Well, I can see that it would be for Britain, to leave the European Union, the European Economic Community, the Common Market …… It will impact in particular on trade and they’ll have to leave the euro currency ….. no, wait, they never joined that anyway, kept their own currency throughout. In fact, British ruling circles were never that keen to join a “community” that they were not in charge of and, even worse, that Germany was.
And I can see that the Brexit drama has has had quite an unsettling effect on the leadership of the Conservative Party (sorry, Conservative and Unionist parties), with one Prime Minister getting sacrificed so an apparently worse one can step into the vacancy.
I can also see that it has rocked the shaky Union, with the majority of Scotland and the Six Counties voting to stay in the EU and (unproven) concerns among many in Britain that the vote in favour of leaving was dominated by right-wing, jingoistic and even racist elements.
But why is it a problem for the population of Ireland, as we keep being told it is – or will be?
Well, apparently we might get a “hard Border” around the British colony of one-sixth of our nation. There might be customs and military controls, checkpoints, watch towers ….. And this will all undermine the Good Friday Agreement. Apparently.
Why would it? Apparently the illusion of normality around the armed occupation of our country will disappear, once we have to go through checkpoints and pay tax on shopping from one side of the Border or the other. Once that illusion is swept away, those “dissident” Republicans will take arms and launch another war of resistance, or campaign of terrorism, according to how you feel about it.
Really? Border checkpoints will do that? Amazing!
So, was that what started the last three decades or so of armed conflict in what some geography-challenged people call “Northern Ireland”? Well, no, not really. Firstly, it was that fifty years earlier, those six counties (hence the title of “The Six Counties”) had been hijacked when the rest of the nation was being given a measure of independence, then had been put under a police state run by sectarian religious bigots. Yes I know it’s not nice to say that but when you go into a hardware shop to buy a spade, you don’t ask for “a spoon”.
And then those people who were at the receiving end of that bigotry and police state treatment felt a wind of change blowing around the world and had the temerity to demand an end to sectarianism in the allocation of work, housing and voting rights, along with wanting ordinary civil rights that were available in the rest of the UK but not for the people in the Six Counties, despite the colony being, we were told, “as British as Finchley”.
Naturally the police and the sectarian bigots set upon those marchers with batons, rocks and toxic tear gas – and even live rounds – but still couldn’t get them to give up their outrageous demands. The poor cops were getting worn down so, naturally again, the colonial power sent in the troops, with guns and fixed bayonets. And so the war started.
It wasn’t the checkpoints that led to war, honestly. It was other things completely.
Of course, it is possible that something different from before might trigger another war. That’s the thing about occupation forces and indigenous populations – the relationship usually begins with violence, has a number of recurrent bouts of violence …. and is ended by violence.
So, the Good Friday Agreement – a great achievement, right. Er … why? Oh, it brought peace. Actually no, it didn’t. It brought a pause in the armed resistance struggle is what it did. And that’s only something like peace if it holds. I don’t think it will, nor do I think border controls are what will undermine it. And even if it stayed as it is, it would be pacification, not peace.
The Good Friday Agreement amounts to this, in crude essence:
Colonising power: We can kill you and you can kill ours – but you can’t send ours to prison for decades and make their families suffer. We can’t beat you but we can outlast you and outhurt you.
Republican organisation: We will resist.
CP: Yes, you have been. But you are not going to win. Why not do a deal?
RO: What deal is on offer?
CP: Peace process.
RO: What does it involve?
CP: 1. We get to keep the colony. 2. You stop fighting. 3. You destroy your weapons.
RO: What do we get out of it?
CP: 1. You get your prisoners out (but under licence of good behaviour). 2. You get to build a political career, if you want it. 3. And if you do, one day you could help us manage this colony.
RO: Hmmm. OK, we’ll take it.
In all the discussion about the Brexit question, particularly by mass media pundits and establishment politicians (and wannabe establishment politicians like SF’s), when do we hear it being said that the Six Counties is a colony occupied by force?
This isn’t another country with which we happen to have a border, such as between Germany and the French state, for example, or between the French and Spanish states. They aren’t people of another nation on the other side of that Border — they are Irish. It is a part of our country and for nearly eight centuries the British invaders and colonisers saw it as one country too — until they had to pull out and decided it was important to keep a foothold in it.
So, coming back to the question of the people in Ireland, why should we be too concerned, one way or another with regard to Brexit? Apart from people in the Border areas who need to travel regularly across it and are going to be greatly inconvenienced by it, I don’t think we should.
Maybe we can find some real problems for us to deal with instead. Apart from the colonial status of those Six Counties, along with its continuing dominant sectarianism and bigotry, which is not even mentioned in the dominant discourse, we have a continuing bank bailout debt, a massive social housing deficit, a crumbling health service, public services and natural resources being plundered and a corrupt police force …..
Recently the left-wing Spanish on-line newspaper, Publico, got a scoop on other media when it broke the story of the Spanish secret service and the terrorist1 cell in Catalonia, the one that carried out the killing spree in La Rambla in Barcelona in October 2017. Publico revealed that the head of the cell had been recruited as an informant while in jail on drug smuggling charges and that the secret service had helped him become an imam, a Muslim priest, in the province of Girona. Not only that but that they had the photos and mobile phone numbers of a number of the Ramblas terrorists and had been following them up to days before the attack.
So why had the whole lot not been apprehended? It’s a question many people are asking, along with the Catalonian and many foreign newspapers – but, strangely, only one of the main Madrid newspapers.
THE LEADER OF THE TERRORISTS WAS WORKING FOR THE SPANISH SECRET POLICE
Abdelbaki Es Satty came to the Spanish State in 2002 and was around 44 years of age when he died in an explosion in Catalonia. According to Wikipedia,
“Es Satty was implicated in the 2006 Operation Chacal, in which five Islamists were arrested for sending jihadis to fight in Iraq.From 2003 he had shared an apartment with Islamists connected to the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group(GICM) and the 2003 Casablanca bombings.
“In 2012, (he) completed a four-year prison sentence for drug trafficking in Castellón. While in prison, he is reported to have established a “special friendship” with Rachid Aglif, who was serving an 18-year sentence for his role in the 2004 Madrid train bombings.
“He was convicted of drug smuggling in 2014 and was to be deported from Spain, but …… A successfulasylum application in November 2014 facilitated him moving freely in the 26 EU countries of the Schengen area.”
The suggestion in the Publico articles is that Es Satty was recruited by the Spanish secret service (CNI) while in jail and that they ensured that he was not deported, also that they assisted him in getting employed as an imam (a Muslim priest) at the mosque in Ripol in 2015, a post he suddenly resigned in June of 2017. Ripol is a town in the province of Girona, Catalonia.
Publico now reports that the CNI file on Es Satty has been “wiped”!
On the evening of 16 October 2017, El Satys and another man were killed, presumably by a premature explosion while handling the material. There were over 120 gas canisters which appeared stored for a number of terrorist bombs. The explosion occurred in the town of Alcanar, the southernmost of Catalonia and almost on the border with the province of Valencia.
When other in the cell heard that El Satys had been killed and another with him while handling the explosives, it seems they decided on a ‘revenge’ spree to honour their ‘martyr’ and carried out the attacks on innocent civilians in Catalonia.
La Rambla is in Barcelona city centre, a medium-length wide street heading towards the port, with a tree-shaded pedestrian reservation down the middle, where stalls sell all kinds of ware and coffees, snacks etc. It is a favourite destination of tourists (and pickpockets).
On the late afternoon of 17 October, a member of the terrorist cell driving a van zigzagged down the Rambla, running down pedestrians and cyclists. During his escape from the scene, he hijacked a car and fatally stabbed the driver, bringing his total death-toll to 15 and injuring 131.
