FREE STATE SHELLING OF THE FOUR COURTS COMMEMORATED IN DUBLIN

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 3 mins.)

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.

Section of NGA march outside Croppies’ Acre (Photo sourced: Internet)

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.

Free State Army attacking the Republican garrison of the Four Courts with artillery, rifle and machine-gun fire. (Photo sourced: Internet)

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.

Poster commemorating one of the Republicans killed by the Free State (Photo: D.Breatnach)
One of the commemorative posters attached to lampposts (Photo: D.Breatnach)

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.”

The NGA rally, the MC (Photo: D.Breatnach)
View of the crowd at the rally outside the Four Courts (Photo: D.Breatnach)

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.”

(Photo: D.Breatnach)

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.

Senior Garda officer taking notes while speakers are addressing the crowd (Photo: D.Breatnach)

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.

Section of the lineup waiting to start, outside Croppies’ Acre (Photo: D.Breatnach)

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.

Reading the lyrics of Soldiers of Twenty-Two (Photo sourced: D.Breatnach)

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

Reading the 1922 Proclamation (Photo: D.Breatnach)

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.

Main speaker, Tim Horgan (Photo: D.Breatnach)

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.

One of the participants takes a rest
Banner of one of the groups attending (Photo: D.Breatnach)
Some of those in attendance (Photo: D.Breatnach)

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.

End.

Lowering of the flags in honour of the martyrs (Photo: D.Breatnach)
Civil War/ Counterrevolution commemoration (image: photograph of flyer)

Forthcoming talk (image: photograph of flyer)

FOOTNOTES

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.

2 The Republican Roll of Honour, The Last Post.

3 https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/what-was-the-real-death-toll-of-the-irish-civil-war-1.4858308

4https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKOSCuLtlAY for a rendition of this song. It author seems unknown.

5From Wikipedia entry

USEFUL LINKS

https://www.facebook.com/NationalGravesAssociation

http://www.nga.ie/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Graves_Association

Ballyseedy Massacre: https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/stories-of-the-revolution-ballyseedy-and-the-civil-war-s-worst-atrocity-1.2462070

Varadkar admitted those killed without trial had been murdered: https://www.thejournal.ie/free-state-executions-4387452-Dec2018/

Death toll: https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/what-was-the-real-death-toll-of-the-irish-civil-war-1.4858308

PROTEST ABOUT POLICE EVICTIONS AT STORE STREET GARDA STATION

Clive Sulish

(Reading time: 1 min.)

Passers-by on foot and on the Luas tram lines watched curiously as housing activists and others held a picket outside Store Street Garda station in Dublin on the evening of 13th June 2022. The picket was called for by the Revolutionary Workers Union, protesting the taking by over 80 Gardaí of a house on Eden Quay and arresting of two occupants, followed by the arrest of another two activists near another address.

Poster advertising the event on social media. (Image sourced: Internet)

The picket was called at fairly short notice and supported by people from a variety of political backgrounds, all with what were clearly home-made placards. Picketing a police station is somewhat counter-intuitive, given that’s to where the police take their prisoners and most people want to stay away from those places, with good reason. However, the station is the location of the police symbolically and in reality and Store Street is one of the main ones in Dublin so, when one wants to protest about the police …… Once having protested at a police station, the apprehension is never quite the same again.

Some passers-by stopped to ask what the protest was about, some of whom expressed anger at the actions of the Gardaí and a reporter from an independent media interviewed some of the participants.

Picketers outside Store Street Garda Station, Dublin City centre on Monday. (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

Some time later the picketers were addressed by Seán Doyle of the RWU who spoke about the morality of the landlords and speculators and the Gardaí who work for them. Doyle contrasted that morality with the one that saw provision for need instead of profit. During the course of his address, Doyle pointed out that the RWU knows people who work in emergency interventions such as with people attempting suicide, who are then brought to agencies to help them but who are soon out again and homeless. “This is not ‘ethnic cleansing’,” the activist said, “it’s class cleansing.”

(Photo: Rebel Breeze)

The RWU spokesperson at the picket remarked on the use of the law and the Gardaí against housing activists while speculators and landlords make big profits out of the misery of homelessness. A law that upholds and defends that kind of practice must be defied, he stated as he drew to a close.

