Author Archives: Ciaran Tierney

From top: Election canvassing in Dublin; Ciaran Tierney

Here he comes in his shiny new suit, primed for action and full of the joys of life. He wants your vote and he’s ready and willing to engage with you on your doorstep. As long as you don’t delay him for too long!

Funnily enough, you haven’t seen much of him for the last five years or so.

There’s football on the telly or you are engrossed in your favourite soap opera and you wonder if you should bother answering the door.

But you should!

Because this is the one time of the year when your local politicians will truly listen to what you have to say.

They are desperate for your votes and some of them are running scared. It’s your chance to tell them what you think.

Such as your disgust that the beautiful green space next to a historic castle, where you like to take an evening stroll, is about to be turned into a four lane urban motorway.

You haven’t spoken to him in five years and maybe it’s time to ask him why he and his colleagues have no imagination when it comes to transport in your city. The medieval streets are clogged and they can never imagine life beyond the car.

Maybe it’s time to tell him how healthy you feel because you abandoned the car and now you cycle to work or school.

But also how unsafe you feel in the mornings because you are so vulnerable on the road.

It’s time to ask why the roads are so eerily quiet during the school holidays and why so many people are so reliant on their cars.

Why, in the past five years, have he and his colleagues done so little to provide your neighbours and friends with viable alternatives to their cars?

And why are we building motorways when the very future of your planet depends on less reliance on our cars?

You could tell him that you wrote articles about wonderful plans for a state-of-the-art tram system a decade ago, only for them to be discounted by the “powers that be” at the time.

You could ask him about the scandalous rent prices and how some of the people you work with are spending more than half their wages just to keep someone else’s roof over their heads.

You can ask why local authority meetings can end in furious arguments over issues as trivial or irrelevant as whether or not they should have a monthly prayer and why his party doesn’t feel ashamed that there are now so many homeless children in this city.

You could ask him why a national emergency wasn’t declared when the number of homeless people in this country passed the 10,000 mark for the first time.

And you could ask him if he felt even a tiny bit of embarrassment when the man in charge of housing people in this city “slept out” for charity last Christmas. All for a glorious photo opportunity, admittedly for a worthy charity, alongside the auctioneer who thrives on pushing up the prices and the businessman who put half of his staff out of work last year.

He might tell you that health care has nothing to do with the local authority, but you might tell him how I felt when I saw my 93-year old father spend 48 hours on a trolley in the Emergency Department of our local public hospital last summer.

About the despair I witnessed all around me and the fear in the voices of people who felt they would be punished or further delayed if they dared to complain.

Only for you to see a smug, happy, smiling Minister for Health post a photo of his dog on social media the following week, seemingly without a care in the world.

You might tell him how hollow the great national “recovery” seemed as you sat there, hour after hour, watching the stressed out hospital staff struggle to cope with the sheer number of bodies in that overcrowded corridor.

You might ask why so many people you know are frightened, clinging on to private health care they can’t afford in the full knowledge that they are only one pay cheque away from being left without a home.

You might ask why so many of your friends and neighbours are struggling, when it still seems that a tiny elite of select individuals can make a “killing” from lucrative Government contracts which are beyond the reach of 99% of us.

You could ask why those who are scraping a living in insecure jobs are forced to pay the deeply unpopular Universal Social Charge, or why the council doesn’t seem to build any houses while so many people are relying on emergency accommodation.

If it wasn’t for those charities, or the kindness of friends, how many people would be forced to sleep out in this city every night?

. . . Or you could leave the telly on and not bother to answer the door!

Ask Them! (Ciaran Tierney)

 

From top: Anne Rabbitte; Katherine Zappone and Sr Marie Ryan; Ciaran Tierney

Why bother writing about the struggle for justice of those who were treated so appallingly by the Irish State?

Why not move on?

Why bother going to events organised by the families and survivors of the “Tuam Babies” when many media outlets don’t bother?

Why spend an hour or two with them on a Sunday afternoon when a news editor shrugs and proclaims, “Arragh, sure, didn’t we cover that event last year?”

(Even though they didn’t – as you can remember how few journalists there were among the small number of people who congregated in that lonely graveyard 12 months ago).

One of the most striking aspects of the scandal of the 796 ‘Tuam Babies’ is the widespread belief among survivors and family members that “official Ireland” has no interest in granting them the truth and justice they crave.

And the story of Tuam is replicated for the survivors and children of those who were incarcerated in dozens of other institutions all across the island of Ireland.

In Tuam, business people express regret that the scandal unearthed by local historian Catherine Corless has damaged the image or reputation of the town.

They have made it known to her, via third parties, that they wish she would have left well enough alone.

It’s not good for business, you see, to be the subject of scandalous headlines from San Francisco to Sydney when the economy is in “recovery” and there’s money to be made.

People whisper to Catherine on the street when they talk about “the home”, and she can sense shame, fear, or guilt in their voices when they approach her to applaud her for the research which has made headlines across the globe.

Only for her determination, the story might never have been known.

When it comes to the victims, though, the perception in some quarters is that these people are getting old now and it’s time to move on.

Forget about the fact that the mortality rate in the Tuam Home – where up to 796 babies may or may not be buried in a cesspit – was five times that of the general Irish population or that 126 of the 796 babies died within the first six months of life.

Forget about the fact that 35,000 women and girls were locked up in Mother and Baby Homes between 1904 and 1996 – hardly ancient history – and that those who are still living have never received a proper apology for how they were imprisoned for their “crimes”.

