For the benefit of us in Ireland, where many of us see events through official news channels, which never drill down enough, I’m hoping you can give our readers some insight into what’s happening on the ground. Maybe you could start by telling us who is actually organising the protests?
There’s a bunch of groups. Unfortunately, a lot of activism in the United States kinda exists in a ‘diaspora’, because as soon as you get too many people you immediately get labelled a terrorist organisation because we have a fascist in office. A lot of it has been Black Lives Matter, because Black Lives Matter is actually big enough in Seattle that they actually have an office. In general, it’s not really an organisation, it’s an ideal.
The primary motivation of Black Lives Matter is equality and equity for the black community: stop getting killed by a militarised police force; achieve more equal statistics for punishment on crime (63% of all violent crime in this country is committed by white people, yet 70% of the prison community is black). That’s their main focus but through that they’ve built this community system where everybody takes care of each other.
So essentially, they’ve built socialism. Right now, for example, I’ve just got back from dropping off field medi-kits and water bottles and a bunch of other stuff to their office in Central District. They just provide so much to the community by way of support. Anyone who can help, does help.
And is Black Lives Matter aligned to the Democrats?
No, not at all, the Democrats hate us too. We’re leftist, without any particular political affiliation.
Roughly how many organisers would Black Lives Matter have in Seattle?
Personally, I know about twenty-five organisers for these particular protests but there are so many. And again, who is an organiser depends on who is stepping up to the plate. There’s no hierarchical leadership; it’s not really an organisation. It’s a community effort.
Presumably people who’ve never done anything like this before are getting involved.
Absolutely. As soon as they saw the first night of protest here (30 May 2020) in Seattle, which went very badly. There was four hours of totally peaceful protest; there was seven feet between the protesters and a line of police. The protesters were sitting down. Then, with literally no warning, there was no command, they just shot tear gas into it for no reason. That first protest was probably around a thousand people, but after seeing what happened, last night (2 June 2020) there were eight thousand people on the street. Bear in mind we had called May Day off – historically, Seattle has a riot every first of May, laughs – we cancelled that because of the coronavirus. But this is bringing people onto the street despite the virus.
Is there much of a socialist presence in these protests?
Here there is. We have the People’s Party and Socialist Alternative, both have a big membership and strong turnout. Councillor Kshama Sawant, has been out every day, she stays every day, which is awesome.
I was wondering whether this movement has been so explosive, not just because of the continual murders of black people by the police, but also because the black community has suffered more heavily from the virus, such as by not having access to the same level of health care?
Here’s the thing. This is one of those straw that breaks the camel’s back moments. The murder of George Floyd was awful and here, literally the week before, we had cops wrongfully and mistakenly enter an apartment building and kill a woman while she slept. This happens all the time. Plus, on top of five hundred years of slavery, segregation and oppression and coronavirus, the American medical system kills more black people than cops do. Their problems go largely ignored; they just don’t receive the same level of care.
Looking at this movement from the other side: are the authorities (with Trump at their head) going to regain control of the situation?
No. I don’t think so, because every time they escalate, it just draws more people. Nobody paid attention to the curfew. The curfew in Seattle is 7pm, although I need to explain more about this. The curfew does not apply if the protest is designated ‘peaceful’ because that would be a violation of First Amendment rights.
There’s a lot of coverage of violence here. To what extent is that the work of protesters?
It’s not, not initially. And actually, they are caught on video and most of the time it’s undercover cops.
What steps are activists taking to try to cut down on arson and looting?
Seattle hasn’t had any arson around the actual protests since the first day. Protesters are not breaking into buildings or anything like that. Seattle is very good about listening; our whole thing here is anti-racist, anti-fascist, only Seattle. So the city is very good at listening to who needs to be listened to. When black organisers and people of colour say, ‘no, we’re not doing this and if you see someone doing this you must stop them,’ people listen.
Can we just focus on that? Because it seems to be a really important issue. Who has the authority to say to the demonstrators, ‘no, we’re not doing this’? And how do they communicate?
There’s not like a figurehead. There have been two people recently who have gotten in front of a megaphone more than others, but there have been some questions about their motives to do that because they have been unreasonably willing to listen to empty promises. The mayor, Jenny Durkan, came out yesterday and spoke to these two in front of the protest and they were like, ‘oh yeah we don’t want to see it get violent’. And the crowd were responding, ‘well then, deauthorise the use of CS gas, of tear gas.’ The Mayor turned around and she literally ran.
And when the crowd were, ‘fuck the police’, one of these ‘leaders’ told them to ‘shut the fuck up.’ So who is leading changes day by day and most of this information gets disseminated by social media. Enough people said, ‘listen to the black leaders,’ and now people listen. And they are listening to women, ninety-percent of the ‘leaders’ here are women.
And it’s really funny watching people get a crash course in revolutionary practices. I know more people who know how to de-arrest now than I ever did. I’m pretty sure that every housewife on my block knows how to put out a CS canister and what to do if you’re hit by a rubber bullet. I’ve personally instructed about a hundred people on how to do field sutures.
Please tell us more about your day, what’s your day like in this crisis?
I’m extremely medically fragile, so me being on the street is not a thing. I help in other ways. I’ve been making about a hundred to two hundred med kits every day. A wash kit, gauze, bandages, a field kit with sutures.
A friend and I built a script that takes all of the feeds from the traffic cameras. We can isolate certain blocks and streets so we can keep an eye on things aerially. Also we monitor the public scanner of the police. The cops here are covering their badge numbers and their body cameras are turned off. The National Guard were wearing their helmet cameras the first days they were here. They aren’t any more. So there’s not accountability. It’s our live feeds and traffic cameras against what they say and unfortunately, historically, that has gone very badly for us.
Is there anything you’ve seen that we wouldn’t have been able to view via our main TV channels?
There’s so much that you haven’t seen. For example in New York, cops have been mowing through the crowds as by orders of NYPD. I’ll share an audio file from a police scanner, of New York cops being authorised to drive through the crowd (press the image below).
And here’s a picture I took last night of a kid, probably sixteen or seventeen confronting some fifty cops. Sorry it’s not that clear because the camera was covered with CS gas.
What’s happening with the activists who have been arrested?
Since Friday everyone who has been arrested has stayed in jail for the most part. They’ve closed the courthouse down and they are not holding bail hearings for non-violent offenders, so essentially people are being held, there’s nothing. Seattle doesn’t have a large jail so in the age of coronavirus, that’s really terrifying. We instruct everyone to write telephone numbers on their bodies, legal defence funds, but a lot of legal advocates are unable to get access to the courthouse. There are thousands of legal aid funds and people wanting to show solidarity with us can donate to https://bailfunds.github.io/.
Looking back at the late 60s, early 70s, the radicalised black movement, especially in the form of the Black Panthers, took bearing arms against the state about as far it could and ultimately got marginalised. How can it win this time?
Really, the Black Panthers were radicalised by the state. The Black Panthers started the free lunch programme. Everyone has this image of the Black Panthers running around with guns all the time, being intimidating. It’s not actually the case. The Black Panthers being armed was a response to the police state.
Yes, but if that happens again now, I think it will only ever be a small minority taking up arms and that it will lose.
I don’t think that’s actually the case. Even here, with our two socialist council members and $16 minimum wage, the logo for Seattle is ‘coffee and guns’. We have Starbucks and guns. Even here, if they start firing with live rounds instead of rubber bullets, well there’s more of us than there are of them. What are 700 cops going to do against ten thousand armed people?
Well, if the ten thousand are prepared to take over, that’s fine. My concern is that the strength of the spontaneity is also a weakness. What’s to stop it degenerating into something like the Weathermen?
Fair, but there is no way to overthrow something, to end a regime, without violence. Do you think the French walked up to Versailles and said, ‘pardon’?
I think there has to be a mass movement behind a successful insurrection. I’m trying to get a clearer picture of this movement. I’d just be worried that Trump will escalate the crisis and there will be saboteurs trying to create horrific examples so as to have a backlash. And in the past I feel that the American elite have learned to isolate radicals in this way. But your feeling is that if they start using live rounds the movement will hit back. Are we on the edge of such a scenario?
Any good will that the cops still have, if they take live fire at United States citizens, especially at the behest of the military and the national guard: it’s gone. Literally half of what Trump said yesterday was about using the Insurrection Act to deploy the regular military, not just the National Guard, into states without the permission of governors.
If that triggered a popular response and your ten thousand people swept away the police, what would happen next?
That’s a really hard question because of the diaspora of leadership. That becomes a problem because nobody has a single point to rally around. Seattle, however, has a pretty remarkable city council and more than normal activity when it comes to civic duty. Our voting is very high. So I can’t imagine that the city officials – who, with the exception of the Mayor, have been largely on the side of the protestors – would allow confusion to go on for too long.
What would victory look like? What would the protestors consider a victory?
Defunding of the police and a complete start from scratch. The cops in the US are descended from slave catchers and they haven’t stopped that. Enforcing a racist system makes you a racist. Without a complete dismantling of the system and rebuilding, this doesn’t get solved. I’m sure that’s not the goal for everyone but it is the goal for the majority of the people.
So jailing the cops concerned isn’t enough?
No, it’s too late for that. If they had done that at the beginning, most likely this wouldn’t be happening. But they didn’t.
They waited until that cop’s life was in danger and then they arrested him to protected him. His wife left him to protect his assets. It’s so transparent that it’s almost laughable. Here, we were watching the protests last night and I had two live feeds, one from the ground and one from the air, plus the traffic cameras and every crowd member was staring down the cops, shouting, ‘you protect property, we protect the people.’
What’s going to happen next?
There’s big protests and there’s always little ones too. Today they are holding a specific rally to defund the police.
Are the police going to lose?
I honestly can’t imagine this going any other way. It’s going to escalate until the police are gone and it just gets worse every night they take unprovoked action, which is every night. And every day there’s more people on the protests.
A comparison of Tony Cliff’s Lenin: Building the Party with Paul Le Blanc’s Lenin and the Revolutionary Party
In 2013, not long after the British SWP went into dramatic convulsions over the way their party failed to support a young member in her allegation that a very much older and more senior member had raped her, I had reason to be in Chicago. While there I met up with the International Socialist Organisation (at the time a relatively successful example of a revolutionary party), gave a talk on Ireland’s revolutionary years and attended a dayschool of theirs on Lenin and the revolutionary party. The bookstall had copies of studies of Lenin by Lars Lih, Paul Le Blanc and Tony Cliff.
Anyone wanting to encourage the development of a revolutionary party has, of course, to form an opinion of Lenin. Before the ISO fell out with their British equivalents (i.e. the SWP), their approach to Lenin would have been profoundly if not exclusively shaped by the British SWP and in particular by the leading figure in that party, Tony Cliff. It interested me that the ISO had a wider outlook on the subject than was usual in the SWP and the enthusiasm of the bookstall organiser meant that I came away with a copy of Paul Le Blanc’s Lenin and the Revolutionary Party.
This book was first published in 1990 and I had never read it because having inhabited a rather closed-minded organization, I felt there was little that someone closely aligned to the politics of Ernest Mandel would have to say on the subject that would be useful. After all, as I was told and believed at the time, I had been guided in my understanding of Lenin by someone with vastly superior politics to those of Mandel: Tony Cliff. More than this, as an SWP organiser in the UK and then in Ireland I had always used Cliff’sLenin: Building the Party as the essential text for explaining the theory behind SWP party-building methods to those members who I anticipated would go on to play leading roles in their branches and nationally.
The ISO – in the words of one of their organisers – said at the time that they drew on a canon of the best of other traditions and individuals to inform their attitude to Lenin and the lessons for today in regard to the revolutionary party. This sounded admirably open-minded. But I couldn’t help wondering if this willingness to promote other studies of Lenin than that of Cliff was, in fact, a watering down of the revolutionary Lenin in favour of a more Occupy-friendly version.
Given the 2019 collapse of the ISO, it is also reasonable to ask whether a move away from their traditional, if one-sided, reading of Lenin contributed to the crisis?
Then too, there was the 2018 submergence of the Irish SWP (I was a member at the time they voted to become a network within People Before Profit, yet I had no opportunity to vote on the decision; no documents were sent to me for consideration; no invitation was made for me to offer my views. I accidentally discovered from an online post that the party I thought I was a member of had gone). When you combine this with the self-destruction of the ISO and the rape-apologist behaviour of the UK SWP, the word ‘crisis’ is barely strong enough to encapsulate what has happened to parties of this type, who were once all thriving and united in a common organisation: the International Socialist Tendency.
