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Ireland and Slavery: Debating the ‘Irish Slaves Myth’

by BRIAN KELLY

Mural of Frederick Douglass, Falls Road, Belfast. Irish people’s history has embraced both a legacy of identification with the oppressed, and in propagation of the Irish Slaves Myths, elements of racism. Photograph by
Ross – CC BY-SA 2.0

Over recent months, social media in Ireland and the United States has been saturated with claims and counterclaims about ‘Irish slaves’ and a broader controversy about Irish complicity in the transatlantic slave trade. The timing of the ‘debate’ is far from coincidental: a series of false and malicious assertions that the American far Right have pushed aggressively for more than a decade, embraced with enthusiasm by the most conservative elements in Irish America, have grown wings in the new context opened up by the rise of Black Lives Matter. A controversy that has simmered below the surface has taken on new urgency as a fascist Right, emboldened by Trump, finds itself confronted for the first time with a powerful mass movement capable of pushing back. In this context racists in the US are attempting to weaponize a false version of Irish ‘history’ to undermine BLM. In the south of Ireland, especially, a small ‘anti-globalist’ Right sees in the controversy a possibility for redeeming their dismal showing in the recent election by drawing people in on the basis of a mawkish, fairytale nationalism. Socialists and all anti-racists have a responsibility in this situation to counter these lies, to build solidarity with BLM here in Ireland and abroad, and to confront racism wherever it is manifested in Irish society.

For the past seven years much of the burden of refuting these lies has been taken on by the Limerick-based independent scholar Liam Hogan. Working his way meticulously through a complicated historical record, Hogan has published extensively on the controversy, and is the main source for coverage that in recent weeks has appeared in leading newspapers in Britain, Ireland and the US. His research shows that a version of the ‘white slave memes’ first began surfacing in US websites associated with hardcore white supremacists around 2003, but made its way into broader Tea Party circles from about 2013, and has more recently become a staple in the larger far Right that has grown in size and confidence under Trump’s patronage. In the article below – focused on the whether the experience of Irish indentures in the 17th and 18th century world is comparable with that of African slaves – and in a second installment that will follow on Irish complicity in transatlantic slavery, I argue that there are problems in Hogan’s approach, and in the framework in which he situates these questions. But it should be acknowledged unequivocally that his work has been critical for arming anti-racists against a deluge of lies and misinformation. All anti-racists are indebted to Hogan for taking this on almost singlehandedly.

Far Right Weaponizes ‘History’

At the outset it’s worth taking the measure of the scale of the problem we confront. The notion of ‘Irish slavery’ may have floated around Irish America in some vague form before 2003, but it does not seem to have played a significant role in underpinning white (Irish American) racism before then, and although by 2013 it had seeped into sections of the Irish American press, it was the white nationalist-influenced far Right rather than these outlets that drove its early dissemination. In Ireland former Irish army officer Sean O’Callaghan’s highly problematic To Hell or Barbados (published in 2001) popularized the belief that Cromwell’s Irish deportees had been enslaved in the British Caribbean, and was almost certainly the source for Gerry Adam’s cringe-worthy 2016 assertion that “through the penal days [the] Irish were sold as slaves.” The careless blurring of the lines between slavery and indenture in O’Callaghan’s work, rooted in sentimental nationalism than a commitment to white supremacy – provided an aura of credibility for the ‘Irish slaves’ meme that it would not have otherwise enjoyed.

To the extent that these falsehoods have taken root more broadly across Irish society, it is important to confront them. But it’s also worth pointing out that the surge in discussion of the ‘Irish slaves’ meme on social media does not necessarily indicate growing support for racism. In the south of Ireland at least, where between May and early July 2020 there has been a staggering increase in the volume of such discussion, posts debunking the ‘myth’ seem to exponentially outnumber those defending it. The five most popular facebook posts over this period related to ‘Irish slaves’ all debunk the myth; only one in the top ten (from the right-wing student publication, The Burkean) defends it, but with only about 2% of the traction of the leading five.[1]

There are of course right-wing activists and individual racists in Ireland who want to weaponize the meme in the same way their American counterparts aim to do – to discredit Black Lives Matter and undermine calls for racial justice – but it’s clear also that there are (confused) BLM supporters and anti-racists even among those who believe at some level that Irish indenture and African slavery were equivalents. The assertion that Africans had been ‘third in slavery” in the Americas (after indigenous peoples and white indentures) was earlier popularized by the race conscious editor of Jet magazine, Lerone Bennett Jr., who wrote at the height of the Black Power movement that Africans “had inherited [their] chains, in a manner of speaking, from the pioneer bondsmen, who were red and white”. Clearly Bennett was blurring the lines here in the same way many do today, but he can hardly be accused of soft-pedaling the horrors of racially-based chattel slavery, and was obviously motivated by the hope that history might be put to work in building cross-racial alliances. The point here is not that populist renderings of the past should be given a free pass when they are put to service in building interracial solidarity – they shouldn’t – but that we need to be attentive to the context in which particular versions of the past gain traction, and the present emphasis on marking off the sharp line between indenture and slavery itself reflects important ideological shifts over recent years.

A Mountain of Falsehoods

Let’s get to the heart of the matter: on all the key questions – of whether the Irish were ‘the first slaves’, or whether their experience as indentured laborers in Britain’s colonies in the so-called ‘new world’ was equivalent to that endured by Africans, or of whether ‘indenture’ is just a euphemism for ‘slavery’ (as many on social media want to insist), the record is crystal clear and there should be no equivocation. These are all false assertions, almost always deliberately concocted at source through flagrant manipulation of numbers and chronology. Hogan has forensically dissected the numbers game here, and demonstrates repeatedly the dishonesty, embellishment and manipulation of the facts underpinning the Right’s disinformation campaign.

There is nothing to be gained by trying to diminish or downplay the suffering endured by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Irish indentured servants – a point that some of those arguing Hogan’s corner seem oblivious to, and one I will come back to in some detail below. But even if we acknowledge the hardships many of them had to endure, and even if we accept at face value the hugely inflated numbers that those disseminating the ‘Irish slaves’ myth place in circulation, any attempt to conflate or render equivalent their nightmare with Africans’ experience as slave chattels is untenable, and callous in the extreme.

In scale, in duration, in the wrenching and long-term legacy of transatlantic slavery on Africa itself, in the absolutely central role which black slave labor played in generating the colossal wealth that helped fuel Europe’s industrial transformation – in effect launching global capitalism and the modern world as we know it – any attempt to draw equivalences is beyond absurd. By way of illustration, let us take at face value the hugely exaggerated numbers of Irish indentures purported in one prominent meme, which asserts that over an eleven-year period in the middle of the 17th century the British “sold 300,000 [Irish people] as slaves”. Leaving aside momentarily the question of status, as Hogan points out this number represents six times the total number of Irish migrants to the West Indies for the whole of the 17th century, and almost double total Irish migration to the West Indies and North America in the century and a half after 1630. But leave this aside as well: let’s accept that – for argument’s sake –there were 300,000 Irish laborers condemned to some degree of unfreedom in the plantation societies of the Americas.

Now consider a second figure: over nearly three centuries of the transatlantic slave trade some four million enslaved Africans died en route to the new world – either while being transported overland to coastal ports in west Africa, at sea during the Middle Passage, or shortly after landing in the ‘new world’. That is, thirteen times as many Africans died in transit to the ‘new world’ than the total number of Irish which the Right insists were deployed as ‘slave’ laborers. If we use instead the numbers for Cromwellian deportations accepted by credible scholars (10-12,000) then this single measure reveals the absurdity of trying to render these experiences equivalent: forty times as many African died in transit than the total number of Irish sent into indenture in the 1650s. The scale of the far Right’s intended swindle is breath-taking: that such idiocy can gain any traction at all shows an almost pathological aversion to facing up to the past among those circling the wagons against the renewed challenge to white supremacy.

