By Fra Hughes
IRISH Republican Socialist group Lasair Dhearg has joined the street battles ranging from Minneapolis to Bristol to Belfast in confronting the legacy of colonialism, its enduring legacy and unchallenged history.
The latest brutal murder of a black man at the hands of American law enforcement, George Floyd in Minneapolis, has triggered a wave of anger through largely peaceful protests across America and indeed the globe.
In Palestine, they are taking a knee for George Floyd.
In Iran in Venezuela, in Belfast and in Bristol there is an unfolding global commonality where people wish to see an end to discrimination, racism, war, imperialism, austerity, colonialism, suffering, hunger and sanctions.
Mr Floyd was held down by three officers one of whom placed his knee on George Floyd’s neck for approximately 8 minutes leading to his death.
Mr Floyd was heard to cry out repeatedly ‘I can’t breathe’ and called out for his mother who had died two years previously. His death-murder has unleashed a global tsunami of anti-racist anti-colonial anger.
In Washington DC they tried to remove the statue to Andrew Jackson and called for the removal of the statue of Lincoln in Lincoln Park which depicts a black man in chains languishing at the foot of President Lincoln.
Several capitals in the southern states have memorials to Generals who fought for the Confederacy that have been torn down by crowds in places like North Carolina.
In Venezuela in 2004 on Independence Day October 12, they removed in Caracas, the capital, all monuments commemorating ‘Columbas’.
In Britain, Winston Churchill has been mothballed and in Bristol, they tossed the Statue of Edward Colston, Slave Trader, into the sea.
An ironic yet fitting ending for a man whose company had thousands of Africans thrown overboard from their slave ships en route to the New Worlds when they became ill.
As a member of the Royal African Company, he helped to transport over 80,000 Africans into slavery in America.
In Belfast, a group of activists decided it was time to reinforce their message that colonialism in Ireland, which had extracted a heavy price on the indigenous people, must be re-challenged.
Ireland is seen by many as Britain’s first colony and lay under military occupation for over 800 years.
Ireland, complete with land clearances, mass murder campaigns, from Cromwell and others, the brutal suppression of successive rebellions, colonisation, starvation, transportation, genocide and cultural repression, has also had to suffer from Partition, religious discrimination and the unwanted imposition of symbols of colonial domination, from flags and language to statues and street names.
On June 22 Lasair Dheag took their campaign onto the streets of Belfast.
Their spokesperson Pol Torboid said they ‘had completed a list of place names across the city that they said featured prominent individuals responsible for historic abuses in Ireland.’
At Belfast city hall there is a bust to Queen Victoria whom many call the ‘Famine Queen’ who reigned during the genocide of the Irish people from 1845-1849, when the ‘blight’ devastated the potato harvest in Ireland, a cash crop grown for absentee British landlords. In reality, there was no natural famine in Ireland. It was a man-made catastrophe.
There was enough food in Ireland to feed the Irish population but ham, bacon, peas, beans, onions, rabbit, salmon, oysters, herring, lard, honey and, yes, potatoes, were exported for profit, leaving one million to die and one million to emigrate. A shameful epitaph to British Colonialism.
Cromwell Road was renamed after the United Irishman Rebellion leader Henry Joy McCracken.
Pól said that, ‘Belfast’s streets, littered with the poverty of its people, its homeless and jobless; are also littered with the names of those whose attitude to Ireland was one of subjugation, and who, by force of arms, forced a political and economic system upon our people, which became the foundation for partition, and for the current economic struggles faced by the Irish people.
‘These street names, monuments to those who delivered misery across our nation in one form or another, also serve as monuments to the political and economic system that they helped to build in Ireland.
‘These street names, the symbols of oppression, hate and servitude, must be stripped away. They must be replaced with the names of those who sought to build a better Ireland, the names of those who fought against oppression, against hate and against servitude.
‘They must be replaced with the names of heroes: of normal people. Not lords. Not kings or queens; but rather those who weren’t the heirs to vast riches.
‘Those whose only inheritance was that which they tried to carve out of a political system that railed against them.
‘It is our inheritance as Republicans to end the oppression immortalised in these street names and statues.
‘It is our duty to end colonialism, to end the normalisation of imperialism and, consequently, the political and economic system that maintains it.’
Below is a complete list of the street name changes carried out by Lasair Dhearg activists in Belfast.
Full list of street names and what they’ve been changed to:
Major Belfast City Centre Streets have been renamed ‘Bobby Sands Street’.
Balfour Avenue – Wolfe Tone Avenue
Cromwell Road – Henry Joy Road
Ireton Street – William Drennan Street
Pretoria Street – Thomas McCabe Street
Kings Bridge – Brian Boru Bridge
Norbury Street – Robert Emmett Street
Norfolk Drive – Máire Drumm Street
Great Victoria Street – Winifred Carney Street
Albert Street – James Connolly Street
Donegall Square South – Bobby Sands Street
May Street – Joe McDonnell Street
Carlisle Circus – Mary Ann McCracken Circus
Donegall Square North – Kieran Doherty Street
Cavendish Street – The Invincibles Street
The Queen’s University of Belfast – Mairéad Farrell University Belfast.