Some of the picketers on Monday (Sean Doyle is second to the right). (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

Seán Doyle was one of two activists that were removed recently by over 80 Gardaí from a one-and-a-half years empty homeless hostel which the RWU had “acquisitioned” and renamed “James Connolly House”. Another premises subsequently acquisitioned, also empty for a long period, the RWU renamed “Liam Mellowes House” and the Gardaí arrested two activists near there also, despite any occupation of the building being a civil law matter and outside the remit of the Gardaí.

The RWU on a number of occasions have called on people to “take back empty buildings” and have declared that they will not be intimidated by arrests but will continue to fight for the right of people to a secure home.

Another view of part of the picket on Monday (Photo: Rebel Breeze)
One of the home-made placards at the event. (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

End.

A placard denounces the recent 80+ Garda eviction of “James Connolly House” and arrest of two occupants (Photo: Rebel Breeze)
(Photo: Rebel Breeze)
(Photo: Rebel Breeze)

FURTHER INFORMATION

https://www.facebook.com/JamesConnollyHouse

https://www.facebook.com/revolutionaryworkersfront/

PROMINENT FASCIST CLAIMS ASSAULTED BY DISABLED WOMAN – THEN FAILS TO ATTEND COURT

Clive Sulish

(Reading time: mins.)

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.

Devoutly sectarian — part of the Islamophobic protest praying the rosary (Photo: Dublin Republicans Against Fascism)

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.”

Photo of Síol early during the islamophobia protest (three in white shirts and black trousers — note their banner folded and Garda protection). Ciaran Reddin furthest to left of their group and McConnell furthest to right. (Photo: Dublin Republicans Against Fascism)

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.

Islamophobes with antifascist in foreground holding placard with text quoting the 1916 Proclamation (Photo: Dublin Republicans Against Fascism)

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.”

Aisling Butler photographed leafleting in Dublin in 2017 (Photo sourced: Internet)

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.

The Islamophobic protesters later in the day (after more arrived from further away) with placard by local counter-protesters to the right of photo (Photo sourced: Al Jazeera)

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

End.

FOOTNOTES

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.

3Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.

4Since the organisation declines to declare its funding sources, it cannot by Irish law register as a political party.

5And also on a number of other occasions.

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.

9https://twitter.com/wsmireland/status/1314903351503523840

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.

SOURCES:

Dublin Republicans Against Fascism: https://www.facebook.com/people/Dublin-Republicans-Against-Fascism/100067893558778/

The Rosary: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosary#:~:text=The%20Holy%20Rosary%20(%2F%CB%88r,to%20count%20the%20component%20prayers.

The Beacon’s report (doesn’t mention DRAF but you can hear the “religious and civil liberties for all” quotation from the Proclamation being shouted on the video): https://the-beacon.ie/2020/07/31/tensions-at-croke-park-as-far-right-gathered-to-protest-against-eid-celebration/

Another report: https://rebelbreeze.com/2020/08/04/civil-and-religous-liberty-vs-religious-bigotry-and-racism/

The Beacon report on conviction of NP member attack on LGBT activist (the mass media omitted to mention his NP membership when reporting on his sentencing but the Beacon omitted the early statement of the Gardaí that nothing of concern had occurred): https://the-beacon.ie/2021/10/19/national-party-member-gets-prison-for-attack-on-lgbtqia-activist-izzy-kamikaze/

PICKET PROTESTS ONGOING INTERNMENT WITHOUT TRIAL AND EXTRADITION OF IRISH REPUBLICANS

The Dublin Committee of the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland held a picket yesterday to highlight the ongoing internment without trial of Irish Republicans and to protest the recent extradition of Liam Campbell to Lithuania, a country to which he has never been. The picket was held in Temple Bar, a tourist quarter of the Dublin’s south city centre.

(Photo source: Anti-Internment Group of Ireland)
(Photo source: Anti-Internment Group of Ireland)

Afterwards, the AIGI issued the following report (reposted with kind permission): “Tourists, Irish shoppers and young people socialising in Dublin city centre were interested to see the banners and placards against internment in Ireland, along with a banner against extradition of Irish Republicans. They also noted the various placards of the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland and the flags of Palestine and the Basque Country, in addition to the Starry Plough flag of the Irish Citizen Army, representing three of the many nations holding political prisoners.

