Monday, November 14, 2022

Time to Extend Presidential Vote to North and Diaspora ; End the Cuban Embargo; A Good Day Out.

 141122

Time to Extend Presidential Vote to North and Diaspora  

Last week I wrote about the threat posed to our world by climate change. The international climate change conference - COP 27 – which commenced in Egypt on Sunday is viewed by many as the world’s last real opportunity to reverse this threat. This year has been especially dangerous with a mixture of floods, droughts, huge storms and the threat of famine in East Africa.

Thankfully however not all of the news has been bad. The election in Brazil of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (popularly called Lula) has raised hopes that the huge damage being done to the Amazon rain forest and the threat to the indigenous peoples of that region will now end. Within days of his election it emerged that Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – which contain 52% of the world’s remaining rainforests – are currently discussing how to create a strategic alliance to coordinate their conversation plans. In his first speech as President-elect Lula committed to zero deforestation.  This is a welcome development. But a lot now hinges on the negotiations taking place over the next fortnight at COP27.

One other distinctly Irish aspect of Lula’s election was the long line of Brazilian voters who turned out at Croke Park to exercise their franchise in the Brazilian Presidential election. Under the Brazilian system voting is compulsory for citizens between the ages of 18 and 70. Those between the age of 16 and 18 and over 70 can choose whether to vote or not. Brazilian voters who live outside the state are expected to vote.

Consequently, thousands of Brazilians voted for the Presidential candidate of their choice. This is participatory democracy in action.

Meantime Irish citizens  are still waiting for our right to vote in our Presidential elections. In 2013 the Constitutional Convention established by the Irish government overwhelmingly voted to support the extension of the right to vote in Presidential elections to “citizen’s resident outside the State” and to citizens resident in the North. 

In 2014 Sean Crowe TD and I introduced a Bill in the Oireachtas to amend the Constitution by referendum to allow the voting age for Presidential elections to be lowered to 16-years-of-age and to introduce votes in Presidential elections for citizens in the North and for the Irish diaspora. The Fine Gael/Labour coalition stalled the legislation and it ran out of time. However the campaign to secure a referendum to extend the franchise in Presidential elections has continued. 

Occasionally Irish government Ministers promise to set a date for a referendum on this issue. They know it is popular in the North and among the diaspora but one excuse after another is used to delay setting a date. In December 2020 the Diaspora Minister Colm Brophy promised a referendum would take place in the second half of 2021. It didn’t happen. In April this year he said that the referendum will take place before 2024. This would allow people to vote via postal ballots when the next Presidential election takes place in 2025.

Will it go ahead? The prospect of northern and diaspora voters supporting a candidate not from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will undoubtedly loom large in the minds of those parties. It is therefore important that all of us who are for greater democracy, accountability, equality and inclusiveness on the island of Ireland, actively campaign in support of Irish citizens in the north and in the diaspora having the right to vote in future elections for the President of Ireland.


End the Cuban Embargo

The economic and societal impact on the people of Cuba of the economic blockade by the USA is enormous. The blockade, which began in 1960, prevents essential economic and medical resources from reaching the people of that Caribbean island nation. It imposes billions in costs on the Cuban economy each year. 

Last week the United Nations General Assembly voted almost unanimously to end the embargo against Cuba. The first time this resolution was put to the United Nations was in 1992. Every year since then the same resolution has been submitted and every year almost every country represented in the Assembly has voted for an end to the embargo.  Of the 189 states represented in the Assembly this year 185 supported the resolution. Two states opposed it – the United States and Israel. Brazil – still at the time under the control of outgoing right-wing President Bolsonaro - and Ukraine abstained. 

Unfortunately, the general assembly resolutions are not legally binding but the overwhelming nature of the votes does reflect a world-wide rejection of the embargo and solidarity with the Cuban people.

