Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Bigot is a B word also.

Some unionists have seized upon my remarks in Fermanagh when I described bigots as b****rds. My use of that word was inappropriate. Some of have said that I was speaking about unionists. I wasn’t. Although, some bigots are unionists. But they have no monopoly on bigotry. The Impartial Reporter, journalist Rodney Edwards has released the full transcript of my remarks. I thank him for that. Those who wish to can now make a balanced judgement on my remarks.

Apart from the use of the B word I stand over the thrust of what I was articulating. As I told the audience in Enniskillen republicanism is essentially about citizenship; about the rights of people and their entitlements in a citizen centred rights-based society. Essentially this means that regardless of peoples abilities or disabilities; regardless of their gender or sexual orientation; regardless of their creed or colour; regardless of whether they live in rural Ireland or in urban centres; their rights must be upheld and society must be shaped to promote guarantee and protect these rights.

The Proclamation of 1916 is the mission statement of modern republicanism. Of course, this is not 1916, so we need to interpret that wonderful declaration of rights in today’s terms. It means civil and religious rights for everyone. At an individual level it also means the right to a home; a job; access to education; access to health care on the basis of need; a clean environment and the ability to pursue human happiness.

It also means respect and tolerance for others. We should treat other people the way we want to be treated ourselves. There is a lot of bigotry in Irish society. The northern state was founded on a sectarian headcount. There are those who hark back to the old days. They don’t believe in equality or tolerance or power sharing. They have a very narrow fundamentalist view of the world. They’re not just against Catholics. They are against Presbyterians and Methodists and Church of Ireland and Muslims and anyone else who doesn’t subscribe to their narrow right wing conservative view of the world.

This is not a uniquely Irish phenomenon. There are racists and homophobes and misogynists and bigots in most societies. But in most other societies it is illegal to promote any of these views publicly. So society gets on with its business with appropriate protections. Politics in Ireland is in flux, including in the north. It is very telling that a large number of unionist voters no longer vote. That’s because there is no one within unionism who is giving the positive, consistent leadership that would motivate them. And they’re not yet at the point of voting for Sinn Féin or any other party outside of unionism.

The answer to all of this is equality. I don’t believe that republicans fully understand unionism. Unionism is no longer a monolith. There are different strands. I spend a lot of my time out of the north but at different points when unionist leaders are being particularly offensive; when I’m about Belfast or other places in the north, I am frequently asked ‘what’s the point?’ – ‘no matter what we do these people aren’t up for change’.

I don’t believe that. Of course that is true of a cohort who have formed an anti-agreement axis and who want the trappings of Ministerial office, or a career as an MLA, without the obligations or responsibilities of these offices.

I remember being at one meeting in Belfast when we were negotiating with David Trimble and many republicans voiced justifiable anger at David’s carry-on. I remember saying to that meeting. ‘Why are you getting angry at David Trimble? I’m the one who has to work with him every day – you don’t’.

So we need to be patient. But not complacent or compliant. Unionism is sleep walking into a crisis which could well bring the political institutions down. I don’t believe they have a plan to do that but because the no-men are setting the pace that could happen. We have to prevent that. So do the two governments. They are co-equal guarantors of the Good Friday and other Agreements. Both governments have failed to honour their obligations. That is why for example, there is no Bill of Rights, or all- Ireland Charter of Rights or no Acht na Gaeilge.

Our responsibility is two-fold. It is to ensure that the Assembly doesn’t collapse. But it’s also to make sure that the Assembly delivers for the people.

So our watch word is equality, equality, equality. How could anyone be afraid of equality -if they have a genuine interest in people and people’s rights. Equality is an end in its own right. It’s also a means to an end. I want to see a united Ireland and a real republic on this island. Others might not subscribe to that objective but who would be against treating someone the way you want to be treated yourself.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sindo hysteria fools nobody

Hysteria is defined as an extreme emotion which cannot be controlled. A person so afflicted is described as hysterical.  And we often describe things as hysterically funny.

The latest round in the long-running anti-Sinn Féin crusade by Independent newspapers is hysterical in both senses.

The editorial staff of the Sunday Independent, in particular, seem to have lost their reason with their weekly frenzied attacks on me personally and on Sinn Féin and republicans in general.

And the attempt to portray part of my response to all this as an implied threat to journalists is laughable. It is ludicrous.

I simply pointed out that the IRA under Michael Collins, whose political legacy is claimed by many of Sinn Féin’s worst detractors, attacked the office of the Irish Independent and destroyed the printing presses.

