DEMOCRACY AS A SAFE OPTION

Diarmuid Breatnach

In most of the World, most people would say that they are in favour of a system of democratic rule – whether their states embrace that system or not. The typical western European system of government is usually called a “democracy” or a “western democracy”, with political parties representing different interests competing for popular support in general elections, the victorious party or parties then forming a government.

Image source: Internet

Since these states are capitalist and, whatever about the victory of one political party or another are clearly run to protect and expand the interests of big business (monopoly capitalism), we must ask ourselves why for the most part the capitalists and their supporting parties support the “western democratic” system and why parties who make much of their support for social justice support this system too. And why the majority of people, who are of course not at all capitalists but are in fact exploited by them, participate in this system.

But first, let us note that there are those who don’t at all like the western democratic system: chief among these are the monarchists and the fascists. Monarchists aspire to a system where society is ruled by (usually) a single individual, whose entitlement to that office is through bloodline, through ancestry. Traditionally the rule of the monarch was influenced or moderated by advisors, whether officially appointed by the monarch or by interest groups, or unofficially as with the monarch’s personal friends or lovers.

Monarchy has a long history in human society, with inheritance mostly through male lines but by no means always. Usually it was supported by a social caste or two, an upper stratum in society, or aristocrats or priesthood and often the higher priests were themselves from the aristocratic caste. This system was called feudalism and the aristocrats and monarchy controlled land, taxing the various productive classes within society. Within the aristocracy there were frequent struggles for extension of their power and (taxable) lands and, at times, against the King also.

These struggles went backwards and forwards in societies and between states also until capitalism overthrew feudalism and put its own power in place. And since capitalists have always been in a minority and as capitalism was particularly weak in its early days, the bourgeoisie (capitalists) needed the support of small businessmen, artisans, labourers of town and country, small farmers …. to be successful, they had to give those masses a reason to support the capitalists. What they gave them was some variant of democracy. The capitalists (bourgeoisie) promoted “liberty” (freedom), as in freedom of thought and speech, of religious worship, of assembly, of writing, of movement but all within certain boundaries, the extent of these depending on the country and the times. Increasingly the bourgeoisie had to grant the right to elect a government not just to themselves but to other social groups also. Second-to-last to be granted after many struggles was universal male suffrage, which included workers without any property, but last of all was womanhood, also after fierce struggles.

Another view of western democracy
(Image source: Internet)

Fascists are neither monarchists nor feudalists and though often having a single figurehead who would seem to wield monarchical power, their source is clearly within capitalism. In Germany and in Italy, fascism was supported by big industrialists but in the latter also by big landlords (who still ruled in quite a feudal way in parts of the country). Even in countries where fascist movements did not succeed in coming to power (for example the Blueshirts in Ireland and the Blackshirts in Britain), fascism was supported by elements of the ruling classes.

“EVERYBODY’S A DEMOCRAT”

Aside from the exceptions then, of monarchists, feudalists and fascists, everybody’s for democracy, right? Well, not really. The capitalists who support western democracy today may support the fascists tomorrow, if they consider it necessary. And some of the principal opponents of the capitalists, the communists, don’t support it either. They call it “bourgeois democracy” and see it as a way in which the capitalists fool the people that they are making choices to make a real difference while whichever party or parties come to power are going to ensure that the measures they take will benefit the capitalists or at the very least not harm their interests. James Connolly, a Scottish-Irish Marxist without a party, declared that “governments in capitalist society are but committees of the rich to manage the affairs of the capitalist class”.1

In fact we may observe here that many people who are not communists believe something similar, which may account for the fact that routinely around 30% of those eligible in the Irish state do not vote.2 In Scotland, England and Wales the average turnout traditionally has been slightly higher, until the huge slump in 2001 which recorded an overall UK turnout of below 60% for the first time.3 Post-Nazi West German general election turnout climbed from over 70% to reach its highest point of over 90% in 1972 and has been falling steadily since to over 72% in 2017.4

From the highest-performing of the Nordic countries to big European powers, the average legislature election turnout varies from between just over 60% to just over 80%, while in the USA it is around 55%, which means that between 20% and 45% of people in the western democracies do not participate in their elections.5 Such ironic statements as “It doesn’t matter who you vote for, the Government gets in” are common enough and “all the parties are the same” is an even more commonly-expressed sentiment. The satirical comment from Britain that “Guy Fawkes6 was the only man to enter Parliament with honest intentions” finds a general acceptance, even often among people who do vote.

The trend towards small majorities in winning parties and of coalition governments (or governments ruling with the tolerance of an opposition party) also suggests that people can see less and less difference between the established political parties. The Irish state for example has had coalition governments of some kind since the 1981 General Election (and that itself was a very interesting year electorally, with the election and near-election of a number of Republican Hunger Strikers on both sides of the Border).

