CROWD AT BRITISH EMBASSY DUBLIN CALLS FOR RELEASE OF JULIAN ASSANGE
Today, June 19th, is the anniversary of the date when Julian Assange sought asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, which he was granted. That was 2012, since which he has been confined to a few rooms in that building, unable to leave for fear of British arrest and extradition to the US, where he is wanted for broadcasting their secrets on their murderous campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq and other matters. A crowd gathered outside the British Embassy to demand Assange be set free – among them as speakers were TDs Clare Daly, Mick Wallace, along with Nobel Peace Laureate Mairéad Corrigan and musician Paul O’Toole (also another musician).
At least five Gardaí were in attendance, along with a police van.
All the speakers outside the British Embassy made the point that Assange’s only crime is to reveal some murderous secrets of the USA and other powers and that if he can be jailed then so can anyone for speaking or publishing the truth. Clare Daly said that his crime was to be a conscientious reporter.
Paul O’Toole played two songs, one of which was The Cry of the Morning, a song about internment. The other musician played some tunes and then led the crowd in singing “All we are saying, is free Julian Assange.”
Fintan thanked all for coming and the speakers and musicians and the event came to an end.
Assange went to Sweden to talk about Wikileaks and its revelations in August 2010. A woman in Sweden wanted Assange to have a HIV test after he had sex with her. Her friend, who had also had sex with Assange in the past, encouraged her to go to the police. Assange went voluntarily to the police station, was interviewed and told he could go, there was no charge and he went back to England. Afterwards, a Swedish Special Prosecutor charged him with sexual molestation and “lesser-degree rape” (a particular Swedish charge) although the original complainant did not accuse him of rape.
By then it was becoming clear that another agenda was behind the Swedish Special Prosecutor and the two women. Assange offered to be interviewed again by Skype or in person in London or, if necessary in Sweden but only if that country guaranteed not to extradite him to the USA. The Swedish authorities refused to give that guarantee. The Prosecutor said Swedish law did not permit an interview on foreign soil but this was publicly contradicted by Swedish legal experts and the Prosecutor eventually interviewed him in London but by this time it was November 2016, by which time the statute of limitations had run out on the less serious charges. In May 2017, the Swedish authorities dropped their investigation against Assange and Chief Prosecutor Marianne Ny officially revoked his arrest warrant.
However, as a result of Sweden’s attempt to extradite Assange, he had been brought to court in London and released on bail. Due to Sweden’s refusal to guarantee him no extradition to the USA, Assange jumped bail and sought asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy on 19th June 2012 and has been there since. He cannot leave for fear of arrest by the British for breach of bail conditions and extradition to Sweden, from where he may be extradited to the US, where politicians and officials have said publicly that he should be jailed and some even wanted him executed under anti-espionage laws or assassinated.
Narrated by Roger Waters of the Pink Floyd band, a useful documented discussion on how the population of the USA, the main political and financial supporter of the Israeli Zionist State, is conned into supporting Israel.
NB: “The US mind” is the subject, not “the American mind” — there is no reference to Latin American or Canadian thinking on the issue.
The film exposes the use of the US media combined with Israeli propaganda, pressure on politicians and media figures and demonisation of opponents.
Interestingly, at least one prominent commentator argues that the USA agrees with Israeli policy largely because it agrees with its own — but doesn’t tell us what that US policy is, much less explain it. Perhaps that’s beyond the film’s scope or the film is aimed at liberal opinion and exposing naked imperialism would be going too far — but in places, the narrative does hint at it.
Interestingly too that line of argument undermines the narrative that the Israel lobby (incorrectly termed “the Jewish lobby”) is the dominant factor is US policy towards Israel. A USA Jew also points out that most of his co-religionists in the US do not agree with the hard, right-wing, neo-liberal politics of the Israeli leaders.
Worryingly, in reference to a strand of fundamentalist Christianity in the US which supports Israeli policy, a commentator tells us that one in three US citizens believes that the Bible is factual.
But very encouragingly, the film argues that Israel is at last — finally — losing its propaganda grip on US youth in the colleges and in black communities.
Worth watching to understand the history of US public support for Israel but also to learn how untruthful propaganda works with regard to words.
When the Irish financial bubble, expanded far beyond capacity, finally burst and the private banks that had caused the crisis were bailed out with public money, the Irish people did not immediately rise up. The big trade unions made some noises, called hundreds of thousands to march, then collapsed. The smaller unions, for the most part, caved in afterwards.
It was not long before the Irish people began to be jeered and insulted – and for the most part, by some people who were themselves Irish. They seemed unaware of a thousand years of militant resistance to foreign occupation and many workers’ battles over decades. The frustration, if that was the cause of their insults (not to say contempt), was understandable. Less so, I pointed out at the time, was their dismissal of the only force that could possibly save us – the Irish people.
“The people?” they jeered. “You mean the SHEEPLE!”
They pointed to massive demonstrations and riots in Greece and in France and to none in Ireland. I commented that all their insults could possibly achieve would be to discourage the Irish people further. The limitations under which the Irish people laboured needed to be understood. There was no large revolutionary party in Ireland to provide leadership. There was not even a militant radical social-democratic party or reformist Communist Party. There were no militant trade unions to provide organisation. These things existed in Greece and in France.
Our trade unions had twenty years of “social partnership” – i.e they had during that time negotiated agreements nearly always without industrial action in joint committees where the unions, the employers and the State each had representatives. Their fighting muscle had atrophied to the extent it no longer existed. Notwithstanding all their faults, the Greek and French unions had not similarly wasted away their muscle. Our trade union leaderships had settled for a comfortable life, highly paid, building up their memberships and safeguarding their officers and structures, or trying to, neglecting the purpose for which those unions had been created. They were captains of ships in dry dock, shining and varnished, but riddled with worm holes and sails safely furled – they would never take to sea and be tested in any storm.
