CATALONIAN FIREFIGHTER AND TRADE UNIONIST SPEAKS IN DUBLIN

by Clive Sulish

A Catalonian firefighter and trade unionist addressed a Dublin audience to talk about the independence for Catalonia movement and the role of the trade unions in it, the repression from the Spanish State and the how the firefighters found themselves between the rampaging Spanish police and referendum voters on the 1st of October 2017.

Panel and screen at the Dublin meeting. Oriol is seated in the middle.

With some words in Irish and then speaking in English, the Chair of the meeting, Marc Loan of CDR Dublin welcomed the mostly-Irish audience to the meeting in Club na Múinteoirí (Teachers’ Club) on 13th November and outlined how the presentation would go, before opening up to questions and contributions from the audience. The meeting was part of a short tour of Irish cities by a Catalonian firefighter and trade unionist, organised jointly by three Ireland-based organisations in solidarity with Catalonia: With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin, ANC Ireland and CDR Dublin.

The room lights were dimmed and an electronic presentation operated by Carles Pujol of the Irish branch of the ANC (National Assembly of Catalonia) took the audience through dates in the history of Catalonia as a nation and its relationship with the Spanish Kingdom. Then the presentation switched to some dates in international recognition of the right to self-determination of peoples, before focusing on the fairly recent attempts of the Catalan Government to legislate for its needs, legislation reduced or eliminated by subsequent judgements of the Spanish court. And thence to the Referendum on Independence of 1st October 2017, at which point the Chair presented the guest speaker.

Section of audience in the meeting and presentation screen.

The Chair introduced the firefighter from Catalonia, a slim tanned man in his forties, with shaved and balding head and lively brown eyes. Oriol Duch had the previous day addressed an audience in Derry, hosted by Derry Trades Council and the day before that in Queen’s University Belfast, organised by Belfast ANC. Mr. Duch had worked at one job or another since the age of sixteen, had been a firefighter for 15 years and a member of his union, Intersindical CSC, for seven of those. From its website, Intersindical declares itself to be a class trade union, which is to say that it specifically excludes members of state repressive forces, senior officials of state departments or management officials of companies. Mr. Duch is employed as a firefighter at the Girona Airport, Catalonia but also volunteers for the firefighting service of the Catalan Government administration, the Generalitat.

Oriol Duchs posing for a photograph outside the family and business home of the Pearse family, home of brothers Patrick and William, executed by British firing squads in 1916.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

“WE ARE NOT HEROES”

          As Oriol Duch spoke about the involvement of the firefighters as a defensive screen for voters in the October 1st Referendum in Catalonia, the projection screen showed massive crowds marching and demonstrating for independence. Catalonian firefighters had taken part in uniform in a number of those demonstrations for the democratic right to self-determination and had organised a demonstration of their own (seen on the poster for the speaking tour). The firefighters had discussed what to do since the Spanish Government had threatened the Referendum organisers and social media was full of threats too from right-wingers, including Spanish police officers and Army members. They knew that among the masses coming out to vote, there would be vulnerable people including the elderly and children and decided that those who wished to would turn out voluntarily in their uniforms and stand between the Spanish police and the crowds wanting to vote.

Manus O’Riordan, whose father fought in the International Brigades at Gandesa, mentioned a song for Catalonia he had liked and sang his translation of it into English there and then. As the applause died down, an Irish voice called for the national song of Catalonia, a song of workers’ resistance, the Els Segadors (the Reapers), which all Catalans present sang, the whole audience standing in respect.

Bringing the meeting to a close, the Chair thanked the guest speaker, the panel and the audience for their attendance and contributions (a thanks separately expressed by Oriol Duchs too) and encouraged them to keep in touch with the three solidarity organisations. He also expressed the organisers’ gratitude to the Dublin Fire Brigade and to the Teachers’ Club.

