A SECTARIAN WAR OF SYMBOLS

Diarmuid Breatnach

ln the Six Counties, the British colony in Ireland, the sectarian lines are drawn. The Good Friday Agreement did nothing to eliminate them, contrary to the praises of many and perhaps even the wishes of some who supported it. The majority section of the population has a badge of professed faith to identify it, Protestantism, while the other has its own badge, Catholicism. But each section also has other symbols of its own.

          Politically, each section has a number of divisions within it but each has its majority representation: the Democratic Unionist Party for the Protestants and Sinn Féin for the Catholics. Both of these parties have overcome others to rise to prominence over their respective sections – the DUP deposed the Ulster Unionist Party and Sinn Féin overtook the Social Democratic and Labour Party. Both Sinn Féin and the DUP display the symbols of their respective sections and employ them to sectarian electoral advantage.

Apart from professed religion as a signifier, each section also has its own visible symbols: the Tricolour and Harp for the Catholics, the Union Jack and Crown for the Protestants. And to this has now been added language: Irish for the Catholics and Ulster Scots/ English for the Protestants.

The Irish Tricolour, a flag of the Irish Republican movement and official flag of the Irish State.
(Image sourced on Internet)

Flag of the United Kingdom, colloquially known as the “Union Jack” (it has other less neutral names too).
(Image sourced on Internet)

There are other symbols too but they are of minor importance, for example for the Catholics flying the Palestinian flag in solidarity with Palestinians and, just because they must oppose anything the Fenians do, the Israeli flag for the Protestants. Soon we may see the Catholics adopt the Catalan Estelada flags and the Protestants, the flag of the Spanish State. But would Unionist Protestants fly the flag of a Catholic country? Yes, it’s quite possible – they already fly one of a Jewish state.

Coat Arms UK (black & white), itself a symbol of UK authority and power, displaying a number of other symbols within it, including the Irish Harp within the shield. Note the symbolic Crown above all. (Image sourced on Internet)

United Irishmen Harp Motif
(Image sourced on Internet)

The opposing sections are in this discussion described as “Catholic” and “Protestant”, as though religion were really the issue – however it is not. Some commentators like to speak in term of “nationalists and unionists”, with the more extreme wing of the latter described as “Loyalists”. That particular sub-group of Unionism is more likely to refer to Catholics as “Taigues” or “Fenians”.

There are religious differences in doctrine and in temporal supremacy between both religions: Catholics believe in the immaculate conception of Mary, the mother of the Christ figure and Protestants do not, though she is seen as a saint in their churches also. Perhaps more relevantly, for Catholics the Pope is, notionally at least, the supreme temporal religious authority while for Anglican Protestants, it is the ruling British Monarch (other British-based Protestant sects acknowledge only their own vicars, their reading of the Christian Bible or their own consciences). Currently, that monarch is Queen Elizabeth II Windsor and lest she be considered just some kind of figurehead, albeit with untold (literally!) riches quite apart from public funds allocation and properties, it is well to remember that she is also Commander-in-Chief of the British Armed Forces.

Back in the day, the Pontiff (the Pope) also controlled a fair share of armed force and also brokered deals between the monarchs of different kingdoms. And in that respect, we’ll shortly come to some great ironies with regards to the Six Counties but first there are other matters to deal with.

RELIGION AS A QUESTION OF STATE POWER

Henry VIII of England disestablished the power of the Pontiff in English-ruled domains and made himself head of the Church, which of course required a split in the Christian Church, and the whole process has since become known as the English Reformation. That happened in the 16th Century; Henry’s daughter Elizabeth I continued this policy in the 17th Century and also extended the power of England and the territories under its domain. Of course, none of this was done by those monarchs alone; powerful feudal and commercial interests were involved also. Being Head of the Church of England allowed Henry to dissolve monasteries and confiscate their lands, filling the coffers of the Crown and of the faithful – faithful to the Crown.

Unfortunately for Ireland, a large part of the country was in the possession of England at this time, though not without resistance. And the original “English” colonists, the Gall-Ghael (“foreign Gael” in Irish), the Normans who had invaded from a colonised Wales with their mercenaries, wanted to stick to their earlier religion, continuing to acknowledge the Pontiff as their spiritual leader. They held their lands through conquest of arms under English monarchs (though the first had been a French Norman) but their loyalty to the British Crown was somewhat shaky. In 1366, nearly two centuries after their conquest of the Irish lands they held, the English Normans called them “the degenerate English” and accused them of having become “more Irish than the Irish themselves”.1

And what of “the Irish themselves”? They too were of the old faith, although their earlier Celtic Christian Church had been more than a little lax in its application of Roman doctrine, especially in laws and mores around marriage, justice and the status of women. The Roman Church was feudal and Irish society still ran along clan lines.

An uneasy alliance was formed between the Gael and the Gall-Ghael which emerged first for the English king Charles I against Cromwell, in the middle of the 17th Century and later again near the end of that century for King James II against King William III (of Orange). On each occasion the Irish alliance lost.

BATTLE, SECTARIAN LINES AND IRONIES

          And here we come to ironies. William of Orange was a Protestant and the victory of his forces at the Battle of the Boyne is considered by Unionists a victory of Protestant forces over Catholic. Actually, there were some Catholics among William’s force and some Protestants among the opposing James II forces but that is not the irony. Nor is the fact that William of Orange was a homosexual and that Rev. Ian Paisley, who founded the Democratic Unionist Party and led it until his death in 2014, led a campaign against decriminalisation of homosexuality under the slogan “Save Ulster from Sodomy!”

No, the irony is even greater than those two facts and it is this: William’s armed forces were part-financed by the Vatican, in other words through the Pontiff himself. Although in Ireland the conflict took on the shape of Catholics fighting for freedom to practice their religion (and even Gael and Gall-Ghael holding on to their respective powers), against Protestants forcing their religion and colonial power on others, it was part of a European-wide conflict known to historians as The Nine-Years War. A coalition of forces composed of Austria, the Holy Roman Empire, the Dutch Republic, Spain, England and Savoy, styling itself the League of Augsburg, drew up to oppose Louis XIV of France. And James found himself on the side of France and against his own Parliament.

The Pontiff, as leader of the Holy Roman Empire, was very much a member of the League of Habsburg as was the Kingdom of Spain and Savoy – all under Catholic rule. When news of William’s defeat of James’ forces at the Battle of the Boyne on 1st July 1690 reached the Vatican, a Te Deum mass of praise was celebrated there and similar demonstrations of praise were practiced in the Spanish Kingdom also. That war in Ireland had fundamentally little to do with religion in reality but everything to do with English state and colonial power and European power struggles.

And of course this is not only an irony for the Protestants, who annually celebrate the Boyne victory on the 12th of July in their most sectarian and anti-Catholic manner, but for the Catholics too, who see James as defending their Catholic faith, of which the Pope was the spiritual leader. Nor is that the only irony in connection with Ireland and the Vatican: it was a Pope, Adrian IV, who issued a Papal Bull (something like a warrant) in 1155 legitimising invasion and conquest of Ireland by Henry II of England. Pope Adrian IV, aka Nicholas Breakspear, was the only English Pontiff ever, true but he was a Pope and he must have had substantial support in Rome to issue such a document.

RELIGION

          One of the characteristics of republicanism in the late 18th Century, apart from the abolition of the monarchy, was the separation of Church and State. Freedom of conscience and worship were important principles in the French and American revolutions. The United Irishmen also adhered to those principles with an even greater motivation, which was that the majority of the Irish population was excluded from participation in government, military and civil profession by a religious bar.

The Unitedmen were defeated, crushed. Their Protestant (Anglican) and Dissenter (Presbyterian) leaders and supporters were executed or exiled2 and the remnants for the most part became dominated by sectarian anti-Catholicism. And Irish nationalism, including republicanism, came to contain a strong Catholic bias (notwithstanding the continuing presence of Protestants and true Republicans in the movement).

Despite the fact that the Irish (and English) Catholic Church hierarchy has been publicly and energetically hostile to Irish Republicanism from the 1780s onwards, the majority of the Irish Republican movement of the early 20th Century observed the practices of the Catholic faith and never broke from its religious allegiance nor sought to overcome the dominance of the Church in society. As a result the Republican movement was unable, had it wanted to, to tackle many of the social injustices in the Irish State’s education, health, intellectual, literary, art, gender and sexuality policies and legislation, where the Church held sway.

Liberty of conscience and worship remains an important civil right, a democratic demand. People are entitled to practice their concept of religion or to abstain from it and their choices in this regard should not influence people’s participation in society as a whole. The Catholic Church is losing its power in the Twenty-Six Counties and that is reflected too in the Six. The Presbyterian churches are likewise losing influence. However, faith congregation membership continues to be a communal marker and to be used by the DUP and SF to hold their respective voting blocs together.

If separation of Church and State is an important principle of Republicanism then Republicans should actively campaign for that end. No school that bases its intake of pupils on the practice or belief of any religion should receive State support. But in the unlikely event that Sinn Féin should embark on a campaign to apply that principle, they would find themselves losing their voting block, for that is how their block is identified in the Six Counties: as Catholics, baptised in Catholic church, attending Catholic services to some degree or other and being educated in Catholic Schools.

The Unionists are of course just as careful to look after their own sectarian voting block and at least as sectarian. But they don’t claim to be Republicans.

THE ESSENCE OF THE SYMBOLS

          Symbols of course do not merely stand for what they are themselves but, in being a symbol, for something else also. A sculpture or drawing of a lion may represent the animal but when used as a symbol, frequently stands for monarchy and power: for examples, the lion on the coat of arms of the United Kingdom and the lions at base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London. And symbols can also change their symbolic meaning and come to mean something else than was originally intended. The cross symbolised martyrdom for early Christians, later came to symbolise Christianity itself, later still the Holy Roman Empire and the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition …. For the Ku Klux Klan in the southern states of the USA, the burning cross symbolises the power of their organisation and white anglo-saxon ethnic supremacy.

The Irish Tricolour flag was presented to Thomas Francis Meagher of the Young Irelanders by women revolutionaries in Paris in 1848, the Year of Revolutions in Europe (but not really in Ireland, where the fight had been knocked out of the remaining survivors of the Great Hunger 1845-1849). Reputedly the flag’s colours signified peace (White) between the traditions of the Gael (Green) and the descendants of those who had fought for William (Orange). The Unionists see it, however, firstly as a symbol of rebellion against the Crown (not without reason, given its historical use) and secondly as a flag of a Catholic Ireland.

