The Sunday November 6th meeting of Marxism 20161 on the theme “When Governments Lie” hosted as speakers four women campaigners and Eamon McCann, a male campaigner, addressing the packed downstairs hall of the Club na Múinteoirí. A number of cancellations of speakers had taken place, including Gareth Pierce who sent a message which was read out to the meeting.
On the podium, taking turns to speak, were Sheila Coleman of the Hilsborough Justice Campaign, Kate Nash of the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign, Joanne Donnelly of the Justice for the Craigavon Two Campaign, and Antoinette Keegan of the Justice for Stardust/ 48 Never Came Home Campaign (summary of these campaigns below).
After being introduced by Bríd Smith, chairing the event, Joe Black with guitar, accompanied wonderfully by a musician on bazouki (if I can get his name will insert it here), launched the evening with Black’s powerful song about Giuseppe Conlon, father of Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four. The Guildford Four were wrongly convicted in 1975 of IRA bombings and served fourteen years before they were cleared. Giuseppe Conlon, who went to England to clear his son, was also jailed, as were his relatives the Maguire family. The Maguire1 Seven were cleared in 1991 but by that time Giuseppe had died in prison, an event that, along with his own imprisonment, devastated his son and affected him for his remaining years until he died in 2004 at the age of only sixty years.
All of the speakers emphasised that the State’s officials lied with regard to their respective cases and concealed evidence and most speakers also accused the media of complicity. In the cases of Bloody Sunday, the Craigavon Two and Hillsborough, the British state was placed in the dock by the speakers while the Stardust fire cover-up was laid at the feet of the Irish state.
Most of the speakers also warned people in similar circumstances to beware of establishment party politicians who try to flatter campaigners and decide which are the “reasonable” ones to deal with, always at the price of reducing the objectives being sought. The speakers for the Bloody Sunday and Hillsborough campaigns in particular warned against this element, Kate Nash singling out Sinn Féin as the party that acted that way with regard to Bloody Sunday (Kate Nash’s brother was killed that day and her father shot and injured) and how they tried to bring the campaign to an end with an apology from the then British Prime Minister, while no senior officer or government official was held to account and while one of the unarmed dead remained accused of carrying a nail bomb.
Eamon McCann, who was on the march in Derry on Bloody Sunday 1972, finished the evening with one of the rants for which he is famous, going beyond his allocated time by a fair bit and despite the Chairperson’s frequent reminders. McCann located the similarities of the cases within the class system – most of those injustices represented were about repression of working class communities, or ignoring the damage done to them and the lies were told to protect the system and its supporters – big businessmen, politicians, the police, the Army.
The meeting ended to sustained applause but without any opportunity to ask questions or to make contributions, to the regret certainly of a number of Republicans and campaigners against what they consider to be ongoing internment without trial. All however seemed agreed that the talks had been interesting and educating in at least some aspect of the issues and events covered.
WHY SO LONG?
It is good that this meeting about State injustice and lies was held by an Irish socialist organisation. It is the duty of socialist organisations to point out the injustice of the State even when the victims are not socialists – or not socialists in the way that socialist organisations think they should be. Prominent socialists Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were not Fenians but they campaigned for the release of Fenian prisoners being held in English jails (where, by the way, it said that one third of them died and one third went insane).
It is said that we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes and certainly, if we are to bring about a revolution and the society we want, we must learn from our failures. And in that spirit, I must ask: why has it taken so long for Irish socialist organisations, particularly in Dublin, to wake up to the repression being exercised against Irish Republicans?
Five years ago Marian Price, a former Republican prisoner released under licence as part of the Good Friday Agreement, had her licence revoked and was taken to Maghaberry jail, kept for months without charge or bail, eventually charged and kept in jail without bail, sick, until her mental and physical health was broken. In Dublin the socialist organisations sent a couple of representatives to one demonstration for her freedom and never attended a picket about her case afterwards.
After the Marian Price campaign ended with her release in 2013 on “compassionate (sic) grounds”, some of those involved in Dublin launched a campaign against “internment by other names”, a process by which ex-prisoners released on licence are returned to jail without even a trial in the no-jury courts of the Six Counties2 and other Republican political activists are harassed and arrested and refused bail on spurious charges which eventually collapse after the accused have been held for months or years in jail3.
I must ask again: why has it taken so long for Irish socialist organisations, particularly in Dublin where the major part of their organisation is located and most of their activities organised, to wake up to the repression being exercised against Irish Republicans?
