Diarmuid Breatnach

“In conclusion, it seems clear that both states in Ireland, the Irish one and the British colonial one, are employing refusal of bail and restrictive bail conditions in order to harass and intimidate political activists and to seriously disrupt their work.”

In excess of 50 Demonstrators formed three lines in Dublin’s O’Connell Street on Friday (19th June) to protest the continued incarceration of Steven Bennet, a political activist arrested while peacefully resisting the installation of water meters. Bennet was arrested on two consecutive nights – in the York Road area of Dun Laoghaire and in Bray – and on each occasion he was kept in custody overnight despite the Gardai knowing his address and where he could be contacted and despite the suggested charges not being particularly serious. Brought to court then, he was offered bail if he could provide a €1,000 surety, would submit to a nightly curfew between the hours of 10pm and 8.00am, would sign at a police station daily and would refrain from participation in political activity. A previous High Court ruling that his bail conditions should not interfere with his political activism was thereby changed by the same Court. Stating that these conditions were unreasonable, he refused and has been in jail now for nearly four weeks.

Protesters in Dublin outside GPO demand freeing of Steven Bennet (view northward excluding some on west side of central island)

Protesters in Dublin outside GPO demand freeing of Steven Bennet (view northward excluding some on west side of central island)

The Irish Government has imposed a Water Tax on the population of the state although they pay for the maintenance of the public water system already through their taxes (and bizarrely, it was recently revealed, through their Motor Tax also). The Water Tax is extremely unpopular in Ireland and has given rise to huge national demonstrations as well as to local resistance and to the most widescale movement of civil disobedience since the resistance to the Household Tax a few years ago. Most people believe these new taxes are a means of funding the banking bailout and also that the public water service is being prepared for privatisation (a likely benificiary being Denis O’Brien, part-owner of the company currently installing the meters and among the 200 top world billionaires).

Banner and demonstrators protesting jailing of Steven Bennet

Banner and demonstrators protesting jailing of Steven Bennet (photo Vivienne)

Some of the local resistance involves blocking the road to the water meter trucks or, more usually, walking slowly in front of them to slow down their work. People have also interposed their bodies between the meter installation crews and the spot where they intend to drill into the pavement in order to install the meters.

Selection GPO Free Steven Bennet

(photo Vivienne)

We should ask ourselves and interrogate the State about why it wishes to impose these restrictions on an arrested political activist. Keeping someone in custody is a serious step in any democratic system. If they have not been convicted, the step is even more serious. Let us not forget that the legal system claims that any accused is presumed innocent until that changes by being found guilty in court. Keeping an innocent person in jail is supposed to be an extreme step, justified only by one or both of the following circumstances:

The accused is thought to be

  • a serious risk of flight from the jurisdiction before trial

  • a risk of interfering with witnesses expected to testify against him/her at trial

The “seriousness of the crime” is sometimes raised but that seems related to the “risk of flight”, i.e that the accused might contemplate fleeing the jurisdiction because of the likely seriousness of the punishment if s/he were to be convicted.

As observed earlier, the default position should be that bail is granted.

Free Steven Bennet centre island

(photo Vivienne)

Conditions of bail

Conditions of bail are usually that the accused reside at an address supplied to the court – this relates to the defendant being found if required by the State. The accused may be released in his or her “own recognizance”, i.e without any sum being set.

Where sums of money are required to be placed as a surety for bail, these seem again to be related to “risk of flight” — in other words, the accused is thought less likely to flee if it will cost money to the accused or to the person guaranteeing the bail.

The justification for requiring a person to report at a police station every day at a certain time also seems also to have been conceived with regard to risk of flight – it is hard to see what other justification there could be for this. But in fact this makes no sense, since one can present at a police station at eight or nine pm (a frequent time given) but yet be out of the jurisdiction by midnight (in the case no curfew) or by 12 noon when there is a curfew imposed. One supposes it does permit the police to issue a warrant for arrest should the accused fail to sign in at 8pm or 9pm the next evening but that can hardly be a great advantage.

A curfew is sometimes imposed and it is difficult to see the justification for that either, unless it too is related to fear of the accused absconding from the jurisdiction but the same reservations apply to that as to the signing on at the police station requirement.

