How Amy Dunne’s bravery helped change Ireland’s abortion law

By Niamh McDonald, Chairperson, Dublin Bay North ‘Together For Yes’ 

‘Repeal Changed My Life’

Portrait photograph of Amy Dunne. No background other than a blue sky. A confident, proud expression on her face.
Amy Dunne in 2019. Amy was ‘Miss D’ in the landmark ‘right to travel’ High Court abortion case of 2007. Pic: Arthur Carron

Ireland’s long journey from being a country with strict anti-abortion laws to the success of the Repeal movement was not a gradual one.  Rather, after years when there was no movement on the issue, the country would gain a much deeper national understanding of why women should have right to choose from particular cases.

The awful situation that a fourteen-year-old girl – Miss X – found herself in, having been raped and made pregnant in 1992 shook the country. Not only was she refused an abortion in Ireland, but the Irish courts initially refused to let her travel to England for an abortion. Only after a massive outcry and a march of over 10,000 people did the Supreme Court rule that abortion was legal if the woman’s life was at risk.

Students from 1992 sitting in the road in the Dail, behind a banner saying 'Abortion Information Now'. A highlighted square and arrow draws attention to where the image has been altered to cover up a phone number.
In 1992, newspapers didn’t even dare reproduce phone numbers of abortion information services. This, taken by Eric Luke, was doctored to remove the number before being published in the Irish Times.

Another such case was that of Miss D, who we now know as Amy Dunne. Last week, Amy told her story to RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke. Unlike the X case, Amy wanted a baby but discovered in 2007, on her seventeenth birthday, that the baby had anencephaly. Her choice was to have an abortion, but because Amy was in temporary foster care, social workers were involved and the told her that she – along with anyone who travelled with her ­­– would ‘be done for murder’.

Amy refused to back down and took her case as far as the High Court in order obtain the right to travel to the UK (and her passport, which was being withheld from her).

In Liverpool, after induced labour, her baby, Jasmine, died. The experience has left her haunted. As Amy put it, ‘I would have lived with the regret of having an abortion but now that’s not what I have, I have a baby I carried, I have a connection, I have a grave, I’ve had a funeral. I have pictures, I have a child, I have memories. I have newspaper clippings.

‘I am forever haunted instead of just being able to go and do what I needed to do.’

The retelling of such a traumatic experience in public while trying to live with its consequences every day is a huge act of bravery and this bravery highlights the sheer cruelty of the actions of anti-choice bigots who still continue to bully pregnant people when they are at their most vulnerable.

Repealing the 8th was a huge achievement, one that was delivered thanks to the grassroots organisation of thousands of  women across the state. But the legislation is too narrow and restricted. People are still travelling for abortion healthcare, the lack of flexibility in the law means some migrants and people in Direct Provision are left without care.

We urgently need legislation for exclusion zones, a demand that Amy Dunne spoke in favour of. She said that seeing protests at hospitals made a difficult situation worse for a woman who has a hard choice to make, ‘I don’t think anyone should be allowed protest outside a hospital. Pro-life people should be ashamed of themselves. I think it’s sick – I think they have a mental illness. We all make decisions and they’re not made lightly.’

Fine Gael were happy to ride the Liberal repeal wave that was created by the hard work of grassroots activism but now when women and pregnant people need support these are sadly lacking

Brexit: What Should Irish Socialists Say?

Short version: Independent Left advocate Remain.

At the time of writing, there is still a lot of uncertainty around whether and under what conditions the UK will leave EU. On Saturday 19 October, it seemed possible that Boris Johnson would just about get a Brexit deal through the UK parliament, only for him to be caught by surprise by an amendment (the Letwin amendment) that postponed a vote on Johnson’s Brexit package until a Withdrawal Agreement bill (WAB) was first agreed. The point being that MPs did not trust Johnson: so long as WAB was not passed, there was a danger of a No Deal crash out on 31 October.

Currently, even if Johnson does have the slender majority he needs to deliver Brexit in line with his agreement, there is still opportunity for UK MPs to amend the WAB, including by adding the idea that a second referendum has to be organised to endorse the deal. A new referendum was the demand of the huge (possibly as many as one million people) march in London on the same date.

What is certain is that if Brexit takes place – and especially if it’s the Johnson version – the UK leaving will be harmful for working class communities. In the UK itself, including Northern Ireland, Brexit would mean a rise in unemployment, a food and medicine crisis and an economic decline that some analysts anticipate will be worse than that of the 1930s. In Ireland, there are likely to be similar, if much less severe consequences. Here too, however, we are also going to face a government that will use Brexit, like it has used every crisis before now, as an excuse to strike down on working class people.

Remember how the Universal Social Charge was introduced by Fianna Fail’s Finance minister Brian Lenihan in 2010 as ‘a temporary measure’ to help Ireland cope with the financial crisis? Well, Brexit will be used in exactly the same way: even now Fine Gael are raising Brexit to justify their failure to properly fund essential services. The most recent budget is just the latest example of this approach.

For this reason alone, socialists in Ireland should advocate Remain. Moreover, there’s another way that the position of workers has already worsened as a result of the Brexit vote and that is because it has been accompanied by a rise in racism. Racists of all hues in the UK, including out-and-out fascists, greeted the result of the Brexit referendum with delight and there was an immediate upsurge of attacks on immigrants (a rise of 41% in what the UK police term ‘hate crimes’). In Ireland, we only experienced a ripple of this, but any growth in hostility to immigrants harms our ability to stand together and make progress on all the pressing issues that face us.

Does supporting Remain mean supporting the EU?

