RUPTURE AND REVOLUTION – PART II

Health Service, Broad Socialist Front, Anti-Fascism

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time main text: 15 mins.)

A new periodical has emerged from the Irish Left. At the time of writing two issues of Rupture have been produced and Parts I and II of this article consist of a political overview (but of course from my individual viewpoint) of a number of issues discussed in the magazine. While the assessment of some is highly critical, overall my opinion is that Rupture is a welcome introduction to socialist analysis of conditions in Ireland.

Rupture is a quarterly magazine format produced by RISE, a group of socialists whose most publicly-prominent individual is Paul Murphy (see Appendix) who is also a TD, i.e a member of the Parliament of the 26 Counties. The formation of the party RISE was announced in September 2019 when Murphy announced his departure from the Socialist Party and his joining this new organisation, of which he is a founding member.

Rupture espouses “eco-socialism”, a drive to organise the production of food and fuel under socialist control while dramatically reducing its harmful impact on the environment. Most of its contributors address issues from a Marxist perspective but interviews with activists from some other perspectives are included.

The magazine’s two issues to date included features on public health, the environment and food production. In addition there have been a number of articles on developing a broad socialist front, combating racism and fascism, multi-national companies and neo-liberal capitalism, Big Pharm and trade union struggle. For the first time, the latest issue (November 2020) addressed the issue of the national question (and struggle) in Ireland. PART I of this article dealt mostly with the discussion of the magazine’s discussion of a) the Environment and b) the National Question, while PART II focuses on its coverage of the Health Service and the Broad Socialist Front, including Anti-Fascism. As a consequence each Part contains both positive and negative evaluation.

From another aspect, the layout is generally attractive and mostly easy to read with photography and artwork which is interesting (if its relevance is not always clear). Some articles are perhaps on the longer side for some tastes but then these are big issues being discussed, in many cases literally of life-and/or-death dimensions.

An annual subscription costs €40 all Ireland or €60 international and I would recommend taking out one for 2021).

HEALTH SERVICES

The articles on the health service in the Irish state, one might say health services, are particularly strong and, like those on the environment, use published statistics and analyses from other sources to illustrate their points.

It is a fact, as the contributors point out, that the Irish state has never had a national health service (and one of the benefits for people in the 6-County colony is that they have the UK’s National Health Service, for all its current troubles). What we have is a three-tier system: state, private not-for-profit and capitalist — the articles argue for a totally public health system, such as would be in place in a socialist society.

There are those, especially Government Health Ministers (though not necessarily when in Opposition) who argue that the three-tier is the optimum mix, all tendencies working together to deliver the best service to the population. If the fallacy in this argument were not obvious before, with long waitings lists for procedures including even testing, packed A&E departments with patients waiting hours for treatment and some patients even days on trolleys, along with the false negative cervical cancer results, it was brutally exposed by the Covid19 pandemic. Overburdened ICU wards, more pressure on hospital beds, deferment of procedures and longer waiting lists, shortages of protective equipment and overworked and stressed front-line health workers, including shocking death rates in care homes have been stark pointers to the urgent need for change. And now delays in contact tracing and vaccine roll-out.

Besides, the alleged mix of the three types of health service provider is a fallacy, as the articles point out; in fact, public money is funding them all. Whether run by religious institutions or by unashamedly profit-making enterprises, they are all dependent on funding through the Irish State and through tax exemptions.

It would seem rational and logical that if a health service provider insists on working within a religious ethos, that its services be funded entirely by its own institutions and congregation. It would seem rational and logical that a provider who wishes to work on a profit-making basis should fund itself entirely by investors, bank loans and its own profits, just like any other business. It would seem rational and logical that the entire wealth available to the State for health should be spend funding and improving its own services. In the Irish state, none of that is what happens.

Not Fun Facts

The Catholic Church owns and controls 90% of primary and around 50% of secondary schools in the state which however are funded publicly. “Out of the 1,735 total deaths in the first wave (of the pandemic), over half (967 ) were in nursing homes.” “In 2019 the HSE spent 31% of its current budget ( 5.4 billion euros) on outsourcing to outside agencies.” “Top 5 religious orders funded by the HSE (2019): Sisters of Mercy (including the Mater and Mercy University Hospitals) – 432 million; Sisters of Charity (St. Vincent’s University Hospital) — 373m; Brothers of Charity 218m; St. John of Gods – 166m; Daughters of Charity – 122m.” (Total: 1,311,000,000 euro). “By 2019, up to 80% of nursing home beds were private, up from 66% 1n 2009 and 25% in the 1980s.” While working people struggle with ill-health or pay privately, also seeking care for elderly relatives, the huge rise in private health insurance cost and sector growth is the main beneficiary.

The story, shockingly, is the same when it comes to vaccines. Though people are right to question the operations of Big Pharma, the companies that produce medicines to make a profit, the general case for the defence of vaccines against diseases is unanswerable. Many distressing medical conditions and epidemics have been eliminated in parts of the world through vaccines though in some other parts people continue to suffer because vaccinations are generally unavailable.

However the article in the current issue of Rupture points out that a number of companies are in a race to be first to produce an effective Covid19 vaccine so that their company alone can patent it and profit from it (and of course, set their own price). Although their end product is patented and belongs to them to profit by, 66% of their research is public-funded. And they spend a large proportion of their funds on advertising – “64 of the top pharmaceutical companies spend twice as much on advertising as they did on new research, while 27 companies spent 10 times as much.”

In a socialist system, all the scientists would be collaborating and sharing research and work so that not only would likely success be enormously hastened but the vaccine would be universally available and cheap. In fact, the permanently crippling disease of polio was eliminated in Ireland by a publicly-available and cheap vaccine – its inventor Johan Salk, despite its estimated worth of $7 billion, refused to patent it , saying that it was “owned by the people” (https://polio.ie/polio-vaccine-26th-march-1953/).

Johan Salk, who developed the polio vaccine and refused to patent it. (Photo source: Internet)

BROAD SOCIALIST FRONT

Contributors ofarticles in Rupture on the question of creating a mass resistance front to capitalism have criticised the traditional socialist party-building method, which they point out leaves them essentially small, with limited influence in the working class and, through loyalty to their leaderships and reluctance to learn from their mistakes, perpetuates both. Whatever different people may think of the reasons nobody can argue with the result.

The articles advocate participation in broader fronts and attempting to influence them with a Marxist approach while also being willing to learn, instead of using these broader formations primarily to sell their newspapers, recruit some members and project themselves as the main leaders (that last might be more my own point than that of the article authors). It is suggested that on some questions socialist organisations can join in a common struggle with other groups and activists with whom they don’t agree on other issues.

Sounds good? Yes, of course and some of us independent activists have been saying that for decades. Interestingly however (and curiously, one might say if one were unaware of the general trajectory of the Irish Left), there is no mention of uniting with other revolutionary groups such as Irish Republicans and Anarchists. This should be curious because active Irish Republicans usually number many more than the Socialists in Ireland and they – and the Anarchists – have been fighting in struggles for years (including some which the rest of the Left is only now beginning to take up). Furthermore, which should be of more than passing interest to socialists, in general Irish Republicans are significantly of more working class background than are the members of the socialist parties.

If the Socialists in Ireland don’t unite with those groups it is of course possible that they will unite around enough others to overthrow the State and usher in a socialist order. Possible – but hardly likely. What is much more likely is that, in their pathological desire to steer clear of those elements, they will instead drift or gallop into alliance with social democracy. And that element of the Left is one which raises the aspirations of working people only to constantly dash them and, at crucial junctures of struggle always has and will betray its working class and lower-middle class supporters. Clara Zetkin, in the article referred to in the next section, pointed to the betrayal of the struggles of the working class paving the way for the fascists, giving the examples of the factory occupations and agrarian struggles of 1920 and the 1st August 1922 general strike debacle.

At those junctures the socialist organisations that have been in alliance with the social democrats will splinter again, amidst recriminations and opportunism as some leaders jostle for position among the social democrats. In some situations of course, socialists have instead ended up in prison, concentration camps or against a blood-stained wall.

The road to social democracy has been the historical trajectory in the West of most of the parties of the Left claiming to be revolutionary, both of the Trotskyist and Communist Party variety. At this early stage of Rise and Rupture that tendency is already to be seen in contributions to the magazine discussion – one from the USA advocating working within the Democratic Party and others suggesting the possibility of building a mass Irish social-democratic party inside of which the revolutionaries can work.

ANTI-FASCISM

The rejection by Rupture contributors as allies of those active revolutionary elements, Irish Republicans and Anarchists, can once again be seen in its discussion of anti-fascism in Ireland. In the article on the subject in the November issue we are treated to eight pages of an address by Clara Zetkin to the Communist International in 1923, a time when fascism was still a very new force. The introduction from Rupture, dealing with Ireland and the world today, is barely one page long and doesn’t even mention the history of the struggle against fascism in Ireland.

Of course, discussion of Ireland being kept mostly free from fascism can only be even considered by ignoring the presence of the Loyalists and the colonial statelet, with its sectarian legislation, housing and education allocation and especially policing. As for the Loyalists, pogroms, individual murders and burning people out of their homes – that is not fascism? And it’s not as if there have not been plenty of connections established between Loyalist and fascist groups in and outside Ireland – and not only in Britain.

If the Irish state has been kept generally fascist-free so far, might it not be of some value perhaps to investigate why? In fact there have been fascist organisations operating within the Irish state but they were smashed by energetic action of Irish Republicans, both left and more generally nationalist throughout the 1930s, as well as by eventual banning by the De Valera government of Fianna Fáil, which was elected largely by Irish Republican and Socialist support.

Subsequently, every time until the very recent past the fascists have attempted to gain a foothold they have been smashed again, both by Irish Republicans and Anarchist and Socialists – but notably, never by the main socialist parties, who have sometimes demonstrated and more often written against fascism but always remained aloof and even critical of direct confrontation.

Irish antifascists in the 1930s, mostly of an Irish Republican background, contributed to the international struggle directly by participation in the International Brigades in the Spanish Anti-Fascist War (1936-1939), in Britain (notably in the Battle of Cable Street 1936), also the little-known burning of the Clonfert mansion of Sir Oswald Mosely, leader of the British Union of Fascists, the “Blackshirts” in 1954. And contributing since, down through generations of the diaspora to Red Action and Anti-Fascist Action in Britain.

When the European fascist network based on Islamophobia tried to include Dublin in its program of organisational launches in European cities, it was defeated in Dublin, making the Irish state probably the only one in Europe that was not host to a Pegida launch. The mobilisation against Pegida was huge but what really demoralised the organisers and ended the alliance of Irish and East European fascists in acrimony, was as a result of the physical confrontation which hospitalised some Irish fascists en route and required Garda vans to drive the East European variety away to safety.

The more active antifascist opposition was overwhelmingly Irish Republican, with some anarchists and independent socialists. And the people still facing charges of “violent disorder” and a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison (or an unlimited fine or both!) are all Republicans from different organisations. Those who confronted the fascist National Party on October 10th in Dublin last year and sent the nazis scurrying off under Garda protection included (unelectoral) Socialists but the largest element were undoubtedly Irish Republicans of various groups and none.

Today, even the new fascist groupings of Síol na hÉireann, the Irish Freedom Party and the National Party, along with the right-wing anti-vaxxer, anti-mask conspiracy theorists such a QAnon, all try to piggy-back on the history of the Irish Republican movement (at least until 1922), lacing their rhetoric with references to “700 (sic) years of struggle” and “the martyrs of Irish freedom”.

The formation of the Le Chéile antifascist alliance in early December last was an alliance of liberals, social-democrats and the electoral Left, with TDs of Rise and PBP in the lineup. Regarding the earlier discussions or founding meeting, a well-connected Irish Republican told me “I don’t know one Republican group that was invited” and when the alliance declared that they would not be organising any confrontations with the Far-Right, one suspects why. While it might be said that socialists should join such alliances in order to influence people towards the correct strategy and tactics, the least they could have done would be to publicly disagree with that stand. The reason the electoral Left did not do so seems to be because they agreed with it, as evidenced by their practice throughout the last two years.

October 2020: Supporters of the fascist National Party (right of photo) in shock as the antifascists (left of photo) clash with them. (Photo source: Internet)

By all means discuss and develop a theoretical understanding of the historical origins, development and nature of fascism but socialists need to remember that in the final analysis it was a huge expenditure of physical effort, with millions of martyrs, that brought fascism to its knees in most of Europe at the end of the 1940s.

RISE would do well to heed at least one of the remarks of Zetkin in the quoted speech: “Fascism confronts the proletariat as an exceptionally dangerous and frightful enemy”.As such, socialists require serious analysis of its history and current appearance in Ireland, along with an examination of the tactics and strategy necessary to defeat it.

End.

APPENDIX

A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO PAUL MURPHY (RISE)

Formerly an activist and TD of the Irish Socialist Party, an Irish child of the British Trotskyist organisation the Socialist Party (and formerly, Militant, the largest among a number of entrist groups into the British Labour Party), Murphy left them gently in September 2019 to form the RISE group. It may be remembered that Clare Daly, also a TD, left the SP in August 2012 in a somewhat more acrimonious dispute and became part of Independent Left with some other socialist TDs and municipal councillors, since when she and her partner Mick Wallace were elected Members of the European Parliament and virtually disappeared from the Irish political scene (to be missed by many without allegiance to either group). Paul Murphy has also been an MEP in the past, from 2011-2014. Although now a member of a different political party, he has remained in the Solidarity-People Before Profit coalition of SP and PBP which retains another five TDs (four essentially of the Socialist Workers’ Party but no longer any of the SP).

Paul Murphy (centre, grey jacket, facing camera) speaking at his trial and that of others after the famous water protest at Jobstown against Minister Joan Collins (which led to his arrest and long trial before he and others (including Irish Republicans) were found not guilty by a jury).

Murphy has a long record of activism and has been violently handled by the Gardaí (Irish state police force) and also arrested as part of the celebrated Jobstown case defendants in 2015 (all acquitted two years later). His international activism includes participation in the Gaza blockade flotilla in 2011 and high seas capture by the Israeli Zionist state, detention and deportation. His production of regular video broadcasts to date during the Covid19 crisis, both from home and of his interventions in the Dáil have included lashing the Government on placing accommodation of capitalism above the lives or ordinary people, denouncing its “yo-yo policy” of precautionary restrictions followed by much-too-early relaxation and also demanding the nationalisation of private health facilities.

“La fuerza armada del Estado vendrá para encarcelarme” — Pablo Hasél

COMUNICADO ANTE MI ENCARCELAMIENTO INMINENTE:

En 10 días vendrá a secuestrarme a la fuerza el brazo armado del Estado para encarcelarme porque no voy presentarme de forma voluntaria en prisión. No sé ni a que cárcel me llevarán ni cuánto tiempo. Entre todas las causas que acumulo por luchar, unas con condenas pendientes de recurso y otras de juicio, puedo pasar hasta casi 20 años en prisión.

