Monday, February 18, 2019

A secret little mission to Galway

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year 2018

A little boy flies a Palestinian flag in Galway during a
protest last year. Photo: Skye McKee. 

In the West of Ireland, we don’t like to ask too many hard, tough questions or cause too much of a fuss.

We treat our visitors with respect, but a bizarre visit by a prominent diplomat last Friday has raised serious questions about who makes key decisions at a local level and why our elected representatives can be kept completely and utterly in the dark.

Who decides to invite an Ambassador to our city? And who decides that elected city councillors – the people who actually represent us – have no right to know when a diginitary is coming to our beautiful city?

On Wednesday, I was told by someone who works for Galway City Council that the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland, Ophir Kariv, was set to pay an official visit to the city on Friday.

The person who called me had no idea of the schedule involved, but he had heard that there would be engagements at NUI Galway, the Galway Chamber of Commerce, and City Hall.

I’m guessing he contacted me because he was aware of my keen interest in human rights and the fact that I have written extensively about the gross injustice inflicted on the people of Palestine. I sometimes freelance for Electronic Intifada, who are based in the US and work hard to give an English language voice to the oppressed.

So I made a few calls.

I informed members of the Galway Palestine Solidarity Campaign who, in turn, contacted members of the Labour Party and Sinn Fein who have done so much to raise awareness of the Palestinian issue at City Hall over the past few years.

They raised the flag in solidarity, they called on the Irish Government to recognise the state of Palestine, and no city official had seen fit to tell them about the proposed visit by the Israeli Ambassador on Friday.

Even the Mayor, apparently, wasn’t aware of the plans.

Flying the flag in Eyre Square 

A few pro-Palestine activists considered a peaceful and dignified flag protest at City Hall, but it was difficult to get people mobilised at such short notice, especially when nobody knew the exact time of the visit. I heard nothing more about it, but I’m aware that elected members of the City Council could not find out anything about the ambassador’s schedule. So much for local democracy!

On Saturday, a number of people sent me a podcast of a recording on local radio station Galway Bay FM, from the previous day.

As it turned out, Mr Kariv had visited the station’s headquarters on Sandy Road for a pre-arranged interview with current affairs presenter Keith Finnegan.

The people who sent me the podcast were shocked by the nature and tone of the interview.

It is normal practice for a new diplomat to visit provincial cities around the country, but activists in Galway were shocked that they managed to get through an entire interview without once uttering the words ‘Palestine’, ‘West Bank’, ‘Gaza’, ‘occupation’, ‘child prisoners’, or ‘house demolitions’.

On the day I was sent the podcast, an Arab family was expelled from their own home in East Jerusalem and suffered the indignity of seeing it handed over to ‘settlers’ who are deemed to be illegal according to international law.

But there was no mention of that in the fawning local radio interview.

And, yes, I took this local "whitewashing" of the representative of an Apartheid state personally. You can listen to the interview here. (The interview with the Israeli Ambassador begins at the 52 minute mark):

A Palestinian man holds the key to a house
his family can not return to

In July of last year, a friend and I got together with the members of rock band The Stunning to organise a late night gig in Galway which would raise funds to bring members of a children’s football academy in Gaza to the West of Ireland.

These amazing, hugely talented young boys captured the hearts of Galwegians over the previous two summers and represented Palestine with huge pride. They also met the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, at a Galway United game at Eamonn Deacy Park.

The night out at Massimo was a huge success. We raised €4,250 for the little Gaza boys. The figure surpassed all our expectations and the event fully sold out.

Two weeks later, heartbroken, I had to tell the people of Galway who attended the gig via social media that the boys had been forced to cancel their trip. The inhumane siege imposed on the people of Gaza by the governments of Egypt and Israel prevented them from travelling.

The Gaza football team during a visit to Kinvara, Co Galway, in 2016

Something Irish children take for granted, a trip away with a football team, was being denied to the little boys of Gaza. But there was no question about that catastrophic siege for Mr Ambassador.

The money for the young footballers has been left in a bank account for a year. We have no idea if they will be allowed out in 2019.

I thought of those poor little boys, and their broken dreams, when I listened to the podcast of the interview with Mr Kariv.

Not once was Mr Kariv challenged about his Government’s appalling history of human rights abuses and the appalling 52 year occupation of Palestine which has ruled out any prospects of a meaningful ‘peace process’ or ‘two state solution’.

There was no mention of the 600,000 settlers who are living on stolen land.

Perhaps Mr Kariv would like to have been asked about the Occupied Territories Bill, which is currently making its way through the Dail and Seanad, despite huge opposition from Israel, the United States, and the European Union.

Senator Frances Black’s bill has created headlines all across the world and could see Ireland lead the way in opposing an Apartheid State, in much the same way as the Dunnes Stores strikers (and subsequently the Irish Government) did in the 1980s when they stood up against the appalling injustice of Apartheid in South Africa.

