BASQUE DEFENDANTS PLEAD GUILTY IN EXCHANGE FOR LIGHTER SENTENCES – Spanish State avoids fighting on two fronts

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 10 minutes)

The idea of having to fight a war of repression simultaneously against two or more nations within the borders of its state must give the Spanish ruling class nightmares – it was only successful in doing so in the Spanish Anti-Fascist War with the assistance of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

So Spain’s rulers, blood-thirsty though they are, must have been happy to let off lightly the Basque pro-independence activists with a maximum of less than four years prison sentence. Not of course that three years in Spanish jail is a holiday, especially for political prisoners, who tend to get dispersed throughout the Spanish territory, hundreds or even a thousand kilometres from their friends and families – but it is way below the norm for activists accused of “assisting terrorism” in the Spanish state.

Most activities of the Basque pro-independence activists have been viewed by the Spanish State as “terrorism”, “assisting terrorism” or “exalting terrorism” at one time or another: producing a daily newspaper in the Basque language; running pro-independence radio stations or social media pages; managing pro-independence social centres; holding demonstrations and pickets; managing a prisoners’ solidarity campaign; organising an internationalist solidarity network1; commemorating martyrs; publicly welcoming political prisoners home after completion of their sentences; running pro-independence bars ….. etc, etc.

Huge demonstration in Bilbao on 14 September in solidarity with the 47 accused activists. Two days later, the accused pleaded guilty for lighter sentences.
(Photo source: Ahotsa) 

 

The Basque pro-independence activists before the Spanish National Court on 16th September had been accused in November 2013 of “assisting a terrorist organisation” but what they had done in actuality was to try to organise effective solidarity and legal representation for the Basque political prisoners who are part of the ‘official’ list2. Some of those charged are lawyers. All 47 of them in court on 16th September pleaded guilty and the judges handed down the sentences. It was clear that a deal had been agreed with the Public Prosecutor and Judge before they stepped into the Court. But not only with them – the virulent AVT (“Relatives of Victims of Terrorism”), most of them relatives of Spanish military or police, who were a party to the prosecution of the Basques3, stayed silent but afterwards stated they were happy with the outcome.

Reporting on the judgement, GARA, bilingual daily newspaper of the line of the official pro-independence movement’s4 leadership, seemed to see the settlement, despite the jail time, as some kind of victory and proclaimed that the proceedings had taken “not even five minutes” (perhaps the reporter meant per person, as the total was elsewhere reported as taking around 35 minutes).

Faces and names of the accused in solidarity publicity issued days before the court case (Image sourced: Internet).

“SUPPORTERS WERE TRICKED …. SHAMEFUL”

          That is not how all Basque pro-independence activists see it, however. Discussing the case with one long-time activist she commented that “It was shameful. It was hard. I knew them, some of them especially. I had campaigned with them in the past and we had campaigned for them (after their arrest). To see them meekly plead guilty ….!” She might be expected to be critical as she is what some call a ‘dissident’, having parted company with the organisation with which she grew up and is now a member of Amnistia Ta Askatasuna (ATA — Amnesty and Freedom). That organisation that same day issued a statement in Basque and Spanish condemning the deal, stating that pleading guilty actually criminalised all the work done in solidarity with and to assist the prisoners on all fronts.

That the Basque ‘Autonomous’ Government moved within weeks to ban as criminal acts any public welcoming home of Basque political prisoners seems to bear out their analysis.  And the Spanish State has announced that no electoral publicity in the forthcoming elections may use the words “political prisoners” or “exiles”.

Another life-time activist with whom I spoke, this one still loyal to the leadership, agreed that the deal and the act of pleading ‘guilty’ was “shameful”. She is not likely to be the only one; many remain within the organisation but are critical of the leadership’s twists and turns for some years now. Those who are critical but remain inside the organisation and are still active do so because they don’t like the alternative – either the fact of leaving the ‘family’ or of going to the ‘dissident’ group. But apathy grows among others – they may remain notionally within the organisation but attend less events than they used to.

A veteran and leading theoretician of the movement, Iñaki Gil de San Vicentes, in an interview with on-line newspaper Noticias Canarias, commented that the 50,000 who had demonstrated in solidarity with the accused a few days before the court case had been tricked, as the deal had been done “behind their backs”. This was “not permissable”, according to the veteran activist, who was not reported in GARA and might not be published there again.

GARA and the leadership of the Basque pro-independence movement may see the court deal as a good one or even part of the “Basque peace process” for which they have long been waiting (and some even claiming it was already in existence). Whatever the criticisms of the “Irish peace process” (sic) people may have – and there have been many – once the weapons had been decommissioned and they signed up to the Good Friday Agreement, at least most of the Republican prisoners left the jails, albeit under licence. The Basque armed resistance group ETA called a truce in 2012, decommissioned its weapons and finally disbanded itself in 2014, for which it seems to have won not the slightest of concessions – not for the prisoners nor for Basque pro-independence society. In 2017 a brawl in the town of Altsasu (Nafarroa/ Navarra) in a late-night bar between some Basque youth and off-duty Spanish police resulted in jail sentences for the accused youth and, even though the judges had rejected the Public Prosecutor’s bid to have the youth tried under anti-terror legislation, they were condemned to terms of between two and 13 years (reduced this week on appeal to between 18 months and nine years).

The five leading activists of the Basque internationalist organisation Askapena, also accused of “assisting terrorism”, pleaded Not Guilty and defended their actions. They walked free of charges in 2016.

