Diarmuid Breatnach

Ian Paisley speaking outdoors
Ian Paisley addressing an outdoor meeting in typical style


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.

Burntollet Loyalists & RUC
Loyalists waiting to attack Civil Rights marchers at Burntollet Bridge mingle with RUC, January 1969.
Burntollet Loyalists, RUC, marchers
Civil Rights marchers duck from hail of missiles while RUC stand by. Note clubs also wielded by Loyalists, many of them also police reservists.










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”.




Video footage of interview with Paisley and Bunting about their opposition to a Civil Rights march in the early days of the campaign

Paisley and Bunting released from jail:

Ronal Bunting:

“Never a man of peace” — article in The Scotsman: (NB: I do not agree with all that is in this article but certainly do with the main thrust of it and the headline — DB)


Diarmuid Breatnach

Glasnevin Cemetery (Reilig Ghlas Naíon) is a famous Irish graveyard on Dublin’s northside, on the south bank of the Tolca river and not far from the Royal Canal and Mountjoy Jail. As well as those of other people of great fame and none, it contains the remains of the fallen in a number of battles. However, the cemetery itself has become something of a battleground of late.

Glasnevin Cemetery Tower Rainbow
Rainbow over the tower in Glasnevin Cemetery (photo by Lorcán Collins as mourners left the funeral of his colleague, Shane Mac Thomáis, resident historian of the Cemetery, who died 20th March 2014)

There was the Alan Ryan funeral around this time last year, early September 2013. Ryan had been a prominent member of the 32-County Sovereignty Movement and allegedly head of the Dublin Real IRA (also now known as “the New IRA”) and was shot dead, reportedly as a result of a conflict with drug dealers.

Ryan’s funeral was a massive affair attended by hundreds of mourners; the Irish state police, the Gardaí, policed it heavily. The hearse and cortege were temporarily stopped at the cemetery’s entrance by uniformed and plainclothed police while the grieving mother and family members were taken out of their car, which was searched. Scuffles with police broke out a number of times as the latter even penetrated to Ryan’s graveside.

More recently, on 31st March this year, a commemoration in Glasnevin of soldiers of the British Commonwealth who had been killed in the First World War attracted a smallish protest from Irish Republicans and socialists across the road from the cemetery’s gates. These commemorations are viewed by Irish Republicans and many socialists as events glorifying Britain’s part in WWI and also an attempt to build unity between Irish people and the British Armed Forces. The Commonwealth event, the unveiling of a “Cross of Sacrifice”, was attended by a member of the British Royal Family, which added metaphorical fuel to the fire. However, there were real flames as a British Union flag, brought by the protesters, was set alight and Gardaí Special Branch rushed to apprehend the burners. In the melee, a number of protesters were handled roughly by the police, some were pepper-sprayed and one was handcuffed and taken away by Gardaí, reportedly beaten on the way.  Another who objected to being jostled by Gardaí was also promptly arrested.

Most recent of all was the Hunger Strikers’ Commemoration in the Republican Plot inside the cemetery on 23 August.  The event was organised by the Sean Heuston 1916 Society to honour the 22 Irish Republicans who have died on hunger strike between 1917 and 1981. The 1916 Societies is a broad collection of  organisations of Irish Republicans in different localities who do not agree with the Good Friday Agreement and wish to see Ireland united and independent; one of their main objectives in the interim is to campaign for a referendum on the question of Irish unity. The commemoration was the second of its kind organised by the Sean Heuston 1916 Society and, as the previous year’s had passed without any untoward incident other than the usual Special Branch photographing and taking notes, they had no reason to believe that this year’s would be any different.

The event proceeded as planned with orations, song and laying of wreaths but the trouble came as people tried to leave the cemetery. They were waylaid inside the cemetery’s gates by plainclothes police of the Special Branch, i.e. the political police, and told to identify themselves and to give their addresses. Two who refused to do so unless they were shown reasonable cause were handcuffed and bundled into separate police vehicles. Others who had attended the event then blocked the police vehicles from leaving and many uniformed Gardaí arrived to assist the Special Branch. In the struggle, police were again quite rough and one punched a child in the face. Eventually the Gardaí were successful but both detained  men were released later that day without charge.

Many visitors and unconnected mourners attending the famous cemetery were visibly shocked by the incidents. The organisers made it clear to the staff of the cemetery who it was who had initiated the disturbance and had chosen to do so inside the cemetery grounds.

Apart from general harassment and attempted intimidation of Irish Republicans, it is difficult to see what the Gardaí hoped to gain from this provocation and why they had escalated their behaviour at a peaceful commemoration. `One possibility is that the intention was to discourage the management of the Cemetery from permitting such commemorations in future. The organisers moved quickly to call a meeting with the Cemetery management, which has already taken place and reportedly concluded positively. And so it should.

The Republican Plot, managed by the National Graves Association, a voluntary body which does great work, is within the Cemetery. The graves of many Irish Republican and Socialist martyrs and prominent activists are within this plot and also in other places within the grounds. Some, like the great hero Anne Devlin, go back as far as the United Irish of 1798 and of 1803. James Connolly gave the oration here in 1913 at the graveside of the ITGWU martyr Jame Byrne, a victim of the State during the Lockout that year.

Cathal Brugha funeral Glasnevin
Funeral at Glasnevin of Republican Cathal Brugha, shot dead by Free State Army in O’Connell Street, 1922.

In 1915, Patrick Pearse gave his famous oration to a huge crowd at the Glasnevin graveside of the Fenian Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, whose body had been returned to Ireland by the IRB in the USA. O’Donovan Rossa had been jailed for planning an insurrection against the British in 1865 and, though released in 1870 as part of a general amnesty, had to agree to emigrate. In 1922, Cathal Brugha, having survived 14 bullet wounds during the 1916 Rising, was killed in O’Connell Street by Free State Army soldiers and his funeral cortege too, also to Glasnevin Cemetery, was a huge affair. In 1966, the remains of Roger Casement, hanged by the British for his role in the 1916 uprising (the last of the death sentences of the 1916 insurgents to be carried out), were brought home from England and reinterred in Glasnevin with an Irish state ceremony.

These historic moments and connections between Glasnevin Cemetery and the national and class struggles may be uncomfortable for some and the police harassment may be intended to deepen that discomfort. However, it is difficult to see how anyone, whether of State or of Cemetery management, could successfully impose a ban on commemorations within this famous graveyard where so many of the Republicans and Socialists of previous years lie and which has been the scene of commemorations for over a century.



