Friday, October 19, 2018

We need a new Union

Conor Murphy, Mary Lou McDonald, Michelle O'Neill and Paul Maskey in London for meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May. They told her there has to be a unity referendum
We need a new union
Captain Jack Doyle in Sean O’Casey’s “Juno and the Paycock” has a word for it – ‘chassis.’ He says: “I’m telling you … Joxer …th’ whole worl’s … in a terr … ible state o’ … chassis.”
Last week, Denis Naughten the Minister for Communications in the Irish government resigned in bad temper. His decision was as a result of accusations of inappropriate meetings he had held with a businessman who now leads the only bid still in place for a billion-euro state contract to supply broadband to half a million rural homes. It was a grievous blow to the Fine Gael minority government which depends on a confidence and supply agreement with Fianna Fáil. With Fianna Fáil committed to abstain in key votes An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar needs 57 votes in the Dáil to sustain his government and pass legislation.
Naughten’s resignation and the recent departure of another Fine Gael TD Peter Fitzpatrick, meant that the government had only 55 reliable votes. It has again achieved the 57 figure following commitments from Independent TDs Noel Grealish and Michael Lowry. Lowry, is a previous Fine Gael Minister for Communications who was heavily criticised in the report of the Moriarty Tribunal which was published in 2011. Moriarty was set up to investigate payments to politicians and the sale of the state’s second mobile phone licence to Esat, a consortium led by Denis O’Brien.
In the final report of the Moriarty Tribunal Lowry was accused of having “provided substantive information to Denis O’Brien, of significant value and assistance to him in securing the licence”, that he “conferred a benefit on Mr. Denis O’Brien, a person who made payments to Mr. Lowry” which according to the Tribunal “not only influenced but delivered the result” when ESAT won the mobile phone licence.
How would O’Casey describe the irony of a Fine Gael minority government losing one Minister for Communications over questions about his handling of a billion-euro contract now being dependent for its survival on the vote of a previous Fine Gael Minister for Communications who was accused by Moriarty of “cynical and venal abuse of office” and of attempting to influence a contract in a way that was “profoundly corrupt to a degree that was nothing short of breathtaking”?
The question most commentators are now asking is when will the general election take place? The speculation among the political commentators is of a spring election. Who knows? Who can tell?
But chassis is not limited to the south. There is no power sharing government in the north. The DUP failed that test. They will fail the Brexit test also. Perhaps more than any other word chassis describes the chaos that is Brexit.
In the middle of this mess is Arlene Foster. Foster’s stated view that a no-deal outcome is better than a deal which sees the north stay within the EU Customs Union, and her vehement opposition to any backstop agreement which protects the north’s agricultural sector and economy, have left the people of the island of Ireland facing the real possibility of a hard economic border.
It is little wonder that Brexit and the current political crises have together generated increasing interest in and support for a united Ireland. While it is always necessary to apply a health warning when looking at opinion polls nonetheless the consistent pattern of recent polls is indicative of a trend. At the weekend the Paddy Power/Red C poll concluded that a majority of people in the south – 61% - would like to see a United Ireland emerging out of Brexit. This percentage has remained largely consistent over recent polls.
Another poll published during the Tory Party conference by the Centre on Constitutional Change, which is based in Edinburgh University, caught the media attention in the north because it claimed that “87% of (overwhelmingly unionists) leave voters in Northern Ireland see the collapse of the peace process as an acceptable price for Brexit.”
What went largely unreported was the fact that in this poll 77% of Conservative voters thought Brexit would be worthwhile even if it led to Scottish Independence and to the collapse of the peace process. Professor Richard Wyn Jones from Cardiff University said that; “The bonds that have tied the union together have frayed to such an extent that, frankly it’s hard to imagine that the proposed festival of ‘national renewal’ is going to do anything more than emphasise the extent to which we continue to drift apart.”
English nationalism is asserting itself. The North and Scotland are of lesser concern than securing the end of the union with Europe. The jingoism of Rees Mogg, of Boris Johnson, David Davis and others who obsess over the glory days of Empire, when the sun never set on Britain’s occupied colonial territories, is straining the boundaries of Britain’s disunited Kingdom.
All of this underpins the accuracy of the Irish republican analysis over two centuries of struggle. We need a new union. As Tone described it “a cordial union among all the people of Ireland, to maintain that balance which is essential to the preservation of our liberties and the extension of our commerce.” Whatever happens with Brexit that has to remain our focus and endeavour in the time ahead otherwise chassis will continue to be a way of life.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Traveller Ethnicity and their contribution to Irish Society

