A number of solidarity demonstrations took place in Dublin City centre last week.
On the evening of 20th June, officially World Refugee Day, a rally calling for the closure of the Direct Provision Centres and to Stop Deportations was held outside the Dáil (Irish Parliament). A number of speakers, some of them refugees and asylum seekers, addressed the crowd. However, the amplification was so weak that only those very near them could hear what they said.
Explanatory text from the organisers: “Despite the number of displaced people increasing year-on-year, the amount of people permitted to seek asylum in Europe has fallen by 10% since 2017. Thousands are forced to climb razor wire fences and entrust their lives to people smugglers as governments continue to close their doors. Accounts of overcrowded camps, lack of sanitation, and torture at the hands of police and militia groups from those who do manage to enter are growing more frequent.
“In Ireland, asylum seekers are forced to wait for years in privatised, isolated centres as the Department of Justice & Equality comes up with reasons to reject and deport them, where they are treated as cargo to be shipped ‘back to where they came from’.
“Mobilisation against direct provision — introduced as a ‘temporary solution’ in 2000 — has increased in recent years yet significant moves by our representatives to abolish it remain to be seen. Our newly elected MEPs similarly show little interest in confronting the EU’s dehumanising regulations.
“Join us as we demand action. For an end to direct provision and deportations. For freedom of movement for all and an end to Fortress Europe.”
Though a number of supporting organisations were listed — STUDENTS AGAINST DIRECT PROVISION, MOVEMENT OF ASYLUM SEEKERS IN IRELAND, MIGRANTS AND ETHNIC MINORITIES FOR REPRODUCTIVE JUSTICE, REFUGEE AND MIGRANT SOLIDARITY IRELAND, SAY NO TO DIRECT PROVISION IN IRELAND, UNION OF STUDENTS IN IRELAND — it seemed as though the core organisers were from the People Before Profit organisation.
The supporters were subjected to a number of very heavy rain showers but most remained until the scheduled end of the event.
On Saturday afternoon, 22nd June, a rally in support of the Sudanese people was held on the central pedestrian reservation in O’Connell Street, Dublin city’s main street. They too were addressed by a number of speakers but it was not always possible to hear who they were or all that they had to say.
According to aid NGO, Concer, “Over 46.5% of the Republic of Sudan’s population is living below the poverty line and 5.5 million are in need of humanitarian assistance.” A war has been raging there since 2013 in which an estimated 400,000 people are estimated to have died.
According to Wikipedia: “More than 4 million people have been displaced, with about 1.8 million internally displaced and about 2.5 million having fled to neighboring countries, especially Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda.This makes it the world’s third-largest refugee population after Syria and Afghanistan. About 86% of the refugees are women and children.”
The core organisers of this event seemed to be a youth group of the Socialist Party although it also appeared that the Sudanese community had organised to support it through their own networks.
Ireland has broken off its love affair with the USA but the breakup’s been coming for a long time. Of course it was always a kind of mythical USA that was the love object, of film stars, rock n’ roll, friendly presidents, Irish-U.Stater politicians, of U.Stater tourists – never the real USA, good or bad. One could feel the tensions in the relationship during the Viet Nam War, though that was mostly to be seen in the youth and some lefties. But then came the lying scandals in the US Presidency of Nixon and Clinton and the naked warmongering throughout all, including the Bushes, Snr. and Jnr.
Ireland, below the level of its Gombeen politicians, has split up with the USA (at the level of ITS politicians and millionaires [often the same thing]) but it has been a relatively civilised breakup and thankfully with no children (well, apart from the Irish illegal immigrants – sorry, undocumented visitors).
While some businesses in an Dún Beag might have turned a profit out the Fear Mór’s visit, having the Chief of the World Superpower drop in on us has cost us – around 10 million euro, according to the Irish Independent. Loads of extra Gardaí on the ground in Co. Clare and Limerick, in the air and on sea, does not come cheap (though I’m sure the overtime was welcome). All would have been bad enough if we had invited him but we hadn’t. Will the Irish Government present the US Presidency with an itemised bill? Probably not.
At the invitation of The Irish Examiner, a number of organisations and individuals had written letters to Trump for publication (see link below); most were critical and these included Amnesty International, Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, National Union of Journalists, National Women’s Council of Ireland, National Union of Students; Brendan Ogle, Tara Flynn and Clare Daly. For entertainment value I’d pick out the IPSC’s and Tara Flynn’s (well, she is a comedian). The ICCL also had a newspaper advertisement criticising Trump, which was sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union and figured logos of a number of other civil rights organisations.
There were protests in various parts of the country, including one to greet his arrival at Shannon airport (hopefully US munitions and troop carriers were pulled to one side so as not to hinder his landing). The Irish Times said there were about 200 protesters there so, on past reporting, there could have been anything between 300 and 1,000. It is not easy to get to Shannon airport unless one has a car, even from Galway the gaps between bus arrival times are substantial. And no train station.
