Monday, January 25, 2021

Blog: Jesus Wept; the story of the Mother and Baby Homes: A new plan for Moore Street

 JESUS WEPT.

The recently released report of the ‘Mother and Baby Homes Commission’ is a shameful record of the brutality, ill-treatment and abuse inflicted on generations of women and their children in these institutions. This punitive attitude to women and children predates partition but partition led to the creation of two conservative states on the island of Ireland.The new regime in the Free State institutionalised this attitude when it abdicated responsibility for addressing many of the social issues that the state should have been responsible for. It left these to the Catholic Church and the religious orders.

Mother and Bay homes existed in the North also. The Executive has  put in place an Interdepartmental group  to investigate and make recommendations on Mother and Baby Homes, Magdalene Laundries and historical clerical child abuse. This report  is  due in the next short while. It is of crucial importance that this report does not fall foul of the same mistakes that were made about the publication of the Dublin report. In particular I am referring to  the failure to make sure that victims and survivors got the report before it is published. There is also a clear need for an all Ireland approach.

There has been a succession of damning reports over the last three decades. The scandal of the treatment of children in the industrial schools, the reformatory schools and in orphanages was exposed. Thousands of children were subject to sustained systemic physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.

Then came revelations about the Magdalene laundries. Scandal after scandal. Tens of thousands of children and women ill-treated. 

The ‘Mother and Baby Homes Commission’ was established after a local historian Catherine Corless in Galway succeeded in highlighting her research which indicated that hundreds of babies had died and been secretly buried in Tuam’s ‘Mother and Baby Home.’  In a sewage or septic tank. Corless identified 798 deaths of children who died at the home. There were no burial records.

Last week’s report by the Commission is shocking in its detail even at almost 3,000 pages - and I am still reading it - some victims and survivors say that it failed to properly deal with their plight. Taoiseach Micheál Martin, who rightly apoligised on behalf of the state, in his response said, “We did this ourselves as a society. We treated women exceptionally badly. We treated children exceptionally badly... All of society was complicit in it.”

While all of us have to accept responsibility for ourselves and our own actions or lack of actions it is wrong to say all society was complicit. The political establishment was. It failed to protect the health and welfare of citizens. That is the responsibility in the first instance of the state. The state is to blame. Of course the churches bear responsibility also. But the state allowed the churches to do what they did. That should never have happened. Women and children were victim of a brutal policy based on misogynistic nonsense and an obscenity that women and their babies should be punished if the women had sex outside marriage; even if this was forced on them, even if they were minors, victims of rape. Sex was a public sin. For women. To be punished publicly. Jesus wept!  There were no ‘Men and Baby Homes’. The women and babies were lesser beings.

Nine thousand children died in the 18 institutions investigated by the Commission. Thousands more bear the physical and mental scars of their experiences. This means that there has to be full redress, including compensation. And it cannot be a repeat of what has happened before. 

Previously the state put in place schemes which were allegedly to help victims but often didn’t.  Many victims of abuse in residential institutions were cross examined when seeking redress, forced to re-live their experiences and were re-traumatised. Many women from the Magdalene Laundries were initially excluded from the redress scheme. Women who had suffered symphysiotomies had only two weeks to apply for redress. Other women, who won their cases in court, had their verdicts appealed by the state.

The report by the ‘Mother and Baby Homes Commission’ or the upcoming Report from the Interdepartmental Group in the North is not the last word on this issue. This work is only beginning.

She Fell Asleep in the Sun 

‘She fell asleep in the sun.’

That’s what they used to say

in South Fermanagh

of a girl who gave birth

unwed.

 

A woman from Kerry told me

what she’d always heard growing up was

Leanbh ón ngréin

a child from the sun.

 

And when a friend of mine from Tiernahilla

admired in North Tipperary

a little lad running round a farmyard

the boy’s granda smiled:

‘garsúinín beag mishtake’.

 

A lyrical ancient kindliness

that could with Christ accord.

Can it outlive technolatry?

or churches?

