“They Shall Not Pass — 80 years of fighting fascism” AFA Dublin conference

SATURDAY NOVEMBER 12th AN ANTI-FASCIST ACTION CONFERENCE WAS HELD IN DUBLIN CITY CENTRE, TITLED “THEY SHALL NOT PASS – 80 YEARS OF FIGHTING FASCISM”

The speakers were Dr.Brian Hanley, Dr.Mark Hayes and Ciaran Crossey, with the event chaired by Helen Keane.

poster-afa-conference-dublin-nov2016-jpeg

Poster for the event which used as its main image a section of the Battle of Cable Street mural.

I missed the beginning of the conference and unfortunately the whole of Ciaran Crossey’s presentation, arriving near the start of Brian Hanley’s to a packed conference room.

Brian Hanley gave a comprehensive history of the main components of the development of fascism in Ireland in the 26 Counties until the collapse of its impetus at the end of the 1930s. Hanley’s talk built on his Pamphlet: Ireland’s shame: the Blueshirts, the Christian Front and the far right in Ireland, (Belfast, 2016) by adding a review of Ailtirí na hAiséirghe, the minor but energetic organisation formed in 1942 under the leadership of Gearóid Ó Cuinneagáin, which aimed for an anti-semitic Catholic and corporatist state.

Hanley packed all that into 45 minutes with apparently occasional deviations from his notes, full of interesting observations. Locating the thrust towards fascism in the strongly Catholic and anti-communist atmosphere of the 1930s in Ireland (with elements of anti-semitism), it was surprising to hear excerpts from speeches and right-wing periodicals of the period referring to the Fianna Fáil Government as “communist” and “under orders from Moscow”. It was interesting too to hear brief accounts of pitched battles between fascists and Republicans around the country during the height of the Blueshirt era, how much of a social base and energy the latter gave to the Fine Gael party and to accounts of the Soldiers’ Song (the Irish National Anthem) being attended to with the fascist salute (which led to violence in one cinema at least).  Another interesting if somewhat disappointing snippet was that the AT&G, a trade union with HQ in Britain, was the one that most prominently took a stand against Franco in the 1930s while many Irish union leaderships took the opposite side.

The Chair announced a short break immediately after Hanley’s contribution which sadly resulted in no questions on Hanley’s contribution when the conference reconvened with perhaps 80% of the earlier attendance.

The post-break session began with a talk by Mark Hayes, well-known in Britain in particular as a veteran anti-fascist activist and organiser.

Hayes began by seeking to establish a description of fascism and then went on to dissect and disprove a number of reasons given by commentators for its incidence – religion, psychology of the masses of certain countries, psychology of fascist leaders, the middle class — but concluded that fascism occurs when the ruling class of a country is ready to implement it and able to do so. During the 1930s and ’40s, the ruling classes of a number of European countries opted for fascism while others did not. Britain for example had leaders who admired fascism, including Churchill (and Hayes quoted some of the latter’s public statements) but could not tolerate a Europe under the control of one country, which explained, Hayes said, why Britain went to war with Hitler and Mussolini.

Some individuals apart, the profile of fascists and supporters was “depressingly normal”, Hayes maintained which demonstrates that a successful rise of fascism is potentially possible anywhere. There is no firewall between capitalist democracies and fascism and commentators who maintain that “it couldn’t happen here” or that its time has run out, as one prominent commentator claims, are sadly mistaken.

The growth of fascism is assisted by the capitalist State with increasing attacks on civil freedoms and on the rights of workers.  Hayes saw this as being particularly initiated in Britain under the Prime Ministership of Margaret Thatcher and her Government, with attacks on the legal rights of trade unions and the use of massed ranks of police. He drew attention to the “prevent” strategy in Britain today as a state-introduced oppressive and repressive measure.

Mark Hayes during his presentation. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Mark Hayes during his presentation.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Questions & Contributions

At the end of Hayes’ presentation the Chairperson Helen Keane opened up the floor to questions.

