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”!!!
The Basque Movement for Amnesty and Against Repression came into being in solidarity with Basque political prisoners and against their perception of the consequences for the political prisoners of the leadership turning the Basque movement into an almost exclusively electoral one. Recently the Amnesty movement, mobilising in support of Patxi Ruiz, Basque political prisoner on hunger strike (Day 24 as this published), came under public attack on three different occasions by the “official” leadership of the movement. The two responses of the Movement for Amnesty and Against Repression are reproduced below in the sequence in which they were issued.
COMMENT BY AMNISTIA ETA ASKATASUNA ON STATEMENTS ISSUED BY EH BILDU AND SORTU IN RELATION TO PATXI RUIZ
(Translation from statement in Castillian, section headings, explanatory notes and images inserted by D.Breatnach)
[Explanatory note: EH Bildu and Sortu are political parties of the official leadership of the Abertzale Left, quite similar to Sinn Féin (P), with which they have friendly relations. Amnistia is a Basque organisation in disagreement with the line of those parties firstly on political prisoners and subsequently on the change of trajectory].
In relation to the communiqués published by EH Bildu and Sortu regarding the situation of the Basque political prisoner Patxi Ruiz, the Pro Amnesty and Against Repression Movement wishes to express the following:
RESPECT FOR THE DECISIONS OF PATXI RUIZ
According to EH Bildu, they are making the necessary arrangements so that the parliamentarian Bel Pozueta can visit Patxi Ruiz in the Murcia II prison. Sortu asks us to take responsibility to cover up its miseries (Trans?). Above all, and even more so in these hard times, we must respect Patxi’s wishes, who has made it clear that the political attitudes of EH Bildu and Sortu do not have his approval.
All the same, he recognises the right of everyone to report on his situation, but the pressure must be exercised in accordance with the political line that he supports. Patxi upholds confrontation with the enemy and we think that EH Bildu and Sortu are not taking advantage of the possibilities and position they possess to carry out such a confrontation.
There are a great many mobilisations and initiatives taking place in Euskal Herria (the Basque Country). On a number of occasions they are being carried out in breach of the prohibitions. We must also bear in mind that with the excuse of the pandemic those who trample us have suspended our political rights. Euskal Herria, however, knows how to react and respond to a situation as serious as that of Patxi, being the country in the world where the most mobilisations have been taking place since the lockdown began.
Without popular pressure, the media acting as dogs of the system would keep Patxi’s case hidden. It has become evident that without marking the matter prominently there is no way to put the issue on the table, and that all the institutional parties are more concerned with graffiti sprayed on a wall than about Patxi’s life.
For this reason, we must say that EH Bildu and Sortu have also immersed themselves in the campaign against those who are carrying out actions of popular pressure in support of Patxi, and that if Patxi has a minimal hope of remaining alive, it is from the same popular pressure that EH Bildu and Sortu are trying to stop. We find it contradictory that while they say they are working for Patxi, at the same time they are putting obstacles in the way of pressure initiatives in his support.
POLICY OF INDIVIDUALLY-BASED EXITS FROM PRISON LEAVE REMAINING PRISONERS DEFENCELESS
From 2014 until the present, the Pro Amnesty and Against Repression Movement has maintained that the policy of individual exits ruptured the unity among prisoners and, consequently, left them defenseless in the face of prison abuses, and we took that position based on this logic:
When an inmate accepts the so-called “individualized treatment” of the prison to advance his grade,at the same time he is agreeing to stop reporting injustices against other comrades. Should the prisoner express solidarity with his or her comrade, the path of progression through the grades is endangered.
(Translator’s note: The Spanish prison system sets different grades for prisoners according to which they may be released early on parole or not. The application of the system has included requirements such as expressing regret for past actions, undertaking not to break laws in future, not acting as a body within the jails, etc. For decades the Abertzale leadership and ETA rejected these requirements but after 2014 their policy changed towards advocating individual application for progression through the prison system grades).
Our movement has proceeded with absolute respect regarding the internal dynamics of the prison, but making an objective analysis, we can now see that the reading made from the beginning by the Pro Amnesty Movement was correct. Only practice confirms or denies theory, and the case of Murcia II shows that Patxi has been left facing the prison administration with absolutely no protection.
One political prisoner from Murcia II alone has taken a public position of solidarity with Patxi Ruiz and while Patxi dies, the other political prisoners prioritise their progression through the grades. It is incomprehensible to us, regardless of the ideological differences that currently exist, that the rest of the prisoners have not set in motion any pressure initiatives.
