Tuesday, 1 May 2012

éirígí interview with Basque publication Ekaitza‏

This is a recent interview with éirígí's John McCusker that was published in Basque publication Ekaitza.

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What were the root causes for the creation of éirigi ? 

The root causes for the creation of éirígí were essentially the same as in every other generation and formation for much in Ireland hadn’t changed. We remained occupied. Working people remained exploited.

What had changed, however, was that over some two decades of ‘Peace Processing’ in the Six and ‘Social Partnership’ in the Twenty Six, people were gradually being discouraged from taking ownership of their own destinies and instead placing them in the hands of political elites and trade union bureaucrats.

With this direct action, demonstrations, strikes and street confrontations were being hollowed out and the revolutionary socialist republican trend was not being adequately represented.

Thus, in 2006, on the 90th anniversary of the Easter rising, a decision was taken by a small number of socialist republicans, based in Dublin, to form éirígí.

It is important to note that this decision was not taken lightly nor was it in response to any single factor or event but rather a result of a prolonged and in-depth examination of a multitude of factors, historical, contemporary, national and international.

Subsequently, it was their view that none of the existing political parties or organisations, on their own, represented a viable vehicle for the development of a revolutionary Irish socialist republican movement.

It was only then, guided by the words of Fintan Lalor that “somewhere and somehow and by somebody a beginning must be made”, that éirígí was established with the goal of encouraging the resurgence of revolutionary socialist republicanism.

And what are its main goals and main challenges today?

Our aims, in summary, are to affect a British withdrawal from the occupied six counties and the establishment of a 32 county socialist republic based upon the principles of sovereignty, democracy, liberty, justice, equality, community and international solidarity and cooperation.

As for the challenges, well they have been and remain many. Forming a socialist organisation in Dublin, in 2006, in the midst of the mythical ‘Celtic Tiger’ was in itself a formidable task. Encouraging radical republicanism, in Belfast, in the aftermath of the Good Friday Agreement with its promises of progress and prosperity was also a significant challenge.

In a few short years, however, much has changed. The ‘Celtic Tiger’ is no more. The promised progress and prosperity remain just that, empty promises. These realities have, to some degree, proven our analysis to be correct and our foundation justified.

Which is its social base: i.e., is éirigi mainly constituted by workers, students,? 

éirígí’s base is reflective of those that we have sought to speak directly to, those with the least to loose and the most to gain by throwing off the chains of oppression. We are a working class party. We are constituted by workers, students, community activists, language revivalists and ex-prisoners amongst others.

How many members?

Our membership, which we would measure in the hundreds as opposed to the thousands, is certainly based upon quality over quantity. We seek to attract good socialist republicans who share our vision and who are determined to build a cohesive and coherent movement which is fit for the task we have set for ourselves. Alongside this membership, we have an ever expanding support base, spreading to many cities, towns and villages across the country.

Why, according to éirigi, are the six counties still occupied by the British? According to you, what are the main interests for Britain to remain in Ireland?

The reasons for the continued occupation of the Six Counties are many.

However, a quick insight into the psyche of the British administration can be quite easily gleaned from an examination of what they themselves have had to say about it.

The British, as you are no doubt aware, have long sought to present themselves as peacekeepers in Ireland, honest brokers between two irrational warring tribes. And, in keeping with this, in 1990, Peter Brooke the then British Secretary of State over the Six Counties, stated that Britain “had no selfish economic or strategic interest” in them.

However, in more recent statements emanating from some of the main players in the British Establishment we find something a little closer to the truth.

For instance, Jack Straw, one of the most powerful members of Tony Blair’s administration, has been a little more candid in relation to the threat that would be posed by the ‘break up’ of what they deem their United Kingdom, in that he warns that it would be detrimental to the interests of England. 

He warns of a weakened voting position within the EU. A slip down the world GDP tables. A threat to their position within the G8 and an assault on their permanent seat within the UN Security Council.

If this isn’t ‘selfish or strategic’ enough, David Cameron, the now British Prime Minister has publicly declared himself to be a unionist, treasuring the ‘union’, read ‘occupation’ of the north east of Ireland, with his ‘head, heart and soul’.

