Diarmuid Breatnach

A Derry schoolboy has been subjected to emotional blackmail and pressure by his school to sign a “peace scroll” and, arising out of an altercation over his refusal in which it was alleged he was being “sectarian”, was sentenced to two after-school detentions.  Why is he being treated in this way, what is this “peace scroll” about and who is promoting it?

According to Pauline Mellon, writing about it in her blog, a boy in her Derry community in September last year was pressured by a teacher in his school to sign a “Peace scroll” with which a Reverend David Latimer is trying to create a world record with the number of signatures. “The child was told by a teacher that he would be ‘the only child in the North not to have signed’ and was further questioned as to whether his refusal was sectarian in nature.” Not surprisingly, the child reacted to this suggestion and used a word for which the school seeks to discipline him.

The school has a policy (on “abusive language”) which makes no provision for contributing factors,” says Pauline Mellon. However, although the school Board is sticking to the letter of their policy in this regard, they seem not quite so rigorous in upholding their own procedures in other respects.

When the parents questioned the School Principal over his decision to impose two detentions and what circumstances if any he had taken into consideration, the Principal immediately cut off communication with them and escalated the issue to stage 4 of the school’s complaints procedure. Stage 4 of the school’s complaints procedure requires a written submission to the Chair of the school board from parents.”

Although the parents at this stage had made no such written submission, a sub-committee of the School Board declared that they had investigated the complaint (from whom?!) and upheld the Principal’s decision. The sub-committee had decided to use as “a written submission” some letters written by the parents to the Principal after he refused meet them, thereby violating the parents’ rights to prepare their own submission if they wished to go to Stage 4 of the Complaints Procedure and, indeed, violating the terms of the Procedure itself.

As if to underline their casual attitude to their own procedures, the School Board wrote to the parents to outline their “findings” without even using the school’s headed paper. When this was pointed out to them, the Board apologised for sending the decision on plain paper and said it would not happen again. However, there was a much more significant breach of their procedures, in that the sub-committee had kept no minutes of their meeting, about which the parents have learned only recently. Then when the parents did actually submit a level 4 submission, it was totally ignored.

As Pauline Mellon observed, the Chairman of the Board was in breach of his duties according to “Department of Education guidelines which state that the chairperson has responsibility for all meetings and must ensure that minutes of ALL meetings are retained.”

One can imagine the impact of a comparable chain of events on any individual, let alone a child studying for his GCEs. The parents took him to a counsellor, after which they wished to discuss the counsellors’ report with the boy’s form teacher. The Board prevented this meeting, confusing the counsellors’ report with the parents’ “ongoing issues with the Board”.

Nine months after the first incident in this chain of events, the Board invited the parents to meet with them. The parents brought along an observer and the Board refused to allow the meeting to go ahead with the observer present and when the parents protested, they were escorted off the premises, witnessed by an Independent local authority councillor. The Board in this case is the authority and has the power and the school is also their territory. There are a number of people on the Board. In summary, they held the advantages of power, territory and numbers – yet they refused to allow two parents to be accompanied by an observer to support them (and at a later date to bear witness to what went on, should that become necessary). One must wonder what they had to fear in allowing this one additional person …. and why.

The School Board has a Parent’s Representative on it – the parents of the child sought a meeting with this person, not once but a number of times, but the person concerned has so far failed to meet with them. This is indeed extraordinary – how can anybodfy discharge their duties as a Parents’ Representative to the Board if they refuse to meet with parents who are in dispute with the Board?

There is a body which governs Catholic schools, of which the school in question is one – the Catholic Council for Maintained Schools (CCMS). This is an organisation of the Catholic Church but receives public funding through the Northern Ireland Executive. The parents took the issue to that Council. The CCMS admitted that headed paper should have been used in writing to the parents and commented that the school’s Board had not fulfilled their role; they also noted the parents’ attempt to discuss their child’s counsellor’s report with his form teacher but would not comment on whether the refusal would be normal practice. All in all, the CCMS considered that the Board’s actions of using a letter to the Principal as a submission and refusing the parents the right to submit their own Level 4 submission were “reasonable” and “in accordance with School policy”.

Presumably in their deliberations, the CCMS had discovered that the Board’s sub-committee had failed to keep any minutes but left the parents to discover this through other means at a later date. At a later complaint to the CCMS, the Council refused to acknowledge the failure of the School Board’s Chairperson in ensuring minutes were kept, as laid out in the Department of Education’s guidelines. Finally, the CCMS denied that any breach of the child’s rights took place.

The Chairperson of the CCMS is Bishop John McAreavey, who according to Pauline Mellon, has not even had the decency to acknowledge or respond to two separate letters the parents of the child in question sent to him. This was in contrast to the Bishop of Derry, Rev. McKeown who replied to the parents after they wrote to him. “Bishop McKeown who has knowledge in these matters agreed with the parents that a common sense approach should have been taken and expressed concern that such a small matter had used up so much time and energy.”

Pauline Mellon takes a similar line in concluding her article: “… a matter that should have never made it outside of the school assembly hall from the outset has exposed the School Board in question as being ineffective, unprofessional, non-transparent and unaccountable. It has exposed CCMS, a group acting under the wing of the Catholic Church, as not having learned from previous incidents when the Church has closed ranks and has attempted to silence people.”

As to the Rev. Latimer himself, the promoter of the “Scroll” signatures, although he promised the parents to look into the matter, they have heard nothing from him since.

Who is the Rev. David Latimer?

According to the Department of Education of Northern Ireland, Rev. Latimer is “a visionary”, for which term they offer no explanation apart from his Guinness Book of Records bid for “most signatures on a scroll” and his promotion of it in the schools. Indeed, it is amazing that 84 schools have signed up to the project, as the article says on their website  – even more so if none of those saw any wording to endorse and to which to encourage their children to subscribe (see further below).

The Rev. David Latimer, photographed in church

The Rev. David Latimer, photographed in church

David Latimer was a systems analyst with the Northern Ireland Electricity Board and married before he decided to become a cleric. He did so in 1988 and is now Minister of two churches, the First Presbyterian in Derry’s Magazine Street and the Monreagh Presbyterian, established in 1644 across what is now the British Border in Donegal.

In 2011, David Latimer was invited to address Sinn Féin’s Ard-Fheis and did so. On that occasion he said, referring to Martin McGuinness, that they had “… been journeying together for the last five years and during that time we have become very firm friends, able to easily relax in each other’s company.”

Rev. Latimer went on to say that “The seeds of division and enmity that have long characterised Catholic and Protestant relations were neither sown in 1968 or 1921 but during the 1609 Settlement of Ulster. Mistrust and bad feelings resulting from the colonisation of Ireland by Protestant settlers were followed by centuries of political and social segregation. Partitioning Ireland did little to ease sectarian mistrust and separateness between Protestants and Catholics left in the 6 counties as each community continued to be defined by its particular religious affiliation with little mixture between the two groups.”

The impression given there is of some peaceful colony of Protestants arriving in Ireland around 1609 which led to “bad feelings” and “mistrust”. No mention of the seizure of land from the Irish and their expulsion to the hills or abroad. No mention of the suppression of the religious faith of the majority and the imposition of that of the minority, centuries of discrimination, theft of land, genocide. One can see that this might quite rationally give rise to “bad feelings” and “mistrust”. No mention of the actual promotion by the British of sectarianism and the creation of the Orange order, with the intention of breaking up the unity between “Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter” of the United Irishmen at the end of the 18th Century.

It was again reasons of “little mixture between the two groups” which Rev. Latimer went on to blame for the recent 30 Years War:
“Little wonder this part of Ireland descended into a spiral of communal disorder and violence that was to last for decades. Victims of differences, extending back across trackless centuries that have isolated us from one another it is, with the benefit of historical hindsight, not surprising that our two communities should view each other with suspicion and regard one another as ‘the enemy.’”

Dr David Latimer, First Derry Presbyterian Church, conducts a redediication ceremony on Derry's Walls. Photo: Stephen Laitmer

Dr David Latimer, First Derry Presbyterian Church, conducts a redediication ceremony on the City’s fortifications, “Derry’s Walls”. Photo: Stephen Latimer

Did the Catholics and Protestants go to war with one another in the late 1960s or at any time during the 30 Years War? No, what happened was that Catholics demanded civil and human rights of which they had been denied in that British colony-statelet since 1921; the state forces tried to suppress their peaceful campaign with batons, tear gas and bullets; right wing and sectarian forces among the Loyalists were mobilised and burned Catholics out of their homes and murdered some. The British Army were sent in to support the “Northern Ireland” sectarian police and the IRA came into limited action to counter them, after which hundreds of “nationalists” were interned without trial, followed by escalation of IRA action, the Paratroopers’ massacres in Derry and in Ballymurphy, and so on.

