In late November last year the UK’s Home Secretary1 referred to refugees and migrants entering Britain as “an invasion”, for which a Hollocaust survivor, 83-year-old Joan Salter, challenged her, likening her speech to that of the Nazis.
An NGO working with refugees, Freedom From Torture, posted some of the exchange on Twitter. In turn, the NGO came under pressure from the Home Office to retract the video.
This month, not only did the charity refuse but did so publicly, fully endorsing the content of the video.
Anyone would well understand the difference between invading a country and entering it as a refugee, asylum seeker or even economic migrant. Those come unarmed, fleeing to safety or trying to make a living for themselves and their family.
A minister of a British Government should be extremely well-placed to understand the distinction. After all, there is no continent and very few countries, including its near neighbours, which the British ruling class has not caused to be invaded at some time or other.2
From the time the descendants of the Anglo-Saxon invaders of Celtic England merged with the descendants of the later Norman invaders, England has gone from being a major invading and colonising military and naval power to being a major imperialist one.
Imperialist action did not always end in invasion; pressure could be applied in other ways, through bribery — or open threat. The term “gunboat diplomacy” was coined to describe imperialist actions short of actual invasion and Britain was renowned for actions of that type.
The ruling class of Britain has waged war against people to take over trade routes, to colonise land and extract resources, in competition with other colonial powers, to quash resistance and even for the right to sell opium in China.
In the course of those colonial and imperialist activities, Britain has carried out many invasions. In fact, Suella’s parents themselves come from former colonies.
Braverman is a child of migrants
Suella Braverman is the daughter of parents of Indian origin who emigrated to Britain in the 1960s: Uma (née Mootien-Pillay) from Mauritius and Christie Fernandes, from Kenya. Both those countries have indeed been invaded by Britain.
Kenya in particular from 1952-1960 had one of the worst experiences of colonial treatment by the British military, including wide-scale murder, torture and rape. India and Pakistan had their infrastructure and manufacture undermined by Britain leading to regular country-wide famines.
Suella should know about invasions, refugees and migrants but is on record as saying that the British Empire was on the whole a beneficial experience for its conquered. This is a prime example of the “slave mind” that apes the invader and wants to collaborate with it.3
Such “slave-minded” people can be even more vicious and callous in their attitudes than the conquerors themselves and Braverman certainly fills that bill. And it’s not just in occasional choice of words that Braverman nears Nazi appearance.
During Braverman’s unsuccessful campaign for selection as leader of the Conservative Party last July, she said her priorities would have included to “solve the problem of boats crossing the Channel” and “to withdraw the UK from the European Convention of Human Rights.”
In October 2022, Braverman said that she would love to see a front page of The Daily Telegraph sending asylum seekers to Rwanda4 and described it as her “dream” and “obsession.” No doubt she includes human rights and legality concerns as “all of this woke rubbish.5”
A courageous NGO
Holocaust survivor Joan Salter, the woman who accused Braverman of Nazi-like speech, is the daughter of refugees from Nazi persecution who survived but endured imprisonment and hazardous journeys. She has an MBE for her work on Holocaust education.
In response to a Home Office accusation that the clip is only partial and therefore misleading, the NGO’s CEO Sonya Sceats pointed out the full exchange is available in video on its website and said the charity will not remove the Twitter clip.
“As an organisation providing therapy to torture survivors who feel targeted by her language and who know first-hand where such dehumanising language can lead, we will not do so. She has used language she should be ashamed of, and we won’t be pressured into helping her hide it.”
Non-Governmental Organisations nearly always rely on government funding, whether directly or indirectly and as a result tend not to rock the boat too much, in case they find their boat getting smaller or their team even being tossed overboard.
As a result, in public the CEOs of those organisations tend to vary from generally totally compliant6 to cautiously critical on certain occasions. In that context, the actions of Salter in the initial video and of the Freedom From Torture NGO in militantly backing her can only be admired.
1This is the UK’s equivalent to Minister for Home Affairs, these days normally restricted to Britain (i.e excluding the colony in Ireland) and in particular England and Wales (i.e often excluding even Scotland).
3The concept of the ‘slave mind’ or ‘colonised mind’ has been addressed by a number of writers on national liberation, notably Patrick Pearse (1879-1916) from Ireland and Franz Fanon (1925-1961) from Martinique.
4That plan has been condemned by many human and civil rights organisations and also denounced as illegal.
5A quote dating from her attempt at Leader of the Conservative Party.
(Translated from Publico report by Danilo Albin and with comment by D.Breatnach)
A few days before Nazi bookseller Pedro Varela’s date for trial in Malaga for the continued crime of provoking hatred and discrimination, the Hitlerite activist gave a talk in which he called for founding “cells of Christian, white, and European men.”
The audience listened in silence. On stage was Pedro Varela, the great leader of Spanish neo-Nazis and one of the few Hitlerites tried in Spain for spreading genocidal ideas.1
It was the morning of Sunday, November 6, there were a few days left before another trial for spreading hate and Varela, in his usual style, had not planned to move an inch from his script.
“You go down a street in Madrid or Barcelona and you see black boys, handsome, tall, stocky, who measure 1.90. They are going to be the owners of the situation and the owners of the country. Do you think they are going to pay your pensions?”2
That was one of the statements made by the owner of Librería Europa during the conference held that day, according to a video that has just seen the light.
The Nazi activist’s speech, organized by the far-right publishing house Fides, was made on November 6 within the framework of the XVI Days of Dissidence3.
The event, which was initially going to be held in a conference room on Calle Hilarión Eslava in Madrid, had to change location after the publication of a news item about said meeting by Público4.
That change of location angered Varela, who did not hesitate to lash out at this newspaper. “As you know, lovers of freedom of expression and democracy have tried and succeeded in cancelling the room in Madrid that for years we used for this rally,” he said.
“The Público newspaper, a pamphlet from the extreme left5, announced the address where the Sixteen Days of Dissidence were going to take place, and encouraged the anti-fascist mobs to call, bother, and outrage the owners of that place so that they finally barred us access to it for holding the ‘Dissidents’,” he continued.
This veteran Nazi activist also referred to an episode of the Cuéntame series in which there was an allusion to his bookshop, located in Barcelona and dedicated to the sale of National Socialist materials.
“The propaganda against this small group of 200 or 300 people here today is tremendous. A newspaper like Público, a television program like Cuéntame, dedicate part of their efforts to combat the spread of our thought and our struggle,” he warned.
As established by Court Number 11 of Barcelona in 2010, this “thought” and this “fight” imply the crime of spreading genocidal ideas. Varela was imprisoned between December 2010 and March 2012.
In 2016, after a raid on the Nazi bookstore in which the Mossos d’Esquadra seized 15,000 books glorifying genocide, the activist spent a few days on the run until he turned himself in at a police station.
He then paid a bail of 30,000 euros and returned to the street. Currently he is awaiting a new trial.
The Prosecutor for Hate Crimes and Discrimination requested 12 years in prison for exaltation, justification and denial of the Holocaust and for crimes of incitement to hatred against Jews, migrants, Muslims and homosexuals, among others, as well as the permanent closure of its business, the Europa bookshop in Barcelona.
“Do not fear prison or persecution”
“Whoever had something interesting to say who has not been in prison for that? Do not fear prison or persecution, because they are medalsto your credit in the afterlife,” he said during the conference on November 6.
The latter was held a few days before he was due to face another trial in Malaga as a result of a complaint made by the Movement against Intolerance directed by Esteban Ibarra.
The prosecutor in this case – which is now pending resolution – requested three and a half years in prison for Varela for the continued crime of incitement to hatred and discrimination as a result of the content of some conferences held in Seville and Malaga.
This was given that his rallies created “an evident feeling of hostility towards the affected groups (African, Muslim or Jewish migrants, basically) that generated an objective dangerous to peaceful coexistence”, affirms the Public Ministry.
In the talk on November 6 in Madrid, Varela returned to raise similar issues. Among other things, he linked the number of migrants to the “increase in rape on the streets of Spain, including Valencia.”
“The Spanish are peaceful people6, almost all of them have a partner, a girlfriend, a family… they have a culture of respect for women, something that does not happen with these immigrants.”7
At another point in his speech, he asserted that “60 million blacks are needed to take the place of 100,000 abortions per year that Spain has.”
