REPUBLICANS AND SOCIALISTS PICKET AUCTION OF IRISH HISTORICAL ARTIFACTS
(Reading time: 5 mins.)
On Saturday 25th July tourists and other passers-by were treated to the sight of people picketing the Freemason Hall in Molesworth Street, Dublin, where the Whyte’s company was holding an auction of Irish historical artifacts. The picketers flew the historical flags of the Sunrise of na Fianna Éireann and the Starry Plough of the Irish Citizen Army and a banner proclaimed OUR HISTORY IS NOT FOR SALE – is linne uilig í. Placards displayed by the picketers denounced, in Irish and English, the sale of artifacts of Irish history. Among their periodic chants were “Irish history is not for sale!” and “Shame on Whyte’s!”
Very shortly before the event some people had learned of the forthcoming auction by the Whyte’s company, which has an office and shopfront in Molesworth Street (also the street in which the Freemason’s Hall is located), a couple of minutes’ walk from Leinster House, the location of the Oireachtas (the Irish Parliament). The glossy brochure for the event listed a huge amount of items, including an original copy of the 1916 Proclamation of which the Irish State has only one original copy and others have been sold in 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019.
Also up for auction were writings of Thomas Ashe, who died from force-feeding while on hunger-strike in 1917 and a copy of Wolfe Tone’s speech – in his own handwriting — at the trial that condemned him to hang in 1798.
One of the Auctioneer company representatives tried to convince the picketers that he was carrying out a useful national historical service (though he admitted also at a tidy profit) by bringing some of those items for auction to Ireland. Wolfe Tone’s speech notes were a case in point, he claimed, since they had been in the family of a former English Army general. The picketers however were adamant that the item was “stolen property” and that the Irish Government should demand the return of that item and others like it, to which the auctioneer replied “That’s nonsense!”
The Auctioneer soon shifted tack and asked the picketers whether they had permission to hold their protest. They responded that they did not need one and were in a public place; the auctioneer went inside the building calling out that the picketers were mistaken.
Shortly thereafter, a Garda patrol car drove into the street and stopped near the protesters, disgorging two serving Garda and a trainee. The picketers explained their presence and that it was a peaceful protest, also assuring the officer in charge that they had obstructed no-one from entering and that indeed a half-dozen or so had entered the building already, passing them on the way; the officer then collected her team, got back in the patrol car and drove away.
The protesters, who had arrived at around 12.30, a half-hour before the advertised start time for the auction, remained until 1.30pm and left. At intervals their chants echoed around the street, no doubt clearly audible to people staying at or using Buswell’s hotel about 50 yards away.
Diarmuid Breatnach, an independent revolutionary socialist, spoke at the event, as did Sean Doyle, of Anti-Imperialist Action and Ger Devereux of the Saoradh organisation.
NOT THE HISTORY OF THE GOMBEENS
Breatnach denounced the sale of historical artifacts in general but focused in particular on the speech notes of Wolfe Tone, going on to relate how Tone and other Republicans and liberals had tried to build a nation of equality between the various religions in Ireland. They supported the liberal Grattan’s bid to extend the franchise and representation in the Irish Parliament (in which only the tiny minority of Anglicans were permitted to enter) to Catholics and non-Anglican Protestants such as the Presbyterians). When the majority in Parliament rejected the bid by Grattan, Tone and Edward Fitzgerald and McCracken and others knew there was no way forward except revolution, explained the speaker.
In 1798 they had risen in three great uprisings in Wexford, Antrim and Mayo and many smaller ones and along with many others, Wolfe Tone had paid with his life. What kind of ghouls could take and sell the last words of such a man as Tone, Breatnach asked rhetorically? And what kind people could buy them?
Some people wonder how the Irish capitalist class were capable of selling their own history, commented the speaker and went on to say they could do so because it wasn’t their history. It was not the “Gombeen” class that risen to fight for freedom and equality in 1798 nor since but it was they who had “climbed up on our backs in 1921”. That was why the Gombeens could not only sell Irish history but also destroy our sugar beet industry, so that we had to buy sugar from the USA which subsides its industry, hand part of our country over to a foreign power, sell our public services to foreign companies and try to sell our water to one of their own.
Just as there was no way forward to build an Ireland of equality but revolution in 1798, Breatnach concluded, there was no way forward now without getting rid of the Gombeen rulers and the only way that could be done is by revolution.
Speaking in a quiet voice, Sean Doyle introduced the piece he was going to read, which was an extract from the speech from the dock of another Irish Republican martyr, Roger Casement, hanged by the British in 1916 in Pentonville Prison, London.
Doyle alluded to the irony of Britain going to war allegedly to save Belgium, when Casement had reported on the the exploitation and mutilation of indigenous people in the Congo by forces operating under King Leopold of Belgium.
Casement’s speech also pointed out the fake independence that Ireland was being offered under Home Rule (which some might compare to the “independence” of the Irish state today in partitioned Ireland) and described the nature of true patriotism.
WHOSE HISTORY AND HERITAGE?
Ger Devereux of the Saoradh organisation gave a short speech in which he pointed out that the items were of historical importance and belonged to the Irish nation alone, that they should not be sold to private collectors, nor should anyone be making a profit out of them.
The protesters concluded their protest with some more chants including “Whose history? OUR history! Whose heritage? OUR heritage! Irish history is not for sale!”
The Irish State has only three original copies of the Proclamation: one is in Leinster House and only two on regular view to the public, one in the GPO and another in the National Museum. Another copy is on display in the Long Room of Trinity College. Others have been sold by auction in 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019.
It was waiting to happen. For weeks fascists and racists have been flaunting themselves in particular at the GPO in Dublin city centre and on two weekends assaulted a number of anti-fascists protesting peacefully against them — while the police harassed the victims. Today, the tables turned. Fascists marching across O’Connell Bridge were confronted by Irish Republicans picketing there for an end to internment without trial. Punches were thrown and the police arrested an antifascist. Later, fascists outside the GPO were also attacked, their amplifier and microphone confiscated by antifascists and a loudhailer smashed.
It was a day of many protests. The usual group of Far-Right, racists and fascists were outside the General Post Office on O’Connell Street, Dublin’s main street, protesting against the Covid19 restrictions, even claiming that the virus does not exist and is rather a creation of governments trying to instal “a world government”. Their weekly protest starts at 2pm but today they moved it back to 1pm, perhaps because another two protests had been scheduled to start at the same time: a national protest of the sacked Debenham workers and a last-minute Black Lives Matter protest.
In addition to the Far-Right at the GPO, another group of the same ilk, led by the fascist Irish Freedom (sic) Party, planned a march – also to start at 1pm — to the location of Radió Teilifís Éireann in Donnybrook. Their intention was to protest against any further lockdown and claiming that the national broadcaster is disseminating lies about the virus.
Two weeks ago, a Republican organisation, Saoradh, had advertised a picket to take place today on O’Connell Bridge in protest at continuing internment without trial of Republican activists. The protest was to take place on the anniversary of the introduction of formal internment in the occupied Six Counties in (7th to 9th August) 1971 and was orlginally planned to start at 2pm but, in order to facilitate people supporting the Debenham Workers’ national protest, was re-scheduled to start at 1pm. The picket would also protest the attempted extradition to Lithuania of Liam Campbell, an Irish Republican.
The announcement of the fascist IFP march came a few days before the scheduled picket but, although it was possible that it would pass over O’Connell Bridge and therefore by the picketers, the organisers decided to stick to their schedule and arrangement.
About 30 Irish Republicans and other socialists, including many independent activists took up positions at 1pm on the central pedestrian strip on O’Connell Bridge, unfolding banners and placards against internment and extradition and flying flags of various allegiances: Irish, Irish socialist republican, Basque, Basque Antifa, Palestine.
