Any hope that the Irish capitalist ruling class and their current government had that people had given up — or even had just got tired of marching — were dashed on Sunday 29th August 2015.
Hundreds of thousands gathered again from far and near; banners were on display from the West, South, North-East and North-West, Midlands, and of course many parts of Dublin and the East coast.
The main march columns started off from two train stations: Connolly Station, to the east of the city and Heuston, to the west. The latter contingent crossed the river at the station then marched eastward towards the city centre along the southern quays while the other marched westward along the northern quays and then crossed the river to the north side further upriver (Essex Bridge) and turned towards the city centre. Both columns had contingents and individuals joining them en route while others went straight towards O’Connell Street, they were greeted by a musical performance from the main stage by Don Baker and other musicians, also a performance by a rapper.
State repression was focused on at times: the Jobstown 23 banner got strong applause from bystanders at various points along the route, another banner denounced Garda violence including pepper-spraying and a number of speakers spoke about Garda repression, including one who talked about the Special Branch opening files on anti-water tax resisters.
As usual on large demonstrations of this kind, the Gardai refrained from violence or bullying and in fact were in very low profile, in stark contrast to their behaviour and numbers when dealing with smaller numbers in local resistance to water tax and the installation of water meters.
ELECTIONS, TRADE UNIONS
Among the speakers there was of course much mention of elections and getting rid of the current capiltalist government and also statements about the fight for the Republic in history, compared bleakly to the situation in Ireland today with unemployement, emigration, cuts to services, homelessness, privatisation. John Douglas, Gen. Secretary of Mandate and President of Mandate covered many of those issues, including the Dunne’s Stores dispute and the sudden closure of Clery’s in a rousing speech. However, those two are cases in point illustrating the weakness of the Irish trade union movement today: Mandate had one day’s strike in Dunnes’ many weeks ago and have won no gains as yet, while Clery’s managed to sack their workers without the union leading even a sit-in to hold the building and stock as a bargaining chip
A new presence on this demonstration was Belfast Trade Council, who were made very welcome and who had a speaker on the platform. He said that there was no EU directive to tax the water and that in the Six Counties they had defeated the water tax. He was not long speaking when the heavens opened and rain poured down on demonstrators and bystanders alike.
What today showed is a strong will to resist across the country and across a great age spread, but with noticeably lower numbers across the teenage and young adult band, as well as a relatively weak leadership of the movement.
It remains to be seen whether RTÉ and newspapers will give a reasonable estimate of the numbers and coverage or instead do the usual of quoting ridiculously low figures or remain vague about them while giving minimal space to what was a large event, with participation from around the nation, as part of the biggest civil disobedience campaign in the history of this State.
Video of unaccompanied rapper Stephen Murphy at rally
(Postcript: In their on-line report, RTÉ showed a photo of a packed O’Connell St. and said the organisers were claiming around 80,000. Also, at the Dublin GAA football match of Mayo v. Dublin the following day in Croke Park, attended by Enda Kenny, whose seat is in that county, Dublin supporters unfurled a giant banner of Right to Water).
The historic ruins of Hasankeyf, which may have been settled more than two thousand years BCE, are threatened by a Turkish dam along with the homes of Kurdish, Armenian and Arab people. A number of archaeologists and historians believe that the fortified town was referred to in inscriptions on the Mari tablets (1,800-1,750 BCE). The rocky outcrop also contains many human-made caves.
As well as being the site of an ancient town, it is also an urban and outer settled district located along the Tigris River in the Batman Province in southeastern Turkey, with a recent combined population approaching 70,000.
The project that threatens to submerge much of Hasankeyf is the Isilu Dam being built by Turkey. Despite the foundation stone being laid as late as 2006, in 1971it was already being actively considered as one of the sites for a number of dam projects for hydro-electric generation and number of other purposes. A study by an international team between 1980 and 1982 recommended the building of the Isilu dam despite the 1981 declaration by the Turkish Government itself of Hasankeyf as a natural conservation area.
Opposition to the dam
The project had run into funding difficulties over the years. Due to international protests on environmental, archaeological and human rights grounds, and also protests within Turkey and from inside Hasankeyf, a number of international funders backed off. The British Government refused $236 million in funding in 2000 and in 2009, a consortium of Austrian, Swiss and German credit agencies withdrew their offer of $610 million.
The consortium had suspended the loan in 2008 and had given the Turkish Government 6 months to comply with international standards, which they had failed to do. However in July 2010 the Austrian firm Andritz Hydro announced it was lifting its suspension and would provide the six huge turbines specified for the power plant.