Marx on Slavery and the Birth of Capitalism

Marxists understand the centrality of African slavery to the making of the modern world in ways that others, including liberal defenders of the present social order, miss or deliberately evade. For Marx himself, bloody conquest in the Americas (almost everywhere involving genocide against indigenous peoples) and chattel slavery on a scale the world had never previously seen were twin cornerstones of a newly emerging capitalism that would, over a remarkably short period in historical terms, bring under its ambit diverse and far-flung societies across the globe. “The different momenta of primitive accumulation [of capital] distribute themselves now,” he wrote in the first volume of Capital, “over Spain, Portugal, Holland, France, and England. In England at the end of the 17th century, they arrive at a [systematic] combination, embracing the colonies, the national debt, the modern mode of taxation, and the protectionist system. These methods depend in part on brute forcee.g., the colonial system.” More broadly, he insists

The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulationOn their heels treads the commercial war of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre.[2] [emphasis added]

The leading African American scholar-activist WEB Du Bois, deeply influenced by marxist materialism at the height of his intellectual powers, expanded on this argument from the vantage point of the early 20th century, when the global system that Marx identified in embryo had developed into mature form: “That dark and vast sea of human labor…the great majority of humankind,” he wrote in Black Reconstruction, “shares a common destiny…despised and rejected by race and color, paid a wage below the level of decent living[.] Enslaved in all but name,” he insisted, they gather up raw materials “at prices lowest of the low, manufactured, transformed, and transported,” with the resulting wealth “distributed and made the basis of world power…in London and Paris, Berlin and Rome, New York and Rio de Janeiro”. Written in 1935, at the height of the Great Depression, one could hardly find a more fitting depiction of the world we inhabit today, marked by exploitive relations between global capital and a racially stratified, multinational labour force. And of course it is impossible to understand the deep resonance that protests in the US have found across the globe without understanding the ways in which police violence – directed disproportionately at this ‘dark and vast sea of human labor’ – reinforces the wider system of exploitation that Marx and Du Bois identified.

This approach to understanding the centrality of slavery serves up a crushing riposte to far Right apologists, but it also marks off an alternative framework from which to understand the evolution of chattel slavery in the Americas – one that captures complex aspects of its development missing from the debate thus far, and perhaps excluded by the way it has been framed by Hogan and others. In Ireland the enduring legacy of the ‘revisionist’ reappraisal of the past is evident in writing on indenture and, more obviously, on Irish complicity in the transatlantic slave trade. Fearghal Mac Bhloschaidh has written perceptively of the ideological thrust of the revisionist project in Ireland: the “main current dominating Irish historiography,” he asserts, can be best understood as an ‘idiosyncratic Irish manifestation of a wider liberal defence of power”, which “employs a vulgar empiricism and constrictive ontology to prohibit a radical reading of the past or an awareness of history as process.”[3]

Framing Slavery and Indenture

The salience of this historiographical context for framing discussion of Irish indenture and its relationship to African slavery is obvious. Though the terrain of this discussion has been profoundly shaped by the regressive trends identified by Mac Bhloschaidh, this background will go unnoticed by many who happen upon the ‘debate’ online or in the press. The convergence of the revisionist sensibility in understanding the Caribbean is most obviously manifested in Donald Akenson’s lectures on the Irish presence in 17th century Montserrat, collected in a volume published under the suitably provocative title If the Irish Ran the World. Drawing on a recent literature that simultaneously denies Ireland’s colonial past and upholds the notion of an ‘Irish empire’, Akenson asserts that the smallest of the main Leeward islands constituted “Ireland’s only 17th and 18th century colony”. Indenture figures in his account as a story of rational-choice ‘upward mobility’; the text strains to obliterate the distinction between Irish (mainly though not exclusively Anglo-Irish and Protestant) planters and indentured servants, and asserts that indenture “was so very different from black slavery as to be from another galaxy of human experience”. [emphasis added] Though Hogan is mostly forthright in acknowledging the misery that attended indenture,[4] traces of Akenson’s cheerier rendering are evident in the present debate.

Three key elements prominent in earlier writing on indenture in the Caribbean and British North America are obscured in the way the recent controversy has been framed. First, an earlier historiography acknowledged, significantly, that indenture was one in a series of solutions by which planter elites attempted to solve the problem of labor scarcity in their ‘new world’ colonies: in short they could not reap profits selling staple crops on the transatlantic market without an adequate supply of labor, and for a while – in the earliest period of Anglo/European settlement – white indentured labor seemed a viable option. As the distinguished anthropologist Sindey Mintz put it, “‘planters were, in one sense, completely without prejudice [and] willing to employ any kind of labor…under any kind of arrangements, as long as the labor force was politically defenseless enough for the work to be done cheaply and under discipline”. In parts of the Caribbean Irish indentures seem to have played an especially prominent role early on (rooted in the Cromwellian deportations) but in North America indentures were drawn from England (mainly), Scotland and Ireland, without any obvious distinction being made between them. A second element, now largely absent from the ’debate’, is the sense that the turn to African slavery as the foundation for plantation labor was a contingent development, and not preordained by history. A complex convergence of circumstances pushed Anglo planters toward a full commitment to black slavery: improved conditions in Ireland and Britain meant the flow of ‘voluntary’ migrants dried up; the turn from small-scale tobacco cultivation to sugar in the Caribbean (and from hopes of outright plunder to tobacco export further north in Virginia and the Chesapeake) generated an exponential increase in the planters’ labor requirements. Finally, British entry into and then domination of the transatlantic slave trade brought a sharp decline in the costs of deploying slave labor, to the point where African slaves-for-life could be deployed on the plantations more economically than white indentures.[5]

Labour, Identity and the Construction of Race

In the face of the malicious attempt to muddy the waters around the horrors of African slavery, it is important to point out the very real, and substantial, differences between indenture and slavery for life. But the evolution of chattel slavery, its place in an evolving system of labor exploitation, the declining importance of indenture – indeed any sense of change over time – is almost entirely absent from the narrow framework of national identity through which discussion is now focused. And what do we lose in this shift? Most significantly we miss the possibility of grasping what the African American historian Barbara J. Fields has called the incremental “construction of race”.[6] If it is true, as is now widely accepted, that ‘race’ is a fiction, and that ‘whiteness’ was deliberately constructed as a way of marking off racial boundaries and securing the loyalty of white laborers to their social betters, then the new world plantation societies of the 17th and 18th centuries served as the setting in which this process was initiated and then consolidated.

Here Akenson’s assertion that indenture and chattel slavery were ‘galaxies apart’ – or his insinuation that Irish indentures were simply slaveowners-in-the-making who had not yet found their true calling – is misleading, and marks a retreat from a more dynamic and potentially productive framework. Those pushing the ‘Irish slaves’ myth suggest that ‘indenture’ is synonymous with slavery, but there are important distinctions: most (though not all) indentures from Britain, Scotland and Ireland were voluntary; in return for transatlantic passage and a modest package of land and tools, etc. at the end of their indentures, they signed away their freedom for terms ranging typically from 4 to 10 years. Historians will continue to debate the evidence from colonial North America and the Anglo Caribbean: there is a basis for emphasizing the ‘special unease’ that planters exhibited toward their African laborers, and the indications that ‘racial’ demarcation between African and ‘Christian servants’ [i.e. whites] was underway from outset. But there is countervailing evidence – especially from colonial North America, that points to a period in which ‘race relations’ at the bottom were more fluid. It was not uncommon during the first half of the seventeenth century for Africans, Europeans, and indigenous ‘Americans’ in the colonial Chesapeake to work alongside one another, and even to share the same living quarters. No sharp racial division of labor had yet emerged to prescribe which work would ‘belong’ to a particular group. Contrary to the assumption that racism has always divided blacks and whites, unfree laborers of all ‘races’ in the early seventeenth century Chesapeake seemed “remarkably unconcerned about their visible physical differences”.[7] Their lives intersected in many ways, and there is clear evidence that they shared not only living quarters and daily toil, but close personal ties as well. From the fragmentary record we know that at least some ‘white’ laborers were conscious of the common lot they shared with blacks: “We and the Negroes both alike did fare,” one servant-poet wrote: “Of work and food we had an equal share.”[8] An investigation into the death of a Dutch servant at the hands of his master in 1647 illustrates the sense of vulnerability shared among the ranks of the unfree. A plantation overseer testified that when he visited the servants’ quarters just after hearing of the death of one of their co-laborers, they all

sate very mallanchollye in the quartering house, and [the overseer] asked them what they ayled to bee soe mallanchollye. The Spanyard made answer and said Lord have mercy upon this boye hath been killed by b(l)owes, his conscience told him. Tom Clarke said Lord have mercy upon us that ever it was my hard fortune to come to this countrye for, if this bee suffered, it maye bee my turne to morrow or next daye. The Negro said Jesus Christ my mayster is not good. And they all wept bitterlye.[9]

