Alberto Sicilia in Publico.es, translated by D.Breatnach
Alberto Sicilia in Publico.es, translated by D.Breatnach (Reading time: 3 minutes)
For original version in Castillian (Spanish) click on link.
Greece today suspended the right to asylum. An unprecedented measure in the history of Europe.
How soon we forget. During World War II, thousands of Greeks crossed the Mediterranean in the opposite direction and sought refuge in Middle Eastern countries. That was the most accessible route of escape from Nazi troops.
A program called “Organization for Refugees in the Middle East”, launched in 1942 and led by the United Kingdom, helped tens of thousands of Greeks, Poles and Yugoslavs escape eastbound.
The refugees were taken to camps located in Syria, Egypt and Palestine. The city of Aleppo, (yes, you have not misread, Aleppo) became one of the main reception centers.
A number of official reports on the state of the camps were written in March 1944. A study conducted by Public International Radio includes the protocol for the entry of refugees and their daily lives:
“Once registered, newcomers made their way through a thorough medical inspection. The refugees were heading to what were often makeshift hospital facilities, usually tents, but occasionally empty buildings reused for medical care, where clothes and shoes were removed and they were washed until the authorities believed they were sufficiently disinfected.
“Some refugees, such as the Greeks who arrived at the Aleppo camp from the Dodecanese islands in 1944, could expect medical inspections to become part of their daily routine.
“After medical officials were satisfied that they were healthy enough to join the rest of the camp, refugees were divided into homes for families, unaccompanied children, single men and single women. Once assigned to a particular section of the camp, refugees enjoyed few opportunities to venture outside. From time to time they could leave under the supervision of camp officials.
“When refugees in the Aleppo camp made the multi-mile trip to the city, for example, they could visit shops to buy basic supplies, watch a movie at the local cinema, or simply distract themselves from the monotony of country life.
“Although the camp at Moses Wells [in Egypt], located on more than 100 acres of desert, was not within walking distance of a city, refugees were allowed to spend time each day bathing in the nearby Red Sea. “
The “Organization for Refugees in the Middle East” was part of a network of refugee camps around the world that were administered by governments and international NGOs.
And refugees arrived not only in the Arab region: Iran received 200,000 Poles between 1939 and 1941.
A packed function room at Club an Múinteoirí (Teachers’ Club) in Dublin last night heard speakers, including Arthur Scargill and the Cuban Ambassador, praise some of the highlights of the life of irish activist Des Bonass (died 26 September last year). The meeting was chaired by Colm Kinsella of Unite.
Strangely, up to yesterday afternoon, many socialist, Republican and trade union activists seemed unaware of the event, organised by Bonass’ branch of the trade union Unite. I only learned of it myself when Arthur Scargill and Nell Myles stopped at our weekly Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign stall earlier in the day and explained that he was in Dublin in order to speak at an event that evening.
The event was scheduled to begin at 7.30pm but by that time there were less than a dozen people present, arousing fear in some quarters that the attendance would be poor. As time went on, the side room leading off the main room was closed and the chairs removed. Some more people arrived and then as if by magic by 8.30 the room was packed, with extra seating being made available for people who arrived even after that.
IRISH TRADE UNIONISTS AND CUBAN AMBASSADOR
John Douglas (former General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, currently General Secretary of Mandate trade union) spoke of how he had come to know Des Bonass when Douglas was a member of the Amalgamated Transport & General Workers’ Union (now part of UNITE), a section catering for bar workers which at the time represented a great many in the trade. He related how the bar workers would come off late shift and go to a union meeting around midnight, a meeting that sometimes would not finish until five a.m! Bonass had asked Douglas for a space to address the union members in support of the British miners, after which he had come away with buckets overflowing with financial contributions from the barmen.
Douglas also related that Bonass was in support of women’s right to choose abortion at a time when that would not have received popular support in Ireland and went on to speak about the strike against TESCO and how Bonass had brought Scargill to a number of picket lines around the city, raising their morale and drawing media attention.
Des Derwin (Executive Member of Dublin Council of Trade Unions and Vice-Chair of SIPTU Dublin District Council) gave what seemed a comprehensive list of the activities of Des Bonass down through the years, including how he had actively supported the struggles in the H-Blocks in the Six Counties and of the Palestinian people, as well as the struggle of the Dunne’s Stores strikers. Unknown to many, perhaps, Bonass had been a founder of People Before Profit and the Unemployed Workers’ Movement.
When the Irish Labour Party conference had voted to go into coalition government, Bonass and Matt Merrigan had walked out together, after they had seen Noel Browne leave the room. The media thought Bonass and Merrigan had led a protest walkout, whereas they said they had followed Noel Browne. When Brown appeared in the lobby, the reporters asked him why he had led the walkout, which he adamantly denied, saying he had only left the conference to go to the toilet!
Subsequently Bonass and Merrigan had founded the Irish branch of the Socialist Labour Party. The Dublin Council of Irish Trade Unions had been another of his areas of activity and Bonass had been President of the organisation; he had also been active in Unite the union.
Also a supporter of internationalist causes, Bonass had been againstsuch as the Chilean coup, for Nicaragua and Cuba, against the South African Apartheid regime and the invasion of Iraq.
Hugo René Milanés, Cuban Ambassador to Ireland, expressed his gratitude to Des Bonass for the latter’s support for Cuba and in particular “against the Yanqui blockade” and for working for socialism throughout his life.
SCARGILL, BRITISH TRADE UNIONIST
Arthur Scargill, ex-President of National Union of Mineworkers (Britain) spoke about Des Bonass’ support for the NUM, particularly those of South Wales, when they were in the big strike of 1984-’85 and how Bonass had agreed to receive money from the NUM to keep it safe from the British State’s sequestration. At first, the money had been couriered by Nell Myles, an NUM official (who was present at the meeting) and delivered to the ATGWU office in Parnell Square; on one occasion she had been mugged on her way but the money stolen was her personal money and not the union funds, which were safely delivered. Six months later, Scargill himself came to Dublin and Des Bonass accompanied him to a Dublin branch of a bank with a holdall stuffed full of a lot more money but the alarmed branch manager referred them to the bank’s head office, where the money was safely stored.
Des Bonass brought Arthur Scargill around to many Dublin pickets during the TESCO strike organised by the MANDATE union, which had been welcomed by the strikers and which had lifted their spirits. He had been happy to attend, Scargill said and related a journalist asking him about his reaction to a bomb threat against TESCO. To laughter and applause from the meeting’s audience, Scargill related his response to the journalist, that neither he nor the TESCO strikers could have anything to with any such bomb inside as they would never cross a picket line! Des Bonass had also got Scargill a spot on the popular Gay Byrne show, where he had been confronted with a Margaret Thatcher impersonator.
Bonass had been a founder of the Irish branch of the Socialist Labour Party which Scargill had founded in Britain as founded by James Connolly.
