Tuesday, May 12, 2015

James Connolly Commemoration: Government being dishonest on economic choices

The life and death of James Connolly is a story of heroism in the struggle against injustice and inequality.
Connolly was born in 1868 into a poor family in an Irish ghetto in Edinburgh. 

He was a self-educated man whose contribution to Ireland and to Irish labour is unequalled. 

Connolly first came to Ireland as a member of the British Army. Aged 14, he forged documents to enlist to escape poverty and was posted to Cork, Dublin and later the Curragh in Kildare.

Here in Dublin Connolly met Lillie Reynolds and they married in 1890.

First and foremost Connolly was a workers' leader. In 1911 he was appointed Belfast organiser of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union.

He organised the workers of Belfast, and especially the linen slaves - those thousands of young women who worked in hellish conditions in the Mills which were the backbone of Belfast’s economy.

In the years before the 1916 Rising, Connolly was central to a wave of strikes across Ireland designed to improve working conditions and wages.

The Great Lockout of 1913, here in the city of Dublin, is still recalled as one of the greatest battles between Labour and workers anywhere.

This was an epic struggle in which the Dublin bosses and owner of the Irish Independent newspaper, William Martin Murphy, set out to crush the workers and their organisations. 

Eventually the Dublin workers were starved back to work. But Connolly remained defiant and continued to organise and mobilize.

Out of the Lockout emerged the Irish Citizen Army. Its task was to defend workers against the brutal attacks of police and hired thugs of the employers.

Connolly saw the Citizen Army not only as a defence force, but as a revolutionary army, dedicated to the overthrow of capitalism and imperialism.

When Connolly entered into an alliance with the IRB to participate in the 1916 Easter Rising, during the 1916 Rising he was the Commandant General of the Dublin Division of the Army of the Irish Republic – and the man whom Pearse described as ‘the guiding brain of our resistance’. 

Connolly died fighting to establish a republic on this island in which the people were sovereign and citizens would be ensured their fundamental rights. 

He was one of signatories of the 1916 Proclamation which guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens.

It contains a commitment to cherish all the children of the nation equally. Sadly, real equality does not exist in this society.

Partition created two conservative states, administered by two elites who entrenched their own power and privilege to the detriment of ordinary citizens.

While the North became a one-party Orange State, the South has been run since Partition by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, often with the support of the Labour Party.

The result has been the perpetuation of inequality and conservatism and the continued division of Ireland.

Following the calamity of the economic crash under the last Fianna Fáil-led Government, a Fine Gael/Labour coalition assumed office with a huge mandate for political change.

But as citizens have learned to their cost, nothing has changed.

According to the most recent CSO figures the top 10% own over half of the wealth while the poorest 20% own more than they own. 

According to the ESRI, only the top 40% of households actually benefited from the last Budget with the greatest benefits going to the top 10%.

Fine Gael and Labour’s four Budgets have been the most unfair and unequal since the economic crash.

There has been a huge growth in social inequality.

A third of our children now live in consistent poverty. 

Over 1,000 children are homeless in this city.

Low and middle-income earners have been severely penalised by Fine Gael and Labour.

The abolition of the PRSI ceiling, increase in VAT, the introduction of a Family Home Tax and Water Charge have significantly increased the tax bill of ordinary workers.

The abject failure to do anything practical to alleviate the plight of those in mortgage distress or those struggling with spiralling rents has further increased financial pressure on ordinary families.

These are the same damaging policies agreed by Fianna Fáil with the Troika in 2010 and implemented by Fine Gael and Labour since 2011.

These policies have already led to massive emigration and an increase in low-paid and insecure jobs.

They have accelerated the crises in our health, education and community services.

But there is a better, fairer way.

Sinn Féin advocates a reform of the tax system to ease the burden on low and middle-income earners while also increasing revenue to invest in a fair and just recovery.

In Government Sinn Féin would do this by:

● Abolishing the Property Tax and Water Charges;

● Reforming the USC to ease the burden on lower earners;

● Ensuring high-earners pay their fair share of income tax;

● Increasing employer’s PRSI to address the deficit in the Social Insurance Fund;

● Introducing a wealth tax to generate funds for investment in job creation.

