DANGEROUS ILLUSIONS IN A CATALAN INDEPENDIST PART

Diarmuid Breatnach

             Very recently, the pro-Catalan independence on-line periodical VilaWeb interviewed Marta Vilalta, the spokesperson for the ERC (Republican Left of Catalonia) party, an important component of the pro-independence majority in the Catalan Parlament. Her replies and statements presumably reflect the thinking in the leadership of the ERC party or, if it should not be unanimous, at least the thinking of the dominant section of the party’s leadership.

Marta Vilalta photographed during interview (Photo by online Catalan newspaper VilaWeb)

ERC has 32 Deputies in the Catalan Parlament (and two Members of the European Parliament). The other components of the Catalan independist majority at the time of writing (June 2018) are JuntsxCat (Together for Catalonia – 34 seats) and CUP (Candidatura d’Unitat Popular — 4 seats). The latter is taking the ‘confidence and supply position’ (i.e they will not vote with the Opposition and will vote to keep the Government in power if necessary).

ERC’s President, Oriol Junqueras, has been in a Madrid jail since the October Referendum, awaiting trial on charges of “Rebellion”. The party’s General Secretary, Marta Rovira, went into exile to avoid a similar fate.

The party, along with JuntsxCat, whose President Carles Puigdemont is also in exile, has faced repression by the Spanish State, as has also the cultural organisation ANC (Asamblea Nacional Catalana), whose President, Jordi Sànchez i Picanyol, is also in the Madrid jail.

The independist parties are to be commended for continuing their stance for independence and for facing up to Spanish State repression. In this, they enjoy the support of the majority of the Catalan population, as evidenced by votes in the December elections and the mobilisations and votes cast in the October Referendum, albeit disrupted by Spanish police raids to confiscate ballot boxes and assault voters and demonstrators.

But how prepared are they for the struggle ahead? How critically do they evaluate their past performance and expectations? How willing to learn from mistakes? The signs are not encouraging.

ILLUSIONS ABOUT THE SPANISH STATE

           “The Spanish State has been capable of everything …. to defeat independence and the Republic project”, Vilalta says in the course of the interview, with what seems to be an air of surprise, meaning one presumes that there was no lengths to which they were not prepared to go to suppress Catalonian independence. If the Spanish state has been capable of everything, one must assume that it will also be “capable of everything” in future, at least in the absence of some limiting factors, which were not mentioned by Vilalta (except perhaps in the context of reactions outside the Spanish state, which we can look at under the heading of “Illusions about other states”).

So this admission of Vilalta should imbue us with confidence that ERC is taking that into tactical and strategic consideration. However, this appears to be far from the reality, based on the insistence of Vilalta that their struggle will be based exclusively on both “peaceful and democratic” means; nor is this only an iteration of Vilalta’s but it has been stated repeatedly by leading figures of the ERC and of the JunstxCat, i.e of the parties with by far the most numerous deputies in the Parlament. We’ll look at this more carefully under the section dealing with Pacificism but for the moment we can reflect that history in general (and the history of the Spanish state in particular) demonstrates that the combatant that relies principally on moral and or legal means must be defeated by the aggressor who relies on force and its tactical application.

“I suppose the Spanish State understands and agrees with the International treaties that it has signed and which are included in the Constitution,” says Vilalta, in reference to the right to self-determination recognised by the Charter of Human Rights of the United Nations. Why does Vilalta suppose that the Spanish State “agrees” with this right? On the contrary, all its actions with regard to the nations incorporated within its state territory show that it fundamentally disagrees with them, at least where applied to itself. In fact, its own Constitution forbids the secession of any part of the State without a majority vote in favour in the Spanish Parliament and further underlines that the Armed Forces are the guarantors of the Constitution!

Of course, it is possible that Vilalta is being somewhat ironic here, or making a statement for its propaganda value. Maybe she only means that the Spanish State should uphold the right to self-determination in the international treaties which it has signed. Let us hope so. But surely it would be more useful to point out that the Spanish State has a record of fundamentally violating most of the human rights to which it has signed up, including some actually stated within its own Constitution? Such an exposure would help in any project of isolating the Spanish state internationally, undermine its propaganda and, crucially, help to prepare the Catalan people and their allies for what the Spanish State may bring against them.

The Spanish State has repeatedly violated not only the human rights to life (for example in running assassination squads against the Basque movement for independence); the right to serve one’s prison sentence in a prison near one’s relatives, children and friends (by deliberately dispersing its political prisoners as far from their homes as possible); the right for terminally and seriously ill prisoners to be released on parole to continue their sentences at home or in hospital (routinely violated in the cases of political prisoners); the right to freedom from torture (routinely used until very recently against political detainees and against some migrant minorities); and the right to upholding one’s language (by originally outlawing the use of Iberian languages other than Castillian and currently banning them from the Spanish Parliament).

Furthermore the Spanish State has a lively record of violating the civil rights of political activity, of assemply, of speech, of publishing, of broadcasting: it has banned Basque demonstrations, cultural and political organisations, radio stations, newspapers and even seized the financial and property assets of organisations; it has jailed Basque and Catalan (and some Spanish) political and cultural activists; jailed and fined rappers and cartoonists and social media posters elsewhere in the Spanish State. It is illegal to “insult” the Spanish King publicly in speech, writing, or other means. Fairly recently the Spanish State created a law which makes it illegal to film police misbehaviour in public, to insult them (i.e denounce what they are doing) or to hold demonstrations in the vecinity of certain state buildings, including Ministries and the Parliament, with very high fines and/ or prison sentences for transgression of any of these prohibitions.

Marta Vilalta, representing Esquerra Republicana, major party of the Catalan independist majority. (Image source: Internet)

PACIFISM

For pacifists, of course, pacifism is a principle. For others, peaceful methods and civil disobedience are tactics, i.e responses to specific issues at a particular time and place, not principles to uphold in all situations on every occasion.

It is a fact that no class has freed itself from domination by peaceful means alone and that similarly, no nation has liberated itself from colonial or imperialist domination without resorting to the use of force. This is not, in a sense, a choice for oppressed people – it is the oppressor itself which uses force and obliges the oppressed, in self-defence, to use force too.

Some recent examples will hopefully suffice to convince the doubtful. The first public actions against the division of Vietnam and the grooming by the French and USA of a puppet regime in the southern part of the nation were largely pacific. Demonstrations were suppressed and activists arrested by the puppet regime. Monks immolated themselves in public. Monks too were suppressed. Anti-imperialist forces within the southern part united in armed action with the Vietnamese state set up in the northern part of the country, which was supported by the People’s Republic of China (the Chinese communist state). Decades of terrible war followed but today the country of Vietnam is united and largely independent of imperialism.

In fact we can observe that all of the states of Europe which were formerly under the domination of another have had to rely on armed force to free themselves from their armed dominators: e.g Austria, Belgium, France (from Nazi Germany), Denmark, Holland (from Spain, France, Nazi Germany), Hungary, Italy (from France and Austria), Norway, Poland (from Russia, Nazi Germany), Switzerland (from the Austro-Hungarian Empire), and indeed the Spanish state itself (from France).

If that were not enough and though it should be, the history of the Spanish State itself shows its reliance on armed force, from the medieval period right up to the 20th Century. The Kingdom of Spain was created firstly by the joint kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, picking up other allies, driving out the Arab kingdoms (and incidentally driving out also Jews, the origin of the Sephardics, along with the Arabs, even their own allies who would not convert to Christianity. The Spanish kingdom became an imperial force outside its own state territory and conquered and plundered territories from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean, the South American sub-continent, Central America and parts of what are now the southern USA. It did the same to parts of Northern Africa and the Philippines. In no circumstance did it refrain from the use of armed force.

In the struggles within the State itself, the ruling class suppressed by armed force the uprisings of the Communeros and many others regionally-based and, crucially, both the First and Second Republics, which had come into being through popular elections. To take the most recent, the ruling class instigated an uprising among its military against the elected Spanish Government, which led to what some call the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), with enormous loss of life and destruction, and the instalation by the victors of a fascist military dictatorship and a monarchy.

