THE LONG ROAD

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 8 mins)

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 ….

A frequent method of combining asphyxiation torture with humiliation for female political prisoners in number of jurisdictions.
(Photo source: Basque Country social media)

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).

Image source: Internet

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

          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.

Image source: Internet

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”!!!

end.

Image source: Internet

GOVERNMENT SATISFACTION — OR ELSE

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Citizen,

Thank you for taking our Government satisfaction survey. Your opinion is important to us.

Please bear with us while we give you an opportunity to recheck your answers.

You indicated a satisfaction level of 0% with the current Government. Yes/ No

You indicated a satisfaction level of 0% with the previous Government. Yes/ No

To the question “Which past or current government did you approve of to a level of 50% or over?”

you entered “None.” Yes/ No

To the question “What, if any solution do you propose?” you entered “Revolution.” Yes/ No

In the event of having indicated “No” to any the questions above, please repeat the questionnaire again with more care.

In the event of instead having answered “Yes” to all, you need do nothing more. Our Satisfaction Team will shortly be with you to discuss matters further. Please do not leave the location at which you currently find yourself. Please do not switch off your phone or Satnav.

Thank you for taking the time to complete our questionnaire. Your opinion is important to us.

“IT WAS FUN WHILE IT LASTED”

Diarmuid Breatnach

The indicator climbed the temperature gauges and the ice caps melted. The seas rose and in many of the more developed societies, the rich and better-off had to relocate from scenic coast sites further inland, having to move again as the seas moved higher still but some, the more cautious and far-seeing among them (not a trait in great supply among their kind), transferred to mountains.

Melting Artic ice threatens the Polar Bear but also raises sea level around the world.
(Photo source: Internet)

The prices of property rose and the construction industry had another boom, which was great for those who had directorships or investments in construction companies or materials. Or in banks, which gave out interest loans like they would be out of fashion the following year (which they well might, some said with a laugh – but a hollow one).

Far away from the Artic, a flooded village, probably in the Indian Subcontinent.
(Photo source: Internet)

In the less-developed parts of the world, all the fishing communities had to move further inland and fishing was harder, with lines and nets getting entangled or shredded on the branches of trees and shrubs that were now submerged. Besides, the waters were polluted with flooded sewers, drains, latrines, dumps ….. and plastic.

Some of the nuclear power stations had been built near coasts and they were flooded. Some had exploded, causing unimaginable disaster. Well, what used to be unimaginable. Vast areas of sea, including all that lived in them, from algae and plankton to the great whales, suffered radioactive contamination.

Wind and wave turbines were swamped too and wrecked by storms. Oh, the storms! The changing climate brought great heat to formerly temperate and cold climes while those that had been hotter grew sometimes cold, sometimes even hotter. Those changes created cyclones, hurricanes, great storms that destroyed so many constructions of all types.

Overall, the greatest impact of all this on the human population of the planet was a huge loss of generated energy. Oil and gas fields began to run out and remaining extraction installations to cease working as they were wrecked by storms, flooded or destroyed by climate protesters.

Power station polluting the air. But without power ….!
(Photo source: Internet)

Electrical energy became scarce. Entertainment companies, which would normally have done well in times of disaster, went bust since fewer people could receive their programs. The Internet was taken over by governments for civil defence. All kinds of sophisticated equipment could no longer work. Radio replaced TV in most homes and mobile phones went out of fashion. Bicycles soon outsold cars.

Human-powered friction generators of many types began to be produced. Batteries of all kinds were in great demand, especially the rechargeable ones. Solar panels reached astronomical prices on the black market, the only place they were available. People were killed over them: sometimes as gangs fought for control over a diminishing supply, sometimes as someone was sold a dud and went looking for the seller for a refund.

Now, a strange thing happened – they began to run out of oil-based material. Hard plastic was still around but leak-proof and waterproof polythene bags were hard to find. So too with oil-based material used in clothing, such as acrylic. Bark could be used for clothing but there weren’t enough trees to keep up with the demand. There was less wool and leather as the sheep and cattle herds diminished. After awhile, that was less of a problem as there were less humans to clothe anyway.

(Photo source: Internet)

Employees of State companies and departments considered essential – by their employers – lived in walled communities protected by watchtowers and armed guards. And the rich lived in there too. Being rich meant a lot less than it did in the good old days but still a lot more than most people had now: meals every day, hot and potable cold water in good supply, good shelter, access to waste disposal, available medical supplies and recreational drugs including alcohol, armed protection and transport for self and small family circle. Security workers of all kinds became highly valued and former gang members formed themselves into security companies. Some police departments became private security firms and so also did some military. Although they didn’t talk about it most of the time, the rich lived in fear that their security compounds, walled villages and high-rise fortresses would be overrun. Or that their security services would stage a takeover, which is why they generally employed two companies at the same time and kept them in competition with one another.

Another fear was that there would be no replenishing of their huge stocks of food and goods when they were all used up, which was going to happen someday. Not enough production was still going on and what there was tended to be exchanged in barter, rather than coin or scrip.

