Mick Healy of the Irish Marxist History Project was kind enough to interview me about some of the issues about which I have been active. Parts I and II were published together a couple of months ago and here’s Part III now.
Mostly its snippets about the founding of the Irish in Britain Representation Group, my involvement in the foundation of the Lewisham branch of IBRG in SE London and from there, the Lewisham Irish Centre. Also my participation in Kurdish solidarity and a trade union delegation to Turkish-occupied Kurdistan (the YPG placard photo is of me in Trafalgar Square, London a couple of years ago when I was over visiting kids & grandkids) and the anti-water charge campaign in Ireland.
Liam Herrick, Executive Director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Mallachy Steenson, Irish Republican and practicing lawyer, on Friday 7th June addressed a Dublin meeting on The Right to Protest, convened by the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee.
The origins of the Anti-Internment Committee and the Right to Protest
Opening the meeting and speaking for the organisers, the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee, Diarmuid Breatnach welcomed the attendance, introduced the Committee and related how it had grown out of a previous committee, to have Marion Prices released from prison, which had been partially successful (she was released pending trial but her health was destroyed). She and a number of other former Republican prisoners who had been released under license under the Good Friday Agreement, such as Martin Corey and more recently Tony Taylor, had their licenses revoked and were brought to jail without a trial or the right to challenge whatever evidence the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland claimed to have against them. Some considered this a form of internment by some and the Anti-Internment Committee had been set up in June 2013.
Breatnach emphasised that the Dublin Committee had always been and remained — attempts at takeover and accusation notwithstanding — independent of any other organisation and committed to reaching decisions in a democratic manner and conducting themselves in a principled manner towards other organisations. The Committee organises the annual Anti-Internment rally in Newry and holds more-or-less monthly pickets in different parts of Dublin, which anyone is welcome to support, he told the audience.
Although the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee updates a list of Republican prisoners in jail and also raises issues about the human rights of Republican prisoners such as right to education and art work, appropriate medical treatment, release from solitary confinement and on occasion about miscarriages of justice such as the Craigavon Two, nine years in jail now – nevertheless the true focus of the Committee is on issues of internment.
Introducing other areas of repression by the states on both sides of the Border which the Committee considers to be types of internment, Breatnach outlined the practice of refusing bail to the accused or of making bail conditional on the individuals removing themselves from all political activity. When the accused justifiably refused to accept these conditions, they were jailed, only perhaps to be found not guilty two or three years later, as had been the case with Stephen Murney. But still having effectively served a jail sentence.
“The right to protest is everywhere under attack” stated Breatnach and declared that maintaining that right was necessary for the winning and maintaining of a wide group of basic social and political rights, from practicing one’s sexuality or religion, or indeed criticising the Church, to forming a trade union, going on strike and marching against unjust laws or measures. Breatnach bemoaned the apparent inability of a number of Republican groups to unite in defence of this right and of Socialists in uniting with them even on this most basic of levels. “We can either stand together or fall separately” he said.
Internment is used by states against political opponents, said Breatnach, recalling that the British had used it in Ireland after the 1916 Rising, the new Irish state had used it during the Civil War and again during WWII under De Valera; the British in the Six Counties between 1971 and 1975.
Internment is a means of “removing unwanted members of the public”, Breatnach said, quoting the words of anti-insurgency specialist Brigadier Frank Kitson, who had been present during the repression of the Malayan resistance and also an operational Commander in Ireland from 1970-1972, years which Breatnach reminded his listeners were those covering the introduction of internment and the massacres of civilians in Ballymurphy and Derry.
Referring to the infamous “Heavy Gang” of the Gárda Síochána whose brutal methods had extracted false confessions on the Sallins Mail Train robbery from socialist republicans in the 1970s and from the family in the Kerry Babies case, Breatnach recalled the formation of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties at that time and that it had been a campaiging organisation unafraid to challenge the State on its repressive actions. Sadly over the years the organisation had fallen away from that path, he said and he was particularly glad to welcome Liam Herrick of the ICCL to speak at the meeting and in the hope that the organisation was returning to its roots.
LIAM HERRICK, ICCL: The Right to Protest and the work of the ICCL.
After the applause, Liam Herrick thanked the Committee for having invited him to speak. He wished to list some of the efforts in which the Irish Council of Liberties was engaged and also to hear from the audience some of the problems they were encountering.
Briefly covering the early years of his organisation, Herrick related that it had been formed as a response to police repression, mostly of Republicans but also of some Socialists, and in particular due to the activities of the Gárda unit known as the “Heavy Gang”, by academics, activists and lawyers. It had taken up early cases of the ill-treatment of detainees, the use of the Offences Against the State Act, repression of protesters of the Ronald Reagan visit including the case of Petra Breatnach in 1984 and Water protests in the mid-1990s, also in the street-traders’ protests in which Tony Gregory was prominent.
The issue of the right to protest and State repression had come up again a number of times including in 2002 against the Anti-War Movement with the use of the OAS Act and in particular with the Reclaim the Streets protest in 2002, in which video recording of police actions had revealed the extent of police brutality without any arrests. Similar problems had been encountered by protesters at the 2004 EU Council meeting in Dublin, and water canons had even been imported by the State from the UK and widescale repression and had come up again at the Corrib Shell protests.
The ICCL had in 2014 published “Know Your Rights” booklet. And had called for a root and branch review of procedures for dealing with protests, noting that there existed a major gap in rights and policing process and has published a publication by the title of “Take Back the Streets” and has made submissions to the EU and the UN on how states should not just tolerate but manage and create conditions to facilitate the right to protest. The ICCL is part of a network which includes the ACLU in the US.
“If Notifications to the authorities are required should be minimal and reasonable”, Herrick said and gave the contrary example of African Jews who wished to protest against Israeli measures but were charged a 25,000 dollars as a cost of the application for permission.
Police should have a chain of command to deal with protests and be trained not only in weapons and control movements as they are at present but also in de-escalation, in engagement with protesters. Their internal Garda policies should be available to public access but are not.
Herrick said journalists should be facilitated in having access and only just employees of big media organisations but alternative media and individual bloggers whose coverage is often essential to understanding the incidents at an event (in the Reclaim the Streets event such sources were the only source on the Garda violence). There should be restrictions on the use of force as is law and police in Northern Ireland, whatever people might think about practice on the ground, Liam Herrick said. The PSNI every 6 months have to submit a report to the Policing Board which details incidents o the use of force. In the Irish state Gárdaí don’t have to make any report on the use of force which is remarkable in the European context – the use of pepper-spray would seem to be increasing here but no records are available..
Surveillance is an issue and of course can intimidate and have “a chilling effect on protest”, Herrick said. In England face recognition technology is being used which apart from questions about its accuracy, is intrusive. Also trapping of mobile phone activity in the vicinity of a protest. Data collection is an issue and there should be no database on protesters maintained; covert agents have been used and in some cases become personally involved with those they were surveilling – a recording procedure is needed. There needs to be an independent complaint process as the existing process in Ireland has been shown to be inadequate.
At the moment the ICCL is involved in discussions on Gárda reform and the following Friday would be producing a document on Human Rights Policing which people are welcome to read. The international perception is that the law and policy of the PSNI is good, without making any comment on their practice on the ground. The Gardaí should publish a report on their handling of protests every year including statistics (despite the problems on drink-driving statistics) on arrests and the use of non-lethal weapons.
The Gardaí in Ireland have a national security function and there needs to be a discussion on this – in many other countries a separate body is responsible for this. But no legal body is overseeing the operation of the Gardaí on national security or the powers they exercise.
Liam Herrick concluded to applause and Breatnach told the audience that questions could be asked of him and of the next speaker after the conclusion of the latter, then introducing Mallachy Steenson to welcoming applause.
MALLACHY STEENSON: Republicans and the Right to Protest
Mallachy quoted the right to protest under Article 41 of the Constitution of the State under which document however Republicans would not support.
Moving on to suppression of protests Steenson referred to the most frequently used being the Public Order Act, justification which depends on the subjective view of a cop and is therefore virtually unchallengeable. The result is usually a fine but the use of the Offences Against the State Act is much more serious. In the 1950s there were many arrests of Republicans under the section which prohibits a demonstration within a certain distance of the Dáil and Section 30 was widely used.
Steenson pointed out that almost any gathering of Republicans consitutes some kind of protest due to the basic opposition to the State of Republicans. Funerals are usually protests too, partly in solidarity with the family, partly with movement but also of making a stand and, in the case of the ten dead 1981 Hunger Strikers, in solidarity with their Five Demands.
Steenson believes that most of the protests that occur in the state will be allowed because the they don’t threaten the state from the “trendy liberal side”. For example the housing protests including activist occupations are permitted but when a house was occupied in Charlemont Street and in preparation for moving in a family three years earlier, armed police removed the occupiers.
“The State takes a different view of Republicans” Steenson declared. Referring to the 2016 Sinn Féin Easter 1916 commemorations, Steenson wondered whether they remember their history because the 76th anniversary of the Rising commemoration (1992) was banned and people on the platform arrested. The 66th anniversary commemoration had been beaten off the street in Dublin and people arrested for “membership”, including his own father and others.
“What we have is mostly controlled dissent”, Steenson said. “People remember the Birmingham Six” but are not aware that their campaigners here had their homes raided by police, their jobs visited by the Special Branch, threatened and often lost their jobs.
“What has happened in Ireland is a privatisation of dissent,” Steenson said. “They are funded by the State and he who pays the piper calls the tune.”
The only ones who could really carry out a successful protest in Ireland were the farmers who here, as in France, had no hesitation to block roads and motorways and dump slurry at the Dáil, Steenson declared. The only other really effective protest that hurts the State is the withdrawal of labour as in a general strike – which should have happened when the banks were bailed out — but the trade union movement in Ireland works hand in glove with the State.
“Republicans are well-used to surveillance” Steenson went on to say with a reference to “the new MI5 Garda Commissioner” who declared upon coming into office that the biggest threat to the State is the armed ‘dissident’ Republicans, which Steenson commented were no real threat to anyone except themselves.
“The State is built on the defeat of the Republic,” said Steenson and therefore naturally Republicans are its enemy. Referring to the water protests and their suggested victory, Steenson opined that the success was only due to Fianna Fáil changing sides and he believed that the USC (Universal Social Charge) should be the main object of protest which takes much more out of people’s pockets.
In 1972 the British Embassy in Dublin had been burned in protest at the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry. Steenson declared that too was managed by the State, having a national Day of Mourning, allowing people to blow off their anger at the sacrifice of a building and listed other protests he believed had been managed or controlled by the State, including the medical cards for the elderly.
People should be able to go to protest without asking the State, Mallachy believed and asked what is a valid protest, referring to gathering protest against the expected visit of Trump while that of Clinton in Dublin passed quietly by without protest. “What is it about Trump?” asked Steenson. “If it’s about killing people, Clinton killed many more. If it’s about treatment of women, well we all know Clinton’s record on that.”
The real problem impacting on most working people is drugs, Steenson said, and the gangs involved in it. Families Against Drugs had been a big campaign but some of the activists were in it to get funding. “People should separate their political activism and their job,” Steenson declared. “We need to move away from having paid groups organise protests”, Mallachy said. “Most protests now are during the week,” he added, “because activists don’t want to interfere with their weekends.”
“We need to look at what is an issue and what is effective”, he said and talked about empty houses and the way housing protesters in the 1960s and ’70s not only occupied them but moved homeless families into them.
“During WWII we didn’t intern Germans or English here”, Steenson commented, “we interned Republicans.”
“Protests will be allowed as long as they don’t threaten the State”, Steenson said, coming to a conclusion and the only ones organising protests that threaten the State are Republicans. He posed the question whether democracy is any use to working people, because it had not brought them much.complained too about police being masked and said that in a normal society you would not have that, nor armed police everyday on the streets. He commented also on the degree of video surveillance used by the State which could track people from leaving the door of the building all the way home.
“Gardaí are there to protect the State, not to protect the citizen, whatever combination of political parties are in government,” he told his audience. “To them and to the State, Republicans are the enemy. That’s just the way it is.”
