Thursday, October 30, 2014

Taoiseach Out Of His Depth

Last Monday night this column was in Dundalk at a Right2Water public meeting. There was a good turnout and a lively discussion. Local Councillors and former Executive Minster Conor Murphy joined us. On Thursday night we repeated the process in Drogheda.








 



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A few Saturdays before this a huge crowd of citizens poured on to the streets of Dublin to protest at the Governments introduction of additional water charges. Everyone, including the organisers were surprised at the turnout which was estimated to be at least fifty thousand strong.

Six years of austerity and the Governments arrogance in setting up Uisce Eireann - a semi state company operating like a private company which claimed over fifty million euros of taxpayers money for consultants and huge bonuses for its management - was the trigger for widespread public opposition.

Water is clearly a precious resource that must be protected and maintained to the highest standards. Clean water should be a right. In some counties the water is undrinkable.


Many rural dwellers pay for their water anyway through group water schemes or the digging and maintenance of their own wells.

Successive governments have never provided services for these folk. In fact this government and its Fianna Fáil predecessor are stripping services from rural areas. Post offices, schools, Gardai, public transport, A&E units, public transport. All have been cut. In total contradiction of election promises. Charges for septic tanks, the family home have been imposed on top of a range of other stealth charges.

These new water charges came from Fianna Fáil in government. Now in Opposition they are agin them.

The charges being implemented by the government are in essence just a cover for a new tax. It is clear from the latest Exchequer figures that there is enough additional money available to offset the cost of water services.

Sinn Féin’s Alternative Budget proposals identified how this could be done. Yet the government continues to press ahead with water charges while lowering tax on the higher earners.

Sinn Féin, and many others, is campaigning against the water charges. We have committed if we get into government that we will reverse the charges. Just as we did in the Executive under Conor Murphy's leadership.

But those families who cannot pay cannot wait until then. This is a charge too far. Many many citizens cannot afford it. So this government must be turned on this issue.

The Fine Gael/Labour government is not immune to public pressure.

They clearly reacted with some water charge concessions in the recent budget. These were in the wake of the by-election results where anti-Austerity candidates trounced Government candidates, and to the scale of the protests in Dublin.

They are also rattled at the ongoing debacles emerging at Irish Water.

Water charges can be beaten on the streets, in our communities and through the ballot box.

Sinn Féin fully supports the Right2Water campaign and believe that this should be built in every community throughout the State.

It is important that all groups opposed to water charges work together to defeat them. United we must stand.

In the North, Sinn Féin Minister Conor Murphy was responsible for stopping the introduction of domestic Water Charges and the privatisation of water services .

We will end them in the South too.

Sinn Féin will deliver on our commitments.

We will not enter into a government that maintains water charges or the local property tax.

The Fine Gael/Labour Government need also to stop the roll-out of water metering and redirect the €539m loan finance from the National Pension Reserve Fund towards fixing the massive leakage problems and interruptions to supply.

The Government also needs to recognise that Uisce Eireann is not fit for purpose. It is not accountable to the Oireachtas and the citizens of this State.

Uisce Eireann has become synonymous with everything that is wrong with the Fine Gael Labour Government - cronyism, political manipulation of State boards, threats to citizens and ever mounting taxes on struggling families.

From the outset, Uisce Eireann has been mired in scandal. The manner in which this company was established, how it has been managed, and the unfair imposition of water charges has been chaotic and farcical.

Earlier this week, it emerged that Irish Water planned to hit struggling families with a hugely expensive call-out charge of €180 to repair leaking pipes. I raised this directly with the Taoiseach but he said he knows nothing about the figure. Such a yarn!

Senior management at Irish Water are paid hugely exorbitant salaries. And last weekend we learned that these same executives are in line for bonus payments despite the very obvious management failings.

The Taoiseach told me in the Dáil on 7th October that no bonuses would be paid. Such a yarn!

The latest noises from government appear designed to scapegoat the board and senior management team at Uisce Eireann. But this fiasco was the creation of the government. The Minister who introduced has condemned the way it is operating. That was after he was sacked by Mr Kenny.

Uisce Eireann as an entity is toxic. It cannot be left with responsibility for the delivery of water services. It must be fundamentally and radically reformed so that it acts in the interests of citizens.

Citizens and communities are organising and mobilising in protest and opposition to these water charges through the Right2Water public campaign.

