RIGHT TO OVERTHROW THE SYSTEM

Diarmuid Breatnach

The whisper is that a new movement is to be created, called Right to Change and that it will publish an on-line mass left-wing newspaper, which will be the first mass left-wing paper in this country since 1913 and even then, that newspaper’s distribution was mostly confined to Dublin.

In fact, a movement based on the right to change already exists, taking in not only the right to water but to housing, to social provisions, to health, to education, to natural resources – the many things that have been removed or cut or are under threat in order to pay the bankers and speculators. One supposes that this new organisation is intended to build on that movement, coordinate it etc. And no doubt put up a slate of candidates at local government and at general elections.

It is Right to Water that has given rise to this idea and no doubt a number who were prominent in it will be likewise in the new organisation.

Right to Water was not a movement, rather a kind of coordinating organisation for national demonstrations, chiefly in Dublin, against the water charges and the expected privatisation of water. In that work it has been highly successful.

The demonstrations built on the actions and mobilisation of hundreds of community groups across the country, protesting locally, encouraging people not to register or pay the charges, blocking Sierra and others from installing water meters and so on.

Many people will think that building Right to Change is the logical next move and will be enthused by it. And why not? Sure wouldn’t it be great to have a large number of TDs standing up to the System, denouncing its plans and their actions? The kind of thing done today by a few Independent TDs and others representing parties with small representation in the Dáil. Well, it would be useful but would it really make a difference?

Recently a Dáil committee set up to review the water charges and so on published its recommendations. Only 13 of the committee’s 20 members agreed with all of the recommendations but all of the recommendations stand nevertheless. Of course some of the objectors were right-wingers but many were of the Left – the System will always have a majority in the sub-systems it sets up. And if a time should come when it cannot achieve that …. well, that’s when you’ll hear the tanks clanking down the street.

Ok, granted perhaps, but it can’t hurt, can it? To have more Left TDs harassing the Government? No, of course not. Not unless we expect too much of this new organisation. Not unless we come to depend on it. And scale down our own independent activities. Hand over power to them.

That wouldn’t happen, would it? Unfortunately it has been a historical trend for popular movements to do exactly that. And social democracy always betrays the mass upon which it has erected itself. The Liberals in the further past and our ‘own’ Fianna Fáil in more recent history often promised the workers many things to win their votes. And even helped the workers push some things through from time to time. But they never promised to abolish the System, never promised socialism.

Social democracy does promise to deliver a fair and just society. It is a promise that it has been making for well over a century but on which it never delivers. It’s not just about jobbery and corruption, of which there is plenty in the corridors of power and to which many social democrats gravitate; it’s more that the Councillors and TDs elected never had any intention of abolishing the System. And in fact, will come out to defend the System whenever it is in danger. When it comes down to it, the System is THEIR system.

From time to time one hears social democrats bewailing “the unacceptable face of capitalism”, as though there exists an “acceptable” face of that system. They may talk at times about the “evils” of capitalism but will bear in mind the “good things” of capitalism too, the benefits they draw or hope to draw from the System. So criticism must be “balanced”, one mustn’t “throw the baby out with bathwater” and so on.

“The law must be obeyed”, they agree, as though “the law” is something divorced from class and politics, some immutable thing that just somehow exists. And yet just about every major social and political advance — including the right to organise a trade union at work, the right to strike and the right to universal suffrage — was won by people breaking “the law”. “The law” and its enforcers are part of the System.

If (heaven forbid) the action of the System’s police should be criticised, then we will hear phrases like “the police have a hard job to do”, the action of the ‘bad’ police is “bringing the force into disrepute”, “there are a few bad apples”, “better training is needed”, a “change in management is necessary”, etc etc. Anything but admit that the police force in a capitalist country exists in order to serve that System.

SOCIAL DEMOCRACY BETRAYS

At the beginning of May 1926, with a coal miners’ strike as a catalyst, Britain was heading towards a real possibility of revolution. The social democratic Trades Union Congress called a General Strike. In many areas of the country and in cities, no transport moved unless it had authorisation from the local Trades Council (a committee of local trade union representatives) or it had armed police and soldier escort. In less than two weeks, the TUC, at the behest of the British Labour Party, called off the strike, leaving the miners to fight on alone to their defeat in less than eight months. “By the end of November, most miners were back at work. However, many remained unemployed for many years. Those still employed were forced to accept longer hours, lower wages and district wage agreements” (Wikipedia).

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

There had been more workers coming out at that time but also some of the union leaders were beginning to crack, as the struggle was shaping up to be a real showdown between the System and the workers. The TUC didn’t even set up a system to guarantee no retaliations by bosses against activist workers in non-mining unions and many lost their jobs.

The Chilean Salvador Allende is often seen as a hero, a radical social democrat who stood up against internal military fascism and external CIA-led destabilisation. Workers and peasants and some sections of the middle class got Allende elected President in 1970 but right wingers and officers in the military, working with the CIA, were conspiring against him. Everybody knew this and sections of the workers asked for Allende to arm them against the coup they knew was coming. Allende tried instead to compromise and find senior officers he could work with to use against the plotters. When the military carried out the coup, there was some armed resistance but most workers were unarmed. The coup left “3,000 dead or missing, tortured ten thousands of prisoners and drove an estimated 200,000 Chileans into exile” (Wikipedia). In addition, the children of many murdered left-wingers and union activists were given to childless right-wingers and military and police couples to raise as their own.

Social democracy always betrays or ends up hung by its own illusions. Unfortunately the workers end up hanging with it also.

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

In 2010, in response to Government budget cuts of between 5% and 10% on public servants, along with a levy on pensions, along with a breakdown in the “partnership” system of business and state employers negotiating with trade unions, the social-democratic Irish Trades Union Congress called a major demonstration in Dublin.  Perhaps 70,000 marched down O’Connell Street and the ITUC was threatening a general strike.  Despite escalating strike action in a number of sectors and the growing unpopularity of the Government, the ITUC abandoned the idea of a strike and instead went in to do a deal with the Government, in which they actually agreed to pay cuts and the pension levy, in exchange for some guarantees around public sector jobs. The social democratic trade union leaders didn’t have the stomach (or backbone) to take on the Government, to test the level of support for resistance.

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

Why all this talk about social democracy? Well, because Right to Water is essentially a social democratic alliance. It contains Sinn Féin, the biggest minority party in the Dáil, with 23 elected representatives, third in number of TDs. Right to Water is also supported by Unite, “Britain’s biggest union with 1.42 million members across every type of workplace” according to their website it is pretty big in Ireland too, which is a “region” for the union, with 100,000 members across the land. These are forces that, while opposing the water charge, did not support civil disobedience on water meter installation nor refusing to pay the charge (although a number of their members fought along with the rest). Refusing to register and pay were the most effective ways of resisting the water charges and it is the high level of civil disobedience behind the giant demonstrations that has made the ruling class think again and promoted divisions between FG and Labour on the one hand and Fianna Fáil on the other.

But these elements did not support that policy. They want to be not only law-abiding but be seen to be law-abiding. Seen by who? Well, by the ruling class of course. SF in particular is champing at the bit to get into a coalition government but needs to show the ruling class that it is a safe pair of hands, i.e that the System will remain intact if managed by them. As indeed they have done in joint managing the regime in the Six Counties.

Of course there are many occasions when social democrats and revolutionaries can cooperate – but never by ceding leadership to the social democrats nor by depending on them, always instead by relying on their own forces and striving to educate the masses that the system cannot be reformed but needs to be overthrown …. and that the ordinary people are perfectly capable of achieving that.

AN ON-LINE MASS LEFT-WING NEWSPAPER

What about the left-wing newspaper though? Now that might be something, true enough. A source of rebuttal to the lies we are constantly getting from the media and a source of information and news which media censorship ensures most of us don’t get to read, see or hear.

If it seeks to be a truly mass paper it will need to cover not only foreign and domestic news but also sport, with sections on history, culture, nature, gardening ….. Rudolfo Walsh, who founded and with others ran the important ANCLA news agency during the dictatorship and the earlier extremely popular CGTA weekly in Argentina, until he was assassinated by the police, has been credited with two important sources of the weekly’s success: his informants within the police and army and an excellent horse racing tipster!

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

It is a big undertaking and a very interesting one.

But will the new paper practice censorship? Will it confine its discourse to the social democratic or instead allow revolutionary voices in it? Will it allow criticism of trade union leaderships, including Unite’s? Will it cover the repression of Republicans on both sides of the Border but particularly in the Six Counties? One would certainly hope so. Well, the proof of the pudding is in the eating – and of the newspaper, in the reading.

CABRA AND PHIBSBOROUGH 1916 RISING STORY — history book launch, talks, songs

Diarmuid Breatnach

Around a hundred people attended the Cabra 1916 Rising Committee’s exhibition and launch on Saturday (7/11/2015) of their publication Our Rising – Cabra and Phibsborough in Easter 1916.

The event took place in the Cabra area itself, in the parish hall of Christ the King church. To accompany the launch, the Irish Volunteers group put on a very interesting display of artifacts from the period, including uniforms and weapons, and provided some personnel also dressed in Irish Volunteer uniforms and IRA typical clothing of the War of Independence period. Along the walls there were many period photos and a wonderful display of schoolchildren’s art on the subject of the 1916 Rising.

A shot of the attendance at the start of the formal part of the launch (Photo D.Breatnach)

A shot of the attendance at the start of the formal part of the launch
(Photo D.Breatnach)

DB singing Cabra Phibsborough Our Rising book launch Nov2015

Diarmuid Breatnach introducing songs about to sing: “Sergeant William Bailey” by Peadar Kearney (with two additional verses by Breatnach) and “Where Is Our James Connolly?” by Patrick Galvin. (Photo A.Perry)

After some time allowed for people to gather, the MC Éamonn O’Hara called people to order and after they had sat down, gave a brief background to the work of the Cabra 1916 Rising Committee, then outlined the formal part of the book launch to follow. First he introduced singer Diarmuid Breatnach.

