‘Harness the energy of all republicans’

toibindriver.jpg

 

The following is a speech delivered last weekend by Peadar Toibin TD at the annual commemoration for former Sinn Fein Vice President Frank Driver at Ballymore Eustace in County Kildare.

 

Dia dhiobh a chairde Ghaeil, Ba mhaith liom buiochais a gabhail as a cuireadh anseo inniu, an deis labhairt libh agus as an meid obair ata deanta ag na eagarthoiri.

Mile buiochas as an deis teacht an seo innu I bhur dteannta. Ba mhaith liom mile buiochas a gabhail le Cllr John Snell, Cllr Oliver O’Brien agus Cllr Gerry O Neill as an deis bheith anseo le haghaidh an la stairiuil.

Taimid bailte anseo inniu le haghaidh omos agus honoir a thabhairt do gach duine a obair, a throid agus ar fuair bas ar son saoirse na hEirinn agus go hairithe ar Proinsias Ui Thiomani.

 

I want to thank you all very much for coming here today to commemorate the life and activism of Frank Driver. I want to thank the Chair of today’s commemoration Cllr John Snell and the organisers Cllr Gerry O’Neill and Cllr Oliver O’Brien and the great team that they have built up around them.

I want to say that it has been my honour to know and work with Cllr Snell, O’Neill and O’Brien for many years. They won’t like me for embarrassing them like this but they are republican activists and representatives of the highest calibre.

We are here today to commemorate the great Frank Driver. He was a republican hero that gave his activist life to the cause of Irish Unity.

When Frank Driver was born Ireland was controlled by the largest empire that the world had ever seen. The Union Jack flew over Ballymore Eustace and every other town in Wicklow and Kildare. It had flown in some form over these towns for over 500 years.

To Frank’s generation which was not all that long after the horrors of the Famine generation, this flag and the injustice that it stood for must have seemed immovable.

Yet that’s exactly what Frank and his generation did.

He was 13 years old when the men and women of Dublin rose up against that empire in the 1916. This had a massive effect on him. He saw what was possible when a broad movement of Irish Republicans planned organised, and became activists.

At the age of 15 he was highly active in the 1918 election which saw a majority of the island of Ireland vote for Irish Independence. He went on to become an IRA volunteer in the Tan war and stood with the objectives of the proclamation of the Irish republic during the Civil War.

Imprisoned in 1922 he was the youngest internee in Newbridge Barracks. He remained an active volunteer through the 30s and the 40s until he was again interned in the Curragh along with 500 other volunteers.

While in the Curragh he joined the Irish language hut. Frank had a great love of the Irish language, recognised its beauty and understood its importance in the independence movement.

While in the Curragh along with others Frank Driver, set about excavating an escape tunnel. The plan was frustrated and as a result he was one of the last prisoners released in 1945 as WW2 came to a close.

On release he poured his energy into revitalising the republican movement which was at that stage nearly broken. It was said of Frank Driver, that he stayed steadfast even in defeat and when the majority ebbed away from the republican movement he was like rock exposed by a retreating tide.

Frank Driver continued his resistance through the 50s and 60s.

In the late 60s the inequalities of the orange state could be borne by the nationalist community no longer. Nationalists were being denied equal voting rights, equal access to housing, they were being refused jobs due to their religion, they were being beaten and shot off the streets, they were banned from the airwaves and prevented from organising. When most of Ireland stood idly by Frank Driver remained steadfast in their protection.

He built politically a new generation. His life stretching back to the 1916 rising was an inspiration to the generation that developed in those difficult years. Indeed people like Cllr Gerry O’Neill here today served his political apprenticeship under the influence and inspiration of Frank Driver. He died in 1981 at the age of 74 still in the political harness that he had toiled all his life. Ni bheidh a leitheid ann aris.

 

Commemoration is an important element of being an Irish Republican. It is important to pay our respects to the heroic work and activism of generations of Irish Republicans that went before us. That sacrifice deserves our respect and gratitude. There efforts have achieved so much. We stand on their shoulders. Our aims and objectives are closer today because of their massive work.

Commemoration is also important as it allows us to learn and emulate the efforts, the ideology and strategies. We can see clearly that Frank Driver remained in steadfast commitment at a time when many wavered and many left the path of the republic behind completely.

Commemoration is important as it allows us take stock of where we are at. It allows us to analyse the political landscape and plan for the future. It’s clear to me that Irish independence and freedom is closer today than it has been for generations. The shock of Brexit has awoken the establishment to just how illogical the British border in our country is.

102 years after the 1916 rising which was fought for the right of self determination, the Irish people now realise that our future is still in large part determined by London.

102 years after the 1916 rising, the determination of citizens of the north to stay in the EU, is being ignored yet again by London.

The cost of the border in these terms has come into sharp focus in the minds of millions of Irish people.

For the first time opinion polls in the north show that a majority for unity is now not just feasible but is a reality in many age groups.

For the first time in generations the goals and the ideals of Frank Driver are in touching distance.

But a chairde there is nothing guaranteed. Despite the significant change in the views of the people there exists still an establishment north and south as Liam Mellows predicted, whose position is protected by the existence of the border.

If the border disappeared today or tomorrow Fine Gael would shrink from a large ruling party to small regional party. A party on self-interest will not allow this happen if they can.