Poster for the Catalan firefighter tour shows one of the events organised by Catalan firefighters in support of self-determination for Catalonia.
(Poster design: CDR Dublin)

On the day, the firefighters distributed themselves around in a number of places, Oriol Duch told his audience, by ad hoc arrangements, the organisers arranging by texts to send firefighters to areas where they were felt to be needed. On the Sunday in question, as voters queued outside the polling stations, mostly schools closed for the day, convoys of police arrived with Spanish police in riot gear who charged into the buildings, breaking down doors and windows, to beat people and seize ballot boxes. They also attacked people waiting to vote with batons, boots and fists, Oriol Duch said, as the firefighters attempted to stand between the unarmed civilians and the police. Over 800 people that day had required medical treatment, he said (including a number of firefighters).

As the firefighter from Catalonia spoke, the presentation began to show scenes of Spanish police beating people with their truncheons, throwing others to the ground, kicking and punching them, pulling people by their hair and putting them in choke holds

“People have called the firefighters heroes but we do not see ourselves that way,” he said. “We were doing what we could to protect people and save lives, which is what we do in our job.”

DFB officer showing Oriol some of the equipment in a DFB truck.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)
Carles Pujol, Oriol & Diarmuid Breatnach inside the Dublin Fire Brigade museum.

A MASS MOVEMENT FOR SELF-DETERMINATION

          The Catalonian movement for independence is a mass movement that has been built especially by grassroots organisations, which have pushed the Catalan independentist political parties forward. Chief among these grassroots organisations is the National Assembly of Catalonia (whose former President, Jordi Sanchez, is one of the independentist activists jailed recently by the Spanish court). Firefighters for the Republic, of which Oriol is an active member, is a sub-group of the ANC.

Since the police attacks, others have come forward to direct mass resistance, in particular after the jail sentences of 9-13 years on seven elected public representatives and two leaders of grassroots organisations (ANC and Omnium Cultural) were announced in October. The “Catalan Tsunami” organisation contacted supporters through social media and masses followed their direction. For example, when the call to flood the Barcelona Airport with people had gone out, thousands had walked kilometres to get there and despite police violence, had effectively shut the airport down for hours. More recently, people had for a weekend closed by blockade one of two main motorways from the French State into the Spanish one, which passes through Catalonia (the other, passing through the Basque Country, was more recently shut down by Basques also — CS).

Oriol Duchs told the Dublin audience that the repression of peaceful people by the Spanish State included heavy jail sentences for “sedition” and police attacks on people in the street, “including firing rubber bullets, the use of which are banned in Catalonia but that is ignored by the Spanish police”. News media has reported that victims of rubber bullets fired at close range directly at people, contrary to instructions on their use, have caused a number of people recently to lose an eye. However, the police cannot control the masses of people, Oriol said.

After the applause for the Catalan firefighter had died down, the Chair opened the meeting to questions and comments from the audience.

Among the comments was that of an Irish woman who had been in Catalonia during the Referendum and talked about the frightening advance of the Spanish police in their riot gear and with their weapons. She disagreed with what Oriol Duchs had said in only one particular: “You ARE heroes”, she said, to applause and cheering from the audience.

An Irishman who had been there too as an international observer spoke about the police attack, which he said was fascist in nature. Another Irishwoman who had been there in a similar capacity said that she had witnessed much police violence but that the scenes depicted on the screen had reminded her just how violent those had been. She asked what people in Ireland could do to help.

From the panel the advice was to support Catalonia solidarity activities, to stay in touch through of the Catalonian solidarity organisations in Dublin, whilst from the floor an Irishman said that people should tell the elected public representatives what was going on and call for statements of support and interventions to the Spanish Government.

This brought about discussion of the posture of the Irish Government, as in recent Dáil questions to the Depart of Foreign Affairs, the responsible Minister of State had reiterated the Government line, that it was an internal matter for the Spanish State, that the rule of law had to be maintained and that the Spanish State is a democratic one with separation of judiciary and government executive. An intervention from the floor pointed out that one of the TDs (parliamentary delegates) had pointed out that in 1919 the First Dáil (Irish Parliament) had declared its independence of Britain and issued a call to the democratic nations of the world asking for recognition, although it was in violation of British constitution and law. The First Dáil had been declared illegal a few months later and its delegates hunted, arrested and jailed. “Catalonia today is Ireland 100 years ago,” he had said. Without the stance taken by that First Dáil, predecessors of all other parliaments of Ireland since, the present Government would not even exist nor would that Minister’s Department, the man commented..

