A Travellerspoint blog

Banned cheese, Putin, dodging fines and unwelcome carrots

It's not often that three farming stories appear on the front page of a national daily newspaper, but that's what happened earlier this week in the Irish Examiner.

Vladimir 'No Irish cheese on my watch' Putin, has responded to increased US and EU sanctions against Russia by hitting the cheesemakers of Ireland, particularly it seems those resident in Munster. Ireland exports over 200m euros of foodstuffs to Russia annually, so there will be some sort of knock on effect, although spokesmen from various agricultural organisations seem unsure what they might be.

Simon Coveney, the Agriculture Minister also holds the Defence brief (rather bizarrely), so it surprised me that a man with the armed might of Ireland behind him, decided the best approach to the problem, is to set up a helpline. The defence brief isn't what it used to be obviously and the cheesemaker are no longer blessed!

I'm still unconvinced that Putin meant to ban cheese; I'm fairly sure it was chessmakers of Ireland he had in his beady sights.

The second story is that farmers who are 'dodging debts' to the State should face new, and I have to say fairly rugged penalties including their earnings debited at source, their assets seized and interest rates on monies owed, raised. A new report has highlighted the Department of Agriculture's lacklustre performance against farmers who have been overpaid by the State (that's probably the governments fault). The department rarely takes action until the statute of limitations on the debt is approaching and retiring farmers often transfer herds and property into another persons name, so when the bailiff comes a calling, there are no assets to chase. One suggested idea to encourage slow payers is to bar them from accessing public services until they stump up' and then they will only be allowed to use those services on production of a debt clearance certificate.

The Irish approach to a problem, any problem, is to set up countless committees and tribunals that often cost more to create than the monies generated. This new committee doesn't yet exist, but its already been described as 'a super state central agency'. Catchy.

The third story also has an international flavour. It seems that SuperValu, one of Ireland's biggest supermarkets may have dipped the end of a reluctant toe into the rough and tumble of boycotting Israeli goods in Irish stores in retaliation for Israel's actions in Gaza. The supermarket have removed Israeli sourced carrots. Inevitably, SuperValu have said that they remain neutral in political issues, but I'm not sure how else you can interpret their move apart from that they are taking a definite position, albeit barely.

Irish companies are under pressure from trade unions and the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign to ban Israeli goods on sale in Ireland. In fact Kinvara, a small town in south Galway banned all Israeli good in all their shops at the start of August. For almost 10 years the BDS has worked for international cooperation against Israel until it fulfils it international obligations and stops breaking international law. I've spent several months on the West Bank and all the Palestinians I spoke to supported the BDS campaign despite the fact they would be directly harmed, as many goods, especially fruit and veg that are exported from Israel are actually grown in Palestine and are mislabelled as Israeli for the purposes of export.

So, the cheesemakers of Ireland's loss is the carrot growers opportunity. Who said farming wasn't front page news?

Posted by johnward 04:15 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Hostel Chit Chat

One of the advantages of staying in one place for an extended period of time, is that you meet an incredible amount of people, most of whom are passing through after a day or two. A casual conversation can lead to a shared meal a night in the pub or just chatting. Usually all three.

I bumped into Scott and Sarah, a couple from Brisbane who are six weeks into a four year bike ride around the world. Along with Jay, who works for the Housing and Urban Development in Washington DC, aka Satan's Waiting Room, and Paul a university student from Germany. We discussed, in no order of preference:

why Australia has the best coffee (admittedly this was an Australian suggestion); French fascistic views on butter and cheese; how the Australian PM, Tony Abbott makes George W Bush appear positively Churchillian; how Mama Mia is so much better than Harry Potter; the advantages of travelling alone (myriad) to travelling in a group (limited); an Amazonian tribe who does not have a numbering system higher than three or has a concept of yesterday and tomorrow; vampire killers, who may or may not have been lesbians in Brisbane; Australian boarding schools (see previous item); the Man in Seat 61 website; the cost of train travel in Germany (which is higher than I thought); beatings I took at school from nuns; how Berlin is really a collection of small villages; food review writing; how Papua New Guinea is becoming an island concentration camp for Australian immigrants and asylum seekers; how Australian coffee really is the best (they would not let it go!); how difficult it will be to cycle across Tajikistan in five days (length of the visa); barefoot running; long distance cycling; vicious fire ants in Puerto Rico (although it may have been Costa Rica); building your own house; corrupt newspapers; lying politicians; chafing; living in Townsville (see previous item); why native Americans were not turned into settlers slaves (no answer to that one); great songs featured in the movies of Quentin Tarantino (undoubtedly Across 110th St in Jackie Brown); the relative merits of various generations of kindle; the movies of Terence Malik...and so the night went on.