The Harp is an Irish symbol of some antiquity and was reputedly flown on standards in ancient medieval times in Ireland. The Norman and English invaders appropriated it firstly as symbol of a conquered Ireland and incorporated it into their colonial standards and flags. Revolutionary republican grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Cromwellian settlers then appropriated the harp as the symbol of the republican United Irishmen, with the motto “It is newly strung and shall be heard”. After the defeat of the Unitedmen (whose leaders were nearly all Protestant), the Harp became a rather suspect symbol for Unionists, mostly Protestants and besides, it is the official symbol of the Irish State (the only state in the world with a musical instrument as its national symbol). However, it remains within the arms of the United Kingdom, representing the Six Counties colony still in British/ English possession.

“Easter Lilly” design, traditionally produced as a paper ‘flag’ and worn pinned to clothing with a straight pin. More recently also produced in enameled metal. (Image sourced on Internet)

The “Easter Lilly” emblem is a symbolic representation of a white lilly with an orange centre, with a green leaf as a background. It was developed by Irish women Republicans in the second decade of the 20th Century to commemorate those who died fighting for Irish national freedom, in particular during the 1916 Easter Rising. For decades it was produced as a simple paper representation for the Irish Republican movement and sold on streets or pubs in the lead-up to Easter Monday, when the Rising would be commemorated. In more recent times it has been worn for up to a week each side of Easter Monday and it has also been produced as a metal badge or pin, which some Republicans wear all year around.

The flag of the United Kingdom, commonly known as the “Union Jack”, embodying a design composed of the symbols of the Crosses of Saints George, Andrew and Patrick, represents the union of the nations through their respective patron saints3: Scotland and Ireland under the rule of England and its Royal Family. It was a forced, not a voluntary union and is therefore a reactionary symbol but Unionists in the Six Counties view it as a symbol of the union with England which they wish to maintain.

Paper “Remembrance Poppy” produced for the British Royal Legion (Image sourced on Internet)

The Crown represents the English Royal Family and UK State power. Since it is the same State that imposes its rule on the other nations of Ireland and the British Isles, it is fundamentally a reactionary symbol, also representing the reactionary institution of monarchy.

The Poppy, a cloth representation of the red flower, is worn by many British people in the lead up to Armistice Day, November 11th and sometimes for days afterwards. Many British people apparently believe that the purpose of this symbol is to commemorate the dead in wars or to support veterans and their families. In fact as research has shown, the primary purpose of commemorating ‘Remembrance Day’ and the Poppy is to gather public support behind the Armed Forces of the UK. Unionists seemingly see wearing it as proof of their political allegiance to Britain, England or the Crown – or all three.4

In the most recent history of the Six Counties, the symbols listed above have been those of the respective communities, with the added fact that Crown and Union Jack have also been symbols of the colonial statelet itself.

Recently two other symbols have been promoted, also with sectarian allegiances: Irish and Ulster Scots. Neither of these two languages is spoken by the majority of either community, for whom English (with some words specific to Ulster) is the majority language.

THE IRISH, ENGLISH AND ULSTER SCOTS LANGUAGES

          Irish or an Ghaeilge, one of the languages of the Goidelic branch of the Celtic languages group, was the language of the people living in Ireland before it was invaded by England and remained the majority language in Ireland until the end of the19th Century. It continues as a community language5 in all provinces of Ireland including Ulster but there in parts of Co. Donegal, the northernmost county of Ireland (and not part of the Six Counties despite the statelet being called “Northern Ireland”).

Irish died out as a community language in the Six Counties from its last refuge, the Sperrin Mountains, sometime in the early decades of the 20th Century (the 1911 Census recorded a majority of Irish speakers in that region but also, interestingly, in the Protestant Sandy Row area of Belfast City). However, some Irish speakers survived and others learned the language so that it continued to exist in the colony after the partition of Ireland in 1921. During the recent 30 years’ war, Irish enjoyed a resurgence and to some extent became a badge of resistance to colonial rule.

English is, more than most, a language composed of a number of different languages. Given that it sounds like and is classified as a Germanic language, it is surprising that its major component is of French language origin with the minor component based on Saxon German. English developed in what became England over a period including the defeat of the Romanised Celtic tribes of the area by the Saxons and Angles and the subsequent conquering of the Saxons themselves by the French-speaking Normans.

A century after their victorious invasion of England, the Normans invaded Ireland. In most of the area they conquered in Ireland, the Normans soon came to adopt many local customs, including the speaking of Irish so that less than two centuries later, their England-based colleagues referred to them as “the degenerate English” who had become “more Irish than the Irish themselves.”6

Although the invaders failed to enforce the Statutes of Kilkenny, over the following centuries they managed through eviction of natives and plantation of colonists, as well as the exclusively official use of English and legal repression of the Irish language, to make Irish a minority language and to reduce it, as a community language, to a number of reservations in certain parts of the country.

Ulster Scots is a dialect of Scots, in turn a dialect of German spoken by Saxon colonisers of the Scottish Lowlands (the reason the dialect became known as “Lallands”). The Scottish colonists of Irish lands given to them by James I, Oliver Cromwell and English bankers brought the language into Ulster where it developed into “Ulster Scots”. That too gave way to English over time except in some pockets, without any serious effort to revive its fortunes. Until, that is, agitation began in recent times for rights for Irish speakers and for the teaching of Irish, when some Unionists, seeking an “Ulster”7 “Protestant” equivalent with which to oppose any benefits for Irish, began agitation for the preservation and teaching of Ulster Scots.

However, the real competitor with Irish for dominance in the Six Counties (as also in the Twenty-Six, the Irish State) is of course English.

PARITY OF ESTEEM”

          “Parity of esteem” is a concept that was put forward by Sinn Féin within the atmosphere of the Good Friday Agreement.

To many people at the time, including myself, it seemed like something between “soft” Republicanism and a token demand, something to represent to the party’s following that it was doing something for them in the Six Counties. Sinn Féin would have claimed it was much more than that – and it was.

When some critics of SF or of the Peace (sic) Process claimed that sectarianism was being institutionalised, was being “copper-fastened”, I wondered how that was. Obviously, people in Catholic areas would vote Sinn Féin but how was that any different other than how they would have voted previously, viz. Nationalist or SDLP?

But in the past, except for the brief “power-sharing” agreement8 which the Loyalists had so effectively sunk, no political representative on a Catholic voting base had even come close to carving up the Six Counties on a community proportional basis. Now Sinn Féin have done so – not just in local authorities but in the government of the statelet itself (present difficulties excepted). That is what SF has achieved, after some years of civil rights agitation, Catholic communal resistance to repression and nearly three decades of armed struggle – a sharing out of the spoils of office. Power-sharing. Parity of esteem. A sectarian carving out of areas of influence.

And every power-base must have its symbols. Recently the Irish Language has become one such. Obviously the Irish language is entitled to support and its speakers have civil language rights. Clearly the sectarian opposition of Unionist politicians to concessions in this direction is fundamentally wrong. Of course a Language Act is needed so that Irish speakers can use it to push for their rights where the institutions oppose and block them. But that is not why SF has come so late into this struggle. It’s another symbol of their ethnic power-base and another stick with which to beat the Unionists.

A view of a section of the “Dearg le Fearg” protest demonstration in Belfast in 2014, demanding State recognition of and facilities for the conservation and dissemination of the Irish language. (Image sourced on Internet)

And of course there are Irish language speakers and campaigners who are Sinn Féin members. They made clear you knew that during the huge demonstration in favour of Irish language rights, the Dearg le Fearg9 demonstration of 2014 in Belfast, when they were the only political party displaying a banner in violation of an understanding that no political party would do so.

But what does Sinn Féin do in order to forward the language among its own members and activists? Are its public speakers obliged to be competent Irish speakers? Are its Ard-Choiste (Executive Committee) meetings conducted through Irish? Its cumann (branch) meetings? Its Ard Fheis (annual congress)?10 No, none of those. Is the party even running an Irish language instruction program to overcome this deficit at some point in the future? No.

Apart from some enthusiasts among its activists and a vague nationalist emotional attachment, Sinn Féin as a party is not really interested in the language. In the Six Counties, it is interested in a sectarian carve-up which will keep it at the power table and the Irish language has now become useful for that. Just as, in the Twenty-Six Counties state, it is interested in coming to power in a different kind of power-sharing.

THE EASTER LILLY AND THE “REMEMBRANCE” POPPY

          And the latest symbol to be sullied by joining this war of symbols is the Easter Lilly. In times past the Easter Lilly, commemorating in particular the dead who fell fighting for freedom in the 1916 Rising, was worn by many in the Twenty-Six Counties state who were not Republicans. In the latter decades of the last century, few wore it apart from Republicans and, in the Six Counties, it was asking for trouble from the colonial police or Loyalists (often the same thing) to display it. The Flags and Emblems (Display) Act (1954-1987) there empowered any police officer to decide it was likely to lead to “a breach of the peace” and to remove it by force; conviction of a breach of the Act was punishable by a fine of up to £500 (sum equal to about £15,300 in 2017) or up to five years in prison.11

The Act, the repeal of which was one of the demands of the Civil Rights movement of the late 1960s, was finally repealed in 1987 but of course, any signifier identifying a person as a Republican or even a Catholic in the Six Counties is at the very least an invitation to less favourable treatment by the authorities and at worse to harassment and assault by Loyalists or colonial armed forces personnel.

It is of course right that people should have the right to wear the Easter Lilly but to pose it as an equal right to wearing the Remembrance (sic) Poppy is to devalue the Lilly, to putting an anti-imperialist and Irish Republican history emblem on the same level as an imperialist military-glorifying one. But that is exactly what Sinn Féin is now doing12. And Leo Varadkar, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of the Irish state, recently publicly agreed with that notion.13

And is that not the same project as those of the “Museum of Free Derry”14 and of the Glasnevin Cemetery Trust15, one on each side of the Border, commemorating dead British colonial force members side-by-side with their victims and those who fought against them? As though they are of the same worth to commemorate? As though the objectives of each were (are) of equal value?