Later that evening, five men, apparently of the same cell, purchased knives and an axe and, at 1.00 am, drove into the Catalonian coastal town of Cambrils (not far from the popular tourist destination of Salou) and into a crowd of pedestrians, where they fatally stabbed a 63-year old woman and injured another six, before being shot by Catalan police. Four died at the scene and the fifth later of his injuries.
On 21st August, five days after the Alcanar explosion and four after the Barcelona massacre, the Rambla killer was fatally shot by the Mossos, the Catalan police, in Subirats, about 25 miles (40 Km) from Barcelona.
Initially, Catalan police believed the first violent event, the Alcanar explosion, had been caused by an accidental gas leakage but once they discovered the explosions and other events had occurred, connected them. Not only did the Spanish secret service, the CNI, fail to inform the Catalan police about the existence of this cell prior to the Alcanar explosion but it seems that at no time during the subsequent operations of the Catalan police did the CNI give them any information whatsoever.
THE DIRTY WORLD OF STATE SECRET SERVICES
Secret services penetrate cells and movements opposed to the status quo as a matter of course, whether they have an armed agenda or not. But when they do have such an agenda, typically they try to recruit some inside people for information, building up a wider and more detailed picture as time goes on. This takes time and meanwhile the informants’ ‘handlers’ will typically give their insider ‘asset’ money, protect him or her from prosecution, feed the informant’s fear or ego – or both.
As not-so-distant history shows with the British and US secret services (and probably all others around the world), these informants are permitted to break the law, even to kill, in order to keep up their cover. Yes and even to kill another, less-valued or more exposed informant, as the British had at least one informant do inside the Provisional IRA.
But it goes even further and informants or deep-cover agents also often act as agents provocateurs. They actually incite people around them to carry out armed actions. This can vary from encouraging them to attack where, unknown to the victims, the state forces are ready and waiting to kill them, as is believed happened at Loughgall, in occupied Co. Armagh in 1987. The informant can also be used to incite a group of political activists to carry out armed actions to facilitate the breaking up of the organisation2. Or to set off bombs that will, intentionally or not, kill uninvolved civilians, thereby losing insurgents popular support. Or that might set off inter-communal violence in an occupied country.
And religion-based organisations have long been recognised by secret services as useful opposition to leftist national liberation movements. Or against the USSR, for example, when the latter were invited into Afghanistan by the ruling circles. They may also be used to incite inter-communal violence in a country occupied by a foreign power or to help overthrow a ruling group which a foreign power wishes to replace with another more amenable to the power concerned — or in a country it wishes to invade.
The role of the Phalangist militias, Christian, in Lebanon is well-known, in their war against the growing power of the Muslim community. The CIA and Israel3 armed the Phalangists and encouraged them in their attacks Lebanese Muslims and on Palestinian refugee camps, not only against fighters but also massacres of the elderly, women and children. The CIA funded, supplied and even often trained Islamic fundamentalist jihadists4 and warlord bands in Afghanistan, Al Qhaeda among them, as they did also in Iraq. They did it in Syria too but ended up having to fight one such jihadist group, ISIS, which threatened to take the whole cake and the commanders of which were unpredictable in terms of future policy. But many of the war bands in the NATO-led Alliance fighting Assad and ISIS were themselves Jihadists too.
SUSPICIONS AND SILENCE
There are many people within the Spanish state territory that distrust the State and Catalans, due in particular to their recent experiences, would figure prominently among them. When Publico broke the story about the CNI and their close connection to the terrorist cell, it was inevitable that speculation would take off and that it would not stop at the secret service’s ineptitude.
Some thought that the original intention had been to discredit the Mossos, who were later accused by some Spanish politicians of not cooperating fully with the Spanish police operations against Catalan independence campaigners. Presumably the explosions planned by the terrorist cell would leave the Catalan police looking useless.
Another theory went that explosions would be blamed in some way on the Catalan independence movement, which has until the present been remarkably peaceful in the face of Spanish police violence. In fact Aznar, the Spanish Prime Minister at the time of the Madrid train bombing by another cell, immediately blamed the bombing on the Basque armed group ETA. When it was proven to be an Islamist fundamentalist cell, his false claim contributed to his party losing the elections soon afterwards.
No doubt there were other theories speculated also and the response from Madrid did not help to quell them.
Many commentators have wondered at the Spanish state’s silence on the matter but even more so at the silence of all but one of the Madrid main newspaper. Surely this is a really big story? If the Government says that “it’s not a big issue (for them) to investigate”, would one not expect the Spanish media to be hounding them? That media silence is, really, the most puzzling aspect. One can readily see that the Government might not want to expose the ineptitude and dirty work of their State’s secret service … but the media?
The only answer that makes any sense is its Catalonia connection, that all locations in which the events occurred are in Catalonia. And that the independence movement for Catalonia is locked in a struggle with the Spanish unionist State. Therefore reporting on Spanish secret service ineptitude in Catalonia could well go to justify separatist wishes in Catalonia.
Or have the editors been made aware that this terrorist cell had an important role to play in that independentist conflict and asked to keep quiet? What if a campaign of terrorist massacres in Catalonia gave a plausible excuse for the Spanish State to impose emergency legislation on Catalonia, an excuse that would be thought convincing not only within the Spanish state but abroad also?5 Of course, if that was the gameplan, it did not work out for the Spanish State since the cell messed up and it was finished off by the Catalan police, the Mossos d’Escuadra.6
So, to answer the question in the title of this piece: in my opinion it is incompetence – and something else. But probably not the various “something elses” that are being most widely speculated.
However, the Spanish media silence tells us something about the Spanish state too. In what other European state would its media remain silent about its secret service penetrating a terrorist cell but then failing to prevent attacks on its citizens by members of that cell?
1The word “terrorist” is frequently applied in the mass media to a wide range of organisations employing armed, from small cells to popular movements, of a wide variety of ideological motivation ranging from fascist to communist or just national liberationist. There can even be paid terrorists, such as the Contras run by the CIA against the Sandinista-run Nicaragua. Even some animal liberation organisations have come under this term and, indeed individuals without an organisation backing them (such as the Australian who carried out the massacre in New Zealand last year). In addition, some states have been labelled “terrorist” by others. Therefore the term cannot have a precise definition and I use it here only to describe small or larger organisations that target uninvolved civilians in order to cause terror among a population and instability among the rulers.
2British secret services did this in a case in England where they got a member of the local Sinn Féin branch (the party had branches in Britain at the time) to incite them to raise funds for the cause by carrying out a bank robbery, during which the robbers were arrested. Then he incited breaking them out of jail and that group got arrested too. After that he feared he was exposed and confessed to, strangely enough Jazz musician George Melly and then to the National Council for Civil Liberties (now Liberty). Very shortly after that he was killed, whether by the IRA or by his handlers is unclear. Though a famous case at the time several Google searches have failed to turn it up for me.
3The French may well have done so too as many of the Lebanon Christians had their origins in former French colonisation.
4From Jihad, a term meaning “struggle”, usually used in religious contexts. It can mean a moral struggle in society, within oneself or against “the enemies of Islam”, when it is sometimes characterised as a religious war, which may be defensive, or offensive (as with the Christian Crusades). In the political sense, especially when used in the West, it can be either defensive (e.g repelling or overthrowing a non-Islamic invader) or aggressive (e.g invading territories under non-Islamic rulers or under a different Islamic sect, or overthrowing such) but is always military and that is the sense in which I am employing it here.
5After the Twin Towers and other bombings by Al Qhaeda, US legislators were able to introduce the Patriot Act 2001 which gave the US State wide powers violating many civil rights.