Breatnach took the floor and explained that the songs he was going to sing were from or related to the period. “During these years of commemorations,” he said, “we are told that we should remember the First World War. Some people disagree with that but I think it is right; we should remember the War but — not in the way most of those people mean. We should instead remember that hundreds of thousands were sent to murder their class brothers in other lands, sent to their deaths and millions more to injury and tragedy, for the profits of a few.”

Some of the uniforms and flags displayed by Irish Volunteers.org

Some of the uniforms and flags displayed by Irish Volunteers.org.   (Photo D. Breatnach)

Also, when we are told that we should commemorate the First World War, they don’t mean that we should remember those brave few who dared speak out publicly against the war, who held anti-recruitment rallies or who picketed army recruitment meetings and shouted slogans there. And who paid the price of imprisonment and sometimes even death for doing so.” And yet, Breatnach went on to elaborate, those things too are part of the history of war and to his mind the most important part, since among all the wars of the past and the present, it is that trend that holds out a hope for the future.

Breatnach related that Peadar Kearney was born not far from Phibsborough – in Dorset Street, around the corner from Inisfallen Parade, where Sean O’Casey was reared. When Kearney taught night classes in Irish, O’Casey was one of his pupils.

Among the songs that Kearney wrote was a three-verse song mocking a British Army recruiting sergeant, who apparently had a pitch at Dunphy’s Corner. According to a local historian, that was outside what is now Doyle’s pub, at the Phibsboro crossroads. Breatnach said that he had added two verses of his own composition to that song.

Of course, the 1916 Rising is a part of the history of the First World War too,” Breatnach continued, “and not only because it took place during that War. For the IRB, undoubtedly, it was a case of ‘England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity’. But for some others, including Connolly, as he made clear a number of times in writing, the Rising was necessary to interrupt the War, to stop the bloodshed of class brother killing class brother across Europe.”

Some of the wonderful children's artistic impressions of the Rising on display at the launch

Some of the wonderful children’s artistic impressions of the Rising on display at the launch.   (Photo D. Breatnach)

Breatnach pointed out that the Rising in Ireland was one of the most significant internationally against that imperialist war and that it was not until February the following year in Russia that there would be another of such historical importance, to be followed later by the October socialist revolution.

Of the two better-knowns songs about James Connolly, Breatnach said one makes no mention of socialism, the Citizen Army or trade unions and that in his opinion “Where Is Our James Connolly?” is truer to Connolly’s ideology. It was written by Patrick Galvin who was, among other things a writer, playwright, screen writer and singer. Galvin died only four years ago.

Breatnach then went on to perform “Sergeant William Bailey”, followed by “Where Is Our James Connolly?” to audience applause.

The panel at the launch (seated L-R): Hugo McGuinness, Donal Fallon, Brian . Eamonn O'Hara (standing) was MC.

The panel of historians at the launch (seated L-R): Hugo McGuinness, Donal Fallon, Brian Hanley. Eamonn O’Hara (standing) was MC.   (Photo D. Breatnach)


O’Hara then introduced one of the authors of
“Our Rising”, historian Brian Hanley. “Phibsborough was an area with strong revolutionary connections,” pointed out Hanley and went on to list some of the many participants and even leaders of the 1916 Rising and later who lived in the area, including Michael O’Hanrahan, who was one of the executed sixteen.

Hanley said that although it was right of course that those who were executed for their part in the Rising should have a special place in our memories and be written about by historians, it was unfortunate that many other important participants were neglected. Nearly 100 were sentenced to death but most had their sentences commuted. Had they been executed instead, Hanley pointed out, we would have had many biographies of them, their upbringing and domestic arrangements examined, their words pored over ….. instead, we know next to nothing about them except that they participated and what their role was.

Memorabilia of the British Army were there too -- and a reminder that initially It was mostly Irish units fighting to suppress the Rising.

Memorabilia of the British Army were there too — and a reminder that initially It was mostly Irish units fighting to suppress the Rising.   (Photo D. Breatnach)


The British Army unit responsible for the suppression of insurgent activities and securing of the area was the Royal Dublin Fusiliers; this was in line with the reality of the British Army, Hanley went on to say, an organisation the main purpose of which was to suppress resistance to the British Empire in places like India, Afghanistan and Ireland. The Fusiliers killed three people in the Phibsborough area, two civilians and a Fianna scout.

Pointing out that most of those men and women who went out to fight in 1916 were not poets or dreamers, Hanley refuted the myth of blood sacrifice. Most of those people were ordinary enough, with all the hopes, excitement and fears of ordinary people, Hanley opined: “They went out with high hopes that they were going to win.”

Thanking various bodies that had supported the project, Hanley went on to point out that the book should not be considered all that had to be said on the subject and, while thanking those local people who had contributed stories and information, encouraged any others who had further information or stories, including corrections of what they had written, to get in touch with the society.

Some more of the wonderful children's artistic impressions of the Rising on display at the launch. (Photo D. Breatnach(

Some more of the wonderful children’s artistic impressions of the Rising on display at the launch. (Photo D. Breatnach)

Hanley’s presentation was followed by that of another historian, Dónal Fallon, co-author of Our Rising. “The commemoration of the 1916 Rising is much too important to leave to the Irish Government”, said Fallon, who admitted to being a newcomer to the area, in the community of which he was glad to live. Local history and community groups had a vital part to play in commemorating the important events of this centenary decade, he said, pointing out that we had already had the centenary of the Lockout, next year would be the centenary of the Rising, to be followed by centenaries of the War of Independence and the Civil War, which might be uncomfortable for some people but should not be shirked for all that.

Last of the panel to speak was historian Hugo McGuinness who said he was delighted to have contributed the Cathleen Seery-Redmond piece to the book. He laid stress on the importance of local history and people’s stories as the human element of history. McGuinness recalled that when Connolly and some others were planning a commemorative event, a female member of the committee proposed that it would be wonderful to see Connolly in uniform; Hugo commented that he found little stories like that added human charm to the big narrative of historic events. McGuinness strongly recommended people buy a copy.

"Uniform" more typical of IRA man in the War of Independence 1919-1921 or Civil War. But even in 1916, some Volunteers could not afford a uniform. Co-author Donal Fallon centre background. (Photo D. Breatnach(

“Uniform” more typical of IRA man in the War of Independence 1919-1921 or Civil War. But even in 1916, some Volunteers could not afford a uniform. Co-author Donal Fallon centre background.
(Photo D. Breatnach)

All the speakers were accorded warm applause. O’Hara thanked the speakers and asked whether there were any questions or comments. There were a few only and, announcing a historical walk to take place on the 29th, for which flyers had been placed on seats, the MC thanked the Irish Volunteers.org group for their display, thanked the audience for their attendance and concluded the formal part of the event. People remained to buy copies of the book and have them signed by the authors, or conversed or wandered among the exhibition for about an hour afterwards.

 (Photo D. Breatnach(

(Photo D. Breatnach)

end

 

GOVERNMENT SHOCKED AND CAMPAIGNERS SURPRISED AS IN EXCESS OF 100,000 DEMONSTRATE IN DUBLIN AGAINST THE WATER CHARGE


Rebel Breeze

NB: This article was written about the 11th October 2014 demonstration but arrived too late to use. Normally that would mean it just getting binned or at best getting mined for useful bits to put in a future article. However, the decision is to use this now in the run-up to the forthcoming demonstration at the end of this month against the water tax.

The size of the turnout for the anti-water charges demonstration in Dublin on Saturday 11th of October must have been something of a shock for the Irish ruling class and for their current government, the Fine Gael-Labour coalition. The implementation of water charges forms an important part of their programme to make the ordinary people pay for the crisis caused by financial and property speculators. Other parts of this programme that people have been experiencing to date over the last few years (and including the Fianna Fáil government preceding this one) have been bailing out the banks and their bondholders, financed first through the Household Charge and, after that was defeated by massive resistance, the Household Charge taxed through the Revenue Department; then the pension levy on public service workers; followed by the extensive cuts in social spending at the same time as implementing the “Social Charge”.

Marchers heading southward after leaving the Garden of Remembrance/ Parnell Square area (RTÉ tried to play down the figures to 30,000

Marchers heading southward after leaving the Garden of Remembrance/ Parnell Square area (RTÉ tried to play down the figures to 30,000

The ruling class and their government are of course well aware that the water charge is unpopular among the vast majority of the population – supporters of the tax have failed to convince the people that it is anything but another way of “paying the bankers”. But the unpopularity of a measure is no guarantee whatsoever of wide-scale mobilisation against it and the Government was probably expecting the resistance to meter installation to remain local, marginal and uncoordinated. Clearly this was one case where “Ní mar a shíltear a bhítear”.

But the size of the demonstration surprised not only the ruling class and their government but also anti-water charge campaigners themselves. “I thought we’d be doing well to get 15,000” said one long-time community activist and “If we got 50,000, we thought it would be brilliant” according to an activist from one of the political groups active on this issue. A realistic estimate of the attendance at the demonstration on Saturday puts it at between 100,000 (as quoted by an unnamed Garda source to an Irish Times reporter) and 150,000. The march from the Garden of Remembrance heading across the river before turning again towards the GPO took over one-and-a-half hours to pass a fixed spot in O’Connell Street while another large number reportedly marched from another direction also toward the GPO.

So how was it that so many mobilised?

Any attempt to answer the first question must be speculative but there are a number of indications other than the widescale unpopularity of the water charge and any measure seen as “bailing out the bankers”. One of these is the highly-publicised police repression of local protests against meter installations in a number of Dublin areas, where the population is overwhelmingly working-class and lower-middle class. These protests and the police repression, completely ignored by the national mass media, however received widescale publicity through social media, with videos posted on Youtube, Facebook and Twitter. And the people sharing and sometimes posting these reports and images were for the most part not political or even community or trade union activists. Another source tapped was that of past mobilisations against the Household and Property Taxes. Much of the mobilisation took place in small to medium-sized communities where for the most part, unusually but according to my sources, the activists promoted the resistance and the demonstration rather than their own political party or organisation.

