LÁ FHÉILE PÁDRAIG IN DUBLIN MARRED BY FAR-RIGHT DEMONSTRATIONS

Clive Sulish

(Reading time: 5 mins.)

Instead of the traditional St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin, this year saw a number of far Right-organised demonstrations. The Level 5 Lockdown as part of measures to prevent the continued spread of the Covid19 virus meant the cancelling of the traditional parade and the ongoing closure of bars, people instead taking advantage of the fair weather to head out to parks, river and canal banks and the seaside. A number of far-Right organisations however convened protest events for a number of locations in Dublin under the pretence of caring for mental health and defending civil rights. Hot food services for those in need normally served from outside the GPO were cancelled due to concerns about possible trouble from far-Rightists and a limited service was provided instead.

Unlike many other occasions in the past year, the Gardaí mobilised to take control of the demonstrations, in some cases arresting people who could not give a valid excuse for exceeding the 5-kilometer from home permitted limit without a valid reason, or refusing to give their name and address, or preventing their re-entering the city centre later in the day. The Gardaí general tolerance of far-Right events and of the latter’s continual flouting of anti-contagion measures appears to be worn down, at least for the moment. This tolerance (and at times actual collusion), at marked variance with their treatment of Republican and some other Left events, seems to have been broken by the Far-Right event at Stephen’s Green, where some of the demonstrators threw fireworks at the police.

The most effective operation of the police was in the surrounding of the RTÉ’s campus, the national television service. Unlike a protest last year when they permitted far-Right demonstrators to enter the grounds, on this occasion they were effective in keeping them out. At least two of those arrested there, a man and a woman, had traveled down from the North, they were detained for refusing to give their names and addresses. Altogether, the Gardaí reported having arrested 21 people, including four females, and that 14 were taken before a magistrate’s court that evening and seven charged and released on bail. A number of others may have been told they would be fined for having exceeded their permitted traveling distance without reasonable excuse.

One of the arrested was Joe Doocey from Mayo, variously a member of Gemma Doherty’s “Anti-Corruption Ireland” and “Integrity Ireland”, both racist and far-Right organisations; Doocey was sentenced to prison a few years ago for driving over a Garda at a checkpoint and running an on-line harassment campaign against his victim.

The small gathering earlier at the Garden of Remembrance seems to have been somewhat different, apparently a Christian fundamentalist group calling for “Reclaim St. Patrick’s Day for the Holy Trinity”1. At least handful of those present were seen the previous day in O’Connell Street, wearing a red sash and dispensing Catholic leaflets from the “Irish Society for Christian Civilization”, with a right-wing message.2

“Soldiers of the Immaculate Conception”, part of the right-wing fundamentalist Irish Society for Christian Civilisation, in O’Connell Street on 16th March. They were also present at an event at Garden of Remembrance on St. Patrick’s Day, among other Catholic fundamentalists. (Photo: C.Sulish)

The fairly small gatherings at the GPO and the Garden of Remembrance earlier in the day were monitored with a heavy Garda presence, some of which was in evidence there later that evening. Hot food services and tea for the needy, which would normally be provided in the evening, were cancelled due to worries about possible far-Right interference. One low-level cold food service was however in operation with antifascists, mostly of Irish Republican origin, in the vicinity in case of trouble from the far-Right, who however did not materialise.

DEMONSTRATING IN SUPPORT OF MENTAL HEALTH?

For public consumption, these far-Right groups pretend to be demonstrating for civil rights to to march etc and in defence of mental health. To see Far-Rightists who wish to push their authoritarian agenda on the public now marching in defence of “democracy” and “civil right” would be amusing were it not for the serious intentions of fascists hiding behind those slogans.

Mental health services in Ireland are and have been underfunded and overstretched for many years, with long waiting lists for treatment. So are these far-Rightists at least marching to remedy that situation? No, they are demonstrating for an end to the Lockdown which they say is the cause of mental illness.

Not to be unkind but mental health services might help some of the believers in crazy conspiracy theories which make up the numbers at these events organised by far-Rightists and fascists. Believing that the Irish Government is part of a communist plot organised by the Communist Party of China through the UN and EU is surely not a sign of a healthy mind. Nor is a belief that antifascism is a paedophile ring support group, or that pregnancy termination and gay marriage rights are intended to reduce the native (white) population so they can be replaced by (non-white) migrants – an alleged plot which Herman Kelly of the Irish Freedom Party declares is being run by the EU and by the Irish Government.

Far-Right marchers approaching Donnybrook, with placards displaying some of the fantastic conspiracy theories: one in foreground suggests the Government is introducing communism under the guise of the Covid19 pandemic. (Photo credit: C. Lally, Irish Times).

And in fact Kelly’s “Irish Freedom Party” is the reality behind the false mental health event organised for St. Patrick’s Day in Herbert Park, through the newly-created front organisation “Le Chéile”3 claimed by Tracey Mahoney of the IFP, who spoke there. The remaining speaker was Dr. Anne McCloskey (who last October resigned from her Derry & Strabane Councillor seat for the right-wing Aontú party) and her daughter was arrested outside RTÉ. The party’s Vice-President (and castle owner in Athy), Dolores Cahill, was the main speaker at the event and claimed that wearing face-masks leads to oxygen deprivation which in turn led to a reduced IQ in children and would harm their career prospects in adult life.

These bizarre claims would have all those whose work requires wearing masks in healthcare, surgery, laboratories, “clean workshops” etc worried – if there were any scientific basis for them. There isn’t of course and Cahill can no longer use her position as lecturer in Medicine at UCD as some kind of validation for her claims, since she has been replaced on the course. Not before more than 130 UCD students, mostly from its School of Medicine, had signed a letter protesting the University’s silence on her claims. The University had however already publicly disassociated itself from Cahill’s view, though not at the time replacing her in her First Year course in Science, Medicine and Society, which it has now done.4 According to the text introducing an on-line petition calling for her to be disciplined by UCD because of her publicity-seeking statements being in contravention of all scientific health understanding, Cahill has also been asked to resign from the EU’s Scientific Committee of the Innovative Medicines Initiative and the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Studies.

Irish Freedom Party lineup, Herman Kelly centre back row with Rowan Croft (aka “Grand Torino” to left of photo) and Dolores Cahill centre front row.

Cahill’s claim and that of other far-Right conspiracy theorists is that “oxygen-deprivation” leads to passivity, which is why it is being enforced against an “invented” pandemic. Completely contrary to her own logic (but being cheered by many in attendance) was her complaint that the HSE is failing to obtain a particular substance which would be effective treatment (in the “imagined pandemic”)!

“FOR FREEDOM AND CIVIL RIGHTS”?

These campaigners for the right to congregate without masks (i.e freedom to spread the virus) are far from general advocates of freedom. At a Dublin event organised in August last year on Custom House Quay by the Irish Yellow Vests, a mob organised by the National Party (another fascist party) attacked unarmed counter-protesters with metal bars and clubs disguised as flags, leaving one of their victims unconscious. A few weeks later they assaulted a tiny group of LGBT campaigners in Kildare Street, clubbing one of the women to the ground.5

Alan Sweeney6 of Irish Yellow Vests and others boarded a LUAS tram in Dublin after one of their events and abused passengers who were wearing masks and far-Right demonstrators regularly accuse passers-by of being “muzzled”. A man arrested the day before St.Bridget’s Day in Faughart was said to have been ripping masks off elderly people (picking on older people might be thought as safer than others) and Ben Gilroy, one of the Irish Yellow Vest leaders, videoed himself following a masked elderly man around a supermarket while abusing him. Karl Cohalon from Limerick, who goes by the name James Collins on YouTube also had himself videoed on his way to an event in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day, shouting homophobic and other insults at a man in the front garden of his home.