What more effective way to undermine the power of an anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist symbol than to equate it with its opposite?

THE IMPORTANCE OF SYMBOLS

          I once heard an organiser of a British-based left-wing party, himself of Irish parents, declaim against Irish political commemorations in London as “only of symbolic importance”. How little he understood of human beings to say that! Outside of urgent situations, natural surroundings and chemical reactions, symbols are the only things that convey meaning to human beings.

This page is covered in printed symbols, which we have learned to decipher into words which, in turn are symbols to convey meaning by association. If I write the letters h,o,u,s,e joined together, or say “house”, a symbol in sound, the listeners construct the shape of a house inside their heads, based on the culture and structures to which they have been exposed in their lives, to understand what I mean. If I write or say instead “tent”, they will visualise something else. If I write or say “party” the listener may struggle between visualising a festive occasion or a political party but should I have preceded that word with another, “house”, confusion disappears and the only question is whether the listener’s experience or understanding of a “house party” is the same as mine.

A nod of the head is a symbolic gesture which in most cultures signifies some level of agreement, a shake of the head its opposite. We understand symbolic hand gestures, shrugs, grimaces, smiles, winks, the lift of an eyebrow, bodily posture. Shapes of body or posture can convey sexual availability and induce arousal, or convey threat and give rise to fear. Symbols haunt our dreams, according to Jung and Freud, communications from our subconscious. Symbols are crucial to conveying and understanding meaning.

WHAT IS RIGHT AND WHAT IS NOT

          It is right and proper that people should uphold the symbols of anti-imperialist and anti-colonial historical resistance, including the Irish Tricolour (although more appropriate to my thinking is the Starry Plough of the Irish Citizen Army16). Another symbol of that resistance, the Easter Lilly, is equally valid. It is right and proper that people should

“The Starry Plough”, design of the flag of the Irish Citizen Army, first produced 1914. (Image sourced on Internet)

value the cultural and political history embodied in the symbol of the Irish Harp. It is a matter of great cultural world importance that the Irish language survive and flourish. These are important symbols and, in the case of the language, an important thing in itself. These are not things to be equated with symbols of oppression, colonialism and imperialism.

The Union Jack, the Crown and the Poppy deserve to be shunned by all progressive people, because of the values they symbolise and the continuing effect of those things today. The English language, on the other hand, is worthy of a place in a bilingual Irish society.

Let Republicans and others promote the wearing of the Easter Lilly and the display of flags of historic Republican resistance. Let them never place them in the same context or on equal status with the symbols of imperialism and colonialism. Let many promote the use of the Irish language and rights for its speakers but let it not be used as a crude political weapon, much less to further the prospects of a party which actively colludes with and shares in colonial rule by an invader and has done nothing in reality to promote the language even among its own ranks.

End.

FOOTNOTES

1  The Statutes of Kilkenny sought to halt this “degeneracy” with 35 Acts forbidding the “intermarriage between the native Irish and the native English, the English fostering of Irish children, the English adoption of Irish children and use of Irish names and dress.[7] Those English colonists who did not know how to speak English were required to learn the language (on pain of losing their land and belongings), along with many other English customs. The Irish pastimes of “hockie” and “coiting” were to be dropped and pursuits such as archery and lancing to be taken up, so that the English colonists would be more able to defend against Irish aggression, using English military tactics.[8]

“Other statutes required that the English in Ireland be governed by English common law, instead of the Irish March law or Brehon law[9] and ensured the separation of the Irish and English churches by requiring that “no Irishman of the nations of the Irish be admitted into any cathedral or collegiate church … amongst the English of the land”.[10]

“………. Statute XV, which forbade Irish minstrels or storytellers to come to English areas, guarding against “the Irish agents who come amongst the English, spy out the secrets, plans, and policies of the English, whereby great evils have often resulted”.[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statutes_of_Kilkenny

2  e.g William Orr, Edward Crosbie, Wolfe Tone, Edward Fitzgerald, Edward Hayes, Henry Joy McCracken, Henry Munroe, William Aylmer, Thomas Addis Emmet, Bagenal Harvey, Joseph Holt, Napper Tandy, Robert Emmet ….

3  Ireland has in fact three patron Christian saints: Patrick, Bridget and Columcille.

5  By use of the term “community language” here I mean a language used by a community settled on an area, as distinct from say a community of people separated by distance but united by use of a language, or a language used by a few families separated from one another by a majority not speaking that language.

6 The Statutes of Kilkenny

7 A misnomer constantly repeated not only by Unionists but also by British public commentators: the province of Ulster has nine counties, of which three are in the Irish state and six in the British statelet.

8  The Sunningdale Agreement of 1973, which proposed power-sharing between Protestant and Catholic communities in the shape of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive, was overthrown by the Loyalist action of the Ulster Workers’ Council (and Ulster Army Council) strike of 1974, including armed intimidation of Catholic areas, with British Army troops and RUC police standing by (or in the latter case openly colluding) .

9  Literally “Red with Anger”, a campaign of demonstrations organised both sides of the Border, against administrations of both states, by Irish language campaigners and speakers. Connradh na Gaeilge (the Gaelic League, an organisation part-funded by the Irish state) took part in organising this but it was only one of many much more grass-roots organisations across the country involved. It had been agreed that political party representatives would not be speakers (this was violated in some instances) and that political party banners would not be displayed (violated by Sinn Féin on the Belfast demonstration).

10  This is very different from comparable movements for national independence in Catalunya and the Basque Country, where their own national languages dominate their political discourse, despite repression (until the 1980s) and lack of state support.

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TALKS AND VISIT to the SOUTHERN BASQUE COUNTRY in OCTOBER 2017

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

This Autumn I made myself available to give talks in the southern Basque Country (i.e. in the Spanish state) on the situation of Irish political prisoners and a series was arranged for mid-October for nearly two weeks.

As well as having private conversations, I gave a total of five public talks to audiences ranging in size from ten to over forty. The composition of the audiences varied from youths to older middle-aged; in some places the latter predominated and in some, the former.

All the meetings I spoke at were arranged by an organisation called Amnistia Ta Askatasuna which calls for total amnesty for Basque political prisoners. This was also a demand of the whole movement and of the leadership of the Abertzale Left until fairly recently and the Gestoras pro-Amnistia organisation had been created under the Abertzale Left umbrella but then banned by the Spanish State. But the Abertzale Left’s leadership have now dropped this demand from public discourse, saying the conditions are not ripe for it and concentrating instead on the end of the dispersal. (More about this and the Basque prisoner situation later).

DB 3 Talks Poster Oct2017

Poster on a wall advertising three talks in the southern Basque Country before the remaining two were confirmed. October 2017. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

I had not intended to confine my talks to those organised by ATA but it was they who organised the talks on dates that were offered, with the exception of one from an independent source that unfortunately clashed with one I had already accepted elsewhere.

Amnistia Posters what wall

ATA posters share with other advertising on a wall in the southern Basque Country, October 2017 (Photo: D.Breatnach)

THE TALKS

The types of venues for the talks were community cultural centres (two), occupied buildings (two) and one local (a space for which the users’ association paid rent and used for their activities). Geographically, the talks were held in Gernika and two in Bilbao (Bizkaia province), Etxarri (Nafarroa) and Ibarra (Guipuzkoa province). There were none in Alava province (although earlier this year I gave interviews to Hala Bedi pirate radio there, in Gastheiz/ Vitoria). On this occasion also I gave a video interview to a rapper who also makes videos for Hala Bedi, though he is located in Bizkaia.

From conversations and discussion it became clear that all the older people in the audiences were veterans of the Basque struggle over decades and a number were ex-prisoners. Some had relatives in jail. The youths had come to political activity or thinking in recent years.

DB Charla Ibarra 24 Oct2017

Talk in cultural centre in Ibarra, Guipuzkoa, southern Basque Country, October 2017. (Photo: ATA)

For the content of the talks I briefly reviewed the more distant history of political prisoners in Ireland, moving on then to the Good Friday Agreement and the release of

Torn poster DB talk Ibarra 24 Oct2017.

Torn poster advertising the talk in Ibarra, Guipuzkoa province, southern Basque Country, October 2017. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

most Irish Republican prisoners in the Six Counties under its terms. The arrest and jailing without charge of a number of these ex-prisoners was part of the talk, in which the specific examples given were of Marian Price, Martin Corey and Tony Taylor. I also dealt with the procedure of arrest on ridiculous charges and refusal of bail, or granting it under undemocratic and restrictive conditions, for which I used Stephen Murney as an example. Conviction on charges which the evidence does not support is also a category I mentioned, giving the Craigavon Two as an example there. Arrest on arms charges is also a feature on both sides of the Border.

With regard to the 26 Counties, i.e the Irish state, I discussed the Special Court, Membership-of-an-illegal-organisation charges and charges of obtaining arms or having assisted terrorism. I mentioned the planned second Special Court in particular in the context of the State’s failure to convict most of the Jobstown protesters on charges that included “false imprisonment” (i.e kidnapping).

While noting that splits had occurred before in the Republican movement – the Provisionals themselves having emerged from such a split in 1970 – I noted that since the GFA, splits had multiplied and listed a number of the resulting organisations, including those that had existed already at that time.

Listing the number of Irish political prisoners (at the latest count then 79) and reminding the audience that the Irish had extended solidarity to Basque political prisoners, I asked the Basques for solidarity towards our political prisoners too. And I did so not only as a moral issue of internationalist solidarity but also in recognition that internationalist solidarity is one of the first casualties (i.e aspects to drop or weaken) by those who are seeking to surrender the struggle or even to become collaborators.

Talk in cultural centre in Etxarri, Nafarroa province, southern Basque Country, October 2017.
(Photo: ATA)

QUESTIONS

I timed the talks to give sufficient space for – and encouraged — questions and comments, even critical ones.

It was interesting that the same questions tended to come up again and again:

  • Did the different Republican organisations cooperate with one another inside and outside the jails?

  • What were the conditions in the prisons like for the prisoners?

  • How are political prisoners in ill-health being treated?

  • Is there a dispersal issue with regard to political prisoners

  • Did the population support the prisoners?

  • What were the conditions for their release under the Good Friday Agreement?

  • Did INLA prisoners sign the GFA release agreement?

  • Are there armed actions continuing in Ireland?

  • Are the youth involved in solidarity actions and campaigns?