 

Not to mention that long, leadránach,

latinate, legal, ugly

twelve-letter name not

worthy to be called a name,

that murderous obscenity – to call

 

Any child ever born

that excuse for a name

could quench the sun for ever.

 

Pearse Hutchinson.

 

 

A New Plan for Moore Street

Most nations have buildings and landmarks which are important to them in their struggles for freedom and independence. Robben Island in South Africa held ANC prisoners for decades, including Mandela, Sisulu and others. It is now a World Heritage site. The Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam are a network of interconnecting tunnels that stretch for 75 miles. Imagine someone deciding to abandon Robben Island or fill in the Cu Chi tunnels? Or if the government of India decided to concrete over the Jallianwala Bagh garden in Amritsar? Its the place where in 1919 the British Army massacred at least 379 unarmed civilians in an act of slaughter similar to our Bloody Sunday’s in 1920 and 1972.

Imagine the outrage if the government of the United States decided to demolish Independence Hall in Philadelphia and replace it with a Shopping  Mall. It is the location of the second Continental Congress which met to sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776. 

Every nation has these holy places where freedom was born or won. 

We Irish are no different. Dublin’s GPO, Kilmainham, the H-Blocks and many more places dotted across this island tell the story of Ireland’s century’s long struggle for independence. The 1916 Easter Rising and its Proclamation of equality and justice inspired others to throw off the yoke of British colonialism.

Following six days of heroic resistance, the centre of Dublin lay in ruins. Five of the leaders of the Provisional Government met for the last time in 
16 Moore Street and ordered the surrender. In 2005 the late Shane MacTomais – historian - wrote of those events: 

“At eight o clock on Friday evening 28 April 1916, with the GPO engulfed in flames, the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic and IRA men and women retreated from the building and endeavoured to make their way to the Four Courts’ Garrison. They left the GPO by the side entrance in Henry Street and made their way under constant sniper fire to Moore Lane.

When they reached Moore Street they entered number five, Dunne’s Butchers, and immediately began tunneling from one house to another. The next morning, Saturday, they quickly realised that the wounded James Connolly, who had been placed on a panel door as a makeshift stretcher would not fit through the openings they had made. The men then placed Connolly in blankets and bundled him in great agony from house to house. When they reached number 16, Plunkets, a poultry shop, they placed him upstairs in the back room.

This small room, in a small house, in a small market street, in the heart of the capital city was to be the last place where the members of Provisional Irish Government held their council of war. Pádraig Mac Piarais, Joseph Plunkett, Tom Clarke and Seán Mac Diarmada all took their places around James Connolly and discussed what to do, while Elizabeth O’Farrell, Winifred Carney and Julie Grenan tended the wounded. The leaders decided that it was necessary to surrender to save further lives.”

This is Moore Street. It is part of the 1916 Battlefield site – the laneways of history. It has been described by the National Museum of Ireland as; ‘The most important site in modern Irish history.’ Today it is again a battlefield site. A major development company – with the support of past Irish governments – seeks to demolish much of these laneways to build a Shopping  Mall. The four houses – 14-17 Moore Street – which are alone designated a national monument have been neglected and are in a poor state of repair.

The battlefield site encompasses the entire Moore St/O’Connell St. area. It stretches from Tom Clarke’s shop on Parnell Street; to the GPO; to Jenny Wyse Power’s home on Henry Street where the 1916 Proclamation was signed; to Moore Lane and Moore Street where the GPO Garrison retreated; to the spot where ‘The O'Rahilly’ died; to 16 Moore Street where five of the seven signatories  of the Proclamation - Seán MacDiarmada, Pádraig Pearse, Joseph Plunkett, James Connolly and Tom Clarke - held their final meeting; to the Rotunda where the garrison was held by the British and where the volunteers had been founded three years earlier.

For over a decade a dedicated band of family members of the signatories - the Save 16 Moore Street Committee and the Families of the Signatories of the 1916 Proclomation - and their supporters have fought to protect Moore Street. 