NEUTRALISING ONE FRONT BEFORE MOVING ON TO ANOTHER

          The Altsasu case generated outrage throughout the Basque Country but also came to the notice of the Catalan public when they were dealing with the effects of Spanish repression on their own independence movement during and after the October 2017 referendum there. Catalan people with a banner proclaiming their solidarity with the Altsasu youth marched in Basque demonstrations. And Basques have marched in Catalan pro-independence protests against Spanish State repression too. Though the numbers displaying solidarity in each case were comparatively small, the potential was there for a coming together of both movements and no doubt the Spanish ruling class, though not noted for its political sensitivity, became aware of the danger.

As commented earlier, the Spanish ruling class were no doubt wishing to avoid having to renew a war of repression against the Basques at the same time as their current war against the Catalan independence movement. Even worse things could happen to them while engaged in such a two-front war – such as elements in other nations, like Asturias and Galicia seizing the opportunity to mobilise. Or some outbreak of class resistance across the State’s territory.

In the recent Basque case, the Spanish State, while punishing the Basque activists, did so in a comparatively light manner and avoided that case being shouted in both Basque and Catalan nations as yet another example of Spanish State injustice and repression. But it required the cooperation of the accused activists – and no doubt the agreement of the official leadership of the Basque pro-independence movement, Arnaldo Otegi and company.

As I was writing these observations, the Spanish State arrested nine Catalan activists under “anti-terrorist” (sic) legislation and held them incommunicado in Madrid5. These activists allegedly from the CDRs (Comites de Defensa de la Republica, set up after the momentary declaration of the Catalan Republic by then President Puigdemont after the 2017 October referendum) are in addition to those 10 grass roots activists and elected politicians currently awaiting verdicts on charges of “rebellion, sedition” and “misuse of public funds”. In addition also to the various Catalan elected politicians in European exile and the 700 or so town mayors under investigation. The more recent Catalan arrested are not charged with anything they have done but with their alleged intentions.

Now that Basque problem has been tidied away ….

end.

FOOTNOTES:

1 Leading activists of Askapena, which coordinated the activities of solidarity committees in a number of European countries (including Ireland) and Latin America, were accused as part of the sweep against Basque political prisoner solidarity campaigners. They did not plead guilty, fought their defence and were, eventually, found not guilty.

2 Which some have left, including six who did so publicly and are now part of a ‘dissident’ network.

3 The Spanish legal system permits civil society groups to take out a prosecution or to join the State prosecutions with their separate prosecutors, a provision almost exclusively availed of by right-wing groups such as the AVT. When the family of Inigo Cabacas took a case under this provision against the Basque police who had killed their son with a rubber bullet, the Basque Government’s Prosecutor had cooperated with the defence counsel of the accused.

4 The ‘official’ Basque pro-independence movement is comprised of the political party EH Bildu (formerly Batasuna, Herri Batasuna etc), the official political prisoners’ collective, the official organisation of relatives and friends of prisoners, the Gara newspaper, LAB trade union and smaller feminist and ecological organisations. It is also represented in some political coalitions and a number of broad fronts.

5  Two of the nine arrested were released the following day and seven remained incommunicado. This nightmare journey to Madrid for political detainees has been well documented by many Basque political prisoners, including threats of death, torture and even rape (the latter for female prisoners), stress positions causing difficulty in breathing within the vehicle, blows etc. Spanish “anti-terrorism” (sic) legislation permits as standard up to five days without access to the detainees’ lawyer, doctor or family and despite EU Committee Against Torture criticism, the practice continues. “Confessions” tend to be extracted after two or three days, which the prisoners withdraw as soon as they are in court and out of the hands of the police, alleging water torture, forced stress positions, threats to self and family, sleep deprivation, etc. As a matter of course, the judges ignore the allegations without ordering even a cursory investigation and proceed as though the “confessions” were voluntary and factual.

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APOLOGIA FOR REPRESSION BY SPANISH STATE IN DUBLIN

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 10 minutes)

The “Global Spain” initiative of the Spanish State to 215 Spanish embassies and its sub-title “Touch Democracy” was presented to a small audience at the Instituto Cervantes in Dublin on Monday while Catalan and Basque solidarity demonstrators picketed outside.

While some people, perhaps in the know, were directed straight to the auditorium, a number of others, not regular users of the Instituto’s services, were asked to wait in another area but when the start time had been exceeded by 20 minutes without sign of the event, they went to make enquiries again at Reception and learned where the event was being held, entering to find it had already started.

Portraits of Catalan political prisoners and exiles displayed across the street from the Instituto Cervantes on Monday.
(Photo: D.Breatnach).

PROPAGANDA VIDEO         

          Mr. Ildefonso Castro,the Spanish State’s Ambassador to Ireland was speaking and shortly launched the event with a showing of a short video which, he said, would bring out the main questions in the initiative. In this video, Lucía Mendez, journalist for the right-wing Spanish daily El Mundo seemed to be interviewing Gabriela Ybarra about the novel she had written (The Dinner Guest). But actually later in the film Mendez began a speech about how good was the Spanish democracy while her interviewee was left with little to say. The author had said earlier that though her grandfather (a Mayor of Bilbao who had fought in Franco’s Army and supported the Dictator regime, not mentioned in the video), had been killed by the Basque armed group ETA in 1973, this was not discussed in her family. She felt that the memory of “terrorism” was disappearing and that children in school were not being taught about it, which is why she wrote her book.