The ‘construction of race’ in the vortex of ‘new world’ conquest, exploitation and inter-imperial rivalry can also explain the fundamental distinction between the form of slavery that took shape in the seventeenth and eighteenth-century Atlantic world and every other form of slavery that preceded it. What was distinct about the system that provided the foundations for modern capitalism was its elevation of racial distinctions: though the timing of its development varied here and there, black skin became everywhere in the Americas a marker for slave status. Unlike slavery in the ancient world, where ethnicity and national origin seem to have barely figured in denoting the status of human beings, what developed in the Americas was a racially-defined system of exploitation. And the stigma attached to race, the comprehensive system of racist ideology concocted to rationalize and justify the selective enslavement of black Africans (notions of black inferiority, white superiority), gave grounding and coherence to a set of deeply embedded racial assumptions that outlived slavery, and which very obviously retain their destructive power well into the 21st century.

Wherever historians come down on what the records show for the formative period in race-making, there can be little dispute that racial boundaries became more rigid over time, and that this hardening of the color line was reflected in evolving law and custom. In British North America the critical turning point in the fastening of racial hierarchy – the invention of ‘whiteness’ – came as a direct response by colonial elites to a multi-racial rebellion driven by the ‘lower orders’.[10]

Finally, understanding both slavery and indenture as evolving solutions to the labor problem rather than as mere reflections of a hierarchy of identities can explain how, as Kerby Miller has suggested, “the records of almost every major slave revolt in the Anglo-American world – from the West Indian uprisings in the late 1600s, to the 1741 slave conspiracy in New York City, through Gabriel’s rebellion of 1800 in Virginia, to the plot discovered on the Civil War’s eve in Natchez, Mississippi – were marked by real or purported Irish participation or instigation”.[11] The planters’ dread of rebel combinations between the Irish poor and African slaves – like their more general tendency to perceive slave plots all around them – was more often based on paranoia than firm evidence. “What worried masters in Barbados, above all,” Hilary McD. Beckles observed, “was Irish involvement in slave revolts.” In most cases “fear outran fact in this regard,”[12] he notes, but if it is true that the conditions which black slaves and white indentures worked and lived under were ‘galaxies apart’, how can we explain the persistence of this deep anxiety among Anglo slaveowners throughout the plantation societies of the Americas? Ironically, as Miller points out, “it was not the much-maligned Irish nationalists of the 19th and early 20th centuries who first constructed the image of Ireland’s Catholics (and [their] Protestant allies) as inveterate rebels against political and social authority. Rather, it was earlier Protestant (and Catholic) conservatives and counter-revolutionaries, for whom ‘essential’ (or ‘wild’) ‘Irishness’ seemed the inveterate enemy of the hierarchical systems, deferential habits, and genteel norms that maintained the prevailing, unequal distributions of rights, property, and power”.[13]

In obvious ways, the terms of the debate around slavery and indenture have been outside the control of Liam Hogan and others who have stood up to refute the intense disinformation campaign mounted by the far Right and a softer element of right-leaning, sentimental Irish nationalists. Clearly, they have performed an important service in deploying the historical record against sordid attempts to make light of the horrors of chattel slavery. But the narrow terms in which these issues have, until now, been discussed reveal also the persistent influence of conservatism in Irish history writing, itself a variant of a more general retreat among historians – away from an engaged social history that attends to the complex relationships between race, class and power and toward a fixation with culture and identity. This can obscure as much as it reveals. Indentured servitude and racially-based slavery for life were not equivalents, nor were they comparable in terms of scale or importance in generating the economic foundations that would launch global capitalism. But they were related forms of exploitation at the birth of the modern world, and the best way to honor the victims of both is to commit to rebuilding the rebel combinations that flickered, tentatively, across the color line among those at the bottom. The odious racism that the Black Lives Matter Movement confronts today has its origins in that harsh world, and it’s time we buried that part of our past.

Notes.

1. Buzzsumo app, 29 June 2020: data in author’s possession. 

2. Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, Ch. 31: “Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist”, available online at https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch31.htm

3. Mac Bhloscaidh, “Objective Historians, Irrational Fenians and the Bewildered Herd: Revisionist Myth and the Irish Revolution,” Irish Studies Review (April 2020): pps. 2,6. 

4. On this point see Liam Hogan, Laura McAtackney and Matthew C. Reilly, “The Irish in the Anglo-Caribbean: Servants or Slaves?, History Ireland (March-April 2016); pps. 18-22. 

5. On these interlinked developments see David W. Galenson, “The Rise and Fall of Indentured Servitude in the Americas: An Economic Analysis,” Journal of Economic History 44:1 (Mar. 1984), pps. 1- 26. On parallels in the North American context see Kelly, “Material Origins of Racism in North America,” available at https://www.academia.edu/10195740/Material_Origins_of_Racism_in_North_America

6. See Field’s important discussion of this issue in Barbara Jeanne Fields, “Slavery, Race and Ideology in the United States of America,” New Left Review 1/181 (May/June 1990): available online at https://newleftreview.org/issues/I181/articles/barbara-jeanne-fields-slavery-race-and-ideology-in-the-united-states-of-america

7. Kenneth Stampp, cited in Winthrop D. Jordan, “Modern Tensions and the Origins of American Slavery,” Journal of Southern History 28:1 (1962): 21. 

8. Jacqueline Jones, American Work: Four Centuries of Black and White Labor (1999), p. 76. 

9. North Carolina Deeds, Wills, etc., 1645-51, cited in J. Douglas Deal, Race and Class in Colonial Virginia: Indians, Englishmen, and Africans on the Eastern Shore During the Seventeenth Century (1993), pps. 117-118. 

10. On the importance of Bacon’s Rebellion (1676) in galvanizing Virginia elites and solidifying racial hierarchy in the colonial Chesapeake, see Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (1975), and Theodore Allen, “’They Would Have Destroyed Me’: Slavery and the Origins of Racism,” Radical America (May-June 1975): pps. 41-63. 

11. Kerby Miller, “Epilogue: Re-Imagining Irish and Irish Diasporan History,” in Ireland and Irish America (2008). 

12. Hilary McD. Beckles, “A ‘riotous and unruly lot’: Irish Indentured Servants and Freemen in the English West Indies, 1644-I7I3,” William and Mary Quarterly 47:4 (Oct. 1990), p. 517. On indenture and cooperation between Irish indentures and African and creole slaves in the British Caribbean see also Aubrey Gwynn, “Indentured Servants and Negro Slaves in Barbados (1642-1650),” Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 19:74 (Jun. 1930), pp. 279-294. As a corrective to Akenson’s story of ‘upward mobility’, Gwynn reminds us (284) that although after their term of indenture “had been completed, the servant was free, and might be allotted land on the island. But not many lived to see the day”. Mortality on Caribbean-bound ships was high, a fact that seems to be missing from recent discussions of indenture. In Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624-1713 (1972), for example, Richard S. Dunn reports that on one ship eighty of 350 passengers died of sickness by the time it arrived in port in Barbados in 1638. 

13. Miller, Epilogue, p. 23. 

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Ireland gets the government it didn’t vote for

In a desperate bid to stop Sinn Féin from forming a government, the century-old Irish duopoly has been brought to an abrupt end.

Ella Rule

Sinn Fein party supporters during the Dublin City count on 9 February 2020.

In June, four months after the February general election, a coalition was finally able to form the new Irish government. This government is made up of what on the face of it appears to be an incongruous coalition between Ireland’s two traditional parties, Fine Gael (Gaelic Family) and Fianna Fáil (Soldiers of Destiny), and the Green party.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin (We Ourselves), the all-Ireland republican party that won the largest number of first preference votes, was unceremoniously excluded.

