A crowd gathered in Dublin today to commemorate the Free State opening fire on the Four Courts on 28th August 1922, an event that began what is usually called “the Civil War” which lasted until 1923 (with State assassinations until 1924). The UK supplied the cannons and shells used by the Free State’s “National Army” along with munitions, including small arms and ammunition, armoured cars, army lorries and even coastal naval vessels. The conflict has also been called a “counterrevolution” and “the UK’s proxy war” with more Republicans executed by the new Irish State1 in that conflict than had been by the British State over the whole 1916-1921 period.
One hundred years ago this month, the IRA under the command of Rory O’Connor occupied and fortified the Four Courts complex, last occupied as a fighting post during the 1916 Rising. The Anglo-Irish Treaty partitioning the country and giving the Free State the status of a Dominion country had been narrowly accepted by the delegates to the First Dáil, the Irish Parliament previously banned by the UK State. However by far the majority of the military part of the Irish resistance – the IRA, Cumann na mBan and na Fianna, along with the remnants of the Irish Citizen Army – were opposed to the Treaty. The occupation of the Four Courts was seen by the Free State government as a challenge to its authority and by the British Government as a threat of anti-colonial struggle being renewed. Both parties were hostile to any radical republican, socialist or socialist-republican program.
On 28th June the Free State opened fire from British cannon on the Four Courts from Bridge Street on the south side of the river and the Civil War – or Counterrevolution – had begun. By the time the Republicans conceded defeat (and some assassinations continued even after it officially ended) perhaps around 1,300 had been killed. From January 1922 to April 1924, according to the Republican Roll of Honour, 426 anti-Treaty Volunteers had been killed, some 25 of these died fighting British and Northern Irish forces. Most anti-Treaty dead were IRA Volunteers, but some were Na Fianna members and four were women of Cumann na mBan2.
On the Free State side just under 800 died, of whom 488 fell in enemy action, others due to accidents or illness, while seven were executed having deserted to the Republican side. “To this total should be added a small number of police, including four from the Civic Guard (later renamed Garda Síochána), four from the Criminal Investigation Department and two from the Citizens’ Defence Force, who were killed from 1922-19243.”
Dorney remarks on omissions in the Last Post record and concludes: “Even allowing for this, though, the total of anti-Treaty IRA dead in the Civil War is not likely to be much more than about 500, of whom 81 died before Free State firing squads and more than 100 were summarily executed in reprisals.”
Many Irish Republicans also emigrated to avoid repression or because they were being denied employment.
The Irish State today is a direct descendant, legally and in other ways, of the Free State of 1922 and all periods since.
The commemorative event in Dublin today was organised by the National Graves Association (Cumann Uaigheanna na Laochra Gael), an organisation which since its founding in 1926 has been maintaining the graves of Irish patriots, arranging for the installation of gravestones, plaques and monuments and also organising commemorative events.
Before marching to the Four Courts, participants formed up in groups in the road outside Croppies’ Acre, a public park over a mass grave of victims of the English state’s repression of the United Irishmen and their supporters in 1798, now across the road from the Collins Barracks National Museum. They were led by a lone piper and colour party, followed by people in double ranks flying Starry Plough flags and carrying banners of history and conservation groups, along with some other flags, including that of Cumann na mBan.
At the rally outside the Liffeyside of the Four Courts, the organisers had an MC with number of speakers to read out the 1922 Proclamation, the lyrics of The Soldiers of Twenty-Two4 and Tim Horgan to give a keynote oration. At least one floral wreath was laid in honour of those who fought there and a number of posters attached to lampposts commemorated the three Volunteers who were fatally wounded there: Thomas Wall, Joe Considine and Sean Cusack.
It is almost certainly the case that it is the NGA which has erected the majority of patriotic struggle commemorative plaques around the country, with most of the remainder being organised by local authorities, local history groups and old comrades’ associations – a very small proportion being the work of the State. As stated on its website, the objectives of the Association have always been: to restore, where necessary, and maintain fittingly the graves and memorials of our patriot dead from every generation; to commemorate those who died in the cause of Irish freedom; to compile a record of such graves and memorials.
The NGA’s general alignment is unequivocal: “Only a 32 County Irish Republic represents the true aspiration of those who gave their lives for Irish freedom.5“
One might assume that every participant at the event today was of a definite political bent, yet not a single party or political organisation banner was to be seen on the march or at the rally. This is because participants were asked in advance not to bring any banners or placards of political organisational allegiance. As the Chairperson of the rally informed the audience, the NGA is not affiliated to any political party or organisation and furthermore does not accept contributions from any such nor from the State – in order to continue to guarantee the NGA’s independence. In fact, members of its governing body are not even permitted to belong to a political party. A senior Garda officer however, of least at Inspector rank, took down details in his notebook as the rally was addressed by speakers.
Patriots of the United Irishmen, the Young Irelanders, the Fenians, the Land League, na Fianna Éireann, Irish Volunteers, Cumann na mBan, IRA, Official and Provisional IRA, the Irish National Liberation Army etc have all been commemorated by the NGA. According to Wikipedia, since its founding, the NGA has erected, or accepted into its care, over 500 monuments and memorials throughout Ireland.
A number of other Civil War/ Counterrevolution commemorative and discussion events will be taking place at least during this year, two of which will take place next week (see photos of leaflet).
The Gardaí remained at the scene as people dispersed. Passing by again shortly afterwards, we found the floral wreath had been removed.
1Official executions are usually listed as 81 or 83, these having been subjected to some kind of military judicial process (but without any jury). However, apart from IRA fighters killed in battle, a number of captured combatants were murdered (such as those of the Ballyseedy Massacre on March 7th 1923) while known activists were assassinated by Garda-Army squads operating from Oriel House. Often, the murdered had been tortured first.
Niall McConnell, Director of the fascist organisation Síol na hÉireann failed to attend court in Dublin on Friday in pursuance of his claim of being assaulted by disabled antifascist Aisling Butler. Gardaí asked for a continuance in order to make further attempts to contact McConnell, including by registered letter but hearing that he had already been sent a letter and also failed to reply to a phone call, the presiding judge struck out the case. Also struck out for failure to appear was another charge by Ciaran Reddin, former right-hand man of McConnell’s (but with whom he has apparently fallen out since). Ms. Butler, who had attended as required, was embraced by supporters.
In July 2020 fascists and other racists objected to the hire of the national Gaelic sports stadium Croke Park in Dublin to a Muslim congregation to celebrate their annual Eid religious festival. The fascist organisation Síol na hÉireann called for a prayer-protest outside the stadium and announced their intention of reciting the Catholic prayer collection of the Rosary there. Their protest was supported by other fascists and racists including Phillip Dwyer of the National Party, Gemma O’Doherty and some others calling themselves Stand Together and QAnon, in emulation of the Trumpist far-Right movement in the USA1.
Dublin Republicans Against Fascism organised a counter-protest and attended with placards in Irish and in English quoting from the 1916 Proclamation2“The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty to all” and also chanted those words at the fascists.