There were four contributions from the floor, only one of which was a question: it was about the content of the Prevent Strategy which Hayes’ had mentioned earlier. Hayes replied that managers of colleges in “the UK” now have a legal obligation to identify and report to the authorities anyone exhibiting “extremism” which is turning them into part of the police force, which was an aspect of fascist rule in society. “Extremism” is problematically identified as being in opposition to “British values” which are formulated as “moderation, fair play”, etc but those alleged values completely ignore the history of Britain’s colonial conquest and imperialism.

A contributor addressed the liberal dismay at the election of Trump, criticised the alleged feminist politics of Hilary Clinton with regard to the USA’s war policies and their effects on women elsewhere in the world; finally he expressed his belief in the necessity to stand by Russia and Syria.

Another contribution framed as a question but in reality more of a comment was made in relation to the history of the growth of state fascism in Britain, which the contributor ascribed to the Prevention of Terrorism Act, introduced by a Labour Government a year before Thatcher’s Conservative Party gained a majority. That year, 1974 was also the year of the killing by police of the first known anti-fascist martyr in modern times in Britain, Kevin Gately in Red Lion Square in London.

The contributor went on to express the view that although AFA had made a huge and the principal contribution to the defeat of modern fascism in Britain, the policy of “No Free Speech for Fascists” had been put forward by the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) in the very early 1970s1 before the formation of AFA2, a policy which no other political party on the Left would support at the time. That policy had been popularised through the action of the Afro-Asian Student Society, which had close links with the CPE (m-l) and which was influential in bringing about the “no platform for fascists” policy in the National Union of Students in Britain in 1974.

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A section of the attendance after the break in the conference. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Hayes agreed that of course there had been earlier organisations and also stated that the actions of the Labour Government in Ireland had been fascist but felt that in Britain, Thatcher had brought about the definitive introduction of State fascism and that “in 30 minutes it’s not possible to cover every detail.”

The issue of the attitude towards “our only native ethnic minority”, the Irish Travellers, was raised by another contributor, attacking the endemic wrongs in the treatment of this group within the country and defending their need to be recognised as an ethnic minority.

The event ended with a reading by Máirín Ní Fháinnín of the translation into English of a short poem by Flor Cernuda, who after a period of post-war imprisonment in a concentration camp, worked for many years for the underground resistance against Franco’s regime.  The poem’s title is Las Brigadas Internacionales.

CONCLUSION

The conference was full of interesting information and the speakers I heard were of good quality in presentation, in knowledge of history and in analysis. There was undoubtedly a lack of discussion, which was a pity. In addition I was surprised that the Dublin anti-fascists’ victory in denying Pegida their Irish launch was not mentioned – small-scale though the battle was, Dublin was as far as I’m aware the only city in a European state which Pegida had targeted to launch their party and had failed to do so, being driven out of the city centre by vigorous action.

Máirín Ní Fháinnín reading Flor Cernuda's poem. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Máirín Ní Fháinnín reading Flor Cernuda’s poem.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

Footnotes

11971 or ’72

21985

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PEGIDA PLANNED LAUNCH ENDS IN SINKING — survivors take to lifeboats

Diarmuid Breatnach

Saturday was the day selected by Pegida for their Irish launch, which they had planned to do at the Dublin GPO at 3pm on Saturday (6th February). Anti-Racist Network Ireland called a demonstration for the same location from 1.30pm but from around noon bands of antifascists were on the street hunting fascists and met them at various locations with painful results for the fascists.

Section of anti-racist rally on central reservation O'Connell Street, looking southward. (Photo from ENAR Ireland FB page).

Section of anti-racist rally on central reservation O’Connell Street, looking southward. The GPO building is to the right out of frame. (Photo from ENAR Ireland) FB page).

BACKGROUND

Founded in Dresden, in eastern Germany in October 2014, Pegida (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West) is a broad European network of loosely linked groups opposed to what they claim is the “Islamisation of Europe”. Although Dresden remains its stronghold, the organisation has spread to a number of European countries.

In January last year, marches in German cities reportedly attracted up to 25,000 people at their peak, before numbers began to drop severely, rising again however in October as politicians and media stoked fears of a massive influx of migrants and refugees arriving in Europe from war-torn countries (countries, incidentally, where some European powers have played a major role in instigating or directly carrying out those wars).

