CATALAN FLAG FLIES OVER DUBLIN CITY HALL

Clive Sulish

 

After the Spanish police attack on voters in a referendum on independence in Catalunya1 on October 1st, People Before Profit2 Councillor Tina McVeigh put forward a motion condemning the attack and calling for the Catalan Flag to be flown over Dublin City Hall as a mark of solidarity with the Catalan people and their right to determine their future.

Front view of Dublin City Hall showing the Ensaya flying next to the Irish Tricolour (Photo: Casal Catala Irlanda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was not such a wild step for the Council to take as it may seem: the Palestinian flag had been flown from City Hall in May, to the delight of most Dubliners but to the disgust of the Israeli Ambassador and to Zionist sympathiser and former Government Minister Alan Shatter. And Dublin city has been ‘twinned’ with Barcelona since 1998.

Nevertheless, in November the Protocol Committee agreed to recommend flying it by majority only, seven votes for and five against. It still had to be voted on by the whole Council and so went forward on to the agenda for the monthly meeting in December. Councillors began receiving emails from Spanish unionists asking them to vote against, which at first substantially outnumbered those in favour. As the first Monday in December drew nearer, the correspondence equalised between those in favour and those against. But the meeting ran over time before the motion was reached on the agenda and another date was set to discuss it. When the councillors reconvened, the motion was proposed, discussed and voted on. Unlike the decision on the Palestinian flag earlier this year, the vote was very close but the motion passed by three votes.

Section of the attendance at the event
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

In January this year the Catalan flag was hoisted – the regional ensaya and not either of the independence esteladas3 – on top of City Hall, where it will fly for a month. City Hall is itself a historic site, having been part of a battleground during the 1916 Rising.  On January 6th, Catalans and some supporters gathered outside City Hall to celebrate the show of solidarity in the flying of the Catalan flag.

Joan Pau of Casal Catala of Ireland4 welcomed the attendance and thanked the Councillors for flying the flag and introduced the Lord Mayor, Mícheál Mac Donncha, telling those present how he had approached the Catalans to help them. Mac Donncha (SF)5 thanked the Catalans for the invitation to attend and said that he was proud of the Council for the decision they had taken. He remarked also that in the past Ireland had political prisoners just like those now in Spanish jails for supporting the Catalan referendum and deplored elected officials of Catalunya being jailed for following the mandate of the people. He spoke also about Ireland’s fight for freedom and how in the 1916 Rising, Volunteers had taken over City Hall itself.

Another view of a section of the attendance Front view of Dublin City Hall showing the Ensaya flying next to the Irish Tricolour (Photo: Casal Catala Irlanda)

 

 

 

Joan Pau then expressed his regret that Cnclr. Tina McVeigh could not be present due to a family bereavement, since she had been very active in solidarity with the Catalan people. He introduced Cnclr. John Lyons (also PBP) who also expressed his pride on the result of the vote, as well as his condemnation of the Spanish Government, as distinct from the Spanish people, for their undemocratic and violent behaviour in the October 1st attacks and subsequently in the jailing of Catalan public representatives. He also condemned the Irish Government for not supporting the right of the Catalan people to self-determination.

Front view of Dublin City Hall showing the Ensaya flying next to the Irish Tricolour
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Although a Spanish unionist had contacted the Council to threaten a counter-demonstration, there was no sign of any such presence throughout the ceremony. A number of passing tourists took photos (some even having themselves photographed with the group) and a number of passing motorists tooted their horns in solidarity.

Section of the attendance with flags (including the “Sí” ones used campaigning for the referendum) & placards calling for the release of the political prisoners.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

After the formal part of the meeting was over, Dublin walking history tour guide Diarmuid Breatnach invited Catalans to gather around DCC’s plaque to the garrison of City Hall and surrounding buildings in 1916. The guide explained the origin of the Irish Citizen Army in the Dublin Lockout of 1913 as a workers’ defence militia against brutal attacks by the Dublin Metropolitan Police Force. It has been called “the first workers’ army” Breatnach told them and drew attention also to it being the only one of the various organisations taking part in the Rising that formally gave equal status to men and women. There were women officers in the ICA and after the killing of the commandant of this garrison Seán Connolly, it was a woman who took over as commandant. The fighting here had been fierce as Dublin Castle is just next door and that had been the HQ of the British Occupation of Ireland since 1169.

Plaque (located to the right side of the front of City Hall) listing the names of men and women of the Irish Citizen Army who fought at that location in 1916. Four ICA Volunteers died there.

After receiving answers to a few questions, many of those present retired to a local pub to warm up and to carry on conversation on a number of topics, in the best Irish – and Catalan – manner. Up above, the Catalan flag on the east side of City Hall’s roof waved in the breeze, with the Irish tricolour next to it, in the centre, waving too.

End.

FOOTNOTES:

1Catalunya is considered part of wider nation called Paisos Catalans (Catalan Countries) which includes Valencia, the Balearic Islands and parts of Aragon and Murcia; most of it lies within the current territory of the Spanish state, with a small part within the French state. Catalunya (capital Barcelona) is one of the regions within the Spanish state with limited autonomy and it is there that the referendum was held, the result mandating its Parlament to create and independent republic. The Spanish Government and Constitutional Court ruled the referendum illegal, confiscated ballot boxes, assaulted hundreds of voters, declared the referendum result non-valid, jailed a number of elected members and activists, threatened others with jail, ruled Catalunya directly Spain and called for new elections, which confirmed the situation more or less as before. The struggle is ongoing.

2People Before Profit was launched as a broad front by the Trotskyist organisation the Socialist Workers’ Party Ireland, formerly the Socialist Workers’ Movement, founded in 1971 and close to the SWP of Britain.

3There are two Catalan independence flags or estelladas: the Republican one with red stripes on a yellow background, with a small blue triangle to the left, containing a white star; the Socialist (or Communist) one, also with red stripes on a yellow background but with a red star to the left and no triangle. The regional ensaya, without any star, was proposed as the one least likely to cause division.

4Casal Catala are Catalan cultural associations that have been founded in a number of countries outside Catalunya.

5SF or Sinn Féin – the party is represented on Dublin City Council and tradition has it that the Lord Mayor is elected yearly in rotation from among the elected representatives; this Council year it was SF’s turn again.


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A SECTARIAN WAR OF SYMBOLS

Diarmuid Breatnach

ln the Six Counties, the British colony in Ireland, the sectarian lines are drawn. The Good Friday Agreement did nothing to eliminate them, contrary to the praises of many and perhaps even the wishes of some who supported it. The majority section of the population has a badge of professed faith to identify it, Protestantism, while the other has its own badge, Catholicism. But each section also has other symbols of its own.

          Politically, each section has a number of divisions within it but each has its majority representation: the Democratic Unionist Party for the Protestants and Sinn Féin for the Catholics. Both of these parties have overcome others to rise to prominence over their respective sections – the DUP deposed the Ulster Unionist Party and Sinn Féin overtook the Social Democratic and Labour Party. Both Sinn Féin and the DUP display the symbols of their respective sections and employ them to sectarian electoral advantage.

Apart from professed religion as a signifier, each section also has its own visible symbols: the Tricolour and Harp for the Catholics, the Union Jack and Crown for the Protestants. And to this has now been added language: Irish for the Catholics and Ulster Scots/ English for the Protestants.

The Irish Tricolour, a flag of the Irish Republican movement and official flag of the Irish State.
(Image sourced on Internet)

Flag of the United Kingdom, colloquially known as the “Union Jack” (it has other less neutral names too).
(Image sourced on Internet)

There are other symbols too but they are of minor importance, for example for the Catholics flying the Palestinian flag in solidarity with Palestinians and, just because they must oppose anything the Fenians do, the Israeli flag for the Protestants. Soon we may see the Catholics adopt the Catalan Estelada flags and the Protestants, the flag of the Spanish State. But would Unionist Protestants fly the flag of a Catholic country? Yes, it’s quite possible – they already fly one of a Jewish state.