SOCIAL DEMOCRACY

People vote for all kinds of reasons apart from a belief in the party for which they are voting. Some vote according to local or family tradition, while others vote for one party in order to keep out another they consider worse. Voting for a popular individual is by no means rare. Some vote to exercise what was a hard-won right and also to try and get what they consider the best out of the system. But voting in general elections does not really reflect the fundamental social desires of the population. We can see this when for example polls show that most people do not want cuts in services, yet all the main parties either propose cuts in services or have refused to rule them out of their program when in government.

It might appear that people could put together a party campaigning for social justice, get the workers and a section of the lower middle class to vote for it and take power in that way. That is certainly the whole basis on which social democratic political parties with trade union backing have sold themselves for the past two centuries. But it seems possible only in the absence of examining history and the current realities.

Public opinion is formed not only by people’s experience but also by years of the system’s indoctrination and by the current mass media – the latter not only favour the system in place but often the newspapers, radio stations and TV programs are owned by one or two capitalists. When the mass media is owned instead by the State, it follows the interests of the ruling sections of society. Low confidence in the people’s own potential also plays a big part. There are in addition legal and financial constraints, domestic and foreign, on a party in government breaking with the capitalist norms. In the last analysis, there is always the Armed Forces and the coup.

The best that a worker’s party can do through the electoral system is to cause the capitalists some difficulties around particular initiatives or introduce a few reforms but without changing the system itself.

DEMOCRACY: THE SAFEST OPTION

Given the apparent potential, despite all its difficulties, for a party to hamper the designs of the capitalist class, why do capitalists continue to support this system and as a general rule to prefer it over others, even over fascism? It’s not just because in general, despite wide-scale cynicism and falling election participation, the system works well for them. And it’s not just because fascist societies are inherently unstable in the longer run. No, it’s because the democratic system is much better for capitalism than the other alternative, which is social revolution.

When enough people feel that they are suffering under a system and that that system cannot be changed through voting, what will be logical conclusion? Clearly that a new system is necessary, one that serves the people rather than the capitalists — but that system cannot be achieved through voting. Have enough of the people thinking that and becoming organised around imagined alternatives and social revolution will be the result. Western democracy perpetuates the illusion of potential to change the system to reflect the people’s needs and desires, while fascism clearly does not.

Therefore the capitalists, who in their daily dealings of expropriation of the labour power of billions and natural resources have no belief whatsoever in democracy, go to substantial lengths to promote parliamentary democracy as either the best system of government or at least the best possible system in an imperfect world. For the capitalists, parliamentary democracy is the safer option and it worries them that engagement with the process is falling. The capitalists promote parliamentary democracy through the history and principles taught in the educational system, through laws enacted, through the mass media, through novels and films and through promotion of political or philosophy commentators. And also through denigration of who they see as opponents of their system historically or in the present. The ideal of democracy, whatever about its actual practice, is high in our culture.

ORIGINS OF DEMOCRATIC SYSTEMS

The word “democracy” comes to us from the combination of two Greek words: “demos” and “kratos” The first word means “people” and the second “power”, literally “people’s power” or “rule by the people”. It is supposed to describe the Athenian city state system developed and practiced five centuries Before the Common Era (or 500 BC) and which waxed and waned for many years until the city came under Roman dominion. However this democracy of voting rights extended only to male freemen, a very small portion of the population. Around the same time, the city state of Rome also developed a kind of democracy, built around distinct voting colleges or social groups but ruled overall by the Senate, where most of the members were upper-class patricians. Women and slaves were again excluded from this democracy, as were immigrants.

The big slave-owning societies gave way to feudalism and much is made of the Magna Carta of 1215 in Britain when barons forced King John into a written agreement to respect laws and rights – but whose? Yes, in the main, the barons’, with some limited rights for serfs and ‘free men’ (whom the barons would have needed to fight for them against the king if necessary).

The first successful overthrow of monarchy by capitalism was in Britain in 1649, when a majority of Parliament, backed by commercial and financial interests in the City of London, rebelled against King Charles I (and eventually beheaded him). At the same time, movements such as the Levellers and the Diggers sought to impose their concepts of the rights of working people on to the Parliamentarians. Over the centuries there have been many struggles for rights to vote, to belong a trade union, for relief from heavy taxation and expropriation, for fair trial etc., including the Peasant’s Uprising of 1381 and the Chartist’s struggle of 1838 to 1857. People struggling for some measure of democracy and rights were dismissed from work, exiled, jailed, deported to penal colonies, tortured and executed. But universal suffrage, with the right to vote of every citizen at the age of majority (originally 21, then reduced to 18 in 1969) did not enter the British system until 1928. The Irish Free State beat that by five years, with voting rights in the 26 Counties for men and women over 21 years of age in 1923. Of course, this was also a time of considerable repression in the land.

