The right-wing patrician UStater William F Buckley (despite the Irish surname) and two dogs, one of them the imminently slappable racist Tory Roger Evans, take Bernadette Devlin (now Devlin-McAlliskey) on and she wipes the floor with them. She was a month short of 25 years of age when she sat this interview in late March 1972, without any notes to hand, keeping up with the arguments, never losing her temper, reeling off historical facts and financial figures. It was a stellar performance.
Even more remarkable, not two months had passed since the Paras had shot 26 unarmed marchers in Derry, murdering 14 men at a march she had herself attended and, though then an MP, she had been refused permission to speak on it in the House of Commons, while lies were being stated by people who had not been there. Also, her interview took place only a month after the travesty of an inquiry into the murder by Lord Widgery who completely exonerated the gunmen and their officers, maintaining they were acting in self-defence against all evidence except the soldiers’ and Widgery even claimed a march of at least 30,000 was at most around 3,000! It seems that there must’ve been an agreement not to mention Bloody Sunday, perhaps as a condition for the interview, otherwise what else can explain its omission?
Bernadette came out against the Good Friday Agreement when it was born, not pushing armed struggle as an alternative but stating that the GFA institutionalised sectarianism and because she accused the Provos of seeking alliances with the Right and capitalism rather than with the Left and the working class. She would have been a powerful voice against the GFA and could not be accused of being in a ‘dissident’ armed group but the British State held her daughter Roisin, who was pregnant, hostage and Bernadette stepped back from that issue. She was marginalised by the Republican movement in the 1970s and 80s, along with being shot 14 times in front of her children (her husband shot too) in 1981 and lost to us as a national leader again in the first decade of the GFA.
Watching this discussion brings back to mind all the economic and political issues that were around at the time, especially as Bernadette reels them off, many of them largely forgotten. All the fudges and lies of British governments avoiding doing anything fundamental to improve things even within an illegitimate colonial context.
There is a blind eye being turned to oppression in Ireland – and I use the expression in its usual meaning of “deliberately not seeing”. And it is not the Irish ruling circles I am accusing of that deliberate act, for one could hardly expect anything else of them. No, it is the Irish socialist and liberal sectors I am accusing, along with a section of the Republican movement.
All of these are in Ireland; each of these sectors either knows of this oppression or has chosen not to know. In that respect, in so far as they cry out about injustice or inequality in other areas, they are being hypocritical. And in how much hypocritical activity can one indulge and how long, before one is really and totally a hypocrite, not to be trusted on anything they say they believe?
For years, before the Good Friday Agreement, wide areas in the Six Counties suffered oppression from the colonial statelet, its police force and the imperial armed forces. Those were the working and lower middle-class “nationalist/ Catholic” areas. Prior to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, sections of the Irish Left and liberal consensus were actively ignoring this oppression and in that respect, nothing has changed. But what has happened since is that while smaller areas, neighbourhoods, are continuing to be oppressed, sections of the Republican movement have joined in that blindness and resultant silence.
HOUSE RAIDS, HUMILIATION, HOSPITALISATION & DEATH THREATS
From Republic Media: A statement released by the Republican party Saoradh quoted Cliodhna McCool, daughter of Kieran McCool who was arrested last week in Derry following a heavy house raid, reading a statement on behalf of the McCool family. Describing the ongoing and escalated harassment she said:
“As a family who hold strong traditional Republican views we have become accustomed to many forms of harassment and intimidation, in fact we have almost come to expect it. However, in recent months the occupiers have escalated this harassment by constantly following every member of our family during almost every aspect of our lives. Something that is somewhat creepy and very distressing is the fact they seem to have prior knowledge of where we are going to or coming from and will be there to mete out their harassment. “
Detailing incidents over the last year she continued: “In the last year alone we have been attacked resulting in my mother, father and younger brother being hospitalised and we have received death threats from British soldiers dressed in Crown Force uniforms.”
Describing the events of last week she said: “Once my father was removed from the house, what can only be described as a nightmare for our family began. My family were shouted at aggressively, verbally abused and threatened with arrest by masked gunmen.”
“My younger brother Fionn, who is autistic, was again manhandled and removed from his bed, searched and evicted from his home; as was my mother and other brother.”
Giving the public details of some of the more grim details of what a search entails for Republicans she explained: “While they were forced to leave our house they were refused access to a toilet, food or water. My mother was also denied her medication. My entire family was searched in an intimate manner of which I prefer not to go into detail; I will let you use your own imagination“
Concluding the family statement she said: “No matter what you think of our family’s politics, no family should ever be treated like this. If it was wrong in the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s then it’s wrong now. Our family have feelings too and refuse to be treated as lesser human beings because politicians say it’s acceptable. It’s not!”
Cliodhna McCool’s statement was read out at a protest press conference of which the purpose was, according to Saoradh “to highlight the continued profiling and targeting of Creggan residents, community activists and those who hold traditional Republican beliefs.”
“THUGS IN UNIFORM CLIMBING OVER EACH OTHER TO GET TO ME”
Pete Cavanagh, who suffered injuries during the raid, spoke next, describing sectarian jibes and threats handed out to residents. “It was here they began to trade in sectarian and snide remarks, calling Creggan and the people in it ‘dirty and unwashed.’ Some of them began mentioning personal details of individuals gathered there. Some raised and showed off their weapons in an attempt to intimidate us. Many of the cops gathered there were very shaky and nervous. “
Describing his attack by armed police he explained:
“After trying to push us further down the street, these thugs in uniform drew their batons and launched what can only be described as a frenzied attack. It is here I was beat between two cars with my head busted open by a British baton. So reckless was this attack that these thugs in uniform were fighting with each other to get at me. They were climbing over each other to get at me again as I lay on the ground busted open. The cop who hit me called me a “Fenian prick.”
Pete also told how the police lied about how he received the injuries: “When I was in the back of an armoured car I seen and heard the inspector who attacked me tell his superior that I had fell and busted by head. But when asked at the hospital the doctor said there is no way I could have sustained this injury by either falling backwards or forwards given the severity and location of the strike. I received eight stitches.”
Despite Pete being on the receiving end of the physical attacks from Crown forces, he and another member of Saoradh were detained overnight and given bail with restrictive and oppressive measures.
A local resident Clare Friel also gave testimony at the conference:
“The actions and behaviour of the PSNI witnessed on Thursday 18th March were reminiscent of our past. These attacks, as described by our neighbours and community activists, were supposed to be of a bygone era, again that is not the case.
“What happened to the McCool family, residents of Ballymagowan and the wider Creggan community along with political and community activists has only served in raising further tensions between our young people, residents and the police.
“Our young people are sick and tired of being targeted by police; they are sick and tired of watching community and political activist being stopped and searched; they are sick and tired of seeing their school friends being stopped and searched while attempting to get an education; they are sick and tired of the fake community policing being rolled out in Creggan as the PSNI cycle around streets with armoured jeeps on every entry and exit of the estate. This behaviour can’t continue without our youth saying enough is enough! Is it any wonder they react!”
Saoradh National executive member Stephen Murney wrapped up proceedings by giving Saoradh’s analysis of recent events and in reference to other world events he said:
“Whilst this raid was taking place two women were forced to the ground outside and knelt on by several members of the British Forces. This bears all the hallmarks of George Floyd and the recent disturbing images in England. Are all members of the British Forces trained in how to attack women?
Criticising P Sinn Féin’s false promises, Murney pointed out that after such incidents the party regularly promises to complain to the authorities and have the attacks stopped which, however, continue and that the SF party’s support for “the oppressing force” is “unwavering”1.
Continuing, Murney asserted:
“On the other hand the Republican position is clear as day. These raids and attacks are the outworking of British occupation, they were wrong and unjust in previous years and decades and are wrong today. The Crown forces responsible are not welcome or wanted in Creggan, or indeed in any Republican community in the Six Counties.”
Murney called on people to support those being subjected to this harassment and violence and pledged his party to do so too.
HARASSMENT AND INTIMIDATION OF COMMUNITIES AFTER THE GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT
This harassment of activists and oppression of neighbourhoods has been ongoing since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement but has intensified in recent years. The colonial statelet wishes to normalise its situation, which means gaining acceptance of the population. But colonial status is not a natural or even desirable state of affairs and human history, in particular perhaps its Irish component, demonstrates that it will always be resisted. When that is so, the State moves in to harass, provoke, disrupt and intimidate the sectors that continue to resist.
Those who expect the resistance to die down and wish for acceptance of the Good Friday Agreement are being unrealistic and flying in the face of human and in particular Irish history. Whatever their wishes, when they turn a blind eye to the continuing oppression of sections of the Irish nation, they are helping it to continue. And when, instead, they support the oppressors or condemn those who continue to resist, they are in active collusion with the oppressor, the colonial invader and occupier. From a different but similar historical experience, history has given a name for such collaborators: Quisling.
One needs to ask what can account for this willful ‘blindness’ and resultant silence? Since those afflicted with the condition do not usually explain it, one must speculate and it seems to me that the following are the likely reasons:
For the socialists:
they do not wish to even seem to be endorsing armed resistance to the statelet
they wish to give no assistance to what is their biggest competition in the opposition to the status quo, along with the one with the largest working class base: the Republican movement,
For a section of the Republicans:
They do not wish to give any support to their competition inside the Republican movement
The Left and Liberals never had any difficulty in supporting the ANC despite the fact that had an armed wing, membership of which was the main charge of which Mandela was convicted. Or if they did, they kept quiet about them. They kept quiet too about the horrific practice of “Pirelli-necklacing”, when alleged informers or spies had tyres doused in petrol placed around their necks which were then set on fire.
And in a sense, that was mostly right, because the main target had to be the South African racist white minority regime and its foreign imperialist backers. Similar positions were taken with regard to the Vietnamese liberation forces and to the Palestinian resistance.
“YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE A REPUBLICAN TO KNOW THAT THIS IS WRONG”
But even if one did not agree with the objectives of the ANC, the NLF in southern Vietnam and NVA, the PLO etc, that should not prevent one from speaking out against oppression of the people. Pastor Niedermeyer put it well in his famous quotation about the oppression of different groups under the Nazis. Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland put it well too when their post stated:
“Last week following a violent attack by a British Police force on women in London there was international media coverage, justified anger and protests in a number of countries including Ireland, as people rightly expressed their outrage at such disgraceful events.
