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.

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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.

LIVELY PICKET IN DUBLIN AGAINST INTERNMENT OF IRISH AND CATALAN POLITICAL ACTIVISTS

Clive Sulish

 

             Catalan Esteladas flew next to Irish Tricolours at the GPO in Dublin on Saturday afternoon (25 November 2017). The occasion was a picket organised by the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee to protest the internment without trial of Irish Republicans and also of Catalan political activists for independence. Placards raised the issue of internment of Irish Republicans and their treatment once in jail, as well as criticising the lack of action of Amnesty International on this question. Some placards also declared that the “Spanish State jails Catalan political activists”.

Mix of Irish and Catalan flags outside the GPO building, O’Connell Street, Dublin
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Despite the seriousness of the issue and the bitter cold, the mood was upbeat, assisted by a music player broadcasting a range of songs, from Sifre’s “Something Inside So Strong”, through Warshaw’s “The Cry of the Morning” (sung by Christy Moore) to “Els Segadors”. Some protesters sang along to the songs and passers-by could be heard joining in too.

Many leaflets were distributed. A number of Catalan young women passers-by were excited to see the Estelada flags and were ecstatic when “Els Segadors” (“The Reapers”), the Catalan national anthem, was played.

Catalan and other young women passers-by reacting to the protest excitedly borrowed some joint flags to take photos of one another.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Some people passing occasionally shouted “Viva Espaňa!” in hostility which gave rise to the response of “Viva la democracía! Viva la libertad!” On the other hand, other visitors passing by were very supportive, for example a young woman from Asturias (northern Spanish state) and an older man from Andalusia (southern Spanish state).

A spokesperson for the Committee briefly addressed the attendance at the end of the event, thanking them for attending to support Irish and Catalan political activists being jailed without trial. Referring to the few passers-by who shouted “Viva Espaňa!”, the spokesperson said that there is nothing wrong with pride in one’s country but queried why the sight of a Catalan flag brought that response and why the definition of Spanish nationhood for these people is bound up with the denial of the rights of another nation to determine its own future. The spokesperson declared that every nation has a right to determine its own future and to do so without threats and repression, pointing out that the Spanish State is attempting to jail the whole Catalan Government for carrying out their election promises and has jailed the leaders of two independence organisations without trial.

Anti-internment protesters outside the GPO building, O’Connell St, Dublin.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The spokesperson thanking the attendance once more, the event came to a close, flags were furled, banners rolled and placards put away for another occasion.

The Dublin Anti-Internment Committee was launched in 2013 and is independent of all political parties and organisations, holds regular pickets and people who support the civil and human rights of Irish Republican prisoners are welcome to attend.

End.

Link:

The Anti-Internment Committee of Ireland: https://www.facebook.com/End-Internment-581232915354743/

Short video of event and short clip of Dublin Anti-Internment Committee representative at conclusion of event:

Labi Siffre’s “Something Inside So Strong” performed by Siffre himself:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otuwNwsqHmQ

Jack Warshaw’s “No Time for Love” sung by Christy Moore with the Moving Hearts band (no longer in existence)

Els Segadors (The Reapers): https://archive.org/details/ElSegadors

TALKS AND VISIT to the SOUTHERN BASQUE COUNTRY in OCTOBER 2017

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

This Autumn I made myself available to give talks in the southern Basque Country (i.e. in the Spanish state) on the situation of Irish political prisoners and a series was arranged for mid-October for nearly two weeks.

As well as having private conversations, I gave a total of five public talks to audiences ranging in size from ten to over forty. The composition of the audiences varied from youths to older middle-aged; in some places the latter predominated and in some, the former.

All the meetings I spoke at were arranged by an organisation called Amnistia Ta Askatasuna which calls for total amnesty for Basque political prisoners. This was also a demand of the whole movement and of the leadership of the Abertzale Left until fairly recently and the Gestoras pro-Amnistia organisation had been created under the Abertzale Left umbrella but then banned by the Spanish State. But the Abertzale Left’s leadership have now dropped this demand from public discourse, saying the conditions are not ripe for it and concentrating instead on the end of the dispersal. (More about this and the Basque prisoner situation later).

DB 3 Talks Poster Oct2017

Poster on a wall advertising three talks in the southern Basque Country before the remaining two were confirmed. October 2017. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

I had not intended to confine my talks to those organised by ATA but it was they who organised the talks on dates that were offered, with the exception of one from an independent source that unfortunately clashed with one I had already accepted elsewhere.

Amnistia Posters what wall

ATA posters share with other advertising on a wall in the southern Basque Country, October 2017 (Photo: D.Breatnach)

THE TALKS

The types of venues for the talks were community cultural centres (two), occupied buildings (two) and one local (a space for which the users’ association paid rent and used for their activities). Geographically, the talks were held in Gernika and two in Bilbao (Bizkaia province), Etxarri (Nafarroa) and Ibarra (Guipuzkoa province). There were none in Alava province (although earlier this year I gave interviews to Hala Bedi pirate radio there, in Gastheiz/ Vitoria). On this occasion also I gave a video interview to a rapper who also makes videos for Hala Bedi, though he is located in Bizkaia.

From conversations and discussion it became clear that all the older people in the audiences were veterans of the Basque struggle over decades and a number were ex-prisoners. Some had relatives in jail. The youths had come to political activity or thinking in recent years.

DB Charla Ibarra 24 Oct2017

Talk in cultural centre in Ibarra, Guipuzkoa, southern Basque Country, October 2017. (Photo: ATA)

For the content of the talks I briefly reviewed the more distant history of political prisoners in Ireland, moving on then to the Good Friday Agreement and the release of

Torn poster DB talk Ibarra 24 Oct2017.

Torn poster advertising the talk in Ibarra, Guipuzkoa province, southern Basque Country, October 2017. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

most Irish Republican prisoners in the Six Counties under its terms. The arrest and jailing without charge of a number of these ex-prisoners was part of the talk, in which the specific examples given were of Marian Price, Martin Corey and Tony Taylor. I also dealt with the procedure of arrest on ridiculous charges and refusal of bail, or granting it under undemocratic and restrictive conditions, for which I used Stephen Murney as an example. Conviction on charges which the evidence does not support is also a category I mentioned, giving the Craigavon Two as an example there. Arrest on arms charges is also a feature on both sides of the Border.