The point is that travel does really expand the mind or at least make your head hurt.

Posted by johnward 03:34 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Final whistle. Cue bleak, existential despair.

No Gaelic Athletic Association football county has endured more anguish and disappointment in the quest for the Sam Maguire Cup than Mayo. More than half a century has passed since Mayo were the All-Ireland football champions in 1951. That year has become a bright and poignant touchstone, and while the county has produced glittering football players and achieved many days of glory since, the grand prize has eluded them.

From the bleak 1970s, when Mayo failed to win even a provincial championship, to the soul-wrenching defeat against Meath in 1996, not to mention the numbing September losses to Kerry in recent years, Mayo supporters might be forgiven for thinking that the gods enjoy toying with them. Five All-Ireland-final losses sum up a modern period of near-glory and ultimate despair.

But for all that, there is an abiding magnificence to Mayo football. They keep pressing and have never compromised the open, often flamboyant, style of play for which the county has been celebrated, while the passionate Mayo public has stayed loyal and loud through the setbacks...House of Pain is an entertaining, moving book about the people who have put their souls into the fight for All-Ireland glory. Packed with memorable anecdotes and behind-the-scenes stories about the quest for success, it is a tribute to those who refuse to be daunted by the fact that fifty years of trying have brought no redemption.

That is the blurb from a book called the House of Pain:Through the Rooms of Mayo Football, which should give you an idea of what following Mayo football entails - great troughs of bleak, existential despair, with the hope that each September visit to Croke Park will finally lay to rest the curse that dogs this proud footballing county.

Last year I watched the All Ireland final with my cousin Paul and his family in a pub full of braying Dublin fans; Paul was Brayer -in- Chief and once again we fell at the final hurdle. A free kick was sent over the Dublin bar and the Mayo players thought they still had time to mount a final, possibly victorious attack. The ref seemed to give the indication that there was time left on the clock, but he blew time immediately the ball was back in play. Cue bleak existential despair for a further 12 months.

Last weekend, Mayo took on a Cork team in the quarter finals. In the run in to the game, members of the Cork management team highlighted a couple of Mayo players. Cillian O'Connor and Kevin McLoughlin, as adept at committing tactical fouls in order to break up the attacking rhythm of their opponents. Not only were they fouling opponents, they were getting away with it, was the not so hidden subtext.

Needless to say James Horan, the Mayo manager was not best pleased:

Our character was challenged in the lead up to this game by the Cork management, which I think is unprecedented in Gaelic football...For us it was taking the integrity of two of our players and our team - I think that's something that's disgraceful and they should be ashamed of what they done.

So far, so righteous indignation.

The game itself lived up to the hype with Mayo prevailing 1-19 to 2-15, a 1 point win that books Mayo its fourth successive All Ireland semi final. But as the Irish Independent's sports reporter, Malachy Clerkin pointed out

In the long and great Mayo tradition of doing things the hard way, this won't rank right at the top but it deserves mention in the conversation...

Mayo almost contrived to blow a seven point lead with 20 minutes to go but the real, perfect, beautiful symmetry of the game came right at the end. A free kick was sent over the Mayo bar and the Cork players thought they still had time to mount a final, possibly victorious attack. The ref seemed to give the indication that there was time left on the clock, but he blew time immediately the ball was back in play. Cue bleak existential despair for a further 12 months - this time for Cork (although in fairness, I'm not sure the Cork character is given to deep soul searching).

The ref was surrounded by irate Cork players demanding an explanation, whilst I imagine James Horan was a contented man.

Posted by johnward 04:38 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

What's Irish for schadenfreude?

It's unlikely that you will have heard of Ivor Callely. For a few years he was a self proclaimed coming man in Fianna Fail, more First Division than Premiership if truth be told, and he seemed more popular with journalists and members of his family than party or political colleagues. But he was a great vote winner and this endeared him to Bertie, for a while at least. Ivor was never short of self belief, reinforced by a story he used to tell that when he was a babe in arms a 'wise woman' predicted he would become president of Ireland.

From TD for a Dublin seat to becoming a junior minister and then a Senator, Ivor is currently Prisoner 92995, banged up for five months for fraudulently claiming mobile phone expenses for the grand sum of 4,207.45 euros. This covered his time in the Senate and retrospectively as a TD.
In so many ways, this case personifies what is wrong with Ireland; this persistent belief that those in power have an entitlement to anything and everything and they are beyond sanction. They are certainly beyond contempt.

