Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time main text: 7 mins)

Across Europe, Deliveroo riders have been organising and protesting about their lack of employment rights and low pay. In April the riders struck and protested in Britain while in May, they won a number of victories against the company in the courts of the Spanish state. In February, a group of 25 drivers for Uber taxis won a UK Supreme Court decision that they are employees and not self-employed. Also, last month agency contract workers cleaning rooms for the second-largest hotel in Paris won a struggle too, with pay rise, reduced workloads, overtime pay and two sacked workers reinstated. These are important victories for the workers involved themselves but are also important in precedent and example for all workers in these kinds of precarious employment conditions and ultimately for all workers everywhere.

Victory celebration by Ibis housekeeping worker picketers on the street last month. (Source photo: Internet)


In Britain, as the fast-food delivery company Deliveroo floated itself for public shares, its riders staged public protests and strikes demanding decent working conditions and pay. Speaking ahead of the planned campaign, organiser Alex Marshall of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain stated: “They said it couldn’t be done but by getting organised and speaking out, riders have triggered a domino effect which already slashed £3bn from Deliveroo’s valuation and that should give pause to any corporation that thinks precarious workers can be endlessly exploited without consequence.” Subsequently strikes and demonstrations were held in cities across Britain.

Deliveroo workers in protest Barcelona 2017 before setting up the riders’ cooperative in 2018 (Photo sourced: Internet)

Deliveroo riders have been organising over recent years in a number of countries, holding public protests, strikes and calling one-day boycotts. In Barcelona, Deliveroo, Uber and Glovo Eats’ dissatisfied riders or sacked for organising set up their own cooperative in 2018. Last month the Spanish state’s state’s Supreme Court, having denied Deliveroo’s contention that their riders are self-employed, once again reiterated their position on 25th May, which means that their riders are entitled to employment contracts with paid holidays, sick pay and pensions (see article below).

Deliveroo Riders Protest at Place de la Republique, Paris August 2019 (Photo credit: Jacques Demarthon AFP)

Spanish Supreme Court reiterates that Deliveroo riders are company employees, not self-employed.

Alejandra De la Fuente in (translation by D. Breatnach from Castillian)

MADRID 05/26/2021 16: 39EFE

The Supreme Court rejected the appeal filed by the fast food delivery company, Deliveroo against a January 2020 ruling – which classified more than 500 of its delivery riders in Madrid as “false self-employed” – and has confirmed its conclusions.

The ruling, to which Efe had access this Wednesday, recalls that the Supreme Court already unified its judgement in September 2020, when it ruled in a similar case — although then the defendant was Glovo — that the relationship between these platforms and their riders is actually of a labour nature.

Company sources recalled that the events judged took place between 2015 and 2017 — when it began to operate in Spain — and maintained that its relationship with the delivery riders has changed since then.

The Supreme Court’s decision not to admit Deliveroo’s appealto unify judgements endorses the position of the Superior Court of Justice (TSJ) of Madrid, which already in January of last year rejected an appeal from the company on this same case.

The Court rejected the company’s arguments, including a ruling in its favour obtained in the Cantabrian courts, and stressed that the current position is marked by the ruling of the Supreme Court in September against Glovo by “responding to the new reality that supposes the provision of services through digital platforms “. In their ruling, the judges recall that the Chamber then ruled “in favour of the labour nature of the relationship between the delivery person and the digital platform” after analysing the existing jurisprudence and the “indications of employment” found by the Labour Inspection.

The judgment of the Supreme Court in Madrid specified that one of the key points was that the freedom of the delivery worker not to work “is not as wide as some would like to make out, since if they decline orders (…) they receive a penalty”, which results in fewer services being granted from there and, therefore, their income drops.

It also cited as an argument that the delivery person could not carry out the activity if he only had his own bicycle or mobile phone, since the Deliveroo structure and its platform, which connects customers, restaurants and riders, is essential for the operation.

The delivery company, for its part, issued a statement in which it claims to “respect but not share” the Supreme Court’s decision to “not analyse” the case and insists that the events date back to the period 2015-2017, when it used “a different model of collaboration” with its riders. “This model does not reflect the way in which couriers collaborate with Deliveroo today. This ruling only affects contracts that stopped being used more than three years ago,” these same sources stated.

Home delivery platforms such as Deliveroo, Glovo or Ubereats will be forced to stop using self-employed workers as delivery riders if the so-called Rider Law goes ahead, agreed by the Ministry of Labour with employers and unions. The regulations oblige these companies to use salaried distributors – either with staff contracts, or subcontracting to third parties – and is scheduled to come into force in August.

end news report

Deliveroo riders’ protest Italy, possibly Florence (Photo credit: Getty)
Deliveroo motorcyle riders in East London protest (Photo sourced: Internet)


As much as delivery coordinating companies — the “gig economy” — lower workers’ rights, pay and conditions through false “self-employment”, labour-supplying agencies do so also and supply workers from industrial to healthcare to hospitality sectors, being used not only by private companies but by State departments and municipal authorities too. Workers employed by agencies rarely or even never meet many others employed by their agency, which makes it extremely difficult for them to organise to improve their employment conditions or pay. In addition a number of agencies may supply staff to the same site so that they don’t even have the same employer.

Hotels employ workers for different tasks: service management, finance, reception/ bookings, food/ drink preparation and service, portering, maintenance and housekeeping (room and common area cleaning). Every person who uses hotel accommodation enters a room prepared by staff who will then clean the room after they leave, changing bedding, remaking beds, checking for lost property, emptying bins, replacing towels and bathroom materials, wiping down surfaces, vacuuming etc.

A cold rainy day in Paris during the 2-years struggle of the Ibis housekeeping workers (Photo sourced: Libcom)

While some hotels employ the housekeeping staff directly many, including the large hotels and hotel chains, use staffing agencies to supply them. This arrangement relieves the hotel of responsibility for the employment conditions or pay of these staff while at the same time allowing them to dictate the working arrangements of those workers.

The 700-bed Ibis Batignolles Hotel, the second-largest in Paris uses the Accor and STN agencies to supply its housekeeping staff and in July 2019 twenty of those workers at the hotel began their agitation, complaining of a cleaning workload rate of 3.5 rooms per hour, or one room in 17 minutes, which was forcing them to work at great speed and even on unpaid overtime to complete their allocation. Ten workers who had occupational illnesses and were unable to keep to that workload were threatened with transfer to lower-paid jobs and this precipitated the resistance.

Last month these workers signed an agreement giving them a pay rise, reduced workloads, overtime pay and two sacked workers reinstated.

The Prestige and Budget hotels section of the General Confederation of Labour (CGT-HPE) supported the workers – mostly migrants from sub-Saharan Africa – throughout the struggle and also raised a solidarity fund to support the workers during the course of the strike, raising €240,000 on line. Claude Lévy, leader of the union, who claims more than thirty years of activism commented: “It is the longest strike that I have seen in my career”.

One of the workers, Rachel Keke, speaking to French media said: “We’re proud of what we’ve achieved because we fought through to the end, we never gave up. I kept saying to my colleagues we have to hang on, we’ll win in the end. And now we have this wonderful victory.”

The success of the striking workers directly benefits not just themselves but the working conditions of some sixty subcontractors employed by STN which will be raised now to the level of the workers directly employed by the hotel. The striking workers have also been paid compensation in undisclosed sums.

One unusual feature has been the installation of a card-clock to record the hours worked by each worker, demanded by the workers themselves. A union organiser commented that it was strange to see such clocks that were hated by workers in the past being sought by workers today.

The victory of these Paris Ibis housekeeping workers is indeed notable and will serve as example and encouragement to others in the sector, as one of the workers also said. However, they did not win direct employment and the whole contract labour issue remains to be addressed.

A statement issued by the CGT-HPE praised the struggle of the women but also criticised “collaborators in the union bureaucracy who work against sincere militants to destroy and silence them.”


One cannot pass through any city centre in Ireland without seeing cyclists and sometimes motorcyclists of for example Deliveroo or Just Eat on the road. In addition, there are a large number of courier services at work delivering other items although not always so noticeable.