Or that some of them were asked to produce time sheets for the hours they worked in laundries where they were imprisoned and forced to work as slaves, with the collusion of the state, by cruel and judgemental nuns.

Forget about the fact that some older people still know what went on in these institutions, but are too afraid or too ashamed to come forward.

Or that a local councillor in Tuam, Cllr Donagh Killilea, has berated the current Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone TD, for daring to suggest that people with some memory of what happened should come forward with information, even at this late stage.

He’s offended by the idea that anyone in the town might still know why these bodies were discarded or disposed of in such a heartless fashion.

Forget about the fact that the Bon Secours nuns, in their infinite wisdom, hired a prominent PR person and paid her handsomely when the scandal of the “Tuam Babies” first broke in the Irish media.

“If you come here, you’ll find no mass grave, no evidence that children were ever so buried, and a local police force casting their eyes to heaven,” wrote Terry Prone, still the Goddess in Chief of “communications” for “official Ireland”.

And still she coaches or grooms our richest and most powerful politicians in terms of how to deal with our media.

And still she hasn’t apologised to the families for the hurt she has caused.

Forget about the fact that the Bon Secours nuns run private hospitals for a handsome profit and have never dealt directly with the families of their victims.

Forget that the pain of the survivors was compounded by a Fianna Fail TD, Anne Rabbitte, when she stated that the estimated €13 million cost of excavating the site of the “Tuam Babies” home could not be justified when it could be spent on the children of today.

It’s a wilful waste of public money that could be spent on the children of today,” Deputy Rabbitte told The Sunday Business Post last weekend.

The FF spokesperson on children, who is running for the European Parliament this month, seemed to have little concept of the anger these remarks would ignite among survivors and family members who are finding it so hard to obtain the truth from “official Ireland”.

For them, the story of the “Tuam Babies” is very much alive.

Bad enough to discover only in your 70s that you had a brother or sister you never heard about, only to find it next to impossible to find out what happened to them.

Forget about the fact that Ms Rabbitte’s party, Fianna Fail, was in power for most of the lifespan of the Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries, when a harsh and judgmental Irish State asked religious orders to imprison and enslave thousands of Ireland’s most vulnerable women.

Let’s just forget that these poor women were locked up with the full knowledge of both the Irish State and their own families.

Or that the fathers of these children could get on with their lives while the mothers spent decades washing the dirty laundry of the elite of Irish society.

Peter Mulryan, Chairman of the Tuam Home Survivors’ Network, contrasts the reverence of the Bon Secours nuns for their own members, removing their bodies from the Grove private hospital before being re-interred with dignity, with how callously the bodies of up to 796 babies and children were discarded at the home.

They sold the building for €4.1 million in 2001 but, as so many survivors have discovered, religious institutions in Ireland have no interest in compensating victims and their families for the terrible times they put them through.

Mr Mulryan claims the “full horror” of what happened in Tuam has yet to be exposed.

Forget about the fact that survivors and family members, including Peter and Dublin woman Anna Corrigan, have no idea what happened to their siblings.

They still believe, rightly or wrongly, that their brothers and sisters could have been adopted (illegally) by families in the United States and cannot be persuaded otherwise until they have some proof of what happened to these children and babies.

Criminal acts were carried out to their family members and now they feel that there can be no closure to this terrible story until the full truth of what happened to the “Tuam Babies” is revealed to the world.

If the families believe that this can only be achieved through a full Inquest, isn’t it time “official Ireland” gives them the truth and the justice they have been calling out for?

Otherwise, we are compounding a terrible injustice and we are still betraying the dead children of Tuam (and their mothers and surviving family members) in the much more “enlightened” Ireland of 2019.

Compounding the injustice of Tuam (Ciaran Tierney)

From top: Local hurling in Galway; Ciaran Tierney

A friend of mine is a volunteer coach with his local hurling club.

Like many parents all across Ireland, he only got involved with the GAA once his son began to play our national games, as he grew up many miles away, in another county.

He finds that he loves helping out at the sprawling rural club just outside the city, even though the early morning sessions can curtail his social life at the weekends.

On Saturday, I met him at a 50th birthday party.

He was bothered. He wanted to talk politics. He asked me why I wasn’t running for the local elections. And he voiced a question which I hear many people asking these days, in the midst of a so-called boom.

“Is this the kind of Ireland we really want?”

In recent weeks, he has discovered that a huge proportion of the families in his parish cannot afford helmets for their kids.

Faced with crippling mortgages, high rents, or insecure and low-paying jobs, many of the parents are living ‘hand to mouth’ every week and month.

They hate to admit it publicly, but they confide in the coaches, privately, that they simply cannot afford new jerseys, helmets, or hurls.

An unexpected expense of €60 or €70 is simply beyond their means. And this is in a relatively affluent rural parish, just outside one of Ireland’s major cities.

It’s the kind of thing you would never hear An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, mention when he boasts about the Republic’s remarkable “recovery”. Most of these people are working, but they are the new working poor.

So many of them have confided in my friend and the other coaches that helmets and hurls are beyond them that the club has been forced to change its policy in relation to equipment for the youngsters.

Now, after a fundraising drive, each child is provided with a helmet.

Otherwise, their embarrassed parents would be unable to send them to the training sessions.

Perhaps it’s a small thing.

But it has left my friend and the other coaches in shock.

In this “booming” Ireland, with such a low unemployment rate, how come so many people have so little money to spend every month?

How come an expense of €60 could cause a family emergency? Or force parents to withdraw their children from participating in the sport they love?

