Sacked workers of Debenhams picketed offices of KPMG, the appointed liquidator of their former employer to protest threats of injunctions. The workers are demanding the statutory two weeks’ redundancy plus another two and that they be treated as the first creditors to be paid out, instead of being last, as is usually the case in receivership. Until they receive an agreed settlement, the workers are maintaining their 24-blockades on Debenhams stores, supported officially by their union Mandate, to prevent the company removing its stock.
Finding other means to keep themselves amused.
The British-based department store retailer Debenhams closed its Irish branches in Dublin, Limerick, Galway, Waterford and Cork during the Covid19 lockdown earlier this summer and has yet to pay the workers their redundancy pay. Picketers attended Harcourt Street yesterday to gather outside the offices of KPMG, the multinational financial audit services company. KPMG recently claimed it has a potential buyer for a number of the Debenhams sites and while declining to name it, threatened to apply for injunctions against the picketers in order to remove stock and allow the new buyer to move its own stock in. RTÉ reported the company also claiming the union leadership had agreed and said that pickets in Cork were unofficial, both claims which however were denied by the new General Secretary, Gerry Light. RTÉ quoted Mr. Light as saying that the continuing pickets are officially backed by the union and that if there is a new buyer, they’d be interested in talking to them.
A placard displayed on the picket in Dublin pointed out that the workers have been blockading Debenhams sites for 131 days and one of the speakers at the picket acknowledged that keeping up an action over such an extended period of time is difficult. A number of speakers outlined the necessity to remain strong while Paul Murphy, socialist TD (member of the Irish Parliament) stated that the talk of injunctions was not a sign of strength of the liquidators’ position but rather one of weakness. Another speaker called for a strengthening of the pickets now and a number stated that any injunctions would need to be defied.
MESSAGE OF SOLIDARITY FROM THE FAMOUS ANTI-APARTHEID DUNNE’S STORES STRIKERS
Meanwhile, a message of solidarity came from some of the Dunne’s Stores Anti-Apartheid strikers, the famous strike 1984-1987 in pursuance of their union’s policy (then the IADTU, now incorporated into Mandate) not to handle good from South Africa (then under racist white minority regime).
Kate Gearon was shop steward (elected shop-floor workers’ representative) during the strike.
“What has happened the Debenhams workers is atrocious,” Ms. Gearon wrote. “Some workers have given decades of service to the company and then when it suits the company just abandons them.
“But what is inspirational is the fact the workers are trying to change legislation to protect all other workers from this terrible predicament.”
Ms Gearon added: “When we started our pickets on this day in 1984, people told us we couldn’t win. They said ordinary retail workers didn’t have the power to change legislation. Well 10 of us stuck to our guns and we forced the Irish Government to ban all South African goods.
“There were only 10 of us, there are 1,000 Debenhams workers. Imagine the changes they can force if they stick together in their trade union.”
Picketers outside the KPMG offices in Dublin chanted slogans including: “What do we want? Two plus Two!” “When do we want it? Now!” “When under attack– Stand up, Fight back!”and “Treat us right, treat us fair, or your stock ain’t going anywhere!”. The MC of the event also raised cheers when he told those in attendance that pickets were taking place simultaneously at KPMG officers in Galway and Cork.
Sites of Debenhams stores are being picketed on a 24-hour basis and solidarity can be shown by attending in person.
A rally on Custom House Quay on Saturday protesting the housing crisis was followed by a march through Dublin city centre, halting traffic at a number of points before ending with another rally outside Mountjoy Garda Station, from which station Gardaí (police force of the Irish State) had protected an illegal eviction in the Phibsboro area only days before. Speakers at various points denounced the Government parties current and past, the rendering of housing a commodity by the capitalist system and the police for protecting that system.
The demonstration had been advertised already for some weeks and the date set by the Ireland’s Housing Action campaign group. The Garda protest element had been added only days before the date set for the demonstration due to a shocking incident in the Phibsborough area of the city. Residents of a house had agents of a landlord smash through their door, frightening tenants and throwing their possession into the street. Two Gardaí in attendance who said they were there “to prevent a breach of the peace” were in fact assisting in the commission of a breach of the peace by protecting the landlord’s thugs and intimidating tenants and others from resisting.
No eviction notice was produced nor did the Gardaí require one from the thugs, who proceeded to smash fixtures in the house, including the toilets. One of the eviction team shouted that a note had been sent to a tenant – on their Facebook account!
A local activist passing by noted what was going on and summoned assistance which in turn ensured the arrival of more Gardaí, including an Armed Response Unit vehicle (these units carry firearms and live ammunition). Helpers found temporary accommodation that evening for the evicted tenants, who the following day were assisted in returning to their home, with repairs carried out to toilets and some other fixtures.
It transpired that the eviction had been illegal even within the current system and protesters were informed outside the Garda station that the thugs had not registered as bailiffs for two years past and that the company they purported to represent appeared non-existent.
It was this incident which had ensured the march would culminate in a rally outside the very police station involved (some years ago this station was the scene of protest due to the collusion of Gardaí stationed there with companies installing water meters and threatening water protesters).
Since the eviction, the online Journal.ie published a report in which the Gardaí were quoted in what can only be seen as poor excuses and outright lies, including a claim that there had been no damage! The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has queried the role of the Gardaí and some TDs, including Green Party members of the Government have called for a ban on evictions during the Covid19 pandemic (the previous ban on evictions was very recently lifted by the Government). As is being increasingly the case, the property in question appears to have been acquired from the landlord by a vulture company (i.e finance companies that buy properties in debt from mortgage banks at low cost, to either sell them on again or to evict the tenants and sell the properties).
This is not the first occasion on which the Gardaí have been seen in support of landlords in recent times. The occupation of an empty house in the north inner city had been broken by bailiffs assisted by Gardaí in 2018, while an Armed Response Unit had turned up to an argument between a landlord and a tenant couple at another house in Dublin in the same period.
RALLY SPEAKERS DENOUNCE RACISM
Notable by their banners in supporting the rally and march yesterday were Dublin Housing Action Committee, Dublin Renters Union, Universal Public Housing campaign, United Against Racism (Home for All), the socialist Republican party Éirigí, and Countess Markievicz 1916 Society, some of which provided speakers.
The spokesperson of the organisers Patrick Nells along with nearly all the speakers emphasised the anti-racist nature of the protest, which was no doubt reassuring to many, given that Custom House Quay had been chosen a number of times as the venue for rallies by the racist and islamophobic Irish Yellow Vests leadership and also that some elements close to the housing protest organisers had colluded with the INV when they first emerged.
Speaker after speaker pointed out that dividing working people along lines of race or ethnicity would result in a weaker resistance to landlords and their Government supporters, and that the “house Irish first” slogan put forward by racists and fascists would benefit neither the migrants nor the Irish homeless. Contrary to propaganda of the Far-Right which pretends that migrants get better and quicker access to housing than do the indigenous population, some speakers also outlined how migrants were the most vulnerable to unscrupulous landlords and it was no accident that the adults subjected to a violent and illegal eviction recently had been migrants.
LONG WAIT, LONG MARCH AND DISAPPEARED FAR-RIGHT
I had rushed to the event from a conversation in Moore Street, worried I might miss the start of the march. I need not have worried, nor have hurried. It was advertised for 2pm and I got there around 10 minutes after that but it seemed nearer to 3pm before the event was officially started – and then it was with speeches, most of them very long. A musician concluded the rally with a performance of a composition of his in which the repeated line of “A hotel room is not a home” made an impact. He also introduced slogans which were shouted along the march: “Whose streets? Our streets! Whose homes? Our homes!”
Meanwhile the sun beat down and air felt heavy, even by the riverside. Some of the attendance were visibly wilting. By the time the march crossed to the south bank and turned west, a number of people had dropped out. On O’Connell Bridge, the leaders stopped the march, which now blocked it to north-south traffic and vice versa. Here there were some further speeches, also not short, a song of which it was difficult to make out the words and a spelling out of slogans on giant letter placards, which was a welcome distraction. But still the sun beat down and there was a substantial way to go yet. Some more people left the march here.
When eventually the march began to move again, taking the north-bound traffic lanes, it passed the GPO, where a group of the Far-Right have been holding their protests since the start of the Covid19 restrictions (which they neither obeyed nor were they compelled to do so by the Gardaí, who however harassed Debenham worker pickets around the corner in Henry Street during the same period).
