You will not question the Leadership of the Organisation. That is disrespectful. Besides, they know better than you. They are more intelligent and/ or better educated or have been at it longer than you.
The Leadership are incorruptible and have suffered much along the way. That makes it disloyal to question them.
You don’t want to be disrespectful and disloyal, do you?
Let the Leadership do the thinking. Is that not easier?
You must not listen to those who challenge or criticise the Leadership. Those people are disloyal and disrespectful. Besides, some of the things they point out will make you uncomfortable. Put your trust and faith in the Leadership and be comfortable and at ease.
Those who challenge the Leadership are troublemakers. They seek to upset things. It is right that they be expelled and then things will return to the state with which we can be comfortable. If remaining inside the Organisation, they will create disorder. If they are outside the Organisation, their words should not be reported or their criticism printed. Their activities should not be publicised.
You know and your comrades know that you are not a troublemaker, or disrespectful or disloyal. But if you associate with those critics, the ones from outside or that left or were expelled, people will begin to suspect that you too are like them. You want the Leadership and comrades to trust you, to be at ease with you, don’t you? Best ignore the critics, not have anything to do with them.
Besides, what can they possibly have to offer, outside the Organisation?
Solidarity against the attacks of the enemy is a good thing, but not with the critics. They have forfeited any right to solidarity when they broke from or criticised the Leadership and the Organisation. They have brought all this down upon themselves.
Concentrate upon the path pointed out by the Leadership. Concentrate upon the tasks of the moment. All will be well. You are in good hands. The Organisation is in good hands. Everything is fine.
One of my appointments on a recent trip to Euskal Herria, the Basque Country, was with a “free radio station”, with a dual purpose: to learn about their operation and to give them an interview about my thinking on the political phenomena known to most people as “peace processes”. The radio station in question is Zintilik and located in the Orereta area of Errenteria town, not far north from Donosti/ San Sebastian, in the souther Basque province of Gipuzkoa and my hosts were Hektor Gartzia and Julen Etxegarai.
Not long after I arrived, one of my hosts related his memory of events in the area after a local ETA fighter had been killed. The Guardia Civil had swamped the area to prevent an “homenaje” (an event honouring the dead) taking place, guns pointing at men and women; the children, of which he had been one, gathered into their grandparents’ house ….. He showed me where the police vehicle had parked at the end of the street, his sweeping hand indicating the places where the armed police had stood.
THE “FREE RADIO”
The “free radio station”, also known as “pirate radio” has been broadcasting for 32 years, which I find amazing. It began broadcasting from an “okupa”, an occupation of a private empty building, turning it into an alternative social and political centre. Under popular pressure, the local authority, under the control at the time of the PSE, i.e. (Spanish unionist social democratic party), granted them the building they currently use.
Originally built to house a smithy, for some reason the building never saw service in that capacity. It is in my estimation an attractive building in a traditional-enough local style, of thick stone, compact without being squat. It has an attractive back yard, no doubt intended at one time to receive the horses with hooves in need of iron shoes, fitted and nailed. The roof is tiled in what seems the usual way for the Basque Country.
Zintilik broadcasts 24 hours a day, which it is able to do using repeats. The Zintilik collective owns its equipment and funds itself through fund-raising concerts, txosnak (stalls/ marquees) at festivals and occasional donations. They run advertisements for
local community groups and announce events but accept no commercial sponsorship – nor does their wish for independence stop there. “We don’t receive any funding from the local authority or from the Basque Autonomous Government,” declares Julen, “nor do we wish to.”
“Funding from such sources comes with strings attached”, adds Hektor.
“Or one becomes dependent on it and unable to function without it”, further explains Julen.
As a further illustration of self-reliance, they tell me how they climbed on to the roof of their building to repair a leak, rather than ask the municipal authorities to do it. And it was the same when branches of a nearby plane tree needed cutting to prevent them knocking against the radio aerial on windy days.
“We know it’s work that the local authority owes us and that we and the rest of the community pay their salaries but we prefer not to depend on them,” they explain.
As an example of how dependency – although of a different sort – can undermine a community resource, they relate the story of building which was occupied in order to be used as a community resource. As time passed, many were using it as a social resource but less people were volunteering for the work involved in maintenance at any level. Appeals of the four or so committed people who ended up doing everything fell on the deaf ears of the clientele until one day the four locked the centre doors after the last user had left for the evening and, the next day, handed the keys over to the local authority.
“As you imagine, this was a great shock to the clientele,” they tell me, “but it was the result of their own lack of commitment to the project.”
I reflect that many activists will identify in one way or another with that sad experience.
RECORDING THE INTERVIEW
Julen and Hektor discuss the format and general content of the interview with me and map it out, do sound checks and then we go to it. Hektor, who knows quite a bit about the more recent Irish history and about the current situation in the Six Counties, is my interviewer, while Julen monitors from the control room and occasionally joins in with comment or question.
For music in between sections of interview, Irish Ways and Irish Laws (John Gibbs) and Where Is Our James Connolly? (Patrick Galvin) have been chosen, both sung by Christy Moore and Joe McDonnell (Brian Warfield), by the Wolfe Tones.
They also invited me to sing Back Home in Derry, Christy Moore’s lyrics arrangement of Bobby Sands’ poem – but to the air I composed for it. I am happy to oblige – I enjoy singing but it is more than that: I want the air I composed to get a hearing. Christy Moore used Gordon Lightfoot’s air to The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald for Sands’ poem and, excellent though that fit is, especially with Moore’s chorus, I think that the poem (and its author) deserves an air of its own.
Although the main focus of the interview was the phenomenon of “peace (sic) processes”, we discussed aspects of Irish, Spanish, Palestinian and South African recent history, including the 1916 Rising in Ireland, along with the backgrounds to the songs chosen. For the most part, I left it to my interviewers to draw conclusions relating to their experience of political processes in their own country.
FESTIVALS AND STORMS
Upstairs in the broadcasting/ recording and interview rooms, all is in good order: equipment and facilities. After the interview, I note that downstairs, in the main space, things are a in a bit of a mess, for which Julen apologises (he has never seen the state of my flat).
“Some of the community groups we support store their placards and banners here,” he says. “Besides, we’ve just finished our local festival and everyone relaxes, dumps their equipment and goes on holiday.” Throughout the Summer and early Autumn, each village, town, city and even area will have its own week-long festival for which the community groups and campaigns will organise and participate.
Down in Donostia (San Sebastian), to where Hektor and Julen accompanied me after we ate the food they had prepared, the city was in the midst of its own festival and was heaving with people – tourists from everywhere, it seemed, as well as Basques.
With that picturesque bay and its island in our background, they got a passing young woman to take our photo, the three of us – the conversation with her was in Euskara only. I held up the placards I had prepared for the photo in turn, one in Irish and another in English, supporting the Moore Street quarter in Dublin.
Dark clouds were gathering overhead and on the horizon the sky was a baleful orange. A storm or at least a downpour was being promised and, as we turned back towards the bus station, the first drops began to fall. In the humid heat, the light rain was welcome for awhile but for part of my solitary journey back to Bilbo, it formed a silvery curtain in the coach’s headlights and streamed down the windows.
I remembered being told that one can frequently witness a violent storm in the Donosti bay while not so far away in Bilbao, as a result of local conditions, all is calm. As for winter storms in Donosti, the waves hitting and surging over the seafront and piers have to be seen to be believed; occasionally the sea reaches inland, floods cellars and converts parked cars into boats or semi-submarines.
The rain eased off and stopped about half-way through my journey and when I got into San Mames station in Bilbo, the streets were not even wet.
Foreign tourists and Irish-based visitors looked on with curious interest at a gathering at the foot of the East Pier, Howth on Sunday 24th – the group contained a number in military-type uniform, some were carrying flags, each one of a different design and a number of people in ordinary civilian clothes were carrying floral wreaths.
Most onlookers at that point would not have known that those gathered there had a threefold purpose:
to commemorate the landing of Mauser rifles for the Irish Volunteers
to commemorate the massacre of civilians by enraged soldiers later that same day on Bachelors Walk and to
launch the Asgard 1916 Society.
The men and women in uniform formed up with the flags as a colour party and led the procession the full length of the pier to its end. There the procession came to a halt in front of a plaque on the wall commemorating the landing of 900 Mauser M1871 single-shot rifles and 29,000 rounds of ammunition in 1914 by a crew skippered by Erskine Childers with his wife Molly and friend Mary Spring Rice. The arms were taken ashore and whisked away in an operation planned by Bulmer Hobson of the IRB and carried out by the Irish Volunteers and Na Fianna Éireann.
The Dublin Metropolitan Police and British Army were mobilised by Dublin Castle authorities to seize the guns (unlike at the previous much larger operation by the Loyalist UVF at Larne) but only managed to get a few. As the disgruntled Scottish Borderers marched back into town, they were jeered by Dublin crowds and some cabbage stalks were thrown at them. On Bachelors Walk, very near the Ha’penny Bridge, an officer brought them to a halt and they faced the crowd with guns pointed, then opened fire. Three men and a woman were killed and 38 wounded, including the father of singer Luke Kelly of the Dubliners ballad group (also called Luke). One of the victims died of bayonet wounds.
Margaret McKearney, who has had three brothers killed in the Six Counties during the 30-years war, stepped forward to address the crowd as tourists and visitors took photos or watched and listened. After giving a brief account of the Howth landing and of the massacre on the Dublin quays, also of the smaller landing at Kilcoole, McKearney called forward Pól Ó Scanaill of the 1916 Societies to read the 1916 Proclamation of Independence. After he had finished, McKearney called for the young bearers of two floral wreaths to make their presentations:
Ellen O’Neill, with a wreath in memory of those killed and injured by the British soldiers at Bachelors’ Walk;
Roibeard Drummond, whose uncle Michael Moore was a crew member of the Nugget, landing rifles at Kilcoole, laying a wreath for the Asgard 1916 Society to commemorate the landing of the rifles and those who carried them in battle in 1916.
Last of the wreath-layers was Denise Ní Chanain on behalf of the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland.
MOORE STREET SPEECH
Niamh McDonald gave a short speech on the current situation in the struggle to save the revolutionary quarter of Moore Street. She informed her audience that NAMA had sold the debt of the Irish speculator company Chartered Land (Joe O’Reilly) to Hammerson, a British-based vulture capitalist company, who are continuing with the plan to build a huge shopping centre over the whole historic quarter. Meanwhile, the Minister for Heritage, Heather Humphreys, is appealing the High Court judgement that the whole quarter is a national monument. McDonald asked people to keep an eye on the campaign’s
Facebook page for updates and for calls to support actions.
McKearney then called on Diarmuid Breatnach to sing Me Old Howth Gun, pointing out that guns landed at Howth had been the first to fire on the Lancers in O’Connell Street on Easter Monday 1916. Breatnach introduced the song as having been written apparently in 1921, that is a year before the outbreak of the Civil War, by James Doherty, who also used the pseudonym Seamas Mac Gallogly.
MAIN SPEAKER — JOHN CRAWLEY FROM THE MARITA ANN
The next speaker to be introduced by McKearney was John Crawley who was arrested on board the Marita Ann trawler, intercepted off the Kerry coast by the Irish Naval Service on September 29, 1984, when seven tonnes of arms were seized. The US heavy machine guns recovered on the Marita Ann had special mountings allowing them to be used as anti-aircraft weapons. Another of those detained on board – and later jailed for 10 years – was Martin Ferris who went on to become a Kerry TD for Sinn Fein, while John Crawley has taken a line of opposition to the Good Friday Agreement.
John Crawley gave the main speech at Howth, in which he traced the history of the struggle for the Irish Republic from the Volunteers onwards, pointing out that many who fought the British in 1916 had different aspirations for the country, which explained why they parted ways in 1921. Crawley stated that the British have always been able to pick out those whose primary intention was to survive the struggle from those whose intention was if necessary to give their lives for the objective of the Irish Republic.
Crawley pointed out that some people had led a section of the Republican movement in accepting the right of a foreign country to decide the future of a part of our country; they had joined in the colonial administration and had accepted the colonial police force.
After the applause for the speech died down, McKearney thanked those who had participated and asked Diarmuid Breatnach again to step forward to sing the national anthem. Breatnach sang it in Irish, first verse and chorus (and noticeably sang “Sinne Laochra Fáil” instead of “Sinne Fianna Fáil”). Participants joined in with the chorus and then all made their way along the pier towards a local pub where refreshments had been made available by the new 1916 Society.
UP TO FOUR SCORE PROTESTERS LINED A MAIN STREET IN NEWRY ON SATURDAY 2nd JULY TO PROTEST THE CONTINUATION OF INTERNMENT WITHOUT TRIAL OF POLITICAL ACTIVISTS
This the event was organised for the third year running by the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland and was supported by a number of organisations, campaigns and independent activists. AIGI was formed some years ago to raise awareness of the reintroduction of internment without trial by the use of remand in custody and revoking of licences.
Republican activists are being arrested on trumped-up charges and then refused bail outright or sometimes offered it in exchange for acceptance of conditions limiting their freedom to live normally and, in particular, to be politically active. This in itself lays bare the real motivation behind the charges – one who was unable to support the event because of his bail conditions told this reporter that he has to sign at a police station every day including the middle of the afternoon on Saturdays, is not allowed to speak about political prisoners, to attend political meetings or to post or comment publicly on social media. If refused bail, activists may await trial for two years and, if then found ‘not guilty’ by the no-jury Diplock Courts, will already have spent two years in prison anyway.
Former political prisoners released on licence under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement may be arrested and detained without trial, without charge, without even a police interview as happened to Martin Corey (four years without trial and released under gagging conditions). Currently Tony Taylor is in jail without charge under this system.
AIGI was founded to raise public awareness about these serious violations of civil and political rights. The Dublin branch of AIGI, the Dublin Anti-Internment Commitee, holds regular public pickets and meetings in the Dublin area and has facilitated other public events for other campaigns, such for example the framed Craigavon Two. Recently the Munster Anti-Internment Committee was also founded as another branch of the AIGI (both committees were represented at the Newry event).
SPEAKERS DENOUNCE BAIL CONDITIONS, REFUSAL OF BAIL AND OPPRESSION INSIDE JAIL.
A number of speakers called attention to the repression of the Six County state in its arrests of political activists, refusal of bail or imposition of oppressive conditions if bail is granted, imprisonment on trumped-up charges and through revoking of licences. The case of the Craigavavon Two was mentioned by a number of speakers, as was the case of Tony Taylor. The Craigavon two are in jail convicted of the killing of a British soldier, even though the case against them is riddled with holes and depends on an eyewitness who came forward nearly a year after the event, whose evidence is contradictory, whose movements on the night in question are denied by his own family and who is described by his own father as “a Walter Mitty character”.
All the speakers called for continuous action and unity against repression and were vigorously applauded.
JOE CONLON WAS THE FIRST SPEAKER. HE SPOKE ON BEHALF OF THE DUBLIN ANARCHIST BLACK CROSS, a support group for political prisoners.
In the course of his speech he pointed out that the struggle of Republican prisoners in Maghaberry Prison has been going on for well over a decade. Commenting on a brutal prison regime, Conlon focused on the attacks on “prisoners‘ families and loved ones being refused visits without any warning and loved ones being banned for a couple of months at a time also without warning.”
Attacking the system of solitary confinement within the jail, Conlon picked out the case of “Gavin Coyle (who) has spent five years in isolation,” while, he pointed out, non-Republican prisoners usually spend at most up to three weeks in isolation, as a punishment. “The use of forced isolation is to try destroy the morale, spirit and mind of a prisoner. In Gavin Coyle‘s case the British state are trying to break him down physiologically and MI5 have made several approaches to him in the Isolation block.”
Conlon went to assert that “these exact same tactics are being used ……. acrossEurope to get Anarchist activists jailed and used against prisoners and their families to break them,” and recalled that the previous year several anarchist prisoner had gone on hunger strike.
