A Travellerspoint blog

The new Land Warriors

There are some people who would like you to think that there is a new war, in fact a crusade being fought across Ireland and the weapons aren't guns and rockets but quotes from long dead but not forgotten politicians. I give you one Charles Stewart Parnell, 19th century politician, martyr and orator of this parish:

When a man takes a farm from which another had been evicted you must shun him on the roadside when you meet him, you must shun him in the streets of the town, you must shun him in the shop, you must shun him in the fair green and in the marketplace, and even in the place of worship, by leaving him alone, by putting him in a moral Coventry, by isolating him from the rest of his country as if he were the leper of old, you must show your detestation of the crime he has committed.

This was a call to arms against landlords, their agents or farmers who took the farms of evicted tenants. This "moral force" became the main weapon of the league. It soon acquired the name "the Boycott" after its most famous victim, Captain Boycott. Enough history as most of this is included in my wittily entitled and rather less visited than I would like post, 'Black & Tan Bastards.'

There are some people who argue that what Ireland has been going through over the past 5 years is comparable to the great Land War of the 19th century and by implication they are the inheritors of Parnell and Davitt. Since I've been in Ireland, I've become more convinced that ever that by simply putting some bankers in prison (Dave Hunt excluded, although I would check up on extradition between Ireland and the Diving Republic of Dahab), the morale of the country would be increase exponentially - More bankers in prison = Happy population

Instead of avaricious absent landlords and their thuggish agents are the banks and their diabolical servant, the government. In the place of the put upon Croppie and small tenant farmer, forced to walk the Long Acre, are businesspeople, SME's and owners of thoroughbred horse studs.

Whilst in the old days, it was the Land League leading the fight on the ground and Parnell rallying the troops in the House of Commons, today we have a myriad of organisations and self proclaimed mouthpieces such as Friends of Banking Ireland, Direct Democracy Ireland, Defend Our Homes and People for Economic Justice.

Businessman Jerry Beades heads up Friends of Banking Ireland and pops up at auctions trying to disrupt the sale of repossessed properties. He's presently in dispute with Ulster Bank, who say he owes 3.5m euros. Jerry's take on this is probably unsurprising

The courts are ridiculous. They are getting judgements that they can only wipe their arses with. I owe 3.5m euros - but you can't get blood from a stone...There are 400,000 who face losing their homes. It's a European problem. Europe has to accept that the euro is fucked.

Ben Gilroy, ex bodyguard and businessman is the public face of Direct Democracy Ireland and People for Economic Justice. Earlier this year Direct Democracy Ireland did fairly well in a by election in Meath and probably holds out some hope for future successes. He is eminently quotable as he has opinions on all aspects of the economic crash.

On British auctioneers working in Ireland:

Take your British accent and bring it back with you...I wanted him and his like out of this country.

On Michael Noonan (Finance Minister and Enda Kenny:

Gobshites. Did you ever see a face that needed to be slapped more than Noonan...The way that Noonan talks does my head in. He's such a conniving little rat. The President should sign in a new law - punch Noonan in the face every time you see him. They are two gombeen men.

On Michael D Higgins, the President:

The President is an atheist.

The legal system:

People who have worked all their lives and now are in trouble and are part of a family unit, are afforded no help. But still they'll pay for legal aid for some gurriers down the road who hits a girl.

The Freemasons:

The Freemasons Hall is just across the road from the Dail. I'd say every judge is in it - this 'help a brother in trouble stuff'. That Freemason Lodge is the second oldest and the second most important in the world. There is one lodge in every Irish town with 50,000 members.

Gilroy on Gilroy:

Don't call me a right wing racist - I'm not. Then make me look like a pussy and appear that I'm not strong in my convictions.

It's simply too easy to dismiss and mock Gilroy and Beades and all the other people involved in these organisations as cranks. The reality is that there are thousands of people in Ireland in danger of losing their homes or business' or both. The banks have made it very clear that they are not charities and they want their money back. There is a genuine feeling of abandonment and that the mainstream political parties have cut the vast majority of the country adrift in order to satisfy the troika, particularly the Germans.

Banks continue to send out letters telling customers that they need to either settle outstanding amounts or sell their home to pay off the mortgage or be prepared to be repossessed within weeks.

Because of this genuine fear it allows organisations like the Rodolphus Allen Trust to operate. As far as I can make out, they have convinced thousands of desperate people to sign their properties over to the Trust and they in turn promise to protect those properties from repossession. Quite how they intend to that is unclear as the Trust has so far refused to engage the courts, so there is no legal basis for their claims and the organiser of the Trust, Charles Allen is unavailable as he has decamped to the North, one step ahead of an arrest warrant.

Let's leave the last word to Ben Gilroy

We are a sovereign state abundant in everything here. We have fertile ground, but one in four children go to bed hungry because of politics. We could be the organic food centre of Europe and take control of oil and gas. Our government should issue debt free currency and we'd never have a national debt. We just need to print our own money.

Whilst perhaps not up to Parnell's soaring rhetoric, Gilroy is touching a nerve and promising the people a champion.