Those Dunnes Stores strikers were subsequently thanked in person by President Nelson Mandela. Right now, it's hard to see a future leader of Palestine blazing a trail to Sandy Road.

On Friday, it would have been interesting to hear the Ambassador’s take on a bill which is being opposed so vehemently by the Israeli authorities and saw his Irish counterpart in Tel Aviv, Alison Kelly, being called in for a “dressing down” by the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

This is a huge current international news story, as Ireland’s bill is being watched closely by other countries including the Netherlands and Sweden, but it did not merit a mention during the Ambassador’s visit to Galway.

According to B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation, there were more than 200 Palestinian children in Israeli prisons at the end of 2018.

But there was no mention of those children on our local radio station.

The Gaza children met the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins,
during a visit to Galway United FC

No mention of Gaza, where two million people live under an intolerable siege in a tiny piece of land, which is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. Most of them are descendants of refugees from what is now Israel, which might be of interest to listeners of the local radio station.

No mention of the billions in military aid which the USA provides Israel with every year.

To listen to the interview with Mr Kariv, it would be possible to believe that the people of Palestine did not actually exist.

That does a huge disservice to the people of the West Bank, who are living through a daily nightmare in which they are treated as second class citizens while living under a brutal military occupation in their own land.

And to the people of Gaza, who have so little hope when border crossings are closed down and talented little boys cannot even travel to Ireland for a week of football games.

It also does a huge disservice to the hundreds of thousands of Irish people who empathise with the people of Palestine. After all, we understand what it is like to be run out of our homes by “settlers” and forced to be refugees because of injustice in our own land.

They deserve to be told the full story, just as the people we elect to represent us should not be kept in the dark about a secretive visit by a diplomat which someone, somewhere, was afraid would become mired in controversy.

* Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year award at the Tramline, Dublin, in October 2018. Find him on Facebook  or Twitter here. Visit his website here -
He is available to blog for social media work or to blog for your business. Contact

With Steve Wall of The Stunning during an amazing night out
in aid of the Gaza Kids to Ireland project last year.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

No place for buskers in the City of Bluster

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year 2018

Buskers claim the proposed byelaws will drive them out of Galway

In the City of Bluster, one of our esteemed public representatives donned an immaculate suit and hired a cameraman to make a video about the city’s thriving street culture.

He strolled the streets and persuaded business people to stand at their doorways and express support for his wonderful new byelaws.

The video was about buskers but, funnily enough, he did not actually get around to interviewing any of the buskers.

You know, the people who give the city such a vibrant street life throughout the year.

These are the people who say that they will be forced out of town by the byelaws which are being introduced by the well-dressed councillor.

Councillors voted in favour of his new city laws last year, even though an estimated 95% of submissions were against them. I have been told that people as far away as New York and San Francisco wrote to the local authority to oppose them.

After all, their treasured memories of a trip to Galway are more likely to include furious fiddlers at the top of High Street than photos of British-owned chain stores.

The laws were only rejected on a technicality late last year and the street performers are now alarmed that they are set to be reintroduced by the local authority.

Without any consultations or changes.

“We stand united in opposition to the proposed Galway City Council Busking Bye-Laws, as they were not done in consultation with us, as we were ignored throughout the process, and as we already have our own Buskers’ Guide to Galway and voluntary Code of Conduct,” said a spokesperson who, strangely enough, was not invited to take part in the councillor’s slick (self-promotional) video.

Cartoonist Richard Chapman gives his take on the bye-laws
You can find Richard's work at

Now the street entertainers believe they will leave the blustery city on the Atlantic coast with no music or street entertainment, just in time for us to become the European Capital of Culture in 2020.

In the city of bluster, jolly business people and politicians took to the streets to celebrate that historic designation.

What a wonderful accolade that is for the city and isn’t it going to bring in all those tourists and get the tills buzzing?

But now the local politicians who danced on Mainguard Street are angry, blaming the dreaded media for raising concerns about the lead-up to a project which has caused so much disquiet in the city’s arts community.

Funny how the concerns of the artists, the people who light up our streets and attract so many visitors, seem to be the last to be taken into account when they have so much apprehension about their livelihoods, sponsorship, and programming.

Sure, who wants to listen to penniless artists when there is so much money to be made in the Capital of Culture?

Buskers give Galway a vibrant street life throughout the year

In the city of bluster, the man whose job it is to tackle the homelessness problem likes to take part in an annual photo opportunity for the local papers.

He’s braver than me, sleeping out for a night to support a local homelessness charity.

Yes, his hands are tied by the national Government and perhaps he is trying his best. But does he never experience a modicum of shame as he smiles for the paper alongside the auctioneer who is brilliant at pushing up house prices or the businessman who gives his employees no job security?

Zero hour contracts and mass dismissals are forgotten when there's a photo opportunity for the local papers.

In the city of bluster, plans are in place for a new urban highway.

Never matter that it will cut through one of the most beautiful green areas in the city or ruin the peace and tranquillity around a historic castle.