March 1st last year witnessed the formal recognition by the government and the Dáil of the ethnicity of Travellers. It came after a long and difficult campaign and those of us who were part of that knew that recognition was only one step - albeit an important step - in challenging discrimination and achieving equality for Travellers. 
For those who don't accept Traveller ethnicity I publish again my remarks in the Dáil on that important occasion.
Traveller Ethnicity
Tá mé fíor-bhuíoch as an deis labhairt ar an ábhar tábhachtach anocht. Is lá agus oíche fíor-thábhachtach don Lucht Taistil é. Cuirim fáilte roimh na grúpaí anseo, na daoine sa Gallery and elsewhere in Leinster House and I extend solidarity to all Travellers on this historic day. It is their day, and a momentous step forward for equality.
Some are outside and I am sure we all regret that. Perhaps, if the Taoiseach's schedule allows, he could address them. I understand there are 70 members of the Traveller community in Buswells and some of us could go and give them some sense of what has happened here this evening.
On behalf of Sinn Féin, I very much welcome this and thank the Taoiseach for recognising Traveller ethnicity. I pay tribute, in particular, to those who have advocated on behalf of the Traveller community, from within the Traveller community itself but also those from the settled community, who have done so much to advance this cause. Some have done so for decades, for which we are thankful to them.
We need to be mindful also of those who have suffered because they were Travellers. I particularly remember the Lynch, Connors and Gilbert families who died in Glenamuck.
I pay tribute to the women of the Traveller community. Like their sisters in disadvantaged sections of the settled community, the women of the Traveller community have been the great heroines and champions who have kept their families going through thick and thin. I acknowledge the work of Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy David Stanton. Maith thú, a Aire Stáit Stanton. Táimid buíoch duitse feasta.
I commend also the work of the justice committees, both the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, chaired by Deputy Stanton, in the previous Dáil which adopted a report by Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn recommending the recognition of Traveller ethnicity, and also the current committee, chaired by Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.
Today's decision to recognise Traveller ethnicity is the right thing to do. The Taoiseach's statement finally brings the Irish State into line with existing recognition already in place in the North, as well as in England, Scotland and Wales. The distinct culture, traditions and ethnicity of the Traveller community need to be cherished and valued.
One of the main characteristics of Irish Travellers is their nomadic lifestyle. This was particularly the case until the 1950s and 1960s. Until then, many earned a living from repairing and making household utensils which were usually made from tin. The rapid pace of new technologies, the use of plastic and other cheap goods brought about major changes in Travellers' lifestyles.
The Commission on Itinerancy report of 1963 also had a huge bearing on the lives of Travellers in this State. The report established policy on Travellers for the following 20 years. It is one of the most shameful reports in the history of the State. If Teachtaí want an insight into its agenda or views, they need only look at the terms of reference for the commission. These were: (1) to enquire into the problem arising from the presence in the country of itinerants in considerable numbers; (2) to examine the economic, educational, health and social problems inherent in their way of life [and] to promote their absorption into the general community. These terms were dripping in racism and elitism. They were ignorant, stupid and ill-informed.
It is little wonder, after decades of discrimination and demonisation, there is a sense of demoralisation, low self-worth and inferiority among some in the Travelling community. The prejudice and discrimination many Travellers face has worsened in recent years. We need only look to the opposition to a temporary halting site for those bereaved by the fire in late 2015, for example, or the treatment of Travellers in my own constituency who were evicted from a halting site in Dundalk this time last year.
There is that sense of a much wider institutional discrimination faced by members of the Traveller community in areas such as health and education provision. That has been a hallmark of the relationship between settled people and Travellers. That relationship has been blighted by suspicion, resentment and animosity based on false perceptions and fears. A lot of it is based on ignorance.
Ignorance breeds fear. The only cure for ignorance is knowledge and that comes from education and engagement. The Proclamation of 1916 should be the mission statement of a modern Irish republic. It addresses itself to Irishmen and Irishwomen. It does not state, "unless one is a member of the Traveller community".
All of us have rights. These include the right to receive equal service in shops and pubs, the right to access education, health services and work, and the right to accommodation, on the basis of equality. Every Irish citizen should enjoy the rights and entitlements that come with that citizenship. Regrettably, this has not been the case for our Traveller brothers and sisters.
The Traveller child born today faces a life in which he or she will be part of the most socially disadvantaged group in Irish society. That child will leave school earlier, have little prospect of work, will suffer ill-health and poverty, and will die younger. He or she will endure substandard living conditions. Many will have no access to basic facilities such as sanitation, water and electricity. They will face discrimination in employment and most will never work. Cutbacks in education, health and other services have impacted severely on the Traveller community. The suicide rate for Traveller women is six times that of the settled community. It is seven times higher for Traveller men. At the root of all these problems are the unacceptable levels of prejudice, discrimination and social exclusion experienced by Travellers at institutional and other levels. That has to be combatted, and it can be.
Alongside tonight's recognition of Traveller ethnicity, there needs to be a process established to improve relations between the settled and Traveller communities. Sinn Féin has called in the past for the establishment of a national forum, across the island of Ireland, involving Travellers and the settled community, including representatives of all political parties, of government, local authorities, health and education sectors, and representatives of media organisations to plan a way ahead. I repeat that call this evening. Such a forum could discuss openly, and in detail, how discrimination and prejudice against Travellers can be confronted, including prejudicial attitudes facilitated by the actions of some politicians and media outlets.
Despite those decades of discrimination, the Traveller community are a proud people. They are a resilient people. I acknowledge, in particular, the significant contribution and influence on Irish traditional music by Irish Traveller families, particularly uilleann pipers and fiddlers.
In their excellent book, Free Spirits, Tommy Fagan and Oliver O’Connell make the point that "Ireland and Irish culture is richer because of the music and songs of the Traveller community". They say, "wherever Irish music is played, wherever Irish songs are sung, wherever Irish stories are told, and wherever Irish dances are performed the influences of the Dorans, the Keenans, the Fureys, the Dunnes, the Dohertys and other great Traveller and musical families will be very much in evidence". We can add to that Maggie Barry and the Pecker Dunne.

