For a group that first came into public view on May 1st with an occupation of a building empty for two years, the Revolutionary Housing League has certainly been busy. At least two further acquisitions1 have followed since.
In addition, a hundred police with vehicles and helicopter have been videoed in one eviction of two activists; four activists have appeared defiantly in court in different cases and the High Court has granted injunction to companies against activists.
As I write this another eviction is being planned, resistance is being organised and further repression through courts and jail seem certain. The RHL are fighting the system, fighting a fundamental social wrong acknowledged by almost everyone.
SHORT HISTORY OF THE REVOLUTIONARY HOUSING LEAGUE
In 1st May 2022 activists acquired Lefroy House on Dublin’s Eden Quay, formerly used by the religious-based NGO, the Salvation Army to provide night-beds for young homeless people but empty for two years. The activists renamed the building Connolly2 House.
At that time the occupiers were calling themselves the Revolutionary Workers’ Union though their council subsequently formed the Revolutionary Housing League.
The Salvation Army took the occupants to court, claiming the SA had been renovating the house in order to accommodate Ukrainian refugees. Despite the absence of evidence of any renovation work and the presence of a leaky roof (fixed by the activists!), the court granted the injunction.
The occupiers called for a rally against eviction on 2nd June and a large crowd of people of various political backgrounds, organisations and independents, arrived to support but of course, the eviction forces could wait and choose their time.
On June 9th at 5.45 a.m early passers-by were amazed to see 100 Gardaí3 with a number of vehicles, supported by a helicopter, including armed police4, assault the building to take posession of it for the SA and to arrest two activist occupants. A video of the event taken by a passer-by went viral.
The RHL had acquired another site5, this one having been a building for homeless people of the municipality, Dublin City Council, but also empty for a long period. On June 10th Gardaí arrested two activists near the building and they too are being processed by the courts.
After that, the RHL occupied a large warehouse-type building on the very north bank of the Liffey by Sean Heuston Bridge which they named, naturally enough, Ionad6 Seán Heuston. They opened it as emergency accommodation and held talks and discussions within it.
Employees of Pinnacle Security company with bolt-cutters entered the site on 3rd September but failed to evict residents and on the 5th September RHL activists picketed the company which, as a consequence, withdrew from acting as security for Chartered Land, owners of the site.
The building owner’s interests are managed by Davy Platform ICAV, acting on behalf of its sub-fund the Phoenix Sub-fund but ultimately, the owner is Chartered Land which intends to build high-rental apartments on the site.
Joe O’Reilly is the property speculator tycoon behind Chartered Land, once the biggest debtor to NAMA whose responsible officer Conor Owens permitted O’Reilly to transfer his Moore Street, ILAC and Dundrum Shopping Centre holdings to Hammerson, a British-based property company.
That transfer gave Hammerson control of properties O’Reilly’s planning permission from Dublin City Council for a giant “shopping mall” there which they have now changed but again approved by DCC’s Planning Officer and which is under appeal to An Bord Pleanála.
Conor Owens is now Ireland Director for Hammerson.
Lawyers for O’Reilly named a number of individuals as being in occupation of the property, at least two of them apparently on the basis of photographs of the interior shared by the them on social media. Last Thursday a number appeared in court on applications for injunctions against them.
One who had not been named, a homeless individual, made an emotional appeal for he and his partner to be allowed to stay and the occupants to provide services to more homeless people. Another denied he had been an occupant but had merely shared photos on social media.
That latter individual had the injunction against him removed but was asked to sign an undertaking he would not enter the building, which he declined to do, remarking that he should not even have had to attend the High Court in the first place.
Sean Doyle of the RHL declared that the action they were taking was necessary and quoted James Connolly: We believe in constitutional action in normal times; we believe in revolutionary action in exceptional times. “These are certainly exceptional times”, Doyle remarked.
The judge went ahead and granted the injunction and required all occupants to evacuate building by Wednesday 21st (i.e as this piece was being concluded).
The RHL organised a picket and temporary protest occupation of Davy stockbrokers, who were handling procedures for Joe O’Reilly, the property tycoon owner of the site of Ionad Seán Heuston.
Last weekend the RHL organised a solidarity concert at Ionad Seán Heuston with somewhere between 150 to 200 in attendance and with at least two bands posting on social media their delight at having performed there.
O’Reilly’s legal team claimed “a flagrant breach of the court order”.
The RHL have called a solidarity rally against the eviction at the site for tomorrow at 10am.
Whatever the outcome of the eviction intended for this particular building or the eventual result of court cases, it seems clear that the RHL are on a collision course with the State and its protection of landlords and property speculators.
While some may look askance at such a contest, one may ask legitimately what other course of action is effective and viable?
Marches and short-term symbolic occupations of individual buildings, including the high-profile Apollo House one supported by prominent individuals in December 2016, though possibly raising awareness, have not made a single dent in the homeless crisis.
Indeed, the situation seems to have got steadily worse – at least for those seeking accommodation; while on the other hand clearly landlords, letting agencies, property speculators, vulture funds and the very banks are raking in their profits.
OVER 10,000 HOMELESS INCLUDING 2,503 CHILDREN
Earlier this year the State admitted that homeless figures had passed ten thousand, for the first time since the covid pandemic7, a statistic that includes the shocking figure of 2,503 children.8
And a recent report states that the levels of homelessness are under-estimated because of the accounting system used by the State, which focuses on rough sleepers and those accessing emergency accommodation9.
Sofa-surfing, rotating between friends and family, precarious rental arrangements all figure in homelessness but are not measured or accounted for by the State. Indeed these features of homelessness have been known for decades.
Clearly too, the obvious solution, the release of substantial funds by the State to local authorities to build public housing for affordable rent, is not favoured by any of the Government political parties.10
Apart from the general inclination of the ‘political class’ to serve big business many have direct interests in the housing situation, as an audit of TDs (member of the Irish Parliament) found over 80, i.e more than half, are landlords or own property – or both.11
Faced with such a situation it is clear that only a very substantial shock to the political system has any hope of having a serious impact on the housing crisis. Though the solution need not be revolutionary, all the evidence is that the methods do indeed have to be so12.
An interesting side-aspect of the RHL’s occupation has been the use of innovative and highly-effective art in banners and murals. Also the holding of a concert and some trad music sessions in acquired buildings, along with educational talks, discussions and Irish language classes.
The RHL is a small organisation fighting the State Goliath which is representing the Philistines of property speculators, vulture funds and banks. They deserve our support in whatever measure we are able to give, in attending events and spreading the word.
Indeed, they have called for wider action – the RHL has on a number of occasions called on people to do what they are doing, to occupy the thousands of empty buildings which, if people did, would transform this struggle into a mass movement.
With no other viable solution in sight, surely we should support the RHL? Do we not owe it to those on the street or struggling to pay mortgages or high rents? Do we not owe to the children now, the future generation that will be blighted unless we act?
1The RHL call their taking of empty properties “acquisitions” in the name of the people.
2After notable socialist revolutionary, trade union organiser, journalist, historian and writer James Connolly, executed by British firing squad in 1916.
3The police force of the Irish State is called An Garda Síochána and the plural of its members, “Gardaí”, singular “Garda”.
4The Garda Síochána is essentially an unarmed police force with an armed response section, the latter which however seems to be growing and more in evidence in different situations.
5They named that one Liam Mellows House in honour of socialist Irish Republican and former member of the Irish parliament, the Dáil, executed during the Civil War by the Irish State in retaliation on 8th December 1922.
6Ionad in Irish means “place/ location/situation”.
10Sinn Féin’s latest housing policy indicates a crash building program for “affordable homes” but unclear whether to rent or own. Election promises tend to be taken with a pinch of salt by commentators; SF Councillors on Dublin City Council voted public land sold to developers. In addition, a future government including SF would almost certainly include a former government party in the coalition.
12The State has the power to put empty properties to use to eliminate all homelessness immediately and the Government can divert funds towards starting a big housing construction program which would give everyone good quality affordable homes in a couple of years. It does not do so because that would upset the profits of the property speculators, property management companies and the banks, their lenders.
The above would have been the headline 100 years ago1. Well, not the main one, perhaps, which would have been MASSACRE AT BACHELOR’S WALK – TROOPS OPEN FIRE ON CIVILIANS – 4 DEAD, MANY WOUNDED2.
Then, probably, GUNS LANDED AT HOWTH! POLICE AND SCOTTISH OWN BORDERERS FACED DOWN — REPORTS OF 1,500 GERMAN RIFLES LANDED FROM AMERICAN YACHT.
JOINT OPERATION OF IRISH VOLUNTEERS, IRISH CITIZEN ARMY, CUMANN NA MBAN AND FIANNA ÉIREANN — DUBLIN CASTLE FURIOUS.
MAYOR SHOCKED AT CIVILIAN DEAD AND WOUNDED — DEMANDS INQUIRY.
Speakers at a commemoration on the West Pier, Howth on Saturday 23rd July commented on all those features of the landing of 1,500 German rifles, single-shot Mauser Model 71 (M1871), their collection by the organisations of the broad revolutionary movement — and the army massacre that followed.
The event was organised by Irish Socialist Republicans and Anti-Imperialist Action organisations. A colour party of two men and two women led the march up to the pierhead where the event was held.
The Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign banner was displayed along the way.
The event was chaired by Margaret McKearney, a veteran Republican from Tyrone once described by Scotland Yard as “the most dangerous woman in Britain” and who lost three brothers in the struggle (one in SAS ambush at Loughgall and another murdered by UVF).
McKearney recalled the need of Irish nationalists for weapons when the Loyalists were arming to prevent Home Rule3 being granted to Ireland and the Loyalists with British elite complicity had received a huge shipment at Larne.
Speakers, songs and a laying of a floral wreath were the main content of the event.
THREE SPEECHES – DETAILED, DIRECT AND DEFIANT
McKearney called Phillip O’Connor to speak, a historian and local resident with a particular interest in the revolutionary period in Howth4.
O’Connor began with a quotation from C.J. O’Connell in his Lordship of the World (1924) that “Every Nation, if it is to survive as a nation, must study its own history and have a foreign policy”.
The speaker went on to relate how our rulers demote and distort our nation’s history and how for various reasons even families and communities neglect to pass on that history to following generations.
O’Connor went on to relate the extensive instances of local people’s participation in our nation’s revolutionary history. He brought out names of local people who had been active in Cumann na mBan and the Irish Volunteers and the Sinn Féin party of the time.
The speaker also drew attention to the Irish Citizen Army unit in the locality – the only one outside Dublin – that went on to participate in the 1916 Rising in Dublin and in Fingal. Of course many of that spread of revolutionary organisations had participated in the Howth guns landing.