“This week, as Britain’s Colonial militia in Ireland once again attacks women in Derry, some of those same Irish voices so loudly speaking out against police violence in London have said absolutely nothing. These voices remain silent because to speak out would be to raise and condemn Britain’s ongoing illegal occupation of Ireland, something they are ideologically opposed to doing. Are the women of the Creggan to be left fighting alone?
“Police violence is wrong against women in London and it is wrong in Derry. The RUC/PSNI are attempting to provoke the community in Creggan and are invading homes and attacking women and children with impunity.
“It is not acceptable for so called Socialist and progressive forces to stay silent on this. It’s not acceptable to look the other way. You don’t have to be a Republican to know that this is wrong.
“Anyone who is really an advocate for women’s liberation would be calling British Imperialism out for the violence its imperialist militia regularly perpetuates against Republican women in occupied Ireland.
“Ní Saoirse go Saoirse na mBan.”
The point about provocation is well made. It was during one such raid in Creggan on 18th April in advance of a planned Republican commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising that a Republican youth fired at the colonial police, a bullet of which tragically killed Lyra McKee, a journalist who was standing near an armoured police Land Rover2.
Those who are afflicted with the blind eye need to turn the other eye on the situation in the Six Counties and speak out. Or give up forever any credibility when speaking about injustice towards anyone.
1The Sinn Féin leadership has formerly accepted the colonial police force in the Six Counties, doing so publicly a number of times.
2Numerous politicians, State figures and mass and social media at the time called her killing “murder”, a clearly inaccurate statement and prejudicial to the trial outcome of anyone who might be charged as a result of her killing.
DESPITE LOW TURNOUT DUE TO PANDEMIC FEARS, THE THREE CATALAN INDEPENDENTIST PARTIES TOGETHER HAVE A COMFORTABLE ABSOLUTE MAJORITY
Despite the Covid19 pandemic and bad weather causing a low turnout for the elections to the Government (Govern) of the Catalan Autonomous Region, elected representatives of political parties for Catalan independence won a comfortable absolute majority of their Parlament and, for the first time in recent history, won more than 50% of the total votes cast.
It is worth noting that although most of the Spanish and much of the European media (including shamefully the Irish) is referring to the victors in this election as “separatists” this is not the correct term and implies or at least leaves open to interpretation that there is some basis for their campaign other than a historic nation seeking independence. The Irish over centuries were not “separatists” with regard to England and the United Kingdom, they were independentists. And those Irish parties that wanted to remain with the UK were — and are – unionists, with a parallel too in the elections in Catalonia.
In a Parlament of 135 seats (absolute majority 68 minimum), the results are:
Total seats: 74
ERC (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, traditional left-republican party of various trends)
33 seats (up one) 21.4% votes cast
JxCat (Junsts per Catalunya, independentist party consisting of various trends with origins in alliance with right-wing Catalan nationalist party PdeCat but split from them last year)
32 seats (up 12) 20.0% votes cast
CUP (Convergencia Unida Popular, a confederation of left-wing groups mostly active on a community and municipal level)
9 seats (up 5) 6.67% votes cast
Total seats: 53
PSC (Catalan branch of the Partido Socialista Obrero de Espana, social-democratic main government party in the Spanish State)
33seats (up 16) 13.9 % of votes cast
PP (Partido Popular, formed by Franco supporters after the Dictator’s death, main government party in the Spanish State after PSOE)
3 seats (down one) 3.8 % of votes cast
Cs (Ciutadans, Spanish unionist party formed by split from the PP)
6 seats (down 30) 5.6 % of votes cast
Vox (Spanish fascist and unionist party formed by split from PP and Ciutadans)
11 seats, 7.7 % of votes cast
Total seats: 8 seats (no change) 6.87 % of votes cast
ECP (En Comú Podem [“Communs”], coalition of Podemos, Izquierda Unida etc, left-social democrats and trotskyists, in theory supporting the right to independence but in practice rarely supporting the independentists).
Most of Catalonia is currently part of the Spanish state, with a small part around Pau, in the southern French state. Catalonia has its own political history and national language, Catalan but its autonomy was ended in conquest by the Bourbons of the Spanish Kingdom in 1741 and its language discriminated against. In 1936 the workers of Barcelona, the capital city, rose and defeated the forces of the Spanish military-fascist coup against the elected Popular Front Government of Spain. But after the victory of the military-fascist forces in 1939 in the Spanish Antifascist War, Catalonia, which had sided with the Government on a promise of autonomy, suffered repression, its leaders and supporters executed and language banned.
Catalonia is also considered by many to be part of the Paisos Catalans (Catalan Countries), which include the regions such of Valencia and the Balearic islands, where dialects of Catalan are spoken.
Although a small part of the Spanish State in terms of land and population, Catalonia is one of the most economically successful regions of the Spanish State. A wish for national independence gained renewed political support during the recent decade, growing apace when the Spanish State greatly reduced Catalan autonomy in a reinterpretation of the Statute of Autonomy in respect of Catalonia. Grassroots movements in favour of independence grew hugely, in particular the ANC and Omnium; they organised a referendum on independence to take place on 1st October 2017. The Spanish State sent its militarised police to seize ballot boxes and attack voters and protesters. Subsequently the Spanish State jailed the leaders of the Independentist party ERC, the grassroots organisations ANC and Omnium, along with politicians. It issued arrest warrants for a number of others, including the President of the Government and leader of JuntsXCat party and a leading activist of CUP, all of whom are currently in exile. 700 Town Mayors are under investigation for their role in the referendum and activists are in jail or on trial for their activities in protests and one-day general strikes (of which there have been three since 2017).
ELECTION TIMING AND RESULTS
Quim Torra, Puigdemont’s replacement, who had been stripped of his position as President of the Catalan Parliament by a Spanish Court for displaying a banner in support of the political prisoners on a Government building during Catalan municipal elections, had threatened to call snap regional elections; these were expected around October last year but the Covid19 pandemic prevented that plan going ahead.
However, when the Catalan Govern because of the pandemic decided to postpone their elections until this summer,, it was forced by a Spanish State court (at the behest of unionists) to call them for 14th February. That of course led to a low turnout, which usually favours the Right and Unionists, thus making the results even more remarkable.
With the independentist parties achieving more than 50% of the vote for the first time and an overall majority in the Parlament, Catalans favouring independence regard the election results as positive overall. But their pleasure is tempered by the unwelcome gains of the Spanish social democrats of the PSC and the ten seats won for the first time in Catalonia by the fascist Vox party.
The PSC is the Catalan branch of the PSOE, the Spanish social-democratic party currently in government in coalition with Podemos-Izquierda Unida, the latter a kind of trotskyist coalition (of which the Catalan version is “En Comú Podems”) and both parties are essentially Spanish unionist, the PSOE bluntly so and the junior partner in practice.
Although the PSC were no doubt aided by having as a candidate Salvador Illa, the former Minister for Health of the current Government of the Spanish State, it seems that some of the votes to elect the PSC came from pro-Spanish unionist Catalans on the Right, deserting their more natural allegiances in order to achieve a strong unionist and Spanish government presence in the Catalan Parlament. The Catalan traditional unionist Right wing took a hammering, losing 31 seats as the PP went down from four to three seats and their upcoming replacement Ciutadants from 36 to just six. But newcomers and more clearly fascist Vox gained eleven seats. In terms of seats alone, as a crude measure, the PSC and Vox gained seats totalled 44, while PP and Cs together lost 31. Looked at that way, it seems clear that the increase of seats for the social-democratic PSC and the fascist Vox came from right-wing unionists, with a gain of another 13 seats unexplained.
The PSC and Vox successes have been of concern to many Catalan independentists. However those parties reflect existing realities in Catalonia with which the independentist republicans will need to grapple. The vote for Vox illustrates quite starkly that much of the base of the allegedly democratic right-wing conservative Ciutadans was in fact fascist, as suspected by more than a few and it is as well to be aware of it and to have that exposed.
The support for the PSC is a wider problem and, while some of it will remain irreconcilably Spanish Unionist for the foreseeable future, there are probably elements among its voters that are capable of being won over to the independentist position.
As noted earlier, the three republican independentist parties have won a comfortable overall majority, in that they have 74 seats between them, six more than the 68 needed for an absolute majority in the 135-seat Parlament. Even if all the Spanish unionist parties vote together, social democrats voting with Right and Far-Right, they can only outvote the Catalan independentists, in the normal course of events, should one of the latter parties join their vote or abstain, which is hard to imagine occurring.
In the last Parlament, the CUP became a left-opposition to the coalition Govern of ERC and JxCat but never joined the unionist parties in voting against the Govern.
Immediately following the announcement of the results, the Communs leader in effect admitted she would try and split the independentist alliance by asking ERC to join with them and with PSC to form “a left-wing government” which is a shameful use of words since the independentist alliance has put forward more proposals of a socialist nature for Catalonia than have been presented by the PSOE in the state, most of them blocked by the Spanish Constitutional Court and the PSOE is in fact now about to renege on the rent controls it had agreed with its coalition partner. However neither its supporters nor the electorate would be likely to forgive ERC’s leadership should they take such a step and whether tempted or not, they will not go there.
Of course, the Spanish State could reduce the Independentist majority by finding some pretext to jail some of their elected members and such a scenario is far from inconceivable, given the nature of the Spanish State and its recent history in Catalunya. But that would be a very high-risk avenue, even for the Spanish State.
