Friday, March 27, 2015

Germany: Blockupy protests target Europe's financial hypocrisy

Tens of thousands protested in Frankfurt on March 18
The protests that met the official opening of the new European Central Bank (ECB) headquarters in Frankfurt on March 18 were largely symbolic – not only because bank staff had already moved in last November, but also because the building itself represents the ugly hypocrisy lying at the heart of the European project.

Over 20,000 anti-capitalist protesters took to the streets of Frankfurt last week to coincide with the heavily-policed opening, taking part in mostly peaceful protests in the German financial capital to oppose the ECB’s “asphyxiating” economic policies.

Included in the ranks of the protesters were representatives of Germany’s main opposition party, the left-wing Die Linke, German trade union Verdi, the Greek ruling party SYRIZA, and Podemos from Spain, as well as unions, NGOs and grass-roots activists from 39 European countries.

Across the Eurozone, the ECB – part of the “Troika”, along with the International Monetary Fund and the Eurogroup – is playing a central role in forcing national governments to cut public spending, privatise infrastructure and push down wages while unemployment and poverty continue to increase.

These policies have caused untold misery and suffering for millions of Europeans in order to maintain a system of corporate profits and a false sense of economic order in the name of “austerity” and “growth”, but have also given rise to powerful popular resistance movements across Europe – particularly in Greece, Spain and Ireland.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Euskal Herria: Spanish arrests a snub to calls for peace in the Basque Country

Guardia Civil arresting Oihana Barrios
The Spanish state has responded to an international declaration calling for the release of Basque political prisoners and a restoration of the peace process by arresting four representatives of the prisoners’ rights movement.

On March 25, Guardia Civil (Spain’s heavily politicised military police) arrested Nagore López de Luzuriaga, Izaskun Abaigar, Fernando Arburua and Oihana Barrios, in a series of coordinated raids in an operation codenamed “Pastor” (“Shepherd”).

Spain’s Ministry of the Interior confirmed that the operation had been carried carried out in the Basque provinces of Gipúzkoa, Vizcaya and Alava, as well as in Nafarroa, and that more arrests have not been ruled out.

The Ministry accused the four arrested of being part of a network using Basque political prisoners to support terrorism, and of coordinating a “cohesion front” among the prisoners on behalf of a terrorist organisation.

In fact, the “terrorist organisation” they are accused of working for – the armed separatist group ETA (Euskadi ta Askatasuna; “Basque Homeland and Freedom”) – has been on a "permanent ceasefire" since 2012, and accepts the necessity of a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Ireland: Massive water protest keeps pressure on government

Water protesters in Dublin, March 21
On March 21, nearly 90,000 people took to the streets of Dublin, in an unprecedented fifth mass protest in six months against the introduction of water charges by the Irish government.

Protesters from across the country gathered at three different locations in the city, before converging on O’Connell Street, home to Dublin’s iconic General Post Office – site of the Easter Rising in 1916 that began Ireland’s War of Independence nearly a century ago.

The human sea of flags, banner and placards was addressed by a range of politicians, community activists and union leaders. Between speakers, the crowd chanted slogans against water charges, including “Can’t pay! Won’t Pay” and “From the rivers to the sea, Irish water will be free”.

The protest was organised by the Right2Water campaign – a broad coalition of community groups, NGOs and political parties, led by some of Ireland’s largest unions.

Since October last year, Right2Water has coordinated a series of massive protests in Dublin and across the Republic of Ireland, involving hundreds of thousands of people in what is being described as the biggest mass mobilisation of people the country has ever seen.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Ireland: Sinn Féin fights welfare attacks in the north

Sinn Féin MLA and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
On Monday March 9, Sinn Féin announced it would oppose the new welfare reform bill in the northern Irish Assembly, accusing its government partners – the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – of acting in bad faith on protecting welfare recipients.

Sinn Féin is in a power-sharing arrangement as part of the Good Friday peace agreement signed in 1998, which sought to end the violence that had wracked Ireland's north since the late 1960s, known as The Troubles.

The same day, Sinn Féin moved a Petition of Concern — supported by the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) — in the Assembly to prevent the passage of the bill, which would impose cuts to welfare. This forced the DUP Minister for Social Development, Mervyn Storey, to withdraw the bill and re-enter talks to resolve the stand-off.

The welfare reform bill forms part of the recent Stormont House Agreement (SHA) – a five party agreement covering national identity issues, welfare reform and government finance in northern Ireland that was agreed to on December 23 last year, after several months of fraught negotiations.

Throughout last year, disagreements between Sinn Féin and the DUP on a range of issues escalated dangerously, and there was growing risk that failure to arrive at an agreement on the SHA might bring down the Stormont administration.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Sinn Féin MEP goes on “language strike” in European Parliament

Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada
On March 2, Sinn Féin MEP for Ireland South Liadh Ní Riada began a stailc teanga (“language strike”) in the European Parliament, in protest against the second-class status afforded the Irish language by the European Union (EU) and to highlight the Irish Government’s lack of action on the issue.

Sinn Féin’s Irish Language Officer and daughter of influential Irish composer and musician Sean Ó Riada – Ní Riada was elected to the European Parliament in May last year, and has already been shortlisted for an MEP of the year award.

Ní Riada has timed her strike to coincide with Seachtain na Gaeilge (“Irish Language Week”) which runs from March 1 to 17.

While Irish is the first official language of the Republic of Ireland, it was only accepted as an official working language of the EU in 2007, and was then immediately granted a renewable five-year “derogation”. This legal loophole means that European institutions are exempted from providing full translation or interpretation services in Irish, as they are obliged to do with all other official EU languages.

The derogation has been renewed for a further five years, and  unless lifted will remain in place until 2017.

Announcing her strike at the International Conference on Language Rights in Dublin on February 17, Ní Riada declared: “For the duration of Seachtain na Gaeilge I will be on a language strike. This means I will only speak Irish in my work with the European Institutions as a protest against the derogation.”

“My aim is to draw attention to derogation and to encourage the Irish Language community and the Irish people in general to put pressure on the Government to remedy the situation.”