It’s a theme which seems to be popping up more and more. If this country really is in “recovery” how come so many people I meet every day are struggling to survive?

Campaigning is well underway for both the European and local elections and my friend is adamant that people like me (and him, I retort!) should get more involved in local or national politics.

The candidates we haven’t seen for half a decade are suddenly knocking on our doors, making promises, and calling on us to give them our votes.

Isn’t it time we asked them some pertinent questions?

Such as why so many working people are paying so much in rent or on their mortgages that they are literally broke by the end of every month?

Or why are so many of us working in insecure jobs, not knowing if we will earn enough to pay the bills next month?

Since taking voluntary redundancy from an industry which is in crisis, I have been shocked by how many people I have met who have next to no security in their jobs.

A boss can tell them, at just a week’s notice, that there is no work for them and leave them short of money for the rent.

When populist European Parliament candidate Peter Casey generates front page headlines by criticising “freeloader immigrants” how come nobody asks him to direct his ire at “freeloader landlords” who hike the monthly rents up at every opportunity?

We should ask the candidates why so many people in their 20s and 30s are now in despair that they will never be able to own a home.

As rents spiral out of control, how come so many of us are earning so much less than we were a decade ago in the middle of this so-called “boom”?

How come so many people are sleeping on our streets or spending months on end in facilities provided by our homelessness charities?

How come a national emergency wasn’t declared when the number of homeless people in Ireland crossed the 10,000 mark for the first time?

A sober walk through Galway’s streets, where you can see desperate people lying in doorways on the coldest and wettest nights, would make anyone question how much this economy really is booming in 2019.

We should ask why poor people can be sent to jail for not paying their €160 TV licences while huge multinational corporations can avoid paying billions in taxes.

We should ask why the well-connected at the top of Irish society are still getting lucrative contracts from their friends in Government, even when some of them have cost us millions in tribunals and investigations.

We should ask why properties are being sold off to vulture funds while those of us scraping by on tiny incomes are forced to pay the deeply unpopular Universal Social Charge.

Of course, those on “zero hour contracts” or insecure, part-time jobs are still working, and off the live register, so our unemployment rate should be the envy of the world – if only it told the full story.

We should ask why old people like my father, in his 90s, have had to spend 48 hours lying on a trolley in one of our main public hospitals. Or why the Government funds a two-tier health system which allows the richest in our society to live longer, healthier lives.

…This is the time to ask politicians if they are happy to live in a country, or support a Government party, where people stuck on trolleys for 24 or 48 hours are too afraid of the consequences to complain or speak out.

A candidate for the local or European elections might argue that they have nothing to do with our scandalous health service, but their parties are deliberately running down a broken system and forcing those who can barely afford it to cling on to private health care.

This is the right time to ask sitting City Councillors why some buildings lie empty while our homelessness crisis has spiralled out of control since they last knocked on our doors.

Or why they are threatening to spoil one of the most beautiful parts of my city in order to make way for a new road, at a time when a pending climate catastrophe and a growing obesity epidemic should be forcing all of us to abandon our over-reliance on cars. In Galway and other Irish cities, it’s all about the cars.

Leave it to the charities?

They might tell us why our most senior city officials “sleep out” for charity every December when it’s actually their job – not that of the charity – to tackle the out of control rate of homelessness in our city.

But they smile for the cameras with the rich businessmen, because they have no concept of shame.

So many working people I know are fed up, living week-to-week, and literally unable to afford a child’s hurling helmet or a meal out at the weekend.

So many are afraid that they are just one month away from being made homeless by a greedy landlord or in terror of falling ill because our public hospitals are substandard.

Too many are struggling, too few are thriving or living off their backs, and yet if you were to believe these politicians Ireland is in the midst of a remarkable recovery after taking on so much of Europe’s banking debt.

Ireland may be “booming” again, but only for the vultures, the bankers, the landlords, and the well-connected businessmen who, funnily enough, seem to be very close to the right wing parties who have divided up the ruling of this country since the foundation of the state.

As my friend put it so succinctly at the weekend . . . is this the Ireland we really want?

Is this the Ireland we really want? (Ciaran Tierney)

Pic via Ciaran

 Cartoonist Mohammad Sabaaneh (left) with the author in Galway last week and work (top) by Mohammed lampooning next month’s Israel-hosted Eurovision

What kind of country jails a cartoonist?

Is it the kind of place we should be sending Irish artists to for a celebration of diversity and European pop culture next month?

Those thoughts struck me last week when I hosted a cartoonist in my home for a night during his week-long tour of Ireland.

Mohammad Sabaaneh is no ordinary cartoonist.

He’s a man who spent five months in jail for his art and a household name across the Arab world, particularly in Palestine where he has a cartoon published daily in a national newspaper, al-Hayat al-Jadida. He has more than 500,000 Facebook followers.

Mohammad taught me a lot about the power of art last week and also how a man can use his gifts to highlight the terrible suffering and injustice which has been inflicted upon his people for decades.

He is regularly invited to cartoon festivals and arts events throughout the world and faces a logistical nightmare trying to get to them if and when he travels.

It was returning from one of those work trips six years ago that Mohammad found himself being interrogated about his art by Israeli soldiers.

He spent two months being interrogated about his work, when he was forbidden from drawing or writing. He then spent a further three months in prison, including some time in solitary confinement; time he used to document his experiences in smuggled or hidden drawings which he put together after returning home to Ramallah.

Mohammad spent five months in prison because he had collaborated with his brother on a book about political prisoners, a project which angered those in power.

