Cill Dara Shinn Féin Poblachtach

Ireland in the fight against imperialism

The following is the full text from a talk given by Des Dalton, Vice-President Republican Sinn Féin. The talk was given in the context of a solidarity event in Manorhamilton, Co. Leitrim on Friday 17th October 2008.

IRISH Republicanism has always been internationalist both in its origins and its world view. It is in itself a tradition inspired in the late 18th century by the most progressive elements of the American revolutionary movement, in particular Thomas Paine and his enunciation of the ‘Rights of Man’. It could be said that the French Revolution of 1789 was the spark that finally lit the fuse of revolutionary Republicanism in Ireland. Seeking aid from the Revolutionary French Directory for insurrection in Ireland Theobald Wolfe Tone and the leaders of the Society of United Irishmen very much viewed Ireland’s war with England in the context of the revolutionary wave sweeping Europe.

But Irish Republicans did not merely seek financial or military aid abroad for the struggle at home they also took back with them ideas and inspiration from international revolutionary thinking. Indeed the Irish national flag was inspired by the French tricolour, and the Young Irelanders who fled to France in the aftermath of the 1848 rising were shaped by the influences and ideas which they came in contact with. These influences were to be subsequently found in the writings and the programme of the Fenian Movement.

The Irish fight for independence has always had a pivotal place in the international anti-colonial struggle; it has inspired revolutionaries and movements throughout the world. The life writings and heroic death of Terence MacSwiney inspired revolutionaries throughout the world, including Mahatma Ghandi in India. His collected writings ‘Principles of Freedom’ were published in English in Madras in 1922 and up to 1944 was translated into various vernacular languages within India. Egyptian nationalists hung a large portrait of Mac Swiney on the banks of the Nile, whilst Vietnamese revolutionary Ho Chi Minh famously walked away from his job as a dish washer in a London hotel in order to attend the funeral of MacSwiney.

Sixty one years later the hunger strikes in the H Blocks of Long Kesh and in particular the death of Bobby Sands sparked protests and mass rallies throughout the world, with streets being named in honour of Sands, in Paris and famously in Teheran, where the Iranians renamed the street on which the British embassy was housed. In the 1920s the British banned the writings of Padráig Pearse such was their fear of the influence they might have. In the 1950s Irish Republican prisoners imprisoned in British prisons came in contact with fellow political prisoners from the EOKA independence movement then locked in combat against British occupation of Cyprus.

In the foreword to his recently published book telling the story of this amazing episode in revolutionary history, Vias Livadas summed up the importance of the bond forged within those British prison walls: “I aim to show that EOKA and the IRA were not merely internal affairs for their countries, but a wider revolutionary effort that is recorded among international liberation movements.” He goes on: “I want to clarify that these are not just ordinary relationships, but long lasting and true friendship, built upon the solid ground of common goals, ideological convictions and deep concern for human values everywhere.”

The worldview of Irish Republicans has always been one of solidarity for anti-colonial or anti-imperialist struggle; we have consistently campaigned against any Irish involvement in imperial wars of conquest, from the Boer War in the late 19th and early 20th Century, the First World War, Connolly defined participation in that war as “to slaughter our comrades abroad at the dictate of our enemies at home”. To those who wished to fight he urged: “ If ever you shoulder a rifle, let it be for Ireland”.

In 1991 Republican Sinn Féin were the first to protest at the use of Shannon by US warplanes bound for the US led Gulf War. We have taken our place in the anti-war movement in opposing the blatant breach of Irish neutrality by the Dublin administration in supporting the illegal Anglo/US led war and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Our solidarity has brought Republicans in contact with revolutionary movements of national liberation from throughout the world. In the Basque Country, links where established from the early 1970s, Catalonia, Corsica amongst others. Of course relations were also established with our sister Celtic countries in Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany, the goal of a league of free and independent Celtic nations is one which Irish Republicans would aspire to.

The Palestinian people have suffered under the yoke of imperialism for centuries; they too have experienced to their cost the duplicity of the British. Aggravating the situation in the Middle East the British promised national independence if they moved against the occupying Turkish Ottoman Empire. In 1917 the British in their infamous ‘Balfour Declaration’ promised the Jewish people their own state. Indeed Arthur Balfour was only too well known in Ireland. As Chief Secretary he become known for his “ exceptionally ruthless and consistent use of coercion” (FSL Lyons) during the Land War of the 1880s, the reputation of ‘Bloody Balfour’ was cemented in the eyes of the Irish people following the ‘Mitchelstown massacre’ in September 1887 in which three people were shot dead by the RIC.

Over the course of the next 90 years the Palestinian people have endured total war, enforced land clearance and exile. As people and a nation their very existence has been denied. Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir remarked: “It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.” Under the patronage and protection of the US Israel has waged what can only be described as total war on the entire population resulting in the deaths of thousand of men women and children.