I was pointing to the hypocrisy and inconsistency of a view that portrays the IRA of 1919 as freedom fighters but labels the IRA of 1979 as terrorists.

Some have questioned the accuracy of what I wrote. For the record, the IRA attack took place on 21 December 1919.

Two days previously the IRA had attempted to ambush and execute the British Lord Lieutenant French at the Phoenix Park. The attempt failed and a young Volunteer, Martin Savage, was killed.

The Irish Independent called the ambush “a dreadful plan of assassination” and described Martin Savage as “an assassin”.

Led by Peadar Clancy, a group of IRA men entered the Independent offices, told the editor the paper was being suppressed for having “endeavoured to misrepresent the sympathies and opinions of the Irish people”, and smashed up the printing press, for which the paper later received £15,000 in damages. (See Ian Kenneally ‘The Paper Wall: Newspapers and Propaganda in Ireland 1919-1921’, the Collins Press, 2008).

But this was an isolated incident. The most serious attacks on freedom of the press then and since have come from Governments.

Newspaper censorship was widespread under British rule. At the start of the Civil War the new Free State government censored newspaper reports and the Cabinet even criticized the Irish Independent for having an “unsatisfactory attitude toward the Government” and decided that if it persisted “drastic action would be necessary”. (See Maryann Gialanela Valulis ‘General Richard Mulcahy and the Founding of the Irish Free State’, Irish Academic Press 1992.)

Successive Governments were responsible for widespread censorship of books and films, as well as political censorship.

This narrow minded attitude resulted in the most famous and talented Irish authors being banned in their own country, including Joyce, Beckett, Sean O'Casey, Brendan Behan, Sean O'Faolain, John B. Keane, John McGahern, and Edna O'Brien.

Younger people today find it hard to believe that from 1972 to 1993 Sinn Féin voices were banned from the airwaves under Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act.

It seems that the editorial team of Independent newspapers today can dish out the strongest abuse they can think of, in article after article, but they cannot take a sentence of criticism. Instead they resort to describing such criticism as threats to them personally.

People are no longer fooled by this nonsense. They now have a wide variety of sources for news, thanks to the internet and social media in all its forms.

The genie is out of the bottle and all the hysteria in the Indo won’t get it back again.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Engaging successfully with the Irish diaspora

Last week Mary Lou McDonald took Tánaiste Joan Burton to task during Leaders questions in the Dáil over the government’s failure to resolve the crisis in Irish Water; the continuing debacle around water charges, and the need for a constitutional referendum to protect the state’s water utility from privatisation.

 

Predictably, the Labour leader when faced with a difficult question always opts to create a distraction. In this case she raised my visit that day to New York for three days of meetings with Irish America, including the annual Friends of Sinn Féin fundraiser.

 

There was something pitiable and pathetic in Ms Burton’s remarks which smacked of begrudgery and envy.

 

There was a time when Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael travelled the world in search of funding for their respective parties among the Irish diaspora. It was never about ending division or partition or Irish independence. Both parties wrapped the green flag around them as they posed as united Ireland parties, seeking reunification. The Labour Party tried to emulate this but with little success. The Dublin parties’ connection with the Irish diaspora was primarily about self-interest.

 

In the recent years of conflict a new dynamic was created as Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour used their personal and political and governmental connections internationally to attack anything remotely republican or linked with Sinn Féin. It wasn’t about what was right or in the Irish national interest; it was all about political expediency. And if that meant bolstering British repression in the north then they were happy to co-operate.

 

Remember the briefings by Irish government officials in the USA and Britain against the Birmingham Six and other victims of British miscarriages of justice?

 

Remember the strident anti-MacBride Principles campaign run by successive Irish governments in the USA, often in collusion with the British Northern Ireland Office, and in support of Britain’s discriminatory employment practices in the north?

 

And throughout all of this Irish government Ministers, from all of the parties, railed against dialogue with Sinn Féin; attacked those in Irish America who criticised British policy; supported the visa ban against Sinn Féin leaders travelling to the United States; and implemented political censorship.

 

Sinn Féin comes to all of this differently. Irish republicans have always had close connections with the diaspora, especially Irish America, going back centuries. Fundraising is a part of that. We make no apologies for that. Irish America helped fund the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and the 1916 Rising, and the Tan War against the British. In the conflict in the north their efforts supported political prisoners, their families and children. American civil rights leader Martin Luther King set fundraising in its proper context in 1956 when he said:

 

 There is nothing in all of the world greater than freedom. It is worth paying for; it is worth losing a job; it is worth going to jail for’.