Is it perhaps because the socialists feared to be painted with the nationalist brush? But did they not fear being daubed with complicity with imperialism instead? It is a strange kind of socialist organisation that can’t make common cause with Republicans against the tyranny of the colonial statelet and capitalist State! In that failure, it misses the opportunity to unite forces against its enemies’ state and also to disseminate its ideas among Republican activists. One might also remark that a failure of people who are prepared at times to unite with social democrats for reforms, to unite with Irish Republicans against a capitalist state is a strange indication of revolutionary socialism!
Or is it purely because they didn’t care – it wasn’t happening to them – that Irish socialist organisations haven’tt campaigned against State repression of Irish Republicans, or even protested in solidarity with them? If so, they will by the seed of their inactivity one day certainly reap a harvest of repression for themselves too. Solidarity against State attacks is not only a noble thing with a long tradition; it is a necessity for revolutionaries.
So now that this “Marxism” weekend is over, when its organisers are taking a deserved rest, or writing it up for the British and Irish version of their newspaper, or compiling their recruitment slips to see how many new members or at least mailing list contacts they have gained – will they do anything different?
Will we see the highlighting, from time to time, of the almost everyday harassment of Irish Republicans in the leaflets and newspaper of the SWP and PBP? Will their TDs in the Dáil raise these issues where they might get some bourgeois media coverage? Are we going to see PBP and SWP militants on the regular pickets organised by the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland anywhere and, in particular on those called by the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee?
We can hope, I suppose.
APPENDIX: THE CAMPAIGNS
Hillsborough Justice Campaign seeks vindication that the original disaster was due to crowd mismanagement by the South Yorkshire Police and that some of the subsequent deaths were also due to their mismanagement of some still-breathing victims and lack of coordination of the emergency services. The disaster took place at Hillsborough football stadium in Sheffield, England, UK, on 15 April 1989, during the 1988–89 FA Cup semi-final game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. With 96 fatalities and 766 injured it is the worst disaster in British sporting history. Originally, the Liverpool football fans were blamed for the disaster but subsequently it became clear that the blame lay elsewhere.
Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign seeks a proper accounting of the deaths of 14 and injury of at least 14 after British troops opened fire on unarmed people demonstrating in Derry on 30th January 1972 against Internment. Originally, the British Army and Government claimed that they had shot “terrorists” in “returning fire” after being first fired on and a British enquiry backed them on this and claimed to have evidence that some of the dead had been handling weapons.
The campaign organises a march every year on the Sunday nearest to the date of the massacre https://www.facebook.com/BloodySundayMarch/?fref=ts.
Justice for the Craigavon Two Campaign https://www.facebook.com/JFTC2
Founded in 2012, a campaign to overturn the clearly unjust convictions in May 2012 of John Paul Wooton and Brendan McConville for the killing of a member of the British colonial police force, the PSNI, in March 2009.
The forensic evidence was contradictory and in a number of cases even pointed to the innocence of the accused, electronic surveillance equipment had been interfered with by the British Army; the State produced no witnesses to the incident and only one who placed one of the accused at the scene – this witness came forward a year after the arrests of the two, his account of his movements that evening were not supported by his wife; a close family relative called him a habitual liar and then this family member was arrested and subjected to intimidation by the colonial police after he had given a statement to the accused’s legal team..
(see also forthcoming fundraiser in Dublin https://www.facebook.com/events/705695282938993/)
Justice for Stardust/ 48 Never Came Home Campaign https://www.facebook.com/JusticefortheStardust48/?fref=ts
In the early hours of 14 February 48 young people died in a fire at a disco at the Stardust nightclub in Artane, Dublin and 214 were injured.
The campaign seeks to shift the blame from alleged “arsonists” to a fault in the premises wiring and other factors within the responsibility of the club’s management and owners, including blocked emergency exits. The allegation is that there has been a cover-up connived at by the Irish Government to exonerate businessmen friends, who to add insult to injury, received substantial financial compensation for the loss of the building. An ongoing controversy over inquiry findings and ignoring of important pieces of evidence have lent increasing credence to the version of the campaigners.
1This is organised annually in Dublin, Ireland by the Socialist Workers’ Party
2A prominent example in the past has been Martin Corey of Republican Sinn Féin; a current example is Tony Taylor
3For example Stephen Murney of the éirigí political party and the independent activist Colin Duffy and members of his family