In fact, Spanish media constantly refers in negative terms to ETA and a 2016 case of a brawl between Basque youth and off-duty Spanish policemen in a late-night bar, in which no-one was seriously hurt and no weapons used, was being treated in the media and by the State Prosecutors as a case of terrorism! Although the judge rejected the accusation of “terrorism”, in 2018 the youth receive a range of sentences between two and 13 years jail. An important part of the silence and lack of teaching children history is in fact about the almost four decades of Franco dictatorship and the conduct of the victors in the military-fascist uprising against the democratically-elected government of the Spanish Popular Front in 1936. And of the State assassinations and torture of captured ETA fighters and arrested Basque activists. And of the continued legal battles to uncover mass graves of Franco’s victims and try to identify the remains for the relatives.

Considering that ETA ceased its armed activities in 2012 and has since dissolved itself, the relevance and intention of the film seems to be to show an embattled Spanish “democracy”, fighting against Basque independentist “terrorism” in the past as it is now embattled with the Catalan independentists (seven activists of which it has also accused of “terrorism” a couple of weeks ago).

Some demonstrators and banner by Trinity College exit across the street from Instituto Cervantes on Monday.
(Photo: D.Breatnach).

DISCUSSION BUT NO DEBATE

          There was no discussion on the content of the film and, after its end, Víctor Andresco Peralta, Director of the Instituto Cervantes, cultural body of the Spanish Embassy, took to the stage and invited five people by name to take chairs laid out around a table. Launching into a chatty monologue full of jokey self-deprecatory comments (so many that they were actually self-promotional), he eventually asked his questions of his picked panel.

Questions included what were their earliest memories of consciousness of being Spanish, what reactions they had received about Spain from people in Ireland, or in other countries (positive and negative), what they valued about Spain, what they thought about the coup attempt in 1981 (lots of jokes about that), etc.

Referring to his father’s recent stay in hospital, Peralta asked for comparison of the Spanish health service with the Irish one (apparently the former is far better, which would not be difficult) and for other comparisons.

The discussion was skillfully managed by the showmaster to bring his group to paint a picture of a wonderful pluralist Spanish State, of freedom of expression, and of a democracy which had been able to defeat the coup attempt without much difficulty but even so, some discourse arose at times to shake the equilibrium, as when one referred to a relative telling him about the horrors of the Francoist suppression as they entered Barcelona and when another referred to the perception (mistaken, of course!) of many people outside Spain that the State was undemocratic and had violent police.

One of the panel, who appears to be an employee of the Spanish State, said she was proud of the defeat of ETA by the “Spanish democracy”.  Another said she was proud of Spanish history and culture, without explaining further. She might have meant the foremost writer of Castillian-language literature, Cervantes himself, who was exiled from the Spanish kingdom because of his anti-feudal views. Or the Andalusian poet Federico Lorca, who was executed by Franco’s soldiers; or the Malagan artist in exile Picasso, who created the famous painting of the Nazi and Fascist aerial bombing of Gernika (most of the poets, writers and artists of the era were against the military-fascist coup and the four decades of dictatorship that followed). Or about the dramatist Alfonso Sastre, whose distaste for the Spanish State’s behaviour towards the Basques was such that he moved to the Basque Country.

Perhaps the woman was proud of the defeat of the learned and tolerant Moorish colony of Al Andalus and its replacement by the racist Spanish Christian Inquisition, along with the expulsion of Arabs and Jews? Or of the centuries-long suppression of the governments of the Basques, Galicians and Catalans, along with their languages? Or of the invasion, massacre, enslavement and plunder of the indigenous people of America, the Caribbean and the Philippines? Or the invasion and colonisation of the Rif in North Africa, when the French saved the Spanish colony after the Spanish army had been wiped out by lesser-armed (and often less numerous) Berber guerrillas.

Of course she might have been referring to the revolt of the Reapers in Catalonia or of the Comuneros in Castille; or of the resistance of Spanish, Catalans and Basques to the military-fascist coup and the four decades of dictatorship …. We don’t know because she did not say.

A view of some of the protesters outside the Instituto Cervantes on Monday.
(Photo: D.Breatnach).

WHAT ABOUT THE RIGHT TO SELF-DETERMINATION?

          The event had been advertised as a debate but no debate took place. Nor was there a question-and-answer session, nor engagement with the audience except to send them witty asides from Peralta and to thank them at the end.

This was too much for at least one of the small audience, an Irishman who interrupted the concluding remarks of the Director by saying, in Castillian (Spanish) that it was a pity that the question of self-determination had not been discussed. The event was taking place in Ireland, he commented, where another state had denied the people the right to self-determination on grounds of that state’s constitution also. Denied permission to exercise their right, the Irish people had to fight for it and eventually won part-independence.

Peralta commented that the Spanish people were cognizant of Irish history and appreciated it.

The Irishman replied that in the Spanish state things were the complete opposite.

Peralta commented that unfortunately there was no time left for that debate, thanked participants and audience and brought the event to a close.

Sticker on pole near the Instituto Cervantes on Monday.
(Photo: D.Breatnach).

WHAT WAS THE POINT?

          Outside the meeting up to dozen protesters had taken up positions on both sides of the street. On the Trinity College side a couple of protesters stood beside portraits of the Catalan grass-roots activists and politicians who are in jail awaiting sentence or in exile. On the Instituto side, a larger group of protesters held two banners and a Basque Antifa flag.

One of the Catalan supporters, an Irishwoman, addressed several of the panel participants as they exited. It emerged that they had not understood the nature of the event and that they thought it had to do with October 12th, which is a Spanish State celebration of its former empire and spreading of the Castillian language1 (and for which one of the panel, who seems to work for the Instituto, is organising an event in Rathmines). They said they had not seen the “Global Spain” publicity (81 pages of propaganda justifying the actions of the Spanish State and attacking the principle of Catalan self-determination and the pro-independence movement!).