Word had reached some on the housing protest much earlier that the Far-Right had decamped to Phoenix Park, the first time in weeks the Far-Right had abandoned their Saturday protest at the GPO. One could speculate that they feared the risk of another punitive surge into their ranks as had happened the previous Saturday when, after weeks of provocations including assaults, a mixed group including Republicans and Anarchists had finally burst in amongst them, in the course of which the Far-Right lost various items of sound amplification equipment. Or it might have been that the Far-Right organisers wished to avoid the public spectacle of being denounced by marchers against homelessness as they passed and, even worse, their supporters calling the marchers “paedos” as they regularly do to all antifascists.
The marchers carried on, shouting the slogan about “whose streets” and “whose homes” and “homes for all” along with “Vultures out, out, out!”, calling also on people to “fight back”.
When the remainder of the marchers, having lost perhaps a third of the original numbers, finally reached Mountjoy Garda station, it was around 4.30 pm and they sank gratefully to the road, a sit-down protest but also a weary relief. Here there were also some more speeches and the Gardaí came in for some well-deserved harsh words.
As we approached the station a few minutes earlier, some Gardaí stood smiling in a friendly manner at the approaching marchers, no doubt wishing to soften their image after their recent role at the eviction. “How are you?” one Garda Sergeant greeted the marchers with a broad smile. “None the better for seeing you,” replied one of the marchers, walking past the Garda.
Gardaí clustered beyond the outskirts at both ends of the crowd, with some diverting traffic. But none interfered with the march organisers, who took up their position at the bottom of the steps leading up to the station’s front door. For the most part, those inside stayed away from the windows too.
Apart from the speeches of some housing campaign and political activists, there were some also from one of the victims of the recent illegal eviction, an African woman who spoke of the terror of the invasion and the heartlessness of the authorities and how it impacted on her, with her two Irish-born children. A young African man who had also been evicted also spoke of the experience and of the situation in general. Both praised the Irish people in general (as distinct from the authorities) and those who had helped them in particular. A young homeless Dublin woman spoke also, criticising the provision for homeless people and for rough sleepers on the streets in particular. A young Irish woman read one of her poems against homelessness and the organisers thanked all for the attendance and brought the event to a close.
It was nearly 6pm and still fairly warm and heavy.
It was good to see people out in protest at the scandalous housing crisis throughout the Irish state and in particular in its capital city, especially following a period of State restrictions on large gatherings due to the Covid19 epidemic and when fears of infection have been keeping many at home.
It was not reassuring however in that respect to note those in attendance who wore no face covering whatsoever, probably as a result of the earlier statements of the Government health spokesperson dismissing the usefulness of wearing face-mask, countering the more recent requirements of public transport for passengers to wear such protection along with the current pressure in many shops to do likewise.
The numbers in attendance were lower than might have been expected, with the banners of a number of political parties and housing campaigns notably absent. I wondered too whether it might not be wiser to make less of an issue of illegal evictions, since most evictions are probably legal under the current system and eviction orders easily obtained, a point made by one of the speakers.
What the content of the activist speeches most reflected to me, apart from outrage at the situation and blaming of the State, along with the welcome rejection of racism (even though mostly from forces that are rarely, if ever seen in the mobilisations against the racist and islamophobic rallies of the Far-Right), was impotence.
The same calls for unity, the ritual invoking of the executed socialist James Connolly, the usual denunciations of the political parties of current or past governments and their facilitation of landlords and property speculators, the decades-old calls for the involvement of the trade unions ……… but no coherent strategy or tactics to take the housing movement further at this point.
And it is not difficult to see why. What makes the housing crisis possible is the lack of public housing and that in turn is made possible by successive governments not releasing funds to local authorities for public housing construction. All political parties thus far to take part in Government for decades have colluded in maintaining this situation: the two main parties of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, of course but also whenever in coalition government, the Labour Party, Greens and Progressive Democrats.
What then of a new party in government? Currently only Sinn Féin offers that prospect and the party did have the most members elected to the Dáil (Irish parliament) in the February elections this year. However, the signs of a radical break with the capitalist housing market from that party are not good, due to its general anxiety to please the more conservative elements in society, combined with what seems an unprincipled hunger to enter government. Which, furthermore, it would have to do in coalition with other political parties.
Nor is it long since the party’s councillors in Dublin agreed to hand over public land in the city to private developers.
The trade unions are if anything more compromised and less ready for tough social action and in fact seem unable even to protect their own members to any noticeable degree.
If it should not appear possible to overcome the crisis through reform, then revolution is the only viable option – or at least the imminence of revolution forcing sections of the ruling class into implementing radical reforms. That situation does not seem close at the moment, though of course future developments may accelerate its approach in a manner difficult to anticipate now.
It does seem clear that the housing movement cannot rely on changes in government party composition in the near future. It seems likely that only more radical housing action at grassroots level, quite possibly with some activists eventually going to jail, can force the pace and provide the necessary impetus for radical government reform – or for contribution to revolution.
REPUBLICANS AND SOCIALISTS PICKET AUCTION OF IRISH HISTORICAL ARTIFACTS
(Reading time: 5 mins.)
On Saturday 25th July tourists and other passers-by were treated to the sight of people picketing the Freemason Hall in Molesworth Street, Dublin, where the Whyte’s company was holding an auction of Irish historical artifacts. The picketers flew the historical flags of the Sunrise of na Fianna Éireann and the Starry Plough of the Irish Citizen Army and a banner proclaimed OUR HISTORY IS NOT FOR SALE – is linne uilig í. Placards displayed by the picketers denounced, in Irish and English, the sale of artifacts of Irish history. Among their periodic chants were “Irish history is not for sale!” and “Shame on Whyte’s!”
Very shortly before the event some people had learned of the forthcoming auction by the Whyte’s company, which has an office and shopfront in Molesworth Street (also the street in which the Freemason’s Hall is located), a couple of minutes’ walk from Leinster House, the location of the Oireachtas (the Irish Parliament). The glossy brochure for the event listed a huge amount of items, including an original copy of the 1916 Proclamation of which the Irish State has only one original copy and others have been sold in 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019.
Also up for auction were writings of Thomas Ashe, who died from force-feeding while on hunger-strike in 1917 and a copy of Wolfe Tone’s speech – in his own handwriting — at the trial that condemned him to hang in 1798.
One of the Auctioneer company representatives tried to convince the picketers that he was carrying out a useful national historical service (though he admitted also at a tidy profit) by bringing some of those items for auction to Ireland. Wolfe Tone’s speech notes were a case in point, he claimed, since they had been in the family of a former English Army general. The picketers however were adamant that the item was “stolen property” and that the Irish Government should demand the return of that item and others like it, to which the auctioneer replied “That’s nonsense!”
The Auctioneer soon shifted tack and asked the picketers whether they had permission to hold their protest. They responded that they did not need one and were in a public place; the auctioneer went inside the building calling out that the picketers were mistaken.
Shortly thereafter, a Garda patrol car drove into the street and stopped near the protesters, disgorging two serving Garda and a trainee. The picketers explained their presence and that it was a peaceful protest, also assuring the officer in charge that they had obstructed no-one from entering and that indeed a half-dozen or so had entered the building already, passing them on the way; the officer then collected her team, got back in the patrol car and drove away.
The protesters, who had arrived at around 12.30, a half-hour before the advertised start time for the auction, remained until 1.30pm and left. At intervals their chants echoed around the street, no doubt clearly audible to people staying at or using Buswell’s hotel about 50 yards away.
Diarmuid Breatnach, an independent revolutionary socialist, spoke at the event, as did Sean Doyle, of Anti-Imperialist Action and Ger Devereux of the Saoradh organisation.
NOT THE HISTORY OF THE GOMBEENS
Breatnach denounced the sale of historical artifacts in general but focused in particular on the speech notes of Wolfe Tone, going on to relate how Tone and other Republicans and liberals had tried to build a nation of equality between the various religions in Ireland. They supported the liberal Grattan’s bid to extend the franchise and representation in the Irish Parliament (in which only the tiny minority of Anglicans were permitted to enter) to Catholics and non-Anglican Protestants such as the Presbyterians). When the majority in Parliament rejected the bid by Grattan, Tone and Edward Fitzgerald and McCracken and others knew there was no way forward except revolution, explained the speaker.
In 1798 they had risen in three great uprisings in Wexford, Antrim and Mayo and many smaller ones and along with many others, Wolfe Tone had paid with his life. What kind of ghouls could take and sell the last words of such a man as Tone, Breatnach asked rhetorically? And what kind people could buy them?
Some people wonder how the Irish capitalist class were capable of selling their own history, commented the speaker and went on to say they could do so because it wasn’t their history. It was not the “Gombeen” class that risen to fight for freedom and equality in 1798 nor since but it was they who had “climbed up on our backs in 1921”. That was why the Gombeens could not only sell Irish history but also destroy our sugar beet industry, so that we had to buy sugar from the USA which subsides its industry, hand part of our country over to a foreign power, sell our public services to foreign companies and try to sell our water to one of their own.