Christy Moore has consistently paid a tribute to John Reilly, who kept alive songs like "Well Below the Valley", which have been sung for 200 years. That is the Traveller community I know - creative, strong, resilient and generous.

In the summer of 1969, when sectarian evictions were incited in the North in reaction to the demands of the civil rights movement, I was one of a small group of activists who helped families to move their belongings from their homes. It should be noted that it was people from the Traveller community in Belfast who provided and drove the lorries, at great risk to themselves, which took these families out of danger.

Among Travellers today there is an articulate grassroots leadership well able to voice Traveller issues and who have consistently raised their community's awareness of their rights. Some of them are in the Visitor’s Gallery. I know they are up for the challenge of ensuring that all of us together resolve lingering issues and ensure our society embraces the differences that make up the diversity and uniqueness of our the people of our island.

Through strong and resolute leadership like that which was shown tonight and co-operation at all levels in political and civic society, and in our settled and Traveller communities, we can ensure a society that underpins equality for every citizen.

This debate is a major step in the right direction. We need to keep moving in that direction. It is a very historic moment for the 40,000 members of the Traveller community. It is an important symbolic acknowledgement but it must also pave the way for real, practical change. Action must follow ethnicity.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Thank you John Hume

Mise agus John serenading Irish America at the White House St. Patrick's Day event in March 1995

The Thursday evening before last I was part of a panel in the Helix Theatre at Dublin City University (DCU) to discuss the contribution of John Hume to the work of civil rights and peace. There were around 200 people present. We watched Maurice Fitzpatrick's film ‘John Hume in America’. Afterward Brid Rodgers, a former Deputy Leader of the SDLP; Liz O Donnell, a former Minister of State at the Dept. of Foreign Affairs; Maurice Fitzpatrick; and I, joinedJohn Doyle, the Executive Dean of DCU's Faculty of Humanities and Social Science, to discuss the film.
Fitzpatrick’s film recalls John Hume’s connections on Capitol Hill and his efforts to encourage US governments to engage positively in efforts to support civil rights in the North. Through archive footage and interviews with Presidents Clinton, Carter, Bruce Morrison, Richie Neal and others it records John’s frequent visits to Washington and the impact on US policy of his engagements with Teddy Kennedy, Tip O’Neill and others.
The film also covers the private conversations John and I held over many years, and our efforts, through ‘Hume-Adams’, to put in place a process of inclusive dialogue that would create a peace process and end the conflict. While it records the hysterical political reaction in the South to our conversations, and especially within elements of the southern media establishment, in my opinion it skips over this full frontal, sustained personal and venomous attack on John. They were difficult years. 
Elements within the SDLP leadership were opposed to what John was trying to do. The Irish and British governments preferred to stick with the old strategy of refusing to talk to Sinn Féin. But John and I stuck with it, and with the help of the Fr. Alec Reid, Fr. Des and others, cessations were realised, negotiations succeeded, and in 1998 the Good Friday Agreement was achieved and endorsed in referendum North and South.
In one of my contributions at the Helix I outlined the efforts – stretching over years to get talks – dialogue – started and how after setbacks, prevarications and refusals, Fr Alec got a prompt and positive response from John to a request to speak to me.
I put the question to the panel and the audience – ‘what if John had said No? What if he had taken the line of the other parties and governments and the Church leaderships?’

Still singing
That remains a pertinent question. Success has many parents. Many good people played positive roles in developing the peace process but to John’s great credit he did the right thing and stuck with it. He engaged in dialogue. He was ably assisted and supported by his wife Pat. John and I met often in his home in Derry or Donegal. Pat was always welcoming and helpful and positive. I believe she was probably his closest and best adviser. Of course, John and I disagreed on many issues but we focussed on the need to develop an alternative way to achieve political objectives that would make armed struggle redundant.
That was our achievement. With the input of then Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, friends in Irish America and others, this became a peace package. The IRA embraced it. That is to its credit and a testimony to the vision and intelligence of the vast majority of its volunteers and supporters.
Much has been written about how John sacrificed the SDLP. This is untrue. The SDLP should have done much better than it did. But a house divided against itself cannot stand. Remember David Trimble and Seamus Mallon led the first Executive. The SDLPs failure to make the most of that potential does not rest with John Hume. And in fairness David Trimble and Seamus Mallon were hardly the Chuckle Brothers. Neither should Sinn Féin be criticised for being more successful than the SDLP. It is to our credit that we were more united, efficient and in tune with the electorate.
Fifty years after Duke Street in Derry there have been huge changes across this island. With more to come. The struggle goes on. The negative elements which dominated political unionism then and which resisted modest civil rights reform continue to lead political unionism today. So, there is as much, if not more need, for a broad based mass movement for rights across Ireland at this time, as there was then.
Clearly there is a peaceful way – a way through dialogue, activism and campaigning to achieve these. Thank you John Hume and everyone else involved, including Pat Hume, for making this possible. Today there is an urgent need for an island wide peaceful uprising. A modern version of the civil rights campaign. Let’s create this. Now.

