Sunday, December 5, 2021

Six of The Best: An opinion poll on Unity: Standing with Palestinians

Six of The Best.

I’m reading Colin Broderick’s ‘That’s That,’ an evocative account of growing up in Altnamuskin in Tyrone at the height of the conflict. Colin’s mother and her efforts to protect her brood are at the heart of this story. Her ‘That’s That’ as she lays down the law and the final words in any dispute with young Colin, gives this book its title. 

In one little cameo Colin tells of getting ‘slapped’ at school.  He describes the strap as ‘a twenty inch length of thick leather about an inch and a half wide, worn smooth from years of skin contact.’  He goes on to describe how the teacher ordered him to hold his hand out, palm upwards as he struck him forcefully across the hand with the strap.

By coincidence Richard and I were discussing corporal punishment a few days before I read this. I don’t recall how that came into the conversation but that’s the way with conversations between Richard and me. They are inclined to meander. When I read Colin’s account of being slapped I was back again getting called to the front of the class while the teacher fetched his strap from the drawer in his desk and ordered me to extend my hand. Whack. Whack. Two slaps was the normal punishment for messing about in class. One on each hand. Six of the best was reserved for more serious offences like giving cheek to the teacher. 

The first slap was always the worst.  There was an initial shock as the strap met your extended palm. Sometimes the leather caught you across the fingers. After that the hand went numb except when the strap caught your thumb. That left your hand stinging and brought tears to your eyes. Some boys cried. I was stubborn. I also didn't get slapped too often. Sometimes a teacher would yank a boy to his feet by grabbing his ear lobe. Or the lock of hair alongside his ear. Some threw objects at boys they suspected of messing about. The  blackboard cleaner with its wooden base was a favourite projectile. So were rulers. Usually made of wood. Sometimes they were used instead of straps. 

Corporal punishment was the norm in those days. In the home as well as schools. Although more enlightened teachers or parents would not dream of striking a child. Corporal punishment was also part of community ‘justice’ during the conflict. We are all capable of striking out in anger or pain. When we are provoked. Or under threat. When our loved ones are under threat. There are few saints among us.  Or pacifists. But it’s good that corporal punishment is no longer tolerated in our schools or anywhere else. 

Managing a class of unruly boys, or girls, is a challenge. Teachers do their best. Nowadays. As well as back in the day. Most of us can name a teacher who made a positive difference in our lives.

When Richard and I were discussing these matters I asked him who supplied the straps. Richard, who was a student teacher, didn't know. He says he never slapped anyone. His incarceration in Long Kesh saved young scholars from that indignity. Saved Richard also? 

But who made the straps. Local cobblers? There were local cobblers in those days.  Or were they supplied centrally? Did the Brothers have a special supply? Was there a template? A recommended size, shape or length of strap. Was slapping part of teacher training?  Were young teachers advised on what ‘offences’ warranted slaps? Was there guidance on how many slaps were appropriate?


‘That’s That’: by Colin Broderick, published by BroadwayPaperbacks.com



An opinion poll on Unity

Opinion polls are no more than a glimpse into the public mood at a given moment. They can change dramatically and for those who are doing well in party political opinion polls they are no guarantee of success in a future election. That’s why I rarely pay too much heed to them. 

Last weekend a Red C poll for the Sunday Business Post looked at public attitudes in the South to the issue of a United Ireland, a Citizen’s Assembly and other matters. For those campaigning for Irish Unity the poll confirms that the debate on unity has increased and is a priority issue for many people.

Despite the refusal of An Taoiseach Micheál Martin to plan for or organise a considered discussion on the issue of unity 60% of people polled are ready to vote in favour of a united Ireland today. 62% also believe that the Irish government should start planning for a united Ireland now. I am not surprised by this. It has consistently been my view that the majority of people in the South are for unity. The details and conditions are a different matter. But most favour an end to partition and self government for the people of the island. That has been my experience. 

Micheál Martin has point blank refused to hold a Citizen’s Assembly to discuss the entire myriad of issues that must inevitably be part of any discussion on unity. 65% of those polled believe that it should be established. Other matters such as the flag, the anthem, the place of unionists in a cabinet, the continuation of power sharing in the North in the new Ireland, all point to some of the matters about which there is no clear view.

This is entirely reasonable. Reunification is a big step. Merging two economies; tax systems; health systems; education systems; planning for the environment in the midst of a climate crisis; accommodating the many different views of what the new Ireland should look like and in particular the warm place for unionists within it, are all huge issues that point to the need for dialogue and a willingness to compromise.

Only a planned conversation, involving all of those who wish to participate, can hope to find solutions to these issues. One thing is for sure. We republicans are not about the south taking over the north or vice versa. We are about self determination and a new society, citizen centred and rights based. A genuinely new Ireland based on equality. 