6Whose Chief is currently on trial in Madrid, accused of undermining Spanish police operations against Catalan independentism through lack of cooperation.
Forty-five years after the highest violent loss of life of any day in the Thirty-Years War in Ireland, survivors and relatives of victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombing seem no nearer achieving justice. The identities of some of the Loyalist terrorists were known quite quickly after the bombing by Irish Army Intelligence and Garda Special Branch; British Intelligence penetration of some Irish State agencies had already been claimed by Irish Army intelligence and not long afterwards, Commissioner Ned Garvey was exposed as a British agent by a disgruntled British intelligence operative. Yet no arrests by the Royal Ulster Constabulary, no arrest warrants issued by the Irish Government and – incredibly – remains of bomb material were sent by Garvey’s superior to the British colony authorities for analysis. And consecutive British Governments refuse to hand over the relevant files or to disclose their contents.
45th ANNIVERSARY COMMEMORATION IN DUBLIN
A crowd had gathered at the Dublin and Monaghan Bombings Monument in Talbot Street for some time before the event was due to start on the 17th May. Aidan Shields, whose mother Maureen was killed in in Talbot Street, acted as the master of ceremonies and, after saying a few words about the bombings and the campaign, outlined the course the proceedings would follow, apologising also to those who had to stand in the rain.
Irish Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan spoke about the bombings and about the efforts he had made, on behalf of the Government, to have the British Government lift their embargo on the relevant files. He also used the opportunity to criticise by implication the armed Republican resistance in the British colony and to promote the Good Friday Agreement, seeking collaboration between different political parties in running the Six Counties, i.e the British colony. Although he said he shared the relatives’ frustration at the British Government still not disclosing the information about the bombing in their files, not once did he condemn them, nor criticise successive British governments, British Intelligence nor the administration of the colony and its police force.
The Mayor of Dublin Niall Ring and Cathaoirleach of Monaghan Council, David Maxwell, also spoke at the event.
It was left to Noel Hegarty, a survivor of the bombing, in a poem (see References) and Pat Savage in his Song for Derek (which I’ve been unable to find on line) to place the blame for the attack and the lack of progress where it belonged.
Julieann Campbell, author and Derry Bloody Sunday relative – her uncle John Duddy was the first fatal victim of the Paratroopers on that day in 1972 — gave the oration for the ceremony. She talked about the loss through sudden death, the effect on relatives and how it is exacerbated when official lies are told about the deaths with secrecy used to make it harder for the relatives and survivors to get at the truth. She referred to one British file on Bloody Sunday that is embargoed for decades yet and turned to Minister Flanagan, asking him publicly to press the British for the release of that file also, a request which was applauded by the crowd.
Rachel Hegarty read one of her sonnets from her collection, May Day 1974, which she composed based on witness testimonies about the deceased and Ciarán Warfield performed a song about the bombing and the lack of justice obtained. Fr. Tom Clowe led those who wished to respond in a Christian prayer (the Rev. Trevor Sargent had injured himself the day before and was unable to attend). Cormac Breatnach played low whistle while floral wreaths were laid and again at the conclusion of the event.
THE BOMBING 45 YEARS AGO – THREE BOMBS IN DUBLIN AND ONE IN MONAGHAN
What might be considered the official Dublin City centre is the area surrounding O’Connel Street, just north of the river Liffey. The street runs north-south and is bisected at its middle by a thoroughfare running east-west. The eastern part is mostly Talbot Street, with a short continuation named North Earl Street. Crossing over O’Connell Street one now passes by the Spire, where once stood Nelson’s Column (until blown up by dissident Republicans in 1966) and continuing westward, one enters Henry Street. This street contains big stores such as Debenhams and Arnotts and is a higher-class shopping street than are the streets chosen to place two bombs, Talbot Street; could it have been decided that predominantly working and lower-middle class victims were less likely to create pressure on the Irish Government to find those responsible? The other bomb’s target street, Parnell, is also not one of high-end shopping.
There had been previous Loyalist bombings in Dublin, for example of the Wolfe Tone Monument in Stephens Green and the O’Connell Monument in Glasnevin Cemetery. None of those had caused deaths but a bombing in 1972 had killed a public transport worker and another, in 1973, had killed two and injured 185. No arrests were made in connection with either and in fact the Fianna Fáil government blamed Irish Republicans for the ’72 bombing, using the emotions engendered to push through more repressive legislation. That was an Amendment to the Offences Against the State Act, one which allowed the State to jail people on a charge of belonging to an illegal organisation, without any evidence other than the word of a Garda of Superintendent rank or higher and is regularly used to convict people today.
On the 17th May 1974four bombs exploded in Dublin and Monaghan – killing 33 people including a woman who was nine months pregnant.
Three car bombs exploded without warning in the capital shortly before 5.30pm on Friday 17 May 1974.
Two of the bombs went off on Talbot and Parnell Streets before a third blast exploded on South Leinster Street near Trinity College, 27 people died.
Shortly afterwards another bomb exploded outside a pub in Monaghan, killing seven people. Hundreds more were injured.
After the bombings, the most concrete result in Irish Government policy was that Irish Republicans being sought by the British began to be tried in the Irish State. The Criminal Law (Jurisdiction) Act 1976 allowed trial in the Republic for alleged crimes committed in the Six Counties, and vice versa, which facilitated Irish State cooperation with the British State against Republicans, overcoming the many failures in extradition cases up to that date.
This parallels somewhat the 1980s GAL terrorist campaign waged by the Spanish Government against Basque independentists in the northern Basque Country, part of the French State’s territory. After Spanish State-sponsored terrorist shootings and bombings of independentist Basques for some time on what it considers French soil, the French Government began to extradite refugees to the Spanish State. However it was 1984 before the Irish State actually extradited a Republican to the Six Counties, with the extradition of Dominic McGlinchey (who subsequently had his conviction overturned there). It is curious that this possible rationale for the Dublin/ Monaghan bombings does not seem to have been considered – after all, the 1972 bombings by British agents had resulted in a change in Irish law to the disadvantage of Republicans within the Irish State.
The Justice for the Forgotten campaign organises an annual commemoration on the date of the bombings but internationally and perhaps even in Ireland, this massacre is the least-known of all that took place during the recent 30 Years War. Arguably this is because a) the bombs were not placed by the IRA and the massacre was not therefore of much use in propaganda against them; b) the victims were mostly Irish and/or c) the perpetrators were Loyalists and British Intelligence operatives working together.
SECRETS AND AVOIDANCE
It is interesting how coyly the media treat the whole question of British collusion with Loyalist death squads, including the Glenanne Gang’s involvement in the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, along with Irish State‘s lack of energy in pursuing the matter, including possible collusion and certain secrecy. There are sometimes ‘suspicions’, ‘concerns’, ‘inferences’, ‘allegations’ ….
And yet most of these matters are beyond speculation, established as facts through a number of different sources. Contrast that with how happy the media are to label the tragic but accidental shooting dead of Lyra McKee as a “murder”, even though legally and in fact, murder can only be when someone intends to kill the victim – which not even the press in its greatest hysteria has tried to suggest was the case.
The Justice for the Forgotten campaign has taken a civil case against the British State which appears to be playing its usual delaying game in situations like this. On 17th April they were due to respond to questions of the campaign’s lawyers but did not do so until eight days later, which resulted in the campaign’s lawyers not being able to proceed at the Belfast High Court on May 1st ….. The relatives will now have to wait until September.
