When I asked the guy filling shelves in the supermarket where the milk powder was I had no idea what was to come.
Picking up on his accent as he showed me, I asked him where he was from.
“Poland,” he replied, so naturally I thanked him in one of the few words or phrases I know in Polish. He responded in Polish too, then asked me where I was from.
“Here”, I replied.
“Dublin’”, he replied, “wha? ah Jayzus. How’re ya doin’, Bud? Allrih?” And there followed a stream of Dublinese: words, accent and even gestures.
This of course, is our third language here in the capital city – not the native one relinquished by so many, not the colonisers’ appropriated by so many, though a version of it, moulded, turned, somewhat UStaterised, slanged, missing endings ….
He had me laughing, of course and as I paid for my purchases I mentioned it to the cashier, who told me the guy works part-time on nightclub security, so he picks up plenty of it on the door. We both agreed he does it very well.
I went off smiling — another small but interesting experience in our capital city.
A young Dublin man, out to see something of the world, arrived in Franco’s Spain just a few years after WWII. At a reception at the German Embassy in Madrid (foreign press invited and anywhere for a free meal) he met a tall attractive half-Basque, half-German woman. Lucila Hellmann de Menchaca was multi-lingual – bilingual in German and Spanish through her upbringing, she had also learned English and French. She knew only a few words in Euskera – her mother’s side of the family was not very patriotic and in any case, since the victory of Franco’s military-fascist coup in ‘39, the language was forbidden. They conversed mostly through English.
Deasún, tall with grey-blue eyes and dark curly hair and thin moustache, had been raised only with English language but was learning Irish and Spanish, the latter out of necessity and the former by choice.
They were attracted to one another and began dating; within around six months they were married and soon afterwards on their way to Tangiers, where Deasún had a job waiting for him writing copy for a USA radio broadcasting company. The Moroccan city was an “international zone” city according to the Tangier Protocol, which meant that it was effectively ruled by the British, Spanish and French and, inevitably, full of liberation political activists, smugglers, spies and double-agents.
In that multi-lingual society with the Muezzin calling the faithful to prayer five times a day in Arabic and Berber heard in the street along with European languages, Luci was soon pregnant and, as her time neared, went back to Madrid to be near her family. Luci and Deasún first’s child was born in the German hospital in that city; then back to Tangiers soon afterwards, of course.
Their big guard dog, named Bran after one of Fionn Mac Cumhaill’s famous wolfhounds, occasionally takes off to return days later with scratches and bite-marks. He was watchful of the child and one day complains, whimpering to Deasún who, when he goes to investigate, finds the crawling child stuffing the dog’s dinner into his mouth.
Deasún watches his son speaking his first words in Spanish from Luci and some in Irish from himself. Increasingly he feels the need to have his son develop his speech in Ireland; soon the couple are back in the Spanish state and, after a short interlude, visiting the Basque Country of Luci’s youth, crossing the border into the French state by train to the coast and boat to England. A short stay with a cousin there and they and their child are on the way to Deasún’s native Dublin by train and boat.
Some years later in Dublin, his family of sons and a daughter growing up speaking Spanish and Irish in the home and English in the street, Deasún composes the piece of music which he calls “An Ghailseach” (the Foreign Woman”). Luci and Deasún’s youngest son, Cormac, an accomplished flute and whistle player, learns the piece. Some years later again, in the Club an Chonnradh with his father, Cormac plays the air and Deasún is amazed to learn that the piece he likes so much was actually composed by himself.
Cormac records the piece and it is played on an Irish-language radio programme to mark a century since the birth of Deasún. On the morning of the broadcast Cormac cannot listen to it for he is on his way to Stockholm, where the Amerghin Ensemble of which he is a part have an engagement to perform their music. The older son listens to the program just before he is due in the Dublin city centre on a historical conservation commitment. The tears spring to his eyes from the sheer painful beauty of the piece.
Luci and Deasún are years gone (they died within days of one another in 2007) but An Ghailseach has joined the extremely rich and varied body of traditional Irish music, where it will outlast yet other generations to come.