Just as there was no way forward to build an Ireland of equality but revolution in 1798, Breatnach concluded, there was no way forward now without getting rid of the Gombeen rulers and the only way that could be done is by revolution.
Speaking in a quiet voice, Sean Doyle introduced the piece he was going to read, which was an extract from the speech from the dock of another Irish Republican martyr, Roger Casement, hanged by the British in 1916 in Pentonville Prison, London.
Doyle alluded to the irony of Britain going to war allegedly to save Belgium, when Casement had reported on the the exploitation and mutilation of indigenous people in the Congo by forces operating under King Leopold of Belgium.
Casement’s speech also pointed out the fake independence that Ireland was being offered under Home Rule (which some might compare to the “independence” of the Irish state today in partitioned Ireland) and described the nature of true patriotism.
WHOSE HISTORY AND HERITAGE?
Ger Devereux of the Saoradh organisation gave a short speech in which he pointed out that the items were of historical importance and belonged to the Irish nation alone, that they should not be sold to private collectors, nor should anyone be making a profit out of them.
The protesters concluded their protest with some more chants including “Whose history? OUR history! Whose heritage? OUR heritage! Irish history is not for sale!”
The Irish State has only three original copies of the Proclamation: one is in Leinster House and only two on regular view to the public, one in the GPO and another in the National Museum. Another copy is on display in the Long Room of Trinity College. Others have been sold by auction in 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019.
Mick Healy of the Irish Marxist History Project was kind enough to interview me about some of the issues about which I have been active. Parts I and II were published together a couple of months ago and here’s Part III now.
Mostly its snippets about the founding of the Irish in Britain Representation Group, my involvement in the foundation of the Lewisham branch of IBRG in SE London and from there, the Lewisham Irish Centre. Also my participation in Kurdish solidarity and a trade union delegation to Turkish-occupied Kurdistan (the YPG placard photo is of me in Trafalgar Square, London a couple of years ago when I was over visiting kids & grandkids) and the anti-water charge campaign in Ireland.
On June 24th, as the repressive Offences Against the State Act was up for debate in the Dáil, it was voted for renewal by TDs of the Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green parties, along with Labour, while only a Solidarity/People Before Profit and two Independent TDs voted against. For the first time since Sinn Féin had TDs present in the Dáil in 1997, they abstained in the vote. They failed to vote against an undemocratic Act that was brought into being precisely to repress their own political ancestors.
The Offences Against the State Act was made law by the De Valera Government (Fianna Fáil) in 1939 and 1940 to nullify the writ of habeas corpus served by Seán McBride (Irish Republican, former IRA officer and later one of the founders of Amnesty International) which gained the release of IRA prisoners interned without trial under the previous Emergency Powers Act 1939. The Act established the Special Criminal Court which processed the rearrested internees and sent them back to prison and concentration camp in the Curragh.
BRITISH INTELLIGENCE FATAL BOMBING HELPED TOUGHEN LAW AGAINST REPUBLICANS
In 1972 the Fianna Fáil Government sought to strengthen the Act even further, among other attacks on civil liberties to permit an inference of guilt by the Special Criminal Court from refusal to answer questions by the Gardaí, along with the taking of a senior Garda officer’s word, unsupported by any substantial evidence, as the main “proof” of membership of an illegal organisation. However, the forecast looked bad for the Government since the Labour Party and Fine Gael were predicted to vote the Amendment down. During the debate, two bombs exploded in Dublin killing two Dublin public transport workers and injuring a number of others, some horrifically (two years later a similar bombing team was to kill 33 and injure around 260 in Dublin and Monaghan). The 1972 explosions, most likely the work of Loyalists working with British Intelligence, were blamed on the IRA and the opposition to the Amendment crumbled, ensuring it passed into law — and there it has remained.
The Act empowers the Government to bring internment without trial into force by order (i.e without debate, even if the Government should be a minority one). Among its powers the OAS permits the State to ban organisations and subsequently (with its 1972 Amendment) jail people for membership of said organisation, the unsupported testimony of a Garda not below the rank of Chief Superintendent being considered prima facie evidence of said membership.
In a state where trials of all indictable offences under criminal law are by jury with a judge presiding, the Special Criminal Court is a non-jury court. Virtually all Irish Republicans serving time in prisons of the State have been convicted in the SCC, where even the unsupported word of a senior Garda officer is considered important proof and the standard of additional evidence required is very low. As one might expect in such conditions, the conviction rate is unusually high. On the charge of “membership of an illegal organisation” and largely on the word of senior Garda officer, conviction is almost certain and becomes an easy way to remove Irish Republican activists from circulation for the standard two years.
“GREATEST MISCARRIAGE OF JUSTICE IN THE IRISH STATE”
In two trials in 1978, the Special Criminal Court, in what has been called “the greatest miscarriage of justice of the Irish State”, tried and sentenced three Republicans to long terms of imprisonment for a mail train robbery at Sallins in which they had played no part. The judges in the Court chose to believe what 12 jurors would likely not have done: that the defendants had voluntarily confessed to actions they had not committed, that they had not been beaten by Gardaí and that the defendants’ bruising had been self-inflicted. The Garda “Heavy Gang” went on to obtain “voluntary confessions” from others, including Joanna Hayes and her relations in the “Kerry Babies” case, later also cleared and recipients of a Government apology in 2019. Those convicted of the Sallins mail train robbery were eventually cleared and released. The circumstances of those false “voluntary confessions” accepted by the SCC have never been investigated.
In 2001 Colm Murphy was convicted in the Special Criminal Court of conspiracy to cause a bombing on the basis of Garda evidence which Murphy said was untrue — but the judges chose to believe the Gardaí. The Court of Appeal ordered a retrial when it was shown that the Gardaí’s notes had been fabricated and Murphy was cleared in the SCC in 2010.
In 2003 Michael McKevitt was convicted in the Special Court of leadership of the Real IRA on evidence widely believed not to have met the standard necessary for conviction, including that given by a paid informer. McKevitt is still serving his 20-year sentence.
Although the title of the Court includes the word “criminal” it was clearly created for political purposes and until 1998 all but one of its trials have been of Irish Republicans. That did not prevent the TDs of the Greens, a party with a record of previous opposition to the Act, using gang crime along with Labour as an excuse for voting for the Act’s renewal during the recent debate.
“THE SPECIAL BRANCH ACT”
The granting of wide powers to the State to use against their political opponents has resulted in even those powers being regularly exceeded. Without ever even charging anyone with any crime, the Act has been used by generations of the Special Branch, the political police renamed the Special Detective Unit, to harass and intimidate Republican activists and their supporters. People have been approached and their contact details demanded by these secret police when they have attended a protest picket or rally, public meeting, visited a Republican office or were observed talking to a Republican. People have been searched in the street, had their vehicles stopped and searched also.
Sellers and distributors of Republican newspapers have been harassed and threatened. Without any authorisation even by the Act, officers have approached parents of young activists and their school or college, as well as the place of employment of older activists, to express their concern at the activity or associations of the activists concerned. Officers of the special unit, all of which go armed, have displayed their weapons on occasion to intimidate Republicans (on one famous occasion discharging their firearm in a busy shop). They have filmed and photographed Republicans without any legal right to do so, followed them around, sat obtrusively outside their offices and even their homes, often day after day for months or even years. So widely have the secret police of the Irish State come to see the Act as entitling their intimidation and file-building that when, at a recent Dublin picket about political prisoners, a Republican asked what legal authority the officer had for harassing him, the man replied in all seriousness: “Special Branch Act.”
But on the 24th June, only three TDs voted against the Act’s renewal: Mick Barry (Solidarity/ People Before Profit), Michael MacNamara (Independent, formerly Labour) and Thomas Pringle (Independent). Two TD abstentions were recorded: Pa Daly and Martin Kenny (both Sinn Féin).
“UNTENABLE IN A DEMOCRACY”
Traditionally, Sinn Féin, along with other Irish Republicans, have opposed this undemocratic repressive legislation. But not just SF, also the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Amnesty International, Irish and international jurists and UN Rapporteurs and Committees on democratic rights of the United Nations. And not just once but a number of times. The following statement was released by the ICCL in the week before the debate.
23 June 2020
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), ahead of the mooted renewal of the Offences Against the State Act next week and the Dáil debate tomorrow, renews our call for repeal of the Act and with it the abolition of the non-jury Special Criminal Court.