CONTRIBUTIONS AND QUESTIONS FROM THE AUDIENCE
After the applause following Steenson’s talk, Breatnach opened up the meeting to contribution or questions from the audience, asking them to keep them brief and telling them he was going to take questions in groups and the speakers could choose to which to reply.
An audience members spoke about the level of repression from Lurgan RUC/PSNI and how eight people had been charged and their bail conditions were not to associate with one another but two of them live near one another.
A contribution declared that Drew Harris being appointed as Garda Commissioner was equivalent to a railroad to jail and related a case of an elderly woman being persecuted in Rossport.
Another directed a question specifically at Liam Herricks about treatment of people in some of the rural courts where protesters were being very badly treated.
An Ireland Palestine Solidarity Committee activist said that usually they don’t get much trouble from the Gárdaí but more often from the private sectors, from private security personnel when they protest at a business as part of the solidarity campaign. And the Bank of Ireland had closed their account, which caused the organisation considerable difficulty. He wondered whether this was the State’s influence under pressure from the Israelis or others, or instead the banking company under pressure from the same sources or from financial sources. Or whether it was part of the general “de-risking” measures people talked about. The Cuba support group had suffered a similar problem.
Relating his contribution to issues of surveillance, one person described a car journey from an event for about two hours across Dublin, after which he stopped at a fast food takeaway facility. He had felt followed earlier on and when the Garda came in behind him in the takeaway with the usual harassment, he confronted the officer and asked him how had followed him all that way. The Gárda pointed to cameras above on street poles and said: “We don’t have to follow you, they do.”
Another person related how “membership of an illegal organisation” is being frequently used to jail Republicans under the OAS on the word, without the need to display any proof, of a Gárda senior officer.
He thought he had heard of one case where it had been used against a gang member and wanted to know were there any others that the speakers knew of?
Neither had heard of any and Mallachy commented that next year the OAS will be 40 years old. Liam Herrick referred to a piece of research carried out by Nuala Ní Fhaoláin at the UN.
A Polish and a Catalan separately expressed their solidarity with Irish people struggling against repression, briefly alluding to their own struggles and the Polish person mentioning the recent arrest and jailing of a comrade of his in Turkey.
As there were no further questions or contributions, Breatnach thanked people for their attendance, the speakers for the talks and audience members for their contribution and asked for contribution towards the rent of the room. “This is not the beginning of a broad campaign to defend human rights or if it leads to it, it will not by our Committee leading it,” said Breatnach, adding that no doubt they would be happy to contribute to such a campaign. Urging people present to keep in touch with internment issues through the End Internment Facebook page he stressed once again the need to unite across ideological divisions against State repression.
A number of public meetings in Dublin about similar issues followed the one above in quick succession, no doubt coincidentally:
A meeting as part of the Anarchist Bookfair on Saturday 15th September on “State Violence and Cover-ups: Community Responses” heard from a speaker on police infiltration of campaigning groups; from Anne Cadwaller of the Pat Finucane Centre (also author of the “Lethal Allies” exposure) about colonial police and British Army collusion with Loyalist murder gangs; and from Hilary Darcy about what might be considered legitimate reforms to be pursued by revolutionaries.
A public meeting in Abolishthe Special Criminal Courts campaign was held on 17th September and heard from international and Irish speakers.
In addition five days after the Right to Protest meeting, masked Gardaí brandishing batons and pepper-spray cannisters assisted a masked “security team” in evicting housing campaigners carrying out a symbolic occupation of an empty building, drawing protest statements from Liam Herrick on behalf of the ICCL to be followed, most unusually, by Colm O’Gorman on behalf of Amnesty International. Five or six housing protesters were detained and at least one was injured..
A few days after that, Gardaí turned up with machine guns and a battering ram to a house where a couple were in dispute with their landlord, leaving when supporters of the couple arrived.
This Autumn I made myself available to give talks in the southern Basque Country (i.e. in the Spanish state) on the situation of Irish political prisoners and a series was arranged for mid-October for nearly two weeks.
As well as having private conversations, I gave a total of five public talks to audiences ranging in size from ten to over forty. The composition of the audiences varied from youths to older middle-aged; in some places the latter predominated and in some, the former.
All the meetings I spoke at were arranged by an organisation called Amnistia Ta Askatasuna which calls for total amnesty for Basque political prisoners. This was also a demand of the whole movement and of the leadership of the Abertzale Left until fairly recently and the Gestoras pro-Amnistia organisation had been created under the Abertzale Left umbrella but then banned by the Spanish State. But the Abertzale Left’s leadership have now dropped this demand from public discourse, saying the conditions are not ripe for it and concentrating instead on the end of the dispersal. (More about this and the Basque prisoner situation later).
I had not intended to confine my talks to those organised by ATA but it was they who organised the talks on dates that were offered, with the exception of one from an independent source that unfortunately clashed with one I had already accepted elsewhere.
The types of venues for the talks were community cultural centres (two), occupied buildings (two) and one local (a space for which the users’ association paid rent and used for their activities). Geographically, the talks were held in Gernika and two in Bilbao (Bizkaia province), Etxarri (Nafarroa) and Ibarra (Guipuzkoa province). There were none in Alava province (although earlier this year I gave interviews to Hala Bedi pirate radio there, in Gastheiz/ Vitoria). On this occasion also I gave a video interview to a rapper who also makes videos for Hala Bedi, though he is located in Bizkaia.
From conversations and discussion it became clear that all the older people in the audiences were veterans of the Basque struggle over decades and a number were ex-prisoners. Some had relatives in jail. The youths had come to political activity or thinking in recent years.
For the content of the talks I briefly reviewed the more distant history of political prisoners in Ireland, moving on then to the Good Friday Agreement and the release of
most Irish Republican prisoners in the Six Counties under its terms. The re-arrest and jailing without charge of a number of these ex-prisoners was part of the talk, in which the specific examples given were of Marian Price, Martin Corey and Tony Taylor. I also dealt with the procedure of arrest on ridiculous charges and refusal of bail, or granting it under undemocratic and restrictive conditions, for which I used Stephen Murney as an example. These were all members of different organisations or none. Conviction on charges which the evidence does not support is also a category I mentioned, giving the Craigavon Two as an example there. Arrest on possession of arms charges is also a feature on both sides of the Border.
With regard to the 26 Counties, i.e the Irish state, I discussed the Special Court, Membership-of-an-illegal-organisation charges and charges of obtaining arms or having assisted terrorism. I mentioned the planned second Special Court in particular in the context of the State’s failure to convict most of the Jobstown protesters on charges that included “false imprisonment” (i.e kidnapping).
While noting that splits had occurred before in the Republican movement – the Provisionals themselves having emerged from such a split in 1970 – I noted that since the GFA, splits had multiplied and listed a number of the resulting organisations, including those that had existed already at that time.
Listing the number of Irish political prisoners (at the latest count then 79) and reminding the audience that the Irish had extended solidarity to Basque political prisoners, I asked the Basques for solidarity towards our political prisoners too. And I did so not only as a moral issue of internationalist solidarity but also in recognition that internationalist solidarity is one of the first casualties (i.e aspects to drop or weaken) by those who are seeking to surrender the struggle or even to become collaborators.
I timed the talks to give sufficient space for – and encouraged — questions and comments, even critical ones.
It was interesting that the same questions tended to come up again and again:
Did the different Republican organisations cooperate with one another inside and outside the jails?
What were the conditions in the prisons like for the prisoners?
How are political prisoners in ill-health being treated?
Is there a dispersal issue with regard to political prisoners?
Did the population support the prisoners?
What were the conditions for their release under the Good Friday Agreement?
Did INLA prisoners sign the GFA release agreement?
Are there armed actions continuing in Ireland?
Are the youth involved in solidarity actions and campaigns?
What was the attitude of Sinn Féin towards the political prisoners?
Are prisoners “on the run” still in danger of arrest and imprisonment?
In one meeting, one of the smaller audiences and containing only youth, I was asked about the role of women in the national liberation struggle in Ireland today.
Some of the questions asked reflect the situation of the Basque political prisoners and also of the censored and inaccurate information about Ireland that reaches them, including through the Abertzale Left‘s (the “official” umbrella organisation) daily newspaper, GARA. At a number of times in the past spokespersons of the Abertzale Left’s organisations had claimed that there were no longer Irish political prisoners, a claim repeated in GARA. More recently, the tendency is to ignore their existence or to represent them as very few, without a program other than return to armed struggle and without a support base (i.e Sinn Féin’s line).
The new direction of the Abertzale Left’s leadership, which included a “permanent truce” and disarmament of their armed organisation ETA (formally declared in January 2011) was said at the time to have been agreed by the Basque political prisoners in their organisation EPPK. There have been persistent claims by friends and relatives of some prisoners and by some prisoners released in the last couple of years that they had not even been consulted.
A number of people to whom I spoke claimed that the prisoners’ collective no longer really exists, with prisoners left to act individually; some others said this was true to an extent but not completely. Certainly one feels a general air of disillusionment and uncertainty – and also of anger. And it is true that a small number of prisoners have formally denounced the leadership and left the collective.
From figures collected in 2003, up to 30,000 Basque activists out of a total population of less than three million) had been arrested, 8,170 were accused of being members of ETA and roughly half of those convicted and imprisoned. The prisoners’ relatives and friends’ organisation Etxerat (also under the Abertzale Left’s umbrella) in its July-September report of this year (2017) recognises 315 Basque political prisoners, of which 310 are dispersed through 61 prisons, with only two in 2 prisons in the Basque Country.
In 39 prisons in the Spanish state, 239 Basque political prisoners are being kept and 68 in twenty prisons of the French state. There are 212 (68.85%) Basque political prisoners in prisons at distances of between 600 and 1,100 km of the Basque Country; from a distance of 400 to 590 km from their country there are 67 (21.75 %) and between 100 and 390 km of home another 29 (9.40 %).
The strain on relatives and friends is considerable, road accidents are frequenton their journeys to visit prisonersand a number have been killed.
Twenty-one prisoners (21) are diagnosed as being seriously or terminally ill and according to the states’ own penal codes should have been released on parole to home or hospital but instead of reducing the number of sick prisoners the total is climbing (almost doubled in recent years). I accompanied ATA comrades to the port town of Ondarroa to participate in a demonstration organised by a broad platform calling for the release of terminally-ill Basque political prisoner Ibon Iparragirre.
The Spanish state has rejected all the “peace process” (sic) overtures of the Abertzale Left leadership and says that ETA should just disappear and prisoners wishing to be pardoned and released must repent their previous actions, apologise to their “victims” and give information on their previous activities and comrades. It also says that all still at liberty and wanted for past illegal activities will continue to be pursued.
COMMENTS AND CONTRIBUTIONS
These too tended to be of a kind to come up again and again throughout the tour:
The situation in Ireland with regard to the liberation movement and prisoners is like that in the Basque Country or that which the latter will face as time goes on
The prisoners’ cause is being deserted by the Abertzale Left leadership
Their media and leadership had lied to the movement about the situation in Ireland
The leadership is only interested in penetrating the institutions and is neglecting the politics of the street
Otaegi and Adams are alike and McGuinness was a traitor when he asked people to inform on paramilitaries
The Abertzale Left did not of course comment on the talks – why would they? However, in Ibarra, I saw posters for the meeting torn down in areas where other political ones remained and according to my hosts, this was the work of the “oficialistas” (i.e followers of the leadership’s line) in the town. It was notable too that with a few exceptions, a number of people within the Abertzale Left but whom I know to be very critical of the change of direction, did not attend the talks held in their areas. Since some had previously attended a meeting at which I spoke a year ago and engaged in discussion critical of the Abertzale leadership, I took it that these either disapproved of the ATA organisers or did not wish, for whatever reason, to be seen attending a meeting held by the organisation.
At all the talks I was received with friendliness and courtesy and after some I had a meal in company in a txoko (Basque building — or part of one — owned or rented by a gastronomic association) or the home of my hosts for the evening. Although I invited criticisms with genuine interest in hearing them, none were voiced publicly, whether of the content of my talk or of the Irish people generally — although there were some questions as to why the people “in the south” had not supported more widely the “struggle in the north”. I explained that what they call “the north” is one-fifth or the country and also divided in its population; in addition the Republican movement had left the social and economic concerns of the people in the other four-fifths largely unaddressed and in fact had opposed some social reforms in earlier times. People in the 26 Counties had given a lot of support but without mobilising them on their own concerns and specific conditions this was likely to be a minority activity and to decline over time.