Soon afterwards, the picketers began to be accosted by three plain-clothes political police, generally known as “the Special Branch” and as the cry went up of “Garda harassment!” the picketers began to parade in a circular movement around the central strip. Confrontations developed between the “Branch” and individuals they had targeted to demand their names and addresses. The Branch were using Section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act, “anti-terrorist” (sic) legislation but, since they refused to confirm that they suspected their victims of committing or being about to commit a crime and in fact quoted association with others who had been convicted in the past, they were using it illegally (as they usually do). Although the illegality was pointed out to them, the political police persisted in threatening their victims with arrest if they did not give their names and addresses until eventually some complied.
Meanwhile, the shouts of “Garda harassment” and “Police harassment of a peaceful protest” could be heard both sides of the Bridge and attracted the attention of passing bus passengers, with many tourists and others stopping to watch.
CONFRONTATION WITH FASCISTS
The Branch had taken the names of perhaps no more than three when the fascist march could be seen approaching. By this time a number of other young men and women had taken position on the Bridge and, as Republican picketers stepped into the street to confront the fascists, the newcomers also jumped into the fray.
Uniformed Garda escorting the fascist marchers and those who had taken up positions on the Bridge waded into the antifascists and arrested at least one Republican there. For awhile the ability of the marchers to proceed seemed in doubt but the numbers of the antifascists were insufficient to overcome both police and fascists and so eventually the latter got across the bridge, being pursued down D’Olier Street, the picketers gradually trickling back to the Bridge.
It was not long before the cry of “Garda harassment!” rang out again as the political police, who had stayed well away from the fighting earlier, returned to their undemocratic repressive activity of intimidating and building up files on Republicans. The picketers began to renew their circling of the central strip and at that point it seemed the political police decided to give up, with perhaps a total of four or five having been coerced by the police.
Shortly after that, at about 1.45, the organisers decided to to end the picket a little early and some of the participants headed up to the GPO. They were not there long when a surge of antifascists, apparently led by anarchists, crossed from the central pedestrian reservation and into the ranks of the fascists. Uniformed Police rushed in and at least one antifascist was seen being held down by two Gardaí but another was running down the road with the fascists’ amplifier. Their microphone had also been seized and trampled and the remains of a loudhailer could be seen on the road. The fascists appeared badly shocked.
About five minutes later, the Public Order Unit, otherwise known as the “Riot Squad” arrived in three large police vans, precipitating a general evacuation of anarchists. The POU took up positions in a line near the antifascists, with uniformed police in a line on the other side of the road, i.e near the fascists.
Republicans and some other antifascists remained in the area waiting for the advertised Black Lives Matter protest which did not materialise, nor could it be ascertained who had been allegedly organising it.
Then the Debenham’s Workers march came down O’Connell Street and, turning into Henry Street, proceeded to the site of the former department store (which is still holding stock and equipment). Without warning in the very early days of the Covid19 lockdown, their former employer closed its Irish stores and sacked its workers. They have now been protesting for 121 days and their minimum demand is that they are considered first in the line of creditors for their collective redundancy pay, instead of last of all as is the general practice of capitalism.
It was a day in which a number of different aspects of capitalism in crisis and State repression could be observed on the streets of the city centre, all in the space of a few hours.
Republicans and other local antifascists countered a Far-Right rally and “prayer circle” who were protesting a Croke Park letting on Friday to some Muslims to celebrate their religious festival of Eid. When confronted by a handful of antifascists, the early fascists folded up their banner and cowered behind police protection, unfolding it later when many more reinforcements arrived. Later still there were some scuffles and a number of arrests.
The first shot fired on social media against the Croke Park letting was by Niall McConnell, leader of the tiny “Síol na hÉireann” group calling for a protest at the venue, followed by Gemma O’Doherty of “Anti-Corruption Ireland”, with other Far-Right posters quickly getting on the bandwagon. The main claim was that they were going there to prevent “creeping Sharia law” but alsotacked on being against ritual animal slaughter, child brides, pedophilia etc. What they were really about however was Christian or even Catholic fundamentalism, racism and fascism and this became crystal clear during the morning.
WHO THEY WERE AND WHAT THEY SAID
In contrast to many of the counter-protesters, none of the Far-Right seemed to be local and indeed many had travelled some distance to be there, some known to have come from Donegal and Mayo.
When calling out the responses of the Catholic prayer cycle of the Rosary1, Niall McConnell was roaring them out through a megaphone. McConnell, a founder of the tiny “Síol na hÉireann” group based in Donegal, believes in an Ireland built solely on Irish ethnicity (by which he means of Irish blood) and that its ethos should be Christian. How Irish blood “ethnicity” is to be judged is not explained, given that the Irish people are a mix of the Celtic population with many others, including Viking, Norman, Scottish, English, Welsh, possibly Basque, Italian, Polish etc. This is being “patriotic” according to McConnell, who is never seen campaigning for an end to the partition of Ireland nor of foreign occupation of one-sixth of the country.
Patrick Pearse’s father being an English migrant did not prevent his two sons from being true patriots, promoting the Irish language, progressive education, national drama and literature and fighting for independence. Thomas Davis’ father being Welsh did not prevent his son from founding The Nation newspaper or from composing such songs as “A Nation Once Again” (a recording of which the Far-Right played!) and “The West’s Awake!” Erskine Childers being English did not prevent him sailing a yacht into Howth to deliver Mausers to the Irish Volunteers in 1914 nor in joining the IRA during the War of Independence and the Civil War and being executed by the Free State junta. And a missionary called Patricius being Welsh did not prevent him ending up as St. Patrick, a patron saint of Ireland!
Although billing himself as an “Irish Patriot”, McConnell calls for an alliance of “nationalists across Europe” and has posed for a photograph in a line-up of Far-Right European figures that included Nick Griffin, former leader of the fascist British National Party2. McConnell’s party’s website calls on people to join to “resist and turn back the new plantation”, a reference to a paranoid conspiracy in which the Far-Right claim to believe that the EU plans to replace Irish people with migrants.
Apart from promising any new members of “Siol nah Eireann” (sic, no such words in Irish) the fantasy of joining “local cumans” (they have none and there is no such word in Irish either), they intend to provide them with “education” (i.e propaganda), “ideology” (fascism), “physical fitness and self-defence” (training in being bootboys) in Ireland and abroad …..!
Another who believes in an “ethnic Ireland” is Gemma O’Doherty who started off as an investigative journalist but turned into a proposer of illogical conspiracy theories and propagandist of racism. Protesting in a tweet against the recent election of Hazel Chu as Lord Mayor of Dublin, she ranted that Ms. Chu, born and raised in Ireland, is part of the Communist Party of China (!) takeover of Ireland. Parts of the Far-Right claim to believe that CPC is taking over the world through the UN (where China has ONE seat on the permanent Security Council out of FIVE!3) and on the other hand, President Trump is wonderful.4
Gemma O’Doherty has at times been caught out posting lying statistics to whip up racial fears and had two of her Youtube sites shut down by Google due to her continuous attempts to whip up race-hate. Since then she has been campaigning for “free speech” but for whom? Outside Croke Park she said that the country needs to become “a Catholic Ireland once again”. In this “Catholic Ireland” of her dreams, would there be “freedom of speech” for dissenting Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, atheists or agnostics? The “Catholic Ireland” State of the recent past censored films, banned books and newspapers and forbade not only abortion in all circumstances but also contraception and divorce, not to mention LGBT rights.
O’Doherty is another fake “patriot” who told her listeners that “our patriots died for a Catholic Ireland”, despite the fact that nearly every single leader of the United Irishmen was a Protestant, as were many of the Young Irelanders and not a few prominent members of the Irish Volunteers — and she totally ignored the words of the 1916 Proclamation.
