Rebel Breeze Reporter
Puigdemont. President-in-exile of Catalonia, visited Dublin to take part in a debate in Trinity College on Tuesday 29th January and visited the Dáil and a number of Irish politicians on the same day.
Carles Puigdemont was elected President of the pro-independence Catalan Government, declared an independent Catalan Republic but immediately suspended it; then had his Presidency abolished by the Spanish State, which took direct control of Catalonia for a period. He went into exile with a number of other Catalan Government ministers in order to avoid arrest; the Spanish State issued a European Arrest Warrant for him which was party unsuccessful and then withdrew it; however, he remains in exile in Brussels. Most pro-independence Catalans and even others consider him the legitimate President of Catalonia, though another had to be elected to fill his place; Quim Torra, who is currently the elected President, says that he considers himself only “the interim President”.
Carles Puigdemont was elected President of the Govern, the Catalan Government, in January 2016, in an agreement between pro-independence parties. On 27th October 2017, with a majority of October 1st Referendum votes salvaged and counted — after the Spanish police attacks on the voters – in favour of independence, he declared a Catalan Republic on behalf of the Govern. However, he almost immediately suspended it, to the dismay of many Catalans, including supporters of his own party. The Spanish State, the Constitution of which forbids any secession without the majority vote of the Parliament of the whole territory, was not mollified by the suspension and, as the Spanish State prepared criminal charges against him and Catalan Ministers, Puigdemont went into exile (as did another five Catalan ministers).
ARRESTS AND EXILE
The Spanish State arrested a number of others, including seven ministers and two leaders of grass-roots movements and charged them with sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds, carrying 30, 15 and six years in prison respectively and European Arrest Warrants were issued for Puigdemont and other ministers. On 25th March 2018, Puigdemont was detained on that warrant while passing through Germany on his way back to Brussels from a speaking engagement in Finland. A German judge decided the issue of the “rebellion” charge first, declaring that any such charge had to provide evidence of violence, of which there had been none by the detainee (there had been plenty of violence but all by the Spanish police) nor under his direction.
The German court decided in July that Puigdemont could be extradited to the Spanish State to be tried for misuse of public funds but the Spanish State, not wishing to have to try him and the other ministers only on those while the other ministers were being tried on the more serious charges, withdrew the arrest warrants. These charges can of course be renewed at any time and another warrant issued.
Since his return to Brussels after release by the German court, this Dublin visit has been Puigdemont’s first venture outside Belgium.
Accompanied by Jordi Puigneró, the current Minister of Digital Policies and administration of Catalonia, also visiting Ireland, Puigdemont paid a brief visit to an olive tree donated by Barcelona to Dublin in acknowledgement of the Irish who had fought for Catalonia in the War of the Spanish Succession. After a meeting with the Mayor of Dublin for the year, Niall Ring, Carles Puigdemont attended the Dáil (the Irish Parliament) for a private meeting with Bertie Ahearn, a Fianna Fáil party parliamentarian and ex-Taoiseach (Prime Minister).
MEETING IN THE DÁIL
Afterwards Puigdemont addressed a meeting room of around 100, organised by the Dáil organisation Oireachtas Friends of Catalonia, with its chairperson Pat Gavan, Sinn Féin Senator, presiding. Jordi Puigneró sat beside Puigdemont as did Lynn Boylan, Sinn Féin MEP.
Fifty-seven years of age last December, Carles Puigedemont is a journalist by trade and ex-Mayor of Girona, a major Catalonian city of over 100,000, just under 100 kilometres (62 miles) north-east of Barcelona. In 2006, after a track record of activism in Catalan culture and nationalist activism, he was adopted as a political candidate by the CIU (Convergence and Union) political party and later to represent the reformation of that party in the Junts per Si (Together for Yes) coalition, composed of mostly nationalist capitalist elements. He has been successful in every election and currently heads the uneasy coalition platform Junts per Cat (Together for Catalonia). The current Govern is made up of a coalition between JuntsXCat and ERC (Republican Left of Catalonia), with the other pro-independence party, CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy) in opposition, though not voting with the Spanish-unionist opposition.
In what seems an action contradictory to his political position, in January 2019 Puigdemont filed a constitutional application for amparo (remedy, to put right) directed against the President of the Catalan Parliament, Roger Torrent and the Board of the Chamber, to the Spanish Constitutional Court. The application argues Puigdemont had been denied the use of his political rights as Torrent did not allow him to delegate his vote from Belgium after Puigdemont’s criminal indictment and suspension of his parliamentary position by Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena.
Despite constant Spanish-unionist claims from both Right and Left, the Catalan pro-independence movement has shown itself more tolerant of migrants and diversity than can be said in general of much of the rest of the Spanish State and one of the laws of the Govern, twice squashed by the Spanish Supreme Court, sought to give migrants equal access to Catalan national health care. Puigdemont is himself married to Romanian journalist (Marcela Topor in 2000) and they have two daughters, Magali and Maria, the family home in Girona. His children are multi-lingual and Puigdemont himself speaks Catalan and Castillian (Spanish), as do most Catalans but also English, French and Romanian.
Addressing the full room, after thanking Gavin for presiding over the meeting and those assembled for their presence, Puigdemont presented his case that Catalonia had the right to secede, that holding a referendum was a democratic activity per excellance, that the arrest and trial of politicians for having promoted that referendum was undemocratic and that such activity was not within keeping of the EU ethos.
Replying to questions on what he would ask Irish politicians to do in order to help Catalonia’s struggle and on how he saw his nation’s struggle combining with other nations within the Spanish state, for example the Basque Country, Puigdemont said he did not wish to tell other countries what do and that the struggle of Catalonia stood on its own. He declined to relate the content of his discussions with Aherne, which he said were confidential. One member of the audience reminded Puigdemont that 100 years ago, the first democratically-elected Irish national parliament had met and that many of its delegates were also in jail or in exile.
To a question about alleged flight of business from Catalonia, Puigdemont said that one had to read alternate media to some of the dominant ones and make up one’s own mind, critically examining all sources – including himself! But he did say that although some addresses of head offices were transferred to the Spanish State in what he said was not legally right, not one factory, working office or member of staff had been transferred out of Catalonia. Also, the struggle with the Spanish State and some Spanish attempts at boycott had obliged Catalans to look outside the Spanish state for their markets and business links whereas previously, imports from and exports to the Spanish state had accounted for 90% and 80% respectively. Jordi Puigneró commented that he was in Ireland in part because of that, in particular to follow up on the Irish state’s success in attracting and developing information technology business.
Outside in the icy cold after the fairly short meeting, Puigdemont lined up for a few photos surrounded by Catalan and other well-wishers and departed to the singing by them of Catalan’s national anthem, Els Segadors (The Reapers). He had a debate at which to speak in a few hours and most of the Catalans in attendance would be there too.
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