Russell's legacy demands anti-sectarian struggle
Oration delivered at the 2012 Thomas Russell Commemoration on Saturday 17th November in Downpatrick, delivered by Sarah Kelly South Down.

Comrades, Friends and guests,


I would like to start by welcoming you all here today to commemorate Thomas Russell – the man from God knows where.


A large crowd gathered for the hanging of Thomas Russell on the morning of the 21st October 1803. Axe, knife, sawdust and a block lay nearby, for the traitor’s death included the severing of his head.


He was the quintessential United Irishman, from its foundation in 1791 to its last stand in 1803.


Thomas Russell was inspired by the French Revolution in 1789 and its ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity which led to the 1798 Irish revolutionaries calling for the unity of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter – and that is why we are here today.


It is sad to note that after 200 years we are still stained with gross sectarianism. Our young people still think and, tragically, act in terms of “them and us”. To overcome this we need to have a comprehensive assault on every aspect of sectarianism. What should this mean?


The Thomas Russell Society is convinced that this must mean the integration of all aspects of our life. There is no good reason, for example, to maintain a separate and conflicting education system. The few integrated schools that we have are functioning well and it is interesting, particularly here in Downpatrick, which we know most about, that parents are voting with their feet.


But that alone will not be enough. Daily life depends upon intermingling. Therefore we must insist that all future housing estates are integrated.


Although this today is a historical commemoration of a great patriot and his comrades, we cannot be blind to the massive unemployment of our youth and our society. As Hermann Hesse so brilliantly put it:  “We are being sucked dry by the vampires of finance”.  Democratic government is elected to serve the interests of all its citizens. But it is very clear that it is the interests of the avaricious banks and other financiers which are the prime concern of government. The destruction of society caused by the banks has created the worst depression since the 1920s. This must cease and we are ready to play our part in any struggle to negate the ravages of the banks.


In conclusion comrades, friends and guests, I would like to point out that there are other 1798 luminaries who are not commemorated. In particular, as a socialist and feminist, I would like to single out a truly inspiring woman, Mary Ann McCracken. Surely it is possible friends, to Commemorate Mary Ann at an annual, worthy commemoration. She is, to my mind, as great and significant as Krupskya, Lenin’s wife. If some Belfast committee were to undertake this, the Russell Society will lend them every support.


Thank you dear friends for your presence and attention.

Peace, Work, Democracy and Class Politics