Excavations for the main body of the dam began in May 2011 and the Turkish Government projected that all works would be completed this year. A 250m (820ft) permanent steel-girder bridge with concrete supports has been constructed just downstream of the dam andconstruction of new villages is currently underway. The diversion of the Tigris River began during August 2012. According to Government figures, by April 2014 the project was 60% completed while 73% of the Hasankeyf population had been resettled.
Protests continue within the area, peaceful and not. According to the Government, in January 2015 Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) threatened the lives of workers and anti-Government sources confirmed that a number of workers left the site. On 3 February 2015 a convoy of supplies for the dam was attacked, injuring three persons and several days later a worker was killed in his home, according to the Government by suspected PKK militants. Peaceful protests have included pickets and demonstrations (see photos) and some of these have also taken place abroad, including recent ones in England (see photos).
The completion of the Ilısu Dam will cause the flooding of the ancient city of Hasankeyfand about 185 villages and hamlets will be fully or partially affected by flooding, according to the Kurdish Human Rights Project. From 55,000–65,000 people will be forcibly resettled, says the KHRP, while even the Turkish Government estimates 40,000. According to a statement released on the 24th August by a solidarity group protesting outside the Austrian Andritz company’s facility in England, the completed project will reduce water flow to Syria by 40% and Iraq by 80% and the dam also provides the facility for political control of those areas through further restriction of water supplies.
Turkey is a member ofNATO and extremely important strategically to the the military alliance, as well as having some significant natural resources. However its regularly-renewed applications to join the EU have always been turned down because of its human rights record, both in the course of recent wars with its ethnic Kurds as well as with regard to protest movements among ethnic Turks. Recently Turkey came in for adverse international publicity again as it was seen to be blocking Kurds trying to get through the Turkish border with Syria in order to defend areas under attack by ISIS (Islamic State), while Turkey has also been accused of more directly assisting ISIS in its attacks. Although the state has Moslem fundamentalist political parties which occasionally come into government, Turkey itself has been secular since it became a republic in 1922.
The Spanish state is set to close 107 Basque social centres, confiscate their funds and sell off their assets, including property. With allegiance to the Basque Patriotic Left, the “Izquierda Abertzale” as it terms itself in Spanish, the Herriko Tabernak (“Peoples’ Taverns”) function as centres for social, cultural and political activity. The sale of coffee, alcohol and pintxos (a variety of home-produced small items of food, mostly eaten cold) also generates income with which to employ some activists within the movement and also to fund some of its political activities.
Those are the socially-useful functions of the Herriko Tabernak and precisely the reasons the Spanish state plans to close them down. Not that they say that openly, of course – the official line is that the taverns “fund terrorism”. Never mind that the police have never furnished any evidence of that, never mind too that the alleged recipient, the armed organisation ETA, has been in uninterrupted ceasefire since 5th September 2011, confirmed as “permanent” in a statement the following January and again as a “permanent cessation of armed activity” in October 2012.
There is an herriko taberna in many vilages and in every town throughout much of the southern Basque Country (i.e the part under Spanish state rule) and Bilbao, for example, has several. They vary from one another but typically have a front bar area and a rear or upstairs function room which may be used for political, cultural,
educational or social event, or hired for personal social functions such as celebrating a birthday, successful conclusion of studies, an engagement or wedding, a return for a migrant. Social functions of a more political nature such as welcoming a recently-released political prisoner or a commemoration of some figure of the resistance are also held there.
Although people hostile to the ‘herrikos’ would not usually enter one, anyone can do so and order coffee, beer or soft drink, perhaps buy some pintxos – no-one will bother them. The language of conversation inside may be Euskera (Basque) or Castellano (Spanish) but all the staff have at least enough Euskera for the customers’ needs and many are fluent.
On the walls notices and posters carry political, cultural or social messages or advertise an event, either specific to the Basque Country or perhaps in solidarity with the Palestinians, the Saharaui (Western Sahara people), or to do with gender and sexuality-social issues, workers’ and migrants’ rights, animal rights ….
Photo portraits of prisoners are “glorification of terrorism”
Recently, the walls carried photo portraits of political prisoners from the area. After the Spanish National Court decreed, a few years ago, that these were expressions of “glorification of terrorism”, the police raided many herriko tabernak (and also sympathetic bars) and arrested those who refused to take them down. The herrikos and bars affected then removed the portraits but replaced them with black silhouettes. Despite a widespread expectation that those arrested would face prison terms, nothing happened and the pictures are back up on the walls of the herrikos.
The herriko closures are expected after the Spanish state’s General Elections, which must be held before December and are expected in October or November. According to opinion polls, both traditional governing parties, the PP and the PSOE, are ahead of all others and even Podemos, with its meteoric rise to December 2014, did not overtake them and continues to show a decline in the voting intentions of those polled. In the southern Basque Country itself, the christian democratic Basque Nationalist Party continues to dominate and, even if they wished to help the party to their left (and they don’t), could not stand up against the Spanish state. A political solution therefore is out of reach.