Last week the relatives published the first images of a regeneration plan for the area. The plan has been commissioned from a team of leading Irish architectural firms, planners and consultants. They believe that their plan “will not only reverse decades of official neglect but also act as a catalyst for the future regeneration of the city’s Northside. The plan also fully meets the recommendations of Minister Darragh O’Briens Advisory Group on the development of the Moore Street Battlefield as a historic cultural quarter.” This will also focus on the needs of local businesses and the Moore Street Traders.

The committee hopes to meet with Heritage Minister Darragh O'Brien in the coming weeks to discuss their proposal.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Blog: Des Wilson, The Peoples Priest; How Mandela and his comrades paid tribute to hunger strikers; A week of high drama in Washington DC




 Des Wilson – A Voice for the Poor and Oppressed by Joe McVeigh

Fr. Joe McVeigh was a close friend and colleague of Des Wilson. It wasn’t just that both were priests. They both shared a passionate believe in justice and were committed to standing up for the rights of citizens against a British state apparatus which was oppressive and violent.

Fr. Des died on the 5th November 2019 aged 94. He lived a full life. A good life. And in the course of his years of service he helped thousands of people. During the dark years of war and violence he lived and worked in Ballymurphy and Springhill. With Joe McVeigh, Fr. Des established the Community for Social Justice. Its role was to highlight the real nature of violence in Ireland and to challenge the leaders of the Church. Fr. Des believed that the Church had a moral responsibility to stand against injustice and repression.

As a tribute to his friend Fr. Joe has just published a thoughtful pamphlet - Des Wilson – A Voice for the Poor and Oppressed by Joe McVeigh - telling the story of Des, his early life, his work as a priest in St. John’s parish and then in Ballymurphy and Springhill, and then setting up of Springhill Community House. Fr. Joe describes its purpose:

Des had a deep love and respect for the people in the Ballymurphy/Springhill community in which he lived. He always had time for a conversation and a cuppa tea. The door was always open. There was always a céad mile failte. Conversations at lunch in Springhill were a lively and interesting experience. Springhill Community House became ‘a house of hospitality’ somewhat like the Catholic Worker houses in America which had been set up by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in the 1940s and 1950s, and indeed somewhat like the Celtic monasteries in years gone by.”

Fr. Des was deeply affected by the killing of his colleague Father Hugh Mullan and ten local people by the British Army’s Parachute Regiment in August 1971 during internment. The Ballymurphy Massacre left families and a community devastated and Des was always there supporting their efforts for truth.

For over 40 years Fr. Des was at the heart of many of the positive initiatives to emerge from west Belfast, including Springhill Community Centre; Conway Mill and the peace process. He was a leader, a man of great courage and vision, a good neighbour, an honest down to earth decent human being and a priest.

Joe McVeigh’s account of his life is evidence of a man who lived a long and full life and whose contribution to community politics, to education, and to peace in Ireland is immeasurable. I want to commend Fr. Joe for writing this account of Des’s life. If you are interested in buying a copy of Fr. Joe’s book - Des Wilson – A Voice for the Poor and Oppressed – it will be available from Springhill Community House and An Fhuiseog, 55 Falls Road when they reopen following the current lockdown priced £5.

 

The ANC and the 1981 hunger strikers

The African National Congress was founded on 8 January 1912. Last week, it celebrated its 109 birthday. An odd number you might think to celebrate a birthday. However, 30 years ago the ANC leadership was able for the first time in 30 years to publicly mark its 79th birthday following the unbanning of the party by the apartheid South African government.

In its online celebration last Friday the ANC broadcast the archive film footage of the historic press conference from 30 years ago - January 1991. The then ANC President Oliver Tambo – who had just returned home from 30 years of exile - Deputy President Nelson Mandela, who had been freed the year before after 27 years in prison; and Walter Sisulu who had spent 26 years imprisoned on Robben island, all spoke of their hopes for the future and their determination to achieve a free South Africa.