As time went by, we saw no significant reforms in the French situation as austerity bit there. There was much excitement in Left social-democratic and Trotskyist quarters as the Greeks elected a social-democratic party with a radical program of resistance to austerity measures. The Greeks had been driven to a much worse economic situation than had the Irish – during the winter, many schools had to close as heating could not be supplied. But then the radical Greek party and new Government collapsed under pressure from the EU’s financial commissars.
The people in the Spanish state were marching in their hundreds of thousands under a new party that was not really a party, they said. But it turned out if one did some digging, that it was not such a new party/ non-party after all, as its leadership came from the old reformist Communist Party-Trotskyist alliance, Izquierda Unida. But still …. huge marches and then huge electoral gains (for what was now without question a political party – Podemos).
But the Spanish ruling class, although unable to receive a governing mandate for a single political party, carried on with its austerity program. Evictions continued as did a great many suicides of those evicted or about to be evicted.
IRELAND (THE 26 COUNTIES)
Meanwhile, what about the “Irish Sheeple”? What were they doing?
They too began to march, in small numbers at first, then larger until they choked the capital city’s centre. The media under-reported them, lied about numbers, stopped doing aerial photos that would show the full extent of the masses in protest.
First in line of the resistance movement was the Household Charge. The campaign slogan proposed by independent protesters and small parties and political organisations was “Don’t register, don’t pay.” Despite that tactic, the most effective to defeat the Charge, not being supported by the alternative party with the highest number of elected representatives in the Dáil (Irish Parliament), i.e Sinn Féin and despite no trade union mobilising against it, the ruling class had to concede defeat. But they changed the tax to the Household Charge and made it collectable from people’s salaries at source, changing the law in order to do so.
The Water Charge was next. The people already paid for water supply maintenance through ordinary taxation and, it later emerged, through the diversion of Motor Tax to pay for the water! Nevertheless, a new charge was levied and again, the campaigners asked the people: “Don’t register, don’t pay!” Again, this tactic was not supported by the same alternative political party or the unions, although they all declared that they were, of course, against the Water Charge.
Despite police harassment, violence and arrests, people in local areas began to block the work-gangs installing the water meters. Some arrested activists refused to obey a court injunction intended to paralyse their activities and were sent to jail. A large protest demonstration marched to their jail and they were released. Many trials collapsed and activists, though hampered by many court attendances, walked free. Some others paid their fines and continued their resistance.
Police attacks on water charge and anti-austerity protesters multiplied and pickets, particularly of women, protested outside Garda stations.
Hundreds of people began to march, then thousands. As the numbers grew, the reformists of political party and trade union climbed on board and the numbers continued to rise to hundreds of thousands. The media were exposed as they grossly underplayed the numbers.
Meanwhile, another struggle had been shaping up, between heritage conservationists campaigning to save a valuable piece of the City Centre of huge historical importance from property speculators. Firstly the State was obliged to declare four houses in Moore Street as of historical preservation status (while however the Planning Department of the local authority gave planning permission for a huge “shopping mall” of a number of acres around those houses). Subsequently campaigners prevented the Planning Department from carrying out a land-swap of Council land to facilitate the Speculator.
Then the State had to buy four houses in the historic terrace; at the same time their plans to demolish three other houses in the same terrace were prevented by their occupation by protesters for five days and a subsequent blockade of demolition workers of almost six weeks.
The blockade ended when a case taken by a concerned individual to the High Court resulted in a judgement that the whole quarter is a historical 1916 monument (against which judgement the Minister of Heritage is currently appealing, scheduled for hearing December 2017).
During the 1916 State commemorations, the Minister of Heritage’s hypocritical laying of a wreath in Moore Street was met with vociferous denunciation by campaigners on the spot, without any of the protesters being arrested.
Two years before that Moore Street event, a mass protest for had prevented two hoursthe Minister for Social Protection’s car from leaving a working class area where she had gone to attend a ceremony.
“Enough!” cried the ruling class and they argued about what to do, their more revanchist section winning the argument. They were going for maximum legal attack, to teach those protesters a lesson and frighten all others in future.
The offensive against the resistance was planned. Early morning raids, to increase disruption and fear. Mass arrests, including of a juvenile. This latter might have looked like a mistake, as it was obvious he’d attract sympathy — but actually it was cleverly thought out. They put his trial on first – in the Juvenile Court where the judge can get away with more, where access to media was restricted to one representative each of print and audio media and where no members of the public were permitted entry. And they found him guilty, of course they did. They avoided much of sympathy outcry by giving the youth a non-custodial sentence but – and this was the crucial thing – they had found him guilty of “false imprisonment”. They now had a precedent for the eighteen or so awaiting trial in the adult court.
The media mostly colluded, of course in their news coverage of events, trial and in comment.
The trial process began with an attempt to eliminate from the jury those who disagreed with the Water Charge (i.e most ordinary people) and people from the area where the incident had taken place. Then the Minister herself, in the witness box for four days, regularly failing to answer the questions of the Defence lawyers but using the opportunity instead to attack the defendants, without attempt by the Judge to direct her to answer the question and confine herself to doing so. After all, it’s the Prosecution lawyers’ job to draw out the unfavourable comments.
That was followed by two similar days with the Minister’s secretary, who had been in the car with her at Jobstown.
Then police officers, lying through their teeth. This is of course a regular occurrence in the courts but unfortunately for them, they were contradicted by video and audio recording. Somehow, not only one but several Gardaí heard one of the defendants say something which the recording showed he had not.
Finally, all were found not guilty. The next group were to be tried similarly on charges of false imprisonment but also with use of violence. But how could the State find them guilty of kidnapping on the same evidence that a jury had rejected in the case of the first group? Would even the violence charges stick? The ruling class took a decision to cut their losses, avoid a possible second defeat and decided to drop the charges against them too and against another group scheduled for later still.