O’Connor concluded by repeating the quotation: “Every Nation, if it is to survive as a nation, must study its own history and have a foreign policy”.5
McKearney then called on Seán Doyle, a veteran socialist Republican who spoke on behalf of the Revolutionary Housing League, focusing on the housing crisis in Ireland and quoted Roger Casement1 at his trial in London in 1916:
Where all your rights become only an accumulated wrong; where men must beg with bated breath for leave to subsist in their own land, to think their own thoughts, to sing their own songs, to garner the fruits of their own labours…
then surely it is a braver, a saner and a truer thing, to be a rebel in act and deed against such circumstances as these than tamely to accept it as the natural lot of men. Doyle went on to recall James Connolly’s admiration for the struggle of the Land League and for Michael Davitt2.
However, Connolly, the speaker reminded his audience, had excoriated those who were outraged by the eviction of a tenant farmer but with “the working person locked out from his workplace or evicted from his home”, remained “at best silent if not critical.”
“We need to engender the same passion ourselves because the system does not care or share the plight of working people,” Doyle asserted and lashed “anyone who says he loves Ireland and can witness people dying on the street homeless while 180,000 houses are boarded up vacant”.
The speaker declared that the RHL would no longer remain silent, confined or recognise the ruling class’ self-serving laws or allow them to prosper, would no longer accept homelessness, nor “see our children rent an mortgage slaves for the rest of their lives”.
“We in the RHL believe that a roof over your head is not a commodity but an essential of life like water or oxygen. Houses make homes, make communities and a society we aspire to”. Doyle went on to call for a realisation “that pleading and appealing to a non-caring ruling class is futile.”
Concluding, Doyle called on people to join the Socialist Republicans in action and quoted James Connolly6:We believe in constitutional action in normal times; we believe in revolutionary action in exceptional times. These are exceptional times, and called on people to “Build the Revolution!”
Cáit Trainor, an independent Republican activist from Armagh was called and stepped forward to give a rousing speech.
Reviewing as others had done the impelling of the arming of the Irish Volunteers by the arming of the Unionists against the prospective Irish “Home Rule”, Trainor went on to recall some of the other participants in the revolutionary movement of the time.
“Cumann na mBan with upwards of 1500 members was formed to assist the Volunteers, though some of the most radical women republicans, such as Helena Moloney and Constance Markievicz, elected to join the socialist Citizen Army instead, where they were given equal standing with the men.
“The Volunteers also had a ready-made youth wing, the Fianna Éireann, founded by Constance Markievicz7 in 1903 as an alternative to the ‘imperialist’ Boy Scouts. The Fianna were in fact to provide many of the most militant Volunteer activists.
“All of these groups would work together in the lead up to and including the 1916 rising, working together while maintaining their own autonomy with a unity of purpose.” “The Irish Volunteers had the men, the women and the youth, the next move was to secure the arms.”
Trainor referred to the arduous journey of guns-carrying yacht which included a stop in Holyhead to repair damaged sales after the Boat was hit with one of the worst storms to hit the area for decades.
The speaker attributed the success of the Howth landing to “the working together of various sections of Irish society.” “They came from varying religious backgrounds, not all were even Irish born and — even more surprising for the time — women took a leading role.”
Taking the 1916 Proclamation as an example, with its address to “Irishmen and Irish Women”, Trainor maintained that “Irish Republicanism has always been and remains to be a modern forward-thinking ideology in comparison with the outdated imperialist mindset of unionism.”
Cáit Trainor compared that address with the opening line of the unionist Ulster proclamation of 1913 that opens with “Whereas Ulstermen” and continued without any reference to women anywhere in the document.
Trainor stated that today Irish Republicanism needed to “get every section of society more involved in the struggle” and that “anyone who makes their home in Ireland must be encouraged to make their contribution and to be as passionate about Ireland and its success as an independent nation as anyone else.”
The speaker recalled Thomas Davis’ words: “It is not blood that makes you Irishbut a willingness to be part of the Irish Nation.8”
“Irish Republicanism”, stated Trainor “stands in stark contrast to the archaic outlook of British imperialists and Irish reactionaries by boasting of a diverse membership” bringing “fresh and original insights, talent and ingenuity” unlike the paradigm of “Christian, male and white”.
Trainor remarked that “Revolutions are a dirty business and revolutionaries must be armed to meet the might of their opponent” and that “the revolutionaries of today … come from the same tradition”, that “the cause and goal has not changed for any true Irish Republican.”
“Republicans in the early part of the last century did not set out to simply smash an orange state, or replace one flag for another; they were out for the Republic, an independent state for all the people, Republicans and the political prisoners who currently reside in prisons both north and South are out for the same thing9.
“It is an absolute travesty that the Republican prisoners are widely ignored by greater society, indeed most people would not even know they exist, believing falsely that with the signing of the GFA all prisoners were released and that political prisoners in Ireland were consigned to history.
“The media and constitutional nationalists along with pseudo socialist groupings like to skirt over the truth of the matter, they are more concerned with political prisoners in far-flung places around the world than political prisoners on their own doorstep.
“…. we understand that while Ireland remains occupied there will always be men and women willing to resist it, that this inevitably will ensure that political prisoners remain a reality in Ireland, and these prisoners will always have the decided and unfaltering support of Irish Republicans.
“Surrendering for seats in the enemies parliament isn’t a victory of any kind,” said Trainor, “it’s an utter defeat, the idea is to pacify with false power and notions of equality with your overlords, imperialists have used this strategy for centuries to quell rebellion and unbelievably it still works.”
Trainor dismissed the “alternatives to the Irish Republic” and condemned “reformism or British and Free State parliaments.”
Pointing out that it was not an easy road for revolutionaries in the past no more than in the present, Trainor declared that “Revolutions are not won in the halls of parliaments but on the streets with the ordinary people”.
Coming back to the Howth landing of guns 100 years earlier, she said that “there is again an increase in militarism internationally and also nationally with unionist paramilitaries evidently armed and threatening violence.”
While constitutional nationalists sit on their laurels begging for British concessions unionist paramilitaries supported by unionist parties are organising again to secure their dominance and Irelands submission.
Cáit Trainor concluded with another quotation from Pádraig Pearse10: “The Orangeman11 with a gun is not as laughable as the nationalist12 without one”.
Diarmuid Breatnach sang the ballad Me Old Howth Gun, written by James Doherty under the name of ‘Séamas McGallowgly’ and collected in 1921, with words that seemed extremely prescient for its time, with the civil war to come the following year:
…… There was glorious hope that we Would set old Ireland free But now you’re parted far from me, oh me old Howth gun.
Oh, the day will surely come, Oh me old Howth gun, When I’ll join the fighting men, Oh me old Howth gun; In some brave determined band I will surely take my stand For the freedom of my land, Oh me old Howth gun.
Afterwards many people commented that they had not heard the song before and Breatnach replied that Pádraig Drummond had sent him the lyrics to learn for the event (which he had half-managed to do, he commented ruefully).
The event ended with the lowering of the colour party’s flags in honour of those who died for Irish freedom and, introducing it as “a fighting song, sung during the Rising”, Breatnach sang the first verse and chorus of Amhrán na bhFiann (The Soldiers’ Song).
1The guns were landed in Howth Harbour on 26th July 2014 by Erskine Childers and crew in his yacht The Asgard (which has its own room with the original yacht in the National Museum at Collins Barracks, Dublin).
2On their return from Howth, the revolutionary forces were confronted by a force of Dublin Metropolitan police but they were unsuccessful in having the rifles surrendered, as were also a unit of the British Army, the King’s Own Scottish Borderers. The latter were jeered by a Dublin crowd on their empty-handed return and at Bachelor’s Walk on the quays they opened fire on the crowd and bayoneted at least one victim. A woman and three men were killed and many wounded.
3A kind of partial autonomy that was on offer but within the British Commonwealth.
4See ROAD TO INDEPENDENCE – Howth, Sutton and Baldoyle play their part (2016) by Phillip O’Connor.
5The point about studying our history is often made at Irish Republican events but the one about having a foreign policy, though so important, is rarely if ever mentioned. Having a sound revolutionary foreign policy would have militated against the Provisional organisation’s seeking an accommodation with the leaders of US Imperialism 1970-1999 or expecting better of the World imperialist leaders at the “Paris Peace Conference” in 1919. Today the broad Republican movement has no coherent foreign policy except currently for Irish State neutrality.
6Roger Casement (1864-1916), of Anglo-Irish background, British diplomat (CMG) then Irish nationalist, member of the Gaelic League, poet, important role in organising the purchase of rifles that were transported to Howth and Wicklow. He was hanged in Pentonville Jail 3rd August, the last of the 1916 executions by the British.
7Thomas Davis (1814-1845), foremost among the Young Irelanders, publisher and contributor to The Nation, composer of A Nation Once Again, The West’s Awake and other notable songs and poems; his father was Welsh.
8James Connolly (1868-1916), revolutionary socialist, trade union organiser, journalist, historian, songwriter), Commandant of the insurrectionary forces in the 1916 Rising, executed by British firing squad.
9Constance Markievicz (nee Gore-Booth), (1868-1927), socialist Republican revolutionary, suffragist, founder member of the Irish Citizen Army and Cumann na mBan, fought as officer of the Irish Citizen Army in the 1916 Rising, sentenced to death (commuted), joined Sinn Féin, took the Republican side in the Civil War, founder member of Fianna Fáil. She was the first woman elected to Westminster Parliament (on abstentionist ticket), first Cabinet Minister in Europe (in the First Dáil) and first Minister of Labour in the world.
10There are currently around 60 Irish Republican prisoners in prisons on both sides of the British border.
11Pádraig Mac Piarais/ Patrick Pearse (1879-1916), writer, poet and journalist in English and Irish, educationalist, revolutionary Republican, Commander-in-chief of the 1916 insurrectionary forces, executed by British firing squad.
12British loyalists, followers of the anti-Catholic sectarian ideology of the Orange Order (founded 1796).
13At the time most Irish Republicans, despite the long existence of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, were seen as part of the broad nationalist spectrum but at its most militant end and were described as ‘advanced nationalists’.
Passers-by on foot and on the Luas tram lines watched curiously as housing activists and others held a picket outside Store Street Garda station in Dublin on the evening of 13th June 2022. The picket was called for by the Revolutionary Workers Union, protesting the taking by over 80 Gardaí of a house on Eden Quay and arresting of two occupants, followed by the arrest of another two activists near another address.
The picket was called at fairly short notice and supported by people from a variety of political backgrounds, all with what were clearly home-made placards. Picketing a police station is somewhat counter-intuitive, given that’s to where the police take their prisoners and most people want to stay away from those places, with good reason. However, the station is the location of the police symbolically and in reality and Store Street is one of the main ones in Dublin so, when one wants to protest about the police …… Once having protested at a police station, the apprehension is never quite the same again.
Some passers-by stopped to ask what the protest was about, some of whom expressed anger at the actions of the Gardaí and a reporter from an independent media interviewed some of the participants.