The lack of energy and firmness in pursuing the issues and the disclosure of British files is not the only evidence of the Irish State’s lack of interest. It is also the case that much of the funding for the Justice for the Forgotten campaign was removed by the Irish Government some years ago; the campaign was obliged to leave its Gardiner Street office and remove much of their equipment and files to a portakabin in a supporter’s back garden.
The British are not the only ones sitting on secret files. Mrs. O’Neill had called on Leo Varadkar to release the files deposited by the McEntee Commission, which was charged with investigating the Garda inquiry of the time, an inquiry which has been heavily criticised over the years. “I personally ask the Taoiseach to consider this reasonable and fair request,” she had said. Martha O’Neill’s husband, Eddie, was killed in the bombing and her sons Billy, then aged seven and Eddie jnr. aged five, were badly injured but survived.
Last year, Fred Holroyd, a British Army Intelligence officer who was the liaison with the RUC for a number of years during part of the three decades of war in the Six Counties, offered to give evidence on British involvement in the bombings – but in a secret court. Holroyd is suing the British Ministry of Defence over sacking him and has spoken out about collusion between the British administration and Loyalist paramilitaries including those widely believed to be the Loyalist bombers responsible for the carnage on the 17th May 1974.
Another measure of the Irish Government’s lack of enthusiasm for going after the perpetrators of the bombings and their handlers can be seen in the fact that the first documentary to be made about the atrocity in the Irish capital cityand Monaghan town, was made not bythe State broadcaster, RTÉ but by the English company First Tuesday, Yorkshire TV. “Hidden Hand – The Forgotten Massacre” was broadcast on 6 July 1993. Not everyone who had TV in the state then had ITV – I believe it required a special aerial at the time – and if memory serves me correctly, Yorkshire TV offered simultaneous screening to RTÉ, which it declined. The program made a case that the British Army, the RUC and Loyalist paramilitaries could have been involved in a number of killings, including the Dublin-Monaghan bombings.
The failure of the Irish Government at the time to pursue the case energetically and in a correct manner was responsible for much more than leaving the injured and the the relatives of 33 murdered people without justice. It also left the Glenanne Gang, a Loyalist paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force death squad that included serving members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary police force and the British Army’s Ulster Defence Force, free to carry out around another 120 sectarian murders in the Six Counties.
Year after year, the Dublin/ Monaghan commemoration is held and year after year, relatives call for truth and justice; the Irish politicians express regrets and say that they will ask the British Government for the files again, to be refused again. And there it is left, until the following anniversary.
I am rubbish at predicting broad election results. But the mass media is predicting, on early returns, a huge electoral swing in Ireland towards the Green Party — at least in the municipal elections.
As I type these words the other candidates who failed to get elected as municipal councillors in the Irish state — or barely scraped through — will be licking their wounds. The Greens will be celebrating, of course, spouting their analysis of what this means, of a huge change in the Irish people, of climate change awareness ….
And the media will be parroting them.
MORE OF THE SAME
I don’t believe the voting results are because of any great change in the consciousness of the Irish electorate — in fact I think it’s basically more of the same.
Why then the electoral surge towards the Greens? I don’t think that climate change issues — or more accurately the public perception of them — are enough to explain it, though it will no doubt have influenced some voters. I think the fundamental reason is that the Greens are not Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour or Sinn Féin. True, they are tainted from partnership with FF in the past but that was only a couple of them and a lot of water has gone under the bridges of Irish rivers since then.
I wouldn’t trust the Greens in power as far as I could throw an iceberg but I think what I’ve said above is the reality.
The 26-County electorate has traditionally voted either FF or FG into power. The latter normally needed another partner to form a majority, which Labour opportunistically gave them and later the party always paid the price, while a few of its leaders got fat pensions out of it.
Apparently every Irish government since the intervention of Hunger Strike candidates in 1981 has been a coalition, which testifies to an electorate generally unconvinced by either main party. But since the bank bailout, the electorate seems to have been even more disenchanted, voting for outsiders in the race and hedging their bets between parties, like spreading the risk in investments.
In the 2011 General Election, the voters kicked out FF to the lowest vote in the party’s history along with wiping out its Green party partners and, apart from voting in a lot of independents (mostly left-wing ones), they gave most votes to the party most likely to dislodge FF, which of course was FG. And they spread the risk by giving Labour a lot of votes. Despite the hopes of the electorate this coalition basically gave us more of the same — privatisation of lucrative state services, mismanagement of others, expanding housing crisis and austerity measures.
So they put in a lot of SF in another year and what do they get? A party that votes in Dublin to hand over Council land to speculators because SOME ‘social housing’ will be built on it. Resignations of elected representatives through alleged internal party shenanigans. A party that has long ago lost interest in organising a base for anything except voting — a mirror, in fact, of FF in the past. And which, while playing sectarian politics in the Six Counties has supported — and implemented — austerity measures of the British State.
Media commentators will search for many reasons for this change — youth vote, middle-class vote, climate change consciousness and general environmental awareness. I think there is a more fundamental reason which the commentators would probably rather not acknowledge, since it questions, not the viability of this or that party, but the whole system.
I don’t believe the people have any great faith in the Green Party and this elections seems more of the same behaviour of the electorate. Change the faces every so often — and spread the risk.
Nor do I blame the electorate — for what visible and realistic alternative has presented itself?
A woman dies; she was young, a tragedy. Where did this happen and when? In Derry on Thursday evening. How did she die? Apparently (and I say that advisedly, for I do not know the examining doctor‘s verdict nor has an inquest yet been held) by a gunshot to the head. And according to a number of witness statements, she did not have a gun herself and therefore the bullet came from someone else.
All this and more has been reported in unanimity. What was the context? Ah, there we have to do some digging.
There was a riot going on at the time – there were petrol bombs and stones thrown at the police. Oh, why? Well, some of the early reports didn’t even try to answer that. But later, we were told: the police were searching houses for IRA arms. The police had “a tip-off”, some papers reported.
OK, now we’re getting somewhere. Reading between the lines, if we know enough about the general situation, we can reconstruct a probable narrative: British armed colonial police were searching the homes of Irish Republicans in ‘nationalist’ areas, just before their Easter commemoration, a commemoration during which they attacked another Republican group in Newry last year and one which was for decades banned under the Special Powers Act in the Six Counties – a ban enforced violently by the forerunners of the very police force carrying out those house searches on Thursday.
And it turns out, as admitted by senior PSNI command and reported in only some media outlets, including the Irish Examiner, that the purpose of the police raid was harassment: “PSNI officers were carrying out a search operation in the Creggan area of Derry aimed at disrupting dissident republicans ahead of this weekend’s commemoration of Irish independence.”
And we might know, though not from the general media, that the colonial police have been carrying out these raids on numerous occasions of late, as well as stopping cars of Republican activists and searching them, stopping people out walking and searching them too, as well as questioning them about where they are going and where they have been. Most people of course won’t know that – how could they?
So now that we have context, we might see the rioting as a justified response, even natural perhaps, of a colonised people to provocation and harassment by a militarised police force of a colonial occupation. And a colonial administration with a long history of atrocities by the occupying power. Or we might not – but context gives us the opportunity to interpret, while its absence leaves us bewildered or manipulated.
If we take the view that the people are justified in resistance, does that excuse the killing of the woman in question? No, not at all. But it does take us some way to understanding the situation and perhaps we wouldn’t want to see Irish Republicans as monsters then.
Lyra McKee’s death is a tragedy, as is the premature death of any innocent person and particularly a young person. The Six Counties too, that repressive backward statelet, can ill afford the loss of an LGBT campaigner.
Firing a gun in that situation was highly irresponsible and unnecessary. The shooter (or shooters) could not be sure of hitting a police officer and did, in fact, hit a totally innocent bystander. And if the police had fired back, the shooter(s) would have put everyone around them in mortal danger too.