Many of the far-Right and fascists are Catholic fundamentalists too, also not known for supporting democratic rights such as the rights of LGBT people or of women needing a pregnancy termination, not to mention vulnerable children (of course they do not condemn the Church for paedophilia and in fact claim the accusations are false). These include not only the openly fascist parties mentioned earlier and Síol na hÉireann but also QAnon and the likes of Gemma O’Doherty (“make Ireland Catholic again”!) of Anti-Corruption Ireland and Dolores Webster (aka Dee Wall) of QAnon, both of whom who demonstrated last year against Croke Park being made available to a Muslim group to celebrate the Eid Festival. Both those women were seen during the events of St. Patrick’s Day as were other fascists such as Carey (“helping the homeless”) and Andy Heasman from Mayo, a supporter of the fascist Síol na hÉireann party, who shared a video expressing his disappointment at the poor turnout, blaming Sinn Féin (undeserved credit there!) and Glen Miller of the Yellow Vests, who apparently cautioned people not to attend.

Whether people genuinely confused or believers in fantasy conspiracies of devil-worshippers, paedophiles or faraway communist parties, they are kept together to make up the numbers by fascist organisations with racist agendas, pretending Irish nationalism too although a number have Far-Right British and Loyalist connections. Those who for other reasons demonstrate alongside racists and fascists cannot escape the facts of their association by declaring that they are not fascists, racists or even far-Rightists – they are giving those forces the numbers they need to seem like a viable force and to attract other supporters. Of course, once they have served their purpose, like the SA “Brownshirts” in Nazi Germany, they will be disposed of. But meanwhile …

More placards of fantastic conspiracy theories displayed on pedestrian bridge outside RTÉ campus: one placard claims that a vaccine kills while another claims it is genocide, yet another claims that the “true agenda” is (Irish) depopulation to facilitate a Chinese (communist) takeover. (Photo credit: Sam Boal, The Journal).

ST. PATRICK WAS …

St Patrick is one of three patron saints of Ireland, the others being Brigid and Columba and is revered not only by Irish Catholics but also by other Christian sects, for having established Christianity in Ireland around the 5th Century CE. However over the centuries since, St. Patrick has become symbolic of far more, being a representation politically and culturally of Irish nationhood at home and among the nation’s far-flung diaspora.

Contrary to those who try to employ this symbol to push an “ethnic” racism against immigrants, it needs to remembered that Patrick first came to Ireland as a captive taken in a raid by pagan Gaels, was then sold as a slave and exploited as a swineherd. Some time after escaping from his servitude (probably back to Britain), he returned to spread his faith in Ireland. He was then a migrant, one of the very group against which many of the far-Right and fascists organise.

End.

FOOTNOTES:

1No doubt drawing on the legend of Patrick using the shamrock to explain the Christian Trinity, which no serious historian credits because a) he did not mention it himself in his biography, b) the Gaels already had pagan divine trinities and c) the legend only surfaced comparatively recently.

2Their website declares that the “The aim of the association is to resist, in the realm of ideas, the atheistic, liberal, and socialist trends of our times and proudly affirm the positive values of Christian Civilisation”.

3Not at all to be confused with the youthwork organisation NGO of the same name, nor the Catholic schools management trust, nor the very recent antifascist and anti-racist coalition, all of which have the same name.

4https://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/ucd-professor-dolores-cahill-moved-from-lecturer-role-1.4514141

5The National Party played it safe and held their event on the Hill of Tara where their Fuhrer, Justin Barret made a speech celebrating St. Patrick, ignoring the man’s origins, of course. The Irish Yellow Vests stayed home.

6Who operates far from his Co. Galway home and who last year attempted to strike a disabled woman counter-protester on the ground and spat at her

SOURCES:

Irish Times report: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/large-garda-presence-sustained-in-dublin-for-anti-lockdown-protests-1.4512885

The Journal report: https://www.thejournal.ie/gardai-arrests-protests-5384055-Mar2021/

The Indo report: https://www.independent.ie/news/21-arrests-during-mostly-peaceful-anti-lockdown-protests-40208402.html

Videos on Facebook:

Text and petition against Cahill’s anti-scientific claims while employed by UCD: https://www.change.org/p/students-dolores-cahill-is-an-anti-scientist-who-threatens-ucd-s-integrity-she-must-go?fbclid=IwAR2v2yjsPZABdvruCHD6qrTzJHqEMW7FKA5orKaBEC-0FKsL_psbGVzATb8

Allegation of a “St. Patrick’s Day” party at castle owned by Dolores Cahill: https://www.thejournal.ie/dolores-cahill-party-probe-castle-5386356-Mar2021/

EP REVIEW: SEAN TOBIN AND THE BOARDWALK FIRE- ‘St. Patrick’s Day Forever’ (2021)

Great upbeat number about a difficult time.

The following review is reprinted from https://londoncelticpunks.wordpress.com

Born and raised on the New Jersey shore, Sean Tobin was influenced by Folk-song troubadours like Guy Clark, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, as well as high-energy rockers like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger and Tom Petty. Self-taught and trained by the New Jersey bar scene, Tobin owes much to his time spent busking on the streets of Galway, Ireland throughout 2015 and 2017. After graduating college in 2017 and uncertain of which direction to take he undertook the El Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile trail through Spain, with his guitar tied to his pack. Upon completion, the future became obvious and on returning to New Jersey he worked hard to fund his music. He released his first album, This Midnight, in the summer of 2018, and in 2019 he played Frank Turner’s Lost Evenings III Festival at the House of Blues in Boston and soon after quit his day job.

In July 2019, Sean released ‘Dreams & Black Caffeine,’ a four-song EP recorded in Ocean, NJ with his band, The Boardwalk Fire. The group played several shows promoting the work, and had planned a tour for the summer of 2020, but were forced to cancel due to the Covid lockdown. The last year has seen the release of ‘East Coast Artifacts’, a compilation of his first EP, various tracks recorded through lockdown and three new songs.

“We’ve all played together as duos or trios in the past, but St. Patrick’s Day Forever really fortified us as a band,” said Tobin. “I just wish we could play live. That’s what we’re best at.”

Well he has a lot of catching up to do and on his new 4-track EP, accompanied by his band The Boardwalk Fire, he has made a pretty good start.

Released at the end of February, 2021 the EP features two originals and two covers and kicks off with the title track, a fast paced Irish trad influenced Celtic-Punk song about the lockdown and it’s first anniversary in New Jersey. It was after all the cancellations of St. Patrick’s Day events around the world that set the scene for what was going to follow. Lively, upbeat and catchy as hell Sean Tobin tells a great story with a brilliant accompanying video too!