It seemed evident to me that the failure of these parties meant that every aspect of SWP theory had to be looked at again with new eyes. Moreover – somewhat reluctantly, since it was time consuming – I felt that I had to make more of an effort to re-examine my attitude to Lenin. Without doing so, I was missing out in regard to developing my own understanding of the issues of party of class in an age when new means of communication mean some of the the old certainties, such as the essential role of the physical newspaper (a major topic in Cliff’s book), were fast becoming obsolete. So I reread Cliff and studied Le Blanc.
Side by side: Tony Cliff vs Paul Le Blanc on Lenin
The first thing to say about these books is that the story they tell is an inspiring one. Lenin became a Social Democrat (i.e. Marxist) in 1893, at the age of 23. Twenty-four years later, at 47, he led the successful Russian Revolution. Trotsky met revolutionaries in 1896 at the age of 17; he was 38 when he oversaw the October insurrection. Reading again the story of Lenin reminded me that when I became a revolutionary, during the great miner’s strike of 1984-5 in the UK, I thought that by now I would be living in a post-revolutionary era. After all, it took only twenty-four years for Lenin to go from next-to-nothing to the 1917 revolution.
It is worth noting that the experience of Western revolutionaries 1985 – 2020 has been a low-key one in comparison to the storms experienced by Lenin and Trotsky’s generation or that of the next. This, of course, is about to change and one reason why I’m delighted to have come through the experience of having COVID19 is because socialist politics are clearly going to be relevant in the 2020s.
At the deepest level, the crisis of the International Socialist Tendency is explained by this relative historical quiescence. Although the specific problems that arose in the UK and the USA deserve close analysis (with particular attention being paid to the question of who controlled their assets, worth a great deal), there’s a reasonable chance that the flaws in these parties and especially the emergence of a predatory male elite would not have become fatal had their members been engaged with the ebbs and flows of profound social upheavals such as those dealt with by Lenin. They would have been more deeply rooted in working class communities who would not tolerate the kinds of behaviour that ultimately brought them down.
Lenin’s efforts to build a revolutionary party from 1893 onwards are fascinating and deserving of scrutiny because they culminate in his having decisive influence over the October revolution of 1917. The twists and turns and dialectical inversions and leaps of the development of the Bolshevik party, even in the quiet years, are compelling to read about, because each argument at every stage really mattered. Each conference, debate, new pamphlet, new recruit, split, had consequences that rippled out over time to affect millions. Both books grasp this process well and while Le Blanc’s is the more scholarly in an academic sense, Cliff’s holds up surprisingly well in terms of the effort he made to contextualise each moment of the drama.
Neither author was able to access untranslated Russian source material directly. Cliff was perhaps the more eager to seize upon a tiny detail in a memoir to illuminate a particular moment. Le Blanc prefers to sum up contextual situations by reference to a secondary source, usually a work, to be fair, that is based on a detailed study of the Russian sources. Opening Lenin and the Revolutionary Party at random and finding an example, this type of statement is typical (p. 234): ‘As Hasegawa writes, “by the fall of 1916 the [Menshevik] workers’ group was obviously losing ground to the Bolsheviks and to regain its lost influence among the workers, the workers’ group turned leftward in December 1916.”’ This methodology is often unsatisfactory, as often the point being made by the secondary work comes across as an assertion without foundation. I wanted to see the primary evidence for the point being made.
Another difference between the books is that Le Blanc makes more of an effort to contrast his reading of Lenin with those of right wing or social democratic authors. This works to a certain extent, in ‘rescuing’ Lenin from the stereotype of the ruthless Machiavelli, but it surrounds the story with a commentary that is much less interesting than Cliff’s if your focus is the question: what does this all mean for revolutionaries today? In other words, there is no question but that Le Blanc’s is a much more helpful book for a student battling against ideologically driven attacks on Lenin. But for building the party, Cliff’s approach, potentially, has the advantage. At various points, Cliff puts the breaks on the narrative to digress with generalisations about party building and it is these generalisations that served for years to inform the practice of those on the SWP branch, district and national committees both in the UK and Ireland.
I say ‘potentially’ because of course, the conclusions about the revolutionary party that Cliff drew do not, in fact, have the emancipatory power I once thought they did. Here, I think the best critique of Building the Party comes from Ian Land in 1994.
Lars Lih does an impressive job of overthrowing various paradigms concerning misrepresentations and misunderstandings of Lenin (not only those of Cliff), using 600 pages of densely sourced argument in his book Lenin Rediscovered. And that is very valuable. But to understand what particular lens was distorting Cliff’s view of Lenin you only need a few lines. In Cliff’s experience of leading the SWP, you had to battle hard for a new orientation for the party and the people you were battling against were those who had most immersed themselves in the old orientation. Your weapons? Exaggeration and youth. Cliff was expert in galvanising the openness of new members to new tactics to turn them against older members who might resist the new course.
So we learn this about the young Lenin from Cliff:
This readiness to bend the stick too far in one direction and then to go into reverse and bend it too far in the opposite direction was a characteristic that he retained throughout his life. It was already clearly apparent at this early stage of his development as a revolutionary leader.
Later, in discussing the rules of the party, Cliff wrote:
An overformal party structure inevitably clashes with two basic features of the revolutionary movement: (1) the unevenness in consciousness, militancy, and dedication of different parts of the revolutionary organisation; and (2) the fact that members who play a positive, vanguard role at a certain stage of the struggle fall behind at another.
If you are trying to explain to a party member why, having campaigned on a certain issue in a particular fashion, the party is now doing something radically different, these formulations are a great help. They address an important truth, which is that the currents of revolutionary politics are fast changing and the party has to be able to make swift turns and not be trapped, for example, by the moralism of a declining campaign, into substituting for a real movement. Nor must a revolutionary party be afraid of pouring every resource behind a critical strike, say. But Cliff’s formulations address this truth in a one-sided fashion.
Is it accurate to characterise Lenin as believing he was being excessive but that the outcome would justify his exaggerations? In other words, was Lenin willing to deliberately present a distorted picture of the world to win his perspective? In short, the answer is ‘no’. Le Blanc and Lars Lih and my own reading of Lenin’s works convince me that fundamentally at every stage Lenin believed that the truth was on his side, at least until events proved otherwise. Holding doggedly to a particular focus and task for the party is not the same as telling the party something which deep down, you do not actually believe, but which you consider expedient.
Here’s how one staunch defender of Cliff puts it in more recent times:
Cliff had learned from experience that shifting an organization of several thousand members (as oppose winning an academic or historical debate) from one strategic orientation and one way of working to another to meet the challenge of changed circumstances, required an almighty great tug on the relevant levers and, sometimes, a certain exaggeration. For Cliff achieving the desired end was more important than terminological exactitude or consistency and he rather thought, as do I, that Lenin felt the same way. http://johnmolyneux.blogspot.ie/2006/11/lihs-lenin-review-of-lars-t-lih-lenin.html
There is an evasion here. The argument is not whether Lenin was fussy about terminology but whether Lenin ever felt it necessary to deliberately exaggerate ‘to achieve the desired end.’ John Molyneux believes so. I do not. Lenin was fully aware the dialectics of revolutionary socialism do not allow for the separation of means and ends. The means you adopt will shape the end you arrive at. The moment you cease to tell the truth, no matter how unpalatable or how it works against the point you want to make, is the moment you abandon the prospect of realising a socialist society. I say this for entirely practical as well as moral reasons.
Secondly, look again at the question of party structure. It is an observable fact that all revolutionary parties are uneven, Cliff’s (1), but (2) is not as clear cut as it seems because it contains a value judgement. Who decides whether a member is falling behind? While another member is being ‘positive’? The true test has to be in regard to how effective the respective members are in changing the world. And judging that effectiveness is a complicated matter, where collective decision-making, honest accounting and democratic forms are essential. But in Cliff’s hands, this piece about rules can be read as follows: rules are all very well, but when some idiot is dragging the party down, it is necessary to find those who are getting results and use them to smash the conservatives, even if that means violating formalities.
Anyone expelled – or rapidly thrust from leading bodies within the SWP – by Cliff in the UK or Kieran Allen in Ireland will be familiar with what this depiction of Lenin meant in practice. But I think this depiction of Lenin also helps explain something of the attitude of those who have been in these parties for a long time and unfailingly endorse the initiatives of the leadership. Such long-term members have internalised the same ideas as profound revolutionary truths, which leads them to reason along the following lines: ‘I don’t want to be like the committee-men of 1905 who resisted the party’s turn to the class, therefore I will overcome my reservations and embrace the latest line. After all, this is the best way to test a perspective.’
Over time, the membership of the party learn to accept (and justify to themselves and others) that they have no meaningful input into the creation of new initiatives or the party’s position on crucial issues. This is in marked contrast to the vigorous and lively internal life of the pre-1917 Bolshevik party.
As a guide to the nature of a successful revolutionary party, Cliff’s interpretation of Lenin’s approach to rules only works if the party leader is always right. But who judges the judge? Who corrects the leadership when they are wrong? History? History has made its judgement upon Cliff’s party and its associates.
If Cliff’s Building the Party is flawed in this way, i.e. flawed at the points where it addresses the methodology of ‘stick bending’, is Le Blanc’s Lenin and the Revolutionary Party the better tool for guiding revolutionaries in the theory and practice of building the revolutionary party? I don’t believe so. In fact, despite the criticism I’ve just made, I’d rather give someone Cliff’s book, mainly because of its activist focus. Le Blanc’s is a very good history written by someone with a clear understanding of the political stakes in the various debates but it has half an eye on academia. This means the standard of scholarship is high, but at the cost of the book being less of a manual for revolutionaries. It also has some political weaknesses, perhaps the most important being the failure to articulate the full scope of Lenin’s anti-imperialism. The author has a soft spot for the Sandinistas, bringing them up to the level of the Bolsheviks, and also for Cuba. This means Lenin’s emphasis on not giving anti-imperialist movements ‘communist colouring’ is entirely lost.
Where does this leave me in regard to reading Lenin? I’m faced with a situation where an uncritical approach to Cliff’s works no longer serves, but where there is no obvious single alternative. Best, then, to read a variety of books from different perspectives and, of course, the works of Lenin himself.
In one, people try to occupy themselves at home, maybe spend time in the garden where the birds are so lively just now, or watch TV or – although I found my concentration levels weren’t up to it – do something creative.
The other is darker and consists of those with COVID19.
Having crossed the invisible barrier into the latter, I had an intense realisation of these two worlds as I walked my partner to the emergency tent at the Mater hospital. It was sunny, probably, and there were so many normal people around: a group of builders, smoking and chatting, united by their day-glo jackets; two hospital staff, ID badges swaying, smiling; a large man just standing there on the corner of the road and – evidently unconcerned by our masks and her being in a dressing gown – not inclined to move. We skirted him.
I squeezed her hand one last time and watched from the entrance as the two staff members took her details then brought her further in. It occurred to me that this might be my last ever sight of her, but I told myself not to be alarmed, that she was much safer in their ‘yellow’ ward than at home. That she was lucky, in fact, because perhaps soon they would be turning away people who need monitoring for lack of staff.
And then I went back to the car and the waiting kids, along a street with the other world all around me.
One in which the sun was probably shining.
Dawn, Easter Saturday and she’s home. I’m lying on a mattress outside her door, like Cú Chulainn at the threshold of his king, my namesake. Outside, a pigeon is asking over and over, ‘look, can we, tee de?’ When it stops, the far sweeter chirp of a robin takes its place, but so rapid is the robin’s voice that even Democritus would have struggled to understand him.
Ever since we hung out a bird feeder, we have had a pair of robins in our back yard. I’m sure they are nesting in the thick, thorny bush that I was supposed to trim. I’m glad I never got around to that task, because our neighbour has a very attentive cat, who likes to walk on the top of the wall. He cannot get past the overgrown bush, no matter how carefully he tries to place his paw.
Heart irregularity, high blood pressure. In need of several days of bed rest. But her lungs are fine. Well, pneumonia to be sure, but mild. So long as she can rest in quiet solitude, she should get through this. Quiet solitude. That’s why I sleep at the door, for while the elven-year-old and the eight-year-old understand and respect the rules, we have a three-year-old who does not understand boundaries.
She’s awake already and after considering my unexpected presence says, ‘I don’t want you there.’ When I fail to disappear, she begins crying. Like the dawn birds, there is a cycle to the cry. ‘I want my mummy’, over and over. Not too much of a shriek, more an unhappy insistence. Every five chants I offer an explanation that I know won’t be accepted, but perhaps my gentle tone of voice does some good because she settles.