And it also shows that the people feel so downtrodden and powerless, they let these things slide with a shrug of the shoulders and an 'it’s the way its always been' comment. For decades, well before the Celtic Tiger and bust of 2008, the country has been abused by those who govern it - and that is not confined to elected politicians. Whether its jobs for the boys, things done on a nod and a wink, the wilful, criminal refusal to acknowledge, recognise and act on clerical abuse or the fact that those with mates in the police could get penalty traffic points expunged. When a police whistleblower having run out of options went public with what he knew about the penalty point scandal, his behaviour was described by the police commissioner as 'disgusting.' That particular commissioner, like Callely is yesterdays man, having resigned earlier this year.

One of the reasons I've heard put forward for the Irish people's resigned approach to increasing austerity measures over the past three or four years is down to a feeling that they are partially responsible for the country's woes. Whilst commendable as an example of taking personal responsibility, they continue to get screwed.

Back to Ivor. Open any newspaper in Ireland and you will find politicians and businessmen and bankers who have a lot more to answer for than Ivor; he didn't attack, injure or maim any one (apart from his own career); he claimed just over 4,000 euros he believed he was entitled to and that goes to the heart of the matter. He had a sense of entitlement. Once he found out that he was eligible to apply for this money, he saw little wrong in creating bogus invoices to make sure he got what he was 'entitled' to. He was so inept he claimed some of the expenses in pounds despite the fact that the period he was claiming for, Ireland now used the euro. Once the scam was exposed, his first course of defence was to blame a now dead former business partner.

Ivor was simply an accident waiting to happen. Bertie appointed him a minister in 2002. In 2005 he announced he thought he could succeed Bertie as top dog; he then blotted his copybook, when as chairman of the Eastern Health Board, his house was painted for free by a construction company. He lost his ministerial job closely followed by his seat in 2007, but Bertie doing a final favour for his Northside buddy, kicked him upstairs to the Senate. Cue current woes. Along the way there was some unpleasantness over travel expenses from his holiday home in Cork to Dublin and a misunderstanding over a damaged yacht that involved a kimono.

Ted, a man I know from Cork, had a brief comment about Ivor when I mentioned the case to him. He simply looked at me and said 'The prick.' Having lived in an English constituency 'represented' by the poster girl for our very own expenses scandal, I know how he felt!

Miriam Lord who writes the political sketch column for the Irish Times, described Ivor thus:

He always dreamed big but couldn't help acting the small time shyster...Blinded by self belief and an overweening sense of his own brilliance, Ivor Callely had a relentless ambition that stood in marked contrast to his ability. But he could never see this, because nobody ever took Ivor as seriously as he took himself.

That is one of the kinder comments from journalists, who I get the feeling have been writing Ivor's political obituary for some time.

The real tragedy is not that a second rate chancer came a cropper, but that Ivor Callely is is the tip of an mediocrity iceberg. Ireland seems to be a society that has never, or forgotten how to, with some notable exceptions, challenge power. Whether it’s the time servers in the civil service, politicians who are promoted not because of ability because of the value they have to the party machine, greedy, corrupt businessmen who think the rules, any rules don't apply, craven health boards who pay management over the odds from money raised from charity collections, a church that continues to be mired in controversy, they all form part of an exclusive club that doesn't want to take responsibility for their actions and protects their own. And whilst most don't crash and burn over 4,000 euros, there are it seems, plenty of small time shysters to go around.

Posted by johnward 20:41 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

The price of power

So now we know; after all the recent guesswork, consultations, predictions and political promises the price of water has finally been decided.
One of the big talking political debates (read controversy) in Ireland over the past 12 months or so, has been the introduction of a new system of paying for the use of domestic water. Most people see it as a simple taxation on the water they use and after the publication of pricing details today, I can guarantee that the media will hit the righteous indignation button on their laptops and letters pages will talk about nothing else.

Politicians have been promising, as recently as two months ago that households would not be paying more than €240 per household. This was a promise they couldn't possibly make as the size of households vary and they were not in control of the pricing policy.
The Irish Examiner cut straight to the chase with their front page headline


It's some little while since I've seen the price of a shower analysed to the nth decimal point but the gist of the new charge/tax is that each adult child or student living at home will cost the family around €102 a year each in water charges; families with an existing set charge will carry on paying that charge until six months after the water meter has been installed and average costs will vary between €382 and €482 a year.

A seven minute daily shower has been calculated to cost €87 per year, whilst an equivalent power shower will cost an eye watering (pun intended) €311 a year. Who says power comes with no price?

The Energy Regulator who has released the costing details explains the discrepancy between the government figures of €240 a year and their upper figure of €482 by saying that the government average included holiday homes without occupants which, unsurprisingly have very little water usage over 12 months.

I've just been chatting to Robert about the new charges. As he points out

It's pissing down five days out of seven in Ireland, and after this we're going to have some of the highest water charges in Europe.

