THE “IRISH SHEEPLE”

Diarmuid Breatnach

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.

A section of a Water Charge protest march on the south quays of the Liffey while another section marches on the north quays in August 2015 (Photo: D.Breatnach)

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.

March against the Water Charge finishing for rally at Dublin’s Stephens Green in September 2016 (Photo: D.Breatnach)

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.

MOORE STREET

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).

Moore St. historical conservation campaigners in the street itself celebrate High Court judgement shortly after receiving the news on March 18th 2016 after which they ceased the blockade.
(Photo: J.Betson)

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.

JOBSTOWN

Two years before that Moore Street event, a mass protest for had prevented two hours the Minister for Social Protection’s car from leaving a working class area where she had gone to attend a ceremony.

Some supporters of those charged for protesting in Jobstown in show of solidarity outside the Court where they were being tried in March this year.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

“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.

THREE FORCED TO RESIGN: Alan Shatter, then Minister for Justice, congratulating Nóirín O’Sullivan on her appointment as Deputy Garda Commissioner while Commissioner Martin Callinan looks on. As a result of exposure of alleged attempts to silence Garda whistleblowers and alleged covering up Garda corruption and misdeeds, Shatter and Callinan had to resign in 2014 and O’Sullivan recently. (PIC: MAXWELLS NO REPRO FEE)

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.

 

SHEEPLE?

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 plans to 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.

THREE CHEERS FOR THE IRISH SHEEPLE!

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SONS OF MOLLY MAGUIRES PLAYS IN DUBLIN

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

The play about the Irish miners in Pennsylvania and their exploitation and the secret society they formed to resist, written by US-Irishman John Kearns and directed by Dara Carolan, received its Irish premiere tonight/ last night (Wednesday) in Liberty Hall.

Wonderful banner honouring the Molly Maguires, designed by Jer O’Leary, pictured on Liberty Hall Theatre staircase.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

In the Pennsylvania coalmines of the 1870s, Irish miners resisted their exploitation as workers and the racism they experienced as Irish Catholics to form a trade union. But when their efforts seem to avail them little, drawing on their Irish experience of peasant resistance societies fighting landlords and their agents, some went on to form a secret society: the Sons of Molly Maguire, also known as the “Mollies”.

They suffered unsafe conditions (one fall in a mine with only one exit trapped and killed 110 miners), high prices in the company store and felt they were being cheated even on the agreed wages. Eventually miners began to carry out retribution on informers and on mine-owners’ agents and their property. It seems the “Mollies” used the Ancient Order of Hibernians as a cover but that may also have been political and racial propaganda against them.

The mine-owners engaged the Pinkerton Detective Agency who inserted one of their agents, a Catholic Ulsterman called McPartland, among the miners and he gave information on the men leading to their arrest and then gave evidence against them in court.

As the Irish Echo review in the US stated: The play employs an “… effective blending of pageant, mime, kitchen sink realism, and even flights of poetry”. It also has some moments of high drama. An interesting feature from a US playwright is the use of appropriate Irish language phrases at times, reminding us that an Ghaeilge would have been the mother language of many of those migrant Irish while nearly all would have had at least a nodding acquaintance with it.

Photo said to be of hanging of one of the Molly Maguires (Photo source: Internet)

One phrase used a number of times was “Ní thuigeann an sách an seang” of which I had no previous recollection. Looking it up, I noted a number of meanings, of which the prevalent was along the lines of the equivalent in English of No one knows where the shoe pinches, but he who wears it.” But a deeper examination which I found on another site (see link) gives a darker interpretation, which seems more in line with the play: “It is about more than a misunderstanding by the corpulent of the cadaverous. One variant is, “Ní thuigeann an sách an seang, nuair a bhíonn a bholg féin teann.” This literally means, the well-fed one does not understand the slender one, when his stomach is usually taut. In other words, the well-fed do not understand hunger.

Another variant is, “Ní mhothaíonn an sách an seang.” The verb ‘mothaigh’ can be translated as either ‘feel’ or ‘hear.’ Use either English transitive verb and it suggests that the satiated simply do not care about the starved.

There is certainly a wealth of meaning to be found in many of the pithy phrases in the Irish language.

Molly Maguire Executions marker. Schuylkill County Prison (Photo source: internet)

Twenty “Mollies” were hanged (including at least some innocent men) between 1877 and 1879 and this is sometimes said to be the largest known mass hanging of any specific group in the USA – it was not. Nor was the hanging of ten “Mollies” on the 21st June 1877 the largest hanging of one group in one day. The dubious honour for most men hanged of any group and on one day goes to the 38 Dakota Native Indians who were hanged on December 26, 1862. However, the Dakota were hanged by the US military and the “Mollies” were tried in civil courts, so the Mollies can claim the most judicially executed in the USA of one group as well as on one day.

The play employs an “… effective blending of pageant, mime, kitchen sink realism, and even flights of poetry” (the Irish Echo review in the US) and has some moments of high drama. It also employs appropriate Irish language phrases, reminding us that an Ghaeilge would have been the mother tongue of many of those migrant Irish while others would have had a nodding acquaintance with it.

One phrase used a number of times was “Ní thuigeann an sách an seang” of which I had no previous recollection. Looking it up, I noted a number of meanings, of which the prevalent was along the lines of the equivalent in English of No one knows where the shoe pinches, but he who wears it.” But a deeper examination which I found on another site (see link) gives a darker interpretation, which seems more in line with the play: “It is about more than a misunderstanding by the corpulent of the cadaverous. One variant is, “Ní thuigeann an sách an seang, nuair a bhíonn a bholg féin teann.” This literally means, the well-fed one does not understand the slender one, when his stomach is usually taut. In other words, the well-fed do not understand hunger.

Another variant is, “Ní mhothaíonn an sách an seang.” The verb ‘mothaigh’ can be translated as either ‘feel’ or ‘hear.’ Use either English transitive verb and it suggests that the satiated simply do not care about the starved.There is certainly a wealth of meaning to be found summed up in pithy phrases in the Irish language.

Hanging place perhaps in Mauch Chunk jail, Pennsylvania, USA.
(Photo source: Internet)

Its showing in Liberty Hall was its first on an Irish stage for John Kearns play “Sons of Molly Maguire” but it has previously been performed at the Midtown International Theatre Festival in New York. John Kearns is the Treasurer and Salon Producer for Irish American Writers and Artists. He is the author of the short-story collection, Dreams and Dull Realities and the novel, The World, along with plays including “In the Wilderness”and “In a Bucket of Blood”.

The play received an enthusiastic reception from the audience. Raging you missed it? Don’t worry – you can still catch it tomorrow/ today, that is Thursday 11th May as part of Mayfest at the Liberty Hall Theatre.

 

End.

 

LINKS:

http://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/the-us-executed-20-molly-maguires-in-biggest-federal-executions-ever

http://www.daltai.com/proverbs/personal-qualities-types-of-people/ni-thuigeann-an-sach-an-seang/

 

 

 

RIGHT TO OVERTHROW THE SYSTEM

Diarmuid Breatnach

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).