It helps that the eight-year-old, having woken, announces that there are eighteen hours and seventeen minutes until Easter. He started that timer three days ago.
Delighted with the prospect of chocolate and understanding that it is imminent my three-year-old is immediately cheerful. And it makes me realise there is a power in her refusal to see boundaries. I just have to follow her and I will find the way back.
One of the
most extraordinary acts of defiance against the British Empire took place in
India on 28 June 1920 when four Irish soldiers, members of the British army, thousands
of miles from home, decided to protest against the suppression of the
independence movement in Ireland. The soldiers belonged to the Connaught
Rangers and were stationed at the north of the country in the Wellington
Barracks, Jullundur (modern day Jalandhar). At eight a.m. that morning, Joseph Hawes,
Patrick Gogarty, Christopher Sweeney and Stephen Lally, all members of C
Company, approached an officer they felt they could trust, Lance Corporal John
Flannery, and told him that they wished to ground arms and cease fighting for
the British Army due to the oppression of their friends in Ireland.
Hawes had been on leave in Clare in October 1919 and had seen a hurling match
proclaimed by troops with bayonets drawn. He had spoken about this with his
colleagues (plus another man, William Daly) the night before and had made the
point that they were doing in India what the Black and Tans were doing in
Ireland. Their garrison was only ninety kilometres from Amritsar, where a
massacre of Indian civilians had been carried out by British Indian soldiers less
than a year earlier.
The four men wanted Flannery to have their addresses in Ireland in case their protest would led to their immediate execution. If they were going to die, they wanted to the true reason to be made known to their families. Then reporting to the guardroom, the protesters voluntarily asked to be arrested for being ‘in sympathy with Ireland.’
Joe Hawes and the start of the mutiny of the Connaught Rangers in Jullundur 1920
This initial action, however, rapidly changed from being one where a few individuals would prefer imprisonment and the risk of execution to continuing in their role as British soldiers to a full-blown mutiny of hundreds of men. Soon after the protest had begun, excited groups of soldiers gathered here and there in barracks talking about the stand being made by their four comrades. At that time, half of C Company, fifty men, were away in the Solon barracks (guarding an important route from Delhi to Simla). This left forty-six soldiers of the company who formed up for parade at nine a.m., with Hawes, Gogarty, Sweeney and Lally conspicuously absent. Another soldier stepped out of line, Jimmy Moran, and announced that he wanted to join his comrades in the guard room. With that action, the discipline of the remainder of the company shattered and twenty-nine more members of C Company, plus the (armed) duty guard himself joined the protest.
thirty-five strong, the mutineers entertained themselves by singing rebel songs
and shouting ‘Up the Republic!’. When the two-hundred strong B Company, who had
been away at the nearby rifle range, returned and heard the commotion, the
soldiers – still bearing their weapons – made their way to the guardroom and a
lively discussion took place with the prisoners. Colonel Deacon, officer
commanding, thought he could successfully challenge the mutineers in front of
his men and so ordered B Company to sit on the steps of a bungalow nearby.
Deacon then had the protestors line up in front of the sitting men and proceeded to harangue the rebels, attempting to shame them with the great history of the Connaught Rangers; working himself up to tears with the regiment’s proud record; all their various honours. The colonel then offered to forget the whole matter if the protestors returned to their bungalows. Hawes, a private and therefore on the lowest rung of the military hierarchy, nevertheless stepped forward, uncowed and defiant, and confronted the senior British officer: ‘All the honours in the Connaught flag are for England and there are none for Ireland but there is going to be one today and it will be the greatest of them all.’ A resulting attempt to isolate Hawes was thrown back by the mutineers marching off in good order back to the prison with their hero safely among them. Humiliatingly for Deacon, when he now attempted to order B Company to move on, they refused to leave. Instead, they swarmed over to Hawes and his friends, leaving Deacon distraught. The other senior officers, along with NCOs hurried away as the rank and file soldiers realised they had the upper hand and could take over the whole barracks.
Rebel British soldiers form a committee and take over the Jullundur barracks
Urging Hawes to lead them, the crowd of Connaught Rangers released all the protesters from the guardroom and rallied as many other soldiers as they could. A rebel muster took place with around 300 participants. They elected seven soldiers to be their committee: Joe Hawes and Patrick Gogarty – two of the original protesters – along with John Flannery as messenger to the officers and Jimmy Moran, J.A. McGowan, Paddy Sweeny and James Davies as the other members. The Union flag was removed from a bungalow occupied by the rebels and replaced with a hastily sewn Tricolour.
in firm control, the mutineers doubled the guard; distributed the task of
making regular patrols; placed a permanent guard to monitor the senior officers
(to ensure they didn’t attempt any rash action that might lead to violence);
put a guard on alcohol; and commissioned a hundred green, white and orange
rosettes from the local bazaar. According to an army telegram of the time, the
attitude of the men was respectful but ‘obdurate in their refusal to perform
any military duty.’ That day, too, they sent messengers off some two hundred
kilometres to A Company, who were stationed at Jutogh and the other half of C
Company, who were in barracks at Solon.
Geraghty of Castleblayney, Co. Monaghan, was one of the mutineers who travelled
to Solon and his background gives the lie to the official account of the mutiny
by a regimental historian anxious to dismiss it as the action of ‘green
recruits’. As Geraghty said in an interview, ‘I had served in France from
January 1915 to the end of the war and had been wounded twice. And despite all
my service, by mutinying, I knew what I was doing. But the news coming from
Ireland disturbed my mind to such an extent that I was quite prepared to suffer
anything, irrespective of what it might be.’
the sixty-one men subsequently tried for mutiny, most were veterans of the
Great War, and, indeed, thirty of these had been in the British Army for more
than five years: five bitter years in which several of them had fought at the
Battle of Loos in 1915 and in a grim, cholera-stricken campaign around Baghdad
from 1916 – 1918, before moving towards Egypt and engaging in a fierce
encounter with German and Turkish troops near Jaffa in 1918, not to mention
their notable achievement in capturing a Turkish artillery column.
veteran soldiers were not afraid of fighting, nor had they mutinied as a result
of inexperience and dismay at what being a soldier actually meant. They were
profoundly aware of the vast power of the British war machine and up until 1920
had played their part in it. Now, however, times had changed. Joe Hawes later
explained, ‘When I joined the British Army in 1914, they told us we were going out
to fight for the liberation of small nations. But when the war was over, and I
went home to Ireland, I found that, so far as one small nation was concerned –
my own – these were just words.’
the face of these politically resolute soldiers, it was difficult for the
authorities to regain control. Major N. Farrell of ‘B’ Company, Connaught
Rangers, tried to get his men to obey their officers once more and warned them
that the mutiny would play into the hands of Indian nationalists and that they
would all be slaughtered. To this, Hawes answered spiritedly, ‘if I am to be
shot, I would rather be shot by an Indian than an Englishman.’ Local Indian
feeling was, in fact, sympathetic to news of the mutiny of Irish soldiers in
the British army. In Delhi, the popular newspaper Fateh reported the
mutiny of the Irish soldiers as an implementation of Gandhi’s strategy of civil
disobedience, demonstrating ‘how patriotic people can preserve their honour,
defy the orders of the Government, and defeat its unjust aims.’
Some of those involved in the mutiny felt, too, that there was a real hope of an alliance with those involved in India’s struggle for independence. Stephen Lally, one of the leaders of the Jullundur mutiny and later a member of the IRA, recalled: ‘I thought we might as well kill two birds with the one stone, and if we could get the Indian National Movement with us it would mean a great victory not alone for Ireland but India as well . . . we could have officered the Native ranks and in a very short time India would have gained her freedom.’
The mutiny spreads to Jim Daly and the Connaught Rangers in Solon
For the first two days, it did seem that momentum was with the rebels. Frank Geraghty recalled his mission to spread the mutiny to the rest of C Company in Solon.
On the 30 June 20, I with private Patrick Kelly, were detailed to go to Solon in the Simlar hills to communicate the fact that the troops in Jullundur had mutinied and to give the reason for the mutiny and to give instructions also that the mutiny, if they did mutiny, would be on the lines of passive resistance with no violence. I appealed to James Joseph Daly whom I approached as the most competent man and whom I knew personally wished to carry out an effort to start a mutiny. Daly, I knew, was inclined to the republican movement in Ireland.
Borne in Ballymoe, County Galway and raised in Tyrrellspass, Mulingar, County Westmeath, Jim Daly, was an ‘active sympathiser with Sinn Féin’ and responded with determination to the news from Jullundur. According to the version of events Daly later told to Hawes while they were in prison together, the men from Jullundur had been arrested on arrival at Solon but Daly could hear enough of their messages shouted through the bars to realise the situation. Although only 20 at the time of the mutiny and one of the youngest soldiers, that night he rallied about forty men and marched to the bungalow of the Commanding Officer to announce that they were taking over a bungalow in protest at repression in Ireland. In response, the C.O. told the men they were insane and switching between threats and inducements attempted to return the men to their duty as he saw it. The strongest argument at his disposal was that the action would be futile as they were thousands of miles from Ireland. After a long, hard silence Daly gave a curt response: nothing the C.O. said would avail. The mutineers left for their bungalow, which they named ‘Liberty Hall’, and as with their comrades at Jullundur, took down all the Union flags, hoisted the tricolour, made and wore Irish rosettes on their British Army uniforms and sang rebel songs.
Next day, early on 1 July 1920, Major W.N.S. Alexander and his officers arrived at Liberty Hall and managed to get the mutineers to form up to listen to his address. The Major thought that his arguments were having an influence when:
A man named Daly stood in front of the parade; he informed me that similar action would be taken simultaneously by every Irish Regiment in the Army, and that the news would be published in every paper in the United Kingdom: whatever influence I had said may have had on the less determined of the mutineers was promptly wiped out by this man.
Woodbridge tried next but again, ‘Daly intervened and succeeded in wiping out
the good impression made.’
On the night of 1 July 1920, scouts set by the mutineers at Solon, detected the imminent arrival of British troops. On this news Daly and his followers made a mistake, deciding to offer armed resistance to the recapture of the barracks. Lacking genuine contacts in the Indian nationalist movement, the best hope of the soldiers was not to escape and definitely not to fight against vastly superior forces but, as Hawes had urged, to keep the protest peaceful (despite serious risk of execution).
by Daly, about twenty rebels went to the company magazine building to attempt
to get hold of their rifles. Earlier in the protest, Fr Baker, the camp priest,
had urged the men not to carry arms. Lieut. C.J. Walsh, told the subsequent
Court of Enquiry: ‘I was officer I/C of an armed guard mounted on the magazine.
At about 2200 hours, four mutineers approached the magazine and tried to rush
the Sentry. I covered the leader with me revolver. I cautioned these men and
warned then that if they approached any nearer I would shoot them. They went
immediately in the direction of their bungalow. About five minutes later an
attack was made on the magazine by a number of mutineers armed with naked bayonets.
By this time the sentries on the magazine were reinforced by the remainder of
the Guard, and all Officers living in the line. The mutineers pressed on toward
the magazine, they were challenged at least three or four times, they took no
notice of the challenge, and, as a further warning I fired two shots from my
revolver into the air. This had no effect, so I fired into the attackers who
then withdrew. Shortly afterwards three men were removed on stretchers to the
station Hospital, two of whom I heard were dead, and one wounded.’
The dead mutineers were Pte Peter Sears, The Neale, Co. Mayo and Patrick Smyth from Drogheda, who was spectating, rather than participating in the rush. Eugene Egan lived, despite having been shot through the right chest. Following a final desperate challenge by Daly to a bayonet duel with anyone on the other side, the mutiny at Solon was effectively over. With the arrival of loyal troops, the participants were placed under arrest.