CONDOLENCES AND CONDEMNATIONS
Saoradh, an Irish Republican organisation active in the area who were involved in preparing for the Easter Rising commemoration in Derry felt they had to cancel the event after the death. They issued a statement providing context for the riot and also extended condolences to the bereaved family and friends. Most media didn’t quote the relevant parts of the statement and some never even mentioned it.
On Saturday, their representative at their Easter Commemoration outside the GPO building in Dublin repeated the statement and amplified it, saying also that the IRA was not always right and, when they erred, they should apologise for it. The media didn’t report that either.
The media rushed, not to report the shooting and its context, but to condemn Irish Republicans who don’t agree with the Good Friday Agreement, i.e the ‘dissidents’. The BBC, in its first report on line, along with some others, called it a “murder”. Were they justified in saying that?
In law, not all homicides can be called murders. According to Wikipedia, Murder “…. is considered the most serious form of homicide, in which one person kills another with the intention to cause either death or serious injury unlawfully.” So there has to be intention to cause either death or serious injury to the victim. Are the BBC and other commentators really suggesting that the person or persons intended to kill a journalist? Apart from seriously inaccurate reporting, one might see those kind of claims as prejudicial to a fair trial for anyone arrested for the homicide.
THE CONDEMNATION BANDWAGON
And then, of course, jumping on to the condemnation bandwagon, we have the usual collection of hypocrites and opportunists. What would we expect from Unionist politicians? They have been running that colony with regular pogroms and armed repression for nearly a century – Irish Republicans are their enemies to the marrow. Arlene Foster couldn’t resist using the opportunity to praise their colonial police and to take a swipe at SF: “Those who brought guns onto our streets in the 70s, 80s & 90s were wrong. It is equally wrong in 2019.” Actually, at first it was usually the RUC with the guns on the street, wasn’t it? And then the British Army. But then after the Ballymurphy Massacre, Bloody Sunday …. well, you shoot at people long enough, they shoot back.
British Ministers and politicians had their condemnation to get in as well – well, the colony is theirs, isn’t it? The Republicans are their enemies too (and Theresa May must’ve been glad to be talking about something other than Brexit, for a change).
But then we had the Irish politicians also, including our own Taoiseach (Prime Minister), who presides over a State that is made secure for native and foreign capitalists by, among other things, persecution of Irish Republicans and sending them to jail through non-jury Special Courts. Mr. Varadkar is so supportive of the people of Derry, so sensitive to their needs, that whilst he condemns the Republicans, he praises the people of Derry for being “as strong as your walls.” Is he expressing Loyalist views or is he so ignorant of the people of Derry and their history?
Is Varadkar unaware that the Derry Walls belonged to the foreign occupation force? That the song that celebrates them is a triumphalist anti-Catholic sectarian and colonist song? That during the recent war in the Six Counties those walls were frequently a point of surveillance for the occupying military and that during the Bloody Sunday massacre, some British soldiers were up there with special rifles?
Oh yes and let’s not forget Nancy Pelosi, she too found a place on the bandwagon (well, to be fair, the others made room for her). This is long-standing career US Congresswoman who, although an outspoken opponent of the Iraq War and supporter of civil rights, blocked her party colleagues from going for impeachment of war criminal President Bush because “you never know what might come out”. She also voted for the Patriot Act, a huge attack on civil liberties in the USA and labeled Edward Snowdon “a criminal” for his whistle-blowing. And yes, after a briefing relating to a CIA agent destroying hundreds of hours of videotaping of torture in their US base in Guantanamo, she issued a statement saying that she eventually did protest the techniques (e.g “waterboarding”, euphemism for simulated drowning of prisoners under interrogation – DB) and that she concurred with objections raised by a Democratic colleague in a letter to the C.I.A. in early 2003. Yes you did, Nancy – but you waitedfour years to do so.
And what are we to say of Sinn Féin, they of association with the late Provisional IRA, putting their name to a joint statement of colony politicians? One would think that considering their past, they would hesitate to join the mob or to climb upon this particular bandwagon. One might think they would remember the innocent people the PIRA killed on occasion by accident, such as for example the Birmingham pub bombings where 21 people were killed and 182 injured or even, on some occasions, with intention.
Perhaps Michelle O’Neill did remember, perhaps she did hesitate, perhaps she wished to issue SF’s own statement. But climb aboard they did – and isn’t it all about climbing with them now?
The political parties that support the occupation said in joint statement: “Lyra’s murder (see that “murder” word again – DB) was also an attack on all the people of this community, an attack on the peace and democratic processes.”
“It was a pointless and futile act to destroy the progress made over the last 20 years, which has the overwhelming support of people everywhere.” (Oh, that was its purpose, was it? And this progress has been what, exactly? And towards what?– DB).
O’Neill was herself quoted as saying that the “murder” (that word again !) was “an attack on our peace process and an attack on the Good Friday Agreement.”
And “We will remain resolute in our opposition to the pointless actions of these people who care nothing for the people of Derry.”
I can’t say whether those people putting up a resistance to the colonial police care for the people of Derry or not but presumably they care for the people of their own neighbourhoods who are being harassed by the PSNI. And I remember in another city, Belfast, how the Loyalists had been threatening the Ardoyne area for many months and that in 2015, the PSNI blocked the Anti-Internment League from marching down to the city centre. Although the march eventually dispersed without incident, the heavy police presence in the area provoked some residents to remonstrate with them and, when the police began to arrest a woman, the area erupted in a riot. Who did SF blame? The local youth and the anti-internment marchers! And when a meeting was convened soon afterwards in a local venue for the march organisers and SF to explain their views, it was the latter that failed to attend.
* * *
Well, it must have been getting tight up there on the bandwagon but there’s always room hanging off the sides and if that doesn’t work …. why, one can run behind. And if not, not to worry, there’ll be another one along soon.
Outside of Catalonia or the Paisos Catalans (“Catalan Countries”, which includes the Balearic Islands and Valencia), who best to explain the realities and the controversies concerning the current independence bid of Catalonia? (Version in Castillian follows this one)
There are of course many unionist Spanish commentators but for the most part they rely on denunciation rather than explanation. When they do supply some explanation it either relies on a legalistic explanation of the Spanish State Constitution of 1978 or of a misreading of Catalan society (or both together).
Inside the Spanish State there are other groups which may well provide an adequate explanation, such as for example the Basques, the Galicians and small groups in other parts.
Outside the Spanish State, there are those struggling for the national liberation of other small nations in Europe who may well have studied the Spain-Catalonia question or have quickly informed themselves and, along with them, anti-fascists and revolutionary communists or socialists.
Catalan independence solidarity groups can of course collect accurate information and disseminate it but they are comparatively small and with little influence in the societies around them.
Undoubtedly, the largest and generally best-informed group of people are the Catalan diaspora – Catalans living in other states.
Of course, these Catalans may have a wide range of views among themselves on whether Catalonia would best be independent of the Spanish State, in a federal arrangement or totally independent. They may disagree on which political party is best – or on whether any should be supported. Socialism or not might be issues for discussion, as might whether to get independence first and resolve those other questions later. Even on the issue of whether armed resistance is justified or viable, there might be considerable variation in opinion.
But anyone from Catalonia can give the lie to the Spanish unionist propaganda that the Spanish language and those who use it are under attack in Catalonia, and also to the lie that the Catalan independence movement is of a racist-nationalist kind. Anyone from Catalonia who is being honest will say that the violence of the Spanish police on the day of the Referendum, 1st October 2017, was inexcusable and a crime against civil rights (indeed some Catalans who wanted to vote ‘No’ to independence would now vote ‘Yes’ as a result of that attack). Catalans for ‘Si’ or for ‘No’ can explain many things that are not available to most people outside Catalonia.