According to The Examiner, after every house in the country has had a meter installed

... water will cost €4.88 per 1,000 litres, with a 30,000-litre free allowance per household and 21,000 litres per child. This will allow a child to use 57 litres of water a day before being charged, which amounts to one toilet flush and one seven-minute shower. A toilet flush uses seven litres of water, while a seven-minute shower uses up to 49 litres of water. Power showers can use up to 175 litres in the same time. Parents will have to pay for all other basic needs for children, such as brushing their teeth or washing their clothes.

Enda K (as I'm going to start calling him) promised the country before the local elections

We are giving an additional 38,000 litres per child up to the age of 18, so therefore, effectively, children are free.

The governments get out of jail card, unless showed to be untrue is that the energy regulator say the free allowance is based on updated analysis, which shows 21,000 is the “normal consumption”.

The Society of St Vincent de Paul said the proposed cost per unit cost is one of the highest in Europe and “establishes a culture of high charging” which will have “serious implications for low-earning families”.

On the up side (it's barely an upside) consumers will have to pay only half of their water bill if their supply is not safe for human consumption, and if that situation lasts for more than three months, they will get a 100% discount. People with additional medical needs will have their charges capped at €176 per annum.

It's still pissing down in Doolin. It must be one of the five in seven days.

Posted by johnward 06:45 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

The Philosopher's Stone (Cottage)

Boris is a German I met a week or so ago at the hostel in Doolin; he was reading a book on philosophy, the gist of it being can philosophy be taught in the same way that physics or history is taught? He promised to let me know how it turned out.

A couple of days and several showers later, Boris moved on for a few days in Connemara (the showers are important because Boris apparently makes all his big decisions whilst showering) to enjoy some hiking and improve his ability to pun in English.

He got back to the hostel last night, having had a splendid time in Connemara, apart from spraining a wrist after he fell off his bike showing off. As compensation, his punning had improved no end. He described a trip he took on the bike around Killary Fjord to the southern most tip, a small, and I mean small, fishing village called Rossroe.

'Ah! Rossroe' I said. 'If you went to Rossroe, you must have seen the house Wittgenstein stayed in in the late 40's'. Boris' face was as I imagined it appeared when he fell off his bike and hurt his wrist - drained of blood, slack of jaw and beads of sweat on brow. 'Wittgenstein? Wittgenstein lived in Rossroe?'

Wittgenstein, or to give him his full moniker, Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (1889 – 1951) was an Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, mind and language, I have no real idea what any of that actually means but he seem to be a big noise in the philosophical world. Although he ended up teaching at Cambridge he began his career in a remote Austrian village where he seemed to enjoy hitting his students, concussing one and making the ears of another bleed. During his short lifetime he published just one slim book, the 75-page Tracatus Logico - Philsophucus in 1921, one article, one book review and a children's dictionary, which I assume includes a definition of child abuse.

He was born into one of the richest families in Europe, his sister's wedding portrait was painted by Klimt, which was nice and three of his five brothers committed suicide, which was not so nice. He served in the Austrian army, where he was decorated, during the First World War and as a hospital porter in London during the Second. He also suffered depression all his life.

Not unsurprisingly, he seemed happiest when ensconced in the world of philosophy.

Boris, having a philosophical turn of mind, was stunned by this information and immediately penciled in a return trip to Rossroe and contacted a philosopher friend in Germany, who is on his way to Ireland and had asked for places to visit.

Apparently the book on whether it is possible to teach philosophy as other subjects, ended unsatisfactorily. In philosophical terms, I assume that means that philosophy can be taught, but also, it can't. Maybe.

Posted by johnward 04:36 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Old School Full Irish

Forget all the Fancy Dan restaurants and cookery schools that have popped up all over Ireland in the past 20 years or so. Ireland's undisputed gift to world cuisine is the Full Irish breakfast, not the yuppie version with an egg lightly poached in water from a holy well in the Wicklow mountains or black pudding made from tofu. That's the sort of carry on that got Ireland into the mess its in now. Once a country forgets its heritage, it will find itself adrift in the cosmos and in hock to the German banks.

The FIB is not to be approached lightly; casuality is a rushed experience which diminishes the enjoyment and will lead to a poisonous bout of indigestion. I've eaten FIB's from Donegal to Kerry and Mayo to Dublin and whilst there may be a variation or two, the beast is essentially the same. It must also be remembered that the Full Irish is once a week deal; anymore will kill you stone dead.

Firstly meats - rashers, sausages, black pudding and white pudding; poultry is a fried egg (ideally two) , not poached, boiled, scrambled - that's part of a different meal altogether. Baked beans, hash browns, mushrooms are the vegetable content and I've even had chips thrown on top as a homage to Ireland's love affair with the spud.

Toast - I'm open to brown bread being used as the healthy option.

