Bodenstown 2009

Speech by Mary Diskin at the annual Theobald Wolfe Tone Commemoration at Bodenstown, Co. Kildare.

Bodenstown 5th July 2009



As we gather once more at the grave of Theobald Wolfe Tone, the founder of our revolutionary republican tradition, we can look back on our efforts since we were last here with a good deal of satisfaction. 


We have gained new members; we have revitalised our Party structures and expanded our work within working-class communities and workers’ organisations; we have restored a number of party branches where they had lapsed; Look Left goes from strength to strength, and is putting our message into the hands of workers; our Research Section that did so much to expose the rotten nature of Irish crony capitalism in the 1970s and 1980s is once again producing effective socialist analysis of the crisis of capitalism.


The results of our hard work can be seen in our positive electoral results. Davy Walsh held our seat in Waterford and Ted Tynan was re-elected to Cork City Council.  Already both Davy and Ted have challenged the cosy consensus politics that operates on their local councils, offering strong and independent working-class politics.  The Party stood in areas it has not stood in for more than a decade, missing out on several seats by a whisker.  That all our candidates can be said to have had good elections is a tribute not only to them as individuals but also to the branches in those areas and to the Party as a whole.  People are responding to our message, and there are certainly many things that we can confidently look forward to building on in the coming months.


At the same time, comrades, the Party faces many challenges, not least the continued efforts of the most reactionary elements of US imperialism to persecute – and I mean persecute and not prosecute – our former President, Seán Garland.  It is clear not only to us but also to any disinterested observer that there is no evidence to substantiate these charges.  These charges reflect nothing more than the aggressive militarist policy of the discredited Bush-Cheney regime which sought at every step of its existence to frustrate any chance of a peaceful settlement on the Korean peninsula.  That regime did not want to allow the people of Korea the freedom to determine their own future.  Faced with its imminent demise, it sought to frustrate the possibility for change promised by President Obama by raising once more these ridiculous charges, and thereby poisoning the possibility of a fresh start between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  When we think about these charges, comrades, we do not forget their lies when they wished to start a war; nor do we forget the blood of the hundreds of thousands of innocents that stains the hands of Bush and Rumsfeld, of Cheney and Rice.  They oversaw the most corrupt US regime since Nixon, and like him, they used an imperialist war to line the pockets of American big business at the expense of foreign civilians and the domestic poor.


I said above that any disinterested observer could see these accusations for the sham that they are.  The Bush regime themselves knew that they had no evidence to offer.  This is why they attempted to use the unjust 2003 Extradition Treaty with the UK during their attempt to nab Seán Garland from Belfast in 2005.  That Treaty requires no evidence to be presented for a person to be extradited, and the Bush regime tried to use the UK treaty as opposed to that of the Republic, precisely because they had no evidence to offer.  In December 2008, with their government already voted out of office, they tried one last desperate act to ensure that they would set the agenda in Korea for years to come. 


It is a testament to both Seán personally and to our Party, to our work for peace and on behalf of working people, that a wide cross-section of the Irish public has come forward to support him and to oppose his extradition.  The Committee to fight the extradition of Seán Garland has members drawn from across the political divide in the Oireachtas, as well as prominent trade union and cultural figures.  All of us here must contribute whatever we can to the campaign.  

If President Obama is serious about making a real break with the failures of the past, if he genuinely wants to engage with those Bush tried to bully, then he could give no clearer demonstration of his intentions than withdrawing the extradition request.  The interests of justice and fairness, as well as promoting peace in the Korean peninsula, demand it.


Lenin stated that there was no economic crisis so great that the working class could not be made to pay for it.  We have seen that the capitalists have taken this message to heart.  Across the world, governments have rushed to splurge public money on propping up banks that have become the victims of their own massive greed.  For decades we have been hearing about the all-powerful market, about how the almighty market would solve all our problems.  The current crisis has revealed the re-hashing of the theories of Milton Friedman and his disciples by governments and academics to be just the arrogant and senseless bleating of a capitalist class, intoxicated with its own power.   This crisis has revealed the extent to which capitalists have a single objective – the accumulation of ever greater amounts of capital.  When that means privatization, deregulating the market, tax avoidance schemes, and no-union clauses then that is what they favour.  When it means going squealing to government demanding handouts, the socialisation of losses, and temporary public ownership to enable their companies to survive, then they are in favour of that too.


Blair and Brown, as the leaders of New Labour in the UK, embraced the new capitalism and promised an ever rising graph of profits and job creation. They were part of the Bush military merry-go-round. They were the leaders of the politics of privatisation and light touch regulation. And suddenly the house of cards collapsed. Families in Northern Ireland and Britain are paying with their jobs, their savings and their homes.  Brown is now so unpopular he can hardly keep a cabinet intact for a month.


No ruling elite has embraced the market with more zeal than that of the Republic.  Since the foundation of the state, politics here has been a case of tweedledum and Tweedledee.  At no time has this been clearer than during the last two decades.  Going back to the bad years of the 1980s, both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael implemented a policy of slash and burn, of corruption and emigration.  During the boom years, both sought to rule the country in the interests of the multi-nationals, the property speculators, the construction companies, and the financiers, often while feathering their own nests.  Truly the state was the executive committee of the bourgeoisie.  Throughout the period of the boom, we in The Workers’ Party pointed out that not enough was being done to boost public services, to improve real wages, and to create sustainable growth. 