Unlike the other fascist states of Europe (with the exception of Portugal and even they had their Carnation Uprising), no purges of former fascist rulers took place within the Spanish State; on the contrary, the heirs of the fascist military leaders, politicians and industrialists continued in the footsteps of their parents and in the luxury of their appropriations.

Under some external and internal pressure, a veneer of democracy was drawn over the State after the death of the dictator Franco and the social-democratic PSOE and the Communist Party of Spain were drawn into an alliance with the existing fascist ruling class1 in what is often called the Transition (i.e to “democracy”). Far from this addition adulterating the fascism of the ruling class, the reverse happened and both political parties colluded in the suppression of movements of resistance both national and of class; the PSOE in government actually ran assassination squads against the Basque independence movement in the 1980s.

Hopefully this short review of Spanish State history has been sufficient to illustrate the readiness of the State to resort to violence against opposition, whether peaceful or not. What then are the prospects of a resistance which will confine itself to peaceful means alone? Its leadership will be killed or imprisoned, as will the cadres of the popular movement, repression will be the order of the day. The militants will be driven underground, dispersed and the movement will lose the initiative, which is fatal for a revolution.

As to the prospects of a comparatively small nation like Catalonia2 in insurrection against a major power and its military resources, we shall address near the end of this article.

INADEQUATE SELF-CRITICISM

With regard to the issue of preparedness for the actions of the Spanish State, Vilalta responds to a question by saying that ERC have carried out self-criticism of their inability to defend the Catalan referendum against Spanish State attack. Such an admission should not shame them nor demoralise their followers and allies (though it sometimes does so, sadly) – on the contrary, an organisation that does not admit its mistakes is unlikely to learn from them and in any case is not going to be honest with its membership and followers.

It is however worrying that a party pursuing an independist and Republican path in the teeth of the historical and well-known opposition of the quasi-fascist and monarchical state, should have been unprepared for the response of that State. Nevertheless, one could draw reassurance from the fact that ERC acknowledge their error and carried out self-criticism. Or at least, that would have been the case were it not for the fact that Vilalta states that “it is very easy to look back with perspective and think that it could have been done in a different way. I do not dare to say what we should have done differently. The decisions taken at that time, in a specific context and with the information that was had, seemed the best.”

Huge Barcelona Demonstration (in green) for self-determination on Catalonian day, Diada 11 Sep2017, three weeks before the Referendum. (Image sourced: Internet)

Whether that can be called “self-criticism” is debatable but it certainly does not qualify as adequate. It amounts to saying “we were wrong but could not have come to any other conclusion and even now I can’t think of what we could have done differently.” Which is almost to say “We are likely to be as mistaken and to prepare as insufficiently in future.”

As discussed earlier, both the history of national struggles in general and the history of the Spanish State in particular should have informed the independist forces of the full range of possible responses of the Spanish State. Those who were unable to anticipate the actions of the Spanish State need to ask themselves a vital question: “Why, despite that accumulation of historical practice, were we unable to count on a police invasion as one of the possible measures of our opponent?” A truthful reply to that question would tell them and us a lot about their limitations but their refusal to even consider the question is more worrying than whatever their current conceptual limitations might be.

ILLUSIONS ABOUT OTHER STATES

In the course of her interview, Vilata commented that “the international situation is key.” She said that in the context of forcing an unwillingtonegotiate Spanish State to, in fact, negotiate. How she sees this happening is not very clear. In this context she also said the following:

The Charter of the United Nations recognizes the right of self-determination of peoples. The Spanish government has had and has the opportunity to discuss and negotiate how other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Scotland, have done. They have opted for repression to the limit and always say no. It is they who have pursued political leaders and freedom of expression. We will continue to defend dialogue and negotiation by asserting that Spain has subscribed to the right of self-determination and confronting violence and repression.”

Leaving aside the fact that Scotland is not truly independent, somehow Vilalta envisages using the treaties referred to above to force the Spanish State to negotiate or to have “it is forced from the outside. This mandate to make it possible to negotiate can come from international spheres.” What does she mean by “international spheres”? She is not specific but in this context mentions the reversals for Spanish extradition warrants, the Catalan Members of the European Parliament (and presumably other friendly MEPs) and the Catalan politicians in exile in European countries, presumably all coordinated by the Council for the Republic, which also gets a mention.

But even in a best case scenario, how is the Spanish state to be “forced”? Economic sanctions? They can only be imposed by individual states or by groups of states, for example the EU. The European Parliament has not seen fit even to condemn in words the repressive actions of the Spanish state and, in fact, the EU President, Junkers, commented that they don’t wish to see “an EU of 99 states”, a clear indication that the independence of Catalonia and other states breaking away is not something the EU would welcome.

And in fact, even without Junker’s comments, that attitude could easily have been predicted. In the case of a successfully independent Catalonia, not only would the Spanish state be vulnerable to similar bids by other nations within its state territory but so would the French and Italian states also. It seems that Vilalta expects the EU to act against the interests of not only its Spanish member state but the interests of two other major European states as well. But why would it do that or, more to the point, why does Vilalta think they will or even might?

Possibly Vilalta envisages some kind of external moral pressure or perhaps “good neighbour advice”. With regard to moral pressure, the Spanish state, both during and after Franco, has shown itself impervious to that. Its practice of torture and impunity for torturers has been criticised regularly by relevant committees of the United Nations and the EU and every year by Amnesty International. None of that has brought about any change.

The European Court of Human Rights has found against the Spanish State on a number of occasions (failure to investigate torture allegations, illegal extension of sentences by retrospective legislation but never on actual torture, which is “difficult to prove”); the Spanish State sometimes appeals the judgement (and loses) but eventually pays the fine, releases the prisoners at their release dates and …. carries on as before.

The major European state response to the PSOE Government’s undercover campaign of terrorism in the northern Basque Country (i.e within the French State) has been to facilitate the extradition of Basque refugees to the Spanish state (sometimes without even bothering with a court appearance).

No doubt the Spanish State has been given “good neighbour” advice from time to time from European states and even by the USA, advised to appear nicer, to be more democratic etc and even advised that it was in the long-term interests of its own ruling class to do. Perhaps the Spanish State responded, with well-known Spanish fascist arrogance, that it knows its own busisness best or perhaps they replied that only an iron grip can keep Spain “Una, Grande y Libre” (United, Great and Free”, i.e non-communist). In either case, neither good neighbour nor critical state has shown an interest in taking any kind of coercive action against the Spanish State and there is no reason to believe that they will do so now.

European states may not wish to soil their hands doing Spain’s dirty work for them by extraditing refugees to Spain on dodgy European Arrest Warrants but that is a long, long was from being willing to act in a coercive way against a major European partner.

It seems almost certain that Vilalta, in discussing “international force” against the Spanish state was referring to action by other European states and traditionally when “the international community” has been invoked in discussions of ‘peace processes’ and sanctions that is generally what is meant. But there is another way of looking at international pressure.

To examine that possibility, we need to ask ourselves: What are the circumstances in which the Spanish State would be unable to send armed forces to suppress Catalan independence or, if it did, that they would be neutralised?

Such a situation could only be envisaged occurring when the State faced insurrections and similar crises in many other parts of the State at the same time as its crisis in Catalonia. And in fact the Spanish state, of all those in the EU, is probably the most vulnerable to such a scenario. Along with Catalonia and the Catalan Countries, there are the nations of Asturias and Galicia (both of Celtic culture) and the four southern Basque provinces.

Within those areas and in all others of the Spanish state, there is a major disaffection with the dominant order. Never have the institutions of banking and politicians been so widely exposed in corruption, never has the Royal Family been so condemned, nor repression by police so exposed. Unemployment is high as is work on short-term or casual contracts, the housing crisis is serious and numerous victims of eviction have publicly comitted taken their lives over the years. Both political parties of the traditional bi-party system (PP and PSOE) have lost prestige and electoral support, so that now each can only govern as a minority party and their decline has allowed the emergence of a two more sizeable parties, Podemos of the Left and Ciudadanos of the Right (without however much hope of a fundamental change from either). Huge demonstrations have taken place across the state and in particular in Madrid. The collusive trade unions of the Comisiones Obreras and the Unión General de Trabajadores have been found wanting and many independent unions have sprung up.