(Photo source: Anti-Internment Group of Ireland)

Supporters distributed up to 200 leaflets and had a number of engagements with people wanting to know more. People were surprised and angry to learn that internment under another name continues in Ireland on both sides of the British Border.

A portable PA machine played resistance music and an AIGI speech from a previous public event which attracted some interest.

(Photo source: Anti-Internment Group of Ireland)

The AIGI’s Facebook page lists approximately 60 political prisoners held in Ireland, mostly in Portlaoise Prison in the Irish state and Maghaberry Jail in the British colony in the north-east of the country. All of those were convicted in special no-jury courts created for the purpose of sentencing political prisoners — i.e nearly always exclusively Irish Republicans. Frequently some charged and facing trial in those special courts are denied bail and are held in custody until their trial comes up, two or three years later and if then chance to be found ‘not guilty’, they will still have spent that time in jail. When granted bail on the other hand it is always under restrictive conditions that prevent them continuing their political activity: e.g night curfew, wearing an electronic tag, banned from attending political activities, etc.

Liam Campbell, an Irish Republican from Dundalk, Co. Louth, was extradited to Lithuania last week to face charges relating to trying to obtain arms in that country. Campbell says that he has never been in that country, which Lithuania and the Irish State both seem to accept yet, after a legal battle of almost 12 years up to the Irish Supreme Court, the Irish Republican was extradited. According to unconfirmed reports Campbell has been granted bail in Lithuania but under what conditions is currently unknown.

The group campaigning against what it sees as ongoing “internment by different names” developed from the campaign to free Marian Price around six years ago and, apart from monthly pickets, has also organised conferences and concerts and representatives have travelled to Belfast, Cork, Derry, Newry and Glasgow. The group has sent messages of solidarity to a Basque liberation group which was read out at the latter’s public event and also to the Mumia Al Jamal and Leonard Peltier campaigns in the USA, Munir Farooghi campaign in England (for which AIGI spoke at public meetings in Ireland), to prisoners in Turkey, Palestine and Latin America. Its street pickets, though legal, have frequently been subject to police harassment on both sides of the British Border — in the Irish state nearly exclusively by the plain-clothes political police, the Special Branch.

The picket yesterday in Temple Bar, view southward towards the Liffey River. (Photo source: Anti-Internment Group of Ireland)

The AIGI report concluded: The Anti-Internment Group of Ireland is a democratic group independent of any political party or organisation that holds monthly awareness-raising pickets, as well as a few special public events every year. It is organised by a democratic committee composed of people who attend our pickets and who would like to become involved in running the group.

NÍ NEART GO CUR LE CHÉILE. AN INJURY TO ONE IS AN INJURY TO ALL.

End.

Contact link for the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland: https://www.facebook.com/Anti-Internment-Group-Of-Ireland-581232915354743/

MESSAGE OF DEFIANCE FROM CONNOLLY HOUSE RALLY

Clive Sulish

(Reading time: 4 mins.)

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.

(Photo: Rebel Breeze)

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.

Section of the crowd at the rally (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

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

Part of the building under occupation on Eden Quay (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

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.”

A speaker addressing the rally (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

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 ”.

Musician performing for the rally (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

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.

End.

(Photo: Rebel Breeze)

FOOTNOTES

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.

2https://www.rte.ie/news/ireland/2022/0429/1295183-homeless-ireland-latest/#:~:text=In%20Dublin%2C%20approximately%20413%20families,not%20surprised%22%20by%20the%20figures.

3https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/arid-40853996.html#:~:text=A%20total%20of%20115%20homeless,the%20number%20was%20under%2050.

4In 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.

REFERENCES & FURTHER INFORMATION

“Connolly House” Court case: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/courts/high-court/salvation-army-secures-injunction-requiring-alleged-trespassers-to-vacate-dublin-building-1.4882076

Revolutionary Workers’ Union: https://www.facebook.com/revolutionaryworkersfront/

https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/50010312/lefroy-house-12-14-eden-quay-marlborough-street-dublin-1-dublin

Apollo House occupation in 2016: https://www.thejournal.ie/homeless-occupy-3143274-Dec2016/

Number of homeless and age breakdown: https://www.rte.ie/news/ireland/2022/0429/1295183-homeless-ireland-latest/#:~:text=In%20Dublin%2C%20approximately%20413%20families,not%20surprised%22%20by%20the%20figures.