Diarmuid Breatnach

The crowd stood in the rain and gusting wind in Ardoyne, Belfast. In front of them, the gable end of a house shrouded in black. The crowd was dotted with uniforms of the various Republican marching flute-and-drum bands from Scotland, some green and some black. Irish Tricolour flags fluttered and here and there the Starry Plough and the Palestinian flag was in evidence, including above the shrouded mural.

After what seemed like a long wait, the MC, life-long Republican activist Martin Óg Meehan, called forward those who had commissioned the mural, the Independent Principled Ex-POWs group; around thirty of them, all dressed in black, carrying a banner with their group name on it, they formed a kind of honour guard during the ceremony. As indicated by its name, this is a collective aligned to no political party or group; it was established earlier this year by North Belfast Republican ex-prisoners.

Then after a short dedication speech, the shroud was pulled down to unveil the newest Republican mural in Belfast, which is surely Ireland’s city of murals (certainly of political murals). The centre-piece was a section of The Rythm of Time poem, written by Republican prisoner and hunger-striker to the death, Bobby Sands; around that central piece a number of panels depicted scenes from the struggles of Republican prisoners from the 1970s onwards. A special mention was made of the families and relatives of Republican prisoners, those who bore much of the brunt of the system that encarcerated their loved ones. One of the Scottish bands was then called to play The Soldiers’ Song, the Irish national anthem written and composed by two Republicans and which had been sung by some of the insurgents during the 1916 Rising against British colonial rule.

Section of the Anti-internment march in Belfast 10th August 2014
Section of the Anti-internment march in Belfast 10th August 2014– The Dublin Committee banner is the high narrow blue one behind the marching band.

Some time after this ceremony, the primary purpose of the day was attended to as people assembled for the march against internment organised by the Irish Anti-Internment League. The British colonial statelet abandoned internment without trial after four-and-a-half years in 1975 but since then has been finding other means to remove its active political opponents from the streets. Some ex-prisoners who were released under Temporary Licence as part of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 have been returned to jail without charge, trial or right of appeal. Others have been faced with ridiculous charges — of in some way “assisting terrorism” — and jailed while awaiting trial; when eventually found not guilty, they have nevertheless already spent between one and two years in jail. Still others, after periods in jail awaiting trial, are being found “guilty” on highly suspect evidence in the special courts and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment (some of these too have eventually been released on appeal against conviction).

After outlining the order of march, Dee Fennel warned the participants that Loyalists had gathered in the city centre on the route of the march to oppose us. Dee urged us to obey the stewards and not to permit ourselves to be provoked into responding to Loyalist provocation. “The law is on our side, for a change,” he stated, meaning that permission for the parade had been applied for and granted, so that the police, if carrying out their duty, had to prevent others from attacking or obstructing us.

The march was headed by the prisoners’ relatives group and followed in sequence by the Justice for the Craigavon Two Campaign, Wolfe Tone RFB (Republican Flute Band), Anti-Internment Group of Ireland (including the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee), Independent Principled Ex-POWs, Parkhead RFB, IRPWA, Vol.s Patricia Black and Frank Ryan RFB, Cabhair, Vol. John Brady RFB, Cógus, Erin Go Bragh RFB, Éirigí, 32 CSM plus other groups bringing up the rear. The Vol. John Brady band is from Strabane but all the rest are from Scotland: two from Glasgow and the Wolfe Tone and Erin Go Bragh bands from North Lanarkshire.

We worked our way down from Ardoyne in driving rain and strong gusts of wind, through the streets in twists and turns towards the city centre. Along the route we noted occasional Palestinian flags hanging from windows of people’s homes and from some flats in tower blocks. As we turned into Donegal Street coming in from the east and heading for Victoria Street, what sounded like a bestial howl arose ahead of us – the Loyalist mob had sighted the relatives’ group leading the march. There we halted for what seemed a long delay, while our march organisers brought the stewards up to the front. Tension mounted, the worse for the wait and not being able to see what lay ahead. Then the march started forward again.

The howls grew louder and then we could see the Loyalists, about 400, many waving Union Jack flags, straining against yellow-jacketed PSNI, the British colonial police, who faced them. Then a line of colonial police in full black riot gear, including shields, facing us (!). Between us and them stood a line of our stewards, their backs to the police and to the Loyalists. A number of police were videoing the marchers, intelligence-gathering, but I saw only one filming the Loyalists.

Two loud fireworks exploded fairly close ahead, presumably aimed at the relatives or the colour party of the band. The storm of abuse was so loud and varied that it was hard to make out any actual words. On video recordings one can hear us being called “baby killers” and – no doubt totally unconscious of the irony — calls in support of Israel! This last no doubt a response to a number of Palestinian flags showing among the marchers.

In front of our contingent, the Wolfe Tone RPF band marched without playing but to a steady rap …. rap … rap …. of the side-drums. One of the mature members of the band called out some words of encouragement to the younger members and, in time, began to call out “clé …. clé …. clé, deas, clé …” (“left … left … left, right, left …”). Behind me in the crowd, somebody began to shout “the I … the I … the I, R, A” in response to the Loyalists.

By now other missiles were flying from the Loyalist crowd and, not surprisingly to us, the police seemed to be making no effort to arrest the perpetrators. I saw a plastic bottle full of water land ahead – a marcher picked it up and threw it back; an orange or red umbrella landed among the marching band and a tall bass drummer stooped, picked it up and threw it back almost without looking and without breaking stride …. Some police struggled with a very large Loyalist woman, her face contorted in rage, as she tried to break through to attack us. Those of us carrying the Dublin Committee banner brought it to flank between a section of the band and the Loyalist missiles while one continued to film the event. One of our contingent was struck on the head by a flying object but continued to march. Another firework exploded somewhere behind. The band continued marching, facing forward …. clé …. clé …. clé, deas, clé …

In a short enough time (though it seems longer watching the video later), our section of the march had passed the hostile mob but the roaring continued, aimed at the marchers coming behind us. On the main road heading up to the Falls Road, a fierce gust of wind caught us – we failed to lower the banner quickly enough and one of the bamboo poles snapped. We carried our banner the rest of the way, on up the Falls Road, past the Cultúrlann, then past Milltown Cemetery.

As we approached the Felons’ Club, stronghold of Provisional Sinn Féin, the band began to play “Take It Down from the Mast”, a Republican song from the 1930s castigating Republicans who had abandoned the path of fighting for independence. Originally the lyrics had been aimed at the Irish Free State government, then at the Fianna Fáil party; since then they have been thrown in turn at Official Sinn Féin, the Workers’ Party and now, at Provisional Sinn Féin. After Fianna Fáil, each party had sung the lyrics at those considered traitors before them, only for each to become, in turn, the target themselves.

Take it down from the mast, Irish traitors,

It’s the flag we Republicans claim;

It can never belong to Free Staters,

For you’ve brought on it nothing but shame.”

