On Saturday 22nd January 2022 an event was held to commemorate the centenary year of the occupation of the Rotunda building in Dublin by 150 unemployed workers led by Liam Ó Flaithearta, a Republican and Communist and writer from Inis Mór (off the Galway Coast). The occupation took place two days after the formation of the Free State and was attacked by an anti-communist crowd while after a number of days the occupiers were forced out by the police force of the new state of the dismembered nation1. The event last week was organised by the Liam and Tom O’Flaherty Society.
The event began with a gathering at 1.30pm in North Great George’s Street, where the Manifesto had been printed in 1922.2 People then proceeded to the nearby Rotunda, site of the occupation in 1922.3
Seosamh Ó Cuaig from Cill Chiaráin, Carna, Conamara, opened the proceedings as Chairperson, ag cur fáilte roimh dhaoine i nGaeilge agus i mBéarla, briefly introducing the historical occasion and recounting how some companies, including Boland’s, had supplied bread, sugar and tea to the occupiers, before he introduced published historian and blogger Donal Fallon.
Fallon not only recounted the events of that occupation 100 years ago but also placed it in context of a number of other factors: the unemployment then in the State (30,000 in Dublin) and to follow through into the 1930s, the upsurge in workers’ occupations and local soviets, the reactionary nature of the government of the new state and of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church at the time, which was very supportive of the new regime and extremely hostile to any kind of socialism, along with the cultivation of a reactionary social and political attitude among sections of the population.
Fallon also commented on the censorship and otherwise neglect of Liam Ó Flaithearta as an accomplished modern Irish writer and hoped for his writing to become more popularised now.
Alan O’Brien, Dublin poet and dramatist, was welcomed on to the stage to read the Manifesto which had been issued at the time, copies of which were available at a nearby stall. One of the aspects of that document was a call for Dublin City Council to set up public works to provide paid employment for those out of work in exchange for services to the community.
Diarmuid Breatnach, singer and blogger was invited to the stage to sing “The Red Flag” because it had been sung there during the occupation. No doubt those in the Government, Church hierarchy and generally among reactionary people at that time would have been horrified by the lyrics and would have asserted that they were foreign to Irish culture and thinking. However, as Breatnach explained, the lyrics had been composed by an Irishman (see Appendix 1), Jim Connell from Meath. Connell wrote the lyrics to the air of The White Cockade and was appalled to hear it sung to the air of Oh Tannebaum, a Christmas carol. Breatnach had never heard it sung to the White Cockade air but had been practicing it for days and hoped he would be faithful to the original air.
Called by the Chairperson to sing a follow-up song, Breatnach sang most of the verses of “Be Moderate”, satirical lyrics published by James Connolly in 1907 in New York. There had been no air published for the song and it has been sung to a number of airs but he would sing it to the air of A Nation Once Again, which provides a chorus:
We only want the Earth, we only want the Earth, And our demands most moderate are – We only want the Earth!
The event was later reported by RTÉ briefly in English on the Six O’Clock News and also by video on TG4’s Nuacht in Irish including interviews with Fallon an a number of participants.
End main report.
THE RED FLAG: AUTHOR, LYRICS AND AIR
After the Rotunda occupation was terminated, Liam Ó Flaithearta emigrated to London, which is where the Red Flag lyrics had been composed twenty-three years earlier. The lyrics were composed by Meath man Jim Connell in London in 1889 to the air of the Scottish Jacobite march TheWhite Cockade — he was reported livid when he learned that it was being sung to the air of Oh Tannebaum, protesting: “Ye ruined me poem!”
Jim Connell was a Socialist Republican (he had taken the Fenian oath), activist and journalist who emigrated to England in 1875 after being blacklisted in Dublin for his efforts in unionising the docks in which he worked. Apparently he began to write the song lyrics on his way home from a demonstration in London city centre, on the train from Charing Cross to Honor Oak in SE London, where he lived and completed it in the house of a fellow Irishman and neighbour, Nicholas Donovan.
The lyrics have been sung by revolutionary and social-democratic (the latter less so now) activists all over the English-speaking world but also in some other languages in the years since.
Not mentioned in the Wikipedia entry on Jim Connell is the fact that he also wrote a book, apparently a best-seller in his time, called something like “The Poacher’s Handbook“. I’ve been looking for that book for years without success (DCC Library could find no reference to it).
UNVEILING PLAQUE ON JIM CONNELL’S HOME
Today there is a plaque on the two-storey house where Connell lived until his death in 1929, having been awarded the Red Star Medal by Lenin in 1922.
In the late 1980s a history archivist with the London Borough of Lewisham contacted the Lewisham branch of the Irish in Britain Representation Group, of which I was Secretary, to consult us about the erection of a history plaque on the house and the wording to use4. We attempted to have the words “Irish Republican” added to “Socialist” after his name on the plaque and were successful with “Irish” but not with “Republican”.
There was a handful at the unveiling at midday on a weekday, including a representative of the local Council, a couple from the Greater London Council including its Irish section, a trumpeter (who played the Oh Tannebaum air) and Gordon Brown (then just an MP). I believe this was 1989, the centenary of the song being written.
Brown’s speech did not mention Ireland once but as he finished, I jumped up on a nearby garden wall and while thanking those in attendance said that it was sad to see the country of Jim Connell’s birth omitted along with his views on Irish independence, particularly at a time when British troops were fighting to suppress a struggle for that independence.
This was during the age before mobile phones and I have no photos, sadly. So no big deal but the next edition of the Irish Post, a weekly paper for the Irish community in Britain, carried a report on the ceremony and my intervention. It was written by the columnist Dolan, who was the alter ego of the Editor, Brendan Mac Alua (long dead now) and a supporter of much of the IBRG’s activities.
I lived in Catford then, five minutes by bicycle from the site of the house and have photographed the plaque.
FENIAN CONNECTION BETWEEN LYRICS ACROSS TWO DECADES
The words and sentiment “Let cowards flinch or traitors sneer” in the Red Flag mirror some in a song celebrating Irish political prisoners, The Felons of Our Land: “While traitors shame and foes defame” and “Let cowards mock and tyrants frown”. Arthur Forrester wrote that song 20 years before Connell’s and it would be surprising indeed had Connell not consciously or unconsciously borrowed the construction and sentiment.
Arthur Forrester was himself of great interest as were his poet sisters, both raised by their Irish nationalist mother, also very interesting person and poet in her own right, in Manchester, known to Michael Davitt. Arthur was a Fenian and did time in prison for it5. He was also for a period proof-reader for the Irish Times! Frank McNally wrote an article about the song but I don’t have access to anything except the first few lines.
Lyrics of The Red Flag:
The People's Flag is deepest red,It shrouded oft our martyred dead,And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,Their hearts' blood dyed its every fold.Chorus:Then raise the scarlet standard high.Beneath its shade we'll live and die,Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,We'll keep the red flag flying here.Look round, the Frenchman loves its blaze,The sturdy German chants its praise,In Moscow's vaults its hymns were sung,
Chicago swells the surging throng.(chorus)It waved above our infant might,When all ahead seemed dark as night;It witnessed many a deed and vow,We must not change its colour now.(chorus)It well recalls the triumphs past,It gives the hope of peace at last;The banner bright, the symbol plain,Of human right and human gain.(chorus)It suits today the weak and base,Whose minds are fixed on pelf and placeTo cringe before the rich man's frown,And haul the sacred emblem down.(chorus)With head uncovered swear we allTo bear it onward till we fall;Come dungeons dark or gallows grim,This song shall be our parting hymn.
1Not long afterwards, the new Free State’s National Army, under the orders of Michael Collins, attacked a protest occupation by Irish Republicans of the Four Courts which began the Civil War of the State against the IRA, lasting until 1923 with over 80 executions of Republicans by the State along with many kidnappings and assassinations (such as Harry Boland’s and of course others killed in battle (excluding the shooting of surrendered prisoners, which the National Army also did on occasion). Some were even murdered AFTER the war had ended, for example Noel Lemass, his body left in the Dublin mountains.
2Possibly this was the same location which had housed the James Connolly College (raided by the Auxiliaries in 1921).
3Also the location of the first public meeting to launch the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and where much of the GPO garrison and others were briefly kept prisoner after the surrender in nearby Moore Street in 1916. And just beside it the Parnell Monument, across the street the location of the founding of the Irish Ladies Land League (where members were arrested) and diagonally in SE direction, Tom Clarke’s tobacconist and newsagent shop (occupied by the British Army during the Rising).
4The Lewisham branch of the IBRG had been founded in 1986 and founded the Lewisham Irish Centre in 1992, I think. It was a very active branch in campaigning, community and political work, ceasing to exist around 2002. The IBRG itself was founded in 1981 and was active on many issues, including anti-Irish racism, representation for the diaspora, release of the framed Irish prisoners, British withdrawal from Ireland, against anti-Traveller racism, plastic bullets and strip-searches. It was also for equality in general, being against all racism, gender discrimination and homophobia and one year shared a march with the Broadwater Farm campaign.
5 Despite the Irish diaspora having given the working class in Britain its anthem (The Red Flag), its classic novel (TheRagged-Trousered Philanthropists) and, among many social and trade union activists and leaders, two leaders of the first genuine mass workers’ movement in Britain (the Chartists — O’Brien and O’Connor), and having fought against the Blackshirts at the Battle of Cable Street, there is no BA in Irish Studies alone available in British Universities. The Irish diaspora is also the first migrant community in Britain and for centuries the largest, has made significant contribution to the arts and a huge one to rock, punk and pop music. It would seem that the British ruling class does not want its population to know in any depth about the Irish.
Fire is an important source of heat and so facilitates life but it can also be a killer. Fire safety is particularly important in multi-occupied buildings but essential safeguards are often not provided or when they are there, are ignored or misused. One can see evidence of that frequently in news reports and even on many occasions in one’s own life and, on a number of occasions as a manager of accommodation services, I have certainly seen examples all too often. Buildings are being constructed to greater heights than can be reached by the ladders of fire-fighters. Those responsible for lack of fire safety procedures or of violating them should face severe penalties.
When it is being destructive, fire kills in many different ways, not just by extreme heat. Smoke inhalation is another killer, as are toxic fumes emitted by some materials when burning. People can be killed by falls when attempting to escape a fire or be crushed by falling parts of the building, beams etc. And fire can also cause explosions when it encounters volatile liquids or gasses. Whether we live, work or relax in a building, we should never be blasé about the dangers, never disregard precautions and in fact be prepared to insist on adherence.
There are various headings under which we can discuss fires safety but Prevention, Detection, Suppression and Evacuation cover most of them — to which we can add Educated Awareness.
Prevention has to do mostly safe design, use of safe materials and with safely operating systems that generate heat or produce flame, classically cooking and smoking but also many others — in industry all such procedures should be clearly advertised.
In Detection, apart from what to do when one smells burning or personally encounters flames or smoke, it is with systems such as smoke and heat detectors and alarms that we are concerned.
With regard to Suppression, although of course occupational fire-fighters may use other means, we are interested in fire extinguishers (more rarely fire hoses) and sprinkler systems and, in Evacuation, in the means of safe escape and subsequent assembly, along with indications when one should do so, which of course are linked to detectors and alarms.
How often we see a fire-extinguisher being used to prop open a door! This is a serious misuse of a piece of fire-fighting equipment and its use in that way may mean it will not available in the appropriate place or malfunctions when required. Often too the door being propped open is very close to a staircase, with the danger of the heavy extinguisher being dislodged and rolling or bouncing down the stairs to strike someone.
Fire extinguishers in buildings are usually installed by a fire-protection company, under contract to check and service them once a year. Does that sound safe enough? In a team of which I was a member, we checked the fire extinguishers on each shift, to ensure they had not been tampered with and we lifted the water-filled ones to check, by weight, that they still contained water. Those checks were written into our work rotas and we were required to sign off on them. We had developed those safety routines as a team and I carried them forward into subsequent management roles. In the case of an extinguisher we found too light or with the seal removed, that was recorded and the urgent task was to have it replaced by the fire-protection company under contract.
Sprinkler systems should have a means of checking that they are functioning well and should be regularly checked.
Fire alarms and smoke detectors need to be regularly checked also. In the case of smoke detectors they can be checked by spraying with an aerosol and the fire alarms have a facility for testing — though an arrangement with the fire-fighting service that alerts them to a test being carried out is advisable.
I’v worked in places where I never experienced a fire drill. That is terrible, when you think about it. In a good team of which I was a member we made sure we carried out drills but we also had to balance the need for fire drills with the possibility of injury during evacuation to the hostel residents, who were drinkers and many of which were infirm. We compromised by holding drills for the staff and local management while informing the residents of what we were doing. When I came to manage a hostel, I arranged to have a member of staff with a pen and clipboard follow the fire evacuation drill in action, which is when we discovered that a wheelchair-bound resident could not be got out the main door at all quickly. How had that not been noted previously? Not only that but for security reasons, the team members were not using the emergency exit. And then it was discovered that a member of staff was keeping his bicycle in the passageway leading to the emergency exit, potentially a hazard to people trying to escape a fire. Incredibly, the individual concerned was the team’s elected health and safety representative, which made for an interesting discussion with him later.
As a team, we resolved all those issues — but only because we carried out the drills and observed what happened during them.
During a fire there may be a power cut so the provision of emergency lighting is important, along with luminous signs indicating the evacuation route. That lighting too should be checked.
Worse things than obstacles in the path to emergency exits occur, when building owners or management lock or chain emergency exits for reasons of building or product security or in some cases even to imprison workers. As children some of us would “bunk in” to cinemas: one who had purchased a ticket would go to the toilet to open a nearby emergency door and admit others. The cinema management ended that practice by chaining the emergency doors shut. It is understandable that a commercial business might wish to discourage evasion of their charges but certainly not at the cost of putting lives in danger — many other means can be developed, including monitoring systems and alarms. In north Dublin’s Artane suburb, the management and owners of a nightclub had locked some fire exits and on 14th February 1981 a fire broke out during a dance attended by 841 young people, causing the deaths of 48 and injuries to 214. Exit doors were also locked in the Summerland leisure centre on Douglas on the Isle of Man on 2nd August 1973, when a fire caused the deaths of over 50 and serious injuries to 80.
One organisation I worked for had a stipulation that they would hold fire drills once every six months while another held them once every three months. As a team member I advocated them to be monthly at least and as a manager made that a requirement, marking the date for them in advance into our diary. Also, some drills should be carried out without warning and, as in the case outlined earlier, with an observer following the procedure and recording its progress.
Shift fire safety inspections should check or test the emergency lighting and emergency exits, while periodic drills should check the functioning of the fire alarm and display panel, by activating the alarm at a different location for each drill (there are keys supplied for that purpose).
Can the ladder reach?
It would be no bad thing for every person to attend a fire prevention course but it is essential for some kinds of work, in particular for people working in buildings with others or where people live. Such training not only deals with prevention best practice but also with how to act upon discovering a fire or in response to a fire alarm, what are the appropriate extinguishers in different circumstances, etc. The cost of such training (and of replacing staff while on training, if necessary to maintain the service) should be built into the operational budget of the facility.
