Monthly Archives: April 2011

No Privatising of the Rising

The plans were made behind closed doors, the preparations pursued in secret and the mobilisation orders delivered in sealed envelopes. So tightly controlled was the event that on the day just 3,000 people mobilised on the streets outside the GPO – and many of them were accidental observers, with tourists and foreign nationals making up perhaps half of the assembly.

If those people thought that they might play a meaningful part in commemorating the 1916 revolution on its anniversary at the epicentre of the revolution they were wrong. The State had its plan, and ordinary people would play no part in it other than as curious and distant observers. Far better had a countermanding order been issued so that citizens would not be present as insult after insult was heaped on them and on their dreams.

Barriers, barriers everywhere. Private security men patrolled the streets of what passes for a ‘republic’, vying with the State’s own police to hold back sparse numbers of citizens and tourists. It was, of course, necessary to preserve a 100 metre buffer zone between them and that other class of citizen, the political class, so that their private entertainment at the GPO, paid for by the excluded, should not be disturbed in any way.

A large prime viewing area between Abbey Street and the GPO was corralled off, bearing the sign ‘Defence Forces Guests’. It remained empty for the entire proceedings. The only area to which citizens could gain access required being subjected to body-frisking and bag searches. None of that for the ‘dignitaries’ of course, although many of those present had done grievous damage to the State and to the Nation. Not content with that, now they would do grievous damage to the dignity of the occasion.

A contingent from the combined Defence Forces, pathetically small in numbers, marched to the GPO, some unable to keep in step to the drumbeat. Their counterparts of 95 years ago would not have been impressed. Another insult to the occasion.

The Military Band ditched well established Irish marching airs in favour of twee music hall ditties such as ‘Step it out Mary’. The musical director evidently doesn’t know the difference between commemorating the revolution, its participants, and the Irish Republic of the Proclamation, and entertaining the fans in the Aviva Stadium before a football match. Yet another insult to the occasion.

Not content with restricting a view of the proceedings to a couple of medium sized screens so far away from the citizens as to be almost useless, the organisers provided a sound system that was inaudible to all but the chosen few, the ‘dignitaries’. But, perhaps to occupy their minds in case the ‘natives’ became restless, an expensive glossy folded programme informed them about what they were missing, in Irish and English – at the citizens’ expence, of course.

Proceedings over, the man responsible for this debacle, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, thought it appropriate to engage with reporters on the subject of the Queen of England’s visit at the point outside the GPO where Patrick Pearse, accompanied by James Connolly, had read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic 95 years ago to almost the precise minute. Enda Kenny obviously has no sense of propriety. He might have waited five minutes and delivered his thoughts on that subject on the way into the private reception for the ‘dignitaries’ in a nearby hotel (again paid for by the excluded citizens). Another insult to the occasion.

A small group of citizens made their way past the GPO, pausing with their banner at the Portico. Its legend stated that “April 24th is Republic Day”.  Some remaining ‘dignitaries’ and State apparatchiks looked on as  if unable to understand what these gatecrashers were about, while some citizens, now free to approach their GPO, took photos of this phenomenon and expressed interest in the banner’s statement.

The Republic Day citizens made their way from the GPO to the almost derelict National Monument at 16 Moore Street, the last outpost of the 1916 GPO Garrison and leaders prior to the surrender. The State has, of course, failed to secure the integrity of this battlefield site and to give it its dignity as a place of immense historical significance. Another studied insult to the revolutionaries of 1916 and the Republic that they created but which still has to be put in place.

At 16 Moore Street this small band of citizens held a meaningful, dignified and proper commemoration of the revolution, its participants and of the establishing of the Irish Republic. In attendance to support the Republic Day campaign were relatives of executed leaders of the revolution – James Connolly’s grandson Roddy Wilson, and Connolly’s great-grandson James Connolly-Heron, Joesph Plunkett’s grand-niece Honor O’Brolacháin, and Thomas McDonagh’s grand-daughter Lucille Redmond.

An address on the relevance of the revolution and the Irish Republic to today’s Ireland and its citizens was followed by the trooping of the flags – the Tricolour, the Starry Plough and Connolly’s Irish Republic flag – as the Last Post and Reveille were played by trumpeter Danny Healy. A wreath with seven Easter Lilies to signify the signatories of the Proclamation was laid at the building by Roddy Wilson. A short explanation that the origins of the Irish National Anthem were in the GPO as the building burned around the revolutionaries was followed by Frank Allen leading the citizens in singing the anthem outside the building in which those revolutionaries spent their last hours together as an army.