This reservoir of information about the struggle around Catalan independence is the largest outside Catalonia – but is it being used? These Catalans living abroad have partners, children, workmates, fellow-students, neighbours and friends they have met in the country in which they are living. In many states of Europe these Catalans are free from the fear of deportation and therefore free to speak out to those around them about what is happening in Catalonia and in the Spanish state.
It might be instructive to examine a historical example with some parallels.
In 1968 a struggle broke out in the British colony in Ireland, the Six Counties, as a struggle for civil rights for the Catholic community (mostly descendants of the pre-colonial inhabitants). The British colonial statelet responded with great violence from its armed force, backed up by the British Army and was responded to with armed guerrilla resistance.
It may surprise many to realise that initially, the civil rights struggle often received truthful and even sympathetic coverage in the British media. Once the British army went in, this began to change noticeably and with the first British Army casualties there was no longer any real pretence of unbiassed reporting.
British media reporting then wished not only to justify the actions of the British State to the world but also to its own population. But in the latter case, it faced a serious obstacle – the Irish community in Britain.
As well as being the longest-establish migrant community in Britain, it was by far the largest. Many of these people knew their history and also at least something about conditions in the Six Counties. It was less than 50 years since the creation of the Irish State after a guerrilla war of national liberation following 800 years with many armed uprisings and cruel English repression. And these Irish – including first-generation born in Britain and even second-generation – were capable of undermining the effect of the colonial discourse on partners, friends, work-mates, neighbours and trade-union members.
Old anti-Irish racism embedded in British culture could disturb the Irish diaspora’s counter-discourse but not, it seemed, sufficiently. The Irish not only undermined the State discourse by speaking what they knew to those around them, they also organised solidarity campaigns, held pickets and demonstrations – sometimes huge ones.
The IRA’s bombing campaign in Britain could have weakened the reception for the Irish voice but, though it certainly did it no good, it did not weaken it sufficiently. The British State decided to gag that voice with state terror and prepared legislation, waiting for the appropriate moment to introduce it, which they received with the 1974 massacre resulting from an IRA bomb in a Birmingham pub and problems in communicating a warning.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act was introduced under a Labour Government and passed in a few hours, allegedly as a only a temporary measure but was renewed every year under different party governments until 1989. The Act permitted banning of Irish Republican organisations; 5-day detention without charge (which could also be extended); search without warrant; detention for questioning at airports and ports under which many thousands were interrogated, often missing their flight or boat as a result; deportation; exclusion to the Six Counties (amounting to internal exile). And of course, not officially permitted but tolerated, frame-ups, threats, beatings and torture.
Nearly 20 innocent members of the community and their friends were arrested and framed on bombing-related charges in five different cases and all convicted of murder and terrorism, to spend long years trying to establish their innocence, most of their marriages destroyed, their mental health severely injured, one to die in jail. That, and the ongoing repression of arrests-and-release, raids etc, was enough to silence, for the most part, the Irish community.
Until the Hunger Strikers of 1981 brought them out in mass again.
Why am I telling you this history? To frighten you? To make you feel sorry for the Irish in Britain in those years? No, I am retelling this history to illustrate the potential power of the diaspora to tell the truth about what is happening in its country of origin. That power was so great against the British propaganda machine that the State felt obliged to weaken it, to terrorise the Irish community, to take hostages from it.
Today, the Catalan diaspora outside the Spanish state has a similar power but it is not “in the belly of the beast” as the Irish in Britain were nor in most cases is it subject to threat of imprisonment or other state terror.
To have that power implies a responsibility to use it, to explain things to those around them in whichever country they find themselves.
(VERSION IN CASTILLIAN FOLLOWS)
Fuera de Cataluña o de los Paisos Catalans (lo cual incluye a las Islas Baleares y Valencia), ¿quiénes sonlos mejores para explicar las realidades y las controversias sobre la actual candidatura de independencia de Cataluña?
Por supuesto, hay muchos comentaristas españoles unionistas, pero en su mayor parte se basan en la denuncia más que en la explicación. Cuando ofrecen alguna explicación, se basa en una explicación legalista de la Constitución del Estado español de 1978 o en una mala interpretación de la sociedad catalana (o ambas juntas).
Dentro del Estado español hay otros grupos que pueden proporcionar una explicación adecuada, como por ejemplo los vascos, los gallegos y grupos pequeños en otras partes.
Fuera del Estado español, hay quienes luchan por la liberación nacional de otras naciones pequeñas en Europa que bien pudieron haber estudiado la cuestión España-Cataluña o se han informado rápidamente y, junto con ellos, antifascistas y comunistas o socialistas revolucionarios.
Los grupos de solidaridad con la independencia catalana, por supuesto, pueden recopilar información precisa y difundirla, pero son comparativamente pequeños y con poca influencia en las sociedades que los rodean.
Sin lugar a dudas, el grupo de personas más grande y generalmente mejor informado es la diáspora catalana: los catalanes que viven en otros estados.
Por supuesto, est@s catalan@s pueden tener una amplia gama de puntos de vista sobre si Cataluña sería mejor independiente del Estado español, en un acuerdo federal o totalmente independiente. Pueden estar en desacuerdo sobre cuál es el mejor partido político, o si se debe apoyar a alguno. El socialismo o no puede ser un tema de discusión, ya sea si obtener la independencia primero y resolver esas otras preguntas más adelante. Incluso en la cuestión de si la resistencia armada es justificada o viable, puede haber una variación considerable en la opinión.
Pero cualquiera de Cataluña puede desmentir a la propaganda sindicalista española de que el idioma español y los que la usan están bajo ataque en Cataluña, y también a la mentira de que el movimiento independentista catalán es de tipo racista-nacionalista. Cualquier persona de Cataluña que sea honesta dirá que la violencia de la policía española el día del Referéndum, el 1 de octubre de 2017, fue inexcusable y un crimen contra los derechos civiles (de hecho, algunos catalanes que querían votar “No” a la independencia ahora votarían “Sí” como resultado de ese ataque). Los catalanes para ‘Si’ o para ‘No’ pueden explicar muchas cosas que no están disponibles para la mayoría de las personas fuera de Cataluña.
Esta reserva de información sobre la lucha en torno a la independencia catalana es la más grande fuera de Cataluña, pero ¿se está utilizando? Est@s catalan@s que viven en el extranjero tienen compañer@s, hij@s, compañer@s de trabajo, compañer@s de estudios, vecin@s y amig@s que han conocido en el país en el que viven. En muchos estados de Europa, est@s catalan@s están libres del temor a la deportación y, por lo tanto, pueden hablar libremente con quienes les rodean sobre lo que está sucediendo en Cataluña y en el Estado español.
Podría ser instructivo examinar un ejemplo histórico con algunos paralelos.
En 1968 estalló una lucha en la colonia británica en Irlanda, los Seis Condados, como una lucha por los derechos civiles de la comunidad católica (en su mayoría descendientes de los habitantes ante coloniales). El estadito colonial británico respondió con gran violencia de su fuerza armada, respaldado por el ejército británico y fue respondido con la resistencia guerrillera armada.
Puede sorprender a muchos darse cuenta de que inicialmente, la lucha por los derechos civiles a menudo recibió una cobertura sincera e incluso simpática en los medios británicos. Una vez que entró el ejército británico, esto comenzó a cambiar notablemente y con las primeras bajas del ejército británico ya no hubo ninguna pretensión real de informar sin sesgos.