One fire prevention course I attended had us consider what to do if we were trapped on an above-ground level of the building and unable to proceed to the fire exit. In most cases, if the fire-fighting service has been summoned (by the service-linked fire alarm or by other means), it is usually safest to retire to a room facing on to an area with a window which the fire tender can access easily enough, then close the door and stuff cloth around the bottom to limit the ingress of smoke. In the case of residents being trapped on that floor with us, we were to encourage them to come into the room we had chosen and to remain there with us until evacuated.
Speaking of evacuation, in a scenario such as the one just described, we might have to be brought out through a window by firefighters who would normally gain access to us by one of their ladders. It is a fact that the maximum ladder available to fire tenders in Dublin is 100 feet long but since a ladder cannot be used at right angles to the ground, the effective height is around 75 feet. Yet Dublin City Council and many other local authorities around the country regularly permit the erection of buildings with floors that are higher than 75 yards from the ground. How can that be allowed?
Earlier in this article, we saw the example of a fire extinguisher being used to prop open a door. This is sometimes compounded by the door in question being a fire door, in other words a door the function of which is to retard the spread of fire. Such doors should be kept closed at all times when people are not passing through the doorway and should have automatic closing mechanisms. The should also have a slot of glass in them so that one can look through without having to open the door, the latter being an action which in some cases might have lethal consequences. The material of the doors should be such that they can resist actual flames and heat without burning for one hour but unfortunately it is not unknown for such doors to be constructed of inferior materials which might be discovered only in an emergency — i.e too late to be of use. A reputable supplier is the only safeguard against such unfortunate discoveries but their production batches should be regularly and randomly tested by State or local authorities too.
A work team should have appropriate procedures in place to deal with contemplated dangers and with regard to fire, a separate file detailing them is recommended. As a team we developed one (model fire precaution files can be purchased also) that listed the suppliers of our alarm systems and fire extinguishers, recorded their checks or replacements, referred to daily checks, training courses attended and by whom, recorded the fire drills; as a manager I ensured our team had duplicate files, one for staff access at any time and a backup copy in the management office.
A new member of staff or management should be introduced to that file as part of their induction.
The attractions of fire are well known with children having to be cautioned about it, so much so that “playing with fire” has entered the language as a metaphor. People who live on the street, especially in ‘western’ countries tend to contain a certain proportion of mentally-ill people or others with social behavioural issues. For some of those fire holds a substantial attraction and, when in a multi-occupation building, they can constitute a very real danger. In one hostel there were a series of small fires deliberately set and we never found the culprit in the act. We did have our suspicions and some circumstantial evidence and on that basis I instructed the individual’s eviction. That seems harsh but the series of incidents indicated that we might have a very serious one eventually either because he was building up to it or through it unintentionally going out of his control. With the lives of a number of other residents and also of staff at risk I felt obliged to take that action and informed the organisation’s head office of what I had done and why. DCC’s Homeless Agency tried to force us to revoke our decision but we stuck to it. Agencies responsible for housing homeless people but without sufficient funding often try to shoehorn individuals or families into unsuitable accommodation. Of course there should be a housing option available to everyone but the one we provided just wasn’t suitable for what we considered a serious arson risk.
Similarly as workers or residents we should not tolerate behaviour of our peers that puts us in danger or neglect of laid down fire precautions. In an example referred to earlier, I could do nothing about the incredible attitude of a safety representative elected by the staff team but as a manager I could act on a member of staff endangering the team and he was of course instructed to remove his bicycle from the premises and to risk it locked on the street (as indeed I risked mine). I have heard of places where team members had a battle using fire extinguishers which is no doubt great fun but incredibly irresponsible.
Dealing with staff health and safety representatives as a manager reminds me of the time I had been such a representative myself. Wanting a bit of a break from confrontations with management, I declined nomination as shop steward and accepted nomination as staff health & safety representative instead. To my unpleasant surprise I found myself in more confrontations with the management than did the shop steward. And that was with a local management team that was quite progressive.
Owners and managers of buildings, along with companies employing people to work in them, have serious responsibilities with regard to comprehensive fire prevention, detection, suppression and evacuation procedures and should be rigorously inspected and pursued when they fail to ensure sufficient safety standards. When deaths are caused due to failure to ensure safety, the least they should face are manslaughter charges. A homeless person suspected of arson can be evicted without too much trouble but neither the owners of the Summerland leisure centre on the Isle of Man nor the Butterly family, owners of the Stardust nightclub in Artane have ever faced a single charge in a court of law.
(Reading time first section to “additional objections“: 10 minutes)
The big property speculator company Hammerson wishes, in addition to other demolitions, to demolish every building except five in the central terrace in Moore Street all the way out to O’Connell Street and the cutting through the area of two new roads. This is area is a centuries-old street market and the scene of a battle during the 1916 Rising as the HQ Garrison of the Rising occupied the central terrace of 16 buildings. The site is of huge historical and cultural importance not only for Ireland but for the world. Along with many others I submitted objections through Dublin City Council’s system which requires a payment of €20 for each application to which one is objecting. I wished to oppose the Hammerson planning applications 2861/21, 2862/21, 2863/21 on grounds historical and cultural, architectural, of city planning, of democracy, social amenity and on grounds of inner city regeneration and planning.
It is important to consider what the Moore Street area IS, what it can BECOME and what can be destroyed in the present and future by ill-considered approval of “development” plans proposed by property speculators.
The Moore Street area is one of great importance in what might be called our national history, as it contains the relocation/ evacuation route and last sites of the Headquarters of the 1916 Rising, an event that is widely accepted as being of seminal importance in our development as a nation. It was a battleground in which insurgents and civilians were injured by bullets of the Occupation and in which a number of both groups were killed. For this reason not only tourists from abroad but also from all parts of Ireland, including from the Six Counties are to be frequently seen on the street in walking history tours.
At the junction of Moore Lane and Henry Place Irish Volunteer Michael Mulvihill was killed and at the junction of Moore Street and Sampson Lane, Vol. Henry “Harry” Coyle of the Irish Citizen Army was also killed. At that latter junction a British soldier, shot and wounded by 18-year-old ICA Volunteer Tom Crimmins while in O’Rahilly’s charge, was collected by yet another Volunteer, George Plunkett, one of the brothers of Proclamation Signatory Joseph Plunkett and taken into No.10 Moore Street, where a field hospital was being managed by, among others, Volunteer Elizabeth O’Farrell. That building was the first HQ of the Rising after Moore Street and there the first council of war after the evacuation was held. Along with a number of other buildings in the central Moore Street, it holds the mark in its party wall of the tunnelling through the entire terrace that was accomplished by the Volunteers during the night of Easter Friday.
Representatives of all the groups that participated in the Rising were in the Moore Street area: Irish Republican Brotherhood, Irish Volunteers, Irish Citizen Army, Cumann na mBan, Fianna Éireann and Hibernian Rifles.
Moore Street itself held a barricade built by Volunteers the early days of Easter Week at the crossroads with Salmon Lane and Henry Place, as well as one constructed by the encircling British Army at the Parnell Street junction and there was another at the junction with Moore Lane. The charge on the British barricade led by the The O’Rahilly was along Moore Street too.
And of course, it is in Moore Street itself that the decision to surrender was taken, the site also of the last hours of freedom of six of those shot by British firing squads in Dublin, including Willy Pearse and five of the Seven Signatories: Tom Clarke, Patrick Pearse, James Connolly, Joseph Plunkett and Sean McDermott.
It is a remarkable fact that from the creation of the State no monument or plaque existed in Moore Street to commemorate the momentous events there until the small 1916 commemorative plaque was erected there, presumably by Dublin City Council, on the 50th anniversary of the Rising. That is all that remains there in visible commemoration to this day.
As an institution of civic society Dublin City Council should be doing its utmost to appropriately commemorate that history and at the very least safeguarding its location and artifacts from destruction.
On democratic grounds too, Dublin City Council should reflect the wishes of the residents of the city rather than those of property speculators – and the wishes of the residents of the city have been clearly outlined on many occasions, not only in the over 380,000 petition signatures collected by the Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign.
It is not on grounds of our national history alone that the area should be conserved and developed sensitively, for it is also of world history significance and deserves recognition as a site of World Heritage importance.
From no less than the Imperial War Museum in London came the assessment that the area is “a WW1 urban battleground in prime condition” (a reference to surviving buildings and features including crucially the 1916 streetscape).
The 1916 Rising was indeed “a WW1 battleground” but it was also the site of a Rising against world war – the first of four that took place during the years of WW1 (the other three included Russia in February and October 1917 and another in Germany in 1918).
In the history of the human struggle against colonial domination, the 1916 Rising looms large, not only in its own right but in the huge encouragement the news of it gave to colonised people around the world.
As the 1916 Rising was the first to field a specifically workers’ revolutionary army, a revolutionary women’s military organisation and to address itself, in the 1916 Proclamation, to including women at a time when hardly a woman in the world enjoyed the right to vote, declaring itself also for equality, for “civil and religious freedom for all”, it was of huge world history importance in social and political terms.
Plans to sensitively develop and conserve the visible signs of history in the street should take account of the evacuation route of most of the GPO Garrison through Henry Place, across the dangerous junction with Moore Lane and into No.10 Moore street, then tunneling from house to house, progressing through buildings of the entire terrace to emerge in what is now O’Rahilly Parade. The planned construction of a lane from Henry Street into the evacuation route distracts from the historic route and a new road from O’Connell Street through the central terrace, as in the Hammerson application, no matter how high or low the planned arch, breaks that historical line of the progress of the Volunteers – forever.
The plans to construct a hotel in O’Rahilly Parade (and other future plans that have been mooted but not included yet in a Hammerson application), along with the back of the unfortunately-permitted Jury’s Hotel on the other side of the laneway, would create an undesirable narrow canyon effect and also completely overshadow the O’Rahilly monument there. In Dublin folklore the western end of that lane was known for generations as “Dead Man’s Corner” because it was where the O’Rahilly died after writing a farewell letter to his wife, having received five British bullets while leading a charge up Moore Street in 1916. The O’Rahilly was one of the founders of the Irish Volunteers.
It was in that laneway that the Volunteers were gathered to make a heroic assault on the British Army barricade at the Parnell/ Moore Street junction, to be cancelled when the decision to surrender was taken. Among those awaiting keyed up the order to charge, was a future Government Minister.
Despite the incorrect name given to the street in Irish (check the national nameplace database logainm.ie which gives it as Sráid an Mhúraigh), it is noticeable that many of the participants in the 1916 Rising were Irish speakers, including in fact writers, poets and educationalists through the Irish language – these were also represented among the GPO Garrison in Moore Street. In particular Patrick Pearse was one of the founders of the modern school of Irish writing in journalism, polemics, poetry and fiction. Pearse also had very advanced theories about education which he sought to put into practice in St. Enda’s, the school he founded with his brother Willy. Willy himself, as well as learning to speak Irish was an accomplished sculptor.
Joseph Plunkett had written poetry in Arabic as well as English, learned Esperanto and was one of the founders of the Esperanto League. Plunkett joined the Gaelic League and studied Irish.
Sean McDermott was also active in the Gaelic League and a manager of the Irish Freedom radical newspaper.
The revolutionary fighters in Moore Street also contained many people prominent in other cultural fields, such as drama, literary arts and publishing.
These historical facts in the field of culture in relation to the Moore Street area provide an opportunity which should not be missed for the development of the area as a CULTURAL QUARTER – but it will be missed should the Hammerson application be agreed.
In fact, a more rational development of the Moore Street area as a cultural-historical quarter mixed with a vibrant street market provides the opportunity to connect the area to the nearby cultural and historical areas of the Rotunda (location of the first public meeting of the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and where in 1916, Volunteers from Moore Street were kept temporarily as prisoners); 37/38 O’Connell Street, the location of the office of the Irish Ladies’ Land League (now of the Allied Irish Banks) and, across the street, the location of Tom Clarke’s newsagent’s at 75 Parnell Street; between them both, the monument to Charles Stewart Parnell of the Land League. All this also connecting numerous buildings of historical and cultural importance scattered through Parnell Square, including the Gate Theatre, Scoil Mhuire Irish-language primary school, the Hugh Lane Gallery, the former head office of the Gaelic League at No.25 (where the decision to carry out insurrection in 1916 was taken) and the INTO Teacher’s Club at No.36.
Moore Street offers great potential if sensitively developed for integration into cultural-historical festivals in Dublin such as History Week, Culture Night, Open House, Bloomsday, Bram Stoker and Food Festival. It also offers potential for other street festivals and in addition a regular Sunday farmer’s market.
All of that would disappear at the stroke of a pen were the Planning Department to approve the Hammerson applications.
The Moore Street area was laid out by Henry Moore, 3rd Earl of Drogheda (as was also Drogheda Street [now Upper O’Connell Street], Henry Street and North Earl Street) in the 17th Century. The houses in Moore Street were designed in the style known as “Dutch Billy”, a style reminiscent of Dutch cities, with the gable end facing into the street, a style said to have been brought into the city by Huguenot asylum seekers in the late 17th Century and therefore of world and Irish socio-historical importance as well as architectural.
Currently the most obvious examples of “Dutch Billy” construction are on the south-west side of Moore Street and in an obvious state of disrepair. In the central Moore Street terrace only the four buildings which the State names “the National Monument” preserve a distinctive Dutch Billy frontage. In the event of demolition of most of that terrace there will be no incentive to even preserve other buildings in the street and an opportunity to reconstruct the frontages in the central terrace in line with buildings on the southwest side of the street will have been lost.
In addition, the construction of a new road from O’Connell Street through the central terrace, as in the Hammerson application, will also destroy that opportunity forever. The applicant has stated that this new road is intended “to open up Moore Street” but this is patently false. Not only is Moore Street easily accessible to shoppers from the Parnell and Henry Street ends but the proposed new road leads straight to one of the main entrances of the ILAC shopping centre, of which Hammerson are half-owners.
Indeed in recent years Hammerson and their predecessor Chartered Land have squeezed the market on the west-central side by extending the ILAC into the street, evicting numerous independent businesses and thus destroyed the market character on that side of Moore Street. Sadly the property speculators have achieved this through approval of planning applications by DCC’s Planning Department in the face of numerous objections.
The Moore Street market is the oldest surviving in Dublin (perhaps in Ireland) and is composed of the stalls and the independent businesses on the street (the street is actually older than O’Connell Street and predates the Great Hunger). As well as having been an important part of the city’s social and cultural history and on the list of recommended Dublin places to visit for decades, it has been an important amenity for people shopping for fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh fish and meat. In addition it is a location of other services.
Neither the stalls nor the shops throughout the central terrace of Moore Street would of course survive since Hammerson seek permission to demolish eleven of the sixteen buildings. Even the southern end of the street would be severely adversely affected by its close proximity to a big building site and by the demolition/ construction plans for the building at the Moore Street/ Henry Street eastern junction.