As I watched the five minute video of these three giants of the South African liberation struggle I was reminded of all that has happened in that country and of the four years of difficult and dangerous negotiations that lay ahead of them. An agreement was finally achieved and in 1994 Mandela was elected as President of a free South Africa. But as the three spoke in January 1991 the outcome of the negotiations was uncertain. The political and personal risks they were taking were enormous. Violence was still widespread. Thousands were still in prison. And there was significant opposition within the apartheid system to any negotiated settlement.

The year after the 1994 election I had the honour and pleasure to meet Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu. In June 1995 I travelled to South Africa as part of a Sinn Féin delegation to meet with the ANC’s senior negotiators. Our objective was to talk to them about their strategies and tactics and to see what Sinn Féin could learn from their experience for our peace efforts. The IRA cessation was then ten months old and the British were stalling on establishing all-party talks. By the end of our visit we had made many new friends, confounded the British who had tried to block a meeting with President Mandela, and were pleased to discover that our peace strategy was already following the pattern of that used by the ANC.

On our first day in the country we were taken to have lunch with the ANC’s National Executive at their party headquarters in J’Burg. To our great surprise and honour Walter Sisulu, the grand old man of African resistance who had retired from his ANC positions after the 1994 election (he was then aged 82) made a special point of coming to the lunch. The room was packed and all of us sat riveted to Walter Sisulu’s description of his 26 years in prison and his memory of the deep respect and solidarity ANC prisoners had for Bobby Sands and his nine comrades who died on hunger strike 40 years ago this year in the H-Blocks.

ANC prisoners had watched events unfold in our prison struggle. Sisulu recalled hearing of Bobby’s death and of the silent tribute ANC prisoners across South Africa paid to a fellow freedom fighter. Most of our delegation was in tears by the time he was finished. Speaking to him privately later Walter told us that ANC prisoners marked and commemorated each of the hunger strikers who died. Mandela too spoke of the hunger strikers when we met him. On the wall calendar in his cell on Robben island on the 5th May 1981 a simple single line is written: ‘IRA martyr Bobby Sands dies.’

Afterwards I presented Walter Sisulu with a wooden Celtic cross carved by the republican prisoners in Long Kesh. It was one of several gifts made by the prisoners that we had brought with us, some of which were damaged when the British opened our baggage in Heathrow airport. An ANC former prisoner helped repair them. Later another ANC activist who had spent 15 years on Robben island was to tell us that from that point on ANC prisoners rarely spoke of ‘a hunger strike. When discussing whether a hunger strike should be employed in any given situation the political prisoners referred to it asa Bobby Sands’.  

This year we in Ireland will mark 40 years from the 1981 hunger strike. It is important that like Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu we remember and honour those who courageously gave their lives for their comrades and whose extraordinary valour set an example for people in struggle around the world.

 

 

 

The storming of the Capitol

The political and constitutional fallout in the USA to the unparalleled events last week in Washington will continue for years to come. I have visited the Capitol Building many times since my first visit to Washington DC in September 1994. I know well many of those Congressional and Senate representatives and their staffers who have regularly met with me to discuss Ireland. It was surreal and deeply troubling to watch as mobs rampaged along corridors and stairwells and offices that I have visited many times. Consequently, my thoughts last Wednesday, as I watched the disturbing scenes in the Capitol Building unfold, were primarily for the women and men who work there and who have worked closely with us in promoting peace and unity.

In recent decades Sinn Féin has developed a strong connection with those on Capitol Hill who are Democrats or Republicans or neither. Sinn Féin does not involve itself in the internal affairs of the USA. It’s not our business. But we long ago understood the importance of encouraging successive US administrations to have a progressive foreign policy position on Ireland. We have worked closely with Irish America to make that happen.

That approach has worked well both in terms of US support for the peace process; opposition to any efforts to dilute or undermine the Good Friday Agreement – especially as a consequence of Brexit - and endorsement of the goal of Irish Unity.  