I have been fortunate to visit Cuba several times over the years and to meet Cuban leaders. I have always been warmly welcomed. In 2001, along with other comrades, I unveiled a memorial to mark the twentieth anniversary of the hunger strikes in the H-Blocks and in Armagh Women’s prison. The hunger strike memorial is in Parque Victor Hugo - a beautiful park in central Havana - named after the author of Les Miserables. It reflects the solidarity of the Cuban people for the protesting POWs. 

Last week the Cuban Ambassador Mr. Bernardo Guanche attended the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis. It is evidence of the close ties of solidarity that Irish republicans and many Irish people share with the people of Cuba. 

Sinn Féin has consistently opposed the embargo. Its economic, cultural and human cost on the people of Cuba has been enormous. The interests of Latin America and especially of Cuba and the USA are best served by an end to the embargo and the creation of a new relationship based on mutual respect and equality. 

 

Ailbhe Smyth


A Good Day Out. 

It was good to be able to attend the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in Dublin last Saturday. The Ard Fheis is the supreme authority in Sinn Féin. It is  the open democratic forum where policy is agreed, leaders elected and strategy and direction discussed. Members can attend and visitors but the democratic base of the Ard Fheis is the delegates elected and directed by local cumainn and other party structures  to speak and vote on motions  which have also been put forward by members.  

During the pandemic the Ard Fheis, which is an annual event, could not meet in person. So Saturday was a welcome opportunity to meet with old comrades, and new ones as well. Everyone was in good form. Our leaders set out their views in a series of key note speechs including a stirring  Presidential address by Mary Lou to close the Ard Fheis. I was glad to meet some of the Dublin based press correspondents. I havent seen any of them since I stood down as TD for Louth so it was good see how much they missed me. They all asked me if I missed Leinster House. Not in the least I told them truthfully. It was an honour to represent the people of Louth and East Meath but I did my time in that institution and it is great that Sinn Féin has so many representatives there these days.

Declan Kearney; Tom Arnold and Ailbhe Smyth

I was also glad to meet visiting delegations, particularly our friends from Palestine and other beleagured parts of the world. 

Timothy O Grady was there also to launch a new edition of Curious Journey, first published decades ago by Kenneth Griffith and Timothy and featuring interviews with IRA veterans from the Tan and Civil War period. Availible through An Fuiseog this book is a must read for students of Irish  history. Timothy was in fine form. 

The fringe meeting on Why The Irish Government Should Set Up A Citizens Assembly to Plan The Future was excellent. Tom Arnold and Ailbhe Smyth, the main speakers delivered informed, thoughtful and very pertinent remarks and Declan Kearney moderated a lively discussion with the capacity audience. Tom Arnold  chaired the Constitutional Convention and Ailbhe Smyth  was a key player in securing  marriage equality and the Repeal of the 8th Amendment. It was great to hear their views.  So all in all a good Saturday in the capital. And we won the Rugby game as well. 

 

Tom Arnold


Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Good Advice?: The Climate Emergency: Well done Lula

Good Advice? 

I thought I might pass on a random sample of some of the personal advice I have been given over the years. You dear reader  might, like me, benefit from some of it. Or perhaps not.

‘If you get arrested say nothing. Sign nothing. Ask for your solicitor. I’ll be there.’  PJ McGrory human rights lawyer and my solicitor for decades. 

‘Dont get arrested’ Joe Cahill. August 1971. 

‘The least said the soonest mended’. My mother. 

‘Always be on time’ Rita O Hare. 

‘Dont say a word about anyone else’s children when you’re rearing chidren of your own’.  Maggie McArdle. 

‘Beware the hoof of the horse, the horn of the bull and  the smile of the Englishman’. Fonsai Ó Muruchú

‘Use your head. Your feet’s for dancing’ Cleaky Clarke. 

‘Dont let the old man in’ Martin Ferris, 2021. 

 ‘Face the bloody Póc Out’ Gerry Begley. 

 ‘The potato is the most versitile vegetable. There are so many things you can  do with it.’ Ted

‘Never miss the opportunity for a pee’. Paul O Dwyer, New York based human rights lawyer and proud  Irish republican. 

