A representative of the Irish (Fine Gael) Government’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade last night not only called for non-interference in the “internal affairs” of the Spanish State but defended the Spanish Constitution of 1978 and the “independent Spanish judiciary”. She was answering a question regarding the Spanish State and Catalan independence movement and her stance was supported by representatives of the two other traditional parties of Irish Government, Fianna Fáil and Labour. Five Teachtaí Dála, elected members of the Irish Parliament, argued passionately against them.
THE VOICES OF THE ESTABLISHMENT
This was Minister’s Question time, when Ministers (or their representatives) appear in the Chamber to answer questions about areas of the remit of their Departments and earlier, Ministers had been quizzed about areas of childcare, social care funding, local government funding ……
The Dáil chamber looked mostly deserted but in the public gallery sat a score of Catalans and some Irish, listening intently. Normally, these sessions are attended only by the TDs asking the questions and the relevant Ministerial spokesperson – and only for the question being asked. And of course also in attendance is the Ceann Comhairle, the presiding person acting as Chair – and secretaries. Sometimes by members of the media but by no means always, since reporters can monitor the televised broadcasts of the session.
The Minister’s reply on the question of Catalan self-determination delivered by Minister of State Helen McEntee TD followed a predictable pattern – predictable because it is so often trotted out: the Irish and Spanish Governments have a long history of good relations and friendly links, lots of Irish people go there on holidays, lots of people from there come to Ireland every year, Spain is a democracy, its constitution must be abided by, it would be wrong to interfere in its internal affairs. Inclusions to that in litany in recent times are that the question of Catalonia is emotive throughout the Spanish State and that Catalan society is divided over it, that the rule of law must be upheld and that violence has no place in politics.
The Fianna Fáil representative, Seán Haughey TD, echoed that line, adding also that the Spanish Constitution of 1978 is unitary and does not allow any part to become independent. He also quoted some survey results that he claimed indicated that support for independence was now in a minority among Catalans.
The Labour Party representative, Jan O’Sullivan TD, went further and specifically supported the present Government of her “sister party in Spain”, the PSOE and suggested that the “inflexible” previous government of Rajoy (of the PP) had helped to bring the current situation about and that Sanchez, the Prime Minister, would help calm the whole situation down. The only concessions she made were to suggest that the lengthy jail sentences were perhaps not the best way to deal with the issue and to include the police by mention in her call for “end to violence by all sides”. However, she went further than others in the Establishment parties with a specific condemnation of the jailed activists when she said that “it is not acceptable for politicians to lead citizens into conflict”.
“Reactionary Spanish nationalism”
The first TD to speak in reply to the Establishment politicians was Eoin Ó Broin, a comparatively recent Sinn Féin Deputy (2016) for Dublin Mid-West. Ó Broin was in Catalonia as one of the international observers of the Catalan Referendum on Independence on 1st October, which was attacked by Spanish police with around 1,000 Catalans injured.1
Speaking about his experiences there, Ó Broin related his meeting with 83-year-old Antonio, bruised and with his fractured arm in a sling, beaten while trying to vote earlier that day, queuing again at a polling station in Barceloneta. The SF TD spoke about what he had seen there and the “increasingly reactionary Spanish nationalism”, then went on to list the elected politicians and their jail sentences. Denying it was an internal matter for Spain, Ó Broin said it was about human rights and required international independent mediation. The Dáil would be implicitly in collusion with the Spanish Government if it left the matter to internal resolution only.
“The working class are the incorruptible heirs …”
Paul Murphy TD, a socialist activist2 who has recently left the Socialist Party of Ireland to form a platform called Rise, shared speaking time with Eoin Ó Broin. Calling for a “reality check” he said that jailing politicians and activists for organising a peaceful ballot could hardly be the work of a normal democracy. Responding to the Labour Party spokesperson with regard to the Spanish PSOE Prime Minister, he said that “Sanchez is in Government” and that he was “sending thousands of troops and police” to suppress the Catalan independence movement and mounting “a publicity campaign” to blame the convicted leaders.
The Spanish Government would one day come to be haunted, Murphy said, by the words of James Connolly in 19143 when he said:
“If you strike at, imprison or kill us, out of our graves or prisons we will still evoke a spirit that will thwart you, and perhaps, create a force that will rise up and destroy you. We defy you! Do your worst.”
Murphy said that the Catalan popular movement was impressive with their demonstrations, marches and the recent general strike. Against that, the Spanish police and army were carrying out “a campaign of terror” injuring hundreds and anyone who didn’t believe it only had to go on line and see the videos. “Francoism is baring its ugly head”, Murphy said and pointed out that the Spanish legal systems is riddled with a contempt for democracy, echoed by those at the top in the European Union.