The Red C Poll is more evidence that the issue of Irish unity is now front and centre and the Irish government cannot continue to hide from it. 



Visiting a hospital bombed by Israel 2009

Standing with Palestinians

Monday was International Day of Solidarity with Palestine. Solidarity vigils and demonstrations took place in Belfast, in many other parts of Ireland and around the world. These acts of solidarity are very important. They are a reminder to the Palestinian people that they are not alone. Despite the many governments who continue to shamefully ignore the brutality of the Israeli apartheid system, and the ill-treatment of the Palestinian people, there are millions of people who empathise with and support their efforts to achieve freedom and self-determination.   

The challenges facing the Palestinian people are enormous. In April of this year Human Rights Watch published a scathing report on the policies and actions of the Israeli state. In ‘A Threshold Crossed – Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution’ it became the first major international human rights organisation to accuse Israel of committing the crime of apartheid and of responsibility for crimes against humanity.

It concluded that in its determination to maintain control over the Palestinian people, their land and resources, Israel has ‘dispossessed, confined, forcibly separated, and subjugated Palestinians by virtue of their identity to varying degrees of intensity. In certain areas, as described in this report, these deprivations are so severe that they amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.’

Israel’s response has been to escalate its repression. Two months ago it accused six well known, internationally respected human rights groups, many funded by the United Nations, the European Union and some by the Irish government, of being terrorist organisations. The six organisations are Addameer, which focuses on providing support for the 4650 political prisoners; 500 internees; 160 children held in Israeli prisons and 34 women prisoners. 

Other groups impacted are Al-Haq, which has special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council; the Bisan center for research and development; the Union of Agricultural Work Committees; and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees

The child rights organisation Defense for Children International-Palestine is one of those outlawed. It is part of the Defence for Children International (DCI), an international child-rights movement. As part of DCI it holds consultative status on the United Nations Economic and Social Council, UNICEF, UNESCO, and the Council of Europe. In its work it highlights the continued imprisonment of children by the Israeli authorities. Its’ most recent statistics reveal that 27 children are in solitary confinement; there have been over 70 children killed this year; and there are 160 child detainees.

The Israeli human rights group B’tselem, which expressed its solidarity ‘with our Palestinian colleagues’ described the Israeli government’s assault on these human rights groups as ‘an act characteristic of totalitarian regimes, with the clear purpose of shutting down these organisations.’ Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International condemned the actions of the Israeli government. 

Crucially, the investigative work of the six banned organisations has contributed to the case to open criminal investigations by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Israel. In March the ICC announced its decision to begin a criminal investigation.

There can be little doubt that the banning of the six Human Rights groups is an attempt to silence Palestinian organisations that would provide evidence to the ICC’s investigation. The solidarity protests on Monday are a reminder to the Palestinian people that they are not alone and to the Israeli authorities that however hard they oppress the Palestinian people there is widespread international support for them.


Monday, November 29, 2021

Gaels call for Citizens Assembly: Back off Boris: An Irish National Health Service

 Gaels call for Citizens Assembly

In a powerful video message 12,000 Ulster Gaels are appealing to our fellow Gaels in Munster, Leinster and Connaught to sign and endorse a letter to An Taoiseach Micheál Martin asking the Irish government to take the lead in planning for Irish Unity by establishing an All-Island Citizens Assembly “reflecting the views of citizens North and South to achieve maximum consensus on a way forward” toward an “agreed shared Ireland.”

The letter states: “It is the responsibility of the Irish government to ensure that the democratic rights of all citizens are respected and protected, regardless of where they live on the island … “

The letter to Micheál Martin was an idea that first emerged in Antrim earlier this year. Since then it has spread across the nine counties of Ulster and has gathered over 12,000 signatures. The campaign has also gained substantial support in the other three provinces.

Down’s double All-Ireland winner Ross Carr said that he has been overwhelmed by support since he started seeking support for the campaign. He said: “I asked people from all walks of life – doctors, barristers, former players, administrators, ordinary supporters – and it was incredible the amount of support for this initiative.”  

Paul Gibbons who coaches Cremartin Shamrocks GAA in Monaghan is one of those behind the efforts in that county to secure more signatures for this initiative. He told his local paper the Northern Standard: “The purpose of the letter is to highlight the growing conversation taking place in communities the length and breadth of our island about the future constitutional direction of this island and to provide a platform for Gaels throughout the county to engage in that conversation.”

He added: “Our letter articulates three main asks of the Irish government – to take the lead in the planning for a future border poll and start the planning for the future re-unification of this island; to establish a Citizen’s Assembly and to protect the rights of all citizens.”

