Globalizing the Struggle Against Occupation: Ireland – The Lawrentian

The death of Queen Elizabeth II on September 8, 2022 sparked another discourse around the crimes of the British Crown. Throughout its history, the British government has colonized the Indian subcontinent, a handful of Caribbean islands, South Africa, Egypt, Kenya and many more. Among the countries mistreated by the British was their neighbor, Ireland.

The British problem of Ireland began in the late 1170s when the Norman rulers of England invaded and conquered Ireland. However, the Norman rulers did not effectively control the island, and many areas remained independent. The House of Tudor, which came to power in 1485, decided to establish control. In 1494 England took control of the Irish parliament and in 1541 King Henry VIII was crowned King of Ireland.

In 1582 and 1602, respectively, the Earl of Desmond and Hugh O’Neill, members of the Irish Gaelic nobility, led rebellions against English control. The British military practice of destroying crops in response to the rebellion caused devastating famines. It is estimated that in Munster, Ireland, 30,000 people died of starvation as a result of British military practices, while in Ulster the toll was 60,000. Those who fled the famines for England, Wales, France and other countries were often abused by those who viewed the Irish as inferior.

In 1603, England controlled Ireland. The English government encouraged its citizens to move to Ireland and buy land, establishing an elite class and violently displacing the Irish to establish control. The new class of Protestant landowners passed a series of penal laws that discriminate against Catholics, the predominant religious group in Ireland. In 1801 the Irish Parliament merged with the British Parliament, but Irish Catholics had to fight for their right to hold political office among other political rights.

In 1845, Ireland experienced a famine unprecedented in Irish history. At this point in history, the Irish, especially the poor, had become dependent on the potato as a staple food. Due to the seizure of land by wealthy Protestant landowners, Irish farmers could plant a limited number of crops, forcing them to depend on the dominant crop, the potato. Because of this, when the blight ravaged Irish potato crops, people had little else to turn to for food, unlike previous crop failures and times of famine, when it there was more agricultural land available and agriculture richer in biodiversity. Over the next five years, a million Irish people would starve and at least another million would flee. The Irish population has still not rebounded.

At the same time that the Irish were starving, the government in London was exporting food out of Ireland. British Prime Minister John Russell believed in free trade and did not believe that famine should interrupt the flow of exports and imports. British Treasury Secretary Charles Trevelyan believed that the Irish were lazy and did not need help and saw starvation as a way to “suppress excess population”. Trevelyan then closed depots where free corn was distributed to starving Irish people.

Queen Victoria, Queen of England from 1837 to 1901, was even dubbed the “famine queen” due to her response to the Irish famine. Victoria has paid just £5 in aid, an amount that amounts to just over US$450. Irish working-class migrants to New York, by contrast, contributed hundreds of thousands of US dollars, worth millions today. Even the Choctaw Nation, who were dying of disease and had just been forced to walk the brutal Trail of Tears, found the funds to donate more than $5,000 in today’s money – far more than Victoria. In fact, on the same day she donated 5 pounds to the Irish, she donated many more to a dog association in England.

Sultan Abdulmejid I of the Ottoman Empire tried to help the Irish by sending 10,000 pounds to Ireland, but the British objected and his donation was negotiated down to 1,000 pounds from his original offer out of fear let it not be embarrassing for Victoria to give so little. while Abdulmejid gave a lot.

After centuries of oppression and resource extraction by the British, Ireland’s desire for independence was burning. In 1918, the general elections in the United Kingdom saw the republican party Sinn Féin come to power in Ireland. However, party members refused to sit in Parliament in London, instead forming their own parliament in Dublin and declaring Ireland a free republic. This started a war, as the British refused to recognize the government in Dublin. War broke out in 1919, but Ireland won and declared the Irish Free State in 1922, which excluded Northern Ireland. In 1931, Ireland became fully independent, with the exception of Northern Ireland, which remains under British control.

The Irish Republican Army (IRA), which fought for Irish independence during the war, was unhappy with the terms of the deal and advocated the overthrow of Northern Ireland’s governments and of the Irish Free State, aiming to replace the two with a new government that controlled all of Ireland. The Government of Northern Ireland, seeking to crush this republican spirit, passed the Special Powers Act, which gave the government dictatorial powers to preserve “law and order”, although these powers were used against nationalists even after the violence had ended. This Act was also used to overturn the results of local elections in Northern Ireland which the nationalists had won and gave power to the trade unionists in elections where they had lost the popular vote.

The period from the 1930s to the early 1960s was relatively calm for Northern Ireland, apart from the riots in Belfast and some brief military campaigns by the IRA. From 1962 to 1966, Northern Ireland experienced a period of peace. However, this peace was marked by laws that disenfranchised, impoverished and discriminatory Catholics, with any dissent met with extreme and rapid repression.

In 1966 Catholics in Northern Ireland launched a civil rights movement and began campaigning against the discrimination they suffered. British Loyalists and fundamentalist Protestants often attacked these demonstrations, with the approval of the police. On the other hand, Catholics who broke the law were regularly beaten, brutalized and killed. Because the police gave Protestant violence and law breaking impunity, while Catholics were brutalized, civil rights supporters in Northern Ireland saw the police as siding with the Protestants. The violence escalated to the point where Protestant loyalists bombed critical infrastructure in Northern Ireland, with the violence blamed on the IRA.

The violence escalated in the 1970s. British troops and the IRA constantly clashed, with many civilian casualties on both sides. The British military carried out massacres of unarmed civilians who dared to protest British rule, such as the Ballymurphy massacre in 1971 and Bloody Sunday in 1972. The violence continued into the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, with a blocking agreement reached in 1998.

When it comes to civilian casualties, numbers alone don’t paint a good picture of the Irish. Around 60% of civilian deaths were killed by Irish Republicans in the late 20th century. But this analysis ignores centuries of displacement, land and resource seizures, extreme discrimination and the Great Famine of 1845, arguably caused or at least exacerbated by the British Crown.

Because Irish people understand what it is to be oppressed, occupied and abused, Ireland has become one of the few European countries to regularly speak out against human rights abuses.

While the US government declared South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela a terrorist and supported the South African apartheid regime, Ireland condemned the apartheid system unequivocally. While the United States supported Israel’s destruction of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem in 2021, the Irish parliament condemned it. And, as the Trump administration sent body bags to Native Americans instead of testing at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, donations from Ireland poured into the Navajo Nation during their COVID-19 outbreak, paying the kindness shown to the Irish by the Choctaw all those decades ago.

Is it any wonder that Ireland feels more solidarity with the oppressed people of the oceans than it does with its own bully of a neighbour?

Michael A. Bynum