There was in truth not much point in attending the event unless one wanted receive a smooth-talking patter about an imaginary State occupying most of the Iberian Peninsula. For the protesters, it was important to give a response to the paint-over job. For the producers of the show, the importance was to try to distract an Irish audience from the reality of what is an unreconstructed fascist state with a thin veneer of democracy that is constantly peeling away.

Poster seen on Dublin street near Instituto Cervantes on Monday.
(Photo: D.Breatnach).

End.

FOOTNOTES:

1 El Dia de la Hispanidad was formerly called “El Dia de la Raza Española” (Day of the Spanish Race). It is also the Spanish Armed Forces Day, obviously not inappropriately in context!

REFERENCES AND FURTHER INFORMATION

Article by El Nacional, independent and pro-independence Catalan newspaper: https://www.elnacional.cat/en/news/global-spain-advertising-campaign-democracy_426827_102.html

The Instituto Cervantes, Dublin: https://dublin.cervantes.es/en/about_us_spanish.htm

CDR Dublin: https://www.facebook.com/CDRDublin/

ANC Irlanda: https://www.facebook.com/IrlandaPerLaIndependenciaDeCatalunya/
With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin: https://www.facebook.com/WithCataloniaIreland/

PAUL MURPHY, SPLITS, PARTIES AND ALLIANCES

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 4 minutes)

Paul Murphy speaking at his trial and that of others after the famous water protest at Jobstown against Minister Joan Burton (which led to his arrest and long trial before he and others were found not guilty by a jury).       (Photo image: D.Breatnach)

Most people within the Irish state will now be aware that that socialist Paul Murphy, TD (member of Irish parliament, the Dáil), has left the Socialist Party and, with some others, intends to set up a new socialist organisation called RISE. His statement on his Facebook page was covered by a host of the capitalist media with little comment by most while left-wing chat room the Cedar Lounge had more comment than I found time or interest in reading.

A common reaction on the street was one of bewilderment at the splitting actions of left-wing parties. Elements of that were to be found in the relevant piece by Miriam Lord (see References), who comments on Dáil politics and politicians in her Irish Times column (though her sharpest treatment was of Brendan Ogle, who had mocked Murphy’s action).

I am myself, if a little surprised, not shocked nor indeed very engaged with the matter and consider it generally of little import on the prospect of a revolution in Ireland.

It strikes me, with little personal knowledge of him but based on material in the public domain, that Paul Murphy is in general a principled socialist politician and furthermore an activist who has not shirked from putting himself physically in the resistance line in Rossport, on the seas to Gaza, in Turkey against its government and in Dublin on water and housing protests. Furthermore, in the short period he was an MEP or supporting Joe Higgins when the latter had the seat, Murphy has had questions asked about the treatment of Basque political prisoners which few other politicians are willing to touch, lest they be associated with the armed liberation organisation ETA (now defunct).

However, I see no prospect of even one step towards revolution in the general conduct of any of the socialist organisations of any size in Ireland, splits or no. Of course it is helpful to have awkward questions asked of the Government in the Dáil and to gain media coverage of issues that would likely remain unmentioned, or to have their critical comments reported where yours or mine would never see the light of day. And Murphy remains in that ambit in Dáil, along with the Solidarity-PBP group — and Independents for Change are there also (now sadly missing Clare Daly and Mick Wallace, who have gone to the EU).

But that is not necessarily revolutionary work.

Meeting of the (First) International Workingmen’s Association. In Britain, the Fenians were accepted into the First International.

A TASK FOR SERIOUS REVOLUTIONARIES

Front page of the newspaper of the short-lived Republican Congress in 1934

Without a conjunction of revolutionary Socialists with revolutionary Republicans, I can see no hope for revolution in Ireland and, without revolution, no hope of a solution to many of the ills in our society, whether in culture, economy, environment or government. In other words, in anything really. That conjunction was a project attempted in part by British socialists and some of the Fenians of the 1840s, later by Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army (1913-’16), later still by the Republican Congress (1934-’36). It remains the unfinished task for serious revolutionaries.

Neither the Socialist Party/ AAA/ Solidarity nor the Socialist Worker/ People Before Profit/ Solidarity formations have made any effort to take up that task (nor have the Republicans, lest my criticism be thought of one part of the equation only). Nor did the anarchist Worker’s Solidarity when it was an active force. The Communist Party of Ireland does not do so nor does the Workers’ Party. So great is the disdain of these formations for revolutionary Republicans that they refuse to even challenge the daily civil rights violations of the Gardaí and PSNI upon active Republicans, or their treatment in the non-jury special courts or jails on both sides of the Border. Indeed, in case they should somehow be accused of siding with these elements, they rarely even allude to the unfinished national liberations struggle of Ireland, nor to the colonial occupation of one-sixth of its territory, while instead fully prepared to support the just national liberation struggles of nations far away.

Interestingly therefore, from public comment, it appears that Murphy wanted more cooperation with “other elements on the Left” or “Left-leaning”, in which context was mentioned Sinn Féin, while the majority in the Socialist Party refused such a project. Some people will view this aspiration of Murphy’s as a laudable attempt to mould a fragmented Left into at least some kind of united action for Irish social and political progress. I do not.