This terrible experience provided Sabaaneh with inspiration. He vowed to document his feelings about what he witnessed in Israeli prisons and managed to get fellow prisoners to smuggle out his works of art whenever he had the opportunity.

He left blank spaces in all of the drawings, so that the prison authorities could not examine his strong views about life in Israeli prisons if they came across or confiscated them.

“They investigated me about everything, about my activity, about my participation in international exhibitions, and about my opinions,” he recalled.

The irony was that the charges against Mohammad were baseless – his accusers and interrogators did not seem to know or care that his cartoons have also angered the various political factions in Palestine.

He embodies the true role of an artist who holds the most powerful to account and ridicules those who abuse their power.

Before a packed house in Galway last week, he wanted to talk about the Palestinian prisoners as real people, with mothers, wives, brothers and sisters; with feelings of loneliness and despair.

He wanted to challenge the way in which his people are dehumanised so often in the Irish, European, and American media.

As we listened to him, it was impossible not to understand his rage.

His people have had their land stolen, been treated as second class citizens in their own country, and endure daily harassment at checkpoints where they are faced down by angry, hostile soldiers.

More than 200 of their children (yes, children) are in Israeli prisons, and many of the prisoners are incarcerated in places where their loved-ones can never visit them.

In prison, Mohammad was not allowed to speak to relatives on the telephone or receive visits from family members. His experience awakened him to the gross injustice which is being inflicted on so many men, women and children from his country.

“Everyone deals with Palestinian prisoners as heroes, but I wanted my drawings to show them as real human beings,” he told the captive audience at the Black Gate Cultural Centre in Galway.

“No-one talks about the Palestinian prisoner’s mother, or wife, or kids; or how they try to pass the time, by listening to a football game.”

Sabaneeh’s work is disturbing, but how else could it be for a man whose people have spent more than half a century being treated as second class citizens under military occupation in their own land?

How can they not be angry, when they see their fate being played out in an election in which they have no say in their own future.

His art work is also brilliant.

It provides a timely reminder of the real motivation behind the staging of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv.

It’s all about whitewashing an Apartheid regime which gave the people of the West Bank no voice at all in terms of the military occupation in this week’s General Election.

During the campaign, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to annex the Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank if he was returned to power.

He promised to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state by “controlling the entire area”, continuing to dominate the lives of more than 2.5 million people who have lived under a brutal occupation for so long.

Where Mohammad lives, there is no peace process.

Hundreds of thousands of people now live in illegal settlements on land which was captured in a war more than half a century ago.

World powers consider those settlements to be illegal under international law and Mohammad’s cartoons capture the daily humiliations faced by his people, at checkpoints, on segregated roads, or through dawn raids by armed soldiers in their homes.

When you hear him talk about the reality of life as an artist in occupied Palestine, you can only be filled with admiration for his bravery in expressing his rage.

How else could he be, as a wonderfully talented artist, when he sees so much suffering and anger around him every day?

Remember Mohammad and his amazing work when artists and TV crews from all across Europe congregate in Tel Aviv next month – or when Madonna turns up to play two songs.

Eurovision 2019 is not a celebration of music and culture – it’s a clear and protracted effort to “normalise” a regime which puts talented artists like Mohammad in prison, just for speaking out about the terrible injustices he sees around him in the West Bank.

Mohammad, like so many artists all across Palestine, wants Ireland and the rest of Europe to boycott Eurovision 2019.

How pathetic it seems to celebrate European pop culture in a place which has so little interest in granting artists anything approaching freedom, justice, or human rights.

The estimated 180 million viewers who watch the Eurovision next month will feast on tourism promotion clips from Israel, but they won’t see images of peaceful protesters being murdered by snipers at the Gaza border fence, families being evicted from their homes in East Jerusalem, or little children being terrorised on their way home from school in Hebron.

The brilliant cartoons of Mohammad Sabaaneh tell the world some bitter home truths about life in Palestine, home truths that won’t be screened on our TV screens on May 18, even though they are considered so subversive they result in artists like him being thrown in prison.

Shame on the Eurovision for white-washing an illegal occupation on behalf of a regime which locks up artists and tramples on human rights.

Expressing the rage of a denigrated people (Ciaran Tierney)

Sabaaneh.com

From top: The flag of Palestine outside Eyre Square, Galway last Friday; Keith Finnegan, of Galway Bay Fm and Israeli Ambassador to Ireland, Ophir Kariv,

Not even Galway City Councillors were informed that the new Israeli Ambassador to Ireland was coming to visit the city.

It culminated in the most fawning interview with a foreign dignitary on local radio the author has ever heard

Ciaran Tierney writes:

In the West of Ireland, we don’t like to ask too many hard, tough questions or cause too much of a fuss.

We treat our visitors with respect, but a bizarre visit by a prominent diplomat last Friday has raised serious questions about who makes key decisions at a local level and why our elected representatives can be kept completely and utterly in the dark.

Who decides to invite an Ambassador to our city?

And who decides that elected city councillors – the people who actually represent us – have no right to know when a diginitary is coming to our beautiful city?

On Wednesday, I was told by someone who works for Galway City Council that the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland, Ophir Kariv, was set to pay an official visit to the city on Friday.

The person who called me had no idea of the schedule involved, but he had heard that there would be engagements at NUI Galway, the Galway Chamber of Commerce, and City Hall.

I’m guessing he contacted me because he was aware of my keen interest in human rights and the fact that I have written extensively about the gross injustice inflicted on the people of Palestine. I sometimes freelance for Electronic Intifada, who are based in the US and work hard to give an English language voice to the oppressed.