Posted by johnward 02:28 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

I invoke Godwin's Law

Godwin's law (also known as Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies or Godwin's Law of Nazi Analogies) states:

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches

The 'law' is now often applied to any threaded online discussion, such as forums, chat rooms and blog comment threads, and has been invoked for the inappropriate use of Nazi analogies in articles or speeches. The law is sometimes invoked, as a rule, to mark the end of a discussion when a Nazi analogy is made, with the writer who made the analogy being considered to have lost the argument.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how some Irish politicians who voted in favour of the 'Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill' were being denounced by priests from their pulpits and told they could not receive communion. Not enough politicians went on record with their names, but one who has, is Fine Gael TD for Dublin Mid West, Derek Keating.

Last week he went public with some of the abuse and harassment he has received from what he describes from within the church as a small element

'... that threaten, bully and abuse and it's totally unacceptable.'

Since the summer, Keating has been forced out of his home (temporarily) after being targeted by pro lifers, lost the use of a local parish hall where he held his constituency clinics and been told his services as a Eucharistic Minister (lay people who serve the Catholic Church by distributing Holy Communion during Mass and bringing it to the homebound), are no longer required.

One parish priest, Fr Anthony O'Reilly, wrote to Keating saying

I was satisfied that Fine Gael was a Christian, democratic party...What we have witnessed over the past while is certainly not democratic but more akin to a Nazi regime.

Although not an online discussion or story, it's at this point I invoke Godwins Law. It's ironic that the priest's letter, when talking about Fine Gael being a Christian and democratic party, has the sulphurous whiff of the 1930's Blueshirts about it - the Blueshirt leader sent troops to fight for Franco and later offered help to Hitler on the Eastern Front. I think most people would agree that both Franco and Hitler had something of the Nazi about them.

Posted by johnward 04:32 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Lap Dancing in the Dail

I was very remiss in my last posting as I probably gave the impression that there were few, if any winners in this week's budget. One of the big winners is the tourist/hospitality sector, who lobbied very hard to keep VAT for the sector at 9% rather than the usual 13%.

And within the hospitality sector are, apparently, lap dancing clubs. This came out during a Dail debate, when Independent TD, Maureen O'Sullivan brought it to fellow parliamentarians attention. Apart from some mild moral outrage, she could really, with a little thought and creativity, had a little fun with the coalition with this.

'Twas only a few months ago, during the abortion debate in the Dail, that Tom Barry, a FG TD, dragged passing colleague Aine Collins into his lap. Described as 'horseplay' at the time, not least by Barry himself, some papers couldn't resist getting the phrase 'lapdance in the Dail' into their headlines. Apart from a resumption of a historic Barry/Collins animosity, this incident did start a debate about the behaviour of public representatives and should there be a bar open in the Dail or even a bar at all.

It all seems a long time ago now, as nothing happened.

Posted by johnward 04:08 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

I hope IDS isn't listening

The final 'austerity budget' crash landed into Irish homes on Tuesday, and like all budgets there are winners and losers. The losers seem to be young people, old people, savers and families, unless you have a child aged 5 or under and they will be entitled to free GP care. This has been pushed as the start of the introduction of universal health care in the country, but as someone said to me last night, 'If the child has a long term illness, what happens when they become 6?' A visit to the GP in Ireland is very expensive, somewhere between 30 - 50 euros and that's before you pay for the prescription. The price of which has just gone up.

Joan Burton is a Labour minister in the coalition, getting lots of media coverage for her as yet undeclared bid to become her party's next leader (the bid to depose a sitting leader is known as a 'heave' in these parts), and mocked for the way she is going about achieving that worthy goal. She is currently Social Protection minister and on of her briefs is to reduce the amount of money she gives away on the dole. She's aiming to save 30m euros over the next 12 months by cracking down on fraud. And this is on top of a programme of reviewing 3,000 social welfare cases a month. So far, so unsurprising.

However a day after the budget, as ministers were doing the media rounds, telling the country that both the Fallen of 1916 and Michael Collins would have approved of the 2014 budget, Joanie went on radio to talk about the coming crackdown, the immorality of defrauding the state, and the fact that the department will be taking police on secondment to tackle fraud. She went on to say

We will be looking at areas like checkpoints in estates and on roads early in the morning as people who otherwise are claiming benefits are actually in fact going off to work.

Before the interview was finished, she'd given the impression that there would be roadblocks at the end of peoples roads, demanding to see proof of employment before they were let go about their business. Or failing that, proof of unemployment and evidence that they were going to spend the day in the library researching job vacancies or pointlessly walking the rain soaked streets.

Now, whilst it's difficult to argue against reducing fraud as a worthy political aim, putting hard pressed, resource poor police officers at the bottom of every road in the country, is probably not the way forward. And of course it wasn't. Joanie had, if not misspoke, not been clear. What she is talking about is putting hard pressed, resource poor police officers at the bottom of every industrial estate and airport in the country,

Let's hope Iain Duncan Smith has had other things on his mind and hasn't been paying attention to his colleague across the water. The last thing he needs is another idea.