When the herrikos close, the loss will be enormous: the organised movement will suffer politically, culturally and financially and the social and cultural life of thousands will suffer. There seems little that the Abertzale Left movement can do within the Spanish state – its legal challenge in the Supreme Court has failed. It can apply to the Constitutional Court but decisions there usually concur with those of the Supreme. After the Constitutional, it can apply to Europe, to either the Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg or the Court of International Justice at the Hague but the delay in cases being heard there can take years and by the time they are heard, the herrikos will have been closed and properties auctioned off. Nor are the European Courts’ decisions necessarily to the benefit of the Basques – although a number of times Strasbourg has found against the Spanish state for failing to investigate a claim of torture by a political prisoner, it has never actually found the state guilty of the torture itself. And when the Abertzale Left’s political party, Herri Batasuna, was banned by the Spanish Supreme Court (and confirmed by the Constitutional) in 2003, the movement took the case to Strasbourg. Eventually, in 2009, the Court delivered its judgement – incredibly, it decided that banning a political party with electoral support varying from 15% to nearly 25% in the southern Basque Country was not an abuse of the human rights of the people concerned.
Considering the options and Spanish democracy
Now the people are considering their options in action outside the courts. Should they occupy the buildings and resist their takeover by the Spanish state? Maybe that would make sense where their location is a fairly high-profile one. But others are in back streets and laneways; the “Zipayos” (pejorative name for the Euskadi police, the Ertzaintza) can swarm those places, assault the occupants and evict them in a matter of hours. That they can do the same in the more high-profile locations is without doubt but at least the community and passers-by will see the resistance there. In the smaller villages, herrikos may change their name and perhaps replace the buildings’ renters or lessees. Whatever course they take, the disruption overall will be huge.
In 1998, the Spanish National Court judge Balthazar Garzon (beloved of many liberals around the world) closed down the Basque-language newspaper Egin, a bilingual daily in Euskera and Castellano first published 20 years earlier. Over a year later, a judge ruled that the newspaper could reopen but by then its machinery had been dismantled or left unusable and its owners left without funds as they were using them in court proceedings. In 2009, a Spanish court finally decided that there had been no grounds for closing it in the first place. A year later, there was a similar decision in the case of Egunkaria, the first-ever daily in the Basque language, closed down by the Spanish state in 2003. In 2010, the National Court decided that there had been no reason to close the newspaper and that the accused were innocent, hinting that the accusation of torture was true. But no formal apology followed, nor was there any compensation paid and Otamendi, the newspaper’s manager, had to take his torture case to Strasbourg, where in 2012 he was awarded compensation of €20,000 (and €4,000 legal costs) against the Spanish state because (as usual) they had not bothered to investigate his claims of torture. No compensation has yet been paid for Egunkaria‘s closure and its successor, Berria, reportedly struggles financially today.
Basques smile ruefully when students of recent Spanish history talk about the “democratisation” of the State through the “Transition” from General Franco’s dictatorship. Apart from the killing by Spanish police and state-supported fascist gangs during that Transition, the southern Basque Country has seen state-organised assassination squads, bannings of newspapers and radio stations, bannings of political parties, youth and cultural organisations and arrests, torture and jailing of political activists. This is the reality behind the words of “Spanish state democracy”.
NB: This article was written about the 11th October 2014 demonstration but arrived too late to use. Normally that would mean it just getting binned or at best getting mined for useful bits to put in a future article. However, the decision is to use this now in the run-up to the forthcoming demonstration at the end of this month against the water tax.
The size of the turnout for the anti-water charges demonstration in Dublin on Saturday 11th of October must have been something of a shock for the Irish ruling class and for their current government, the Fine Gael-Labour coalition. The implementation of water charges forms an important part of their programme to make the ordinary people pay for the crisis caused by financial and property speculators. Other parts of this programme that people have been experiencing to date over the last few years (and including the Fianna Fáil government preceding this one) have been bailing out the banks and their bondholders, financed first through the Household Charge and, after that was defeated by massive resistance, the Household Charge taxed through the Revenue Department; then the pension levy on public service workers; followed by the extensive cuts in social spending at the same time as implementing the “Social Charge”.
The ruling class and their government are of course well aware that the water charge is unpopular among the vast majority of the population – supporters of the tax have failed to convince the people that it is anything but another way of “paying the bankers”. But the unpopularity of a measure is no guarantee whatsoever of wide-scale mobilisation against it and the Government was probably expecting the resistance to meter installation to remain local, marginal and uncoordinated. Clearly this was one case where “Ní mar a shíltear a bhítear”.