Now condiments. Until today I was always sure that the FIB involved brown sauce; always, always brown sauce. I've only once been told that there is no brown sauce available, so naturally I won't be going back there. Red sauce, or ketchup for those of you who went to public school, is no substitute.
Salt (low sodium is acceptable), but no pepper.

I was out on Inisheer where a couple of people have a hot dog stand, sandwich bar, cold drink emporium thing going on; there was also a harpist who played tin whistle on hand, but that's another story. I mentioned in passing that the only suitable sauce for a full Irish is brown - an old school FIB if you will. I was met with what can only be described a disdain that was teetering over into contempt. Not only was red sauce the preferred choice of one stall owner but mustard was the preference of the other.

An Australian lad who was waiting for a hot dog (with mustard) looked bewildered by developments and I have to admit I wasn't far behind. Maybe it’s a Island thing.

Posted by johnward 13:41 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Donegal - Ireland's forgotten county?

I was chatting to Charlie and Anne yesterday. They're a middle aged couple from Malin Head in Donegal and it turned out we have mutual friends. I was telling them about my trip to Inishowen last year and we inevitably began chatting about the economy and which bankers should be in prison; this led onto a to talk about emigration. Charlie and Anne have two kids, both living in Derry and so far have no need to think about leaving. A family friend has seven grown up children, all who have now left Ireland. The difference this time is that most emigrants seem to be heading to Canada, Australia, even the Middle East and less to the UK. The long weekend back in Ireland is no longer an option.

Then Anne said something that really shocked me. She said 'If you get cancer in Donegal, you're dead.'' I thought she was making an apocryphyl point about the general lack of medical support available in Donegal, but she was saying that there was no support available; unless you can get to Dublin for treatment or you are rich enough to have good and expensive, medical insurance, you will die.

Fast forward 24 hours and I was listening to a radio programme being broadcast live from Donegal. The gist of the piece was is Donegal Ireland's forgotten county?

One of the participants, a Donegal businessman, when contacted by the show to see if he would take part, was initially reluctant because he didn't want to appear on another programme that featured Donegal people whingeing. He was convinced that listeners would simply turn off when they heard the ''Donegal ones on again, crying''. There's no doubt that there are problems in Donegal, but as the same man said to the presenter ''You didn't need Sherpas and camels to get here.'' I've never seen a Sherpa with a camel, but I got his point.

If Ireland is on the periphery of Europe, then Donegal is perceived as being on the periphery of Ireland. There is less inward investment into Donegal than other counties, commercial rates are on a par with Galway city (although business' have doubled in the past two years), disposable income is 30%+ less than Dublin and unemployment is up. Access via road to Donegal is better than ever before, but train links are still poor.

Whilst the Troubles were at their height, a car journey from Dublin would take something like 6 hours and have to go through several British and Irish army checkpoints. Rather ironically, Derry now provides one of the best access points to Donegal via its airport and good road links in the north, although the city remains the only city in Europe without a motorway within 25km of it.

There seems to be a general feeling that Donegal and it's people are too negative about themselves and this need to change. The Wild Atlantic Way could deliver some economic success, but that will take several years to filter down; without doubt Donegal is in my opinion, the most dramatic county in Ireland in terms of landscape and seascape, it has some of the highest sea cliffs in Europe (the Cliffs of Moher in Clare and just 10 minutes drive from where I am at the moment, are pygmies by comparison), the largest fishing port in Ireland is in the county and it has a well deserved reputation for IT skills.

However, if Anne, who is a nurse is right, all these natural advantages will count for nothing.

Posted by johnward 08:28 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Where the City ends

Doolin in west Clare, hard by the Atlantic, hopping off point for the Aran Islands and home of trad music would fit most people's definition of a bucolic setting - green, if stony fields, donkeys and cows in those same fields, narrow lanes, a few pubs, big skies, space to breathe - all the things that command a premium for stressed city types who spend their time trying to figure out how to screw up the economy next time around.

The more pastoral the scene, the more insidious and hidden the dangers and perils. Think Sam Peckinpah meets the Good Life.

A new report has just been released this week by the Simon Community, a campaigning group for the homeless. The report is called Left Out in the Cold: a Review of Rural Homelessness in Ireland and it highlights the growing tragedy of homelessness in rural Ireland. In many ways what the report says doesn't come as a surprise: within the countryside, homelessness is

...more hidden, more stigmatised and more difficult to endure than being homeless in towns or cities...(Kitty Holland, journalist).

There are fewer resources available for people who find themselves homeless in the countryside and it is that that drives the homeless from rural areas into the cities, exacerbating the existing problems there. Homelessness is rarely top of many politicians priorities and the rural homeless have even less of a profile than their urban counterparts.

The definition of 'rural' in Ireland is simply anywhere outside Dublin, Galway Limerick or Cork.