Martin McAleese, Mise, Maurice Fitzpatrick, Brid Rodgers, Liz O'Donnell, John Doylen DCU, and Brian MCraith, President DCU

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Duke Street - 50 years later

Duke Street – 50 years later
Last Saturday in Derry was a great day. The 50th anniversary of the October 5th 1968 civil rights march was a colourful and optimistic event attended by thousands. I want to commend all of those who helped organise and who participated in it. The mood was upbeat, positive and determined. Where 50 years ago a peaceful demonstration was attacked by the RUC and people left bloodied and scattered, this year Derry resounded to the sound of thousands of voices laughing, singing, happy, confidant. The raised voices of an indomitable people singing ‘We shall overcome’ echoed around the Guild Hall.
50 years ago the Stormont regime’s uncompromising response to the civil rights campaign saw the then Ulster Unionist Home Affairs Minister Bill Craig ban the march. Craig went on to form the ultra-right wing Ulster Vanguard Movement. During one speech several years later he spoke about the need to “build dossiers on the men and women who are a menace to this country, because one day, ladies and gentlemen, if the politicians fail, it may be our job to liquidate the enemy.”
Last weekend Derry marked the Duke Street anniversary with a series of events. It was an occasion to reflect on the courage and vision of those who, participated in a march that was to become a pivotal moment in our recent history and which for some marks the beginning of what has been described as ‘the Troubles’.
The RUC’s violent assault on the civil rights demonstrators resulted in street fighting in different parts of Derry City and witnessed the first barricades of the conflict erected in the Bogside. Ten days later the nationalist representatives withdrew as the official opposition in the Stormont Parliament, and more civil rights marches were held and banned. A month later the Unionist regime, led by Terence O’Neill, announced a series of reforms. These included Councils being encouraged to use a points system for allocating homes, the company vote – whereby business people had a vote for each building they owned - was to be abolished and the government would consider suspending parts of the Special Powers Act.

It was an inadequate response to the crisis that was building. There was no acceptance of the right of every person to vote in local elections; no commitment to end the gerrymandering of electoral boundaries; no obligation to end discrimination in employment or in housing; and no commitment to end the Special Powers Act or disband the B Specials.
The refusal of the Unionist government to introduce basic rights for all citizens, and the failure of the British and Irish governments to take decisive action against the sectarian policies of the Stormont regime, set the context for the decades of instability and conflict that followed.
50 years later much of society in the North has been transformed. The Orange State is gone. In the last Assembly election unionists lost their majority. But the sectarian philosophy that dominated the northern state under unionism can still be found in the desire of some to deny equality to Irish language speakers and reproductive rights for women. Marriage equality now exists in all parts of these islands except the north because the DUP oppose it.  And the legacy proposals that emerged out of the Stormont House Agreement have been blocked by the DUP/British government alliance.
Regrettably, elements of the media chose to ignore the weekend march just as they had ignored the civil rights march 50 years ago. Watching the local BBC news it was as if no march had occurred. The Belfast Telegraph even went so far as to speak of the “perceived injustices against Catholics” at that time. A minority of voices chose to criticise Sinn Féin for organising the demonstration. Their claim was that as Sinn Féin was not part of the 1968 demonstration we couldn’t commemorate the event. Indeed some have tried to erase the role of republicans entirely from the story of the civil rights campaign.
The truth, of course, is that many republicans helped to organise, steward and participate in most of the events planned by the Civil Rights Association at that time. We were part of that narrative and that initiative. Sinn Féin was a banned organisation but through the Wolfe Tone Societies, the Republican Clubs, the Belfast and Derry Housing Action Committees, the Civil Rights Association and as individuals Republican activists played our part in campaigning for civil rights. Many others played their part too. Among them Eamonn McCann, Paddy Kennedy and Bernadette McAlliskey and others like Gerry Fitt, Ivan Cooper and John Hume who would later form the SDLP.
In 1967-68 hundreds of people came together in Derry to take a stand against inequality and injustice in a sectarian, one party dominated state that did not respect or want them. They refused to give their consent to this. They refused to consent to being treated as second class. They demanded equality.
The thousands who marched last Saturday were acknowledging the vision and courage of those who marched that route 50 years ago. But they were also taking a stand against inequality and injustice today and demonstrating their determination to complete that journey.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Tish Holland – a practical patriot.

Tish and Alex just elected in 1985 to Belfast City Council - Brian Quinn looks on

Teresa Holland – Lunney – died last week. Better known as Tish she was the youngest woman ever interned by the British in the 1970s. She was aged 17 when arrested in February 1973 and imprisoned in Armagh prison without charge or trial. Tish was also the longest serving woman internee. 