Calling attention to the 39–day hunger strike by Tasos Theofilou, who was sentenced to 25 years jail in 2014, Conlon said that “he was convicted of manslaughter, carrying a firearm and armed robbery, which he has always denied. The only evidence against him was DNA that was found on a moveable object, none of the witnesses in trial could identify him,” Conlon pointed out.
PAUL CRAWFORD OF CÓGUS AND REPUBLICAN NETWORK FOR UNITY ADDRESSED THE CROWD ALSO.
Thanking the organisers for the invitation to speak and declaring it a privilege to address the gathering, Crawford addressed some remarks towards the terminology of “internment” and raised some questions regarding its accuracy with regard to some cases, the injustice of which however he went on to denounce.
The media and political class came in for denunciation too for ignoring the fact of framing of activists on flimsy evidence.
Crawford went on to speak of his comrade Carl Reilly who, he said “is another example of selective detention.” Reillly is arrested on a charge of directing terrorism and, Crawford informed the crowd, “this charge is based on secret recordings allegedly taken in the 26 counties yet passed to the state forces in the north to use as evidence to remand him there.”
Crawford told those assembled that he himself is Carl’s co-accused, released on bail. “I am forced to endure draconian and repressive bail conditions which are clearly designed to prevent me from carrying out my role within my political party in an effective manner. I am not allowed to send Carl a birthday card, to talk to him or even to have third–party contact with him.” Crawford said. “In essence,” he continued,“I’m not even allowed to ask his wife to tell him I was asking for him. Many activists north and south are effectively interned on bail, in prison outside of prison walls.”
STEPHEN MURNEY, FROM NEWRY AND IN ÉIRIGÍ was himself a fairly recent victim of internment through refusal of bail for nearly two years, after which he was cleared of all charges.
“When republicans are targeted by the British occupation forces, backed by their political mouth pieces in Stormont,” Murney told the crowd, “they can expect to be held for anything up to five years in a British prison.” “Many of these cases are built on sand and eventually collapse before trial,” he continued, “although the end result is that those republicans are held in prison for several years despite being innocent.”
In the course of his speech, Murney pointed out that the families,whosebattle is “largely unseen and unheard ……. are left to pick up the pieces”. Continuing, he stated: “I think it’s appropriate and important that today we acknowledge the struggle that women have to endure when their husbands and sons find themselves interned”.
Murney went to talk about the “living nightmare” that bail conditions impose on activists, making it “impossible to live anything that even remotely resembles a normal family life. Late night checks, daily bail signing, draconian curfews and being forced into exile are the order of the day.” He went on to say that those who are forced to wear an electronic tag “not only have to endure Crown force harassment, but they also find themselves being harassed by their lackeys In the G4S security company.”
Not even after completing there sentences are activists free from harassment, Murney declared, as “many find themselves with severe licence conditions being imposed and being unable to return to their homes to live.”
SPEAKER CALLS FOR SUPPORT FOR DEFENCE OF MOORE STREET AND HISTORY
Last to speak was Diarmuid Breatnach, introduced by the chair as representing the Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign. He began by quoting a saying, “Níl saoirse gan stair” (‘There is no freedom without history’). Breatnach spoke of the importance of history, of knowing it well and how it is interpreted; how those who hide or control history do so in order to control the people. He pointed out that history is not dead but is constantly being made, “as those of us here today are in a small way part of the history against the reintroduction of internment”.
Speaking about the last Headquarters of the 1916 Rising, the terrace of houses in Moore Street occupied by the GPO Garrison, Breatnach related how the long years of people campaigning for their conservation had resulted in an Irish High Court judgement that the whole of the Moore Street quarter is a National Monument.
However, Minister Humphreys is appealing the judgement, Breatnach told the crowd and the property speculators have applied for a seven-year extension on their planning permission for a giant shopping mall, which involves the demolition of the whole quarter with the exception of four buildings.
Focusing on the forthcoming march on Saturday 9th in Dublin (organised by the Save Moore Street 2016 campaign), Breatnach encouraged all to take leaflets, inform themselves and others about the issues and to march with the campaign and supporters in Dublin, “not just for the past, nor just for the present but for …. a future free from colonialism, imperialism and property speculators.”
“A VERY SUCCESSFUL EVENT …. HIGHLIGHTING THAT INTERNMENT WITHOUT TRIAL HAS NOT GONE AWAY”
Police vehicles passed along the street keeping the demonstrators under surveillance a number of times but did not stop, nor did police on foot appear. They also took a turn around the car park noting vehicle registration numbers.
People driving past in cars almost without exception accepted leaflets and some tooted their horns in solidarity. The presence of large numbers of cars of expensive make passing through the street drew an expression of surprise from one Dublin participant. “Green diesel prosperity,” replied his comrade laconically. Clearly there is more than one kind of ‘cross-border initiatives’!
“This was a very successful event,” stated a spokesperson for the organisers, a sentiment echoed by many, quite possibly all of those in attendance. “As in past events, people from different Republican organisations and Republican and socialist independent individuals participated. We also distributed in excess of one thousand leaflets here today and highlighted that internment without trial has not gone away.”
Newcomers to this event were in evidence this year also, with the banner of the Anarchist Black Cross (support group for political prisoners) clearly to be seen.
The presence of Munster and Dublin branches of the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland reflect the growth of the organisation and interest in its core principles of active committees, democratically run by participating activists, independent of any political organisations but open to members of all and of none.
As the votes in the General Election in the Spanish state result in huge gains for the Podemos party and the most fragmented Parliament since before the Spanish Civil War, the Abertzale Left’s party in the elections also loses massively to the newcomer. This occurs in the context of wide discontent within the Abertzale Left, especially among the youth, with a potential split emerging around the issue of political prisoners.
The Spanish state includes within its borders most of the Basque Country and the Catalan Countries, which have their distinct cultures and languages. Also with a significantly different culture are Asturias and Galicia, both of them considering themselves Celtic rather than Latin-Hispanic and also having their own languages. There are in fact small movements seeking independence or greater autonomy in all other regions of the state, including in the political centre itself, Castille.
Four of the Basque Country’s seven provinces are currently inside the Spanish state and they were included in the Spanish state’s General Election on 20th December. A number of financial scandals affecting the ruling Spanish right-wing Partido Popular in recent years no doubt made their leaders reluctant to go to the polls but holding off longer might have resulted in even worse outcomes.
On the other hand, the PP’s main parliamentary opposition, the social-democratic Partido Socialista Obrero Espaňol (PSOE) were also embroiled in some financial scandals during the same period, though not as many.
In the event, both main parties achieved disastrous results and neither can form a majority government. The new party of the social-democratic Left, Podemos (“We Can”), which did not even exist two years ago, has leapt into third place and a new party of the Right, Ciudadanos (“Citizens”), is in a poor fourth place. No two of the aforementioned parties can form a coalition government except in the case of a PP-PSOE coalition; however that would cause massive problems for each party and also dispel the political myth of a democratic choice between “Left and Right” in the Spanish state.
The Spanish state has long been the most unstable in the core European Union. Collusion between fascists, alleged social democrats and alleged communists internally, along with the support of the USA and the tolerance of its European partners has kept it afloat. Nevertheless, it represents the part of the EU most vulnerable to revolution, with immediate impact should that happen on the French and Portuguese states and further ripples throughout the EU. However the revolutionary and potentially revolutionary forces are weak, divided and riddled with opportunism. (see separate article focussing on the elections and the Spanish state in )
Despite the weaknesses in the Spanish state, the Basque Abertzale Left has made little headway against it and has been slipping electorally badly this year.
Election Results in the Basque Country
EH Bildu (“Basque Country Unite”), the social-democratic coalition party under the direction of the Basque Abertzale (Patriotic) Left, came out of the Spanish state-wide elections badly (as it did in the regional elections earlier this year in the Basque Country also, with the exception of in Nafarroa). With a drop of nearly two-thirds of its previous percentage of the vote, it lost five seats and now has only two in the Spanish Parliament (the Cortes). The christian-democrat PNV (Basque Nationalist Party), traditionally the dominant in the three southern provinces of Euskadi (i.e. excluding Nafarroa, the fourth), also took a drop in its percentage but a much smaller one and despite that, increased its numbers of seats from five to six. The Basque nationalist coalition in Nafarroa, Geroa Bai (“Yes to the Future”), lost its only seat.
The winner that swept up the ‘missing’ votes in the Basque Country was Podemos, a party that did not even exist until last year. Although gaining one seat less than the PNV in the “Euskadi” or CAV (three provinces region), Podemos actually won more votes and its share was 25.97%, against the PNV’s 24.75%. Shockingly, at 15.72%, EH Bildu has now been reduced to fourth place after the other two and the PSOE, with only the PP worse off but with the same amount of seats. Even in Gipuzkoa, the province most loyal to the Abertzale Left, their share fell to 20.89% and their coalition party EH Bildu lost two seats. In the same province Podemos topped the poll in votes and gained two seats.In the fourth province, Nafarroa, EH Bildu lost their only seat and took a 9.90% share against UPN-PP’s 28.93%, Podemos’s 22.9%, and PSOE’s 15.53%.
It seems clear that in the Basque Country, Podemos took votes both from the PSOE and from the Abertzale Left’s coalition party, EH Bildu and even some from the PNV. For the PSOE, a party in Government in the past and implicated in the GAL murders, also involved in a number of recent financial scandals across the state, to lose votes in the Basque Country to a radical-left coalition, would have come as no surprise to most people. It is a different matter altogether for EH Bildu, with a strongly patriotic Left following, never tainted with a financial scandal and never yet in Government, to lose votes to a newcomer like Podemos — and that needs some explanation.
The fact is that the AL leadership flirted with Podemos – even proposing a joint electoral platform — and thereby sent the message that voting for them would not be such a bad thing. But there were sufficient reasons for the AL to have done otherwise, even without the objective of safeguarding their own vote. It has been clear for some time that the leadership of Podemos is hostile to aspirations towards independence of nations within the State. Their leader recently criticised the decision of a Catalan pro-independence coalition to use the regional elections as a quasi-referendum on Catalunya’s independence. Also one of their ideologues, in the midst of an intervention in discussions within Colombia, likened ETA to Columbia’s fascist assassination squads (who murder trade unionists, human rights workers, socialists, even street children). In addition, Podemos has never come out against the repression in the Basque Country.
There were enough reasons for the AL leadership to draw a deep line between themselves and Podemos. But they did the opposite. This contrasts with the left-republican Catalan nationalists (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya-Catalunya Sí) who engaged in a public battle with Podemos’ leadership. Incidentally, they increased their share of the vote by 1.33% and their representation from three seats to nine.
Another vulnerability of the AL movement to a party like Podemos is precisely the road of conciliation with and concession to the Spanish state taken by the AL over the recent five years and longer. If that road is seen to be OK then, some might say, why not vote for a radical reformist left party and one which, crucially, has a large following throughout the State? Such thinking combines a perception that revolution is not possible, implicit in the approach of the AL leadership, with a view that a solution can only be found outside the Basque Country, which although contrary to most of AL’s propaganda, does seem in part to be the case, based on population statistics alone (see discussion on this further on).
This view was seemingly endorsed by the post-election statement of Barrena, spokesperson for the Abertzale Left’s party Sortu, who characterised the vote for Podemos as “the right to decide” and held out his hand for electoral coalitions with them in the future. The irony — that precisely Podemos does not support “the right to decide” of nations within the Spanish state – was apparently lost on Barrena.
Around September there were whispers of the intention to hold a review of their trajectory within the Abertzale Left. This seemed an acceptance that their chosen path had, if not failed completely, then certainly fallen far short of their own expectations. I wondered how they would contain severe criticisms within such a review, a much more difficult process now than some years ago, when confusion combined with illusions and the soothing words of long-standing leaders.
Further confirmation of this review has since come out: called ABIAN (“Launch”), it’s a debate being organised by Sortu (“Create”), a social-democratic party of the AL. A recent article in a Gipuzkoa news media stated clearly that the review was a response to criticisms of Sortu, “for the first time within the Abertzale Left” (i.e. not only outside of it). The article went on to list a number of organisations within the AL who had published criticisms, including “Boltxe” and the revived “Eusko Ekintza” (http://m.noticiasdegipuzkoa.com/2015/09/01/politica/las-duras-criticas-internas-empujan-a-sortu-a-revisar-su-estrategia-politica-y-organizativa). This contradicts Barrena’s public statement in September that those who criticise the current path of the Abertzale Left and their policy on the prisoners could no longer be counted as within the movement.
Given the electoral showing of the AL’s coalition party EH Bildu and other issues, such a review may be a way of “managing” the dissent but must also hold much danger for the leadership’s line, despite the party positions of the Otegi/ Permach/ Barrena leadership seeming reasonably secure at the moment (Otegi is due for release very soon).
Aside from all this and going back for a moment to Podemos, it does seem unlikely that this party has a long-term future but its development will be interesting to observe.
The political prisoners – a fracture point for the movement?
Whereas the Provisional Republican movement suffered a number of small splits and some defections as a result of its embarkation on the pacification road, it is a fact that they had something pretty significant to deliver – the release of political prisoners affiliated to them. Nearly every single one walked out of jail and their release was not only a result to “sell” the GFA to the movement but some of the prisoners themselves were used as advocates of the process. Although it is true the prisoners were only released “on licence” and a that number were sent back to jail without a trial again later, including new prisoners, that only happened to “dissidents”. For the moment that could be seen as helping the continuation of the Good Friday Agreement and hampering the mobilisation of Republican opposition to Sinn Féin and their chosen path.
The Abertzale Left has had no such gain and a split in the movement seems to be forming precisely around that issue.
There are 410 Basque political prisoners officially recognised by the Abertzale Left (there are some dissidents too outside that, apparently) and they, like their counterparts in the Irish Republican movement, have always been an important element in the struggle. Political prisoners are dispersed all over the Spanish state and the Basques are by far the most numerous component of these. Some are also serving very long sentences, as are their comrades who are jailed by the French and also dispersed throughout their state.
Around a dozen are suffering with very serious illnesses and the Spanish prison administration has admitted that it does not have appropriate treatment facilities for a number of them. However, mostly there they remain and a number have died in captivity in recent years. Twelve people have also died in automobile crashes on the long journeys to visit prisoners dispersed to hundreds or even a thousand kilometres from their homes and an average of one serious traffic accident a month for visitors was recorded last year.
Dispersal is a serious issue and for many years has been one of those upon which the movement concentrated, in particular Etxerat, the prisoners’ relatives’ and friends’ group, and the short-lived Herrira, a prisoners’ political campaigning group banned by the Spanish state and their leading organisers arrested. But that demand also stood alongside the demand for amnesty, the freeing of the prisoners as part of a political settlement.
More recently, however, the Abertzale Left’s leadership has been placing the emphasis on combating the dispersal and, according to some of their critics within the movement, abandoning the demand for amnesty. Perhaps the leadership felt that dispersal was an issue they had the capacity to change (though it is difficult to see how), whereas without an armed struggle to use as a bargaining chip, a prisoners’ amnesty may have seemed out of reach.
Meanwhile, last year, Sare (“Network”) was created by the AL leadership to pick up the threads dropped by Herrira but little has been heard or seen of it. The organisation’s spokesperson is Joseba Azkarraga, who has a somewhat radically fragmented track record. During the 1960s and 1970s a member of ETA (a fact missing from his Wikipedia entry in Spanish), he left them and joined the christian democrat PNV (Basque Nationalist Party). Azkarra was elected to be member of the Alava province local government for the PNV in 1979, a role he fulfilled later for Bizkaia province 1982-1986 and in the latter year also for the province of Guipuzkoa — representing the PNV throughout.
In 1987 he was part of a split from the PNV that led to the formation of Eusko Alkartasuna (EA), for which party he was elected a member of local government for Bizkaia in 1989. He was a member of EA’s National Executive 1987-1993 and 1999-March 2009, in between which periods he had withdrawn to concentrate on his business in the banking sector. From September 2001 to May 2009, he had the responsibility of Councillor for Justice, Employment and Social Security for the Basque Government. He has been quoted as saying that the more prosecutions of Abertzale Left activists the better – this from a man with a law degree in a State where prosecutions of Basques are more often than not ensured by “confessions” extracted by torture and where the standard of “evidence” required to convict is derisory.