Este constante acoso que sufro desde hace muchos años y que se materializa más allá de las condenas de cárcel, no sólo es debido a mis canciones revolucionarias, también por mi militancia más allá de la música y escritura. La propia Fiscal reconoció literalmente: “es peligroso por ser tan conocido e incitar a la movilización social”. Llevar a la práctica la lucha de la que hablo en mis canciones es lo que me ha puesto especialmente en el punto de mira, además de apoyar a organizaciones que han combatido al Estado, ser solidario con sus presos políticos y crear conciencia denunciando las injusticias señalando alto y claro a sus culpables.

Es muy importante tener claro que no es un ataque sólo contra mí, sino contra la libertad de expresión y por tanto contra la inmensa mayoría que no la tenemos garantizada como tantas otras libertades democráticas. Cuando reprimen a uno, lo hacen para asustar al resto. Con ese terrorismo quieren impedir que se denuncien sus crímenes y políticas de explotación y miseria, no podemos permitirlo. Saben que no voy a claudicar por estar preso, por eso lo hacen especialmente para que el resto lo haga. Por no interiorizar que es una agresión contra cualquier antifascista, ha faltado solidaridad para evitar mi encarcelamiento como tantos otros. El régimen se crece ante la falta de resistencia y cada día nos quita más derechos y libertades sin pensárselo dos veces a la hora de tocarnos, necesitamos organizar la autodefensa ante sus ataques sistemáticos. Muchas personas me escribís preguntando qué podéis hacer. Hace falta mucha difusión para que todo el mundo se entere de lo que hacen y se tome conciencia, pero sobre todo urge la organización no sólo para llevar la solidaridad a los hechos en las calles y coordinarla bien, también para defender todos los derechos que pisotean con impunidad.

También es necesario señalar al tan mal llamado Gobierno “progresista” por permitir esto y tanto más, mientras protegen a la Monarquía y le aumentan el presupuesto, no tocan la ley mordaza y otras leyes represivas, han añadido además la “ley mordaza digital”, siguen teniendo las cárceles llenas de luchadores en pésimas condiciones, además de otras políticas contra la clase trabajadora. Qué duda cabe de que si nos encarcelaran con un gobierno de PP y VOX habría mucho más escándalo, pero son estos farsantes quienes diciéndose de izquierdas ni se han opuesto firmemente a esto.

No voy a arrepentirme para reducir la condena o evitar la cárcel, servir a una causa justa es un orgullo al que jamás voy a renunciar. Si me liberan antes de finalizar la condena será porque la presión solidaria lo conquista. La cárcel es otra trinchera desde la que seguiré aportando y creciendo, como tantas otras personas yo empecé a luchar inspirado por el ejemplo de resistencia y otros aportes de numerosos presos políticos. Espero que este grave atropello sea aprovechado para sumar más personas a la lucha contra el Régimen enemigo de nuestra dignidad, que si me encarcelan para silenciar el mensaje tenga mucha más voz y salgan perdiendo. Respetando el exilio, decidí quedarme aquí para que esta oportunidad sea aprovechada para desenmascararlos aún más. Este golpe contra nuestras libertades puede tornarse contra ellos, pongámonos manos a la obra.

Pablo Hasél.

(Image sourced: Internet)

“The armed wing of the State will come to take me by force …” –PABLO HASÉL

(translated from Castillian by Diarmuid Breatnach)

(Reading time: 2 mins.)

STATEMENT BEFORE MY IMMINENT IMPRISONMENT:

In ten days the armed wing of the State will come to kidnap me by force to imprison me because I am not going to present myself at the prison voluntarily. I don’t know to which jail they will take me or for how long (I will be detained). Among all the cases that I have accumulated through struggle, some with convictions pending appeal and others pending trial, I could spend up to almost 20 years in prison.

This constant harassment that I have suffered for many years and that goes beyond prison sentences, is not only due to my revolutionary songs, but also because of my activism beyond music and writing. The Prosecutor herself put it into words: “he is dangerous for being so well known and inciting social mobilization.” Putting the struggle I speak of in my songs into practice is what has put me especially in the spotlight, in addition to supporting organizations that have fought the State, being in solidarity with their political prisoners and raising awareness by denouncing injustices by pointing out the culprits loudly and clearly.

“Do you swear to tell the whole truth?”
“I am here because of telling the whole truth.”
(Image sourced: Internet)

It is very important to be clear that this is not an attack only against me, but against freedom of expression and therefore against the vast majority who are not guaranteed it like so many other democratic freedoms. When they repress one, they do it to scare the rest. With this terrorism they want to prevent their crimes and policies of exploitation and misery from being denounced, we cannot allow it. They know that I’m not going to give up because I’m in prison, but they they do it in particular so that the rest do. By not internalizing that it is an aggression against any anti-fascist, solidarity has been lacking to avoid my imprisonment like so many others. The regime grows in the face of the lack of resistance and every day it takes away more rights and freedoms without thinking twice when it comes to attacking us — we need to organize self-defense against its systematic attacks. Many people write to me asking what they can do. It takes a lot of diffusion so that everyone knows what they are doing and is aware of it, but above all organization is urgent not only to bring solidarity to the events in the streets and coordinate it well, also to defend all the rights that they trample on with impunity.

It is also necessary to call out the badly-named “progressive” Government1 for allowing this and so much more; while protecting the Monarchy and increasing its budget, they do not touch the gag law and other repressive laws, they have also added the “digital gag law”, they continue to keep jails full of fighters in terrible conditions, in addition to other policies against the working class. There is no doubt that if we were imprisoned during a government of PP and VOX2 there would be much more of a scandal, but these phonies who while claiming to be left-wing have not even firmly opposed this.

“From above they mock the past, they tread on us in the present to rob us of our future.” (Image sourced: Internet)

I will not repent3 to reduce the sentence or avoid jail, serving a just cause is a cause of pride that I will never renounce. If they release me before the end of my sentence, it will be because solidarity pressure conquers them. Prison is another trench from which I will continue to contribute and grow, like so many other people I began to fight inspired by the example of resistance and other contributions of numerous political prisoners. I hope that this serious outrage will be used to add more people to the fight against the regime, enemy of our dignity, that if they imprison me to silence the message, they will give rise to a much greater voice and lose out. With regard to going into exile,4 I decided to remain here so that this opportunity can be used to expose them even more. This blow against our freedoms can turn against them, let’s get down to work.

Pablo Hasél.

(Image sourced: Internet)

BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO PABLO HASÉL:

Pablo Hasél (Pablo Rivadula Duró), poet, writer, political rapper and activist from Leida in Catalonia, 32 years of age, has described himself as a revolutionary Marxist. Since 2011 Hasél has been convicted in Spanish courts on a number of occasions of “promoting terrorism” and for “slandering” Spanish State and Royal institutions in his lyrics, as well as for allegedly assaulting a TV3 reporter and being party to an assault on a Catalan far-right group.

Pablo Hasél burning the colours of the Spanish monarchical state during a performance. (Image sourced: Internet)

Hasél began his recording in 2005 with Esto no es un Paradiso (This Is Not a Paradise) since when he has recorded another 64 discs on his own and another 35 in collaboration with others. In 2020 alone Hasél recorded two discs. He is also that author of nine poem collections, four of which are in collaboration with Aitor Cuervo Taboada, and one collection of stories.

FOOTNOTES

1The current Government, a coalition between the PSOE and Podemos. The former is the social-democratic party of the two-party system of the Spanish State which has been breaking down of late. Podemos-Izquierda is a coalition of trotskyist Left tendencies, Left social-democrats and the old Spanish Communist Party.

2The PP has been the right-wing conservative party of the two-party system of the Spanish State while Vox is even further to the Right.

3The Spanish penal and judicial system requires prisoners to repent of the “crimes” of which they have been convicted if they are to be moved to less harsh prison conditions or to be paroled. This is a particularly crushing requirement of inmates convicted of politically-inspired actions who are serving long sentences of a number of decades.

4 In May 2018, the day before he was due to surrender himself to Spanish jail, rapper Valtónyc (José Miguel Arenas) went into exile in Brussels.

RUPTURE AND REVOLUTION – PART I

Environment and the National Question

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time main text: 8 mins.)

A new periodical has emerged from the Irish Left. At the time of writing two issues of Rupture have been produced and Parts I and II of this article consist of a political overview (but of course from my individual viewpoint) of a number of issues discussed in the magazine. While the assessment of some is highly critical, overall my opinion is that Rupture is a welcome introduction to socialist analysis of conditions in Ireland.

Rupture is a quarterly magazine format produced by RISE, a group of socialists whose most publicly-prominent individual is Paul Murphy (see Appendix) who is also a TD, i.e a member of the Parliament of the 26 Counties. The formation of the party RISE was announced in September 2019 when Murphy announced his departure from the Socialist Party and his joining this new organisation, of which he is a founding member.

Rupture espouses “eco-socialism”, a drive to organise the production of food and fuel under socialist control while dramatically reducing its harmful impact on the environment. Most of its contributors address issues from a Marxist perspective but interviews with activists from some other perspectives are included.

The magazine’s two issues to date included features on public health and private services, the environment and food production. In addition there have been a number of articles on developing a broad socialist front, combating racism and fascism, multi-national companies and neo-liberal capitalism, Big Pharm and trade union struggle. For the first time, the latest issue (November 2020) addressed the issue of the national question (and struggle) in Ireland. PART I of this article deals mostly with the magazine’s discussion of a) the Environment and b) the National Question, while PART II focuses on its coverage of c) the Health Service and d) the Broad Front and Anti-Fascism. As a consequence each Part contains both positive and negative evaluation.

For another aspect, the layout is generally attractive and mostly easy to read with photography and artwork which is interesting (if its relevance is not always clear). Some articles are perhaps on the longer side for some tastes but then these are big issues being discussed, in many cases literally of life-and/or-death dimensions.

An annual subscription costs €40 all Ireland or €60 international and I would recommend taking out one for 2021).

Environment

As with most serious commentators on the environment, the articles in Rupture point to an accelerating crisis and the need for urgent action right now. At the same time they point to the unwillingness or inability of the capitalist system – which means the governments of most states today — to take the necessary steps. In fact, unwillingness and inability are almost the same thing with the capitalist system because if one capitalist does not maximise his profit he will be undercut and crushed – or taken over – by another who will do “what is necessary” according to the rules and logic of the system. Even if in the longer term (or the medium term, in this case) the scramble for profit maximisation destroys the very resource — cod and herring, for example or rainforest. In this case, without the slightest exaggeration, it is the whole civilisation-sustaining environment that is at stake.

Not Fun Facts

“In 2017 a habitat area the size of a football field was lost every second.” “Eirgrid has projected that 2027 as much as 31% of Ireland’s electricty could by consumed by data centres” (most of it for cooling the servers to prevent them overheating). “In Ireland a fairly normal herd of pigs consists of 3,000 animals — only 2% of pigs are living in small herds of 5 or less. ….. a flock of chickens can normally be around 3,000.” Diseases due to overcrowding of animals enter the food chain for humans, causing infections of “bird ‘flu” and “swine ‘flu” through ‘zoonotic spillover’ (remember that term — you’ll be hearing more of it in future).

The prediction a fairly long time ago that the choice, rather than being between socialism or capitalism is in reality socialism or barbarism, is facing us now as an urgent practical question. Because when civilisation crashes the remaining groups of humanity around the world, assuming their survival, will indeed be thrust back into barbarism.

The contributors to Rupture quote writings of Karl Marx and Engels which one never hears from non-Marxist environmentalists and rarely either from Marxists themselves. These early developers of Marxist thought studied not only economics, class struggle and philosophy but also (and dare I say it, necessarily), history, science and culture too.

Mental health is an issue discussed in the magazine not only in respect to the appalling lack of health services in that area or the stresses and strains of work under capitalism but also in the divorcing of most humans in cities from nature. The agricultural landscape, having been moulded by humanity is far from natural and yet retains much of nature, the environment in which humanity first came to exist and in which it developed …. but most people in the West are not employed in agriculture. In these times of fear of infection along with isolation from our regular social contacts, even a walk in a park, in woods, on hills or botanic gardens can be rewarding and a reminder of what we have lost and are losing.

It is a challenge to radically change the way we produce food and generate power in a long-term sustainable way but only a socialist system, with overall benefit replacing profit as the ruling motivation has the possibility of bringing an end to the ruthless exploitation of not only labour but the very environment.

THE NATIONAL STRUGGLE

This is a question rarely dealt with by the socialist parties in Ireland, a situation which surprises revolutionary socialists across Latin America and much of Europe in particular. Some might ascribe that to the British origin of a number of those parties, particularly the main Trotskyist ones which in that respect established a tradition very far from the theory and personal practice of Karl Marx. So although I have much to disagree with in this article, the fact that it is being discussed at all should be encouraged.

I hope it will serve to encourage further discussion rather than its opposite when I summarise the piece as containing partial history and poor analysis with however one important recommendation. This critique really deserves a treatment all of its own but since this evaluation of the magazine has already got appreciably longer than was my original intent, I will have to be brief and therefore blunt.

The brief overview of history does not even mention that the United Irishmen (and therefore the uprisings of 1798 and 1803) was led almost exclusively by a section of the colonist-descended bourgeoisie, which is why the leadership was virtually all of various Protestant religious backgrounds. This is important because this is not the same bourgeoisie that rules the Irish state today. The article also omits any mention whatsoever of the linguistic genocidal legislation and practice of the conquerors of Ireland and for any treatment of “the national question” one would have to wonder how or why one would omit that. In dealing with the occupied Six Counties, the treatment of the civil rights movement is poor, even for a very brief overview – it was not only “anti-Unionist unity” that drove or characterised it but opposition to the violent response of the Unionist statelet, Loyalist mobs and paramilitaries and their resolute backing by the armed force of the British State.

Wolfe Tone Monument by Edward Delaney (d.2009) at Stephen’s Green (image sourced: Internet). He and other United Irishmen leaders represented the revolutionary national Protestant bourgeoise and they were descended from colonists.

The article remarks on the“weak capitalist class” in Ireland. But what is the nature of the weakness of this class? In other words, towards which forces are they weak? Not towards the working class, with programs of austerity funding bank bailouts, decades of emigration, slow adoption of equal social rights, high homelessness. Not towards the working class, with the Army used to undermine the Dublin Bus strikers in 1963 and 1979 or the restrictions on the right to strike and solidarity action. Not towards the Irish Republican movement with its Civil War history, special non-jury courts, its repressive legislation and armed police.

No, it is not those towards which the Irish capitalist class is weak. But it is weak in developing its own industry and developing an independent political line. Its weakness economically is marked by the takeover by big foreign capitalists of nearly all of its industry and telecommunications network, along with chunks of its transport infrastructure and services, its health services (private religious and foreign companies) and its national airline and large pieces of its agriculture. Its weakness is demonstrated in failure to develop its own natural resources and selling them off or giving them away.