Homeless deaths: https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/arid-40853996.html#:~:text=A%20total%20of%20115%20homeless,the%20number%20was%20under%2050.

DEMONSTRATORS CALL FOR A SECULAR MATERNITY HOSPITAL — AND SOCIETY

Clive Sulish

(Reading time: 3 mins.)

View of section of the crowd from Molesworth Street (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

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.

View of section of the crowd in Molesworth Street (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

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.

View of section of the crowd in Kildare Street looking northwards (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

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.

View of centre section of the crowd in Kildare Street (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

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.

Section of the southern end of the protest crowd in Kildare Street (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

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.

End.

FOOTNOTES

  1. 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.

DEATH OF A RETIRED WARRIOR

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 12 mins.)

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.

April 1991 article Evening Mail on conditions in the Glasthule Housing Estate (Source image: CATU)

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.

A Dún Laoghaire IRSP public agitation and information post pictured in the IRSP’S Newspaper (Source image: CATU).

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.

Poster supporting the four framed and on trial for the Sallins Mail Train Robbery, depicting Mick Plunkett on far right of images. (Source image: Internet)

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.

FRANCE – OCTOBER 05: Michael Plunkett, Mary Reid, Stephen King in Vincennes, France on October 05th , 1983. (Photo by Eric BOUVET/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images). Note poster of the Sallins Trial behind them.

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.

Mick Plunkett’s coffin at the funeral parlour, officiated by his daughter Natacha. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

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.

The hearse carrying Mick Plunkett’s coffin arrives at Mt. Jerome cemetery, escorted by guard of honour supplied by the Seamus Costello Memorial Committee (the photo is from their FB page).

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.

Securing the Starry Plough flag to the coffin on the shoulders of relatives of Mick Plunkett, about to be carried into Mt. Jerome’s chapel for a non-religious remembrance event. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

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.

End.

FOOTNOTES

1A harbour town seven miles south of Dublin city centre, in Dublin County but administered by DL-Rathdown Council for some years now.

2Which I heard pronounced as “Lennox”.

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.

7Osgur, Caoilte and Oisín.

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.

14https://sallinsinquirynow.ie/

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.

SOURCES & FURTHER READING

https://rip.ie/death-notice/michael-mick-plunkett-glasthule-dublin/494040

Edward Fitzgerald a republican: https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/praise-the-lord-and-pass-the-egalitarianism-1.1534895

Frescati House (with the curious omission at the time of access of the DHAC sit-in, police attack and subsequent trials): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frescati_House

Call for enquiry into the Sallins case: https://sallinsinquirynow.ie/

Civil and human rights criticism of the Special Criminal Court: https://www.iccl.ie/2022/international-call-for-end-to-special-criminal-court/

Mary Read & Paris frame-up: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Reid_(activist)
https://www.irishtimes.com/news/socialist-republican-and-poet-with-a-big-heart-1.349096
https://www.rte.ie/brainstorm/2020/0325/1126344-1982-irish-republicans-france-mitterrand-vincennes/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sallins_Train_robbery
Sallins frame-up: https://www.rsvplive.ie/news/irish-news/1976-sallins-robbery-saw-nicky-25971809
https://www.thewhistleblower.ie/booking
https://extra.ie/2022/01/17/news/irish-news/hunger-striker-nicky-kelly

UP LIKE A BIRD – a review

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 2 mins.)

He planned the spectacular helicopter escape from Dublin’s Mountjoy Jail and, a year later, planned another escape from there, blasting their way out with smuggled-in explosives. Before he began planning escapes, he operated early in his IRA career as commander of an armed robbery unit, ‘fund-raising’ for the Movement. But when he began robbing banks for himself and his family, the Movement sent assassins to kill him. Up Like a Bird is the story of that man, Brendan Hughes, nowhere near as celebrated as his other IRA namesake but certainly deserving of much more fame than he has received to date.