Grumbling, particularly among younger activists about the emphasis on the institutions and the “abandonment of the street”, has been growing over the years. “Our movement’s spokespersons no longer speak of ‘freedom’ and ‘socialism’ but use more ambiguous words like ‘right to decide’ and social justice’ ” is a growing complaint.
Recently an organisation called Amnistia Ta Askatasuna (“Amnesty and Freedom”) was launched to campaign not only against dispersal but for amnesty for the prisoners too. The movement also goes by the name of Amnistiaren Aldeko Mugimendua (“Amnesty Movement”). In August of this year ATA/AAM held a small but significant demonstration in Bilbao associated with the annual alternative festival there which is strongly patronised by youth. At the end of November they held another in the same city, this time attended by an estimated 9,000.
In a Basque alternative radio station interview in August, some of ATA/AAM’s spokespersons complained of attempts to malign and isolate them but said they were overcoming these tactics and gaining support. The AL’s bilingual daily newspaper, GARA, did not publicise their demonstration in advance and their estimate of the attendance afterwards was about half of the real figure. The report also neglected to mention the messages of support from a number of political prisoners to the rally.
In December, the six alleged ETA prisoners awaiting trial in Paris on charges involving kidnapping, car and weapons theft and, for two of them, murder of a police officer, made a press statement denouncing the ATA/AAM group and claiming that they were using the prisoners as a Trojan horse in order to attack the whole recent direction of the Abertzale Left. They also accused them of trying to get Basque prisoners to leave the prisoners’ collective, the EEPK. No evidence was produced of this and the ATA/AAM were not asked to comment. GARA published the Paris statement under a headline containing the allegations without even putting them in quotation marks. It is rumoured that GARA lost many subscribers after that reporting.
It seems likely that this controversy will sharpen over the coming months with people, including prisoners, being obliged to take sides and it may be that it will be characterised by a similar bitterness to that which exists in the Republican movement in Ireland. But unlike the case of Ireland, the numbers of Basque prisoners in the jails remains very high. In addition, the Spanish state continues to jail people who are clearly political activists which adds to the political prisoner population. Without a change in that situation, the likelihood of very serious contention within the movement is high and on a much larger scale than has been the case in Ireland.
The recent dismal electoral showing of EH Bildu can only increase unhappiness within the movement and lead to judgements critical of the AL leadership and, inevitably, to one degree or another, of the path they openly set out upon a little over five years ago.
Background – the origins and trajectory of the Abertzale Left
Born during the Franco dictatorship, the Abertzale Left (Basque: Ezker Abertzalea; Spanish: Izquierda Abertzale) is a broad alliance of patriotic and Left elements with many aspects situated on the social, cultural-linguistic, trade union, media and of course political fronts. The movement was subject to heavy repression from the outset and after nearly a decade a section responded by taking up arms. The Basque Nationalists had done that against Franco in the Civil War – however, the Abertzale Left was doing so in a country occupied by the victors of that war.
Not many outside the Basque Country realise that ETA (“Basque Country and Freedom”) is more than “the armed wing of the Basque patriotic movement” — it is the origin of the Abertzale Left, operating solely politically and culturally (albeit clandestinely) for nine years, its activists spied upon, arrested, tortured, jailed. Eventually ETA took up the gun.
It was one of the main ideologues and organisers of ETA, José Miguel Beñaran Ordeñana (alias “Argala”, 1949 – murdered by GAL 21st December 1978) who pushed for the legal and semi-legal aspects of the work to form themselves into separate organisations from ETA while the parent organisation kept a relationship with them.
Although the old Basque Nationalist Party was legalised under the new form of the state after the death of Franco, repression of the Abertzale Left continued. Nevertheless the movement continued to grow, in particular its many non-military aspects, although they too were and are subjected to heavy repression.
Despite the adaptability of the movement and its significantly wide base (between 12%-20% on past electoral showings, despite banning and disqualifications of electoral platforms), it was difficult to see the validity of its strategy of combining armed struggle and popular political movement within the Basque Country, with regard to its long-term objectives of national independence and socialism.
The ruling classes of both the Spanish and French states have a long imperial history along with a strong traditional insistence on the unity of their “home” states, on which they have never shown a willingness to compromise. That is reflected not only within their main right-wing parties but also within the main social-democratic parties and the remains of the old Moscow-orientated Communist parties. In the Spanish state the situation is even more problematic, since the Basque Country and Catalunya are two of the most economically successful within the state, outperforming nearly every other region by a significant margin. Why would the Spanish ruling class wish to give those regions up?
The total Basque population is only around 3.5 million, some of which is within the borders of the French state. The Spanish state has a population of around 45 million outside the Basque Country and even with the subtraction of that of Catalunya (7.5 + million) and the Balearic Islands (just over one million), that still leaves a population of 36.5 million from which to draw soldiers and police.
According to Wikipedia, “the Spanish armed forces are a professional force with a strength in 2012 of 123,300 active personnel and 16,400 reserve personnel. The country also has the 80,000 strong Guardia Civil which falls under the control of the Ministry of Defence in times of a national emergency. The Spanish defence budget is 5.71 billion euros (7.2 Billion USD) a 1% increase for 2015.” The Wikipedia paragraph ends with the ominous sentence that “The increase comes due to security concerns in the country.”
Those figures of course do not include the other police forces, such as the National (Cuerpo de Policía Nacional or “los Grises”)), with a strength of nearly 88,000. This armed force, along with the Guardia Civíl (“los Verdes”), has been traditionally repressive of the Abertzale Left, a task now mostly left to their respective forces in the Basque Country, the Ertzaintza and Policía Forál, forces which, like their counterparts in Catalunya, the Mossos d’Escuadra, have been viciously engaged in repression of the patriotic movements. Then of course there are the municipal police forces inside the Basque Country and elsewhere which can be mobilised as backups to military operations.
Add to that the fact that Nafarroa (the fourth southern Basque province) contains significant Spanish unionist and right-wing elements (it has voted a PP majority for decades) and that much of the Basque Nationalist Party’s following is hostile to the Abertzale Left and it is difficult to see how the AL ever expected to win a straight contest of strength with either state.
Perhaps, like the Irish Republican Movement, with which it has traditionally had fraternal relations, the Abertzale Left thought to make itself such a nuisance to the power occupying it that the latter would get fed up and leave them to it. In both cases but even more obviously so in the case of the Basques, that would have been a serious misreading of the situation and an underestimation of the importance to the power in question of remaining in possession.
It seems clear that the only scenario in which the Basque Country could set up a truly independent state would be one in which the Spanish state at the very least (and probably the French one too) would be unable to send repressive forces in to deal with such an attempt. And what would be the nature of such a scenario? Why, nothing less than that the ruling class of the Spanish state (probably of the French state also) were facing a revolutionary situation across the rest of its territory. Not only would such a situation tie down much of its armed forces but it would have the potential for soldiers refusing to fire on workers, mutinies and defections to revolutionary forces.
Working from such an analysis, activists of the Abertzale Left, as well as organising their movement within the Basque Country, would have been busily building relationships with the revolutionary movements and organisations across the Spanish state. But apart from the electoral alliance for the European Parliamentary elections of 2009 (the creation of the Iniciativa Internacionalista platform, which was the victim of massive electoral fraud by the State), the Abertzale Left has never seriously set about such a project. On the other hand, the formerly-Moscow orientated communist party and left-social democrats across the state, as noted earlier, have also kept at a distance from the Abertzale Left and from their aims. The left coalition of mostly Trotskists, Communists and radical social democrats of Izquierda Unida has done likewise.
There are however small formations of revolutionary communists, anarchists and left-independentists, along with anti-centralist movements with revolutionary potential, as well as a number of anti-unionist and independent trade unions throughout the state. To be sure, the immediate prospects are not glowing – but what other option is there? And how else can one be placed to take advantage of a revolutionary upsurge across the state should one occur?
A significant deviation from the original route
During the 1980s, during an ETA truce, there were peace talks held between ETA and the Spanish Government which came to nothing. Similar overtures during the early 1990s had similar results.
It appears that at some point in the late 1990s, perhaps attracted by the development and apparent gains of the Irish pacification process, the leadership of the Abertzale Left began to look for a different way out of their difficulty. Arnaldo Otegi is widely seen as the architect of this trajectory.
Part of this new approach involved seeking alliances with the PNV and with social-democratic parties within the Basque Country. The PNV is the party of the Basque nationalist bourgeoisie, no longer prepared to fight the Spanish ruling class as it was in 1936. It has its capitalist interests and has a record of jobbery and corruption including its involvement in the TAV, the High-Speed Rail project. It even asked the Spanish state to make militant opposition to this project a terrorist offence. The PNV manages its police allocation, the Ertzaintza, a vicious force active against the Abertzale Left and against striking workers and responsible for the serious injury and death of several. The PNV also manages the Basque TV station EITB and therefore controls both the arms of repression and of propaganda. Although the AL criticises the PNV from time to time this is mostly for the lack of support for a broad front against the Spanish state – AL spokespersons rarely attack it for its capitalist exploitation or jobbery.
Otegi was apparently active with ETA in the French state for around ten years and served three years in a Spanish jail for an ETA kidnapping in 1987, after which he involved himself in political activism. Ten years later the jailing for seven years of senior members of Herri Batasuna left a vacuum in the leadership of the organisation which Otegi filled along with Joseba Permach (sentenced to three years jail in August 2014 – but halved on appeal — in the “social centres trial” which confiscated the assets of the centres) and Pernando Barrena.
Otegi led a number of initiatives for the Abertzale Left to embark on a different path, which combined ETA ceasefires, talks with other parties, and militant rhetoric. The latter landed him with a 15-month sentence of which he eventually served one year. Subsequently he has been arrested a number of times, convicted twice and exonerated twice. In 2011 he was charged with trying to rebuild Batasuna, the AL party banned by the Spanish state and was sentenced to ten years; this was reduced on appeal to 6.5 years so that he is due out soon. In 2013 he was elected General Secretary of the AL social-democratic political party Sortu.
Despite the relatively short prison sentence (compared to many other Basque prisoners) and the fact that he appears to be in good health, a campaign was started for Otegi’s release and a petition circulated around and outside the movement. This broke a long-standing rule in the movement that there would be no campaigning for individual Basque political prisoners, from which an exception was previously made only in the cases of seriously-ill prisoners. Nevertheless the campaign petition and Facebook page has been circulated through the movement without any official condemnation — or even distancing from — by the AL leadership. However the campaign has attracted some muted criticism across the movement.
The AL leadership proposed a “peace process” but the problem was that, unlike the case with the British, the Spanish ruling class had no interest in developing anything like that. Their aim was to crush the movement with an iron glove, not to “choke it with butter” as their British counterparts had done.
So the Abertzale Left took the road of unilateral ceasefire. This seemed to many of their friends a doomed tactic since it left the Basques with nothing to bargain. In September 2010, ETA announced a ceasefire, saying it wished to use “peaceful, democratic means” to realise the aspirations of the Basque people. The Spanish state’s reaction was not encouraging but nevertheless on 20th October the following year, the organisation announced a “cessation of armed activity”. This followed the conclusion of the “International Peace Conference” held in Donostia/San Sebastián.
The composition of the conference was clear indication of the AL leadership’s projected route and in particular the type of allies it sought internationally: former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former Taoiseach of Ireland Bertie Ahern, former Prime Minister of Norway Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Interior Minister of France Pierre Joxe, President of Sinn Féin Gerry Adams and British diplomat Jonathan Powell, who had served as the first Downing Street Chief of Staff. To summarise, a collection of servants and executives of imperialism, colonialism, capitalism and even executives of repression and one exposed in a financial corruption scandal.
The declaration at the conclusion of the conference was also supported by former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, former US President Jimmy Carter and the former US Senator and former US Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George J. Mitchell. In other words, former leaders of US and British Imperialism and one of their agents.
Despite the abandonment of armed struggle by the Abertzale Left leadership, the meeting did not include Spanish or French government representatives and the ruling classes of both states remained unreceptive to the overtures of the AL leadership. Not only that, but the Spanish state continues to arrest the movement’s activists, to torture and to jail them. No amount of criticism by committees for the prevention of torture working for the UN or for the EU, nor condemnation by Amnesty International and many human rights associations within the Spanish state, have had any visible impact on the operations of the Spanish state in recent years. And “confessions” obtained by torture continue to be used as admissible ‘evidence’ for the Prosecution even when withdrawn by the victim and the torturers denounced in court.
The ETA ceasefire continues to date and a number of other statements have been made by ETA including one in which they announced the destruction of a number of weapons, verified by a decommissioning expert. A number of “international conferences” have been held with further calls on the Spanish state to cooperate, also without significant result.
A Derry schoolboy has been subjected to emotional blackmail and pressure by his school to sign a “peace scroll” and, arising out of an altercation over his refusal in which it was alleged he was being “sectarian”, was sentenced to two after-school detentions. Why is he being treated in this way, what is this “peace scroll” about and who is promoting it?
According to Pauline Mellon, writing about it in her blog, a boy in her Derry community in September last year was pressured by a teacher in his school to sign a “Peace scroll” with which a Reverend David Latimer is trying to create a world record with the number of signatures. “The child was told by a teacher that he would be ‘the only child in the North not to have signed’ and was further questioned as to whether his refusal was sectarian in nature.” Not surprisingly, the child reacted to this suggestion and used a word for which the school seeks to discipline him.
“The school has a policy (on “abusive language”) which makes no provision for contributing factors,” says Pauline Mellon. However, although the school Board is sticking to the letter of their policy in this regard, they seem not quite so rigorous in upholding their own procedures in other respects.
“When the parents questioned the School Principal over his decision to impose two detentions and what circumstances if any he had taken into consideration, the Principal immediately cut off communication with them and escalated the issue to stage 4 of the school’s complaints procedure. Stage 4 of the school’s complaints procedure requires a written submission to the Chair of the school board from parents.”
Although the parents at this stage had made no such written submission, a sub-committee of the School Board declared that they had investigated the complaint (from whom?!) and upheld the Principal’s decision.The sub-committee had decided to use as “a written submission” some letters written by the parents to the Principal after he refused meet them, thereby violating the parents’ rights to prepare their own submission if they wished to go to Stage 4 of the Complaints Procedure and, indeed, violating the terms of the Procedure itself.
As if to underline their casual attitude to their own procedures, the School Board wrote to the parents to outline their “findings” without even using the school’s headed paper. When this was pointed out to them, the Board apologised for sending the decision on plain paper and said it would not happen again. However, there was a much more significant breach of their procedures, in that the sub-committee had kept no minutes of their meeting, about which the parents have learned only recently. Then when the parents did actually submit a level 4 submission, it was totally ignored.
As Pauline Mellon observed, the Chairman of the Board was in breach of his duties according to “Department of Education guidelines which state that the chairperson has responsibility for all meetings and must ensure that minutes of ALL meetings are retained.”
One can imagine the impact of a comparable chain of events on any individual, let alone a child studying for his GCEs. The parents took him to a counsellor, after which they wished to discuss the counsellors’ report with the boy’s form teacher. The Board prevented this meeting, confusing the counsellors’ report with the parents’ “ongoing issues with the Board”.
Nine months after the first incident in this chain of events, the Board invited the parents to meet with them. The parents brought along an observer and the Board refused to allow the meeting to go ahead with the observer present and when the parents protested, they were escorted off the premises, witnessed by an Independent local authority councillor. The Board in this case is the authority and has the power and the school is also their territory. There are a number of people on the Board. In summary, they held the advantages of power, territory and numbers – yet they refused to allow two parents to be accompanied by an observer to support them (and at a later date to bear witness to what went on, should that become necessary). One must wonder what they had to fear in allowing this one additional person …. and why.
