CIVIL AND RELIGOUS LIBERTY vs RELIGIOUS BIGOTRY AND RACISM

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: main text 5 mins.)

Republicans and other local antifascists countered a Far-Right rally and “prayer circle” who were protesting a Croke Park letting on Friday to some Muslims to celebrate their religious festival of Eid.  When confronted by a handful of antifascists, the early fascists folded up their banner and cowered behind police protection, unfolding it later when many more reinforcements arrived. Later still there were some scuffles and a number of arrests.

The first shot fired on social media against the Croke Park letting was by Niall McConnell, leader of the tiny “Síol na hÉireann” group calling for a protest at the venue, followed by Gemma O’Doherty of “Anti-Corruption Ireland”, with other Far-Right posters quickly getting on the bandwagon. The main claim was that they were going there to prevent “creeping Sharia law” but also tacked on being against ritual animal slaughter, child brides, pedophilia etc. What they were really about however was Christian or even Catholic fundamentalism, racism and fascism and this became crystal clear during the morning.

Eid festival celebrants at prayer in Croke Park on Friday.
(Photo source: Internet)
In the close foreground, an antifascist displays both languge versions of the quotation from the 1916 Proclamation. Behind him a number of Far-Right protesters. (Photo source: Dublin Republicans Against Fascism)

WHO THEY WERE AND WHAT THEY SAID

          In contrast to many of the counter-protesters, none of the Far-Right seemed to be local and indeed many had travelled some distance to be there, some known to have come from Donegal and Mayo.

When calling out the responses of the Catholic prayer cycle of the Rosary1, Niall McConnell was roaring them out through a megaphone.  McConnell, a founder of the tiny “Síol na hÉireann” group based in Donegal, believes in an Ireland built solely on Irish ethnicity (by which he means of Irish blood) and that its ethos should be Christian. How Irish blood “ethnicity” is to be judged is not explained, given that the Irish people are a mix of the Celtic population with many others, including Viking, Norman, Scottish, English, Welsh, possibly Basque, Italian, Polish etc. This is being “patriotic” according to McConnell, who is never seen campaigning for an end to the partition of Ireland nor of foreign occupation of one-sixth of the country.

Unloading rifles at Howth, 1915, Erskine and Molly Childers in foreground. Erskine was English but would later join the IRA and was executed by the Free State regime in 1922.
(Source photo: Internet).

Patrick Pearse’s father being an English migrant did not prevent his two sons from being true patriots, promoting the Irish language, progressive education, national drama and literature and fighting for independence. Thomas Davis’ father being Welsh did not prevent his son from founding The Nation newspaper or from composing such songs as “A Nation Once Again” (a recording of which the Far-Right played!) and “The West’s Awake!” Erskine Childers being English did not prevent him sailing a yacht into Howth to deliver Mausers to the Irish Volunteers in 1914 nor in joining the IRA during the War of Independence and the Civil War and being executed by the Free State junta. And a missionary called Patricius being Welsh did not prevent him ending up as St. Patrick, a patron saint of Ireland!

Although billing himself as an “Irish Patriot”, McConnell calls for an alliance of “nationalists across Europe” and has posed for a photograph in a line-up of Far-Right European figures that included Nick Griffin, former leader of the fascist British National Party2. McConnell’s party’s website calls on people to join to “resist and turn back the new plantation”, a reference to a paranoid conspiracy in which the Far-Right claim to believe that the EU plans to replace Irish people with migrants.

A far-Right Lineup for meeting at the EU Parliament: Irish “patriot” Niall McConnell at the far right of photo (and in politics) with, among others, fascist Nick Griffin of the British National Party (fourth from left).
(Photo source: Internet)

Apart from promising any new members of “Siol nah Eireann” (sic, no such words in Irish) the fantasy of joining “local cumans” (they have none and there is no such word in Irish either), they intend to provide them with “education” (i.e propaganda), “ideology” (fascism), “physical fitness and self-defence” (training in being bootboys) in Ireland and abroad …..!