Banner of a Labour Party branch of Crewe (West England) with a Marxist revolutionary slogan at a General Strike rally. Yet the leadership of the Labour Party convinced the TUC to call off the General Strike. (Image source: Internet)

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.

Moments of terror during the 1973 military coup in Chile — some of those pictured may well have been tortured and/ or murdered soon afterwards. (Image source: Internet)

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.

Section of the ICTU protest march in November 2010 — the ICTU threatened a General Strike within days but instead crawled into Croke Park Agreement.
(Image source: Internet)

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 number of 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!

Rudolfo Walsh, Argentinian writer and journalist of Irish descent, his image superimposed on another of the military dictatorship that murdered him.
(Image source: Internet)

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.

MOORE STREET AND 1916 RISING — OF GREAT INTERNATIONAL SIGNIFICANCE

Diarmuid Breatnach

(This is another part of my personal submission to the Minister of Heritage’s Consultative Group on Moore Street. Some others may be found on https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2017/02/15/the-1916-history-of-moore-street/https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2017/02/10/the-moore-street-market-a-possible-future/https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2017/03/21/personal-recommendations-for-the-moore-street-quarter/ and https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2017/03/22/moore-street-mus…tourists-account/.

I have tackled the particular subject of the International Importance of the 1916 Rising and therefore of the Moore St. Quarter on a number of occasions elsewhere and at some greater length on Rebel Breeze here https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2016/01/20/the-moore-street-terrace-a-world-heritage-site/ )

The 1916 Rising, to which Moore Street is so closely linked, represented some very important events for the people of the world and it impacted on people in all populated continents of the globe.

FOR DEMOCRACY, EQUALITY

The 1916 Proclamation, printed in Liberty Hall and signed in No.21 Henry Street, just around the corner from Moore Street, is a document not only of clear patriotic and anti-colonial expression but also a democratic and inclusive one. At a time when hardly a state anywhere in the world permitted women to vote in elections, the document specifically addressed “Irishmen and Irish women”. It also clearly expressed the wish of the insurgents to overcome the religious sectarianism which had played such an important part in securing continued colonial rule: “ … religious and civil liberty … oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien Government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.” 

Site of signing of 1916 Proclamation, 21 Henry St, almost opposite end of Moore Street.  At the time the business premises and cafe of Jennie Wyse Power of Cumann na mBan was there (plaque erected in 1919 by the 1916-1921 Club). 

The Rising had expressed the gender equality intentions of the insurgents in more than the words of its address: women fought in the Rising and, in two garrison areas, commanded for awhile. The British colonial authorities recognised the role of some of those women by sentencing one to death, albeit a sentence later commuted, and keeping a number of them in prison even after many men had been released.

Headline of 1916 Proclamation and specific mention address to Irish women (sourced oh Internet)

FOR GENDER EQUALITY

Irish women organised for and acted in the Rising in two separate organisations: Cumann na mBan and the Irish Citizen Army.

The women founded as an auxiliary force to the Irish Volunteers, Cumann na mBan, later to assert considerable organisational independence, wore their own uniforms and had their own female officers. Women had participated in many insurrections and resistance movements across the world but no insurrectionary force in history ever before had such a consciously women-organised force.

The women in the Irish Citizen Army had formally equal status with men and a number carried arms in the Rising and fired them at the enemy. Men acted on orders from women officers in at least two garrison areas and, in medical matters, also in at least a third.

Such a situation was of great significance in the struggle for women’s rights and gender equality, not only in Ireland but in the world.

FOR WORKERS AND SOCIALISM

Captain White & Irish Citizen Army on parade on their grounds at Croydon House, Fairview, N. Dublin City. (Sourced on Internet)

The Irish Citizen Army was founded in 1913 as a workers’ defence force by trade unionists and socialists and later as a workers’ army and, despite its strongly anti-colonial stance, until the 1916 Rising, maintained a strict separation from the nationalist republican organisations of the Irish Volunteers and Cumann na mBan. As detailed earlier, it formally recognised women within the organisation as of equal status with men.

Workers’ organisations had existed before, including armed ones but nowhere had such an armed organisation existed outside of armed conflict for so long (1913-1916), led by socialists and with equal status for men and women. In the history of socialist organisation and particularly of a revolutionary and insurgent kind, this was a development of enormous importance.

AGAINST WAR

The 1916 Rising took place in the middle of the first of two huge international conflicts that were later called World Wars. WW1 was a struggle for markets, resources and strategic positions and bases between a number of states ruled by capitalists and those states recruited heavily from among the nations they had colonised; in Britain’s case, that included Ireland.

To many nationalist Republicans, the War represented an opportunity, expressed in the maxim that “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity”. But to many socialists around the world, the War represented a disastrous pitting of the working people under one Power against the working people of another, as well as an excuse for the suppression of demands to fulfill the needs of their workers while the capitalists gathered huge profits. James Connolly was one of those socialists.

“WE SERVE NEITHER KING NOR KAISER banner on Liberty Hall (prior wartime repressive legislation), HQ of the IT&GWU, the WUI and of the ICA. (Sourced on Internet)

Connolly, Edinburgh-born Irish revolutionary socialist, formerly Acting General Secretary of the Irish Transport & General Worker’s Union, had joined the International Workers of the Word, the hugely influential in the USA syndicalist organisation. As well as being an energetic organiser, Connolly was a historian and revolutionary theoretician. Connolly took to heart the resolution formally adopted by representatives of the vast majority of European socialists to oppose war and, should it come, to turn it into class war against their rulers. In the event, Connolly was one of the few European socialist leaders to live up to that resolution: as Commandant of the Irish Citizen Army, GPO Garrison commander in a rising against Ireland’s British colonial masters, James Connolly was also striking a blow against imperial and colonial war.

That aspect of the Rising, of being consciously or unconsciously against War, predated the February Russian Revolution of 1917, also in part an anti-war uprising, by ten months. And of course, predated the October Socialist Revolution in Russia by seventeen months and the nearest uprising geographically to Ireland, also in part an anti-war one, the German socialist uprising in November 1918, by two-and-a-half years. For all these reasons, the 1916 Rising, the Headquarters of which were in the GPO and later removed to Moore Street, was and remains of enormous significance in the world-wide history of people’s movements against war.

AGAINST COLONIALISM IN THE WORLD

The 1916 Rising reverberated around the world. It took place in what had a century earlier been widely regarded as the second city of the British Empire and, when it erupted, did so against the largest empire, in terms of directly-controlled areas and population numbers ruled, that the world has ever known. How can such an event be of other than huge interest, not only to other peoples under British colonial rule but also to those under the colonial rule of France, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Portugal, Spain, Russia and the United States? How could it not have been of considerable interest to socialist revolutionaries everywhere?