When these conditions and restrictions are imposed on political activists on charges which normally attract only fines if the accused were found guilty and only very short prison terms in worst case scenarios, what can the justification be? As a rule the accused is still politically active, highly visible to the police and without a history of absconding from the jurisdiction (in fact, often a history of the exact opposite, as in Bennet’s case). The witnesses against the activist are normally the Gardaí, who are supposed to be impervious to “interference” and even when they are others, there is usually no allegation of a fear that the accused is going to intimidate them).

It seems clear that the real reason for these restrictions and conditions are

  • to disrupt the life of the accused and thereby make him/ her pay a price whether or not s/he is later convicted in court

  • to disrupt the political life of the accused (interfering with organising, traveling, etc.)

  • to make it difficult for the accused to get bail (in the case of financial sureties), in which case

  • to make the accused suffer imprisonment for a period (through refusal of bail or through setting difficult and unreasonable conditions) even though perhaps not convicted later or, if convicted, not receiving a custodial sentence

  • to discourage others from following in the footsteps of the accused.

Increasingly, particularly in the case of Irish Republicans in the Six Counties, another requirement imposed has been to wear an electronic “tag” or bracelet which may not be removed until the State orders that done. This is usually explained as merely an enforcement of the above conditions but is a physical reminder, every minute of every day, a demeaning intrusion into one’s life.

Three lines of protesters in front of GPO, Dublin's O'Connell Street  (view wesward), seeking freeing of Steven Bennet

Three lines of protesters in front of GPO, Dublin’s O’Connell Street (view southward), seeking freeing of Steven Bennet (Jim Larkin statue just visible in the background).

Also in the Six Counties, Irish Republicans on bail are being banned from use of the Internet, from having a mobile phone or, in the case where they are permitted one, being required to supply to the State the phone numbers dialed. Yet another condition has been not to reside within one’s own home town. Very common has been the requirement not to be in the company of others “convicted of terrorism” (if so, have they not served their time?) or merely “suspected of terrorism” (how would one know? The State will tell you!). In the Six Counties in particular, with its history of 30 years of war and subsequent political dissent from the Good Friday Agreement, not associating with anyone who has at some time been convicted of “terrorism” or is currently “suspected” of it, must be seriously difficult.

Apart from the restrictions on one’s personal freedom imposed by the above conditions, these are a massive interference with the facilities of a political organiser and there seems not even a pretence of any other justification for them. They are therefore unwarranted abuses of people’s civil liberties.

In conclusion, it seems clear that both states in Ireland, the Irish one and the British colonial one, are employing refusal of bail and restrictive bail conditions in order to harass and intimidate political activists and to seriously disrupt their work.  

Accept the conditions?

Steven Bennet is currently refusing to accept the unreasonable restrictions being required of him in order to avail of bail. In the past, particularly in the Six Counties, others have done so too. One example there was Stephen Murney, of the Éirigi republican party, who was expected to agree to curfew, daily signing at a police station, electronic bracelet, not to reside in his home town of Newry or to approach within five miles of it and not to attend any political events. He refused to accept those conditions for 14 months and eventually was released on bail without the conditions shortly before his trial – at which he was found “not guilty”, which was no surprise since the charges were completely spurious. But Murney had already spent 14 months in jail.

Stephen Murney happy to be out of bail as his trial collapsed -- but he had still done 14 months in custody before that.

Irish Republican Stephen Murney happy to be out on bail as his trial collapsed — but he had still done 14 months in custody before that.

In recent months, there seems to be a trend of people accepting the conditions in order to receive bail; this includes Republicans in the Six Counties and other water-meter protesters in Dun Laoghaire (on whom a variety of restrictions are being reported). Such acceptance represents in the short term a small victory for the State and in the longer term a significant defeat for civil liberties and the political opposition to the states.

One can hardly blame the activists who have accepted these conditions. The liberal civil liberties sector is silent on what is happening, as is largely the case with the organised Irish Left. When it seems that continued opposition to the bail restrictions can achieve no political objective due to lack of wide-scale protest, and one may be facing long months or even years in prison awaiting trial as a result of refusal, there seems little reason to continue the refusal to accept these restrictions.