Coat Arms UK (black & white), itself a symbol of UK authority and power, displaying a number of other symbols within it, including the Irish Harp within the shield. Note the symbolic Crown above all. (Image sourced on Internet)

United Irishmen Harp Motif
(Image sourced on Internet)

The opposing sections are in this discussion described as “Catholic” and “Protestant”, as though religion were really the issue – however it is not. Some commentators like to speak in term of “nationalists and unionists”, with the more extreme wing of the latter described as “Loyalists”. That particular sub-group of Unionism is more likely to refer to Catholics as “Taigues” or “Fenians”.

There are religious differences in doctrine and in temporal supremacy between both religions: Catholics believe in the immaculate conception of Mary, the mother of the Christ figure and Protestants do not, though she is seen as a saint in their churches also. Perhaps more relevantly, for Catholics the Pope is, notionally at least, the supreme temporal religious authority while for Anglican Protestants, it is the ruling British Monarch (other British-based Protestant sects acknowledge only their own vicars, their reading of the Christian Bible or their own consciences). Currently, that monarch is Queen Elizabeth II Windsor and lest she be considered just some kind of figurehead, albeit with untold (literally!) riches quite apart from public funds allocation and properties, it is well to remember that she is also Commander-in-Chief of the British Armed Forces.

Back in the day, the Pontiff (the Pope) also controlled a fair share of armed force and also brokered deals between the monarchs of different kingdoms. And in that respect, we’ll shortly come to some great ironies with regards to the Six Counties but first there are other matters to deal with.

RELIGION AS A QUESTION OF STATE POWER

Henry VIII of England disestablished the power of the Pontiff in English-ruled domains and made himself head of the Church, which of course required a split in the Christian Church, and the whole process has since become known as the English Reformation. That happened in the 16th Century; Henry’s daughter Elizabeth I continued this policy in the 17th Century and also extended the power of England and the territories under its domain. Of course, none of this was done by those monarchs alone; powerful feudal and commercial interests were involved also. Being Head of the Church of England allowed Henry to dissolve monasteries and confiscate their lands, filling the coffers of the Crown and of the faithful – faithful to the Crown.

Unfortunately for Ireland, a large part of the country was in the possession of England at this time, though not without resistance. And the original “English” colonists, the Gall-Ghael (“foreign Gael” in Irish), the Normans who had invaded from a colonised Wales with their mercenaries, wanted to stick to their earlier religion, continuing to acknowledge the Pontiff as their spiritual leader. They held their lands through conquest of arms under English monarchs (though the first had been a French Norman) but their loyalty to the British Crown was somewhat shaky. In 1366, nearly two centuries after their conquest of the Irish lands they held, the English Normans called them “the degenerate English” and accused them of having become “more Irish than the Irish themselves”.1

And what of “the Irish themselves”? They too were of the old faith, although their earlier Celtic Christian Church had been more than a little lax in its application of Roman doctrine, especially in laws and mores around marriage, justice and the status of women. The Roman Church was feudal and Irish society still ran along clan lines.

An uneasy alliance was formed between the Gael and the Gall-Ghael which emerged first for the English king Charles I against Cromwell, in the middle of the 17th Century and later again near the end of that century for King James II against King William III (of Orange). On each occasion the Irish alliance lost.

BATTLE, SECTARIAN LINES AND IRONIES

          And here we come to ironies. William of Orange was a Protestant and the victory of his forces at the Battle of the Boyne is considered by Unionists a victory of Protestant forces over Catholic. Actually, there were some Catholics among William’s force and some Protestants among the opposing James II forces but that is not the irony. Nor is the fact that William of Orange was a homosexual and that Rev. Ian Paisley, who founded the Democratic Unionist Party and led it until his death in 2014, led a campaign against decriminalisation of homosexuality under the slogan “Save Ulster from Sodomy!”

No, the irony is even greater than those two facts and it is this: William’s armed forces were part-financed by the Vatican, in other words through the Pontiff himself. Although in Ireland the conflict took on the shape of Catholics fighting for freedom to practice their religion (and even Gael and Gall-Ghael holding on to their respective powers), against Protestants forcing their religion and colonial power on others, it was part of a European-wide conflict known to historians as The Nine-Years War. A coalition of forces composed of Austria, the Holy Roman Empire, the Dutch Republic, Spain, England and Savoy, styling itself the League of Augsburg, drew up to oppose Louis XIV of France. And James found himself on the side of France and against his own Parliament.

The Pontiff, as leader of the Holy Roman Empire, was very much a member of the League of Habsburg as was the Kingdom of Spain and Savoy – all under Catholic rule. When news of William’s defeat of James’ forces at the Battle of the Boyne on 1st July 1690 reached the Vatican, a Te Deum mass of praise was celebrated there and similar demonstrations of praise were practiced in the Spanish Kingdom also. That war in Ireland had fundamentally little to do with religion in reality but everything to do with English state and colonial power and European power struggles.

And of course this is not only an irony for the Protestants, who annually celebrate the Boyne victory on the 12th of July in their most sectarian and anti-Catholic manner, but for the Catholics too, who see James as defending their Catholic faith, of which the Pope was the spiritual leader. Nor is that the only irony in connection with Ireland and the Vatican: it was a Pope, Adrian IV, who issued a Papal Bull (something like a warrant) in 1155 legitimising invasion and conquest of Ireland by Henry II of England. Pope Adrian IV, aka Nicholas Breakspear, was the only English Pontiff ever, true but he was a Pope and he must have had substantial support in Rome to issue such a document.

RELIGION

          One of the characteristics of republicanism in the late 18th Century, apart from the abolition of the monarchy, was the separation of Church and State. Freedom of conscience and worship were important principles in the French and American revolutions. The United Irishmen also adhered to those principles with an even greater motivation, which was that the majority of the Irish population was excluded from participation in government, military and civil profession by a religious bar.

The Unitedmen were defeated, crushed. Their Protestant (Anglican) and Dissenter (Presbyterian) leaders and supporters were executed or exiled2 and the remnants for the most part became dominated by sectarian anti-Catholicism. And Irish nationalism, including republicanism, came to contain a strong Catholic bias (notwithstanding the continuing presence of Protestants and true Republicans in the movement).

Despite the fact that the Irish (and English) Catholic Church hierarchy has been publicly and energetically hostile to Irish Republicanism from the 1780s onwards, the majority of the Irish Republican movement of the early 20th Century observed the practices of the Catholic faith and never broke from its religious allegiance nor sought to overcome the dominance of the Church in society. As a result the Republican movement was unable, had it wanted to, to tackle many of the social injustices in the Irish State’s education, health, intellectual, literary, art, gender and sexuality policies and legislation, where the Church held sway.

Liberty of conscience and worship remains an important civil right, a democratic demand. People are entitled to practice their concept of religion or to abstain from it and their choices in this regard should not influence people’s participation in society as a whole. The Catholic Church is losing its power in the Twenty-Six Counties and that is reflected too in the Six. The Presbyterian churches are likewise losing influence. However, faith congregation membership continues to be a communal marker and to be used by the DUP and SF to hold their respective voting blocs together.

If separation of Church and State is an important principle of Republicanism then Republicans should actively campaign for that end. No school that bases its intake of pupils on the practice or belief of any religion should receive State support. But in the unlikely event that Sinn Féin should embark on a campaign to apply that principle, they would find themselves losing their voting block, for that is how their block is identified in the Six Counties: as Catholics, baptised in Catholic church, attending Catholic services to some degree or other and being educated in Catholic Schools.

The Unionists are of course just as careful to look after their own sectarian voting block and at least as sectarian. But they don’t claim to be Republicans.