Meeting of Chartists and supporters in 1845 at Kennington Common, SE London. Their movement has been described as the first mass working class movement in Britain. Two of their foremost leaders were Irish.   (Image source: Internet)

 

 

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

The communists espouse a system they call “proletarian democracy” but it has not had a great record overall so far. In Soviet Russia the Bolsheviks turned quickly on their former political party allies and on movements that had supported them among workers, peasants and the armed forces and after that on many members of their own party.

Other revolutionary socialist trends such as Anarchists, Trotskists and some Marxist-Leninists say the problem was not proletarian democracy but the “bureaucratic”, “revisionist” or “Stalinist” way in which it was administered. But how did that proletarian democracy allow itself to be used in such a way? Might that not point to a serious flaw in that system?

On the other hand, Anarchism and Trotskyism have not managed to hold a society long enough for us to judge their own systems of democracy (although critics would say that their general behaviour in managing their own organisations does not give cause for optimism) and states run by people claiming to be marxist-leninists opposed to the USSR have not produced anything like democracy for the people either.

Clearly a way for people to have an equal say in decisions and to participate in their implementation is a necessity for any kind of egalitarian social or political system. Clearly also, if a fair and just society is to be achieved, power must be taken out of the hands of those who use it to exploit the labouring people and to steal natural resources. Perhaps, after a revolution and the expropriation of the rich, the broad outlines of the parliamentary democratic system can be used by the people, combined with checks prohibiting for example involvement in any profit-making schemes and the power of instant recall of a representative when a certain number of the electors demand it. Constituencies might be based on industrial and agricultural sectors and other social groups rather than as they are now, on area alone.

We might want to do away with political parties and have individuals stand on declared policies for election. We could restrict the amount of electoral literature and posters permitted per individual. Of course, we could not prevent such individuals belonging to a party but their election would be as individuals advocating certain policies and they could be elected even if disowned by their party. Such a system would help erode the practice of putting the party first before the needs of the people and encourage the election of individuals on policy advocated and on track record.

Some advocate a decentralised system of self-governing communities relating freely with one another but it is difficult to see what chance such a system would have of working initially, when the old is being overthrown but also possibly mobilising for a comeback and with other parts of the world still under capitalism.

Much more than voting will be required for a real democracy, such as means of engaging people in decision-making at all levels and in toleration of criticism. In this latter area the performance of certain political individuals and all socialist or Irish Republican parties does not give reason for optimism. Again and again we see critics expelled or silenced, or even maligned and threatened, the cult of the individual, cliques pushing for power, the promotion of the party above the interests of the masses, written words censored, untruths promoted, critical thinking discouraged. And sadly, we see many people willing to go along with these practices, whether out of physical fear, fear of isolation or simply not wishing to desert a comfortable path.

It is uncomfortable to be criticised and it is easy to lose patience with critics. However, criticism should be tolerated not only in order to encourage freedom of speech but because no matter how right we think we are and how much we’ve thought it through, we can’t always be right. At the very least, the critics oblige us to justify whatever programs we put forward and criticism can reveal faults, great or small that might otherwise have been overlooked. Toleration of criticism also helps us to relegate our egos to second place next to what is good for an egalitarian social system.

It seems clear that toleration of criticism must be an essential component of any genuine revolutionary democracy. And if that is to be practiced after the revolution, it must be practiced NOW, in our organisations of struggle whether political or social. That practice of toleration of criticism in pre-revolutionary society is one of the most important fronts of organisational struggle at this moment, in preparation for the revolution and the construction of a just society on the rubble of the old. If we fail in this, everything else we do, no matter how well, will come to naught.

end

LINKS AND SOURCES OTHER THAN IN FOOTNOTES

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athenian_democracy#Etymology

http://www.theirishstory.com/2013/04/08/democracy-in-ireland-a-short-history/#.WtYBgCMrJsM

FOOTNOTES

1  James Connolly (2008). “Socialism and the Irish Rebellion: Writings from James Connolly”, Red & Black Pub

6 Guido (Guy) Fawkes was an anti-English Reformation Catholic who was discovered in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 to blow up the Houses of Parliament, for which he and others were executed in 1606.

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Spanish-German states cooperation — just like the old days

Diarmuid Breatnach

The German police have arrested Catalan Independence activist and elected politician Carles Puigdemont.  Nice to see Spanish-German cooperation, just like the old days.

Adolf Hitler and Spanish dictator Franco reviewing troops in Hendaye, Basque Country, 1942.