Dainfern, northern suburbs of Johannesburg, South Africa, has a four-metre electrified fence with cameras and vibration sensors protecting more than 1,200 houses. Photograph: Jeffrey Barbee

The poor lived in fear too and not just of starvation or of getting sick without access to medical services but of gangs taking what little they had left or of abductions of self or of family members to supply services of all kinds to gang members. Of wars between gangs. Of being in the wrong gang area when a rival gang staged a takeover.

Huge sections of the human population were wiped out, through loss of essential services, starvation, exposure, dehydration, fire, heat, cold, drowning, epidemics, resource wars with other states or internally. Along with them went pets that did not succeed in becoming feral and cattle, sheep and horses. The pigs went feral pretty successfully, overall as did some chickens. Many, many specialised species or in fragile ecosystems became extinct. Over time, some new species began to evolve.

It is said, though the story might be apocryphal (a word perhaps suitable for an apocalypse), that in one of the compounds of the rich overrun by a gang or insurrectionary group, depending on which version one hears, a former petroleum magnate put on trial was asked why he and his kind had not stopped destroying the climate, even after it became clear to even the most stupid politicians (which can reach a very high level of stupidity) what they were doing to the world.

It is said he related the fable of the frog and the scorpion.

In case you don’t know the story, it goes like this: A scorpion wants to cross a river but knows he can’t swim well enough to do that, so he goes in search of a frog. When he finds him – the frog of course keeping his distance – he asks him to take him on his back across the river. The frog replies that as soon as lets him on his back, the scorpion will sting him and the frog is not ready to die yet.

The scorpion pleads with the frog, who sees that the scorpion really means it. And it would be very handy for a frog to have a dangerous animal like a scorpion in his debt. So he agrees.

The frog hops down to the shallow water and the scorpion gets on the frog’s back. The frog tenses in fear but nothing happens. The frog starts to swim, feeling more and more relaxed. Halfway across the river, the scorpion stings the frog. As the poison courses through his body, the frog speaks to the scorpion: “Why did you do that? Not only did you break your promise and kill me but you will die now too, you will drown.”

“I know,” says the scorpion. “I just couldn’t help it. It’s in my nature.”

It is also said that in another compound overrun by hostile forces, as a couple of drug company executives were being taken out to be shot for crimes against humanity, including climate destruction, one of them turned to the other with a smile.

“Cheer up”, she said, “It was fun while it lasted.”

end.

TRUTH AND POWER –THE FIRST LESSON

Diarmuid Breatnach

I remember my first lesson at school. First lesson from a teacher, that is, because you learn other lessons in school as well, from other kids. That particular lesson has remained with me for the rest of my life.

OK, it couldn’t have been the first lesson – it was my second year at school — but it is the first I remember which, in a way, does make it the first. And it wasn’t from any book or written on the blackboard.

Lesson One - Truth to Power

That was in senior infants then, I was five years old and our teacher was Iníon Ní Mhéalóid, Miss Mellet in English. It’s a rare Connemara family name, I know now and that is where she was from. She was handsome, maybe even more than that, I can’t remember now. I never had a crush on any teacher who taught me but if I had, it would not have been on her.

The day of this particular lesson, I must’ve been misbehaving in some way, I suppose. Not paying attention to her and talking or laughing with another kid, probably.

She called me out from my desk, admonished me, told me to stick my hand out and … whacked it with a ruler. Maybe my eyes gave her a message, I’m not sure. They say the eyes are the windows of the soul and right then, at that moment, I guess my soul must’ve been pretty dark.

What are you thinking?” she asked me in Irish.

Now, my Da had brought me and my brother up to tell the truth – always. Years later, my young sister at school would have teachers tell her that though I had often misbehaved, I had always told the truth. I did too, mostly.

When Iníon Ní Mhéalóid asked me that, my training came to the fore but it was more than that – I wanted to tell her what I was thinking.

I think you’re horrible,” I replied, in Irish too, of course.

I thought I heard my classmates suck in their collective breath.

Hold out your hand again!”

I did so, half disbelieving. She’d asked me, hadn’t she?

Whack!

What are you thinking now?”

That …. that …. you’re h-horrible,” I sobbed.

Hold out your hand again!”

Whack!

What are you thinking now?” She had a glint in her eye.

I paused, conflicted, then replied.

Nothing.”

An bhfuil tú cinnte (are you sure)?”

Tá (I am)”.

Go back to your seat then.”

So now you’re thinking things like “physical abuse, abuse of power, bully, traumatic experience” and feeling sorry for me. Right?

You have it wrong.

Iníon Ní Mhéalóid had taught me a very valuable lesson, relating to truth and power. It is this:

You can speak truth to power because you feel like it, through pride, to encourage others or for any other reason. But those in power are not like your equals down below. You don’t owe those in power any truth and it is perfectly acceptable to tell them lies, to protect yourself or others.

You can of course speak the truth out of choice but know that they do not respect it, will probably use it against you and ….. you must be prepared to pay the price.

End.