Near the end of the event, some members of the National Party appeared, wearing green golf shirts with “NP” marked on them. Although their “Vision” for Ireland on their website claims to include “an Ireland united, Irish and free”, they have never been seen engaged in struggles against British colonialism and the partition of the country. The NP is against “replacement-level immigration”, i.e that racist conspiracy theory again and wants capital punishment for serious crimes, in which they include carrying out a pregnancy termination. Like most of the Far-Right, they oppose the “Black lives matter” campaign and the party’s founder, Justin Barrett (not there on Friday), tweeted that if he gets into government he will remove the Irish nationality of Hazel Chu, a woman who was born in the Mater Hospital in Dublin, was educated in Ireland and spent most of her life here.
Also missing were racist and islamophobe leaders of the “Irish Yellow Vests” Glen Miller and Ben Gilroy, also Herman Kelly, founder of the tiny Irish Freedom Party, another “patriot” who believes in a “Christian and ethnic Irish Ireland”. Kelly has shared a platform with British fascist and Loyalist Jim Dowson and Irish fascist Rowan Croft (aka “Gran Torino”).
Aside from all that, on Friday one woman ‘innoculated’ the ground around the Far-Right protesters with sprinkled salt, apparently proof against “witches” (anti-fascist women). A few of them shook their rosary beads at the protesters while another woman seemed to go into ecstasy, praying with arms alternately raised high or spread. “I don’t know anything about politics,” she said to one of the counter-protesters, “I just come here to pray.” Of course, the handball alley entrance to Croke Park is a well-know prayer venue! (Perhaps for fans of other county teams hoping Dublin won’t win the All-Ireland yet again ….)
One of their leaders, Dee Wall frequently seen at their rallies at the GPO, claimed she supported religious liberty for all but failed to explain how that squared with protesting at Muslims celebrating Eid at Croke Park. Unless that is she was in agreement with those whose reply to the slogan of “religious and civil liberty for all” was “for the Irish” and meant not only that, for some Muslims ARE Irish, but rather “for Christian, Catholic, several generations Irish only”. Another woman called an antifascist a paedophile(the Far-Right regularly call antifascists “paedophiles”) and told him that the Coronavirus was only in his head, i.e in his imagination – many of them believe that the coronavirus is just a scare to bring about “a one-world government”, one woman commenting that mask-wearers are part of the plot.
One of the Far-Rightists shouted that he never saw the antifascists protesting against the Government, which brought a chorus of incredulous protests from his opponents, the most telling being: “You’ve never seen us because you weren’t there!”
After the Muslims had left by another exit and as the antifascists were leaving, one woman called out antifascists that they were being funded by the millionaire Soros – another fantasy they pretend to believe. One of the antifascists shouted ironically back at her: “I haven’t received my cheque yet – can you have a word with him for me?”
Calling antifascists “paedophiles” might be useful in demonising their opponents but if believed by some could cause people real problems in their community. It is also ironic, given that these ultra-Catholics defended the Church hierarchy and its paedophiles right to the last, some even still maintaining that the scandal institutions were innocent and the targets of malicious accusations. Herman Kelly of the INP was for a time Assistant Editor of the Catholic Herald and maintained that the allegations were ‘fake news’. Also many of the Far-Right in Ireland and in Britain have been convicted in court of …. guess what? Yes, pedophilia.
WHAT WAS THE FAR-RIGHT FUSS ABOUT?
There was never going to be ritual slaughter of any animals in Croke Park, of course, nor any of the other scares being thrown by racists and fascists.
Just as the venue has been let for other large gatherings, in particular pop concerts, a Muslim religious organisation obtained permission from the GAA to hold a celebration of their festival of Eid there in the stadium.
The feast Day of Eid is an important one in the Muslim religious calendar and its main features are obligatory acts of charity towards the poor, communal prayer followed by social feasting and visiting of relatives and friends. Areas of large capacity are usually required (and more so if observing social distancing), such as large mosques, community centres or hired halls. A sermon is preached by a religious leader, after which a prayer is recited asking for Allah’s forgiveness, mercy, peace and blessings for all living beings across the world.
As to “creeping Sharia law”, since Muslims account for less than 2% of the population of the Irish state, the fascists and other islamophobes have to talk them up into something bigger as a threat, hence the “creeping”. Nor is it the case that all Muslims would support fundamentalist Muslim law any more than all Christians support fundamentalist Christian law or all Jews support Jewish Orthodoxy.
With regard to “child brides”, an unfortunate feature of many civilisations, including past European ones and parts of the United States, there is an age of consent in Ireland maintained by law and, furthermore, a law supported by the vast majority of the population of all religions and of none.
The Catholic Arch-Bishop of Ireland and leading clerics of the Anglican and Jewish community attended the event, as did Government Minister O’Gorman whose car was surrounded by Far-Right protesters screaming at him and banging on the car despite a walking Garda escort. Among the speeches at the Croke Park event – in a mix of English, Arabic and Irish – was a talk by 21-year-old Abood Aljumaili, encouraging the attendees to try out the native Irish sport played at the stadium, like hurling.
SCUFFLES AND ARRESTS
In a headline on a video posted on line by one of her supporters, Gemma O’Doherty exclaimed: “Antifa tried to attack me” but the video shows nothing of the sort. It does show a minor confrontation far from her between an antifascist and a fascist, the one doing the filming. In reply to a question, the fascist can be heard saying that Protestants will be admitted to their movement if they convert to Catholicism. It appears that the fascist pushes the antifascist, who pushes back and then the police are separating the two. The rest of the video records O’Doherty talking, talking ….
A month ago a Far-Right poster claimed that the homophobic rally outside Leinster House had been attacked by “Antifa”. However video footage showed a large crowd of rally participants, some of them threatening a tiny group of antifascist counter-protesters. A fortnight ago the leader of theFar-Right organisation the Irish Yellow Vests told a crowd on Custom House Quay that “the Antifa” had attacked the Far-Right with petrol bombs – another fantasy. But it was some of his supporters’ crowd of 500 that attacked the 40 or so counter-protestors. And McConnell of the tiny “Síol” group claimed at a Far-Right gathering in Europe recently that the Israeli secret services were threatening him due to his lip-service support for the Palestinians (in his case, based on anti-semitism rather than Palestinian solidarity).
While regularly practicing violence, fascists like to portray themselves as victims, especially on their way to taking power. A few weeks ago a fascist crossed the road from their rally at the GPO to attack a Republican while their speaker was shouting in her microphone that they would not be provoked by the violence of the antifascists! They also like to pretend that the police are on the side of the antifascists, while historically and in recent times, the reality is otherwise. After all, the police have been facing Republicans and Socialists in protests for decades, on issues as diverse as Republican prisoners, political repression in both administrations, gender and sexuality rights, the BP oil pipeline in Mayo, lack of housing, cuts in welfare …..
This was underlined when one of the Far-Rightists outside Croke Park shouted that he never saw the antifascists protesting against the Government, which brought a chorus of incredulous protests from his opponents, the most telling being: “You’ve never seen us because you weren’t there!”
There were a number of incidents, one when a Far-Rightist threw water at a video photographer and, after the latter complained to the Gardaí, was taken aside and eventually could be seen walking away from the scene.
Altogether there were three arrests: an antifascist woman who was attacked by a woman on the Far-Right fought back. The police dived in but the Far-Right woman did not want to let go of her opponent’s hair even when the police were trying to separate them. It took three police about five minutes to get her away and into a police van. The antifascist woman walked calmly with a police officer to a patrol car. Some time later a young lad who seemed to be a local person but had not been with the counter-protest, pulled the cord on the Far-Right’s amplifier, silencing it temporarily. The police pounced on him and took him away. According to information received, all were released without charges and a Garda report is being prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.
WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN AND WHAT NEXT?
All over Europe and the USA, the Far-Right is on the rise, as they sense an opportunity in ruling class austerity measures and popular dissatisfaction and disaffection. The latter is demonstrated in street mobilisations but also electorally, as votes for traditional political parties fall and the main parties in Government or otherwise are forced to abandon their false opposition and resort to ruling in coalitions of various forms.