The School Board has a Parent’s Representative on it – the parents of the child sought a meeting with this person, not once but a number of times, but the person concerned has so far failed to meet with them. This is indeed extraordinary – how can anybodfy discharge their duties as a Parents’ Representative to the Board if they refuse to meet with parents who are in dispute with the Board?
There is a body which governs Catholic schools, of which the school in question is one – the Catholic Council for Maintained Schools (CCMS). This is an organisation of the Catholic Church but receives public funding through the Northern Ireland Executive. The parents took the issue to that Council. The CCMS admitted that headed paper should have been used in writing to the parents and commented that the school’s Board had not fulfilled their role; they also noted the parents’ attempt to discuss their child’s counsellor’s report with his form teacher but would not comment on whether the refusal would be normal practice. All in all, the CCMS considered that the Board’s actions of using a letter to the Principal as a submission and refusing the parents the right to submit their own Level 4 submission were “reasonable” and “in accordance with School policy”.
Presumably in their deliberations, the CCMS had discovered that the Board’s sub-committee had failed to keep any minutes but left the parents to discover this through other means at a later date. At a later complaint to the CCMS, the Council refused to acknowledge the failure of the School Board’s Chairperson in ensuring minutes were kept, as laid out in the Department of Education’s guidelines. Finally, the CCMS denied that any breach of the child’s rights took place.
The Chairperson of the CCMS is Bishop John McAreavey, who according to Pauline Mellon, has not even had the decency to acknowledge or respond to two separate letters the parents of the child in question sent to him. This was in contrast to the Bishop of Derry, Rev. McKeown who replied to the parents after they wrote to him. “Bishop McKeown who has knowledge in these matters agreed with the parents that a common sense approach should have been taken and expressed concern that such a small matter had used up so much time and energy.”
Pauline Mellon takes a similar line in concluding her article: “… a matter that should have never made it outside of the school assembly hall from the outset has exposed the School Board in question as being ineffective, unprofessional, non-transparent and unaccountable. It has exposed CCMS, a group acting under the wing of the Catholic Church, as not having learned from previous incidents when the Church has closed ranks and has attempted to silence people.”
As to the Rev. Latimer himself, the promoter of the “Scroll” signatures, although he promised the parents to look into the matter, they have heard nothing from him since.
Who is the Rev. David Latimer?
According to the Department of Education of Northern Ireland, Rev. Latimer is “a visionary”, for which term they offer no explanation apart from his Guinness Book of Records bid for “most signatures on a scroll” and his promotion of it in the schools. http://www.welbni.org/index.cfm/go/news/date/0/key/922:1 Indeed, it is amazing that 84 schools have signed up to the project, as the article says on their website – even more so if none of those saw any wording to endorse and to which to encourage their children to subscribe (see further below).
David Latimer was a systems analyst with the Northern Ireland Electricity Board and married before he decided to become a cleric. He did so in 1988 and is now Minister of two churches, the First Presbyterian in Derry’s Magazine Street and the Monreagh Presbyterian, established in 1644 across what is now the British Border in Donegal.
In 2011, David Latimer was invited to address Sinn Féin’s Ard-Fheis and did so. On that occasion he said, referring to Martin McGuinness, that they had “… been journeying together for the last five years and during that time we have become very firm friends, able to easily relax in each other’s company.”
Rev. Latimer went on to say that “The seeds of division and enmity that have long characterised Catholic and Protestant relations were neither sown in 1968 or 1921 but during the 1609 Settlement of Ulster. Mistrust and bad feelings resulting from the colonisation of Ireland by Protestant settlers were followed by centuries of political and social segregation. Partitioning Ireland did little to ease sectarian mistrust and separateness between Protestants and Catholics left in the 6 counties as each community continued to be defined by its particular religious affiliation with little mixture between the two groups.”
The impression given there is of some peaceful colony of Protestants arriving in Ireland around 1609 which led to “bad feelings” and “mistrust”. No mention of the seizure of land from the Irish and their expulsion to the hills or abroad. No mention of the suppression of the religious faith of the majority and the imposition of that of the minority, centuries of discrimination, theft of land, genocide. One can see that this might quite rationally give rise to “bad feelings” and “mistrust”. No mention of the actual promotion by the British of sectarianism and the creation of the Orange order, with the intention of breaking up the unity between “Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter” of the United Irishmen at the end of the 18th Century.
It was again reasons of “little mixture between the two groups” which Rev. Latimer went on to blame for the recent 30 Years War:
“Little wonder this part of Ireland descended into a spiral of communal disorder and violence that was to last for decades. Victims of differences, extending back across trackless centuries that have isolated us from one another it is, with the benefit of historical hindsight, not surprising that our two communities should view each other with suspicion and regard one another as ‘the enemy.’”
Did the Catholics and Protestants go to war with one another in the late 1960s or at any time during the 30 Years War? No, what happened was that Catholics demanded civil and human rights of which they had been denied in that British colony-statelet since 1921; the state forces tried to suppress their peaceful campaign with batons, tear gas and bullets; right wing and sectarian forces among the Loyalists were mobilised and burned Catholics out of their homes and murdered some. The British Army were sent in to support the “Northern Ireland” sectarian police and the IRA came into limited action to counter them, after which hundreds of “nationalists” were interned without trial, followed by escalation of IRA action, the Paratroopers’ massacres in Derry and in Ballymurphy, and so on.
In fact, Latimer’s false account of history has been the standard British ruling class’ version to justify their war in Ireland for foreign consumption and to the British population throughout those years: the reasonable British with the thankless task of keeping the two tribes apart.
I found the content of the Latimer’s speech on SF’s website without an account of the audience’s reaction but according to the Irish Echo, an Australian on-line newspaper, it “received a rapturous reception from the republican audience”.
Reverend David Latimer and the British Army
Pauline Mellon says that according to the parents, “the child based his decision not to sign the scroll on Rev Latimer’s service in the British Army and with him being stationed in Afghanistan. The child also raised concerns over what he views as Reverend Latimer’s “selective” approach to local human rights issues.”
Surely the boy is mistaken? At least about him having served with the British Army? Well, actually no. In June 2008 Rev. Latimer gave an interview to the Derry Journal to explain why he felt justified in going with the British Army to Afghanistan although he had to “wrestle with his conscience”. Presumably he is an accomplished conscience-wrestler by now since he also admitted to having participated in other British Army missions for more than 20 years.
“It would be against my nature to be part of something that is creating destruction or generating pain or grief within any community”, he was quoted as saying. “The only way I can reassure myself in being part of this is that I am involved with a unit that is going out to provide resources to people who have no choice but to be there because they are under orders.”
Who are they “who have no choice …. because they are under orders”? Ah, yes, the soldiers, pilots and drone technicians who have invaded another country, killing those who resist and generally intimidating the population. Leaving aside the spurious question of “choice”, does one help justice by administering spiritual comfort to an invading army? To whom does one have a greater moral duty? The answer is clear I think and if one lacks the courage to stand up for the population the least one could do is not to offer comfort to their invaders.
Put perhaps Rev. Latimer intends to be some kind of Camillo Torres, preaching for the poor and castigating the wrongdoer? No, of course not. Well then, perhaps subtly undermining Army propaganda? He invites us to think so: “In the quieter times, I will be around for people who will have questions about what they are doing there and about God. I might not have all the answers but I am there to give a view different to the Army view.”
In what way his view might be different to that of the Army he once again fails to explain, or to inform us whether his views were also different on the other more than twenty occasions in which he served with the British Army previously. Surely if he were intending to undermine Army propaganda, he’d hardly be telling us and the Army in a newspaper interview!
He tells us the hospital he’ll be working in over there will be treating Afghanis as well as British servicemen. Hopefully, they will be treating Afghani victims of torture in British and US Army prisons as well as children given a beating in the barracks. He won’t be trying to convert the Muslims to Christianity, he tells us. And I think we can believe that, since abusing people’s religion, their culture, customs, raiding their houses and generally intimidating them is hardly likely to incline them towards one’s religion.
Going on to discuss the possible dangers he would face, Rev. Latimer informs the readers of the Derry Journal that “We know the (military) base is likely to be attacked and we will undergo training in how to deal with chemical, biological and nuclear attacks.” He need not worry, the Afghans don’t have any of those weapons. However, he should exercise caution should he ever have cause to pass through the special arms stores of the British or US military, who do indeed have precisely those weapons and, furthermore, have used most of them in warfare at some point.
“I will receive some weapons training, although this will be limited on how to disable a gun and make it safe.” Useful, just in case any member of the Afghani resistance accidentally drops a gun …. perhaps when calling on the Reverend to make enquiries about the philosophy of the Christian religion.
“Peace” and “Peace” Treaties and Agreements
The vast majority of people would say that Peace is a good thing; despite that, “peace” remains a problematic concept and not one upon everyone can agree. And “peace” is also frequently being promoted in some part of the world by some of the most warlike states with the most horrifying armaments. For those in power, the invoking of the word “Peace” can be a powerful way of invalidating resistance, silencing dissent and of justifying the status quo which has been achieved through vanquishing the enemy in battle or by the recruitment of collaborators in the enemy’s leadership.
During WWI, the British and the French concluded the secret Asia Minor Agreement (also known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement), with the endorsement of Imperial Russia; the Agreement divided the Arab world between the French and the British should they succeed in beating the Ottoman Empire. To the shock and embarrassment of the imperialists, the Bolsheviks published the terms when they took power in 1917. Although this Agreement was intended to bring “peace” between the competing British, French and Russians, it has been in part the source of many wars with others, as well as coups and uprisings in the Middle East since then.
“Peace” does not mean the same to all: many of the British and French public during WWI would have said that “peace” meant defeating the Germans and Turks, conversely many Germans and Turks would have thought the direct opposite. The Russians mostly wanted an end to the War so “Peace” was one of the most popular of the Bolsheviks’ slogans for their October Revolution, after which they pulled Russian troops out of the War; it was one of the reasons so many soldiers and sailors sided with them.
The end of the First World War brought “peace” and “peace treaties”; among these was the Treaty of Versailles between Britain and France on one side and Germany on the other. In effect, the principal victors screwed Germany for war reparations, occupying the industrial Ruhr Valley. Many historians agree that the Versailles Treaty was a contributory factor to the later rise of the National Socialist Party (the “Nazis”) in Germany and also to the Second World War.
After WWII, the “peace” treaties divided the world largely between the USA, the British, the French and the USSR. Some aspects of that division led to two big wars — the Korean and Vietnam Wars – and a host of smaller ones. The USA has fought 20 military engagements since WWII; the British have fought 28 and the French have been directly involved in 15 military actions or wars (these figures do not of course include the wars and coups fought by the many proxies of these powers). Furthermore, not one of those wars was fought on the territories of those states and, in most cases, took place far from them.
To look for a moment further than the three world powers above, Sri Lanka had a war going on inside it since 1983 and had peace talks a number of times. The origin of the war was the communal differences and inequalities promoted by the British when they ruled Ceylon as a colony and continued by the Sinhalese majority Government afterwards. In 2008, the ruling Sinhalese Government decided on all-out war and, abandoning the mutually-agreed ceasefire, surrounded the Tamil Tigers’ “liberated areas” with a ring of steel through which no-one could pass. They then subjected the areas to indiscriminate continuous shelling and air bombardment before sending in their troops, wiping out most of the opposing guerrillas but also thousands of civilians. According to UN estimates, 6,500 civilians were killed and another 14,000 injured between mid-January 2009. The Times, the British daily, estimates the death toll for the final four months of the war (from mid-January to mid-May) at 20,000.
There’s peace in Sri Lanka now, all right — the peace of the grave.
Sri Lanka’s “peace” is similar to the one that followed the 1798 Rebellion in Ireland – that was “peace” after a defeat of the Irish Republican forces by bloody suppression and rabid sectarianism. Of course that “peace” was temporary only (as Sri Lanka’s will no doubt prove to be too) and was followed by other brief uprisings in 1803, 1848, 1867, the Land War 1879-’82, 1916 Rising, the War of Independence 1919-1921, the Civil War 1922-’23, the IRA campaign during WWII …. The partition of Ireland as part of the 1921 Agreement was supposed to bring peace to both parts of the country but again it proved to be a temporary one.
Despite the sectarian riots burning Catholics out of their homes and the wave of terror and repression by the Six Counties statelet in the early 1920s, conflict broke out again with the IRA’s Border Campaign of 1956-’62. In 1967 the Civil Rights campaign in the Six Counties began; the repression with which it was met by State and Loyalists caused the uprising of the Catholic ghettoes of Derry and Belfast afterwards. Then more repression, more resistance, then troops, then 30 years of war with the British Army and colonial police against the Republican guerrilla forces. The Good Friday Agreement claims to be bringing peace but history – and the ongoing repression of dissent by the statelet’s forces — indicates otherwise.
One of the reasons that peace is not necessarily brought by treaties and agreements is that they are themselves intended as temporary measures: by both parties, as in agreements between competing imperialist and colonialist powers, or by one of the parties, for example by the US Government in the case of the Native American Indians. Or they are violated by succeeding governments, as in the case of William of Orange’s promises in the Treaty of Limerick. Or they don’t deal comprehensively with the underlying causes of conflict, as with treaties and agreements between Britain and Ireland in general.
In fact, when a colonial or imperialist power seeks an agreement or treaty with a people or a weaker nation, what it is seeking is not usually peace but pacification – it wants an absence of conflict, or of resistance, so that it can continue extracting the benefits which it was doing before the people began to resist.
Or sometimes, the stronger power wants merely to delay things, to “buy time” until it is expects to be in a better position (and its opponent perhaps in a weaker one) than that which it was at the time. In 1925 the British Government intervened in a conflict between the mine-owners and the miners in Britain, paying a subsidy for nine months to prevent the miners’ pay from dropping. During that period, the Government laid in stocks of coal and bought up newsprint to prepare for a big battle with the miners’ union in particular. In 1926 they took on the British trade union movement and succeeded in forcing the TUC to call it off the General Strike within nine days of its beginning, leaving the miners to fight on alone for eight months until they were defeated.
So what kind of “peace” is being promoted by the Reverend Latimer? Some detailed plan, or some wishy-washy generalisation? That is not an easy question to answer. It is known to be an attempt to get into the Guinness Book of Records by having the most schoolchildren sign it which many have done, including in Donegal and Derry. Is it just a publicity stunt, where people sign up to some vague notion of “peace” which can mean one thing to one person and something completely different to another? What is the context for this “scroll”? “Peace” between whom and on what terms? Or is there a political agenda, as there was in the campaign around the Good Friday Agreement?
The Scroll’s FB page does not explain and the parents have not managed to find out; in addition a number of Google searches of mine failed to turn it up either. What is known about its origins, perhaps the only thing apart from it aiming at a world record, is that it is being energetically promoted by Rev. David Latimer. And as we have seen, he goes on British Army missions and his role in all this is far from clear.
Schools in our society
Coming back to where we began, the pressure and attempted intimidation of a schoolboy is wrong and should not have been inflicted on this boy (and on who knows on how many others). It should not have been but it was and, when the parents objected, the agents of that blackmail, intimidation and repression should have backed down. And if they refused to back down, the managing agents, the School Board should have upheld the parents’ objections. And if they did not, the Catholic Council for Maintained Schools should have done so. All of them failed to do what was right.
As adults, we tend to see schools as neutral institutions, some with good standards, some not so good, with a continuum of teachers ranging from great to abysmal. Schools however do play a role in socialising children to accept authority and discipline outside the home and also into accepting ideas dominant in the society in which the school is located. Seen in that light, we should perhaps be less shocked at this treatment of a boy and his parents.
However this Guinness Book of Records project is not even part of the school’s official program nor of the State’s curriculum and it was the boy’s resistance to the undue pressure brought to bear on him that sparked the verbal response for which he is now being ‘disciplined’ and which he and his parents are resisting.