The recent Catalan General Strike, according to Murphy, “showed the way forward” and he quoted again from Connolly, that “the working class are the incorruptible heirs of Irish freedom”. The Spanish State had a long history of suppression of national self-determination, including those of the Basques, Murphy said and the way forward would be for a voluntary socialist federation.
“The judicialisation of politics”
Next to speak was Thomas Pringle, Independent TD for Donegal since 2011, with a socialist Irish Republican background, a member of Sinn Féin for few years but who left the party in 2004. He opened his contribution by referring to “the judicialisation of politics” in the Spanish state and, in reference to the scale of the Spanish repression, mentioned the 700 Catalan town mayors who await judicial process due to their support for the Catalan Referendum in 2017.
Pringle said the Spanish Constitution purported to guarantee the rights of different people within the state, which would be a joke if the reality were not so grim. “The EU continues to ignore” what is going on in its member Spanish State, “as it did in the Six Counties,” he said.
“Catalonia in 2019 is Ireland a century ago”
“Self-determination is a human right,” said the next to speak: Peadar Tóibín, TD for Meath West since 2011, who left Sinn Féin in 2018 and went on to form Aontú in January 2019. Tóibín reminded all that the First Dáil had sent out a call to the world for recognition of Irish independence in 1919 and that most states had not done so then4.
“Catalonia in 2019 is Ireland a hundred years ago”, Tóibín said and went on to say that if the Irish Government remained silent on repression by the Spanish State then it shared culpability for it.
“ … a short memory in this House”
“We sometimes have a short memory in this House” said Mattie McGrath when it was his turn to speak, a TD since 2007 who has been an Independent since he left the Fianna Fáil party in 2011. McGrath referred to the recent long war in the north-east of Ireland and said that conflict resolution process was the only way to resolve the issue.
McGrath referred to Clare Daly (elected MEP this year after being a socialist TD for some years) and her statements on the issue. “Self-determination is a fundamental human right”, McGrath said, and went on to speak about “the right of freedom of assembly”, which was under attack by the Spanish State.
“Ireland is a small island nation”, Mc Grath said, “very sympathetic to the rights of people” (apparently contrasting this to the attitude of the Establishment in the Dáil).
In the time allowed by procedure for final response from the Minister, her representative reiterated the position she had outlined earlier and, though she conceded that most of the Catalan demonstrations had been peaceful, said that some recent “scenes of violence” had been “of concern”.
Fianna Fáil‘s origins are in the split with Sinn Féin led by De Valera in 1926 over the question of taking seats in the “partitionist” Irish parliament, the Dáil, and rapidly became the preferred party of the native Irish capitalist class, having been in government since more than any other Irish party.
The origins of Fine Gael, currently in minority Government at the tolerance of Fianna Fáil, has its origin in the setting up of the Irish State after the War of Independence and represents the victors of the Civil War against the Republicans. It was composed of a coalition of a right-wing Irish Republican party (followers of Michael Collins, Griffiths etc), a small right-wing farmer’s party and the fascist Blueshirts (a name by which FG are still often called by their enemies).
Hard to believe today, the Irish Labour Party was founded by, among others, James Connolly and is the oldest of the three parties. A progressive party in the early days, it was not a participant in the Civil War, during which its representatives criticised the Free State Government about its abuse of civil rights, repression, large-scale arrests, internment without trial, torture and murder. Over the years it lost more and more of its socialist credentials and has been in coalition government with the right-wing Fine Gael on two separate occasions. The main trade unions in Ireland retain connections to the Labour Party, with the possible exception of the rapidly-growing British-based UNITE.
The supposed inviolability of the Spanish Constitution of 1798 is one of the questions at the heart of the matter. The boast of the Spanish Government and its supporters abroad is that the majority of the people within the Spanish State voted for it. Well, so they did, except in the Basque Country – but what of it? If in a wedding, one of the partners says “I do”, does that mean that person is forever forbidden from leaving? Do we not have the right to divorce acknowledged now in most states around the world and certainly in “the democracies”? If one agrees to join a club or organisation, does that mean one can never choose to leave? Well, maybe in the Mafia, or the Cosa Nostra ….
Furthermore, that monarchist Constitution was put forward to a population that had endured four decades of fascist dictatorship, with the collusion of the allegedly socialist and republican PSOE and the allegedly communist and republican Communist Party of Spain, restraining their trade union and party members in the wave of state repression and murders during the Transition to “democracy”. Isn’t there something about the invalidity of agreements made under duress?