“POLICE HAVE NO POWERS TO MOVE ANYONE”, SAYS PSNI ASSISTANT CHIEF.

Diarmuid Breatnach

Wee bonfire in Avoniel, 11th July 2019.
(Photo: Internet)

 

It is highly unlikely that that happened”, said Assistant Chief Constable Gray of the PSNI, responding to an allegation that information on the names of contractors was leaked by the colonial police force. Firms contracted to remove the pallets from a stack prepared for Loyalist 11th July bonfire withdrew after their names were displayed on the bonfire stack.

In the first place, no police officer would ever leak information to anyone outside the Force,” she said. “That would be just so unprofessional. In the second place, it is well established that has never, ever been any collusion between the police force here and Loyalist paramilitaries.”

Health & Safety warning to contractors hired by Belfast City Council
((Photo: Internet)

          Asked why police did not move against the bonfire builders when the council asked the PSNI to investigate allegations of aggravated trespass, Ms Gray said police had “no powers to remove anybody.” She frowned as some reporters from nationalist areas burst into laughter and became incoherent. Eventually someone asked did that apply to members of Republican groups also.

Not if they’re dissidents,” she snapped, indicating the questioner to nearby PSNI officers with a nod of her head.

UVF and flags of Six Counties, Salterre of Scotland and English Cross of St. George flying on light poles outside the Avoniel Leisure Centre, Belfast. The Scottish Salterre being the flag associaed with Scottish independence is an irony perhaps lost on the erectors …
(Photo: Internet)

Assistant Chief Constable Gray added that any police action also had to be “proportionate”. At this, uncontrolled laughter broke out again from a section of the reporters present. ASC Gray said what sounded like “Loughisland” and indicated the offending group to some police officers present, who began to film them, at which point the reporters became very quiet.

Responding to suggestions that the burning of posters of people and flags of a country might be seen as offensive, racist and threatening, Ms Gray said the offensive material on the bonfire in Lisburn was related to election campaigns and was therefore alright.

A man who identified himself as an Avoniel community worker said that the bonfire was just “Protestants celebrating our culture” and they only had a couple of weeks a year to do it now. “Things were much simpler in the old days,” he said, “when we just did what we liked. And we had a wider choice of activities, such as chasing Taigues out of the shipyards, burning Fenian houses …. But now houses have been built near bonfires so that complaints can be made by people pretending to be scared of a wee bit of fire. After all, there was bonfires afore there was houses,” he stated. “And there was roads for us to march through Catholic areas afore there was Catholic houses …. er … anyways, it’s our culture! Our British culture!”

“But they don’t do that in Britain, do they?” someone called out, refusing to be intimidated by the man’s tattoos and his UVF and Paratrooper badges, or by Ms. Gray’s glare.

Well, maybe not,” said the community worker. “But we’ll be British even if they won’t.”

It was the United Irishmen who lit celebratory bonfires”, another Belfast man interjected. “Like to celebrate the defeat of the English in the War of American Independence. They lit them on the hills, not beside people’s houses. And they were mostly Presbyterians!”

At this last declaration, the community worker, who had begun to froth at the mouth, screamed “Sacrilege!” and made for his tormentor. The latter seemed ready to stand up to him until he caught sight of a squad of PSNI heading for him too, at which point he upended a few chairs and made his retreat through a side entrance.

Assistant Chief Constable Gray called the press conference to an end at that point.

End.

(Original material on which satire is developed: https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/no-doubt-uvf-were-involved-at-avoniel-bonfire-says-psni-38305920.html?fbclid=IwAR2SkyKvLMaguo4NfRM3bv0eky9cJ9PHqwuJ45v96yapBk-JUzQ5fc1tlyI also an exchange on a Belfast phone-in radio program).

A GEORDIE INVENTED THE CHINESE MOBILE PHONE

Diarmuid Breatnach

(reading time three minutes)

 

Not a lot of people know this but the big China-based mobile phone company Huawei was started by a Geordie. Yes, a man from Newcastle known as Geordie Muldoon. He developed the phone, its programming etc but found that in Britain, companies wanted to either buy him out or rip him off, whilst Geordie really needed to actually have the phone built and marketed by his own company. So he went to China.

Geordie didn’t speak a word of Chinese apart from kung-fu, aujo, won ton and shesey but reckoned he’d get by somehow – after all, English is a world language now, right? Yes it is, but Geordie or Tynespeak is not. Not even the best English speakers and translators brought to him could understand more than a few words.

But they understood his pictures — the ones he drew and, without showing them the entire schematics, they thought he might be on to something. Some drew him a picture of a bus station and a Chinese town destination. Of course, that would’ve been no good to him, written in Chinese characters. So they got to repeating the town’s name, until he got it right: Can Doo.

Geordie got on the bus with a couple of changes of underwear and a second shirt and pair of trousers — and his toilet kit.  He carried a few letters of introduction and some addresses, none of which he could read but, by showing to people and following their hand signals, he got to his first contact. And she took him to his next one …. and so on.

