Monday, October 19, 2020

My Blog this week is 'On being 72'; Brit attacks on human rights; & German unification and Ireland

 On being Seventy Two.


I celebrated my seventy second birthday last week.
Seventy two is closer to eighty
Than it is to sixty.
Or fifty.
Or forty. 
Or thirty.
Or twenty.
 But I know that
I will never be sixty.
Or fifty.
Or forty.
Or thirty.
Or twenty.
Ever again.
Sin é.
That’s the way of it.
Thats life.
But will I ever be eighty?
Nobody knows.
That’s the mystery of it.
The wonder of it.
The adventure of it.
And the hope.
Me?
I hope to know my grandchildren’s
grandchildren.(But not too  soon a thaiscí)
That’s impossible say the naysayers.
Nothing is impossible I reply.
Content that
We will find out in the end.
Well some of us will.
Until then I will try to live every day
Like  it is my last day.
And eventually I will be right.
But from now until then
I am sure
The best is yet to come.


Fool Me  Once .........

When Boris Johnson tells you that his government is determined to defend the Good Friday Agreement – don’t believe a word of it. When British Ministers claim that their government “is committed to protecting and respecting human rights” - don’t believe a word of it. And when they claim to be a party committed to equality and fairness under the law – don’t believe it.
The Johnson government is currently engaged in the most concentrated attack on human rights of any British government since Margaret Thatcher. 

Last week the British Parliament passed the second reading of the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill. This legislation provides for authorisations that will empower Britain’s Secret Service and intelligence agencies, police forces and a range of public agencies, including the Environment Agency and Gambling Commission and others to authorise their agents and informants to commit criminal offences.
In a damning joint briefing by the Pat Finucane Centre; the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ); Reprieve; and Rights and Security International these front line human rights organisations point out that this Bill “places no express limits on the types of crimes which can be authorised. There is no express prohibition on authorising crimes that would constitute human rights violations, including murder, torture (e.g. punishment shootings), kidnap, or sexual offences, or on conduct that would interfere with the course of justice.”

In defence of this new law the British government claim that the Human Rights Act will provide a safeguard against any abuses. However, according to the human rights briefing the British have already taken the position that the Human Rights Act “does not apply to crimes committed by its covert agents.” Successive Tory Prime Ministers and Ministers have expressed their opposition to the Act. In addition, two weeks ago Britain’s Lord Chancellor revealed that the Johnson government is to commission an independent review of the Human Rights Act.

Last week the British Home Secretary Priti Patel used a speech to the Conservative Party conference to attack lawyers who defend migrants. She linked them to human traffickers. Patel said: “No doubt those who are well-rehearsed in how to play and profit from the broken system will lecture us on their grand theories about human rights. Those defending the broken system – the traffickers, the do-gooders, the lefty lawyers, the Labour Party – they are defending the indefensible.”

Patel’s criticism of lawyers was echoed a few days later by Boris Johnson who claimed that his government was determined to stop the “whole criminal justice system from being hamstrung by what the home Secretary would doubtless – and rightly – call the lefty human rights lawyers and other do-gooders.”

The Bar Council and Law Society which represent lawyers have criticised this Tory assault on lawyers. One pointed out that: “In countries where lawyers are unable to do their job for fear of intimidation the rule of law is weakened. The consequences are a society that become less safe, less stable and less fair.”

Another line of attack on human rights was also announced last week with the publication by the British Home Office of a report by the Law Commission which proposes significant changes to the scope of search warrants, the acquiring of medical records and stored digital data and accessing material held by journalists.

None of this will surprise anyone who experienced the British abuse of the legal and judicial system in the North during the recent years of conflict. Special Diplock Courts; special rules of evidence; the use of forced confessions; the onus on defendants to prove their innocence; the Special Powers Act and its replacements the Prevention of Terrorism Act and Emergency Provisions Act; and the role of agents, spies and state collusion in the murder of citizens. Pat Finucane was a human rights lawyer murdered by agents of the British state. So too was Rosemary Nelson. The Glenanne Gang killed 120 citizens, including those killed in the Dublin Monaghan bombs. A Police Ombudsman report in 2007 revealed how one agent, Mark Haddock was paid £80,000 by the British state. Haddock and his gang killed at least 15 people.