He also alleged out that immigrants “go to look for a partner in Spain, and if Spanish women do not decide to become their partner, what is happening happens.”
Varela not only did not hesitate to refer to himself as “National Socialist”, but also claimed the role of the ‘Napola’, the male boarding schools of the Hitler Youth that served as a school for the Nazi elites.
In these centres “they educated them in austerity, order and discipline” and offered them “a sense of mission in life”, according to his interpretation.
He encouraged the founding of “those cells of Christian, white, European men”
“What do we have to do to face this world? We cannot organize the Napola, because they are going to be banned, but yes, you can form a Napola among yourselves, in your family, in your circles of friends.”
“You have to mould the youth, your family, the children and yourselves” – he remarked – “in the character of the Napola kids”.
The Nazi bookseller proclaimed that “resistance must be not only political, ideological and human, but also familial, ethical and religious”, while encouraging his followers to have children and “found those cells of Christian, white and European men who, with respect and good neighbourliness with other races and cultures, prefers to defend his own than to succumb”.
“What Happened at Auschwitz”
He alleged that in Spain there is a “gradual loss of freedom of expression” and condemned the Democratic Memory Law8, which he compared to the German laws against Nazi apology.
“In Germany, as you know, the whole question of what happened, what did not happen or could have happened in Auschwitz is not debatable, it is not debatable,” he indicated. “Any German who claims to defend his own identity is suspicious of Auschwitz.”
In his opinion, “this dictatorship against freedom of expression also exists here. This law of historical memory and cancellation of white culture9 is carried out in all Western countries.”10
He even asserted that the legal persecution against Nazi broadcasting in Germany is a “sword of Damocles that hangs above all Germans so that any possible resistance to the cultural and ethnic invasion of the country does not take place.”
“Where do the transsexuals go?”
His speech was also loaded with transphobia. “I read a very curious joke the other day. – Hey dad, women go to the gynaecologist, right? – Yes. – And do men go to the urologist? – Yes.
And where do transgender people go? – I don’t know, kid, probably to the psychiatrist“. As can be seen in the video, the transphobic joke was followed by laughter and applause from the ultra-rightists who inhabited the room.
“This is of course a joke, because otherwise transgender people are going to sue me.11 Humour is what it is, but that is the biological reality. You can feel whatever you want, but biology says what you are.
You are a man or a woman, or to the urologist or the gynaecologist, you cannot go anywhere else,” he concluded.
COMMENT by Diarmuid Breatnach
Fascism in Spain, then and now
The first thing to take into account is that unlike anywhere else in Europe, there was no overthrow of fascism in the Spanish State.
A cosmetic job of painting over four decades of the savage Franco dictatorship with pseudo-democracy was managed by the fascist ruling class with all their politicians, senior military and police officers, judges, bishops, bankers and media moguls remaining in place.
The second thing to note is that despite antifascist laws being passed as part of that “Transition” process, fascist glorification continued to be rampant in the Spanish state with fascist salutes and iconography regularly displayed in public and on photographs and video.
And fascist speeches too, all with impunity. Except in this case, which is why the report states that Varela is one of the few Hitlerites to be tried: not because there are only a few of them but because the State has decided to make Varela an exception to the rule.
Varela complains about the “dictatorship” that he feels being exercised against him and his rhetoric. Fascists always raise the flag of democracy, which they despise, only when they feel unable to use the mailed fist. Once in power, they give democracy to none except their own12.
It’s not a little amusing that the State is trying to close Varela’s fascist bookshop through the court because they closed Basque social centres, newspapers and social media sites merely be decree and even when their own Constitutional Court made them recant, are yet to pay a cent in compensation.
Hollocaust denial is one pretty frequent plank in the fascist platform, wherever in the world it is erected.
This too is curious, in a way because in the 1930s and 1940s, the Nazis and other fascists boasted about what they were doing, in particular to the Jews in Germany, Austria and in Occupied Europe.
True, they did not admit publicly to the mass exterminations but all the rest of it, expropriations, mass round-ups, concentration camps were no secret and they corresponded among themselves and reported to authority about the rest – the story the photos, film and survivors told the world later.
Vulnerability of the fascist male ego
Varela’s worries about Spanish women’s vulnerability to men of migrant background is another area of irony, given the problem of Spanish gender violence (see below).
Whilst there have been prominent female fascists, historically the cult of the superior male has been prominent in most fascist movements. Indeed Hitler’s Nazis proclaimed the correct areas for women’s activity to be “kinder, kuche und kirke” (‘children, kitchen and church’).
Most fascist movements and organisations have denounced homosexuality and many gays and lesbians have been killed by them, including an estimated 60% fatalities of the 50-60,000 sent to concentration camps by Nazi German courts.
In their hetero-sexual male insecurity, fascists and other racists often fear “their” women being attracted to other men, specifically to men of other ethnic groups13.
Conversely, fascists regularly see themselves as the “defenders” of “helpless females” while simultaneously detesting any exhibition of female independence or assertiveness.
Those circumstances encourage acts of rape and other sexual violence towards women: last year in the Spanish state 37 women died in violence by men and 46 the previous year.
People still remember the “Manada” (‘wolf-pack’) case where five men videoed themselves raping a young woman whom they left in a doorway after they stole her mobile phone. Although it occurred in the Basque province of Navarra, all the assailants were Spanish.
What’s more, one was a Spanish policeman while the other was military and some had previously videoed themselves in a van with an unconscious woman, talking about their intentions. The “Manada” was the name of a WhatsApp group of which they were members.
Historical memory and mass graves
Many people hope that changes in Spanish law, such as the Law of Historical Memory in 2007 and more recent practical steps herald a coming to terms with the state’s fascist past.
Some mass graves of fascist victims have been exhumed and removal Franco’s remains in October 2029 and projected removal of Primo de Rivera’s from their mausoleum in the Valle de Los Caidios gives hope to some14.
The remains of General Queipo de Llano, believed personally responsible for the execution of poet and dramatist Garcia Federico Lorca in 1936, were removed from the La Macarena basilica in Seville on 2nd November this year.
After Cambodia, the Spanish state remains the one with most mass graves in the world and the majority of those have not been exhumed15. The names of fascists still decorate streets and, as noted earlier, fascist events continue with public displays of fascist affiliation.
The fascist political party Vox continues in existence with currently 52 (out of 250) members of the Congress (lower house) of the Spanish Parliament.
There exists a deep fascist pool which has reflected at various times the political parties Partido Popular, Ciudadanos and now Vox with the votes of the pool being divided among those parties according to the wishes of the day.
As is usually the case, Spanish fascism is combined with a reactionary ‘nationalism’ of a unitary Spain based on Castille and León but including all its current territories.
They tack on to that a fictional concept of Spain with Flamenco in Andalusia and holidays in the Balearics and Canaries but seek the suppression of any national self-determination.
The Basque Country, Catalonia and Galicia have all historically declared for self-determination but all three were murderously suppressed during the Civil War and the Dictatorship, with the former two suffering heavy repression in the post-Franco ‘democratic’ Spain.
Any move towards self-determination in those nations stirs a fascist hornet’s nest to venomous buzzing and threats.
Overall, the signs are not favourable for a future Spanish state cleansed of fascism – at any rate not by moderate and peaceful means.
2A variation of the “white replacement” irrational anxiety of racists.
316 Days of activism against gender-based violence:16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is an international campaign held every year. It begins on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and runs until December 10, Human Rights Day. It is ironic, to say the least, for fascists to locate their events within this framework.
The removal of objects which exalt the July 1936 coup, civil war and Francoist repression from public buildings and spaces. Exceptions may be given for artistic or architectural reasons, or in the case of religious spaces.
State help in the tracing, identification and eventual exhumation of victims of Francoist repression whose corpses are still missing, often buried in mass graves.
12And not even to their own, on occasion, as with the violent suppression of the whole leadership of the Browshirts by the Gestapo in The Night of the Long Knives 30th June-2 July 1934 in Germany.
13This has been nowhere more observable perhaps than in the ‘Deep Southern’ states of the USA, where black men were regularly lynched for alleged rape of white women without any proof. Conversely, the evidence of rape of black women in the same area during and after slavery is legion.
14Franco was the fascist dictator of four decades and Primo de Rivera was the founder of the fascist Falange, executed by the Spanish Republic.
15Holding the remains of an estimated 100,000 men and women.