On the whole, with the important exception of Bernadette McAliskey, who quite rightly said, ‘politically the Right wing of British and European politics along with anti-immigration and naked racism has been strengthened by the Brexit victory,’ the Irish left were pro-Brexit at the time of the first referendum. It is understandable why. We shocked the establishment in 2001, when we were a successful part of the campaign against the Nice Treaty (opposing it largely because the treaty undermined Irish neutrality). The Irish conservative parties had to spend a lot of time and energy in pushing through the re-run in 2002. Again, the Lisbon Treaty of 2008 was rejected, with the left in tune with working class communities who mistrusted the proposed changes as likely to favour business over workers’ rights.

Given the EU had bullied Ireland into taking on the debts of their banks after the crash of 2009 and then tried to insist on us having water charges to pay for these massive debts, it’s no wonder that the Socialist Party, People Before Profit and many others on the left assumed that being in favour of Brexit was the natural continuation of an approach that – rightly – characterises the EU as being dominated by big business.

They were mistaken and deeply so.

Every referendum has to be judged on its merits and understood to be taking place at a particular moment in time. The UK one on Brexit had a very different dynamic to Nice and Lisbon. It was rapidly taken up by the anti-immigration UKIP and small parties even further to the right and then became all about immigration, particularly after the murder of Labour’s Jo Cox. Jo Cox was a prominent activist against Islamaphobia who was campaigning for Remain. She was killed by a man with fascist connections, who shouted “Britain first”.

Socialists who had a vote should have voted Remain, primarily in order to stand with the anti-racists.

There is no contradiction at all in advocating Remain for these reasons and still holding to a view that the EU is driven by big business. Because Brexit too is all about a big business agenda: the Conservative Brexiteers can hardly wait to tear up EU regulations protecting workers’ rights. They think realignment with the US and the far-east will prove more profitable than staying in the EU.

The old Socialist Workers Party that was, had a slogan, ‘neither Washington nor Moscow’ to indicate that in the Cold War it did not see it necessary to pick a side, when both sides were racing to oppress and exploit their populations. That’s the approach that socialists should take when the rows among a divided elite spill over into a referendum. The Irish version runs: feck ye both.

We don’t have a side between the EU and British businesses who think they are better off facing towards the US. But we do take sides against racism and we are rooted in communities that are going to suffer when Fine Gael wield the hammer, shouting ‘sorry, but Brexit’.

So Remain it is.

What should socialists do now about Brexit?

The Brexit vote is not a defiant working class refusing to be pushed into a Lisbon-type treaty. It’s the opposite: an anti-immigrant, right-wing vote. On the other hand, the Remain vote had as its largest component exactly the kind of people who make up the natural constituency for socialist parties: trade unionists, community activists and especially anti-racists.

The Ashcroft exit poll to the Brexit referendum was the most comprehensive poll at the time (12,000 people sampled). It shows that two out of three Labour voters voted Remain. A majority of people in work voted Remain. 67% of Asians voted Remain and 70% of Muslims. True, there were traditional Labour regions that voted leave, but no one argues that they did so for any other reason than being anti-immigrant. Their champion within the Labour Party, Stephen Kinnock, thinks Labour has to emphasise, ‘the value of place’ and the legitimacy of raising concerns about immigration.

Trying to appease racism never works. The more divided a working class community, the less able we are to win campaigns on all the issues affecting us.

Probably, the penny has begun to drop among Irish socialists that they have the wrong approach to Brexit and they are alienating themselves from core supporters.

Hopefully these parties change their approach. Although they have no culture of doing so, it would not harm these parties to acknowledge that supporting Brexit was a mistake but now, in the light of developments, they are for Remain. No harm at all. In fact, you win respect by honesty instead of evasive, never-wrong, politician-speak. We need to have the humility to acknowledge when we make mistakes, learn from them and move forward. No one is all-knowing, so we shouldn’t pretend to be so.

For our part, we are unambiguous. Independent Left are for Remain.

The Quiet Collapse of the Parnell Square Cultural Quarter

By Councillor John Lyons, Independent Left

Painted illustration of the north side of Parnell Square, Hugh Lane at the centre with imagined colourful stalls along a pedestrianised street.
The plan for beautiful new cultural quarter for Parnell Square is faltering due to the failure of the private-wealth approach

A beautiful new library, part of an ambitious new cultural quarter encompassing places for learning, literature, music, innovation and enterprise, inter-culturalism and design, to be located at Parnell Square Dublin 1, was in store for Dublin and Dubliners. The Central Library in the Ilac Shopping Centre has its charm but this new library was to be something else, a civic space fitting for a twenty-first century capital city, especially one designated UNESCO City of Literature.

The Parnell Square Cultural Quarter, a 11,000 m2 development comprising a new city library and a range of social and cultural facilities –  a music centre, a design space, an innovation hub, a business library, a 200 seat conference space, an education centre, a café and an exhibition area – was to be Dublin City Council’s major flagship development, regenerating the north inner city as well as providing a new focus and destination at the northern end of O’Connell Street.

The  proposed  development was to include  work  to  the  existing  Georgian  houses  at  23  to  28 Parnell  Square  North  as  well  as  a  dramatic  new  building  to  the  rear  of  these  houses.  It included  20 and 21 Parnell Square  North and would have seen the creation of a new public plaza along Parnell Square North. It was intended that Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane would form part of the overall  Parnell Square Cultural Quarter offering and its role and impact would be expanded by the development of the new facilities. Magnificent!

I have supported this wonderful civic vision for Parnell Square over the last five years but with one recurring reservation: the funding model deployed to transform the vision into a reality was predicated upon 55% of the entire cost of the project coming through philanthropic channels. Yes, the rich Irish elite were going to be approached to cough up some of the money they save through our rather elite-friendly taxation system.