Thus far An Taoiseach Micheál Martin has refused to comment on the initiative or respond to the letter which he first received in May. But as it says in the video – Ní neart go cur le chéile. There is strength in Unity.

Pádraig Hampsey is captain of the All Ireland Champions Tyrone. He has appealed to fellow Gaels to join in this effort, and to sign up to the letter at: www.gaelslettertotaoiseach.ie

So, if you have a minute click on to #gaelsletter and watch the amazing video of GAA greats asking you for your help and support in building a better future for all of our people.

 

Back off Boris

Comhgairdheas to the many hundreds of people who took part in a series of protests against Brexit along the border last Saturday. The ‘Border Communities Against Brexit’(BCAB) has been very effective in raising awareness around the threat to the Good Friday Agreement, to the economy of the island of Ireland and especially to the border communities, posed by Brexit. Saturday’s event at Carrickcarnon had activists dressed in customs officer’s clothes and a recreation of the old customs huts that used to sit along the border corridor. But beyond the theatrics the message was clear and vitally important.

Protect the Protocol’ and ‘Back off Boris’ were the two main themes for the five protests that took place at Carrickcarnon; Belcoo/Blacklion; Aughnacloy; Lifford Bridge and Bridgend, Derry. The message from all of the speakers was the same. Firstly, a warning to Boris Johnson not to trigger Article 16. Secondly, a demand that every effort must be made by the EU and the Irish government to defend the Protocol and the Good Friday Agreement.

Colin Harvey, who is professor of Human Rights Law at Queen’s University told the crowd: “The Protocol mitigates the damage that the British Brexiteers want to impose on this island … what is scandalous is the lack of discussion about the opportunities that the Protocol provides for all the people of the North.”

The Chair of BCAB Damian McGenity reminded those at the protest that the majority of citizens in the North voted to remain in the EU and that a majority of their political representatives support the Protocol. He pointed too to the benefits of the Protocol. Evidence of this emerged last week in the latest statistics on trade from the Central Statistics Office in Dublin which showed that the value and amount of trade between the North and the South has increased dramatically.

In the first nine months of this year trade North to South has increased by 60 per cent and from South to North by 48 per cent in the same period. In money terms exports from the North to the South have so far increased in 2021 by €1,061m (£897m) to €2,822m (£2,385m). Trade South to North has jumped by €835m (£706m) to €2,577m (£2,178m).

In addition the advantage for the North of having open access to the EU and to the British market has seen several important new job announcements. Ardagh Metal Packaging announced its intention to invest $200m and create 170 jobs in a new beverage can plant near Belfast. The pharmaceuticals group, Almac, also announced that it is going to create 1,000 jobs over the next three years.

Meanwhile in the British Parliament the DUP’s Ian Paisley engaged in the kind of hyperbole unionist leaders seeking to frighten and intimidate their supporters have used for generations. According to Paisley the Protocol is being used by Brussels to “destroy this part of the United Kingdom by insisting on the enforcement of a protocol in a disgraceful manner." And he demanded that the Johnson government "Invoke Article 16 and invoke it now, and stop dillydallying on this issue. Put business out of the misery in Northern Ireland."

This kind of doomsday rhetoric has no basis in fact. On the contrary triggering Article 16 would open up the real likelihood of a trade war between the British government and the EU with the North caught in the middle. According to a report in the Financial Times many businesses in the north are “filled with dread at the prospect of yet more disruption and uncertainty if Article 16 was triggered.”

BCAB is leading the way in challenging the British government, the DUP and others who have chosen to ignore the democratic vote of the people. Last week Sinn Féin hosted over 180 business representatives to discuss the economic opportunities created by the Protocol and the potential for greater investment and more jobs arising from Irish Unity. They and we are looking to a better future, a more prosperous future. God speed the Day.

An Irish National Health Service

The Proclamation of 1916 states that the Republic guarantees … “equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation … cherishing all the children of the nation equally …” It doesn’t say except for those who have a disability, or are sick, or who have mental health issues, or who need an operation.

Recent statistics reveal that over 900,000 people in the South are on a hospital waiting list. At the current rate the number will soon top one million. In the North a report last month noted that 348,867 people are waiting for a first consultant appointment – an increase of almost 40,000 over last year.

There are lots of reasons for these appalling stats. Mostly it’s as a result of under-investment and under capacity within the health systems and in the South by decisions taken by successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael governments. In the last 20 years, since Micheál Martin was Minister for Health in 2000, there have been eight Health Ministers from these two parties. All have promised an end to the crisis in the health service. They have all failed.

When I was a TD in Louth I learned very quickly that every winter Our Lady of Lourdes hospital in Drogheda was going to come under huge pressure.

In the North the crisis in the Health Service is exacerbated by the fact that the purse strings are held by London and the Tories have been hell bent on privatisation for years. So too is the FFFG coalition in Dublin.