There is no jury at the Special Criminal Court and it accepts secret evidence from gardaí. This is in violation of our right to a fair trial, our right to trial by jury and our right to equality before the law. ICCL has opposed both the Act and the Court since their introduction to deal with a terrorist threat in 1972. We continue to strongly oppose these emergency measures which have now become the norm in dealing with organised crime.
ICCL’s Executive Director, Liam Herrick, said:
“It’s untenable that in a democracy like ours, which prides itself on its human rights record abroad, a law and court like these can exist.
The State contends that it needs the Special in order to protect juries but it has never considered alternatives to abandoning jury trial.”
The protection of jury members is of deep concern to ICCL. But the State has never demonstrated, as required by human rights law, that alternatives to a non-jury trial are ineffective. There are a number of obvious options for protecting juries such as anonymising juries, the use of video link for juries, or granting special protections for juries.
Last year at the Special Criminal Court, Judge Tara Burns acquitted two men of IRA membership after the head of the Garda Special Detective Unit refused to disclose underlying evidence pertaining to “belief evidence” to the prosecution. This meant gardaí were seeking a conviction without disclosing evidence to the defendant’s legal team, the Court or the DPP. ICCL welcomed the Judge’s decision but the case revealed some concerning attitudes and practices at the Court.
ICCL is not alone in our opposition to the Special Criminal Court. Various UN human rights independent experts and the UN Human Rights Committee have repeatedly declared the State to be in violation of its human rights obligations because of the continued use of the Court beyond the emergency it was designed to address. Eminent Irish legal experts, Mr. Justice Hederman, Professor Dermot Walsh and Professor William Binchy have also called for abolition of the Court.
At its introduction in 1972, the Special Criminal Court was considered a radical and purely temporary departure from the norm. Forty years have passed since then. It’s time for its abolition. Statement ends.
Defenders of Sinn Féin have said that dropping opposition to the OAS from their election program for government and even after their party won the highest number of elected TDs (delegates) in the February 2020 General Election, was purely a temporary tactical one. Presumably this decision was in response to Mícheál Martin’s statement last year that Sinn Féin was not a legitimate choice for government because they were against the Act.
Not a legitimate choice for whom? one might ask. Do the mass of working people in the country want this undemocratic Act in place? Not that they were ever asked by any Irish Government! Now there was an opportunity to put this before the electorate — but it is not the opinion of the mass of working people that Sinn Féin worries about but that of the ruling class and their media hounds.
When however the two main parties of the Irish Gombeen capitalist class went into coalition with the “alternative” Green Party in order to exclude Sinn Féin from government – and one might have thought SF had nothing now to lose by voting against the renewal of the OAS – even then they failed to oppose it. Some say SF’s tacticians expected the negotiations between the other parties to collapse and then to be able to put themselves forward as a credible alternative. But again, credible to whom?
For years now, Sinn Féin has been at pains to demonstrate that it is a safe pair of hands for Irish capitalism (which entails also being safe for foreign capitalism and British colonialism). It is not necessarily a question of supporting armed struggle or not but to enter into the administration of an invader, as SF did in 2007 when it became part of the British colony’s government, would for most patriots and anti-imperialists be considered a clear crossing of the line. After WW2 many liberated countries executed a number of those who had taken part in such administrations and from one example, a new adjective entered the English language: “quisling”.
Sinn Féin has gone even further now to show the Irish ruling classes and both states that their panoply of repression on both sides of the British Border is safe: undemocratic legislation granting special powers to the police, politicised police forces and special non-jury courts with low quality “proof” required for convictions.
It is understandable with so little viable alternative choice that so many voted for SF candidates in February and in fact, would probably have elected even more had the party fielded sufficient candidates. All the other main parties and even the Greens have been in Government previously, all have approved bank bailouts and austerity budgets.
Sinn Féin is the only major party who had not been in Government and those who wanted to see them in practice had a reasonable point. But seeing them in “opposition” is also instructive. A political party that is so afraid of the ruling class and its media that even in opposition it will not vote against undemocratic repressive legislation and instruments, that were brought in precisely against its own earlier members and supporters – is not going to be braver in government, when it will inevitably be in a coalition with a capitalist party or parties.
However, the undemocratic Offences Against the State Act and its non-jury Special Courts remain and must be opposed. The struggle against them will continue to be waged by its victims, currently the “dissident” Republicans and by people and bodies concerned with civil rights. As the State encounters increasing resistance to austerity measures it may well be that it will widen the list of targets of this Act to include social and economic campaigners, as it was rumoured considering against the Jobstown water protest defendants in 2017, all of whom were cleared by the jury who did not believe Garda witness lies (exposed by recordings).
It is essential to oppose this Act and a wider opposition to it needs to be built – one that does not depend on false friends.
The results of opinion polls prior to the the elections for the government of Euskadi predict a majority for the Basque Nationalist Party. The predictions have EH Bildu, the party of the official Abertzale Left leadership, coming second with third place going to the social-democratic PSE, the Basque version of the PSOE, currently governing the Spanish State in coalition with Podemos Izquierda (whose Basque version will come a very poor fourth).
The elections on Sunday, although they usually described as for “the government of the Basque Country” are nothing of the sort. The are for the government of what is termed “the Basque Autonomous Region”, which covers only the Basque provinces of Bizkaia, Alava and Guipuzkoa – the fourth province within the Spanish state, Nafarroa (Navarra), has its own autonomous regional government. The remaining three provinces of Euskal Herria, the true Basque Country, are over the border in the territory controlled by the French State. And the Spanish State allows the Basque regions autonomy only to a point, as with all the “autonomous regions”, ultimately answerable to the Spanish State.
The PNV, Basque Nationalist Party, many of whose ancestors fought Franco in the Spanish Anti-Fascist War, have long accommodated themselves to this situation and given up the dream of Basque independence and the party has hardly any representation even in Nafarroa, to say nothing of the three northern provinces, across the Border. Since their fiefdom was granted autonomy after the death of Franco, they have dominated it electorally and used that domination to the commercial and financial advantage, both legal and illegal, of the Euskadi capitalist class (Irish readers will readily see a parallel with the Fianna Fáil party).
EH Bildu is the official party of the Abertzale Left, political descendants of the Herri Batasuna party, substantially changed and the main internal opposition to the PNV, at least on the electoral front. Herri Batasuna evolved as the political expression of ETA, the left-wing movement for Basque independance that in the 1960s developed an armed wing against the armed might of the Spanish State. Under the leadership of Arnaldo Otegi and others, ETA gave up armed struggle in 2012 and the EH Bildu and Sortu parties developed a theory of a “Basque Peace Process” which had no substance, since the Spanish State’s only interest was in surrender and never even ceased repression or released its around 900 Basque political prisoners (now around 700 as prisoners served their sentences – or died).
Batasuna and its iterations over the years in the face of bannings by the Spanish State have at many times sought alliance on a nationalist basis with the PNV (the Irish parallel holds here again, as with periodic overtures of the leadership of the Provisional Sinn Féin party to the Fianna Fáil party), which on the whole have been rejected by the leadership of the PNV. The Basque Nationalist Party has preferred to rule in coalition with the PSE and even to allow the Spanish-unionist party to rule Euskadi on its own. Therefore the call from some Basque nationalist quarters for a PNV-EH Bildu coalition is very unlikely to bear fruit.
At least as unlikely is the raising by the electronic media Publico of the possibility in Euskadi of a “Government of the Left”, on the basis of the poll results. The left-wing Publico itself conceded it an unlikely eventuality, based on a coalition of EH Bildu/ PSE/ Unidas Podemos (the Basque version of Podemos Izquierda). Whatever one may say of the “Left” credentials of EH Bildu and of Unidas Podemos, one can hardly credit the PSOE or its Basque version with any. No doubt there are genuine people of the Left in that social-democratic party, as there are within the Irish and British Labour Parties too – but that does not affect the character of the parties in government, which have always been servants of capitalism and, in the cases of the UK and Spanish state, of their imperialist ruling classes.
On the poll results therefore it is certain that the PNV will be in government, whether in coalition with the PSE or with its tactical support. EH Bildu looks no nearer to achieving its dream of governing even Euskadi, not to mention all four southern provinces of the Basque Country.
MEANWHILE, ON THE STREETS
The Amnistia movement meanwhile has shown little interest in the elections, apart from chiding EH Bildu for its focus on elections and neglect of resistance anywhere else, including the jails. The Basque struggles for independence and against repression have paid a price in huge numbers of political prisoners and, though down to around 700 now from its height of 900, the Basque nation probably has the highest percentage of political prisoners of anywhere in the world. After all, the total population of the Basque Country is under 1.5 million and such a high concentration of political prisoners means that there is hardly a Basque who does not know a relation or friend of a prisoner, if not indeed the prisoner him or herself.