If the school were an institution dedicated to real learning, it would encourage questioning, even though its teachers and managers might find that uncomfortable at times. It would value courage and principle and instead of persecuting this boy, would encourage him and value his principled stand, his courage and his persistence. But instead it does the opposite and because the boy’s parents do value their child’s principles and courage and want to support him, they also find themselves in conflict with the school.
Such small-scale battles go on constantly everywhere in our society, in institutes of education, in workplaces, in other organisations and associations, in communities. People fight those battles, often on their own or in little groups, or they fail to resist; whichever they do will affect their individual character and their social and political attitudes thereafter, one way or the other. Drawing on those lessons can lead to understanding more general truths about society and can also help to develop the strength of character to withstand psychological and other bullying and pressure at other times in life. Fair play to the boy for his principles and the courage to stand up for them against authority figures and fair play too to his parents who are supporting him.
Sixteen years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, cases of Irish Republican political activists appearing before colonial judges are none too rare in what some call “Northern Ireland”. Of course, the Republicans are not from Provisional Sinn Féin, who have made their peace with Queen and Empire – but they are Irish Republicans none the less.
Despite their fairly common occurrence, one recent case seemed to symptomise the state of civil liberties in the colonial statelet so as to deserve some detailed analysis. On January 6th Gary Donnelly (43) and two other Derry Republicans, Terry Porter (56) and William Brogan (51), won their appeals against a sentence of six months imprisonment for painting slogans on the famous Derry Walls but money was paid on their behalves into the court.
The judge, Philip Babbington, ordered the £2,600 (€3,300) compensation to be equally divided between the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, which has responsibility for the upkeep of the Derry Walls, and the charity Foyle Search and Rescue. No explanation seems to have been given as to why the total sum, which was supposed to have been necessary to remove the anti-internment slogans, was not to be paid in its entirety to the Environment Agency; nor am I aware of any detailed examination of the alleged cost of £2,600 (€3,300) to remove a few painted slogans.
“Speaking outside the court Colr. Donnelly said he was ‘relieved’ that the case was finally settled. He said: “I am glad that I am now able to represent the voters of the Moor ward who elected me. There had been a lot of donations made towards this case by people in the city and I am glad that it is going to Foyle Search and Rescue.” He denied that there had been any brinkmanship in the case and said when first arrested they had been held for two days and police had tried to prevent them getting bail.
“Cnclr. Donnelly went on: “Graffiti has long been a tool of the working class for years and there was even graffiti on the walls calling for Home Rule1. More damage was caused to the Walls by the installation of lights and the building of the Millennium Form than by anything we did. “I have no regrets for anything I have done.”2
The appeal hearing was attended by four TDs3: Éamonn O’Cuív (Fianna Fáil), Clare Daly (United Left Alliance), Thomas Pringle and Maureen O’Sullivan (both Independents). Also in attendance were numerous councillors from local authorities on both sides of the Border. This attendance, at the court case of one with whose politics most of them would not be in agreement, indicated perhaps some sense of solidarity among public elected representatives but probably more a rising concern among some (albeit not nearly enough) at the state of civil liberties in the Six Counties.
When Donnelly and the other two republicans had last appeared before another judge to answer a charge of “malicious damage” to the Walls (by painting the slogans), no money had been made available to the court and they had been sentenced to six month’s imprisonment. The judge hearing the appeal, Babbington, replaced that sentence with a conditional discharge for 12 months. This means that they will serve no prison term on this charge but if, within 12 months they are again arrested and convicted, this conviction will be taken into account and could result in prison terms.
The original sentence of six months’ jail for painting slogans, even at such an alleged cost of their removal, was excessive. But the impact of this sentence in the case of Gary Donnelly went far beyond that on him, his family and friends. Gary Donnelly is a Councillor, elected to the Derry & Strabane Super-Council and, according to the rules of that body, a sentence in excess of three months would cause him to lose his seat. That in turn would have disenfranchised those who voted for him.
Donnelly was one of four new Independent councillors elected last year, the other three being Darren O’ Reilly, Dee Quigley and Paul Gallagher (Strabane). Gary Donnelly, standing as an Independent, topped the poll in the Moor ward (home of the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness), out-polling former Sinn Féin Mayor Kevin Campbell by 50 votes. The three Derry-based Independent councillors have taken two SDLP and one Sinn Féin seat.
These new Independent councillors have a background of years dealing with issues affecting their local communities, often on a daily basis, such as poverty, anti-social behaviour and the growing addiction crisis. Judge McElholm had been made aware that Donnelly would lose his seat if the judge went ahead with his sentence but he was not to be swayed from his course.
Naturally, it is not being suggested that elected Councillors (or any others, including appointed judges) should be permitted to act as they please without consequences, merely because of their office. However, a judge behaving in accord with the principles of a democratic system would take care that the sentence leanedaway from disenfranchisement of voters if possible. And of course, it was possible, since a non-custodial sentence or one of anything up to three months’ jail would not have had Donnelly lose his seat or disenfranchised his voters.
For those who are aware of the history and current reality of the Six Counties, that colonial statelet often called “Northern Ireland”, associating it “with the principles of a democratic system” is bound to raise at least one eyebrow. The formation of the statelet was in itself a denial of democracy and self-determination to the Irish people in 1921 and its laws and practice were so undemocratic, so discriminatory against the large Catholic minority, as to give rise to the popular movement for civil rights that began in 1968. The infamous repression exercised by the statelet’s police and courts and its sectarian civilian allies on that movement led in turn to a war of 30 years. Not a single democratic reform was granted by the statelet until that war was well underway. Nevertheless, since its administrators claim it is democratic, it may be useful to subject it to the test of compliance with recognised democratic principles.
THE JUDGES AND THE SYSTEM
During all that history of lack of democracy, institutional discrimination and repression in the Six Counties, judges played their part, faithful to the system. Today, despite some hard-won reforms especially in housing allocation and in voting qualification, the statelet continues to be a colonial one, undemocratic still in many ways, with a sectarian and repressive police force. And the judges continue to play their part.
The original judge dealing with Donnelly’s case, McElholm, revealed his own political bias on a number of occasions during the conduct of the case, even without taking into account the six-month jail sentence. According to media reports, when the three appeared before him again for non-payment of the fines, he said that the painting of the walls was a “wholly uncalled-for exercise”. He stated that “internment ended ‘a long time ago’, and that it was insulting to the entire legal system to say it continues.”4
Well, was the judge sentencing the three Republicans for “criminal damage”, the words appearing on their charge-sheet, or for carrying out what he considered politically or morally to be a “totally uncalled-for exercise” and for “insulting … the entire legal system”? I would have thought that his words are evidence of a clear political bias.
Nor was it the only occasion when the same judge expressed political bias in respect of Gary Donnelly. When the Irish Republican made his application for the abolition of his curfew (which he had accepted as a condition of being granted bail when first charged), he did so on the basis that having to be indoors by 8pm was a serious restriction on his campaigning work for election, an infringement on his democratic rights and on those who might vote for him. Again, Judge McElholm saw fit to express his political bias in heavy sarcasm. According to media reports, although he granted an exemption of two hours (i.e. until 10pm) on the curfew, Judge McElholm then asked: “Is he going to put up posters or paint his name on walls saying vote Donzo?” He went on to say: “It is clear the democratic process is very dear to Mr Donnelly’s heart”5 and “The great working class people I’m sure will now come flooding to his door.”6
BAIL CONDITIONS AND CURFEW AS A POLITICAL WEAPON
The issue of Donnelly’s bail conditions and curfew have been alluded to earlier. People in the West outside of the Six Counties (with the exception of people in other European areas of repressive colonial occupation, such as the southern Basque Country) may be surprised to learn that the imposition of a curfew has become customary as a condition of granting bail to Republicans in the colony. This might have made some sense in the case of slogan-painting, with which Donnelly was accused, and which one would imagine would take place at night. But even so, did a curfew have to be imposed? Would it not be enough that if he were caught doing it again before trial, that his bail would be revoked?
In a democratic system, since the accused are to be “presumed innocent until proven guilty”, they should be at liberty until such time as are tried and receive a verdict. That is the purpose of releasing those charged “on bail” while awaiting trial. They may be found “not guilty” at the end of their trial and even if found “guilty”, the sentence may be a non-custodial one. So, if the accused is thought not to require a custodial sentence, why should he already have spent time in jail? However it is a fact that many Irish Republicans have spent time in jail while awaiting trial. In Donnelly’s case, after two days in custody and against police advice, he was given bail but on a number of conditions.
The purpose of conditions being set for bail is supposed to be related to the specific case and to be reasonable. A financial surety is set in order to deter the accused from absconding before trial. Other than that, what conditions are reasonable? Well, a man accused of assault on another may have a bail condition not to approach his alleged victim and to stay away from that person’s home or place of work. Or to stay away from people who are to be called as witnesses. But how is it to be considered reasonable to set a curfew as a bail condition? And of wearing an electronic tag to ensure compliance? Or of not going to political meetings or meeting with political activists? Or to not reside in a particular town?
These conditions and variations of them have been imposed on a number of Irish Republican activists in the Six Counties. In fact, that same Judge McElhome also imposed a nightly curfew on Gary Donnelly on a previous charge, in August 2010, when he released him on bail to face charges under “anti-terror” legislation, relating to pipe bombs incidents in September 2009. In December 2010, the charges were dropped.
Martin Corey, a Republican prisoner released under licence under the Good Friday Agreement, had his licence revoked and after four years in prison (without even a police interview or charge, never mind a court appearance) was released on a kind of bail or licence under conditions which he is not permitted to divulge but are rumoured to include wearing a tag and not associating with “known dissidents”.
Perhaps one of the most illustrative examples was that of Stephen Murney, an activist with the Éirigí group, who was arrested on spurious charges in November 2012 and refused bail. When his appeal against that refusal was heard after six months in jail, the judge granted bail but on conditions: Murney was to wear a tag, observe curfew, stay away from certain political activists and stay away from Newry — the town in which he lived and where his partner and child also lived. To his credit and taking an important stand for civil rights, Murney refused to accept the conditions and spent 14 months in custody awaiting trial. Eventually, some of the charges were dropped and he was found not guilty of all remaining charges.
CRIMINAL OR POLITICAL CONVICTIONS?
A member of the 32-County Sovereignty Movement, Gary Donnelly has been politically active for many years. Something has been made in reporting of the case that Gary Donnelly has previous criminal convictions – he has a police record and he has also had a number of charges eventually dropped. In March 2010, he was sentenced to seven months jail on a charge of assaulting a police officer. At one of his recent court appearances, a police officer said he he had criminal convictions also for public order offences and one for arson.
In many societies outside the Six Counties this might seem extraordinary for an elected representative but I would submit that it is the system in the Six Counties that is extraordinary, at least with regard to what might be expected of a European democracy.
Donnelly’s “criminal convictions” would have been no secret and his voters put him in office despite those convictions and quite possibly even in part because of them. I do not have the details of the incidents that gave rise to them but any half-awake observer of life in the Six Counties knows that with a sectarian and repressive police force hostile to Republicans, acquiring convictions for “assault on police officers” may be the result of police concoction, self-defence by the charged or even actual assault but in all those cases, the likelihood is that the incidents are overtly political in nature.
Convictions for “public order offences” are probably the most easily-acquired by political activists and often mean merely that the person convicted refused to cease his or her protest when ordered to do so by a police officer. It is rarely possible, with any hope of success, to challenge the justification of the police officer in ordering the protest to finish.
“Arson” can also be a political offence and I once heard a Garda senior officer declare that burning a purchased US flag in a public protest was “arson”! And, as has been clearly demonstrated, the “criminal damage” which has now been added to Donnelly’s police record, both in its content and in its treatment, was political.
INTERNMENT – WHEN IS IT NOT?
Although no-one denies that the British implemented internment between August 1971 and December 1975, when 342 people were subjected to it7, there is far from universal agreement that the British are practicing internment in their colony today. One supposes that the socialists and social-democrats there at present don’t agree that it is being practiced — or surely they would be protesting against it! And, as we saw earlier, Judge McElhone declared that internment had ended back in the 1970s and that to state that it was still being practiced was “insulting …. to the entire legal system”. Sinn Féin don’t call it internment on the rare occasions upon which they refer to the victims but that may be more an issue of convenience than of terminology. Even a member of a Republican organisation which is opposed to the Good Friday Agreement recently argued with me that what is happening is repression but is not internment.
Well, I’m quite interested in correct use of terminology myself, so I thought I’d better look up the definition in a number of on-line dictionaries. It turns out that dictionary definitions of “internment” vary somewhat. Wikipediahas it as “the imprisonment or confinement of people, commonly in large groups, without trial, while for Dictionary.comit is “the act of interning or state of being interned, esp of enemy citizens in wartime or of terrorism suspects”.Dictionary.com goes on to elaborate that “Internment means putting a person in prison or other kind of detention, generally in wartime. ………….. Internment usually doesn’t involve a trial, so you’re being held because someone thinks you might be dangerous, but there’s no proof.”
Grammaristhas it as “the act of detaining a person or a group of people, especially a group perceived to be a threat during wartime,” while forCambridge Dictionaries on lineit is“the act of putting someone in prison for political or military reasons, especially during a war.”Macmillan Dictionarydefines it as “the act of putting someone in a prison without officially accusing them of a crime, especially when this is done for political reasons”.
Sifting through these definitions then, the most common aspect is that internment involves imprisonment without trial. It may be applied to many or a few (and let us remember that Oswald Mosley, of the British Union of Fascists, was interned by the British on his own during WW2 albeit in a house with grounds). Two definitions mention wartime, while some allude to “terrorism” and a few mention “political reasons”. On the basis of those definitions, internment is undoubtedly being practiced in the Six Counties.
Refusing Republicans bail (e.g. Stephen Murney, Colin Duffy and man others) and revoking licences (e.g. Marian Price, Martin Corey) have all resulted in imprisonment without trial – for periods varying from a year to four years. The individuals may be – and often are – eventually found “not guilty”, or their convictions overturned (as with Colin Duffy, Brian Shivers and, one hopes, the “Craigavon Two”) or released on “humanitarian grounds” but they will already have spent time in jail. This was the reasoning which no doubt lies behind a number of political activities against the current internment and certainly was expressed at the founding meeting of the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland (of which I am proud to be a member) which has organized public meetings, demonstrations and information pickets in various communities in Dublin and in other parts of Ireland. The non-party Group was set up by some of the campaigners in the also non-party Dublin Free Marian Price Campaign after the partially-successful conclusion of that struggle (Marian Price was released on “humanitarian grounds” but already in broken health). The AIGI can be found on https://www.facebook.com/pages/End-Internment/581232915354743?fref=ts
Imprisonment puts a strain on the individual prisoner and also on friends and relations – and, indeed, on relationships. It disrupts the political work of the person jailed and of their organizations. And it serves as a threat to others considering becoming active in opposition to the State. Its purpose in these cases is primarily political. The deprivation of liberty without due cause is a violation of human rights and to do so for political reasons, which is clearly the case here, is a violation too of civil rights.
That the legal system in the Six Counties is being used in this way should come as no surprise to those familiar with the operation of colonial law or indeed to any readers of Brigadier Frank Kitson’s Low Intensity Operations (1971)8. Kitsoncompletedthe book while on military service in the Six Counties but mainly drawing on his experiences in repression of resistance in Kenya and in Malaya in the 1950s. In the Six Counties Kitson was commander of 39 Airportable Brigade from September 1970 to April 1972, with responsibility for one of the British Army’s three main regional sub-commands in the Six Counties, the greater Belfast and Eastern area.
One of the units under Kitson’s command, 1st Para, was the main actor in killing and wounding a large number of civilians in Ballymurphy in July 1971 and in Derry’s Bloody Sunday in January 1972.
The Military Reaction Force, a special covert operations unit, was based at Kitson’s headquarters in Palace Barracks outside Belfast. Last November (2013), a BBC ‘Panorama’ investigative program on British counterinsurgency in the Six Counties in the early 1970s featured members of the MRF admitting to the murder of suspects and unarmed Catholic civilians.
