Cathal MacSwiney Brugha is Emeritus and Adjunct Professor at the College of Business in the University College Dublin. He is also the President of the Analytics Society of Ireland.
Through both his grandfathers he is closely linked to the History of Ireland. His paternal grandfather, Cathal Brugha, was the first chairman of the Irish parliament after having played a very important role in the Easter Rising. His maternal grandfather, Terence MacSwiney, was the mayor of Cork during the war of independence and was detained after having asked the British to return to their country. He started a hunger strike that became a big challenge to the British authorities. It took him to death with great international repercussions, and finally the British government agreed to sit at the negotiating table.
Cathal MacSwiney Brugha, their grandson, will be in Barcelona and some other cities from Friday on and in this interview draws some close parallels between Ireland and Catalonia and proposes a “Europe Cares” campaign.
– What brings you to Catalonia this time?
– I see Catalonia as having won the argument, but now needs help to achieve their aims for self-determination. I believe that can come from the people of Europe. I don’t expect it from the highest levels, the council of prime ministers, because they don’t see below their level in other countries. I see Europe as a family of families. If a big brother is bullying a little sister in the school playground, the cousins can come to her aid. We in Ireland are your cousins. Add to that, that we in Ireland like and admire the people of Catalonia very much. So here we are. We want to promote the case that “Europe Cares”. We are not alone. Mikko Kärnä, the Finnish MP, also cares and supports you. So, we could look at spreading the campaign “Europe Cares” throughout Europe.
– What parallels can we find between the current situation in Catalonia and the Irish elections of December 1918?
– The parallels are significant and important. The Irish elections of December 1918 were a turning-point. No more could London claim that the Irish people endorsed British policy in Ireland. It exposed Britain as in Ireland for selfish reasons, in 1918 the use of young Irish men in a colonising war competition between Britain and Germany. The support of the people of Catalonia for parties that promote Catalan self-determination gives great hope that change will not be postponed for long.
– Your grandfather Terence MacSwiney, Mayor of Cork, was held in prison for defending Irish independence and died after a hunger strike. Would you defend extreme measures of civil disobedience also today?
– In the years before MacSwiney’s hunger-strike many suffragette women in England used the hunger-strike to seek women’s rights. Little was known about these brave ladies because the right-wing controlled the media. Forced-feeding was used on them with great brutality. MacSwiney and his colleagues around the world used the international media to campaign for his case, and for Irish independence. This, and the fact that he was Mayor of Ireland’s second city, Cork, and that he was an elected member of the Dáil, our Parliament, meant that Britain was on the back foot, and afraid to force-feed him, or treat him with brutality. MacSwiney won the publicity battle even in England. Their King George 5 supported the case to release MacSwiney.
– Could such measures help the independence movement in Catalonia then?
– Extreme measures of civil disobedience can be counter-productive. It can give Madrid the excuse to use more brutality. Catalonia has now achieved the moral high ground. Madrid is looked on as uncivilised bullies. You should pick your ground well. You should make sure that Madrid continues to be seen as uncivilised, and Catalonia as a proud, strong, mature, civilised people. MacSwiney’s most famous and influential quotation is: “It is not they who can inflict the most, but those who can suffer the most, will conquer”.
– What do you feel when a century later some Catalan independence leaders are in prison or in exile?
– Jailing Catalan pro-independence leaders is a stupid move by Madrid, a sign that they are losing. It is very visible across Europe, and has alienated all decent people. People like Terence MacSwiney spent more time in prison than out of it.
– Are there any red lines that a modern democracy must respect or is territorial integrity a supreme value?
– The struggle is always about Power versus People, Rule versus Care, Place versus the People that live there. The world is maturing, moving towards an era where the concerns of people will be much more dominant. “Territorial integrity” will always have a value. But the idea that it should have a “supreme value” will no longer hold, if that is used to justify doing wrong to people.
– What is the importance of solidarity in these situations?