POLICE CORRUPTION AND COVER-UPS
Meanwhile, independently of all but perhaps distantly affected by the people’s resistance and the anger at the behaviour of the police, two whistle-blowers emerged from among the Gardaí to accuse them of allowing powerful people to escape drunk-driving charges. Then it emerged that people charged with driving offences had been automatically convicted without the option to defend themselves in court. That was followed by revelations that the Gardaí had claimed to have stopped hundreds of drivers for drink-driving tests which they had not in fact done – and the false numbers grew to thousands. And then Gardaí senior officers tried to discredit one of the whistle-blowers by implying he was a paedophile and even enlisting the involvement of a child-protection agency.
Before the conclusion of the Jobstown trials, general elections had been held. The ruling class in the Irish State has not managed to have an overall majority for a single one of its political parties since 1981 — and this election was no exception. However, one of the parties of the ruling class (its favourite actually, since shortly after the creation of the State) now felt the pressure of the people and made non-implementation of the Water Charge a condition of not bringing the minority Government down, to which the parties in governing coalition were obliged to agree.
As a result of all this (and a number of other less-highly publicised corruption and wrongdoing by Gardaí cases), eventually Allan Shatter, Minister for Justice and Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, the highest-ranking officer in the Gardaí had to resign. Less than three years later, the new Commissioner, similarly implicated but now also in a scandal regarding officers’ financial corruption, had to resign as well.
In this period, during which Irish people had been compared to sheep, cursed and denounced by some from the “Left” and compared unfavourably with protesters in Greece, France and Spain (despite the people of those three states having failed to succeed to any significant degree), the Irish people have
Totally defeated the Household Tax and obliged the ruling class to change the law and substitute another Tax collectable from income
Paralysed the Water Tax (Charge)
Exposed the mass media
Halted the Government and Dublin City Council’s Planning Department plans to give a historical memory area in the City Centre, prime “development” land, to speculators
Prevented the Government demolition of historic buildings in that area by campaigning, occupation of buildings and a blockade, without a single protester being arrested
Helped obtain a historic judgement from the High Court that the whole quarter is a historical 1916 Monument
Vociferously denounced the Minister of Heritage while she was laying a 1916 wreath at Easter in Moore Street, without a single protester being arrested or prevented from the denunciation
Held up the Minister of Social Protection’s car in mass protest for two hours
Exposed the police in violence and in corruption
Defeated plansto deal a major blow to the right to protest by conviction on kidnapping charges
Caused the resignation of a Minister of Justice and two Garda Commissioners inside a period of three years
And all this was achieved by the Irish people without the organisation or leadership of a mass revolutionary or radical political party or a mass militant trade union.
The Wikileaks/ Assange persecution saga should teach us important lessons. In the first place, chronologically, it should teach us the lengths to which allegedly democratic countries such as the United States will go to dominate weaker countries and attack movements of resistance, where the US feels its imperial interests are threatened, which is to say, where anyone may attempt to loosen its grip on markets, natural resources and strategic emplacements, or to prevent its grip from clawing further than it has already.
Wikileaks also exposed some of the extent to which the US will interfere in the internal or foreign policy matters of even its allies, including the European powers.
Possibly most instructive of all was the determination of the USA to hunt down the chief executive of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, flying in the face of US Constitutional principles and law, as well as international law, with statements confirming that determination even from Presidents and senior politicians and Government appointees, such as former US Secretary of State and the Democratic Party’s candidate for the US Presidency last year.1
In the course of hunting him down, the USA turned to Sweden, subverting the country’s laws and criminal investigative procedures, then to the UK government (which, as a junior partner in many of the US crimes exposed by Wikileaks, was probably only too keen to assist). Australia was brought to assist under threat and France turned away from Assange’s plight and his plea for asylum there. “No hiding place from the World Policeman,” seemed to be the message. Eventually, however, he did find refuge (if not a hiding place) from Uruguay, a tiny power on the world political, economic and political stage.
In the midst of this, how did the mass media perform, that which we are often assured is the guardian of democracy, even more than the vaunted parliament? Badly, in a word. Investigative journalism, intelligent evaluation, if they had been evident before, all went into the rubbish bin as print, radio and TV media joined in the lynch mob to a greater of lesser degree. The British newspaper The Guardian, which had been given exclusive first use on the Wikileaks stories, “the greatest scoop in 30 years”, according to its Editor, not only refused to assist him but allowed its pages to be occupied by witch hunters and made money out of publishing a book about the affair.2
“Anti-journalism”, is what Australian film-maker and renowned journalist (Britain’s Journalist of the Year Award-winner in 1967 and 1978), John Pilger called it.3
Assange learned some personal lessons too which should not be lost on us. Sometime lovers manipulated by police, Prosecutor and media; a close working colleague denouncing him and flinging unsubstantiated allegations against him (unsubstantiated but that did not prevent the media from publishing them).
LESSONS FOR US SPECIFICALLY
Suppose for a moment that one did not take to Assange’s character. Suppose one even objected to his work. Still, he was entitled to fair due process. That he did not receive it from so many is obvious. Did he receive it from us? That community of people who would lay claim to having an alternative view, to be opposed to the status quo and, most of all, to be for Justice?
Injustice meted out by those in power often needs collusion and the more independent of the power the colluders are, the more justified the witch-hunt is made to seem. The media whipped up a passionate hue and cry against Assange, who had not even been charged and had cooperated to all extents reasonable with the investigation of allegations against him.
That hysteria sought to drown Assange but also to catch in its flood any, no matter how puny or how mildly, called for justice and due process. The cry of the mob must be “Hang him!” and no dissenting voices must be heard.
The hysteria generated in some sectors, even among people who would normally insist on justice and who opposed the status quo, reached a very high pitch. For the crime of suggesting at the time on Facebook that the case against him seemed “dodgy” and that besides he was in any case entitled to due process, a person called me a “rape apologist” in public while people I had considered comrades (and had thought one even a friend) remained silent. Shortly after that, a clutch of FB friends (which I made FB ex-friends quickly) backed up the allegation.