General Frank Kitson who served in many of Britain’s counter-insurgency campaigns, including in Belfast in the early 70s, and was regarded as their foremost counter-insurgency specialist wrote: “Everything done by a government and its agents in combating insurgency must be legitimate. But this does not mean that the government must work within exactly the same set of laws during an emergency as existed beforehand. The law should be used as just another weapon in the government’s arsenal, in which case it becomes little more than a propaganda cover for the disposal of unwanted members of the public.”

In essence the Johnson government is applying this principle to all aspects of British Law and in particular to the application of the Human Rights Act. The Human Rights Act is a core foundation stone of the human rights elements of the Good Friday Agreement. Any tampering with it is an attack, on the Agreement.

30 years old

There were two great events in 1990 that helped reshape the world and provide hope for many, including people in Ireland.

The first was the release on 11 February 1990 of Nelson Mandela. I recall as if it was yesterday Madiba walking out of Victor Verster Prison. I watched his release on television alone in the bedroom of the house I was in with tears streaming down my face as I stood and applauded. It still took almost four years of intense negotiations for him to become President of South Africa but his release sounded a note of hope for oppressed peoples everywhere.

The second great event was the smashing of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 and the negotiation over the following ten months which led 30 years ago this month to the reunification of Germany on 3 October 1990.

Two huge historic events that resonated across the globe and which reinforced our belief, as we were developing our own peace strategy, that no issue, however difficult, is intractable. That with courage and commitment and leadership it is possible to bring about transformative change.

There were many challenges for the people of Germany in making the process of reunification work. It brought with it a financial cost but today Germany is the strongest economy in the EU and its 83 million people are much better off. The 1990 East German economy, and its wage levels for workers, which were years behind that of West Germany, are now almost on a par with each other. A recent opinion poll revealed that Germans are happier now than at any time since 1990. But it is as Chancellor Angela Merkel remarked “a continual process”.

So too with Irish reunification. This too is a process. The Good Friday Agreement created the constitutional, democratic and legal context in which Irish reunification can take place. The debate on unity has become very intense in recent years, in part spurred by the stupidity of Brexit. Even the horrors of the pandemic point up the need for all island solutions to tackling the virus. Together is better. Division is not.

The months and years ahead will be challenging times but also a time of great opportunity for everyone living on the island of Ireland. The experience of Germany in successfully overcoming its barriers to reunification is evidence that it can be done. It needs an open transparent conversation about how it can be achieved; what changes need to be embraced to build a truly inclusive society based on equality; and what compromises will be necessary to win maximum public support.

 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Another part of our history demolished: Like characters from the Gulag

 

Another part of our history demolished

Last week 40 Herbert Park, the home of the only leader of the 1916 Rising to be killed in action, was demolished in a shameful act of political and corporate vandalism and greed. The O’Rahilly - Michael Joseph O'Rahilly was shot by British soldiers as he and others attacked a British machine gun position in an effort to cover the retreat from the burning GPO on Friday evening 28 April.  

As he lay bleeding to death in a doorway The O’Rahilly wrote a last note to his wife:

 ‘Written after I was shot. Darling Nancy I was shot leading a rush up Moore Street and took refuge in a doorway. While I was there I heard the men pointing out where I was and made a bolt for the laneway I am in now. I got more [than] one bullet I think. Tons and tons of love dearie to you and the boys and to Nell and Anna. It was a good fight anyhow.

Please deliver this to Nannie O' Rahilly, 40 Herbert Park, Dublin. Goodbye Darling.

The demolition of 40 Herbert Park again raises serious concerns at the refusal of successive Irish governments to protect Moore Street, part of the “laneways of history” linked to 1916 and where the leaders of the 1916 Rising held their last meeting.

Herbert Park was built in 1907 for the World’s Fair Irish International Exhibition to promote Irish industry. The O’Rahilly family moved in as its first occupants in 1909 and the O’Rahilly’s widow Nancy lived in their Herbert Park home until her death in 1961.

