Sean Doyle on Seamus Costello
by Sean Doyle
(The following is the opening address delivered last October 22 (2011) by Sean Doyle, a veteran socialist-republican, former comrade of Seamus Costello, and member of the Independent Workers Union, Clann éirígí and the Seamus Costello Memorial Committee to the committee’s annual Costello commemoration. The meeting was held in Newtownmountkennedy in Co. Wicklow):
On behalf of The Costello Memorial Committee I want to warmly welcome you all here tonight to our annual Seamus Costello commemoration. As we have other guest speakers here tonight I will confine myself to this brief tribute.
Thirty-four years ago at the age of only 38 Seamus was murdered by an instructed assassin under orders. This I believe deprived Ireland and the working people of the most able revolutionary figure since James Connolly. I am not alone in this assessment. As years go by more people have come to realise his contribution and commitment to building a revolutionary movement in the Tone, Lalor, and Connolly vision.
I have no doubt as young leaders will emerge in the revolutionary tradition to take up the challenge to inspire and guide people’s empowerment, they will find inspiration as I did and still do in Costello, as he did in Connolly.
This is not to idolise or, for that matter, patronise. But to recognise their strength and commitment to share their inspirational goal of freedom and above all their infectious ability of empowerment. But what these men came to represent, through their analysis of the past and lessons learned, was their ability to adapt revolutionary tactics for their day and share their vision for tomorrow. Mindful of the fact we are our own jailers, only through inspiration and guidance will we find the key to freedom.
Seamus Costello was the leading figure, after Operation Harvest, in the Republican Movement to work tirelessly to convince the leadership of the absolute necessity of the two-strand approach: The National Question and The Class Struggle as the two strands of the one struggle. But the blinkered men did not have the vision of Costello and ignored Connolly at their peril.
“Although a body aiming primarily at economic change, at social revolution, yet whenever a blow is to be struck for freedom – national or social, political or economic – there you will find the Socialist Republicans, ready and willing to fight. Our warfare against the domestic exploitation does not diminish our hatred of the foreign tyrant” (Costello). The blinkered men obviously could not distinguish between revolutionary and reformist after all their theory. In practice their fear of the latter meant Seamus Costello and those who shared his vision had powerful opposition which galvanised him into proving in practice in Wicklow what could be achieved nationally.
From 1962 Seamus and a few comrades set about their task with such enthusiasm throughout the county organising meetings at every parish pump 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It was unprecedented, only previously experienced on the eve of an election, not to be seen again until the next election. That was the norm of political activity of the establishment parties. But also what stood out from the norm was Seamus’ insistence of engagement of people collectively to fight for their rights with his total commitment and support a crucial factor in empowerment, instilling a confidence and a sense of achievement, a hands-on approach never to return to dependence or accept less than your rights.
He travelled the county talking and listening to people air their grievances. Then he would simply ask after Joe or Joan had finished, “do other people in your community have similar problems?” He would then suggest that they call a meeting which he would attend and support whatever course of action they were prepared to institute after their debate. He was always mindful that in the final analysis people collectively had the strength and power to demand change which he would support and facilitate.
There are numerous examples of how he deployed his revolutionary philosophy to meet the requirements of day-to-day issues and he seized every opportunity to expand on his vision of a 32-County Socialist Republic. Seamus was mindful of Connolly’s criticism of gas-and-water socialists in a campaign across religious lines in Belfast to install gas and water in the houses. Their approach was that you work on the issue and say nothing of your long-term objectives. Connolly strongly rejected this as dishonest. Seamus encountered similar approaches in his time and he referred to these as ring road socialists. True revolutionaries never cease attempting to debate and prefer their alternative to this failed and corrupt system. Seamus was completely committed to this approach and anyone who came in contact with him will verify this.
In 1954 there was no Republican structure whatsoever in County Wicklow. Seamus makes reference to this in one of his lectures. But he also points out the positive aspects. He would be starting from scratch without hindrance from the old approach which he was convinced was dated. Wicklow was his opportunity and he relished the challenge to demonstrate the imperative of the class struggle as the embodiment of the national struggle. One nation, one people, one freedom. Ireland can never be free until her people are free. No-one can bestow freedom. It has to be won. Until her people revolt she cannot be free.