CATALUNYA: SOUTHERN BASQUE ATTITUDE TO THE STRUGGLE THERE
Inevitably, the struggle in Catalunya came into the discourse at some point – after all, I had arrived in Euskal Herria just under two weeks after the Referendum.
The Catalan national flags, the esteladas (both versions) were in evidence across the Basque Country as were some solidarity banners and posters. The two solidarity demonstrations I witnessed (and in which I participated but for a while – each having been called for the same evening as my talk locally) in Nafarroa and in Bizkaia appeared to have been called by the “official” movement and were fairly small and quiet. The largest, of over fifty people, did not even have a flag, placard or banner, which was puzzling.
It was reported to me that some time back, the Abertzale Left had been close to the militant CUP (Catalan left-wing and independist popular movement) but now were moving closer to the Eskerra Republicana, often perceived as being less militant and closer to the Catalan bourgeoisie. Among the critics of the Abertzale Left leadership and others there seemed to be a doubt that the Catalan leadership was serious; however, both the “officials” and the “dissidents” had sent people to help the Catalans in their referendum.
After the Spanish police violence on October 1st there was a feeling that the Catalans were enduring what the Basques had endured for decades so why the great shock now? When two leaders of the Catalan movement were arrested and jailed without bail and called “political prisoners”, of course the Basques pointed to their own hundreds of political prisoners (and also to two Catalans who were ETA prisoners). The failure to declare a Republic on the promised day seemed to bear out those with a more cynical view but actions since then and the application of the repressive Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution are bound to raise feelings of respect and solidarity across the Basque national liberation movement, whether “official” or “dissident”.
It is clear that there is interest in the Irish situation and of that of the prisoners in at least some sections of the broad Basque national liberation movement. It is also clear that there is a substantial discomfort with the direction of the Abertzale Left’s leadership since 2011 (and for some since even earlier). Frustration is also evident as is a great concern for the political prisoners and a worry that they are being left without leadership, to come to their own arrangements with the Spanish state or to endure many more years in jail or die there (as Kepa De Hoyo did in August and as Ibon Iparragirre faces now).
This level of concern, disquiet and even distrust is not currently reflected in great numbers attending pickets or demonstrations organised by ATA, as numbers attending the talks showed in some areas but as the talks also showed, there is a network of support for ATA across the southern Basque Country. It was clear that a greater lead-up would have resulted in talks being hosted in further areas, including the province of Alava which was not included on this occasion. The general composition of the movement represented by ATA is healthy in its spread across generations, comprised of veterans (including ex-prisoners) and youth new to the struggle.
From a personal point of view it was an interesting if somewhat hectic and stressful period but also one that increased my understanding of the reality.
From a political perspective I hope it helped build some links for solidarity between the struggles in each of the two nations and an awareness that pacification processes are not an alternative but only another face of repression. For the struggles in which so many have sacrificed so much to succeed, we need to raise our awareness of these processes. In these processes political prisoners, often seen by their populations as heroes and people to be cherished, are used by the repressive power as hostages and often too as bargaining counters, the temptation always there for some of those in struggle to use them in kind.
When the Irish financial bubble, expanded far beyond capacity, finally burst and the private banks that had caused the crisis were bailed out with public money, the Irish people did not immediately rise up. The big trade unions made some noises, called hundreds of thousands to march, then collapsed. The smaller unions, for the most part, caved in afterwards.
It was not long before the Irish people began to be jeered and insulted – and for the most part, by some people who were themselves Irish. They seemed unaware of a thousand years of militant resistance to foreign occupation and many workers’ battles over decades. The frustration, if that was the cause of their insults (not to say contempt), was understandable. Less so, I pointed out at the time, was their dismissal of the only force that could possibly save us – the Irish people.
“The people?” they jeered. “You mean the SHEEPLE!”
They pointed to massive demonstrations and riots in Greece and in France and to none in Ireland. I commented that all their insults could possibly achieve would be to discourage the Irish people further. The limitations under which the Irish people laboured needed to be understood. There was no large revolutionary party in Ireland to provide leadership. There was not even a militant radical social-democratic party or reformist Communist Party. There were no militant trade unions to provide organisation. These things existed in Greece and in France.
Our trade unions had twenty years of “social partnership” – i.e they had during that time negotiated agreements nearly always without industrial action in joint committees where the unions, the employers and the State each had representatives. Their fighting muscle had atrophied to the extent it no longer existed. Notwithstanding all their faults, the Greek and French unions had not similarly wasted away their muscle. Our trade union leaderships had settled for a comfortable life, highly paid, building up their memberships and safeguarding their officers and structures, or trying to, neglecting the purpose for which those unions had been created. They were captains of ships in dry dock, shining and varnished, but riddled with worm holes and sails safely furled – they would never take to sea and be tested in any storm.
As time went by, we saw no significant reforms in the French situation as austerity bit there. There was much excitement in Left social-democratic and Trotskyist quarters as the Greeks elected a social-democratic party with a radical program of resistance to austerity measures. The Greeks had been driven to a much worse economic situation than had the Irish – during the winter, many schools had to close as heating could not be supplied. But then the radical Greek party and new Government collapsed under pressure from the EU’s financial commissars.
The people in the Spanish state were marching in their hundreds of thousands under a new party that was not really a party, they said. But it turned out if one did some digging, that it was not such a new party/ non-party after all, as its leadership came from the old reformist Communist Party-Trotskyist alliance, Izquierda Unida. But still …. huge marches and then huge electoral gains (for what was now without question a political party – Podemos).
But the Spanish ruling class, although unable to receive a governing mandate for a single political party, carried on with its austerity program. Evictions continued as did a great many suicides of those evicted or about to be evicted.
IRELAND (THE 26 COUNTIES)
Meanwhile, what about the “Irish Sheeple”? What were they doing?
They too began to march, in small numbers at first, then larger until they choked the capital city’s centre. The media under-reported them, lied about numbers, stopped doing aerial photos that would show the full extent of the masses in protest.
First in line of the resistance movement was the Household Charge. The campaign slogan proposed by independent protesters and small parties and political organisations was “Don’t register, don’t pay.” Despite that tactic, the most effective to defeat the Charge, not being supported by the alternative party with the highest number of elected representatives in the Dáil (Irish Parliament), i.e Sinn Féin and despite no trade union mobilising against it, the ruling class had to concede defeat. But they changed the tax to the Household Charge and made it collectable from people’s salaries at source, changing the law in order to do so.
The Water Charge was next. The people already paid for water supply maintenance through ordinary taxation and, it later emerged, through the diversion of Motor Tax to pay for the water! Nevertheless, a new charge was levied and again, the campaigners asked the people: “Don’t register, don’t pay!” Again, this tactic was not supported by the same alternative political party or the unions, although they all declared that they were, of course, against the Water Charge.
Despite police harassment, violence and arrests, people in local areas began to block the work-gangs installing the water meters. Some arrested activists refused to obey a court injunction intended to paralyse their activities and were sent to jail. A large protest demonstration marched to their jail and they were released. Many trials collapsed and activists, though hampered by many court attendances, walked free. Some others paid their fines and continued their resistance.
Police attacks on water charge and anti-austerity protesters multiplied and pickets, particularly of women, protested outside Garda stations.
Hundreds of people began to march, then thousands. As the numbers grew, the reformists of political party and trade union climbed on board and the numbers continued to rise to hundreds of thousands. The media were exposed as they grossly underplayed the numbers.
Meanwhile, another struggle had been shaping up, between heritage conservationists campaigning to save a valuable piece of the City Centre of huge historical importance from property speculators. Firstly the State was obliged to declare four houses in Moore Street as of historical preservation status (while however the Planning Department of the local authority gave planning permission for a huge “shopping mall” of a number of acres around those houses). Subsequently campaigners prevented the Planning Department from carrying out a land-swap of Council land to facilitate the Speculator.
Then the State had to buy four houses in the historic terrace; at the same time their plans to demolish three other houses in the same terrace were prevented by their occupation by protesters for five days and a subsequent blockade of demolition workers of almost six weeks.
The blockade ended when a case taken by a concerned individual to the High Court resulted in a judgement that the whole quarter is a historical 1916 monument (against which judgement the Minister of Heritage is currently appealing, scheduled for hearing December 2017).
During the 1916 State commemorations, the Minister of Heritage’s hypocritical laying of a wreath in Moore Street was met with vociferous denunciation by campaigners on the spot, without any of the protesters being arrested.
Two years before that Moore Street event, a mass protest for had prevented two hoursthe Minister for Social Protection’s car from leaving a working class area where she had gone to attend a ceremony.
“Enough!” cried the ruling class and they argued about what to do, their more revanchist section winning the argument. They were going for maximum legal attack, to teach those protesters a lesson and frighten all others in future.
The offensive against the resistance was planned. Early morning raids, to increase disruption and fear. Mass arrests, including of a juvenile. This latter might have looked like a mistake, as it was obvious he’d attract sympathy — but actually it was cleverly thought out. They put his trial on first – in the Juvenile Court where the judge can get away with more, where access to media was restricted to one representative each of print and audio media and where no members of the public were permitted entry. And they found him guilty, of course they did. They avoided much of sympathy outcry by giving the youth a non-custodial sentence but – and this was the crucial thing – they had found him guilty of “false imprisonment”. They now had a precedent for the eighteen or so awaiting trial in the adult court.
The media mostly colluded, of course in their news coverage of events, trial and in comment.
The trial process began with an attempt to eliminate from the jury those who disagreed with the Water Charge (i.e most ordinary people) and people from the area where the incident had taken place. Then the Minister herself, in the witness box for four days, regularly failing to answer the questions of the Defence lawyers but using the opportunity instead to attack the defendants, without attempt by the Judge to direct her to answer the question and confine herself to doing so. After all, it’s the Prosecution lawyers’ job to draw out the unfavourable comments.
That was followed by two similar days with the Minister’s secretary, who had been in the car with her at Jobstown.
Then police officers, lying through their teeth. This is of course a regular occurrence in the courts but unfortunately for them, they were contradicted by video and audio recording. Somehow, not only one but several Gardaí heard one of the defendants say something which the recording showed he had not.
Finally, all were found not guilty. The next group were to be tried similarly on charges of false imprisonment but also with use of violence. But how could the State find them guilty of kidnapping on the same evidence that a jury had rejected in the case of the first group? Would even the violence charges stick? The ruling class took a decision to cut their losses, avoid a possible second defeat and decided to drop the charges against them too and against another group scheduled for later still.
POLICE CORRUPTION AND COVER-UPS
Meanwhile, independently of all but perhaps distantly affected by the people’s resistance and the anger at the behaviour of the police, two whistle-blowers emerged from among the Gardaí to accuse them of allowing powerful people to escape drunk-driving charges. Then it emerged that people charged with driving offences had been automatically convicted without the option to defend themselves in court. That was followed by revelations that the Gardaí had claimed to have stopped hundreds of drivers for drink-driving tests which they had not in fact done – and the false numbers grew to thousands. And then Gardaí senior officers tried to discredit one of the whistle-blowers by implying he was a paedophile and even enlisting the involvement of a child-protection agency.
Before the conclusion of the Jobstown trials, general elections had been held. The ruling class in the Irish State has not managed to have an overall majority for a single one of its political parties since 1981 — and this election was no exception. However, one of the parties of the ruling class (its favourite actually, since shortly after the creation of the State) now felt the pressure of the people and made non-implementation of the Water Charge a condition of not bringing the minority Government down, to which the parties in governing coalition were obliged to agree.
As a result of all this (and a number of other less-highly publicised corruption and wrongdoing by Gardaí cases), eventually Allan Shatter, Minister for Justice and Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, the highest-ranking officer in the Gardaí had to resign. Less than three years later, the new Commissioner, similarly implicated but now also in a scandal regarding officers’ financial corruption, had to resign as well.