In August the O’Rahilly’s grandson Proinsias Ó Rathaille called for the house to be declared a national monument and protected. He said: The house is of great historical significance. It is where the Asgard gunrunning was planned, meetings for the planning of the Rising were held there, Countess Markievicz and my grandmother initially set up Cumann na mBan from the house, and it was the house to which my grandfather addressed the note to my grandmother as he lay bleeding to death.”

Derryroe Ltd which demolished the house is owned by the McSharry and Kennedy families who own the nearby Herbert Park Hotel. They want to build 105 apartments on the site.

On 8th September An Bord Pleanála gave permission for the development to go ahead despite opposition from Dublin City Councillors, the O’Rahilly family, the 1916 Relatives, Sinn Féin and others. The approval was contingent on an eight week period to allow for any legal challenges. Several days after the decision by An Bord Pleanála Dublin City Council voted to add the building to the list of protected structures. Dublin City Council Chief Executive Owen Keegan confirmed to Sinn Féin that he had written to the developers McSharry-Kennedy to inform them of this.  

However, with five weeks of that period still to run the developers moved in on Tuesday morning 29 September and demolished the building. Dublin City Council has said it will take legal action and that legal proceedings will be issued but this will not save Herbert Park. It’s gone. And with it another crucial piece of the history of the 1916 revolutionary period.

James Connolly Heron, the grandson of James Connolly who is one of those fighting to save the Moore Street historic site described the developer’s action as “a shocking act of cultural vandalism.” It is he said; “a flagrant breach of the law and a direct challenge to each and every elected representative holding office on behalf of citizens.” He called for the house to be rebuilt brick by brick, stone by stone, garden by garden.”

If you agree with James Connolly Heron and if you believe that the Irish government must protect Moore Street why not write and tell them that. They are the custodians of our history and of the buildings and historic sites that tell Ireland’s story. Imagine the public outrage if historic sites in the fight for American independence were demolished? If Independence Hall in Philadelphia where the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were debated and adopted was destroyed; Or Robben Island in South Africa? Or the home of Harriet Tubman, abolitionist, humanitarian and one of those who founded the underground railroad for escaping slaves from the Southern slave states in the USA or the GPO in O’Connell Street?

Write to An Taoiseach Micheál Martin - Government Buildings, Merrion Street Upper , Dublin 2 or email him at webmaster@taoiseach.ie:  and the Minister for Heritage Darragh O’Brien at The Customs House, Dublin D01 W6X0.


Like characters from the Gulag

This column welcomes the publication of the report of the Independent Panel of Inquiry into the Circumstances of the H-Block and Armagh Prison Protests 1976-1981’

On 27 October 1980 the first hunger strike commenced. The years from 1976, when the British government ended special category status and sought to impose its criminalisation strategy, to October 1981 when the second hunger strike ended after the deaths of 10 republican POWs, were hard and challenging and difficult. Successive British governments, but in particular the Thatcher government, believed that by defeating the political prisoners they could defeat the republican struggle. To that end special powers, special courts, non-jury trials, corrupt judicial practice in the admissibility of forced confession, torture in interrogation centres, were all employed as tools by the British state. The use of violence and brutality by prison administrations and prison guards was an extension of all this.

For those of us who lived through those traumatic years much of what is in the report; ‘I am Sir, you are a number: Report of the Independent Panel of Inquiry into the Circumstances of the H-Block and Armagh Prison Protests 1976-1981’ confirms what we already knew. However, the strength of the report is in its detail, in the confidential British government documents it accessed and in the eyewitness accounts of the prisoners and two prison governors. This report is an indictment of a British counter-insurgency strategy that deliberately and systematically abused physically and mentally hundreds of men and women.

I spent a short time in the H-Blocks on remand awaiting trial on an IRA membership charge. My conditions were radically different from those of the blanketmen but it did give me an opportunity to see for myself some of what they were going through and the urgent need for a mass public campaign in support of the prisoners.

