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By Jason Michael

IN THE COMMENTS to an article I published yesterday on the legality of Scottish independence a dear friend, himself an Irishman living in Scotland, said – as I had referenced the Irish struggle for independence in the piece: “The Irish example is not in fact the one which we should even be thinking of following.” His meaning was simple and clear: Scotland’s journey to self-determination must not be one of bloody violence; a hundred years of grinding attrition and intransigence, followed with partition, internment, and the radicalisation of generations of young people willing to fight and die in a guerrilla war against a superpower and to starve themselves to death to be recognised as political prisoners while rotting in British jails. He and I agree that Scotland must not resort to violence. Our struggle must be a peaceful one, firmly rooted in democracy and the spirit of the nation. My issue, however, is his – possibly inadvertent – use of the term “the Irish example.”

Ireland’s struggle for independence was not a violent struggle. The 1798 rebellion of the United Irishmen was not an act of violence, and neither was the 1916 Easter Rising. Following the logic and the sound moral reasoning of Scotland’s Claim of Right, that it is “the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs,” and the United States’ Declaration of Independence – “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…” – the people of Ireland, as a people and as a nation, are, and have always been, entitled by “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” to assert their freedom from foreign domination and unjust oppression. Albeit somewhat after the fact, the right of nations to wage an armed struggle against foreign aggression and occupation – especially by “colonial and racist régimes” – was set out in December 1974 in Resolution 3314 of the General Assembly of the United Nations. The use of force, even armed force, in self-defence or in national defence is neither aggression nor violence.

Violence in this regard is something quite specific. In 2002 the World Health Organisation offered what is likely to-date the most concise and comprehensive definition. Violence, according to this definition, is:

The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.

Individuals and nations have an inalienable right to employ reasonable force to protect themselves and others from violence, and such reasonable force is not – under any definition – violence.

What this means, then, in all practical terms is that English and subsequent British forces in Ireland as aggressors, invaders, and occupiers of a nation that was not their own were liable to face the legitimate and morally justifiable efforts of the Irish people to expel them – even with armed struggle. At no point can the efforts of Irish people to free Ireland, their own nation, from foreign occupation and unjust oppression by a colonial and racist régime be construed under natural and international law as either aggression or violence. While it may be the case, as a number of former IRA volunteers have suggested, that the armed Republican movement was responsible for war crimes, the struggle for national liberation in Ireland was not itself a crime or indeed an act of violence. When the Proclamation was read at the beginning of the 1916 Easter Rising the Irish Republic was born as a modern nation state among nation states. At that moment the Irish people assumed the right to expel the British colonial administration from their country – and with armed force if necessary.

Still, this expression – “the Irish example” – upsets me. It assumes quite wrongly that the Irish example of independence is inherently violent. It takes from the Irish people their right to self-defence, and calls their efforts against the abject cruelty and barbarism of British imperial and colonial rule in Ireland an act of savagery and mindless violence. From 1916 English, Scottish, and Welsh soldiers were deployed in Ireland as both regular and irregular military forces to subdue the Irish nation. They were given unlimited discretionary powers to torture, murder, and otherwise terrorise the people of Ireland – but never, you will note, is this described as the British, English, Scottish, or even the Welsh example. Violence, from the British point of view, is always attributed to the victim – only “the Irish example” was violent.

True, the Irish example of struggle does have a powerful effect on the British imagination. Earlier this year, while being detained by police under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act, I saw for the first time the effect this has on people serving in Britain’s security forces. After the unionist media in Scotland wrongly accused me of supporting the actions of the Irish Republican Army – which I do not, I was stopped from boarding a ferry from Cairnryan to Belfast. During the search of my luggage the officers discovered a copy of The Secret Army, J. Bowyer Bell’s history of the IRA, and a set of olive wood rosary beads. With these placed on the table in front of me, along with my disclosure that I was a member of Sinn Féin, the interviewers were coming to, shall we say, provisional conclusions. They had their suspicions. But rather than giving me the look one would expect to be given after committing a crime, the officers looked decidedly nervous.

What I experienced was something approaching fear on the part of the police, a palpable change in mood that saddened me. No one should fear another human being. But, as was discussion during this “examination,” the people of Ireland never brought this violence, this need for fear, to their country. It was always, as it remains, a foreign import. Through its long historical experience of English then British domination, Ireland was denied every effort to assert itself and its independent nationhood. Peaceful civil rights marchers were gunned down in cold blood on the streets of Derry. The British Army went door-to-door murdering civilians in Ballymurphy in an effort to preserve the status quo of unionist power in the artificial statelet of Northern Ireland. Nothing of Britain’s behaviour in the late 1960s and early 70s was a new development. This systematic brutal repression had been policy in Ireland for centuries. Armed conflict, as a route to independence, was never the Irish example. Irish people are known the world over as a gentle and hospitable people. Armed struggle in Ireland was the last response to the British example.

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7 thoughts on “The Irish Example

  1. Jason

    Your ability to unpack language with facts/ precedent to call out our false preconceptions is why you are such an important writer for indy (though not many will appreciate it).

    It is quite a shock when you first realise that the British state has implanted a series of false memories. I remember the moment and how I could almost feel my mind in reverse as it rewrote what it thought it new. Sadly, it is as if many in YES are children of alcoholics – blaming the messenger when our self-deceptions are revealed.

    Just sending you my thoughts as this is when you are at your best…but probably the most lonely..
    “Justice is what love looks like in public” Cornel West

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tol, thank you for that really lovely compliment. I know that not always everyone or even many agree with what I think and write, but I always try to explain the world as I see it. It is a huge encouragement to know folk are reading and appreciate some of it.

      Like

    2. Jason
      The “British” have long know that if you control the default language, you control the default decision. This is why you are so essential.

      Like

  2. “Nein, eine Grenze hat Tyrannenmacht,
    Wenn der Gedrückte nirgends Recht kann finden,
    Wenn unerträglich wird die Last – greift er
    Hinauf getrosten Mutes in den Himmel,
    Und holt herunter seine ew’gen Rechte,
    Die droben hangen unveräusserlich
    Und unzerbrechlich wie die Sterne selbst –
    Der alte Urstand der Natur kehrt wieder,
    Wo Mensch dem Menschen gegenübersteht –
    Zum letzten Mittel, wenn kein andres mehr
    Verfangen will, ist ihm das Schwert gegeben –
    Der Güter höchstes dürfen wir verteid’gen
    Gegen Gewalt – Wir stehn vor unser Land,
    Wir stehn vor unsre Weiber, unsre Kinder!

    As Béarla / anns a’ Bheurla / in English:

    “No, there is a limit to the tyrant’s power, when the oppressed can find no justice, when the burden grows unbearable-he reaches with hopeful courage up unto the heavens and seizes hither his eternal rights, which hang above, inalienable and indestructible as stars themselves. The primal state of nature reappears, where man stands opposite his fellow man. . As a last resort, when not another means is of avail, the sword is given him, The highest of all goods we may defend from violence, Thus stand we before our country, thus stand we before our wifes, our children! . . .”

    Schiller, ‘William Tell’, Ch. VIII

    Aontaim ar fad leis seo! Tha mi ag aontachadh air fad ris seo! Je suis totallement d’accord! I agree wholeheartedly! Das Ganze hat meine uneingeschränkte Zustimmung!

    Ach ní bhfuair mé seo as Gaeilge, faraor! Agus cha d’ fhuair mi anns a’ Ghàidhlig e a bharrachd!

    Like

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