With regard to the 26 Counties, i.e the Irish state, I discussed the Special Court, Membership-of-an-illegal-organisation charges and charges of obtaining arms or having assisted terrorism. I mentioned the planned second Special Court in particular in the context of the State’s failure to convict most of the Jobstown protesters on charges that included “false imprisonment” (i.e kidnapping).

While noting that splits had occurred before in the Republican movement – the Provisionals themselves having emerged from such a split in 1970 – I noted that since the GFA, splits had multiplied and listed a number of the resulting organisations, including those that had existed already at that time.

Listing the number of Irish political prisoners (at the latest count then 79) and reminding the audience that the Irish had extended solidarity to Basque political prisoners, I asked the Basques for solidarity towards our political prisoners too. And I did so not only as a moral issue of internationalist solidarity but also in recognition that internationalist solidarity is one of the first casualties (i.e aspects to drop or weaken) by those who are seeking to surrender the struggle or even to become collaborators.

Talk in cultural centre in Etxarri, Nafarroa province, southern Basque Country, October 2017.
(Photo: ATA)

QUESTIONS

I timed the talks to give sufficient space for – and encouraged — questions and comments, even critical ones.

It was interesting that the same questions tended to come up again and again:

  • Did the different Republican organisations cooperate with one another inside and outside the jails?

  • What were the conditions in the prisons like for the prisoners?

  • How are political prisoners in ill-health being treated?

  • Is there a dispersal issue with regard to political prisoners

  • Did the population support the prisoners?

  • What were the conditions for their release under the Good Friday Agreement?

  • Did INLA prisoners sign the GFA release agreement?

  • Are there armed actions continuing in Ireland?

  • Are the youth involved in solidarity actions and campaigns?

  • What was the attitude of Sinn Féin towards the political prisoners?

  • Are prisoners “on the run” still in danger of arrest and imprisonment?

In one meeting, one of the smaller audiences and containing only youth, I was asked about the role of women in the national liberation struggle in Ireland today.

Talk in the occupied former Astra factory building, Gernika, Bizkaia province, southern Basque Country, October 2017.
(Photo: ATA)

Some of the questions asked reflect the situation of the Basque political prisoners and also of the censored and inaccurate information about Ireland that reaches them, including through the Abertzale Left‘s (the “official” umbrella organisation) daily newspaper, GARA. At a number of times in the past spokespersons of the Abertzale Left’s organisations had claimed that there were no longer Irish political prisoners, a claim repeated in GARA. More recently, the tendency is to ignore their existence or to represent them as very few, without a program other than return to armed struggle and without a support base (i.e Sinn Féin’s line).

The new direction of the Abertzale Left’s leadership, which included a “permanent truce” and disarmament of their armed organisation ETA (formally declared in January 2011) was said at the time to have been agreed by the Basque political prisoners in their organisation EPPK. There have been persistent claims by friends and relatives of some prisoners and by some prisoners released in the last couple of years that they had not even been consulted.

A number of people to whom I spoke claimed that the prisoners’ collective no longer really exists, with prisoners left to act individually; some others said this was true to an extent but not completely. Certainly one feels a general air of disillusionment and uncertainty – and also of anger. And it is true that a small number of prisoners have formally denounced the leadership and left the collective.

Grafitti in Ondarroa, Bizkaia province, southern Basque Country, October 2017.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

From figures collected in 2003, up to 30,000 Basque activists out of a total population of less than three million) had been arrested, 8,170 were accused of being members of ETA and roughly half of those convicted and imprisoned. The prisoners’ relatives and friends’ organisation Etxerat (also under the Abertzale Left’s umbrella) in its July-September report of this year (2017) recognises 315 Basque political prisoners, of which 310 are dispersed through 61 prisons, with only two in 2 prisons in the Basque Country.

In 39 prisons in the Spanish state 239 Basque political prisoners are being kept and 68 in twenty prisons of the French state. There are 212 (68.85%) Basque political prisoners in prisons at distances of between 600 and 1,100 km of the Basque Country; from a distance of 400 to 590 km from their country there are 67 (21.75 %) and between 100 and 390 km of home another 29 (9.40 %).

The strain on relatives and friends is considerable, road accidents are frequent and a number have been killed on their journeys.

Twenty-one prisoners (21) are diagnosed as being seriously or terminally ill and according to the states’ penal codes should have been released on parole to home or hospital but instead of reducing the number of sick prisoners the total is climbing (almost doubled in recent years).  I accompanied ATA comrades to the port town of Ondarroa to participate in a demonstration organised by a broad platform calling for the release of terminally-ill Basque political prisoner Ibon Iparragirre.

Section of rally after demonstration in Ondarroa, Bizkaia, in solidarity with local seriously-ill prisoner Ibon Iparragirre, October 2017.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Stage rally after demonstration in Ondarroa, Bizkaia, in solidarity with local seriously-ill prisoner Ibon Iparragirre, October 2017.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The Spanish state has rejected all the “peace process” (sic) overtures of the Abertzale Left leadership and says that ETA should just disappear and prisoners wishing to be pardoned and released must repent their previous actions, apologise to their “victims” and give information on their previous activities and comrades. It also says that all still at liberty and wanted for past illegal activities will continue to be pursued.

COMMENTS AND CONTRIBUTIONS

These too tended to be of a kind to come up again and again throughout the tour:

  • The situation in Ireland with regard to the liberation movement and prisoners is like that in the Basque Country or that which the latter will face as time goes on

  • The prisoners’ cause is being deserted by the Abertzale Left leadership

  • Their media and leadership had lied to the movement about the situation in Ireland

  • The leadership is only interested in penetrating the institutions and is neglecting the politics of the street

  • Otaegi and Adams are alike and McGuinness was a traitor when he asked people to inform on paramilitaries

The Abertzale Left did not of course comment on the talks – why would they? However, in Ibarra, I saw posters for the meeting torn down in areas where others remained and according to my hosts, this was the work of the “oficialistas(i.e followers of the leadership’s line) in the town. It was notable too that although a few did, a number of people within the Abertzale Left but whom I know to be very critical of the change of direction, did not attend the talks held in their areas. Since some had previously attended a meeting at which I spoke a year ago and engaged in discussion critical of the Abertzale leadership, I took it that these either disapproved of the ATA organisers or did not wish, for whatever reason, to be seen attending a meeting held by the organisation.