In fact, Latimer’s false account of history has been the standard British ruling class’ version to justify their war in Ireland for foreign consumption and to the British population throughout those years: the reasonable British with the thankless task of keeping the two tribes apart.

I found the content of the Latimer’s speech on SF’s website without an account of the audience’s reaction but according to the Irish Echo, an Australian on-line newspaper, it “received a rapturous reception from the republican audience”.

Reverend David Latimer and the British Army

Pauline Mellon says that according to the parents, “the child based his decision not to sign the scroll on Rev Latimer’s service in the British Army and with him being stationed in Afghanistan. The child also raised concerns over what he views as Reverend Latimer’s “selective” approach to local human rights issues.”

Surely the boy is mistaken? At least about him having served with the British Army? Well, actually no. In June 2008 Rev. Latimer gave an interview to the Derry Journal to explain why he felt justified in going with the British Army to Afghanistan although he had to “wrestle with his conscience”. Presumably he is an accomplished conscience-wrestler by now since he also admitted to having participated in other British Army missions for more than 20 years.

“It would be against my nature to be part of something that is creating destruction or generating pain or grief within any community”, he was quoted as saying. “The only way I can reassure myself in being part of this is that I am involved with a unit that is going out to provide resources to people who have no choice but to be there because they are under orders.”

Who are they “who have no choice …. because they are under orders”? Ah, yes, the soldiers, pilots and drone technicians who have invaded another country, killing those who resist and generally intimidating the population. Leaving aside the spurious question of “choice”, does one help justice by administering spiritual comfort to an invading army? To whom does one have a greater moral duty? The answer is clear I think and if one lacks the courage to stand up for the population the least one could do is not to offer comfort to their invaders.

Put perhaps Rev. Latimer intends to be some kind of Camillo Torres, preaching for the poor and castigating the wrongdoer? No, of course not. Well then, perhaps subtly undermining Army propaganda? He invites us to think so: “In the quieter times, I will be around for people who will have questions about what they are doing there and about God. I might not have all the answers but I am there to give a view different to the Army view.”

In what way his view might be different to that of the Army he once again fails to explain, or to inform us whether his views were also different on the other more than twenty occasions in which he served with the British Army previously. Surely if he were intending to undermine Army propaganda, he’d hardly be telling us and the Army in a newspaper interview!

He tells us the hospital he’ll be working in over there will be treating Afghanis as well as British servicemen. Hopefully, they will be treating Afghani victims of torture in British and US Army prisons as well as children given a beating in the barracks. He won’t be trying to convert the Muslims to Christianity, he tells us. And I think we can believe that, since abusing people’s religion, their culture, customs, raiding their houses and generally intimidating them is hardly likely to incline them towards one’s religion.Rev Latimer British Army Uniform

Going on to discuss the possible dangers he would face, Rev. Latimer informs the readers of the Derry Journal that “We know the (military) base is likely to be attacked and we will undergo training in how to deal with chemical, biological and nuclear attacks.” He need not worry, the Afghans don’t have any of those weapons. However, he should exercise caution should he ever have cause to pass through the special arms stores of the British or US military, who do indeed have precisely those weapons and, furthermore, have used most of them in warfare at some point.

I will receive some weapons training, although this will be limited on how to disable a gun and make it safe.” Useful, just in case any member of the Afghani resistance accidentally drops a gun …. perhaps when calling on the Reverend to make enquiries about the philosophy of the Christian religion.

Peace” and “Peace” Treaties and Agreements

The vast majority of people would say that Peace is a good thing; despite that, “peace” remains a problematic concept and not one upon everyone can agree. And “peace” is also frequently being promoted in some part of the world by some of the most warlike states with the most horrifying armaments. For those in power, the invoking of the word “Peace” can be a powerful way of invalidating resistance, silencing dissent and of justifying the status quo which has been achieved through vanquishing the enemy in battle or by the recruitment of collaborators in the enemy’s leadership.

During WWI, the British and the French concluded the secret Asia Minor Agreement (also known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement), with the endorsement of Imperial Russia; the Agreement divided the Arab world between the French and the British should they succeed in beating the Ottoman Empire. To the shock and embarrassment of the imperialists, the Bolsheviks published the terms when they took power in 1917. Although this Agreement was intended to bring “peace” between the competing British, French and Russians, it has been in part the source of many wars with others, as well as coups and uprisings in the Middle East since then.

“Peace” does not mean the same to all: many of the British and French public during WWI would have said that “peace” meant defeating the Germans and Turks, conversely many Germans and Turks would have thought the direct opposite. The Russians mostly wanted an end to the War so “Peace” was one of the most popular of the Bolsheviks’ slogans for their October Revolution, after which they pulled Russian troops out of the War; it was one of the reasons so many soldiers and sailors sided with them.

The end of the First World War brought “peace” and “peace treaties”; among these was the Treaty of Versailles between Britain and France on one side and Germany on the other. In effect, the principal victors screwed Germany for war reparations, occupying the industrial Ruhr Valley. Many historians agree that the Versailles Treaty was a contributory factor to the later rise of the National Socialist Party (the “Nazis”) in Germany and also to the Second World War.

After WWII, the “peace” treaties  divided the world largely between the USA, the British, the French and the USSR. Some aspects of that division led to two big wars — the Korean and Vietnam Wars – and a host of smaller ones. The USA has fought 20 military engagements since WWII; the British have fought 28 and the French have been directly involved in 15 military actions or wars (these figures do not of course include the wars and coups fought by the many proxies of these powers). Furthermore, not one of those wars was fought on the territories of those states and, in most cases, took place far from them.

To look for a moment further than the three world powers above, Sri Lanka had a war going on inside it since 1983 and had peace talks a number of times. The origin of the war was the communal differences and inequalities promoted by the British when they ruled Ceylon as a colony and continued by the Sinhalese majority Government afterwards. In 2008, the ruling Sinhalese Government decided on all-out war and, abandoning the mutually-agreed ceasefire, surrounded the Tamil Tigers’ “liberated areas” with a ring of steel through which no-one could pass. They then subjected the areas to indiscriminate continuous shelling and air bombardment before sending in their troops, wiping out most of the opposing guerrillas but also thousands of civilians. According to UN estimates, 6,500 civilians were killed and another 14,000 injured between mid-January 2009.  The Times, the British daily, estimates the death toll for the final four months of the war (from mid-January to mid-May) at 20,000.

There’s peace in Sri Lanka now, all right — the peace of the grave.

Sri Lanka’s “peace” is similar to the one that followed the 1798 Rebellion in Ireland – that was “peace” after a defeat of the Irish Republican forces by bloody suppression and rabid sectarianism. Of course that “peace” was temporary only (as Sri Lanka’s will no doubt prove to be too) and was followed by other brief uprisings in 1803, 1848, 1867, the Land War 1879-’82, 1916 Rising, the War of Independence 1919-1921, the Civil War 1922-’23, the IRA campaign during WWII …. The partition of Ireland as part of the 1921 Agreement was supposed to bring peace to both parts of the country but again it proved to be a temporary one.

Despite the sectarian riots burning Catholics out of their homes and the wave of terror and repression by the Six Counties statelet in the early 1920s, conflict broke out again with the IRA’s Border Campaign of 1956-’62. In 1967 the Civil Rights campaign in the Six Counties began; the repression with which it was met by State and Loyalists caused the uprising of the Catholic ghettoes of Derry and Belfast afterwards. Then more repression, more resistance, then troops, then 30 years of war with the British Army and colonial police against the Republican guerrilla forces. The Good Friday Agreement claims to be bringing peace but history – and the ongoing repression of dissent by the statelet’s forces — indicates otherwise.

One of the reasons that peace is not necessarily brought by treaties and agreements is that they are themselves intended as temporary measures: by both parties, as in agreements between competing imperialist and colonialist powers, or by one of the parties, for example by the US Government in the case of the Native American Indians. Or they are violated by succeeding governments, as in the case of William of Orange’s promises in the Treaty of Limerick. Or they don’t deal comprehensively with the underlying causes of conflict, as with treaties and agreements between Britain and Ireland in general.

In fact, when a colonial or imperialist power seeks an agreement or treaty with a people or a weaker nation, what it is seeking is not usually peace but pacification – it wants an absence of conflict, or of resistance, so that it can continue extracting the benefits which it was doing before the people began to resist.

Or sometimes, the stronger power wants merely to delay things, to “buy time” until it is expects to be in a better position (and its opponent perhaps in a weaker one) than that which it was at the time. In 1925 the British Government intervened in a conflict between the mine-owners and the miners in Britain, paying a subsidy for nine months to prevent the miners’ pay from dropping. During that period, the Government laid in stocks of coal and bought up newsprint to prepare for a big battle with the miners’ union in particular. In 1926 they took on the British trade union movement and succeeded in forcing the TUC to call it off the General Strike within nine days of its beginning, leaving the miners to fight on alone for eight months until they were defeated.