Now that the boom has come to an end, we can see how Fianna Fáil squandered it. From 1998 to 2007, €58 billion was amassed in tax.  Scandalously, that most regressive of taxes, V.A.T., lay at the heart of the increased tax take.  The government used this windfall to cut taxes still further for the richest, not to invest in health and education – education spend lags behind the OECD average.  In short, at a period when domestic and foreign companies have been making unprecedented profits in Ireland, ordinary people have been subsidising their tax breaks and tax avoidance. 


Now we are paying for their mistakes as well.  In the Republic, unemployment stands at 11.9% and most likely will rise to close to 20% over the next year.  Emigration has returned as a serious problem for our young people.  We are told to tighten our belts for the sake of the country, while the super-rich continue as before, very often as nominal non-residents for tax purposes.  The so-called alternative, Fine Gael, would behave no differently.  We should remember that at the General Election of 2007, the Fine-Gael/Labour alternative fought the campaign on the grounds that they would be better for business and would offer lower taxes.  Only socialism offers an alternative, we cannot expect to get real change from any coalition in which Fine Gael makes the running.


The recent elections showed that there is an appetite for real change among the electorate in the south.  Voters rejected Fianna Fáil, and many are looking to the broad Left to provide leadership to overturn the policies that have wasted the greatest economic growth this country has seen.  However, we cannot ignore the fact that the party that did best was Fine Gael.  Left unity is essential.  The individual left parties are each too weak to be the engine of significant change.  Progressive forces must find better ways of cooperating.  The trade union movement must play a major role – its position as a social partner, as the largest organisation representing workers, and as the organisation within the left with the greatest resources - mean that it has a great responsibility.  We welcome the efforts by those in trade union movement who challenge the neo-liberal consensus through their economic analysis and alternative policies.  If the left is to produce the type of detailed economic policies necessary to provide a credible alternative, then the trade unions must increase their efforts in this area. 


The Labour Party, as the largest political force on the broad left, also has a duty to stand up for workers.  The likelihood is that it will play a decisive role in the formation of the next government.  The fate of the Green Party should be a warning to it.  It must not allow the attractions of power to cause it to acquiesce in a government that attacks the living conditions of workers and destroys public services.  Instead, we need a left that pushes relentlessly its own vision of a better society – a secular society; a society where the state invests heavily in a concerted programme of job creation in state-owned enterprises; where laws and policies are made in the interests of the people; and where an integrated public transport policy ensures that commuters can get where they need to go, and that the environment is protected at the same time.  None of this can happen with a government committed to private enterprise.


The need for Left Unity is perhaps even more critical in Northern Ireland.  Eleven years after the Belfast agreement politics have become even more sterile and locked into sectarian isolation. At the recent European election the turnout was less than 50% - where often in the past a turnout approaching 80% could be expected. There was no progressive candidate. This situation demands innovation and energy from the left.


Of course we will be back on the streets very shortly. The Lisbon Treaty re-run is scheduled for October 2nd this year. This is an insult to the Irish people.


We express bitter disappointment at the cowardice demonstrated by Taoiseach Brian Cowen in failing to defend the democratic decision of the Irish people and in accepting a deal in Brussels which is no more than a promise of a promise.


In June 2008 the Irish people massively and democratically rejected the Lisbon Treaty. During that campaign we raised many serious issues about the ending of Irish military neutrality, about the militarisation of the EU and the promotion of the international arms trade within the EU, about the common foreign and security policy and about structured co-operation. Each of those issues are very serious in their own right and raise fundamental questions of democracy.


The Brussels’s deal not only refuses to confront the real question, but raises complete red herrings. The deal makes a song and dance about the "threat of conscription" being ended. This was never an issue raised by the NO campaign.


When the PR gloss from this deal is stripped away the Irish people will recognise that the commitment of Merkel, Berlusconi and Sarkozy to the militarisation of the EU remains undiminished; that their commitment to tie the EU even closer to the nuclear armed NATO remains; and their commitment to allow the EU to intervene in 3rd countries remains. They will further realise that the EU led attack on jobs, attack on wages; attack on democracy; and attack on social services remains unabated. This is exactly what we rejected in 2008, and I am convinced that in October the people will deliver the same answer.


The Ryan Report on Institutional Child Abuse was published in mid May. Despite the fact that the report was published in the middle of a major election campaign it dominated all headlines and continues to make headlines. The march of Solidarity with the Victims of Abuse, on Wednesday 10th June in Dublin, was a hugely emotional affair and gathered at least 7,000 participants.


Why is this issue important for the Workers’ Party? On a very basic level it affects some of our members. On a personal basis I know five members / very close supporters who were incarcerated in Industrial Schools. On a political basis the report raises huge issues for debate and possibilities for political action. The report shows very clearly the historical collusion between the Catholic Church, the ISPCC, the Judiciary, the Dept of Education and the medical profession.