 

But for Sinn Féin the key strategic objective in our engagement with Irish America and the world-wide Irish diaspora was and is to mobilise its political strength and influence in support of the peace process and of Irish unity. This is a significant undertaking.

 

For decades British governments declared the conflict in the north as an internal matter and rejected any outside interest other than that which supported their repression. This was especially true of the USA. Famously senior Tory politician and government Minister Lord Hailsham was once asked by Irish Times journalist Conor O Clery about the attitude of Irish Americans. Hailsham’s face reddened and he slapped an open palm of his polished desk and declared; ‘Those bawstards, those Roman Catholic bawstards! How dare they interfere!’

 

The success of Sinn Féin’s approach is to be found in the positive engagement of President Bill Clinton, and of successive US Presidents and congressional leaders from both the Democratic and the Republican parties, with the Irish peace process.

 

It is to be found also in the contribution that international figures like George Mitchell, John de Chastelain, Richard Haass, Harri Holkeri, Martii Ahtisaari, and others, including Madiba (Nelson Mandela), Cyril Ramaphosa, Bill Flynn and many others have made.

 

It is evident too in the recent appointment by the Obama administration of former US Senator Gary Hart as its special envoy for the north. The work done by Richard Haass and Meghan O Sullivan, senior north American diplomats, on the past and legacy issues, contentious parades and flags is proof of the continuing commitment and interest of progressive opinion in the USA.

 

While their proposals, which reflected their engagement with civic society and all the political parties, were rejected by the unionists and not supported by the British government, nonetheless their work can be viewed as part of the successful engagements and investment of the diaspora.

 

The success of the diaspora can also be found in the jobs and community supports that the north and the border counties have benefitted from as a result of increased international funding following the Good Friday Agreement.

Sinn Féin works hard to maintain those connections. We understand their importance. Our party leadership regularly travel overseas to visit the diaspora. My visit to the USA last week, accompanied by Pearse Doherty TD and Rita O Hare, was an important part of that. Pearse went on to visit Toronto, another city with a very active diaspora.

 

When I was speaking in New York I was pleased to announce the appointment of Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh from Galway as Sinn Féin spokesperson for the diaspora. I thanked Sean Crowe TD for the sterling work that he has done, especially on behalf of the Irish undocumented in the USA. Trevor will build on Sean’s work.

 

I was also pleased to tell our audience that I had published a Bill in the Dáil to give votes in Presidential elections to Irish citizens in the north and to Irish passport holders globally. Sinn Féin will continue to press the Irish government to hold a referendum on this as soon as possible. Incidentally the constitutional convention has also recommended this move.

 
 

Sinn Féin is committed to working with the Irish diaspora in support of the peace process. It is a fact that the success of the peace process would not have been possible without the support of those I met last week and of Sinn Féin’s efforts.

 

Mary Lou rightly dismissed Joan Burton’s remarks in the Dáil as ‘comedic’. But they do reflect an increasing paranoia within Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour about the potential for growth for Sinn Féin in the next Dáil election.

 

As Sinn Féin rises in the polls so too does the level of abuse from our political enemies and in sections of the media. No opportunity is wasted to criticise and demonise Sinn Féin and to their shame they cynically manipulate desperately difficult and traumatic emotional issues, including personal family tragedies, to score political points. This has been part and parcel of the political landscape, north and south, for 40 years.

 

Despite this Sinn Féin will not be deflected. We will continue to challenge bad policy by the Irish and British governments. We will defend the peace process and the gains it has made. And we will engage constructively with the Irish diaspora worldwide.

 

 

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Good Old IRA

Last Saturday was the anniversary of the execution by the British of 18 year old Kevin Barry. He was hanged on November 1st 1920. Kevin Barry was one of the ‘Forgotten Ten’ – IRA volunteers who were all executed in Mountjoy prison and buried there by the British Government. . He and nine other freedom fighters were afforded a State Funeral a few years ago when their remains were moved from Mountjoy to Glasnevin.

I was there that day and more important than all the pomp and ceremony of the fitting state occasion was the huge turn out of citizens who lined the pavements and joined the funeral ceremony. Kevin Barry was a victim and a hero of the Tan War – a conflict that lasted two years and was followed by a bloody civil war which saw atrocities committed by both sides.