So what kind of “peace” is being promoted by the Reverend Latimer? Some detailed plan, or some wishy-washy generalisation? That is not an easy question to answer. It is known to be an attempt to get into the Guinness Book of Records by having the most schoolchildren sign it which many have done, including in Donegal and Derry. Is it just a publicity stunt, where people sign up to some vague notion of “peace” which can mean one thing to one person and something completely different to another? What is the context for this “scroll”? “Peace” between whom and on what terms? Or is there a political agenda, as there was in the campaign around the Good Friday Agreement?

The Scroll’s FB page does not explain and the parents have not managed to find out; in addition a number of Google searches of mine failed to turn it up either. What is known about its origins, perhaps the only thing apart from it aiming at a world record, is that it is being energetically promoted by Rev. David Latimer.  And as we have seen, he goes on British Army missions and his role in all this is far from clear.


Schools in our society

Coming back to where we began, the pressure and attempted intimidation of a schoolboy is wrong and should not have been inflicted on this boy (and on who knows on how many others). It should not have been but it was and, when the parents objected, the agents of that blackmail, intimidation and repression should have backed down. And if they refused to back down, the managing agents, the School Board should have upheld the parents’ objections. And if they did not, the Catholic Council for Maintained Schools should have done so. All of them failed to do what was right.

As adults, we tend to see schools as neutral institutions, some with good standards, some not so good, with a continuum of teachers ranging from great to abysmal. Schools however do play a role in socialising children to accept authority and discipline outside the home and also into accepting ideas dominant in the society in which the school is located. Seen in that light, we should perhaps be less shocked at this treatment of a boy and his parents.

However this Guinness Book of Records project is not even part of the school’s official program nor of the State’s curriculum and it was the boy’s resistance to the undue pressure brought to bear on him that sparked the verbal response for which he is now being ‘disciplined’ and which he and his parents are resisting.

If the school were an institution dedicated to real learning, it would encourage questioning, even though its teachers and managers might find that uncomfortable at times. It would value courage and principle and instead of persecuting this boy, would encourage him and value his principled stand, his courage and his persistence. But instead it does the opposite and because the boy’s parents do value their child’s principles and courage and want to support him, they also find themselves in conflict with the school.

Such small-scale battles go on constantly everywhere in our society, in institutes of education, in workplaces, in other organisations and associations, in communities. People fight those battles, often on their own or in little groups, or they fail to resist; whichever they do will affect their individual character and their social and political attitudes thereafter, one way or the other. Drawing on those lessons can lead to understanding more general truths about society and can also help to develop the strength of character to withstand psychological and other bullying and pressure at other times in life. Fair play to the boy for his principles and the courage to stand up for them against authority figures and fair play too to his parents who are supporting him.



Pauline Mellon’s article in her blog




Diarmuid Breatnach

Anti-Water Tax protester leaves Dublin court today at liberty after two months but Gardaí arrest three Pro-Choice campaigners this evening, pepper-spraying at least one of them while held immobile on the ground.

Arrested impeding Irish Water vehicles

Stephen Bennet was brought from Mountjoy Prison this morning to Dublin Criminal Court to face “Public Order” charges relating to “obstructing” Irish Water vehicles in Dún Laoghaire and Dalkey and refusing to comply with Gárda instructions to desist. The Dún Laoghaire court had imposed conditions for releasing Bennet on bail which included a curfew, staying away from Irish Water vehicles and a large financial surety. Declaring the conditions unreasonable and a restriction on his civil rights to protest, Bennet had refused to agree to the conditions and the judge had taken to jail.

Some of the crowd of supporters welcome Bennet as he emerges into the court ground floor lobby. His daughter Saoirse can be seen the left holding Bennet's grandson. Unfortunately, Bennet himself is hidden by a supporter moving forward as photo was taken.

Some of the crowd of supporters welcome Bennet as he emerges into the court ground floor lobby. His daughter Saoirse can be seen to the left holding Bennet’s grandson. Unfortunately, Bennet is hidden as he moved forward as photo was taken.

Up to 30 supporters crowded into the court this morning to hear Bennet’s case being tried. There was also a large number of Special Branch Gardaí (political police in plain clothes) and a smaller number of uniformed police. A Garda Sergeant Gilmore from Dun Laoghaire station gave evidence of having confronted Bennet at York Road in Dún Laoghaire, where the accused had been sitting in the road and at Dalkey, where he had been “marching extremely slowly”. Sgt. Gilmore quoted the Public Order Act to Bennet and ordered him to desist but Bennet had declined to comply. Defence Counsel maintained that there was “a reasonable doubt” as to whether Bennet had been in violation of laws initially which would have rendered his subsequent refusal to comply with Garda instructions not an offence. Since there was no question of accusation of breaches of the peace, assault or criminal damage, the point at issue was whether the Public Order Act was applicable. State Prosecution Counsel argued that blocking or slowing traffic was creating “a nuisance”, to which Defence Counsel replied that causing a nuisance was part of the purpose of a protest, in order to make it effective. Sit-down and marching slowly protests had not been tested in Irish law, said Defence Counsel but quoted a number of cases from the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg where the Court had ruled in favour of applicants’ rights to protest even when the applicants’ states had found them in violation of their laws and penalised them.

Some of the supporters outside the Dublin Court today

Some of the supporters outside the Dublin Court today

The Judge retired to consider the case and when he returned he found Bennet guilty on all charges and sentenced him to a total of around €800 in fines, in default of which a total of 11 days in jail. One one charge, he sentence Bennet to two months’ imprisonment but, since that was time already served awaiting trial, Bennet was freed to cheers from his supporters, including his daughter Saoirse and his grandson, who had been born while he was in jail.

Belfast mother charged with giving her daughter an abortion-inducing pill

At 6pm this evening a protest took place at the Spire in Dublin in solidarity with a Belfast mother who facing criminal charged for having given her daughter a pill which induces abortion in very early pregnancies. The pill is freely available in Britain and legal there but the 1967 Act which legalised abortion in Britain has not been enacted in the Six Counties.

West side, O'Connell Street central pedestrian reservation, Dublin, just near Spire

West side, O’Connell Street central pedestrian reservation, Dublin, just near Spire

4,000+ Women Travel placard
The event had been organised by the Workers’ Solidarity Movement and Real Productive Health organisation in order to express solidarity with the mother and also to link the struggle of women in the 26 Counties with those in the Six, women in both parts of Ireland having to travel to another country, Britain, to avail of abortions and similar protests took place in Belfast and in Galway.

East side O'Connell Street, Dublin, just near Spire

East side O’Connell Street, Dublin, just near the Spire

A number of people spoke and soon afterwards some excitement stirred through the crowd and they began to examine the roof of the GPO where something was going on. Very shortly after that a Garda squad car with siren blaring and blue lights flashing tore along O’Connell Street and turned into Henry Street.

Another group at the protest

Another group at the protest

Sitters and Standers mid-way through the demonstration

Sitters and Standers mid-way through the demonstration

Violent Garda arrest scenes

People broke away from the pro-choice demonstration and gathered in Henry Street as other Garda squad cars, a motorbike, a cycle Garda and a number uniformed and Special Branch Gardaí on foot poured into the street. The scene was  was somewhat confusing for many but what was clear was that the Gardaí had torn the shirt off one one young man, handcuffed him and put him, stripped to the waist, in a squad car. Another young man was also handcuffed and ended up on the ground with a number of police on top, one of whom pepper-sprayed him while in that position. This action provoked shouts from onlookers and uncertain physical intervention. As a third was arrested and bundled into a police car, the word went around that these were pro-choice demonstrators who had got on to the GPO roof (presumably using the scaffolding to the side of the building) and that they had attempted to display a banner up there.

Man arrested after shirt torn off in squad car in Henry Street

Man arrested after shirt torn off in squad car in Henry Street can just be discerned in the back seat of the squad car

Another of those arrested in Henry Street; he ended up on the ground with a number of police on top before being put in the car.

Another of those arrested in Henry Street; he ended up on the ground with a number of police on top before being put in the car.

People gathered around the Gardaí, some of whom threatened to arrest those arguing with them. The Gardaí were then seen to be picking up a banner to put in the back of one of their vehicles when a woman cried sarcastically: “A banner! Oh, thank you for saving us from a banner!” Others joined in shouting: “Bad banner! Bad banner!” amidst other calls from protesters and passers-by generally expressing an opinion that the police action had been unnecessary, repressive and over the top in violence and in numbers. Indeed, the numbers of Gardaí present who had suddenly appeared did suggest to many that they had been kept in readiness to move on the pro-choice demonstration at some point or were aware that some publicity action had been planned. Protesters who attended Store Street Garda station soon afterwards were told that the accused would be charged and released on bail “in a couple of hours”. The wording on the banner apparently had been “ABORTION CHARGES ARE BOLLIX”.