The colonies have been striking back at the Empire in film for some time and why not? Sure the Empire’s been colonising them all over again for decades, also through film.
But for a long time the liberal anti-colonial script-writers couldn’t bring themselves to make the main heroes of the film the indigenous colonised in Africa, America, Asia or Oceania – or else the finance backers doubted they’d recover their investment.
So the situation of the colonised had to be seen through the eyes of a liberal hero of European background or ancestry1 — someone with which, as they thought the the white European audience could identify2.
Stories figuring the Europeans colonised by England, i.e the Irish and the Scots, many who were in turn used by the Empire to colonise the lands of others — gets the film-makers over that difficulty.
Script-writers and casting directors in that ex-colony-now-superpower have been getting back at the English for years, of course, in historical drama3 but also portraying their villains with English accents4. Posh accents at first and then regional and London-Cockney5.
But rarely against the Irish, being often heroes in US films, providing they are Irish-Americans, which is to say Irish UStaters.
Two productions I’ve watched recently had as heroes people exported by the Empire from their own conquered homelands to other conquered colonies, in each case forming alliances with indigenous people.
Both productions have also given coverage to native languages of the indigenous people and, in one of them, also to a fair bit of the Irish language, spoken and sung.
THE NIGHTINGALE IN TASMANIA
The Nightingale (2018) is set in the British colony of Tasmania in 1825. In that period, which is not the main story, the Black War took place, in which an estimated 600-900 indigenous Tasmanians were killed, nearly wiping out their entire population. The killers were British colonial armed forces and settlers.
Political or social prisoners in the UK6 of the period were often transported to serve their time in penal colonies where, if they survived, they could be freed upon completion of their sentences or even earlier by agreement but to return was impossible unless they could purchase passage home.
Clare — “The Nightingale”, so nicknamed for her singing voice — is one such social prisoner, an Irish woman convicted of stealing and transported to Van Diemen’s land to serve her time.
She is part of the household staff of a British officer stationed there but is permitted to marry a free Irishman, Aidan; they live together in a hut and have a child together. The officer desires Clare and acts violently upon that desire, giving rise to a chain of tragic events.
Clare sets out to track the officer down and wreak revenge upon him but, needing a tracker-guide, employs an indigenous Tasmanian for that purpose. The story then is not only about her journey but about the uneasy relationship between these two victims of colonialism and occasional glimpses of other aspects of colonial rule, particularly in Tasmania.
IRISH, SCOTS AND INDIGENOUS
Frontier (2016) was originally a series for Television and, like The Nightingale, found a home later on Netflix. It features Irish and Scots heroes against the British Authorities and military.
It is set in British Canada in a historical struggle for control of the fur trade between the Hudson Bay Trading Company, a monopoly jealously protected by the UK, and a consortium of trappers striving for independence in trade.
The indigenous people are represented too, with a female warrior and communities, speaking Cree and a number of other Indigenous languages, including Inuit, with subtitles providing a translation.
The main hero is Declan Harp (now there’s names with an Irish connection!) who is half-Cree and half-Irish; after his parents were killed, he is adopted by Benton, the British administrator of the area but Harp later grows to hate Benton, who had his wife and child murdered.
A lesser male hero and ally is Michael, totally Irish but with a shaky moral compass. The main female heroes are a Cree warrior/ hunter and a Scottish woman, owner-manager of a tavern.
A female sort of anti-hero is a wealthy English woman of aristocratic type and there’s an Irish woman of humble background, being schooled to be “a lady”. There are a number of male Scottish anti-heroes too and there’s a Metis (of mixed Indigenous and French [or Breton or Basque?] parentage) helper, trapper and guide.
The Frontier has a couple of villains of US-origin but that’s allowed, this is Canada after all, its domination taken over by the USA from England. Otherwise nearly all the bad characters, the “black hats”, are English and so too with The Nightingale.
The British soldiers in both stories have regional English accents but so do some of their lower-ranking officers. Most of them are brutal and drunkards, some also murderers and rapists. Anti-English propaganda? No doubt but from what we know of history and even of more contemporary colonialism, very likely true enough.
Reviews have praised Jason Momoa’s portrayal of Declan Harp in The Frontier and certainly his physical size and appearance (long tangled locks, one eye clouded, looking out under lowered eyebrows) does focus one’s attention.
Personally I found the number of times he survives torture, serious beatings and wounds straining credulity and, in a way, tending towards boring, as though the Director or screenplay writer thought: Let’s get Declan to have another massive bloody fight here, we haven’t had one of those in a couple of episodes now.
However, even with at times difficult-to-believe plot turns, there are some excellent performances, chiefly perhaps and not surprisingly Alun Armstrong as Lord Benton and Shawn Doyle as the ruthless smoothly urbane but underneath volcanic Samuel Grant
Greg Bryk as Grant’s smooth and sinister manservant-lover Cobbs Pond puts in effective performances too. Evan Jonigkeit as Captain Chesterfield, is also good, particularly in his anguished frustrated desire for the tavern owner Grace Emberly (Zoe Boyle), and his burning desire to rise above his social station.
Jessica Matten is believable as the Cree warrior-hunter Sokanon, despite her gender being unlikely in that role, but her frowning expression grows repetitious after a while.
Katie McGrath played the plotting and provocative English aristocrat Mrs. Carruthers well in her unfortunately short run as a character (but Wardrobe and Sequence, would she wear the same lace-sleeved undergarment so many day in a row?).
The female who develops something of a penchant for killing violent dominating males and disposing of their bodies is an interesting character creation though her appearances in that role are few.
When Declan Harp commandeers a ship to take him and McTaggart (Jamie Sives) to Scotland to rescue Grace and avenge himself on Lord Benton, we are introduced to a Portuguese ship captain and a Polynesian mariner, the latter also singing and praying in his native language.
In Scotland, Harp recruits local toughs to attack the English Castle Benton where Lord Benton has taken residence and they kill many redcoats.
STEREO OR TRUE-TYPES
The main characters in The Nightingale are of course the vengeful woman Clare (Aisling Franciosi), her aboriginal guide and companion ‘Billy’ (Baykali Ganambarr), along with the British Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claffin) and Sergeant Ruse (Damon Herriman) she pursues.
All are believable characters with strong performances by the actors. England is an evil bastard in this story, represented by the officer Hawkins and sergeant Ruse but some decent English individuals make their appearance on occasion too.
The dialogue is mostly English but the Tasmanian language spoken and sung in the film is Palawa Kani. Some Irish is spoken between Aidan and Clare, the latter singing mainly English folk songs but to her child sings the Irish language lyrics of Cailín Álainn to the Scottish air of the Mingalay Boat Song7.
Speaking their own language makes the subjects their own people; speaking English, usually badly or with heavy un-English accents, though making them more intelligible to English fluents also presents them to the English-speaker as lesser-English, lesser-UStater, lesser-Canadian — in total: lesser human.
1 For example the plight of the Cheyenne in 1864 was represented in Soldier Blue through the eyes of the European woman Cresta Lee (Candice Bergin); it’s the liberal newspaper editor Donald Woods (Kevin Kline) who we accompany as we follow the story of the hero Biko in Cry Freedom, murdered by the South African white minority regime. Even in the British colony in Ireland, where the natives are white, the heroes may be English (Brian Cox playing an honest English cop in Hidden Agenda, Emma Thompson as the lawyer in Name of the Father).
2 When the promoters and financiers finally realised that a large part of their paying audiences were not in fact white European is when one started to see heroes of other backgrounds and ‘blacksploitation’ films.
3 Mel Gibson’s The Patriot and Bravehart, for example but going much further back, Disney’s The FightingPrince of Donegal (1966).
4 For examples Grand Moff Tarkin in original Starwars trilogy (1977-1983), Steven Berkoff in Beverly Hills Cop (1994), Scar in The Lion King (1994), arguably Anthony Hopkins [though Welsh and playing a Lithuanian] in Silence of the Lambs (1991), Sher Khan in The Jungle Book (1996) and sequel.
6 Not just the British – the French had their penal colonies abroad, for example in Guyana and the Spanish state sent prisoners to Ceuta, in North Africa even in modern times.
7 An anachronism, since the composer of the Irish lyrics of An Cailín Álainn is Tomás ‘Jimmy’ Mac Eoin from An Bóthar Buí in An Cheathrú Rua, Conamara, Galway, Ireland – and he was only born in 1937. The lyrics of the Mingalay Boat Song are also apparently sung to a much older air and one supposes the original lyrics would have been in Gaedhlig.