Paying tribute to the moral and practical support of the Irish people for the NUM’s struggle, Scargill said that their support in ratio to union members in Ireland had been the highest of all and went on to reveal that he and Nell both had Irish ancestry on both parental sides, referring also to the history of oppression of Irish people by the British State. Scargill talked about the financial contributions but also how Irish families had taken in miner’s children for holiday breaks, as British trade unionists had wanted to take in Irish children during the 1913 Lockout.
Later on in his speech, Scargill declared himself a firm follower of the “11th Commandment: Thou shalt not cross a picket line!” (loud applause) and went on to talk about the determination of the Thatcher Government to break the NUM and its leadership. Thatcher and Government personnel had claimed at the time that they had not intervened in the strike, which was allegedly between the NUM and the National Coal Board but Scargill stated that was a lie and the truth had emerged in documentation over the years, available on the Internet to anyone who wished to check it. “Unjust laws have to be broken” he said also because “if we hadn’t done that, women would not have the vote; we would not have trade unions!” He paid tribute to the Levellers, the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the Suffragettes.
Scargill emphasised that the best way to celebrate the life of Des Bonass and to honour his memory is to continue the struggle for the principles that Des Bonass upheld, then finished his speech to a standing ovation from those present.
Colm Kinsella then welcomed the last speaker, Ciarán Bonass. Ciarán announced that he was the son of Des Bonass and talked about what the family had learned from his father as they had also supported him in his activism. Thanking all the speakers and all others present on his family’s behalf, his mother Eileen and sisters Mairéad and Deirdre, along with in-laws and grandchildren, he ended his contribution to loud applause from the attendance.
Colm Kinsella announced that their branch of Unite was now named “the Des Bonass Branch of Unite” in Des Bonass’ honour, thanked all the speakers and the attendance and invited people to partake of refreshments while listening to labour and other songs performed by Richie Brown (of Unite) and friends.
“A man the ages will remember.” -Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
By Kevin Rooney (reprinted by kind permission of author).
Michael Joseph Quill was born in Gortloughera, near Kilgarvan Co. Kerry on 18 September, 1905. His parents were John Daniel Quill and Margaret (née Lynch). Fighting injustice seemed to be in his blood. He remembered: “My father knew where every fight against an eviction had taken place in all the parishes around”. His Irish-speaking family’s home served as headquarters for the No. 2 Kerry Brigade Of The Irish Republican Army during the War Of Independence Of 1919-1921. His uncle’s house was so well known for rebel activity, it is said that the Black and Tans in the area referred to the house as “Liberty Hall”; a reference to James Connolly’s ITGWU Union Headquarters in Dublin which was to prove prophetic.
IRISH REPUBLICAN ACTIVITY
While still a boy of 14, Michael was a dispatch rider for the IRA during the War of Independence. He served in 3rd Battalion of the No. 2 Kerry Brigade. Once on a scouting mission, he stumbled on a patrol of Black and tans asleep in a ditch. He stole all their ammunition without rousing them. He eventually graduated to carrying a rifle and organized a group of about thirty boys in the village into an IRA scout group, and drilled several times a week.
When the Civil War began in 1921, Quill joined the Republican side which opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty that ended the War Of Independence. He took part in the re-capture of the town of Kenmare from The Free State Army in August of 1922, one of few Republican victories. He was said to have been involved in robbing a bank for the IRA during the war. He was much affected by the brutality and violence dished out by the Government Forces (Free Staters) to his Republican comrades in Kerry who were captured.
The worst atrocity was the Ballyseedy massacre where eight Republican prisoners were killed by being tied to a landmine, which was then detonated. In March of 1923, at total of 23 Republican prisoners in Kerry were killed in similar manner, or summarily executed by shooting on different occasions. Another five were officially executed by firing squad. The most of any county.
His mother died in September 1923. The local priest refused to request a temporary amnesty so that Michael and his brother John could attend her funeral without risking arrest by National troops. It left a lasting bitterness in him toward the Catholic Church.
During the Wars, he met many prominent Republican leaders of the time who passed through his area; including Eamon de Valera, Liam Lynch, Tom Barry, Liam Deasy, Dan Breen, Erskine Childers among them. While still young, he conversed with these great minds.
EMIGRATION TO THE USA
After the war, Quill found opportunities limited for him as he had supported the losing side. He was also blacklisted after a sit-in strike with his brother John at a saw mill in Kenmare. He emigrated to the US, arriving on 16 March, 1926 in New York, where he stayed with an aunt on 104th Street in East Harlem (New York).
He hustled to make a living working a series of menial jobs which included what was called “bootlegging”: smuggling alcohol during Prohibition, during which time the sale of alcohol was illegal in the US. He worked passing coal and peddling roach powder and religious articles in Pennsylvania coal country. While there he wrote his father his observation that “the cows and pigs in Kerry were better housed and fed than were the miners’ children in America.”
Quill returned to New York and met a young Kerry woman named Maria Theresa O’Neill, known as Mollie who came from Cahersiveen. With the onset of the Great Depression she became unemployed and decided to return to Ireland. She and Quill maintained a patient long-distance courtship, keeping in touch with weekly letters.
Quill found employment with the IRT (Interborough Rapid Transit) railroad in 1929. He worked several jobs before becoming a ticket agent. The IRT, the largest transit company in New York attracted employment from many Irishmen; particularly Republican veterans of the Irish Civil War like Quill. There was a joke that IRT stood for “Irish Republican Transit”. Their advantage over other immigrant groups was that they already spoke English. Coming from mostly farm land, they were also able for the twelve to fourteen-hour days demanded of them seven days a week. About half of the employees were Irish.
Moving from station to station, he got to know many of the employees. Along with deplorable working conditions, Quill also observed discrimination based on racism and bigotry, which he hated. He said: “During those twelve hour nights we’d chat about the motormen, conductors, guards etc. whose conditions were even worse. They had to work a ‘spread’ of 16 hours each day in order to get 10 hours pay. Negro workers could get jobs only as porters. They were subjected to treatment that makes Little Rock (Arkansas) and Birmingham (Alabama) seem liberal and respectable by comparison. I also saw Catholic ticket agents fired by Catholic bosses for going to Mass early in the morning while the porter ‘covered’ the booth for half an hour. Protestant bosses fired Protestant workers for similar crimes, going to Church. The Jewish workers had no trouble with the subway bosses. Jews were denied employment in the transit lines”.
INFLUENCED BY CONNOLLY’S WRITINGS
While working a 12-hour overnight shift, Quill passed the time with reading to supplement his education, which had ended with National school. The main influence on his political thinking was James Connolly. Connolly had also organised unions in New York, where he lived for a few years before returning to Dublin where he was executed in 1916 for his part in the Easter Rising.
Quill’s second wife Shirley later wrote: “Connolly’s two basic theories were to guide Mike Quill’s thinking for the next three decades: that economic power precedes and conditions political power, and that the only satisfactory expression of the workers’ demands is to be found politically in a separate and independent labour party, and economically in the industrial union.” He then set about organizing a union. He stood on his soap box during lunch hour in power-houses and shops all over the city.
