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Shame of the Irish Left.

July 23, 2012

By Diarmuid Breatnach

Irish Left ignores plight of Irish political prisoners

Irish Republicans have been on dirty protest in Maghaberry for two years — the kind of situation that led to ten dying on hunger strikes in 1981. Also, opponents of the normalisation of the British occupation of Ireland are being framed and convicted, locked up without charge or being tried for actions back in the 1980s. Meanwhile, the organised Irish Left is averting its head. In what other country would this happen ?

Most of the Republican prisoners in Maghaberry jail have now been on dirty protest for two years. When they cannot throw their faeces out the window, they spread them on their cell walls. Urine goes out the window or under the door. These are terrible conditions in which to live anywhere but particularly awful when in confinement.

It was after a few years of this kind of life that the prisoners in the H-Blocks resorted to the hunger strikes of 1980 and 1981, the latter resulting in the deaths of ten Republicans (from two different organisations) and probably permanent damage to a number of others.

In those years, the prisoners were demanding political status and, in all but name, they won it after those ten deaths, until it was given up as part of the Good Friday Agreement. Although the prisoners in Maghaberry now also seek that status, it is essentially the degrading practice of strip-searching that is at issue. The prison authorities refuse to implement an agreement that was reached many months ago to introduce the BOSS chair which gives an x-ray picture without prison officers needing to strip prisoners and probe and peer into their anuses.

Every time they leave or return to the block, Rowe House, they are subjected to this degrading treatment. Many resist. Colin Duffy, held for years before he was found not guilty January this year, arrived in court one morning in his underpants. Earlier in Maghaberry he had been handcuffed to a radiator and his trousers cut off him by prison screws with scissors. Arriving with bruises in court from Maghaberry is nothing unusual but teeth have been broken, muscles wrenched ….

Marian Price, though ill, has been interned without trial now for two years and Martin Corey for longer. Gerry McGeough was sentenced to prison last year for an alleged attack on a UDR officer in 1981. Gary McAdam is held, denied bail, for an alleged offence in 1986. Brian Shivers, suffering from cystic fibrosis and with about three years to live, was convicted on essentially the same evidence which failed to convict Colin Duffy and was sentenced to life (or death, realistically) in prison.

These people belong to a variety of organisations and none. All are Irish Republicans. All have declared themselves against some aspect of the process of normalisation of the colonial occupation of the Six Counties. None are receiving the solidarity or support of the Irish Left.

The Socialist Workers’ Party, the Socialist Party and the Workers’ Solidarity Movement are, certainly in terms of numbers of supporters, the main revolutionary socialist organisations of the non-Republican Left in Ireland.

As I stood on the pavement with others of the Free Marian Price campaign in Dublin on Wednesday evening, holding up to those on the march against the Household and Water Charges a placard demanding her freedom, the eyes of some people I know on the Irish Left slid past mine without acknowledging me. Some others greeted me somewhat half-heartedly.

What is wrong with the Left in Ireland? Each of the organisations I named above, two of them Trotskyist and one Anarchist, regularly hold up the Irish icons of James Connolly and Jim Larkin. Do they really think that either Jim would walk away from this issue? Do they believe that they would for one minute hesitate about declaring their solidarity with the prisoners?

The six or seven Special Branch men knew whom to harass – they went straight for the Marian Price campaigners and, quoting the Amendment to the Offences Against the State Act, demanded their names and addresses, even following them right up to Molesworth Street at the back of the march and accosting one of them there for the second time. The Republicans – and those who support Republican prisoners – habitually experience a level of harassment in the Twenty-Six Counties that no socialist organisation in the state can even approximate. Were they to suffer it, loud would be their cries – and rightly so. Is it just OK because it’s happening to others?

In what other country in the world would one find people laying claim to any kind of revolutionary socialist ideology turning their backs on their compatriots who are fighting the struggle for national liberation? Well, yes, maybe in the Spanish state – the Trotskyists and Communists of Izquierda Unida, they do indeed turn their back on the Basque and Catalan prisoners. Oh yes, and in France, the major Trotskyite groups and the French Communist Party ignore the plight of those prisoners too. And some Turkish communist and socialist organisations do not support the Kurds.

One can accuse those parties of unionism. They wish to capture the whole state for the working class, they declare. It seems nations declaring independence of the state would be inconvenient and is not a thing to be welcomed. Clearly those socialists are wrong – but at least they have a logical reason! What is the reason of the Irish Left, which has no other nations within the state to consider and which is without unionist ambition, not even within Ireland? Could it just be embarrassment, the wish to keep their hands clean, not to touch the national struggle? People did kill and get killed in that, you know. Yes, it wasn’t very nice, was it?

And these are the organisations who offer themselves as a leadership for the Irish working class, to bring us to successful revolution, the overthrow of the state and its repressive forces!



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