At all the talks I was received with friendliness and courtesy and after some I had a meal in company in a txoko (Basque building — or part of one — owned or rented by a gastronomic association) or the home of my hosts for the evening. Although I invited criticisms with genuine interest in hearing them, none were voiced publicly, whether of the content of my talk or of the Irish people generally — although there were some questions as to why the people “in the south” had not supported more widely the “struggle in the north”. I explained that what they call “the north” is one-fifth or the country and also divided in its population; in addition the Republican movement had left the social and economic concerns of the people in the other four-fifths largely unaddressed and in fact had opposed some social reforms in earlier times. People in the 26 Counties had given a lot of support but without mobilising them on their own concerns and specific conditions this was likely to be a minority activity and to decline over time.

CATALUNYA: SOUTHERN BASQUE ATTITUDE TO THE STRUGGLE THERE

Inevitably, the struggle in Catalunya came into the discourse at some point – after all, I had arrived in Euskal Herria just under two weeks after the Referendum.

The Catalan national flags, the esteladas (both versions) were in evidence across the Basque Country as were some solidarity banners and posters. The two solidarity demonstrations I witnessed (and in which I participated but for a while – each having been called for the same evening as my talk locally) in Nafarroa and in Bizkaia appeared to have been called by the “official” movement and were fairly small and quiet. The largest, of over fifty people, did not even have a flag, placard or banner, which was puzzling.

Large image on the wall of the youth local in Errekalde, Bilbao, where they hosted one of the talks, October 2017.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

It was reported to me that some time back, the Abertzale Left had been close to the militant CUP (Catalan left-wing and independist popular movement) but now were moving closer to the Eskerra Republicana, often perceived as being less militant and closer to the Catalan bourgeoisie. Among the critics of the Abertzale Left leadership and others there seemed to be a doubt that the Catalan leadership was serious; however, both the “officials” and the “dissidents” had sent people to help the Catalans in their referendum.

After the Spanish police violence on October 1st there was a feeling that the Catalans were enduring what the Basques had endured for decades so why the great shock now? When two leaders of the Catalan movement were arrested and jailed without bail and called “political prisoners”, of course the Basques pointed to their own hundreds of political prisoners (and also to two Catalans who were ETA prisoners). The failure to declare a Republic on the promised day seemed to bear out those with a more cynical view but actions since then and the application of the repressive Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution are bound to raise feelings of respect and solidarity across the Basque national liberation movement, whether “official” or “dissident”.

IN CONCLUSION

It is clear that there is interest in the Irish situation and of that of the prisoners in at least some sections of the broad Basque national liberation movement. It is also clear that there is a substantial discomfort with the direction of the Abertzale Left’s leadership since 2011 (and for some since even earlier). Frustration is also evident as is a great concern for the political prisoners and a worry that they are being left without leadership, to come to their own arrangements with the Spanish state or to endure many more years in jail or die there (as Kepa De Hoyo did in August and as Ibon Iparragirre faces now).

This level of concern, disquiet and even distrust is not currently reflected in great numbers attending pickets or demonstrations organised by ATA, as numbers attending the talks showed in some areas but as the talks also showed, there is a network of support for ATA across the southern Basque Country. It was clear that a greater lead-up would have resulted in talks being hosted in further areas, including the province of Alava which was not included on this occasion. The general composition of the movement represented by ATA is healthy in its spread across generations, comprised of veterans (including ex-prisoners) and youth new to the struggle.

The pedestrian bridge at Ondarroa, scene of one of the “human walls” organised some years ago by Basque youth in resistance to the arrests of activists. Supporters placed the activist police were seeking in the middle and then packed the bridge with supporters, causing the police hours of work to carry out the arrest. I was told that the official leadership had ordered the cessation of these events. October 2017. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

From a personal point of view it was an interesting if somewhat hectic and stressful period but also one that increased my understanding of the reality.

From a political perspective I hope it helped build some links for solidarity between the struggles in each of the two nations and an awareness that pacification processes are not an alternative but only another face of repression. For the struggles in which so many have sacrificed so much to succeed, we need to raise our awareness of these processes. In these processes political prisoners, often seen by their populations as heroes and people to be cherished, are used by the repressive power as hostages and often too as bargaining counters, the temptation always there for some of those in struggle to use them in kind.

FREE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS!

LINKS:

Amnistia FB page (Euskera and Castillian (Spanish)): https://www.facebook.com/amnistiataaskatasuna/

Amnistia Blogsite (Euskera and Castillian): http://www.etxerat.eus/index.php/eu/

Etxerat Website (Euskera, Castillian and French): http://www.etxerat.eus/index.php/eu/

From Axpe de Busturia train station, Bizkaia, October 2017.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Morning view of misty mountains from host’s house in Etxarri, Nafarroa province, October 2017.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Bermeo Harbour and some Town

Bermeo Harbour and some of the town from heights above, October 2017. Near the big building at 9 o’clock on the photo was the location of a Franco prison for Resistance women — I was told that Basque nuns locally brought food to the jail for them every day. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Part of the Bay of Bizkaia (Biscay), October 2017, from the site of a Basque Gudari artillery battery during the Anti-Fascist War.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

 

NOBEL LITERATURE PRIZE WINNER FAILS TO NOTICE IRONY

Diarmuid Breatnach

Mario Vargas Llhosa was in Barcelona on Sunday as part of a number of people speaking at a pro-Spanish union rally which received coaches from various parts of the Spanish state.  HE DENOUNCED NATIONALISM (Democratic, Catalan) WHILE SURROUNDED BY SPANISH NATIONALISTS AND FASCISTS AND THEIR SYMBOLS (the Spanish unionists were demanding that Spain remain united, insulted Catalan officials, waved Spanish unionist flags and called for a Catalan-elected President to be jailed; Spanish fascists openly displayed fascist Franco-era flags and symbols and gave the fascist salute).