The very likely development is for ERC and JxCat to join in a coalition government, with or without CUP (who might choose to remain in opposition but in “confidence and supply” with the Govern, meaning that they would vote for them if necessary to defeat a vote of the unionist opposition). ERC and JxCat are quite deeply divided on how to proceed in relation to the Spanish State. Although ERC has a longer history of Republican opposition and even some armed struggle through the Terra Lliure resistance, and thinks of itself as “Left”, it is JxCat that has been most resolute in its attitude to the Spanish State. ERC wanted to sit down for talks with Sanchez, Prime Minister and leader of the PSOE, even though Sanchez has stated categorically that independence is not up for negotiation; JvCat ridiculed the very idea. When Sanchez needed other party votes to get his Government’s budget through the Cortes (the Spanish Parliament), ERC gave their votes along with the PNV, the Basque Nationalist Party. And now ERC has asked the Spanish Government to authorise a referendum on Catalan independence which, on past performance, can only be denied. In the absence of getting something substantial in return, JxCat refused to give their votes to support the Spanish Government’s budget (as did the Basque independentist members).
Going into the mid-term future, not only will Catalan independence be forbidden by the Spanish ruling class through its State but many of the measures the Catalan Government has agreed to take around social justice, for equality, against bullfighting and so on, will be frustrated by the Spanish State through its upper courts, as before.
There seems no way forward for the Catalan independentists other than at the very least a sustained campaign of civil disobedience to make Catalonia ungovernable by the Spanish State. In such a situation, it is difficult to imagine the Spanish State not sending its military to occupy the nation and repress the resistance. With whatever response that would arouse among Catalans.
The jailing by the Spanish State of Catalan revolutionary socialist poet-rapper Pablo Hasél on 16th February has led to demonstrations and rioting in Barcelona in which both the Guardia Civil of the Spanish State and the Catalunya police, the Mossos d’Escuadra, have been engaged. The Spanish police have fired rubber bullets which are banned in Catalunya while the Mossos have baton-charged ferociously and, firing foam projectiles, took the eye of a 19-year-old woman. The protests are ongoing.
Over 400 visual artists, also of words and music, have signed a demand for the release of Hasél whose jailing has also been condemned by Amnesty International. Pickets in his support have been organised across the southern Basque Country and Navarran regional police, the Forales, fired rubber bullets at a march in Hasél’s support in Iruna (Pamplona). Other places including Madrid have also seen demonstrations protesting the jailing of the rapper.
Hoy, hace un año Dilan Cruz cayó bajo los disparos de la Policía. Un bean bag incrustado en su cráneo, acabó con la vida de este joven. Conocimos luego de los hechos, las fotos sonrientes del fue que buen estudiante, buen muchacho y muy querido por sus compañeros.
Nada en la vida de Dilan fue fácil, nació y se crío en un barrio popular, dejó sus estudios para luego retomarlos y soñaba con entrar a la universidad. Como a muchos colombianos le negaron esa posibilidad, primero por la pobreza y luego por un disparo a su cabeza.
Ni siquiera su muerte fue fácil. No murió en el instante, luchaba contra la muerte varias horas, y luego murió en el Hospital San Ignacio de Bogotá. Ahora muerto, las cosas siguen igual de difíciles para este joven. Todos sabemos el nombre y rango de sus asesino. El verdugo se llama capitán Manuel Cubillos del ESMAD y sigue vinculado a la Policía de Colombia. El anda tranquilo y la familia de Dilan anda angustiada. Hoy en la protesta organizada en el sitio del crimen, la calle 19 con carrera 4ª en Bogotá, la mamá del joven fue clara. “No estamos buscando indemnizaciones sino judicializaciones de los responsables.” Y está claro la responsabilidad no cae únicamente sobre los hombros del ogro Manuel Cubillos, sino sobre el entonces alcalde de Bogotá Peñalosa y el rey de los payasos, el sub presidente Iván Duque.
Pero Colombia está gobernado por un rey de payasos donde la impunidad es reinante y pavonea por las calles armada hasta los dientes, asesinando a diestra y siniestra. El monstruo Manuel Cubillos es apenas uno de los miles de asesinos a sueldo en Bogotá.
Hoy lloramos por Dilan Cruz, y no podemos equipararlo a sus verdugos. Cuando nos pidan llorar por algún policía muerto, recordemos a Dilan y lloremos por él y los 13 jóvenes asesinados luego de la tortura y asesinato de Javier Ordóñez y no por ellos, jamás. Que no nos caiga ni una sola lágrima por ellos, son ellos quienes cada año nos arrancan ríos de sangre y lágrimas.
En honor a Dilan Cruz y todas las víctimas de terrorismo de Estado en Colombia.
A rally outside Leinster House organised by the Irish fascist National Party for Saturday 10th October survived a clash with antifascists thanks only to the protection of a large force of Gardaí. The rally was a continuation of the attempt of the Far-Right in Ireland to use popular frustration over the Government’s haphazard and stop-go restrictions to build up their fascist and racist organisations.
A broad coalition of antifascists, Irish Republicans, Socialists, Communists, LGBT activists etc, led by Antifascist Action Ireland, mobilised a counter-protest to the National Party’s presence. Immediately the counter-protesters arrived, the two forces clashed. The NP supporters were visibly taken aback as the barriers between them and their opponents flew aside or were thrown down, some actually going into the air. Two flash-bangs they threw into the antifascists seemed to have no effect and it was the Gardaí with baton blows that saved the NP. The rally’s banner was seized by antifascists and only retrieved by Gardaí.
The National Party, formed in 2016, are a fascist, racist, homophobic and fundamentalist sectarian Catholic organisation. Their leader Justin Barrett recently commented that when he got into power he would remove the citizenship of the current elected Mayor of Dublin, Ms. Hazel Chu, although she was born and raised in Ireland. The party propagates the “Replacement conspiracy”, where the EU is supposedly planning to replace all Irish people with migrants, proposes hanging for doctors who carry out a pregnancy termination and opposes LGBT equality. A prominent member of their organisation boasted about having organised the mob of up to 60 men who attacked a peaceful counter-protest on Custom House Quay on August 22nd with iron bars and lengths of timber.
With threatening batons and at times striking with them, the Gardaí first of all pushed all the counter-protestors into Molesworth St. where uniformed Gardaí and POU (Public Order Unit) faced off the antifascists, who alternated between shouting at the fascists over the heads of the Gardaí and shouting at the Gardaí themselves, e.g “Garda Blueshirts!”1
At one point POU officers blocked off access to some antifascists who were on the steps of one of the buildings in the street and proceeded to search them but apparently found nothing. They did not conduct searches among the supporters of the NP, who had earlier thrown the flash-bangs and some other missiles at their opponents. Nor were they seen confiscating any flags from the NP supporters, while they wrenched flags from a number of antifascists – including a tricolour on a long fairly fragile carbon plastic rod (shown on Breaking News, which also showed NP supporters in a different photo striking at antifascists with flags that seemed to be on metal rods).
Things could have remained at stasis at that point but the Gardaí several times pushed the antifascists savagely back, a few feet at a time. They were successful in doing so over some metres but it was not made easy for them – there was strong militant resistance and a number of clashes.
During the whole of these interactions after the initial clash with the NP, a number of antifascists were guarding the rear of their numbers and some fascists approaching, presumably latecomers for the rally, were turned away.
At one point it appeared that the Gardaí were mobilising numbers to block off the antifascists’ exit but in response to a call to fall back, the solid mass passed through the Gardaí’s incomplete lines thereby defeating any intention of “kettling” the antifascists and shutting down their mobility.
NP SPEAKERS AND SPEECHES
The fascists chanted “Pedos off our streets!” in response to the antifascists’ calls for “Nazi scum off our streets!” — to the fascists, LGBT people are “paedophiles” and they find it a handy though baseless slogan to throw at all antifascists. The antifascists, apart from regularly chanting also met any attempt at fascist speeches with a barrage of shouts, rhythmic clapping, whistles and booing. Consequently, although the speakers were visible to the antifascists albeit at a distance, the content is known only from media reports.
The speakers were Mick “Chopper” O’Keefe, Rowan Croft (“Tan” Torino)2 and Justin Barrett. According to The Beacon, Barrett claimed that the Government is altering the death figures in relation to COVID-19 in order to justify its actions and that that the virus is part of a wider agenda on the part of “international finance capital”3 to destroy the world’s economies. Barrett insisted that the “restrictions are here to stay” as part of the economy-destroying agenda.
Prior to the event, on social media the NP cautioned its supporters to be friendly towards the Gardaí: “The Gardaí know the reds are scum, remember the migration compact protest: the Gardaí were having the banter with us, they had their batons out for the reds. We need to maintain that dynamic.”
According to the Beacon, Barrett, who beats the law-and-order drum, told the Gardai “you are of us and we are of you”.
FASCISTS CHASED AND REPORTING
After mocking the fascists as they left, the antifascists marched off in apparently the opposite direction, then swung around to pursue the NP supporters. Apart from the Garda circle around the latter, they also threw up a cordon against the antifascists at the Nasseau Street junction with Kildare Street.
The main body of antifascists turned then and marched through the city centre chanting “Fascist scum off our streets” to applause from some bystanders, then rallied at the GPO. Gardaí reported two arrests and it is known that they arrested an antifascist in Moore St for having allegedly confiscated a POU cap back in Molesworth Street. There are rumours that a few unguarded fascists were also met by antifascists to the dismay of the former but these have not been confirmed.
Media reporting varied, from a wildly inaccurate account in Dublin.Live to RTÉ’s equating of both groups on the same level, with the Irish Times giving the very erroneous impression that the NP were as eager to get to grips with the antifascists as the antifascists were with them.
Commenting on the events in a statement later, Anti-Fascist Ireland said: “The NP event was a failed attempt to use current Covid-19 restrictions as a rallying point to attract unsuspecting members of the public who may hold genuine grievances with the lockdown.”
Quoting the London-based Anarchist antifascist Albert Meltzer (1920-1996) “there’s no such thing as a fascist march – only a police march”4 the statement referred to” the massive Garda operation required to ensure the larger anti-fascist mobilisation was kept away from the underwhelming fascist presence.”
Referring to the recent fascist boast of about ‘controlling’ the streets of Dublin, the AFA statement commented that “they seemed genuinely shocked and scared by the sight of hundreds of working-class anti-fascists in Dublin today” and reported that “A nervous Torino was spotted leaving the vicinity immediately after his rant and did not even stay around for Justin Barret’s rambling long speech.”