The weakness of the Irish capitalist class is demonstrated in its firstly accepting the partition if its national territory and going to war with the independence movement rather than join it gaining total independence. The same weakness manifested itself in its inability to unite its territory and subsequently abandoning any claim to do so. The weakness of the Irish capitalist class is demonstrated in its permitting atrocities committed against its citizens at home and abroad by the occupying power, only once taking a case against it to the European Courts of Human Rights and never to the European Court of Justice or the United Nations. And it permitted without protest the intelligence services of that occupying power to bomb its capital city many times, including in 1974, with the murder of 26 people (and another eight in Monaghan). And there are many other examples too.

The article admits that the Irish capitalist class has been “acting to facilitate the exploitation of people and resources by foreign capital”. What would we call a capitalist class that behaved like that in Latin America, Asia or Africa? Yes, neo-colonial. Or in Latin America, possibly “comprador”. The difference is not just in location but in the minds of the Irish electoral Left – but none of any significance in the reality on the ground. As the contributor from Talamh Beo points out, “even though we’re geographically in Europe, our land history is radically different.” Of course defining the Irish capitalist class as neo-colonial might give one a very different outlook on the national struggle, right?

And also on socialist revolution, which we would understand to be opposed in Ireland not only by the majority native and the minority colonial capitalist classes and their apparatus, not only by our powerful imperialist neighbour, but also against economic interests in the imperialist USA and EU.

In addition, despite the officially neutral status of the Irish State, its armed forces are being integrated into the European imperialist military alliance. Ireland has not (yet) joined NATO but has the EU Battlegroups, as part of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) of the European Union (EU).

Fianna Fáil, although a split from Sinn Féin in the 1930s and therefore the losing side in the Civil War, has become the first party of choice of the Irish national bourgeoisie, the “Gombeen” class, a neo-colonial capitalist class. In the historically two-party state, it is currently in power in coalition with its main rival, Fine Gael (and the Greens).
Fine Gael, although formed from the victorious side in the Civil War, has become only the second party of choice of the Irish national bourgeoisie, the “Gombeen” class, a neo-colonial capitalist class. In the historically two-party state, it is currently in power in coalition with its main rival, Fianna Fáil (and the Greens).
Ireland’s main social-democratic party, whenever in Government it has always been as a minor partner in coalition. It always supports the Irish national bourgeoisie, the “Gombeen” neo-colonial capitalist class. It is currently sits on the Opposition bench.

The truth is that in the above respects, Irish Republicans in general have a much better understanding of the Irish State, the representative of that neo-colonial capitalist class, than do the electoral left parties in Ireland. The Republicans have traditions and history and recurring practical experience that teaches them.

The Green Party of Ireland, whenever in Government it has always been as a minor partner in coalition. It always supports the Irish national bourgeoisie, the “Gombeen” neo-colonial capitalist class. In the historically two-party state, it is currently in power in coalition with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

The electoral socialist Left, far from joining with the Republicans, chooses instead to snipe at them on occasion and to ignore them the rest of the time. And to permit their civil liberties and human rights to be attacked for the most part without protest.

POSITIVE RECOMMENDATION

The positive recommendation in the article regards the projected Border Poll. While not wishing for any kind of capitalist Ireland, whether partitioned or united, the article recommends voting YES in any such referendum. I myself must agree with that and along with them find it difficult to imagine how any socialists could advocate any other position.

Recommending a NO vote even if for the best of reasons would isolate any party from the majority of the Irish people, while recommending abstention would leave the party on the sidelines not only regarding the poll but in important debates about what kind of Ireland we should have. Even the British & Irish Communist Organisation deviation of the 1960s and 1970s with their two-nation theory, although it generated much discussion, never looked likely to grow to any size, much less become a mass party of the Left.

I am far from convinced however that a genuine poll on the reunification of Ireland will ever be agreed by the ruling classes of the UK and of Ireland or, should it be held and have a majority for reunification, that the ruling classes will implement the verdict.

End.

(See also Part II published separately)

APPENDIX

A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO PAUL MURPHY (RISE)

Formerly an activist and TD of the Irish Socialist Party, an Irish child of the British Trotskyist organisation the Socialist Party (and formerly, Militant, the largest among a number of entrist groups into the British Labour Party), Murphy left them gently in September 2019 to form the RISE group. It may be remembered that Clare Daly, also a TD, left the SP in August 2012 in a somewhat more acrimonious dispute and became part of Independent Left with some other socialist TDs and municipal councillors, since when she and her partner Mick Wallace were elected Members of the European Parliament and virtually disappeared from the Irish political scene (to be missed by many without allegiance to either group). Paul Murphy has also been an MEP in the past, from 2011-2014. Although now a member of a different political party, he has remained in the Solidarity-People Before Profit coalition of SP and PBP which retains another five TDs (four essentially of the Socialist Workers’ Party but no longer any of the SP).

Murphy has a long record of activism and has been violently handled by the Gardaí (Irish state police force) on a number of occasions and also arrested as part of the celebrated Jobstown case defendants in 2015 (all acquitted two years later). His international activism includes participation in the Gaza blockade flotilla in 2011 and high seas capture by the Israeli Zionist state, detention and deportation. His production of regular video broadcasts to date during the Covid19 crisis, both from home and of his interventions in the Dáil have included lashing the Government on placing accommodation of capitalism above the lives or ordinary people, denouncing its “yo-yo policy” of precautionary restrictions followed by much-too-early relaxation and also demanding the nationalisation of private health facilities.

The Irish Bridget

By Geoff Cobb

(Reading time text: 4 mins.)

In few countries in the world has emigration played a more important role than in Ireland. Even before the Famine, Irish men and women emigrated at far higher rates than in other countries and after the famine struck, emigration skyrocketed, with emigration becoming a matter of life and death. Over time, a culture of emigration took root there, and the more commonplace emigration became, the more firmly the expectation of emigrating became entrenched in Ireland’s economic and social system.

Foreground: Irish women migrants approaching New York harboru 1893. (Photo source: Internet)

Ireland’s nineteenth century emigration was distinct from other countries in its gender ratio. In comparison to other European countries, the percentage of Irish women emigres was by far the highest and the unprecedented rate of single women emigrating distinguished the Irish from other Europeans to the United States during the nineteenth century. Already by 1845, women constituted nearly half of the total Irish immigration to America and that figure would continue to grow. The number of women who emigrated from Ireland in the nineteenth century has been put at three million and the major destination for these emigres was America. With few employable skills, many Irish immigrants worked in families as domestics. In 1900, 54% of Irish-born employed women were domestics and by 1913, some 87% of Irish emigrant women worked in some kind of domestic service. The massive number of Irish women working as American domestic workers would have profound, multiple effects both in America and at home in Ireland for generations.

Americans referred to the stereotypical Irish domestic worker as “Irish Bridget”, in part because Bridget is Ireland’s most popular female saint and many Irish named daughters in her honor. In America, Irish Bridget denoted the hundreds of thousands of Irish women laboring as domestic workers in American homes from 1840 for at least ninety years. Irish Bridget became a cliché for young Irish domestics who wreaked havoc, but also became indispensable, in American middle class homes for generations.

In the nineteenth century, having a live-in domestic servant who worked as a cook, cleaner, waitress and nanny was common amongst urban middle-class families. Up to a third of American households had live-in domestic workers in 1850 and Irish-born women constituted the largest group of domestic workers in the urban east. Living- in had both positive and negative sides for Irish domestic workers. These domestic workers freed married American women from many of the household and childcare duties that were expected of them. Freed from the obligation to pay rent, Irish domestics could save money to send to family in Ireland or for their own futures in America, but it also meant a lack of privacy, round-the-clock availability and the possibility of abuse from male members of the employer’s family.

American employer and Irish employee faced each other across a gulf of class, cultural, ethnic and religious differences. It was principally in the American home, not the political arena, or the factory floor where Irish immigrants and Native-born Americans first got to know one another. Americans’ views of the Irish and Irish views of Americans were forged by these intimate personal contacts.

Forging this relationship was hard in large part because of the poverty from which many Irish domestics came. The median age of these Irish girls was just twenty-one and the vast majority of these young women came from rural homes that were very different than the middle -class American homes where they worked. Many Irish women grew up in homes with dirt floors, with no knowledge of using brushes and buckets to scrub wooden floors. Another concern, many Irish homes also had no running water and no indoor toilets. Irish girls who became cooks often did not learn their culinary skills in Ireland. The food that they were raised on was vastly different than the cuisine eaten in the middle class American homes where they worked. It is not surprising that Irish servants in America were not known for their good cooking.

Americans often complained about Bridget’s lack of knowledge and her limitations. Americans spread negative stereotypes of Irish servants’ ignorance, rawness and stupidity. Many Irish had gone barefoot in Ireland and had to adapt to wearing shoes in America. Irish servants were sometimes even ignorant of the names and uses of kitchen utensils. One source noted, “these Irish servants are the plague of our lives.”

Racist cartoon depicting Irish Bridget in a temper and her cowering employer. Apart from the interesting comment on the power of the domestic servant in many houses (and its snide comment on Irish political struggle), note the coarse ape-like features of the irish woman as popularised by Punch in England and others, and the fat body, compared with the slim but womanly body of the employer and her fine features.(Photo source: Internet)

Even though Americans complained about their Irish domestics, they also needed them desperately. Because their work was in high demand, Irish domestics were able to negotiate their wages and conditions and they often left one family for another that offered better pay and improved conditions. There was a high turnover rate, which greatly displeased American employers.

Distained but Assertive

American employers quickly noticed the feistiness of the Irish Bridget, who quickly became infamous for her self-assertiveness. Americans complained that Brigid was insolent, defiant and had a temper. Employers also complained about Brigid’s uppishness or pretentiousness. Sharp-tongued anecdotes of Brigid’s repartees have become part of Irish American folklore and family histories. Self-confident Irish domestic servants did not believe that their work carried a stigma, though many Irish-Americans did. The opportunity to move their own families into the middle class mitigated Irish women’s concerns about any stigma tied to domestic work.

Cartoon of Irish Bridget portraying her as stupid perhaps. However, no Irish migrant would have thrown food away like that so perhaps she had eaten it or given it to someone in her community. In the attempt to depict the Irish accent and speech mode, note the adjective following the noun, as it is normally in Irish but not in English. (Photo source: Internet)

Irish Domestics demanded to be paid fairly and with good reason. American money greatly improved the material life of family members at home in Ireland. In the 1870s, amazingly about a third of all the money in circulation in Ireland came from remittances from Irish domestics. American money paid rural rents and built farmhouses. It provided dowries so that sisters at home could marry. It also allowed other family members to come to America. Prepaid passage tickets accounted for seventy-five percent of all the tickets used by the Irish to come to America.

Irish migrants, largely women, withdrawing money from the Emigrants Saving Bank to send home to Ireland, c.1880 (Photo source: Internet)

Irish domestics spent freely on clothing and were criticized for dressing above their social station. They often spent most of their week’s wages on clothing and Irish Bridget could afford fine clothes that made her indistinguishable from middle class American women. Irish Bridget was often lampooned in cartoons which portrayed their over-the-top dressing in boas, boots and bangles.

The Catholic Church played a huge role in the lives of these women and figured not just in the social life of the Irish immigrants, but in their emotional life as well. Coming from a devout Catholic country, many lonely and homesick Irish women found consolation in the rosary and in prayer. Mass and devotions, though, were social as well as spiritual. Irish immigrants tended to identify themselves by their local parish and parishes organized important recreational outings such as boat trips, picnics and dances where Irish domestics could socialize with other Irish women and meet single men who were prospective marriage partners.

Religion, though was often a flashpoint. Many employers were Protestant, while Irish Bridget was almost overwhelmingly Catholic. Some domestics had to defy their employers who sought to convert them to Protestantism. Irish women even refused to join in Protestant family prayers and upset their employers when demanding fish on Fridays. Some potential employers refused to hire Catholics and stipulated in employment offers that only Protestant women need apply.

Through their personal interaction with Irish Bridget, native-born Americans came to see Irish immigrants less as ‘others’ and more as fellow human beings. Irish Bridget blazed a trail for the Irish to become accepted by native-born Americans and helped the Irish, as a group, move into the American middle class.

End.

COMMENT

Thanks to Geoff for this interesting contribution. The first migrant ashore at Ellis Island, the immigrant-processing station opened by the USA in 1892 was Irish, though her name was not Brigid – Annie Moore was from Cork and she was not yet 18 years of age.1

Though native-born East Coast white UStaters2, especially middle-class and upwards, would have come to know the Irish migrants through domestic servant “Bridget”, she in turn came to know them in that exchange also. And to adopt their attitudes, at least in some regards and no doubt anti-black racism was one of those attitudes. While down at the bottom of white society Irish labourers had to compete with black, which helped promote racist attitudes in Irish males (becoming “white”), Irish Bridget was much more likely to pick up those attitudes from white upper-class white households.

Not all Irish migrants embraced racism of course and some actively campaigned against it3, yet viewing the screaming hordes, mostly women and many of Irish descent, protesting the forced de-segration of schooling in Boston in the mid-1970s for example is a repelling experience.

Diarmuid Breatnach

Irish domestic servants early 20th Century — in the USA? (Photo source: Mayo Library, Ireland)

FOOTNOTES

1 Ellis Island is no longer used to process migrants and is better known today as an island close to that which became the base for the Statue of Liberty

2 A term I use to describe people from the USA, as distinct from other parts of America such as Canada to the north and Latin America to the south.

3 And were instrumental in building the main US anti-slavery party, the Republican

FURTHER READING

The Irish Girl and the American Letter: Irish immigrants in 19th Century America:

https://www.womenshistory.org/articles/raising-glass-irish-american-women

The symbol known as “St. Brigid’s Cross”

— Pagan Seasonal Cycle or Christian Martyrdom?

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 12 mins.)

The 1st February is Lá Fhéile Bríde1 the feast day of St. Brigid, one of three patron saints of Ireland and one of the many traditions associated with this personage on her feast day was the making of the Cros Bríde (“St. Brigid’s Cross”) in many households and their placing in the loft or above the door, for example, to guard the house. But whether St. Brigid was a real historical person and whether the cross really represented her and Christianity, the origins of both are much, much older.

THE CROSS

The cross associated with St. Brigid is woven from rushes, a thin-stemmed plant growing in wet places (so, easily found in Ireland!), or from straw, the dried stalks remaining after the seed-heads and chaff of cereal crops have been gathered. The distinctive four-armed woven shape was the logo of Teilifis Éireann, the forerunner of RTÉ as the Irish national TV service, when it was launched in 1960 and remained so until it was short-sightedly removed in the 1990s. The four-armed shape was the symbol adopted by a number of organisations and it is still that of An Bord Altranais, the Irish national nursing profession authority. Though its ubiquity now is considerably less, it was recognisable as one of the symbols of Irish national identity, along with the Harp, the Shamrock and the Tricolour. But interestingly, a three-armed version has also been known historically2.