Some time later the picketers were addressed by Seán Doyle of the RWU who spoke about the morality of the landlords and speculators and the Gardaí who work for them. Doyle contrasted that morality with the one that saw provision for need instead of profit. During the course of his address, Doyle pointed out that the RWU knows people who work in emergency interventions such as with people attempting suicide, who are then brought to agencies to help them but who are soon out again and homeless. “This is not ‘ethnic cleansing’,” the activist said, “it’s class cleansing.”
The RWU spokesperson at the picket remarked on the use of the law and the Gardaí against housing activists while speculators and landlords make big profits out of the misery of homelessness. A law that upholds and defends that kind of practice must be defied, he stated as he drew to a close.
Seán Doyle was one of two activists that were removed recently by over 80 Gardaí from a one-and-a-half years empty homeless hostel which the RWU had “acquisitioned” and renamed “James Connolly House”. Another premises subsequently acquisitioned, also empty for a long period, the RWU renamed “Liam Mellowes House” and the Gardaí arrested two activists near there also, despite any occupation of the building being a civil law matter and outside the remit of the Gardaí.
The RWU on a number of occasions have called on people to “take back empty buildings” and have declared that they will not be intimidated by arrests but will continue to fight for the right of people to a secure home.
The Salvation Army went to court yesterday to obtain a court order against the Revolutionary Workers’ Union, the latter currently occupying a building on Dublin’s Eden Quay since earlier this month. The RWU occupied the building — which had been empty last year — in order to house the homeless and as a public protest against continuing homelessness in the city, property speculation and high rents. The RWU were not represented in court, which granted the Salvation Army the order they sought, but some RWU supporters held a protest picket outside the court and held a rally outside the Eden Quay building a few hours later, their speakers and songs expressing determination to continue the struggle and defiance of the authorities.
The occupied building formerly known as Lefroy House and now renamed James Connolly House by the occupiers, in honour of the celebrated revolutionary socialist James Connolly executed in 1916, was constructed on the site in 1925 (all the terraces along Eden Quay had been demolished by British artillery and fire during the suppression of the 1916 Rising). Extended in 1948, the legend “Seamen’s Institute” suggests it served for a time as a seamen’s hostel but in more recent times served as hostel for young people run by the Salvation Army1 organisation, which closed the facility last year when their government funding was cut.
The Salvation Army organisation hold a long lease on the building and claimed in court that they had been renovating the building to house Ukrainian refugees, for which one assumes they have funding. However, a quick independent inspection of the building’s interior found it in good repair but with no sign of ongoing renovation work of any kind. Their claim was repeated in media reports without any attempt to check its veracity. The RWU in a statement date the 17th and of which copies were handed out supporters attending the rally yesterday headed off any attempt to use racism in their support, stating that: “The Revolutionary Workers’ Union is a pro-refugee and migrant organisation” and went on to call for housing for all residents, regardless of nationality and “an end to the shameful prison system of direct provision”.
In common with previous statements, it went on to call on people across the country, all 32 counties, to take similar action. This seems a new departure from housing occupation actions in recent years, of which the most famous was that of the large formerly NAMA building Apollo House in December of 2016. That occupation received a lot of activist support and media attention, the latter due at least in part to the participation of celebrity personalities such as the musicians Glen Hansard and Damien Dempsey and support from actress Saoirse Ronan and film-maker and author Jim Sheridan. After the building was abandoned to its owners for demolition however no similar action followed – except for a protest concert outside Leinster House the following year — and the housing crisis continued to intensify. Some minor occupations have occurred without usually any follow-up action after the occupants were evicted and protest marches have taken place – but the crisis continues to worsen.
A wide public housing program is urgently needed to address the crisis but, although by no means a revolutionary solution, has the support of not one of the major political parties, in or out of government. Not only should the sale of any public land to private concerns by declared illegal but other facilities and empty buildings need to be seized for conversion into public housing to rent according to means. Those rents would not only fund repairs and maintenance but new building also.
But any local authority wishing to carry out this program is starved of the necessary funding from the State, which feeds it instead into private landlords and speculators, who then use it to further deepen their grip on the housing market. Not only is the problem not resolved but it gets worse.
According to Department of Housing, there were more than 9,800 people experiencing homelessness in Ireland at the end of March, representing an increase of 3.5% in one month and a 23% increase compared to the same time last year.
Of the 9,825 homeless people, 2,811 were children and there were 5,143 single adults and 1,238 families in emergency accommodation. Youth homelessness is more than double other categories as there was a 58% increase in the number of homeless people aged between 18 and 24 (1,230) when compared to last year.
The Simon Communities of Ireland said it was “the highest level of adult homelessness and young person homelessness ever recorded” by the Department of Housing.2
In addition, the number of homeless people dying is sharply increasing: a total of 115 homeless people died in Dublin last year, more than double the number who died in 2019. In 2020, there were 76 deaths recorded while in 2019 and 2018, the number was under 50.3
RALLY ON THE QUAY – SPEECHES AND SONG
The rally yesterday evening outside “Connolly House”, which had been called at fairly short notice, started a little late but was fairly short, concluding even as people were still arriving. The average age profile was noticeably young and a number of political tendencies seemed to be represented.
A man chairing the rally apologised for the lack of a PA system and asked people go gather closer. He informed the audience that the Revolutionary Workers’ Group has occupied “a second long-term vacant property in Dublin City, naming it Liam Mellows House, “the great socialist Republican executed by the Free State counterrevolution in 1922 …. which we continue to live with the consequences of and continue to fight to this day.”
Apart from the man chairing the event, there were two speakers from the RWU, one of whom gave his entire speech in fluent Irish. The message in summary from all was that the housing crisis is artificially created for the benefit of landlords and property “vulture” speculators, that the buildings belong by right to all of us, that housing is a human need that requires fighting for and the time for fighting – “to shake off the paralysis” — is now. All the speeches were cheered.
A performer accompanying himself by guitar sang a new resistance song while a giant banner was waved, reading “EVICTIONS KILL — HOUSE THE PEOPLE ”.
The event concluded with a man singing a cappella The Larkin Ballad4 (also known as the Lockout Song). He introduced his performance by saying that on that very Quay in August 1913 the police had killed two workers and that the Irish Citizen Army had been formed as a result, which had gone on to participate in the 1916 Rising — with the lyrics referencing both periods.
Following that, the chairperson invited those who wished to do so to enter the building but to treat it with respect in general and to abide by the rules of the occupiers of which he mentioned in particular that there were to be no photographs taken. A long queue formed for admittance even as some latecomers still arrived to join it.
1The Salvation Army is a Protestant religious charity and temperance organisation and its funding by the State to address homelessness is another example of the ubiquitous private status of social services in Ireland whether through different faith organisations or other NGOs.
4“In Dublin City in 1913, the Boss was rich and the workers slaves ….” The original lyrics were composed by Donagh McDonagh, son of Thomas McDonagh, Signatory of the Proclamation of Independence and executed by British firing squad in 1916, with some further lyrics by his own son.
In mid-April (2022) Gardaí, the police force of the Irish State, broke down the door of Mick Plunkett’s home. They would not have been able to claim he resisted their entry or arrest (the usual explanation for injuries on the detained individual) – he was already dead. To be fair to them, this time they were forcing entry in response to concerns from people that Plunkett had not been seen and wasn’t answering calls. Still, Mick Plunkett’s door had been forced by police a number of times before – by the Special Branch, at least once by the Garda ‘Heavy Gang’ and another time by the special ‘anti-terrorist’ Paris police.
Mick was born into a working class family of ten siblings in Dún Laoghaire, in Kelly’s Avenue in the small area of council houses built for rent to the seaward side of the town’s main road (without however overlooking the sea itself, a view reserved for the big houses and hotels, later somewhat ruined by the DART wires and towers). Dún Laoghaire1, long-imagined as a area in which only the affluent or at least comfortably-off lived, nevertheless contained such council (formerly ‘Corporation”) houses in the nearby bottom of York Road, also Cross Avenue, Glasthule, Carriglee Gardens, Monkstown Farm and Sallynoggin areas.
As many of that era, especially among manual workers, Mick’s father died relatively young which left his widow Lilly to care for ten children with all siblings able to work and find employment contributing to the care of the rest.
Mick followed his father Oliver into a skilled manual worker trade, trained and qualified as a gas fitter-plumber and, by reputation, a good one; later he would often carry out repair jobs for neighbours free of charge or in exchange for fish caught nearby or by trawlers that docked in the harbour. “We saw and ate fish that many other people never saw,” said one of his sisters at his funeral reception in the evening.
Amidst the student and youth upsurge of the 1960s around the world, of which Ireland was also a part, many Irish youth of the time became rapidly politicised. The Vietnam War, Black struggles in the USA and South Africa, Civil Rights in the British colony, lack of sufficient housing in the Irish state (just as today!) were issues that engaged lively interest and which to people like Plunkett, called for solidarity and, in Ireland, direct action. At his funeral, Niall Leonach2, formerly of the IRSP, related how Plunkett, at the age of 17, had resisted the neglect of the young apprentices by his union and won improvements by organising a sit-in at the union’s office.
HOUSING AND HISTORY
The Dublin and Bray Housing Action Committees were campaigning for an end to slums and affordable rental housing around the city and Dún Laoghaire soon had its own Housing Action Committee too. Nial Leonach, former comrade of Plunkett’s told the mourners at Mount Jerome that a large public housing building program was initiated as a result of this campaigning, a program that not only replaced derelict inner city tenements but created large new housing areas such as that in Ballybrack in south county Dublin.
The Housing Action campaigns not only squatted homeless families, they also fought evictions, held marches and public meetings. And in at least one case, became involved in a struggle for historical building conservation.
The Dún Laoghaire group joined with conservationists wishing to save Frescati House, a large derelict building on acreage of the property planned by Roches Stores to demolish and convert into a shopping centre. The original building dated from 1739 but had been purchased by the largest landowning family in Ireland at the time, the Fitzgeralds and had wings added and the grounds planted with exotic shrubs. The house had been the childhood residence and favoured retreat of Edward Fitzgerald3, a much-loved leader of the first Irish Republican revolutionary movement, the United Irishmen, as late as 1797, the year before their Rising.
The figures heading the campaign were not only conservationists but fairly conservative too (Desmond Fitzgerald, son of a father of the same name who was Minister in a number of Fine Gael governments, was its chairperson). But it was of course the activist supporters of the DHAC who occupied the building in protest at plans for demolition and were subjected to a baton-wielding police attack to evict them.4
Niall Leonach told the crowd in the Mount Jerome chapel that the criminal charges against the arrested were serious but that as a result of Plunkett’s stratagem of issuing a subpoena for Liam Cosgrave5 to appear as witness for their defence, for the politician had been part of the conservation campaign, the more serious charges were dropped and, on the lesser ones, the penalties were lower-scale fines.