Covid has added to this very real crisis in our two health services one result of which is that patients urgently needing treatment for life threatening illnesses such as cancer are waiting longer than advisable for appointments and treatment.

The answer in the short term at this time in our history is for as much all-island cooperation and coordination as practicable to make best use of available limited resources. In the longer term we need an Irish National Health Service that is free at the point of access and is sufficiently funded to meet the health needs of citizens. This isn’t pie in the sky. This is a realizable, achievable objective. It just needs political will.

 

Monday, November 22, 2021

Rewriting History; Ratcheting up the Brexit crisis; Day of Action

 Rewriting History

“The first casualty when war comes is the truth” said US Senator Hiram Johnson in 1917. We know only too well from our own recent experience of reporting on the decades of conflict how true this is. However, it misses the equally important other side of the coin – the victor writes the history.

The narrative of European colonialism, and especially of the British Empire, is full of examples of this. The British public today still believes that the Empire was great! While those in Ireland, in Africa, in India and elsewhere who suffered from its exploitation and brutality see it as a thief, an exploiter, a mass murderer, the purveyor of famine and poverty.

The English claim they came to Ireland to civilise the barbarians. Colonial and western powers often use the excuse to justify their colonial occupation and military interventions. In recent years this was evident again in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in Libya. The French philosopher and writer Jean Paul Sarte described it well: “Terror and exploitation dehumanise, and the exploiter authorises himself with that dehumanisation to carry his exploitation further.”

In the 19th century British strategy in Ireland was based on this approach. We Irish were the problem. They, the British were the solution. The British state presented the Irish as ape-like in order to justify its use of coercion. O’Connell who was leading a campaign to end the Union with Britain was described by the Times as “scum condensed of Irish bog” and a “greedy self-serving Satan.” In 1846 in justification of even greater coercion the Times wrote: “The great obstacle to tranquillity in Ireland is the national character – the character of the masses of the middle classes, of the senators of Ireland … When Ireland acts according to the principles of civilised man then she can be ruled by the laws of civilised man.” The 19th century saw Coercion Acts passed every year by London to maintain its domination.

Following partition successive British governments and media ignored the institutionalised discriminatory and sectarian policies used by  the Ulster Unionist Party to maintain its control. 

During the years of conflict that followed the rejection by Stormont of the civil rights very modest demands the British state and its military attempted to manage the news. General Frank Kitson, Britain’s leading counter insurgency expert wrote: “the press properly handled is one of the government’s strongest weapons.”

Many programmes were banned.The lie used by the establishments North and South was that the British Army was needed to prevent civil war between Catholics and Protestants. This narrative helped fuel the years of war. It made the job of dialogue and conversation almost impossible. Sinn Féin was dehumanised and by extension anyone who spoke to us was the target for vilification. John Hume endured huge criticism for daring to talk to me about peace. The Dublin establishment was outraged. Or pretended to be outraged.

Almost 25 years after the Good Friday Agreement the British establishment is still fighting the war. The spooks and securocrats who run the British system know the IRA was not defeated. Instead they facilitated and supported the peace process. This is not acceptable to the war mongers and their cheerleaders on the British side. They are also worried that the historic narrative is increasingly exposing Britain’s illegal and violent actions during those years. In addition, the fact that Sinn Féin is in government in the North and might well lead a government in Dublin in the near future is intolerable to them.

It therefore came as no surprise when the London Telegraph revealed at the weekend that the British government is to commission a history of the ‘troubles’ beginning in the 1960s up to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. The Telegraph story states that this idea comes from Britain’s colonial office in the North – the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) – and that London will appoint a group of historians to write this official history. This group of historians, appointed by the government, will they claim, be independent of the government. Mar dhea!

Censorship and bias in the reporting of events and the interpretation and analyses of those events is a powerful weapon in any government’s arsenal. It allows it to shape attitudes in society in its own interests.

British governments are especially good at this. On the one hand they pose as the defenders of free speech and democratic change while imposing censorship or restricting debate and refusing change when it suits their national interests.

So, on the 19 October 1988 Margaret Thatcher introduced censorship restrictions on Sinn Féin. Our voices could no longer be heard. Several days later the same Thatcher visited Poland where she lectured the Polish government on the merits of openness: “In modern societies, success depends upon openness and free discussion. Suppress those things, and you are unable to respond to the need for change.”

Of course, Thatcher was not alone in employing this hypocritical policy. Successive Irish governments imposed Section 31. The effect of state censorship was pernicious. It rolled over into a revisionist history of recent Irish history which encouraged partitionism.