In other words, the prestige of the State has been slipping and its enemies multiplying. But to tap into these currents of disaffection with the Spanish State, the independist forces would need to do more than threaten the State with the independence of Catalonia. It would need to develop a social-economic program that would not only benefit the majority of Catalons but would also serve as an illuminated example to the rest of what is currently the Spanish territory.

Vilalta does talk a little about a socio-economic program emanating from the Catalan Government and local authorities but says next to nothing about its content. Last week a man about to be evicted in Catalonia killed himself and there are many others facing eviction through inability to pay their rents or their mortgage instalments. A solution to that problem would not only bring many doubters in Catalonia over to the side of the Republic but serve also as an example of what could be done elsewhere in the Spanish State. Support for a Spanish military intervention would be severly undermined in such a scenario, both externally and from within the armed forces and the breaking out of many fires across the state would leave the firefighters stretched too thinly to carry out their task.

This scenario could also affect the French state should it consider a military intervention of its own and the Bretons, northern Basques, northern Catalans and Occitans might seize that opportunity to advance their own claims for independence or autonomy.

The problem for ERC with instituting deep socio-economic changes in Catalonia and in appealing to wide national and class disaffection is that, notwithstanding the “Left” in its title, it is a bourgeois or capitalist party and can hardly be expected to cut off its own head just because it will make its legs firmer. And the JuntsXCat is even more so, at its core a liberal capitalist party.

All of which might serve to remind us of the quotation from James Connolly, a revolutionary socialist who also fought for the independence of a small nation – Ireland. Recognising that only the working class was unable to gain some advantage through a compromise with the imperialist and coloniser, he wrote: “Only the Irish working class remain as the incorruptible inheritors of the fight for freedom in Ireland”. If the words “Irish” were to be replaced by “Catalan” and “Ireland” by “Catalonia”, leaving the rest of the statement intact, would it also be true?

End.

FOOTNOTES

1This was necessary for the Spanish fascist ruling class not mainly as partners in the production of the farce of ‘democracy’ but chiefly for their control of the two main non-fascist trade unions then (and still): the Comisiones Obreras of the CPE and the Unión General de Trabajadores of the PSOE, both illegal until that point but also powerful and with a potential for creating industrial and political instability.

2For the sake of convenience, Catalonia is being described here as a nation, although for many, including the ERC party, at least in the past, it is the Paises Catalans (Catalan Countries) which is the Catalan Nation, a territory extending from Pau in the French state through Catalonia to Tarragon, Valencia and the Balearic Islands.

 

APPENDIX

Link for original interview in Catalan:

https://www.vilaweb.cat/noticies/marta-vilalta-voluntat-de-fer-autonomisme-ni-una-voluntat-de-fer-republica-tota/

My full translation to English of introduction and interview:

Marta Vilalta (Torregrossa, 1984) is the spokeswoman for Esquerra Republicana since March. A journalist by profession and Parliamentary representative since 2015, Vilalta has been a member of the ERC since 2004 and, after handling several responsibilities, has now taken a step forward as a result of the repression suffered by the party, with President Oriol Junqueras in prison, Secretary General, Marta Rovira, exiled and members of the Executive persecuted and prosecuted by Spain for having collaborated in the organization of the 1st October Referendum.

We talked with Vilalta about theCatalan political situation, the Republic, autonomism, the new Government of the Generalitat, the effects of repression and the new road map that ERC must approve in its national conference at the end of June . Young, energetic and smiling, Vilalta takes this new stage as a personal challenge, but with the bitter aftertaste of having had to go through the situation of repression against the party and independence.

– Is it true that you do press conferences prepared not to answer questions? Will you respond to this interview?

– [Laughs] I did not say that! It was a joke in relation to this and Sergi Sabrià [the previous spokesman], speaking to the journalist, said laughingly that he had advised me not to answer the questions. We laughed, but it was included in the interview. I am a journalist and I am empathizing with you, it is about responding well.

-Good! Now that there is ‘effective government’, how is the Republic to be brought about?

-Firstly, getting the Government back has been an important and indispensable step towards achieving the objective, which is the Republic. We advocate that to make the Republic real and to complete it we must be strong at all levels and have all the possible tools. Therefore, this also means recovering the Government and the institutions, being connected with the social mobilization and citizenship, being strong in the international bodies, the city councils and the Parliament. We have to be stronger and stronger, to increase and have an amazingly hegemonic social majority that will allow us to bring into existence the Republic we have decided to have, but unfortunately we have not yet been able to make it effective. But it will happen, we’re sure.

-Let’s talk about the ERC strategy paper, the new roadmap to be approved. A fear has been expressed because a section of the grassroots, such as the Mayor of Montblanc, Josep Andreu, believes that the unilateral path is not given enough importance.

-I think that the debate or the controversy about the strategic presentation has been magnified, I do not know if deliberately or not. It analyzes the situation based on the lessons of recent months. It places us where we are and helps us to define what we do and with what instruments to do it in order to bring about the Republic. That’s why it is called ‘Let Us Create the Republic’. We do not rule out any path, providing it is peaceful and democratic, to arrive there. Yes, it is true that it emphasises the need to be stronger and stronger, to expand support in many sectors that share the anti-repressive struggle but yet do not see the need for the Republic. And it defines the multilateral framework of play because it is a process where many political, judicial, economic, and social agencies intervene … We need to know how to move in all this multiplicity of agencies and to maximize opportunities.

– And the unilateral path?

-The paper does not rule out the unilateral path, we understand it as part of the multilateral framework. Perhaps part of the membership thinks that we have not been explicit enough. We are in the process of making amendments so that all the membership can participate and improve the text. We debate with a wish to reach a consensus and for everyone to feel represented. We are very pleased with the level of participation, with 1,400 amendments. Some 1,100 have been incorporated to be negotiated. This shows a vital strength in the organization and the very participative health of the membership of ERC. One must shine the lights ahead to see the medium term to bring about the Republic and to see what we need to do to achieve it.

-Andreu regretted, however, that there was little participation in the territories (? Trans), and he made a public appeal.

-Yes, the call to participation should be done by all. But I insist, there has been a huge volume of amendments. In 2013, some 300 amendments were presented and now there are 1,400! There have been assemblies in the territories. We hope that on June 30 and July 1 there will also be a lot of participation because the moment requires it. The more participation, the more endorsement of the final paper.

-The CUP accuses the Government of being autonomist.

-We have heard them say this several times, but I do not agree. Whenever we have had the chance to rule, we have done it with a republican call and overtaking autonomy. Interest in autonomy is minimal. Willingness to create a republic, total. This is what the Government of the Generalitat is doing at the moment. The examples of recent days show that there is no intention to go for autonomy nor to drag out the process.

-What examples?

-We need to recover the institutions because we believe that makes us stronger. This is not autonomism, it is to put them into the hands of the citizens and in the service of the country to be able to move forward. With the first government actions alone, both symbolic and effective, it was shown that it was essential to recover the Government. Unlock the money that social agencies had to receive, more than 300 million euros, the reactivation of delegations abroad, the money to recover the quality of TV3 and Catalunya Ràdio, 250 million for social rental … Damn it, they are essential policies! And since they are destined to improve the country, we are sure that they will help us to add more people (to our support — Trans).

-The people who have doubts about independence understand this?

-This is one of the main ideas. From government action and being able to respond to people’s needs and make policies with Republican logic, we can show that with good governance and caring for the citizenship we are able to respond to needs and to improve well-being. We are convinced that this will lead us to make more people see that this is the only way to defend the social, civil and political rights of citizens. This will surely result in an increase of the people who will see that the republican project is the only alternative to guarantee well-being, social justice and equal opportunities. There is no other project that guarantees us all this. It has become clear that in Spain these fundamental rights are not guaranteed and that they have been violated. We have to be capable and must strive to explain all this.