I want to extend best wishes to all our friends on Capitol Hill. I would also like to thank some of those Congressional members who will no longer be on the Hill and who were steadfast in their support for the peace process. Eliot Engel, Peter King and Joe Kennedy are moving on. Thank you for your solidarity.

Finally, comhgairdheas to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh who has been appointed to President Biden’s cabinet as Secretary of Labor. Secretary Walsh is a son of Irish immigrants from Connemara and has worked closely with Máirtín O’Muilleoir and John Finucane MP in recent years in building up a close relationship between Belfast and Boston. In a video message in November to the opening ceremony of the 2020 Golden Bridges Conference linking Northwest Ireland and Irish America, Marty Walsh said: “Under the leadership of President-elect Biden, the United States is ready to move forward and to once again live up to our highest ideals. And we are committed to supporting peace and unity in Ireland, too."

I have every confidence that the Biden administration and the new Congress and Senate will build on the positive work of recent years. I look forward to an even closer relationship in the time ahead.

 

Monday, January 11, 2021

This weeks Blog: Stay Safe; Brexit Border; Irish govt & UN Security Council; & Solidarity with Catalonia

Stay Safe. 

As the pandemic surges out of control the under investment in health services north and south on this island is obvious for everyone to see. The good news of the vaccine must be tempered with a resolve by all of us to follow the health advice and to minimise contact with others until the vaccine is administered. When we eventually put this horrible pandemic behind us we must also be resolved to ensure that a fully resourced and accessible public health service becomes a reality. 

 

The Brexit Border

An hour before midnight on New Year’s Eve the Brexit deal was finally done – sort of. Four and a half years after the Brexit referendum the little Englanders and the DUP party who campaigned for Brexit got their way. The British state left the EU, including the people of the North and of Scotland who voted to remain.

Of course, it didn’t quite work out the way the DUP wanted. Instead of a ‘United Kingdom’ waving goodbye to Europe they now have a deeply disunited kingdom with Scotland battering at the gates of independence; Welsh nationalism on the rise; and the demand for a referendum on Irish Unity a growing demand across Ireland.

In addition the North remains in the EU’s single market for goods and will apply EU customs rules at its ports under the watchful eye of EU officials. There are now export checks and regulatory differences between the North and Britain. Full responsibility for this rests squarely with the DUP. 

It will take a while for the dust to settle on the mess that has been created by Brexit but a mess it is. Ireland’s interests north or south were never a consideration in the English, or the DUP support for, the decision to leave the EU. Indeed, Ireland only became an issue in the Brexit negotiations when Sinn Fein ensured that the issue of the Good Friday Agreement, and avoiding a hard border, would be a central objective of the EU negotiators. However, there is a way out of the chaos that will unfold in 2021. It is rooted in the Good Friday Agreement – the people of the north have the right to choose which union we want to be a part of: a new union between all the people of the island of Ireland or the old failed unacceptable and imposed union with England. 

One thing is certain. There will be a referendum on Irish unity. There are no ifs about it, though resistance from the usual suspects, to a referendum will continue. It is now a matter of when that referendum will be held. So those of us who want self government need to increase our efforts, and intensify the sensible call for the Irish government to initiate ways to plan how we will agree our future. Better still we need to start planning that future now. 

  

The Irish government and the UN Security Council

As 2020 came to a close most of the public and media focus was understandably on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations and the increase in the number of people across the island of Ireland testing positive for the Coronavirus.

However one other event also deserves attention. As of 1st January the Irish government holds one of 15 seats on the UN Security Council. In June of last year a secret ballot among the almost 200 member states saw the Norwegian and Irish governments win two non-permanent seats on the Council. They will hold these influential seats for the next two years.

The Irish government campaigned for the seats on the basis that it will defend and promote human rights and peace. Its success in winning the Security Council seat provides a unique opportunity to make a positive impact in world affairs, international relations and in peoples’ lives. There are a significant number of armed conflicts and international disputes which urgently need a positive engagement by the UN, including in the Middle East. The plight of the people of Palestine is crying out for justice.