British officers try to regain control of the mutinous Connaught Rangers
at Jullundur, Colonel Jackson had arrived to take charge of the crisis for the
British army. He was in regular contact with the Commander-in-Chief for all
India, General Charles Munroe. Under a white flag, Jackson entered talks with
the leaders of the Connaught Rangers mutiny and insisted that they could not
win: that the British army was intent on retaking the barracks, even if it
required very soldier in India. This was almost certainly the policy decided
upon by the authorities as they had already mobilised two battalions, the South
Wales Borderers and the Seaforth Highlanders, both of which arrived with
artillery and machine guns on 1 July 1920.
the position of the rebels was now hopeless, but they continued to protest
through passive means and in particular, were resolved not to give up the
leaders of the mutiny for fear they would be executed: a very realistic
appraisal of the thinking of the senior officers. Although some eighty soldiers
abandoned the mutiny at this point, the others, over four hundred strong,
marched out to prison camp together and refused to allow their leaders to be
isolated. This defiance nearly cost dozens of lives, as the camp was designed
to ensure hardship. It had almost no protection from the Indian summer sun and the
water supply deliberately inadequate. ‘Inhumane’ was how a Captain Kearney put
it and only the intervention of the Connaught Rangers’ medical officer
prevented lives from being lost from sickness.
more immediate prospect of death for the mutineers came from the threat of
violence. In the process of being moved to another camp on 2 July 1920, Major
Johnny Payne made another attempt to separate the leaders from the body of
mutineers. He called out twenty names, which included the seven men on the
committee. No one moved, so Payne ordered thirty soldiers to pull out one of
the people he had identified (Tommy Moran) from the crowd. These soldiers
failed and were disarmed in the physical tussle, leading Payne to order fixed
bayonets and soon after, the final order before ‘open fire’, that of ‘five
rounds, stand and load.’
Fr Livens, the seventy-year-old army chaplain rushed across to Payne and pleaded with the major, managing to delay the crisis by interposing himself between the soldiers with raised rifles and the prisoners. This was a crucial moment, where just in time a rider came hurriedly over, blowing a whistle to gain attention. This was Colonel Jackson who rebuked Payne in public and took over the command of the loyal soldiers.
Major Payne still had a hand in the subsequent mistreatment of the mutineers, forcing some of them to lie on the bare stone ground for hours with little or no food or clothing. James C O’Shea of Derry contracted a gastric illness that remained with him for the rest of his life. In trying to assert his rights, Payne told O’Shea he was entitled to ‘steel and lead and nothing else.’
Over the following days the British officers managed to whittle down the number of mutineers by offering free pardons to those who returned to duty and assuring the rest that they would face death by firing squad. By mid-July there were 48 former Jullundur Connaught Rangers in prison at Dagshai, where they were joined by Jim Daly and 40 men from the Solon mutiny. Conditions in Dagshai were harsh and they were deprived of all but the most basic sustenance. Private John Miranda died there and his case draws attention to the fact that a number of the mutineers were English rather than Irish. John Miranda was from Bootle in Liverpool. An English Sergeant Woods, who had earned a Distinguished Conduct Medal for his behaviour in France, explained his reasons for joining the mutiny to the Court Martial, ‘These boys fought for England with me, and I was ready to fight for Ireland with them.’
one point, thanks to the sympathy of the Indian staff at the jail, a group of
six rebels, including Hawes and Daly, were able to get outside. In order to
address the scarcity of provisions, especially cigarettes, Hawes and Daly
decided to raid the canteen at Solon. A successful overnight mission saw them
return to the comrades in the prison with their ill-gotten cigarettes. Hawes later explained why they did not simply try to
It might be wondered why we did not make a break for freedom that night or any other night, but you must remember that we were in an alien country, thousands of miles from home, even unable to speak the language. Everyone would be our enemy both the king’s men and the native Indians to whom none of us could explain our position over the language barrier. Soldiers were not popular in India at that time.
The Court Martial of the Connaught Rangers who joined the mutiny of 1920
martial of the rebels, beginning with those considered to be the main leaders
of the mutiny, began on 30 August 1920. Eventually 59 Connaught Rangers were
given fifteen-year prison sentences, while thirteen men were sentenced to
death. Fortunately for most of them, the political situation had swung in their
favour. By the end of 1920 a radicalised Irish population were driving back
British authority in the country and the generals considered it inexpedient to
kill all thirteen out of concern for the possible public response. One man,
however, they were determined to carry out the sentence upon: Jim Daly. The
problem with commuting Daly’s sentence, as far as a review by Major-General Sir
George de Symons Barrow was concerned, was the effect leniency might have on
equivalent mutinies of British Indian soldiers. Barrow needed to retain the
threat of execution as a palpable one.
On 2 November 1920, Jim Daly, then 21, was executed at Dagshai jail where a curfew was in place to avert a rumoured Indian attempt to free him from jail. Years later one of the rebels, Michael Kearney of County Clare could still recall the horrible details of the execution.
was awakened around dawn by the shattering bang of the death volley from the
firing party of twelve. The governor of the prison, a humane man, lets us out
of our cells later in the day and we had the melancholy experience of seeing
the wall of execution.
poor body had been almost truncated and some of the men gathered tiny portions
of human flesh which adhered to the wall. These sad scraps were laced in a
little matchbox and given to Father Baker to be buried with our heroic comrade.
the Treaty negotiations at the end of 1922 came discussion of an amnesty on
both sides and the Connaught Rangers who were in prison as a result of the mutiny
were specifically included in it, leading to their release on 9 January 1923. Thereafter,
however, it was a struggle for many of the men to obtain employment or state
support. A campaign for a pension to be allowed the men led to a government
report in 1925 that showed fourteen of the ex-mutineers were without work. Following
the government refusal of the pension, mutineer John Lyons wrote that ‘those
who fought for Ireland fought in vain’. Again, in 1933, a pension was discussed
and investigation into the men’s circumstances found that four of the mutineers
had died in Poor Law Unions, with six men being out of work. James Devers, who
had been among those trying to attack the magazine at Solon was described as
being in ‘desperate need.’ Only after the passage of the Connaught Rangers
(Pensions) Act of 29 April 1936, were the men were able to claim military
pensions from the Irish state based on the time they spent in prison.
the Connaught Rangers’ mutiny of 28 June 1920
It should be obvious that the act of defiance by these Irish soldiers was an heroic one that deserves to be remembered and celebrated. To some extent, throughout the twentieth century there were moments that gave the public a chance to express their appreciation of the bravery of the mutineers in risking execution rather than continue to serve in an army that was repressing the national movement. On their return to Ireland there were celebratory meetings and a great deal of enthusiasm for the stand they had made. A poem in the Roscommon Herald, January 1923, gives a flavour of the public mood:
Minced with bullets, their comrade’s
Is spat into their ace,
As if to crush their Irish hearts
Or kill the spirit of their race.
Hopelessly the ruse met blank dismay,
Their determination stronger grew.
Their vows were made and sealed that day
To die for Roísín Dubh.
Had not kind Providence stepped in
And saved them from their doom,
Their hearts would now be lying still
Within the convicts tomb.
18 March 1928, a play by M.P. O’Cearnaigh, Flag
of India,was performed at the
Royal Theatre, Dublin to support the ‘Connaught Rangers Distress Fund’. Veterans
of the mutiny paraded along O’Connell St c.1936.
In the 1950s a campaign grew up to bring back the remains of Jim Daly, the Offaly-Westmeath Old IRA Memorial Committee voting in June 1954 to petition the government to make arrangements for Daly’s body and that of other mutineers to return to Ireland. Soon afterwards a number of local government bodies passed similar motions. The government, however, was not willing to raise an issue that might harm Anglo-Irish relations. In the run up to the 1966 commemorations of the Easter Rising the issue came back to public attention, this time with a precedent having been set in the reburial of Sir Roger Casement in 1965.
especially to the work of the National Graves Association, not only Daly but
Sears, Smythe and Miranda were included in a growing public campaign for the
return of the Connaught Ranger mutineers. Ultimately, the campaign was
successful (except in regard to John Miranda, who had no family in Ireland) and
ceremonies were held in 1970 at Tyrellspass for Daly and Glasnevin Cemetery for
Sears and Smythe. Joe Hawes, then aged 77, gave a speech at both events.
As we approach the centenary of the mutiny, a new event has been planned, which involves the erection of a monument to three of the mutineers who were from Sligo (James Gorman, Martin Boy Conlon and Jack Scanlon) and a series of short talks. Here, however, it should be noted that the effort to find ‘balance’ which caused the Fine Gael government to try to honour the RIC seems to risk marring the event. For there are many British historians (such as Charles Townshend) – and plenty of Irish ones too – that have very little sympathy for Ireland’s revolutionary past and who construct arguments that belittle the role of figures like Joe Hawes and Jim Daly.
Downplaying the extent of radical Irish nationalism in the mutiny
One of the invited historians is Mario Draper, Lecturer at the University of Kent. Draper’s thesis is that the mutiny was less about Ireland than about discontent with local conditions. He dismisses the explicit testimony of the men that they were braving execution for the sake of Ireland’s national struggle as a ‘narrative of convenience’. In later life, he argues, these men were exaggerating the political side of their protest so as to get adulation and pensions. Instead, it was about local difficulties and poor communication between senior officers and the rank and file. Draper does not provide eye-witness reports to confirm an approach that would no doubt portray Spartacus as a gladiator who was merely disaffected over poor quality food, rather than the existence of slavery.
I, on the other hand, do value the testimony of the men themselves and I do give serious value to the importance of ideals in motivating human behaviour, to the point that people throughout history have been willing to risk their lives to challenge injustice and oppression. So when ‘Tom’ Tierney told Sam Pollock, ‘I didn’t think it was fair that our country should suffer what we fought to stop the Germans doing’, I believe that gives the answer to the apparent contradiction between someone fighting for the British army and yet protesting against the policy of that army in Ireland.
There was many an Irish soldier who joined the British forces during the Great War in the belief they were stopping Germany from exploiting small nations and were earning a reward for Ireland. When, by 1920, it was clear that Britain was straining to the utmost to prevent independence for Ireland and was deploying the Black and Tans in a cruel effort to intimidate the population the same soldiers could experience a deep crisis and a determination to get out of the British army and help the volunteers. This was a journey that is well known for figures like Cork IRA leader Tom Barry and it is entirely plausible that the same considerations shaped the mutiny in the Connaught Rangers in 1920.
It is a profound insult to Joe Hawes and his comrades to doubt this was the real reason for the mutiny and to say that in later life they played up their desire to support Ireland’s struggle against the British empire because it suited their self-interest to do so.
Moreover, the contemporary evidence of the British themselves confirms that it was the mistreatment of Irish civilians that was troubling the hearts and minds of the soldiers. Lieutenant-Colonel H.F.N. Jourdain, wrote to the London papers, saying that the men had been ‘led astray by the accounts they had received about the Black and Tans.’ If the real issue behind the mutiny was local discontent why did the mutineers sing rebel songs? Wear green, white and gold rosettes? Fly the tricolour? During the court martial, the men from England who joined the mutiny were asked why they had protested on behalf of Ireland. None of them replied that they had other grievances. Rather, they expressed loyalty for their Irish comrades and sympathy for Ireland.
It is unlikely that the Connaught Rangers who mutinied in 1920 will get the 100 year commemoration they deserve from the current event. Hopefully, relatives who have organised in a Facebook group will be able to arrange an event with a more inspiring message than, ‘it was only really about the men being given too much work’. And Councillor John Lyons of Independent Left will be urging Dublin City Council to the same.
The mutiny of the Connaught Rangers was an incredibly brave and principled act on behalf of Ireland’s struggle for independence, one that was almost sure to lead to the participants facing the firing squad or many years in prison. That the men were willing to make this stand, rather than continue to serve an army behaving brutally in Ireland, should be properly honoured in 2020.
The spread of
a new coronavirus – 2019-nCoV – has to be of concern to everyone. Efforts to keep
the virus out of Ireland have failed and any attempt to shrug off the dangers
posed by the situation by saying, for example, that many more people will die
of the flu this year, are seriously misplaced. Unlike the flu, as of March 2020
there is no vaccine for the coronavirus. Nor is there a method for ensuring the
survival of those who contract it.
True, some four out of five people who become sick from the coronavirus will not suffer greatly but about 3.4% of those who contract the virus will die. Those who are old, those with underlying conditions, and those who smoke or who previously smoked are most at risk of death, which typically comes from respiratory failure.
The virus enters
the lungs and penetrates deep into the tissue there, creating pneumonia and
becoming life threatening for older people, particularly if the person already
has hypertension or diabetes. Men (5%) are more likely to be killed by the
virus than women (3%).
At the time of writing (1 March 2020), there are 88,382 officially confirmed cases; there have been 2,996 deaths; and – more positively – 42,769 people who have recovered. You can see the latest, up-to-date, live data for the spread of COVID-19 here.
Ireland’s first confirmed case was announced on 1 March 2020 and within hours, Scoil Chaitríona, Mobhi Road, was closed for two weeks. Shockingly, and this is something I’ll return to below, only for the fact that the information was shared by parents on social media were the public informed of this important news.
The official HSE website failed to explain that the case was that of a student who had returned from Italy or give a timeline or location for the report that someone had tested positive for the virus.