‘Put honey in your porridge’ Martin McGuinness . A JB (O Hagan) Special. 

 

The Climate Emergency

This weekend the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 27 – the Conference of the Parties) will begin in Sharm El Sheikh, in Egypt. It will be the 27th UN Climate Change conference and last for 12 days

It comes at a critical juncture in the effort to tackle climate change and follows the publication of three keynote reports by UN agencies warning that we are on the cusp of  climatic changes from which there is little prospect of recovery.

Last week I wrote about the drought and famine devastating millions of lives in Somalia in East Africa. The images are frightening. This is the fifth year there has been no rainy season and the experts are predicting that next year’s rainy season, due to begin in March, will fail also. That means an estimated 22 million people are at risk of dying from hunger in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya as crops fail again.

There are many factors responsible for this human catastrophe - political, regional, economic, societal, and financial - but the greatest is climate change and the failure of the industrialised states to take the steps necessary to reduce the damage being done by the climate emergency.

This year heat waves in Europe broke temperature records and caused widespread damage. Over 50,000 Europeans died from heat stress, forced thousands more to evacuate their homes and adversely impacted on food production. Spain alone estimated that there were almost 4,000 excess deaths as a result of the heat wave. It is generally accepted that while there have been heat waves in Europe before climate change means that they are increasing in their frequency and intensity. 

There have also been devastating floods in Pakistan which left millions homeless; heat waves in India and Pakistan; a heat wave and drought in China; excessive high temperatures in the USA with wildfires causing huge damage; a heat wave in the Middle East; floods in Sudan and South Sudan; the bushfire season in Australia now lasts month longer; and in June Bangladesh face its worst floods in over 100 years. 

Most of those who face the human cost of climate change are in regions of the world that have in reality contributed least to it. It is the behaviour of industrialised nations that have contributed most and it is their refusal to honour commitments made at previous Climate Change conferences that now place our planet in peril. The G20 industrialised nations are responsible for 80% of greenhouse gas emissions. The three United Nations reports published in recent weeks underline this reality.

The UN's climate scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), have said that should temperatures rise to 1.7c-1.8C that half the world's population could be exposed to life-threatening heat and humidity. The danger is of a world facing extreme weather conditions, rising sea levels, and as the UN concluded itself, “endless suffering.” 

It is also important to note that as millions face food insecurity and millions more are confronted by a cost of living crisis the global oil and gas multi-nationals are raking in the money. Last week Shell reported its second highest quarterly profit on record. It made nine and a half billion dollars in profit between July and September. TotalEnergies made almost 10 billion in profit in the same period. The oil and gas sector is expected to amass four trillion dollars this year. That would be enough to end the climate emergency if used and invested properly. But oil and gas multi-nationals are unlikely to do what’s right to save the planet and save millions of lives.

The onus is on all of us as individuals and on political activists to act speedily to increase pressure on governments and multi-nationals to act responsibly and compassionately. COP 27 needs to produce an emergency series of measures that will more quickly wind down fossil fuel use, invest in green energy and new technology and reduce harmful emissions. Governments also need to introduce a meaningful windfall tax that raises the resources needed to make a difference. In Britain the Shell company has successfully avoided a windfall tax this year by claiming that its investments in that economy mean it has made no profit and consequently has no windfall tax to pay. This should not be allowed in any state.

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres pulled no punches in urging governments to attend COP 27 and to honour commitments already made. He said: “There has been a tendency to put climate change on the back burner. If we are not able to reverse the present trend, we will be doomed."

The people of Somalia and East Africa and the estimated 345 million people around the world who are going hungry today are already doomed. Unless we act to save them.   

 

Well Done Lula.  

