Catalonia Rebellion Echoes Irish Fight For Indpendence

Ireland respects the constitutional and territorial integrity of Spain and we do not accept or recognize the Catalan Unilateral Declaration of Independence.
(Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney)

The declaration of independence by Catalonia, the north-eastern region of Spain, has put the Irish Government in a difficult position and also posed questions to those interested in Irish nationalism.

The dismissal of the Catalonia President by the Spanish Government based in Madrid looks set to escalate what could very quickly become a very volatile situation.

Despite the reassurances from European leaders that a peaceful settlement will ultimately be brokered it is impossible to ignore the parallels between the fight by the Catalans for independence and the struggle by the Irish rebels exactly a century ago.

When Padraig Pearse proclaimed Ireland a Republic on the footsteps of the General Post Office in Dublin in 1916 he was observed by a small crowd of Dubliners who initially expressed bemusement before going about their business. A few days later when the city centre of Dublin lay in ruins the mood of the Dublin population quickly turned to anger. And not anger at the British who had positioned a Gun-boat up the River Liffey to pound the GPO but anger at the rebels for starting the Easter Rising in the first place.

The sentiment in Ireland was not one primed for a popular revolution. Most people wanted the status quo to be maintained and were unrestrained in their criticism of those who are now, a century later, regarded as the founding ancestors of the Irish State.

It was only when the rebel leaders were executed in a botched military action by the British army that the tide of public opinion turned against the British and in favour of the rebels. Up to that point it was the status quo that most desired.

Similarly in the Scottish Independence Referendum of 2014 (55% No, 45% Yes, approx) the incredible opportunity for Scotland to become its own independent sovereign nation, and by peaceful means, was turned down by the majority of the Scottish population. And for the same reason: it was the status quo that most desired be maintained.

Most Opinion Polls in Ulster show that if a vote to reunify the Northern Counties of Ireland into the Irish Republic were held today that the proposal would be soundly defeated, although with the implications of Brexit yet to be played out this situation is fluid.

The point is that unless there is some dramatic pivoting point (such as the execution of the Irish rebels in 1916, or Brexit possibly affecting Ulster voters sentiment) then the status quo is very much likely to be the path chosen.

This may explain the tactics of the Catalans.

Aware as they are that the majority of Spain are opposed to allowing Catalonia break away from Spain, and also that the region itself may in fact be split down the middle, depending on which opinion poll is cited, the Catalan authorities may be banking on a massive over-reaction by the Madrid Government. And they may just get their wish.

So far the Spanish authorities have arrested at least 14 Catalan officials who were involved in the recent Referendum on the separation issue, which Madrid declared illegal.

Regional police chiefs have been charged with sedition for refusing to assist Spanish police. Pro-independence leaders have been imprisoned without the possibility of Bail by Spanish Courts for their part in the Referendum.

Thousands of extra police and military have been diverted into Catalan region, with searches of companies and individual homes being carried out.

A report by the Catalan Health Service (CatSalut) of the Generalitat stated that 1,066 people attended Catalan hospitals in connection with the Referendum, most suffering minor injuries.

The above is similar to a checklist of what happened in Ireland a century ago. Much of what occurred also took place in India in the years prior to that country gaining independence from the British in 1947. Crackdowns, coercion, arrests, imprisonment.

If the recent declaration of independence by the Catalans ends in violence with the Spanish government using a sledgehammer to swat a fly then the tide of public sympathy will very quickly turn in favour of the Catalans.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

The Irish Government has refused to recognize the independence of Catalonia, despite the fledgling Irish State making requests for recognition from other countries a century ago, and being rebuffed.

That is not to say that a Government is obliged to recognize every declaration of independence simply because that is how their own State was born. But it is clearly a difficult situation for nation states born out of armed rebellion to refuse to recognize other regions (or countries, depending on your viewpoint) that crave the same sovereign freedoms that they possess.

About the author

Michael Green Michael Green is Manager of The Information about Ireland Site

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