The media informs us of the visit on the 22nd July of Mícheál Martin, Prime Minister of the Irish state, to the concentration camp where his uncle was a prisoner of the Japanese after the fall of Singapore in World War II.
Many Irish fought in the UK and British Commonwealth armies against Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan.
But there is another strong and ironic Irish connection to the fall of Singapore. The Lieut.-General Arthur Percival who surrendered the Singapore fortress to the Japanese Army in 942 had been Intelligence Officer (and torturer) for the Essex Rifles against the IRA in West Cork 1920-’21.
PERCIVAL IN IRELAND
Percival served first as a company commander then as Intelligence Officer of the Essex Rifles in Kinsale, Co. Cork, where he “stood out for his violent, sadistic behaviour towards IRA prisoners, suspects and innocent civilians……
“He also participated in reprisals, burning farms and businesses in response to IRA attacks,” according to a USA historian. General Tom Barry, IRA commander in West Cork, said that Percival was “easily the most vicious anti-Irish of all serving British officers”1.
Two victims in particular were IRA Brigade Commander Tom Hales and Quatermaster Patrick Harte. Both reported being beaten and tortured with pliers to private parts and extraction of nails. Percival got an OBE for their capture; Harte died in a mental hospital in 1925.
Tom Barry recorded that after a number of ignored warnings, the IRA in Cork placed the Essex Rifles on the same status as the Black ‘n Tans and the Auxilliaries – they could depend on no mercy if captured.
Percival was also the man who unconditionally surrendered Singapore to a much smaller invading force of Japanese in 1942, thereby condemning thousands of soldiers and civilians to a terrible fate.
LARGEST BRITISH SURRENDER IN HISTORY — AND TO LESSER NUMBERS
Singapore had been a British colonial possession since 18262. At the time of WWII the British considered it a strong fortress, a thick jungle and hills on the landward side and with huge 15” cannon facing out to sea against a possible naval invasion.
The British High Command considered no navy in the world could survive an assault on the island and no army capable of penetrating the thick jungle. Apparently no-one told the Imperial Japanese that for come through the jungle they did, marching or riding on bicycles.
The UK and Commonwealth troops on the landward side fought but were outgunned and badly commanded. After seven days of fighting, Percival decided to surrender unconditionally, with most of the 85,000 troops on the island not yet having engaged the 36,000 of the enemy.
The surrender of Singapore delivered 80,000 UK and Commonwealth troops, along with a million civilians, into captivity in the hands of the Imperial Japanese Army. Three days after the British surrender, the Japanese began the “Sook Ching” purge, killing thousands of civilians3.
The day before the surrender, Japanese soldiers also invaded the Victoria Hospital and murdered over 250 soldiers, doctors, male staff and patients.
Most of the soldiers taken captive had not been given a chance by Percival to even fire a shot at the advancing Japanese Army, to the contempt of their captors, led by officers with a strong military tradition and pride (not to say arrogance).
Whether that fact contributed to the cruel and inhumane treatment of the prisoners by their captors and guards is not certain but it seems to have done. In any case, many who died day by day and month by month building the Burma Railway would no doubt have preferred to die fighting.
Most of the civilians massacred would probably also have preferred to die fighting.
Around 30,000 Allied Prisoners of War of the Japanese died in captivity of cruel treatment including inadequate food, disease and overwork; working from statistics R.J. Rummel estimates a death rate of around 29% for POWs4. Huge numbers of civilians died similarly also.
Australian Russell Braddon, who wrote about his experiences in the Japanese concentration camp at Changi and on the slave-labour construction of the Burma railroad5, was extremely bitter about the surrender and the general Allied High Command management of the war in Malaya.
Many no doubt did so out of a desire to fight fascism — surely an admirable motivation6.
But once the War ended, any Irish remaining in the British armed forces anywhere could not claim to be doing anything else than helping the domination of many nations and millions of people by what was at the time the world’s biggest imperialist power (though soon to be eclipsed by the USA).
If anti-fascism motivated his uncle and that is what Mícheál Martin appreciates about him, one would wonder why the police of the state which he leads protected fascists in Ireland and attacked antifascists on a number of occasions in recent years.
Of course there may be a more sinister aspect to Martin’s publicised visit. It may be a public expression of the desire among the Irish elite to be part of a western military alliance, either the US-NATO or an EU such, which would in the end amount to much the same thing.
And such an alliance in these times would not be fighting — even in part – against fascism but rather alongside it.
1Guerrilla Days in Ireland (1949 and many reprints since) by Tom Barry.
2Singapore became an independent republic on 9 August 1965.
3People from all ethnic groups were massacred but the Chinese most of all. Though the Japanese government years later paid some compensation to relatives of victims, it has never accepted responsibility for the events. Nor has the UK. “Since 1998, Singapore has observed Total Defence Day on 15 February each year, marking the anniversary of the surrender of Singapore. The concept of Total Defence as a national defence strategy was first introduced in 1984, which serves as a significant reminder that only Singaporeans with a stake in the country can effectively defend Singapore from future threats.” (Wikipedia)
5The Naked Island (1952) sold over a million copies. Russel Braddon (1921-1925) had a breakdown soon after the war and felt suicidal but, once recovered, became a successful writer of novels, articles and TV scripts. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell_Braddon
6I met one of those, curiously enough a Corkman in a lodging house in London. Denis was a decent man, very big, who rarely talked about the war except sometimes when he had drink taken. Strangely, he never had a bad word to say against the Japanese – even the concentration camp guards.
This year’s celebration of the Patum 2022 festival in Berga has sung and chanted for independence. With the square full of about 6,000 people on Thursday, the massive Catalan independence flag, the Estelada (with the white star in a blue triangle)1 was launched across the crowd as they sang the Catalan national anthem, Els Segadors2 (the Reapers).
With the song finished, some began to shout “independencia” (independence) and this was quickly taken up by the mass, revisiting the tradition of protest that existed before the pandemic. The Catalan independence movement has been somewhat becalmed of late, with serious divisions between the two main nationalist political parties and a lack of grass-roots activity.
The Patum festival is a traditional Catalan festival of great importance and is recognised by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. “The fiesta coincides with Corpus Christi and includes a whole series of theatrical representations, characters and figures that fill the town of Berga every spring. It is a religious commemoration that dates back to the Middle Ages, which has managed to preserve both its religious and profane roots.
“La Patum de Berga has been held annually for centuries during Corpus Christi, and includes street entertainment and shows with different figures typical of these fiestas (giants, “big-heads”, eagles, guitas (dragons), plens (devils)). Fire and dance play a central role. The fiesta really gets underway on the Thursday of Corpus Christi, with the Ceremonial Patum. The salto de plens is the apotheosis of the fiesta. It represents an infernal orgy where fire devils jump to the rhythm of music. The following day is the Children’s Patum.”3
Berga is in the Barcelona region but over 107km from the city (and about half-way to Andorra). The Patum Festival of this year 2022, which began Wednesday, June 15 and will last until Sunday, June 19, was expected to be even more crowded than usual after two years in a row without being able to celebrate it due to the pandemic.
1The other Catalan nationalist flag commonly seen is the Vermelha, with a red star and no blue. The white X on a black background is also flown but more rarely, it draws on history also and signifies ‘death before surrender’.
2An anarchist, Emili Guanyavents won the competition to compose the national anthem lyrics in 1899 and based it upon a traditional historical cultural expression arising out of an uprising of Catalan rural workers in 1640 against the chief minister of Philip IV of Spain. The lyrics are, as might be expected, very militant and, since even the Catalan lanugage was banned, the song was of course banned during the four decades of the Spanish Franco dictatorship
The fascists and racists are going about in fear (or whipping up fear) of the replacement of whites by people of colour and this is particularly so in some of the places colonised by people of European background. David Rovics looks at the fascist conspiracy theory and the very real replacement of indigenous people by colonialists in a number of those places.
In mid-April (2022) Gardaí, the police force of the Irish State, broke down the door of Mick Plunkett’s home. They would not have been able to claim he resisted their entry or arrest (the usual explanation for injuries on the detained individual) – he was already dead. To be fair to them, this time they were forcing entry in response to concerns from people that Plunkett had not been seen and wasn’t answering calls. Still, Mick Plunkett’s door had been forced by police a number of times before – by the Special Branch, at least once by the Garda ‘Heavy Gang’ and another time by the special ‘anti-terrorist’ Paris police.