Alas, it was not to be. Unlike the Scottish-American millionaire philanthropist Andrew Carnegie who provided £170,000 between 1897 and 1913 to fund an entire network of libraries in Ireland (some 80 in total, 63 of which are still standing today), the millionaires and billionaires in twenty-first century Ireland appear disinterested in the kind of philanthropic activity Carnegie was involved in over one hundred years ago.

Parnell Square Cultural Quarter too Dependent on Private Capital

“Destined to fail,” some said; “bizarre”, said others; “doomed”, declared many. “Why the hell can’t we just fund it ourselves?” asked many more.

The cost of the project was estimated (in August 2019) to be in the region of €131 million. According to Dublin City Council’s executive Owen Keegan, a “unique feature of this project  is that Kennedy Wilson Europe Limited agreed,  on a pro bono basis, to assist the delivery of the project by providing seed capital to get the project through design, costing and final planning, leading the effort  to  raise the required  level  of private donations to  fully  fund  the  project and providing expertise to assist in the management of the project.”

This strange funding structure would have seen 55% of that funding raised via philanthropic donation(s) secured through the efforts of one of the largest private property landlords in the city. The rich folk of the city, and perhaps the country, were going to don the blue jersey and stump up the millions, with Dublin City Council agreeing to finance the other 45%.

Agreeing to allow US property speculator Kennedy Wilson take responsibility for fundraising over 50% of the cost of the new Dublin City Library at Parnell Square appeared like a particularly unusual way for Dublin City Council to go about raising the capital funds required for one of the capital city’s cultural flagship developments.

During my five years to date as an elected representative on Dublin City Council, however, I have become used to proposals which involve a heavy dose of the private sector: from housing construction, waste collection, water and sanitation to grass-cutting, housing maintenance, the involvement of private contractors is ubiquitous. The city council’s capacity to deliver these services has shrivelled through years of austerity and privatisation.

When asked by myself and other elected representatives why we couldn’t fund the project fully ourselves, whilst pointing to the obvious dangers of relying on private donations to raise over half the cost of the development, we were assured by city council officials that this was the best way to go about it.

So the Parnell Square Foundation, comprised of City Council officials and Kennedy Wilson representatives was established in 2013 to oversee the project. And according to city council report from July 2019, “considerable  progress has been made  over the past seven years… In particular,  all  the required buildings  have  been  brought  into  City  Council  ownership,  substantial  support  for  the  City Council’s vision  for Parnell Square  North  has been generated,  a world class design  has  been procured and full planning permission for the proposed development has been obtained from An Bord Pleanála.”

But here comes the “however”: Dublin City Council manager Keegan goes on to state in the same report that, “I have now been  advised, following work undertaken by a consultant engaged  by  Kennedy Wilson on behalf of the Foundation, that the required private fundraising could take over 3 years and that there is no guarantee it will be successful.” (My italics). The consultant’s interim report identified a number of potential obstacles to a successful fundraising campaign for the project including the following:

– the scale of funding required for the project relative to the sums raised previously for cultural projects in Ireland from national and international donors,

–  the fact that the Foundation has no previous donor base to act as project champions,

–  the intense competition for  philanthropic funding from high profile national cultural projects based in Dublin, which have already secured significant State funding and

– the fact that libraries have a lower affinity score with private donors than the arts generally. 

The rich ain’t interested, national government is nowhere to be seen or heard, and so the city council is left to pick up the pieces. Predictable but nonetheless devastating for the city of Dublin.

What Happens Now for the Parnell Square Cultural Quarter?

So where to now? Keegan proposes to proceed with the new library but to delay the redevelopment of the five Georgian buildings which were to house the new Cultural Quarter Education Centre, the Music Centre, the Design Space, the InterCultural Hub and the public realm works, thus effectively abandoning the wonderful civic vision for Parnell Square in favour of a piecemeal development.

Just. Not. Good. Enough.

So I have tabled the following motion to Dublin City Council in the hope that the entire Parnell Square Cultural Quarter vision can be saved and developed as one project, as initially conceived:

The elected members of this city council call on national government to include in this year’s Dublin City Council Capital Programme the necessary central exchequer funding to ensure that the Parnell Square Cultural Quarter, Dublin City Council’s major flagship civic development, proceeds in its entirety as envisioned in the planning permission granted by An Bord Pleanala in May of this year, namely the entire 11,000m2 development comprising a new city library, a range of cultural, education, musical and exhibition spaces and the enhancement of the public realm.

For More Information on the Parnell Square Cultural Quarter, see here.

Property Developer Bypasses Clongriffin Residents

Gannon Homes use multiple proposals to ‘develop’ Clongriffin Town centre to circumvent community input and calls for health and sports amenities

By Independent Left Councillor John Lyons

So this is the Irish planning system in action: Gannon Homes wants to construct 1,970 residential units in Clongriffin, along with some office and commercial space yet they have lodged three separate planning applications to two different bodies: An Bord Pleanala and Dublin City Council, thus making it a near-impossible task to engage in a proper planning dialogue with regard to the planning vision for the entirety of this area, Clongriffin Town Centre.

The First Strategic Housing Development application is to An Bord Pleanala: 1,030 apartments (352 residential, 678 Build to Rent units), 2 creches, 10 retail units and all associated site works.

The Second Strategic Housing Development application is also to An Bord Pleanala: 500 apartments (235 residential, 265 build to rent), creche and all associated site works.

The third application is to Dublin City Council: The development will consist of the construction of a mixed-use development comprising of 420 apartment units.

This multiple submission tactic completely disadvantages residents, community associations and elected representatives from having their voices heard in the planning system.

It also leads to a sense of fragmentation: our city council Local Area Plan for Clongriffin and the wider Dublin City Development Plan appear lost in this new process.