Delivery companies allocate delivery jobs to the workers on their register. Those workers have to supply their own bikes and mobile phones, get no sickness pay – whether from injury incurred in the course of their work or not – and no holiday pay or pension. Nor are they paid while waiting to be allocated a delivery job.

In Ireland these workers are often migrants who either find it difficult to get other work or for whom such work seems convenient as they don’t intend to stay long (quite often a fallacy, as Irish migrants to other countries can testify, myself included). An important pressure on especially migrant workers is the high cost of rented accommodation in Ireland and particularly in Dublin.

The Spanish Court left Deliveroo and other companies the option not to employ their drivers but instead to contract with a staffing agency to supply the required labour. Staffing agencies supply workers from industrial to healthcare to hospitality sectors, being used not only by private companies but also by State departments and municipal authorities. I’ve been supplied as a worker by agencies for cleaning and social/ health care and had to employ them myself as a manager for staffing cover in hostels for homeless people and drug and alcohol misusers.

Deliveroo riders in Britain in protest March 2021 (Photo sourced: Internet)

As a directly-employed municipal worker and (unpaid) union organiser in London, when my union branch got ready to strike in defence of holiday and sick pay which the municipal authority was planning to cut for the mostly manual services (sanitation, road maintenance and park/ tree etc maintenance), we found this sector was nearly 50% staffed by agency workers. Even had the leaders of their unions been willing to strike, such a weakness in their numbers would have given them pause. Their unions did not join our strike and their workers lost, of course.

Workers in the hospitality industry (bars, hotels, restaurants/ cafés) are historically some of the worst paid with worst conditions and are often female and migrant. As a contract cleaner and kitchen porter on a number of occasions in my working life I can personally testify to this and any examination of available data will verify the facts.

Such workers tend to be in small workforces in individual work-places, even when each such site is part of a chain and for that reason and others are difficult to organise which in turn makes them easier to exploit.

(Photo credit:


Workers in the past fought for and in many cases gained “closed shop” agreements, meaning that every worker employed had to be a member of the union. This was often attacked by liberals as undemocratic but in fact proved necessary to prevent the employer using non-unionised workers to undermine union struggles. Of course, when unionised workers did win struggles, those gains went to the benefit of all workers in the company including the non-unionised and indeed often across wider society. Governments now tend to make “closed shops” illegal (along with another useful weapon, the “sympathy” or solidarity strike).

Just as in the past it has been necessary for workers to defy the laws that forbade organising of trade unions or of strikes, unions today will need to do so in order to remove these restrictions on their ability to effectively improve workers’ conditions and pay. The notion that to preserve the union structure and funds is more important than defending the purpose for which it was founded needs to be challenged.

Many union leaders and officials became complacent and allowed the creeping “agencisation” of workplaces and in doing so abrogated their responsibilities not only to workers employed by agencies but also, in the longer run, to their own directly-employed members. Wide-scale unionisation will need to address and reverse this trend as this sector continues do be a threat to workers’ rights and conditions and in fact even to trade union recruitment.

The Deliveroo decision In the Spanish Supreme Court presumably brings an end to a long legal battle about the status of the workers there which has seen a number of regional court decisions in favour of the the workers, e.g. in Madrid and in Catalonia but a reversal in another region, Cantabria. The Supreme Court has now ruled in the case of Deliveroo and also Glovo: the workers are not self-employed and therefore are entitled to contracts of employment, holiday and sick pay, etc.

The legal process in the UK however went against the workers and in favour of the Deliveroo company until the recent decision of the UK Supreme Court in favour of 25 of Uber’s drivers indicates that it is likely to end up the same with regards to Deliveroo, Just Eats etc (whereupon the Irish courts will probably follow suit).

In the case of the agency workers in Paris, they suffered an initial defeat in the French courts on the issue of in reality working for Ibis rather than the agency but won much of their demands through action at a time when the company wants to be able to take full advantage of the lifting of Covid19 restrictions and the busy tourist season months. The union official Lévy called off an appeal against the French court decision but indicated that the legal process is still one avenue open to them and that the issue needs to be resolved for many other workers.

Although legal cases have long been one avenue of workers’ progress one needs to remember that in a capitalist economic system the legal system favours the rich and also that most legal reforms benefiting workers have been won on the back of direct action, concessions often ultimately motivated by fear of revolution. The Deliveroo struggle was not won in the Spanish courts alone but was supported by a long campaign of demonstrations and even strikes; the Ibis Batignolles struggle was won by a two-year strike and publicity actions.

Victorious Ibis housekeeping workers pose for photo outside the Paris Ibis hotel on the day of their victory (Photo via CGT/ HPE)

A niche for smaller, left-wing unions?

Statistics suggest in Ireland, with a union membership of below 24% (in a country which once had around 40% membership even with much less employment opportunities), that a general union membership recruitment drive is needed now.

While some smaller sections of large unions have done effective work in fighting for the rights of workers in smaller workplaces, or in agencies or “self-employed” areas as in the two main examples cited above, these sectors are often neglected by union organisers who find large workplaces easier or more rewarding in terms of results.

This failure does provide a niche for smaller and possibly specifically left-wing unions which would allow them to grow as well as to make a significant contribution to the unionisation of workers and to improvements in workers’ rights, conditions and pay.Organising these workers will not be easy and may even require bike-riding organisers but the examples above show that success is possible and the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain may be showing the way.


Deliveroo workers protest in London recently (Photo credit: Sky News)


Deliveroo riders

Deliveroo workers’ strike in Britain:

Bureau of Investigative Journalists analysis of Deliveroo’s riders’ pay:

Spanish Supreme Court decision:

France 2019:


Uber drivers UK Supreme Court decision:

Paris Ibis Hotel housekeeping workers’ victory:

and legal status of agency-contracted workers:

Unionisation in Ireland (26 Counties only):


Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 3 mins.)

I recently refused to sign a letter/petition to Irish Americans asking them got get President Biden to look at the “Irish peace process” as an encouragement to for whatever he was to do in Palestine. I was shocked at some of the signatories I saw on this, never imagining that they would support such sentiments.

But as for this article, I agree entirely. I know neither of the authors but for what they have written here I commend them with all my heart. “No justice, no peace” is not just a slogan or a wish but absolute 100% reality.


Israeli Police cordoned off an incident area in the Sheik Jarrah section of Jerusalem, city occupied by Israel since their war of 1967 against Jordan, Egypt and Syria. The Zionists want an all-Jewish Jerusalem (city holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews) and to make it their capital city, which is why they are forcing Palestinians out (one of the two attacks on Palestinians that led directly to the recent “war”). (Photo credit: Ahmad Gharabli/ AFN, via Getty)

Irish Times article:

This is indeed a good article but hardly brilliant — it is pretty much what many have been saying for years about Ireland but marginalised by the authorities and those that bought into the “process”. It IS ‘brilliant’ — and very surprising — that the Irish Times published it.

I concur completely with the authors’ view on Ireland and Palestine and would add every other place on this globe where the imperialists spread that disease they call “peace processes” and, by the way, the Palestinians have already had one dose of it in Madrid and Oslo which hurt them badly and from which they are still working on their recovery. So it is not only misleading but incredibly patronising to say that “it is time the same happened in Palestine” as that letter/ petition did.

The Palestinian movement under the leadership of Al Fatah got conned into this pacification process shortly before the did Irish under the Provisionals. Al Fatah did not get independence or their land or the return of the refugees from the deal but they did get their own colonial ‘home rule’ (the Palestinian Authority) which they ran with nepotism and corruption. The Intifada (Palestinian uprising of civil disobedience, street protests and riots) followed when it became clear nothing fundamental was going to change.

In the first elections afterwards for that colonial home rule in 2006, the normally secular-voting Palestinian public overwhelmingly rejected those they had supported for decades, Al Fatah and voted instead for Muslim fundamentalist Hamas. For the simple reason that it looked to be the only organisation of any size that was going to fight for the Palestinians and not be bought out. Let’s nail that media lie right now: Hamas did not “seize power in Gaza” — they won overwhelmingly in the whole Palestinian territories. It was Al Fatah that tried to seize the power they had lost in the elections — they were allowed to do so on the West Bank but not in Gaza where, after a short and brutal battle, Hamas took the seats which the population had voted them. Whether we dislike them or not, they were the people’s democratic choice. And very likely would be again — it’s just that elections since then have been put off, put off and put off again by Mahmoud Abbas and his supporters, probably in fear of a repeat.