“Five of us turned up early, mostly women,” said a spokesperson for the anti-fascist group outside the court “and only McConnell and another two were there with a banner. They took fright when they saw us, folded up their banner and called to the Gardaí for protection. But as more of their sort arrived, they got more confident, opened their banner out and began their prayers and racist chants and so on. When there were a lot more of them than us they got aggressive and there were a couple of scuffles when they assaulted a few on the sly or provoked us by pushing their video cameras near our faces. Some local people came out to stand with us against them but the fascists were arriving from all over.”
McConnell claimed he had been assaulted by Ms. Butler but apparently the Gardaí on the spot were unimpressed by his claims so he took his complaint to GSOC3, which agency charged Ms. Butler with assault. As a result she has been required to attend court a number of times over the intervening years while McConnell and GSOC got their case together.
The Síol organisation is registered as a company rather than as a political party4 and sells fascist and far-Right material on line, causing some of their opponents to call them, along with general far-Right individuals who seek on-line funding: “PayPal Paytriots”. The latter is because of the claim of the fascists and far-Rightists that they are true Irish patriots with Irish Tricolours and “Irish Republic” flags proliferating at their protests.
Referring to the words of the 1916 Proclamation displayed and chanted by the antifascist counter-protesters, the spokesperson for the antifascist Republicans said: “One of the fascists had a Tricolour flag with the text of the Proclamation printed on it. We kept inviting her and her friends to actually read the words but of course they ignored us. They wave Irish flags and play patriotic ballads but they don’t know anything about Irish history or what the people who went out against the British Empire in 1916 stood for. The fascists promote Catholic religion dominance in opposition to the secular Republic that was fought for and in denial of the historic role of Protestants in founding and fighting for Irish Republicanism.”
A repeated feature of the Síol protest outside Croke Park5 was the reciting of prayers of the Rosary loudly through a megaphone. Another was the sprinkling of salt and holy water and vinegar near the feet of the anti-fascists: “They think antifascist women are witches and that will ward them off” Ms. Butler said, smiling.
As Muslims – including children – began to arrive for their ceremony, the antifascists welcomed them and attempted to screen the fascists from the arrivals, while the chants of the fascists grew louder. After the ceremony, the Gardaí arranged for the muslim congregation to leave by another exit and once they were gone, the antifascists left also, some of them to nearby houses.
Spreading fears about “Ireland being swamped by Muslims” is one of the regular activities of the fascists, in contradiction to the statistical facts6. They also claim that asylum seekers are being treated more favourably than the native Irish, being given houses and money, etc. This is also in contradiction of the established facts which are that asylum seekers are housed in rooms in Direct Provision hostels for years in conditions that have been denounced by human rights activists and where a number of suicides have taken place.
Fascists and other far-Right individuals and organisations were very prominent during the height of the Covid pandemic, some propagating unlikely conspiracy theories and others protesting at the perceived limitations of their civil rights.7 Antifascists counter-protested them on a number of occasions, partly in defence of equal rights but also out of concern that following the epidemic, fascists will be used by the ruling elites as historically to crack down on resistance to austerity measures.
In September 2020 a prominent LGBT campaigner was beset by National Party supporters near Leinster House and a member clubbed her to the ground.8 In October that year, antifascists stormed a rally of the same party, causing the latter to ask for Garda protection to escort them away9. Some confrontations took place outside the GPO10 building in O’Connell Street against “Stand Together” and QAnon also and on Custom House Quay two weeks before the assault of the LGBT activist, at a rally organised by the far-Right organisation Irish Yellow Vests, fascists wielding lengths of metal and wood disguised as flags attacked counter-protesters who were then also attacked by riot police. The general tolerance of police towards the fascists – the latter in clear breach of pandemic restrictions — has been remarked upon by a number of observers.
The celebration of Eid in Croke Park last year drew less than a half-dozen fascist protesters. As the Covid restrictions were relaxed, the fascist and other far-Right protests began to fade, though the organisations are still there, regularly seizing on some issue in the media to promote racism, homophobia etc. Some of the participants have a track record of protesting against all kinds of equality legislation over decades and all of them promote the Catholic religion (though some don’t accept the authority of the Papacy). Niall McConnell himself, like most public fascists, is a practitioner of the big lie: addressing a far-Right gathering in Europe some years ago he claimed that Ireland has more migrants than indigenous; on another he claimed on social media that James Connolly had been born in Ireland.11
1These could be seen every Saturday for months outside the General Post Office building in Dublin city centre’s main thoroughfare, O’Connell Street.
2The Proclamation was issued by insurgents in 1916 and is a remarkable document for its time.
6According to the 2016 Census, the percentage of the population in Ireland that are muslims is 1.33%.
7E.g that the virus was not real but the restrictions part of a Jewish plot, the vaccination were to inject nanobots into people to pacify them; that the Communist Party of China was secretly running the world through the UN and the EU, that the latter (or Jews) was working to replace white people with people of colour, partly through encouraging homosexuality; the masks were to separate people from one another and damage them through inhalation of carbon dioxide ….
8The Gardaí on that occasion ordered the victim — blood streaming from her head — to leave the area and claimed to the media that no incidence of importance had occurred. In the face of video evidence they later changed their statement and eventually, on a registered complaint by the victim, charged NP member Michael Quinn with the assault. In October 2020, Quinn pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison, the third year suspended.
10The imposing General Post Office building in Dublin city centre was used as a headquarters by the insurgents in the 1916 Rising and the area outside it is regularly used for political rallies, commemorative events and, in recent years, for feeding homeless or otherwise hungry people.
11The claiming by fascists of the revolutionary socialist James Connolly may seem bizarre but is also an indication of the rank opportunism of fascists generally, in this case because of the high regard in which Irish people hold Connolly. James Connolly was born in the working-class Cowgate area of Edinburgh to parents of the Irish diaspora and both he and his brother became socialist activists, James travelling in later life alternately to Dublin and New York as a socialist writer and organiser. Returning to Dublin, Connolly became a trade union and socialist organiser, historian and journalist, co-founder of the workers’ militia the Irish Citizen Army in 1913 and overall Dublin Commandant in the 1916 Rising. He was executed by British Army firing squad in Kilmainham Jail on May 12th 1916.
The Salvation Army went to court yesterday to obtain a court order against the Revolutionary Workers’ Union, the latter currently occupying a building on Dublin’s Eden Quay since earlier this month. The RWU occupied the building — which had been empty last year — in order to house the homeless and as a public protest against continuing homelessness in the city, property speculation and high rents. The RWU were not represented in court, which granted the Salvation Army the order they sought, but some RWU supporters held a protest picket outside the court and held a rally outside the Eden Quay building a few hours later, their speakers and songs expressing determination to continue the struggle and defiance of the authorities.
The occupied building formerly known as Lefroy House and now renamed James Connolly House by the occupiers, in honour of the celebrated revolutionary socialist James Connolly executed in 1916, was constructed on the site in 1925 (all the terraces along Eden Quay had been demolished by British artillery and fire during the suppression of the 1916 Rising). Extended in 1948, the legend “Seamen’s Institute” suggests it served for a time as a seamen’s hostel but in more recent times served as hostel for young people run by the Salvation Army1 organisation, which closed the facility last year when their government funding was cut.