Who is in charge of taking a wider and longer view of planning in this area? Who ensures that the long-term objectives of creating a sustainable and vibrant mixed-use town in actually achieved here in Clongriffin?

The Strategic Housing Development (SHD) fast-track process is the most anti-democratic move made by Fine Gael, at the behest of property developers, in recent years: any proposals to build 100+ houses or 200+ student accommodation bedspaces bypasses Dublin City Council as the Planning Authority and goes straight to An Bord Pleanála (ABP).

We’ve seen what that means in the radical revision of Dublin City Council’s plans for the Chiver’s Factory site.

Property developers have the government in their pockets: the planning system and thus the city of Dublin is being reshaped in its profit-making image, with a housing and homelessness crisis; a bubble in office construction; a dearth of community and artistic spaces and in the case of Clongriffin, the construction of a soul-less apartment complex-dominated dormitory town rather than the creation of vibrant mixed-use town, as was originally envisaged for this area.

And lastly, in order for your voice to heard in all three of these applications, you will have to cough up 60 euro (20 quid per application). Sure why not?

Not only is our voice drowned out by profit-seeking property developers and their government and civil service cronies but we get fleeced at the same time.

New Playground For Kilbarrack

After a long struggle, Kilbarrack finally has a new area for children to play in

After a protracted effort that began more than twenty years ago, there is finally a new children’s playground in Kilbarrack in front of the Kilbarrack All Weather pitch facing on to Greendale Road at the top of Thornville Road.

Satellite map showing the location of Kilbarrack's new playground as a red rectangle
Map showing the location of Kilbarrack’s new playground

A significant role in advocating for the playground was played by the Kilbarrack Coast Community Programme (KCCP), who are rightly proud and delighted with the result. After organising several meetings in the community around the issue of the playground, KCCP elected two representatives (Lenann Clarke and Stephen Hutton) who made a presentation to Dublin City councillors and officials, members of the Northern Area Committee.

On foot of this campaign, funding was allocated to the new playground and the process of planning went ahead.

It was still a massive task, however, to actually get the playground built.

And to make matters worse in 2016, KCCP lost a safe space for children’s play when a new fence was put up right outside their exit, creating a prison-like atmosphere.  In response, a fantastic video, produced and directed by Tiernan Williams called Kilbarrack’s Ode to Bansky was released in August 2016.

Later in 2016, Amy Fogarty launched an online petition that gathered 688 signatories and in October that year she was told:

In response to your query I can inform you that I am currently working on developing a playground analysis of the North Central Area for the purpose of identifying deficits in play facilities for this area. This is due to be presented at the next North Central Area Committee meeting. However, current records indicate that Kilbarrack has been identified as a deficit area according to Parks Strategy playground analysis. ‘Roseglen’ open space has been identified as a potential location for a new playground but as yet a delivery programme has to be identified following review of completed playground analysis for this area. I will get back to you with an update in the coming weeks. 

Unfortunately, this did not result in a prompt build and despite several positive announcements, the process dragged on until now.

Finally able to announce the new playground KCCP said:

Two Dublin City Councillors were particularly supportive of our campaign – Councillor John Lyons and Councillor Mícheál Mac Donncha The playground may not be perfect and may need improvements but for a community that has been waiting for so long it is a great first step.

The work is nearing completion and KCCP have invited suggestions on necessary improvements: please email info@kccp.net or ring Marian 01-8324516

Council John Lyons was equally delighted.

 There is now a new playground in Kilbarrack. Happy to see that the community’s effort and persistence over a very long time has paid off!

Let’s hope that the kids in the area love it and use it as much as their hearts desire.

New Stardust Inquests for Victims of 1981 Fire

All the pain we’ve been put through, all the stuff we’ve gone through for the truth. This is what we fought for, campaigned for, and what we wanted.

This is how Selina McDermott greeted the news on 25 September that there will be a new inquest in to the Stardust fire. Selina’s sister Marcella (16) and her brothers, George (19) and William (22) died on the night of 14 February 1981 at the Valentine’s Day disco at the Stardust nightclub, Artane. In all, 48 people died that night with another 11 badly disfigured, 214 physically injured and hundreds, too, traumatised ever since.

Starting in a first-floor storeroom, a fire that night developed rapidly, in part because despite a lack of planning-permission, flammable materials were present in great quantity, including nearly 250kg of cooking oil in five drums. Although the Fire Brigade were alerted in minutes a blast of heat and the melting of ceiling material, followed by the lights going out created a catastrophic situation.

The Butterly Business Park, the site of the Stardust Fire of 1981

Most of the dead and injured came from Artane, Kilmore and greater Coolock, where the community has never ceased to suffer. Not only because of the pain of the losses, but also because of the way in which our political and legal system has failed us.

Independent Left Councillor John Lyons’ response to the announcement of the new inquests was to welcome it as hugely important but he added that this should never have taken so long.

The families of the victims and the survivors of the worst fire disaster in the history of the Irish state have been through hell and back many times over the last thirty eight years, from the initial political cover up by way of the Keane tribunal to years of political indifference, and the more recent con job that was the McCartan Report, which can only be described as a disgraceful insult, the families kept fighting, kept demanding answers as to how forty eight young people died in that building.

They have been vindicated by the decision of the Attorney General to open up new inquests into the forty eight deaths. But the survivors and the families and friends of the victims should not have had to wait nearly four decades to get the answers they deserve. If the fire had taken place in Blackrock rather than Artane, there is no way that people would be left waiting so long for justice. The working class communities of Coolock and Artane know this to be true as the treatment they have received from the Irish state, successive Fianna Fail and Fine Gael-Labour Party has been nothing short of a scandal.