As we passed the Felons’ Club, a number of their patrons leaned on the rail watching us go past. I wondered what they thought and felt. Before 1998, presumably it would have been them participating in the march – perhaps even having organised it. What did they think of a march for civil and human rights in their heartland of which they were not a part? Of 5,000 demonstrators marching in driving wind and rain on an issue around which PSF no longer organises? An issue, in fact, which they find threatening, now that they are part of the colonial administration … This is perhaps the reason for their dismissal of those independent Republicans and groups they call “dissidents” and “micro-groups” who, they say, “have no programme”. No doubt they are aware that it is a long time since Provisional Sinn Féin were able to mobilise 5,000 people to march on any issue.

The march came to an end at the Andersonstown shopping centre, the participants to be congratulated by Dee Fennel; we stood to one side, applauding the soaked marching bands as each one passed us. A couple of speakers were announced but, too cold and wet, some of us decamped to our coach, which had been summoned to meet us nearby. There we found that our thermos flasks of coffee and tea had fallen inside the coach and that the linings had smashed – so no hot drink for us.

When all our Dublin party were at last aboard and some had changed into dry clothes, we headed back up the Falls Road in search of food. Some of us were annoyed to find the Cultúrlann, in the restaurant of which we had looked forward to a cooked meal, closed and had to be content with a Chinese take-away for some hot food at last. Then back to Dublin; in our own city, our publicity and organising work as an anti-internment committee awaited us, as well as whatever other political work we might undertake as individuals or as members of other groups.


Links to videos and photos:

Video of many of the participants:

Short video as Dublin Committee approaches and passes Loyalist demonstration (available only on Facebook):

Additional information:
IRPWA is the Irish Republican Prisoner Welfare Association and is linked to the 32-County Sovereignty Movement and campaigns for political prisoners.

Cabhair is an Irish Republican prisoner welfare and campaigning organisation linked to Republican Sinn Féin.

Cógus is also an Irish Republican prisoner campaigning and welfare organisation and linked to the Republican Network for Unity.

The Anti-Internment League and the Anti-Internment Committee of Ireland are campaigning groups independent of any political party or organisation.


Diarmuid Breatnach

The auditorium in Trinity College on Friday 20th June was nearly empty at the advertised starting time for the lecture on “The Legacy of Power, Conflict and Resistance”. The start was delayed and more people came in but, by the time the speaker and the theme was introduced, the hall was still not full. That was surprising, because the speaker was Bernadette Mc Alliskey (nee Devlin), who had been at 18 years of age one of the leaders of the Civil Rights movement in the Six Counties (“Northern Ireland”), at 21 years of age elected MP for Mid-Ulster in 1969 and still, 45 years later, holding the record for the youngest woman ever elected to the British Parliament.

Bernadette Devlin circa 1968 or 1969.  She was elected MP on a People's Democracy ticket in 1969 but later classified herself as an "independent socialist".
Bernadette Devlin early 1969. She was elected MP on a People’s Democracy ticket in 1969 but later classified herself as an “independent socialist”.

The same year as her election, Bernadette went to the USA to gather support for the Civil Rights movement in a trip being used by others, rumouredly, to gather funds for arms. She shocked the conservative part of Irish USA, Ancient Order of Hibernians and Democratic Party political allies, by some of her statements and actions regarding blacks and chicanos and in visiting a Black Panthers project. Bernadette returned home to serve a short prison sentence after conviction for “incitement to riot” arising from her role in the defence of Derry against police (RUC and B-Specials) and Loyalist attack.

In 1972, during her five-year tenure as a Member of Parliament, enraged by his comments about the murder a few days previously of 13 unarmed protesters (a 14th died later of his wounds) by the Parachute Regiment in Derry, she stormed up to the then British Home Secretary and, in front of a full House of Commons, slapped him in the face. Bernadette had been there in Derry that terrible day – she was to have addressed the anti-internment march upon which the Paras opened fire.


The Tyrone woman was also a founder-member of the Irish Republican Socialist Party in 1974, which she left after failing to bring the armed organisation, the Irish National Liberation Army, under party control.  She continued to be a Left-Republican political activist, in particular campaigning against the treatment of Republicans on arrest and subsequently as prisoners in jail, in the H-Blocks Campaign.  She learned to speak Irish.  In January 1981, she and her husband Michael McAlliskey were the victims of an assassination attempt by a squad of the “Ulster Freedom Fighters” (a cover name for the Ulster Defence Association, which was not banned until 1992).  They both survived, though Bernadette had been shot seven times.


In 1996, while four months pregnant, Bernadette’s daughter was arrested on a German extradition warrant, charging her with being part of a Provisional IRA mortar attack on a British Army base in Osnabruck, Germany. Although taken to England, where a judge agreed to her extradition to Germany, a long and vigorous campaign fought by Roisín’s mother and her supporters eventually defeated the extradition and Roisín gave birth to a healthy daughter.

Recent portrait of Bernadette (Devlin) McAlliskey by Francis McKee
Recent portrait of Bernadette (Devlin) McAlliskey by Francis McKee
Bernadette's daughter was arrested twice on the same charge but vigorous campaigning impeded her extradition.  Photo shows banner resisting the earlier attempt.
Bernadette’s daughter was arrested twice on the same charge but vigorous campaigning impeded her extradition. Photo shows banner resisting the earlier attempt.

In 1998 and for some years after, Bernadette was an outspoken critic of Sinn Féin and of their direction in the “Peace Process”, which she saw as the party coming to accept British colonialism and Irish capitalism. In 2003 she was banned by the USA and deported, widely interpreted as being due to her speaking against the Good Friday Agreement, but continued her campaigning. However in 2007, another extradition warrant was issued for her daughter Roisín on the same charges as before and the young
woman became emotionally ill. The whole trauma was seen by many as a warning to Bernadette to cease criticising the “new dispensation” and subsequently she was seen to fade from the ranks of public critics of the GFA, Sinn Féin and of the treatment of Republican prisoners.

Bernadette remained active through working with migrants in a not-for-profit organisation in Dungannon. In recent years she has returned, on occasion, to the issues upon which she was so outspoken previously, for example standing surety for Marian Price’s bail to attend her sister Dolores’ funeral and speaking at the ceremony herself. Bernadette also spoke at the Bloody Sunday Commemoration/ March for Justice in January this year in Derry.

With a c.v. of that sort, one would reasonably expect a packed auditorium.

Bernadette Mc Alliskey on the platform upon which she had earlier spoken in February 2014 at a rally following the annual Bloody Sunday Commemoration/ March for Justice.
Bernadette Mc Alliskey on the platform upon which she had earlier spoken in February 2014 at a rally following the annual Bloody Sunday Commemoration/ March for Justice.

