IRSP Oration – Seamus Costello Commemoration

Comrades and Friends,

It is both an honour and a privilege to address you here today on behalf of the IRSP. The work of Seamus Costello is something that I admire greatly. On a personal level, the life and contribution of Seamus played a significant part in my joining of the IRSP. This is no doubt true of many of you here today. Like many other revolutionaries in Irish history , Seamus not only inspired people in his generation, but continues to inspire many after his death. It should give us strength and confidence to know that our path was once worn by a man of his calibre, and in the following of his example, we know the cause of freedom in this country is safe.

Seamus once said that his own county was like Ireland in miniature, that it faced all the problems common to the nation as a whole, such as the plight of poor small farmers, inadequate housing and a depressed standard of living for industrial workers. Decades on, in the midst of an economic crisis, so little has changed. On a national level we see soaring debt, mass unemployment, thousands sleeping on our streets with many more on housing lists, the driving down of wages and much more hardships just around the corner as we await the next savage budget. All these realities, imposted on us by our ruling elite, cannot be considered outside the context of the billions of our money that is being used to keep afloat a failed and inept banking system, or the handing over of the nation’s natural resources to a transnational corporation. The capitalist system is stumbling from crisis to crisis and as we can see through the actions of the government, rather than seeing this flawed system break they are determined to bring working class families to breaking-point.

The actions of a few privileged individuals no doubt played their part in the current crisis. However, is it not convenient for Fianna Fáil and the Green Party to see the media vilify certain individuals, who although were part of the process, were merely the faces of something that goes much deeper than a couple of rogue bankers. The same inept journalists and economists, who failed to blow the whistle on what was developing in Ireland and who were thus complicit in the crash, have failed to learn their lesson. There is no use scratching the surface, what we have seen in Ireland is the systemic flaws inherent to capitalism. Changes on a cosmetic level cannot rectify these flaws, what we need to see is the total uprooting of the current order of things, and its replacement with a system that is compatible with the needs of the Irish people as a whole, and which works for the common good. Unfortunately many on the left are also guilty of a cosmetic analysis that often amounts to little more than sloganising. The IRSP is not going to occupy this populist ground, saturated by those content to refrain from offering a comprehensive analysis in the hope of gaining short-term popularity. The problems in Irish society are rooted deeply in the capitalist system and thus it is at that level that our work must begin. Adding credence to the populist media outrage against certain individuals is not helpful, it only serves to distract people from the true underlying causes of this crisis.

It is true to say that this government has mimimal public endorsement, and this has been the case for some time. Why do the Irish people have to endure this sad excuse for a government, and may have to until 2012? This so-called ‘democracy’ has shown itself up to be nothing of the sort. This government was elected on a false premise, and the Irish people have been burdened with it for 5 years with absolutely no right of recall. Again, throughout this crisis the media have failed to take the step from criticising the government, to asking why exactly no mechanism exists within the machinery of the state for the Irish people to express their disapproval and remove the current adminstration from office. It seems everything can be questioned, but the system itself. The political debate in Ireland needs to be widened from who would be better, either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, two near identical parties, to one where we openly assess all aspects of the system in this country. What we need is an extension of democracy, and not just in the political sphere, but in the economic one also. The active participation of the Irish working class in the decision making processes of this country is an absolute necessity and it is only through this that we can ensure that aberrations like the property bubble never arise again. That is where the only alternative lies, it is certainly not with the power-hungry careerism of the mainstream ‘leftist’ opposition parties, currently clamouring to jump into bed with the right.

North of the border the situation is little better. What we now see is a model of governance that reduces democracy to a sectarian headcount. Sectarianism has been institutionalised in the North, with issues like class and social inequality now subordinate to ethnicity and the division of workers along artificial lines. Rather than one set of elites in the North, we now have two. As always, it is the working class on both sides of the divide who suffer the consequences of this in their daily lives. The impending cuts hanging over working people, imposed by a Conservative-led adminstration in London with absolutely no mandate from the people in the North, will no doubt have a devastating effect on their living standards. Such instances are merely reflective of the severe democratic deficit that exists in the North. We are now bracing ourselves for increased unemployment and poverty as well as drastic cutbacks in essential services like health and education. The hypocrisy of those who will be implementing these cuts in Ireland on behalf of the British government, while simultaneously taking to the streets in insincere protest, has not been lost on us. Needless to say, we uttlerly condemn these cuts and those who will be presiding over them. If you think such a stance is revolutionary, or aids the cause of working class liberation in Ireland one iota, well then you are sadly mistaken.

It is during strenuous times like these that the leadership qualities of someone like Seamus Costello cannot be underestimated. Seamus was instrumental in the re-allignment of the republican movement along socialist lines, and while so many were veering off course towards empty nationalism or reformism, he offered clear leadership on the revolutionary way forward. He owed his allegiance to no party or organisation, but to the working class. While principled, he was never politically sectarian, and was a strong advocate of the broad front in approaching the national and class questions. This is something the left in Ireland today should take note of. While some are content with being big fish in their small pond as working class people suffer, Seamus Costello always fought in the interests of working people solely. To him, they were more important than ego or petty dogma. And much like Seamus did during his life, the IRSP rejects any so-called socialist that neglects the fact Ireland is still occupied by an imperialist power because it is expedient for them to do so. British intervention in this country remains the principle source of division between working class people in the North, it is the source of the sectarianism now perpetuated by the Stormont adminstration and must be removed in the course of establishing socialism on this island.

Comrades, although today is a day of great sadness, where we remember the death of the founder of our movement and the greatest socialist of his generation, it is also a time for assessment. As you all know, Seamus Costello worked tirelessly throughout his life to achieve one goal, a 32 County Socialist Republic. He did not suffer fools or half-hearted effort easily. I ask those here today, and those who may later read this speech, to assess their own work over the past year, and to ask yourself if you could have given more. If the answer is yes, then from today, set about rectifying that. As another revolutionary once said, we have absolutely no right to believe that freedom can be won without struggle. We are now entering another phase of the struggle. Past failures and excuses will no longer be good enough. Ultimately, as those who knew Seamus Costello will tell you, the only tribute to him he would have valued would not be a monument or commemoration, but by doing everything in your power to bring about what he strived, and in the end gave his life for, the ideal of a 32 County Socialist Republic, free from imperialism and capitalist domination. This time next year, when we once again march to the grave of Seamus Costello, let us be one step closer to that goal.

– Ross McNamee