Feargus O'Connor and the Irish People

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This article was first published in English in the book, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Ireland and the Irish Question, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1971.

The first issue of The Northern Star for 1848 contains an address to the Irish people by Feargus O'Connor, the well-known leader of the English Chartists and their representative in Parliament. This address deserves to be read from beginning to end and carefully considered by every democrat, but our restricted space prevents us from reproducing it in full.

We would, however, be remiss in our duty if we were to pass it over in silence. The consequences of this forceful appeal to the Irish people will very soon be strongly felt and seen. Feargus O'Connor, himself of Irish descent, a Protestant and for over ten years a leader and main pillar of the great labour movement in England, must henceforth be regarded as the virtual chief of the Irish Repealers[1] and advocates of reform. His speeches in the House of Commons against the recently published disgraceful Irish Coercion Bill[2] have given him the first claim to this status, and the subsequently continued agitation for the Irish cause shows that Feargus O'Connor is just the man Ireland needs.

O'Connor is indeed seriously concerned about the well-being of the millions in Ireland. Repeal — the abolition of the Union, that is, the achievement of an independent Irish Parliament — is not an empty word, not a pretext for obtaining posts for himself and his friends and for making profitable private business transactions.

In his address he shows the Irish people that Daniel O'Connell, that political juggler, led them by the nose and deceived them for thirteen years by means of the word “Repeal”.

He shows in its true light the conduct of John O'Connell, who has taken up his father’s political heritage and who like his father is prepared to sacrifice millions of credulous Irishmen for the sake of his personal ventures and interests. All O'Connell’s speeches at the Dublin Conciliation Hall[3] and all his hypocritical protestations and beautiful phrases will not obliterate the disrepute he has brought upon himself earlier and in particular now in the House of Commons during the debates on the Irish Coercion Bill.

The Irish people must and will see how things stand, and then it will kick out the entire gang of so-called Repealers, who under cover of this cloak laugh up their sleeves and in their purses and John O'Connell, the fanatical papist and political rogue, will be kicked out first of all.

If this were all the address contained, we should not have especially mentioned it.

But it is of much wider importance. For Feargus O'Connor speaks in it not only as an Irishman but also, and primarily, as an English democrat, as a Chartist.

With a lucidity which cannot escape even the most obtuse mind, O'Connor shows that the Irish people must fight with all their might and in close association with the English working classes and the Chartists in order to win the six points of the People’s Charter — annual parliaments, universal suffrage, vote by ballot, abolition of the property qualification for members of Parliament, payment of M.P.s and the establishment of equal electoral districts. Only after these six points are won will the achievement of the Repeal have any advantages for Ireland.

Furthermore O'Connor points out that justice for Ireland has already been demanded earlier by the English workers in a petition which received 3 1/2 million signatures, [4] and that now the English Chartists have again protested against the Irish Coercion Bill in numerous petitions and that the oppressed classes in England and Ireland must at last fight together and conquer together or continue to languish under the same oppression and live in the same misery and dependence on the privileged and ruling capitalist class.

There can be no doubt that henceforth the mass of the Irish people will unite ever more closely with the English Chartists and will act with them according to a common plan. As a result the victory of the English democrats, and hence the liberation of Ireland, will be hastened by many years. That is the significance of O'Connor’s address to the Irish people.

  1. Repealers were advocates of the repeal of the Anglo-Irish Union and restoration of the Irish Parliament’s autonomy
  2. The Anglo-Irish Union was imposed on Ireland by the English Government after the suppression of the Irish rebellion of 1798. The Union, which came into force on January 1, 1801, abrogated the autonomy of the Irish Parliament and made Ireland even more dependent on England. After the 1820s the demand for the repeal of the Union was a mass issue in Ireland, but the Irish liberals who headed the national movement, O'Connell among them, regarded agitation for the repeal only as a means to wrest concessions from the English Government in favour of the Irish bourgeoisie and landowners. In 1835, O'Connell came to an agreement with the English Whigs and discontinued agitation altogether. Under the pressure of the mass movement, however, the Irish liberals were compelled in 1840 to set up the Repeal Association, which they tried to direct towards compromise with the English ruling classes. The repeal of the Union was put up for discussion in Parliament on November 18, and the Coercion Bill on November 29, 1847. Accounts of O'Connor’s part in the debates, his suggestions and petitions demanding the repeal of the Union and protesting against the Coercion Bill were given in The Northern Star Nos. 528 and 529, December 4 and 11, 1847.
  3. Conciliation Hall — a public hall in Dublin where meetings were often organised by the Repeal Association
  4. The reference is to the second national petition presented to Parliament by the Chartists in May 1842. Together with the demand for the adoption of the People’s Charter, the petition contained a number of other demands, including that of the repeal of the Union of 1801. The petition was rejected by Parliament