The successful election in Brazil of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (popularly called Lula) has raised hopes that the huge damage being done to the Amazon rain forest and the threat to the indigenous peoples of that region will now end. The election was a fraught affair and the strength of both candidates will test the Brazilian democracy in the time ahead. I wish the people of Brazil and President Lula well

 

 

Monday, October 31, 2022

Conway Mill celebrates 40th birthday; The tragedy of Somalia; I don't hate Bono

 241022

Fra McCann with the family of Fr. Des below a mural of Fr. Des and Frank Cahill

Conway Mill – 40th birthday

Conway Mill has been at the heart of west Belfast for over almost 200 years. First as a hard place of work for generations of local people, mainly women, and then as a community hub providing education and employment opportunities. Last week the Mill celebrated its 40th birthday promoting, supporting and facilitating small indigenous economic enterprises, and providing adult education facilities

Conway Mill was built in 1842, in the decade of An Gorta Mór when thousands fled hunger across Ulster and the West, and came to Belfast seeking work and shelter. Conway Street Mill was one of many flax mills across Belfast. Living and working conditions were dreadful. Hours were long and child labour was prevalent. Workers had no rights. They were hired and fired at the whim of employers.

Following partition many of these hardships as well as the use of sectarianism and segregation were reinforced by the Unionist regime. Life was hard for working people including working class Protestants. In the small back to back streets around Conway Mill overcrowding and poverty were endemic and discrimination against Catholics was widespread. The situation was made worse by the pogroms of 1969 which saw some of the streets and Mills in and around Conway Mill destroyed. By 1970 many of the Mills, including Conway Mill were lying derelict.

In the early 1980s Tom Cahill came to me with an idea for a unique and innovative project for west Belfast. Tom proposed that Conway Mill should be bought and turned into a community enterprise project providing education, self-help and local employment opportunities. Tom deserves great credit for his vision and foresight. A small businessman himself he could legitimately have developed the Mill in his own interests. I don’t think that even entered his head. Tom’s interest was in this community and its citizens.

We organised a management committee which included many well known local republican and community activists, like Frank Cahill, Fr. Des Wilson, Liam Burke, Alfie Hannaway, Jimmy Drumm, Jean McStravick, Sean O’ Neill, Tom Cahill & Colm Bradley.

In 1982 Springhill Community House opened the education floor in the Mill. Noelle Ryan, Elsie Best and other amazing women played pivotal leadership roles. Making it habitable and usable took a great deal of effort. Halla na Saoirse (Freedom Hall) was frequently used for the staging of plays written by local people, including Fr Des. It was also used for debates, conferences, and occasionally for press conferences by Sinn Féin. Some of the most important press conferences during the early days of the peace process were held there.

A crèche was established and staffed by ACE (Action for Community Employment) workers and teachers and tutors were provided by the Workers Educational Association (W.E.A.) and the Ulster Peoples College.

Regrettably Conway Mill became a target for the British state. After the Mill hosted a community led public enquiry into the killing of a young man, John Downes, by a plastic bullet fired by the RUC in August 1984 the Mill was targeted for political vetting and the crèche lost its funding and workers. Businesses and community organisations were told that they would be refused funding if they moved into the Mill.

However the management refused to be coerced or intimidated and continued to fundraise and to develop the Mill. In this they were enormously helped by friends in the USA.

Following the West Belfast and Greater Shankill Task Force report the Mill received substantial funding for regeneration, including from the Office of First and Deputy First Minister.

The official opening of the refurbished Conway Mill in November 2010 was a victory for the determination, vision and courage of that first Management Committee in the difficult years of the 1980’s and all of those who have taken up that task since then.

Along the way, we have lost some who were with us at the start. We are deeply indebted to them all. The story of Conway Mill is the story of this community and of the great sense of solidarity and never giving up that exists in west Belfast. So, well done to all of you who are celebrating 40 years of Conway Mill.

 

Famine

The history of An Gorta Mór – the Great Hunger – runs deep in the Irish psyche. Few have not read of or heard about the unimaginable horror that the people of Ireland faced during the 1840s. Some label it The Famine although we know that there was sufficient food on the island to feed the people. Political decisions allowed over a million to die and millions more to take to coffin ships for other shores.