Mario Vargas LLosa Spanish Unity Barcelona 8 Oct2017

Nobel Literature Prize-winner Mario Vargas Llhosa addressing Spanish unionists and fascists bussed into Barcelona for rally against Catalan independence and self-determination (Photo source: Internet)

TALKING ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF DEMOCRACY WHILE DEFENDING AN UNDEMOCRATIC AUTHORITARIAN SYSTEM REPRESSING AND DISRUPTING A PLEBISCITE (State police violence leading to nearly 900 civilians injured; ballot boxes and ballot forms seized; elected officials arrested and/ or threatened with jail).

TALKING ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF THE RULE OF LAW WHILE IGNORING ILLEGAL ASSAULTS BY STATE POLICE RESULTING IN NEARLY 900 INJURIES (without a single State police officer being even charged or senior officers even reprimanded).

A NOBEL PRIZE WINNER IN LITERATURE IS UNABLE TO DETECT AN IMPORTANT ELEMENT IN WORLD LITERATURE — IRONY (Llhosa was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010 for his work examining the corruption of political power and struggle against it — in Latin America).

CATALUNYA AND THE SPANISH STATE — BASIC QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Diarmuid Breatnach

IS CATALUNYA A SEPARATE NATION TO SPAIN?

Yes, it has its own language (Catalan), its own national anthem and its own national cultural customs. Furthermore it has been independent a number of times in its history, as a Republic. And its official autonomous status in the Spanish state even includes the word “national”. Catalan is an official language in Catalunya (along with Castillian — Spanish) and most people there speak Catalan daily.

The Esteladas flying in a Catalan demonstration for Independence.
(Photo source: Internet)

DO NATIONS HAVE THE RIGHT TO SELF-DETERMINATION?

Yes, according to most legal authorities and most people’s sense of right and wrong. It is recognised in the UN Charter of Human Rights.

 

IS THERE A LIMIT ON THE RIGHT OF A NATION TO SELF-DETERMINATION – i.e CASES IN WHICH THE RIGHT DOES NOT EXIST OR CAN JUSTIFIABLY BE OVERRULED?

Perhaps. For example, if a nation were somehow to determine to wipe out an ethnic minority, the right to decide to do so and to carry it out can be overidden by the more basic right of the targeted ethnic minority to exist. If one considered South Africa as a nation, it had minority racial government ruling over a majority disenfranchised black population and one could not endorse their right to continue in that way since they were negating the rights of the majority of their state’s population to self-determination.

 

CAN CATALUNYA’S CASE BE ONE OF THE JUSTIFIABLE EXCEPTIONS THAT WOULD NOT ENTITLE IT TO SELF-DETERMINATION?

Not at all. The only claim against her right to self-determination (other than the Spanish state’s claim that it violates the Spanish state’s constitution) is that it is one of the richest regions of the Spanish state and a large one. If that were considered a viable argument against Catalunya’s right, it would mean that no nation which has good natural resources or a successful economy has the right to self-determination and must stay within a union to benefit its invader and coloniser state.

 

HAS CATALUNYA’S RIGHT TO SELF-DETERMINATION BEEN VIOLATED BY THE SPANISH STATE?

Cartoon comment on October 1st referendum by DB

Unquestionably Yes. She has been prevented a number of times by Spanish court legal judgements and by threats of the use of force from carrying out a referendum on the question of independence as a republic. Her attempt to carry out the referendum in spite of all threats was met this month with actual violence (nearly 900 injured people), police invasion of Catalan Government offices and polling booths, seizure of ballot boxes and ballot papers and in a number of areas, aggression against and disrespect for Catalans and their culture.

Furthermore many measures sought by the Catalan Parlament on grounds of increasing rights of migrants, protecting the environment and animal rights, restriction of the legal rights of the banks, have been declared illegal by the Spanish national courts, thereby violating the rights of Catalans to determine for themselves how they shall manage these matters.

 

WAS THE OCTOBER 2017 CATALAN INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM ILLEGAL?

Here we have to ask – by whose law? The Catalan Parlament approved the holding of the referendum by majority. The Government approved and organised it.

According to the constitution of the Spanish State, no part of the State’s territory is permitted to enact independence without the permission of the Spanish Parliament. The Catalans will always be outnumbered in the Spanish Parliament (a similar situation to members elected in Ireland to the Westminster Parliament in Britain from 1801 to 1921; or Scottish MPs from 1707 to the present; Wales was annexed by England 1535 – 1542). They can never expect to gain a majority vote in their favour at Westminster.

By the Constitution a declaration of independence (though not perhaps a referendum on a wish) is illegal.  But when has an occupying state given the right of secession to nations and peoples it occupies?

 

WAS THE SPANISH CONSTITUTION OF 1977 (WHICH THE SPANISH STATE CLAIMS MAKES CATALUNYA REFERENDUM ILLEGAL) APPROVED BY MAJORITY?

In most of the Spanish state, it was.

  • But does that mean that it overrules the right to self-determination of a nation currently within the Spanish state? No, clearly that cannot be.
  • Also, that Constitution was rejected in the Basque region of Euskadi but the Spanish state nevertheless refused it too the right to referendum on the question of Basque independence.
  • In addition, the Constitution was proposed three years after the death of a dictator who had crushed Catalan (and Basque) resistance in 1939, repressed the Catalan (and Basque) language and civil rights for 36 years, with fascists still in power managing the transition to the new form of the State and with the collusion of the leaderships of some crucial former resistance organisations of the people, i.e the Communist Party and the social-democratic Socialist Workers Party, along with their respective trade unions.
  • Self-determination must mean the right to enter into a union or to remain outside it but it must also mean the right to leave a union, nullifying any previous agreements.
  • The Constitution is constructed so that it places many hurdles in the way of any nation seeking to leave the union even in the unlikely event of getting a majority to vote with it in the Spanish Parliament. “Title X of the Constitution establishes that the approval of a new constitution or the approval of any constitutional amendment affecting the Preliminary Title, or Section I of Chapter II of Title I (on Fundamental Rights and Public Liberties) or Title II (on the Crown), the so-called “protected provisions”, are subject to a special process that requires (1) that two-thirds of each House approve the amendment, (2) that elections are called immediately thereafter, (3) that two-thirds of each new House approves the amendment, and (4) that the amendment is approved by the people (i.e the people of the whole Spanish state – DB) in a referendum.” (Wikipedia)

WAS THE RECENT CATALAN REFERENDUM A FAULTLESS TEST OF THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE OF CATALUNYA?