The statement pointed out that the NP oppose the use of masks to prevent the spread of Covid19 and that their supporters disregard any restrictions. “We know that huge numbers of our supporters did not take to the streets today out of concern for the most vulnerable in society”, the statement continued. Those of us out today did so out of a sense of necessity and true patriotism to protect our country from their dangerous and toxic ideologies.”
The statement concluded: “AFA Ireland is a militant anti-fascist organisation formed in 1991. We believe in physically and ideologically confronting fascism whenever and wherever it rears its ugly head. As always, we encourage all anti-fascist minded people across the island to reach out to us and work together in a militant, disciplined movement against fascism. Profound thanks again to all our members and supporters in the republican, socialist, grassroots, LGBTQ+ and trade union movements.
Beir Bua. La Lucha Continúa. No pasarán.”
FAILURE OF THE LEFT FACILITATED GROWTH OF THE FAR-RIGHT
The National Party is one of a number of similar organisations and parties that make up the Far-Right in the 26 Counties (in addition there are the Loyalists in the Six Counties). There are also the Irish Freedom Party led by Herman Kelly, Síol na hÉireann led by Niall McConnell, QAnon led by Dee Wall (real name Dolores Webster) – who was at the NP rally, Anti-Corruption Ireland led by Gemma O’Doherty and Irish Yellow Vests, led by Glen Miller and Ben Gilroy (who also has his own promotion through the Tiger Reborn FB page). Despite their wide representation on social media, most of these are tiny groups which is why until recently they have been banding together at a number of events and in particular participating in events organised by the more popular Irish Yellow Vests. The IYV have been making a comeback since they fizzled out a couple of years ago after the Islamophobia of Miller, opportunism of Gilroy and racism of some of their supporters was exposed.
The failure of the Irish Left to mount a comprehensive resistance to the attacks of the Irish ruling class on working people over the years and, in particular, its failure to construct an adequate response to the Covid19 pandemic and to the Government’s handling of it has proved a boon to the ‘Vests and they have provided platform and marching space for all the other parts of the Far-Right, including the obvious fascists, but also attracting a number of innocent but confused people.
Recently the ‘Vests have been trying to clean up their image a bit by dumping the likes of O’Doherty, despite having using her notoriety up to now, along with the parties led by Barrett, McConnell and Kelly. And a report in the Examiner recently suggested that the State wished to assist the Vests in gaining popularity, as the report quoted unnamed senior Garda sources alluding to their alleged investigation of the “penetration” of the anti-mask movement “by fascist organisations”. If this is so however, the Gardaí on Saturday seemed to have not yet received the message – unless it was just their old prejudice against Republicans and the Left coming into play.
The media reported that Gardaí were going to “investigate the organisers” of the NP event (pretty obvious really!) and of the antifascist counter-protest. This is a ritual verbal response from a police force which has left the weekly QAnon protest outside the GPO unmolested from the very start of the Covid19 restrictions, while they harassed Debenhams workers’ pickets around the corner in Henry Street and their Special Branch did the same to political prisoner solidarity pickets further down O’Connell St.
1A reference to the fascist movement in 1930s Ireland, the leader of which was the former first Commissioner of the Free State Gardaí.
2Rowan Croft nicknamed himself the “Gran Torino” but has been nicknamed “Tan Torino” by opponents due to his past service in the British Army and possibly also due to his participating in a panel, along with Herman Kelly, with notorious fascist and British Loyalist Jim Dowson.
3This term in the past has been and today too is often a coded expression of anti-semitism and Barrett has let slip some remarks indicating in that direction.
4Based on the experience of antifascists when fascist marches are accompanied or even led by police, as for example in London at Cable Street in 1936 and Lewisham in 1977.
El 18 de agosto, se llevaron a cabo redadas contra partidarios del partido republicano irlandés Saoradh tanto en los Seis Condados ocupados como en el estado irlandés. Las redadas en los Seis Condados fueron coordinadas por el MI5 (Servicio de Inteligencia británica) y las de los 26 Condados (el Estado Irlandés) a instancias de los británicos o planificadas por ellos (el jefe de la Gardaí, Drew Harris, es un exdiputado jefe de de la policía colonial británica, el PSNI y sería un activo del MI5, por lo tanto).
Las redadas en los 26 condados, aunque derribaron violentamente las puertas de las casas y atemorizaron a las parejas y los niños, hasta la fecha no han dado lugar a cargos, pero las de los Seis Condados, facilitadas por un agente del MI5, resultaron en cargos graves y encarcelamiento de ocho. sin fianza en espera de juicio sin jurado en el Tribunal Diplock.
Todos los detenidos en los Seis Condados fueron encarcelados en la cárcel de Maghaberry, teniendo primero que pasar dos semanas en cuarentena en Foyle House. La instalación donde los presos fueron obligados a soportar este período ha sido descrita por los presos como “sucia y ruinosa” y con “cartones de leche pegados a la pared con heces” pero, habiéndolo soportado, fueron trasladados a la población general de presos políticos en Maghaberry.
Uno de los detenidos es el doctor Issam Hijjawi, que tiene problemas de salud por lo cual hace tiempo que buscaba hacerse una resonancia magnética. Finalmente se le concedió y fue trasladado bajo custodia al hospital donde se realizó el procedimiento. Sin embargo, a su regreso, fue nuevamente enviado a Foyle House para pasar otras dos semanas en esas condiciones insalubres, aunque fácilmente podría haber sido acomodado en la cárcel cerca de los otros presos para concluir otras dos semanas de cuarentena allí. Además, la naturaleza punitiva es clara cuando uno se entera de que los funcionarios de prisiones que acompañaron al doctor Issam Hijjawi no estaban obligados a ponerse en cuarentena y cuando la “focalización concertada de molestías que ha sufrido desde que entró en Maghaberry”, según los presos, se lleva a la cuenta.
HUELGAS DE HAMBRE
El doctor Issam Hijjawi se declaró en huelga de hambre en protesta y el 17 de septiembre 20 presos políticos en Roe House Maghaberry y 25 en E3 y E4 en las cárceles de Portloise se embarcaron en una huelga de hambre en solidaridad (tres presas políticas de Hydebank prisión también se incorporó la semana pasada). Se trata de prisioneros que están bajo el cuidado de la IRPWA (Asociación de Bienestar de Presxs Republicanxs de Irlanda), que tiene una estrecha relación con el partido Saoradh.
Saoradh y la IRPWA organizaron piquetes de protesta en varias partes de Irlanda, incluidas Dublín, Belfast, Derry, Tralee, Kilmainham Jail, que contaron con el apoyo de militantes del amplio movimiento republicano y antiimperialista.
Para el 26 de septiembre, el día 11 de la huelga de hambre, también organizaron una protesta frente a la cárcel de Maghaberry, con discursos, cánticos y fuegos artificiales. Más tarde ese mismo día, el PSNI (la policía colonial británica, antes RUC) detuvo a dos de los partidarios de Saoradh, incluido su presidente de la sucursal de Derry, por “comportamiento desenfrenado”, “comportamiento desordenado” y “posesión de fuegos artificiales ilegales”.
Los participantes que iban al estacionamiento para apoyar a los detenidos fueron recibidos por policías coloniales con equipo antidisturbios que, según testigos republicanos, empujaron, golpearon, estrangularon y tiraron del cabello a los manifestantes.
Mientras que los dos republicanos de Derry fueron llevados por la policía colonial a la Unidad de Interrogatorios de Musgrave, más policías coloniales con equipo antidisturbios se trasladaron al campo de solidaridad frente a la cárcel de Maghaberry y detuvieron a dos partidarios del grupo juvenil republicano Éistigí, que también fueron llevados a la Unidad de Musgrave.
Dos días después, el lunes por la mañana, los cuatro comparecieron en el Tribunal de Lisburn a través de un enlace de video de la Unidad Musgrave, donde se les concedió la libertad bajo fianza en condiciones que violaban sus derechos civiles: no se les permite estar en compañía del otro ni en contacto; no deben estar a menos de 100 metros de una protesta o procesión notificada o no notificada; los cuatro hombres tienen que presentarse en un cuartel británico tres veces por semana.
La policía colonial quería aún más, que fueran etiquetados electrónicamente, en el toque de queda de 16.00 a 8.00 y no se les permitiera viajar en ningún “vehículo privado” — pero al final no se impusieron.
Luego, aunque les habían concedido la libertad bajo fianza, los cuatro fueron esposados y llevados a la cárcel, dos a Foyle House (anexo a la cárcel de Maghaberry) donde observaron lo sucias que estaban las celdas y posteriormente ambos fueron despojados a la fuerza y cacheados íntimamente por los guardias de la prisión. Los otros dos detenidos, ambos menores de 21 años, fueron trasladados a Hydebank.
Cuando finalmente fueron liberados, los cuatro detenidos tuvieron que viajar a casa en automóviles separados debido a las condiciones de fianza que se les impusieron, a pesar de que tres de ellos vivían en la misma ciudad. Un automóvil fue seguido por policía, detenido y expulsado a sus ocupantes y el automóvil registrado en Glenshane Pass. Otro fue detenido y registrado en la ciudad de Derry.
Los cuatro manifestantes ahora están recibiendo asesoramiento legal sobre su detención ilegal, cacheo desnudo y encarcelamiento por las fuerzas de la Corona británica.
El Dr. Hijjawi ha sido devuelto ahora a Roe House en Maghaberry y las protestas sobre ese tema han concluido. El carácter político vengativo del aislamiento en Foyle House se ha confirmado con la información de que once presos no republicanos, dos de ellos Lealistas, han estado de viaje fuera de la prisión sin que fueran puestos en cuarentena a su regreso en Foyle House.
PRISIONEROS POLÍTICOS EN IRLANDA HOY
En otro tema, las autoridades penitenciarias de los Veintiséis Condados (Estado de Irlanda), como consecuencia de la pandemia de Covid19, han reducido a la mitad el número de visitantes permitidos y han restringido los horarios de visita de los presos. El preso republicano Kevin Hannaway ha solicitado una revisión judicial de esta restricción alegando que viola sus derechos humanos. En su acción ante el Tribunal Superior, Hannaway afirma que según las reglas de la prisión, un preso tiene derecho a al menos una visita semanal de un familiar o amigo de no menos de 30 minutos de duración. Hannaway fue torturado en 1971 durante la introducción del internamiento sin juicio en los Seis Condados y es uno del grupo conocido como “los hombres encapuchados” porque les mantuvieron encapuchados durante sus días de tortura. Su caso fue dictaminado como tortura en el Tribunal Europeo de Derechos Humanos, pero luego fue modificado, en una apelación del Estado británico, a ser “trato inhumano y degradante”.