It is not up to our movement to enter into personal evaluations, knowing that particular situations may be determining factors, but we must emphasize that what happens in Murcia II is a consequence of the path outlined by EH Bildu in its document called “Basque Way for Peace”. EH Bildu and Sortu’s political line has a direct effect on Patxi’s situation.
In conclusion, it is not lost on us that all institutional parties are involved in an electoral campaign and that their political movements are made under this influence. The statements of EH Bildu and Sortu were published on the ninth and tenth day of Patxi’s hunger and thirst strike, when until now they have only mentioned Patxi in passing in order to criticize the direct action taken by people in his favour, and now to hold Patxi’s solidarity environment responsible for what may happen to him. It is not possible to sink lower. All their initiatives and declarations are purely for show and electoralist.
Institutional parties would have the people believe that only what professional politicians do is political, they would have the people believe that only what is done within the parameters set by the bourgeois system is political, disregarding the maturity of the working class.
From a revolutionary point of view, the Pro Amnesty and Against Repression Movement does not understand the point of being in bourgeois institutions if it is not to break them from within. For this reason and bearing in mind that Patxi may collapse at any time, we call on the people to urgently make real politics, that is, that which can condition and reverse the operations of the murderers who oppress us. In defence of Patxi’s life, advance the popular struggle!
IN RESPONSE TO THE EEPK ATTACK ON THE PRO-AMNESTY MOVEMENT
Posted on Sat, 05/30/2020 – 11:46
(translation from Castillian published version, insertion of sub-headings, footnotes and images by D.Breatnach).
Unfortunately, once again and contrary to what we would like, we are obliged to respond to an attack against our movement. On this occasion it has been the EPPK1 that, while applauding the institutional parties that are part of the system, has launched an attack against the popular movement in an attempt to damage what they do not control.
It does not go unnoticed that the day chosen to publish this attack is the Day of Mobilisations that we have called in support of Patxi Ruiz. In addition to being an electoral movement with its mind set on the elections, the EPPK note, written in one of the Sortu offices, aims to weaken today’s mobilisations. Despite referring to us, we interpret the fact that they do not mention the name of the Movement for Amnesty and Against Repression as a symptom of political weakness. It is our custom to say things more clearly than that. Nothing would call for such action but seeing that they stand to lose hegemony in the street, they act from their gut instead of their head.
We recall other similar attacks that, far from strengthening unity among prisoners, have served to divide the EPPK itself. For example, the false accusation leveled against our movement by prisoners who were being tried in the Paris Court in 2015, had the effect of causing four other prisoners with long sentences to separate themselves from the EPPK. All four publicly criticised it, and things like that should make those who plan these attacks reflect on the consequences that actions of this type have on those inside (including many of the EPPK).
Dealing with the content of today’s EPPK statement, the first thing we should highlight is its lack of rigor. They say that we have used Patxi’s dramatic situation to criticize Sortu, EH Bildu, Etxerat, EPPK and Sare. We must say that these groups are not the navel of the world and that we have put all our strength into Patxi. But in addition to that, we have not mentioned in any statement either the EPPK, or Etxerat or Sare.
We have mentioned EH Bildu and Sortu, always to respond to the accusations hurled by them against the Pro Amnesty and Against Repression Movement. Like the EPPK now, the previous two have accused us of pushing Patxi Ruiz towards his death and, in the face of such petty statements as these, our position will always be firm. We will not accept attacks of this kind in the difficult situation we are experiencing, and less so from those who think only of the elections. We will not admit it from those who have not said anything about Patxi until after ten days, except when it was to criticise the actions in his support.
The position of the Pro Amnesty and Against Repression Movement has been, from the outset, to prioritise Patxi’s life over anything else. For this, we have maintained direct contact with the group that acts as the family’s representative, with the lawyers and with a group of professionals who work in different fields of medicine and who advise us.
All the decisions that we have made in these hard times, including the political initiatives that we have promoted, have been made taking into account and following the advice of these three groups. We ask for respect and responsibility from Sortu and from all the organizations that move in its orbit, towards us, towards the aforementioned groups and above all towards Patxi, who is the one who makes the decision to continue with the hunger strike. Of course, we can assure that we will be supporting Patxi to make the decisions that he makes regarding this issue.