The Salvation Army organisation hold a long lease on the building and claimed in court that they had been renovating the building to house Ukrainian refugees, for which one assumes they have funding. However, a quick independent inspection of the building’s interior found it in good repair but with no sign of ongoing renovation work of any kind. Their claim was repeated in media reports without any attempt to check its veracity. The RWU in a statement date the 17th and of which copies were handed out supporters attending the rally yesterday headed off any attempt to use racism in their support, stating that: “The Revolutionary Workers’ Union is a pro-refugee and migrant organisation” and went on to call for housing for all residents, regardless of nationality and “an end to the shameful prison system of direct provision”.
In common with previous statements, it went on to call on people across the country, all 32 counties, to take similar action. This seems a new departure from housing occupation actions in recent years, of which the most famous was that of the large formerly NAMA building Apollo House in December of 2016. That occupation received a lot of activist support and media attention, the latter due at least in part to the participation of celebrity personalities such as the musicians Glen Hansard and Damien Dempsey and support from actress Saoirse Ronan and film-maker and author Jim Sheridan. After the building was abandoned to its owners for demolition however no similar action followed – except for a protest concert outside Leinster House the following year — and the housing crisis continued to intensify. Some minor occupations have occurred without usually any follow-up action after the occupants were evicted and protest marches have taken place – but the crisis continues to worsen.
A wide public housing program is urgently needed to address the crisis but, although by no means a revolutionary solution, has the support of not one of the major political parties, in or out of government. Not only should the sale of any public land to private concerns by declared illegal but other facilities and empty buildings need to be seized for conversion into public housing to rent according to means. Those rents would not only fund repairs and maintenance but new building also.
But any local authority wishing to carry out this program is starved of the necessary funding from the State, which feeds it instead into private landlords and speculators, who then use it to further deepen their grip on the housing market. Not only is the problem not resolved but it gets worse.
According to Department of Housing, there were more than 9,800 people experiencing homelessness in Ireland at the end of March, representing an increase of 3.5% in one month and a 23% increase compared to the same time last year.
Of the 9,825 homeless people, 2,811 were children and there were 5,143 single adults and 1,238 families in emergency accommodation. Youth homelessness is more than double other categories as there was a 58% increase in the number of homeless people aged between 18 and 24 (1,230) when compared to last year.
The Simon Communities of Ireland said it was “the highest level of adult homelessness and young person homelessness ever recorded” by the Department of Housing.2
In addition, the number of homeless people dying is sharply increasing: a total of 115 homeless people died in Dublin last year, more than double the number who died in 2019. In 2020, there were 76 deaths recorded while in 2019 and 2018, the number was under 50.3
RALLY ON THE QUAY – SPEECHES AND SONG
The rally yesterday evening outside “Connolly House”, which had been called at fairly short notice, started a little late but was fairly short, concluding even as people were still arriving. The average age profile was noticeably young and a number of political tendencies seemed to be represented.
A man chairing the rally apologised for the lack of a PA system and asked people go gather closer. He informed the audience that the Revolutionary Workers’ Group has occupied “a second long-term vacant property in Dublin City, naming it Liam Mellows House, “the great socialist Republican executed by the Free State counterrevolution in 1922 …. which we continue to live with the consequences of and continue to fight to this day.”
Apart from the man chairing the event, there were two speakers from the RWU, one of whom gave his entire speech in fluent Irish. The message in summary from all was that the housing crisis is artificially created for the benefit of landlords and property “vulture” speculators, that the buildings belong by right to all of us, that housing is a human need that requires fighting for and the time for fighting – “to shake off the paralysis” — is now. All the speeches were cheered.
A performer accompanying himself by guitar sang a new resistance song while a giant banner was waved, reading “EVICTIONS KILL — HOUSE THE PEOPLE ”.
The event concluded with a man singing a cappella The Larkin Ballad4 (also known as the Lockout Song). He introduced his performance by saying that on that very Quay in August 1913 the police had killed two workers and that the Irish Citizen Army had been formed as a result, which had gone on to participate in the 1916 Rising — with the lyrics referencing both periods.
Following that, the chairperson invited those who wished to do so to enter the building but to treat it with respect in general and to abide by the rules of the occupiers of which he mentioned in particular that there were to be no photographs taken. A long queue formed for admittance even as some latecomers still arrived to join it.
1The Salvation Army is a Protestant religious charity and temperance organisation and its funding by the State to address homelessness is another example of the ubiquitous private status of social services in Ireland whether through different faith organisations or other NGOs.
4“In Dublin City in 1913, the Boss was rich and the workers slaves ….” The original lyrics were composed by Donagh McDonagh, son of Thomas McDonagh, Signatory of the Proclamation of Independence and executed by British firing squad in 1916, with some further lyrics by his own son.
Around two thousand demonstrators, including a high proportion of women, held a rally on Saturday afternoon outside Leinster House, the building housing the Irish Parliament. They were protesting the lack of clarity around whether the new maternity hospital will carry out pregnancy terminations on demand — with the suspicion that it will not.
But speaker after speaker went further still and demanded the secularisation of the Irish health service and of society in general.
The issue arises in the first place due to the necessity to relocate the Dublin maternity services currently based at Holles Street due to the inability of the latter to meet the demand. However, the Government decided to relocate the facility to land near St. Vincent’s Hospital, owned by a Catholic Church organisation, which in turn formed a company to buy the land and lease it to the State at a nominal annual rate. It is the perceived Church veto on some procedures that has raised so much concern.
A SECULAR SOCIETY – A REPUBLICAN DEMAND
A secular society is a fundamentally republican demand, up there with opposition to monarchy. English Republicanism failed to achieve1 it even after the execution by Parliament of Charles I in 1649 but the French revolution did not, which was one of the reasons why the Irish Catholic Church hierarchy was against La Republique and against the United Irishmen too.
Irish Republicans after the United Irishmen have had at best an ambivalent attitude to the Catholic Church – although the Young Irelanders and even more so the Fenians were decidedly anti-clerical, the Republicans in the first two decades of the last century were not so in general and many actually courted the support of the Church. The fact that the Irish Republican movement during the rest of the century failed to lead social struggles is adequate testimony to its leadership at the very least not wishing to earn the hostility of the Catholic hierarchy. That in turn was one of the factors ensuring that the Republican movement failed to broaden its struggle to encompass the majority of the nation … a factor sufficient on its own to ensure its defeat.
On the whole it has been left to writers, revolutionary socialists, social democrats and liberals to fight the secularisation battles – but above all, left to women. Control of fertility, access to contraceptives, personal sexual freedom, gender equality in law, equal pay, and termination of pregnancy were all hard battles won over decades by women. And often at huge personal cost. Most of those battles confronted the authority of the Church Hierarchy and even when some did not so directly, they did so by implication, undermining its basic judgement that the role of a woman is as wife to husband and mother to children.
The position of the Church hierarchy in Irish society was one of moral judge, jury and practical punisher and when punishment failed to correct, the State took over. In fact, we can view the Irish State in social and political terms as a partnership of native capitalist class – the Gombeens – and the Church hierarchy. In return for its role in social control, the State permitted the education, health and social care systems to be run by the Church either wholly or in part. Which in turn increased the power and authority of the Church hierarchy further. And it was that unquestioned (and unquestionable) authority that fostered the decades of physical, mental and sexual abuse carried out by so many clergy, in particular on women and children.