WSM video of scenes at the arrests:

WSM Video of the rally just prior to the arrests:

Workers’ Solidarity Movement statement on the arrests

Some in crowd beginning to argue with Gardaí as others look on amazed

Some in crowd beginning to argue with Gardaí as others look on amazed

Two placards in the crowd earlier, a reminder of what it was about

Two placards in the crowd earlier, a reminder of what it was about




By Pat Cannon

I was present in Castlebar court house for most of the ten-days of the trial of Gerry Bourke and Liam Heffernan who are Shell To Sea supporters and activists. I witnessed at firsthand how tax-payers’ money can be wasted at will by the agents of the state i.e. Gárdaí (the Irish police), State solicitors, the Dept. Of Public Prosecution, the Judge, court officials, State barristers and other hangers-on.

Numbers involved:

( 1 ) Judge 
( 1 ) courtroom user 
( 2 ) Stenographers 
( 1 ) Prison officer; 
( 1 ) Gárda on video evidence 
( 2 ) State Solicitors 
( 1 ) Senior Counsel for the State
 ( 1 ) Junior Counsel for the State; ( 2 ) Solicitors for the Defence ( 2 ) Senior Counsel for the Defense 
( 2 ) Junior Counsel for the Defence; 
( 12 ) Jurors ( 12 ) witnesses at least. Also the secretarial staff of all parties, including the DPP Office staff working on the case, also the cleaners and the other Court staff.

First of all if the State and the oil companies had initially negotiated with the locals, probably there would have been no need for these quiet citizens to have to rise up in protest against this project.
A much safer and easier route for the pipe line would have been found as the locals have an extensive knowledge of this area. 
If the state (and its Government) had negotiated a reasonable deal with oil companies then there would be much less protestors.
If proper health and safety regulations backed up by staff and equipment were in place from the start, people would feel much safer and secure in their homes. BUT NO! THE SHARKS DON’T NEGOTIATE — there is no room for compromise in a shark’s make-up.


Right from the start, the Government, the oil companies, the Environmental Protection Agency, County Council, media, Judiciary, Gárdaí and every other arm of the State treated the local people with disregard, contempt and as a complete irrelevance. As far as all the above-mentioned were concerned there was big money to be had and no small fry was going to get in the way. THERE WAS BLOOD IN THE WATER AND THE SHARKS WERE IN FOR THE KILL.

Thankfully there were 2,500 years of tradition and history still alive and well in this area, there was a quiet shy population but of people with a strong backbone that were well hardened into hardship, neglect and resistance to outside dictatorship and who were not going to be bullied or pushed about by anybody.

The rural area chosen by Shell for the pipe-laying (planned to run between both houses in the photo)

The rural area chosen by Shell for the pipe-laying (planned to run between shed on the left of photo and  house on the right)

It was this stern backbone that caused a middle-aged primary school Principal teacher and her two daughters, backed up by less than a half-dozen other locals to take a stand and start protesting against the potential desecration of this EU Environmentally Protected Area and their local pristine environment. Of course they were ignored, the media never mentioned them; the oil company’s employees and officials looked the other way and probably had a good laugh as they passed, the Council and all the other arms of the State treated them as non-entities. As far as all these groups were concerned the local people were of no significance.

However, the time came when these officials had to get into closer proximity with the local people; they had to enter the local people’s land and they thought they could do this without permission, by bullying and using threats but soon discovered how mistaken they were. They learned that they were not just dealing with a few individuals or a few head cases but instead that there was a whole community in this locality and that this community was close-knit and resolute in their opposition to outside intimidation and coercion.

With little or no advance warning the oil companies’ employees entered the farmland of six local farmers without the owners’ consent and proceeded to dig trial holes, knock down boundary fences and block access to and from the land in question. Naturally enough the farmers contacted their legal advocates and very quickly they were in court for the first time in their lives.

Of course the Courts and Judiciary are also an arm of the State and are also commercial enterprises just like the oil companyies and they ruled in favour of the foreign multi-national companies. After all small local marshland farmers can’t afford to give big financial enticements to Court judges, politicians and Government officials but on the other hand the oil company will be very generous as has transpired since.


The six farmers, five men and one woman were found in “contempt of court” and the five men were jailed until they “purged their contempt”. This lead to an outcry all over the country and hundreds of thousands of people came to the assistance of what became known as “the Rossport Five”. Ninety-four days later the Courts had to capitulate and release all of the five innocent men.

However the scene was set for what would become a marathon David and Goliath battle between a small close-knit indigenous rural Irish community and three foreign multinational oil companies, one of which had a larger turnover than that of the whole Irish State even though the latter was experiencing an unprecedented economic boom.

Gardai defending Shell confront protesters

Gardai defending Shell confront protesters

Thirteen years after the middle-aged school teacher and a handful of supporters stood outside the local council offices in protest the struggle is still going on and the oil companies and Irish Government are still trying to bully their way through the Irish people.

However, the Government’s economic boom has disappeared and the people now realize that if they still had their oil and gas that was fraudulently misappropriated by the Irish Government and the oil companies, we would have NO EVICTIONS, NO CENTENARIANS ON HOSPITAL TROLLIES, NO EMIGRATION, NO UNEMPLOYMENT AND NO STEALTH TAXES.


So in these last two weeks I witnessed the State trying to criminalise two more supporters of the struggle; we saw video evidence showing that the men had to use considerable force to gain entry to Shell’s site and when confronted by Shell’s private army (security force) the protestors had to stand firm and use a variety of tactics to get past them. We heard State witness after State witness tell lie after lie or refuse to answer or evade answering questions when they were put in the witness box, then the Defence were not allowed show their video evidence and some of their witness were not allowed on the stand.

Shell security team manhandle a protester

Shell security team manhandle a protester. 

Shell Hell logo to Sea

I heard how Shell’s private army drive around the villages at night in two jeeps with blacked-out windows and shine their lights through the windows of activists’ homes, whilst if anybody comes out of the houses then four men wearing balaclavas step out of each jeep in an act of intimidation. We heard how the Gárdaí constantly drive past the people’s homes very slowly and then turn around a mile or two up the road just to drive past again five minutes later and hjow each time they pass, they stare into activists’ homes.

I heard how the Gárdaí punched, pushed, kicked and beat with steel batons men, women and children, how many activists spent long terms in prison on trumped-up charges while Shell plied the Gárdaí with over €35,000 worth of alcohol. I also heard how a Gárda made derogatory remarks of a sexual nature about a protestor’s wife to the protestor and how five Gárda were unwittingly recorded on a female prisoner’s video camera planning how they would interrogate her when they got her to the Garda station by threatening to rape her and laughing at the different ways they would word the threat. ALL of them got away with ALL these misconduct events.

Gardai caught on camera in action at Rossport

Gardai caught on camera in action at Rossport

I heard how while car tyre contains on average 2 bars of air pressure per square inch, that this gas pipe had 345 bars of highly inflammable gas pressure per square inch, that the seas and sea bed are highly vulnerable to currents (the second most volatile currents in the World).

I also heard the accused man’s wife state how for 13 years while she was rearing her family she could think of nothing from once she got up in the morning till she fell asleep at night but this dangerous gas pipe line that would be practically going by their front door and over which she had to take her children to school every day.  

In a statement to the Court, one of the Rossport 5 gave evidence that Michael D. Higgins (now Uachtarán of the Irish state) had been on the protest and had addressed the other protesters, also participated had the father of the State Solicitor prosecuting this case.  He also said that Enda Kenny had visited the Five in prison and had told them that life was “very cheap in Ireland now” and that “you can get a man in Dublin to do a ‘hit’ on someone for €500.” 

Protesters against Shell in Dublin

Protesters against Shell in Dublin

 In his summingup the Defence counsel stated that the State agencies had rubbished themselves in the eyes of the world in their dealing with the situation, that the terms that our oil was given away were the second best in the world for the oil companies, that they stated that there were no emergency plan in place if an accident or act of terror did happen and that the protestors had rendered a magnificent service to their fellow citizens at much expense and hardship to themselves by standing up for what is right and correct.