Quill recalled: “We were no experts in the field of labor organization, but we had something in common with our fellow workers; we were all poor, we were all overworked, we were all victims of the 84 hour week. In fact, we were all so low down on the economic and social ladder that we had nowhere to go but up.”
Quill and some of his fellow Irish immigrants became involved in Irish Worker’s Clubs that were established by James Gralton, and were affiliated with the American Communist Party. Gralton’s political views got him deported from Ireland in 1933 as an “undesirable alien”; even though he was born in Co. Leitrim because of pressure from the Catholic Church. This made him the only Irishman ever to be deported by the Irish government.
Quill didn’t find much difference in the attitude of Irish-American Organisations that were Catholic church-based. Quill recalled: “We went to the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, but they would have nothing to do with the idea of organizing Irishmen into a legitimate union. We went to the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and they threw us out of their meeting hall. They wanted no part of Irish rebels or Irish rabble. That was the reception we got from those conservative descendants of Ireland’s revolutionists of a hundred years ago.”
Making no bones or apologies, he said “I worked with the Communists. In 1933 I would have made a pact with the Devil himself if he could have given us the money, the mimeograph machines and the manpower to launch the Transport Workers Union. The Communist Party needed me, and I needed them. I knew what the transit workers needed. The men craved dignity, longed to be treated like human beings. The time had come to get off our knees and fight back.”
FOUNDING A TRADE UNION
On 12 April 1934, Quill, along with six other Irishmen including Thomas H. O’Shea and Austin Hogan from Co. Cork, and Gerald O’Reilly from Co. Meath formed the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU). All seven including Quill were members of Clan na Gael, an Irish Republican organisation that succeeded the Fenian Brotherhood as the American branch of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). They were said to have initially applied the rules and practices of secrecy from that tradition. Quill was to remain a silent financial supporter of the Republican cause in Ireland his whole life.
Like Quill, they were all influenced by Connolly’s ideas and writings; in particular, Connolly’s 1910 pamphlet “The Axe To The Root” where he wrote specifically about a recent 1910 transit workers strike in New York that had failed, known as the New York Express Strike.
Connolly wrote: “It was not the scabs (strikebreakers, replacements) however, who turned the scale against the strikers in favour of the masters. That service to capital was performed by good union men with union cards in their pockets. These men were the engineers in their power-houses which supplied the electric power to run their cars, and without whom all the scabs combined could not have run a single trip.”
The very name of the union was a tip of the hat to James Larkin and James Connolly’s Irish Transport & General Workers Union (ITGWU). In fact the word “Transit” is more normally used than “Transport” regarding that industry in the US. Thomas H. O’Shea was the Union’s first president, followed by Quill, who would remain president for the remainder of his life.
The Union began with a membership of 400, then eventually represented all 14,000 IRT workers. An African-American porter named Clarence King was elected to the first TWU executive board. In 1937 there was a sit-down strike on the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit (BMT); the second-largest Transit company in New York. Two BMT employees at the Kent Avenue Brooklyn station were fired for union activity. The 500 members of TWU in the company secured their re-instatement. It eventually represented all BMT employees as well.
Quill began to involve himself in city politics and was elected to the New York City Council in 1937 representing the American Labor Party. His whole career people loved or hated him, with no middle ground. He returned to Ireland to marry Mollie on 26 December 1937. They would return to New York to live, where she bore a son; John Daniel Quill, named after Michael’s father. Theirs proved to be an unhappy marriage of convenience. Quill filled this void first with drink, later with extramarital romance.
While in Ireland, he met with Michael O’Riordan from Co. Cork, who was headed to Spain to fight for the Spanish Republic in that country’s Civil War; which side Quill supported. Michael Lehane, the child of a neighbor from Kilgarvan, also went to Spain to fight fascism.
In 1939, he organized a rally against anti-semitism in a heavily Irish neighborhood in The South Bronx attended by four thousand. This was in response to Father Charles Coughlin’s anti-semitic campaign preaching to New York’s Irish. Fr. Coughlin was born in Canada of Irish parents, but moved to the US. He began radio broadcasting in 1926 in response to a Ku Klux Klan anti-catholic attack on his church in Michigan, but moved into political commentary and also moved far to the political right. Fr. Coughlin’s sympathies to the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini got him removed from the air later in 1939.
Having little use for the church, this is how Quill summed up his personal philosophy: “I believe in the Corporal Works Of Mercy, the Ten Commandments, the American Declaration Of Independence and James Connolly’s outline of a socialist society. Most of my life I’ve been called a lunatic because I believe that I am my brother’s keeper. I organise poor and exploited workers, I fight for the civil rights of minorities, and I believe in peace. It appears to have become old-fashioned to make social commitments; to want a world free of war, poverty and disease. This is my religion.”
TESTIFYING AT MC CARTHY HEARINGS
In April of 1940, former TWU President and founder Thomas O’Shea; who had been earlier been ousted from the union testified against his former fellow union leaders including Quill. He alleged that the union was in complete control of the communist party and their goal was to promote revolution through strikes. Quill testified in the US House Of Representatives before the House Committee on Un-American Activities and denied these allegations, calling O’Shea a “stool pigeon.” He told Chairman Martin Dies: “You are afraid to hear the truth about our union. You can’t take it, but the American labour movement will live.”
Also in 1940, the city purchased the BMT and IRT. This put Quill in the path of every New York mayor from then on, beginning with Italian-American Republican Fiorello LaGuardia. Years ahead of his time, in 1944, Quill introduced a bill in the City Council to establish free childcare centers for working mothers. Also in 1944, he ended a TWU wildcat (unauthorised) strike in Philadelphia initiated by a racist reaction to a contract that secured promotions to conductor for eight black porters.
After World War II and the Holocaust, Quill said “We licked the race haters in Europe, but the millions of Jewish dead cannot be restored to life”. He was re-elected to the City Council also in 1945. His election campaign manager was Shirley Ukin, a fiery former communist born in Brooklyn Of Russian-Jewish parents with whom he began a longtime affair. She had worked with him in TWU from the beginning. In the late 40’s the union expanded to include airline workers, utility workers and railroad workers.
Also after the war, under pressure from the government on communists in the labor movement but mostly his own dissatisfaction and mistrust caused him to purge the communists out of the Union. In 1948 he secured a large increase for subway workers from Democratic Mayor William O’Dwyer, a native of Bohola, Co. Mayo.
In the 50’s he supported the candidacy of Democrat Robert F. Wagner for mayor. Wagner’s German-born father, a US Senator for New York (Democrat 1927-1949) had authored the Wagner Act Of 1935 that created the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which protected workers’ rights to organise and strike.
Quill’s past relationship with the communist party continued to be criticised. He was nicknamed “Red Mike”. Wagner was elected to three terms and his administration was able to come to collective bargaining agreements with the TWU.
IN THE US TRADE UNION MOVEMENT AGAINST RACISM
Mollie died August 16, 1959. In 1961 he married Shirley; his longtime girlfriend who had previously been married and divorced twice. She would later carry on his union work and write his biography. Also in 1961, Quill received a letter from twenty-five TWU members in Tennessee protesting the Union’s support for Civil Rights and de-segregation. He responded by inviting a prominent black Civil Rights leader to address the Union Convention, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom he admired.