It was winter 2020, we were playing on the roof, Jack was slapping stand-up to another song by Bruce. A mere twenty hours later, we heard it on the news: the Jersey Shore’s in lockdown, so stock up on your booze!*

Now it’s one, two, three fuckin’ months inside this house. There’s not too much I need, but I need fuckin’ out. So I make my way down Main Street, the flag’s on every door–it’s St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore, St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore.*

Not long later it was Easter, I was sippin’ on some stout. I’d horded fifty cases out of fear that they’d run out, but I couldn’t taste a drop ’cause I gave it up for Lent. So come Easter, fifty cases, up the field they went!*

Now it’s one, two, three fuckin’ months inside this house. There’s not too much I need, but I need fuckin’ out. So I make my way down Main Street, the flag’s on every door–it’s St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore, St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore.*

Murphy! Your laws are screwin’ me! But frankly, I don’t blame you. If it’s what we gotta do, to keep people from dyin’, then I’ll stay home for you. I just miss my friends…and the bar…*

So now it’s comin’ up on summer, and I’m still drinkin’ stout. I would be switchin’ to Corona, but I don’t think that’s allowed…So instead I’ve got a toucan on one can, three cans, five. If Guinness makes you stronger, I’m the strongest man alive!*

Now it’s one, two, three fuckin’ months inside this house.There’s not too much I need, but I need fuckin’ out. So I make my way down Main Street, the flag’s on every door–it’s St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore, St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore.

Now it’s one, two, three fuckin’ months inside this house.There’s not too much I need, but I need fuckin’ out. So I make my way down Main Street, the flag’s on every door–it’s St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore, St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore.*

The EP’s other original song is titled ‘Ode to Anna Liffey’s’ a bittersweet love song to the now closed Irish bar Anna Liffey’s in New Haven, Connecticut. As with all of Sean’s songs and in common with Irish music in general the songs tell intricate stories and at over six minutes the song gives him plenty of scope in telling his story of days spent propping up the bar there. A swirling gentle song with Sean’s strong voice backed by accordion and percussion that soon enough gets faster and faster with Sean’s guitar and Sean-David’s fiddle smoking! A real Irish tinged bluegrass/country floor filler that ends on a sad note (especially for us Irish!) with the last chorus going out to all the bars that are forced to close but “go down swinging”.

RUPTURE AND REVOLUTION – PART I

Environment and the National Question

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time main text: 8 mins.)

A new periodical has emerged from the Irish Left. At the time of writing two issues of Rupture have been produced and Parts I and II of this article consist of a political overview (but of course from my individual viewpoint) of a number of issues discussed in the magazine. While the assessment of some is highly critical, overall my opinion is that Rupture is a welcome introduction to socialist analysis of conditions in Ireland.

Rupture is a quarterly magazine format produced by RISE, a group of socialists whose most publicly-prominent individual is Paul Murphy (see Appendix) who is also a TD, i.e a member of the Parliament of the 26 Counties. The formation of the party RISE was announced in September 2019 when Murphy announced his departure from the Socialist Party and his joining this new organisation, of which he is a founding member.

Rupture espouses “eco-socialism”, a drive to organise the production of food and fuel under socialist control while dramatically reducing its harmful impact on the environment. Most of its contributors address issues from a Marxist perspective but interviews with activists from some other perspectives are included.

The magazine’s two issues to date included features on public health and private services, the environment and food production. In addition there have been a number of articles on developing a broad socialist front, combating racism and fascism, multi-national companies and neo-liberal capitalism, Big Pharm and trade union struggle. For the first time, the latest issue (November 2020) addressed the issue of the national question (and struggle) in Ireland. PART I of this article deals mostly with the magazine’s discussion of a) the Environment and b) the National Question, while PART II focuses on its coverage of c) the Health Service and d) the Broad Front and Anti-Fascism. As a consequence each Part contains both positive and negative evaluation.

For another aspect, the layout is generally attractive and mostly easy to read with photography and artwork which is interesting (if its relevance is not always clear). Some articles are perhaps on the longer side for some tastes but then these are big issues being discussed, in many cases literally of life-and/or-death dimensions.

An annual subscription costs €40 all Ireland or €60 international and I would recommend taking out one for 2021).

Environment

As with most serious commentators on the environment, the articles in Rupture point to an accelerating crisis and the need for urgent action right now. At the same time they point to the unwillingness or inability of the capitalist system – which means the governments of most states today — to take the necessary steps. In fact, unwillingness and inability are almost the same thing with the capitalist system because if one capitalist does not maximise his profit he will be undercut and crushed – or taken over – by another who will do “what is necessary” according to the rules and logic of the system. Even if in the longer term (or the medium term, in this case) the scramble for profit maximisation destroys the very resource — cod and herring, for example or rainforest. In this case, without the slightest exaggeration, it is the whole civilisation-sustaining environment that is at stake.

Not Fun Facts

“In 2017 a habitat area the size of a football field was lost every second.” “Eirgrid has projected that 2027 as much as 31% of Ireland’s electricty could by consumed by data centres” (most of it for cooling the servers to prevent them overheating). “In Ireland a fairly normal herd of pigs consists of 3,000 animals — only 2% of pigs are living in small herds of 5 or less. ….. a flock of chickens can normally be around 3,000.” Diseases due to overcrowding of animals enter the food chain for humans, causing infections of “bird ‘flu” and “swine ‘flu” through ‘zoonotic spillover’ (remember that term — you’ll be hearing more of it in future).

The prediction a fairly long time ago that the choice, rather than being between socialism or capitalism is in reality socialism or barbarism, is facing us now as an urgent practical question. Because when civilisation crashes the remaining groups of humanity around the world, assuming their survival, will indeed be thrust back into barbarism.

The contributors to Rupture quote writings of Karl Marx and Engels which one never hears from non-Marxist environmentalists and rarely either from Marxists themselves. These early developers of Marxist thought studied not only economics, class struggle and philosophy but also (and dare I say it, necessarily), history, science and culture too.

Mental health is an issue discussed in the magazine not only in respect to the appalling lack of health services in that area or the stresses and strains of work under capitalism but also in the divorcing of most humans in cities from nature. The agricultural landscape, having been moulded by humanity is far from natural and yet retains much of nature, the environment in which humanity first came to exist and in which it developed …. but most people in the West are not employed in agriculture. In these times of fear of infection along with isolation from our regular social contacts, even a walk in a park, in woods, on hills or botanic gardens can be rewarding and a reminder of what we have lost and are losing.

It is a challenge to radically change the way we produce food and generate power in a long-term sustainable way but only a socialist system, with overall benefit replacing profit as the ruling motivation has the possibility of bringing an end to the ruthless exploitation of not only labour but the very environment.

THE NATIONAL STRUGGLE

This is a question rarely dealt with by the socialist parties in Ireland, a situation which surprises revolutionary socialists across Latin America and much of Europe in particular. Some might ascribe that to the British origin of a number of those parties, particularly the main Trotskyist ones which in that respect established a tradition very far from the theory and personal practice of Karl Marx. So although I have much to disagree with in this article, the fact that it is being discussed at all should be encouraged.

I hope it will serve to encourage further discussion rather than its opposite when I summarise the piece as containing partial history and poor analysis with however one important recommendation. This critique really deserves a treatment all of its own but since this evaluation of the magazine has already got appreciably longer than was my original intent, I will have to be brief and therefore blunt.

The brief overview of history does not even mention that the United Irishmen (and therefore the uprisings of 1798 and 1803) was led almost exclusively by a section of the colonist-descended bourgeoisie, which is why the leadership was virtually all of various Protestant religious backgrounds. This is important because this is not the same bourgeoisie that rules the Irish state today. The article also omits any mention whatsoever of the linguistic genocidal legislation and practice of the conquerors of Ireland and for any treatment of “the national question” one would have to wonder how or why one would omit that. In dealing with the occupied Six Counties, the treatment of the civil rights movement is poor, even for a very brief overview – it was not only “anti-Unionist unity” that drove or characterised it but opposition to the violent response of the Unionist statelet, Loyalist mobs and paramilitaries and their resolute backing by the armed force of the British State.