It’s progress, you see. It’s a state-of-the-art ring road to encourage citizens of the city of bluster to keep driving to work or school on the other side of the city.

No matter that childhood obesity is now an alarming problem. Or that our natural environment is crying out for people to leave their cars at home and cycle to work or use public transport.

Or that the city fathers ruled out any prospect of a tram system to take those cars off the roads a decade ago.

So the cars will continue to clog up the narrow streets around all the schools while the children pile on the pounds in the city of bluster.

The car is king in the City of Bluster

In the city of bluster, outraged listeners contact the morning radio show after hearing a report about members of an ethnic minority who live on a rat-infested site on the edge of the city.

Outraged from Oranmore doesn’t care that these people live right next door to a rubbish dump on a site which was supposed to be “temporary” over a decade ago.

And the texts pour in, with racist abuse and messages about how these people are living off the taxpayers.

With zero compassion or care for how appalling it must be to bring up children right next door to a landfill site.

Their comments were hardly shocking, given that some members of the local authority have been pandering to those kind of prejudices for decades.

They came just a few weeks after members of this minority were effectively accused of ‘’gaming the system’ when it comes to getting social housing in the city of bluster.

It’s far easier to blame minorities than to face the fact that the people who represent us have let us down badly when it comes to tackling a chronic homelessness problem.

Don't we get what we deserve when we elect people who blame minorities for society's problems, see a Capital of Culture designation as nothing more than a chance to make money, or draft busking byelaws without any consultation from the buskers themselves?

There are local elections taking place in May of this year.           

Perhaps it’s time we looked at changing some of our representation on the European Capital of Bluster.

A day long busk-a-thon to oppose the Galway City Council’s proposed Busking Bye-Laws will take place at the top of William Street on Saturday. People have until March 8 to make submissions to the Council.

* Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year award at the Tramline, Dublin, in October 2018. Find him on Facebook  or Twitter here. Visit his website here - A former newspaper journalist, he is seeking new opportuniities in a digital world. 

To hire a professional journalist to write your business BLOG, contact

Thursday, February 7, 2019

No going back to the horrors of disrupted lives

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year 2018

A mock border post brings of a reminder of more troubled times

It’s never nice to feel that you are an irrelevance, that your very existence does not matter and that your views are better left ignored.

It’s never nice when things most people take for granted – security, safety, the freedom to pop out to the shops or to enjoy a night out on the town – are being threatened by people who are oblivious to the impact their politics have on other people’s lives.

And it’s pretty appalling when the people who threaten your fragile peace have little concern for history or the true consequences of the damage they are about to cause.

In the US, President Donald Trump’s obsession with a wall disrupted the government for weeks and provoked tensions across the land.

In the border communities of Ireland, older people in particular know all too well about the divisions caused by walls and the trouble they cause.

A hard border is the last thing they want to see in the small towns and tight-knit rural communities where life has been utterly transformed, for the better, over the past two decades.

I remember a Belfast lady once telling me, with a sense of wonder in her voice, that her mother had spotted two Japanese tourists in the vicinity of City Hall. That was 1996, hardly a lifetime ago.
But it was a very different land.

Checkpoints dotted the landscape until the 1990s.
Photo: Carly Bailey, via Facebook. 

Local people remember the checkpoints, the watchtowers, the military helicopters, the barbed wire fences, and the soldiers brandishing machine guns along the Irish border.

How a short ten minute drive to the supermarket in Strabane, Crossmaglen, or Newry could turn into a two hour nightmare, with long queues, intolerable delays, guns being brandished and hostile interrogations at the side of the road.

They have to tell their children that a seemingly uneventful or boring life is so much better than a life defined by fear. And remind them that there was a time when 3,600 people lost their lives because of walls, barriers, and the conflict between two opposing tribes; when it was simply too dangerous to cross the city at night.

Back then, a mother in Derry or Belfast could only dream of the carefree attitudes of parents in Donegal or Dublin when they watched their teenage children head out for the night.

As a child, a trip to the shops involved British soldiers pointing machine guns at my dad. The only British people we knew wore military uniforms and mothers cried at night that this was no place to bring up a child.

When I was a youngster, one of my best friends had part of his hand blown up by a British Army grenade. It had been discarded, casually or wrecklessly, in a field near our homes. It prompted my tearful mother to beg my father to move back to Galway. No border community deserves to witness those kind of scenes again.

People remember the celebrations in 1998, when we thought (no, we were sure) we had left all those dark days behind. The Good Friday Agreement guaranteed peace and prosperity to everyone  – for the unionists, there was the guarantee they would not be railroaded into a United Ireland against their will; for the nationalist minority, a guarantee they would never be treated as second class citizens in a sectarian state again.

The horror of Bloody Sunday alienated nationalists in Northern Ireland
and drove many young people into the arms of the IRA in Derry

In just a few months, we have seen so much optimism evaporate.

It is unimaginable that the simplest of journeys could be fraught with danger, bureaucracy, and security concerns again. But people are having to face those fears again.