When Arnaldo Otegi and others led the majority of the Abertzale Left to the institutional road, they kept referring to the Good Friday Agreement in Ireland and the release of political prisoners. However, the Provisionals ensured that the release of political prisoners of their allegiance was delivered before finally decommissioning their weapons. The Otegi initiative went in reverse and their prisoners are still in jail. For some years now the leadership has been telling the prisoners that basically they are on their own and must negotiate with the prison authorities their reduction from Grade 1 down to Grades 2 and 3 and eventual release on parole. And telling the families that they have no hope of an amnesty so to stop asking for it and instead demand an end to the dispersal of political prisoners all over the jails of the Spanish (and French states), hundreds of kilometres from their families. There is no sign of even that basic human right being granted.
One of the Basque political prisoners, Patxi Ruiz, publicly denounced the new path of the movement and, after attempts to silence him were unsuccessful, he was expelled from the Basque Political Prisoners’ Collective. His treatment caused another four to break with the Otegi leadership too. Amnistia supported them and criticised the leadership of the movement which, in turn, accused them of using the prisoners for their own ends, since they did not agree with the new direction.
Persecution by the prison authorities including beatings by guards and refusal to allow him to attend his father’s funeral drove Ruiz last month to a hunger-and-thirst strike. After 8 days he abandoned the thirst strike but continued refusing food, ceasing that protest too after 31 days. His support movement led by Movement for Amnesty and Against Repression (to give Amnestia’s full title in English) brought Basque political prisoner solidarity back on to the streets, from which it had largely disappeared apart from the ritual demonstration each January and weekly pickets by families and friends, diminishing in attendance.
Solidarity actions were taken in the jails too, not only by the other four “dissidents” but by some of those still in the Collective and by a number of political prisoners from other struggles, GRAPO and PCE(r).
In a number of statements, Amnistia acknowledged that some of their support in street actions has come from progressive sectors not traditionally from within their own ranks. There is a substantial autonomous movement in the Basque country consisting of youth occupations of empty buildings, anarchists, feminists, LGBT campaigners, animal rights campaigners, environmental activists …..
On Saturday 4th July, in spite of a ban by the Spanish State’s Delegation in the city and a heavy police presence at an expected starting location, Amnistia led a fairly large demonstration through streets of Irunea/ Pamplona, capital city of Nafarroa, calling for complete amnesty for the prisoners and that “the struggle does not cease”.
Today, the 11th, they led a march to the Murcia jail (where Patxi Ruiz is held currently). In a brief report on the event and their reasons for undertaking it, they commented even more briefly on the elections due tomorrow:
“There will be elections tomorrow in a part of Euskal Herria (the Basque Country) but none of the political parties will propose any alternative to bring to an end the capitalism that tramples on and murders the working class or to destroy the imperialism that occupies peoples and makes them disappear but will instead debate different ways to manage the same system and the same misery.
“None of them will demand amnesty for those who endure repression for fighting for these goals. The strength and pressure exerted by the people on the street will be the key to reversing the situation. With the popular struggle amnesty, independence and socialism.”
Dublin has a Lord Mayor of Chinese descent. According to some, this is some kind of disaster. Apparently to them, she is a migrant (though born, bred and educated in Ireland) and even an advance scout for a takeover by Chinese Communists (because, of course, all Chinese are communists, even those from Hong Kong – but wait, didn’t Gemma O’Doherty also tweet approvingly that some Chinese Hong Kong businessman wants to have the Communist Party of China declared a terrorist organisation?).
Speaking after her election (on 43 votes against the nine for the other candidate, according to RTÉ), Ms Chu said she wanted the Dublin Agreement parties who had backed her election) to tackle the housing and homeless crisis which has seemed like “filling a hole in a sinking ship”.
Her other priorities are making Dublin a liveable city, fighting discrimination and protecting the vulnerable. In her speech, she said she wondered if her mother – who had worked washing dishes in a restaurant off O’Connell Street – dreamed that her daughter would one day become Lord Mayor.
Since being elected a public representative on to Dublin City Council in 2019, on the highest first-preference count of any Irish local authority councillor (perhaps Pembroke constituency is a Chinese Communist base?), also receiving the highest percentage vote of any first-time candidate, Hazel Chu has reportedly been subject to racist harassment, vilification and even threats, both on social media and by telephone calls to her home. Not because of her views or her political party – purely because her parents are Chinese who met and settled in Dublin in the 1970s.
When Hazel Chu was nominated for the position and before her election, racist and right-wing conspiracy theorist Gemma O’Doherty recorded herself on video attacking her and claiming that Chu is a supporter of pedophilia (because she allegedly supported the closure by Google of O’Doherty’s Youtube channels) and in Gemma-World apparently a Chairperson of the Green Party can also be “a hard-core Communist”.
After Chu’s election, O’Doherty tweeted, above a highly dubious “news” item claiming that a property developer plans to build a new city in Ireland for Hong Kong refugees (!): It’s fitting Dublin now has a Chinese Mayor when millions more are to be planted in our home in the coming years. You wanted Communism. You’ve got it. Don’t say we didn’t warn you! But the Reds know it will only make the patriot movement grow and grow.
O’Doherty has become notorious not only for her anti-immigrant rhetoric but also for claiming that the the whole Covid19 pandemic was fake and part of a plan to put in place a New World Order (apparently the existing Order is not bad enough) and that the EU has a plan to replace Irish people with migrants. One of her heroes is Donald Trump and her opponents she claims are all “Reds” who are “funded by Soros”, as is the Black Lives Matter movement, “Antifa” etc. Along with the Right in the USA she defends the statues of racists and conquistadors (even though the latter were armed immigrants and definitely dangerous to the locals!).
Justin Barrett, founder of the National Party (sic) and former member of far-Right organisation Youth Defence has said that if he were to get into power he would strip Hazel Chu of her citizenship. It is hardly surprising to see a proposal straight out of Nazi Germany coming from this former campaigner against divorce and abortion and for a “Catholic Ireland” that would ban muslims from entering the country because apparently muslims are a serious threat to our lives and Irish liberty (Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Oliver Cromwell, William of Orange, Lord Castlereagh, King George III and Lloyd George must’ve all been muslims!). Barrett is on record as being an admirer of the anti-semitic Fr. Denis Fahey and writer Hilaire Beloc (a French immigrant to Britain!).
BEYOND THE CRAZY PARANOIA – FASCISM
Beyond the craziness, the paranoia and ludicrous theories of conspiracy (as distinct from the real conspiracies in the world), what we have here is virulent racism and lurking in among those sad and mad people and raving racists …. are the handful of organised fascists. Those who dare not at the moment come out and declare their wish to have a corporate state in Ireland, one to outlaw oppositional organisations and demonstrations and suppress the resistance of the working class. A REAL conspiracy. A kind of State that becomes increasingly attractive to the capitalist ruling class as it finds itself in difficulty to keep up its profit levels and feels it needs to squeeze the working people harder. A REAL possibility.
Which is why we need to take these matters seriously. Such organisations as Anti-Corruption Ireland (sic), Yellow Vests Ireland and the National Party are the means by which the fascists mobilise a stream in which they can swim – and collect others to swim with them.
They must not be given an inch.
That the ruling Gombeen class would turn to them if they looked like a viable option is entirely possible if viewed historically. The State was set up by that ruling class in a vicious Civil War in which it not only repressed its opposition and the population but executed 80 Republicans with barely a court martial, shot prisoners and exploded them on landmines, kidnapped and murdered activists.
A large part of the opposition to that State at the time became coopted by the ruling class and that process has come into full development with the current Fianna Fáil/ Fine Gael coalition Government. And we can already see the straws in the wind in the behavior of the Gardaí, who appear in and out of uniform to harass peaceful Republican pickets and Debenham’s worker picketers while on the other hand, weekly demonstrations of the far-Right, violating in every way pandemic precautions, remain untouched by those same Gardaí.
The far-Right in Ireland have been trying for some time to present themselves as “patriots”, flying the Irish Tricolour, playing the Soldiers’ Song, etc. They do not have a history of promoting the Irish language or fighting for the rights of Irish speakers, nor of campaigning against English colonialism in the Six Counties, nor for Reunification of the country. Nor have they a track record of even defending areas of historical importance from rapacious Gombeen and foreign property speculators. They were not active in the struggle against British Petroleum in the Erris area nor in preventing the selloff of Irish forestry. So what actually is this “patriotism” of theirs? Nothing. Nothing but racism.