He introduced Dr. King as “The man who is entrusted with the banner of American liberty that was taken from Lincoln when he was shot 95 years ago.” This was indeed high praise as the only two pictures in Quill’s office were of President Abraham Lincoln and James Connolly. The two became friends. As far back as 1938, Quill made a statement much like Dr. King’s famous speeches: “If we, black and white, Catholic and non-Catholic, Jew and gentile, are good enough to slave and sweat together, then we are good enough to unite and fight together”.
In November 1965, John Lindsay was elected Mayor. The aristocratic Protestant Republican whose name he intentionally mispronounced as “Linsley” immediately rubbed Quill the wrong way. Quill quipped: “we explored his mind (Lindsay) yesterday and found nothing there.” This was amid the union negotiating a raise for its members due to inflation caused by the War in Vietnam, of which Quill was typically an early critic.
The TWU had always threatened a strike that could cripple the city of New York, the largest in the US; a city of 8 million where many people’s commutes involve travel across rivers. Manhattan, the center of commerce is an island. Quill knew and stated that this was from where came the union’s power. Quill had seen many Mayors come and go and such a situation had always been averted.
Before he took office, Lindsay felt empowered and entitled to “call their bluff”. He felt such a strike was illegal as it would endanger public safety as transportation is a public utility. He also seemed to feel the union was incapable of pulling it off as history had shown. Irish-American newspaper journalist Jimmy Breslin observed: “[Lindsay] was talking down to old Mike Quill, and when Mike Quill looked up at John Lindsay he saw the Church of England. Within an hour, we had one hell of a transit strike.”
Lindsay was sworn in on 1 January 1966. The same day, 33,000 members of the TWU announced a strike and 2,000 members of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) also joined them. This demonstrated James Connolly’s lesson from “Axe To The Root” put into action.
A legal injunction was issued to stop the strike along with an order for the arrest of Quill and eight others: Matthew Guinan, Frank Sheehan, Daniel Gilmartin, Ellis Van Riper, and Mark Kavanagh of the TWU and John Rowland, William Mangus, and Frank Kleess of the ATU) effective at 1am January 4th.
Quill tore up the injunction and famously said in his thick Kerry accent: “The judge can drop dead in his black robes. I don’t care if I rot in jail. I will not call off the strike.” Only two hours after being imprisoned; Quill who was sixty years old and had health issues with his heart, suffered a heart attack and was sent to Bellevue Hospital. He had ignored all medical advice from his doctors and the strain of the battle was taking its toll. Ironically, he had to wait two hours for an ambulance because the strike had indeed brought the city to a grinding halt.
15,000 workers picketed City Hall on 10 January. The strike ended on 13 January with a huge victory. The TWU had secured the workers a package worth $60 million. Hourly wages rose from $3.18 to $4.14 per hour. Quill seemed to be on the mend and was released from the hospital on 25 January. Quill died in his sleep of congestive heart failure on 28 January. Like ancient Irish High King Brian Boru, he had won his greatest victory at the cost of his own life. His coffin was draped in the Irish
Upon his death, the TWU Express newspaper reported: “Mike Quill did not hesitate or equivocate. He died as he lived fighting the good fight for the TWU and its members.” His friend Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said of him: “Mike Quill was a fighter for decent things all his life: Irish independence, labor organization, and racial equality. He spent his life ripping the chains of bondage off his fellow man. When the totality of a man’s life is consumed with enriching the lives of others, this is a man the ages will remember. This is a man who has passed on but who has not died.”
In 1987, The Michael J. Quill Cultural & Sports Centre was opened in the predominantly Irish-American hamlet of East Durham, NY featuring an authentic Irish cottage and the largest scale map of Ireland in the world. There is also a Michael J. Quill centre in Kilgarvan, Co. Kerry. In 1999, the MTA named the West Side bus garage the Michael J. Quill Depot. The TWU today has a diverse membership of over 100,000.
*Originally posted by K. Rooney September 23, 2018
by Diarmuid Breatnach
In 1964 the TWU offered the Irish Government to carefully remove Nelson’s Column in O’Connell Street. Quill wrote that the scale of the statue and its location would give the impression to visitors that the Irish looked up to Nelson and that it meant to them what the Statue of Liberty meant to US citizens. The TWU volunteered to pay for its removal and its replacement with a more appropriate one among which they included Pearse, Connolly or Larkin.
The Irish Government passed the letter to Dublin Corporation (now DCC) who claimed that since the column was managed by a Trust, the Corporation had no power to remove it.
Two years later, the 50th anniversary year of the Easter Rising, a ‘dissident’ group of the IRA, Saor Éire, took matters into their own hands and demolished the structure, commonly known as Nelson’t Pillar.
DUBLIN AUDIENCE AT AFRI PUBLIC MEETING CHARMED AND INSPIRED BY FORMER MEMBERS OF USA ARMED FORCES WHO ARE ON TRIAL FOR BREACH OF SHANNON AIRPORT SECURITY ZONE.
Veterans for Peace Members Ken Mayers and Tarak Kauff,US-based anti-war campaigners, last Wednesday evening clearly impressed members of a Dublin audience by their dedication. Both men are awaiting trial in Ireland for exposing U.S. war crimes and the violation of Irish neutrality at Shannon Airport and are at liberty only within the jurisdiction of the Irish State on a combined bail of €5,000.
The bail was paid by anti-war campaigner Ed Horgan, a former army commandant and UN peace keeper and the sum is twice the amount of criminal damage they are accused of having caused to the airport’s perimeter fence, as well as unlawfully trespassing into a taxiway. They did so in order to inspect a US plane to ensure it was not carrying war material or personnel, in violation of Ireland’s Constitutional neutrality. Campaigners have long demanded that the Irish State itself carry out these inspections but despite evidence that the State’s neutrality is indeed being violated by US Planes landing at Shannon, successive Irish governments have insisted in taking USA Government denials on trust.
The public meeting was opened by Joe Murray, Coordinator of Afri and Emer Lynam, newly-elected Vice-Chairperson of Afri Ireland, introduced the speakers.
The elderly campaigners, in their “Veterans for Peace” sweatshirts, addressed the audience about the reasons for their actions and their commitment to opposing US militarism which they stated was a major cause of misery around the world, including to serving members of the military themselves (quoting a figure of 22 suicides per day), along with being a major cause of world pollution. Ken Mayers explained that the USA has 800 military bases around the world in addition to its 400 on its own territory, the infrastructure, fuel expenditure and waste of the total which he stated is a major cause of pollution. (This is presumably without even taking into account the use of nuclear-generated power and disposal of radioactive material, or depleted uranium projectiles, such as used in Iraq or the Agent Orange defoliant used in the Vietnam War.)