El Acuerdo del Viernes Santo de 1998 no vació las cárceles de los presos republicanos irlandeses, aunque los pertenecientes a los Provisionales fueron liberados con licencia y algunos otros aceptaron los términos y fueron liberados de manera similar. Sin embargo, se estaban realizando nuevos arrestos y encarcelamientos de republicanos que no apoyaban el Acuerdo (“disidentes”) y a algunos otros se les revocó la licencia y fueron devueltos a la cárcel sin cargos ni juicio.
Actualmente hay alrededor de 70 prisioneros republicanos irlandeses en cárceles de la autoridad colonial británica y del Estado irlandés. Aunque algunos están en espera de juicio (a veces hasta dos años), la mayoría está cumpliendo condenas, habiendo sido condenados en los Tribunales Especiales sin jurado utilizados para juicios políticos en ambas administraciones. Los problemas de los que se han quejado los presos republicanos incluyen el registro sin ropa, el acoso por parte de los funcionarios de prisiones, la ausencia o las restricciones en las instalaciones educativas y los largos períodos de aislamiento para algunas personas. Algunos presos también se enfrentan a la extradición del estado irlandés a los Seis Condados o al extranjero.
A group of antifascists, broad in composition but not large in numbers, went to counter-protest a rally in Dublin last Saturday and were attacked by a much larger mob, some of them armed, leaving one of the counter-protesters unconscious. The Gardaí then intervened, including members of the Public Order Unit, treating the assailants gently but pushing and shoving the anti-fascists and threatening them with drawn batons. What was all this about?
The event had been called by a rarely–heard-of organisation called Health Freedom Irelandand was advertised as being a “Protest Against Oppressive Government Restrictions and Mandates”, in opposition to Government restrictions around the spread of Covid19, against social distancing and the wearing of masks requirements and against any notion of the implementation of a vaccination program. According to the media, HFI is led by anti-vaccination campaigners Maeve Murran and Kelly Johnston, claiming that vaccination can cause autism.
So one might object to the stated purpose of the rally on health grounds, or intellectually reject the implied conspiracy theories, but why would antifascists specifically want to counter-protest this event? The answer becomes clearer when we examine the organisers of the event, some of the speakers and some of the supporting groups.
The event was to be officially co-hosted by the Irish Yellow Vests, a very small group led by the notorious Islamophobe Glen Miller. He and Ben Gilroy, one of the featured speakers, had tried to bind together such disparate groups as campaigners around the right to housing, water, against the bailouts of the bankers and subsequent austerity measures, evictions, against corruption, State repression — but also those with strange conspiracy theories. As a result the Yellow Vests had briefly enjoyed some support from a cross-section of forces opposed to the Government until Miller’s Islamophobia and the racist agenda of some of his supporters became clear, after which the group faded from the scene (though Miller could occasionally be seen supporting events of the Far-Right, such as in February outside Leinster House, against mooted “anti-hate speech laws”).
One of the speakers to be featured was Dolores Cahill, 2nd in the leadership of the Irish Freedom Party, another small anti-immigration and for a “Catholic Ireland” right-wing party and in attendance was its Chair Jim Corr and PRO Herman Kelly, the latter having in the past been PRO for Farrage’s UKIP and also taken part in a panel with Ulster Loyalist and British fascist Jim Dowson.
Numerous figures of the Far-Right were vociferous in their support for the rally, including activists of the QAnon group who have been taking advantage of the Government restrictions around Covid19 to regularly protest against them outside the GPO, apparently free from any Garda action (while sacked Debenhams workers and their supporters demonstrating around the corner in Henry Street, though masked and observing social distancing, were nevertheless victims of police intimidation and harassment). The QAnon group, including their chief spokesperson Dee Wall and others prominent in the group, also demonstrated recently against the letting of Croke Park to a group of Muslims to celebrate the Eid festival, supporting another Far-Right racist activist, Gemma O’Doherty, who declared her wish to “make Ireland Catholic again” (sic).
Of course, not all the hundreds who attended the rally on Custom House Quay were racists. Just days before, a member of the Irish Government, other politicians and business people, around 80 in total, had attended a parliamentary golf society dinner in Clifden, Galway, in apparent oblivion to all Government restrictions. People who are subjected to those restrictions, unemployed as a result or losing their business, were understandably angry, some even questioning whether the restrictions were really necessary. After all, if prominent people , including a member of the very Government, don’t seem to think them important ….
There are those who are not racists but who believe, contrary to overwhelming scientific evidence, that vaccinations do more harm than good. And there are believers in all kinds of conspiracy theories, other than the rational ones about capitalism and imperialism, who imagine a global conspiracy by dark forces encouraging homosexuality, immigration, etc, etc, allegedly pushed by the Communist Party of China through the UN and the EU! Some of those conspiracy theorists are racist and some are not but all find a welcoming home in the ranks of the Far-Right, whose own official parties and organisations are tiny. Some hard-line fundamentalist Catholics like John Waters, along with strident racist Gemma O’Doherty, seem able to set aside the alleged message of love for humanity in the Christian New Testament and are also embraced by the Far-Right.
Events of the Far-Right are often counter-protested by groups and individuals called together informally, without anyone exercising leadership. This has been the case with counter-protests to Gemma O’Doherty in Dublin, for example and to Niall McConnell, of the tiny fascist party Síol na hÉireann, who was expelled along with his propaganda stall from outside the GPO in an unannounced action some months ago.
Indeed, it has been a remarkable feature of most gatherings of the Far-Right in Dublin at least that no organisation or network has called publicly to oppose them (the one notable exception since 2016 has been the December 2019counter-rally outside Leinster House). None of the main parties of the Irish Left or Republican movement, although all opposed to racism and fascism, have made a public call for those mobilisations.
But in advance of the Custom House Quay event, this time there were two public calls for a counter-protest, one from the Belfast IWWU (International Workers of the World) trade union and the other from the Dublin Republicans Against Fascism network.
A small group of antifascist activists, gathered from such varied sectors as republicans, socialists, anarchists, anti-racism and animal rights met on Eden Quay with the intention of proceeding to mount a counter-protest to the rally.
A PREPLANNED ARMED ATTACK
At the advertised time of 1.30pm the relatively small group of counter-protesters came on to Custom House Quay, on the far side from where the invited speakers were standing. Further along the river wall, a mass of men was gathered, many wearing masks and gloves. Given that the rally was called specifically against Covid19 restrictions and wearing of masks, one must assume a different reason for their wearing them – such as avoiding identification and gloves for concealing fingerprints (which in turn makes it likely that many have fingerprints on Garda records).
According to statements of some of the counter-protesters, they had hardly stepped out on the Custom House Quay from under the railway bridge when they were attacked by the mob. One of the antifascists in the lead was heard to shout “Stand fast!” and then the wave of fascists struck, howling, punching, many wielding metal bars and wooden clubs. As soon as any antifascist went down many assailants joined in on kicking and stamping on him. The antifascists fought back but had no weapons.
Shortly afterwards, the Gardaí – including members of the Public Order Unit — moved in and opened up a space between both groups. According to participant and video evidence, they concentrated their numbers and ferocity on the smaller, unarmed group, the victims of the attack, shouting at them to leave, threatening them with drawn batons and shoving them hard. One of the counter-protesters lay on the ground, apparently unconscious but the police prevented any of his group going to his aid. The Gardaí ceased their pushing and threats only when they had got the counter-protesters about half way along Butt Bridge, by which time they had knocked a number to the ground, whereas their attackers were permitted to remain more or less where they had been, now taunting their victims.
A bizarre aspect of the whole event was the media reporting, with earlier reports making no reference at all to the conflict. Later reports included vague references that in no way described the situation, with a general projection of the Gardaí as an impartial order-keeping force in minor disturbances. An early photograph on the Irish Times website of the Public Order Unit and other Gardaí confronting antifascists on Butt Bridge quickly disappeared. When the conflict was finally described, in a report on Monday by Conor Lally of the Irish Times, allegedly from Garda sources, it was as though the antifascists had preplanned an attack! A few days later, the item was quietly edited.
Some reports, for example of RTÉ and print media, briefly mentioned a “counter-protest” on Butt Bridge, without any mention of how that counter-protest ended up there.
Given that the counter-protest had been promoted on the pages of the Belfast IWW and Dublin Republicans Against Fascism, had either organisation been approached by the media for comment? No, neither had, according to representatives of each.
Ógra Sinn Féin, one of whose members had been knocked unconscious by the armed fascists, posted a very short statement condemning the attack, along with a mention of the Gardaí making four arrests, one for possession of an offensive weapon. Taken in context, that too was bizarre – as though that Garda response was in any way an appropriate one in the circumstances.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Did the antifascists expect what happened?
Perhaps not entirely on the scale of it but according to various individuals who were there, they had all been made aware of the threats on the day and of reports that the fascists were carrying weapons.
“They were informed that we expected to be attacked and that some at least of the fascists were armed,” said a DRAF participant. “They still chose to go ahead. About half of them were women and some very small in stature. Hardly any seemed to have much experience of street fighting. Neverthelss, they chose to go ahead.”
There were also indications prior to the day, as people claiming to be antifascists had engaged in threats and counter-threats with fascists on social media. “Most of those antifascists made threats they couldn’t back up and then didn’t even turn up themselves,” said a young woman who was there in obvious disgust.
“I can’t even begin to express the contempt I feel for that kind of behaviour,” said a Republican who was also there.
An attack on such a scale and preplanned is something new. If the Left had forgotten history and needed a warning about the potential for violence of fascism, they were certainly given a reminder on the 22nd August in Dublin.