The issue of non-interference in the internal affairs of another state is a bogus one, since all governments do that at one time and another and Irish governments and political parties are no exception. In 1936, the representatives of Fine Gael loudly supported the military-fascist uprising led by Franco against the democratically-elected Government of the Spanish State. The Irish Government of Fianna Fáil did nothing to prevent the Blueshirts going off to fight for Franco and the Bishops of the Irish Catholic Church blessed them as they sailed off. The reality is that states that agree with one another generally do not interfere in one another’s internal affairs.
The constant mantra of reference to “the rule of law” and the condemnation of “violence in politics” is not only an irrelevance but turning truth on its head. It was not illegal according to the Spanish Constitution or laws to hold a referendum on independence 5. It is also against the Spanish law to use violence against others and even the police are not legally empowered to do so except in self-defence or in defence of others. On October 1st the actions of the Spanish police had 1,000 people requiring treatment and another few hundred have been injured in recent days. The Internet is full of videos of different incidents of gratuitous Spanish police violence, often the perpetrators showing no fear of being filmed – clearly because Spanish (and more recently, Catalan) police know they have impunity. Recently, however, it seems that some Spanish police have become sensitive to being filmed during their violent acts and have begun to target photo-journalists, both with personal violence and with rubber bullets.
A total of five people have now lost an eye from the impact of the rubber bullets of the Spanish police. Apart from the fact that these are banned in Catalonia, the bullets are supposed to be fired to ricochet and not directly at people, nor are they supposed to be fired at close quarters. Clearly, the rules are not being adhered to and nobody is enforcing them, granting impunity to the Spanish police.
When the representative of the Minister for Foreign Affairs acknowledged the overall peaceful nature of Catalan independence demonstrations but expressed concern over some recent scenes of violence, what was she really saying? It was this: that the violence of the police against the peaceful demonstrators could continue but the victims using force in defence or in retaliation is a cause for concern!
1 Eoin Ó Broin, often described as on the (small) left wing of Sinn Féin (a wing badly needed by that party) has in the past had relations with the Abertzale Left in the Basque Country and wrote a book on the movement there in his time, Matxinada – Basque Nationalism and Radical Basque Youth Movements. He is also author of Sinn Féin and the Politics of Left Republicanism.
2 Paul Murphy has been, while a Socialist Party TD, dragged by police out of a housing protest and with others faced serious charges arising out of a protest about Irish water against a Labour Party Minister, of which he and the others were acquitted by the jury after an infamous trial. He remains in the PBP-Solidarity parliamentary coalition.
3 James Connolly (1868-1916) was at that time active in the Irish Labour Party and leader of the Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union, which was struggling to recover from an 8-month fight against a group of employers that had set out to crush the union (Dublin Lockout). Connolly was a revolutionary socialist, republican, journalist, historian, author and organiser and was horrified by the very idea of the First World War which began in 1914. He was shot dead by British firing squad, along with other leaders and some others of the 1916 Rising.
4 This reference seems particularly appropriate. In January 1919 the majority of MPs elected in Ireland in the UK General Elections of December 1918, carried out the “Sinn Féin” platform’s election promise not to go to Westminster and convened a parliament in Dublin. This is known as “The First Dáil” even by the Irish State, which numbers its parliaments from then onwards. The First Dáil declared independence and called on the states of the world to recognise Irish independence (see References) but only the young USSR did so. Ireland had no legal right under British law to break away from the UK unless it were agreed by majority in Westminster (where the Irish MPs would always be outnumbered by the British). The First Dáil was banned by the British in September of that year and its members were arrested if they could be found.
5 Though possibly the declaration of Republic was – but that was suspended in less than five minutes.
REFERENCES & FURTHER INFORMATION
Clip of Eoin Ó Broin TD reply: https://www.facebook.com/EoinOBroinTD/videos/1138199326378630/
Clip of Paul Murphy TD reply: https://www.facebook.com/paulmurphytd/videos/424540844872189/?t=11
Clip of Thomas Pringle TD reply: https://www.facebook.com/ThomasPringleTD/videos/416766079224197/
Clip of Peadar Tóibín TD reply: https://www.facebook.com/740004202875853/videos/738458029959798/?t=124
(currently seeking remaining TD, also footage of the whole debate)
Text of all contributions to the debate: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/dail/2019-10-22/34/
First Dáil’s Message to the Free Nations of the World: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Message_to_the_Free_Nations_of_the_World
Some organisations of Catalan solidarity in Ireland:
CDR Dublin: https://www.facebook.com/CDRDublin/
With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin: https://www.facebook.com/WithCataloniaIreland/