REFLECTIONS ON THE IRISH LANGUAGE 1 b) FOR ADULT LEARNERS

I B

Diarmuid Breatnach

Among the many spurious difficulties about learning Irish quoted by people there are some genuine ones.

A PRONOUNCEMENT

A problem with learning Irish, according to some people, is the spelling of Irish words. When this difficulty is expressed by English-speakers, I am tempted to ask them to pronounce the English word “Ghoti”. It was a word invented by George Bernard Shaw and unless they are familiar with it, they will be unable to pronounce it correctly. Shaw took the “f”-sound from “gh” in words like “enough”; the “i” sound from the “o” in “women” and the “sh” sound from the “ti” in words like “mention” — hence the correct pronunciation is “fish”. Shaw invented the word to illustrate how illogical – or at least unpredictable – is the pronunciation of many English words. Perhaps he was replying to someone who was accusing the Irish language, an Ghaeilge, of having a similar problem; I don’t know but would like to think so.

In fact, the vowel sounds in Irish can be entirely predicted from the written word with the exception of the “A”, which has something of a narrow range of possible pronunciations and some vowel combinations. In English, combinations of vowels produce different sounds to that of each individual letter also and with a greater variety and less predictability than is the case in Irish: take the different pronunciations of the ‘a’ in ‘cat’, in ‘day’, ‘rain’, ‘contraindicated’ (true, the latter is a compound word).

Where a long vowel is indicated in Irish by an accent, the “síne fada” (“sign of length”, unlike in Castilian, for example, where the accent indicates only where the stress falls in the word), the sound to make when reading it is unmistakeable.

To illustrate, the á will produce a sound like “aw” in English (as in “law”); the ó a sound like “oe” in “toe”; ú like “oo” in “loot”; í like “ee” as in “fee” and é like “ay” as in “bay”. These will not vary, no matter where they appear in the word.

But hang on”, the observant complainer may protest, “you mean to tell me that é is pronounced “ay”, like the letter “A” in English? And that í is pronounced “ee”, like the letter “E” in English also? Why is Irish so contrary?”

Well,” I may reply, “I’m very glad you asked me that. Because in many other languages, the letter “I” is also pronounced like “ee” in English and the letter “A” — which in English is pronounced “ay” as you pointed out — in many other languages, probably most, is pronounced “ah”. In this case, my friend, it is the English language which is being contrary!

Furthermore, English has made a broad vowel into a slender one.”

Huh?”

Yes, they don’t commonly teach about broad and slender vowels in the schools now, yet the difference between them affects not just Irish pronunciation but also English, Castilian, Italian and other languages. Why is it, for example, that the “G” in “Gerry” is pronounced differently from the same letter in “Gary”? Why is that the “C” in “Cede” and “Citrus” is pronounced differently from the same letter in “Cat, Cot” and “Cut”? The answer has everything to do with broad and slender vowels.

In Irish, a, o and u are broad vowels and i and e are slender (the same in English except that y can also be a slender vowel, e.g in words like only, why etc). The most notable effect of the different pronunciations effected in Irish by whether a vowel is slender or not is with the letter S, viz: Sorcha, Saidhbhín, Súil but Sinéad, Seán.

Now, the problem with the pronunciation of the name of the vowel “a” in English is that “ay” is a slender vowel sound while the letter itself is a broad vowel. In Irish that letter is pronounced “ah” as it is in many other languages around the world (perhaps all). When we speak the vowels, our mouths make a horizontal shape for slender vowels and tend towards a vertical one for broad (try it and see). Which shape does “ay” make? Yes, horizontal, the shape of a slender vowel!

Ok,” says the complainer, “but what about the consonants? You can’t tell me that reading them and pronouncing them is not complicated!”

Actually, the complainer here does have a point. It is over-emphasised, perhaps, but the point does have some validity.

The pronunciation of the consonants in Irish is pretty straight-forward, with the variations in the “S” according to slender or broad vowels either side (discussed above) and to some extent the same effect on the “D” and “T”. And the double “L” and “N” in Irish followed by a slender vowel have the same pronunciation as the “ll” and the “ň” in Castilian respectively, which is to say they are like “n’y” and “l’y”, for example “bainne” (“milk”) is pronounced “ban-yeh” and “sailleach” (“fatty”) is pronounced “sal-yach”.

