Alberto Sicilia in Publico.es, translated by D.Breatnach
Alberto Sicilia in Publico.es, translated by D.Breatnach (Reading time: 3 minutes)
For original version in Castillian (Spanish) click on link.
Greece today suspended the right to asylum. An unprecedented measure in the history of Europe.
How soon we forget. During World War II, thousands of Greeks crossed the Mediterranean in the opposite direction and sought refuge in Middle Eastern countries. That was the most accessible route of escape from Nazi troops.
A program called “Organization for Refugees in the Middle East”, launched in 1942 and led by the United Kingdom, helped tens of thousands of Greeks, Poles and Yugoslavs escape eastbound.
The refugees were taken to camps located in Syria, Egypt and Palestine. The city of Aleppo, (yes, you have not misread, Aleppo) became one of the main reception centers.
A number of official reports on the state of the camps were written in March 1944. A study conducted by Public International Radio includes the protocol for the entry of refugees and their daily lives:
“Once registered, newcomers made their way through a thorough medical inspection. The refugees were heading to what were often makeshift hospital facilities, usually tents, but occasionally empty buildings reused for medical care, where clothes and shoes were removed and they were washed until the authorities believed they were sufficiently disinfected.
“Some refugees, such as the Greeks who arrived at the Aleppo camp from the Dodecanese islands in 1944, could expect medical inspections to become part of their daily routine.
“After medical officials were satisfied that they were healthy enough to join the rest of the camp, refugees were divided into homes for families, unaccompanied children, single men and single women. Once assigned to a particular section of the camp, refugees enjoyed few opportunities to venture outside. From time to time they could leave under the supervision of camp officials.
“When refugees in the Aleppo camp made the multi-mile trip to the city, for example, they could visit shops to buy basic supplies, watch a movie at the local cinema, or simply distract themselves from the monotony of country life.
“Although the camp at Moses Wells [in Egypt], located on more than 100 acres of desert, was not within walking distance of a city, refugees were allowed to spend time each day bathing in the nearby Red Sea. “
The “Organization for Refugees in the Middle East” was part of a network of refugee camps around the world that were administered by governments and international NGOs.
And refugees arrived not only in the Arab region: Iran received 200,000 Poles between 1939 and 1941.
A packed function room at Club an Múinteoirí (Teachers’ Club) in Dublin last night heard speakers, including Arthur Scargill and the Cuban Ambassador, praise some of the highlights of the life of irish activist Des Bonass (died 26 September last year). The meeting was chaired by Colm Kinsella of Unite.
Strangely, up to yesterday afternoon, many socialist, Republican and trade union activists seemed unaware of the event, organised by Bonass’ branch of the trade union Unite. I only learned of it myself when Arthur Scargill and Nell Myles stopped at our weekly Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign stall earlier in the day and explained that he was in Dublin in order to speak at an event that evening.
The event was scheduled to begin at 7.30pm but by that time there were less than a dozen people present, arousing fear in some quarters that the attendance would be poor. As time went on, the side room leading off the main room was closed and the chairs removed. Some more people arrived and then as if by magic by 8.30 the room was packed, with extra seating being made available for people who arrived even after that.
IRISH TRADE UNIONISTS AND CUBAN AMBASSADOR
John Douglas (former General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, currently General Secretary of Mandate trade union) spoke of how he had come to know Des Bonass when Douglas was a member of the Amalgamated Transport & General Workers’ Union (now part of UNITE), a section catering for bar workers which at the time represented a great many in the trade. He related how the bar workers would come off late shift and go to a union meeting around midnight, a meeting that sometimes would not finish until five a.m! Bonass had asked Douglas for a space to address the union members in support of the British miners, after which he had come away with buckets overflowing with financial contributions from the barmen.
Douglas also related that Bonass was in support of women’s right to choose abortion at a time when that would not have received popular support in Ireland and went on to speak about the strike against TESCO and how Bonass had brought Scargill to a number of picket lines around the city, raising their morale and drawing media attention.
Des Derwin (Executive Member of Dublin Council of Trade Unions and Vice-Chair of SIPTU Dublin District Council) gave what seemed a comprehensive list of the activities of Des Bonass down through the years, including how he had actively supported the struggles in the H-Blocks in the Six Counties and of the Palestinian people, as well as the struggle of the Dunne’s Stores strikers. Unknown to many, perhaps, Bonass had been a founder of People Before Profit and the Unemployed Workers’ Movement.
When the Irish Labour Party conference had voted to go into coalition government, Bonass and Matt Merrigan had walked out together, after they had seen Noel Browne leave the room. The media thought Bonass and Merrigan had led a protest walkout, whereas they said they had followed Noel Browne. When Brown appeared in the lobby, the reporters asked him why he had led the walkout, which he adamantly denied, saying he had only left the conference to go to the toilet!
Subsequently Bonass and Merrigan had founded the Irish branch of the Socialist Labour Party. The Dublin Council of Irish Trade Unions had been another of his areas of activity and Bonass had been President of the organisation; he had also been active in Unite the union.
Also a supporter of internationalist causes, Bonass had been againstsuch as the Chilean coup, for Nicaragua and Cuba, against the South African Apartheid regime and the invasion of Iraq.
Hugo René Milanés, Cuban Ambassador to Ireland, expressed his gratitude to Des Bonass for the latter’s support for Cuba and in particular “against the Yanqui blockade” and for working for socialism throughout his life.
SCARGILL, BRITISH TRADE UNIONIST
Arthur Scargill, ex-President of National Union of Mineworkers (Britain) spoke about Des Bonass’ support for the NUM, particularly those of South Wales, when they were in the big strike of 1984-’85 and how Bonass had agreed to receive money from the NUM to keep it safe from the British State’s sequestration. At first, the money had been couriered by Nell Myles, an NUM official (who was present at the meeting) and delivered to the ATGWU office in Parnell Square; on one occasion she had been mugged on her way but the money stolen was her personal money and not the union funds, which were safely delivered. Six months later, Scargill himself came to Dublin and Des Bonass accompanied him to a Dublin branch of a bank with a holdall stuffed full of a lot more money but the alarmed branch manager referred them to the bank’s head office, where the money was safely stored.
Des Bonass brought Arthur Scargill around to many Dublin pickets during the TESCO strike organised by the MANDATE union, which had been welcomed by the strikers and which had lifted their spirits. He had been happy to attend, Scargill said and related a journalist asking him about his reaction to a bomb threat against TESCO. To laughter and applause from the meeting’s audience, Scargill related his response to the journalist, that neither he nor the TESCO strikers could have anything to with any such bomb inside as they would never cross a picket line! Des Bonass had also got Scargill a spot on the popular Gay Byrne show, where he had been confronted with a Margaret Thatcher impersonator.
Bonass had been a founder of the Irish branch of the Socialist Labour Party which Scargill had founded in Britain as founded by James Connolly.
Paying tribute to the moral and practical support of the Irish people for the NUM’s struggle, Scargill said that their support in ratio to union members in Ireland had been the highest of all and went on to reveal that he and Nell both had Irish ancestry on both parental sides, referring also to the history of oppression of Irish people by the British State. Scargill talked about the financial contributions but also how Irish families had taken in miner’s children for holiday breaks, as British trade unionists had wanted to take in Irish children during the 1913 Lockout.
Later on in his speech, Scargill declared himself a firm follower of the “11th Commandment: Thou shalt not cross a picket line!” (loud applause) and went on to talk about the determination of the Thatcher Government to break the NUM and its leadership. Thatcher and Government personnel had claimed at the time that they had not intervened in the strike, which was allegedly between the NUM and the National Coal Board but Scargill stated that was a lie and the truth had emerged in documentation over the years, available on the Internet to anyone who wished to check it. “Unjust laws have to be broken” he said also because “if we hadn’t done that, women would not have the vote; we would not have trade unions!” He paid tribute to the Levellers, the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the Suffragettes.
Scargill emphasised that the best way to celebrate the life of Des Bonass and to honour his memory is to continue the struggle for the principles that Des Bonass upheld, then finished his speech to a standing ovation from those present.
Colm Kinsella then welcomed the last speaker, Ciarán Bonass. Ciarán announced that he was the son of Des Bonass and talked about what the family had learned from his father as they had also supported him in his activism. Thanking all the speakers and all others present on his family’s behalf, his mother Eileen and sisters Mairéad and Deirdre, along with in-laws and grandchildren, he ended his contribution to loud applause from the attendance.
Colm Kinsella announced that their branch of Unite was now named “the Des Bonass Branch of Unite” in Des Bonass’ honour, thanked all the speakers and the attendance and invited people to partake of refreshments while listening to labour and other songs performed by Richie Brown (of Unite) and friends.
“A man the ages will remember.” -Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
By Kevin Rooney (reprinted by kind permission of author).
Michael Joseph Quill was born in Gortloughera, near Kilgarvan Co. Kerry on 18 September, 1905. His parents were John Daniel Quill and Margaret (née Lynch). Fighting injustice seemed to be in his blood. He remembered: “My father knew where every fight against an eviction had taken place in all the parishes around”. His Irish-speaking family’s home served as headquarters for the No. 2 Kerry Brigade Of The Irish Republican Army during the War Of Independence Of 1919-1921. His uncle’s house was so well known for rebel activity, it is said that the Black and Tans in the area referred to the house as “Liberty Hall”; a reference to James Connolly’s ITGWU Union Headquarters in Dublin which was to prove prophetic.
IRISH REPUBLICAN ACTIVITY
While still a boy of 14, Michael was a dispatch rider for the IRA during the War of Independence. He served in 3rd Battalion of the No. 2 Kerry Brigade. Once on a scouting mission, he stumbled on a patrol of Black and tans asleep in a ditch. He stole all their ammunition without rousing them. He eventually graduated to carrying a rifle and organized a group of about thirty boys in the village into an IRA scout group, and drilled several times a week.
When the Civil War began in 1921, Quill joined the Republican side which opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty that ended the War Of Independence. He took part in the re-capture of the town of Kenmare from The Free State Army in August of 1922, one of few Republican victories. He was said to have been involved in robbing a bank for the IRA during the war. He was much affected by the brutality and violence dished out by the Government Forces (Free Staters) to his Republican comrades in Kerry who were captured.
The worst atrocity was the Ballyseedy massacre where eight Republican prisoners were killed by being tied to a landmine, which was then detonated. In March of 1923, at total of 23 Republican prisoners in Kerry were killed in similar manner, or summarily executed by shooting on different occasions. Another five were officially executed by firing squad. The most of any county.
His mother died in September 1923. The local priest refused to request a temporary amnesty so that Michael and his brother John could attend her funeral without risking arrest by National troops. It left a lasting bitterness in him toward the Catholic Church.
During the Wars, he met many prominent Republican leaders of the time who passed through his area; including Eamon de Valera, Liam Lynch, Tom Barry, Liam Deasy, Dan Breen, Erskine Childers among them. While still young, he conversed with these great minds.