That taught me a valuable lesson about comrades and solidarity but it pales beside the severity of the lesson Assange has been taught, the mark of which he may carry for the rest of his life. But the function of such a process goes far beyond the personal; it is intended to make dissent very uncomfortable and even painful. We may face the attacks of our declared enemies with courage or at least resolve and commitment but it is a different matter when we are attacked, politically and personally, by those we take to be broadly on our side against the oppressive powers.
Most people would say they are for justice. It is usually easy to say so. But unless we can stand up for it whether we like the victim or not, whether we approve of his work or not and, even in the midst of the hysteria calling for a hanging, we are prepared to cry instead for justice, our declarations are worth nothing.
There are many lessons in the saga for us to learn — but will we?
1 “Can’t we just drone this guy?” Hillary Clinton, quoted in the Pilger summary article.
This is an interesting criticism of the Michael Collins historical biopic 1996. Written and directed by Neil Jordan, the film begins with the end of the Irish 1916 Rising, has the longest part focused on the War of Independence (1919-1921) and ends not long after the start of the Civil War (1922-1923). The film starred Liam Neeson as Michael Collins and included others such as Aidan Quinn playing Harry Boland, Alan Rickman as Eamon De Valera, Stephen Rea as Ned Broy, Julia Roberts as Kitty Kiernan, Gerald Mc Sorley as Cathal Brugha and Brendan Gleeson as Liam Tobin.
The video from Foras Teamhrach presents its criticism using clips from the film while commenting and also comparative clips from other films, which is a useful way of presenting a challenging view. Unfortunately neither the name of the author of the commentary nor of the commentator (possibly the one and same) appeared on the Youtube link, only the company name and the comments function was disabled (perhaps understandably).
Most of the points are well made but there are some omissions which might usefully be added to the criticism.
The GPO surrender scene
The video criticism points out that showing only the GPO makes the Rising look much smaller than it actually was; despite the countermanding order which reduced the forces in Dublin by perhaps as much as two-thirds, the Rising was fought by four major garrisons on the southern and three on the northern side of the Liffey, with other smaller outposts and individual actions. However, the narrator says nothing regarding the historical inaccuracy of portraying the surrender as occurring at the GPO.
In fact, the GPO had been abandoned on the Friday and the Surrender took place on the Saturday, following a decision made in the 1916 Terrace in Moore Street and around 350 insurgents there were the first to surrender following the order. This matters not just from a point of historical accuracy but because there is a struggle (now approaching two decades) to save this area from property speculators and State and Dublin Council Planning Department collusion.
Portrayal of De Valera
One does not have to be a supporter of De Valera’s philosophy and actions to rapidly come to the conclusion that his portrayal in Jordan’s film is so inaccurate as to seem to be someone else. Every person who took up arms in 1916 to fight the British Empire showed courage and those who continued to actively oppose the British occupation during the intense years of the War of Independence showed even more courage in doing so.
Collins, of a much more ebulient character than De Valera, according to witnesses, was more inclined to exhibitions of temper and shouting than was De Valera, whose manner was generally in accordance with his studious appearance – contrary to his behaviour in the Treaty discussion scene of the film. As to another aspect, when we review the record of his actions in preparation for the Rising through to the War of Independence and on through the Civil War and the early years under the Free State, De Valera cannot reasonably be accused of lacking courage. The shivering wreck as which he is portrayed during the Civil War in Jordan’s film runs counter to the historical record.
There is testimony from one or two participants that at a period during his command of Boland’s Mill, De Valera had something of a breakdown. This, if it occurred, could have been as a result of fear or instead of lack of sleep, or of being overwhelmed by responsibility or a number of causes and if this alleged episode is what inspired Jordan’s depiction it was certainly unfair to use it to characterise De Valera at other times. There are many criticisms that can fairly be thrown at De Valera but lack of courage is not one of them.
Portrayal of Cathal Brugha
And likewise with the portrayal of Cathal Brugha. Some of Brugha’s military and political history may help in evaluating the portrayal of this man in Jordan’s film.
One of fourteen children empoverished by the death of their Protestant father, Brugha joined the Gaelic League in 1899 and quickly became fluent, soon changing his name from Charles Burgess to Cathal Brugha. He and Kathleen Kingston, also an Irish language enthusiast, married in 1912 and had six children. Brugha joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and in 1913, the year they were formed, he became a lieutenant in the Irish Volunteers and led a group of Volunteers to land the arms smuggled into Howth by the Asgard in 1914.
In the Easter Rising of 1916 Brugha was second-in-command at the South Dublin Union under Commandant Éamonn Ceannt, scene of some of the fiercest fighting during the Rising. Overlooked in the evacuation on Thursday of Easter Week and, being badly wounded, he was unable to leave. Bleeding from 25 wounds (some of which had penetrated arteries) he continued to fire upon the enemy and when Eamonn Ceannt led a group to investigate who was still firing he discovered Brugha singing “God Save Ireland” surrounded by his own blood and with his pistol still in his hands.
Brugha was not expected to survive which may have saved him from the execution parties and he was discharged from hospital in August 1916 as “incurable”. However he recovered in 1917 though left suffering pain and with a permanent limp and preferred to cycle than walk.
Already in 1917 from his hospital bed, Brugha began to seek out Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army people who were willing to join the new armed resistance group and it seems that he, more than any other, should receive the main credit for the initial formation of that which became the IRA.
Brugha was so respected in the movement that he was elected speaker of Dáil Éireann at its first meeting on 21 January 1919 and it was he who read out the Declaration of Independence in Irish, which ratified ‘the establishment of the Irish Republic’. He was also appointed temporary President, a position in which he remained until de Valera tok his place.
Far from being a bloodthirsty zealot as he is portrayed in the film, Brugha reduced Collins’ ‘Bloody Sunday’ assassination list considerably since in his opinion, there was insufficient evidence against a number of people named on the list. Then again, at the outbreak of the Civil War, a reluctant Brugha only joined the fighting on the Republican (Anti-Treaty) side in order to relieve the pressure on the Four Courts garrison. Cathal Brugha led a detachment in occupying a number of buildings in O’Connell Street and later, having got his men safely away or surrendered, was shot and mortally wounded in debated circumstances by Free State troops (which were under the overall command of Collins).