A learner can soon get used to these peculiarities in Irish or in other languages. But what about all the consonants followed by a “h”?

Irish does not have all the consonant letters that English has – we don’t have the J, K, Q, V, W, X Y or Z. We don’t really have a H either, come to that, as we’ll see in a moment. The sound of Q in English can be reproduced in Irish as “cua” or “cui” in Irish and we can make the sounds of some of those ‘missing’ letters by employing an effect on consonants called lenition, in Irish “séimhiú” (softening). During the last two centuries, this was shown by a dot on top of the consonant to be lenited but is now indicated by a H after the consonant in question. All the other ‘missing’ consonant sounds with the exception of the Z are available in this way – not only those but in fact another two not available in English: the Irish “ch” and “gh”.

Lenited consonant at the beginning of a word

Consonant sound equivalent in English

B

Bh + i, e

V

Bh + a,o,u

W

C

Ch

Ch as in “loch”

D

Dh + i, e

Y (not as a vowel)

Dh + a,o,u

Gh (sound not available in English)

F

Fh

Mute (no sound)

G

Gh

Gh (sound not available in English)

L

Cannot be lenited

M

Mh + i, e

V

Mh + a,o,u

W*

N

Cannot be lenited

P

Ph

F

R

Cannot be lenited

S

Sh

H

T

Th

H

* In some Irish dialects the Mh will be pronounced as “V” whether followed by a slender or broad vowel.

Ok, so the lenited consonants do introduce some complication to reading-pronunciation but hardly an insuperable one. To balance that, we have the more reasonable vowel letter A pronunciation than does English (i.e as a broad vowel instead of a slender one) and the ability to read the pronunciation of vowels off a text. Also, to compare with English, some sounds in English are shown by combining consonants, such as ‘tch in ‘catch’, ‘ph’ as in ‘pharmacy’, ‘sh’ in ‘shake’ and ‘th’ in ‘think’.

And what about the ‘ch’ combination in English – it’s not pronounced the same in the words ‘chant’ and ‘character’ or ‘chaos’. Add to that the ‘h’ in ‘rhetoric’ or ‘rhythm’ seems to have no role in pronunciation at all and that the ‘w’ will be heard at the beginning of a word and may or not be heard in the middle (compare ‘award’ with ‘lower’). The ‘w’ will not be heard at all at the end of a word but instead governs the pronunciation of the vowel before it (‘raw’, ‘row’, ‘few’)!

This governing of the pronunciation of the vowel before it also happens with ‘gh’ in ‘dough’ or ‘rough’ – but note that in each of those cases the pronunciations of the ‘gh’ are completely different! In order to indicate the sound of the Irish ‘ch’ in loan words, English uses “gh” yet again, as in ‘lough’ and ‘bragh’ (in “Erin (sic) go bragh”) and “Drogheda”. Confusing, isn’t it?

Although pleading the feature of the pronunciation of consonants as a difficulty in learning the Irish language does have some validity it is overdone – particularly when the complainant is an English-speaker. It seems to me that the difficulty is magnified by those who do not wish to go to the trouble of learning the language but want to have a good excuse for not doing so.

A chríoch

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Reflections on the Irish Language I a) – for adult learners

REFLECTIONS ON THE IRISH LANGUAGE

I

Diarmuid Breatnach

A) FOR ADULT LEARNERS

Among the many spurious difficulties about learning Irish quoted by people there are some genuine ones.

TO BE OR …. SOMETHING ELSE

Much of what happens in English requires the use of the verb “to be”, which is a highly irregular verb so that the past tense singular was and plural were do not resemble each other much and resemble the infinitive to be or present tense for different persons (am, is, are) not at all. However the child learning to speak English as a mother or environmental tongue, i.e the language spoken around her outside the home, will in time get over the difficulty.

But when the adult English-speaker comes to learn Gaeilge (Irish), she will encounter in that language no equivalent usage to that of the verb “to be” in English. Instead, she will find the verbs “Tá” and “Is”. Furthermore, the verb “tá” will have other uses too.

Stock adult education class photo (Source: Internet)

For example, “I am a man” will be “Is fear mé” but “I am tired” will be “Tá mé tuirseach”. And “Tá”, with a set of prepositional pronouns, is used also to correspond to the verb “Have” in English: for example “Tá rothar agam” = “I have a bike”. And furthermore, when feelings are conveyed, “Tá” is used too but with another set of prepositional pronouns: “Tá fearg orm” = “I am angry” (lit. “I have anger on me”). Physical feelings too, eg: “I am thirsty” will be “Tá tart orm” (literally, “I have a thirst on me”, a phrase that appears in English spoken in Ireland even by people who have not spoken Irish in generations).