Next Saturday, November 1st, there will be demonstrations in towns across all twenty six counties. The Taoiseach should listen to what citizens are saying. He is already out of his depth. His governments disastrous handling of the water issue may just be the issue that sinks him.


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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Action not point-scoring needed for victims, a Thaoisigh

The allegations of Maíria Cahill have been at the centre of the media and political system North and South, in recent times.

Nobody doubts that Maíria has been through great distress. I have never doubted that she suffered abuse. And like every citizen she is fully entitled to truth and justice.
 
Over the course of the past week Maíria Cahill has made serious allegations against myself and named Sinn Féin members.
 
While I am very mindful of the trauma she has suffered I and the others she has named reject those allegations.
 
The allegations made by Maíria Cahill have been seized upon in the most cynical, calculated and opportunistic way by our political opponents.

Their aim has little to do with helping victims of abuse, but everything to do with furthering their own narrow political agendas.
 
The serious and sensitive issues of abuse should be dealt with in a victim-centred way by the appropriate authorities. Instead they have been politicised in the Dáil, the Assembly chamber and in the media.
 
I am very conscious that a young woman is at the centre of this controversy.
 
So, let me be very, very clear. Abuse is wrong. It cannot and must not be tolerated.
 
Let me be equally clear. Sinn Féin has not engaged in any cover-up of abuse at any level of this party.
 
This accusation is a vile slur on thousands of decent, upstanding republican people right across this island.
 
Those Sinn Féin members to whom Maíria Cahill spoke, have said that they believed that she had been a victim of abuse, and that she had suffered trauma.
 
They assure me that they did all that they could to support her.
 
That is what I did also.
 
The Taoiseach, the Fianna Fail Leader and some media commentators have also tried to draw comparisons between the actions of Sinn Féin representatives in this case and that of the Catholic Church in dealing with abuse allegations.
 
A cursory examination of the facts gives the lie to that ridiculous assertion.
 
The Church hierarchy and the State presided over institutional abuse for decades.
 
It was a systemic and deliberate practice.
 
In stark contrast Sinn Féin has encouraged victims to speak out.
 
All the Sinn Féin memebers who spoke to Mairia Cahill acted in good faith to support her.
 
They advised her to speak to her family, to seek counselling or to approach social services.
 
Her uncle Joe Cahill at my request asked her to go to the RUC.
 
Now even Joe is shamefully depicted as a sex abuser by some of the media. This has been deeply hurtful to his wife Annie, their children and grandchildren.
 
Whose agenda is served by this despicable rubbish?
 
Some sections of the media and in particular the Independent Group, have taken these allegations against Sinn Féin, added to them, and reported them as fact.
 
They speculate with ill-concealed glee about how much damage this controversy will do to me and Sinn Féin.
 
While rightfully criticising the idea of 'kangaroo courts', they have set themselves up as judge and jury on this issue.
 
This is not journalism in the normal sense but a campaign with a clear political agenda.
 
This society is still emerging from decades of conflict.
 
That conflict caused widespread hurt and suffering, as did the absence of the structures and institutions which are the norm in peaceful democratic societies.
 
There are many legacy issues arising from the conflict. Sinn Féin accepts our responsibility to help bring about the resolution of these issues. That is not our responsibility alone. The Governments and others must deal with the past also.
 
Victims include a wider category than those killed or injured.
 
They include those badly served or mistreated by the forces of the state, or by armed groups including the IRA.
 
How the various protagonists dealt with the issue of sexual abuse is clearly one of the legacy issues which needs to be resolved as part of the necessary business of dealing with the past.
 
However there is an onus on us all to meet the needs of victims of abuse and the concerns of the community in the here and now. To do what we can today.
 
To the maximum extent that this can be dealt with now, it should be dealt with.
 
I have already set out the circumstances in which the IRA sought to deal with some cases of abuse when asked to do so by families and victims.
 
I have acknowledged that while IRA volunteers were acting in good faith, the IRA was not equipped to deal with these difficult matters.
 
But the clock cannot be turned back. Sinn Féin cannot change what happened in the past. But we can acknowledge failure.
 
That is what I have done.
 
Everyone, including us, has a duty to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated. That is not the responsibility only of Sinn Fein.
 
IRA actions failed victims of abuse. As Uacharáin Shinn Féin I have acknowledged that. I am sorry for that. And I apologise for that.
 
This week in the Dáil, the Taoiseach disgracefully twisted and sought to misrepresent what I have said on this issue.
 