Add to this the reality that Britain maintains a garrison of 5000 soldiers in the Six Counties and the recent development of an MI5 headquarters, second in size and importance only to its London HQ, which will house hundreds of British Secret Service spies and spooks, it is clear that Britain isn’t contemplating going anywhere.

éirigi claims for socialism, stating that the Irish question is a social question, and makes it clear in “From socialism alone can the salvation of Ireland come”. To what extent éirigi is a revolutionary party (structure, organisation, etc.)?

From that document, as well as ‘Imperialism – Ireland and Britain’ and ‘Elections, Elected Institutions and Irelands Revolutionary Struggle’, all of which are available on our website, we have sought to make clear our revolutionary intentions. How this theory influences our method of organising is also, we hope, as clear.

Éirígí is a party which is based in its grassroots, explicitly a ‘bottom up’ party, éirígí promotes internal democracy and participation.

The most important level of organising is at the local level, where we form into local Ciorcal, which is the Irish for circle. This in itself has been influenced by the revolutionary circles of the IRB and the Bolivarian circles in Venezuela.

It is here that all major policy and strategic discussions and decisions are initiated and, in most cases, settled. We strive to achieve consensus prior to votes being taken, which is on the basis of one person one vote, and even at the stage of votes being taken we have mechanisms in place to protect minority positions.

If we are to call ourselves revolutionaries, if we are to call for freedom, democracy and participation then we must also seek to afford our members, ourselves, these same rights. 

The éirigi document “From socialism alone can the salvation of Ireland come” points out clearly its refusal to participate at Stormont, considered as a puppet-parliament. Could you elaborate a bit on this aspect? 

From our perspective the Good Friday Agreement, the St. Andrews Treaties and the revival of the administration at Stormont have copper fastened the partition of Ireland and represent strategic defeats to Irish republicanism.

In terms of Stormont being a puppet-parliament, it is difficult to make an argument for it being anything but that when you actually analyse what it is and what it isn't.

Stormont and those who have taken up residence there have been acceded just enough power and privilege to purchase their cooperation but not enough to effect any real change.

Pat Sheenan, in an interview he made in the Basque country (Ekaitza n°1256) for Gara, explained that participating at Stormont is just a means, and by no means, a final goal. Why, according to éirigi, is it considered as a wrong strategy? 

Regarding the claim made by Pat Sheehan, who I know well, that participating in Stormont is solely a means to an end but not an end in itself, well, I suppose the question that would need to be posed is ‘a means to what end?’

If it is a means towards national liberation, I fear it cannot stand up to scrutiny. The administration at Stormont has at its heart an acknowledgement that the continued British occupation in Ireland is in fact legitimate. Any moves towards establishing a united Ireland are relegated to securing the consent of the majority in the Six Counties, an artificial majority, the weight of which has yet to be outlined by the British, who have sole control over if, when and what form such a vote would take.

Is it a means towards social justice? If so, then again, it fails the test. Stormont is given a set budget by the British government with which to play. It has no fiscal powers nor influence over British policy. It has slavishly implemented savage public spending cuts as demanded by the British Treasury, stripping billions from already under funded public services and communities. 

Tellingly, the area in which we sit, is one of the most deprived in Europe and, ironically, is officially more deprived now than it was at the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. 

Is it a means towards a cultural revival? If so, then it fails to live up to expectations. An Irish Language Act, which was to secure equal rights for Irish language speakers, as promised under the terms of the St. Andrews Agreement, has been vetoed by the Unionists at Stormont.

Even those Stormont Ministers who pay lip service towards the Irish language have failed miserably to provide it with the support it deserves.

We have witnessed Irish nursery schools being denied funding, Irish language road signs vetoed and even the disgraceful spectacle of the only Irish language secondary school in the Six Counties being forced to take the then Education Minister, Caitriona Ruane, to court over her refusal to provide school buses to transport pupils to and from the school, thereby denying them their right to an Irish language education.

To you, what would have been the alternative to the Good Friday Agreement? 