EMIGRATION TO THE USA
After the war, Quill found opportunities limited for him as he had supported the losing side. He was also blacklisted after a sit-in strike with his brother John at a saw mill in Kenmare. He emigrated to the US, arriving on 16 March, 1926 in New York, where he stayed with an aunt on 104th Street in East Harlem (New York).
He hustled to make a living working a series of menial jobs which included what was called “bootlegging”: smuggling alcohol during Prohibition, during which time the sale of alcohol was illegal in the US. He worked passing coal and peddling roach powder and religious articles in Pennsylvania coal country. While there he wrote his father his observation that “the cows and pigs in Kerry were better housed and fed than were the miners’ children in America.”
Quill returned to New York and met a young Kerry woman named Maria Theresa O’Neill, known as Mollie who came from Cahersiveen. With the onset of the Great Depression she became unemployed and decided to return to Ireland. She and Quill maintained a patient long-distance courtship, keeping in touch with weekly letters.
Quill found employment with the IRT (Interborough Rapid Transit) railroad in 1929. He worked several jobs before becoming a ticket agent. The IRT, the largest transit company in New York attracted employment from many Irishmen; particularly Republican veterans of the Irish Civil War like Quill. There was a joke that IRT stood for “Irish Republican Transit”. Their advantage over other immigrant groups was that they already spoke English. Coming from mostly farm land, they were also able for the twelve to fourteen-hour days demanded of them seven days a week. About half of the employees were Irish.
Moving from station to station, he got to know many of the employees. Along with deplorable working conditions, Quill also observed discrimination based on racism and bigotry, which he hated. He said: “During those twelve hour nights we’d chat about the motormen, conductors, guards etc. whose conditions were even worse. They had to work a ‘spread’ of 16 hours each day in order to get 10 hours pay. Negro workers could get jobs only as porters. They were subjected to treatment that makes Little Rock (Arkansas) and Birmingham (Alabama) seem liberal and respectable by comparison. I also saw Catholic ticket agents fired by Catholic bosses for going to Mass early in the morning while the porter ‘covered’ the booth for half an hour. Protestant bosses fired Protestant workers for similar crimes, going to Church. The Jewish workers had no trouble with the subway bosses. Jews were denied employment in the transit lines”.
INFLUENCED BY CONNOLLY’S WRITINGS
While working a 12-hour overnight shift, Quill passed the time with reading to supplement his education, which had ended with National school. The main influence on his political thinking was James Connolly. Connolly had also organised unions in New York, where he lived for a few years before returning to Dublin where he was executed in 1916 for his part in the Easter Rising.
Quill’s second wife Shirley later wrote: “Connolly’s two basic theories were to guide Mike Quill’s thinking for the next three decades: that economic power precedes and conditions political power, and that the only satisfactory expression of the workers’ demands is to be found politically in a separate and independent labour party, and economically in the industrial union.” He then set about organizing a union. He stood on his soap box during lunch hour in power-houses and shops all over the city.
Quill recalled: “We were no experts in the field of labor organization, but we had something in common with our fellow workers; we were all poor, we were all overworked, we were all victims of the 84 hour week. In fact, we were all so low down on the economic and social ladder that we had nowhere to go but up.”
Quill and some of his fellow Irish immigrants became involved in Irish Worker’s Clubs that were established by James Gralton, and were affiliated with the American Communist Party. Gralton’s political views got him deported from Ireland in 1933 as an “undesirable alien”; even though he was born in Co. Leitrim because of pressure from the Catholic Church. This made him the only Irishman ever to be deported by the Irish government.
Quill didn’t find much difference in the attitude of Irish-American Organisations that were Catholic church-based. Quill recalled: “We went to the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, but they would have nothing to do with the idea of organizing Irishmen into a legitimate union. We went to the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and they threw us out of their meeting hall. They wanted no part of Irish rebels or Irish rabble. That was the reception we got from those conservative descendants of Ireland’s revolutionists of a hundred years ago.”
Making no bones or apologies, he said “I worked with the Communists. In 1933 I would have made a pact with the Devil himself if he could have given us the money, the mimeograph machines and the manpower to launch the Transport Workers Union. The Communist Party needed me, and I needed them. I knew what the transit workers needed. The men craved dignity, longed to be treated like human beings. The time had come to get off our knees and fight back.”
FOUNDING A TRADE UNION
On 12 April 1934, Quill, along with six other Irishmen including Thomas H. O’Shea and Austin Hogan from Co. Cork, and Gerald O’Reilly from Co. Meath formed the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU). All seven including Quill were members of Clan na Gael, an Irish Republican organisation that succeeded the Fenian Brotherhood as the American branch of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). They were said to have initially applied the rules and practices of secrecy from that tradition. Quill was to remain a silent financial supporter of the Republican cause in Ireland his whole life.
Like Quill, they were all influenced by Connolly’s ideas and writings; in particular, Connolly’s 1910 pamphlet “The Axe To The Root” where he wrote specifically about a recent 1910 transit workers strike in New York that had failed, known as the New York Express Strike.
Connolly wrote: “It was not the scabs (strikebreakers, replacements) however, who turned the scale against the strikers in favour of the masters. That service to capital was performed by good union men with union cards in their pockets. These men were the engineers in their power-houses which supplied the electric power to run their cars, and without whom all the scabs combined could not have run a single trip.”
The very name of the union was a tip of the hat to James Larkin and James Connolly’s Irish Transport & General Workers Union (ITGWU). In fact the word “Transit” is more normally used than “Transport” regarding that industry in the US. Thomas H. O’Shea was the Union’s first president, followed by Quill, who would remain president for the remainder of his life.
The Union began with a membership of 400, then eventually represented all 14,000 IRT workers. An African-American porter named Clarence King was elected to the first TWU executive board. In 1937 there was a sit-down strike on the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit (BMT); the second-largest Transit company in New York. Two BMT employees at the Kent Avenue Brooklyn station were fired for union activity. The 500 members of TWU in the company secured their re-instatement. It eventually represented all BMT employees as well.
Quill began to involve himself in city politics and was elected to the New York City Council in 1937 representing the American Labor Party. His whole career people loved or hated him, with no middle ground. He returned to Ireland to marry Mollie on 26 December 1937. They would return to New York to live, where she bore a son; John Daniel Quill, named after Michael’s father. Theirs proved to be an unhappy marriage of convenience. Quill filled this void first with drink, later with extramarital romance.
While in Ireland, he met with Michael O’Riordan from Co. Cork, who was headed to Spain to fight for the Spanish Republic in that country’s Civil War; which side Quill supported. Michael Lehane, the child of a neighbor from Kilgarvan, also went to Spain to fight fascism.
In 1939, he organized a rally against anti-semitism in a heavily Irish neighborhood in The South Bronx attended by four thousand. This was in response to Father Charles Coughlin’s anti-semitic campaign preaching to New York’s Irish. Fr. Coughlin was born in Canada of Irish parents, but moved to the US. He began radio broadcasting in 1926 in response to a Ku Klux Klan anti-catholic attack on his church in Michigan, but moved into political commentary and also moved far to the political right. Fr. Coughlin’s sympathies to the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini got him removed from the air later in 1939.
Having little use for the church, this is how Quill summed up his personal philosophy: “I believe in the Corporal Works Of Mercy, the Ten Commandments, the American Declaration Of Independence and James Connolly’s outline of a socialist society. Most of my life I’ve been called a lunatic because I believe that I am my brother’s keeper. I organise poor and exploited workers, I fight for the civil rights of minorities, and I believe in peace. It appears to have become old-fashioned to make social commitments; to want a world free of war, poverty and disease. This is my religion.”
TESTIFYING AT MC CARTHY HEARINGS
In April of 1940, former TWU President and founder Thomas O’Shea; who had been earlier been ousted from the union testified against his former fellow union leaders including Quill. He alleged that the union was in complete control of the communist party and their goal was to promote revolution through strikes. Quill testified in the US House Of Representatives before the House Committee on Un-American Activities and denied these allegations, calling O’Shea a “stool pigeon.” He told Chairman Martin Dies: “You are afraid to hear the truth about our union. You can’t take it, but the American labour movement will live.”
Also in 1940, the city purchased the BMT and IRT. This put Quill in the path of every New York mayor from then on, beginning with Italian-American Republican Fiorello LaGuardia. Years ahead of his time, in 1944, Quill introduced a bill in the City Council to establish free childcare centers for working mothers. Also in 1944, he ended a TWU wildcat (unauthorised) strike in Philadelphia initiated by a racist reaction to a contract that secured promotions to conductor for eight black porters.
After World War II and the Holocaust, Quill said “We licked the race haters in Europe, but the millions of Jewish dead cannot be restored to life”. He was re-elected to the City Council also in 1945. His election campaign manager was Shirley Ukin, a fiery former communist born in Brooklyn Of Russian-Jewish parents with whom he began a longtime affair. She had worked with him in TWU from the beginning. In the late 40’s the union expanded to include airline workers, utility workers and railroad workers.
Also after the war, under pressure from the government on communists in the labor movement but mostly his own dissatisfaction and mistrust caused him to purge the communists out of the Union. In 1948 he secured a large increase for subway workers from Democratic Mayor William O’Dwyer, a native of Bohola, Co. Mayo.
In the 50’s he supported the candidacy of Democrat Robert F. Wagner for mayor. Wagner’s German-born father, a US Senator for New York (Democrat 1927-1949) had authored the Wagner Act Of 1935 that created the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which protected workers’ rights to organise and strike.
Quill’s past relationship with the communist party continued to be criticised. He was nicknamed “Red Mike”. Wagner was elected to three terms and his administration was able to come to collective bargaining agreements with the TWU.
IN THE US TRADE UNION MOVEMENT AGAINST RACISM
Mollie died August 16, 1959. In 1961 he married Shirley; his longtime girlfriend who had previously been married and divorced twice. She would later carry on his union work and write his biography. Also in 1961, Quill received a letter from twenty-five TWU members in Tennessee protesting the Union’s support for Civil Rights and de-segregation. He responded by inviting a prominent black Civil Rights leader to address the Union Convention, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom he admired.
He introduced Dr. King as “The man who is entrusted with the banner of American liberty that was taken from Lincoln when he was shot 95 years ago.” This was indeed high praise as the only two pictures in Quill’s office were of President Abraham Lincoln and James Connolly. The two became friends. As far back as 1938, Quill made a statement much like Dr. King’s famous speeches: “If we, black and white, Catholic and non-Catholic, Jew and gentile, are good enough to slave and sweat together, then we are good enough to unite and fight together”.
In November 1965, John Lindsay was elected Mayor. The aristocratic Protestant Republican whose name he intentionally mispronounced as “Linsley” immediately rubbed Quill the wrong way. Quill quipped: “we explored his mind (Lindsay) yesterday and found nothing there.” This was amid the union negotiating a raise for its members due to inflation caused by the War in Vietnam, of which Quill was typically an early critic.