The first time I saw a live octopus, we were both underwater and I will never forget it.
On a holiday in the Balearic Islands I had booked a sub-aqua dive with one of those diving schools one finds in those kinds of places. After safety instruction on the sub-aqua gear and rules of conduct, I went out in a boat with another novice and the instructor. It was only my second dive and I was very nervous; the first had been terrifying at first and some echo of that remained.
Once down below and looking at the plants, fish and other life down there, I forgot about my fear and, dallying, began to lag behind the other novice, who was swimming close to the instructor ahead. Then I passed a black rock from which a golden eye looked at me.
Stopping in amazement, I saw that it was indeed an eye. And the black “rock” resolved itself into a dark octopus, draped over a dark rock. It looked at me and I back at it. With its body less than the size of a football, I was startled but not at all frightened. After a few seconds I shot off fast after the instructor, to bring him back and show him.
Almost as bad as the initial fear of going down, I had found the frustration of being unable to speak underwater. But I quickly managed to convey that there was something of interest back there and that I wished him to come and look. When they both swam back to the rock, I showed them the octopus, which had remained in place.
Wait. Watch this, the instructor signalled and gently pulled the animal away from its resting place. Knowing something about the power of its tentacles and suckers, I did wonder briefly how he had accomplished this. But a few seconds later I was enthralled and so was the other novice.
The instructor began to lob the animal gently from one outstretched hand to another, guiding it in a ballet through the water, the tentacles now flaring open like a flower, then trailing behind like a mane. The octopus appeared to be more than enduring the experience passively – it seemed to be cooperating. We were spellbound.
After I don’t know how long, the octopus decided it wished to leave the dance and, finding itself still being tossed by its ballet partner, released a plume of ink and departed.
The instructor, clearly pleased, looked at us, we at him and at one another. The inability to speak, to express the wonder at what we had seen, was for me intense.
I don’t remember now much more about that dive. I have learned a lot more about octopuses over the years. Their group is called cephalopods and there are around 300 different known species of octopus in the world, inhabiting all seas. They display behaviour associated with intelligence, can distinguish between some different humans and learn some skills quite quickly (watch videos of them unscrewing the lid off a glass jar to get at the crab inside or see the My Octopus Teacher documentary on netflix).
Wikipedia tells me that the species vary in adult size from “The giant Pacific Octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) (which) is often cited as the largest known octopus species. Adults usually weigh around 15kg (33lb), with an arm span of up to 4.3m (14ft). The largest specimen of this species to be scientifically documented was an animal with a live mass of 71kg (156.5lb). Much larger sizes have been claimed for the giant Pacific octopus: one specimen was recorded as 272kg (600lb) with an arm span of 9m (30ft). A carcass of the seven-arm octopus, Haliphron atlanticus, weighed 61kg (134lb) and was estimated to have had a live mass of 75kg (165lb). The smallest species is Octopus wolfi, which is around 2.5cm (1in) and weighs less than 1g (0.035oz).
Many of the species are highly-appreciated items in the seafood cuisine of many countries on all the inhabited continents of the Earth.
But I have never been able to eat octopus since watching that underwater ballet.
To wear a face-mask or not? This article seeks to clarify some of the issues of conflicting advice around the advisability or otherwise of people who are not healthcare frontline staff wearing face-masks.
There has been some discussion around this on social media and in my sphere some of it particularly tense and even illogical. I have observed at a number of times throughout my life that the reaction of some people to a stressful situation is to create more stress around it – as human behaviour one assumes it must have a function, though I find it difficult to see what it might be. However, the question, with possible repercussions to general safety from the Coronavirus-19 is a serious one.
It is worth remarking that some bad advice and information about the Coronavirus-19 has circulated on social media and even been given by Governments. I myself have seen advice on drinking hot drinks as an effective remedy and I am aware that the President of an East European country claimed that drinking vodka killed the virus or prevented one contracting it. Why anyone should wish to put out unscientific advice about such a serious matter is beyond me but it has happened a number of times from different sources.