In this period, during which Irish people had been compared to sheep, cursed and denounced by some from the “Left” and compared unfavourably with protesters in Greece, France and Spain (despite the people of those three states having failed to succeed to any significant degree), the Irish people have
Totally defeated the Household Tax and obliged the ruling class to change the law and substitute another Tax collectable from income
Paralysed the Water Tax (Charge)
Exposed the mass media
Halted the Government and Dublin City Council’s Planning Department plans to give a historical memory area in the City Centre, prime “development” land, to speculators
Prevented the Government demolition of historic buildings in that area by campaigning, occupation of buildings and a blockade, without a single protester being arrested
Helped obtain a historic judgement from the High Court that the whole quarter is a historical 1916 Monument
Vociferously denounced the Minister of Heritage while she was laying a 1916 wreath at Easter in Moore Street, without a single protester being arrested or prevented from the denunciation
Held up the Minister of Social Protection’s car in mass protest for two hours
Exposed the police in violence and in corruption
Defeated plansto deal a major blow to the right to protest by conviction on kidnapping charges
Caused the resignation of a Minister of Justice and two Garda Commissioners inside a period of three years
And all this was achieved by the Irish people without the organisation or leadership of a mass revolutionary or radical political party or a mass militant trade union.
An old, old debate or discussion has broken out of late. It has been inspired or regenerated by the inability of the main political parties of the ruling class to achieve a ruling majority in the Dáil, even in coalition. Another factor has been the growth of Sinn Féin seats to a number sufficient to attract another party into getting them into a coalition government. And another General Election cannot be far off.
The debate or discussion is sparked by questions something like this:
Should a coalition of revolutionary socialists and radical social-democrats put together a joint slate to present themselves and agreed policies to the electorate?
And a different question (but not completely different in the minds of some of that potential slate above, I suspect):
Should a party that presents itself to some supporters as revolutionary, to some others as radical, participate in a coalition with one of the traditional ruling class parties to form a government?
Against either of those possibilities, groups of anarchists and non-Sinn Féin Republicans, in rare agreement, declare that no such initiatives should be supported; the anarchists, because they do not believe in bourgeois elections or parliaments and the republicans, because this is not a Republic which they can legitimise by taking part in their state elections. Some revolutionary socialists and others of varying hues argue that the system will corrupt those who take part in their institutions and provide a long list of those to whom that has happened historically (and both anarchists and republicans can nod their heads in agreement at the list).
Social democrats and some others argue that an election provides an opportunity to put in to power a different administration, one which has the actual power to change things. They argue that it is their duty to take advantage of that opportunity and accept its challenges; they charge their critics with being dreamers who prefer to hold on to their ideological purity for some distant day rather than to address the real situation in the here and now.
TAKE PART IN GOVERNMENT?
There is room for some fruitful debate and discussion around some of these positions but one thing seems clear to me: it can never be permissible for revolutionaries, under any excuse whatsoever, to be part of a government to run the country for the capitalist ruling class. The capitalist ruling class is our enemy and we are irreconcilably hostile to it and must remain so. We work for the day when we can overthrow that class and put the workers in charge and no honeyed words of exception or self-deception can change that fact.
Undermine it from within? Use their institutions against them from the inside? Throughout history, all those who have attempted that (or who pretended to for their own careerism) have shown that far from subverting the system, it was they who were or became subverted.
Yes, it is a philosophical truth that just because something happened before is no guarantee that it will happen again. Even if it happened every time in the past. Although jumping from the tenth floor of a building on to hard ground has killed hundreds over time, it is philosophically possible that someone could survive it now – even unharmed. But it is not a scientific nor a historical probability. One is entitled to try it with one’s own life but not with the lives of others.
Those who formed Fianna Fáil crossed over that line not long after they split from Sinn Féin: not only that but the party soon became, despite its Republican and nationalist roots and rhetoric of being for a 32-County Republic, the preferredpolitical party of the Irish foreign-dependent capitalist class in the 26 Counties and virtually unknown in the Six.
The Sinn Féin we know today (Provisional Sinn Féin, as they no longer like to be called), the largest survivor of a number of large and smaller organisational splits since the days of the creation of Fianna Fáil, also crossed over that line. In a sense, they did so in an even worse (or more obvious) way than had Fianna Fáil – Sinn Féin participated in a colonial government, the administration of an armed foreign aggressor.
That party is heading for entry into a capitalist coalition government in the 26 Counties, if only it can find a partner willing to accept it for the dance. Based on its history in government in the Six Counties and some other measures, the SF party leadership strives to prove to the Irish capitalist class that it can be trusted to manage the system, alone or in partnership with one of the main capitalist parties.
The President of the party has said that “Sinn Féin doesn’t have a problem with capitalism”. The party’s leadership refused to support the “Don’t register, don’t pay” slogan of the early campaigns against the Household Tax and later against the Water Charge (the first was defeated by popular resistance following those slogans and the second is on hold, due to a number of factors ultimately arising out of popular resistance). Dublin local authority councillors of the party voted to hand over public land on a prime Dublin site to private property speculators. The party’s leadership has shown itself publicly welcoming to every imperialist or zionist representative to visit them, including the mass-murdering political leadership of the USA and the British monarch and Commander of the Armed Forces which is enforcing the occupation of one fifth of the country.
But it is not only necessary for SF’s leadership to convince the Irish ruling class (and its foreign partners) – in order to get elected, it has to also convince its own following and thousands outside of that. So some anti-imperialist and left posturing is necessary. Of course it is opposed to the Water Charge and was also opposed to the Household Tax, it tells people – it was just that it couldn’t ask people to risk going to jail and losing their homes by taking part in civil disobedience. And it does put some of its followers out on the street in demonstrations against the Water Charge.
In defence of the vote of Dublin City councillors, it declares that through the deal, it got funding for a percentage of public housing on the site – wasn’t that good? Perhaps, but better than a 100% public building program of its own on its own land, using the many construction workers currently idle? Hardly. And once public land is gone, it is gone for ever (well, forever short of the kind of revolution that SF declares to be unrealistic).
So Left words for its potential voting public, soothing words to its long-suffering membership and acts of collaboration and collusion (and signals of more of the same) to the ruling class. And for the collaborationist careerists jumping into the party.
A SLATE OF REVOLUTIONARY AND RADICAL LEFT CANDIDATES
A revolutionary coalition with SF, even if it were to agree to such a thing, would be for any movement of resistance to cut its own throat. But what of the other parties, groupings and independent political activists?
In my opinion, it might well be worth supporting an attempt to create such a coalition, presenting a list of revolutionary or even radically progressive demands.
“But isn’t that reformist and in contradiction to the revolutionary vision?” If it were reformist, i.e with only the intention of reforming, I would say yes, it is in clear contradiction to our vision. If it were to suspend popular organisation and mobilisation and to put its faith in the outcome of the elections, I would be against it.
But the intention here should be to form a revolutionary and/or radical ParliamentaryOpposition, putting forward radical reforms which would, if achieved, make living conditions and resistance much easier for the working people and extortion and repression much more difficult for the ruling class. And meanwhile revolutionaries should never cease in their revolutionary propaganda that only the overthrow of the ruling class can bring about deep and permanent changes for the benefit of the working class.
Tom Stokes, a commentator on political affairs and media reporting for many years, in August 2015 published a list of policies or demands upon which such a slate could be based, upon which they could campaign (https://theirishrepublic.wordpress.com/2015/08/22/broad-left-policy-platform-essential-now/). Although the manifesto did not gather much publicly-expressed support at the time, it seemed to me then and seems still to be a worthwhile initiative and one to consider for any builders of a putative Left electoral slate.
A POSSIBLE LEFT SLATE MANIFESTO
This is the list which Stokes published, without any claim to it being definitive. However, a list of demands for a Slate of candidates to agree to cannot be exhaustive – there will have to give and take, as he acknowledged. The important thing from a revolutionary point of view should be that it points the way forward to resolving the economic problems facing the working class and the majority of the people in general and to the radical improvement of their rights. Further on, I give my own thoughts on this manifesto. 1 Adequate, affordable, secure housing as a right, where necessary through public provision.
2 A single-tier publicly funded, secular and excellent education system with no provision from the exchequer for private fee-paying schools with exclusive enrollment policies. Religious instruction outside school-hours. Ending the university-controlled points system for third-level entry. Free third-level or vocational education/training subject to contractual obligation to work within the state for any three of first five years post-graduation with debt-related penalties for non-compliance.
3 The right of all children to adequate housing, nourishment and provision of health and care according to need, guaranteed by the state.
4 The right of workers to employment, or to further education or training as required, including those who wish re-enter the labour ‘market’.
5 A living wage, the ending of oppressive zero-hour contracts, workers’ right-to-organise and right-to-negotiate guaranteed by the state.
6 Full equality for women including pay-rates, personal autonomy and dignity including reproductive rights. Repeal of the Eighth Amendment. Provision of supports for mothers and carers commensurate with their contribution to society for that work.
7 State ownership of essential services, natural resources & physical infrastructure. Constitutional provision for public ownership of water and protection of Mother Earth.
8 Empowerment of communities, starting with disadvantaged communities – rural and urban. State support for community initiatives to achieve personal and community empowerment.
9 Strong laws against public and private corruption with strict sanctions. Ending political appointments to judiciary. Curbing legal costs for citizens. Equal access to civil courts regardless of means. Refocusing criminal justice system and penal system. Taking politics out of policing in favour of civic obligations.
10 Realigning taxation system to shift burden towards wealthiest. Ending tax-exile status, tax loopholes and tax-havens. Enforcing Corporation Tax.
11 Properly codifying the state’s position on neutrality, opposition to war, concentration on international and intra-national conflict-resolution and peace-keeping. Adherence to international codes on prevention of torture, refugees, humanitarian obligations, etc.
12 Proper commitment to reunify the people of the island through concerted, direct, rational dialogue with the objective of creating a fully representative all-Ireland parliament based on equality, respect and civil and religious freedoms.
13 Greater local and regional democratic control as appropriate. Making government fully accountable to parliament and the people. Creation of a democratically elected upper house to speed legislation and as a counter to excessive power of parliament. Installing a publicly accessible online register of lobbyists and a publicly accessible tendering system for state acquisitions, both updated daily.
14 Regulation of media in terms of ownership and the public’s right to essential information, fairly and accurately delivered. Active fostering of ideological diversity in media in the public interest. Insistence on journalistic ethics in the public interest. Higher values of Public Service Broadcasting a requirement for state media.
15 A commitment to expedite a widespread public consultation process towards creating a new constitution for a genuine republic.
Let us examine these demands now.
1. Decent, affordable housing is an obvious necessity so as not to have people sleeping on the streets, families in unsuitable accommodation, people at the mercy of landlords and others slaving to pay the monthly rent or mortgage. And public provision is the obvious way to provide this.
2. The right to secular education as a norm is a basic democratic right and should have been a Republican demand from the outset. No church should be permitted to exercise any control over admission to — or content of — education; any religious group that wishes its children to be instructed in its religion should pay for that themselves and provide it outside of school hours. And unless we have free third-level education only those already more privileged will be able to avail of it or will plunge themselves into debt in order to do so.
(I am unsure about the inflicting penalties for not working within the State after graduation – if we provide a decent economic and social environment it seems to me that most people would want to stay or to return after they had left and we should avoid coercion where possible).
3. Children are our future and must be accorded full legal and social protection – the contrary to what our State has done for decades. How can we disagree with that?
4 &5. It seems to me that we can combine these under the right of workers to employment and training and organisation. Further, workers must be permitted to exercise their latent power in order to ensure those things are provided. We need the acknowledgement and legalisation not only of the right to strike in defence of the demands of one’s own workplace but in support of others. This would remove a gag and chain on the working class at present which prevents trade unionists, at threat of the sequestration of all or part of their funds, from supporting action by workers who are in weaker positions. If the Left Slate were to achieve this alone, even though it could all be nullified later, it would be a great step forward. Were they not to succeed in achieving it, their raising it as an objective on their platform would be a strong indication of the direction for workers to take.