Over the years Israel have used illegal settlements to steal more and more of the Palestinian national territory, the intention of course is to make an independent Palestinian state unviable, reducing it to the status of little more than a reservation or dependent territory of Israel. Today enforced Partition of the Palestinian state dividing Gaza from the West Bank and the attempt to drive a wedge between the Palestinian people is part of this process. The population of Gaza have effect interned, deprived of the most basic services such as adequate and clean water, electricity supply, medicines and medical supplies. The situation in Gaza is nothing short of a war crime and gross violation of human rights.

Since the early 1970s RSF and the Republican Movement have consistently and actively expressed their support for the right of the Palestinian people to nationhood. At the UN Habitat conference in Vancouver, Canada held in May/June 1976 Republican leaders such as Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Sean Keenan met with the representatives of national liberation movements from around the world. In discussions with representatives of the PLO, those representatives said that the preferred solution was a unitary state encompassing people of all denominations, religions and faiths, but failing that a viable and independent Palestinian state was the only basis for a sustainable and permanent settlement.

In May this year members of RSF travelled to Palestine. The purpose of their trip was to gather first hand information on the conditions on the ground with a view to raising awareness in Ireland, complimenting the work of groups like the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign. But the visit also as an act of solidarity with a people and a nation who like Ireland continue to suffer occupation and partition.

Whilst on an international level each nation has its own distinct history and each political situation brings its own set of particular circumstances and objective conditions. Certain general principles apply:

1. The right of a people to national independence,
2. The right of a people to resist in arms the occupation of their national territory and defend their right to national self-determination,
3. The defence and protection of each peoples cultural and linguistic rights.
4. The right of each nation to formulate and pursue a policy of neutrality independent of power blocs or ‘spheres of influence’.

It is agreement and active support for these principles which is the basis of true internationalism.

In Ireland today we continue to suffer partition and British occupation, the Stormont and St Andrews Agreements simply update and restructure British rule in Ireland, but leaving in place the cause of war and conflict in our country, British occupation and partition. This can only be addressed by British disengagement from Ireland allowing all of the Irish people acting as a unit to determine their future as an independent nation. But the struggle does not end there, like Connolly we believe that Ireland without her people means nothing. For that reason Republicans are to be found in the Trade Union movement defending and fighting for proper pay and conditions for all workers, opposing the use of Irish airports or airspace by US warplanes, waging war on the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. Opposing the creation of an undemocratic and militarised EU superstate, the defeat of the Lisbon Treaty was a victory, but the war remains to be fought, we must resist any attempt as seems very likely by the political elite both at home and in Brussels to railroad the Irish people into an EU superstate. Almost 100 years after the First World War, is yet another generation of Irish people to be sacrificed on foreign battlefields in the interests of European capitalism and imperialism?

The struggle for a free Ireland also involves standing shoulder to shoulder with the people of Rosspost and Erris in opposing the theft of our natural resources by global capitalism, with collusion of the Dublin administration. We applaud the actions of Maura Harington and her community in defending the rights of all of the Irish people to the ownership of our natural resources.

As Maura stated at the end of her ten-day hunger strike: “Corrib remains a national issue because the Government continues to put the profits of Shell before the needs of the Irish people… Until we the people benefit from what is rightfully ours, any attempt to extricate Shell and the Government (sic) from the mess that is Corrib remains doomed to failure… I believe that the Shell to Sea campaign gives hope to all who strive for an Ireland that cherishes all its people equally and upholds values that don’t carry a price tag.” For people like Maura Harrington the words of the 1916 Proclamation are not a mere aspiration but to be acted upon and made a living reality

Writing recently in the New York Times Noam Chomsky had this to say about bring about radical change: “consistently over the centuries, progressive legislation and social welfare have been won by popular struggles, not gifts from above.
“Those struggles follow a cycle of success and setback. They must be waged every day, not just once every four years, always with the goal of creating a genuinely responsive democratic society, from the voting booth to the workplace.”

The neo-liberal economic agenda pursued so vigorously Fianna Fáil and the soon to be disbanded PDs views people as cogs in the wheels of the economy rather that the economy as being there to serve the needs of society, in terms providing people with viable income, housing, schools hospitals and social services. This is evident in the recent 26-County Buget targets those who profited least from the so-called ‘Celtic Tiger’ of the past ten years whilst those who profited most go largely unscathed. The Dublin administration’s neo-liberal economics coupled with a cosy relationship with developers and the banks resulted in a free for all of easy credit, massive debt and huge profits for a minority. Now that the house of cards has collapsed tax payers money is being used to bail out the banks without any regulation and it is working people who are being forced to foot the bill.

Republican Sinn Féin’s vision as set out in our social and economic programme SAOL NUA and our programme for maximum devolution of power and decision making, bringing power to the people EIRE NUA, is for a New Ireland of real political and economic democracy, a truly Democratic Socialist Republic.

Our definition of the All-Ireland Republic would be that of Connolly: “...Of such a character that the mere mention of its name would serve as a beacon light to the oppressed of every land…the Irish Republic might be made a word to conjure with – a rallying point for the disaffected, a haven for the oppressed, a point of departure for the Socialist, enthusiastic in the cause of human freedom.” Truly such a Republic is one worth fighting for!

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