They couldn’t understand his speech either but they got to like him – and why not? He had not a bit of British racism, not to speak of snobbery; he was fun-loving, outgoing and a lot of the women found him attractive. He was very clean.

Somehow, after a year, with a Glaswegian translating from Geordiespeak to Chinese and back, along with a Chinese-literate Welsh woman looking over Chinese contract law, he came to an understanding: he would produce the phone in China, it would be 60% his, 30% his Chinese financial backers, 10% the Welsh lawyer’s, who became a Director, as did Geordie and a couple of other Chinese he knew well by now.

On the day that all had been tested and the first production run was ready in the factory in Can Doo, they had a party. It was an emotional day and everyone got intoxicated on rice wine, Jameson copy, Smirnoff copy and even Newcastle Brown copy. And all of the Chinese wanted to call the new phone after Geordie or something Geordieish. It is not clear whether their intention was understood but Geordie laughed and roared out “Hadaway, man! Hadaway!”

The next afternoon (none were fit to even walk until then), the Chinese advertising and production teams remembered the conversation of last night and all agreed on what Geordie had said: “Huawei, Huawei!”  They thought that this was pretty big of him, since that means “China achieving”.  They loved him him even more then as the first Huawei model rolled off the production line.

It is said that a few further branch companies are expected soon: Yareet (for the South Asian market); Tchampi-on; and Kan Eelass.

End.

DRUMMING SOLIDARITY FOR BASQUE POLITICAL PRISONERS

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

On July 7th (the San Fermin feast day) 1985 two Basque political prisoners escaped from the Spanish prison of Martutene during a concert. The escape was received joyfully in the Basque Country and in other places and celebrated also in song composed by the Basque ska-punk band Kortatu (1984-1988). The song is called Sarri, Sarri, a nickname made from Sarrionandia, the paternal surname of one of the escapees, who was serving 22 years form membership of ETA, the Basque left-independentist armed organisation.

 

 

 

The song is performed annually (see video) in the Orereta/ Errenteria area to the accompaniment of massed drummers, a denborrada or tamborrada(“a drumming”), in the province of Gipuzkoa, near the French State border and not very far from Donosti/ San Sebastian and was done as a gesture of solidarity with the Basque political prisoners. In its report on the first quarter of 2018, Etxerat, the association of political prisoners’ families and friends, recognised 287 prisoners but over the years a number of Basque prisoners have left the collective but are still serving time, a few doing so since the changes in policy of ETA and of the Abertzale Left leadership. Of the 287 recognised by Etxerat,twenty-two were terminally or seriously ill and should have been paroled under Spanish and French laws, only three were serving sentences in the Basque Country and four seriously-ill on parole, 280 being dispersed in jails throughout the French and Spanish states. Relatives and friends able for the long journeys have to travel distances of between 100 to 1,100 kilometers from the Basque Country and many traffic accidents, some fatal, have occurred on those journeys.

ETA (Euskadi1 Ta Askatasuna = Basque Nation and Freedom) was formed in the late 1960s and for almost a decade did not engage in armed activity, though its members and supporters were hounded, tortured and jailed by the Spanish State, after which it turned to armed actions. The organisation called a “permanent truce” some years ago and recently dissolved itself in what seems to have been a bid by the pro-independence left’s political leadership to enter some kind of peace process with the Spanish State, in which the latter is clearly uninterested or perhaps as a move to ease the conditions and possibly sentences of Basque political prisoners.

Amnistia Ta Askatasuna (“Amnesty & Freedom”), an organisation campaigning for prisoners which does not recognise the official movement’s leadership exists, and though small, is active in many parts of the nation.

 

THE ESCAPEES

Iñaki “Pitti” Pikabea continued active in ETA and was sadly recaptured in 1987; he was paroled in 2000. Joseba Sarrionandia Uribelarrea kept low and avoided the authorities, although publishing writings and earning awards, until he surfaced in Cuba, where he lives to this day, as a writer and also a lecturer at the University of Havana.

Joseba Sarrionandia through the ages (images sourced: Internet)

Among Sarrionandai’s many writings (articles, poems, novels), on 3rd October 2011, the Basque Government and Spanish State were embarrassed to learn that Sarrionada had received a prestigious literary awarded, the Euskadi Prize for Essay in Basque for his work Moroak gara behelaino artean? (Are we Moors in the fog?) on the miseries of colonialism.2

End.

 

LINKS:

Joseba Sarrionandia Uribelarrea: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseba_Sarrionandia

Etxerat report January-March 2018: http://www.etxerat.eus/index.php/es/informes/mensual

Amnistia Ta Askatasuna: https://www.facebook.com/amnistiataaskatasuna/ and http://amnistiaaskatasuna.blogspot.com/

Video of this year’s Denborrada: https://www.facebook.com/KatiuskakArgazkiEstudioa/videos/1879014595499250/?t=6

 

FOOTNOTES

1“Euskadi” nowadays normally means three of the southern (i.e under Spanish rule) Basque provinces combined in the “Basque Autonomous (sic) Region” and therefore excludes the other southern province, Nafarroa and the three northern provinces (i.e under French rule); “Euskal Herria” (the H is silent), i.e “the land where the people speak Basque” is the widely-accepted name for the Basque nation now.