Almost 4,000 people were in emergency accommodation or sleeping rough in the 2011 census, almost 40% of them were outside Dublin. The report goes on to say that things have deteriorated significantly since 2011, with unreliable public transport links and a reduction in the rural rent supplement adding to the problems.

A drive through any part of Ireland will show that houses, and business have been abandoned or shut down; people often bought at the height of the Tiger and simply couldn't service their debts when the economy crashed and the banks called their loans in.

Just down the road from here is the seaside town of Kilkee, which has the dubious honour of having the highest percentage of its houses unoccupied within the prosaically titled West Clare Municipal District. It has over 70% unoccupancy rate compared to a national average of 17%. Now its probable that some of that number is down to the fact that some of these houses are holiday homes, but the fact remains that there are over 7,000 empty homes in Clare and 4,000 or so homeless people in the entire country. Assuming that all these people wish to move to Clare, the housing problem is solved in one go.

Posted by johnward 04:13 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

'Hello Good People'*

We all think we know what and where the Third World is; most of the time it's somewhere else thankfully and we know we don't want it getting any closer.

Probably the last time any of us gave the 'Third World' any thought was when the sweat shop collapsed in Bangladesh killing hundreds of workers. It's doubtful that most of us, including me, did little more than think a little more about buying 5 t - shirts for £3.
It was only recently that I found out what the original definition was of the term Third World. It originally referred to countries that were aligned neither with the USA or the Soviet Union back in the day. So, the answer to the quiz question 'Which is the closest Third World country to the UK?' the answer should come back, according to the original definition, 'The Republic of Ireland.'

At the moment, the Irish Justice Minister, Frances Fitzgerald is in front of the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva, attempting to defend her government's and this country's seemingly woeful record on an entire raft of human rights abuses covering the last 70 years.
Every signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights must appear before this UN committee every four years or so. Ireland's last appearance was in 2008.

Where to start? Probably with an editorial from the Irish Examiner of a couple of days ago:

Given this country's abysmal record on human rights, it is not surprising that Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald is facing a baptism of fire while a bevy of civil servants are subjected to a barrage of penetrating questions from members of the UN committee on human rights in Geneva.

So while a country's appearance in front of this UN committee is mandatory and may not seem too serious at first glance, one of the country's leading newspapers is already saying that Ireland's reputation as a serial abuser of human rights has placed Fitzgerald on the back foot.

Minister Fitzgerald has to defend the country and its actions (or lack thereof) on multiple fronts; the Magdalene Laundries, Travellers ethnic rights*, the Mother and Baby scandal, prison conditions, abortion and the state's role in the ''torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading' abuse of women who underwent a surgical procedure called symphysiotomy. This was carried out on women who were about to give birth and involved breaking the pelvis, with no patient consent. According to the Survivors of Symphsiotomy, almost 1500 women and girls, some as young as 14 underwent this procedure simply in order to facilitate a vaginal birth. It has in many cases, led to a lifetime of pain and disability.

What the committee wants to get to the bottom of is why successive Irish governments seem institutionally incapable of accepting any responsibility for the decades of abuse visited on generations of women and children. Over the decades, the government's default position seems to be - deny deny deny, blame the victim and when that doesn't work buy their silence with a cash pay off.

Despite the litany of abuse laid at the door of the Irish government, there seems little obvious will or desire to change. On one issue alone, abortion, a committee member said that current Irish legislation that limited to saving the life of the mother, didn't satisfy the terms of the covenant. The committee were also concerned about the number of physicians required under legislation, who were needed to certify that a woman's life was at risk and subjecting suicidal women to such checks, would only increase their distress.

In short, the committee accused the State of crimes against women and children and described the list of abuses presented to them as ''quite a collection''. The chair of the committee is a Brit and that sounds like withering understatement. It will not do, and has never done to defend your own reprehensible position on human rights abuses by arguing that you're not as bad as the other guy. If you're content to be labelled as a serial abuser along with dictatorships, theocracies, superpowers and their client states, you'll be judged by the company you keep.

In a delicious irony, Ireland won a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council for the first time 2012. Perhaps what we think of as the Third World hasn't actually moved at all.

  • Brid Ouilligan from the Irish Travellers Movement addressed the committee in Gammon, the Traveller language ''Galuin munia needes''

Posted by johnward 06:18 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Brendan Murphy - He suckles at Beelzebub's Teat

A friend of mine, Brendan Murphy from the Falls Rd in Belfast, works at the coalface that is the BBC; by night, he is apparently, Satan's acolyte, suckling at the Dark Lord's nipples.