The British government’s current effort to close down legacy cases is an example of this hypocrisy. The right of families and victims to truth are being set aside through the introduction of a statute of limitations. The British state is intent on hiding the criminal actions of its state forces and its use of state collusion with state sponsored murder gangs.

However hard the British government seeks to do this; however many revisionist historians they employ to bolster Britain’s view of history, the case of Pat Finucane; the importation by British intelligence of South African sourced weapons for Loyalist groups; the three reports by John Stevens; the role of state agents like Brian Nelson, and of the Glenanne Gang; the deaths of hundreds of victims; and the countless official reports by the Ombudsman and others into state collusion, will continue to haunt the British government. No amount of historical revisionism will change this.

 

Ratcheting up the Brexit crisis

For those of you unfamiliar with the language of Brexit, Article 16 is the legal mechanism within the Irish Protocol which can be triggered if the Protocol is creating serious "economic, societal or environmental difficulties" that are liable to persist.  This would involve one side or the other unilaterally suspending parts of the deal. 

The British government has been claiming for months that the bar for invoking Article 16 was reached in the summer. In his efforts to heighten the sense of crisis Jeffrey Donaldson has repeatedly demanded that the British invoke Article 16 if the EU do not concede to London’s demands. Loyalist groups have hijacked several buses and the Progressive Unionist Party says there is no longer a basis for unionists supporting the Good Friday Agreement. The threat of violence is being consciously whipped up by some in unionism to raise tension and leverage concessions from the EU.

In contrast a University of Liverpool survey found that most unionists do not regard the Protocol as a priority concern.

More significantly last week four senior U.S. Democrats who chair major Congressional Committees - Gregory W. Meeks, Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; William R. Keating, Chair of the Europe, Energy, the Environment and Cyber Subcommittee; Earl Blumenauer, Chair of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade, and Brendan Boyle, Chair of the European Union Caucus, -  issued a joint statement in which they called on the British government to end its threat to use Article 16. The four US politicians warned that the full implementation of the Protocol is “critical for ensuring Brexit doesn’t undermine decades of progress toward peace on the island of Ireland."

Adding to the pressure on the Johnson government the European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen met President Biden in the White House also last week and emerged saying that the EU has the support of the United States. Von der Leyen told journalists that the EU and the USA share the assessment that “it is important for peace and stability on the island of Ireland to keep the withdrawal agreement and to stick to the protocol.”

But for now the DUP and Johnson still appear determined to create a real crisis with the EU. London has set a December deadline for a deal with the EU on British terms. Will they won’t they trigger Article 16 as part of this process? We should know soon. 

 

Day of Action


Well done to everyone who participated in last Saturday’s Day of Action in Belfast and Dublin which promoted the theme – Unity in Our Time. The new Bobby Sands mural was officially unveiled on the International Wall in Divis Street. It is based on a photo of Bobby taken at the first major political status march in August 1976 and is set against the backdrop of the Black Mountain. There were white line pickets across Belfast and Dublin City, as well as on the Ha’penny Bridge on the Liffey.


 

Monday, November 15, 2021

How I got a different view of Croker; First World problems need fixed: TG4 - here's to another 25 years

 


How I got a different view of Croker

Last week I spent a day in Croke Park. I have been there many times before. Usually for GAA fixtures or the occasional concert. But last week was different. Some of the courts service in Dublin, including defamation cases, are currently being heard there. The Covid restrictions meant shifting some cases out of the Four Courts. Croke Park is an unusual setting for court business. Looking out of the window on level five at the green pitch down below while lawyers, potential jurists, court officials and others were busily rushing about their business.

My case had to do with an article in the Sunday World in September 2015. In May that year Jock Davison was killed as he walked to work. Several months later on 13 August Kevin McGuigan was shot dead outside his home. As a result there was a huge political storm as some politicians tried to link republicans to these events. The DUP wanted Sinn Féin expelled from the institutions and threatened to leave the Executive. On 10 September Peter Robinson announced that he was standing aside as First Minister along with other DUP Ministers and leaving Arlene Foster as their sole Ministerial representative in the Executive. He said that he had “stepped aside but technically not resigned.”

Three days later the Sunday World published a story under the heading – “Gerry’s Secret McGuigan Meeting – Adams met murdered Provo over hit-threat fears’ which claimed that I had met Kevin McGuigan in July and assured him that he was not “under any threat from Sinn Féin members.”

The story was untrue. I had not met Kevin McGuigan. I said so publicly and immediately contacted my solicitor and commenced proceedings against the Sunday World. That was six years ago.

Last Tuesday the Sunday World’s legal representative read out an apology in the court. It said: “Although the Sunday World reported the existence of such a meeting in good faith, we now accept Mr. Adams’s position that no such meeting or conversation ever took place and have agreed to publish this apology for the record.”