St. Brigid’s cross as the logo of Teilifís Éireann, Irish national TV broadcasting service, forerunner of RTÉ (Image sourced: Wikipedia)

The four-armed shape, with our without a large centre, has recurred in many places around the globe. The closest to us geographically perhaps where it is still in use is in the Basque Country, with the Lauburu (“four-head”) and the Basques, who tend to zealously defend their heritage and their role in developing that, say that it was from the Celts that they received it.

Lauburu of the Basques but whose tradition says they got it from the Celts (Image sourced: Wikipedia)

Long before the Nazis appropriated it, the Swastika was a symbol of deity and good fortune of people across Asia and I still recall the feeling of shock when I saw the symbol replicated many times across the stonework of the Indian Embassy in Aldwych, London. It is still used in a number of important Eastern ceremonies. The swastika also had a strong presence in Europe under different names but the Nazis have ensured it will be a long time before it can be used in the Western world without its fascist association. It also has a presence among American Indigenous people and has been found in archaeological excavations in Africa.

nkontim of the Ashante, Ghana, Africa. (Image sourced: Wikipedia)
The Aztec swastika symbol (Image sourced: Wikipedia)

Further afield one could argue that the Ojo de Dios so widespread in Mexico and in some other Latin American regions is also one of them – or at least a close relative. Of course the mystic Eye is also a symbol in many cultures, thought to express divine providence, God watching over humanity and the Ojo may be another one of those as its name suggests — but in many places it is contructed by weaving yarn around two crossed twigs. And in any case could the Eye and the Cross all originally represent the same thing, the Sun in the sky?

Ancient swastika motif on possibly Zoroastrian mosaic excavated in Palestine. (Image sourced: Wikipedia)

Many anthropologists think that sun-worship was once an important part of human societies across the globe and, given the life-giving properties of the sun (and the fact that we live in its system, the solar system) that should come as no surprise to us3. In Ireland many places are associated by name with the sun, for example An Ghrianán (“Greenan”), in locations as far apart as the counties of Antrim, Armagh, Derry, Donegal, Down, Fermanagh and Tyrone in Ulster; Dublin, Meath, Wicklow, Westmeath and Wexford in Leinster; Tipperary and Waterford in Munster; Mayo and Sligo in Connacht (see Sources).

Ojo de Dios weavings on thin crossed pieces of wood. (Image sourced: Wikipedia)
Ojo de Dios made as crafts, perhaps in a school. (Image sourced: Wikipedia)

The symbol of circling movement might however also represent the turning of our planet Earth, the cycle of life through the seasons (see Wikipedia entry in Sources).

THE FEAST DAY – OF CHRISTIAN SAINT, PAGAN GODDESS AND SEASONAL MARKER

As noted earlier, February 1st is the feast-day of St. Brigid but it is also date of the pagan Celtic feast of Imbolc (though probably the exact date would have varied somewhat according to the astral calendar), one of the four great festivals of the year4. Falling midway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, it is considered in Ireland as the first day of the Spring season.

The feast-day’s role as the harbinger of Spring is mentioned in the first verse of Cill Aodáin, the poem (and song) by the celebrated blind poet Raifteirí (1779 – 1835), as with the coming of Spring he anticipates heading to his native Mayo:

Anois teacht an Earraigh beidh an lá dul chun síneadh

Is taréis na Féile Bride ardóigh mé mo sheol;

Ó chur mé i mo cheann é ní stopfaidh mé choíche

Go seasfaidh mé síos i lár Chondae Mhuigheo.

THE SAINT

Brigid is known in Irish as Muire na nGael (“Mary of the Gaels”), which points to her importance as an individual personage, since in Christian belief Mary is the mother of Jesus Christ, in turn believed to be an aspect of God in human form. Brigid’s status is underlined by her nomination as a patron saint of the nation but points also to the significance of the female, of some status in Gaelic society5 and very likely representing a trace of a more ancient matriarchical society.

Brigid’s feast day in Irish culture was of greater importance than that of St.Patrick’s, although the latter was always considered the highest in that he is thought responsible for the conversion of the society of the Gaels to Christianity. There was little ritual associated with the feast day of Patrick and even the wearing of shamrock on the day seems a late innovation6. On St. Brigid’s Day the Cros Bríde was woven, the old one burned or otherwise disposed of as the new one took its place as a protector of the house. In some areas there would be ritual visits to a well and I have read too, though I cannot now find the references, of ritual milking and butter churning. Of course the rituals may owe more to custom of veneration of the pagan goddess and the marking of a place in the cycle of the seasons than to the Christian saint.

Harry Clarke stained glass representation of St. Brigid, St. Mary’s Church, Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo (Image sourced: Internet)

There is some disagreement about the date and provenance of some of the early accounts of the life of St. Brigid as well as their accuracy but the earliest known is thought to have been written two centuries after her death7. We are told that she was born in 451 CE in Faughart near Dundalk, Co. Louth to Brocca, a Pict slave woman who became pregnant by Dubhthach, a Leinster chieftain who then sold her due to the jealousy of his wife. According to the tradition Brocca had been converted to Christianity by St.Patrick. The selling of a pregnant slave seems unlikely but according to the tradition not only was that done but she was sold to a Druid. At the age of ten Brigid went to Dubhthach’s home as a household servant and the tradition relates that Rí Laighin (King of Leinster) Crimthann Mac Énnai, noting her charity and piety, freed her (however it has been my understanding that slavery in this part of the world was not hereditary8).

Accounts of her life describe her performing miracles as a child and also of acts of charity towards the poor. The doing of great deeds as a child is one of the recurring themes in accounts of heroic characters in legends (in Ireland, think of Culainn’s giant guard hound slain by the boy Setanta with hurley and ball).

Around 480 CE the tradition has Bríd founding the abbey at Cill Dara (Kildare – “the Church of the Oak” or Oakwood) on the site sacred to the Celtic Goddess Brigid (see more later) where female devotees guarded an eternal flame and by this founding act alone the saint’s story is being conflated with the pagan deity. At the abbey St. Brigid brought about the institution of Christian female devotional community, starting with seven followers9.

St. Brigid founded two religious institutions, one male and one female and for centuries history records that the abbey was ruled by a dual abbotship, female and male with the former being considered head of all monasteries in Ireland.

At Kildare, Brigid founded a school of metalwork (another nod to the Goddess); also one of art and Giraldus of Wales (c. 1146 – c. 1223), the Norman-Welsh visitor (and founder of anti-Irish racism in literature) reported seeing The Book of Kildare with gorgeous illumination of every page, which he pronounced as beyond compare, declaring it to be “the work of angelic and not human skill” (a verdict of his on Irish harp music also). The book disappeared during the Reformation.

According to tradition, Brigid was a friend of St. Patrick and also traveled through many parts of Ireland.

Ruins of the 11th Century “Black Abbey”, Kildare, the oldest remaining., constructed by Norman invaders long after Brigid’s time. (Image sourced: Internet)

Among the many miracles which Brigid of Kildare was said to have made were healing, with which she has traditionally been associated and preservation of chastity. The latter seems more likely an outgrowth of feudal Christianity imported by the Norman occupation from the 12th Century and of course would have been highly valued by the Catholic Church in Ireland, in particular in the 19th Century.

Healing reminds us of the Druids and her foster-father, to whom her mother was given by her real father. There has long been an association between Bríd and healing, which is presumably why “her” cross is used as a logo for An Bord Altranais, the nursing authority in Ireland.

She was also reputed to be able to turn water into beer (some publicans have been reported tending towards accomplishing the reverse) and was also associated with dairy production. These latter two are reflections of plenty and are represented in a number of pagan deities. Brigid was also associated with fire, which reminds us again of the Goddess Brigid.

The St. Brigid Cathedral, Kildare Town. (Image sourced: Internet)

Bríd, Bridget and Brigid are common names given to girls in Ireland (also encountered in parts of the world where Irish missionaries have been) as are other variants: Breda, Bridie, Breedge, Bree, Biddy, Bridge, Bridgie. There are also variants of the name in other languages, for example Brigitte, Brigida, Bergit, Britt, Bricia, etc.

Christianity and Druids

If she existed – and it appears likely that someone of the kind did — it seems an impossible task to completely disentangle the abbess of Kildare from the pagan goddess. Indeed it is even possible that the Bríd or Brigid referred to in Irish Christian hagiography was herself a Druid and her early life with a Druid as her foster-father hints at that. However one of the traditions has her vomiting food he gave her which seems to represent a violently symbolic rejection of the old religion at a time when it was the dominant one in Ireland.

Being the daughter of a Pictish concubine10 slave is also interesting although the advent of Christianity in Ireland pressured for an end to chattel slavery.

The early history of Christianity in Ireland is curious for unlike most other countries in Europe, it was introduced into a pagan society largely without violence. The Gaels had a number of gods and goddesses and were very familiar with trinities and dualities, so that the (very late historically) account of St. Patrick explaining the Christian Trinity with reference to a three-leaved shamrock is of course pure nonsense. Nevertheless the conversion represented a radical enough change in culture and religious belief and one can only speculate on some kind of accommodation between the Druids and early Christian missionaries and certainly the Celtic Christian Church was quite different from the Roman one, as the family names signifying descent from priest and bishop attest, as well as those associated with a Christian ancestor11 who might well have been a monk or devotee of some saint. It is a matter of record that the Roman Christian Church struggled with the Celtic one to impose celibacy on monks, abbots, priests and bishops, as well as to insist on lay marriages being monogamous and to abolish the right of divorce.

CELEBRATION

From Wikipedia: “In Gaelic Ireland, Imbolc was the feis or festival marking the beginning of spring, during which great feasts were held. It is attested in some of the earliest Old Irish literature from the 10th century onward. It was one of four Gaelic seasonal festivals: Samhain (~1 November), Imbolc (~1 February), Bealtaine (~1 May) and Lughnasa (~1 August).

Fermanagh “Biddy Boys” celebrating St. Brigid’s Day/ Imbolc with the “Brideog” made of straw. (Image sourced: Internet)

“From the 18th century to the mid 20th century, many accounts of Imbolc or St Brigid’s Day were recorded by folklorists and other writers. They tell us how it was celebrated then, and shed light on how it may have been celebrated in the past.

“Imbolc has traditionally been celebrated on 1 February. However, because the day was deemed to begin and end at sunset, the celebrations would start on what is now 31 January. It has also been argued that the timing of the festival was originally more fluid and based on seasonal changes. It has been associated with the onset of the lambing season (which could vary by as much as two weeks before or after 1 February), the beginning of the spring sowing and the blooming of blackthorn.

“The holiday was a festival of the hearth and home, and a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring. Celebrations often involved hearthfires, special foods, divination or watching for omens, candles or a bonfire if the weather permitted. Fire and purification were an important part of the festival. The lighting of candles and fires represented the return of warmth and the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months. A spring cleaning was also customary.

“Holy wells12 were visited at Imbolc, and at the other Gaelic festivals of Bealtaine and Lughnasa. Visitors to holy wells would pray for health while walking ‘sunwise’ around the well. They would then leave offerings, typically coins or ‘clooties’ (see clootie well). Water from the well was used to bless the home, family members, livestock and fields.

“Donald Alexander McKenzie also recorded that offerings were made “to earth and sea”. The offering could be milk poured into the ground or porridge poured into the water, as a libation.”

Many young people went from house to house with a symbol of the saint, ‘The Brideóg’: this was an effigy supposed to represent St. Brigid and made according to the local custom. It was usually a straw doll, dressed to portray a human figure. Often small children went to the neighbours’ houses and were given money. In some areas unmarried girls carried the effigy bestowing Brigid’s blessing on the house, often they handed out crosses to the head of the houses they visited. It was accepted that the girl who carried the effigy was the most beautiful and modest of all. In other regions no effigy was used, the girl dressed in white and carried a locally made cross to represent the saint. Those who carried the ‘brideog’ were called ‘brideóga’, ‘biddies’ or ‘biddy-boys’.

Children in St. Aidan’s School, Cavan, making the traditional crosses in 2016 (Image sourced: Internet)

THE GODDESS

Whatever about the historicity of Saint Brigid, there certainly was a Goddess Brigid figure of great importance in Ireland and she was associated with the spring season, fertility, healing, poetry and blacksmithing. There is a suggestion that she may have been a triple deity from an entry in the 10th Century Cormac’s Glossary written by Christian monks, as it states that the Goddess Brigid had two sisters: Brigid the healer and Brigid the smith.

The Goddess of European Celtic society Brigantia may have had her qualities attributed to the Gaelic Brigid or possibly the latter was a Gaelic representation of Brigantia. The Graeco-Egyptian historian and geographer (among other scholarships) Ptolemy, who gave us the earliest description of a possible Dublin settlement, “Eblana” in 140 CE, mentioned a Leinster tribe called the Brigantes, possibly taking their name from the Goddess but nothing is known of them now. In Celtic pre-Roman northern England, an area centered around Yorkshire was the domain of the Brigantes, the largest Celtic tribe in Britain (and ruled by a queen) while there was an Alpine sub-tribe known as the Brigantii.

Eight inscriptions to Brigantia have been found from the Midlands to Northern Britain and the word appears on some Celtiberian coins. Elements of the name may appear in a number of settlement locations in mainland Europe and in Britain (including the river Brent) but is difficult to be certain of that due to the etymological origin of Brigid/ Brigida, “high, exalted” (ultimately of Proto-Indo-European origin), so that the toponym could also be describing the aspect of the location itself, “high place” or of the human occupants “high/ elevated”.

End.

Traditional St Brigid’s cross woven from green rushes, originally a pagan symbol (Image sourced: Wikipedia)
The rarer three-armed St. Brigid’s cross. (Image sourced: Wikipedia)

FOOTNOTES

1“Brighde” in older spelling; Là Fhèill Brìghde in Scottish Gaedhlig; Laa’l Breeshey in Manx.)

2The Celtic triskele is a relatively well-known shape also thought to represent the sun and, in the form of three legs, is the national symbol of the Isle of Man, a nation of celtic origin. But there is also a four-armed version of the triskele design.

3Indeed the pronunciation of the word “Dia” for God in Irish and the word “día” for “day” in Spanish and Catalan are not just coincidences as I discovered ‘digging’ one day, finding an etymological connection in Proto-Sanskrit.

4The others being Bealtaine, and Lúghnasadh and Samhain.

5Apart from the representation of important goddesses and warrior queens or chieftains in Irish legend and history, according to the Brehon Laws free women’s rights to their own property continued into marriage and they had the right of divorce and even female slaves had some right in law (and had the possibility to rise in status).

6See https://rebelbreeze.com/2017/03/17/the-shamrock-and-the-colour-green-native-or-foreign-imports-into-irish-iconography/

7Cogitosus, a monk of Kildare in the 7th Century: Vitae Sanctae Brigitae.