FACT AND ARGUMENT
There is general agreement that the primary method of contamination by the virus, especially in the case of no physical contact with an infected person, is by droplets from a person who has the virus passing it on to us. The method of passing these droplets might be sneezing, coughing, spitting (for example unintentionally, during speech). The virus then lingers on our face until we convey it to our mouths by touch from the infected area, or by inhalation etc, from whence it proceeds to infect our lungs.
That being so, it is completely counter-intuitive and appears to contradict logic to say that masks would be of no preventive use whatsoever. However, intuition is sometime wrong and many times what has been promoted as “common sense” has turned out to be merely an expression of prejudice or ignorance – or belief in an individual or institution. So maybe a face-mask provides no protection, right? Well no, because frontline health practitioners are wearing them and in fact there is some agitation about their not being available in sufficient numbers for their use.
A SCIENTIFIC ARGUMENT AGAINST EFFICACY OF FACE-MASKS?
OK, so what is being said by the main group of face-mask-usefulness deniers, from my observation, is that the particular face masks used by those health professionals, with a filter, is a good defence against contracting the virus from direct contact with infected droplets to the face. But only those. OK, that might be so, in which case we’d expect to be given a rational scientific reason. However, no-one arguing with me has supplied such an explanation nor have I seen scientific argument justifying it. In fact, I have seen, quite apart from my “common sense”, scientific evidence that seems to show that other types of face-mask do indeed help to prevent direct droplet infection.
So why are some authorities arguing against it? A conspiracy theorist might suggest those who rule us don’t want the expense of supplying us with those masks but, considering the effect this pandemic is having on our economy, I would be inclined to dismiss that explanation. What I tend to believe instead is that the authorities fear that wearing such masks will give us a false sense of security, leading to incautious behaviour and a greater chance of contracting and spreading the virus.
If that were so, why don’t they give us the best advice all around about face-masks but still strongly advise us about the other precautions, such as wearing gloves, washing hands with soap, keeping a distance of six feet etc? I would assume they don’t do that because they don’t trust us, they think most of us are stupid. The behaviour of some during this pandemic would indeed seem to prove their point which in some ways might not be surprising; if you deprive people of responsibility for most things that regulate their lives, it’s somewhat contradictory to then expect them to act responsibly. But in fact, most people have been acting responsibly – and caringly. And neither the Government, the HSE or the capitalist concerns are in a great position to be lecturing us on our lack of responsibility – but I leave that for another day’s discussion.
I am not a scientist and I have not done a huge amount of research but I think I have done enough to convince me that wearing of most kinds of face-mask in public does indeed provide some protection against direct contaminated droplet contact. And in fact, even many of those who say it would not give the wearer any protection do admit that it would give other people some protection from an infected person. And since one can be carrying the virus for some days without exhibiting signs of it, surely everyone should be wearing a face-mask in public? EVERYONE!
When I was employed managing teams working with homeless people and/ or substance misusers, our health safety advice was to assume that anyone we worked with was HIV positive. Because you can never know for sure.
The advice being put out from the HSE is that in the case of this virus no face-masks except the special ones work. However, the World Health Organisation began in the early days by saying it would help but lately says only that it would only help to prevent its spread. Well, well …. only help to prevent its spread? ONLY?
COUNTRIES ENCOURAGING OR ENFORCING GENERAL FACE-MASK WEARING
A number of Asian countries insist that the level of transmission in their countries is much lower than in some European countries and they ascribe that to the universal wearing of face-masks. Czech Republic says the same. I have not seen statistics to confirm those claim but nor have I seen a statistical refutation. The US Centre for Disease Control recommends everyone wear face-masks.
I have seen reported an experiment which seems to prove that the droplets do not pass through a cotton-and-paper barrier (see the accompanying video for the experiment and also practical demonstration on how to construct such a reusable face-mask from a T-shirt). I have also read an article in the well-respected medical journal The Lancet, discussing the scientific merits of the arguments for and against.