Bernadette has walked the walk and thought the thought too but she can also talk the talk. With one A4 sheet in front of her, she spoke for over an hour, hardly ever glancing at her notes. Her talk was as part of Trinity College’s MPhil Alumni Conference on ‘Power, Conflict, Resistance’ organised by the Department of Sociology for its Mphil course in “Race, Ethnicity and Conflict”.

Bernadette McAlliskey began her talk with the theme of fear of conflict, developing the thesis that this fear is inculcated in us from childhood, as conflict arises out of challenging power and hierarchy. She traced this further back to religious indoctrination where dogma is to be accepted without question and finds its reflection in all aspects of life but particularly in the political.

Talking about Tom Paine, who expounded the theory that human beings, each independently, are responsible for themselves, she stated that this is fundamental to citizenship. Some aspects of this self-responsibility are delegated to institutions when we live in large groups but any decisions made for us without our consent are “an usurpation”. Tom Paine was an English Republican, author of, among other works Common Sense (1776) and The Rights of Man (1791). He had to flee England because of disseminating his ideas, which were considered revolutionary in his time.

Much of Bernadette’s talk was given over to this theme, to the lack of consideration of women even by such as Tom Paine, and also to the racism spread by colonialism, which the Christian hierarchies condoned and even encouraged.

When she finished to sustained applause and took questions, there were two from people identifying themselves as Travellers, another from a person from an NGO working with migrants, another regarding anti-Irish racism in English colonial ideology and the continuing power of the Catholic Church in the education system.

One question seemed to throw her and she admitted that she found it difficult to answer. Ronit Lentin, Jewish author, political sociologist and critic of Israeli Zionism asked Bernadette was it not true that racism in the Six Counties came mostly from within Loyalism, allied to anti-Catholic sectarianism. Bernadette struggled in replying, at one point denying it and pointing to anti-Traveller discrimination in the ‘nationalist’ areas but following this up by observing that Travellers would only camp in or near ‘nationalist areas’ (presumably because the hostility in a ‘unionist area’ would be worse).

Bernadette then went on to recall the recent anti-Muslim remarks made by a prominent Belfast evangelist preacher, James McConnell, and how the First Minister of Stormont, Peter Robinson, had defended the evangelist’s right to free speech. Asked for his own opinion of Muslims, the First Minister had replied that he also distrusted them “if they are fully devoted to Sharia law” but would trust them to go to the shop for his groceries and to bring him back the correct change. All the examples Bernadette drew on, apart from the generalised one about Travellers in ‘nationalist’ areas, were in fact from the Unionist sector.

The final question was from an SWP activist who pointed out that the State does not admit to its institutional racism and often takes no action on racist attacks or denies that the motive for the attack was racism. The activist asked Bernadette how she thought racism can be dealt with in this context. She replied that the legal structures are there and should be used and persisted with.

It seemed a strange response from one who would have described herself in the past as a revolutionary. Earlier in her talk she herself had quoted the black Caribbean lesbian, Audre Lorde, who said that the instruments of the State could not be used to dismantle it (actually I.V. Lenin had made the same point in The State and Revolution in 1917, nor was he the first to do so). A revolutionary’s answer to that question would presumably have been that while the structures should be used in order to expose them that ultimately the capitalist State’s power is the enemy of unity among the people; disunity rather than unity among the people is in the interest of the system. Mobilisation of the people against racism and directing them towards the source of their ills, the capitalist system, and building solidarity in action, is the only realistic way forward. Perhaps Bernadette felt constrained by the academic environment in which she was speaking but that is not the answer she gave.


Interesting retrospective piece on McAlliskey’s visit to the USA in 1969:

Interview with McAlliskey at a Scottish conference on radical independence

POLITICAL PRISONERS – are they really “part of the solution”?

Political prisoners
Political prisoners
Diarmuid Breatnach

Campaigners fighting for the release of individuals or of small groups of prisoners do not usually make the case that the release of those specific prisoners will affect the macro issues which led to their activism and encarceration. This has occurred on a number of occasions, however, those of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, the Kurdish PKK leader Ocalan and Basque movement leader Arnaldo Otegi being cases in point.

However, when the numbers of prisoners is large, their release is often connected by the campaigners to the objective of resolution of the conflict.

 The line often taken is that “the prisoners are (or should be) a part of the resolution of the conflict” or that “release of prisoners is necessary to create goodwill” or “to win support for the resolution process”. These lines emerged here in Ireland, in Palestine, South Africa and in the Basque Country; they form part of a popular misconception, all the more dangerous because of its widespread acceptance and seductiveness.

At first glance this kind of line seems reasonable. Of course the political activists and the prisoners’ relatives, not to mention the prisoners themselves, want to see the prisoners home and out of the clutches of the enemy. The prisoners should never have been put in jail in the first place. And all the time they have been in the jail has been hard on them and especially on their relatives and friends. An end to the conflict is desirable and so is the release of the prisoners.

But let us examine the proposition more carefully. What is it that the conflict was about? In the case of the recent 30 years’ war with Britain, it was about Britain’s occupation of a part of Ireland, the partition of the country and the whole range of repressive measures the colonial power took to continue that occupation. In the case of the Basque pro-Independence movement, it was also about the partition of their country, occupation and repressive measures (particularly by the Spanish state). But what was the fundamental cause? In each case, occupation by a foreign state.

OK, so if Britain and the Spanish state ended their occupations, that would end the conflicts, would it not? It would end the anti-colonial conflicts – there would be no British or Spanish state forces for Irish or Basque national liberation forces to be fighting; no British or Spanish colonial administration to be issuing instructions and implementing repressive measures. Other struggles may arise but that is a different issue.

So, if Britain and the Spanish state pull out, leave, those struggles are over. What do prisoners have to do with it? They are obviously in that case not part of the solution, which is British or Spanish state withdrawal – though their release should be one of the many results of that withdrawal. Prisoners may well be part of rebuilding a post-conflict nation but that is a different issue. They are not part of “the solution”.


As pointed out earlier, here in Ireland it was said that “the prisoners are part of the solution” – and most of the Republican movement, some revolutionary socialists and some social democrats agreed with that. And British imperialism and most of Irish capitalism agreed too. But what happened? Only those Republican prisoners who agreed with the abandoning of armed struggle and signed to that effect were released. And they were released ‘under licence’, i.e. an undertaking to “behave” in future. And as the years went by, a number of those ex-prisoners who continued to be active mostly politically — against the occupation, or against aspects of it like colonial policing, had their licences withdrawn and were locked up. Some who had avoided being prisoners because they were “on the run”, or had escaped – many of those, as part of the Good Friday Agreement, had been given guarantees of safety from future arrest but this too, it soon became apparent, could be revoked.