How to explain the action of the Gardaí? To threaten, push and shove the unarmed victims of the fascist attack? And their mild confrontation with the armed attackers?
“They knew exactly what they were doing,” according to one of the counter-protesters. “Even before we were attacked it was clear that was the intention of the fascists. They cops allowed the fascists to attack for a few minutes, then moved in, shooing the fascists away and shoving us, shouting and threatening us with waving batons.”
Viewing the video and hearing other accounts bears out her assertions.
What about the four arrests Gardaí made reported by media, one for “offensive weapon” and “three for public order offences”?
Counter-protesters are adamant none of their number were arrested. “There was one arrest at the east end of the bridge about half an hour after the fascist attack but none of that big armed mob that attacked us at the west end of the Quay were touched,” confirmed several.
Was this something new in the behaviour of the Gardaí?
“In scale, yes,” replied a Republican, “but not in essence. “The Gardaí favoured the Far-Right every Saturday at the GPO while they harassed Debenhams pickets around the corner, using Covid19 legislation. They also harassed our pickets about political prisoners a few hundred metres away, quoting the Offences Against the State Act.”
OK, harassment, but toleration of violence?
“A few weeks ago, an antifascist was assaulted in plain view in front of the GPO, even attempting to push him out into the traffic. Four Gardaí rushed over and took him away, questioning him. His assailants? Nothing. A few weeks before that, the Gardaí permitted people from the same group to cross the road and confront antifascists standing in the middle pedestrian reservation. Then one of the fascists walked in among the antifascists and assaulted a Republican who was sitting down; he retaliated and in a minute they were both rolling around in the southbound traffic lane. The Gardaí separated them, in the course of which one of them punched the Republican several times, then escorted the fascist safely back to his group. They didn’t even take his name, never mind charge him.”
Testimony of some participants in a counter-protest to the 11th July Far-Right protest would have given a strong indication too. The Far-Right had mounted a homophobic protest under the guise of being against pedophilia, using certain statements decades ago of the British-based activist Peter Thatchell and the fact that years ago, Roderic O’Gorman (who is gay), long before he became the current Irish Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration, had appeared in a photograph with Thatchell at a Gay Pride parade. The homophobic rally had gained most publicity due to the presence as a speaker of dramatist and TV actor John Connors, who later apologised for his appearance and his words, claiming he had allowed himself to be manipulated by the Far-Right. A very small “March of Innocence” counter-protest had been organised and one of its participants said that even before they got around in view of Leinster House, the Gardaí told them they were not going to protect them. As they neared the rally, they were handled roughly with some blows and shoves by about 40 Far-Right “security”, without interference by the Gardaí, true to their word. The Gardaí only intervened when the Far-Right “security” withdrew and the general mob came forward to attack.
But what could be the reason for such Garda partiality towards the Far Right and hostility towards the antifascists? It is almost as though they see the Far-Right as the legitimate group and the counter-protesters as the problem. Could it be because the police are regularly confronted by some of the same people as are found among the antifascists on issues such as water meter protests, housing, austerity measures, republican prisoners, repression, etc? Or might it be even more sinister? Could it be that the Irish ruling class and State are keeping the fascists handy as a backup, in case they are needed to help cope with resistance to forthcoming austerity measures? Fascists have played that role in a number of countries.
BEIDH LÁ EILE AG AN bPAORACH
The fascists and Far-Right, including a number of the actual participants are crowing about the outcome of this attack on their social media networks.
Was it wise to counter-protest a rally so large with so few? Were the fascists in effect handed a victory?
“It kinda makes me angry when we get criticised for our low numbers,” said one who was there. “Other times, people have complained they didn’t know, hadn’t been informed. This time there was a public call. If we are few it’s because all the other antifascists don’t join in, it’s as simple as that,” she said.
“Are we supposed to just stand by and let them build up and up and do nothing?” asked another. “I don’t want our children and grandchildren to grow up in a fascist or racist country.”
Another expressed the hope that the incident would wake up the wider antifascist, antiracist movement.
“They might be crowing about it now,” said an Irish Republican, referring to the Far-Right, “boasting about how with weapons and twice the numbers they beat a small force of unarmed antifascists, about half of which were women. Although they can’t deny that we didn’t run and it was the cops who pushed us out of there. And they had to work at it too.”
“Beidh lá eile ag an bPaorach”, said a member of Dublin Republicans Against Fascism. It’s a saying in the Irish language – its meaning in essence being ‘There will be another day.’
“Whaaa ?” You wake up suddenly, wondering what was that noise. Your partner sits up beside you. The bedside clock says it’s 5 a.m While you’re still wondering what it was, there’s another crash. Your front door? “The children!” you think, jumping out of bed to protect them, as you hear men bursting into your house, running up the stairs ….. Too late, they’re in the doorway of your bedroom, shouting at you, at your partner, pointing guns at you … you can hear one of the children screaming ….
On Tuesday this week, 18th August, members of the Garda Armed Response Unit raided the homes of Irish Republicans in Dublin, Cork, Laois and Kerry, smashing through the front doors of their houses, frightening children ….
They took away laptops, phones, paperwork (including children’s school work and test results). In helpless rage or frightened, their victims could only watch ……. they were outnumbered and the invaders of their homes were armed.
Much more than an information-gathering exercise, this was a brutal act of State terror, to intimidate Republican activists, terrify their partners and children.
On the other side of the British Border, the counterparts of the Gardaí, the PSNI, armed British colonial police, raided Republican centres in Belfast, Derry, Dungannon and Lurgan, turning the places upside down, confiscating electronic equipment and documents. On Tuesday 18th, they also detained people, holding seven men and two women without charge and, according to a legal firm acting for some of the victims, were intending to hold them for further five days without charge.
The activists subjected to the early morning raids by the Garda Armed Response Unit are all supporters of the socialist Republican organisation Saoradh and it was their centres that were raided by the PSNI. For months members have had their cars stopped by the PSNI and searched as they went about their lives. The raiding parties claimed to be searching for evidence of involvement in “the New IRA” (a previously unheard of organisation).
SHAMEFUL REPORTING AND FELON-SETTING
The media reporting on this was a shameful exercise in parroting the line of the States involved, giving the victims no voice to tie the “New IRA” (sic) in with the killing of Lyra McKee, which has never been proven and going further to call it “murder” (i.e intentional homicide) which has not been proven either (and was most likely unintentional – an organisation calling itself the “IRA” did claim the shooting and stated the killing was accidental).
Irish newspapers quoted Sinn Féin fears of bomb attacks on them by the organisation on the basis of information they allegedly received from the PSNI, which is dubious reporting at best (hearsay second-hand from an unverifiable source) and absolutely shameful felon-setting collaboration from Provisional Sinn Féin. BBC reporting to its credit did not report the PSF-PSNI allegations, nor call the killing of Lyra McKee “murder”, though it did link “the New IRA” to her killing and also prejudged the detained (who have not even been charged), calling them the “New IRA nine”; interestingly, the report gave MI5 as the source for the intelligence upon which the raids were allegedly based.
The linking of the raids both sides of the Border on the proclaimed basis of information from the British secret service, MI5, raises questions not only about democratic rights and the powers of the states in question but even about the alleged independence of the Irish State. It intensifies the speculation that was rife when Drew Harris was appointed Garda Commissioner, having come straight from the PSNI, with allegations that he was an MI5 asset.
What should be our response to these raids, as Irish Republicans, as Socialists or as just plain Democratic people? Clearly it should be solidarity with the victims and condemnation of the attacks by the states. Of whatever the states may or may not suspect the organisation, according to the alleged democratic system, they are supposed to charge them or leave them alone. We are not supposed to tolerate the states deciding they don’t like an organisation or consider it “dangerous” and on that basis set out to harass and intimidate them and terrorise their families. States where that can happen are not democratic and we are all vulnerable to those assumptions of secret services and the actions of police forces. Gárdaí acting in this manner led to the unjust jailing of the IRSP Three, the false confession forced out of Joanna Hayes and her family, the harassment of the McBrearties, etc. In Britain it led to the jailing of a score of innocent Irish people in five different cases in the 1970s (including the Birmingham Six) under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and, in fact, the successor of that Act is now the Terrorism Act in the UK, the one under which nine Republicans are detained currently in the British colony.
It is not too difficult to proclaim one’s solidarity with struggles far from home, particularly when they gather a lot of international support. It is a different matter to stand in solidarity with the victims of the State at home. It is also more of a test when one may not agree with the ideology or some of the actions of those persecuted by the State. But if we do not stand in solidarity with victims of the State, we are telling it, in effect, that it may continue acting in the way it is doing, until the early morning we wake to our own doors being battered down, our own partner and children being terrorised and ourselves sitting in cells without daylight being deprived of sleep and interrogated without access to solicitor, family or our own doctor.
On June 24th, as the repressive Offences Against the State Act was up for debate in the Dáil, it was voted for renewal by TDs of the Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green parties, along with Labour, while only a Solidarity/People Before Profit and two Independent TDs voted against. For the first time since Sinn Féin had TDs present in the Dáil in 1997, they abstained in the vote. They failed to vote against an undemocratic Act that was brought into being precisely to repress their own political ancestors.
The Offences Against the State Act was made law by the De Valera Government (Fianna Fáil) in 1939 and 1940 to nullify the writ of habeas corpus served by Seán McBride (Irish Republican, former IRA officer and later one of the founders of Amnesty International) which gained the release of IRA prisoners interned without trial under the previous Emergency Powers Act 1939. The Act established the Special Criminal Court which processed the rearrested internees and sent them back to prison and concentration camp in the Curragh.
BRITISH INTELLIGENCE FATAL BOMBING HELPED TOUGHEN LAW AGAINST REPUBLICANS
In 1972 the Fianna Fáil Government sought to strengthen the Act even further, among other attacks on civil liberties to permit an inference of guilt by the Special Criminal Court from refusal to answer questions by the Gardaí, along with the taking of a senior Garda officer’s word, unsupported by any substantial evidence, as the main “proof” of membership of an illegal organisation. However, the forecast looked bad for the Government since the Labour Party and Fine Gael were predicted to vote the Amendment down. During the debate, two bombs exploded in Dublin killing two Dublin public transport workers and injuring a number of others, some horrifically (two years later a similar bombing team was to kill 33 and injure around 260 in Dublin and Monaghan). The 1972 explosions, most likely the work of Loyalists working with British Intelligence, were blamed on the IRA and the opposition to the Amendment crumbled, ensuring it passed into law — and there it has remained.