He and the Fianna Fáil leader have shown a callous disregard for the facts as they turned the Dáil chamber into an episode of reality television.
 
Neither the Taoiseach nor the Fianna Fáil leader has ever sought to meet with me to address the false allegations that they have levelled against me and others in Sinn Féin.
 
Instead they have rushed into media with their vindictive claims.
 
Mr Kenny and Mr Martin have done the very thing they accuse Republicans of. They have set aside the judicial process and the rights of citizens before the law. They have ignored the acquittal of those they have accused.
 
The Taoiseach has claimed that sexual abusers were ‘moved’ – his words, not mine - to“Dublin, Donegal, Louth”.
 
The Taoiseach has repeatedly claimed that he has knowledge of alleged child abusers from the North but living in the South.
 
He says that others have given him information identifying these alleged child abusers. He has raised alarm and concern on this issue.
 
Has the Taoiseach gone to the Gardaí with this information? Has he insisted that those who gave him this information go to the Gardaí?
 
If not why not?
 
It is up to the Gardaí or the PSNI to investigate and to prosecute anyone they suspect of child abuse, irrespective of who they are, where they come from or what organisation they may belong to.
 
I have no knowledge of the claims that the Taoiseach is making.
I have already called on anyone who has any information whatsoever about any case of sexual abuse to come forward to the authorities North or South.
 
They will have the full support of Sinn Féin in so doing.
 
No one should be living in fear and no child should be at risk.
 
I am calling on any former IRA Volunteers, who may have any information about any allegations of sexual abuse to pass this on to the appropriate authorities.
 
That is, the PSNI, An Garda Siochána, Social Services, the HSE or any of the advocacy groups or helplines which deal with sexual abuse cases.
 
This could also be done through any of the statutory and voluntary organisations which offer confidential 24 hour helplines.
 
These agencies are properly equipped to pursue these matters.
 
Secrecy has surrounded abuse in Ireland.
It was taboo to discuss, and some victims were very fearful to disclose.
 
The only way to face this problem is to support victims, and to empower them to speak out.
 
Republicans are reflective of wider Irish society. Abusers can be found in all walks of life. Any abuser within republicanism, has done grievous wrongs to their victims and sullied our cause.
 
But they are not in any way representative of the thousands, or tens of thousands of republican activists who served the republican cause in the ranks of the IRA, and Sinn Féin.
 
They are not representative of the tens of thousands of republican prisoners who served hard time for the republican cause.
Or of our Patriot dead.
 
There are republican families in every parish in Ireland.
 
Good men and women who have kept in faith in hard times.
 
There are ten thousand citizens in the ranks of Sinn Féin today representing hundreds of thousands of republican voters the length and breadth of this island.
 
The politicisation of this issue by An Taoiseach and the Fiánna Fail Leader comes at a time when we present a real alternative to the conservative parties that have failed citizens since Partition.
 
When challenged by me in the Dáil, Mr Kenny conceded that there are many decent people in Sinn Féin.
 
Let me tell you Taoiseach, we don’t need you to tell us that.
 
We know that.
 
We also know that we are not part of any conspiracy to protect child abusers or to cover up abuse.
 
So the difficult issues raised by Mairia Cahill must be addressed.
 
But there are processes for doing this. They should be applied and respected.
 
Let us be clear this is not achievable by exploiting her story in a blatant effort to demonise Sinn Féin.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

How republicans dealt with allegations of child abuse


 
The recent allegations made by Maíria Cahill are of serious concern to myself and Sinn Féin. While I refute completely Maíria’s allegations against myself and Sinn Féin it does raise the significant issue of how allegations of abuse had been handled in the past by republicans.

Abuse respects no political boundaries. It affects all classes, creeds and social groups. Women and children in the main suffers as a result. It is now accepted that one in four citizens have experienced abuse.



Our society has been extremely bad, until relatively recently, in facing up to this matter and developing the necessary responses and supports. This has been the case in both states but in the North these failures were further exacerbated by conflict.

In conflicts civilians suffer the most, particularly women and children. This is especially the case when communities are under military occupation. During the conflict in the north many nationalist and particularly republican communities suffered grievously under British military rule. In the main since partition, these communities had never accepted unionist one party rule. They were resentful of, and oppressed in, the Orange state which rejected all attempts at reform over the decades.

After the pogroms of 1969, Internment in 1971 and Bloody Sunday in 1972 the vast majority of nationalists withdrew any consent to be governed from the Northern state, it's institutions and agencies.