Women are still to the forefront of the struggle for the secularisation of the State and they are too in this struggle over an important branch of the health service. The people need a well-resourced national health service, with free access – but it needs to be secular also. Irish Republicans who do not actively support this struggle are failing not only the society they hope one day to lead but, in secularisation, failing also a fundamental principle of republicanism. That one of the issues with regard to Church influence on the maternity hospital is a suspicion that it will not carry out elective pregnancy termination should not prevent even those Irish Republicans opposed to elective termination from supporting its secularisation.
Quite simply, one is either a Republican and therefore in favour of a secular health service — or one is not a Republican.
Since 1524, not only is the UK a monarchy but the monarch, the Head of State, is also the head of the (Anglican) Church of England.
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.
Yes, indeed, we have been. Let us look back over the campaign of misinformation about conflict in Ireland for it has much to teach us about the mass media, about human credulity. We don’t need to go back over 800 years – just to the recent the 30-Year War.
In 1968 a civil rights campaign1 took off in the British Six-County colony in Ireland to include a number of marches and sit-ins, which was regularly met with violence from Loyalist2 mobs and the State. As part of the campaign, in 1969 a march from Belfast to Dublin was organised under the slogan “Civil Rights – North and South”. One of that march’s stops was in Lurgan, Co. Armagh, where the marchers sat at a crossroads and were instantly attacked by the armed British colonial police (then the RUC3, now the PSNI).
Some of the marchers had come from Britain to support the campaign and after being attacked in Lurgan, they bought an English newspaper to see whether the incident had been reported. An occurrence in the town had been reported alright but not what had occurred – the report told their readers that a fight between Catholics and Protestants had been broken up by the RUC, keeping the two sides apart. “There wasn’t a Protestant in sight,” commented a marcher angrily, “except those in RUC uniform …. or unless he was one of us4.”
Later that year, in August, the RUC killed four civilians, including a child, in the Divis Flats area of Belfast by firing at the area with a machine-gun mounted on an armoured car. Their claim they were returning fire from the area was widely refuted by local people but repeated in the media. The incident was not investigated until decades later when the claims of family and local witnesses were vindicated in an Ombudsman’s report.
The representation of the RUC as a force for peace between two groups in a sectarian conflict was to be a repeated media disinformation line through the ongoing conflict, as the struggle became an armed one — although to a large degree the honest broker ‘peacemaker’ cloak shifted from the colonial police on to the British Army.
British troops were sent in to the colony (by a Labour Government, in case we had illusions) in August 1969 and were initially greeted by many people in the ‘nationalist’5 community as saviours, sent to keep the sectarian RUC and Loyalist mobs (often enough amounting to the same thing) away from them. Most politicians and the media represented them as peace-keepers. For most nationalists the illusions did not last long as the Army turned their guns on them.
Although no British soldier had been killed in the Six Counties by the IRA as yet6, on 3rd July 1970 the British Army invaded the staunchly nationalist area of the Lower Falls and forced their way into homes, saying they were searching for arms. Local youths mobilised and attacked the soldiers with stones and petrol bombs7. The soldiers responded by pumping CS gas into the area and soon gun-battles between the IRA and the British Army broke out.
‘After four hours of continuous clashes, the British commander sealed off the area, which comprised 3,000 homes, and imposed a curfew which would last for 36 hours. Thousands of British troops moved into the curfew zone and carried out house-to-house searches for weapons, while coming under intermittent attack from the IRA and rioters. The searches caused much destruction, and a large amount of CS gas was fired into the area. Many residents complained of suffering abuse at the hands of the soldiers. On 5 July, the curfew was brought to an end when thousands of women and children from Anderstonstown8 marched into the curfew zone with food and other supplies for the locals.
‘During the operation, four civilians were killed by the British Army, at least 78 people were wounded and 337 were arrested. Eighteen soldiers were also wounded. Large quantities of weapons and ammunition were (allegedly – DB) captured. The British Army admitted afterwards that some of its soldiers had been involved in looting.’9
At the time, most of the media reported the clashes as unruly elements irrationally attacking the Army who were there to protect them and were only doing their job. However, the opinion of the nationalist community, though ignored by the media had undergone a huge shift and the first serving British soldier (of many to follow) was killed by the IRA the following year.10
Later in 1970, during riots in Derry, the Army shot two men from the nationalist area, Seamus Cusack and Desmond Beattie, claiming afterwards that they were armed, a claim local people denied. There was no investigation by the authorities, obliging the constitutionalist SDLP11 to withdraw from the colony’s parliament in protest.
On 4th December 1971, an explosion in the Catholic-owned McGurk’s Bar in Belfast killed 15 people and injured 16. Due to the bar’s ownership and location, the most logical attribution would be to Loyalists or British forces. It would be hard to pin it on the IRA – unless it could be said to have been an accidental explosion of an IRA bomb during storage or transportation. That was what the “security forces” came up with, which of course was repeated by the media. An alternative media theory was that in some manner it was a result of a feud between the Official and Provisional IRA. In order to construct that theory, the denials of the IRA had to be discounted12, despite the organisations’ track record of taking public responsibility for its actions.
The explosion had occurred in the pub’s doorway, which would have thrown doubt on the “IRA bomb in transit” story but somehow, the RUC’s forensic examination did not determine that. But even worse, the evidence of an eyewitness had to be dismissed.
‘On 6 December, however, the RUC took a witness statement from an 8-year-old boy. He said that a car had stopped outside the pub with four men inside and “a wee Union Jack stuck in the back window”. He said one left a package in the Great George’s Street doorway and ran back to the car, which sped off just moments before the package exploded. A man and a woman backed up his story, although they did not witness as much as the boy.’13
‘In March 1976 the RUC received intelligence that linked UVF member Robert Campbell and four others to the McGurk’s bombing. Campbell was arrested on 27 July 1977 and held at Castlereagh RUC base. He was interviewed seven times during 27 and 28 July. He admitted his part in the bombing but refused to name the others.Campbell’s story matches that given by the young boy witness.’14
On 29 July 1977, Campbell was charged with the 15 murders and 17 attempted murders and in September 1978 pleaded guilty to all charges (he also had a separate conviction for the murder of a Protestant delivery driver in 1976). He eventually served fifteen years in prison, being released on 9th September 1993.15
Despite the 1978 convictions and even Campbell’s confessions, the “own goal bomb” theory of responsibility lingered and relatives sought for years to have the case properly investigated, some also alleging that the RUC had colluded in helping the killers get away out of the area and in the false atrributions later, possibly even with the intention of setting the two IRA organisations at one another’s throats.
In what has become a depressingly familiar story, the relatives campaigned on in the face of police inaction and media disinterest for years, during which many of the directly-affected died through natural causes, to receive partial vindication at last in an Ombudsman’s report which laid the blame squarely on a Loyalist gang and castigated the RUC for a biased and inadequate investigation. The report was published in February 2011– it had taken the campaigners only 40 years16.