– Will this legislature be a constituent process?

-The intention is that it will be. I cannot say when. We see it as a great space for debate about how we want the country in all its aspects. It also has to serve to reach many people who feel called to participate. In fact, the project of the Catalan Republic is the only one which will ask this of the citizens. The Spanish state will not enact any constituent process. It is only with that that many people can see the opportunity that there is an opportunity for real change and everything that implies. To think and rethink how we want to organize ourselves and how we want our society to be. This will happen, soon; we must ensure maximum participation of the convinced people and of those who feel called to participate. It will help us to add to our numbers and open the project to accumulate forces. It must be a consensual process, with territorial capillary (reach? – Trans) that allows us to know what we want and what goals to have as a country. The constituent process can be one of the tools at our disposal to exceed the limits of the Republican project.

-The conclusions of the citizens’ debate within the territory will be taken to Parliament?

-I do not know the methodology nor what the phases are. To be successful, we will have to agree with all the political, social and economic actors that can participate. Therefore, we will see what steps must be taken. It is obvious that everything that comes out of the constituent process must be channeled institutionally so that it has the effects that we want and so that it does not remain only in a debate.

-Your party has carried out self-criticism of the October events?

-Yes, it’s been done. In any case, it is very easy to look back with perspective and think that it could have been done in a different way. I do not dare to say what we should have done differently. The decisions taken at that time, in a specific context and with the information that was had, seemed the best. Everything was done with the intention of making effective the 1-O (Referendum – Trans) and to be able to vote, after facing the repression and proclaiming and bringing about the Republic. Unfortunately, we could not defend it. Maybe over time we will have more information. In any case, I really appreciate that everything that was done was because at that time it was believed that it was the best way to reach the goal that we all wanted. From now on, I think the most important thing is to learn from lessons. One of the most important is that Spain is willing to anything. We thought they ‘would not be able’, that ‘could not be allowed’, but they were.

-The Spanish state has been capable of everything.

-To defeat independence and the Republic project, it has been capable of dispensing with the rule of law and democracy. This is a very important lesson, because we moved in an ambit of democracy and defence of rights and freedoms, and we continue there. But we have seen the axis upon which Spain moves. We have to be stronger and stronger because it is the only way to face this repressive and strong State. We must continue defending all democratic channels with allies at all levels. Surely we will have a new opportunity. If we keep alive and resisting, we’ll be able to win.

– Do you have any expectation of the new Spanish government? On Thursday, Grande-Marlaska disclaimed the responsibility for bringing the political prisoners closer to home and then Llarena reminded him that this depended on the Ministry of the Interior (of which Grande-Marlaska is Minister — Trans).

– Different things. First of all, to go back a little. We supported the motion of censure (against the PP Government of Rajoy – Trans) because we believe that it was the responsible action to remove the PP and bring down Rajoy. That Government that had repressed us, the leader of repression and corruption …

-The PSOE too.

-Yes, yes. I say that was the responsible action at that time to make that government fall. Not to support the PSOE. That said, obviously, a new scenario opens, but we do not have much expectation of it. We will observe the following steps. On the concrete question of the prisoners, it is shameful what happened on Thursday. The Minister and the Judge passed the ball about the prisoners to one another. It is an aberration, an arbitrariness, that they are detained as hostages, as revenge. And we demand, it is not contradictory, that they bring them to Catalonia. It is a correct action, the law says, that they be as close as possible to families and children. If the Spanish Government had wanted to, it could have already made the decision.

-The other day you commented that any negotiation should start from the first of October. What does this mean?

-We continue defending dialogue and negotiation. If we want a sincere and effective dialogue, we must be able to speak of everything, without renunciations or initial conditions. We should not only talk about concrete demands of economic, social and sectoral policies that have been dragging on for many years, but also about the situation in Catalonia and how we exercise the right of self-determination and make the Catalan Republic real. When we say that we must start from the first of October, let’s talk about it. Conflict must be resolved through the political path, negotiation and dialogue. The 1-O is the founding moment of the Catalan Republic, marks a point of departure in our most recent history.

– Can this be negotiated with Spain?

-I suppose the Spanish State understands and agrees with the International treaties that it has signed and which are included in the Constitution. The Charter of the United Nations recognizes the right of self-determination of peoples. The Spanish government has had and has the opportunity to discuss and negotiate how other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Scotland, have done. They have opted for repression to the limit and always say no. It is they who have pursued political leaders and freedom of expression. We will continue to defend dialogue and negotiation by asserting that Spain has subscribed to the right of self-determination and confronting violence and repression.

– If we want to open a negotiation, the international field will be important. Until now, Spain has refused to accept any mediation offer. Does the Council for the Republic have any role in this regard?

– The international situation is key. When we talk about negotiating with the State, we know that it will not negotiate because it has not given any evidence (of such willingness — Trans). We must force the State to negotiate, or force it so that it is forced from the outside. This mandate to make it possible to negotiate can come from international spheres. The judicial battles of the exiles must also be taken into account. Spain has suffered the first judicial reversals because no European justice recognizes non-existent crimes that are and invented to punish and silence the people of Catalonia. International action must be organized and coordinated. It is clear that the Council for the Republic can be an instrument that helps us to make heard this voice of the demands of Catalonia everywhere and that can help us denounce the violations of rights and repression. We will help the voice that we have in the European Parliament, the exiles, the government delegations that will be reopened … With all these tools we must be able to win.

– Will Marta Rovira be part of the Council for the Republic?

-We will have see how it will be composed. Much has been said about it, but it must be ascertained how the Council is composed by the Republic. Marta Rovira was forced to leave because of this brutal persecution by Spain and will surely play a relevant and important role in the international arena in defense of individual and collective rights and freedoms. We’ll see what role everyone has.

– Does she participate in the internal life of the party?

– She is the General Secretary of Esquerra Republicana and that continues to be the case. She participates in internal meetings and we hope that in the future she will have a more public role. It continues on a daily basis in the way that new technologies permit her.

– In this situation of abnormality and repression, ERC has recovered from having the General Secretary in exile and the President in prison?

-Our organisation has suffered a brutal persecution. They have tried to behead us to weaken, frighten us and make us disappear. In addition to Marta Rovira in exile and Oriol Junqueras in prison, we have many members of the Executives accused and activists persecuted for having done everything possible so that Catalans could vote on 1-O. It was a tough blow, but luckily we are a broad, strong and cohesive organisation. Other people who have been able to take up the duties and responsibilities to continue resisting and persisting, despite the cruelty of the moment.

-The municipal elections will be a good test to measure if the base has been expanded?

-Once polling has taken place we will count and validate the majority in favor of independence and the Republic. Democracy does not frighten us. That is why we know that the Republic will end up winning. The democratic and peaceful way is ours and what we have to use to reach the Republic. In addition to revalidating the majority, we must increase it to show that we are many and that we are multiplying. The independentist movement has grown in recent years, although we still have on the margins many people who have not taken the step but that are in favor of democracy, rights and freedoms.

– Will more than 50% of the votes in the municipal councils involve some change in the political landscape?

-For a start, it places us in a new scenario. Let’s see how the correlation of forces turns out. Surpassing 50% is to pass over one of the important thresholds to validate and certify the majority in favor of independence. We will have to evaluate new steps because we will be stronger and stronger, which is what we want. I cannot specify what will happen, but it would be a very important step to advance, materialize and consolidate the Republic.

– Is it decisive if independentism wins in Barcelona?

– It is very important. But also in other important cities and other capitals, such as Lleida and Tarragona.

-The usual debate has been begun. United lists, separate lists.