6. Full equality for women under the law must be a central demand of any democratic platform. The right to abortion is a recognised right in all liberal and socialist societies with the exception of Muslim states, the USA and the 26 Counties. I myself am in support of that right but it remains a divisive issue among the largest alternative movement in this state, the Republican movement and is opposed by many others. This issue should be discussed in any Left electoral slate. Nevertheless, Amendment 8 to the Constitution has no right there and should be removed.
7. One would think that demanding State ownership of all Ireland’s natural resources would be unopposed within a Left Coalition slate. I am not convinced that would be so. And since I do not expect socialism to arrive through a parliamentary majority, I would settle for some specified areas: oil, gas, water infrastructure, sea, rivers and lakes. And public transport, water infrastructure, roads and telecommunications infrastructure.
The abolition of the Water Charge would be popular and is obviously a necessity on a number of levels, not least the democratic one that maintenance of a drinkable water supply has already been paid for in two different taxes. A change in the Constitution that would put our water services beyond privatisation would also be a great relief and a step forward.
8. No-one considering a Left Electoral Slate organisation is going to argue with “empowerment ….. of disadvantaged communities” — the difficulties will arise over how to interpret that demand, what will be the specific targets and timeframes, the amount of financial investment.
9. This is an extremely wide-ranging point. Clearly the judiciary should be separate from other forms of administration or political interests. Clearly too, those who hold posts of public responsibility should suffer strong sanctions should they behave corruptly while in office. And obviously, given a democratic society’s reliance on law to manage their affairs, taking cases should not be the prerogative of the rich, which means reducing the cost of such procedures drastically, including appeals. And it seems to me that most people would support such changes, though they would be frantically opposed by special interest groups.
10. Realigning the tax burden to fall upon the rich and closing tax loopholes (more like tax flood gates!) for the rich, ending exile tax status etc all seem commendable and fair to the people, the majority of the population, who bear the actual burden of a number of taxes. And the Left Slate could push those objectives on to whatever government gets elected, as popular demands which the bourgeois parties (and their compromisers) could not concede. But careful! The revolutionaries inside the Left Slate should make it clear that they are not for fairer taxes on the rich and working people, but instead for the expropriation of the rich, whose stolen wealth is to returned to the working class. We do not intend to become part of any government inside a capitalist society, for reasons I shall go into a little further on.
11. There is no question but that the position of the Left Slate should be for a real neutrality on the part of the State, making it increasingly difficult for the ruling class to indulge any dreams of returning to a British Commonwealth or to joining NATO. Such alliances have dire consequences not only for millions of people abroad but also ultimately at home – one consequence alone would be to facilitate foreign military intervention in the 26-County state in the event of an insurrection or even the election of a Left-leaning government. Alliances of that sort always include a “mutual assistance” clause and we can be sure that the “mutual assistance” envisaged is one between the capitalist ruling classes of the various states.
Prevention of torture should be a human rights requirement of every nation and state but, on the contrary, it is ensured in practice by none. Those who complain of their followers being tortured have been shown time and time again to be willing to inflict it themselves – always for the “highest” of reasons. There is no reason to believe therefore that no participants among the Left Slate will at some point, finding conditions favouring such a practice, indulge in it themselves. But the Slate should in any case incorporate it into its program. And thereby also, it might be said, strive to build some protection for its own members and supporters from such practices by the Gardaí and prison guards.
In the field of human rights and under the principles of internationalist solidarity, it is clear too that a Left Slate should advocate and push for a humane regime for the processing of refugees and migrant workers and their integration into the population.
12. This seems like a progressive demand but actually I do not support it. This is something perhaps for a revolutionary government and such can only come about after the overthrow of capitalism.
But I do think that the Left Slate should advocate the reunification of the island and religious freedom. Understanding the composition of the Irish Left, inclusion of reunification in the Manifesto is bound to run into difficulties from some quarters – revolutionaries, not just Republicans, will have to consider whether to compromise to some extent on this demand for an agreed Left Slate manifesto (while retaining their own political demands outside of that) and, if so, how to do so.
13. The creation of a register of political lobbyists is not actually a revolutionary demand but I think revolutionaries should support it. Such a register will help to expose the lines of communication and mutual assistance of capitalist political parties and the capitalists themselves. The same goes for tendering for State and local authority projects. But I do not support the rest of those demands. They seem to me to envisage a Left Government, trying to make the system better and, at the same time, stabilising it. This is not what revolutionaries are about. Besides which it seems to me that the creation of another parliamentary tier is counter-democratic and would tend to increased bureaucracy.
14. I understand the motivation for this but find it difficult to envisage how it might be achieves. Anti-monopoly legislation might for a while hamper media monopolisation but the experience of other countries shows that ultimately, it will not be successful. Enforcing a system of right of reply (as distinct from a voluntary one adopted by the media) for those who feel they have been misrepresented in the media is one possibility. Another might be enforcing the right of publication of a counter-report when substantiation can be provided on, for example, the numbers reported as attending a demonstration or the events during a confrontation between police and demonstrators.
But definitely, the Left Slate should push for the lifting of State restrictions on community radio and television, with the aim of facilitating a diversity of such broadcasting, including news reporting, political commentary, cultural performance and discussion, etc.
15. I do not oppose this point nor do I endorse it. A new Constitution worth having, in my view, is a revolutionary one and as such, can only be properly conceived of by a population that has passed through a revolutionary process and been, in the course of that, revolutionised and empowered.
SHOULD REVOLUTIONARIES SUPPORT THE FORMATION OF A LEFT SLATE?
“OK, so let us imagine that a credible Left Slate is agreed and presents itself for election. Should revolutionaries ask people to vote for it?”
I think so. But it should also be clear that organisation and mobilisation in struggle and resistance should not diminish one iota but, on the contrary, intensify. And revolutionaries should clearly tell the public that only the complete overthrow of the ruling class can usher in lasting change – and that the working class should prepare themselves for that struggle. But also that, whatever members of that coalition slate may say or do, the revolutionaries will never participate in any administration of the old system, i.e no national government prior to the overthrow of the capitalist system and the expropriation of the capitalist class.
“Perhaps revolutionaries should then just ignore the Left slate and concentrate exclusively on revolutionary work – organising and supporting campaigns of resistance, ideological and historical education?”
I strongly disagree. Campaigning for such a slate would bring revolutionary ideology to thousands of working people who are currently unreachable by the revolutionaries. And many people will want to know what revolutionaries think of the Left Slate and of its policies.
And anyway, just because we are revolutionaries, does that mean we are against reforms? Not at all – in our history as revolutionaries, we have been some of the most resolute campaigners for reforms and defenders of them when they have been won! However we are not reformists – the kind of people who believe in a radical or steady improvement in life by reforms but leaving the capitalist system in place.
But we are for reforms that strengthen the working class, the movement of resistance. For examples: the right of workers to combine and strike; the shorter working week and safety legislation; the abolition of child labour; universal education; the right to vote for all adults regardless of gender or property; equal rights regardless of sexuality; abolition of slavery; abolition of racist laws and regulations; the right to oppose invasion; separation of Church and State; the right to protest and campaign politically; the right to freedom of speech and of the press; universal free health care; free or cheap childcare; low-rental housing. These were all rights that we fought for and many were hard-won.
“OK, so revolutionaries could organise electoral support work for the Left Slate – but surely not participate in the actual Slate? Revolutionaries should not present any candidates, of course.”
But why not? We are not against elections in all cases. We elect people to responsible positions in our organisations, decide policies by vote at congresses, decide tactical and strategic aims by voting too. What we are against is not voting but bourgeois elections, where no real change is offered, where we are encouraged to put our faith in some representatives of the existing system and to leave things in their hands for a number of years with little control over what they say or do. Revolutionaries can make it clear that is not what we are about as well as making it clear what we are about, what we intend to do if elected – and if elected, stick to that.
Revolutionary representatives within the Dáil (the Irish Parliament), elected as part of a Left Slate, can work among the other successful candidates of the Slate to strengthen adherence to the list of demands and to combat drift away from them or towards other concessions to the ruling class.
And if we are part of the discussion on the Manifesto and the Slate, we can also participate in the fight to agree that Manifesto in the first place because it is certain that will not be an easy struggle. But let us never forget that the role of the Left in any Parliament should be to support the struggles of the working people outside – not the other way around.
NO TO A LEFT GOVERNMENT
As revolutionaries, we are for the overthrow of the system, the expropriation of the rich, the empowerment of the working people. There will be arguments and discussions about how best to achieve those aims and that’s fine. Let the people, participating in those discussions, decide, experiment, make mistakes, revise. But that can only really take place in practice when the people hold revolutionary power, i.e after the overthrow of the capitalist system.
Should a situation exist where a Left Government be elected, or looks likely to be elected, the social democracts and liberals will quickly call for slowing down, for less struggle, to let them get under way. At this point the capitalist class must be weak, perhaps divided among themselves on how to respond, perhaps unsure of the reliability of their repressive forces, the police and army. Or perhaps, though weakened, the ruling class is merely biding its time, organising a coup or some other event. Or, very likely, instead or in addition to the above, they are working with elements inside the Left Government or Party to seduce them, to arrange compromises, etc.
This is the point at which revolutionaries, far from resting and wait-and-see, far from facilitating a Government that is trying to stabilise the system in its hour of difficulty, should instead intensify their mobilisations, their actions, and organise the people more militantly and more daringly, pushing for more rapid enactments of popular demands. Should the ruling class be paralysed or indecisive, they should be shocked further and further, exactly as their disaster capitalists have done to national systems, as described by Naomi Klein in Shock Doctrine (2007).
We can hardly be free do all that from inside a Left Government.
Of course those in the Left Government will plead with us and with the people to give them more time; they will tell the people their great plans, perhaps plead their difficulties. They will accuse the revolutionaries of being disrupters, wreckers, saboteurs …. They may send their police to arrest us.
It will not be the first time in our history to be accused of such things. And in a sense, they will be right — we do intend to wreck the system and we do intend to wreck their project of stabilising it. We intend to overthrow it all and to bring in socialism, the organisation of society and its productive forces and resources by and for the benefit of the people. And that’s the wheel we’ll keep pushing and rolling.
Old election posters: https://irishelectionliterature.com/tag/old-fianna-fail-election-poster/
I am so shocked at that verdict. What a travesty! That’s the trouble with the jury system, I often thought – it doesn’t always do what’s right. A pity you couldn’t have brought them to the Special Criminal Court, where there’s no jury at all. I bet you regret you and the Party voting against the Special Criminal Court in 2009. The judge did her best but what can you do with the likes of them – who knows where they dragged that jury up from! ‘Not Guilty’ indeed!
I attended court while you were giving evidence and I thought you were magnificent. Four days in the witness box and you managed to answer hardly any question put to you by the Defence lawyers. And in the course of it, still managing to get digs in at the Defendants — those Communist and Republican agitators! It was a most impressive performance!
Of course, in another court, on another day, you might not have got away with it so much but all due credit for playing the field and taking full advantage of the referee you had!
I have to say, your assistant Karen O’Connell was quite good too, even if she only played half the time you did – two days, wasn’t it? I had to get back to our business by then – have to keep an eye on the staff — but I read about it.
A pity about her slip at Jobstown, however, calling them “dregs” …. But they ARE the dregs aren’t they? Unemployed and probably all on drugs, probably unmarried, letting their kids run around and who knows what, not that I’m prejudiced but just calling it like it is. But Karen should have remembered it’s the votes of the dregs you and your party need too. Not that I’m political, really – I just want the country managed so that we can run our businesses without having disruption, or having to look over our shoulder ….
It was clever how you all tried to get over that slip, by her saying that what she meant by “dregs” was “the remainder, like what’s left in a cup of tea” … but I don’t think most people believed it. Your request to be allowed to view the video footage on your own first because you were becoming emotional was brilliant, though! Those who know you in the Dáil wouldn’t fall for you being that soft for one minute but it was a really good one to play on the jury.
How outrageous that the Defence were able to use your own Ipad conversations against you! That really shouldn’t be allowed. Doesn’t it come under an “invasion of privacy” or something? How disgusting to know their slimy hands were on recordings of your voices and of the Gardaí – makes me shudder just to think about it!