The contrast between the official State ceremony, held for the private gratification of a self-styled ‘elite’, with the few citizens present on the perimeter to be satisfied with crumbs from the table as insult after insult was heaped on them and on the participants of the actual revolution, and the unofficial citizens’ ceremony at Moore Street, could not have been more marked. On the one hand a dishonour was done, on the other honour was restored to the occasion.

The State owes its citizens an abject apology for the cack-handed, segregationist affair on O’Connell Street on the 24th April 2011 – Republic Day. It should also withdraw from any future commemoration of the 1916 revolution, its participants and of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. It is not up to the job. Those future commemorations will be in safe hands, the citizens’ hands. The citizens understand respect, dignity and honour, the so-called ‘elite’ – the political class – regard these concepts as obstructions on the way to the Banana Republic.

On Republic Day 2012 there will be no sign of the political class at the GPO. They only do Easter Sunday, if they must. On Tuesday 24th April 2012 the Republic Day campaign will hold a dignified ceremony at the GPO. Citizens who care about the establishment of a proper republic – the Irish Republic – should mark their calendars and get ready for the day.

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1916 – A Workers’ Revolution

The eminent linguist Dwight Bollinger put forward the notion of language as a ‘loaded weapon’, but in terms of describing what the events of Easter 1916 represent it is easy to imagine the language applied then and since as an attempt to unload the weapon. Variously described as a ‘Rising’, ‘Rebellion’, or ‘Insurrection’, these terms describe an event of relatively minor proportions, similar, in a sense, to waving a fist at an opponent. They are, of course, the words that were used by the British to downplay the significance of Easter 1916, and by the established political class in Ireland, including ‘Home Rule’ nationalists.

Revolution! Now there is a word to play with, a loaded weapon of a word. According to Aristotle, revolution is an attempt to effect a complete change from one constitution to another, and as the use of the word developed it has come to represent complete, abrupt change in the social order. A reading of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic confirms its revolutionary intent. No empty fist-waving there!

The consistent application of terms such as ‘The Poets’ Rebellion’ are nothing other than an attempt to take the air out of the Revolution by portraying it as a misty-eyed effete affair, a sentimental thing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Several of the leaders did write poetry among their other activities which included radical political activism, but each of the signatories of the Proclamation signed up to revolution knowing they would die for it. And revolutions, in any case, are forged not just by the leaders but also by the rank-and-file revolutionaries who rally to the cause.

One of the few attempts to understand the make-up of the revolutionary forces is an excellent study by Stein Ugelvik Larsen and Oliver Snoddy (Pádraig Ó Snodaigh) titled “1916 – A Workingmen’s Revolution? An analysis of those who made the 1916 revolution in Ireland”. Published in Social Studies in August 1973 it is a historical-sociological approach to the theoretical study of the Revolution. A key conclusion the authors arrived at is that “Altogether the picture of the 1916 revolutionaries indicates that this was a revolution undertaken by workers in alliance with small farmers, many middle and a few upper middle-class people. From the figures it does look like a perfect picture of a socialist revolution in the way Lenin and Marx envisaged it in their writings”.

While the full study is now available on this page under “Linked Articles”, it is worth reproducing, by way of illustration, one table that the authors compiled on the range of occupational groups among the (male) leaders and rank-and-file revolutionaries – 1146 men in total.

Occupation                                                          Number
1     General labourer                                               255
2     Farmer and Class VI General                         174
3     Commercial clerk                                              115
4     On roads                                                               56
5     Plumber and house painter                              54
6     Porter, messenger                                              44
7    Grocer’s assistant                                                43
8    Carpenter, joiner                                                 40
9    Shop assistant                                                      30
10  Tailor                                                                      23
11  Machinist, machine worker                               22
12  Artists                                                                     19
13  Draper                                                                    19
14  Teachers                                                                 19
15  Fitter and turner                                                  18
16  Music, bookbinder, printer                               18
17  Cabinet maker, upholsterer                               17
18  Baker                                                                      17
19  Merchant                                                               17
20  Broker, salesman, commercial traveller        15
21  Electrician, apparatus maker                            14
22  Shoe, bookmaker, dealer                                   13
23  Blacksmith                                                            13
24  Library and scientific                                          12
25  Apprentice, assistant                                           12
26  Coachmaker, motor-car assembler                   11
27  Grocer                                                                      11
28  Hotel servant                                                         10
29  Railway                                                                    10
30  Legal profession                                                      8
31  Medical profession                                                  7
32  Seamen, boatmen                                                   6

In their study, the authors call for further research to be done to establish as complete a picture as possible of the rank-and-file revolutionaries, and one area for research certainly stands out – that of the women participants in the revolution. But looking at that table, incomplete as it is, demonstrates the nature of the revolution. It was that of a workers’ revolution, not  bourgeois ‘rising’ or ‘insurrection’.