The results in the general election were as follows:

“Ballot counts on Sunday [9 February] revealed that after all 39 constituencies across Ireland were tallied, Sinn Féin received 24.5 percent of the first preference vote, almost doubling its share from the last election in 2016.

“It outstripped the opposition Fiánna Fail party, which won 22.2 percent, as well as incumbent prime minister Leo Varadkar’s governing Fine Gael party’s 20.9 percent.” (Ireland: Sinn Féin wins popular vote, set for historic gains, Al Jazeera, 10 February 2020)

Sinn Féin’s performance is all the more remarkable in that, unlike Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, it did not contest all seats available but ran a slate of a mere 42 candidates for the 159 seats contested.

It even secured most first preference votes in the constituency of the then prime minister, Leo Varadkar: “Sinn Féin topped the poll in [Leo Varadkar’s] multiseat constituency of Dublin West. He eventually won his seat back after the fifth round of counting, but it’s the first time a sitting taoiseach [prime minister] has failed to win the most votes on his own turf.” (Sinn Féin just upended Ireland’s status quo. What comes next? by Colm Quinn, Foreign Policy, 12 February 2020)

In terms of seats, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and Sinn Féin secured 35, 38, and 37 seats, respectively. However, 80 seats are needed to form a majority in the Dáil (parliament). The only possible way to do this without the participation of Sinn Féin was by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil entering into an unprecedented alliance, into which they had also to conscript the Green party’s 12 TDs (MPs).

A little history

This election ended the so-called ‘duopoly’ which has since the foundation of the Irish republic in 1922 seen Irish governments formed exclusively by either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael (until 1933 known as Cumann na nGaedheal – Gaelic Society), both of which are today considered to be parties of the centre right – ie, equivalent to the British Tory party.

So alike are they on the political spectrum that they might as well have been a single party. They were two for historical reasons: Fine Gael was formed by those who accepted the terms of the treaty signed in London on 6 December 1921 that concluded the Irish War of Independence from Britain. It was signed on the Irish side by a team that included Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith and provided for the Irish free state to have its own parliament independent of Britain.

However, under the terms of the treaty, Ireland would have a status similar to Canada’s, with the British king remaining the head of state and parliamentary representatives having to swear an oath of allegiance. It also made provision for six of the counties in northern Ireland, which had a protestant majority, to opt out of the free state should they wish to do so – an option that in due course they exercised.

There were other concessions also made to Britain, but on balance a majority of Irish people felt the terms should be accepted, and Ireland’s unofficial dáil approved the treaty on 7 January 1922, after nine days of public debate, by a vote of 64 to 57.

This, however, led the opponents of the treaty to split, with those who eventually formed Fine Gael supporting the treaty, while those opposed to it went on to form Fianna Fáil, refusing to take the oath of allegiance or to take seats in the treaty dáil.

The general election that followed on 16 June 1922 gauged the attitude of the electorate towards the treaty compromise. The results were: Sinn Féin 58 pro-treaty TDs, Sinn Féin 36 anti-treaty TDs, Labour 17 TDs and others 17 TDs.

The anti-treaty Sinn Féin faction refused to accept this result and on 28 June 1922 a civil war ensued. Sinn Féin split. Eamon de Valera had already formed an anti-treaty faction, Cumann an Poblachta, the predecessor of Fianna Fáil. The pro-treaty faction formed Cumann na nGaedheal, the precursor of Fine Gael.

The result was deadly enmity arising between the two sides. By the early 1930s, however, Fianna Fáil had found a formula that enabled it to participate in the Dáil and the duopoly was established.

The Greens

The strategy of both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil governments over the last several years has been to attract overseas investors to set up shop in Ireland by offering them a host of privileges, low taxes in particular.

Low taxes, of course, mean lower government income and reduced public services. As a result, healthcare and housing have been very hard hit, thereby much angering the Irish working class, which has as usual borne the brunt of the cuts.

The Green party, despite its ‘left’ veneer, has lost credibility as a result of the fact that: “From 2007 to 2011, as junior partners in a coalition government with Fianna Fáil, the Greens were complicit in introducing billions of euros of cuts to health, education, and other social services to bail out banks and protect the wealth of the super-rich.” (Ireland’s Greens agree to join austerity coalition government by Dermot Quinn, wsws, 1 July 2020)

There is no reason to suppose that the Greens will behave any differently in the present government. Although there are government posts on offer to Green leaders, there is nothing for ordinary well-meaning members of the Green party to gain from their party forming part of the government, so in fact they had to be duped in order to secure the necessary two-thirds majority needed to agree to this participation.

They were told that by participating they would secure a government commitment to securing an average annual 7 percent reduction in emissions over the next decade. However, John Reynolds and Colin Coulter of The Jacobin exposed the hollowness of this commitment as a crude léger de main:

“A Fine Gael-led government signed up to the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which requires at least 7.6 percent annual emissions cuts, with an onus on rich countries to strive for cuts closer to 10 percent. But Fine Gael itself targeted much lower reductions in its climate-action plans, in practice coming ‘nowhere near’ even those less ambitious benchmarks.

“The Greens made a 7 percent annual reduction their ‘red-line’ issue in the talks. Media coverage has almost uniformly presented this as a hard-line, maximalist demand, rather than a figure that is slightly below the minimum requirement to which the state had already committed itself. Fine Gael proposed an even lower percentage: one of the party’s leading figures suggested that the Green party could ‘forget its 7 percent carbon emission reduction demand if it decimates farming and rural Ireland’.

“The fudge ultimately engineered to keep the Greens on board was a pledge to commit Ireland to 7 percent annual carbon reductions on average between now and 2030. This essentially backloads meaningful action until the second half of the decade, well after this government’s lifetime will have expired. Fine Gael has admitted as much, with Varadkar making it clear that ‘most of the reductions will happen in the second five years’.” (Ireland’s new government just puts a green face on the old order, 1 July 2020)

Sinn Féin

Sinn Féin was the only party to reflect the longing of the Irish people to put an end to austerity and the country’s 26 percent unemployment rate. This is what explains its electoral success, which would obviously have been far more crushing if it had stood candidates in every constituency.

Its election manifesto was replete with promises to improve the living standards of working people: abolishing tax on incomes under €30,000 a year, making GP visits free, restoring the pension age to 65 instead of 67, more spending on schools, the building of 100,000 new council homes over the next five years, increasing the number of hospital beds, and taking steps to progress the reunification of Ireland – to name but a few of its most welcome provisions.

The Sinn Féin manifesto also included a commitment to ending “Ireland’s involvement in the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation, which it sees as a precursor to a European Union army, as well as ending membership in Nato’s Partnership for Peace. It also proposed taking its anti-militarism a step further by holding a referendum on writing Ireland’s historical practice of neutrality into the Irish constitution.” (Foreign Policy, op cit)

Clearly these are not measures acceptable to the Irish or the international ruling classes.

That being the case, the most important thing was to dragoon Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil into forgetting their time-honoured enmity, despite it having for decades served to disguise the fact that in elections the Irish electorate were actually getting only a choice between one centre-right bourgeois party and another, the better to bamboozle voters into thinking they had a free choice.

That little party trick has now had to be abandoned, and Ireland’s ruling class will be weaker as a result.

What lies ahead

Sinn Féin’s deputy dáil leader Pearse Doherty correctly remarked regarding the new government that the “two old parties” had “circled the wagons” to exclude Sinn Féin “and they are using the Green party as a fig leaf to do this …

“At a time when Ireland needs ambition and big ideas, we have a programme for government that fails to deliver on affordable housing, on building up capacity in our health services, on getting people back to work and having enough to survive, on childcare, on the right to retire at sixty-five and on planning for Irish unity.”

However, in opposition, representing the heartfelt desires of the majority of Irish people, especially the young, Sinn Féin may well be in a strong position to consolidate its support amongst the Irish people, something the bourgeoisie considers most undesirable, but has had to accept as a necessary risk:

“The rise of Sinn Féin has scrambled the calculations for all the parties. While they do not want to form a coalition with it … they also worry that leaving it alone in the opposition will enable it to pick off even more voters, at their expense.