THE ESSENCE OF THE SYMBOLS

          Symbols of course do not merely stand for what they are themselves but, in being a symbol, for something else also. A sculpture or drawing of a lion may represent the animal but when used as a symbol, frequently stands for monarchy and power: for examples, the lion on the coat of arms of the United Kingdom and the lions at base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London. And symbols can also change their symbolic meaning and come to mean something else than was originally intended. The cross symbolised martyrdom for early Christians, later came to symbolise Christianity itself, later still the Holy Roman Empire and the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition …. For the Ku Klux Klan in the southern states of the USA, the burning cross symbolises the power of their organisation and white anglo-saxon ethnic supremacy.

The Irish Tricolour flag was presented to Thomas Francis Meagher of the Young Irelanders by women revolutionaries in Paris in 1848, the Year of Revolutions in Europe (but not really in Ireland, where the fight had been knocked out of the remaining survivors of the Great Hunger 1845-1849). Reputedly the flag’s colours signified peace (White) between the traditions of the Gael (Green) and the descendants of those who had fought for William (Orange). The Unionists see it, however, firstly as a symbol of rebellion against the Crown (not without reason, given its historical use) and secondly as a flag of a Catholic Ireland.

The Harp is an Irish symbol of some antiquity and was reputedly flown on standards in ancient medieval times in Ireland. The Norman and English invaders appropriated it firstly as symbol of a conquered Ireland and incorporated it into their colonial standards and flags. Revolutionary republican grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Cromwellian settlers then appropriated the harp as the symbol of the republican United Irishmen, with the motto “It is newly strung and shall be heard”. After the defeat of the Unitedmen (whose leaders were nearly all Protestant), the Harp became a rather suspect symbol for Unionists, mostly Protestants and besides, it is the official symbol of the Irish State (the only state in the world with a musical instrument as its national symbol). However, it remains within the arms of the United Kingdom, representing the Six Counties colony still in British/ English possession.

“Easter Lilly” design, traditionally produced as a paper ‘flag’ and worn pinned to clothing with a straight pin. More recently also produced in enameled metal. (Image sourced on Internet)

The “Easter Lilly” emblem is a symbolic representation of a white lilly with an orange centre, with a green leaf as a background. It was developed by Irish women Republicans in the second decade of the 20th Century to commemorate those who died fighting for Irish national freedom, in particular during the 1916 Easter Rising. For decades it was produced as a simple paper representation for the Irish Republican movement and sold on streets or pubs in the lead-up to Easter Monday, when the Rising would be commemorated. In more recent times it has been worn for up to a week each side of Easter Monday and it has also been produced as a metal badge or pin, which some Republicans wear all year around.

The flag of the United Kingdom, commonly known as the “Union Jack”, embodying a design composed of the symbols of the Crosses of Saints George, Andrew and Patrick, represents the union of the nations through their respective patron saints3: Scotland and Ireland under the rule of England and its Royal Family. It was a forced, not a voluntary union and is therefore a reactionary symbol but Unionists in the Six Counties view it as a symbol of the union with England which they wish to maintain.

Paper “Remembrance Poppy” produced for the British Royal Legion (Image sourced on Internet)

The Crown represents the English Royal Family and UK State power. Since it is the same State that imposes its rule on the other nations of Ireland and the British Isles, it is fundamentally a reactionary symbol, also representing the reactionary institution of monarchy.

The Poppy, a cloth representation of the red flower, is worn by many British people in the lead up to Armistice Day, November 11th and sometimes for days afterwards. Many British people apparently believe that the purpose of this symbol is to commemorate the dead in wars or to support veterans and their families. In fact as research has shown, the primary purpose of commemorating ‘Remembrance Day’ and the Poppy is to gather public support behind the Armed Forces of the UK. Unionists seemingly see wearing it as proof of their political allegiance to Britain, England or the Crown – or all three.4

In the most recent history of the Six Counties, the symbols listed above have been those of the respective communities, with the added fact that Crown and Union Jack have also been symbols of the colonial statelet itself.

Recently two other symbols have been promoted, also with sectarian allegiances: Irish and Ulster Scots. Neither of these two languages is spoken by the majority of either community, for whom English (with some words specific to Ulster) is the majority language.

THE IRISH, ENGLISH AND ULSTER SCOTS LANGUAGES

          Irish or an Ghaeilge, one of the languages of the Goidelic branch of the Celtic languages group, was the language of the people living in Ireland before it was invaded by England and remained the majority language in Ireland until the end of the19th Century. It continues as a community language5 in all provinces of Ireland including Ulster but there in parts of Co. Donegal, the northernmost county of Ireland (and not part of the Six Counties despite the statelet being called “Northern Ireland”).

Irish died out as a community language in the Six Counties from its last refuge, the Sperrin Mountains, sometime in the early decades of the 20th Century (the 1911 Census recorded a majority of Irish speakers in that region but also, interestingly, in the Protestant Sandy Row area of Belfast City). However, some Irish speakers survived and others learned the language so that it continued to exist in the colony after the partition of Ireland in 1921. During the recent 30 years’ war, Irish enjoyed a resurgence and to some extent became a badge of resistance to colonial rule.

English is, more than most, a language composed of a number of different languages. Given that it sounds like and is classified as a Germanic language, it is surprising that its major component is of French language origin with the minor component based on Saxon German. English developed in what became England over a period including the defeat of the Romanised Celtic tribes of the area by the Saxons and Angles and the subsequent conquering of the Saxons themselves by the French-speaking Normans.

A century after their victorious invasion of England, the Normans invaded Ireland. In most of the area they conquered in Ireland, the Normans soon came to adopt many local customs, including the speaking of Irish so that less than two centuries later, their England-based colleagues referred to them as “the degenerate English” who had become “more Irish than the Irish themselves.”6

Although the invaders failed to enforce the Statutes of Kilkenny, over the following centuries they managed through eviction of natives and plantation of colonists, as well as the exclusively official use of English and legal repression of the Irish language, to make Irish a minority language and to reduce it, as a community language, to a number of reservations in certain parts of the country.

Ulster Scots is a dialect of Scots, in turn a dialect of German spoken by Saxon colonisers of the Scottish Lowlands (the reason the dialect became known as “Lallands”). The Scottish colonists of Irish lands given to them by James I, Oliver Cromwell and English bankers brought the language into Ulster where it developed into “Ulster Scots”. That too gave way to English over time except in some pockets, without any serious effort to revive its fortunes. Until, that is, agitation began in recent times for rights for Irish speakers and for the teaching of Irish, when some Unionists, seeking an “Ulster”7 “Protestant” equivalent with which to oppose any benefits for Irish, began agitation for the preservation and teaching of Ulster Scots.

However, the real competitor with Irish for dominance in the Six Counties (as also in the Twenty-Six, the Irish State) is of course English.

PARITY OF ESTEEM”

          “Parity of esteem” is a concept that was put forward by Sinn Féin within the atmosphere of the Good Friday Agreement.

To many people at the time, including myself, it seemed like something between “soft” Republicanism and a token demand, something to represent to the party’s following that it was doing something for them in the Six Counties. Sinn Féin would have claimed it was much more than that – and it was.

When some critics of SF or of the Peace (sic) Process claimed that sectarianism was being institutionalised, was being “copper-fastened”, I wondered how that was. Obviously, people in Catholic areas would vote Sinn Féin but how was that any different other than how they would have voted previously, viz. Nationalist or SDLP?

But in the past, except for the brief “power-sharing” agreement8 which the Loyalists had so effectively sunk, no political representative on a Catholic voting base had even come close to carving up the Six Counties on a community proportional basis. Now Sinn Féin have done so – not just in local authorities but in the government of the statelet itself (present difficulties excepted). That is what SF has achieved, after some years of civil rights agitation, Catholic communal resistance to repression and nearly three decades of armed struggle – a sharing out of the spoils of office. Power-sharing. Parity of esteem. A sectarian carving out of areas of influence.