Protest at Shell HQ in Leeson St, Dublin in solidarity with Ogoni people in Nigeria and people at Rossport.  The Nigerian Government, to protect Shell's profits although the company was causing great environmental damage, hanged the nine leaders of the  peaceful environmental movement

Protest at Shell HQ in Leeson St, Dublin in solidarity with Ogoni people in Nigeria and people at Rossport. The Nigerian Government, to protect Shell’s profits although the company was causing great environmental damage, hanged the nine leaders of the peaceful environmental movement

The Jury of eight women and four men was out for just about one hour when they returned with a unanimous verdict of “NOT GUILTY of violent disorder” on both Liam Heffernan and Gerry Bourke. A further malicious charge of “criminal damage” was dropped by the State because despite there having been 28 cameras on site and up to 30 security men and later a number of Gárdaí, there was no evidence to support the charge.

Just more waste of tax-payers’ money. I have reckoned the tab that the tax-payer will pick up will be in the region of €150,000 and Shell won’t be paying a penny of it.

End item.

Interview with both accused outside the court:

Hotpress interview with Director of the film The Pipe about the struggle and the issues 

THE GAELTACHT AND IRISH: Dying, or in need of an emergency operation?

Diarmuid Breatnach

Maps showing the decline in the Irish-speaking areas, the Gaeltacht, during the life of the Irish state

Maps showing the decline in the Irish-speaking areas, the Gaeltacht, during the life of the Irish state

“Irish is nearly dead as a spoken language.” A shock ran through the Irish-speaking community at the news…. but although the after-shocks reached linguists afar …. the news caused but a small ripple in Irish society at large.

It should have been big news. In only nine decades of the existence of the Irish state, the Irish-speaking areas had shrunk by 90%. This seemed to herald the imminent death of Irish as a spoken language – a language that, albeit shrunk to being the mother-tongue of small minority of the Irish population, had survived almost a millennium of colonial occupation and a consistent policy to replace it with English.

The loss would be greater than Ireland’s alone – this is an early Indo-European Celtic language of more than four thousand years of development, the language of the earliest vernacular literature of Western Europe, an extremely rich literature of pagan mythology and folklore containing epics which did not suffer the extent of moralistic destruction which either the Reformation or the Inquisition visited upon so many others across Europe. The language is probably unique on the Continent in being that of a state and which is also that of the first recorded settlers of the land. It was (perhaps still is) the Celtic language with the largest number of speakers. It is the mother of Scots Gaelic and Manx Gaelic too.

It seemed almost too difficult to grasp that this had occurred in a state that claims to be independent, which also claimed the language as the first in status in the State, according to its Constitution. And this has, seemingly contradictorily, occurred at a time when there are more Irish-medium schools, Gaelscoileanna, than ever before in the history of the State.

How did it come to pass? Emigration, some might say. Certainly emigration on a large scale has been a feature of Ireland’s demographics since at least the Great Hunger (although it was in the years after that disaster that the outlying western areas began to hemorrhage). Even so, although emigration has been a constant, so also has been the population – in other words, the birth-and-survival-rate kept up with the emigration. Did the Gaeltacht areas experience higher emigration rates than elsewhere then? Certainly – not just to go overseas but also to Irish cities, especially to Dublin. Industry was scarce in the Irish-speaking areas, despite the efforts of cooperatives and Gael-Linn and the land in most places is rocky and poor.

The Gaeltacht  Death or Life

The Gaeltacht
Death or Life (image downloaded from the Internet)

Yet, the reality appears to be that the Gaeltacht population reached a level at which it stayed – so how can there be a continual reduction reaching 90% in the Irish-speaking areas? If the population has not decreased, certainly not to that extent – then the Irish-speakers must have. Have many ceased to speak the language then, losing it over a generation, or two, or three? Or has an inward migration of English-language-only speakers replaced Irish-speakers? Yes to the first and yes, to an extent, to the second.

The Basques have a saying: “No language was ever lost because people didn’t learn it but rather because those who had it, stopped speaking it.” (As an aside, I find myself wanting to say “her”, because in Irish the word “language” is of feminine gender: “Beatha teanga í a labhairt” — literally “the life of a language is to speak her”).  Observers speak of children raised in Irish-speaking families, or in a mixed-language household, even in the Gaeltacht, speaking English with their peers as they leave the primary school where the subjects are taught through Irish.

So, the people make a choice and some people of other mother-tongues move in – that’s democracy, isn’t it? Freedom to move, freedom to speak the language you want. But is it really so? Certainly one can assume that the people moving in are making a free choice (unless one takes into account dearer house prices in the cities). But are the ones moving out making a free choice?  If the absence of industry and therefore employment is a constant in the Gaeltacht then it is not an entirely free choice to leave. If the work were there, one can assume many of the people would stay.

Ok, but the ones who stop speaking Irish – surely that is a free choice?  One suspects cultural factors at play there. The attractive world for pre-teenager – which is what most childhood years have become — and teenager, is a world dominated by and represented through the English language. It is transmitted in English through so many media …. all with very little competition in Irish. The Irish-language TV channel, TG4 is in practice a bilingual one. Publishers find only a small market for books aimed at children and young adults in Irish, whereas the English-language market stretches not only throughout Ireland but abroad — Britain, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand … All of this without mentioning TV, pop-song lyrics, video games, Internet, films ….

But one must also take into account the fact that when those Gaeltacht children visit their nearby towns and cities – Letterkenny, Dublin, Waterford, Cork, Tralee, Galway, Ballina – they hear English all around them. Worse … they hear only English around them – unless they hear other languages from tourists or perhaps an Eastern European language from migrants. What they are practically guaranteed NOT to hear is Irish.

So, hardly anyone speaks her – sorry, it – and it’s not cool and most people of your age around the country don’t speak the language and what do you need it for anyway? It’s not surprising Irish-speaking is in decline.

“You can’t blame the State – they tried their best, didn’t they? Sure Irish is still a compulsory subject in the schools.”  “The national broadcaster has provided a radio station and TV channel for Irish-language use, too! And they give some grants to families speaking Irish in the Gaeltacht, right?”

Ní mar a shíltear a bhítear (loosely translated as “not all is as it seems”. Yes, Irish is taught in the schools but no attempt has ever been made to make it a language of daily use – for work, public transport, banking, shopping, post office, health service, education … Radió na Gaeltachta was won through a civil rights campaign – Feachtas Cearta Sibhialta Muintir na Gaeltachta – and people refused to pay their radio and TV licenses, were dragged to court, fined, refused and some even went to jail before TG4’s precursor, Teilifís na Gaeilge, was supplied. The Irish-speaking grants were a help to households but were not properly administered so that houses that were not Irish-speaking, or had lapsed, continued to receive them. This gave rise to false statistics that helped to conceal the decline in the Irish-speaking areas.

The Gaelscoileanna outside the Gaeltacht, at 143 in the 26 Counties, though an impressive success story, are not State initiatives — they were started by local groups who then battled for state support. Many are still in temporary buildings or in need of repair while others are awaiting the funding that will allow them to employ teachers. As for the other services – nothing. Oh, yes, some of them are supposed to have one designated member of staff who can provide a service in Irish – you can avail of him or her if she or he is not off sick, on holiday, on training or relocated. And if you can wait ….. and put up with the embarrassment while you hold up the queue. Even having one’s address used in the Irish form requires a battle, sometimes drawn out and one still finds one’s letters, from time to time, forwarded from someone else’s address or disappearing somewhere forever. Or discovering that one’s address, which one gave in Irish, has been converted back to English in some office.

A couple of years ago a Dublin court ruled that a man did not have a right to have the case against him heard through Irish. Gardaí are not subject to even the notional obligations to carry out their tasks through Irish or answerable to the Language Ombudsman and, although citizens have a right to have any legally-required procedure in Irish, cases regularly arise of people detained and threatened for insisting on being dealt with through Irish by the Gardaí (police).

Ó Glíosáin showed in research published in the 1980s the decline in Irish-speaking competency among people who had learned Irish at school and who had considered themselves competent speakers upon leaving secondary education. The rate of decline was in the order of a third for every decade passing since they left school. For all its faults, the blame cannot be placed on the educational system, the usual scapegoat. Ó Glíosáin spoke about the absence of “domains of language” for Irish outside the Gaeltacht. In Dublin, with a population of over a million, there is only one social space where everything should happen through Irish. One social space, in the capital of the State, to serve a population of over a million, more than one-fifth of the entire population of the State!

The lack of Irish services obtains even in the Gaeltacht, believe it or not. A man wrote recently of a bank branch in Connemara unable to deal with him making a withdrawal through Irish that asked him to make an appointment. Some years ago, I went to an AIB branch in the Donegal Gaeltacht area and, among a staff of five who were serving customers, could find not one able to give me a service in Irish. People in the Gaeltacht cannot get a decent service in Irish from their local authority, their health service nor, in many cases, their GP. This was so even when, decades ago, many Gaeltacht people hardly knew English.

Anyway, it’s all over now ….

So beat the drum slowly
and play the fife lowly ….