Glasgow & Dublin Joint GPO Protest Against Internment

End Internment FB page

Glasgow and Dublin Anti-Internment Committees joined forces on 18th February in a protest against continuing internment without trial in Ireland. Around two score protesters gathered outside the iconic General Post Office building in Dublin city centre’s main thoroughfare, O’Connell Street. They displayed the anti-internment banners of the Dublin and Glasgow committees and placards against internment, including one against the jailing of Catalan political activists by the Spanish state (also refused bail).

Section of protesters outside the GPO building, O’Connell Street, Dublin (Photo source: End Internment FB page)

(Photo source: End Internment FB page)

Leaflets of the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland were distributed to shoppers and visitors passing by, along with others about the conviction of Brendan McConville and John Paul Wooton (the Craigavon Two), framed and jailed in 2009 and still in jail, serving life sentences. Songs about internment and political prisoners were played on a sound system, as well as Labi Siffre’s Something Inside So Strong and Christy Moore’s Viva La Quinze Brigada.

Young passer-by accepts leaflet from Dublin Committee leafleter (Photo source: End Internment FB page)

Despite the official end of internment by the British in 19751 and by the Irish state in 19572, Republican activists continue to be jailed without trial in a number of ways: Licence revoked and bail refused or revoked.

(Photo source: End Internment FB page)

When a Republican leaves jail under license, she or he can be returned there without any court hearing or the presentation of any evidence against them; this is what has happened to Tony Taylor and Gerry Mackle, for example. Refusing bail for accused Republicans has become almost standard, despite the fact that this is supposed to be a last resort, for example when there is a serious risk of the accused fleeing the administration, or interfering with witnesses – which has rarely applied to Republicans refused bail. The real reason has usually been revealed when they have been granted bail: they are required not to attend protests, meetings or to associate with other active Republicans. In other words, they are being prevented from exercising their civil rights to express their opinions and to organise politically.

Welcoming the participation of the Glasgow Committee in Dublin, a spokesperson for the Dublin Committee stated that “members of the Dublin Committee have been proud to attend anti-internment protests in Glasgow in the past” and went on to say that “we look forward to future cooperation with the Irish diaspora and internationally against political repression, particularly of jailing without trial of political activists.”

Another Dublin Committee leafleter.
(Photo source: End Internment FB page)

The Dublin Anti-Internment Committee is entirely independent of any political party or organisation and holds regular awareness-raising protests at different locations. The Committee welcomes the participation of other organisations or individuals in their protests but asks them not to bring political party material etc to the anti-internment protests.

On its FB page the Committee also maintains a list of Republican prisoners in jails on both sides of the British Border, updating it from time to time.

FOOTNOTES

1 By then more than 1,900 people – only around 100 of them Loyalists – had been interned, many of them tortured; it was during protests against it in 1971 in Ballymurphy and 1972 in Derry that the Parachute Regiment killed 25 unarmed people.
2Introduced by De Valera’s government in July 1957 during the “Border Campaign” of the IRA.

(Photo source: End Internment FB page)

(Photo source: End Internment FB page)

ISRAEL: FREE ALL THE CHILDREN!

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

A dense crowd gathered outside Leinster House, home of the Dáil (Irish Parliament), at lunchtime today. Palestinian flags were in evidence as was a banner denouncing the jailing of Palestinian children by the Israeli authorities. Some passing drivers tooted their horns in solidarity.

View of section of crowd outside the Dáil
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

A hollow space existed inside the crowd where young people knelt, blindfolded and with hands bound, to represent children taken prisoner by the Israeli state. According to the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which organised the solidarity protest, between 500 and 700 children are detained every year by the Israeli military, i.e up to an average of two a day.

Young people acting as Palestinian children arrested by Israeli military (Photo: D.Breatnach)

The protest was attended by many TDs (members of the Irish Parliament) and Senators comprising a broad representation of political parties and independents. Ibrahim Halawa, the Irish citizen who was arrested by Egyptian police while still a minor of 17 years of age, subsequently to spend four years in jail without trial, also attended.

Young woman representing Palestinian children jailed by the Israeli authorities
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

IPSC Chairperson Fatin Al Tamimi addressed the gathering and referred to “Israel’s apartheid prison system where torture and ill treatment during arrest and detention are routine, including horrendous abuses against children.” Tamimi went on to say, to loud applause: “Apartheid Israel must be held to account for its outrageous treatment of Palestinian children which violates the right of the child.”

After the protest a letter was handed in to the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs calling on the “the Irish Government to do all it possibly can to end these abuses of Palestinian children by Apartheid Israel. More than just condemnation, action is needed to bring pressure to bear of Israel to end these attacks on children, children who have known nothing but occupation and systemic violence their whole lives. Palestinians, not least Palestinian children, deserve freedom, justice and equality.”