When large developments are carried out in such areas the property speculators seek to have chain-stores renting in the area. Those types of businesses have no particular stake or loyalty to their area but rather to their head office, which is not in Moore Street and may not even be in Ireland. Indeed we have seen recently the desertion of one such chain, Debenham’s, which was itself involved in the 1970s construction of the ILAC centre on other streets and laneways of the area.
After years of enduring construction chaos on top of many previous years of neglect, that whole aspect of street market and small independent shop will be wiped out forever in Moore Street and the area will become a Henry Street spillover, full of characterless chain stores of foreign high street type – and a wasteland at night. What a legacy for the current City Managers to bequeath to Dublin!
As a street market, Moore Street of course has been also a social amenity, a place to meet and chat. This aspect has been eroded through the closing of pubs in the street along with the Paris Bakery and Anne’s Bakery and cafe. This is an amenity most needed in any city and, in particular in the north city centre. This aspect too will be destroyed by a conversion of the area into a shopping district of chain stores as envisaged and implicit in the Hammerson plan.
The development of Moore Street as a social amenity area with a vibrant street market opens up the potential of linking it to the Asian food quarter in Parnell Street east and also with cinemas in the Parnell Street and on O’Connell Street.
NORTH CITY CENTRE
An intelligent and longer-term city planning approach to development of the Moore Street and O’Connell Street area would provide the ingredients of a revitalisation of the north inner city, something that is badly needed. It would need envisaging something like the inner city on the south side which is lively by day and — apart from the Grafton Street shopping district — by night also. This could be achieved by combining a vibrant street market with cultural-historical-architectural promotion and with low-rent housing for city dwellers.
ALL VISIONS AND PLANS
A number of independent campaigning and other dgroups have developed visions and plans for the Moore Street area over the years. These have included a plan from the Lord Mayor’s Forum on Moore Street as well as that of the Market Expert Group, a sub-group of that Forum created at the instigation of the Minister for Heritage. More recently the Moore Street Preservation Trust has developed a plan for the area. Perhaps none have tied all possible aspects of historic, cultural, market and north inner city regeneration together as much as the submissions in 2016 to the Minister of Heritage of the Save Moore Street From Demolition and the Save Moore Street 2016 campaigning groups but it is noticeable that all of those can co-exist to a large extent but are absolute anathema to the Hammerson plans.
In addition, the Hammerson plan envisages decades of demolition and construction in this area, making it a wasteland and negatively impacting on the surrounding area and businesses. It also contains the possibility of “planning blight” remaining over the area for decades, as Hammerson run out of funds or sit on planning permission waiting to sell it on to yet further property speculators, as Chartered Land sold it on to them, with meanwhile further deterioration in the fabric of buildings.
Are the City Managers to endorse the poor vision of a property speculation company, preferring it to those of hundreds of thousands of petition signatures, along with a number of groups including those of the Council’s own organisations, in addition to the wishes expressed by elected representatives in Dublin City Council on a number of occasions over a number of years?
WHAT COULD BE
In considering a Planning Application, city planners should not only consider the plan itself on its merits but what an alternative might be – particularly when many alternatives have been mooted over the years. The question to consider is not only “is this a good plan for the area?” but also “what potential does this plan develop or, conversely, negate”?
As outlined above and will be listed below, the Hammerson plan is not only not suitable for the area but destroys the potential for rejuvenating the north inner city area in social, shopping, cultural, historical and city living terms. The Hammerson application should be refused on all those grounds and on the democratic basis also that it is in stark opposition to the wishes of the vast majority of people and to virtually all concerned organisations.
End first section
FURTHER GROUNDS OF OBJECTION TO THE HAMMERSON APPLICATIONS
*The Proposal contravenes The Dublin Development plan’s policy SC16 which states that Dublin is intrinsically a low-rise city (and confirmed in a recent response on another matter from the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar in a response to TD Paul Murphy in the Dáil).
*The Moore Street as a battlefield site is not a location identified for taller buildings.
*The Hammerson proposal contravenes development plan maximum height standard, and would greatly exceed the height of the Moore Street Terrace buildings.
*The Hammerson development plan goes against those of elected public representatives, i.e City Councillors and TDs which voted respectively to have for Moore Street listed as an architectural conservation area and read without opposition two cultural conservation bills for Moore Street (the most recent being the O’Snodaigh bill).
*The Hammerson proposal would be contrary to the purpose of Z5 designation by reducing the cultural space within the city centre, impacting on its night-time culture and facilitating an over -concentration of hotel/retail developments in the area despite the many existing hotels / shopping centres in close proximity.
*There are already over 40 hotels within 2km of the site, and more than 20 hotels and B&Bs within a 10-minute walk and no more hotels are needed in the environs of Moore Street (indeed throughout the city there is already opposition to the growing number of buildings of temporary accommodation being constructed in the shape of hotels and student accommodation).
*The city centre no further office space or chain retail outlets. The applicants themselves are struggling to find tenants for numerous retail units in the ILAC Centre (Debenhams and the old Jack & Jones stores are still vacant) and the applicants have recently commenced the process of “pop up shops” on Henry Street. It would be negligent to lose the historical & cultural elements which make this site unique by over-development. As outlined above, the site if sensitively restored has huge potential as a cultural destination for its citizens, visitors, and future generations. Let us not forget that surveys of tourists visiting Dublin have highlighted the interests of tourists in Culture and History rather than shopping.
*The current reduced demand for office and retail space due to Covid 19 this may become permanent as many companies have found it more cost-efficient for employees to work from home and the surge in online shopping has become the newest trend as a direct result of the pandemic.
*As outlined earlier in detail, the site is already a cultural destination for both locals and visitors, which will be reduced in scale and significance if planning permission is granted. The whole site should be sensitively restored.
* Despite the homeless crisis which is already being viewed as a scandal by many observers, there iso provisions for affordable housing within the site.
*Moore street needs more mixed usage in its current retail and street Market – Dublin City council should act accordingly by enforcing planning laws in the area and immediately implement the Market Expert group report revitalising its components.
*This Hammerson proposal is contrary to Dublin City Council’s own plan to revitalise the market, unless the powers that be at Dublin City council are deluded enough to believe a revitalised predominantly food market can be successful from a 5.5acre building site environment.
*Further retail and hotels put pressure on existent businesses in the vicinity that are already struggling in the city centre.
*The proposed design is not sympathetic to the local physical or cultural heritage and encroaches on the curtilage of the State-nominated National Monument and proposed protected structures in the area.
*The Hammerson design is nowhere near of sufficiently high quality to justify the adverse impacts on the entire north inner city for a 15yr period (possibly longer as other planning applications and extensions have been added to early granted applications in the past) and is completely out of context with the area.
*The Hamerson proposal does not strengthen, reinforce or integrate with the existing street traders or independent or independent businesses of the Moore Street Market. In fact the market and businesses will more than likely be lost FOREVER throughout the lengthy construction phase.
*The Hammerson plan entails the loss of fine urban grain in this historical part of Ireland, which supports a diversity of economic, historical and cultural life.
*The Hammerson proposal fails to address the wider urban context, the character of Moore Street Market and businesses or the many envisaged protected structures along the street and laneways , notably the iconic Moore Street terrace and the O’Connell Street Architectural conservation area.
*The proposed office block at site 5 will visually impact on the State-nominated National Monument and the iconic 1916 dTerrace. It will also overshadow residential and commercial units at Moore street north and Greeg Court apartment block including sun balconies of the owner/occupiers.
*The Hammerson proposal in short would result in overdevelopment which ignores the context of this unique site.
*The Hammerson proposal does not complement the built environment or contribute positively to the neighbourhood and streetscape.
*The impact on markets or independent businesses has not addressed or been resolved.
*The Hammerson proposed development would overwhelm Moore street and change its whole character for which it is known as far away as China.
*In order to maintain the skylines and character of the area the height should be limited to four storeys and, in places, to three. The visual impact on O’Connell street’s skyline will be horrendous post development.
*The Dublin development plan identifies that the city is a low-rise city and requires development to protect conservation areas and the architectural character of existing buildings, streets and spaces of artistic, civic or historic importance, and to ensure that any development is sensitive to the historic square and protects and enhances the skyline of the inner city.
*The Hammerson proposed development is too close to the site boundary, which is contrary to BRE advice and will severely impact food businesses and market traders in close vicinity.
*The risks and impacts of construction and demolition works for proposed archway on boundary wall of national monument are dramatically understated.
*The impact of construction noise and air pollution on local residents and businesses are understated and will turn the area into a “no-go area” for shoppers.
*The most environmentally sustainable buildings are the ones that already exist. The need is to reuse existing buildings for purposes to avoid carbon emission associated with demolition and construction works of a new large-scale development.
*The heritage impact assessment statement fails to adequately assess or record the surviving historic fabric in the entire Moore street terrace or take into account the curtilage of the State-designated National Monument. It also contradicts the previous developer’s Chartered Land heritage impact statement which said no.18 contained pre-1916 elements.
*The façade demolition planned to No.18 to make way for the hideous archway would erase the character of the terrace and visually impact on the historic nature of the area. The demolition will impact on built heritage around the story of 1916 regardless whether the buildings are pre 1916 or not.
*The Hammerson proposal would detract from the special character and distinctiveness of the Conservation Area, and will constitute a visually obtrusive and dominant form around Moore street and O’Connell street.
*Inadequate drawings and images of interfaces with protected structures, mean that the impact on immediate context and skyline is not fully explored, insufficient LVIA in respect of neighbouring heritage buildings.
*The Hammerson plan means dramatic and irreversible impact on surrounding protected structures, their setting and curtilage.
*Protected structures are protected not just for their physical significance, but also for other reasons including historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural or social interest.
*This largescale development proposal of Hammerson would be contrary to development plan policy of minimum intervention to protected structures.
*There is a need to implement Government policy of heritage-led regeneration of historic urban centres:
* The need to integrate cultural, social and built heritage objectives, this proposal destroys the same.
*A National monument and protected structures should be protected in context, but the buildings in this proposal will dwarf the designated National Monument and the many existing protected structures surrounding the site and therefore it would be more appropriate to restore the historic buildings.
*This Hammerson proposal is contrary to provisions of Section 188.8.131.52 of the Dublin Development plan in failing to complement the special character of the protected structures on and adjoining the site and/ or retaining the traditional proportionate relationship with returns, gardens, mews structures etc.
*The Hammerson proposal would result in negative and irreversible impact of the on the integrity and character of the protected structures on the site and their special significance as a surviving group of early structures facing the 300yr old Moore Street market.
*Approving the Hammerson plan would set a poor precedent for allowing protected structures to become dilapidated and derelict and then redeveloped for the foreseeable future.
*For years the applicants, DCC and the Department of Heritage have failed in their duty of care towards protected structures, the market, and independent store businesses and a 15-year construction project is not the way forward.
*The design, scale and massing of the Hammerson plan would seriously detract from the setting and character of both the O’Connell street conservation area and the protected structures on the site, and would have a significant adverse impact on the Conservation area, contrary to Section 184.108.40.206 of the development plan and policies C1, C2, C4 and C6.
*The Hammerson proposal without justification would contravene policy SC17 in relation to protection of the skyline.
*The Hammerson Proposal would contravene development plan policies CHC29, CHC37 and CHC43 in relation to protection of the cultural and artistic use of buildings in established cultural quarters, without any justification.
*The role of Moore Street as a major area of action during the 1916 Rising, areas including laneways and terrace buildings (as detailed to an extent earlier) is completely ignored in this proposal.
*The threat posed to the protected structures from the construction process as the proposed new development is a large, invasive project requiring aggressive excavations and structural work, which will be cantilevered over the existing buildings.
*Moore street has not developed as a cultural quarter in the way that was desired but the Moore street Terrace, laneways, and Market are the heart and soul of the area and integral to its role and potential development as a cultural quarter in the future.
*The Market traders and generational independent businesses have established themselves as an integral part of the cultural infrastructure of Dublin City.
*The importance of the site as a cultural hub is understated. There is no other site in Dublin and possibly in the country with more potential than this one.
*The role of culture in creating communities, which are the bedrock of cities, is unacknowledged in this proposal.
*Proposal would not protect or promote Moore Street’s distinct identity, in a way which acknowledges our past and secures our future, in accordance with the Council’s mission as set out in the Dublin City Development plan.
*Visitors come to Dublin to experience authentic culture and not new corporate developments or engineered cultural experiences.
*The Hammerson Proposal is an architectural and cultural travesty which is part of the commodification of the city by international capital and developments such as these are starving the city of its culture and heritage.
*The Hammerson Proposal would threaten a historic landmark site, while providing no benefit to residents of the city who already are surrounded by existing retail and office blocks.
*The Hammerson Proposal would set a precedent for loss of major historical sites and culture in the city. The Proposal is considered by many to be engaged in city planning, history, culture and community development to be nothing short of cultural vandalism.
*The Moore Street Market contributes to the cultural vibrancy of the city and is part of the city’s cultural infrastructure – any loss of the market would be contrary to development plan policies CHC24 and CHC33 and would severely impact remaining Independent businesses on Moore Street.
*The Hammerson Proposal would cause both temporary and permanent disruption and damage to the cultural and economic health of the city.
*External steel structures and hoardings, construction traffic, noise pollution, road closures, drainage works etc. would make it difficult for the Independent businesses to keep trading during the lengthy construction phase and will impact on the unique and welcoming atmosphere for which Moore Street has been famous worldwide.
*The Hammerson Heritage report does not consider the impact on the historical and social qualities of the site or the market.
*The Hammerson proposal states that loss of parking spaces for proposed development is compensated for by the Metro construction proposal. However many estimate that the Metro won’t be running for at least 20 years.
*Policy CEE12 should not apply if the means used to achieve it is counterproductive.
*The Hammerson Proposal is contrary to the aims of the Night-Time Economy Task Force as set out in the Dublin Development plan.
*The Hammerson Proposal is purely for the purpose of commercial gain and undermines the historical and cultural aspects surrounding the entire site.
The Hammerson Application has supplied no report in relation to traffic management considering the large construction traffic volumes accessing and regressing the proposed site compound that is literally surrounded by 3/4 commercial servicing bays, residential car parking at Greeg Court, delivery inwards and outwards for retailers, waste collections, Market Traders accessing their storage units etc. Clarity is required in relation to the nature of the proposed access and regress into Moore Street / Lane and the safety issues that will arise for shoppers at Moore Street north at the junction of Moore street and O’Rahilly Parade.
There has been no provision in the Hammerson proposal for dirt or debris falling from lorries accessing or regressing the site compound. This will severely impact traditional family butcher Troy’s fresh food store at the junction of Moore Street and O’Rahilly Parade where lorries will be stacking awaiting access to the site.
The noise pollution mitigation measures proposed won’t have any real impact on neighbouring retailers or the residents in Greeg court apartments considering the close proximity of the site compound entrance and site boundary.
The wide scale of demolition and piling will disrupt the habitat of rodents, not ideal on a predominantly food marketplace.
The 15-year construction phase will inevitably wipe out the Market and Independent businesses on Moore street. There are still 3 more planning applications for this site to be lodged, effectively putting the city centre on a building site for the next 20-25 years. NOT a very credible solution for an area that needs to be URGENTLY revived!!