So I made a few calls.

I informed members of the Galway Palestine Solidarity Campaign who, in turn, contacted members of the Labour Party and Sinn Fein who have done so much to raise awareness of the Palestinian issue at City Hall over the past few years.

They raised the flag in solidarity, they called on the Irish Government to recognise the state of Palestine, and no city official had seen fit to tell them about the proposed visit by the Israeli Ambassador on Friday.

Even the Mayor, apparently, wasn’t aware of the plans.

A few pro-Palestine activists considered a peaceful and dignified flag protest at City Hall, but it was difficult to get people mobilised at such short notice, especially when nobody knew the exact time of the visit.

I heard nothing more about it, but I’m aware that elected members of the City Council could not find out anything about the ambassador’s schedule. So much for local democracy!

On Saturday, a number of people sent me a podcast of a recording on local radio station Galway Bay FM, from the previous day.

As it turned out, Mr Kariv had visited the station’s headquarters on Sandy Road for a pre-arranged interview with current affairs presenter Keith Finnegan.

The people who sent me the podcast were shocked by the nature and tone of the interview (starts here at 52 mins).

It is normal practice for a new diplomat to visit provincial cities around the country, but activists in Galway were shocked that they managed to get through an entire interview without once uttering the words ‘Palestine’, ‘West Bank’, ‘Gaza’, ‘occupation’, ‘child prisoners’, or ‘house demolitions’….(more at link below)

A secret little mission to Galway (Ciaran Tierney)

From top: Luke’ Ming’ Flanagan addresses a public meeting in NUI Galway on the increasing militarisation of the EU; Ciaran Tierney

On a cold Thursday night in November, a few dozen of us congregated in a beautiful but obscure new lecture hall on the western outskirts of the sprawling campus at NUI Galway.

Two Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), four TDs, academics, and peace activists had gathered for a lively and informative three hour discussion which garnered little or no media attention.

I know, because I asked three news editors in advance of the meeting if they would be interested in a piece. Not one of them even replied.

The subject of the meeting was the thorny question of whether or not Ireland is being steamrolled into joining a European Union army since PESCO – Permanent European Security/ Military Co-Operation – was rushed through the Dail last December.

In theory at least, Ireland is a “neutral” country. Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, the Independent MEP, called the Galway meeting in response to growing alarm over what PESCO actually means to Ireland.

Are we on our way to becoming part of a European ‘Super State’?

Is our military spending going to increase dramatically to €6 billion per year (or half of what we spend on our desperate health service) because of something our country signed up to with so little debate last year?

Does anybody care?

It is astounding that we hear so much about Brexit on the national airwaves every day, because Britain’s shambolic departure from the EU has such massive implications for Ireland, but we hear little or nothing about the contentious issue of a European Army.

Are ‘Ming’ and the Independent TDs just alarmist crackpots? Is it really acceptable that unelected EU officials can lead us toward the formation of a ‘super’ army to rival those of the USA and Russia in the future?

And why, oh why, are so few Irish people talking about this?

Perhaps Irish neutrality is a sham, but shouldn’t we at least discuss this issue?

In Shannon last week, the important Shannonwatch peace group noted that a US military plane stopped off in a civilian airport on its way to and from Tel Aviv.

Nobody in authority Shannon ever checks the contents of the US military machines which have been landing there each and every week since 2001.

Last year, over 61,000 US troops stopped off in Shannon on their way to and from wars in the Middle East. That might mean a hell of a lot of leprechaun and whiskey sales in the duty free shop, but it also makes a mockery of the concept of Irish neutrality.

If it wasn’t so serious, Irish people would be laughing over Brexit and the shambolic way in which pro-Brexit politicians in Britain, in their jingoistic haste to leave the EU, seem to have had no vision for the future.

Perhaps reform, rather than withdrawal, might be the correct response to an undemocratic, unaccountable Europe; but at least in Britain they have had some sort of debate about the EU and their country’s place in it.

The Irish, meanwhile, see ourselves as “model” Europeans even though it was our EU masters who forced us into the “bank bailout”, with devastating implications in terms of the loss of public service jobs, health care and welfare cuts, the privatisation of state assets, and a new wave of emigration at the start of this decade.

Not to mention the huge debt our country has been saddled with for years to come.

Now PESCO, according to the Independent TDs and MEPs, will see Ireland being steamrolled into an EU Army and it is quite amazing how little talk there is about this in Ireland.

“We have to work on a vision of creating a real true European Army,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel this week.

French President Emmanuel Macron called for the formation of a “real” European Army during the Armistice Day commemorations last weekend.

On Tuesday, the European Commission said that a European Army is “likely” to be formed one day.

So the Galway conference this week seemed to be extremely timely.

“Does PESCO damage our neutrality?” asked Catherine Connolly TD. “Yes, it does. We are normalising war and the militarisation of Europe. PESCO was not discussed in our Dail. The good news is that 42 of us voted against it. Language has been stood on its head. We are heading towards a militarised Europe.”

She said that Irish soldiers have to rely on family income supplement in order to survive, in the middle of unprecedented crises in health care and housing.

Deputy Connolly pointed out that the head of the European Commission has never been elected by anyone and spoke of how uncomfortable she felt when he was given a reverential reception in the Dail.

A Fine Gael MEP, Brian Hayes, has called for the “redefinition” of neutrality and both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have denied that PESCO will impact on Irish neutrality.