The conflict itself caused widespread hurt and suffering, but so too did the absence of the structures and institutions which are the norm in peaceful, democratic societies. These citizens never had a policing service.  Policing and the Legal process were subverted to the primary objective of defeating republicanism at all costs. The RUC was a quasi-military arm of the state which acted against nationalists and republicans as if we were the enemy.

In many cases the absence of a civic police service also disconnected alienated communities from the support of social services. These communities policed themselves. The vast majority of people were law abiding and decent. Strong and empowered and progressive communities emerged. New and innovative restorative justice systems were developed as part of this collective experience. But there was also, particularly in the first two decades of the conflict a more brutal form of rough justice.

Some journalists and political opponents of Sinn Féin continue to perpetuate a particular myth about life in nationalist areas of the North during the conflict. They portray republicans as having oppressed republican/nationalist communities through political control and vigilantism. This was never the case. The IRA could never have sustained itself without popular support and Sinn Féin would not have developed as we have unless we had the support of the people.

The reality of course is that a professional, accountable and impartial policing service was absent and unattainable in a society that was manifestly unjust. In many republican areas the community put pressure on the IRA - which sprang from and was sustained by the community - to fill this policing vacuum.

The IRA itself often viewed this role as a major distraction from its central function. It suspected that the RUC indulged criminals in order to tie down IRA resources and demoralise the nationalist community.

IRA 'policing' was most evident in those areas where it had strongest support. The bulk of this activity involved mediation between those in dispute, and went unreported.

However, the IRA often punished petty criminals, car thieves, burglars and drug dealers. The IRA, inevitably also made mistakes.

Despite the high standards and decency of the vast majority of IRA volunteers, IRA personnel were singularly ill-equipped to deal with these matters. This included very sensitive areas such as responding to demands to take action against rapists and child abusers. The IRA on occasion shot alleged sex offenders or expelled them.

 

While this may have been expedient at the time it was not appropriate. Victims were left without the necessary social service support and abusers without supervision. It ultimately failed victims and the community alike. That is a matter of profound regret for me, and many other republicans.

But these actions were of their time and reflected not only a community at war but also an attitude within Ireland which did not then understand or know as we now do, how deeply embedded abuse is in our society.

For decades the institutions of both states including successive governments, the RUC, An Garda Siochana, the courts, social services, churches and others did not deal with these matters properly.

Many senior republicans, including me, had major issues with the IRA acting as a policing agency. Martin McGuinness and I are on the public record speaking out against punishment shootings since the 1980s.

This facet of IRA activity was gradually discontinued over a long period as republican activism evolved despite sizeable and understandable opposition in some communities, which were contending with a Loyalist murder campaign alongside British military aggression and ingrained disadvantage and discrimination. They had little patience for anti-social behaviour, drug pushers, death drivers or sexual abusers.

Despite the alienation from the RUC it was the accepted de facto practice that they dealt with traffic accidents, car insurance and such matters. Incidents of rape were also reported to them in some cases and no thinking person would have made a case against that. But many victims or families of victims were reluctant to bring cases of child abuse forward. This was part of the larger problem all society and particularly victims faced at that time. But where a case emerged there was the added problem for some about reporting this to the RUC. They wanted the community or the IRA to take actions.


As society became better informed as to the issue and handling of abuse, republicans began to develop victim centred approaches, ensuring that victims received the necessary supports, counselling and advice.

As Sinn Féin developed our constituency services we also developed our policies in relation to abuse.

I advocated that we direct victims to the Social Services if they did not want to go to the RUC, in the knowledge that the Social Services could go to the RUC.  In other words Republicans including the IRA, could not deal with these issues. Sinn Féin would direct people to counselling services and advise victims of legacy issues but we also told everyone that we would report all cases in which children could be at risk to the Social Services or the HSE.

Following the IRA cessation in 1994 and the developing peace process legacy cases of abuse emerged. Many of these are in the public domain. Some involved republicans. My father was an abuser. Some also may have involved IRA volunteers. Those who wish to have these cases dealt with have that right.

The recent publicity surrounding the case of Maíria Cahill has brought this particular issue to the fore in public consciousness. Maíria alleges she was raped, and that the IRA conducted an investigation into this. The IRA has long since left the scene so there is no corporate way of verifying this but it must be pointed out that this allegation was subject to a police investigation, charges were brought against some republicans who strenuously denied Maíria's allegations. They insist they tried to help her. They were all acquitted by the court.

