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Speech by SIPTU General President Jack O'Connor at ICA commemoration 29th March 2016

Date Released: 30 March 2016

Uachtaráin Michael D, Sabina, Tanaiste, Minister, A Ardmhéara, Members of the Oireachteas, Councillors, Relatives of Irish Citizen Army Volunteers, Trade Union Comrades from abroad and at home, friends – welcome to this historic location today to mark the heroism of the Irish Citizen Army which fought in the struggle for freedom one hundred years ago.

Today we are paying homage to men and women whose heroism extended beyond participation in the insurrection itself. It went further because they stood loyal with Connolly and the ICA, despite the availability of the relatively easier option of joining the Irish volunteers. After all the volunteers were better funded, better provisioned, better armed and most of all – better thought of, by reference to then conventional orthodoxy. They chose instead to remain with the workers militia which had been forged in the throes of the great lockout of 1913. The vision to which they remained loyal was not limited to, or even informed by, the narrow parameters of Irish Nationalism. They aspired to an egalitarian idea which extended beyond simply replacing the Union Jack with an exclusively Irish Flag – to an independent state which would cherish all the children of the nation equally. Theirs was a global perspective, framed by the unfolding horror of the imperialist war – the then greatest conflagration in all of human history.

These days there are recurring references to the phrase “putting the country first”, but the emphasis of Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army was on “putting the people first”. It was an aspiration for an immensely better society, rather than just a different flag – an Ireland that would be “free”, yes, but one which would be “fair” as well!

It would do a disservice to the memory of those we are remembering here, to let today pass without noting that the value system which inspired them did not prevail in either of the jurisdictions which emerged on the Island following the decade of revolution. The reality remains that the Ireland which cherishes all the children of the nation equally, is still to be realised.

However, important as it is to commemorate the heroism of the ICA, - it is more important still, that we allow ourselves to be inspired by the feasibility of their vision in the context of today. Therefore, we must equally celebrate the hope offered by the potential of a recovering economy as well as the Good Friday Agreement and the Constitutional Settlement. In this regard we must acknowledge the particular poignancy of the decision of the Inniskillings Museum at Enniskillen Castle, to make the Green Flag of Ireland available to us in SIPTU for this commemoration after all of one hundred years.

We would not be true to the legacy of those men and women we are remembering today unless we avail of the occasion to celebrate hope. It is the hope that the profundity of the events of this Centenary Year might help bring about the rejection of  the crude winner takes all value system, that led us to our third existential crisis in 60 years, - embracing instead the primacy of social solidarity which informed the heroism of Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army.

Uachtarain, distinguished guests, the real cause for celebration must be the potential which now exists, as never before, through a dynamically growing economy and a not overburdening degree of redistribution of wealth, to eliminate poverty, end homelessness, develop a universally accessible health service free at the point of use and afford everyone a right to a decent job, by the centenary of the foundation of this state in about 6 years time. Then all the children of the nation would actually be cherished equally, as well as other children fleeing war and persecution elsewhere in the world

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