Lenin speaking in Red Square in October 1918. He was among Russian revolutionaries who commented on the 1916 Rising. (Sourced on Internet)

Map of world empires, colonies and territories in 1914 (Sourced on Internet)

 

Socialists around the world discussed the Rising, at first often criticising it, while Lenin, of huge importance in the socialist movement at that time and some others commented favourably upon it. Consequently, the Rising and the War of Independence was to play an important part in the development of a revolutionary theory around the world that advocated the linking of the struggles of worker, peasant and small farmer, of anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism with struggle for a socialist republic.

August 4, 1916: From left: Irish American labor leaders Timothy Healy, William B. Fitzgerald, William D. Mahon, Hugh Frayne (general organizer in New York for the American Federation of Labor), and Louis Fridiger. Fitzgerald, Mahon, and Fridiger represented the Amalgamated Association of Street Railway Employees of America. (Source http://irishamerica.com/2016/02/hand-in-hand-for-freedom-u-s-labor-and-irish-rebels/

The Rising was a topic of great discussion in the United States and in Australia, and in the USA of financial and other support, as is well known. Connolly had been active there and had published his songbook in New York in 1910; Larkin was actually there in 1916. For a number of reasons, including the sentencing to death of Eamon Bulfin for his role in the GPO and in Moore Street, a sentence later commuted and Bulfin deported to Buenos Aires, the Rising was discussed in Argentina and in other Latin American countries (where, at that time, the British were the main imperialist power).

Eamon Bulfin, born in Argentina and exiled there after 1916, his photo in Australian paper the Southern Cross that year. (Sourced on Internet)

Members of 1st Battalion Connaught Rangers including the leader of the 1920 mutiny in the Punjab, James Daly. (Sourced on Internet)

It was certainly discussed in the huge country of India (which at that time included what is now the states of Pakistan and Bangladesh), whose revolutionary nationalists had contact with Fenian revolutionaries from decades earlier. The Connaught Ranger mutiny in the British Army was a direct result of the Rising and the War of Independence and, before the mutiny was crushed, the soldiers and oppressed Indians had begun to make movement towards reciprocal solidarity. And we know, from history and the writings of Indian nationalists and socialists, that the Rising and the War of Independence which organically followed the Rising influenced the struggles against colonialism and imperialism in India right up to the Second World War. We are also aware of correspondence between the Nehru and Ghandi families and the McSwineys.

A young Ho Chi Minh (not his name then) at Marseilles conference in 1919
(Sourced on Internet)

We know also that the War of Independence influenced African uprisings and Ho Chi Minh, later leader of successful wars against Japanese invasion and French colonialism. In South Africa, the Rising must have been a subject of discussion too, at least among the whites. John McBride, sentenced to death ostensibly for his role in Rising was probably in reality being shot for having organised and led an Irish Brigade to fight the British in the Second Boer War, which had ended but fourteen years earlier.

In Britain itself, the Rising influenced the huge Irish diaspora in England, Scotland and Wales and a significant proportion of the insurgent forces in Dublin had actually come from there. The Rising and especially the War of Independence caused a crises of a kind in British socialist thinking, threatening an irrevocable rupture between revolutionary socialists and even sections of radical social democrats on the one hand and pro-imperial social democracy on the other.

This is not the place to discuss this further but that situation, allied to anti-colonial struggles around the world, huge dissatisfaction and mutinies in the British armed forces and a growing strike movement in Britain, provided great opportunities for an Irish revolutionary movement to influence the history of the world in a direction other than that which it has taken.

For all the reasons outlined above, the Moore Street quarter should be of recognised World Heritage Status.

UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE AND OTHER CONSERVATION STATUS

The Irish State ratified the World Heritage Convention in 1991, which qualifies Ireland to apply for that status for the Moore Street quarter. Up to US$1 million is available from the World Heritage fund for the saving and development of a World Heritage site and funds are also available for urgent works to save it. World Heritage status attracts considerable tourist interest and substantial revenue is of course also available to the State and businesses surrounding the area from such tourist interest.

Currently Ireland has only two sites which have been accorded full World Heritage status (one of archaelogical and the other or natural, mainly geological, importance). However, another seven sites are under “Tentative” categorisation since 2010 and Dublin City is one of those. The Moore Street battleground could be afforded that full World Heritage status in its own right, which I believe its history deserves but it can also be used to strengthen the case for full such status for Dublin City.

The ten grounds on which UNESCO currently relies in order to examine the “the unique importance” of a site is admittedly rather restricted in the category of historical importance, particularly in the development of social movements. However, even under the existing list, I would submit that the Moore Street battleground meets four of the criteria: 2, 4, 6 and 8. The USA has the Statue of Liberty and Independence Hall building as World Heritage sites.

Registering under EU programs may also be possible, in particular Horizon 2020.

DUBLIN FIRE BRIGADE AMBULANCE PROTEST AT CITY HALL

Diarmuid Breatnach

DUBLIN FIRE BRIGADE AMBULANCE SERVICE WORKERS PROTEST AT CITY HALL — hundreds of workers protest Dublin City Council Executive Officer’s plan to “outsource” their service.

Gathering to hear the speakers on Cork Hill, outside the side entrance of Dublin City Hall (left of photo).
(Photo: DBreatnach)

The monthly meeting of the elected representatives of Dublin City Council is often an occasion for protest, with placards and banners, of a number of campaigns protesting measures of the Council’s administrators or for calling on City Councillors for support ffor the campaigners’ objectives.

The March meeting of the Council on Monday night this week was no different in that respect but on this occasion, unusually, there were hundreds of protesters outside, the majority of them in uniform, filling the Cork Hill space in front of City Hall’s side entrance, up to the ceremonial entrance gates of Dublin Castle.

Several hundred thronged the area, most of them in either the dark blue of the Dublin Fire Brigade or in red-and-yellow or tan-and-yellow jackets, also bearing the legend “Dublin Fire Brigade”. Dotted among the crowd too were others in ordinary street clothes, presumably members of the public and a few with young children, probably relations to fire fighters or paramedics.

A young supporter of the fire-fighters’ struggle
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The protest meeting was seeking the support of elected Dublin City Councillors in their dispute with the Chief Executive of the Council, Owen Keegan. The highest officer in the Council does not want the local authority responsible for funding the Dublin Fire Brigade’s ambulance service call-and-dispatch service and announced two years ago that it would be transferred from the Tara Street centre and put under the control of the HSE at their national control centre in Tallaght.

However, his plan ran into trouble not only with the fire-fighters themselves but with a large number of the elected public representatives and as a result a consultative forum was set up. Its eventual recommendations were not however what Keegan wished for, proposing instead a technological linkup between the HSE’s and the DFB ambulance services and as a result Keegan and other DCC senior management pulled out of the consultative forum in January. Brendan Kenny, second-in-command at DCC said that there was no point in continuing with the forum since it did not carry out the task it was set up to do but came up with different recommendations.

 

STRIKE NOTICE

View from the steps of City Hall (State Entrance gates to Dublin Castle to the extreme left of photo). (photo: D.Breatnach)

Since the intention of the City’s management was clearly to proceed with their plan, both the main trade unions affected, SIPTU and IMPACT, balloted their members for strike action and obtained an overwhelming majority in February: 93% to 7% in favour of strike action and 97% to 3% in favour of industrial action. On Monday SIPTU served strike notice on Dublin City Council management and IMPACT did likewise the following day.