Posted by johnward 02:50 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Dead Poets Society

If it's about a World War 1 poet, the chances are it will not end well

Sitting in my Cavan bolt hole on a mildering day (apparently Carlowspeak for pissing down), I was mooching through some of the books I have with me. One is a collection of poems by a not particularly widely known Irish poet, Francis Ledwidge. I bought the book a few weeks ago on a visit to Ledwidge's family home on the outskirts of Slane in Meath.

Whilst not very well known beyond Ireland (Seamus Heaney was a big fan), Ledwidge belonged to a very particular band of brothers - a poet who died in the First World War. Ledwidge, not unusually for the time, was born into a life of poverty (not the genteel sort) and following his father's early death, Francis had to go out and earn a wage. He worked as a farm hand, road mender and supervisor of roads, as a copper miner (sacked for organising a strike having been a trade union activist since 1906) and shop assistant. Given his nationalist and left of centre politics, it was hardly a surprise when he became secretary of the Slane branch of the Meath Labour Union.

He wrote poetry from a young age, much of it centring on the natural beauty of the Boyne Valley and like all poets in need of a patron, Ledwidge struck lucky with Lord Dunsany, who promoted him in Dublin, introducing him to Yeats.

Despite having a member of the Irish aristocracy fighting his corner, Ledwidge was a keen patriot and nationalist. His efforts to found a branch of the Gaelic League in Slane were thwarted by members of the local council. He did manage to act as a founding member with his brother Joseph, of the Slane Branch of the Irish Volunteers, the nationalist force sworn to defend the introduction of Home Rule for Ireland, by force if need be.

On the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, the Irish Volunteers split into two factions - the National Volunteers who supported John Redmond’s appeal to join Irish regiments in support of the Allied war cause and those who did not. Francis was originally of the latter party. He defended this position vigorously at a local authority meeting and then enlisted (October 1914), joining 5th battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, part of the 10th (Irish) Division. This was against the urgings of Dunsany who opposed his enlistment and had offered him a stipend (bribe) to support him if he stayed away from the war.

Ledwidge always said that he joined the army because he couldn't stomach the idea of British troops fighting for eventual Irish freedom but I also like to think that he went to war because his sweetheart Ellie Vaughey had found a new lover, John O'Neill, whom she later married. A poet needs a doomed love affair in his backstory! (Ellie died in childbirth less than a year later and is buried under a monkey puzzle tree on the summit of the Hill of Slane).

Despite his political leanings, Ledwidge seemed to be a good soldier. He gained promotion, fought at the Battle of Gallipoli and campaigned in Serbia where he injured his back. Dismayed by the outcome of the Easter Rising, he was court-martialled and demoted for overstaying his home leave and being drunk in uniform. He gained and lost his NCO stripes over a period in Derry (he was a corporal when the introduction to his first book was written), and then, returned to the front, received back his lance corporal's stripe one last time in January 1917 when posted to the Western Front, joining 1st Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

Ledwidge continued to write, when possible, throughout the war, although he lost much of his work during the atrocious winter weather in Serbia. He sent much of his output to Dunsany, as well as to readers among family, friends and literary contacts. Poems simply got lost over the months.

On 31 July 1917, a group from Ledwidge's battalion were road-laying in preparation for an assault during the Third Battle of Ypres, near the village of Boezinge. While Ledwidge was drinking tea in a mud hole with his comrades, a shell exploded alongside, killing the poet and five others. A chaplain who knew him, Father Devas, arrived soon after, and recorded "Ledwidge killed, blown to bits", probably as pithy an epitaph as one could hope for.

The poems Ledwidge wrote on active service revealed his pride at being a soldier, as he believed, in the service of Ireland. The dead were buried at Carrefour de Rose, and later re-interred in the nearby Artillery Wood Military Cemetery, Boezinge, A stone tablet commemorates him in the Island of Ireland Peace Park, Messines, Belgium. Whilst his work as “peasant poet” and “soldier poet”, once a standard part of the Irish school curriculum, faded from view for many decades of the 20th century. Its intensity, coupled with a revived interest in his period, has restored it, and him to life.

After his death in July 1917, a contemporary poet, John Drinkwater observed;

His poetry exults me, while not so his death.....to those who know what poetry is, the untimely death of a man like Ledwidge is nothing but calamity.

On the spot he was 'blown to bits' stands a memorial to Francis Ledwidge

Oh what a pleasant world 'twould be,
How easy we'd step thro' it,
If all the fools who meant no harm,
Could manage not to do it!

Posted by johnward 03:57 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Which Direction?

I remember making my Holy Communion many years ago - all I got from it, apart from spiritual rejuvenation, were chapped knees a new name (Paul if you're interested) and a couple of quid.

In 2008, I nearly drove off the road in Ireland when a woman came onto a radio phone in and informed the country that her next door neighbours child had arrived for her Communion in a helicopter. The Communion business in Ireland is worth somewhere in the region of 50m euros a a year, even in dire economic times. Keeping up with the Jones' remains an expensive pastime.

It would take a lot to become between a young communicant and his or her big (pay)day and it seems that that something has arrived in the shape of those tedious pop moppets, One Direction. For 'tis they who are playing at Croke Park in May of next year, on exactly the same day that boys and girls are supposed to be receiving a blessing from the local bishop and pocketing hundreds of euros each from simple minded relatives.