Let us take the loaded weapon back from the propagandists who peddle their dubious wares to stifle understanding of the totality of the revolution so that their ‘status quo’ can be maintained. No more talk of ‘The Poets’ Rebellion’ or any such guff. No more linking of the commemoration of the 1916 Revolution with commemoration of the filthy war of 1914-18, with permission to wear the Easter Lily only given if it is accompanied by the Poppy.

We owe a debt of truth not only to the revolutionary leaders but also the revolutionary rank-and-file. We must raise our voices above those, particularly in politics, the media and among the capitalist class, whose only project is to preserve their own interests by setting their own agenda firmly in the public consciousness. That agenda is to stifle understanding of the true nature of the 1916 Revolution and to bury the Irish Republic itself in a lime-filled grave. That agenda will be thwarted by today’s rank-and-file citizens creating streams of thought and creativity that bring back to life the hopes, aspirations and intent, not just of the leaders but especially of the rank-and-file revolutionaries – people just like us.

The 1916 Revolution belongs to us. The Irish Republic belongs to us. We will repossess both using the strength of our collective will and the loaded weapon of language – under our terms.


April 24th – Reclaim the Spirit of 1916

Do you want to know a secret? But you have to promise not to tell! There will be a military parade in Dublin on Easter Sunday to commemorate the 1916 revolution, organised by the State. For God’s sake, keep it to yourself, no-one must know about it. If word leaked out there might be repercussions, chaos in the streets. Even the military must be kept in the dark.

April 24th 2011 will mark the 95th anniversary of the revolution of Easter 1916, but even a focused search of the internet reveals no detail of the State’s plans to commemorate that seminal moment in Irish history that led to independence from the British Empire. Enquiries to relevant departments of the Irish military reveal that there is to be a parade in O’Connell Street at the GPO, but no details as to time or form of commemoration.

This has a resonance back to 1991, the 75th anniversary of the revolution, when the State disowned the event and it was left to individuals and small groups to organise events and ceremonies to commemorate and celebrate the revolution and the revolutionaries.

Robert Ballagh, prominent artist and activist, was the driving force behind maintaining the commemoration by organising a series of events featuring artists, writers, actors, musicians and political activists. For his efforts he was rewarded with State harassment, with the Special Branch paying very close attention to his movements, stopping him on the streets to demand his ID and so on. A young man – a Leaving Certificate student – who was assisting in the organising of events had his school visited by Special Branch detectives and his parents warned of his ‘subversive’ activities to the extent that he had to withdraw from participation in honouring the revolution and its heroes!

With the coming of the Peace Process and the Good Friday Agreement, the State seemed by 2006 to have put this nonsensical attitude behind in organising a significant military parade on Easter Sunday through O’Connell Street in the 90th anniversary year of the revolution. Fine words were written and spoken, newspapers published colourful supplements marking the occasion, massive crowds turned out and the military created a fine and dignified spectacle.

It seemed as if a corner had been turned and that in the approach to the centenary in 2016 official attitudes would change and the value of commemorating and celebrating the revolution would be recognised. Far from it! Subsequent military parades were reduced in size and the commemorations downplayed. Even viewed from a crassly commercial perspective this makes no sense, given the extensive interest in the 1916 revolution, internationally. But, more seriously, the benefits of using the anniversary as a means of re-engaging the citizenry, particularly the young, with notions of citizenship and community, and with the meaning of the word ‘republic’ and all that that carries in terms of values, seem to have been discarded.

In five years time the centenary of the 1916 revolution will presumably be marked by the State. In the meantime, the State, by now no longer sovereign and certainly not independent of the EU and the IMF, seems to wish to go through the motions in as low-key a manner as possible. That is hardly surprising, given that Fine Gael, the lead party in government, grew out of the counter-revolution of the 1920s including the murder of heroes of 1916, while the junior partner in government, the Labour Party, has long since distanced itself from the revolution led by the party’s founder James Connolly, while in a lily-livered fashion paying lip service to his social ideas.

