problems.  Those who thought they could kill us off either physically or politically have been proved wrong not just in our time but in previous generations, that of 1916, of the Tan War, the Civil War, the Republican Congress and the generation of the 40s and 50s, who also sought to reach the Republic as we do in our day under very different conditions.


We must wage the struggle in every area of society, we cannot afford to neglect any issue, any concern of our citizens we must continually expose the reality of capitalism and in doing so raise class consciousness which is the key to transforming this society.  We look to the past for inspiration and we are heartened by the numerous examples of so many fine comrades who have passed on and who have left us the better for knowing them and stronger in our beliefs that our cause of a United Democratic Socialist Republic of Ireland will triumph.


Thank You.

Peace, Work, Democracy & Class Politics