When one resistance movement or organisation fell to the infection of the pacification processes, it was used to try to infect others. So the ANC and Al Fatah representatives attended Provisional Sinn Féin Ard-Fheiseanna (annual congresses), PSF got in with the Otegi leadership of the Abertzale Left in the Basque Country (along with Tony Blair, Bertie Ahern, Kofi Annan and South African players), the PSF and others sold it to the FARC in Colombia, to the Kurds and tried to sell it to the Philippines, Sri Lankans and the Indian movement. None of those last three bought it and are still fighting on, except for the Sri Lankans who were massacred, raped and tortured. The Turks weren’t interested in a deal with the Kurds and the Spanish state didn’t even relocate the Basque prisoners to prisons near their homes, not to speak of releasing them. South African blacks got the vote but in continuing poverty in a very rich state run by the same imperialists and settlers but with corrupt African politician-businessmen sharing in the booty. Colombia got ongoing oppression, repression and shooting of human rights and social campaigners by state-sponsored murder squads.

NOBODY, but NOBODY ANYWHERE got what the people had been fighting for — nor anything near it. But they did get subornation, corruption and collusion among their leadership and fragmentation in their own movement.

The authors of the Irish Times article are absolutely right and “No justice, no peace” is not just a slogan or a wish but absolute 100% reality.



Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time main text: 10 mins.)

Marching in a Palestine solidarity demonstration or standing in some prominent spot in Ireland amidst Palestinian flags, solidarity banners and placards and listening to the beeping of horns in approval from passing traffic is a great feeling. Some visitors from other lands are often surprised at the extent of support here for the Palestinians. “It must be because of the Irish history of fighting colonialism and occupation”, they speculate. And some Irish people will nod eagerly in agreement. But it wasn’t always like this. There was a time when most Irish people sympathised or even empathised with the Israelis. And we need to be aware of that and of the journey the Irish people have made from there to here and how that happened.

Irish solidarity with Palestine rally outside the Israeli Embassy in Dublin, Tuesday 18 May 2021 (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Last night (26 May) the Dáil, the Irish Parliament, declared in unopposed vote that the “illegal”1 Israeli settlements amount to an annexation. The Breaking report on the vote called Ireland “the first EU member state to do so”, hinting that others may follow. And some of the northern European states might, indeed, unhappy with their support for Israeli atrocities through toeing the USA line – but someone always has to be first. The motion, put forward by the Sinn Féin party, passed unopposed, while an amendment by the People Before Profit party calling for the Israeli Ambassador and staff to be expelled2 failed by a comfortable majority of almost two to one. However, 46 Dáil votes in favour of the expulsion of the Israeli Ambassador would have been unthinkable just a few decades ago. The vote and previous cross-party support, with the exception of Fine Gael, predicts a very smooth run for the “Occupied Territories” Bill soon to reach its third and final reading in the Dáil3.

An Israeli Ambassador to Ireland some years ago accused the Irish people of being “the most anti-semitic” in Europe. I think that was around the time of the Israeli Zionist State’s previous war with Gaza in 2014, when the extent of Irish society’s solidarity with the Palestinians was evident and, of course, for a number of decades now the Zionists have been working hard to appropriate Jewry and to daub anyone criticising Israel as being “against Jews”, i.e “anti-semitic”4. However, Maurice Cohen, Chairperson of the Jewish Representative Council was quoted in an Irish Times article that same year saying that there was no major anti-semitism in Ireland and that Irish people were able to distinguish between people who are Jewish and the Israeli State.5

That attitude, of the Irish sympathy with the oppressed Jews not equating support for the Israeli state, required some change, since for decades the majority view been supportive of Israel.

Anti-Semitism in modern Ireland

Christianity has often played a part in whipping up anti-Jewish feeling, using the New Testament story of Jews denouncing the Christ figure and their responsibility for his alleged crucifixion by the Romans. The Catholic and Protestant religions in Ireland played some part in that demonisation. But no notable medieval Irish writer gave us a Jew who would exact a pound of flesh from a human in revengeful debt repayment. Gaelic society had no Jewish ghettoes, no laws against Jews6.

Anti-semitism has existed in Ireland as in all other European countries but not to the extent that it has in some of those countries, for example in England. The 1904 Limerick Boycott or Pogrom is sometimes pointed out to counter such an assessment but the the full story needs to be known. Fr. John Creagh of the Redemptorist Order was an anti-semitic bigot and liar and did succeed in whipping up anti-semitism against the few Jewish families settled in Limerick. But the Bishop of Limerick, Dr. O’Dwyer denounced the bigotry, as did the Church of Ireland Bishop, Thomas Bunbury and a man who assaulted a rabbi was jailed. Nevertheless, the boycott and hostility continued for two years with the support of sections of the media (Limerick Leader, Irish Independent, Munster News)7 and a number of families left Limerick to emigrate from Cork port. However, passing through the city on their way, they were welcomed by people in Cork and given accommodation; such was the welcome that some decided to stay and David Marcus, a novelist and literary editor of the Irish Press and Louis Marcus, filmmaker, were descendants of those refugees, as was Gerald Goldberg, 1977 Mayor of Cork8.

The period of modern active anti-semitism in Ireland was the 1930s which reflected the rise of fascism and attendant anti-semitism around the world. The Catholic Church often saw fascism as a bulwark against atheism and communism and sections of the Irish ruling class regarded it as a defence against advances by the working class and socialism, additionally against Irish republicanism.

The Church and ruling class alliance had crushed the Republican resistance in the Civil War but the Republican movement, despite executions, jailing, internment, exile and repression, remained viable and began to reorganise itself. It did so militarily but also politically and despite the split in Sinn Féin and the formation of Fianna Fáil in 1926, the latter began to pick up electoral support and, by 1932 was in Government, albeit in a minority.9

The previous Government had produced hysterical propaganda against it, even suggesting the party was communist.

The Army Comrades Association, formed to counter Republicans after Fianna Fáil was elected to Government in 1932, went through a number of name changes but has been known as “the Blueshirts” collectively, although they did not adopt the blue shirt as part of their uniform until 1933. Despite their uniform style and “Roman salute” adopted from the Italian fascists, academics and some political activists have denied that the Blueshirts were a fascist organisation. However some of their leaders, including the former Garda Commissioner O’Duffy and a number of Government Ministers and supporters definitely were fascists and anti-semitic.

Blueshirts at Bluebell Cemetery, Dublin County 1934 (Photo sourced: Internet)

Irish Republicans and socialists fought the Blueshirts on the streets. In 1933 the De Valera Government banned a march on Dublin planned by the Blueshirts and later banned the organisation itself, which led to the formation of a right-wing coalition including the Blueshirts to form the Fine Gael political party10.

Irish Republicans and socialists went to fight against Franco in the Spanish Antifascist War (1936-39) and though outnumbered in the order of ten to one by those recruited by the Blueshirts11 to fight for Franco, it was only the Irish fighting on the Republican side who acquitted themselves well, fighting in many major battles and losing about a quarter of their number in action, while the Blueshirts gained a reputation for drunkenness, lack of discipline or of general military merit and saw little military action.

Shankill Road Belfast contingent of the antifascist socialist Republican Congress, at the annual Republican Wolfe Tone commemoration at Bodenstown, Co. Kildare, 1934. (Photo sourced: Internet)

During WWII the German Nazis ran a radio station, Irland-Redaktion, aimed at the Irish population and even containing some broadcasts in Irish but I gain the impression (without having reviewed its material) that it concentrated on anti-Allies propaganda, in particular probably anti-British and also on maintaining Irish state neutrality. It did contain broadcasts in the Irish language12.



The 1937 Constitution established under De Valera specifically mentioned Judaism in Article 44.1 and protected it from persecution while De Valera himself had good relations with the first Chief Rabbi of Ireland, Chaim Herzog (mentioned later here in relation to the founding of Israel). The State under De Valera remained officially neutral through WWII but, despite the IRA, actively friendly towards the Allies.