The adverse impacts of this proposal on independent businesses and Market traders should be addressed by the Planning Department in conditions of Planning.
It’s very clear that on completion of this project Moore Street will effectively become a laneway which completely undermines the historical significance of the Street and the heritage of the Market.
The extent of demolition proposed completely contradicts the Hammerson applicant’s rationale of “sensitive development” and a less intrusive plan of restoration is the only viable way forward for Moore Street, for the immediate area and indeed for the north inner city.
The applicants negligently suggest this is a vacant site but this site is fully occupied by the history of 1916 and is a place of special importance in Ireland’s history that has suffered a decade of neglect by the applicants, Dublin City Council and the Government. The empty shop-fronts are being deliberately kept empty by Hammerson and shops running businesses deliberately kept on short leases. Hammerson should not be awarded for this area blighting process by agreeing that the site is “vacant”!
Arising out of a recent discussion, I was thinking about what makes a workers’ union – when is an organisation a union and when is it not. And what does it have to do to prove that it is a union, as well as can what once was a union become defunct as a union while still not being defunct as an organisation. In the present time of low union activity as well as in higher activity periods, there are some fundamentals worth considering.
Searching for definitions on line as to what constitutes a trade union, I came across the following:
Oxford on-line English Dictionary: an organized association of workers in a trade, group of trades, or profession, formed to protect and further their rights and interests.
Citizens Information: A trade union is an organisation that protects the rights and interests of its members. Members are employees in a particular sector or job, for example, teaching or nursing.
A trade union can:
Be an important source of information for employees
Provide employees with protection on employment issues
Negotiate with the employer for better pay and conditions
A trade union must have a negotiating licence in order to negotiate on employee wages and other conditions of employment.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) is the single umbrella organisation for trade unions, representing a range of interests of ICTU members, both in Ireland and in Northern Ireland. ICTU also run the website unionconnect.ie to facilitate people to join a union.
Companies Registration Office (registration as a Friendly Society1): Trade unions are registered under the Trade Union Acts 1871-1990. Trade unions are established to represent workers in their relations with employers or to act as representative bodies for particular interest groupings.
In order to register a trade union, the grouping involved, which must consist of at least seven people, must draw up a set of rules governing the operation of the union. The rules must as a minimum contain the matters required to be provided for by the First Schedule of the Trade Union Act 1871. The rules, together with the prescribed application form and fee are submitted to the Registrar for examination and, once the rules are found to be in accordance with statute, the union is registered.
Registration as a trade union does not guarantee that a union will receive a negotiation licence; this is a matter for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment in which the Registrar of Friendly Societies has no function. Application form is available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wikipedia: A trade union (or a labor union in American English), often simply referred to as a union, is an organization of workers who have come together to achieve common goals, such as protecting the integrity of their trade, improving safety standards, and attaining better wages, benefits (such as vacation, health care, and retirement), and working conditions through the increased bargaining power wielded by solidarity among workers. Trade unions typically fund the formal organization, head office, and legal team functions of the trade union through regular fees or union dues. The delegate staff of the trade union representation in the workforce are made up of workplace volunteers who are appointed by members in democratic elections.
The trade union, through an elected leadership and bargaining committee, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members (rank and file members) and negotiates labour contracts (collective bargaining) with employers. The most common purpose of these associations or unions is “maintaining or improving the conditions of their employment“. This may include the negotiation of wages, work rules, occupational health and safety standards, complaint procedures, rules governing status of employees including promotions, just cause conditions for termination, and employment benefits.
Unions may organize a particular section of skilled workers (craft unionism), a cross-section of workers from various trades (general unionism), or attempt to organize all workers within a particular industry (industrial unionism). The agreements negotiated by a union are binding on the rank and file members and the employer and in some cases on other non-member workers. Trade unions traditionally have a constitution which details the governance of their bargaining unit and also have governance at various levels of government depending on the industry that binds them legally to their negotiations and functioning. ……………………………
A modern definition by the Australian Bureau of Statistics states that a trade union is “an organization consisting predominantly of employees, the principal activities of which include the negotiation of rates of pay and conditions of employment for its members.”
Yet historian R.A. Lesson, in United we Stand (1971), said:
Two conflicting views of the trade-union movement strove for ascendancy in the nineteenth century: one the defensive-restrictive guild-craft tradition passed down through journeymen’s clubs and friendly societies, … the other the aggressive-expansionist drive to unite all ‘labouring men and women’ for a ‘different order of things’.
Karl Marx described trade unions thus: “The value of labour-power constitutes the conscious and explicit foundation of the trade unions, whose importance for the … working class can scarcely be overestimated. The trade unions aim at nothing less than to prevent the reduction of wages below the level that is traditionally maintained in the various branches of industry. That is to say, they wish to prevent the price of labour-power from falling below its value” (CapitalV1, 1867, p.1069).
We can note, across these definition from different sources, some constants: Trade unions (henceforth referred to by me as “unions” or “workers’ unions”) are
that represent them in negotiations with employers
So, they have to be representative of workers (employers have their own formal associations) and they must, in general represent their worker-members. Well, few would debate the first condition and for the moment we can accept the second (though we will return to discuss this further).
I would argue however that there is another essential qualification which has not been mentioned even though for some it may be taken for granted: A union must be able to call a significant number of workers in a significant workplace, company or industry into industrial action and does so when necessary (whether that be strike, sit-down, go-slow, ban on certain kinds of work, etc.). In stating that I can quote for the moment no authority or source and yet I am adamant that if the association is not able to do so, it is not a union. I base my definition on experience and logic.
THREAT AND NEGOTIATION
We note that the “negotiation” with employers is mentioned in most if not all definitions. Present in every successful negotiation of workers with employers is a threat, that of action by the workers which will reduce or postpone the profits of the employers. This in turn is mediated by the threat of the employer to dismiss or otherwise penalise workers, to starve them into submission or to unleash private or State violence upon them2. The main reason for non-State employers to be in business of whatever kind is to make a profit and a substantial one at that and, in the case of an employer failing to avail of opportunities to do so, other employers, i.e other capitalists, will move in, outcompete and even take over the company3.
State companies have a responsibility to the ruling class to keep systems going, e.g public transport to deliver employees to work for private businesses, power supply to run the private enterprises, water and refuse collection to manage sanitation of working areas and reduce infections of the workforce, etc. So in successful negotiation with a State employer, the threat of workers’ action must be present also.
The threat may be implicit only but cannot remain effective if unrealised forever and every once in a while, employers will test it by a refusal (or procrastination) to accede to the demands of a union. In such a situation, the “negotiation” is ended or at least halted while both sides test the ability to resist of the other. If the employers are resolute and have enough resources but the workers are either not resolute or their resources are insufficient, the employers will win.
If the workers are resolute enough and are well-resourced and their action costs the employers enough so that the latter consider it better in the long run to accede to the demands, the workers will win. However, even when the workers are defeated in one battle, the action may have hurt the employers and next time there is a confrontation, they may be prepared to concede more. Even in failure in some cases, the threat of action has been shown to be a real one.
If however over a number of years the unions do not exercise their muscle while at the same time enduring reductions in the working conditions and living standards of their members, the workers, they become more and more unions in form but not in content and the employers will pay less and less attention to their demands. Indeed, the only threat perceived by the employers in such situations is that the ineffective unions may be replaced by another or others more effective or lose control of their members to “unofficial” or “wildcat” action. Better the devil that they not only know but can manage, than the one they don’t.
I repeat: A union must be able to call a significant number of workers in a significant workplace, company or industry into industrial action and does so when necessary (whether that be strike, sit-down, go-slow, ban on certain kinds of work, etc.). In that respect, the crucial condition is not whether the organisation is more or less democratic, or socialist, or egalitarian, more or less environmentalist etc, though of course all those attributes are desirable. Itmust beeffective, able to threaten and make good its threat.
Therefore calling an organisation a “union” does not of itself make it one and indeed an organisation may conversely be a workers’4 union without calling itself one, providing it is able to call a significant number of workers in a significant workplace, company or industry into industrial actionand does so when necessary.
So I have extended the definition of a union: an organisation consisting predominantly of employees to defend the interests of its members and improve their remuneration and conditions of work and that is able to call a significant number of workers in a workplace, company or industry into industrial action and which does so when necessary.
But what is a “significant number of workers in a significant workplace, company or industry”? Though this is more open to interpretation, it is nevertheless determined by two things, one of which is its ability to call an effective number of workers in the designated workplace into industrial action and the other is the relative size of the workplace, company or industry concerned. Of course, the workplace may be a shop or small garage or small farm, employing say around 50 people, in which all the workers are able to strike and do so, forcing the employer to accede to their demands or at least a significant (yes, that word again) number of them. The workers’ organisation in that case I would submit qualifies as a union on all grounds except one: the workplace is not a significant one in terms of industry or agriculture. It may go on from that initial success to extend to other workplaces but until it does so, it is a union only in the specific sense of that particular workplace.
However, if the organisation were to represent the majority of workers in one necessary part of a company’s production, willing to exercise its power and able to adversely affect the company’s output and profits, then that organisation would qualify as a union, according to my definition, even though it might represent only a small fraction of the total workforce.
Or if the one workplace in which the workers’ organisation is active is an extended one, for example a chain of stores or a major utility company. Or, as is sometimes the case, the workers’ organisation were to represent workers across an entire industry (“industrial unionism”), or groups of them in a number of different industries ( “general unionism”) or seeking to recruit all workers (“syndicalism”).
WHEN IS A UNION NOT A UNION?
It is important (and I would contend, crucial) also to define what a union is not. It is not
an organisation set up by a State and controlled by it
an organisation set up by employers
or the worker organisation’s offices, officers and other employees
“Unions” set up by the State
States have set up “unions”, for example in the case of corporate states, i.e fascism and when they have done so, have banned real workers’ unions.
In Nazi Germany, workers’ unions were abolished. On 2nd May 1933, (after the large annual May Day marches), their leaders were arrested, their funds confiscated and strikes declared illegal. Workers lost the right to negotiate wage increases and improvements in working conditions and all workers had to join the German Labour Front (DAF) run by Dr. Robert Ley. Within two years, under various pressures, 20 million workers had joined DAF but they had no independent rights.5
“Italian fascistswaged war on the unions between 1920 and 1922 when Mussolini took power, burning trade union offices, and beating and torturing trade unionists. In Turin, the key industrial centre, fascist squads celebrated Mussolini coming to power by attacking trade union offices and killing 22 trade unionists”6.
“The Pact of Vidoni Palace in 1925 brought the fascist trade unions and major industries together, creating an agreement for the industrialists to only recognise certain unions and so marginalise the non-fascist and socialist trade unions. The Syndical Laws of 1926 (sometimes called the Rocco Laws after Alfredo Rocco) took this agreement a step further as in each industrial sector there could be only one trade union and employers organisation. Labour had previously been united under Edmondo Rossoni and his General Confederation of Fascist Syndical Corporations, giving him a substantial amount of power even after the syndical laws, causing both the industrialists and Mussolini himself to resent him. Thereby, he was dismissed in 1928 and Mussolini took over his position as well.
“Only these syndicates could negotiate agreements, with the government acting as an “umpire”. The laws made both strikes and lock-outs illegal and took the final step of outlawing non-fascist trade unions. Despite strict regimentation, the labour syndicates had the power to negotiate collective contracts (uniform wages and benefits for all firms within an entire economic sector).”7
In Spain the communists, anarchists and social democrats had organised trade unions which supported the Popular Front Government and mobilised against the military-fascist coup in 1936. Following the victory of the military and fascists the State, under General Franco, jailed or executed many of the trade union leaders and members and declared their unions illegal.
The Franco regime set up the “vertical union” (i.e controlled from above) officially known as the Organización Sindical Obrera (OSE); industrial resistance was illegal and in any case extremely difficult to organise, due to the defeat of the republican and socialist forces and the massive repression of all democratic and socialist trends.8
Union resistance under fascism
However, when workers of various kinds of socialist thinking joined these state unions either through being forced to do so or in conscious infiltration, many maintained their old allegiances and worked to subvert fascist rule and control of the workers.
“On 5 March 1943, workers at the giant FIAT Mirafiori car plant in Turin walked out on strike. As it became clear the dictatorship could not repress the strike it spread within Northern Italy, involving one hundred thousand workers. Mussolini was forced to grant pay rises and better rations, but in conceding he struck the death knell for the regime.”9
In 1947, eight years after the victory of the military-fascists, metal workers in the Basque province of Bizkaia went on strike in spite of repression by the authorities and a clandestine trade union movement began to organise. “Another historic year in the incipient union movement was 1951, when there were strikes and demonstrations in Barcelona, Madrid and the Basque Country in the early part of the year. These were mainly spontaneous, although the clandestine unions which had grown up since 1947 did support and take part in them. An important role was also played by the Spanish Communist Party PCE, and Roman Catholic workers’ groups.” “In a context of socio-economic change in Spain in the late 1950s, as industrialisation accelerated …. there was a significant growth in the Spanish working class. In 1962 miners and industrial workers began to hold strikes all over the country.”10
The two main trade unions in the Spanish state today, the CCOO (Comisiones Obreras) and the UGT (Unión General de Trabajadores), the first originally under Communist Party direction and the smaller second under the social democratic PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero de España) grew out of that resistance (although the UGT had been in existence prior to the military-fascist uprising). Activists had infiltrated the vertical union and workers began to elect militants to represent them in demands to the employers – this in particular was the origin of the Comisiones Obreras.
Employers have also set up “unions” in order to undermine an existing union or in order to prevent a real union from organising workers in their enterprises.
These have been called “company unions”11 or “yellow unions”, the latter possibly after the French Fédération nationale des Jaunes de France (“National Federation of the Yellows of France”) which was created by Pierre Biétry in 1902.12
Up to the mid 1930s, ‘company’ or ‘yellow’ unions were quite common in the USA and after the Ludlow Massacre13, John D. Rockefeller had one created to improve his company’s image and to resist the struggles of mineworkers and of the United Mineworkers’ Union in Colorado; he called it the Employee Representation Plan.14
“In 1935, the National Labor Relations Act (also known as the Wagner Act) was passed, dramatically changing labour law in the United States. Section 8(a)(2) of the NLRA makes it illegal for an employer “to dominate or interfere with the formation or administration of any labor organization or contribute financial or other support to it.” Company unions were considered illegal under this code, despite the efforts of some businesses to carry on under the guise of an ‘Employee Representation Organization.’”15
Japan has company unions that are not in the RENGO federation of independent unions and the company ones appeal to an ideology of loyalty towards one’s paternalistic employer.16
In the 1930s, unions in Mexico organized the Confederation of Mexican Workers (Confederación de Trabajadores de México, CTM). The state of Nuevo Leon, however, coordinated its workers into sindicatos blancos (“white unions”), company unions controlled by corporations in the industrialised region.
Naturally a “union” of this type is unwilling and indeed unable to call a significant number of workers in a workplace, company or industry into industrial action to defend the interests of its members and improve their remuneration conditions of work (my definition of a workers’ union). Therefore I contend that they are not workers’ unions.