I am not against a temporary alliance of revolutionaries with social democratic forces at certain points for certain objectives. But that does not include Irish political parties who are or have been part of Irish governments or, if possible even less, so a party that is part of the administration of a colonial occupying power. In the latter category I clearly place Sinn Féin and, in the former, the Labour Party, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.1 In addition, SF has clearly marked a path for itself to a future coalition partnership with a capitalist, pro-imperialist party or parties in Government.

It says something about the Irish socialists that an important question for them is whether or not to ally with a constitutional capitalist and colonial collaborationst party such as Sinn Féin, whereas the question of whether to ally with revolutionary Republicans is not even on the agenda for discussion.

End.

FOOTNOTES:

1 One might make a temporary exception of the Greens, which have been in Government but once for a short while, admittedly shamefully so but with an honourable resignation.

REFERENCES:

Miriam Lord: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/miriam-lord-brendan-ogle-eager-to-get-back-in-the-leftie-limelight-1.4033061

Paul Murphy TD Faeebook page: https://www.facebook.com/paulmurphytd/

“YOU BET – THEY DIE!”

Clive Sulish

(Reading time: 8 mins.)

The sight of more than a score of people standing in the rain at the top of Dublin’s Grafton Street drew a lot of attention. And it wasn’t just the dog masks that most of them were wearing. This wasn’t near enough to Hallowe’en, nor was it a carnivale, nor a masque as such: the message projected had nothing of the freedom and joy of carnivale, none of the sexual play and mystery of masque and was darker than the usual one of Hallowe’en. The grim message was on the banners, in the leaflets, in the slogans and the amplified speech.

One of the banners of protesters on Saturday at the top of Grafton St. (Photo: C.Sulish

“You bet – they die” was one of the slogans chanted, illustrating the grim reality of commercial greyhound racing. This slogan was developed for protests outside greyhound racing stadia, notably at Shelbourne Park, near the south Dublin docklands (and, incidentally, not far from the Aviva Rugby Stadium).

Public perception

          The reactions of passers-by seemed to vary between amusement, interest, support, surprise and even shock. People who tend to view animal welfare protesters as cranks who are likely to be middle-class might be somewhat amused or dismissive and it is no doubt to counter this perceived image that the group organising this event is called “Ordinary People Against Greyhound Exploitation”. The support likely came from those who had watched the RTÉ documentary in June, while other reactions might have been from Irish people as yet unaware of the treatment of greyhounds by the industry or by visitors to Ireland who are not only ignorant of the issues but even of the existence of the industry itself.

One onlooker seemed to be demonstrating to his companion the pole lassoo dragging of a dog and then shooting it with a pistol, probably recounting a secretly-filmed incident featured in the RTÉ film. Popular opposition to the greyhound racing industry has been gathering since the screening of the exposure program by the “RTÉ Investigates” team of the Irish television company in the last week of June. The revelations were a shock to people who understood the dogs racing to be a harmless spectator sport with not even a live hare being pursued, a relatively cheap night out (providing the betting was not too heavy) or gambling based on a mixture of luck and previous form knowledge, or even just the communal sport of a few rural people who owned a few hunting dogs.

View of a section of the protesters, viewer facing south. (Photo: C.Sulish)

The industry breeds many dogs in order to ensure a constant supply of fast-running animals and flow of profits and, as a result, bitches are put to breed litter after litter. Pups showing any disabilities will be “culled” and, as the survivors grow, those not considered fast enough will face the same fate. Later, as age begins to take its toll, they will be killed also except for some that might get a few more years as stud or breeder. Campaigners claim that over 6,000 dogs are killed annually and some animal welfare organisations believe the figure may be as high as 10,000. It is the commercial drive that brings these results and the support of the betting public that sustains it – but not that alone, since the Irish State supports the industry with an annual grant of 16.8 million euro.  This fact was also highlighted by campaigners in voice and leaflet, while pointing out other better uses for the funding, including relieving the homeless and housing crisis.

Few countries outside of Ireland an Britain have greyhound racing stadia but campaigners claim – and the RTÉ program revealed – that many Irish dogs are sent abroad in inhumane conditions, some at least of which will end up for human consumption.

Section of protesters facing south (Stephens Green Shopping Centre in background). (Photo: C.Sulish)

The campaigners call for the greyhound racing stadia to be closed and, in Dublin particular, the Shelbourne Park stadium, outside of which are held regular demonstrations. They call also for sponsorship by commercial enterprises to cease, a call heeded by a number of companies fearful of a negative commercial impact upon their reputations. This drive was clearly successful when, audibly fearful of a negative impact on the tourism industry, Irish Minister for Tourism Shane Ross called for a suspension of State support in advertising which was followed by Bord Fáilte and Tourism Ireland’s1 removal of greyhound racing from their promotions for visitors to Ireland.

Tourism and Greyhound Racing

     The tourist industry is of course vulnerable to the image of the country abroad, which is why campaigners for democratic rights often strive to alter precisely that image, in order to exert pressure on the ruling regimes. Tourists, as they concentrate on sun, sea and possibly Turkish or Iberian food, may be able to set aside images of Spanish police bashing Catalan voters or Turkish police jailing Kurdish campaigners. Ireland has little sun to sell and though plenty of sea, without the sun it can be too cold for most to bathe. What Ireland has for most tourists is an ambience of welcome, of traditional and folk culture and scenery – but the ill-treatment and slaughter of dogs in an Irish industry could quite possibly offset those positive points.