Mick was born into a working class family of ten siblings in Dún Laoghaire, in Kelly’s Avenue in the small area of council houses built for rent to the seaward side of the town’s main road (without however overlooking the sea itself, a view reserved for the big houses and hotels, later somewhat ruined by the DART wires and towers). Dún Laoghaire1, long-imagined as a area in which only the affluent or at least comfortably-off lived, nevertheless contained such council (formerly ‘Corporation”) houses in the nearby bottom of York Road, also Cross Avenue, Glasthule, Carriglee Gardens, Monkstown Farm and Sallynoggin areas.
As many of that era, especially among manual workers, Mick’s father died relatively young which left his widow Lilly to care for ten children with all siblings able to work and find employment contributing to the care of the rest.
Mick followed his father Oliver into a skilled manual worker trade, trained and qualified as a gas fitter-plumber and, by reputation, a good one; later he would often carry out repair jobs for neighbours free of charge or in exchange for fish caught nearby or by trawlers that docked in the harbour. “We saw and ate fish that many other people never saw,” said one of his sisters at his funeral reception in the evening.
Amidst the student and youth upsurge of the 1960s around the world, of which Ireland was also a part, many Irish youth of the time became rapidly politicised. The Vietnam War, Black struggles in the USA and South Africa, Civil Rights in the British colony, lack of sufficient housing in the Irish state (just as today!) were issues that engaged lively interest and which to people like Plunkett, called for solidarity and, in Ireland, direct action. At his funeral, Niall Leonach2, formerly of the IRSP, related how Plunkett, at the age of 17, had resisted the neglect of the young apprentices by his union and won improvements by organising a sit-in at the union’s office.
HOUSING AND HISTORY
The Dublin and Bray Housing Action Committees were campaigning for an end to slums and affordable rental housing around the city and Dún Laoghaire soon had its own Housing Action Committee too. Nial Leonach, former comrade of Plunkett’s told the mourners at Mount Jerome that a large public housing building program was initiated as a result of this campaigning, a program that not only replaced derelict inner city tenements but created large new housing areas such as that in Ballybrack in south county Dublin.
The Housing Action campaigns not only squatted homeless families, they also fought evictions, held marches and public meetings. And in at least one case, became involved in a struggle for historical building conservation.
The Dún Laoghaire group joined with conservationists wishing to save Frescati House, a large derelict building on acreage of the property planned by Roches Stores to demolish and convert into a shopping centre. The original building dated from 1739 but had been purchased by the largest landowning family in Ireland at the time, the Fitzgeralds and had wings added and the grounds planted with exotic shrubs. The house had been the childhood residence and favoured retreat of Edward Fitzgerald3, a much-loved leader of the first Irish Republican revolutionary movement, the United Irishmen, as late as 1797, the year before their Rising.
The figures heading the campaign were not only conservationists but fairly conservative too (Desmond Fitzgerald, son of a father of the same name who was Minister in a number of Fine Gael governments, was its chairperson). But it was of course the activist supporters of the DHAC who occupied the building in protest at plans for demolition and were subjected to a baton-wielding police attack to evict them.4
Niall Leonach told the crowd in the Mount Jerome chapel that the criminal charges against the arrested were serious but that as a result of Plunkett’s stratagem of issuing a subpoena for Liam Cosgrave5 to appear as witness for their defence, for the politician had been part of the conservation campaign, the more serious charges were dropped and, on the lesser ones, the penalties were lower-scale fines.
Much of DHAC soon became the Markievicz Cumann of Sinn Féin6, then a very socialist Irish Republican party, particularly in Dublin. The Civil Rights campaign in the British colony of the Six Counties became a focus for activity and Leonach told his audience that Plunkett had been particularly affected by the colonial police killing of a child by indiscriminate fire from machine-guns at a nationalist housing estate, the Divis Flats.
In 1969 the IRA, the military wing of Sinn Féin, was caught unprepared and largely unarmed to face the pogroms in the British colony, which was one of the reasons for the 1970 split in the party, out of which emerged the Provisional IRA and Provisional Sinn Féin.
Plunkett and others in the Markievicz Cumann, the three Breatnach brothers for example7, viewing the Provos as socially conservative, remained in what was now known as “Official Sinn Féin” but tried to change their party’s direction. Failing in that, they split, along with others such as the charismatic Séamus Costello8 and formed the Irish Republican Socialist Party in 1974.
It seems clear that the ruling elite of the Irish State viewed the IRSP and the associated INLA as a threat and decided to go beyond the standard and regular harassment, intimidation and petty and medium arrests9 with which they had been treating all Irish Republicans and some socialist activists.
FRAMED IN DUBLIN AND IN PARIS
On 31st March 1976 the Cork-Dublin mail train was stopped near Sallins, Co. Kildare and around £200,00010 was netted by armed men. The State decided to believe, at least officially that the operation had been carried out by the INLA and armed police raided the homes of 40 members of the IRSP and their families. The Gardaí beat up their victims and obtained “confessions” from a number of them – however, some who gave self-incriminating statements could not have been present and their prosecutions were dropped.11 Eventually, a trial in the political Special Criminal Court proceeded against Plunkett and another three IRSP members: Osgur Breatnach, Nicky Kelly and Brian McNally.
After many abuses of the legal system and the longest judicial procedure in the State, three of the four were convicted on the basis of their tortured “confessions” which they had denied. Forensic “evidence” was provided against the only one who had refused to sign a “confession” – an alleged lock of Plunkett’s hair12 was claimed to have been found at the scene of the robbery; that was insufficient and Plunkett was finally discharged. The others were released after years of campaigning13 and were paid a financial compensation but an official enquiry into the arrests, trials and convictions was never held and currently a campaign for such is underway.14.
Mick Plunkett remained politically active but after his arrest in the vicinity of an armed training camp was charged with “membership” and scheduled to appear before the Special Criminal Court. Plunkett, knowing the chances of acquittal in “the Special” were next to nil, decamped to France.
In Paris he and Mary Reid, a poet-activist and also formerly of the IRSP, shared accommodation. In the summer of 1982, their door was kicked down by armed police of the new special “anti-terrorist” French unit. Both were arrested, along with another Irishman Stephen King and charged with possession of automatic weapons and explosives. This followed the bombing of a delicatessen in the Jewish quarter of the city which was later revealed to have had police complicity.
Plunkett, Reid and King were accused of being part of an Irish-Palestinian cell, a figment of the special unit’s imagination. All three denied the charges and the accusation and the existence of such a cell, insisting that if any weapons and explosives had been found in their accommodation, it had been planted there by the police. Niall Leonach commented to the mourners in Mount Jerome that Plunkett had gone from being involved in the greatest miscarriage of justice in the Irish state to being accused in the greatest miscarriage of justice in the French State’s modern history.
Fortunately for the Irish accused, the special police unit was in serious conflict with the main police force and that helped bring to public view the fact that the armaments had, indeed, been planted on the accused by the “anti-terrorist” police unit. All three were released after nine months in jail and Mary Reid’s nine-year-old son Cathal had been taken into care. The whole case was by then such as to convince the Irish state authorities to refrain from severely embarrassing their French counterparts by requesting Plunkett’s extradition to face his charges in the Special Criminal Court.
Working in London at the time, I read the news about the arrests of Irish political activists in Paris and was shocked to see names I recognised. I remembered the last time I had seen Mick; I had been back in Dún Laoghaire on holiday and with four of my brothers we set off in Mick’s brother Jimmy’s rowing boat from a pier, Mick himself in it too. We had fishing rods and lines and began to fish as we cleared the harbour. Hours later as the sun dropped to the west, we turned back with our varied catch. Once inside the harbour it was quite dark and a large ship entering the harbour appeared to be bearing down on us and we couldn’t find our flashlight. The incident provided more excitement than we had wished for but seemed to give extra taste to the pints in the local pub afterwards.
Mick found happiness for a time with Tracy out of which union came their daughter Natacha. After the Good Friday Agreement Mick felt safe to returned to Ireland but Tracy remained in Paris with their daughter, Natascha visiting him and his extended family by arrangement on occasion. Plunkett seemed to have retired from political activity and had also withdrawn from social contact with many of his former contacts. His health deteriorated significantly but nevertheless his death came as something of a shock to many.