The fact that the Keane tribunal of 1981 found that the fire was probably caused by arson – a finding that was always disputed and eventually ruled out – meant that the owners, the Butterly family not only escaped compensation claims and therefore proper accountability for their actions, which included the obstruction of fire exits, but they were awarded IR£580,000 in compensation.

The Stardust had been developed without planning permission and the fire authorities had denied Paddy Butterly permission to retain the club unless he installed another fire escape.

Although a 633-page was sent by the Gardai to the DPP, the only person to face charges arising from the tragedy was John Keegan, whose two daughters died that night, for confronting Paddy Butterly.

The Butterly family were – and probably still are – highly networked politically. In his memoirs, published just for family and friends but leaked, Paddy Butterly reveals that a former economic advisor to Labour Tanaiste Dick Spring worked for the family for two years. While he was Minister for Industry and Commerce, Fianna Fáil’s Kevin Boland had a chat over coffee with Paddy Butterly nearly every morning. “We were all Finna Failers”, reports Butterly, and adds that Fianna Fáil Taoiseach Jack Lynch asked Butterly to join Taca, their party fundraising group for wealthy businessmen.
‘‘What you had these people for,” explains Butterly, “was to help get things. I don’t mean by giving them money. But if you wanted to know something about your business or you wanted someone who could do something, you didn’t get the answers by writing into the papers. You asked these people.”

The injustice of the treatment of the Stardust families and their lack of access to political power in comparison to the situation of the Butterly’s explains why it has taken so long to obtain this inquest. And why it has been such an uphill struggle.

Independent Left’s Niamh McDonald paid tribute to those who never gave up the pursuit of justice:

I would like to congratulate the families on their sheer determination that got them this inquiry, without their hard work and persistence the establishment would have been very happy to see no justice being served. It is a disgrace that this government and successive governments have forced grieving families to fight for justice.

When, in 2006, Eamon Butterly, owner of the Stardust, opened The Silver Swan pub in the business park where the fire took place, protesters played the following Christy Moore song for ten weeks outside the bar, every night between six and eight pm.

They Never Came Home, was released in 1985 and was banned, with Christy Moore being found guilty of contempt of court for having written it. It remains a powerful statement on a terrible tragedy and a political system that has only contempt for working class communities.

They Never Came Home Lyrics

Christy Moore

St Valentine's day comes around once a year,
All our thought turn to love as the day it draws near,
When sweethearts and darlings, husbands and wives,
Pledge love and devotion for the rest of their lives.
As day turns to evening soon night-time does fall,
Young people preparing for the Valentine's Ball,
As the night rings with laughter some people still mourn
The 48 children who never came home.
Have we forgotten the suffering and pain
The survivors and victims of the fire in Artane,
The mothers and fathers forever to mourn
The 48 children who never came home.
Down to the Stardust they all made their way
The bouncers stood back as they lined up to pay
The records are spinning there's dancing as well
Just how the fire started sure no one can tell.
In a matter of seconds confusion did reign
The room was in darkness fire exits were chained
The firefighters wept for they could not hide,
Their anger and sorrow for those left inside.
Have we forgotten the suffering and pain
The survivors and victims of the fire in Artane,
The mothers and fathers forever to mourn
The 48 children who never came home.
All around the city the bad news it spread
There's a fire in the Stardust there's 48 dead
Hundreds of children are injured and maimed
And all just because the fire exits were chained.
Our leaders were shocked, grim statements were made
They she'd tears in the graveyard as the bodies were laid
The victims have waited in vain for 4 years
It seems like our leaders she'd crocodile tears.
Have we forgotten the suffering and pain
The survivors and victims of the fire in Artane,
The mothers and fathers forever to mourn
The 48 children who never came home.
Half a million was spent on solicitor's fees,
A fortune to the owner and his family
It's hard to believe not one penny came
To the working class people who suffered the pain.
Days turn to weeks and weeks turn to years
Our laws favour the rich or so it appears
A woman still waits for her lads to come home
Injustice breeds anger and that's what's been done.
Have we forgotten the suffering and pain
The survivors and victims of the fire in Artane,
The mothers and fathers forever to mourn
The 48 children who never came home.

Ireland’s Climate Strike 20 September 2019

Young people in Ireland played their part in the massive world-wide strike against Climate Change on 20 September 2019. The energy and determination as well as the frustration of the participants was evident in the chants and slogans on the placards.

Fair play to the anonymous students who posted on Reddit that they had to go against the principal to participate:

Obviously have to keep this anonymous so I wont say what school but today out school refused to let us out of school for a few hours to the protests for climate change
I think this is a joke like seriously. It was only from 12-3 like its ridiculous. The school didn’t even mention it to us at all that this was happening or suggested we take part in it ourselves.
Needless to say we weren’t taking this shit so we grouped together and about 80-100 students rushed out the doors and ran to protest anyways.

Here are some of the images and videos from the day.

Participants in Belfast for Climate Strike 20 September 2019
Dublin protesters turned out in huge numbers, here marching along the west side of Merrion Square (photo credit: Conor Healy)

View of the 20 September 2019 climate strike, from above, south side of Merrion Square, Dublin.

The Irish Times concentrated on very young protesters but nevertheless captured the sense of determination as well as anxiety among protesters in their coverage of the climate strike in Dublin 20 September.

Gathering for the 20 September climate strike, Galway.
Grand Parade Cork, 20 September 2019, another large turnout as part of Ireland’s support for the climate strike.
The famous ‘Free Derry’ wall, painted over to support the climate strike of 20 September 2019 (and a march on 21 September).

The Shock of Climate Change, the Awe of Geo-Engineering

A vast cloud of smoke issues from an active volcano; streams of lava pour from the cone.
Past volcanic eruptions serve as a warning against solar geoengineering

Even if human society immediately managed a complete stop to the emission of carbon, we will fail to achieve the target of the Paris Accord of 2016, of keeping the increase in planetary temperatures to under 2% above pre-industrial levels. And of course, carbon emissions, far from coming to an end are increasing. There is no doubt that dramatic climate change is underway and it is not slowing down.