  • What was the attitude of Sinn Féin towards the political prisoners?

  • Are prisoners “on the run” still in danger of arrest and imprisonment?

In one meeting, one of the smaller audiences and containing only youth, I was asked about the role of women in the national liberation struggle in Ireland today.

Talk in the occupied former Astra factory building, Gernika, Bizkaia province, southern Basque Country, October 2017.
(Photo: ATA)

Some of the questions asked reflect the situation of the Basque political prisoners and also of the censored and inaccurate information about Ireland that reaches them, including through the Abertzale Left‘s (the “official” umbrella organisation) daily newspaper, GARA. At a number of times in the past spokespersons of the Abertzale Left’s organisations had claimed that there were no longer Irish political prisoners, a claim repeated in GARA. More recently, the tendency is to ignore their existence or to represent them as very few, without a program other than return to armed struggle and without a support base (i.e Sinn Féin’s line).

The new direction of the Abertzale Left’s leadership, which included a “permanent truce” and disarmament of their armed organisation ETA (formally declared in January 2011) was said at the time to have been agreed by the Basque political prisoners in their organisation EPPK. There have been persistent claims by friends and relatives of some prisoners and by some prisoners released in the last couple of years that they had not even been consulted.

A number of people to whom I spoke claimed that the prisoners’ collective no longer really exists, with prisoners left to act individually; some others said this was true to an extent but not completely. Certainly one feels a general air of disillusionment and uncertainty – and also of anger. And it is true that a small number of prisoners have formally denounced the leadership and left the collective.

Grafitti in Ondarroa, Bizkaia province, southern Basque Country, October 2017.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

From figures collected in 2003, up to 30,000 Basque activists out of a total population of less than three million) had been arrested, 8,170 were accused of being members of ETA and roughly half of those convicted and imprisoned. The prisoners’ relatives and friends’ organisation Etxerat (also under the Abertzale Left’s umbrella) in its July-September report of this year (2017) recognises 315 Basque political prisoners, of which 310 are dispersed through 61 prisons, with only two in 2 prisons in the Basque Country.

In 39 prisons in the Spanish state 239 Basque political prisoners are being kept and 68 in twenty prisons of the French state. There are 212 (68.85%) Basque political prisoners in prisons at distances of between 600 and 1,100 km of the Basque Country; from a distance of 400 to 590 km from their country there are 67 (21.75 %) and between 100 and 390 km of home another 29 (9.40 %).

The strain on relatives and friends is considerable, road accidents are frequent and a number have been killed on their journeys.

Twenty-one prisoners (21) are diagnosed as being seriously or terminally ill and according to the states’ penal codes should have been released on parole to home or hospital but instead of reducing the number of sick prisoners the total is climbing (almost doubled in recent years).  I accompanied ATA comrades to the port town of Ondarroa to participate in a demonstration organised by a broad platform calling for the release of terminally-ill Basque political prisoner Ibon Iparragirre.

Section of rally after demonstration in Ondarroa, Bizkaia, in solidarity with local seriously-ill prisoner Ibon Iparragirre, October 2017.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Stage rally after demonstration in Ondarroa, Bizkaia, in solidarity with local seriously-ill prisoner Ibon Iparragirre, October 2017.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The Spanish state has rejected all the “peace process” (sic) overtures of the Abertzale Left leadership and says that ETA should just disappear and prisoners wishing to be pardoned and released must repent their previous actions, apologise to their “victims” and give information on their previous activities and comrades. It also says that all still at liberty and wanted for past illegal activities will continue to be pursued.

COMMENTS AND CONTRIBUTIONS

These too tended to be of a kind to come up again and again throughout the tour:

  • The situation in Ireland with regard to the liberation movement and prisoners is like that in the Basque Country or that which the latter will face as time goes on

  • The prisoners’ cause is being deserted by the Abertzale Left leadership

  • Their media and leadership had lied to the movement about the situation in Ireland

  • The leadership is only interested in penetrating the institutions and is neglecting the politics of the street

  • Otaegi and Adams are alike and McGuinness was a traitor when he asked people to inform on paramilitaries

The Abertzale Left did not of course comment on the talks – why would they? However, in Ibarra, I saw posters for the meeting torn down in areas where others remained and according to my hosts, this was the work of the “oficialistas(i.e followers of the leadership’s line) in the town. It was notable too that although a few did, a number of people within the Abertzale Left but whom I know to be very critical of the change of direction, did not attend the talks held in their areas. Since some had previously attended a meeting at which I spoke a year ago and engaged in discussion critical of the Abertzale leadership, I took it that these either disapproved of the ATA organisers or did not wish, for whatever reason, to be seen attending a meeting held by the organisation.

At all the talks I was received with friendliness and courtesy and after some I had a meal in company in a txoko (Basque building — or part of one — owned or rented by a gastronomic association) or the home of my hosts for the evening. Although I invited criticisms with genuine interest in hearing them, none were voiced publicly, whether of the content of my talk or of the Irish people generally — although there were some questions as to why the people “in the south” had not supported more widely the “struggle in the north”. I explained that what they call “the north” is one-fifth or the country and also divided in its population; in addition the Republican movement had left the social and economic concerns of the people in the other four-fifths largely unaddressed and in fact had opposed some social reforms in earlier times. People in the 26 Counties had given a lot of support but without mobilising them on their own concerns and specific conditions this was likely to be a minority activity and to decline over time.

CATALUNYA: SOUTHERN BASQUE ATTITUDE TO THE STRUGGLE THERE

Inevitably, the struggle in Catalunya came into the discourse at some point – after all, I had arrived in Euskal Herria just under two weeks after the Referendum.

The Catalan national flags, the esteladas (both versions) were in evidence across the Basque Country as were some solidarity banners and posters. The two solidarity demonstrations I witnessed (and in which I participated but for a while – each having been called for the same evening as my talk locally) in Nafarroa and in Bizkaia appeared to have been called by the “official” movement and were fairly small and quiet. The largest, of over fifty people, did not even have a flag, placard or banner, which was puzzling.

Large image on the wall of the youth local in Errekalde, Bilbao, where they hosted one of the talks, October 2017.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

It was reported to me that some time back, the Abertzale Left had been close to the militant CUP (Catalan left-wing and independist popular movement) but now were moving closer to the Eskerra Republicana, often perceived as being less militant and closer to the Catalan bourgeoisie. Among the critics of the Abertzale Left leadership and others there seemed to be a doubt that the Catalan leadership was serious; however, both the “officials” and the “dissidents” had sent people to help the Catalans in their referendum.

After the Spanish police violence on October 1st there was a feeling that the Catalans were enduring what the Basques had endured for decades so why the great shock now? When two leaders of the Catalan movement were arrested and jailed without bail and called “political prisoners”, of course the Basques pointed to their own hundreds of political prisoners (and also to two Catalans who were ETA prisoners). The failure to declare a Republic on the promised day seemed to bear out those with a more cynical view but actions since then and the application of the repressive Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution are bound to raise feelings of respect and solidarity across the Basque national liberation movement, whether “official” or “dissident”.

IN CONCLUSION

It is clear that there is interest in the Irish situation and of that of the prisoners in at least some sections of the broad Basque national liberation movement. It is also clear that there is a substantial discomfort with the direction of the Abertzale Left’s leadership since 2011 (and for some since even earlier). Frustration is also evident as is a great concern for the political prisoners and a worry that they are being left without leadership, to come to their own arrangements with the Spanish state or to endure many more years in jail or die there (as Kepa De Hoyo did in August and as Ibon Iparragirre faces now).

This level of concern, disquiet and even distrust is not currently reflected in great numbers attending pickets or demonstrations organised by ATA, as numbers attending the talks showed in some areas but as the talks also showed, there is a network of support for ATA across the southern Basque Country. It was clear that a greater lead-up would have resulted in talks being hosted in further areas, including the province of Alava which was not included on this occasion. The general composition of the movement represented by ATA is healthy in its spread across generations, comprised of veterans (including ex-prisoners) and youth new to the struggle.

The pedestrian bridge at Ondarroa, scene of one of the “human walls” organised some years ago by Basque youth in resistance to the arrests of activists. Supporters placed the activist police were seeking in the middle and then packed the bridge with supporters, causing the police hours of work to carry out the arrest. I was told that the official leadership had ordered the cessation of these events. October 2017. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

From a personal point of view it was an interesting if somewhat hectic and stressful period but also one that increased my understanding of the reality.

From a political perspective I hope it helped build some links for solidarity between the struggles in each of the two nations and an awareness that pacification processes are not an alternative but only another face of repression. For the struggles in which so many have sacrificed so much to succeed, we need to raise our awareness of these processes. In these processes political prisoners, often seen by their populations as heroes and people to be cherished, are used by the repressive power as hostages and often too as bargaining counters, the temptation always there for some of those in struggle to use them in kind.

FREE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS!

LINKS:

Amnistia FB page (Euskera and Castillian (Spanish)): https://www.facebook.com/amnistiataaskatasuna/

Amnistia Blogsite (Euskera and Castillian): http://www.etxerat.eus/index.php/eu/

Etxerat Website (Euskera, Castillian and French): http://www.etxerat.eus/index.php/eu/

From Axpe de Busturia train station, Bizkaia, October 2017.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Morning view of misty mountains from host’s house in Etxarri, Nafarroa province, October 2017.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Bermeo Harbour and some Town

Bermeo Harbour and some of the town from heights above, October 2017. Near the big building at 9 o’clock on the photo was the location of a Franco prison for Resistance women — I was told that Basque nuns locally brought food to the jail for them every day. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Part of the Bay of Bizkaia (Biscay), October 2017, from the site of a Basque Gudari artillery battery during the Anti-Fascist War.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

 

NOBEL LITERATURE PRIZE WINNER FAILS TO NOTICE IRONY

Diarmuid Breatnach

Mario Vargas Llhosa was in Barcelona on Sunday as part of a number of people speaking at a pro-Spanish union rally which received coaches from various parts of the Spanish state.  HE DENOUNCED NATIONALISM (Democratic, Catalan) WHILE SURROUNDED BY SPANISH NATIONALISTS AND FASCISTS AND THEIR SYMBOLS (the Spanish unionists were demanding that Spain remain united, insulted Catalan officials, waved Spanish unionist flags and called for a Catalan-elected President to be jailed; Spanish fascists openly displayed fascist Franco-era flags and symbols and gave the fascist salute).