Brugha had, according to some opinions, alienated a section of waverers at the Dáil debates on the Treaty, by a personal attack on Collins and the way his persona had been elevated (a common problem, the deification of leaders). This was no doubt a tactical mistake but there had been ongoing conflict between both men for some time. Although both had been members, Brugha had left the IRB after 1916 in the belief that their conflict with the Volunteer leadership had damaged the Rising. Collins’ rank in the organisation was supreme in Ireland and it seems that Collins used this at times to circumvent or undermine decisions of the Dáil, where Brugha outranked Collins and which the former believed to be the repository of democratic decision-making.
Collins as a guerrilla war leader
All Collins’ many talents and contributions to the War of Independence aside, his representation in the film as not only directing the whole armed struggle but also as teaching rural people how to wage a guerrilla war is a complete distortion of history that could only be undertaken by a propagandist for Collins.
It was Brugha who began to pull the scattered elements of the armed struggle together and laid the foundations for what became the IRA. It was Robinson, Breen, Tracey and Hogan who began the armed resistance of the War of Independence in Tipperary on 21 January 1919 in which two paramilitary policemen were killed. And they did so without permission from GHQ in Dublin.
As to rural guerrilla tactics, these were such as had been used for centuries or developed in the struggle and were certainly not taught by Dublin. What was taught by instructors sent by Dublin was weapon use and maintenance and personnel disposition for ambushes, moving in extended order through countryside and securing a line of retreat. One of the chief instructors in this kind of instruction was Ernie O’Malley and, in West Cork, the young Tom Barry used his British Army experience and other learning to do the same. The order to create Flying Columns might have come from Dublin but had been advocated already by fighters in Cork, Kerry and Tipperary and it was they and others who developed them in the field.
Collins’ special contribution was in organising intelligence, counter-intelligence and the assassination squad (which turned out to be a double-edged sword) and also, to an extent, supply of weapons. His contribution was notable but it did not lie in initial organising of guerrilla war, much less in rural guerrilla instruction.
The role of women in the struggle
Women are underrepresented in this narrative, as is usual in Irish history and Republican and nationalist narrative. Where women are shown, apart from the brief appearance of Markievicz at the non-existent GPO surrender (when instead she was at the College of Surgeons!), they are objects of romance (Kittie Kiernan) or auxilliaries working for Collins’ intelligence department.
There was a great opportunity lost there to show the women in action during the Rising in the many roles they undertook, including firing weapons, or in keeping the flame lit after the Rising and in particular in commemorating the Rising a year later, organising demonstrations, pickets, and funerals.
The Croke Park Bloody Sunday massacre scene
The film shows the ‘Tans or Auxies shooting down people with machine-gun on the GAA ground. As far as we have been able to establish it was the RIC who did it, although of course the other two were auxilliary forces of the RIC. Thankfully they did not fire with a machine-gun (the Army had one outside the grounds and an armoured car, it seems but did not open fire) or the carnage would have been a lot worse. When one examines the casualty list of those shot, just like more modern British massacres in Derry and Belfast, it is clear that the shooting was mostly disciplined, i.e hitting males of military age. Showing that kind of scenario would in the last analysis not only be more historically accurate but also more telling of the intent and cold-bloodedness.
And what of the three tortured and murdered in the Castle that day, Peadar Clancy, Dick McKee and Conor Clune? Yes, we know, one can’t show everything.
Go raibh maith agat to the individual who sent the video links to this blog.
We Irish are said to have long memories and to be unforgiving. The English, it has been said, can’t remember their history while we Irish can’t forget it.
Look around the former and current Empire and I think you’ll find it’s not just the Irish who remember and won’t let the English forget: the Scots, the Welsh, Australian Aborigines, Sub-Saharan Africans, West Africans like Kenya and Nigeria, the Tasmanians (ok, all wiped out but others remember for them), Jews and Palestinians, Arabs, French-Canadians, Indians, Bengalis and Pakistanis, Afghans, Iraqis, Kurds, Egyptians, Greeks, Cypriots, First People and American Indians (before the ‘settler regime’ took over), South African indigenous people, Afrikaners (who — whatever their own sins — saw at least a third of their women and children die in British concentration camps), ‘English’ Caribbean (slave) Islands like Barbados, Trinidad and Jamaica, Malaya, Singapore, Hong Kong, other parts of China in the Opium War …..
‘Very well, yes’ the British ruling class and their ‘educators’ and pundits admit when pushed hard enough – ‘there’s a lot of forgetting to be done, so best get on with it. After all, that’s all in the distant past.’
There’s a problem though with forgetting ill deeds of the distant past – it eases the doing of new ill-deeds and makes their denying easier: “We British are a civilised people and our soldiers wouldn’t do things like that, nor would our leaders let them.” History teaches us that they would, again and again and not only would their leaders let them, they’d order them to and then lie and cover up, occasionally offering up one or two minor actors as a sacrifice if public opinion persists clamorously (and even then not too many in case the lower ranks should rebel and spill the bloody beans).
There’s another problem with forgetting about ill-deeds of the past: it’s not all so distant and some of it is still going on. Part of Ireland is still occupied by the British, i.e it is a colonial possession. And the iniquities of its rule there led a substantial part of the population to rebel at the end of the 1960s, which the British and their colonial administration moved to repress, which in turn led to a war of nearly thirty years. One could (although it is rarely done) call it a colonial war. And that war caused the deaths of many: Irish guerrillas, British soldiers, armed colonial police, colonial paramilitaries, republican political activists, defence lawyers and uninvolved civilians. The toll included over sixty children.
And repression of Republican activists continues today on the streets in the Six Counties (‘Northern Ireland’ for the geographically ignorant) and with over 30 Republican political prisoners in jails of the colony.