Of course, these attacks are taking place on what the Left and liberal civil liberties sectors may see as the “fringes” — the Republicans and some unorthodox anti-water-meter protesters. Have we not learned the lessons of history? The attacks of fascism and the repressive State nearly always start at the “fringes”, from which they move in towards the core. Our silence on this now is in reality an assent to the State — “Go ahead if you like,” is the message the State is receiving, “we’re not going to do anything”. Unless the State goes for the core, of course. But will there be anyone left to mount a decent resistance when we finally decide we should?




Rebel Breeze: This piece was received months ago but somehow got overlooked for which we apologise.  Events since then make the points in this short document perhaps even more relevant.

Red Roja describes itself as “a revolutionary marxist organisation active within the Spanish state”.  It states that it is “an autonomous organisation independent of any other party or organisation and also economically and politically independent of the State or of any other power, being anticapitalist, of the class, feminist, radically democratic, internationalist, anti-fascist and ecologist.”
(Translation D.Breatnach from

In Spain, ‘The people should rule — that would be Dignity’
Red Roja Red Network Rede Vermelha
Traducido por  John Catalinotto

The following is a statement of the organization Red Network in Spain to the Dignity marches of March 21, a year after a similar march brought 1.5 million people to Madrid to protest austerity measures.

On March 22, 2014, more than a million people from all over the Spanish state marched in Madrid for ‘Dignity’ against austerity.

On March 22, 2014, more than a million people from all over the Spanish state
marched in Madrid for ‘Dignity’ against austerity

We once again demand that those who caused the crisis be made to pay for it.

An unpayable debt is crushing us, we who suffer every day from unbearable job insecurity, dismantling and privatization of health and education, increasing retirement age, the disappearance of aid for dependents, and our millions of unemployed people who are worth less than nothing to those in power. … The austerity measures and cuts are only being used to pay for a debt created to rescue the gang of bankers, big business people and their servants in the National Assembly, who are playing chess with our lives. Besides using our suffering to line their pockets, they expect us to hang our heads and die in silence. That we refuse to do.

Regarding this, we are nowhere near satisfied with hearing only about “restructuring” or “audits” of that debt. We cannot stop at half-measures when our lives are at stake, when there can be no doubt that this debt is responsible for the criminal foreclosures, the endless unemployment and for the disappearance of even the modest steps taken against domestic violence that condemns many women to terror, suffering and death. It is not a technical problem to say, “NO DEBT PAYMENT.” It is a punch that the people can throw to demand control of their own lives.

In these times, it is understandable that there are illusions that an election can bring “victory,” that we can “throw out the PP” [the rightist Popular Party] or “get rid of the wealthy strata.” But more is needed. No one involved in the new electoral initiatives is speaking about the national and European laws that impose the payment of that illegitimate and criminal debt before anything else. Good will is not enough; neither is honesty. Proof of this is the victory of Syriza in Greece, which has not pushed back by even one step the measures the Troika [the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank] had taken against the Greek people. It has become clear who rules Greece: It’s the EU dictatorship. Democracy is an illusion.

Moreover, even this demonstration, though necessary, is insufficient. It is not enough to come together to demand “Bread, Work and Housing” (things that would only be possible after we refuse to pay the debt), or to have a great demonstration of dignity. As seen in Greece and as we see every day in our streets, bankers and big business are not going to give up lining their pockets out of good will.

We need to unite, to organize neighborhoods, towns, businesses and schools, and strike a blow together, all at one time. Only through the unification of our struggles, only if the people who are working and suffering get organized, can we bring about policies that work in our own favor.

The vote is not enough. The people need to organize. The people need to rule.

That would be Dignity.



Diarmuid Breatnach

The role of women has been often ignored and undervalued in the body of Irish historical writing. Whatever the reasons for this state of affairs, a tendency in more recent writing has been, at least to a degree, to attempt to rectify this. In the decades since Margaret Ward’s Unmanageable Revolutionaries (Brandon, Ireland, 1983), this rectification has been slowly gathering pace. Dissidents – Irish Republican women 1923-1941, by Anne Matthews (Mercier, 2012), is a contribution to this movement in historical writing; it is essentially the history of an Irish women’s political movement, Cumann na mBan, during the years outlined. A previous work of hers, “Renegades”, deals with Irish Republican women from 1901 to 1922. 