I wrote; “I was struck by the spirit of the prisoners. In my other jail experiences, we had been cushioned by our numbers and by the prisoners’ own command structure from dealing directly with the screws; it had been possible for prisoners in the cages to serve long terms with little or no contact with the administration. Here in our individual cells, in the Blocks, it was different. If you wanted to resist a search, you had to face the screws on your own. But the screws couldn’t run the prison without the prisoners, and the prisoners were completely defiant. I listened in amused admiration as they shouted their defiance at particularly notorious prison officers. Most of those on my wing were younger than I was and were strongly assertive.

At night-time on most wings throughout the Blocks there would be a sing-song, a quiz, a storytelling session, or occasionally we would just swap banter. I would lie back on my bed listening to the better singers competing for our applause. We had good singers: we had Elvis impersonators, Mick Jagger singalikes, Bobby Vees and Johnny Cashes; and, of course, we had rebel songs...

I was treated as a special security prisoner, which meant that I was taken on my own when I had to go somewhere in the jail, normally for visits, and this was a bonus for me. Not only did Colette and I usually have an entire visiting block to ourselves – the one I had attempted to escape from – but it also meant that I got to see some of the blanket men when nobody else was seeing them.

They were like characters from Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag, shuffling along in big boots without laces, wearing, for their visits, ill-fitting jackets and trousers. Most of the trousers had their backsides slit open, and all of the blanket men had long, unwashed hair and unkempt beards.”

The members of the Independent Panel, (the late Warren Allmand, Richard Harvey, Dr. John Burton and Prof. Phil Scraton) as well as Coiste na nLarchimí and Ó Muirigh Solicitors are to be commended for their diligence in producing this report. It examines a pivotal moment in our recent history and provides an invaluable insight into Britain’s criminalisation strategy and determination to break the prisoners and by extension their objective of breaking the republican struggle.

 

 

Monday, October 5, 2020

Brexit and the disunited Kingdom: The Centenary of Kevin Barry; and Frederick Douglass

 Brexit and the disunited Kingdom

The Brexit crisis has at times been surreal and bizarre.  The Unionist parties embraced Brexit claiming, as many Tories do, that leaving the EU would make Britain great again! On the back of the unsuccessful referendum on Scottish independence they asserted that Brexit would solidify the ‘United Kingdom’. This has not happened. Consequently, the referendum campaign in 2016 and the debate since then relied on lies, misrepresentation, and a peculiar form of English jingoism.

This column has no desire to live in a ‘Kingdom’. Even if the High Kings of Ireland came back and if Ted became Ard Rí, as was his ambition once upon a time, I would remain unimpressed. So when the King is actually foisted upon us by dint of colonialism and an accident of birth, hers and mine, my dissenter instincts come to the fore. I want to live in harmonious accord with the people of our nearest offshore island - closer even than Tóraigh - and if they want a Kingdom that’s their own business. Ditto with Brexit. But count me out. I’m also not persuaded that Mr Johnson is serious about any of these matters. His fix is political power. Even though that is a transient matter. Just like Kingdoms.

Instead of cementing the Union as Mr Johnson and his cohorts claimed, Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic, have created significant cracks in the British body politic. More people than ever before are recognising that Westminster prioritises and protects English interests and not those of Scotland or Wales or the island of Ireland. No suprises there. Consequently, all recent polling indicates that Scotland is now closer to independence than it was in 2014. The debate around independence for Wales has also seen a step change. In recent days an independence Commission published its report in support of independence. Last May a YouGov poll suggested that 25% of Welsh voters now backed independence. And two weeks ago a hysterical front page headline in the Express Newspaper screamed: “Forget about Scotland! It's Wales that could tear UK apart as independence campaign erupts”.

In 2017 the EU acknowledged that the North, which voted to remain in the European Union during the 2016 referendum, could, in the event of Irish Unity, rejoin the EU without negotiation or complication. Allied to the political and demographic changes already taking place and despite the shortcomings of the EU this intensified the conversation that was already taking place for the setting of a date for the referendum on Unity provided for within the Good Friday Agreement.

Last year’s Withdrawal Agreement and Irish Protocol angered unionists and elements of the British Conservative party because it guaranteed no hard border on the island of Ireland while providing for checks at ports and airports for goods travelling into the North from Britain. The result of this was the publication of the Internal Market Bill.