The Irish Government action required was not specified but over the years demands have been made to call the Israeli Ambassador in for censure or even to expel him but no such action has taken place. As a participant on the demonstration said: “When the Irish Government did not even take serious action at the use of forged Irish passports by Mossad assassination squads, you know that they are not going to do anything about Palestinian children being jailed and ill-treated.” (The Irish Government expelled one minor diplomat only over that revelation in 2010 and even then the Ambassador stated that he could not guarantee that such faked passports would not be used again).

Photos of a small sample of detained children
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Photos of another small sample of Palestinian children detained by Israeli Occupation Force
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

WIDESCALE VIOLATION OF THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD

According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, apart from rights to survival (violated by Israel in its 2014 bombardment of Gaza, for example, when it killed 504 children and made thousands homeless), and adequate living standards (also violated by Israel in Gaza with damaged sewage treatment plants and water, power and fuel restrictions), children also have

  1. Development rights: include the right to education, play, leisure, cultural activities, access to information, and freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
  2. Protection rights: ensure children are safeguarded against all forms of abuse, neglect and exploitation, including special care for refugee children; safeguards for children in the criminal justice system; protection for children in employment; protection and rehabilitation for children who have suffered exploitation or abuse of any kind.
  3. Participation rights: encompass children’s freedom to express opinions, to have a say in matters affecting their own lives, to join associations and to assemble peacefully. As their capacities develop, children should have increasing opportunity to participate in the activities of society, in preparation for adulthood.

By jailing children, Israel is violating the rights of the child in each of these three broad categories above. Yet, according to UNICEF, only two states have currently failed to ratify the Convention after signing: the USA and Somalia. In other words, Israel has signed it but clearly is violating it as a matter of course.

Trials of Palestinian children have a 99.74% conviction rate, and “do not meet international standards for fair trial” according to Amnesty International. According to the IPSC, many more children are temporarily detained, sometimes taken by soldiers raiding homes in the dead of night, and later released after severe interrogation periods without prosecution. Defence for Children International Palestine states that some two-thirds of all children detained will face some sort of physical or mental abuses, including torture and sexual threats, during this process. UNICEF says that “Ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalised”.

According to the IPSC, “over 12,000 Palestinian children have gone through the Israeli prison system since 2000, while nearly 2,500 have been killed and countless thousands wounded. In Gaza alone, where children have borne the brunt of three vicious Israeli assaults over the past decade, UNRWA estimates that “more than 300,000 children are in need of psycho-social support”.”

(Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LINKS, SOURCES:

http://www.ipsc.ie/child-prisoners/pictures-solidarity-ahed-tamimi-palestinian-child-prisoners
https://www.unicef.org/crc/index_30229.html

 

THE CATALAN PARLIAMENT – RECENT ELECTIONS & THREATS

Diarmuid Breatnach

The Catalan Parlament went ahead recently with its house management work, electing a Speaker and Deputy Speaker and four Secretaries (see fly-on-the-wall report below).

After that, they had 10 days to elect a President of the Government. The choice of the Independists seems to be unanimously for Carles Puigdemont, the previous Government’s President; however, the Spanish State wants to arrest him (as it has done with other independist parliamentarians, without granting bail and threatened to others, including the previous Speaker of the Parlament, which is one reason why Puigdemont has been living in Brussels in recent months). The President of the Catalan Parlament, Roger Torrent, despite a threat by the Spanish State to arrest him also, announced that Puigdemont was the only choice for President of the Government. Naturally the Spanish unionists in the Parlament objected vociferously but the independists have the majority.

Roger Torrent, the newly-elected Speaker of the Catalan Parlament
(Photo source: Internet)

Could Puigdemont be sworn in as President by proxy? This was a question to which contrary replies were given. The Spanish State said not but a number of others said it was a possibility. The Spanish State is not preventing the jailed Catalan politicians from having proxies vote on their behalves and presumably, even if they jail Puigdemont, though it would disrupt the Parlament considerably, he would still be able to vote through a proxy. The Spanish National Court in Madrid seems to have had this in mind when it rejected an application by the state’s Attorney General to renew the European Warrant for the arrest of Puigdemont when he arrived in Denmark. Puigdemont was there to take part in a debate organised by the University of Copenhagen titled “Catalonia and Europe at a Crossroads for Democracy? Debate with Carles Puigdemont.” 

In a statement which clearly revealed the political nature of the Spanish Court, Judge Pablo Llarena declared Mr Puigdemont was seeking to “provoke” his own detention in order to “force the context” in which he could delegate his vote, and therefore he refused to renew the EAW which the state had withdrawn on 5th December (apparently on advice that the Belgian court was not going to grant it — the “crimes” with which the Spanish court charged Puigdemont a) do not have criminal status in Brussels or b) are not those covered by the convention on the EAWs).