Fascists attempt to mobilise the popular discontent against the established political class but to misdirect the popular anger and throw it against ethnic or social minorities, creating a false unity based on a notion of purity of blood and, in some cases, religion. If they can be seen to build a strong enough movement that seems capable of both mobilising people and attacking the resistance movements of the people to austerity and repression, the ruling class turn to them as they did in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s.
Aside from the difficult circumstances, it is generally accepted by historians that a number of errors were made by the antifascist forces in the past. The leaders of targeted communities often counseled not responding to the threat as that would draw further attention and hostility towards them, some even denouncingthose in their communities who were organising resistance to the police. Some sections of targeted groups did not mobilise until it was too late, others argued that the fascists were a diversion from the anti-capitalist struggle. The antifascists did not all unite across ideological barriers. The fascists were permitted to get a grip at street level and intimidate some areas of their opposition, eventually receiving the full support of the ruling class and their State.
Those errors must not be repeated.
A HISTORY OF RELIGIOUS OPPRESSION
Ireland has suffered different religions imposed upon it but none of those have been Muslim.
Presumably Christianity was imposed on a pagan Ireland of many centuries, although that seems to have been a largely painless process (unlike in many other parts of Europe). Subsequently the Celtic Church was suppressed across Europe by Rome and in 1155 Pope Adrian IV authorised King Henry II to invade Ireland, allegedly to bring the Irish Christian Church into conformity with Rome.
When Henry VIII of England broke with Rome in 1532 he tried to impose his religion not only on England but also on Ireland, a project continued by his daughter Elizabeth I and most other English monarchs. The administration of the Plantations of Ireland by colonists tried to ensure English-speaking Protestants were given the land taken from the Irish and that no indigenous Irish were allowed to live or work there. For a time priests and bishops were outlawed and hunted.
The Penal Laws (1607 in some degree right up to the 1840s) robbed Catholics of most civil and religious freedom and penalised also non-Anglican Protestant sects. The colonist Irish Parliament excluded Catholics and Presbyterians even after some were permitted to vote. From the moment the Irish Catholic Church stopped being persecuted, it collaborated with the foreign occupation of Ireland and its leaders condemned the Republican uprisings of 1798 and 1803 and every Irish resistance organisation since.
After the Irish national capitalist class joined with the Catholic Church leadership to agree to the partition of the country and Irish membership of the British Commonwealth Dominions and slaughtered those who had fought against foreign occupation 1922-1923, a puritanical conservative Catholic Church dominated the 26-County State while a sectarian, puritanical Presbyterian ethos dominated the 6-County statelet. Elements of anti-semitism were observed in the Church during the 1930s and the hierarchy supported Franco’s military-fascist uprising in Spain and blessed the fascist Blueshirts as they went to support Franco but condemned the Irish Republicans and Socialists who went to support the elected Popular Front Government. The Civil Rights movement in the Six Counties began a fight-back against sectarian oppression there at the end of the 1960s, about the same time as a slower struggle was breaking out in the rest of Ireland against the social and political domination of the Catholic Church.
The Irish people overall have shown that they wish to be free to make their own choices and decisions in matters of faith and social practice without being dominated by any religious authorities. The 1916 Proclamation of Independence declared that “The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberties to all” and, though that has yet to be realised, it seems to be what most people agree with. But clearly not the “patriots” of the Far-Right.
1The prayers that compose the Rosary cycle are arranged in sets of ten Hail Marys, called decades. Each decade is preceded by one Lord’s Prayer (“Our Father”) and traditionally followed by only one “Glory Be” and five decades are recited per rosary. Rosary beads are an aid towards saying these prayers in the proper sequence. There have been several Catholic devotional movements in Ireland that have emphasised praying the Rosary and, in modern times, most associated with Fr. Peyton’s “Rosary Crusade” beginning in the 1940s. In the 50’s and 60’s it was influential in Ireland and the phrase “The family that prays together, stays together” became well-known, which might be considered ironic at least in the physical sense, given the very high rate of emigration from Ireland, which included Fr.Peyton himself and his siblings. According to historian Hugh Wilford, “Peyton himself was deeply conscious of the political dimension of his mission, proudly proclaiming in a 1946 radio broadcast, ‘The rosary is the offensive weapon that will destroy Communism—the great evil that seeks to destroy the faith'” (Living memory and Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_Peyton).
2 In addition to being a racist organisation against immigration, the BNP cultivated links with Ulster Loyalists in the Six Counties, Scotland and elsewhere, also with Nazi groups in Europe. It supported white colonist regimes in Africa and organised attacks on Irish community organisations in Britain and on Irish solidarity demonstrations.
3 The Security Council is the only body of the EU that can decide policy and any one of the five Permanent Members can veto a decision. The Five are France, UK, USA, Russia and China; the UK and France tend to vote in line with the USA.
4 The other permanent seats are held by the UK and France, which normally vote with the USA and Russia.
The Far-Right, including racists like Gemma O’Doherty and fascists like Niall McConnell, have called for a protest against the hire of Croke Park for a celebration of the Muslim festival of Eid on Friday. These clowns posing as “patriots” who strut around waving the Tricolour and “Irish Republic” flags seem to have forgotten the words of the 1916 Proclamation of Independence (if indeed they ever bothered to read it): “The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all …”.
SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE – A FUNDAMENTAL REPUBLICAN PRINCIPLE
A fundamental principle of republicanism is the separation of church and state – it is as fundamental as the elimination of monarchic rule. It is what the Anglicans Wolfe Tone, Edward Fitzgerald and Robert Emmet believed in, along with the Presbyterians Anne and Henry Joy McCracken – and what they died for, along with independence from England. Anne Devlin and Michael Dwyer were typical of the Catholics who supported the republican ideal. No government should be telling its people what religion they must or must not follow — nor indeed that they have to be religious at all.
Gemma O’Doherty is calling for “a Christian prayer circle” at Croke Park at 9am as a protest against the muslim celebration. Christian prayers for intolerance, racism and fascism? These “patriots” think they have the right to decide which religion is acceptable and which not. That they dislike Muslim religion is their privilege but what is outrageous is that they think they have the right to dictate to people what their religion should be. These are the same people, let us not forget, who have been so stridently shouting about the “right to free speech”!
They say that they are doing this to “prevent Sharia law in Ireland”. Apart from the fact that the only religious domination we’ve had in Ireland has been various forms of Christianity, what kind of paranoia makes them think that there are enough Moslems in Ireland to get a Sharia party elected, even if Moslems wanted that, which many of them don’t? Not all Moslems are supporters of Sharia law any more than all Christians are fundamentalists — or all Catholics support the right of religious orders and clerics to abuse people over which they have control.
It was the Christian Pope Adrian IV in the 12th Century who, with the Laudabiliter document ‘authorised’ the invasion of Ireland by King Henry II of England. From the 15th Century we had Protestantism forced on us by the English Crown by the sword and plantation. In the second half of the 18th Century, Irish Republicanism sought to separate Church and State and to unite Catholic, Protestant (i.e the dominant Anglicans) and Dissenter (i.e Presbyterians, Methodists, Unitarians, Quakers). They failed but gradually Presbyterians and then Catholics won their rights (although Catholics continued to suffer discrimination in the Six Counties). In the 1930s the Blueshirts in the 26 Counties scapegoated Jews in order to divert the people from their real enemies and to build a fascist state, until they were beaten off the streets by Irish Republicans and socialists.
None of that religious persecution or strife was inflicted on us by Muslims.
TELLING US HOW TO LIVE OUR LIVES
In the 26 Counties from 1921 we had a Catholic State and the Church dominated public and secular life, dictating laws and social rules about marriage, birth control, sex and sexuality, dance and socialisation, controlling also the education, welfare and health system. That would have been unhealthy enough but they abused their trust, not only physically, mentally and sexually abusing children, adolescents and adults, and exporting orphans abroad – but denying the victims and covering up for the abusers.