Clearly not – not because participation was limited to 48% of the Catalan population but because the Spanish Government had declared in advance that it would not respect the decision and would prevent the referendum taking place. Also because voters were prevented by Spanish police from entering a number of polling stations and because Spanish police seized many ballots and ballot boxes.

But should the Spanish state be permitted therefore to claim therefore that the votes which were registered and counted are of no avail? Are we to endorse a view that an occupying or colonising state can nullify any nation’s vote for self-determination simply by banning the election or referendum and by disrupting the process? Clearly not.

The Irish uprising in 1798 and in 1803 was not the result of a referendum, nor was that of 1916 nor the War of Independence 1919-1921. Clearly, if we are to uphold the right to self-determination of nations we must support the right of the occupied or colonised nations and to decide their own means of breaking away.

 

ARE THERE CATALANS WHO WANT TO REMAIN WITHIN THE SPANISH STATE?

Clearly there are. As many as there are who wish to break with it? The evidence suggests not. Very recently the media claimed a hundred thousand rallied in Catalunya against independence. But around a million gathered there last month to support the right to hold the referendum, with most of them clearly for independence. Clearly, even if everyone attending a rally against Catalan independence were actual Catalans and had not been bussed in, they are outvoted by those Catalan residents who demonstrated despite threats and who voted despite police violent repression. And if the Spanish state thought the vote would go in favour of remaining in the union, why did they forbid the referendum and disrupt the process?

 

REFERENCES:

Right to Self-Determination: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-determination

http://opil.ouplaw.com/view/10.1093/law:epil/9780199231690/law-9780199231690-e873

Spanish Constitution: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Constitution_of_1978

 

 

 

Coalition: Opposition and Revolution versus Collusion and Cooption

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

An old, old debate or discussion has broken out of late. It has been inspired or regenerated by the inability of the main political parties of the ruling class to achieve a ruling majority in the Dáil, even in coalition. Another factor has been the growth of Sinn Féin seats to a number sufficient to attract another party into getting them into a coalition government. And another General Election cannot be far off.

The debate or discussion is sparked by questions something like this:

Should a coalition of revolutionary socialists and radical social-democrats put together a joint slate to present themselves and agreed policies to the electorate?

And a different question (but not completely different in the minds of some of that potential slate above, I suspect):

Should a party that presents itself to some supporters as revolutionary, to some others as radical, participate in a coalition with one of the traditional ruling class parties to form a government?

Against either of those possibilities, groups of anarchists and non-Sinn Féin Republicans, in rare agreement, declare that no such initiatives should be supported; the anarchists, because they do not believe in bourgeois elections or parliaments and the republicans, because this is not a Republic which they can legitimise by taking part in their state elections. Some revolutionary socialists and others of varying hues argue that the system will corrupt those who take part in their institutions and provide a long list of those to whom that has happened historically (and both anarchists and republicans can nod their heads in agreement at the list).

Social democrats and some others argue that an election provides an opportunity to put in to power a different administration, one which has the actual power to change things. They argue that it is their duty to take advantage of that opportunity and accept its challenges; they charge their critics with being dreamers who prefer to hold on to their ideological purity for some distant day rather than to address the real situation in the here and now.

TAKE PART IN GOVERNMENT?

There is room for some fruitful debate and discussion around some of these positions but one thing seems clear to me: it can never be permissible for revolutionaries, under any excuse whatsoever, to be part of a government to run the country for the capitalist ruling class. The capitalist ruling class is our enemy and we are irreconcilably hostile to it and must remain so. We work for the day when we can overthrow that class and put the workers in charge and no honeyed words of exception or self-deception can change that fact.

Undermine it from within? Use their institutions against them from the inside? Throughout history, all those who have attempted that (or who pretended to for their own careerism) have shown that far from subverting the system, it was they who were or became subverted.

Yes, it is a philosophical truth that just because something happened before is no guarantee that it will happen again. Even if it happened every time in the past. Although jumping from the tenth floor of a building on to hard ground has killed hundreds over time, it is philosophically possible that someone could survive it now – even unharmed. But it is not a scientific nor a historical probability. One is entitled to try it with one’s own life but not with the lives of others.

Those who formed Fianna Fáil crossed over that line not long after they split from Sinn Féin: not only that but the party soon became, despite its Republican and nationalist roots and rhetoric of being for a 32-County Republic, the preferred political party of the Irish foreign-dependent capitalist class in the 26 Counties and virtually unknown in the Six.

A Fianna Fáil election poster, possibly 1950s or ’60s.
Source: irishelectionliterature.com

The Sinn Féin we know today (Provisional Sinn Féin, as they no longer like to be called), the largest survivor of a number of large and smaller organisational splits since the days of the creation of Fianna Fáil, also crossed over that line. In a sense, they did so in an even worse (or more obvious) way than had Fianna Fáil – Sinn Féin participated in a colonial government, the administration of an armed foreign aggressor.

Old FF election poste: “There’s a better way” (source: internet)

That party is heading for entry into a capitalist coalition government in the 26 Counties, if only it can find a partner willing to accept it for the dance. Based on its history in government in the Six Counties and some other measures, the SF party leadership strives to prove to the Irish capitalist class that it can be trusted to manage the system, alone or in partnership with one of the main capitalist parties.