Many came to pay their respects at the funeral parlour where his coffin lay and to watch the wonderful collection of photos collected by his ex-partner, Tracy. His daughter Natacha was there to receive condolences and to offer shots of Irish whisky over the coffin (where tobacco roll-ups were also placed irreverently on the crucifix attached to the woodwork – Mick was reportedly an atheist). Natacha was also at the cremation service in Mount Jerome cemetery with her mother Tracy, where Plunkett’s coffin was covered in the blue version of the Starry Plough flag15 before being removed from the hearse, carried by relations and with the Seamus Costello Memorial Committee, in uniform and white gloves, providing a small ceremonial guard of honour.
Mick’s nephew Karl chaired the event and in turn called Jennifer Holland to give a short talk on Mick and his times followed by Niall Leonach, former General Secretary of the IRSP and close comrade of Plunkett’s, for a longer oration on Mick’s background and activism.
Karl provided many personal anecdotes from his association with his uncle and from within family stories, many of them amusing and some hilarious. He did not however avoid the political and recounted that many of them were kept unaware of the reasons for Mick’s absence and his apparent inability to travel back to Ireland even to visit. It was by going through some papers in his mother’s room that he came across the IRSP pamphlet on the Sallins case and was shocked; confronting his mother, the story began to be told.16
Recollecting the family’s trip to Paris to present two children for baptism in Notre Dame Cathedral which Mick attended, Karl spoke about their warm reception there and being touur-guided around by Plunkett, who had acquainted himself with much of the city’s history. One wonders whether that included the “Wall of the Communards” where in 1871, revolutionaries of the Paris Commune were summarily executed by French firing squads under the command of Marshall Patrice McMahon, descendant of Irish “Wild Geese” refugees from Williamite-controlled Ireland. Plunkett would hardly have been unaware of that history and its irony for the Irish.
SOCIAL, SONG AND FLAG
Later that evening in a large reserved section of the Rochestown Lodge Hotel (formerly the Victor Hotel) just above the large Sallynoggin housing estate, mourners and celebrants gathered to eat, drink and talk. Some had not seen one another for decades. Among the many reminiscences of the social and music scene in Dún Laoghaire in the later decades of the last century, including the remark that “our harbour is a marina now”, one of Mick’s sisters spoke of raids by the Special Branch on their family home, where children would be ordered or pulled out of bed and the mattresses and beds tipped over, allegedly searching for weapons.
Strangely perhaps, there was no performance of musicians or singers or even sing-alongs at the event, though the traditional song The Parting Glass was sung to Plunkett’s daughter Natacha and a small unexpecting audience on the covered patio outside. Later inside, by which time some had left and following a query about a ceramic badge of the Starry Plough worn by one those remaining, a whole length of the original green-and-gold version of the flag was unfurled, causing much interest and queues forming asking to be photographed behind it. And a little later, a man sang Patrick Galvin’s Where Is Our James Connolly? to much applause.
This was fitting for as the mourners had been reminded in Mount Jerome, Connolly17 had been a great inspiration to Mick Plunkett’s political activism and to the IRSP too. But not only that, for a building in Dublin city centre, formerly a hostel but empty for many years and very recently occupied by socialist Republicans in Dublin had been named Connolly House and had that very day witnessed a rally held outside it to resist a threatened Garda operation to evict the occupants.
It seemed to me that something other than the remembrance of a retired fighter alone had happened at the Plunkett memorial events, something more than the appropriate marker of a past and finished period in Irish history, as had been suggested by Holland in her oration. It seemed to me that the history of struggle in Ireland for national self-determination and social justice had to an extent been re-invoked, that it appeared to some extent as the ghost of struggles past but also as the gaining substance of struggles present and, in particular, yet to come. I think Mick would have been pleased and, in any case, in defiance of the declarations of Fukuyama and such idealogues, history is nowhere near finished or dead. As some have commented, it is not even past.
1A harbour town seven miles south of Dublin city centre, in Dublin County but administered by DL-Rathdown Council for some years now.
3He is more usually referred to as “Lord Edward Fitzgerald” which, apart from being somewhat historically inaccurate, does him a service. He was a republican, renounced his title and his sister Lucy said of him some years after his death in prison that “He was a paddy and no more; he desired no other title than this.”
4The Wikipedia entry on Frescati House and the campaign makes no mention at all of this sit-in, Garda attack or the subsequent court cases, of which there is ample documentary evidence. Hopefully someone will undertake its appropriate updating.
5Liam Cosgrave was a Fine Gael politician, son of the Leader of the Irish parliamentary Opposition from 1965 to 19873 and Taoiseach (Prime Minister) from 1973 to 1977, W.T Cosgrave.
6The Sinn Féin party has gone through many metamorpheses, from being a reformist dual-monarchy party, to revolutionary republican to constitutionalist. Constance Markievicz was a socialist Republican who took part in the 1916 Rising as an officer in the Irish Citizen Army – the name of a socialist revolutionary woman chosen for the cumann (‘association’, a branch of the SF party at the time) indicated an inclination towards revolution, feminism and socialism.
8Séamus Costello (b. 1939) was murdered by the Official IRA in Dublin on 5th October 1977.
9An example of the medium-seriousness was the charge of “membership of an illegal organisation” under the Amendment to the Offences Against the State Act, introduced in 1972 which required only the unsupported word of a Garda officer at rank of superintendent or above for conviction and a virtually automatic jail sentence of one to two years.
10€237,389.81 –without taking into account inflation — for today’s value
11Notably John Fitzpatrick, who years later publicly challenged the State to charge him with the offence to which he had “confessed” – there was no response.
12If it had been Plunkett’s hair, it had to have been planted by the Heavy Gang, since Mick had been nowhere near that scene and, in fact, the robbery had been carried out by the Provisional IRA. In addition, without the later development of DNA testing, all a sample of hair could tell, apart from its natural colour, was the blood-type of its owner.
13Some of those involved at the time, whether as victims or as campaigners, were present at some of the funeral events too, including Osgur Breatnach, Nicky Kelly, Caoilte and Peetera Schilders-Bhreatnach.
15The flag with a design in the shape of the constellation known as Ursa Mayor was of the Irish Citizen Army, formed to defend the workers during the strike and 8-month lockout of 1913 and later fought in the 1916 Rising. Originally the design was of the constellation in white or silver overlaid by the depiction of a plough in gold, with sword as the plough-share and all on a green background. A later version was the plain blue one with Ursa Mayor outlined in white stars. That version was the one in use by the short-lived Republican Congress of the 1930s and was for many years later, probably up to the end of the century, the main one displayed and therefore familiar to Republicans and socialists (even for years flown by the Irish Labour Party) but has now been largely supplanted by the original green version.
16This is not at all an unusual experience in Ireland and, whether by desire to protect the young, pain of reminiscence or even disapproval, much of our history has been concealed from generations for a time or even completely lost.
17James Connolly, revolutionary socialist, trade union organiser, historian, journalist, song-writer and one of the Seven Signatories of the 1916 Proclamation of Independence, was tried by British military court for his leading role in the Rising and executed by firing squad.
Recently the Queen of the UK and Commonwealth regions reached the 70th year of her reign, called by convention the “platinum jubilee” and has received congratulations from the heads of imperialist, colonial and neo-colonial states around the world. In Ireland, she has also received the congratulations of the head of a formerly Republican party now aspiring to neo-colonial government. When Mary Lou MacDonald, President of Sinn Féin praised Elizabeth II for her “long service” we should ask: service to whom and to what? We are also entitled to compare her words to those of James Connolly, Irish revolutionary socialist and republican, in reference to the British Monarchy.
WHAT THE PRESIDENT OF SINN FÉIN SAID
Mary Lou McDonald, President of Sinn Féin was widely reported reacting to the news that a tree is to be planted in the grounds of Parliament Buildings at Stormont to mark the anniversary.
“I think it is important that we are respectful of the identity of our citizens who are British,” she said on Thursday.
“I think that is entirely appropriate and I welcome that decision.
She was reported wishing well to those who will celebrate the jubilee, and said she believes those who won’t “are now big enough, bold enough, generous enough to acknowledge the identity of others.”
“Can I also extend to the British Queen a word of congratulations because 70 years is quite some record,” she added.
“That is what you call a lifetime of service.”