8Though the Wikipedia entry on Brigid of Kildare” says that she “was born into slavery” and that it was the King who freed her.

9The mystic number seven!

10Cúchullain (Setanta) was taught skill of arms by Scáthach, a female Pictish warrior and bore him a son, unknown to him after he left, with tragic consequences years later for both father and son.

11Mac an tSagairt/ Taggart (“Son of the Priest”), Mac an Easpaig/ Nesbig (“Son of the Bishop”), Giolla and Mac Giolla Chríost/ Gilchrist (Son of Servant of Christ), Mac Giolla Bríde (S. Of Servant of Brigid!), Maol Muire/ Mulmurry (S of Servant of Mary), Maol Eoin/ Malone (S of Servant of John) and many more.

12Many wells in Ireland were dedicated to a saint and therefore considered holy, probably too originally a pagan view of wells.

SOURCES AND FURTHER READING

St. Brigid’s Cross: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigid%27s_cross

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/the-evolution-and-disappearance-of-brigid-s-cross-in-rt%C3%A9-s-logo-1.4141861

https://www.jstor.org/stable/25510514?seq=1

South American Eye of God: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God%27s_eye

The Swastika: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swastika

Irish sun-related toponyms (place-names): https://www.logainm.ie/en/s?txt=Greenan&str=on

Christian Saint Brigid: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigid_of_Kildare

Irish Christian-related family names: https://www.libraryireland.com/articles/Muls/Muls.php

St. Brigid in Scottish place-names: https://saintsplaces.gla.ac.uk/saint.php?id=28

Feast of Imbolc: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imbolc

Gaelic Goddess Brigid: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigid

Reference for “Biddy Boys” and the Brídeog

European Celtic Goddess Brigantia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigantia_(goddess)

Brigantes people: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigantes

QAnon: How Long Will the Madness Reign?

By Geoff Cobb

(Reading time: 3 mins.)

Prominent among the crazed mob that stormed the American Capitol building on January 6th were banners of QAnon, a far right-wing, loosely-organized network and community of believers who embrace a range of wacky, discredited beliefs. Ashli Babbitt, who was shot and killed during the violence inside the Capitol was a fanatical QAnon adherent. Babbitt’s social media feed was a stream of messages celebrating President Trump and QAnon conspiracy theories and many of her co-insurrectionists were also QAnon true believers. For many on the American far right, QAnon shapes their worldview and explains their fanatical support for President Trump, but what exactly is QAnon, how large and powerful is it, and what do they believe?

At its heart, QAnon is a cult united by the insane belief that President Trump was waging a secret war against a cabal of elite cannibalistic Satan-worshipping pedophiles. QAnon supporters believe that Trump was planning a day of reckoning, known as the “Storm”, when thousands of members of the cabal would be arrested. After the Storm, believers say military tribunals would ensure that these baby-eating traitors would be executed or sentenced to life in prison. Faced with overwhelming proof of the cabal’s existence, a stunned public would mourn; rage; and ultimately unite behind President Trump, ushering in a golden age of patriotism and prosperity.

QAnon supporters claim liberal Hollywood actors, Democratic Party politicians and high-ranking “deep State” government officials are all members of the cabal. They have also claimed that Trump feigned a conspiracy with Russians to trap Robert Mueller into exposing the sex-trafficking ring and preventing a coup d’état led by Hillary Clinton, Barrack Obama and George Soros. Disgraced General Michael Flynn, who was convicted of lying to the FBI, but then pardoned by Trump is one of the heroes of the movement. He was filmed reciting the QAnon oath — “Where we go one, we go all” — with his family.

No-one knows the exact number of QAnon believers but social media and opinion polls indicate there are at least hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people who believe at least some of the bizarre theories offered up by QAnon. In August, according to NBC, an internal Facebook review identified more than three million followers across a number of groups and pages. Roughly 10 percent of American adults believe in some or all of QAnon’s theories, according to a Pew Research study conducted last year.

It all started in October 2017, when an anonymous user posted a series of notes on social media message board 4chan. The user signed off as “Q” and claimed to have a level of US security approval known as “Q clearance.” These messages became known as “Q drops” or “breadcrumbs”, often written in cryptic language peppered with slogans, pledges and pro-Trump themes. True believers argue that deliberate misinformation is sown into Q’s messages, making the conspiracy theory impossible to disprove.

QAnon placard at Trump rally (Photo sourced: Internet)

“Q” signs and merchandise were first spotted at Trump campaign rallies in 2018 and the cult has spread like wildfire. In 2019, the FBI designated Qanon as a potential domestic terrorist threat. Using social media, QAnon believers swap conspiracy theories, welcoming opponents of vaccinations, people who believe the moon landing was faked, and followers of just about every other conspiracy theory into their community. QAnon is also tightly linked to the equally mad “pizzagate” conspiracy theory, which claimed that Hillary Clinton ran a pedophile ring from a Washington pizzeria. Many of the most popular QAnon groups also double as pizzagate groups, according to leaked documents. Theses fantasies though have spurred violent reactions among its believers. Both pizzagate and QAnon have been implicated in real-world violence, including armed standoffs, harassment campaigns, attempted kidnappings, a shooting and two murders. Data from digital researchers shows that QAnon content spiked during the early coronavirus lockdowns in the spring of 2020. Even after mainstream social media platforms began cracking down on QAnon-related accounts — Twitter banned them in July with Facebook and Youtube following in October — people continued spreading conspiracy theories through camouflaged account names and hashtags.

Prior to the 2020 election, a Yahoo Poll found that nearly half of Trump supporters had heard of QAnon, and of those, more than a third said they believe at least some of it is true. When asked about the baseless claim that “top Democrats” were involved in child sex-trafficking, half of all Trump supporters agreed.

Chansley aka Angeli aka Q Shaman, photographed inside the Capitol building 6 February 2021. (Photo sourced: Internet)

QAnon played a prominent role in the 2020 election. In the election, more than 70 congressional candidates endorsed some part of the QAnon ideology. The Texas Republican Party used a QAnon slogan for its 2020 campaign, (“We Are the Storm”), then rolled it out with a new line of swag and text messages to supporters (“Text STORM2020 for updates”). Fox News, playing to the group’s adherents, ramped up its coverage of sex-trafficking stings and, in an interview with Eric Trump, Fox host Jesse Watters said: “Q can do some crazy stuff, with the pizza stuff and the Wayfair stuff, but they’ve also uncovered a lot of great stuff when it comes to (pedophile Jeffrey) Epstein and when it comes to the deep state.” Trump himself mentioned QAnon during a debate in October claiming he knew “nothing about it” but had heard “they’re very strong against pedophilia, and I agree with that.”

Q predicted a Trump victory and true believers were devastated when Joe Biden won, but in a worldview dominated by the belief that Democratic elites have rigged the system, a Biden victory wasn’t a repudiation of the theory, instead it was further evidence of a scandal. A QAnon believer soon claimed that the Biden campaign used a powerful supercomputer known as the hammer to change millions of Trump votes to Biden ones. The Hammer story neatly fit into QAnon’s overarching narrative of corrupt Democrats stealing the election from its rightful winner, Mr. Donald Trump and hence, the presence of so many of its followers inside the Capitol.

Though Trump lost, in many ways QAnon won. Almost a million and a half Americans will be represented in Congress by people who support QAnon. Gun-toting Colorado Republican Representative Lauren Boebert who won her race to represent her district is perhaps the most famous QAnon supporter. In the wake of the Capitol attack, Boebert has faced fierce criticism for disclosing the secret location of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during the insurrection, putting Pelosi’s life in danger. Boebert has been called the “Qanon Congresswoman” for saying she hopes the conspiracy theory is “real.”

Lauren Boebert, Republican Colorado Representative, “QAnon Congresswoman”. (Photo sourced: Internet)

Boebert is not alone in the House of Representatives. Republican representative Marjorie Taylor Greene from Georgia has called “Q” a “patriot” who is “worth listening to and claimed that Q “posted many things that seem to verify that he is the real deal,” she says. “It’s not just someone poking in the dark, messing with people.” Taylor Greene has also accused holocaust survivor George Soros of collaborating with the Nazis and  Trump has called her a “future Republican star. There is speculation that she might run for the United States Senate or Governor of Georgia.

Republican Congresswoman for Georgia Marjorie Taylor Greene, hopes QAnon conspiracy theory is real. (Photo sourced: Internet)

Perhaps the poster child for the movement is the Q Shaman, whose name is actually Jacob Anthony Chansley. Also known as Jake Angeli, he was photographed striding through the Capitol bare-chested wearing a fur and horns, while carrying a six foot spear and a USA flag. In February, Mr Angeli was photographed at a Trump rally holding a sign that read “Q Sent Me.” Mr Angeli has called himself a “multi-dimensional or hyper-dimensional being” and claims he can “see into these other higher dimensions that these entities – these pedophiles, these rapists, these really high up people … that they can almost hide in the shadows in.” He faces multiple charges including violent entry and disorderly conduct. Angeli told federal authorities he traveled to the Capitol to answer the call from his President, who had asked his supporters to muster in Washington, D.C., on the day Congress met to certify the election defeat of Donald Trump. Angeli’s claim of following Trump’s order, along with the same claim made by others arrested in the insurrection, will serve as evidence in Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate.

Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska recently warned in an op-ed in The Atlantic magazine that the QAnon conspiracy theory movement is destroying his Party. He wrote, “We can dedicate ourselves to defending the Constitution and perpetuating our best American institutions and traditions, or we can be a party of conspiracy theories, cable-news fantasists, and the ruin that comes with them.” He added, “The GOP must reject conspiracy theories or be consumed by them. Now is the time to decide what this party is about.”

Will Biden’s victory dim QAnon’s allure? Or will these conspiracy theories always survive, even in the face of apparent contradictions? Will Sasse and rational Republicans prevail or is the movement too powerfully entrenched in the party to be extirpated? One thing is sure: Qanon is not going to go away quietly.

End.

11-YEAR-OLD GIRLS “MURDERED” BY PARAGUAYAN MILITARY

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time main text: 12 mins.)

On 2nd September 2020, a Paraguayan military operation took place in the north of the country which resulted in the deaths of two Argentinian girls of 11 years of age. Later three men were killed and the aunt of those girls was captured by Paraguayan military and is currently in jail. Those are the only elements upon which everyone is agreed; the rest is a matter of hot dispute, not only between the Paraguayan authorities and relatives of the dead girls and the detained woman, but also between those authorities and human rights organisations in Argentina, a feminist collective in Paraguay (currently subject to repression) and the appropriate organisation of the United Nations. There is also the question of a missing 14-year old girl.

Some of the human rights organisations, such as the Gremial de Abogados de Argentina (Association of Argentinian Lawyers) and feminist collectives in Paraguay itself have said the girls were captured alive and subsequently murdered. Some others, such as Human Rights Watch have cast heavy doubts on the version (actually, a number of different versions) of the Paraguayan authorities, also pointing out a number of actions taken which raise suspicions of murder and of attempts to cover up the events.

ACCORDING TO THE FAMILY AND SUPPORTERS

Last year Laura Villalba Ayala – sister of Carmen Villalba, one of the former top leaders of the EPP guerrilla organisation who has been in prison for 17 years – travelled from Argentina to Paraguay with three girls who were going to visit their relatives. According to some sources, to visit their fathers, whom they had never met in person, having been born in Argentina to where their mothers had fled and been brought up there.

Paraguayan intelligence detected the group and they were ambushed on 2nd September in the El Paraíso ranch, located in the city of Yby Yaú, in the Department of Concepción of the Republic of Paraguay. The belief is that they took them alive as prisoners and then executed two of the 11-year-old girls, Lilian and Maria Carmen Villalba and wounded 14-year-old Carmen Elizabeth (Lichita) who managed to flee along with others. Or executed the girls after the others had successfully got away – after interrogating them.

Two 11 year-old cousins killed by Paraguayan military last year who they claim were “guerrilleras”. (Photo sourced: Internet)

A relentless hunt pursued the fugitives and on 20th November 2020, while passing through the forest the three men who accompanied them were executed in cold blood: Lucio Silva, Esteban Marín López and Rodrigo Arguello. Their executioners fired infrared targeted shots at a distance of 500 meters.

Alone and without knowing the area, the girl and woman fled the hunt into the forest but got lost and separated and on December 23rd when Laura was looking for Carmen Elizabeth, she was arrested. The girl is still missing, while Laura is prisoner in a military camp and, according to her family and supporters, probably being tortured.

Carmen Elizabeth Villaba, the 14 year-old still missing after Paraguayan military attacked an EPP camp. (Image sourced: Internet)

ACCORDING TO THE PARAGUAYAN AUTHORITIES

The “raid on an EEP camp” was hailed by the President of Paraguay, Mario Abdo Benítez himself as a great victory against the EEP and mentioned that some young women guerrilleras had been killed. When giving more detail, the military said that the young women were around 14 or 15 and supplied photographs of their bodies in military-style fatigues/ uniform.

The authorities reported that the bodies had been found with weapons, that a paraffin test on one of them established that she had fired a weapon, that both had ammunition in their pockets, their clothes had been burned (“due to Covid19 precautions”) and both had been buried without autopsy.

Ferreira, a Government official who arrived at the site of the incident after it had occurred, said that he recorded bullet wounds which he said had been at a distance of between 10 and 20 metres and that the girls had been shot while running away.

Paraguayan anti-insurgency military in training. (Image sourced: Internet)

After enquiries from anxious relatives, the Paraguayan authorities requested the Argentinian state to send copies of the birth certificates of the girls which, when supplied, confirmed that the girls had been 11 years of age. The Director of Forensic Science of the Paraguayan Prosecutor’s office then had the bodies exhumed and, carrying out tests on them, confirmed their ages at around 11 years of age. After that examination of the remains, the Forensic Science Director, Pablo Lemir said one girl was shot seven times – from the front, the back, and the side – while the other girl was shot twice, from the front and the side.

Paraguayan special forces on parade. (Image sourced: Internet)

The Paraguayan State and its supporting media then began to talk of a “training camp for child soldiers” and accusing Laura Villalba Ayala of having accompanied them into Paraguay for that purpose.