The introduction of internment without trial in August 1971 was, according to the media, a necessary measure to deal with political violence from all sides. Not one Loyalist was arrested that year, or the next and it was not until 1973 that a single Loyalist had been interned, the total by December 1975, when the measure was ended, having been 107 against 1,874 from the Nationalist community.17
The Paratroop Regiment, British Army shocktroops, were sent into the colony that year too18. Between 9th and 11th August in the Belfast area of Ballymurphy, the Paratroopers caused the deaths of 10 men and a woman and wounded many19. The Paratroopers claimed they had been shot at and were returning fire and that all their targets had been “terrorists”20. The media repeated these lies and, if reporters interviewed wounded and other witnesses, their accounts were not published. There was no investigation and, as with the deaths of many victims of RUC and British Army, there was no inquest concluded until decades later (2021 for these victims21).
The nationalist community called a demonstration in Derry for 30th January the following year to protest the massacres and against the introduction of internment. The Paratroopers were there again and they and other British Army soldiers shot down unarmed demonstrators, causing the deaths of 14 and injuring at least another 15. The Army claimed they had been returning fire from Irish Republicans and had shot only gunmen and bombers and on the whole, the media parroted their claims.
The British put their top judge, Lord Chief Justice Widgery, to hold an inquiry and in April that year his verdict upheld the Army’s version and also blamed the organisers of the march. The media of course promoted that verdict too. It was not until the extraordinarilyy long and hugely expensive Bloody Sunday Inquiry set up 1998 22 produced the Saville Report in 2010 that the British officially (and then of course also the media) accepted what all of Derry and much of Ireland already knew, that the Paras had opened fire in a non-threatening situation and selectively targeted and killed unarmed civilians23.
British soldiers shot another five unarmed people dead in the Springhill area of Belfast on July 9th, yet again as in Ballymurphy the previous year, including a priest administering the last rites but this time their tally was also an thirteen-year-old girl24. The original ‘official’ account of the shootings— that those shot were ‘gunmen’ — was almost immediately discredited, and was changed shortly after; the claim then became that those murdered were simply caught in the crossfire. Again the media covered the Army story without investigation or challenge.
In 1988 on Sunday 6th March British SAS soldiers shot dead three unarmed IRA volunteers in Gibraltar. When it was revealed that the three had been unarmed, firstly the media claimed that they had been about to trigger an explosion but some time later the British found the explosives in a car in a Spanish carpark across the border without any electronic link to the dead volunteers. When the British claimed that the Volunteers had made threatening moves, eyewitnessed testified that not only had they been unarmed when shot but had been extra-judicially executed as they lay on the ground with their hands up in surrender position. One of the eye-witnesses was Gibraltar resident Carmen Proetta, who then became a target for British media slurs, even going to the extent of suggesting that she was a sex-worker.
On Monday 7 March all eleven British national daily newspapers reported the story that a bomb had been found. Many gave detailed information about the size (mostly 500 pounds), purpose and type of the bomb as well as how it was defused. The Daily Mail suggested that the bomb might have a ‘video timing device’, while Today and the Independent mentioned ‘remote control’. The Daily Mirror told us that ‘a controlIed explosion failed to set off the bomb’ whilst the Daily Mail added ‘RAF disposal men defused it later’.25
On 28 April 1988, almost two months after the Gibraltar shootings, the ITV television channel defied British Government pressure and threats of legal action to broadcast “Death on the Rock” an episode of its current affairs series This Week, produced by Thames Television, based on investigations of three journalists and many interviews. This led to a ferocious media attack on the documentary, its programers and the IBA, the governing watchdog authority.
‘Over the following weeks, newspapers repeatedly printed stories about the documentary’s witnesses, in particular Carmen Proetta, who gave an account of seeing McCann and Farrell shot without warning by soldiers who arrived in a Gibraltar Police car. Proetta subsequently sued several newspapers for libel and won substantial damages. The Sunday Times conducted its own investigation and reported that “Death on the Rock” had misrepresented the views of its witnesses; those involved later complained to other newspapers that The Sunday Times had distorted their comments.’26
A great number of situations arose during the 30 Years War in the British colony that were either unreported or misrepresented by the mass media, including “confessions” obtained through torture, RUC and British Army collusion with Loyalist murder gangs, inhumane treatment of political prisoners, Army shooting of unarmed civilians, extra-judicial executions of Republican Volunteers and blackmailing individuals for information or to carry out agent-provocateur actions.
WITHIN THE IRISH STATE
In 1969 the grave of Wolfe Tone in Bodenstown was blown up by Loyalists27 and between 1971 and 1974 there was a series of bombings in Dublin by Loyalists and British Intelligence. The bombing campaign began by aiming at symbolic structures and went on to target civilians which cost the lives of 36 civilians (and a full-term unborn child) and injured around 490, presumably to pressurise the Irish Government into increased repression of Republican paramilitaries.
In January 1971 the O’Connell Tower in Glasnevin Cemetery was damaged (not repaired finally until 2019, 47 years later)28, presumably as an attack on a prominent Irish Catholic29 icon. But in February 1971 the Wolfe Tone30 monument in Stephen’s Green was also blown up, like the blowing up of the grave, an attack on Irish Republicanism and its rebellious Protestant origins31. Bombings now aimed at civilians in Dublin followed and between 26 November 1972 and 20 January 1973, there were four paramilitary bombings in the centre of Dublin, claiming the lives of three public transport workers and injuring 185.
The first suspicion of responsibility for those bombings should naturally have fallen on the Loyalists and perhaps, by extension, on a British intelligence agency. It didn’t though; in the media and political circles, it was projected on to the IRA.
That could not have made logical sense, since such explosions could only have harmed the IRA among the Irish population. However there was another specific reason why it made even less sense, (if possible): in 1972 Leinster House32 was about to debate repressive legislation that would set up special no-jury courts to convict Republicans with the word of a police officer (at the rank of Superintendent or above) sufficient to convict of “membership of an illegal organisation”, with an automatic two-year jail sentence. The proposed legislation was being put forward by Fianna Fáil but Fine Gael and the Labour Party were mustering to vote against it and if they did, the new legislation would fall.
In the midst of the horror about the bombing, the opposition crumbled and the bill went through, against protests of many human and civil rights agencies33; it became law, has sent many people to jail on dubious ‘evidence’ and is in force to this day.
Not only that, but the failure to energetically investigate the 1974 bombing meant that some of the Loyalist perpetrators were free to murder many civilians in the following years – some of the bombers were members of the infamous Glennane Gang, a Loyalist-RUC-British Intelligence group of killers responsible for up to 120 murders of civilians35.
The events in Ireland were of course being felt by the Irish diaspora in England too. Marches, pickets and public meetings protesting the RUC’s repression of marches for civil rights were held in many British cities, as they were against sending the British Army into the Six Counties, introduction of internment without trial and shooting protesters dead. Some groups on the British Left were also attending these events and occasionally organising their own. Irish solidarity was becoming a major issue for anti-imperialist solidarity in Britain and abroad, in addition to being in a sense a major domestic issue in Britain too.
The IRA began to extend Britain’s war to their homeland in a bombing campaign in 1971, at first targeting property. However, in 1974 bombs in two pubs in Birmingham killed 21 people which was difficult to understand but according to an alleged perpetrator, the warning intended by the bombers was frustrated through out-of-order public telephone boxes. The Guildford and Woolwich bombs, aimed at pubs frequented by British soldiers, killed five soldiers and two civilians overall and injured 101 people.