Both men belong to an organisation called Veterans for Peace which campaigns against the US militarisation of the economy, war, interference in the affairs of other states and for better treatment of veterans. Recently they also supported a campaign against concentration camps for migrants along the US-Mexico border.
13 DAYS IN JAIL THEN BAIL ON CONDITION THEY DON’T APPROACH ANY AIRPORTS
Ken Mayers, 82 years of age and Tarak Kauff 77, spent 13 days on remand in Limerick jail, where their toilet did not flush unless they poured buckets of water into it. Other than that, they said they were treated well and the other prisoners treated them “like celebrities”.
The reason for their bail being refused during that period was Garda objections that they would flee the jurisdiction. Tarak Kauff exposed the illogicality of this ‘fear‘ to the Dublin audience, explaining that they had taken their action at Shannon knowing that they would be arrested and wanting to use the trial to expose what was going on at Shannon airport: “For us not to attend that trial, they would have to physically drag us away from there!”
They were eventually granted bail on condition they remain within the Irish state and having to surrender their passports, due to Garda objections again that they might flee, also not to approach any airports. On July 10th the High Court turned down their appeal against these conditions, though the judge said that he might review that decision if the case were to be moved to the Dublin District Court, where the waiting list was much longer. The defendants and their solicitor, Michael Finucane, will be seeking to have the case heard outside Clare, where it is believed a fair trial relating to a Shannon protest is unlikely. A trial date is expected in September or October.
“THEY POSTPONED MY HONEYMOON”
Ed Horgan took the floor after Mayers and Kauff to speak about the one million total of children killed in the Middle East as a result of war and sanctions and urged action to prevent further loss of children’s lives.
Then Emer Lynam opened the meeting to questions.
In reply to questions from the audience about the cost to themselves, Ken Mayers revealed he was due to be on his honeymoon by now with his bride.
Ken Mayers was born in New York City and grew up on Long Island. From Princeton University he entered the US military as a Second Lieutenant in the US Marine Corps, rising to Major until he left the organisation in 1966 in disgust with US foreign policy. In Berkeley University, California he gained a PhD in political science where, according to the AFRI event page, he became a peace and justice activist, which he has been ever since and six years on the Veterans For Peace (USA) Board of Directors, five of them as national treasurer.
Tarak Kauff, ex-military too and also from New York, said that he missed his wife and daughter but both were supportive of what he was doing, being activists also (see short letter from his wife in Links and References). According to Afri’s FB page, he’s a former U.S. Army paratrooper (1959 – 1962), a member of Veterans For Peace, the managing editor of VFP’s quarterly newspaper Peace in Our Times and was a member of the VFP National Board of Directors for six years. He has organized and led delegations of veterans to Okinawa; Jeju Island, South Korea; Palestine; Ferguson, Missouri; Standing Rock …. and Ireland.
Asked what kept them going, they stated the importance to act against injustice. Kauff in particular declared that “to resist is human” and that he wished to be fully human. He said that no-one could tell another what he or she could do but one only had have the courage to ask oneself that question …. and then the courage to act upon the answer.
“IRISH PEOPLE JUST COME UP AND SHAKE OUR HANDS, THANK US FOR WHAT WE ARE DOING”
Both expressed gratitude and a degree of amazement at the warmth of their welcome and appreciation by members of the Irish public. Kauff gave an instance of the Lisdoonvarna pub where the management would not accept payment for their food and drinks. “People just come up to us and shake our hands and thank us for what we’re doing,” the veteran said, “and we don’t get that in the USA.”
Donations from the public fund them and, at the moment, they live in student accommodation at Limerick University, rent free – though they will need to find alternative accommodation in September.
Asked about popular feeling in the USA, Ken Mayer explained that the US public are exposed to a systematic system of propaganda and misinformation. However their anti-war organisation is very wide with many members and that there were optimistic signs with popular protest about the treatment of migrants along the US-Mexican border and fuel pipeline resistance in New York State and in Standing Rock. However, a little later, Tarak Kauff said that the outlook was not promising but that not resisting was no choice — even if he knew the world was going to end next week, he would feel he had to resist in order to fulfill his human potential.
Earlier in their presentations, Kauff alluded to Ireland’s historic struggle to overthrow its powerful oppressor and called people to oppose the most powerful enemy in the world today – the US State. He said that a stance taken by the Irish Government today would have a strong progressive ripple-effect around the world.
RESISTANCE IN MUSIC AND SONG
Music for the evening was provided by veteran campaigner John Maguire who sang a song he had composed back at the first demonstration at Shannon airport, with a chorus that the audience soon got the hang of and joined in.
RoJ performed a song also of his own composition, accompanied by Paul O’Toole on guitar and Nimal Blake on cajón. Later, O’Toole also sang a song of his own, about the child who lost both his arms to US imperialist ‘smart-targeted’ bombing, then going on to sing one of Dylan’s numbers. Both RoJ and O’Toole are long-time professional performers and have produced CDs of their material.
All performers were warmly applauded.
The evening was a fund-raiser and it could be seen that the collection bucket, although covered, was stuffed with notes. Ken and Tarak also have a Fund Me appeal and Afri is also receiving some donations for them through the Internet.
A number of solidarity demonstrations took place in Dublin City centre last week.
On the evening of 20th June, officially World Refugee Day, a rally calling for the closure of the Direct Provision Centres and to Stop Deportations was held outside the Dáil (Irish Parliament). A number of speakers, some of them refugees and asylum seekers, addressed the crowd. However, the amplification was so weak that only those very near them could hear what they said.
Explanatory text from the organisers: “Despite the number of displaced people increasing year-on-year, the amount of people permitted to seek asylum in Europe has fallen by 10% since 2017. Thousands are forced to climb razor wire fences and entrust their lives to people smugglers as governments continue to close their doors. Accounts of overcrowded camps, lack of sanitation, and torture at the hands of police and militia groups from those who do manage to enter are growing more frequent.
“In Ireland, asylum seekers are forced to wait for years in privatised, isolated centres as the Department of Justice & Equality comes up with reasons to reject and deport them, where they are treated as cargo to be shipped ‘back to where they came from’.
“Mobilisation against direct provision — introduced as a ‘temporary solution’ in 2000 — has increased in recent years yet significant moves by our representatives to abolish it remain to be seen. Our newly elected MEPs similarly show little interest in confronting the EU’s dehumanising regulations.
“Join us as we demand action. For an end to direct provision and deportations. For freedom of movement for all and an end to Fortress Europe.”
Though a number of supporting organisations were listed — STUDENTS AGAINST DIRECT PROVISION, MOVEMENT OF ASYLUM SEEKERS IN IRELAND, MIGRANTS AND ETHNIC MINORITIES FOR REPRODUCTIVE JUSTICE, REFUGEE AND MIGRANT SOLIDARITY IRELAND, SAY NO TO DIRECT PROVISION IN IRELAND, UNION OF STUDENTS IN IRELAND — it seemed as though the core organisers were from the People Before Profit organisation.
The supporters were subjected to a number of very heavy rain showers but most remained until the scheduled end of the event.
