Monthly Archives: August 2015

Operation Mizen, The Irish Stasi And The Risen People

I remember well, others will too, that 30 years ago our political class – politicians, media owners and operatives, professionals, the wealthy, the clergy, senior civil servants and senior army and police officers, etc., would regularly point to the East German Stasi state security service, and proudly remind us plebs how lucky we were to live in a democracy and not under an atheistic communistic dictatorship.

‘Operation Mizen’, the organised surveillance of anti-water-charge activists by the state police is straight out of the Stasi handbook. The Stasi handbook is remarkably similar to the Fascist handbook when it comes to state ‘security’. State ‘security’ in either handbook does not mean the security of the people. It means the security of those people who form the political class and the suppression, vilification and, where expedient, the incarceration of those who challenge political class authority.

Irish anti-water-charge activists do just that, not just the nominal ‘leaders’ but any who actively resist the imposition of taxes and charges that are not based on a democratic mandate of any sort but are imposed in a dictatorial fashion, that is, in a way that can only be described as anti-democratic. We challenge the authority of that 20% of the people who can be dubbed ‘the political class’, and with whom all power resides, they think.

We challenge the authority of that 20% because we believe in the value of democratic control, of legitimate authority derived from the people and exercised on our behalf, and we know that none of those conditions exist in this state. We challenge that authority based on all of the evidence we have to hand of sustained egregious corruption, gross incompetence, and tyrannical behaviour of the political class, and its use of coercion, manipulation, dishonesty, misappropriation of public monies, jobbery and nepotism, corruption of the courts and judicial procedures, its refusal to prosecute proven bribers of public office holders and those office holders themselves, and its in-our-faces kleptocracy.

We dissent from all of that. We are, therefore, dissidents in the true sense of that word, and we are proud of that. We take the only ethical course of action in the face of such corruption and tyranny. We say NO! to all of that.

We will not be monitored by a home-grown Stasi. We will not be ruled by Fascists. We will not be robbed by the political class, including its oligarchs. We will not have our essential services or our national resources privatised. We will not have the concepts of law or justice perverted for the use of the few against the many. We will not countenance, any more, the victimisation of oppressed groups in our society – the poor, children, the sick, the aged, women so that society is deliberately divided and exploited for the benefit of the few and the impoverishment of the many.

We who dissent stand together. We put aside petty differences in the common good. No Stasi-like police operation will stop us, or divide us. Those politicians who established that police-state and participated in that kleptocracy and established that anti-democratic tyranny, and we know who they are, will feel our breath on their necks. We are coming to get them.

We are the Risen People, and we are on the move.

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Broad Left Policy Platform Essential – Now

We will have a General Election in the next few months, no later than April 2016 but very possibly before the end of this year. With signs of a dramatic shift in public attitudes that election represents the first opportunity since quasi-independence in 1922 to fundamentally change the politics and the ideological basis of government in this state, and to create a better society for all.

Instead of capitalising on that opportunity we are still, at this late stage, witnessing a war of words between socialists and republicans and within both socialist groups and republican groups.

For some in either camp it seems far more important to hurl abuse or to issue weasel words against prospective allies than to work assiduously on a set of ideas to present in common to the people in the hope that they will take the opportunity as rational autonomous citizens to radically transform the sort of society we live in for the better.

What ideas are there that should be capable of finding broad agreement on the political left among socialist groups and republican groups, and between socialists and republicans? As a socialist-republican straddling those categorisations, here are 15 policy areas that I think should be relatively noncontentious.

1 Adequate, affordable, secure housing as a right, where necessary through public provision.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written-up in a little over an hour, this list could be contracted to be a 10-point or 12-point plan, or expanded to include further ideas. Of course, it may be that socialists would take issue with some elements of the list, and republicans with others, although it is hard for me to see where that would apply. But that is what sober discussions should be able to tease out.

The upcoming election should not be about disputation between potential allies but about disputation between conflicting ideologies – on the one hand the over-arching ideology of the state’s ruling parties since 1922 and on the other an ideological alternative that is being demanded by upwards of 50% of prospective voters in the next General Election.

Meanwhile, on the ground, grassroots political activists and mobilised communities are developing their own ideas. Leftist parties of all stripes would do well to understand the price they will pay if they fail to reach agreement to provide an alternative to the hegemonic tyranny of the right by providing a different road-map that would make a better-functioning society possible.