Dissidents Irish Republican Women bookAlthough Dissidents deals with the period 1923-1941, Cumann na mBan was founded on 2nd April 1914 as an auxiliary to the all-male Irish Volunteers’ organisation, which had been founded in 1913. In 1914 the Volunteers split after John Redmond, leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party (in Westminster) and the main open Irish political party in Ireland, committed the Irish Volunteers to fight in the British Army in WW1. The smaller section of the split went on to participate in the 1916 Uprising and more coherently later in the War of Independence (1919-1921). Redmond’s party and “constitutional” Irish nationalism was all but wiped out in the British General Elections of 1918, at which time the whole of Ireland was still under British rule and Redmond’s nationalist opponents, then amalgamated under the name of the reformed Sinn Féin, gained the vast majority of parliamentary seats in Ireland.

Today it is common to define the ideology of both both Cumann na mBan and the Irish Volunteers as “Irish Republican” and, although they quickly became so, and the impulse in the formation of the Volunteers in 1913 was of the secret Republican organisation the IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood), both organisations at first could be more accurately described as broadly nationalist. Both organisations contained prominently in their midst people whose ideology conformed to that of Irish Republicanism as well as those whose thinking did not, people who expressed a strong interest in equality for women as well as those who were against it, people with at least a sympathy for socialist ideas and those who condemned any such tendencies – and of course variations in between.

In the period specifically chosen by Matthews, 1923-1941, the Irish Volunteers had morphed into the political party Sinn Féin and the armed organisation the IRA (Irish Republican Army) and become Irish Republican in ideology, as had Cumann na mBan. They had in fact been that way since 1919, although the period 1921-’23 was to expose some deep fracture lines which found expression in the Civil War (1922-1923) and later again with the founding of Fianna Fáil and its eventual management of the Irish State (the 26 Counties).

In order to compile her history, Matthews has consulted minutes of committee meetings of Cumann na mBan in its various incarnations (she identifies four periods, or versions of the organisation), personal recollections of participants recorded in writings, interviews, comments quoted by contemporaries, newspaper reports and articles, the Republican movement’s own publications, as well as records of prisons and police under both British and subsequently Free State rule. And she has used some of this material to reproduce and also compile lists such as the numbers and names of women convicted and jailed, the women who went on hunger-strike and the length of time on that protest. The lists also include figures on the decline of Cumann branches between 1934 and 1936, as well as a list of “women in organisations listed as dangerous by the Free State CID in 1934”. These lists are a particularly valuable contribution and will be of great use to many writing on the political movements of the period in Ireland.

Looking at some of those lists alone, one is struck by the sheer extent to which the contribution of women activists to the struggle for Irish independence, and the price they had to pay, has been overlooked. In 1930 twenty-nine women were in organisations listed as “dangerous” by the Free State detective branch of the police – twelve of these were in senior positions of Cumann na mBan, three in directing positions in Saor Éire, three for Comhairle na Poblachta, three also for Sinn Féin, one for the Prisoners’ Defence Organisation, two for Women Prisoners’ Defence League and one for the Anti-Imperialist League. The rest were rank-and-file members of those organisations and one was in Friends of Soviet Russia.

The Free State interned 645 women during the Civil War (as against over16,000 men). In her Introduction, Matthews points out that “There were twenty-four strikes in the three (women’s) prisons during the period from November 1922 to November 1923, in which 219 women took part.”  According to the table drawn up by Matthews, one woman was on hunger strike for 35 days, another for 34, seven for 31, many for different amounts of days but the vast majority into double figures. Furthermore, some of them were on hunger strike more than once.

Matthews also provides a list of the occupations of 79 women activists jailed in the North Dublin Union, which were surveyed in August 1923: the highest number for a single occupation were the 19 listed as “at home”, while the next were 11 whose occupations were given as “packer in Jacob’s” (the biscuit factory in Dublin); 10 had been engaged in “printing”; eight were “shop assistants” while 15 were variously listed as “typist” or “clerk”. This list shows quite a variety of social background among what one presumes to be fairly politically-active women which the Free State considered its enemies.

Republican women acting as couriers or delivering weapons made many journeys by bicycle, often at night without lights in order to avoid Free State patrols, “often round trips of up to forty miles” Matthew tells us (p.32).


As has been pointed out by a number of commentators, history writing involves a degree of bias. This bias is exercised not only in explicit judgements but in inferences made, choice of phrasing and so on. Choices are made in what sources to use and what prominence to give them as well as in the opposite, which sources to disregard.

