Fifty Years Of Campaigning For The Rights Of The Celtic Nations

Set out below is the text of the speech which the General Secretary of the Celtic League gave to the 50th Annual General Meeting held in Falkirk, Scotland this weekend.

“The Celtic League – 50 years of campaigning for the Rights of the Celtic Nations and Inter-Celtic Co-operation.

In this short talk I am going to briefly outline some of the more significant developments in the work of the League over the last 50 years to try to provide a bit of a pen picture as to what some of our main activities have involved over the course of our history, for those who are not so familiar with our organisation. While at the same time I want to remind those of us whose lives have become inseparably intertwined with the work of this uniquely independent and voluntary organisation, how much has been achieved to date and what challenges we have yet to face.

The Celtic League was founded in 1961 at the Welsh National Eisteddfod in Rhosllanerchrugog, North Wales, in the Plaid Cymru tent, where in the words – written in the mid sixties – of its first General Secretary, Alan Heussaff, “a dozen Welshmen, Bretons and Scotsmen met to discuss a proposal for regular cooperation between the national movements of the Celtic countries”.

The following year in Cardiff representatives of all six Celtic countries were present and in the combined minutes for the first and second meetings it was recorded that the aim of the League was “To foster national rights of the Celtic Nations: Political (including governing their own affairs), Cultural and Economic”. This was indeed a bold and courageous step at the time and with the assistance of the national parties and movements (Plaid Cymru, SNP, Mec Vannin, Mebyon Kernow and the Movement for the Organisation of Brittany) and the dedication of its first General Secretary, the League was established with active branches in all countries.

In those early years, the League began publishing a small quarterly newsletter, Celtic News, and then an annual volume of about 150 pages which ran until 1973. A memorandum was then addressed to the United Nations making the case for self government for Brittany, Wales and Scotland and a memorandum was made to the European Commission of Human Rights on the discrimination by the French state against Breton speakers. The League operated cautiously with regard to the opinions of the leaders of the national parties, but in 1969 this came to a head when opinions voiced by the Honorary President, Gwynfor Evans, on French repression in Brittany, the Civil Rights movement in the North of Ireland and his idea of a `Brittanic’ federation, put him at variance to the views of most in the League and with the constitution of the League itself. At its 1971 AGM the League decided to operate as a totally independent voice and dropped the position of Honorary President and later Honorary Vice Presidents.

The Celtic League has developed much since then. The constitution and aims were expanded over the years and now state: “The fundamental aim of the Celtic League is to support, through peaceful means, the struggle of the Celtic Nations, Alba, Breizh, Cymru, Éire, Kernow and Mannin to win or to secure the political, cultural, social and economic freedom they need for their survival and development as distinct communities.” Commitments are made in the constitution to work for the restoration of the Celtic languages, to fostering inter-Celtic solidarity and co-operation, to publicising our struggles and achievements, to furthering the establishment of organised relations between the Celtic nations and to help develop socially just societies.([1])

From 1973 the League has published a quarterly magazine, CARN, with articles on political, linguistic and cultural affairs in the Celtic Nations and every issue has contained articles in every Celtic language. Carn is unique especially in bringing all the Celtic languages together in one publication. ([2])

In addition to Carn, the League also published other material over the years, including a substantial volume in the mid 1980’s in honour of Alan Heussaff, `For a Celtic Future’. In the Introduction of `For a Celtic Future’ Cathal O Luain pays tribute to Alan Heussaff, who he says carried out his voluntary duties on behalf of the League “with great dedication and with no small sacrifice to his personal and family -life”. Cathal was right to draw attention to work of this great inter-Celticist, who has remained an inspiration to activists within the League, even after his death. But it is also important to remember other activists, whose lives became and remain inextricably linked with the work of the League such as John Jones, Yann Fouere, Pat Bridson, Gwynfor Evans, Seamus Filbin, Cathal O Luain and Bernard Moffatt.

In the late seventies anti-militarist activities began in Mannin. These expanded into the Military Monitoring Campaign adopted by the League which, particularly in the eighties, highlighted the submarine and other military menaces that threatened the Celtic countries, which under the guidance of General Secretary, Bernard Moffatt, gained a new stature for the League. Continuous lobbying and correspondence led to new protocols from the International Maritime Organisation to protect mariners and the League was consulted by governments such as the Irish and Japanese Governments for its expertise on these matters.