How do I know this? I know so because Father Padraig O' Baoill tells me it is so. Admittedly, he doesn't mention Brendan by name, but he stands condemned by his works. For Brendan teaches yoga and according to the good father yoga, tai chi and reiki are 'contemptible.' In a recent parish newsletter to his Donegal flock, Fr Padraig wrote:

As followers of Jesus Christ we should not partake in deeds that go against our religion. Accordingly you should not take part in yoga, tai chi or reiki. Do not put your soul in jeopardy for the sake of these contemptible things.

I'm assuming that Father O'Baoill has found, after much effort, the Bible passages that prohibit stretching, bending and waxing your hands about in a non threatening manner.

A few days ago, the Irish Times published a story outlining the catastrophic drop in the numbers of priests and nuns left in Ireland. (Admittedly one man's catastrophe is another man's improvement). Between 2002 - 12 the number of priests fell by 13% and in the same period, the figure for nuns fell by 23%
The Association of Catholic priests is talking in terms of a crisis in vocation and gave told Irish bishops that within two decades Irish priests will be as rare as hen's teeth. So they (the ACP) have come up with some suggestions - ordain married men of proven responsibility and virtue, invite priests who have left the priesthood to get married, to return and ordain women.

All radical stuff. Fr O'Baoill is currently in Lourdes and I'm fairly sure that when he gets back he'll have an attack of the vapours. I hear yoga is very good for relaxing.

Posted by johnward 04:20 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Gilbert & Sullivan have come to Ireland

Just when I thought the Garth Brooks fiasco couldn't become more ridiculous, it has.

Enda Kenny had to answer questions in the Dail yesterday about why the government hasn't intervened to ensure that the Brooksmeister hasn't been given the freedom of the city and had Croke Park renamed Gart Brooks Stadium, all in order to get the be Stetsoned one to Dublin. The reason politicians no longer get involved in nonsense like this is that they can't be trusted. The last time it happened here, governments fell, careers were ruined and the cost to the country in lawyers fees would need the takings from the equivalent of 100 Garth Brooks concerts to balance the books. Enda has insisted that a meeting should take place between Christ Burke, the Lord Mayor of Dublin and Owen Keegan, the man who decided that only three of the five concerts should go ahead. This was yesterday and the matter was seen as so important that neither man could find an opportunity for a get together until 5pm tonight, the same time Brooks is holding a press conference in Nashville.

Now the Mexican ambassador to Ireland has offered his services to Christy Burke, to act as a mediator between the city and Brooks. A Dublin TD, Joe Costello has chipped in suggesting that this cock up is so damaging to Brand Ireland (whatever that is) that Enda should use the video conferencing yoke to chat to Garth, mano a mano. Not only are the Mexicans onside, but some 'investors' are considering approaching Obama (that's he of the Offally Obamas), to see if he can convince Garth that the affection he holds Ireland in should actually stretch to performing the concerts that he is contracted to do.

Once again, the newspapers, tv and radio is full of this story - the fact that Irish government is supposed to be undergoing a major reshuffle, the Orangemen are getting stroppy threatening all sorts of direness up North, road traffic carnage seems to be on the up and the little matter of a Mayo appearance in a Connaught football final on Sunday that should have Enda's full attention, doesn't seem to register.

If this was an Irish soccer training camp, Roy Keane would have been off days ago. This is a genuine Irish (soap) opera.

Posted by johnward 08:42 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

The Marching Season: Put your watch back 300 years

I was having a drink with my cousin Pat and his wife, Mary, the other day when I commented on the amount of cars from the north I'd seen in Mayo. Pat said ''the 12th is coming up; lots of people want to be away''.

And of course he was right - the 12th July is the official start of the Marching Season in the north, where Orangemen will don sash and bowler, bang the Lambeg and demand to march their traditional routes, often through Catholic/Nationalist/Republican areas. Inevitably, the Parades Commission will turn down some of the requested routes, language and positions will become entrenched and inflamed and frustrated Protestants will take to the streets, mostly young Protestant men, in order to bang heads with the PSNI.

The battle of words has already started because the Parades Commission has done exactly as I anticipated and banned the return leg of a march through Belfast's Ardoyne area. This has led to the unionist parties boycotting some government meetings and cross border get - togethers. So far, so predictable.

I was talking to a man in Cong, a driver of a car with northern plates in fact. He told me that he's from the Protestant community and although he 's not here specifically to avoid the start of the Marching Season, neither is he sorry to be away. He's only in his early 40's, so he's known his fair share of both good and bad in the north. And as a Protestant from the north, he bangs his head in frustration as every year the Orangemen either shoots itself in the foot, by appearing as out of date and redundant as a Garth Brooks concert ticket or simply menacing what seems to appear, an increasingly fragile peace process.