UNIONS INACTIVE IN STRUGGLE TODAY
But there are unions that have built themselves up in membership (and incidentally by union dues revenue) by proving themselves willing and able to call their members out in action to enforce their demands of the employers – but who have not been doing so for some time. We are increasingly seeing these in Western Europe at least and often the reason quoted is that state legislation is making it harder for the unions to organise, or to take action effectively. And rather than jail for union activists as in the past, the threat of the State is sequestration of union funds. The union leaders, officers and clerical support staff view such threats as extremely serious, evoking the possibility of the demise of the trade union or at the very least its inability to maintain its functions and payment for its superstructure of staffing, buildings and equipment.
Those are of course real threats with some states proving their ability to carry them out in the past and consequently union leaders draw back from struggles that might result in such an eventuality – or even attempt to smother them. The union leadership become, in effect, the firefighters of the employers. When they reach that position, they are not really the union any more. The union is not the organisation’s offices, officers and other employees. Its leaders are forgetting that back in the history of this or of many other unions, its organisers and members maintained only a rudimentary bureaucracy while they fought for the gains to be wrenched from the employers — organisers and even ordinary members faced sacking, police baton charges, strike-breaker violence, deportation, transportation, jail, torture and even death. When safeguarding the superstructure of the union outweighs defending and advancing the members’ interests, it is time for the union leadership to retrace its steps – or vacate the spot.
A union may fail to be recognised as such by the employers and/ or the State but (based on my definition) that does not affect its status as a union, so long as it is an organisation consisting predominantly of employees to defend the interests of its members and improve their remuneration and conditions of workandable to call a significant number of workers in a workplace, company or industry into industrial actionand does so when necessary.
To be sure, an employer refusing to recognise the right of the union to represent its employees and to negotiate on their behalves does represent an additional challenge. But we should not forget that all workers’ unions once faced that initial obduracy but nevertheless in time became accepted by the employers. And it required a long process for some of those unions, with unsuccessful industrial action and many sacrifices as part of it.
The opposition of the State, acting in the first place for the capitalist class it represents and secondly in its own interests as an employer, is another serious obstacle for unions. Currently in most of Europe and certainly in Ireland, the State does not outlaw unions but it does place many restrictions around them and, in some cases, removes their protections.
The protection received by a union that is recognised by the State exists mostly in exemption from some legal procedures such as being sued for causing loss of profits for a company and exemption from arrest for picketing (“loitering”, “obstruction”, etc). However, the laws of none of the European states exempt workers from arrest for persistently obstructing the entry of strike-breakers or goods to a workplace where the workers are on strike. In most European countries, picketing, boycott and blockade in solidarity by “non-involved” unions – i.e “secondary picketing” etc — is against the law to a greater or lesser degree. Well, such laws are made by the capitalist class to protect themselves and then processed through a parliament where most of the elected public representatives are supporters of that same class. To receive legal protection from capitalist laws the union must be recognised by the capitalist State which entails meeting the necessary requirements in order to be registered as “a friendly association” and receiving “a negotiation licence”.
However, while these provisions affect very deeply the ease or otherwise of the organisation, they do not in my opinion have anything to do with whether it is or is not a workers’ union.
Another hurdle to get over for “recognition” is that of acceptance by the Irish Trade Union Congress. A union not recognised by the ITUC will receive no support from that body in application to the State for a “negotiation licence” and members of other “recognised” unions will be encouraged to cross any picket line of an “unrecognised” union. That is obviously a serious situation for a young union that is “unrecognised” but again, it does not define whether or not it is a union.
Say what the State, employers or the ITUC leadership may say, the reality remains that a union is an organisation consisting predominantly of employees to defend the interests of its members and improve their remuneration and conditions of work and that isable to call a significant number of workers in a workplace, company or industry into industrial action and which does so when necessary. Not whether it is — or is not — recognised or facilitated by those other bodies.
As the unions in many states have become more and more passive (in the Irish state particularly through the years of “social partnership”17) they have lost much of their accreditation in reality. As they fail further to justify their existence they will be replaced and for example the British-based union Unite is moving into the Irish arena. But the new union, despite its local leaders speaking militantly at rallies of some campaigns and investing some of its effort into building support in the community, is demonstrating the same reluctance to take determined action against the employers, whether private or State. Should that state of affairs continue then that too will fall and be replaced.
But by what and when?
1A friendly society has nothing necessarily to do with being friendly but is is a mutual association for the purposes of insurance, pensions, savings or cooperative banking. It is a mutual organisation or benefit society composed of a body of people who join together for a common financial or social purpose.
2While some readers may be surprised or even dismissive of reference to “private or State violence”, there can hardly be a state which does not at least on occasion – some more often than others — employ police or judicial violence against striking workers. In the past in many countries and perhaps in particular in the USA, companies employed private security staff or company police to act against worker disobedience, in addition to agencies such as the Pinkerton not only to gather intelligence on union organisers but to attack them physically or to prepare cases for their conviction of law-breaking in court. In some parts of the world companies – often with their HQs in the “West” — continue to employ their own security staff against union organising, sometimes with fatal results for the union organisers.
3This applies even if the company should still be making a profit but is not maximising it. The company’s shareholders and investors, including institutions such as banks, trust funds, pension funds etc will begin to desert the company to a competitor offering a higher return on investments and said company may even engage in a “hostile takeover” bid, by bringing sufficient numbers of shareholders to vote in favour of its takeover. This is one of the laws of the operation of capitalism and one reason why it there is little point in appealing to the individual consciences of capitalists.
4Sometimes workers’ unions have called themselves by other names, including “society” and “association” in order to circumvent anti-trade union legislation for example.
13Massacre by company guards and the National Guard of strikers and their children on 20 April 1914 during the Great Colorado Coal Strike, after which the workers took up arms. It was the subject of a song composed and sung by Woody Guthrie and others, e.g Jason Boland and Andy Irvine.
171983-???? In 2010: “Following 23 years of social partnership the Irish trades unions (ICTU) entered the new decade seriously weakened and with union employee density down to 31% compared to a density highpoint of 62% in the early 1980s preceding the series of seven corporatist social pacts. Union penetration is highly imbalanced with a density approaching 80% in the public sector and around 20% in the larger private sector.”
Like many Brooklyn Jews of his generation, Howard Zinn, an icon of the American left, questioned laissez fair American capitalism and American nationalist glorification of country. He was the author of “A People’s History of the United States,” a best seller which sold more than two million copies and inspired a generation of high school and college students to rethink American history. He was also a strong supporter of the civil rights movement and an opponent of the Vietnam war, as well as being a much-loved professor. Proudly, unabashedly radical, Zinn delighted in debating ideological foes, including his own college president, and in attacking conventional ideas, not the least that American history was a heroic march toward democracy.
Born Aug. 24, 1922, Howard Zinn grew up in Bedford Stuyvesant. His parents were Jewish immigrants who met in a factory. His father worked as a ditch digger and window cleaner during the Depression. His father and mother ran a neighborhood candy store for a brief time, barely getting by. For many years his father was in the waiter’s union and worked as a waiter for weddings and bar mitzvahs. “We moved a lot, one step ahead of the landlord,” Zinn recalled. “I lived in all of Brooklyn’s best slums.”
“NO LONGER A LIBERAL”
His parents were not intellectuals and Zinn recalled that there were no books in his home growing up. At some point his parents, knowing his interest in books, and never having heard of Charles Dickens, sent in a coupon with a dime each month to the New York Post and received one of ultimately twenty volumes of Dickens’ complete works. He became interested in fascism and began to read about its rise in Europe and to engage in political discussions and debates with some young Communists in his neighborhood. Zinn was radicalized thanks to a peaceful political rally in Times Square, where mounted police charged the marchers, hit Zinn knocked him unconscious. Zinn explained, “From that moment on, I was no longer a liberal, a believer in the self-correcting character of American democracy. . . The situation required not just a new president or new laws, but an uprooting of the old order, the introduction of a new kind of society—cooperative, peaceful, egalitarian.”
After graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School, Zinn became an apprentice shipfitter in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where he and a few other apprentices began to discuss books and strategize about how to improve their dangerous working conditions. Excluded from the craft unions of skilled workers, they formed their own Apprentice Association. On an overnight boat trip he organized to raise money for the association, he met his future wife, Roslyn Shechter, who shared Howard’s progressive views and was also a Jewish child of immigrants. Zinn joined the Army Air Corps in 1943, eager to fight the fascists, and became a bombardier in a B-17. While in the Air Force he was disturbed by the race and class inequality among the servicemen. It wasn’t until years after the war that he questioned the necessity of the bombs that he dropped. But at the end of the war, back in New York, he deposited his medals in an envelope and wrote: “Never Again.”
“I would not deny that [WWII] had a certain moral core, but that made it easier for Americans to treat all subsequent wars with a kind of glow,” Zinn said. “Every enemy becomes Hitler.”
After the war, he went back to interview victims of the bombing, and later wrote about it in two books. His own experience and his subsequent interviews led him to conclude that the bombing had been ordered more to enhance the careers of senior officers than for any military imperative, and he later wrote about the ethics of bombing in the context of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Tokyo and Dresden, as well as Iraq.
Zinn and Roz married in 1944. While Zinn worked various jobs after the war, they lived on meager income in a rat-infested basement apartment in Brooklyn. Their daughter Myla was born in 1947 and Jeff in 1949. They moved to new public housing in 1949 and Zinn went to New York University for his B.A in history.
Thanks to the GI Bill, which paid the tuition of veterans, Zinn went to Columbia, where he earned an MA in 1952 with a thesis about a famous coalminers’ strike in Colorado, then obtained his PhD with a dissertation about the career in Congress of Fiorello LaGuardia, the reforming mayor of New York. He studied at Columbia under Richard Hofstadter who taught Zinn that American liberals were not as liberal as they thought they were, and that the two common threads in all American history were nationalism and capitalism.
In 1956, Zinn accepted a professorship at Spelman College, a traditionally black college for women in Atlanta, Georgia. Among his students were Maria Wright Edelman, the campaigner for children’s rights, and the future novelist Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple. At Spelman, he was a mentor to and later the historian of the Student Non-Violent Co-ordinating Committee (SNCC), the radical student wing of the civil rights movement. Zinn took part in many civil rights protests, and he encouraged his students to join him in these marches, which angered Spelman’s president. Zinn angered the authorities at Spelman over his insistence that its students should not be trained to be ladies, but should be actively involved in politics. “I was fired for insubordination,” he recalled. “Which happened to be true.” Zinn moved to Boston University in 1964, where he quickly became an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War. He angered many Americans, including Boston University’s president, by traveling with the Rev. Daniel Berrigan to Hanoi to receive prisoners released by the North Vietnamese, and produced the antiwar books “Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal” (1967) and “Disobedience and Democracy” (1968). When Daniel Ellsberg, a previously gung-ho John F Kennedy and Lyndon B Johnson administration official, came out against the war, he gave one copy of the Pentagon Papers (officially titled United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense, the government’s secret history of the war) to Zinn and his wife, Roslyn. Zinn and Noam Chomsky edited what became known as the Mike Gravel edition, published in Boston in 1971-72 by the Beacon Press.
In 1980, he published his most successful work, A People’s History of the United States, which was a highly controversial revision of American history. Instead of the usual congratulatory tone of most American history textbooks, his work concentrated on what he saw as the genocidal depredations of Christopher Columbus, the blood lust of Theodore Roosevelt and the racial failings of Abraham Lincoln. He also highlighted the revolutionary struggles of impoverished farmers, feminists, laborers and resisters of slavery and war. Bruce Springsteen said the starkest of his many albums, “Nebraska,” drew inspiration in part from Mr. Zinn’s writings.
For decades, he poured out articles attacking war and government secrecy.
When President Ronald Reagan bombed Tripoli in 1986, Zinn wrote: “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people for a purpose which is unattainable.” He denounced the invasion of Iraq and also criticized President Barack Obama’s intensification of the war in Afghanistan. He was sharply attacked in Israel and by many of his fellow American Jews for saying that war was morally the equivalent of terrorism.
Mr. Zinn retired in 1988, concluding his last class early so he could join a picket line. He invited his students to join him. Zinn also wrote three plays: “Daughter of Venus,” “Marx in Soho” and “Emma,” about the life of the anarchist Emma Goldman. All have been produced. Zinn died in 2010.
Zinn always believed in standing up to injustice and fighting for oppression. He said near the end of his life, “Where progress has been made, wherever any kind of injustice has been overturned, it’s been because people acted as citizens, and not as politicians. They didn’t just moan. They worked, they acted, they organized, they rioted if necessary to bring their situation to the attention of people in power. And that’s what we have to do today.”
POSTSCRIPT from Rebel Breeze:
TRUMP ATTACKS ZINN AFTER LATTER’S DEATH
“If you want to read a real history book,” Matt Damon’s character tells his therapist, played by Robin Williams, in the 1997 film “Good Will Hunting,” “read Howard Zinn’s ‘A People’s History of the United States.’ That book will knock you on your ass.”
It is very unlikely that President Donald Trump knew who Howard Zinn was before he saw the name on his teleprompter. And it is even less likely that he’s read “A People’s History of the United States.” But that didn’t stop him from saying — at the White House Conference on American History on Thursday — that today’s “left-wing rioting and mayhem are the direct result of decades of left-wing indoctrination in our schools. It’s gone on far too long. Our children are instructed from propaganda tracts, like those of Howard Zinn, that try to make students ashamed of their own history.”
Go to Dublin city centre any evening and you will see people queuing up for food and water, being dispensed by teams of volunteers. There are at least 16 different organisations carrying out this work in the city centre, mostly outside the General Post Office, an imposing building and historical icon, the location of the HQ of the 1916 Rising from Easter Monday to Friday1. These are mostly community initiatives or if not, religious organisations (Christian, Muslim, Sikh), their staff volunteers, their efforts supported by donations. I arranged to speak to one of those volunteers.
DB: Orla, thank you for talking to me. You help with one of the soup-run-type initiatives? In Dublin City Centre?
Orla: That’s ok. Yes. Ours is one of the ones that sets up in front of the GPO, under the arch. We take over after another group has already been there.
And there are still people to feed? Even though a group has been feeding people before you?
Oh, yes. Sometimes the queue is already stretching to the corner of the GPO when I get there.
How long have you been doing it?
Since September last year with this group and a few stints with another group before that.
What made you take it up?
Over the years, like I suppose lots of other people, I’ve been seeing the rich get richer, the poor poorer. It’s made me more sympathetic to people in difficult situations. I don’t think people get where they are just by entitlement. It’s given me different perspectives. One Christmas Night … it was 2016 …. I got to go with a homeless outreach team, supporting people sleeping on the street …. It really opened my eyes. So I got to know a few of the volunteers, started off donating to their teams. Then one day I joined the volunteers.
What is it like to do that?