Wolfe Tone Monument by Edward Delaney (d.2009) at Stephen’s Green (image sourced: Internet). He and other United Irishmen leaders represented the revolutionary national Protestant bourgeoise and they were descended from colonists.

The article remarks on the“weak capitalist class” in Ireland. But what is the nature of the weakness of this class? In other words, towards which forces are they weak? Not towards the working class, with programs of austerity funding bank bailouts, decades of emigration, slow adoption of equal social rights, high homelessness. Not towards the working class, with the Army used to undermine the Dublin Bus strikers in 1963 and 1979 or the restrictions on the right to strike and solidarity action. Not towards the Irish Republican movement with its Civil War history, special non-jury courts, its repressive legislation and armed police.

No, it is not those towards which the Irish capitalist class is weak. But it is weak in developing its own industry and developing an independent political line. Its weakness economically is marked by the takeover by big foreign capitalists of nearly all of its industry and telecommunications network, along with chunks of its transport infrastructure and services, its health services (private religious and foreign companies) and its national airline and large pieces of its agriculture. Its weakness is demonstrated in failure to develop its own natural resources and selling them off or giving them away.

The weakness of the Irish capitalist class is demonstrated in its firstly accepting the partition if its national territory and going to war with the independence movement rather than join it gaining total independence. The same weakness manifested itself in its inability to unite its territory and subsequently abandoning any claim to do so. The weakness of the Irish capitalist class is demonstrated in its permitting atrocities committed against its citizens at home and abroad by the occupying power, only once taking a case against it to the European Courts of Human Rights and never to the European Court of Justice or the United Nations. And it permitted without protest the intelligence services of that occupying power to bomb its capital city many times, including in 1974, with the murder of 26 people (and another eight in Monaghan). And there are many other examples too.

The article admits that the Irish capitalist class has been “acting to facilitate the exploitation of people and resources by foreign capital”. What would we call a capitalist class that behaved like that in Latin America, Asia or Africa? Yes, neo-colonial. Or in Latin America, possibly “comprador”. The difference is not just in location but in the minds of the Irish electoral Left – but none of any significance in the reality on the ground. As the contributor from Talamh Beo points out, “even though we’re geographically in Europe, our land history is radically different.” Of course defining the Irish capitalist class as neo-colonial might give one a very different outlook on the national struggle, right?

And also on socialist revolution, which we would understand to be opposed in Ireland not only by the majority native and the minority colonial capitalist classes and their apparatus, not only by our powerful imperialist neighbour, but also against economic interests in the imperialist USA and EU.

In addition, despite the officially neutral status of the Irish State, its armed forces are being integrated into the European imperialist military alliance. Ireland has not (yet) joined NATO but has the EU Battlegroups, as part of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) of the European Union (EU).

Fianna Fáil, although a split from Sinn Féin in the 1930s and therefore the losing side in the Civil War, has become the first party of choice of the Irish national bourgeoisie, the “Gombeen” class, a neo-colonial capitalist class. In the historically two-party state, it is currently in power in coalition with its main rival, Fine Gael (and the Greens).
Fine Gael, although formed from the victorious side in the Civil War, has become only the second party of choice of the Irish national bourgeoisie, the “Gombeen” class, a neo-colonial capitalist class. In the historically two-party state, it is currently in power in coalition with its main rival, Fianna Fáil (and the Greens).
Ireland’s main social-democratic party, whenever in Government it has always been as a minor partner in coalition. It always supports the Irish national bourgeoisie, the “Gombeen” neo-colonial capitalist class. It is currently sits on the Opposition bench.

The truth is that in the above respects, Irish Republicans in general have a much better understanding of the Irish State, the representative of that neo-colonial capitalist class, than do the electoral left parties in Ireland. The Republicans have traditions and history and recurring practical experience that teaches them.

The Green Party of Ireland, whenever in Government it has always been as a minor partner in coalition. It always supports the Irish national bourgeoisie, the “Gombeen” neo-colonial capitalist class. In the historically two-party state, it is currently in power in coalition with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

The electoral socialist Left, far from joining with the Republicans, chooses instead to snipe at them on occasion and to ignore them the rest of the time. And to permit their civil liberties and human rights to be attacked for the most part without protest.

POSITIVE RECOMMENDATION

The positive recommendation in the article regards the projected Border Poll. While not wishing for any kind of capitalist Ireland, whether partitioned or united, the article recommends voting YES in any such referendum. I myself must agree with that and along with them find it difficult to imagine how any socialists could advocate any other position.

Recommending a NO vote even if for the best of reasons would isolate any party from the majority of the Irish people, while recommending abstention would leave the party on the sidelines not only regarding the poll but in important debates about what kind of Ireland we should have. Even the British & Irish Communist Organisation deviation of the 1960s and 1970s with their two-nation theory, although it generated much discussion, never looked likely to grow to any size, much less become a mass party of the Left.

I am far from convinced however that a genuine poll on the reunification of Ireland will ever be agreed by the ruling classes of the UK and of Ireland or, should it be held and have a majority for reunification, that the ruling classes will implement the verdict.

End.

(See also Part II published separately)

APPENDIX

A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO PAUL MURPHY (RISE)

Formerly an activist and TD of the Irish Socialist Party, an Irish child of the British Trotskyist organisation the Socialist Party (and formerly, Militant, the largest among a number of entrist groups into the British Labour Party), Murphy left them gently in September 2019 to form the RISE group. It may be remembered that Clare Daly, also a TD, left the SP in August 2012 in a somewhat more acrimonious dispute and became part of Independent Left with some other socialist TDs and municipal councillors, since when she and her partner Mick Wallace were elected Members of the European Parliament and virtually disappeared from the Irish political scene (to be missed by many without allegiance to either group). Paul Murphy has also been an MEP in the past, from 2011-2014. Although now a member of a different political party, he has remained in the Solidarity-People Before Profit coalition of SP and PBP which retains another five TDs (four essentially of the Socialist Workers’ Party but no longer any of the SP).

Murphy has a long record of activism and has been violently handled by the Gardaí (Irish state police force) on a number of occasions and also arrested as part of the celebrated Jobstown case defendants in 2015 (all acquitted two years later). His international activism includes participation in the Gaza blockade flotilla in 2011 and high seas capture by the Israeli Zionist state, detention and deportation. His production of regular video broadcasts to date during the Covid19 crisis, both from home and of his interventions in the Dáil have included lashing the Government on placing accommodation of capitalism above the lives or ordinary people, denouncing its “yo-yo policy” of precautionary restrictions followed by much-too-early relaxation and also demanding the nationalisation of private health facilities.

“DON’T CLAP FOR US”

(PLEA FROM A HEALTH WORKER)

Don’t clap for us

None of us heroes, or don’t you see

A rampant infection, as vile as can be

A clap from your door, won’t be enough

As we fight for survival, it’s brutal and tough

Explain to the patient, gasping for air

They hear your clapping, while alone in despair

To the nurse who’s exhausted, stressed and so scared

As they grieved for a colleague, and yet still they cared.

(Image sourced: Internet)

What good is your clapping, or ringing your bell

When all around us, is Lucifer’s hell?

Close up your doorways, stay safe inside

Choke this oblivion, force it to hide

No time for mixing, do the right thing

Hope for salvation, the vaccine might bring

Until this horizon comes into view

The change that can happen, is all down to you

The time to say thank you, will be at the end

When together we fought this, and broke this trend.

(Image sourced: Internet)

The tunnel light flickers, we can see it in sight

But now it’s not daylight, it’s still a dark night

Help us to help you, with rules to obey

Hope for a future, when this goes away

This is a journey, we all must take

Don’t listen to theories, who say it’s all fake

Look into my tears, the fear I can’t hide

Every day a tsunami, that will not subside

I thank you for reading, please keep safe and well

Please do the right thing, I beg you all to compel.