I think the evidence tends to support the case that wearing most kinds of face-mask does help protect the wearer but the fact that they help in preventing the spread to others should be enough on its own to encourage us all to wear them.
There are some social issues with wearing the masks that have emerged in some parts of the world and I list the ones I have come across:
STIGMA: People may shun someone wearing a mask as they consider the wearers to be infected. So what, if they have an effective role? And isn’t countering this a job for the responsible authorities, community organisations etc?
EXCLUSION: Some facilities may refuse to permit entry to people not wearing face-masks, as is apparently the case in Hong Kong. But the exclusion has a fairly simple solution.
EXPENSE & RACKETEERING: Yes, we saw some examples of that here in Ireland with some suppliers of latex etc. gloves and hand sanitiser gel. If we learn how to make effective ones we can overcome this problem but, in any case, the benefits of wearing the mask outweigh the negative aspects involved in supply.
WHO SHOULD WEAR THE MOST EFFECTIVE FACE-MASKS?
Some people have put forward the argument that no-one but the front-line health professionals should wear the most effective models and I have even seen posters on the internet telling people not to wear one unless they are infected. Their reasoning is that there are not enough of these available to supply those who need them most. Well that seems to make sense except that their condemnation is often directed at the occasional non-healthworker person wearing such a mask rather than at the Government and HSE which have not laid in sufficient stocks.
Is it an issue that many people are wearing the special face-masks and that is the reason health-workers are not being supplied with them? Certainly there has been no evidence of this in Ireland.
Some concede that certain high-risk groups are entitled to wear the special face-masks also, which is very gracious of them.
On a personal note, my special mask was given to me as a gift, I did not seek it nor was I aware of its special nature when I received it. In addition, on a number of counts I do belong to a high-risk group; readers are free to believe or disbelieve me but I do not intend to explain that or to justify it.
On this and other general questions I would encourage people to concentrate on the overall issue and to be a part of the solution rather than add to the problem.
Feel free to comment on the scientific and practical points made in this article but please do not respond with purely personal opinions or those substantiated by restricted sources (e.g “HSE professionals have told me”) and without dealing with sources and points listed here.
From Workers’ Republic, 18 March 1916.
Transcribed by The James Connolly Society in 1997.
Proofread by Chris Clayton, August 2007.
The question often arises: Why do Irishmen celebrate the festival of their national saint, in view of the recently re-discovered truth that he was by no means the first missionary to preach Christianity to the people of Ireland? It is known now beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Christian religion had been preached and practised in Ireland long before St. Patrick, that Christian churches had been established, and it is probable that the legend about the shamrock was invented in some later generation than that of the saint. Certainly the shamrock bears no place of any importance in early Celtic literature, and the first time we read of it as having any reference to or bearing on religion in Ireland occurs in the work of a foreigner – an English monk.
But all that notwithstanding there is good reason why Irish men and women should celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. They should celebrate it for the same reason as they should honour the green flag of Ireland, despite the fact that there is no historical proof that the Irish, in the days of Ireland’s freedom from foreign rule, ever had a green flag as a national standard, or indeed ever had a national flag at all
The claim of the 17th of March to be Ireland’s national festival, the claim of St. Patrick to be Ireland’s national saint, the claim of the shamrock to be Ireland’s national plant, the claim of the green flag to be Ireland’s national flag rests not on the musty pages of half-forgotten history but on the affections and will of the Irish people.
Sentiment it may be. But the man or woman who scoffs at sentiment is a fool. We on this paper respect facts, and have a holy hatred of all movements and causes not built upon truth. But sentiment is often greater than facts, because it is an idealised expression of fact – a mind picture of truth as it is seen by the soul, unhampered by the grosser dirt of the world and the flesh.
The Irish people, denied comfort in the present, seek solace in the past of their country; the Irish mind, unable because of the serfdom or bondage of the Irish race to give body and material existence to its noblest thoughts, creates an emblem to typify that spiritual conception for which the Irish race laboured in vain. If that spiritual conception of religion, of freedom, of nationality exists or existed nowhere save in the Irish mind, it is nevertheless as much a great historical reality as if it were embodied in a statute book, or had a material existence vouched for by all the pages of history.
