The Day éirígí Saved Dublin

It won’t have escaped your attention that certain historic events are afoot in Dublin this week. How do we know they’re historic? Partly because every news bulletin hammers home the historic nature of the Queen’s historic footsteps through historic Dublin’s historic streets, in the historic course of an historic visit which will echo, historically, in the historic history books of historical history.

Yesterday, however, certain flies infiltrated the historic ointment. Like all the worst flies, they were, if the outraged histrionics of Middle Ireland were to be believed, dirty, disease-ridden and disgustingly common. Let me clarify a few things before I proceed. There are few sights which distress me more than Celtic jerseys and ranks of tricolours, especially when they’re combined. I will own to being fairly fanatically non- and anti-nationalist (in the broadest, rather than specifically Irish, sense.)

I don’t like eirígi. I think republican socialism is an oxymoron, an ideological ouroboros wherein the head devours the tail; that Connollyite national chauvinism of the éirígí/IRSP/CPI variety is a dead-end and intrinsically anti-socialist. I think attempting to shoe-horn the present political status of Northern Ireland into a classical imperialist paradigm is bargain-basement “national liberation” mumbo-jumbo of the most incoherent kind. I see no compelling argument for the inherent justice of this island’s territorial unification which doesn’t ultimately redound unto the purity or impurity of blood.

On that basis, I wasn’t particularly exercised by the impending state visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland. I knew the obsequious, hand-chafing servility of our political establishment (now entirely composed of self-seekers and opportunists; a Fianna Fáil government might, strange as it sounds, have handled the occasion with marginally more dignity) would be fairly nauseating to behold, but also fairly easy to ignore. I knew the Queen was unlikely to deliver a thundering denunciation of our dole-paying, service-providing deviancy and demand that we cut further and faster, which placed her several rungs above most of our distinguished international visitors.

Demonstrating against her visit seemed, therefore, a needless and potentially misguiding diversion for the left to engage in. Yes, it’s possible to raise questions about the inherent absurdity of monarchy, and the Queen’s role as titular commander-in-chief of the British armed forces’ murderous operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and, not so long ago, Northern Ireland. But to be honest, it’s a wee bit of a stretch (particularly with the actual executive power behind those ongoing outrages shortly to arrive in person), and Bríd Smith didn’t make a great fist of it on Vincent Browne’s show last night.

There is something to be said for the notion that the Queen’s visit represents a full stop at the end of a traumatic chapter of enmity between the peoples of Britain and Ireland; having never been aware of any such generalised enmity, I don’t see it, personally, but nor do I demean it. Equally, it’s easy to see how the gilded spectacle of a royal visit fits into the timely and convenient infantilization of Irish culture, almost as a more stately postscript to last week’s Jedwardmania.

Two things changed my mind, not on the substantive issues, but on the significance of the event. One was the ring of steel off-handedly thrown around Dublin for the duration of both state visits, and the extraordinarily casual breaches of what liberals call (when they don’t belong to other people) civil liberties, far exceeding the disruption occasioned by any industrial action in recent years, albeit with a markedly different response.

The other was the gathering realisation that the Queen’s visit was being used by our establishment to, as Hugh Green so deftly put it, “draw a line under Ireland’s revolutionary history.” Now that Ireland has graciously extended the fair hand of reconciliation to Her Majesty, we could finally see that tumultuous process of dangerous, ideologically-tinged extrication from the vampiric clutches of empire for the jejune, but above all outmoded, preoccupation it is; and certainly as nothing which holds any relevance today.

Equally, if not more, notable was the shock and awe campaign which constituted the unprecedented Garda presence on the streets of the capital. A stage-managed, bouquet-strewn popular euphoria might have better served the narrative, but there was a more important principle at stake. This was power communing with power, to the very definite and very conspicuous exclusion of the people. If you thought these were your streets, upon which to exult or excoriate as you saw fit, then, to coin a phrase, you could jolly well grow up and move on. It was an opportunity (denied the government by the low-key nature of the IMF’s presence) to reassert the violent and exclusionary power of the state, and the impotence of the people, in a way which hadn’t presented itself since the student protests last winter.

The most visible challenge to this enforced consensus came from éirígí. Well, that’s not strictly true. In fact, most of the violence (such as it was) seemed to emanate from unaligned or differently-aligned republican groups, but éirígí, being tainted with socialism, was a better fit for the low-life, simian, working-class refusnik caricature for which Middle Ireland lusted so.

Before I go on, let me add a few more disclaimers. I’m not so desperate for a foretaste of revolution that it quickens my blood to see the cops get a decent chasing, and I don’t think there’s anything heroic or particularly smart about small groups of young people without popular support throwing things at the police (in fact, a revolution could be quite neatly defined as the point at which it becomes unnecessary to throw things at the police.)

There is no justification, moral or tactical, in present-day Ireland for acts of aggressive violence against the state security forces. Yesterday’s violence, however, while unnecessary and unfortunate, was, much like the police presence itself, largely symbolic. The only people endangered by it were the alleged perpetrators.

That said, it’s questionable whether any country in which the state’s repressive apparatus can mobilise officers in their tens of thousands, shut down the capital’s main thoroughfare, harass citizens going about their daily business, and NOT have things thrown at them has any right to call itself a healthy democracy. If you think the oh-so-delicate blossom of liberty is more threatened by a handful of working class youths lobbing missiles than by swarms of riot police excluding the citizenry from its own streets on prior presumption of guilt, then you weren’t paying much attention for most of the 20th century.

The purpose of this massive police operation is to reinforce the ideological lock-down which has existed in Ireland for (conservatively) the past three years. It is about the pre-emption of politics and the stifling of dissenting voices. Now is not the time for questioning, legitimately or otherwise, the role of the British monarch or the statements such visits make about the relationship of our ruling class to their international counterparts. Now is not the time for protesting about student fees, Corrib gas or public sector pay-cuts. We are in a state of emergency.