Written by Mark Dawn 6th January 2021

(Image sourced: Internet)

FURTHER READING:

https://www.psypost.org/2020/04/frontline-covid-19-healthcare-workers-suffer-increased-risk-of-depression-anxiety-and-insomnia-56449

Childcare needed for healthcare workers as usual one shut down: https://www.inmo.ie/Home/Index/217/13576

What Nurses and GPs face and how they feel: https://www.thejournal.ie/healthcare-workers-experiences-covid-19-5316572-Jan2021/

Dear Mr. Tony Holohan

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 1 min.)

Dear Mr. Tony Holohan, We write to congratulate you on being voted Man of the Year for 2020 in the Today FM poll this month1. It must have come as a pleasant surprise to you – it certainly surprised us. We couldn’t have expected the Irish public would forget that embarrassing debacle with the cervical cancer checks.

People might think it reasonable to send the test results off to the USA for screening but, when it turned out that many of those “all clear” results were in error and that some who who later learned of the error were too late for treatment and going die …. you couldn’t hope they would forgive you for trying to keep a lid on the news or for declining to create an urgent response. Well, of course, some of those who wouldn’t be likely to forgive you aren’t with us any more …. but surely so many others would remember? Well thank God for short memories, you must’ve thought!2

Mr. Tony Holohan in a sombre moment. (Image sourced: Internet)

Still, that was news in 2018 and your award was for this year. What is more surprising is that they forgot that when the HSE first became officially aware of the pandemic in February this year, as Chief Medical Officer, you did not advise the Government to close the ports. Or even to isolate those returning from watching the rugby in Italy, where the pandemic was raging. Well, we can’t have the flow of capital interrupted, can we?

We wonder too how it slipped the mind of so many that you did not advise the Government to order precautionary arrangements and protective measures in essential services, so that An Post workers had to strike for such provision and shops and supermarkets only put them in place slowly, piecemeal. We’re sure your thinking was that those who are making money out of such establishments are the best placed to decide what is needed and when – even if they won’t actually be working at the danger point.

Then there was the advice to lockdown, relax, lockdown, relax, lockdown again …. what one know-it all TD called “the yo-yo policy” as reducing rates of contagion recovered and shot up again, etc.

More surprising still — and must have been more than you dared hope — was that people who are nearly unanimously and everywhere now wearing masks, apparently forgot that back in the early days you declared in public that wearing masks was of no help at all in reducing the spread of the virus.

We thought your humble acknowledgement of the award was excellent and especially that you refrained from one of those insincere responses one often hears like: “I feel I don’t really deserve this award.”

Sincerely,

End.

FOOTNOTES:

1https://www.buzz.ie/entertainment/tony-holohan-named-man-of-the-year-in-today-fm-end-of-year-poll-407121

2https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CervicalCheck_cancer_scandal

JARDUN MANIFESTO OF AIMS

Translation by D.Breatnach

(Reading time:  5 mins)

The construction of an Independent and Socialist State that integrates Araba, Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, Lapurdi, Nafarroa Behera, Nafarroa Garaia and Zuberoa.

(On the 18th I reported on the launch of the Basque organisation Jardun, a coordinating body seeking to unite Basque left-national organisations and collectives in a revolutionary movement.  Since then they have published a fuller manifesto of their aims, here translated from the Castillian version.)

The construction of a society based on the power of the Basque working class, on overcoming the class struggle and on the socialization of the means of production.

Overcoming all oppression against working women.

Reunification of Euskal Herria.

Remaking Euskal Herria Basque-speaking.

Map showing the seven provinces of the Basque Country — the three northern ones are currently ruled by the French State, the others by the Spanish State.
(Source image: Internet)

The new alternative of the Basque Working People is a pro-independence and socialist political project whose ideological principles have six main points:

Independence.

Socialism.

Internationalism.

Class feminism.

Amnesty.

Environmentalism.

Independence.
The national question is framed within the various oppressions suffered by the Basque Working People, oppression that in the opinion of this coordinating organisation can only be overcome through independence. In other words, when we speak of self-determination, we are referring to the undeniable right of the Basque Working People to separate from the states that oppress them and to undertake a process of building an independent and socialist state.

Socialism.
Before talking about socialism, it is convenient to specify what we mean when we speak of the Basque Working People. The Basque Working People is made up of everyone who lives and sells their labour power in Euskal Herria. Every worker within the Basque Working People, from the moment they suffer exploitation and oppression, that is, from the moment they suffer the blow of capital in a crude way in their day to day life, has the potential to organize the revolution. Therefore, when we speak of socialism, we refer to overcoming the class oppression suffered by the Basque Working People, on the way to creating a classless society.

Internationalism.
We must understand that the Basque Working People cannot undertake the fight against capital alone. It is necessary to maintain contact with the different oppressed peoples and to accept mutual aid. Even so, JARDUN will always set down an unpassable red line, that the national framework of the Basque working people can never be doubted. (Translator’s note: I was unsure about what exactly was meant by this sentence but one Jardun’s supporters told me it means that any struggle expecting solidarity from Jardun must accept the Basque people as a nation).

Class feminism.
It is necessary to overcome the sex-gender dichotomy and the reproductive role that capital imposes on working women, in order to overcome the oppression suffered by working women and the structural reasons that originate it.

“Freedom for political prisoners; Jail for those who oppress the people.”
Cartoon poster from Chile but which summarises the Jardun position.
(Image sourced: Internet)

Amnesty.
Amnesty is a strategic term that, going beyond confining itself to the freedom of all those fighters who have worked for the freedom of Euskal Herria, implies political recognition in the eyes of working people of the struggle they have carried out and placing at the disposal of popular justice those who have systematically oppressed them.

Environmentalism.
Within the current capitalist production model, the environment suffers from overexploitation, responding to the logic of obtaining the highest possible economic performance, generating more waste than can be managed and creating a degradation that in many cases puts living conditions at risk. That is why the environmental struggle can only be approached from a root change in the production processes.

Photo taken during the Albertia battle commemoration and launch of Jardun earlier this month.
(Photo source: Jardun)

The six points outlined above that define the ideology of JARDUN cannot be understood or addressed in an isolated way, since if their achievement does not go hand in hand with the others, the only thing that we will achieve will be to perpetuate the oppression suffered by the Basque Working People. In the same way, only by addressing these points from a class point of view will the workers of Euskal Herria be able to obtain control of the productive processes and political power, neutralizing the bourgeoisie.

Although the Basque Working People have the potential to carry out the revolution, only by acquiring awareness of their situation and organizing themselves in pursuit of national and social liberation can they begin the revolutionary process, forming the Basque Revolutionary Proletariat. JARDUN needs to be the organizational space of the Basque Revolutionary Proletariat. At the same time, the working people at an organic level should be composed of different sectoral organizations working under the same strategic objectives, for the construction of an independent and socialist Euskal Herria.

In the same way that our predecessors faced the oppression that this people has suffered and fought against fascism in Albertia, today, it is up to us to confront the oppression that working people suffer and for that, unity is necessary, it is necessary join forces. It is time to start joining forces. It is time to start adding forces. It is necessary to get together with different groups in Euskal Herria and defend a common project. It is necessary for different groups to join JARDUN, so that each one from their own fighting trenches can contribute what they can, with a firm commitment, and thus respond as a people, as a working people to capital. Since we are very clear about the way forward and what strategy has to be carried out. And let there be no doubt that we will continue working in that direction. For those who have given their lives, for Euskal Herria and for the workers of Euskal Herria.