What are the
causes of the coronavirus COVID-19?
viruses have intermittently troubled humanity throughout our existence. Recent
outbreaks include the SARS virus of 2002 – 4 and the H1N1 pandemic of 2009. The
latest, 2019-nCoV, is said to have started at the massive Wuhan market in China;
Wuhan, capital of the Hubei province, has over 11 million people. There is some
evidence for transference of the virus from livestock in the Wuhan market, with
early clusters of cases associated with activity there.
At the same
time, a certain amount of what is frankly, racism, has obscured the origins of
the virus. Some accounts of the appearance of coronavirus have expressed in mocking
and hostile terms the belief that it has arisen from the wide variety of
animals eaten in China, including those that do not feature in the Western
Yet only a minority of the infections arose in people who had been in the Wuhan market streets near wildlife. A quarter of those originally infected had never been to the market and the earliest case of the coronavirus had arisen before anyone from Wuhan market was infected. One research team has speculated that the local hog population was the source of the new virus, based on the fact that this livestock species has similar physiology to humans in critical respects.
in factory farming in China is likely to have been a contributor to the
appearance of the coronavirus. In the past, new viruses often failed to spread
beyond a small, local area because their means of transmission to large human
populations was disrupted. In the twenty-first century, the speed of
transmission is completely different to even the twentieth. A Chinese farmer
can bring poultry, say, to the urban market very quickly with modern industrial
methods and an infection can be shipped to a major city very quickly.
And as the
environmental scientist and socialist, Rob
Wallace, has written, the connectedness of the entire planet means the unprecedentedly
swift spread of new viruses.
H1N1 (2009) crossed the Pacific Ocean in nine days, superseding predictions by the most sophisticated models of the global travel network by months. Airline data show a tenfold increase in travel in China just since the SARS epidemic.
Why is there
so much misinformation about the coronavirus?
in 2020 there exist vested interests that mean instead of a unified, planetary
response to the coronavirus, one where everyone is accurately informed about
the necessary steps to halt the increase in cases and deaths, there exist
people who have a reason to put out misinformation.
For a start,
there are those who have the incentive of making money to drive them to create
confusion around the virus. There are websites selling cures and medical equipment
that professes to be the answer to the virus, but isn’t. Iran, in particular,
has had some wild nonsense passed around via websites and social media,
suggesting mint, vinegar, saffron, rosewater and turmeric, among other
substances, can act to prevent the virus. More criminally, worldwide but with a
focus on Japan, there are email scams which seem official and to be containing
important information about coronavirus, but when you open them, they install
trojans into your computer and search for valuable personal information.
Politicians have misinformed their constituents about the coronavirus
From the very
beginning of this outbreak, politicians in authority have had a dangerous,
irresponsible approach to dealing with the virus. A tragic example is that
provided by Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist in Wuhan. At the end of 2019, he
posted on a chat group for doctors that there might be a new SARs-type virus as
there were seven patients showing symptoms at his hospital. He advised medics
to wear protective clothing. For this, he was visited by the police, brought to
the Public Security Bureau and made to sign a document acknowledging that he
would be brought to justice if he persisted in stubborn, impertinent and illegal
activity. On 10 January 2020, Dr Li started coughing, he had caught coronavirus
from one of his patients. On 30 January the diagnosis was confirmed and he died
at the start of February.
the evidence was overwhelming for the coronavirus outbreak, Chinese officials
were still underreporting it and discouraging an effective response. Yet the
West is little better.
for example, has twice explained to the world that the threat of coronavirus
will ‘go away’ in April with warmer weather. He’s said that life will return to
normal after the spike and that the media have been exaggerating how dangerous
the virus is.
And in their
own way, the caretaker Irish government have been failing us. Their theme is ‘don’t
panic’. Well, yes, panic wouldn’t help the situation. But is it panicking to want
to know where the virus has been present and what measures are being taken to
prevent it spreading? As the case of the student from Scoil Chaitríona shows,
Fine Gael have a strategy of keeping detailed information out of the public
domain as much as possible and assuring us that no special measures are needed.
is creating panic rather than ending it. The less we know, the more we
speculate and rumours (not without foundation in respect to the Mater hospital,
but made up in other instances) of other possible cases fly around social
media. Crucially, too, lives will be lost if the message goes out – as it did
this morning on RTÉ’s panel discussion – that public concern about the coronavirus
was massively exaggerated and we should carry on as normal. We shouldn’t even cancel
travel plans to centres of infection like northern Italy.
By repeating the idea that more people will die of ordinary flu and failing to have someone on the panel with genuine expertise in pandemics, RTÉ ensured a complacent message came across, one that was exactly in tune with the ‘don’t panic’ theme of government communication. Yet the comparison with annual flu is utterly misleading. Not only is coronavirus far more likely to kill someone, we are still at the very early stages of its spread. If coronavirus is anything like H1N1 from 2009, which it seems to be, the final figures will be grim. According to the Lancet, probably some 284,000 people were killed in one year as a result of that last virus.
interests are preventing the necessary measures to stop the coronavirus
the Chinese authorities, Donald Trump and Fine Gael is the terrifying prospect
of massive losses to business if they take strong measures to stop coronavirus:
measures such as closing airports, schools and factories. In the last week,
even at the thought that such measures might prove necessary, stock markets
lost nearly six trillion dollars in value.
The world economy
had been picking up slightly in the wake of the resolution of the US-Chinese
trade war but now it will plunge downwards. Already, indicators are showing we
are heading for a dip comparable to 2008 and this is likely to worsen.
There is a
clash of interest between many businesses and the needs of public health. In
insurance, for example, companies only have to pay out to passengers who cancel
their trips, if the government has placed official advice not to travel to the
region of the planned trip. There is pressure, therefore, on the government from
this industry not to introduce notices advising against travel or to limit the
regions covered by the notices.
Or, to take the example of large sporting events such as the
2020 Olympics. So much vested interest and wealth is tied up in the Olympics
that authorities have been extremely reluctant to announce its cancellation, when
it is an obvious precautionary step to take to do so. On a much smaller scale,
despite the advice of Ireland’s chief medical officer, there was considerable
delay before Ireland’s rugby international with Italy was postponed.
Yes, people will lose fortunes over this outbreak. But lives
lost can never be regained and nor will they be compensated for, in the way
that some businesses will escape the full hit of the impact of the cancellation
of events and the temporary closure of factories.
Ireland is not ready for the impact of coronavirus COVID-19
We have a particular problem in Ireland when it comes to
coping with an outbreak of the coronavirus: we are already starting from a
situation where there is a huge shortage of hospital beds. Years of neglect of
the public health system, both in terms of staff and facilities, means there is
already a crisis, even before the spread of the coronavirus. Every major hospital,
the HSE tells us, has identified an isolation room to which a COVID-19 patient
will be taken. In other words, with the exception of the Mater hospital, which
does have an isolation unit already functioning, these are hypothetical spaces.
And of course, as soon as the outbreak hits hard, the
theoretical preparations are going to prove pathetic, inadequate and dangerous
to hospital patients and staff. Coronavirus patients are going to need
intensive care to survive, particularly in regard to equipment to assist their
breathing. Yet, as Dr Michael O’Dwyer of St Vincent’s Hospital told
the press the use of intensive care beds was at ‘a hundred and ten percent capacity’.
There has not been a free intensive care bed at St Vincent’s since Christmas.
It would only take around a hundred coronavirus cases and
the consequent five or so patients who need life-saving interventions would
strain the system, with knock-on effects in other areas. Instead of identifying
rooms, ‘in case’, the government should prepare for a worst-case scenario and
immediately recruit the extra staff and actually set up the extra intensive
care rooms that have been identified. To do this, however, would be a complete
reversal of Fine Gael’s approach to health, where there has been an unofficial
embargo on recruitment for months.
Another failure of the government in Ireland with regard to the coronavirus is that they have not insisted that all large workplaces and public transport hubs provide facilities for the hygiene measures needed to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Where are the hand sanitizers at all the LUAS, Dart and railway stations? At the major colleges? At the libraries? Theatres? Big workplaces? Some have them, most don’t.
I gave a lecture at Trinity College Dublin two days ago on another threat to humanity, that posed by geo-engineering. The hand sanitizers I passed were empty. Whether that was a failure by the college or government or both, it was symbolic of a deep complacency and resistance to spending money to avert a crisis.
Will workers in Ireland be paid if the coronavirus means that their workplace closes?
If the virus spreads through Ireland, there will be more closures
like that of Scoil Chaitríona. The situation for entire workplace closures seems
to be that while the employer might request workers do what they can from home,
failure to pay staff who are available for work would probably be a breach of
contract. For individual workers, however, there is likely to be something of a
battle between unions and management.
In theory, if you are advised by the HSE to self-isolate, your employer is not obliged to pay for your absence. Or if you have to leave work to care for a child sent home from a school closed because of coronavirus, you might be told this has to be paid leave, that the situation is not one of force majure. In the examples above, which were issued by TCD HR on 5 March, pressure is put on staff to take annual leave, parental leave or unpaid leave. Obviously, in the interests of public health, the government should insist that all workers who are being responsible and self-isolating must be paid. Ditto the parent who cares for a child in isolation. But again, this is not Fine Gael’s approach. They are, along with Fianna Fail, the friends of the employers and have issued no such guideline. It will be up to the unions to establish this policy or workers themselves, taking industrial action in support of their member who has protected everyone by not coming in to work.
From the UK comes a warning on this issue, where Wetherspoons,
who also have businesses in Ireland, have refused to pay workers for their absence,
other than the statutory payments under the sick pay regulations and that means
nothing for the first four days then only £94.25 a week. Not only is this a moral
disgrace, financial hardship might well will lead to people with the virus
coming to work instead of self-isolating. In other words, a tough line by the
employers is a disastrous one for the public.
There is a petition in support of workers rights in Ireland here, demanding that the government insist that workers who are self-isolating should be paid.
The free market is not the way to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus
Another way in which competition between businesses is making
the the coronavirus far more dangerous than it should be is in regard to
developing anti-viral solutions. Those pharmaceutical companies involved in the
development of vaccines are doing so for the potential to profit from the
crisis. Shares in Moderna for example, rose by eleven percent in one day in
January when the company said it had US health funding for research on a
vaccine. Clearly, investors calculated there was money to be made for the
company, after fulfilling its obligations to the US state.
This private company solution to the development of a vaccine
means we must be concerned about its cost and that inability to pay might lead
to a divide between the rich and poor, in terms of who is protected from the
virus. This is happening all the time in medicine and the Irish government should
have no hesitation in breaking a private monopoly over a vaccine should one
arise. Again, this is not a step that the Fine Gael caretakers would endorse.
The market has already failed us in regard to a vaccine for the
coronavirus: as Professor Peter Hoetz explained to the Guardian,
the tragedy is that after SARs a vaccine could have been stockpiled and made
ready to go. But ‘the investor enthusiasm for a Sars vaccine was zero.’ No
global health organisation or government stepped in and we are now racing
against time to develop a vaccine. The issue is not so much the creation of a
vaccine, there are several promising approaches, but the necessary delays in
testing, to make sure there are no unforeseen and dangerous consequences.
The US provides a clear case what happens when the right to
make a profit and the free-market are seen as essential to health care.
Herald reported how it works there. Osmel Martinez Azcue, acting
responsibly, reported to hospital for a check after returning from China. The subsequent
bill to his insurance company was $3,270. In a country with 27.5 million people
without health insurance and more than a third of the workforce are not
entitled to sick leave, the private system of medicine clearly doesn’t make
sense in the face of a public health care challenge like an epidemic.
A socialist society would be a lot less vulnerable to coronavirus-type outbreaks. Agriculture would be less likely to create the conditions in which viruses develop among animals and cross over to humans; our representatives would not be under pressure from businesses to delay the necessary measures to halt the spread of the epidemic; we’d have much more investment in hospitals and staff to treat patients, and we’d share knowledge about the epidemic and possible vaccines and cures globally, for free.
What are the symptoms of the new coronavirus, COVID-19?
a bad flu, the symptoms of COVID-19 are fever and tiredness. Also a dry cough. Some
people report aches and pains, nasal congestion, a runny nose or diarrhoea. The
symptoms usually begin gradually. If you have a temperature, cough and
difficulty breathing, look for medical help.
What should I do if I think I have coronavirus?
Isolate yourself, including from your family e.g. occupy a room for yourself only. Seek medical advice promptly from your GP or the HSE helpline (below). Call before leaving for care to help prevent the spread of the virus and also to be directed to the appropriate place.
What should I do to limit my exposure to the coronavirus?