In terms of an alternative to the Good Friday Agreement, well, I’m not sure that’s the question we should be asking.

It eludes to an alternative, but similar, settlement, with possibly, better conditions. The Good Friday Agreement was not inevitable nor was it novel; its basic premise was on offer some 20 years earlier (Sunningdale).

As we have witnessed elsewhere, in Palestine for instance, it is not possible to negotiate with your enemies from positions of weakness, where it is their framework, their rules and on their terms.

You will, quite simply, be defeated.

Rather, what should be sought is a strengthening of your forces, a deepening of your politics, a popularising of your struggle and a solidifying of your base. If we had those forces, capable of mobilising thousands of people, in times such as we face now, we would be facing into an entirely different future.

Unfortunately those forces are not currently available to us and our role is about rallying those forces again and bringing them to that critical period where people can really affect change on the streets, in their communities and in their workplaces and not through parliamentary establishments.

Regarding the current Irish political prisoners, does éirigi consider them as a crucial issue? 

The issue of political prisoners, particularly within an Irish context, is always a crucial issue. The British administration has always sought to break the spirit of prisoners, in the hope, that what was broken there would be broken everywhere – in our homes and in our communities.

In the aftermath of the GFA, the British attempted to say that there were no longer any political prisoners in the Six Counties and that anyone convicted from that point forward would be treated as an ordinary criminal (no more segregation, no special status, etc.). That resulted again in significant protests and lead to a kind of special status (segregation). The British establishment, however, remained at war with these prisoners, reintroducing for instance forced strip-searches, for the prisoners to move from a part of the jail to any other part of the jail (to attend visits, the doctor, etc.). Again prisoners refused this as an unnecessary and inhumane attack on their dignity. Hence the prisoners engaged in another protest and put in place some strategies to respond to what the administration imposed on them: some of them refused to go out of their cells, to shave, to wash, etc. In 2010, there was an agreement reached which had been mediated between a number of trade union leaders, some politicians, the prisoners and the British administration, which was signed by all sides stating, among other things, that the strip-searches would no longer take place and granting them greater freedom of association. But very shortly after, the British administration reneged on the agreement and showed some indications that lead to think clearly that they were attempted to re introduce strip-searches into the jail. That again initiated a protest which is ongoing as we speak.

How the Marian Price case could be solved? 

Well, in the case of Marian Price, the answer is really quite simple – Marian must be released immediately and unconditionally. Marian is quite literally being held hostage. Arrested on spurious grounds Marian had her license revoked and was returned to prison to complete a sentence that was given to her decades ago. The problem is, however, that there was no license to be revoked, Marian was freed under a ‘pardon’ which the British now, ludicrously claim to have lost.

Have you seen the film documentary “When the war ends”? 
If yes, what can you about the difficulties former prisoners experimented when they try and (re)integrate into society after the GFA? 

Unfortunately, I haven’t seen this particular documentary. However, I think I have an idea of the basic premise of the film.

Not a former prisoner myself, I am certainly not an expert on the inner workings of an ex prisoners mind. I do, however, have family, friends and comrades who have been imprisoned for their political activities.

Political prisoners have not, rightfully so, experienced the stigma of being former prisoners in a criminal sense.

In our communities, many of these people returned to being leaders. Some political, some culturally, some sporting. Many of them critical to building a strong sense of community.

However, former prisoners remain persecuted in many ways. Having lost many years of liberty, time robbed from their families, gaps in normal life experiences, they have, shamefully, found themselves continuously victimised by the state and capital.

Denied many forms of employment, licences, insurance, exploited by unscrupulous employers in other cases, the life of an ex prisoner is surely a trying one.

Is éirigi of a special support to them?

In terms of éirígí, the practical support that we can offer ex prisoners is quite limited and is but one of many areas that we must address in the future. 

What we can do, however, for many prisoners, is offer support for the many initiatives that they have founded themselves and provide a political home for those wishing to continue their political struggle. 

Undoubtedly, we would like to do more on this issue but I don't think it is a bad thing that ex-prisoners have organised themselves. Some organisations, however, only offer support to prisoners affiliated to their movement or do not support prisoners convicted after the GFA. However, any initiative which seeks to make the lot of ex-prisoners better is positive in my opinion.