The TWU had always threatened a strike that could cripple the city of New York, the largest in the US; a city of 8 million where many people’s commutes involve travel across rivers. Manhattan, the center of commerce is an island. Quill knew and stated that this was from where came the union’s power. Quill had seen many Mayors come and go and such a situation had always been averted.
Before he took office, Lindsay felt empowered and entitled to “call their bluff”. He felt such a strike was illegal as it would endanger public safety as transportation is a public utility. He also seemed to feel the union was incapable of pulling it off as history had shown. Irish-American newspaper journalist Jimmy Breslin observed: “[Lindsay] was talking down to old Mike Quill, and when Mike Quill looked up at John Lindsay he saw the Church of England. Within an hour, we had one hell of a transit strike.”
Lindsay was sworn in on 1 January 1966. The same day, 33,000 members of the TWU announced a strike and 2,000 members of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) also joined them. This demonstrated James Connolly’s lesson from “Axe To The Root” put into action.
A legal injunction was issued to stop the strike along with an order for the arrest of Quill and eight others: Matthew Guinan, Frank Sheehan, Daniel Gilmartin, Ellis Van Riper, and Mark Kavanagh of the TWU and John Rowland, William Mangus, and Frank Kleess of the ATU) effective at 1am January 4th.
Quill tore up the injunction and famously said in his thick Kerry accent: “The judge can drop dead in his black robes. I don’t care if I rot in jail. I will not call off the strike.” Only two hours after being imprisoned; Quill who was sixty years old and had health issues with his heart, suffered a heart attack and was sent to Bellevue Hospital. He had ignored all medical advice from his doctors and the strain of the battle was taking its toll. Ironically, he had to wait two hours for an ambulance because the strike had indeed brought the city to a grinding halt.
15,000 workers picketed City Hall on 10 January. The strike ended on 13 January with a huge victory. The TWU had secured the workers a package worth $60 million. Hourly wages rose from $3.18 to $4.14 per hour. Quill seemed to be on the mend and was released from the hospital on 25 January. Quill died in his sleep of congestive heart failure on 28 January. Like ancient Irish High King Brian Boru, he had won his greatest victory at the cost of his own life. His coffin was draped in the Irish
Upon his death, the TWU Express newspaper reported: “Mike Quill did not hesitate or equivocate. He died as he lived fighting the good fight for the TWU and its members.” His friend Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said of him: “Mike Quill was a fighter for decent things all his life: Irish independence, labor organization, and racial equality. He spent his life ripping the chains of bondage off his fellow man. When the totality of a man’s life is consumed with enriching the lives of others, this is a man the ages will remember. This is a man who has passed on but who has not died.”
In 1987, The Michael J. Quill Cultural & Sports Centre was opened in the predominantly Irish-American hamlet of East Durham, NY featuring an authentic Irish cottage and the largest scale map of Ireland in the world. There is also a Michael J. Quill centre in Kilgarvan, Co. Kerry. In 1999, the MTA named the West Side bus garage the Michael J. Quill Depot. The TWU today has a diverse membership of over 100,000.
*Originally posted by K. Rooney September 23, 2018
by Diarmuid Breatnach
In 1964 the TWU offered the Irish Government to carefully remove Nelson’s Column in O’Connell Street. Quill wrote that the scale of the statue and its location would give the impression to visitors that the Irish looked up to Nelson and that it meant to them what the Statue of Liberty meant to US citizens. The TWU volunteered to pay for its removal and its replacement with a more appropriate one among which they included Pearse, Connolly or Larkin.
The Irish Government passed the letter to Dublin Corporation (now DCC) who claimed that since the column was managed by a Trust, the Corporation had no power to remove it.
Two years later, the 50th anniversary year of the Easter Rising, a ‘dissident’ group of the IRA, Saor Éire, took matters into their own hands and demolished the structure, commonly known as Nelson’t Pillar.
The iconic Halfpenny Bridge over the river Liffey in Dublin seemed to be flying on Palestinian flags on New Years’ Eve. The annual event organised by the Ireland Palestine Solidarity campaign was favoured with not only a dry but also mild day this year and supporters and passers-by clicked their cameras to capture the scene, in the midst of which an Irish currach showing Palestinian colours was rowed up and down the river nearby by three women.
Communists, Socialists. Irish Republicans (both pro and anti-Good Friday Agreement) and generally democratic people lined both sides of the Bridge itself and spilled out at each end, which the IPSC had a busy stall on the south side, next to the Merchants’ Arch.
Yesterday brought to an end a year that was far from the worst in the long history of the bloody Zionist occupation of Palestine and the oppression of the Arab-Palistinian population. Even so, 149 Palestinians were killed during 2019 according to a statistical collection agency and 35 of those were children. During the same period 10 Israelis were killed, including two children. However, in December alone, nearly 45 Palestinians were killed by Israeli Zionists against no Israelis. The hugely disproportionate balance of death and injury in favour of Israeli Zionism has been a consistent pattern since the the beginning of the Occupation and makes any notion of there being a “war between two sides” deemed nonsense by many commentators who instead, see the conflict as vicious repression by the Israeli State and largely ineffective resistance by what is now a minority Palestinian population, controlled to a prison-like degree by a highly-militarised state.
USA SUPPORTING A RACIST STATE AND ILLEGAL OCCUPATION
2019 was also the year in which the USA Administration for the first time pronounced the Israeli settlements in what are termed “the occupied territories” to be no longer illegal, flying in the face of world opinion and many declarations of the United Nations. This comes after the introduction of the new Israeli citizenship law last year, pushed through by the right-wing and religious coalition with 62 votes against 55, which defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, completing the process of making it officially a racist and religious state, downgrading the political, civil and cultural rights of all other ethnic and religious communities within the territory it controls. The measure was widely criticised by human rights groups around the world and within Israel itself, as also by much of the Jewish world population.
Solidarity with Palestinians is traditionally demonstrated in other places in Ireland too on New Year’s Eve as well as at various other times during the year: between yesterday and today, eight Irish cities and towns demonstrated publicly in support of the Palestinians. Some years ago the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland described Ireland as “the most anti-Semitic country in Europe”. Since what he really meant was “the most anti-ZIONIST country in Europe”, most Irish people took that comment as a compliment. It is the Zionists who try to equate Jewishness with Zionism and the Israeli State in order to further their ideological indoctrination and intimidate democratic opposition; in doing so, the put all Jewish people in danger of the backlash against the crimes of the Israeli State. Fortunately there have been – and continue to be – Jewish people, some of them quite prominent, who speak out against the crimes of Zionism but these are dubbed “self-hating Jews” by the Zionists, who heap insults upon them.
The IPSC continues to organise a number of Palestine solidarity events every year and welcomes wide participation.
Racists and Fascists, posing as Irish “patriots”, malign migrants to Ireland and target them in racist propaganda. This is a fundamentally unpatriotic activity, flying against not only our own huge history of migration to other lands but also against the great history of migrants’ contribution to the struggle for Irish independence and socialism.
Of the Seven Signatories of the 1916 Proclamation of Independence, two were migrants and a third was the son of a migrant. Of the sixteen of the Rising executed by the English, two were migrants (Connolly and Clarke), another two were sons of migrants (Pearse brothers) and at least six bore family names of foreign ancestry (Casement, Ceannt, Clarke, Colbert, Kent, Plunkett). Numerous migrants took part in the 1916 Rising, mostly from England and Scotland but also some from the USA, one from Argentina, another from Finland and yet another from Sweden).
Constance Markievicz (nee Gore-Booth), feminist, Irish Republican, Socialist, officer in the Irish Citizen Army, first woman elected to the British Parliament, first female Minister of the Dáil and first Labour Minister in the world, was born in England; she was sentenced to death in 1916 by the English but had her sentence commuted. Volunteer Eamon De Valera, a 1916 Rising garrison Commander, was born in the USA to an Irish mother and a Cuban father. The captain of the Asgard yacht that delivered the Mauser rifles for the 1916 Rising was an Englishman, Erskine Childers and among the crew were his wife Molly from the USA and Mary Spring Rice (born London). Childers fought in the War of Independence and the Civil War and was executed by the Irish Free State in 1922.
Jim Larkin, trade union organiser and Lockout resistance leader, who was in the USA during the Rising, was co-founder of the Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union and of the Irish Citizen Army, also of the Irish Labour Party. Larkin was born and raised in Liverpool and did not see Ireland until sent to Belfast by his England-based trade union.
A LONG HISTORY OF MIGRANT CONTRIBUTION TO IRISH STRUGGLES
The aforesaid should not surprise us as migrants have often participated in struggles for freedom and social progress in their adopted countries and they and their descendants have a long history of taking up those struggles in Ireland – often sacrificing their liberty and even their lives in doing so.
Patrick Sarsfield, a hero of the resistance to William of Orange in the army of James II was of Anglo-Norman descent (he was a prominent member of the Wild Geese and was killed in military service abroad in 1683).
Nearly all the leaders of the Society of United Irishmen, the first Republican revolutionary organisation of Ireland, were Protestants of various sects and descendants of migrants. Henry and Mary Joy McCracken were active in saving Irish traditional melodies; their ancestors were Huguenots (French Protestant refugees). Henry Joy was executed publicly in Belfast by the English in 1798, his sister walking hand-in-hand with him to the gallows. General Henry Munro, another Antrim Unitedmen leader, also executed in 1798, was of Scottish descent. Theobald Wolfe Tone, Anglican co-founder of the Unitedmen and often described as the “father of Irish Republicanism”, was also of Huguenot ancestry; he died in jail in Dublin, while his brother Matthew was hanged. Edward Fitzgerald, another leader of the Unitedmen who died of his injuries in a Dublin jail, was a Protestant and descendant of Norman invaders.
Robert Emmet, another famous United Irishman but martyred in 1803, bore a surname of English origin as did one of his prominent comrades, Thomas Russell (“The Man from God Knows Where”), also executed by the English that year.
The Young Irelanders were the next Irish Republican organisation in history, their leaders a mixture of Protestant and Catholic background. One of the most famous was Thomas Davis, the son of a Welshman in the British Army and an Irish woman descended from Irish chieftain Ó Súilleabháin Béara. Davis founded The Nation newspaper and composed a number of poems and songs, some of the latter being still sung today (e.g A Nation Once Again and The West’s Awake).
James Stephens and a handful of others founded the Irish Republican Brotherhood on 17th March 1858 in Dublin, the third Irish Republican organisation in Irish history and the life of which extended into the 1920s. Stephens is a family name of Anglo-Norman origin.
John Devoy of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in the USA, who was very active in supporting the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence, carried a family name of Welsh origin. Wales was also the likely origin of the of Michael Davitt’s family name, he who was chief organiser of the Land League’s base membership.