But the size of the demonstration surprised not only the ruling class and their government but also anti-water charge campaigners themselves. “I thought we’d be doing well to get 15,000” said one long-time community activist and “If we got 50,000, we thought it would be brilliant” according to an activist from one of the political groups active on this issue. A realistic estimate of the attendance at the demonstration on Saturday puts it at between 100,000 (as quoted by an unnamed Garda source to an Irish Times reporter) and 150,000. The march from the Garden of Remembrance heading across the river before turning again towards the GPO took over one-and-a-half hours to pass a fixed spot in O’Connell Street while another large number reportedly marched from another direction also toward the GPO.
So how was it that so many mobilised?
Any attempt to answer the first question must be speculative but there are a number of indications other than the widescale unpopularity of the water charge and any measure seen as “bailing out the bankers”. One of these is the highly-publicised police repression of local protests against meter installations in a number of Dublin areas, where the population is overwhelmingly working-class and lower-middle class. These protests and the police repression, completely ignored by the national mass media, however received widescale publicity through social media, with videos posted on Youtube, Facebook and Twitter. And the people sharing and sometimes posting these reports and images were for the most part not political or even community or trade union activists. Another source tapped was that of past mobilisations against the Household and Property Taxes. Much of the mobilisation took place in small to medium-sized communities where for the most part, unusually but according to my sources, the activists promoted the resistance and the demonstration rather than their own political party or organisation.
“Apart from a few political activists, only the middle-class mobilise through Facebook”, said long-time political activist to us about a year ago. “Who cares how many ‘Likes” on Facebook an event or campaign gets – it doesn’t mean anything!” said another. Rebel Breeze would have agreed with them too, knowing that the way to mobilise working class people was mostly through personal contact, door-to-door and workplace leafleting. But it seems that is no longer true and that working people, who previously used Facebook only socially, have now begun to use it politically too.
Why did it surprise even the campaigners?
So much for how such a large number came to protest. But how is it that the campaigners themselves were taken by surprise? Of course there may have been unexpected mobilisations in some areas where campaigners had not been active but the main reason for their surprise is almost certainly their lack of coordination. Their are a number of Left organisation and “dissident” Republican organisations campaigning against the water charges, along with a large number of independent activists of a mainly political or community background. In some areas Sinn Féin activist have been out too, although the party does not advocate non-payment or prevention of meter installation.
In a united campaign where all the activists worked towards a united mass resistance, sharing information, the numbers would not have caught them so much by surprise. Of course, their expectations might have been exceeded but each group would have been aware of the actions in other groups’ areas along with the massive rise in Facebook hits, “Likes” and “Shares” to postings of resistance and police repression. Such a united campaign against the water charge does not yet exist. A previous attempt to float such a united campaign on the Household and Water Charges foundered on a number of rocks – political party opportunism, social democratic illusions and the failure of the traditional Left to engage with the independent activist constituency and the “dissident” Republican movement probably being the main ones.
There are a number of attempts to portray the active resistance to the Water Charge as spontaneous but it is likely that where there have been no campaigners active locally, the people have responded to what they have seen elsewhere, both through anger and encouragement. On the other hand, any attempt by any group or individual to take the credit for the growing resistance or for the mass attendance at the demonstration would have to be laughable.
The “passive Irish” jibe refuted once again
Rebel Breeze has long been tired of the wailing often heard to the effect that “the Irish are not like the Greeks”, or that the Irish are passive, accept all kinds of shit without resistance, etc. etc. With the history of class and national struggle of the people of this island it is extraordinary that such an notion ever gained wide acceptance among commentators – but it did. The Irish working class has generally responded militantly and enthusiastically when they have been called to battle by what they consider a credible leadership. In Ireland, that leadership was the trade union movement and no other. In 1913 a fighting trade union was forged in Ireland and, when the employers tried to break it, the workers of Dublin (mostly) fought that attempt for up to eight months, in a city of wide-spread poverty and with most charity services discriminating against strikers and their families. In that struggle, the workers faced also the hostility of the media and state (not much has changed there) and of the main churches. Although defeated in that struggle, the union did not break and came back years later stronger than ever.