-We must be able to compare the projects with everyone in all the elections, whether they are municipal or parliamentary. Confronting all ideas and projects makes us maximize results for all. The elections on December 21 were a test, distinct from September 27. When we present all together as one, it is difficult to widen the base, we are small. When we each present separately, each trying to maximize their results with their project, is when we truly achieve the maximum widening of our perimeter. With the results achieved there will be a need to agree, join and have unity of action to going ahead with the town councils and the policies that are decided. The municipalities must serve so that there are as many republican and independentist city councils as possible. We can make a qualitative leap in many areas, especially in the metropolitan area and the capitals.

-Do you think that you can govern Barcelona without a pro-independence list being the most voted? The last published survey gave a draw between Barcelona in Comú and Citizens.

-If the votes independentist lists are compiled and achieve a majority, we can govern. The Council will end up being controlled by those that who can unite and that are able to agree. So, obviously, yes.

-Will ERC agree with the communes (Catalan version of Podemos – Trans.) and the PSC (Catalan version of the PSOE – Trans.)?

– We do not rule out any option with the objective of being able to guarantee republican, independentist city councils and allowing us to develop the policies to advance. In each case we will have to look at how that turns out. Right now we do not rule it out. But our logic and the priority is to have as many republican city councils as possible for the better. We know that ERC can often be this binding agent, this project that from the centrality of the independentism can unite the most.

-Oriol Junqueras was your teacher. You have a very personal relationship with him. Did you watch the videos from inside Estremera prison?

-I did not want to see them. I have seen some images, but nothing else.

-What did you hear?

-From the little I have seen and what I know, the dignity of these people is clear. The images have been stolen and that is undignified. But their dignity, even though the State holds them as hostages in prison … They are good people. Oriol is one of the best people we know and is kidnapped because he is able to lead, bring together and unite like no one else. With an open mindedness and caring, to be in the company of people and to listen. He and the rest of prisoners are seen as a threat to the State, and that is the reason they are kidnapped.

-Well there is a government in Catalonia, change of Executive in Spain, is there a risk of normalizing the situation of political prisoners?

-We must do everything possible so that it is not normalized. This country will not be normal until all judicialization is ended, until all imprisoned people are on the street or until all exiled people return home. We know that all acts to remember reprisals, lunches and yellow dinners, actions to raise money and report the situation help to ensure it is not normalised. The prisoners tell us not to cry but rather to demand their freedom.

-The situation of the party has led you personally to have to take a step forward. How have you found it?

-It’s a contradictory and bittersweet feeling. Any new responsibility is always accompanied by enthusiasm, but at the same time I have the bitter and sad feeling of having to do it in this context. In addition, it coincided with the second round of imprisonments of Carme Forcadell, Dolors Bassa, Raül Romeva, Jordi Turull and Josep Rull. And when Marta Rovira went to exile. Therefore, in a very tough context. But absolutely convinced that we all have to fight and each one contributes the grain of sand and plays the role that falls to us in the anti-repression struggle and which at the same time advances the Republic. This we do, not only myself, but many colleagues, each with the desire to be of use for the project.

END

 

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BASED ON HISTORY BUT FAR FROM IT– McCann’s “After the Lockout”.

Diarmuid Breatnach

History can and should be researched, interpreted, discussed, argued and used for lessons on current questions and projections into the future. It can also be used in fiction: as the backdrop for a novel; as a way of bringing historical events to life; as a what-if speculative story.

James Plunkett (21 May 1920 – 28 May 2003) used the Dublin Lockout as a backdrop for his Strumpet City and did it wonderfully well; Walter Macken (3 May 1915 – 22 April 1967) wrote a fictionalised account of brothers in the War of Independence and the Civil War in The Scorching Wind and also did it well1. Roddy Doyle did NOT do it well at all in his historical novel (A Star Called Henry) and sadly nor did Darran McCann in “After the Lockout”. Interestingly, the central characters in both latter books were what one might call “Left critics” of the leaders of the struggle and one is tempted to conclude that the attitudes of the central characters mirror those of their creators.

(Image sourced: Internet)

It seems fair enough that we can play with history in fiction but, when using it as a backdrop for a story, it should be accurately represented – otherwise, surely one should invent something else entirely?

Doyle did some reading on the GPO garrison’s struggle for the background of his “A Star Called Henry” but seemed to have done none for the War of Independence, in which he had his hero and heroine like a kind of Republican Bonny and Clyde living in ditches and shooting up the Free State forces. McCann seems to have done hardly any reading on the Lockout (and not that much on the GPO garrison’s fight either). Having Jim Larkin give a speech from the restaurant in Murphy’s Imperial Hotel restaurant window is bad enough – when we know he only got to say a few sentences before the Dublin Metropolitan Police ran in to arrest him – but having him then shin down a rope and get away is absolutely ridiculous.

McCann set the story of his central character, Victor Lennon, in between the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence and it has many of the elements of the story of James Gralton (17 April 1886 – 29 December 1945), the only Irish person to have been officially exiled from Ireland by an Irish government (in 1933).

The arrest of Jim Larkin after he spoke briefly from the Imperial Hotel in 1913. He did not shin down a rope!
(Image sourced: Internet)

McCann’s Victor Lennon, a communist and member of the Irish Citizen Army, gets people in his home town to build a dance hall in opposition to the local Bishop, which a mob then burns down. Gralton, a communist also, did that too, in Leitrim; however, he ran dances there and also gave talks – it was a success, to a considerable degree. The Irish Catholic Church vehemently opposed Gralton and in McCann’s novel the Bishop and local supporters also mobilise against Victor: the hall is burned down before any dance is held in it. Like Gralton’s story, there is a shooting incident around the dance hall too – a fatal one, in which Victor’s father and two IRA men are killed. But instead of being deported from Ireland, as Gralton was (illegally) by an Irish Government, which in McCann’s story had not yet come into existence, Victor heads off for Dublin to join the Volunteers in what will become the IRA and the War of Independence.

Newspaper photograph of James Gralton in the process of his deportation in 1933 (note he is described as “Irish-American” as though to justify his deportation, though in fact he was born in Ireland and did not leave for the USA until 23 years of age, subsequently returning to fight in the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence.
(Image sourced: Internet)

What actually happened after Larkin spoke briefly from the Imperial Hotel — a vicious police baton charge and indiscriminate beating of all in the area.
(Image sourced: Internet)

Roddy Doyle wrote very disrespectfully about Volunteers, Pearse and a number of other leaders and even salaciously about anonymous wives of martyred men. He did so by placing those words and thoughts in the mouth and mind of his central character, Henry Smart. McCann does somewhat the same but to nowhere near the same extent as did Doyle.

I admit to finding that lack of respect extremely distasteful but also from a historical point of view I see it as anachronistic. I find it hard to believe that those who took part in the Rising despised those who fought alongside them, no matter the difference in ideology – or that they spoke so contemptuously of their leaders, martyred or not. Disagreed, certainly – disagreed strongly, probably. But disrespect and contempt? No, that is attaching a post-Free State intellectual revisionist attitude on to participants in the Rising and in the War of Independence. Later, there would be fear and hatred, during the Civil War, but even then, none of that contemptuous and dismissive attitude.

I am not the only critic from a historical perspective, as I see from a quick Googling. Reviewing the book for the Irish Independent in 2012, Pat Hunt had this to say:

The opening section set in Dublin reads more like a 1917 Thom’s Street Directory and a survey of political events and personalities of the time. The seediness of the red-light Monto district in the inner city does not ring true. The period feel of the city of Armagh is much better realised.

The author’s editor has done him no favours. It was never possible to hop on a train at Amiens Street and hop off at Harcourt Street station (not unless one took a scenic route via Bray).

The Big Wind of 1839 occurred on the Feast of the Epiphany, not Pentecost. Forecasts of wine lakes and butter mountains (concepts that emerged with the EEC and its common agricultural policy) could not have been envisioned by even the most ardent socialist in 1917.”

Hilary Mantel, who writes historical fiction, praised McCann’s book and I can only assume that she knows very little of Irish history, nor indeed should we expect that she should – her background is not Irish. Glen Patterson, novelist from the Six Counties, praised it highly too and I assume did so on the composition of the writing, turn of phrase, story-telling etc – but I sincerely hope he did not do so on a historical basis.