Los medios de comunicación británicos entonces deseaban no solo justificar las acciones del Estado británico ante el mundo, sino también ante su propia población. Pero en este último caso, se enfrentó a un serio obstáculo: la comunidad irlandesa en Gran Bretaña.
Además de ser la comunidad de migrantes más antigua en Gran Bretaña, fue, con mucho, la más grande. Muchas de estas personas conocían su historia y también al menos algo sobre las condiciones en los Seis Condados. Pasaron menos de 50 años desde la creación del Estado irlandés después de una guerra guerrillera de liberación nacional, después de 800 años con muchos levantamientos armados y la cruel represión inglesa. Y estos irlandeses, incluyendo la primera generación nacida en Gran Bretaña e incluso la segunda generación, fueron capaces de socavar el efecto del discurso colonial en los socios, amigos, compañer@s de trabajo, vecin@s y miembros de sindicatos.
El viejo racismo antiirlandés incrustado en la cultura británica podría perturbar el discurso en contra de la diáspora irlandesa, pero no, al parecer, lo suficiente. L@s irlandes@s no solo socavaron el discurso del Estado al decir lo que sabían a quienes los rodeaban, sino que también organizaron campañas de solidaridad, celebraron piquetes y manifestaciones, a veces enormes.
La campaña de bombardeos del IRA en Gran Bretaña podría haber debilitado la recepción de la voz irlandesa pero, aunque ciertamente no le sirvió, no la debilitó lo suficiente. El Estado británico decidió amordazar esa voz con terror estatal y preparó una legislación, esperando el momento adecuado para introducirla, que recibió con la masacre de 1974 que resultó de una bomba del IRA en un pub de Birmingham y problemas para comunicar una advertencia.
La Ley de Prevención del Terrorismo se introdujo bajo un gobierno social demócrata y se aprobó en unas pocas horas, supuestamente como una medida temporal, pero se renovó cada año bajo gobiernos de diferentes partidos hasta 1989. La Ley permitió la prohibición de organizaciones republicanas irlandesas; 5 días de detención sin cargos (que también podría ampliarse); búsqueda sin orden judicial; detención por interrogatorio en aeropuertos y puertos en los que se interrogó a miles de personas, por lo que a menudo perdieron su vuelo o bote; deportación; exclusión a los Seis Condados (equivalente al exilio interno). Y, por supuesto, no está permitido oficialmente, pero se tolera, enmarañamientos, amenazas, golpizas y torturas.
Cerca de 20 miembros inocentes de la comunidad y sus amigas fueron arrestados y acusados de atentados con bombas en cinco casos diferentes y tod@s condenad@s por asesinato y terrorismo, por largos años tratando de establecer su inocencia, la mayoría de sus matrimonios destruidos, su salud mental gravemente herido, uno para morir en la cárcel. Eso, y la continua represión de detenciones y liberaciones, redadas, etc., fue suficiente para silenciar, en su mayor parte, a la comunidad irlandesa.
Hasta que los huelguistas del hambre del 1981 los sacaron a la calle de nuevo en masas.
¿Por qué les estoy contando esta historia? ¿Para asustar les? ¿Para hacer les sentir mal por los irlandeses en Gran Bretaña en esos años? No, estoy contando esta historia para ilustrar el poder potencial de la diáspora para contar la verdad sobre lo que está sucediendo en su país de origen. Ese poder era tan grande contra la maquinaria de propaganda británica que el Estado se sintió obligado a debilitarlo, a aterrorizar a la comunidad irlandesa, a tomar rehenes de él.
Hoy en día, la diáspora catalana fuera del Estado español tiene un poder similar, pero no está “en el vientre de la bestia” como estaban l@s irlandes@s en Gran Bretaña ni en la mayoría de los casos está sujeta a amenazas de encarcelamiento u otro terror estatal.
Tener ese poder implica la responsabilidad de usarlo, de explicar las cosas a quienes los rodean en cualquier país en el que se encuentren.
Recently someone objected to my use of the word “militant” to describe a movement with which I am in solidarity, saying that the word implied “violent”. My initial reaction was that I disagreed.
I understand “militant” to mean “determined, assertive, courageous, not awed by confrontation” and that one could even be a “militant pacifist”.
But I decided to look up some dictionary definitions online. The first two or three did indeed include violence as a possibility but not necessarily integral. Another two came closer to my way of thinking: “aggressively active (as in a cause) : COMBATIVE “(Miriam-Webster).
“You use militant to describe people who believe in something very strongly and are active in trying to bring about political or social change, often in extreme ways that other people find unacceptable. Militant mineworkers in the Ukraine have voted for a one-day stoppage next month. …one of the most active militant groups.“ Collins Dictionary.
The meaning of words shifts from language to language, culture to culture and across time. One of the most obvious and startling examples of this is the word “gay”, up to the 1970s probably understood in English by most people as meaning “happy, light-hearted” etc but now, the first interpretation in the English-speaking world would be “homosexual” (in a non-pejorative way).
“Tramp” was a verb in the 19th Century to the extent that a famous marching song of the Union Army in the American Civil War was known as “Tramp, tramp, tramp”1. By the 20th Century its use as a verb was in decline but it was becoming better known as a noun, the meaning of which was understood variously as “vagrant” or even “beggar”.
And one could fill volumes with similar examples, I am sure.
But returning to “militant”, was I the only one who understood its meaning in the way that I had? Well, apparently not, as Wikipedia showed, for example in descriptions of “militant trade unionists” and even a political organisation within the British Labour Party before its expulsion, calling its group “Militant Labour” and its newspaper “Militant”, probably drawing a parallel with those very same trade unionists2.
It would not take much pondering to guess that “militant” had some relation to “military” and apparently the word does indeed have such an origin, from Latin “miles”, ‘a soldier‘.3 But over the years, as with many other words, its meaning has changed.
But apparently, violence is again becoming associated with the word, more so than in the second half of the 20th Century. How did this happen? I am not sure but it appears to have been a spin-off from the more recent imperialist wars of, in particular, the United States. It seems that organisations resisting USA control or dominance in the Middle East, most of which were Muslim in religion, began to be termed “militant” in US and western reporting. Why this became so seems hard to fathom – it was not a word that these organisations applied to themselves — but it has had that spinoff effect on the word “militant”, so that “militant trade unionists” and “militant feminists”, for example, are now likely to be associated with violence, i.e the use of physical force.
How loaded and partisan usage of the word can become is well illustrated in the definition supplied by the Oxford living Dictionary: Favouring confrontational or violent methods in support of a political or social cause. ‘the army are in conflict with militant groups’.
The example given is very interesting. Conflict requires, one supposes, at least two parties and both sides are listed in that quoted phrase. But the impression given is one where “the army” is an authoritative, legitimate force which is being opposed by groups that are none of those things. One almost feels that the source of “the conflict” is the “militant groups” (especially with the current loading of ‘violence’ into definition of the word “militant”).
The ‘army’ is an armed organisation at the very least latently violent (training with deadly weapons) and in this context, almost certainly practicing violence by invasion. Yet it is portrayed as somehow neutral and the opposition as violent. This is further accentuated when the army and armed police are termed “security forces”. How could one be against security? Don’t we all want to be secure? Obviously quite a lot of people don’t want whatever ‘security‘ is being offered by these military and militarised forces and the question of “security for whom?” is hardly ever explored in such discourse, leaving us with the impression that the good guys are the army and police, deserving of our support, while whoever opposes them must be bad and we should line up against them.