“Sinn Féin, analysts said, would benefit by staying in the opposition, since it could exploit the difficult decisions that the new government will have to make.” (Ireland’s two main parties to jointly govern for the first time by Mark Landler, New York Times, 15 June 2020)

And indeed, Pearse Doherty has vowed: “Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will be faced with the most determined opposition they have ever seen because Sinn Féin will stand up for ordinary workers and families.”

With a new taoiseach appointed (Fianna Fáil bigwig Micheál Martin, who will swap places with Leo Varadkar of Fine Gael in 2022), the new government is already showing its reactionary hand. In spite of the fact that exit polls following the election in February indicated that 57 percent of Irish voters support a border poll on Irish unity, and despite the fact that northern Ireland is now represented in the British parliament by more nationalist MPs than unionist ones for the first time in its history, the taoiseach has ruled out a referendum on a united Ireland in the near future, saying it would be “far too divisive at this stage”.

As the coronavirus pandemic and the 2020 economic crash wreak their inevitable destruction on the living standards and prospects of Ireland’s working masses, the future looks anything but secure for the country’s rulers. One thing, however, looks certain: the rise of Sinn Féin will not be stopped any time soon.

Posted in IrelandComments Off on Ireland gets the government it didn’t vote for

There is a Spectre Haunting Ireland: Emigration

by KERRON Ó LUAIN

Photograph Source: William Murphy from Dublin, Ireland – CC BY-SA 2.0

The bargaining now underway between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, the traditional parties of the right, plus the centre-left/centrist/neoliberal Greens, in Ireland’s Twenty-Six Counties has provoked once more in the youth the urge to emigrate.

In particular, the announcement that Mícheál Martin, leader of Fianna Fáil, will lead the state as Taoiseach until 2022 incited a wave of dejection.

On social media platforms people in their teens and twenties recoiled at the thought of Martin becoming Taoiseach.

This cohort – struggling students, vulnerable tenants, unemployed, precariously employed, and low-paid workers – recall Martin as responsible in bringing the state to economic ruin in 2008.

They also recollect, in a frequently visceral way, the impact of the austerity his party conjured up and presided over in the wake of that crash.

One Twitter user noted how “since the news of new government, all I’ve seen is young people discuss emigrating as soon as they graduate with their degree”.

Another remarked that their “unwilling emigration from Ireland to the US been retroactively justified with events like this that make me delighted I escaped the shit hole Ireland has become”.

An Bád Bán

The image of an bád bán (the white boat) of emigration stretches back in the popular imagination to at least the nineteenth century.

As Conamara writer Mícheál Ó Conghaile elucidated in a 2018 Irish Times piece:

An bád bán refers to a certain white passenger ship which brought the Irish emigrants abroad to Britain or the US, perhaps the Nianda Dane which sailed from Cobh.

From this the phrase “thug sé an bád bán air féin” [he took the white boat on himself] came into the [Irish] language. Most of the currachs and small boats people used when fishing or working were black, but the big white boat was a symbol of emigration.

Thus, as it did at various points throughout Irish history, but most recently between 2008-2016 when around 400,000 emigrated, the bád bán looms in the collective mind once again.

Emigration from Ireland is primarily economic, but it is also cultural. This culture is woven into the fabric of Irish society and is given succour by networks of chain migration.

Family, friends, and distant relations, already established in communities throughout the globe, relate stories of success and a better life – frequently filtered through the often-distorted lens of social media – and offer vital support to the emigrant upon arrival in the host country.

Cultural nationalist organisations like the Gaelic Athletic Association are now global in scope. The Irish bars found in almost every city in Europe and North America offer familiar points of contact and solace for those in exile.

These institutions – though, in their own way, benevolent – facilitate the flight of the Irish from their homeland.

Present Day Economy

The political and ruling classes are completely aware of, and comfortable with, this culture of mass emigration.

At the height of the recession in 2012, then Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, brought upon himself the wrath of families scarred by emigration. He claimed young people left Ireland’s shore for “lifestyle reasons”.

Recent OECD research has shown the Irish state to have the highest proportion of its “native-born population” living abroad out of all 37 countries in the organisation, ranging from 17.5% to 20%.

The prevalence of this culture suits the Irish comprador class who play on what they term the “strength of the Irish diaspora”.

In tandem with this imagined ethnic bond with those of Irish extraction in different parts of the globe, but particularly in the US, runs the Irish state’s status as a tax haven.

The diaspora is utilised as an additional form of leverage in attracting multinationals, tourism, and other forms of external “investment” under the auspices of the Industrial Development Authority and the tourism body, Fáilte Ireland.

Safety Valve of Emigration

Yet, emigration suits the Irish élite in a much more malignant way. It is almost a cliché by now to refer to the “social safety-valve” engendered by emigration from Ireland.

The channelling away of discontented youth has insulated the ruling class from revolt for centuries. Historically, most rebellions in Ireland, as indeed globally, have been driven by the young.

Key figures in the United Irish Rebellions of 1798 and 1803 such as Wolfe Tone (35), Henry Joy McCracken (30), Robert Emmet (25) were quite, or very, young when they met their demise for their revolutionary activism. Likewise, the Young Ireland (the clue’s in the name!) Rising of 1848 and the Fenian movement of the 1860s.

Later on, the upheaval of the 1916-23 period was characterised as much by intergenerational conflict between younger, more radical republicans and older conservative nationalists, as it was by a discrepancy in the methods each deployed to end British rule in Ireland.

Arguably, the most successful rebellions coincided with periods of restricted emigration. The agrarian rebellion of Captain Rock between 1821-24, when emigration was curtailed by the British government, severely tested the ability of the state to control vast swathes of the country.

Several years later, in 1827, all restrictions on leaving Ireland were lifted. In the subsequent decade 400,000 emigrated to North America.

The same decade, not uncoincidentally, also witnessed the maintenance of a cosy alliance between Daniel O’Connell and the English Whigs. This had the effect of diverting the revolutionary potential of the peasantry into a blind faith in O’Connellite electoralism.

20th century

Though falling far short of the ambitions of the “revolutionary generation” of the 1890s, the period 1916-23 and the Black and Tan War can perhaps be counted among the most “successful” of Irish rebellions in that it achieved a form of autonomy for Twenty-Six Counties in Ireland.

The recently deceased authority on the history of Irish emigration, David Fitzpatrick, has postulated that the restrictions and difficulties in emigrating presented by World War One (1914-18), led to a building up of pressure in Ireland that erupted in its wake.

Emigration resumed once the war ended. But the usual release valve, created by the steady departure of Ireland’s young demographic, had not been open.

For this, and a myriad of other reasons, Ireland witnessed a series of seismic events: the Sinn Féin wins in the by-elections of 1917; the Anti-Conscription Campaign of 1918; the general election Sinn Féin victory, also of 1918, and the beginning of the Black and Tan War early in 1919.

However, the Civil War of 1922-23, described by some as a counter-revolution pushed through by church, state, and bourgeoisie, put paid to any dreams of far-reaching change. As Gavin Foster, author of The Irish Civil War and Society: Politics, Class and Conflict, has documented:

In July 1923, roughly two months after the IRA abandoned its armed campaign against the Free State, Éamon de Valera issued a defiant statement on behalf of the anti-treaty cause. ‘There will be no “Wild Geese”… this time’, he vowed.

‘The soldiers of the Republic have been ordered to live and die in Ireland, and they will obey. Living or dead, we mean to establish the right of Irish Republicans to live and work openly for the complete liberation of our country.’

Despite De Valera’s bold assertion, many found the climate in 1920s Ireland intolerable and were cast into exile like generations of revolutionaries before them. Ironically, and hypocritically, De Valera later oversaw the deportation in 1933 of communist Jimmy Gralton.

Covid-19 and emigration

Given the context of centuries of emigration it is understandable that the (un)natural reflex of Ireland’s youth is to emigrate. Who can blame them?