Three families with children at a school in Limerick, last week petitioned and then demanded the school to change the date of the communion, bringing it forward by three weeks, as their kids have tickets for the May 24th gig. After, what has been described as 'heated' conversations, the school decided that the only fair way of sorting this out, was to ballot all the parents. Consequently, little Sean and Niamh, brought the ballot papers home and Mum and Dad decided by a vote of 9 - 1 that the date should remain unchanged.

A school source said

A lot of parents who had no problem with the date contacted the school subsequently to express their outrage at the (perceived) disrespect shown to the blessed sacrament (my italics). Some parents had no principled objection to a change of date once there was a proper justification. They just didn't think a pop concert was a good enough reason.

So, anyone who thinks that the 2000 year old, woman hating, paranoid (in a Dan Brown sort of way), filthy rich, paedophile ridden church is powerless in 21st century Ireland, think again.

*There was no reported reaction from One Direction on being dissed by a group of Limerick parents.

Posted by johnward 03:18 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

XMG

Only 25km or so from my Cavan bolthole is Crossmaglen, once the site of the busiest helicopter pad in Europe, and affectionately known by British squaddies en route to the North as XMG and beloved by headline writers everywhere as 'Bandit Country'.

South Armagh and it proximity to the Republic made it easy for IRA hit teams to appear and disappear almost at will. It is a country of narrow lanes and high hedges and at its heart was Crossmaglen. There was something like 54 deaths of army and police personnel in the area between 1970 - 1993. A hotbed of Republicanism (still), the village is small, just a couple of streets, a parade of shops, a red letter box, rather good public toilets and BT phone kiosks; but it has monuments to spare. There is one called GLORY, dedicated to

'...humble heroes who have willingly suffered for the unselfish and passionate love of IRISH FREEDOM.'

Close your eyes, think Braveheart and you have the idea. There is a monument to the 1981 Hunger Strikers and a separate one for Paddy Quinn, a local man involved in the 1981 stand off with the British government. There are posters calling for an end to internment and the release of political prisoners still held in northern prisons.

But the monument that really caught my eye is a more recent one and it's on the edge of the village. It's an abandoned SuperQuinn supermarket, victim of the recession and the takeover of Quinn's by a larger retailer. Thirty local people lost their jobs when the shop closed. Alongside the supermarket is the remnants of a garage forecourt and a limousine service. All abandoned, all vandalised and daubed with graffiti. The message is clear: 'land grabbers' are not welcome here and there is going to be 'No Sale' of any of these premises. I had a chat with a local man who told me that a developer based up in Newry was interested in the land but not the shops. The developer received a 'visit' and apparently lost interest.

Whilst XMG can revel in its past history, someone needs to be taking a look at its present, before SuperQuinn becomes the only monument for which the village remembered.

Posted by johnward 05:17 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Austerity? It's a grammar thing

Today is budget day and the politicians have promised that it is going to be a tough one, but it should be the last one before Ireland gets out from under its bailout. Nobody believes that but what can you do. Whilst people, usually those who can least afford it, are about to be hammered,, I've discovered that austerity and deprivation come in different guises.

Irish newspapers have long been an equal source of joy and frustration to me. Articles often have spelling mistakes in them (particularly unforgivable in a weekly paper), journalists seem incapable of organising a story on the page so that it flows and many journalists seem to think that providing lists in the middle of a story adds some sort of credence or colour. It doesn't, it's simply a a list. I'm convinced that Irish journalists are trained to cram as much information and pointless detail into a story, and leave it to the reader to find the will to sort it out.

There is also a tendency to use only one word when two or three are needed. Last week, a national daily must have got a press release that contained the phrase 'Christian ethos'. It was in relation to a hospital that said it would refuse to perform abortions under the new legislation, due to its Christian ethos. The reporter must have liked the sound of this, as she refused to use any other word and in the first couple of paras, she must have used it half a dozen times. I was crying out to see 'values' or 'principles' or 'creed' used. T'wasn't to be.

Austerity seems to have hit the Northern Standard (circulating in counties Monaghan, Cavan, Armagh, Louth and Fermanagh so their banner tells me), especially hard - full stops seem to have become an indulgence, something to use as if there is a levy or quota on their use..

The paper's most recent front page has three stories that caught my attention. The first is

Detention centre at Blayney was a high risk says Hiqa.

The opening paragraph runs to 73 words before a full stop makes an appearance. By that time I'd lost the will to find out what these high risks were.

A second story headlined

Major potential exists to expand the Monaghan - Canada connection, Ambassador tells county council

There's enough information in the headline to not bother with the story; suffice to say that the opening two paragraphs have 127 words between them and two full stops. Plus I have no interest in the musings of the Canadian ambassador.

My particular favourite is

Despite countrywide defeat it was...A yes on the double for Cavan/Monaghan voters

The opening paragraph reads

The complete absence of members of the public from the Referendum count centre in Cavan on Saturday - with the exception of a mere handful of party members, most of whom had dispersed long before the Returning Officer Mr. Joseph Smith, the popular Cavan County Registrar, and his highly efficient staff of 102, had totted up the last ballot paper of the 34.4 per cent of the populace who voted in the two county Border constituency - reflected the degree of public interest in what was happening!