Gora Euskal Herria askatuta!

Inependentzia eta sozialismoa!

Albertia, 2020ko abuztuaren 15

Reference:

http://www.euskoekintza.eu/presentacion-de-jardun-coordinadora-de-izquierda-independentista-en-el-albertia-eguna-2020/#more-2164

 

COLONISERS AND INNOVATORS PART II

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 5 mins)

In Part I, we remarked that “Plants are pioneers, colonisers, innovators and builders at least comparable to the animal kingdom, to which they are related and …. with a superior record.” We followed their emergence from the waters and their colonising of land, along with various strategies they developed for their new environment. Now we watch them constructing their very own environments and adapting to some of the most challenging climes of the earth.

ENVIRONMENT-BUILDERS

          Most plants have leaves, which is where the photosynthesis takes place; they are in fact sunlight collectors and the plants deploy them to best effect to catch the available sun. Quite a late development, they were flanges on the stems first before becoming appendages further out of the plant’s main body. Most leaves are intricately veined and contain many different layers and parts and although it is within them that photosynthesis takes place, strangely they are mostly short-lived and in cold seasons, even in perennial plants, all but the conifers let them fall.

The greater the volume of material created by plants, the more there was to decompose with their deaths or seasonal decline. Bacteria, already long existent on the planet, evolved to feed on this detritus and break it down into soil, which the same plants or others could turn to their advantage as a medium in which to anchor but also from which to draw nutrients. Other organisms evolved to live on and break down cellulose too, the main building material of plants: fungi, gastropods like snails and slugs, woodlice, termites …..

The plants, with the help of bacteria and other organisms, were creating the environment below them!

But they were and are doing more than that: they are also creating an environment immediately around them. The most concentrated examples are perhaps rain forests, tropical, temperate or cold-climate, retaining a surrounding moisture-laden air, in which not only the local tree species thrive but also providing ideal environments for ferns, algae, orchids and epiphytes and, of course, mosses.

Inside a tropical rainforest.
(Photo source: Internet)

Temperate Rainforest — parts of the Wicklow hills and valleys would almost qualify.
(Photo source: Wikipeda)

Away from forests, sphagnum moss creates a mini-atmosphere around itself and as generations die, their bodies create a spongy moisture-laden medium. This bog is quite capable of existing on an incline, with much of the water being retained by the vegetation and ‘soil’, as may be seen in a number of examples in Ireland, such as parts of the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains.

Close-up of sphagnum moss, creator of its own environment and changer of landscape.
(Photo source: Internet)

 

Plants, especially trees, discharge oxygen into the air and consume carbon dioxide during the daytime, for which reason they are sometimes called “the lungs of the world”. They have not only created an environment for themselves, below, around and above but also for so many other life-forms – including ourselves.

LEARNING TO LIVE IN DIFFERENT CLIMES

          Creating one’s climate isn’t always possible and, when it’s not, adaptation is the other option. Plants that adapted to grow in arid areas developed fleshy ‘leaves’ and often stalks, in which to store water and also sometimes long tap roots to find that water. But extensive shallow root networks are good too, to collect the occasional rain water that is quickly absorbed into the soil or otherwise evaporates. The “pores” on leaves through which plants absorb carbon dioxide and allow the gas-exchange necessary for photosynthesis (stomates) also permit evaporation of water, hence many dry-condition plants have fewer of them. Some only open to collect carbon dioxide in the cool of the night and store it for use on the following day. Plants grow trichomes, tiny bristles, underneath their leaves but some arid-dwellers grow them also on top of their leaves; these ‘trap’ a layer of air that prevents or slows evaporation.

Arid-adapted plants, SW USA (Photo source: Internet)

In very wet areas, plants learned to remain active by a number of strategies. Of course they originally came from aquatic environments but for some of them, returning there again after adapting to dry land, produced challenges (think of the changes necessary for land mammals to evolve into seals, otters, dolphins and whales). Nevertheless we have lillies growing in shallow water with wide floating leaves, reeds with upright blade-like leaves growing inside the water margins, thin spears of rushes in damp and water-logged land. That too is the preferred environment of some other plants and grasses, including the rice plant. And of the willows, alders and hazels growing on the banks and stabilising them. In the tropics and semi-tropics, mangroves do a similar job to willows but on a much grander scale – and they tolerate seawater too.

Reeds and two different species of willow on the Royal Canal, Dublin. (Photo source: D.Breatnach)

The alder, a tree with a high toleration of water around its roots, is thought to have been the major post-glacial coloniser of Ireland, following the retreating ice across the land. It is the only native tree which though not an evergreen produces cones, an indication of its early adaptation to cold climate. Cones, when closed, protect the seeds inside against continual freezing and thawing and, when the cones begin to dry and automatically open in spring and summer, allow the seeds inside to drop out to the ground, to be carried by river or on the wind. A closed cone collected and brought home will open as it dries; shake it then and the seeds will fall out. Alder timber, incidentally, remains waterproof for centuries, witness the wooden piles in Venice.

Close view of alder cones and leaves from tree on the Royal Canal, Dublin north city centre. (Photo source: D.Breatnach)

Adapting to cold seasons required protective materials, structures and timing. The deciduous trees (and it is worth noting that many trees have both a deciduous and an evergreen version for different climes) shed their leaves and close down for the winter, the sap retreating down to the roots. Were the sap to remain in the exposed branches it would freeze, expand and destroy them. The leaves drop because they no longer receive anything from the tree; it is going into a kind of hibernation, in preparation for the coming winter.

Many of the conifers have downward-sloping branches, to allow most of the snow to slide off, rather than break the branches with its weight. People who live in areas with heavy snowfall also tend to live under sharply sloping roofs. The “leaves” of the conifers are small, narrow and hard so that most snow falls through them and are also covered in a waxy polymer to withstand freezing. The plant cells can be emptied of water to prevent freezing but a dense waxy residue keeps them open for refilling. So, of course, they have to be tolerant of dehydration. Concentration of sugars also lowers the freezing point and small flexible conduits for water resist the formation of large ice bubbles that can burst those “pipes”.

The “needles” on pine twigs. (Photo sourced: Internet)

The downward direction of the branches of many conifers ensures slide off by snow when it reaches a certain weight — but long before the branch might break. (Photo source: Internet)

Red and white spruce in snow. Though the branches incline slightly upward, they are very flexible and will bend and dislodge the snow overlaying them long before the branch is in danger of snapping.
(Photo source: Internet)

THE YOUNG TAKE TO THE WATER AND THE AIR

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 3 minutes)

Some young take to the water, others to the air …..

          The last weeks of May and first half of June saw the young of many species take to air or water. On my walks in the Drumcondra area of Dublin where I live, although Glasnevin Cemetery and the Botanic Gardens were unreasonably closed (the Botanic is now open but on restricted hours, again unreasonably), the banks of the Tolka river in Griffith Park and the banks of the Royal Canal were open to the public.

A pair of mute swans (ealaí) nested on the stretch of Royal Canal east of Cross Guns Bridge but quite near to it. Well, the female, the pen, at least did, while the cob (male) was usually swimming nearby. So how did the pen feed during the long hatching period? Unlike some bird species, this male does not feed the broody female. Well, the male may take a turn, spelling her to go off and feed herself and difficult to know when that happens, as both genders look so much alike. Fumbling with my phone once I failed to catch a photo of the large grey eggs beneath the shifting body of the sitting bird – three, an East Asian woman told me, using her fingers. Later, I saw both parents with just one cygnet – whether some of the eggs were infertile or two of its siblings died I don’t know.