While in some areas the situation has moved forward, in other aspects the situation has not changed one iota. Even when the state has put child protection structures or regulations in place the reality is often that they are not working. There is a serious lack of social workers available in the HSE to deal with referrals. The absence of 24 hour social work call has been highlighted in recent tragedies. A serious and growing problem is the almost total lack of child psychiatric services in the state.  The Education and Welfare Board, for example, is not effective and is seen as a waste of time and money by most teachers and Boards of Management.


The HSE child care and fostering system is a shambles.  It is a fact that every night in Dublin teenagers, and even children as young as 11 or 12, who have been loose on the streets all day congregate in city centre Garda Stations like Store Street and Pearse St. At about 8.00pm the HSE duty social worker arrives and collects the number of these children for whom there are hostel beds available. The remainder of the kids bunk down in sleeping bags on the floor of the foyer of these stations. These are modern day scandals and must be tackled.


Church influence, while not as overt as in the 1940s or ‘50s, still continues. Education, in the Republic, at first and second level is still dominated by the Roman Catholic church; the colleges of education which produce primary teachers are either RC or Church of Ireland. The only exception is the graduate programme of Hibernia College. There are approximately 3,200 primary schools - over 3,000 of which are Catholic. In the North the sectarian divide in education remains undiminished. We must campaign as a party, as a youth movement, and as part of a great broad campaign to open up society and to liberate the country from the continuing cloak of theocracy. This is one of the best opportunities we will ever get to open this debate.


The Workers’ Party believes in a society where citizens are free to practise their religious beliefs subject to respect for the rights of others, to change their religious affiliation or to choose not to hold any religious belief. No church or religious belief should be endorsed or conferred with any special rights or privileged position by the state. Politicians, elected to public office, should not use that office to endorse or express religious views or preferences in the course of their public duties.


The Workers’ Party demands complete separation between church and state and by that we mean there is no place for the special position of any church, denomination or religious belief in the public life or institutions of the state. The Workers’ Party is committed to the primacy of a secular democratic society based on principles of equality and justice and supports the need to defend the state against all those who seek privileges and special treatment on the grounds of their religious belief, whatever that belief.


The Workers’ Party believes that it is the duty of the state to create public institutions and spaces which are religiously neutral and this includes schools, hospitals and places of work. Faith based schools, of whatever religion, serve to divide youth and foster difference. All children should be educated through and in a properly integrated system of education. The state should abolish religious declarations and oaths for public positions including e.g. the office of President and judges in the republic, with immediate effect and should be constantly vigilant against any church-state agreement or arrangement which might attempt to impose a position on political decision-making. 


We come to Bodenstown today to reiterate our commitment to the revolutionary republican tradition inaugurated by the United Irishmen.  That tradition has several core components – it is democratic, secular, socialist and internationalist.  The United Irishmen were part of a broader international movement - that had as its aim greater human freedom and social justice - just as we are today.  The last quarter of the eighteenth century saw the beginning of modern politics with the American and French Revolutions which put government by the people, of the people and for the people on the political agenda for the first time.  Tom Paine was a central figure in the American Revolution, a member of the National Convention of the French Republic, and his Rights of Man distilled the principles of revolutionary democracy.  It was this work that inspired the United Irishmen – as Tone put it, Rights of Man was the ‘Koran of Belfast’.  Paine died 200 years ago this year.  As with Tone, when we look at Paine’s writings, at his secular democratic republicanism and his plans for a government that would ensure social justice, we see his continued relevance.  When sectarianism continues to shape life in Northern Ireland; when the votes of those of us who are neither unionist nor nationalist mean less than those who support the sectarian blocs; when working class schoolchildren will continue to be sacrificed to those of the middle class; when public services are under threat from a right-wing coalition representing the unionist and nationalist bourgeoisie; when our economic policy stresses call centres not high value, high skill jobs in public-owned businesses; then we see that we must continue to pursue the United Irishmen’s programme of the Unity of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter to create a government in the interests of the people of no property.  As we have fought sectarianism for 40 years we must now fight the newest offspring of sectarianism, racism – both north and south - which festers and bubbles at every level in society.


The left has an opportunity.  We in The Workers’ Party, with others, must grasp it.  As part of the New Departure of the 1960s, Cathal Goulding identified the need for republicans to engage on every front of the people’s struggles.  This remains the case today.  The struggle against capitalism in the conditions of the current crisis must be fought on every level.  At the economic level, to defend jobs and conditions, and to frustrate the efforts of multi-nationals to flee the country without proper compensation for workers, as has happened at Waterford Crystal and Visteon in Belfast.  At the ideological level, through Look Left and our other publications, especially the work of the Research Section, and in arguing our case in both old and new media, especially via the internet.  And at the political level, through building the Party, by becoming more active in our communities and workplaces, in recruiting new members – in short, through educating, agitating and organising.  As I said at the start, we have had a good year.  Let’s make the next one a better one.


Thank you comrades.         

Peace, Work, Democracy & Class Politics