All sides are making political hay out of this annual head butting by appealing to their hard core support: the UnIonists will never surrender whilst Sinn Fein smugly present themselves as the party of compromise, flexibility and accommodation. The Unionists desperately need to get some decent media management as SF has been running rings around them for decades. If the Orangemen don't want to go the way of the dinosaur and run the risk of centuries of their culture resembling a morris men convention, they need to get their act together.

My friend in Cong's parting comment was 'Fly into Belfast and put your watch back 300 years.' Not the first time I've heard this, but rarely with such resignation.

Posted by johnward 09:26 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

3 into 5 is a no go

So, Garth Brooks, the Brooksmeister, the Bard of the Dustbowl, is sticking to his Tulsa guns and will deprive the Emerald Isle, the land of Yeats, Synge, Joyce, Heaney and Kavanagh, of his presence in 2014.

Ireland will have to await the Second Coming, for that is how Brooks' appearance in Dublin has been portrayed, for a very long time. And after this debacle, Brooks may very well strike Ireland off his list as 'Unsaveable. Delete from database.' The only thing I can see that will change his mind is if his fans promise him the lives of their firsTborn to appease his wounded dignity and flatter and reinforce their sense of victimhood. Don't be surprised if some nut job doesn't take Dublin City Council to the European Court of Human Rights and probably win.

I fear for the future employment prospects of Owen Keegan, the man who made the decision to allow only the three agreed concerts to go ahead. He seems to be a man that attracts political enemies and perhaps this is what they have been waiting for. But the fact of the matter is that the promoter, Peter Aiken, sold 400,000 tickets for something that didn't exist because it was unlicensed. He was quoted last week as saying that at no point had the council made him aware of potential problems. In fact he had assurances there were no problems. When asked who gave those assurances he wouldn't say but said that nobody said it wouldn't go ahead! Not the same thing at all . Today in the Irish Times, Aiken confirmed there was no insurance in place to cover his losses as insurance companies will not insure events without a license.

I do have a possible solution to the problem, which I will be emailing to the promoter and Dublin City Council shortly. By the time the first concert is due to be played, the World Cup will be finished and that means that Garth Crooks ex Stoke City, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United, West Bromwich Albion and Charlton Athletic striker, BBC pundit and a man capable of both stringing a sentence together and wearing a stetson, will be avaIlable. And it only means a one letter change to the posters.

Posted by johnward 09:19 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

''No Messing!!''

I've been in Cong, on the Mayo/Galway border for 5 day now. It's a small place, and if you don't like the John Ford movie The Quiet Man, which was shot here in the 1950's, excellent fishing and good walks, there's probably little to keep you here more than a day or two at best. I stayed on an extra day because of mackerel.

I popped into a local restaurant yesterday, The Hungry Monk, for a cup of coffee. I'd only been in there five minutes when someone on the table next to me ordered a plate of the pan fried mackerel and I have to say if it tasted as good as it looked this place was on to a winner. Apparently it did and they are. I know this because there was lots of yum yum noises and those immortal words ''The gooseberry compote made it!!''

I wasn't hungry but I promised myself I'd go back today. The actual dish is pan fried mackerel, new season potato salad, salad leaves, the aforementioned and exceptional, gooseberry compote and tomato sembal. Now I'm the first to admit I have as much idea of what a sembal is as I know how to fly a plane, but I do know is that everything tasted great, including the home made bread, which I have to admit gives my auntie Biddy, who was the best bread maker in Ireland, a run for her money.

There's lots I liked about the Hungry Monk. First its size - its only 10 tables or so with a couple on the pavement. Secondly is the minimal menu - it has half a dozen dishes chalked up today including smoked salmon, pan fried salmon, Kelly's Beef Cheek Irish pastrami and Cheddar cheese plus the same number of desserts. Third it uses local suppliers and that means that the customers eat what's available and that means seasonal. They also serve a blaa, which apart from being a nightspot in Oslo, is a roll peculiar to Waterford. To qualify as an authentic blaa, it has to be baked in the county; to satisfy the requirements, Aisling has it baked in Waterford and couriered north to Cong overnight.

There is a complete lack of pretension and that's down to the owners - John who is front of house and Aisling who is the chef. The Hungry Monk has only been open five months and starting a restaurant business is always one of those decisions that can come back and bite you on the bum, but John and Aisling seem to know what they're doing. They arrived in Cong via Carlow, Boston, Castlebar and Japan, working their way around the world in the food business, gaining the expertise and the know how needed to make something like this work.

I suppose what you need to make your own business work is passion and you need to make sure that that passion is felt firstly by the rest of your staff and ultimately the customer. It's good food, prepared simply, priced fairly and as Aisling said to me with ''No Messing!''. And it made me stay an extra day in Cong.

The only down side is that one of the staff had tickets for the now cancelled Garth Brooks concert, a story that continues to divide the nation.

Posted by johnward 07:12 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

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