When faced with an ever-rising cost of living, pathetic public services and the apparently insurmountable inertia of the capitalist state, emigration allows them some agency in their lives.

But the situation brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic will not allow for ease of emigration as in the past. Some states have suspended immigration programmes, while others have placed stringent measures in place at their borders.

Emigrating to traditional centres of Irish immigration like England, with the Tories in charge and the country about to crash out of the EU, may not seem as attractive as before.

With the lockdown in the Twenty-Six Counties of Ireland being lifted amid a mixture of relief, trepidation and euphoria, sight is being lost of the reality that a second wave of Covid-19 will most likely hit again at some point.

This week the R number (the rate at which the virus reproduces) increased considerably in Germany to 2.88, meaning it is quite a bit above the relatively safe level of 1. Germany had been far more efficient in dealing with the initial outbreak than either jurisdiction in Ireland.

Clearly, until a vaccine or anti-viral treatment is found for Covid-19, the ability previously enjoyed by emigrants of easily travelling home by air for Christmases and other occasions will be severely curtailed.

There is, of course, no guarantee the youth of Ireland, with the option of emigrating temporarily less feasible, will direct their frustrations at those deserving of it; the government and the capitalist class. Addiction, mental health issues, consumerism, and individualism may continue to dominate.

Vast swathes of society are far less politicised than they were during the abovementioned periods of upheaval.

Potential

Yet, there have also been massive social movements which culminated in success in the last five years alone: marriage equality (2015), anti-water privatisation (2016) and abortion rights (2018).

The election earlier this year also heralded a “vote for change”. Though ill-defined, this sentiment, if harnessed correctly by radical forces instead of being driven down parliamentary and clientelist paths, could prove decisive.

Unlike previous waves of recession/emigration which occurred once a generation (for example, the 1950s and 1980s), the last crisis and wave post-2008 is still fresh in the mind of many as we stare into yet another new phase.

It is worth mentioning here, as a final positive note, the last time the Irish collective memory recalled such injustice this vividly was the year 1879.

That year, the popular memory of the Great Famine of 1845-50 and the threat of famine once more ignited the Land War of 1879-82. That period of struggle signalled the beginning of the end of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy and the feudal-type land system it upheld.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus noted how “life is flux” – a concept more commonly understood as “the only constant in life is change”. The despondent youth who took to social media last week, faced as they are with a seemingly immutable situation, might do well to ponder on his words.

Posted in Europe, IrelandComments Off on There is a Spectre Haunting Ireland: Emigration

The IRA plan to kill Michael O’Dwyer

Irish national archives releases letter showing the close fraternal links between the Irish and Indian liberation movements.

Lalkar writers

Letter addressed to IRA chief of staff written in 1923 by an IRA man named Darley seeking approval to take action against Michael O’Dwyer, the inspirer of the Amritsar massacre.

The anti-imperialist and revolutionary sentiments of the Irish people were on display in April when Ireland’s national archives published online a letter from an IRA man named Darley addressed to the IRA chief of staff in 1923.

The letter asks for approval to take action against Michael O’Dwyer, the inspirer of the Amritsar massacre (Jallianwala Bagh). The National Archives of the Irish republic released a photograph of the letter to mark the 100th anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, stating that the letter had recently been donated to the archives.

A notice on the archives’ website read: “Early in 1919 the Rowlatt Act extended emergency measures introduced in India during the first world war which included incarceration without trial. As a result tensions ran high in the Punjab and serious rioting had left several Europeans dead, banks and public buildings looted and burned and a female missionary seriously injured.

“On 13 April 1919, General Dyer, the acting military commander at Amritsar, ordered troops under his command to fire indiscriminately into a large crowd attending an illegal demonstration at Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, killing hundreds and injuring over one thousand. Dyer claimed he was quashing a potential rebellion.

“Sir Michael achieved notoriety through supporting General Dyer’s actions. A subsequent enquiry into the events unanimously condemned Dyer. He was relieved of his command and he died in England in 1927.

“O’Dwyer, Dyer and the Punjab itself had close Irish associations. Michael O’Dwyer came from a large and moderately nationalist family at Barranstown in Tipperary. He joined the Indian civil service in 1885 and, through his own natural abilities, rose to the highest ranks of the British administration in India.

“He was a great supporter of the co-operative credit movement in India which helped free peasants from the yoke of moneylenders and he also supported peasant ownership of land. He was appointed lieutenant general of the Punjab in 1912.

“A man of many contradictions, Sir Michael was an unashamed imperialist but later published, in his retirement, a history of the O’Dwyer family extolling their resistance to British aggression in Ireland over many centuries.

“Reginald Dyer had been born in India in 1864 but was sent, at the age of 11, to Midleton College [a boarding school] in County Cork and later briefly studied medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin.

“In 1913 emigrants from the Punjab to the United States were heavily involved in establishing the Ghadar Party, an Indian revolutionary organisation based in San Francisco which had, as its object, the overthrow of British colonial authority in India by armed revolution.

“It was quite similar to the Fenian movement established by Irish emigrants in the United States in the 1850s and it received the support of Irish republicans in America who assisted the Ghadars in an abortive attempt to send arms to India during the first world war, to precipitate an uprising there – part of the so called Hindu-German conspiracy.

“The IRA did not act on Darley’s recommendation. When the letter was written the organisation was in turmoil. It had been engaged in a bitter civil war with the Free State army for over a year and the chief of staff, Frank Aiken, declared a ceasefire in April 1923 and ordered the dumping of arms the following month.

“While Sir Michael O’Dwyer survived the Irish Republican Army, he was assassinated in London in 1940 by Udham Singh, a member of the Ghadar movement who reportedly had been present at Jallianwala Bagh on that fateful day in 1919.”

Posted in IrelandComments Off on The IRA plan to kill Michael O’Dwyer

The Irish electorate cry out against austerity and bring reunification closer

The future is bright; the future is green.

Lalkar writers

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald celebrates in Dublin after coming top of the polls. Sinn Féin won 37 of the 42 seats it contested, and gained the highest share of the overall vote.

On Saturday 8 February, a general election took place in Eire (the Irish republic) and brought forth a quite amazing result.

Sinn Féin, standing in just 42 of the 159 Dáil Éireann (Irish parliament) seats being openly contested (the 160th goes to the speaker automatically), won 37 of them. This put the party in second place to Fianna Fáil (FF), which got 38, and ahead of Fine Gael (FG), which only got 35.

The Irish Labour party sank almost without trace with six seats, and can no longer consider itself the third party in Irish politics.

Anger against austerity in the south

Sinn Féin campaigned to “give the people a break” from the austerity drive that is being thrust on them by their ruling class (this battle is being carried on in all corners of the globe) and attracted support from voters across the board because rents have soared, property ownership has plummeted and the scourge of homelessness has nearly quadrupled in the past five years.

A few months ago, there was a photograph of a little Irish boy eating his dinner off a piece of cardboard on a Dublin street that rightly caused widespread outrage. The Irish people are not impressed by figures telling them that the economy is fine when their own eyes show them such things.

As the Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole pointed out, it’s still “the economy stupid” that matters in politics, but “what people mean by ‘the economy’ has altered”.

Voters care less about unemployment figures or gross domestic product (GDP) than they do about having a place of their own to live in, a degree of job security and access to good healthcare for all.

It remains to be seen exactly what a new coalition government arising from this election will look like, but, whether inside it or as an opposition to it, Sinn Féin is expected to carry on fighting against austerity and for the raft of left-leaning/environmentally friendly policies on which it fought the election, while both the big parties (FF and FG) and the smaller Greens (who have previously played ‘little brother’ in austerity-led governments) are expected to see their support bases crumble.

Momentum towards unity in the north

Another consideration that cannot ever be left out of Irish politics is the six counties in the occupied north of Ireland.

The restoration of power sharing in Stormont shows that in London the British government recognises Sinn Féin as a major power in the north. This reveals quite clearly to the people of the south that a real possibility exists of a truly all-Irish political movement that could solve problems of national interest.

The British people’s vote for Brexit, which was reiterated in both the European election of 2019 and the general election of the same year, has left the unionist parties of northern Ireland in a terrible quandary.