 In other words, the prisoners’ issue became part of imperialism’s ‘peace’ or, to put it more bluntly but accurately, part of imperialism’s pacification. The issue also became part of the selling of the deal within the movement, on one occasion prisoners being released early, just in time to make a grand entrance at a Republican party’s annual congress.

The release of prisoners can be presented by those in the movement supporting pacification as evidence of the “gains” of the process. Those who argue for the continuation of the struggle then find themselves arguing not only against those who pushed the pacification process within the movement but also against some released prisoners and their relatives and friends.


 And prisoners continued to be hostages for the “good behaviour” of the movement. If British imperialism had left, there would have been no cause for the anti-colonial struggle to continue – so why would there be any need for any kind of release ‘under licence’ or any other kind of conditional release? Besides, the British would not be running the prisons in the Six Counties any longer. But the British are not leaving, which is why they need the guarantees of good behaviour.

Suppose the British were serious about leaving, sat down with the resistance movement’s negotiators and most details had been sorted out, including their leaving date in a few weeks’ time say, what would be the point for the British in trying to hang on to the prisoners? Can anyone seriously believe that they would take them with them as they left? If perhaps they had some in jails in Britain and were trying to be bloody-minded and hanging on to them there, well of course we’d want our negotiators to put as much pressure on the British as they could to release those as well.  It would be in the interests of British imperialism to release them but the reality is that the anti-colonial war would be over, whatever ultimately happened to those prisoners.

In South Africa and Palestine, the prisoners’ issue became part of the imperialist pacification process too. It did not suit the imperialists to have numbers of fighters released who would be free to take up arms against them again. So in South Africa, they were incorporated into the “security forces” of the corrupt new ANC state, forces the corruption and brutality of which were soon experienced by any who argued with them or opposed the policies or corruption of the ANC, NUM and COSATU leadership – including the two-score striking miners the “security forces” murdered over a couple of days at Marikana in 2012.

 In Palestine, the prisoners also became part of the “security forces” of Al Fatah after the shameful agreements at Madrid (1991) and Oslo (1993). The level of corruption of the Al Fatah regime and their “security forces” became so high that in order to oust them, in 2006 the largely secular Palestinian society voted for a religious party, the opposition Hamas. And then the “Palestinian security forces” took up arms against Hamas in order to deny them the fruits of their electoral victory. Unfortunately for them, Hamas had arms too and used them.

In both those countries, the occupiers had no intention of leaving and so it was necessary for them, as well as using the prisoners as bargaining chips, to tie them in to a “solution”. In fact, many of the prisoners became “enforcers” of the “solution” on to the people in their areas, i.e pacifiers in imperialism’s pacification process.

Teased out and examined in this way, we can see not only that the prisoners are NOT “part of the solution” but that accepting that they are plays right into the hands of the imperialists as well as facilitating their agents and followers within our movement, within our country.

Political prisoners, as a rule, are an important part of the struggle and need our solidarity. But for anti-imperialists, prisoners are not “part of the solution”, to be used as hostages for a deal with imperialism, even less as enforcers of a deal, forcing it upon the colonised people.

Our call, as anti-imperialists, without conditions or deals, is for the prisoners to be released and, while they remain in prison, to be treated humanely. We also call for them to be recognised as political prisoners. With regard to the solution to the conflict, there is only one: Get out of our country!


The organisation representing relatives and friends of Basque political prisoners is Etxerat A separate organisation concentrating on campaigning, Herrira, has suffered a number of arrests and closure of offices by the Spanish state in 2013 and is under threat of outright banning.

Regrettably, I cannot give a similar link for Irish Republican prisoners, because of the existence of a number of organisations catering for different groups of prisoners and often with tensions between them. One day perhaps a united non-aligned campaign will emerge, along the lines of the H-Block campaign of the past, or the Irish Political Status Campaign that arose in London after the Good Friday Agreement. There is also a non-aligned Irish Anti-Internment Committee (of which I am a part), campaiging for an end to long periods of incarceration imposed on political “dissidents” through removal of licence, refusal of bail or imposition of oppressive bail conditions.


Sorry, Your Majesty

Queen Elizabeth II Delivers Annual SpeechYour Most Exalted Majesty, Queen of the United Kingdom of Britain and Northern Ireland, Commander-in-Chief of the UK Armed Forces, Head of the Church of England, Queen of the Commonwealth.

We trust this letter finds your Highness well, as we do also with regard to Your Highness’ large family and of course your trusted corgis.


I am tasked with writing to yourselves in order to make some embarrassing admissions and to ask your Royal forgiveness.


No doubt your family carries the memory of an uprising in Dublin in 1916? Yes, of course one’s family does, as your Highness says. Well …. the embarrassing thing is this ……. it’s so difficult to say but no amount of dressing up is going to make it better so I’d best just come out with it: that was us. Yes, it’s true.


Not just us, of course. There were a load of Reds in green uniforms too, Connolly and Markievicz’s lot. And of course our female auxiliaries, and the youth group. But most of that rebellious band was us, the Irish Volunteers. I can’t adequately express to your Highness how ashamed we are of it all now. Your government of the time was quite right to authorise the courts-martial of hundreds of us and to sentence so many to death. Your magnanimity is truly astounding that only fifteen were shot by firing squads and that Casement fellow hanged.


But were we grateful? Not a bit of it! Does your Highness know that some people still go on about that Red and trade union agitator, James Connolly, being shot in a chair? What would they have your Army do? Shoot him standing up? Sure he had a shattered ankle and gangrene in his leg! One can’t please some people – damned if one does something and damned if one doesn’t. If the Army hadn’t kindly lent him a chair, those same people would be saying that the British wouldn’t even give him a chair to sit on while they shot him.

And how did we repay your Highness’ kindness and magnanimity in only executing sixteen? And in releasing about a thousand after only a year on dieting rations? By campaigning for independence almost immediately afterwards and starting a guerrilla war just three years after that Rising! A guerrilla war that went on for no less than three years. Your Majesty, we burn with shame just thinking of it now!

Our boys chased your loyal police force out of the countryside, shot down your intelligence officers in the streets of Dublin, ambushed your soldiers from behind stone walls and bushes ….. but still your Highness did not give up on us. Some people still go on and on about the two groups of RIC Auxiliaries and the things they did, referring to them by the disrespectful nicknames of “Black and Tans” (after a pack of hunting dogs) and “Auxies”. They exaggerate the number of murders, tortures, arson and theft carried out by them. Of course, your Highness, we realise now, though it’s taken a century for us to come to that realisation, that sending us that group of police auxiliaries was a most moderate response by yourself. But we were too blind to see that then and shot at them as well!