ATTITUDE OF THE PRISONERS IN MURCIA II
We must state that our movement has at no time made assessments of the personal attitudes of any member of the EPPK. We have not doubted the concern that the rest of the prisoners of Murcia II may have about Patxi’s situation. The Pro Amnesty Movement makes political evaluations and far from treating prisoners as if they were “unfortunates”, it treats them like the political militants they are.
For this reason, on May 20 we said that the fact that they had not moved in support of Patxi was a consequence of the “Basque Road to Peace” proposal by EH Bildu and Sortu. Specifically, we explained that entering the game of grade progressions2 left prisoners defenceless in prison, because if they took action they would lose the possibility of advancing in grades. To this we added that we have been warning about the consequences of this path for six years and that the only thing that confirms or denies theories is practice. This case confirms that our theory is correct, above opinions and objectively.
As a last point, it seems really audacious to say that if Patxi was taken to the hospital, it was because the members of the EPPK requested it from the prison management. Patxi was hospitalised on the eleventh day of the hunger and thirst strike, following kidney failure and following a judge’s order.
MEDIATION OFFERED BY SORTU
On the night of May 14th, Sortu contacted the Pro Amnesty and Against Repression Movement through an intermediary. Sortu offered us to take advantage “under the table” of some contacts it has in Madrid to change Patxi’s situation. According to what we were told, the movement should give them the “green light” for this. They suggested that with the activism we promote, we could be pushing Patxi to continue with the hunger and thirst strike.
The group that looks after Patxi’s situation evaluated the proposal, consulted with those around them and drew conclusions: the first is that Patxi does not want something like this and that his will must be respected. The second is that the only reason for asking for a “green light” can be is that in return we request to stop the street actions. The third is that those who made us the offer (we know how to distinguish them from the party bases), more than for Patxi’s life, are concerned about the consequences that his death can cause in the political situation.
The day after receiving the proposal, we replied that if they have a real option to avoid Patxi’s death, they would not need anyone’s “green light” to take the necessary approaches. Despite the fact that they asked us for confidentiality, on May 19th EH Bildu made public through an electoral note that it had offered us its means to help resolve Patxi’s situation and the next day Sortu, in a note in the same vein, accused us of pushing Patxi towards his death. By making this contact public and making serious accusations, they showed that their only intention was “to get rid of the body on top of them.” We know how to maintain discretion and appreciate the help offered when it is sincere, but we will not allow manipulations tailored to anyone’s partisan interests.
In closing, we call on the Basque Country to continue supporting Patxi, to denounce the attacks against prisoners, and to continue pressing the fight for amnesty. Only the cessation of all kinds of oppression implicit in the political concept of amnesty will bring about a true peace based on justice. We are proud of the response given in Euskal Herria and of the internationalist support we have received.
1Basque Political Prisoners’ Collective, part of the Abertzale Left movement following the political line of the official leadership. Currently the vast majority of the Basque political prisoners are following its general line although a number of male and female prisoners have broken ranks to take actions in solidarity with Patxi and a number of ex-prisoners have also in his support.
2The Spanish penal system applies one of a number of grades to prisoners, according to which the conditions of imprisonment and possibility of early release on parole are decided. Formerly the EEPK, in line with the official leadership of the Abertzale Left movement, the decision was to maintain an attitude of political opposition to the system and to take collective decisions. When the position of the leadership on the overall struggle changed, so too did the recommendations to the prisoners, which was now to respond to the prison system as individuals and progress through the grades in what would be considered ‘good behaviour’ by the authorities.
3 “The Land Where the People Speak Euskera” (Basque native language), the name for the entire Basque Country, north and south.
According to news reports, the Government is considering a relaxation of restrictions and a return to work – but with people wearing masks1 and with monitoring of preventative measures. An obvious question is, if these measures are thought to be effective in future, why are they not being implemented now? And why not in the past? Will we be going back to work but also to contagion?
PRESSURE TO LIFT RESTRICTIONS
There is clearly some pressure to lift restrictions – many people want to be able to earn money and socialise as before. People want to go on holiday, get on with education and projects, visit relatives. Small businesses want to save themselves from bankruptcy or climb out of debt. And bankers and industrialists want to continue squeezing people for profits. The State too, in both its ‘national’2and municipal forms, wants to raise taxes to fund its essential services: power generation and supply, water purification and sewage treatment, health service, postal and electronic communications, public transport and road maintenance, fire-fighting, refuse collection and disposal …. To all of those pressures the Government seems to be bowing – but have they thought it through?