Deprived of revolutionary and militant leadership, the movement nevertheless maintained a fighting front for workers through decades of high unemployment and emigration. But in the mid-1980s the trade union leadership opted for what they called “social partnership”, an arrangement in which employers, trade union leadership and the State (which is also a huge employer) sat down and agreed the salary levels for the next period. This had a disastrous impact on the trade union movement. “Use it or lose it” is a general physiological rule about muscle : the trade union leadership became unused to strike action and, when strikes did occur, to instructing members of unions not directly involved to pass the pickets. Recruitment fell dramatically and, when in 2010 the employers and State no longer saw any point in negotiating with the trade union leadership, as they believed the leadership to be no longer capable of resistance, the latter lacked the spirit and confidence to take them on. After a demonstration called by ICTU with a threat of a general strike days away, which received a massive response from trade union members, the leadership instead opted for more negotiations, in which they agree to the pension levy on public servant workers and industrial peace in the private sector: Croke Park I (June 2010). So the workers no longer have a leadership they consider credible and the revolutionary and radical socialist organisations are too small to be thought credible and also have not generally built bases within the trade union movement from which to offer a leadership for struggle.
Nevertheless, the working people of Ireland turned out in huge numbers once again on Saturday to protest an unjust tax which is being used for an unjustifiable purpose. The class is still there, it never lost its fighting spirit – what it needs is a viable leadership. It remains to be seen whether this will be built and whether it can lead a broad militant movement against this tax and other attacks on the working class, without repeating the errors of the recent ‘broad movements’.
The annual anti-internment march in Belfast was blocked on Sunday 11th August by a very heavy police presence from proceeding beyond the Old Park Road. Road blocks had also been set up around the area and in the city centre. Although the march dispersed without incident, the continuing heavy police presence in the area provoked local people and altercations broke out between them and the police. In one incident, a reportedly pregnant woman was video-filmed being arrested and assaulted by male police, apparently for telling the police to get out of her garden.
Internment without trial was used by the British colonial regime in Ireland as one of its measures to repress resistance to its rule. After Partition, it was used by the regimes on both sides of the Border. Its most recent formal use was in the Six Counties from August 1971 until the last one was released in 1975, by which time almost 2,000 had been interned, initially only people from ‘nationalist community’ but later on some from the Unionist community had been added to the trawl. During immediate street protests against the introduction of internment, the Parachute Regiment shot dead 11 unarmed men over three days in the Ballymurphy area of Belfast. During a protest march in Derry against internment six months later, that same Regiment killed 14 unarmed civilians and injured many more. According to the authorities and to some others, including Sinn Féin, internment without trial no longer exist.
But since the Good Friday Agreement, Republican political activists who are not in agreement with its terms find themselves being locked up without trial through a number of other measures:
Some Ex-prisoners released under license have had that license revoked and are brought to prison without trial (e.g. cases in the recent pass have included those of Marian Price [2 years] and Martin Corey [4 years])
Activists are arrested on spurious charges and refused bail, to be found not guilty eventually but having spent years already in prison (Colin Duffy, among others)
Or the activists arrested on spurious charges are offered bail only on conditions that would immobilise them politically and kept in jail when they refuse (Stephen Murney who did 14 months remanded in custody before eventually being found “not guilty” and released)
For this reason many Republicans consider that internment still exists but in a more hidden form and this has led to the formation of the Anti-Internment Leagueand also to the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland, the Dublin branch of which has organised many events, from public meetings to pickets and information tables. The main activity of the AIL is organising the annual march against Internment as near as possible to the anniversary of its introduction, August 9th.
It is worth mentioning that in addition to the covert internment methods, activists are also arrested and convicted and jailed on spurious evidence (examples include Brian Shivers – two years without bail awaiting trial and a third year convicted, before his conviction was quashed by the Supreme Court – and the Craigavon Two – still serving time although wrongly convicted).
The Parades Commission & Time Restrictions
Formerly in the Six Counties, Loyalist triumphalist parades were allowed wherever they wished to go in Belfast and in most other towns too. These marches did not so much celebrate their religious affiliation, Presbyterianism; rather, as demonstrated by their banners, colours and the airs played by their bands, they celebrated historic battle victories over Irish forces with Catholic affiliation. But their parades also celebrated in many ways the state’s institutional discrimination against communities raised in the Catholic faith. During these parades insults and threats against people in ‘nationalist communities’ were everyday occurrences. Any protests against them were repressed by the police.
On the other hand, civil rights and Republican parades were banned or subject to huge restrictions – for example many of the early civil rights demonstrations and all Easter Rising commemorations were banned and even the 1972 march in Derry, six months after internment was introduced was also banned. Most of those demonstrations went ahead and were attacked by police with batons, tear gas, water cannon, rubber and plastic bullets and on occasion live bullets; the one in Derry against internment became known as “Bloody Sunday”.
Some years ago people in nationalist areas began to resist the triumphalist and provocative sectarian Loyalist marches going through their areas and the Parades Commission was set up to regulate marches by Loyalists and by people from the ‘nationalist’ areas – all march organisers had to apply for permission and abide by the decisions of the Commissioners. However, the decisions of the Parades Commissioners have been widely regarded among the ‘nationalist’ areas as being biased in favour of the Loyalists. For example, every year the Commissioners approve a march by Loyalists through the Garvaghy Road, despite almost total opposition to it in that ‘nationalist’ area. They also approve many Loyalist marches through Belfast city centre without significant restrictions.