There’s a better way with SF too, apparently. A much more recent Sinn Féin election poster. (source: internet)

The President of the party has said that “Sinn Féin doesn’t have a problem with capitalism”. The party’s leadership refused to support the “Don’t register, don’t pay” slogan of the early campaigns against the Household Tax and later against the Water Charge (the first was defeated by popular resistance following those slogans and the second is on hold, due to a number of factors ultimately arising out of popular resistance). Dublin local authority councillors of the party voted to hand over public land on a prime Dublin site to private property speculators. The party’s leadership has shown itself publicly welcoming to every imperialist or zionist representative to visit them, including the mass-murdering political leadership of the USA and the British monarch and Commander of the Armed Forces which is enforcing the occupation of one fifth of the country.

But it is not only necessary for SF’s leadership to convince the Irish ruling class (and its foreign partners) – in order to get elected, it has to also convince its own following and thousands outside of that. So some anti-imperialist and left posturing is necessary. Of course it is opposed to the Water Charge and was also opposed to the Household Tax, it tells people – it was just that it couldn’t ask people to risk going to jail and losing their homes by taking part in civil disobedience. And it does put some of its followers out on the street in demonstrations against the Water Charge.

In defence of the vote of Dublin City councillors, it declares that through the deal, it got funding for a percentage of public housing on the site – wasn’t that good? Perhaps, but better than a 100% public building program of its own on its own land, using the many construction workers currently idle? Hardly. And once public land is gone, it is gone for ever (well, forever short of the kind of revolution that SF declares to be unrealistic).

So Left words for its potential voting public, soothing words to its long-suffering membership and acts of collaboration and collusion (and signals of more of the same) to the ruling class. And for the collaborationist careerists jumping into the party.

A SLATE OF REVOLUTIONARY AND RADICAL LEFT CANDIDATES

A revolutionary coalition with SF, even if it were to agree to such a thing, would be for any movement of resistance to cut its own throat. But what of the other parties, groupings and independent political activists?

In my opinion, it might well be worth supporting an attempt to create such a coalition, presenting a list of revolutionary or even radically progressive demands.

“But isn’t that reformist and in contradiction to the revolutionary vision?” If it were reformist, i.e with only the intention of reforming, I would say yes, it is in clear contradiction to our vision. If it were to suspend popular organisation and mobilisation and to put its faith in the outcome of the elections, I would be against it.

Workers’ and soldiers’ barricade, Paris Commune 1871. Revolutionaries took part in elections prior to the establishment under arms of the Commune, the first time in history a city was taken and put under workers’ rule.
(Photo source: internet)

But the intention here should be to form a revolutionary and/or radical Parliamentary Opposition, putting forward radical reforms which would, if achieved, make living conditions and resistance much easier for the working people and extortion and repression much more difficult for the ruling class. And meanwhile revolutionaries should never cease in their revolutionary propaganda that only the overthrow of the ruling class can bring about deep and permanent changes for the benefit of the working class.

Tom Stokes, a commentator on political affairs and media reporting for many years, in August 2015 published a list of policies or demands upon which such a slate could be based, upon which they could campaign (https://theirishrepublic.wordpress.com/2015/08/22/broad-left-policy-platform-essential-now/). Although the manifesto did not gather much publicly-expressed support at the time, it seemed to me then and seems still to be a worthwhile initiative and one to consider for any builders of a putative Left electoral slate.

A POSSIBLE LEFT SLATE MANIFESTO

This is the list which Stokes published, without any claim to it being definitive. However, a list of demands for a Slate of candidates to agree to cannot be exhaustive – there will have to give and take, as he acknowledged. The important thing from a revolutionary point of view should be that it points the way forward to resolving the economic problems facing the working class and the majority of the people in general and to the radical improvement of their rights. Further on, I give my own thoughts on this manifesto.
1 Adequate, affordable, secure housing as a right, where necessary through public provision.

2 A single-tier publicly funded, secular and excellent education system with no provision from the exchequer for private fee-paying schools with exclusive enrollment policies. Religious instruction outside school-hours. Ending the university-controlled points system for third-level entry. Free third-level or vocational education/training subject to contractual obligation to work within the state for any three of first five years post-graduation with debt-related penalties for non-compliance.

3 The right of all children to adequate housing, nourishment and provision of health and care according to need, guaranteed by the state.

4 The right of workers to employment, or to further education or training as required, including those who wish re-enter the labour ‘market’.

5 A living wage, the ending of oppressive zero-hour contracts, workers’ right-to-organise and right-to-negotiate guaranteed by the state.

6 Full equality for women including pay-rates, personal autonomy and dignity including reproductive rights. Repeal of the Eighth Amendment. Provision of supports for mothers and carers commensurate with their contribution to society for that work.

7 State ownership of essential services, natural resources & physical infrastructure. Constitutional provision for public ownership of water and protection of Mother Earth.

8 Empowerment of communities, starting with disadvantaged communities – rural and urban. State support for community initiatives to achieve personal and community empowerment.

9 Strong laws against public and private corruption with strict sanctions. Ending political appointments to judiciary. Curbing legal costs for citizens. Equal access to civil courts regardless of means. Refocusing criminal justice system and penal system. Taking politics out of policing in favour of civic obligations.

10 Realigning taxation system to shift burden towards wealthiest. Ending tax-exile status, tax loopholes and tax-havens. Enforcing Corporation Tax.

11 Properly codifying the state’s position on neutrality, opposition to war, concentration on international and intra-national conflict-resolution and peace-keeping. Adherence to international codes on prevention of torture, refugees, humanitarian obligations, etc.

12 Proper commitment to reunify the people of the island through concerted, direct, rational dialogue with the objective of creating a fully representative all-Ireland parliament based on equality, respect and civil and religious freedoms.

13 Greater local and regional democratic control as appropriate. Making government fully accountable to parliament and the people. Creation of a democratically elected upper house to speed legislation and as a counter to excessive power of parliament. Installing a publicly accessible online register of lobbyists and a publicly accessible tendering system for state acquisitions, both updated daily.

14 Regulation of media in terms of ownership and the public’s right to essential information, fairly and accurately delivered. Active fostering of ideological diversity in media in the public interest. Insistence on journalistic ethics in the public interest. Higher values of Public Service Broadcasting a requirement for state media.