In his brilliant book, “The Provisional IRA...”, Tommy McKearny makes clear that unionist elites under the Orange State acted in such a way that working (cross community) class never achieved unity. 
Is it something éirigi works on? What are the main difficulties and achievement for bringing communities together so far in the North of Ireland?

The British government has consistently sought to prevent working class unity and often used the unionist elites and their proxies to do so.

Despite this, many people within éirígí have engaged with working class people, from a Protestant background, on many issues and for many years in some cases.

Personally, I have been involved in campaigns and demonstrations that have had a strong sense of working class unity, with one example being a campaign that ultimately resulted in a victory over property developers.

We have no issue with the protestant working class and seek class unity and to this end, at a recent Ard Fheis, we unanimously passed a motion that committed éirígí to:

“…working towards unity of the working class regardless of religious background. To the Protestant community across Ireland, in particular, éirígí extends the hand of genuine comradeship, believing that a democratic, socialist, revolutionary movement encompassing those of all religions and of none has the potential to achieve a new social and economic order which will ultimately benefit all of society.”

There are, however, significant difficulties in achieving this. Sectarian organisations such as the Orange Order, continuously stoke up sectarian tensions, marching through areas where they are not welcome and refusing to properly engage with local residents.

Cross community workers have come under attack from loyalist paramilitaries and fear, suspicion and grievance emanate from all sections. 

I have, myself, had my image published in a loyalist magazine, with my name, highlighting me as an Irish Republican, etc. Whether those are crude attempts at intimidation or actually targeting individuals for attack, we cannot afford to underestimate their dangerousness.

Likewise, we cannot afford to underestimate the challenge posed by sectarianism nor can we afford to underestimate the benefits that will flow from its eradication.

Is it overstated to say that the Republican movement is deeply divided today? To what extent? 

It is undeniable that there are significant differences of opinion, emphasis and strategy amongst republicanism. For our part, we in éirígí have attempted to steer a course clear of recrimination.

What is more important is helping to build a new republican movement, one which is fit for purpose and one which is capable of achieving our aims and objectives.

What is the main aspect the Republican movement lack? 

To this end, we are attempting to illuminate that which has, throughout our history, been lacking. It is our belief that a movement that can satisfactorily address the causes of national and social liberation has yet to become the dominant force within Irish politics. This is the task, as daunting as it is that we have set ourselves.

What about the trade unionist movement in the six counties?

Trade unionism, within the Six County context, has never fully grasped the opportunity to play its role within progressive politics. It has itself not been immune to sectarianism and division. It has been reluctant to confront the excesses of the British state for fear of alienating some of its membership.

At the same time, Trade Unionism across Ireland has not adequately served the interests of its members and has stood accused, particularly through its participation in ‘Social Partnerships’, of cosying up to the state and business.

Having said that we recognise that there are many good people within the Trade Union movement attempting to initiate change and we encourage all of our members to become members of Trade Unions with the aim of acting on our call for the membership to reclaim their unions from the bureaucrats.

I am, myself, a member of the Independent Workers Union, organised among others, by Tommy McKearney, whom you have already referred to. A small union, granted, is attempting to build a different type of trade unionism in both the 26 Counties and Six Counties. It doesn't have a lot of resources for the moment, but there are some serious people engaged in initiatives across Ireland, proposing a radical policy to serve the interests of the working class. It doesn't restrict itself to only representing only a particular category of worker and welcomes unemployed people, students, etc., which is not the case for traditional trade unions.

A date for the referendum on the European Union's permanent austerity treaty has been set as Thursday, May 31st. Sinn Féin would be campaigning asking people to vote 'No'. What support éirigi will give to this campaign? Does it mean that éirigi considers allying with SF on this specific campaign?

Éirígí has and will campaign for a ‘No’ vote on this issue and in terms of this campaign, we welcome all entrants to it. 

Éirígí has been a prominent member in a number of broad based campaigns such as ‘Shell 2 Sea’, the Irish Anti-War Movement and the Campaign Against the European Union Constitution, which was one of the leading organisations in the defeat of the first Lisbon Treaty.

