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Frank Conroy Commemoration
05 December 2013
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Excerpts from speech by Rayner O’ Connor Lysaght
Parallels can be drawn from Conroy’s ideals and the earlier 1913 Dublin Lockout, that is a major twentieth century industrial contest. The Lockout was a defeat for the workers, but their resistance inspired their comrades elsewhere, stimulating them to further struggles, such as came to pose the possibility of the working class taking state power. The majority of union leaders did not start thinking defensively. For them, the Lockout itself had been, after all, a defensive fight. Nor did those with socialist perspectives abandon them. Rather, like too many of their comrades abroad, they assumed that Socialism was inevitable, but they had no strategy developed to achieve it.
In April 1917 Connolly’s closest ally of his last years, William O’Brien, was elected to a committee chaired by Count Plunkett to organise the political leadership of the reviving national revolutionary movement. O’Brien’s Labour comrades made it clear that he compromised his trade union position by this membership, and he resigned from what was to be the organiser for the new Sinn Féin.
In addition, with both Republican and Labour movements growing and having organised a general strike against conscription, O’Brien was proposed as anti-conscription candidate in the Cavan East by-election, a nomination he refused, leaving the seat to be won by the right-wing Sinn Féiner Arthur Griffith.
The Home Rule MP Joseph Devlin accused Éamon de Valera of having ordered ‘Labour Must Wait.’ Actually, Sinn Féin’s (and de Valera’s) approach to Labour was more subtle: to absorb or neutralise, but not to commit too far.
Sinn Féin bargained with Labour over the 1918 general election, in exchange for promised international socialist support. Sinn Féin passed the first Dáil’s Democratic Programme and adopted a number of Labour-supported minimum demands: equal rights for women, a living wage.
By the time of the truce with Britain in
July 1921, Sinn Féin was the sole Irish challenger for state power.
Labour was now irrelevant, and Irish Labour did wait, and has waited, as
a class, ever since.
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