His life and death and role as an IRA Volunteer was immortalised in song shortly after his death. ‘Kevin Barry’ became one of the most popular rebel songs of that and subsequent generations.

I remind you of this anniversary because one aspect of the current controversy around how the IRA handled sex abusers during the recent war years is the manner in which Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour have rushed to condemn the IRA of that period, while commending the actions of those who fought in 1916 and in the subsequent Tan War.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan speaking at Beal na mBlath in August 1984 said: “Our generation of the Irish owes more to (Michael) Collins than any other Irish hero.” Noonan quoted with approval the words of Arthur Griffith: “Collins was the man whose matchless and indomitable will carried Ireland through the terrible crisis. He was the man who fought the Black and Tan terror until England was forced to offer terms.”

In July last year in Cork Taoiseach Enda Kenny praised the actions of the “Flying Columns of Rebel Cork and its most famous son Michael Collins”. A year earlier addressing the annual Michael Collins commemoration at Beal na mBlath he described Collins as a “reformer. A thinker. A modernizer” and he praised “Collins’s ambition, mental force and high idea.”

The Labour Party rushed to commemorate the founding the Irish Citizen Army – a private, armed body of men and women established by James Connolly who fought in the Rising and many of whom joined the IRA.

Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin speaking at Arbour Hill, where the 1916 leaders are buried, called the Rising “one of the most noble and courageous events in Irish history. The leaders of the Rising were patriots of honour and integrity who were prepared to sacrifice everything so that the Irish people could be free.” And the leaders were “heroes.”

But those, like Bobby Sands and Mairead Farrell and Máire Drumm and countless others who stood strong against injustice and courageously fought the British government and its military machine to a standstill in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s were part of a “terrorist campaign”. That was “not a clean fight. It was dirty and nasty. And no amount of new historical revisionism, willful amnesia or media indifference can alter that fact.”

It is right that we remember those from previous generations who fought and died or were imprisoned or exiled for their efforts to liberate Ireland of British rule. But if there is a wilful amnesia it is within the Dublin establishment parties. It has its roots in partition and the abandonment by the Dublin establishment of nationalists and unionists in the North and the ideal of an independent 32 county Irish republic. Little wonder that the Government in Dublin has still to bring forward plans to commemorate the 1916 Rising, now only eighteen months away. There is no sense of the Proclamation in modern offical Ireland. Or of its promise of equality for all. Except in the hearts and minds of freedom loving Irish people.

Noonan and Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin hypocritically ignore the brutality and the violence the men and women of that generation of the IRA, led by Collins and others, used to prosecute the war against a numerically stronger, better equipped and professional British Army supported by the RIC, the Black and Tans and the Special Branch. They say it was the good old IRA. Different, they claim, from the IRA of the 70s, 80's and 90's.

The fact is that the Rising in 1916 and the Tan War and Civil War were not ‘clean’ fights. They were dirty and nasty and thousands of Irish citizens and British soldiers died, in the two years of the Tan War, along two and a half thousand, including some 700 civilians died.

During that period the IRA operated what would today be called kangaroo courts to meet out summary justice in a climate in which the Royal Irish Constabulary was regarded as little different from the RUC of later years.

The IRA of that time, like its successors of our time, executed scores of people as informers and agents for the British, often leaving their bodies in public places with placards declaring “Spies and informers beware.” Most were shot but one was taken by boat into the middle of the River Barrow and executed by drowning.

The IRA of that period disappeared scores of alleged informers – men and women. It is claimed that this number may be as high as 200. Following the conflict there was no attempt to recover the remains unlike republicans of this generation who have helped secure the return of 10 of the 15 who were secretly buried in the 1970s.

And under that same Michael Collins, who Noonan and Kenny lionise, and the same IRA lauded by Martin, the IRA imported weapons from America, robbed banks and post offices, and levied ‘taxes’. Failure to pay this tax was met with stern measures including beatings.

Collins ordered attacks on RIC members many of whom were shot from ambush, in the back, in the dark, when they were unarmed, in front of their families, in their beds, and without mercy. The IRA killed civilians, including by accident, children. In one five month period 46 civilians were killed by the IRA and 163 wounded.

And when the Irish Independent condemned his actions as ‘murder most foul’ what did Michael Collins do? He dispatched his men to the office of the Independent and held the editor at gun point as they dismantled the entire printing machinery and destroyed it.