It is not even enough apparently for these racists that a person be born in Ireland – they have to be “ethnically Irish”. Would that be like the Pearse brothers, shot by British firing squads, whose father was English? Like Constance Markievicz, founder of the Na Fianna and officer in the 1916 Rising, one of the Gore-Booth planter family? Like Thomas Davis, Young Irelander author of A Nation Once Again and other songs, whose father was Welsh? Like Theobald Wolfe Tone, founder of the United Irishmen, a descendant of planters? Like Erskine Childers, fourth President of Ireland and son of an Englishman who died for Ireland, executed by this very State?
And while we are about discussing things “ethnically Irish”, should these “patriots” not return that flag they keep waving, the Tricolour, to the descendants of the Parisian revolutionary women who first presented it to Thomas Meagher in 1848?
Looking back along the road we’ve travelled, I can see we have come a long way to get where we are today. I’ve traveled a long way. I was very young then, when I started. We all were. In particular, I remember, Carl and Eva and I, we were in secondary school, fifteen years of age.
We discussed the situation often and pretty quickly became revolutionaries. We knew people in the Party – well, we called it the Old Party after awhile, you’ll see why soon. Yes and they wanted to recruit us. If enough of us joined them, voted for them, they would be able to change things, they told us. And they had some credibility because some of them had fought in the old days, when things were even worse. Some had lost relatives killed and some had gone to jail.
But we were not taken in, we weren’t fooled. It wasn’t just that theirs looked a really slow way to change things; we didn’t believe it would ever succeed. And we thought they knew that, deep inside and were just prepared to settle for things much as they were. Make the best of it (which for some of them meant shady deals and lining their pockets).
And we were never going to do that.
We weren’t in the armed group, the three of us but we supported them. The armed group were our heroes, the sharp end of our resistance. Over time they would weaken our oppressors and in the end we’d get the freedom we wanted. And these young men and women, they really fought. They paid for their resistance too; plenty of them were killed and if caught, they were tortured and sent to jail for really long sentences.
We delighted in their successes, marched in their funerals, supported them in their struggles in the jails and, later, honoured them when eventually they were released. We did the best we could ourselves against the oppression and general injustice but without actually taking up the gun: put up posters, painted graffiti slogans on wall, held protest marches and pickets, gave out leaflets, held public meetings. Of course, the oppressors went after us and we were out there, in plain sight, more or less.
Our oppressors had made some laws under which they could declare just about anything we did illegal. Unless we sat at home and did nothing. Or joined the Old Party. They called that group of laws the Anti-Terrorist Legislation.
ARREST AND TORTURE
One night while were out postering in memory of a couple of our martyrs, on the anniversary of their being killed by the police, we got caught. They gave us a bit of a beating and took us to the police station, telling us on the way what they were going to do to us.
Under the ATL they could keep us in a police station for five days without access to any of our friends and relatives or even a lawyer. I’m sorry to say they broke me in the first 24 hours. You might think that was a pretty short period – it didn’t seem like it at the time. Being held in a dark windowless cell, hooded, being threatened with all kinds of horrible things you know they can do, listening to the screams of other people having some of those things done to them, having a plastic bag put over your head until you can’t breathe anymore and you feel sure you’re going to die, your lungs straining ….. It’s amazing how long 24 hours can seem. And even if you lasted that 24 hours, you knew there were another 96 hours to go after that.
Yes, I signed a “confession”, what they told me to say. According to the confession, we were honouring the martyrs because they wanted to overthrow the State, which is why we were putting up posters about them. We wanted more people to join the fighters to help recruitment. Not really about honouring their memory at all. “Glorifying and Supporting Terrorism” was what I was going to be charged with which, if convicted, would get me three years in jail. And the others: my “confession” was not only about me but about Eva and Carl too.
After I signed the “confession” they left me more or less alone but somewhere I could hear shouting and screaming. I thought it might be Eva and Carl, hoped it wasn’t. And I still had to wear a hood whenever any of the guards came in the cell or their doctor examined me. Well, they told me he was a doctor. I told him I felt ok – I knew the guards were listening and I’d get repeat treatment if I said anything against them. And it wouldn’t do any good anyway.
By the third day, or what I thought might the third day, I didn’t hear what sounded like a female screaming any more but could still hear shouting. And sometimes someone crying.
I know it was the fifth day when they brought us to court, put us all in the same cell, waiting for our trial to start. Eva and Carl looked pretty rough and I suppose I did a bit too. Eva burst into tears and told us she had signed a confession against us after the second day. We put our arms around her and held her while she cried. I admitted I had signed too, assuming we all had. I didn’t say I had only held out for about 24 hours, though.
Well, women detainees, they get it especially hard. As well as the rest of it, they are kept naked or semi-naked and, if on their monthly periods, refused tampons or cloths. They are fondled in their private parts, threatened with rape, humiliated and sometimes have something pushed inside them ….. The police don’t do things like that to male detainees ….. well, occasionally, if they know one is gay ….
The shock was that Carl had not signed a confession – he hadn’t broken. So how come they had brought him to trial early on the fifth day with the rest of us? Well, they must have decided he wasn’t going to break; apparently most people break by the fourth day, which is why the limit is set at five. And anyway they had our statements implicating him.
We swore we would retract our statements during the trial, declare they had been obtained under torture. That would invalidate the statements, surely?
We were tried together in a special Anti-Terrorist Legislation court. One judge, no jury. No public. We had lawyers our family and friends had got for us but they were only given five minutes with us before the trial. The Prosecutor produced the statements against us all, those of the police who arrested us and my “confession” and Eva’s. Lied through their teeth that we had made them voluntarily. They produced a statement too for Carl but his lawyer objected it didn’t have his signature, so the police couldn’t show that they hadn’t made it all up.
When we gave our evidence, Carl denied he had made any statement whatsoever and we retracted ours, talked about the torture we had suffered. Eva was magnificent, denouncing them through her tears and shaking. The Prosecutor brought the police back to testify who of course denied not only the torture but any kind of coercion. Some of them even appeared shocked at the allegations. And the doctor – his voice sounded familiar so he probably had been the man who had “examined” me — said I had made no complaint (true) and had seemed calm and rested (not possible).
The courtroom is a funny place. Things the whole world knows are not true appear reasonable while the preposterous can seem logical. Not only had they not tortured us, the police witnesses said, but they had never heard of it being done. So why had we made such detailed statements and then retracted them, accusing them of torture. Well, they were mystified about that. Except …. some had heard that this was a propaganda tactic popular among our group, to smear the police. But why then had we given them a statement at all …. well, at least two of us? Skilled interviewing, was the reply. Trained interrogators, going over the suspect’s stories again and again, exposing every contradiction.
The only thing skilled about them was in making sure they stopped short of killing us and generally left no bruises, especially on our faces. Oh yeah, and the acting in court – that was very skilled.
The case against us, with our repudiation of the statements, should have got us at most a few months or maybe even a fine for postering agitational material on public property. Eva and I got three years each, while Carl got nearly four. I suppose the fact they hadn’t broken him pissed them off and they made out he was our leader so the judge gave him extra.
Prison was bad but it was a relief after the police station. They moved us around jails a few times over the years, we didn’t often see one another and our families and friends had to travel long distances to visit us. When they were permitted to or we hadn’t been moved the day before the visit. We learned later, though no-one told us at the time, that Carl’s aunt had a serious accident on the motorway. Long distances, tiring, unaccustomed to motorway driving, bad luck …. With a couple of operations and time, she was able to walk again but the family had to invent excuses why she couldn’t visit him, especially because they had always been close.
Most of the prison warders were hostile but some were sadists, constantly trying to provoke me, finding ways to frustrate whatever little pleasure or diversion I was permitted. Sometimes it was “too wet” to go in the exercise yard for my permitted two hours daily. Sometimes the library was “closed for stocktaking” or “due to staff shortages.” All prisoner mail is opened before being given to or sent by the prisoner but sometimes I got a letter that looked like it had been spat on. Or it smelled bad. Often, it would be two weeks later than the date stamp. Some letters were returned to the sender, I learned later, marked “UNSUITABLE”. I had one returned to me, although I was always careful what I wrote, this one marked “BREACHING PRISON SECURITY” — I had made some remarks about the prison food.
Some of the social prisoners were ok whenever I was in contact with them, some were hostile, seemed fascist. Sometimes a warder would make comments about me in the hearing of those kinds of prisoners. Anytime out of my cell I felt I had to be alert, with 180 degrees vision.
I did physical exercises in my cell to keep my body healthy and studied for the sake of my mind. Law was the subject I studied most, so I could represent activists in court and file motions and so on but I also studied politics and economics.
