On The Edge
DEMOCRACY is something the majority of us take for granted. Here in Co Mayo, as in the rest of our little republic, we live in a largely civilised society. We know we are safe in our beds at night. We assume that when we go to our workplaces, to local shops, gyms, football pitches, theatres and cinemas, we will not be assaulted, searched, questioned about our movements, kidnapped, murdered, ‘disappeared’.
For many readers it may be hard to comprehend that it is just short of a century since the Mayo town of Westport was under martial law. It was imposed on April 4, 1919, after the assassination of the Resident Magistrate and former RIC Inspector JC Milling. He was shot through the window of his house on the Newport Road in the minutes before 11pm as he put his clock forward for summer time. Coincidentally, a week earlier he had been involved in the imprisonment of two local men for cattle-driving.
Ironically, The Mayo News became a victim of the restrictions imposed by the martial law, with the editor and owner, PJ Doris, being prohibited from leaving the district ‘to do his ordinary reporting of events in West Mayo’.
This excerpt from a Mayo News report in the edition of May 24, 1919, encapsulates the fraught atmosphere of the time: “On Monday morning a large number of policemen from Castlebar and all the police from barracks surrounding Westport invaded the town, and shortly afterwards dividing themselves into sections and accompanied by military pickets with full war-like equipment, descended on several houses and made a thorough search of the interiors. Soldiers stationed themselves round each building while police and some soldiers carried out searches.”
For many readers, the names of some of the business people whose shops were searched will still resonate: Hughes, McGreevy, Walsh, Kelly, Derrig, Gill, O’Grady.
Ballot box rather than the bullet
A CENTURY later this little island of ours chooses the ballot box rather than the bullet while its armed struggles have been consigned to history books and commemorative television series. Sadly, however, this doesn’t mean we live in a world that has become a safer place. Indeed, if we were to focus on climate change alone, the future of the planet has never been more perilous.
Fundamental to this reality – ecological, economic, political and cultural – is the continued fallout from the global economic crash caused by the twin revolutions of corporatisation and digitisation and its enslavement of the developing world as its means of production.
And in the meantime the very ideals of democracy teeter on a knife edge. All we have to do is look at the rise of the populist right throughout Europe to feel the reverberations of the 1930s and the echo of nationalistic and nativistic threats that during that dreadful decade led to an horrific genocide of innocent people. Hardline Brexiteers’ hysterical hectoring continues to manipulate the most disenfranchised in the ghettos of the UK’s onetime manufacturing cities. The industrial jobs these working class people once depended upon for their bread and butter are carried out now in Asian and African sweatshops.
THIS is a pivotal time to remember why the European Union was established by the Treaty of Rome in 1957. No matter what its flaws, it has ensured there has been no repeat of the atrocities of World War II that left a continent decimated and destroyed.
The rise of the far-right across Europe must be critically challenged in a real bid to stem the decline of democracy.
Was not the peace that we have enjoyed in our lifetimes a hard fought for battle? Why would we want to return to war? Hasn’t every human being on the planet, no matter what their colour or creed, the equal right to life? Have we not evolved enough as a species to accept each other with open arms and hearts? Isn’t it the duty of our leaders to put their primal propensity for power aside and embrace the high ideals of democracy rather than pay lip-service to them? Of course, the ultimate power is with us – the electorate.