Incidentally it was reported in recent days that hauliers who want to access Dover to travel to Calais in France will now need special permits to enter the English county of Kent. Where stands the DUP on this important issue?

In addition opposition to the British government’s unilateral decision to break international law by introducing its Internal Market Bill is growing. Unless there is a significant shift in policy by the Johnson government it’s difficult to see how a full-blown economic and political crisis between Britain and the EU, with the island of Ireland suffering substantial collateral damage, can be avoided in the next three months – the deadline for a trade deal.

Last week the Assembly and the Seanad both voted in support of the Withdrawal Agreement and Irish Protocol and rejected the Internal Market Bill being proposed by the Conservatives. The Tory government has admitted that this Bill will breach international law by breaking the Irish Protocol – an agreement it signed less than a year ago with the EU. The Bill is a serious threat to the Good Friday Agreement. The Committee on the Administration of Justice, the Equality Coalition and Unison , as well as Ireland’s Future, have all criticised it. Last Thursday the four anti-Brexit parties in the Assembly – Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Alliance and Green Party - travelled to Dublin to meet the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney. There was agreement on the need for the Withdrawal Agreement and Irish Protocol to be implemented in full.

All of this simply points up the importance of planning for our future. This includes advancing the debate on Irish Unity; securing the referendum on Unity and winning that referendum. English self-interests are not Irish national interests. It’s time for the Irish government and parties committed to the reversing of Brexit, insofar as it effects the people of this island, to include the need to plan for Irish Unity in their deliberations.

 

The centenary of Kevin Barry

There are few songs of Ireland’s long struggle for freedom that are as well known as ‘Kevin Barry’. In times past it has been sung by almost every Irish folk group, including the Clancy Brothers and The Wolfe Tones. International singers have also recorded it. Leonard Cohen and Paul Robeson, the African American singer, actor and civil rights activist, each sang a version of it. Robeson’s can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BSjO9rIwn5M .

Its popularity was such that during the recent years of conflict RTE – to its shame - banned it along with many other republican songs of struggle.

In Mountjoy jail one Monday morning

High upon the gallows tree,

Kevin Barry gave his young life

For the cause of liberty.

But a lad of eighteen summers,

Still there's no one can deny,

As he walked to death that morning,

He proudly held his head on high.

100 years ago last week, on 20 September 1920 Kevin Barry was captured following an attack on a British Army lorry. Three British soldiers were killed in the ambush.

Barry was aged 18 and a medical student at University College Dublin. He was assaulted by British soldiers after his arrest and was subsequently tried by court martial on the 20 October. He refused to recongise the court. That evening the sentence of the court martial was read out to him in his cell. He was to be executed on 1 November.

A massive political and publicity campaign commenced to save his live. The British government ignored this and on 1st November Kevin Barry was hanged in Mountjoy Prison.

 For the cause he proudly cherished

This sad parting had to be

Then to death walked softly smiling

That old Ireland might be free.

Another martyr for old Ireland;

Another murder for the crown,

Whose brutal laws to crush the Irish,

Could not keep their spirit down.

Lads like Barry are no cowards.

From the foe they will not fly.

Lads like Barry will free Ireland,

For her sake they'll live and die.

To mark 100 years since his death members of his family and the local community in Tombeagh, Hacketstown County Carlow established the Kevin Barry Commemoration Committee. It intends that the “centrepiece of the centenary event will be the unveiling of a lifesize status of Kevin on the Rathvilly village green in County Carlow.”

The Committee have established a go fund me page at:

gofundme.com/f/kevin-barry-commemoration-2020

They also have a back account: Kevin Barry Commemoration Committee (Rathvilly), BIC: AIBKIE2D and IBAN:IE09AIBK93332516242182

Further details are available at;

Website: Kevin Barry 2020 webpage

Committee email address: kevinbarry2020comm@gmail.com

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Kevinbarrycommemoration2020/

Twitter page: https://twitter.com/KevinBarry20201

Instagram page: Kevin Barry Committee Instagram page

 

Frederick Douglass; An escaped slave in Ireland

The killing of African American citizens amidst the tension of a Presidential election in the USA has brought the issue of racism centre stage in that country. The Black Lives Matters campaign has contributed to a growing awareness of the depth to which racism exists not just in the USA but also in Britain with its colonial past, and elsewhere in the world, including here in Ireland.