Cnag go mall ar an druma
is séid ar an fhíf go híseal …

Or is it? Irish has been in difficult situations before and still managed to survive. But this may be its greatest emergency. Can Irish-speaking survive if the Gaeltacht dies? Some say not, some say yes. But it will be without a doubt another great blow to the language and a great fall in its status. We should say NO — we will not suffer that to happen!  We will not bequeath a headstone to future generations.

But what can we do?

What can be done – what must be done – must be done by us, each an every one of us, and also by the State. We must accustom the public to hear Irish spoken. Some will respond and some will not. Some will be hostile. But it must be done and WE must do it. And the more it is heard, the more it will be acknowledged, the more people will think it worthwhile to speak what they know, to learn more, to demand services through Irish, to keep speaking the Irish they know. Spreagan Gaeilge Gaeilge – “Irish inspires/ generates Irish”.

We can greet the bus or taxi driver or shop assistant or post office official in Irish and thank them, saying goodbye in the same language. In pubs and cafes we can ask for our drinks, tea, coffee in Irish (we can repeat the request in English if the response seems uncertain; our purpose here is not to embarrass or shame or be superior, only to have the language heard). I know all of this can be done because a few people have been doing it for years. We can ensure our greetings are always in Irish – “the first word in Irish” is a transposition of a slogan from the Basque Country. We can ensure wherever signs, slogans and banners may be, that we provide these in Irish too. Sure, this is the cúpla focal, tokenistic …. but tokens are not to be disparaged; we do not disparage tokens of love and affection. Of course the tokens must be followed by the real practice, just as needs be the case with tokens of love.

Part of a recent lunchtime demonstration outside the office of the Department responsible for the Gaeltacht.  It was called by a new incarnation of Misneach, an organisation active in the mid-1960s.

Part of a recent lunchtime demonstration outside the office of the Department responsible for the Gaeltacht. It was called by a new incarnation of Misneach, an organisation active in the mid-1960s. (Photo D. Breatnach)


Deasún Breatnach

Deasún Breatnach (1921-2007), a founder member of the language-campaigning organisation Misneach, who went to jail in the 1960s to win the right to have his car insurance documentation in Irish or bilingual.

And there are battles that must be fought with the State, with local authorities, with utilities and service providers including private companies. Both logic and history make it clear that this is so. I have already alluded to the civil rights campaign in the Gaeltacht areas and the refusals to pay radio and TV licenses. In the 1960s a Dublin man asked Norwich Union to supply him a bilingual vehicle insurance document or one in Irish. The company declined. The man bought the insurance but refused to display an English-only document on his car. The State’s laws require that every driver display a document showing that they had insurance but no law required a private company to provide that documentation in Irish. The Gardaí regularly stopped the man who explained his stance and they noted his details and allowed him to proceed. For about a year nothing else happened until one day he was summoned to go to court and, despite his explanation and his reference to his right under the Constitution, he was fined. He refused to pay the fine and went to prison. Demonstrations followed with a friend of his playing the bagpipes outside Mountjoy Jail.  In less than a fortnight, “an anonymous cleric paid the fine” and subsequently the law was changed. Every vehicle insurance company wishing to practice in Ireland subsequently has to provide Irish documentation or a bilingual version.

Some policies will have to be put in place in the Gaeltacht and closely followed.  Policies relating to housing, employment and service delivery will be among them.  Some will be welcome and some controversial … but needs must.

The State has already shown by its attitude and by the sad statistics that it does not wish to save Irish as a spoken language. Nor is it only the record of the Gaeltacht decline which speaks volumes. Recently this Government showcased in a video its plan for the centenary commemoration of the 1916 Rising. Among the many criticisms the video attracted was that the Irish in it was of a terrible quality – the Government had employed a translator who had used Google Translate. The video was withdrawn.

Small section of crowd in large "Dearg le Fearg" (Red with Rage) demonstration March 2014 about lack of support for the irish language.

Small section of crowd in large “Dearg le Fearg” (Red with Rage) demonstration March 2014 about lack of support for the irish language. (image downloaded from the Internet)

Towards the end of 2013, the Irish Language Commissioner, a public servant, accusing the State of “lip-service” towards Irish and actual obstruction, announced that he would not seek reappointment at the end of his term – an announcement that led to a number of big demonstrations in 2014 under the slogan “Dearg le Fearg” (Red with Rage).  In July 2014, the Government appointed a Minister for the Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht who does not speak Irish – Heather Humphreys. She has, in turn, a Minister of State with specific responsibility for the Gaeltacht, Joe McHugh, appointed in the same month … and, although apparently he is learning it, he does not speak Irish either. And note that responsibility for “Culture” is longer in the same Department as Irish – it has been moved to the much more prestigious Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport.

The State is being challenged from many diverse directions – on issues of services, state finances, centennial commemoration of the fight for independence, conservation, social housing, social welfare, employment and employment rights, health service, gender and sexuality equality, natural resources, Traveller rights, migrant rights … Irish must be seen and heard in these battles and the civil rights of Irish speakers inside and outside the Gaeltacht must also be presented separately, as an issue in itself. These are battles to be fought in campaigns to be planned and time is short. But we can start today, with ourselves. Beatha teanga í a labhairt.



Diarmuid Breatnach

The 28th of June was not a normal Sunday in Moore Street. On a normal Sunday, Moore Street is not a busy street, although it is not quiet either. The stallholders are on a day off to come back on Monday but a number of small shops are open as are the supermarkets and the ILAC shopping centre, one of which doors opens up on to Moore Street. But on this Sunday, crowds packed a part of the street for the event organised by the Save Moore Street from Demolition group.

Part of the crowd lining up around the 1916 Terrace in Moore Street

Part of the crowd lining up around the 1916 Terrace in Moore Street

Paul O'Toole, who played a number of sets, including singing some songs of his own composition

Paul O’Toole, who played a number of sets, including singing some songs of his own composition

As a crowd had gathered already by 1.30pm, a half an hour early, singer-musician Paul O’Toole responded to his performing instincts and started playing a set of compositions of his own and of others. A song against the Water Charges opened his set, to be followed by another of his own, We Shall Not Lie Down.

Meanwhile the Save Moore Street from Demolition (non-political party) group, had set up their stall as they had done the previous day there and on another 41 Saturday afternoons in Moore Street. The folding table, covered in a Cumann na mBan flag donated by a diaspora supporter, was staffed by Bróna Uí Loing, a relation of 1916 veterans and of Fenians involved in the famous Manchester prison van escape, and Vivienne Lee, another early activist in the campaign. On the table was a petition to save the street and leaflets were being handed out by helpers. Nearby, some Irish tricolours, the Starry Plough and the Irish Republic flag fluttered and a number of placards indicated the concerns of the campaign: “NÍL SAOIRSE GAN STAIR (“There is no freedom without history”) stated one, while another said “NO TO SPECULATORS”.


Moore Street is the sole remaining street of a market quarter going back hundreds of years comprising three parallel streets with many lane-ways in between, all the rest of which are now buried underneath the ILAC shopping centre and a Dunne’s Stores; people lived in those streets and laneways and clothes and shoes, meat and fish, fruit and vegetables and furniture were sold there.

But in 1916, Moore Street, its back yards and its surrounding streets were host to history of a different kind: in the last days of the 1916 Rising, the GPO roof burning and the ceiling unsafe, around 300 Irish Citizen Army and Irish Volunteers evacuated the building and made their way through a side door, across a Henry Street made hazardous by flying bullets, and into Henry Place. It was probably here that the English revolutionary socialist, Weekes (also variously Weeks, Wicks) who had joined the Rising, fell dead.

The insurgents’ evacuation group included three women: Elizabeth O’Farrell, her life-long friend Julia Grennan and Winifred Carney, James Connolly’s secretary who, on leaving Liberty Hall on Easter Monday, had packed a Webley pistol along with her typewriter. All three had refused to leave as the other Cumann na mBan women made their own earlier hazardous way helping the wounded fighters to Jervis Street hospital.

As the evacuees made their way hurriedly through the Henry Place laneway, they encountered a storm of machine-gun and rifle fire at the intersection of the lane and another, now named Moore Lane. The fire was coming from a British Army barricade at the top, in what is now Parnell Street. Here Michael Mulvihill fell, mortally wounded; he was also fresh over from England but originally from Kerry. Volunteers broke into a yard and dragged a car out, placing it across the gap and taking a breath, they ran across, mostly one by one. Connolly was being carried on a makeshift stretcher, his ankle shattered earlier by a ricocheting bullet in Williams Lane, ironically just next to Independent House, owned by leader of Dublin “nationalist” capitalists, William Martin Murphy and also ironically, across the road from the former office of the Irish Socialist Republican Party, founded by Connolly in 1896, sixteen years earlier.