We are in very big trouble as a species unless we invent miracle solution to global warming. And as the crisis crows, so does momentum behind a project that has striking parallels with the Manhattan Project, the 1941 assembly of scientists at Los Alamos that eventually led to nuclear strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the danger (that remains with us) of nuclear winter for the planet.

The project I’m referring to is that of Geo-engineering the planet’s atmosphere and in particular, the plan to apply the stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI) of chemical compounds. The idea is to pump sulphates (dust) into to the upper atmosphere so that solar radiation is back-scattered into space.

Behind the push for a Geo-engineered solution to global warming are backers such as the Bill Gates Foundation and the idea is gathering momentum. You can see the growing number of geo-engineering projects via map.geoengineeringmonitor.org, which shows that there were more than eight hundred projects in 2017 (compared to three hundred in 2012).

SAI is an idea that will work. We know it does because when, in the past, such as in 1815, massive volcanic eruptions blasted dust into the stratosphere, the next year or two saw global temperatures drop by as much as five per cent. SAI scientists are attempting to recreate the effect of these volcanoes artificially.

A cartoon of a volcano beside a ballon, both pushing dust above the stratosphere. Sunlight, drawn as a yellow arrow, partially bounces off the veil of dust.
Solar engineering mimics the effect of powerful volcanos
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SPICE_SRM_overview.jpg

One of the parallels between the Geo-engineering drive and the Manhattan Project, is that several of the scientists involved in this research have claimed that the technology will never be used. They are developing the technology… ‘just in case’. But as the climate crisis unfolds, panic measures will be implemented and any new technology that we have available to address global warming will be considered in earnest, no matter now risky.

And there are massive risks with this apparent solution to global warming.

One important point to make about SAI is that it would not change the density of carbon in the atmosphere and therefore it would have no impact on effects such as the acidification of the seas. Secondly, SAI could allow companies and countries to avoid a fundamental solution to the burning of fossil fuels. In fact, petrochemical companies have expressed an interest in supplying the sulphates needed for the project, which would be paid-for by taxpayers. If implemented, SAI represents a huge win for them.

The most common objection to SAI geo-engineering is a strong one: how do we know what the consequence will be? Predictions of what will happen depend on computer models for the atmosphere and at the current time, these models are nowhere near accurate enough to be confident about the impact of SAI. Given that important global phenomena like the North Atlantic Oscillation and the El Niño-Southern Oscillation have yet to be successfully modeled, we just cannot predict what will happen on a global scale, let alone a regional scale. It is very likely that filling the stratosphere with sulphates will not only cool the planet but it will create major turbulence and extreme weather events. Particularly important here is the effect on rainfall: it is quite possible an overall cooling of the planet through SAI is accompanied by devastating floods and droughts at a regional level.

My own concern about SAI arises from my research into the societal consequences of major volcanic eruptions. Let’s suppose humanity starts on the SAI approach, we are then caught in a very dangerous situation, where every year we will have to keep up the practice filling the stratosphere with particles. And as soon as we stop, the underlying crisis of high planetary temperatures will reassert themselves. But what would happen if during this process a major volcano erupted? The dumping of tonnes of dust into the stratosphere on top of the human effort will have devastating consequences. There will be a year or two without summers, crop failure on a massive scale and enormous economic dislocation as planes are grounded for months.

I’m looking at the medieval world in particular, where life was far more precarious than our own. But we cannot be complacent about the potential for resilience today. Modern society in some ways is more vulnerable than that of our medieval predecessors. Just-in-time production and the inter-dependency of the world economy means that if international trade is grounded for several months, the consequences would be shocking.

After the 2010 Icelandic eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, air traffic was affected in some regions for up to a month. This was a volcanic eruption of about one tenth the size of those I’ve been researching in the historical record.

My point is that as the geo-engineering option becomes more appealing in the face of increasingly damaging consequences arising from global warming we will lose track of the bigger historical picture in the hope of a short-term fix. But what this wider perspective demonstrates is that sooner or later a major eruption will happen that brings its own challenges. And if we have already saturated the atmosphere artificially with sulphates when it does, we are going to bring about a year or two of unforeseen, incredibly cold years of massive economic dislocation and crop failure.

There is no governing body that can stop a figure like Donald Trump from beginning this process. Geo-engineering on sufficient scale to cool the planet would cost about a billion dollars. That’s relatively cheap to implement. And this brings imperial considerations into play. There is nothing to stop a rich country, which also is relatively protected from unpredictable consequences from going ahead on their own. Nothing, that is, except the opposition of their own population. That’s why awareness of the dangers of geo-engineering needs to grow, especially among those protesting on 20 September.

This post was written for We Only Want the Earth, a Facebook page curated by Dave Lordan to build support for the global climate strike 20 September 2019.

O’Devaney Gardens: Public Lands for Public Housing

Satellite view of O'Devaney Gardens, Dublin.
Dublin City Councillors are set to allow a development on O’Devaney Gardens that will fail people on low and middle incomes who need housing.

Dublin City Council officials and councillors from a range a political parties (Fianna Fáil, Sinn Fein, Labour, Soc Dems, Greens and some Independents) are set to hand over a hugely valuable piece of public land, owned by the people of Dublin through the local authority, to a private developer.

O’Devaney Gardens is a 14 hectare site right next to the Phoenix Park, and if developed sensibly, could provide a huge number of social and affordable housing units on site. Independent Left Councillor John Lyons made his opposition to this plan clear.