Among those I have long admired for his courage in opposing slavery and who has strong connections to Ireland, is Frederick Douglass

175 years ago in September 1845 Frederick Douglass arrived in Ireland. Douglass had been born into slavery in Maryland and escaped. That year he wrote an autobiography of his life: ‘The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave’. It was a best seller but as an escaped slave Douglass was now at risk of being kidnapped and returned to his slave owner. So, like so many of my generation, he went on the run.

He toured Ireland extensively and lectured on the evils of slavery. He visited Belfast four times.

Douglass’s close association with Belfast should be a matter of great public pride. It is a part of our history that needs to be told and retold. It is also a reminder that the evil of slavery still has to be ended. There is currently an effort under way to have a statue erected to Douglass. I wish those involved well in their endeavour. Speed the day.

 

 

Monday, September 21, 2020

Perfidious Albion.

A Little Englander is someone who thinks that England and the English are superior to all other countries and people. Many people think their country is better than other countries. And some are. At sport. Music. Human rights. Opera. Tiddleywinks. Underwater wrestling. But thinking that you are genetically superior and that others are lesser inferior creatures is what underpins imperialism. It is the road to fascism. It thrives on ignorance. It is also grist to the mill of power seeking demagogues and racists. And political opportunists and tricksters looking to distract attention from their own political shortcomings.

Like Boris Johnson who is making a mess of his government’s response to the dreadful Corona pandemic.

Cue the decision by the Johnson government to unilaterally break the Withdrawal Agreement and Irish Protocol that was agreed between the British and the EU last year. The introduction of the Internal Market Bill will allow British Ministers to arbitrarily change key elements of the Agreement. This breach of international law is, Johnson claims, necessary to “stop a foreign power from breaking up” the increasingly disunited ‘United Kingdom’.  The British claim that the agreement will impose a food blockade on goods from Britain to the North; will create a “full scale trade border down the Irish Sea”; and will destroy the “economic and territorial integrity of the UK”.

This is the same agreement that Johnson negotiated and signed off on last October. It was trumpeted by him as “oven-ready” during the general election campaign in December. It was signed into law on 20 January this year to great public fanfare. Johnson said at the time: “Today I have signed the Withdrawal Agreement for the UK to leave the EU on January 31st, honouring the democratic mandate of the British people. This signature heralds a new chapter in our nation’s history”.

His new historic chapter didn’t survive long. Two weeks ago the British Secretary of State for the North Brandon Lewis told the British Parliament that a new Bill to be introduced will "break international law". The British government’s most senior lawyer immediately resigned. In the war of words that erupted the EU called for the scrapping of the draft legislation “in the shortest time possible and in any case by the end of the month.” The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, warned the British government that any reneging on its responsibilities will mean that Britain’s signature on everything from trade agreements to Treasury bonds will be worthless. And five former British Prime Ministers all criticised and challenged Johnson. The DUP supported him. Play it again Sammy. The DUP supported him. Proof that the only thing worse than a Little Englander is a Wannabe Little Englander who is not even English.

The Speaker of the US Congress Nancy Pelosi pulled no punches when she declared that; "If the UK violates that international treaty and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of a US-UK trade agreement passing the Congress.”

Congress member Richard Neal, who is the Chair of the Ways and Means Committee, which will have a powerful say in any economic treaty between the USA and Britain, reminded Johnson that the USA is a guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement; Since the landmark peace deal was reached in 1998, the 310-mile border in Ireland has remained frictionless and invisible. Every political party on the island opposes a return of a hard border. I sincerely hope the British government upholds the rule of law and delivers on the commitments it made during Brexit negotiations, particularly in regard to the Irish border protocols."

Antony Blinken, a foreign policy adviser to Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden, said that Biden is committed to preserving the GFA. He tweeted "As the UK and EU work out their relationship, any arrangements must protect the Good Friday Agreement and prevent the return of a hard border."