Mr. James Brokenshire, Secretary of State for ‘Northern Ireland’ (a post that would perhaps in the past have been “British Governor for …..”), who took the post last July, wants some more public forgetting. And, as is common with colonial advocates of forgetting, he is not only “economical with the truth” (a phrase famed after use by a British politician trying to prevent some other truths entering the public arena)1 but goes for outright lies.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Brokenshire was complaining about cases being pursued against British soldiers and colonial police who were stationed in the Six Counties. He said: “It is also clear the current focus is disproportionately on those who worked for the state – former members of the Armed Forces and the RUC.”
In addition, Mr. Brokenshire praised the “vast majority” of police and the armed forces who served “with great courage, professionalism and distinction”. He added: “We are in danger of seeing the past rewritten.”
No, Mr. Brokenshire, it is you and yours who are trying to see to the rewriting of the past but there is little danger that it will happen in the heads and hearts of your system’s victims, nor in those of many other victims and their descendants further afield — despite your historians, pundits, politicians, media and your domestic tools and allies.
Families of Ballymurphy Massacre victims reacted angrily and refuted some of Brokenshire’s lies: “25,000 people have been through the courts and there are only three soldiers among them. Of these three soldiers, they were given lenient sentences, released early and brought back into the army to finish off their service. …. the statistics show that pro-State forces and their agents are responsible for 41% of deaths not the 10% they keep putting out there ….”
As proof of the disproportionately heavy burden of the investigations of 3,500 violent deaths falling upon British military services and colonial police, BBC News on line informed readers that London law firm Devonshire said it was representing between 10 and 15 former soldiers facing prosecution for a number of killings, including those on Bloody Sunday.
Presumably we are supposed to gasp in shock: “As many as fifteen!!” However, just to really shock us, the firm said there could be as many as 1,000 cases. It seems they may know more than Mr. Brokenshire, who claims the killings were mostly done by Republicans.
Barra McGrory QC, the director of public prosecutions for NI, recently told the BBC a number of cases had been coming to court due to inquests and referrals from the Attorney General for Northern Ireland.
He said: “We have taken decisions in three army cases recently, one was not to prosecute and in the other two prosecutions have been initiated.”
TARGETING AND KILLING UNARMED CIVILIANS
The Bloody Sunday killings by the British Army occurred in 1972 – cold-blooded executions of fourteen unarmed civilians on a protest demonstration. Around twenty were also injured, some by gunshot wound. In the colonial tradition of lies following murder, the first official British enquiry found that the dead were armed guerrillas and the soldiers only returning fire.
The City Coroner, Hubert O’Neill, a retired British officer however found it to have been “sheer, unadulterated murder” in 1973. The British establishment nevertheless continued with their lies and found a way to deal with unwelcome coroners’ courts – they changed the law to prevent them apportioning blame and suspended many of the cases indefinitely.2
The Saville enquiry (1998-2004)3found that all but one of the victims was unarmed and the remaining dead man was recently cleared too. Saville’s findings included that two identified British soldiers had lied under oath (as many as that!) and, without explicitly blaming him, threw a cloud of doubt over the local leader of the Paras, Lieutenant Colonel Derek Wilford, accusing him of “deliberately disobeying” his superior officer, a Brigadier.4 No explanation was given as to how, if that were the case, he came to receive the Order of the British Empire decoration later that year “in recognition of distinguished service in Northern Ireland during the period 1st February 1972 to 30th April 1972” (i.e excluding the Bloody Sunday date by two days, true but for an officer who that same year had allegedly deliberately disobeyed a senior officer and caused the deaths of 14 civilians …..!).
APOLOGIES, LIMITED BLAME AND NO CHARGES
Wilford’s senior officers all escaped blame, despite their decision to deploy the Parachute Regiment in Derry that day and their part in the coverup, including the wholesale hiding and destruction of evidence.5
When the Saville Enquiry Report was finally published in 2010 (six years after the conclusion of the Inquiry), then Prime Minister of Britain David Cameron apologised to the families of the victims but to date none of the soldiers who shot unarmed civilians has been charged with murder. Even worse, no British Army officer has been even charged with ordering murder and covering it up. Worst of all, no British Government Minister or official has been held responsible for the murders nor was the Widgery Tribunal, which first exonerated the Army and blamed the victims, condemned for a lying cover-up in the face of a mountain of evidence from civilian witnesses and a number of journalists. No media outlet has been charged with nor voluntarily admitted collusion in the cover up.
Major General Robert Ford, in charge of land forces of the British Army at the time and in overall charge of their allocations in Derry that day, escaped any blame from the Saville Enquiry. Yet the allocation of the 1st Parachute Regiment to a Derry march against Internment had been his decision – only five months after they had shot and killed another eleven civilians over three days in another part of the Six Counties – the Ballymurphy suburb of Belfast.
The killings then too were of unarmed civilians protesting against internment (“Operation Demetrius”). As they would five months later, the soldiers, their commanding officers and politicians claimed they were “returning fire” from the IRA. A number of their victims had multiple wounds (one was shot fourteen times) and one received a second shot after being brought inside the Paras’ barracks, according to the victim before he died. As at Derry five months later, a number were shot while going to the aid of victims (including a priest, which makes the action of Fr. Daly — later Bishop — on Bloody Sunday in Derry even more heroic). One victim died of a heart attack after a soldier put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger – the gun had no round in the chamber but the victim didn’t know that. The inquests of the victims have still to be held, nearly half a century later.
Yes, one sees why Mr. Brokenshire wishes to have all this information buried with the victims, not to speak of other information that might yet emerge. And yet the 14 dead of Bloody Sunday in Derry and the 11 of the Ballymurphy Massacre are only some of the unarmed victims of the British Army and the RUC, not to mention the Loyalist death squads run by British occupation forces’ Intelligence units. There are the children and adults killed or maimed for life by plastic bullets fired at short range, sometimes without even being in the area of a disturbance; the children and adults killed by British or colonial forces’ gunfire; the captured Republican fighters executed on the ground or given no chance to surrender when ambushed; the joy-riding youths shot to death. Yes, Mr. Brokenshire has good reason to see all this swept under the carpet and one can understand why a number of British service personnel (supported by those in some foreign forces) would demonstrate in protest at their “persecution” as they did on April 14th in Belfast.