Any logical consideration of those words should quickly find some problems with them. What does “respecting the identity of our (Irish) citizens who are British” or “acknowledging the identity of others” actually mean? One would imagine that respecting the identity of others would involve primarily not subjecting them to discrimination, racism or religious sectarianism. Does respecting the national identity of any people give them the right to seize with armed force and occupy a part of the nation? Because that is what constitutes the basis for the British colony of the Six Counties in Ireland and the administration of that colony is the purpose of the Stormont Parliament and Executive. Furthermore, discrimination and sectarianism is precisely what is suffered by a huge part of the population of that colony – from the very institutions being upheld by SF and by its President.
Stripped down to its essentials, we are only “big enough, bold enough, generous enough” if we accept the partition of our small nation, the forcible retention of a colony and pay our respects to the Head of that state and the Commander-in-Chief of its armed forces.
This is a monarch who has presided over her armed forces’ participation in at least 24 wars or interventions since her inauguration, two of them in our national territory. Her armed forces invaded foreign lands, bombed and shot down those who resisted, carried out massacres, tortured prisoners and she has personally decorated the leaders of those armed forces, including those who murdered Irish people. The very least one could expect from an Irish politician with any dignity would have been silence or “no comment” on the occasion.
This is far from the worst thing that the Sinn Féin leadership has done with regard to the British Monarch, for in May 2011 they called for no protests against her while she desecrated the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin and while the Gardaí attacked “dissident” Republican protesters nearby and outside her state reception in Dublin Castle, the old seat of her royal enforcers in Ireland. The following year, Martin McGuinness, prominent in the leaderships of both the IRA and Sinn Féin, welcomed her to her colony and shook her hand.
WHAT JAMES CONNOLLY SAID
James Connolly on occasions too referred to contemporary British monarchs – but in markedly different terms to those from the leadership of Sinn Féin in recent decades.
“What is monarchy? From whence does it derive its sanction? What has been its gift to humanity? Monarchy is a survival of the tyranny imposed by the hand of greed and treachery upon the human race in the darkest and most ignorant days of our history. It derives its only sanction from the sword of the marauder, and the helplessness of the producer, and its gifts to humanity are unknown, save as they can be measured in the pernicious examples of triumphant and shameless iniquities.
“Every class in society save royalty, and especially British royalty, has through some of its members contributed something to the elevation of the race. But neither in science, nor in art, nor in literature, nor in exploration, nor in mechanical invention, nor in humanising of laws, nor in any sphere of human activity has a representative of British royalty helped forward the moral, intellectual or material improvement of mankind. But that royal family has opposed every forward move, fought every reform, persecuted every patriot, and intrigued against every good cause. Slandering every friend of the people, it has befriended every oppressor. Eulogised today by misguided clerics, it has been notorious in history for the revolting nature of its crimes. Murder, treachery, adultery, incest, theft, perjury – every crime known to man has been committed by some one or other of the race of monarchs from whom King George is proud to trace his descent.
“Fellow-workers, stand by the dignity of your class. All these parading royalties, all this insolent aristocracy, all these grovelling, dirt-eating capitalist traitors, all these are but signs of disease in any social state – diseases which a royal visit brings to a head and spews in all its nastiness before our horrified eyes. But as the recognition of the disease is the first stage towards its cure, so that we may rid our social state of its political and social diseases, we must recognise the elements of corruption. Hence, in bringing them all together and exposing their unity, even a royal visit may help us to understand and understanding, help us to know how to destroy the royal, aristocratic and capitalistic classes who live upon our labour. Their workshops, their lands, their mills, their factories, their ships, their railways must be voted into our hands who alone use them, public ownership must take the place of capitalist ownership, social democracy1 replace political and social inequality, the sovereignty of labour must supersede and destroy the sovereignty of birth and the monarchy of capitalism.
“Ours be the task to enlighten the ignorant among our class, to dissipate and destroy the political and social superstitions of the enslaved masses and to hasten the coming day when, in the words of Joseph Brenan, the fearless patriot of ’48, all the world will maintain
“The Right Divine of Labour To be first of earthly things; That the Thinker and the Worker Are Manhood’s only Kings.”2
SUPPORT FOR SINN FÉIN
Most followers of the Sinn Féin party, who are by long tradition anti-monarchist and desire a reunified and independent Ireland, tend to regard those kinds of heretical statements by the party leaders as no more than some kind of camouflage to get them into power. Once there, they imagine, their party will lead them to the hallowed objectives of Irish independence and unity. In fact, the same kind of attitude that was that of the early followers of Fianna Fáil, “the Republican party”3.
The blindness, or more accurately the ability of self-deception exhibited by these followers is amazing. The majority continued to believe the leadership when it publicly abandoned armed struggle against British colonialism and declared it would never return to that (believing that to be a fake position) and even when it had most of its arms decommissioned. Then the party not only fielded candidates in elections in the partitioned Irish state but also in the colonial one and, in arguably its greatest betrayal of its previous position, participated in the running of the colonial state which it continues to do. Since then its leaders have sought support for and even assisted in recruitment for the sectarian and colonial gendarmerie4 and, more recently, declared its acceptance of non-jury special courts, a clear reference in particular to the no-jury Special Criminal Courts of the Irish state5, condemned by a number of civil rights organisations6 and of which the party’s own supporters have been frequent victims.
The attitude of the larger mass of instinctively pro-independence people, mostly working-class or lower middle-class is that they might as well give Sinn Féin a turn in government – after all they can hardly treat them worse than the other gombeen7 parties that have been in government since the creation of the Irish State. Such attitudes account for the rapid growth in the party’s electoral base in recent years when it became the first party in terms of elected representatives so that two other neo-colonial parties, with a long history of hatred for one another, were obliged to join and form a coalition with a third8 in order to form a government excluding the new kid on the block.
The attitude expressed by the President of the SF party runs not only completely contrary to the traditions of Irish Republicanism but even to its own history. It is more than that, it is an expression of the lack of dignity and craven forelock-tugging attitude of the neo-colonial Gombeen class that has ruled the Irish state since its inception.
While socialists and republicans rightly condemn that mentality and its practical applications, we should place our hopes in another outlook, as outlined by Connolly over a century earlier, and in the practical expression of that outlook today and in the near future. It is surely appropriate then to end this commentary with Connolly’s own words on another British royal jubilee, Queen Victoria’s in 1897:
“….. It is time then that some organised party in Ireland — other than those in whose mouths Patriotism means Compromise, and Freedom, High Dividends — should speak out bravely and honestly the sentiments awakened in the breast of every lover of freedom by this ghastly farce now being played out before our eyes. Hence the Irish Socialist Republican Party — which, from its inception, has never hesitated to proclaim its unswerving hostility to the British Crown, and to the political and social order of which in these islands that Crown is but the symbol — takes this opportunity of hurling at the heads of all the courtly mummers who grovel at the shrine of royalty the contempt and hatred of the Irish Revolutionary Democracy. We, at least, are not loyal men; we confess to having more respect and honour for the raggedest child of the poorest labourer in Ireland to-day than for any, even the most virtuous, descendant of the long array of murderers, adulterers and madmen who have sat upon the throne of England ….
“The working class alone have nothing to hope for save in a revolutionary reconstruction of society; they, and they alone, are capable of that revolutionary initiative which, with all the political and economic development of the time to aid it, can carry us forward into the promised land of perfect Freedom, the reward of the age-long travail of the people.”9
List of armed interventions and wars by British Armed forces under Queen Elizabeth II:
3Fianna Fáil was a 1926 split from Sinn Féin led be De Valera, based on participating in elections within the Irish State, initially supported by many Irish Republicans in elections and when voted into Government in 1932 released Republican political prisoners jailed by the Government of pro-Treaty forces. Subsequently however a FF Government banned the IRA and jailed and even executed some Republicans.
4A gendarmerie is an armed state-wide military-like police force, such as for example the ones in the Spanish, Italian and Turkish states, typical of a State endeavouring to impose central rule on subject nations or regions where recurrent resistance may be expected. In Ireland the English occupation had the Royal Irish Constabulary which after 1922 in the colonial statelet became the Royal Ulster Constabulary, later changing its name to the Police Force of Northern Ireland. It has always been a sectarian (anti-Catholic) and repressive force.