On Saturday afternoon, 22nd June, a rally in support of the Sudanese people was held on the central pedestrian reservation in O’Connell Street, Dublin city’s main street. They too were addressed by a number of speakers but it was not always possible to hear who they were or all that they had to say.
According to aid NGO, Concer, “Over 46.5% of the Republic of Sudan’s population is living below the poverty line and 5.5 million are in need of humanitarian assistance.” A war has been raging there since 2013 in which an estimated 400,000 people are estimated to have died.
According to Wikipedia: “More than 4 million people have been displaced, with about 1.8 million internally displaced and about 2.5 million having fled to neighboring countries, especially Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda.This makes it the world’s third-largest refugee population after Syria and Afghanistan. About 86% of the refugees are women and children.”
The core organisers of this event seemed to be a youth group of the Socialist Party although it also appeared that the Sudanese community had organised to support it through their own networks.
On Saturday 8th June, The Starry Plough Historical Society put on a remarkable event: an exhibition of photos from Aleppo with a real-time audio explanation of each by the photographer, community worker Antoine Makdis, speaking from Aleppo itself. Please note all but one of the images are photos taken by me of those being shown on the screen, hence the poor quality of the image but it is Antoine’s story of each that is of most importance.
Aleppo is a many-centuries-old city in the north of Syria which for five years was fought over in the war between Jihadists and the Syrian national army. Antoine Makdis is a Syrian community worker who also takes documentary photographs. The city was once the principal one in the region, being on the midway spot on Silk Road for caravans, between Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean but the development of the Suez Canal reduced its trade importance hugely. There was also political rivalry between Aleppo-based interests and those in Damascus, as to whether to gravitate towards allegiance with Iraq or with Egypt.
However, the city has nevertheless been famed for its antiquity and its ancient buildings, as well as for its edible produce and cuisine. Sadly, the city was riven by war between 2012 and 20161, suffering huge destruction to its ancient buildings and communal spaces and with high loss of life too.
Aleppo won the “Islamic City of Culture” title in 2006. Its western suburbs contain “the Dead Cities” with remains of many cultures which have Unesco World Heritage status since 2011 under the title “Ancient Villages of Syria”. The city has the largest covered market-souq in the world and ancient buildings of worship, not only for Moslems but also for Christians and Jews.
Wikepedia: “Aleppo lies about 120 km (75 miles) inland from the Mediterranean Sea on a plateau 280 m (1,250 ft) above sea level, 45 km (28 miles) east of the Syrian-Turkish border checkpoint of Bab al-Hawa. The city is surrounded by farmlands to the north and west, widely cultivated with olive and pistachio trees. To the east, Aleppo approaches the dry areas of the Syrian Desert.”
Before the recent war in Syria the population of the city was 4.6 million, making it the most populous city in Syria but it is probably so no longer. According to some sources it is one of the cities in longest continuous human occupation, possibly since 6th millennium BC.
DOCUMENTING THE EFFECTS OF WAR AND BEGINNINGS OF RECOVERY
After the fighting in the city ceased, Antoine walked around taking photos, documenting not only terrible damage but the efforts of people to recover and the voluntary work done by some people to help people recover the city.
The Dublin event was organised by the Starry Plough Historical Society. A screen displayed the photographs while a presenter conversed with Antoine Makdis on a link-up and the latter talked about each photo, why he took it and what it meant to him.
“I wanted to show the world my beloved city Aleppo, through my eyes”, the photographer wrote in an introduction published on the event page. “This city that suffered a lot from the war and at the same time is cleaning the dust of battles from it’s magical robe to rise again as the oldest and most beautiful city in the world. That year, Aleppo started to recover after the unification of the parts of the city. And I started to publish these pictures on facebook, writing sometimes stories about the photos and most of the times keeping the picture taken unaccompanied by words.”
The event promotion on FB posted that it would be “… non-political, free to attend and open to all (respectful behavior to others is mandatory however).” At the time I questioned how anything could be non-political, to say nothing of photos taken in what was a war zone fought over definite political objectives. I do think I was correct in doubting that possibility and, at times, it was clear that Antoine was grateful for the Syrian National Army for ridding his city of the jihadists and that is entirely understandable.
Sadly, as the last photo was being discussed, I had to leave to attend another event and so was unable to participate in discussion with the photographer, or to thank and congratulate him for his work and what seemed to me a deep humanity underlying it.
ALEPPO WAR BACKGROUND
The uprising against Assad may have had genuine democratic or socialist component and it would not be surprising, given the history of the Syrian State, if they were suppressed with unreasonable force.
In Aleppo, there had been a demonstration against Assad in August 2011, some months after they had occurred elsewhere in Syria. Syrian State forces had suppressed that demonstration with the loss of two lives. Two months later, there was a large pro-regime demonstration.
The jihadists began to attack Government forces and others with bombs the following year. In February two suicide car bombs hit security compounds, killing four civilians, 13 Army, 11 Police and injuring 235. Another bomb in March 2012 killed two police and one civilian and injured 30 residents of the area. In July the “Free Syrian Army” besieged the city and penetrated into a section so that the war was then fought house to house until it stabilised into war between the section held by the FSA and the other, held by the Syrian National Army, separated by a no-man’s land.
The FSA were by this time undoubtedly mostly jihadists, i.e followers of the call of “jihad” or religious war. Jihadists are operating in various parts of the world and have undoubtedly been funded by Western Powers, chiefly the USA, along with in many cases sections of the Saudi Arabian royal ruling class.
The strategists of the USA have felt for years that it was necessary to have the rulers of a number of Middle Eastern states overthrown and replaced with regimes friendly to them.
The USA began seriously funding jihadists in Afghanistan to counter the Russian military and political presence there from the end of 1979 to early 1989 (they even sent them Rambo2!). Al Qaeda was created then by the USA, the organisation’s leadership drawing also on support from ruling circles in Saudi Arabia.
The CIA strategists developed a theory that religious zealots could be used to counter the influence of socialists and anti-imperialist democrats. Like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, Al Qaeda later turned against it creator, the USA, of which the most spectacular incident was the hijacked airplane attacks on the Twin Towers and on the Pentagon in September 11, 2001.
The monster has found a life of its own and has bred many offspring (the organisation variously known as ISIS/ ISIL/ Islamic State/ DAESH being the most notorious) and continues to be an ongoing danger to the people of the world. The various groups often fight among themselves for dominance and this was the case between ISIS in Syria and the imperialist-backed FSA.
Dr. Frankenstein has not entirely given up on his creation, believing it can be used in a controlled way from time to time wherever in the Middle East the political situation threatens the foreign interests of the USA.
Ireland has broken off its love affair with the USA but the breakup’s been coming for a long time. Of course it was always a kind of mythical USA that was the love object, of film stars, rock n’ roll, friendly presidents, Irish-U.Stater politicians, of U.Stater tourists – never the real USA, good or bad. One could feel the tensions in the relationship during the Viet Nam War, though that was mostly to be seen in the youth and some lefties. But then came the lying scandals in the US Presidency of Nixon and Clinton and the naked warmongering throughout all, including the Bushes, Snr. and Jnr.