Pegida claims to be not fascist and ‘solely’ against Muslims as has been the case with so many fascist organisations in the past – they have been ‘only against communism, or against Jews, or against blacks etc. The organisation has been frequently associated with general anti-immigration diatribes and in January last year derogatory descriptions of immigrants by its German leader, Lutz Bachman, in a closed Facebook discussion, were made public. He stepped down from the leadership after those revelations and the circulation of images appearing to show him posing as Adolf Hitler. The following month however he was reinstated with claims that the images were faked.

In Ireland the Blueshirts, popular name for the Army Comrades Association, mobilised and recruited in the 1930s. They were in part a response to the election of the new Fianna Fáil party, a split from Sinn Féin, in a popular national reaction to the hounding of socialists and republicans by the victors of the Civil War, 1922-1923. The Blueshirts presented themselves as Irish nationalists (even Republicans) with their targets being Communists, Jews and the IRA. Meanwhile elsewhere in Europe, fascist groups were organising, variously declaring their targets to be Jews, Communists, Socialists, Anarchists, trade unionists, Roma and Sinti, immigrants, gays and homosexuals and various religious groups.

The Blueshirts were fought on the streets by Republicans, Communists and some social democrats and, when they threatened a coup, their activities were banned by the De Valera government. It seemed that the majority of the Irish capitalist class had decided that Fianna Fáil were a safe pair of hands and would manage the country better and, besides Britain might go to war with some countries where fascists were in power.  The Blueshirts lost active members after that and with other right-wing organisations, formed the Fine Gael political party which became the principal mainstream opposition party from then on, occasionally going into Government in coalition with other parties. 

Blueshirts marching, 1930s (Photo sourced from Internet)

Blueshirts marching, 1930s (Photo sourced from Internet)

 

PRELUDE TO DEMONSTRATIONS AND ANTI-FASCIST ACTION

Saturday was chosen as “a day of action” for the groups that fall under the Pegida banner, with a number of anti-immigration and anti-Islam demonstrations planned to take place across Europe. The Irish far right anti-immigration organisation Identity Ireland supported Pegida on their Facebook discussions and claimed that Saturday would see the launch of the Irish branch of their organisation. According to a report by the Russian news agency RT, Identity Ireland’s leader addressed a Pegida rally in Dresden last month.

The ARN called for a large peaceful demonstration and even encouraged people to bring their children, advertising it as “a family affair”. Some debate between them and antifascists took place on the Internet and in person on what are the effective methods of resistance to fascism to employ. One of the anti-racist event organisers, Bulgarian Mariya Ivancheva, sociologist and anthropologist based at UCD, was reported in The Journal as calling for a “nice rally to celebrate diversity”. “When Pegida are there we are ready to face them but not to confront them,” she went on to say.

Anti-fascists referred to history to verify their case that fascism has always ultimately had to be stopped by physical force and that being the case, application of that approach at an early juncture was most effective and meant less suffering for working people, ethnic minorities and other targeted groups. The response of ARN to these antifascists was that the latter were not welcome on their rally.

Barricade against a Blackshirt march at Cable Street, East London, 1936. The attack was spearheaded by the police but the antifascists were successful.

Barricade against a Blackshirt march at Cable Street, East London, 1936. The attack was spearheaded by the police but the antifascists were successful. (Photo from Internet)

Many Republicans and Socialists were also angered by reports that the ARN had applied for police permission to hold their rally. Unlike in Britain or in the Six Counties, this is not required by law in the Irish state and the police are required to facilitate with traffic restrictions the right to march or rally on the streets or pavement. The antifascists’ disapproval was based on what was perceived as giving the police more power than they already had and which they often abuse. One veteran of demonstrations in Britain recalled that permission had once not been required in London either but liberals, social democrats and officials of the Communist Party of Great Britain had made it a practice to ask the police in order to cultivate good relations with them. In time, prior police permission became a requirement which at times was withheld or granted with conditions on times and changes of route.

However, subsequent to the publication of this report, I ascertained that ARN  had not asked permission of the police, one of them pointing out that such is not required.  The misunderstanding may have arisen from one person stating that he had informed the police that the event would be taking place.  This of course is quite some distance from asking permission.

The antifascists, composed of Irish Republicans from virtually all organisations and independents, along with a few socialist and anarchist independent activists, organised their own mobile forces.

