Maire Drumm oration at Liam Mellows commemoration
Below is the text of the oration delivered by Maire Drumm on Saturday, December 13, at the annual éirígi Liam Mellows commemoration. The event took place at Mellows’ grave in County Wexford. Wreaths were laid at the event by the Independent Workers Union and éirígi.
Mellows is one of the giants of Irish left-republicanism. As a teenager he was a member and leader of the first republican military organisation of the twentieth century, the Fianna Eireann movement founded by Constance Markievicz. Later he was a founder-member of the Irish Volunteers and led the 1916 Rising in Galway. Following the defeat of the Rising and imprisonment, he played a vital role in rebuilding the republican movement, in particular the newly-republican Sinn Fein and the Irish Republican Army. He was part of the Sinn Fein landslide in Ireland in the 1918 British general elections. The republicans won 73 of the 105 Irish seats at Westminster on an absententionist and independence basis, duly establishing a parliament of their own in Dublin (Dail Eireann) and declaring independence.
When the British government refused to recognise the will of the Irish people and moved to use violence to suppress their will, Mellows was to the forefront of the resistance. A war for independence took place from 1919-1921 when the more bourgeoisified elements of Dail Eireann supported a treaty with Britain which gave the British state continuing control of six north-eastern counties of Ireland while also creating a 26-county neocolonial state in the south and west (the Free State). Mellows opposed the Treaty and was part of the central leadership of the republican side in the 1922-23 civil war until his execution on December 13 1922 by Free State forces while a prisoner in Mountjoy Jail in Dublin. – Phil
Maire Drumm Oration:
It is an honour to be invited to speak at this commemoration to pay tribute to Liam Mellows and his three young comrades – Joe McKelvey, Richard Barrett and Rory O’Connor – on the ninety second anniversary of their execution by Free State forces. We also remember all those died in the struggle for national freedom.
Liam Mellows and his comrades were executed on December 8th 1922 without any trial and without any charge being laid against them.
In the eyes of the counter-revolutionary Free State government, the only crime was the four men’s adherence to the political objectives which had been succinctly set out in the 1916 Proclamation and expanded upon in the Democratic Programme of the Republic of 1919.
Those documents laid out a political agenda based upon national self-determination, social and economic justice and democracy; of cherishing all the children of the nation equally, of claiming the wealth of Ireland for the people of Ireland; of securing the greatest measures of political, social and economic freedom for the mass of the population.
Those revolutionary objectives were later ditched by an anti-Republican political elite in favour of a Treaty that saw the creation of two partitionist states within the British empire whereby control of the means of production and wealth generation would still remain in the hands of a small, but very wealthy, minority.
The men we honour today recognised that fact. They completely opposed the Treaty with its two state political solution to reinforce an all-Ireland economic status quo.
Those who led resistance against the Treaty and partition were well aware that the forms of government proposed would in no way be revolutionary and would, in fact, perpetuate the very same political, social and economic injustices which they had long sought to remove.
Mellows and other senior figures like Peadar O’Donnell represented, and continued to articulate, a radical political path.
As Liam Mellows stated – “It would be folly to destroy English tyranny in order to erect a domestic tyranny that would need another revolution to free the people. The Irish Republic stands, therefore, for the ownership of Ireland by the people of Ireland. It means that the means and process of production must not be used for the profit or aggrandisement of any group or class.
“Ireland, if her industries and banks were controlled by foreign capital, would be at the mercy of every breeze that ruffled the surface of the world’s money-markets….
“In our efforts to win back public support for the Republic we are forced to recognise, whether we like it or not, that the commercial interests and the gombeen man are on the side of the Treaty. We are back to Tone – which is just as well – relying on that great body, ‘the men of no property’. The ‘stake in the country people’ were never with the Republic. They are not with it now and they will always be against it….”
As Connolly had forecast as far back as 1897, the removal of the English Army and the hoisting of the green flag would not, and could not, lead to freedom.
Without the establishment of a socialist republic, Connolly said, the Irish working class would still be ruled by capitalists, by landlords, by financiers, by a whole array of commercial and individualist institutions.
Events during every decade in Ireland since Connolly’s time, and since the executions of 1922, demonstrate that Connolly’s and Mellows’ analysis still remains valid and cogent today.
The Democratic Programme of 1919, which Liam Mellows and his comrades remained loyal to, asserted that the first duty of the Republic was “to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children, to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter, but that all shall be provided with the means and facilities requisite for their proper education and training.”
The Democratic Programme also stated that the sovereignty of the nation “extends not only to all men and women of the nation, but to all its material possessions, the nation’s soil and its resources, all the wealth and wealth-producing processes within the nation, and we reaffirm that all rights to private property must be subordinated to the public right and welfare”.