In Germany, which has lifted some restrictions, people have been obliged to wear masks in public but even so, the authorities are urging people to be cautious, that they “will have to live with the virus” for some time. In other words, “forget about going back to normal, probably for a long time”. Initial statistics show a rise in infection cases there after the lockdown easing. In Britain, especially England, trade unions have attacked the “mixed messages”from the Prime Minister, Boris Johnston, about returning to work as “potentially lethal”.3
So, about the pressure. Ordinary working people have bills, mortgages and rents to pay, small business people have the same and clearly a state needs to have money to fund essential services. Yes, and big companies and banks are pressurising too. And we all know how successful banks are at pressurising governments, don’t we? Especially our governments.
Apart from banks and building societies, the Government could ease the pressure on ordinary working people and small business people by declaring a moratorium on mortgages and rents for the duration of loss of earnings due to the pandemic. Yes, it would need to take powers to do that but wouldn’t most people support them in doing so?
The building societies, banks and big businesses wouldn’t support it however, all of which are interconnected. Well, when the banks and building societies messed up – and not for any reason like a pandemic, either – our governments forced US, the ordinary working people, to bail THEM out. In fact we’re still paying for that out of our national reserves and in cuts in all kinds of provision. A little bit of “comes around” would do them no real harm.
As to the finances to run the essential services of the State and of local authorities: end the tax write-offs, holidays and low taxation rates etc. And change the line on “We don’t want Apple to pay us the money which even the neo-liberal capitalist EU says they owe us!”. Yes, we DO want it – and we NEED it, ALL of it and NOW!
The German authorities, with a much more efficient and better-funded health service and financial reserves, have been warning its public about false confidence. Now and again we see some indications of that here in Ireland too.
OK, so a section of the public is not properly educated or just willfully ignorant – stupid even. But if when you introduce a lockdown to deal with a pandemic you talk about it being for an initial two weeks ….. what kind of message are you giving out? And if you tell most people not to bother with masks or gloves? And if in the early days of the pandemic told them firstly that public events would not need canceling4 and then that to attend outdoor events of up to 500 and indoor events up to 100 people5 was basically safe? If the responsible authorities never seemed to be taking it all that seriously until late in the day and even then have managed it quite lightly – are some people to be blamed for having false confidence?
Another cluster of infections has just come to light, ten meat processing plants accounting for 566 cases so far. Prof. Catherine Motherway, President of the Intensive Care Society was reported as cautioning that a lot more needs to be done before restrictions are eased. “We need to know that our health system can cope … find and isolate the cases and treat them.”6
FACE-MASKS NOW – BUT NOT EARLIER
According to reports, the Government will want us to wear face-masks when they relax the restrictions. But ….. weren’t they telling us from the start that there was no point? Wasn’t even the World Health Organisation playing down their usefulness?
Well, either they know they don’t work, in which case they just want us to feel safe enough to start the wheels of industry turning and the money flowing into the big accounts …. Or they know they do work, and they’ve been advising us wrongly all along.
That’s where my bet is and I’ve written about this already, weeks ago7. It’s bloody obvious that face masks must help prevent spread the virus and depending on the type and procedures employed, would also help protect the wearer to some degree. Quite a number of countries made wearing them in public obligatory. And now the Government will be doing that here too.
Good. But I just wonder how many people got sick – or even died – because the authorities discouraged them from wearing them earlier?
The Government has yet to specify where the masks are going to come from and, little respect as I have for any person prominent in the Labour Party, Alan Kelly TD is obviously correct when he says that the Government should be organising the production of those masks NOW!8
OTHER MEASURES AND MONITORING
Face-masks help you not to spread droplets on to other people – and you don’t know for sure whether you have the virus or not, because you can carry it for a few days before it starts to show. Good face-masks will help you not catch it from someone else too. But you really need gloves as well and a good procedure in removing the gloves and face-mask, combined with hand-washing. And of course, social distancing. To be honest, with all those being practiced, there should be no need for 2km distance from home limits on exercise or travel – or even for telling older people to stay indoors, vulnerable to depression and ill-health through lack of exercise and even to accidents in the home.
But, for effective measures, don’t they/ we need to know who is infected and who is not? And where the major infection points in society are to be found? Yes — and for that we need mass testing, which our Government has not been doing because of how the health service has been run down. Not even with sending test samples away (to Germany) for analysis!9
And then we need tracking, tracing where people think they may have got infected, who they may have infected in turn, testing them …. the proper pandemic scientific procedures. But our Government is hardly doing that either. We get the following estimates10 of infection sources based on people who tested positive: 34% close contact, 63% community contact, 3% travel abroad.11But what do these categories actually mean?