Volunteers Terence McSwiney and Kevin Barry, who both died in the same week in 1920, the first on hunger strike and the second hanged by the English, had family names of foreign origin.
WHO IS NOT A DESCENDANT OF MIGRANTS?
Of course, we are ALL descendants of migrants. The earliest date for human occupation of parts of Ireland has been calculated as being 7,000 BCE. Since the earliest date given for the existence of homo sapiens is 300,000 years ago in the Horn of Africa (although throwing spears in Germany have been assessed as being between 380,000 and 400,000 years old), it follows that human settlement in Ireland was comparatively late and that all Irish are descended from migrants.
Stone age people arrived first, then the metal workers of bronze, followed by people of Celtic culture working iron. Subsequently Ireland saw influxes of other groups, from Norse and Danes when they began to settle in parts of Ireland, followed by their cousins based in Normandy (and mercenaries they brought with them), then English and so on. Religious groups seeking security such as Jews or fleeing persecution, for example the Huguenots, also entered at various times. Just a study of family names common in the Ireland of today reveals some of those ancestries.
The Norse, Danes, Normans and early English came as invaders, some more came subsequently as planters and many others came just to make a living in Ireland, like most migrants of today. But descendants of all those groups, including of invaders and planters, contributed to and even led the struggle for Irish independence and social progress. Not only that but a significant number of those who arrived as migrants themselves took a stand for Irish independence, some of them paying the ultimate price.
Far from being “patriotic”, maligning migrants simply for being migrants is counter to the history of the general struggle for Irish independence and of Irish Republicanism in particular. It actually undermines the unfinished struggle for Irish independence and unification as well, of course, as the struggle of the working people for socialism.
TRADUCCIÓN AL CASTELLANO:
LOS INMIGRANTES EN LA HISTORIA IRLANDESA
Los racistas y fascistas, haciéndose pasar por “patriotas” irlandeses, atacan a los inmigrantes en Irlanda en su propaganda racista. Esta actividad es fundamentalmente antipatriótica, que vuela no solo contra nuestra enorme historia de migración a otras tierras sino también contra la gran historia de la contribución de los inmigrantes a la lucha por la independencia y el socialismo irlandés.
De los Siete Signatarios de la Proclamación de Independencia de 1916, dos eran inmigrantes y un tercero era hijo de un inmigrante. De los dieciséis del Azamiento ejecutados por los ingleses, dos eran inmigrantes (Connolly y Clarke), otros dos eran hijos de inmigrantes (hermanos Pearse) y al menos seis tenían apellidos de ascendencia extranjera (Casement, Ceannt, Clarke, Colbert, Kent, Plunkett). Numerosos inmigrantes participaron en el Alzantamiento de 1916, principalmente de Inglaterra y Escocia, pero también algunos de los EEUU, uno de Argentina, otro de Finlandia y otro de Suecia).
Constance Markievicz (soltera Gore-Booth), feminista, republicana irlandesa, socialista, oficial del ejército ciudadano irlandés y primera mujer elegida para el Parlamento británico, la primera mujer ministra del Parlamento irlandés y primera ministra femenina de trabajo del mundo, nació en Inglaterra; fue condenada a muerte en 1916 por los ingleses, pero la conmutaron la pena. El voluntario Eamon De Valera, un comandante de la guarnición del Azamiento de 1916, nació en los Estados Unidos de una madre irlandesa y un padre cubano. El capitán del yate Asgard que entregó los fusiles Mauser para el Alzamiento de 1916 era un inglés, Erskine Childers y entre la tripulación estaban su esposa Molly (de los Estados Unidos) y Mary Spring Rice (nacida en Londres). Childers luchó en la Guerra de la Independencia y la Guerra Civil y fue ejecutado por el Estado Libre de Irlanda en 1922.
Jim Larkin, organizador sindical y líder de la resistencia al Cierre Patronal, que estuvo en los EEUU durante el Alzamiento, fue cofundador del Sindicato de Trabajadores Generales y de Transporte de Irlanda y del Ejército de Ciudadanos de Irlanda, también del Partido Laborista. Larkin nació y creció en Liverpool y no vio Irlanda hasta estar enviado a Belfast por su sindicato con sede en Inglaterra.
UNA LARGA HISTORIA DE CONTRIBUCIÓN MIGRANTE A LAS LUCHA IRLANDESA
Lo anterior no debería sorprendernos, ya que los migrantes a menudo han participado en luchas por la libertad y el progreso social en sus países adoptados y ellos y sus descendientes tienen una larga historia de asumir esas luchas en Irlanda, a menudo sacrificando su libertad e incluso sus vidas al hacerlo. .
Patrick Sarsfield, un héroe de la resistencia a Guillermo Naranja en el ejército de Jaime II de Gran Bretaña, era de ascendencia anglo-normanda (era un miembro destacado de los “Gansos Silvestes” y fue asesinado en el servicio militar en el extranjero en 1683).
Casi todos los líderes de la Sociedad de Irlandeses Unidos, la primera organización revolucionaria republicana de Irlanda, eran protestantes de varias sectas y descendientes de inmigrantes. Henry y Mary Joy McCracken fueron activos en salvar las melodías tradicionales irlandesas; sus antepasados eran hugonotes (refugiados protestantes franceses). Henry Joy fue ejecutado públicamente en Belfast por los ingleses en 1798, su hermana caminó de la mano con él hacia la horca. El general Henry Munro, otro líder de Los Irelandeses Unidos de Antrim, también ejecutado en 1798, era de ascendencia escocesa. Theobald Wolfe Tone, cofundador anglicano de los Irelandeses Unidos y a menudo descrito como el “padre del republicanismo irlandés”, también era de ascendencia hugonote; murió en la cárcel de Dublín, mientras que su hermano Matthew fue ahorcado. Edward Fitzgerald, otro líder de los Irelandeses Unidos que murió por sus heridas en una cárcel de Dublín, era protestante y descendiente de invasores normandos.
Robert Emmet, otro famoso de los Irelandeses Unidos pero martirizado en 1803, tenía un apellido de origen inglés, al igual que uno de sus camaradas prominentes, Thomas Russell (“The Man from God Knows Where”), también ejecutado por los ingleses ese año.
Los Jóvenes Irlandeses fueron la próxima organización republicana irlandesa, sus líderes una mezcla de antecedentes protestantes y católicos. Uno de los más famosos fue Thomas Davis, hijo de un galés en el ejército británico y una mujer irlandesa descendiente del jefe irlandés Ó Súilleabháin Béara. Davis fundó el periódico The Nation y compuso una serie de poemas y canciones, algunas de las cuales todavía se cantan hoy (por ejemplo, A Nation Once Again y The West’s Awake).
James Stephens y un puñado de otros fundaron la Hermandad Republicana Irlandesa el 17 de marzo de 1858 en Dublín, la tercera organización republicana irlandesa en la historia de Irlanda y cuya vida se extendió hasta la década de 1920. Stephens es un apellido de origen anglo-normando.
John Devoy, de la Hermandad Republicana Irlandesa en los EEUU, que fue muy activo en el apoyo al Alzamiento de 1916 y la Guerra de la Independencia, llevaba un apellido de origen galés, lo qual también fue el origen probable del apellido de Michael Davitt, el principal organizador de la membresía base de la Liga de la Tierra.
Los Voluntarios del IRA Terence McSwiney y Kevin Barry, quienes murieron en la misma semana en 1920, el primero en huelga de hambre y el segundo ahorcado por los ingleses, tenían apellidos de origen invasor.
¿QUIÉN NO ES UN DESCENDENTE DE MIGRANTES?
Por supuesto, TODOS somos descendientes de migrantes. La fecha más temprana para la ocupación humana de partes de Irlanda se calculó ser en 7,000 aC. Dado que la fecha más temprana dada para la existencia del homo sapiens es hace 300,000 años en lo que hoy es Marruecos, se deduce que el asentamiento humano en Irlanda fue relativamente tarde y que todos los irlandeses son descendientes de migrantes.
Primero llegaron personas de la edad de piedra, luego los trabajadores metalúrgicos de bronce, seguidos por gente de la cultura celta que trabajaban el hierro. Posteriormente, Irlanda vio la afluencia de otros grupos, de nórdicos y daneses cuando comenzaron a establecerse en partes de Irlanda, seguidos por sus primos con sede en Normandía (y mercenarios que trajeron con ellos), luego ingleses, etc. Los grupos religiosos que buscaban seguridad como los judíos o huían de la persecución, por ejemplo los hugonotes, también ingresaron en varios momentos. Un estudio de apellidos comunes en la Irlanda de hoy basta para revelar algunos de esos antepasados.
Los nórdicos, daneses, normandos y los primeros ingleses llegaron como invasores, algunos más llegaron posteriormente como plantadores y muchos otros vinieron para ganarse la vida en Irlanda, como la mayoría de los inmigrantes de hoy. Pero los descendientes de todos esos grupos, incluidos los invasores y plantadores, contribuyeron e incluso lideraron la lucha por la independencia de Irlanda y el progreso social. No solo eso, sino que un número significativo de los que llegaron como migrantes tomaron posición por la independencia de Irlanda, algunos de ellos pagando el precio final.
Lejos de ser “patriótico”, difamar a los migrantes simplemente por ser migrantes es contrario a la historia de la lucha general por la independencia de Irlanda y del republicanismo irlandés en particular. De hecho, mina la lucha todavía inconclusa por la independencia y la unificación irlandesa, así como, por supuesto, la lucha de los trabajadores por el socialismo.
On what was an extremely cold day, faith groups joined with migrants and community groups, Irish Republicans, socialists, communists and anarchists to oppose a mobilisation by racists and fascists outside Leinster House, which houses the Oireachtas, the Irish Parliament. There were a couple of moments of surges towards the right-wingers but these were contained without arrests.
The anti-racist demonstrators responded to a call for the counter-rally and occupied the space from 12.00 noon on 14th December 2019, which left the racists and fascists having to face them from the other side of Kildare Street, at the junction with Molesworth Street but, in any case, they were outnumbered at about ten to one by the anti-racists and anti-fascists. The call came from SARF (Solidarity Alliance against Racism and Fascism), Islamic Foundation of Ireland, United Against Racism and Irish Network Against Racism (INAR).
The right-wing group had called for a rally to protest about the legislation proposed by the party in Government, Fine Gael, against “hate speech”. Ironically, Fine Gael are themselves a right-wing party which was formed in part out of the 1930s Irish fascist organisation, known colloquially as “the Blueshirts” (a name by which Fine Gael are known to this day by many). Earlier this year, Gemma O’ Doherty’s Youtube account was suspended and then terminated by Google because of its anti-migrant content, which gave the racists another issue: censorship of “free speech”.