Outside Croke Park my solicitor Paul Tweed described the front page story and the two prominent pages inside the paper as sensationalised and “making totally false and spurious claims”. Paul Tweed said: “Not only had this allegation been totally untrue but the defendant (Sunday World) failed to come up with any evidence or basis for the unfounded story. The publishers of the Sunday World have finally and belatedly acknowledged what they have done and retracted the allegations and unreservedly apologised to Mr. Adams before the court this afternoon.”

I took the opportunity to thank Paul Tweed and Johnsons and the senior counsel.

I told the waiting media: “For a long time now some elements of the media have reported or published or made very false and vicious and offensive claims about me and about other republicans. I am satisfied in this case that the Sunday World has apologised for this deeply offensive and false article. I am also very conscious that at the very centre of it a man, Kevin McGuigan murdered and another man Gerard Davison was murdered also. Their families like many others are grieving.” 

For me this was always about asserting my own integrity and I think the case succeeded in that. It is my intention to donate the proceeds of the settlement to good causes. These will include the Irish language sector, Green Cross, The Bobby Sands Trust, The Moore Street Preservation Trust, the homeless and other projects that I have a grá for. .

 

First World problems need fixed

Most readers of this column, like this columnist, live in the developed world. So, some of our problems are first world problems. Many of us have benefitted from the advances of recent decades.

I am from that generation who spent my childhood in an overcrowded house without basic amenities like a bathroom, inside toilet or hot water. Most of the menfolk in my clann were building labourers, hod carriers, manual workers. Their work was precarious, casual and underpaid. The womenfolk worked in the mills while rearing usually large broods of children. The work was hard, conditions tough and the wages were miserly.

The women were the homemakers, dependent on weekly visits to the pawnshop - Paddy Lavery’s in our case - the support of Grannies and the sharing of food with neighbours to supplement meagre incomes.

None of our adult family members were educated beyond primary school level. Yet they were intelligent socially aware human beings. Yet all  of us were poor. Why? I came to question this as I got older and more aware. 

There have been many improvements since then. Nowadays many of us have decent homes, a good quality of life and many of our children and grandchildren are university educated. These basic rights were won because people took a stand.

But not all of us are so lucky. Poverty is still widespread. Some citizens are still treated unfairly. Some children do not have the chance to reach their full potential. So we have to be always mindful that they are in the place we used to be in. We have to rise up with our class not out off it. Poverty is not an accident. It is a consequence of public policy or the lack of it. If we cannot eradicate poverty in this part of the developed world how can we hope to do so in the developing world where poverty is widespread and deeply embedded?

In my view we will not eradicate poverty in Ireland while we are governed by Tories in Dublin and London. Of course we need to keep trying to alleviate hardship and we need to support measures to give people economic rights even though our country is partitioned. But when we end partition and have our own national democracy and the opportunity for a real republic then the struggle enters another phase. A poverty free Ireland has to be the objective of all public policy. That is the best contribution we can make to a poverty free world. The proposition is straight forward. It is called equality. Anything else is unacceptable. Here in the so called developed world or in the developing world. James Connolly put it well: “For our demands most moderate are. We only want the earth.”

 

Lá breithe TG4.

I don’t watch television that often but when I do TG4 is usually my first choice. It has everything. Its an Irish language channel. The Irish language channel. Great music. Sport. It’s GAA coverage is first class. News. History. Culture. Documentaries, drama, programmes for children and much more. Its series of films telling the stories of the 1916 leaders are among the best ever produced. Its coverage of the centenary of 1916 was excellent. Dramas like An Klondike have attracted world-wide audiences and many awards. Ros na Rún has been running for 26 seasons. The travelogue documentaries which have examined the journeys of the diaspora and their impact on life in the USA and elsewhere have been hugely informative. TG4 has been a creative force in Irish society encouraging local talent and producing programmes to the best international standards.

25 years ago on Halloween evening 1996 Teilifís na Gaeilge was born in Baile na hAbhann, in Connemara. It was a long time coming. Like all efforts to promote the Irish language there was fierce resistance within the political establishment to investing in a television station that in their view would only ever service a minority community. Gaeilgeorí had fought long and hard over many years to get it established and its arrival was applauded by Irish speakers as a positive development here and overseas. However, the battle to defend, protect and expand the use of Gaeilge was not ended by the establishment of Teilifís na Gaeilge. That battle continues today.

Since 1996 Teilifís na Gaeilge, which was rebranded as TG4 in October 1999, has gone from strength to strength. Recently, as part of the celebration of its 25th birthday a new advertising campaign to promote TG4 has commenced. As part of this one of the many advertising hoardings on the Andersonstown Road carried a large message announcing ‘Súil Eile’. 

