28 August 1997 Edition

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Basque delegation ends successful tour

By Eoin O'Broin

The Basque international solidarity organisation Askapena, has completed its annual delegation to Ireland. The group included young people from across the Basque country bringing in cities like Bilbo, Donostia, Irrunea, in the Spanish state and Bayona in the French state and many villages across the whole country and they were in Ireland from 3 - 25 August. Focusing mainly on youth, the annual delegation sets out to provide delegates with a view of the political situation in Ireland.

The itinerary began on 4 August in Belfast with a political brief from Sinn Féin councellor Micheal Browne on the latest developments in the peace process. The briefing was also attended by ex-POW and new West Belfast councillor Martin Livingstone.

In the afternoon the delegation met with West Belfast Festival director Catriona Ruane, who outlined the history and politics of the festivals which have sprung up across the country over the last 10 years.

Other Belfast events included visits to Long Kesh and Maghaberry, briefings from community groups including Upper Springfield Development Trust and participation in the festivals themselves through a series of Basque political and cultural days and a special radio programme on Triple FM. The Basque delegation on the anti-internment march to Belfast City Hall on 10 August was probably the largest to date, complete with flags and Basque language chants.

The delegation also traveled across the Six Counties, staying with republicans in Newry, Coalisland and Derry. In Newry they were given a civic reception hosted by Newry and Mourne Council. Local councillor Davy Hyland and Charlie Casey, chair of Newry Sinn Féin accompanied them on a guided tour of Newry, North Louth and South Armagh. Their host in Coalisland was Councillor Francie Molloy. In Derry they met with representatives of the Bogside Residents Group and the Pat Finucane Centre. At each venue the Basques held a Basque day complete with food, wine, music and politics. In Newry they even found time to have a lesson in céili dancing.

After Derry the delegation moved on to Dublin where Micheál MacDonncha conducted a tour of historical sites including Kilmanham jail. The delegation also received a political briefing from Dublin Sinn Féin activist Daithi Doolan.

Other engagements included a meeting with plastic bullet survivor Emma Groves and Emma Reilly from the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets.

Speaking to An Phoblacht delegate Idoia Elorriaga said that ``of all the week's events the briefing with Sinn Fein councillors was one of the most interesting. In the Basque country we receive only fragments of information, but Micheal Browne put all those fragments into context, he explained the wider picture''. Elorriaga also welcomed the opportunity to access ``real information, such as why the 1994 ceasefire ended and how the situation is now''.

Herri Batasuna activist Izaskun Larrieta, from Bilbao spoke of her visit to Maghaberry. ``I visit Basque political prisoners regularly in the Spanish state. It's very important to tell the prisoners what's going on with the struggle in the Basque country. But to listen to them is just as important''.

Both women mentioned the Just Us play Bin Lids as the highlight of their trip. ``For people from another country the play is a historical landmine. But also the visual aspect of the play is wonderful, as is the acting,'' said Elorriaga.

The Askapena delegation returned to the Basque country earlier this week and as with every other year, a range of activities are otrganised as follow up work to the visit such as slide shows and public discussions.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1