Back in April 1972, within a few weeks of Bloody Sunday and his receipt of a CBE for his service in the Six Counties, Brigadier Kitson was flown to England to head the Infantry School at Warminster and Low Intensity Operations would become a British Army manual on counterinsurgency and counter-subversion.
In that book, Kitson approvingly quoted another repression “expert”9:
“…the Law should be used as just another weapon in the government’s arsenal, and in this case it becomes little more than a propaganda cover for the disposal of unwanted members of the public. For this to happen efficiently, the activities of the legal services have to be tied into the war effort in as discreet a way as possible..”
And so it has been in the Six Counties (and long before Kitson described its operation): the legal system being “just another weapon in the government’s arsenal.” At the moment, the “unwanted members of the public” being “disposed” of are Irish Republicans who do not agree with the Good Friday agreement and who organise to oppose British colonialism, some with arms but most through political agitationn — “unwanted” by British imperialism and Six County capitalism, that is. Their treatment should be enough to bring democratic people out in oppositon to these state practices but should it not do so, those people may wish to consider that tomorrow those designated as “unwanted members of the public” may be people protesting cuts in services, fracking operations, privatisation, or militant trade unionists ….
1 A movement for Irish autonomy within the UK (or, later, Commonwealth) between 1870 and 1914. Teachtaí Dála: Members of the Irish Parliament
7 Even now a case is being taken by the Irish state against the British state to the European Court of Human Rights, over the torture of 14 victims of that internment. The Irish Government took the case of the 14 “hooded men” to the ECHR in the 1970s and won a judgement that the men had been tortured; however the British state appealed the verdict and it was changed to “cruel and inhuman treatment” (!). The Irish Government left the case there but recently RTÉ, the Irish TV broadcasting service, screened their programme The Torture Files based on documentation uncovered by the Pat Finucane Centre, showing the British Government had lied to the ECHR. Amnesty International publicly called on the Irish Government to reopen the case with the ECHR.
I recently went to London in order to visit my daughter and son, their partners and their children. My son and his wife Natalie had recently had a baby girl; and my daughter and her husband Irwin have a boy and a girl. It turned out for a number of reasons that I had more spare time than I expected, so with the help of a friend I got in some sight-seeing and with the help of another, attendance at quite few singing sessions. I also attended one political rally. The following is an account of those events with the least said about my family and friends since their lives are private, with the exception of my host, Jim Radford, who has a very public side with regard to political and community activism and singing.
Archictecture and Transport System
Visiting London, where I spent 30 years of my life was strange, in particular staying about ten minutes’ walk from where I had lived for about half of my time in that city. I had a sense of being an observer at a familiar place but of which I was no longer part, something like a ghost, perhaps.
Not only Kings Cross Station but the whole area around it has been redeveloped and changed so much. In the early ’90s I worked shifts as a Project Worker in a ‘wet hostel’ (one where street drinkers are permitted to continue drinking), very near to St. Pancras Hospital and about fifteen minutes’ walk from the station (if one walks very fast, which I often did to get in for my early shift). On a late shift, walking down St. Pancras Road, on my way to the Underground to head back to SE London, I would often pass a solitary sex worker or two hoping for custom. Displaying the goods on sale is a trade requirement and I felt especially sorry for them in cold or wet weather.
The area was well-known for a high level of sex work and illegal drugs – selling and buying. Four years later, after two years as a Deputy Manager in a number of hostels in other parts of London, I was back in the area again, with a different NGO, as Manager of a hostel for active drug users (most of them injecting). The area had been very familiar to me then but visiting now I could hardly recognise it. The train and Underground stations have been remodeled and an international train station connecting with the Channel Tunnel has been built. In addition the areas in front of them and to the side are unrecogniseable. A big plaza fronts the station and around the side and back is another plaza with the de rigueur converted warehouses and similar-type buildings also around the back of the station now hosting eateries and fashionable offices.
No doubt the area is much more heavily policed now in order to present a clean image for tourists and the middle class young eating and drinking there but I am sure that sex work and drug commerce continues. Perhaps much more cocaine rather than heroin or crack is sold now for the new client group. But though I was there on a weekend night, I observed many of the restaurants and winebars only half-full.
I went out to Stratford too to see the Olympic Stadium and surrounding area. I had worked in that area as a community development worker for six months and taught an adult education beginners’ class in Irish for some years there too — but again, would not have recognised the area now. Like King’s Cross, it had changed completely but unlike the former, in almost unbelievable ugliness. The shopping centre wasn’t too bad but very much of the UStater “mall” type. Apparently many people in the US spend much of their free time in such places and, indeed, there seemed little other choice in Stratford now, especially for teenagers, unless they were of the outdoor type and accessed the Lee Valley, Wanstead Flats etc.
An observation tower which is also a sculpture or “installation”, apparently, stands outside the the Olympic Stadium. It was chosen in competition but aesthetics can hardly have been one of the required features. I once saw metal girders and joists twisted in the aftermath of a very hot fire – the sculpture instantly brought back the memory.
Unfortunately that was not the only ugly construction in the vecinity: almost in any direction one cared to look, other ugly and often grotesquely-shaped buildings came into view. It was in truth almost impossible to credit that not only was I in the same country but in the same city as the work that had been done around Kings Cross.
But sadly, it was not the only place for ugly buildings. Just by London Bridge I had seen a few others and indeed could see the same ones as part of the distant skyline from Stratford too. The “Shard” is one of them, looking like some kind of unsafe rocket about to take off. Another building reminds me of one of those free-standing electric fan heaters.
Some pieces of metal fell off the Shard recently – perhaps the beginning of a suicide attempt by the building, prompted by shame – and would have killed anyone they had struck. The various companies involved, both in its construction and in renting space in it, have said that there is no danger and everything is being checked again. I’m sure that is very reassuring to people working there and to passers-by.
It occurred to me at some point that an Irishman taking photos of buildings around the Olympic arena could get into trouble, even these days — so took myself off inside the ‘mall’ to eat.
On a positive note about London other than the Kings Cross development, the new Overground system links up with much of the Underground and throws a public travel net around the city and outskirts, linking up a great many areas which were previously only accessible by using a combination of public transport systems often taking hours.
I was told about the Overground and even used it but it was some time before I noticed that both that system and the Underground use exactly the same logo design, the difference being the word written across the bar and perhaps the colour. Once one becomes used to a symbol, one no longer reads the words on it or notices anything except very different colours. That didn’t matter until the day I had to catch an Overground train at a station not organically connected to the Underground, on which I was travelling. My ticket was good for both and the Overground station was less than a minute’s walk away down the street. Seeing what looked like the same design and taking it for another entrance to the Underground station I had left earlier, I walked past it three times and once almost got on to the nearby British Rail (intercity trains) platform and wondered why everyone was giving me wrong directions!
It was going down to an Overground station in NW London that I saw a big Irish tricolour in someone’s yard, flying right next to the station.
Although I had prepared myself, I was a little shocked at how tall my grandson Kian had become. He is (of course) a very bright lad and was doing tests and making applications for different secondary schools.
Caitlin Rose, his little sister, seemed very excited to see me and I only had to look at her to make her break out in laughter. Grandad is very funny, apparently. Sadly, they have only two living grandparents now – me and my ex-wife. Their other grandfather died shortly before Kian was born and their other grandmother only recently.
Caitlin Rose was born prematurely – I dashed to London at the time and remember holding her in the palm of my hand fpr a little while out of the incubator. She did well but was later diagnosed as suffering from cerebral palsy – the most obvious way it affected her was that her muscles spasmed and drew the tendons in her calves and feet tight, bending her legs and putting her on tiptoe so that she could hardly walk. The condition can be aleviated but so far is incurable. But she is very competitive and determined as well as being very bright (of course). In addition, she had the SDR operation in the USA, a relatively new surgical technique, after which she improved enormously. (See this incredible footage taken about a year after the operation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q6SGhuYzng8, from the blog recording her progress and others in the family and promoting the SDR operation http://caitlinroseford.com)
I didn’t get to spend much time during the day with my son-in-law, Irwin, who was busy figuring out how to plumb their new washing machine in to the waste water disposal system. I am not familiar with the closed system so didn’t offer too much advice. But later we went out to eat so I could chat to him a bit more.
We went out to a tapas restaurant not too far from where they live and I ordered the fish skewers from the menu, imagining them to be the size of pintxos in the Basque Country or chicken satay skewers one sees over here. When the skewers arrived I was shocked to see each contained three large pieces, each one the size of an individual fish portion in many expensive and niggardly restaurants, with what looked like a dagger or bayonet pushed through them, mounted on a stand.
The most surprising thing for me however was that all the staff were actually from the Spanish state1 with the exception of one from Latin America. In Dublin, I had become used to these places being staffed by people from non-Castillian-speaking countries.
In a Latin American restaurant in Camden to which a friend took me, allegedly Patagonian and with some beautiful enlarged photographs of that area on the wall, I asked our table attendant whether he knew any Welsh. There had been a Welsh-speaking colony in Patagonia, founded in 1865 and there is still some Welsh spoken there today. “Que va, hombre!” he exclaimed. “De eso no sé nada. Yo soy de Andlalucia” he concluded, smiling. (“Not at all, man! I know nothing about that — I’m from Andalucia”).
I queried some of the wines I didn’t recognise, not sure whether I wanted a glass or not, so he brought some for us to try and …. left the bottle! Of course it would have been discourteous to refuse such good fortune and, the wine being fine, we had a few glasses before he remembered and returned for the bottle. We paid for some of it, of course. I had a feeling he might have left it that long deliberately.
In a Turkish restaurant in Dalston, I wondered whether I might have a taste of a Turkish lager, which I had never previously tasted, before deciding whether to have a pint. The attendant paused and then nodded, coming back with a half-pint. I looked at her perplexed — “It’s on the house,” she said with a little smile. She was half-Scottish and half Egyptian, it turned out. I did like it and ordered some more. Turkish food is nice enough but not one of the world’s more impressive cuisines, in my experience (and I have eaten it there too, including in Turkish-occupied Kurdistan).
Stoke Newington and Dalston are multi-ethnic areas but especially prominent are Kurdish and Turkish businesses. Without a doubt however the most visible ethnic minority are the Hassidic Jews, the men with their long black coats and homburgs, boys with skull caps and side-locks. This sect is anti-Zionist and they are known, on occasion, to demonstrate against the state of Israel. However, I was shocked to learn that the women shave their heads upon marriage and wear wigs when they go out.
At the other end of London from my daughter and her family and also far from where I was staying, it was great to see my son Kevin and his wife Nat and the baby – Elora Mae. London is huge and a return ticket covering the zones on Underground and train cost nearly £10 each time. The Oyster Card they are introducing, like the Leap Card in Dublin, in an attempt to eliminate cash exchanges, makes the journeys a little cheaper but I hadn’t known about that.
I’m usually OK with babies but Elora Mae wouldn’t let me hold her for long before she started to cry. On my last visit, however, she seemed ok with me (or probably my smell) and even gave me a few lovely smiles. Smiling, by the way, as well as focusing on the face, are responses genetically built in to us. Babies do not “learn” to smile, which is instinctive programming but may learn different types of smiles, as well as appropriate times for smiling.
Songs and Singing in London
I was staying with a long-time folk and shanty singer, Jim Radford and he took me along with him to his weekly singing events. In one, an “open mic” event, I was not a little disturbed at the amount of noise in the bar in which it was held. Noise is distracting and I tend to sing louder to get over it, straining my voice and maybe also singing at the wrong pitch and key and therefore not at my best. I got more and more apprehensive as my turn to sing, indicated by the MC to me, approached and in trepidation when my turn came, went up to the microphone to sing two songs as expected. I sang Danny Farrell as an Irish (and Dublin) song unlikely to antagonise anyone there and to my relief the noise level dropped somewhat. My second song was the Pat O’Donnell Ballad, which although it involves the the “Invincibles” and the British administration in Ireland, was not too confrontational, I thought. Besides, it the story is interesting as it may be the first recorded “witness protection” operation in history, though one that went very badly wrong for the “witness” (or traitor) in question.
I was asked to sing a third song, as a courtesy to a visiting guest, I thought. Into the second line of Go and Leave Me, the silence around me became profound – so much that it scared me a bit. But I took confidence from it too. The lyrics are not bad and the air is lovely, especially in my opinion when it’s sung the US version way. It’s a reasonably well-known song about love and desertion in preference for someone richer and is one in my regular repertoire. “Regular”, by the way, might mean “sung two or three times a year”, since I don’t like to sing the same song too often and, like many other frequent singers, I have quite a few others. My host has about 250 …. I might have around a hundred, built up over years. And a few discarded along the way too.
The following week, back at the venue, I was asked to sing three songs and chose the Jim Larkin ballad by Donagh Mac Donagh (son of the executed 1916 Proclamation, Thomas Mac Donagh) and The Ludlow Massacre, by Woody Guthrie. A lot connects these two songs to one another and although in general I dislike song introductions (or “spoken sleeve notes”), I briefly explained a few of those connections before singing them.
Both the Southern Colorado Coal Strike and the Dublin Lockout/Strike began in the same year, only a month apart, although the Colorado strike didn’t end until December 1914. Both strikes involved attacks by state forces and scabs on the workers resisted, in Ireland forming the Irish Citizen Army, although many more were killed in Colorado (and in turn were killed by workers fighting back too). Evictions from company houses were a feature throughout both strikes as was general media and court hostility with open collusion between the forces of the ‘justice’ system and the employers. And, of course, both strikes essentially lost in the short term but, in the longer term, the trade unions involved, the ITGWU and the UMA, far from being broken, came out stronger.
For the third song my choice was Back Home in Derry, lyrics from a poem by Bobby Sands organised into a song by Christy Moore but to my own air. With this song I break my general rule about not singing the same song often, because I want to popularise my air with the lyrics. The lyrics are currently mostly sung to the tune of Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald and I thought they deserved an air of their own.
At the various events, as one would in Dublin, I heard some good singers and some bad ones and some who were not particularly good but were interesting. However the general standard seemed noticeably lower than what I would encounter in the singing circles and sessions around Dublin – I have no idea why that should be but it can hardly be due to physiological differences. Also, many read from sheets while singing, a practice rarely seen in the Dublin singing circles (although prompts by mobile or IPad are not unknown).
On this trip I heard Jim sing a number of songs and a couple I remember in particular: The Shores of Normandy, Song for Stephen Lawrence and Home Boys Home. The last of those is about horses and English rural men in WWI and based on a poem, a lovely song which I have slowly started to learn. Jim wrote the other two himself.
Stephen Lawrence was a British Afro-Caribbean youth walking home in SE London with his friend in 1993 when they were both pursued by a gang of white racist young men. Stephen was mortally stabbed and left to bleed to death. Within a week the names of the murderers were on the lips of all the young people in the area. I can personally testify to that since the daughter of a friend was attending a school in that area at that time. First the police questioned Stephen’s surviving friend, treating him as a suspect. Then they couldn’t find the culprits, they said. But it turned out that the house in which some of the racists lived had been under police surveillance for some time and was actually being video-taped inside. It was a long time before that came to public knowledge.
Eventually five men were brought to trial but the incompetence (or sabotage) of police trial preparation allowed them to escape. In a long saga of the fight for justice by the Lawrence family and their supporters, two of the five racists were finally re-tried in 2012 and convicted, receiving long sentences. In the interim the McPherson Enquiry found the Metropolitan Police force to be “institutionally racist” (which Black, Asian and Irish people had been saying for decades) and later a former undercover police officer revealed that he had been tasked by his senior officers to find material with which to discredit the family and the campaign. The Lawrence family broke up under the strain and at least one of them left to go back to Jamaica. Jim’s song contains a powerful indictment of the racist murderers and of the police.