Much of DHAC soon became the Markievicz Cumann of Sinn Féin6, then a very socialist Irish Republican party, particularly in Dublin. The Civil Rights campaign in the British colony of the Six Counties became a focus for activity and Leonach told his audience that Plunkett had been particularly affected by the colonial police killing of a child by indiscriminate fire from machine-guns at a nationalist housing estate, the Divis Flats.
In 1969 the IRA, the military wing of Sinn Féin, was caught unprepared and largely unarmed to face the pogroms in the British colony, which was one of the reasons for the 1970 split in the party, out of which emerged the Provisional IRA and Provisional Sinn Féin.
Plunkett and others in the Markievicz Cumann, the three Breatnach brothers for example7, viewing the Provos as socially conservative, remained in what was now known as “Official Sinn Féin” but tried to change their party’s direction. Failing in that, they split, along with others such as the charismatic Séamus Costello8 and formed the Irish Republican Socialist Party in 1974.
It seems clear that the ruling elite of the Irish State viewed the IRSP and the associated INLA as a threat and decided to go beyond the standard and regular harassment, intimidation and petty and medium arrests9 with which they had been treating all Irish Republicans and some socialist activists.
FRAMED IN DUBLIN AND IN PARIS
On 31st March 1976 the Cork-Dublin mail train was stopped near Sallins, Co. Kildare and around £200,00010 was netted by armed men. The State decided to believe, at least officially that the operation had been carried out by the INLA and armed police raided the homes of 40 members of the IRSP and their families. The Gardaí beat up their victims and obtained “confessions” from a number of them – however, some who gave self-incriminating statements could not have been present and their prosecutions were dropped.11 Eventually, a trial in the political Special Criminal Court proceeded against Plunkett and another three IRSP members: Osgur Breatnach, Nicky Kelly and Brian McNally.
After many abuses of the legal system and the longest judicial procedure in the State, three of the four were convicted on the basis of their tortured “confessions” which they had denied. Forensic “evidence” was provided against the only one who had refused to sign a “confession” – an alleged lock of Plunkett’s hair12 was claimed to have been found at the scene of the robbery; that was insufficient and Plunkett was finally discharged. The others were released after years of campaigning13 and were paid a financial compensation but an official enquiry into the arrests, trials and convictions was never held and currently a campaign for such is underway.14.
Mick Plunkett remained politically active but after his arrest in the vicinity of an armed training camp was charged with “membership” and scheduled to appear before the Special Criminal Court. Plunkett, knowing the chances of acquittal in “the Special” were next to nil, decamped to France.
In Paris he and Mary Reid, a poet-activist and also formerly of the IRSP, shared accommodation. In the summer of 1982, their door was kicked down by armed police of the new special “anti-terrorist” French unit. Both were arrested, along with another Irishman Stephen King and charged with possession of automatic weapons and explosives. This followed the bombing of a delicatessen in the Jewish quarter of the city which was later revealed to have had police complicity.
Plunkett, Reid and King were accused of being part of an Irish-Palestinian cell, a figment of the special unit’s imagination. All three denied the charges and the accusation and the existence of such a cell, insisting that if any weapons and explosives had been found in their accommodation, it had been planted there by the police. Niall Leonach commented to the mourners in Mount Jerome that Plunkett had gone from being involved in the greatest miscarriage of justice in the Irish state to being accused in the greatest miscarriage of justice in the French State’s modern history.
Fortunately for the Irish accused, the special police unit was in serious conflict with the main police force and that helped bring to public view the fact that the armaments had, indeed, been planted on the accused by the “anti-terrorist” police unit. All three were released after nine months in jail and Mary Reid’s nine-year-old son Cathal had been taken into care. The whole case was by then such as to convince the Irish state authorities to refrain from severely embarrassing their French counterparts by requesting Plunkett’s extradition to face his charges in the Special Criminal Court.
Working in London at the time, I read the news about the arrests of Irish political activists in Paris and was shocked to see names I recognised. I remembered the last time I had seen Mick; I had been back in Dún Laoghaire on holiday and with four of my brothers we set off in Mick’s brother Jimmy’s rowing boat from a pier, Mick himself in it too. We had fishing rods and lines and began to fish as we cleared the harbour. Hours later as the sun dropped to the west, we turned back with our varied catch. Once inside the harbour it was quite dark and a large ship entering the harbour appeared to be bearing down on us and we couldn’t find our flashlight. The incident provided more excitement than we had wished for but seemed to give extra taste to the pints in the local pub afterwards.
Mick found happiness for a time with Tracy out of which union came their daughter Natacha. After the Good Friday Agreement Mick felt safe to returned to Ireland but Tracy remained in Paris with their daughter, Natascha visiting him and his extended family by arrangement on occasion. Plunkett seemed to have retired from political activity and had also withdrawn from social contact with many of his former contacts. His health deteriorated significantly but nevertheless his death came as something of a shock to many.
Many came to pay their respects at the funeral parlour where his coffin lay and to watch the wonderful collection of photos collected by his ex-partner, Tracy. His daughter Natacha was there to receive condolences and to offer shots of Irish whisky over the coffin (where tobacco roll-ups were also placed irreverently on the crucifix attached to the woodwork – Mick was reportedly an atheist). Natacha was also at the cremation service in Mount Jerome cemetery with her mother Tracy, where Plunkett’s coffin was covered in the blue version of the Starry Plough flag15 before being removed from the hearse, carried by relations and with the Seamus Costello Memorial Committee, in uniform and white gloves, providing a small ceremonial guard of honour.
Mick’s nephew Karl chaired the event and in turn called Jennifer Holland to give a short talk on Mick and his times followed by Niall Leonach, former General Secretary of the IRSP and close comrade of Plunkett’s, for a longer oration on Mick’s background and activism.
Karl provided many personal anecdotes from his association with his uncle and from within family stories, many of them amusing and some hilarious. He did not however avoid the political and recounted that many of them were kept unaware of the reasons for Mick’s absence and his apparent inability to travel back to Ireland even to visit. It was by going through some papers in his mother’s room that he came across the IRSP pamphlet on the Sallins case and was shocked; confronting his mother, the story began to be told.16
Recollecting the family’s trip to Paris to present two children for baptism in Notre Dame Cathedral which Mick attended, Karl spoke about their warm reception there and being touur-guided around by Plunkett, who had acquainted himself with much of the city’s history. One wonders whether that included the “Wall of the Communards” where in 1871, revolutionaries of the Paris Commune were summarily executed by French firing squads under the command of Marshall Patrice McMahon, descendant of Irish “Wild Geese” refugees from Williamite-controlled Ireland. Plunkett would hardly have been unaware of that history and its irony for the Irish.
SOCIAL, SONG AND FLAG
Later that evening in a large reserved section of the Rochestown Lodge Hotel (formerly the Victor Hotel) just above the large Sallynoggin housing estate, mourners and celebrants gathered to eat, drink and talk. Some had not seen one another for decades. Among the many reminiscences of the social and music scene in Dún Laoghaire in the later decades of the last century, including the remark that “our harbour is a marina now”, one of Mick’s sisters spoke of raids by the Special Branch on their family home, where children would be ordered or pulled out of bed and the mattresses and beds tipped over, allegedly searching for weapons.
Strangely perhaps, there was no performance of musicians or singers or even sing-alongs at the event, though the traditional song The Parting Glass was sung to Plunkett’s daughter Natacha and a small unexpecting audience on the covered patio outside. Later inside, by which time some had left and following a query about a ceramic badge of the Starry Plough worn by one those remaining, a whole length of the original green-and-gold version of the flag was unfurled, causing much interest and queues forming asking to be photographed behind it. And a little later, a man sang Patrick Galvin’s Where Is Our James Connolly? to much applause.
This was fitting for as the mourners had been reminded in Mount Jerome, Connolly17 had been a great inspiration to Mick Plunkett’s political activism and to the IRSP too. But not only that, for a building in Dublin city centre, formerly a hostel but empty for many years and very recently occupied by socialist Republicans in Dublin had been named Connolly House and had that very day witnessed a rally held outside it to resist a threatened Garda operation to evict the occupants.
It seemed to me that something other than the remembrance of a retired fighter alone had happened at the Plunkett memorial events, something more than the appropriate marker of a past and finished period in Irish history, as had been suggested by Holland in her oration. It seemed to me that the history of struggle in Ireland for national self-determination and social justice had to an extent been re-invoked, that it appeared to some extent as the ghost of struggles past but also as the gaining substance of struggles present and, in particular, yet to come. I think Mick would have been pleased and, in any case, in defiance of the declarations of Fukuyama and such idealogues, history is nowhere near finished or dead. As some have commented, it is not even past.
1A harbour town seven miles south of Dublin city centre, in Dublin County but administered by DL-Rathdown Council for some years now.
3He is more usually referred to as “Lord Edward Fitzgerald” which, apart from being somewhat historically inaccurate, does him a service. He was a republican, renounced his title and his sister Lucy said of him some years after his death in prison that “He was a paddy and no more; he desired no other title than this.”
4The Wikipedia entry on Frescati House and the campaign makes no mention at all of this sit-in, Garda attack or the subsequent court cases, of which there is ample documentary evidence. Hopefully someone will undertake its appropriate updating.
5Liam Cosgrave was a Fine Gael politician, son of the Leader of the Irish parliamentary Opposition from 1965 to 19873 and Taoiseach (Prime Minister) from 1973 to 1977, W.T Cosgrave.
6The Sinn Féin party has gone through many metamorpheses, from being a reformist dual-monarchy party, to revolutionary republican to constitutionalist. Constance Markievicz was a socialist Republican who took part in the 1916 Rising as an officer in the Irish Citizen Army – the name of a socialist revolutionary woman chosen for the cumann (‘association’, a branch of the SF party at the time) indicated an inclination towards revolution, feminism and socialism.
8Séamus Costello (b. 1939) was murdered by the Official IRA in Dublin on 5th October 1977.
9An example of the medium-seriousness was the charge of “membership of an illegal organisation” under the Amendment to the Offences Against the State Act, introduced in 1972 which required only the unsupported word of a Garda officer at rank of superintendent or above for conviction and a virtually automatic jail sentence of one to two years.
10€237,389.81 –without taking into account inflation — for today’s value
11Notably John Fitzpatrick, who years later publicly challenged the State to charge him with the offence to which he had “confessed” – there was no response.
12If it had been Plunkett’s hair, it had to have been planted by the Heavy Gang, since Mick had been nowhere near that scene and, in fact, the robbery had been carried out by the Provisional IRA. In addition, without the later development of DNA testing, all a sample of hair could tell, apart from its natural colour, was the blood-type of its owner.
13Some of those involved at the time, whether as victims or as campaigners, were present at some of the funeral events too, including Osgur Breatnach, Nicky Kelly, Caoilte and Peetera Schilders-Bhreatnach.