Some anti-semitism survived and has been picked up and incorporated in attempts to form fascist groups within Ireland which, since the 1930s defeat of the Blueshirts have been tiny and also prevented from having any great influence in society.13

But most of Irish society, especially after the horrors of the Nazi death-camps became common knowledge after WWII, empathised with the Jews. This continued to be the case as waves of Jewish refugees went to Palestine, often battling British soldiers and police who were trying to stop them landing.14

The State of Israel was created by Jewish settlers on Palestinian land in 1948 and was quickly recognised by two world powers – the USA and the USSR but the Irish state, like many others, was reluctant to follow suit, conscious that Palestine had been an Arab colonial possession or “mandate” of the UK, many of whose possessions around the world were being de-colonised.

In Irish eyes the Israeli Air Force attack on Egypt in 195315, two years before the Irish state was admitted to the United Nations, didn’t help Israel’s case. Israel struck without declaring war in support of the French and British attempt to maintain control of the Suez Canal against an Egyptian government’s intention to nationalise it. And the USA, keen to show that the balance of world powers had changed since WWII, publicly condemned the attack, especially chastising the old colonial powers and previous world masters, the British and French16.

President Nasser of Egypt making a speech (Image sourced: Internet). Nasser led the Egyptian nationalisation of the Suez Canal. (Photo sourced: Internet)

The Irish state of course had friendly relations with the USA but the Zionist State had some important Irish connections too. The Chief Rabbi of Palestine was a Zionist, Yitzhak Herzog – late of Belfast and Dublin, where he had also been Chief Rabbi of Ireland. One of his sons, Chaim Herzog, also a Zionist and though born in Belfast and raised in Dublin, became the 6th President of Israel.

De Valera, former IRA leader, founder of Fianna Fáil, later President of Ireland and friendly with Zionist Chaim Herzog (Photo sourced: Britannica)
Chaim Herzog, Zionist, Chief Rabbi of Ireland and later of Israel, friendly with De Valera. One of his sons was sixth President of Israel (Photo sourced: Internet)

Robert Briscoe (1894-1967), an Irish Republican and Zionist, a former prominent IRA Volunteer and TD (1927-1961 member of the Irish Parliament), twice Lord Mayor of Dublin (1956/’57, 1961/’62)17, not only supported the creation of the Israeli State but was a special adviser to Menachim Begin18 after the Second World War. He advised Begin in the transformation of the terrorist Irgun organisation into a parliamentary political movement in the form of Herut in the new Israeli state; the party later became Likud. Briscoe had also fund-raised for the Irgun in the USA.

Robert Briscoe, former IRA Volunteer and TD, as Lord Mayor of Dublin meeting USA President John F. Kennedy on the latter’s visit to Ireland in 1963 (shortly before Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Texas). (Photo sourced: Internet)

His son, Ben Briscoe (b.1934), also a TD (1965-2002) and Lord Mayor (1988-1989), was a Zionist too. Both Briscoes were members of the Fianna Fáil party, the party most often in government of the Irish state.

Alan Shatter (b.1951), was a Zionist from a Jewish family and TD (1981-2002; 2007-2016) and former member19 of Fine Gael, the party most times in government after Fianna Fáil (and now in coalition with it). Shatter was Minister for Equality and Minister for Defence from 2011 to 2014. Though controversial even within his own party (and at times, Government) Shatter was influential in Irish politics and a public defender of Israel, during the 2009 Gaza War calling an opposing TD “anti-semitic” and on another occasion clashing with Ilan Pappé, expatriate Israeli, anti-Zionist and Professor of History at University of Exeter, England and refuting his scholarship.

Alan Shatter as Minister for Justice with Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan behind him before both were obliged to resign in 2014 over the Garda McCabe whistleblower case. Shatter is a Zionist and defender of the Israeli State who this week alone had a letter defending the state in the Irish Times newspaper. (Photo credit: Brenda Fitzsimmons, Irish Times)


Pathé newsreel film with narration in English was shown regularly in Irish cinemas before WWII and up to the 1970s, sometimes before the main feature film but more often, when two films were shown, between them. Irish audiences on occasion between the end of the War and the founding of the Israeli state, saw British troops and police struggling with Jewish refugees at ports, or ships crammed with refugees being forbidden to land after the War. Even without their own long and recent history with the British, Irish sympathies would naturally go to the refugees, many of them survivors of Nazi death-camps.

The Zionist epic film Exodus starring Paul Newman (1960), purporting to depict the events in the creation of the Israeli State has been credited with being enormously influential in swinging USA popular opinion in support of Israel; it had a significant impact on Irish opinion also. It glorified the Zionist terrorist Haganah organisation (which later became the core of the Israeli Army) and was very anti-British and anti-Arab.

One of the realities of the formation of the Israeli State in 1948, the Nakba (Catastrophe), mass expulsion of Palestinians. (Image sourced: Internet)

Despite whatever concerns might have existed in its upper echelons, the Irish State recognised Israel de jure in 1963.

In 1966 the film Cast a Giant Shadow was produced in the USA and was soon showing in Britain and in Ireland. The film took as its human interest base story that of David Daniel “Mickey” Marcus, a true-life USA Zionist and WWII veteran but in its depiction of the formation of the State of Israel was wildly inaccurate, of course showing none of the massacres or evictions of Palestinians20 carried out by the Zionists, in particular their armed gangs. “Mickey” was a member of one of those terrorist gangs, the Haganah and was played by Kirk Douglas with Senta Berger as the love interest, while even Frank Sinatra, Yul Brynner, John Wayne and Angie Dickinson had cameo roles in the film. Despite its number of Hollywood stars and the support of the Israeli State and their armed forces, it reputedly flopped in terms of financial return on investment.

English language poster for the 1960 Exodus film, featuring Paul Newman at a high point in his career. (Image sourced: Internet)
Cover for the 1966 Cast A Giant Shadow film as a DVD (allegedly deleted and rare, according to EBay advertisement). (Image sourced: Internet)

Both films were popular in Ireland (showing Jewish paramilitaries fighting uniformed British troops and police didn’t hurt) and strengthened feeling of sympathy with Israel.

Also in the 1960s a number of socialist-type communities called “kibbutzim” were established on land in Palestine under Israeli rule and many young people, Jewish and Gentile, went to work in them for some months, out of idealism, to experience change, new cultures, comradeship (and possibly get laid, as the Yanks say).

Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land21 went by permission of the Israeli State and had a very narrow and sanitised experience (if at all) of what life was like there for the Palestinians.

In the 1967 June War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War in Palestine, the media reporting represented the inaccurate image of the plucky little Jewish State fighting against and overcoming aggression by combined Arab states. This was more easily done in the case of the 1973 war when Egypt and Syria attacked first, but the fact was that Israel had been the aggressor in the ‘67 war, striking at Egypt, Jordan and Syria and the Zionists were now in occupation of land conquered in that war.22

All those ingredients together helped create a culture of Irish society friendliness towards the Israeli State and no Israeli Ambassador was complaining at that time of the words of Irish Government Ministers, much less of the general attitude of the Irish population.

The friendly attitude was reflected also in much of the Irish nationalist movement. Irish language supporters and campaigners, who wished to make Irish a language spoken throughout Ireland and not only in the Gaeltacht areas, admired the Israeli State for its achievement in restoring Hebrew as a daily spoken language, a language that for centuries had been used only in religion.23


However, people were beginning to see beyond the pro-Israel narrative. In 1974 the United Nations General Assembly recognised the Palestinian right to self-determination, along with the Palestine Liberation Organisation as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, as did the Arab League. The following year the UN General Assembly recognised Zionism as a racist ideology24 (which was not overturned until 1991).