“Apart from a few political activists, only the middle-class mobilise through Facebook”, said long-time political activist to us about a year ago. “Who cares how many ‘Likes” on Facebook an event or campaign gets – it doesn’t mean anything!” said another. Rebel Breeze would have agreed with them too, knowing that the way to mobilise working class people was mostly through personal contact, door-to-door and workplace leafleting. But it seems that is no longer true and that working people, who previously used Facebook only socially, have now begun to use it politically too.

An aerial view down towards the rally after the march at GPO/ O'Connell St

An aerial view down towards the rally after the march at GPO/ O’Connell St

Why did it surprise even the campaigners?

So much for how such a large number came to protest. But how is it that the campaigners themselves were taken by surprise? Of course there may have been unexpected mobilisations in some areas where campaigners had not been active but the main reason for their surprise is almost certainly their lack of coordination. Their are a number of Left organisation and “dissident” Republican organisations campaigning against the water charges, along with a large number of independent activists of a mainly political or community background. In some areas Sinn Féin activist have been out too, although the party does not advocate non-payment or prevention of meter installation.

In a united campaign where all the activists worked towards a united mass resistance, sharing information, the numbers would not have caught them so much by surprise. Of course, their expectations might have been exceeded but each group would have been aware of the actions in other groups’ areas along with the massive rise in Facebook hits, “Likes” and “Shares” to postings of resistance and police repression. Such a united campaign against the water charge does not yet exist. A previous attempt to float such a united campaign on the Household and Water Charges foundered on a number of rocks – political party opportunism, social democratic illusions and the failure of the traditional Left to engage with the independent activist constituency and the “dissident” Republican movement probably being the main ones.

There are a number of attempts to portray the active resistance to the Water Charge as spontaneous but it is likely that where there have been no campaigners active locally, the people have responded to what they have seen elsewhere, both through anger and encouragement. On the other hand, any attempt by any group or individual to take the credit for the growing resistance or for the mass attendance at the demonstration would have to be laughable.

The “passive Irish” jibe refuted once again

Rebel Breeze has long been tired of the wailing often heard to the effect that “the Irish are not like the Greeks”, or that the Irish are passive, accept all kinds of shit without resistance, etc. etc. With the history of class and national struggle of the people of this island it is extraordinary that such an notion ever gained wide acceptance among commentators – but it did. The Irish working class has generally responded militantly and enthusiastically when they have been called to battle by what they consider a credible leadership. In Ireland, that leadership was the trade union movement and no other. In 1913 a fighting trade union was forged in Ireland and, when the employers tried to break it, the workers of Dublin (mostly) fought that attempt for up to eight months, in a city of wide-spread poverty and with most charity services discriminating against strikers and their families. In that struggle, the workers faced also the hostility of the media and state (not much has changed there) and of the main churches. Although defeated in that struggle, the union did not break and came back years later stronger than ever.

Deprived of revolutionary and militant leadership, the movement nevertheless maintained a fighting front for workers through decades of high unemployment and emigration. But in the mid-1980s the trade union leadership opted for what they called “social partnership”, an arrangement in which employers, trade union leadership and the State (which is also a huge employer) sat down and agreed the salary levels for the next period. This had a disastrous impact on the trade union movement. “Use it or lose it” is a general physiological rule about muscle : the trade union leadership became unused to strike action and, when strikes did occur, to instructing members of unions not directly involved to pass the pickets. Recruitment fell dramatically and, when in 2010 the employers and State no longer saw any point in negotiating with the trade union leadership, as they believed the leadership to be no longer capable of resistance, the latter lacked the spirit and confidence to take them on. After a demonstration called by ICTU with a threat of a general strike days away, which received a massive response from trade union members, the leadership instead opted for more negotiations, in which they agree to the pension levy on public servant workers and industrial peace in the private sector: Croke Park I (June 2010). So the workers no longer have a leadership they consider credible and the revolutionary and radical socialist organisations are too small to be thought credible and also have not generally built bases within the trade union movement from which to offer a leadership for struggle.

Nevertheless, the working people of Ireland turned out in huge numbers once again on Saturday to protest an unjust tax which is being used for an unjustifiable purpose. The class is still there, it never lost its fighting spirit – what it needs is a viable leadership. It remains to be seen whether this will be built and whether it can lead a broad militant movement against this tax and other attacks on the working class, without repeating the errors of the recent ‘broad movements’.

End.

BLACKMAILING AND BULLYING A CHILD FOR PEACE

Diarmuid Breatnach

A Derry schoolboy has been subjected to emotional blackmail and pressure by his school to sign a “peace scroll” and, arising out of an altercation over his refusal in which it was alleged he was being “sectarian”, was sentenced to two after-school detentions.  Why is he being treated in this way, what is this “peace scroll” about and who is promoting it?

According to Pauline Mellon, writing about it in her blog, a boy in her Derry community in September last year was pressured by a teacher in his school to sign a “Peace scroll” with which a Reverend David Latimer is trying to create a world record with the number of signatures. “The child was told by a teacher that he would be ‘the only child in the North not to have signed’ and was further questioned as to whether his refusal was sectarian in nature.” Not surprisingly, the child reacted to this suggestion and used a word for which the school seeks to discipline him.

The school has a policy (on “abusive language”) which makes no provision for contributing factors,” says Pauline Mellon. However, although the school Board is sticking to the letter of their policy in this regard, they seem not quite so rigorous in upholding their own procedures in other respects.

When the parents questioned the School Principal over his decision to impose two detentions and what circumstances if any he had taken into consideration, the Principal immediately cut off communication with them and escalated the issue to stage 4 of the school’s complaints procedure. Stage 4 of the school’s complaints procedure requires a written submission to the Chair of the school board from parents.”

Although the parents at this stage had made no such written submission, a sub-committee of the School Board declared that they had investigated the complaint (from whom?!) and upheld the Principal’s decision. The sub-committee had decided to use as “a written submission” some letters written by the parents to the Principal after he refused meet them, thereby violating the parents’ rights to prepare their own submission if they wished to go to Stage 4 of the Complaints Procedure and, indeed, violating the terms of the Procedure itself.

As if to underline their casual attitude to their own procedures, the School Board wrote to the parents to outline their “findings” without even using the school’s headed paper. When this was pointed out to them, the Board apologised for sending the decision on plain paper and said it would not happen again. However, there was a much more significant breach of their procedures, in that the sub-committee had kept no minutes of their meeting, about which the parents have learned only recently. Then when the parents did actually submit a level 4 submission, it was totally ignored.

As Pauline Mellon observed, the Chairman of the Board was in breach of his duties according to “Department of Education guidelines which state that the chairperson has responsibility for all meetings and must ensure that minutes of ALL meetings are retained.”

One can imagine the impact of a comparable chain of events on any individual, let alone a child studying for his GCEs. The parents took him to a counsellor, after which they wished to discuss the counsellors’ report with the boy’s form teacher. The Board prevented this meeting, confusing the counsellors’ report with the parents’ “ongoing issues with the Board”.

Nine months after the first incident in this chain of events, the Board invited the parents to meet with them. The parents brought along an observer and the Board refused to allow the meeting to go ahead with the observer present and when the parents protested, they were escorted off the premises, witnessed by an Independent local authority councillor. The Board in this case is the authority and has the power and the school is also their territory. There are a number of people on the Board. In summary, they held the advantages of power, territory and numbers – yet they refused to allow two parents to be accompanied by an observer to support them (and at a later date to bear witness to what went on, should that become necessary). One must wonder what they had to fear in allowing this one additional person …. and why.

The School Board has a Parent’s Representative on it – the parents of the child sought a meeting with this person, not once but a number of times, but the person concerned has so far failed to meet with them. This is indeed extraordinary – how can anybodfy discharge their duties as a Parents’ Representative to the Board if they refuse to meet with parents who are in dispute with the Board?

There is a body which governs Catholic schools, of which the school in question is one – the Catholic Council for Maintained Schools (CCMS). This is an organisation of the Catholic Church but receives public funding through the Northern Ireland Executive. The parents took the issue to that Council. The CCMS admitted that headed paper should have been used in writing to the parents and commented that the school’s Board had not fulfilled their role; they also noted the parents’ attempt to discuss their child’s counsellor’s report with his form teacher but would not comment on whether the refusal would be normal practice. All in all, the CCMS considered that the Board’s actions of using a letter to the Principal as a submission and refusing the parents the right to submit their own Level 4 submission were “reasonable” and “in accordance with School policy”.

Presumably in their deliberations, the CCMS had discovered that the Board’s sub-committee had failed to keep any minutes but left the parents to discover this through other means at a later date. At a later complaint to the CCMS, the Council refused to acknowledge the failure of the School Board’s Chairperson in ensuring minutes were kept, as laid out in the Department of Education’s guidelines. Finally, the CCMS denied that any breach of the child’s rights took place.

The Chairperson of the CCMS is Bishop John McAreavey, who according to Pauline Mellon, has not even had the decency to acknowledge or respond to two separate letters the parents of the child in question sent to him. This was in contrast to the Bishop of Derry, Rev. McKeown who replied to the parents after they wrote to him. “Bishop McKeown who has knowledge in these matters agreed with the parents that a common sense approach should have been taken and expressed concern that such a small matter had used up so much time and energy.”

Pauline Mellon takes a similar line in concluding her article: “… a matter that should have never made it outside of the school assembly hall from the outset has exposed the School Board in question as being ineffective, unprofessional, non-transparent and unaccountable. It has exposed CCMS, a group acting under the wing of the Catholic Church, as not having learned from previous incidents when the Church has closed ranks and has attempted to silence people.”

As to the Rev. Latimer himself, the promoter of the “Scroll” signatures, although he promised the parents to look into the matter, they have heard nothing from him since.

Who is the Rev. David Latimer?

According to the Department of Education of Northern Ireland, Rev. Latimer is “a visionary”, for which term they offer no explanation apart from his Guinness Book of Records bid for “most signatures on a scroll” and his promotion of it in the schools. http://www.welbni.org/index.cfm/go/news/date/0/key/922:1 Indeed, it is amazing that 84 schools have signed up to the project, as the article says on their website  – even more so if none of those saw any wording to endorse and to which to encourage their children to subscribe (see further below).

