Thursday, September 29, 2016

Abuse based on ignorance

In the early 1990s, a friend of mine got a job building a new Tube line in London.

At the interview, the rather gruff employer told him that he only employed men from Connemara, Kerry, and Donegal. “So, where are you from?” he asked the young man from Galway.

“Connemara,” he replied, and it was only really a white lie as Bearna, on the western fringes of Galway City, is right on the edge of the Connemara Gaeltacht.

On the following Monday morning, when he turned up for work, he realised the reason behind the employer’s unusual stipulation.

To a man, every single person working in the tunnel deep under the bowels of the British capital spoke Irish. From 7am until the close of business each day, he never heard a word of English, as the ‘hard’ men on the site worked valiantly to extend the London Underground.

My friend became extremely fit, thanks to the back-breaking work, and perfected the Irish he had honed in an all-Irish school.                                                 
An Ghaeltacht: where our native tongue has survived

For a year, the experience gave him a wonderful glimpse into the Irish emigration experience, which had gone on for a couple of centuries.

How many men and women from these parts had set sail on the ‘coffin ships’ for Australia or America without a word of English to their name?

They lived in Irish ghettoes, drank and went to Church together, and some of them never really assimilated into the culture of the country they had emigrated to.

My friend lasted a year on the huge site, before another friend – after losing his job as a chef – convinced him he was crazy after trying it out for just one week. Both of them subsequently moved back to Ireland.

I thought of my friend’s back-breaking job this week, when a strange issue of “racism” against Irish-speaking players raised its head following a club Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) game in Co Galway.

An investigation is underway into allegations that a referee told a team from the Gaeltacht (the Irish-speaking area) not to speak Irish during the game.

The GAA has confirmed that an investigation is on-going into complaints made by the Na Piarsaigh/Ros Muc GAA club following a game against city side Salthill/Knocknacarra.

Na Piarsaigh, from Rosmuc in the heart of the Connemara Gaeltacht, made an official complaint following comments allegedly made by the official during the game which took place at the coastal village of Rossaveal.

Broadcaster Sean Ban Breathnach, who is from the Connemara Gaeltacht, told the Connacht Tribune that players who spoke Irish were often abused by supporters on the terraces or opposition managers, rather than rival players.

“You hear things like ‘Go back to the bog in Connemara’,” he said. “It’s this attitude that if you’re from Connemara, and speak Irish, you are thick. It’s abuse. It happens.”

He alleged that referees sometimes asked players for their “real names” when they were not satisfied with the Irish language version of their names during GAA games.

Former Galway All-Ireland winning midfielder Sean O Domhnaill said it was an issue within Galway GAA club football, even though the county boasted the biggest Gaeltacht (or Irish-speaking area) in the country.

But he said GAA players from Connemara viewed the Irish language as an advantage, as it allowed them to communicate with each other on the field. Often, their opponents would not understand a word they were saying.

“There are things I’d be able to say and the opposition wouldn’t know what we were saying,” said O Domhnaill. “Of course, they are going to tell you to shut up. But when they do that, you know you’re winning. For me, speaking Irish was always an advantage, and we used it to our advantage.”

Galway GAA County Board Secretary John Hynes confirmed that a complaint was made by the Na Piarsaigh / Rosmuc club, and by one of the club officials.

He said that the inquiry into the matter would be concluded in 10 days.

A club football game in Galway
Photo: Connacht Tribune. 
One of the great things about living in Galway is that Irish is still a ‘living’ language in a way which is so different from Dublin, Cork, or Limerick.

It’s not unusual to hear two women from An Spideal discussing the cost of living ‘as Gaeilge’ during a chance encounter in the pedestrianized Shop Street area of the city or to hear an enthusiastic debate about sporting matters on the Go Bus home after a weekend in Dublin.

I regularly hear young lads from Connemara conversing in Irish in the changing-room at my gym, and I love to compliment them on how wonderful it is to hear the language being spoken in such a natural context.

And the great thing is they don't feel any sense of shame, or inferiority complex, about speaking in their native language.

It wasn’t always that way. In the 1950s, men from Connemara used to line up on the main street of an East Galway village in order to get a day’s work as farm labourers in one of the nearby villages.
If they built up a rapport with an East Galway farmer, they would work and stay with his family for months on end.

And it was not uncommon for the East Galway children to make fun of the Connemara men’s poor command of the English language, as though speaking the first language of a country which had been colonised was something to be ashamed of.

Connemara is now one of just three main Gaeltacht areas across the country, including parts of Co Kerry and Co Donegal, where the Irish language continues to be used as a “living” language on a daily basis.

It is estimated that there are now just 40,000 to 80,000 “fully native” Irish speakers across the Republic of Ireland, which has a population of 4.75 million. Many more would have some understanding of the language.

The history of the Irish language is invariably linked with the turbulent political history of the island as a whole.

Two million of the five million people estimated to be living on the island of Ireland at the end of the 18th century were monolingual Irish speakers.

Famine, epidemic, and emigration decimated the rural poor in the 19th century, when many native Irish speakers set sail for North America. Entire rural communities were wiped out in the Great Famine between 1845 and 1849.

The number of Irish speakers declined from one and a half million in 1851 to just 600,000 by the end of the century.

The establishment of the State National School system in 1831, when Ireland was part of the British Empire, prioritised the teaching of English and forced Irish speakers to teach their children at illegal “hedge schools”.

A notorious “tally stick” was used by teachers to beat children who were caught speaking Irish, and this was endorsed by many parents who felt that Irish was of little economic use to their children in an era of mass emigration.