2From Wikipedia (see Links): “On 3rd October 2011, Sarrionandia was awarded the Euskadi Prize for Essay in Basque for his work Moroak gara behelaino artean? (Are we Moors in the fog?) on the miseries of colonialism; however, the Basque Government withheld the prize sum of 18,000 euros until the author’s status was resolved. On the same day, judges and lawyers interviewed by media confirmed that Sarrionandia could not be prosecuted by Spanish law, as more than 20 years had passed since his original prison sentence and his escape. While terrorist acts have no time limit, the provision applies only if there was at least one victim. After a month and a half, the Spanish High Court confirmed to the Basque government that Sarrionandia was ‘clean’, with no criminal or civil liability. The prize amount was handed over to his family”.

BASED ON HISTORY BUT FAR FROM IT– McCann’s “After the Lockout”.

Diarmuid Breatnach

History can and should be researched, interpreted, discussed, argued and used for lessons on current questions and projections into the future. It can also be used in fiction: as the backdrop for a novel; as a way of bringing historical events to life; as a what-if speculative story.

James Plunkett (21 May 1920 – 28 May 2003) used the Dublin Lockout as a backdrop for his Strumpet City and did it wonderfully well; Walter Macken (3 May 1915 – 22 April 1967) wrote a fictionalised account of brothers in the War of Independence and the Civil War in The Scorching Wind and also did it well1. Roddy Doyle did NOT do it well at all in his historical novel (A Star Called Henry) and sadly nor did Darran McCann in “After the Lockout”. Interestingly, the central characters in both latter books were what one might call “Left critics” of the leaders of the struggle and one is tempted to conclude that the attitudes of the central characters mirror those of their creators.

(Image sourced: Internet)

It seems fair enough that we can play with history in fiction but, when using it as a backdrop for a story, it should be accurately represented – otherwise, surely one should invent something else entirely?

Doyle did some reading on the GPO garrison’s struggle for the background of his “A Star Called Henry” but seemed to have done none for the War of Independence, in which he had his hero and heroine like a kind of Republican Bonny and Clyde living in ditches and shooting up the Free State forces. McCann seems to have done hardly any reading on the Lockout (and not that much on the GPO garrison’s fight either). Having Jim Larkin give a speech from the restaurant in Murphy’s Imperial Hotel restaurant window is bad enough – when we know he only got to say a few sentences before the Dublin Metropolitan Police ran in to arrest him – but having him then shin down a rope and get away is absolutely ridiculous.

McCann set the story of his central character, Victor Lennon, in between the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence and it has many of the elements of the story of James Gralton (17 April 1886 – 29 December 1945), the only Irish person to have been officially exiled from Ireland by an Irish government (in 1933).

The arrest of Jim Larkin after he spoke briefly from the Imperial Hotel in 1913. He did not shin down a rope!
(Image sourced: Internet)

McCann’s Victor Lennon, a communist and member of the Irish Citizen Army, gets people in his home town to build a dance hall in opposition to the local Bishop, which a mob then burns down. Gralton, a communist also, did that too, in Leitrim; however, he ran dances there and also gave talks – it was a success, to a considerable degree. The Irish Catholic Church vehemently opposed Gralton and in McCann’s novel the Bishop and local supporters also mobilise against Victor: the hall is burned down before any dance is held in it. Like Gralton’s story, there is a shooting incident around the dance hall too – a fatal one, in which Victor’s father and two IRA men are killed. But instead of being deported from Ireland, as Gralton was (illegally) by an Irish Government, which in McCann’s story had not yet come into existence, Victor heads off for Dublin to join the Volunteers in what will become the IRA and the War of Independence.

Newspaper photograph of James Gralton in the process of his deportation in 1933 (note he is described as “Irish-American” as though to justify his deportation, though in fact he was born in Ireland and did not leave for the USA until 23 years of age, subsequently returning to fight in the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence.
(Image sourced: Internet)
What actually happened after Larkin spoke briefly from the Imperial Hotel — a vicious police baton charge and indiscriminate beating of all in the area.
(Image sourced: Internet)

Roddy Doyle wrote very disrespectfully about Volunteers, Pearse and a number of other leaders and even salaciously about anonymous wives of martyred men. He did so by placing those words and thoughts in the mouth and mind of his central character, Henry Smart. McCann does somewhat the same but to nowhere near the same extent as did Doyle.

I admit to finding that lack of respect extremely distasteful but also from a historical point of view I see it as anachronistic. I find it hard to believe that those who took part in the Rising despised those who fought alongside them, no matter the difference in ideology – or that they spoke so contemptuously of their leaders, martyred or not. Disagreed, certainly – disagreed strongly, probably. But disrespect and contempt? No, that is attaching a post-Free State intellectual revisionist attitude on to participants in the Rising and in the War of Independence. Later, there would be fear and hatred, during the Civil War, but even then, none of that contemptuous and dismissive attitude.