Dublin had a showy and packed anti-Trump rally, with a Baby Trump blimp floating above the crowd outside the Garden of Remembrance. An activist brought big letter placards which, with the help of volunteers from the crowd, spelled out anti-trump messages in English and in Irish. Indeed an interesting feature was a number of placards partly or completely in Irish.
The theme of “welcome” or “fáilte” was of course played upon in reverse, in speech and placard, with more than a hinted reference to the old Bord Fáilte slogan inviting tourists to the land of “céad míle fáilte”.
The event was managed by Unite Against Racism which is, for the most part, People Before Profit, which in turn is really the Socialist Workers’ Party. A number of other left-wing party flags could be seen too. A group of Shinners were at the rally with their trademark flags (never go anywhere without the party’s flag) but no “dissidents” were present as a group, though I certainly noted some as individuals.
The speakers at the rally covered a number of themes, including of course misogyny, migrants, Palestine, war-making and imperialism. Liam Herrick of the ICCL was an unusual sight to see on an outdoors protest platform, speaking at the second part of the rally. Curiously, the rally organisers had sent a major part of the attendance off to march around the city centre for awhile and of course, when they got back, they had shed a great part of their numbers. A torrential downpour no doubt encouraged the desertions.
Coming towards the end of the rally, a performer accompanied himself on guitar while he rendered some songs for the diminished attendance. Woody Guthrie’s “Plane Crash at Los Gatos” (also known as “Deportees”) would have been an apposite choice, a song about Mexican labourers being employed in the south-eastern US fruit harvests and then driven back across the Border. Guthrie was moved to sing about them when in 1948 a plane carrying mostly deported Mexicans crashed, killing all on board and though the names of the crew were given in the news reports, the Mexicans were referred to only as “deportees”.
At the rally, eventually Trump was deflated (the blimp, I mean), tethering weight bags emptied of water, placards were packed, flags furled …. and I went to get some shopping.
Two quite different celebrations of International Workers’ Day took place in Dublin on the afternoon of the appropriate date, 1st of May. One was small and of a decidely revolutionary flavour while the other, much larger, was of a more mixed nature and tending towards the reformist. In addition, a workers’ solidarity picket was mounted on a Dublin city centre eatery.
NOTHING TO LOSE BUT OUR CHAINS
The first of the celebrations was organised by theAnti-Imperialist Action Ireland organisation and took place at the James Connolly Monument in Dublin’s Beresford Place. There a statue of James Connolly stands upon a plinth, behind the the design of the Irish Citizen Army flag, based upon the constellation that in Ireland is called the Starry Plough but in the USA is known as the Big Dipper. James Connolly was a revolutionary socialist and trade union organiser, historian, journalist and songwriter who was Commander of the Dublin insurrectionary forces in the 1916 Rising. The Irish Citizen Army, possibly the first formaly-organised army for and of the workers, had been formed during the Dublin Lockout as a defence force against the attacks of the Dublin Metropolitan Police.
The ICA took part in the 1916 Rising in Dublin and after the surrender of the insurrectionary forces, 16 participants, including two of the ICA, were executed by British firing squad: Michael Mallin on 8th May and James Connoly on 12th May.
In the here and now, on their way to the Connolly Monument, a number of participants were stopped by a man in plain clothes identifying himself as a police officer, i.e a member of the Garda Special Branch. He wished to know their names, which they declined to give them.
At the Monument, both speakers for the Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland organisation were youths.
The first to speak gave his oration in Irish on behalf of Macra – Irish Socialist Republican Youth and said that they were there to celebrate socialism, trade unionism and workers oppressed throughout the world and, that although James Connolly had been murdered in Kilmainham Jail, his work was ongoing.
Stating that James Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army had gone out in 1916 to break with imperialism and found a socialist society, the youth went on to say that “Macra is a revolutionary organisation with socialism as one of our objectives and we also believe in the words of Pearse: ‘Ireland not only free but Gaelic, not only Gaelic but free.’ Free from the bankers, free from landlords, free from poverty.”
The speaker concluded in Irish and in English with the renowned sentence from the Communist Manifesto.: “Bíodh critheagla ar aicmí cheannais roimh réabhlóid Chumannach. Níl tada le cailiúint ag na Prólatáirigh ach a slabhraí. Tá saol mór le gnóthú acu. Oibrithe an tSaoil Mhóir, cuirigí le chéile!”
“Let the ruling classes tremble before a communist revolution. The Proletariat have nothing to lose but their chains, they have the whole world to gain. Workers of the world unite!”
The second speaker delivered his speech in English and linked the liberation of Ireland with the liberation of the working class and went on to praise Séamus Costello (1939-1977), which he said had embodied that aspiration. The youth praised the creation of the Irish Republican Socialist Party by Costello as well as the creation of the Irish National Liberation Army and Costello’s participation and membership in a number of democratic organisations — including his election to Bray District Council.
Condemning “the bankers and politicians” who bring deprivation to the workers, the speaker said that they try to point the finger instead at Muslims and migrants but it is not migrants who cause job losses, create homelessness etc but “the elite”. The speaker ended by saying he wished to remember all those who had given their lives for Irish freedom.