OK, “travel abroad” is reasonably clear. “Close contact” might mean family, close friends, lovers, elderly relatives in nursing homes (more about them further on). But “community contact”, which accounts for almost two-thirds of the total? Would these be neighbours, workmates? You know what I suspect? Shops and supermarkets – customers and staff – are a big section. Why? Because most people visit them at least weekly and the precautions taken there have been all along — and are still – inadequate. But the authorities don’t do the tracking to find out. Or if they have, they’re not telling us.
The fact that it was only last week that a high cluster of infection around meat-processing plants was revealed shows the need for testing, tracking and testing again and how little work on that level is being done. Ten sites with 566 people infected12 so far is not something that should be coming to light over two months after the first case was identified in Ireland.
Who will carry out the monitoring, ensuring best practice and compliance? I’d like to believe that whichever body the Government sets up will do a good job but unfortunately I doubt it. It was left up to the supermarkets and shops to monitor their own provisions and they did it late and inadequately13. The Government at first even left it up to the pubs whether to remain open or not! Now this body appointed by them, aware of the lack of enthusiasm of the Government to interfere with the business of making money, will be supervising and monitoring every factory, shop, depot and farm? Really?
In this small relatively low-industry state of the 26 Counties, the Health & Safety Agency recorded 22,500 non-fatal workplace accidents reported to it for the year 2017-2018, along with 48 fatalities. Remember that all generic studies maintain that most and possibly all accidents at work are avoidable and result from lack of awareness or of appropriate training, or of fatigue as well as from bad practices, bad supervision and badly-maintained equipment.
The understaffed HSA is not adequate to the task of monitoring even a representative sample of workplaces and relies a lot on accidents and breaches of regulations being reported to it; the trade unions in general are not up to the job either, especially with the low percentage of union membership of recent decades.14 So whichever agency is set up for monitoring good working practices during the pandemic, even if such adequate practices have been identified and published, is not likely to be up to the job either.
But at the very least that agency should publish its general guidelines and insist each workplace publish the specific procedures in place along with the underlying rationale. Then at least employees and public can see what they are, complain if they are felt to be inadequate and report those that are not being practiced. And gloves and face-masks at least should be provided for all, with work practices adapted to allow for them.
THE DISPOSABLE PEOPLE
As soon as the pandemic took hold in other countries, a high percentage of infected people were known to be healthcare workers – around 10% as an average. Even if you didn’t realise straight away that nursing homes were going to have a high rate of infection, as soon as you thought about healthcare workers you’d be quick getting to that point (and one step away from thinking about homeless hostels and direct provision centres etc too). Once you thought of the high vulnerability of those facilities, you’d make special provisions for them, wouldn’t you?
But no. No provision at all until a few weeks ago. No special issuing of guidelines for staff and visitors, insufficient PPE (protective equipment etc), low admission rates to ICUs for the infected ….. According to stats published at the weekend, 855 coronavirus-19 deaths have been associated with care homes and 740 of those were residents. And since the total deaths recorded within the state at that point were 1,429, well over half the deaths have taken place in care homes.
A shocking rate of attrition out of ineptitude for which the Government and the National Public Health Emergency Team should be held responsible. Or …. was it even worse than that? These facilities contain, on the whole, people who are no longer economically active, people some might even consider a drain on society’s resources. And often low-paid migrant workers caring for them. Could it be that they were all just considered “disposable”?
11Yes and most intelligent people wonder why the Government allowed people to travel to an international rugby match in a country swamped with the virus and, even worse, not have them quarantined upon their return. And for heaven’s sake, why people can still leave and arrive at our air and marine ports and sit on planes next to one another with cabin crew having to bend close to attend to them during the flight, do a turnaround and bend close to another group of passengers on the flight back.
The Herriko Tabernak (People’s Taverns) are a feature of Basque Society, in particular in the Southern Basque Country, i.e the part under Spanish control. Founded by members of the Abertzale (pro-Independence) Left, run by supporters and frequented by sympathisers, they have been a place to have a drink and some pintxos, have a coffee and chat with friends, hold social events and large group meals, as well as occasional meetings. The Spanish State is now seizing their funds.