In the Left and Republican movement

By the late 1960s most left-wing organisations around Europe were clear that the Israeli State was a Zionist one, not legitimate and that the Palestinians were oppressed and fighting a liberation struggle. Official Sinn Féin sent a delegate to conferences in Jordan and Kuwait in 1970/‘71; in 1970 too an article in the party’s weekly United Irishman saw Ireland, like Palestine in a national liberation struggle25. The Official IRA prisoners in Mountjoy Jail supported the Palestinians in their journal An Eochair in 1973 and Palestinians were among the guerrilla groups represented in the second Anti-Imperialist Festival organised by the Officials in July 1976.26

Nevertheless the election manifesto of the Workers’ Party in 1983, successor to Official SF, argued for the recognition of the State of Israel, although that was contrary to party policy and to the involvement of WP members in the Irish Friends of Palestine organisation, which was committed to supporting the PLO. However, party policy was soon publicly and internally reinstated in solidarity with Palestine.

Around this time, the British & Irish Communist Organisation, a small but influential organisation, had a pro-Israel position which however it reversed in the late 1980s, shortly before its demise.

In the 1970s the Provisional Sinn Féin weekly newspaper An Phoblacht often featured articles sympathetic to the Irish struggle from a USA-based correspondent signing himself as Fred Burns O’Brien. An Irish anti-imperialist working in London noted, in one of those articles, a favourable reference to the Israeli state and penned a protest letter to the Republican newspaper, pointing out that the Palestinians and not the Israeli Zionists were the natural allies of the Irish people and of anti-imperialists in general.27 The letter was not published and for some time O’Brien’s articles continued to appear in An Phoblacht.

However, once the Provisionals declared themselves to be in favour of socialism, they became pro-Palestinian and in the 1990s the PLO would have representatives attending Provisional Sinn Féin’s Ard Fheiseanna (Annual Congresses).28

Ireland today – the bloody path to being overwhelmingly pro-Palestinian

Large numbers of Irish people were becoming pro-Palestinian and against the Israeli state from the 1970s onwards, a process that accelerated through the decades.

After an air force, naval and ground artillery bombardment in 1972, Israel’s infantry and armoured forces invaded south Lebanon with the support of its right-wing Christian militia ally. That action resulted in between 1,100-2,000 Palestinian and Lebanese Muslims dead and 100,000-250,000 internally displaced.29

In 1982 the Israeli armed forces were back in Lebanon again, allied to right-wing Lebanese Christian militia. Estimates of Palestinian and Lebanese killed during that conflict vary from 1,100 to other sources quoting about 2,000 killed, most of them Palestinian and Lebanese. From 100,000 to 250,000 people were displaced internally due to the invasion and fighting and that and other events contributed hugely to the ongoing Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). However on this occasion the Israeli armed forces suffered considerable casualties, often in ground struggle with Hizbollah fighting from tunnels.

Massacres of civilians in refugee camps became part of the war in Lebanon, with both Syrian and Israeli culpability.

A scene from the aftermath of the Sabra and Shatila Massacre 1982 facilitated by Israel (Image sourced: Internet)

On 12 August 1976, supported by Syria, Christian Maronite forces managed to overwhelm the Palestinian and leftist militias defending the Tel Al Zaatar refugee camp in east Beirut, which had been under siege since January. The Christian militia massacred 1,000–1,500 civilians, which unleashed heavy criticism against Syria from the Arab World.

Six years later, on 18th September 1982, the right-wing Christian Phalange (also known as Kataeb Party), in the presence and under the protection of the Israeli armed forces, its ally, massacred occupants of the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp in Beirut. Estimates of the number of massacre victims vary with the highest number at 3,500, mostly Palestinians and Lebanese Shiites.

1987 saw the beginning of the First Intifada of strikes, civil disobedience and riots (which did not end until 1991). That year alone 289 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza were killed by Israeli state forces with another 15 by Israeli zionist civilians, while only ten were killed on the Israeli side, six civilians and four of the armed state forces. In addition, Mossad agents shot the Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-Ali in the head in a London street. Overall during the First Intifada the Israeli army killed more than 1,000 Palestinians whilst 164 Israelis were killed.

The Second Intifada began nine years later and ran from 2000 to 2005 with a death-toll of 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis, as well as 64 foreigners.

Unarmed Palestinian women confront armed Israeli soldiers in December 1987, during the first Intifada. (Photo credit: Robert Croma, Mary Scully Reports).

After Hamas won their landslide victory in the 2007 elections to the Palestinian Authority, Al Fatah denied them taking administrative power in the West Bank but a similar attempt failed to do so in Gaza. The Israeli armed forces withdrew from Gaza but kept control of one of its gates, its air space and sea. Minor armed conflicts continued until 2009, when Israel launched an intensive attack on the enclave, dubbing it Operation Cast Lead. Over the 22 days of the assault, in which Israel used white phosphorous shells against civilian areas (against international law), 1,400 Palestinians had been killed, of which 431 were children.

In 2010 the Israeli Navy intercepted ships, one of which sailed from Ireland, bringing aid to Gaza on the high seas, boarded them under arms, killing ten Palestinian solidarity activists on a Turkish ship and sailed the ships into Israeli port. In the process they jammed the radar and radio of the ships, confiscated the cargoes (though some were eventually released to Gaza), confiscated the mobile phones and laptops of crew and passengers (the memories of which they inspected, wiping many photos and film), seized the ships, detained the passengers and crew in jail and deported them.

Carlos Latuf cartoon draws on the film Jaws to depict the Israeli Navy’s stalking and attack on the Irish aid-to-Gaza ship, the Rachel Corrie. (Image sourced: Internet)

In November 2013, Palestine was accorded “non-member observer status” in the United Nations and would henceforth be referred to officially as “the State of Palestine”.

When the Israeli Ambassador called Ireland “the most anti-semitic country in Europe was I think, as I said, 2014, during or soon after his state’s assault on Gaza that year.

On the Palestinian side 2,251 were killed during that war, of which 551 were children and 299 women; in addition 11,231 Palestinians were injured, including 3,436 children and 3,540 women. More than 1,500 Palestinian children were orphaned. 18,000 housing units were destroyed in whole or in part and 73 medical facilities and many ambulances were damaged.30 There was widescale damage to electricity generation and supply and to sewage treatment plants, which resulted in heavy sea pollution; factories also were destroyed.

On the Israeli side, the casualties were 67 Israeli soldiers, five Israeli civilians (including one child) and one Thai civilian killed, while 469 IDF soldiers and 261 Israeli civilians were injured. Hardly an Israeli building was damaged despite the approximately 300 rockets fired by Palestinian guerrilla groups.

This was not war of two belligerents and the casualty statistics underlined that; the Israelis had an airforce, the Palestinians have none; the Israelis had a navy, the Palestinians have none. The Israelis had sophisticated long-range and even remotely-controlled weapons; all the Palestinians have is their home-made rockets, most of which fall short or are destroyed by Israeli defence systems. Of course, the Palestinians have no anti-air attack defence systems whatsoever. The only effective armed response that Palestinians have is their guerrilla forces which are only effective within firearm reach of the enemy, when they can certainly take their toll, as the Israeli Occupation Forces found when they invaded Gaza and were forced to retreat.

Irish society saw enough of this, on videos, in reporting on TV and in print and drew their conclusions despite the media bias nearly always in favour of the Israelis and against the Palestinians. The solidarity activist organisations helped educate the Irish people but it was mostly what the latter saw and heard and the process of their own brains that transformed their view.31

In 2017 the Palestinian flag was flown above Dublin’s City Hall by majority vote of Dublin City councillors for one month in solidarity with the Palestinians.

The latest Gaza “War” just concluded was another in a long list and the current truce can only be, as those before it, a temporary one. The Zionist State project requires oppression and repression of Palestinians which in turn can only give rise to continued resistance. The Zionist State cannot defeat the Palestinian will to resist but nor can the Palestinian resistance defeat the militarily far superior Israeli State with its huge military, economic and political support from the United States of America. The states of the world that would wish to support the Palestinians or at least end the periodic bloodbaths will need to withdraw their support from the US-led alliance that supports the Zionist State.


Altogether, the opinion of most of Irish society today on the Israel-Palestine conflict is vastly different to what it was in the 1950s, 1960s and even 1970s – a sea-change has taken place of which Irish politicians have had to take note. People today have alternative sources of information to the Irish and British mainstream written and TV media, with major news networks such as Al Jazeera and RT. In addition, some mainstream media has decided to expose Israeli’s actions. But also video and photographs from smaller organisations and individuals get shared on social media and are seen by hundreds, thousands or even hundreds of thousands.