The majority of the people in Northern Ireland did not vote for Brexit. The people who live along the border are now being told they should have no say in a decision which could have such drastic implications for their lives, by politicians in London who have no understanding of the reality of their lives.

They are being asked to forget that Northern Ireland came into being in order to create an artificial pro-British majority, meandering through villages and rural communities who would be cut off from their own hinterlands.

For 21 years now, they have been able to live peaceful, normal lives. The Queen of England might still appear on their pound notes, but a trip to Donegal, Cavan, or Monaghan is no longer fraught with danger, lengthy interrogations, or fears of exploding bombs.

As British politicians continue to discount and dismiss their fears, people who live and work along the barely visible border are expressing and hearing growing, frantic concerns.

There are farmers who proclaim they would dismantle the hated checkpoints or turn a blind eye if their neighbours took out guns – but their fears, concerns, and frustrations are rarely heard in the corridors of power in London.

In recent weeks, Irish people have had to deal with their elected leader being described as a “liability” in the British press.

A tabloid newspaper, infamous in the past for its anti-Irish venom, said that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar would “deserve much of the blame” for the “misery and chaos” a No Deal Brexit would cause to the Irish people.

Anti-Irish venom is all the rage in the UK tabloids again

All for reflecting the fears of people living all along the border, that a vote which had nothing to do with them would have a drastic impact on the quality of their lives.

People in the Republic had absolutely no say in the Brexit referendum, but they are already being blamed in case it all goes wrong and the British go crashing out of the European Union without any kind of a deal.

People in Fermanagh, Derry, or Tyrone were seen as an afterthought, an irrelevance during the 2016 Brexit campaign.

But the people who have real life experience of a 'hard border' have a right to be frightened that the violence which scarred so many lives could be set to return. Even though they are being told by those who haven’t a clue, or no memory of living through terrible times, that there is no need for concern.

It’s clearer than ever now that many of those who voted for Brexit could not have cared less about the implications for the people who live alongside the 200 border crossings on the 300 mile frontier which divides the island of Ireland.

A protest against Brexit along the Irish border

Pro-Brexit British politicians like Jacob Rees-Mogg, Nigel Farage, and Boris Johnson tell the people living along this invisible line that they are being over the top in their opposition to the prospect of the return of border posts and checkpoints to their small rural communities.

But none of these jingoistic ‘Brexiteers’ has ever explained to those who live along the border how the UK can make new trade deals across the globe, and have different tariffs and agricultural standards, without huge disruption to their lives.

How convenient it is to forget that, for almost a century, the border in Ireland has been an artificial line – designed almost a century ago to maintain a contrived ‘pro-British’ majority in the north-east corner of the island.

How convenient it is to forget that 56% of the people of Northern Ireland voted against Britain leaving the European Union in the shock 2016 poll.

We keep hearing about the 17.4 million who voted for Brexit, but not so much about those on the island of Ireland who had huge concerns about being cut adrift from the rest of the island.

We keep hearing about the pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), who have held the balance of power in London since the last General Election, but far less about the farmers and small businesses whose livelihoods have been placed under a severe threat by the return of walls, checkpoints, and the return of a hard border.

We keep hearing about how the DUP even turned down a special deal for Northern Ireland, because holding on to their British identity seems to be even more important than the economic prospects of the people they represent.

And we hear so little of the alarm in small towns and villages over the threat to a fragile 20-year peace because old divisions and animosities have never really been resolved.

In Belfast, the history of a terrible conflict is painted on the walls
Photo Ciaran Tierney Digital Storyteller. 

Belfast is a great place to visit these days, but they still close off the roads along the ‘peace walls’, which split divided communities, late at night. When tour guides joke that they cannot go for a pint on the other side of those walls at night, they are not really joking at all.

Old tribal divisions and hatreds are still hidden away just behind those walls.

A few miles away, along a once bitterly disputed border, tourists hardly even realise when they are crossing from one part of Ireland into the other.

But the local people know, understand, and remember. With Brexit now less than two months away, there is a growing sense of alarm over the prospect of seeing the hated checkpoints, armed soldiers, and watchtowers return.

There is still a terrible fragility to the Irish peace process, even after 21 years of peace, a fragility which becomes all the more disconcerting the more the fears and concerns of those who are most affected by a hard border are being denigrated and ignored.

* Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year award at the Tramline, Dublin, last month. Find him on Facebook  or Twitter here. Visit his website here -

* If you would like to hire a professional journalist to blog for your website, you can get in touch at

Ciaran Tierney with the Irish Blog of the Year award

Monday, January 28, 2019

No laughing matter for the Italians of Galway

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year 2018

An anti-racism event in Galway city centre

A few weeks ago I was invited to a meeting in a Galway pub in which members of the region’s Italian community met up with representatives of the city’s anti-racism network.

Up to a dozen immigrants from Italy attended the meeting and it was interesting to note how united they became as they discussed an issue close to their hearts for two hours.