The horror and outrage resulting from that carnage gave the British State the environment in which they could launch a wholesale clampdown on the Irish diaspora. The Prevention of Terrorism Act was rushed through the Westminster Parliament in 1974, specifically targeting the Irish community. The Act empowered the police to raid homes, to hold suspects without access to a solicitor for up to five days and longer on special application and to summarily deport Irish people from Britain – even to their own colony. It also empowered the police to stop and question Irish people without warrant or having to show cause and thousands were stopped and questioned at ports and airports as they travelled from Ireland to Britain or vice versa, sometimes missing their flights or boat as a result. People were questioned on the street too and on Irish solidarity demonstrations.
In that atmosphere, of which the media was the main facilitator in British society, it was fairly easy for the State to frame nearly a score of innocent people on bombing charges and to sentence them to many years in jail on the flimsiest of “evidence”, later to refuse their right to appeal, later still, granting that right but denying the justice of their cases.
Judith Ward was arrested in February 1974, sentenced to life imprisonment plus 30 years in October 1974 and her conviction overturned in May 1992.
The Birmingham Six were arrested in November 1974, sentenced to jail for life in August 1975, their convictions finally overturned in March 1991.
The Guildford Four were arrested in December 1974, sentenced to imprisonment for life in October 1975, their convictions finally overturned in October 1989.
Giuseppe Conlon and the Maguire Six were arrested in December 1974, sentenced to 4, 51, 12 and 14 years in 1976, their convictions overturned in 1991. By that time Vincent and Patrick had already served their sentences and Giuseppe Conlon, father of Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four, had died in jail.
1Patrick Maguire was only 14 at the time and Vincent only 17.
The UK media in particular played a huge part in setting the atmosphere in which these unjust convictions could take place and in making the struggle of the innocent for justice difficult. Even after their acquittal, some of the media insinuated that they had been guilty and had got free through some kind of legal loopholes.
Could the media have known differently? Yes, certainly, not one of the cases would stand up to reasonable inspection. The Guildford Four were hippies living in a squat, the Birmingham Six were escorting the body of a deceased IRA man to Ireland when the bombs exploded, the Maguires were a Tory-voting woman with teenage children, Giuseppe was only in London to help his son after the latter’s arrest and Judith Ward was mentally ill, homeless and penniless37. Their ‘confessions’, obtained through torture and intimidation38, were admitted as evidence against them, although they all retracted them and declared how they had been obtained. The forensic evidence was faulty and besides recording a false positive and even though the defence team had a forensic expert to refute it during their trial, the Prosecution’s expert was the one accepted.
The February 1977 confession by an IRA unit to the Woolwich and Guildford bombing after their capture in the Balcome Street siege was not accepted, although they were able to give details of the bombing. So tortured and retracted ‘confessions’ were acceptable whereas one voluntarily given was not.
Apart from the logical doubts that should have arisen in even a light examination of the cases, the media also had access to detailed refutation of the case against the Birmingham Six. Although much has been made recently of the investigation of the case by Chris Mullin, the publication of his book Error of Judgment: The Truth About the Birmingham Pub Bombings (1985), the research for which went into the earlier 1984 ITV World in Action documentary, a detailed challenge to the convictions had been published much earlier. Only two years after the arrest of the Birmingham Six, Fathers Murray and Faul had published The Birmingham Framework39, which they had sent to British politicians and media agents. In 1982 the Irish in Britain Representation Group40 also publicly called for the freeing of the framed prisoners and continued to do so for every year thereafter. Other organisations such as the Troops Out Movement41 called for their release also and trade union branches began to support such calls.
It suited the State that the British public think the prisoners guilty and the British media played their part in that purpose. In a way, it also suited the State if the Irish community knew the prisoners were innocent since, if even the innocent could be jailed so easily, how could any Irish person be safe except by keeping his or her head down low? Irish solidarity activities declined in occurrence and in numbers attending. With few exceptions, the Irish community in Britain was cowed from 1974 until the Hunger Strikes of 1981 brought them out on the streets again, the terror broken by the spirit of solidarity and outrage.
The above examples are only a selection of situations in Ireland during the period under discussion about which we and the world were misinformed or censored. Throughout the 30 Years’ War so many accusations against the British armed forces, including their armed colonial police, have been ignored or recorded disbelievingly by the media – in particular the British section but within the Irish state also – and repeated by media services abroad, to be picked up by other media …. and so on, and on. And likewise with accusations against British intelligence services and their domestic police force.
Why then are the current claims of the Ukrainian government published through the mass media being accepted without question on every count? Why is everything the Russian government says discounted or ignored without checking? Why are we not concerned at banning of alternative media and censorship of commentators who are not repeating the party line? Why are we not outraged at the agreed delivery of Julian Assange by the UK to the USA on charges of “spying” because he exposed their lies and murderous activities in Iraq and Afghanistan? Given our own experience over 30 years of the UK media’s dismal record of reporting on the conflict in Ireland – and its equally dismal repetition in the western media – why are we now believing without critical examination the western media reporting on the war in the Ukraine?
1The civil rights campaign in the Six Counties was in pursuance of equal rights for the Catholic minority with the Protestant majority there, in the electoral franchise, in housing and employment, along with the repeal of the repressive Special Powers Act.
2‘Loyalists’ is a term describing militants – always of Protestant community background – in various organisations — who insist on remaining within the UK. The first armed actions in the 30 Years War were by Loyalists.
3Although the Royal Ulster Constabulary was created in 1922, when Ireland was partitioned, it was in effect a continuation of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the British occupation’s gendarmerie (nation-wide semi-military police force, such as exists in Spain, Turkey, Italy, France, etc) in existence throughout all of Ireland since 1822. Although the personnel of the RIC had been mostly Catholic in background (usually with Protestant senior officers), the RUC was determinedly Protestant from the start, both in its full-time and part-time membership. However, a minority of the civil rights campaigners were also from Protestant backgrounds.
4As part of the control structures in the Six Counties, the authorities had recruited only non-Catholics into the colonial police force, which helped unionist politicians and media represent an attack on the police as a sectarian attack. Though a few Catholics have been recruited since the 1990s and Sinn Féin has been supporting recruitment drives in nationalist areas, the PSNI personnel remain overwhelmingly of Protestant background.
5A convenient term used to describe the large minority community, mostly of Catholic background, mostly of the original population but with some earlier intermarriage into the majority community, which is of mostly colonist/ settler origin.
11The Social and Democratic Labour Party, advocating reform through legal and constitutional methods.
12Two days after the explosion, on December 6th, both the Official and Provisional IRAs issued statements condemning the bombing and denying any involvement. Local people also denied any association between the pub and either of the armed organisations.
18Despite some time searching online I have not come across the exact date they were there by May 1971 and it may be that they had been sent there as part of plan that included the introduction of internment without trial later that year.
20The fact that one fatal victim was a mother of eight children and another, a local priest, should have alerted media to the fact that the Paras were likely lying and local people likely telling the truth.