Ross might indeed have been, as he said he was, “shocked” by the revelations but it was clearly the financial rather than principled humanitarian objectives which forced his hand. Martin Ferris, Sinn Féin TD for Kerry, wasn’t motivated by humanitarian principles either when he confronted Ross in the Dáil (see Links below). Although his SF Dáil position is as Spokesperson for Marine and Fisheries, in his intervention he was clearly representing rural support for greyhound racing including, no doubt, commercial dog breeding and racing interests. He claimed the industry was being tarred with the brush of “the actions of a few individuals” and that he was speaking up for “the small boys and girls” (well done for getting that gender equality in, Ferris!) of the rural industry.

“A few individuals” may have been caught red-handed and exposed but the issues are clearly endemic to the industry, the governing board of which suppressed a critical report which it had itself commissioned. Ferris’ public support for that industry and criticism of the Minister’s actions in this case may win him some votes in some parts of Kerry but will hardly be a help to Sinn Féin, increasingly seeking to project itself in the Irish state as a social-democratic party leaning slightly to the Left.

Section of younger protesters facing west. (Photo: C.Sulish)

And the employment figures which Ferris quoted arising from the greyhound racing industry might well be offset by possible negative impact on the Kerry tourism economy.

The dogs in the streets will be talking about what he said ….

end.

FOOTNOTES:

1Bord Fáilte promotes tourism in throughout the Irish state, i.e the Twenty-Six Counties, while Tourism Ireland promotes the same but throughout “the island of Ireland”, i.e including the Six Counties. Tourism NI cooperates with the latter organisation, particularly with regard to tourism in the Six Counties and maintains an information office in Dublin city centre. The first two above are in receipt of funding from the Irish State while the third is funded by the British State.

View of section of protesters facing northwards, down Grafton St.
(Photo: C.Sulish)

LINKS FOR REFERENCES AND FURTHER INFORMATION:

Ordinary People Against Greyhound Exploitation: https://www.facebook.com/OrdinaryPeopleAgainstGreyhoundExploitation/

Irish Greyhound Board: https://www.igb.ie/

RTÉ documentary “Running for their Lives” (contains disturbing images): https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.php

Sponsors “horrified” by RTÉ exposure of greyhound racing industry: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/sponsors-horrified-by-rt%C3%A9-programme-on-greyhound-racing-1.3942232

Irish Tourism Minister suspends promotion of greyhound racing; Sinn Fein TD objects: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/oireachtas/greyhound-racing-promotion-stopped-due-to-disgusting-behaviour-in-sector-ross-1.4039470

DISSIDENCE IN THE BASQUE PRO-INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 5 minutes)

When ETA, the armed Basque Left pro-Independence group) abandoned armed resistance and decommissioned its weapons, many wondered at the absence of public dissent among its ranks. A dissident trend did appear in the Basque pro-independence movement but it took longer than it had in Ireland; it is in existence now and growing.

 

In using the term “dissident”, a description not always accepted by those to whom it is applied, I mean those who disagree with the direction taken by the leadership of the organisation and who have therefore separated themselves from the organisation. It becomes a problematic term when it is implied that the “dissidents” have diverged from the original path – on the contrary, those who have left the organisation would say, it is the leadership which has left the path and it is those being called “dissidents” who remain on the “true path”.

ATA demonstration in Donosti/ San Sebastian, 8th September 2019.
(Photo source: Amnistia Garrasia FB page)

 

In the Basque pro-independence movement, as in the Irish Republican movement, the “dissidents” are in a minority but that should not be taken to mean that those who have remained within the “official” movement are in complete agreement with the leadership nor happy with the state of affairs within the movement. Indeed, within the Izquierda Abertzale (Basque Left pro-Independence movement), many are very unhappy indeed. Some do not agree with alliances with social democrats or attempted with the PNV (Basque Nationalist Party), others with complete disarmament, some with disarmament without concessions in return, yet others with particular decisions at various junctures (such as pleading guilty to “terrorism” when the work they had been doing was nothing of the sort, as happened recently in the mass trial of prisoner solidarity activists arrested back in 2013). Or with “apologising to the victims” as the Spanish State has been pressing on prisoners and detainees (the Spanish State of course apologises for nothing, neither the fascist-military uprising of Franco and company, nor the Dictatorship of almost four decades, nor executions, nor recent torture).

There were splits enough in the Irish Republican movement even soon after the Civil War but they also came thick and fast in the early 1970s, out of which grew the Provisionals (Sinn Féin and PIRA) and the IRSP and INLA, leaving Official Sinn Féin and OIRA as a rapidly-diminishing and eventually disintegrating remainder. Another split came about as a result of the electoral path of Provisional SF in 1986, out of which came Republican Sinn Féin. But it was the Good Friday Agreement and its effects which caused the most splits and desertions from the ranks of the Provisionals, leading to the creation of a number of organisations over time: éirigi, 32 County Sovereignty Movement, 1916 Societies, Saoradh and others.

POLITICAL PRISONERS, IRELAND & BASQUE COUNTRY

Most unfortunately, the number of Republican organisations led also to a number of political prisoner support groups and currently there are three main ones: Cabhair (RSF), Cogus (mainly 32 CSM) and Irish Republican Prisoners’ Welfare Association (mainly Saoradh).

In the Basque movement, the Izquierda Abertzale, although there were the abiding split has come over the issue of the Republican prisoners. The traditional line of the IA has always been that the prisoners, whether captured ETA volunteers or political activist victims of repression, are political prisoners. It follows that they should be released in any settlement of the Basque national question. But in the meantime, if prisoners, they should be kept in prisons near their homes so that they can be visited without too much difficulty by relatives and friends. That is not only a humane principle but is underwritten by EU and UN policy recommendations on the treatment of prisoners. The Spanish State, however, keeps its political prisoners dispersed throughout its territory, hundreds and even a thousand kilometres away from the family and friends of the prisoners (as does the French State). This is not only an additional punishment on the prisoners, one which was not a specified part of their sentence but also – and perhaps principally – on their relatives, children, partners and friends.