After the Lockout, Darran McCann, Harper Collins 2012.

End.

 

FOOTNOTE:

1 Though not perhaps as well as the other two books in the trilogy, those dealing with the Cromwellian war and Great Hunger periods: Seek the Fair Land and The Silent People)

HAVING IT AWAY – AN ARMS RAID, CAPTURE AND PRISON ESCAPE

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

The prison experience and escape of IRA man Seán Murphy as related by himself in book form was launched on 31st March to a large audience in Wynne’s Hotel. Republicans of all shades not part of Sinn Féin (and perhaps some of those too) attended the event, bought copies of Having It Away and queued to have them signed by Seán’s widow, Betty Murphy. Seán O’Mahony, whose assistance with the publication of the book was acknowledged by Sean Murphy’s family, presided over the event.

Seamus Murphy
(Photo source: Internet)

On 13th August 1955, a party of the IRA led by Ruairí Ó Brádaigh raided Arborfield British Army Depot and came away with many guns and ammunition; the party’s members were Seán Murphy, Donal Murphy (no relation), Frank Skuse, Jack Hick, Tom Fitzgerald, Joseph Doyle, Liam Walsh and Paddy Considine. One of the party’s vehicles was apprehended by British police and the weapons later recovered. Three IRA Volunteers of those ten who took part were captured and, after trial, sentenced to life imprisonment. Donal Murphy and Joseph Doyle were two of them, the third was Seán Murphy and the book is his story.

Section of crowd at book launch event in Wynne’s Hotel
(Photo: D. Breatnach)

The book is what most people would call “a great read”. Murphy’s descriptions of the grim realities of prison life, his interactions with other prisoners political and non-political, as well as the screws (prison officers) and Governor, are pointed and yet often humorous.

Cathal Goulding was in the jail before Murphy arrived and after an attempted escape was obliged to wear “patches”, these being large and of a contrasting colour, sown on to a prison uniform. A prisoner wearing “patches” was under constant surveillance in the prison and was kept in solitary confinement when not on exercise. The prison Governor tried to get Goulding to promise not to escape, which Goulding felt unable to do, considering it his duty to escape whenever a decent opportunity presented itself.


(Photo: D. Breatnach)

Murphy’s opinion expressed in the book is that Goulding should have given his promise and then escape when possible, considering that one was not bound to honesty with one’s captors. Murphy’s position is not without rationality and even morality but it is in strange contrast to he and his two co-accused refusing to provide a defence against the charges, since that would have meant “recognising the British court”.

The Republican prisoners considered themselves political prisoners but they did not seek segregation from social prisoners as later generations of Republican prisoners have done. And in fact, Murpy made friends among a number of prisoners convicted of social rather than political offences, some of whom went to some lengths to help him and put their scheduled liberty at jeopardy in doing so. Murphy has this to say about them (and Sean O’Mahony quite rightly included that phrase too in his written introduction): “Taken all round, the circle of friends we had collected in this prison were made up of men, generous and decent almost beyond belief and one would be hard put to find their equals in any walk of life.”

On the other hand, interaction with other political prisoners also forms part of the narrative. These included Klaus Fuchs, a German Communist who had fled Nazi Germany and became naturalised in Britain. He was a physicist and after the War was hired as part of the team developing the Atomic Bomb at Los Alamos in the USA. From there he had passed information to the USSR to help them in their development of the their own atomic weapon. for which he was sentenced in 1950 to fourteen years imprisonment and had his British citizenship removed. Released not long after Murphy’s escape, having served nine years, we went to the GDR (East Germany) where he remained until his death in 1988 at the age of seventy-six.

Klaus Fuchs, German Communist, jailed for feeding information on the USA’s development of the atomic bomb to the USSR. He was in Wakefield Prison at the same time as Murphy.
(Photo source: Internet)

Although Fuchs was already there when Murphy arrived, other prisoners arrived afterwards from the struggle against the British in Cyprus. These were from EOKA, a Greek-Cypriot guerrilla organisation which from 1954-’59, fought to end British rule in Cyprus and for union with Greece (“enosis”). Many soldiers, guerillas and civilians were killed in the conflict, the British executed a number and also practiced torture on prisoners. In addition, the British recruited their colonial police force exclusively from among the Turkish minority on the island, which helped entrench and deepen communal tensions. Unlike EOKA B, which was considered right-wing, had links to fascist Greek colonels and was responsible for a massacre and rape of Turkish-Cypriot civilians, Eoka had socialist national liberation leanings and one of the prisoners in jail with Murphy went on to translate James Connolly’s writings into Greek. Some of EOKA supporters, like Bishop Makarios, later went on to advocate complete independence from either Greece or Turkey but an attempted EOKA B coup sparked a Turkish invasion and another massacre, this time of Greek-Cypriot civilians. Today the island is partioned between an independent Cyprus and the Turkish state, each area more or less abandoned by the other major ethnic group.

Eoka guerrilla fighters in camp (Photo source: Internet)

One of the EOKA prisoners sharing Wakefield Prison with Murphy was Nicos Sampson who had a dark history by then and which got no lighter as time went on.

Almost incredibly, one of the Eoka prisoners, serving five years in jail, was a member of the British Army who had deserted and fought alongside the Greek Cypriots – his name was Tony Martin.

The typography of the book leaves much to be desired – something seems to have gone amiss between editing, proofing and checking the galley copy. Punctuation has suffered and occasionally spelling too; sentences are broken up by large spaces and footnotes end up half-way down the the next page. Somehow however, though one is aware of those faults, the narrative grabs most of the attention.

More irritating than the faulty typography are the omissions: what went wrong that of the escape party of five, only one made it? How did those left behind fare? Did the British seek his extradition from the Irish state? What did Murphy make of the subsequent twists and turns in the Republican movement and of its various splits? Some information on the subsequent lives of some players in the prison and escape organisation is provided in two pages of Biographical Notes but I found it nowhere enough to satisfy my curiosity. For example, Murphy rates Cathal Goulding very highly in the book’s narrative yet I am given to understand that he did not support the line taken by what became Official Sinn Féin (and eventually The Workers’ Party) and the Official IRA, led by Goulding.

All that said, the book is very readable and also well worth reading.

Although Murphy’s writing reveals a strong leaning towards socialist republicanism and therefore the comment in the Irish Times obituary that “he did not embrace Goulding’s move to socialism” should be treated with caution. Nevertheless he did not by all accounts support the Official IRA after the 1969 split in the Republican movement; this may have been due to the failure of the IRA leadership to organise support for an escape, while most of those who did spring him seem to have come from the Saor Uladh or Christle faction groups. Murphy appears to have dropped out of active participation in politics after his escape but in recent years was known to be opposed to the Belfast Agreement.

Seán O’Mahony, who presided at launch of “Having It Away” and Betty, widow of Seamus Murphy, the author.
(Photo: D. Breatnach)

Seamus Murphy was born 1935 and raised in Castledermot, Co.Kildare and joined the IRA while attending Terenure College, Dublin. In 1963, four years after his escape and return to Ireland, Murphy married Betty O’Donaghue from his home county in 1963; they settled down in Bray and had a son, Pearse. Murphy was writing his memoire unbeknownst to most people and though he received some assistance with it he died in 2015, three years before it was published.

A RESISTANCE SYMBOL SOWN AND GROWN BY IRISH REPUBLICAN WOMEN

Diarmuid Breatnach

                         As we approached Easter again some people were wearing the Easter Lily on their upper clothes, either in the original pinned paper form or as an enameled metal badge. It is a tradtion: some people will wear it around the actual anniversary dates of the Rising and executions and some will wear it all year long. Originally it was an idealised form of the Easter Lily (Lillium longiforum) but is now seen more as a representation of the Calla Lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica).