And that fellow Barry and his Flying Column of West Cork hooligans, wiped out a whole column of them. Your Highness will no doubt find it hard to believe this, but some troublemaker even went so far as to compose a song in praise of that cowardly ambush! Oh yes, indeed! And some people still sing it today – in fact they sing songs about a lot of regrettable things we did, even going back as far as when we fought against your Royal ancestors Henry and Elizabeth 1st! Truly I don’t know how your Highness keeps her patience.

Then we went on and declared a kind of independence for most of the country but …. some of us weren’t even satisfied with that! It was good of you to have your Army lend Collins a few cannon and armoured cars to deal with those troublemakers.

And then some time later, even after those generous loans, some of us declared a Republic and pulled the country (four fifths of it, at any rate), out of the Commonwealth. Left the great family of nations that your Highness leads! Words fail me ….well almost, but I must carry on, painful though it is to do so. A full confession must be made – nothing less will do. And then, perhaps …. forgiveness.

Of course your government held on to six counties …. You were still caring for us, even after all our ingratitude! It was like hanging on to something left behind by someone who stormed off in an argument – giving them an excuse to come back for it, so there can be a reconciliation. How incredibly generous and far-sighted of your Majesty to leave that door open all that time!

Fifty years after that shameful Rising, it was celebrated here with great pomp and cheering, even going so far as to rename railway stations that had perfectly good British names, giving them the names of rebel leaders instead. Then just a few years later, some of our people up North started making a fuss about civil rights and rose up against your loyal police force, forcing your government to send in your own Army. And was that enough for the trouble-makers? Of course not – didn’t they start a war with your soldiers and police that lasted three decades!


No doubt your Majesty will have noted that some of those troublemakers have changed their ways completely and are in your Northern Ireland government now. They’ve been helping to pass on the necessary austerity measures in your government’s budgets, campaigning for the acceptance of the police force and for no protests against yourself. Indeed, their Martin McGuinness has shaken your hand and rest assured were it not considered highly inappropriate and lacking in decorum, he would have been glad to kiss your cheek, as he did with Hillary Clinton when she visited. Or both cheeks, in your Majesty’s case! Your Majesty can see, I hope, that we can be reformed.


Our crimes are so many, your Highness; and we have been so, so ungrateful. But we were hoping, after you’d heard our confession, our humble apologies, after your Highness had seen how desperately sorry we are, that you’d forgive us. And if it’s not too much to hope for, that you’d take us back into the United Kingdom. Reunite us with those six counties, and so into the Commonwealth. Is there even a tiniest chance? Please tell us what we have to do and we’ll do it, no matter how demeaning. Please?


Your most humble servant,

P. O’Neill Jnr.


To: Patrick Brian Boru Murphy                                             From: Cornelius McSclawvey,
NY St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee                                            Teernagoogh.
New York.                                                                                                  Republic of Ireland.

20th March 2014.

Re. invitation to PSNI to march in NY Parade


Dear Patrick Brian Boru Murphy,

I’m so sorry to hear of all the abuse you had to endure over your Committee’s decision to invite the Police Service of Northern Ireland to participate in the NY City’s Parade this year. To be honest, it was an overdue decision – even Sinn Fein accepted the PSNI years ago!  And of course urged your Committee to stand by the invitation — fair play to them although I’ve never liked them, I have to say.

But just who do these yobbos think they are? Those Irish-Americans who objected are living behind the times. And the gall of them to remind you of Peter King, selected Grand Marshall for the 1985 NY Parade, visiting IRA man Joe Doherty when he was in NY jail fighting extradition back to the UK! And the Philadelphia Parade committee making the same Joe Doherty Grand Marshall of their Parade back in 1989. Sure are we not all permitted a mistake or two in our lives?

Of course it was from the Irish Consulate that the suggestion first came to invite the PSNI. Some people, like that Larry Kirwan (of “Black ’47” musical notoriety), accused the Consulate of catering only for the rich Irish-Americans, the lace-curtain crowd. Yes, he did – he even put it in one of his books! Or so I’ve been told – I wouldn’t waste my time reading any of his rubbish. What’s wrong with lace curtains anyway? They let in light and keep your nosy neighbours’ eyes out – not that any neighbours live on our couple of acres of garden anyway, but still …

The cheek of that Wexford blow-in! And even if it were true, aren’t the successful Irish-Americans the ones who really matter? The likes of the Kennedys, O’Neill and even Republicans like Reagan (I mean the US political party), the ones who made — and keep on making – the USA great! Sure you couldn’t expect a country’s consulate to be looking out for the likes of building workers, bar and hotel staff, nurses and nannies! And even computer programming is pretty run of the mill these days.

Anyway, the Consulate lobbies for more green cards for Irish migrants, allowing them to emigrate to the USA legally, helping to sustain the economy back home through relieving us of paying them social welfare benefits and allowing them to earn money to send back home instead. Of course we know there are not enough green cards and a lot will still be illegal migrants but what can one do? And no doubt that helps keep the wages down … and stops them going on demonstrations and the like ….

Sorry, I’ve been drifting off topic. Your critics have been saying that the PSNI are just the RUC under a different name – that they are the same repressive and sectarian force as always. Well, maybe, but some things we have to just grin and bear, don’t we? And as for repression, sure they’re only persecuting dissidents, people who don’t agree with the Good Friday Agreement. The dissidents say that they’re being persecuted because of their legal political activities and not for breaking any laws. But if you stand against the tide, you must expect a good soaking, I always say.

Anyway, I just wanted to say “well done!” to you and to the rest of the Parade Committee. Hopefully next year you can not only invite the PSNI again but the Ulster Defence Regiment as well! As you know, they were formed from the B-Specials, much as the PSNI were from the RUC. It’s healthy to change the name of organisations every once in a while ….  And maybe the year after that, you can invite the British Parachute Regiment! They will probably never change their name but they are so colourful, with their red berets and wing badges … Fág an Balaugh!

Yours most sincerely,

Cornelius Mc Sclawvey


Did Mandela really change South Africa?

[Article by TOM, a contributor to Socialist Voice, newspaper of the Communist Party of Ireland and reprinted with their kind permission.  In essence it agrees with the analysis of Mandela and South Africa given by Stephen Spencer and Diarmuid Breatnach in an article reviewing statements of the Irish Left and Republican movement following the death of Mandela — Rebel Breeze]

The presence of such friends of genuine democracy as the war criminals George W. Bush and Tony Blair, David Cameron, Bill Clinton and such right-wing media hangers-on as Sir Bob Geldof and Sir Paul Hewson (Bono) at Nelson Mandela’s funeral raises questions about the real content of the new South Africa that appeared in 1994, when the apartheid elite seemed to cede political power to the African National Congress.