ON THE DAY

The anti-racist rally at the GPO was attended by a couple of thousand, from the Spire almost to the Jim Larkin monument and covering the road from the GPO to the central pedestrian reservation. O’Connell Street was closed by the authorities to all northbound traffic and stewards were having difficulty in preventing the rally spilling into the southbound lanes. It was addressed by speakers from People Before Profit, the Anti-Austerity Alliance, Sinn Féin and a number of other speakers, including migrants.

Small section of crowd on east pavement, O'Connell St, with Misneach organisation flags visible (Photo D. Breatnach)

Small section of crowd on east pavement, O’Connell St, with Misneach organisation flags visible
(Photo D. Breatnach)

Clashes occurred at the pre-arranged Dublin meeting points of fascists on the Luas line with the handful of Irish fascists being attacked and some, including their leader Peter O’Loughlin and member Ian Noel Peeke being reportedly hospitalised. Clashes broke out again in the city centre at a number of points; one of the latter being at Earl Street North. It seems that some Pegida supporters had gathered at the junction with O’Connell Street and were watching the demonstration opposing them across the road and some were filming it.  There were reports of some of them abusing women supporters of the antiracist rally who were near the junction with North Earl Street. The Rabble independent media group reported them shouting anti-communist insults at them (see their video link at end of article). In any case, although generally free of visible insignia and carrying no banners, they began to attract an antifascist crowd, scuffles quickly broke out and the fascists ran down North Earl Street and Talbot Street. A couple of the Pegida supporters ducked into a nearby ‘poundshop’ apparently for safety but they were followed and received a pounding.

Police stormed the shop and evicted the antifascists, lashing out at almost anyone close by, as can be seen in the Irish Times video (see link at end of article). RTÉ has lodged a complaint about one of their camera operators being deliberately struck by a police baton. The riot police with batons drawn then set up cordons with barking German Shepherd dogs behind them and cleared North Earl Street of all pedestrians, allowing no others to enter from either direction.

North Earl St. after incident (facing westward). (Photo D. Breatnach)

North Earl St. after incident (facing westward). (Photo D. Breatnach)

 

This cordon was maintained until a few more Pegida supporters were permitted to escape through Malborough and Talbot Streets. All of the fascists in this area at least were identified by a number of sources as being of East European background, both by their accents and appearance. Some posts on fascist sites later on seemed to confirm this (see AFA Ireland statement link at end). Earlier reports gathered by antifascist intelligence had indicated that Pegida supporters from fascist Polish organisations were planning to support the Pegida launch.

 North Earl St. facing westward, Police and their vans (Photo D. Breatnach)

North Earl St. facing westward, Police and their vans (Photo D. Breatnach)

 

Subsequently, word reached antifascist patrols that 5-7 other Pegida supporters had gathered in a pub in Cathedral Street, again off O’Connell Street and scores of anti-fascists raced to arrive outside the pub almost at the same time as police. Another struggle with police took place outside the pub with riot police using their batons to jab and occasionally lash out, though with a degree more restraint than they had earlier at North Earl Street (perhaps due to an initial complaint from RTÉ having reached their senior officers by then). Police continued to violently push protesters and to jab with truncheons and one demonstrator showed a badly swollen and blue hand.

A standoff took place here for some time until the Pegida supporters appeared to be getting bussed out in police vans which sparked a rush of 50 or more antifascists southward down O’Connell Street. Riot police on foot and in vans followed them and at the intersection with Lower Abbey Street, drew up two cordons, one facing eastward down Lower Abbey Street and the other facing the Liffey, while crowds of antifascist gathered on the eastern pavements and Lower Abbey Street and mostly spectators gathered on the central pedestrian reservation. More police arrived and drew plastic shields out of their vans while a number of dogs were in evidence barking, one jumping up and straining on the leash towards antifascists.

Many spectators, natives and others, expressed bemusement and asked people near them what was occurring, evidence of the low level of advance news coverage by the mainstream media. Alternative, liberal, socialist and Republican media and independent sites on the other hand had given extensive coverage and encouraged people to attend the anti-racist demonstration or the antifascist action. Some among the crowd who were ‘in the know’ explained the events to one or two in their immediate vicinity. The overall atmosphere in the crowd seemed opposed to the fascists with mixed attitudes to the police and antifascists. These crowds offered fertile ground for being publicly addressed by word of mouth or leaflets but none seemed available to fulfill that role.