The Rev. David Latimer, photographed in church

The Rev. David Latimer, photographed in church

David Latimer was a systems analyst with the Northern Ireland Electricity Board and married before he decided to become a cleric. He did so in 1988 and is now Minister of two churches, the First Presbyterian in Derry’s Magazine Street and the Monreagh Presbyterian, established in 1644 across what is now the British Border in Donegal.

In 2011, David Latimer was invited to address Sinn Féin’s Ard-Fheis and did so. On that occasion he said, referring to Martin McGuinness, that they had “… been journeying together for the last five years and during that time we have become very firm friends, able to easily relax in each other’s company.”

Rev. Latimer went on to say that “The seeds of division and enmity that have long characterised Catholic and Protestant relations were neither sown in 1968 or 1921 but during the 1609 Settlement of Ulster. Mistrust and bad feelings resulting from the colonisation of Ireland by Protestant settlers were followed by centuries of political and social segregation. Partitioning Ireland did little to ease sectarian mistrust and separateness between Protestants and Catholics left in the 6 counties as each community continued to be defined by its particular religious affiliation with little mixture between the two groups.”

The impression given there is of some peaceful colony of Protestants arriving in Ireland around 1609 which led to “bad feelings” and “mistrust”. No mention of the seizure of land from the Irish and their expulsion to the hills or abroad. No mention of the suppression of the religious faith of the majority and the imposition of that of the minority, centuries of discrimination, theft of land, genocide. One can see that this might quite rationally give rise to “bad feelings” and “mistrust”. No mention of the actual promotion by the British of sectarianism and the creation of the Orange order, with the intention of breaking up the unity between “Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter” of the United Irishmen at the end of the 18th Century.

It was again reasons of “little mixture between the two groups” which Rev. Latimer went on to blame for the recent 30 Years War:
“Little wonder this part of Ireland descended into a spiral of communal disorder and violence that was to last for decades. Victims of differences, extending back across trackless centuries that have isolated us from one another it is, with the benefit of historical hindsight, not surprising that our two communities should view each other with suspicion and regard one another as ‘the enemy.’”

Dr David Latimer, First Derry Presbyterian Church, conducts a redediication ceremony on Derry's Walls. Photo: Stephen Laitmer

Dr David Latimer, First Derry Presbyterian Church, conducts a redediication ceremony on the City’s fortifications, “Derry’s Walls”. Photo: Stephen Latimer

Did the Catholics and Protestants go to war with one another in the late 1960s or at any time during the 30 Years War? No, what happened was that Catholics demanded civil and human rights of which they had been denied in that British colony-statelet since 1921; the state forces tried to suppress their peaceful campaign with batons, tear gas and bullets; right wing and sectarian forces among the Loyalists were mobilised and burned Catholics out of their homes and murdered some. The British Army were sent in to support the “Northern Ireland” sectarian police and the IRA came into limited action to counter them, after which hundreds of “nationalists” were interned without trial, followed by escalation of IRA action, the Paratroopers’ massacres in Derry and in Ballymurphy, and so on.

In fact, Latimer’s false account of history has been the standard British ruling class’ version to justify their war in Ireland for foreign consumption and to the British population throughout those years: the reasonable British with the thankless task of keeping the two tribes apart.

I found the content of the Latimer’s speech on SF’s website without an account of the audience’s reaction but according to the Irish Echo, an Australian on-line newspaper, it “received a rapturous reception from the republican audience”.

Reverend David Latimer and the British Army

Pauline Mellon says that according to the parents, “the child based his decision not to sign the scroll on Rev Latimer’s service in the British Army and with him being stationed in Afghanistan. The child also raised concerns over what he views as Reverend Latimer’s “selective” approach to local human rights issues.”

Surely the boy is mistaken? At least about him having served with the British Army? Well, actually no. In June 2008 Rev. Latimer gave an interview to the Derry Journal to explain why he felt justified in going with the British Army to Afghanistan although he had to “wrestle with his conscience”. Presumably he is an accomplished conscience-wrestler by now since he also admitted to having participated in other British Army missions for more than 20 years.

“It would be against my nature to be part of something that is creating destruction or generating pain or grief within any community”, he was quoted as saying. “The only way I can reassure myself in being part of this is that I am involved with a unit that is going out to provide resources to people who have no choice but to be there because they are under orders.”

Who are they “who have no choice …. because they are under orders”? Ah, yes, the soldiers, pilots and drone technicians who have invaded another country, killing those who resist and generally intimidating the population. Leaving aside the spurious question of “choice”, does one help justice by administering spiritual comfort to an invading army? To whom does one have a greater moral duty? The answer is clear I think and if one lacks the courage to stand up for the population the least one could do is not to offer comfort to their invaders.

Put perhaps Rev. Latimer intends to be some kind of Camillo Torres, preaching for the poor and castigating the wrongdoer? No, of course not. Well then, perhaps subtly undermining Army propaganda? He invites us to think so: “In the quieter times, I will be around for people who will have questions about what they are doing there and about God. I might not have all the answers but I am there to give a view different to the Army view.”

In what way his view might be different to that of the Army he once again fails to explain, or to inform us whether his views were also different on the other more than twenty occasions in which he served with the British Army previously. Surely if he were intending to undermine Army propaganda, he’d hardly be telling us and the Army in a newspaper interview!

http://www.derryjournal.com/news/rev-david-latimer-explains-why-he-feels-duty-bound-to-head-to-afghanistan-1-2126853

He tells us the hospital he’ll be working in over there will be treating Afghanis as well as British servicemen. Hopefully, they will be treating Afghani victims of torture in British and US Army prisons as well as children given a beating in the barracks. He won’t be trying to convert the Muslims to Christianity, he tells us. And I think we can believe that, since abusing people’s religion, their culture, customs, raiding their houses and generally intimidating them is hardly likely to incline them towards one’s religion.Rev Latimer British Army Uniform

Going on to discuss the possible dangers he would face, Rev. Latimer informs the readers of the Derry Journal that “We know the (military) base is likely to be attacked and we will undergo training in how to deal with chemical, biological and nuclear attacks.” He need not worry, the Afghans don’t have any of those weapons. However, he should exercise caution should he ever have cause to pass through the special arms stores of the British or US military, who do indeed have precisely those weapons and, furthermore, have used most of them in warfare at some point.

I will receive some weapons training, although this will be limited on how to disable a gun and make it safe.” Useful, just in case any member of the Afghani resistance accidentally drops a gun …. perhaps when calling on the Reverend to make enquiries about the philosophy of the Christian religion.

Peace” and “Peace” Treaties and Agreements

The vast majority of people would say that Peace is a good thing; despite that, “peace” remains a problematic concept and not one upon everyone can agree. And “peace” is also frequently being promoted in some part of the world by some of the most warlike states with the most horrifying armaments. For those in power, the invoking of the word “Peace” can be a powerful way of invalidating resistance, silencing dissent and of justifying the status quo which has been achieved through vanquishing the enemy in battle or by the recruitment of collaborators in the enemy’s leadership.

During WWI, the British and the French concluded the secret Asia Minor Agreement (also known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement), with the endorsement of Imperial Russia; the Agreement divided the Arab world between the French and the British should they succeed in beating the Ottoman Empire. To the shock and embarrassment of the imperialists, the Bolsheviks published the terms when they took power in 1917. Although this Agreement was intended to bring “peace” between the competing British, French and Russians, it has been in part the source of many wars with others, as well as coups and uprisings in the Middle East since then.

“Peace” does not mean the same to all: many of the British and French public during WWI would have said that “peace” meant defeating the Germans and Turks, conversely many Germans and Turks would have thought the direct opposite. The Russians mostly wanted an end to the War so “Peace” was one of the most popular of the Bolsheviks’ slogans for their October Revolution, after which they pulled Russian troops out of the War; it was one of the reasons so many soldiers and sailors sided with them.

The end of the First World War brought “peace” and “peace treaties”; among these was the Treaty of Versailles between Britain and France on one side and Germany on the other. In effect, the principal victors screwed Germany for war reparations, occupying the industrial Ruhr Valley. Many historians agree that the Versailles Treaty was a contributory factor to the later rise of the National Socialist Party (the “Nazis”) in Germany and also to the Second World War.

After WWII, the “peace” treaties  divided the world largely between the USA, the British, the French and the USSR. Some aspects of that division led to two big wars — the Korean and Vietnam Wars – and a host of smaller ones. The USA has fought 20 military engagements since WWII; the British have fought 28 and the French have been directly involved in 15 military actions or wars (these figures do not of course include the wars and coups fought by the many proxies of these powers). Furthermore, not one of those wars was fought on the territories of those states and, in most cases, took place far from them.

To look for a moment further than the three world powers above, Sri Lanka had a war going on inside it since 1983 and had peace talks a number of times. The origin of the war was the communal differences and inequalities promoted by the British when they ruled Ceylon as a colony and continued by the Sinhalese majority Government afterwards. In 2008, the ruling Sinhalese Government decided on all-out war and, abandoning the mutually-agreed ceasefire, surrounded the Tamil Tigers’ “liberated areas” with a ring of steel through which no-one could pass. They then subjected the areas to indiscriminate continuous shelling and air bombardment before sending in their troops, wiping out most of the opposing guerrillas but also thousands of civilians. According to UN estimates, 6,500 civilians were killed and another 14,000 injured between mid-January 2009.  The Times, the British daily, estimates the death toll for the final four months of the war (from mid-January to mid-May) at 20,000.

There’s peace in Sri Lanka now, all right — the peace of the grave.

Sri Lanka’s “peace” is similar to the one that followed the 1798 Rebellion in Ireland – that was “peace” after a defeat of the Irish Republican forces by bloody suppression and rabid sectarianism. Of course that “peace” was temporary only (as Sri Lanka’s will no doubt prove to be too) and was followed by other brief uprisings in 1803, 1848, 1867, the Land War 1879-’82, 1916 Rising, the War of Independence 1919-1921, the Civil War 1922-’23, the IRA campaign during WWII …. The partition of Ireland as part of the 1921 Agreement was supposed to bring peace to both parts of the country but again it proved to be a temporary one.