In 2016 the Audencia Nacional, the Spanish National Court, handed down a judgement that the funds of these taverns are forfeit, in what the Abertzale Left party Sortu called “the greatest political and economic plunder since the Civil War”. This is a reference to the wide-scale misappropriation of funds, machinery and land of the losers of that war by the victors, General Franco and his supporters. The wealth of many individuals and families in the Spanish State today can be traced back to that theft.
While a number of these taverns were closed down in the past, most kept going, supported by their loyal clientele and local communities. Although the punitive judgement of the Audiencia against the Herrikos was in 2016, its origin dates back further to the reign of one of the Audencia’s ex-judges, Baltazar Garzon, who infamously claimed that every aspect of Basque independent expression was linked to the armed organisation ETA. Baltazar, loved by liberals, claimed that “everything is ETA”, under which dictum homes were raided, activists tortured and jailed on their “confessions”, political organisations banned, social and cultural centres closed, along with newspapers, radio stations and social media.
EXPROPRIATION TAKES PLACE DURING A MILITARISED LOCKDOWN
This expropriation is taking place, as commented the left-wing media Izquierda Diario, in the midst of an emergency pandemic lockdown in which more than 7,000 sanctions in little over a month have been applied by the military and police who are in charge of and patrol the streets. (Unlike Ireland and many other countries, people in the Spanish State are not permitted to take exercise outside their homes, whether maintaining social distances or not).
“While the judicial apparatus cannot process the massive claims of illegal dismissals, unpaid wages, unpaid ERTEs” (temporary compensation for loss of earnings due to the pandemic) commented the Diario, “or thousands of resources for fines during these days for the restrictions of the pandemic, yes there is time to seize the money of more than 100 taverns.”
While it is true that in many areas there are privately-owned bars sympathetic to the movement and that also in many areas dissenters from the line of the Abertzale Left official leadership decline to use the Herrikos, nevertheless the disappearance of the latter must entail serious damage to the social and cultural base of the broad Basque independence movement.
We hear talk from time to time about essential frontline workers, a discussion the origins of which can be traced to the call on the Government to shut down all non-essential work. That of course raised the issue of what is essential work and therefore, who are the essential workers. High among the category considered essential were health practitioners and their rate of infection, when statistics were published, was exceeding 25%. But there is another group of workers who are essential and vulnerable and although most members of the public are in contact with them on a weekly basis at least, nevertheless they are given little protection and rarely mentioned.
Essential workers include, apart from healthcare workers, those maintaining our supplies of clean water, electricity and gas, sanitation, agriculture, production of necessary equipment, public transport, transport of essential supplies, fire-fighting, telecommunication (but not commercial call centres), postal services …. All of these should be in the first rank of consideration for protection from the Coronavirus-19, because they are vulnerable and for the selfish reason that we need them. But much more exposed on a daily basis to a greater number of people are the shop and supermarket workers.
They are the most numerous of the essential workers in daily contact with the public, which puts them at risk and, if they become infected, puts the general public, the shopping customers at risk too. And yet, their levels of protection organised by their employers are very poor overall. Despite this, we rarely hear them mentioned in public discourse, they do not receive particular attention from the Left and even their own trade unions are inactive on the issue.
WHAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN DONE
Let us take a moment to consider what should have been the measures put in place for these workers and for the public coming into contact with them:
Immediate training program in prevention for all staff, with regular refresher or reinforcement measures
Immediate supply of protective clothing, disposed/ washed after each break and shift, this to include face-mask and gloves
Hand-sanitiser at every work station
Wrap-around screens at all checkout points
Disinfection routines for all work stations at shift changes
No shelf-filling during hours open to the public or non-essential interaction between public and staff inside of six feet distance
Staff in necessary close proximity to members of the public, including security staff, to be given special protection in clothing and in shift arrangements and testing
Safe social distances enforced by restrictions on numbers of customers in store at one time
Safe social distances marked for queues and enforced
Regular disinfection of automatic checkout machines
Supply of hand-sanitiser at all entrances/ exits and checkout machines for the public
Prevention informational visual and audio prompts for public and staff
All companies obliged by Government to publish their protocols so as to educate staff and public and also give a point of correction if either feel that the protocols are not being adhered to.
Some readers may protest that management had no previous experience of a pandemic, that some of these measures were implemented but a delay was inevitable and some measures are too extreme. I would respond that any group of reasonably intelligent people, knowing the danger and typical transmission routes, sitting down to think of precautions, would come up with a similar list. Companies are supposed to carry out risk assessments of their procedures. Trade union officials and representatives would be trained in how to assess levels of risk and how to employ measures to eliminate or reduce the level of risk as much as practicable.