The Act empowers the Government to bring internment without trial into force by order (i.e without debate, even if the Government should be a minority one). Among its powers the OAS permits the State to ban organisations and subsequently (with its 1972 Amendment) jail people for membership of said organisation, the unsupported testimony of a Garda not below the rank of Chief Superintendent being considered prima facie evidence of said membership.
In a state where trials of all indictable offences under criminal law are by jury with a judge presiding, the Special Criminal Court is a non-jury court. Virtually all Irish Republicans serving time in prisons of the State have been convicted in the SCC, where even the unsupported word of a senior Garda officer is considered important proof and the standard of additional evidence required is very low. As one might expect in such conditions, the conviction rate is unusually high. On the charge of “membership of an illegal organisation” and largely on the word of senior Garda officer, conviction is almost certain and becomes an easy way to remove Irish Republican activists from circulation for the standard two years.
“GREATEST MISCARRIAGE OF JUSTICE IN THE IRISH STATE”
In two trials in 1978, the Special Criminal Court, in what has been called “the greatest miscarriage of justice of the Irish State”, tried and sentenced three Republicans to long terms of imprisonment for a mail train robbery at Sallins in which they had played no part. The judges in the Court chose to believe what 12 jurors would likely not have done: that the defendants had voluntarily confessed to actions they had not committed, that they had not been beaten by Gardaí and that the defendants’ bruising had been self-inflicted. The Garda “Heavy Gang” went on to obtain “voluntary confessions” from others, including Joanna Hayes and her relations in the “Kerry Babies” case, later also cleared and recipients of a Government apology in 2019. Those convicted of the Sallins mail train robbery were eventually cleared and released. The circumstances of those false “voluntary confessions” accepted by the SCC have never been investigated.
In 2001 Colm Murphy was convicted in the Special Criminal Court of conspiracy to cause a bombing on the basis of Garda evidence which Murphy said was untrue — but the judges chose to believe the Gardaí. The Court of Appeal ordered a retrial when it was shown that the Gardaí’s notes had been fabricated and Murphy was cleared in the SCC in 2010.
In 2003 Michael McKevitt was convicted in the Special Court of leadership of the Real IRA on evidence widely believed not to have met the standard necessary for conviction, including that given by a paid informer. McKevitt is still serving his 20-year sentence.
Although the title of the Court includes the word “criminal” it was clearly created for political purposes and until 1998 all but one of its trials have been of Irish Republicans. That did not prevent the TDs of the Greens, a party with a record of previous opposition to the Act, using gang crime along with Labour as an excuse for voting for the Act’s renewal during the recent debate.
“THE SPECIAL BRANCH ACT”
The granting of wide powers to the State to use against their political opponents has resulted in even those powers being regularly exceeded. Without ever even charging anyone with any crime, the Act has been used by generations of the Special Branch, the political police renamed the Special Detective Unit, to harass and intimidate Republican activists and their supporters. People have been approached and their contact details demanded by these secret police when they have attended a protest picket or rally, public meeting, visited a Republican office or were observed talking to a Republican. People have been searched in the street, had their vehicles stopped and searched also.
Sellers and distributors of Republican newspapers have been harassed and threatened. Without any authorisation even by the Act, officers have approached parents of young activists and their school or college, as well as the place of employment of older activists, to express their concern at the activity or associations of the activists concerned. Officers of the special unit, all of which go armed, have displayed their weapons on occasion to intimidate Republicans (on one famous occasion discharging their firearm in a busy shop). They have filmed and photographed Republicans without any legal right to do so, followed them around, sat obtrusively outside their offices and even their homes, often day after day for months or even years. So widely have the secret police of the Irish State come to see the Act as entitling their intimidation and file-building that when, at a recent Dublin picket about political prisoners, a Republican asked what legal authority the officer had for harassing him, the man replied in all seriousness: “Special Branch Act.”
But on the 24th June, only three TDs voted against the Act’s renewal: Mick Barry (Solidarity/ People Before Profit), Michael MacNamara (Independent, formerly Labour) and Thomas Pringle (Independent). Two TD abstentions were recorded: Pa Daly and Martin Kenny (both Sinn Féin).
“UNTENABLE IN A DEMOCRACY”
Traditionally, Sinn Féin, along with other Irish Republicans, have opposed this undemocratic repressive legislation. But not just SF, also the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Amnesty International, Irish and international jurists and UN Rapporteurs and Committees on democratic rights of the United Nations. And not just once but a number of times. The following statement was released by the ICCL in the week before the debate.
23 June 2020
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), ahead of the mooted renewal of the Offences Against the State Act next week and the Dáil debate tomorrow, renews our call for repeal of the Act and with it the abolition of the non-jury Special Criminal Court.
There is no jury at the Special Criminal Court and it accepts secret evidence from gardaí. This is in violation of our right to a fair trial, our right to trial by jury and our right to equality before the law. ICCL has opposed both the Act and the Court since their introduction to deal with a terrorist threat in 1972. We continue to strongly oppose these emergency measures which have now become the norm in dealing with organised crime.
ICCL’s Executive Director, Liam Herrick, said:
“It’s untenable that in a democracy like ours, which prides itself on its human rights record abroad, a law and court like these can exist.
The State contends that it needs the Special in order to protect juries but it has never considered alternatives to abandoning jury trial.”
The protection of jury members is of deep concern to ICCL. But the State has never demonstrated, as required by human rights law, that alternatives to a non-jury trial are ineffective. There are a number of obvious options for protecting juries such as anonymising juries, the use of video link for juries, or granting special protections for juries.
Last year at the Special Criminal Court, Judge Tara Burns acquitted two men of IRA membership after the head of the Garda Special Detective Unit refused to disclose underlying evidence pertaining to “belief evidence” to the prosecution. This meant gardaí were seeking a conviction without disclosing evidence to the defendant’s legal team, the Court or the DPP. ICCL welcomed the Judge’s decision but the case revealed some concerning attitudes and practices at the Court.
ICCL is not alone in our opposition to the Special Criminal Court. Various UN human rights independent experts and the UN Human Rights Committee have repeatedly declared the State to be in violation of its human rights obligations because of the continued use of the Court beyond the emergency it was designed to address. Eminent Irish legal experts, Mr. Justice Hederman, Professor Dermot Walsh and Professor William Binchy have also called for abolition of the Court.
At its introduction in 1972, the Special Criminal Court was considered a radical and purely temporary departure from the norm. Forty years have passed since then. It’s time for its abolition. Statement ends.
Defenders of Sinn Féin have said that dropping opposition to the OAS from their election program for government and even after their party won the highest number of elected TDs (delegates) in the February 2020 General Election, was purely a temporary tactical one. Presumably this decision was in response to Mícheál Martin’s statement last year that Sinn Féin was not a legitimate choice for government because they were against the Act.
Not a legitimate choice for whom? one might ask. Do the mass of working people in the country want this undemocratic Act in place? Not that they were ever asked by any Irish Government! Now there was an opportunity to put this before the electorate — but it is not the opinion of the mass of working people that Sinn Féin worries about but that of the ruling class and their media hounds.
When however the two main parties of the Irish Gombeen capitalist class went into coalition with the “alternative” Green Party in order to exclude Sinn Féin from government – and one might have thought SF had nothing now to lose by voting against the renewal of the OAS – even then they failed to oppose it. Some say SF’s tacticians expected the negotiations between the other parties to collapse and then to be able to put themselves forward as a credible alternative. But again, credible to whom?
For years now, Sinn Féin has been at pains to demonstrate that it is a safe pair of hands for Irish capitalism (which entails also being safe for foreign capitalism and British colonialism). It is not necessarily a question of supporting armed struggle or not but to enter into the administration of an invader, as SF did in 2007 when it became part of the British colony’s government, would for most patriots and anti-imperialists be considered a clear crossing of the line. After WW2 many liberated countries executed a number of those who had taken part in such administrations and from one example, a new adjective entered the English language: “quisling”.
Sinn Féin has gone even further now to show the Irish ruling classes and both states that their panoply of repression on both sides of the British Border is safe: undemocratic legislation granting special powers to the police, politicised police forces and special non-jury courts with low quality “proof” required for convictions.
It is understandable with so little viable alternative choice that so many voted for SF candidates in February and in fact, would probably have elected even more had the party fielded sufficient candidates. All the other main parties and even the Greens have been in Government previously, all have approved bank bailouts and austerity budgets.
Sinn Féin is the only major party who had not been in Government and those who wanted to see them in practice had a reasonable point. But seeing them in “opposition” is also instructive. A political party that is so afraid of the ruling class and its media that even in opposition it will not vote against undemocratic repressive legislation and instruments, that were brought in precisely against its own earlier members and supporters – is not going to be braver in government, when it will inevitably be in a coalition with a capitalist party or parties.
However, the undemocratic Offences Against the State Act and its non-jury Special Courts remain and must be opposed. The struggle against them will continue to be waged by its victims, currently the “dissident” Republicans and by people and bodies concerned with civil rights. As the State encounters increasing resistance to austerity measures it may well be that it will widen the list of targets of this Act to include social and economic campaigners, as it was rumoured considering against the Jobstown water protest defendants in 2017, all of whom were cleared by the jury who did not believe Garda witness lies (exposed by recordings).
It is essential to oppose this Act and a wider opposition to it needs to be built – one that does not depend on false friends.
Looking back along the road we’ve travelled, I can see we have come a long way to get where we are today. I’ve traveled a long way. I was very young then, when I started. We all were. In particular, I remember, Carl and Eva and I, we were in secondary school, fifteen years of age.
We discussed the situation often and pretty quickly became revolutionaries. We knew people in the Party – well, we called it the Old Party after awhile, you’ll see why soon. Yes and they wanted to recruit us. If enough of us joined them, voted for them, they would be able to change things, they told us. And they had some credibility because some of them had fought in the old days, when things were even worse. Some had lost relatives killed and some had gone to jail.