Ireland, below the level of its Gombeen politicians, has split up with the USA (at the level of ITS politicians and millionaires [often the same thing]) but it has been a relatively civilised breakup and thankfully with no children (well, apart from the Irish illegal immigrants – sorry, undocumented visitors).
While some businesses in an Dún Beag might have turned a profit out the Fear Mór’s visit, having the Chief of the World Superpower drop in on us has cost us – around 10 million euro, according to the Irish Independent. Loads of extra Gardaí on the ground in Co. Clare and Limerick, in the air and on sea, does not come cheap (though I’m sure the overtime was welcome). All would have been bad enough if we had invited him but we hadn’t. Will the Irish Government present the US Presidency with an itemised bill? Probably not.
At the invitation of The Irish Examiner, a number of organisations and individuals had written letters to Trump for publication (see link below); most were critical and these included Amnesty International, Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, National Union of Journalists, National Women’s Council of Ireland, National Union of Students; Brendan Ogle, Tara Flynn and Clare Daly. For entertainment value I’d pick out the IPSC’s and Tara Flynn’s (well, she is a comedian). The ICCL also had a newspaper advertisement criticising Trump, which was sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union and figured logos of a number of other civil rights organisations.
There were protests in various parts of the country, including one to greet his arrival at Shannon airport (hopefully US munitions and troop carriers were pulled to one side so as not to hinder his landing). The Irish Times said there were about 200 protesters there so, on past reporting, there could have been anything between 300 and 1,000. It is not easy to get to Shannon airport unless one has a car, even from Galway the gaps between bus arrival times are substantial. And no train station.
Dublin had a showy and packed anti-Trump rally, with a Baby Trump blimp floating above the crowd outside the Garden of Remembrance. An activist brought big letter placards which, with the help of volunteers from the crowd, spelled out anti-trump messages in English and in Irish. Indeed an interesting feature was a number of placards partly or completely in Irish.
The theme of “welcome” or “fáilte” was of course played upon in reverse, in speech and placard, with more than a hinted reference to the old Bord Fáilte slogan inviting tourists to the land of “céad míle fáilte”.
The event was managed by Unite Against Racism which is, for the most part, People Before Profit, which in turn is really the Socialist Workers’ Party. A number of other left-wing party flags could be seen too. A group of Shinners were at the rally with their trademark flags (never go anywhere without the party’s flag) but no “dissidents” were present as a group, though I certainly noted some as individuals.
The speakers at the rally covered a number of themes, including of course misogyny, migrants, Palestine, war-making and imperialism. Liam Herrick of the ICCL was an unusual sight to see on an outdoors protest platform, speaking at the second part of the rally. Curiously, the rally organisers had sent a major part of the attendance off to march around the city centre for awhile and of course, when they got back, they had shed a great part of their numbers. A torrential downpour no doubt encouraged the desertions.
Coming towards the end of the rally, a performer accompanied himself on guitar while he rendered some songs for the diminished attendance. Woody Guthrie’s “Plane Crash at Los Gatos” (also known as “Deportees”) would have been an apposite choice, a song about Mexican labourers being employed in the south-eastern US fruit harvests and then driven back across the Border. Guthrie was moved to sing about them when in 1948 a plane carrying mostly deported Mexicans crashed, killing all on board and though the names of the crew were given in the news reports, the Mexicans were referred to only as “deportees”.
At the rally, eventually Trump was deflated (the blimp, I mean), tethering weight bags emptied of water, placards were packed, flags furled …. and I went to get some shopping.
DISCURSO DEL COMÍTE ANTI INTERNAMIENTO DE DUBLÍN PARA LA CONMEMORACIÓN DE PASCUA ABRIL 2019
A Chomrádaith agus a chairde, go raibh maith agaibh (“Companer@s y amig@s, gracias”) al Acción Anti-Imperialista de Irlanda por invitar al Comité de Anti-Internamiento de Dublín a hablar en este evento.
Tradicionalmente este es un tiempo cada año de conmemoraciones.
Conmemoramos en primer lugar a las mujeres, hombres y chicos que salieron a luchar contra un Imperio, el más grande jamás conocido y, en ese momento, el militar más poderoso del mundo. Algun@s lucharon solo por la independencia de Irlanda, much@s lucharon también por la justicia social y otr@s lucharon contra la guerra imperialista. El nuestro fue el primer alzamiento contra la carnicería de la Guerra imperialista y el mundo tuvo que esperar un año antes de que hubiera otro, en Rusia, y dos años antes del alzamiento espartaquista en Alemania.
Pero también conmemoramos a aquell@s much@s otr@s que lucharon y much@s que dieron su vida contra el invasor a través de los siglos, contra el colonizador, los ladrones de tierras, contra la monarquía inglesa por una República, contra los traidores de la causa de la independencia, contra los Gombeen (capitalistas nativos). Los gobernantes de nuestro propio Estado y los gobernantes coloniales de la colonia inglesa restante en suelo irlandés.
Es correcto y apropiado conmemorar los hechos heroicos y el sacrificio del pasado.
Pero no se trata solo del pasado; también se trata del presente y del futuro. A chomrádaithe (“companer@s), la lucha aún no está terminada y sus objetivos aún no se han alcanzado. Vivimos en un país dividido por una frontera británica y también dividido entre ricos y pobres, donde una pequeña minoría de explotadores vive de los trabajadores y de la clase media baja, convirtiendo la miseria de much@s en los euros y libras de unos pocos.
A medida que el fascismo asoma su fea cabeza y destapa sus sangrientos colmillos nuevamente por todo el mundo, nuestros gobernantes aquí en Irlanda también se vuelven cada vez más a la represión. Recordamos a los que están en juicio ahora por oponerse exitosamente al lanzamiento del fascista Pegida en Dublín en 2012. Y los partidarios del Sinn Féin Republicano atacados en Newry mientras conmemoraban el mismo Alzamiento de 1916 el año pasado, también en juicio ahora, una repetición de los ataques del RUC bajo la Ley de Poderes Especiales. Y las redadas en los hogares de much@s republican@s de otras organizaciones a lo largo del año. Y aquellos que languidecen en la cárcel después de la condena por cortes especiales sin jurado en ambos lados de la Frontera.
Parte del arsenal de la represión ha sido tradicionalmente el internamiento sin juicio. Y camaradas, tras el Alzamiento de 1916, hubo una gran ola de detenciones en Irlanda. Más de 3.500 hombres y mujeres fueron arrestados y se dictaron noventa sentencias de muerte, aunque más tarde todas menos 16 fueron conmutados. 1,852 mujeres y hombres fueron internados en campos de concentración y prisiones en Inglaterra y Gales.