As paragraph four of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic points out, the republic is not just about the prosperity of the people, but about their happiness too.

And who, other than the wealthy, is happy with the state we live in – the political state, and the psychological state?

Stop sniping, stop hurling insults, sit down and discuss. And show us the list. We want to be able to vote for something worthwhile.

Like the prospect of a decent future.


Another Time, Another Place – Alleviating The Housing Crisis

Providing adequate housing for all – a human right – is a problem in all capitalist societies where sensible solutions based on the notions of the common good and simple decency are discarded in the interest of speculators and landlords. Private wealth triumphs over human rights and higher human instincts, but more than that private wealth shoots itself in the foot, repeatedly.

Just as maintaining a numerically significant cohort in society in a state of permanent educational disadvantage and consequent inhibited development makes no economic sense at all, maintaining a significant number of individuals and families in a constantly precarious position with regard to housing makes no economic sense either.

With an ever-aging society where lower birth-rates do not provide a hedge against future demands for health-care or pensions, the idea that it makes sense to discard perhaps 20% of the population – potential earners – based on social class is simply insane. Further, stealing the potential happiness of men, women and children is simply naked brutality at play.

Homelessness brought about by repetitive capital-driven boom-bust is equally insane. It is impossible for those who are homeless to harbour any realistic ambition to seek and find satisfying and productive work or further education or training. Where they are eligible, decent human beings are forced to rely on social security payments or on the charity of strangers to survive. They are not allowed to advance their position, to be productive, to be healthy, to be even moderately happy, to contribute to the exchequer or to have dignity.

In 1970, living in a Notting Hill bedsit in London and with a baby due, my wife and I needed more suitable but affordable housing. Fortunately we lived within the Kensington Burrough Council area, and that council had an enlightened, pragmatic solution that worked.

It was relatively simple. Where a house lay unused, or where a landlord failed to maintain a house in proper order for existing tenants, the council had a procedure for taking control of those houses, carrying out any necessary refurbishment or repairs, letting the units to those on its housing list or to existing tenants, and using the rents to pay for the cost of any works necessary to render the buildings habitable and to a good standard. When the costs of works had been recouped the properties would revert to the owners.

The policy worked on a number of fronts. It provided additional quality housing to the council, it pressured landlords to maintain their buildings to a good standard and to ensure occupancy as opposed to dereliction, it enhanced the appearance of the urban environment, and it made use of existing housing assets to alleviate homelessness.

According to An Spréach housing action collective “…there are over 270,000 vacant houses, flats and apartments scattered around the country, and over 30,000 in Dublin alone”, and “There are over 90,000 people waiting on the social housing list in Ireland”.

There is a short-term solution. It was tried at another time, in another place, and it worked. It was not a permanent fix. One downside was the gentrification of the Notting Hill area a few years later – a boon for landlords and speculators. But there were some housing protections for tenants that made it more difficult for landlords to clear tenants out so as to profit from the property boom.

Adopting that solution runs up against an ideological problem of our own construction – the constitutional right to property. In this non-republic property rights trump human rights. But a creative approach could get around that issue pending a change in our constitution, preferably by scrapping it completely and offering the citizens a new constitution fit for a 21st century republic in which human rights trump property rights.

And it runs up against the problem of an institutionalised belief in local and central government and among the political class that capitalism rules, that no interference can be countenanced in the supremacy of capital to earn unencumbered profit regardless of social or human costs.

So, the homeless crisis is ideologically driven. Worse than that, it is fueled by a brutal indifference on the part of each of the three counter-revolutionary parties – Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil – to the suffering of a significant part of our population and to their under-development or, worse still, un-development.

That is why it is so vital to build a progressive alternative to brutish government dedicated to helping the disadvantaged to move towards not just prosperity, but also happiness, and dignity. Stable decent housing is a component of that.

It’s about humanity. It’s about society. And it’s even about the economy.


Tone, McManus, O’Donovan Rossa, and the Memory of the Dead

Today, August 1st 2015, is the centenary of the interment of the body of Fenian leader Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa in Glasnevin Cemetery, an event which was designed to act as the inciting incident that fueled the Irish revolution and the Proclamation of the Irish Republic less than a year later. Patrick Pearse’s graveside oration simultaneously invoked the memory of the dead and issued a call to arms in the fight for Irish freedom.