Seamus first tasted success at the ballot box in the local Bray and Wicklow County Council elections which were held simultaneously on the 28thof June 1967, five years after Operation Harvest had ended and the commencement of class politics as the vital second strand in building a revolutionary movement in County Wicklow. While recognising the first attempt made in modern times to re-establish the movement in Wicklow was in 1954, the last period during which organised Republicanism existed in Wicklow was for a short period after the civil war. The difficult years between ’54 and ’62, while numbers were small and some were imprisoned during Operation Harvest, set the scene for a total review and re-think in which Seamus was to the fore in convincing comrades of the twin approach.
Throughout our history, as Connolly noted, we were deluded into believing that national freedom would automatically secure social freedom. “Let us free Ireland. Never mind such base, carnal thoughts as concern work and wages, healthy homes, our lives unclouded by poverty” (Connolly).
Seamus exuded a confidence in his belief in people as the ultimate power to decide their own destiny. He saw our task and his to convince by demonstration through involvement in issues on a day-to-day basis with people collectively cooperating, always emphasising that strength is in unity and they too tasted victory on many issues such as housing, housing repairs, water supplies, bus services, local employment etc. Seamus saw these steps as confidence-building towards the full realisation of the power people possess. After all, nothing can move or happen, the country would come to a standstill, without the cooperation of people. They just haven’t realised it yet.
When he was elected to the Bray Urban District Council and Wicklow County Council in 1967 he insisted provisions be made in the public gallery for delegations from the community when their grievances were being debated so they could see firsthand how their council representatives were performing. This proved very uncomfortable for the nods and winks brigade and thus further weakened peoples’ confidence in parliamentary politics and affirmed the need to build an alternative. Seamus always said we must expose the myth of representation at every opportunity as the first step towards a unified rejection of the status quo.
Seamus believed in giving leadership in the council chamber and on the streets. The chamber was a platform which he availed of every chance that presented an opportunity to advocate revolutionary politics. He dedicated his total abilities to converse and convey, to foster and develop, the realisation of who held the ultimate power to bring about change. It was and still is the ordinary people of Ireland with one proviso: we must overcome division, gone must be those whom unless they control and dominate they won’t participate. It is surely a contradiction. How can they profess to be freedom fighters and still be obsessed with control? Connolly said: “We are all secondary to the cause of freedom”. Seamus Costello said: “I owe my allegiance to the working class”. Seamus showed by example that flag-waving is no substitute for hard work.
From 1962 to his two council seats in 1967 was proof absolute that working within the communities with people, assisting them to achieve their previously denied basic human rights, had strengthened their resolve and rejuvenated a spirit of unity and a sense of confidence. These were crucial building blocks for future challenges. He continued with this total time-absorbing but nevertheless fruitful work for the next ten years until his assassination. In that last decade of his life he was a member of the following bodies: Wicklow County Council, County Wicklow Committee Of Agriculture, General Council Of Committees Of Agriculture, Eastern Regional Development Committee, Bray Urban District Council, Bray Branch of the Irish Transport And General Workers Union, Bray and District Trades Union Council of which he was President 1976/’77, The Cullinane Historical Society, Chairman of the Irish Republican Socialist Party. From the period between 1964 and 1974 he held the positions of adj. General, Chief Of Staff and Director of Operations in the Official IRA and the position of vice-president of Official Sinn Fein. All that and much more in a period of only 22 years is truly phenomenal, testimony to a man driven and determined to achieve a revolution in his lifetime. Had he lived another 22 years I have no doubt that he would have had a powerful influence on Irish society.
In conclusion, Connolly and Costello two great minds linked by history and added to the reservoir of inspiration for future generations.
Posted on March 5, 2012, in éirígí, Commemorations, General revolutionary history, Irish politics today, IRSP, Political education and theory, Public events - Ireland, Republicanism 1960s, Seamus Costello. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Sean Doyle on Seamus Costello.