But we were not taken in, we weren’t fooled. It wasn’t just that theirs looked a really slow way to change things; we didn’t believe it would ever succeed. And we thought they knew that, deep inside and were just prepared to settle for things much as they were. Make the best of it (which for some of them meant shady deals and lining their pockets).
And we were never going to do that.
We weren’t in the armed group, the three of us but we supported them. The armed group were our heroes, the sharp end of our resistance. Over time they would weaken our oppressors and in the end we’d get the freedom we wanted. And these young men and women, they really fought. They paid for their resistance too; plenty of them were killed and if caught, they were tortured and sent to jail for really long sentences.
We delighted in their successes, marched in their funerals, supported them in their struggles in the jails and, later, honoured them when eventually they were released. We did the best we could ourselves against the oppression and general injustice but without actually taking up the gun: put up posters, painted graffiti slogans on wall, held protest marches and pickets, gave out leaflets, held public meetings. Of course, the oppressors went after us and we were out there, in plain sight, more or less.
Our oppressors had made some laws under which they could declare just about anything we did illegal. Unless we sat at home and did nothing. Or joined the Old Party. They called that group of laws the Anti-Terrorist Legislation.
ARREST AND TORTURE
One night while were out postering in memory of a couple of our martyrs, on the anniversary of their being killed by the police, we got caught. They gave us a bit of a beating and took us to the police station, telling us on the way what they were going to do to us.
Under the ATL they could keep us in a police station for five days without access to any of our friends and relatives or even a lawyer. I’m sorry to say they broke me in the first 24 hours. You might think that was a pretty short period – it didn’t seem like it at the time. Being held in a dark windowless cell, hooded, being threatened with all kinds of horrible things you know they can do, listening to the screams of other people having some of those things done to them, having a plastic bag put over your head until you can’t breathe anymore and you feel sure you’re going to die, your lungs straining ….. It’s amazing how long 24 hours can seem. And even if you lasted that 24 hours, you knew there were another 96 hours to go after that.
Yes, I signed a “confession”, what they told me to say. According to the confession, we were honouring the martyrs because they wanted to overthrow the State, which is why we were putting up posters about them. We wanted more people to join the fighters to help recruitment. Not really about honouring their memory at all. “Glorifying and Supporting Terrorism” was what I was going to be charged with which, if convicted, would get me three years in jail. And the others: my “confession” was not only about me but about Eva and Carl too.
After I signed the “confession” they left me more or less alone but somewhere I could hear shouting and screaming. I thought it might be Eva and Carl, hoped it wasn’t. And I still had to wear a hood whenever any of the guards came in the cell or their doctor examined me. Well, they told me he was a doctor. I told him I felt ok – I knew the guards were listening and I’d get repeat treatment if I said anything against them. And it wouldn’t do any good anyway.
By the third day, or what I thought might the third day, I didn’t hear what sounded like a female screaming any more but could still hear shouting. And sometimes someone crying.
I know it was the fifth day when they brought us to court, put us all in the same cell, waiting for our trial to start. Eva and Carl looked pretty rough and I suppose I did a bit too. Eva burst into tears and told us she had signed a confession against us after the second day. We put our arms around her and held her while she cried. I admitted I had signed too, assuming we all had. I didn’t say I had only held out for about 24 hours, though.
Well, women detainees, they get it especially hard. As well as the rest of it, they are kept naked or semi-naked and, if on their monthly periods, refused tampons or cloths. They are fondled in their private parts, threatened with rape, humiliated and sometimes have something pushed inside them ….. The police don’t do things like that to male detainees ….. well, occasionally, if they know one is gay ….
The shock was that Carl had not signed a confession – he hadn’t broken. So how come they had brought him to trial early on the fifth day with the rest of us? Well, they must have decided he wasn’t going to break; apparently most people break by the fourth day, which is why the limit is set at five. And anyway they had our statements implicating him.
We swore we would retract our statements during the trial, declare they had been obtained under torture. That would invalidate the statements, surely?
We were tried together in a special Anti-Terrorist Legislation court. One judge, no jury. No public. We had lawyers our family and friends had got for us but they were only given five minutes with us before the trial. The Prosecutor produced the statements against us all, those of the police who arrested us and my “confession” and Eva’s. Lied through their teeth that we had made them voluntarily. They produced a statement too for Carl but his lawyer objected it didn’t have his signature, so the police couldn’t show that they hadn’t made it all up.
When we gave our evidence, Carl denied he had made any statement whatsoever and we retracted ours, talked about the torture we had suffered. Eva was magnificent, denouncing them through her tears and shaking. The Prosecutor brought the police back to testify who of course denied not only the torture but any kind of coercion. Some of them even appeared shocked at the allegations. And the doctor – his voice sounded familiar so he probably had been the man who had “examined” me — said I had made no complaint (true) and had seemed calm and rested (not possible).
The courtroom is a funny place. Things the whole world knows are not true appear reasonable while the preposterous can seem logical. Not only had they not tortured us, the police witnesses said, but they had never heard of it being done. So why had we made such detailed statements and then retracted them, accusing them of torture. Well, they were mystified about that. Except …. some had heard that this was a propaganda tactic popular among our group, to smear the police. But why then had we given them a statement at all …. well, at least two of us? Skilled interviewing, was the reply. Trained interrogators, going over the suspect’s stories again and again, exposing every contradiction.
The only thing skilled about them was in making sure they stopped short of killing us and generally left no bruises, especially on our faces. Oh yeah, and the acting in court – that was very skilled.
The case against us, with our repudiation of the statements, should have got us at most a few months or maybe even a fine for postering agitational material on public property. Eva and I got three years each, while Carl got nearly four. I suppose the fact they hadn’t broken him pissed them off and they made out he was our leader so the judge gave him extra.
Prison was bad but it was a relief after the police station. They moved us around jails a few times over the years, we didn’t often see one another and our families and friends had to travel long distances to visit us. When they were permitted to or we hadn’t been moved the day before the visit. We learned later, though no-one told us at the time, that Carl’s aunt had a serious accident on the motorway. Long distances, tiring, unaccustomed to motorway driving, bad luck …. With a couple of operations and time, she was able to walk again but the family had to invent excuses why she couldn’t visit him, especially because they had always been close.
Most of the prison warders were hostile but some were sadists, constantly trying to provoke me, finding ways to frustrate whatever little pleasure or diversion I was permitted. Sometimes it was “too wet” to go in the exercise yard for my permitted two hours daily. Sometimes the library was “closed for stocktaking” or “due to staff shortages.” All prisoner mail is opened before being given to or sent by the prisoner but sometimes I got a letter that looked like it had been spat on. Or it smelled bad. Often, it would be two weeks later than the date stamp. Some letters were returned to the sender, I learned later, marked “UNSUITABLE”. I had one returned to me, although I was always careful what I wrote, this one marked “BREACHING PRISON SECURITY” — I had made some remarks about the prison food.
Some of the social prisoners were ok whenever I was in contact with them, some were hostile, seemed fascist. Sometimes a warder would make comments about me in the hearing of those kinds of prisoners. Anytime out of my cell I felt I had to be alert, with 180 degrees vision.
I did physical exercises in my cell to keep my body healthy and studied for the sake of my mind. Law was the subject I studied most, so I could represent activists in court and file motions and so on but I also studied politics and economics.
When I got out, I enrolled in a law studies course. I wrote to Carl – I hadn’t been allowed to previously. From his letters, he seemed ok but you never know for sure, do you? Not when you know the letters have to pass the prison censor and the prisoner has to keep up a strong front also. I met Eva too, she was released same time as I but a long distance away; she was subdued, a kind of frightened look in her eyes. Not surprising but she still kept in the movement, though we each took a step back from the more illegal street work, where we could be isolated – like postering. I qualified to practice law at a basic level.
THE POLITICAL PARTY
We began to discuss founding a political party and standing in elections. The armed struggle would go on, we thought, but over time we could push the Old Party back, take a lot of their votes. After all, what were they doing (except some of their leaders and contacts lining their pockets)? We could really expose them with our policies.
So we formed a political party, a New Party, for which we had to agree to respect the Constitution. We were doing well but, just before the elections, our party was disqualified by the State. “Connections with terrorism” was the reason given. We were furious and so were our supporters. And we formed another party. The State disqualified that one and, for good measure, banned it. Now one could go to jail for being a member.
This kind of thing went on over years, different versions of the New Party and more people going to jail and we rarely got a chance to stand in elections, much less to build up momentum.
We tried forming a coalition with some more moderate elements, even some we had called “collaborationist” in the old days but the State said we would have to denounce the armed struggle to be a legal constitutional party. We couldn’t do that because we’d be turning our back on not only our martyrs but on hundreds of activists in jail. And our own people wouldn’t stand for it. By this time I had risen to General Secretary of our underground Party.
After long discussions with the leaders of the armed wing, eventually we all agreed to announce an end to the armed struggle and to hope for the legalisation of our Party and early release of prisoners. It was a hard decision but not as hard as one might think because we were all pretty worn down and our military wing hadn’t been doing all that well for some time. The State had penetrated both sides of our movement with agents and people turned informer — hundreds were in jail or awaiting trial.
What was harder was getting our supporters to agree but by managing a few meetings, ensuring we had people with a militant reputation to speak in favour of the plan, ensuring people for the idea got more time to talk than those who didn’t and a few other things, we got it through. Besides, a lot of them believed us when we whispered that it was all a game to fool our oppressors.
Eventually, after we declared our total opposition to any armed struggle and total commitment to the electoral process, we got legalised and now we are chipping away at the Old Party, though it looks like it may take a long time to supplant them.
But some of the young people, and some older ones like Carl, are saying we have compromised too much, that the road we’ve chosen is too long and anyway is never going to get us justice. These people do things we’d rather they didn’t, that we’ve dropped, like illegal postering and spraying slogans, holding illegal commemorations for martyrs, protest marches, getting into trouble with the police ….. Making us look bad.
And what’s more, unbelievable as it might seem, they’re calling us “The Old Party”!!!