The Limerick Soviet was established on 6th April 1919, a few months after the Dail (the newly elected Irish national assembly) proclaimed independence from Britain in January. In fact Ireland was occupied by British soldiers. In an incident, nationalist Robert Byrne was shot dead by occupying troops. His death was heavily mourned throughout the city as 20,000 people attended his funeral in protest. The British Government reacted angrily by imposing martial law on the city with the use of troops and tanks. The townsfolk responded by setting up the Limerick Soviet.
The Irish economy is predicted to crash this year. It’s set to contract by 9.2%. To put this into perspective, the growth rates during the years of the Celtic Tiger were about 6%. So these figures are the equivalent of turning the clock back economically by almost two years. The Economic and Social Research Unit are predicting unemployment will spiral to 17% next year. 300,000 jobs will disappear and living standards will fall to 15% lower than in 2007.
Recent weeks have seen Ireland bear witness to two factory occupations that subsequently inspired similar actions across Britain. These events are significant developments in class struggle in that they pose the question of whether power resides with the boss or the workers. It is fitting that these events should coincide with the ninetieth anniversary of the Limerick Soviet. The events that took place in the small Munster town during April 1919 have all too predictably been written out of the official history of Ireland. They have also been largely forgotten in the labour movement due to the role of a conservative bureaucratic leadership that has sought to bury the history of the Irish working class’ most potent challenge to capitalist rule.
As Easter approaches, Ireland stands once again in crisis. It is unlikely this year that we will be treated to the sight of a farcical show of strength from the Irish military or the twenty six county state government attempting to cash in on the legacy of the famous rebellion against British rule. Despite being regarded as a central point in Irish history and an event that is widely recognised as pivotal to the traditions of republicanism little of the events of 1916 are retained in their popular representation as they have been surrounded by a systematic campaign of distortion almost since they took place.
Finance Minister Brian Lenihan and the Fianna Fáil led coalition have set out their stall. This was a bosses’ budget that takes €837 out of the economy for every man, woman and child in Ireland. Worse still, if you happen to be an unemployed school leaver under the age of 20 your dole is being cut in half. RTÉ’s headline states that the “most severe budget in decades is revealed”.