Should anyone consider any of those measures excessive, they should be able to point out which and to say why. Or likewise justify the claim that late implementation was unavoidable.
WHAT WAS DONE
Let us now take a moment to review which of those measure have been implemented, how and when.
I am not in a position to give a definite answer on whether staff were given intensive training in avoiding infection or not but from my observation while shopping of staff in a number of supermarkets I would feel confident in saying that they had not or, if they had, that the required practice was not being monitored by management.
Even to the day of writing this piece, in only one workplace, Eurospar in Fairview, have I seen all the staff wearing face masks. Workers in a number of other companies have told me that they are not supplied with them.
Hand-sanitiser was supplied to work-stations in some supermarkets (possibly all) but weeks after the pandemic hit Ireland (though it had been raging abroad for many weeks before that and covered in news reports).
No screens were in place at work-stations until weeks after the arrival of the virus and even now are rudimentary in many places. Single screens with spaces between permit staff and customers to position themselves in the open spaces, which I have seen both do at times. A number of cashier screens with an open section for customers to receive and load their checked-out purchases are well inside six feet of the staff member.
Whether there are any such shift-change disinfection routines at any supermarket I cannot say but in some supermarkets I have seen staff leave or take up work at a station without any evidence of its disinfection.
I have seen frequent shelf-filling during-open-to the-public hours in Dunnes, Tesco, Centra and Aldi (I have not been in a Lidl since the virus arrived) and even without gloves; also unprotected staff moving among customers on other pieces of work, including stacking and removing empty baskets. Even this evening in a Tesco outlet, although at least they were wearing orange (?) gloves, staff were attending to shelves (and without face-masks, as was the staff member stationed near the automatic machines).
In addition to the above, staff maintaining queue lines, including security staff: every single one without masks and all being passed by customers at distances inside of six feet. The most shocking case was of a security guard in Tesco Drumcondra being passed by customers at distances of between one and three feet – he had no mask and only his company uniform, which he probably takes home to his family and puts on again next day. As to testing, given the long waiting times reported for testing and even longer for results, along with the general level of care for employees shown by the companies, how likely is any are being regularly tested?
Yes but in at least one case, I saw that the security guard on the door monitoring numbers was absent for awhile. Of course, there are calls of nature but shouldn’t the protocols require the temporary replacement of the person at this post? Would we wish to be the ones who were infected because this probability had not been foreseen and provided for?
The safe social distances for queueing customers – but not among staff — are now being enforced in most supermarkets, weeks after the arrival of the virus (but I noticed today that the separation is actually less than the advertised two metres).
I have very rarely seen disinfection of automatic machines.
In a local Centra, the first I saw to erect perspex screens, there was a sanitiser dispenser at the entrance with instructions. On at least one occasion it was empty and I have seen customers pass it without using it or having it called to their attention. I saw none in any other chain supermarket, although in Aldi a spray was provided by the baskets with instructions to use it on the basket handles.
Prevention information posters may be seen but usually of the most generalised kind (like those from the HSE) and asking forstaff to be treated with patience; graphic posters very rarely, film and audio prompts never. In other words, the means supermarkets use when they really want something, like mood enhancement, customers aware of bargains or special promotions, urgent attention to a checkpoint machine or stores about to close – are precisely those that they are not using for promotion of infection prevention.
The Government has not obliged companies to publish their protocols (not even suggested that they should do so) and the companies have not done so themselves.
This is a serious lack of care provision for a large section of essential workers and with a potential collateral effect on most of the public. First in line of responsibility for this failure must beof course the companies but their main motive has always been profit. Next in line must be the Government, which has the power to implement emergency measures (and used it recently with giving extra power to Gardaí an courts to employ against individuals) but our governments have always been primarily in the service of capital. Who do I personally blame most for this area of neglect? Those whose very publicised reason for existence is the protection of workers and the promotion of a just society – the trade unions and the Left.
Among the statistics that are published on rates of testing positive and deaths attributed to the virus, there are breakdowns into age and gender groups and, at least in the earlier days, of healthcare workers. We never see, among those statistics, any for shop workers. Or for those who might in turn have been infected by them. The largest statistic given for route of infection is that of “social contact” and presumably that’s where they are, hidden. We remain uninformed and the low level of protection continues, with no real effort being made to change the situation.
