31 August 2000 Edition
Twelfth Desmond Greaves Summer School
Irish Labour History Museum, Dublin
`Irish Republicanism in the New Century'
by Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan/Monaghan)
This weekend marked the occasion of the 12th Desmond Greaves Summer School at the Irish Labour History Museum in Dublin - ``Ireland's only critical political summer school.''
C. Desmond Greaves (1913 - 1988) was an Irish civil rights activist in London and editor of the Connolly Association newspaper, The Irish Democrat, from 1948 until his death 40 years later. A prolific writer as well as a political activist, his works include `The Life and Times of James Connolly', `Liam Mellows and the Irish Revolution', `Seán O'Casey - Politics and Art', Wolfe Tone and the Irish Nation', and `History of the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union'.
The Sinn Féin TD for Cavan/Monaghan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, gave one of the keynote addresses entitled `Irish Republicanism in the New Century', after which there was a lively two-hour question and answer session. Edited extracts of Ó Caoláin's remarks are reproduced here:
``Irish republicanism is based on a number of core principles which are as relevant today as they ever were:
i) The commitment to the sovereignty of the people, to democracy in its fullest sense;
ii) The commitment to the unity of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter and the rejection of sectarianism of any kind; and
iii) The commitment to the unity of this island and its people, national self-determination, an end to partition and the establishment of a sovereign 32-county republic.
The term `republicans' is often used in a narrow sense to describe members and supporters of Sinn Féin. I think a broader definition is required which embraces all who share our commitment to the complete freedom of the Irish people.
Through building political alliances, though dialogue and debate, through engagement with our political opponents and with our political enemies, republicans helped to chart a course out of armed conflict and towards the peaceful resolution of the causes of conflict. That is the basis of the peace process and of the Good Friday Agreement.
The Agreement is an historic compromise between nationalists, unionists, republicans, the British and Irish governments. It is surely not the Republic. But it is based on the principle of equality and it thus provides a route to further progress towards our republican objectives.
For the first time, unionists have begun to work with nationalists and republicans on the basis of equality. That is a hugely positive development which needs to be nurtured and progressed. The institutions established under the Agreement create an all-Ireland framework within which the common interests of all who share this country can be addressed. This too needs to be developed.
We must ensure that the Agreement does indeed provide the vehicle for real change.
The most immediate task in relation to the Agreement is to ensure that the RUC is consigned to the pages of history and that a new police service is established. The British Government must face down its securocrats and implement the Agreement. The RUC must go and it must be replaced with a police service that can have the support of all sections of the community.
The British army must dismantle its posts and barracks and leave Ireland for good.
Coalition in the 26 Counties
Successive governments in the 26 Counties have ignored the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil and have presided over an economy where profit comes before people and where the people's sovereignty over the wealth of the nation has been surrendered to multinational capital and to the European Union.
The challenge for `Irish Republicanism in the New Century' is to offer the alternative to the paralysis and the corruption among sections of the political elite in this state which has its roots in the cosy relationship between big business and the two major parties.
Given the record of this Fianna Fáil-dominated administration, it is very difficult to envisage circumstances in which the activists of Sinn Féin would vote to enter a coalition with them after the next general election.
And in many ways the speculation about coalition is a distraction. The greater task is to build Sinn Féin as a party which can provide the catalyst to end the domination of politics in this state by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael who, at the end of the day, are the most natural coalition partners.
The real coalition we need to build is between republicans in the broadest sense of the term and all those campaigning for real and lasting change in our country. We need a coalition of all those seeking an end to poverty and inequality through the sharing of the wealth in our economy. We need a coalition of people across sectarian and racial divisions and an end to racism and sectarianism in all their forms.
We need a coalition of those in rural and urban communities who have not been allowed to take full advantage of increased prosperity. We need a coalition of environmentalists who will make the aim of a green, clean Ireland a reality. We need a coalition of those who cherish Irish neutrality and the sovereignty of the Irish people and wish to see them enhanced and not eroded through the gradual creation of an EU super-state.
`Republicanism in the New Century' needs to embrace these diverse but progressive forces. It also needs to have a clear view of our place in the world. Are we to completely submerge Irish foreign policy within a giant EU state? Will we pursue an independent course, meeting as equals the poorer, formerly colonised nations with whom we have so much in common? Or will we help to exploit them as part of one of the world's economic and political power blocs?