By my count that's 86 words, containing twice as many hyphens as fullstops. And technically speaking, the paragraph ends with an exclamation mark! By no stretch of the imagination am I a grammar Nazi, but the word must go out 'AUSTERITY DOES NOT WORK. BRING BACK THE FULL STOP.'

Posted by johnward 04:37 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Soldier Blue

O stony grey soil of Monaghan
The laugh from my love you thieved;
You took the gay child of my passion
And gave me your clod-conceived.

That's the opening verse of Patrick Kavanagh's ode to his home county, and it doesn't get much more cheerful as it progresses. So it seems appropriate that one of the more divisive and dour characters of Ireland's recent history comes from hereabouts, in fact just a few miles up the road and across the border from Killcrossduff.

Eoin O'Duffy, IRA commander, Chief of Staff, pro treaty politician, commissioner of police and leader of the Army Comrades Association, aka The Blueshirts (so called as they wore a distinctive St Patrick's blue shirt), was a man, who looking at his portrait did not know how to have a good time. His picture is in the Monaghan County Museum and he reminded me of Mussolini's underfed and more spiteful distant cousin. Formed in 1932, the ACA was to promote the interests of ex-National Army members, to defend conservative interests and to halt what they perceived as an emerging threat coming from their political opponents, the Irish Republican Army and Fianna Fáil. Anti Bolshevik and pro Church, both to the extreme, membership of the new organisation became limited to people who were Irish or whose parents "profess the Christian faith".

The ins and outs of Irish political life post civil war and endless name changes of various political groupings, are too complicated and boring to go into here. Suffice to say pre 1933, O'Duffy's star was on the rise; post '33 the wheels pretty much came off. In 1933, De Valera was elected and O' Duffy lost his job as commissioner of police but he became leader of the ACA . The previous year, Dev, as President of the Executive Council of the Free State, had released many of the political prisoners and IRA members held in prison and this led to increasing street violence between the IRA and Blueshirts.

Fearing a coup d'etat by the ACA, Dev banned a parade in Dublin and eventually the ACA was banned. Organisations on the right of Irish political life joined together and morphed in Fine Gael, so establishing the political life of the country that exists to this day. By 1934 O'Duffy had left Fine Gael and was to be found attending the rather glamorously titled Montreux Fascist conference in Switzerland. The ACA adopted some of the outward trappings of European fascism, including the straight arm salute and the seemingly inevitable need to start wearing garish shirts.

Less than a year later, the organisation no longer existed. In June 1935 O'Duffy launched the unabashedly fascist National Corporate Party. The following year he organised an Irish Brigade to fight for Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Despite the declaration by the Irish Government that participation in the war was ill-advised and unsupported (apart from the Roman Catholic church who were very keen on Irish soldiers for Christ rocking up on the Costas), 700 of O'Duffy's followers went to Spain to fight on Franco's side (around 250 other Irishmen went to fight for the Republicans). O'Duffy's men saw little fighting in Spain (they were the victims of 'friendly fire' or in army speak a 'blue on blue' which seems appropriately ironic) and were sent home by Franco, returning in June 1937.

O'Duffy returned to Ireland from Spain in disarray and probably disillusioned. He retired from politics completely, apart from a low-level dalliance with Nazism. He is thought to have met with IRA figures and members of the German consulate in the summer of 1939. In the summer of 1943 O'Duffy approached the German Legation in Dublin with an offer to organise an Irish Volunteer Legion for use on the Russian Front. He explained his offer to the German ambassador as a wish to "save Europe from Bolshevism". He requested an aircraft to be sent from Germany so that he could conduct the necessary negotiations in Berlin. The offer was "not taken seriously". By this time his health had begun to seriously deteriorate and he died on 30 November 1944, aged only 52. He was afforded a state funeral by the government. Following requiem mass in the Pro-Cathedral he was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.

In many ways, O'Duffy is a footnote in Irish history, but his legacy continues. Just last week, there was a controversy in Cork where a brochure produced for a festival described Michael Collins as a 'langer', a term of abuse in the county. The festival organisers pulped the leaflet and apologised. A few days later, there was a letter in the Irish Times encouraging the local Cork 'blueshirts' to stop over reacting and get over it or as they say in these parts to'cop themselves on.' Obviously blue remains the colour.

Posted by johnward 03:38 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Enda's Wallop

There must be mornings when political leaders open their eyes and say'Fuck it. I'm staying in bed today.'

This morning must have been one of those days for poor old Enda Kenny, Leader of Fine Gael, head honcho in the coalition and the man determined to abolish the Seanad, (the second chamber in the Irish parliamentary system) via referendum.

Nobody, including most members of the Seanad, thinks its fit for purpose but countless attempts to reform it over the past 50 years have never got anywhere. The rumour is that Enda, a man of the Wesht, had been listening to too many focus groups and political advisers, when he came up with this wheeze. It was very much a personal vanity project, so he had a lot of political authority invested in winning the vote.

On the surface it seemed like a no brainer - unless you're a university graduate, are over 6'4'' or have webbed feet, you cannot actually vote for senators. Most appear to be political appointees. There's no doubt it is elitist and undemocratic, is fairly toothless and costs about 20m euros a year to have.