Los británicos recurrieron nuevamente al internamiento durante la Guerra de la Independencia, al igual que los gobiernos irlandeses durante la Guerra Civil y en los años 30 y 40, y los británicos en los Seis Condados en los años 70. Eso fue internamiento masivo, pero el internamiento continúa hoy de forma más selectiva, a través de la revocación de la licencia para ex presos y la negativa de la libertad a fianza para otros. Tod@s l@s republican@s deben oponerse a esta práctica represiva y no solo l@s republican@s, sino también l@s socialistas y, de hecho, todas las personas democráticas. La historia muestra una y otra vez que lo que el Estado se sale con la suya contra un grupo, lo usa más tarde contra otro.
El Comité contra el internamiento de Dublín se esfuerza por celebrar un piquete mensual de información en diferentes partes de Dublín y un evento anual en Newry. No somos sectarios y somos independientes de cualquier partido u organización política, lo que significa que TODAS las organizaciones republicanas deben apoyar nuestros eventos, ya que el internmiento nos afecta a todos. O nos oponemos juntos a la represión estatal, camaradas … o vamos a la cárcel por separado.
In March this year, the Irish State signed up to join PESCO, the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation military force. The Irish State’s armed forces are a now a part of it and, in a sense, so is every person in Ireland. It is a military alliance with other states and that changes our neutrality stance to which we have held since the creation of the State.
On the afternoon of 15th January this year, I attended a protest against PESCO in front of the Dáil, feeling a little guilty because it was the first such I had supported. We were few in number and, among the protesters, though I recognised some of them from other events, there were none I would associate with Irish Republican or Socialist groups – perhaps a few associated with the Communist Party.
My neglect and that of others is a pity. They may feel that other issues are more pressing but that surely does not prevent an occasional attendance. They may feel that there is nothing to be done – the decision was made by the Government a year ago, with the support of Fianna Fáil. But if something is wrong and we can’t for the moment end it, we should never acquiesce to it, by agreement or by silence.
FIRST STEP TOWARDS A SINGLE EUROPEAN ARMY?
PESCO is an EU agreement on military cooperation. It is not a European Army, according to its supporters in public. Not yet, according to its opponents – but it is a big step on the way there. The European Commission has committed €1.5bn to PESCO projects by 2020, and Ireland will be obliged to boost its spending on personnel and weaponry. With such a budget in its early stages this is clearly no small project.
Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the EU Commission and the man who favours an EU army, was rejoicing at the sign-up to PESCO and was quoted as saying of it: “She is awake, the Sleeping Beauty of the Lisbon Treaty.” Yes, we remember the Lisbon Treaty don’t we? ‘Just keep voting until you vote the way we want you to’!1
When I cycled near to Kildare Street on Dawson, I found the south end blocked by Gardaí. I turned back pushing the bike and went up Frederick St. South, left into Setanta Place and found myself blocked by Gardaí again. I had to turn back and work my way into Molesworth Street, which runs from Dawson Street to the Dáil, facing the main entrance. There were Gardaí here too but at least they were only turning away vehicular traffic. The small group of protesters were gathered by the metal barriers at the east end of Molesworth Street and I joined them there.
All these ‘security’ operations for the anti-PESCO protesters? No, of course not but there was a bigger demonstration expected later, protesting about a range of injustices (I didn’t stay for it).
Protests at the Dáil have become so frequent in recent years that a new type of barrier has been employed. These cannot be easily separated or unhooked and the have steps built into them at regular intervals – on the Garda side. “They’re so the bastards can stand on them and baton protesters”, explained one of the demonstrators. Indeed.
Those who support our participation in PESCO justify it on the grounds of defending Europe and that, if we are a part of it, we should help defend it. No doubt a number of Army professionals relish the thought of playing with big weapons and the big boys.
People in opposition to our involvement say if Europe should be attacked then we have a choice of whether to join in its defence and that should be made democratically, whereas PESCO brings us in by stealth.
DEFENCE – OR AGGRESSION?
Of course, states always claim that their armies are for defence. The USA, currently and for some time the most aggressively military state in the world, calls its ministry for military affairs the “US Defence Department” and its protege, probably the most aggressive state after the USA, calls its army the “Israeli Defence Forces”2.
Regarding a ‘defence’ of Europe, we might ask: against whom? Possibly against Russia, it is sometimes said. Russia has imperialist ambitions, of course but is that any different from France or Germany? Or the UK? Even the USA is hinted at as an enemy of the EU and it certainly a competitor.
Irish Army soldiers are ideal for sending into conflict areas, as the UN has found because, apart from military considerations, it has no imperialist past, ostensibly no axe to grind. Which of course is not strictly true, since the Irish State has traditionally sided with the USA on many issues and with the EU on others. But not militarily, at least not yet (apart from the Congo, that is, in the 1960s)3.
Contributing to a European Army however puts Irish soldiers in the field under EU direction and the EU is certainly a capitalist and imperialist mutual alliance, under the control essentially of Germany and France. The Spanish State faces possible future military conflicts with some nations within the state as does the French State, which also has involvement in a number of African states. Italy too may face such conflicts in future. A number of other European states also have economic interests in states in Africa and even some of the seemingly cleanest are major arms exporters.
PESCO is of course an EU military alliance and a first step towards an EU army and Ireland joining it is undermining its traditional neutrality. Irish soldiers will be mobilised in EU military offensives against regimes the EU finds awkward, whether in support of the USA for example, as many EU states did in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, or possibly against former colonies of France and Spain, with new governments, taking measures to safeguard their natural resources. Our country’s involvement in such operations will of course render us a possible target for terrorist action here in Ireland.
I think more people should protest against PESCO, even if occasionally. I will make sure I do.
1The Irish State signed up to the Lisbon Treaty of the EU in October 2009, following a referendum majority vote earlier that year in favour of the necessary amendment to the Irish Constitution. However, a majority vote in an earlier referendum in 2008 had voted to reject that amendment. A ‘no’ vote in Ireland could have finished the Lisbon Treaty for the whole EU and Ireland was the only state to hold a referendum on the question. After the first referendum, a campaign of State and media propaganda had pushed for a second referendum and achieved a 20% swing in favour in the 2009 vote, reversing the previous popular verdict.
2Apart from its attacks on Palestinians, Israel has attacked Egypt (with France and the UK, over control of the Suez Canal), Jordan, Lebanon and Syria and has carried out assassinations in and bombings of a number of other states; it is also constantly rattling its sabre at Iran.
3The Belgian state engineered a breakaway of Katanga Province from the new Republic of the Congo which, led by Patrice Lumumba, had declared independence in 1960 and was intending to protect the state’s natural resources. Katanga had copper mines. The Belgian state armed a rebel army run by a warlord and also supplied military expertise in the form of European mercenaries and seconded officers. The USA supported the breakaway (as did France) and the UN brokered a very imperfect ceasefire which the rebel army and the Belgian state had no interest in observing. The Irish Army were deployed there as part of the UN peacekeeping force, undermined and badly supported. Nine Irish soldiers were killed in ambush by tribesmen who did not support the secessionists and had seen their villages burned by European mercenaries as a result. More about it here: http://www.theirishstory.com/2016/10/07/the-irish-army-the-un-jadotville-and-the-congo/#.XIZa1SOLRsM