Peadar O'Donnell, born in 1893, was a native of Dungloe and, in his formative years, saw the injustices and hardships of the time, leading him, at an early age, to become a social and political thinker.
Trained as a teacher, O'Donnell is more widely known today for his extensive literary accomplishments. But he was also an Irish republican activist, trade union leader and a socialist, following the ideology of James Connolly, and believed social revolution was the way forward for a strong independent Ireland.
The Peadar O'Donnell weekend and many who wish to discuss his life and times may now concentrate more on O'Donnell's writings, but, this year, a public debate was held entitled 'The Future of the Left in Ireland'. The debating panel was made up of political parties of the left, including éirígí, which was represented by party spokesperson Daithí Mac An Mháistír.
The general consensus of the panel was that the political right, regardless of which party flag they stood under, were united in doing as much as they could to undermine the left and with that, working people in general. This was no more evident than with the antics of Fianna Fáil, The Green Party, Fine Gael and Labour sidling up to each other to unite against the electorate in the Twenty-Six Counties and undemocratically force them back to the polls in the Lisbon 2 referendum. With lies and scare tactics they hoodwinked the electorate to vote yes, all in an effort to shore up the capitalist system of the EU.
These parties, some of who claim to be of the left, have been complicit in, if not directly responsible for, cuts in health and education, in farming and fishing and have connived at job losses nation wide. The unemployment figure in the Twenty-Six Counties is now heading towards 15%. Cuts are carried out by politicians and bureaucrats who do their best to secure their own jobs and exorbitant wages. Politicians who have claimed ridiculous expenses for lavish lifestyles paid for by the tax payer are let off the hook. All these actions are far from any notion of an egalitarian society.
It was noted by one of the panelists that the very fact that the debate saw over 100 people crammed into an upstairs room in a converted church at lunchtime on a Sunday to debate and discuss the politics of the left was such a change from what Ireland once was and was also indicative of the situation the country was now in.
Speaking during the event, éirígí spokesperson Mac An Mháistír said that the fundamental question that had to be asked of the left is what it is to be socialist and what it is those on the left have to do to see socialist thinking win out over the capitalist system.
He said that we must define our socialism and that Ireland could not be equal or have social justice without a rejection of capitalism, that we must reject the idea of the exploitation of the labour of people. Without the rejection of the idea of people having to work long hours 7 days a week but yet not being able to provide adequately for their families and having no prospect of sustainable employment, the capitalist system would continue to thrive.
Mac An Mháistír continued that, as a teacher, he noticed a difference in the youth in education in that they are now much more aware of the political system and are now asking questions and looking for answers to today’s inequalities and enquiring into who people such as Karl Marx were and what their political ideologies were. They are using these ideologies to analyse today’s society and finding in them an understanding. All of which could bode well for the future.
The question posed by Mac An Mháistír of what should be the direction of modern day Ireland's political left was echoed both from other panel members and those in the audience. This is only a question that can be answered by the people of the Irish nation.
Certainly, it is incumbent upon all of the leftist parties in Ireland to work together to find a common political direction that benefits people best. But the people of the nation must also use their power, on the streets, in the workplace and in the polls, to make a change for the better. Only then will we see an end to the corrupt and dictatorial politics of the right and a fairer, just and more economically stable Ireland.
We have much to do. As Peadar O'Donnell once said, "Let us fling ourselves among the most fervent of social and economic revolutionists. Let us enlist the labour world in our struggle with our tyrannical masters."