It is not the will of the majority which ultimately prevails; that which ultimately prevails is the ideal of the noblest of each generation. Happy indeed that race and generation in which the ideal of the noblest and the will of the majority unite.
In this hour of her trial Ireland cannot afford to sacrifice any one of the things the world has accepted as peculiarly Irish. She must hold to her highest thoughts, and cleave to her noblest sentiments. Her sons and daughters must hold life itself as of little value when weighed against the preservation of even the least important work of her separate individuality as a nation.
Therefore we honour St. Patrick’s Day (and its allied legend of the shamrock) because in it we see the spiritual conception of the separate identity of the Irish race – an ideal of unity in diversity, of diversity not conflicting with unity.
Magnificent must have been the intellect that conceived such a thought; great must have been the genius of the people that received such a conception and made it their own.
On this Festival then our prayer is: Honour to St. Patrick the Irish Apostle, and Freedom to his people.
I seem to recall that Connolly wrote something else about celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, perhaps when he was living and working in the USA but can’t find it now. For similar reasons to what he lays out here, I supported and indeed organised public celebration of the feast day in London.
And I might have agreed with Connolly in the case of Ireland at the time he wrote it: the whole country under British occupation, in the middle of the First World War with thousands of Irish casualties in the British armed forces and coming up to the 1916 Rising.
But now? I don’t think so, neither with what it celebrates nor how it is celebrated, which always makes me want to get out of Dublin. Republic Day, which Connolly was party to creating but could perhaps not have anticipated being a national festival day, is what we should be focusing on now, I think.
Staff wearing gloves (at last) but no masks. Distance instructions for shoppers at staffed checkouts but no masks — and what about floor staff, tending shelves, collecting empty baskets, ANSWERING QUERIES FROM CUSTOMERS AT CLOSE RANGE? !!
“Every little helps”? TOO LITTLE!
Criminal neglect by big employers of their staff and also, in the long run, of the wider public. And the unions?!!
Lots of empty spaces on shelves by the way. And I remembered the toilet paper!
I went shopping tonight. No, not a stock-up raid — actual shopping. Of course, I forgot the actual thing I went to get — toilet paper. No shit! (well, not until I buy some, anyway). So I got some other stuff I would need soon.
I was glad for once, especially for the safety of the staff, to see the self-checkout machines there and happy, for a change, to use them. Even though the machine could not understand why my bag was “too heavy” (a small-medium backpack!). So a member of staff had to keep approaching to tell the machine I was all right and to carry on, which kind of negated the whole safety aspect.
Of course safety has nothing to do with why these machines were installed, nor even customer satisfaction but to reduce the number of employed staff (who still have to keep attending to machines that misunderstand the shoppers or vice versa).
But NOT ONE OF THE STAFF WAS WEARING DISPOSABLE LATEX GLOVES OR FACE MASKS.
NOR DID I SEE A HAND SANITISER DISPENSER.
THEIR EMPLOYERS SHOULD BE OBLIGED TO PROVIDE THESE BY LAW IF THEY DO NOT DO SO VOLUNTARILY.
The 5th of March is the anniversary of the naval Battle of Cape Machichaco (cabo matxitxakoko borroka, in Euskera/ Basque), which took place on 5 March 1937 off Bermeo (Bizkaia province, Basque Country), during the Spanish Anti-Fascist War, between the Spanish Military-Fascist heavy cruiser Canarias and four Basque Navy trawlers escorting a Republican convoy. The trawlers were protecting the transport ship Galdames, which was sailing to Bilbao with 173 passengers.
(The following account of the battle is from Wikipedia; the section titles and comment are mine)
On 4 March, four armed trawlers of the Basque Auxiliary Navy section of the Spanish Republican Navy, Bizcaia, Gipuzkoa, Donostia and Nabarra departed from Bayonne, France. Their intention was to defend Galdames‘s mail, passengers, machinery, weapons, supplies and 500 tons of nickel coins property of the Basque government.