Despite the sectarian riots burning Catholics out of their homes and the wave of terror and repression by the Six Counties statelet in the early 1920s, conflict broke out again with the IRA’s Border Campaign of 1956-’62. In 1967 the Civil Rights campaign in the Six Counties began; the repression with which it was met by State and Loyalists caused the uprising of the Catholic ghettoes of Derry and Belfast afterwards. Then more repression, more resistance, then troops, then 30 years of war with the British Army and colonial police against the Republican guerrilla forces. The Good Friday Agreement claims to be bringing peace but history – and the ongoing repression of dissent by the statelet’s forces — indicates otherwise.

One of the reasons that peace is not necessarily brought by treaties and agreements is that they are themselves intended as temporary measures: by both parties, as in agreements between competing imperialist and colonialist powers, or by one of the parties, for example by the US Government in the case of the Native American Indians. Or they are violated by succeeding governments, as in the case of William of Orange’s promises in the Treaty of Limerick. Or they don’t deal comprehensively with the underlying causes of conflict, as with treaties and agreements between Britain and Ireland in general.

In fact, when a colonial or imperialist power seeks an agreement or treaty with a people or a weaker nation, what it is seeking is not usually peace but pacification – it wants an absence of conflict, or of resistance, so that it can continue extracting the benefits which it was doing before the people began to resist.

Or sometimes, the stronger power wants merely to delay things, to “buy time” until it is expects to be in a better position (and its opponent perhaps in a weaker one) than that which it was at the time. In 1925 the British Government intervened in a conflict between the mine-owners and the miners in Britain, paying a subsidy for nine months to prevent the miners’ pay from dropping. During that period, the Government laid in stocks of coal and bought up newsprint to prepare for a big battle with the miners’ union in particular. In 1926 they took on the British trade union movement and succeeded in forcing the TUC to call it off the General Strike within nine days of its beginning, leaving the miners to fight on alone for eight months until they were defeated.

So what kind of “peace” is being promoted by the Reverend Latimer? Some detailed plan, or some wishy-washy generalisation? That is not an easy question to answer. It is known to be an attempt to get into the Guinness Book of Records by having the most schoolchildren sign it which many have done, including in Donegal and Derry. Is it just a publicity stunt, where people sign up to some vague notion of “peace” which can mean one thing to one person and something completely different to another? What is the context for this “scroll”? “Peace” between whom and on what terms? Or is there a political agenda, as there was in the campaign around the Good Friday Agreement?

The Scroll’s FB page does not explain and the parents have not managed to find out; in addition a number of Google searches of mine failed to turn it up either. What is known about its origins, perhaps the only thing apart from it aiming at a world record, is that it is being energetically promoted by Rev. David Latimer.  And as we have seen, he goes on British Army missions and his role in all this is far from clear.

 

Schools in our society

Coming back to where we began, the pressure and attempted intimidation of a schoolboy is wrong and should not have been inflicted on this boy (and on who knows on how many others). It should not have been but it was and, when the parents objected, the agents of that blackmail, intimidation and repression should have backed down. And if they refused to back down, the managing agents, the School Board should have upheld the parents’ objections. And if they did not, the Catholic Council for Maintained Schools should have done so. All of them failed to do what was right.

As adults, we tend to see schools as neutral institutions, some with good standards, some not so good, with a continuum of teachers ranging from great to abysmal. Schools however do play a role in socialising children to accept authority and discipline outside the home and also into accepting ideas dominant in the society in which the school is located. Seen in that light, we should perhaps be less shocked at this treatment of a boy and his parents.

However this Guinness Book of Records project is not even part of the school’s official program nor of the State’s curriculum and it was the boy’s resistance to the undue pressure brought to bear on him that sparked the verbal response for which he is now being ‘disciplined’ and which he and his parents are resisting.

If the school were an institution dedicated to real learning, it would encourage questioning, even though its teachers and managers might find that uncomfortable at times. It would value courage and principle and instead of persecuting this boy, would encourage him and value his principled stand, his courage and his persistence. But instead it does the opposite and because the boy’s parents do value their child’s principles and courage and want to support him, they also find themselves in conflict with the school.

Such small-scale battles go on constantly everywhere in our society, in institutes of education, in workplaces, in other organisations and associations, in communities. People fight those battles, often on their own or in little groups, or they fail to resist; whichever they do will affect their individual character and their social and political attitudes thereafter, one way or the other. Drawing on those lessons can lead to understanding more general truths about society and can also help to develop the strength of character to withstand psychological and other bullying and pressure at other times in life. Fair play to the boy for his principles and the courage to stand up for them against authority figures and fair play too to his parents who are supporting him.

End.

 

Pauline Mellon’s article in her blog http://thederrydiary.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/judge-jury-and-educationers.html

 

The Irish War of Independence and the retreat from stated objectives in spite of the precariousness of the British position

(This is reprinted with minimal editing from a section of a much longer piece of mine published in English and in Spanish a year ago https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2014/01/30/how-can-a-people-defeat-a-stronger-invader-or-occupying-power-2/)

 

Diarmuid Breatnach

The War of Independence 1919-1921 and retreat from stated objectives

Three years later (after the 1916 Rising), the nationalist revolutionaries returned to the armed struggle, this time without a workers’ militia or an effective socialist leadership as allies, and began a political struggle which was combined a little later with a rural guerilla war which soon spread into some urban areas (particularly the cities of Dublin and Cork). The political struggle mobilised thousands and also resulted in the majority of those elected in Ireland during the General Election (in the United Kingdom, of which Ireland was part) being of their party.

The struggle in Ireland and the British response to it was generating much interest and critical comment around the world and even in political and intellectual and artistic circles within Britain itself. In addition, many nationalist and socialist revolutionaries around the world were drawing inspiration from that fierce anti-colonial struggle so near to England, within the United Kingdom itself.

The dismantling by the nationalist forces, by threats and by armed action, of much of the control network of the colonial police force, which consequently dismantled much of their counter-insurgency intelligence service, led the British to set up two new special armed police forces to counter the Irish insurgency. Both these forces gained a very bad reputation not only among the nationalists but also among many British loyalists. The special paramilitary police forces resorted more and more to torture, murder and arson but nevertheless, in some areas of Ireland such as Dublin, Kerry and Cork, they had to be reinforced by British soldiers as they were largely not able to deal effectively with the insurgents, who were growing more resolute, experienced and confident with each passing week.

However, two-and-a-half years after the beginning of the guerrilla war, a majority of the Irish political leadership of the nationalist revolutionary movement settled for the partition of their country with Irish independence for one part of it within the British Commonwealth.

Much discussion has taken part around the events that led to this development. We are told that British Prime Minister Lloyd George blackmailed the negotiating delegation with threats of “immediate and terrible war” if they did not agree to the terms. The delegation were forced to answer without being allowed to consult their comrades at home. Some say that the President of the nationalist political party, De Valera, sent an allegedly inexperienced politically Michael Collins to the negotiations, knowing that he would end up accepting a bad deal from which De Valera could then distance himself. Michael Collins, in charge of supplying the guerrillas with arms, stated afterwards that he had only a few rounds of ammunition left to supply each fighter and that the IRA, the guerrilla army, could not fight the war Lloyd George threatened. He also said that the deal would be a stepping stone towards the full independence of a united Ireland in the near future. None of those reasons appear convincing to me.

How could the leadership of a movement at the height of their successes cave in like that? Of course, the British were threatening a worse war, but they had made threats before and the Irish had met them without fear. If the IRA were truly in a difficult situation with regard to ammunition (and I’m not sure that there is any evidence for that apart from Collins’ own statement), that would be a valid reason for a reduction in their military operations, not for accepting a deal far short of what they had fought for. The IRA was, after all, a volunteer guerrilla army, much of it of a part-time nature. It could be withdrawn from offensive operations and most of the fighters could melt back into the population or, if necessary, go “on the run”.

If the military supply situation of the Irish nationalists was indeed dire in the face of the superior arms and military experience of Britain, was that the only factor to be taken into account? An army needs more than arms and experience in order to wage war – there are other factors which affect its ability and effectiveness.

The precariousness of the British situation

In 1919, at the end of the War, the British, although on the victorious side, were in a precarious position. During the war itself there had been a serious mutiny in the army (during which NCOs and officers had been killed by privates) and as the soldiers were demobbed into civilian life and into their old social conditions there was widespread dissatisfaction. Industrial strikes had been forbidden during the War (although some had taken place nonetheless) and a virtual strike movement was now under way.

In 1918 and again in 1919, police went on strike in Britain. Also during 1919, the railway workers went on strike and so did others in a wave that had been building up since the previous year. In 1918 strikes had already cost 6 million working days. This increased to nearly 35 million in 1919, with a daily average of 100,000 workers on strike. Glasgow in 1921 saw a strike with a picket of 60,000 and pitched battles with the police. The local unit of the British Army was detained in barracks by its officers and units from further away were sent in with machine guns, a howitzer and tanks.

James Wolfe in his work Mutiny in United States and British Armed forces in the Twentieth Century(http://www.mellenpress.com/mellenpress.cfm?bookid=8271&pc=9) includes the following chapter headings:

Workers pass an overturned tram in London during the 1926 British General Strike. In general, goods travelled through Britain with authorisation from the workers or under police and troop protection.

Workers pass an overturned tram in London during the 1926 British General Strike. In much of the country no transport operated unless authorised by the local trade union council or under police and army escort.

4.2 The Army Mutinies of January/February 1919
4.3 The Val de Lievre Mutiny
4.4 Three Royal Air Force Mutinies January 1919
4.5 Mutiny in the Royal Marines – Russia,
February to June 1919
4.6 Naval Mutinies of 1919
4.7 Demobilization Riots 1918/1919
4.8 The Kinmel Park Camp Riots 1919
4.9 No “Land Fit For Heroes” – the Ex-servicemen’s Riot in Luton
4 4.10 Ongoing Unrest – Mid-1919 to Year’s End

 The British Government feared their police force would be insufficient against the British workers and was concerned about the reliability of their army if used in this way. There had already been demonstrations, riots and mutinies in the armed forces about delays in demobilisation (and also in being used against the Russian Bolshevik Revolution).