Puigdemont has asked the Spanish State whether it is going to arrest him if he returns to Catalunya in order to be inaugurated as President of the Parlament. Torrent has asked for dialogue to discuss the matter with the Spanish Prime Minister, Rajoy, who has refused. Rajoy’s party, the Partido Popular, lost heavily in the recent elections in Catalunya and had only one member elected to the Parlament (it also has only one elected town mayor in the whole of Catalunya). The Spanish Government has also threatened to continue its direct rule under Article 155, which it imposed after the Catalan Government declared for independence, on foot of the referendum on October 1st.

Carles Puigdemont in Copenhagen in the company of young local supporters (Photo source: Internet)

ELECTIONS OF HOUSE COMMITTEE POSITIONS IN CATALAN PARLAMENT

The Catalan Parlament pressed ahead with some necessary internal work on 17th January. They needed to elect the President del Parlament (not of the Government – this position is like the Ceann Comhairle in the Dáil or the Speaker in Westminster), a Vice-President and four Secretaries. As they were doing this in the public eye, Alan King, of the FB page Support Catalonia, translated and posted as it was happening. The summary below is taken from that commentary with his permission and our thanks.

Voting is taking place for the “speaker” (president del Parlament – not the same as the President of the Goverment). The name of each MP is called out and they walk up and hand over their ballot at the front of the chamber. Loud applause accompanies the names of those who are imprisoned or in exile. Those who are political prisoners have delegated their votes except for Carles Puigdemont, who has refused to do so.

The seats in the chamber have been decorated with large yellow ribbons. (This is to remember the members of the Parlament jailed by the Spanish State while awaiting trial for carrying out the wishes of their electorate and defying the Spanish Government; also for a leader of a Catalan independist organisation).

The new candidate for speaker is Roger Torrent, who will be the youngest person to occupy the position. Voting has ended and the names on each ballot are being read out. Hundreds of people are standing outside, surrounded by many Catalan flags, to follow the proceedings live from the street.

The candidate of the independence parties, Roger Torrent, was born in 1979. Here is a piece about him (in Catalan):

The “now you see me now you don’t” Podemos group decided to abstain in the vote. As a result, with the votes counted, no candidate has the absolute majority which means that now there will be a second vote, which is taking place. In this second round a simple majority will suffice.

The Podemos group which represents a Spanish so-called “left” movement go under the name of “Catalunya En Comú” (Catalonia in Common). They suffered heavy losses in the latest elections and only have eight Mps.

The people outside are chanting: “PUIGDEMONT! FREEDOM!”

 Loud applause in the chamber as Puigdemont’s name is called out as the second round of voting continues.

Comment from another observer at this point: “I’ve been watching live reporting on the Al-Jazeera TV news programme. Nothing on BBC ….”

The count for the first round of votes was:
Torrent (the independence candidate): 65
Espejo (the unionist candidate): 56
Abstentions; 9

The voting is over for the second round and the ballots are now being counted.

Roger Torrent is 38 years old and a member of the Esquerra Republicana (Republican Left) party. He is described as a perfectionist and a good communicator.

Torrent has replaced Carme Forcadell as speaker of the Catalan Parliament. Forcadell announced she wanted to step down on account of the many legal issues she must face because of persecution by the Spanish courts.

One of Torrent’s well-known quotes: “We will build the Republic without asking permission” (Farem República sense demanar permís).

The session now continues with the election of the Deputy Speaker (vice-president de la Mesa). There are two candidates again, put forward by Junts Per Si and Ciudadanos respectively.

The election of Deputy Speakers has concluded. The First Deputy Speaker will be Costa (the independence candidate), while Espejo (Ciudadanos’ unionist candidate) will be the Second Deputy.

Finally, votes are now being counted for the four secretaries of the Mesa del Parlament. It is expected that there will be one secretary each proposed by Junts Per Catalunya, Esquerra Republicana and the unionist parties Ciudadanos and PSC.

It has been pointed out that the presence of more men than women in the Mesa fails to reflect the fact that women are in the majority in the parliament as a whole.

Roger Torrent is beginning his first speech as Speaker of the Catalan Parliament.

Torrent promises to try to win the confidence of all the members of parliament.

He is going on to draw attention to the intolerable situation with political prisoners and cabinet members in Brussels who cannot return to their country.

It is his job to represent the voices of all the elected members of parliament including those who cannot be present today.

There is an unprecedented situation where the Catalan institutions are under attack, and the first task must be to stop that. He calls on everyone to join forces to retrieve the institutions and put them at the service of the whole country.

The polls are the maximum expression of the will of the people and must be respected. The country’s civil and social rights depend on it.

Social progress is one of parliament’s essential goals.

It is their responsibility to forge agreements and understandings even among groups who don’t see eye to eye. He has worked for that as Mayor and will now do it in his new position.

But he demands one thing: respect. For the institutions, for each other, and for will of the people.

Democracy and coexistence are the two basic principles.