And you were right, years ago, to complain about these protesters having Ipads, just for videoing at protests. There they were, contradicting Garda evidence with their video footage! Someone should have a word with the Gardaí, though. I understand that if you want to convict someone, you need to have a number of witnesses saying he did or said something wrong. But all agreeing on one sentence which the video proves he didn’t say? That’s just embarrassing our police force! They need some kind of training – a friend called it “stitchup workshops” but funny though that was, of course you’d have to call it something else.
You warned the country about protesters having Ipads but did they listen? No, of course not – in fact some of them mocked you. They should introduce a licencing sytem for Ipads, like for guns …. and none of those yobbos would get a license.
I have to commend the fighting spirit of your daughter, Aoife. I heard she took up an extra seating spot beside her with her bag in the public gallery so none of that scum could sit beside her and, when one of them tried to, said that the area was reserved for “victims”! Brilliant! With an attitude like that, I can see her in government some day! You must be really proud of her.
What a shame the court usher wouldn’t support her, making her pick up her bag and allow one of the crowd to sit next to her. Where did they all come from? The courtroom was packed every day and hardly a one from your own Party!
That other chap, the younger yobbo, the one who got convicted of kidnapping, Jay something …. Jay Walker? No … that’s one of the characters in Star Wars, isn’t it? Anyway, HE wasn’t allowed to bring his protesting entourage into the Juvenile Court in Smithfield. That’s a much better way to manage things.
I told you two years ago, when I heard about what they did to you at Jobstown, how outraged I was and how much I felt for you (why is it called Jobstown anyway? There’s hardly a single job out there!). I don’t know why you can’t have an armed escort when you visit wild places – imagine Hillary Clinton going to visit Iraq or Afghanistan without travelling in an armoured vehicle with an Army escort!
Or maybe you could go in and out of an area like that in a helicopter, like the Army did in South Armagh. They’d have to build helipads on top of buildings ….. wait a minute, think of the extra employment! Fianna Fáil would be glad to get in on the contracts for that, I’m sure.
What I’m worried about now is …. what most people are worried about ….. well, most people who count ….. is: will the courts be able to get convictions now against those who are coming up in the next couple of Jobstown trials?
A DEBATE to discuss the above question at the Teachers’ Club, Dublin, was organised by the United Ireland Association with Tommy McKearney and Clare Daly being the debaters on June 16th.
Tommy McKearney is a long-time Republican, formerly of the Provisional IRA, 1980
Hunger-Striker and ex-Republican prisoner. He was, along with Anthony McIntyre, a founder of the Republican Writers’ Group which, while not advocating armed struggle, was critical of the Good Friday Agreement, of Provisional IRA and in particular of Sinn Féin. He is currently an Organiser for the Independent Workers’ Union.
Clare Daly is a long-time Socialist, a former trade union shop stewart and has been a Teachta Dála (member of the Irish parliament) since 2011, formerly as a member of the Socialist Party and now a Left Alliance TD. She has visited Republican prisoners and raised issues about their treatment in court and in jail. Daly was also arrested for trespass at Shannon Airport, along with fellow-TD and partner Mick Wallace, protesting against the use of the airport by US military flights and for transporting of political prisoners of the US military to jails in various parts of the world.
TOMMY MC KEARNEY
Tommy McKearney spoke first and stated that there was an issue of defining Republicanism and that sometimes what was meant was the anti-monarchic Republicanism of France or the United Stated but he was going to discuss it in terms of a specific Irish-based ideology, i.e Irish Republicanism.
Mentioning a number of Left-Irish Republicans such as Fintan Lawlor and Wolfe Tone’s famous quotation about relying on the “men of no property”, Tommy developed a line of reasoning that sought to say that there was not a huge difference between Irish Republicanism and socialism and drew attention to the fact that James Connolly had founded a party by the title of the Irish Socialist Republican Party.
Going on to talk about the objective of Irish Republicans, Tommy stated that not only is a republic desirable for Ireland – it is necessary. Only a Republic that is based upon socialist principles can resolve the economic and political problems facing Ireland today on both sides of the colonial Border.
Referring to the British election results in the Six Counties, Tommy commented on the 238,915 votes and seven seats for Sinn Féin – an increase of 14,670 votes – and the rise of almost 67,000 votes for the DUP with their ten seats. Sinn Féin had been pushing a peace process which was not about peace but about normalisation; their claim to intend to bridge the sectarian divide was empty and the voting lines were drawn up along sectarian lines at least as deeply as before.
Tommy also speculated that the amount of votes cast for Sinn Féin, on a platform of refusing to take their seats in Westminster showed, among other things, the amount of people in the Six Counties who did not care to be represented in a British Parliament and presumably would want representation in a united Irish Republic. He called for an alliance of Left Republicans and Irish socialists and recalled that James Connolly had founded, as well as the Labour Party, the Irish Socialist Republican Party.
Clare was next and she in turn highlighted the difficult issue of defining the Left – did it mean the parties that defined themselves as Left, did it include the Labour Party – some would say yes, others no. For Clare it is not issue of the names we give parties or activists but of what we stand for. Clare said she stands for a socialist country and in that sense for a Republic.
Addressing the question for debate, Clare owned that maybe socialists had neglected the national question — maybe they had been put off by images of balaclavas and guns — but it could equally be said that Republicans had for decades neglected social questions such as women’s reproductive rights, women’s rights in general, gay rights …. However, in more recent times, Republicans were seen actively supporting those rights.
Over recent years, Clare said, we had seen the gains our parents fought for in terms of trade union rights and local authority and state services lost or undermined.
Clare said she saw herself as a citizen of the world but as she lived in Ireland that she stood for a Republic that was organised along socialist lines and gave equal rights to all. The real question, Clare stated, is how we are to achieve that and pointed to the swing to the Left in Britain with Jeremy Corbyn’s party receiving a big increase in votes, despite media hostility and predictions of failure. The Conservative Party could only rule now with the support of the DUP’s 10 Mps. Clare said that opportunities of a Left Front existed in Ireland too as was seen by the Right to Water mass marches with broad political party and some major trade union support.
CONTRIBUTIONS FROM THE AUDIENCE, RESPONSES FROM THE PANEL
Included in contributions from the audience were the following:
Sinn Féin had seven MPs to the DUP’s 10 and should consider abandoning their abstentionism and go to Westminster to assist Corbyn in voting legislation
While the Labour Party in Britain had moved to the Left, Sinn Féin in Ireland had moved to the right
Good debate from two good speakers but also two who had put themselves out there for what they believed – Tommy McKearney in armed struggle in the past and hard prison struggle and Clare Daly in protesting US military use of Shannon Airport and also visiting Republican prisoners in jail, along with a few other Tds.
We need more debates like these and also to focus on Republicans with regard to where they stood with regard to socialism.
The Irish Left as a whole has divorced itself from Irish Republicanism, probably in fear of being associated with nationalism and/ or armed struggle. In doing so, it has walked away from continual violation of human rights, e.g of Republican prisoners in the jails and of civil rights, the right to political dissent of Republican activists on both sides of the Border.
The Irish Left has neglected to confront British Imperialism and left the Republicans to confront the various visits of the British Queen and the recent one of Prince Philip, when major roads were shut and even civilians impeded in going about their business or even going to their local shops or to visit their relatives’ graves in Glasnevin and a megaphone wrested by an undercover policeman backed up by a riot squad from the hands of a person about to speak to a protest demonstration.
Republicans are socialists and to pose the two as different categories was ridiculous.
There should be a broad Left front in Ireland including the trade unions and Sinn Féin.
Among the responses from the panel were that people were hung up on condemning Sinn Féin and should welcome them into a broad Left mass movement on the model of the Right to Water and Right to change campaigns (this from Tommy McKearney)
The socialists might not have done very well opposing British imperialism but had opposed US imperialism, which is one of the imperialist powers in operation in Ireland (this from Clare Daly) and a major one in the world.
The contributor who said that “Republicans are socialists” seemed unaware that historically at least this certainly was not so. Seán Mac Diarmada, the Irish Republican executed on the same day as the socialist James Connolly, had been on record as saying that no-one should support socialism. During the War of Independence, some IRA units took actions to support landless labourers and poor farmers but others took action to repress these in favour of big farmers.
The IRA had a ban on Communists through the 1930s probably up to the 1960s. Sean South, prominent Limerick IRA Volunteer killed in the Bessborough RUC Barracks attack in 1957, was a conservative Catholic, anti-Communist member of the Knights of Columbanus and of An Réalt (Irish-speaking section of the Legion of Mary).
The broad Left front being advocated by a number of people seems to be a reformist social-democratic one and, while there is nothing necessarily counter-revolutionary about fighting for reforms, clarity is needed about whether what they are advocating is a social-democratic program or fighting for some reforms while at the same time openly organising with a revolution in mind.
Clare Daly has certainly fought hard against US Imperialism but others on the Left much less so. The mobilisation against Hillary Clinton’s visit to Dublin was not great and gave up in the face of police opposition before they even reached City Hall and there was no mobilisation at all against Obama’s visit to Dublin in May 2011 and it remains to be seen how much there will be if he comes this year, as he has reportedly promised to do. But the question of oppposing British imperialism is a crucial one since a) it is the main imperialist-colonial power at work in Ireland and b) because it is the main prop of US Imperialism in Europe and in the UN.
There would seem to be fertile ground for debate on the historical and current differences between Irish Socialists and Irish Republicans, as well as for discussing possible joint action and one hopes for many more debates and discussions of this nature with a broad attendance.
The whisper is that a new movement is to be created, called Right to Change and that it will publish an on-line mass left-wing newspaper, which will be the first mass left-wing paper in this country since 1913 and even then, that newspaper’s distribution was mostly confined to Dublin.
In fact, a movement based on the right to change already exists, taking in not only the right to water but to housing, to social provisions, to health, to education, to natural resources – the many things that have been removed or cut or are under threat in order to pay the bankers and speculators. One supposes that this new organisation is intended to build on that movement, coordinate it etc. And no doubt put up a slate of candidates at local government and at general elections.
It is Right to Water that has given rise to this idea and no doubt a number who were prominent in it will be likewise in the new organisation.
Right to Water was not a movement, rather a kind of coordinating organisation for national demonstrations, chiefly in Dublin, against the water charges and the expected privatisation of water. In that work it has been highly successful.
The demonstrations built on the actions and mobilisation of hundreds of community groups across the country, protesting locally, encouraging people not to register or pay the charges, blocking Sierra and others from installing water meters and so on.
Many people will think that building Right to Change is the logical next move and will be enthused by it. And why not? Sure wouldn’t it be great to have a large number of TDs standing up to the System, denouncing its plans and their actions? The kind of thing done today by a few Independent TDs and others representing parties with small representation in the Dáil. Well, it would be useful but would it really make a difference?
Recently a Dáil committee set up to review the water charges and so on published its recommendations. Only 13 of the committee’s 20 members agreed with all of the recommendations but all of the recommendations stand nevertheless. Of course some of the objectors were right-wingers but many were of the Left – the System will always have a majority in the sub-systems it sets up. And if a time should come when it cannot achieve that …. well, that’s when you’ll hear the tanks clanking down the street.
Ok, granted perhaps, but it can’t hurt, can it? To have more Left TDs harassing the Government? No, of course not. Not unless we expect too much of this new organisation. Not unless we come to depend on it. And scale down our own independent activities. Hand over power to them.
That wouldn’t happen, would it? Unfortunately it has been a historical trend for popular movements to do exactly that. And social democracy always betrays the mass upon which it has erected itself. The Liberals in the further past and our ‘own’ Fianna Fáil in more recent history often promised the workers many things to win their votes. And even helped the workers push some things through from time to time. But they never promised to abolish the System, never promised socialism.
Social democracy does promise to deliver a fair and just society. It is a promise that it has been making for well over a century but on which it never delivers. It’s not just about jobbery and corruption, of which there is plenty in the corridors of power and to which many social democrats gravitate; it’s more that the Councillors and TDs elected never had any intention of abolishing the System. And in fact, will come out to defend the System whenever it is in danger. When it comes down to it, the System is THEIR system.