Republicans do not apply to march through unionist areas but there have been restrictions on parades planned to go through the city centre. Two years ago the police blocked the Anti-Internment march from going through the city centre and last year it was held up for quite a while by the police, the reason given being that they were trying to control Loyalists who had gathered in the city centre to oppose the marchers. When the marchers were eventually permitted to proceed, they found a few hundred Loyalists shouting abuse and hurling missiles at them, with hardly any police restraint, with a line of police in full riot gear facing the marchers.
This year, the Anti-Internment parade organisers were given permission to hold the march but on the condition that they were clear of the city centre by 1.30pm, apparently to ensure no disruption to shopping in the centre. The question needs to be asked: How would such a march prevent shopping and how long would it take them to pass? The only significant disruption would be from Loyalists wanting to attack the march and people wanting to avoid that trouble and, if the police were a neutral force, it would be their job to control the Loyalists and prevent them from breaching the peace. But the RUC (the PSNI after the force’s name change) have never been anything less than an extremely sectarian force and, during the 30 years’ war, were deeply implicated in collusion with Loyalist sectarian assassination squads.
The Anti-Internment Parade organisers objected to the times condition on the grounds that people would have to have to choose between attending their parade and the Ballymurphy Massacre March for Truth on the Springfield Road at 1pm on the same day.
But there are other reasons why such a time restriction is not reasonable, apart from clashing with another event and elevating freedom from a supposed impediment to shopping above exercise of democratic rights to protest. Apart also from the fact that Loyalists don’t have such restriction placed upon their parades, an 11.30 start means that people journeying from further away have to start even earlier – for example, even from Dublin, with a reasonably fast route, one would need to be getting on a coach in the city centre at 8a.m. All these problems and inconveniences resulting from a time restriction which, in turn, is to facilitate commercial interests by overcoming an alleged interruption to their making a profit.
The Anti-Internment League announced that they would begin the march at 2pm and the PSNI mobilised huge forces to prevent them, as they considered that “the march was illegal from the moment it started”, in the words of Deputy Chief Constable of the PSNI, Stephen Martin on a radio program the day after.
I arrived in Belfast too late to attend the Ballymurphy Massacre march but I learned that hundreds had participated to once again commemorate the massacre by the British Paratroopers of eleven unarmed people in the Ballymurphy area over two days in 1971 (which they had followed up six months later with their Bloody Sunday massacre of 14 in Derry).
Unaware of the police mobilisation to block the Anti-Internment march, I had arrived in what I imagined to be plenty of time to attend it. But the police were preventing a local taxi firm from stopping by the coach station in the city centre to pick up passengers – what reason could there be for that, since that was not on the route of the march? Could it be that the police were trying to make it difficult for supporters to reach the march?
It certainly seemed like that when I walked in to the depot of the shared “people’s taxis”, i.e. the Falls Road Black Taxis about 1.45p.m. The word was that the RUC/ PSNI had cordoned off the southern approaches to Ardoyne, in North Belfast. I began to worry but was told that they would get me there. With a small group of Ardoyne residents, I waited in the depot, which resembles a coach waiting room and has a shop for sweets and soft drinks and another printing T-shirts and posters. Taxis pulled in and out, mostly heading for the Falls Road but eventually a taxi for Ardoyne (Ard Eoin = “Eoin’s Heights”) drew up and six of us got in – apart from myself, two youths, a middle-aged woman and an elderly couple, one of them with an English accent but clearly established in the area.
We had not gone far after dropping off one of the youths before we began to pass the PSNI vans, a kind of white boxed landrover, shields over windscreen, lights and siren and only slit windows in the back. From the taxi by now we had seen around 30 vans; we were all tutting at this massive police mobilisation. “Great day for a robbery,” I said. “Where’s the nearest bank?” quipped the elderly man. As we got nearer to Ardoyne we were suddenly confronted with a huge number of police vans and very soon afterwards, could go no further – PSNI vans, police on foot in black riot gear, shields and some with batons out already. Any belief I might have had that this was just an intimidation exercise by the police was dispelled. Our driver tried to negotiate with a female police officer who was dealing with traffic but all she could give were vague suggestions about which roads might yet be open. I heard our driver relaying information to his company’s control desk through his radio and I now realised that the police were determined to stop the march.
Our driver drove up and down other roads, gradually nearing Ardoyne and close to there apologised to us and pulled in outside a house in a residential street – it seemed that someone of some authority in Falls Road Black Taxis lived there. After conversing with our driver, this man got on our vehicle’s radio and spoke to someone at the depot, the terse conclusion of which was “Ardoyne is out”: Ardoyne was under police siege and the area was now out of bounds to their taxis.
