18 July 2002 Edition
Maskey and the Somme
Critics of the Somme memorial wreath-laying by Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey as Mayor of Belfast are missing the point.
Alex was laying the wreath in his capacity as Mayor - 'First Citizen' representing all the people of the city - in memory of those Belfast citizens who lost their lives at the Somme. He was not doing so, as one critic suggested, "in honour of the British Crown forces".
Those who fell at the Somme were as much victims of British imperialism as they were of German imperialism.
I have relatives who volunteered to serve with the British Crown forces.
Some joined to escape unemployment and perhaps obtain a better life. Others undoubtedly joined in the genuine belief that they were 'doing their bit' for freedom and democracy.
I maintain that they were mistaken, perhaps even foolish. If they truly had faith in the British imperialist cause, then I believe that they were plain wrong and I profoundly disagree with them. Nevertheless, I honour their memory, not their beliefs, not the uniform of the Crown that they wore, and not the cause or the imperial power that they served.
It is easy to see how gestures aimed at building reconciliation may be misunderstood but our Irish republican, anti-imperialist politics are not diminished by recognising all those victims of conflict, whichever side they served on. If anything, such initiatives validate the ideals of Tone, Connolly and our sincerity as Irish republicans in pursuing a genuine process of conflict resolution and building an inclusive society.
All that is best in republicanism
I refer to two letters in last week's An Phoblacht in which the writers are critical of Mayor Alex Maskey laying a wreath in memory of "all the men" who fell at the battle of the Somme.
The word "all" means what it says. It does not refer to some, few or many. As a republican socialist I accept the term "all the men", as used in the citation on the wreath, refers to all the workers, Irish, German and British, who were fooled by their capitalist masters into slaughtering each other at the Somme and other battlefields of the First and indeed the Second World War.
Alex Maskey and his fellow councillors displayed breathtaking moral courage in what they did. The laying of a simple unadorned laurel wreath at this time represents all that is best in republicanism, in its ideals and traditions of democracy, courage and generosity of spirit.
A number of things have been achieved by this kindly act. A door of understanding, trust and generosity has been opened to those of the other tradition on this island and as a good deed it will, in the fullness of time, be seen as such by all.
As well as those who died in battle, Irishmen who fought in WW1 like Tom Barry, who was promoted in the field to the rank of major, later to become one of the most effective guerrilla fighters in the 1919-1921 phase in the struggle for Irish national independence rising to the rank of commandant general, can now be viewed in the full totality of their deeds and heroic contribution.
On a more human level, the laying of the wreath lifted from many thousands of Irish people, including steadfast republicans and republican supporters, a regret often too deep for tears, that because of their profound loyalty to the republican nationalist cause they felt uncomfortable with any public acknowledgement of loved ones who died in the two great wars.
One writer is concerned at what will be the response of voters in next year's elections to all this. I would respectfully try to assuage his fears by suggesting that republican voters will respond as they always have done, with courage, intelligence and great generosity of spirit!
Dublin District Secretary,
Communist Party of Ireland
Much like the Orange marches themselves, David Trimble's spurious accusations against Sinn Féin have become a tiresome annual tradition.
Every July since 1998, he has threatened to withdraw his party from the peace process unless Britain does something about unsubstantiated and actually imaginary events.
And while Prime Minister Tony Blair has made it clear that he believes Sinn Féin's dedication to the peace process is unquestionably sincere, Trimble's nonsensical utterances are still somehow treated as though they are something other than desperate ravings.
Ultimately, however, the fault lies not with the racist xenophobes in their bowlers and sashes, but with the British government that allows the anxieties of these frightened and small-minded men to stand in the way of any kind of progress.
Peace falters in Ireland because of the unionist terror of change. Historically, whenever they and their loyalist death squads have perceived any sign of political gain for Republicans, a 'crisis' arises and violence escalates. And that's exactly what's happening right now.
Fortunately, Trimble's antics haven't fooled Richard Haass. The US envoy for the north of Ireland recognises that the IRA cessation remains in place and that the "failure of Unionist leaders to sell the benefits of the Good Friday Agreement" is a leading cause for the current climate of instability.
The sooner Britain stops placating its formerly useful dependents, the better for those who are earnestly working for peace. Indeed, if Blair continues to side with the unionists, his government's supposed objectivity in this process will really have to be reassessed.
Public Relations Officer,
Irish Northern Aid,
An injury to one is a concern to all
I would like to take this opportunity to inform your readership of an important mobilisation taking place this Saturday. A march and rally is being organised in support of the workers in the Irish Glass Bottle Company, Ringsend. As you may already know, these workers and their unions are currently in dispute with Ardagh PLC, the owners of the Irish Glass Bottle Company.
This dispute relates specifically to the company's decision to refuse to accept the terms of the Labour Relations Court recommendation in respect to the payment of severance pay to the 375 workers.
It is important to send a clear and loud message to the government and other companies that they can not be allowed to simple close factories and throw the workers on the unemployment scrap heap. This is a time when republicans, trade unions and workers must unite in their demand for justice for the workers of the IGB. If Ardagh PLC are allowed to walk away from their resposibilites it creates a dangerous precendent as we once again move ever closer to an economic recession.
Sinn Féin has been to the fore in actively supporting the workers during this important strike. So it would only be appropriate that we are once again to the fore in supporting this march and rally. I look forward to seeing as many republicans and Sinn Féin banners as possible this Saturday.
The march will assemble at 12 o'clock noon at Liberty Hall, Beresford Place, Dublin 1.
'The cause of Ireland is the labour, the cause of labour is the cause of Ireland.'
Sinn Féin Representative,
Dublin South East
Working class accents
I’d have to go back to my early schoolboy years to recall ‘name-calling’ as childish as that offered by John Drennan in the Sunday Independent. While the author is entitled to his immaturity, neither he nor the paper he writes for is entitled to slander working class Dubliners by referring to their accent as ‘incoherent’.
Drennan’s attitude is symptomatic of the classism now rife in Irish society. The same paper, which scorns racist or sexist remarks, fuels the social bias that allowed policy makers to ignore Dublin’s social policy agenda. The bias which left Tallaght without services for decades; the bias which facilitated and endorsed rampant corruption and tax evasion amongst a crony class; and the bias which today prioritises the ‘Bertie Bowl’ over social housing needs and drug rehabilitation.
Sean Crowe speaks with a Dublin accent - specifically a Tallaght accent - no less incoherent than the accent with which his constituents speak. The same accent, which is daily comprehended by the tens of thousands of customers who shop in the Square Shopping Centre, apparently confounds Mr Drennan’s rarified ear.
A Professor of Egyptian hieroglyphics would no doubt conclude that Jackie Healy-Rae’s famous ‘Bicycle… Dáil… long-holiday... pump’ speech, was proof that the Egyptians had made it to South Kerry, yet Rae became something of a media darling: safer to be a source of amusement than a source of genuine challenge, I suppose.
The truth is Mr Drennan is more socially than aurally challenged - he hears the accent well enough but is uneasy with it in Dáil Éireann. Happy enough when it’s saying ‘apples and oranges’ in Henry Street or servicing his retail requirements in the Square, he and his kind apparently cannot understand it with its saying ‘Justice, Equality and Peace’ in the corridors of power.
The same paper which found Roddy Doyle’s characters endearing and worthy of literary merit cannot abide real working class Dubliners when they arrive in the Dáil to represent real communities: what blatant, bloody minded Dickensian hypocrisy!