PS: Readers may wonder at the absence of information directly from the workers themselves. The reason is that personally I am unaware of anyone in my acquaintance working in this sector and did not wish to cause the workers more stress than they have to deal with already.
For focus on steps trade unions and the Left failed to take, see article titled WHAT DID NOT HAPPEN in Rebel Breeze.
On a day when it is claimed the rate of infection is dropping (but with the highest number of infected and dead yet in Ireland), the social distancing and lockdown measures are said to be working. But Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tony Holohan denies that doing this earlier would have lowered the infection rate! And Eoghan Harris tweets a pat on the back for his Government that private health facilities are to be made available in the public health interest, a measure socialist TDs were calling for weeks ago. But Varadkar rushes to reassure that it’s not nationalisation – neo-liberalism will continue as before.
THE HOLOHAN PUBLIC FATIGUE SYNDROME
Tweeting, Professor Philip Nolan, Chair of National Public Health Emergency Team’s IEMAG: “The model reveals that before restrictions were in place, daily growth rate of confirmed cases was at 33%. This has fallen in recent days to around 15%. But it is still growing and needs to fall further.”
To a person of average intelligence, this means that had these measures been introduced earlier, the graph curve would have begun to flatten out much before now. But Chief medical officer Dr. Tony Holohan is much more intelligent than that – way beyond the rest of us. Because that would have risked “public fatigue” and now is “the right time.” Well it must be the “right time”, mustn’t it, because that’s when he ordered it. He couldn’t have recommended it late, could he?
If “public fatigue” is the danger, that can come in at any time once the restrictions are in place, getting worse as time goes on – one would think. So if introduced say at the beginning of March, we’d be “fatigued” by now, wouldn’t we? So is he telling us that in a number of week’s time, with restrictions still in place, we won’t be “fatigued”? The logic is that we will just as fatigued whenever the crisis is over as if the measures had been put in place earlier – just that it would have been over more quickly and with less fatalities.
Of course, it won’t be over anything like that quickly. They have not even closed the borders, airports or sea-ports! And it’s not that I am in favour of the British colony’s Border, by the way, but this State and Government have no control over the colony’s airports and seaports. And how did the virus arrive in Ireland in the first place? Yep, by plane. But it’s ok, Holohan is going to “discuss” those options. And if they do – finally – close those ports and Border, it will of course be exactly “the right time” to do it.
Let’s return to this “fatigue” notion. What we are experiencing is a pandemic, a national emergency. The people of Leningrad withstood a hard fascist siege, running out of supplies, constantly bombarded, for 852 days. And the battle in defence of Moscow for three months and five days.
But of course, they were Russians (mostly). Alright, the people in Britain (quite a few of them Irish) withstood the Battle of Britain — with almost daily air-raids — for three-and-a-half months!
But the Irish, in Ireland, cannot stand a few extra weeks without becoming “fatigued” and – what? Flood the streets in civil disobedience? Start running up to people and brushing against them? Go back to jobs the Government has closed?
Could it be, just possibly, nothing at all to do with early “fatigue” syndrome but rather late actions reluctantly taken by a Government? Reluctant because it would deplete the capitalist coffers? The thing is, reprehensible as that motivation would be, if action had been taken earlier, capitalism would have suffered less and recovered more quickly!
NEO-LIBERAL POLICY BUSINESS AS USUAL
Which brings us neatly on to Eoghan Harris patting the Government on the back for roping in the private healthcare facilities – weeks after being asked by Socialist TDs to do so. No, you’re right, he didn’t mention that bit. Well, you can’t get everything in a tweet, can you?
And Varadkar rushed to reassure the Gombeen capitalists he represents and the foreign capitalists his party facilitates – along with Fianna Fáil, Labour and the Greens – that this is not nationalisation.
“This is a public private partnership, expanding our public health service in response to this emergency but also cooperation with the private sector.”
“This is private and public sectors to (sic) learning and growing together and working together in the common good.”
The private healthcare system has parasitised on the public health service, here and in Britain. It has used existing public structures, services, contracts, buildings, personnel, training facilities, government grants and tax cuts. It has no right to exist, least of all when the public body on which it has been feeding is staggering on its feet, in which state it has been long before this pandemic struck.
And Leo’s government, one of the leading proponents of the system that has caused this situation, let us not forget, was given a massive shove recently by the electorate! With the state of the public health service being one of the main issues on which they were shown the road.
You could never accuse Varadkar of not having a hard neck!