This year, by pure coincidence, Easter Sunday falls on the actual anniversary, otherwise it would be left to citizens alone to mark the anniversary. But the Citizens Initiative for Republic Day will be present with their banner stating that ‘April 24th is Republic Day’ from 10.30am outside Eason’s Bookshop on O’Connell Street. Following the military parade the Republic Day campaign will move to 16 Moore Street, the final battlefield location of the 1916 GPO Garrison prior to surrender, for a brief commemoration ceremony. Please come along and join us at both locations. And spread the word – don’t keep it a secret.


Bank Crisis – take to the streets.

It just won’t work, some ‘experts’ say, while other ‘experts’ line up to chorus ‘oh yes, it will’.  €70 billion so far to ‘fix’ the banks, with, we can be quite certain, more to come at great cost to every citizen. Well, not quite every citizen – there are of course those tax exiles and tax avoiders and evaders who never ever pay their share of taxes, facilitated all of the time by politicians, senior civil servants, lawyers, accountants, bankers and the rest.

The current estimate is that every tax compliant man, woman and child in the Republic of Ireland will each have to stump up over €16,000 as their individual contribution to rescuing the banks, with no alternative to this other than to set out for distant shores, and forced exile.

The new government has decided on its ‘solution’ to the banking crisis. The Bank of Ireland will be scaled back, divesting €30 billion of assets by 2013 and will provide the first ‘pillar’, while the Allied Irish Bank will merge with the Educational Building Society, shed €23 billion of assets by 2013 and form the second ‘pillar’. Irish Life and Permanent TSB will be taken into State ownership, also entailing shedding many assets.

What we will end up with is fewer banks competing for customers, the end result of crazy, criminal banking policies pursued without hindrance by the State, without adherence to sound business practices, without compliance with the law, without ethical consideration of their actions by the bankers, cheered on by politicians. The citizen will foot the bill for the losses in the banks and for the ‘solution’, and will be at the mercy of a duopoly – effectively forced to deal with just two competing banks, with little prospect of foreign banks wishing to provide any level of competition.

That is the sort of ‘progress’ that comes about as a result of consolidation, synergies, amalgamations – all, we are sternly warned, necessary to compete in the ‘real’ world. It wasn’t always thus.

Up to the 1960s Irish customers had a choice in banking between the Bank of Ireland, Hibernian Bank, Munster & Leinster Bank, National Bank, Provincial Bank, Ulster Bank and Royal Bank. All of these were run on serious lines, operated to sober  business standards by men (not in those days women) who knew their duty was to protect the assets of the bank and its customers, to deliver a profit to the shareholders, and to hand on a sound business when the time came for them to move on.

There were also the Agricultural Credit Corporation to finance agriculture, set up by the State in 1927 but sold to the Dutch Rabobank in 2002, and the Industrial Credit Corporation, set up in 1933 but sold to Bank of Scotland/Halifax in 2001 and closed down with the Halifax operation in 2010. Two good effective State banks, gone.

In the 1960s Ireland had about 40 building societies providing mortgages for house buyers. These were merged over time into the Irish Nationwide, Educational Building Society, First Active and ICS. Even with the mergers there was choice for consumers.

In 40 years we have gone from seven good general banks and two specialist strategic banks, and four solid building societies, to two ‘pillars’ with another, Permanent TSB, in some sort of half-life. No real choice anymore for customers, and a huge bill to pay for the privilege. That is ‘progress’, that is the ‘real’ world – progress for crooks and gamblers and a world of real misery for the citizens.

The people spoke in the General Election, just five weeks ago, and voted, we were subsequently told, for parties that promised change for the better and rational solutions to our financial crisis. It is patently clear that the new crowd in government is as incapable of bursting out of the bubble in which politicians, economists and other ‘experts’ live and think and talk to one another, as was the old crowd. We cannot rely on them to see the world as we see it, and  to take on the neo-liberal Euro-imperialists who will quite happily do this country down to protect their banks and their half-baked Eurozone.

It is time to take off the gloves and take to the streets. No-one is riding to the rescue. No solution but by ourselves. That is how it has always been. The Greeks know that, and so, by now, should we.

 


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