Maíria has also accused Sinn Féin and me of engaging in a cover up. That is untrue. When I learned of the allegation that Maíria was the victim of rape I asked her grand-uncle Joe Cahill, a senior and widely respected republican, to advise her to go to the RUC. He did this but Maíria did not want to do so at that time.

When Maíria subsequently did go to the police, I co-operated with the police investigation.

Any of the other Sinn Féin representatives named by Maíria have assured me that they at all times sought to support and help her. They advised on counselling, on speaking to her own family or approaching social services or the police. The people she spoke to are decent, thoughtful citizens and compassionate people. There was absolutely no cover up by Sinn Féin at any level.

Sinn Féin has robust party guidelines and processes on the issues of child protection, allegations of sexual abuse and/or sexual harassment, which were adopted by An Ard Chomhairle in 2006 in line with changes to the law.

Sinn Féin adopted New Child Protection Guidelines in 2010, which were produced in consultation with the HSE and Social Services and the PSNI.

Maíria has said that there are other victims who are living in fear, and perpetrators at large who are a danger to children at this time, as a result of how republicans dealt with these issues in the past.

No one should be living in fear and no child should be at risk.

Anyone who has any information whatsoever about any child abuse should come forward to the authorities North or South and they will have the full support of Sinn Féin in so doing.

 

That includes Maíria Cahill, who says that there are perpetrators at large who are a danger to children at this time. Whatever information she has on this she should give to the appropriate authority.

Healing and rebuilding a society still emerging from conflict demands that many difficult issues will need to be faced up to and dealt with as a necessary part of putting the past behind us.

That will require a huge amount of courage, compassion and humility across our society.

How Republicans dealt with the issue of child abuse should be one of these issues, if that is what victims want.  Sinn Féin will accept our responsibility in contributing to the resolution of these wrongs.  We are committed to creating a society which is no longer bedevilled or haunted by the legacy of any harm or injustices. Sexual abuse is a challenge which still challenges all sections of modern Irish society.

Looking after all victims and their families is a significant and important part of building  a peaceful and just society. And victims include a wider category than those killed or injured as a result of armed actions by any of the protagonists.

It includes those who were brutalised or had their lives limited or adversely affected by growing up in a society scarred by war and the absence of agreed, stable, democratic structures and institutions.

It also includes those badly served or mistreated by the forces of the State and those badly served or mistreated by non-State actors and armed groups, including the IRA.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Commemorating the centenary anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising


The Centenary anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising is now less than two years away.

This hugely significant date in the history of the Irish nation should be marked in an appropriate, sensitive and inclusive manner.



Any commemoration should be a fitting popular acknowledgement of the past but also, and just as importantly, an opportunity for all of us - political representatives and citizens alike - North and South, to engage in a serious discussion about what kind of an Ireland we want to build for the future.

But as yet, no plan, no proposal and no programme of events, outlining how, where or what the Government intends to organise to mark this event has been published. This should be a cause for concern.

Indeed, the only idea mooted by senior members of the Cabinet so far has been to invite members of the English royal family to whatever ceremony eventually takes place.

Compounding the Government's bungling approach has been the shabby treatment of the relatives of those who fought on Easter Week 1916.

The Government was forced to retract earlier media briefings that relatives would not be accommodated at the official ceremonies.



Meanwhile the prospect of the buildings, streets and laneways of history around Moore Street and the last headquarters of the leaders of the a Rising, being demolished to facilitate the building of a shopping centre, has understandably shocked and deeply angered many citizens

This Government's extremely tardy attitude to marking the most important single event in modern Irish history, stands in stark and shameful contrast to the way other states acclaim those who fought for their freedom and independence.

Any state-organised commemoration should be inclusive and involve much more than a mere military parade in Dublin.

There is huge scope for associated cultural events in all 32 Counties of Ireland which would bring home the ideals and history of 1916 to the whole population of the island, young and old.

There is an unprecedented opportunity also to involve the Irish diaspora in the public life of the nation by ensuring the involvement of the Irish in the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia and elsewhere.

The 1916 Rising and its aftermath had ramifications far beyond the shores of Ireland. It had major international significance and the subsequent guerrilla war against British rule in Ireland became a template for those struggling against imperialism and colonial rule elsewhere.
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It is important therefore that any commemorative events have an international dimension and flavour.