Historically fascists, when their movement is weak, have often mobilised under the banner of “freedom of speech”. This has meant not only freedom to speak out against the government in power (which many anti-fascists would also wish for) but also the freedom to demonise targeted social, ethnic and religious groups and to call for their restriction, expulsion, jailing — or even death. Immediately upon gaining power, fascists restrict the freedom of speech of all others: not only of the social, ethnic and religious groups they targeted but also of their critics, the political opposition and trade unions. In this of course they are not so different from some socialist, communist or Irish Republican groups that rail against suppression and censorship only subsequently to silence criticism within their own ranks by threats, expulsions and censorship in the media they control. The point however is not to be fooled by the “free speech” demands of fascists and racists.
All the same, this does not mean that we should support the proposed Fine Gael legislation either. “Anti-Hate Speech” legislation elsewhere was passed in capitalist states under the guise of protection of vulnerable minorities but then at times used for the protection of capitalists, royalty, government ministers and the police. If racist or homophobic incitement is the supposed target, why not specify that? Is hate itself necessarily a bad thing, if the hated object is racism, state suppression, exploitation?
A BROAD RIGHT-WING, RACIST COALITION SHELTERING FASCISTS
The origin of this right-wing coalition seems to have coalesced around former anti-corruption journalist Gemma Doherty who, some time subsequent to being fired by her newspaper after she exposed some aspects of the financial dealings of the paper’s owner, apparently underwent a transformation into a rabid anti-immigration racist. People opposed to legislation legalising gay marriage and permitting greater access to abortion gathered around her, as did others against the State’s problematic child and family agency TUSLA and some others. Accordingly it is a broad but small, generally right-wing movement of many who feel a sense of their values being ignored or undermined. How disparate at times can be judged by their demonstration at the Department of Justice building a little over a month ago, when among their signage was a banner attacking TUSLA and abuses by the Catholic Church, while a woman among their number shook a set of rosary beads at the counter-demonstration!
The confusion was illustrated yesterday too when a woman among the right-wingers could be seen flying an estelada, a flag of Catalan independentists. From a number of people from among the counter-demonstrators who spoke to her, including Catalans and other people from the Spanish state, it appears that she equated the demonstration with demanding free speech, which she rightly stated was being denied by the Spanish state to many, including Catalan independentists.
Such groups are often believers in bizarre conspiracies (nor are they alone in that) and current among some of them is a belief that the EU plans to replace Irish people with migrants. For that reason the EU, which many Irish Republicans and socialists also oppose for very different reasons, is one of the targets of this right-wing coalition.
Organised fascists, who are currently a tiny group in the territory of the Irish state (but much larger, in the shape of Loyalists, in the British colony in Ireland, the Six Counties) find themselves generally isolated in society within the Irish state and no doubt threatened too. Therefore they try to infiltrate broader anti-government groups, as they did with a brief emergence of an Irish “Yellow Vest” movement, mostly in Dublin (see https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2019/02/16/irish-yellow-vests-and-questions/) – in which they do not reveal their fascist project but present themselves as being against the Government, against corruption, for remedy of homelessness and as Irish patriots. And of course for free speech.
Nor are organised fascists the only opportunists, as a small number of politicians seeking election (or reelection) have been known to whip up fear of migrants and racist sentiment against Irish Travellers (originally a nomadic group). These offenders very recently have included an Independent TD (parliamentary delegate) from Galway and a Fine Gael candidate seeking election.
At some point of course, if they intend to come to power in society, fascists need to reveal some of their agenda but before they can do that they need to train some of their stormtroopers, public speakers and organisers and they need to command the street, at least in some areas. That was the reason for the 1930s rallies and attempted march on Dublin of the Blueshirts in Ireland, Mussolini’s Blackshirts March on Rome, the rallies and street-fighting of the Brownshirts in Germany and Moseley’s Blackshirts’ failed attempt to penetrate London’s East End. In the Spanish and Portuguese states, the fascists needed a military coup to aid them and, in the former case, the logistical and personnel assistance of the already-fascist states of Germany and Italy (a military coup was feared by the young Fianna Fáil government in 1930s Ireland too). In 2016, the need for a street presence was the reason for the attempted Dublin city centre launch of the European islamophobic organisation Pegida, which was defeated by mass mobilisation and physical opposition (for which some Irish Republicans are still being processed through the Irish courts).
Although Gemma O’Doherty and her supporters had been confronted before in Ireland, yesterday’s was the first large mobilisation against their racist anti-immigration message and it vastly outnumbered that of the racists.
POLICE AND STEWARDS SAVE RACISTS AND FASCISTS FROM A TROUNCING
Generally the two opposing forces seemed content with shouting and chanting across the street at one another, apart from the occasional anti-fascist wandering over to verbally confront the opposition. The anti-racists who in the opinion of the police got too close to the racists were sent back by the police but one of the antifascists had to approach the Gardaí (Irish state police) to remove one of the racists who had embedded himself among the anti-fascists. This seemed dangerously like asking the police to deal with the fascists whereas police bias at least is generally against the antifascists. Surely the crowd could have easily expelled him (at least) unaided?
As has been the custom with them and their intention to appear patriotic, the racists and fascists were displaying a host of Irish tricolours but this time there were a number of these also among the antifascists, along with a number of green-and-gold Starry Plough flags, as well as some communist and anarchist flags.
However, when a small group among the right-wingers pulled out the blue-and-white version of the Starry Plough, flag of the Republican Congress of the 1930s, along with the Sunburst flag of the Fianna Éireann (Republican youth group of past generations) and began waving them, a section of Irish Republicans surged forward in outrage and for a few moments the stewards and the Gardaí struggled to contain them.
Those who had brandished those particular flags were clearly delighted with the reaction they had provoked. Since at previous demonstrations of the racists and fascists they had never displayed those particular flags and, since they only made an appearance later in their rally yesterday, it seems clear that they had displayed them solely for the purpose of provocation.
A little later there was another surge from a different point which was again contained.
It was understandable, given the broad composition of the anti-racist rally, that the organisers would wish to prevent physical fighting breaking out from among their ranks on this occasion. However, there is a danger of this kind of stewarding becoming collusion with the State – or at the very least being seen to be so by sections of anti-fascists.
MIGRANTS AND IRELAND
The bubble expansion of the Irish economy for an unexpectedly long period from the late 1980s to the beginning of this century, provided employment opportunities which could not be filled by the low level of the Irish population (a result of two centuries of heavy migration from Ireland to other countries). These employment opportunities, mostly in construction and services, tended to be availed of by migrants, mostly from European states with declining or stagnant economies but also by some from states in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and China.
Although Ireland had seen foreign colonisation from Britain for centuries, it had only experienced small emigration from elsewhere, which also tended to restricted to certain periods, for example Huguenots at the end of the 17th Century and Italians in two waves, following each World War. The change in population composition in some areas at the end of the 20th Century was startling and difficult for some to which to accustom themselves (though welcomed by others). When combined with the subsequent bursting of the Irish economic bubble and cuts in public services, severe housing crisis and a health service failing spectacularly, migrants became a handy scapegoat for some people and a useful target for fascists.
Some of the migrant communities in Ireland were represented among the anti-fascists but apart from a sprinkling of black faces, were not so easy to identify. A Catalan estelada (yes, another one) revealed a small group of Catalans representing CDR Dublin and a representative of Asamblea Nacional de Catalunya Ireland also spoke from the PA system earlier in the day. Some Spanish were in evidence and a Basque Antifascist flag could also be seen but undoubtedly the largest migrant antifascist contingent was Italian. Many of these were supporters of the Sardine movement against Italian right-wing populist politician Salvini and which welcomes migrants. Perhaps a hundred strong, they sang antifascist songs, including of course the Bella Ciao and made speeches in Italian and in English.
As increasingly around the world governments become more right-wing and fascist organisations mobilise, anti-fascists need to organise too. The thesis that fascism is capitalism in crisis seems well-proven which means that antifascists should not nor cannot rely on the forces of the capitalist State to prevent the growth of fascism or to protect the social and ethnic groups targeted by fascists and racists.
Although the Catholic Church in Ireland no longer has the power it had in the Irish state since its creation in the 1920s and the fascists cannot rely on its heavy backing as in the 1930s, there is no room for complacency in Ireland or anywhere else.
Mobilisation against the fascists and racists to deny them public spaces from which to recruit and to organise is essential. And a broad anti-fascist and ant-racist unity in action needs to be built, similar to what was seen yesterday although within that broad movement there also needs to be struggle against liberal ideology. But one cannot combat sickness purely by countering infection – care needs to be given to cultivation of a healthy body too. The Ireland body is sick: sick from cultural and physical colonialism, sick from territorial partition, from racist Loyalism and native gombeenism, from underdeveloped economy and plundered resources, from housing and health crises. While these remain unresolved we can expect at least sporadic outbreaks of fascist and racist infection and quite possibly an epidemic. It is not only in the struggle against fascism that unity is needed.
From information either not available to me or unconfirmed at the time, the blue-and-white Starry Plough which had been used to provoke anti-fascists was actually seized by the latter in the scrimmage. There was apparently another, which was allegedly seized by Republicans after the right-wingers had left for which two men were arrested and handcuffed.
According to reports, one of the right-wing women attempted to kick one of the arrested men while he was handcuffed and she was also arrested.
At little over a week’s notice, a protest picket took place on the evening of Friday, 6th December in Dublin City’s main street in protest at the lack of democracy of the Spanish Constitution. The date chosen was the same as the public holiday designated by the Spanish State to celebrate the adoption of the Spanish Constitution by majority in 1978.
The protest was organised by three Catalonia-solidarity organisations in Dublin: With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin, ANC Ireland and CDR Dublin. Calling the Constitution “a forced marriage without right to divorce”, the organisers published a statement in advance explaining the background to the Constitution and calling on people to support the protest.
The statement explained that when General Franco, the fascist-military dictator of the Spanish state, died near the end of 1975, opposition of various kinds that had illegal under the dictatorship – trade union, anti-fascist, republican, national-independentist – had been building for some time and took encouragement from his death. But State repression intensified with attacks by police, military and by fascist gangs.
“In 1977 the regime proposed to legalise their opposition parties, the PSOE and the Communist Party – on condition those parties agreed to support the installation of Franco’s nominee as King and Head of State and to control their affiliated (illegal) trade unions, the UGT and Comisiones Obreras.” This was the price for prisoners being released but no action could be taken against the torturers and murderers of thousands during the Anti-Fascist War or the Dictatorship or against those who had stolen children, raped and plundered. The (republican!) party leaders agreed and recommended the 1978 monarchical and unionist Constitution to their members and affiliated trade unions. Amid a wave of repression the take-it or leave-it Constitution was agreed in the Parliament and then in Referendum on 6th December 1978 by a large majority throughout the Spanish state, except in the Basque Country.
The statement pointed out that while the Constitution guarantees the right to self-determination, tht can be only if the majority of the Spanish Parliament agrees. in 1919 when Ireland had a majority of pro-independence delegates elected, as Catalonia has now, the text recalled that they declared independence. The statement went out to point out the close parallels of Ireland 100 years ago and Catalonia today, as the British proclaimed the declaration illegal, banned the First Dáil (Irish Parliament) and jailed elected delegates it could catch.
