UNITY UNDER WRONG PRINCIPLES?

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

We’re on the one road


Sharing the one load


We’re on the road to God knows where
…..”

(song by Francis O’Donovan)

It is time for plain speaking. Preserving a united front is not always a good thing. This I know will seem like a kind of heresy, maybe the talk of an individualist, a wrecker of some kind. Whether unity is a good thing or not depends on the cost – what is gained by it and what is lost. So allow me to give some examples from Irish history to illustrate my point.

At the end of the 19th Century the Irish Parliamentary Party, also known as the Irish Party or the Home Rule Party, had by far the widest support of Irish people seeking some degree of independence from British rule. The Irish Parliament, a minority parliament to which only Anglicans were admitted, had been abolished by fraud and bribery in 1880 and in 1881 Ireland formally became part of the United Kingdom, with its elected representatives taking seats in Westminster, where the Irish population was under-represented proportionally by MPs who were outnumbered and sure to be outvoted.

CRITICAL VOICES

There were other voices, of course, which did not support that party. Connolly castigated it often, partly because it contained capitalists and slum landlords and partly because they postured around commemorations of Irish nationalists and even Republicans of the past, without fighting for Irish independence in the present. The tiny Irish Socialist Republican Party which Connolly jointly founded was hostile to the Irish Party, as was the somewhat larger Irish Labour Party, which he also led in founding.

The small Sinn Féin, a nationalist dual-monarchy party, did not support the Irish Party, nor did the remains of the IRB, nor Ininí (modern spelling) na hÉireann. But the Irish Party was unquestionably dominant on the Irish political scene, not only in the elections for seats in Westminster but in many local authorities too. In fact, their only united opposition of any weight in Ireland was from the Unionists. The Irish Party called on all who supported any measure of Irish independence to support their party but others argued that the Irish Party would never lead them to independence, that it did not support the vote for women, that it was full of corruption and cronyism, and so on. History proved the critics right.

DISASTROUS AGREEMENTS

John Redmond addressing a mass meeting c.early 1916.
(Image source: Internet)

When the Irish Volunteers was formed in 1913, at first the Irish Party (then under the leadership of John Redmond) took little interest and only a few of its supporters joined the organisation’s executive committee but many of its electoral support flocked to join the ranks. Redmond, taken aback by the numbers joining, demanded the doubling in numbers of the executive, with all the additional seats going to his nominees; the threat was that otherwise he would denounce the organisation. Since he already had some of his party on the committee, such a change would give him overall control of the organisation.

It would seem to us now that this was an undemocratic demand in addition made under a threat and should have been resisted. The IRB, who had members on the executive committee, agreed to resist Redmond’s move. This was a correct call for unity among the IRB and their allies in this instance but it was broken by leadin IRB member Bulmer Hobson and, with a number of others voting in favour. Redmond’s proposal gained a majority.

The consequences of this were proved disastrous when, during a Volunteer exercise in the first year of WWI, Redmond, without any consultation much less debate within the Executive, called publicly on the Irish Volunteers to join the British Army to fight in the War. A split followed in which the majority of the Volunteers took his lead and a smaller part kept the name of Irish Volunteers, while the others became the Irish National Volunteers and faded into the British Army.

Cartoon in the Irish Worker depicting Redmond as one of a shanghailing part delivering the Irish Volunteers to the British Army.
(Image source: Internet)

In this case, Redmond called for unity with his leadership and with the British in the War, stating that the latter would reward Ireland afterwards by enacting the Home Rule Bill which was on the statute book. The IRB, the Irish Citizen Army, the Irish Volunteers, Na Fianna Éireann, Cumann na mBan and the Labour Party did not agree. There were elements of Sinn Féin, the Gaelic League, GAA and even the Ancient Order of Hibernians (normally a stronghold of support for Redmond) which did not agree either.

Redmond WW1 British Army Recruitment poster.
(Image source: Internet)

The Irish Volunteers prepared for insurrection under the initiative of the IRB but with the reluctant leadership of Mac Neill who, after the British prevented the landing of German guns, cancelled the Rising and countermanded the mobilisation order. The Rising went ahead a day later with a much reduced force.

The political effect of the Rising and the reaction against its brutal suppression by the British led to the electoral wiping out of the Irish Party two years later in the British General Election of 1918 and the domination instead of Sinn Féin, a party reformed into a Republican Party and containing many disparate elements and basing itself on the 1916 insurrectionists. The call for unity with the Irish Party had been proven wrong.

The War of Independence began the following year, which brought the British to negotiations, after three years of State repression and terror and rural and guerrilla resistance war. The terms agreed by the Irish delegates in London were opposed by the majority of the Irish fighters but agreed by a majority of the TDs in the Dáil (elected representatives in the Irish Parliament). The Pro-Treaty forces called for unity with them, arguing that a partitioned Ireland as a Dominion of the British Commonwealth was a step towards an independent and united nation.

The Anti-Treaty side (also often referred to as “the Republican side”) disagreed and went to war over it, which in less than two years, they lost, again after a campaign of State terror and repression but this time, by an Irish State.

Free State soldiers bombarding Republican stronghold in the Four Courts with British cannon, 1922. The Republicans refused unity with the Free State government of a divided country under British dominion.
(Image source: Internet)

Whether the Anti-Treaty decision to go to war at that point was correct or not, history has proven the Republicans correct in their prediction. The Free State was ruled by a conservative alliance of the Catholic Church and Irish capitalists, content to remain under British domination but with an Irish Parliament. The more nationalist Government of De Valera and his 1937 Bunreacht (Constitution) did not change matters much. Nearly one hundred years later, Ireland is still partitioned and still dominated by foreign capital, although British foreign capital has been joined by others.