The strikes are due to take place from 9am on Saturday, March 18th and Monday, March 27th.

The demonstration on Monday night was addressed by a number of speakers, including many elected Councillors. However, first to address them was SIPTU’s Brendan O’Brien who expressed regret that “SIPTU members in Dublin Fire Brigade have been forced into conducting these work stoppages” which he said was a result of his “members’ total commitment to providing the best emergency services possible to the residents of Dublin” and the intransigence of DCC management, headed by Owen Keegan.

Speaking to the press, he said that “These firefighters are withdrawing their labour to indicate, in the strongest manner open to them, their complete opposition to an attempt by senior management in Dublin City Council to break up the DFB Emergency Medical Service by removing its ambulance call and dispatch function.”

Before speakers addressed the crowd: top section of the crowd, approaching the State Entrance gates of Dublin City Castle
(photo: D.Breatnach)

Addressing the demonstration on Monday evening, O’Brien said that if the strikes were not sufficient to make DCC management see reason, “make no mistake, this fight will become a national one.”

A number of Councillors addressed the crowd, representing most of the political groupings on the Council. Christy Burke, ex-Lord Mayor (2015), representing a group of Independent councillors, stated that DCC management had refused to let them use the power in the nearby building for amplification for speakers. Burke drew cheers when he quipped that what the Management did not realise was that “the power is not in there, it is out here on the street.”

Burke also stated that the DFB Ambulance Service was working well and asked rhetorically “why fix something that isn’t broken”, a theme taken up by a number of other speakers. The Sinn Féin speaker made the point that she was representing the largest political party in the Council, totally supported the Fire Fighters and would be seeking legal advice on Keegan’s plan and the other speakers likewise promised support to the fire-fighters.

 

OTHER UNDERLYING ISSUES IN THE DUBLIN FIRE-BRIGADE AMBULANCE SERVICE PROTEST

Although speakers for the fire-fighters a number of times expressed support for the colleagues employed by the Health Servive Executive, their members must be concerned at the prospect of coming under the management of an organisation so under-funded and reportedly often mismanaged as has been the HSE for decades now.

Another element playing itself out here is the recurring conflict between many elected City Councillors and the unelected City Management. The political colouring of the public representation in the Council changed considerably with the local elections in 2014, when Sinn Féin with 16 seats and Independents with 12 became the groups most represented. Next in numbers of Councillors is Fianna Fáil with 9 seats, while Fine Gael and Labour each have 8 each and People Before Profit have 5. The remaining 5 are divided between the Greens, Anti-Austerity Alliance and United Left.

This struggle between many of the elected and the appointed few has broken out on a number of issues previously, most notably perhaps on the Moore Street Quarter issue, with Keegan and Jim Keoghan, formerly second-in-command and head of the Planning Department, proposing a deal with a property developer for a ‘land swap’ involving Council buildings on Moore Street, a plan which mobilised significant campaigning opposition and which was defeated by a large majority of Councillors voting in November 2014. The Councillors were however unable to prevent Keoghan’s “executive action” in agreeing a number of property speculator planning applications and the most controversial extension of the ‘giant shopping mall’ permission towards the end of last year.

This level of conflict between the elected Dublin public representatives and the appointed senior officials has perhaps not been seen since the War of Independence (1919-1921), when an Irish Republican and Labour majority on the Council, after the 1920 Local Government elections, found itself in recurring confrontation with officials appointed under a colonial administration.

 

BACKGROUND

According to Dublin Council’s website, “The Fire Brigade has provided the citizens of Dublin City and County with a fire and rescue service since 1862. This service was enhanced in1898 by the addition of an emergency ambulance service. In 2007 with 12 emergency ambulances DFB responded to 78,864 ambulance incidents, with the figure growing each year.

Dublin Fire Brigade provides an emergency ambulance service to the citizens and visitors of Dublin. Dublin Fire Brigade is the only Brigade in the country to provide an Emergency Ambulance Service. Dublin Fire Brigade operates 12 emergency ambulances with one ambulance operating from each full time station with the exception of Dun Laoghaire.

DFB’s Firefighters are trained to Paramedic level and are registered as practitioners with the pre-hospital Emergency Care Council (PHECC), meaning there are over 100 Paramedics available on a 24/7 basis in the event of a major emergency. All operational firefighters rotate between Fire and Rescue to Emergency Ambulance duties. Dublin Fire Brigade Ambulance Service has achieved accreditation under the ISO 9001/2000 Quality Management System.”

Lively ladies active in the Campaign for social housing Irish Glass Bottle site, Ringsend.
(photo: D.Breatnach)

Banner of campaign for social housing Irish Glass Bottle site, Ringsend.
(photo: D.Breatnach)

 

OTHER CITY HALL PROTESTS

Also protesting outside City Hall (see photos) were lively and good-humoured campaigners for social housing on the former Glass Bottle company site in Ringsend and others calling for the renaming of the Artane Band (it is hoped to cover these campaigns in a little more detail in future reports).

Campaigners to rename the Artane Band because of the abuse that went on in the Artane Industrial School, which formed the original Artane Boys’ Band.
(photo: D.Breatnach)

 

Joe Kelly — and a generation passing

A generation is passing. Actually they have been passing for some time, the generation of the fighting years of the late 1960s, the 1970s, the 1980s and even the 1990s.

They campaigned variously for social housing; civil rights north and south; for human rights; against Church domination; against Unionist sectarianism; for free access to contraception; for right to divorce; for an end to censorship; for national self-determination; for Gaeltacht civil rights; for Irish language rights and Irish on TV; in support of political prisoners; the rights of women; for Irish Traveller rights; protection of heritage and environment; solidarity with many struggles around the world, including Cuba, Vietnam, Rhodesia, South Africa, Chile, the Black Panthers; against drug dealers; for freedom to choose lifestyle; decriminalisation of gay and lesbian life; for community projects in deprived areas including youthwork and, let’s not forget, organised, fought in and supported strikes.

 

That generation fought many battles, some of which they won and some which built bases for later battles and their story is told only in bits and pieces here and there. They organised, marched, sat in, occupied, wrote, made placards, painted slogans, put up posters and some fired guns; they were watched, raided, beaten, fined, jailed, calumnied, sacked, expelled, kept unemployed, derided from pulpit, press and judge’s bench, some were shot, and not just they but their families made to suffer too.

I am not referring to people of any specific age but of all those who were any age from young to old and active during those years. The causes of death have been many, from simple old age and life lived out to the death penalty.

But the death penalty was not in force in Ireland in the 1960s, you may think? Actually it was, it wasn’t abolished until 1990 in this state. But you’d be kind of correct as in practice no formal execution has been carried out by this state since 1954.