This was not a one-off, but simply the continuation of the use of funerals, memorials and commemorations to raise awareness of previous patriotic endeavour in order to fuel the drive to break the link with the coloniser and to establish an independent Irish state along republican lines.

The two extracts I use are from a thesis I wrote in 1996:

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(Extract 1)

‘The funeral of Terence Bellew McManus was one of the more momentous occasions in 19th-century Irish nationalist affairs. Patriotic memorialists have deemed it the effective starting point for the organization of the politics of separatism: the catalyst in the formation and expansion of Fenianism in Ireland and America’ (Bisceglia 1979: 45)

McManus had been exiled to Tasmania in 1849 for his part in the Rising, from where he escaped and made his way to San Francisco in 1851. Given a grand welcome by the local Irish community, McManus seems to have settled into a relatively quiet life until his death ten years later. He had refused, during the mid-to-late 1850s, to allow a petition for his inclusion in a general amnesty, stating –

“If the land that gave me birth – if the land sanctified to me by the graves of my forefathers – if the land of my love and affection, and for whose liberty I would cheerfully shed the last drop of my heart’s blood, cannot welcome me back without the consent of a foreign ruler, then my foot shall never press her soil”

On his death in January 1861, McManus was immediately buried in San Francisco. Within the year his remains had been disinterred by the local branch of the Fenians and placed in an ornate casket, and was the centrepiece of three major funeral processions, in San Francisco, New York, and Dublin. The final one, in Dublin, took an entire Sunday to wend its way through the streets to Glasnevin cemetery, making stops at points of nationalist interest, and accompanied or watched by many thousands of people. It was the largest event of its type since O’Connell’s funeral, and its like would not be seen again for thirty years, and Parnell’s funeral. In San Francisco and New York McManus’s body had been received into the respective cathedrals for full religious rites, but in Dublin –

‘Dr. Paul Cullen, the archbishop of Dublin, refused to bestow the clergy’s blessings upon the proceedings and closed the churches to the McManus funeral. The archbishop had been in Rome when the “Carbonari” under Mazzini had stormed the Vatican and ousted Pius IX during the revolution of 1848-9. He had spent much of his time since then in Ireland trying to swing the populace behind peaceful constitutional reform.’ (Bisceglia 1979: 59)

The McManus funeral demonstrated a number of things: the importance to nationalism of the memory of the dead; the popular support that the Fenians had both in Ireland and America; their organisational and fund-raising ability; and crucially, the degree of implacable opposition there was to physical force republicanism from the institutional Catholic Church.

‘Obviously there were at least two constituencies in Ireland: one embodied in the constitutional attachments to the crown and given expression by Archbishop Cullen; the other dedicated to a violent solution and given encouragement by the McManus funeral. It was to this latter group, this bedrock of anti-British feeling, to which the Fenians happened to appeal…Thus, with an eye on the future, they made a claim on the past.’ (Bisceglia 1979: 63)

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Thirty-seven years later on the occasion of the centenary of the 1798 Rising – the first manifestation of armed Irish republican resistance to British rule in Ireland – the use of memorials and commemorations were centre-stage. Worth noting was the presence among the organising centennial committee of socialist republican James Connolly whose uncles were Fenians and who would himself jointly-sign the Proclamation of the Irish Republic 18 years later and command the Dublin forces in the revolution, and pay for that with his life.

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(Extract 2)

The great mass of ordinary people played their part in the commemorations, with bonfires lit on important anniversaries, performances of centennial dramas in villages and towns, pageants, collections for the erection of permanent memorials, and so on. ‘A healthy rivalry developed between communities, each trying to outdo its neighbours in patriotic display.’ (O’Keefe 1992: 69) It was, however, their participation in the dedication ceremonies of memorials that was particularly impressive.

‘Only the monster meetings of Daniel O’Connell’s repeal campaign and the public gatherings connected with the Land League had brought so many people together for a single purpose over such a long period.’
(Owens 1994: 106)

As I have already pointed out, the raising of monuments in 1898 was both an act of defiance for the present and a symbolic connection between the past and the future. Coming just a year after large demonstrations held to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee year, the `98 commemorations were important reminders that, as Owens says, ‘the heart of the country remained nationalist.’ (O’Keefe: 107) There was also an educative function attached to the monuments, and the process surrounding them.