22Likely initiated as as a payoff to the Provisionals for buying into the Peace/ Pacification Process, the other being the early release on licence of their members in jail, the inquiry lasted twelve years and cost £195 million.
23No senior Army officer or senior politician of the time has even been charged for those murders. One lower-ranking soldier was eventually charged but in July 2021, the Public Prosecution Service decided it would no longer prosecute him either.
29Daniel O’Connell, a constitutional Irish nationalist politician and Catholic, campaigned for the repeal of the anti-Catholic Penal Laws in which he was largely successful in 1869 and unsuccessfully for repeal of the Act of Union, which had transferred the internal legislation of Ireland through its Parliament to Westminster instead in 1801.
30Theobald ‘Wolfe’ Tone was an Anglican campaigner for reform of anti-Catholic legislation (only Anglicans could be elected to the Irish Parliament) who became a revolutionary Irish Republican when those attempts failed. He was a founder of the revolutionary republican United Irishmen organisation. He was captured by the British after surrender of the French naval ship on which he was travelling on 12th October 1978. Although an officer in the Army of France he was tried for treason and sentenced to be executed; on 19th September 1798 he died in prison of wounds, apparently self-inflicted to deny the State his public execution.
40The IBRG was formed late in 1981 as an independent community organisation, among the issues it took up were those of anti-Irish racism, access to resources for the community, an end to strip-searching of prisoners, freedom for the framed prisoners and British withdrawal from Ireland.
41The Troops Out Movement was founded in 1973 as a broad organisation to mobilise the British public for withdrawal of British troops from Ireland; with branches in many parts of Britain, it organised marches, pickets, public meetings and published pamphlets. The relevant Wikipedia incorrectly claims it was “an Irish Republican organisation” — though it naturally did contain Irish Republicans, it also contained British revolutionary left and social-democratic elements. Though maintaining its independence for decades, it did towards the end of the 1990s become closely linked to Provisional Sinn Féin.
On 9th April, the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee held another of its regular awareness-rising events in the city, this time on on the northside, at the junction of the busy shopping Henry Street and Liffey Street.
Supporters lined up with the Anti-Internment Committee of Ireland banner and placards. In addition to the Starry Plough of the Irish working class, the Palestinian and the Basque flags were flown in symbols of solidarity and also as a demonstration that political prisoners are held in many countries around the world.
Going on for 200 of the AIGI’s leaflets were distributed, explaining that Irish Republicans continue to be held in custody without trial through the practice of refusal of bail and through revocation of licence. This practice by administrations on both sides of the British Border are anti-democratic suppression of the right to hold political opinions and to organise in their furtherance.
Recordings of relevant songs were played on a portable PA, such as The Roll of Honour, Viva la Quinze Brigada and Something Inside So Strong. Throughout the period of the event, two Special Branch (plainclothes political police) kept up an obvious surveillance which however did not deter the picketers.
The Anti-Internment Committee of Ireland is an independent broad and democratic committee, endeavouring to hold regular awareness-raising events and all democratic people are welcome to attend its public events, always advertised in advance on its Facebook page.
The Dublin Anti-Internment Committee held a well-attended picket on Saturday (5th March) against the continuing practice of interning Irish Republicans without trial and also in support of human rights for political prisoners. At one point the picket was subjected to the unwelcome attention of the Irish political police.
The event was in furtherance of the Committee’s advertised intention to hold monthly public events to highlight the deprivation of civil rights from Irish Republicans — on both sides of the British border — through the operation of special legislation and in particular of the no-jury political courts (Special Criminal Courts in the Irish state and Diplock Court in the British colony). The Committee has admitted that it does not always succeed in holding a public event every month and in fact its most recent public appearance was during the December festive season, in solidarity with Irish Republican prisoners, when it was supported by a number of organisations and independent activists.
WHY THESE PUBLIC EVENTS?
The Dublin Committee holds these public events because it believes that most people are unaware of the abuse of civil rights in Ireland, the civil right to belong to an organisation that criticises the State and seeks profound change. The reaction of people receiving a leaflet at their public events would seem to bear this out.
Choosing a couple of extracts from their current leaflet: ‘At various times in Ireland’s history, people have been rounded up and jailed without bothering with a trial – people whom the government found troublesome and wished removed. Today the same process carries on although they don’t call it “internment” now – other names such as “due process”, “remanded in custody” are used ….”
‘Even when Republican activists are granted bail, it is on outrageous conditions such as not being permitted to reside in their own home, having to observe a curfew and wear an electronic tag, not being permitted to attend meetings and demonstrations …..’
The leaflet text makes the point that one doesn’t have to agree with the politics of Irish Republicans to see that these injustices are profoundly undemocratic abuses of civil rights — and “are ultimately a danger to all oppositional movements, whether Republican or not”. One aspect of their protest was against the denial of open family visits to Republican prisoners in the jails of the British colony in the north-east of Ireland — a violation of human rights.
The surprise in learning the facts is not confined to Irish people because often it is expressed by tourists or migrants, even if they have encountered such practices in their own countries of origin.
An example of the interest from abroad on Saturday was of a Basque man and, separately, of two young Basque women, reacting warmly to seeing the Basque flag among the picketers. The Dublin Committee objects not only to the incarceration of Irish Republicans but also of people seeking freedom in many other parts of the world, for which reason the Palestinian and Basque flags are frequently flown on their pickets, next to the revolutionary Irish workers’ flag of the Starry Plough.
A person who expressed support for the right to campaign without state repression was, interestingly, from Barcelona. However he did not wish for Catalan independence, wanting instead a unitary but democratic Spanish state – a position held by some communists and the main socia-democratic parties there. Although his position did not concur with that of the picketers, who tend to support the struggles for self-determination, the conversation was conducted without hostility.
Not so with another individual, who approached some picketers to argue for their support for the Ukrainian state in the current armed conflict there, a question that has deeply divided the Irish Left and Republican movements. He went further and announced his support for the Azov Battalion, an East European fascist organisation integrated into the Ukrainian state’s military, at which point the tolerance of the picketers for his intervention ended and he was urged to depart.
POLITICAL POLICE INTIMIDATION
Another temporary presence unwelcome to the picketers was of three members of the Irish State’s political police. These are members of what used to be called the Special Branch but are now officially called the Special Detective Unit, formerly C3 and successor to the CID when the Irish State was created. This type of political police force is modelled on the Irish Special Branch of Scotland Yard, the HQ of the British police, founded to spy on the influence and activities of the “Fenians” (i.e the Irish Republican Brotherhood) in the cities of Victorian-era Britain. However, in Dublin under British occupation, their parallel force was the G Division of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, known as “G-men”; it was they who identified many Republican and other prisoners of the British military after the 1916 Rising, ensuring death sentences for many (though most commuted to life imprisonment) and jail sentence for many others. During the War of Independence (1919-1921 they were identified as the intelligence service of the British occupation and many were selectively assassinated by the IRA of the time.
The Garda “Branch” (as they are known colloquially) of the Irish State have a long history of harassment of and spying on Irish Republicans, sometimes associated with violence and often with perjury in court. Their unsupported observations through the mouth of a Garda officer at the rank of Superintendent has been enough “evidence”, in the no-jury Special Criminal Court, to send many Irish Republicans to jail on a charge of “membership of an illegal organisation.”