Poverty, hunger, and water scarcity is also on the increase. Almost one billion people do not have access to clean water and climate change is set to make this dire situation worse.

The government also has a responsibility to use this unique opportunity to defend the Good Friday Agreement – which is an international Treaty lodged with the UN – to defend the peace process and to use this crucial international forum to insist that the British government honour its GFA commitments on human rights, legacy matters, and the role of civic society which it has so far refused to implement.

Most importantly, in a forum which places great emphasis on self-determination and self-government (the UN has grown from to 51 states in 1945 to 193 today) there is an onus on the Irish government to use this forum to articulate the desire for a United Ireland. As the debate for the referendum on Unity continues to grow the government now has within its grasp at the United Nations an unparalleled opportunity to further that objective, democratically, peacefully, and inclusively.

 

Solidarity with Catalonia

Like many other republicans I have spent several Christmas’s in prison. It’s not a nice place to be at any time but especially over Christmas. I was reminded of this a few days before Christmas when I had the opportunity to hold a video conference with two of the imprisoned leaders of 'Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya' (ERC) - the main pro-independence party in Catalan. 

Oriol Junqueras is President of the ERC and Raul Romeva is the former Foreign Minister of the Catalan government. Both are currently serving prison sentences of 13 years and 12 years respectively in Lledoners prison, Catalonia.  Declan Kearney MLA joined me in the conversation and also in attendance was Marta Rovira, the ERC’s General Secretary, who is currently exiled in Switzerland, and Jordi Solé, the ERC's Secretary for International Affairs.

The imprisonment of the two comrades arose from the peaceful and democratic independence referendum that was held by the government of Catalan in October 2017. The Spanish state reacted violently. Our television screens were filled with images of Spanish Civil Guards firing plastic bullets at Catalan citizens trying to vote, and violent scenes of heavily armoured police batoning defenceless and peaceful citizens – some of them lying on the ground, many of them women, some elderly. 

The 2017 referendum was the culmination of almost two decades of Catalan efforts to achieve greater autonomy within Spain. Catalan leaders tried to engage successive Spanish governments in a dialogue but their efforts were rebuffed. They were frustrated at every turn by an intransigent central government and the courts. 

Rather than engage in a process of dialogue to resolve this constitutional crisis the Spanish government choose to arrest and imprison senior Catalan politicians. Oriol Junqueras and Raul Romeva are among those who received lengthy prison sentences. Despite their unjust treatment and imprisonment both men were in good spirits when we spoke to them and clearly determined to continue their struggle for freedom and independence.  

Our conversation lasted an hour. Declan and I expressed Sinn Féin's ongoing solidarity with all of the political prisoners, those leadership figures still in exile, and the right of the Catalan people to independence. We also expressed our support for the Amnesty Bill currently being proposed by Catalan Independent representatives.

The connections between the people of Ireland and of Catalonia go back a long way. In 1920 Máire Ní Bhrian, a member of Cumann na mBan, travelled to Catalonia as part of the republican outreach seeking support for the Irish cause in Europe. Writing after the death on hunger strike of Terence MacSwiney the Lord Mayor of Cork, Ní Bhrian recalled;

‘In Barcelona and in Catalonia generally there was the deepest sympathy for Ireland and when Terence died the papers there were full of articles about him and masses were offered for him in many churches which were crowded to the doo… The Catalans always cherish the desire for separation from Spain and their aspiration for independence is the bond between them and us.’

A doll dressed in traditional Catalan clothing was sent from the people of Catalonia to MacSwiney’s young daughter Máire. Last year the doll was refurbished as part of an exhibition on MacSwiney by Cork public museum.

The Spanish government needs to return to the negotiating table. The international community, especially the European Union, has an obligation to ensure that Catalonia can pursue the course of self-determination without fear of suppression.

In the meantime find below the names and addresses of imprisoned Catalan leaders and political prisoners. Take a few minutes and send them a solidarity card – a letter – a book. Show them they are not alone and not forgotten. 