Catalonia is a diverse country and that diversity is reflected in the composition of parliament.

He has referred to his two female predecessors and says that he personally espouses the feminist vision, which is still unachieved in Catalan society and its institutions, but which he promises to do his best to advance.

After his speech, all stand for the Catalan national anthem, Els Segadors.

The anthem is followed by shouts of “Visca Catalunya” (Long live Catalunya!) and “Lliure!” (Free!), and of “Llibertat!” (freedom).

The session is over. The President of the Government remains to be elected, which needs to be done tend days from now.

DUBLIN PICKET DENOUNCES UNDEMOCRATIC AND REPRESSIVE COURTS: ABOLISH THE SPECIAL COURTS!

Clive Sulish

 

On a wet and cold Saturday, up to two score protesters gathered on the pedestrian reservation in O’Connell Street to denounce the Special Criminal Courts and their operation.

A section of the picket line in O’Connell Street – the Clery’s building is in the background with the Jim Larkin monument in the distance. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

They lined up opposite the iconic General Post Office, site of the HQ of the Easter Rising in 1916 and still bearing the marks of British Army bullet and shrapnel strikes. As traffic and shoppers hurried by or stopped to stare, the protesters were observed by members of the Garda Special Branch, the political section of the police force of the Irish state, one of whom ducked behind one of the GPO’s columns as someone pointed a camera in his direction (to cause some mirth among the picketers).

(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Among the picketers on the 20th January 2017 were members of different Irish Republican groups and campaigns as well as a number of independent activists of Republican, Socialist and Anarchist backgrounds.

After standing for a while displaying placards and banners, the protesters gathered around to hear Sean Doyle, who had been presented as the campaign’s spokesperson.

A section of the picketers (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Remarking that the Special Courts are “a travesty in law”, Doyle added that one should “never equate law with justice.” Doyle accused the Courts of being “a political tool to deny due process”. He encouraged those present to ask themselves whether Maurice McCabe or John Wilso (both Gardaí who fell foul of the force) would nowadays trust uncontested evidence. Doyle went on to say, in reference to administrations both sides of the Border, that “Political special courts are structured to deny your civil and human rights and must be abolished.”

Special courts of the Israeli Zionist regime, or US military-occupied areas were also condemned by the speaker, who called for “cooperation and sharing of information across the world” because “injustice knows no borders.”

Sean Doyle speaking (Photo: D.Breatnach)

After Doyle’s short speech had been applauded, Ger Devereaux thanked everyone for attending and informed them that the campaign against the Special Courts would continue with pickets and meetings and asked people to spread the word to help the campaign to grow and to achieve success.

Ger Devereaux addressing the crowd
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

HISTORY AND COMMENT

The operation of the law in what are called “democratic” societies is supposed to be that a person suspected of committing a crime is accused and brought to trial, where the evidence is presented against him and should he choose to do so, he or his representation defend him. A jury drawn at random then considers the evidence, decides the verdict and, should that be of “guilty”, the judge pronounces sentence, within the parameters of the maximum and minimum set by law. That’s the theory, anyway.

We all know that there are flaws in that system, even without considering the laws under which the operate and the real power and wealth in society, as well as the power of the media, prejudices among jury members, lying witnesses, faulty expert testimony, etc. Nevertheless, the system is an advance on what existed before and provides some protection to the accused. At times the jury arrives at a verdict which is manifestly contrary to that desired by the forces of the State, i.e on the side of democracy and justice and against repression. A quite recent example was the finding of “not guilty” for the Jobstown protesters last year after a politically-orchestrated attempt by State, politicans and media to find them “guilty”. Another example, further back, was the exoneration of the five anti-war activists in 2006 for their actions against US warplanes in “neutral” Shannon airport.

The State has decided upon a way to overcome this problem, which is to do away with juries completely and, with the Special Courts, it has achieved this: these courts have no juries and, furthermore, a majority verdict of two out of three judges is sufficient for conviction. This would be of concern enough were it not for the fact that the Government appoints all of those judges.

A view of the GPO building across the road from the picket. The leg of a Special Branch officer may be seen as he ducks behind a column on the right.

The first of these courts was set up in 1939 under De Valera, as part of the Offences Against the State Act but fell into general disuse after the 2nd World War, to be briefly brought back during the IRA’s Border Campaign of the 1950s, when hundreds were interned. The Special Court was resuscitated in 1972 (as was the Amendment to the Offences Against the State Act – more about this below), again by a Fianna Fáil government under Jack Lynch.