Brendan Hughes with his book outside Mountjoy Jail (Image sourced: Phoenix Magazine)

Douglas Dalby’s handling of Hughes’ reminiscences, told in Hughes’ voice, is masterly. The book reads like a thriller, hard to put down; we are driven to turn the next page to see what will happen – even when, through history, we know the eventual outcome. We know, for example, that the helicopter escape was carried out and yet, as readers, we tense as Hughes does his investigations, tense tighter as he identifies the components of the plan, moan with frustration at a delay or last-minute hitch, hold our breaths as the action takes place.

The helicopter escape was carried out on 31st October 1973 and from the prison exercise yard three high-level IRA officers were flown to freedom: Chief of Staff Séamus Twomey and senior Volunteers JB O’Hagan and Kevin Mallon. The following year, on 18th August 1974, 19 prisoners escaped, blasting their way through a gate with a small amount of smuggled gelignite. Not only had Hughes planned that operation – he himself was leading the escapers.

INSIGHTS

Apart from the excitement in reading, the book gives us an insight into the world of IRA volunteers active in Dublin and surrounding areas in the 1970s – the ‘safe-houses’ and network of active supporters, the ‘fund-raising’, stolen getaway cars, false identification documents, high-level awareness of the hunted, carrying concealed weapons, the even better-armed police ….

The Mountjoy helicopter escape revealed something even more important and enduring – the cultural bedrock within the Irish state, the sharp division between the elite and the mass. Although the majority of politicians had voted in 1972 for repressive legislation against Republicans and special no-jury courts to sentence them, a song celebrating the escape reached No.1 in the Irish singles disc charts, selling 12,000 copies in the first week despite being banned by the national broadcaster, RTÉ! Composed by Sean McGinley from Castlefin, Co. Donegal and performed by the folk and ‘rebel song’ band The Wolfe Tones1, Up and Away (the Helicopter Song) became the most-played and most-purchased disc for four weeks until nudged out by Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody. It is tempting to think that if the escape had taken place a longer period before the approach of the festive season, that the recording might have remained at the top of the charts for months on end. The counterposing of the anger and embarrassment in elite circles, reflected in ranting of politicians, Garda sweeps and raids and media outrage on the one hand, with the delight and empathy at the lower levels revealed much of the tensions in Irish society and the opposing sympathies of different social classes.

The single that sold 12,000 copies in its first week, containing a jocular song celebrating the helicopter escape. (Image sourced: Internet)

Hughes was a maverick, revelling in the description and though for much of his career that was of value to the Provos, there came a time when it ceased to be so. A guerrilla army must have discipline, of course but it also needs volunteers who can quickly assess a situation and seize the initiative, without referring back to the command structure. The balance between both requirements must be very hard to strike — for individuals as well as for the organisation.

When he and other such activists fell out with their leaderships or “went solo”, they were shunned or worse. In Hughes’ final spell in Mountjoy jail, he was on the “non-aligned” wing of the jail, a Republican prisoner but not under Republican leadership control.

ISOLATION

Hughes says that assassins were sent to kill him – he stayed low and carried a loaded .44 Magnum. The leadership of the Republican movement does not always shoot or beat up its dissidents – more usually, it seeks to isolate them. Friends, neighbours, former comrades and even relatives will be advised to shun those no longer welcome, they and their families.

The family feeling, the communal solidarity in the movement becomes its opposite when the leadership brands its pariahs.

Cover of the book (Image credit: Siopa Gaeilge)

Hughes feels he was betrayed to the political police, the Special Branch of the Irish State. But what he says he felt the worst was the treatment of his family while he was in jail. No space on a Republican prison visitor communal transport was made available to his wife and children and cars containing former friends and acquaintances would pass them at the side of the road, even in the rain.

It seems Hughes finds that unforgivable — and no wonder.

As a postscript, Hughes surprisingly declares his support for the Good Friday Agreement, the pacification process. He had been a man of action and, as he said himself, not one for thinking through ideology or politics. But it doesn’t take any great grasp of ideology or politics to see that today it’s more or less business as before in a partitioned Ireland occupied by a foreign power.

End.

UP LIKE A BIRD, Hughes, Brendan; Dalby, Douglas (2022)

FOOTNOTES

1Named after Theobald Wolfe Tone, a leader of Irish republican revolutionary organisation the United Irishmen, died in prison in 1798.