‘Nationalists also believed that memorials to dead heroes could teach the country’s youth priceless lessons in history. As one monument promoter contended: “in [the] absence of the systematic teaching of our country’s history in the schools, these monuments will be to the child the illustrations of a portion of our national story”.’ (O’Keefe: 108)

This emphasis on the need to teach the coming generation the story of the nation is echoed by Brown some seventeen years later, just before the Rising in 1916.

‘…why not see to it that among the works of fiction put into the hands of Irish boys and girls there shall be found some that will imprint in their imaginations what of Irish history is best worth remembering, and that will help to fix their affections upon the country whose children they are.’ (Brown 1916: 95)

As Owens says, it is impossible to know what the young people themselves thought of the monuments, or if they took from them what the adults hoped they would. But in the main it would be the children of 1898 who would, eighteen years later, be members of the generation who were ‘out’ in 1916 and thereafter.

The sites where these monuments would be had relevance too. They needed to be highly visible, so were placed in a busy area. They might be positioned at one of the ‘stations’ on the ‘via Dolorosa’ I mentioned earlier, or even create a new one. They would also serve as a rallying point for meetings and demonstrations. The choice of site could also be used provocatively, as in the siting of the foundation stone for the Wolfe Tone statue right in the heart of unionist Dublin at the top of Grafton Street.

Where it was not possible to site the monument on what Owens describes as the ‘sacred spot’, then a piece of the spot might be brought to the monument site, for instance the use of stone from a battlefield to make the monument or foundation. (Owens 1994: 110) This emphasis on relics is tied into the way in which monuments were treated almost as sacred objects, and in the use of religious discourse about the monument in terms such as ‘shrine’, martyr’, etc. (Ibid: 111)

The Wolfe Tone monument provides a good example of these points. The foundation stone was quarried from Cave Hill near Belfast, where Tone and the Belfast United Irishmen had sworn to their course of action. Its choice of source also allowed the Belfast republicans to have an input into the commemoration. It would not have been possible for them to have their own commemoration in the sectarian Belfast of the late nineteenth century.

When the stone arrived in Dublin by train it was treated much as the body of a hero might have been, with a lying-in-state for two days on the site of the old Newgate prison, prior to its carriage through the ‘via Dolorosa’ – the route which took it past the places associated with Tone, Emmet and so on. The city had shut down for the day, and the huge procession took three hours to cover the three mile route. It was the largest public gathering since the unveiling of the O’Connell monument, with the crowd estimated to number one hundred thousand. (Owens: 111-3)

When the veteran Fenian John O’Leary had finished the ceremonial laying of the stone, he tapped the trowel, which had been donated for the occasion by one of Tone’s grand-daughters, six times on the stone, one for each of the four provinces, and once each for the United States and France.

‘Then, at a signal from the platform, a band struck up the theme song of the centenary, ‘The Memory of the Dead’. As they began to play, members of the crowd removed their hats and stood silently or sang the well-known lyrics that began, ‘Who fears to speak of `98?’ (Owens: 114)

This then was the centrepiece of the `98 commemorations. When a monument to Tone was finally unveiled, the independent state would have already celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Rising of 1916.

*****

The ‘independent state’? The Irish state doesn’t qualify as such since independence has been surrendered to the European Union and to the Eurozone. The nominal independence we ‘enjoyed’ prior to that was used for the benefit of an ‘elite’ class – the wealthy, professionals, the Catholic Church, and their political fixers and assorted useful facilitators including media owners.

The current Fine Gael-Labour government, driven by a hatred and fear of 1916 which challenges the corporatist nature of this state with an alternative set of higher ideals and promises, struggled to overwhelm the upcoming centenary of the 1916 revolution with a spate of other centennials until forced to change course through the weight of public opinion.

Today’s state commemoration of the O’Donovan Rossa centenary is a deeply cynical enterprise. The political class has been forced to swallow hard, to grin and bear it, conscious of the threat to its existence should the despised ‘non-elite’ mass element of citizens engage in a re-examination of the promise of the Proclamation and of the Republic so deliberately extinguished by the first Free State government and all subsequent governments

If the O’Donovan Rossa funeral was the inciting incident for the 1916 revolution, could it be that the centenary of that funeral, the first in a series of commemorations which will culminate in the Republic Day 1916 commemorations on April 24th 2016, will be an inciting incident leading to the preparation for a democratic revolution by the Demos?

If so, we might imagine a ghostly smile from Wolfe Tone, Terence Bellew McManus, Jermiah O’Donovan Rossa and James Connolly.

And their nods of approval.


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