A second Special Court was created by Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald, in the FG-Labour coalition Government, ironically on the centenary year and month of the Easter Rising. The justification was quite baldly that it was difficult for the State to achieve verdicts of guilty in some cases through the use of a jury. Of course the State declares that the difficulty arises in that the members of a jury may be intimidated by criminals or “terrorists”. But might it not equally be that the accused are not guilty at all? Or that the State has not bothered with the niceties of the democratic system and carried out its investigation? And if the jury system is to be judged ineffective in one kind of case, why not in others?

Originally, the target of the Special Courts was clearly political activists. When the atmosphere allowing political persecution by the State dissipated somewhat, it was claimed that the target was gangsters. However, for long years the victims continued to be political activists – exclusively of the Irish Republican brand. With an occasional suspect of the gangster type occasionally brought before the Special Courts however a stream of Irish Republicans find themselves facing them.

FAMOUS CASES

Among the famous convictions of the Special Courts were the sentencing to death in 1976 of the Anarchist couple Noel and Marie Murray for alleged murder of a Garda, the sentences being quashed on appeal after a campaign and reduced to life instead.

In 1978, then IRSP members Osgur Breatnach, Brian McNally and Nicky Kelly were all sentenced to long terms in jail. Their sentences were overturned in 1980 (and 1984 for Kelly) and years later they received compensation, reportedly in six figures.

Nicky Kelly & Osgur Breatnach at press conference after their convictions in the Special Criminal Court had been overturned (Photo: An Phoblacht)

A few more big convictions of political activists followed which were not overturned on appeal until in 2001, Colm Murphy was convicted of conspiracy to cause the Omagh bombing but in 2005 his conviction was quashed after revelations that the judges had acted improperly and that Garda witnesses for the Prosecution had falsified their notes. He was finally cleared by the SCC in 2010.

In 2003, Michael McKevitt was convicted by the Special Court of allegedly “directing terrorism” and “membership of ….. the Real IRA” in a judgement which has been criticised by a number of people unconnected to him.

There were no ‘gangland’ cases before the SCC until 1977/’78 and the Guerin murder trials, when one man was convicted on the evidence of a gang member turned State’s witnesses, a case about which many questions remain today. A big gap followed in ‘gangland’ cases until the years 2013, 2014 and 2016, with one case in each of those years..

Throughout all these years a steady stream of convictions and jailing of Irish Republicans for the lesser charges of “membership of an illegal organisation” have been processed through the Special Courts.

BRITISH TERRORISM

The same year that the Special Criminal Courts were introduced, i.e 1972, was when the Amendment to the Offences Against the State Act was brought into law. This provision permits conviction with the only evidence being the word of a Garda officer of the rank of Chief Superintendent or higher. Although historically judges have been reluctant to convict on this alone the quality of what other evidence they require has been slipping lower in recent years. Irish Republicans are now being convicted, for example of membership of an illegal organisation, on the word of a senior Garda who says that he has reason to believe that they are such, supported by spurious “evidence”. In one case this “evidence” consisted of a piece of paper allegedly from a prisoner the man had been visiting which discussed some recent events and in another, that Gardaí had “seen him turn down a dark lane”.

The irony is that the resuscitation of the Special Courts and the introduction of the Amendment to the OAS Act were voted in after a terrorist bomb planted by British agents. The Jack Lynch Fianna Fáil Government seemed to be heading for a defeat in the Dáil on their proposal, with Fine Gael. Labour TDs and others set to vote against. During the debate, on 1st December 1972, two car bombs exploded in Dublin, one Eden Quay and another on Burgh Quay, killing two CIE workers and wounding 131. In the succeeding panic, the opposition to the measure collapsed and it was was passed. Wikipedia: “It is believed that the 26 November and 1 December bombings were executed to influence the outcome of the voting.”

One of two Dublin bombs by British agents in December 1972 which helped introduce additional anti-Republican legislation
(Photo source: Indymedia)

Both sides of the Border, Irish Republicans are now being convicted and sent to jail by non-jury courts, by the Diplock Courts of the Six Counties colonial administration one side and by the Special Courts of the Irish State on the other. Ironically, in Britain itself there are no non-jury criminal courts.

 

WHO PROTESTS?

Given the patently undemocratic nature of the courts and the clearly political use by the State, what has the reaction of the civil and human rights sector been? In earlier days, it has been criticised by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Amnesty International and the UN Commission on Human Rights. In recent years, these critics, especially the Irish ones, have tended towards silence on the matter. The non-Republican Irish organised Left has likewise remained silent, as it tends to do with all persecution of Irish Republicans.

However, history has shown us that once the State succeeds in repression against one sector, it moves on to another it finds threatening or an inconvenience. It is therefore in the interests of all democratic and Left sections of society to unite against these undemocratic and repressive courts and to campaign for their total abolition.

End.

LINKS:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Criminal_Court

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1972_and_1973_Dublin_bombings

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Offences_against_the_State_Acts_1939%E2%80%931998

http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/1972/act/26/enacted/en/html