The organisation Amnistia (Gestoras pro Amnistia) was created in 1970 within the movement to agitate for a total amnesty for the prisoners. As is usual with the Spanish State, in 2002 it banned this organisation also as one “assisting terrorism”, threatened its activists with prison and the organisation ceased to exist publicly, their trial beginning in 2008. The State’s outlook was fully expressed in the infamous statement of the former judge and overseer of torture but so beloved of liberals, Baltazar Garzon: “Everything is ETA”.

The organisation of relatives of prisoners on the movement’s “official” list, Etxerat (Homeward) continued to exist and to organise visits, share information and agitate about the prisoners’ treatment but it is not a political organisation as such, which is difficult to combine with welfare work.

To carry out the specifically political work around the prisoners, the organisation Herrira (to the Homeland) was created some years ago. The Spanish State reacted in the usual manner and arrested a number of its activists – for “assisting terrorism”, of course. After that, it was noted that the official line had changed – while not specifically abandoning the call for amnesty, now only the call for and end to dispersal was heard (along with of course the repatriation of seriously or terminally-ill political prisoners).

View from the rear of ATA demonstration in Donosti/ San Sebastian, 8th September 2019.
(Photo source: Amnistia Garrasia FB page)

LEADERSHIP CHANGE IN LINE AND DISSIDENCE

The change in line, the dropping of the demand for amnesty, led to the creation of a new Amnestia, but with the addition of Ta Askatasuna (and Freedom), this time in the hands of “dissidents”. The “oficialistas”, the current leadership of the main body of the pro-independence movement, Otegi, EH Bildu etc, say this is pure opportunism on the part of the dissidents, who are expressing their disagreement with the abandonment of armed struggle and dissolution of ETA by seizing on the issue of amnesty for political prisoners. They could be right, of course, at least in part. But unlike the leadership of SF and PIRA, the Basque “oficialistas” got no deal whatsoever for their prisoners.

Recently, a significant part of their youth section Ernai left the “oficialistas” and maintains a working relationship with the new ATA. Their issue was that they had prepared a position paper for discussion at the annual congress and the “oficialistas” had refused to permit it to be discussed, since it was critical of current leadership positions.

Another group, Jarki, is revolutionary, socialist, for independence, internationalist and in defence of the language and has been organising.

Apart from those three trends, there also exist anti-authoritarian, ecological etc trends that owe no allegiance to the official leadership of the movement. These are national in the sense that they are spread across the Basque Country and also in that they speak and write in Euskera (Basque language); they are also for social justice, feminist, anti-racist and anti-sexuality discrimination.

It remains to be seen to what degree these various trends will coalesce and whether the “official” movement will continue to see defections from its ranks.

End.

MUCH ADO ABOUT BREXIT

Diarmuid Breatnach

Apparently Brexit is a big issue.

          Well, I can see that it would be for Britain, to leave the European Union, the European Economic Community, the Common Market …… It will impact in particular on trade and they’ll have to leave the euro currency ….. no, wait, they never joined that anyway, kept their own currency throughout. In fact, British ruling circles were never that keen to join a “community” that they were not in charge of and, even worse, that Germany was.

And I can see that the Brexit drama has has had quite an unsettling effect on the leadership of the Conservative Party (sorry, Conservative and Unionist parties), with one Prime Minister getting sacrificed so an apparently worse one can step into the vacancy.

I can also see that it has rocked the shaky Union, with the majority of Scotland and the Six Counties voting to stay in the EU and (unproven) concerns among many in Britain that the vote in favour of leaving was dominated by right-wing, jingoistic and even racist elements.Six County Brexit Voting Results

But why is it a problem for the population of Ireland, as we keep being told it is – or will be?

Well, apparently we might get a “hard Border” around the British colony of one-sixth of our nation. There might be customs and military controls, checkpoints, watch towers ….. And this will all undermine the Good Friday Agreement. Apparently.

Why would it? Apparently the illusion of normality around the armed occupation of our country will disappear, once we have to go through checkpoints and pay tax on shopping from one side of the Border or the other. Once that illusion is swept away, those “dissident” Republicans will take arms and launch another war of resistance, or campaign of terrorism, according to how you feel about it.

Really? Border checkpoints will do that? Amazing!

Customs Checkpoint Six Counties

So, was that what started the last three decades or so of armed conflict in what some geography-challenged people call “Northern Ireland”? Well, no, not really. Firstly, it was that fifty years earlier, those six counties (hence the title of “The Six Counties”) had been hijacked when the rest of the nation was being given a measure of independence, then had been put under a police state run by sectarian religious bigots. Yes I know it’s not nice to say that but when you go into a hardware shop to buy a spade, you don’t ask for “a spoon”.

And then those people who were at the receiving end of that bigotry and police state treatment felt a wind of change blowing around the world and had the temerity to demand an end to sectarianism in the allocation of work, housing and voting rights, along with wanting ordinary civil rights that were available in the rest of the UK but not for the people in the Six Counties, despite the colony being, we were told, “as British as Finchley”.

Naturally the police and the sectarian bigots set upon those marchers with batons, rocks and toxic tear gas – and even live rounds – but still couldn’t get them to give up their outrageous demands. The poor cops were getting worn down so, naturally again, the colonial power sent in the troops, with guns and fixed bayonets. And so the war started.