So, imagine if today your family, friends and neighbours were facing a desperate struggle for survival with the likelihood that many would be dead from famine by Christmas. That is the stark, brutal reality facing over seven million men, women and children in Somalia.

A decade ago it is thought that more than a quarter of a million Somalis died of hunger. Half were children under five. UNICEF and the World Health Organisation have been warning for months that the situation this time could be much worse.

Climate change has imposed four consecutive years of drought and Somalia now faces a fifth season with no rain. The result is that is in a country with little infrastructure and limited resources over a million people, mainly women carrying young children, have been forced to leave their homes to try to reach emergency centres. The photographs and film images of desperate people and emaciated children and babies is shocking. The accounts of mothers burying their children at the side of roads is deeply disturbing.

Food aid and medicines are an immediate priority but longer term strategies and supports are needed, including rehabilitating water points. There has also been a call for wealthy states to compensate Somalis and others for the catastrophic impact of climate change on their lives. In the UN this is known as “loss and damage financing” and it is on the agenda for the international climate change summit COP27 that is to take place next month in Egypt. In the meantime make your voice heard in demanding greater aid for Somalia.

 

I don’t hate Bono

Bono - U2’s lead singer has written a book. Surrender 40 Songs One Story. I’m looking forward to reading it. 

I understand from press reports that he says his wife Ali and he were targets for the IRA. That’s news to me and I’m sure to anyone else close to republican thinking back in the day.  Bono is also quoted in some news reports claiming that I hate him. Nope Paul, not me. You must be mixing me up with someone else. I don’t hate anyone. It’s a wasted negative emotion. I do detest imperialism - a good old fashioned word. Greed. Cruelty. Unbridled capitalism. War. Poverty. I believe in freedom. Solidarity. Equality.  Community. Socialism. The Arts.  

I think you’re a very fine song writer. I like U2’s music. Always have. And you do have a good voice. The focus you brought to the awfulness inflicted on people in the developing world is commendable.  But some of your commentary on the conflict here was shrill, ill informed and unhelpful.  However you weren’t on your own. You echoed the Irish establishment line. It was the wrong line for decades.  A failure of governance and the abandonment of responsibility to lead a process of peace and justice. Thankfully that changed. But it took a long time. 

Despite this some of us got through it all. With or without you. But no hard feelings.  Many didn’t. Including friends of mine and family members.  Now the conflict is finished. Thanks to all who contributed to that. There is a lot still to be done to remove its causes and to heal the hurt but we will get that done also and shape our own future. We all have a positive role to play in that. By working together. So go well chara. And good luck with the book. 


Monday, October 17, 2022

Face it Jeffrey: the old days are not returning: Kavanagh’s Anthology a treat: Creeslough

 
Creeslough: Coming to terms will be so difficult

I know Creeslough well. I have friends who live there. Outside the village. At both ends. My heart goes out to the families of the ten people who were killed last Friday. The brave, generous and determined efforts of neighbours and the emergency services to rescue victims has been exemplary.  It is difficult for anyone to come to terms with the random awfulness of this disaster, even from a distance. How much more harrowing and life changing is it for friends and family members? Our thoughts and prayers are with them all.

Go deanfaidh Dia trocaire oraibh. 

 

Face it Jeffrey: the old days are not returning

Last Saturday’s DUP party conference saw it behave as unionist parties have usually behaved. Within their own little bubble.   

It’s the same old story. The DUP was established 50 years ago to oppose civil rights. It was openly sectarian. It pledged to Smash Sinn Féin – and failed - founded its own paramilitary organisations and set its face against power sharing. It successfully outmanoeuvred its unionist electoral rivals and emerged triumphant as the largest party in the Assembly. The largest northern party in Westminster. And an ally and confidant of British Prime Ministers. It was all going swimmingly.