15The flag with a design in the shape of the constellation known as Ursa Mayor was of the Irish Citizen Army, formed to defend the workers during the strike and 8-month lockout of 1913 and later fought in the 1916 Rising. Originally the design was of the constellation in white or silver overlaid by the depiction of a plough in gold, with sword as the plough-share and all on a green background. A later version was the plain blue one with Ursa Mayor outlined in white stars. That version was the one in use by the short-lived Republican Congress of the 1930s and was for many years later, probably up to the end of the century, the main one displayed and therefore familiar to Republicans and socialists (even for years flown by the Irish Labour Party) but has now been largely supplanted by the original green version.
16This is not at all an unusual experience in Ireland and, whether by desire to protect the young, pain of reminiscence or even disapproval, much of our history has been concealed from generations for a time or even completely lost.
17James Connolly, revolutionary socialist, trade union organiser, historian, journalist, song-writer and one of the Seven Signatories of the 1916 Proclamation of Independence, was tried by British military court for his leading role in the Rising and executed by firing squad.
A rally on Custom House Quay on Saturday protesting the housing crisis was followed by a march through Dublin city centre, halting traffic at a number of points before ending with another rally outside Mountjoy Garda Station, from which station Gardaí (police force of the Irish State) had protected an illegal eviction in the Phibsboro area only days before. Speakers at various points denounced the Government parties current and past, the rendering of housing a commodity by the capitalist system and the police for protecting that system.
The demonstration had been advertised already for some weeks and the date set by the Ireland’s Housing Action campaign group. The Garda protest element had been added only days before the date set for the demonstration due to a shocking incident in the Phibsborough area of the city. Residents of a house had agents of a landlord smash through their door, frightening tenants and throwing their possession into the street. Two Gardaí in attendance who said they were there “to prevent a breach of the peace” were in fact assisting in the commission of a breach of the peace by protecting the landlord’s thugs and intimidating tenants and others from resisting.
No eviction notice was produced nor did the Gardaí require one from the thugs, who proceeded to smash fixtures in the house, including the toilets. One of the eviction team shouted that a note had been sent to a tenant – on their Facebook account!
A local activist passing by noted what was going on and summoned assistance which in turn ensured the arrival of more Gardaí, including an Armed Response Unit vehicle (these units carry firearms and live ammunition). Helpers found temporary accommodation that evening for the evicted tenants, who the following day were assisted in returning to their home, with repairs carried out to toilets and some other fixtures.
It transpired that the eviction had been illegal even within the current system and protesters were informed outside the Garda station that the thugs had not registered as bailiffs for two years past and that the company they purported to represent appeared non-existent.
It was this incident which had ensured the march would culminate in a rally outside the very police station involved (some years ago this station was the scene of protest due to the collusion of Gardaí stationed there with companies installing water meters and threatening water protesters).
Since the eviction, the online Journal.ie published a report in which the Gardaí were quoted in what can only be seen as poor excuses and outright lies, including a claim that there had been no damage! The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has queried the role of the Gardaí and some TDs, including Green Party members of the Government have called for a ban on evictions during the Covid19 pandemic (the previous ban on evictions was very recently lifted by the Government). As is being increasingly the case, the property in question appears to have been acquired from the landlord by a vulture company (i.e finance companies that buy properties in debt from mortgage banks at low cost, to either sell them on again or to evict the tenants and sell the properties).
This is not the first occasion on which the Gardaí have been seen in support of landlords in recent times. The occupation of an empty house in the north inner city had been broken by bailiffs assisted by Gardaí in 2018, while an Armed Response Unit had turned up to an argument between a landlord and a tenant couple at another house in Dublin in the same period.
RALLY SPEAKERS DENOUNCE RACISM
Notable by their banners in supporting the rally and march yesterday were Dublin Housing Action Committee, Dublin Renters Union, Universal Public Housing campaign, United Against Racism (Home for All), the socialist Republican party Éirigí, and Countess Markievicz 1916 Society, some of which provided speakers.
The spokesperson of the organisers Patrick Nells along with nearly all the speakers emphasised the anti-racist nature of the protest, which was no doubt reassuring to many, given that Custom House Quay had been chosen a number of times as the venue for rallies by the racist and islamophobic Irish Yellow Vests leadership and also that some elements close to the housing protest organisers had colluded with the INV when they first emerged.
Speaker after speaker pointed out that dividing working people along lines of race or ethnicity would result in a weaker resistance to landlords and their Government supporters, and that the “house Irish first” slogan put forward by racists and fascists would benefit neither the migrants nor the Irish homeless. Contrary to propaganda of the Far-Right which pretends that migrants get better and quicker access to housing than do the indigenous population, some speakers also outlined how migrants were the most vulnerable to unscrupulous landlords and it was no accident that the adults subjected to a violent and illegal eviction recently had been migrants.
LONG WAIT, LONG MARCH AND DISAPPEARED FAR-RIGHT
I had rushed to the event from a conversation in Moore Street, worried I might miss the start of the march. I need not have worried, nor have hurried. It was advertised for 2pm and I got there around 10 minutes after that but it seemed nearer to 3pm before the event was officially started – and then it was with speeches, most of them very long. A musician concluded the rally with a performance of a composition of his in which the repeated line of “A hotel room is not a home” made an impact. He also introduced slogans which were shouted along the march: “Whose streets? Our streets! Whose homes? Our homes!”
Meanwhile the sun beat down and air felt heavy, even by the riverside. Some of the attendance were visibly wilting. By the time the march crossed to the south bank and turned west, a number of people had dropped out. On O’Connell Bridge, the leaders stopped the march, which now blocked it to north-south traffic and vice versa. Here there were some further speeches, also not short, a song of which it was difficult to make out the words and a spelling out of slogans on giant letter placards, which was a welcome distraction. But still the sun beat down and there was a substantial way to go yet. Some more people left the march here.
When eventually the march began to move again, taking the north-bound traffic lanes, it passed the GPO, where a group of the Far-Right have been holding their protests since the start of the Covid19 restrictions (which they neither obeyed nor were they compelled to do so by the Gardaí, who however harassed Debenham worker pickets around the corner in Henry Street during the same period).
Word had reached some on the housing protest much earlier that the Far-Right had decamped to Phoenix Park, the first time in weeks the Far-Right had abandoned their Saturday protest at the GPO. One could speculate that they feared the risk of another punitive surge into their ranks as had happened the previous Saturday when, after weeks of provocations including assaults, a mixed group including Republicans and Anarchists had finally burst in amongst them, in the course of which the Far-Right lost various items of sound amplification equipment. Or it might have been that the Far-Right organisers wished to avoid the public spectacle of being denounced by marchers against homelessness as they passed and, even worse, their supporters calling the marchers “paedos” as they regularly do to all antifascists.
The marchers carried on, shouting the slogan about “whose streets” and “whose homes” and “homes for all” along with “Vultures out, out, out!”, calling also on people to “fight back”.
When the remainder of the marchers, having lost perhaps a third of the original numbers, finally reached Mountjoy Garda station, it was around 4.30 pm and they sank gratefully to the road, a sit-down protest but also a weary relief. Here there were also some more speeches and the Gardaí came in for some well-deserved harsh words.
As we approached the station a few minutes earlier, some Gardaí stood smiling in a friendly manner at the approaching marchers, no doubt wishing to soften their image after their recent role at the eviction. “How are you?” one Garda Sergeant greeted the marchers with a broad smile. “None the better for seeing you,” replied one of the marchers, walking past the Garda.
Gardaí clustered beyond the outskirts at both ends of the crowd, with some diverting traffic. But none interfered with the march organisers, who took up their position at the bottom of the steps leading up to the station’s front door. For the most part, those inside stayed away from the windows too.
Apart from the speeches of some housing campaign and political activists, there were some also from one of the victims of the recent illegal eviction, an African woman who spoke of the terror of the invasion and the heartlessness of the authorities and how it impacted on her, with her two Irish-born children. A young African man who had also been evicted also spoke of the experience and of the situation in general. Both praised the Irish people in general (as distinct from the authorities) and those who had helped them in particular. A young homeless Dublin woman spoke also, criticising the provision for homeless people and for rough sleepers on the streets in particular. A young Irish woman read one of her poems against homelessness and the organisers thanked all for the attendance and brought the event to a close.
It was nearly 6pm and still fairly warm and heavy.
It was good to see people out in protest at the scandalous housing crisis throughout the Irish state and in particular in its capital city, especially following a period of State restrictions on large gatherings due to the Covid19 epidemic and when fears of infection have been keeping many at home.
It was not reassuring however in that respect to note those in attendance who wore no face covering whatsoever, probably as a result of the earlier statements of the Government health spokesperson dismissing the usefulness of wearing face-mask, countering the more recent requirements of public transport for passengers to wear such protection along with the current pressure in many shops to do likewise.
The numbers in attendance were lower than might have been expected, with the banners of a number of political parties and housing campaigns notably absent. I wondered too whether it might not be wiser to make less of an issue of illegal evictions, since most evictions are probably legal under the current system and eviction orders easily obtained, a point made by one of the speakers.
What the content of the activist speeches most reflected to me, apart from outrage at the situation and blaming of the State, along with the welcome rejection of racism (even though mostly from forces that are rarely, if ever seen in the mobilisations against the racist and islamophobic rallies of the Far-Right), was impotence.
The same calls for unity, the ritual invoking of the executed socialist James Connolly, the usual denunciations of the political parties of current or past governments and their facilitation of landlords and property speculators, the decades-old calls for the involvement of the trade unions ……… but no coherent strategy or tactics to take the housing movement further at this point.
And it is not difficult to see why. What makes the housing crisis possible is the lack of public housing and that in turn is made possible by successive governments not releasing funds to local authorities for public housing construction. All political parties thus far to take part in Government for decades have colluded in maintaining this situation: the two main parties of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, of course but also whenever in coalition government, the Labour Party, Greens and Progressive Democrats.
What then of a new party in government? Currently only Sinn Féin offers that prospect and the party did have the most members elected to the Dáil (Irish parliament) in the February elections this year. However, the signs of a radical break with the capitalist housing market from that party are not good, due to its general anxiety to please the more conservative elements in society, combined with what seems an unprincipled hunger to enter government. Which, furthermore, it would have to do in coalition with other political parties.
Nor is it long since the party’s councillors in Dublin agreed to hand over public land in the city to private developers.
The trade unions are if anything more compromised and less ready for tough social action and in fact seem unable even to protect their own members to any noticeable degree.
If it should not appear possible to overcome the crisis through reform, then revolution is the only viable option – or at least the imminence of revolution forcing sections of the ruling class into implementing radical reforms. That situation does not seem close at the moment, though of course future developments may accelerate its approach in a manner difficult to anticipate now.
It does seem clear that the housing movement cannot rely on changes in government party composition in the near future. It seems likely that only more radical housing action at grassroots level, quite possibly with some activists eventually going to jail, can force the pace and provide the necessary impetus for radical government reform – or for contribution to revolution.