Another who believes in an “ethnic Ireland” is Gemma O’Doherty who started off as an investigative journalist but turned into a proposer of illogical conspiracy theories and propagandist of racism. Protesting in a tweet against the recent election of Hazel Chu as Lord Mayor of Dublin, she ranted that Ms. Chu, born and raised in Ireland, is part of the Communist Party of China (!) takeover of Ireland. Parts of the Far-Right claim to believe that CPC is taking over the world through the UN (where China has ONE seat on the permanent Security Council out of FIVE!3) and on the other hand, President Trump is wonderful.4

One of the banners displayed by later Far-Right arrivals. The man in the foreground assaulted a Republican some weeks ago in full view of the Gardaí but was not arrested. He was involved in a scuffle here too while filming.
(Photo source: Dublin Republicans Against Fascism)

Gemma O’Doherty has at times been caught out posting lying statistics to whip up racial fears and had two of her Youtube sites shut down by Google due to her continuous attempts to whip up race-hate. Since then she has been campaigning for “free speech” but for whom? Outside Croke Park she said that the country needs to become “a Catholic Ireland once again”. In this “Catholic Ireland” of her dreams, would there be “freedom of speech” for dissenting Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, atheists or agnostics? The “Catholic Ireland” State of the recent past censored films, banned books and newspapers and forbade not only abortion in all circumstances but also contraception and divorce, not to mention LGBT rights.

O’Doherty is another fake “patriot” who told her listeners that “our patriots died for a Catholic Ireland”, despite the fact that nearly every single leader of the United Irishmen was a Protestant, as were many of the Young Irelanders and not a few prominent members of the Irish Volunteers — and she totally ignored the words of the 1916 Proclamation.

Near the end of the event, some members of the National Party appeared, wearing green golf shirts with “NP” marked on them. Although their “Vision” for Ireland on their website claims to include “an Ireland united, Irish and free”, they have never been seen engaged in struggles against British colonialism and the partition of the country. The NP is against “replacement-level immigration”, i.e that racist conspiracy theory again and wants capital punishment for serious crimes, in which they include carrying out a pregnancy termination. Like most of the Far-Right, they oppose the “Black lives matter” campaign and the party’s founder, Justin Barrett (not there on Friday), tweeted that if he gets into government he will remove the Irish nationality of Hazel Chu, a woman who was born in the Mater Hospital in Dublin, was educated in Ireland and spent most of her life here.

The man on the right supports far-Right protests yet claims to be a Irish Republican. (Photo source: Dublin Republicans Against Fascism)
Praying in support of religious sectarianism and racism.
(Photo source: Dublin Republicans Against Fascism)

Also missing were racist and islamophobe leaders of the “Irish Yellow Vests” Glen Miller and Ben Gilroy, also Herman Kelly, founder of the tiny Irish Freedom Party, another “patriot” who believes in a “Christian and ethnic Irish Ireland”. Kelly has shared a platform with British fascist and Loyalist Jim Dowson and Irish fascist Rowan Croft (aka “Gran Torino”).

Aside from all that, on Friday one woman ‘innoculated’ the ground around the Far-Right protesters with sprinkled salt, apparently proof against “witches” (anti-fascist women). A few of them shook their rosary beads at the protesters while another woman seemed to go into ecstasy, praying with arms alternately raised high or spread. “I don’t know anything about politics,” she said to one of the counter-protesters, “I just come here to pray.” Of course, the handball alley entrance to Croke Park is a well-know prayer venue! (Perhaps for fans of other county teams hoping Dublin won’t win the All-Ireland yet again ….)

“I am not interested in politics, I just come here to pray”! said this woman of the Far-Right ensemble.  (Note the Síol organisation have unfurled their banner again with the arrival of more reactionaries).
Photo source: Dublin Republicans Against Fascism

One of their leaders, Dee Wall frequently seen at their rallies at the GPO, claimed she supported religious liberty for all but failed to explain how that squared with protesting at Muslims celebrating Eid at Croke Park. Unless that is she was in agreement with those whose reply to the slogan of “religious and civil liberty for all” was “for the Irish” and meant not only that, for some Muslims ARE Irish, but rather “for Christian, Catholic, several generations Irish only”. Another woman called an antifascist a paedophile (the Far-Right regularly call antifascists “paedophiles”) and told him that the Coronavirus was only in his head, i.e in his imagination – many of them believe that the coronavirus is just a scare to bring about “a one-world government”, one woman commenting that mask-wearers are part of the plot.