The emblem, although in close relationship to the Easter Rising, represents to some all those who have died for Irish freedom. Most Irish people, including sadly some of those who wear it, will be unaware that the idea to create them was that of Republican women and that they were the first to produce and sell them.

In 1926, three years after the defeat of the Republican forces by those of the Irish Free State (sic), the Republican women’s organisation Cumann na mBan1 produced the Lily badges and sold them. They used them to raise funds for the Republican prisoners of the Free State and for their dependents but it was also a way for them and others to declare visibly their support for the Republicans at a time when the new State had an iron grip on its opposition, many of its enemies in jails or in concentration camps, in hiding or had left the country. The formal executions of prisoners by the State had ceased in 1923 but the assassinations carried out by CID and Irish Army murder squads had continued afterwards (80 formal executions and up to as many as 153 shooting of captured fighters and assassinations).

It may also have been intended as a visible counterpoint to the British Legion’s “Poppy”, which was worn by thousands in Ireland in those years (tens of thousands Irish had been killed in the British Army and a great many maimed) .

The 12,000 Republican prisoners of the Free State included around 400 women, members of Cumann na mBan, Sinn Féin or of the Irish Citizen Army but towards the end of 1923 most of these were released. However, it was a brave person who publicly declared their support for the defeated Republic — the banned Cumann na mBan, most of whose members had opposed the Treaty, stepped forward to occupy that dangerous public space.

The same year that Cumann na mBan developed the Easter Lilly, De Valera and Aiken, formerly of the Republican forces, formed the Fianna Fáil (“Soldiers of Destiny”) political party to campaign within the Dáil (the Irish Parliament) for a Republic, their elected public representatives entering in 1927, having taken the Oath of Allegiance to the Free State and of fidelity to the English monarch in Ireland. Meanwhile, the rest of the Republican movement, IRA, most of Cumann na mBan and Sinn Féin, remained opposed to participation in what they considered to be an endorsement of the partition of Ireland. During the early period thereafter Fianna Fáil continued to grow while Sinn Féin and the IRA declined in numbers and electoral votes but largely supported Fianna Fáil electorally at first, though the IRA prohibited its members from joining the party.

While Fianna Fáil was heading towards Constitutional methods, the IRA in November 1926 captured 11 Garda Síochána barracks, in the course of which they shot dead two Gardaí. The Free State reacted immediately, interning 110 IRA men without trial the following day. The following year IRA Volunteers assassinated Free State minister Kevin O’Higgins for his responsibility in executions of Republican prisoners during the Civil War.

FROM PAPER FLOWER TO BADGE

Originally the Easter Lily was actually a three-dimensional paper flower rather than a badge. Anne Matthews, who wrote a rather hostile history of Cumann na mBan, also wrote in her blog a good account of the origins of the Easter Lily emblem within the organisation.2

In early 1926 the reformed (fourth) Sinn Fein party3 instigated the first Day of National Commemoration, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rebellion at Glasnevin Cemetery on Easter Sunday. Cumann an mBan planned to take part in this event, and early in February the executive saw an opportunity to use the event to raise some funds and perhaps increase membership and they decided to hold a flag day at the cemetery.

Over a series of meetings of the executive committee the women discussed the idea of the flag day, and decided instead to make it a ‘Flower Day’. Sighle Humphreys said they had considered flowers that bloomed in spring such as the crocus and the pansy, but eventually decided on a flower known generically as the Easter lily (botanical name is Lilium longiforum).

Within weeks Fiona Plunkett sent a circular letter to all branches of Cumann na mBan to explain the purpose of the Flower Day.

The flower we have decided upon is a lily (enclosed find sample) as we consider this would be the most suitable for Easter and it has also the Republican colours…You ought to call a meeting of all Republican women and young girls… and arrange for the collection at masses and at Commemoration Parades, football matches or fairs during the preceding week.

The Easter Lily flower, Lilium Longiflorum — this was reproduced as a paper flower, the first Easter Lily symbol by Cumann na mBan

The first Republican Easter lily was a paper flower. Cumann na mBan ordered 45,000, and asked the IRA for support by issuing a joint proclamation and assisting them in selling the flower. The men refused the invitation. The first Easter lily ‘Flower Day’ made a profit of £34 (£1,453 at today’s rates — DB4) but despite their disappointment with lack of support from the IRA, they gave them half the profits. Undaunted, the women continued with the Flower Day campaign every Easter. In 1929 and Cumann na mBan in its circular proclaimed:

Funds are needed to create an atmosphere favourable to our army… Funds are needed to educate people to resist the Free State and Northern “governments” …When you buy an Easter lily you are directly helping to overthrow foreign rule in Ireland.”

By the early 1930s the membership of Cuman na mBan had shrunk to such small numbers they could not do it alone and an Easter lily committee was formed comprising members of Cumann na mBan, the IRA, and Sinn Fein, consequently Cumann an mBan lost control of the venture.

In 1933, there was difficulty in sourcing Irish-made paper for the artificial flowers, and as Cumann na mBan were spearheading a ‘buy Irish’ campaign, a decision was taken to stop making the flowers and instead create a paper flag/badge, which could be worn on the lapel. However, the Lilium longiforum/ Easter Lily did not transfer well to the flag and the resulting image is more like the Calla Lily. The design they chose is the same design that is sold to this day.

The design of a typical (pinned) paper Easter Lily badge nowaday.
(Image sourced: Internet)

In 1937 Cumann na mBan made a statement about the money raised by the Easter lily campaign:

The men of Easter Week laid down a very definite road for the Irish people to travel towards freedom… All those who support the lily campaign can rest assured that the money raised is devoted to no other purpose than the propagation of these ideals and the securing of the necessary materials for their realisation.‘”

The Calla Lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica), which the paper badge image came mostly closely to represent.
(Image sourced: Internet)

 

THE LILY EXTINGUISHES THE TORCH

Fianna Fáil continued its policy of participation in the Dáil in opposition until it was able to form the Government in 1932, abolished the Oath of Allegiance and brought in a new Constitution in 1937, and soon became the political party most often in Government of the Irish State. On coming into power in 1932 Fianna Fáil unbanned the IRA, released interned Republican prisoners and during the early years Republicans largely supported the party even if they didn’t join it.

Another version of the Easter Lily enameled badge.
(Image source: Internet)

Cumann na mBan continued to sell the Easter Lily and not only they, Sinn Féin and IRA wore and sold it but many supporters of Fianna Fáil also. But in the mid-1930s the differences between Fianna Fáil and Republicans who contested the legitimacy of the Dáil sharpened and during this period too the IRA grew considerably in numbers. Agitation around social conditions within the new state was attracting more people to the IRA as was the struggle against the “Blueshirt” fascist movement and their supporters among the original Free Staters’ political party, Cumann na nGaedheal. In 1935 the Fianna Fáil Government again banned the IRA, along with the Blueshirts.

In February 1935, after the IRA killed Richard More O’Ferrall (due to his eviction of 11 families from his lands in 1934), the Fianna Fáil Government cracked down hard including introducing trial without jury in the Special Criminal Courts and Military Courts, against the sentences of which no appeal was permitted.

The FF party’s leadership instructed its members to stop selling the Lily. However, as many would no doubt at least continue to purchase and wear the emblem, the party attempted to introduce a replacement badge, the “Easter Torch”.

Advert for FF’s “Easter Torch” or “An Lóchrann” badge (supplied by Méabh O’Leary, grma)

It was abandoned after a number of years having failed to gain popularity and many FF members and supporters continuing to wear the Lily.

An Easter Lily enameled pin — there are a number of versions, some with a legend inscribed and some without.
(Image source: Internet)

‘STICKIES’

In 1967 Sinn Féin produced a version of the Easter Lily paper badge with a gummed surface on the reverse. This seemed an interesting innovation, doing away with the need for a pin but as the day wearing it progressed, the badge had a tendency to become unstuck at one end or another – and sometimes both – and to curl unattractively.