SOURCES

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Helicopter_Song

SUBJECTED TO A MEDIA DISINFORMATION ONSLAUGHT

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time main text: 12 mins.)

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

Mural on the Falls Road depicting Andersonstown women breaking the British cordon, Falls Curfew, 1970 (Source photo: Wikipedia)
Cutting of unknown newspaper report displaying misrepresentation of the struggle, despite being friendly towards the women who broke the British Army siege of the Falls Road, July 1970.
(Source photo: Step Back Ireland)

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

Local people searching in the rubble of McGurk’s Bar after the bombing by Loyalists killing 15 but which was blamed on the Republican armed organisations. (Photo credit: AP)

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.

Documentary program maker Roger Bolton’s account of his hounding by government and media about an accurate documentary of the 1988 SAS murders of three unarmed IRA Volunteers in Gibraltar. (Image sourced: Internet).

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.

Scene of 1973 bombing in Sackville Place, Dublin city centre. The bombing the previous year was irrationally blamed on the IRA and the panic was used to collapse the opposition to proposed undemocratic repressive legislation, which was passed and is with us to this day. (Photo sourced: Stair na hÉireann Facebook page)

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.

The illogical focus on the IRA as the source of the 1972 and ‘73 bombings and the consequent failure to investigate them and follow up on the likely perpetrators had a horrific result in 1974: three bombs in Dublin city centre and one in Monaghan town centre killed 34 and injured around 30034, the highest number of people killed in any one day during the 30 Years War (often conveniently forgotten by the media, as for example in this report https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/army-knew-mcgurks-bar-bomb-was-placed-in-doorway-solicitor-says-35516460.html.)

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.

WITHIN BRITAIN

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 innocent Birmingham Six at their appearance in court after being beaten up by prison warders as they arrived at the jail falsely charged with the bombings in Birmingham. The mass media played a major role in their being found guilty and in frustrating campaigns to free them which only succeeded 17 years later. (Image sourced: Internet)

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.

Exposure of the case against the Birmingham Six published by Frs. Murray and Faul as early as one year after the convictions of the innocent men. (Source image: Internet)

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.

WHY?

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?

End.

FOOTNOTES

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.

6Ironically, the first serving British soldier killed in the Six Counties was killed by indescriminate firing by the RUC into the nationalist area of Divis Flats in Belfast. Trooper Hugh McCabe of the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars was home on leave, staying with his family when the RUC opened fire with machine-gun on the nationalist area (this was one of the incidents that led to the barricading of “no go” areas excluding the RUC and later also the British Army). Three others were also killed by RUC bullets, including a nine-year-old boy. It took over 50 years for the families to get an acknowledgement and apology after an Ombudsman’s report. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/may/06/ruc-erred-at-troubles-dawn-by-firing-on-flats-from-armoured-cars#:~:text=Patrick%20Rooney%2C%20nine%2C%20Hugh%20McCabe,the%20Divis%20and%20Ardoyne%20areas.

7People had learned to make those in defence against RUC and Loyalist attacks during the earlier Civil Rights period.

8A large Belfast nationalist area separated from the Falls area by unionist areas and the city centre.

9https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falls_Curfew

10https://www.irishnews.com/news/northernirelandnews/2021/02/16/news/new-details-about-death-of-first-british-soldier-killed-by-pira-revealed-by-former-commanding-officer-2222034/

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.

13Quoted from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McGurk%27s_Bar_bombing, accessed on 11 April 2022.

14Ibid.

15Campbell was the only person ever to have been charged for the atrocity.

16https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-irish-ira-report-idUKTRE71K2U520110221

17https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Demetrius#:~:text=It%20involved%20the%20mass%20arrest,Ireland%20against%20the%20British%20state.

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.

19http://www.ballymurphymassacre.com/cms/massacre/

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.

21https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/ten-shot-dead-in-ballymurphy-massacre-entirely-innocent-coroner-finds-1.4561691

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.