Farmers, landowners and the northern Irish bourgeoisie very much wanted to stay in the European Union and to carry on collecting whatever subsidies and bonuses they could get from that body, and they had to a large extent convinced many working people that their best interests also lay in this direction.

Now that Brexit of some sort is a reality, future ‘independent’ trade with the EU will be possible only in line with an as-yet-unfinalised agreement between Britain and the EU. As the fluidity of the border between the republic and northern Ireland is threatened by UK-EU spats, there is a growing realisation that abandoning Britain and falling in line behind the campaign for the reunification of Ireland led by Sinn Féin on both sides of the border is a real option that will give the Irish what some of them think they need/want, ie, remaining in the EU.

It must be said, of course, that a united Ireland inside the EU would be far preferable to a disunited Ireland half in and half out. In any case, should the Irish people achieve a united Ireland then questions of affiliation to other bodies would be questions for them and them alone.

Reunification would give the Irish people so much more than the membership of the EU dreamed of by some northern bourgeois power players, including the chance to rebuild their whole nation in the form that the majority want and releasing them from the ancient yoke of British imperialism that has weighed so heavily on the majority of them throughout their history.

It is interesting that Jonathan Powell, who once served as Tony Blair’s chief of staff, and who helped with the drawing up the Good Friday peace agreement, is on record after the 2020 Irish general election telling the BBC that he believed a united Ireland was “getting more likely all the time”.

According to a poll last September, carried out by Lord Ashcroft, there is now a small majority north of the border in favour of leaving the United Kingdom and joining the republic. This may not yet be a consistent and unstoppable movement towards a united republican Ireland but there is definitely movement.

Even former northern Ireland secretary Lord Mandelson under Tony Blair’s government has recognised what he calls the “economic gravitational pull southwards”, which he admits is only likely to grow over time. “At the heart of all this is identity,” he said, adding: “The effect of the Brexit deal is to strengthen economic links to the south and loosen political ties to Britain.”

In short, as Brexit pushes the northern Irish towards unity and therefore towards Sinn Féin, so the excellent struggle against austerity led by Sinn Féin in the south brings the masses there towards the party, too.

To paraphrase an old advert: ‘The future is bright; the future is green.’

Posted in IrelandComments Off on The Irish electorate cry out against austerity and bring reunification closer

The Unbreakable Bond of Ireland and Palestine

Among European nations, Ireland has been one of the most vocal in its support of the Palestinian national struggle

By Creede Newton

Global Research,

In December, a wave of support for the recognition of a Palestinian state swept over Europe, culminating in the European Parliament’s (EP) vote on a motion that expressed support for an independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders and a continuation of stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The motion, largely symbolic, passed with 498 EU parliamentarians voting in favour, 88 voting against, and 111 abstaining.

While it does not require any concrete action on the part of any European Union (EU) member state, certain EU member states, such as Sweden and Ireland, have taken steps towards formal recognition of Palestine.

Ireland in particular has been a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause. The origins of this solidarity come down to both the similarities and differences between the Irish and Palestinian national struggles.

‘Colonised people’

“The Irish people, as a colonised people living for centuries under British occupation, have instinctively identified with freedom struggles across the globe,” Gerry Adams, Irish republican and president of Sinn Féin, the largest Irish nationalist party in both the Republic of Ireland and the six counties of Northern Ireland that still belong to the United Kingdom (UK), told Middle East Eye.

The entangled history of the UK and Ireland began in the 12th century, when Norman invaders reached the island. In 1541, the English parliament formally declared that English King Henry VIII was also the king of Ireland.

That was the beginning of several centuries of English and Scottish Protestants migrating to the majority Catholic island and taking power from the indigenous population. This set the stage for sectarian conflict that would flare up over the course of the following years.

In the second half of the 19th century, nationalist movements began picking up steam and by 1922, the Green Island was split into 26 counties that were to be ruled from Dublin as part of an independent Ireland, and six that would be ruled from Belfast, still part of the UK.

In the late 1960s, the conflict known as “The Troubles” began, with militants seeking the reunification of Ireland attacking military and civilian targets, and the British army and Protestant militants responding in kind. Adams himself recounted his own memories of political activism and protest for the reunification of Ireland, and against apartheid South Africa, in the 1960s.

Speaking critically of the current Israeli government, he said their “strategies and actions are aimed at imposing an apartheid system on Arab-Israeli citizens; extending the occupation through the building of settlements in the occupied territories, as well as the separation wall; and physically and politically dividing Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza and the refugee camps in other states.”

The current state of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process also troubles him, he said. In December, Israel denied Adams entry to the besieged Gaza Strip, and upon his return to Ireland, he was “deeply worried”.

“I am particularly concerned at the approach of the international community,” he told MEE, “which fails to hold the Israeli government to account for its actions and its breaches of international law.”

The role of prisoners

In Ireland, prisoners jailed by the British played “an important role”, according to Adams, and Palestinian prisoners play an important role, too.

But Gavan Kelley, the advocacy unit coordinator of Ramallah-based Addameer, a non-governmental human rights group that focuses on political and civil rights issues in the occupied Palestinian territory, especially those of prisoners, thinks that those imprisoned in Israeli jails can play an even greater role.

“Overall [Addameer] is in a very difficult situation. We want to get to a stage where prisoners are playing a role in ending the conflict,” he told MEE. “That’s the exact opposite of what’s happening now.”

As of October 2014, there were approximately 6,500 Palestinian prisoners, including roughly 500 administrative detainees—those who are held in Israeli prisons without charge. Their six-month sentences can be renewed indefinitely by judges on the basis of “secret” evidence.

Other than prominent Palestinian leaders, such as Ahmad Saadat of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine or Fatah’s Marwan Barghouti, most prisoners serve their sentences in silence.

Kelley says that prisoners “are being completely excluded and used as political bargaining chips” in negotiations between Israel and Hamas, as well as the Palestinian Authority.

The human rights of prisoners in Israeli jails are routinely violated, Kelley said, much like those of Irish prisoners during the conflict with the UK.  “You have daily rights violations of the prisoners. Medical negligence, malnourishment, nightly raids by the Israeli forces,” he said.

Kelley echoed Sinn Féin’s leader in saying that prisoners were instrumental in ending the conflict.

“If you look at Ireland and South Africa,” Kelley said, “prisoners played a central role in ending those conflicts.”

But looking at the current situation in the Holy Land,

“the political conditions that brought an end to the conflicts in Ireland and South Africa are nowhere near existing here in Palestine,” Kelley concluded.

United Efforts

Meanwhile, many Palestinians are grateful for international solidarity, which some view as instrumental in their own struggle.

“International solidarity is vital for more than one reason,” Najwan Berekdar, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and activist, told MEE.

“Not only that gives hope for the Palestinians to continue their struggle knowing they have support, but it also brings our struggles closer together, as we have been learning new tactics which were used by colonised people everywhere.”

The popular techniques used by the Irish and South Africans serve to envigorate Palestinian efforts to resist Israeli occupation, have led to innovative and interesting protests, some of which, such as the “Love in the Time of Apartheid” campaign, Berekdar organised.

“This is what will affect the public opinion. And this is what will pressure Israel and its supporting governments to change their policies.”

Great March of Return and Breaking the Siege: Worldwide Solidarity this Weekend

Posted in Palestine Affairs, Middle East, IrelandComments Off on The Unbreakable Bond of Ireland and Palestine

The EU should support Irish reunification, Mary Lou McDonald tells BBC

The Sinn Féin leader also said the British government needs to start preparing itself for this constitutional change.

Image: Niall Carson/PA

SINN FÉIN LEADER Mary Lou McDonald has said she will be asking the European Union to support Irish reunification if she is part of the next government.

Speaking to BBC’s Newsnight in Dublin, McDonald said, even before this election the country was heading towards a border poll.

“You have Brexit, you have changing demographics, you have the fact that the unionist majority has been lost in the North over the last number of elections, so that is the direction of travel,” she said. 