Part of the Ha’Penny Bridge, Dublin annual New Year’s Day Palestine solidarity demonstration organised by the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign 2020 (Photo: D.Breatnach)

The Palestinian solidarity activities of what has been broadly the largest oppositional movement to the State, the Republican Movement, through its publicity and the activism of its members of course helped develop awareness in Irish society of the justice of the Palestinian cause and, conversely, of the injustice of that of the Zionist State. The small socialist and communist organisations also played a part.

Although all those, including in particular in more recent times solidarity groups and individual activists, have made a huge contribution, the main element responsible for the change has been the visible behaviour of the Zionist State itself, along with its Zionist supporters, both inside and outside Israel.

And the “sea-change” has become now a tsunami.



1Declared illegal by the United Nations, since they are all on land seized in conquest by Israel in 1967. Many Zionists however regard them as the logical extension of the Israeli state, a kind of Zionist “manifest destiny”. On the other hand, many others consider the Israeli state itself to be illegal, a racist, religious state on ground seized from the Palestinians.

2A traditional diplomatic way of expressing extreme displeasure with the state represented by an embassy.

3Sponsored by Irish Senator Frances Black, a singer, social and human rights campaigner, its full title is Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 and has been proceeding slowly since 2018. The Bill would it make it illegal to import, repackage or sell products from the ‘Occupied Territories’ within the territory of the Irish State, liable on conviction to heft fines. Its passage and implementation would represent another ‘first’ in the EU for Ireland.

4Originally it meant “against the semitic people” and since the Arabs are “semitic people” too, it would mean being hostile to them also — which would make Zionists anti-semitic, in part. But we’ll use the term here to mean “anti-Jewish”, which is how most people understand it these days (except for the Zionists, for which it means “criticising Israel”).


6Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice, written during the reign of Elizabeth I of England, figures the Jewish financier demanding the pound of flesh from the Christian merchant, a terrible portrayal and it is that which remains in the memory and even in the language, while the Jew’s recounting of the insults he has received before that are mostly forgotten. England had anti-semitic laws in terms of settlement, trade and other rights until the 1930s and semi-official tolerance/ encouragement of active anti-semitism right up to WWII.

7And Arthur Griffiths, shortly before he founded the original Sinn Féin party.

8While it is stated in many sources that some families remained in Cork and although I can recall recently reading about the welcome the city gave them, I regret that a number of searches have failed to date to reveal that source.

9Fianna Fáil remained governing in minority until 1938 when it was in majority, was in minority again in 1943, in majority in 1944 until ‘48 when it was in Opposition.

10The party is often to this day called “Blueshirts” by opponents.

11And blessed by many Irish bishops and priests as “crusaders for the Catholic Faith”.

12See link for in SOURCES at end of article for review of Hitler’s Irish Voices: The Story of German Radio’s Wartime Irish Service by David O’Donoghue (Beyond the Pale Publications) in History Ireland.

13The difficulties of capitalism recently, the breakdown of the two-party system and the Covid19 pandemic have provided opportunities for far-Right and outright fascists organising in Ireland and anti-semitism features among them in particular in the three tiny fascist parties. However, they tend not to promote their anti-semitism, preferring instead to concentrate on anti-immigration, homophobia and islamophobia.

14Even though the British had been encouraging Jewish migration to Palestine since at least the Declaration by the British Prime Minister Arthur Balfour in 1917.

15The British had previous control over Egypt, having fought the French and the Egyptians and in fact still had troops there until June 1956. But their days were numbered there from the Arab nationalist coup in the Egyptian Army in 1952, which is what led to the nationalisation of the Suez Canal.

16President Eisenhower threatened to hurt the UK financially and the British Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, was forced to resign.

17The Lord Mayorship of Dublin is a largely ceremonial position but of course not without some influence; the chosen candidate is elected by City councillors at their Annual Meeting in the summer and occupies the position until the election of the successor the following year.

18Leader of the Irgun and sixth President of the Israeli State.

19Shatter resigned his membership in 2018; he was the sitting TD with the largest property portfolio of any member of Ireland’s cabinet while a cabinet minister (2011-2014).

20And even rape before murder, as was acknowledged officially a few years ago.

21Because of its location in much of the Christian Bibles, Palestine is considered the “Holy Land”. However it holds sites revered by Jews and Muslims too.

22It was in that war that Jerusalem and much additional land was occupied by Israel and part of the Zionist project is to make Jerusalem the Jewish-only capital of the Israeli State (hence the recent Zionist civilian harassment of Palestinian families living there).

23Other Jewish languages were used such a Yiddish – mostly German in composition — by the Ashkenazi Jews and Ladino — mostly medieval Spanish-Portuguese but with many other influences — by the Sephardic Jews.

24Resolution 3379.

25The Lost Revolution, Brian Hanley & Scott Millar (2009), pp.213, 215, 221

26Ibid, p.334.

27I wrote the letter and it was not the only one they didn’t publish. My father Deasún Breatnach, who was Editor of the paper for a couple of years, told me that he had been refused permission to publish another letter I had written.

28The PLO at the time was controlled by the Al Fatah organisation and in 1989 signed up to the disastrous Oslo Agreement, which in time led to their losing their place in the leadership of the Palestinian movement and of the Palestinian Authority to Hamas. Both Palestine and South Africa were initially seen in some quarters as great examples of the alleged benefits of “peace processes” and both the PLO and ANC delegates at the Ard-Fheis were employed to help swing the Provisionals’ membership between the Irish version of the “process”.

29Most of the statistics are taken from a Wikipedia source clearly influenced by pro-Israeli contributors:


31A notable exception to this whole process has been the Unionist section of the British colony in Ireland, the Six Counties. In particular the Loyalists love to hate anything the Republicans support and for that reason profess to hate the Palestinians and to support the Israeli state, despite some connections of theirs with British and Irish fascist groups who are anti-semitic.

SOURCES(in order of use)

Irish Parliament votes to declare Israeli ‘illegal settlements’ and annexation:

“Occupied Territories Bill”:

Gaza War 2014 casualties:

Anti-Semitism in England:

Limerick antisemitic Boycott and riots:


Irish Christian Front:

Anti-Semitism in Ireland (in particular during the WWII years):

Protection of Judaism in the 1937 Irish Constitution:


Robert Briscoe, IRA Volunteer, TD and Zionist:

Ben Briscoe, Jewish, Lord Mayor of Dublin:

Ben Briscoe Lord Mayor of Dublin and Zionist:

Alan Shatter:

Zionist Hollywood films:



Massacre and rape by Israeli soldiers in one village:

June or Six-Day War:

Timeline and statistics in a Zionist-influenced Wikipedia site:

Irish Republican Richard Behal (Part Two)

Fascinating story in Part II (Part is very interesting too) of a successful IRA attack on an advance British in 1965.

Also an interesting account of an attempt by the Irish Gombeen ruling class to reach closer cooperation with British imperialism in the run-up to the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, combined with a struggle within the IRA between emphasis on military struggle or social and economic struggle.

The work in obtaining these interviews and broadcasting them is a very important contribution to recovering our history.


This is part two of the story of Irish Republican Richard Behal who as a young man joined the Irish Republican Army in Kilkenny, he subsequently participated in Operation Harvest . (Otherwise known as the 1956-62 Border Campaign)

In 1965, one years before the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Easter rising,  Richard  was  involved in an operation to attack the British naval boat HMS Brave Border with an anti-tank weapon in Waterford . The attack caused millions of pounds of damage to the boat.

In addition, he was arrested and remanded  to Limerick prison from where he made a daring  escape using a hack-saw to cut through the iron bars of the cell window.

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Sniping from hiding

I despise the man and have done so for most of his career — a manipulator of people and opinion who was given much more than a fair shake by interests in the media and politics here in this neo-colonial part of the country. “Neo-unionist” is an apt enough description, as would be “neo-colonialist”.

But nasty and despicable as all that he was done and said has been, doing so while hiding with others behind a fake social media account is the most despicable of all. So many others on the Right and Far-Right in Ireland are doing so, sometimes in conjunction with the Far-Right of the USA, Trumpists etc.