15 A commitment to expedite a widespread public consultation process towards creating a new constitution for a genuine republic.

Let us examine these demands now.

1. Decent, affordable housing is an obvious necessity so as not to have people sleeping on the streets, families in unsuitable accommodation, people at the mercy of landlords and others slaving to pay the monthly rent or mortgage. And public provision is the obvious way to provide this.

2. The right to secular education as a norm is a basic democratic right and should have been a Republican demand from the outset. No church should be permitted to exercise any control over admission to — or content of — education; any religious group that wishes its children to be instructed in its religion should pay for that themselves and provide it outside of school hours. And unless we have free third-level education only those already more privileged will be able to avail of it or will plunge themselves into debt in order to do so.

(I am unsure about the inflicting penalties for not working within the State after graduation – if we provide a decent economic and social environment it seems to me that most people would want to stay or to return after they had left and we should avoid coercion where possible).

3. Children are our future and must be accorded full legal and social protection – the contrary to what our State has done for decades. How can we disagree with that?

4 &5. It seems to me that we can combine these under the right of workers to employment and training and organisation. Further, workers must be permitted to exercise their latent power in order to ensure those things are provided. We need the acknowledgement and legalisation not only of the right to strike in defence of the demands of one’s own workplace but in support of others. This would remove a gag and chain on the working class at present which prevents trade unionists, at threat of the sequestration of all or part of their funds, from supporting action by workers who are in weaker positions. If the Left Slate were to achieve this alone, even though it could all be nullified later, it would be a great step forward. Were they not to succeed in achieving it, their raising it as an objective on their platform would be a strong indication of the direction for workers to take.

6. Full equality for women under the law must be a central demand of any democratic platform. The right to abortion is a recognised right in all liberal and socialist societies with the exception of Muslim states, the USA and the 26 Counties. I myself am in support of that right but it remains a divisive issue among the largest alternative movement in this state, the Republican movement and is opposed by many others. This issue should be discussed in any Left electoral slate. Nevertheless, Amendment 8 to the Constitution has no right there and should be removed.

7. One would think that demanding State ownership of all Ireland’s natural resources would be unopposed within a Left Coalition slate. I am not convinced that would be so. And since I do not expect socialism to arrive through a parliamentary majority, I would settle for some specified areas: oil, gas, water infrastructure, sea, rivers and lakes. And public transport, water infrastructure, roads and telecommunications infrastructure.

The abolition of the Water Charge would be popular and is obviously a necessity on a number of levels, not least the democratic one that maintenance of a drinkable water supply has already been paid for in two different taxes. A change in the Constitution that would put our water services beyond privatisation would also be a great relief and a step forward.

8. No-one considering a Left Electoral Slate organisation is going to argue with “empowerment ….. of disadvantaged communities” — the difficulties will arise over how to interpret that demand, what will be the specific targets and timeframes, the amount of financial investment.

9. This is an extremely wide-ranging point. Clearly the judiciary should be separate from other forms of administration or political interests. Clearly too, those who hold posts of public responsibility should suffer strong sanctions should they behave corruptly while in office. And obviously, given a democratic society’s reliance on law to manage their affairs, taking cases should not be the prerogative of the rich, which means reducing the cost of such procedures drastically, including appeals. And it seems to me that most people would support such changes, though they would be frantically opposed by special interest groups.

10. Realigning the tax burden to fall upon the rich and closing tax loopholes (more like tax flood gates!) for the rich, ending exile tax status etc all seem commendable and fair to the people, the majority of the population, who bear the actual burden of a number of taxes. And the Left Slate could push those objectives on to whatever government gets elected, as popular demands which the bourgeois parties (and their compromisers) could not concede. But careful! The revolutionaries inside the Left Slate should make it clear that they are not for fairer taxes on the rich and working people, but instead for the expropriation of the rich, whose stolen wealth is to returned to the working class. We do not intend to become part of any government inside a capitalist society, for reasons I shall go into a little further on.

11. There is no question but that the position of the Left Slate should be for a real neutrality on the part of the State, making it increasingly difficult for the ruling class to indulge any dreams of returning to a British Commonwealth or to joining NATO. Such alliances have dire consequences not only for millions of people abroad but also ultimately at home – one consequence alone would be to facilitate foreign military intervention in the 26-County state in the event of an insurrection or even the election of a Left-leaning government. Alliances of that sort always include a “mutual assistance” clause and we can be sure that the “mutual assistance” envisaged is one between the capitalist ruling classes of the various states.

Prevention of torture should be a human rights requirement of every nation and state but, on the contrary, it is ensured in practice by none. Those who complain of their followers being tortured have been shown time and time again to be willing to inflict it themselves – always for the “highest” of reasons. There is no reason to believe therefore that no participants among the Left Slate will at some point, finding conditions favouring such a practice, indulge in it themselves. But the Slate should in any case incorporate it into its program. And thereby also, it might be said, strive to build some protection for its own members and supporters from such practices by the Gardaí and prison guards.

In the field of human rights and under the principles of internationalist solidarity, it is clear too that a Left Slate should advocate and push for a humane regime for the processing of refugees and migrant workers and their integration into the population.

12. This seems like a progressive demand but actually I do not support it. This is something perhaps for a revolutionary government and such can only come about after the overthrow of capitalism.

But I do think that the Left Slate should advocate the reunification of the island and religious freedom. Understanding the composition of the Irish Left, inclusion of reunification in the Manifesto is bound to run into difficulties from some quarters – revolutionaries, not just Republicans, will have to consider whether to compromise to some extent on this demand for an agreed Left Slate manifesto (while retaining their own political demands outside of that) and, if so, how to do so.

13. The creation of a register of political lobbyists is not actually a revolutionary demand but I think revolutionaries should support it. Such a register will help to expose the lines of communication and mutual assistance of capitalist political parties and the capitalists themselves. The same goes for tendering for State and local authority projects. But I do not support the rest of those demands. They seem to me to envisage a Left Government, trying to make the system better and, at the same time, stabilising it. This is not what revolutionaries are about. Besides which it seems to me that the creation of another parliamentary tier is counter-democratic and would tend to increased bureaucracy.