The Shores of Normandy was written by Jim when he visited the beach that he had last seen as a teenage seaman on D-Day on 6th June 1944. Jim was a merchant seaman on a tugboat, many of which were leased by the British Navy and their crews paid merchant seaman rates (which were higher than those of the Royal Navy). Over a few evenings sharing Jim’s whiskey and tea, he told me some things about the tugs’ role. They were of great importance to Britain in the War – they accompanied convoys and towed many torpedoed ships to safety, mainly merchant marine vessels (2. After some time the tugs themselves became targeted by submarines as they were saving so many tons of shipping to be repaired and re-outfitted to go to sea once more and 24 British naval rescue tugs were sunk.
In some of the photographs of the Normandy landings one can clearly see piers being used to disembark vehicles, equipment and men. As Jim says: “Those piers didn’t drop from the sky”. (No, but death was dropping from the sky and scything across the beaches too. I thought). The piers were made of concrete caisons, hollow cubes that could float and were towed across the Channel by the tugs. When they reached Normandy they were maneuvered into position at the correct depth and the sea allowed to enter them until they sank in a line on the seabed, making a pier. All this was done under fire at least some of the time. Over a year earlier, the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk had broken the Nazi advance and turned the war in East Europe, now the Sicily and Normandy Landings combined with the advances from the East towards the liberation of Western Europe and the final defeat of Nazi Germany. The air Jim chose for his lyrics is The Dawning of the Day.
Among the events at which Jim was to sing was the launch of Confronting a Culture of Militarism by David Gee, in Housmans Radical Bookshop. The shop, a little like Connolly Books in Dublin, stores a wide variety of radical and socialist book, pamphlets and periodicals. Looking at the many different British periodicals there, I reflected how much more impact they could have if many of them were to amalgamate.
The bookshop was soon crowded, with some late arrivals having to stand. First off was what I thought an impressive monologue performance by Steve Pratt, ex-SAS and now against war, also a painter. After that, David Gee, the author, spoke – a little too long but interestingly. Finally, Ben Griffin spoke, ex-Paratroopers and also SAS but now Secretary of Veterans for Peace. Ben referred to the vilification that soccer player James McClean had endured when playing for Sunderland and Wigan, for refusing to wear the Red Poppy. (3 He spoke about a visit Veterans for Peace had made to the Six Counties of Ireland in October and how people had spoken to them about harrassment, raids and shootings by the British Army during the recent 30 Years War; Ben asked how anyone could reasonably expect someone from one of those communities to wear the Poppy? (4
Jim was plugging the upcoming Cenotaph anti-war commemoration by Veterans for Peace and sang Where Have All the Flowers Gone?, inviting the audience to attend the ceremony and to sing the song with them. He also sang Eric Bogle’s famous anti-war song, No Man’s Land (better known to us as The Green Fields of France, thanks to the Fureys); he sang it in full to underline what a speaker had earlier said about the Joss Stone song promoted by the British Legion, a truncated version that sentimentalised the war and ripped the strong anti-war heart out of Bogle’s song.
Although a veteran libertarian socialist activist who considers the Royal Family to be “spongers”, Jim had accepted an invitation to sing The Shores of Normandy at the Albert Hall as part of the annual “Remembrance” concert, with members of the Royal Family present. He was wearing a Red Poppy too. I argued with him about the latter but his line is that the militarists and Royals have usurped Remembrance, which was intended to mark the terrible sense of loss after WWI with so many men dead in every town and village4.
The day after the concert, on “Remembrance” Sunday, when processions march in Whitehall and lay wreaths at the Cenotaph, Jim marched with comrades of Veterans for Peace there, with a banner declaring “Never Again!” They and their supporters sang Where Have All the Flowers Gone, an anti-war song, one recited a poem strongly attacking war and its financial foundations and they laid a wreath made entirely of White Poppies with two Red Poppies inside it. (5 Their bugler played The Last Post. I’d have been there to support them and to add my voice to the song but I was already several days back home in Dublin.
Jim brought me to a music session in The Jolly Farmer pub, right next to Lewisham Hospital. I had attended sessions there when I lived in Catford, 20 minutes’ walk away, and the pub now had another name. In those years there had been three, sometimes four weekly Irish traditional music sessions in the Borough of Lewisham, none very far from one another, in which I had played percussion and sung. There had been a few in the next borough, Greenwich, too. None of those seemed to be currently functioning.
The core of the Jolly Farmer session is formed by “Flaky” Jake on accordion, Guillermo on guitar and Jim on percussion (spoons and bodhrán), with other musicians and listeners in attendance. Jake has a huge repertoire of songs from rock to cajun, including songs in French and in Spanish. Guillermo knows some of the French ones and is from Mexico. During the course of the session we heard – and often sang – Rolling Stones, Irish ballads, Cajun songs, English shanties and music-hall, Woody Guthrie ….
A few strange incidents occurred around that time in that pub. The first week, there was a man there with an undiscliplined German Shepherd dog on a leash which his owner kept yanking to get the dog to stay by him. A man entered in a wheelchair and the dog went up to him and stuck his nose in the man’s crotch, whereopon the offended man slapped the dog across the muzzle (but not too hard – the dog did not yelp but just went back to his master). The dog’s owner, who I think had not seen where the dog had put his nose, was livid and began to swear and act out how if the man were not in a wheelchair he would do this … and that …. The man in the wheelchair turned and wheeled himself out of the pub. The atmosphere continued somewhat tense for a while but eventually the man and dog left.
Later that evening, I went to the toilet and saw legs sticking out of the cubicle next to the urinal. I pushed open the door to see a man lying in there on the floor, apparently very drunk. I informed the landlady and left her to it, as she requested. Later, at a music party, we heard that after we had left the pub, there had been some kind of disturbance with a drunk breaking glasses and furniture and that the police had been called!
The house party invitation came through afficionados of the session. Attendance at the house felt strange at first since I didn’t know the people but then I realised I did know one of them, although not well, a fiddle player. And later another person recalled that she remembered me from music sessions over a decade previously. When the music and singing got going it was great and again we covered a wide range. We went through a huge range of songs and tunes with accordion, guitar, fiddle, banjo, spoons and bodhrán. In honour of our hosts, one of whom was German, I sang Mus I’ Den and The Peat Bog Soldiers combined with Hans Beimler.
The first is a German folk song of departure by one promising to return and to be true to the other in the meantime. Such songs are fairly common and we have more than our fair share of them in Ireland. Elvis Presley’s songwriters used the tune for Wooden Heart in one of his many badly-acted and badly-scripted films GI Blues. The first of the remaining two is a song that was sung by German political prisoners in Nazi concentration camps; somewhat allegorical, it was tolerated by the guards for awhile but eventually earned a death sentence for anyone heard to sing it. Hans Beimler was a German communist who was imprisoned by the Nazis but escaped and went to the Spanish state in 1936 to fight fascism there where, like many other International Brigaders, he was killed. Because of the history of each as well as because the Beimler song is a very short one, I like to precede it with two verses of the The Peat Bog Soldiers.
It happened that the “Return to Camden Festival” took place during my London visit, spread around a number of venues in the borough, including of course the Camden Irish Centre, which is where I went with a friend. I knew the Centre from a long time past, a social and welfare agency for Irish migrants run by the Catholic Church for many years and notable through much of my time in London for steering clear of politics. Of course one can never really do that and one ends up supporting one kind of politics or another. The Centre gradually secularised itself in a time of grants for ethnic minority support work but did not raise issues uncomfortable for the British state such as the unjust murder convictions of a score of Irish people in five different cases during the mid-1970s, the iniquities of the Prevention of Terrorism (sic) Act, nor the prevalence of anti-Irish racism in treatment by many state and local authority agencies and its wide acceptance in news and entertainment media.
Gradually during the late 1980s (or perhaps early 1990s) the Camden Irish Centre was pulled into some of those issues but in an NGO-type of way and within such parameters and re-branded itself as “The London Irish Centre” (there were by then another five Irish centres in different parts of London but none claiming to be The Irish Centre). By that time the Centre’s management was connecting itself to the Federation of Irish Societies, an organisation that infamously at its AGM in 1981, as news of the death of Bobby Sands reached delegates, failed to even table a vote of sympathy for the family of the deceased. (7
The “Return to Camden Festival” at the Camden Irish Centre seemed to be owned by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (often mistakenly called “Ceoltas”), a huge largely volunteer organisation promoting Irish traditional music, song and dance. The Centre was heaving and service at the bar was quite slow. The bar staff were all young and someone told me that they were on job schemes, all employed by a contractor who manages the catering for the Centre. It was hardly suprising therefore that they understood not one word in Irish, not even go raibh maith agat.
We sat and listened to a large number of musicians playing together, some as young as eight or nine, then peeked in at the céilí, after which we set off for the singing session. It is run by a Connemara man who sings sean-nós style, who was very welcoming and encouraging; we sat in a circle and sang (or declined) in turn. Again I met people who remembered me from music sessions or from other Irish community activity. The singing was interesting and some singers were exceptional, especially a couple of young female musicians who had to leave early to play their instruments and a few others. I heard a couple of songs I had not heard before, which is always welcome, as well as some I had not heard in a long time. But after about two hours the session came to an end; time then to get something to eat and start the journey back across the city by Underground, changing to Overground at Canada Water station. Reaching Honor Oak Park and walking up to Jim’s house, I passed by foxes twice; the London ones probably became urbanised long before their Irish cousins did.
Solidarity with Kobane’s resistance to ISIS
I knew from an email notification that there was to be a Kobane solidarity demonstration scheduled for a Saturday in central London while I was there and, since this was not one of the days I was visiting grandchildren, I headed out to Charing Cross station, next to Trafalgar Square. Kobane is defended by a Kurdish guerrilla resistance organisation composed of the PKK, some Kurds within the Syrian state’s borders and the few Peshmergas who didn’t flee ISIS. There are probably some Assyrians and Yezidi involved in the defence too.
The Kurds are a huge nation of around 30 million people, spread over territory currently within the borders of Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Iran and Azerbaijan, with a sizable diaspora also in parts of the US and in some parts of Europe, notably in Germany and France. The politics of the Kurds within Turkish and Syrian borders tend to be secular and the PKK has always espoused some kind of socialism. Kobane, a town in the northern part of the Syrian state, is run mostly by Kurds from there and from the Kurdish resistance movement inside Turkey’s borders. Despite the hype about the Peshmergas (Iraqi Kurdish guerrillas), it was the PKK and Syrian Kurds who rescued the Yezidi and some other religious and ethnic minorities from ISIS in Sirjan and opened up a 100-Km long corridor to bring them to safety in Rojava (Kurdish northern “Syria”). A large proportion of these Kurdish guerrila fighters are women, perhaps as much as 30%, fighting inside their own units under the overall leadership of the PKK-affiliated organisation the YPG.
Kobane is under attack and surrounded on three sides by ISIS (“Islamic State”). The fourth side is the heavily-guarded Turkish border and the Turkish state is hostile to the Kurds, both within their own borders and within Syria. Based on ISIS behaviour to date, should Kobane fall, massacre of civilians and defenders will follow, along with enslavement of women as prostitutes or concubines.
While living in London I had been to Trafalgar Square many times for rallies on different causes that I supported (including of course Ireland, until that plaza was banned to Irish solidarity demonstrations). Nelson stands tall on a pillar there, reminiscent of the one we had in Dublin city centre until it was blown up in 1966, the 50th anniversary of the Rising. I wondered whether I would meet people I knew, either from the British Left or from Kurdish solidarity work, in which I had been pretty active during the early 1990s (8. The area was a-flutter with various Kurdish organisational flags and some from the Turkish left, also some banners and a number of placards were on display.
Most of the crowd looked like they came from the Kurdish part of the world. The stage seemed to be taking a long time to get set up but eventually the Kurdish MCs, a man and a woman, began to announce the reason for the rally and to introduce a list of speakers to the crowd. I was suprised to hear an Irish priest, an O’Brien, I think, introduced as having been a long time active in Kurdish solidarity, although in the 1990s I had never come across him nor heard his name mentioned. I had the same reaction to a few others introduced in similar terms.
A Kurdish traditional musician, seemingly well-known, played a short percussion piece on what looked like a slim but wide bodhrán. Looking for it on Google, I would say it was the Daf, which apparently is in wide use across a number of Near and Middle Eastern regions by a number of ethnic groups. There was no song sung throughout the rally before I left.
The speakers were from a number of British Left and ethnic minority organisations, one MEP and a number of elected representatives. There was also a report from Kobane itself broadcast through speakers. Mark Thomas, a left-wing comedian, spoke emotionally on the issue. Peter Thatchell spoke strongly as well. One Left-wing woman with an English accent, in the course of her speech, attacked the SWP for supporting Islamicism in the past. The next person to speak, also a woman with an English accent, declared that she was in the SWP and that her organisation is strongly in solidarity with Kobane and with the Kurds.
Some of the speakers praised the Kobane ‘government’, saying it was secular, egalitarian, socialistic …. The speakers all attacked ISIS and called for solidarity with Kobane. Some called for British Government intervention (to drop weapons and supplies to Kobane) while others called for military intervention against ISIS. Some called for the unbanning of the PKK and some for the release of Ocalan. The PKK was declared a “terrorist” organisation by the EU years ago, a totally unjustified action by any means of definition, since the organisation was engaged in armed resistance against the attacks of the Turkish state, which is still not a part of the EU; furthermore it was not engaged in any armed action outside its part of the world and nearly all of that within Turkey’s borders. (9
Abdullah Ocalan (pronounced “otch-al-an”) was the leader of the PKK when he was kidnapped in Nairobi by the CIA in 1999, taken to Turkey, sentenced to death and, after Turkey abolished its death penalty to gain EU entry, sentenced to life in prison. He is kept on an island prison – the only prisoner there, at least for 10 years. Prior to his incarceration, Ocalan had a position within the PKK that arguably went considerably beyond recognised leadership. Nicknamed “Apo” (“uncle” in Kurdish), his image was carried on Kurdish solidarity demonstrations and pickets by many Kurds in London and in Dublin.
After Ocalan’s capture he declared that the Turkish government should engage in peace talks with the Kurds, that the PKK were not seeking immediate independence but some kind of regional autonomy. Furthermore, he declared that his own release was a necessary prerequisite to carry this process through. This is not too disimilar to the position of Arnaldo Otegi, of the Basque independence movement’s leadership, also of the Sortu party and of many of their new allies since they renounced armed struggle and ETA declared a “permanent and verifiable ceasefire”.
Ocalan’s change of tack surprised many on the Left; I don’t know how the PKK’s own followers reacted at first but soon they were issuing statements along the same lines, (although they have given no hint of intention to disarm). That position of the PKK and of Ocalan explains to me the relatively sudden interest in them within much of liberal and Left quarters. The other factor is the Left and liberal fear of ISIS and the fact that the only coherent and effective defence of Kobane and the rescue of the Yezidi in Sinjar is and was carried out by the PKK, not the “Peshmergas” loudly praised by the Western media (but only mentioned by one speaker at the rally) or by the US, imaginatively claimed by some media.
The “Peshmergas” are Kurds and guerrillas, but of the tribal factions of Bardani and Talibani within Iraq’s borders. On one occasion years ago, they cooperated with a huge Turkish military operation against the PKK by attacking them simultaneously from their side of the border. During the war of the Western states against Iraq around Kuwait, the Peshmergas followed the call of the West to rise against Sadam Hussein; the Western powers then left them to be slaughtered by the Iraq military. During the Western powers’ invasion of Iraq, the peshmergas formed war bands that as well as attacking the Iraq military, looted the Iraqi hospitals, museums, commercial enterprises and people’s homes. At times they even fought among themselves and there were many accusations of murder of military and civilian prisoners, kidnapping for ransom and even of rape. Among much hype, some moved to the rescue of the Yezidi in Sinjar but most quickly withdrew after armed contact with ISIS, totally abandoning the Yazidi, although Sinjar is within Iraq’s borders.