We worked alongside Sinn Féin and other left wing and progressive movements, so it is not a problem to continue working alongside these organisations for this very campaign.

What strikes me about éirigi is that this party is clearly internationalist, even if it is a young party, with no official international connections. Why the international aspect is important to éirigi? 

It is our belief that internationalism has always been a central tenant of Irish Republicanism. The United Irishmen were largely inspired by the ideas, events and revolutions in the United States of America and France. The Fenians made links with the First International, Connolly with the Second International and the volunteers of the Connolly Column fought Franco’s fascism during the Spanish Civil War.

Éirígí understands that now, more than ever, the struggle to free Ireland from the clutches of imperialism and capitalism is linked to the wider international struggle of the poor and oppressed against the forces of the rich and powerful.

To this end we have worked closely with a number of international solidarity groups and developed ever closer relationships with like minded individuals and groups world wide.

As I have said, as for many things, we haven't claimed to have reinvented the wheel, internationalism is a core component of the Irish Republicanism.

The last éirigi Ard Fheis launched the idea of creating a Clann éirígí for foreign people. Could you give us more details about it?

In the six years since éirígí was founded the need for a formal éirígí supporters’ organisation has become increasingly clear to us. Hundreds of people from all corners of the globe have indicated their desire to join either éirígí or some form of éirígí support organisation. Up until now we have been unable to accommodate these international supporters.

And here in Ireland countless others have made it clear that they would join support organisation, should one exist. Many of these people, who are unable to join the main party for a wide variety of genuine reasons, still want to be a formal part of our project. Clann éirígí is recognition of the fact that many people simply cannot commit the sort of time and energy that is required for membership of an activism-based organisation like éirígí.

Clann éirígí is aimed at those people both inside and outside of Ireland who want to formally align themselves with the objectives, analysis and activism of éirígí. For those wanting to make the move from being bystanders to participants in our fight for freedom. For a relatively small sum of money it allows people to show solidarity with the struggle for Irish freedom whilst also keeping themselves abreast of important developments via the quarterly newsletter and electronic updates. I would encourage anyone who supports éirígí, regardless of where they live, to join Clann éirígí and make a positive step towards building the Irish revolutionary movement that our great country needs.

An application form and a full list of rights and entitlements can be accessed via our website.

Will éirigi support the independence referendum to be launch in Scotland? 

Éirígí has yet to announce its official position on the referendum for Scottish independence, or perhaps, ‘near independence’. It is, however, something we will be watching and debating with interest.

Once again, there are very selfish economic and strategic reasons for England to maintain what they claim to be the United Kingdom. They will use everything at their disposal to prevent any break up of what they currently hold and occupy. We have already seen the use of threats, misinformation and propaganda in attempts to frighten people. So certainly, for anybody interested in independence, it will be very stimulating.

What do you think about the Peace Basque process so far?

In terms of the Basque ‘Peace Process’, as with many other situations, we have been keen to avoid hectoring or lecturing people from afar as to what actions or initiatives they should or should not engage in.

We have long valued our relationship with the people of the Basque nation and for our part in éirígí, we were delighted to see so many Basque people at our recent Easter Commemoration in Belfast.

In line with this, we would be more than willing to share our experience and analysis of what is termed the ‘Irish Peace Process’, a process which is unfortunately being held up as a model of excellence across the globe.

I remember, if we look back during the Irish ‘peace process’, we were constantly being shown the example of South Africa, there were a lot of people coming from South Africa and encouraging us to follow the model they had been involved in. And it only became clear in latter years, in terms of what wasn't delivered in South Africa, that it certainly wasn't about the liberation of South African people, about equality, etc. Not so long ago, we witnessed workers on strike being physically attacked by the ‘new’ South African police force. 

We do not have a lot of time to talk about this case, but for sure there is much to say.

In short, just as I wouldn’t have recommended the Oslo Accords as a model for the liberation of Palestinians, I wouldn’t recommend the Good Friday Agreement as a model for the liberation of anyone

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