No one party or group has a monopoly on the memory of 1916 or indeed of republicanism. It must also be remembered that the Rising was the result of a coming together of many groups in Irish society, including the nationalist, the socialist, the women’s movement, the trade unions, cultural and Irish language activists. All these strands must be represented in any future commemorations.

The significance of this anniversary and the fact that no plan has emerged is an indictment of the Fine Gael/Labour Government's approach.

The Government's amnesia about this country's revolutionary period betrays a lack of confidence in the Government's own political position regarding these events and how the ideals of 1916 remain unfulfilled.

At the core of this, I believe, is the manner in which the policies they have pursued fail to measure up to the promise of the 1916 Proclamation.

In my view, the democratic and republican principles of freedom and equality contained in the 1916 Proclamation are as relevant to the Ireland of 2014 as they were in 1916.

The Southern state is not the republic envisaged by those who wrote the Proclamation. They had a vision for a real republic – a republic of justice, equality and fairness – a republic for all the people of this island. That is in direct contradiction to the policies being pursued by Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil.

The Government's and the Taoiseach's attitude to 1916 is very far removed from that of most Irish citizens who are very proud of the men and women of Easter Week, who proclaimed an independent Irish Republic and asserted in arms Ireland's right to unity and independence.

One thing is sure however. The 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising will be marked, and in a big way, by ordinary people across this island with the support and leadership of Irish republicans, whether or not the Irish Government is involved.


Friday, October 10, 2014

Ceád Míle Fáilte??





There was a time when the Holiday Camp at Mosney was host to Joe Dolan and Dickie Rock. Thousands danced the night away to 'Oh Me Oh My' and 'The Church with the White Washed Gable'. Sadly Joe is no longer with us. Dickie is still going strong. So too is Mosney. I was there only once. Years ago. Maggie McArdle, God rest her, my favourite Mother in Law, was on a Senior Citizens Weekend Away and we called to visit her. Back in the day. The place was buzzing. Maggie really enjoyed her vacation. So did many others over the decades. When he heard I was to visit there last week Dessie Ellis TD regaled me with tales of his amorous adventures and countless more innocent Dublin family breaks at Mosney.

These days Mosney is an Asylum Accommodation Centre. Me and Seanadoir Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and Councillor Eimear Ferguson visited it on Friday last.


A letter to Trevor from The Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) set out the conditions for our visit. They included a prohibition on media accompanying the delegation, any advance announcement of the visit and a prohibition on 'live tweeting' during the visit.

I don't know the legal basis for these conditions but, with what is probably a former prisoners instinct, I tweeted anyway. Just out of contrariness.

Interestingly I notice that a visit by President Michael D Higgins to an accommodation centre for asylum seekers was cancelled recently after the Department of Justice allegedly refused permission for the event on the grounds of "logistics and safety".

The camp at Mosney is massive. It is well maintained. Clean. Lots of trees and green spaces. The management team who accompanied us were hospitable, friendly and courteous. Some of the residents said Mosney is one of the better centres not least because they have privacy. Some hostels are cramped. They have communal toilets.

There are 602 people in Mosney. Those we met are focussed on getting out off there. Some of them are waiting ten years. It is an indictment of the Government and its predecessor that this is the case. Direct Provision is an inhumane system. No matter how 'attractive' the accommodation may be the system institutionalises people, damages their mental health and forces idleness on them.

Direct Provision is meant to provide for the welfare needs of asylum seekers and their families. It does not. It provides a measly €9.60 a week for each child. What child can be cared for on €9.60 a week? At the end of last year there were 4300 people including 1,666 children were living in this system. Many of the children were born here. Many are denied citizenship. Most have spent their entire childhoods in the system.

The Minister of State for Equality Aodhán Ó Riordáin says a new inspection regime for conditions in Direct Provision Centres is urgently needed. Fair enough. All our systems need regulated. But the direct provision system needs abolished. It has no legislative basis whatsoever. It was a rushed job by Fianna Fáil back in 1999 without proper accountability and poor institutional oversight. Since 2000 private contractors who run the centres have been paid €900 million of taxpayers money.

There is no need to wait for Immigration, Residence and Protection legislation to be passed in order to put a stop to Direct Provision. Other states deal with Immigrants in a much more humane, efficient and less costly way. There is no reason why this cannot happen here. The people in direct provision have rights. Our delegation met a group, mostly of women, during our visit. All of them want to contribute to Irish society. Instead they are denied the right to work. They are segregated, unable to participate in any meaningful way. We also met local people who work on a voluntary basis to ease the and to assist these 'new Irish' especially the children.