Unlike, say, the Irish in London when I was a young lad, the Italians in Ireland don’t tend to stick together or live in the same area. Most of them had never met each other before and all four corners of their native land were represented in the pub.

What drew them together was a common concern that an anti-immigrant meeting being held in Co Galway this week was not representative of their little community.

I took some of their phone numbers and, as a result, wrote an article for Irish Central which proclaimed that an immigrant to Galway was holding an anti-immigrant meeting in a Headford pub.

People laughed at the heading. They felt it was ridiculous. Here was a man who had moved to another country to build a new life organising a meeting to oppose or demonise refugees and asylum-seekers who had left war-torn Syria or Libya to build new lives.

Ironically, the person who has organised the far-right meeting has also been using his business page on Facebook to support 'Ire-exit', the campaign for Ireland to leave the European Union.

He seems to be blissfully unaware that it is membership of the EU which allows him the right to live and work in Ireland without any need for a visa.

Yes, you couldn’t make it up.

But it was clear from the Italians I talked to that night that this was a deadly serious issue for them.

They wanted to make it clear to me and the Galway Anti Racism Network (GARN) representatives at the meeting that they saw the proposed event in Headford as an embarrassment and a sinister development for a small town in the West of Ireland.

Protesting against racism in the City of the Tribes

They told us a lot about Matteo Salvini and his Lega Nord party that night.

They thought they had left the kind of politics in which some people are not deemed “racially pure” behind when they left Italy for the West of Ireland.

The kind of rhetoric which demonises minorities seems even more appalling than ever this week, as the proposed meeting in Headford comes in the same week as Holocaust Memorial Day. Just in case anyone needed reminding of the dangers of demonising minorities or valuing one group of people over another.

They told us of how Salvini blames immigrants for bringing drugs, theft, and violence to their land or how he described Italy as a giant refugee camp before the election which saw him become Deputy Prime Minister last year.

For these Italians, who have seen their migration to Ireland as a good thing, Salviini’s words about immigrants are nothing more than hate speech.

“We, European citizens, came here with all the comfort of a Ryanair flight and knowing that we could always go back. I am at home and I plan to stay for good, but I am an immigrant, an economic immigrant, I have been working in Ireland for the past 13 years,” one of them, Marcello, told me.

“I am ashamed of being associated with a person who is happy that people drown in the sea trying to make a better life, with a person who is an immigrant in Ireland supporting a party that against the law kept women and children confined in a ship, a person who supports throwing women and children on the street with no support, while the crazy Italian bureaucracy decides if they are refugees."

He asked me how many Irish people had crossed the sea to find a better life, just as the Italian man who is hosting this week’s “xenophobic meeting” in Headford moved to Ireland for a better life.

While some people laughed at my article – the idea that an immigrant would host an anti-immigrant meeting in a Co Galway pub – it was clear from the mood of the Italians that night that they were anything but amused by the prospect of Salvini’s party taking a foothold in Ireland.

A protest against racism in the heart of Galway 

And, over the past few weeks, as I recovered from surgery, I have noticed an alarming increase in the number of far-right videos circulating here in Ireland.

A video I watched last weekend described Salvini and his party as “patriots”, expressing admiration for Lega Nord and the hope that a party like his could emerge here in Ireland.

Some of these online videos might seem pathetic, as the same people interview each other week after week; but it is clear that there is a market for this kind of far-right material now in Ireland, given the anger and alienation people feel in the midst of health and homelessness crises.

It's so easy to focus anger onto the weakest (and wrong) targets, as President Donald Trump has done with his language of hate in the United States.

A lot of people are deeply unhappy with life in Ireland right now, with so many homeless on our streets, patients lying on trolleys in our public hospitals, and people being evicted from their homes.
Like Salvini, there are people in Ireland who are only too willing to spread hatred and division, and to blame the most marginalised in society for all of our ills.

As a result of the meeting in Galway in December, the region’s Italians are set to meet with the people of Headford tomorrow (Tuesday, 7.30 pm), to outline their opposition to the idea of a far-right meeting taking place in our midst.

They don’t want to see Irish political parties encourage hatred against foreigners, demonise them, or create the kind of environment in which violence against immigrants is deemed to be inevitable.
So they want to reach out to Irish people, to show that a fascist party does not in any way represent their views.

The meeting in Headford is being run in conjunction with GARN and concerned local people in the town. 
Some anti-EU material on the Facebook page of the Headford pub

“We can't ignore recent events, especially damage done to proposed direct provision centres or support for Peter Casey's comments. These are signs of communities who are only being fed an elitist government line on topics like immigration or are being exposed to far-right propaganda - the sole purpose of which is to sow division,” said Joe Loughnane of GARN yesterday.

“Our message of resilient communities campaigning together for better services and equal treatment is already resonating well with the concerned folk who've been in touch."

The meeting takes place in St Fursas Parish Hall, Headford, tomorrow evening (7.30 pm). The far-right meeting is still planned for a pub in the town on Thursday night, even though all traces of it have been removed from social media following the storm which erupted last month.