It is understandable that some political activists may have to use a fake account from time to time, because of political repression or because of unreasonable closing down of their sites by FB without right of appeal (e.g in criticising Israel or in supporting Irish Republicanism). But Harris has no such excuse — quite the contrary, he was promoted by the political-media class.

“Slightly Shaken” (!)

Two skilled landings by Irish pilots when their single engines failed — but 72 years apart.

Scéalta Ealaíne

oil painting by Eoin Mac Lochlainn of Pilot Michael McGloughlin A portrait of my uncle, Pilot Michael McGloughlin

Now, engine failure is one thing if it’s in your lawnmower but another thing entirely if you’re flying a single engined aircraft. You might’ve heard about that incident last week with the Irish Air Corps plane at Baldonnell?

Well, the engine conked out about 30km from the air base but, rather than bailing out, the two pilots managed to manoeuvre the aircraft and glide it all the way back for a safe landing at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnell in south-west Dublin.

The two-person PC-9 aircraft was conducting a training mission when the problem arose but, according to a military source, the pilots were unharmed aside from being “slightly shaken”.

The Irish Air Corps plane, safely landed at Baldonnell   – photo RTE

Pilot Michael McGloughlin after a forced landing in Dolphin's Barn, 1949 A paper cutting from The Irish Independent, March 1949

Now, how about this:  I had an uncle who was a pilot. I…

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Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading and viewing time: 3 mins)

On a sunny but windy day in Greystones, lá grianmhar ach gaofar, nature put on an abstract art show. The sunshine brought out intensely the yellow of the lichen on the limestone rocks, while the black lichen encrustation on some rocks contrasted sharply with a neighbouring section of bare grey. Some trick of the camera and light brought out a gorgeous blue in the rock-shadowed sea which had not been visible to the eye.

Yellow lichen incrusts the tops of stones in foreground like paint daubs while in background, a trick of light or camera turns blue the shadow on the sea. the lichens and plants here are extremophiles, living on the front line (or the beachhead). (Photo: D.Breatnach)
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Lichens are an amazing life form, being an integrated symbiosis of an alga and a fungus. A cross between a frog and a goose would not be more bizarre in concept – fungi are not even plants, while algae are. The fungus provides a relatively strong skeleton while through photosynthesis the alga produces sugars to feed the fungus.

Although not all are easy to distinguish, there are over 1,165 species of lichen in Ireland, varying from the common to the rare. The yellow-orange one, Xanthoria parietina, is one of the common ones in Ireland. The white and often off-white or grey Ochrolechia parella can be mistaken for bird excreta at a distance, or even as the ground-in chewing gum that costs Dublin City Council so much to remove from street surfaces every week. The black one, Verrucaria maura if I am identifying it correctly, covers rocks that are wave-lapped or hit by sea-spray on a daily basis.

Limestone rock covered with black lichen contrasting with bare grey limestone in upper centre of image (Photo: D.Breatnach)

These are all hardy adventurers, extremophiles, living in zones exposed to great variations of temperature, all even in one day, as the sun beats down between rain showers or windy spray. And they are very tolerant of salinity, without at the same time being dependent upon it. Perhaps not these species but their ancestors, or other forms like them, were the early colonisers of the land on our planet. Terraformers too, as they slowly abrade the rock upon which they cling, helping to create soil, while black lichen attracts heat to warm up surfaces and the alga in the symbiotes releases oxygen into the atmosphere.

Lichens can live attached to rock, wood and metal, some species even inside stone and on snow.

Plaque commemorating the public launch of the Votes for Women campaign with Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington and Hilda Webb confronting Chief Secretary for Ireland (for the Crown) Augustine Birrell at Greystones Harbour in 1910. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

No plaque or monument celebrates these hardy adventurers but down on the harbour wall was a plaque to another hardy life-form, celebrating the 1910 confrontation there of Chief Secretary Birrell, one of the Crown’s main representatives in Ireland, by Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington and Hilda Webb. They were kick-starting the militant Votes for Women campaign which was later brought into conflict with the Irish Parliamentary Party too but influenced the 1916 Proclamation’s advanced and stirring address: “Irishmen and Irishwomen ….”. That Rising six years after the Greystones confrontation would shock Birrell and sadly, would see Hannah’s pacifist husband Francis murdered by a British Army officer during that momentous week.

Earlier, in a Dublin train station, I photographed a wall of varied limestone, where algae and moss, also terraformers, had made an abstract art collage.

An abstract collage of shapes and colours: limestone wall with moss and algae, train station, Dublin. (Photo: D.Breatnach)




Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 3 mins.)

I received an on-line invitation to support a protest about the exclusion of Palestinian Studies from the California State high school curriculum on Middle Eastern studies. Aside from the obvious importance and relevance of Palestinian studies in any Middle Eastern syllabus, there is the glaring need for such options in a country that is the biggest supporter of the state of Israel, with which the Palestinians are in conflict. But then it is precisely its relevance that ensures its opposition, nor is it only with regard to Palestine that such exclusion occurs.

After months of controversy, California has released the final version of a model statewide ethnic studies curriculum for use in high schools. The original draft curriculum rightfully included the histories and narratives of Arab Americans, including Palestinians, written by scholars in the field.

Due to pressure from anti-Palestinian organizations, the Arab American lesson no longer includes content developed by Arab American ethnic studies educators, and has NO information about Palestine. Palestinian history and narratives should be central to any ethnic studies curriculum, and this attempted erasure is appalling. …..

We’re not the only ones raising the alarm. All original curriculum drafters have asked for their names to be removed as authors because the revised curriculum no longer represents their work and vision. It no longer highlights contributions and struggles against structural racism and social, political, and economic marginalization. It has become an “All Lives Matter” curriculum.

Mosaic map of Palestine and detail of Jerusalem. Civilisation of Palestine, 5th Century BC. Jerusalem, Museo Di Israele (History Museum) (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)


Some decades ago in London I was involved with a number of others in organising a course called Irish Aspects at Goldsmiths College1. The course was composed of a series of weekly 2-hour evening meetings at the site, which was in the New Cross area of SE London. The sessions would cover, as its title indicated, different aspects related to Ireland, such as literature, politics, history ….

The course did fairly well but when it came to the following year, the College administration indicated they were considering closing it down. The course attendance, despite minimal advertising, was fair and the expense to the College, apart from the heating and lighting in the room we were using, was a mere two hours per week at tutor rate, with which we paid the speakers we brought in.

In discussion with the Director, he admitted that “The case for Irish studies is unanswerable”, by which I clarified that he meant “cannot be opposed”. Nevertheless, they did close down the course and would not even offer us a room in which to meet weekly without any paid tutor hours.

A few years later I applied to the Irish Studies course at University of North London2 and got in a year later. In fact, only half the BA course was in Irish studies and one had to choose another section of the Humanities prospectus to make up the whole. Over the years of studying and engaging with the subject of Irish Studies, I learned that in the whole of Britain there was not one whole degree course available in that subject and the only thing close was Celtic Studies, at the University of Aberyswyth, in west Wales3. So a BA course based on the history, culture, literature, art and language of a neighbouring country, with which the British State had been politically and militarily engaged for 800 years, from which huge migration to Britain had taken place for centuries, was not thought appropriate to make available in any one of over 130 universities in Britain4.

It was of course the same as with the refusal of the Palestinian course in the state of California, USA – its very relevance and importance was the reason why it could not be provided.

It is well documented by many writers and historians that the colonialists and imperialists do not wish the indigenous of the colonised lands to have a good appreciation of their own culture and history and certainly Ireland under British rule provides an abundance of examples of that negation.

But the lack of such courses in Britain did not only deprive Irish migrants and their children of the opportunity of such study, it also deprived the host community, along with other migrant communities. And that too has its rationale.

In a long struggle with a colonised people it would be disastrous for the ruling class if the host of the ruling class to suppress “the natives”. And the potential with regard to Ireland was serious, since the Irish migrant and diaspora community in Britain was huge and some of it well integrated into sections of British society – particularly the working class and its trade union and political expressions.