There is no excuse for the wasted creative human potential that is currently unused in direct provision centres. There is no excuse for treating human beings like this. Some of us campaign on behalf of Irish Immigrants in the USA and other countries. If our citizens were being treated the way we treat our immigrants Irish politicians would, rightly be raising a row about it.

All thinking people were horrified at the horrors inflicted on children and women in Industrial Schools, Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries. Politicians from all parties and none expressed outrage. These scandals happened because that's the way the system worked. So too today with direct provision

All of the residents we met at Mosney were dark skinned. Most were from Africa. Could this be why our system treats them in a way which denies their humanity, their rights and the great contribution they and their children could make to our island community?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Annual Meeting 2014 of the Clinton Global Initiative








Two weeks ago I was pleased to visit New York and the 10th Annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative held in the Sheraton hotel, in mid-town Manhattan.

The event, organised by the Bill, Hilary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation is a gathering of international leaders dedicated to developing innovative solutions to some of the world’s pressing challenges. And it brings together current and former Heads of State, Government representatives, Nobel Peace Prize winners, hundreds of leaders in the business and non profit sectors, and civic society.

Each year that I have attended, I have felt enriched, energised and uplifted by the collegial sense of addressing global problems, and this year was no different.

The thinking behind the CGI is that members make a ‘Commitment to Action’ which amounts to a new, specific and measurable plan that addresses a shared concern. The focus is on actions rather than words.

And at this Annual meeting 100 new ‘Commitments to Action’ were made.

When fully funded and implemented the Clinton Global Initiative estimate that these commitments will create or fill more than 40,000 jobs, provide nearly $3.6 million in new capital for green initiatives; and mobilise more than $215 million of new capital to be invested or loaned to small or medium sized businesses.

 
 
 






I was especially struck by contributions from many of the participants. Not least the Prime Minister of Denmark Helle Thorning-Schmidt. She spoke of her country’s commitments towards developing green economies and how a small country like Denmark has been transformed into a world leader in this field. Her motto is ‘Confronting climate change is good economics’.





Graca Machel, a Mozambican politician, humanitarian and widow of Nelson Mandela and Samora Machel, former Mozambican President was awarded a special Citizen award and spoke very eloquently on the importance of equality for girls and women worldwide. She spoke on crucial issues facing Africa and its future and specifically on the implications of taking action against child marriage, and of valuing girls in the same way as we value boys.


 
 
 

Also worth mentioning was the live video call the conference made with the International Space Station and the NASA astronauts based there. President Bill Clinton and Astronaut Cady Coleman, from the conference spoke to the NASA astronauts – an American, a German and a Russian, based in outer space. The imagery and banter was exciting and fascinating. They spoke about how astronauts from different countries work together to undertake the pioneering research and went on to predict that earthlings would leave the solar system at some point! RG would like to be on that trip. Hard to fathom alright, but I suppose never say never!



Some of the other stories from this planet were harrowing but the commitment of activists, particularly from the developing world was inspirational and moving. Women organising women against poverty. Humanitarians providing clean water. A child under 5 years of age dies every twenty one seconds from contaminated water. Mohammad Yunus on building social businesses. Great work.

It also puts some of our own difficulties in context.


 


On this visit I also took the opportunity to meet with many friends of Ireland and others to discuss the political process here. Some of these included President Clinton, Congressman Richie Neale and Tony Blair, as well as some friends from Irish America.




I stressed the need for the two governments to fulfil their obligations and for the Irish Government especially, as a co-equal guarantor of the Good Friday and other agreements, to assert itself to promote progress and for the White House to encourage this.

One thing is for sure our friends in Irish America are very focussed on this. So is Sinn Féin.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

BRAVE HEARTS?




I don't know a lot about Scotland. I like the accent and the music and Robin Hall and Jimmy McGregor, Kenneth McKeller and an occasional wee dram. I was only there twice. The first time I had to be escorted to the plane by a Police unit after the Orange Order laid siege to a  public meeting I attended in Glasgow.

The other time was in Saint Andrews where we succeeded in getting the DUP  to cross the line and where the two Governments made promises they have yet to keep. The scenery is stupendous. Not unlike our own place. I know lots of people who have big Scottish connections. Pat Doherty, the West Tyrone MP, originated in the Gorbals of Glascow, though he is Irish through and through.  Pearse Doherty TD,  no relation of Pats, has a similar family history. They are not on their own.