WE WANT THE EARTH
Diarmuid Breatnach was then introduced to sing Be Moderate, a song with an ironic title by James Connolly. “The Irish working class does not have a huge history in Ireland, apart from a short period in the early decades of the last century,” Breatnach said, giving as reasons the forced underdevelopment of Irish industry, the British-fostered sectarianism in the most industrialised north-east and the focus on the national struggle as a competing pole of attraction.
“The Irish abroad, however, have made a huge contribution to the workers’ movement,” Breatnach said. “And in 1889, Jim Connell from near Cill Scíre in Co. Meath, composed lyrics of The Red Flag to the air of the White Cockade, starting it on the train to his home in South London from a demonstration in central London and apparently completing it in the home of another Irish man.
The song was later adopted by the International Workers of the World, a syndicalist organisation mostly active in the USA, Breatnach said and reminded them that James Connolly joined the IWW when he migrated to the USA. “In 1907, James Connolly published a songbook, Songs of Freedom, in which he included the lyrics of Be Moderate,” Breatnach stated and went on to say that no air had been published to which the words should be sung. As a result Be Moderate has been sung to a number of airs but in London Breatnach heard it sung by an avant-garde musical composer and Marxist-Leninist, Cornelius Cardew, to the air of A Nation Once Again. In Breatnach’s opinion the lyrics fit well to this air and it also provides a chorus, which he encouraged the participants to sing.
James Connolly’s lyrics were sung by Breatnach then, competing with sounds of passing traffic on the ground and the occasional trains rumbling by on the bridge overhead, participants joining in on the chorus:
We only want the Earth,
We only want the Earth
And our demands most moderate are:
We only want the Earth!
and the last line of the last verse “We want the Earth!” echoing across Beresford Place.
TRADE UNION AND POLITICAL ORGANISATION BANNERS
Across the road, a stage and crowd barriers were being set up outside Liberty Hall, the multi-storeyed headquarters of SIPTU, the largest union in Ireland and which, by amalgamations, had grown from the Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union, originally formed early in the 20th Century by Jim Larkin, James Connolly and others (and the destruction of which had been the object of the 1913 Lockout). The stage was being prepared for speakers to address a rally which would follow a Mayday parade from Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance (a small park dedicated “to those who gave their lives for Irish freedom”).
Even the larger Mayday demonstrations in Dublin, although organised through the Dublin Council of Trade Unions, i.e with affiliation from most trade unions in the city, do not tend to be very big by comparison with other cities in many other parts of the world.
Banners of some unions mixed with those of political organisations and campaign groups, including the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign and another against Irish state participation in PESCO, which is seen by many as an embryonic EU Army and undermining the Irish state’s neutrality.
Led by a lone piper, the parade made its way past crowds of onlookers down Dublin city’s main thoroughfare, O’Connell Street, then left along Eden Quay to Liberty Hall where they were to be addressed by speakers on the temporary stage in Beresford Place, across from the Connolly Monument.
Meanwhile, a small group had left, to form a picket line outside the Ivy Dawson Street restaurant, in solidarity with staff and in opposition to the management appropriating a portion of the tips left for staff, with more to join them there later from the Mayday parade.
A NOTE ON THE HISTORICAL ORIGIN OF INTERNATIONAL WORKERS’ DAY
The First of May has been celebrated as the international day for workers since 1892, to call for the 8-hour maximum working day, socialism and universal peace. Its inspiration was a train of events that began with a workers’ strike and demonstrations on May 1st 1886 in many parts of the USA but in Chicago ended in the State execution of four anarchists, with police and state militia massacres of workers along the way as well as with acts of workers’ resistance. The celebration and commemoration throughout the world was formally agreed at the Second Congress of the Second International Workers’ Association in Brussels in 1892 and at its Sixth Congress (Amsterdam, 1904) declared it mandatory for the proletarian organisations of all countries to stop work on that day, wherever that could be done without injury to the workers(bearing in mind violently repressive regimes).
In many states around the world now, the 1st of May is a public and bank holiday and has been so in Ireland since 1994. Its public celebration was banned under the fascist regimes in Spain and Portugal but is legal in both those states now; however it is still banned in some other states while in some areas, though not banned, may be subject to attack by police, army, state agents or by fascist elements.
(Lots of images but text reading time less than 5 minutes)
As Palestinians and their supporters around the world mark anniversaries of the Return to Palestine demonstrations and Land Day, Israeli snipers kill Palestinian children. Dublin marks the day with a solidarity rally and exhibitions and talks by internationally-recognised Palestinian cartoonist Mohammad Saba’aneh.
The Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign organised a rally to mark the anniversary of the start of the Return to Palestine demonstrations last year and also Land Day. Sadly, marking a Palestinian anniversary usually involves marking the deaths of martyrs and this was no exception, as Israeli Occupation Force snipers killed four demonstrators, three of them 17 years of age.