If the Fall of Lucifer and his angel followers were a historical event, for example, we would expect Lucifer’s version to be very different from the Judaeo-Christian story with its sympathy for the Archangel Michael (a great example of history being written by the victors). There might be yet other versions, for example by the Seraphim and Cherubim, one of which might be in partial sympathy with the Fallen side and the other which might be against both sides of the conflict.

Whereas in the ancient past history writing was blatantly partial, in the past century historians have generally claimed to be impartial dispassionate observers recording what they discover. But every one of those writers had views influenced by class, ethnicity, gender, position in or out of power groups, status, upbringing and personal experience. And those views influenced their historical judgements, quite likely their choice of sources and possibly their choice of audience. Written records could only be left by literate people and yet for most of history the majority of people have been illiterate. A more recent trend in history writing is to recognise the inevitability of bias and for the historian to declare which is his or hers.

One should beware of historians who don’t declare their bias at the outset. That will not be a problem with Anne Matthews because although she does not formally introduce her bias to her readers, it very soon becomes clear. Or maybe that is not quite accurate, for in order to have a bias against a group one must presumably also have a bias in favour of another. It is difficult indeed in the pages of this book to find any group for which Matthews has any sympathy or, even more important for a historian, empathy.

To express a bias is expected, as I commented earlier. But unless one is engaged in pure propaganda or character assassination (or glorification), one should present the evidence in favour as well as that against and, in weighing one against the other, make a judgement. When Matthews has anything favourable to say about her subjects it seems to be an accident which will soon be remedied a little later – just keep reading!

A particularly clear and nasty example of this bias is in Matthews’ treatment of Constance Markievicz whom she calls a “self-proclaimed heroine” (p.28) but does not tell us when and where Markievicz allegedly “proclaimed” herself to be a “heroine”. Matthews also inferred that Markievicz was a given to warlike statements but a coward who ran away to Scotland. Whatever the reason for her departure in 1922, one wonders how, no matter how much she may dislike the person, someone could call Markievicz, who prominently took up arms and fought for a week against the British Empire, a coward.

In the Matthews view of the organisation, Cumann na mBan was a largely ineffective body, doctrinaire and full of in-fighting. The leadership and many prominent activists were aristocratic or upper middle class, used to the privileges afforded by their class. The working and lower-middle class members accepted the leadership’s decisions or just deserted.

Some of those things may be true and there might even be some truth in all of them — but where is the counter-argument before coming to judge? One doesn’t find it in Matthews, except by an inference that one can make from the lists I mentioned earlier and other information.

If a woman came from a higher social class and was used to having servants do her cleaning, do those facts diminish in the least her courage in facing bullets in insurrection, the threat of the firing squad, the pangs on hunger-strike and the risk of permanent damage to health, the risk of physical beatings and unhealthy prison conditions? Or on the contrary, in some ways, are those risks and sacrifices not all the more remarkable for one from such a background as that? And if an upper-class mother can pay a nanny to look after her children while she herself in in jail, does that take away from her courage and fortitude? A working-class mother without those resources (though she might be able to avail of extended family) of course has even more obstacles to surmount and deserves our greater praise but that is no reason to disparage the sacrifice or commitment of a woman of a higher class.

And if infighting and bad policy choices were a significant feature of the organisation, were there not others to weigh against them on the scales of judgement? What of transporting, hiding and distributing weapons? Of carrying secret correspondence and intelligence? Or of continuing to feed the flame of resistance while men were in prison, organising pickets and demonstrations, outside jails etc? What of creating the enduring 1916 emblem and Republican commemoration emblem, the Easter Lilly? Or of organising Republican commemorations year after year, as well as funerals of fighters in the midst of repression? Or the work of supporting prisoners and their dependents? Matthews records these and often the difficulties entailed but without a word of approval to balance the censorious words used in her criticisms. Nor do we see an attempt to understand the choices these women made or the constraints upon them, much less see anything to admire; we are shown few lessons to learn from, unless it is something like “don’t be these people or anything like them”.

In Dissidents, Anne Matthews has made a contribution to the story of Republican women but its judgement is clearly skewed and the work suffers as a result. Matthews could have recorded all the negative information that she did but also the points to throw in the balance – had she done so, her book would have been a much better return on her investment in historical research and writing as well as a better reward for the reader.