Canarias sailed from Ferrol with Salvador Moreno as the captain, with orders to stop the transport ship. Galdames, which was steaming up with the lights and the radio switched off, and was unknowingly left behind by Bizcaya and Gipuzkoa.
FOUR CONVERTED TRAWLERS AGAINST A BATTLE CRUISER
Next morning, while all the trawlers were watching for Canarias, Galdames rejoined them. Bizcaya‘s captain was Alejo Bilbao, Nabarra‘s Enrique Moreno Plaza from Murcia, and Gipuzkoa‘s Manuel Galdós. The trawlers had the intention of luring Canarias close to the Biscay coast to have the assistance of the coastal batteries.[
The first trawler to spot Canarias was Gipuzkoa, 30 kilometers (19 mi) north of Bilbao. The Basque trawler was hit on the bridge and the forward gun. Return fire from Gipuzkoa killed one Canarias seaman and wounded another. The armed trawler, with five fatalities and 20 injured aboard, managed to approach the coast, where the shore batteries forced Canarias to retreat.
Nabarra and Donostia tried to prevent Canarias from finding Galdames and engaged the cruiser.
Donostia withdrew from the battle after being fired on by Canarias, but Nabarra faced the enemy for almost two hours. She was eventually hit in the boiler and came to a stop; 20 men abandoned the sinking trawler, while other 29 were lost with the ship, including her captain, Enrique Moreno Plaza.
The transport Galdames, which was hit by a salvo from Canarias and lost four passengers, was eventually captured by the military-fascist cruiser.
Gipuzkoa arrived at Portugalete seriously damaged and Bizcaia headed for Bermeo, where she assisted the Estonian merchantman Yorbrook with a load including ammunition and 42 Japanese Type 31 75 mm mountain guns, previously captured by Canarias and released.
Donostia sought shelter in a French port.
The 20 survivors from Nabarra were rescued by the military-fascists and taken aboard Canarias. Instead of the expected hostility and mistreatment, they were given medical assistance, and both the cruiser commander, future Francoist Admiral Salvador Moreno and Captain Manuel Calderón interceded with Franco when the Basque seamen were sentenced to death in retaliation for the shooting of two crewmembers of the armed trawler Virgen del Carmen, captured by Republican sympathizers and diverted to Bilbao in December 1936. The survivors were eventually acquitted and released in 1938.
In contrast, one of the passengers aboard Galdames, Christian Democrat politician Manuel Carrasco Formiguera, from Catalonia, was imprisoned and executed on 9 April 1938.
COURAGE, COWARDICE AND CRUELTY
The story is one of incredible bravery of a number of converted trawlers and their Basque crews, in particular that of the Nabarra and her Captain from Murcia. One account I read related that her Captain consulted his crew and they agreed to fight to the death or the sinking of their ship. Their valour and stubbornness (two qualities which commentators often associate with the Basques) was of such magnitude as to impress even their military-fascist opponents, to the extent of their interceding with Franco to save their lives.
It is also the story of the cowardice of at least the captain of the Donostia.
And of the bestiality of the military-fascists in the execution of a member of the Catalan Governmentreturning to his country with his family, guilty of no crime but to serve his the administration of his elected republican government (one of hundreds of thousands of such crimes of the miiltary-fascists coupists and their victorious regime).
VISIT TO CAPE MATXITXAKO
I visited the land part of the location on a number of occasions in recent years. Access by public transport is by a bus every hour but I was driven by friends.
On a windy promontory on private land I saw one of the shore artillery battery sites (which has had nothing done to conserve it) and, close enough, the monument to the battle. Not far from there is a local bar-restaurant which is popular and a short trip by car, the iconic hermitage of Gastelugatxe. Many tourists visit the area but I wonder how many get to hear of the story.
Thinking of the determination and courage of those crews, not even trained for war, in converted trawlers, facing a trained naval crew of a huge battle cruiser, I am not ashamed to say my eyes fill and my lip trembles.