When I got out, I enrolled in a law studies course. I wrote to Carl – I hadn’t been allowed to previously. From his letters, he seemed ok but you never know for sure, do you? Not when you know the letters have to pass the prison censor and the prisoner has to keep up a strong front also. I met Eva too, she was released same time as I but a long distance away; she was subdued, a kind of frightened look in her eyes. Not surprising but she still kept in the movement, though we each took a step back from the more illegal street work, where we could be isolated – like postering. I qualified to practice law at a basic level.
THE POLITICAL PARTY
We began to discuss founding a political party and standing in elections. The armed struggle would go on, we thought, but over time we could push the Old Party back, take a lot of their votes. After all, what were they doing (except some of their leaders and contacts lining their pockets)? We could really expose them with our policies.
So we formed a political party, a New Party, for which we had to agree to respect the Constitution. We were doing well but, just before the elections, our party was disqualified by the State. “Connections with terrorism” was the reason given. We were furious and so were our supporters. And we formed another party. The State disqualified that one and, for good measure, banned it. Now one could go to jail for being a member.
This kind of thing went on over years, different versions of the New Party and more people going to jail and we rarely got a chance to stand in elections, much less to build up momentum.
We tried forming a coalition with some more moderate elements, even some we had called “collaborationist” in the old days but the State said we would have to denounce the armed struggle to be a legal constitutional party. We couldn’t do that because we’d be turning our back on not only our martyrs but on hundreds of activists in jail. And our own people wouldn’t stand for it. By this time I had risen to General Secretary of our underground Party.
After long discussions with the leaders of the armed wing, eventually we all agreed to announce an end to the armed struggle and to hope for the legalisation of our Party and early release of prisoners. It was a hard decision but not as hard as one might think because we were all pretty worn down and our military wing hadn’t been doing all that well for some time. The State had penetrated both sides of our movement with agents and people turned informer — hundreds were in jail or awaiting trial.
What was harder was getting our supporters to agree but by managing a few meetings, ensuring we had people with a militant reputation to speak in favour of the plan, ensuring people for the idea got more time to talk than those who didn’t and a few other things, we got it through. Besides, a lot of them believed us when we whispered that it was all a game to fool our oppressors.
Eventually, after we declared our total opposition to any armed struggle and total commitment to the electoral process, we got legalised and now we are chipping away at the Old Party, though it looks like it may take a long time to supplant them.
But some of the young people, and some older ones like Carl, are saying we have compromised too much, that the road we’ve chosen is too long and anyway is never going to get us justice. These people do things we’d rather they didn’t, that we’ve dropped, like illegal postering and spraying slogans, holding illegal commemorations for martyrs, protest marches, getting into trouble with the police ….. Making us look bad.
And what’s more, unbelievable as it might seem, they’re calling us “The Old Party”!!!
Newcomers to Spanish politics witnessing the recent sound and fury in the Spanish Parliament might conclude that there was a real battle going on between a reactionary Right and a progressive Left but they’d be right only about the existence of a reactionary Right. The same newcomers might then remark that well, the opponents of the reactionary Right must at least be liberals and they’d be wrong about that too.
Parliamentary delegates from the reactionary Right – and that is to call them much less than the reality – were sharply criticising the Spanish coalition Government. The senior partner in the coalition is the Partido Socialista Obrero which, as has on occasion been commented, is neither “socialista” nor “obrero” and while its junior partner Podemos has left-wing credentials coming from the mainly Trotskyist (and Communist Party-managed) Izquierda Unida, it has to keep up an accommodation with the PSOE.
The parties of the Right in this case were the Partido Popular, which was created to represent erstwhile supporters of the deceased fascist dictator General Franco, along with Ciudadanos, which was founded by former supporters of the PP. The fascist Vox party comes from the same stable but with less democratic pretence.
The criticisms of the Spanish coalition Government on this occasion were mostly with regard to the sacking on Monday of the chief of the Guardia Civil in Madrid, Colonel Diego Perez de los Cobos. The Guardia Civil is a paramilitary police force, which is to say it is organised along military lines and has been the main instrument of State repression during Franco’s dictatorship (1939-1975) and since. It was mainly they, for example that invaded Catalonia to beat up voters during the October 2017 Referendum on independence there and shot the banned rubber bullets at demonstrators and in fact the sacked officer led that operation.
The sacking occurred allegedly because on behalf of a Madrid magistrate, the Guardia Civil carried out an investigation of a number of political demonstrations in Madrid which it alleged had violated the pandemic restrictions and even contributed to the spread of virus, even though they had predated the Lockdown. The investigation, it is also being alleged, was in order to check whether the Health Minister’s actions regarding the pandemic had been appropriate or not.
In order to bolster their investigations, the Guardia Civil had claimed that the World Health Organisation had declared a pandemic in January whereas in fact it had only done so on March 11th (the Government ordered the lockdown on the 14th). The public events the Guardia Civil were investigating with a view to prosecution were mostly democratic or left-wing, including a march to celebrate International Women’s Day (March 8th) and to denounce male violence against women (and the State’s two-level crime of rape) but also included a cavalcade organised by the fascist Vox party.
The Right generally is no friend of women’s rights but more to the point feels duty-bound to defend the Guardia Civil, acting as though they own it (which is not that far from the truth). However the PSOE has had no difficulty in sending the Guardia Civil to attack the Basques or Catalans in the past. And while in government in the 1980s, the PSOE’s Minister of the Interior along with some senior police and Guardia Civil officers were exposed running the GAL terrorist group against the Basques and had to spend some time in jail. The person widely suspected of having set the whole thing up, the Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, was not even questioned by the investigators, no doubt for fear of what might come to light.
That Fernando Grande-Marlaska is the Minister of the Interior under current attack in Parliament for allegedly being unfair to the Guardia Civil points out in full the irony of the situation. This is one of the Judges of the Spanish National Court most denounced by Basques for attacking their democratic rights and of at least turning a blind eye to their torture, while sentencing them to long terms in prison on the basis of their “confessions” and Guardia Civil “evidence”. Another of those ex-judges considered infamous by many Basques is also of the PSOE, Baltazar Garzon, beloved of many left and liberal people because he agreed to process an international crimes against humanity accusation against Pinochet and also ordered the exhumation of a mass grave of victims of fascists and military (Spain has more mass graves than any other territory except Cambodia). Neither of those two cases came to fruition, unlike the violation of the civil and human rights of thousands of Basques and the torture of hundreds under his watch.
PUNCH AND JUDY PUPPET SHOW
In the Punch & Judy traditional dramas, Punch carries out a murder or two but, unlike some of the children watching it perhaps, we know that the puppet performance is not describing a real event. Of course, the Right in the Spanish state DID carry out murders – they have a list of 100,000-200,000 to their ‘credit’, most actually after the fighting of the Spanish Anti-Fascist War. And an additional number to force through the Transition to nominal democracy and more afterwards by ‘unofficial’ GAL and official Guardia Civil operations, mostly against Basques.
The historic fact is that all left-wing organisations, even the social-democratic PSOE were banned during the Dictatorship. In order to stabilise the State and prevent its overthrow by the oppressed masses during the mid-1970s, it had to have the help of the Left. The Partido Comunista de España controlled a huge militant illegal trade union organisation, the Comisiones Obreras, while the PSOE controlled the smaller but substantial Unión General de Trabajadores (which it does still) – no setup would be safe unless they were brought on board. They were legalised and supported the new Constitution, even accepting the imposed monarchy and the “Pact of Amnesia”, under which all those guilty of tortures and murders under Franco walked free.
This is why there is some heat in the exchanges in the Spanish Parliament but no substance. The thinking of the Right goes something like this: “We had to legalise you and allow you into government but that doesn’t mean we have to even pretend to like you.” While the PSOE thinks: “You tortured and murdered our grandparents but we will share power with you and tolerate much of your antics. We all depend on one another. But sometimes you go too far and have to be restrained. For your own good as well as ours.”
And what does Podemos and Izquierda Unida think, while they share a government with the PSOE? And does any of this make any real difference to the situation of the mass of Spanish people or to those nations imprisoned within the state?
According to news reports, the Government is considering a relaxation of restrictions and a return to work – but with people wearing masks1 and with monitoring of preventative measures. An obvious question is, if these measures are thought to be effective in future, why are they not being implemented now? And why not in the past? Will we be going back to work but also to contagion?