Although the Catalan Government has not yet been declared illegal, the statement pointed out that “seven of its Ministers and elected officers have been jailed for 13 years and others heavily fined (two grass-roots organisation leaders have also been jailed for nine years); 700 town mayors are to be judicially processed for allowing the Referendum on independence to go ahead in their towns on 1st October 2017, a Referendum when many polling stations witnessed a savage Spanish police attack that was seen around the world (but much of it not in the Spanish state, outside of Catalonia and the Basque Country). Opinion polls have shown that 70-80% of people in Catalonia want to have a referendum on independence, free from attack or threat but the Spanish State uses the excuse of the Constitution to deny them that opportunity.”
On the picket in Dublin a banner was displayed in Irish and English supporting Catalan political prisoners, along with a number of estelades (flags supporting Catalan independence), most of them of the red star variety (rather than the more common white star in a blue triangle). There was also a Basque Antifascist flag.
As the protest drew to a close, outlining their reasons for supporting the protest, a number of individuals gave short video interviews; one in Irish and Marc Loan of CDR Dublin gave one in in English.
Carles Pujol of ANC Ireland thanked everyone for attending and said a few words about the need for the protest and referred also to the Catalan political prisoners in Spanish jails. Diarmuid Breatnach of WCLC spoke briefly about the appropriateness of the protest taking place in front of of the General Post Office building, which had been the HQ of the 1916 Easter Rising against British domination. He went on to point out some of the parallels between Catalan and Irish history and concluded by saying that Catalonia today is in the same situation as Ireland was a century before.
As the protest began to conclude, another picketbegan to assemble in solidarity with Irish Republican prisoners and there was some friendly interaction between both groups. However the Catalan solidarity protesters were heading off for a performance in Dublin by Els Pets, a long-standing Catalan band in a kind of folk-rock genre.
During the band’s performance, which was enthusiastically received by the mainly expatriate Catalan audience, a number of references were made from the stage to the aspiration for Catalan independence. At one point, a band member ironically sympathised with the Irish not having a king, saying “You don’t know what you’re missing.” The Spanish King is hated by many Catalans because of his personal position with regard to violent repression against Catalan Referendum voters in October 2017 but also because the monarchy was re-imposed on a Republican Catalonia by General Franco. When the satirical song “I want to be a King” was performed, members of the audience began to blow yellow balloons and to bounce them around the area (yellow is the colour designated for ribbons supporting Catalan political prisoners).
At the end of the concert, a number of supporters lined up with placards supporting the right to self-determination, also denouncing the Constitution and Spanish State repression.
The politically-independent organisations concerned have organised more than ten public Catalan solidarity events in Dublin this year, including a cultural day in the park, film showings, talks and protest pickets. In addition, there have been organisational meetings and external meetings with public representatives and participation in a Spanish-Embassy sponsored debate (which wasn’t!).
A Catalonian firefighter and trade unionist addressed a Dublin audience to talk about the independence for Catalonia movement and the role of the trade unions in it, the repression from the Spanish State and the how the firefighters found themselves between the rampaging Spanish police and referendum voters on the 1st of October 2017.
With some words in Irish and then speaking in English, the Chair of the meeting, Marc Loan of CDR Dublin welcomed the mostly-Irish audience to the meeting in Club na Múinteoirí (Teachers’ Club) on 13th November and outlined how the presentation would go, before opening up to questions and contributions from the audience. The meeting was part of a short tour of Irish cities by a Catalonian firefighter and trade unionist, organised jointly by three Ireland-based organisations in solidarity with Catalonia: With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin, ANC Ireland and CDR Dublin.
The room lights were dimmed and an electronic presentation operated by Carles Pujol of the Irish branch of the ANC (National Assembly of Catalonia) took the audience through dates in the history of Catalonia as a nation and its relationship with the Spanish Kingdom. Then the presentation switched to some dates in international recognition of the right to self-determination of peoples, before focusing on the fairly recent attempts of the Catalan Government to legislate for its needs, legislation reduced or eliminated by subsequent judgements of the Spanish court. And thence to the Referendum on Independence of 1st October 2017, at which point the Chair presented the guest speaker.
The Chair introduced the firefighter from Catalonia, a slim tanned man in his forties, with shaved and balding head and lively brown eyes. Oriol Duch had the previous day addressed an audience in Derry, hosted by Derry Trades Council and the day before that in Queen’s University Belfast, organised by Belfast ANC. Mr. Duch had worked at one job or another since the age of sixteen, had been a firefighter for 15 years and a member of his union, Intersindical CSC, for seven of those. From its website, Intersindical declares itself to be a class trade union, which is to say that it specifically excludes members of state repressive forces, senior officials of state departments or management officials of companies. Mr. Duch is employed as a firefighter at the Girona Airport, Catalonia but also volunteers for the firefighting service of the Catalan Government administration, the Generalitat.
“WE ARE NOT HEROES”
As Oriol Duch spoke about the involvement of the firefighters as a defensive screen for voters in the October 1st Referendum in Catalonia, the projection screen showed massive crowds marching and demonstrating for independence. Catalonian firefighters had taken part in uniform in a number of those demonstrations for the democratic right to self-determination and had organised a demonstration of their own (seen on the poster for the speaking tour). The firefighters had discussed what to do since the Spanish Government had threatened the Referendum organisers and social media was full of threats too from right-wingers, including Spanish police officers and Army members. They knew that among the masses coming out to vote, there would be vulnerable people including the elderly and children and decided that those who wished to would turn out voluntarily in their uniforms and stand between the Spanish police and the crowds wanting to vote.
Manus O’Riordan, whose father fought in the International Brigades at Gandesa, mentioned a song for Catalonia he had liked and sang his translation of it into English there and then. As the applause died down, an Irish voice called for the national song of Catalonia, a song of workers’ resistance, the Els Segadors (the Reapers), which all Catalans present sang, the whole audience standing in respect.
Bringing the meeting to a close, the Chair thanked the guest speaker, the panel and the audience for their attendance and contributions (a thanks separately expressed by Oriol Duchs too) and encouraged them to keep in touch with the three solidarity organisations. He also expressed the organisers’ gratitude to the Dublin Fire Brigade and to the Teachers’ Club.
On the day, the firefighters distributed themselves around in a number of places, Oriol Duch told his audience, by ad hoc arrangements, the organisers arranging by texts to send firefighters to areas where they were felt to be needed. On the Sunday in question, as voters queued outside the polling stations, mostly schools closed for the day, convoys of police arrived with Spanish police in riot gear who charged into the buildings, breaking down doors and windows, to beat people and seize ballot boxes. They also attacked people waiting to vote with batons, boots and fists, Oriol Duch said, as the firefighters attempted to stand between the unarmed civilians and the police. Over 800 people that day had required medical treatment, he said (including a number of firefighters).
As the firefighter from Catalonia spoke, the presentation began to show scenes of Spanish police beating people with their truncheons, throwing others to the ground, kicking and punching them, pulling people by their hair and putting them in choke holds
“People have called the firefighters heroes but we do not see ourselves that way,” he said. “We were doing what we could to protect people and save lives, which is what we do in our job.”
A MASS MOVEMENT FOR SELF-DETERMINATION
The Catalonian movement for independence is a mass movement that has been built especially by grassroots organisations, which have pushed the Catalan independentist political parties forward. Chief among these grassroots organisations is the National Assembly of Catalonia (whose former President, Jordi Sanchez, is one of the independentist activists jailed recently by the Spanish court). Firefighters for the Republic, of which Oriol is an active member, is a sub-group of the ANC.
Since the police attacks, others have come forward to direct mass resistance, in particular after the jail sentences of 9-13 years on seven elected public representatives and two leaders of grassroots organisations (ANC and Omnium Cultural) were announced in October. The “Catalan Tsunami” organisation contacted supporters through social media and masses followed their direction. For example, when the call to flood the Barcelona Airport with people had gone out, thousands had walked kilometres to get there and despite police violence, had effectively shut the airport down for hours. More recently, people had for a weekend closed by blockade one of two main motorways from the French State into the Spanish one, which passes through Catalonia (the other, passing through the Basque Country, was more recently shut down by Basques also — CS).
Oriol Duchs told the Dublin audience that the repression of peaceful people by the Spanish State included heavy jail sentences for “sedition” and police attacks on people in the street, “including firing rubber bullets, the use of which are banned in Catalonia but that is ignored by the Spanish police”. News media has reported that victims of rubber bullets fired at close range directly at people, contrary to instructions on their use, have caused a number of people recently to lose an eye. However, the police cannot control the masses of people, Oriol said.
After the applause for the Catalan firefighter had died down, the Chair opened the meeting to questions and comments from the audience.
Among the comments was that of an Irish woman who had been in Catalonia during the Referendum and talked about the frightening advance of the Spanish police in their riot gear and with their weapons. She disagreed with what Oriol Duchs had said in only one particular: “You ARE heroes”, she said, to applause and cheering from the audience.
An Irishman who had been there too as an international observer spoke about the police attack, which he said was fascist in nature. Another Irishwoman who had been there in a similar capacity said that she had witnessed much police violence but that the scenes depicted on the screen had reminded her just how violent those had been. She asked what people in Ireland could do to help.
From the panel the advice was to support Catalonia solidarity activities, to stay in touch through of the Catalonian solidarity organisations in Dublin, whilst from the floor an Irishman said that people should tell the elected public representatives what was going on and call for statements of support and interventions to the Spanish Government.
This brought about discussion of the posture of the Irish Government, as in recent Dáil questions to the Depart of Foreign Affairs, the responsible Minister of State had reiterated the Government line, that it was an internal matter for the Spanish State, that the rule of law had to be maintained and that the Spanish State is a democratic one with separation of judiciary and government executive. An intervention from the floor pointed out that one of the TDs (parliamentary delegates) had pointed out that in 1919 the First Dáil (Irish Parliament) had declared its independence of Britain and issued a call to the democratic nations of the world asking for recognition, although it was in violation of British constitution and law. The First Dáil had been declared illegal a few months later and its delegates hunted, arrested and jailed. “Catalonia today is Ireland 100 years ago,” he had said. Without the stance taken by that First Dáil, predecessors of all other parliaments of Ireland since, the present Government would not even exist nor would that Minister’s Department, the man commented..
“The struggle in Catalonia and the repression by the Spanish State is not ‘an internal matter for the Spanish State’”, Oriol Duch said. “It is a problem for Europe.”
Manus O’Riordan, whose father fought in the International Brigades at Gandesa, mentioned a song for Catalonia he had liked and sang his translation of it into English there and then. As the applause died down, an Irish voice called for the national song of Catalonia, a song of workers’ resistance, the Els Segadors (the Reapers), which all Catalans present sang, the whole audience standing in respect.