They told us what books and newspapers we could read, what films we could watch and what political parties we must not support. This is the kind of “free speech” sought by the fascists.
A fascist tweeter called Rionach has threatened to burn Croke Park down with the Muslims inside it!
All democratic forces need to oppose these reactionary gatherings, whatever the cover story under which they are calling them but under which the fascists are trying to organise their future stormtroopers. Already there have been a number of attacks on antifascist individuals and small groups.
If you disagree with what this collection of the bad, mad and sad are doing, with what they want to do to our country, you know where to be early on Friday morning. Bailligí le chéile!
The monthly picket of the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee on Saturday attracted broad support across the spectrum from Irish Republican to Anarchist and revolutionary Socialist. Shoppers and passers-by on Dublin’s busy Henry Street observed the picket with interest, some stopping to engage the picketers in discussion. Several hundred leaflets were distributed explaining that, albeit under another name, internment without trial continues in Ireland on both sides of the British Border.
Just prior to that event, a mostly young Black Lives Matter campaign group had held a lively protest also in Henry Street and the Debenham’s sacked workers’ campaign were demonstrating outside the entrance to the store from which the staff were sacked while they were out due to the pandemic lockdown. The BLM group protest then moved to the Spire and apparently there had been a protest about political prisoners in Belarus outside the GPO, while the Far-Right and fascists gathered to support an Irish Yellow Vests demonstration outside the Custom House on the north quays. Earlier there had also been a protest in Molesworth Street at the auctioning by Whyte’s of a large number of artifacts of Irish history, including a Wolfe Tone’s handwritten notes for his address to the court that sentenced him to hang in 1798.
As well as about the practice of jailing Republican activists without jail, the picket today focused on the cases of three Irish people being extradited to other states and of Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, 36 years so far in a French jail.
A spokesperson on the issue of extradition pointed to, apart from Liam Campbell, another two Republicans: Ciaran Maguire, currently in Port Laoise jail fighting extradition to the Six Counties British colony and Sean Farrell, who was extradited there fairly recently from Scotland. The spokesperson conveyed solidarity greetings to their families and supporters and, in regard to Maguire and Farrell, to stated their attendance in order to “highlight injustice by the British and the the ineffectiveness of the ‘Free State’ Government” in allowing these.
Liam Campbell is a veteran Irish Republican whom the Lithuanian state seek to extradite to face charges of arms smuggling but he has never been nor is he accused of ever having set foot in that country. For a state to be able to extradite a person who has never been in their country is a serious precedent to set — it would have permitted the USA for example to extradite Julian Assange to face trial there for what a number of their politicians have described as “spying” — i.e exposing many dark secrets of human rights violations through “Wikileaks” In fact the USA military brought prisoners to an illegal jail they ran in Lithuania for which they were heavily criticised. Nevertheless a judge in the Irish High Court has agreed to the extradition and Campbell, currently in custody, awaits to appear in court to be served with the warrant and flown abroad. During this week Donegal Council passed a motion condemning the extradition of Campbell and will be writing to the Government to ask that the extradition be not permitted.
36 YEARS IN JAIL, SEVEN YEARS PAST RELEASE DATE
According to the End Internment FB page, this month’s international focus was on Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, Lebanese but “in a French jail for 36 years now due to fighting in defence of Palestine during the 1982 Lebanon War. 14 January 2013 was the scheduled date for Abdallah to be released and deported to Lebanon after almost 30 years of imprisonment in France.”
BIG POWER INFLUENCE
There are allegations that both the extradition demands and the ongoing keeping in jail of Georges Ibrahim Abdallah are influenced by the interventions of other powerful states. It is claimed that Campbell’s extradition to Lithuania is influenced by the UK authorities, although similar charges against Campbell have already failed to have him convicted by a British court. In Abdallah’s case, after a number of legal cases his release date was set for six years ago but the USA objected, the French Minister of the Interior then refused to sign his release papers and Abdallah remains in a French jail.
Commenting on the picket today, a spokesperson for the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee indicated that the organisers were pleased with the numbers attending and the broad spread of political ideology represented there.
“We are an independent committee and we welcome the participation of all who are genuinely concerned with civil rights, in particular the right to organise and to protest to affect change” said the spokesperson. “Today there are Irish Republicans, Anarchists and revolutionary Socialists here, many of them independent activists and we view “that very positively. Indeed there are other bodies that we think should be represented here too – the protection of civil rights is a concern for all democratic people.”
The Dublin Anti-Internment Committee expects to organise another picket on similar issues next month, the details as usual to be announced on the End Internment FB page.
Basque independentist militant Itxaso Zaldua was arrested on Tuesday in Hernani, in the Basque province of Gipuzkoa and according to media is to be charged with complicity in the killing of a senior right-wing politician in 2001. She has spent only three years at liberty in the southern Basque Country after nearly twelve in a French jail and is now back in custody pending trial. Her arrest has been denounced by both wings of the Basque pro-independence movement but from different perspectives.
As according to the bilingual GARA newspaper Zaldua was not held incommunicado, i.e without access to friends and relations, lawyer or doctor of choice, it is not likely that she will be tortured. Until a few years ago the use of a variety of types of torture during the five-day incommunicado period under the “anti-terror” (sic) laws was the rule rather than the exception. However, all detainees charged under the terrorism laws of the Spanish State are always taken to Madrid for interrogation by the Guardia Civil and then for court appearance, the distance from their homes placing an additional burden on friends, relatives and supporters (it is 450 km from Hernani). Some of those will be given temporary accommodation and support by Madrid organisations in solidarity.
TWELVE YEARS IN JAIL
Back in April 2005 Itxaso Zaldua was arrested in the Lannemezan area of the Occitan region of the French state, along with her comrade José Segurola Querejeta. They were charged with membership of ATAKA (sub-structure of the armed Basque resistance organisation ETA), of which she was accused of leading and duly convicted and jailed in the French system (which also disperses political prisoners to jails throughout the territory).
Zaldua was released in 2017 and right-wing Spanish unionist organisations including the “Association of Victims of Terrorism”, many of their members relatives of Spanish police or military, complained at the traditional honouring reception she received upon her return home from French jail. Zaldua walked hand-in-hand with her young daughter down a street with well-wishers on both sides cheering, was presented with a floral bouquet, two women danced the aurresku (honour dance) before here and another shouted the irrintzi, the high-pitched yodeling cry reputed to have been a battle-cry (see embedded video) and the Eusko Gudariak (“Basque Soldiers”, similar to the Irish “Soldiers’ Song”) was sung by all.
The “official” Basque independentist movement responded quickly to the ex-prisoner’s new arrest: the Sare organisation convened a demonstration in Hernani the same afternoon demanding Zaldua’s release and the trade union works committee of her place of employed also denounced her arrest. The official movement’s political party EH Bildu (headed by Arnaldo Otegi), issued a statement that “It is time to be emptying the jails, not filling them,” a reference to the nearly 250 Basque political prisoners still in jail.
The party’s statement called the arrest “another obstacle in the path chosen by this nation towards peace, coexistence and freedom; a path which, cost whatever it may, we are determined to follow”.
However the ‘dissident’ organisation Amnistia (Movement for Amnesty and Against Repression), which also condemned the arrest, issued a statement declaring that “There will be no peace until the reasons that are at base of the conflict are resolved and until all the militants who are punished as a consequence of said conflict are free.
Both organisations called the people to action, with EH Bildu referring to “the participation and activation of Basque society” and Amnistia in contrast stating that “the working class need to organize”.
“THEY WANT TO HUMILIATE THE BASQUE COUNTRY”
The Basque organisation ETA ended its armed struggle in 2012 as part of a unilateral bid for a peace process of the movement under the leadership of Arnaldo Otegi. However, a peace process requires the participation of at least both antagonists and the Spanish State has shown no interest in negotiation. Whatever one may say about such processes in Ireland or in South Africa, the resistance organisations in those countries ensured the freedom of their imprisoned members before they signed up to the deal. This was not so in the Basque case.