– When there is bad behaviour, whether it is children in a playground, or countries acting like children, the sensible, mature, constructive, good ones must work together for peace and harmony. Solidarity is key. Bullies are always cowards. They only fight unequal battles. Solidarity always wins out against bullies.
– Would you expect the EU or its bigger states to seriously ask or even force the Spanish government to enter dialogue and negotiation with Catalonia?
– I expect it. I would like to see this happen. Unfortunately, the people who tend to enter politics in normal circumstances are the wrong people, the most unsuited to being in government. These are people who like to rule, and tend not to care. Generally leaders at the highest level in politics in Europe will be the last people to help resolve your dispute with Spain. They see themselves at meetings with the Spanish Prime Minister, and will sympathise with his ‘internal difficulties’, may even see parallels with their own ‘internal difficulties’.
– The power of states has no limits?
– Ultimately a mature Europe will move to governance on four levels, European Union, States, Regions, and Local. The emergence of Regional Governance will mean that States will lose power. We cannot expect States to release power. We need to appeal to people across the European Regions to support this move. They will respond. History is about bizarre accidents in conflict between powers. If history was different Catalonia would be a State. We cannot go back in history. States are losing importance. Regions are growing in importance. Catalonia is leading Europe in moving towards a mature society where people run their own affairs. The days of States dictating to regions are ending. Throughout the world, excessive State power is associated with stupid decisions and financial corruption.
– Can Catalonia learn some lesson from the Irish experience or are times and circumstances too different?
– Yes, Catalonia can learn from the Irish experience. Generally the people who write the history, and explain what is happening, come from the Right Wing. The story gets distorted, and the lessons are lost for other people. The Irish leaders were very spiritual, caring, intelligent people. The British leaders, that the Irish were up against, were power-hungry, intolerant, selfish bullies, in their political lives, and often in their personal lives, and many of them financially corrupt. I won’t name them here. But they are praised by the history of their own countries, because for short periods they served their states well. I don’t see the times and circumstances you face as very different. Catalonia has to keep focused, keep cool, act wisely, and not get pushed into the wrong kind of conflict, that would push it off the high ground. Catalonia has not made mistakes. Catalonia has kept the support of its people. Catalonia is reasonable. The issue is how to get to the next step…
– If people stay united and resist Spanish repression, do you think we will see an independent Catalan Republic? What else does it need?
– The mistake is to think in terms of Europe as a collection of independent republics. In the past, States had 100% of the power. In the future, the European Union will have 25%, States 25%, Regions 25%, and Local 25%. The day of the Independent Republic is gone. Madrid’s problem is that they don’t see this. Catalonia’s problem is that Madrid blames you for causing them to lose the feeling of power, power that was already gone. Even in a hundred years’ time the remnants of the right wing in Madrid will still blame Catalonia. But most people, in Spain and in Europe, will thank you. The biggest challenge will be to keep your people united as you head towards a new situation. You are moving fast in the right direction, but on a road that has yet to be built. You are building that road.
– Spain is not really interested in its construction…
– When we in Ireland were doing this a century ago Britain was the most powerful empire ever on planet earth. The actions of a few people such as Terence MacSwiney made a small hole in the sail of the Great Ship Britannia. It is still losing power, and yet still holds onto its nonsense of greatness, and is now damaging its own future with Brexit. And it is still doing damage to Ireland. Brexit will ruin Northern Ireland. Brexit politicians don’t care about three regions: Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Northern England, only about London having power. It is difficult for Catalonia. But you must keep cool, keep intelligent. The key to the future is not Rule, but Care. Not Rule of Institutions, but Care of People.
– Thank you for your time. Any final message you want to send?
– The reason I am here is because I believe that Europe Cares about Catalonia. Not necessarily the politicians at the highest level of European Union, or the States, but the people of Europe. Through Vilaweb, and through your friends throughout Europe, through Social Media, through young people especially, you can build this new road. Europe will thank you. Madrid may be sore for a long time. In the long run the people of Spain will be grateful to Catalonia. I don’t need to explain why that will be, to your readers.