And if Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and Labour speak of a mandate to wage that war? They should be reminded that no one voted for war in the 1918 election. As in the 70's republicans of that time didn't go to war. The war came to us.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Still I Rise


Certain media commentators have recently made an issue of the fact that some time ago, I tweeted Maya Angelou’s poem Still I Rise.

 

They seem not to have the slightest appreciation of the nature of social media, the role of literature in society or indeed the character of the author who has incited their censorial righteousness.

 

In an incredible leap of imagination they have deemed my tweet insensitive.

 

This, because in their own fevered minds they have contrived a link between my tweet and other unrelated issues.

 

In this case it is the fact that some political opponents of Sinn Féin have made spurious allegations of a ‘republican cover-up’ of rape.

 

But in their zeal to propagate a vile smear against me and against Sinn Fein, these modern-day McCarthyites in the media have merely exposed their own ignorance and frightening intolerance.

 

Maya Angelou, who died last May, was an award-winning feminist author and poet, best known for her acclaimed memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which made literary history as the first non-fiction best-seller by an African-American woman.

 

Another of Angelou’s most famous works, On the Pulse of Morning, was recited at US President Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1993.

 

Martin Luther King Jr., a close friend of Angelou's, was assassinated on her birthday in 1968. Angelou stopped celebrating her birthday for years afterwards, and sent flowers to King's widow, Coretta Scott King, for more than 30 years, until Coretta's death in 2006.

 

US President Barack Obama called Maya Angelou "a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman” adding that she "had the ability to remind us that we are all God's children; that we all have something to offer”.

 

Maya Angelou experienced much hardship and suffering in her life.

 

Growing up as an African American woman in Arkansas, she experienced racial discrimination.

 

She was also the victim of rape at a very young age. 

 

Deeply traumatised by this and the subsequent killing of the man responsible, Maya Angelou stopped talking and spent years as a virtual mute.

 

Still I Rise shares its title with a 1976 play by Maya Angelou, and refers to the indomitable spirit of Black people, despite the catalogue of injustices inflicted on them.

 

It is about hope and a belief that people can overcome injustice.

 

It was at the centre of an advertising campaign for the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), a US philanthropic organisation that funds scholarships for black students.

 

As well as being a proud statement on behalf of Black people, Still I Rise, is a strong and positive representation of women.

 

Those who, in their ignorance, have criticised my tweeting of the poem have objected in particular to certain lines which are a defiant assertion by Maya Angelou of female sexuality.

 

That this powerful assertion comes from a woman whose feminism was born of her own experiences at the hands of a racist, patriarchal society is entirely lost on these witless commentators.

 

In recent years we have seen almost all of the major institutions of Irish life – the Church, politics, the banking system, the Gardai, subjected to intense re-evaluation.

 

This has generally followed scandals that exposed the previous overbearing power of these institutions.

 

The Irish media has yet to be subjected to any serious public scrutiny.

 

With a few honourable exceptions they failed to seriously investigate or report on what was happening in the North during the years of conflict. In fact the Independent Group campaigned against the Peace Process and vilified John Hume for his role in it.

 

In relation to the economic crash, sections of the media at best failed to question the political and economic status quo which led to it.

 

At worst it was complicit in the problems which caused it, particularly in relation to inflating the property bubble.

 

Indeed, in light of the collapse of other institutions, the media’s role and influence has arguably increased.

 

The arrogance of certain media commentators certainly has.

 

They now dispense absolute bias disguised as moral truths and a deep intolerance of anyone who incurs their displeasure. Much like the Bishops of old.

 

For some time that has meant Sinn Féin and myself in particular.

 

However, like all authoritarians, their arrogance eventually gets the better of them.

Recent weeks have witnessed some journalists come as close as it is possible to be, to saying that when it comes to republicans, due process and the rule of law do not matter.

 

Journalists now trawling through my twitter account and seeking to dictate what poems I should or should not tweet brings us ever closer to the territory of book burnings.

 

I can guess what Maya Angelou would have said.

 

Here is her poem:

 

 

Still I Rise

 

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

 

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

 

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.

 

Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops,

Weakened by my soulful cries?

 

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don’t you take it awful hard

‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own backyard.

 

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

 

Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I’ve got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

 

Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

 

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

 

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

 

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

 


 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Taoiseach Out Of His Depth

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








 



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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We will end them in the South too.

Sinn Féin will deliver on our commitments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Action not point-scoring needed for victims, a Thaoisigh

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

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

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

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