One of the Far-Rightists shouted that he never saw the antifascists protesting against the Government, which brought a chorus of incredulous protests from his opponents, the most telling being: “You’ve never seen us because you weren’t there!”

After the Muslims had left by another exit and as the antifascists were leaving, one woman called out antifascists that they were being funded by the millionaire Soros – another fantasy they pretend to believe. One of the antifascists shouted ironically back at her: “I haven’t received my cheque yet – can you have a word with him for me?”

Calling antifascists “paedophiles” might be useful in demonising their opponents but if believed by some could cause people real problems in their community. It is also ironic, given that these ultra-Catholics defended the Church hierarchy and its paedophiles right to the last, some even still maintaining that the scandal institutions were innocent and the targets of malicious accusations. Herman Kelly of the INP was for a time Assistant Editor of the Catholic Herald and maintained that the allegations were ‘fake news’. Also many of the Far-Right in Ireland and in Britain have been convicted in court of …. guess what? Yes, pedophilia.

WHAT WAS THE FAR-RIGHT FUSS ABOUT?

          There was never going to be ritual slaughter of any animals in Croke Park, of course, nor any of the other scares being thrown by racists and fascists.

Just as the venue has been let for other large gatherings, in particular pop concerts, a Muslim religious organisation obtained permission from the GAA to hold a celebration of their festival of Eid there in the stadium.

The feast Day of Eid is an important one in the Muslim religious calendar and its main features are obligatory acts of charity towards the poor, communal prayer followed by social feasting and visiting of relatives and friends. Areas of large capacity are usually required (and more so if observing social distancing), such as large mosques, community centres or hired halls. A sermon is preached by a religious leader, after which a prayer is recited asking for Allah’s forgiveness, mercy, peace and blessings for all living beings across the world.

As to “creeping Sharia law”, since Muslims account for less than 2% of the population of the Irish state, the fascists and other islamophobes have to talk them up into something bigger as a threat, hence the “creeping”. Nor is it the case that all Muslims would support fundamentalist Muslim law any more than all Christians support fundamentalist Christian law or all Jews support Jewish Orthodoxy.

With regard to “child brides”, an unfortunate feature of many civilisations, including past European ones and parts of the United States, there is an age of consent in Ireland maintained by law and, furthermore, a law supported by the vast majority of the population of all religions and of none.

The Catholic Arch-Bishop of Ireland and leading clerics of the Anglican and Jewish community attended the event, as did Government Minister O’Gorman whose car was surrounded by Far-Right protesters screaming at him and banging on the car despite a walking Garda escort. Among the speeches at the Croke Park event – in a mix of English, Arabic and Irish – was a talk by 21-year-old Abood Aljumaili, encouraging the attendees to try out the native Irish sport played at the stadium, like hurling.

Photograph taken from behind fascist lines. On the other side of the police line a home-made placard against racism is held up by some local people. Some other counter-protesters were also there but are out of the camera view.
(photo sourced: Internet)

SCUFFLES AND ARRESTS

          In a headline on a video posted on line by one of her supporters, Gemma O’Doherty exclaimed: “Antifa tried to attack me” but the video shows nothing of the sort. It does show a minor confrontation far from her between an antifascist and a fascist, the one doing the filming. In reply to a question, the fascist can be heard saying that Protestants will be admitted to their movement if they convert to Catholicism. It appears that the fascist pushes the antifascist, who pushes back and then the police are separating the two. The rest of the video records O’Doherty talking, talking ….

A month ago a Far-Right poster claimed that the homophobic rally outside Leinster House had been attacked by “Antifa”. However video footage showed a large crowd of rally participants, some of them threatening a tiny group of antifascist counter-protesters. A fortnight ago the leader of the Far-Right organisation the Irish Yellow Vests told a crowd on Custom House Quay that “the Antifa” had attacked the Far-Right with petrol bombs – another fantasy. But it was some of his supporters’ crowd of 500 that attacked the 40 or so counter-protestors. And McConnell of the tiny “Síol” group claimed at a Far-Right gathering in Europe recently that the Israeli secret services were threatening him due to his lip-service support for the Palestinians (in his case, based on anti-semitism rather than Palestinian solidarity).