The referendum campaign, the endless referendum campaign, was as dull as listening to an endless loop of Match of the Day pundits, only enlivened by the site of Sinn Fein senators campaigning to abolish themselves and Enda refusing to publicly debate his own idea because he 'didn't want to embarrass his opponents.' Instead he passed the poisoned chalice to Richard Bruton, a long time political opponent from within FG. Richard is the brother of John Bruton, one time Taioseach of this parish, and memorably described by my cousin Paul, 'as the evil of two lessers.'

The wheels really began to come off the Abolish campaign when the claim that abolishing the Seanad would save 20m euros per year - 100m euros over the life of a Dail, was challenged by officers of the Parliament. It seemed that Enda had simply decided that the yearly costs and potential savings were the same thing.

The trouble with referendums is that the electorate can be so unreliable and ungrateful. Once the votes began to be counted, it became obvious that the people hadn't read the script. Every constituency in Dublin voted against abolition and this meant that there simply wasn't enough voters left in the rest of the country, to allow any other result but a NO!

There are few sights more heartwarming than a politician who thought he had the result in the bag, having to appear on tv and through gritted teeth say that the electorate had given him a wallop and of course he accepts the result. This is the second time in two weeks that Dublin has given a Mayoman a beating, and I begin to wonder how much more he has left to give!

Posted by johnward 05:31 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Ireland's WMD's & Glow in the Dark Crims

Times are tough here. Families are losing jobs and their homes and young people are emigrating in increasing numbers and in the next couple of weeks there will be another austerity budget that will probably hit the most vulnerable again. And we still await bankers being sent to prison!

There's been an increase in theft of copper and metal to be sold on for scrap, but a gang of Dublin thieves have probably bitten off more then they can chew. When the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland are putting out appeals for the return of radioactive rods, you know that this is not you're common and garden theft.

The rods were held in a supposedly secure bunker in north Dublin and date from the 1950's and were designed to protect buildings from lightening strikes. Despite the fact that the rods were held in a case bearing radioactive warning signs, the gang thought it was a good idea to nick them. The Institute has warned that any extensive exposure to the rods will be dangerous for the individual and if they have handles the rods or got any contamination on their clothes, they are likely to begin glowing in the dark.

A couple of things struck me about this story; firstly, these rods are 60 years old, never worked and are only now being considered to be made safe. It seems far too coincidental that the day they are stolen the story is put out that the rods were being made ready for decommissioning. I smell conspiracy. And can we expect the US and other western powers to start planning a pre emptive bombing campaign to destroy Ireland's Weapons of Mass Destruction? I probably need to organise a place on the next ferry out!

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

Priory Hall - Byeword for greed & recklessness

It's difficult to know who the Irish public hold in the most contempt - bankers or politicians, both of whom the country hold responsible for the collapse of the Celtic Tiger; failing that, there may be an argument for Angela Merkel or any faceless IMF bureaucrat, who the country hold responsible for the ongoing austerity measures following the collapse of the Tiger economy. Or possibly the property developer, and its from this group that I think there may be a candidate, a poster boy if you like, for all that went wrong in this country in the last decade.

Just over two years ago, 256 families living in a development called Priory Hall on the outskirts of north Dublin, were evacuated from their homes, as the development was deemed too dangerous to live in, due to a series a fire regulation irregularities. One of the principal men involved in the Priory Hall development is Tom McFeely, a former Provisional IRA Maze hunger striker convicted of attempted murder in Northern Ireland in 1976.

Through no fault of their own, these 200 plus families have been unable to return to their homes, are still living in temporary accommodation and saddled with huge and increasing debt as the banks have been insistent that their mortgages on Priory Hall be repaid. (This is why the banks are almost the outright winners).

In July this year, one of the Priory Hall residents, Fiachra Daly, aged only 37, took his own life, no longer able to cope with the uncertainty of the future.

In a letter to Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Mr Daly’s partner, Stephanie Meehan, said the stress of the situation — coupled with living in temporary accommodation — led to Fiachra's death.

I have e-mailed you on many occasions, regarding my situation in Priory Hall. You have replied once.
On July 15, mine and my children’s lives changed forever, my beautiful, kind, caring partner and father to my children took his own life. Fiachra was the happiest man on earth, he lived for myself, Oisin and Cerys. He never suffered from any form of mental illness or depression, we had been together for 17 years and I never once witnessed any signs.

That is up until the week prior to his death, when we received demands from banks, looking for payment of arrears on a property that we can’t live in, asking us to fill out, yet again, forms to request an extension of our moratorium, all for a property we can’t live in through no fault of our own. The stress, the worry of not being able to provide a safe home for us, his young children, eventually took its toll, as it has on every resident,

What will it take now for someone to listen and act on something that should’ve been dealt with two years ago and saved a lot of taxpayers money, and most of all saved a life?