The driver dropped us near to my destination, apologising again as he had done frequently. We assured him it was not his fault. As I walked down to approach the rallying point for the march, some of the local community were out in the street playing at an poc fada (“the long hit”), a one-shot competition with hurley to see who can hit the sliotar (the leather ball used in hurley games) the furthest. An poc fada is one of the features of the Féile Béal Feirste, an annual community festival which has been growing annually (and which some say has now largely become a commercial festival, far from its community roots, with dear admittance fees and drink prices, in an area with very high unemployment).
Rounding the corner to head up towards the Shamrock Bar, I was just in time to join the tail of the march as it set off. I sped up to try and catch up with the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee, passing some people I knew along the way, exchanging greetings. There were five Republican marching bands playing music: the Garngad, Brendan Hughes and Volunteers Black and Ryan bands were all from Glasgow, while the John Brady RFB was from Strabane and the Julie Dougan from Portadown.
At the junction with Old Park Road I joined with the Dublin Committee comrades, apologising for my late arrival as we swung right to head towards the city centre. Further down the road, the police vans awaited us and as we got nearer we could see a blockade composed of police vans backed up by many police in full riot armour, holding shields and with batons drawn. We marched on and in minutes we were crowded against them. I feared for us if we tried to get through and I saw a drummer with one of the bands step out and retire to the sides with his drum. I didn’t blame him – drums are expensive pieces of equipment. The police had a big sign on one of their vans, saying that our march was illegal, a message they were reiterating from their p.a system, though difficult to decipher all the words.
After a while in literal impasse, one of the organisers spoke briefly into the p.a system and introduced Mícheál Mac Giolla Easpuig, an Independent local authority representative in Donegal. Mac Giolla Easpuig spoke first for awhile in his native Irish and then changed to English. He summarised the history of English colonial repression in Ireland since 1970 and
made the point that the need of the authorities for that repression denied any legitimacy to their occupation of the Six Counties. He concluded with the words of Volunteer Tom Williams, who was hung by the colonial administration in the Six Counties in 1942: “Carry on no matter what odds are against you; carry on no matter what the enemy call you; carry on no matter what torments are inflicted on you. The road to freedom is paved with suffering, hardship and torture; carry on my gallant comrades until that certain day.”
As the applause and cheering died down, a spokesperson for the organisers spoke briefly about the suppression of our democratic rights to march, about the continuing use of internment by other means and announced the end of the march, asking people to disperse.
One of the Republican marching bands played the verse and chorus of the Irish national anthem, The Soldiers’ Song; I sang along to it in Irish as is our custom in Dublin (but seems not to be in Belfast) and the band began to march away from the police blockade. We marched away behind them with the banners of the Dublin Committee, as did others with different campaign banners: Craigavon Two, Ballymurphy Massacre, Stephen Kaczinsky, Gavin Coyle and various Republican prisoner support groups.
At some point the Dublin and Cork contingents pulled away and went back to near the original rallying point, where local people and visitors were meeting and chatting as the sliotair of the Poc Fada whizzed overhead. Rumours were now reaching us of the police attacking people on the other side of their barrier and also, from time to time, of Loyalists attacking people somewhere. It was hard for us to know exactly what was happening and where. Eventually we piled in to the back of a van to get out of the area. Our driver had to take a long circuitous route again and eventually we were back in West Belfast, from where we could make our separate ways back to Dublin and Cork.
Fighting in the area
Later I learned from a variety of sources that the local community in the Roseapenna Street area had reacted to a police, who were still there an hour after the march had left, in an occupation or siege of their area. This was an area through which the march had planned to pass and which was now blocked off by police vans and police on foot in full riot armour. A woman was shown on video being arrested by two police in riot armour – it was said that she was pregnant and was being mistreated in front of her three children. Apparently she had objected to the police being in her garden and had demanded they leave. The video showed her being pulled struggling to the back of a police van, being pushed inside and big policemen piling in on top of her, her head being apparently twisted as she disappeared from view. Another woman protesting this treatment was bashed by the shield of one of the police and the mobile phone filming the incident suddenly ended up on the ground, apparently having been knocked out of the hand of its owner by the police.
Later reports in the media spoke of stones being thrown and even petrol bombs. I could easily empathise with the throwers: confronted with that police blockade and our impotence in the face of it, I had found a part of me frustrated and itching to strike back at them. Had the area I lived in been blockaded by police and cut off for hours, then also occupied by police in a massive show of force, then seeing people abused and assaulted for objecting, I would have been sorely tempted to get a bit of rubber tubing and a bottle, go to a friend and ask to borrow some of the petrol from his car. Stones after all are not very effective against riot armour, shields and riot vans. True, the police riot armour is flame-retardant but …..