Sinn Féin and the IRA both experienced an acrimonious split over a number of issues in 1969 from which emerged “Official SF” (and OIRA) and Provisional Sinn Féin (and PIRA). For the annual traditional commemoration of the Easter Rising in 1970, the ‘Officials’ continued with the new gummed version while the “Provos”, less for aesthetical than for symbolic reasons perhaps, reverted to the older pin-secured version of the badge.

Whoever baptised the Official SF and OIRA “Stickies” as a result is unknown but the use of the term became so widespread as to gain almost official (forgive the pun) status. The party continued to be known by that nickname through a number of splits and incarnations and today, the Workers’ Party have not quite shaken it off.

An attempt to baptise the other Republicans as “Pinnies” or “Pinheads”never really gained ground.

Easter Lily cloth badge — rarely seen.
(Image source: Internet)

SELLING THEN – WEARING TODAY

Those who sold the Easter Lily in the Six Counties or who wore it were liable to arrest under the colonial statelet’s Flags and Emblems (Display) Act (1954-1987). It was not formally illegal in the Twenty-Six Counties (the Irish State) but sellers were subject to Garda Special Branch harassment under the excuse that the sellers did not have a license to sell (they declined to ask the partitioned State for permission and perhaps they would not have been be granted one). Flags and donations were seized by Gardaí and sellers at times arrested.

“Whenever they tried grabbing the Lilies and money from me, I slung it all on the ground. Let them go picking it all up if they wanted it!” commented a veteran Republican to me a couple of years ago. One can imagine that in such a situation, onlookers might pick the money and badges up, some to return to the victim or his comrades and some perhaps to keep for themselves. In either case, the Special Branch would be presented with the difficulty of badges blowing in the wind and coins rolling in all directions.

Placard parade defending right to sell and wear the Easter Lily — late 1950s/ early 1960s?
(Image source: Internet)

Today, the Easter Lily is visible much less than it was up to perhaps the 1980s. It is viewed by most people who know what it represents (many do not) largely as a Republican emblem (either SF or “dissident”). That is a pity. It should be viewed, I would submit, as a badge of national resistance, of anti-imperialism and as a commemoration honouring generations of men and women who have fought the colonial occupation and exploitation of their land. But let us also remember that it was the women who created the emblem and braved non-cooperation and repression to popularise it.

End.

References and further information:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_Lily_(badge)

http://annmatthews.ie/blog-post/622/

FOOTNOTES

Cumann na mBan (“The Women’s Association”) was an Irish Republican organisation formed in 1914 in Wynne’s Hotel in response to the formation of the Irish Volunteers in 1913. It was organised, as were the Volunteers, along military lines and although set up originally as an auxiliary to the men’s organisation, it had its own uniform, structures and commanders. In that respect and in its insurrectionary intentions, it was the first women’s organisation of its kind in the world. Other revolutionary women at the time joined the Irish Citizen Army, also the first of its kind in the world, where women and men were accorded equal status. Both organisations played prominent roles in the 1916 Rising along with a number of other organisations. Cumann na mBan survived the ICA by a number of decades.

See url in References and Further Information at end of article

The word “fourth” is a reference by Matthews to the various incarnations of the party which started off as a nationalist one seeking a dual Irish and English monarchy for Ireland, with limited autonomy. The current party to which people normally refer when they say “Sinn Féin” may be seen as the party’s fifth or even sixth version, although the current party claims its origin in the first incarnation.

DEMOCRACY AS A SAFE OPTION

Diarmuid Breatnach

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

Image source: Internet

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

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

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

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

Another view of western democracy
(Image source: Internet)

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

“EVERYBODY’S A DEMOCRAT”

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

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

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

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

SOCIAL DEMOCRACY

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

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

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

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

DEMOCRACY: THE SAFEST OPTION

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

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

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

ORIGINS OF DEMOCRATIC SYSTEMS

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

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

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

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

 

 

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

end

LINKS AND SOURCES OTHER THAN IN FOOTNOTES

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

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

FOOTNOTES

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

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

Spanish-German states cooperation — just like the old days

Diarmuid Breatnach

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

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

FOREIGNERS!

Diarmuid Breatnach

I’m sick of seeing foreigners everywhere. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m not racist or anything …. but they’re just everywhere. And as for Muslims building mosques! Here, in Ireland!

What’s wrong with that? We’ve got hundreds, maybe thousands of churches in Ireland.

Yeah, but we’re a Catholic country.

Do you object to Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist and Unitarian churches too?

Er … no, they’re Christian religions. Muslim is completely different. We’re a Christian country – always have been.

Actually, no.

What do you mean?

We were pagans once. Before Christian missionaries came in.

OK, before St. Patrick. And yes, I do know he was a foreigner. But since then, we’ve been a Christian country, right?

Yes, I grant you that.

That’s what we need to go back to – Christian Gaelic Ireland.

An bhfuil Gaeilge agat?

No, I don’t speak it. No need to be smart. That’s another thing that was taken from us!

They teach it at school, though.

Not very well. And they force it, which turns people off.

They force maths on people too. And other subjects.

Yes …. well. Anyway, this is getting away from the subject. I was talking about … Getting back to the old Christian Ireland. The Ireland we fought against the British for. Which so many people died for.

James Connolly Monument, across from Liberty Hall, Beresford Place.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Like James Connolly, Patrick Pearse, Tom Clarke ….

Yes, exactly!

James Connolly was born in Scotland, Tom Clarke in England.

Well I knew about Connolly, but Clarke … are you sure?

Yep, Isle of Wight, SE England.

OK …. but …. they were still Irish, weren’t they …. like our soccer team?

Yes, I agree with you there.  And about Constance Markievicz ….

Listen, don’t try that one on me! She married a Polish count – but she was Irish.

She was born in England too.

Was she? Well ok, but of Irish stock too.

Gore-Booth – not exactly a Gaelic name, is it?

Look, let’s go back to Pearse – he was Irish through and through. He wrote in Irish – articles, stories and poems, didn’t he?

He most certainly did.

Well then!

His father was English, though.

What? You’re codding me!

No, seriously. James Pearse was English. And had married previously in England.

Now you’re telling me Patrick Pearse’s father was a BIGAMIST?

No, no, calm down. She died – he was a widower. Thomas Davis’ father was Welsh, by the way.

Thomas Davis Statue monument and fountain, Dame Street, Dublin, Irealand
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Who wrote A Nation Once Again? That Thomas Davis?

Yes. And The West’s Awake.

OK, OK but Thomas himself was born in Ireland, wasn’t he?

Yes. Eamon Bulfin wasn’t though.

Bulfin? Who was he?

He hoisted the tricolour up on the GPO on Easter Monday 1916.

Did he? Was he born in England too?

No – in Argentina.

WHAT?

Yep. And De Valera’s da was apparently Cuban. Dev was born in the USA.

OK, OK, OK – but they were all part-Irish or wholly Irish …. in blood, I mean. Part of what they call the Irish diaspora.

True. But Erskine Childers wasn’t.  Totally English.

Ah now you’re trying to wind me up. He was President of Ireland – of course he was born here.

That Erskine Childers was but his Da wasn’t.

OK, so what?

Well, he’s the one who brought the Mausers into Howth. In his yacht. And he was murdered by the Free Staters in the Civil War.

That was him?

The Irish tricolour flag — presented to the ‘Young Irelanders’ by Parisian revolutionary women in 1848. (Image source: Internet)

Yeah, and part of the crew were two women – one born in England and one in the USA. By the way, the Tricolour that Bulfin hoisted on the GPO? You know what it signifies?

Yes. Peace between the original Irish, the Catholics and the descendants of the planters, the Protestants.

OK. Well, that’s not originally Irish either.

What? The Tricolour? Not Irish?

Not originally, no.

Where is it from then? Please don’t say England!

No – Paris. During the Paris uprising of 1848, French female revolutionaries presented it to an Irish Republican delegation.

So the Irish flag before that was …. just Green?

Well, Green yes, often with a harp in gold ….

Yes, Green, forever green, always the Irish colour …

Well, I hate to tell you this but …………..

End.