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The Struggle for Independence: From Ireland to Catalonia

Photo by Lolo Manolo | CC BY 2.0

Falling into line with other EU governments, the Irish government declared it’s support for Spain against Catalonia. In the wake of the Catalan government declaring independence on October 27th 2017, the government of the Republic of Ireland issued a statement in which it said that it “does not accept or recognise the Catalan unilateral declaration of independence.”

May I also issue a statement: the Irish government does not speak for all of it’s citizens, there are those of us who do recognise Catalan independence because history is too heavy to dismiss.

I’m not surprised the Irish government is siding with Rajoy because the party currently in power in Ireland  is one with a dark history of supporting the wrong side on the Iberian peninsula. During the 1930s the founding father’s of today’s ruling party in Ireland sided with Franco in his push for a dictatorship.

Looking at the offcial website of the Irish Parliament , in particular its history section, hypocrisy reigns supreme. It tells us how the Irish Parliament came into being, how it came under severe suppression when it was deemed illegal by Britain. This little history lesson details how ” the British Government suppressed the Dail (Irish Parliament) and on 10 September 1919 Dail Eireann was declared a dangerous association and was prohibited……”

Following the December 1918 General Election in Britain, Ireland, which was still chained to the British empire, saw the independence movement Sinn Fein win 73 of the 105 seats available for Irish MPs in the House of Commons. Instead of taking up seats in the London Parliament, Sinn Fein followed through with what they had promised and set up an Irish Parliament in Dublin called Dail Eireann and on the 21st of January 1919 Ireland’s parliament was established in Dublin city. A cabinet was selected, courts set up, a constitution drawn and a declaration of independence followed an address to the free nations of the world.

The British response to the Irish Parliament was brutal. Members of the Irish Parliament were hounded and arrested. Those who evaded arrest tried to continue the work of parliament albeit in an underground fashion. The suppression of the Dail in 1919 can mirror what is going on in Catalonia today yet, those who now sit in the very same Irish Parliament suppressed and outlawed all those years ago have the audacity to ignore the facts of history.

Todays Irish government gladly celebrated the centenery  of the Easter Rising in 2016 and in 2019 no doubt will celebrate the centenery of the ‘outlawed’ Dail. The 1916 Easter Rising was an event which caught the attention of Catalans fighting their own battle for Independence. In the years following 1916 Catalans grew closer to the struggle in Ireland and followed it with great interest. They found in Ireland a kinship in the struggle against oppression.

After Dail Eireann was outlawed in early 1919, by the Winter of that year that very same outlawed government  in Dublin received a letter from staff at Catalan newspaper la veu de la Catalunya informing the Irish how their struggle gave Catalans the  “courage to pursue the fight and recover the freedom and the personality of Catalonia politically as well as socially.’

In the late 1920s a Catalan political movement emerged under the name Nosaltres Sols which translates to We Ourselves/ Ourselves Alone. It was a direct link to the influence of the Irish struggle and Sinn Fein which also translates to Ourselves Alone.

During the years of the War of Independence in Ireland, the Irish Parliament strove for international recognition. Sean T O’Kelly, a future president of Ireland, was one of many delegates cast across the globe in search of international respect for the small nation seeking Independence from Britain. In 1921 during a speech in Paris O’Kelly added Catalonia to the swelling number of small nations in search of Independence stating  how they were ‘copying Irish methods and utilising Irish propaganda for inspiring their own men.”

Maire ni Bhriain was the Irish representative in Catalonia during 1920 and she wrote how when 18 year old medical student and IRA volunteer Kevin Barry was executed by the British , students at Barcelona University held a special mass attended by hundreds of people and then had a wreath made of waxed flowers and sent it to Dublin. While in Barcelona Maire also managed to raise funds for the Irish prisoners dependents fund and £120 was generously sent from the Catalans to the Irish.

Maire also detailed how when the Sinn Fein Lord Mayor of Cork Terence MacSwiney was arrested and sent to an English prison, his plight was carefully watched by the Catalans . When MacSwiney went on hunger strike and subsequently died, his death resulted in outpourings of grief in Catalonia.  Marie wrote ” university students and shop assistants all wore green ribbons on their buttons holes……the Catalans always cherish their desire for separation from Spain and their desire for independence is a common bond of sympathy between them and us.”

The Irish Parliament in 1919 was seen as an affront to the British empire, a threat to its hold on Ireland’s will for independence, so it was suppressed. The British response to the will of the Irish people in 1919 can be clearly identified in the response of the Spanish to the will of the Catalan people in 2017. Spain, like Britain in 1919, showed ill respect for democracy. Such is the pity that the Irish government now side with oppression, given our own history of being denied an Independent Republic.

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Pauline Murphy is a freelance writer from Ireland. 

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