DOUBTS AND SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES

Numerous sources including Human Rights Watch, commenting on the available information, cast doubts or outright challenged the Paraguayan state account, pointing out the following:

  • no autopsy was carried out on the bodies prior to burial as is required in particular by the Minnesota Protocol in cases of death caused by government agents (the international standard for conducting autopsies and other forensic analysis in the United Nations Manual on the Effective Prevention of Extra-legal, Arbitrary, and Summary Executions).
  • neither family, Argentinian Consul or independent observers were permitted to attend the eventual autopsy
  • the clothes of the deceased, material of great forensic importance were not only not preserved but burned
  • the reason given for that burning, defence against Covid19 contagion, is not recommended in any of the Covid19 procedures and was not carried out with regard to other material in the camp (bedding, food sacks etc) and in any case makes no sense since the bodies were immediately buried, according to the military
  • despite videoing by Government forces of previous such operations, there was none of this one
  • there were no interviews of the military personnel to establish what weapons they had or who had fired or their account of the incident
  • the photos seen showed the uniforms clean and without bullet holes while the girls were by military admission killed by a number of bullets and relatives shown the photos contrasted the clean state of the uniforms with the girls’ faces and hands, which suggested to them that they had been dressed in the uniforms after torture and execution
  • Beyond 1.5 metres, it is not possible to determine the distance of firing since the entry wound will look the same at vastly different distances, according to two IFEG forensic analysts (Independent Forensic Expert Group of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims) giving Human Rights Watch their expert opinions in this case.
  • The paraffin test is not considered conclusive of having fired a gun, according to the IFEG experts, since there is a wide range of other substances that can give the same result.
  • According to Pablo Lemir, Director of Forensic Science of Paraguay’s Prosecutor’s Office, the failure to carry out an autopsy and burning of clothes violated standard procedures for such cases.
  • The Government expended some effort originally to claim that the girls were years older than their actual age. Now it is refusing to allow an experienced Argentinian team to exhume the girls and carry out a forensic examination.

REPRESSION AND RESISTANCE IN PARAGUAY ARISING FROM THIS CASE

A feminist collective responded spontaneously to the news of the killing with around 70 demonstrating with a samba band at the national building of the Pantheon of Heroes, carrying placards stating that the victims were only girls (“eran niñas” — which also became a hashtag about the case). The Pantheon building had been sprayed earlier with graffiti quoting from Paraguay’s child protection legislation and there was an attempt to burn a flag of the state’s colours.

The Attorney General’s Office immediately issued arrest warrants for three women on charges of “damage to national heritage”, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. Paloma Chaparro, who had been recorded carrying out the acts, later surrendered herself to authorities, while Marian Abdala and Giselle Ferrer fled to Argentina despite continued border closures due to Covid-19. Subsequently summonses were issued for at least six of the organisers of the protest to answer charges of violation of Covid19 regulations and extradition requests were made of Argentina for the two who fled the country.

Paraguayan politicians, who have nothing to say about the killing of 11-year-old girls by their military, have vied to express disgust and horror at the crimes on the national monument, with patriotic associations even laying floral tributes of thousands of dollars at the monument. The Paraguayan media, all very aligned with the regime, has made great issue of this “crime” (at worst mild vandalism) with the effect of drawing a veil over the case of executions of two 11-year-old girls and three adults, the continuing disappearance of a 14-year-old girl and the continuing detention of their adult relative in a male-only military compound.

Paraguayan politicians and other right-wingers lay floral and flag tributes at the national monument in abhorrence of the feminists’ protest but without mention of two 11 year-old girls killed and a 14 year-old missing. (Image sourced: Internet)

Both women who fled to Argentina gave numerous death and rape threats as their reason, along with lack of faith in fair treatment by Paraguay’s judicial system.

Paloma Chaparro spent two weeks in jail before being bailed at $14,300 to house arrest.

During a press conference on Monday 11th, a member of the lawyers’ delegation who had entered the conflict zone in an effort to find and rescue Carmen Elizabeth Oviedo Villalba and also to investigate the incident, said they were accompanied throughout by five military vans and that the intimidation of the local people was such that they were unable to talk to any of them. However, some who separatedly had managed to speak to local people confirmed that the girls had been arrested alive during the raid.

Later the Paraguayan authorities claimed that one of the lawyers is the new leader of the EPP! Commenting on the accusation during the press conference a representative of the organisation clearly found it amusing but then became serious, pointing out that such accusations could put their lives in danger.

On 11 September 2020 the Paraguayan government stated that former Vice President Óscar Denis and one of his employees were kidnapped by members of the EPP not far from the site of the guerrilla camp assaulted by the army on 2nd September. The pick-up vehicle in which the two men were riding was found abandoned with propaganda leaflets scattered around, the statement said. The EPP appears to have made no statement in that regard.

Both men are reported still missing.

THE EPP

The Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo (Paraguayan People’s Army) is a very small guerrilla army of communist ideology, which sees itself as a liberation organisation but which the regime classifies as a terrorist organisation. Estimates of its numbers vary from 50-100 and it operates mostly in the Concepción department (administrative area) in northern Paraguay and also in the neighbouring departments of Caníndeyu and San Pedro.

EPP Guerilla fighters, one reading a statement while others stand guard. (Image sourced: Internet)

Wikipedia and other websites describing such organisations regularly list the alleged killings, kidnappings etc by the guerrilla organisations without listing the corresponding arrests, killings and other actions by the police and army forces or other arms of the State or proxy forces. In those circumstances quoting statistics of armed actions by the guerrilla organisation can amount to propaganda in favour of the state in question.

Logo or arms of the EPP. (Image sourced: Internet)

The origins of the organisation are in the taking apart of the Partido Patria Libre (Free Homeland Party) by Paraguayan police in 2005.

Whatever others may say about them it does appear that the guerrilleros are well-regarded in the EPP operational area and the chairperson of the press conference in Argentina on Monday commented in passing that the funerals of the three fighters executed by the Paraguayan military were attended by large crowds of local people paying their respects.

Paraguayan Army vehicle overturned in explosion 2014, officer and private killed. (Image sourced: Internet)

ACTION

A coalition of Argentinian human rights organisations have written an Open Letter (see Appendix 2) to Alberto Fernandez, the President of Argentina, calling on him to suspend commercial relations with Paraguay until the regime responds satisfactorily to the following

  • “Demand the Paraguayan government authorize the immediate entry of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team to carry out an autopsy within the framework of an impartial investigation that can guarantee justice for the girls María Carmen and Lilian Mariana Villalba.
  • “Demand of the Paraguayan government the appearance alive of Carmen Elizabeth Oviedo Villalba, aged 14, who has been missing since November 30, 2020.
  • “Demand of the Paraguayan government the immediate release of Laura Villalba, who is being held illegally in a military prison, probably subjected to torture.
  • “Grant political refuge in Argentina for the Villalba family, which is constantly harassed and criminalized by the Paraguayan government.”

Supporters of the family and human rights organisations in Argentina are asking for details of the case to be widely disseminated and for people internationally to add their voices to the campaign (should you wish to add your name or organisation in support of the letter, please notify estadoparaguayoinfantocida@gmail.com and name which category you come under from the list on the open letter).

At an on-line press conference on Monday last week it seemed that the only media present from outside Latin America were from the Italian and Spanish states. A member of the family, Myrian, thanked all for their efforts and vowed to continue the campaign while an elderly Nor Cortiñas, a member of the famous Mothers of May Square, who in the 1970s and 80s demonstrated in Buenos Aire’s city centre demanding justice regarding those “disappeared” by the military dictatorship then, spoke words of encouragement and said “Venceremos!” (“We shall win`!”) with upraised clenched fist.

Both the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have demanded an investigation into the killings.

ACCURACY:

Under a feeling of some urgency I have done best I have been able to assist in a small way the application of international pressure upon firstly the Paraguayan state to admit a proper investigation, along with the return to Argentina of Laura Villalbaand the currently disappeared 14-year-oldCarmen Elizabeth Oviedo Villalba and, in the second place, that the Argentinian Government take all action possible to achieve those aims. It was just a few days ago that I received the first knowledge I had of this case through a comrade abroad forwarding me the press release of the Argentinian Lawyers’ Association, since when I have tried to find more details and also some press coverage (see Sources). It is possible therefore that I have omitted some relevant matters or erred in some detail and if so, I can only apologise and hope that will not be the cause of anyone failing to disseminate information about this atrocity and the present and continuing danger to a woman in jail and a 14 year-old girl missing in Paraguay.

End.

APPENDED DOCUMENTS (total 2)

APPENDIX (1)

THE ARGENTINIAN LAWYERS’ ASSOCIATION REPORTS THE ARRIVAL OF A DELEGATION OF INTERNATIONAL LAWYERS IN THE CONFLICT ZONE IN SEARCH OF INFORMATION ABOUT THE WHEREABOUTS OF CARMEN ELIZABETH OVIEDO VILLALBA (English translation from original by DB)

gremialdeabogados.org

It was public knowledge in the past that more than ten years ago several members of the Villalba family, mostly boys and girls, had to settle in our country (Argentina) fleeing the persecution unleashed by the Paraguayan Government against the families of the combatants of the EPP (Ejercito del Pueblo Paraguayo- Paraguayan People’s Army), who are not part of the organization.

Last year Laura Villalba Ayala – Carmen Villalba’s sister, one of the top leaders of the EPP who has been in prison for 17 years – travelled to Paraguay with three girls who were going to visit their relatives.

Paraguayan intelligence detected the group and the persecution against them was unleashed immediately, managing to ambush them on 2nd September in the El Paraíso ranch, located in the city of Yby Yaú, in the Department of Concepción of the Republic of Paraguay. They took them alive as prisoners and then executed two of the 11-year-old girls, Lilian and Maria Carmen Villalba and wounded 14-year-old Carmen Elizabeth (Lichita) who managed to flee along with the others.

From there, the chase after them was relentless. In this context, on 20th November 2020, the three people who accompanied them: Lucio Silva, Esteban Marín López and Rodrigo Arguello were executed in cold blood while passing through the forest. The executioners fired shots at 500 meters distance with weapons equipped with caloric and infrared mechanisms that detect human heat and direct the shot.

Alone and without knowing the area, they went into the forest trying to flee the persecution. They got lost and on December 23rd when Laura was looking for Carmen Elizabeth, she was arrested.

From the testimonies of local people collected by Laura before her arrest, some said that the army had captured Carmen Elizabeth and others said that a group of civilians captured her.

Throughout these days the Government of Paraguay has launched an intense campaign against the EPP, in particular against the Villalba family. To justify the executions of the girls and now the disappearance of Carmen Elizabeth “Lichita”, they are spreading false news about the recruitment of minors in the EPP, obscenely conducting a cover-up for their crimes and their need to use the persecution of girls as spoils of war in their fight against the EPP.

For that reason, several colleagues offered to organize a search group with the participation of our colleague Gustavo Franquet, along with the lawyer Daysi Irala from Paraguay, the lawyer Sabrina Diniz Bittencourt Nepomuceno from Brazil and the comrade Germán from Aníbal Verón’s CTD, who also volunteered to accompany and assist.

On the 4th of January 2021 this delegation arrived at Yby Yaú, North of Paraguay after 6 hours by the bus. From there, they will have to walk into the conflict zone, in an area with a lot of forest to try to reach the area where aboriginal communities have reported that they saw Lichita alive.

They will try to confirm the information gathered so far and look for more information about the 14-year-old girl (twin) daughter of Carmen Villalba.

We publicise the presence of our colleagues in the area, aware of the danger that the delegation has assumed when entering the conflict zone.

The Government and the Paraguayan military forces are informed of the entry into the area of a non-belligerent foreign group of which none carry any weapons.

We hold the Government and the Joint Task Forces of Paraguay responsible for the physical integrity, life, and liberty of our comrades, since the official Paraguayan organizations and the Argentine consul in Asunción have been formally notified of their presence.

Finally, and with all our heart, we want to show our immense gratitude to so many colleagues, as well as to very diverse organizations of different political positions that assisted with money (in some cases a lot of money, which was unexpected by us) to pay for the trip, tickets and the huge expenses that this mission entails for us.

Know that we will never ever forget such a gesture and that without this assistance this trip would have been impossible.

We will continue to provide all the information that we receive.

APPENDIX (2)

Open letter to President Alberto Fernández: You cannot do “business” with an infanticidal state.

We the undersigned, social organizations, intellectuals, academics, trade unionists, activists, defenders of human rights, feminists, professionals, members of civil society, political organizations, ask the Argentina Government presided over by Alberto Fernández to suspend commercial relations with the Paraguayan State until the clarification of the crime perpetrated by the Joint Task Forces (FTC) against the Argentinian girls María Carmen and Lilian Mariana Villalba, who were only 11 years old, in Yby Yaú, Concepción, Paraguay, on September 2, 2020, and thatCarmen Elizabeth Oviedo Villalba, 14 years old, disappeared since November 30, appears alive.

Along the same lines, the immediate cessation of the persecution of the Villalba family is required, which currently has Laura Villalba, mother of one of the massacred girls, illegally detained in the Viñas Cué military prison. Both Carmen Elizabeth and Laura witnessed the capture of the girls at Yby Yau on September 2nd. Therefore, the arrest of one and the disappearance of the other are intimately related to the intention of the terrorist state of Paraguay,faced with a fact that is internationally known, to erase the evidence and viciously punish the next of kin.

Laura, María Carmen, Lilian Mariana and Carmen Elizabeth resided in the missionary town of Puerto Rico (Argentina) and were stranded in Paraguay by the COVID 19 pandemic. The Paraguayan State had a duty to protect them and return them in good health. On the contrary, the repressive forces of that country violated their lives, with the operation celebrated as a success by the President of the country himself, Mario Abdo Benítez.

The bodies of the girls were not subjected to an autopsy and were quickly buried, with false information from official sources about the age and condition of the girls at the time of being killed. The alleged clothes that the girls were wearing were cremated as a preventive operation against COVID 19, a fact that lacks substance and reason. The second autopsy that was carried out under pressure from civil society determined the age of the girls and added more confusion to the way in which they were executed, so we understand that an impartial investigation is still necessary to determine what happened and to allow progress in a process of reparation and justice.

Although the Paraguayan Government has supposedly responded affirmatively to the request for an investigation made by the Argentinian State, it has done nothing in that direction and, on the contrary, has withdrawn its support for the UN in the face of its pronouncement in this case; it has persecuted the protesters who demand justice, has criminalized children, adolescents and indigenous communities in the region, has held the families of the victims responsible as well as relatives who suffer persistent persecution, has fostered wild hypotheses about Argentina, as some kind of “guerrilla nursery” place, has wished to prohibit the dissemination of information about the murdered girls, thereby trying to hide the fact that they were girls and push the case into oblivion, has continued with its policy of militarization of the northern region of the country. As if all this were not enough, we also observe an intention – reinforced by the hegemonic media and social networks – to deny the Argentinian nationality of the girls María Carmen and Lilian Mariana, to remove relevance of the incident from the Argentinian State, which worries us doubly: first, because it is intended to strip us of the tool of international law; second, because in this way the Paraguayan State demonstrates that it assumes the power to murder girls if it so wishes.

The Paraguayan State has a history of abuses that are recorded with six judgments of the IACHR, of which it has only partially complied with one of them, so we are talking about a serial violator of human rights. Under no point of view can we entrust the clarification of the massacre of our girls to whoever murdered them. Such is the impunity that no person is charged, investigated or detained for such an outrage, unlike the case of the people who participated in the protests demanding justice for the girls, for which there are summons, detentions and requests for international arrest. These recent verified events reveal not only disproportionate cruelty but also the direction taken by the Paraguayan judiciary.