Mario Vargas LLosa Spanish Unity Barcelona 8 Oct2017

Nobel Literature Prize-winner Mario Vargas Llhosa addressing Spanish unionists and fascists bussed into Barcelona for rally against Catalan independence and self-determination (Photo source: Internet)

TALKING ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF DEMOCRACY WHILE DEFENDING AN UNDEMOCRATIC AUTHORITARIAN SYSTEM REPRESSING AND DISRUPTING A PLEBISCITE (State police violence leading to nearly 900 civilians injured; ballot boxes and ballot forms seized; elected officials arrested and/ or threatened with jail).

TALKING ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF THE RULE OF LAW WHILE IGNORING ILLEGAL ASSAULTS BY STATE POLICE RESULTING IN NEARLY 900 INJURIES (without a single State police officer being even charged or senior officers even reprimanded).

A NOBEL PRIZE WINNER IN LITERATURE IS UNABLE TO DETECT AN IMPORTANT ELEMENT IN WORLD LITERATURE — IRONY (Llhosa was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010 for his work examining the corruption of political power and struggle against it — in Latin America).

CATALUNYA AND THE SPANISH STATE — BASIC QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Diarmuid Breatnach

IS CATALUNYA A SEPARATE NATION TO SPAIN?

Yes, it has its own language (Catalan), its own national anthem and its own national cultural customs. Furthermore it has been independent a number of times in its history, as a Republic. And its official autonomous status in the Spanish state even includes the word “national”. Catalan is an official language in Catalunya (along with Castillian — Spanish) and most people there speak Catalan daily.

The Esteladas flying in a Catalan demonstration for Independence.
(Photo source: Internet)

DO NATIONS HAVE THE RIGHT TO SELF-DETERMINATION?

Yes, according to most legal authorities and most people’s sense of right and wrong. It is recognised in the UN Charter of Human Rights.

 

IS THERE A LIMIT ON THE RIGHT OF A NATION TO SELF-DETERMINATION – i.e CASES IN WHICH THE RIGHT DOES NOT EXIST OR CAN JUSTIFIABLY BE OVERRULED?

Perhaps. For example, if a nation were somehow to determine to wipe out an ethnic minority, the right to decide to do so and to carry it out can be overidden by the more basic right of the targeted ethnic minority to exist. If one considered South Africa as a nation, it had minority racial government ruling over a majority disenfranchised black population and one could not endorse their right to continue in that way since they were negating the rights of the majority of their state’s population to self-determination.

 

CAN CATALUNYA’S CASE BE ONE OF THE JUSTIFIABLE EXCEPTIONS THAT WOULD NOT ENTITLE IT TO SELF-DETERMINATION?

Not at all. The only claim against her right to self-determination (other than the Spanish state’s claim that it violates the Spanish state’s constitution) is that it is one of the richest regions of the Spanish state and a large one. If that were considered a viable argument against Catalunya’s right, it would mean that no nation which has good natural resources or a successful economy has the right to self-determination and must stay within a union to benefit its invader and coloniser state.

 

HAS CATALUNYA’S RIGHT TO SELF-DETERMINATION BEEN VIOLATED BY THE SPANISH STATE?

Cartoon comment on October 1st referendum by DB

Unquestionably Yes. She has been prevented a number of times by Spanish court legal judgements and by threats of the use of force from carrying out a referendum on the question of independence as a republic. Her attempt to carry out the referendum in spite of all threats was met this month with actual violence (nearly 900 injured people), police invasion of Catalan Government offices and polling booths, seizure of ballot boxes and ballot papers and in a number of areas, aggression against and disrespect for Catalans and their culture.

Furthermore many measures sought by the Catalan Parlament on grounds of increasing rights of migrants, protecting the environment and animal rights, restriction of the legal rights of the banks, have been declared illegal by the Spanish national courts, thereby violating the rights of Catalans to determine for themselves how they shall manage these matters.

 

WAS THE OCTOBER 2017 CATALAN INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM ILLEGAL?

Here we have to ask – by whose law? The Catalan Parlament approved the holding of the referendum by majority. The Government approved and organised it.

According to the constitution of the Spanish State, no part of the State’s territory is permitted to enact independence without the permission of the Spanish Parliament. The Catalans will always be outnumbered in the Spanish Parliament (a similar situation to members elected in Ireland to the Westminster Parliament in Britain from 1801 to 1921; or Scottish MPs from 1707 to the present; Wales was annexed by England 1535 – 1542). They can never expect to gain a majority vote in their favour at Westminster.

By the Constitution a declaration of independence (though not perhaps a referendum on a wish) is illegal.  But when has an occupying state given the right of secession to nations and peoples it occupies?

 

WAS THE SPANISH CONSTITUTION OF 1977 (WHICH THE SPANISH STATE CLAIMS MAKES CATALUNYA REFERENDUM ILLEGAL) APPROVED BY MAJORITY?

In most of the Spanish state, it was.

  • But does that mean that it overrules the right to self-determination of a nation currently within the Spanish state? No, clearly that cannot be.
  • Also, that Constitution was rejected in the Basque region of Euskadi but the Spanish state nevertheless refused it too the right to referendum on the question of Basque independence.
  • In addition, the Constitution was proposed three years after the death of a dictator who had crushed Catalan (and Basque) resistance in 1939, repressed the Catalan (and Basque) language and civil rights for 36 years, with fascists still in power managing the transition to the new form of the State and with the collusion of the leaderships of some crucial former resistance organisations of the people, i.e the Communist Party and the social-democratic Socialist Workers Party, along with their respective trade unions.
  • Self-determination must mean the right to enter into a union or to remain outside it but it must also mean the right to leave a union, nullifying any previous agreements.
  • The Constitution is constructed so that it places many hurdles in the way of any nation seeking to leave the union even in the unlikely event of getting a majority to vote with it in the Spanish Parliament. “Title X of the Constitution establishes that the approval of a new constitution or the approval of any constitutional amendment affecting the Preliminary Title, or Section I of Chapter II of Title I (on Fundamental Rights and Public Liberties) or Title II (on the Crown), the so-called “protected provisions”, are subject to a special process that requires (1) that two-thirds of each House approve the amendment, (2) that elections are called immediately thereafter, (3) that two-thirds of each new House approves the amendment, and (4) that the amendment is approved by the people (i.e the people of the whole Spanish state – DB) in a referendum.” (Wikipedia)

WAS THE RECENT CATALAN REFERENDUM A FAULTLESS TEST OF THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE OF CATALUNYA?

Clearly not – not because participation was limited to 48% of the Catalan population but because the Spanish Government had declared in advance that it would not respect the decision and would prevent the referendum taking place. Also because voters were prevented by Spanish police from entering a number of polling stations and because Spanish police seized many ballots and ballot boxes.

But should the Spanish state be permitted therefore to claim therefore that the votes which were registered and counted are of no avail? Are we to endorse a view that an occupying or colonising state can nullify any nation’s vote for self-determination simply by banning the election or referendum and by disrupting the process? Clearly not.

The Irish uprising in 1798 and in 1803 was not the result of a referendum, nor was that of 1916 nor the War of Independence 1919-1921. Clearly, if we are to uphold the right to self-determination of nations we must support the right of the occupied or colonised nations and to decide their own means of breaking away.

 

ARE THERE CATALANS WHO WANT TO REMAIN WITHIN THE SPANISH STATE?

Clearly there are. As many as there are who wish to break with it? The evidence suggests not. Very recently the media claimed a hundred thousand rallied in Catalunya against independence. But around a million gathered there last month to support the right to hold the referendum, with most of them clearly for independence. Clearly, even if everyone attending a rally against Catalan independence were actual Catalans and had not been bussed in, they are outvoted by those Catalan residents who demonstrated despite threats and who voted despite police violent repression. And if the Spanish state thought the vote would go in favour of remaining in the union, why did they forbid the referendum and disrupt the process?

 

REFERENCES:

Right to Self-Determination: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-determination

http://opil.ouplaw.com/view/10.1093/law:epil/9780199231690/law-9780199231690-e873

Spanish Constitution: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Constitution_of_1978

 

 

 

THE “IRISH SHEEPLE”

Diarmuid Breatnach

When the Irish financial bubble, expanded far beyond capacity, finally burst and the private banks that had caused the crisis were bailed out with public money, the Irish people did not immediately rise up. The big trade unions made some noises, called hundreds of thousands to march, then collapsed. The smaller unions, for the most part, caved in afterwards.

It was not long before the Irish people began to be jeered and insulted – and for the most part, by some people who were themselves Irish. They seemed unaware of a thousand years of militant resistance to foreign occupation and many workers’ battles over decades. The frustration, if that was the cause of their insults (not to say contempt), was understandable. Less so, I pointed out at the time, was their dismissal of the only force that could possibly save us – the Irish people.

“The people?” they jeered. “You mean the SHEEPLE!”

They pointed to massive demonstrations and riots in Greece and in France and to none in Ireland. I commented that all their insults could possibly achieve would be to discourage the Irish people further. The limitations under which the Irish people laboured needed to be understood. There was no large revolutionary party in Ireland to provide leadership. There was not even a militant radical social-democratic party or reformist Communist Party. There were no militant trade unions to provide organisation.  These things existed in Greece and in France.

Our trade unions had twenty years of “social partnership” – i.e they had during that time negotiated agreements nearly always without industrial action in joint committees where the unions, the employers and the State each had representatives. Their fighting muscle had atrophied to the extent it no longer existed. Notwithstanding all their faults, the Greek and French unions had not similarly wasted away their muscle. Our trade union leaderships had settled for a comfortable life, highly paid, building up their memberships and safeguarding their officers and structures, or trying to, neglecting the purpose for which those unions had been created. They were captains of ships in dry dock, shining and varnished, but riddled with worm holes and sails safely furled – they would never take to sea and be tested in any storm.

As time went by, we saw no significant reforms in the French situation as austerity bit there. There was much excitement in Left social-democratic and Trotskyist quarters as the Greeks elected a social-democratic party with a radical program of resistance to austerity measures. The Greeks had been driven to a much worse economic situation than had the Irish – during the winter, many schools had to close as heating could not be supplied. But then the radical Greek party and new Government collapsed under pressure from the EU’s financial commissars.