Twenty years later, given the continuing racial inequality in present-day South Africa, the much lower life expectancy of blacks and their much higher rate of unemployment, the increased vulnerability of the country to world economic fluctuations and accelerated environmental decay during his presidency, did Mandela really change South Africa? And, if not, how much room had he to manoeuvre?

For many are still remembering the Mandela years as fundamentally different from today’s crony-capitalist, corruption-riddled, brutally securitised, eco-destructive and anti-egalitarian South Africa. But could it be that the seeds of the present were sown earlier, by Mandela and his associates in government?

Ending the apartheid regime was, undoubtedly, one of the greatest events of the past century. But, to achieve a peaceful transition, Mandela’s ANC allowed whites to keep the best land, the mines, manufacturing plants and financial institutions, and to export vast quantities of capital.
The ANC could have followed its own revolutionary programme, mobilising the people and all their enthusiasm, energy, and hard work, using a larger share of the economic surplus (through state-directed investments and higher taxes), and stopping the flow of capital abroad, including the repayment of illegitimate apartheid-era debt. The path chosen, however, was the neo-liberal one, with small reforms here and there to permit superficial claims to the sustaining of a “National Democratic Revolution.”

The critical decade was the 1990s, when Mandela was at the height of his power, having been released from jail in February 1990, taking the South African presidency in May 1994 and leaving office in June 1999. But it was in this period, according to the former minister for intelligence services Ronnie Kasrils, for twenty years a member of the Central Committee of the South African Communist Party, that “the battle for the soul of the African National Congress was lost to corporate power and influence . . . We readily accepted that devil’s pact and are damned in the process. It has bequeathed to our country an economy so tied in to the neo-liberal global formula and market fundamentalism that there is very little room to alleviate the dire plight of the masses of our people.”

Nelson Mandela’s South Africa fitted a pattern, that of former critics of old dictatorships—whether from right-wing or left-wing backgrounds—who transformed themselves into neo-liberal rulers in the 1980s and 90s: Alfonsín (Argentina), Aquino (Philippines), Arafat (Palestine), Aristide (Haïti), Bhutto (Pakistan), Chiluba (Zambia), Kim (South Korea), etc. The self-imposition of economic and development policies, because of the pressures of financial markets and the Washington-Geneva multilateral institutions, required insulation from genuine national aspirations—in short, an “elite transition.”

This policy insulation from mass opinion was achieved through the leadership of Mandela. It was justified by invoking “international competitiveness.” Obeisance to transnational corporations led to the Marikana Massacre in 2012 and the current disturbances on the platinum belt, for example. But the decision to reduce the room for manoeuvre was made as much by the local principals, such as Mandela, as it was by the Bretton Woods institutions, financiers, and investors.

Much of the blame, therefore, for the success of the South African counter-revolution must be laid at the door of the ANC leadership, with Nelson Mandela at its head. Hence the paeans of praise for the dead leader from the doyens of international reaction.

The Defendant — a short play

Diarmuid Breatnach

“We have had ‘stepping stones’ presented to us before in our history – they turned out to be stone walls.”

 (A revolutionary is on trial).

judge in full wig etc

Act 1.

Scene: A courtroom – Judge’s bench high, clerk at lower bench nearby, faced by dock, containing defendant and two guards, one at each side.  Long bench in front of dock containing Prosecution and Defence barristers or lawyers.

Judge:  Read the charges, clerk.

Clerk: The defendant is charged with treason, sedition, incitement to rebellion against the lawful government, conspiracy with persons unknown to incite discontent, unlawful assembly, obstruction of the highway and membership of an illegal organisation.

Judge:  Defendant, you have heard the charges?

Defendant:        I have.

Judge:  Address the Court properly.

Defendant:        I have heard the charges, Judge.

Judge:  The proper manner to address me is Your Honour.

Defendant:        I have heard the charges, Judge.

Judge:  I see.  Very well, let us proceed.  How do you plead to the charges?

Defendant:        Not guilty of any crime against the people.

Judge:  Clerk, enter a plea of “Not Guilty.”

Prosecuting Counsel stands up, approaches defendant in the dock.

Prosecuting Counsel:    You are against the Agreement?

Defendant:        I am.  It clearly does not deliver what we fought for, an independent united Republic.  In addition, I and some others fought for a socialist republic and it has not delivered that either.

Prosecuting Counsel:     You are aware that the electorate voted to accept the Agreement?

Defendant: Yes, but…

Prosecuting Counsel:    Just answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Defendant:        Yes.

Prosecuting Counsel:     And do you believe in democracy?

Defendant:        Define ‘democracy’.

Prosecuting Counsel:     The will of the majority.

Defendant:        With suitable safeguards for certain minorities, certainly.

Prosecuting Counsel:     Yet you have admitted to undertaking actions against the Agreement, have you not?

Defendant:        I have.

Prosecuting Counsel:     You consider yourself above the will of the people, the majority, then?

Defendant:        No.  But I consider that I have a duty to act according to what is right and I can see clearly that the Agreement delivers nothing of what we fought for.

Prosecuting Counsel:     Yet the people voted for it.

Defendant:        The people were tired of war and repression and were lied to.  Many of our leaders betrayed us and brought many of our movement with them.

Prosecuting Counsel:     That is your interpretation.  Might it not be that your leaders and those of your movement who followed them were wiser than you?

Defendant:        No.

Prosecuting Counsel:     No?  You could not possibly be wrong?

Defendant:        I am not wrong on this.  The movement fought for a an independent, united republic.  We did not get it.

Prosecuting Counsel:     Your leaders and your movement – I beg your pardon, many in your movement – consider it a stepping stone.

Defendant:        We have had ‘stepping stones’ presented to us before in our history – they turned out to be stone walls.

Prosecuting Counsel:     So you would pursue a strategy of violence in the face of the clear will of the majority!

Defendant:        I do not choose violence.

Prosecuting Counsel:     You do not?  Have you not admitted earlier a statement attributed to you, that violence would be necessary to achieve a successful revolution?

Defendant:        Yes.

Prosecuting Counsel:     So you do choose violence.

Defendant:        I do not.

Prosecuting Counsel:     Pray explain.

Defendant:        I said that the history of classes and of imperialism shows us that no class has ever been permitted to overthrow the one above it by peaceful means; similarly that no nation has won independence from the state oppressing it without having to face violence.  It is the oppressors of the people who choose violence, not us.