Sir, – Gerard Murphy (Letters, February 27th) and some others doubt the existence of anti-Irish racism in Britain prior to the Brexit debates, claiming never to have experienced or witnessed it themselves.
After the Race Relations Act (1976) drove the blatant discrimination of notices in lodging-house windows and “help wanted” advertisements into concealment, in 1984 the Greater London Council published Liz Curtis’s booklet Nothing But the Same Old Story, full of public examples of anti-Irish racism in print and in drawings over centuries, including cartoons in the Evening Standard during the 1970s.
In the mid-1970s nearly a score of innocent people in five different cases were taken from the Irish community and convicted of murder or in assisting murder while Irish people were being regularly stopped at airports and embarkation points, as well as having their houses raided and being taken into Paddington Green police station, for example, to spend days in underground cells without daylight or access to solicitor, to be eventually released without charge. In the 1970s Granada TV series The Comedians, stand-up performers told sexist and racist jokes, with the Irish often being the butt of the latter. In the 1980s the Irish in Britain Representation Group picketed WH Smith shops until they removed from sale their “Irish mugs”, which had the handle on the inside.
Letters in Irish community newspapers in Britain like the Irish Post and the Irish World regularly complained of anti-Irish racism in print, on TV, on radio and in public places. Anti-Irish racism has a history of centuries but it was all around Britain in the 1970s, 1980s and even the 1990s. – Yours, etc,
Why doesn’t SF just step back and wait for whatever government is formed, hammer them from the opposition benches and wait for the next General election (which might well be in the Autumn)?
There are 160 seats in the Dáil, the Lower House of the Irish Parliament. Mícheál Martin, leader of the Fianna Fáil party (38 seats), tells Mary Lou McDonald that he won’t go into coalition with her party Sinn Féin (37 seats) and she rages at him. Fine Gael (35 seats) wants to go into coalition with Fianna Fáil – but at a price. Eoin Ó Broin of SF admits the numbers don’t add up for a coalition of the Left (couple of surviving TDs from Left parties and independents led by SF) which was clear before Sinn Féin (and some on the Left) even started talking about it.
The main reason for the weakness of the Left in the Dáil is that the Irish Labour Party, founded by Connolly, Larkin and others, has degenerated to a remarkable degree. Another reason is that as a result of centuries fighting colonialism and concentration on the national question, there has never been a substantial nationwide party or grouping of the Left in Ireland. Also some left-wing TDs (members of the Dáil) actually lost seats in the general election this month.
On Monday I think it was, the Guardian published and I shared what I thought was a brief and fair analysis of the results and of the possible coalition governments and even suggested that SF would be wise to let the established parties flounder in government and beat them in the next election. After all, most commentators seem to agree that if SF had fielded more candidates, they would have got even more seats, an error they can remedy next time.
A LEFT COALITION NEXT TIME?
Of course, that might not be anywhere near 81 seats, the number for an overall clear majority – but a Left coalition majority would be more possible then. Besides, they could form a Left platform to go intothe next election, which would give a lot more transfers of votes and possibly get more people elected from the Left too.
But instead, Sinn Féin are chomping at the bit and their eagerness to get into Government right now, even in coalition with neo-liberal capitalist and neo-colonialist parties, is disturbing.
Why do I care? After all, I am not a SF supporter, nor even of any of the Left parties – a revolutionary, in fact, not a reformist. But that doesn’t mean I would not welcome some reforms nor, more to the point, that I don’t see how the people are crying out for them. Like an immediate building program of public housing and an effective overhaul of the health system (both linked to youth training and employment). A defence and development of our natural resources and services. Saving Moore Street from “development” by vultures. Abolition of the no-Jury Special Criminal Courts (which SF seems to be retreating from already before they even got a Government coalition offer).
I could list many more but what’s the point?
If what we get is a coalition government led by Fianna Fáil or even containing Fine Gael – forget it! And if SF is not prepared to play a longer game and the Left is not prepared to put together a platform package, then the longer-term hope of revolution becomes the only viable one for the shorter term.