Shortly before the evacuating group were making their way across that murderous gap, Michael The O’Rahilly had led a dozen fighters who had volunteered for the task in a charge at another British barricade and machine-gun a the top of Moore Street, also in what is now Parnell Street. Since the GPO was being evacuated, there was no covering fire from the top of that building and the fire coming down the street must have been terrific. None made it as far as the barricade. The O’Rahilly was apparently unharmed and got quite close; he sheltered in a doorway on the west side of the street and then ran across to a lane on the other side. A burst of machine-gun fire caught him and in the laneway, now named O’Rahilly Parade, he died, after having penned a note to his wife. The note is reproduced now on a bronze plaque in that street.

The other group, having made it through Henry Lane and prevented from further progress by the firing of that same machine-gun, broke into the first house of a Moore St. Terrace on the north side of the terrace and began to tunnel northwards from house to house, occupying in time the whole terrace by the time their leaders gave up their plan of breakout and, in an attempt to save further loss of civilian life, surrendered themselves and all the garrisons of the Rising on both sides of the Liffey on Saturday of Easter Week.

The surrender party of Pearse and O’Flaherty met General Lowe in what is now Parnell Street (exactly where is disputed but from the photo of the event it would appear to be outside of where In Cahoots café is now). The GPO/ Moore Street garrison marched up O’Connell Street and surrendered their arms outside the Gresham Hotel and were kept prisoner in the garden of the Rotunda, the building where the first public meeting to found the Irish Volunteers had been held in 1913. A British soldier posed later for a photo with the Irish Republic flag held upside down in front of the Parnell Monument and at some point a whole group of British officers posed for another photo, also holding the flag upside-down to signify the defeat of the rebels.

From that tunneled-through terrace in Moore Street, six were among the 14 shot by firing squad, including five of the signatories of the Proclamation: Tom Clarke (whose tobacconist shop was where the Centra shop is now, across from the Parnell Monument), Patrick Pearse, James Connolly, Seán Mac Diarmada and Joseph Plunkett. Another, William Pearse, was also executed.


Jumping forward to June 28th 2015, while Paul O’Toole was playing and singing to keep the audience interested, shouted slogans from the Henry Street end of Moore Street announced the arrival of the Dublin Says No weekly march, come to support the campaign.

Paul O’Toole’s place was taken later by Kev and Dwayne, who played and sang a set of Dublin and 1916 ballads, to be followed by a performance of two of his pieces by John Cummins, Poetician, champion of the Slam Poetry competition. His piece on Moore Street was particularly well received.

John Cummins, poetician, performing his Moore Street piece

John Cummins, poetician, performing his Moore Street piece

Kev and Dwaine, who also provided entertainment with a set of Dublin and 1916 songs

Kev and Dwaine, who also provided entertainment with a set of Dublin and 1916 songs

Diarmuid Breatnach of the Save Moore Street from Demolition group, who had been MCing the entertainment part of the event, then called on the crowd to line up on the street and stretch arms in a symbolic act of: “Love for Moore Street and our heritage and resistance to the plans of property speculators to destroy it”. Paul O’Toole came back on and played as the crowd eventually stretched around all four sides of the “1916 terrace”, areas where in 1916 bullets flew and people died as a relatively small group of women and men took on the British Empire. Cries could be heard of
“Save Moore Street, save it all,
Save the Terrace and the stalls!”

When the ‘Arms Around’ exercise had been completed, photographed and filmed, Breatnach called the participants to gather back around to the Moor Street terrace and introduced Mel Mac Giobúin, to speak on behalf of the SMSFD group and to MC the final part of the event.

Mel thanked the crowd for encircling the 1916 terrace in defence of “ ‘me jewel and darlin’ Dublin’ as Éamon Mac Thomáis would say”. Mel explained that the small group of which he was part had run an information and petition stall “every Saturday for over 40 weeks in Moore Street, in rain, cold and now sunshine” and paid tribute to all those who had campaigned over the years. He spoke of the support of ordinary people who shop in the street, who come up to the stall not only to sign the petition but to tell us their memories of shopping or working in Moore Street, of relatives who were involved in the 1916 Rising and/ or in the War of Independence.

The line stretching around from Moore St, to the corner of Moore Lane with Henry Place, then (out of frame) up Moore Lane to O'Rahilly Parade and back into Moore St.

The line stretching around from Moore St, to the corner of Moore Lane with Henry Place, then (out of frame) up Moore Lane to O’Rahilly Parade and back into Moore St.

Mel Mac Giobúin, speaking on behalf of the Save Moore Street from Demolition group

Mel Mac Giobúin, speaking on behalf of the Save Moore Street from Demolition group

Enumerating some of the advances that had been made over the years, Mel denounced the Chartered Land giant “shopping mall” proposal and the NAMA process through which property speculator Joe O’Reilly was now going and Moore Street along with him. (Joe O’Reilly was, at €12.8 billion, top of the list of NAMA debtors not long ago but is now at No.6 of the Top Ten. He is still in business and being paid €120,000 annually by the State to manage his debts; also was recently involved in bidding for another big property site — DB). Dublin City Council had received a large number of submissions, Mel said, and was now beginning to think that another shopping mall might not be the best idea for Moore Street.

Bróna Uí Loing and Vivienne Lee, members of the campaigning group

Bróna Uí Loing and Vivienne Lee, members of the campaigning group with the campaign table displaying petition and leaflets

“We should continue to recognise the important significance of the 1916 Rising and the long tradition of the street market” Mel said and, in concluding, he thanked the crowd but asked them to be ready to be called out again in defence of the Moore Street historic quarter.

Next to speak was Donna Cooney, representing the 1916 Relatives Association, who spoke of the Cumann na mBan women in Moore Street in 1916, one of them being her great grand-aunt, Elizabeth O’Farrell. Donna recounted how O’Farrell had tripped in Moore Lane during the evacuation but had been caught and saved by Sean McGarry. On entering No.10, the first thing O’Farrell remembered seeing was Connolly on a stretcher and went to tend to him (she was a nurse by profession).

Donna spoke of the perilous journey O’Farrell had to take twice in the negotiations with General Lowe and then later, more danger in the unhappy task of taking the surrender instructions from Pearse and Connolly to insurgent strongholds in various parts of Dublin. “The Government needs to do much more”, said Donna, referring to Government plans to commemorate the centenary of the Rising in 2016 and was warmly applauded by the crowd.

Donna Cooney, great-grandniece of Elizabeth O'Farrell, speaking on behalf of the 1916 Relatives' Assocation

Donna Cooney, great-grandniece of Elizabeth O’Farrell, speaking on behalf of the 1916 Relatives’ Assocation

Proinnsias Ó Rathaille, called up next by Mel, is also a 1916 hero’s relative – his grandfather was The O’Rahilly, who died in the lane that now bears his name. Proinnsias spoke briefly of the international importance of the 1916 Rising, which had given such inspiration and encouragement for their own revolutions to nations around the world, particularly those under the British Empire. Turning to the importance of the Irish diaspora to the struggles, Proinnsias singled out Maeve O’Leary who continues to promote the cause from Australia where her home is now and who had recently returned to her native Dublin for a short while (and worked with the Save Moore Street from Demolition group — DB).

Proinnsias concluded by reading the moving poem written by Yeats to the memory of The O’Rahilly to great applause.

Proinnsias Ó Raithille, grandson of The O'Rahilly

Proinnsias Ó Raithille, grandson of The O’Rahilly and a campaigner for Moore Street

The final speaker introduced by Mel was Jim Connolly Heron, great-grandson of James Connolly, a long-time campaigner for the appropriate preservation of Moore Street. Jim spoke about how the Chartered Land plan to destroy Moore Street had been agreed by a Minister in the current government and how a land-swap deal, which would have facilitated the destruction of much of the 1916 terrace, had been voted down by elected councillors of a number of political parties and independents.

Jim Connolly Heron, great grandson of James Connolly and a long-time campaigner about Moore St.

Jim Connolly Heron, great grandson of James Connolly and a long-time campaigner about Moore St.

Jim went on to speak of the NAMA sell-off of assets due for the following day, when among other properties, Chartered Land’s stake in the ILAC and Moore Street was to be sold off to the highest bidder. “Moore Street is not for sale”, he said, to cheers. Jim went on to speak of “the golden generation” who had risen in 1916 and the need to honour their memory and to commemorate the event properly and how conserving the historic Moore Street quarter, the only surviving 1916 battle-site, is very important part of that. Jim concluded to loud cheering and applause by saying that “Moore Street will not be sold on our watch!”

Paul O’Toole then played and sang again his “We Will Not Lie Down”, with the crowd joining in on the chorus, after which he accompanied Diarmuid Breatnach singing “Amhrán na bhFiann”, the first verse solo and everyone joining in on the chorus.