Many speakers at the London rally denounced Turkey for their indirect assistance to ISIS by harrasssing PKK guerilla reinforcements trying to get through to reinforce their Kurdish brothers and sisters in Kobane. Some alleged more direct assistance to ISIS and called for the NATO and the EU to pressure Turkey into ceasing their obstruction of reinforcements for Kobane. Some spoke against Assad and one for him but mostly neither he, his government nor the war there were discussed.
I recognised not one of those speakers present as having been active on the Kurdish issue in London back in the early 1990s. This would be understandable of younger people who had not yet become politically active then, perhaps – but the others? No, Thatchell and others like him had not been. Back then, the PKK had been in armed struggle against the Turkish regime and was being looked to by national liberation activists around the world. But Turkey was – as it is now – an ally of the West, a member of NATO, so the EU did not want to attack it for its widescale abuse of human right among the Kurds, although it considered Turkey too unstable to admit it to the EU. The Left organisations were campaigning on other issues and had no time – or perhaps tolerance – for Kurdish solidarity.
But now that that the PKK has indicated a willingness to enter a “peace” process, they seem to have many friends in left and liberal quarters than they had before. They may even end up, like the Abertzale Left of the Basque Country and like Gerry Adams and Co. of Sinn Féin, having lots of capitalist and imperialist friends too. Some may say that is one important reason for entering a “peace process” but the problem seems to be that in order to keep those new friends on board one has to abandon so much of the goals about which one’s movement was that it becomes something very different, the goals hugely reduced and arguably bringing not peace but co-opting of resistance and a deferment of struggle, probably to another generation (as happened in Palestine, after Arafat’s and Al Fateh’s agreement at Oslo).
One or two of the speakers called for Western armed intervention to assist Kobane, most notably Peter Thatchell, who called for NATO intervention. It was noticeable that this call garnered hardly any applause from the crowd, as distinct from calls to pressurise Turkey to stop trying to block the PKK sending reinforcements to the beleaguered Kobane and for the EU to drop arms to the Kurdish resistance. The London Kurds seem to be quite politically sophisticated and know that NATO is far from being a friend of the Kurdish people. I expressed some of my opinions to a Kurdish couple in their 30s or early 40s and they indicated agreement, particularly the man, who confided many of his own opinions. After hearing about a dozen speakers, I shook hands with the Kurdish couple and bade them farewell, taking a similar journey back to my friend’s house as had Jim Connell, while writing The Red Flag in 1889.
The Red Flag, written by an Irishman in London
Although he had lived in the area for decades, Jim was not aware that Jim Connell, the author of the communist anthem The Red Flag, had been living nearby for many years and had in fact been on his way to his earlier address, also in SE London, by train from a Trafalgar Square demonstration, via Charing Cross, when he began to compose the song. Jim Connell was from Kells in Co. Meath and a member of the Socialist Democratic Federation and later of the Independent Labour Party. He put the lyrics to the Jacobite air The White Cockade. For some reason it began to be sung to the air of Tanenbaum, a German Christmas hymn, which upset Jim Connel: “Ye ruined me poem!” he stormed.
I knew a good bit about this because the Lewisham branch of the IBRG, of which I was Secretary, had been in correspondence with a local history employee of the local authority about putting a plaque on the house. The plaque had been the council employee’s idea but we had influenced the wording (10) and in 1989, the centenary of the writing of the song, attended the small unveiling ceremony outside the house. A little-known MP called Gordon Brown had spoken and never once mentioned Jim’s wish for a free Ireland or the war then going on in the Six Counties, so I felt obliged to jump up on a garden wall and in a short speech, supply the missing information. There were no police present and I was not interfered with although the applause was scattered. The event and the fact of my speech was covered in the Irish Post soon afterwards. A half-hour before I was to catch the train to Gatwick Airport, Jim drove me to Stondon Park and I found the house and photographed it and the plaque (and also Jim in front of it, for his own album).
It would probably be another year before I would see my kids, their spouses and my grandchildren in the flesh. Of course, there is always Skype ….
Waiting for either the number 16 or 41 bus home from Dublin Airport, I noted the inadequate shelters from weather, the general lack of Dublin information and the tatty state of the one map of Dublin that someone had thoughtfully sticky-taped to one of the shelters. Even the Bus Átha Cliath timetable for the 16 route was tattered and flapping in the breeze. Ireland, I do love you but sometime you disgust me too.
I arrived home to find that in delaying paying my Eircom bill, they had without notice cut my ability to reply to emails but strangely the Facebook connection continued. I got some money together and paid my bill.
A chríoch/ Ends
1 I don’t like to say “Spain” as the term is objected to by people in a number of nations within the borders of that state, some of which want total independence and to create their own states.
2 Despite this, 2,426 ships of the British Merchant Marine were sunk with 25,070 men killed, including of course many Irish but also others from the British Commonwealth and many Chinese. In 1942 a special camp for merchant marine seamen prisoners was built at Westerimke ten miles north of the German port city of Hamburg. Around 5,000 men, including 2,985 from 211 British ships, were interned at this camp commonly known as ‘Milag Nord’.
4 One wonders whether the footballer is aware of John Maclean (24 August 1879 – 30 November 1923), Republican Communist from Glasgow who was jailed in 1918 for “sedition” due to his anti-war activities and force-fed while on hunger strike.
7 There had been many pickets and demonstrations in Britain to try to save Sands’ life and those of the nine hunger-strikers to die subsequently. The 1981 Hunger Strikes had a huge effect on the Irish community in Britain, breaking the terror stranglehold of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the neglect of the Federation of Irish Societies was answered by the formation of the Irish in Britain Representation Group. See https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2014/02/15/how-to-silence-an-ethnic-community/
8 Including a trip in a small delegation of trade unionists in the early 1990s across much of the Kurdistan lying within Turkey’s borders.
9 From Wikipedia: “…NATO has declared the PKK to be a terrorist group; Turkey has been a member of NATO since 1952, and fields the group’s second-largest armed contingent. Closely tied to NATO, the European Union—which Turkey aspires to join—officially lists the PKK as having “been involved in terrorist acts” and proscribes it as part of its Common Foreign and Security Policy. First designated in 2002, the PKK was ordered to be removed from the EU terror list on 3 April 2008 by the European Court of First Instance on the grounds that the EU failed to give a proper justification for listing it in the first place. However, EU officials dismissed the ruling, stating that the PKK would remain on the list regardless of the legal decision. Most European Union member states have not individually listed the PKK as a terrorist group.” Three Permanent Members of the EU Security Council list it so but the remaining two, Russia and China, do not.
10 We had not been told that the words “Labour Party” would be affixed and only noticed it on the plaque much later.
Over the years I have written articles and published them, usually under my own name, in alternative publications. Some of those having been written in Castellano (Spanish) has meant that, with the help of others to check or edit them, I have been able to publish in a number of on-line publications from the Spanish state, including a number in the Basque Country. These articles have been political commentary, analyses and news reports. They come from a revolutionary socialist perspective and from one who has been politically active for many years in London and in Ireland, which is where I grew up.
I do not find it easy to categorise my politics in a short phrase. I have been an active anarchist, from which I learned much, later a supporter of a marxist-leninist party and that too has taught me a lot; I am not an anarchist now nor perhaps even a marxist-leninist (certainly not the type I was). I am opposed to the presence of British Imperialism and colonialism on Irish soil but I am not an Irish Republican (though many in my family have been). I have not found a revolutionary organisation in Britain or in Ireland that comes close to being what I want to belong to now: an organisation that is effective, learns by mistakes instead of covering them up, is honest with itself and with the class it purports to lead, is disciplined yet tolerant of internal criticism ….
As a revolutionary, I am interested in the experiences of people the world round but most of my experience has been with the Irish at home and abroad, with Afro-Caribbeans in London, with solidarity work with Irish prisoners, the Kurds, Palestinians and Basques. Of course, I have also been active in community resistance to cuts in services and grants, to fascists and racists, as well as active in trade unionism.
We live in a time when many anti-imperialist movements and organisations have grasped or are reaching out for something they call a “peace process”. But these processes are not about peace but instead are about pacification. They cannot bring peace since they do not resolve the basic issues: imperialist and capitalist exploitation. They bring instead fragmentation, betrayal, apathy and, from a small section, collaboration with oppression. Ireland and South Africa, often quoted as good examples of “peace processes”, are actually excellent examples of the real nature of these processes.
It is common these days for someone who expresses opposition to pacification processes to be accused of militarism without a political agenda, of favouring immediate resumption of armed struggle, or of being undemocratic. Often these criticisms are made by people from the very same organisations whose militarist acts and lack of political strategy I have criticised over the years. But no matter. It is easier to condemn the critic than to carry out a real analysis of what has been won and what lost through these processes.
Currently the working class (as well as other sections of society) in Europe and elsewhere are under attack by capitalist governments determined to make them pay for the losses incurred by their financial speculator friends and to ensure that the big capitalists not only lose no profits but actually increase them. In the course of that process they are plundering the public purse and stripping the states of their public assets. Energetic and determined resistance is called for but the organisations to which we might look for that have been either completely useless or ineffective. Never before have so many institutions of the capitalist class been so exposed and so reviled by the ordinary people, yet none of the European states seems to be near to revolution. The necessary preparations were not made and we are not in a position, it seems, to lead those disenchanted and angry masses to effective resistance and then to the overthrow of this exploitative system. Not yet anyway. We need to learn from this and build the bases and organs so necessary for effective resistance.
My main cultural activity is singing, mostly traditional/ folk and I attend regularly a number of singing circles of sessions around the Dublin Bay area (of which there are a surprising number). I did sometimes play percussion by hand on a dholak (type of Indian drum) in Irish traditional sessions but not since I misplaced the drum and have been unable to find it. I also sometimes compose songs (lyrics and music), write poetry and short stories, along with humorous pieces. Among my many interests is history, both recent and more ancient and I have been known to conduct walking history tours around Dublin on occasion. Another strong interest is natural history, the world of plants and animals.
I am likely to write about all those things at one time or another.
I am primarily trilingual in Irish, Castellano and English.
Ian Paisley died on 12th September, five days ago. Much of the mass media portrayed him a man who participated in building peace in the Six Counties. Some of the media painted a different picture or, at least, permitted a different telling of his story. I have searched for but failed to find a photo I remember from decades ago, in the early days of the campaign for civil rights for Catholics in that sectarian colonial statelet, a photo of Ian Paisley and Ronald Bunting standing side by side. In Bunting’s right hand was a pick-axe handle. It was around the time of the Burntollet Ambush of Civil Rights campaigners (who were marched into it by the good old RUC, nowadays the Police Service of Northern Ireland). At Burntollet, the B-Specials and civilian Loyalists had pickaxe handles too, and rocks as well.
In an interview around that time, side by side with Ronald Bunting, Paisley made much of how law-abiding they and their crowd were. They could afford to be, since the statelet’s laws gave it enormous powers which nullified every civil right the large Catholic minority might try to use. But illegal violence was never far from the weapons of the State and its Loyalist supporters, to which the imperial master usually turned a blind eye (as it had to the landing of weapons in 1914, including 30.000 assorted rifles with ammunition at Larne and Donaghdee for the Ulster Volunteer Force). Nevertheless, Ian spouted in public about law and order – an old trick of fascists who have their armed thugs already breaking the law … and arms and legs too.
Not long after, Paisley and Bunting went to jail for breaking the law, as the statelet’s rulers strove to control them and also to show the world how “fair” and “even-handed” they were. Unfortunately for them at that time, the world had already seen and was to see more of it – and it was not a pretty picture.
An ex-British Army Major, Bunting had his own paramilitary unit and though he was somewhat sidelined later for a decade, who knows where he might have ended were it not for the 1980 murder of his son, Ronnie, who had joined the Official IRA and later the Irish National Liberation Army. Ronnie was murdered by SAS or Loyalists and after that, the grieving father dropped completely out of politics.
Paisley broke away from his Unionist Party because he could not rise high enough in it, could not control it and so he created his own party, the Democratic Unionist Party. He broke away from his Presbyterian Church for the same reason and created his own, making himself a vicar and Moderator of it. He never joined the Orange Order, perhaps because he did not wish to be answerable to it. When Bernadette (Devlin) McAlliskey warned people not to fear the DUP but rather the Official Unionist Party (so named to distinguish it from other unionist parties), because the former represented the real colonial power in the Six Counties, she could not have anticipated that Paisley would adapt, outflank the Official Unionists and gather the support of the old colonial class and their imperial masters. (As an aside, it’s a curious fact that in Ireland, calling one’s party the “Official” version, is to invite outflanking and eventual marginalisation).
Paisley was a skilfull demagogue and those who, in Britain or in the 26 Counties, laughed at him and his rabid roaring oratory, underestimated him. For he was not talking to them, even when giving an interview on TV, but to his own die-hard Loyalist audience. And most of them loved “Big Ian” or “Bigyan”, even if some of the paramilitary leaders thought at times that he was trying to manipulate them for his own ends (for example, during the Ulster Workers’ Strike of 1974) .
But when different times called for a different act, a different Ian emerged. A man of many smiles, a man who could go back on most of what he had said to his troops when he felt the time was right, a man who could play his part in the newest game of the British Empire in their colony, that of power-sharing with Provisional Sinn Féin, just as the latter’s leadership too adjusted to play the new game, now “the only game in town” for them.
Paisley was a fundamentalist Protestant from the ranks of the “Dissenter” churches, those who opposed the established Anglican church of the imperial state and many of whom had in 1798 taken arms against that state for Irish independence. But those dissenting churches had by now been purged and were loyal servants of the Empire, though still dissenters in religion. Echoing the old Loyalist slogan from the early years of the last century that “Home Rule is Rome rule”, Paisley fulminated against any involvement in Six County affairs by the 26 County “Free State” and also ranted against the Catholic Pope, “the Scarlet Harlot”.
Those who rightly condemn the Catholic Church’s control of the Irish state often forget that the Six County state was as fundamentalist and restrictive in most things. Divorce was already party of UK law when Ireland was partitioned and was incorporated into the new statelet. Contraception was later permitted under UK legislation and entered the Six Counties largely without problem. But they drew the line at gay rights, even after the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 decriminalised sexual acts between consenting males of 21 years of age or over in England and Wales (lowered to 18 years of age only in 1994 and to 16, equally with heterosexuals in 2000). Scotland, another stronghold of fundamentalist Presbyterianism, took another 13 years to pass the same legislation. It did not become law until 1982 in the Six Counties, with Paisley leading the “Save Ulster from Sodomy” campaign against it. Sadly, another eleven years had to pass before similar legislation was passed in the 26 Counties. Abortion, although legal in Britain is still not legal in either part of Ireland.
It was said by many that as a parliamentary representative, Paisley was effective and represented his Catholic constituents on an individual basis equally with his Protestant ones. He also represented a Protestant constituent against the British Army and RUC. The man in question had confronted men with long hair, dressed in combat jackets and jeans and stealing a neighbour’s car. Later in the police station, he saw the same men, some without their long-haired wigs and heard them speaking in English accents, apparently on good terms with the police. The witness made an issue to the RUC of what he assumed to be a British Army undercover squad stealing a car in order to carry out some nefarious act. Some time after that a door in the man’s street was shot at, the door number of which was the reverse of his own. Whether it was a warning or a confused murder attempt is not clear but Paisley came out with a public statement, presumably to make sure the man stayed alive.
Paisley was a sectarian, authoritarian, homophobic bigot, a bully, a fundamentalist Christian, a servant of the colonial statelet masters and in turn of their British imperialist masters. The fact that he proved more adroit than most of his opponents had given him credit for changes none of that. It is entirely appropriate that he should have received an emotional tribute from Martin McGuinness, senior figure in Sinn Féin and Deputy First Minister of the colonial administration he had shared with Paisley, when the latter was First Minister. Martin McGuinness is also a man who has been different things to different men at different times, a man who has lied and also contradicted himself in public without shame or apology. Both got on so well together, at least in public, that they soon came to be described in terms of a British comedy act, as “the Chuckle Brothers”.