Dolors Bassa Coll
Centre penitenciari Puig de les Basses

Mòdul de dones
Raval disseminat, 53
17600 Figueres
(Girona)

Jordi Cuixart i Navarro
Centre Penitenciari de Lledoners
Mòdul 2
Carretera C-55, km 37
08250 St Joan de Vilatorrada
(Barcelona)

Carme Forcadell Lluís
Carme Forcadell i Lluís
Centre Penitenciari Wad Ras
Doctor Trueta, 76
08005 Barcelona

Joaquim Forn i Chiarello
Centre Penitenciari de Lledoners
Mòdul 2
Carretera C-55, km 37
08250 St Joan de Vilatorrada
(Barcelona)

Oriol Junqueras i Vies
Centre Penitenciari de Lledoners
Mòdul 2
Carretera C-55, km 37
08250 St Joan de Vilatorrada
(Barcelona)

Raül Romeva Rueda
Centre Penitenciari de Lledoners
Mòdul 2
Carretera C-55, km 37
08250 St Joan de Vilatorrada
(Barcelona)

Josep Rull i Andreu
Centre Penitenciari de Lledoners
Mòdul 2
Carretera C-55, km 37
08250 St Joan de Vilatorrada
(Barcelona)

Jordi Sànchez i Picanyol
Centre Penitenciari de Lledoners
Mòdul 2
Carretera C-55, km 37
08250 St Joan de Vilatorrada
(Barcelona)

Jordi Turull Negre
Centre Penitenciari de Lledoners
Mòdul 2
Carretera C-55, km 37
08250 St Joan de Vilatorrada
(Barcelona)

Monday, January 4, 2021

Bliain Úr Faoi Mhaise Daoibhse.

 Bliain Úr Faoi  Mhaise Daoibhse.

Chairde, a very happy 2021 to you all. Here are ten personal things I want to do in this bright new year. 

·        Survive the pandemic. Stay alive and stay healthy. That means following the health advice and getting the vaccine as soon as I can.

·        Climb Errigal again. I used to do that regularly but the pandemic and travel restrictions intruded. Ewan McColl wrote ‘The Joy Of Living, a very fine song when he realised that he could not hill walk or climb as he used to because of his age. I never really knew what he meant until my last ascent up Errigal. But as I panted slowly heavenwards I discovered the secret. Take your time. Its not a race. So I will keep going upwards for as long and as slowly as I can. And as soon as possible in 2021.

·        Publish my new book of short stories. The Witness Tree has also fallen foul of the pandemic but hopefully mid summer will see OBrien Press launching this collection.

·        Keep producing the Léargas series, in partnership with the incredible R G McAuley. This not for profit project is aboutwomen and men I came to know, or know of, alonglifesjourney. Kathleen Thompson, nee Largey,nee McCready, the singer and activist, is the subject of our next tribute. Hopefully to be published before Easter. Then we intend to do one about The Armagh Women in time for the Hungerstrike Anniversary.

·        Get to more games. The standard of hurling, camogie and football at underage, and all other levels, is rising in Belfast as a result of the work of many dedicated local GAA volunteers, parents and mentors and club stalwarts. Spectating is a great way to support Gaelic games. Commenting on the state of play and shouting loudly about the referee’s shortcomings from the safety of the ditch, is a great way to entertain those around you. And to get rid of stress. And self-respect.

·        Learn an entire song. It is a little known fact that I gave up a promising singing career in order to concentrate on  the cause of Irish freedom. I have recently realised that I know a few lines of hundreds of songs but if I was called on to sing I could not sing an entire song. I hope to rectify that by learning all the words of I Wish I Had Someone To Love Me and Mo Ghille Mear.

·        Get called to sing.

·        Improve my knowledge and use of the Irish language. 

·        Give up Twitter.

·        Have a few very pleasant ordinary social outings with family and/or friends.

·        Intensify my involvement in the cause of Irish freedom so that I can enjoy being a citizen in a free Ireland as soon as possible.

