Irish nationalists have united in solidarity with Catalonia and in condemnation of the attempted suppression of this week’s independence poll.
Footage widely shared on social media showed Spanish military police clubbing, punching, dragging, and in one case breaking the fingers of voters and polling officials. Their victims included elderly people, young girls and regular citizens of all stripes. Those who stood or sat in peaceful protest against their actions were targeted for even harsher violence. The screams of their victims reverberated through Barcelona, regional cities and rural villages.
There was widespread shock in Ireland at the brutal state repression against an official poll of the Catalonian government which authorities in Madrid had deemed unconstitutional. Millions took part in the poll which would decide in favour of a peaceful path to independence.
Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson, who was in Barcelona as an observer, said no one could have failed to have been impressed by the “determination, defiance and dignity” of the Catalan people.
“They faced attacks, brutality and repression from the Spanish police in scenes that have no place in a modern democracy,” she said. “But the Catalan people remained dignified and resolved that they would not be denied their fundamental democratic right.”
Sinn Fein and Saoradh held separate solidarity rallies and pickets in Derry and Belfast. Joe Barr of Saoradh said republicans “stand with the oppressed and those who strive for freedom”.
CONDEMNATION AND SILENCE
Images of militarised police beating and kicking voters and firing rubber bullets filled social networks on Sunday, bringing strong and immediate condemnation by human rights groups. Amnesty demanded that the Madrid authorities launch a “thorough, immediate and impartial investigation” into the excessive and disproportionate use of force.
But the European Commission sided unequivocally with the Madrid government. It said its “proportionate use of force” in Catalonia was necessary to “uphold the rule of law”.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy thanked the Spanish police for defending the law and thanked the EU for its support. He insisted that there had “not been an independence referendum in Catalonia”, and that Spain was “a mature democracy” and “a great nation”. The ‘King of Spain’ Felipe Bourbon-Anjou simply ignored the vicious police attacks and accused Catalonia’s pro-independence government of “inadmissible disloyalty”.
Some 900 people were reported injured in the attacks, which failed to prevent the referendum from going ahead. The Catalan government said 319 out of 2,315 polling stations had been forced to close by the police action. The Catalan President said he would validate the result as 90% of the recorded votes were counted in support of independence.
“The Catalan government will transmit to the Catalan Parliament, the seat and expression of the sovereignty of our people, the results of the referendum, so that it can act according to that laid out in the referendum law”, said President Carlos Puigdemont. “Catalonia has won sovereignty and respect and its institutions have the duty to implement that result.”
He added that he would “make a direct appeal to the European Union” to look into alleged human rights violations by the Spanish government.
However, that appeal fell on deaf ears as the EU, both the parliament and its commissioners, made no condemnation of the brutal violence.
Sinn Fein MEP Matt Carthy spoke out angrily against the EU’s silence on Spanish repression in Catalonia, describing EU leaders a “shower of utter hypocrites”.
Speaking during a debate in the European Parliament, Carthy said: “You guys have some nerve. You plan to lecture others on human rights while you sit on your hands when witnessing a vicious assault on peaceful EU citizens in Catalonia because they have the audacity to vote.
“The truth is that European leaders have disgracefully ignored thuggish human rights abuses that are happening within the EU. While EU inaction on Catalonia continues, you have lost the right to lecture others.
“Let’s be clear. Nobody - not an unelected Spanish King, not an unelected European Commission, not even a minority government in Madrid - has the right to declare illegal the democratic exercise of self-determination by a people.
“We are told that the EU stands for peace, democracy and human rights. Where were these values on Sunday?
“If you dare to use the council meeting to talk peace or democracy without standing clearly for these values in Catalonia then the people of Europe, the people of the world will rightly consider you to be nothing more than a shower of utter hypocrites.”
In Ireland, the Dublin government also refused to recognise the outcome of the referendum. Turning Irish history on its head, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he and his government stood by the territorial unity of the Spanish Kingdom.
CALL FOR DIALOGUE
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, meanwhile, commended the “enormous courage” of the Catalan people in their efforts to hold a peaceful referendum on independence.
“The widespread scenes of violence being used by Spanish authorities must be condemned. The European Union cannot stand aside and allow EU citizens to be denied their right to vote,” Mr Adams said.
“I would urge the international community to speak out against Spanish efforts to violently prevent a democratic referendum,” he added.
“There is a particular onus on Spain’s European neighbours, including the Irish government, and the European Union to take a stand against the use of violence against those seeking to use their vote and in support of the democratic rights of the Catalan people.”
He said he spoke later by phone with Catalan President Carles Puigdemont amid reports that the state is about to declare independence.
“The only way to end any dispute, particularly one as complex as this, is through inclusive dialogue and mediation,” he said.
“President Puigdemont assured me that he and his government stand ready to talk. That has always been their priority.
“I would urge the Spanish government to begin dialogue with the government of Catalonia as a way of defusing the increasing tension and as the only real way of finding a resolution.
“I would especially call on the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy not to use violent means. The imperative must be to use peaceful methods to find an agreement”.