Those small bands of protesters, by their mere presence in the face of unprecedented intimidation in service of hegemony, refused to relinquish their own democratic rights and prevented the diminution of everyone else’s from going unchallenged. For that reason, I would quite happily bestow upon them an appellation which means nothing to me but may have some significance to them; patriots.

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19 Responses to “The Day éirígí Saved Dublin”

  1. LeftAtTheCross Says:

    Excellently put DD.

  2. Pidge Says:

    Ugh. Sorry, delete the last comment by me please.

  3. Jackson Way Says:

    Great stuff all together. The spirit of freedom is but a dying ember in our hateful land.

  4. Seán Báite Says:

    Great post DD – despite Stephen Dedalus’s best efforts towards her hellenisation, Ireland is still very clearly not Greece :( (to reverse the slogan on those banners a couple of years back)

  5. Bigjimdub Says:

    Regrettably, the restriction of civil liberties is the mantra of our police force.

    I enjoyed your article

  6. PaudiMc Says:

    The majority of this article sums up my exact feelings on the hysteria of this week. Fair play. I’ve managed, mostly through luck and the lack of radio and television to aviod the media frenzy around it.

    I wouldn’t however go so far as to call the ‘protesters’ who threw a flaming bin etc at gardi as patriots. If anything, it’s this type of cornerboy republicanism that sets back legitimate protest in Ireland and feeds into the reason why the security operations descend into such excess. As a broad lefty, I share complete disdain for such misguided ideals.

    Fair play though once again.

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  8. Derek McKenna Says:

    Great article. Nicely sums up the state of this state!

  9. ruairi Says:

    Excellent piece.

  10. All eirigi prostests against the British Queen were peaceful Says:

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  11. Hugh Green Says:

    Great piece of writing, boss.

  12. Gumbles Says:

    I don’t think the various insults levelled at Eirigi and chums are entirely unfounded though, and that’s the problem. They have a right to their voice and protest, but the frustration they generate is not simply a matter of middle class panic or frontpage vultures looking for some drama or snobbery.

    I’ve attended and witnessed enough protests at this stage to have encountered these fellows in various guises. They drive me crazy because they do utterly undermine any legitimate protest they attach themselves to. They behave like thugs, to the Guards, to the public, even to each other. They may attract a disproportionate amount of media attention with their antics, but they also revel in exactly that. The end result is that even if you have a couple of thousand people with legitimate misgivings that they want to express with real conviction, Eirigi and their chums will still dominate all coverage, burning flags they got free in the paper in their Man United tops, and flinging packets of Dennys ham at the Guards.

    It’s not simply a matter of class snobbery – they are an embarrassing caricature of protest, without anything of use to say, but willing to completely devalue the medium of civil action in the process of saying it.

    Of course the Garda response was OTT, and yet another deeply troubling precedent for civil liberties in this country. And yes, it’s immensely frustrating that the general attitude to protestors here is one of such disdain, such class contempt, that people are actively discouraged to speak out on any issue; but these clowns only reinforce all that. By behaving as they did, they justified in the minds of the public the absurdly excessive security operation we’ve all been living under. They met and exceeded all of the worst expectations of even the most sheltered Middle Irelander. Their protests, in my direct experience, have been obnoxious, thoughtless exercises in contrarianism that serve absolutely no end but to satisfy their own personal dramatic narratives, and this time was no different. Those protests don’t happen in isolation – they contribute to a wider stereotype that lets the average Irish citizen away with tarring every *other* demonstrator with exactly the same brush.

    I don’t dislike these guys because I disagree with them, or because by gosh, I hate seeing the scruffy proles on my nice clean street. I dislike them because thanks to their antics, the next time there’s something I and my colleagues are compelled to rally for or against, they’ll have hobbled our ability to do so with any credibility.

    • DublinDilettante Says:

      Thanks for the kind comments all.

      Gumbles, thanks for that fine and well-crafted response, it’s appreciated. I have to disagree, however. The violence (limited as it was) is of peripheral importance here. The nose-pinching dismissal of éirígí, and of protesters generally, began before it ever kicked off.

      Your description of éirígí activists doesn’t match my own experiences of them, I must say. I think, in general, there’s a certain amount of conflation with other republican groups (notably RSF) going on. For the most part, éirígí’s actions over this past week have been overwhelmingly peaceful. I find the group’s politics unpalatable, not to say incoherent, but predominantly composed of mindless thugs they are not.

      Additionally, much of the argy-bargy (especially on Dorset St.) seems to have been pretty spontaneous, the natural and inevitable result of a mobilisation as provocative as this. I’ve never had any sympathy for the argument that violence delegitimises protest. The Gardaí will respond with force to politically outré protests whenever they can attain sufficient local superiority, whether the protests are peaceful or not. This has been demonstrated so often that it’s simply not in question.

      The mass mobilisation of gardaí in this fashion doesn’t make retrospective sense because there was some public disorder. It’s exactly the other way around.

  13. Richard Cronin Says:

    Two things.

    I lurk over at republican forums and all day the other day eirigi ppl and 32 County and RSF guys where at each others throats over what should have been done. Say what one likes about eirigi they have no interest in violence whilst the others do.

    I am unable to go along with the central idea of this post. If im reading it correctly your saying the security presence in dublin was to do with the goverment feeding into and feeding us a narrative that no-one should fuck with them right now because they just cant deal with it right now. If that’s what you are saying i disagree. Not that i cant see that they are feeling that way but surely the reason is that they thought (as i do) that to have the queen shot was a possibility and that would NOT BE A GOOD THING.

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