Elsewhere in the British Empire things were unstable too. The Arabs were outraged at Britain’s reneging on their promise to give them their freedom in exchange for fighting the Turks and rebellions were breaking out which would continue over the next few years. The British were also facing unrest in Palestine as they began to settle Jewish immigrants who were buying up Arab land there. An uprising took place in Mesopotamia (Iraq) against the British in 1918 and again in 1919. The Third Afghan War took place in 1919; Ghandi and his followers began their campaign of civil disobedience in 1920 while in 1921 the Malabar region of India rose up in armed revolt against British rule. Secret communiques (but now accessible) between such as Winston Churchill, Lloyd George and the Chief of Staff of the British armed forces reveal concerns about the reliability of their soldiers in the future against insurrections and industrial action in Britain and even whether, as servicemen demanded demobilisation, they would have enough soldiers left for the tasks facing them throughout the Empire.

The Irish nationalist revolutionaries in 1921were in a very strong position to continue their struggle until they had won independence and quite possibly even to be the catalyst for socialist revolution in Britain and the death of the British Empire. But they backed down and gave the Empire the breathing space it needed to deal with the various hotspots of rebellion elsewhere and to prepare for the showdown with British militant trade unionists that came with the General Strike of 1926. Instead, the Treatyites turned their guns on their erstwhile comrades in the vicious Civil War that broke out in 1922. The new state executed IRA prisoners (often without recourse to a trial) and repression continued even after it had defeated the IRA in the Civil War.

If the revolutionary Irish nationalist leaders were not aware of all the problems confronting the British Empire, they were certainly aware of many of them. The 1920 hunger strike and death of McSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork, had caught international attention and Indian nationalists had made contact with the McSwiney family. The presence of large Irish working class communities in Britain, from London to GlaSgow, provided ample opportunity for keeping abreast of industrial disputes, even if the Irish nationalists did not care to open links with British militant trade unionists. Sylvia Pankhurst, member of the famous English suffragette family and a revolutionary communist, had letters published in The Irish Worker, newspaper of the IT&GWU. The presence of large numbers of Irish still in the British Army was another source of ready information.

Anti-Treaty cartoon, 1921, depicts Ireland being coerced by Michael Collins, representing the Free State Army, along with the Catholic Church, in the service of British Imperialism

Anti-Treaty cartoon, 1921, depicts Ireland being coerced by Michael Collins, representing the Free State Army, along with the Catholic Church, in the service of British Imperialism

The revolutionary Irish nationalist leaders were mostly of petite bourgeois background and had no programme of the expropriation of the large landowners and industrialists. They did not seek to represent the interests of the Irish workers—indeed at times sections of them demonstrated a hostility to workers, preventing landless Irish rural poor seizing large estates and to divide them among themselves. Historically the petite bourgeoisie has shown itself incapable of sustaining a revolution in its own class interests and in Ireland it was inevitable that the Irish nationalists would come to follow the interests of the Irish national bourgeoisie. The Irish socialists were too few and weak to offer another pole of attraction to the petite bourgeoisie. The Irish national bourgeoisie had not been a revolutionary class since their defeat in 1798 and were not to be so now. Originally, along with the Catholic Church with which they shared many interests in common, they had declined to support the revolutionary nationalists but decided to join with them when they saw an opportunity to improve their position and also what appeared to be an imminent defeat of the British.

In the face of the evident possibilities it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the section of revolutionary Irish nationalists who opted for the deal offered by Lloyd George did so because they preferred it to the alternatives. They preferred to settle for a slice rather than fight for the whole cake. And the Irish bourgeoisie would do well out of the deal, even if the majority of the population did not. The words of James Connolly that the working class were “the incorruptible heirs” of Ireland’s fight had a corollary – that the Irish bourgeoisie would always compromise the struggle. It is also possible that the alternative the nationalists feared was not so much “immediate and terrible war” but rather a possible Irish social revolution in which they would lose their privileges.

Irish Free State bombardment 4 Courts

Start of the Irish Civil War 1922: Irish Free State bombardment, with cannon on loan from the British Army, of the Republican HQ at the Four Courts, Dublin.

 

Another serious challenge to the Empire from Irish nationalist revolutionaries would not take place until nearly fifty years later, and it would be largely confined to the colony of the Six Counties.

end selected extract

PROPERTY SPECULATORS ARE CAPABLE OF ANYTHING

AN ACCOUNT OF PROPERTY “DEVELOPMENT” AND RESISTANCE WHICH MAY ILLUMINATE THE DISCUSSION AROUND MOORE STREET, DUBLIN

DB distance Moore St Paris Bakery

Second “Save Paris Bakery” demonstration, 3rd March 2014, as part of Save Moore Street campaign (photo John Ayres)

Currently, a property speculator, Chartered Land, wants to build a new shopping mall in Dublin’s city centre.  The plan envisages construction from O’Connell Street (including site of the old Carlton Cinema) through to Moore St and the demolition of a number of houses in the parade in Moore Street.  How Chartered Land saw off another developer with a much more modest plan, acquired a number of surrounding sites and came to a privileged arrangement with Dublin City Council has been the subject as far back as 2012 of a TV documentary by an investigative programme of  TG4 Iniúchadh Oidhreacht na Cásca https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cx0Kah7dE80#t=469.

Hands Around Moore St. No.16

Hands Around Moore Street demonstration in 2013. The dilapidated shuttered shopfront (under a former owner’s name “Plunkett”) is No.16 Moore Street, last HQ of the 1916 Rising, occupied by Pearse, Connolly and others.

Campaigners have been resisting Chartered Land’s plan from a number of viewpoints: historical (conservation of a 1916 Rising battleground and last HQ of the Rising); architectural conservation; defending small businesses and traditional street market; opposition to yet another mall and thoughtless planning.  The latest move was the expulsion by Chartered Land of the successful small business Paris Bakery, occupying two of the houses which the campaigners wish to save.

Moore St Paris Bakery closure protest Feb2014

The first of two Save Paris Bakery demonstrations, February 2014, as part of the Save Moore Street campaign, being addressed by James Connolly Heron, grandson of James Connolly shot in 1916 by the British.

A campaign fought in a town on the eastern outskirts of London has, I believe, some lessons for people resisting Chartered Land and other property speculators.  In 1968 in the outer London borough of Redbridge, the Ilford Town Council had a plan for a ring road and car parks which required the demolition of many houses.  Whatever financial benefits were to be accrued from the plan and to whomsoever they would be going is not known to me  but one would assume there were some from the events to be outlined.  While they were applying for approval to the Dept. of the Environment AND BEFORE THEY RECEIVED APPROVAL, the Council served compulsory purchase orders on the houses in question and then forced the occupants to leave. The two-storey houses with gardens stood empty.

The Ilford Squatters’ Association, a broad group of different political parties and groups and independents, occupied some of the houses and moved homeless families into them (some of the families and some of the helpers, by the way, were Irish, including from Dublin). The campaign’s position was that they were against the “development” plan but that in any case, even if it went ahead, homeless families could and should be accommodated in houses in the meantime.

The council went to civil court and sought eviction orders which, at that time, had to name the individuals and the property in question. When the orders were granted, the squatters swapped the families at the address and moved the named one to another address.

Then the Council started vandalising the houses still empty, ripping out the stairs, smashing sinks and toilets and knocking holes through walls, ripping up floorboards. The Squatters had many volunteers and some of them had building experience; they repaired/ replaced toilets and sinks, rebuilt stairs and relaid floor boards.

The Council hired a firm of private detectives (i.e. thugs, some of them with National Front badges), and attacked two houses in what amounted to an illegal eviction. In one of them they smashed the jaw of a helper in two places and threw a child with scarlet fever out of her bed on to the floor in a bid to get the family to leave. The police stood by until a doctor arrived at a rush and said the child could not be moved; only then did the police ask the bailiffs to leave.

In another house, the bailiffs came through the street door with a battering ram to discover, as they fell through the joists, that in this house, the floorboards had not been replaced.  A medieval-type battle then took place as they tried to climb up ladders on the outside and on the inside too (for the stairs had not been replaced either). Frustrated and battered, they then set fire to the ground floor. At this point, the police had to intervene, as the houses on each side were occupied (a Salvation Army officer on one side and a GP on the other).  The bailiffs left and the Fire Brigade arrived to put out the fire.

Eventually the Council did some kind of a deal with the leadership of the Squatters’ Association and with a few remaining families and the campaign was over. By that time numerous helpers had been to civil and criminal courts and to jail on remand and some had accumulated “criminal” convictions. But the ring road was not approved for years afterwards (perhaps never) and nor was the car park.

There are two lessons from the account above, I think, for Moore St. campaigners:
1) Property speculators (“developers”) will do ANYTHING THEY CAN GET AWAY WITH to pursue their objectives
2) They will try and present the regulators with a fait accomplit, that is an accomplished fact. In the Moore St case, that means letting the named national monument buildings go to rack and ruin (as they did before) and getting rid of successful small businesses (as with Paris Bakery) and by making an ugly eyesore of Moore St. (derelict buildings, boarded up businesses, hoardings …) in the hope that opposition will crumble and people will be glad of any change to the area.

The resistance in Moore Street should continue to be holistic and every threatened part and interest should support the others.

HOW TO SILENCE AN ETHNIC COMMUNITY

Diarmuid Breatnach, Feabhra 2014.

When the civil rights movement began in 1968 in the Six Counties, the general attitude in Britain, on the street and even in much of the media, was supportive of the campaigners.  This was reinforced by the majority of the Irish community there, an estimated average of 10% of the population of most British main cities.  The Irish were the largest ethnic minority in Britain and the longest-established, constantly renewed by high emigration since the Great Hunger of 1845-1849 (although seasonal and other migration had been a pattern long before that).