After the rally, of which I just caught the tail end because of the weekly Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign duty, I managed to catch the exhibition of noted Palestinian political cartoonist Mohammad Saba’aneh and to buy his book PALESTINE in black and white. Sadly, a prior appointment meant I had to miss his talk, which I would have loved to attend, especially as I dabble a little in cartoon-drawing myself.
Fortunately, Mohammad Saba’aneh was still there and was kind enough to autograph his book for me. When I took a photo of him with Fatin Al Tamimi, photographer and Chairperson of the IPSC, she insisted on taking a photo of me with him too – shukran.
On Thursday, Saba’aneh had also given a talk at the National College of Art & Design, along with Tuqa Al Saraj, also a Palestinian artist but today based in Dublin.
Mohammad Saba’aneh was born in 1978 in Ramallah in occupied Palestine, where he still lives. He is a Palestinian painter and caricaturist who has been imprisoned by Israel because of his art. He has a daily cartoon in the Palestinian newspaper al-Hayat al-Jadida and his work features in publications across the Arab world.
HELPING THE DEAF AND THE TRAUMATISED WITH CARTOONS
Saba’aneh used caricature with deaf students to help them adopt another language to express their feelings and with children who witnessed an Israeli assault to help them psychologically. He took part in many workshops designed for children to develop critical thinking. Saba’aneh was responsible for organizing an international fair at Mahmoud Darwish museum in 2014 in which more than 100 international artists participated. Freedom House chose one of his works in 2016 as one of the year’s most important photos. His first book was published in the US in April 2017.
INTERNATIONAL WORK AND RECOGNITION
Saba’aneh is the Middle East representative for Cartoonist Rights Network International and the Palestinian ambassador for United Sketches, an international association for freedom of expression and cartoonists in exile and participated in many international publications such as The truth has more than one face in Europe and Sketch of Freedom in the US. He. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2017 Marseille International Cartoon Festival Prix d’Or. Pulitzer–winning cartoonist Matt Wuerker described him as “an inspiration for cartoonists around the world.” Noted graphic journalist Joe Sacco has said of this work that it is a “gut punch that gets straight to the essence of the stark reality of Palestinian life under Israeli occupation.”
Thursday 28th March – NCAD (Dublin), 7pm, Harry Clarke Lecture Theatre
Friday 29th March – TCD (Dublin), 3pm, Room LTEE1, Hamilton Building
Saturday 30th March – Dublin, 2.30pm, The Pearse Centre, 27 Pearse St
All of the above now over.
Monday 1st April – Waterford, 7.30pm, The Tower Hotel
Tuesday 2nd April – Limerick, 8pm, Perys Hotel
Wednesday 3rd April – Galway, 7pm, Black Gate Cultural Centre
Thursday 4th April – Maynooth University, 4pm, Venue TBC (Afternoon)
Thursday 4th April – Celbridge, 8pm, Celbridge Manor Hotel
Background information: Wikipedia and IPSC FB page
Leading up to the start date of the trials in Madrid of 12 Catalan independence activists, nine of whom have been in jail for 15 months awaiting trial, 40 cities around Europe were to hold solidarity protests. Today, 9th February, was the turn of some, including Berlin, Germany and Dublin, Ireland.
The defendants are charged with ‘rebellion’, ‘sedition’ and ‘misuse of public funds’ arising out of organising peaceful demonstrations and a referendum and later supporting a declaration of independence — and the Spanish State has refused to make provision for international observers.
Though the call for international actions came from the leadership of the grass-roots organisation ANC (Catalan National Assembly) in Catalonia, the action in Dublin was organised in cooperation by CDR (Comitè de defensa de la República) Dublin and With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin. This followed very soon after organising to welcome Puigdemont to Dublin to take part in a debate at Trinity College and also to meet politicians at the Dáil (Irish Parliament).
The solidarity protesters met in Merchant’s Arch, a well-known spot for people living in Dublin and well-trodden by tourists, leading from Temple Bar to the Ha’penny Bridge on the other side of the road. This iconic pedestrian bridge crosses the Liffey river from south to north in the heart of Dublin city.
Some displays were set up inside the Arch by CDR, which also draped a huge banner over the railing of the boardwalk on the north side of the river, which read “Freedom for All Catalan Political Prisoners and Exiles!”. Over the same railing WCLC hung large bunting with the word “SÍ” on each flag, a reminder of the verdict for an independent republic in the referendum on 1st October 2017.
Catalan Estelades (pro-independence flags) were attached near the entrance to the Arch as was a small banner calling for freedom for political prisoners. Placards of the Catalan pro-independence activists on trial were also on display.
Supporters handed out informational leaflets and engaged members of the public in discussion before untying the banner and streamers from the riverside, packing up the displays and placards in Merchant’s Arch and heading off for warm food (and possibly drink).
The 12 go on trial in Madrid on 12th February, a day when further solidarity protest actions will take place in various European cities and a General Strike in Catalunya.