Firstly, everyone in Ireland now needs to take the risk of infection seriously. The virus can spread when an infected person sneezes or coughs. Try to maintain at least 1 metre distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing. As it can probably survive on a surface for days, regularly and thoroughly wash your hands after being in public places.
How can I minimize the risk of becoming infected?
Regularly and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub (at least 60% alcohol and let the santizer dry on the hand). Don’t bring your fingers to your eyes, nose and mouth (entry points to your body for the virus).
Is there a vaccine for COVID-19?
Not at present.
Who should I call in Ireland for more information about the coronavirus?
On 24 February 2020, Raheny Fianna Fáil councillor Tom
Brabazon was elected Lord Mayor of Dublin at a special meeting of Dublin City
Council. His victory came in a vote of 34 to 26 (three absences) against
independent candidate Anthony Flynn. In 2015, Tom Brabazon let slip an
extremely conservative view of women, when he wrote an article for the Northside
People against gender quotas in politics and said, ‘we should want real
women with real life experience of the education system, the workplace, childbirth,
childcare…’ He went further on the Sean O’Rourke show on RTÉ (9 March 2015),
saying that women who had actually given birth were best placed to discuss
Immediately, this drew a huge reaction from women who considered themselves perfectly real without having to give birth or raise children.
Slapped on the wrist by Micheál
Martin, Brabazon issued an apology and retreated to the extent that he said he did
not intend to be hurtful. The new Lord Mayor did not, however, revise his core
conservative beliefs in regard to women and this became apparent during the
Repeal campaign. On 5 October 2015 and again on 6 March 2017, Brabazon voted
against a DCC motion that called on the government to hold a referendum to repeal
the 8th amendment of the Constitution. During the campaign he put his name to a Pro-Life
statement in support of the ‘No’ position.
Independent Left’s Niamh McDonald said, ‘As the chair of Dublin Bay North Repeal group I am disgusted that such a man was voted in as Lord Mayor. His past history and comments have shown him not to be in favour of women’s empowerment or women’s equality. Dublin constituencies voted overwhelmingly for women and pregnant people to have reproductive choices and if our new lord Mayor had his way this would never have become a reality.
‘What I feel is a real betrayal of the Repeal movement comes from those parties such as the Social Democrats, Greens and Labour who were active in the Repeal campaign in Dublin Bay North and beyond, who have now agreed to Tom Brabazon’s nomination and who have voted him in. These parties won votes from the Repeal campaign in order to get elected and have now used those votes go against this movement.
‘Repealing the 8th was only half of the battle to ensure everybody has reproductive justice. Our current legislation is too conservative and narrow, it excludes many in society who are already marginalised. At a minimum, we need exclusion zones and to end the three day waiting period.
‘We have a review of the current legislation in less than two years and we need representatives who are willing to stand up to those who want to remove the gains we have made and also who will fight for more.’
Brabazon’s conservative family values
fit with his connections to the previous generation of Fianna Fáil politicians.
A strong supporter of former Taoiseach Charles Haughey, Brabazon tried to
challenge the popular perception of Haughey as corrupt by proposing that Dublin’s
port tunnel be named in Haughey’s honour: ‘You would like to
think that somebody whose public life was dominated by goodness would have a
memorial,’ said Brabazon in 2006, apparently without smirking.
Why did the Greens and Social Democrats vote Fianna Fáil?
After the local government elections of 2019, Fianna Fáil did a deal with Labour, the Green Party and the Social Democrats to get control of Dublin City Council. “The Dublin Agreement 2019 – 2024” is the excuse that the Greens and the SocDems (Labour don’t seem to feel the need to excuse voting for Brabazon) are now giving for their support for Tom Brabazon as Lord Mayor of Dublin. The agreement itself is ten pages of dry, well-intentioned phrases. But the practical action arising from the document does not serve the real needs of the people of Dublin, nor our desire for urgent action on housing. This agreement allowed the sell-off of public land like O’Devaney Gardens and the wasting of millions on a white-water rafting facility.
Many people who voted for Green and Social Democrat candidates in general election 2020 just cannot understand why these parties would support Fianna Fáil in general and an anti-woman figure in particular. The vote on 24 February 2020 in Dublin’s council chamber seemed to completely contradict the spirit of ‘vote left, transfer left’ that swept through working class communities in the general election. It would have been easy, in the light of the general election results, for the Greens, Labour and the SocDems to leave the Dublin Agreement, saying that it was clear there was now a mandate for change. No doubt far more of their supporters would have agreed with such a stand than will agree with their vote for Tom Brabazon.
The explanation for the apparent contradiction in the behaviour of these parties is to be found in their history and their politics. Elsewhere in Europe, Greens can be found who are definitely on the left and side with working class communities but in Ireland that has never been the case. The Irish Green Party is a particularly conservative one, highly networked to Irish business (Ciaran Cuffe is a millionaire who notoriously held shares in General Electric, Chevron Texaco, Merck, Citigroup, Abbott Laboratories and Johnson & Johnson before this information became public). With honourable exceptions, they have often been hesitant on the struggle for abortion rights, preferring silence to leading the way towards change, and while their decision to run David Healy, a candidate with pro-life views, in Dublin Bay North was terrible, it was their attempt to escape the issue when it was raised that is the real indicator of their weakness in this regard. Although the general election campaign raised hopes that the Green Party had changed since its shocking, anti-working class performance in coalition with Finna Fáil 2007 – 2011, essentially, it has not. Its commitment to helping run Irish and international capitalism as a context for its policies means that even on issues to do with climate action, it will do little more than provide cosmetic, trivial changes.
As for the Social Democrats, they were born from a split from the Labour Party and have the same politics as Labour except with a pleasant purple colour-scheme and a lack of support from trade unions. They too start from a premise that they must be ‘responsible’ in respect to the economy and that any changes on behalf of working class communities can only be introduced insofar as such changes are acceptable to the wealthy and the owners of businesses and property. This attempt to mediate between us and the rich wasn’t particularly successful for Labour even in times of prosperity, where there was a certain amount of space for improved spending on housing and health. Sitting on the fence can be tricky and it is particularly difficult to be on a fence that is wobbling. In the 2020s, politics is highly polarised, such as is evident in the vast difference in beliefs between Bernie Saunders and Donald Trump in the USA. And what the vote for Dublin Mayor demonstrates is that when forced to come off the fence, the Social Democrats (just as with Labour) will jump down on the side of the elite.
What does the Dublin Mayoral Vote show for the future of Irish politics?
At the time the vote for Mayor of Dublin was made, the national picture was unclear, with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael looking to form a government that excluded Sinn Féin, one that would need a willing partner or two from among the smaller parties. While the Social Democrats ruled out joining that particular combination, they conspicuously did not rule out joining with either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael in a different alignment. The Green Party are equally willing to participate in government alongside one of the right wing parties. Whatever combination of parties eventually emerges to create the Irish government (or, if there is another general election), we can draw a number of conclusions from the vote for Tom Brabazon.
Firstly, the exciting and positive vote for change in general election 2020 is only the beginning of a process of a widescale move to the left in Ireland (and especially in working class communities). As people who want decisive and urgent action on climate, housing and health see that the Social Democrats and Greens (and Labour) won’t take that action, it’s likely that parties to the left of these will grow.
Secondly, even if we had a left government that was trying to tackle these challenges in a manner that – for once – favoured working class communities, the Greens and the Social Democrats would not make for reliable partners. Probably, a government reliant on them would face the same issues that Syriza in Greece faced in 2015. When international pressure from businesses and powerful politicians came to hammer down on Greece, the left government caved in and backtracked on all its radical ideas. If the Greens and the Social Democrats can’t even bring themselves to stand up to Fianna Fáil in Dublin City Council and ditch the Dublin Agreement and a pro-Life Mayoral candidate in favour of a housing activist (Anthony Flynn), we aren’t going to see Che Guevara-style t-shirts being worn of SocDem and Green Party leaders. They are bound to give in to the demands of landlords and business.
Thirdly, on a smaller point but one that might prove important in the long term, the results of the election led to a difference in approach on the socialist left. While People Before Profit considered it a duty to enter a left government alongside the Greens and Social Democrats, the Socialist Party and Paul Murphy (RISE) were, quite rightly, more cautious. Supporting such a government from the outside is much better than being part of it. As soon as even a small strike or protest breaks out against the government, if you were outside of government you’d have your hands free to support the protest. If you were inside, you’d have to bring the government down, which might not be the worst outcome (the worst outcome would be if you sacrificed the cause of the protestors to your presence in government) but it would make it look like you were dishonest in your negotiations around the program for government.
Finally, and the most important
conclusion for us in Independent Left, is that the campaigns for change that
are bubbling away in Ireland, such as over childcare, pay equality and housing,
must continue. It doesn’t matter that there isn’t a government. Even a ‘left’
minister might fail us, while the caretaker ministers and the senior civil
servants can be forced by successful strikes and protests to implement the
changes we need. Waiting for a Sinn Féin-lead government could take months and ultimately
could lead nowhere. In the meantime, we can use the boost provided by the
election and especially the demoralisation among Fine Gael and their supporters
to galavanise existing campaigns and launch new ones.
Fine Gael called this election and rubbed
their hands with excitement. Full employment, Leo Varadkar looking great in
dealings with Boris Johnson over Brexit, property incomes soaring. What could
possibly go wrong?
Pretty much everything that can go wrong
when you live in a champagne bubble and have no insight into the struggle of
those on medium and low incomes. You speak with complacency and in ignorance,
you are contemptuous of the electorate and you think, ‘a future to look forward
to’ is a clever slogan.
Ireland has 78,000 millionaires in 2020 and
they certainly have a future to look forward to. For the rest of us, unless
something changes, we can only see more pain over the fact our incomes are
eaten up by mortgages and rents; more difficulty accessing health services our
families need, with longer waiting times; and more deprivation and anti-social
activity in our neglected communities.
There was a roar of anger released in this
election and it was channelled behind Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin are a working class
party in the sense that their activists are generally drawn from the working
class and they know the challenges working people face. So their policies and
their articulation of that roar led them to becoming the lightning rod for our
fury at Fine Gael and also at Fianna Fáil. We hadn’t forgotten who landed us
with massive tax burdens by bailing out their banker friends and who backed
Fine Gael with ‘confidence and supply’.
Understanding the rise of the Sinn Féin vote
Our class found a way to lash out at Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and it was through Sinn Féin, whose spokespeople did a great job of expressing how we felt and offering well-informed refutations of right wing lies (remember how Leo Varadakar said during a TV debate that the rent freeze in Berlin hadn’t worked? It has been agreed but hasn’t come in yet). Even though the large newspapers and television stations did all they could to hammer down the Sinn Féin vote in the last days of the campaign, the electorate in working class areas wasn’t budging.
Some of the tallies as the boxes opened
were incredible. Eighty, ninety percent Sinn Féin and just handfuls of votes
for the right wing parties.
The transformation of the Irish political
landscape in election 2020 is exciting for those of us on the left and
humiliating for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
In Dublin Bay North, as elsewhere, at first it seemed as though the socialist voice of the working class was going to also be swept away by the growth of the Sinn Féin vote. The Green vote too, might have been a challenge for socialists (although it was more of a challenge for Labour and other middle-ground and middle class parties). But as the counts went on, the transfers from Sinn Féin were strongly to the left, much more so than had been anticipated, although there were some losses to the presence of radical socialists in the Dáil and as activists with the advantages that being a TD brings to helping organise campaigns. We were sorry to see Ruth Coppinger and Séamus Healy lose their seats but delighted that after a difficult looking start, on the whole, the socialist left held their ground. In fact, we should have gained a seat in Dublin Bay North and at the expense of Seán Haughey of Fianna Fáil, who before the election had been a twenty-to-one favourite.
It must have come as an unpleasant shock for Fianna Fáil that far from winning a second seat, Seán Haughey was down at 6,651 first preferences and ultimately, even after 13 rounds of transfers, couldn’t get a quota. Our own first preference vote was a disappointment, at only 1,882 for our candidate Councillor John Lyons. This seemed to be at odds with the very strong energy for change we’d been encountering on the doorsteps but the transfers of poll-topping Denise Mitchell for Sinn Féin clarified what had happened. There was indeed a massive vote against the establishment and for the left but it had first found a channel in Sinn Féin.