So, well done to everyone involved in TG4 – past, present and in the future. And whether you have Irish, or just a cúpla focal or none at all tune in. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Des Ferguson - Éireannach, Gael, fear chéile Mháire, athar agus Daideo, seán Daideo, Poblachtach, Laoch


We buried Des Ferguson in Kells, County Meath last Sunday. He died aged 91 after a short illness. 

His family, friends in the GAA, his neighbours and republicans from across Ireland gathered to give him a good send off. This is my tribute. 

Ar dtus bá mhaith liom mo buiochas a thabhairt do teaghlach Des mór deis a thug siad domhsa ag a caint anseo ar sean chara and comrade Des Ferguson.

I also want to thank Des for giving us such a fine day  – he was a great lover of nature and he would have enjoyed the spectacle of family and friends celebrating his life here in Ceannais.

Ba Éireannach, Gael, fear chéile Mháire, athar agus Daideo, seán Daideo, Poblachtach, Laoch  Des Ferguson.

Bá mhaith liom mo comhrón – comh bhrón  mo chroi a deanamh le Mháire agus a theaglach, le Des óg (Níl sé ro óg anois) Orlaith, Terry, Eimear, Conor, Pearse, Barry, Diarmuid, Rory.

Agus tá muid ag smaoineamh faoi Ronan ar a lá mór seo.

Agus ar comhrón le a dheirifeacha Rita agus Deirdre. Agus a dhearthair Liam. 

Ba imeoir  peile agus iomóna den scoth Des.

Le Naomh  Vincent, Baile Atha Cliadh agus anseo í Mhí le Gaeile  Colmcille. And his exploits and achievements, his prowess in the field of playing is celebrated throughout the Gaeldom.

He was a proud Dub and very proud of the fact that he won two All-Ireland football medals – 1958 – 1963 – but he always lamented with a smile not having an All-Ireland hurling medal, particularly after Tipp robbed Dublin in the 1961 hurling final.

Anytime you talked about hurling or football and it came up about his achievements and the many accolades he had won he always mentioned with a wee wry smile; “I would have loved to have had a hurling one”.

He lived and breathed Cumann Lúthchleas Gael and gaelic games all his life.

And in more recent times, when we couldn’t see each other as often  perhaps as we should have, when I phoned him the talk always turned to Gaelic games, always turned to what was happening.

He followed the fortunes of the Ulster teams including Antrim and he had a special grá for his father’s county – County Down where Des was born in Castlewellan.

I first met Des and Máire in the 1970s.

Any celebration of Des’s life would be incomplete without a celebration of Máire’s life. Thankfully she is still with us although she isn’t well at this time.

She and Des were a wonderful partnership and the family they reared are a credit to them and a core part of their legacy.

Máire and Des met in 1949 at a St. Vincent’s Club event in the Carlton Hall in Marino.

Dessie was a rising star, a dual player with Vincent's. At that time Vincent's was the premier Dublin club.

Des and Máire started going out together and were married five years later on a Monday to facilitate Des’s games and playing schedule. The story of any GAA home.

They were both from Republican families.

Des’s father Liam was active in the Castlewellan unit of the IRA in the 1920s along with his Uncle Samuel.

His father played football for Castlewellan GAC and for Down.

Samuel and Liam moved to Dublin in the 1930s to avoid harassment by the old RUC.

Interestingly, and Des always told this with a quiet, contrary type of pride - Des’s grandfather signed the Ulster Covenant in 1912.

In the 1911 census the Ferguson's are Presbyterians.

Des father went on to join the IRA despite his father’s politics. Or maybe because of his father's politics. Or maybe he just took after his mother.

Máire’s parents were both active in 1916. Her father Jack McDonnell was in Dublin’s 2nd Battalion and fought in the GPO garrison in O’Connell Street.

Her mother Georgina Wright was in Cumann na mBan.

Máire is rightfully proud of her family history.

She and Des shared a love for each other – for Gaelic games, for their family and for Ireland.

They went on to have ten children. So, it wasn’t all Gaelic games.

One of their sons Ronán died from a brain tumour when he was just 16.

By now the Ferguson clann was living in County Meath; first in Oldcastle and then in Kells.

That’s where I met them. Des was very active with An Cumann Cabhrach.

Tom Murray who was a stalwart of that organisation had a little chalet in Aughyneill and Des arranged for Colette and I to go there when I was released from Long Kesh.

Our Gearóid was 4 and that was the first time we were together as a family and the start of many, many visits.

Des and Máire were wonderful hosts. Any number of people could stand here and say that.  There was always a welcome. A cup of tea. Always a bit of homemade scone. Always an interest and a curiosity about what was happening.

Once they took us to Dublin, along with Florrie French, another stalwart, to a Chieftain’s Concert.