UPDATE: Since I published this blog post last night, I have since learned that the organiser of the Headford meeting has announced that he will no longer serve Travellers in his pub. See the screengrab below:

* Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year award at the Tramline, Dublin, in October 2018. Find him on Facebook  or Twitter here. Visit his website here -

Friday, December 14, 2018

A letter from America

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year 2018

Senator Frances Black with supporters in Dublin.

Dear --------------,

I understand that in recent days the Fianna Fail party has stated its intention to support the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 when it comes up for a vote in the Seanad. I would urge you and your party to reconsider your support for the bill and work to prevent this bill from passing.

In today’s uncertain times it is critical that countries and leaders interested in facilitating a lasting peace amongst Israelis and Palestinians not serve to empower the most radical, who have no interest in seeking peace.

Senator Frances Black’s legislation does just that by undercutting Palestinians truly interested in peace and empowering Hamas terrorists and recalcitrant Palestinians who refuse even to approach negotiations.

If you and the members of Fianna Fail truly want to see lasting peace in the Middle East I would urge you to withdraw your support for this bill and call for a return to the negotiating table.

Thank you for your consideration of this important matter.

Congressman Peter King. 

Senator Frances Black with the Palestinian Ambassdor to Ireland
during a talk in Co Galway earlier this year. 

It’s the arrogance that’s most striking.

This idea that a US Congressman knows better than an Irish politician about the measures required to bring lasting peace to the Middle East.

Even though the Irish politician who received this letter may actually have visited Israel and Palestine, and witnessed a terrible injustice with his own eyes.

Sometimes, when you look at the issues creating the headlines, it’s just as informative to examine those which aren’t.

Two weeks ago, a source within the Fianna Fail party provided me with an exact transcript of the above letter.

It was sent by a senior Irish-American Congressman, with a huge profile here in Ireland, in a bid to persuade his party to withdraw its support for the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill.

To their credit, Fianna Fail supported Senator Frances Black’s bill last week, despite pressure from US Republicans and ‘informal’ visits from members of staff at the US Embassy in Dublin.

In many ways, they surprised us all.

But senior party figures visited the West Bank last July and saw for themselves the devastating impact the occupation and the settlements have had on Palestinian lives.

I expected the letter from Congressman Peter King, even though it was five months old, to cause a bit of a scandal.

Congressman Peter King wrote a letter to Fianna Fail

Here we had evidence of US interference in Irish politics, from a Congressman who is closely linked to US President Donald Trump and his controversial executive order to ban people from seven mainly Muslim countries from travelling to the US last year.

Imagine the controversy, for example, if a Russian member of parliament had lobbied a senior American politician in such a fashion in relation to US foreign policy.

Apart from extensive coverage in one Sunday newspaper, this letter was largely ignored by the media in Ireland.

I wrote about it for both Electronic Intifada, the leading Palestinian website in English in the world, and Irish Central, which mainly caters for an Irish-American readership in the United States.

But it hardly merited a paragraph of coverage here in Ireland.

Senators in Dublin passed the legislation to ban the sale of goods or services from the settlements last week, with little or no coverage of this international dimension to the story.

If anything, Congressman King’s letter is just ludicrous.

The idea that Trocaire or Christain Aid Ireland, who support Senator Black’s bill, would “empower Hamas terrorists” is quite simply bizarre to anyone who knows anything about these respected NGOs who operate in a number of countries.

With Shawan Jabarin from the West Bank earlier this year.
He won the Human Rights Prize of the French Republic this week.

There is absolutely no connection to Hamas in Senator Black’s bill.

Does it even need to be said?

It would ban trade with goods and services from beyond the internationally recognised 1967 border, where more than 500,000 Israelis live in settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The letter underlines the hypocrisy and double standards of Congressman King himself, who faced intense criticism in the 1990s for his attempts to bring Sinn Fein in from the cold.

Although he suggests that Hamas should be isolated, King encouraged dialogue with Irish republicans at a time when the British government was refusing to deal with them.

Senator Black told me last week that she condemned all violence.

It felt ridiculous even having to ask her. This is a woman who has dedicated her life to helping others, to entertaining people through music and song, through working as a counsellor, and inspiring people to deal with addiction issues.

In her short time in politics, she has been a shining example to others, by bringing varied groups together to find common cause. People are genuinely shocked that she received the cross-party support required to get her bill through the Seanad, bringing the likes of Sinn Fein, Fianna Fail, and the Labour Party together.

Indeed, the progress of this bill through the upper house could set a template for others.

No wonder politicians in Israel and the US are uncomfortable, because other countries are watching what's happening in Ireland - just as we led the way in the global campaign against Apartheid South Africa.

Senator Black pressed ahead with this bill because she wanted to respond to the call of civil society in Palestine for international solidarity, for measures to bring hope in the face of a brutal occupation which has now gone on for 51 years.

Both the UN and the EU consider the settlements to be illegal, but what exactly have they done in solidarity with the people who have had their land stolen by force over the past five decades?