·        Relaunch my singing career.


A DOGS LIFE!

We have two dogs. Truth to tell we have had two dogs for a very long time. Once we had three. Three times or four times when puppies arrived we had a dozen or so. But that was only for a wee while. I wouldnt be without a dog. Since I was about six or so, when my uncle went to Canada and left his dog with me, there has always been a mutt in my life.

Our two dogs are Fionn and Fiadh. They are labadors, a good breed, especially tolerant of  children. Fionn is a large male, beautifully gingerishly gold in colour and  very handsome. The problem is he wont let another dog pass him without challenging it to a fair dig. He is also very strong and hard to contain when he engages in this belligerent behaviour. Apart from the stress and sheer annoyance involved I am very embarrassed by these outbursts. As a dog owner of the old school I believe that the human must always be in control of the canine. I tut tut to myself when other dogs ignore the commands of their humans. So when my dog does that to me I am scundered.

Incidentally Fionn’s belligerent behaviour can be traced to a mauling  he endured when he was a pup. A particularly obnoxious terrier seized him one day in the Falls Park and left him bloodied and wounded and in need of medical attention. This trauma is at the root of Fionn’s anti social attitude to other dogs. This tendency increased when Fiadh arrived. Fiadh is from Tipperary. She is a smaller, more intelligent and a much more biddable hound. With a very fetching smile. She is also a bitch. She made Fionn a father. Twice. That added a jealous macho element to his behaviour around other dogs, especially if he is in Fiadh’s company.

Controlling him on his own in these circumstances is challenging. Controlling the two of them is a herucüalean task.  It takes the joy out of a good walk. Unless in a lonely wild place which is devoid of other mutts. And thats not always easy to get to. Especially with big dogs. Transporting them can be problematic.

Why am I telling you all this? I suppose I have to tell someone. I am coming slowly to terms with the reality that big dogs and I have had our day. I think I have a way forward. I could leave the dog walking to more enabled,younger,anonymous family members. And I could get a smaller dog for myself. A wee Cairn terrier, a Glen of Imaal madadh, or a good old fashioned mongrel? A wee house dog. That would be the solution. If my good wife and Fionn would let him or her in. That seems unlikely at the moment but I think it is the only feasible solution.In the longer term.So I intend to work on that. Slowly.

In the meantime I won't give up entirely on walking Fiadh or Fionn. Dogs love walks. Even more than they like their dinner. And Im contrary. So if you spot me being dragged by two, or even one, large good looking canine, along the highways and byways of West Belfast be warned. Especially if  you are walking your dog. Take pity on me. As much as I hate to admit it Im not entirely in control. Its hard to teach an old dog new tricks.  Stay clear. And dont blame me. Big dogs make me  do it.

 

FINALLY.

While Brexit and the Coronavirus dominated the political agenda for much of 2020 nonetheless the debate on the proposal in the Good Friday Agreement for a unity referendum and the value, form and nature of such a referendum, have all gathered momentum. Several initiatives on this by academics have recently taken place; two weeks ago Fianna Fáil MEP Billy Kelleher held an interesting and informative online debate on this issue; and Sinn Féin, Ireland’s Future and others have also held similar online events.

The constitutional status of the North has long been the determining factor in northern politics. I believe the opportunity now exists for this generation to finally end this by achieving a United Ireland.

From an Irish republican perspective 2020 was a good year. It saw the restoration of the power sharing institutions of the Good Friday Agreement, the continuing electoral erosion of political unionism, and the emergence of Sinn Féin as the largest party in the 26 counties. Sinn Féin is now the largest party on the island of Ireland.

A continuation of the hard work that achieved these gains means that the opportunities in 2021 for continued growth and for the advancement of Irish Unity are enormous. The positive arguments in favour of self-government and for Irish Unity are common sense and winning more and more converts. So, if you believe in a new Ireland – a shared Ireland – based on fairness, equality and mutual respect join the conversation in 2021 for a United Ireland.

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