It wasn’t the checkpoints that led to war, honestly. It was other things completely.

Of course, it is possible that something different from before might trigger another war. That’s the thing about occupation forces and indigenous populations – the relationship usually begins with violence, has a number of recurrent bouts of violence …. and is ended by violence.

PSNI Searching Republican Newry
British colonial police force, the PSNI, harassing an Irish Republican in Newry. If armed struggle breaks out anew, it is more likely to be about regular incidents such as these rather than the customs checkpoints of a “hard Border”!

So, the Good Friday Agreement – a great achievement, right. Er … why? Oh, it brought peace. Actually no, it didn’t. It brought a pause in the armed resistance struggle is what it did. And that’s only something like peace if it holds. I don’t think it will, nor do I think border controls are what will undermine it. And even if it stayed as it is, it would be pacification, not peace.

The Good Friday Agreement amounts to this, in crude essence:

Colonising power: We can kill you and you can kill ours – but you can’t send ours to prison for decades and make their families suffer. We can’t beat you but we can outlast you and outhurt you.

Republican organisation: We will resist.

CP: Yes, you have been. But you are not going to win. Why not do a deal?

RO: What deal is on offer?

CP: Peace process.

RO: What does it involve?

CP: 1. We get to keep the colony. 2. You stop fighting. 3. You destroy your weapons.

RO: What do we get out of it?

CP: 1. You get your prisoners out (but under licence of good behaviour). 2. You get to build a political career, if you want it. 3. And if you do, one day you could help us manage this colony.

RO: Hmmm. OK, we’ll take it.

In all the discussion about the Brexit question, particularly by mass media pundits and establishment politicians (and wannabe establishment politicians like SF’s), when do we hear it being said that the Six Counties is a colony occupied by force?

This isn’t another country with which we happen to have a border, such as between Germany and the French state, for example, or between the French and Spanish states.  They aren’t people of another nation on the other side of that Border — they are Irish.  It is a part of our country and for nearly eight centuries the British invaders and colonisers saw it as one country too  — until they had to pull out and decided it was important to keep a foothold in it.

So, coming back to the question of the people in Ireland, why should we be too concerned, one way or another with regard to Brexit? Apart from people in the Border areas who need to travel regularly across it and are going to be greatly inconvenienced by it, I don’t think we should.

Maybe we can find some real problems for us to deal with instead. Apart from the colonial status of those Six Counties, along with its continuing dominant sectarianism and bigotry, which is not even mentioned in the dominant discourse, we have a continuing bank bailout debt, a massive social housing deficit, a crumbling health service, public services and natural resources being plundered and a corrupt police force …..

End.

 

HOW TO WIN THE WAR – GETTING INTO POSITION

(Reading time: Introduction, one minute; Part One: 5 mins; Part Two 2 mins: Part Three: 3 mins; Part Four: 2 mins; Total: 13 mins.)

Diarmuid Breatnach

INTRODUCTION:

Although I often think about the big questions – and am generally guided by my philosophy on them, my mind and energy are usually too occupied with specific struggles to focus on them for long. Recently however I had the opportunity and the need to think about the war, the one we have yet to win.

Storming Bastille Painting Jean-Pierre Houel
The Storming of the Bastille (translation), French Revolution, 1789 by Jean-Pierre Houel. (Image sourced: Internet)

But to which war am I referring? The Irish war of national liberation that has been flaring up for centuries, being lost each time before flaring up again? Or the class war, which has had a few sharp Irish episodes but has been, for the most part in Ireland, in abeyance? The answer is BOTH, though it may seem that my emphasis in the discussion, certainly in the early part, is on the national liberation war.

Communards Paris Barricade 1871
Communards at barricade, Paris Commune 1871. (Image source: Internet)

In order to imagine how we might win, it is helpful to examine past struggles and analyse what went wrong with them. Pessimists love to focus on those things I know – but in order to push us towards reformism or just surrender; my approach instead is from a revolutionary perspective.

Generally, Socialists analysing the class struggle don’t even ask themselves why we have not had a revolution yet.

From week to week, month to month, they tend to focus on this or that particular trade union or social struggle but without going into the big picture. It seems as though they can’t even imagine a socialist uprising in Ireland, it’s just too far away to think about, apparently. But if one can’t even imagine such a revolution, how could one consider the necessary steps to get there?

Defeat Rebels Vinegar Hill Drawing George Cruikshank
“Defeat of the Rebels at Vinegar Hill” by George Cruikshanks, i.e United Irishmen last major position in Wexdord overrun, 1798.

Irish Republicans on the other hand are often thinking in terms of revolutionary struggle, usually including armed struggle. However it seems to me that Irish Republicans don’t like analysing past failures of the movement but when they do, their verdicts tend to be that the leaders betrayed the struggle or that taking part in public elections corrupted the movement; or that infiltration, spies and informers was the problem. And some other reasons. The thing is, although all those things played a particular part, they are not the fundamental reason.

Sections to follow:

PART ONE: THE THIRTY-YEARS’ WAR – DOOMED TO LOSE 

PART TWO: COLLECTING THE FORCES FOR REVOLUTION 

PART THREE: THE ABSOLUTE NEED FOR UNITY – BUT HOW AND WHAT KIND? WITH WHOM?

PART FOUR: UNITY AGAINST REPRESSION

Diarmuid Breatnach is a veteran independent revolutionary activist, currently particularly active in committees against repression, in some areas of internationalist solidarity and in defence of historical memory.