What have they done for the villagers of the West Bank whose children have been terrorised by dawn raids for so long? For those who face degrading military checkpoints if they want to go to work or who are told they can only walk on one side of a street in Hebron?

In the last two days, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the Government will authorise thousands of settler homes, built illegally on the stolen Palestinian land. So much for moving on with a "peace process" which has been a pipe dream for the past four years, as the settlements prevent any real chance of a "two state" solution ever occurring.

This Irish bill can and will set a precedent for other countries across the globe and is due before the Dail in the New Year.

Because of the current make-up of the Dail, it will pass if it continues to attract the support of Fianna Fail.

So it is disappointing, but perhaps not surprising, that pressure from a US Congressman for Fianna Fail to change its stance did not merit more coverage in the Irish media.

Aren’t we all guilty of hypocrisy, though?                             

Ireland is supposedly a ‘neutral’ country and yet we have allowed hundreds of thousands of US troops to pass through Shannon Airport over the past 17 years.

Perhaps our politicians are less forthcoming with the truth than US President Donald Trump, at least when it comes to prioritising jobs and the economy over justice and human rights.

When pressed over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Trump said he would not allow Saudi involvement in a brutal murder interfere with €110 billion worth of arms sales.

Who cares about the killings of thousands of children in Yemen, or the hacking to death of a columnist for the Washington Post, when there are billions worth of deals to be made?

Unlike Trump, who makes it clear that arms deals with Riyadh are more important than human lives, our Irish politicians would prefer if these kinds of awkward questions were never even asked in the first place.

* Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year award at the Tramline, Dublin, last month. Find him on Facebook  or Twitter here. Visit his website here -

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Thursday, December 6, 2018

How could the Irish forget their own history?

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year 2018

A mock border post to remind people of the consequences of
a 'no-deal' Brexit

How can we learn from history if we never even studied it in the first place?

How can we understand where we are today without reference points which will help us to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past?

With Brexit and the rise of populism, old animosities, mistrusts, and misunderstandings have risen again. And some people have shown an astounding ignorance of the troubled history between Ireland and its nearest neighbour.

Just over a year ago, Irish people were shocked by the reaction of TV viewers in the United Kingdom who showed that they really did not have a clue about the devastation the British Empire caused in Ireland.

British TV viewers jammed switchboards, and took to Twitter, to express dismay at the depiction of starving Irish people during the Great Famine. A period drama called ‘Victoria’, beamed into their sitting rooms on a Sunday night, was the first they ever heard of a disaster which claimed a million Irish lives and saw another two million emigrate to North America.

Many British TV viewers had never heard
of the Famine which took a million Irish lives

They were horrified to hear the Great Famine described as “the judgement of God” and an "effective mechanism for reducing surplus population” by the British civil servant whose job was to provide relief to the starving Irish.

Irish people need no introduction to the callousness of Lord Charles Trevelyan, because we teach our children history and he’s immortalised through the words of sports anthem ‘The Fields of Athenry’.

As hundreds of thousands died of starvation, Trevelyan persuaded the British Government to do nothing to halt mass evictions. As corn left the Irish ports for the ‘mainland’, he preferred to leave the fate of the dying peasants to the free market.

Most people in Britain had never heard of him, because Irish history is not taught in British schools.

And, just to prove that history can repeat itself, Tory MP Priti Patel said this week that warnings of food shortages in Ireland should have been seized upon by the British. She said her Government should been more firm, to force the Irish to drop the 'backstop' which has caused so much controversy during the Brexit debate in Britain.

She sees the possibility of food shortages in Ireland, a smaller country with a much more open economy than Britain's, as an opportunity for our former colonisers.

Such wilful - or deliberate - ignorance.

But let's not forget there are huge concerns that the same level of ignorance could spread to the Irish, as it is planned to remove History as a core subject in our secondary schools.

By making History optional, is it possible that Irish children will not even learn about the horror of the Great Famine and the impact it had on the psyche of our people?

In generations to come, could be we become as ignorant of our past as many people in the UK?

Here’s a few other things our young people need to be mindful of, while arrogant Tory Brexiteers are so quick dismiss concerns over a ‘hard’ Irish border and a potential return to ‘The Troubles’: 

The decline of the Irish language since 1800. Source:

Why don’t we speak Irish anymore? 

Imagine an Irish child growing up without any awareness of the Penal Laws and the impact they had on our native language and culture. Would they even question why we speak English and why Irish is largely confined to the remote western fringes of our island? Would they know about the ‘hedge’ schools which sprung up when Catholic people did not have a vote and their own language was banned from schools in Ireland?

Would they learn that the number of Irish speakers fell from four million in 1841 to just 680,000 in 1891? This shocking decline was all part of the process of colonisation. People were taught to mock and taunt native speakers, to see them as backwards, and they forget that hundreds of thousands of the impoverished Irish who landed on the east coast of America did not even speak English until they arrived in New York or Boston.