Johnson however is not for turning. To add fuel to the fire the Tories have also chosen this time to signal their intent to reduce the influence and authority of the Human Rights Act which became British law in 1998 and underpins the human rights components of the Good Friday Agreement. The Act has long been a target for the Conservatives, who under Theresa May planned to scrap it entirely. The 2020 Conservative manifesto pledged to “update” the Act and in recent days the language from the Johnson government indicates a determination to erode further Britain’s international obligations. In particular its about protecting British armed forces personnel from facing legal sanctions for human rights violations they are responsible for in Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Should we be really surprised by any of this? A Fianna Fáil TD Thomas Byrne obviously was. On 7 September he very stupidly tweeted : “Ireland has always accepted the good faith of Britain in Brexit negotiations. I believe Britain will comply with its obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement in the same way that it has always respected its international obligations.” 

Awhhh Tom. Was he reflecting the view of An Taoiseach? Who knows? Who can tell?

At any rate it took An Taoiseach a few days to get around to phoning Boris Johnson. As this column has asked in the past why should Johnson take Micheál Martin seriously? Why should anyone? Is it any wonder Fianna Fáil is floundering in the polls?

You don’t have to be an Irish Republican to know that British rule has always been bad for Ireland. Lest we forget Perfidious Albion has been a part of our historical and cultural narrative for almost 900 years. And an unwanted trespasser in our nations affairs.

So let’s remind An Taoiseach - again- that Britain (and successive Irish governments) has not honoured significant commitments contained in another international Treaty – the Good Friday Agreement.

22 years later there is still no:

·        No Civic Forum in the north

·        No All-Ireland Civic Forum

·        No Bill of Rights for the North

·        No Joint north/south committee of the two Human Rights Commissions

·        No All-Ireland Charter of Rights

In recent weeks the British have also flouted international law and the demands of the United Nations, aid organisations and NGOs that it stop selling weapons to Saudi Arabia whose forces are currently involved in the worst humanitarian disaster in the world.

So, we are in the midst of another British inspired Brexit crisis – an international crisis. The Good Friday Agreement is again threatened. The fragile economy of the North is at risk. And a Brexit crash out of the EU, supported by the DUP, as this column notes above, is looking increasingly likely at the end of this year.

In the short term the EU and the Irish government must stand firmly against British government intentions to tear up the Withdrawal Agreement and Irish Protocol. That is their responsibility. But in the longer term the only viable resolution of this issue is for an end to partition and the Union. English rule in Ireland is the problem. The reunification of Ireland is the solution.

Let’s make it happen. Let’s take control of our own affairs and shape a new shared, united Ireland as the best answer to Little Englander DUPlicity.

 

 

 

Friday, September 11, 2020

An Taoiseach Is Not A United Irelander.

Partition is almost 100 years old. But for democrats across this island, and in the Irish diaspora, for all of that time it has always been the great wrong that has to be righted. But it is not only a historic wrong. It is also a great injustice now, today. It remains the greatest cause of instability and division on our island. 

Where stands the leader of Fianna Fáil ‘The Republican Party’ on ending partition and achieving Irish Unity? In the past Fianna Fail leaderships have proven particularly adept at exploiting the widespread desire for Irish Unity and the republican rhetoric of a ‘united Ireland’ in order to win votes. And of course many Fianna Fáil voters and members are republican. However, at no time has their party leadership made a serious effort to develop a strategy, in keeping with their constitutional obligation to end partition and “unite all the people who share the territory of the island of Ireland ...” 

Why? Because both the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael leaderships are comfortable with partition. For decades they have alternated in power, defending a status quo that protects their interests, and those of their friends in the political establishment.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael’s Ireland is best represented by the map of the island first produced by the Irish government several years ago which drowns the North in the Irish Sea and Atlantic. We are left with a landmass which bears no resemblance to Ireland and with a new shoreline that stretches from Derry through Donegal, Tyrone, Cavan, Fermanagh, Monaghan, and Armagh and Down to Louth.

