Loyalism and the Connolly Approach

Costello drew on both the experience and teachings of James Connolly in his approach to the problem of "loyalism" among the Belfast Protestant working class. When questioned in March, 1975, about co-operation with representatives of the Protestant workers on immediate issues "which would appear to unite the people," he defined his position clearly and succinctly.

"Connolly had to face exactly the same predicament. In Belfast prior to 1916, you had people who classified themselves as socialists and who were also interested in ending British rule in Ireland. Their approach to the Protestant working class as on the basis of limited and immediate issues. One of the principal issues which affected both sections of the working class was the question of whether or not they could get gas and water into their houses.

"Some very militant campaigns were engaged in on these two demands - gas and water for the houses in the working class districts. Republicans and socialists were involved in this campaign on the basis that this was the way to unite the working class. At the same time, these republicans and socialists refused point blank to mention or even discuss the national question with the Protestant working class, on the grounds that if they did, the Protestant working class wouldn't listen to them and that they would lose their co operation on the issue of gas and water for the houses.

"Connolly was totally in opposition to this approach. He categorized them as gas and water socialists. Today in Belfast we have what we call ring-road socialists. They are exactly the same type of people. They are, in fact, the leadership of the Official republican movement in Belfast.

"We maintain that any co-operation with the Protestant working class must be on the basis of a principled political position. It must be on the basis of explaining fully to the Protestant working class what all our policies are, not just our policy on the ring-road. We must try and politicize them, simultaneously with conducting a political campaign to get rid of Britain. It will be primarily an educational function, or an educational campaign directed towards Protestants in the hope at least that some significant section of the Protestant working class will understand."