5Both the Irish State and the colonial statelet have no-jury courts to jail political dissidents on low evidential requirements and under emergency legislation. The position SF’s elected representatives since 1972 has been to vote against the existence of the Special Criminal Court until two years ago, when it began to abstain and finally this year at its Ard-Fheis (annual general meeting), after an extremely poor debate, the party voted to accept such a court.
6Including the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Amnesty International.
7A term of contempt dating from the years of the Great Hunger to describe capitalists who are happy to use the colonial system to amass personal wealth at the expense of their compatriots; its source is in the Irish language (an gaimbín/ gaimbíneachas — https://www.dictionary.com/browse/gombeen)
8Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party. The first two have been the major parties of the State almost since its inception, with the Greens being a smaller and more recent phenomenon. Fine Gael are the political representatives of the neo-colonial class that supported the partition of the country in the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1921 for which they fought a Civil War (1922-1923) against the Irish Republicans (chiefly the IRA and Sinn Féin). Fianna Fáil led a major split in the Republican movement to form an Irish Government and soon attracted support (and later domination) by a section of native capitalists, soon becoming the favoured choice of the neo-colonial Irish capitalist class, alternating in government from time to time with Fine Gael (the latter in coalition, several times with the social-democratic Labour Party). However, since 1981 no Irish political party has commanded an absolute majority in elected representatives and all governments of the State since then have been coalitions of one kind or another.
9https://www.marxists.org/archive/connolly/1897/xx/qundimnd.htm Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Day, 22 June 1897, was marked by Connolly and Maud Gonne with protests on the streets of Dublin. Connolly dumped a symbolic coffin into the River Liffey and shouted “to hell with the British Empire”, for which ‘crime’ he spent the night in jail.
Socialist Republicans gathered in Dublin’s main O’Connell Street on Saturday 4th December to reaffirm their commitment that Britain has no right to be in Ireland. The event, taking place on the nearest weekend to the centenary of the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, was organised by the Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland organisation and supported by other socialist Republicans including the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland.
One of the participants sang Irish revolutionary songs, accompanying himself by guitar, his unamplified voice ringing across the street and bouncing off the General Post Office opposite, location of the headquarters of the 1916 Rising. Another singer’s voice accompanied him in some of the songs.
Despite the cold, people passing on the street stopped to look, to take photos or video and, in some cases, to applaud. Some individuals also approached the participants to talk, while gestures of approval were being made from some passing public and private transport.
The event concluded with the singing in Irish of the first verse and chorus of The Soldiers’ Song, a patriotic fighting song, the air of the chorus of which was adopted as the national anthem of the Irish state (but regarded by many as the property of the unfinished national liberation struggle).
The Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed on 6th December 1921 in London by negotiators of the Irish resistance movement. What was conceded by the British ruling class fell far short of what the armed movement had been fighting for since January 1919 and led soon afterwards to civil war (1922-1923). Clearly the negotiators should have brought back the terms for approval or rejection by the Dáil (the banned Irish parliament), instead of first signing the document, which is what they did.
The Treaty offered Dominion status for Ireland as a member of the Commonwealth under the British Crown, i.e akin to that of the “white”-governed colonies such as Australia, Canada and South Africa. It also offered the British Unionists in the north of Ireland the right to secede.
The subsequent debate on whether to ratify the Treaty was at times bitter. Some felt the terms were the best they were likely to get, other that they offered a base on which to build for greater gains while others still felt they were a betrayal of Ireland’s long struggle for independence and the sacrifices of two years of guerrilla struggle against state repression. The vast majority of the military organisations of the movement, the IRA and Cumann na mBan, were opposed to the Treaty terms but those in favour of signing gained a slim majority in the Dáil (64 in favour and 57 against).
The British unionists swiftly availed themselves of the terms, leading to the partition of Ireland early in 1922, six of the 32 Counties becoming a permanent British colony.
Some have seen the positioning around the Treaty in most of Ireland as signifying a trend led by the native Irish capitalist class and supported by the Irish Catholic Church hierarchy of putting the brakes on the national liberation movement and elements of its social content. From that perspective, the signing of the document in London signalled the first overt move of the counterrevolution which was sealed with armed force by the new neo-colonialist state through war, repression, imprisonment, kidnappings, torture and executions, both official and unofficial.
Both states in Ireland henceforth would be socially conservative, the colonial one religiously sectarian and the Irish one with the Catholic Church hierarchy as the regime’s arm of social control. The Irish state remained for decades under-industrialised and generally under-developed with constant emigration maintaining the population at its post-Great Hunger low point until near the close of the Century (and even today has not fully recovered).
Since the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed there have been armed challenges by Irish Republicans during the Civil War of 1922-1923, during the 1930s, WWII, the “Border Campaign” of 1959-1962 and of course the more recent war of thirty years.
In addition there have strong struggles for social rights against censorship and around gender and sexuality: the right to purchase prophylactics, divorce, female equality, homosexuality, pregnancy termination and gay marriage. Struggles have also taken place around housing, wages and workers’ rights, in defence of natural resources, infrastructures and the environment.
The Six County colonial statelet remains socially conservative and sectarian religiously. Both administrations maintain no-jury special courts for dealing with some political cases.
Clearly, the Treaty left much unfinished business.
From the window of the government building I worked in, I noticed a gathering of men. Mostly dressed in motorcycle leathers, many of them very overweight, and bearded, the crowd grew to perhaps 70 or 80. Some of the men were wearing maroon berets. They were a comedic spectacle: imagine a few score of Ken Maginnis-types in motorcycle leathers. They lined up in military formation, their physical condition making this pretence pathetic rather than sinister, and unfurled a very small banner which read “WE SUPPORT SOLDIER F.”
I couldn’t help thinking of protests against the injustices visited upon the Guilford Four and the Birmingham Six, protests held in England. How society seems to have changed, and not for the better.
Douglas Murray, a neo-conservative thinker and writer much respected and admired by many on the right, had this to say about Soldier F in his peerless account of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry: Soldier F — who fired 13 rounds on the day — whose performance in 1972 and 2003 was most disturbing. It always seemed to me that if anyone was deserving of prosecution, then it was him.
Murray also had this to say about the killers of 14 civilians on Bloody Sunday: “The soldiers of 1 Para weren’t just unapologetic killers, but unrelenting liars.”
Recently, former British solider Dennis Hutchings faced trial for the killing of John Pat Cunningham. Hutchings received much support, including high profile political support, from those who objected to his prosecution. The circumstances of John Pat’s death could scarcely be more upsetting:
A Benburb doctor said the victim, who was his patient, had been born with an incomplete development of mind, and had been declared a person requiring special care. The doctor said that about a year earlier, near the scene of the shooting, he had come across soldiers pushing John Cunningham into a Saracen armoured car. He spoke to the soldiers who said he had been hiding in the bushes and acting suspiciously. The doctor said he had told the young man’s mother about the incident and advised her to keep a special watch on her son’s movements, in view of his apprehension towards soldiers and their uniforms.
Dennis Hutchings is alleged to have shot John Pat in the back as he ran away from an army patrol. There is simply no way that John Pat was a threat to them. British and Unionist politicians were outraged over a prosecution taking place. They were silent when the prosecution of Soldier F, a perjurer, multiple-killer, and perhaps the single greatest recruiting sergeant the PIRA ever had, fell apart.
From tragedy to farce, we can now look at the case of Donald MacNaughton, who was tried and acquitted of attempted murder in 1974. The case against him fell apart because of “inconsistencies” with the victim’s evidence, and the evidence of MacNaughton and his comrades “fitted together and was not mutually contradictory .” MacNaughton was a member of the Parachute Regiment, whose soldiers colluded with each other to lie to several British Government Inquiries, and indeed to British Army investigators. The farce in this case, I think, demonstrates something of the self-degradation of those on the English right: MacNaughton became a Brexit Party campaigner, and is widely believed to have thrown yogurt over himself to gain media attention.
Hutchings died before his trial, and will be given full military honours at his funeral. Soldier F was promoted and decorated several times in his military career. Just as their killings of Irish citizens did not unduly affect their lives for decades, was there any serious attempt at prosecuting them to the full extent of the law?
But their prosecution is not really the point. The level of support for them is.
What does it say about sections of society, and politicians, if they can support those suspected of murder, so long as it was committed by a uniformed killer, regardless of the status of the victim?
⏩ Brandon Sullivan is a middle aged, middle management, centre-left Belfast man. Would prefer people focused on the actual bad guys.