Bringing the meeting to a close, the Chair thanked the guest speaker, the panel and the audience for their attendance and contributions (a thanks separately expressed by Oriol Duchs too) and encouraged them to keep in touch with the three solidarity organisations. He also expressed the organisers’ gratitude to the Dublin Fire Brigade and to the Teachers’ Club.
Some of the attendance stayed around in the bar area to discuss for another hour or so.
According to information contained in a press statement issued more recently by the speaking tour organisers, Oriol Duchs the following day paid a fraternal visit to a fire station of the Dublin Fire Brigade, as well as to the DFB’s Training Centre and Museum and was given a conducted tour of all three facilities. Also in Dublin, the firefighter had visited Leinster House hosted by Independents For Change TD Thomas Pringle, where he had met TDs Maureen O’Sullivan (Ind4C), Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Sinn Féin) and Éamon Ó Cuív (Fianna Fáil) along with Senators Paul Gavan and Máire Devine (both Sinn Féin). In a related but separate building he had also met with TDs Gino Kenny and Richard Boyd Barrett (both members of Solidarity/ People Before Profit). Oriol Duchs also took part, shared with a Kurdish representative, in a seminar on international law organised by the Law faculty of Griffiths College, Dublin.
In Belfast on Monday he had spoken in Queen’s University Belfast without contact with any political representatives but in Derry had met Eamon McCann and Shaun Harkin, both members of Solidarity/ People Before Profit and public representatives on Strabane and Derry District Council, as well as Elisha McCallion, Sinn Féin MP for Foyle at Westminster,
He met too with Derry Trades Council which, indeed, had hosted his public meeting in that city. How was it then that, considering his publicity promotion as a trade unionist, member of a trade union that organised three general strikes in Catalonia since 2017, the press statement issued by the speaking tour organisers included no mention of engagement with Irish trade unionists in Dublin, in a city where so many Irish trade unions had their head offices?
“That was not for want of trying,” responded Diarmuid Breatnach, a member of With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin, to the question. “We contacted a number of trade union organisations in Dublin in order to host a public meeting or to meet with Oriol privately. One trade union quoted us commercial hire prices and failed to respond afterwards, another promised a meeting but failed to make arrangements, a number simply did not reply. It was sad, really, not only for solidarity with Catalonia, for I think Irish trade unionists would have benefited much from the interaction with Oriol and his trade union.”
Hopefully they will display a different attitude to any future such visits.
ORGANISATIONS IN DUBLIN (joint organisers of the speaking tour)
An anti-fascist bookfair was held in Portugalete1, not far from Bilbo (Bilbao) in the southern Basque Country on Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th September. There was ample room for the many stalls in the old disused indoor market in the town’s Casco Viejo (old town quarter), along with a curtained-off play area for children. One of the events in the two-day bookfair was a launch of the translation into Castillian (Spanish) of D’Arcy’s book “Tell Them Everything”(“Di Les Todo”). The translation was published by Sare Antifascista, one of the organisers of the bookfair and D’Arcy spoke in English at the launch, her talk translated into Castillian; also speaking was Basque ex-political prisoner Ziortza Fernandez Larrazabal.
Trembling from the illness that has affected her for a number of years (which she later commented resulted from attacks by fascists during the Greenham Common protest and later in Ireland by police) D’Arcy spoke clearly and coherently about her activism, the founding of Women Against Imperialism, the Greenham Common protest camp, her period in jail with Republican women and her activism against the USA’s military use of Ireland’s international airport at Shannon (despite the country’s constitutional neutrality).
Going on to speak about Ireland today, D’Arcy outlined some of the aspects of the notorious Direct Provision Centres for asylum seekers in the Irish state, the issues arising from the location of such centres and the opportunistic intervention of fascists against immigration. She went on to talk about the targeting on social media of those who spoke up welcoming asylum seekers or against racism and commented that the worrying thing about this development was that the fascists had a youth wing. Recalling the referendum on conditions of nationality in 2014 which had removed the rights of people born in Ireland to Irish citizenship unless they had an Irish citizen parent or grandparent, D’Arcy concluded by saying that Ireland is a racist country.
Referring to the Six Counties, D’Arcy criticised Sinn Féin for using the proposed Irish Language Act as a political football and as something with which to attack their political opposition, the Democratic Unionist Party2. Continuing, she said that “Scottish Irish”3 also existed in the Six Counties and asked why that could not be included in the Act, also quoting James Connolly that he didn’t care what language people spoke as long as they could communicate together.
Whatever about the issues in the Brexit question, the speaker said, Britain had used Ireland as a military training ground and had many bases in the Six Counties and these needed to be dismantled.
D’Arcy concluded by advising Basques to approach the Irish Consulate in the Basque Country to enquire whether it would be safe to travel to Ireland, given the US military use of Shannon Airport and the growth of fascism and racism in the country.
After the Irish speaker and speaking in Castillian, Ziortza Fernandez Larrazabal, ex-political prisoner from the locality,spoke first in tribute to D’Arcy’s record of activism. Moving on to her own activism in support of Basque independence and socialism and her five years in jail, Ziortza recounted being moved through a number of jails as part of the Spanish State’s policy and practice of dispersing political prisoners far from their homes and the strain this places on their friends and relations.
Commenting on the effects of imprisonment in Spanish jails, Ziortza said that some political prisoners had died through neglect, some had killed themselves but some had come out stronger, clearer in their minds and confirmed in their political views, which is what she felt had happened in her case. Ziortza said that some prisoners had 40 years of jail sentence and that they should be released.
After applause for the speakers, the Sare Antifaxista chairperson opened the meeting to questions from the audience. After a silence of some minutes, one man spoke in praise of the courage and commitment of both women and their record of activism. Speaking in Castillian with an Irish accent, he said he felt he had to distance himself from some of D’Arcy’s words. He felt it was important not to confuse government with people and that the Irish people were not, on the whole, racist and in fact racists and fascists had found it very difficult to organise within the territory of the Irish State.
Recounting the historical experience with the fascist Blueshirts in the 1930s, the Irishman said that they had been fought on the streets and defeated. When Pegida tried to launch their fascist and islamophobic group in the capitals of European states in 2016, they had failed in Ireland because firstly their gathering point had been occupied in advance by anti-fascists and anti-racists and, secondly the fascists themselves had been physically attacked and beaten. He talked also about a recent initiative to launch a “yellow vest” movement in Ireland but which fascists and racists had moved in to lead – that initiative had, as a result, been rejected and had faded away. Fascists are active on social media but find it difficult to hold events in public. The danger of racism and fascist organising should not be dismissed, the Irishman said but so far, in Ireland, racism and fascism was being repulsed among the people.
While it was true that the Government had proposed changing the nationality clause in the Constitution in 2014, he said, this had been part of a process across the whole of Europe. The referendum was held on that question along with another at the same time and only the social democrats and trotskyists had noticeably campaigned against the change. The vote in favour had to be seen in that context.
Moving on to the question of nation and language, he said that nations had a right to self-determination which, in many cases, was opposed by imperialism, which also damaged many languages. The loss of a language, he said, means the loss of a way of thinking and seeing, of literature, poetry and song; the loss of such is a loss for entire humanity.
A Basque woman also spoke from the floor, partly in Castillian and partly in Euskera (Basque), expressing her admiration for the record of both women speakers and referring to her own involvement in her youth in Greenham common. She went on to speak about the danger of nationalism but also in support of the rights of language and said that if there were no states in the world, she would not want one either but as long as there are, she wanted one for her own nation.
She also said that at this time it was important to support the struggles for self-determination not only of the Basques but also of the Catalans.
The event came to an end and people moved off for lunch in various bars, or to chat or to browse the bookstalls. The latter were run by a number of organisations: Inugorria Liburodenda (Gernika revolutionary and progressive bookshop), Sare Antifaxista; CNT, Mujeres Libres, IPEs, Baskale, FAI, DDT Banaketak, Periko Solabarria Elkartea, Komite Internazionalistak, Jazz Oi!, Templando el acero, Amnistía Ta Askatasuna, SRI.
1 Portugalete has a Metro station, reachable from Bilbao. The Casco Viejo (old town) is a number of narrow streets lined by bars and shops heading steeply downwards from the Metro station towards the river front, where there are a number of restaurants and bars and a nearby port museum. The interesting Puente Colgante is nearby; a pedestrian bridge across the river worked something like a horizontal lift.
2 Given that Sinn Féin makes no effort to ensure its own membership is Irish-speaking, or even its leaders (despite some of them being very proficient in the language), also that all its internal and nearly all public meetings are conducted through English, this would seem to be a correct assessment by D’Arcy.
3 D’Arcy probably meant Ulster Scots or Ullans, which is not any kind of Irish but a variant of Scots, the Germanic-English dialect once prevalent in the Scottish Lowlands (often called “Lallands”), in which for example Robbie Burns wrote. It has Minority Language Status in the Six Counties and while Irish-speakers generally have no opposition to the promotion of that dialect, hardly anyone speaks it today and it was raised as an issue by Unionists purely as a counter to the rights of Irish-language speakers. Scotland does have Scottish Gaedhlig, with over 57,000 recorded speakers (2011 Census) but this is not spoken in the Six Counties.
A representative of the Irish (Fine Gael) Government’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade last night not only called for non-interference in the “internal affairs” of the Spanish State but defended the Spanish Constitution of 1978 and the “independent Spanish judiciary”. She was answering a question regarding the Spanish State and Catalan independence movement and her stance was supported by representatives of the two other traditional parties of Irish Government, Fianna Fáil and Labour. Five Teachtaí Dála, elected members of the Irish Parliament, argued passionately against them.
THE VOICES OF THE ESTABLISHMENT
This was Minister’s Question time, when Ministers (or their representatives) appear in the Chamber to answer questions about areas of the remit of their Departments and earlier, Ministers had been quizzed about areas of childcare, social care funding, local government funding ……
The Dáil chamber looked mostly deserted but in the public gallery sat a score of Catalans and some Irish, listening intently. Normally, these sessions are attended only by the TDs asking the questions and the relevant Ministerial spokesperson – and only for the question being asked. And of course also in attendance is the Ceann Comhairle, the presiding person acting as Chair – and secretaries. Sometimes by members of the media but by no means always, since reporters can monitor the televised broadcasts of the session.
The Minister’s reply on the question of Catalan self-determination delivered by Minister of State Helen McEntee TD followed a predictable pattern – predictable because it is so often trotted out: the Irish and Spanish Governments have a long history of good relations and friendly links, lots of Irish people go there on holidays, lots of people from there come to Ireland every year, Spain is a democracy, its constitution must be abided by, it would be wrong to interfere in its internal affairs. Inclusions to that in litany in recent times are that the question of Catalonia is emotive throughout the Spanish State and that Catalan society is divided over it, that the rule of law must be upheld and that violence has no place in politics.