Unfortunately, we have a set of city council officials wedded to a pro-market way of thinking, and a set of political parties unwilling to fight this neoliberal status quo.

Bartra Capital Property Group have been selected to develop the site: over 800 units will be built yet the developer will get to sell 50% of them on the open market at who knows what kind of outrageous prices; 30% will be social and 20% will be affordable purchase.

This is an outrageous give away of public land to a private developer.

We can and must do better.

Councillor’s get to vote on the proposed section 183 disposal of the land to the developer. Unfortunately, even parties who claim to represent the interests of working class communities are set to allow this plan to go ahead.

We must reject this and demand a better alternative which will involve Dublin City Council’s own architects design a plan for the site and a building contractor selected to build the units we want – high quality social and affordable units available to individuals, couples and families on middle and low incomes.

O’Devaney Gardens developer demands €7m: Councillor John Lyons refuses to be bullied

Ahead of the important Dublin City Council vote on Monday 7 October 2019, the head of housing for Dublin City Council, Brendan Kenny briefed the press that the developers, Bartra Capital, had demanded a €7m payment from the council. Kenny threatened that there would be a five-year delay should this not be granted by councillors and released figures that glossed over the extent to which Bartra capital were able to exploit the situation, namely by having 50% of the units for sale on the open market.

John Lyons, Independent Left councillor, made his opposition to this extra give-away clear:

I will not be threatened by the executive of the city council acting on behalf of a private developer, and so will be voting against the plan to hand over the O’Devaney Gardens site to a Bartra Capital.

We have, as Dublin City Councillors, an opportunity next Monday to stand up for the people of Dublin who are despairing at the lack of public and affordable housing in the city.

I will not support a plan that will see a private developer make massive profits from the privatization of public lands, and with such a paltry return for the council terms of social housing, as well as the complete absence of any kind of housing that could be reasonably be described as affordable.

We have a fight on our hands and so we must link up with all the campaign groups and others interested in creating a city that is accessible to all.

O’Devaney Gardens should be used to provide affordable public housing

The vote to privatise the public lands at O’Devaney Gardens was postponed until early November 2019

The main reason for the postponement seems to have been in order that the Minister for Housing can get involved on behalf of Bartra Capital. On 7 October 2019, the Minister for Housing repeated the threat made by a DCC official last week that if councillors refused to vote to gift a prime piece of public land to a private developer then nothing will happen on that site for at least half a decade.

Minister Eoghan Murphy says he wants to meet DCC councillors.

Councillor John Lyons made the following response:

To offer what exactly? I would say not much but a slightly tweaked outrageously bad deal.

So let’s use the next few weeks to build up the pressure on Fine Gael, DCC officials and the councillors currently in favour of this rotten deal.

Both Richard Barrett, the founder of Bartra Capital, and Eoghan Murphy TD share the idea that it is valid to build co-living apartment blocks. In other words, accommodation that is only a bedroom, with other facilities being shared.

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy sitting on the right of RIchard Barrett, founder of Bartra Capital
Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy and RIchard Barrett, founder of Bartra Capital

Infamously, Murphy has described such accommodation as like living in ‘a trendy boutique hotel’. Everyone else calls it for what it is: a rat race designed by developers who want to maximise profits.

We should be designing beautiful public environments, like the one in Vienna highlighted here by Councillor John Lyons.

In April 2019 the Irish Sun used a freedom of information request to discover that the founder of Bartra Capital wrote to Eoghan Murphy in 2017 after his becoming Minister for Housing. Richard Barrett intended to avail of the ‘passports for cash’ scheme (officially, the Immigrant Investor Programme) but civil servants replied on behalf of Murphy that the meeting would be premature.

Fifty Years After the Birth of the modern Irish Republican Army

In August 1969 British Army arrived in Northern Ireland and despite being called ‘peacekeepers’, soon began to police the nationalist community.

In Arundhati Roy’s 2011 Walking with the Comrades there is a moment where she recaps the stories of Ajitha and Laxmi, Maoist guerrillas in eastern India. They became fighters after the Salwa Judum, a state-supported militia, attacked their villages.

The Judum came to Korseel, her village, and killed three people by drowning them in a stream. Ajitha … watched them rape six women and shoot a man in this throat.

         Comrade Laxmi, who has a long, thick plait, tells me she watched the Judum burn thirty houses in her village, Jojor. “We had no weapons then,” she says, “we could do nothing but watch.”

         Arundhati Roy is not an advocate of a guerrilla strategy and therefore was torn when she heard about an execution of a leading member of a district council carried out by the Maoists:

         I feel I ought to say something at this point. About the futility of violence, about the unacceptability of summary executions. But what should I suggest they do? Go to court? Do a dharna in Jantar Mantar, New Delhi? A rally? A relay hunger strike? It sounds ridiculous. The promoters of the New Economic Policy­—who find it so easy to say “There Is No Alternative”—should be asked to suggest an alternative Resistance Policy. A specific one, to these specific people, in this specific forest. Here. Now.

Conor Kostick sat beside Arundhati Roy.
Conor Kostick and Arundhati Roy at the Kerela Literature Festival 2019.

         I was reminded of this passage when reading the August 2019 edition of An Phoblacht and its coverage of the fiftieth anniversary of the upsurge of loyalist attacks on catholics in Belfast and the subsequent appearance of the Provisional IRA. Between 14 and 18 August 1969, eight people were shot dead and around 2,000 families, mostly catholic, turned into refugees. An Phoblacht carries the experiences of some of these who suffered the loss of loved ones, not only from the loyalist mobs but also the involvement of the RUC and B Specials in the attacks. Nine-year-old Patrick Rooney, for example, was shot in his bed when armoured cars fired indiscriminately into Divis flats.