It is no doubt difficult for observers to understand why the Spanish State is now pursuing an ex-prisoner for alleged complicity in an assassination nineteen years ago when State has gained not only the ETA’s abandonment of armed struggle but even its dissolution. Nor is there any sign that Zaldua is a sympathiser of the “dissident” movement; the statements in her support from across the “official” movement and the speed of response is in stark contrast to the “officials’” response to the hunger and thirst strike of political prisoner Patxi Ruiz in May. Ruiz had denounced the “official” leadership some years ago and been expelled from the collective that leadership controls (and which precipitated the resignations of another four Basque prisoners in solidarity).
Ironically, it is the assessment of the “dissident” Amnistia which seems correct: “This arrest, like other previous ones, shows that the States (i.e French and Spanish) want to humiliate the Basque Country. By means of life sentences against a specific against a specific model of resistance, they want to intimidate the new generations that join the struggle.”
Whatever the eventual outcome of the judicial process against Zaldua in the no-jury National Court in Madrid, it is clear that the struggle against the Spanish State is far from finished in the southern Basque Country, though its armed stage seems over at least for the present.
The “official” leadership has been following an electoral path and quoting the support of external political figures such as Bertie Ahern, Gerry Adams, Kofi Anan, Tony Blair and Brian Currin of South Africa.
In the Euskadi regional government elections on Sunday in the southern Basque Country, the “official” party led by Otegi, EH Bildu, as expected came in second. The PNV, the Basque Nationalist Party, came in first and the PSE, Basque version of the Spanish unionist PSOE, in third place. Despite periodic approaches by the EH Bildu leadership, the PNV will govern the three provinces either in coalition with the PSE or in “confidence and supply” agreement with the party.
Even if EH Bildu in years to come were able to reach first place in Euskadi regional elections, what of the other region, Nafarroa? And the three northern provinces of the Basque Country, under French rule? And, even with an eventual majority in all seven provinces, if the Spanish State were still to deny independence, as it does with an independentist majority in Catalonia, what then?
Over to the Amnistia movement, which advocates street power: “If we are to achieve peace, it will come from the full implementation of total amnesty, with the unconditional release of prisoners, refugees and political deportees, with the expulsion of the occupation forces and with the overcoming of the reasons that pushed so many people to fight. That will be the only guarantee to end arrests like today and other similar repressive actions.”
That seems a realistic enough assessment. But as to how to achieve their objectives against the opposition of the Spanish and French states, neither section of the Basque independentist movement seems to have an answer.
Mick Healy of the Irish Marxist History Project was kind enough to interview me about some of the issues about which I have been active. Parts I and II were published together a couple of months ago and here’s Part III now.
Mostly its snippets about the founding of the Irish in Britain Representation Group, my involvement in the foundation of the Lewisham branch of IBRG in SE London and from there, the Lewisham Irish Centre. Also my participation in Kurdish solidarity and a trade union delegation to Turkish-occupied Kurdistan (the YPG placard photo is of me in Trafalgar Square, London a couple of years ago when I was over visiting kids & grandkids) and the anti-water charge campaign in Ireland.
Javier Ortega Smith, No.2 in the leadership of the fascist Spanish party Vox recently attacked the Basque language, he did more than reveal the hatred of the core of Spanish unionism for the diversity of national cultures currently in existence within the Spanish state – he revealed his abysmal depth of ignorance about how languages, including his own are formed. And got lambasted and ridiculed in comment even in some conservative media as also social media, especially in tweets.
Vox was on an expedition into what is for them electorally virgin territory in the run up to the elections in the Basque Country Autonomous Region this weekend, where they have no elected representation at all. Far from what might have been expected, their presence and speeches seemed calculated to arouse hostility and expose their few supporters there to embarrassment.
Gaining the prize for generating hostility was Javier Ortega Smith, No.2 of the Vox party, speaking in Vitoria/ Gastheiz in Alava, one of the three provinces of the “Basque Autonomous Region”. Calling the second party in electoral strength in the region “terrorists” would cause little surprise, since EH Bildu is descended from Herri Batasuna, which was once associated with the armed group ETA and considered by some to be terrorists (by others, freedom fighters). But to say of the party of main electoral strength, the Basque Nationalist Party, that they are only “four cats”, equivalent in English to “three men and a dog”, this in a region where Vox has failed to get even one delegate elected …. well!
But Ortega Smith really put his hoof in it when he blundered into linguistics. “Asturian (language) is invented and Euskera (Basque language) also,” he declared, going on to declare that Batua, the standarised form of the Basque language, was formed “from dialects” of communities “who would not even have understood one another.”
Asturias, to the north-west of the Spanish state, with a population of around 1.02 million, is in some cultural expressions a Celtic nation but their language is of the Romance group, like Castillian (Spanish), with contributions from the Iberian-Celtic of the Astures tribe and later Germanic languages of the conquering Visi-Goths and Suevi. Euskera, the Basque language, is of uncertain origin but certainly ancient and currently spoken over the seven provinces of the Basque nation, three under French and four under Spanish control (total population a little over 2.17 million). All languages in the Spanish Kingdom other than Castillian have come under suppression at one time or another and most widely and rigorously under the four decades of the Franco dictatorship, a period nostalgically recalled by fascists and by even many conservatives in the Spanish state. What language has rights where and at what level is a battleground of struggle with the central State and a preoccupation for Spanish unionists.
Anyone who understands even the basics of how languages and their vocabularies are formed and developed would not have dared make such a statement as did Ortega Smith.
One would not even need to know that English, belonging to the Germanic group and currently a dominant world language, has a vocabulary which is 60% from French, with heavy sprinklings of words of Greek and Latin origin. Latin, which was a ‘world language’ before English, French or Spanish, started life as a Romance language in small province of Italy called Latium. Latin influenced heavily the development of Castilian, which includes many words of Arabic origin as well as from other languages and yes, even from Euskera! Nearly all European languages are thought to have developed from an Asian ancestor something like Sanskrit, so that they are grouped together as ‘Indo-European’. And what language was spoken in Europe before the advent of those Asian-influenced tongues? None other than Euskera, probably the original language of the early early Neolithic settlers!
Still, who needs knowledge when prejudice is king!
Some of the social media comments are sarcastically amusing, reproduced here in translation:
“Asturian is invented and Euskera also. Unlike Spanish which already existed in the time of the dinosaurs” or
“unlike Spanish, which came out of the Big Bang” or
“unlike all the other languages, that only use words growing on trees” or
“Unlike Castillian (Spanish) which arrived in Noah’s Ark with all the words”.
“Do you know how to say Ortega Smith in the Valencian tongue? ‘IGNORANT’”
“Well now, Ortega Smith, the vocabulary of all the languages of the world are invented, like your patriotism.”
“Ortega Smith is sure that the Basque Language has been taken from The Lord of the Rings.”
The Vox party was formed in 2013 from an extremely right-wing political core that has contributed in turn to the creation of the Partido Popular, from former supporters of Franco and Ciudadanos before going on to the creation of Vox. It has campaigned for the abolition of the statutes of autonomy for regions, for the right of parents to withdraw their children from liberal sex and gender education, spoken against a focus on male violence against women. The party climbed in popularity in recent years, in particular in the more economically depressed regions and now has 52 deputies in the Spanish Parliament and four MEPs.
Still intent on their version of making friends and influencing people, on Wednesday in Oñati in Gipuzkoa province, where Vox carried out a ceremony to honour the militarised Spanish police force, the Guardia Civil, spokeswoman for the fascist party Macarena Olona screamed at protesters that “Oñate is in Spain, you crockful of ETA!Oñate is in Spain!” In this township of 11,000 people Vox received, in the last general election, a total of 21 votes.