She was a strong woman - a bright, intelligent, immensely able woman. She knew she was dying. She faced up to that challenge with the same courage and grace that marked her life as a republican and community activist.
Saying Good-bye to Tish
I visited Tish the Sunday before she died. Despite the pain and knowing how ill she was, Tish was still Tish. She was calm. Relaxed.
In the last weeks of her life Tish’s thoughts were for others. There was a positivity about her approach to death. Along with her husband Phil and her good friend and close comrade Alex Maskey she planned her funeral. That’s why I gave the oration. I was under orders from Tish.
Positivity was Tish’s essential philosophy of life. The hippy in her had little time for negativity. She wanted her wake and funeral to be a celebration of her life. No long faces. Phil was the love of Tish’s life. They were married for 29 years. Phil demonstrated great courage and resilience as he came to terms with Tish’s Tomás and Nuala are the shining lights of Phil and Tish’s love. They are a credit to their parents and Tish loved and cherished them both.
Tish’s politics were shaped by the world about her, by her family, her community, her class, her gender and her life experience. She was very conscious of discrimination and injustice. She was politicised by the events of 1969, the battle of the Bogside, and the pogroms of that August. She was inspired by the actions of Maire Drumm, Marie Moore and the hundreds of women who broke the Falls Curfew in 1970. And she was angered and outraged by the actions of the RUC and British Army.
Tish’s response was to join the IRA. They were difficult and dangerous times. In July 1972 the British launched Operation Motorman. It was the violent occupation of nationalist communities using thousands of soldiers. Tish went on the run.
On 29 December 1972 Liz McKee - a close friend and comrade to Tish – was arrested and imprisoned in Armagh prison. Liz was the first women internee. Tish was the second. Within weeks Liz and Tish and three others made a bid for freedom.
In an article in the IRIS magazine in August 1984 Tish recalled the events. She said: “Liz McKee and I were in one cell, three remand POWs were in the next – Cathy Robinson, Marie Maguire and Evelyn Brady. We got hacksaws in our parcels and started on the bars. We also made ropes out of brown nylon wool. We had three cell searches that week. On Sunday night, about midnight, we finished the bars and came out.”
But the alarm was raised by a prison officer who had noticed that there was a bar missing in Tish’s cell window. The five were caught and ended up on the boards. Tish and her comrades were undaunted.
In October 1974 Republican POWs in Long Kesh burned the camp to the ground. Hand to hand fighting took place between the POWs and British soldiers. Scores of prisoners were injured, some seriously. The morning after the women in Armagh took the prison governor and two of his staff hostage. They demanded confirmation that their injured comrades in Long Kesh had access to proper medical treatment.
That evening the prison chaplain, Fr. Raymond Murray, assured the women that the prisoners in Long Kesh were receiving medical treatment, including treatment at hospitals in Belfast for the most seriously injured. The governor was released and the women returned to their cells.
The Belfast Women's Dept of Sinn Féin 1979
After her release from Armagh prison in the summer of 1975 Tish emerged as a first class Sinn Féin activist. In 1979 she was one of those who established the party’s first Women’s Department in Belfast. During the Fermanagh South Tyrone by-election campaign for Bobby Sands in April and May 1981 Tish worked in the Dungannon office. Later she spent time in Leitrim working in the campaign for Joe McDonnell.
In the Assembly elections of 1982 Tish was our Director of Canvas for the west of the City. She predicted that in west Belfast Sinn Féin would take around 10,000 votes. When the votes were counted Alex and I had 10,367 votes. It was a remarkable result in a first time election by Sinn Fein. It was an equally impressive prediction by our first time Director of Canvas.
In 1985 Tish was one of seven Sinn Féin Councillors who won seats in Belfast  – Alex, Sean, Bobby Lavery, Lilly Fitzsimons, Sean Keenan, Gerard McGuigan and Tish. It was a stunning victory for Sinn Féin.
The Belfast Sinn Féin team 1985
It sparked a vicious campaign by unionist Councillors to deny Sinn Fein representatives any real say in the running of the council. Tish and her six comrades ran a daily gauntlet of physical and verbal threats and abuse. They were denied speaking rights in the Chamber. They were shouted down. Deodorant and other sprays were used against them.
It was a dangerous time for Sinn Féin members. During the eight years Tish was a Councillor three Sinn Féin Councillors were shot dead; John Davey, Eddie Fullerton and Bernard O’Hagan. 14 party members were killed in that period. Family homes and offices were attacked, including the party room in the City Hall.
After two terms in the Council Tish decided not to stand again in order to concentrate her considerable energy and talents on community work. Tish loved west Belfast. She loved its people. She especially loved upper Andytown and Lenadoon. Tish used her skills in networking and campaigning to persuade others to invest in Upper Andersonstown. She was a very practical patriot. As a result, the Tullymore Community Centre was opened in 2000. In 2000 they won the Aisling Award for Community Endeavour and again in 2012, and in 2013 the All Ireland Pride of Place Community Award.
Tish was an unapologetic united Irelander. She was a leader - a team player and a team builder. She was a woman of compassion – who believed in equality and in citizens’ rights. She loved her family and she loved her country.
Tish’s loss will be felt most by her family. By Phil, Nuala, Tomás and all her brothers and sisters. But I hope they take strength too from the fact that there are so many others grieving with them.
Mise agus Grainne Holland sing Four Green Fields
I heard a great version of Four Green Fields recently. It had a new chorus. A kick in the arse for the patriarchy. And a huge hurrah for the matriarchy. It was made for Tish and our wonderful republican women.
“What have a now said the fine old woman
What have a now this fine old woman did say
I have four green fields
One of them’s in bondage
In strangers’s hands that tried to take it from me
But my daughters will have daughters,
As brave as were their mothers
And my four green fields will bloom once again said she.”