Mute Swan cygnet in ‘duvet’ on land
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Mute Swan parents and lone cygnet, Royal Canal, Glasnevin.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Predators can take cygnets but the parents are very good at protecting them and eggs in the nest will not be left untended until the cygnets are hatched – and then it’s straight into the water. When not swimming itself, the cygnet climbs on to a swimming parent’s back and sits there surrounded by a natural feather duvet. From then on, the nest is not needed except perhaps in stormy weather.

A few days later I was fortunate to see another pair of mute swans on the Tolka in Griffith Park, these with no less than seven cygnets! Their parents took them upstream, the cygnets swimming easily, even under the branches of a fallen tree-trunk. Until they came to a mini-weir which the parents simply walked over but their offspring were too small to do that. However, they maintained position for quite a while swimming against the mini-waterfall, their parents seemingly unable to understand why their young could not follow them and, eventually, having to turn back to them. Many mammals, confronted with a similar problem, would simply pick its young in its mouth and carry them over the obstacle and then go back for the rest. A small crowd of Homo Sapiens mammals gathered to watch the proceedings with interest and delight.

Some of the mute swan brood following their parent upriver on the Tolka.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Can we go under this obstacle?
(Photo: D.Breatnach

Yes, we CAN go under that obstacle!
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Why aren’t you coming?
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Also out with their young were mallards (Lachain), the ducks and drakes (bardaill). Some had hatched their young as far back as April but most seemed to be doing so at this time period and then it’s straight into the water. I remember witnessing the unpleasant scene of a duck with a clutch of tiny ducklings on the Tolka being harassed by a couple of drakes, one in particular trying to mate with her, she quacking that she wanted no part of it. Contrary to comment by some writers, rape is not unknown in the animal world and though in most species it is rare, mallard drakes are known for it.

Delightful it was however on another day to see a newly-hatched clutch of ducklings zooming around on the water, in their fluffy chocolate brown-and-yellow down looking like aquatic bumblebees, both parents close by.

Duck and very young ducklings, Tolka, Griffith Park.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Walking past the high waterside vegetation of the canal one day I heard a kind of cheeping which I guessed to be the chicks of a moorhen (Cearc Uisce). These waterfowl are very shy and careful too not to reveal their nest locations which are constructed in waterside vegetation only inches above the water level and sometimes actually afloat on a kind of raft. Though egg-laying is in March-April and they will not fledge until about 50 days later, we should be seeing the chicks with their parents already. So where are they?

Moorhen, Royal Canal, Phibsboro, not hanging around to be photographed.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Grey herons (Corr Ghlas) fish the Tolka and the Royal but their nests are nowhere there. They prefer to nest in trees, somewhat incongrously for birds with such long legs. I have never seen their nests in Ireland myself, though I read that a colony is to be found in St. Anne’s Park, in County Dublin. Grey herons take turns on the nest and also in feeding their young – which require a lot of fish and frogs. They would take a duckling or cygnet too, given the chance …. Which is why herons often get mobbed by other birds. In Drumcondra I watched one on house rooftop being dived at by seagulls, no angels themselves but they have nests of their own in higher rooftops nearby.

Grey Heron, Royal Canal, Glasnevin.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

And one day, a Little Egret (Éigrit Beag) spent a little while looking for fish in the Tolka before departing. It’s a relatively new settler in Ireland but no longer rare along the east coast.

Not so much “taking to the water” as already in it are the tiny young of the three-spined stickleback (Garmachán), hatched out in underwater nests cared for only by the male. I have seen shoals of the fry of larger fish in the Tolka too, once heading downriver through the Botanic Gardens; what species they were I don’t know but a large stock of brown trout (Breac Donn/ Rua) lives in the river. Many sprats are at this moment concentrated in different parts of the Tolka.

However, on a number of occasions large numbers of fish have been killed by pollutants in the water. A few years ago it was reported that salmon (Bradán) had been seen making their way upriver and this year I saw some myself in the Tolka. These spawn in freshwater and after a few years their young make their way to the sea, the survivors returning years later to spawn in the river again. If the young are killed before making it into the sea obviously they won’t coming back to spawn in a few years’ time so a fishkill incident in one week can wipe out a species in the river for a number of years. I photographed the sprats of some species of fish a few weeks ago in the Tolka and again this week while walking through Griffith Park (I, not the fish).

Sprats, young of some fish species, Tolka, Griffith Park, 25 June 2020. Difficult to photograph with mobile phone even through not much more than a foot of water. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Among the young taking to the air now are those of the magpie (Snag Breac) and the distinctive and irritating high-pitched calls of the juveniles can be heard just about everywhere, usually from above in the trees. The call is “feed me” and is designed to be difficult to ignore. However, they need to learn not only to fly but to find their own food, so the parents will feed them only on occasion. This corvid is apparently an invader recorded arriving in Wexford in 1676, over two decades after that other invader, Oliver Cromwell. It has settled in well but is recognised as a predator by songbirds and sometimes attacked by them; on the other hand the magpies themselves will gang up on seagulls, hooded crows and cats, when they will give a frequent rattling kind of call.

The juveniles who are calling to be fed were in the egg for 20 days and fledging for nearly a month, which means the eggs were laid in April. The nests are large, a mass of twigs and can be seen in trees all over Dublin.

Some of the cottonwood seed-carrying medium on the banks of the Tolka, Griffith Park, end of May.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Bullrushes, Royal Canal, Drumcondra, shedding some cotton but not where the main cotton fall is coming from.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Bedstraw, perhaps, flowers mostly gone to seed.
Royal Canal, Drumcondra; Yellow Flag Iris nearby.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The young of plants have taken to air too and along the banks of both the Royal Canal and the Tolka the flowers have died and are turning to see-capsules or to pods, while other species are bursting into flower.

Some days the ground was covered in drifts of a kind of cotton and I assumed this was seed-carrying material. But from what? Along the Royal I might suspect the bullrush or reed-mace, with tattered tufts of cotton around the mace “head” …. or perhaps the pussy willow … but surely not in these quantities? However, in Griffith Park clumps of it were drifting across my path and I remembered reading about “cottonwood trees” in stories set in the “Wild West”. Yes, three species of cottonwood are part of the larger poplar family and have been around for 55 million years in North America, Eurasia and Asia and although not native they do grow in Ireland. And poplar-type trees have been planted along stretches of the Royal but in particular in Griffith Park, recognisable by their somewhat rounded leaves and the compact upright growth of their branches, so perhaps they are the source of the cotton? Their name in Irish is Poibleog Mheiriceá Thuaidh, translating as “North American Poplar”; that’s a bit of a long one and if they become more popular (forgive the pun) we might have to start calling them ‘Crann Chadáis’ (Cotton Tree).

But it wasn’t them either.  The culprit was, after all, the willow (Sail) tree; but not the pussy or weeping willow, but the giant willows.

End (A Chríoch)

EXPLORERS, COLONISTS AND INNOVATORS Part 1

Part I: Expedition to the Unknown

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 5 mins)

When plants first “crept” out of the sea and freshwater on to land, it was a perilous undertaking. The shore and in particular the sea shore is a very hostile environment, subject to battering and scouring action of wave, wind and wind-driven sand, alternating between inundation and desiccation and even both in the same day. Those early plants were not just explorers but colonisers and innovators; many died but those that survived changed the world, its very earth and atmosphere.