The Fianna Fáil representative, Seán Haughey TD, echoed that line, adding also that the Spanish Constitution of 1978 is unitary and does not allow any part to become independent. He also quoted some survey results that he claimed indicated that support for independence was now in a minority among Catalans.
The Labour Party representative, Jan O’Sullivan TD, went further and specifically supported the present Government of her “sister party in Spain”, the PSOE and suggested that the “inflexible” previous government of Rajoy (of the PP) had helped to bring the current situation about and that Sanchez, the Prime Minister, would help calm the whole situation down. The only concessions she made were to suggest that the lengthy jail sentences were perhaps not the best way to deal with the issue and to include the police by mention in her call for “end to violence by all sides”. However, she went further than others in the Establishment parties with a specific condemnation of the jailed activists when she said that “it is not acceptable for politicians to lead citizens into conflict”.
“Reactionary Spanish nationalism”
The first TD to speak in reply to the Establishment politicians was Eoin Ó Broin, a comparatively recent Sinn Féin Deputy (2016) for Dublin Mid-West. Ó Broin was in Catalonia as one of the international observers of the Catalan Referendum on Independence on 1st October, which was attacked by Spanish police with around 1,000 Catalans injured.1
Speaking about his experiences there, Ó Broin related his meeting with 83-year-old Antonio, bruised and with his fractured arm in a sling, beaten while trying to vote earlier that day, queuing again at a polling station in Barceloneta. The SF TD spoke about what he had seen there and the “increasingly reactionary Spanish nationalism”, then went on to list the elected politicians and their jail sentences. Denying it was an internal matter for Spain, Ó Broin said it was about human rights and required international independent mediation. The Dáil would be implicitly in collusion with the Spanish Government if it left the matter to internal resolution only.
“The working class are the incorruptible heirs …”
Paul Murphy TD, a socialist activist2 who has recently left the Socialist Party of Ireland to form a platform called Rise, shared speaking time with Eoin Ó Broin. Calling for a “reality check” he said that jailing politicians and activists for organising a peaceful ballot could hardly be the work of a normal democracy. Responding to the Labour Party spokesperson with regard to the Spanish PSOE Prime Minister, he said that “Sanchez is in Government” and that he was “sending thousands of troops and police” to suppress the Catalan independence movement and mounting “a publicity campaign” to blame the convicted leaders.
The Spanish Government would one day come to be haunted, Murphy said, by the words of James Connolly in 19143 when he said:
“If you strike at, imprison or kill us, out of our graves or prisons we will still evoke a spirit that will thwart you, and perhaps, create a force that will rise up and destroy you. We defy you! Do your worst.”
Murphy said that the Catalan popular movement was impressive with their demonstrations, marches and the recent general strike. Against that, the Spanish police and army were carrying out “a campaign of terror” injuring hundreds and anyone who didn’t believe it only had to go on line and see the videos. “Francoism is baring its ugly head”, Murphy said and pointed out that the Spanish legal systems is riddled with a contempt for democracy, echoed by those at the top in the European Union.
The recent Catalan General Strike, according to Murphy, “showed the way forward” and he quoted again from Connolly, that “the working class are the incorruptible heirs of Irish freedom”. The Spanish State had a long history of suppression of national self-determination, including those of the Basques, Murphy said and the way forward would be for a voluntary socialist federation.
“The judicialisation of politics”
Next to speak was Thomas Pringle, Independent TD for Donegal since 2011, with a socialist Irish Republican background, a member of Sinn Féin for few years but who left the party in 2004. He opened his contribution by referring to “the judicialisation of politics” in the Spanish state and, in reference to the scale of the Spanish repression, mentioned the 700 Catalan town mayors who await judicial process due to their support for the Catalan Referendum in 2017.
Pringle said the Spanish Constitution purported to guarantee the rights of different people within the state, which would be a joke if the reality were not so grim. “The EU continues to ignore” what is going on in its member Spanish State, “as it did in the Six Counties,” he said.
“Catalonia in 2019 is Ireland a century ago”
“Self-determination is a human right,” said the next to speak: Peadar Tóibín, TD for Meath West since 2011, who left Sinn Féin in 2018 and went on to form Aontú in January 2019. Tóibín reminded all that the First Dáil had sent out a call to the world for recognition of Irish independence in 1919 and that most states had not done so then4.
“Catalonia in 2019 is Ireland a hundred years ago”, Tóibín said and went on to say that if the Irish Government remained silent on repression by the Spanish State then it shared culpability for it.
“ … a short memory in this House”
“We sometimes have a short memory in this House” said Mattie McGrath when it was his turn to speak, a TD since 2007 who has been an Independent since he left the Fianna Fáil party in 2011. McGrath referred to the recent long war in the north-east of Ireland and said that conflict resolution process was the only way to resolve the issue.
McGrath referred to Clare Daly (elected MEP this year after being a socialist TD for some years) and her statements on the issue. “Self-determination is a fundamental human right”, McGrath said, and went on to speak about “the right of freedom of assembly”, which was under attack by the Spanish State.
“Ireland is a small island nation”, Mc Grath said, “very sympathetic to the rights of people” (apparently contrasting this to the attitude of the Establishment in the Dáil).
In the time allowed by procedure for final response from the Minister, her representative reiterated the position she had outlined earlier and, though she conceded that most of the Catalan demonstrations had been peaceful, said that some recent “scenes of violence” had been “of concern”.
Fianna Fáil‘s origins are in the split with Sinn Féin led by De Valera in 1926 over the question of taking seats in the “partitionist” Irish parliament, the Dáil, and rapidly became the preferred party of the native Irish capitalist class, having been in government since more than any other Irish party.
The origins of Fine Gael, currently in minority Government at the tolerance of Fianna Fáil, has its origin in the setting up of the Irish State after the War of Independence and represents the victors of the Civil War against the Republicans. It was composed of a coalition of a right-wing Irish Republican party (followers of Michael Collins, Griffiths etc), a small right-wing farmer’s party and the fascist Blueshirts (a name by which FG are still often called by their enemies).
Hard to believe today, the Irish Labour Party was founded by, among others, James Connolly and is the oldest of the three parties. A progressive party in the early days, it was not a participant in the Civil War, during which its representatives criticised the Free State Government about its abuse of civil rights, repression, large-scale arrests, internment without trial, torture and murder. Over the years it lost more and more of its socialist credentials and has been in coalition government with the right-wing Fine Gael on two separate occasions. The main trade unions in Ireland retain connections to the Labour Party, with the possible exception of the rapidly-growing British-based UNITE.
The supposed inviolability of the Spanish Constitution of 1798 is one of the questions at the heart of the matter. The boast of the Spanish Government and its supporters abroad is that the majority of the people within the Spanish State voted for it. Well, so they did, except in the Basque Country – but what of it? If in a wedding, one of the partners says “I do”, does that mean that person is forever forbidden from leaving? Do we not have the right to divorce acknowledged now in most states around the world and certainly in “the democracies”? If one agrees to join a club or organisation, does that mean one can never choose to leave? Well, maybe in the Mafia, or the Cosa Nostra ….
Furthermore, that monarchist Constitution was put forward to a population that had endured four decades of fascist dictatorship, with the collusion of the allegedly socialist and republican PSOE and the allegedly communist and republican Communist Party of Spain, restraining their trade union and party members in the wave of state repression and murders during the Transition to “democracy”. Isn’t there something about the invalidity of agreements made under duress?
The issue of non-interference in the internal affairs of another state is a bogus one, since all governments do that at one time and another and Irish governments and political parties are no exception. In 1936, the representatives of Fine Gael loudly supported the military-fascist uprising led by Franco against the democratically-elected Government of the Spanish State. The Irish Government of Fianna Fáil did nothing to prevent the Blueshirts going off to fight for Franco and the Bishops of the Irish Catholic Church blessed them as they sailed off. The reality is that states that agree with one another generally do not interfere in one another’s internal affairs.
The constant mantra of reference to “the rule of law” and the condemnation of “violence in politics” is not only an irrelevance but turning truth on its head. It was not illegal according to the Spanish Constitution or laws to hold a referendum on independence 5. It is also against the Spanish law to use violence against others and even the police are not legally empowered to do so except in self-defence or in defence of others. On October 1st the actions of the Spanish police had 1,000 people requiring treatment and another few hundred have been injured in recent days. The Internet is full of videos of different incidents of gratuitous Spanish police violence, often the perpetrators showing no fear of being filmed – clearly because Spanish (and more recently, Catalan) police know they have impunity. Recently, however, it seems that some Spanish police have become sensitive to being filmed during their violent acts and have begun to target photo-journalists, both with personal violence and with rubber bullets.
A total of five people have now lost an eye from the impact of the rubber bullets of the Spanish police. Apart from the fact that these are banned in Catalonia, the bullets are supposed to be fired to ricochet and not directly at people, nor are they supposed to be fired at close quarters. Clearly, the rules are not being adhered to and nobody is enforcing them, granting impunity to the Spanish police.
When the representative of the Minister for Foreign Affairs acknowledged the overall peaceful nature of Catalan independence demonstrations but expressed concern over some recent scenes of violence, what was she really saying? It was this: that the violence of the police against the peaceful demonstrators could continue but the victims using force in defence or in retaliation is a cause for concern!
1 Eoin Ó Broin, often described as on the (small) left wing of Sinn Féin (a wing badly needed by that party) has in the past had relations with the Abertzale Left in the Basque Country and wrote a book on the movement there in his time, Matxinada – Basque Nationalism and Radical Basque Youth Movements. He is also author of Sinn Féin and the Politics of Left Republicanism.
2 Paul Murphy has been, while a Socialist Party TD, dragged by police out of a housing protest and with others faced serious charges arising out of a protest about Irish water against a Labour Party Minister, of which he and the others were acquitted by the jury after an infamous trial. He remains in the PBP-Solidarity parliamentary coalition.
3 James Connolly (1868-1916) was at that time active in the Irish Labour Party and leader of the Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union, which was struggling to recover from an 8-month fight against a group of employers that had set out to crush the union (Dublin Lockout). Connolly was a revolutionary socialist, republican, journalist, historian, author and organiser and was horrified by the very idea of the First World War which began in 1914. He was shot dead by British firing squad, along with other leaders and some others of the 1916 Rising.
4 This reference seems particularly appropriate. In January 1919 the majority of MPs elected in Ireland in the UK General Elections of December 1918, carried out the “Sinn Féin” platform’s election promise not to go to Westminster and convened a parliament in Dublin. This is known as “The First Dáil” even by the Irish State, which numbers its parliaments from then onwards. The First Dáil declared independence and called on the states of the world to recognise Irish independence (see References) but only the young USSR did so. Ireland had no legal right under British law to break away from the UK unless it were agreed by majority in Westminster (where the Irish MPs would always be outnumbered by the British). The First Dáil was banned by the British in September of that year and its members were arrested if they could be found.
5 Though possibly the declaration of Republic was – but that was suspended in less than five minutes.