From time to time one hears social democrats bewailing “the unacceptable face of capitalism”, as though there exists an “acceptable” face of that system. They may talk at times about the “evils” of capitalism but will bear in mind the “good things” of capitalism too, the benefits they draw or hope to draw from the System. So criticism must be “balanced”, one mustn’t “throw the baby out with bathwater” and so on.
“The law must be obeyed”, they agree, as though “the law” is something divorced from class and politics, some immutable thing that just somehow exists. And yet just about every major social and political advance — including the right to organise a trade union at work, the right to strike and the right to universal suffrage — was won by people breaking “the law”. “The law” and its enforcers are part of the System.
If (heaven forbid) the action of the System’s police should be criticised, then we will hear phrases like “the police have a hard job to do”, the action of the ‘bad’ police is “bringing the force into disrepute”, “there are a few bad apples”, “better training is needed”, a “change in management is necessary”, etc etc. Anything but admit that the police force in a capitalist country exists in order to serve that System.
SOCIAL DEMOCRACY BETRAYS
At the beginning of May 1926, with a coal miners’ strike as a catalyst, Britain was heading towards a real possibility of revolution. The social democratic Trades Union Congress called a General Strike. In many areas of the country and in cities, no transport moved unless it had authorisation from the local Trades Council (a committee of local trade union representatives) or it had armed police and soldier escort. In less than two weeks, the TUC, at the behest of the British Labour Party, called off the strike, leaving the miners to fight on alone to their defeat in less than eight months. “By the end of November, most miners were back at work. However, many remained unemployed for many years. Those still employed were forced to accept longer hours, lower wages and district wage agreements” (Wikipedia).
There had been more workers coming out at that time but also some of the union leaders were beginning to crack, as the struggle was shaping up to be a real showdown between the System and the workers. The TUC didn’t even set up a system to guarantee no retaliations by bosses against activist workers in non-mining unions and many lost their jobs.
The Chilean Salvador Allende is often seen as a hero, a radical social democrat who stood up against internal military fascism and external CIA-led destabilisation. Workers and peasants and some sections of the middle class got Allende elected President in 1970 but right wingers and officers in the military, working with the CIA, were conspiring against him. Everybody knew this and sections of the workers asked for Allende to arm them against the coup they knew was coming. Allende tried instead to compromise and find senior officers he could work with to use against the plotters. When the military carried out the coup, there was some armed resistance but most workers were unarmed. The coup left “3,000 dead or missing, tortured ten thousands of prisoners and drove an estimated 200,000 Chileans into exile” (Wikipedia). In addition, the children of many murdered left-wingers and union activists were given to childless right-wingers and military and police couples to raise as their own.
Social democracy always betrays or ends up hung by its own illusions. Unfortunately the workers end up hanging with it also.
In 2010, in response to Government budget cuts of between 5% and 10% on public servants, along with a levy on pensions, along with a breakdown in the “partnership” system of business and state employers negotiating with trade unions, the social-democratic Irish Trades Union Congress called a major demonstration in Dublin. Perhaps 70,000 marched down O’Connell Street and the ITUC was threatening a general strike. Despite escalating strike action in a number of sectors and the growing unpopularity of the Government, the ITUC abandoned the idea of a strike and instead went in to do a deal with the Government, in which they actually agreed to pay cuts and the pension levy, in exchange for some guarantees around public sector jobs. The social democratic trade union leaders didn’t have the stomach (or backbone) to take on the Government, to test the level of support for resistance.
Why all this talk about social democracy? Well, because Right to Water is essentially a social democratic alliance. It contains Sinn Féin, the biggest minority party in the Dáil, with 23 elected representatives, third in numberof TDs. Right to Water is also supported by Unite, “Britain’s biggest union with 1.42 million members across every type of workplace” according to their website – it is pretty big in Ireland too, which is a “region” for the union, with 100,000 members across the land.These are forces that, while opposing the water charge, did not support civil disobedience on water meter installation nor refusing to pay the charge (although a number of their members fought along with the rest). Refusing to register and pay were the most effective ways of resisting the water charges and it is the high level of civil disobedience behind the giant demonstrations that has made the ruling class think again and promoted divisions between FG and Labour on the one hand and Fianna Fáil on the other.
But these elements did not support that policy. They want to be not only law-abiding but be seen to be law-abiding. Seen by who? Well, by the ruling class of course. SF in particular is champing at the bit to get into a coalition government but needs to show the ruling class that it is a safe pair of hands, i.e that the System will remain intact if managed by them. As indeed they have done in joint managing the regime in the Six Counties.
Of course there are many occasions when social democrats and revolutionaries can cooperate – but never by ceding leadership to the social democrats nor by depending on them, always instead by relying on their own forces and striving to educate the masses that the system cannot be reformed but needs to be overthrown …. and that the ordinary people are perfectly capable of achieving that.
AN ON-LINE MASS LEFT-WING NEWSPAPER
What about the left-wing newspaper though? Now that might be something, true enough. A source of rebuttal to the lies we are constantly getting from the media and a source of information and news which media censorship ensures most of us don’t get to read, see or hear.
If it seeks to be a truly mass paper it will need to cover not only foreign and domestic news but also sport, with sections on history, culture, nature, gardening ….. Rudolfo Walsh, who founded and with others ran the important ANCLA news agency during the dictatorship and the earlier extremely popular CGTA weekly in Argentina, until he was assassinated by the police, has been credited with two important sources of the weekly’s success: his informants within the police and army and an excellent horse racing tipster!
It is a big undertaking and a very interesting one.
But will the new paper practice censorship? Will it confine its discourse to the social democratic or instead allow revolutionary voices in it? Will it allow criticism of trade union leaderships, including Unite’s? Will it cover the repression of Republicans on both sides of the Border but particularly in the Six Counties? One would certainly hope so. Well, the proof of the pudding is in the eating – and of the newspaper, in the reading.
Yes we do – or at least most of us do. There are a few who do not.
Some people think that those few who do not want change are our rulers, the big capitalists — but they are mistaken. The capitalist class forced change to overthrow the feudal system, which was hampering their growth and the development of industry and commerce. And capitalists know that change is inevitable, so it is better to go with it than to try to stop it. That is why they set up courses such as those called “Change Management” — if change is inevitable, then manage it, the thinking goes. Manage it so that it comes out to capitalist advantage, naturally.
Change Management courses, particularly those dealing with personnel, emphasise managing change as smoothly as possible, making it non-traumatic. In that way, it is assumed, there will be less reaction against the change, less opposition.
But in fact, sometimes capitalism wants the exact opposite – it wants change to be as traumatic as possible. These are the situations described under the title “Shock Doctrine” by economic/ environmental activist and theorist Naomi Klein (2007). This has two mechanisms: in the first, the shocking change taking place disarms people from the psychological ability to organise resistance; in the second, the speed of the shock (or shocks) of the economic and political manoeuvres of the capitalists moves faster than the opposition can organise, achieving their goals before opposition can coordinate an effective resistance.
Klein has described how huge natural disasters such as earthquake (Haiti), tsunami (Thailand, Indonesia) and flood (New Orleans, USA) are used to force foreign or native private takeovers of sectors of the national economy while the people and the regime in power are reeling under the impact of the disaster.
Political and economic disasters are also used in this model, such as the military coup in Chile and the collapse of the USSR (in the case of Poland), the economic collapse in Bolivia, the invasion of Iraq, the financial collapse of the “Tiger economies” of SE Asia. Even a potentially beneficial change of great magnitude may be used, such as the collapse of white minority rule in South Africa, during which the black majority won formal equality and citizenship but lost control of most of the economy (and lost a lot more which I do not intend to discuss here).
There is in fact a military precursor to this which has been called, in the context of US military strategy, “Shock and Awe”. This doctrine was described by its authors, Harlan K. Ullman and James P. Wade (1996), as “attempting to impose this overwhelming level of Shock and Awe against an adversary on an immediate or sufficiently timely basis to paralyze its will to carry on … [to] seize control of the environment and paralyze or so overload an adversary’s perceptions and understanding of events that the enemy would be incapable of resistance at the tactical and strategic levels”.
Of course there were many elements of this in the Blitzkrieg of the Nazi German army in its invasions of other countries and even the medieval invasions by the Huns and of the Mongols. Cromwell employed elements of it in Ireland in his army’s massacres at Wexford and Drogheda.
Aside from needing change to overcome feudalism, managing change to its advantage and use of shock doctrine to facilitate changes it wants, the capitalist system itself promotes change as part of its system. Small capitalists combine and form conglomerates, in which big capitalists come to power and, in turn, eat up smaller capitalists in order to dominate their sphere of economic activity. We have seen the growth of supermarkets and the decline of small shops, the rise of chain stores killing independent clothes shops, chain cafes and eateries driving indpendent cafes and restaurants out of business.
Capitalists also promote inventions and discoveries so as to increase their wealth but also in order to stay in front of the competition – a capitalist concern that stays at its original level will be taken over or driven out of business by its competitors. Our grandparents hardly knew about the possibility of mobile phones and computers, let alone small hand-held audio-visual connections to the Internet; our children today play with visual electronic games, films and music before they learn to talk. To be sure, monopolies also suppress inventions but they can only do so to an extent as some capitalist somewhere will break the embargo or consensus (if the discovery can be used to make sufficient profits making the attempt worth the risk).
OK, but we want change too and, we think, what we want is not the capitalist kind of change we’ve been talking about until now, although innovations and discoveries should continue and in fact accelerate – but for the benefit of the people, not the capitalists. Technological advances and innovations that do not make big profits may nevertheless be very valuable to us for all kinds of reasons.
So, yes, we want change. But what kind of change? Change to what? Change how? There a vast panorama opens.
We want to eliminate homelessness; have an efficient universally affordable health service; not to have to struggle for a decent standard of living in food, housing and small luxuries; to enjoy universal and affordable access to education at all levels; not to harm the environment; to have the positive aspects of our cultural inheritance, including history, valued and promoted. We want equal rights and respect between people regardless of race or ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability … and freedom of choice.
In 1930s Germany, people wanted those things too, except that a lot of people were convinced that the contents of the last sentence above were harmful and not what they wanted. But there were many, many people who did want those contents too. The issue was in doubt for awhile.
In the 1928 elections the Nazi Party achieved just 12 seats (2.6% of the vote) in the Reichstag (German Parliament) and in three areas the Nazi Party failed to gain even 1% of the vote. In the Presidential elections of March 1929, the Nazi candidate Erich Ludendorff gained only 1.1% of votes cast, and was the only candidate to poll fewer than a million votes.
We know that elections are not everything – but still.
Five years later, the Nazis were in power — but even after the Communist Party was declared illegal their candidates polled a million votes.
The people definitely wanted change and the established ‘democratic’ parties were unable or unwilling to deliver it. The change the people ended up with was not probably what most had imagined and for some time it spelt disaster for Germany – and unbelievable suffering for large parts of the rest of the world … and also for millions of German citizens.
To look closer to home, people wanted change here too and from 1917 onwards they showed that electorally by voting for the newly-reorganised Sinn Féin party. From 1919 a significant section of the populace took to arms to pursue change and had the active or tacit support of a huge part of the population. But in 1921 the movement and the people split about what kind of change they wanted. A civil war followed with a heavy level of brutality against civilians and combatants, particularly by the State side, which won the contest — and we ended up with the State we now have.
It is well to be fairly clear about the change we want and what we do not want. There was no such general clarity in the ranks of those fighting for change from 1916 to 1921. It turned out that many who were fighting for change were fighting for different things.
Differences must have come up over the years of struggle and we know from some evidence that they did. We also must assume from the political nature of prominent people in the struggle that there were differences. Even within the IRB itself, only one of the organisations involved, there were differences that surfaced in attitude to the 1913 Lockout, the control of the Volunteers in 1914 and the Treaty of 1922.
Of course, we need maximum unity against the principal enemy. But that is unity in action only. If we put unity in thought, principles or political or social program first, as some organisations have and some others claim to do, we end up with small organisations unable to effectively counter the resistance of the ruling class to the change we want and, in the end, unable to overcome that resistance. On the other hand, if we sacrifice everything to unity against the enemy, we leave ourselves hostages to events in the future and to what kind of society will emerge from the struggle.