In addition, people living in the area and trying to leave it had been attacked by Loyalists hurling golfballs from the nearby Twaddel Road, which is a Loyalist area. In fact, they have had a Loyalist “camp” there for some time – illegally by Six County law but of course untroubled by the PSNI. Its purpose? To show those Fenians — those Taigues — up in the Old Park, Ardoyne and “The Bone” (Machaire Botháin) areas just who really runs the Six Counties!
Worse in a way was to come, as along with the ritual condemnations by Unionists and Loyalists, PSNI spokespersons and biased media reporting, Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin blamed the violence entirely on the organisers of the march. As well as being a very senior figure in the Sinn Féin party, McGuinness is of course Deputy First Minister of the Northern Ireland colonial Government. Back in the day when he was the commanding officer of the IRA in Derry, he had condoned and defended participating in many marches that had not so much been restricted to particular times as completely banned by the Six County authorities. During one of those illegal marches in Derry, in 1972, the Parachute Regiment had opened fire on unarmed people and killed fourteen, injuring many. In those days the IRA and what was thought of as Provisional Sinn Féin placed their blame for all violence unreservedly upon the police and army (and occasionally the Loyalists), also on the 6-County Government and on the British colonialists, who should not be in Ireland at all, according to Sinn Féin. But that was then and their party now shares in the administration of that same British colony. Reading his reported words, I wondered whether if that Derry massacre of Bloody Sunday were to occur now, McGuinness would blame the marchers for going ahead with a banned march?
The Anti Internment League hit back with a statement of their own, condemning the comments made by Martin McGuinness. “The AIL responsibly took the decision to march away from a flashpoint that was of the PSNI’s own making”, the statement read. “No participants engaged in violence,” it continued, “which occurred over an hour after our dispersal and was caused by PSNI invasion of property and assaults on residents.” The statement went on to point out that Mc Guinness had praised the PSNI a few days earlier (a reference to his shared platform with PSNI’s Chief Constable on Thursday 6th in a venue on the Falls Road).
Uncannily (or perhaps not), the statement went on to mirror my own earlier speculation: “Using Martin McGuinness’s rationale, he would place responsibility for the murder of 14 civilians in his own city by the British Army on Bloody Sunday in 1972 on those who organised the Anti-Internment parade that day.”
“There is perhaps no greater indicator of how Mc Guinness now views Republicans as his opponents, while the forces of repressive state apparatus that he himself promotes and endorses are now his ‘comrades’ “, the statement concluded.
Follow-up meeting with area community
In a follow-up to the events of Saturday in the Lower Cliftonville area, on Tuesday night in Manor St Community Centre, the Anti Internment League hosted a meeting with Rosapenna residents affected by the PSNI lockdown on Sunday 9th August.
“Every house in the area received a leaflet making them aware of the meeting” according to a statement issued by the AIL. The panel was composed of representatives of the AIL, community workers from Lower Cliftonville and a local solicitor. A journalist from the Irish News was also in attendance to hear accounts and opinions from residents.
Because of Martin McGuinness’s “public criticism of both the AIL and local residents”, according to the AIL statement, Sinn Féin had been invited to send representation to the meeting “to challenge the AIL if they wished and to hear residents’ thoughts and opinions in a public forum”. According to the AIL statement, although SF had indicated that they would attend, they did not appear at the meeting.
The atmosphere in the meeting was angry, according to witnesses – all of it directed towards the PSNI with no-one criticising the march organisers, with the exception being those who chided the organisers for having turned the parade back “too soon”. The AIL represenatives’ explanation of the considerations and reasons for doing so seemed to satisfy the critics. One of the AIL representatives reportedly also asked whether residents would rather the parade did not pass through Rosapenna Street in future, which was “rejected unanimously by residents present, who all said they enjoy the music and atmosphere that the annual march brings to the area.”
A hitherto unreported aspect of the events on Sunday in the area was that local businesses reported having been forced to close down by the PSNI for no reason that they could determine. This was particularly interesting in view of the Parades Commission’s rationale for insisting that the march finish passing through the City Centre by 1.30 pm – to prevent any perceived disruption to big shopping commercial interests in that location.
The AIL statement went on to outline their plans to work with local community organisations to “jointly request and facilitate a “surgery” style event, inviting the Police Ombudsman to compile complaints against the PSNI from local residents.” Concluding their statement, the Anti-Internment League declared that they, working with “local community organisations and Republican activists will not allow the violent actions of the PSNI within the Lower Cliftonville community on 9th August to go unchallenged.”