It declared “the right of every citizen to an adequate share of the produce of the nation’s labour”.
The Democratic Programme promised a social welfare agenda to ensure that the aged and infirm would “no longer be regarded as a burden but rather entitled to the nation’s gratitude and consideration”. The Republic also had a duty to “safeguard the health of the people”.
It pledged to build Ireland’s economy and create industries that would be developed “on the most beneficial, progressive, co-operative industrial lines”.
The political importance of, and the revolutionary intent within, that Democratic Programme was a theme that Mellows would return to time and again during the lead-up to the Treaty and the counter-revolution.
In words that also ought to redden the faces of those within so-called mainstream Republican parties, Mellows also stated, “It would be folly to destroy English tyranny in order to erect a domestic tyranny that would need another revolution to free the people. The Irish Republic stands therefore for the ownership of Ireland by the people of Ireland. It means that the means and process of production must not be used for the profit or aggrandisement of any group or class. ….”
Mellows continually re-iterated Connolly’s basic premise – “If the Irish people do not control Irish industries, transport, money and the soil of the country, then foreign or domestic capitalists will. And whoever controls the wealth of a country and the processes by which wealth is attained, controls also its government.”
If one needs any proof of the veracity of those prophetical views, one has only to look around them at their families, their neighbours and their communities.
This country is a prime example of what happens when capitalism and imperialism are permitted to run rampant and unrestrained.
Unemployment remains widespread, thousands of those who are employed are experiencing the injustice of wage-cuts, wages freezes and zero-hour contracts.
Families struggle to hold on to their homes and, for many, the choice between heating or eating is a stark and very harsh reality. Dependence upon food-banks, the modern reincarnation of the soup-kitchens, is an inescapable fact of life in many of our towns and cities.
Our young people are being forced abroad in their thousands as economic migrants.
Most tragically of all, the homeless are literally dying on our streets.
That was not the kind of future which Mellows, McKelvey and their comrades had envisaged.
All of this is happening at time when both states on this island are shaping their economic policies in ways which accommodate the needs of foreign capital and finance, to the detriment of the productive and social needs of the Irish people.
Billions of euro’s worth of private profits leave our shores annually without any benefit whatsoever to the people of this land.
Today, we all know that both domestic and global capitalism are in a battle with the Irish people which this time can only end in one of two possible outcomes – a radical transformation of our society or the triumph of greed.
Much of the popular anger that has been demonstrated across this island in recent times remains unharnessed.
We have, at present, a situation unparalleled in recent times where the unjust and unequal nature of the capitalist model of economy in Ireland is increasingly under scrutiny from the majority of ordinary men, women and young people of our country.
That situation is to be welcomed, encouraged and fostered, rather than be exploited for selfish electoral ends as some political parties are intent on doing.
We also know that capitalism and the political parties allied to that economic model will try to defuse the present mood of popular anger by responding in the same manner as they have acted in the past – by making a few minor concessions rather than instituting real change.
Nevertheless, the popular movement against water taxation presents a fertile ground within which to plant the seeds of a vision of a socialist Ireland.
To do so, it is incumbent upon each of us to start changing the parameters of debate in Ireland and beyond.
Let us move the debate from the current focus on water to a wider debate on the control and ownership of all our natural resources – oil, gas and minerals.
Let us encourage a demand for those resources – worth many billions of euro’s – to be brought in to public ownership for public gain, not private ownership for private greed.
The quotes, which I read earlier from the Democratic Programme, set out the parameters of what that debate should encompass.
As we approach the 1916 centenary in just over a year’s time, there can be no better tribute to all those fought and died for the Irish Republic than by developing a new debate in Ireland about the type of society which those visionaries had in mind.
Freedom for them did not just mean a change of flag or a change of political elites. It meant taking control of the ownership of the wealth, of the means of production and of all the natural resources in this country, by the people of this country, for the benefit of all the people – not for a privileged few or wealthy elite.
The opportunity for that debate is here. The time for that debate is now.
Almost a century ago, Liam Mellows once posed a simple question to an audience – “What will you say when your grandchildren ask you what you did in this great war to free small peoples?”
Let us give our answer today, tomorrow and in the many days afterwards by reawakening his vision of a free, sovereign and independent Ireland in the minds of the Irish people.
No-one else but they are capable of securing the greatest measures of political, social and economic freedom for the mass of the population.
Let us encourage them to take that radical and gigantic step along the road to a true Irish Republic.
Posted on January 8, 2015, in éirígí, Civil War period, Commemorations, Constance Markievicz, Free State in 1920s, General revolutionary history, Historiography and historical texts, James Connolly, Liam Mellows, Partition, Prisoners - past, Public events - Ireland, Republicanism post-1900, Revolutionary figures, War for Independence period. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.