And every power-base must have its symbols. Recently the Irish Language has become one such. Obviously the Irish language is entitled to support and its speakers have civil language rights. Clearly the sectarian opposition of Unionist politicians to concessions in this direction is fundamentally wrong. Of course a Language Act is needed so that Irish speakers can use it to push for their rights where the institutions oppose and block them. But that is not why SF has come so late into this struggle. It’s another symbol of their ethnic power-base and another stick with which to beat the Unionists.

A view of a section of the “Dearg le Fearg” protest demonstration in Belfast in 2014, demanding State recognition of and facilities for the conservation and dissemination of the Irish language. (Image sourced on Internet)

And of course there are Irish language speakers and campaigners who are Sinn Féin members. They made clear you knew that during the huge demonstration in favour of Irish language rights, the Dearg le Fearg9 demonstration of 2014 in Belfast, when they were the only political party displaying a banner in violation of an understanding that no political party would do so.

But what does Sinn Féin do in order to forward the language among its own members and activists? Are its public speakers obliged to be competent Irish speakers? Are its Ard-Choiste (Executive Committee) meetings conducted through Irish? Its cumann (branch) meetings? Its Ard Fheis (annual congress)?10 No, none of those. Is the party even running an Irish language instruction program to overcome this deficit at some point in the future? No.

Apart from some enthusiasts among its activists and a vague nationalist emotional attachment, Sinn Féin as a party is not really interested in the language. In the Six Counties, it is interested in a sectarian carve-up which will keep it at the power table and the Irish language has now become useful for that. Just as, in the Twenty-Six Counties state, it is interested in coming to power in a different kind of power-sharing.

THE EASTER LILLY AND THE “REMEMBRANCE” POPPY

          And the latest symbol to be sullied by joining this war of symbols is the Easter Lilly. In times past the Easter Lilly, commemorating in particular the dead who fell fighting for freedom in the 1916 Rising, was worn by many in the Twenty-Six Counties state who were not Republicans. In the latter decades of the last century, few wore it apart from Republicans and, in the Six Counties, it was asking for trouble from the colonial police or Loyalists (often the same thing) to display it. The Flags and Emblems (Display) Act (1954-1987) there empowered any police officer to decide it was likely to lead to “a breach of the peace” and to remove it by force; conviction of a breach of the Act was punishable by a fine of up to £500 (sum equal to about £15,300 in 2017) or up to five years in prison.11

The Act, the repeal of which was one of the demands of the Civil Rights movement of the late 1960s, was finally repealed in 1987 but of course, any signifier identifying a person as a Republican or even a Catholic in the Six Counties is at the very least an invitation to less favourable treatment by the authorities and at worse to harassment and assault by Loyalists or colonial armed forces personnel.

It is of course right that people should have the right to wear the Easter Lilly but to pose it as an equal right to wearing the Remembrance (sic) Poppy is to devalue the Lilly, to putting an anti-imperialist and Irish Republican history emblem on the same level as an imperialist military-glorifying one. But that is exactly what Sinn Féin is now doing12. And Leo Varadkar, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of the Irish state, recently publicly agreed with that notion.13

And is that not the same project as those of the “Museum of Free Derry”14 and of the Glasnevin Cemetery Trust15, one on each side of the Border, commemorating dead British colonial force members side-by-side with their victims and those who fought against them? As though they are of the same worth to commemorate? As though the objectives of each were (are) of equal value?

What more effective way to undermine the power of an anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist symbol than to equate it with its opposite?

THE IMPORTANCE OF SYMBOLS

          I once heard an organiser of a British-based left-wing party, himself of Irish parents, declaim against Irish political commemorations in London as “only of symbolic importance”. How little he understood of human beings to say that! Outside of urgent situations, natural surroundings and chemical reactions, symbols are the only things that convey meaning to human beings.

This page is covered in printed symbols, which we have learned to decipher into words which, in turn are symbols to convey meaning by association. If I write the letters h,o,u,s,e joined together, or say “house”, a symbol in sound, the listeners construct the shape of a house inside their heads, based on the culture and structures to which they have been exposed in their lives, to understand what I mean. If I write or say instead “tent”, they will visualise something else. If I write or say “party” the listener may struggle between visualising a festive occasion or a political party but should I have preceded that word with another, “house”, confusion disappears and the only question is whether the listener’s experience or understanding of a “house party” is the same as mine.

A nod of the head is a symbolic gesture which in most cultures signifies some level of agreement, a shake of the head its opposite. We understand symbolic hand gestures, shrugs, grimaces, smiles, winks, the lift of an eyebrow, bodily posture. Shapes of body or posture can convey sexual availability and induce arousal, or convey threat and give rise to fear. Symbols haunt our dreams, according to Jung and Freud, communications from our subconscious. Symbols are crucial to conveying and understanding meaning.

WHAT IS RIGHT AND WHAT IS NOT

          It is right and proper that people should uphold the symbols of anti-imperialist and anti-colonial historical resistance, including the Irish Tricolour (although more appropriate to my thinking is the Starry Plough of the Irish Citizen Army16). Another symbol of that resistance, the Easter Lilly, is equally valid. It is right and proper that people should

“The Starry Plough”, design of the flag of the Irish Citizen Army, first produced 1914. (Image sourced on Internet)

value the cultural and political history embodied in the symbol of the Irish Harp. It is a matter of great cultural world importance that the Irish language survive and flourish. These are important symbols and, in the case of the language, an important thing in itself. These are not things to be equated with symbols of oppression, colonialism and imperialism.

The Union Jack, the Crown and the Poppy deserve to be shunned by all progressive people, because of the values they symbolise and the continuing effect of those things today. The English language, on the other hand, is worthy of a place in a bilingual Irish society.

Let Republicans and others promote the wearing of the Easter Lilly and the display of flags of historic Republican resistance. Let them never place them in the same context or on equal status with the symbols of imperialism and colonialism. Let many promote the use of the Irish language and rights for its speakers but let it not be used as a crude political weapon, much less to further the prospects of a party which actively colludes with and shares in colonial rule by an invader and has done nothing in reality to promote the language even among its own ranks.

End.

FOOTNOTES

1  The Statutes of Kilkenny sought to halt this “degeneracy” with 35 Acts forbidding the “intermarriage between the native Irish and the native English, the English fostering of Irish children, the English adoption of Irish children and use of Irish names and dress.[7] Those English colonists who did not know how to speak English were required to learn the language (on pain of losing their land and belongings), along with many other English customs. The Irish pastimes of “hockie” and “coiting” were to be dropped and pursuits such as archery and lancing to be taken up, so that the English colonists would be more able to defend against Irish aggression, using English military tactics.[8]

“Other statutes required that the English in Ireland be governed by English common law, instead of the Irish March law or Brehon law[9] and ensured the separation of the Irish and English churches by requiring that “no Irishman of the nations of the Irish be admitted into any cathedral or collegiate church … amongst the English of the land”.[10]

“………. Statute XV, which forbade Irish minstrels or storytellers to come to English areas, guarding against “the Irish agents who come amongst the English, spy out the secrets, plans, and policies of the English, whereby great evils have often resulted”.[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statutes_of_Kilkenny

2  e.g William Orr, Edward Crosbie, Wolfe Tone, Edward Fitzgerald, Edward Hayes, Henry Joy McCracken, Henry Munroe, William Aylmer, Thomas Addis Emmet, Bagenal Harvey, Joseph Holt, Napper Tandy, Robert Emmet ….

3  Ireland has in fact three patron Christian saints: Patrick, Bridget and Columcille.

5  By use of the term “community language” here I mean a language used by a community settled on an area, as distinct from say a community of people separated by distance but united by use of a language, or a language used by a few families separated from one another by a majority not speaking that language.

6 The Statutes of Kilkenny

7 A misnomer constantly repeated not only by Unionists but also by British public commentators: the province of Ulster has nine counties, of which three are in the Irish state and six in the British statelet.