She said it was irresponsible for politicians not to “bury their heads in the sand” on this issue.Whoever now makes up the next government, those preparations need to start. And could I also say those on the island of Britain and in London in particular need to start preparing because constitutional change is coming.

McDonald said she would be making asks of the European system in terms of long-term Irish interests and on the issue of partition.

“I think the European Union needs to take a stand in respect of Ireland in the say way that it supported the reunification of Germany, in the same way that it has a position on Cyprus, for example, and a positive approach to the reunification of that country.I think Ireland is no different.

“I think it would be correct for our allies and our friends for anybody who cares about this country and our people, it is plain to see that partition and division has been a disaster, and that reunification, reconciliation and good relationships with our next door neighbours is the way forward.”

Posted in IrelandComments Off on The EU should support Irish reunification, Mary Lou McDonald tells BBC

Real and “Fake” Elections: US, Bolivia, Ireland

By: Global Research,

Bolivian Elections Will be an Opportunity to Legalize the Coup

By Lucas Leiroz de Almeida,

The next Bolivian presidential elections were scheduled for May 3. The scenario in the country remains troubled, marked by the unrest and tensions created by the coup that led to the overthrow of Evo Morales. On the one hand, candidates from the right stand up enthusiastically with the intention of neutralizing any possible resurrection of the left. On the other hand, Morales, although with undeniable popular support, currently does not seem to have enough strength to face the right forces.

Bolivia: An Election in the Midst of an Ongoing CoupBy Prof. Vijay Prashad, February 14, 2020Morales was prematurely removed from office; the term for his 2014 presidential election victory did not end until January. Yet, he was told by the military to leave office. An interim president – Jeanine Áñez – appointed herself.

Black Democrats Endorse Bloomberg after Release of Racist Boasts on “Stop-and-frisk”

By Niles Niemuth,

“Stop-and-frisk” empowers New York Police Department officers to stop anyone on the street without suspicion of a crime and search and interrogate the individual in public view. Under Bloomberg, the police on patrol operated as armed roving gangs, who assaulted millions of working-class New Yorkers, mostly targeting black and Hispanic men simply for walking down the street.

2020 US Elections: The Top Issue for Democratic Voters Is …

By Eric Zuesse,

In 2016, Democrats nominated the neoconservative Hillary Clinton in order to move the Party even farther to the right, only to find themselves winning California by the astronomical margin of 4,269,978 votes more than Trump received, and losing all other 49 states by the still-substantial margin of 1,405,002 votes to Hillary.

Irish Election Result Is a Victory for Nationalism

By Johanna Ross,

Once upon a time Gerry Adams, the leader of Ireland’s nationalist party, Sinn Fein, could not be heard speaking on the BBC. He was branded a terrorist and his voice was dubbed. How times have changed. Now his party, led by Mary Lou McDonald, has stormed to victory in the Irish elections. Having won the largest percentage of the vote at 24%, Sinn Fein has ended the decades long domination of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail in what was effectively a two-party political system.

Iowa: Where The Democrats’ DNC Dreams Go to Die. Bernie, The “Trumpian Front Runner”

By Brett Redmayne-Titley,

After months of the DNC’s daily water boarding of the American public with their manufactured jurisprudence know as The Impeachment, these same political wizards of electioneering have in one day, Monday, galvanized the person they most detest. This week’s political disaster in Iowa rocketed Bernie Sanders into pronounced Trumpian front runner status and thus exposed the DNC – yet again- for what it really is:A cabal of status quo elitists no different than the RNC puppets they purport to oppose.

Democrats Seek to Suppress Sanders Victory in Iowa

By Patrick Martin,

The effort by the Democratic Party establishment to conceal or suppress reports of Senator Bernie Sanders’ victory in the Iowa caucuses reached a new stage Thursday with Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez calling on the Iowa Democratic Party to “immediately begin a recanvass” of the state.

The twitter statement by Perez came only hours after the final figures from the Iowa Democratic Party showed Sanders more than 6,000 votes ahead of former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg in the February 3 caucuses, and behind by only two “state delegate equivalents,” out of 2,152, in the process that will lead to the awarding of Iowa’s delegates to the Democratic national convention.

Posted in USA, Bolivia, IrelandComments Off on Real and “Fake” Elections: US, Bolivia, Ireland

Ireland’s biggest parties vow to ban goods made in illegal ‘Israeli’ settlements

Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail, who are leading in the polls ahead of Saturday’s election, have said they will enact the Occupied Territories Bill

The bill seeks to ban the import or sale of goods produced in illegal Israeli settlements (File photo/Reuters)

Two of Ireland’s biggest political parties have said that if they win Saturday’s general election they will implement a ban on the purchase of goods and services from illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail have both indicated in their manifestos that they wish to see the Occupied Territories Bill enacted.

The legislation, first tabled in 2018, would prohibit imports from territories where there is a clear international legal consensus on the status of the occupation.

As it stands, only the occupied Palestinian territories have been confirmed as occupied by the International Court of Justice.

2020 BDS: The unstoppable spread of moral judgement threatens IsraelRead More »

According to its manifesto, Sinn Fein has said it will “ban goods from Israel’s illegal colonial settlements in Palestine from entering the Irish market by implementing the Occupied Territories Bill”.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fail has said it would “progress the Occupied Territories Bill” in government.

If passed, the law would make Ireland the first European Union country to criminalise commercial activity in the settlements.

“We didn’t have to put it into our manifesto… but we insisted on doing so,” Niall Collins, a former foreign affairs spokesperson for Fianna Fail, told The Electronic Intifada.

The “next step in the process,” Collins said, would be the bill’s inclusion in a legislative programme that Fianna Fail agrees with another party – or parties – when forming a coalition.

“There are lots of issues relating to health, housing and homelessness here in Ireland. But our position on Palestine… is coming up on the doorsteps. People are showing a keen awareness of this issue.”

According to the latest opinion poll conducted ahead of the 8 February general election, Sinn Fein is leading with 24 percent, and Fianna Fail with 21 percent.

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Posted in Palestine Affairs, ZIO-NAZI, Campaigns, IrelandComments Off on Ireland’s biggest parties vow to ban goods made in illegal ‘Israeli’ settlements

Exit poll confirms Sinn Féin election breakthrough

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The three main parties in the 26 Counties have polled the same vote share of just over 22 per cent in today’s general election, according to an exit poll released as polling closed this evening.If borne out, the results will be a historic result for Sinn Féin, which will achieve by far its best outcome ever in a general election.

The results of the poll are as follows: Fine Gael 22.4 per cent, Sinn Féin 22.3 per cent, Fianna Fáil 22.2 per cent, Green Party 7.9 per cent, Labour 4.6 per cent, the Social Democrats 3.4 per cent, Solidarity/People Before Profit/Rise/Socialist 2.8 per cent and independents/others 14.5 per cent.

In another measure of the transformation, Sinn Féin won the votes of more than 30% of those aged under 24.

While seat projections in this new scenario are difficult, Sinn Féin could hope to win more than 30 seats out of 159. Moreover, their surpluses could help to elect other left-wing or republican candidates in some constituencies.

The three-way tie means that another hung parliament in Dublin is certain. While nothing will be definite until noon tomorrow, when the parties’ tallies from the vote counts start to come in, difficult coalition negotiations are now more than likely, and a second election this year cannot be ruled out.

The result is also a clear public rejection of the anti-Sinn Féin and anti-republican media agenda of the election campaign. It will have repercussions for the entire political establishment, but particularly the state-run media and the conservative press.

As the polls closed, former Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams criticised Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and elements of the media for what he said was a “nasty, negative campaign”.

He also uploaded a video of himself singing along with rebel song ‘Come Out Ye Black and Tans’, a comment on the outgoing right-wing government’s widely-criticised plans to commemorate forces who fought for British rule in Ireland a century ago. The furore last month helped set the stage for Sinn Féin’s successful election.

Remarking on the exit poll, he also wrote: “Well done everyone! Comgheardas [congratulations] Mary Lou and our leadership team. Martin McGuinness would be chuffed. Lean ar aghaigh. (Go ahead).”

Posted in IrelandComments Off on Exit poll confirms Sinn Féin election breakthrough

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