It can be challenging. We need to wear masks and gloves. Some of the people have mental health issues. You might get someone trying to take more than their share – well, if you see they have kids, that’s OK, or you really know they are taking one for someone else …. but you have to explain that the food is being shared, it’s for all and has to last. The queue has to form up at one end and has to keep moving …. Most are grateful and cooperate.
So, what do you and the other organisations provide?
Mostly food and bottled water.
You spoke earlier about donations. I have heard some volunteers say they don’t want money, also claims that some organisations asking for money have been scams. Would you like to talk a little about all that?
It is an issue. Most of the organisations are not registered charities that have audited accounts ….
Some registered charities have been found to be crooked too …
Yes, some certainly have. There was concern about a particular organisation that was collecting in front of the GPO. A reliable person who knew the score challenged them and warned others about them and we haven’t seen them since.
But getting back to donations to the teams feeding people …. are they in money or in food and water?
Mostly they are in water food and – bread, cakes, chocolates. There’s some shops, including convenience stores, that donate us bottled water and also food. Some of the food is prepared elsewhere and then brought down to the teams, already packed into single containers – because of the danger of infection. And we provide plastic forks and spoons. And there’s hot water containers for hot drinks. There’s one group of people who make sandwiches to bring down – they’re very popular. Some people help in preparing stuff but don’t work on the table handing it out.
Occasionally, but we usually ask people to buy food with the money and donate it. Occasionally a money donation might be accepted and a receipt would be given. But what can you do when someone just walks up to us when we’re busy, hands over a ten-euro note and walks away? Oh by the way, we don’t do a clothes service but if we know someone in particular needs clothes or shoes, we might bring them in. Or pass them on to the Lighthouse or Inner City Homeless.2 Sometimes outreach teams from registered services will come along to us too, so they can get someone into a hostel.
I have heard of some groups of far-Right or fascist orientation saying we should only be looking after the Irish. What would you say about that?
Well, I don’t agree. We feed people of whatever nationality, so long as they’re not scamming. Sometimes we get some Irish people in the queue making remarks like that and we have to be careful not to rise to it, to get in big arguments with them — but we don’t agree. They shouldn’t be judging. We don’t get people from Direct Provision but I’ve heard those are certainly not holiday camps. Racists say foreigners get things for free but any accommodation they get, they pay rent for. People might be here from abroad, working, paying rent, then they lose their job, things go wrong for them …. could happen to anyone.
Then, you might be from one county and be refused help in another. I remember a program on TV early in the year about a young person left on the street because he was from another county …. shocked a lot of people.
Has there been any trouble from racist organisations?
I remember that just before Christmas there were some threats made on social media from some far-Right people to some of the volunteers.
I heard about those threats too. Did anything happen?
No …. supporters turned up to defend them and stayed near for the whole shift.
So, is it tiring, after a day’s work, helping on the soup run line for two hours,?
Yes, after work I get something to eat, then head over there.
Well, thank you Orla for taking the time for the interview and for your work.
List of groups organising and serving the soup-runs (may not be complete)
Éire Nua Food Initiative
Grubs Up Homeless Services
Caring Is Sharing
Muslim Sisters of Éire
Gurdwara Nanak Darbar
Church of God
Hope In The Darkness
Streetlink Homeless Services
Liberty Soup Run
Ballymun Soup Run
Kilkenny group on Grafton Street
Go raibh maith agaibh go léir and to those who supply them with donations of food and bottled water.
Thankfully these organisations are providing services but it is a sad comment on any society that they are needed, let alone in a State that claims it won independence a century ago. The GPO is a central location in the city centre and is obviously convenient for the operation of the services. Nevertheless the fact the building housed the headquarters of the 1916 Rising for nearly five days is a poignant counterpoint to the aspirations of those who fought for independence and a better life for the people.
That some far-Right and outright fascist organisations such as the National Party are using the issue of poverty and homelessmess to point the finger not at the system but at migrants, is disgusting. Preying on the vulnerable, poisoning their minds and using them as a front to pretend that they are actually doing charitable work, filming their occasional propaganda forays into the city.
Meanwhile, there are real people of many different ethnic backgrounds actually out there week after week, doing the real work, whether by religious or communal solidarity. Some of the latter are also, at other times, political activists and to learn that they have been threatened by fascists makes one’s blood boil.
Fair play to those who are doing the real work. But it shouldn’t be necessary. The system is sick. It needsa fundamental change or at least a sharp shock.
…. charging ….. step back ….. JOLT!
…. charging ….. step back ….. JOLT!
1On that afternoon some of the garrison left to take wounded to Jervis Street Hospital and the major part, to head for the north-east of the city to continue the resistance but having to stop in Moore Street.
2Registered NGO services working with the homeless in Dublin.
Actually what the hierarchy referenced fearing in a recent 95-page statement was “two Spains”, which most commentators took as being a reference to a repeat of the Anti-Fascist war of 1936-1939, with Republican Spain and Fascist Spain. The statement of the Spanish Episcopal Conference (CEE) spoke of the “stability” which the 1978 Constitution has given the Spanish State. So have they suddenly now become democrats? Of course, one can think of another way of imagining such a dichotomy: Rich Spain and Worker Spain. I think the Bishops fear another kind of civil war – i.e revolution.
The 95-page document entitled ‘Faithful to missionary sending’ was prepared not only by the collegiate bodies of the CEE but also by external collaborators. Less open to different interpretations are the other concerns raised by the Bishop’s Conference, regarding the increasing secularisation of society, the scandals around abuse of those in the care of Church institutions and pastors, along with the other scandal of church appropriation of public property, including even a UNESCO site1. The Bishops feel that some of these processes and issues are not merely accidental or incidental to modern times but rather are deliberately driven by people in hostility to the Church.
CHURCH AND POLITICS
It is customary and has been so throughout history for the dominant religious institution to have a close relationship with the dominant class in society and this has certainly been the case with the Catholic Church in the Spanish Kingdom. The Spanish ruling elite at the turn of the last century, in a country with underdeveloped capitalist industry was an alliance of two different social classes, the aristocracy and the capitalist-financier class. The social atmosphere was deeply conservative and dominated by the Catholic Church hierarchy which, through them and the religious male and female orders, controlled institutions of social and educational provision. Progressive artists were penalised and often enough went into exile.2
The First Spanish Republic, a brief attempt to liberalise and democratise the State after the abdication of King Amadeo in 1873, survived not even two years before being overthrown in a military coup, followed by repression causing the exile of many of republican leaders and supporters.
However, a wave of revolt against the conservatism and lack of democracy of the Spanish Kingdom came around again and in 1931 the Second Republic was created, overthrowing the dictatorship of General Primo Rivera. Initially the composition of the government was right-wing and the revolt of the Asturian miners was cruelly suppressed by the Army and the militarised police force of the Guardia Civil3. The right-wing government fell in 1936 when a democratic left-wing Popular Front government was elected, which set about legislating for greater social freedoms, equality and discussing autonomy for nations4 within the State.
DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT AND MILITARY-FASCIST UPRISING
That was the signal for the forces of reaction to strike and most of the military high command, allied with the fascist Falange5, staged a coup. In Barcelona, the coupists were quickly suppressed by a popular upsurge which took on a revolutionary character. In some other parts, particularly in Madrid, the coupists were suppressed too but without a revolution.
General Franco in partnership with another three generals and senior naval commanders led or joined the coup but Franco’s forces were isolated in part of North Africa (then a Spanish colony). While the ‘democratic’ European powers ‘blockaded the conflict’, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy provided the logistical support6 to get Franco’s forces to the Canary Islands, then to Spain, where they found little organised opposition but nevertheless carried out a reign of terror. The Spanish Catholic Church hierarchy and most of its priests and religious orders supported the military and fascist rebellious forces with enthusiasm.
A conflict variously called “the Spanish Civil War” or “the Spanish Antifascist War” followed, ending in 1939 with victory for the military-fascist forces, who lost an estimated 175,000 killed in action, and 110,000 died fighting for the Republic.7
Following the earlier pattern of areas the fascists had conquered, a wave of repression ensued against republicans, communists, socialists, anarchists, democrats, trade unionists, Basque, Catalan and Galician nationalists, gays and lesbians, with summary executions, military tribunals and executions, mass jailing, public humiliation of women …. Estimates of executions behind the fascist-military lines during the War range from fewer than 50,000to 200,0008. Most of the victims were killed without a trial in the first months of the war and their corpses were left on the sides of roads or in clandestine and unmarked mass graves.Spain has the highest number of mass graves anywhere in the world with the exception of Cambodia9, with 740 mass graves containing the remains of some 9,000 people having been found so far. The support of the Catholic Church for the military and fascists did not waver throughout.
THREE DECADES OF FASCIST DICTATORSHIP
After that initial phase, three decades of political and social repression followed under the Franco dictatorship, again fully supported by the Spanish Catholic Church.
However, the dictatorship was always resisted to some degree or another and that resistance began to grow apace during the 1960s. The Partido Comunista de España and the social-democratic Partido Socialista Obrero de España, both banned, were organising underground and becoming increasingly popular. Both had affiliated trade union organisations and the Comisiones Obreras10, linked to the PCE was particularly widespread. The youth of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) broke with the conservative and inactive leadership and, joining with a revolutionary socialist movement in the southern Basque Country, formed ETA11, taking up armed struggle at the end of the 1960s.
As the Dictator aged the imperialists began to worry about the potential for a revolution in Spain and contacts in influential circles were sought to persuade the ruling class to replace the Dictatorship with a parliamentary democracy. Some elements in the Spanish Catholic Church opposed those initiatives but one which embraced it was the technocratic Opus Dei, which with some others, steered the country through the Transición.
Amidst a wave of repression including murders of activists by State and other fascist forces, with fear of an indefinite continuation of the Dictatorship, a Referendum on a monarchist and unitary state constitution was held. The PCE and the PSOE were legalised and, with their support, the 1978 Constitution received majority support. It is that Constitution which is regularly quoted when the State declines to permit the Basque and Catalan nations to even hold a referendum on independence.
In summary then, the Spanish State has evolved from a deeply conservative and repressive state, through a fascist-military uprising to a fascist and socially conservative dictatorship, all along with the support of the Spanish Catholic Church. When a revolution was feared, in consultation with imperialist advisers, the technocrat section of the Church, with the support of the social democratic and communist parties, helped prepare a transition to a parliamentary democratic form. Central to the Transition was preserving the mostly fascist ruling class and ensuring it would remain safe from any reparations, not to speak of criminal charges for murder, rape, torture, large-scale thefts …
But now, the Church hierarchy is sounding a warning. If it fears revolution, it has cause to.
VULNERABILITY OF THE SPANISH STATE
The possibility of revolution in Spain may seem far distant to most external and internal observers but two things should be taken into account:
Revolution often grows and matures very quickly from what seemed like unready conditions and
the Spanish State is by far the most vulnerable in the whole of the EU.
INTERNAL FORCES HOSTILE TO THE SPANISH STATE
The Spanish State consists of a number of nations, of which Catalonia, the Basque Country (Euskal Herria) and Galicia (Galiza) are the most obvious. But “Paisos Catalans” includes also Valencia and the Balearic Islands, all areas where Catalan is spoken and Asturias also consider themselves a Celtic nation (as does Galiza).
The southern Basque Country has spent decades mobilising for independence in a wide social and political opposition to the Spanish State and though the official leadership of its movement is now pacified, a strong potential remains there. As the momentum of the latter declined, the movement for independence in Catalonia increasingly matured and in 2017 an unsanctioned referendum returned a majority for independence. Spanish police raided polling booths, attacked the voters and later nine social and political leaders were jailed by the State while others were obliged to go into exile. The 2021 elections returned a majority of pro-independence candidates and the total vote for independence exceeded 50% for the first time since pro-independence candidates presented themselves in elections.
The movements for independence respectively in Galiza and Asturies are nowhere near at the same level as those of the Basque Country or of Catalonia but they are growing. This is true also of the Paisos Catalans and the Islas Canarias.
With regard to the wide workers’ organisations, while the Comisiones and UGT at present maintain overall control, the majority of organised workers in the Basque Country and Galiza belong to trade unions supporting independence. Intersindical, a class trade union12 movement, also supporting independence, is growing in Catalonia and the Canaries.
Generally the Spanish State finds itself increasingly isolated at home and abroad. Its repression measures against the Basques and Catalans have not only disaffected people in those nations but also, despite general media and fascist propaganda, sectors of the Spanish intelligentsia. Writers, actors, artists have experienced repression or have spoken out against the repression of members of their sector. Political activist and rapper Pablo Hasel is in jail while Valtonyc, another rapper, is in exile to avoid imprisonment, both because of their lyrics.
Repeated financial corruptionscandals have increasingly undermined confidence in the political and business classes.
FORCES SUPPORTING THE SPANISH STATE
The image of the Spanish Monarchy has suffered probably irreparable damage. The previous King, Juan Carlos, who was a visible link between the Dictatorship and the current parliamentary system but credited by liberal commentators as managing the “transition to democracy”, has abdicated. His personal reputation was damaged by a number of public relations disasters and he is now being pursued on allegations of financial and political corruption. His son-in-law is serving a jail sentence for financial and political corruption too. The current King, Juan Carlos’ son Felipe VI, though by no means compromised to any similar degree, has not built up any significant social support either, despite a generally sycophantic Spanish media.
The Catholic Church, the great organisation of social control for centuries and throughout the Dictatorship, has lost much of its influence, a fact bewailed by the Bishops in their communique. In the Basque Country and in Catalonia, the Hierarchy had little influence anyway because of its support for Franco. But the scandals of physical and sexual abuse in church institutions and by pastors, common across much of the western world, have impacted on the Church across the Spanish state too. In addition, the increasing secularisation of modern western society has also weakened the Church’s influence, as have its opposition to contraception and abortion, divorce, homosexuality and of course same-sex marriage, all of which are now legal.
Surveys indicated that only 3% of Spaniards consider religion as one of their three most important values, lower than the 5% European average, though religious festivals remain popular on a mainly cultural level.
According to the Spanish Centre for Sociological Research, as of July 2021, while 58.6% of Spanish citizens self-identify as Catholic, only 18.6% define themselves as practicing, with 40% as not practicing. Another 37% have no religion, identifying variously as atheists (15.1%), agnostics (11.5%) or non-believers (10.4%)13. The total number of parish priests, i.e the level of Church personnel most in direct contact with the population, shrank from 24,300 in 1975 to 18,500 in 2018, with an average age of 65.5 years.14
However, the COPE radio network, owned by the Catholic Spanish Bishops’ Conference, broadcasts material ranging from the conservative to the fascist and always for Spanish unionism. COPE, an acronym for Cadena de Ondas Populares Españolas (“People’s Radiowaves of Spain Network”) formerly called Radio Popular, is the second most played among Spain’s generalist radio. COPE owns music stations Cadena 100, Rock FM and Megastar FM, in addition to the Spanish generalist TV channel Trece. The station is associated with the right-wing Spanish journal DiarioABC.