One of these gentlemen on Saturday approached the youngest supporter of the picket, who was distributing leaflets to passers-by, identified himself as a Gárda officer in plain-clothes and demanded the young activist’s name. His accosting of the leafletter attracted the attention of others on the picket and two went quickly to support the subject of State harassment. The Branchman demanded no further information and sone moved away. However, when he had reached about half-way along the picketters, he stopped and began filming them.
At that point one of the picketers began to call out to passers-by, many of whom were tourists, that this man was a member of the secret political police, who was filming and attempting to intimidate people on a legal political protest, that this is the kind of ‘democracy’ that exists in the Irish state, etc, etc. Shortly thereafter, the Branchman departed, along with another two of his colleagues that had been observed further down towards Temple Bar.
According to picket participants this intervention of the political police represented an escalation of their attentions in recent times, though not in the least unusual in the past, when every picketer might have their name (and even their address) demanded and jotted down.
A spokesperson of the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee stated that it is independent of any political party or organisation and that it welcomes the participation at its public events of democratic individuals, whether independent activists or members of organisations and had distributed many of its leaflets. It regrets that a number of political activists — who should have an interest, even if only in self-preservation – in defending the democratic rights to organise and to protest, decline to support their events.
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.
Between 400 and 500 people gathered in Moore Street on Saturday 22nd January 2022 to hear a number of speakers declare their complete opposition to the plans of the Hammerson property group, most of which had been approved by the chief officer of Dublin City Council’s Planning Department, in the face of a great many formal and informal objections and against even decisions of the elected councillors. Musicians also played and sang a number of songs at the event.
SPEAKERS AND SPEECHES
Chaired by the Secretary of the Moore Street Preservation Trust, Mícheál Mac Donncha (Sinn Féin Councillor), the crowd listened to a range of speakers: dramatist and campaigner for decades Frank Allen, 1916 relatives Brendan Mulvihill and Donna Cooney (latter a long-time campaigner and also Green Party Councillor), Diarmuid Breatnach for the Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign group (with a campaign stall every Saturday), Carolyn Alright (fourth-generation street trader), Stephen Troy (2nd generation local butcher) and Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Sinn Féin TD [member of the Irish Parliament]).
Each speech was different but of course sharing such themes as the struggle for Irish independence, historical memory and conservation but also closely linked to issues very much of the day: lack of justice in economic and social policy, lack of democracy in decision-making, reference to the housing crisis, property speculators, vulture funds, the banks ….. A number also made reference to the recent deaths of two homeless people in the vicinity.
There were some additional points made, for example Frank Allen called on people to tell the Fianna Fáil party they’d never get a vote in Dublin again if they didn’t act to save the area from demolition; Donna Cooney pointed out that demolition of buildings had a much worse effect on the environment than restoration; Diarmuid Breatnach stated that the area was of international historical importance and merited world heritage status; Stephen Troy spoke about the disaster for small businesses next to a 15-year building site; Caroline Alright pleaded for the future of the street to be taken out of the hands of the developers and Ó Snodaigh expected a more supportive attitude from the next Government (widely predicted to be a coalition with Sinn Féin as the larger partner).
Live music for the event was provided by Pat Waters, performing his own compositions, including a song about the O’Rahilly who was fatally wounded in 1916 in Moore Street leading a charge against a British Army barricade; also two musicians from the Cobblestone Pub, including the son of the owner, Tom Mulligan who performed Pete St. John’s Dublin in the Rare Aul’ Times.
There was speculation in some quarters as to why the rally had been called at such short notice; with prominent members of the Moore Street Preservation Trust absent1 and having an incorrect Irish name of the street2 on the event poster and promotional merchandise did seem to indicate a rushed event.
For some too, the Trust is being increasingly seen as closely linked to Sinn Féin, which for some is a positive factor but for others is not. The closeness has been evident on a number of occasions: a SF public meeting some years ago at which Jim Connolly Heron, prominent member of the Trust was the only speaker representing campaigners and more recently the promotion of the Trust’s Alternative Moore Street plan by SF, including the party President, Mary Lou Mac Donald, speaking at its launch a few months ago. At the rally on Saturday, the speaker for the Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign group made a point of saying that their group is independent of any political party.
However, the Bill to make the area a cultural quarter, currently proceeding with glacial slowness through the Dáil (Irish Parliament) is sponsored by a Sinn Féin TD, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, who spoke at the rally. Others counter by pointing out that Darragh O’Brien, a Minister of a party now in Government, Fianna Fáil, had sponsored a very similar bill back in 2015; however, with that party now the leading member of the current coalition Government, their leaders have welcomed the speculator’s plan for Moore Street.
The Government department most concerned with the Moore Street issues is the Department of Heritage, part of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage3. When Heather Humphries was the Minister responsible for Heritage she championed the bid of property speculator Joe O’Reilly to get control of Nos. 24-25 (owned by DCC) at the end of the central Moore Street terrace in exchange for the four buildings the State had declared a National Monument (Nos.14-17).
When Dublin City councillors voted not to allow that “land-swap”, against the recommendation of the City Managers, she castigated them publicly. She also instructed her legal team to appeal the High Court Judgement of March 2016 that the whole area is a National Historical Monument and in February was successful in having the judgement set aside.4 When Humphries attended Moore Street during the Easter 2016 events she was picketed and booed when she spoke. However, the current Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien actually put in a submission against the proposed demolition of a building at the south end of Moore Street; however the Planning Department of Dublin City Council approved it.
As Minister 1n 2016, Humphries set up a Consultative Group on Moore Street on which all the Dáil political parties had a seat, along with a couple of councillors. From the campaigners, only the Jim Connolly Heron group had representation on it. The Minister’s group (latterly “Advisory”) has been in operation from 2016 until late last year but seems to have achieved nothing. The Hammerson Plan was welcomed by its Chairperson and by some of its members, including Brian O’Neill, Chairperson of the 1916 Relatives Association which seems a volte-face of that organisation, which had the conservation of the Moore Street battlefield as a central point of the Association’s constitution. However, the Hammerson plan was strongly opposed by others in the Minister’s Group, including Jim Connolly Heron. Outside the Minister’s Group, the opposition is even more widescale.
The planning permission given to Hammerson will be appealed to An Bord Pleanála but the Bord has a bad reputation with conservation campaigners, who see it as generally favouring the property developers5. Scheduling the appeal would take at least two months and possibly much longer. Should the campaigners not succeed at that stage, a legal challenge is also a possibility. Alongside the exploring of these options, street activities such as the rally on Saturday are likely. In 2016 conservation campaigners occupied the buildings for six days, blockaded them for six weeks, organised marches, rallies, pickets, re-enactments, concerts, history tours and public meetings.
Moore Street might be in for a hot summer. Or, given how long some processes have taken to date, even a hot Autumn.
2 The name they used was Sráid Uí Mhórdha, which is also the one on DCC’s street nameplate. However, it has been widely accepted in recent years that the correct name in Irish is Sráid an Mhúraigh, which is the one recorded in the State’s database for place-names, logainm.ie and furthermore is the version used in Sinn Féin’s own Bill currently proceeding through the Dáil.