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Frederick Douglass and Ireland

Frederick Douglass
Last week I attended the launch of Christine Kinealy’s authoritative and revealing two volumes on the life and times of Frederick Douglass, 'Frederick Douglass and Ireland: In his own words.' Douglass was born into slavery two hundred years ago this year in the United States. He escaped from slavery, wrote about his experiences and lectured widely, including here in Ireland. 
Christine Kinealy is the Director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut and has had a long association with Ireland writing on Daniel O’Connell, the Great Hunger and, of course Frederick Douglass. Quinnipiac’s Múseam An Ghorta Mór – Ireland’s Great hunger Museum, is a unique collection of art and research and resource materials on that period of Irish history.
Christine’s newest book is drawn from over fifty speeches which Douglass gave in Ireland. They are a reminder of the evil and horror that was and is slavery and of the work of the anti-slavery movement that was active in Ireland in the 1840’s. Slavery had been opposed by radical Presbyterian’s in Belfast in the late 18th century, many of whom became United Irelanders. Efforts to form a slave company in the city were thwarted and decades later when Douglass lectured in Belfast one of his most enthusiastic supporters was Mary Anne McCracken, sister of the executed leader of 1798. When Douglass left Belfast in January 1846 he left behind a Ladies Anti-Slavery Society one of whose founding members was Mary Anne McCracken. 

Visiting Douglass home: ltoR: Mise, Phil Gutrich LiUNA, Todd Allen and Joseph Smith FoSF.

Slavery is not the past. It is the present. It is estimated that between 20 and 40 million people across the world are in slavery. Some are women forced into prostitution, or children working in sweatshops, or men and women forced to work through fear, and threats. Modern slavery takes different forms. Human trafficking, debt bondage, child slavery. There are an estimated ten million child slaves. Think about that – 10 million children living in slavery.
For many people in Ireland slavery is something that existed decades, even centuries ago. In the worst years of poverty and landlordism it was endemic on this island. The English landlord class and its agents cruelly exploited this situation to maximise their profits.  Here is how one English writer Arthur English – A Tour in Ireland 1780 described conditions at the time:
“A landlord in Ireland can scarcely invest an order which a servant, labourer or cotter dares to refuse to execute. Nothing satisfies him but an unlimited submission. Disrespect or anything tending towards sauciness he may punish with his cane or his horsewhip with the most perfect security, a poor man would have his bones broke if he offered to lift a hand in his own defence… Landlords of consequence have assured me, that many of their cottars would think themselves honoured by having their wives or daughters sent for to the bed of their master; a mark of slavery that proves the oppression under which such people must live.”
But later slavery took on different forms. It took the shape of the Magdalene Laundries, of mother and baby homes and of the industrial schools.
Today slavery still exists globally and there is an obligation on all of us to speak out against it.
The story of Douglass is a story of connections with Ireland. At the age of 12 he was encouraged by two Irishmen working in the shipyard where he was a slave labourer, to escape. He made several efforts and eventually escaped at the age of 20.
As an escaped slave Frederick Douglass was still liable to be taken by pro-slaver supporters and returned to his former Master. He was reluctant to speak publicly. Eventually however he agreed to speak on the issue and emerged as an articulate and gifted orator.  His speeches and lectures were very effective in building support for the anti-slavery movement. In 1845 he published his autobiography, ‘The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave’. Within a few months he had sold over five thousand copies but this success increased the possibility of pro-slave elements capturing him and returning him to slavery.
Douglass sailed for Britain in August 1845. On his journey he was asked by the Captain if he would speak to the passengers about his experience. Some pro-slavery passengers threatened to throw Douglass overboard but an unidentified Irishman intervened and threatened to do it to them first.
Shortly after he arrived in Liverpool Douglass sailed to Dublin where on 3 September he gave his first lecture in Ireland. Over the following months he travelled to Wexford, Waterford, Cork, Limerick and Belfast. He returned to Belfast another four times.
Ireland was in his own word “transformative” for Douglass. In a letter to a friend in Boston he wrote: “I live a new life. The warm and generous co-operation extended to me by the friends of my despised race … and the entire absence of everything that looked like prejudice against me, on account of the colour of my skin – contrasted so strongly with my long and bitter experience in the United States, that I look with wonder and amazement on the transition.”
Douglass said of his time in Ireland that he had become a man, rather than a chattel. In the course of his time here he met Daniel O’Connell and others campaigning to end the Union with Britain. He witnessed the awful conditions endured by Irish peasants. Consequently, Douglass increasingly saw the issue of slavery not in isolation but as part of a wider campaign for equality and social justice.
He wrote: “I see much here to remind me of my former condition, and I confess I should be ashamed to lift up my voice against American slavery, but that I know the cause of humanity is one the world over. He who really and truly feels for the American slave, cannot steel his heart to the woes of others; and he who thinks himself an abolitionist, yet cannot enter into the wrongs of others, has yet to find a true foundation for his anti-slavery.”
In 1848 he was one of the few men to attend the Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rights conference. When a dispute arose over whether they should campaign for women to have the right to vote Douglass, who was the only African American participant, successfully argued for its inclusion in the closing Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions. In a speech in 1867, Douglass said: "Let no man be kept from the ballot box because of his color. Let no woman be kept from the ballot box because of her sex".
Douglass’s close association with Belfast should be a matter of great public pride. It is a part of our history that needs to be told and retold. It is also a reminder that the evil of slavery still has to be ended.
Frederick Douglass and Ireland: In his own words by Christine Kinealy.
This is an expensive two volume publication so if need be order it from your local library.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The McGuinness Principles

