Connolly Association 70th Anniversary Conference
Ken Keable reports on a special conference held at Conway Hall, London, in November to mark 70 years of the Connolly Association's existence and its contribution to the campaign for Irish unity and independence and the rights of the Irish in Britain
ABOUT THIRTY-Five members of the Connolly Association, mostly veterans, met at London's Conway Hall on 29th November to assess the Association's past and to discuss its future.
The retiring president, Moya St Leger, opening the conference and welcoming members, announced that she would not be standing for office again. Speaking of her pride in having been president, she paid warm tribute to the contributions of various members and gave numerous accounts of her contacts with the British authorities in her role as president, stressing the valuable role that the Association had continued to play.
The conference was chaired by Jim Redmond, the outgoing general secretary, who announced that he would be stepping down from that role. He stressed the need to engage the membership again, to put pressure on the British government and to campaign on issues that arise at Stormont.
Dr Anthony Coughlan of Dublin, a former national organiser of the Association, gave a masterly and fascinating account of the organisation's history and contribution since it was formed (as the Connolly Club) nearby in London in 1938. His book on the subject is eagerly awaited, though he warned that as he is so busy fighting the Lisbon Treaty it won't be ready for quite a while yet.
Among other things, he remarked that the labour movement should be the foremost defenders of national sovereignty and democracy if it wants to achieve hegemony in society.
Another eminent speaker was Martin Collins, a leading member of the Labour Committee on Ireland and an advisor to Kevin McNamara MP when he was opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland. He had been Co-ordinator of the Civil Rights Co-ordinating Committee in Britain.
Like Anthony Coughlan he drew attention to the seminal role of the Connolly Association in promoting the idea that a civil rights campaign would be the Achilles heel of unionism, mentioning the Liverpool to London civil rights march of 1962, which the Connolly Association organised.
Members expressed concern about the future of the Four Provinces Bookshop in London's Gray's Inn Road. It was pointed out that this had been originally seen as a source of funds for the Association, yet in fact it had been a drain on finances. It is probably the only Irish bookshop in Britain and a public "Save the Bookshop" campaign was suggested.
The outgoing executive council was criticised for its failure, in recent years, to communicate with the Association's members and affiliates and to issue any public statements.
Attention was drawn to the upcoming 20th anniversary, on 12th January 2009, of the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane. There was a need to explain to the British people why they need to fight this issue in order to defend themselves against future wrong-doing by their own state against themselves. Barack Obama has associated himself with the demand for a public inquiry into Finucane's murder.
It was agreed that the Irish Democrat would continue as an on-line publication - David Granville having agreed to continue editing and producing it, for which he was warmly thanked - and that efforts would continue to be made to bring it out again in a paper version if and when an editor could be found. A useful offer of assistance with printing was made.
There was a clear desire, expressed by many speakers in discussion and opposed by none, to continue the Association's work of campaigning in Britain for the goal of a united independent Ireland.
A new executive council was appointed, larger than the preceding one and including most of its members including Jim Redmond. It was agreed that this would be convened by Jim on 24 January 2009.
(Apologies for the late posting of this report which was due to technical difficulties experienced towards the end of last year)
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