8  The Sunningdale Agreement of 1973, which proposed power-sharing between Protestant and Catholic communities in the shape of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive, was overthrown by the Loyalist action of the Ulster Workers’ Council (and Ulster Army Council) strike of 1974, including armed intimidation of Catholic areas, with British Army troops and RUC police standing by (or in the latter case openly colluding) .

9  Literally “Red with Anger”, a campaign of demonstrations organised both sides of the Border, against administrations of both states, by Irish language campaigners and speakers. Connradh na Gaeilge (the Gaelic League, an organisation part-funded by the Irish state) took part in organising this but it was only one of many much more grass-roots organisations across the country involved. It had been agreed that political party representatives would not be speakers (this was violated in some instances) and that political party banners would not be displayed (violated by Sinn Féin on the Belfast demonstration).

10  This is very different from comparable movements for national independence in Catalunya and the Basque Country, where their own national languages dominate their political discourse, despite repression (until the 1980s) and lack of state support.

THE SPECTRE OF THE BROWNIE

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

                  We knew about gays but we didn’t call them that. That was in our primary school days. Our mammies or das or others had warned us boys about them. We were never to accept sweets from strangers. They were men, older, probably shabby, hanging around in public toilets (when we had public toilets in streets). They would try to see your mickey, try to touch it (they were only interested in boys, which went to show how totally deviant they were).  They’d give you sweets or even money.  Just for that?  It was enough!  We thought no further but when we had to use those public urinals, kept as far away as we could from any men (a habit we continued into adulthood) and tried to cover our mickies with our hands and sometimes got some of the urine on them as a result.

Old-style urinal formerly on Ormonde Quay, Dublin, photographed in 1969. One of the types of places where the “Brownies” supposedly lurked.
(Image source: Internet)

Locked underground toilet in Kevin Street, Dublin, one of many such now all closed or demolished.
(Image source: Aoife Barry, the Journal)

We didn’t call them “gays” then but there were other names in our vernacular dictionaries: brownies, dirty men, homos ….. They were always predators and always male. Girls didn’t have to worry, apparently – those dirty men would not be tempted at all. It was the normal men girls had to worry about.

Was there such a thing as female homos? But if they wanted to play with your mickies that would be normal wouldn’t it? And nice even if sinful. Ah, chance would be a fine thing! But girls or women doing it with one another? How? And sure, what for?

Did we know any homos? Well, we were kind of getting to hear about poor Oscar Wilde. He would have been our fifth national Nobel prizewinner for literature and the fourth from our capital city. If not for …. well …. Poor man, he was misguided. And duped. But a lovely writer.

Oscar Wilde quotations, part of his monument in Merrion Square, Dublin. (Image source: D.Breatnach)

Head sculpture of a youthful Alexander the Great, from the Hellenistic period. (Image source: Internet)

Our elders, well a great many of them, knew that many famous men had been homosexual – but they didn’t tell us. We knew quite a bit about the military exploits of Alexander, the Macedonian but nobody told us he was homosexual. If we’d known, we’d have asked ourselves whether he went to conquer the world in order to hang around public toilets in foreign lands, waiting to touch boy’s mickies. William of Orange was a homo too but then we had enough reason to hate him already. Wait – William …. Willy …. willies ….. nah, coincidence!

There was another William they might have known about, King William Rufus (1087 – 1110), son of William the Conqueror, openly homosexual. And probably assassinated by order of his brother, King Henry II, not for being gay but to get the kingdom. Well, what would you expect of the English! OK, Norman-English. Whatever.

Mícheál Mac Liamóir as Iago in Orson Well’s production of Shakespeare’s “Othello”. (Image source: Internet)

They surely knew, educated adults and anyone around the theatre, that Mícheál Mac Liamóir was “a practicing homosexual”. An Englishman who became Irish, including a fluent speaker and writer in the Irish language, he lived with his lover Hilton Edwards in Harcourt Terrace. Edwards was another Englishman converted to Ireland. But sure they were English, so our elders only sniffed and turned a blind eye, grateful for the culture of the Abbey and Gate theatres, the formation of An Taidhbhearc and fame on English language stage and screen.

We knew Roger Casement could not be homosexual (even though he was a Protestant) because he was an Irish patriot. The English would do anything to tarnish his reputation and they had forged “the black diaries” to say disgusting things about him1, before they hanged him, not for homosexuality but for “treason” to the Crown. That’s the English Crown, of course. The one on top of the Arms of the Union, with the Lion and the Unicorn below, and below them the shield bearing the Thistle of Scotland, the Rose of England and the Harp of Ireland. You can see the design on the front page of the London Times, or on the roofs of the Bank of Ireland and Customs House buildings in Dublin.

Roger Casement, projected by British espionage service as a homosexual in order to undermine the campaign for clemency on charge of treason.
(Image sourced: Internet)

But did we know any homosexuals personally? Perhaps some did. There was a lad at school who liked to knit and listen to opera and whose manner was quite feminine. Probably he was/ is, we thought years later but at the time he was just a boy who was like a girl. There was another one, son of a famous actor, a bit of a bully with a gang around him. He turned out to be gay but I at least never suspected.  Then there was a certain barber who seemed quite effeminate but would do his best to cut your hair to any fashionable style which you required.

As we came into our teens, our vision broadened a little and we came upon more sinister knowledge. There were now rumours of homosexual Christian Brothers and priests. Seeing as these two groups, along with the Jesuits, directly controlled most of secondary education in the Irish state, nearly all of us Catholics were going to pass into their hands at some point. Hopefully their educational hands only. They didn’t have to hang around public toilets. They’d have us for six or seven hours a day, five days a week. Not to speak of the residential schools (too many people didn’t).

We knew in general and we knew of specific instances, by rumour or by experience. We resolved not to be victims ourselves and the strong succeeded. The weak? Well ….. Sauve qu’il peut, as they say (or I think they do) in France.

And we didn’t talk of it to our elders. Why? Well ….. hard to say. Would they have believed us? Did we have proof? Would it only have showed how dirty our minds were?

In my teens, a youth selling newspapers in Dún Laoghaire told me of a brawny sailor who one evening wanted to entice him into an alley away from company in order “not to embarrass the girls”. So, homosexuality was not confined to the creepy men hanging around toilets, or to the effeminate and arty, or to the clergy and Catholic brotherhoods. Burly sailors? Dear God!

And now a disturbing but exciting knowledge also came to us. We learned that there were indeed homosexual women – they were called ‘Lesbians’. And almost unbelievably, if you managed to get hold of a copy of the Kinsey Reports (or reviews of them), lesbianism appeared to be even more common than male homosexuality! Disturbing in a number of ways …. women preferring to have sex with women than with men? For some of us, it was difficult enough already to get physically intimate with a girl without some of them preferring other women! Then, a second thought, disturbing in a different way: imagine seeing them together … doing it! Double female nakedness!

As we grew older, we came to know gay men personally. Of course we did. Some of us, the better ones, acknowledged them our equals, did not avoid the subject nor deny them our company. Some of us, while accepting their company, avoided any mention of their preferences; we treated them as heterosexuals, knowing they were not. And some of us avoided them or worse, inflicted violence on them. We found out that some indeed did hang out around toilets but not to feel the mickies of little boys but to make assignations with adult males. Where else could they meet? It was illegal and religiously prohibited too.

Then came gay liberation agitation in the 1970s. Decriminalisation in 1993. And finally, equal rights to wed in 2015. Incredibly almost, that same Ireland of our childhood voted by majority in every county but one in the Irish State of the Twenty-Six Counties, that gays should have the right to marry people of their own gender.  In May 2015, Ireland became the first state to legalise on a national level same-sex marriage by popular vote.  The New York Times hailed the victory as putting Ireland at “the vanguard of social change”.

A badge in the Irish language calling for a vote in favour of the right to same-sex marriage in the Irish state referendum of 2015.
(Image source: D.Breatnach)

We have come a long way, in that respect at least.  But oh, the victims of intolerance strewn along each side of the route of our progress!