The investigations to which Mr. Brokenshire objects, by the way, are being conducted, not by any impartial organisation but by the Legacy branch of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. For the unaware, the PSNI is also a colonial police force, the progeny of the disbanded Royal Ulster Constabulary, containing many of that force and like its predecessor, sectarian and repressive of Republican activists. The RUC also contained the B-Specials, a kind of part-time official armed Loyalist militia, implicated in many killings and largely absorbed into the Ulster Regiment of the British Army. Officers of the full-time RUC are also implicated in many killings.6
A TIME TO FORGET
A criminal who has paid restitution and repented is entitled to get on with his or her life without being confronted with their crimes of the past. This is not what we have here – this is a criminal gang wanting us to forget while it carries on robbing, threatening, killing and destroying human lives.
Come the day when British Imperialism is dead, no longer even twitching, no pulse and no brainwaves, well then it might be time to forget. But maybe not – there might still be other imperialist and colonial powers around and as they learn from one another, so should their victims and resisters share their memories and experiences.
On that glorious day when such systems no longer trouble humanity, then, at last we can forget? I don’t think so, not even then. For what history teaches us about imperialism and colonialism and capitalism, it is teaching us about humanity, its economics and philosophies. As long as we exist, it will never be time to forget those lessons.
1Said by Sir Richard Armstrong in 1986 in the trial, the failed British attempt to prevent the publication in Australia of the “Spycatcher” memoirs of MI5 former Assistant Director Peter Wright and co-author Paul Greengrass. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spycatcher. However, the phrase was originally documented from the 18th Century liberal-conservative philosopher and orator Edmund Burke.
2Which is why some recent inquests on people killed by British and colonial forces are giving rise to criminal investigations so long after the actual deaths.
3Which many believe to be part of the Good Friday Agreement deal or at least given as a ‘sweetener’
4No investigation was apparently carried out into whether Wilford had been ever charged by the Army with “deliberately disobeying” a senior officer in an event which led to unarmed civilian deaths. In fact, Wilford had been awarded military decoration shortly afterwards. It seems that Wilford out of loyalty to the Paratroop Regiment and perhaps some other considerations, agreed to “carry the can” during the Enquiry. Wilford was always outspoken in defence of the soldiers under his command but later claimed that the Army had distanced itself from him, so that when he retired he was only one rank higher than that which he held at the time. He retired on full pension of that rank, however.
5“Over 1,000 army photographs and original army helicopter video footage were never made available (to the Enquiry — DB). Additionally, guns used on the day by the soldiers that could have been evidence in the inquiry were lost by the MoD. The MoD claimed that all the guns had been destroyed, but some were subsequently recovered in various locations (such as Sierra Leone and Beirut) despite the obstruction.” (Wikipedia)
6Although here the statistics are skewed by the few tried being made to resign just prior to being charged (presumably in exchange for gentler treatment by the courts or threat of worse) so that they did not appear as serving RUC officers when convicted.
The whisper is that a new movement is to be created, called Right to Change and that it will publish an on-line mass left-wing newspaper, which will be the first mass left-wing paper in this country since 1913 and even then, that newspaper’s distribution was mostly confined to Dublin.
In fact, a movement based on the right to change already exists, taking in not only the right to water but to housing, to social provisions, to health, to education, to natural resources – the many things that have been removed or cut or are under threat in order to pay the bankers and speculators. One supposes that this new organisation is intended to build on that movement, coordinate it etc. And no doubt put up a slate of candidates at local government and at general elections.
It is Right to Water that has given rise to this idea and no doubt a number who were prominent in it will be likewise in the new organisation.
Right to Water was not a movement, rather a kind of coordinating organisation for national demonstrations, chiefly in Dublin, against the water charges and the expected privatisation of water. In that work it has been highly successful.
The demonstrations built on the actions and mobilisation of hundreds of community groups across the country, protesting locally, encouraging people not to register or pay the charges, blocking Sierra and others from installing water meters and so on.
Many people will think that building Right to Change is the logical next move and will be enthused by it. And why not? Sure wouldn’t it be great to have a large number of TDs standing up to the System, denouncing its plans and their actions? The kind of thing done today by a few Independent TDs and others representing parties with small representation in the Dáil. Well, it would be useful but would it really make a difference?
Recently a Dáil committee set up to review the water charges and so on published its recommendations. Only 13 of the committee’s 20 members agreed with all of the recommendations but all of the recommendations stand nevertheless. Of course some of the objectors were right-wingers but many were of the Left – the System will always have a majority in the sub-systems it sets up. And if a time should come when it cannot achieve that …. well, that’s when you’ll hear the tanks clanking down the street.
Ok, granted perhaps, but it can’t hurt, can it? To have more Left TDs harassing the Government? No, of course not. Not unless we expect too much of this new organisation. Not unless we come to depend on it. And scale down our own independent activities. Hand over power to them.
That wouldn’t happen, would it? Unfortunately it has been a historical trend for popular movements to do exactly that. And social democracy always betrays the mass upon which it has erected itself. The Liberals in the further past and our ‘own’ Fianna Fáil in more recent history often promised the workers many things to win their votes. And even helped the workers push some things through from time to time. But they never promised to abolish the System, never promised socialism.
Social democracy does promise to deliver a fair and just society. It is a promise that it has been making for well over a century but on which it never delivers. It’s not just about jobbery and corruption, of which there is plenty in the corridors of power and to which many social democrats gravitate; it’s more that the Councillors and TDs elected never had any intention of abolishing the System. And in fact, will come out to defend the System whenever it is in danger. When it comes down to it, the System is THEIR system.