So, then what am I talking about? Maybe referring to the ‘United Kingdom’, since six counties of Ireland are included in that state? Yes, and no. The death sentence still exists in the UK only for “Arson in Her Majesty’s shipyards” but it was abolished in Britain for the crime of murder in 1965 and, in fact, no-one had been formally executed there from the year before. If the judicial death penalty had still been in force, the people in charge of that state might’ve been been spared the embarrassment of seeing nearly a score of Irish people they had wrongly convicted in 1974 walk free decades later as judges eventually had to find them ‘Not Guilty’.

A bit late for Giuseppe Conlon, against whom there had not even been a shred of doubtful evidence, but never mind. But had they all died in prison or been executed, people might not have worked so hard to see their convictions in court overturned – people among whom Joe Kelly, who died this week and who was cremated on Saturday, stands tall.

But the death penalty was not removed from the judges’ arsenal in that bastion of reaction, Six Counties state, until 1973, when the 30 Years’ War had entered its early years (somebody from the British state clearly had to sit down with the Unionist bigots and explain, although of course they sympathised with their loyal brethren, how bad it would be for Britain and the Queen if they started sentencing and executing IRA and INLA fighters).

There are more ways to skin a cat …. yes, and to kill too. The orange and SAS and MRF death squads killed more against whom there was not even a court conviction. And some of the Republicans killed one another too. And twelve died on hunger strike, one each in 1974 and in ’76 and ten in 1981. Actually, considering the brutality of force-feeding, it’s surprising there weren’t more deaths – Marian and Dolours Price were force-fed 167 times over 203 days in 1973 and it was the publicity around their case and the deaths of Gaughan and Stagg that ended the practice of force-feeding, ensuring that the Hunger Strikers of 1980 and ’81 at least did not have to endure that experience.

But there are more ways to kill …. Many of that generation of fighters died from ‘natural’ causes but died early – cancers, heart attacks, liver damage, despair ….. ah, yes, that brings to mind suicide, of which some also died. But despair also can drive you to drink, even more easily if it has been part of your experience of socialising and alcohol is one of the top killers in the world. And some died of drugs …. or drugs and alcohol …. or infections from unsafe drug injection …. But most who died early did so in summary from the wear and tear of struggle, of prison, of separation, of relationship breakdowns, of betrayal, despair.

Not all died, even those who are not among the fighters today. Some walked away from the struggle and though I can’t imagine being in their shoes, I do not begrudge them. So long as they didn’t betray any on their way out or make a living out of spitting on their former comrades and causes afterwards. But some, a very few, did exactly that and you can read what they have to say quite often in their articles or hear them quoted in the newspapers or on TV or radio.

Some found other ways to betray and did it in secret, feeding information to their handlers and some even diverting attention from themselves by accusing others, some innocent and some of a lesser grade of betrayal than that of the accusers. We know of some of them but may never learn about them all.

Joe Kelly

Poster displayed at memorial in Teacher's Club (photo accessed from a Facebook posting)

Poster displayed at memorial in Teacher’s Club (photo accessed from a Facebook posting)

A few have survived and are still around, fighting the struggle, whether in organisations or as independents. Joe Kelly was one in both categories, in a sense. I knew him but did not know him well and met him only in the last decade, after I had returned from decades living and working in London. I am given to understand that he had passed through a number of political organisations, including Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party. A strange CV, one might think, for a radical left-wing social and political activist. The last political group with which I had associated Joe was People Before Profit, on a local level, around Phibsboro. Joe invited me to attend a quiz they were running and I did so mainly to return a favour – he had attended, to contribute to the singing at my invitation, an evening of the Clé Club where I had been “Fear a’Tí” for that night. I was amazed to win a Blackberry at the quiz (sorry, Joe, I still haven’t gotten around to learning and using it!). Last I heard, he wasn’t with the PBP.

Somebody told me years back that he had been a central organiser of a solidarity event in Dublin for the Birmingham Six in which lights had been floated down the Liffey. Of course I was impressed – on a political/ human rights level but also for the poetic vision involved. I have found little about that event since and Joe, who I found a modest man, didn’t give me much in response to my pressing. A couple of searches on the Internet yielded me only a passing reference to the River Parade, of 1990, a year before the Birmingham Six were finally cleared in court and released. Likely I have not been asking the right people or looking in the right corners.

I met Joe by arrangement for a coffee a couple of times, while I tried to get him into something I was doing and he tried to get me into something he was working at – neither of us succeeding in our efforts to recruit the other. Since Joe was working for awhile in the community sector I also approached him to explore possibilities for me when, despite a long track record in the fields of working in homeless shelters and addiction as well as other community activism I was out of work, but he wasn’t able to help me.

And of course I bumped into him on demonstrations, as in those in solidarity with Palestine or against the Water Tax or against the Lisbon Treaty. For awhile we were active together in the Dublin branch of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Committee and I believe he left like me after witnessing some nasty in-fighting years ago, though we both often turned up to protest pickets and demonstrations and public meetings called by the organisation. We would also meet at events in solidarity with the Cuban people.

I heard him described at his funeral service, by someone who should know, as a Republican. Certainly Joe was very proud of his father and uncle who had both fought in the 1916 Rising, the first in the GPO and the second in Bolands’ Mill and proudly displayed his father’s medal at a public event in the Teachers’ Club in Dublin.

Joe Kelly displaying his father's 1916 service medal at a 1916 commemoration event (photo: D.Breatnach)

Joe Kelly displaying and talking about his father’s 1916 service medal at a 1916 commemoration event (photo: D.Breatnach)

However, he was among the number that I invited but failed to get to events over the last decade to highlight the plight of Irish Republicans being hounded by the State and imprisoned without trial. That did puzzle me, for I knew Joe to have a track record of fighting for human rights. And this was shown not only in his campaigning for the Birmingham Six.

Joe fought for the rights of divorce and choice of abortion, as well for the right to freedom from partner abuse, in particular through the movement for women’s refuges, what many people still refer to as “battered wives hostels”. He was active in the campaign for the right to gay marriage, so amazingly successful in Ireland. And Joe was also active in campaigns against racism towards migrants.

“Conas atú tú?” or “Dia dhuit”, Joe would invariably greet me whenever we met. I would not call him exactly fluent but he could understand and speak Irish. I suppose I assumed he had some affection for the language and was also paying me, a known native speaker, the courtesy of addressing me in Irish and speaking awhile in the language. At his funeral service, I learned it went further than that. I heard his grandchildren say that he frequently spoke to them in Irish and when they did not understand him, would translate what the words meant. Some people in the audience chuckled to hear this. I felt sad and somewhat angry too, that a question so important to our cultural identity, an aspect so threatened today, should be treated so apparently lightly by some and that the only words to be spoken at his funeral service in Irish were those in the final sentence spoken by his brother, Jim, in his eulogy: “Slán leat, Joe”. In the booklet produced for the occasion and freely available at Club na Múinteoirí, there was however one dedication in Irish (and I have since learned that one of the speeches at the Teacher’s Club was in Irish) and I note that both grandchildren who spoke bear Irish-language names.