If the Argentinian State is committed to the defense of human rights, in no way can it ignore such an outrage that physically assaults the bodies of girls, women and social activists. That is why through this letter we urge the Argentinian government to:

  • Demand the Paraguayan government authorize the immediate entry of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team to carry out an autopsy within the framework of an impartial investigation that can guarantee justice for the girls María Carmen and Lilian Mariana Villalba.
  • Demand of the Paraguayan government the appearance alive of Carmen Elizabeth Oviedo Villalba, aged 14, who has been missing since November 30, 2020.
  • Demand of the Paraguayan government the immediate release of Laura Villalba, who is being held illegally in a military prison, probably subjected to torture.
  • Grant political refuge in Argentina for the Villalba family, constantly harassed and criminalized by the Paraguayan government.

We are convinced that you cannot do business with the infanticidal state led by Mario Abdo Benítez, direct heir to the Stroessner dictatorship.

Without further ado and awaiting a favorable response, sincerely:

HUMAN RIGHT ORGANIZATIONS (original endorsements but many more since then: 10)

TRADE UNIONS (original endorsements but many more since then: 7)

POLITICAL ORGANIZATIONS (original endorsements but many more since then: 33)

SOCIAL AND PROFESSIONAL MOVEMENTS AND ORGANIZATIONS (original endorsements but many more since then: 119)

INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY ORGANISATIONS (original endorsements but many more since then: 33)

INDIVIDUAL ACTIVISTS (original endorsements but many more since then: 200+)

SOURCES & FURTHER READING

Repression against solidarity protesting women in Paraguay: https://nacla.org/paraguay-coronavirus-criminalization

Human Rights Watch report of the murders: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/12/02/paraguay-flawed-investigation-argentine-girls-killings

New York Times article on the case: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/11/world/americas/paraguay-military-girls.html

UN criticism of the special forces in 2015: https://www.telesurenglish.net/news/UN-Condemns-Human-Rights-Violations-in-Paraguay-20150401-0002.html

A CONTROVERSY OVER A 1916 RISING COMMEMORATION IN SOUTH LONDON

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time text: 12 mins.)



As we in the SE London, Lewisham branch of the Irish in Britain Representation Group began to plan our Easter Rising commemoration locally in 2000, we could not have imagined the drama it would bring. It resulted in calls for the event’s cancellation, for the Lewisham Irish Community Centre to revoke our hire of the hall and even for the withdrawal of the Centre’s meagre funding from the local authority. And shortly afterwards an attempt was made to burn down the Centre.

Even in the general atmosphere of anti-Irish racism in Britain and context of the 30 Years’ War in Ireland, we could not have expected these developments. The Lewisham Branch of the IBRG, founded towards the end of 19861, had been hosting this annual event locally long before the Irish Centre had opened in 1992 and in fact the branch was instrumental in getting the disused building, which had belonged to the Cooperative Society, handed over to the Irish community and refurbished by the local authority. Furthermore, the 1916 Rising had been commemorated at the Lewisham Irish Centre by the local IBRG branch for a number of years running without any fuss.

As usual, whenever the event was to take place we naturally hoped others would promote it. In the days before Facebook and Twitter etc, email would would reach some contacts, a poster in the centre would be seen by users, some illegal street postering might be done and the Irish Post or Irish World might publicise the event. The rest would be by word of mouth.

“Beginning of the siege”, one of the GPO 1916 Rising series of ten paintings by Norman Teeling. (Image sourced: Internet)

It happened that in the week preceding the 1998 event, an activist of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement in London was in touch with the branch and he posted the event on the 32CSM site, intending it as a supportive advertisement. However, someone who hated that organisation took it to be an event of the 32 CSM themselves.

Victor Barker’s son James had been killed in the Omagh car bombing of 15th August 1998, carried out by the “Real IRA”, a group opposed to the Provisional IRA’s signup to the Good Friday Agreement and to the British colonial occupation of Ireland. Although the organisation responsible has always stated that it intended to kill no civilians2, with 29 fatalities the bombing took the highest death toll of a single incident (but not of a single day, which was the British intelligence bombing of Dublin and Monaghan in May 1974) during the 30 Years War.

Understandably Victor Barker had pursued a vendetta against the Real IRA since and, less understandably perhaps, against anything connected with it, including the 32CSM and even, in this case, the right of an unrelated Irish community organisation to commemorate its national history.

Barker contacted the Lewisham Irish Centre and expressed his outrage, demanding the event be cancelled. A nonplussed Brendan O’Rourke, Manager of the Centre, explained that the event was an annual one and booked by a local comunity organisation and affiliate of the Centre. Not in the least mollified, Barker then got to the local authority, an official of which rang Brendan, he repeated the explanation and the official seemed satisfied.

Logo of the Lár-Ionad na nGael/ Lewisham Irish Community Centre. (Design by D.Breatnach)
Program leaflet for the Lewisham Irish Festival (1998), founded by the Lewisham irish Centre with support from Lewisham IBRG. It ran for a few years before funding became unavailable. (Photo source: Internet)

But Brendan was getting a bit worried and phoned me at work – I had been Chair of the Management Committee since the Centre opened and was at the same time Secretary of the local IBRG branch. We discussed the matter and agreed to cary on but his next phone call was to alert me that the matter was now national or at least London-wide news, with a report in an early edition of the Evening Standard headlining that we were running a “London fundraiser for the Omagh bombers3. Furthermore, the cowardly local authority official was now saying – and quoted — that while they had no power to cancel the booking, they would be looking at the Irish Centre’s funding.

I hurried home to Lewisham as fast as I could – the SE London borough is about 90 minutes’ journey by underground line and overground train from King’s Cross, where I worked. With no time for a meal, I got some things ready and got down to the Centre, about 15 minutes’ walk from my flat.

By virtue of being Chairperson of the Irish Centre’s management committee, I had a key, opened the door, turned off the burglar alarm and locked the door again, then began to get things ready. The part-time Caretaker would lay out tables and chairs for events but I generally liked to change it to a less formal arrangement for our events and so I set to that. There was also “decoration” to be done: some posters and portraits of 1916 martyrs to put up in places, flags to hang etc.

Photo taken earlier this year showing the front of the irish Centre in Davenport Road, London SE6, more or less unchanged. The gathering in front is part of a Lockdown bicycle meals delivery service introduced by the Centre and facilitated by Inclusive Cycling volunteers. (Photo source: Lewisham Irish Centre website)

In the lobby I placed a chair by a table there and also some hidden short stout lengths of wood. This was a provision inherited from earlier days when Irish or British left-wing meetings might be attacked by fascists of the National Front or the British Movement but we hadn’t felt the need at the Irish Centre for some years now. However, with the current hysteria being whipped up by Barker and the Evening Standard and assisted by the wriggling of the Council officer, fascists might well decide the conditions favoured an attack.

Another possibility was a police raid. The “Prevention of Terrorism Act” in force since 1974 in Britain specifically targeted the Irish community and gave the police the power to detain someone for up to five days without access even to a lawyer.4

Early arrivals started to knock at the door and I was in a quandary – until I had some reliable able-bodied people to staff the door, I didn’t want to start letting people in. On the other hand if we were going to be attacked, I couldn’t leave them outside either. So it was open, let them in, lock the door again, open, let some more in …. until the arrival of some I could ask to mind the door (after I’d told them about the “extras” in case they were needed).

Then there were sound amplification checks and gradually the hall was filling up. I was to be MC and so on duty inside the hall but kept checking the lobby to see everything was ok. And of course people wanted to chat about the news so would stop me and ask me about it …

For the evening’s program, the MC was to welcome people, introduce the Irish ballad band and have them play for an hour. Then intermission, MC on again with a few words on behalf of the local organisation, introduce the featured speaker, get the band on again for an hour or so to finish. So, some time to kill, to worry before the hour for which the band was booked.

The time came but the band didn’t. At half an hour late I started to worry and the supporter who had booked the band on behalf of the branch couldn’t get any reply from them by phone. As MC I apologised to the attendance and asked for their patience. Over an hour late, the band’s manager finally phoned to say they would not be coming. Because of worry arising out of the media reporting.

A few of us in the organising group held a quick conference. Nothing for it but to face the music – or rather its absence – and so I got on the stage and told the audience that the band had pulled out and everyone was entitled to a refund of their ticket price without any hard feelings whatsoever or …

Before I could lay out the alternative, a guy sitting near the stage jumped up and shouted “We will NOT accept our money back!” to the applause of some others. A little taken aback, I thanked him for his spirit but said people should have the choice and laid out the alternative, which would be to hear the speaker and just socialise for the rest of the evening. Nobody made a move to get up and approach the door so ….. I introduced the speaker, who that year might have been from the IRSP (a previous speaker had been Michelle Gildernew, then representing Sinn Féin in Britain). He did his bit, I did mine, much of that not surprisingly being devoted to censorship, intimidation and repression of the Irish community as well as the commemoration of our history.

Then a guy approached and said he’d play guitar and sing, so he went up on stage, I followed with a few songs acapella, someone else sang a few …. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the evening, there was no trouble at the door …. and because there was no band to pay, we made more money than we had ever done for function organised by the local IBRG branch!

But there were to be two dramatic sequels to this controversy. And tensions between myself and the Centre Manager would follow.

THE “MAC CHICKEN BROTHERS”

The professional name of the Irish ballad band was The Mac Namara Brothers but Brian, a resilient Dublin comrade from a deprived background, that night baptised them the Mac Chicken Brothers (a play on the Mac Donald chain’s naming of items and a reference to the band members’ cowardice.

Our event had been on a Friday night and they were due to play Sunday afternoon at an Irish bar a five minutes’ drive from the Lewisham Irish Centre. We didn’t see how we could let them do that without confronting them. In discussion I suggested we present them with some white feathers and denounce them and Brian was all up for that; he was taking the kids to the seaside and would pick up some white feathers around the beach. But, unbelievably, he could find none. Nor could I in a local park. In the end, I opened a pillow and took out handfuls but they were all small.

The next day, we declined to invite anyone who might get hurt without being accustomed to defending themselves or who might not be sufficiently disciplined in behaviour and of the remainder, only myself and Brian were available. The pub, The Graduate, was under new management, one of three sisters from the Six Counties (perhaps Armagh), who lived in South-East London. I knew her from when she had been barmaid and perhaps manager at the Woodman, another Irish pub in the general area, where I attended Irish traditional music sessions (and sometimes a lock-in for an extra hour or so).

On Sunday we were a bit late in getting going but Brian drove us there and we entered the crowded area that would have been the public bar before the lounge and that area were combined. I bought us a round and we tried to act as relaxed and natural as possible, nodded to people we knew … It was certain that many of those present already knew what had happened but no-one came to ask us about it.

The “Mac Chicken Brothers” were playing and I was unsure whether we had perhaps missed their break. I got another round in but that was going to be my limit. To our relief, the band took a break but now my tension racked higher as I positioned myself nonchalantly near the stage and waited for the band to get ready for the second half of their act.

Finally, I saw them coming and with a small plastic bag in my hand I jumped up on to the low stage, Brian ready to handle any trouble from the floor.

“Ladies and gentlemen!” I called out loudly and got instant attention. “A few nights ago the British press ran a scare story about a 1916 Rising commemoration in Lewisham,” I continued. “This band here was booked to attend but didn’t turn up, leaving a couple of hundred people waiting. This is what we think of you,” I said, turning to the band members and threw a handful of the feathers from the bag in their direction.

“Hear, hear!” shouted someone in the crowd and I got down from the stage, glanced at Brian and made for the door, with him following closely behind. Incredibly I heard one of the band members say to me: “You might have told us you were going to do that!”

As we walked away outside, my heart thumping, the manager came rushing out.

“You had no right to do that,” she said, her eyes flashing fire. “Not in my pub!”

“Sorry, Bridget,” (not her real name), I replied, “It had to be done!”

“Not in my pub!”

“But that’s where the band was! It just had to be done.”

Now a customer came haring out looking for us and, from the look on his face, it wasn’t to offer congratulations. I felt Brian beside me change his stance to take him on but the manager took the guy by the arm and talked him back inside and we got in Brian’s van and car and drove off. “Bridge” wouldn’t talk to me for some years afterwards, though one of her sisters would.

The following day, I wrote a letter about the matter to the Irish Post5, attacking the Labour Council for its cowardice, the band for failing to comply with their booking and the Evening Standard for its felon-setting. Since I was Chairperson of the Management Committee of the Centre, which was already under some pressure, I wrote it under a pseudonym. The letter was published.

I felt that not only our branch of the IBRG but the Irish community had been attacked and we had responded appropriately and publicly, both locally and in the wider context. We would now face the next move, if one was to come, from the Council, as an Irish community with pride.

Part of IBRG Ard-Choiste delegation after lobbying Mo Mowlam in Westminster, London, 15 February 1995: (r-l) Laura Sullivan, Diarmuid Breatnach, Virginia Moyles, Pat Reynolds. (Photo source: Irish Post).

But at the next monthly meeting Management Committee, I was surprised to find that Brendan, the Centre Manager, believed that either Lewisham IBRG had organised the event jointly with 32CSM or that I had placed the advertisement. But worse, I was genuinely shocked to see that he believed my use of a pseudonym for the Irish Post letter was an attempt to distance the IBRG and myself from the controversy and leave him to face it alone. Brendan and I disagreed politically (he was a Sinn Féin supporter and I was by this time hostile to the party’s new trajectory with respect to the conflict in Ireland) but I supported him as Manager of the Centre while as Irishmen we stood together against oppression. But no matter what I said now, I seemed unable to convince him that the use of a pseudonym, far from being a device to have a say and protect myself at the same time, was to protect the Centre and himself as its Manager.

We got through the meeting and the Council officials seemed happy to let the matter rest, since the Standard lost interest and moved on to the next sensation.

But a more direct attack than that of Barker and the media was being planned somewhere.

Ard-Choiste meeting of the IBRG at the Working Class Library & Museum, Salford, 1992. (Photo source: Bernadette Hyland)

ARSON ATTACK ON THE CENTRE

In the early hours of one morning a couple of weeks later, I received a phone call from the Fire Brigade, attending at the Lewisham Irish Centre. I was one of the emergency nominees. When I got down there, Pat Baczor6, another member of the Management Committee and also an emergency nominee, was there already. So were the Fire Brigade and the police.

There had been an arson attempt and a hole was burned in the wood of the front door. We opened up and let the Fire Brigade in, who came out a few minutes later, pronouncing the building safe. A container with some inflammable liquid had been set by the door and had burned a hole about the size of my fist but the floor inside was tile and had not caught.

In response to the police, I said while we had received no threats, there had been some controversy in the media about a history commemoration and though I would suspect local fascists, I had no specific individuals in mind.