24https://belfastmedia.com/springhill-westrock-massacre

25https://www.academia.edu/3176252/The_Media_on_the_Rock_The_Media_and_the_Gibraltar_Killings

26https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Flavius#Aftermath

27https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0332489319881245n

28https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/o-connell-tower-in-glasnevin-reopens-47-years-after-bomb-blast-1.3460774

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.

31https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/wolfe-tone-statue and https://www.irishphotoarchive.ie/image/I000063xdWJKXewQ

32The parliament of the Irish State.

33For the most recent statements by the Irish Council of Civil Liberties on the no-jury Special Criminal Courts, see https://www.iccl.ie/2021/iccl-special-criminal-court-a-fundamental-denial-of-constitutional-rights-to-a-fair-trial/ and https://www.iccl.ie/2022/international-call-for-end-to-special-criminal-court/

34https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dublin_and_Monaghan_bombings

35https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/lethal-allies-british-collusion-in-ireland-a-shameful-part-of-our-troubled-history-1.1578119

36Patrick Maguire was only 14 at the time and Vincent only 17.

37https://www.thejusticegap.com/buried-alive-case-judy-ward-25-years/

38In the case of at least one of the Guildford Four, while she was in a psycho-tropic drug episode.

39The Birmingham Framework — Six Innocent Men Framed for the Birmingham Bombings, by Fr. Denis Faul and Fr. Raymond Murray (1976), https://cain.ulster.ac.uk/events/other/1974/faul76.htm

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.

SOURCES

The Battle of the Falls/ Falls Curfew: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falls_Curfew

The RUC killed the first serving British soldier along with three civilians in 1969: https://belfastmedia.com/trooper-mccabe-1969-truth-still-hidden
and https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/may/06/ruc-erred-at-troubles-dawn-by-firing-on-flats-from-armoured-cars#:~:text=Patrick%20Rooney%2C%20nine%2C%20Hugh%20McCabe,the%20Divis%20and%20Ardoyne%20areas.

Internment without trial: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Demetrius#:~:text=It%20involved%20the%20mass%20arrest,Ireland%20against%20the%20British%20state.

Ballymurphy Massacre: http://www.ballymurphymassacre.com/cms/massacre/
and https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/ten-shot-dead-in-ballymurphy-massacre-entirely-innocent-coroner-finds-1.4561691

Bloody Sunday Massacre Derry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloody_Sunday_(1972)#Murder_investigation

Springhill Massacre:

https://belfastmedia.com/springhill-westrock-massacre

The first acknowledged serving British soldier killed in the Six Counties, 1971: https://www.irishnews.com/news/northernirelandnews/2021/02/16/news/new-details-about-death-of-first-british-soldier-killed-by-pira-revealed-by-former-commanding-officer-2222034/

40 years after McGurk’s Bar bombing: https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-irish-ira-report-idUKTRE71K2U520110221
50 years after: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/fifty-years-on-and-grief-of-the-mcgurk-s-bar-massacre-still-resonates-1.4746143

Gibraltar murder of three IRA Volunteers: https://www.academia.edu/3176252/The_Media_on_the_Rock_The_Media_and_the_Gibraltar_Killings

In the Irish State
Wolfe Tone grave Bodenstown blown up by Loyalists:

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0332489319881245n

Dublin bombings 1972 & 1973: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1972_and_1973_Dublin_bombings

Dublin and Monaghan Bombing 1974: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dublin_and_Monaghan_bombings

Review of Lethal Allies (2013) by Anne Cadwaller: https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/lethal-allies-british-collusion-in-ireland-a-shameful-part-of-our-troubled-history-1.1578119

In Britain:
The Birmingham Framework by Frs. Murray and Faul: https://cain.ulster.ac.uk/events/other/1974/faul76.htm

The Guildford Four and Maguire Seven: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guildford_Four_and_Maguire_Seven

Judith Ward: https://www.thejusticegap.com/buried-alive-case-judy-ward-25-years/

ANTI-INTERNMENT MESSAGE GOES OUT UNDETERRED BY POLITICAL POLICE SURVEILLANCE

(Reading time: 1 minute)

Clive Sulish

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.

Section of the anti-internment picket in Dublin last week (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

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.

Plainclothes political policeman (in blue top, far left of photo) stood a little distance away facing the picketers but they were not intimidated (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

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.

(Photo: Rebel Breeze)