Paying respects and memorial service

On Saturday, laid out in the lovely Room 2 in the Teacher’s Club (sin Club na Múinteoirí, Joe) in Dublin’s Parnell Square, a venue often used for social, cultural and political events, in a closed wicker basket coffin, Joe received his visitors. And they were MANY. Feminists, Palestine solidarity activists, Cuba solidarity activists, community activists, independent political activists and a sprinkling of activists in various parties all attended and many contributed their memories or words dedicated to him while he was laid out there.  (I took many photos here and some at Mount Jerome but somehow seem to have lost them all).joe-kelly-speaking-at-event

Attending first another funeral (of another singer) that morning in Howth, then travelling into Dublin to take part in the Moore Street Awareness weekly table, I had to miss some of that. I spelled a comrade while he attended to pay his respects, then attended later while he took over back at the table.

Room No. 2 was still packed but so was the whole bar lounge area. I had missed all the eulogies and reminiscences and even singing – “The Foggy Dew” I was told. Had anyone sung “The Parting Glass”, I asked. No, apparently not. So then to ask his sister if it would be alright to do it, then the MC, his long-time collaborator, comrade and friend, Brendan Young. It would be welcome, I was told. And Fergus Russell (also his second funeral that day) and I did three verses together, using a mic so it might carry through to the lounge and, though we took turns at fluffing a line, not too badly. It is a great song for such occasions and each verse was particularly appropriate to Joe.1

A little later, the Internationale was sung by all (copies of the words of a verse and the chorus distributed beforehand), the wicker coffin (I must have one of those when my time comes!) was lifted on to shoulders by family and friends and brought through the respectful lines while Joe’s daughter sang The Night They Brought Old Dixie Down.2

Then the hearse came out and led the cortege to Mount Jerome cemetery. I didn’t know the protocol regarding cycling in a funeral cortege but followed anyway, managing to get temporarily lost on the way and arriving just as the hearse arrived at the cemetery. Again, the chapel was packed.

The ceremony was non-religious and officiated by Therese Caherty, ex-partner and friend. In turn Therese herself, his brother, his bereaved current partner, relatives and his comrade and friend Brendan Young all gave their moving eulogies and often funny anecdotes. Brendan emphasised that for Joe, the process of the conduct of a struggle was as important as the end to be reached, which I knew to be true from our time together in the Dublin IPSC and I’d be in agreement with Joe on that.

There were, despite the many I did see during those events, some faces I did not see in the congregation or at the Club na Múinteoirí before the service or later, when many returned to the Club to free sandwiches and soup laid on by the management there. It was their loss.

I never saw him dance but am told he loved it and taught his grandchildren not only to sing but to dance too. I did know he’d learned to tango. He’s left this dance floor now and gone on to another and whateverone steps and two steps and the divil knows what new steps”they are dancing there, I’m sure Joe is learning them and probably teaching a few of his own.

Slán leat, Joe – árdaigh iad!

A chríoch.

FOOTNOTES

1  “Of all the money that e’er I had, I spent it in good company


And all the harm that e’er I’ve done, alas, it was to none but me


And all I’ve done for want of wit to memory now I can’t recall


So fill to me the parting glass, good night and joy be with you all

“If I had money enough to spend and leisure time to sit awhile


There is a fair maid in this town, that sorely has my heart beguiled


Her rosy cheeks and ruby lips I own, she has my heart enthralled


So fill to me the parting glass, good night and joy be with you all

“Of all the comrades that e’er I’ve had, they are sorry for my going away


And all the sweethearts that e’er I’ve had,

they would wish me one more day to stay


But since it falls unto my lot that I should rise and you should not


I’ll gently rise and I’ll softly call good night and joy be with you all”

2  This song of nostalgia for the American Confederacy has a haunting melody but its ideology is often ignored by those who sing it.

3  Line from The Charladies’ Ball

UNITY – IS IT A GOOD THING?

Diarmuid Breatnach

One often hears it said that we need more unity, that “unity is strength” and on the other side the despairing wail (and sometimes facile sneer) that “the Left (or Republicans) are too disunited to do anything”. But rarely does one see the question analysed. Unity with whom? On what basis? For how long? Can unity actually contribute to weakness instead of strength?

I have five siblings and at times we quarreled among ourselves, especially the older ones. I remember my mother telling me about a father (or it might have been a mother), who asked his five sons (who presumably also quarreled) to bring him ten sticks as long as their hands and as thick as their thumbs. Of they went, probably quarreling about where would be the best place to get them, who should be in charge, what kind of wood etc……. But eventually, they arrived and produced the ten sticks.

The father handed one stick to each son and then asked them to snap it in two. Puzzled, each one tried and, of course, succeeded easily. Then the father picked up the remaining five sticks and tied them together in a bundle. He handed the bundle over to his youngest son and asked him to snap the bundle in two. The youngest son tried until sweat broke out on his brow but was unable to break them.

Hand the bundle over to your brother,” said the father, indicating the next youngest of the brothers. The son shamefacedly handed over the bundle. But he cheered up when he saw that brother couldn’t break it either. And so it went, the bundle passing up the line until it came to the eldest and though he sweated and strained, he also failed.

Do you see,” asked the father, “how easy it was to break any one of you on your own? And how impossible when you were all together?”

My mother had adapted an old European story attributed to a Greek slave called Aesop in the 4th or 5th century BCE but we didn’t know that then. As we grew older the story seemed to reflect a truism, one that had been incorporated into movements of resistance including defensive ones such as trade unions.1

The bundle of sticks motif on advertisement by union banner artists, with the motto “Unity Is Strength” (Source: Internet)

But of course, we also saw movements and organisations grow and split. I witnessed a lot of such activity (and participated in some of it) while working in London and some of my siblings passed through Sinn Féin, Official Sinn Féin and the IRSP and another passed through Sinn Féin and Provisional Sinn Féin (as did my father before he left that and joined Republican Sinn Féin).

And always the wailing cry all around – if only we were all united! The call for unity seems so intuitive, so basic that one rarely gets to hear any of the harmful effects of unity. But is that because there are no harmful effects? On the contrary!

IRELAND AND CHINA

The nationalist Irish Volunteers organisation was formed in 1913, ostensibly in response to the formation of the Ulster Volunteers the previous year with a declared aim of preventing Home Rule (a kind of national autonomy similar to that of the Dominion territories then) which had been promised to the nationalists (broadly-speaking, the vast majority of the Irish population). The Irish Republican Brotherhood, the moving force behind the foundation of the Irish Volunteers, had plans to use it in insurrection against Britain.

The nationalist Irish Parliamentary Party, the preferred conservative, constitutionalist and even pro-Empire party of the Catholic Irish bourgeoisie, at first ignored the movement. But when it grew to 100,000 members amid enormous enthusiasm, the IPP became worried it might oppose them politically and John Redmond, the party leader, demanded an additional 25 places for nominees of theirs on the Volunteers’ 25-member executive, even though it already contained some supporters of theirs. The IRB, who despised Redmond as a collaborator with British rule, held a meeting among themselves and agreed to vote against accepting that pressure. Most of them did vote against but some changed their mind and, along with some non-IRB nationalists on the executive voted in favour, so that the Redmonites were admitted on to the organisation’s controlling body.