CDR Dublin and WCLC will continue to organise in Ireland, according to their spokespersons and welcome involvement from others of whatever ethnic background. “Contrary to what the Spanish State and its supporters claim, we are not anti-Spanish” their spokespersons said. “We are for the right of self-determination and as democrats must be against the repressive behaviour of the Spanish State, so reminiscent of its previous dictator General Franco.”
A debate on the above theme was organised in Trinity College for the 29th January and advertised at less than a week’s notice, which however gave rise to such interest that the venue had to be changed from the 160-seat Robert Emmett Theatre to the Edmund Burke and people were turned away after the 406 seats had been filled.
Trinity College is a prestige university in Dublin and in the world generally, though its history in Dublin was for centuries of a religious sectarian and colonialist nature, founded as it was by Elizabeth I to ensure the education of the male children of English colonists in what she considered the ‘true faith’ of Anglicanism (which was and is still the State religion of England and of which the English monarch is Head). Its location too is very central to the city, being just across the Liffey on the south side and in 1916 served as a Headquarters for the British suppression of the Rising.
Puigdemont had been invited to take part in a debate on Independence, Nationalism and Democracy by TRISS, the Trinity Research in Social Sciences department, whose MC for the evening was clearly taken aback by the numbers who had pre-booked tickets and most of whom queued for half an hour outside the lecture theatre – and some for even longer waiting to get in.
Members and supporters of the campaign group With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin, Comite de Defensa de la República and the cultural organisation Casal Catalá de Irlanda were there of course but so were a great many others; mostly Catalans with some Irish and people from other countries sprinkled among them and including some from elsewhere in the Spanish state. The overall feeling was clear when, as soon as Puigdemont was spotted entering the auditorium from a side entrance, along with other participants, he was applauded in what turned out to be a mostly standing ovation.
The MC or chairperson, Gail McElroy, Professor in Political Science and Head of the School of Social Sciences and Philosophy, made a special plea for good behaviour from the audience and also revealed that she had experienced some trepidation in preparation for the event. These expressions led to speculation among sections of the audience that the organisers of the debate had been subjected to a bombardment of hostile electronic communication. People in the Spanish state and sometimes abroad are familiar with this behaviour from right-wing Spanish nationalists, including outright fascists and even state-orchestrated trolls but for someone encountering it for the first time, no doubt it can be intimidating.
PUIGDEMONT: IT IS NOT ACCEPTABLE IN EUROPE
Puigdemont began by saying that some of those present might want to know why Catalans do not want to be part of Spain. He could answer that question by recalling the history of Catalonia as a nation, its struggles, its language and its culture. That would be the discourse of 19th-20th Century nationalism, he said. However he preferred to outline it as modern process in the 21st Century, rooted in Europe and in democracy.
The President-in-exile surprised some of his listeners, no doubt, by pointing out that as recently as four years ago, the majority of the Catalan independentist parties had been asking only for greater autonomy from the Spanish State. The history of recent growth towards a majority demand for independence has been as a result of the refusal of the Spanish State to concede any greater autonomy and of the Spanish Court revoking laws passed by the Catalan Government.
“But the Spanish response to Catalan demands has always been “no”, to everything”, said Puigdemont. “No” to dialogue. “No” to negotiation. “No” to reaching a democratic solution. Given the refusal, and obeying the mandate given to us by the majority of Catalan citizens, the Government of Catalonia, which it was my honour to preside, called a referendum on self–determination on 1 October 2017, with the legal backing of the Parliament of Catalonia. We did so while observing the basic principles of universal rights.”
And the world had seen the violence of the Spanish police inflicted upon people wishing peacefully to vote.
“The aim was not just to confiscate ballot boxes and ballot slips”, Puigdemont maintained but instead “to make people give up their right to vote. But this ignominious act backfired on the politicians responsible for it. Over 2.4 million citizens overcame their fear and went out to vote. We do not know how many tried to do so unsuccessfully, but we do know the polling stations that were violently closed represented a further 770,000 voters.”
Puigdemont continued: “Today, democracy in Spain is at risk because basic rights have been “de facto” suspended, and this represents a major threat to all Catalan and Spanish citizens, as well as to the European Union. Today, an EU member state cannot guarantee the judicial rights of its citizens, given that in recent months Spain has contravened international treaties ratified by the Spanish state itself, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.”
Referring to the Spanish State taking direct control of the Catalan government administration and preparing criminal charges against grass-roots organisation leaders and elected representatives, taking some as prisoners while others went into exile, Puigdemont said that this was not an internal Spanish problem but instead a Europan one. Seven hundred others, mostly town mayors, are under investigation too. Those independence activists, who have done nothing wrong and even according to Spanish law are innocent until proven guilty, have been kept in prison for over a year.
Concluding, Puigdemont said: “We will not falter. I have often said that what threatens democracy is not disagreement; indeed, democracy needs disagreements. What really threatens it is a lack of tools to solve disagreements democratically. We Catalans hope and trust that the political conflict over our self–determination can be resolved peacefully, without war, without violence, without winners and losers, without victims and thugs. We reject all the violence used in the last century in any part of the planet to resolve political conflict.