They will make every excuse under the son. They will say now is not the time. They will say that the basis of the Good Friday Agreement, that a majority of the population is no longer enough. Just in recent days Fine Gael has prevented the creation of a United Ireland Committee in Leinster House because its not the right time.

Fianna Fail are not much different, the shrinking number of republicans in that party are held hostage by a politically paralysed Michael Martin. Martin won’t make any decision, never mind organise in the north for fear of failure.

Republicanism is not in a good state either today. In 1916 and 1918 Republicanism was a broad front of people all working together for the common objective of winning Irish Independence. People like Cathal Brugha and WT Cosgrave worked together to fight for Irish Independence. It was a broad front because the job was so immense that a narrow sectional group would never have been able to achieve it.

In 1918 Republicanism was a grass roots, activist movement spread across the country. It was so because centralised decision-making from the top down is poorer and weaker decision making and much more prone to disaster. An empowered collective is healthier, stronger and more resilient to group think.

This has in my opinion led to a significant level of ideological drift within Sinn Fein. Unbelievably recently, Mary Lou and Michelle O’Neill travelled to Westminster and called on Westminster to legislation in three separate areas for the north. This is unprecedented. Never in the 200 years of republicanism have republican leaders gone to London calling on them to legislate for any part of Ireland.

This is not the meaning of self-determination, it’s the opposite.

Recently Mary Lou has stated that a border poll would not be a good thing in a Brexit situation.

Or put it another way: Lord, make us free, but not right now. The party leadership have been flying kites around the poppy and around the Commonwealth for a while now and their core vote has become uneasy.

The last number of years has seen the the largest republican party in the country radically narrowing the ideological space. It has reduced the space in which republicans like you and me could contribute and function. Centralised, top town decision making has disempowered the grassroots. And as a result it is shedding members by the bus full.

I genuinely wish that this was not so. I genuinely wish there were wiser heads in leadership positions but in the last 10 days I finally came to the decision that it would not change. I am looking at many great republicans around us today who themselves come to that decision also.

Group think isn’t Sinn Fein’s alone, it is rife across the Irish political spectrum. Ministers are captured by department bosses. Parties’ makes clones of elected TDs and Cllrs preventing them from simply saying what they think.

TDs have one eye on getting brownie points off their leader and another eye on keeping their seat safe. They have no eye left for their constituents or representing citizens.

We will create an activist led movement that is not centrally controlled, from the top down and does not treat members as canvass fodder.

Policy by focus group and a disempowered membership base has led to the situation where all of the parties now want to inhabit the same space and time on a large number of issues. This has led to the exclusion of the voice of a significant section of Irish society.

This is a dangerous thing. If you exclude a voice from the Dail you marginalise those people. If you marginalise people, they will vote for people on the margins.

Respectful opposition is not the enemy it is a critical part of a functioning democracy.

I attended a number of packed meetings during the week. They were full of people who formally supported mostly Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail. It was like watching a pressure cooker have the weighted lifted off them. The frustration was incredible. Each person was saying that they have no one to vote for. They stated that they are completely disenfranchised.

This must change for two reasons.

Like the republicans of 1916 and 1918 we need a broad based of people to work together. To do this we need to be better and busier on the bread and butter issues that affect people’s lives.

For example 83 High Worth Individuals (people with assets over 50m euro) had taxable income of less than the average industrial wage, which is just over 36,500 euro. 140 HWIs were found to have a taxable income of less than 125,000 euro. This while 10,000 men, women and children are homeless and the figures are getting worse.

Simon Harris paid 15.8m euro in rent for vacant Dept of Health building while there is not enough money for emergency scoliosis operations for children living in excruciating pain.

Fine Gael’s Vulture Funds; There are 18,092 mortgages valued at [euro]3.98 billion currently in the hands of unregulated vulture funds. They buy debt cheap, grind out what they can from families, farmers and business people, throw them on the scrap heap and get out fast.

They are an asset stripping tool employed by Fine Gael to feed on those in financial distress. Michael Noonan siad himself “Vultures, you know, carry out a very good service In the ecology”. Not so good if your family is the carcass, Michael!

They are untouchable. They refuse to come before the Finance Committee but have access all areas with the dept of Finance meeting them 125 times. This is my contribution to yesterday’s debate

“Foreign investors in REITs earned 238 million euro in profits from their Irish property holdings in 2015, but in the same year, these investors only paid 5.27 million euro tax to the State, an effective tax rate of 2%.

There is no doubt that these funds are driving up house prices at time when supply is at critically low levels. Recent CSO data shows non-household buyers (a large component of which is REITs, purchased more homes than first time buyers in the first four months of this year

Passive narrow republicanism is not an option at this critical juncture. We have one of the most brutal and divisive governments in the history of this state.

Secondly, to achieve Irish Unity, we must build a republican movement that’s broad enough to harness the energy of all republicans in the country and enough to finally to do justice to the men and women like Frank Driver who have gone before.

A chairde Gael, it is my strongly held view that we must leave this small graveyard in Ballymore Eustace today and set out to achieve this goal.

We have a favour to ask

We want to keep our publication as available as we can, so we need to ask for your help. Irish Republican News takes time, money and hard work to produce. But we do it because we believe it makes a difference. If everyone who reads our website helps fund it, our future would be much more secure.

For as little as £1, you can support Irish Republican News – and it only takes a minute. Thank you.

© 2018 Irish Republican News