Mosaic map of Palestine and detail of Jerusalem. Civilisation of Palestine, 5th Century BC. Jerusalem, Museo Di Israele (History Museum) (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

In addition, the Irish had much to teach the host population about the real nature of the British ruling class, since they had seen and felt it with fangs and claws bared, a sight of which the workers in Britain in more recent times caught only an occasional glimpse5.

The people who manage the imperialist and colonialist systems occasionally do stupid things but they are not stupid. They control education as an important ideological process and product. Battles can be fought over course funding and available subjects and these are justified. Some will be won for the ruling class needs its moderates, liberals and revisionists to moderate the content and try to control the discourse and therefore the conclusions. Ultimately however workers and communities from oppressed nations and groups need to set up their own courses and rely on their own resources.



1 Now part of the University of London.

2 Now part of London Metropolitan University.

3 I note that Liverpool University now offers a BA (Hons) course in Irish Studies. However, even there, students in Year One are required to take other 30 credits of subjects outside that curriculum.

4 Ireland was invaded by colonisers from Britain in 1169 and the English occupation is counted from that date; currently Britain holds six counties in the north-east of Ireland as a direct colony. The Irish compose by far the largest ethnic group historically migrating to Britain and for most of its history, past and recent, have been the largest ethnic minority community present.

5 It can hardly be pure coincidence that the Irish in Britain supplied the working class there, as well as with many of its activists and prominent figures, two leaders of its first mass movement (the Chartists), its first classic novel (The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists) and its battle hymn (The Red Flag).


(Reading time: 5 mins)

Diarmuid Breatnach

We celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th but are we aware that on that day in 1917, women started the Russian revolution?  It was one of the many contributions of women the world over to the struggles of humanity.


          There were many causes of discontent with the ruling regime in Russia in 1917: it was monarchic, autocratic, repressive, incompetent. It had put the country into a war with Germany and Austria, which was in its third year. People were very hungry with food shortages for a number of reasons including the trains being used to transport war materials and soldiers rather than to bring food into the city. Nationalities within Russia and Greater Russia were denied self-determination.

Peasants were serfs to the aristocracy, who could beat, imprison and even hang them. Officers, always from the aristocracy or — to a lesser degree — from the professional classes regularly struck ordinary soldiers or had them whipped. The officers were also for the most part grossly incompetent.

The Christian Church (Russian Orthodox) was allied to the regime and corrupt. Free speech was suppressed and the secret police could be anywhere; the regular police were brutal and could not be challenged by ordinary people. Wages were often barely enough to live on.


          Petrograd was the Imperial capital city of Russia (the name had been changed in 1914 from St. Petersburg, which sounded too German) and in February and March 1917 a number of factories there were on strike for better wages.   In particular, on March 7th (February 22 according to the calendar in use in Russia then), workers in the large Putilov works went on strike. The factory owners sacked the workers but not had not yet replaced them; there were some clashes with police.

The following day, March 8th (by our calendar), International Women’s Day, women in Petrograd organised a number of meetings and rallies. Led by no political party but in an atmosphere of deep discontent throughout the city, the women’s activities became increasingly energetic and militant. Demonstrations began to march, demanding bread and the women went to factories not yet on strike, calling on the workers to down tools and join the demonstrations. As as many as 50,000 did.

Two days later, a general strike had seized Petrograd’s manufacturing industries, much of the city’s services and even some commercial business, bringing clerks, teachers and students to swell the numbers in protests. Everywhere there were street meetings, marches; red flags and banners began to appear among the crowds. Slogans hardly considered before were shouted and became current, including calling for the monarch, the Tsar, to abdicate or to be deposed.

Demonstration during the "February Revolution" 1917. Note the prominence of women in the demonstration.
Demonstration during the “February Revolution” 1917

The Petrograd police were powerless to control the demonstrators who would have turned on them had they intervened. On the 11th, three days after the women’s mobilisation, the Tsar called on the Russian Army to intervene and to shoot demonstrators.

Russia had the largest single army in the world and despite the war, thousands were still in Petrograd. They had been used in the past against the workers and in 1905 had massacred people on a demonstration to petition the Tsar. But now, after three years of war and shortages, they were not keen to do so and particularly reluctant to open fire on women. Soldiers began to mutiny and, when threatened by officers, often shot them instead.

On that day, the Chairman of the Duma, the parliament which the Tsar Nicholas had kept powerless, sent an emergency telegram to the Tsar, who was at the Headquarters of the Russian Army, asking him for urgent action. The Tsar’s reply was dismissive – his wife, the Empress Consort Alexandra, had written to him that the problems in Petrograd were being exaggerated.

A Russian Army barricade during the "February Revolution" -- the soldiers refused the orders of their officers to shoot demonstrators.
A Russian Army barricade during the “February Revolution” — the soldiers refused the orders of their officers to shoot demonstrators.

But the garrison of Petrograd, including elite units, had mutinied by the 12th, four days after the women’s marches and demonstrations. In addition the Cossack troops, usually reliable in shooting and sabring demonstrators and rioters, were disobeying the orders of their officers to attack the people (although they had not joined the mutiny). Officers began to go into hiding as more of them were being shot by soldiers from their own units. Symbols of Tsarist rule were being torn down in public places.

Two days later, on the 14th, the socialist parties and organisations established the Petrograd Soviet, last seen there twelve years previously, in 1905, before it was crushed by the Russian army. The Petrograd bourgeoisie were frightened but were unused to ruling except as permitted to by the Tsar, who himself now seemed unable to control events. Their powerless Duma (parliament), although ordered closed down by the Tsar that morning, set up a temporary committee to restore law and order and later, their Military Commission as part of the Provisional Government they created.

Thus began a period of dual authority in the city – the revolutionary workers, soldiers (and later, sailors) through the Soviet on the one hand and the bourgeoisie through their Military Committee on the other.

The Petrograd Soviet set the tone for what was to come by approving a number of points in Order No.1, effectively the first law drawn up by the Soviet, point 4 of which stated:

The orders of the Military Commission of the State Duma shall be executed only in such cases as do not conflict with the orders and resolution of the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.”

The Soviet was making sure it could not be overruled by the new unelected body which the bourgeoisie had set up, the Provisional Government, or by its Military Commission.  

Senior Army and political appointees advised the Tsar to do what just over a week previously would have been unthinkable – to abdicate. On the 15th, the Tsar abdicated on his own behalf and of his son, nominating instead his brother, the Grand Duke Alexandrovich, to be Tsar. But he in turn knew he had no support as things stood and refused the “crown”.

July Days Russia 1917
Demonstrating workers shot down by Army units in the Russian “July Days”, 1917

The Russian monarchy of centuries had been overthrown — only seven days after the women’s mobilisation in Petrograd.

Maneouvers by the different sides continued during May and June, including an attempted military coup by senior officers commanding army units away from Petrograd. The fortunes of the revolution swayed back and forth across the country until demonstrations in July supported by the Anarchists and the Bolsheviks were suppressed by army units loyal to the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries political parties in power.

Workers were being disarmed, soldiers re-submitted to the old discipline and revolutionary leaders were being hunted; the War was also ongoing.

In October, the Bolsheviks seized power, ended Russia’s involvement in the War and began to construct a socialist state.

Two years later the people had to fight to defend it against a right-wing military uprising supported by eight states, including the Allies but were successful in the end.

But it was the women who had started the ball rolling seven months earlier on March 8th, with their rallies and demonstrations and calling the workers out from the factories. Henceforth too, they played their part in government, in building the country and in the armed forces, particularly during the war against fascism and in defence of the USSR from June 1941 to the fall of Berlin and Nazi Germany in 1945.

Nearly 200,000 women were decorated and 89 eventually received the Soviet Union’s highest award, the Hero of the Soviet Union. Some served as pilots, snipers (some of the ace snipers at the famous battle (or siege) of Stalingrad were women), machine gunners, tank crew members and partisans, as well as in auxiliary roles of nursing, construction, administration, factory work and of course food production.


Soviet female combat pilots in WW2. The USSR was the only state to have female combat pilots.
Soviet female combat pilots in WW2. The USSR was the only belligerent state to have female combat pilots during WW2.