PRESSURE TO LIFT RESTRICTIONS
There is clearly some pressure to lift restrictions – many people want to be able to earn money and socialise as before. People want to go on holiday, get on with education and projects, visit relatives. Small businesses want to save themselves from bankruptcy or climb out of debt. And bankers and industrialists want to continue squeezing people for profits. The State too, in both its ‘national’2and municipal forms, wants to raise taxes to fund its essential services: power generation and supply, water purification and sewage treatment, health service, postal and electronic communications, public transport and road maintenance, fire-fighting, refuse collection and disposal …. To all of those pressures the Government seems to be bowing – but have they thought it through?
In Germany, which has lifted some restrictions, people have been obliged to wear masks in public but even so, the authorities are urging people to be cautious, that they “will have to live with the virus” for some time. In other words, “forget about going back to normal, probably for a long time”. Initial statistics show a rise in infection cases there after the lockdown easing. In Britain, especially England, trade unions have attacked the “mixed messages”from the Prime Minister, Boris Johnston, about returning to work as “potentially lethal”.3
So, about the pressure. Ordinary working people have bills, mortgages and rents to pay, small business people have the same and clearly a state needs to have money to fund essential services. Yes, and big companies and banks are pressurising too. And we all know how successful banks are at pressurising governments, don’t we? Especially our governments.
Apart from banks and building societies, the Government could ease the pressure on ordinary working people and small business people by declaring a moratorium on mortgages and rents for the duration of loss of earnings due to the pandemic. Yes, it would need to take powers to do that but wouldn’t most people support them in doing so?
The building societies, banks and big businesses wouldn’t support it however, all of which are interconnected. Well, when the banks and building societies messed up – and not for any reason like a pandemic, either – our governments forced US, the ordinary working people, to bail THEM out. In fact we’re still paying for that out of our national reserves and in cuts in all kinds of provision. A little bit of “comes around” would do them no real harm.
As to the finances to run the essential services of the State and of local authorities: end the tax write-offs, holidays and low taxation rates etc. And change the line on “We don’t want Apple to pay us the money which even the neo-liberal capitalist EU says they owe us!”. Yes, we DO want it – and we NEED it, ALL of it and NOW!
The German authorities, with a much more efficient and better-funded health service and financial reserves, have been warning its public about false confidence. Now and again we see some indications of that here in Ireland too.
OK, so a section of the public is not properly educated or just willfully ignorant – stupid even. But if when you introduce a lockdown to deal with a pandemic you talk about it being for an initial two weeks ….. what kind of message are you giving out? And if you tell most people not to bother with masks or gloves? And if in the early days of the pandemic told them firstly that public events would not need canceling4 and then that to attend outdoor events of up to 500 and indoor events up to 100 people5 was basically safe? If the responsible authorities never seemed to be taking it all that seriously until late in the day and even then have managed it quite lightly – are some people to be blamed for having false confidence?
Another cluster of infections has just come to light, ten meat processing plants accounting for 566 cases so far. Prof. Catherine Motherway, President of the Intensive Care Society was reported as cautioning that a lot more needs to be done before restrictions are eased. “We need to know that our health system can cope … find and isolate the cases and treat them.”6
FACE-MASKS NOW – BUT NOT EARLIER
According to reports, the Government will want us to wear face-masks when they relax the restrictions. But ….. weren’t they telling us from the start that there was no point? Wasn’t even the World Health Organisation playing down their usefulness?
Well, either they know they don’t work, in which case they just want us to feel safe enough to start the wheels of industry turning and the money flowing into the big accounts …. Or they know they do work, and they’ve been advising us wrongly all along.
That’s where my bet is and I’ve written about this already, weeks ago7. It’s bloody obvious that face masks must help prevent spread the virus and depending on the type and procedures employed, would also help protect the wearer to some degree. Quite a number of countries made wearing them in public obligatory. And now the Government will be doing that here too.
Good. But I just wonder how many people got sick – or even died – because the authorities discouraged them from wearing them earlier?
The Government has yet to specify where the masks are going to come from and, little respect as I have for any person prominent in the Labour Party, Alan Kelly TD is obviously correct when he says that the Government should be organising the production of those masks NOW!8
OTHER MEASURES AND MONITORING
Face-masks help you not to spread droplets on to other people – and you don’t know for sure whether you have the virus or not, because you can carry it for a few days before it starts to show. Good face-masks will help you not catch it from someone else too. But you really need gloves as well and a good procedure in removing the gloves and face-mask, combined with hand-washing. And of course, social distancing. To be honest, with all those being practiced, there should be no need for 2km distance from home limits on exercise or travel – or even for telling older people to stay indoors, vulnerable to depression and ill-health through lack of exercise and even to accidents in the home.
But, for effective measures, don’t they/ we need to know who is infected and who is not? And where the major infection points in society are to be found? Yes — and for that we need mass testing, which our Government has not been doing because of how the health service has been run down. Not even with sending test samples away (to Germany) for analysis!9
And then we need tracking, tracing where people think they may have got infected, who they may have infected in turn, testing them …. the proper pandemic scientific procedures. But our Government is hardly doing that either. We get the following estimates10 of infection sources based on people who tested positive: 34% close contact, 63% community contact, 3% travel abroad.11But what do these categories actually mean?
OK, “travel abroad” is reasonably clear. “Close contact” might mean family, close friends, lovers, elderly relatives in nursing homes (more about them further on). But “community contact”, which accounts for almost two-thirds of the total? Would these be neighbours, workmates? You know what I suspect? Shops and supermarkets – customers and staff – are a big section. Why? Because most people visit them at least weekly and the precautions taken there have been all along — and are still – inadequate. But the authorities don’t do the tracking to find out. Or if they have, they’re not telling us.
The fact that it was only last week that a high cluster of infection around meat-processing plants was revealed shows the need for testing, tracking and testing again and how little work on that level is being done. Ten sites with 566 people infected12 so far is not something that should be coming to light over two months after the first case was identified in Ireland.
Who will carry out the monitoring, ensuring best practice and compliance? I’d like to believe that whichever body the Government sets up will do a good job but unfortunately I doubt it. It was left up to the supermarkets and shops to monitor their own provisions and they did it late and inadequately13. The Government at first even left it up to the pubs whether to remain open or not! Now this body appointed by them, aware of the lack of enthusiasm of the Government to interfere with the business of making money, will be supervising and monitoring every factory, shop, depot and farm? Really?
In this small relatively low-industry state of the 26 Counties, the Health & Safety Agency recorded 22,500 non-fatal workplace accidents reported to it for the year 2017-2018, along with 48 fatalities. Remember that all generic studies maintain that most and possibly all accidents at work are avoidable and result from lack of awareness or of appropriate training, or of fatigue as well as from bad practices, bad supervision and badly-maintained equipment.
The understaffed HSA is not adequate to the task of monitoring even a representative sample of workplaces and relies a lot on accidents and breaches of regulations being reported to it; the trade unions in general are not up to the job either, especially with the low percentage of union membership of recent decades.14 So whichever agency is set up for monitoring good working practices during the pandemic, even if such adequate practices have been identified and published, is not likely to be up to the job either.
But at the very least that agency should publish its general guidelines and insist each workplace publish the specific procedures in place along with the underlying rationale. Then at least employees and public can see what they are, complain if they are felt to be inadequate and report those that are not being practiced. And gloves and face-masks at least should be provided for all, with work practices adapted to allow for them.
THE DISPOSABLE PEOPLE
As soon as the pandemic took hold in other countries, a high percentage of infected people were known to be healthcare workers – around 10% as an average. Even if you didn’t realise straight away that nursing homes were going to have a high rate of infection, as soon as you thought about healthcare workers you’d be quick getting to that point (and one step away from thinking about homeless hostels and direct provision centres etc too). Once you thought of the high vulnerability of those facilities, you’d make special provisions for them, wouldn’t you?
But no. No provision at all until a few weeks ago. No special issuing of guidelines for staff and visitors, insufficient PPE (protective equipment etc), low admission rates to ICUs for the infected ….. According to stats published at the weekend, 855 coronavirus-19 deaths have been associated with care homes and 740 of those were residents. And since the total deaths recorded within the state at that point were 1,429, well over half the deaths have taken place in care homes.
A shocking rate of attrition out of ineptitude for which the Government and the National Public Health Emergency Team should be held responsible. Or …. was it even worse than that? These facilities contain, on the whole, people who are no longer economically active, people some might even consider a drain on society’s resources. And often low-paid migrant workers caring for them. Could it be that they were all just considered “disposable”?
11Yes and most intelligent people wonder why the Government allowed people to travel to an international rugby match in a country swamped with the virus and, even worse, not have them quarantined upon their return. And for heaven’s sake, why people can still leave and arrive at our air and marine ports and sit on planes next to one another with cabin crew having to bend close to attend to them during the flight, do a turnaround and bend close to another group of passengers on the flight back.