After some time in apparently purposeless deployment, given that nothing was moving, the Gardaí simply returned most of their forces and riot shields to their vans and most drove off. This seemed to indicate that the police maneouvre had been in the manner of a decoy while the fascists were spirited away quietly from the vacated vicinity of the pub. The Rabble video seems to confirm this.

Melee in Cathedral Street (photo from Internet)

Melee in Cathedral Street as riot police force antifascists away from pub where fascists are in hiding (photo from Internet)

Riot Squad police in Cathedral Street facing off antifascists. (Photo D.Breatnach)

Riot Squad police in Cathedral Street facing off antifascists.
(Photo D.Breatnach)

Standoff Abbey St. junction O'Connell St, facing westward (Photo D.Breatmach)

Standoff Abbey St. junction O’Connell St, facing westward (Photo D.Breatmach).

Many spectators -- view northwards along O'Connell St. from the William O'Brien monument (Photo D.Breatmach)

Many spectators — view northwards along O’Connell St. from the William O’Brien monument (Photo D.Breatmach)

SUMMARY ANALYSIS

The State, probably in anticipation of antifascist action, mobilised and deployed considerable forces. Garda vans moved through the city centre, sometimes in convoys, in addition to police on foot, mounted on horse and bicycle (though the horse police were often discreetly out of site in several locations around the demonstration area). Riot police waited in vans while other vans were stacked with plastic riot shields (which in the end were not needed, if a missile was thrown at the police it was a rare one).

In line with the general history of the relationship between capitalist states, their police forces and fascist movements, the police showed their determination to protect the fascists moving around the city centre. The eagerness of officers at times caused them some problems, including one of them striking a cameraman from the national broadcasting network, RTÉ, with a baton. On another occasion, a riot police officer can be heard calling “Hold the line!” at a time when the video shows the line is not under pressure – the only danger to the police line at that point is seen to be from over-eager officers breaking away to pursue and attack demonstrators.

A number of demonstrators and some spectators suffered bruises from police batons as well being violently shoved by police. In one video a police officer is briefly visible striking at a person lying on the ground – a visual echo of that famous photograph of Bloody Sunday during the 1913 Lockout, when the Dublin Metropolitan Police had run riot less than 100 yards away. In other footage police are seen shoving a man, apparently disorientated (perhaps by a blow to the head) to the ground at least three times although he is no threat to them and is not even resisting.

A feature of the antifascist active resistance was the unity in action across the Irish Republican spectrum, a feature that has been growing in solidarity work around Republican prisoners, in resistance to some features of repression and in the defence of the historical heritage represented by the struggle to save the 1916 Terrace in Moore Street. On this occasion however the unity in action included some SF activists. A sprinkling of independent socialists and anarchists were also among them. Some activists of the socialist, anarchist and communist organisations left the rally to join the antifascists blockading the fascists and their police protectors at Cathedral Street. There were a number of reports of football youth ‘casuals’, supporters of four Dublin soccer clubs, also cooperating in hunting for fascists. At least two of these were observed taking ‘selfies’ of themselves against a riot police background!

It is not known how many arrests were made nor what their outcome has been. Fascists were filmed being handcuffed as they were being put in police vans to take them to safety but it is unlikely they were charged. A number of fascists were reportedly hospitalised where no doubt their medical care teams will include a number of migrant background and perhaps even of Muslim religion.

The police and the Government will be considering their response but the ritual condemnations by their mouthpieces of antifascist force can be expected, as well as attempts to isolate the antifascists as some kind of hooligan or sinister element. The capitalist class will not be impressed with Pegida or Identity Ireland’s performance and, if considering building up a fascist movement in the future, will probably look elsewhere.

Both the ARN and the antifascists were pleased with the outcome of their respective efforts but liberal elements can be expected to condemn the antifascists for what the former perceive as marring the message of their demonstration. The ARN statement (see link at end of article) did so in fact albeit in muted tones, “regretting skirmishes”. In a parallel to some Jewish leaders in 1930s Europe during the rise of fascism, a Muslim religious leader was quoted criticising violent actions “by a minority” and called for defeating them by “dialogue”.