I am not the only critic from a historical perspective, as I see from a quick Googling. Reviewing the book for the Irish Independent in 2012, Pat Hunt had this to say:

The opening section set in Dublin reads more like a 1917 Thom’s Street Directory and a survey of political events and personalities of the time. The seediness of the red-light Monto district in the inner city does not ring true. The period feel of the city of Armagh is much better realised.

The author’s editor has done him no favours. It was never possible to hop on a train at Amiens Street and hop off at Harcourt Street station (not unless one took a scenic route via Bray).

The Big Wind of 1839 occurred on the Feast of the Epiphany, not Pentecost. Forecasts of wine lakes and butter mountains (concepts that emerged with the EEC and its common agricultural policy) could not have been envisioned by even the most ardent socialist in 1917.”

Hilary Mantel, who writes historical fiction, praised McCann’s book and I can only assume that she knows very little of Irish history, nor indeed should we expect that she should – her background is not Irish. Glen Patterson, novelist from the Six Counties, praised it highly too and I assume did so on the composition of the writing, turn of phrase, story-telling etc – but I sincerely hope he did not do so on a historical basis.

After the Lockout, Darran McCann, Harper Collins 2012.

End.

 

FOOTNOTE:

1 Though not perhaps as well as the other two books in the trilogy, those dealing with the Cromwellian war and Great Hunger periods: Seek the Fair Land and The Silent People)

Strange & Deadly Journey

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

I thought back over all that happened and I was afraid, really afraid.

 

It began when I was walking down a lane leading down to what seemed to be a very big building site, the shell constructed but the doorways without doors and windows without frames or glass. It was my intention to get inside and I strolled down casually in manner, to see how that might be done.

On the way, I passed ground where, beyond a shoulder-high wall, there were women, under an overhang of the building. They seemed to have been sleeping on the ground and were now waking up. One of them stretched and I saw her breasts bare.

“You’re not supposed to be here,” she called out to me but without covering herself. Nor did she sound very angry.

I averted my eyes, though in truth I wanted to look; I gave some excuse for my presence but could hardly call out the real reason – people in the building might hear me. Continuing strolling past the women I came to the building entrance and, undetected, managed to find my way in. I got up to the second floor and there was one of the workmen there, tools hanging from his belt and I walked past confidently because that’s the only way to do it.

I forgot now for a little why I wanted entry in the first place and made my way to front of the building, facing back down into the lane. It would be a passage outside the apartments or offices when they installed the internal walls; there would be a glass frontage from waist-high but now there was only the empty opening. I looked out, hoping to see the women below but the overhang hid them from sight.

A little later, I was away from the building, in the open among black youths that were fighting with white ones but not myself part of the battle. The black youths slightly outnumbered the white ones and were giving them a real hiding.

And a little later, one of the black youths was walking through a low-level housing estate when he was challenged by a shout and a white youth was coming towards him. That seemed no great danger to him until other white youths were coming out from different directions, unbuckling their belts as they came, clearly to use them as flails, with the heavy metal buckles to inflict damage. As they gathered together, some much younger girls stood in front of them, trying to stop them attacking the black youth, but it was to no avail.

The fight was fierce and the white youths hurt the black one badly before they left him, bleeding in the road. I went and helped him into the house where I was staying and for safety, even though he was in a really bad way, got him up the stairs to the first floor.

Laying him down on a bed there, I got out my phone to call an ambulance, even though I feared it would do no good. I was stopped by a strange sight. There was a mixed race girl, light-skinned with dark freckles, lying down beside the wounded youth, facing him. She was somewhere around fourteen years old, I’d guess. As if paralysed, I watched.

The girl was smiling and she said: “You know, when they act like they don’t want you, that’s when they want you.” I had no idea what she was talking about and doubted he did.

She repeated it and after the third time, he whispered: “Truly?”

Her smile widened into a beautiful thing to see and she leaned further towards him, saying: “ Oh, yes! That’s when they REALLY want you” and kissed him gently three times on the lips. He closed his eyes and somehow I felt him slide away, life leaving him.

Downstairs, I heard the front door open.

“The youths come back to finish him off,” is what I thought first. Then I thought it might be the paramedics – even though I hadn’t called them yet. Someone else might have.

But it wasn’t – I recognised the voices.

What were they doing here? It was the owners and they were supposed to be abroad on holiday, with me minding the house for them. My mind was in a whirl as the couple came up the stairs, greeting me, the woman then complaining about some features of where they had been. To be honest, I can’t remember now where that was. My mind was in a turmoil. I didn’t want them to know what was in the small bedroom.

My heart beat even faster when their two big dogs bounded up the stairs, one dark brown and the other white. They knew me and gamboled around as I tried to block them from going past the doorway into the room. They were pushing, as if they knew I had something to hide.

Just as I shouted “No” in my most convincing master voice, the white one got past me and into the room. A second later it uttered a howl-bark of challenge inside. I was sunk, went weak and the woman pushed past me easily. A second later she screamed.