At that time, the IPP was the largest Irish nationalist party and no other party came even close in winning the votes of Catholic men eligible to vote. It is easy to see what the majority on the executive must’ve thought when they voted to accept them: “We’ll be stronger after this, more united; the Catholic Church and the Catholic media will be friendly towards us and encourage even more recruitment. Britain will have to give us Home Rule and we can have an argument later about what kind of politics we want for Ireland when we have our own Dáil” (Parliament). On the other hand, they might have thought that unity with Redmond and his IPP would be far better than being opposed by them.

IRB men Thomas Clarke and Seán Mac Diarmada and others were furious – they foresaw a time in the future when Redmond and his IPP would use their positions, along with allies they had made on the Executive, to try to sabotage the project of Irish independence, upon which the IRB had set its mind and heart. Such an event came to pass after the outbreak of the First World War when John Redmond made his speech on 20th September 1914, on the occasion of reviewing a Volunteer troop at Woodenbridge, Co. Wicklow, encouraging the Volunteers to enlist in the British Army.

That call, and the resistance to it from within the movement and its executive body, led to a split which reduced the Irish Volunteers from the 170,000 membership which it had reached to a force of 12,300, the majority siding with Redmond and many going on to the war slaughter on the Continent.

The IRB continued to organise in secret among the remaining Volunteers but a number of the Volunteers’ founding executive had always been non-IRB, such as Eoin Mac Neill and The O’Rahilly, and that continued to be the case. When they learned at the last moment that the IRB nucleus planned to proceed with an uprising on Easter Sunday 1916 and calling out the Volunteers to join, Eoin Mac Neill and The O’Rahilly2 did everything they could to halt it. They succeeded only in sabotaging it sufficiently that only about on third of the Volunteers mobilised, and they mostly in Dublin, on Easter Monday instead.

The above lines in these examples are not typed to suggest that thousands of Irish would not have gone to join the British Army in 1914 or even that the whole of the Irish Volunteers would have taken part in the Rising were it not for a) Redmond’s split and b) the cancellation by Mac Neill. I reproduce them only to show that unity can have harmful effects too.

After the 1916 Rising, the survivors of Cumann na mBan, Irish Volunteers, Fianna Éireann and some from the Irish Citizen Army reformed their military organisation which in time came to be called the Irish Republican Army and fought the War of Independence from 1919-1921 against the British. The IRA and the party that had grown around them, Sinn Féin, was also a coalition of people of different ideologies and, when the British offered a partial compromise of a partitioned Dominion status “independence”, the movement split again, out of which emerged the State and its vicious Civil War, with the execution of 83 Republicans by the new State and many unofficial murders carried out by its security forces.

L-R: Chiang Kai Shek, Mao Zedong, photographed in 1945 during short-lived repetition of Chinese Nationalist-Communist alliance against Japanese invasion (photo: Jack Wilkes, Internet)

Let us go a bit further in geography though not so far in time to the unity between the Communist Party of China and the Kuomintang of Chiang Kai Check, a national bourgeois party, against feudal warlords and the plunder of their country by foreign imperialists. The First United Front, also known as the KMT–CPC Alliance, was formed in 1923. Together, they formed the National Revolutionary Army and set out in 1926 on the Northern Expedition. The alliance fell apart due to factors and incidents we need not go into but the result was an anti-communist purge of Communists and the Shanghai massacre of 1927, in which between 300 and 400 were purged and 5,000 communist and trade union militants disappeared. It took the Communist Party two decades to recover their strength and begin to build their influence.

Again, recounting this history is not necessarily in order to prove that the Communists were wrong in their attempt at unity but merely to show the disastrous effect of the way in which events turned out for them and how vulnerable they were because of that unity at that time. In the 1940s, on the other hand, another unity worked out better for the Communist-led patriotic forces, though Chiang Kai Shek had to be forced into that alliance.

THE PEOPLE, UNITED, CAN NEVER BE …”

In Chile in the early 1970s, a left-wing democratic anti-imperialist movement grew. It had many different components: nationalistic and/ or social democratic petit-bourgeoisie; revolutionary communists; revolutionary socialists of other types; masses of supporters of unclear ideology but focused on social justice and opportunity to make more of their lives and the lives of their children. Its party was the Popular Unity party and the leader of this coalition was Salvador Allende, essentially a social-democrat, who was elected President.

The United States ruling class, the major imperialist power in the area, not only seriously disliked many of the policies of the new Chilean regime but also feared that the ideas might catch on in other parts of the world or, even worse, that people outside Chile in Latin America would gain hope and confidence from what was going on in Chile and attempt the same in their own countries. The problem was that the Chilean people had voted by majority for the Allende option. Well, not so much of a problem for the USA – they had disposed of democratically-elected governments in the under-developed world before. Obviously a coup was what was needed – and the CIA began to work for one.

The CIA or even 50 CIAs cannot overthrow a government – to do so they need an army of some sort. It might be by US military invasion, as they did in Nicaragua in 1912, Haiti in 1915, or Dominican Republic in 1916. Or it might be by invasion of a neighbouring region, as they did by supporting and instigating the invasion of Guatemala from Honduras in 1954 or of Iran by Iraq in 1980. The Iraq-Iran war lasted eight years but the Iranian government did not fall and Iraq was defeated. Or it might be by a “rebel” army, such as the infamous Bay of Pigs US-funded invasion of Cuba in 1961 or the Contras, funded and trained by the USA, against the Sandinista Nicaraguan Government from 1979 to the early 1990s. Or it might be the army of the very State they want to subvert — and so it was in Chile in 1973.

Now, how was it that Allende didn’t see that coming? Was he stupid? Far from it – Allende knew the history of the USA in Latin America and he knew that the commanders of Chile’s Army, Navy, Air Force and Police, and most if not all of the higher ranks of the three services too, were right-wing in ideology, some downright fascist in outlook.

Allende’s options were to try and deal with the senior military ranks and hope they would remain loyal, or to dismiss them and appoint others more trustworthy, from lower ranks. But dismissing them might precipitate the very thing he was trying to avoid – a right-wing military coup. However, that threat could be met by arming the workers.

On the other hand, arming the workers might provoke the military and police.

Both options were risky. To a revolutionary, I would think, relying on the loyalty of the military was the riskiest while the second, much less so. But Allende was a social-democrat, not a revolutionary. He chose to hope that the military would not revolt and when the coup came, it was not just he who paid with his life but thousands of his followers and others on the Left. They didn’t have enough arms with which to resist for long and arrest, torture and death awaited them. The toll of the coup was over 3,000 dead or missing, thousands of prisoners tortured, and 200,000 Chileans forced into exile.

Poster bearing the alternative slogan, sourced on Internet.
It was produced by the Ad Hoc Committee to Establish Solidarity With Resistance in Chile, on the occasion of the Speaking and Fund Raising Tour Across Canada by a Representative of the People’s Front of Chile.