The fascists will be licking their wounds and trying to put a brave face on their defeat, also condemning the antifascists for using “undemocratic violence” or words to that effect. All fascist movements in history have been extremely violent while often, while in their growth period, presenting themselves in public as peaceful and condemning the violence of their opponents. This is a fact that liberal elements usually fail to appreciate, while other elements among the middle class are ultimately content to see their order being maintained, whether by the State or by fascists.

Whatever spin the fascists, the State, mass media or liberals may put on it, the fact remains that the fascists have been prevented from staging a publicity coup that would have raised the morale of their few recruits and encouraged more to join them. Fascist movements throughout history have required such morale-boosters and encouragement for potential recruits and, incidentally, intimidation of their opposition. What happened on Saturday in Dublin has been the reverse – the fascists and potential recruits have been intimidated and discouraged. Over 200 indicated intention to attend on the Pegida “Irish launch” Facebook event but reports on the ground in the city centre indicate a total of perhaps 30 fascists being chased around the city in small groups. The 170 or so, whether Irish or from elsewhere interested in supporting islamophobia, racism and fascism won’t be in a hurry to enlist now.

But should a new attempt be made to launch a mass fascist movement in Ireland, on whatever divisive basis, the antifascists are likely to turn out in even greater numbers.

End.

Video and text links:

Irish Times video showing part of incident at North Earl Street which shows a number of unprovoked assaults by Gardaí on individuals, both by violent pushing and by baton blows. http://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/scuffles-break-out-at-launch-of-anti-immigration-group-in-dublin-1.2525530

Collage of video clips taken by independent film maker, including scenes of baton-swinging police: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHkQnkaqaoU

Great footage taken by filmer from Rabble alternative media organisation of a number of dramatic events including fascists’s faces: http://www.rabble.ie/2016/02/07/pathetic-pegida/

Short panoramic video clip of the AR demo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJNQW0pSYpY

Independent long video footage of confrontation on Cathedral Street posted on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_REls3JkxzQ#t=129

AFA statement and some other material on their site: https://www.facebook.com/afaireland/posts/1018094948250821:0

Irish Republican Left Action Against Fascism statement: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=913561958751080&id=912549568852319

ENAR Ireland photos and Anti-Racism Network statement: https://www.facebook.com/enar.ireland/posts/954399354642123

Rogues’ Gallery of fascists’ faces album: https://www.facebook.com/libertypics/media_set?set=a.10207283509858914.1073741835.1019818043&type=3&uploaded=1&hc_location=ufi

LIST OF ORGANISATIONS SUPPORTING THE ENAR RALLY:

Supporting organisations (in alphabetical order):

Anti Austerity Alliance, Akidwa Ireland, Africa Centre Dublin Ireland, Anti Racism Network Ireland, Attac Ireland, Autistic Rights Together, Communist Party of Ireland, Conference of Religious in Ireland, Dialogue & Diversity, Dublin Calais Refugee Solidarity, Dublin City Centre Citizens Information Service, Doras Luimni, EDeNn, ENAR Ireland, Fighting for Humanity – Homelessness, Galway Anti Racism Network, Gaza Action Ireland, Gluaiseacht for Global Justice, Green Party of Ireland, Ireland Says Welcome, Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC), Irish Anti-War Movement, Irish Housing Network, Irish Refugee Council, Irish Missionary Union, Irish Traveller Movement, Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, National Traveller Womens Forum, Shannonwatch, Show Racism the Red Card – Ireland, SARI – Sport Against Racism Ireland, SIPTU, Sinn Féin , The Platform, Pavee Point, People Before Profit, United Against Racism, The Workers Party, Workers Solidarity Movement, You Are Not Alone.” (From their statement published on European Network Against Racism Ireland’s site)

BERNADETTE McALLISKEY SPEAKING AT TRINITY COLLEGE

Diarmuid Breatnach

The auditorium in Trinity College on Friday 20th June was nearly empty at the advertised starting time for the lecture on “The Legacy of Power, Conflict and Resistance”. The start was delayed and more people came in but, by the time the speaker and the theme was introduced, the hall was still not full. That was surprising, because the speaker was Bernadette Mc Alliskey (nee Devlin), who had been at 18 years of age one of the leaders of the Civil Rights movement in the Six Counties (“Northern Ireland”), at 21 years of age elected MP for Mid-Ulster in 1969 and still, 45 years later, holding the record for the youngest woman ever elected to the British Parliament.