While regularly practicing violence, fascists like to portray themselves as victims, especially on their way to taking power. A few weeks ago a fascist crossed the road from their rally at the GPO to attack a Republican while their speaker was shouting in her microphone that they would not be provoked by the violence of the antifascists! They also like to pretend that the police are on the side of the antifascists, while historically and in recent times, the reality is otherwise. After all, the police have been facing Republicans and Socialists in protests for decades, on issues as diverse as Republican prisoners, political repression in both administrations, gender and sexuality rights, the BP oil pipeline in Mayo, lack of housing, cuts in welfare …..

This was underlined when one of the Far-Rightists outside Croke Park shouted that he never saw the antifascists protesting against the Government, which brought a chorus of incredulous protests from his opponents, the most telling being: “You’ve never seen us because you weren’t there!”

There were a number of incidents, one when a Far-Rightist threw water at a video photographer and, after the latter complained to the Gardaí, was taken aside and eventually could be seen walking away from the scene.

Altogether there were three arrests: an antifascist woman who was attacked by a woman on the Far-Right fought back. The police dived in but the Far-Right woman did not want to let go of her opponent’s hair even when the police were trying to separate them. It took three police about five minutes to get her away and into a police van. The antifascist woman walked calmly with a police officer to a patrol car. Some time later a young lad who seemed to be a local person but had not been with the counter-protest, pulled the cord on the Far-Right’s amplifier, silencing it temporarily. The police pounced on him and took him away. According to information received, all were released without charges and a Garda report is being prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Gardaí struggle to get Far-Right woman attacker of antifascist woman into Garda van. Her victim who fought back, also arrested is out of view standing quietly beside a Garda. Two Far-Right men protest to the Gardaí. (Photo source: Dublin Republicans Against Fascism).

WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN AND WHAT NEXT?

          All over Europe and the USA, the Far-Right is on the rise, as they sense an opportunity in ruling class austerity measures and popular dissatisfaction and disaffection. The latter is demonstrated in street mobilisations but also electorally, as votes for traditional political parties fall and the main parties in Government or otherwise are forced to abandon their false opposition and resort to ruling in coalitions of various forms.

Fascists attempt to mobilise the popular discontent against the established political class but to misdirect the popular anger and throw it against ethnic or social minorities, creating a false unity based on a notion of purity of blood and, in some cases, religion. If they can be seen to build a strong enough movement that seems capable of both mobilising people and attacking the resistance movements of the people to austerity and repression, the ruling class turn to them as they did in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s.

Aside from the difficult circumstances, it is generally accepted by historians that a number of errors were made by the antifascist forces in the past. The leaders of targeted communities often counseled not responding to the threat as that would draw further attention and hostility towards them, some even denouncing those in their communities who were organising resistance to the police. Some sections of targeted groups did not mobilise until it was too late, others argued that the fascists were a diversion from the anti-capitalist struggle. The antifascists did not all unite across ideological barriers. The fascists were permitted to get a grip at street level and intimidate some areas of their opposition, eventually receiving the full support of the ruling class and their State.

Those errors must not be repeated.

End.

8.45 am, early fascists of Síol na hÉireann confronted by small group of antifascists fold up their banner and cower behind Garda lines until more fascists and racists arrive.  (Photo source: Dublin Republicans Against Fascism).

 

 

 

APPENDIX

A HISTORY OF RELIGIOUS OPPRESSION

          Ireland has suffered different religions imposed upon it but none of those have been Muslim.

Presumably Christianity was imposed on a pagan Ireland of many centuries, although that seems to have been a largely painless process (unlike in many other parts of Europe). Subsequently the Celtic Church was suppressed across Europe by Rome and in 1155 Pope Adrian IV authorised King Henry II to invade Ireland, allegedly to bring the Irish Christian Church into conformity with Rome.

When Henry VIII of England broke with Rome in 1532 he tried to impose his religion not only on England but also on Ireland, a project continued by his daughter Elizabeth I and most other English monarchs. The administration of the Plantations of Ireland by colonists tried to ensure English-speaking Protestants were given the land taken from the Irish and that no indigenous Irish were allowed to live or work there. For a time priests and bishops were outlawed and hunted.