Somewhere between those two is where we need to be, preserving the freedom to discuss, explore and proclaim differences of opinion and social program, while avoiding unnecessary squabbles and maintaining unity in action. It is a difficult balance to strike but it needs to be done. In the midst of fighting the common enemy and striving for unity in action against it, we must fight for that freedom also inside the resistance movement, the freedom to discuss, explore and yes, also to criticise.
A generation is passing. Actually they have been passing for some time, the generation of the fighting years of the late 1960s, the 1970s, the 1980s and even the 1990s.
They campaigned variously for social housing; civil rights north and south; for human rights; against Church domination; against Unionist sectarianism; for free access to contraception; for right to divorce; for an end to censorship; for national self-determination; for Gaeltacht civil rights; for Irish language rights and Irish on TV; in support of political prisoners; the rights of women; for Irish Traveller rights; protection of heritage and environment; solidarity with many struggles around the world, including Cuba, Vietnam, Rhodesia, South Africa, Chile, the Black Panthers; against drug dealers; for freedom to choose lifestyle; decriminalisation of gay and lesbian life; for community projects in deprived areas including youthwork and, let’s not forget, organised, fought in and supported strikes.
That generation fought many battles, some of which they won and some which built bases for later battles and their story is told only in bits and pieces here and there. They organised, marched, sat in, occupied, wrote, made placards, painted slogans, put up posters and some fired guns; they were watched, raided, beaten, fined, jailed, calumnied, sacked, expelled, kept unemployed, derided from pulpit, press and judge’s bench, some were shot, and not just they but their families made to suffer too.
I am not referring to people of any specific age but of all those who were any age from young to old and active during those years. The causes of death have been many, from simple old age and life lived out to the death penalty.
But the death penalty was not in force in Ireland in the 1960s, you may think? Actually it was, it wasn’t abolished until 1990 in this state. But you’d be kind of correct as in practice no formal execution has been carried out by this state since 1954.
So, then what am I talking about? Maybe referring to the ‘United Kingdom’, since six counties of Ireland are included in that state? Yes, and no. The death sentence still exists in the UK only for “Arson in Her Majesty’s shipyards” but it was abolished in Britain for the crime of murder in 1965 and, in fact, no-one had been formally executed there from the year before. If the judicial death penalty had still been in force, the people in charge of that state might’ve been been spared the embarrassment of seeing nearly a score of Irish people they had wrongly convicted in 1974 walk free decades later as judges eventually had to find them ‘Not Guilty’.
A bit late for Giuseppe Conlon, against whom there had not even been a shred of doubtful evidence, but never mind. But had they all died in prison or been executed, people might not have worked so hard to see their convictions in court overturned – people among whom Joe Kelly, who died this week and who was cremated on Saturday, stands tall.
But the death penalty was not removed from the judges’ arsenal in that bastion of reaction, Six Counties state, until 1973, when the 30 Years’ War had entered its early years (somebody from the British state clearly had to sit down with the Unionist bigots and explain, although of course they sympathised with their loyal brethren, how bad it would be for Britain and the Queen if they started sentencing and executing IRA and INLA fighters).
There are more ways to skin a cat …. yes, and to kill too. The orange and SAS and MRF death squads killed more against whom there was not even a court conviction. And some of the Republicans killed one another too. And twelve died on hunger strike, one each in 1974 and in ’76 and ten in 1981. Actually, considering the brutality of force-feeding, it’s surprising there weren’t more deaths – Marian and Dolours Price were force-fed 167 times over 203 days in 1973 and it was the publicity around their case and the deaths of Gaughan and Stagg that ended the practice of force-feeding, ensuring that the Hunger Strikers of 1980 and ’81 at least did not have to endure that experience.
But there are more ways to kill …. Many of that generation of fighters died from ‘natural’ causes but died early – cancers, heart attacks, liver damage, despair ….. ah, yes, that brings to mind suicide, of which some also died. But despair also can drive you to drink, even more easily if it has been part of your experience of socialising and alcohol is one of the top killers in the world. And some died of drugs …. or drugs and alcohol …. or infections from unsafe drug injection …. But most who died early did so in summary from the wear and tear of struggle, of prison, of separation, of relationship breakdowns, of betrayal, despair.
Not all died, even those who are not among the fighters today. Some walked away from the struggle and though I can’t imagine being in their shoes, I do not begrudge them. So long as they didn’t betray any on their way out or make a living out of spitting on their former comrades and causes afterwards. But some, a very few, did exactly that and you can read what they have to say quite often in their articles or hear them quoted in the newspapers or on TV or radio.
Some found other ways to betray and did it in secret, feeding information to their handlers and some even diverting attention from themselves by accusing others, some innocent and some of a lesser grade of betrayal than that of the accusers. We know of some of them but may never learn about them all.
A few have survived and are still around, fighting the struggle, whether in organisations or as independents. Joe Kelly was one in both categories, in a sense. I knew him but did not know him well and met him only in the last decade, after I had returned from decades living and working in London. I am given to understand that he had passed through a number of political organisations, including Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party. A strange CV, one might think, for a radical left-wing social and political activist. The last political group with which I had associated Joe was People Before Profit, on a local level, around Phibsboro. Joe invited me to attend a quiz they were running and I did so mainly to return a favour – he had attended, to contribute to the singing at my invitation, an evening of the Clé Club where I had been “Fear a’Tí” for that night. I was amazed to win a Blackberry at the quiz (sorry, Joe, I still haven’t gotten around to learning and using it!). Last I heard, he wasn’t with the PBP.
Somebody told me years back that he had been a central organiser of a solidarity event in Dublin for the Birmingham Six in which lights had been floated down the Liffey. Of course I was impressed – on a political/ human rights level but also for the poetic vision involved. I have found little about that event since and Joe, who I found a modest man, didn’t give me much in response to my pressing. A couple of searches on the Internet yielded me only a passing reference to the River Parade, of 1990, a year before the Birmingham Six were finally cleared in court and released. Likely I have not been asking the right people or looking in the right corners.
I met Joe by arrangement for a coffee a couple of times, while I tried to get him into something I was doing and he tried to get me into something he was working at – neither of us succeeding in our efforts to recruit the other. Since Joe was working for awhile in the community sector I also approached him to explore possibilities for me when, despite a long track record in the fields of working in homeless shelters and addiction as well as other community activism I was out of work, but he wasn’t able to help me.
And of course I bumped into him on demonstrations, as in those in solidarity with Palestine or against the Water Tax or against the Lisbon Treaty. For awhile we were active together in the Dublin branch of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Committee and I believe he left like me after witnessing some nasty in-fighting years ago, though we both often turned up to protest pickets and demonstrations and public meetings called by the organisation. We would also meet at events in solidarity with the Cuban people.
I heard him described at his funeral service, by someone who should know, as a Republican. Certainly Joe was very proud of his father and uncle who had both fought in the 1916 Rising, the first in the GPO and the second in Bolands’ Mill and proudly displayed his father’s medal at a public event in the Teachers’ Club in Dublin.
However, he was among the number that I invited but failed to get to events over the last decade to highlight the plight of Irish Republicans being hounded by the State and imprisoned without trial. That did puzzle me, for I knew Joe to have a track record of fighting for human rights. And this was shown not only in his campaigning for the Birmingham Six.
Joe fought for the rights of divorce and choice of abortion, as well for the right to freedom from partner abuse, in particular through the movement for women’s refuges, what many people still refer to as “battered wives hostels”. He was active in the campaign for the right to gay marriage, so amazingly successful in Ireland. And Joe was also active in campaigns against racism towards migrants.
“Conas atú tú?” or “Dia dhuit”, Joe would invariably greet me whenever we met. I would not call him exactly fluent but he could understand and speak Irish. I suppose I assumed he had some affection for the language and was also paying me, a known native speaker, the courtesy of addressing me in Irish and speaking awhile in the language. At his funeral service, I learned it went further than that. I heard his grandchildren say that he frequently spoke to them in Irish and when they did not understand him, would translate what the words meant. Some people in the audience chuckled to hear this. I felt sad and somewhat angry too, that a question so important to our cultural identity, an aspect so threatened today, should be treated so apparently lightly by some and that the only words to be spoken at his funeral service in Irish were those in the final sentence spoken by his brother, Jim, in his eulogy: “Slán leat, Joe”. In the booklet produced for the occasion and freely available at Club na Múinteoirí, there was however one dedication in Irish (and I have since learned that one of the speeches at the Teacher’s Club was in Irish) and I note that both grandchildren who spoke bear Irish-language names.
Paying respects and memorial service
On Saturday, laid out in the lovely Room 2 in the Teacher’s Club (sin Club na Múinteoirí, Joe) in Dublin’s Parnell Square, a venue often used for social, cultural and political events, in a closed wicker basket coffin, Joe received his visitors. And they were MANY. Feminists, Palestine solidarity activists, Cuba solidarity activists, community activists, independent political activists and a sprinkling of activists in various parties all attended and many contributed their memories or words dedicated to him while he was laid out there. (I took many photos here and some at Mount Jerome but somehow seem to have lost them all).
Attending first another funeral (of another singer) that morning in Howth, then travelling into Dublin to take part in the Moore Street Awareness weekly table, I had to miss some of that. I spelled a comrade while he attended to pay his respects, then attended later while he took over back at the table.
Room No. 2 was still packed but so was the whole bar lounge area. I had missed all the eulogies and reminiscences and even singing – “The Foggy Dew” I was told. Had anyone sung “The Parting Glass”, I asked. No, apparently not. So then to ask his sister if it would be alright to do it, then the MC, his long-time collaborator, comrade and friend, Brendan Young. It would be welcome, I was told. And Fergus Russell (also his second funeral that day) and I did three verses together, using a mic so it might carry through to the lounge and, though we took turns at fluffing a line, not too badly. It is a great song for such occasions and each verse was particularly appropriate to Joe.1
A little later, the Internationale was sung by all (copies of the words of a verse and the chorus distributed beforehand), the wicker coffin (I must have one of those when my time comes!) was lifted on to shoulders by family and friends and brought through the respectful lines while Joe’s daughter sang The Night They Brought Old Dixie Down.2
Then the hearse came out and led the cortege to Mount Jerome cemetery. I didn’t know the protocol regarding cycling in a funeral cortege but followed anyway, managing to get temporarily lost on the way and arriving just as the hearse arrived at the cemetery. Again, the chapel was packed.
The ceremony was non-religious and officiated by Therese Caherty, ex-partner and friend. In turn Therese herself, his brother, his bereaved current partner, relatives and his comrade and friend Brendan Young all gave their moving eulogies and often funny anecdotes. Brendan emphasised that for Joe, the process of the conduct of a struggle was as important as the end to be reached, which I knew to be true from our time together in the Dublin IPSC and I’d be in agreement with Joe on that.
There were, despite the many I did see during those events, some faces I did not see in the congregation or at the Club na Múinteoirí before the service or later, when many returned to the Club to free sandwiches and soup laid on by the management there. It was their loss.
I never saw him dance but am told he loved it and taught his grandchildren not only to sing but to dance too. I did know he’d learned to tango. He’s left this dance floor now and gone on to another and whatever “one steps and two steps and the divil knows what new steps”3 they are dancing there, I’m sure Joe is learning them and probably teaching a few of his own.
Slán leat, Joe – árdaigh iad!
1 “Of all the money that e’er I had, I spent it in good company
And all the harm that e’er I’ve done, alas, it was to none but me
And all I’ve done for want of wit to memory now I can’t recall
So fill to me the parting glass, good night and joy be with you all
“If I had money enough to spend and leisure time to sit awhile
There is a fair maid in this town, that sorely has my heart beguiled
Her rosy cheeks and ruby lips I own, she has my heart enthralled
So fill to me the parting glass, good night and joy be with you all
“Of all the comrades that e’er I’ve had, they are sorry for my going away
And all the sweethearts that e’er I’ve had,
they would wish me one more day to stay
But since it falls unto my lot that I should rise and you should not
I’ll gently rise and I’ll softly call good night and joy be with you all”
2 This song of nostalgia for the American Confederacy has a haunting melody but its ideology is often ignored by those who sing it.