The split left vote saved Haughey’s seat
Elsewhere, the huge Sinn Féin transfers were bringing in candidates of the left and that should have been the case in Dublin Bay North too. Except that that the nearly 5,000 transfers for socialists got split three ways. Instead of one candidate reaching around 9,000 votes and pushing Haughey into sixth place by the end of the election, the Fianna Fáil candidate got lucky. Inevitably, transfers get diluted: even between members of the same party, 50 – 60% is typical. So around half of the votes expressing a desire by working class communities to vote Sinn Féin then vote left were thrown away and in the end, John Lyons, the best placed of the socialists, went out on the thirteenth count with 6,421.
In advance of the next general election, there needs to be a good-faith conversation among the potential left candidates about local government and Dáil seats, in the hope of avoiding this situation arising again.
Positive outcomes for Independent Left from GE2020
Despite the fact that John Lyons did not win Independent Left’s first ever Dáil seat, there are a lot of positives from the election for our small party. With no national presence, financial support, media presence or infrastructure we ran a fantastic campaign which in other circumstances would have brought about a shock for the right and a terrific victory. It helped that our election material was absolutely in tune with our audience. Our theme was ‘a tale of two cities’ and we both listened to and helped articulate the feeling that while the very rich and the landlords were getting richer, the rest of us were being left behind.
We got energy too, from the Childcare
Strike and the Teachers’ Strike, which we connected to in Dublin Bay North with
a lively contingent on the childcare march and support for the picket lines at
the schools around the constituency.
Another big positive for us was meeting new
people who have joined Independent Left and have added to our mix of
socialists, environmentalists, trade unionists, parents, students, young and
old. We are still a project that is evolving but it was really interesting to
see how the joint effort of the election brought out a variety of skills and
expertise among us and also bonded us in the common effort. Modern socialist
parties can be a lot more freeform, dynamic, lively and conversational than the
traditional model of a small, centralised handful of people with years of
expertise directing everyone else. Facebook groups, WhatsApp groups, etc. allow
for everyone to have an opinion and – in our case – a lot of laughs too. If you
have been supporting Independent Left in this campaign, you’d be welcome to
What will happen next in Irish politics after GE2020?
Nationally, a discussion is taking place about government formation and it
seems that Sinn Féin are positioning themselves to enter government with Fianna
Fáil and a smaller party or two. Probably, there is a huge debate within Sinn
Féin about this and we hope that the anti-Fianna Fáil voices win. Why? Because
Fianna Fáil might well offer a border poll. they might even allow Sinn Féin to
introduce a rent freeze, which of course would be very welcome. But the price
for these would be too high, because the wealth of the very rich and especially
corporations would be untouchable, because it would be business as usual in every
other regard. Worse, it would disillusion those people who made the effort to
vote for change. While Independent Left have been offering hope, diversity and
solidarity within working class communities and trying to direct the alienation
people feel against the real causes of this, the system we live under, there
was a far right presence in this election who offered despair, division and a
violent, racist and homophobic turning inwards of our communities. They will
try to capitalise on the sense of betrayal if Sinn Féin backed a Fianna Fáil
But isn’t the alternative a Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael government? Wouldn’t that be worse? Actually no, it wouldn’t. Because the ability of any government to impose policies that harm working class communities is set by the willingness of people to stand up and organise and resist the government. We defeated the water charges and with a popular Sinn Féin party in opposition, we can not only throw back anything the government brings at us, workers can push now for pay equality, pay increases, while working class communities can challenge for more resources. This is a much better scenario and one that has a very strong prospect of leading to a left of centre government next time around, than one where for the sake of a few policy gains the excitement currently alive in working class communities subsides into apathy and disillusionment.
Regardless of how the political consequences of election 2020 develop nationally, Independent Left have emerged from the election as a stronger force in Dublin Bay North and we look forward to playing our part in the campaigns to come.
Message from John Lyons to his supporters after the count for Dublin Bay North on Sunday 11 February 2020.
The Repeal of the 8th amendment on 25 May 2018 was a seminal moment in Irish history and an amazing moment, one that starkly illuminated the fact that we are no longer a country dominated by the Catholic Church. The dazzling victory felt even stronger than that of the same-sex marriage referendum. It was a hard-fought result, one that couldn’t have been achieved without mass participation in the repeal movement. Everywhere, but especially in urban and working class areas, the issue of abortion was discussed and women shared their experiences.
This was one of the crucial differences compared to previous efforts to liberalise Ireland’s severe abortion laws. The atmosphere of shame and silence that prevented the reality of the need for safe and legal abortions from being expressed was shattered by women having the confidence to speak out in a fashion that was unprecedented for Ireland. With sincerity and conviction, canvassers swayed those who held reservations into voting for repeal. As one of the canvassers in Dublin Bay North put it:
Personal stories and individual experiences that weren’t readily available on television or even on the web were key to the success of the campaign.
Editors Kath Browne and Sydney Calkin invited a range of contributors to write for an anthology that analyses the campaign and also the implications of the result for Irish society and, indeed, the international struggle for reproductive justice.
Different perspectives on the politics of Repeal are offered by Theresa Reidy, Linda Connolly, Fiona de Londras, Máiréad Enright, Sydney Calkin, Elżbieta Drążkiewicz-Grodzicka and Máire Ní Mhórdha. For analysis of the campaign itself, the book draws on Mary McGill’s reflections of events in rural Ireland and the Repeal story within the Irish language community is covered by a chapter from Lisa Nic an Bhreithimh. Lorna O’Hara discusses the power of the iconic ‘Repeal the 8th’ mural, while Eric Olund’s research is in regard to the press. The aftermath of Repeal and its potential consequences both here and internationally are discussed by Richard Scriven, Kath Browne, Catherine Jean Nash, Noëlle Cotter, Lisa Smyth and Dorota Szelewa.
Dublin Bay North during the Repeal the 8th campaign
There is something of an academic flavour to the book, but the editors are to be commended on their inclusivity and in particular the publication of ‘Campaigning for choice: canvassing as feminist pedagogy in Dublin Bay North’, a chapter by Niamh McDonald, Kate Antosik-Parsons, Karen E. Till, Jack Callan and Gerry Kearns. The framing of the chapter suggests that its value is in providing a case study of successful feminist pedagogy, but really, there is wealth of more general lessons that can be learned from the experience of Dublin Bay North Repeal group, ones that are important for wider campaigns and, indeed, our own socialist project. It helps that Independent Left’s own Niamh McDonald is a contributor to the chapter. Niamh was Chair of the Dublin Bay North Repeal the 8th Campaign and with her voice, along with others, we hear from working class women who shaped the outcome of the referendum.
One of the challenges facing the group was in how to maximise the energy of
the many people new to political activism with the experience of those who had
years of experience in trying to bring about reproductive rights for women.
They solved this with a number of strategies: there was a ‘buddy’ system, to
team up those new and less confident about knocking on the doors of strangers
with those who were familiar with such activity; they avoided a potentially
patronising and top-down stultifying effect by placing an emphasis on the empowering
of the new voices; the internal social media conversations were egalitarian and
encouraging (i.e. were not heavily controlled by moderators); decision-making
was transparent and democratic; activists with a political background were
welcomed but no one party was given a pre-eminent role, finally, respect was
reciprocal. Newer activists might say,
My buddy had been knocking on doors for months, and gave me great advice, and boosted my confidence. It also made me feel safe.’
While the more
experienced activist could recognise that the enthusiasm of the new activist
was encouraging and helped lift her, ‘on bad days.’
All in all, the campaign
provides a model, not just for feminist pedagogy but a methodology for creating
an inclusive grass-roots campaign. The success of this approach, the fact that Dublin
Bay North Repeal retained members and grew to the point that 80 – 100 canvassers
were assembling and knocking on doors every day, was decisive in bringing about
one of the largest votes for Repeal in Ireland. Overly hierarchical organisations
inevitably stifle people who want to express themselves but are not used to
doing so. To win the argument around Repeal it was absolutely critical,
however, that women of our community, of the working class, got to speak and
got to be heard. As one canvasser summarised the situation: ‘our arguments were
based on compassion and real life experience’. Real life experience was heard
by canvassers, was brought into the campaign and shared, and working class women
as canvassers themselves reflected the reality of the necessity of abortion
Dublin Bay North Repeal
activists were self-aware enough of the importance of their achievement that
they consciously strove to preserve the lessons of the campaign by issuing a
survey to members in the aftermath of the vote and with 125 responses, obtained
essential feedback from which the lessons of the campaign could be drawn. Very
much to the credit of the editors, these lessons have been included in After Repeal.
Some twenty-percent of the Dublin Bay North campaign members were male and among them and one of the founders of the group was Councillor John Lyons. The launch of the book during the election campaign is very timely, firstly because, as John Lyons put it in answer to a question on Twitter to all candidates from the @DBNRepeal account, there is still a lot to achieve:
It took a huge effort to get the referendum and win it, but we aren’t done. We have a legislative review this year, people still travelling, maternity hospital ownership, we need exclusion zones, a countrywide service with no barriers to access. I want to see all goals achieved.
Secondly, it has emerged that the Green candidate, David Healy, is pro-life, voted against Repeal, and endorsed pro-life social media posts. It took some effort for this information to become public and it would be tragic if Dublin Bay North returned a majority of anti-choice TDs after such an inspiring campaign. Yes, climate change is a very urgent issue, but as Not Here Not Anywhere have shown, the left in the Dáil have just as good a record as the Greens on environmental issues and its therefore possible to express support for radical action on climate and the continuation of the struggle for reproductive rights in the general election.
Kate Antosik-Parsons, contributor to the Dublin Bay North chapter in After Repeal expresses why she is voting for Councillor John Lyons in the general election of 2020.
On 4 February 2020, hundreds of second-level schools closed as a result of a strike by 19,000 teachers, members of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI). These teachers voted by a massive 92% to 8% to engage in a campaign of industrial action. The issue driving teachers to strike is a simple one: people doing exactly the same job should get the same pay. Yet this principle is violated throughout the public sector as a result of savage cuts imposed by the Fine Gael / Labour government that formed on 25 February 2011.
A two-tier pay system was put in place that punishes those
who took up jobs from 1 January 2011 onwards, as a 10% reduction in basic pay
was imposed on new teachers and all new entrants were obliged to start on the
bottom point of the pay scale regardless of previous teaching experience.
Additional cuts to certain allowances meant new teachers lost up to 15% of
their pay. The pay
gap in starting salaries between post-2011 teachers and those employed
before 2011 is over €4,000 a year even when not taking into account the fact
that before 2011 teachers started on the third point of their scale.
Unity among teacher unions is the way to win pay-parity
There are three teaching unions in Ireland, the TUI, the ASTI (Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland) and the INTO (Irish National Teachers’ Organisation), while the latter focus on primary education, they too have been trying to achieve pay parity, by taking a court case to the European Court of Justice, claiming discrimination on the grounds of age. This case was lost so now the hope of INTO members will be that their colleagues in second-level schools win their strike and therefore pave the way for all teachers to win back equal pay. The INTO should also now ballot for strike action on the issue.
For the ASTI, the situation is similar, in that these teachers
too consider the issue of ending
the two-tier pay system an urgent one, the union describing it as a ‘shocking
stain’. Unfortunately for teachers as a whole, the ASTI and the TUI have, up to
now, not stood together in tackling the issue. The ASTI went into battle on the issue in 2016
and were knocked back, having to retreat with only small gains and having incurred
punitive costs. The government imposed penalties on ASTI members for having ‘repudiated’
the public service agreement and these penalties amount to some €15million in
lost increments and other benefits.
Naturally, ASTI members have a great deal of bitterness about this situation but Independent Left urge them to direct that bitterness at the government not their colleagues. Now is the perfect time to push forward on this issue. This is not so much because of the election – although there is no harm at all getting candidates to commit to restoring pay parity – but more because right throughout the public sector there is a growing mood for action on this issue. The nurses who struck in February 2019 made some gains and, perhaps more importantly, the government was sufficiently worried that they didn’t try to repeat the punishment of imposing penalties. They know public sector workers are much closer to a major revolt across the board than they were in 2016. Since the ASTI took the lead on the issue, three years of rising rents, medical costs, child care costs and a general increase in stressful living has changed the mood of other workers.
ASTI members should be proud of being the first into this battle and welcome the fact that reinforcements are now joining the cause. Ideally, all three teacher unions should co-ordinate strike action on this issue for the same day. At a minimum, teachers have to respect one another’s picket lines.
The ASTI, TUI and INTO leadership cannot officially call for members not to cross picket lines as it is illegal to do so (highlighting the importance of the demand by Councillor John Lyons, who is standing in Dublin Bay North for General Election 2020, that the 1990 Industrial Relations Act be abolished). Independent Left have no such constraint and as we take inspiration from the lives of James Connolly and Jim Larkin, we appreciate how essential is solidarity and respect for picket lines to winning strikes. Moreover, the ASTI have said:
the union will support any member who does not pass a picket should disciplinary action be threatened or taken against them.