Mick Healy interviewed me about a number of my experiences in revolutionary work over the years and this is Part 1 (Part 2 will shortly be published), nearly all about some of my three decades in London. It contains a number of errors by me, for example the apartheid rugby team was South Africa’s one which were not called the “All Blacks”, that being New Zealand’s. Also I believe the giant Hunger Strikers solidarity march in London was to Michael Foot’s home, not Tony Benn’s. Still, here it is for what it’s worth with many thanks to Mick.
Diarmuid a long time political agitator was active in London from 1967, in interview part one, he talks about his involvement with Marxism-Leninism-Anarchism. His involvement in the Vietnam and Rhodesia solidarity campaigns, Anti-fascist mobilisation, solidarity Ireland, family squatting. In addition the campaign against the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the 1969 Peoples Democracy march from Belfast-Dublin.
(Reading time: Introduction, one minute; Part One: 5 mins; Part Two 2 mins: Part Three: 3 mins; Part Four: 2 mins; Total: 13 mins.)
Although I often think about the big questions – and am generally guided by my philosophy on them, my mind and energy are usually too occupied with specific struggles to focus on them for long. Recently however I had the opportunity and the need to think about the war, the one we have yet to win.
But to which war am I referring? The Irish war of national liberation that has been flaring up for centuries, being lost each time before flaring up again? Or the class war, which has had a few sharp Irish episodes but has been, for the most part in Ireland, in abeyance? The answer is BOTH, though it may seem that my emphasis in the discussion, certainly in the early part, is on the national liberation war.
In order to imagine how we might win, it is helpful to examine past struggles and analyse what went wrong with them. Pessimists love to focus on those things I know – but in order to push us towards reformism or just surrender; my approach instead is from a revolutionary perspective.
Generally, Socialists analysing the class struggle don’t even ask themselves why we have not had a revolution yet. From week to week, month to month, they tend to focus on this or that particular trade union or social struggle but without going into the big picture. It seems as though they can’t even imagine a socialist uprising in Ireland, it’s just too far away to think about, apparently. But if one can’t even imagine such a revolution, how could one consider the necessary steps to get there?
Irish Republicans on the other hand are often thinking in terms of revolution, usually including armed struggle. However it seems to me that Irish Republicans don’t like analysing past failures of the movement but when they do, their verdicts tend to be that the leaders betrayed the struggle or that taking part in public elections corrupted the movement; or that infiltration, spies and informers was the problem. And some other reasons. The thing is, although all those things played a particular part, they are not the fundamental reason.
PART ONE: THE THIRTY-YEARS’ WAR – DOOMED TO LOSE
(Reading time this section: less than 5 minutes)
The national liberation war that began in 1969 in the Six Counties and ended in 1998 (though some armed incidents continue from time to time) began as a civil rights struggle and changed into a war of communal defence and of national liberation. The military part of the struggle for the most part took place in the occupied Six Counties. The political element of the struggle was waged all over Ireland (and abroad) but in the main consisted of support for the struggle in the Six occupied Counties.
Fought in that way, the struggle was bound to lose. It could never win. How could anyone imagine that they could win a struggle fought against a world power in one-sixth of the country, where even the population there was divided against them? What could they have been thinking?
To my mind, there are only two possible sane replies to that question, which is that they believed: 1) that the British ruling class would get worn down by struggle and leave and/ or 2) that the Irish ruling class would intervene in some way to assist the struggle and make continued British occupation untenable.
1) ‘The British ruling class would get worn down and leave’: This theory must have depended on British repression being condemned abroad and being unpopular at home but had to rest fundamentally on the British having no great stake in continuing its possession of its colony there.
Anyone who thought that (and there were many who did and still many who do, not just Irish Republicans) made a fundamental error. Time and again the British ruling class has shown its determination to hang on to what might be considered its first colony, even as the ruling class’ composition changed from feudal-colonialist to capitalist-imperialist and as the world changed around it.
Even when the British ruling class, weakened by WW1 and facing an Irish guerrilla war which enjoyed the support of the vast majority of Irish people, with national liberation uprisings breaking out across its Empire and with its repression in Ireland increasingly unpopular at home, entered into negotiations with the Irish resistance, it held on to a foothold, the Six Counties.
Subsequently, it had that colony managed in a permanent state of emergency laws, with institutionalised sectarian discrimination at all official levels and outbreaks of pogroms in the street and workplace.
That became even more exposed during the civil rights struggle and the national liberation war that followed when the British State compromised whatever good international reputationremained to its Armed Forces, its judiciary, its legal establishment, its media and its very legal framework.
Even now, when many believe that the Good Friday Agreement means that a 50% plus-one-vote in favour in the Six Counties will be sufficient to end Partition, they do not realise that such a decision will have to also obtain a majority in the British Parliament and be endorsed by the British Monarch. They are also forgetting the broken promises that surrounded Partition in the first place.
When analysing what holding on to the Six Counties has cost the British State in terms of reputation, military and financial contributions, one can only rationally assume that continuing to hold on to that foothold is of great importance to the British State. One may speculate as to the reasons underlying that but the central fact cannot be denied.
2) ‘The Irish ruling class would intervene in some way to assist the struggle and make continued British occupation untenable’:
There was some basis for this belief in that a section of Fianna Fáil, a party that had emerged from a split in Sinn Féin in the 1930s and had become one of the mainstream parties in the Irish state, had retained some traditional commitment to seeking a united Ireland. However it was a thin enough basis on which to depend in a national liberation struggle since that section had no majority within the party itself, to say nothing of the foreign-dependent nature of the Irish native capitalist class, the Gombeens, as a whole.
The question came to a trial of strength in the Arms Crisis of 1970, in which at least two Fianna Fáil Government Ministers were involved in secretly buying arms for the defence of nationalist areas in the Six Counties (since the IRA had insufficient weapons at the time) from rampaging Loyalist mobs and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (including the part-time B-Specials). The Ministers alleged that they had acted in the full knowledge of the rest of the Government. By the time the whole affair was over, two Ministers had been sacked and another two resigned in protest.
If it had not been clear before that the Gombeens, the native Irish capitalist class was no patriotic capitalist class but rather a neo-colonial one, it should have been clear after that. But the armed struggle in the Six Counties intensified, especially after the massacres of unarmed civilians carried out by British Paratroopers the following year, 1971 in Belfast and again in Derry in 1972. And the war lasted until 1998.
If, as had been demonstrated to be the case that the British ruling class were determined to hold on to the Six Counties and the Irish ruling class was not going to seriously challenge that possession, did the Republican movement have any other option than to fight on a war that they could not possibly win?
I am clear that it did.
Clearly, in order to have a chance of success, the war had to be extended to the other five-fifths of the country, which is to say into the territory under the control of the Irish native capitalist class. This class had seized power after the War of Independence (1919-1921) and had beaten and suppressed its opposition duringand afterthe Civil War (1922-1923) and furthermore was supported by a powerful ally, the Irish Catholic Church. Since the founding of the first Irish Republican organisation, the United Irishmen of the late 1790s, the Catholic Church hierarchy had opposed Irish Republicanism; it had condemned four Irish priests who participated in the uprising of 1798, excommunicated the Fenians, had at first condemned the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence only to latch on to it at the end along with the Gombeen class.
The general Irish population likely would not have supported or sustained an armed struggle in the 1970s against the Gombeen class but that class could have been fought politically, through agitation and mobilisation, on many social, political and economic fronts. Without going into the specific details of each, these were:
against the huge wastage of Irish youth through emigration
to remedy the shortage of affordable housing (which in part contributed to the above)
to end unemployment (also contributing hugely to emigration)
to raise the level of wages and lower wage earners’ taxation
for the right to divorce
for equality for women in law
for the right to contraception devices and medication for men and women
against decriminalisation and for equal rights for gay and lesbians
to halt the decline of the Irish language, in particular of the rural Irish-speaking areas
to improve services for the rural areas
to oppose the open-door policy for foreign multinationals to exploit Irish natural and human resources
to secularise the education service
and the health service.
to remove the privileged status of the Catholic Church within the state.
The Republican movement in general, with some exceptions, declined to take on any of those struggles. They did not organise in the trade union movement, left the social struggles to others and most of all, declined to take on the Catholic Church on any issue except its opposition to the national liberation struggle. Even there, it was happy to publicly avail of the services of members of the Church clergy who supported them. Republicanism was, from its very beginning, as well as anti-monarchist, about separation of Church and State but it was difficult to see that in the Irish Republican movement, particularly after the War of Independence.
A full half of those fourteen points above (nos. 5,6, 7, 8, 12, 13 and 14) would have meant taking on the Church head-on and no doubt the hierarchy would have hindered the struggle over most of the others too, due to its strong links with the State and its ruling class.
Because of its tactical and no doubt ideological refusal to take up those struggles, the Republican movement could do little more in the 26-County state than to agitate for solidarity with the beleaguered nationalist population inside the British colony.
Though this could be effective for a time it could not become a mass movement, nor survive a long struggle, without any remedy being sought for the issues facing the population within the state.
The wonder is not that the majority leadership of the Republican Movement threw in the towel on the military struggle in 1998 but that they had waited so long to do it. Of course, they never admitted the true nature of what they were doing: abandoning the armed struggle and revolution in total and instead, using their negotiating position to advance themselves politically – not in the economic, social and political struggle envisioned above but rather in a political struggle to find themselves a place among the Gombeen political class in the Irish state and as accomplices in the governing of the colonial state.
PART 2: COLLECTING THE FORCES FOR REVOLUTION
(Reading time this section: 2 minutes)
A successful revolution in Ireland, as in most places, would require the involvement of a mass movement. That mass movement would be unlikely to be one that had national self-determination as its only aim – certainly not in the 26 Counties (the Irish state). Mass movements arise at times around different issues and exist as long as the issue does or instead until the movement gets worn down or broken up. Such movements arose around the Household Tax and, later, around the additional Water Charges.
Even though the objectives of such movements are often not revolutionary, the participation in them by revolutionaries is necessary if, in the future, there is to be a revolution. Revolutionary activists can make contacts and prove themselves by the way they participate whilst at the same time pointing out that a revolution is necessary in order to resolve all these issues completely and permanently. Such activists can also influence the movement (or sections of it) to act in more revolutionary ways, so that the movement can be guided by – and imbued with — revolutionary spirit.
Working people in struggles come up against concrete problems which need to be resolved in order to move forward. Prior to 1913 in Ireland, workers learned the need for unity in struggle which was emphasised by the employers’ attempts to break the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union in August 1913. The attacks on them by the Dublin Metropolitan Police illustrated the need for organised defence and Larkin and Connolly called for the formation of what became the Irish Citizen Army, which later also fought prominently in the 1916 Rising.
Trade unions are the only mass organisations of the working class in Ireland and it is necessary for revolutionaries to be active within them. Currently, other than social democrats, it is mainly members of both trotskyist parties and independent activists who engage politically with the trade unions. Those members are mostly in clerical work and their political work tends to concentrate on employment demands around wages and working conditions. When they introduce politics it is generally to get some motion passed by their branch. Also at times, they will campaign to get a perceived left-wing candidate elected to some position within the trade union bureaucracy.