The privately-owned media in the Spanish state, whether favouring the PSOE (e.g El País) or the Partido Popular (e.g El Mundo and ABC) tends to be supportive of the union and the status quo15, with the state TV networks even more so. The bias against for example Basque or Catalan independence activists is remarkably obvious, with TV cameras accompanying police on raids to arrests of activists and publication of prejudicial statements long before the accused face trial and again during the trial itself.
Both traditional main political parties have their origins in the Spanish Anti-Fascist War. In common with most European parliamentary democracies, the two-party system has lost support in the Spanish state, resulting in recent governments being coalitions of political parties. This increases the potential for political thinking along class rather than party lines while also creating internal difficulties for the coalitions.
The right-wing Partido Popular was formed in 1989 but was a reconfiguration of the Alianza Popular, formed after the State’s change to the parliamentary system to give fascists and deep conservative supporters of Franco a representation in elections. Much reduced now, the PP has given rise to a chain of splits, first to form Ciudadanos, in turn shedding some members to form the more or less openly fascist Vox party. Any return of the PP to governing the Spanish state would require it to form a coalition with one or both of Cs and Vox.
The PSOE, formerly illegal under the Dictatorship, has on the surface many of the features of a western social-democratic party. However, it has been deeply implicated in repression of struggles in the Basque Country, including wide-scale torture of prisoners. Further, under the Felipe Gonzales presidency (prime ministership), the Spanish State ran terrorist squads carrying out kidnapping, torture, murder and bombings against pro-independence Basques. The operation was exposed in a series of articles in El Mundo and, although Gonzales didn’t face even a police interview, the eventual resulting list of convictions included the Minister of the Interior, Director of State Security, Sec-General of the PSOE in the Basque province of Bizkaia, Czar of the “Antiterrorist Struggle”, Bilbao Chief of Police Intelligence Brigade, another Police Chief, regional Governor for the Spanish State in Bizkaia, and a colonel, Chief of the Guardia Civil HQ in Intxaurrondo (Basque Country).
Although successfully unseating the PP Government on a vote of “no confidence” in the Government’s 2018 budget, the PSOE’s leader, Pedro Sanchez, was only able to enter government by forming a coalition with Unidas Podemos16, itself a coalition of left social-democrats, trotskyists and communists. Since the new Government took over the repression of Catalans of its predecessor, only releasing imprisoned Catalan activists on parole recently, it does not have the support of the Catalan independentists, with the exception of one major party which voted to help the Government’s budget scrape through, as did the official leadership of the Basque independence movement17.
Fascism was never defeated in the Spanish state, it merely put on a democratic mask, albeit faded and patched. The current members of the ruling class are mostly descendants of the military-fascist alliance of 1936 and virtually all beneficiaries of the Dictatorship, often sitting on wealth, industry and media expropriated from their opponents defeated in the Antifascist War. There are sections of active and militant fascists across the Spanish state with wide police and military connections, denouncing the independence initiatives in Catalonia, criticising immigration, ridiculing equality measures and parading with fascist symbols and salutes to exalt the memory of General Franco and Primo Rivera. Although some of those activities are illegal, they act with visible impunity. The Vox political party has stated openly that it wants to amend the Constitution to remove the status of regional autonomy, which they believe encourages aspiration for independence and thereby endangers the unity of the Spanish State.
Some government antifascist measures of late, along with the rise of independence activism in Catalonia have caused apprehension among this section of fascists, which finds expression in more rallies and demonstrations and increasingly threatening language and displays. The Government measures include the removal — long-promised by the PSOE — of Franco and Rivera’s remains from the mausoleum in the fascist monumental park of the Valle de los Caidos (“Valley of the Fallen”) which was built with political prisoner labour. The State’s TV service covered the event at length and in a manner resembling a homage ceremony.
Currently historical memory legislation is being promoted to assist in the discovery, investigation and honouring of the graves of the victims of Franco, while another piece of legislation seeks to make illegal any promotion of Franco or of fascism generally. The future of these initiatives is uncertain but the fact that even the current anti-fascist legislation is not upheld does not inspire confidence.
The Bishops’ concerns about the safety of the 1978 Constitutional State seem to be twofold: on the one hand they see the demands for self-determination of nations within its territory as a threat to the State while on the other hand they fear that the fascists will push matters to an extreme, i.e that “civil war” – and this time, the fascists will lose, in the course of which the State will fall. However a close reading also looks like a threat to the national liberation and democratic forces, a warning to desist from their challenges to the status quo – or else!
As to their concerns for their Church, the Bishops are correct in believing that it is under attack but misunderstand the nature of the opposition, a large part of which is more to do with resenting the privileged position of the Church within the Spanish State than a hatred of the institution and faith as a whole. The Church received €144 million in funding from the State18 in 2019, ultimately from the taxes levied on people, no matter what their religion or state of faith, their opinion of the institutions or of their activities. And the tax-payers have no control over those institutions.
Of course, the Church does have its enemies, people who will never forgive it for the role it has played in the abuse of people and for its role in history, in particular its support for the military-fascist uprising, the horrific repression during that war and again during the subsequent dictatorship.
But the Bishops are right about one thing – the Spanish state is very vulnerable. Which is no doubt also the reason for the general contradictory stance of most other states in the EU, which on the one hand wish the Spanish State would act in a more subtle way than naked repression, while on the other fearing the spillover effect of possible revolution and the territorial breakup of “Spain”.
2Cervantes, the most famous Spanish writer and much praised by the State today, never received any support from the Spanish Kingdom. In 1569 he fled a warrant for arrest due to wounding an opponent a duel. Later, his family could not afford his ransom when captured by Corsairs but his freedom was eventually bought by an organisation working to free Christian slaves in the Ottoman Empire. Employed later by the Spanish as a tax collector he was jailed briefly a number of times for “irregularities. He is celebrated as a writer not only in Spanish but his Don Quixote de la Mancha has been widely read in translation.
3The Guardia Civil is a Spanish state-wide police force but militarised — they have military ranks and live in barracks. The gendarme-type force is one common in states needing to control a disparate population with a history of rebellion, eg: the Carabinieri of Italy, Gendarmerie of France, Royal Irish Constabulary of Ireland under British rule (then the RUC in the colony, now the PSNI).
4Catalonia got its autonomy during its popular suppression of the coup attempt and, once the war was underway, three southern Basque provinces got theirs too, while the conservative Carlists in the fourth province, Nafarroa (Navarra) sided with the coup and massacred any supporters of the Government they could find. Galician autonomy was under discussion but after only two weeks of fighting in July 1936, the fascists took control and the project was abandoned. The fascists killed 800,000 people there, mostly civilians and after the hostilities.
5La Falangia Española, a fascist organisation founded by Primo Rivera (son of the General of the same name) in October 1933. It was later remodeled by Franco to unite all the fascist and right-wing nationalist organisations and from then was the only legal political party during the Franco Dictatorship.
6Both fascist powers also provided personnel, weapons, military transport, tanks …. the infamous urban centre bombing of Gernika was carried out by German and Italian planes. The Republican side received some assistance from the Mexican Government and in particular the Soviet Union and volunteers for the International Brigades. The balance of equipment and trained personnel was always however in favour of the fascist-military insurgents.
10The Comisiones today is much less under the influence of the PCE and, together with UGT, which remains under the control of the PSOE, form the two main Spanish trade unions, their leaderships institutionalised and generally collaborative with the State and for the union of Spain.
11Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque Country And Freedom) was much more than the depiction of “terrorist” organisation one finds in most descriptions. It was a cultural and social Basque liberation organisation, persecuted by the Spanish State, against which it took up arms after almost a decade of repression and torture. After years of decline but during which the wider movement expanded hugely, ETA disbanded around 2012. Many of its convicted fighters remain dispersed throughout the jails of the Spanish and French states while others are in exile.
12A class union does not recruit members repressive forces (e.g. police, jailers, armed forces), nor of management in work places. Also Intersindical has a very democratic structure with an elected General Secretary permitted to serve for only two years.
15An exception is the attitude to the Catholic Church, which is generally critical in El País, in line with its more secular identity.
16Izquierda Unida (United Left), the often disunited coalition of mostly Trotskyist small groups coordinated by the CPE, formed an electoral coalition with Podemos just before the elections. Podemos arose from a small group of Trotskyists that emerged from 13M, the huge popular opposition to the Spanish State, especially in Madrid, in turn engendered by the protest movement commonly known as “Los Indignados”. Podemos rode that wave of indignation to win five seats in their first participation in elections, those to to the European Parliament in May 2014. In the 2015 General Elections on 20 December 2015, Podemos received 21% of the vote and became the third largest party in the Parliament, with 69 out of 350 seats. In subsequent elections, as part of coalitions, Podemos’ number of MPs in the Spanish Parliament has fallen consecutively to 49, 47, 32 and 26, with its 5 MEPs reduced to three. Conversely, the party’s membership is growing, according to reports.
This series of short pieces sets out to demonstrate not only that the “patriotism” claimed by the Far-Right in Ireland is profoundly fake but that so also are their chief symbols. It is not that the flags and songs are false in themselves – far from it — but that they are being employed falsely, i.e in disregard of their origins and in total contradiction to their historical context and meaning. The “patriots” displaying them are fake, not only in their use of the flags and songs but in the contexts in which they employ them, their discourse and the direction in which they wish to take the Irish nation.
OTHERS TO FOLLOW SEPARATELY:
Flag: The “Irish Republic” flag
Flag: The “Starry Plough”
Flag: The Harp on a green field flag
Patriotic song: Amhrán na bhFiann
Patriotic song: A Nation Once Again
The Far-Right creed of fake patriotism
1. THE IRISH TRICOLOUR
This is the flag design most commonly associated with Ireland and the official one of the Irish State, though it was not officially adopted by the State until the Constitution of 1937. The flag gained prominence during the 1916 Rising, when it was flown on the Henry Street corner of the GPO roof and was the flag of the Republic during the War of Independence (1919-1921). The Free State which came into being in 1922 controlling five-sixths of Ireland was not the Irish Republic most people had fought for and, in fact, it went to war against those who upheld that Republic. However, the neo-colonial State feared to leave all the symbols of Irish nationalism in the exclusive hands of its enemies and therefore eventually appropriated the flag, adopted the Irish language as its symbolic first language and the Soldiers’ Song to represent it.
On the other hand its display in public in the Six Counties colony was held to be illegal under the Flags and Emblems Act of 1954 until its repeal in 1987 and a number of street battles took place there when colonial police moved in on people to confiscate it.
Although the first use of the colours of green, white and orange as a tricolour arrangement (on cockades and rosettes) was in 1830, when Irish Republicans celebrated the French revolution of that year restoring the French Tricolour as the flag of France, their first recorded use on a flag was not until 1848.
On 28th July 1846 a group of progressive Irish nationalists had broken from Daniel O’Connell’s movement to Repeal the Union, i.e to give Ireland an Irish parliament again but under ultimate British rule. Meagher was one who led the breakaway, opposing the Repeal Association resolution to refuse the option of armed resistance in any and all circumstance, in a famous speech about the right to use weapons in the struggle for freedom, which earned him the nickname Meagher “of the Sword”.
The group became known disparagingly as The Young Irelanders but, like many mocking names, became fixed with respect in Irish history. One of its leaders was Thomas Davis, co-founder of The Irish Nation newspaper and composer of such iconic works as A Nation Once Again, The West’s Awake (songs) and Fontenoy (poem).
During what became known as “the Year of Revolutions:, 1848, Meagher went to Paris, which was in the hands of revolutionaries as an envoy to the Provisional Government and was there presented by revolutionary women with the Irish Tricolour, which they had sown in fine silk. They explained that its design was intended to reflect the revolutionary ideal of peace, represented by the colour white, between the Catholic Irish (indigenous and Norman descendants), represented by the colour green and the Protestants, descendants of planters and other colonists, represented by the colour orange. But an active peace, a collaboration in national liberation from English rule and the establishment of a secular Republic.
It would not be surprising had those women been aware of Les Irlandais Unis (the United Irishmen), who had risen less than fifty years earlier for a secular and independent republic and had sought military assistance from the French Republic.
Returning to Ireland with the flag, Meagher unfurled it in public for the first time on 7th March 1848 while speaking from an upper-floor window of the Wolfe Tone Club in Wexford to people celebrating the revolution in Paris. In Dublin it was unfurled in the Music Hall in Lwr. Abbey Street on 15th April 1848 but there was another Irish flag which at the time was more popular and the question of which flag was to represent an independent Ireland (or the movement to achieve such) was left undecided.
Meagher was sentenced to transportation to Van Demien’s Land (now Tasmania), later freed on condition of not returning to Ireland and emigrated to the USA. He supported the Union in the American Civil War for the abolition of slavery and he and his wife actively recruited for the Union Army; he served as a Brigadier General in the Irish Brigade, of which one regiment, the 88th New York, became known as “Mrs. Meagher’s Own”. The Irish Brigade fought many important engagements against the Confederacy and suffered 4,000 dead in the course of the war; two of its commanding officers including Meagher were wounded and three killed. Meagher was believed drowned from a Missouri riverboat on a trip on 1st July 1867, leading some to suspect that he had been murdered, possibly by the nativist anti-migrant organisation known as the “Know Nothings”.1
The Far-Right in Ireland, composed as it is of racists, fascists, Catholic conservatives and religious sectarians, seeks an Ireland far removed from the republican ethos of the flag, presented by French republican revolutionaries to their Irish republican counterparts. It is a flag symbolising inclusion rather than exclusion and explicitly, in its colours, rejecting religious sectarianism. It flies in declared opposition to those who seek an Ireland “made Catholic again”2, oppose immigration and seek an Ireland based on “Irish ethnicity” (meaning blood), a prescription that would have had no place for Thomas Davis’ Welsh father, nor for Meagher, who led thousands of Irish migrants who fought against slavery of Africans in the USA. Their Ireland would have had no place for the Young Irelanders who, like Thomas Davis, were mostly Protestant Republicans.
1A nickname they earned through their habit of saying that they knew nothing in answer to questions by the police or in court.
2Slogan put forward by notorious racist and conspiracty theorist Gemma Doherty in preparation for an islamophobic rally outside Croke Park on 31st July, supported by fascist organisations Síol na hÉireann and the National Party, both parties opposed to immigration and promoting a racist concept of “Irishness” based on blood.
REPUBLICANS AND SOCIALISTS PICKET AUCTION OF IRISH HISTORICAL ARTIFACTS
(Reading time: 5 mins.)
On Saturday 25th July tourists and other passers-by were treated to the sight of people picketing the Freemason Hall in Molesworth Street, Dublin, where the Whyte’s company was holding an auction of Irish historical artifacts. The picketers flew the historical flags of the Sunrise of na Fianna Éireann and the Starry Plough of the Irish Citizen Army and a banner proclaimed OUR HISTORY IS NOT FOR SALE – is linne uilig í. Placards displayed by the picketers denounced, in Irish and English, the sale of artifacts of Irish history. Among their periodic chants were “Irish history is not for sale!” and “Shame on Whyte’s!”