Independent MEP Flanagan has described the massive global arms industry as an “untapped goldmine” in the eyes of the European Union.

Just as US President Donald Trump feels that punishing human rights abuses by Saudi Arabia would only be foolish if it damaged his country’s $110 billion arms trade with Riyadh, perhaps the Irish should be far more honest with ourselves.

Does our ‘neutrality’ mean anything when we get a chance to cosy up to and find favour with the world’s military powers?

Do we want to stand beside the French and Germans as they, too, aim to become global powers?

Perhaps, ultimately, the vast sums of money to be made from militarisation are far more important than the human rights of children in Syria, Palestine, Yemen or Afghanistan as the US military aircraft land and take off from Shannon Airport with total impunity every week.

“When you question why they are militarising the European Union, you must understand that this is not to protect or defend you,” said Flanagan. “It is about money . . . and billions of it.”

Next time you have a loved-one lying on a hospital trolley for 48 hours, or finding it impossible to find an affordable place to live, remember that PESCO is set to increase Ireland’s military expenditure six times over.

Sometimes, when you look at the stories which are creating headlines, it’s just as informative to check out which stories are being ignored.

When a ‘neutral’ former colony wants to be part of a new global super-power, when arms sales are more important than human lives, language truly has been stood on its head.

Neutrality means next to nothing when we have dollar signs in our eyes.

Neutrality means nothing when we have dollar signs in our eyes (Ciaran Tierney)

Best Current Affairs Blog in Ireland  winner Ciaran Tierney

Ciaran Tierney writes:

The annual Blog Awards Ireland event took place in Dublin city centre last Thursday night and I was thrilled to be awarded first prize in the Best Current Affairs / Politics category, after coming second last year.

After flying in from New York that morning, where I had met ‘Tuam Babies’ survivor Peter Mulryan, I was over the moon and slightly shocked to take the gold medal.

By a wonderful coincidence, I also won second prize for the Best Blog Post for a piece I wrote about Peter’s search for justice for his little sister – one of the 796 missing babies – after meeting him in a Galway graveyard back in March.

Here’s the piece I wrote with Peter at the time:

It was a thrill to discover that 1,200 blogs had entered the competition, in all categories, for the prestigious awards and that my blog had gone through three rounds of judging in order to win the top prize.

The final round was judged by media, journalism, and PR professionals, which gave me a huge boost as my path has not always been certain since I took voluntary redundancy from one of Ireland’s leading regional newspapers, The Connacht Tribune, four years ago.

After writing a travel blog which was very warmly received during a career break in 2010, I set up my blog in August 2014 in the midst of great uncertainty and a crisis in my industry.

My blog did not have an exact focus at first, but I felt it was important to keep writing in the wake of redundancy from the newspaper in which I had worked for more than 22 years.

It has allowed me to reach a whole new audience and provide a platform for groups such as the ‘Tuam Babies’ families and survivors, victims of clerical abuse, the Shannonwatch protesters, anti-racism and homelessness activists, who feel they do not always get adequate or fair coverage in the mainstream media.

Sometimes blogging can be a lonely occupation, but it’s fantastic to get such wonderful recognition from my peers.

The voices of the voiceless need to be heard at a time of so much injustice, inequality, and suffering in Ireland, and the rise of racism and populism, both in Ireland and overseas, is a cause of huge concern.

I dearly hope to return to full-time journalism at some stage but, in the meantime, I am absolutely thrilled that my humble little blog has received recognition at a national level.

In fairness

The Best Current Affairs Blog In Ireland (Ciaran Tierney)

Pic: Paul Sherwood

From top: Blanket ceremony in Tuam, County Galway last Saturday; from left Ciaran Tierney, Alison O’Reilly and Anna Corrigan

Last Saturday, Journalist Ciaran Tirerney attended the Remembrance Day at the site of the mass grave at the former Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway.

From Ciaran’s recent blog entry:

Three hundred women all across the globe, including many in North America, were inspired by a Dublin artist to make a blanket of 796 hand-knitted pieces which they presented to the families and survivors of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home on Saturday.

In an emotional ceremony at the site where up to 796 babies and children are believed to have been buried in an unmarked grave,

Dublin artist Barbara O’Meara unveiled the beautiful white blanket – sewn together in four parts to depict the four provinces of Ireland – to the family members after meeting them for the first time.

The unveiling of the beautiful blanket, knitted by hand following a Facebook campaign, coincided with an inaugural Remembrance Day for the Lost Children of Ireland event at the site of the former home.

…At the ceremony, I was also delighted to meet Anna Corrigan of the Tuam Babies Family Group and author Alison O’Reilly.

Alison and Anna worked together to write ‘My Name is Bridget’, the story of Anna’s mother who had been incarcerated in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home.

Anna, who grew up in Dublin, only discovered that she had two older brothers after her mother passed away.

Her two brothers are among the 796 missing children and babies.

The book is a harrowing read, but it also really ‘humanises’ the story of the lost children and also looks at some other case histories from homes across Ireland.

Breeda Murphy of the Tuam Home Survivors Network pointed out that the infant mortality rate at the home was five times that of the population outside; and that 126 of the babies died within the first six months of life.

“Death certificates were not signed by a medical practitioner, but rather a domestic at the home, burials were outside the norm, custom or law. Without coffins. Without a word, a prayer or a gesture of sympathy in a land that is renowned for its funeral services where communities seek comfort in the untimely death of a young person,” she said.

She pointed out that 35,000 women and girls went through Ireland’s Mother and Baby Home system between 1904 to 1996.