In the Six Counties, the sectarian police force were unable to vanquish the resistance  and “liberated areas” emerged.  The British imperialist ruling class could no longer tolerate this state of affairs and sent in its Army to “restore order” and also to “clear the no-go areas”.   As the Provisional IRA (mostly), later also the INLA, entered the struggle against the British Army in the Six Counties, the mood in Britain began to shift somewhat.  After all, a British soldier dead meant a British family mourning, whilst the same did not apply at all with an RUC or B-Special killed (however they might think of themselves as “British”).  But still the Irish community in Britain held the line in solidarity with the support of large sections of the British Left (many of whom happened to be Irish or of Irish descent as well).  Regular demonstrations were held, as well as pickets and public meetings.  People wrote leaflets and letters.  Solidarity delegations were sent.  MPs were lobbied to ask questions in the House of Commons, which some did.

The introduction of Internment without trial in the Six Counties in 1971 was strongly protested, as was the Ballymurphy Massacre by the Paras that same year.  The Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry in 1972 led to protests in many areas of Britain, including solidarity strikes on building sites and a huge demonstration in London — as the head of the wide packed march passed Trafalgar Square on its way to Downing Street, the end of it was still leaving Hyde Park Corner, where it had begun some time earlier, about 3 kilometres away.  When the lines of police in Whitheall stopped those leading the march from presenting thirteen “coffins” to No.10 Downing Street, the residence of the Prime Minister, some of the “coffins” were thrown at the police and a riot began.  Nor was it the only riot — an earlier march had tried to break through the heavy police cordon in front of Northern Ireland House at Green Park, a couple of mounted police had been knocked off their horses and the demonstration had ended with protesters being chased through Green Park by police on foot and in vehicles.

Protests even made it into the House of Commons as in 1970 when an Irishman called Roche threw a tear gas cannister in among MPs to make them aware of the tons of CS gas being pumped into the Bogside and other areas by the RUC (later by the British Army too),  while in 1972, after Bloody Sunday, then People’s Democracy MP Bernadette Devlin (now McAlliskey and no longer an MP) walked up to the Home Secretary, Reginald Maudling, and slapped him in the face.

The IRA bombing campaign in Britain in particular impacted negatively to some extent on sympathy for the Irish struggle but solidarity from the Irish community, along with large elements in the British Left was still strong, despite some potentially lethal explosions such as postal pillar box bombs and the Post Office Tower bombing in 1971, which luckily did not cause any injuries.  All that was to change in 1974.

The Birmingham Pub Bombing

In October and November 1974, the Guildford and Woolwich Pub Bombings killed six soldiers and two civilians whilst a further sixty-five people were injured (mostly in the Guildford explosion, where five of the dead had been).  The pubs had been in regular use by personnel of the British Army but were also used by a number of civilians.

In between those two bombings, another two bombs exploded in completely civilian bars in Birmingham, killing 21 and injuring 182.  It stunned the Irish community and the friendly British Left.  The media of course went to town with “Bastards!” being used as a headline for the first time by a British tabloid, over a photograph of the atrocity.  At first no-one claimed the Birmingham bombing and then it was denied by the IRA, who up to then had a very reliable record with regard to taking ownership of events (which could not be said of the Royal Ulster Constabulary or of the British Army).  Some kind of “black operation” was the suspicion of many.  As we know now and as some in the IRA admitted quite some time later, it had been an IRA bomb and the person whose responsibility it had been to telephone the warning, in a time long before mobile phones, had found a number of out-of-order public telephone kiosks and the warning had been too late.

Up to then, the Midlands IRA unit or units had been exploding bombs at targets without injury to civilians when one of their volunteers, James McDade, was killed in a premature explosion while planting a bomb at a telephone exchange in Coventry.  His remains were prepared for return to Ireland and burial in his native Belfast.  McDade had been well known in the Birmingham Irish community and through much of the Midlands as a talented GAA (Gaelic sports) player and was popular as a singer with a tenor voice.  Eddie Caughey, of the Birmingham branch of Provisional Sinn Féin (later the party closed down all branches outside Ireland), was among others accompanying the coffin on McDade’s last journey.  Another group of people set off from Britain to attend the funeral, including five Irishmen from the Six Counties resident in Birmingham, catching a train to connect with the ferry at Heysham.

Coincidentally, the Birmingham group arrived for the Heysham ferry the same evening as the Birmingham bombs exploded, although they were unaware of this.  The five men were taken from the ferry at Heysham by police and interrogated, later beaten up by the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad and threatened with guns and dogs, four of them forced to confess to things they had not done; they were then were charged with multiple murder along with another Irishman from the Six Counties who had seen them off at the New Street Birmingham train station.  They six men were taken to Winson Green prison where they received another savage beating from screws so that when they turned up in court all were bruised and battered.  One screw witness many years later was reported to have said that he had not participated and found the brutality sickening (he may have been the inspiration for the scene in the H-Blocks 2008 film “Hunger” directed by McQueen, where a screw hides away from the other screws in riot gear as they go in to beat the “blanket men”).

The six Birmingham Irish were found guilty in a travesty of a trial and became “the Birmingham Six”.  Another three, at least one of whom was an IRA volunteer and probably the organiser of the bombings, were convicted on charges relating to explosives and received nine years’ jail.

The Birmingham Six in 1974

The Birmingham Six in 1974 — innocent but Irish in Britain — sixteen years in prison, twenty-six before compensated. No state employee has ever been convicted for this deliberate injustice.

Subsequent appeals and prosecutions by the Birmingham Six of officers for assault etc. were all dismissed or ruled out of order by the state judicial system. Individuals in the Irish community, such as Sr. Sarah Clarke, began to campaign for them. In 1976, Fr.s Raymond Murray and Denis Faul in the Six Counties published their booklet The Birmingham Framework: Six innocent men framed for the Birmingham Bombings.  In 1981 the newly-formed Irish in Britain Representation Group became the first wide Irish community organisation in Britain to take up their case and made representations on behalf of the Six, including to the Irish Embassy in London (“The Birmingham who?” asked the Ambassador at the time, according to some IBRG who participated in the delegation).

In 1985 after repeated lobbying by the Birmingham Six Campaign, the IBRG and individuals, World In Action (Granada, ITV) made the first programme throwing doubt on the guilt of the Six. A year later, Chris Mullins (a researcher for the World in Action programme and later an MP and a Government Minister) published his book declaring their innocence. Campaigning continued in Britain and in Ireland.

But it was not until 1991, SIXTEEN YEARS after their unjust conviction, that they were finally released, their convictions quashed. The lives of many of them were ruined — marriages had broken up, livelihoods were gone, some never recovered from the trauma. It was not until ANOTHER TEN YEARS before they were awarded financial compensation.

Not one judge, one police officer or one prison officer was ever convicted of assault or perversion of the cause of justice. The British forensic scientist whose “evidence” and “expertise” were used to sway the jury to convict the Birmingham Six, Frank Skuse, suffered a blow to his professional reputation but that was all.

The impression is often given that the Birmingham Six jury was blinded by expert forensic evidence and/or that it could not be known then that the evidence was wrong. But it is also often forgotten that Skuse’s “evidence” contained contradictions suggesting interference and that his forensic conclusions were contested at the trial by those of another forensic practitioner, Dr Hugh Kenneth Black FRIC, the former HM Chief Inspector of Explosives, Home Office. The judge chose to believe Skuse and to sway the jury in that direction. Part of the judgement of the Court of Appeal that freed them in 1991 was that  “Dr. Skuse’s conclusion was wrong, and demonstrably wrong, judged even by the state of forensic science in 1974.”

The Guildford and Woolwich Pub Bombings

In 1977, the “Balcolme Street” IRA unit (so named because of the address where they were trapped and besieged before capture) informed the authorities through their trial lawyers that they were responsible for the Guildford and Woolwich bombings.  This was an unprecedented step for the IRA but their claim was denied by the State.  The Home Office accepted in a memorandum at some point later that the Guildford Four were “probably not terrorists” but thought there was not enough to justify their release.  Eventually falsified police notes were found by an investigating police detective and they were used as a reason to throw doubt on the whole case against the Four and they walked free in 1989.  They had spent fifteen years in British jails and the father of one, Gerry Conlon, had died in prison.

Guildford Four

The Guildford Four around the time of their arrest in 1974. Three of them were Irish in Britain but although obviously not anything like IRA, were framed and jailed. No state employee has ever paid for this crime against them or the other Irish framed prisoners.

Giuseppe Conlon

Giuseppe Conlon, who came to London to help his son Gerry when he heard of his wrongful arrest for the Guildford Pub Bombings. Incredibly, he was also convicted, along with the Maguire Seven — all innocent, but Irish in Britain. Giuseppe Conlon died in prison before the Maguire Seven were finally found “not guilty” on appeal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Maguire Seven had to wait another two years before their convictions were quashed in 1991, so that they spent 17 years in British jails. The court accepted that members of the London Metropolitan Police beat some of them into confessing to the crimes as well as withholding information that would have cleared them (this last was also a feature of the Guildford Four case).

In 2005, Tony Blair, then British Prime Minister, apologised to the surviving ten and to relatives of all the eleven for their “ordeal and injustice”.  The British media, which had played a key role in creating the public atmosphere in which huge injustices could be and were done, never apologised nor even reviewed their procedures and guidelines and in fact even after their release, one British tabloid had to pay out libel compensation for suggesting that some of the framed prisoners were guilty but had got off on some kind of technicality.  And again,  not one forensic expert, not one Judge or state Minister was ever charged; some detectives were eventually charged with perjury but were never tried, nor were they ever charged with assault — not to mention torture.

The Prevention of Terrorism (sic) Act 1974

Back at the time when those bombings occurred, a legal measure of huge importance was being planned: at the end of November 1974,  the Prevention of Terrorism Act was rushed through British Parliament.  The PTA superseded the regulations requiring the police to charge a suspect within 48 hours and to bring them before a judge as early as possible or to release them on bail.    The PTA legislation permitted holding of “suspects” for 5 days without charge and without access to lawyers, visitors or their own doctor; it also permitted stopping and questioning and searching without need to establish a reason and house raids and searches.  Later this power was extended to seven days.