Very shortly before the event some people had learned of the forthcoming auction by the Whyte’s company, which has an office and shopfront in Molesworth Street (also the street in which the Freemason’s Hall is located), a couple of minutes’ walk from Leinster House, the location of the Oireachtas (the Irish Parliament). The glossy brochure for the event listed a huge amount of items, including an original copy of the 1916 Proclamation of which the Irish State has only one original copy and others have been sold in 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019.
Also up for auction were writings of Thomas Ashe, who died from force-feeding while on hunger-strike in 1917 and a copy of Wolfe Tone’s speech – in his own handwriting — at the trial that condemned him to hang in 1798.
One of the Auctioneer company representatives tried to convince the picketers that he was carrying out a useful national historical service (though he admitted also at a tidy profit) by bringing some of those items for auction to Ireland. Wolfe Tone’s speech notes were a case in point, he claimed, since they had been in the family of a former English Army general. The picketers however were adamant that the item was “stolen property” and that the Irish Government should demand the return of that item and others like it, to which the auctioneer replied “That’s nonsense!”
The Auctioneer soon shifted tack and asked the picketers whether they had permission to hold their protest. They responded that they did not need one and were in a public place; the auctioneer went inside the building calling out that the picketers were mistaken.
Shortly thereafter, a Garda patrol car drove into the street and stopped near the protesters, disgorging two serving Garda and a trainee. The picketers explained their presence and that it was a peaceful protest, also assuring the officer in charge that they had obstructed no-one from entering and that indeed a half-dozen or so had entered the building already, passing them on the way; the officer then collected her team, got back in the patrol car and drove away.
The protesters, who had arrived at around 12.30, a half-hour before the advertised start time for the auction, remained until 1.30pm and left. At intervals their chants echoed around the street, no doubt clearly audible to people staying at or using Buswell’s hotel about 50 yards away.
Diarmuid Breatnach, an independent revolutionary socialist, spoke at the event, as did Sean Doyle, of Anti-Imperialist Action and Ger Devereux of the Saoradh organisation.
NOT THE HISTORY OF THE GOMBEENS
Breatnach denounced the sale of historical artifacts in general but focused in particular on the speech notes of Wolfe Tone, going on to relate how Tone and other Republicans and liberals had tried to build a nation of equality between the various religions in Ireland. They supported the liberal Grattan’s bid to extend the franchise and representation in the Irish Parliament (in which only the tiny minority of Anglicans were permitted to enter) to Catholics and non-Anglican Protestants such as the Presbyterians). When the majority in Parliament rejected the bid by Grattan, Tone and Edward Fitzgerald and McCracken and others knew there was no way forward except revolution, explained the speaker.
In 1798 they had risen in three great uprisings in Wexford, Antrim and Mayo and many smaller ones and along with many others, Wolfe Tone had paid with his life. What kind of ghouls could take and sell the last words of such a man as Tone, Breatnach asked rhetorically? And what kind people could buy them?
Some people wonder how the Irish capitalist class were capable of selling their own history, commented the speaker and went on to say they could do so because it wasn’t their history. It was not the “Gombeen” class that risen to fight for freedom and equality in 1798 nor since but it was they who had “climbed up on our backs in 1921”. That was why the Gombeens could not only sell Irish history but also destroy our sugar beet industry, so that we had to buy sugar from the USA which subsides its industry, hand part of our country over to a foreign power, sell our public services to foreign companies and try to sell our water to one of their own.
Just as there was no way forward to build an Ireland of equality but revolution in 1798, Breatnach concluded, there was no way forward now without getting rid of the Gombeen rulers and the only way that could be done is by revolution.
Speaking in a quiet voice, Sean Doyle introduced the piece he was going to read, which was an extract from the speech from the dock of another Irish Republican martyr, Roger Casement, hanged by the British in 1916 in Pentonville Prison, London.
Doyle alluded to the irony of Britain going to war allegedly to save Belgium, when Casement had reported on the the exploitation and mutilation of indigenous people in the Congo by forces operating under King Leopold of Belgium.
Casement’s speech also pointed out the fake independence that Ireland was being offered under Home Rule (which some might compare to the “independence” of the Irish state today in partitioned Ireland) and described the nature of true patriotism.
WHOSE HISTORY AND HERITAGE?
Ger Devereux of the Saoradh organisation gave a short speech in which he pointed out that the items were of historical importance and belonged to the Irish nation alone, that they should not be sold to private collectors, nor should anyone be making a profit out of them.
The protesters concluded their protest with some more chants including “Whose history? OUR history! Whose heritage? OUR heritage! Irish history is not for sale!”
The Irish State has only three original copies of the Proclamation: one is in Leinster House and only two on regular view to the public, one in the GPO and another in the National Museum. Another copy is on display in the Long Room of Trinity College. Others have been sold by auction in 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019.
Looking back along the road we’ve travelled, I can see we have come a long way to get where we are today. I’ve traveled a long way. I was very young then, when I started. We all were. In particular, I remember, Carl and Eva and I, we were in secondary school, fifteen years of age.
We discussed the situation often and pretty quickly became revolutionaries. We knew people in the Party – well, we called it the Old Party after awhile, you’ll see why soon. Yes and they wanted to recruit us. If enough of us joined them, voted for them, they would be able to change things, they told us. And they had some credibility because some of them had fought in the old days, when things were even worse. Some had lost relatives killed and some had gone to jail.
But we were not taken in, we weren’t fooled. It wasn’t just that theirs looked a really slow way to change things; we didn’t believe it would ever succeed. And we thought they knew that, deep inside and were just prepared to settle for things much as they were. Make the best of it (which for some of them meant shady deals and lining their pockets).
And we were never going to do that.
We weren’t in the armed group, the three of us but we supported them. The armed group were our heroes, the sharp end of our resistance. Over time they would weaken our oppressors and in the end we’d get the freedom we wanted. And these young men and women, they really fought. They paid for their resistance too; plenty of them were killed and if caught, they were tortured and sent to jail for really long sentences.
We delighted in their successes, marched in their funerals, supported them in their struggles in the jails and, later, honoured them when eventually they were released. We did the best we could ourselves against the oppression and general injustice but without actually taking up the gun: put up posters, painted graffiti slogans on wall, held protest marches and pickets, gave out leaflets, held public meetings. Of course, the oppressors went after us and we were out there, in plain sight, more or less.
Our oppressors had made some laws under which they could declare just about anything we did illegal. Unless we sat at home and did nothing. Or joined the Old Party. They called that group of laws the Anti-Terrorist Legislation.
ARREST AND TORTURE
One night while were out postering in memory of a couple of our martyrs, on the anniversary of their being killed by the police, we got caught. They gave us a bit of a beating and took us to the police station, telling us on the way what they were going to do to us.
Under the ATL they could keep us in a police station for five days without access to any of our friends and relatives or even a lawyer. I’m sorry to say they broke me in the first 24 hours. You might think that was a pretty short period – it didn’t seem like it at the time. Being held in a dark windowless cell, hooded, being threatened with all kinds of horrible things you know they can do, listening to the screams of other people having some of those things done to them, having a plastic bag put over your head until you can’t breathe anymore and you feel sure you’re going to die, your lungs straining ….. It’s amazing how long 24 hours can seem. And even if you lasted that 24 hours, you knew there were another 96 hours to go after that.
Yes, I signed a “confession”, what they told me to say. According to the confession, we were honouring the martyrs because they wanted to overthrow the State, which is why we were putting up posters about them. We wanted more people to join the fighters to help recruitment. Not really about honouring their memory at all. “Glorifying and Supporting Terrorism” was what I was going to be charged with which, if convicted, would get me three years in jail. And the others: my “confession” was not only about me but about Eva and Carl too.
After I signed the “confession” they left me more or less alone but somewhere I could hear shouting and screaming. I thought it might be Eva and Carl, hoped it wasn’t. And I still had to wear a hood whenever any of the guards came in the cell or their doctor examined me. Well, they told me he was a doctor. I told him I felt ok – I knew the guards were listening and I’d get repeat treatment if I said anything against them. And it wouldn’t do any good anyway.
By the third day, or what I thought might the third day, I didn’t hear what sounded like a female screaming any more but could still hear shouting. And sometimes someone crying.
I know it was the fifth day when they brought us to court, put us all in the same cell, waiting for our trial to start. Eva and Carl looked pretty rough and I suppose I did a bit too. Eva burst into tears and told us she had signed a confession against us after the second day. We put our arms around her and held her while she cried. I admitted I had signed too, assuming we all had. I didn’t say I had only held out for about 24 hours, though.
Well, women detainees, they get it especially hard. As well as the rest of it, they are kept naked or semi-naked and, if on their monthly periods, refused tampons or cloths. They are fondled in their private parts, threatened with rape, humiliated and sometimes have something pushed inside them ….. The police don’t do things like that to male detainees ….. well, occasionally, if they know one is gay ….
The shock was that Carl had not signed a confession – he hadn’t broken. So how come they had brought him to trial early on the fifth day with the rest of us? Well, they must have decided he wasn’t going to break; apparently most people break by the fourth day, which is why the limit is set at five. And anyway they had our statements implicating him.
We swore we would retract our statements during the trial, declare they had been obtained under torture. That would invalidate the statements, surely?
We were tried together in a special Anti-Terrorist Legislation court. One judge, no jury. No public. We had lawyers our family and friends had got for us but they were only given five minutes with us before the trial. The Prosecutor produced the statements against us all, those of the police who arrested us and my “confession” and Eva’s. Lied through their teeth that we had made them voluntarily. They produced a statement too for Carl but his lawyer objected it didn’t have his signature, so the police couldn’t show that they hadn’t made it all up.
When we gave our evidence, Carl denied he had made any statement whatsoever and we retracted ours, talked about the torture we had suffered. Eva was magnificent, denouncing them through her tears and shaking. The Prosecutor brought the police back to testify who of course denied not only the torture but any kind of coercion. Some of them even appeared shocked at the allegations. And the doctor – his voice sounded familiar so he probably had been the man who had “examined” me — said I had made no complaint (true) and had seemed calm and rested (not possible).
The courtroom is a funny place. Things the whole world knows are not true appear reasonable while the preposterous can seem logical. Not only had they not tortured us, the police witnesses said, but they had never heard of it being done. So why had we made such detailed statements and then retracted them, accusing them of torture. Well, they were mystified about that. Except …. some had heard that this was a propaganda tactic popular among our group, to smear the police. But why then had we given them a statement at all …. well, at least two of us? Skilled interviewing, was the reply. Trained interrogators, going over the suspect’s stories again and again, exposing every contradiction.
The only thing skilled about them was in making sure they stopped short of killing us and generally left no bruises, especially on our faces. Oh yeah, and the acting in court – that was very skilled.
The case against us, with our repudiation of the statements, should have got us at most a few months or maybe even a fine for postering agitational material on public property. Eva and I got three years each, while Carl got nearly four. I suppose the fact they hadn’t broken him pissed them off and they made out he was our leader so the judge gave him extra.
Prison was bad but it was a relief after the police station. They moved us around jails a few times over the years, we didn’t often see one another and our families and friends had to travel long distances to visit us. When they were permitted to or we hadn’t been moved the day before the visit. We learned later, though no-one told us at the time, that Carl’s aunt had a serious accident on the motorway. Long distances, tiring, unaccustomed to motorway driving, bad luck …. With a couple of operations and time, she was able to walk again but the family had to invent excuses why she couldn’t visit him, especially because they had always been close.
Most of the prison warders were hostile but some were sadists, constantly trying to provoke me, finding ways to frustrate whatever little pleasure or diversion I was permitted. Sometimes it was “too wet” to go in the exercise yard for my permitted two hours daily. Sometimes the library was “closed for stocktaking” or “due to staff shortages.” All prisoner mail is opened before being given to or sent by the prisoner but sometimes I got a letter that looked like it had been spat on. Or it smelled bad. Often, it would be two weeks later than the date stamp. Some letters were returned to the sender, I learned later, marked “UNSUITABLE”. I had one returned to me, although I was always careful what I wrote, this one marked “BREACHING PRISON SECURITY” — I had made some remarks about the prison food.
Some of the social prisoners were ok whenever I was in contact with them, some were hostile, seemed fascist. Sometimes a warder would make comments about me in the hearing of those kinds of prisoners. Anytime out of my cell I felt I had to be alert, with 180 degrees vision.
I did physical exercises in my cell to keep my body healthy and studied for the sake of my mind. Law was the subject I studied most, so I could represent activists in court and file motions and so on but I also studied politics and economics.
When I got out, I enrolled in a law studies course. I wrote to Carl – I hadn’t been allowed to previously. From his letters, he seemed ok but you never know for sure, do you? Not when you know the letters have to pass the prison censor and the prisoner has to keep up a strong front also. I met Eva too, she was released same time as I but a long distance away; she was subdued, a kind of frightened look in her eyes. Not surprising but she still kept in the movement, though we each took a step back from the more illegal street work, where we could be isolated – like postering. I qualified to practice law at a basic level.
THE POLITICAL PARTY
We began to discuss founding a political party and standing in elections. The armed struggle would go on, we thought, but over time we could push the Old Party back, take a lot of their votes. After all, what were they doing (except some of their leaders and contacts lining their pockets)? We could really expose them with our policies.
So we formed a political party, a New Party, for which we had to agree to respect the Constitution. We were doing well but, just before the elections, our party was disqualified by the State. “Connections with terrorism” was the reason given. We were furious and so were our supporters. And we formed another party. The State disqualified that one and, for good measure, banned it. Now one could go to jail for being a member.
This kind of thing went on over years, different versions of the New Party and more people going to jail and we rarely got a chance to stand in elections, much less to build up momentum.
We tried forming a coalition with some more moderate elements, even some we had called “collaborationist” in the old days but the State said we would have to denounce the armed struggle to be a legal constitutional party. We couldn’t do that because we’d be turning our back on not only our martyrs but on hundreds of activists in jail. And our own people wouldn’t stand for it. By this time I had risen to General Secretary of our underground Party.
After long discussions with the leaders of the armed wing, eventually we all agreed to announce an end to the armed struggle and to hope for the legalisation of our Party and early release of prisoners. It was a hard decision but not as hard as one might think because we were all pretty worn down and our military wing hadn’t been doing all that well for some time. The State had penetrated both sides of our movement with agents and people turned informer — hundreds were in jail or awaiting trial.
What was harder was getting our supporters to agree but by managing a few meetings, ensuring we had people with a militant reputation to speak in favour of the plan, ensuring people for the idea got more time to talk than those who didn’t and a few other things, we got it through. Besides, a lot of them believed us when we whispered that it was all a game to fool our oppressors.
Eventually, after we declared our total opposition to any armed struggle and total commitment to the electoral process, we got legalised and now we are chipping away at the Old Party, though it looks like it may take a long time to supplant them.
But some of the young people, and some older ones like Carl, are saying we have compromised too much, that the road we’ve chosen is too long and anyway is never going to get us justice. These people do things we’d rather they didn’t, that we’ve dropped, like illegal postering and spraying slogans, holding illegal commemorations for martyrs, protest marches, getting into trouble with the police ….. Making us look bad.
And what’s more, unbelievable as it might seem, they’re calling us “The Old Party”!!!