The people in the Spanish state were marching in their hundreds of thousands under a new party that was not really a party, they said. But it turned out if one did some digging, that it was not such a new party/ non-party after all, as its leadership came from the old reformist Communist Party-Trotskyist alliance, Izquierda Unida. But still …. huge marches and then huge electoral gains (for what was now without question a political party – Podemos).

But the Spanish ruling class, although unable to receive a governing mandate for a single political party, carried on with its austerity program. Evictions continued as did a great many suicides of those evicted or about to be evicted.

IRELAND (THE 26 COUNTIES)

Meanwhile, what about the “Irish Sheeple”? What were they doing?

They too began to march, in small numbers at first, then larger until they choked the capital city’s centre. The media under-reported them, lied about numbers, stopped doing aerial photos that would show the full extent of the masses in protest.

First in line of the resistance movement was the Household Charge. The campaign slogan proposed by independent protesters and small parties and political organisations was “Don’t register, don’t pay.” Despite that tactic, the most effective to defeat the Charge, not being supported by the alternative party with the highest number of elected representatives in the Dáil (Irish Parliament), i.e Sinn Féin and despite no trade union mobilising against it, the ruling class had to concede defeat. But they changed the tax to the Household Charge and made it collectable from people’s salaries at source, changing the law in order to do so.

A section of a Water Charge protest march on the south quays of the Liffey while another section marches on the north quays in August 2015 (Photo: D.Breatnach)

The Water Charge was next. The people already paid for water supply maintenance through ordinary taxation and, it later emerged, through the diversion of Motor Tax to pay for the water! Nevertheless, a new charge was levied and again, the campaigners asked the people: “Don’t register, don’t pay!” Again, this tactic was not supported by the same alternative political party or the unions, although they all declared that they were, of course, against the Water Charge.

Despite police harassment, violence and arrests, people in local areas began to block the work-gangs installing the water meters. Some arrested activists refused to obey a court injunction intended to paralyse their activities and were sent to jail. A large protest demonstration marched to their jail and they were released. Many trials collapsed and activists, though hampered by many court attendances, walked free. Some others paid their fines and continued their resistance.

March against the Water Charge finishing for rally at Dublin’s Stephens Green in September 2016 (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Police attacks on water charge and anti-austerity protesters multiplied and pickets, particularly of women, protested outside Garda stations.

Hundreds of people began to march, then thousands. As the numbers grew, the reformists of political party and trade union climbed on board and the numbers continued to rise to hundreds of thousands. The media were exposed as they grossly underplayed the numbers.

MOORE STREET

Meanwhile, another struggle had been shaping up, between heritage conservationists campaigning to save a valuable piece of the City Centre of huge historical importance from property speculators. Firstly the State was obliged to declare four houses in Moore Street as of historical preservation status (while however the Planning Department of the local authority gave planning permission for a huge “shopping mall” of a number of acres around those houses). Subsequently campaigners prevented the Planning Department from carrying out a land-swap of Council land to facilitate the Speculator.

Then the State had to buy four houses in the historic terrace; at the same time their plans to demolish three other houses in the same terrace were prevented by their occupation by protesters for five days and a subsequent blockade of demolition workers of almost six weeks.

The blockade ended when a case taken by a concerned individual to the High Court resulted in a judgement that the whole quarter is a historical 1916 monument (against which judgement the Minister of Heritage is currently appealing, scheduled for hearing December 2017).

Moore St. historical conservation campaigners in the street itself celebrate High Court judgement shortly after receiving the news on March 18th 2016 after which they ceased the blockade.
(Photo: J.Betson)

During the 1916 State commemorations, the Minister of Heritage’s hypocritical laying of a wreath in Moore Street was met with vociferous denunciation by campaigners on the spot, without any of the protesters being arrested.

JOBSTOWN

Two years before that Moore Street event, a mass protest for had prevented two hours the Minister for Social Protection’s car from leaving a working class area where she had gone to attend a ceremony.

Some supporters of those charged for protesting in Jobstown in show of solidarity outside the Court where they were being tried in March this year.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

“Enough!” cried the ruling class and they argued about what to do, their more revanchist section winning the argument. They were going for maximum legal attack, to teach those protesters a lesson and frighten all others in future.

The offensive against the resistance was planned. Early morning raids, to increase disruption and fear. Mass arrests, including of a juvenile. This latter might have looked like a mistake, as it was obvious he’d attract sympathy — but actually it was cleverly thought out. They put his trial on first – in the Juvenile Court where the judge can get away with more, where access to media was restricted to one representative each of print and audio media and where no members of the public were permitted entry. And they found him guilty, of course they did. They avoided much of sympathy outcry by giving the youth a non-custodial sentence but – and this was the crucial thing – they had found him guilty of “false imprisonment”. They now had a precedent for the eighteen or so awaiting trial in the adult court.

The media mostly colluded, of course in their news coverage of events, trial and in comment.

The trial process began with an attempt to eliminate from the jury those who disagreed with the Water Charge (i.e most ordinary people) and people from the area where the incident had taken place. Then the Minister herself, in the witness box for four days, regularly failing to answer the questions of the Defence lawyers but using the opportunity instead to attack the defendants, without attempt by the Judge to direct her to answer the question and confine herself to doing so. After all, it’s the Prosecution lawyers’ job to draw out the unfavourable comments.

That was followed by two similar days with the Minister’s secretary, who had been in the car with her at Jobstown.

Then police officers, lying through their teeth. This is of course a regular occurrence in the courts but unfortunately for them, they were contradicted by video and audio recording. Somehow, not only one but several Gardaí heard one of the defendants say something which the recording showed he had not.

Finally, all were found not guilty. The next group were to be tried similarly on charges of false imprisonment but also with use of violence. But how could the State find them guilty of kidnapping on the same evidence that a jury had rejected in the case of the first group? Would even the violence charges stick? The ruling class took a decision to cut their losses, avoid a possible second defeat and decided to drop the charges against them too and against another group scheduled for later still.

POLICE CORRUPTION AND COVER-UPS

Meanwhile, independently of all but perhaps distantly affected by the people’s resistance and the anger at the behaviour of the police, two whistle-blowers emerged from among the Gardaí to accuse them of allowing powerful people to escape drunk-driving charges. Then it emerged that people charged with driving offences had been automatically convicted without the option to defend themselves in court. That was followed by revelations that the Gardaí had claimed to have stopped hundreds of drivers for drink-driving tests which they had not in fact done – and the false numbers grew to thousands. And then Gardaí senior officers tried to discredit one of the whistle-blowers by implying he was a paedophile and even enlisting the involvement of a child-protection agency.

Before the conclusion of the Jobstown trials, general elections had been held. The ruling class in the Irish State has not managed to have an overall majority for a single one of its political parties since 1981 — and this election was no exception. However, one of the parties of the ruling class (its favourite actually, since shortly after the creation of the State) now felt the pressure of the people and made non-implementation of the Water Charge a condition of not bringing the minority Government down, to which the parties in governing coalition were obliged to agree.

THREE FORCED TO RESIGN: Alan Shatter, then Minister for Justice, congratulating Nóirín O’Sullivan on her appointment as Deputy Garda Commissioner while Commissioner Martin Callinan looks on. As a result of exposure of alleged attempts to silence Garda whistleblowers and alleged covering up Garda corruption and misdeeds, Shatter and Callinan had to resign in 2014 and O’Sullivan recently. (PIC: MAXWELLS NO REPRO FEE)

As a result of all this (and a number of other less-highly publicised corruption and wrongdoing by Gardaí cases), eventually Allan Shatter, Minister for Justice and Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, the highest-ranking officer in the Gardaí had to resign. Less than three years later, the new Commissioner, similarly implicated but now also in a scandal regarding officers’ financial corruption, had to resign as well.

 

SHEEPLE?

In this period, during which Irish people had been compared to sheep, cursed and denounced by some from the “Left” and compared unfavourably with protesters in Greece, France and Spain (despite the people of those three states having failed to succeed to any significant degree), the Irish people have

  • Totally defeated the Household Tax and obliged the ruling class to change the law and substitute another Tax collectable from income

  • Paralysed the Water Tax (Charge)

  • Exposed the mass media

  • Halted the Government and Dublin City Council’s Planning Department plans to give a historical memory area in the City Centre, prime “development” land, to speculators

  • Prevented the Government demolition of historic buildings in that area by campaigning, occupation of buildings and a blockade, without a single protester being arrested

  • Helped obtain a historic judgement from the High Court that the whole quarter is a historical 1916 Monument

  • Vociferously denounced the Minister of Heritage while she was laying a 1916 wreath at Easter in Moore Street, without a single protester being arrested or prevented from the denunciation

  • Held up the Minister of Social Protection’s car in mass protest for two hours

  • Exposed the police in violence and in corruption

  • Defeated plans to deal a major blow to the right to protest by conviction on kidnapping charges

  • Caused the resignation of a Minister of Justice and two Garda Commissioners inside a period of three years

And all this was achieved by the Irish people without the organisation or leadership of a mass revolutionary or radical political party or a mass militant trade union.

THREE CHEERS FOR THE IRISH SHEEPLE!

CATALONIA V. SPAIN – THE BREAKUP OF AN EU STATE?

Diarmuid Breatnach

Another spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of an EU state’s fragmentation and the possible disintegration of the EU itself. It may begin with the breakup of a European state but could ultimately affect most of southern, south-eastern and south-western Europe.

Huge Barcelona Independence Demonstration Diada 11 Sep2017

Huge pro-Catalan Independence demonstration fills the streets of Barcelona on Catalunya’s national day. (Photo source: Guardian, on line).

A street demonstration in Barcelona on Catalunya’s national day filled the streets with an incredible number (over one million according even to the police) and awash with the “Estelades”, the Catalan revolutionary flag of the Senyera estelada from the 1930s with the blue triangle enclosing a white star, in homage to Cuba and Puerto Rico (see video link below). From above, apart from the flags, the demonstration appeared lime-green as participants wore T-shirts of that colour with the (“yes”) for independence printed on them.

The demonstrators formed a huge “X” in the city to signify a “yes” vote for independence and somewhere near the middle, three human towers put their topmost members displaying a clenched fist in the universal sign of resistance to oppression.