The Penal Laws (1607 in some degree right up to the 1840s) robbed Catholics of most civil and religious freedom and penalised also non-Anglican Protestant sects. The colonist Irish Parliament excluded Catholics and Presbyterians even after some were permitted to vote. From the moment the Irish Catholic Church stopped being persecuted, it collaborated with the foreign occupation of Ireland and its leaders condemned the Republican uprisings of 1798 and 1803 and every Irish resistance organisation since.

After the Irish national capitalist class joined with the Catholic Church leadership to agree to the partition of the country and Irish membership of the British Commonwealth Dominions and slaughtered those who had fought against foreign occupation 1922-1923, a puritanical conservative Catholic Church dominated the 26-County State while a sectarian, puritanical Presbyterian ethos dominated the 6-County statelet. Elements of anti-semitism were observed in the Church during the 1930s and the hierarchy supported Franco’s military-fascist uprising in Spain and blessed the fascist Blueshirts as they went to support Franco but condemned the Irish Republicans and Socialists who went to support the elected Popular Front Government. The Civil Rights movement in the Six Counties began a fight-back against sectarian oppression there at the end of the 1960s, about the same time as a slower struggle was breaking out in the rest of Ireland against the social and political domination of the Catholic Church.

The Irish people overall have shown that they wish to be free to make their own choices and decisions in matters of faith and social practice without being dominated by any religious authorities. The 1916 Proclamation of Independence declared that “The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberties to all” and, though that has yet to be realised, it seems to be what most people agree with. But clearly not the “patriots” of the Far-Right.

FOOTNOTES

1 The prayers that compose the Rosary cycle are arranged in sets of ten Hail Marys, called decades. Each decade is preceded by one Lord’s Prayer (“Our Father”) and traditionally followed by only one “Glory Be” and five decades are recited per rosary. Rosary beads are an aid towards saying these prayers in the proper sequence. There have been several Catholic devotional movements in Ireland that have emphasised praying the Rosary and, in modern times, most associated with Fr. Peyton’s “Rosary Crusade” beginning in the 1940s. In the 50’s and 60’s it was influential in Ireland and the phrase “The family that prays together, stays together” became well-known, which might be considered ironic at least in the physical sense, given the very high rate of emigration from Ireland, which included Fr.Peyton himself and his siblings. According to historian Hugh Wilford, “Peyton himself was deeply conscious of the political dimension of his mission, proudly proclaiming in a 1946 radio broadcast, ‘The rosary is the offensive weapon that will destroy Communism—the great evil that seeks to destroy the faith'” (Living memory and Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_Peyton).

2  In addition to being a racist organisation against immigration, the BNP cultivated links with Ulster Loyalists in the Six Counties, Scotland and elsewhere, also with Nazi groups in Europe. It supported white colonist regimes in Africa and organised attacks on Irish community organisations in Britain and on Irish solidarity demonstrations.

3  The Security Council is the only body of the EU that can decide policy and any one of the five Permanent Members can veto a decision. The Five are France, UK, USA, Russia and China; the UK and France tend to vote in line with the USA.

4 The other permanent seats are held by the UK and France, which normally vote with the USA and Russia.

SOURCES:

The religious festival of Eid: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eid_al-Fitr#General_rituals

Also videos and photos of the event, eyewitness accounts and Far-Right organisation websites.

An observer took the following videos, including some interviews:

Locals and others: https://www.facebook.com/abdulaziz.almoayyad/videos/10158999347198487/?t=16

https://www.facebook.com/abdulaziz.almoayyad/videos/10158999283788487/?t=10

https://www.facebook.com/abdulaziz.almoayyad/videos/10158999283788487/?t=5

https://www.facebook.com/abdulaziz.almoayyad/videos/10158999283788487/?t=4

“Religious and civil Liberties for all” can be heard repeatedly on this one: https://www.facebook.com/abdulaziz.almoayyad/videos/10158999137098487/?t=26

A Nation Once Again played by fascists: https://www.facebook.com/abdulaziz.almoayyad/videos/10158999132093487/?t=62

 

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