Until Fiachra's death, the politicians the planners, Dublin Council (while the Priory Hall residents are currently receiving free accommodation from Dublin City Council — a “temporary” measure that has lasted two years — the local authority is appealing its obligation to provide such a service to the Supreme Court), the banks and the legal system, all seemed to totally indifferent to the anguish of the Priory Hall residents, and when they could be bothered, they spent their time blaming each other for their individual and collective inaction. Following his death and the publication of Stephanie's letter to Enda Kenny, there was some progress, in as much that politicians said something should and would be done. Sometimes bad publicity and public loathing reaches a tipping point where politicians calculate that doing what they should have done anyway, becomes a political necessity.

One politician, apart from Kenny, seems to attract the ire of the press over Priory Hall and that is Phil Hogan, Minister for the Environment, who as Minister is responsible for this mess. He is portrayed at best as an incompetent fool or as writer Gene Kerrigan described him in last weeks Sunday Independent

For a year the Minister responsible for dealing with a major scandal has been talking through his arse.

A four panel cartoon in the same paper has Hogan taking a call in his office. In the first panel he's told Priory Hall residents were there to see him. He says he's not in. The second panel: some football players - ditto. The third panel: the leaders of the opposition - ditto. The fourth panel: Coiffeur to see him - Send him in.

Lest we forget the banks - a few weeks after Fiachra Daly's death, the bank that holds the family's mortgage addressed a letter to Fiachra and Stepahnie reminding the couple that they still owed just over 17,000 euros after taking into account Fiachra's life insurance to the bank that paid off the bulk of a mortgage on an uninhabitable home. Like politicians, banks can occasionally gauge the public mood, and after a further series of PR disasters, the bank wrote off the 'overdue amount'.

What of the man who built Priory Hall? Tom McFeely or as Tom Lyons in the Independent calls him 'Thug Tom McFeely' is a declared bankrupt, owing millions to the banks. A man with a reputedly fierce temper and well documented para military background, he is apparently in Britain trying to raise millions of euros to allow him back into business in Ireland. He is touting himself as an expert and consultant,

David Hall, the co-founder of advice group New Beginning, said there may well have been other unsafe apartment complexes built during the Celtic Tiger property boom. "This scandal in north Dublin is symptomatic of the utter madness that went on over the last 10 years in this country," he said.

in 2011, as the residents left priory Hall and lowered their furniture down to helpers below with ropes, rather than using the lifts, someone had posted a message for McFeely. On a blanket tied to railings, someone had scrawled:

Mr H-Block - where do we go now?

It seems they are still awaiting an answer.

Posted by johnward 02:27 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

It's only rock 'n' roll

Irish newspapers are a thing of wonder, local papers more so. It's something to do with the way that language is used, the way a piece is written and presented - it's something vague and particular and incredibly frustrating all at the same time.

One headline, from the Irish Times sometime last week read

Majority of prostitutes have gone to college

, which to me suggests that the streets of Dublin are now empty of prostitutes as they have taken up their university place. Of course it didn't mean that at all.

But back to the locals. The Inish Times covers the Inishowen Peninsula of Donegal and last week had these two stories.

Kleptomaniac caught leaving back stolen goods

and

Bar stool dance leads to court appearance

The first story tells the unfortunate tale of David Brachocki, a Polish immigrant, charged with stealing five bottles of Lady Gaga* perfume and one bottle of Lacoste aftershave. He was actually arrested as he was returning the items. As he later told the police that he had problems with shoplifting., His brief, Patsy Gallagher asked the judge, Paul Kelly not to impose a custodial sentence. Kelly commented that the defendant looked 'fairly fit' and gave him 60 hours community service rather than three months breaking rocks.

The second case involved 21 year old Patrick Doherty, who in the vernacular 'had drink taken' at a birthday party in a bar. He ended up smashing a stained glass window after dancing with a barstool. His solicitor, in front of our friend Judge Kelly, argued that the music at the party had become 'provocative'. Doherty was dancing with a barstool, which earned a raised eyebrow from the judge. The solicitor went onto say that 'They were dancing around them (the stools) and it was let lost from his hands. The music was rock 'n' roll.'

Kelly, no hanging judge he, ordered compensation to be paid and said these actions 'were not in keeping with his character.'

Mr Doherty can be grateful he didn't carry out his crazed rock 'n' roll, boogie woogie shenanigans in Cavan. There's a judge there that would banish him from the light for a goodly amount of time.

*Lady Gaga recently sicced her legal team on a one woman catering company here when she registered her business under the name

Lady Aga

Posted by johnward 09:40 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Omagh - Dancing the Hammer

Just a couple of miles outside the town of Omagh is the Ulster American Folk Park. It tells the story of Ulster emigration to the United States during the 17th - 19th centuries and the massive part played by those emigrants in the building of a new country. These people were some of the early trappers and mountain men, they were the men and women who fought their way through the Cumberland Gap and established a frontier. They were business men who opened stores and banks, became farmers, tradesmen, itinerants, an emerging middle class and politicians and soldiers who fought in the War of Independence and the Civil War.

A major part of the experience is the outdoor museum, which recreates life in Ulster and America at the time of this mass migration. There is an 18th century forge with resident blacksmith, who will demonstrate his skills and talk you through what he's doing. I asked him why blacksmiths, when they're hammering work on the anvil, often deliberately hit the anvil. He said it was called Dancing the Hammer and was simply a way of resting his arm. He then went onto say that the village blacksmith was the only man who was unafraid of the parish priest, a man of the greatest influence and power. The priest may preach about hellfire from the pulpit on a Sunday, but the blacksmith worked with and understood the mystery of hellfire every day of his working week. It held no terror for him, only magic.

