Monday, September 19, 2011

Living History Through Film

The Skibbereen Eagle may have been famous for declaring ‘it was keeping an eye on the Czar of Russia’ in the 19th century but it can definitely be said that Russia is now keeping its eye on West Cork based on the experience of noted historian Gabriel Doherty, lecturer in Irish revolutionary history at University College Cork. Mr.Doherty recently presented a lecture in St.Petersburg, Russia, on the Irish War of Independence and Civil War period, incorporating in part the much acclaimed and award-winning Irish independent film The Wind that Shakes the Barley, which won the Palme d'Or for best film in Cannes 2006.

The film as many will recall was largely shot on location in West Cork, most notably in Timoleague, Coolea and Bandon town where Bandon Town Hall, Hamilton Highschool, the Allen Institute and North Main Street were used as key backdrops for the film. Many of the extras for the film came from the local community in the Bandon and Macroom areas.

The Wind that Shakes the Barley is an Irish war drama film directed by Ken Loach and set during the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921) and the Irish Civil War (1922–1923). Written by Paul Laverty, this drama tells the story of two County Cork brothers who join the Irish Republican Army to fight for Irish independence from the United Kingdom. Many of the events represented in the film are associated with real historical figures based in and around Bandon Town during this historic period. Bandon remained largely at the centre of events that occurred during this period, with noted rebel leaders such as Sean Hales and Tom Barry of the West Cork Brigade and Anna Hurley, the leader of the Bandon branch of Cummann na mBan, all residing in the area. Within Bandon town, the British Army were present in force with two factions stationed in separate army barracks, the Essex regiment commanded by the notorious Major Percival and the Black and Tans who were stationed in the Devonshire Hotel. According to Tom Barry, no Black and Tan atrocity in Cork came close to what the Essex Regiment did; he personally attempted to assassinate Major Percival on at least one occasion for his role in what Tom Barry regarded as war crimes. There is no doubt that the Essex regiment were despised for the atrocities that they committed, on one occasion capturing two close friends of Tom Barry’s ; Tom Harte and Patrick Hales and mercilessly torturing them. The torture itself of Hales and Harte is believed to have influenced a scene in the film The Wind that Shakes the Barley.

Many may not realise that during the period of the War of Independence, Bandon town and its hinterland remained one of the most active regions nationally for republican activity. The West Cork Brigade was involved in successful military engagements at Toureen and Kilmichael just one month preceding and after the tumultuous event of Bloody Sunday in Dublin. Within months of it, the West Cork IRA, led by Tom Barry, carried out a large-scale ambush at Crossbarry. They were nearly surrounded but manage to escape. This was one of the largest military encounters of the War of Independence.

Not shortly afterwards, in the summer of 1921 rebel activity reached a high point with the British garrisons at Bantry, Skibbereen, Drimoleague, Clonakilty, Bandon, Innishannon and Kilbrittain all under attack. The period was one of high anxiety with the countryside griped by violence and suspicion. Reprisals by the British forces involved the destruction of property and arrest, murder or harming of civilians; this in turn led to further reprisals by republican forces who commenced a campaign against Irish country houses. Some 16 country houses were destroyed around Bandon town and Commandant Sean Hales, leader of the Bandon Battalion of the IRA kidnapped James Francis Bernard the 4th Earl of Bandon and Lord Lieutenant of County Cork.

During the final four weeks of the War of Independence, armed parties of the IRA engaged in military activity in Bandon on eight occasions, the Innishannon Post was fired at on four occasions and Kilbrittain Barracks sniped at five times. British soldiers were wounded at Ballylickey as was a Black and Tan sergeant and an enemy agent in Bandon. Yet another Essex soldier was shot dead within sight of his Bandon barracks and one more Black and Tan was killed in Skibbereen. The successes in West Cork were not without sacrifice as many local volunteers and patriots from Bandon, Kilbrittain, Timoleague, Ballinadee, Courtmacsherry, Dunmanway and Rossmore were killed in the struggle for independence. Not long afterwards, two of West Corks most famous leaders suffered a similar fate. On August 22nd 1922 Michael Collins, Commander-in-Chief of the National Army, was shot dead at an ambush at Béal na mBláth and four months later his friend and comrade Sean Hales T.D. was gunned down outside Leinster House in Dublin. His brother Tom Hales fought on the opposing side and commanded the Flying Column, which attacked the Free State Army convoy at Béal na mBálth resulting in the death of his friend, Michael Collins.