In the early part of the 1990’s the League engaged with CONSEU (Organisation for European Nations without a State) and representatives from our organisation were invited to the CONSEU conference in Barcelona in 1996 to launch the `Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights’, and signed the declaration on behalf of the Celtic nations.

Other significant events in the League’s history have involved measures taken against the infiltration from the extreme right of the colonial powers, the organisation of inter-Celtic events and bilateral inter-Celtic visits. Other activities the League has taken part in include solidarity manifestations at commemorations, the organisation of summer schools on history and culture with language courses and conferences, including the involvement in joint events with organisations like Greenpeace, CND and Friends of the Earth. In addition, branches have arranged visits of political leaders for lectures, published an annual inter-Celtic historical calendar, assisted in elections, held pickets and demonstrations, and campaigned for prisoners rights. Our Branches and members have supported the editor of Carn and the general secretary and director of information on a diverse range of issues from military monitoring to linguistic and political issues through to socio economic campaigns.

A major achievement for the League was the granting of United Nations consultative status in 2010. The significance of this development should not be underestimated, because a long list of international organisations are rejected each year from many countries in the world who have applied and failed to gain recognition by the UN. ([3]) Recognition allows the League to designate official representatives to the United Nations – to the United Nations Headquarters in New York and the United Nations offices in Geneva and Vienna – to participate in events and activities of the UN with an official voice.

Since the mid 1990’s the volume of press releases to the media, with Bernard Moffatt acting as Director of Information, has increased steadily. The use of the Celtic League News group has ensured the greater availability of developments within the Celtic countries to League members, the general public, like minded organisations and the broader community in our countries and beyond. Celtic League News has given the League the opportunity to publicise information about the work that the organisation does to a worldwide audience, while at the same time increasing the dissemination of overtly political nationalist news from within the Celtic countries, especially the smaller nations, in a way that would have been more difficult to achieve otherwise. ([4])

The launch of a new multilingual website in 2010 was a major development for the League, because – when it is finished – will allow us to reach out to an even wider audience so that we can, in the words of our Constitution, make our national struggles and achievement better known abroad.

The Celtic League has provided its membership with a political voice and a vehicle to express that voice over a fifty year period that still has no equivalent today. I firmly believe that the reason why we are, in the words of Bernard Moffatt, `the only show in town’, is not because our aims are not legitimate, but rather the Celtic League is an organisation that was founded years ahead of it time and have consistently done a job that no one else has been able to effectively emulate or better. In the early 1980’s

Cathal O Luain argued in the book `For a Celtic Future’ that “In the present colonial and neo-colonial situations into which the Celtic countries have been bound it is perhaps difficult to see the prospect of much progress towards the League’s aims of political cooperation between free nations.” Today though the political situations into which the Celtic countries are bound, is vastly different to those of thirty years ago. Scotland has its own Parliament and Wales recently voted in favour of an increase of its legislative powers – a trend that will only continue. A unified Ireland does not seem to be as far off now as it once was and surely once Scotland becomes independent, how long will it be before the Isle of Man and Wales follow, once they see the full benefits of a peaceful independence for themselves.

In particular we need to work hard to ensure that Brittany and Cornwall are fully supported in their struggle for self determination and will form part of any formal association between the Celtic countries that is developed. Following on from Cathal in `For a Celtic Future’, the League needs to continue to progress in the dissemination of the idea of its aims and work towards the further acceptance of them among the Celtic countries, but we also now need to begin working towards the actual establishment of a body where these aims become manifest.

[1] The full constitution is now available on our website at www.celticleague.net for everyone to read.
[2] I must proffer our thanks to Patricia Bridson who has been the editor of Carn for 26 years. 148 electronic editions of Carn are now available on our website and covers 38 years of life in the Celtic countries.

[3] Within the last year I have met representatives from two organisations whose membership lists run in the tens of thousands who have been rejected several times by the United Nations for consultative status.

[4] To give you an example of this, I was recently contacted by three Bretons the day following the death of Yann Fouere, asking for the League to help publicise the life and death of our founding member. Each of these Bretons said that if the news about Yann Fouere was not picked up by the press outside of France, then the French press would more than likely ignore drawing attention to the life of this important Breton.”

For comment or clarification on this news item in the first instance contact:

Rhisiart Tal-e-bot, General Secretary, Celtic League:

Tel: 0044 (0)1209 319912
M: 0044 (0)7787318666

gensec@celticleague.net

The General Secretary will determine the appropriate branch or General Council Officer to respond to your query.

ISSUED BY THE CELTIC LEAGUE INFORMATION SERVICE.

29/10/11

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