Sinn Féin passionately believes that the economy must serve society, not the other way around. We would introduce measures to support and promote small and medium enterprises.

We believe that citizens are entitled to secure jobs with decent pay and conditions, adequate housing and quality public services.

Fine Gael and Labour are perpetuating a lie that it is possible to reduce the overall tax take while increasing investment in frontline services.

This approach means that high-earners will be the winners while those on low and middle incomes and citizens most dependent on public services will lose out yet again.

Sinn Féin’s economic alternative offers a route to a fair recovery. Our politics are about empowering citizens on the basis of equality.

Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party seek to limit the possibilities of political engagement. 

Unlike Connolly, they have no over-arching vision of a better society which politics and democracy can bring about. 

It was James Connolly who coined the phrase ‘We serve neither King nor Kaiser but Ireland.’  

Such clear sighted comment has no place in today’s Labour leadership. 

They capitulated to the elites of the EU, to the Troika, to the bankers and the golden circles and forced working people to bear the burden for this indulgence. 

It is appropriate on Connolly's anniversary that we welcome the 'Policy Principles for a Progressive Irish Government' published on May Day by the unions affiliated to the Right to Water Campaign.

These Principles are very much in line with the rights advocated by Sinn Féin for many years.

We welcome this initiative and look forward to engaging in the debate in the weeks ahead.

But debate is not enough. We need to see tangible progress to make change happen. 

Citizens desperately need, for the first time ever in this State, a Government that is not led by Fine Gael nor by Fianna Fáil.

More than that, they need a progressive Government that will pursue real and viable alternative policies based on equality not austerity, rights not privilege and that will govern in the interests of the people and not the elites.

We need to show that those policies are workable and can yield actual results that will make a difference in the lives of people.

Like Connolly, we need to be both practical and visionary.

James Connolly declared that ‘the cause of labour is the cause of Ireland and the cause of Ireland is the cause of labour’.

For Connolly, socialism and national self-determination were two sides of the same coin.

In the recent Westminster elections Sinn Féin was confronted by a reactionary alliance of Tories, unionists and the Orange Order determined to halt political and social progress.

The newly re-elected Tory Government in London is wedded to austerity and this presents severe challenges for society and citizens in the North.

These include the threat of more destructive cuts to the North's budget and to the social welfare system as well as a referendum that could remove the North from the EU with obvious negative effects for all the people of this island.

It is now clearer than ever that austerity is the price of the Union.

Sinn Féin's immediate focus is to work with others to confront these challenges.

We are seeking to develop an All-Ireland alternative to the reactionary politics that has long dominated both states.

Austerity must be actively opposed no matter if it's from a Tory Government in London or a Fine Gael/Labour Party government in Dublin.

The Marriage Equality referendum on 22nd May is another opportunity to advance the cause of equality in Ireland.

Sinn Féin has been running a strong, positive campaign for a 'Yes' vote.

Every vote will count. So, I would also appeal again for everyone to join the campaign for a Yes Vote.

Kathleen Funchion, a young mother and trade unionist, is also contesting the Carlow/Kilkenny by-election under Sinn Féin's banner of equality, social justice and Irish unity.

Kathleen is in the by-election to win and such a result would be a huge boost for the cause of a fair recovery.

Sinn Féin is seeking to build an unstoppable momentum for positive political change across this island.

I am mindful also that today, the anniversary of Connolly’s execution, is also the anniversary of the death on hunger strike of Francis Hughes in the H Blocks of Long Kesh in 1981.

Those of us who were privileged to know Francie or who campaigned during that awful summer on behalf of the H Block prisoners and the Armagh women are very mindful of their sacrifices. 

We are also mindful that Francie, like James Connolly was about the future.  

So my friends let us continue to work to build a better future based on fairness, equality and peoples’ rights.

That will be the only fitting monument to James Connolly.

A real republic.

Go raibh maith agaibh go léir.


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