14. I understand the motivation for this but find it difficult to envisage how it might be achieves. Anti-monopoly legislation might for a while hamper media monopolisation but the experience of other countries shows that ultimately, it will not be successful. Enforcing a system of right of reply (as distinct from a voluntary one adopted by the media) for those who feel they have been misrepresented in the media is one possibility. Another might be enforcing the right of publication of a counter-report when substantiation can be provided on, for example, the numbers reported as attending a demonstration or the events during a confrontation between police and demonstrators.

But definitely, the Left Slate should push for the lifting of State restrictions on community radio and television, with the aim of facilitating a diversity of such broadcasting, including news reporting, political commentary, cultural performance and discussion, etc.

15. I do not oppose this point nor do I endorse it. A new Constitution worth having, in my view, is a revolutionary one and as such, can only be properly conceived of by a population that has passed through a revolutionary process and been, in the course of that, revolutionised and empowered.

SHOULD REVOLUTIONARIES SUPPORT THE FORMATION OF A LEFT SLATE?

“OK, so let us imagine that a credible Left Slate is agreed and presents itself for election. Should revolutionaries ask people to vote for it?”

I think so. But it should also be clear that organisation and mobilisation in struggle and resistance should not diminish one iota but, on the contrary, intensify. And revolutionaries should clearly tell the public that only the complete overthrow of the ruling class can usher in lasting change – and that the working class should prepare themselves for that struggle. But also that, whatever members of that coalition slate may say or do, the revolutionaries will never participate in any administration of the old system, i.e no national government prior to the overthrow of the capitalist system and the expropriation of the capitalist class.

“Perhaps revolutionaries should then just ignore the Left slate and concentrate exclusively on revolutionary work – organising and supporting campaigns of resistance, ideological and historical education?”

I strongly disagree. Campaigning for such a slate would bring revolutionary ideology to thousands of working people who are currently unreachable by the revolutionaries. And many people will want to know what revolutionaries think of the Left Slate and of its policies.

And anyway, just because we are revolutionaries, does that mean we are against reforms? Not at all – in our history as revolutionaries, we have been some of the most resolute campaigners for reforms and defenders of them when they have been won! However we are not reformists – the kind of people who believe in a radical or steady improvement in life by reforms but leaving the capitalist system in place.

But we are for reforms that strengthen the working class, the movement of resistance. For examples: the right of workers to combine and strike; the shorter working week and safety legislation; the abolition of child labour; universal education; the right to vote for all adults regardless of gender or property; equal rights regardless of sexuality; abolition of slavery; abolition of racist laws and regulations; the right to oppose invasion; separation of Church and State; the right to protest and campaign politically; the right to freedom of speech and of the press; universal free health care; free or cheap childcare; low-rental housing. These were all rights that we fought for and many were hard-won.

“OK, so revolutionaries could organise electoral support work for the Left Slate – but surely not participate in the actual Slate? Revolutionaries should not present any candidates, of course.”

But why not? We are not against elections in all cases. We elect people to responsible positions in our organisations, decide policies by vote at congresses, decide tactical and strategic aims by voting too. What we are against is not voting but bourgeois elections, where no real change is offered, where we are encouraged to put our faith in some representatives of the existing system and to leave things in their hands for a number of years with little control over what they say or do. Revolutionaries can make it clear that is not what we are about as well as making it clear what we are about, what we intend to do if elected – and if elected, stick to that.

Revolutionary representatives within the Dáil (the Irish Parliament), elected as part of a Left Slate, can work among the other successful candidates of the Slate to strengthen adherence to the list of demands and to combat drift away from them or towards other concessions to the ruling class.

And if we are part of the discussion on the Manifesto and the Slate, we can also participate in the fight to agree that Manifesto in the first place because it is certain that will not be an easy struggle. But let us never forget that the role of the Left in any Parliament should be to support the struggles of the working people outside – not the other way around.

NO TO A LEFT GOVERNMENT

As revolutionaries, we are for the overthrow of the system, the expropriation of the rich, the empowerment of the working people. There will be arguments and discussions about how best to achieve those aims and that’s fine. Let the people, participating in those discussions, decide, experiment, make mistakes, revise. But that can only really take place in practice when the people hold revolutionary power, i.e after the overthrow of the capitalist system.

(Photo source: internet)

Should a situation exist where a Left Government be elected, or looks likely to be elected, the social democracts and liberals will quickly call for slowing down, for less struggle, to let them get under way. At this point the capitalist class must be weak, perhaps divided among themselves on how to respond, perhaps unsure of the reliability of their repressive forces, the police and army. Or perhaps, though weakened, the ruling class is merely biding its time, organising a coup or some other event. Or, very likely, instead or in addition to the above, they are working with elements inside the Left Government or Party to seduce them, to arrange compromises, etc.

This is the point at which revolutionaries, far from resting and wait-and-see, far from facilitating a Government that is trying to stabilise the system in its hour of difficulty, should instead intensify their mobilisations, their actions, and organise the people more militantly and more daringly, pushing for more rapid enactments of popular demands. Should the ruling class be paralysed or indecisive, they should be shocked further and further, exactly as their disaster capitalists have done to national systems, as described by Naomi Klein in Shock Doctrine (2007).

We can hardly be free do all that from inside a Left Government.

Of course those in the Left Government will plead with us and with the people to give them more time; they will tell the people their great plans, perhaps plead their difficulties. They will accuse the revolutionaries of being disrupters, wreckers, saboteurs …. They may send their police to arrest us.

It will not be the first time in our history to be accused of such things. And in a sense, they will be right — we do intend to wreck the system and we do intend to wreck their project of stabilising it. We intend to overthrow it all and to bring in socialism, the organisation of society and its productive forces and resources by and for the benefit of the people. And that’s the wheel we’ll keep pushing and rolling.

End

 

Iinks:

Old election posters: https://irishelectionliterature.com/tag/old-fianna-fail-election-poster/