None of the above are without value but they remain disjointed in terms of program and often confined to just one trade union. Not only that, but often the Left party involved will engage in order to recruit some new members and in order also to retain their own members by providing them with activity. When broad front trade union groups are formed, they tend to become an arena where the dominant trotskyist parties compete for dominance.
If we are to have a successful revolution – and in particular a socialist one – participation in the struggles of workers in the trade union movement is absolutely necessary. But participation should be primarily among the rank and file of the trade union and also across trade unions, focused on providing solidarity to members of whichever union is in struggle – in addition to encouraging unorganised workers to organise and become active. The objective is not to help make one trade union or one section more militant but rather to create a militant workers‘ solidarity movement within the whole trade union movement. It is essential to have members in the ‘blue-collar’ work unions or departments as well as in the clerical unions or sections. And the cross-union organisation I advocated should be independent — the preserve of no political party.
Participation in such struggles provides an opportunity for revolutionaries to make contact with people who are activists but not yet revolutionaries and to give those people an opportunity to evaluate the revolutionaries in terms of their actual practice. Revolutionaries can support the people struggling for worthwhile reforms while at the same time pointing to their partial and temporary nature. Revolutionary activists can play an educational role in the mass movements while at the same time becoming educated themselves by the daily reality faced by the masses in this system.
PART 3: THE ABSOLUTE NEED FOR UNITY – BUT WHAT KIND?
(Reading time this section: 3 minutes)
It is, most people would think, a ‘no-brainer’ (i.e an obvious truth) that unity is necessary in the struggle to overthrow the current system. It might be thought surprising, therefore, that disunity is more the rule among those who aspire to revolution.
Generally, those who claim to be revolutionary socialists will not unite with Irish Republicans. In addition, those socialists of one party will often fail to unite with those of a different party. The same dynamic is to be seen among Irish Republicans also.
There have been many attempts to overcome this problem. In the 1930s the Republican Congress sought to unite Irish Republicans with revolutionary socialists. In the face of hostility within the mainstream Republican movement and also with divisions among the communist element in Ireland at the time, faced in addition with anti-communist hysteria whipped up by the Catholic Church, the experiment failed. The leadership of the Sinn Féin and the IRA of the later 1960s tried to combine socialism and republicanism within one party and military organisation, an attempt that crashed when it was discovered that the arms necessary to defend ‘nationalist’ community areas in the Six Counties, particularly in Belfast, were unavailable, leading to an acrimonious split in the movement. A subsequent attempt to combine the socialist and republican elements in another organisation survived a little longer but also failed for a number of reasons, some internal and also due to Irish State repression.
There have been some attempts to unite the non-republican Left itself also, which usually failed due in part to ideological differences but also to political sectarianism and personality clashes. Currently both trotskyist parties have an uneasy working relationship, the small grouping of Independents for Change exists also, the Communist Party is very small too and the anarchists are scattered and unable for years now, for the most part, to mount united action.
Attempts to unite the various parts of the Irish Republican movement have, in general, focused on creating a new organisation or absorbing activists unhappy with one organisation into another.
A frequent approach has been for some people to sit down and produce what they consider solid policy and a constitution, then to propose this format to others around which to unite. Even when accepting amendments from the elements they seek to recruit, these attempts too have largely failed.
It seems a rational approach: if we want unity, surely first we have to agree on what for, how, etc, etc before we can go into action? I believe, contrary though it may seem, that actually we should unite in action first. Uniting in action tends to break down barriers of mistrust that are built on hearsay or suspicions fostered by sectarian elements. Action also tends to clarify certain questions that until then are theoretical only. Of course, at some point, action will need to be guided by worked out policy but initially the action itself can be sufficient guide, especially since approaching the question the other way around has been so generally unproductive.
The question then arises: with whom to unite? In general, I would say that the answer is: with all with whom we can, in actual practice, unite: different types of revolutionary socialists (including anarchists), Irish Republicans, Left social democrats, human and civil rights activists.
There are some exceptions I think necessary to mention: fascists, racists, religious sectarians and parties that participate in Government. Fascists seek to impose an undemocratic regime completely hostile to the interests of working people and, far from our uniting with them, need to be defeated; racists and religious sectarians seek to divide the movement along lines of ethnicity or religious affiliation. Revolutionaries need to draw a clear line of distinction between the movements of resistance and those who participate in a native capitalist or colonial government, i.e the management organisations of the enemy.
Many issues lend themselves to united action but perhaps none more so, and none are more essential, than against repression.
PART FOUR: UNITY AGAINST REPRESSION
(Reading time this section: 3 minutes)
All revolutionary movements – and many that are progressive but not revolutionary – face repression at some point in their existence. Not to recognise that fact and to have some kind of preparation for it, even if very basic, is indicative of a non-revolutionary attitude to the State. Nor have we any reason in Ireland to be complacent on this question.
The Irish State turned to military suppression in the first year of its existence as did also the colonial statelet. Detentions, torture, murders and official executions were carried out by Free State forces over a number of years, followed by censorship and arrests, all facilitated by emergency repressive legislation. In the Six Counties, in addition to similar even more repressive legislation, there were two sectarian militarised police forces and sectarian civilian organisations.
After a change of government, the Irish State introduced internment without trial during the Emergency (1939-1946), the Offences Against the State Act in 1939, Special Criminal (sic) Courts in 1972 and the Amendment to the OAS in that same year.
The Six County statelet had the Special Powers Act (1922) and brought in internment without trial in 1971 (the Ballymurphy Massacre that year and the Derry Massacre the following year, both by the Parachute Regiment, were of people protesting the introduction of internment). The statelet also introduced the Emergency Provisions Act and the no-jury Diplock Courts in 1973 and, though technically abolished in 2007, non-jury trials can and do take place up to today.
The British state targeted the Irish diaspora in Britain in 1974 with the Prevention of Terrorism (sic) Act and that same year and the following, framed and convicted nearly a score of innocent people of bombings in five different cases – had the death penalty not been previously abolished for murder, most of them would have been executed. It took the victims over 15 years to win their freedom, by which time one had died in jail. Brought in as a temporary measure, the PTA continued in force until 1989 but a general Terrorism Act was brought into British Law in 2000 and remains in force today.
State repression rarely targets the whole population and, particularly in a capitalist “democracy” focuses on particular groups which it fears or feels it can safely persecute. However, we should also recall Pastor Niemoller’s words about the creeping repression which even the German Nazi state instituted, going after first one group, then another, and another …. Among the list of groups targeted eventually by the Nazis were Jews, Roma, Communists, Socialists, Anarchists, Social Democrats, Jehova’s Witnesses, Free Masons, Gays and Lesbians, Mentally Ill or challenged, physically challenged ….
It is in the interests of the vast majority of the population to oppose repression of different groups, whether those groups be based on ethnicity, gender, sexuality, citizenship status or democratic politics. Not everyone recognises this of course but one might expect that political activists challenging the status quo would do so. Sadly, experience shows that they do not in practice (though they may acknowledge it intellectually).
With some periodic exceptions, socialist groups in Ireland do not support protests against repression of republicans. Furthermore, some republican groups will not support others when the latter are subjected to repression. Yet at any time, Republicans of any group can be and are regularly harassed in public or raided at home; their employers may be warned about them by the political police; they may be detained on special repressive legislation, denied bail, effectively interned; they can be easily convicted in the non-jury Special Criminal Courts or Diplock Courts; ex-prisoners released on licence in the Six Counties can be returned to jail without any charge or possibility of defence.
The Irish State’s non-jury Special Criminal Court is a tempting facility for putting away people whom the State finds annoying and it is widely thought it was considered for the trials of the Jobstown protesters. The result of the trial, where the jury clearly took a different view to the presiding judge, may well have justified the opinion of those in the State who considered sending the defendants to the SCC.
Unity against repression is a fundamental need of a healthy society and of movements that challenge the status quo. Practical unity in any kind of action also tends to break down barriers and assists general revolutionarybroad unity. Unity against repression is so basic a need that agreement with this or that individual is unnecessary, nor with this or that organisation in order to defend them against repression. Basic democratic rights were fought for by generations and have to be defended; in addition they give activists some room to act without being jailed. On this basis, all must unite in practice and political sectarianism has no place in that.
Without some basic unity in practice across the sector challenging the status quo, there can be no revolution. But more than that: we stand together against repression ….. or we go to jail separately.
Diarmuid Breatnach is a veteran independent revolutionary activist, currently particularly active in committees against repression, in some areas of internationalist solidarity and in defence of historical memory.
Around 60 people viewed the film “My Land” on Sunday morning (23/ 06/ 2019) in the Irish Film Institute in Dublin, scheduled at the decidedly un-prime time of 11.30 am on a Sunday morning. “In this revealing documentary, Anthony Monaghan, an Irish filmmaker now living in the United States, takes a hard look at economic migration, mass evictions, and the growing homeless crisis that plague Ireland today. In search of answers, he travels the nation and interviews Irish people from all walks of life” (the description on the FB page for the event).
The film opens focused on heavily-built man in shorts with a broad somewhat weathered face, wearing a straw stetson-type hat, brim turned up both sides and overall looking quite like a middle-aged man of the American Indigenous people. The rhythms of his speech and accent soon however reveal a mixture of western Irish and USA. The man parks his construction company pickup truck, gets out and we watch him walk on to a bridge, to look down upon a river, possibly the Missouri, where he stands looking for awhile before turning to the camera and beginning to speak.
DEVASTATION OF RURAL AREAS
Anthony Monaghan is from Erris, County Mayo and went to work in England when he was 15 years of age as many others around his age did too, especially in that area with an absence of industries and therefore of employment. Later, he emigrated to the USA. Later still, he returned and took out a mortgage on a house but, as we learn later, the bank took it from him and he has now returned to Missouri USA, where he decided to make the documentary.
We hear the sound-track of Lovely Blacksod Bay, a song about the ‘return’ of the son of an emigrant to Mayo.
Interspersed with beautiful scenery shots, interviewees talk about the problems of the Belmullet area, principally of lack of employment and consequent emigration. Included among those interviewed are Rose Conway-Walsh, Sinn Féin Senator from Bellmullet, Mayo, whose grown-up children had to move away. Another a former male emigrant who returned to the area in the early 1980s now sees his children moved away to work in England, his grandchildren there, returning twice a year, which brings excitement as they arrive and sadness as they leave. Another ‘returned’ migrant, a writer, came to the area from the Irish diaspora in London, brought as a child by his parents. He too had to emigrate for a while – now, back again, he expects his daughters to leave also.
As we accompany Monaghan to the local graveyard overlooking the sea, he points to the name of a brother on a headstone, a sibling who did not return alive from emigration.