They have also asked members not to undertake any duties
performed by TUI members and this alone should be sufficient on health and
safety grounds to cause many schools to close, even where the numbers of TUI
strikers are small.
Independent Left support the TUI strike on 4 February 2020
Probably, over 400 schools will be closed by the strike of 4 February 2020, including the 260 Education and Training Boards’ schools. This strike is a powerful way to bring the campaign for pay parity forward and regardless of who forms the next government, the new cabinet will inherit real pressure to make concessions.
From the point of view of parents, having to come up with a contingency arrangement for our children is a challenge. But it is very much in our interests to support the teachers. For one, the low pay in the sector is leaving schools short-staffed. Over ninety percent of secondary schools report difficulty filling posts. More generally, education is in desperate need of an injection of funding. And, of course, the demand of the teachers is an entirely fair one.
This is why Independent Left members went to the picket lines on 4 February to show our support for the striking teachers and we encourage parents and the public to do the same at future strikes.
Our education system discriminates against working class communities
Supporting teachers in the struggle to win parity of pay and, indirectly, to improve recruitment and retention rates is just one facet of a radical overhaul of the education system that is needed. As John Lyons highlighted in his election 2020 campaign as candidate in Dublin Bay North, we still have far too many schools under church control. My son goes to one where the principal circulates material against same-sex relationships, material which sees diversity as a plot by the UN to reduce population growth! John Lyons also is drawing attention to the need for meaningful supports to be put in place to allow all children equality of access. Although the government boasts of increase employment for SNAs, the fact that SNA hours have been reduced and the number of children requiring support has increased means the overall service is a long way behind that of 2013, when the Fine Gael – Labour government slashed SNA hours. The recent changes to the resource allocation model of NCSE is a particular disaster for visually impaired children.
Just looking at the school buildings in different parts of the city and your intuition will tell you something is wrong in Irish education. If you stroll past Wesley fee-paying school, for example, you’ll see two resurfaced hockey pitches, two cricket pitches, another for soccer. No less than four for rugby and if you got a glimpse inside you’d see two basketball courts a major hall and a gym. In 2018, Wesley obtained €150,000 from Shane Ross from the Sports Capital Programme to for those resurfaced hockey pitch. And for our kids on Dublin’s north side? Typically they play soccer on tarmac or, as in my son’s school, in a car park.
Research by Gerry Kearns, Professor of Human Geography, Maynooth University allows us to visualise the bias in education in Dublin. As he puts it:
There is a wedge of privilege extending southwards from the city centre. If we map the proportion of people going from school to college, the districts with the schools most likely to send students to college form a coherent band on the southside (Dublin postal districts 2, 4, 6, 6W and 14, and the local authority of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown).
This discrimination can be overcome, but not without a challenge to decades of neglect for our schools from Fine Gael and Fianna Fail and their coalition partners.
Nine days into the campaign, how does the picture look for
When senior Fine Gael members took the decision to dissolve
the Dáil on 14 January and began campaigning for a general election campaign
they were feeling complacent. The other parties were looking towards a May date
and were caught without election materials to hand, while Leo Varadkar had his
posters up before the election had officially begun. The timing seemed right,
not least because Fine Gael anticipated benefiting from the fact that Varadkar
appeared impressive beside Boris Johnson in the negotiations around Brexit and the
Northern Assembly was up and running again, with the Irish government having
played a part in this.
Moreover, in the champagne bubble that surrounds Fine Gael,
the world looks extremely positive: the number of millionaires in Ireland has
increased by a third since 2013, to 78,000 and these millionaires are paying
income tax at the same rate as people earning the average wage. Many of
Ireland’s wealthy are landlords (a third of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail TDs are
landlords) and are enjoying a growth in their incomes from tenants who are
desperately squeezed. In North County Dublin, average rents rose by 5.6% in
2019 to €1,728, having risen by 11% in 2018.
With unemployment below 5% and economic growth levels relatively
healthy compared to the rest of Europe (around 5% in 2019 and a predicted 4%
for 2020), Fine Gael strategists rubbed their hands and set out for what they
assumed would be a very good election for them.
In fact, it is going to be a very bad one.
The problem with elections, from a Fine Gael and Fianna Fail
point of view, is that you have to go outside the champagne bubble and listen
to voices that don’t normally concern you. And while the 78,000 millionaires
are powerful voices and highly networked to these parties in the day-to-day
running of Irish society, they are vastly outnumbered when an election takes
Fine Gael suffering a backlash in Dublin Bay North
By now, Fine Gael have discovered that there exists a huge
body of people who far from enjoying increased prosperity are suffering
enormously. For the majority of people in Ireland in 2020, life is extremely
stressful. Yes, we have jobs. But the money we earn disappears into rents and
mortgages, into childcare, into bills, including medical ones when the services
we need urgently aren’t there. Everywhere, there is pressure on our living
standards and obvious neglect of public services, especially health, education
and transport. And alongside these very immediate causes of stress is the wider
issue of a planet that is getting distinctly warmer and jeopardising our
futures and that of our children.
Not one person has mentioned Brexit or the Northern Assembly
in our canvassing. We hear awful stories of long waits for health services,
which bear out the figures that, for example, that Dublin North has 2,400
children on the waiting list for speech and language therapy (in contrast to
the waiting list of 10 for Dun Laoghaire, and 0 for Dublin South East).
The anger at Fine Gael is palpable and while Richard
Bruton’s seat is safe (Dublin Bay North has its affluent areas and in a
constituency that voted heavily for Same Sex Marriage and Repeal, the
government might get some credit for those referenda), he won’t be able to
bring home Catherine Noone.
Fianna Fail share the blame for deprivation and neglect in
parts of the constituency
A lot of the same anger is directed at Fianna Fail too, understandably
given the ‘confidence and supply’ agreement that meant Fianna Fail propped up
Fine Gael. It’s very common to hear a mistrust of politicians all together from
those we canvass. And for communities in Dublin Bay North that have experienced
far more than a decade of neglect such anger is entirely justified. In the
circles that Fine Gael and Fianna Fail move, there is no consequence for
creating pockets of real poverty, desperately poor services, feeble civic amenities,
or schools deprived of facilities. For the rest of us, an approach which has
favoured the wealthy has resulted in very severe consequences. There has been a
rise in drug use and in the appeal of criminal gangs for young, disenfranchised
people. Many people have said they are afraid to go out of their homes and
there are parents in parts of Dublin Bay North that simply cannot let their
children run out and play, instead they take buses to get to safer areas. And
since Fianna Fail are as complicit in the creation of these circumstances as
Fine Gael, they are not likely to be able to bring in Deirdre Heney, though
Sean Haughey is certain to keep his seat.
Is there a seat for Independent Left in Dublin Bay North?
With both Finian McGrath and Tommy Broughan retiring, the consensus among the political correspondents of RTE and the Irish Times is that this will boost Labour and the Social Democrats relative to everyone else. Yet from our canvassing and from what we can learn from the 2016 election, it seems like Councillor John Lyons of Independent Left is currently best placed to appeal to those who voted Tommy Broughan and has a lot to offer those who voted Finian McGrath. The two independents were very different of course. Tommy Broughan was a Labour Party TD opposed to coalition with Fine Gael and who – quite rightly – on 1 December 2011 stood firm on the issue of not extending the ruinous bank guarantee scheme. As a result, he was expelled from Labour and subsequently worked with left independents like Joan Collins, Catherine Connolly, Clare Daly, Maureen O’Sullivan, Thomas Pringle, and Mick Wallace, with whom he formed the Independents4Change technical group in the Dáil.
On a whole range of policies around housing and health and
especially on the principle of not going into government with Fine Gael or
Fianna Fail, Tommy Broughan is far more closely aligned with John Lyons than
Aodhán Ó Ríordáin (Labour) and Cian O’Callaghan (Social Democrats). A
consistent theme of Tommy Broughan’s political career was the need to challenge
the two main parties of the right and this has to be reflected in the values of
By contrast, Finian McGrath obviously did believe it
worthwhile to join with Fine Gael in government. It’s not at all clear,
however, that his voters would agree that this was a success. Not only has
Finian McGrath to share responsibility for the housing crisis and the failure
to reduce hospital waiting lists, but even in his own remit, as Minister for
State for Disability Issues, his record cannot be considered a success. The one
section in Irish society for whom employment did not rise under the Fine
Gael-led government is that of people with disability, two-thirds
of whom do not have jobs. In primary and secondary education, while the
number of SNA employed has risen, their hours have been reduced, and along with
the fact that the number of children in need of support have increased, the
situation for children with special needs is worse than at any time since the
savage Fine Gael-Labour cuts to their service of 2013.
From the transfer patterns of the 2016 election, it is
likely that many of Finian McGrath’s voters would be disappointed in his
decision to join a Fine Gael-led government and his record when in cabinet.
Only dribbles of transfers came his way when Stephanie Regan and Naoise Ó Muiri
of Fine Gael were eliminated and there was no obvious gain either for Finian
McGrath from the elimination of Deirdre Heney of Fianna Fail. His former voters
certainly seem likely to favour the non-government parties but it’s not clear
at this point that they will focus on Labour and the Social Democrats, more
likely is that they will spready fairly evenly, also coming in part to John
Lyons, Denise Mitchell (Sinn Féin) and David Healy (Green Party). Which brings
us to the Greens.
Have the Green Party made a terrible mistake in Dublin Bay
Given the surge in support for the Green Party in Dublin,
it’s understandable that Paddy Power would make David Healy a 2/9 favourite to
win a seat in Dublin Bay North. David Healy is the Green Party’s spokesperson
on climate and that is definitely an important issue for people we have been
talking to. Our own view is that the Green Party will not deliver a radical
enough solution to significantly alter Ireland’s contribution to global warming.
Partly, this is because they are ready to go into coalition with Fine Gael or
Fianna Fail, despite some internal
opposition, but also because their big idea is a heavy carbon tax, which is
not going to be a socially just way of tackling climate change. Even so, the
Green Party are set to do well as an expression of people’s concern about the
state of the planet.
Yet the candidate they have selected for Dublin Bay North is out of line with the official Green Party policy and with voters here in one very important way: he was against the Repeal of the Eighth amendment, voted ‘no’ and expressed support for the ‘no’ position at the time. Dublin Bay North had the second highest turnout in the country for that referendum and with 74.69% yes, was one of the strongest regions for repeal. By contrast with David Healy, John Lyons assisted in the formation of Dublin Bay North’s Repeal the 8th campaign, and, as one person put it on Twitter, was tireless in working for that campaign.
Kate Antosik-Parsons of the Dublin Bay North Repeal the 8th Campaign explains why she will be giving her number one vote to Councillor John Lyons.
The Green Party had other potential candidates for the
constituency of Dublin Bay North and ought to have been set to take a seat at
this point in the campaign. Now, however, there will be hundreds of voters who
are unsure about returning an anti-choice candidate, no matter how supportive
they are of other Green policies.
What is the likely result in general election 2020 in Dublin
The constituency has five seats. With Sinn Féin running a
strong campaign nationally and having just the one candidate in Dublin Bay
North this time, Denise Mitchell will consolidate her seat. Richard Bruton
(Fine Gael) will do well and be elected after the elimination of Catherine Noone.
Sean Haughey will probably improve on Richard Bruton’s 2016 performance and
take the top spot, not only because of the indication of the national polls,
but last time around Avril Power took some of the Fianna Fail vote.
There will then be two seats left and our estimate is that
three candidates will be close: John Lyons, David Healy and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin,
with Cian O’Callaghan a little bit off the pace. The main difficulty Aodhán Ó
Ríordáin has is not only the awful record of Labour when in government, which
people haven’t forgotten, but the fact that the national party is so anxious to
position itself as respectable and responsible, that they have policies to the
right of Fianna Fail, who cynically know when to make promises on housing and
health that they won’t deliver on.
Whereas Independent Left have no fear of offending
developers and those pushing for privatisation of health, or those on high
incomes who we would tax for the resources that public services need, Labour
are looking anxiously over at these same people in the hope of appeasing them.
For that reason, we are backing ourselves to win a seat and for the Green Party to edge out Labour, despite the fact that David Healy was on the wrong side of the Repeal referendum.
Thomas Daly of Darndale FC, endorsing Councillor John Lyons for Dublin Bay North in election 2020.