If we hadn’t wire screens on all the external windows, it would have been easy to smash a glass pane and to throw in the container with a lit fuse. The flooring of the whole hall was wooden and the result would have been quite different. I was very glad that during discussion on the refurbishment of the Coop Hall for use as an Irish Centre more than many years earlier, as Chair of the Steering Group, I had made a point of insisting on the wire screens. An Irish Centre in Britain could expect to be the target of an attack some day.

Christmas lunch in the hall of the Lewisham Irish Community Centre, 2014. The photo is taken with back to the stage, facing the door to the lobby on the way to the front door of the Centre. (Photo source: Lewisham Irish Centre website)

AFTER ALL THAT


We weathered that storm and the following year’s 1916 Rising commemoration took place without incident.

The next crisis for the Irish Centre came some two years later when the Council’s Labour Party Leadership, which had been “Blairite before Blair” as one local Leftie commented, listed the Centre for cuts to our total staffing: one (underpaid) Manager and one part-time caretaker-handyman. There were heavy cuts planned to the whole Council-funded service sector across the Borough of Lewisham so, although in our case the cuts would have meant wiping out our entire staffing, it was difficult to say whether the controversy some years earlier had played a role or not.

But that was another day’s battle.

End.

Publication of the IBRG (Intended to be quarterly, it ran to perhaps four editions more widely spaced apart before it ceased publication. (Photo source: Internet)

FOOTNOTES

1The wider IBRG had been founded in 1981 and consolidated in 1982. The Lewisham branch was founded from an initiative by a core of people who had taken over organising the 1985-1986 Irish Aspects course at Goldsmiths (then) Community College from its original organiser, Derry-born Peter Moloney, who was stepping down and invited them to run it in his place or that the course would come to an end. Peter was one of founding members of the branch and active within it for a few years.

2The intentions of this bombing are still the subject of dispute. The killing of civilians would have been against the interests of the organisation and in the event were strongly so; it strengthened the hands of the authorities in enacting further repressive legislation and also ideologically for the authorities and the Provisionals in gathering support for the Good Friday Agreement and in neutralising its opponents within the Irish Republican movement. Over the years the Wikipedia page on the bombing has changed substantially as cases against accused collapsed, including one in which the Gardaí were found to have concocted notes of an interview and revelation has followed revelation of intelligence services awareness of elements of the plans and failure to alert the RUC (colonial police) on the ground. Four defendants were found responsible in a controversial civil case and it seems clear that that Mickey Kevitt’s criminal conviction on questionable evidence in another case in 2003 was related to his believed involvement as was the refusal to apply all possible reductions which would have seen him released in 2016. McKevitt died of cancer on 2nd January 2021, still serving his sentence of 20 years. The full truth may never be known.

3Pat Reynolds, PRO of the IBRG throughout most of its existence, in his year-by-year review of the IBRG commented: “The London Evening Standard with a long history of anti-Irish racism came out with the headline London fundraiser for the Omagh Bombers alleging that the event was organised by supporters of the real IRA. The IBRG were seeking legal advice on the article as the event was organised by Lewisham IBRG.” Busy with more practical organising and without perhaps the right contacts, Lewisham IBRG never did take up the misreporting legally or with the Press Council.

4As Irish community activists warned the British public, it would lead to wider repressive legislation if permitted to stand, which it did. The 2006 Act allows for detention up to 28 days without charge.

5The Irish Post was founded in 1971 as a newspaper aimed at the Irish community in Britain and played a generally progressive role until its editor-owner, Brendan Mac Lua and Thomas Beattie sold the title and company to Thomas Crosbie Holdings (TCH) in 2003. In 1981 the founding of the Irish in Britain Representation Group was in part inspired by comment in the paper’s “Dolan” column (a pen-name of Mac Lua’s). In later years the newspaper suffered competition from other titles aiming at the same community, The Irish World and The London Irish News(?). More about the Post’s later history (but next to nothing about it earlier work including promoting the cases of the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Maguire Seven etc and also covering protests against anti-Irish racism and promoting new Irish writing) here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Irish_Post

6Patricia Ellen Baczor owed her surname to having married a Polish man. There were many such marriages between Polish refugees and servicemen who met young Irish women at Catholic parish social events in Britain during WW2. Pat was a strong widow and supporter of the rights of the Irish community, progressive in her thinking, anti-racist but not one to push herself forward. She was generally very supportive of me as Chair of the Management Committee and appreciative of the other hat I wore in the local and ‘national’ IBRG and the tensions thereby I sometimes had to negotiate.

IRISH FASCISTS HIDE BEHIND THE HOMELESS

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 8 mins.)

The Far-Right in Ireland have been been for some time hiding behind the homeless. Fascists, other racists and even anti-vaxxers have been organising public demonstrations while pretending concern for homeless people and the crisis of homelessness within the state. But recently they sank to a new low – impersonating the homeless.

Fascists are unable to go to the public with their true intentions unadorned, which is understandable. Why would most people support a capitalist dictatorship built on the suppression of all defence organisations such as trade unions and all other democratic organisations? So fascists need to point to false enemies and false problems, along with false solutions to real problems. One section of the false enemies are migrants and therefore immigration is a false problem. But in a real problem, the ongoing homelessness crisis within the state, they propose a false solution: “house the Irish first”.

The Far-Right ignores the real source of that crisis, that local authorities are not building municipal housing for rent and that for several decades governments have denied them the finance to do so. It is not migrants, who struggle to pay high rents in often sub-standard accommodation, who benefit from that situation but property developers and landlords. And their credit-extending backers, the banks, that our governments forced us to bail out not so long ago at the price of an austerity program and interest-repayment schedule to run for decades.

It is rational for the Far-Right to shift the blame to the blameless and away from the real causes for to do otherwise would bring them up not just “against the Government” but against the capitalist system that all our governments have represented and continue to act for.

When the Irish Yellow Vests started up in Ireland a few years ago, a number of Socialist and Republican activists, along with people not active previously, unaware perhaps of how the Far-Right in France had infiltrated the movement there, joined the rallies and marches. But it quickly became clear that this “movement without leaders” did indeed have leaders and that they were of the Far-Right, one a prominent islamophobe and the other a self-promoting opportunist1. And that fascists and racists were working within it using, among other things, the homelessness crisis and promoting “house the Irish first”. Landlords were only targeted for housing migrants and property developers and the banks not at all.

The theme continued as other sections of the Far-Right accused migrants and asylum-seekers of being housed in luxury accommodation and at public expense. Fascists and other racists organised against buildings being used as asylum-seeker hostels and whipped up fears of invasions by thousands of muslim terrorists and in at least one case, set fire to a proposed hostel building.

Another opportunist and cynical use of the homelessness crisis has been the holding of anti-vaxxer rallies and other publicity-seeking events while claiming to be doing so “for the homeless”. Carey has been holding little rallies for a number of Saturdays at the Garden of Remembrance, having himself videoed there, also broadcasting regular videos of himself sitting in his car, addressing his supposed public support group that is regularly failing to show up. Carey claims that his actions are designed to help the homeless but they neither challenge the cause of the problem nor supply relief, for example through delivering free food or clothing services. Oh yes, he did have a fundraising appeal but where did the money go? Carey was also at one of the early Irish Yellow Vest gatherings on Custom House Quay, Dublin, where he was videoed by their own people behaving aggressively towards a tiny group of antifascists who were present there, also attempting to snatch one of their flags.

This is Carey who started his Irish fascist career with Irish Yellow Vests and then branched off to form his own anti-vaxxer group protesting at the Garden of Remembrance, Dublin, allegedly “to help the homeless”.

A similar publicity stunt was a supposed “walk from east to west” by another anti-vaxxer, Alan Sweeney, who was raising money “for the homeless”. His call for people to join him seems to have resulted only in one woman who was doing it, she said, “for the mentally ill”. Among wide disbelief that he is walking all the way, his sparse videos showed him occasionally walking or, in at least one case, having a confrontation with staff in a shop who didn’t want him in there without wearing a protective face covering. On that occasion, it is the woman “doing it for the mentally ill” who is videoed by Sweeney while she gets served in the shop twice without a mask and goes in a third time to get the confrontation she is seeking.

While they manage to keep both staff (apparently brothers) in pointless argument, what seems to be the no-nonsense father comes along and pushes them out the door. No physical reaction from the bold Sweeney, who was videoed last year aiming a kick at and spitting on a disabled woman on the ground, an antifascist protester who had been knocked down and kicked by another nazi warrior.

Alan Sweeney attacks disabled antifascist woman who has been assaulted by one of his fascist mates in Dublin (and bringing shame on to the Tricolour); clip taken from video. (See Sources)

All that is reasonably well known and much of it in the public record though it might take a little digging to unearth it. But last weekend the Far-Right went beyond pretending to support the homeless to actually pretending to be homeless themselves.

CONVOY & RALLY AGAINST THE LOCKDOWN

On Sunday (10th January 2021), QAnon called for an anti-vaxxer2 “anti-lockdown” convoy from Belfast to Dublin. QAnon is one of the negationist groups who proclaim that the pandemic is either not real or not serious, that the (rather insufficient) preventative measures brought in by the Government are just intended to restrict the freedom of assembly for other purposes. They also have a range of other conspiracy beliefs that include, according to which individual is speaking, Jewish financiers or the Chinese Communist Party or Millionaire George Soros being behind it all and financing their opponents, Republicans, Socialists, “Antifa” etc. Or that all are in the service of paedophiles. And that the vaccines are going to inject nanomachines into people’s bloodstream which will allow the Government to control them.

There are a number of QAnon groups around the world and they are especially prominent in the USA, where they have been enthusiastic Trump supporters and were among those who stormed the Capitol building just recently (and where the woman shot by police was a duped by QAnon supporter3).

Anti-Vaxxers harassing (and undermining health advice) on the Dublin LUAS system last August, free from any Garda restriction and no action despite evidence.

On the day of this intended great “convoy”, Covid 19 reported cases within the Irish state were just starting to fall again, at 153,000 with 2,532 reported deaths.

Advertised to start with meeting at Dublin Airport at noon, the anti-vaxxers were going to head north to Belfast and then swing around to come into Dublin with a number of stops along the way to meet at the GPO, a regular weekly rallying point of QAnon in the past. The bringing in of individuals and small groups of people from different parts of the country has been a regular feature of Far-Right rallies to make them seem as having much more public support than is actually the case. Despite current travel restrictions being in place as part of the tardy effort of the Government to prevent or reduce the spread of Covid19 infection, currently at 5 kilometres for exercise, and no outside activities to be organised, the anti-vaxxers clearly had no fear of their convoy and rally failing to attract their supporters nor of any interference by the State.

Although anti-virus contagion measures on a number of occasions have put travel restrictions in place, until now the Far-Right have been able to travel about freely, and assemble unmasked without social distancing. On one occasion in Dublin they marched to the Garden of Remembrance (dedicated to the martyrs who fought for an independent Ireland) and chanted in triumphant mockery “Where’s your Lockdown?”

But last Sunday was a different case.

IMPERSONATING THE HOMELESS

Last Sunday, the Gardaí (police force of the Irish State) had roadblocks out and were stopping traffic to question the drivers on their starting point and destination. The British colonial police force, the PSNI did too and turned up to a score of the anti-vaxxers back at Newry. On the quays in Dublin, Gardaí checkpoints stopped a number of other anti-vaxxers and fascists, such as Alan Sweeney4, who had himself videoed in a short argument from his car refusing to tell a Garda where he was bound or the reason for his journey (which at one point he claimed was for “family”) or to give his address, which he quickly did when threatened with arrest and a hefty fine. Later, on foot, while shouting at Gardaí carrying out other checks, he claimed he was “of no fixed abode” and “homeless” before giving his address, again under threat of arrest. Alan Sweeney does have a home, which is in the lovely area of Kinvara in Co. Galway (sorry, Kinvara but we know he does not represent you) and is 213.3 km from Dublin city centre.

Having reached the GPO without making most of the scheduled stops, Dolores Webster, one of the leaders of the QAnon group regularly rallying there who broadcasts videos under the nom de guerre of “Dee Wall” (and known to her opponents by other names such as “Deemented”, “Off Dee Wall” and “the Screech”) was approached by Gardaí. She claimed she was homeless and was waiting for the homeless feeding service5 to set up but eventually she and her coterie ran out of excuses and had to disperse.

May 2020 Anti-Vaxxers protesting lockdown, Dee Wall (centre photo) with microphone. (Image sourced: Internet)

There are an estimated in excess of 8,000 people without a permanent home in the 26-County State, only part of which were the 1,117 families who accessed emergency accommodation in October 2020, including 2,642 children. The use of the homeless as a cover for fascist and racist mobilisation, as a pretence for targeting migrants and asylum seekers, for fund-raising and, in the end, as a cover for violating contagion prevention measures, shows the total cynicism of the Far-Right. Furthermore it exposes their total lack of any concern or feeling of social solidarity for the victims of the capitalist system, in addition to their complete lack of any intention of resolving the real crisis of homelessness.

End.

Evening free food service queue including children outside the GPO building Dublin (yes, the same place the anti-vaxxers choose to have their daytime protest). (Image sourced: Internet)

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Go raibh maith agaibh to a number of people who supplied information for this article, including the Ireland Against Fascism FB page: https://www.facebook.com/IrelandAgainstFascism/

FOOTNOTES

1 Glen Miller is a prominent islamophobe and Ben Gilroy has often been a speaker for it, when not being a self-publicist.

2A collective term for people opposed to vaccines but in particular those campaigning against their use.

3Ashli Babbit, a former member of the US military, her QAnon support confirmed by posts on her FB page and reported interviews with family and friends.

4Sweeney has regularly been associated with the fascist National Party headed by Justin Barrett.

5There are feeding services for the homeless and poor people in hostel accommodation etc provided at the GPO by voluntary organisations, religious and secular, every week. The General Post Office is a grand building in the middle of Dublin’s main thoroughfare, O’Connell Street and was the HQ of the insurgents in the 1916 Rising.

REFERENCES

Woman shot by police during Capitol riot was a QAnon supporter: https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2021/01/07/dc-riots-ashli-babbitt-killed-capitol-attack-military-veteran/6577488002/

Leadership of Irish Yellow Vests: https://www.thejournal.ie/yellow-vest-ireland-4440420-Jan2019/

Alan Sweeney assault on disabled woman on the ground: https://twitter.com/gemmentedod1/status/1292947424911204361?lang=gl

Level 5 travel restrictions: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/2dc71-level-5/

Covid19 infection and death statistics on Sunday 9th January: https://www.google.com/search?q=covid+19+statistics+ireland+on+9th+January+2021&oq=covid+19+statistics+ireland+on+9th+January+2021&aqs=chrome..69i57.54134j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

Statistics of recent homelessness: https://www.focusireland.ie/resource-hub/about-homelessness/ and https://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/ep/p-cp5hpi/cp5hpi/hpi/