The political crisis surrounding the current bid for a referendum on independence for Catalunya (their nation in Catalan) serious consequences for the Spanish state but as the crisis matures may also deeply affect two other European states: France and Italy.

As the Parlement of Catalunya has now declared by majority that it will defy the Spanish State and hold a referendum on independence from the Spanish state on October 1st, the Spanish ruling class grows increasingly desperate and

  • Had its Constitutional Court declare the referendum unconstitutional and illegal,
  • Has the paramilitary police force, the Guardia Civil, searching for ballot boxes with the intention of confiscating them,
  • Summoned 700 town Mayors to answer to charges of facilitating an illegal referendum by allowing their council buildings to be used as polling stations
  • Threatened to charge Parlament pro-independendists with disobedience and abuse of power
  • Closed down the official Catalan referendum website

It also demanded weekly accounts on expenditure from the Parlament to try and ensure it was not funding the referendum.

Alto Catalan Ballot Box

ALTO! HALT! (Cartoon by DB)

In response, the leader of the Parlement says the Spanish can arrest him if they want but he is going ahead with the referendum. Many among the 700 town Mayors of Catalunya have said they will not attend court while others have said they will as they believe they have done nothing wrong. Many organisations and institutions have offered their premises as polling stations if necessary. Hundreds of Catalans have volunteered to help organise the referendum and to staff the polling stations.

To many observers, it will seem that the actions of the Spanish state are hysterical and excessive. On the other hand, to those who understand the history and nature of the Spanish state, it is hard to see how the Spanish ruling class can concede Catalan independence. That is on ideological and political grounds alone; and if those grounds were not enough, there are also the financial, economic and territorial ones.

 

“SPAIN: UNITARY, GREAT AND FREE”

The fascist Spanish slogan: “Espaňa – Una, Grande y Libre”, the claim that their state is unitary as well as “Great and Free”, explains in part the problem for the Spanish ruling class in a Catalonian secession. The creation of the Spanish kingdom was based on alliances for war against the Moorish Iberian kingdom of El Andalus, that religiously-tolerant kingdom of great learning and culture and it brought all other Iberian kingdoms under its rule. Subsequently, the Spanish Kingdom forced Christianity on the Jews or expelled them (creating the Sephardic Jewish refugees) as they did also not only to the defeated Moors of El Andalus but also to those other Arabs who had fought as allies of the Christian Royals. In later years the Spanish Empire lost conquered territory abroad but never gave any up on the Iberian Peninsula since the breakaway of the Kingdom of Portugal in 1143.

Unlike most of Europe, there was no successful revolution against the feudal system in the Spanish state, which retarded its economic and political development. However, the revenue from the kingdom’s exploitation of its vast territories in America kept the State powerful (while also acting as a negative counterbalance against the development of its industry).

 

SPANISH CIVIL WAR AND INVASION

Modernising and liberalising movements did struggle for change within the State but the First Spanish Republic only lasted under two years (11 February to 29 December 1874). The Second Republic (1931-1939) went through a right-wing repressive phase but then turned to a liberal-socialist phase, at which point the Army mutinied under the leadership of the Four Generals, of which Franco became the best-known.

The Second Republic conceded autonomy to Catalunya and Galicia and later, perhaps reluctantly, to the southern Basque Country (excluding Nafarroa/ Navarra, where the reactionary Christian-monarchist Carlists seized control and sided with the military insurgency). Aided by German Nazi and Italian fascist air transport, war material and troops, as well as by the complicity of Britain and France, the military defeated the Second Spanish Republic after a fierce struggle and a Christian-fascist dictatorship under General Franco took over the country.1

Esteladas in Demonstration

The Esteladas flying in a Catalan demonstration for Independence. (Photo source: Internet)

All claims to separate nationhoods were suppressed, all the nations being considered merely “regions” of the Spanish state, with picturesque traditional costumes and feasts. Castillian (Spanish) was to be the only language permitted in use, with particular repression inflicted on those of the strongest and most widely-used tongues, Catalan and Euskera (Basque).

adolf-hitler-franco-reviewing-troops-in-hendaye-northern-basque-country.jpg

Adolf Hitler and General Franco reviewing German occupation troops in Hendaye, Northern Basque Country, 1942 (Photo source: Internet)

Armed resistance of a guerrilla-type continued for awhile after the end of the Civil War/ Anti-Fascist War, and in the 1960s the Basque left-nationalist group ETA commenced armed struggle after nearly a decade of persecution by the Spanish State. For a while too there was an armed group in Catalunya.

After the death of Franco in 1975, the Spanish ruling class, under internal pressure from the Christian technocrat movement Opus Dei and external pressure from the USA, attempted a modernising and liberalising change of regime which is now widely referred to as the “transition to democracy” (sic) or just plainly as La Transición.

As part of this process, the Monarchy was re-imposed on the people when Juan Carlos de Borbón, who had been groomed by Franco, was declared King of Spain in 1975 and also named as Franco’s successor. No vote was held on the reimposition of a King on the Spanish state which had been without a reigning monarch for 34 years. A Constitution was drawn up which included the Spanish state being a constitutional monarchy and with much talk of democracy and changes, including regional autonomy, the Constitution gained 88% votes in favour. Among the 22% negative votes were the majority of the southern Basque Country.

Hitler & Juan Carlos

General Franco in his declining years with his protege, Juan Carlos, later crowned King of Spain. (Photo source: Internet)

After Juan Carlos’ abdication in June 2014, Juan Carlos’ son Felipe VI was declared King, a majority of the representatives in the Cortes (Spanish Parliament) voting to approve — which included not only the hard right-wing Partido Popular (PP) but also the helpful abstention of the social-democratic Partido Socialista Obrero (PSOE).

 

THAT WAS THEN – BUT NOW?

After Franco’s death, Catalunya was created an “autonomous region” and was ruled by a right-wing majority in the Parlament2; nevertheless struggles with the Spanish State have broken out from time to time, in particular about the use of the Catalan language and the primacy which Catalans, both right and left-wing, wish it have in Catalunya.

Another bone of contention has been the disparity between the tax revenue the Spanish state gains from Catalunya, on the one hand, and the funding the Spanish state gives to the autonomous region.

Some years ago the Parlement declared their intention of holding a referendum on independence but the Government and the Spanish National Court declared that this would be illegal, going against the Constitution (the same thing happened in the Basque Country). In addition, an Army General declared that the Constitution could be enforced with tanks, if necessary. The Spanish Government, although distancing itself from the General’s comments, did not have him disciplined.

Every year since then has seen large national demonstrations for Catalan independence, including a huge human chain in 2003.

The historic ideological and political grounds, as noted earlier in passing, are not the only ones which make the surrender of Catalonia unthinkable for the Spanish ruling class. In terms of population (2016 figures), Catalunya’s 7,522,596 is 2nd in size for a region within the State and 16% of the State’s total. Catalunya’s land area of 32,108 km (12,397sq.mi) is 6.5% of the Spanish State’s Iberian land mass. But even worse, from the Spanish ruling class’ perspective, is that 23% of the state’s industry is in Catalunya, and in 2013 the region’s product was 203.62 billion euros (¢228 billion), according to the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia — about 20 percent of the Spanish state’s 2013 GDP of 1.04 trillion euros (¢1.17 trillion) and 25% of its exports.

And should the regions of the wider Paisos Catalans (“Catalan Countries), i.e Valencia, Balearic Islands, Rosello and Andorra, join Catalunya in independence, the Spanish state stands to lose 13% of its land mass and a huge part of its coastline and islands, along with 28% of its population.

 

THE SIGNS BLOWING IN THE WIND

It is not today or yesterday that this crisis began maturing – it’s been coming for a long time. The Spanish ruling class, for the most part, knows only one way to respond to pressure – and that’s to push back. If they can. And since they run the State ….

The much vaunted Transición after Franco was merely a change of clothes for the State and the ruling class. They hated the change but felt forced into it. First they had to legalise the hated social-democratic party, the PSOE and its trade unions, the Comisiones Obreras. Then they had to legalise the Partido Communista and their union, the UGT (over some objections, including that of the PSOE). But if those elements continued to oppose them, they couldn’t carry through their conjuring trick of becoming a “democracy”. So they ruling class legalised them and they were not let down by their new partners: collusion and collaboration was the order of the day, by both parties and their associated trade unions, right up to the present.

Then they had to gain the complicity of the local capitalist and middle classes of the imprisoned nations and in particular of the Basques and the Catalans. Regional autonomy was the obvious answer (and they took the precaution of splitting the southern Basque Country into two autonomous regions, under different political control) and, with the former opposition leaders of the PSOE and PCE batting for them, they passed the new Constitution with a majority (everywhere but in the Basque Country).

But enough! What is the matter with those Basques and Catalans? Will they never be happy to just be part of the “united, Christian and free” State? Apparently not. So no more concessions. Time to squeeze now, as their fathers mothers and grandfathers had done before them!

Last year they Spanish state tried to push the primacy of the Spanish language on to the Catalan education curriculum. Much of the Catalan political class and the teaching professions resisted – they already included Spanish as an official language along with Catalan (and Occitan and Catalan sign-language); what is it with those espaňolistas?

In 2015 the Catalans put together a right-left nationalist coalition for the elections, asking the electorate to vote on the issue of independence and, despite the opposition of the new Spanish populist party Podemos and the Izquierda Unida3, took 48% of the vote. In the Spanish State as a whole, the election results gave no party an overall majority and in fact resulted in the most fragmented results since 1977 during the Transición.

The 2016 elections made the PP the winners but without an overall majority (and later subject to corruption charges), saw a fall in the vote of the Podemos-Izquierda Unida vote and a crisis within the PSOE, which took the lowest vote of its existence. And the IMF demanded further austerity measures in the economy.

But Catalonia was simmering. After the 2015 elections, the financial services company JP Morgan predicted, in a research note following the vote, that the “conflict between Catalonia and the central government will not lose intensity. … In our view, a material offer to reframe the role of Catalonia within the national state … is needed to soften the rising radicalism in the pro-secession camp and restore the premises for a more constructive approach.”(see link below).

The ruling class in the Spanish state does not do “reframing” or “softening” very well. Unreformed and slightly-altered fascists who have corrupted their possible moderate partners4, they feel more at ease with the iron fist than the velvet glove.