Donegal,  their county, is like that. Especially the west of the county. Families have deep roots in both places. In times gone by young Donegal folk, and also many from the West of Ireland, some little more than boys or girls left their poor small holdings to hoke potatoes in Scotland. Tatie hoking was seasonal work. The tatie hokers lived in terrible conditions. Many of them in rough huts or Bothies.  The Donegal writer and poet Patrick McGill has written very memorable novels about the plight of these fine people. Their  conditions became a matter of public scandal in 1937 when  a fire in their accommodation killed 10 young men and boys between the ages of 13 and 23 from Achill Island. This happened in the town of Kirkintilloch just outside of Glasgow. Peadar O Donnell wrote a riveting pamphlet which helped rouse public consciousness about this injustice.


Like lots of exiles some of the Donegal exiles never returned to Ireland. Many of them stayed or moved on to England or North America. Those who stayed drifted into the cities. Here they suffered discrimination on account of their Catholicism. Glasgow Celtic was famously founded  by a Catholic priest to cater for the Donegal Irish who lived in great poverty in the slums of Glasgow. James Connolly one of our foremost political thinkers and activists was born into similar conditions in Edinburgh.

Billy Connolly, the Scottish comedian's stories of growing up in Glasgow are hilarious. They will also find an echo of life on the Falls Road or the Shankill, for that matter, for people of my generation or older. Billy's family hail from Galway.


 The west coast, especially the fishing communities in the North West have historic connections into the coastal regions of the north of Scotland. The island communities in particular.  Our Rathlin Island, a magical place in its own right, has dreamlike views of its neighbours in Islay. It was to here that Robert the Bruce fled from Scotland and where famously his sojourn with a spider who never gave up spinning his web, motivated Robert  to keep going.


The native song tradition in North Antrim is heavily influenced by Scots Gallic. So too is our folk tradition.  Ewen McColl in particular, was a huge influence on Luke Kelly, Christy Moore, the Fureys. The Black Family.



The plantation of Ulster had a much less positive effect on our own history. Dispossessed native people naturally resisted and resented those, many from Scotland, who were settled by force of arms on their land. But over the centuries they too were absorbed and are now part of the sum total of who and what we are as an island people. Unfortunately partition locked many of them and some of us into a sectarian and mean little sectarian statelet. The out workings of this  reality effect in a malign way our politics and our social divisions to this day. Some remain willing or compliant prisoners of these  old divisive ways. They hold themselves apart from the rest of us. Our challenge is not only to liberate ourselves. Our liberation will be found only when they too are free.


All of these disjointed thoughts and other musings of Dalriada (and even the banishment of Gráinne and Diarmuid) nipped at the outer  reaches of my mind and its thought processes as the Scottish Referandum campaign reached its conclusion.  Pat Doherty told me weeks ago that it would be lost because the older Scots Irish would  vote No.


'They remember the discrimination. They don't trust the future. They are afraid of being locked into an Orange state.'


I haven't studied the figures or the demographic of the vote beyond the assertion that the majority of young people voted Yes. The older folks voted No. Or so I understand. So I cannot say if Pat was right or not. But when I woke last Friday morning to listen to the early news I must confess to a feeling of disappointment even though I was anticipating a No vote.


Maybe it was Brave Heart!


Maybe my own political faith, rewarded by the positivity of the million and a half Scots who voted for citizenship over subjection. For their own system over an archaic, elite and monarchy centred London based power structure.


There are lots of lessons for us to learn from the Scottish Referendum campaign. Like our work here in Ireland it has  changed the nature of the Union. But the Union remains. And the elites in London want it to.  Including, most famously Gordon Brown.



So do the majority of Scots. For the time being. 


Maybe the disappointment of many Irish people at this is bedded  in the knowledge that Ireland would have voted Yes if we had been give such a choice before partition. But maybe before we get too comfortable on that particular moral high ground maybe we should consider Pat Doc's suggestion about how the Scots Irish voted.


Our challenge is to get a Yes vote when we have our own Referendum. The Scottish campaign will help us to learn how we can do that. Including the necessary work of understanding and assuaging  fears of the future. If Scots Irish Catholics feared the future and voted accordingly why should Ulster Protestants be any different?


The answer to that question is one only we can answer. 

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