Generations in Ireland will grow now, hopefully, without the spectre of the Brownie.

End

Footnotes:

Roger Casement (1864-1916) was an Irish patriot and Protestant, also a poet and an enthusiast for Irish culture. In 1916, in preparation for the Easter Rising in Ireland, he came in a German submarine to assist in the unloading of German armament, including 20,000 rifles. The German boat, disguised as a Norwegian, was discovered and its captain scuttled it outside of Cork. The IRA Volunteers who went to meet the boat and Casement at its rearranged landing place, of which they had just learned, drowned as their car went off the road into the sea.

Casement was apprehended after landing. He was tried for treason in wartime and a substantial campaign arose to save his life. He had earned fame and a knighthood (CMG) a decade earlier through exposing ill-treatment of indigenous people in the African Congo under Belgian Royal control and in Putamayo in Perú by rubber-exploitation commercial interests.

Extracts from the “Black Diaries” were circulated by the British espionage service to undermine popular support for clemency for Casement. Those Diaries (as opposed to his other diaries of his travels abroad)gave details of his  allegedly sexual interludes with men abroad and the extracts circulated substantially undermined the campaign for clemency. Casement was hanged in Pentonville Prison on 3rd August 1916, the last of the 1916 executions, the only one not by firing squad or to take place in Ireland.

The authenticity of the “Black Diaries” continues to be the subject of controversy. Although Wikipedia notes that a handwriting expert concluded by comparison with his other diaries that the entries were genuinely Casement’s, he is the only handwriting expert to have been permitted to examine the original, nor have samples been subjected to modern forensic testing. And the British espionage service did have a reputation for forging documents.

PARALLEL UNIVERSES …. AND FLIES

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

I knew there was a parallel universe long before I heard about the theory.

No, I don’t mean the parallel universe where lots of people live, particularly middle-class, where justice and democracy and the rule of an objective and impartial law governs. In that universe, oppressive powers who have plundered the earth and committed so many crimes to enrich themselves will meekly give all that up once you show them how many people disapprove of what they’re doing. They won’t repress you instead, with baton, plastic bullet and gas, jail, guns, helicopters, drones …. Sometimes, in my more idle moments, I wish I lived in that same universe instead of this one.

But it’s not the one I mean here.  The parallel universe I mean is another one where there is oxygen and what is necessary for carbon-based life forms to breathe and live — but it is not this one. And I didn’t find out about it through carrying out complicated mathematical computations – me, maths? Are you joking? All the same, I did use a scientific method: observation. And I have to thank flies for the discovery.

Have you ever tried to catch a fly, or to swat it with your hand? There’s the fly, lazily buzzing, wheeling around in the air. You prepare yourself. Fast, so fast, you grab and you know you got it, open your hand– and it’s empty!

Where did the fly go? Into a parallel universe. It’ll come back soon, when the danger is past for the moment. Conditions must not be that great in that parallel universe (unlike the one where those liberal middle-class people live) so the flies never stay there long. Maybe there’s a giant frog or toad there, its tongue flicking out right and left, catching flies that stay there too long.

OK, a different scenario. You see a fly on the table and move your hand evvverrrr so-o-o-o slowwwllly towards it. You must get close enough so it doesn’t have time to avoid your swat.

The fly does that strange thing, kind of like stiffening, apparently getting ready to jump and fly. It has seen you, you think. But you don’t give up. You slow down, almost stop. Maybe it will forget or won’t think your hand is dangerous.

The fly is now cleaning its face with its front legs.

“Good,” you think, “It’s not alarmed any more.” It doesn’t occur to you that the fly was not cleaning its face before and is only doing so now. You don’t suspect that the fly is thinking: “Oho! Fancy your chances? Come on then Big Thing. See, I’m just relaxed here, cleaning my face.”

Swat! Your hand has streaked out. The plate rattled and the mug jumped, spilling some coffee on the table-top. But nothing flew out from under your hand. You got him for sure!

You remove your hand and …. no dead fly! No bloody smear. Incredible! How did it do that? In that instant before your hand, ever so fast, came down to crush it, the fly simply shifted to another universe. It will be back soon, circling nonchalantly and may even return to the table, walking innocently on it and waiting for you to try again.

And not only is there a parallel universe but parallel universes! And I have reached this conclusion too, without even a pass in mathematics in the Irish State’s former Intermediate Examination (abandoned in 1991) or much study of physics. Again, achieved through observation. Sometimes, particularly when I am tired, I have observed a rapid movement of some small object across my line of vision. It is there for a moment only, originating ‘out of nowhere’ and disappearing again a few feet away. I propose that this is a fly, originating in another universe, flying across this one and, presumably, heading for yet another. No doubt fleeing from a swatting hand or other pursuer in another universe. Sometimes I can even hear what sounds like it might be fly laughter.

Why observable mostly when the eye is tired? Because the brain at this time is less receptive to the normal distractions and so therefore is the eye, making observation of other less normal phenomena more likely. Of course, this theory has not been proven, despite my efforts to catch this fly. It has not proved possible to predict the day or time when this “fly-through” might occur and also, being often tired at the time, my reactions tend to be slow. But one day ….

Of course, theoretical science has now caught up with my observations and a number of reputable scientists have been discussing related theories for decades (though also dismissed by other reputable scientists). Those supporting the theoretical concept even speak of a “multiverse”, i.e of a universe consisting of many – and some propose infinite — variables of the universe currently observable to us. Interestingly to a Dubliner such as myself, the term “multiverse” was first recorded in scientific discourse in a 1953 Trinity College Dublin lecture by Erwin Shrodinger (1887-1961), an Austrian Nobel Prize-winner in physics (and achiever of an even greater distinction, managing to live successfully with not one but two unslaved members of the opposite gender).  According to Wikipedia ‘he said that, when his Nobel prize-winning equations seemed to describe several different histories, these were “not alternatives, but all really happen simultaneously”. That is the earliest known reference to the multiverse.’

In one of those parallel universes there might be a version or iteration of myself who did not fuck up so many times, who is more disciplined and productive in the use of his free time and ….. well, that’s enough to think about. This other iteration might even like heavy metal music, be good at maths, like eating flatfish and not get into trouble with authorities.

The arguments in favour and against the existence of a multiverse have been equally convincing or unconvincing logically.

Against: We live in the universe that we do because that one provides the conditions for the existence of life. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t be here. Therefore it is the only universe capable of sustaining life and the only one in existence.

For: There is no logical reason why other universes capable of giving rise to life and therefore populated, could not exist, but with some different conditions to ours. All possible permutations. Or indeed that some would not consist of completely different life-forms, not even carbon-based. Life keeps turning up in situations previously thought impossible even here on Earth and we have long known about anaerobic bacteria.

Against: Such speculation is fruitless. We have not observed any effect or trace of these other universes.

For: However, there are some factors in quantum theory which do not explain what we can observe of this universe. And lack of proof does not rule out the possibility of the existence of something.

Against: That is true so far about quantum theory. But unless it can be proven or disproven, it is not worthy of scientific theory. We might as well fund investigation into the existence of God.

For: Aha, funding! That’s why you don’t want it studied – it might reduce the funding available for your work.

Against: How dare you!

And so on and on. And on.

And now, if you‘ll excuse me ….. There’s a fly nearby on the table …..

 

End.

 

Links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiverse

PUBLIC HOUSING FOR ALL — CAMPAIGN LAUNCHED IN DUBLIN

Diarmuid Breatnach

The Campaign for Public Housing was launched Saturday (28th October) at a large packed meeting room in the Unite trade union building in Dublin.

Section of crowded room at campaign launch meeting in Unite trade union hall.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The demands of the campaign were announced as both long-term (in the form of a new system of universal public housing) and short-term (in dealing with the reality of the current housing crisis), as follows:

  • A new system of Universally Accessible Public Housing, based upon a cost rental model where the collective rent of tenants would fund the construction and procurement of large volumes of new public housing.