“The struggle in Catalonia and the repression by the Spanish State is not ‘an internal matter for the Spanish State’”, Oriol Duch said. “It is a problem for Europe.”

Manus O’Riordan, whose father fought in the International Brigades at Gandesa, mentioned a song for Catalonia he had liked and sang his translation of it into English there and then. As the applause died down, an Irish voice called for the national song of Catalonia, a song of workers’ resistance, the Els Segadors (the Reapers), which all Catalans present sang, the whole audience standing in respect.

Bringing the meeting to a close, the Chair thanked the guest speaker, the panel and the audience for their attendance and contributions (a thanks separately expressed by Oriol Duchs too) and encouraged them to keep in touch with the three solidarity organisations. He also expressed the organisers’ gratitude to the Dublin Fire Brigade and to the Teachers’ Club.

Some of the attendance stayed around in the bar area to discuss for another hour or so.

Oriol Duchs with Derry Trades Council and other Catalan solidarity supporters on 11th November.
(Photo: C.Pujol)

POSTSCRIPT

          According to information contained in a press statement issued more recently by the speaking tour organisers, Oriol Duchs the following day paid a fraternal visit to a fire station of the Dublin Fire Brigade, as well as to the DFB’s Training Centre and Museum and was given a conducted tour of all three facilities. Also in Dublin, the firefighter had visited Leinster House hosted by Independents For Change TD Thomas Pringle, where he had met TDs Maureen O’Sullivan (Ind4C), Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Sinn Féin) and Éamon Ó Cuív (Fianna Fáil) along with Senators Paul Gavan and Máire Devine (both Sinn Féin). In a related but separate building he had also met with TDs Gino Kenny and Richard Boyd Barrett (both members of Solidarity/ People Before Profit). Oriol Duchs also took part, shared with a Kurdish representative, in a seminar on international law organised by the Law faculty of Griffiths College, Dublin.

In Belfast on Monday he had spoken in Queen’s University Belfast without contact with any political representatives but in Derry had met Eamon McCann and Shaun Harkin, both members of Solidarity/ People Before Profit and public representatives on Strabane and Derry District Council, as well as Elisha McCallion, Sinn Féin MP for Foyle at Westminster,

He met too with Derry Trades Council which, indeed, had hosted his public meeting in that city. How was it then that, considering his publicity promotion as a trade unionist, member of a trade union that organised three general strikes in Catalonia since 2017, the press statement issued by the speaking tour organisers included no mention of engagement with Irish trade unionists in Dublin, in a city where so many Irish trade unions had their head offices?

“That was not for want of trying,” responded Diarmuid Breatnach, a member of With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin, to the question. “We contacted a number of trade union organisations in Dublin in order to host a public meeting or to meet with Oriol privately. One trade union quoted us commercial hire prices and failed to respond afterwards, another promised a meeting but failed to make arrangements, a number simply did not reply. It was sad, really, not only for solidarity with Catalonia, for I think Irish trade unionists would have benefited much from the interaction with Oriol and his trade union.”

Hopefully they will display a different attitude to any future such visits.

End.

Oriol in Leinster House with Carles Pujol, Cnclr. Micheál Mac Donncha (left) and Senator Paul Gavan (right).

CATALAN SOLIDARITY

Oriol in meeting with TDs Richard Boyd Barrett and Gino Kenny, also present are Diarmuid Breatnach and Tina McVeigh from With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin.
(Photo: C.Pujol)

ORGANISATIONS IN DUBLIN (joint organisers of the speaking tour)

With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin FB: https://www.facebook.com/WithCataloniaIreland/
ANC Ireland FB: https://www.facebook.com/IrlandaPerLaIndependenciaDeCatalunya/

CDR Dublin FB: https://www.facebook.com/CDRDublin/

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