Bernadette Devlin circa 1968 or 1969.  She was elected MP on a People's Democracy ticket in 1969 but later classified herself as an "independent socialist".

Bernadette Devlin early 1969. She was elected MP on a People’s Democracy ticket in 1969 but later classified herself as an “independent socialist”.

The same year as her election, Bernadette went to the USA to gather support for the Civil Rights movement in a trip being used by others, rumouredly, to gather funds for arms. She shocked the conservative part of Irish USA, Ancient Order of Hibernians and Democratic Party political allies, by some of her statements and actions regarding blacks and chicanos and in visiting a Black Panthers project. Bernadette returned home to serve a short prison sentence after conviction for “incitement to riot” arising from her role in the defence of Derry against police (RUC and B-Specials) and Loyalist attack.

In 1972, during her five-year tenure as a Member of Parliament, enraged by his comments about the murder a few days previously of 13 unarmed protesters (a 14th died later of his wounds) by the Parachute Regiment in Derry, she stormed up to the then British Home Secretary and, in front of a full House of Commons, slapped him in the face. Bernadette had been there in Derry that terrible day – she was to have addressed the anti-internment march upon which the Paras opened fire.

 

The Tyrone woman was also a founder-member of the Irish Republican Socialist Party in 1974, which she left after failing to bring the armed organisation, the Irish National Liberation Army, under party control.  She continued to be a Left-Republican political activist, in particular campaigning against the treatment of Republicans on arrest and subsequently as prisoners in jail, in the H-Blocks Campaign.  She learned to speak Irish.  In January 1981, she and her husband Michael McAlliskey were the victims of an assassination attempt by a squad of the “Ulster Freedom Fighters” (a cover name for the Ulster Defence Association, which was not banned until 1992).  They both survived, though Bernadette had been shot seven times.

 

In 1996, while four months pregnant, Bernadette’s daughter was arrested on a German extradition warrant, charging her with being part of a Provisional IRA mortar attack on a British Army base in Osnabruck, Germany. Although taken to England, where a judge agreed to her extradition to Germany, a long and vigorous campaign fought by Roisín’s mother and her supporters eventually defeated the extradition and Roisín gave birth to a healthy daughter.

Recent portrait of Bernadette (Devlin) McAlliskey by Francis McKee

Recent portrait of Bernadette (Devlin) McAlliskey by Francis McKee

Bernadette's daughter was arrested twice on the same charge but vigorous campaigning impeded her extradition.  Photo shows banner resisting the earlier attempt.

Bernadette’s daughter was arrested twice on the same charge but vigorous campaigning impeded her extradition. Photo shows banner resisting the earlier attempt.


In 1998 and for some years after, Bernadette was an outspoken critic of Sinn Féin and of their direction in the “Peace Process”, which she saw as the party coming to accept British colonialism and Irish capitalism. In 2003 she was banned by the USA and deported, widely interpreted as being due to her speaking against the Good Friday Agreement, but continued her campaigning. However in 2007, another extradition warrant was issued for her daughter Roisín on the same charges as before and the young
woman became emotionally ill. The whole trauma was seen by many as a warning to Bernadette to cease criticising the “new dispensation” and subsequently she was seen to fade from the ranks of public critics of the GFA, Sinn Féin and of the treatment of Republican prisoners.

Bernadette remained active through working with migrants in a not-for-profit organisation in Dungannon. In recent years she has returned, on occasion, to the issues upon which she was so outspoken previously, for example standing surety for Marian Price’s bail to attend her sister Dolores’ funeral and speaking at the ceremony herself. Bernadette also spoke at the Bloody Sunday Commemoration/ March for Justice in January this year in Derry.

With a c.v. of that sort, one would reasonably expect a packed auditorium.