Its threats and other measures cannot be carried out in time to prevent the referendum going ahead on October first. The town Mayors cannot be put on trial in time, much less convicted. The referendum site the State closed down has now shifted to a server outside the control of the Government. The Guardia Civil can disrupt the voting and seize ballot boxes but that will escalate the crisis even further, not to mention present a terrible picture of Spanish “democracy” to the world. The ballot box, after all, is the Holy Grail of the bourgeois democratic system.

 

BREAKUP OF THE SPANISH STATE?

The Spanish state has long been the one in Europe most vulnerable to fragmentation. It includes regions which are actually distinct nations, of which Catalunya is only one, with their separate cultures and languages.

Spanish State Regions Map

Regions/ nations of the Spanish state (image source: Internet). Note the northern band of possible independist nations from Galicia in the west to Catalonia in the east. Note also the Paisos Catalans regions taking up most of the western coast of the Peninsula from North to South. (Image source: Internet)

Euskal Herria, the Basque Country, has four provinces within the State’s borders and the native language is not even close to Castillian (Spanish) – in fact, unlike most others in Europe, it does not even belong to the Indo-European group of languages. A long struggle for independence has been taking place there too, with hundreds of political prisoners as a result serving time in jails across the the State. We can be sure that the Basques are watching developments in Catalunya with bated breath. The combined population of the two Basque autonomous regions exceed 2.83 million.

The nearly 1.5 million people of the Asturies region (Asturias in Castillian) consider themselves Celts and although their native vernacular is a Latin-based language, it is different from Castillian Spanish. More significant perhaps than the linguistic and musical difference with the “Spanish” is the history of resistance: their mining communities rose up against employers and the Spanish State during the early days of the Second Spanish Republic, the then Government of which sent General Franco to repress them (including shaving the hair of women supporters of the strike). In the Spanish Civil War the Asturians fought against the military-fascist uprising, rose up again in resistance against the victorious Franco regime and in very recent times fought against the closure of mines and miners’ unemployment.

Galicia is also a region of Celtic ancestry within the State with a well-developed traditional culture of music and dance and also has its own language, Gallego (56% speaking it as their first language) as well of course as Castillian. There is a movement for independence in Galicia which, although not major, is significant nevertheless and has its own trade union. The population is over 2,718,000.

Other regions with distinct languages and movements for independence from the Spanish state to one degree or another include Cantabria, Leon, Cadiz, Murcia, Andalucía and even Aragon and Castille, the two medieval kingdoms that led the defeat of the Moorish kingdom of El Andalus and went on to form the heart of the Kingdom of Spain. In addition, many of these regions or nations are contiguous to one another.

 

POSSIBLE EFFECTS ON EUROPE OUTSIDE THE SPANISH STATE

A rash of state break-ups followed the fall of the Soviet Union and it is not impossible that Catalonian independence could have a similar effect.

France:

A part of the Catalan nation is inside French territory, although it holds only 1% of the population of the French state. More seriously for the French state are the other nationalities which might also take into their heads to secede.

The three Basque provinces, for example, are connected by culture, ethnicity and to an extent ideology with the other four Basque provinces on the southern side of the Spanish border. Biarritz and Bayonne are the main towns and the total area of the three provinces is 2,869 km², with a low-density population of 295,970.

Brittany, with 4.23% of the total territory of the French state (excluding its colonies), is a Celtic nation within the state, with a national language of Breton (related to Welsh). The population of the nation is 4,550,400. Brest, Saint-Nazaire, Nant

The Langue D’Oc area has a population of 3,650,000 people (as of 1999 census), 52% of these in the Languedoc-Roussillon région, 35% in the Mid-Pyrénées région, 8% in the Rhone-Alpes région, and 5% in theAuvergne région. Although this area is no longer administered as a province, it has a historical and cultural (including linguistic) identity, with Toulouse widely recognised as its capital.

Then there is Corsica, speaking Corse and never entirely reconciled to being a part of France. The Mediterranean island is not strong economically nor large in population (330,000) but it does occupy a position of strategic importance between France and Italy and near both the larger islands of the Italian state.

What makes the scenario of a wide range of independence-seeking of nations within the French state more painful to contemplate for that State is that many of those nations are contiguous to one another, forming a wide swathe from east to west across the southern bart of the present state and taking in much of its seaboard on the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. It also potentially wipes out its border with the Spanish state, forcing all land traffic to pass through a number of other states before reaching either Spain or France.

Italy:

What we know today as Italy was a mass of provinces and city states that were united finally only in 1871 (some date it to 1918), after a period of many uprisings and wars. Already in Italy today there is a huge difference between the industrial north and the agricultural south with its unemployment and poverty, a difference so great that some have described the regions as two different countries.

And there is Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean, whose people have long thought of themselves as different to the rest of Italy and in particular the north. The population of Sicily is 5,048,553 (8.3% of the total of the Italian state), the majority of them speaking Siciliano, a separate language to Italian. Sicily also has a huge diaspora.

The second-largest Mediterranean island is Sardinia, where languages different to Italian are spoken and whose people have always considered themselves distinct from Italy. The population there is 1,650,003. a relatively low figure out of a total for the State of 60.5 million; nevertheless this island too is of strategic importance.

The United Kingdom cannot be left out of consideration either. Scotland already has its own Parliament and a somewhat different legal system to that of England & Wales but that has not totally satisfied Scottish nationalist aspirations. Other Celtic nations within the UK include Wales and Cornwall and of course the 6-County colony in Ireland, the scene of a 30-year war against British rule less than two decades ago.

Of course, the effects will not be felt only on European multi-nation states. An ongoing conflict with Catalunya, with the addition of perhaps other national struggles within the state, allied to internal struggles against evictions and austerity, in an atmosphere of financial scandals, could bring the state down. The Spanish State is an important NATO ally in terms of bases and strategic location. Even if it did not collapse, the instability arising out of a state of siege in two significant areas of the statewould be great and ripples – or perhaps giant waves — would reach throughout Europe.

 

WILL IT COME TO THAT?

No-one can answer that question for sure. The Spanish state is determined to prevent Catalonian independence and the majority Catalan political class have already gone beyond where many expected them to in resistance. They have stated that if the necessary majority votes “Sí” to independence, that they will move immediately to give effect to that decision. In addition, the political class for independence is acting with huge popular support and there are signs of independent popular mobilisation – the last time that happened on a major scale in Catalunya was during the 2nd Spanish Republic when there was popular socialist and anarchist workers’ uprising.

Cartoon by DB

If the people push the issue against Spanish intransigence, it is hard to see how it can end in any way but in armed conflict – street resistance against Spanish repression with tanks, soldiers and the paramilitary Guardia Civil. The Mossos d’Escuadra, the 16,800-plus repressive police under the Catalan autonomous region’s council, the Generalitat, might split. Urban and rural municipal Catalunyan police are likely to retire from the conflict or to side with the Catalan resistance.

The population of the rest of the Spanish state might then stand back and watch …. or uprisings could break out in other areas, including left-wing working class areas of Madrid suffering austerity and where the Spanish ruling parties are seen as corrupt and in league with the bankers against the people.

Could the rulers of the EU afford to stand back in such a scenario? Would their own populations allow them a free hand to intervene, or not?

We live in interesting times that might, contrary to the Chinese curse, have very beneficial outcomes.

 

end

 

 

SOURCES:

JP Morgan advice: https://www.cnbc.com/2015/10/05/catalonia-is-critical-contributor-to-spains-economy.html

Catalan economy and Spanish state debt: https://www.cnbc.com/2015/10/05/catalonia-is-critical-contributor-to-spains-economy.html

Video of giant Catalan demonstration in Barcelona by Le Figaro newspaper http://video.lefigaro.fr/figaro/video/mobilisation-massive-des-separatistes-catalans-a-barcelone/5572122761001/

Catalan referendum websiteref1oct.eu and ref1oct.cat

Private communication with Catalans

Also Wikipedia pages on the Basque Country and various regions/ nations of the Spanish, French and Italian states.

 

FOOTNOTES

1  Many Basques and Catalans will say that what they suffered was not a “civil war” but a Spanish fascist invasion.

2  Name of their regional parliament in Catalan.

3  A Communist Party-Trotskyist alliance, often fragmenting and shifting; it is generally despised by the rest of the Left within the State and by the pro-independence parties, the latter because the IU is always against national independence, calling instead for “the unity of the Spanish working class.”

4  It was the social-democratic PSOE government that ran the GAL assassination squads against the Basque pro-independence movement, carrying out operations of both sides of the French border. Carrillo, leader of the Communist Party who took it through the Transición, was expelled from his party after his collusion with Spanish fascists and coup plotters was exposed.

Nóirín Gone O’Sullivan

Begone! She has gone,

That Garda Commissioner wan,

That Nóirín not-so-bán,

That Nóirín O’Sullivan (1).

(Photo source: Internet)

She’s gone, that Nóirín,

Decamped, fled the scene;

Wants to put it all past her,

The two-year job complete disaster.

 

Ducking and diving in the dance,

Six years, second-in-command

She was there at the right hand

Of Garda Commissioner Callinan.

But yet she claimed ignorance

Tried to stand a safe distance

From corruption and paedophile smear

Of a man who spoke out without fear.

 

Tried to sail on through the storm,

Claimed interference with police reform

But now she has finally gone:

Ex-Commissioner O’Sullivan.

 

(Photo source: Internet)

There has been too much exposure,

The State now is seeking closure,

Politicians and media must collude

The concerned public to delude.

Let the hue and cry die right down,

To yet another pass the crown,

Hope the people will not recall;

And that memory in time will pall.

But

This Force is rotten to the core,

So to remain for ever more,

To protect the rule of a rotten few

For which it was shaped in ’22.

DB 11/09/2017

 

FOOTNOTES

(A few days ago Nóirín O’Sullivan, Gárda Commissioner — the most senior position in the police force of the Irish state, gave six hours’ notice of resignation from her post.  She took over from Martin Callinan, who had also resigned his post in the midst of controversy over widespread false reporting of drink-driving stop-and-test by Gardaí; also the attempt to silence, discredit and smear as a paedophile Garda McCabe who exposed the frauds.  Another Garda officer who whistleblew was also hounded.  Subsequently, the scandal of the holding of bank accounts in individual officer’s names in which government police funds were being kept also erupted.)