Throughout their visits to the Basque Country, Vox representatives were surrounded by Basque police and left quickly after their rallies.
According to a report by the left-wing Spanish on-line media Publico.es, the fascist Spanish Catholic Movement1 plans an event glorifying the fascist dictator Franco and the only restriction placed upon them by the city council of Madrid has been to “wear masks and maintain social distancing”. At the time of publication, the Council had yet to reply to enquiries from Publico.es.
José Luis Corral, leader of the fascist Spanish Catholic Movement says all is organised for this Saturday the 18th with a rally at the Arco de la Victoria (“Victory Arch”) to celebrate the “national uprising”: the first military attempted coup against the elected Spanish Government was on 18th July 1936 but was defeated.
The rally is to be followed by a procession to where Franco’s remains now lie, at Mingorrubio Cemetery. The Movement also asked supporters to attend mass (Catholic religious service) at the church in the Valley of the Fallen, the monument and mausoleum to Franquism built by the labour of political prisoners from where finally, after many unfulfilled promises by the PSOE party, Franco’s remains were removed. This took place in October last year among protests by fascists and followed by national TV services in a style reminiscent of an act of national mourning.
Also planned to honour in the event at that cemetery is the memory of the fascist Admiral Carrero Blanco, whose body was also removed from the mausoleum in the Valley of the Fallen. Carrero Blanco was Franco’s nominated successor but he was assassinated in Madrid by the Basque armed group ETA in December 1973, two years before the death of the Dictator.
FASCISM IN SPAIN WAS NOT DEFEATED
In 1936 General Franco led a military-fascist uprising against the elected left-republican Popular Front Government which resulted in a war that did not end until 1939, causing an estimated 200,000 deaths by violence. Following the victory of his forces, which had been aided by Italian Fascist and Nazi German armament, transport and men, a fascist dictatorship was established in which thousands of men were imprisoned, shot out of hand, executed after summary court martial or sent to penal battalions. Women were jailed and shot too, many were raped and publicly humiliated. All of the above was with the full support of the Catholic hierarchy in Spain, in Ireland and in most of the world. Only Cambodia has more mass graves than the Spanish State.
After Franco died, the Transition to “democracy” deal with the social-democratic PSOE and Communist Party leaderships ensured impunity for the fascist perpetrators of tortures and murders and a curtain of silence drawn over the whole history, with mass graves remaining unexcavated or even unmarked for decades. Monuments to Franco and his followers remained throughout much of the state. The Transition also imposed a monarchy on the populace and a unionist Constitution which has been the cause of conflict with the Basque Country and Catalonia for decades.
The display of fascist Franco symbols or glorification of fascism has been forbidden by law in the Spanish State for years but fascists regularly hold events, display fascist symbols, sing fascist songs and shout fascist slogans without any police intervention, to say nothing of facing charges in court. This is certain to be repeated on Saturday.
The Fascist leader admitted to Publico’s reporter that he had not applied for permission to hold an event celebrating a military-fascist coup but rather “as a protest against the Historical Memory Law2 and a demand that they care for the Victory Arch3, which is very neglected.”
Also on the same day as the Franco glorification event in Madrid, the ultra-conservative Traditionalist Carlist Communion also plans a commemoration of their own. The ultra-Catholic Carlists took the Basque province of Nafarroa into alliance with the Franco military-fascist forces in 1936, massacring around 3,000 Republicans, Socialists, Communists, Anti-Fascists and Basque Nationalists in the province.
The organisers claim that they are commemorating the 111th anniversary of the death in exile of Carlos VII Borbonne and East Austria (their choice for Monarch of Spain, which was part of the cause of the Carlist Wars) and that the only flags or banners permitted will be the those of the “Cross of St. Andrew”, with or without “the Sacred Hearts” and the “Spanish Flag with the Sacred Heart”. However, the organisers have also let it be known that there are “additional reasons” for the event.
Fascism in the Spanish State was never defeated but instead an accommodation was reached with it. Now, in common with much of the world, the fascist movement is rising again but incensed at the national independentist claims of the Basques and Catalans and also at what they perceive as defilement of the memory of their fascist heroes. The Spanish State, even under a Left-Social Democratic government, at the very least exhibits a tolerance towards the fascist movements and their activities which is far from its response to the independentist movements or to the militant Left.
1This is but one of the organisations in the Spanish state that reveres the memory of Franco. I call them “fascists” because that is what they are but Publico calls them “far-Right”.
2 The Historical Memory Law seeks to remedy some of the silence and fear around the history of the Spanish Anti-Fascist War and of the Dictatorship and is one of the regular targets of fascist diatribes
3The Victory Arch monument celebrates the victory of the military-fascist forces over those of the elected government in 1939.
On June 24th, as the repressive Offences Against the State Act was up for debate in the Dáil, it was voted for renewal by TDs of the Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green parties, along with Labour, while only a Solidarity/People Before Profit and two Independent TDs voted against. For the first time since Sinn Féin had TDs present in the Dáil in 1997, they abstained in the vote. They failed to vote against an undemocratic Act that was brought into being precisely to repress their own political ancestors.
The Offences Against the State Act was made law by the De Valera Government (Fianna Fáil) in 1939 and 1940 to nullify the writ of habeas corpus served by Seán McBride (Irish Republican, former IRA officer and later one of the founders of Amnesty International) which gained the release of IRA prisoners interned without trial under the previous Emergency Powers Act 1939. The Act established the Special Criminal Court which processed the rearrested internees and sent them back to prison and concentration camp in the Curragh.
BRITISH INTELLIGENCE FATAL BOMBING HELPED TOUGHEN LAW AGAINST REPUBLICANS
In 1972 the Fianna Fáil Government sought to strengthen the Act even further, among other attacks on civil liberties to permit an inference of guilt by the Special Criminal Court from refusal to answer questions by the Gardaí, along with the taking of a senior Garda officer’s word, unsupported by any substantial evidence, as the main “proof” of membership of an illegal organisation. However, the forecast looked bad for the Government since the Labour Party and Fine Gael were predicted to vote the Amendment down. During the debate, two bombs exploded in Dublin killing two Dublin public transport workers and injuring a number of others, some horrifically (two years later a similar bombing team was to kill 33 and injure around 260 in Dublin and Monaghan). The 1972 explosions, most likely the work of Loyalists working with British Intelligence, were blamed on the IRA and the opposition to the Amendment crumbled, ensuring it passed into law — and there it has remained.
The Act empowers the Government to bring internment without trial into force by order (i.e without debate, even if the Government should be a minority one). Among its powers the OAS permits the State to ban organisations and subsequently (with its 1972 Amendment) jail people for membership of said organisation, the unsupported testimony of a Garda not below the rank of Chief Superintendent being considered prima facie evidence of said membership.
In a state where trials of all indictable offences under criminal law are by jury with a judge presiding, the Special Criminal Court is a non-jury court. Virtually all Irish Republicans serving time in prisons of the State have been convicted in the SCC, where even the unsupported word of a senior Garda officer is considered important proof and the standard of additional evidence required is very low. As one might expect in such conditions, the conviction rate is unusually high. On the charge of “membership of an illegal organisation” and largely on the word of senior Garda officer, conviction is almost certain and becomes an easy way to remove Irish Republican activists from circulation for the standard two years.
“GREATEST MISCARRIAGE OF JUSTICE IN THE IRISH STATE”
In two trials in 1978, the Special Criminal Court, in what has been called “the greatest miscarriage of justice of the Irish State”, tried and sentenced three Republicans to long terms of imprisonment for a mail train robbery at Sallins in which they had played no part. The judges in the Court chose to believe what 12 jurors would likely not have done: that the defendants had voluntarily confessed to actions they had not committed, that they had not been beaten by Gardaí and that the defendants’ bruising had been self-inflicted. The Garda “Heavy Gang” went on to obtain “voluntary confessions” from others, including Joanna Hayes and her relations in the “Kerry Babies” case, later also cleared and recipients of a Government apology in 2019. Those convicted of the Sallins mail train robbery were eventually cleared and released. The circumstances of those false “voluntary confessions” accepted by the SCC have never been investigated.
