After the Spanish police attack on voters in a referendum on independence in Catalunya1 on October 1st, People Before Profit2 Councillor Tina McVeigh put forward a motion condemning the attack and calling for the Catalan Flag to be flown over Dublin City Hall as a mark of solidarity with the Catalan people and their right to determine their future.
This was not such a wild step for the Council to take as it may seem: the Palestinian flag had been flown from City Hall in May, to the delight of most Dubliners but to the disgust of the Israeli Ambassador and to Zionist sympathiser and former Government Minister Alan Shatter. And Dublin city has been ‘twinned’ with Barcelona since 1998.
Nevertheless, in November the Protocol Committee agreed to recommend flying it by majority only, seven votes for and five against. It still had to be voted on by the whole Council and so went forward on to the agenda for the monthly meeting in December. Councillors began receiving emails from Spanish unionists asking them to vote against, which at first substantially outnumbered those in favour. As the first Monday in December drew nearer, the correspondence equalised between those in favour and those against. But the meeting ran over time before the motion was reached on the agenda and another date was set to discuss it. When the councillors reconvened, the motion was proposed, discussed and voted on. Unlike the decision on the Palestinian flag earlier this year, the vote was very close but the motion passed by three votes.
In January this year the Catalan flag was hoisted – the regional ensaya and not either of the independence esteladas3 – on top of City Hall, where it will fly for a month. City Hall is itself a historic site, having been part of a battleground during the 1916 Rising. On January 6th, Catalans and some supporters gathered outside City Hall to celebrate the show of solidarity in the flying of the Catalan flag.
Joan Pau of Casal Catala of Ireland4 welcomed the attendance and thanked the Councillors for flying the flag and introduced the Lord Mayor, Mícheál Mac Donncha, telling those present how he had approached the Catalans to help them. Mac Donncha (SF)5 thanked the Catalans for the invitation to attend and said that he was proud of the Council for the decision they had taken. He remarked also that in the past Ireland had political prisoners just like those now in Spanish jails for supporting the Catalan referendum and deplored elected officials of Catalunya being jailed for following the mandate of the people. He spoke also about Ireland’s fight for freedom and how in the 1916 Rising, Volunteers had taken over City Hall itself.
Joan Pau then expressed his regret that Cnclr. Tina McVeigh could not be present due to a family bereavement, since she had been very active in solidarity with the Catalan people. He introduced Cnclr. John Lyons (also PBP) who also expressed his pride on the result of the vote, as well as his condemnation of the Spanish Government, as distinct from the Spanish people, for their undemocratic and violent behaviour in the October 1st attacks and subsequently in the jailing of Catalan public representatives. He also condemned the Irish Government for not supporting the right of the Catalan people to self-determination.
Although a Spanish unionist had contacted the Council to threaten a counter-demonstration, there was no sign of any such presence throughout the ceremony. A number of passing tourists took photos (some even having themselves photographed with the group) and a number of passing motorists tooted their horns in solidarity.
After the formal part of the meeting was over, Dublin walking history tour guide Diarmuid Breatnach invited Catalans to gather around DCC’s plaque to the garrison of City Hall and surrounding buildings in 1916. The guide explained the origin of the Irish Citizen Army in the Dublin Lockout of 1913 as a workers’ defence militia against brutal attacks by the Dublin Metropolitan Police Force. It has been called “the first workers’ army” Breatnach told them and drew attention also to it being the only one of the various organisations taking part in the Rising that formally gave equal status to men and women. There were women officers in the ICA and after the killing of the commandant of this garrison Seán Connolly, it was a woman who took over as commandant. The fighting here had been fierce as Dublin Castle is just next door and that had been the HQ of the British Occupation of Ireland since 1169.
After receiving answers to a few questions, many of those present retired to a local pub to warm up and to carry on conversation on a number of topics, in the best Irish – and Catalan – manner. Up above, the Catalan flag on the east side of City Hall’s roof waved in the breeze, with the Irish tricolour next to it, in the centre, waving too.
1Catalunya is considered part of wider nation called Paisos Catalans (Catalan Countries) which includes Valencia, the Balearic Islands and parts of Aragon and Murcia; most of it lies within the current territory of the Spanish state, with a small part within the French state. Catalunya (capital Barcelona) is one of the regions within the Spanish state with limited autonomy and it is there that the referendum was held, the result mandating its Parlament to create and independent republic. The Spanish Government and Constitutional Court ruled the referendum illegal, confiscated ballot boxes, assaulted hundreds of voters, declared the referendum result non-valid, jailed a number of elected members and activists, threatened others with jail, ruled Catalunya directly Spain and called for new elections, which confirmed the situation more or less as before. The struggle is ongoing.
2People Before Profit was launched as a broad front by the Trotskyist organisation the Socialist Workers’ Party Ireland, formerly the Socialist Workers’ Movement, founded in 1971 and close to the SWP of Britain.
3There are two Catalan independence flags or estelladas: the Republican one with red stripes on a yellow background, with a small blue triangle to the left, containing a white star; the Socialist (or Communist) one, also with red stripes on a yellow background but with a red star to the left and no triangle. The regional ensaya, without any star, was proposed as the one least likely to cause division.
4Casal Catala are Catalan cultural associations that have been founded in a number of countries outside Catalunya.
5SF or Sinn Féin – the party is represented on Dublin City Council and tradition has it that the Lord Mayor is elected yearly in rotation from among the elected representatives; this Council year it was SF’s turn again.