The film shifts to a young woman, possibly Irish-UStater, accompanying herself on auto-harp while singing Noreen Bawn (Nóirín Bán), a sentimental song about tragedy in emigration.
John McGuinness, TD for Kilkenny-Carlow area, is also interviewed as is a FG member of the legal profession. Peter McVerry, of an NGO working with the homeless, also speaks, as does a local businessman.
The talk is of the devastation suffered by rural communities by unemployment and emigration, then the cutbacks on services to the areas, the closing of post offices, the isolation and vulnerability of the elderly, the long journeys to medical services ….
At a harbour, Monaghan talks to a man who fishes from a boat for a living, who says that kind of livelihood is gone, with big boats competing with the smaller ones. He sees no future for the younger generation making a living from the sea as he has done.
DUBLIN AND HOMELESSNESS
The film shots switch to Dublin streets and homeless people sleeping rough or begging. Among the interviewed now are the same people as before but more are added, including actor-author and former homeless person Glen Gannon and radio broadcaster Marion Shanley who, with three children, had faced eviction from her home. Tony Walsh, former homeless man and organiser of a food-serving service to homeless and other persons in need was also interviewed, as was bankrupt property developer Tom Hardy, author of “Waiting for the Sheriff”. Along with those was a young Dubliner, currently homeless.
A number of people, including the young Dublin homeless man, point out the profits that are being made by landlords. Tom Hardy reels off statistics in the profits being made there and also by the vulture funds in “buying” mortgage debts from banks at knockdown prices which the banks would not offer their debtors. A woman talks about the horror of having to raise one’s children in the hotel rooms in which homeless services place them, where they are cramped and cannot cook food. She talks about what this is doing to the children and wonders psychological problems are in store for them in future. “Why don’t the Government declare a housing emergency?” she almost wails. Clearly it is a housing emergency but as Gannon points out, they won’t declare it. It is not in their interests to do so. And according to the woman quoted earlier, a tsunami of evictions is on the way.
McVerry commented that there is a section of the population in Ireland who are doing quite well and who have no stake in any radical change in society. A number of the interviewees made reference to the wealth of the country, including several who said it was the fifth wealthiest state in the EU. I failed to find confirmation of that particular statistic and istead found a wide variety of rankings. Of course, the wealth of a state is not necessarily reflected in its people or, to be more exact, among the majority. While the problems of lack of affordable decent housing and employment, along with emigration cause suffering among a large section of people, revealed in rising rates of suicide, the number of wealthy are rising fast, with 83,000 people in Ireland whose income exceeds more than one million dollars per year (see References at end of review). It’s hard to believe that the misery of the struggling does not have some relationship to the soaring wealth of a tiny minority.
All the interviewees, to one degree or another, placed the blame for the situation on the Government. Most of them also blamed the banks and the vulture funds. Some pointed to vested interests of TDs who are rental landlords while other went as far as to allege corruption and in effect an integrated system of banks-landlords-vulture funds-district courts-TDs- Government.
Some of the interviewees alleged that the Irish are too accepting, too meek. One who did so was a Ginley (or McGinley), who said that the Irish had fought for the British and for the USA but had never fought for themselves. He seemed either ignorant or dismissive of the long Irish history of resistance and also of the fact that not only the Irish who fought in the British and US armies were not “fighting for themselves” but neither were the British and US working people alongside them!
Marion Shanley was one who upheld the Irish history of resistance and pointed out that in war, to which she hoped it would not come, incidents of suicide tended to almost disappear.
Given the size of the problems and the combination of political and financial interests, it was going to be interesting to see what solutions were advocated.
Anthony Monaghan wished to see some kind of combination of workers and business people to sort out the problems and hoped “the fighting Irish” would come to the fore.
TD McGuinness stated it was important for the politicians to come closer to the people and asked for greater leniency from the district courts in house repossession cases. Senator Conway-Walsh also wanted to see greater leniency from the courts but tighter legislation against vulture funds too. The homeless young Dubliner put forward the radical solution of having members of the Government spend a week in the conditions of homeless people.
Only Glen Gannon baldly put forward the clear solution, the only one possible, given the interlinking of financial and political interests: Revolution.
There is a vacuum of leadership, as a couple of interviewees remarked.
During his interview, the man I remembered as Ginley (or McGinley), referred to Ben Gilroy as a champion “of our own”, an electoral candidate who had been failed by the electorate and whose “vote was derisory” in the recent elections. However Gilroy (who was present at the screening, as were a number of interviewees), had in the past posted an islamophobic rant on social media and had shared leadership of the recently-defunct Irish Yellow Vests with a racist, anti-emigration, anti-gay and lesbian islamophobe.
This points to a possible danger, not only that we might continue to be driven downwards but that in desperation, we might turn to fascism and racism, as other people have done in difficult times. And in precisely those kinds of times, the ruling capitalist class has not usually been shy of finding their champions to push those kinds of ‘solutions’, splitting the working class and diverting attention from the real problems.
And one form of fascism has been indeed to seek the unity of workers and businessmen sought by Monaghan (though that should not of course be taken as a suggestion that he is himself a fascist). In such “unities” there is no question of which sector will be in command.
In a film about the Ireland of today, it was interesting to see no images or hear any reference to immigration other than that of the Irish diaspora. It could have been that the makers wanted to keep the narrative simple …. or there could have been another reason for it.
Anthony Monaghan said at one point that although he knew that was not possible, he’d like to go back 20 years. At the turn of the century, i.e twenty years ago, the false Irish economy bubble was about to burst.
SPIRITUALITY IN RESISTANCE
In one scene, the camera follows Anthony Monaghan going down into a holy well (St. Dervla’s) near his original home and blessing himself with some of the water there. Remarking that although he does not condone the scandals that have come out of the church in recent decades, he regrets the Irish turning away from the Catholic faith, which he feels sustained us in years past and bound us together.
One of Monaghan’s interviewees points out that the worst thing about the scandals in the Church was not the abuses themselves but the cynical covering them up by those in authority, exposing more people still to abuse and suffering.
Talking about Catholicism as a binding agent of the Irish while almost in the next breath about our martyrs and heroes of the past, ignores a very important part of that very history of resistance which Monaghan upholds. The Catholic Church, from the moment Penal Laws began to be lifted, worked might and main against that Irish resistance. Its leadership condemned the United Irishmen (in particular the few priests who joined them), the Land League actions, the Fenians and the IRA in nearly every period and in all of its manifestations. In addition, the founders of the United Irishmen were Protestants, as were nearly all the prominent people of the Young Irelanders; Protestants were to be found too among the founders of the Volunteers, the Fianna, Ininí na hÉireann and the Irish Citizen Army.
In fact, history was sorely missing in all the analyses, since no-one pointed out that the State had been set up in a counterrevolution, an alliance of Catholic Church and Gombeen capitalist class under the old master’s tutelage. There seemed to be no acknowledgement that the Irish state is a neo-colony, run by a Gombeen capitalist and political class, its natural resources to be plundered by foreign multinationals, its services to be sold to the same, its own natural industries to be run down.
Human beings do have a spiritual sense, whatever anyone may say against that – but that is not necessarily about religion, contrary though that statement may seem. A sense of who we are as Irish people, as workers, as human beings, as part of life on earth, can be both practical and spiritual. It can be conveyed in language, song, poetry, visual art …. and in a knowledge of living history.
In that respect, it was strange that in a film about Ireland made by a man from Erris, by the Belmullet Peninsula and a large part of which figures in the narrative and images, there were only five words in Irish to be heard. For Béal Muirthead is a Gaeltacht, an Irish-speaking area, though shrinking under pressure from English-speaking monoglots.
it was an interesting film from the point of view of presenting the issues and gathering some opinions about them.
But as well as who were interviewed, it was interesting to note who were not. No active revolutionaries — socialist, communist, republican …. no activists in recent or current movements of resistance. And no reference to the mass mobilisations against the water charges and the local battles resisting meter installation. Nor of the demonstrations protesting homelessness. Not even a mention of the titanic (or biblical Davidian) struggle in Rossport, Mayo, against Shell BP.
The last song I remember hearing on the film’s soundtrack was James Connolly, not the song about the revolutionary socialist and trade union organiser he was (see below) but instead one which portrays him as an “Irish rebel” out of context, without mention of class or of the Irish Citizen Army, of which he was the leader.
Protesters calling for the urgent construction of public housing marched through Dublin today. Various organisations and many independent activists took part in the protest with a broad range of people took pat, from socialist to republican-orientated, some with their children. The event was organised by the National Homeless and Housing Coalition.
On their Facebook page, the NHHC had issued a statement, part of which read:
“Rebuild Ireland has been an unmitigated disaster yet the cross party motion that was passed in the Dail in October that called for practical actions that would end the emergency, including making it illegal to evict someone into homelessness, were ignored by the government even though it was supported by all parties except Fine Gael. We are demanding action on the motion.
“We also learned that 15 Dublin hotels received over €1m each in 2018 for accommodating homeless families which further illustrates the reliance on the private sector. These families need public housing built on public lands, they need proper homes. Last year there were 842 cases of children being discharged from the Temple Street Emergency Department back into homeless emergency accommodation. The majority of these cases were a direct result of the fact that these children are living in completely unsuitable and cramped emergency accommodation.”
The march, though far from small, seemed somewhat smaller than expected which may have been due to a cold windy day with lashing rain a little earlier in the day but may also have had another cause. The Coalition of groups has split with ICTU (Irish Council of Trade Unions) and a number of NGOs pulling out to form a different campaign on housing, apparently declining to support the demand for public housing on public land.
The organisers of today’s march published a list of demands:
• Declare the housing and homelessness crisis an emergency. • Provide a minimum of 10,000 public house a year. No to privatization: build public houses on public land. • Make housing a constitutional right. • End evictions, bank repossessions and sell-offs to vulture funds. • Create a national Traveller accommodation agency to oversee and deliver Traveller Accommodation. • Legislate for real security of tenure, real rent control and affordable rents. • End the use of B&B’s and hotels for emergency accommodation. Improve emergency accommodation facilities and provide security for all in need. • Create rent pressure zones for Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (PBSA). Ensure tenant’s rights for students in PBSA and digs-style accommodation.
One group set off from the GPO and after making a circuit on O’Connell Bridge, marched along the north quays, meeting up with another group coming across Butt Bridge to join them from the Housing Agency HQ; apparently another group had marched from City Hall. The march continued on to Samuel Becket Bridge, to the bemusement of some participants, where the participants halted and were addressed by a number of speakers.
Along the route of the march, slogans were shouted, among which were:
“Raise the roof, not the rents!” and “Housing is a human right!”
As well as Socialists, a number of Republicans were in evidence, marching without party banners. Sinn Féin supporters had a banner and party flags, as did People Before Profit and the Workers’ Party. Some Union of Students in Ireland flags were in evidence too. A Travellers’ group and some community groups also carried banners identifying their group with the march and its cause.