This was a national issue, she said, as she pointed out that survivors from institutions all across Ireland had travelled to Tuam for the event.

They travelled to remember the lost children of Tuam (Ciaran Tierney)

 

From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (left) and US President Donald Trump in the White House Washington last March; Ciaran Tierney

It has been amazing to hear so many people in Ireland express regret that President Trump has postponed (or cancelled) his Irish visit this coming November.

They were so fired up that many said they were looking forward to joining a political protest for the first time.

Irish protesters had to reach out to their counterparts in the UK, who turned out in their thousands to make the President feel so unwelcome when he visited London back in July.

Sorry, they said, we won’t need to ship the giant orange “baby blimp” to Ireland after all!

People in Dublin were really looking forward to the sight of a giant baby Donald in a nappy floating across the skyline.

And a hugely successful crowdfunding campaign had already covered the cost of bringing over the six metre high blimp within days of being set up.

Everyone, it seemed, wanted to be part of mass protests against the US President. The sense of anti-climax was palpable as soon as the White House announced that he had postponed his travel plans.

The leaders of two opposition parties, Labour and the Greens, had come  together to announce plans for a joint rally for “democracy, decency, and international solidarity” in Dublin.

As though such concepts, so alien to Mr Trump, were plentiful across the political spectrum here in Ireland.

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin went as far as to say that President Trump was “no friend of democracy or human rights”.

Mr Howlin said it was important to stand up to Trump on issues such as climate change, the treatment of migrant and asylum-seekers, spending on arms, and the slashing of aid budgets.

In Galway, the local anti-racism group wanted hundreds of people to gather to spell out the words “Feck off Trump” (with a little Irish humour, from the ‘Father Ted’ TV series) on a beach.

In much different times, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy addressed 50,000 people in Eyre Square and the city authorities renamed it as Kennedy Park in his honour.

We are unlikely to see a ‘Trump Park’ in Galway any time in this millennium.

So many people are disappointed that the street protests are off. They wanted to convey a firm message that Trump’s policies have no place in a modern, prosperous, outward-looking Ireland.

They want to reject the anti-immigrant rhetoric on an island where emigration provided the only refuge for the afflicted through much of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The street protests are off . . . as though there was nothing to protest about closer to home.

The economy might be in recovery, but the recovery does not seem to have reached so many Irish people who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

Last week, masked thugs – protected by masked Gardai – used heavy-handed tactics to evict homelessness campaigners from an empty building in Dublin.

The sight of masked policemen with no identification on their uniforms caused consternation at a time when there are almost 10,000 people living in emergency accommodation across Ireland.

And now our Minister for Justice says he would support moves to criminalise the photographing of Gardai as they carry out their duties.

Such a move would be an attack on press freedom and should lead to questions as to what the Gardai have to hide.

Would that mean banning photos of public events such as GAA games or the annual Macnas Parade?

The last time I checked such measures were only being considered in states such as Israel, where an oppressive occupation force has a vested interest in covering up its crimes in the West Bank.

Given recent Irish history, we don’t have to cross the Atlantic in search of police forces who abuse their power. In fact the filming of protests has helped to prevent injustice from occurring.

So, instead of worrying about Trump, perhaps we should be looking at how power is being abused much closer to home.

Last month, a photo of homeless children sleeping in a Garda Station went viral. The youngsters had to sleep on hard chairs in the police station because there was nowhere else for them to go.

The distraught mother who took that photo could soon be guilty of a crime.

Last week, a photo of a sick and distressed 92-year old woman sitting on a chair in a public hospital Emergency Department went viral.

Gladys Cummins posted the photo on Facebook out of frustration and despair. Her mother did not even have a trolley, as she spent 25 hours sitting on that chair.

Two months ago, I saw a 93-year old family member spent 48 hours on a trolley in the ED Department in Galway. The unacceptable has become acceptable and lengthy waiting lists in our public hospitals have become the new norm.

In a supposedly “socialised” health service – compared to the US at any rate – the old and the weak are being forced to spend days lying in corridors in overcrowded facilities.

But Irish people are not taking to the streets to protest about our health crisis.

In June, Irish people became outraged by the images of child migrants on the US-Mexico border crying in distress after being separated from their families. They were outraged by Trump.

Yet few of them have much awareness of the hardships endured by those who spend up to seven or eight years in Ireland’s own Direct Provision system.

About 5,000 asylum-seekers are detained at 31 accommodation centres without permission to work, or even to cook for their children. Among them are 2,000 children, growing up in highly inappropriate shared spaces with adults from a variety of countries.

Direct Provision centres have been described as the Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby Homes of our times. Some even see them as a “time bomb” for future problems to come.

We have British politicians steamrolling headlong towards Brexit, with little or no awareness that their dangerous language is threatening the peace process which transformed life in Northern Ireland over the past 20 years.

We have the families of victims of loyalist collusion who are shocked that a former member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary is now at the helm of the Irish Gardai.

They believe he has questions to ask about their long search for justice for atrocities such as the Miami Showband Massacre and the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.

We rant against Trump for his sexism, at a time when Irish society has been convulsed by a cervical smear test scandal in which the Irish Government treated Irish women appallingly this year.

A lot of Irish people are disappointed that they won’t get a chance to protest against President Trump, but let’s not pretend that we don’t have some pressing problems much closer to home.

Call Off The Blimp (Ciaran Tierney)

Top pic: MerrionStreet


From top: Historian Catherine Corless (third right) and survivors of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home lead the vigil in Tuam, County Galway last Saturday; Ciaran Tierney

They stood together, side-by-side, in solidarity in the heart of an Irish town.