  • A tenants Bill of Rights to protect tenants in the private rental sector. This bill would control rents and provide real security of tenure.

  • A complete Ban on Economic Evictions by banks and private landlords.

  • A referendum to insert an unambiguous and legally enforceable Right to Public Housing into the constitution.

Standing room only remaining at campaign launch meeting in Unite trade union hall.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The political forces represented at the public meeting table were Éirigí (Brian Leeson), the Workers’ Party (Éilís Ryan), the Communist Party (chairing the meeting) and an individual who might be described as an independent left Republican activist (Cieran Perry). Both Perry and Ryan serve as elected councillors on Dublin City Council.

The Éirigí organisation is considerably reduced from the numbers of activists it had when it was first formed, largely by “dissidents” who left the Sinn Féin party soon after the Good Friday Agreement. The Workers’ Party is very small, having arrived at its current space through a series of splits from the original Sinn Féin (which became Official Sinn Féin after their dissidents formed the Provisionals back in 1970). The Communist Party of Ireland is also very small but owns a Dublin bookshop which also operates as a small theatre and meeting place for broader left anti-imperialist events.

At first glance, the political composition of the table may strike the observer as unimpressive in representation of numbers. However, such active forces have impacted significantly on the Irish political scene over the years and these in particular bring a wealth of political experience to the table. In addition, the audience contained a broad spectrum of left trade union and community activists, republicans, anarchists, socialists and participants who became active in recent campaigns.

According to a press statement released by the Campaign for Public Housing on 26th October, its supporters includes:
Peter McVerry (in a personal capacity, it was said at the launch)
Inner City Helping Homeless
Éirigí
The Workers’ Party
The Communist Party of Ireland
North Dublin Bay Housing Crisis Community
Cllr. Cieran Perry
D8HAC Altogether Now
Dundrum Housing Action
1916 Societies
Catherine Connolly TD
Clare Daly TD
Mick Wallace TD
(and Joan Collins TD, it was announced at the campaign launch).

THE STATE FUNDING SPECULATORS TO BUY MORE PROPERTY

Speaking while using an electronic visual presentation on a large screen at the campaign public launch meeting, Leeson presented figures drawn from statistics produced by property and housing agencies and government departments to illustrate a history of public housing in the Irish State since its creation. Though hardly impressive in the numbers of public dwellings built, the figures showed a significant initiative in that direction under the early Fianna Fáil government years, when De Valera was at its head.

Brian Leeson during his presentation,
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s the ratio of public housing to private housing built was around one to one. In those years, private landlords notwithstanding, private housing was usually occupied by the owner. From the 1980s onwards, the ratio shifted to 10-1 in favour of private dwellings and huge numbers of these were no longer lived in by their owners and the ratio is much higher now. In effect, dwellings had become a commodity in which large-scale speculation was taking place, driving the rents and mortgages higher and higher, forcing people into debt for life or evictions and also into high-rent and unsuitable accommodation.

The figures also showed a state funding of the private property sector to the tune of eight billions (€8,000,000,000) – funds which the banks and other property speculators used to purchase more land and property, intensifying the housing crisis.

PUBLIC — NOT SOCIAL — HOUSING

Ryan concentrated her presentation on the need to call for public housing as a rational and necessary response, as one might consider for example public education or health service. Only public housing can solve the housing crisis, she maintained and so it is not only of moral importance but of urgent practical need. Turning to the cost of house building, Ryan pointed to the industry’s figures seen in the earlier presentation, showing that good-quality houses can be built much cheaper even under existing conditions. She was at pains to outline the differences between social and public housing: social housing is often aimed at low-income families and may be provided through a range of private or semi-private schemes. Public housing is state-funded with the rents going back to the state to reinvest in further housing provision and should be mixed in order to avoid ghettoisation.

Éilis Ryan during her presentation. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Referring to the importance that Irish people tend to give to the state’s Constitution, Ryan stated that part of the objectives of the campaign was to insert a clause that guaranteed every person a good quality, affordable-according-to-income housing unit for life.

STOP THE SALE OF PUBLIC LAND!

“We have very little power as Councillors,” said Perry “but one thing we do have power on is the veto on selling public land.” He went on to speak of how Dublin City Council had sold Council land to private developers despite his and some other Councillors’ efforts. However, social and political pressure had forced the ratio of public housing on the Devanney Gardens site up to 30% despite the wishes of some political parties but that still meant that 70% went to private speculators.

Cieran Perry during his presentation.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Perry called for support for a demonstration outside City Hall on Monday November 6th at 5.30 pm in support of a motion put forward by himself and some other councillors to prevent the sale of any Council land.

Currently Dublin City Council own 120 hectares of land – enough to build 12,000 good quality homes. “There are 20,000 people on Dublin’s housing waiting lists, and many more average income households who will never be able to afford private rent or mortgage. So why are we allowing private developers to make money off our land?”

Turning to the question of the campaign itself, Perry promised it would be democratic, transparent and not become dominated by any political party or personality and urged all to become involved, to leave their contact details on the clipboard sheets at the door and to encourage others to come on board.

QUESTIONS

The questions and contributions were overwhelmingly of an intelligent kind and included areas such as hidden homelessness by emigration, housing waiting lists and disqualification; the privatisation of education and health services despite their public appearance; the need for the campaign to include direct action; the relationship between this campaign and other housing campaigns in Ireland; the need for quality monitoring by other than the contractor if the Council is to be the builder; the shortage of building workers at the moment; changes in the court systems to facilitate evictions; the involvement in a number of evictions of a firm led by an ex-British soldier using Loyalist ex-paramilitaries; the expected opposition from the EU to bans on the sale of public land; the hidden homelessness of one partner in a relationship breakup, etc.

Those leaving the meeting seemed fairly happy with the launch though inevitably some discussion took place on what tactics the campaign might employ and whether the organisation would degenerate into electoralism, or whether it would be manipulated for politically sectional interest. Political and community activists in Dublin have a long history and such discussion would be normal among all but the most naive. But the overall mood perceived by this reporter was decidedly positive.

End

LINKS:

Contact campaign: https://www.facebook.com/CampaignForPublicHousing/

campaign4publichousing@gmail.com

Picket City Hall to demand no selling of public land: https://www.facebook.com/events/2562340743904927/?acontext=%7B%22ref%22%3A%223%22%2C%22ref_newsfeed_story_type%22%3A%22regular%22%2C%22action_history%22%3A%22null%22%7D

TODAY THE FRENCH LANDED TO HELP THE IRISH THROW OFF THE ENGLISH YOKE.

Diarmuid Breatnach

On the 22nd of August 1798, almost 1,100 troops under the command of General Humbert landed at Cill Chuimín Strand, Bádh Cill Ala (Killala Bay), Co. Mayo.

Painting said to be depicting French landing at Kilalla

 The events are covered in six songs that I know of: Na Franncaigh Bhána; An Spailpín Fánach (Mayo version); Mise ‘gus Tusa agus Hielan Aindí; The West’s Awake by Thomas Davis; Men of the West and its Irish translation, Fir an Iarthair.

 Some of the songs, especially the traditional ones from this area, are in Irish, which was the commonly-spoken language of the area (unlike parts of Dublin, Wexford and Antrim, where most of the songs from the period were in English).

The French troops on this occasion — unlike the numbers sent by Napoleon in 1796 but which failed to land at Bantry Bay due to stormy conditions — were insufficient to change the overall insurrectionary situation and though they and the Irish fought bravely, the Rising in the West failed.  Most of the French who surrendered were treated as prisoners of war but the Irish who rose were butchered or taken prisoner and hanged.  Matthew Tone and Bartholomew Teeling, both Irish but holding commissions as officers in the French Army, were taken to Dublin, tried and hung.  Their bodies are reputed to lie in Croppies’ Acre.