Mise agus Rita with John Samuelson and other Trade Union leaders
Last Friday the Irish American James Connolly Labor Coalition (in the USA Labour is spelt without the u) organised a luncheon meeting of trade union leaders in Manhattan, mainly from New York, to introduce them to and seek their endorsement of the McGuinness Principles. There was a good crowd, good food and good craic. Additional tables were rolled out as more and more trade union delegations arrived. By the time John Samuelson, the International President of the Transport and General Workers Union called the meeting to order the room was packed. John said a few words of introduction and I spoke about the many connections between Ireland and the USA, the McGuinness Principles, and Sinn Féin’s campaign for a unity referendum and a united Ireland.
Irish American Labor leaders played a positive role in the political momentum in the USA and in supporting the peace process. Many of the great trade union leaders in American history have their family roots in Ireland. Leaders like Mary ‘Mother’ Jones and Peter Maguire; Mathew Maguire and Mike Quill and many others. That tradition has been carried on to this generation. Leaders like Terry O’Sullivan, the General President of LiUNA, (the Laborers International Union of North America), John Samuelson TWU International President, Jim Callahan President of the International Union of Operating Engineers, and Mary Kay Henry International President of the Service Employees International Union are all proud Irish American labour leaders. Joe Jameson was one of the Irish Americans for a new Irish agenda in the 1990s.
These same leaders are enormously proud also of their connection with James Connolly and have contributed to keeping alive his spirit and legacy. Currently in Belfast they are supporting the new Áras Uí Chonghaile – the James Connolly Interpretative Centre – which will be at the junction of the Falls Road and St. James Park close to where James Connolly and his family lived.
Connolly was a hugely influential trade union activist in America.  He lived in the USA for seven years where he helped establish the ‘Independent Workers of the World’. Connolly understood the importance of workers standing together, united against injustice and oppression. In Belfast he organised the workers of Belfast, and especially the linen slaves - those thousands of young women who worked in hellish conditions in the Mills - which were the backbone of Belfast’s economy. During the Great Lockout of 1913, in the city of Dublin, he and Big Jim Larkin, led an epic struggle for worker’s rights. Larkin too spent time in the USA between 1913 and 1924. This involved three years in various New York prisons, including the notorious Sing Sing, after he was convicted of ‘criminal anarchy’ for fighting for workers’ rights.
Terry O’Sullivan, General President of LiUNA, (the Laborers International Union of North America), mise agus Jim Callahan President of the International Union of Operating Engineers
Irish American union leaders understand intellectually and emotionally that the cause of Ireland is the cause of Labour and that the cause of Labour is the cause of Ireland. When the talking at the luncheon was over there was an enthusiastic response as they lined up to sign the McGuinness Principles sitting on a stand to the side of the podium.
Many of these leaders had met Martin either on his visits to the USA or their visits to Ireland. They admired and respected his efforts to build reconciliation, advance the rights of citizens, and promote peace and Irish unity.
The McGuinness Principles reflect Martin’s core values and the Good Friday Agreement. It is an initiative that was launched in April by an alliance of Irish American organisations. The McGuinness Principles were inspired by the Sullivan and MacBride Principles.
The Sullivan principles were developed in 1977 and are named after an African-American preacher Rev. Leon Sullivan, who believed that by applying economic conditions on US investment in South Africa that the apartheid regime could be brought to an end. In the 1970’s. The principles called for equal and fair employment practices for all employees and equal pay for all employees doing equal or comparable work for the same period of time.
The MacBride Principles based on the Sullivan Principles. They were about challenging institutional discrimination against Catholics in the North’s economy. In 1971 male Catholic unemployment was about two and a half times that of Protestant. Catholic women were twice as likely to be unemployed. Catholics were also pushed into low paid and unskilled employment. Ten years later, and after five years of Britain’s Fair Employment Act, the 1981 figures revealed almost no change. The MacBride Campaign sought to put pressure on US Companies with investments in the North through the enactment of state and municipal laws which would require the companies put the Principles into practice.
The nine MacBride Principles, which were named after Nobel Prize winner Sean MacBride, called for the banning of provocative religious and political emblems form the workplace; all job openings to be advertised publicly and special recruitment practices to attract applicants from under-represented religious groups; the establishment of procedures to assess, identify and actively recruit employees with potential for further advancement; managers appointed to oversee a company’s affirmative action efforts and the setting of timetables.
The Irish government and the SDLP actively worked with the British government in opposing the MacBride Campaign in the USA.
When late last year Irish American organisations began talking about how they could help secure the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and support efforts to advance Irish unity, they looked to these previous examples of successful campaigns. As a result, they agreed to launch a campaign around the McGuinness Principles.
These four core principles – equality, respect, truth and self-determination - seek to address the current difficulties in the political process by defending human rights, supporting equality for the Irish language, the victims of the conflict and their families, and endorsing the demand for a referendum on Irish unity. In summary the campaign seeks:
·         A Bill of Rights.
·         Full statutory equality for the Irish Language.
·         Funding for legacy inquests as part of the process of healing and reconciliation.
·         A referendum on Irish unity in keeping with the Good Friday Agreement.
In the few months that the campaign has been running it has attracted significant political support. The active endorsement of the Labor Movement in the USA is a crucial addition. If you want to know more about the McGuinness Principles log on to

