WSM members report from RIR homecoming protests

Date:

The Workers Solidarity Movement held a public demonstration in Belfast in opposition to the Ministry of Defence's decision to hold a march celebrating the occupation and continued atrocities in Afganistan. Here we present two individual reports from members who took part in the protest.Gabhan Gleeson - Dublin WSM reports

On Nov 2nd 2008 at around 11am the WSM and other anti-war and anti-imperialists protesters gathered in Belfast for a small static picket in opposition to the Royal Irish Regiment march.

The atmosphere on the day was extremely tense. Heavily armed PSNI were covering the city centre. In addition about 35-50 thousand people came out to support the RIR.

Because of these conditions protesters were unable to meet at our originally intended destination and we had to regroup in another location on Castle Street. The protest took place in an area which was completely surrounded by heavily armed PSNI.

The R.I.R. are returning from devastating wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to parade in Belfast. These wars have seen the death of millions of civilians and the near complete destruction of domestic infrastructure.

The state has very cynically attempted to use sectarianism to divide and conquere the anti-war movement in the North. This march would likely not have gone ahead in other places in the U.K. or it would have seen widespread resistance. It is only because of this cynical manipulation that they were able to have a march celebrating these murderous campaigns with very little resistance.

The WSM is committed to creating a space for resistance to imperialism and war outside the sectarian narratives that the state actively promotes to serve its own interests.

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Davy Carlin - Belfast WSM

The recent RIR parade through Belfast City Centre has raised many points amongst those deemed the 'wider left' and Republican circles. So I will pen a number of brief personal points as well as giving a personal account of the day.

Firstly I will state that the blame for such a raise in sectarian tensions lays squarely with those who proposed the RIR parade in the first place. As the obvious outcome of such a decision would be the raising of tensions in a still divided city coming to terms with War.

And whether or not other organisations had seen themselves as sectarian or not the reality was that sectarianism would manifest and ascend itself on that day, given the proposed parade.

Indeed I had stated from the onset that the parades would be used to sectarianise the issue, by some. And others of course would bite to it, and so the whole issue of the War in Iraq and Afghanistan would be lost, and directed into the Unionists against Nationalist question and all that that had went before. Of course Imperialism Occupation and Militarism needs to be stood against where ever it is.

And within those who have been active with us since our recent formation in Belfast there are those whose history is not only that of standing against such at a local level. But indeed have given support, marched and stood in solidarity with groups from all the various Republican sections on many issues. This going back many years through to the present -against state repression, collusion, prisoner’s rights, shoot to kill and much more.

Yet our stand was not done only on that issue of opposition to such occupation, state collusion, brutality, militarism and Imperialism in Ireland, in Iraq and Afghanistan. But also against the sectarianism that would flow from it. And that stand would be on the basis of class. Indeed given the retching up of tensions the Belfast WSM took a tactical decision to call our own protest in that regard.

Therefore given nothing had been called to date we took the very important initiative to take that stand. In doing so via the media and other networks, we provided that alternative on the basis of Catholic and Protestant opposed to such. Of course given the real tensions and the historic tool of divide and rule we knew it would be a difficult call, but nevertheless we made the call and stood by it, This despite criticisms and even veiled threats by others.

With that we needed to take a number of factors into account given it was to see the biggest security operation in many years. Therefore the political reasoning for our call also had to take account of tactical considerations on the day. Our stand was not about the politics of out do, given that some recent comments from those at the Eirigi march {was that we had embarked on a ‘Suicide mission’ given we had called our demo in the path of a Loyalist Parade} – but it was about the providing of a class alternative.

Yet, to be honest when the call went out we where not aware that the UDA from the Shankill and such where to march past us. So we provided an alternative meeting point just in case, while on the day we sought to see what was possible.

And so on the day a Comrade and I had drove down the Falls Road past the assembling Sinn Fein contingent at Dunville Park and then at Divis Tower the assembling Erigi group. Given that the road at the bottom of the Falls Road was blocked with police jeeps and cops in riot gear we jumped out of the car and made our way to the city centre.

Although this not before being videoed and pictured by cops as would be regular through out the day. With that we made our way up Castle street towards Tesco’s and had seen the hoards of Loyalists coming down the road past us. Therefore we decided for security reasons to find an alternative venue for our protest. So we went back to the place we had given as an alternative meeting place and slowly a few people had arrived, with stories of others not having got through, etc.

Then a phone call came through from others and I had gone to get them. Firstly I dandered through the Loyalist mobilisation {because I thought that was the only way of getting to the others who where getting understandably really nervous} but my path was blocked at the very end by barriers that had been erected. So I went back and went through the side streets of the Lower Falls which held many more cops and jeeps as well as water cannon trucks. And so I went past them and past where the RIR where assembling, past some loyalists, then past the place where the SF parade was to come. Then I went through more police lines and after much searching had found one other person from another organisation who had come in to join us.

On our way back he stated how this place looked like Genoa, {such was the security} and we had a chat about how the both of us at the Anti Globalisation protests in Genoa had charged the fence with a huge gate we ‘may’ have pulled out of the ground. Seeking then with it to take down the fence, before we where water cannoned, gassed, and baton charged for our endeavours.

Arriving back we seen that the Eirgi parade had been stopped by the rows of Riot Cops and jeeps, as another phone call came through, {and the tensions felt} that another half a dozen comrades where stuck right in the middle of a Loyalist mobilisation including that of the UDA. So I and another comrade went back for them through the path that I had found and also this time watched as the Sinn Fein march had just gone by quiet and dignified with many holding pictures of loved ones killed and murdered by the state. This though with the sounds of hundreds of loyalists jeering and shouting sectarian vile from above buildings and upon paths and roads.

And so getting back to the pre arranged stop {that some thought understandably with their lives and bodies still intact} we carried out our small but brief demo, and joined by a couple of members of the SWP we made our point.

And so little real trouble kicked of that day, {although the potential for such was very real with also 30000 plus supporters of the troops on the streets} - yet it was essential that such an alternative was provided. And while the political reasoning for such a stand was correct, better co- ordination and preparation needed, was a lesson we had drawn from such in discussion afterwards

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WSM advance press release is at http://www.wsm.ie/story/4688

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