An Taoiseach Micheál Martin is not a United Irelander. Under his leadership the traditional rhetoric of the leadership of Fianna Fáil, whose first aim according to its own constitution and rules – is to “restore the unity and independence of Ireland as a Republic” - has been systematically eroded.

In March 2017 he committed his party to publishing within months a 12-point plan which would prepare the way for the reunification of the island. He also told the Irish Times that as part of this he intended publishing a White Paper on Irish Unity. Neither the 12-point plan nor the White Paper was ever published.

The Fianna Fáil leader also pledged that Fianna Fáil would organise in the North. When Éamon Ó Cuiv and Seanadóir Mark Daly attempted to do that they were sacked from their senior party positions. In 2017 Pearse Doherty and I met Martin to seek his support to establish an Oireachtas Committee on Irish Unity as a means of focussing the debate on this issue. He said No.

Micheál Martin’s alternative proposal, published this year, is to establish a “shared Island Unit”. Not once does the Programme for Government reference the constitutional obligation on an Irish government to achieve a United Ireland. The words ‘United Ireland’ or ‘Irish Unity’ are entirely absent. And there is no reference to the commitment in the Good Friday Agreement for a referendum on Unity.

Instead a “Unit within the Department of An Taoiseach is to work towards a consensus on a shared island. This unit will examine the political, social, economic and cultural considerations underpinning a future in which all traditions are mutually respected.” When he was asked about this unit in the Dáil at the beginning of July An Taoiseach Martin said that “work on its structure, staffing and work programme is underway and I hope that the unit will start work by the end of the month.” When at the end of that month Ruairí Ó Murchú, who is a Sinn Féin TD for Louth, asked him for an update Martin replied: ““work on its structure, staffing and work programme is underway and I hope that the unit will start this work in the coming weeks.”

In reply to a query from online news outlet ‘The Detail’ – published on 14 August – the Taoiseach’s department could still not provide “any guidance on the annual budget or staffing levels of its newly-promised Shared Island Unit. A department spokesperson could also not explain to The Detail how regularly Micheál Martin plans to meet with the unit; what new high profile roles, if any will be created in the unit or how it will interact with northern voices.”

The Taoiseach cannot be allowed to do this. He has to involve all Party leaders in a real process of engagement. Mary Lou McDonald, Leader of the Opposition has to have a central role in this. There has to be a positive and inclusive conversation that many within civic nationalism and some within civic unionism have been calling for.

Sinn Féin is for a shared island as part of our vision of a new Ireland – a United Ireland. However, it is not inevitable. It will not happen because we simply wish or hope for it. It will only happen if we work for it. Therefore the responsibility of political leaders is to lead and to plan. That is especially true of the Irish government.

The Shared Island Unit can play a useful role in this, along with the establishment of a Citizen’s Assembly; a White Paper on Unity; a Joint Oireachtas Committee; the creation of additional all-island institutions; and eventually winning a referendum on Irish Unity. Micheál Martin must set out in clear terms the objectives of the Shared Island Unit; its terms of reference; staffing and resources that will be made available to it; outline how the Unit will engage with the public; with Oireachtas members and parties; with the Assembly and Executive in the North; with local councils north and south; with the diaspora; and with other stakeholders, including the business community.

Brexit has changed the political landscape and at a time when the British government appears determined to crash out of the EU, and is threatening to tear up the Withdrawal Treaty and Irish Protocol, the desire and demand for Unity – even if only as a means for the North to stay within the EU – will only grow stronger. The demand for a united Ireland is also being fueled by the political and demographic changes that are taking place in the North.

Consequently, this Irish government is facing a stark choice. Does it ignore all of this and ostrich-like stick with a policy approach which seeks to ignore the growing clamour for Irish Unity? Or, does it undertake a genuinely serious attempt to discuss how we share this island and share our future?

The debate – the conversation - around Irish Unity has been ongoing for years. It’s not going away. On the contrary, interest in and support for Irish unity is growing at the same time as support within England for maintaining the British Union is diminishing. As the debate around Irish unity increases our collective endeavour should be to shape that debate in a constructive and positive direction and to encourage the widest possible engagement between all strands of opinion on the island of Ireland.

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