All of this sets the scene for the first screening in Bandon of the award-winning historical film The Wind that Shakes the Barley on Sunday 25th September in the Town Hall by Bandon Film Society in conjunction with the Engage Arts Festival. Of particular interest to many in West Cork and beyond will be the historical talk to be given prior to the film by Gabriel Doherty, lecturer in Irish revolutionary history at University College Cork. Gabriel has edited several volumes on this topic, including studies of Michael Collins, Eamonn De Valera and the 1916 Rising. He has also written and lectured numerous times on the subject. His lecture will no doubt be interesting and insightful with its focus on the historical themes, personalities and episodes alluded to in the film and the extent to which its depiction of the War of Independence and Civil War is faithful to the historical record.

Additionally, to mark the participation of Bandon and its community in this award-winning film a commemorative plaque will be unveiled at the Town Hall on the night at 7.20pm by the Town Mayor.

Booking for the event is highly recommended as places are strictly limited. Tickets for the double bill historical talk and film screening are €10. To avoid disappointment, please call 086-3689939 or 087-1205022 to book tickets. Tickets are also available at the following outlets in Bandon town: An Tobairín, Bandon Books, URRU and Hickeys Newsagents.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Constitutional Challenge to Euro Bailout

Last week the German Constitutional Court made a very important ruling that may have long lasting consequences for Europe and the survival of the euro. What is particularly interesting in an Irish context is that their Courts examined the constitutionality of the Euro bailout with respect to German basic law and the federal powers of the German Government.

Notably the Constitutional Court ruled that the eurozone bailouts were compatible with German Basic Law, since they do not provide an excessive burden on the German budget, do not constitute a significant transfer of power away from the federal government, the Bundestag nor impact negatively on the euro’s purchasing power.

Interestingly the Court also ruled that, in order to conform to the German constitution, “the Federal Government is in principle obliged to always obtain prior approval by the German Parliamentary Budget Committee before giving guarantees.” and“The Bundestag, as the legislature, is also prohibited from establishing permanent mechanisms…which result in an assumption of liability for other states’ voluntary decisions, especially if they have consequences whose impact is difficult to calculate”.

What is evident is that the burden of the euro bailout on German taxpayers can be challenged in their Constitutional Courts and that those same courts can set the legal parameters on which any bailout must comply. How unfortunate that no such Court in Ireland similarly examined the constitutionality of the banking guarantee imposed on the Irish citizen and the transfer of billions of euros of private debt created by voluntary institutions, developers and limited companies both at home and abroad onto the Irish taxpayer.

I wonder is it not too late to still challenge the constitutionality of the Irish Banking Bailout? It is clear given the verdict of the German Courts that the banking bailout imposed on Ireland would be regarded as incompatible with German basic law if it was imposed on the German State given that in Ireland it has created an excessive burden on State and society, the State budget resulting in loss of economic sovereignty and the transfer of power from the nations parliament to the IMF and ECB; violating the very conditions imposed by the German Constitutional Court last week.

What a pity that we do not apparently have laws similar to those of the German legislature despite our common membership of the European Union. It appears that it’s one law of one member state and no law for another. In Germany their parliament is prohibited from establishing permanent financial mechanisms, which assume liability for other states decisions, including decisions to loan to private banks in Ireland. While in Ireland the taxpayer is instructed that we must assume liability for all private banking debt including voluntary decisions made by European banks to loan to private banks in other jurisdictions, an action that has resulted in an unsustainable level of debt burden with disastrous social and economic consequences both in Ireland and other peripheral European countries such as Greece. Impacts we unfortunately are only beginning to witness that will last for perhaps generations to come. In my mind there is no doubt that we must challenge the constitutionality of the Irish banking bailout and where the constitution may be seen to be weak in protecting the rights of Irish citizens it must to be changed to reflect the challenges that we now face.