Until Brexit. The DUPs support for the Brexit debacle; its willingness to act as a funnel for dark money to bolster the leave campaign in London, and its desire for a hard border on the island of Ireland, have all backfired stupendously. Then there was the Renewable Heating Incentive scandal – with its evidence of gross incompetence and worse within the DUP. Its unwillingness to operate the power sharing institutions in a good faith way also led to serial crises.

None of this came as any great surprise to even a casual observer of unionist politics. From partition the northern state was to be theirs, to do as they chose. To treat non-unionists as they chose. And some DUPers believe that’s the way it should still be.

In 1998 as the Good Friday Agreement was endorsed by the people North and South and opposed by the DUP, I recall warning that there would be a battle a day getting the Agreement implemented. 25 years later and the DUP have effectively collapsed the Executive, the power sharing institutions and the north-south strand of the Agreement. Other key elements of the GFA remain unrealised, including the Bill of Rights. And the Agreement is under threat as never before from the most extreme right wing Tory government since Thatcher.

At the same time the DUP has set aside any concern for households facing a cost of living crisis made worse by that party’s adherence to the madness of Brexit. Families are struggling with increasing bills for oil, electric, gas, and food. As the cold weather arrives pensioners are facing a stark choice between heat and food.

In the midst of this crisis the Executive is unable to take decisions on supports which might mitigate for citizens because of the DUP. It continues to oppose investment in our health system, rejects marriage equality, resists women’s health rights, and the rights of Irish speakers.

Jeffrey Donaldson’s first speech as leader of the DUP last Saturday saw him reiterate all of this. He said: “Let me be clear – either the Prime Minister delivers the provisions of the Protocol Bill by legislation or by negotiation and ensures that our place in the United Kingdom is restored... or there will be no basis to re-enter Stormont.”  The bold highlights are Jeffrey’s.

Of course, there has been an electoral cost for the DUP’s obduracy. As a result of its failure to read the electorate and the paucity of its leadership the DUP is no longer the largest party in the Assembly nor do the Unionist parties represent the Assembly majority. Michelle O’Neill is First Minister elect. There are more nationalist MPs than unionist at Westminster. And in the recent census 51% of the population self-identified as Irish/northern Irish. They chose not to identify as British. That figure has dropped to 40%. 

Jeffery should be in the Executive and working with the other parties for the people who vote for the DUP and the rest of us. Instead it seems he is looking to an Assembly election to restore the DUPs fortunes and reassert unionist dominance. Mission Impossible my friend. We are all in this together. The days of unionist domination are over. 

 

Kavanagh’s 'Almost Everything' a treat

I am a long time fan of Patrick Kavanagh. And a long time supporter of Claddagh Records. Poet and writer Patrick Kavanagh was born in rural north Monaghan in 1904.  He left school at the age of 12 and taught himself about literature. He went on to become one of our leading poets.  His early life was steeped in rural ways.  He felt, rightly or not, that there was an intellectual barrenness to this existence. “Although the literal idea of the peasant is of a farm labouring person,” he said, “in fact a peasant is all that mass of mankind which lives below a certain level of consciousness. They live in the dark cave of the unconscious and they scream when they see the light.” Though his native area was poor, he felt that “the real poverty was lack of enlightenment,” and he added, “I am afraid this fog of unknowing affected me dreadfully.” 

Nobel Laureate Séamus Heaney was influenced by Kavanagh.  He was introduced to Kavanagh's work by the writer Michael McLaverty when they taught together at St Thomas's School on the Whiterock Road, in west Belfast. Heaney and Kavanagh both believed that the local could reflect the universal. Heaney said of Kavanagh: “His instruction and example helped us to see an essential difference between what he called the parochial and provincial mentalities". As Kavanagh put it: "All great civilizations are based on the parish". Kavanagh’s poems include; On Raglan Road, A Christmas Child. October. In Memory of My Mother. The Great Hunger. Bluebells are for Love. His novel Tarry Flynn is a gem. 