“As Pau Casals, a well-known Catalan, reminded us in a memorable speech to the United Nations Assembly in 1971, Catalans in the eleventh century met ‘to talk about peace, because at that time, the Catalans were already against war’. Ten centuries later, we maintain these same values of peace and harmony.”
THE OTHER SPEAKERS IN THE DEBATE
Located as the debate was in the capital city of Ireland and in the centenary of the founding of the first democratically-elected Irish Parliament, an Chéad Dáil, it was most noticeable that neither Puigdemont nor the other speakers referred to the experience of Ireland’s struggle for independence.
Dr Marvin Suesse – Assistant Professor in Economics, Trinity College Dublin spoke on“The Economic Costs of Sovereignty”, from his research on the political economy of separatism and nationalism. He said that while the benefits of independence in terms of feelings of pride, promotion of culture etc. were difficult to measure, the economic benefits were not. Suesse went on to give examples which indicated that the costs of independence were greater than the benefits.
Dr Michelle D’Arcy – Assistant Professor in Political Science, Trinity College Dublin. spoke on “Secession and the Fiscal Contract: Reflections from the Post-Colonial World.”
D’Arcy teaches African politics and the political economy of development to undergraduate and postgraduate students and her research broadly focuses on understanding how politics and institutions enable and constrain human development and more specifically on democratization in Africa and state-building in Europe historically. Though she made some interesting points and believes that independence movements engage in a “fiscal contract”, it was difficult to see where she stood on the question under discussion.
Dr Emanuel Coman – Assistant Professor in Political Science, Trinity College Dublin spoke on “When does the Right to Self-Determination Actually Apply?”
Emanuel Coman is Assistant Professor in Political Science at Trinity College Dublin, teaching courses in comparative institutions and American Politics. His research is primarily in the fields of party politics and elections, with empirics driven primarily from Eastern Europe.
Coman, from Rumania as he told his audience, analysed the European nations that were successful in gaining independence after WWI. Most had been under the rule of the defeated belligerents. His thesis seemed to be that a nation’s bid for independence required the support of the big powers exerting influence in the area.
“ONE MUST ALSO WEIGH THE COST OF NOT DECLARING INDEPENDENCE!”
Commenting on the presentations of the other speakers and responding to questions after his presentation, Puigdemont was more lively than when reading his speech and at times showed some fire, particularly when he responded that as well as weighing the costs of independence, one must consider the costs of not becoming independent, which brought some applause from sections of the audience. Aside from anything else, he said, it is a question of dignity: the Catalans had the right to make their own decisions, whether they be correct ones or mistaken.
A much greater applause and cheers broke out when Puigdemont denied that the Spanish State could be described as “a democracy” and stated that this was not opinion but fact, given that the Monarch and Head of State (father of the current monarch) had been personally appointed as his successor by the fascist coupist General Franco, whose mausoleum is a national monument of the State.
Responding to a suggestion that the Catalan pro-independence movement might benefit from employing the tactics of the “Yellow Vests” of Paris, Puigdemont was most emphatic that his movement was peaceful and would never under any circumstances resort to violence.
One member of the audience criticised the panel (other than Puigdemont) for not addressing the actual issues in Catalan independence and the Spanish State’s opposition.
Asked by a member of the audience to describe his feelings of exile, Puigdemont replied that he could not indulge those feelings since he would be unable to continue the struggle if he did so. He revealed that his own grandfather, in a concentration camp in France after the fall of Barcelona to Franco’s military-fascist forces, had written to his family so that they were aware of the feelings of exile even though they never saw him again. His voice seemed to gain a heightened emotion when he remarked that when he compared his situation to that of refugees, like those from Syria, launching themselves on the hazardous journey to European shores, survivors arriving often to be badly treated, he felt he had little of which to complain.
The audience gave Puigdemont and, one supposes, the other speakers and TRISS for having organised the debate, sustained applause and cheers, during which one could hear some pro-independence slogans in Catalan. Afterwards, many remained in the auditorium to speak to Puigdemont or to chat amongst themselves in a general buzz of excitement.
Views expressed by a number of listeners afterwards on the content of the debate were in general positive though these varied through a continuum from “excellent” to “all right but somewhat disappointing”. All feedback received agreed that on two points Puigdemont had been excellent: on the question of calculating the cost of NOT seceding from the Spanish state and also on the characterisation of the Spanish State as not being a democracy, as one that had failed to break properly with its Franco-fascist past. Few gave positive feedback on the other debaters.
Crowds delayed leaving for around half an hour, gathering talking among themselves or queuing up to shake Puigdemont’s hand, talk to him etc. and Casals Catala presented him with some books on Irish history.
Puigdemont comes across as quite genuine in his convictions and as an able debater, even in a language which cannot be his first or second. His vision of Europe does not perhaps coincide with the views of some others and one may doubt the practicality of his commitment to non-violence. One may also question whether anyone has the right to commit the movementto peaceful resistance alone, even if it were to be attacked violently.