To Irish republicans, the Republic has always meant more than a form of political administration. The vision of the Irish Republic that we seek encompasses all of Ireland and all of its people. It involves social and economic equality as well as political freedom. It values the Irish language and Irish culture and embraces cultural diversity in Ireland and internationally. Many people have sacrificed much to make this vision and this ideal a reality. Can we succeed? I believe we can. Pádraig Mac Piarias asked in his poem `The Fool':
``O wise men riddle me this: what if the dream come true? What if the dream come true? and if millions unborn shall dwell In the house that I shaped in my heart, the noble house of my thought?''
I believe that our children shall dwell in that Republic - your children, my children and, for the first time, all the children of the nation equally.''
The assault on Irish neutrality
Speaking at the Greaves Summer School, Professor John Maguire, former professor of Sociology at University College Cork, said:
``If a tribunal were established to look into Irish foreign policy and the creeping abandonment of neutrality, the disclosures would be even more appalling, and serious, than those currently rocking Dublin Castle. The misrepresentations, evasions and lack of accountability involved in this process mean that we are now on the brink of incorporation into a lawlessly aggressive European Union war-machine, in direct conflict with our superior obligations under our own Constitution and the United Nations Charter.
The greatest misrepresentation of all is the stereotyping of those who value and defend neutrality as isolationist and irresponsible. The central, core meaning of neutralitry - our duty to decide questions of peace and war, life and death, on their ethical merits case by case - is at least as relevant now as it was decades ago. The key question now about 1939-'45 is not whether we were right or wrong in the stance we adopted then, but whether we should have abandoned our right and obligation to decide our stance in the first place.
One of the key issues in the forthcoming referendum on closer EU military integration must be the glaring contradiction between the values and achievements of the Peace Process here in Ireland, and the readiness to abandon conflict-resolution for unauthorised armed aggression in Iraq, former Yugoslavia and elsewhere. The Kosovo-Serbia debacle, even the basis for which is now revealed as vastly distorted by NATO disinformation, involved a bombing campaign where well over half of all bombs missed their targets, and 89% of one category remain ``unaccounted for.''
It is hugely ironic that the alleged ``cure'' for this mayhem is being touted as Raytheon, the arms manufacturer currently being ushered into Derry as one of the first fruits of the ``peace dividend''. The solution to violence is to find means of preventing it, not to export it elsewhere. The only way to do this is to respect and fulfil our own responsibilitity as peace-keepers, under the aegis of a reformed and effective United Nations, which needs defence from the unceasing aggressiveness of NATO.''
Women want family-friendly policies
Sinn Féin National Womens' Forum Chair, Anne Speed was a featured speaker at this year's school. The panel on which Anne participated was Women in Ireland Today. Breda O'Brien of the Irish Times addressed the issue of the commercialization of children and Green Party MEP Patricia McKenna spoke about women in politics.
Anne Speed's presentation addressed the issue of women as a force in the workplace and in society. She traced the progress made by women over the last century in securing the rights to education, the vote, work and to control their own fertility. She went on to note that while these rights have been secured for women, the issue of equality remains centre stage.
Though equality in one sense means the absence of discrimination, ``treating people `equally' in a strict, narrow, legal sense of the word will not necessarily bring about equality in a more substantive sense, unless everyone is on that famous `level playing pitch' in the first place. To get them there involves a lot more than treating them equally once they have arrived there.''
As women have made significant advances within the political and economic sectors equality remains a major factor in the newest round of struggles facing women today. Issues such as the need for affordable childcare and eldercare; adequate healthcare; access to affordable housing; the improvement of women's pay and conditions of employment; and fair gender representation of women at all levels of the trade union movement and in politics need to be addressed on a much broader scale.
As of 1999, 63% of women aged 25-54 are now full time participants in the labour force and the rate is accelerating. This figure alone illustrates why affordable, quality childcare is such an urgent need.
But the above list does not address some of the other concerns in the battle for equality. The glass ceiling is still firmly in place in Ireland as is illustrated by the number of upper level leadership positions filled by women in the trade unions. ``Over 40% of the workforce is female and one third of the organised workforce is female. SIPTU alone represents 80,000 women.'' While there is a significant involvement of women in the rank and file and shop floor level of the trade unions, representation of women in positions of authority dramatically dwindle as you work your way up through trade union hierarchy. It is a critical issue demanding attention by trade union leadership across the country.
With more women entering the work force as a matter of course, employers are going to have no choice but to take on board the needs of this growing economic force. Family friendly policies will have to be implemented if women are to be expected to participate in the Celtic Tiger. Concluding her presentation, Speed pointed up the fact that as more women are empowered within the workforce, the demands from the Beijing Conference for governments to implement gender perspectives into all policies and programmes will turn ``from a global request into a local demand.''
It is on the local level, here in Ireland, that these demands must be met.