Now, before the complainer about Gaeilge can throw up his or hands in exasperation and exclaim “You see?”, let us examine another European language.

Castilian (Spanish) has exactly the same division between the verbs estar and ser: Estoy cansado (“I am tired”) but soy un hombre (“I am a man”). And furthermore, the use of another verb, tener (“to have”), to correspond to the use of the verb “to be” in English. As an example of the latter, tengo sed (literally “I have thirst”) = “I am thirsty”.  Further, the verb “to make” in Castilian, hacer, will be used to describe the weather, as in “Hace frio” (lit. “It makes cold”) = “It is cold”.

Castilian is I believe the mostly widely-spoken European language after English but also the language with the most speakers in the world after Mandarin Chinese. Well over 400 million people speak Castilian as their first language and it has official status in 21 states spanning three continents.1

Not many people are going around whining about Castilian/ Spanish being difficult to learn (or if there are, they’re being ignored) so clearly, this problem of the different verbs in use in one language to an equivalent use of only one verb in English is not such a big problem at all.

So, if some people don’t want to learn Gaeilge, they need to find a different excuse; otherwise, as they say in coarse English (but not i nGaeilge or in Castellano) – suck it up!

SINGING SONG CENTRAL

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

          The text on my mobile gave me a little jolt. Treating a gentle query from a friend as a summons, I headed off to the Song Central session in Chaplin’s bar, just across from the Pearse Street Garda station (outside which on some on some occasions I’ve protested until they released some person or persons they had arrested on a demonstration on which I have been – and on one memorable occasion, even on a walking history tour I was conducting as part of an anti-G8 Dublin program).

 

So, get ready, jump on the bike — it’ll be maybe a quarter of an hour? Intention to stay in for the night blown away, I head for the shower and shave, then reheat and consume most of the Dublin coddle.

Wheeling the bike out into the hall, I hear a squelching kind of sound. Oh no! But yes – flat tire (and of course, the rear one, with the gears on the wheel)! Fair enough, it’s bus or walk.
So where’s the snow from this “Code Orange” weather warning? And how could you trust anything from the colour orange anyway? Walking across from Liberty Hall to Butt Bridge, I do actually see some snow, slabs of it apparently having fallen off the roof of a car from some snowy region out of town. Young people pounce on it delightedly and, normally, I’d be in there myself, snowball fighting given half a chance. But the session ….

It’s a long time since I’ve attended the monthly Song Central, as I was reminded by people I had not seen in quite a while. This session was started by Alan Stout around seven years ago, in a kind of split from the Bray monthly session a number of years ago (but a friendly split and the Bray parent is still going strong). As in the Bray session, you may play an instrument but only as accompaniment to a song. And it’s still popular – sometimes it’s a job to get a seat.

It’s a kind of Republic of Song with a wide allegiance: religious-type Christmas songs partnered Christmas social comment in which Jesus is a revolutionary; comic songs balance the serious, Irish trad and folk meet pop and Blues, new and self-composed songs intersperse those made familiar by well-known singers and bands. Most singing is unaccompanied and in English but a couple were sung i nGaeilge.

Remembering Christmas I abandoned my plan to sing The Glencoe Massacre (“Cruel is the snow that blows round Glencoe” — a nod to the much-heralded no-show snow) and opted instead for Arthur McBride, which is actually set in Christmas Day. Later I sang They’re Stealing Our Water, which I had debuted in that session maybe two years earlier and for which one of the participants had given me a better line than I had originally composed. The song goes to the air of The Sea Around Us by Dominic Behan and the chorus is the same, except for the last lines:
“But we’ve still got our Gombeens and a bank guarantee
and they’re trying to steal our own water!”

It’s always a risk to slip a different line into a well-known chorus because the crowd are likely to sing the one they know and not the one you’ve composed. Which did happen a bit but eventually they got it.

I heard some really good singing and some fair singing, as well as a couple of songs I’d not heard before. The session was due to finish earlier than usual in consideration of adverse weather warning (those Orangeys again!) but there were still some people there as I left. It is always a joy to attend so why don’t I do it more often? The answer is that I don’t know but in a month’s time, although I don’t plan to, it may be that once again I will give it a miss.