I did not hear him speak any words in Irish but the written text of Puigdemont’s speech did contain some. Although it was good to see some Irish there, for the few words he was going to speak in the language, Puigdemont (or his advisors) might have taken the trouble to formulate them correctly. Addressing “mná agus uasal” although addressing women first, suggests that the audience was an almost all-female one and who were not “uasal” (noble, important), but was surely unintended. And “dea-trathnóna leat (‘to you’, singular) go léir” (to all of you) is a conflation of singular and plural in the same address; likewise with the “go raibh maith agat” which thanks one person rather than the audience which was the intention and “go mór” which if not incorrect is clumsy and straight from Google Translate for “thanks a lot”.
Standing outside the auditorium with a placard announcing the Catalan solidarity demonstration on Saturday 9th April, at one point I noticed Puigdemont standing some metres away with some others. As he caught my eye, he stepped towards me, hand outstretched.
I gripped his hand and smiling, said: “Fáilte go Baile Átha Cliath!”
“Thank you,” he replied, smiling also and stepped back.
Whatever else he may be, I suspect he is what we in Dublin would call (with a meaning remote from any kind of subservience) “A gentleman.”
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES ON PUIGDEMONT:
Born in Amer, a village in the province of Girona and fifty-seven years of age last December, Carles Puigedemont is a journalist by trade and ex-Mayor of Girona, a major Catalonian city of over 100,000, just under 100 kilometres (62 miles) north-east of Barcelona. In 2006, after a track record of activism in Catalan culture and nationalist activism, he was adopted as a political candidate by the CIU (Convergence and Union) political party and later to represent the reformation of that party in the Junts per Si (Together for Yes) coalition, composed of mostly nationalist capitalist elements. He has been successful in every election and currently heads the uneasy Junts per Cat (Together for Catalonia) coalition. The current Govern is made up of a coalition between JuntsXCat and ERC (Republican Left of Catalonia), with the other pro-independence party, CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy) in opposition, though not voting with the Spanish-unionist opposition.
In what seems an action contradictory to his political position, in January 2019 Puigdemont filed a constitutional application for amparo (remedy, to put right) directed against the President of the Catalan Parliament, Roger Torrent and the Board of the Chamber, to the Spanish Constitutional Court. The application argues Puigdemont had been denied the use of his political rights as Torrent did not allow him to delegate his vote from Belgium after Puigdemont’s criminal indictment and suspension of his parliamentary position by Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena.
Despite constant Spanish-unionist claims from both Right and Left, the Catalan pro-independence movement has shown itself more tolerant of migrants and diversity than can be said in general of much of the rest of the Spanish State; one of the laws of the Govern sought to give migrants equal access to Catalan national health care but was twice squashed by the Spanish Supreme Court. Puigdemont is himself married to Romanian journalist (Marcela Topor in 2000) and they have two daughters, Magali and Maria, the family home in Girona. His children are multi-lingual and Puigdemont himself speaks Catalan and Castillian (Spanish), as do most Catalans but also English, French and Romanian.
Puigdemont. President-in-exile of Catalonia, visited Dublin to take part in a debate in Trinity College on Tuesday 29th January and visited the Dáil and a number of Irish politicians on the same day.
Carles Puigdemont was elected President of the pro-independence Catalan Government, declared an independent Catalan Republic but immediately suspended it; then had his Presidency abolished by the Spanish State, which took direct control of Catalonia for a period. He went into exile with a number of other Catalan Government ministers in order to avoid arrest; the Spanish State issued a European Arrest Warrant for him which was party unsuccessful and then withdrew it; however, he remains in exile in Brussels. Most pro-independence Catalans and even others consider him the legitimate President of Catalonia, though another had to be elected to fill his place; Quim Torra, who is currently the elected President, says that he considers himself only “the interim President”.
Carles Puigdemont was elected President of the Govern, the Catalan Government, in January 2016, in an agreement between pro-independence parties. On 27th October 2017, with a majority of October 1st Referendum votes salvaged and counted — after the Spanish police attacks on the voters – in favour of independence, he declared a Catalan Republic on behalf of the Govern. However, he almost immediately suspended it, to the dismay of many Catalans, including supporters of his own party. The Spanish State, the Constitution of which forbids any secession without the majority vote of the Parliament of the whole territory, was not mollified by the suspension and, as the Spanish State prepared criminal charges against him and Catalan Ministers, Puigdemont went into exile (as did another five Catalan ministers).
ARRESTS AND EXILE
The Spanish State arrested a number of others, including seven ministers and two leaders of grass-roots movements and charged them with sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds, carrying 30, 15 and six years in prison respectively and European Arrest Warrants were issued for Puigdemont and other ministers. On 25th March 2018, Puigdemont was detained on that warrant while passing through Germany on his way back to Brussels from a speaking engagement in Finland. A German judge decided the issue of the “rebellion” charge first, declaring that any such charge had to provide evidence of violence, of which there had been none by the detainee (there had been plenty of violence but all by the Spanish police) nor under his direction.