This got me thinking about events in Ireland over the past few months. When the state was founded the position of the Catholic church within that political, social and economic structure, was absolute and secure. As the decades have passed, Ireland grew up and the church's power has begun to wane, in large part due to the never ending scandal of what seems to be institutionalised child abuse by priests.

Earlier this summer the future primate of Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, said on Radio Ulster that he had never refused Communion to anyone but he reiterated the Roman Catholic Church’s official position that it is not possible to be a person of faith and, at the same time, actively promote abortion. He went onto say that every TD who voted in favour of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act (The new law allows doctors to perform the pregnancy termination procedure under certain conditions, such as if the mother’s life is at risk]**), should question whether they had actively promoted the killing of the unborn.

In July the BBC website quoted Martin saying that Irish politicians who vote knowingly for abortion are acting “in co-operation with evil.” He was further quoted as saying: “Whatever happens in this vote, the direct and intentional killing of any person is always gravely immoral...You cannot regard yourself as a person of faith and support abortion. You can't believe you are with our church and directly help someone procure an abortion. This includes medical professionals and legislators...You're communion is ruptured if you support abortion. You are excommunicating yourself.''

Earlier this month, the Sunday Independent carried a story headlined

TD's told not to look for Communion

. It went on to outline how some TD's who voted for the Protection of Life legislation have been told by local priests that they should not seek Communion as they would be refused and some priests said that those TD's should be excommunicated. Frustratingly, many of the people quoted refused to be identified.

A spokesman for the Irish bishops said that there is no policy in place regarding the withholding of Communion or excommunication of those politicians who voted Yes. He had no comment on reports that priests had been threatening people with an apparently non-existent diktat.

The Church, like any other interested party was certainly entitled to oppose and campaign against the Bill, but surely it is perverse for it to hold itself up as the defender and protector of the rights of the unborn child whilst they seem incapable of defending and protecting the rights of children who were actually born and then groomed and abused by members of its own clergy. Its persistent failure to protect children in their care over decades and its active collusion in protecting paedophile priests, makes any claim that it is the defender of the rights of children a crass, offensive sham.

Perhaps we are in need of more fearless blacksmiths.

**More than 4,000 Irish women travelled to British hospitals over the last 12 months to have abortions. About 124 were under 18 years of age. The new law does not include exceptions for women who have been raped, meaning that the traffic across the Irish Sea to hospitals in England, Wales and Scotland will continue for some time.

Posted by johnward 07:56 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Newgrange - My driver's granny

The fine county of Meath is awash with castles, abbeys, monasteries, a soft, fertile landscape and farmers many of whom are probably on their way to Laois to take part in the National Ploughing Championship and enjoy all things rural, along with 200,000 other people.

Meath is also home to not just some of the finest megalithic sites in Europe, but in the world. I'm thinking particularly of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth. I was there this morning and although I enjoyed it, none of it compared to the story of my driver's granny.

To get to these sites, you have to register at the visitors centre. Newgrange gets something approaching 300,000 visitors a year and the archaeologists want to make sure the sites are not swamped under a stampede of tourist's feet. So, to get to the site, visitors are ferried the couple of kilometres via minibus, where you meet a guide. My driver, Kate, a woman in her mid 20's from Tara (''I couldn't watch the game on Sunday. I HATE Dublin!''), started telling us the story of her granny, a feisty 71 year old.

Mrs Devine lives close to the Hill of Tara and for the past few years she has been entertaining the postman, giving him a full breakfast every morning when she reaches her house on his round. When asked why she did this, it was simple. The postie is the man in town with all the best gossip. He knows whose feet is under whose table, where all is not well in paradise and he is Mrs Devine's source.

Like all good collectors of information, she has more than one source. Last year she was ill for a period of time and began fretting about not being able to get to Mass. Apparently this was unusual as she had never been particularly religious; church on a Sunday was more a debriefing session than a soul cleansing exercise.

Kate and Mrs Devine go on holiday together once a year. Recently, over dinner in a restaurant, Mrs D suggested rather than pay for the meal, they do a runner. Kate pointed out that not only was this illegal and immoral, but more pertinently, Mrs D was not in any physical condition to climb out of a bathroom window and then leg it.

Kate went to the bathroom and when she got back, her grandmother had gone, taking Kate's handbag including her phone, car keys and purse, along with her. Kate then found herself in the position of having to explain to the waitress that her grandmother had actually done a bunk leaving her high and dry. The waitress let her gabble on for some time and then said ''Is your gran the grey haired woman who was sitting with you?''
''Yes''
''She paid the bill before she left.''

Kate walked outside, having recovered what remained of her dignity and wits, to find her gran sitting in the car, cackling like a demented monkey.

It turns out that when Kate was a child, she once locked her gran in a garden shed, where she was stuck for a day. It seems this is payback. I like Mrs Devine, she is an evil, grey haired genius.

Posted by johnward 07:48 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

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