Claddagh Records was founded in 1959 by Garech Browne and his friend Ivor Browne, to record and popularise our indigenous music. Claddagh famously brought us The Chieftains alongside other amazing musicians like Leo Rowstone and Tommy  Potts. I still have LPs from that era. Claddagh also recorded Patrick Kavanagh and other poets, including Máire Mhac an tSaoi. Now Claddagh Records has launched Patrick Kavanagh-Almost Everything. It includes Kavanagh himself reading his own work and reflecting on his life. He is joined by a range of other readers including Bono, Liam Neeson, Christy Moore, Hozier, Kathleen Watkins, Michael D’, Jessie Buckley and Sharon Corr. Listening to Kavanagh himself is a special treat. 

Garech Browne and others involved were visionaries. He planned for a revival of Claddagh Records and hoped before his death for the rerelease of some of its albums which were in storage at that time. He said “ I would like the recordings to be available to anyone interested in Irish music, poetry and the written word. They are no good to anyone where they are now.”

I am delighted that Claddagh has been relaunched. I am looking forward to the publication of a history of Claddagh Records which Garech Browne was involved with. 

James Morrissey, Chairperson of Claddagh Records is centrally involved in these very positive and welcome initiatives. Claddagh have secured a licensing deal with Universal  Music Ireland. In an interview with Siobhan Long in The Irish Times Morrissey says the aim is to make Claddagh’s catalogue available everywhere. This is great news. So is the release of Patrick Kavanagh’s Almost Everything. I have often thought that the best way to understand poetry is to read it aloud. Thanks to Claddagh we can now have one of our finest poets, Patrick Kavanagh, doing that for us. If you want to see what’s available check out the link at:

https://claddaghrecords.com/collections/merchandise

 

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Belfast Peoples' Assembly: Together we Can: State Murder in the Glens: Lucas

101022

Belfast Peoples Assembly.

Tomorrow evening - Wednesday 12 October - Belfast Sinn Féin will be holding the inaugural meeting of the Peoples' Assemblies organised by the party's Commission on the Future of Ireland.

The series of meetings are about expanding on the conversation on Irish Unity and constitutional change, that is gathering pace.

Registration for the meeting, which is in the Waterfront Studio, is now closed but If you want to continue the discussion on future constitutional change why not make a submission to the Commission.

These can be made online at www.sinnfein.ie/futureofireland 

See you in the Waterfront Hall on 12 October. 

 

Together we Can

Ireland’s Future is well named. Its landmark event last Saturday in Dublin was all about the future. 

Saturday’s conference was an ambitious project. Over thirty participants addressed 5,000 citizens. Ten political parties with five party leaders along with leaders from civic society and the Arts talking about their desire to achieve a united Ireland.  And music and dance as well. That’s a remarkable achievement.

The audience was excited, engaged and respectful. The tiered thousands listened attentively. Applauded enthusiastically. Hope was in the air. Its good that An Tanaiste Leo Varadkar was there. Unfortunate that An Taoiseach was not. 

There were interesting and insightful contributions from those who were unionist and are now on personal journeys of discovery. Ben Collins, Rev Karen Sethuraman, Andrew Clarke and Peter Adair explained why they have moved from unionism to advocating for unity. For Peter Adair it was the Brexit vote in 2016 that opened his mind to other possibilities.  Andrew Clarke is for progressive politics on same sex marriage and women’s health and didn’t see his views reflected in political unionism. Ben Collins remarked that he and Rev. Karen Sethuraman are from East Belfast: “we want people from East Belfast to do well …. What we need to point out is that Britain doesn’t really care for Northern Ireland, they don’t want us.”

The final speaker of the day was the actor James Nesbitt who spoke for all in the auditorium when he said that a referendum on unity requires an informed debate. Nesbitt said that solutions must emerge from a public discussion of the options for the future and should be led by the people.