And so the third Arms Around Moore Street event in six years (along with other types of campaign events) came to a close. Next Saturday, the Save Moore Street from Demolition information and petition table will be there again, for people to sign, to read, to share their memories, their anger, their hope that the market, the terrace, the quarter are saved. In the meantime, people will sign the petition on line and post supportive comments on the SMSFD Facebook pages and others. It is not just their past – it is their future too.


Section of the crowd of supporters in Moore Street

Section of the crowd of supporters in Moore Street


Diarmuid Breatnach

They came down O’Connell Street in their tens of thousands – colourful banners and heart-shaped balloons, music in sections, black, brown and white faces and if many were old, many were also young – and not just the children brought by a parent. “Right to life” was the most common chant, obviously tailored to undermine their opposition’s “Right to choose”, from those who favour the unfettered right to abortion. And LIFE is the name of the organisation that brought these marchers together on their annual march through Dublin city centre.Separat Church & State top

Bad photo of approach of anti-abortion march in O'Connell Street

Bad photo of approach of anti-abortion march in O’Connell Street

Nobody has a right to kill!” was the last line in another chant. So with that, the name of their organisation and “Right to life”, we have what they are about, right? They are for life and are upholding, apparently, the Christian Commandment “Thou shalt not kill”. Yes, it was there on the tablets of stone Moses brought down the mountain, Number Six – wayyy down the list. Actually, apparently in Hebrew it translates as “Though shalt not murder”. And defining “murder” is not so simple either. But anyway, the Jewish faith has the same prohibition. In fact, there is hardly a religion that does not. Of course, the Old Testament also calls for “an eye for an eye” and says that “you shall not suffer a witch to live”. But anyway ….

Interestingly, the highest leaders of organised religions across the world have blessed their soldiers as they went off to kill soldiers and civilians in other lands. Sometimes their victims were infidels according to the ones who were killing them but often they didn’t even have that excuse, as when the first Crusade attacked the overwhelmingly Christian city of Damascus, or when Catholic Spain fought Catholic France, or when Protestant England fought Protestant Germany, or Catholic Italy invaded Catholic Spain, Catalonia and the Basque Country. But presumably, those pastors, bishops, pontiffs, cardinals and mullahs can fall back on the dispute about the meaning – it wasn’t “murder”, it was legal killing.

Two Special Branch officers (political police) centre photo in sunglasses -- blue pattern shirt and brown T-shirt top next to him.  There were eight SB identified, all watching the counter-protesters.

Two Special Branch officers (political police) centre photo in sunglasses — blue pattern shirt and brown T-shirt top next to him. There were eight SB identified, all watching the counter-protesters.  The blue-patterned shirt individual threatened a counter-protester without identifying himself.

The wiping out of the Guanches of the Canaries was not murder, the genocide of the indigenous American “Indians”, the enslavement and consequent killing of hundreds of thousands of Africans – they were not murder either. Nor the wiping out of every single Tasmanian and most of the Australian Aborigines. The West was exploring and, by the way, bringing Christianity and civilization to those poor benighted people.

I’d hazard a guess that compiling a list of Christian bishops in most denominations who condemned the wars in Malaya, Korea and Vietnam would a short one. Cardinal Spellman, notorious as anti-communist and anti-militant organized labour, a supporter of McCarthy’s witch-hunts, had the words “Kill a Commie for Christ” put into his mouth due to his enthusiastic support for the US waging the Vietnam War. Leaving out the maimed in mind and body, even in the wombs of their mothers, somewhere between 1.5 and 3.6 million were killed in that war – but presumably they weren’t murdered.

Billions of people are killed by unsafe working conditions, uncontrolled pollution, police and army repression, crime in slums, famine, alcohol and drug addiction, curable disease – almost all conditions that can be avoided except that doing so would cut into profits of local capitalists and/or foreign “multinationals” (read, monopoly capitalists/ imperialists). Those “entrepreneurs” aren’t murdering anyone either, even when their practices are illegal (even by their own laws) …. The ways of God are indeed mysterious, certainly so if the ways of his representatives on Earth are anything to go by.

Some suggested actions for lowering the abortion rate which involve caring for people instead of just foetuses

Some suggested actions for lowering the abortion rate which involve caring for people instead of just foetuses

I have digressed, mea culpa. I have gone down a well-worn philosophical and logical path to ask a particular question: Are those tens of thousands marching down O’Connell Street really for Life and against killing human beings? I doubt it and I have not seen among their number most people I see against the bombardment of Gaza or the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, nor vice versa. A few, certainly, but not many. So I have to assume that it is not life that they value so much, except the life of a foetus. And once born, it is pretty much up to luck what happens to that foetus, as far as most of these ardent defenders of life are concerned.

As I said, that philosophical and logical path of discussion has been well trodden before me and no doubt to better effect than mine here. But I wish now to take another path of discussion – I wish now not to criticise the opposition, the anti-abortion brigade, but rather ours, the pro-choice movement of which loosely I am a member.

All Irish surveys and opinion polls published show a rising trend of support for the unfettered right to abortion, even if that section is still a minority. The majority of those polled have been for a greater access to abortion than is currently available in this state. Furthermore, some scandals involving refused abortions, refused permission to travel and the death of a woman who needed an abortion have mobilised considerable passion which the pro-choice movement could enlist in its favour.

Yet, despite what the polls tell us, and despite those high-profile cases, the anti-abortioners succeed in mobilising much larger numbers in opposition to abortion than do those who are in favour of permitting it. Putting this conundrum to some pro-choice campaigners, they have all answered to the effect that the anti-abortioners receive huge funding from reactionary political and religious foundations, especially in the USA. They spend millions on advertising and propaganda, I am told.

I’m sorry, I don’t accept that reply. Because despite their well-funded advertising and propaganda, the opinion polls show a climbing majority for some access to abortion and a climbing minority in favour of unfettered access.

The Riot Squad were also there for the counter-demonstrators.  Some may be seen in this misty image of them at the Princes Street end of the GPO.

The Riot Squad were also there for the counter-demonstrators. Some may be seen in this misty image of them at the Princes Street end of the GPO.

The Antis just seem to be better at mobilising their supporters – why is that? Well, the funding again, I’m told. They hire coaches and bus people in. So why can’t we do that? Are we incapable of raising money to hire coaches? Obviously not in the case of the Water Tax, for example. Republican groups hire coaches traveling to other parts of the country and pay their share as individuals; they often fund their posters, placards, banners public meeting-room hires, for example through fund-raising events. We don’t see many fund-raising events in support of the right to abortion. In fact, the public doesn’t see much evidence of the movement as a rule except when we come out to protest about a high-profile case or to oppose the march of the anti-abortioners. And our movement doesn’t seem to do much mobilising for the latter, either. And this march happens every year so it can easily be planned for.

Yet how many were there to show their opposition to these tens of thousands of anti-abortion campaigners? Maybe six hundred …. at a very long stretch, a thousand. Going by the opinion polls, in Dublin alone there are a great many more people who support unfettered access to abortion than appear on that counter-demonstration.

Nor did we even distribute our meagre forces in the most effective way.

Each year, it is the same. The anti-abortion people march down from the Garden of Remembrance, and the pro-choice people wait for them at the Spire. Most on the island, some on the east side pavement. The heaviest concentration of people is on the island (or pedestrian reservation), between the Spire and for about 20 or so yards heading north. Then the line starts to straggle. We didn’t even stretch quite to Larkin’s statue. Even those low numbers, properly distributed, could reach from the Spire down to O’Connell Bridge. But we don’t do that. We bunch up in a short concentration so that every section of their march is quickly past us and, what’s more, it allows them to focus their loudhailers and PA systems on our heaviest concentration in order to drown us out, as they were doing on Saturday.

The section containing most of the counter-demonstrators.  The anti-abortioners were able to park two mobile PAs in front of them there to drown out their opposition as the march went by.

The section containing most of the counter-demonstrators, from left photo to the Spire. The anti-abortioners were able to park two mobile PAs in front of them there to drown out their opposition as the march went by.

Broadly speaking, we outnumber them but on most mobilisations, they outnumber us hugely. They appear more broadly militant and organise better. And they learn. I didn’t see anything like as many people in religious robes this year, which suggests to me that they are tailoring their presentation to avoid an over-identification in popular perception with religion. They can’t keep all their religious nutcases under wraps but I saw much less crosses or rosary-waving this year. They have adapted their slogans and chosen what seems the hardest argument to oppose, that which appears to be for “life”, and they ensure that they are all on message, chanting the same lines, again and again.

They are the reactionaries – how is that they seem better able to learn than us? Should it not be the other way around?