In 2001 Colm Murphy was convicted in the Special Criminal Court of conspiracy to cause a bombing on the basis of Garda evidence which Murphy said was untrue — but the judges chose to believe the Gardaí. The Court of Appeal ordered a retrial when it was shown that the Gardaí’s notes had been fabricated and Murphy was cleared in the SCC in 2010.
In 2003 Michael McKevitt was convicted in the Special Court of leadership of the Real IRA on evidence widely believed not to have met the standard necessary for conviction, including that given by a paid informer. McKevitt is still serving his 20-year sentence.
Although the title of the Court includes the word “criminal” it was clearly created for political purposes and until 1998 all but one of its trials have been of Irish Republicans. That did not prevent the TDs of the Greens, a party with a record of previous opposition to the Act, using gang crime along with Labour as an excuse for voting for the Act’s renewal during the recent debate.
“THE SPECIAL BRANCH ACT”
The granting of wide powers to the State to use against their political opponents has resulted in even those powers being regularly exceeded. Without ever even charging anyone with any crime, the Act has been used by generations of the Special Branch, the political police renamed the Special Detective Unit, to harass and intimidate Republican activists and their supporters. People have been approached and their contact details demanded by these secret police when they have attended a protest picket or rally, public meeting, visited a Republican office or were observed talking to a Republican. People have been searched in the street, had their vehicles stopped and searched also.
Sellers and distributors of Republican newspapers have been harassed and threatened. Without any authorisation even by the Act, officers have approached parents of young activists and their school or college, as well as the place of employment of older activists, to express their concern at the activity or associations of the activists concerned. Officers of the special unit, all of which go armed, have displayed their weapons on occasion to intimidate Republicans (on one famous occasion discharging their firearm in a busy shop). They have filmed and photographed Republicans without any legal right to do so, followed them around, sat obtrusively outside their offices and even their homes, often day after day for months or even years. So widely have the secret police of the Irish State come to see the Act as entitling their intimidation and file-building that when, at a recent Dublin picket about political prisoners, a Republican asked what legal authority the officer had for harassing him, the man replied in all seriousness: “Special Branch Act.”
But on the 24th June, only three TDs voted against the Act’s renewal: Mick Barry (Solidarity/ People Before Profit), Michael MacNamara (Independent, formerly Labour) and Thomas Pringle (Independent). Two TD abstentions were recorded: Pa Daly and Martin Kenny (both Sinn Féin).
“UNTENABLE IN A DEMOCRACY”
Traditionally, Sinn Féin, along with other Irish Republicans, have opposed this undemocratic repressive legislation. But not just SF, also the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Amnesty International, Irish and international jurists and UN Rapporteurs and Committees on democratic rights of the United Nations. And not just once but a number of times. The following statement was released by the ICCL in the week before the debate.
23 June 2020
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), ahead of the mooted renewal of the Offences Against the State Act next week and the Dáil debate tomorrow, renews our call for repeal of the Act and with it the abolition of the non-jury Special Criminal Court.
There is no jury at the Special Criminal Court and it accepts secret evidence from gardaí. This is in violation of our right to a fair trial, our right to trial by jury and our right to equality before the law. ICCL has opposed both the Act and the Court since their introduction to deal with a terrorist threat in 1972. We continue to strongly oppose these emergency measures which have now become the norm in dealing with organised crime.
ICCL’s Executive Director, Liam Herrick, said:
“It’s untenable that in a democracy like ours, which prides itself on its human rights record abroad, a law and court like these can exist.
The State contends that it needs the Special in order to protect juries but it has never considered alternatives to abandoning jury trial.”
The protection of jury members is of deep concern to ICCL. But the State has never demonstrated, as required by human rights law, that alternatives to a non-jury trial are ineffective. There are a number of obvious options for protecting juries such as anonymising juries, the use of video link for juries, or granting special protections for juries.
Last year at the Special Criminal Court, Judge Tara Burns acquitted two men of IRA membership after the head of the Garda Special Detective Unit refused to disclose underlying evidence pertaining to “belief evidence” to the prosecution. This meant gardaí were seeking a conviction without disclosing evidence to the defendant’s legal team, the Court or the DPP. ICCL welcomed the Judge’s decision but the case revealed some concerning attitudes and practices at the Court.
ICCL is not alone in our opposition to the Special Criminal Court. Various UN human rights independent experts and the UN Human Rights Committee have repeatedly declared the State to be in violation of its human rights obligations because of the continued use of the Court beyond the emergency it was designed to address. Eminent Irish legal experts, Mr. Justice Hederman, Professor Dermot Walsh and Professor William Binchy have also called for abolition of the Court.
At its introduction in 1972, the Special Criminal Court was considered a radical and purely temporary departure from the norm. Forty years have passed since then. It’s time for its abolition. Statement ends.
Defenders of Sinn Féin have said that dropping opposition to the OAS from their election program for government and even after their party won the highest number of elected TDs (delegates) in the February 2020 General Election, was purely a temporary tactical one. Presumably this decision was in response to Mícheál Martin’s statement last year that Sinn Féin was not a legitimate choice for government because they were against the Act.
Not a legitimate choice for whom? one might ask. Do the mass of working people in the country want this undemocratic Act in place? Not that they were ever asked by any Irish Government! Now there was an opportunity to put this before the electorate — but it is not the opinion of the mass of working people that Sinn Féin worries about but that of the ruling class and their media hounds.
When however the two main parties of the Irish Gombeen capitalist class went into coalition with the “alternative” Green Party in order to exclude Sinn Féin from government – and one might have thought SF had nothing now to lose by voting against the renewal of the OAS – even then they failed to oppose it. Some say SF’s tacticians expected the negotiations between the other parties to collapse and then to be able to put themselves forward as a credible alternative. But again, credible to whom?
For years now, Sinn Féin has been at pains to demonstrate that it is a safe pair of hands for Irish capitalism (which entails also being safe for foreign capitalism and British colonialism). It is not necessarily a question of supporting armed struggle or not but to enter into the administration of an invader, as SF did in 2007 when it became part of the British colony’s government, would for most patriots and anti-imperialists be considered a clear crossing of the line. After WW2 many liberated countries executed a number of those who had taken part in such administrations and from one example, a new adjective entered the English language: “quisling”.
Sinn Féin has gone even further now to show the Irish ruling classes and both states that their panoply of repression on both sides of the British Border is safe: undemocratic legislation granting special powers to the police, politicised police forces and special non-jury courts with low quality “proof” required for convictions.
It is understandable with so little viable alternative choice that so many voted for SF candidates in February and in fact, would probably have elected even more had the party fielded sufficient candidates. All the other main parties and even the Greens have been in Government previously, all have approved bank bailouts and austerity budgets.
Sinn Féin is the only major party who had not been in Government and those who wanted to see them in practice had a reasonable point. But seeing them in “opposition” is also instructive. A political party that is so afraid of the ruling class and its media that even in opposition it will not vote against undemocratic repressive legislation and instruments, that were brought in precisely against its own earlier members and supporters – is not going to be braver in government, when it will inevitably be in a coalition with a capitalist party or parties.
However, the undemocratic Offences Against the State Act and its non-jury Special Courts remain and must be opposed. The struggle against them will continue to be waged by its victims, currently the “dissident” Republicans and by people and bodies concerned with civil rights. As the State encounters increasing resistance to austerity measures it may well be that it will widen the list of targets of this Act to include social and economic campaigners, as it was rumoured considering against the Jobstown water protest defendants in 2017, all of whom were cleared by the jury who did not believe Garda witness lies (exposed by recordings).
It is essential to oppose this Act and a wider opposition to it needs to be built – one that does not depend on false friends.