“I believe we stand on the threshold of great change. Previous generations have struggled for a United Ireland. But our generation has the best opportunity to achieve it.” -Martin McGuinness
“We have pressed consistently for the establishment of a Bill of Rights in the North and an all-Ireland Charter of Rights” -Martin McGuinness
The terms of the Good Friday Agreement called for the adoption of a Bill of Rights in the North of Ireland. Twenty years after the Good Friday Agreement was ratified by more than 70% of the voters in the North of Ireland and 94% of the people in the Republic there is still no Bill of Rights. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission was mandated to put forward recommendations.  In 2008, the Commission made proposals to the UK government recommending the recognition of a broad range of social and economic rights.  Successive British governments have failed to affirmatively act on these recommendations. Now, with significant opposition from within the British government to continuing to accept the jurisdiction of European human rights conventions, and a determination to scrap the Human rights Act, it becomes even more important that the rights of Ireland’s citizens in the North be protected when it comes to critical human rights issues.
“Successive British Governments…have totally failed to meet their obligations…to protect the rights of the Irish language community” -Martin McGuinness
The Good Friday Agreement affirmed “the importance of respect, understanding and tolerance in relation to linguistic diversity, including in Northern Ireland, the Irish language, Ulster-Scots and the languages of the various ethnic communities, all of which are part of the cultural wealth of the island of Ireland… the British Government will, in particular in relation to the Irish language, where appropriate and where people so desire it: take resolute action to promote the language; facilitate and encourage the use of the language in speech and writing in public and private life where there is appropriate demand …”
Eight years later, under the terms of the St. Andrews Agreement of 2006, the British Government committed to introduce an Act to give the Irish language official status equal to that accorded the Scots Gaelic and Welsh languages.  They failed to honor this obligation, and the Democratic Unionist Party explicitly repudiated it. Subsequent DUP moves in government to defund Irish language study were a major contributing factor to the resignation of Martin McGuinness as Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister in 2017, when he cited that party’s lack of “respect” for the rights and cultural traditions of the Irish nationalist community in the North.
(3)   TRUTH
“Dealing with the legacy of the past remains one of the key outstanding challenges of our peace process. Unless it is dealt with in a comprehensive manner then the essential process of healing and reconciliation cannot gain momentum”
“Instead of working constructively to address the hurt and pain caused by the legacy of our recent conflict, the British Government has, at every turn, blocked and frustrated all efforts to reach a solution” -Martin McGuinness
Many victims of the conflict in the North and their families have waited decades to learn the full truth about what happened to them and their loved ones.  Funding must be provided for proper inquests to move forward.  The full story of collusion and cover-ups must be told, and those responsible for human rights abuses must be brought to justice.
“There is a democratic imperative to provide Irish citizens with the right to vote in a border poll on Irish unity to end partition and retain a role in the EU.”
“A border poll on Irish unity is part of the process of building a modern and dynamic New Republic on this island – an agreed Ireland achieved by peaceful and democratic means.” -Martin McGuinness
Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, the British Government committed to formally “recognize that it is for the people of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent…” Provisions were included for referenda on Irish unity, whose results would be given effect by the governmental parties to the Agreement.  The Agreement went on to commit that the signatory parties (including the British Government) should not “make any change in the status of Northern Ireland save with the consent of a majority of its people”.
Despite the fact that Brexit clearly represents a “change in status” of Northern Ireland, and despite the fact that the people of the north voted by a large majority to reject Brexit and remain inside the European Union, the British government is determined to impose this very significant change (having potentially profound consequences for Ireland), on the people of Ireland north and south, against their democratically expressed wishes.
If the Good Friday Agreement’s commitments to self-determination are to have any meaning, the British Government must allow the Irish people the opportunity to determine their future.