Finally, it permitted exclusion from Britain and deportation to the Six Counties (even though that was classed as part of the United Kingdom and therefore constituted internal exile), without any need to charge or show evidence of wrongdoing.  One victim of such banning for a number of years was Brendan McGill, Provisional Sinn Féin organiser in Britain at the time (but who joined Republican Sinn Féin in 1986; deceased in 2011); he was banned from Britain despite having been a resident  for 21 years and had his home, family and a shop in London.

Inside Birmingham Pub Bombing

Inside the Mulberry Bush, one of two target pubs in Birmingham in which 21 people were killed and 182 injured by two failed-warning IRA bombs in 1974. The horror helped disarm people ideologically and prepared the public, including the Irish diaspora, for the introduction of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and a campaign of terror against the Irish community in Britain.

It was clear to observers that the Act had been already in preparation; the shocking Birmingham explosion a few weeks earlier provided the right atmosphere for its introduction.  Eddie Caughey, the Birmingham-based Irish Republican who had accompanied the remains of IRA volunteer James Mc Dade to Belfast, became the first person to be detained and questioned under the PTA but that was to happen to thousands in the decades to follow, nearly every one of them Irish.  According to the West Midlands PTA Research & Welfare Association (set up by Midlands activists of the IBRG), 7,192 people were detained under the PTA between 1974 and 1992.  Only 629 of these (8.7%) were subsequently charged with any offence and most of those were totally unrelated to any “terrorist” acts.  Even when charges came under the Act they were only such charges as being a member of a proscribed organisation, assisting a proscribed organisation etc; one such conviction was of a young man for having pro-IRA posters and a badge in his possession.

Again according to the West Midlands organisation, 86,000 people each year between 1987 and 1990  were ‘examined’ for more than an hour at British ports and airports under the PTA.  The watchdog organisation admits that these are only recorded stops and also did not include anyone stopped at a port or airport for less than an hour.

It only happened to me once: travelling alone from London home to Dublin on holiday with my daughter of seven years, I was taken aside by Special Branch at Heathrow and questioned as to my London address, occupation, destination in Ireland, length of stay and purpose in travelling to Dublin.  The questioning was not heavy and probably lasted less than ten or fifteen minutes and, unlike many others, I was not made to miss my plane.  But it was really frightening to know that I could be taken in for up to seven days and the overarching apprehension was about what would happen to my daughter.   Those days it was not unusual for people, as did I, to make arrangements if they were not going to be met upon arrival, to telephone a friend or family each side, so that in the absence of such, enquiries could be initiated with the police.

“PTA Telephone Trees” were established and those who volunteered for service on them might receive a phone call in the early hours of the morning to say that this or that person had been arrested, or was missing, and to begin making phone calls to other people on the “tree” and/or to a named police station.  The purpose of the calls was not only to gather possible information (the police often denied the presence of someone known to be in their cells) but also to make the police aware that their detainees had friends outside who were making enquiries.

It was a testament perhaps to the level of fear engendered that although Irish solidarity pickets were taking place in various places, including of course London, it was not until the early 1990s that a picket was first placed on Paddington Green Police station, the usual destination of people detained under the PTA in London. “The Lubyanka of the Irish Community”, with its sixteen windowless underground cells, too hot in summer and too cold in winter, with a 7-day incommunicado detention period, was frightening enough but had developed a terror mystique.

It was a Kilburn-based British Left group (but with high Irish membership and which had been expelled from the Troops Out Movement) which placed the first pickets on Paddington Green  and some time later the Saoirse campaign and the Wolfe Tone Society (Provisional SF support group in London) did so too.  These symbolic acts helped to somewhat erode the terror of the place but the overall atmosphere had been dispelled by the mobilisations in solidarity with the Hunger Strikers a decade earlier.

Spokespersons of the Irish community and some others repeatedly warned the British Left, social-democratic and liberal sections of society that if they allowed the PTA to be used temporarily against the Irish community, it would become permanent; and if they allowed it against the Irish community it would be used against others later.  In 1991, an article published by conservative British newspaper The Telegraph complained that the police were using “anti-terror” legislation against people who were clearly political protesters; the article cited 1,000 anti-war demonstrators including an 11-year-old child at Aldermaston and 600 protesters at a Labour Party Conference, including an 84-year-old man, all of whom had been questioned under “anti-terror” legislation (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/3620110/The-police-must-end-their-abuse-of-anti-terror-legislation.html?fb).  Since then, Muslim communities have also complained about the way in which “anti-terror” is used against them, in violation of their civil and human rights.

Repressive legislation labelled “anti-terror” in Britain since the 1970s began with the PTA and detention for five days, then for seven; subsequent legislation authorised it for 14 days; an attempt was made to extend it to three months on police recommendation but failed in Parliament; however the Terrorism Act 2006 authorises 28 days detention without charge.

Not “miscarriages of justice” but exercise in mass intimidation

The convictions and jailing of innocent Irish people were not “miscarriages of justice” but rather an exercise in the mass intimidation and coercion of the Irish community in Britain by the British state. The jailing of six innocent men for murder in 1975, who would have been hung were the death sentence for murder still on the statutes, was part of a campaign of terror against the Irish community in Britain which included the Prevention of Terrorism (sic) Act in 1974 and the convictions of Judith Ward (1974), the Maguire Seven (1975) and Guildford Four (1975).

As remarked earlier, the Irish community in Britain was the largest and longest-established ethnic minority in Britain; it was and had long been a source of solidarity to the struggle in Ireland.  It had also contributed significantly to the British Left and the struggle for socialism in the past:  Bronterre O’Brien and Feargus O’Connor were renowned leaders of the Chartists in the 1840s and 1850s, The Red Flag was written by Jim Connell in 1889, The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists was written by Robert Tressell (real name Noonan) in 1914, the Irish were to the fore in the Battle of Cable Street in 1936 and so on.

Chartist demo

Artist’s illustration of Chartist demonstration in Britain. The largest-ever popular political movement of the working class in Britain, two of its leaders were Irish.

The British police had a long hostile relationship with the Irish diaspora, both because of the social position and conditions of the majority of the Irish community but also due to the Irish diaspora’s support for the struggle “back home”.  Scotland Yard set up “The Irish Special Branch” to gather intelligence on pro-Fenian activity in the Irish communities in the cities in British cities during the later 19th Century — it was later renamed simply “the Special Branch”, as they are (politely) known today in Britain, the Six Counties and in the Twenty-Six.

Irish communities could be insular in some places and Irish “ghettos” existed: among “The Rookeries” in London (several areas around the city centre) and Wapping, “Little Ireland” in Manchester and so on.  But the community also had a high impact on the British working class, particularly in England and in Scotland but also in Wales (the SW Miners’ Federation originally featured Connolly’s image on their banner, alongside those of Lenin and Kier Hardie).  The Irish community were ideally placed to call for solidarity for the anti-imperialist struggle in the Six Counties and to counter British media disinformation and censorship.  In most places, Irish worked alongside British workers, married among them, followed sports teams and also played sports with them.  In many places they also lived in the same streets or housing blocks.

The British ruling class realised the potential of the Irish diaspora in Britain even if the Provisionals seemed not to.  When ordinary repression — surveillance, questioning, agents provocateurs, spies and informers, arrests and occasional police charges into demonstrations, along with a hostile media campaign — did not work, something stronger was needed.  Very repressive legislation, a high level of arrests, thousands of detentions and jailing of 18 (there were a few other cases too) innocent people in four different high-visibility trials might work instead.  Especially if allied to some atrocity with which most Irish people could not agree, so that they felt morally undermined too.  For a while, with the combination of the Birmingham Pub Bombing, the framing for murder of innocents and the Prevention of Terrorism, largely this approach did work, with most of the Left running for cover and most of the Irish community keeping their heads down.

Many, many people in the Irish community in Britain knew for certain that the Maguire Seven, Guildford Four and Judith Ward were not IRA and could not be: the Guildford Four were living in a squat, taking drugs and engaging in petty crime and Judith Ward had been mentally ill and had accosted police to claim responsibility for a bombing.  The Maguire Seven were a family including two minors, a family friend and a relative, Giuseppe, who had travelled over from the Six Counties to support his son Gerry of the Guildford Four.   The feeling that the Birmingham Six were innocent too quickly gained momentum. But for the British authorities, it was actually GOOD that the Irish community knew they were innocent because, if innocent people can go to jail for murder, everyone is vulnerable and the only possible way to safety would be to keep one’s head down and one’s mouth shut.

This was the period in which the Troops Out Movement (TOM), initially founded to bring Irish solidarity into the broad British society, the Left and trade unions, largely abandoned that task and began instead to concentrate on the Irish community.  In that pool were now swimming Irish Republican political activists, the IBRG, TOM, some British Left and, in some places the Connolly Association.

Hunger Strike solidarity Britain

One of many Hunger Strikers solidarity march in Britain 1981. The effort to save the ten brought the Irish and some of the British Left out on to the streets, effectively breaking the terror grip of the Prevention of Terrorism (sic) Act and the jailing in separate murder trials of an innocent score of Irish people.

It was the Hunger Strikes of 1981 that broke the stranglehold of repression and fear on the Irish community and brought them out on to the streets again, in solidarity with prisoners and trying to save the Hunger Strikers’ lives.  And after a columnist in The Irish Post noted that Bobby Sands had died during the AGM of the Federation of Irish Societies in Britain and not one word from the top table had marked his passing, not even in condolences to Sands’ family, it also led to the founding of the Irish in Britain Representation Group, a broad organisation campaigning on a wide range of issues, from anti-Irish racism in the media to framed Irish prisoners, from a fair share of resources from local authorities to self-determination for the Irish people in Ireland.

Irish solidarity work enjoyed a resurgence for the next decade and longer but external influences began to affect the work and divisions arose as the long road to the Good Friday Agreement in Ireland began to pull and push against different elements in the solidarity movement in Britain.  But that’s another story.

End.