When I followed her in I saw that the youth was lying where I had lain him, his blood soaking into the sheets. The girl was nowhere to be seen, although there was nowhere for her to have gone. The dog had relaxed, as if knowing the body presented no threat.

Haltingly, I told the woman how the youth had been attacked and how I had brought him in.

“And you put him ON THE BED?” she shouted unbelievingly. I was somewhat appalled at that but I knew she was not a bad person and put it down to the shock she was feeling.

“Better phone the ambulance,” I muttered then and turned to look for where I had put down my phone. As if activated by my words, I heard it ringing. “Emergency services?” I thought … but wait a minute, I hadn’t called them yet.

“Hello?” I enquired cautiously after I’d picked it up.

“Dad?”

Beyond bizarre, was what I thought. My 20-year-old son, phoning from our relatives in Spain. He started talking about his arrival earlier, the relatives, his accommodation … I didn’t want to cut him off for we had been somewhat estranged in the past but … After making some minimal responses I then said: “I’m in the middle of something – can you call me back a little later?”

“Residential work?” he asked. He knew I’d done that kind of work before, in homeless hostels, probation hostels, sheltered accommodation etc.

“Yes,” I lied.

“Ok,” he yawned “but I have no money on the phone.”

“I’ll call you back soon then,” I replied, inanely wondering which way the hour difference between Spain and here was, more or less?

Turning to the woman, I saw that she had a gentle look on her face. “Your son?”

“Yes,” I replied, then sighed. “Better call emergency services now.” She nodded.

And then I woke up and I thought back over all that happened and to be honest, I was afraid, really afraid to back to sleep, in case somehow I slipped back into that. And it was too early to get up.

I wondered what my Ma would make of that dream for she was a pretty good dream-deviner. But she’s gone years now.

So I switched on the light and read some more of Lady Gregory’s arrangement of stories about the Fianna. There’s plenty of killing and dying, and kissing women and strange events in there but somehow a lot less frightening than what I had just experienced.

End.

IRA VOLUNTEER, PAYROLL HEIST MAN, THRILLER WRITER

 

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

To discuss a thriller-writer who was in jail in the USA for one of the largest payroll heists in US history and who before that was in the H Blocks, an incarcerated IRA Volunteer, is to have most people thinking one is writing about a fictional character – but I’m not. The man exists and his name is Sam Millar.

WRITER

Millar has a number of novels and a memoir to his credit, all the most recent published by the O’Brien Press. Some of them are detective novels, centred around Karl Kane, a tough private investigator, back-talking cops and gangsters alike. Yes, we’re familiar with the type, from Chandler’ Philip Marlowe to Spillane’s Mike Hammer, Hammet’s Sam Spade or Towne’s Jake Gittes in Chinatown (1974). But if we’ve liked his type in print or film before, them then we tend to like him again. To be truthful, Kane is a bit different: I can’t recall or even imagine any of the others ever opening their front door dressed only in their lover’s short pink dressing gown and falling on their arse, accidentally flashing their tackle at passing schoolgirls. And Kane’s health problems are perhaps more reminiscent of some of the Scandinavian fictional police detective heroes (and heroines) than his fast riposting counterparts in the USA-based stories.

Cover Dead of Winter, a Karl Kane novel by Sam Millar.

The dialogue and commentary in the Karl Kane novels is good with some very funny lines, his plots interesting and he keeps the story moving along at a good pace, with a few twists along the way. Kane, like Marlowe has a conscience pushing through his hard exterior and though he’s tough he tends not to invite more slaps after the first few. And not every thread in the story is tidily tied up at the end of the book.

The dialogue is not so slick in some of his other novels (one set in the USA) but the conjuring of the ill-boding atmosphere is well done, as is the description of the thinking in the adolescent characters’ minds.

Belfast is where his writing is centred now:

“I have deliberately used (Belfast) as a backdrop for all my crime noir novels for a number of reasons”, he was quoted as saying in a Crime Review author profile “- mainly because I know it so well, but chiefly to bring the imaginary one-dimensional Belfast of badly written novels into the modern era.”

Sam Millar
(Photo source: Democrat and Chronicle)

His stories are dark (which is part of the meaning of “noir”) but generally not without humour or redemption, at least for some of the characters. The Police Service of Northern Ireland are not presented as shining good guys and in that Millar fits in with the general attitude to the enforcers of law and order in the detective noir stories: the cast of cops usually includes the downright nasty (and often corrupt), the in-between and the good guy – the latter being the cop who feeds the private investigator information or warns him of trouble coming his way from the cop’s superiors. For the genre and for Millar’s stories it works, providing one doesn’t step back too much to think about the sectarian and often murderous RUC now transformed by name into the PSNI.

However, Millar doesn’t try and paint a rosy picture of a post-Good Friday Agreement society and has been quite open about his own views: I hate bursting people’s bubbles, everybody wants to believe something like a fairytale has happened over here but it hasn’t”, he said in a 2014 interview with David Henessy in the Irish in Britain weekly The Irish World.