A mural in West Belfast recalls the fight for Irish freedom
Photo by Ciaran Tierney Digital Storyteller

Why is Ireland partitioned? 

It is almost hilarious to hear Unionists and British Tories proclaiming that the UK could never be divided, given that the partition of Ireland in 1922 led to a bloody Civil War and has led to bitter divides on both sides of the border to this day. Ask anyone in Derry or Tyrone if they are “less Irish” than people in Galway, and yet many of them faced discrimination in a sectarian state for decades.

Thankfully, the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) of 1998 brought an end to decades of conflict and discrimination against the Catholic minority. How could any Irish teenager understand the divisions which run through the island without some knowledge of 1609 and the Plantation of Ulster? 

The arrival of planters from Scotland and England changed the face, culture, and language of the northern province. The descendants of those settlers still consider themselves to be British today and the GFA respects that.

The Great Famine: an appalling period in Irish history

What ‘terrible beauty’ was born? 

The Easter Rising of 1916 was just one of a long litany of heroic failures as generations of Irish people struggled to break free of the British Empire. It was also seen as a stab in the back of the Empire, given that thousands upon thousands of Irish men were fighting on the same side as the British in World War One at the time.

It’s important to remember that the Irish rebels who rose up against their colonisers had little support from the ordinary people of Dublin in 1916. The city centre was destroyed and people were angry at the destruction. They abused the rebels as they were being taken away by their British captors.

But the execution of ten rebel leaders at Kilmainham Gaol showed ordinary Irish people the ruthlessness of the British justice system. They rose up against the colonisers. The rebels may have failed in the short-term, but, in the words of poet W.B. Yeats, a “terrible beauty” was born.

A cheeky depiction of modern Ireland

Who were the Black and Tans?

In 1919, Irish nationalists began a violent campaign against the British forces but, unlike three years earlier, they used guerrilla tactics such as ambushes and assassinations. Instead of taking over city centres, they would attack and disappear.  With the republican leaders such as Michael Collins and Eamon De Valera, who later fought against each other in a bloody Civil War, in hiding, the British decided to send in reinforcements.

The hated Black and Tans became known for their violence and vengeance, sometimes against innocent civilians, throughout the island. In 1920, they opened fire on the crowd at a football match in Croke Park, in what became known as the first Bloody Sunday. The gunfire was in response to Irish terrorist attacks. In one day, 32 people were killed, including 13 members of the British forces, 16 Irish civilians and three Irish republican prisoners. 

Without any knowledge of history, people would not understand what a monumental event it was when the Irish rugby team hosted England at Croke Park in 2007. The respectful silence during ‘God Save The Queen’ showed that time really can heal old divisions and animosities. Respect can grow from a knowledge of our shared history.

Bloody Sunday: scarred the city of Derry and
boosted recruitment for the IRA

What caused ‘The Troubles’

After partition, Northern Ireland – which stayed part of the UK – became a “Protestant Sate for a Protestant people” and the Catholic minority, who made up a third of the population, found it difficult if not impossible to get a house or a job. The province was made up of six of the nine counties in Ulster and partition was introduced to maintain this “artificial” Unionist majority.

Strangely enough, the wider availability of televisions in the 1960s played a huge part in bringing about change. Catholics in Northern Ireland saw images of African-Americans marching for Civil Rights in the United States and felt that they, too, were entitled to be treated as equals.

Heavy-handed policing turned their peaceful protests into riots and led to the British Army being deployed onto the streets in 1969. One particularly appalling atrocity, when soldiers fired on peaceful protesters in Derry, killing 14, became known as the second Bloody Sunday. 

The horror inflicted on civilians boosted recruitment to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and prolonged the conflict for decades. It’s impossible to understand ‘The Troubles’ without understanding the atrocities and humiliations which alienated and angered the nationalist people of Northern Ireland.

Our fragile peace has vastly improved
life across Ireland over the past 20 years.

Why is the Good Friday Agreement so important? 

In 1998, there were celebrations all across Ireland when people on both sides of the border voted in favour of a hard-won peace agreement. People were sick of violence and the old tribal hatreds. The document guaranteed that Northern Ireland would stay part of the UK as long as the majority wanted to do so, but it also gave the Republic some say in the governing of the North and guaranteed  equal rights for the minority.

It brought an end to three decades of violence and, indeed, centuries of tribal hatreds. Anyone who understands Irish history recognises what a monumental agreement this was and how appalling it is to hear anyone talk about a return to a hard border and our ancient divisions.

Thankfully, the Minister for Education, Joe McHugh, announced this week that he is set to review the decision to remove History as a compulsory subject in Irish schools.

If we don’t study History in our schools, the Irish too might come to forget how much progress we have made in turning conflict into peace and animosity into a shared sense of respect between our two islands.

Faced with such an uncertain future, the more we know about (and understand) the past, the better.

* Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year award at the Tramline, Dublin, last month. Find him on Facebook  or Twitter here. Visit his website here -

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