Bernadette Mc Alliskey on the platform upon which she had earlier spoken in February 2014 at a rally following the annual Bloody Sunday Commemoration/ March for Justice.

Bernadette Mc Alliskey on the platform upon which she had earlier spoken in February 2014 at a rally following the annual Bloody Sunday Commemoration/ March for Justice.

Bernadette has walked the walk and thought the thought too but she can also talk the talk. With one A4 sheet in front of her, she spoke for over an hour, hardly ever glancing at her notes. Her talk was as part of Trinity College’s MPhil Alumni Conference on ‘Power, Conflict, Resistance’ organised by the Department of Sociology for its Mphil course in “Race, Ethnicity and Conflict”.

Bernadette McAlliskey began her talk with the theme of fear of conflict, developing the thesis that this fear is inculcated in us from childhood, as conflict arises out of challenging power and hierarchy. She traced this further back to religious indoctrination where dogma is to be accepted without question and finds its reflection in all aspects of life but particularly in the political.

Talking about Tom Paine, who expounded the theory that human beings, each independently, are responsible for themselves, she stated that this is fundamental to citizenship. Some aspects of this self-responsibility are delegated to institutions when we live in large groups but any decisions made for us without our consent are “an usurpation”. Tom Paine was an English Republican, author of, among other works Common Sense (1776) and The Rights of Man (1791). He had to flee England because of disseminating his ideas, which were considered revolutionary in his time.


Much of Bernadette’s talk was given over to this theme, to the lack of consideration of women even by such as Tom Paine, and also to the racism spread by colonialism, which the Christian hierarchies condoned and even encouraged.

When she finished to sustained applause and took questions, there were two from people identifying themselves as Travellers, another from a person from an NGO working with migrants, another regarding anti-Irish racism in English colonial ideology and the continuing power of the Catholic Church in the education system.

One question seemed to throw her and she admitted that she found it difficult to answer. Ronit Lentin, Jewish author, political sociologist and critic of Israeli Zionism asked Bernadette was it not true that racism in the Six Counties came mostly from within Loyalism, allied to anti-Catholic sectarianism. Bernadette struggled in replying, at one point denying it and pointing to anti-Traveller discrimination in the ‘nationalist’ areas but following this up by observing that Travellers would only camp in or near ‘nationalist areas’ (presumably because the hostility in a ‘unionist area’ would be worse).

Bernadette then went on to recall the recent anti-Muslim remarks made by a prominent Belfast evangelist preacher, James McConnell, and how the First Minister of Stormont, Peter Robinson, had defended the evangelist’s right to free speech. Asked for his own opinion of Muslims, the First Minister had replied that he also distrusted them “if they are fully devoted to Sharia law” but would trust them to go to the shop for his groceries and to bring him back the correct change. All the examples Bernadette drew on, apart from the generalised one about Travellers in ‘nationalist’ areas, were in fact from the Unionist sector.

The final question was from an SWP activist who pointed out that the State does not admit to its institutional racism and often takes no action on racist attacks or denies that the motive for the attack was racism. The activist asked Bernadette how she thought racism can be dealt with in this context. She replied that the legal structures are there and should be used and persisted with.

It seemed a strange response from one who would have described herself in the past as a revolutionary. Earlier in her talk she herself had quoted the black Caribbean lesbian, Audre Lorde, who said that the instruments of the State could not be used to dismantle it (actually I.V. Lenin had made the same point in The State and Revolution in 1917, nor was he the first to do so). A revolutionary’s answer to that question would presumably have been that while the structures should be used in order to expose them that ultimately the capitalist State’s power is the enemy of unity among the people; disunity rather than unity among the people is in the interest of the system. Mobilisation of the people against racism and directing them towards the source of their ills, the capitalist system, and building solidarity in action, is the only realistic way forward. Perhaps Bernadette felt constrained by the academic environment in which she was speaking but that is not the answer she gave.

End.

Interesting retrospective piece on McAlliskey’s visit to the USA in 1969: http://www.historyireland.com/20th-century-contemporary-history/fidel-castro-in-a-miniskirt-bernadette-devlins-first-us-tour/

Interview with McAlliskey at a Scottish conference on radical independence https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4LdcnxMb9Q