         Ann McLarnon talks about hearing an RUC officer call out to loyalist arsonists to, ‘leave the fenian bastards to us,’ shortly before her husband Sammy was shot dead looking out from his window, having just returned from trying to put out a fire in a neighbour’s house.

         Richard McAuley, a former political prisoner, recalled:

Those organising aid for the increasing numbers of refugees in St Teresa’s needed cars and volunteers to go down to the Clonard and lower Falls to help evacuate streets. It was believed more attacks would occur. I couldn’t drive but I had willing hands. I joined up with Joe Savage who had a mini and we went to Waterville Street at the back of Clonard Monastery to take away belongings and children and elderly folks. An hour or so later, a few yards just around the corner in Bombay Street, Fifteen-year-old Gerard McAuley was shot and killed by loyalists. Bombay Street was totally destroyed in a firestorm of petrol bombs.

The defining moment in the birth of the modern IRA was ‘the Battle of St Matthews’ which took place after dark on 27 June 1970 and lasted until about 3am. Although loyalist paramilitaries, without any restraint from the British Army, began an assault on the Short Strand from several directions, they were held up by republican fighters who earned the admiration of many of the residents. And reading about these events of fifty years ago, I was brought back to the similarity of the account in Walking with the Comrades.

Imagine the warm summer night, made hotter by the flames of burning houses. Imagine the sectarian mob at the end of your street, determined to get you out because of the community you belong to, and imagine too the real danger that someone you love is about to be killed. What course of action should you take? Go to court? Sit in protest at the doors of Westminster, London? A rally? A relay hunger strike? It sounds just as ridiculous as when Arundhati Roy posed these alternatives to herself. A different policy is needed in the here and now.

Hopefully, I won’t ever face such a situation, but they have happened often enough in modern history to make it likely they will recur again. An answer has to be given to the question of what should be done. And my answer is that yes, under such circumstances the besieged community should throw up barricades and defend themselves in arms if necessary. Unlike the majority of political parties competing for power in Ireland and in India today, who howl with outrage at any expression of support for the CPI (Maoist) and the IRA, I therefore have sympathy for and a sense of solidarity with, those who took up guns against mobs that had been organised (in both cases) to intimidate and crush those wanting equality and civil rights.

Does that mean I support violence as a political strategy? In short, no. There is an enormous difference between recognising that in a particular moment, for a few hours, a community might find it necessary to battle for survival and advocating that armed struggle is a way forward for that community in the longer term. It clearly isn’t. In the case of Ireland (which I’m more familiar with, but I think the same arguments apply to India and, indeed, elsewhere), although the Battle of St Matthews led to a rapid increase in recruits for the IRA, those who joined that organisation on the basis that it was the right way to bring about change in northern Ireland were making a mistake. Several mistakes in fact.

Firstly, it wasn’t ever going to win. Or even bring about modest reform. The famous German revolutionary socialist, Rosa Luxembourg, once made the point to her more conservative labour colleagues that by choosing the path of reform rather than revolution, they were in fact, turning away even from winning reforms. Why? Because concentrating on parliamentary activity comes at the cost of belittling the types of activity that does get results, namely mass popular protest: strikes, occupations, boycotts, etc. With the advantage of hindsight it is clear that the same argument applies to politics in Northern Ireland. Tremendous energy and sacrifice by nationalists was poured into waging a campaign of armed struggle, yet the local state could not be toppled that way and insofar as concessions to the demands of the civil rights movement were made, they came in response to the broader expressions of popular discontent. There are parallels with the Irish War of Independence (1919 – 1921), where even in that much more favourable situation for an armed campaign against the British Empire, it was popular militancy that undermined Britain’s ability to rule Ireland.

Secondly, and this is related, there is an elitism in the practice of organising armed resistance to a major state that eventually introduces authoritarianism and heirarchy into the relationship between the movement and its base. The pattern of admired fighters for freedom and liberation becoming a new set of rulers is not limited to examples from Ireland. It’s a world-wide pattern and it stems from the necessity of having a tight chain of command in a military organisation as well as from having a political goal that is not explicitly socialist and egalitarian. If someone is going to run the new state after it falls to a successful armed rebellion, then who will the new politicians and officials be? Those who see themselves as having carried the struggle forward on behalf of (rather than in step with) the people hardly ever then give up the power they have obtained.

Thirdly, it was — and still is — a mistake not to have a strategy for change that involves protestant workers. Throughout the existence of the Northern Irish state there have always been protestant workers opposed to loyalism. Often trade unionists, the ability of these workers to stand up to the sectarian thugs in the community around them has ebbed and flowed over time. Often the pattern is shaped by events in the south. The more catholic and conservative the southern state, the more it provides a warning to protestants not to demand any changes that might lead to Northern Ireland leaving the UK.

Right now, there are some favourable circumstances that make it a little easier for non-sectarian protestant workers to push back against loyalism (e.g. the fact that abortion is available in Ireland as is same-sex marriage. Brexit, too, is an opportunity to hammer home the anti-working class agenda of the DUP, making it a shame that People Before Profit can’t make the most of this, because they put themselves in the pro-Brexit camp). But even throughout the worst of the troubles, that anti-sectarian protestant constituency was present. And it was a constituency that was completely neglected by the IRA. Worse, the more that the military campaign veered off from defending communities under threat to bombing campaigns, the more working class opposition from within unionism was silenced.

With a generation having grown up after the cease fire in the north, it’s a lot easier today to appreciate these points than it would have been in 1970. Even so, when I read about the events of fifty years ago and ask myself the same questions that Arundahti Roy asks about the Indian Maoists, I think the answer is clear. Yes, there can be urgent situations where working class communities have to battle with arms in hand to save themselves but no, that can not be then generalised to being a strategy for socialism or even for more limited changes.