But naturally, we should defend ourselves.  Anyway, it is hypocrisy for a state to accuse us of violence, when they have a long history of violence and are at this moment collaborating with others who are waging war and armed invasion of countries.

Prosecuting Counsel:     That is a different matter and not the concern of this court.

( Defendant mutters something)

Prosecuting Counsel:  What did you say?

Defendant:        I said ‘You would say that and anyway it should be the concern of any court of justice.’

Prosecuting Counsel:     This is a court of law and it is trying a case to decide whether you are guilty or innocent.  Let us proceed along another track.  Do you believe in dialogue?

Defendant:        Certainly.

Prosecuting Counsel:     Why then do you not use the Agreement as a basis for dialogue to achieve your aims?  Surely that is the democratic way?

Defendant:        I’d be happy to engage in dialogue as to the details of Britain’s withdrawal from Ireland.  I’d be happy to engage in dialogue as to the details of the capitalists handing over the wealth they have plundered from the people.

Prosecuting Counsel:  You would confiscate the property of businessmen?

Defendant:           That wealth was created by working people.  I would consider it one of the first tasks of a socialist government to confiscate the wealth of the rich, yes.

Prosecuting Counsel:     And ruin the country!

Defendant:        I consider that it is the imperialists and the capitalists that are ruining the country.  Our native industries are undeveloped or taken over by foreign monopolies.  There is wide-scale poverty, homelessness, ill-health, unemployment and emigration.

Prosecuting Counsel:     These are hard times internationally, yes.

Defendant:        Exactly.

Prosecuting Counsel:     What do you mean ‘exactly’?

Defendant:        The capitalists and imperialists internationally have caused these ‘hard times’ as you call them.  They grow richer while the people grow poorer.  The second is the direct result of the first or, if you like, the first is the cause of the second.

Prosecuting Counsel:     Let us take another track.  Do you admit that this present government was elected by a majority?

Defendant:        No.

Prosecuting Counsel:     No?  You do not?

Defendant:        No.  It gained an overall majority of parliamentary representatives.

Prosecuting Counsel:     Is that not the same thing?

Defendant:        No.  There are those who were eligible to vote but did not and those who voted for other parties but did not elect enough representatives.

Prosecuting Counsel:     You quibble.

Defendant:        I do not, those are facts and the figures will clearly demonstrate that this present government was elected by a minority of the electorate.  But even if it had been elected by the majority ….

Prosecuting Counsel:     Yes, please do continue.

Defendant:        Even then, it broke many important promises it had made prior to coming to power.  It has de-legitimised itself.

Prosecuting Counsel:     No party can carry out everything it promises ….. situations arise, measures have to be taken to respond ….

Defendant:        I agree that capitalist parties do not carry out their promises.  They need the votes of the people but represent the interests of a tiny minority.

Prosecuting Counsel:     Oh, please, spare us your socialist rhetoric!

Defendant:        I am attempting to respond to your questions.

Prosecuting Counsel:     You have encouraged sedition against the lawful government.

Defendant:        Sedition according to the laws of this state – capitalist laws.

Prosecuting Counsel:     Would you not agree that you are in a minority opinion?

Defendant:        On what?

Prosecuting Counsel:     In your political views.

Defendant:        I am in majority opinion that imperialist war is a bad thing.  I am in a majority opinion that poverty, homelessness, unemployment and emigration are bad things.  I am not in a minority opinion that the rich get richer while the poor get poorer.

But I do admit that I am in minority opinion as to the feasibility of the solutions I propose.  I admit that I am in a minority as to the confidence that revolutionary change is within our power.  In that I am in a minority – for the moment.

Prosecuting Counsel:     Ah, you believe that the people will see sense and support your ideas.

Defendant:        I wouldn’t put it quite like that but … yes.

Prosecuting Counsel:     A bit arrogant, would you not say?

Defendant:        Not at all.  In the history of this and many other lands, many thinkers and activists have been in a minority before their opinions became accepted by the majority.  Most accepted scientific opinion now was once that of a minority – indeed, often of a persecuted minority.

Prosecuting Counsel:     You consider yourself a persecuted minority?

Defendant:        My presence here and the charges are proof enough of that.  But one day we shall be a majority.

Prosecuting Counsel:     May the Court please, I have no more questions of this defendant.

(Prosecuting Counsel sits)

(All freeze)

Act 2.

 (All unfreeze)

  State Prosecution Counsel standing, summing up, addressing the Judge …………….

Prosecuting Counsel:        The Defendant has pleaded ‘not guilty’ but his own answers under cross-examination have belied that plea.  He has in effect admitted to treason, sedition, incitement to rebellion against the lawful government, conspiracy with persons unknown to incite discontent, unlawful assembly and obstruction of the highway.

The only charge to which he has not admitted is membership of an illegal organisation.  However, we have clearly shown from the evidence of the police and army witnesses that he is indeed a member of an illegal organisation.

The State submits that the case has been proven in all respects and asks for a verdict of  “Guilty as charged.”  In addition the State asks for the maximum sentence — the prisoner is a danger to society and totally without remorse.

 (Prosecution Counsel sits.)

(All freeze)

Act 3.

 (All unfreeze) ….

Judge addressing the Defendant ….

Judge:  Defendant, you have been found guilty as charged on all counts.  Do you wish to say anything before sentence is passed?

Defendant:        Yes.  I once again contend that I am not guilty of any crime against the people.  The actions I undertook were for the victory of my class, the working class, which entails the defeat of the local ruling class and foreign imperialism.  If I am guilty of anything, it is that I did not always work hard or competently enough for the cause.

Time and again, others like me have stood before your courts and of the British before yours and been sentenced to imprisonment or even death.  They faced it with courage and I will try to do the same.  I do not expect mercy and I will not ask for it.  I do not apologise for doing what I know was right.

But I tell you this: one day, it will be representatives of my class that will sit up there and it will be you down here to answer for your crimes.  I bid my farewell to comrades, family and friends and I ask them to forgive me for any way in which I have failed them.  And may my place in the ranks be filled by many more.

Judge:  Have you quite finished?

Defendant:        I have.

Judge:  You will be kept in custody while the court considers your sentence.  Guards, take the Defendant down.

Defendant is escorted out by guards.

Clerk (in muttered but audible aside to the Judge):  “Surely your honour is going to sentence him to death?”

Judge (whispering but audible):  “Possibly …. however, I need to consider what harm may be done by making a martyr of him.  Possibly some years in jail will have him forgotten more quickly …. and possibly break that arrogance of his too.”

(Loudly):  “Clerk, record the verdict and decision made here this day … 12th of January …. 1923, Irish Free State”.

(All freeze momentarily)