          There are about 320,000 known species of plants, a total that does not include most hybrids, sub-species or selectively-bred varieties. Botanists exclude from the term “plants” some of the green and all of the brown sea algae as well as the fungi and bacteria. The vast majority of plants are coloured some variety of green because of the action of photosynthesis inside them, which attracts the blue and red ends of the light spectrum but does not absorb green, which is why we see them in that colour. Some 260,000 to 290,000 species produce seeds but algae does not. Mosses and ferns, which are plants, produce spores instead, in common with fungi (which however are not plants).

We study life to place it in an order, to simplify understanding but life diversifies into a huge array.

Plants are pioneers, colonisers, innovators and builders at least comparable to the animal kingdom, to which they are related and, I would argue, with a superior record.

LAND HO!  

          Plants first “crept” out of the sea and freshwater during the Ordovician period, around 470 million years ago; they were probably non-vascular (without “veins”) and without roots, like mosses and liverworts. It was a perilous undertaking. The shore and in particular the sea shore is a very hostile environment, subject to battering and scouring action of wave, wind and wind-driven sand, alternating between inundation and desiccation and even both in the same day. Plants on land carry the genes of the early explorers, pioneers, survivors – high in endurance, adaptability and innovation.

Rootless and low-growing, Irish liverworts and moss.
(Photo: irishwildflowers.ie)

But why abandon the seas, lakes and rivers in the first place? Presumably there is always a pressure in nature to explore niches and new territory, thereby escaping pressures of population, predation, competition and consumption of available nutrition … And while some life-forms specialise in particular environments and nature also pressures in that direction, ultimately that is a highly dangerous strategy, general adaptability to food sources and environments being the best bets for long-term survival and multiplying – as shown by homo sapiens, for example.

First ashore, establishing a literal (and littoral :-)) beachhead, might have been a kind of algal slime. Perhaps it survived only while wet, died, was replaced by other migrants …. but probably at some point some carried survival pockets within them, able to regenerate when moistened anew. Or it might have been some moss or liverwort, later a branched and trailing plant but dealing with the same problems and developing a similar strategy for survival.

We can imagine a conversation, in which one plant organism on the shore questions another:

It gets so dry here I feel I am going to wither and blow away.”

Just hang on there. We’ll get rain soon. And there’s always dew at night.”

I can hardly wait. Remind me why we didn’t stay where were were, with all that lovely moisture.”

Getting eaten by other life-forms. Competition for light.”

Oh, yeah. Sometimes I forget.”

Established seashore plants and lichen on the Saltee Islands, Co. Wexford.
(Photo: outsider.ie)

REACHING DOWN, STANDING UP

          In lakes, plants could simply float upright in the water reaching towards the light (and avoiding being covered in sand or silt) as many water plants do today, or on the surface, as algal mats and bloom do, or for example the various types of “duckweed” that not only float but multiply to cover the whole pond surface. In the sea and in fast-flowing rivers however, fixed plants needed to grasp surfaces and developed means of doing so; but these were not roots as such – more like anchors. Later, as they colonised the land, most plants did indeed develop roots not only to anchor themselves in the ground or to cling to difficult surfaces but also to bring up water, the tap roots for this purpose often going quite deep. Roots also brought up nutrients.

The roots also made it possible to cling to inhospitable surfaces, including even the perpendicular or overhanging and also to exploit cracks and fissures by tunneling into them. In the course of this activity, plants changed their immediate physical environment, by helping to break down stone and also by trapping material blowing in the wind.

But why set up home clinging to a cliff or today, a wall or a chimney stack? Well, plenty of sunshine, for one thing, no competition for another! Of course, not much soil there or even none at all for nutrition – but still, most things in life are a trade-off, right?

How did the seeds get up there in the first place? Wind … or birdshit.

Buddlieia bush clinging to a wall in Dublin (Photo source: D.Breatnach)

Of course, some of the colonisers developed other ways to cling to surfaces, as was the case with the mosses, lichens and liverworts. And they also trapped material and contributed their own to it as they died, regenerated, died …. But without roots that only works when you keep low and hug the ground. If you want to grow tall to reach for sunlight and if you want to exploit soil, you need roots.

Plants at first fed almost exclusively on sunlight it seems, broken down into sugars by chlorophyll in photosynthesis. But those that developed roots also, probably as anchors to prevent themselves being blown or washed away, or to help them grow tall and compete with other plants to catch the sun, learned to draw up water and to feed on nutrients in the soil – phosphates, nitrogen, potassium etc. Some, like the legumes, beans, peas and gorse for example, even learned to extract one of the gases that make up air, nitrogen and, with the help of a bacteria, to fix and store nodes of it around their roots.

Once you have roots, why not grow stems, branches, trunks, whereby you can reach higher and higher, for more unimpeded sunlight and outpacing the competition perhaps. Your building material will need to be tougher, especially for trees, bushes and shrubs, to bear the weight, withstand the winds …. but flexible enough to stretch as you grow and also bow to high wind. Having the ideal material already in cellulose, all that is necessary is some kind of hardening process. A plant might explain to puzzled humans: “Think of keratin and how the same basic substance has been used to make stuff as varied as feathers, fur, human hair and beetle carapaces.”

If you were a plant that had learned to spread fast over distances to catch the sun, covering ground and clambering over obstacles, you might find one day that there is another way to reach towards the sun – climb up the plants that are already up there! Don’t invest in slow build-up and hardening of cellulose – go for fast growth and gripping or winding ability instead, or turn some of your leaves into grasping tendrils. Some climbers such as lianas in the tropics and ivy and honeysuckle in Ireland, are perpetual climbers, remaining in position throughout the year (although the honeysuckle will lose most of its leaves in the Autumn) and extending during the growing seasons. Others climb only in the Spring and Summer and die afterwards, for example bindweed and runner-beans.

Cultivated climbing plants, runner beans, winding around canes in a “teepee” frame.
(Photo source: Internet)

end.

Ivy making its way up a tree trunk.
(Photo source: Internet)

BACK TO WORK AND CONTAGION?

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time text: 10 mins)

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?

Conductor on Seattle trolley-bus, USA, masked against Spanish ‘Flu 1918.
(Image sourced: Internet)

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

Germany experienced a rise in numbers infected after relaxation of lockdown.
(Image sourced: Internet)

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!

Industrial workers masked against the Spanish ‘Flu pandemic in Britain 1918.
(Image sourced: Internet)

“FALSE CONFIDENCE”

          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

New York street cleaner masked against Spanish ‘Flu infection, 1918.
(Photo sourced: Internet)

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?

People wearing masks and “Wear a mask or go to jail” placard, 1918, during Spanish ‘Flu pandemic, probably USA.
(Image sourced: Internet)

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.11 But 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.

Customers in a supermarket (none seem to be taking any precautions other than perhaps social distancing). (Photo source: Internet)

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.

Masked Clerical Female Workers during Spanish ‘Flu pandemic 1918, probably USA.
(Image sourced: Internet)

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”?

end.

FOOTNOTES

2I use the term here to mean the whole of the State’s territory, well aware that a true national perspective would include not just the 26 Counties but also the Six County British colony.

9Remember how the smear tests samples for cervical cancer were also sent away for testing somewhere else?

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.

14And failed significantly even in ensuring protection of workers from infection during the pandemic so far.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER INFORMATION

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/28/germans-urged-to-stay-home-amid-covid-19-infection-rate-fears?

https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-cases-in-germany-rise-after-lockdown-restrictions-end-2020-5?r=US&IR=T

Click to access hsa_stats_report_2019.pdf