Many people might not remember or have heard of Florrie French but she sold more An Phoblacht's than anybody except Eddie Fullerton and she was a wonderful, wonderful free independent, strong woman.

My memory of her at the Chieftains concert is that she had dung on her boots because she had just come straight off the farm, jumped in the car and away we went.

Des had a great love of nature. He and I also had memorable times traipsing the hills of north Meath – he brought me to Sliabh na Cailleach – we saw a fox that day.

Occasionally we went to Leinster games in Croke Park. One day he noticed that I had holes in both my shoes and we were in Navan and he disappeared into a shoe shop and he came out with a new pair of brogues and I sat down on the pavement and put on the new shoes and put the old ones in the bruscar.

That was the like of him. He was wonderful, he was loyal, he was kind and a good natured  friend and comrade.

Martin McGuinness and he and Máire were very firm friends. Martin Loved Des and Máire.

Des and Máire were firm supporters of the peace process. They were firm supporters of the efforts to develop Sinn Féin. Without doubt we would not be as strong as we are today without their active support and the support of others like them who bore the brunt of state repression, harassment, the Heavy Gang, intimidation and censorship and vilification.

It is very difficult to describe the prevailing mood in this state at that time and how people who put their head above the parapet – fine patriots like Des and Máire – how they were vilified.

He was imprisoned once by a Kangaroo court – solely on the basis of a Garda Chief Superintendent's opinion that he was an IRA Volunteer.

The Superintendent repeatedly refused to answer questions about the basis of his opinion.

Des got sentenced to a year in Portlaoise.

He told afterward that he got a relatively easy time because most of the prison officers were GAA supporters and he was a novelty to be among them.

Martin Ferris would say he also was a GAA stalwart but that’s an entirely different story. Des won another medal in Portlaoise - a leather one made by the prisoners. He, Martin Ferris and Joe B O Hagan were on the same team. 

The Coiste Bainitsi – the GAAs Management Committed discussed Des’s incarceration and in July 1975 they applied for a visit to Portlaoise.

The state refused to allow them to visit Des Ferguson.

At the time of his arrest Des was a woodwork teacher. When he was released he was blocked from going back to his job and denied his right to his pension.

The GAA protested against this very vindictive measure and Des and his union   fought for that for long ten years until he got his rights restored.

I remember well when he told me that was going back to teaching – he was a muinteoir go h-iontach. He was delighted to be back with his students. 

In the meantime between prison and getting back the right to teach he worked in the building trade.

He really enjoyed teaching young people.

He loved nature. Máire was the gardener in the partnership but Des loved wood – I have a garden bench – a garden table and a coffee table all made by Des in his little shed at the back of the house where he also mended hurls.

Conor brought him and Máire up to Stormont when we organised a Póc  Fada in honour of Edward Carson – An Póc  ar an Cnoc.

He was also in County Louth- I remember seeing him and Máire at the side of the road-  when we brought back Vols. Mairead Farrell, Sean Savage and Dan McCann on their long journey home from Dublin to Belfast.

And when we brought Martin McGuiness home they were there also.

Now we have brought Des home.

His was a life well lived. Rooted in his republican values of decency, fairness and equality. He used to rail against the excesses of the Celtic Tiger. He spoke to me of young couples with huge mortgages spending hours in gridlocked traffic on the way to or from Dublin while their children were in creches or with childminders. ‘No quality of life’ he would say ‘Little family time. Stress and more stress. Little time for fun’. 

He also stood by the people of the North while the Dublin government acquiesced to London.

Des kept the faith. He was one of the indomitable Irish who are probably in every townland on this island and across the world – who know no matter what bunkum, what guff, what nonsense, what lies come out of the establishment here in Dublin or in Britain – they know that Britain has no right in our country - that the British government has no right in our country, that partition has no place in our future.

This was true in his father’s time and true in our time.

Now that we have a way to end it – we have a peaceful way to end British rule – and we can be sure that the young people gathered around this grave and those who are too young to be here - Des and Máire’s grandchildren and great grandchildren will grow old in a free united Ireland.

My last remarks are for the grandchildren and the great grandchildren. I don’t mind if you are not at all involved in politics, or what your views are on any of these matters, but when you get to vote in the referendum to decide our future, do so in the knowledge that your Granny and Granda helped to bring it about.

Des Ferguson served his county and his country. He made the difference.

I will finish with a few lines from a poem by Seamus Redmond – The Hurler’s Prayer.

May my stroke be steady and my aim be true

My actions manly and my misses few

No matter what way the game may go

May I rest in friendship with every foe

When the final whistle for me has blown

And I stand at last before God's judgement throne

May the great referee when he calls my name

Say, Des you hurled like a laoch; you played the game.

Go raibh maith agat Des.

 

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