The German court decided in July that Puigdemont could be extradited to the Spanish State to be tried for misuse of public funds but the Spanish State, not wishing to have to try him and the other ministers only on those while the other ministers were being tried on the more serious charges, withdrew the arrest warrants. These charges can of course be renewed at any time and another warrant issued.
Since his return to Brussels after release by the German court, this Dublin visit has been Puigdemont’s first venture outside Belgium.
Accompanied by Jordi Puigneró, the current Minister of Digital Policies and administration of Catalonia, also visiting Ireland, Puigdemont paid a brief visit to an olive tree donated by Barcelona to Dublin in acknowledgement of the Irish who had fought for Catalonia in the War of the Spanish Succession. After a meeting with the Mayor of Dublin for the year, Niall Ring, Carles Puigdemont attended the Dáil (the Irish Parliament) for a private meeting with Bertie Ahearn, a Fianna Fáil party parliamentarian and ex-Taoiseach (Prime Minister).
MEETING IN THE DÁIL
Afterwards Puigdemont addressed a meeting room of around 100, organised by the Dáil organisation Oireachtas Friends of Catalonia, with its chairperson Pat Gavan, Sinn Féin Senator, presiding. Jordi Puigneró sat beside Puigdemont as did Lynn Boylan, Sinn Féin MEP.
Fifty-seven years of age last December, Carles Puigedemont is a journalist by trade and ex-Mayor of Girona, a major Catalonian city of over 100,000, just under 100 kilometres (62 miles) north-east of Barcelona. In 2006, after a track record of activism in Catalan culture and nationalist activism, he was adopted as a political candidate by the CIU (Convergence and Union) political party and later to represent the reformation of that party in the Junts per Si (Together for Yes) coalition, composed of mostly nationalist capitalist elements. He has been successful in every election and currently heads the uneasy coalition platform Junts per Cat (Together for Catalonia). The current Govern is made up of a coalition between JuntsXCat and ERC (Republican Left of Catalonia), with the other pro-independence party, CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy) in opposition, though not voting with the Spanish-unionist opposition.
In what seems an action contradictory to his political position, in January 2019 Puigdemont filed a constitutional application for amparo(remedy, to put right) directed against the President of the Catalan Parliament, Roger Torrent and the Board of the Chamber, to the Spanish Constitutional Court. The application argues Puigdemont had been denied the use of his political rights as Torrent did not allow him to delegate his vote from Belgium after Puigdemont’s criminal indictment and suspension of his parliamentary position by Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena.
Despite constant Spanish-unionist claims from both Right and Left, the Catalan pro-independence movement has shown itself more tolerant of migrants and diversity than can be said in general of much of the rest of the Spanish State and one of the laws of the Govern, twice squashed by the Spanish Supreme Court, sought to give migrants equal access to Catalan national health care. Puigdemont is himself married to Romanian journalist (Marcela Topor in 2000) and they have two daughters, Magali and Maria, the family home in Girona. His children are multi-lingual and Puigdemont himself speaks Catalan and Castillian (Spanish), as do most Catalans but also English, French and Romanian.
Addressing the full room, after thanking Gavin for presiding over the meeting and those assembled for their presence, Puigdemont presented his case that Catalonia had the right to secede, that holding a referendum was a democratic activity per excellance, that the arrest and trial of politicians for having promoted that referendum was undemocratic and that such activity was not within keeping of the EU ethos.
Replying to questions on what he would ask Irish politicians to do in order to help Catalonia’s struggle and on how he saw his nation’s struggle combining with other nations within the Spanish state, for example the Basque Country, Puigdemont said he did not wish to tell other countries what do and that the struggle of Catalonia stood on its own. He declined to relate the content of his discussions with Aherne, which he said were confidential. One member of the audience reminded Puigdemont that 100 years ago, the first democratically-elected Irish national parliament had met and that many of its delegates were also in jail or in exile.
To a question about alleged flight of business from Catalonia, Puigdemont said that one had to read alternate media to some of the dominant ones and make up one’s own mind, critically examining all sources – including himself! But he did say that although some addresses of head offices were transferred to the Spanish State in what he said was not legally right, not one factory, working office or member of staff had been transferred out of Catalonia. Also, the struggle with the Spanish State and some Spanish attempts at boycott had obliged Catalans to look outside the Spanish state for their markets and business links whereas previously, imports from and exports to the Spanish state had accounted for 90% and 80% respectively. Jordi Puigneró commented that he was in Ireland in part because of that, in particular to follow up on the Irish state’s success in attracting and developing information technology business.
Outside in the icy cold after the fairly short meeting, Puigdemont lined up for a few photos surrounded by Catalan and other well-wishers and departed to the singing by them of Catalan’s national anthem, Els Segadors (The Reapers). He had a debate at which to speak in a few hours and most of the Catalans in attendance would be there too.