The 3Arena was buzzing as the thousands headed home. If you have been enthused by it then become active. If you’re already active - do more. The Good Friday Agreement, with its provision for a unity referendum and its commitment to defend and protect the rights of all citizens, is the bedrock of the philosophy that drives this movement of United Irelanders. 

So well done Irelands Future. And thank you. 


State Murder in the Glens

It has long been my view that people need to tell their own stories and the stories of their communities. Historians often concentrate on the big events, the big stories and big leaders. These are important but usually the personal accounts of citizens and their individual experiences are ignored.

IRA Volunteers Patrick McVeigh and Charles McAllister were killed in Glenariffe in May 1922 and civilians John Hill, John Gore and James McAllister were murdered in Cushendall in June 1922. The three young men shot dead in Cushendall were victims of the Ulster Special Constabulary – a paramilitary armed unionist force.  Unionist paramilitary organisations were recruited almost to a man into the Ulster Special Constabulary of A, B and C Specials – which eventually formed the bulk of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).

For the first time the terrible events of June 1922 have been researched and published in a new book – State Murder in the Glens - by former Sinn Fein Councillor and MLA Oliver McMullan. It is an insightful, at times disturbing and frightening reminder of the imposition of partition and the brutality involved.

Using state records, some of which were locked away for 75 years, Oliver details the circumstances surrounding each incident, the disgraceful manner in which they were subsequently investigated, the inquiries that were held, the lies that were told, the bias of the courts, the denial of truth and justice to the families and the political cover-up that took place.

Oliver McMullan’s book will be launched on 3 November in Áras Uí Chonghaile.

 

Lucas

We buried Óglach Frank Lucas Quigley last week. A very large funeral on a beautiful warm afternoon. There was tears and music – a fine piper and Bik on the feadóg. And  songs. Fra McCann was fear an tígh and Danny Morrison excelled himself with a wonderful oration which captured the essence, humanity, humour, bravery and history of Frank and his family especially Jimmy, another Óglach, killed  aged eighteen by the British Army  fifty years before on the very date of Frank’s funeral. Danny remarks are on social media. Here are a few quotes.

‘Frank, Frankie, Lucas, had a love of life. Indeed, he had a lust for life. And why wouldn’t he, given what he and his family came through. 

When Frank was nine his father died. At nineteen Frank was shot. Six months later Jimmy was shot dead. Tommy was imprisoned for life. When Frank was in Portlaoise his infant daughter Aisling was seriously injured in a fall. Later, his eldest son Cormac was attacked and brutally assaulted by a loyalist gang. His youngest son Rossa was critically injured in a car crash and was in a coma for a time. Years later, Rossa was killed by death riders. Two years ago Frank lost his partner, Pat. Earlier this year, Josie, the mother of Cormac, Aisling and Rossa, died of Covid.

It’s a wonder any light shone from Frank given all these blows to him and his family’.

Frank’s mother told Danny once: ‘I often wonder what Jimmy would have ended up working at, how things would have been, Danny, if the Troubles hadn’t come along.’

 It’s a thought that every mother has had.

I said: ‘It’s hard to believe that Jimmy is dead thirty years.’

And she said, ‘Jimmy’s forty-eight this year.’

Forty-eight. Because you see, Jimmy, shot dead at eighteen,lived on in the thoughts and on the lips of his mother, his brothers, his friends and comrades - just as Frank will.’

Over a twenty-nine-year period, from 1970 until 1999, Mary Quigley visited her sons in Crumlin Road Prison, the Maidstone, Armagh, the Kesh, Magilligan, Mountjoy and Portlaoise, and the eight jails Tommy was imprisoned in the length and breadth of England until his release under the Good Friday Agreement.

Lord thou are hard on mothers. Mary Quigley was a great woman. I always found her very welcoming and very supportive. She, as much as her sons, fought for a better future for us all. She supported the peace process. So did her warrior son Frank.

He was also fine artist with a grá in recent years for hats. As Tommy said to me he loved dressing up. Here’s a gang of us with him at the hospice weeks before his death.

 

 

Share