Their hearts beating loudly, but their heads held high.

These were once the marginalised, the forgotten ones, the ones who were never supposed to speak out, express their pain, or make much of their lives.

As children, they were called the ‘Home Babies’.

Or . . . the children of the ‘fallen women’.

Or . . . the illegitimate ones.

Or . . . appallingly, the bastards.

Bastards –  the disgusting word of choice of a judgmental society, which allowed the imprisonment of innocent women and children to go on for decades.

There were thousands of children like them all around Ireland, malnourished, tearful, forced to march to school in hobnailed boots; forced to arrive later than the luckier ones who were considered “legitimate” in the eyes of a Church and a State which never cared much for their welfare.

There but for the grace of a God who didn’t show much concern for them in the first few years of their lives.

They could have been adopted to America, illegally, to “good” Catholic families who were able and willing to pay the right price.

They could have been farmed out to “respectable” Irish families, some of whom were quick to remind them of their true place in this earth and their lowly station in life.

Abuse did not always end in the confines of those homes.

Or, God forbid, they might have lived just a matter of days or months, and found themselves dumped in a mass grave in a septic tank.

These were people who were never meant to make it onto our TV screens or into our newspapers, but thanks to the tireless research of a brave historian called Catherine Corless we are now getting to know their stories and their names.

They stood together in the heart of Tuam on Sunday afternoon and tears were shed as they began their silent, dignified walk through town.

People like Peter, who expressed his anguish to a small group of us in a Galway graveyard last year.

At 70 years of age, he found out about the little sister he never knew he had. He’s 74 now and only a disgusting, morally bankrupt Church or State would dare to deny him access to justice and the truth about what happened to his younger sibling.

People like Annette, whose older sister, Mary Margaret O’Connor, died as a child in the home in 1943. Annette, who lives in Manchester, England, described it as an “obscenity” that the site was not being excavated in order to provide closure and the truth to the families.

“I don’t know a country that would put 796 babies in a disused sewage tank. Those babies aren’t hidden, they are in that septic tank and they need to be given back to their families,” she said.

People like Anna, who only discovered she had two older brothers after he mother’s death in Dublin.

“The Tuam grave is a jigsaw and it needs to be put together,” she said.

How can any of us imagine the emotions Anna went through when it began to dawn on her that her brothers could have been buried in a septic tank on the site of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home?

How can any of us imagine how they and other family members feel when they see that part of the site is now a children’s playground in a Council estate in the North Galway town?

As though the authorities really went out of their way to cover up and forget the horror of what happened at that site.

How can any of us imagine what they go through every day when the Irish authorities fail to comply with their absolute conviction that there should be a complete and thorough exhumation of the site?

Can we even begin to imagine what it’s like to believe you have a close member dumped among 796 children in a mass grave in a septic tank?

If all of those family members are even there at all, because many Irish campaigners now believe that dozens of the “home babies” were adopted by families in the United States.

While Pope Francis was appearing before thousands of Irish people at a Mass in the Phoenix Park on Sunday, these amazing survivors came together in the heart of Tuam.

The hundreds who turned out to support them were moved into a sustained and dignified round of applause after their silent vigil through the town.

They read out the names of all 796 ‘Tuam Babies’, one-by-one.

Local people hung children’s toys along the route to show their support to the survivors and to remind participants of the terrible, brutal injustice which occurred at the site.

While the visit of Pope Francis was expected to cost €32 million, these families are waiting on tenterhooks to see if the Irish authorities will come up with the funding required for the full exhumation of the site.

Local people tied baby shoes, toys, and teddy bears to railings all along the route to express solidarity to the families, the survivors, and the 796 children whose names were read out at a simple, but poignant, ceremony.

Now that Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland has concluded, the Tuam Home Survivors Network have called on the Irish Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone, to convene an Inquest and complete a full exhumation of the site.

They want her to show them what correspondence, if any, she has had with the Bon Secours order who ran the infamous home from 1925 to 1961.

The Bon Secours order has refused to engage with the survivors and the families and even hired a PR person to try to ‘spin’ their role in this terrible affair.

Minister Zappone wrote a letter to Pope Francis on Monday, calling on the Vatican to contribute €2.5 million as part reparation for its role in the scandal of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home.

The families read her letter with interest, but released a statement claiming that the letter “smacks of a stunt, a desperate attempt by a Minister completely out of her depth”.

Their anger has not disappeared.

Two activists who have campaigned for justice for the ‘Tuam Babies’, Izzy Kamikaze and Sadie Cramer, cordoned off the site with tape on Sunday and declared it a crime scene.

They said they were sickened that the Irish authorities had not carried out a full investigation at the site.

Catherine Corless, Izzy, Sadie, the families, and the survivors all came together in the heart of the North Galway town this weekend and they won’t be silenced any more.

Perhaps that, more than anything, will be the legacy of Pope Francis’ 2018 visit to Ireland. The whole world has been alerted to and shocked by the crimes committed against Irish women and children and their subsequent cover-up.

The loved-ones of the 796 have found their voices and they are determined to find out the truth now, no matter what barriers they face from the Church or State authorities, or the concerns expressed about the cost involved.

Because, thanks to the overwhelming support and solidarity of ordinary Irish people, all of their shame has gone.

Their search for justice goes on.

They stood together in an Irish town (Ciaran Tierney)

Saturday: Deliver Us From Evil