History has proven that the call for unity with the Free State on the Treaty had been wrong.

MORE RECENT TIMES, AROUND MOORE STREET

Fast forward to 2007: The State declared four out of the sixteen houses in the main terrace to require preservation and some wanted campaigners to accept that and to work with the speculator on providing a shoebox museum in the planned shopping mall.

Some 1916 relatives accepted that and a split took place among the campaigners who were insisting that their goal was no less than the whole 16 houses, back yards, surrounding streets and laneways.

In 2015, after nine years of neglect by the property speculator who owned the buildings, the State bought the four houses and some encouraged us to accept that victory and to go no further. Until, that is, it emerged that the State intended to demolish three houses bracketing the four they had bought. The Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign called emergency rallies in Moore Street in January of 2016, during which the houses were occupied by protesters, preventing any demolition.

After five days of occupation, Colm Moore, an individual taking a case about Moore Street against the Minister of Heritage, went to the High Court and obtained an interim order forbidding any demolition until Moore’s case against the Minister had been heard and on that assurance the occupiers left. Subsequent evidence of use of heavy machinery and a refusal to allow campaigners or public representatives to inspect work resulted in protesters imposing a blockade of nearly six weeks on the site, preventing any building workers from entering the premises.

Some of the activist campaigners in Moore Street upon receiving the news from the High Court on March 18th.
(Photo: Alan Betson, Irish Times)

And on March 18th the High Court judgement was delivered – that the whole quarter, backyards and surrounding streets and laneways is a battlefield, a National Historical 1916 Monument . But then the Minister of Heritage appealed the judgement, seeking to overturn it.

The Minister set up her hand-picked Advisory Group on Moore Street and eventually a Report was produced, apparently agreed by all within the Advisory Group (whether wholeheartedly or with reservations).

DISSENT AS A PUBLIC DUTY

When dissenting voices are kept quiet or stifled, what happens? The dominant voice – the one that is not silenced — carries the day ; it becomes the ‘official’ voice of the struggle. The media chooses which people and what voices to promote and the authorities recognise which voices to deal with. Those voices then become the ‘official’ voices and the path they point to is seen as the “correct” one. Those who raise a different voice, if they are loud enough or positioned strongly enough to be heard, are labelled the “disruptors”, “dissidents”, “wreckers”. But what if the dissenting voices are correct?

The Report of the Minister’s Advisory Group (from which she excluded the most active campaigning groups of recent years, the Save Moore Street From Demolition and Save Moore Street 2016 campaigns), in response to submissions made to it (including by the two campaign groups mentioned) contained some very positive Recommendations (although the Minister has not specifically said whether she accepts them) — but it also contained some very dangerous ones.

The Moore Street struggle has been fought against three main enemies: Property Speculators, DCC Planning Department and the Ministry of Heritage. And who does the Report say should decide the future of the Moore Street quarter? Those very three! And this is despite the public position taken by many of those before they entered the Minister’s Consultative Group that the Minister should accept the High Court judgement.

As for the newly-founded Minister’s Advisory Group being some kind of check on them, it has no statutory powers, it is a smaller group than was even the Consultative Group, the most active campaigners of recent years are again excluded and it is chaired by the former Chair of the Water Forum set up by the Government.

The Minister did not accept the High Court judgement of March 18th 2016 which declared the whole Moore Street quarter to be a battlefield and a Historic 1916 National Monument and she is fighting it in the courts. The Recommendations did not call on the Minister to drop her legal fight against that judgement but in somewhat nuanced language, they did encourage the litigant who won that judgement to give up his legal defence of it, the ‘sweetener’ being that he and his legal team would get their costs paid.

Should the Minister win her appeal, the giant shopping mall plan will be back on the table – Jim Keoghan of DCC’s Planning Department, before he retired, extended the planning permission for that horrible plan for another five years.

At recent public meeting of a political party about the future of Moore Street, (the first-ever by the party in question), a prominent Moore Street campaigner who was part of the Minister’s Advisory Group made a strong call for public unity among the campaigners, with differences to be discussed in private. The chairperson and both other speakers, all members of the political party, supported that call. The same individual repeated that call at a much larger event in Liberty Hall. It seemed a good call – but it wasn’t.

(Image source: Internet)

Effective unity has to agree on basic steps – like that which was entered into for insurrection in 1916, between the Irish Citizen Army, Irish Volunteers, Na Fianna Éireann, Cumann na mBan, Hibernian Rifles. Effective unity did not exist between those organisations and Redmond’s Irish Party, although the latter would have said that “We all want the same thing.” Tom Kettle, the Irish Party’s most brilliant activist, condemned those who took part in the Rising for allegedly damaging Ireland’s chances of achieving legislative autonomy. He put his faith in British gratitude to the Irish fighting for the Empire (and was killed on the Continent doing so). Effective unity in the Moore Street struggle cannot be on a vague promise that our aims are the same: we need to unite on the minimum basic demand that the Minister drop her appeal.

We’re on the one road


It may be the wrong road


But we’re together now who cares?

I care. We should care. We don’t want to be on the wrong road, to lose this battle.

When agreement is harmful, dissent is a duty. And when silence helps to conceal what is happening, dissent needs to be public.

End.

 

Links:

The Report of the Minister or Heritage’s Advisory Group on Moore Street: http://www.ahrrga.gov.ie/heritage/moore-street-consultative-group/report-to-minister-on-moore-street/ (written submissions received by the Advisory Group are also listed on this site).

Another article on historical issues in united fronts: https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2016/11/23/unity-is-it-a-good-thing/

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