Portrait of General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert

Nevertheless the Rising is remembered with pride and General Humbert’s memory held in affection.  Sixteen years later he fought the English again at the Battle of New Orleans, taking place between December 14, 1814 and January 18, 1815, this time as a private soldier in the American Army — and successfully.  He had settled in New Orleans already and remained there after the war, working as a schoolteacher until his final days.

There is a French military former officer character in Mel Gibson’s film The Patriot (2000), Major Jean Villeneuve (played by Tcheky Karyo).  A film commentary on line says his character was suggested by the Marquis de Lafayette, of the French military and Baron Von Steubon, a Prussian mercenary (http://www.patriotresource.com/thepatriot/characters/villeneuve.html.).

But might the character not have been suggested by Humbert?  Anyone who knew his story would be eager to put him in the film, one would think.  In the film, he fights in his French officer’s uniform at the final battle (unnamed but probably based that on at Cowpens); Humbert, though he fought at the rank of private, also fought in his Napoleonic Officer’s Army uniform at the Battle of New Orleans.

Still photo from the film, with Tchéky Karyo to the right in the role of the French Major Villeneuve. His character could have been based in part on that of Jean Joseph Amable Humbert.

Robert Roda of New Hampshire is listed as the writer of the screenplay.  New Hampshire is not known as an Irish-American stronghold and Roda does not sound like an Irish name.  But then, it is not only Irish and French people who are interested in Irish and French history.

 

End

 

 

Derry’s New Secret Police Force

Republished with kind permission from the Irish Dissent blog https://irishdissent.wordpress.com/

 

In the second such attack to have occurred in Derry within the past two months, a teenage boy was beaten up last week in the city by a gang of masked men armed with iron bars and a gun (in the previous one, a teenager suffered two broken legs and a broken arm).

One of the instruments of the “secret police” — an iron bar

Nobody knows who did this, or why these two attacks took place, of course. That’s because this is how secret policing works – it occurs very discreetly, almost invisibly, insidiously reminding us that, below the surface of society and always after night falls, a secret police force is active. Violent secret policing can be so clandestine that, when it does take place, it can feel at first almost as if it hasn’t happened, unless, of course, you are one of the people on the receiving end of it. Although it feels unreal to many among the wider community, its repeated occurrence burrows into the public mind where its corruption, though often overlooked, is impossible to conceal.

This secret police force is so obscure that nobody knows who or what is behind it, other than someone’s profound desire to control people. In the absence of identifiable organisational responsibility (those involved are so secretive that nobody knows who they are) we could also describe this very Secret Police Force as Sinn Féin Mark 2. Indeed, they resemble Sinn Féin’s party militia so much that the people of Derry could be forgiven for thinking that those who are behind these attacks might have been, at some stage, apostates who were driven from that organisation. In any case, the new Secret Police have assumed all the characteristics of their old role models.

 

Old Tactics in New Clothing
Derry’s secret policing structures aren’t new or unique. They have been seen before, and resemble very closely what might be termed “the McGuinness pattern”. Organised and directed by people who want to establish themselves as unofficial figures of authority in the city, they operate according to a very familiar design. This has always served those who believe that they should be revered but ultimately feared by their own as far, at least, as limb-smashing can be interpreted as the good work of defending the community from its wayward youth. So, once again, we are being confronted with the work of false radicals and mock liberators. They know that beating people up with iron bars appeals to a very special kind of imagination, and this is where the secrecy of Derry’s Secret Police might be of benefit to everyone. Who would want to know whether a friend, neighbour or even a relative was involved in this kind of policing? This type of best-kept secret is best kept, well… very secret, indeed.

Another of the instruments of the “secret police” — a pickaxe handle

Despite what the Secret Police want you to think, they are not a manifestation of what happens “in the absence of acceptable policing” because that lazy, self-serving cliché died of exhaustion a very long time ago when it was last uttered by Sinn Féin. Anyone capable of independent thought knows that there are always alternatives to battering young people with iron bars unless, that is, they are the very rare kind of person who is addicted to doing, ordering or beholding it (a dependency for which all kinds of medical and psychiatric treatments are available). The simple fact is that broken teenage limbs are not the organic products of a supposedly measured or reasonable process that concludes with community-sanctioned violence. This brutality, along with the desire for authority and validation that it represents, is an artificial imposition that follows a logic that is as brutal for the entire community as it is for the young person who has been accused of, somehow, “offending”. The entire process is deliberately engineered to appear vague and its indeterminate quality is intended to cultivate a collective response along the lines of “Well, he must have done something”.

 

The Silent Terror
We can assume that an allegation of some kind of offence has been levelled by the Secret Police during its thoroughly concealed process of judgment – even secret tribunals, after all, have to justify their existences to themselves. The accusation circulates only within this bubble, away from public scrutiny where, undisclosed, the infraction is proven by faceless judges before a Secret Police squad is mobilised, armed, and then deployed. The “offending” young person is beaten up and in the subsequent public discussion about the mystery (“What did he get it for, anyway?”) the perceived problem evaporates, like reason under a dictatorship. Nobody says anything; everybody moves along like they’re told to and supposed to because there’s nothing to see here, nothing at all. So, the reality principle sinks while the self-perpetuating myth of the enforcer, so reliant upon the damnation and isolation of broken-limbed teenagers, endures.

With its methodically-planned politics of erasure and dedicated to the erosion of truth, this organised and highly structured violence is reinforced by the ripple-effect that it causes across the wider community.  All of this benefits those who direct it and carry it out in a number of ways. Firstly, it reinforces the perception that those in command of the Derry Secret Police have of themselves as a source of authority: “people will fear us now”, they think, “we’ll have more respect”, “all we’ll ever have to do is glare at somebody and they’ll get the message”, and so on. Secondly, the people who carry these attacks out on their behalf have, in their own turn, become blooded. Assimilated within the circuitry of this local, unofficial and unspoken power and embedded in it, they now have status, belonging, a role and a meaning greater than anything that they have ever experienced or amounted to before. In their own eyes and, they believe, in the view of the broader community, they will finally matter. Imbued with this new sense of purpose and superiority, they’ll genuinely feel important and, from this moment onward, they’ll exist under the impression that they, too, are now to be feared.

 

Political Fear and the Closure of Consciousness
No group has claimed these attacks, and none will, because silence is the currency of terror. Fear travels along the ruined and collapsed channels of reason because it depends upon the closure of imagination. Once thinking is checked, it transmits rapidly from one consciousness to the next via these now-quiet paths. In doing so, it seals mouths and closes minds, extinguishes thought and tightens its grip over the popular imagination where it is internalised, amplified and projected further inward with ever greater intensity following each attack. In this way, fear reproduces itself, by generating wider acceptance of organised thuggery and condemns entire communities to long-running cycles of quiet, uncommunicated dread. At the back of the mind of every parent will be the final, awful question: “Could this happen to my child?”

Questions now need to be asked about those who benefit from secret policing, and answers should be demanded as to which local hierarchies and dynasties are being served and facilitated by the Secret Police. The people of Derry have a right to demand what qualifies someone for a role in this clandestine force, to know who gets to make secret policing decisions and on what authority these decisions are being taken. Given that this organisation operates according to a programme of its own, people also have the right to know who writes the rules of secret policing and why. We have the right to know what gets said when secret policing matters are discussed: who, for example, discusses whom during these meetings? We have the right to know what qualifies anything or anyone for inclusion in these secret discussions, and we have the right to know what will happen if the Secret Police come up with more secret “offenses” that they believe will need to be policed with even more severity.

The deepest wounds caused by secret policing and its unofficial violence are always inflicted on the psyche of a people. The worst damage of all is caused by the silences that inhibit thought, restrict free speech and threaten to crush open criticism. If allowed to take hold, these restrictions will dominate the material, political and cultural prospects of the people of Derry, along with their psychological wellbeing.  If they are not resisted another generation will be forced to endure the authority of cabals and militias, while the prospects of young people will be permanently hindered by the shadow of this unofficial violence.