Before the coup, a slogan that had become popular in Allende’s Chile declared: “El pueblo, unido, jamás sera vencido”. It has been changed by socialists abroad to “The workers, united, will never be defeated”, as though saying “workers” instead of “people” made the slogan more revolutionary. But a large swathe of the people in Chile were united, and even more united were the workers — they had marched and voted for the Allende option and were eagerly awaiting the benefits of a different regime. And still they were defeated – by a much smaller but much better armed and much more ruthless enemy.

A different slogan came into being after the coup (and perhaps it had been around earlier too but got drowned out by the other): “El pueblo, armado, jamás sera aplastado” (the armed people will never be crushed). People may argue that is simplistic and they may be right – but it contains a lot more truth and sophistication than the slogan it replaced.

IRELAND TODAY

We are constantly being urged today in Ireland towards “unity of the Left” and “unity of Irish Republicans” and, before we nod our heads in reflex action and shake them in despair, it would be worthwhile to look at this proposition a little more closely.

Firstly, what is the unity for? As a minimum it can only be, if we are to consider it a serious proposition, to strengthen our resistance and to defeat austerity measures and state repression.

Then, who are we to unite with? “The Left” means different things to different people and that too needs some exploring. For example, is the Labour Party to be included? Some would say “yes”, including many trade union leaders and activists.

Yet the Labour Party is part of a Government that is heaping austerity upon working people and of a State that is using its police, courts and jails to repress resistance. How can we unite with that? And if the Party is not the same as its members in the Government, why doesn’t the Party denounce and disown those Ministers? No, this cannot be – we cannot have unity with those who work with our enemies.

Others would include Sinn Féin in the list of groups with which we should join for “unity of the Left”. But in what way can Sinn Féin be seriously considered to be part of the Left? In the Six Counties, it is part of a Government of a colonial state and has imposed austerity on the working people there. It has also colluded in State repression of Republicans. SF is mounting no serious opposition to any austerity measure either side of the Border although it often makes the appropriate noises. It does not support the necessary and appropriate action of civil disobedience, never mind organise it. Its mantra is “Vote for us and we’ll see everything is made ok”. That is not a suitable partner in any “unity of the Left”.

Excluding Sinn Féin and the Labour Party removes the largest party and the most TDs from the proposed “united Left” and that is one reason some do not wish to exclude them. However it would be dangerously stupid to try to build unity with these and, even if temporarily successful in some imagined scenario of the future, both elements would desert and even betray us at a crucial moment when we would be preparing a campaign of serious disobedience, to say nothing of revolution.

PRINCIPLES AND TACTICS OF UNITY

Who does that leave? Well, tiny parties and even smaller groups of independent TDs and local authority Councillors, a wide variety of independent activists and a number of campaigns of varying size. Well, better small than rotten at the core, right? And there are millions of others out there yet for us to draw support from in future!

But having unity across that broad mass of individuals and organisations? How? Shall we draw up a constitution and get everyone to agree? They never will and we’ll waste valuable time on the project. Is it all hopeless then?

Not at all. What we need is agreement upon a few fundamentals – the bare necessities, as in the title of Terry Gilkison’s lyrics in the 1967 Disney film “Jungle Book”. Let’s imagine we have come together to discuss cultivating a field. We dropped the Labour Party from our work force because they had been sowing fields with weedkiller. We dropped Sinn Féin because they had sowed a part of the field with weedkiller and were arguing that we didn’t need to clear stones and weeds or dig in the rest of it.

That’s not to say that we won’t have any problems with any of those left but let’s see, eh?

So all the remainder agree that the field needs cultivating, that stones and weeds need removing and digging needs doing. There might be some who don’t (or won’t) agree on what crops to sow and when but at the moment we have the maximum unity, admittedly on paper, for the minimum tasks required.

It might be that on the first day some turn up at the appointed time, 8am and others straggle in at 9, 10, 11 …. OK, it’s early days yet. But those who didn’t turn up at all? They are on notice of dismissal. That is fair – we all agreed that this work needed doing and they are not contributing to it at all.

Now, it turns out that some got tired or bored at noon and left the job, while others worked on to 8pm. Some of those who worked until later are those who turned up later so, although not in the way we expected and agreed, they have put in their hours (and twice that of some who turned up at 8am and were gone by noon). We don’t expect people to work 12 hour shifts every day but we will set a minimum – a realistic one according to our numbers and our people.

Probably, when we started we set up a committee to administer and organise the work – organise tools, meals, accommodation, allocate work to different areas, organise delivery of fertilizer …. And later, decisions will need to be made about what seeds to sow and seasonal work priorities but we can make those at a democratic assembly. And assemblies can elect the members of the administration too – but as individuals, not as the slates of parties or coalitions.

As the year progresses, more will join the work and some will leave or be expelled – but the decision will be made on the basis of the minimum necessary work for the minimum task. If the project succeeds or is seen to be doing well, others will become interested and some of those will join. And they will see who works well and who does not, whom they feel they can trust and who not. And they will also learn to organise, propose solutions or questions, join in collective decision-making.

We may lose the small political parties along the way and some will wail at the loss. But what we have noticed about the parties up to now is that on the whole they put the Party first and the struggle (which also means the people) second. Of course not all ego-trippers, glory-hunters, niche-seekers and petty dictators are in political parties and we’ll have to deal with those individuals too, and their cliques. And not everyone in a party is a party hack. But the work decides (or it doesn’t and we learn from our mistakes) and the decisions are democratic, by popular vote of people involved in the work.

When the work required for the day or week is done or in quiet seasons we should run courses on agriculture. There will be different schools of agricultural thought – OK, fine, let each set up a school, or run workshops, print manuals, newsletters, run FB pages, etc, etc.

It seems to me that is a practical unity, one that can work. We can and I think need to tolerate differences of opinion. But anyone found spreading weedkiller on crop-ground – well, that needs dealing with very firmly. And those who don’t want to dig, remove stones, pull weeds? Their choice — but they won’t be in our workforce or eat from our field.

So, the principles developed in the example were:

  • The maximum unity on the minimum task

  • Unity in practice more than in words

  • Equal rights for all who contribute (and no special rights for anyone)

  • Freedom of speech and press (subject to the basic safeguards) for all who contribute

  • Open to all who join on the same basis

  • Democratic decision-making

It seems to me that kind of unity will indeed be strength. Unity on other bases? Disaster waiting to happen, early or late.

FOOTNOTES

1 In doing a snap piece of research for this article I note that the Nottinghamshire Miners’ Association had the fable represented on their banner – ironically or perhaps of necessity, considering the fractured history of the miners in that area. It was also on a Durham trade union banner, according to Wikipedia.

2 The O’Rahilly, seeing the Rising going ahead despite his efforts, joined it and presented his car for use in a barricade. On the Friday of Easter Week, he was mortally wounded leading a charge against rifles and a machine-gun behind a British Army barricade at the Parnell Street end of Moore Street. He died in a nearby laneway which now bears the name O’Rahilly Parade and where there is a monument to him, including a copy  of his farewell letter to his wife in his own words script.