As the meaning of words shifts, we have to decide whether to stick with the meaning we had and insist on its primacy, or to adapt and move with it. Up until the 1960s it was generally considered ill-mannered among white and black people to refer to people of noticeable African descent as “black” or as “negro” and Martin Luther King’s campaigning organisation was called the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. Back earlier, in the 18th and early 20th centuries, “negro” would have been acceptable to most. Nowadays, “coloured” or “negro” would generally be considered either offensive or ignorant and “black” is the word, unless one is to use the Africa-derived word, e.g Afro-American, Afro-Caribbean, etc.
And in a strange reversal, whether in self-mockery or appropriation, many Afro-Americans began in the 1970s and 80s describing themselves with the word “nigger”, a word long associated with racism4.
Leaving those examples and dealing with Ireland, a number of organisations advocating Irish independence and unity and denying the legitimacy of the administrations of either side of the partition Border, would happily term themselves and one another “Irish Republicans”. That term came first to exclude the supporters of the Irish Free State, who waged a Civil War against those who would not accept the British terms, including Partition, of the 1921 Treaty. Not much over a decade later, it excluded also the Fianna Fáil party, which had split from Sinn Féin, got elected into government and at different times interned Republicans without trial, executed some and passed emergency-type legislation against them.
Subsequent splits in later years were still all described, along with various versions of the Sinn Féin party, as “Irish Republicans”. After the Good Friday Agreement was endorsed by what had been Provisional Sinn Féin and they subsequently became part of the administration of the British colony of the Six Counties, all those Irish Republicans who did not agree with them on that came to be called “dissidents” in the media and in much political discourse.
Those who are called “dissidents” however did not, for the most part, agree with the term. As far as they are concerned, they are sticking to the “official line” or at least the original one and it is the Provisional Sinn Féin (which now terms itself just ‘Sinn Féin‘) which has diverged from the line and furthermore, departed from the ranks of Irish Republicans.
Let’s do a trawl for definitions similar to what I did with “militant” but this time for “dissident”.
Wiktionary: “A person who formally opposes the current political structure, the political group in power, the policies of the political group in power, or current laws.
“(Christianity) One who disagrees or dissents; one who separates from the established religion.”
Mirriam-Webster: “disagreeing especially with an established religious or political system, organization, or belief
“dissident elements in the armed forces”.
Collins: “people who disagree with and criticize their government, especially because it is undemocratic.
“Dissident people disagree with or criticize their government or a powerful organization they belong to”
Oxford: “A person who opposes official policy, especially that of an authoritarian state.
“‘a dissident who had been jailed by a military regime’”.
And one I hadn’t used before, but which caught my eye, Vocabulary.com: “If you are a dissident, you are a person who is rebelling against a government. Dissidents can do their work peacefully or with violence.
“Dissidentis closely related to the word, dissent, which means objecting. People who are dissidents show their dissent5. Catholic priests who advocate allowing women into the priesthood could be called dissidents, as could the Puritans who left England to live in colonial America. As an adjective, a dissident member of a group is one who disagrees with the majority of members.”
Since it is not a religious movement, “one who separates from the established religion” would seem non-applicable (though when one sees how many Republicans cling to certain practices like non-recognition of the court trying them, or refusal to stand in elections, it is tempting to think of those prohibitions as religious dogma rather than tactics for particular times and place).
Most Irish Republicans would consider themselves as in opposition to the “established (political) order” of the country, i.e Ireland partitioned, with one part run by an anti-Republican Irish ruling class and the other by a colonial ruling class. They would consider the relevant governments as “authoritarian” and “undemocratic”, certainly in their treatment of Irish Republicans by harassment, intimidation, detention, subjecting them to special emergency-type legislation, non-jury courts and prison.
In that sense of “dissident”6, the Sinn Party in its various encarnations has until recentlyalways been a party of dissidents, first against a foreign monarchy subjecting Ireland without an Irish king (the party founded by Arthur Griffiths), then to a Republican party campaigning against British rule (the coalition that was the reformed post-Rising party 1918-1921), after that a party against the Irish Free State Government and the colonial administration of the Six Counties, subsequently a Republican socialist party opposing the same forces, then after a split, a Republican party with similar objectives but supporting an armed resistance to the the British occupation. To that can be added the existence of the Republican Sinn Féin party from a split and at least one other group of similar construction for a time but with more socialist emphasis.
Clearly (formerly Provisional) Sinn Féin can no longer legitimately describe itself as dissident, should it want to, as it is now party to that repressive colonial government to which it was previously vehemently opposed and also now straining to become part of a coalition in government of the Irish state.
Many people who left the SF party did so precisely because they opposed those policies and actions7 and on most terms could legitimately claim to be “dissidents” – if they wished to. Not just dissidents recently within the party but dissidents against the State and British colonialism.
Clearly then descriptions such as “rebelling against a government” and “disagree with and criticize their government, especially because it is undemocratic” are not going to be the problem and “formally opposes the current political structure, the political group in power, the policies of the political group in power, or current laws” seems just tailor-made for Irish Republicans.
The objection to the appellation of “dissident” then must surely be based on either a misunderstanding of the meaning of the word or a concept of some kind of historical Irish Republican authority. If the latter, then the SF party can been seen as having gone against that authority and those Irish Republicans not following the SF path as being the true and loyal followers, faithful to that historical authority. This would be an entirely understandable attitude – but is it helpful? Aren’t the most important things theaims that Irish Republicans have and how they conduct themselves in working towards them, rather than whether they are called “dissidents” or not? After all, there is nothing fundamentally pejorative in the term.
There is no doubt that “dissidents” is a handy catch-all term to describe Republicans who belong to a number of political groups or who are independent activists (the latter of which Ireland and especially Dublin has a great many) but is it conferring some kind of implicit legitimacy on the collaborationist and now constitutionalist Sinn Féin party? And if so, legitimacy in the eyes of whom? Remember how one time there was an “Official Sinn Féin” (and IRA) and the “Provisional Sinn Féin (and IRA) who split from them? It was the latter that went on to gain dominance in the Republican movement while the “Official” organisation split again and shrank to a tiny remnant.
If I were to count myself among the ranks of Irish Republicans8, would I object to the term of “dissident”? I don’t think so.
1Coincidentally, the word “gay” is employed in its older sense in the lyrics of the song. A lot of interesting information is contained in the Wikipedia page on this song (see link in Sources and References).
2This was an organisation run by the entryist British Trotskyist organisation which later became the Socialist Party (like its great rival, the Socialist Workers Party, it too has an offshoot in Ireland).
3Through Latin into French and from there into English. However, the word may have been of an older root, possibly Celtic: “ ‘Míle’, word in Irish, meaning ‘a warrior, a champion, a hero’” given p.23 in How the Irish Invented Slang, Daniel Cassidy (2007).
4The term is not accepted equally among black people: I recall a black workmate of mine telling me that he had punched another black man who had referred to him as “nigger”.
5Actually, as Wiktionary tells us, it means more correctly “not in agreement” and comes from the Latin word for “to sit apart”
6Lest it be thought that I dissent from this opinion, let me put on record that this is one of the things about which I entirely agree with Irish Republicans. I suspect however that this definition is generally only used by media and mainstream commentators to describe regimes other than the ‘western democracies’.
7Some people had left that party already by that time, some because they perceived its direction and some because they objected to procedures within the party, especially those they considered undemocratic. Others left over time due to decisions to contest elections in the Irish state or to take their seats in the parliaments if elected, or because of rapprochement with the colonial police, over alleged harassment, party promotions or personal reasons.
8“Irish Republican” is a specific political designation and does not describe me, although I am Irish and I do aspire to a Republic of social equality. I am a revolutionary and a socialist as well as being anti-imperialism; I am many other things as well but that will do as a basic platform on which to seek others of like mind. In the course of struggles I do of course join in a front of one or the other of those tendencies but always with an eye to the full objective. Or so I try, at least.