The Liberties - then and now – same as it ever was

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‘The Liberties’ gets its name from a number of areas which were outside the medieval walls of Dublin City. This doesn’t mean that they were somehow free - it just means that instead of being under the city’s jurisdiction they were ruled by a different group of masters. The Archbishop of Dublin was the boss of one section, the Earl of Meath was in charge of another, and so on. These men of wealth and power taxed the areas they controlled and made money from them but didn’t really care about anyone who lived there.

Jump forward a few hundred years and things haven’t changed too much. In Georgian Dublin, the rich were rebuilding the city. They threw up spectacular buildings and majestic roads and lived a life of splendour. Dublin was becoming a sophisticated city - architecture, music and the arts bloomed. However as is the case now, life was very different for the rich and the working class. In 1790 the Liberties was described as the “scene of the most abject poverty, deplorable sickness, and a magazine of fury”.

The next couple of hundred years brought a lot of changes to Ireland - the Act of Union in 1800 abolished the Irish Parliament and the War of Independence brought it back. Once Ireland settled into the 20th Century the bosses of the Liberties were the politicians who ran the rest of the country - Fianna Fail (and the future Progressive Democrats), Fine Gael and the Labour Party. The Liberties stayed a working class area and its fortunes went up and down depending on the policies of different governments.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s working class areas in Dublin were suffering major unemployment - in some places as bad as 80%. Meanwhile Charlie Haughey was buying shirts worth 5 grand and stealing cobblestones from the streets to pave his drive at home. To make matters worse, working class areas were hit by the scourge of heroin. Communities suffered massively as young people got addicted and started engaging in anti-social crime.

Groups of people got together to try and stop dealers from making money off of other people’s misery. In the 80’s ‘Concerned Parents against Drugs’ was formed to try and defend working class areas from the menace of heoin and dealers. In the 90’s, ‘Coalition of Communities Against Drugs’ took its place. When the politicians saw what these groups were doing they didn’t like it. These politicians wouldn’t provide the money to help addicts detox, or clean syringes off the streets and playgrounds but they managed to find the cash to fund a lot of police harassment.

Today, the likes of Mickey McDowell talks about protecting Irish Citizenship. He wants to tell you that the problem in Ireland today is that we have too many foreigners coming over and stealing our resources. He tries to portray himself as the hard man - defending us from refugees and asylum seekers. Michael McDowell knows well that foreigners aren’t a big problem in Ireland. They’re not the reason working class areas don’t have enough resources, class sizes in schools are too big and hospital waiting lists are so long. We’ve only had inward migration in Ireland for the last 10 years (at most) - if foreigners are the problem for the last 10 years, what was the problem before then? Politicians use prejudice against people as a way to split the working class. They know that if we spend all our time fighting over crumbs we’ll never try to take whole cake (or even the bakery!). They say that we should ‘look after our own first’ when they’re the ones who have been fucking everyone over all along. Lets not keep falling for the same old lines.


This article is from The Libertarian. Issue 2 (August 2006), a newsletter for the Liberties and Portobello produced by the Workers Solidarity Movement

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