So on my way to the bus stop of course I pass Bowes’ pub in Fleet Street (Sráid na Toinne!) and I drop in there for a half or a pint and to listen to some trad from the Sunday night session. But what’s this? No musicians! Apparently they play 7-10pm now (but later on bank holidays) and are off playing for some more hours of the night at “the Apollo Sessions”, the barman tells me. But where would that be? Hardly in Apollo House, no longer occupied to highlight homelessness and guarded by a security firm.

Elucidation unforthcoming, it’s onward to the bus stop in Westmoreland Street where I am fortunate to get a bus almost straight away. On the top deck, a chat in Castillian (Spanish) with a Filipino woman, her Spanish partner and a lively and chatty child. And so, home … to reheat and finish the remains of that coddle.

End.

 

END DIRECT PROVISION!

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

A lively demonstration was held in Dublin on Saturday 18th November against the Irish Government’s policy towards asylum seekers. A coalition including United Against Racism organised the demonstration, seeking the right to work for asylum seekers and the end of Direct Provision.

Children’s placard photographed at end rally in Dame Street.
END DIRECT PROVISION!

Direct Provision was introduced as a “temporary measure” in 200 but is still being used approaching two decades later. In the Irish state asylum seekers, i.e those who seek to live here to escape persecution or danger to their lives in their homelands, are obliged to live in centres while waiting years for their applications to be processed. In the meantime they are not permitted to seek employment, receive €21.60 a week and may not even prepare food to cook food in the centres where they have to live.

A view of the rally outside the Garden of Remembrance before marching
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Children of asylum seekers are obliged to live in these conditions and, when they reach 18 years of age, are denied access to third-level education.

Another section of the rally before commencement of the march.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The protest march started at Dublin’s Garden of Rembrance and proceeded down O’Connell Street, heading along Dame Street towards the plaza by the side of City Hall and in front of Dublin Castle, where speakers addressed the crowd. Along the way some drums were beaten and they shouted slogans including “One Race – the Human Race!” “We want the right to work!” “End deportations!”

Another slogan was the call of “Amandla” (“Power”, in Zulu and Xhosa), responded to by “Owetu!” (“to us”); this call-and-response was well-known in the struggle against the apartheid regime in South Africa.

The crowd comes on to the street to march.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

In the last ten years, according to a media report in July of this year, 44 people have died in direct provision, at least two of them confirmed as suicides. However, the causes of death of fifteen of those were listed as “unknown”, according to The Catholic newspaper, which obtained the figures under a Freedom of Information application to the Reception and Integration Agency, which runs the centres. At the time, the Department of Justice, under which the RIA operates, pointed out that most of the deaths occurred outside the centres but avoided clarifying that in effect this means that they die in hospital.

Veteran anti-war campaigner Margaretta D’Arcy was on the march, seen here in Dame Street.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Also in July, a report into what children in Direct Provision Centres think of their accommodation was published. The Child Law Clinic at University College Cork carried out the research, speaking to children in the direct provision system aged between 8-17 years of age. Many complained of the food and some also complained that they did not use the communal relaxation areas as young male refugee and asylum seekers congregated there – apparently there are no children-safe areas available.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan (who had but recently taken over from Frances Fitzgerald) welcomed the report but Tanya Ward of the Children’s Rights Alliance said that it is of “deep concern” that some children feel unsafe in direct provision centres.

Some Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaigners seen at the concluding rally. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

 

At the end of the march, Dame Street, by the side of City Hall and in front of Dublin Castle. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

Links:

http://www.thejournal.ie/direct-provision-cause-of-death-3517442-Jul2017/

http://www.thejournal.ie/direct-provision-children-3503111-Jul2017/

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.

PUBLIC HOUSING FOR ALL — CAMPAIGN LAUNCHED IN DUBLIN

Diarmuid Breatnach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE STATE FUNDING SPECULATORS TO BUY MORE PROPERTY

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

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

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

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

PUBLIC — NOT SOCIAL — HOUSING

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

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

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

STOP THE SALE OF PUBLIC LAND!

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTIONS

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

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

End

LINKS:

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

campaign4publichousing@gmail.com

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

Derry’s New Secret Police Force

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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