From time to time one hears social democrats bewailing “the unacceptable face of capitalism”, as though there exists an “acceptable” face of that system. They may talk at times about the “evils” of capitalism but will bear in mind the “good things” of capitalism too, the benefits they draw or hope to draw from the System. So criticism must be “balanced”, one mustn’t “throw the baby out with bathwater” and so on.
“The law must be obeyed”, they agree, as though “the law” is something divorced from class and politics, some immutable thing that just somehow exists. And yet just about every major social and political advance — including the right to organise a trade union at work, the right to strike and the right to universal suffrage — was won by people breaking “the law”. “The law” and its enforcers are part of the System.
If (heaven forbid) the action of the System’s police should be criticised, then we will hear phrases like “the police have a hard job to do”, the action of the ‘bad’ police is “bringing the force into disrepute”, “there are a few bad apples”, “better training is needed”, a “change in management is necessary”, etc etc. Anything but admit that the police force in a capitalist country exists in order to serve that System.
SOCIAL DEMOCRACY BETRAYS
At the beginning of May 1926, with a coal miners’ strike as a catalyst, Britain was heading towards a real possibility of revolution. The social democratic Trades Union Congress called a General Strike. In many areas of the country and in cities, no transport moved unless it had authorisation from the local Trades Council (a committee of local trade union representatives) or it had armed police and soldier escort. In less than two weeks, the TUC, at the behest of the British Labour Party, called off the strike, leaving the miners to fight on alone to their defeat in less than eight months. “By the end of November, most miners were back at work. However, many remained unemployed for many years. Those still employed were forced to accept longer hours, lower wages and district wage agreements” (Wikipedia).
There had been more workers coming out at that time but also some of the union leaders were beginning to crack, as the struggle was shaping up to be a real showdown between the System and the workers. The TUC didn’t even set up a system to guarantee no retaliations by bosses against activist workers in non-mining unions and many lost their jobs.
The Chilean Salvador Allende is often seen as a hero, a radical social democrat who stood up against internal military fascism and external CIA-led destabilisation. Workers and peasants and some sections of the middle class got Allende elected President in 1970 but right wingers and officers in the military, working with the CIA, were conspiring against him. Everybody knew this and sections of the workers asked for Allende to arm them against the coup they knew was coming. Allende tried instead to compromise and find senior officers he could work with to use against the plotters. When the military carried out the coup, there was some armed resistance but most workers were unarmed. The coup left “3,000 dead or missing, tortured ten thousands of prisoners and drove an estimated 200,000 Chileans into exile” (Wikipedia). In addition, the children of many murdered left-wingers and union activists were given to childless right-wingers and military and police couples to raise as their own.
Social democracy always betrays or ends up hung by its own illusions. Unfortunately the workers end up hanging with it also.
In 2010, in response to Government budget cuts of between 5% and 10% on public servants, along with a levy on pensions, along with a breakdown in the “partnership” system of business and state employers negotiating with trade unions, the social-democratic Irish Trades Union Congress called a major demonstration in Dublin. Perhaps 70,000 marched down O’Connell Street and the ITUC was threatening a general strike. Despite escalating strike action in a number of sectors and the growing unpopularity of the Government, the ITUC abandoned the idea of a strike and instead went in to do a deal with the Government, in which they actually agreed to pay cuts and the pension levy, in exchange for some guarantees around public sector jobs. The social democratic trade union leaders didn’t have the stomach (or backbone) to take on the Government, to test the level of support for resistance.
Why all this talk about social democracy? Well, because Right to Water is essentially a social democratic alliance. It contains Sinn Féin, the biggest minority party in the Dáil, with 23 elected representatives, third in numberof TDs. Right to Water is also supported by Unite, “Britain’s biggest union with 1.42 million members across every type of workplace” according to their website – it is pretty big in Ireland too, which is a “region” for the union, with 100,000 members across the land.These are forces that, while opposing the water charge, did not support civil disobedience on water meter installation nor refusing to pay the charge (although a number of their members fought along with the rest). Refusing to register and pay were the most effective ways of resisting the water charges and it is the high level of civil disobedience behind the giant demonstrations that has made the ruling class think again and promoted divisions between FG and Labour on the one hand and Fianna Fáil on the other.
But these elements did not support that policy. They want to be not only law-abiding but be seen to be law-abiding. Seen by who? Well, by the ruling class of course. SF in particular is champing at the bit to get into a coalition government but needs to show the ruling class that it is a safe pair of hands, i.e that the System will remain intact if managed by them. As indeed they have done in joint managing the regime in the Six Counties.
Of course there are many occasions when social democrats and revolutionaries can cooperate – but never by ceding leadership to the social democrats nor by depending on them, always instead by relying on their own forces and striving to educate the masses that the system cannot be reformed but needs to be overthrown …. and that the ordinary people are perfectly capable of achieving that.
AN ON-LINE MASS LEFT-WING NEWSPAPER
What about the left-wing newspaper though? Now that might be something, true enough. A source of rebuttal to the lies we are constantly getting from the media and a source of information and news which media censorship ensures most of us don’t get to read, see or hear.
If it seeks to be a truly mass paper it will need to cover not only foreign and domestic news but also sport, with sections on history, culture, nature, gardening ….. Rudolfo Walsh, who founded and with others ran the important ANCLA news agency during the dictatorship and the earlier extremely popular CGTA weekly in Argentina, until he was assassinated by the police, has been credited with two important sources of the weekly’s success: his informants within the police and army and an excellent horse racing tipster!
It is a big undertaking and a very interesting one.
But will the new paper practice censorship? Will it confine its discourse to the social democratic or instead allow revolutionary voices in it? Will it allow criticism of trade union leaderships, including Unite’s? Will it cover the repression of Republicans on both sides of the Border but particularly in the Six Counties? One would certainly hope so. Well, the proof of the pudding is in the eating – and of the newspaper, in the reading.