It’s changed superficially but for working-class Protestants and working-class Catholics it hasn’t changed. There’s still a lot of people out of work, a lot of poverty and it seems the politicians are the only ones who seem to benefit out of this Good Friday Agreement which has been a terrible let down, to be honest with you, especially in nationalist communities.

“But for myself being a writer, of course, I have been able to move away and I felt guilty. You don’t want to turn your back on your neighbourhood but at the same time, I’ve young children. I want them to have a better life…”

SELLING WELL ABROAD

A number of Millar’s books have been translated and sold well in France (where he was won a number of literary awards), Italy, Germany and Poland and some as far as Turkey and Bulgaria. He is not without Irish awards either: the prestigious Aisling Award for Art and Culture; Martin Healy Short Story Award; Brian Moore Award and Cork Literary Review Award, et al.

I could probably sell more books in Ireland if I kept my mouth shut about what I thought,” Millar commented more recently. Perhaps he’s right. I find it hard to believe I never heard about him until picking out a book by chance in the library, saw it was about a PI working in Belfast and with a sigh, felt obligated to read it. But without any great expectations, having come across some novels allegedly about the Six Counties that seemed to be about somewhere else in the world but also bearing Ulster place and family names. I was glad I chose it and am now working my way through his other published works.

Asking some Dublin Republicans about Millar and his writing, I was again surprised that they had not heard of him, particularly since they would share his view of the Six Counties today.

IRA VOLUNTEER AND HEIST

Millar was brought up a Catholic in Belfast (but with a Protestant grandfather), became politically active and went to jail in 1973, “the first nationalist put away under the Diplock court system. That’s a forgotten historical footnote, except for me”, he says. Released in 1975, his days of freedom were short, like many another in those days and a year later he was back inside after being caught with explosives in Belfast city centre. He joined the blanket protest against the British policy of criminalisation of Republican prisoners.

Released from the H-Blocks in 1982, he got acquainted with Bernadette, now his wife, whom he had known as a child, a few streets away from his family‘s home.

Photo source: New York Times

Moving to the USA, in 1993 Millar got involved in the New York Brinks Armoured Car Depot robbery, “the biggest in US history” (in which no-one was killed), for which he got caught a year later and served six years in a penitentiary, to be released by Clinton. Millar wrote about the heist in On the Brinks (2003) and apparently investigators believe that though Millar masterminded the robbery, he fictionalised some of the details in order to protect some accomplices.

Cover of extended version of the best-seller On the Brinks, Millar’s memoir of Republican activism, British colonial jail and the Brinks Heist of 1993.

Warner Bros. bought the rights to the book for a screenplay before backing out of making the film and a long “and draining” legal battle followed as Millar fought to win back the rights, so as to have some other company make the film.

 THRILLER WRITER AND REVIEWER

Writing for the New York Journal of Books, Millar said he had “reviewed tons of books”, in reply to an accusation by Armagh author Stuart Neville that he had indulged in “sock puppeting”, i.e using fake identities to rate his own work highly and do down some others, including Neville’s.

If you look at my books reviewed by people on Amazon,” said Millar to Nuala McCann for BBC News in September 2012, “you will see one stars and two stars, some by writers. I have never asked Amazon to remove them, nor complained on line about them.

“Ironically, the only book I’ve ever read by Mister Neville I reviewed for the influential website New York Journal of Books,” he added.

“I think if you read it, it wasn’t too bad a review. I get lousy reviews sometimes myself, but take it on the chin. I’ve reviewed ‘tons’ of fiction/crime books for writers, and never given a negative review of any of them.

“If I don’t like a book (after a few chapters) I will not review it, as I do not like to give bad reviews to fellow writers, as I know how difficult enough it is without adding grief.”

Cover of Millar’s next novel, with a new anti-hero, due out in June.

Sam Millar has another anti-hero novel (not Kane) novel due out in June, The Bespoke Hitman, as part of a three-book deal with O’Brien. I’m looking forward to reading it.

End.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Dark Souls (April 2003)

The Redemption Factory (July 2005)

The Darkness of Bones (2006)

Bloodstorm: A Karl Kane Book (2008)

The Dark Place: A Karl Kane Book (2009)

The Dead of Winter: A Karl Kane Book (2012)

Brothers In Arms (Stage play 2012)

Black’s Creek [originally Small Town Killing] (2014)

On The Brinks, O’Brien Press (April, 2014) [but originally by Wynkin de Worde (Sep. 2003) then bought by Millar’s present publisher, The O’Brien Press]

Past Darkness: A Karl Kane Novel (2015)

LINKS FOR SOME SOURCES:

http://crimeire.blogspot.ie/2015/03/sam-millar.html

http://www.theirishworld.com/sam-millar-back-from-the-brinks/

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-19465081

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/14/nyregion/brinks-heist-made-for-hollywood.html

https://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2016/03/21/brinks-heist-may-become-hollywood-film/82085488/

Author’s website: http://www.millarcrime.com/