By 1891, when only 3.5% of Under-10s spoke the language, Irish “appeared on the verge of extinction”, according to scholar Mairtin O Murchu.

The foundation of the Gaelic League in 1893 and the obligatory teaching of Irish in schools following independence in 1922 have helped to revive the language.

The 2011 Census, released by the Central Statistics Office (SCO), showed that Polish had overtaken Irish as the third most spoken language in the country.

It seems such a shame that in 2016, through ignorance, people still feel a need to belittle those who have kept our ancient language alive through centuries of oppression or discrimination.

Opposing players and referees should marvel at the fact that young sportsmen still speak the native language with such a wonderful ‘blas’, rather than ridicule a national treasure which is in danger of extinction.

Find me on twitter, @ciarantierney

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

An uncomfortable truth for Culture Night

It was a gorgeous evening in Galway.

The giddy excitement which usually greets the start of a weekend was magnified by the magnificent range of cultural events taking place for free all across the city centre and Salthill.

Down by the Claddagh, three musicians called Shiftwork were conjuring up beautiful songs from the deck of an historic boat.

A seal popped his head above the water to share in the general merriment. Later, traditional Galway hookers sailed around the perfectly still waters at the mouth of Galway Bay.
An asylum-seeker's room, recreated in the heart of Galway

There were musicians, artists, and entertainers providing wonderful free entertainment throughout the city as Galway really got into the spirit of Culture Night.

Over in Eyre Square, however, passers-by were being reminded of an aspect of modern Irish “culture” which many of us would prefer to ignore.

The Direct Provision system is not something we celebrate, not something we would prefer to highlight in the European Capital of Culture 2020.

But the role of an artist should sometimes involve exposing uncomfortable truths, and there is no more uncomfortable truth in Ireland in 2016 than the way in which the country treats its refugees and asylum-seekers.

In Galway, we know that they are living in a former hotel facing the seafront in Salthill or a hostel just off Eyre Square in the heart of the city.

Galway artist Richard Chapman's take on Europeans'
hypocrisy towards refugees. 

But how many of us have ever stopped to check out their living conditions or to ask how they are getting on in 21st century Ireland?

Do we really know about the months and years it takes to process their applications while entire families live in tiny hotel rooms?

To mark Culture Night, the Galway Anti-Racism Network (GARN) invited Galwegians to spend a little time in Direct Provision.

The exact dimensions of a “normal” direct provision room were marked out in the middle of the city and passers-by were asked to imagine what it was like to live in a tiny hotel room for months on end.

The space available for furniture, belongings, and beds was mapped out on the ground and the ‘live’ exhibition attracted hundreds of curious on-lookers.

Some children lay on the ground, imagining the reality of sharing a tiny room with siblings and parents for months or even years on end.

It was interesting to see so many people check out the dimensions of the tiny room, trying to envision what it’s like for a family to live in such a confined space.

A stark message for Culture Night.
A direct provision centre hardly features among the “normal” cultural heights of the city.

Residents were on hand to engage with curious on-lookers and to give us an insight into their normal lives in Galway and Salthill.

They cannot work, so they asked us to imagine what it was like to get by on €19.10 per week while sharing a hotel with dozens of others.

They told us that some of them had been living in this limbo, in the land of a thousand welcomes, for over ten years.

They asked whether we knew that 17 firms across the country were taking in about €50 million per year from the Irish Government to run 34 accommodation centres across the State.

Some of them have to survive the winter months in mobile homes.

They asked us to imagine what it was like for the children, who attend primary or secondary schools in Galway, when their curious friends asked them about their living conditions, the food they ate, or when they’d be able to invite them over for sleepovers.

They can’t cook or bring food to their rooms and they most certainly can’t invite their school friends over to stay the night in the centres. Keeping a pet is also out of the question.

It was news to me that they were given a rule book, containing 44 pages of rules, when they arrived.
Or that any complaints they may have had about the running of a centre could only be made to the manager of their own centres. Even if their complaints may have been related to the management of the centres.

During the week, residents of the centres had written testimonies about the reality of their lives. The testimonies were posted on a wall, next to the Browne Doorway, for revellers to read as they made their way around Eyre Square.

“At least as a prisoner you know when you are getting out – not when you are an asylum-seeker,” wrote one lady.

The asylum-seekers present were so welcoming, so happy to share their stories. They spoke of the depression they experienced, as they waited anxiously to discover if they would be allowed to stay in Ireland or deported back to their countries of origin.            
Recreating a room in the heart of Galway.

Mental health problems in the direct provision system are estimated to be five times higher than in the wider Irish community.

It reminded me of a heart-breaking exhibition I attended in Galway last year, in which a South African asylum-seeker admitted that the system felt “familiar” – because it reminded her of the Apartheid system.                                                                          
In terms of raising awareness, it was a hugely admirable three hour event organised by the Galway Anti-Racism Network and the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland.

It was not the most “enjoyable” event in the packed programme for Culture Night in Galway, but it served a hugely important purpose in reminding hundreds of people of one of the great scandals of our own era.

We can ask why Irish people turned a blind eye to clerical sex abuse or the scandal of the Magdalene Launderies in the past.

With Direct Provision, we have no excuse. Thanks to initiatives like last Friday night’s, nobody can claim that they don’t know about this system which condemns children to grow up in unsuitable accommodation for months or even years on end.

Thanks to Richard Chapman for the cartoon. You can view more of his work at

Check out my website or follow me on twitter, @ciarantierney. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

They don't want you to wake up!

In my country, they don’t want you to wake up right now.

They don’t want you to ask why a single mother can be sent to jail for not paying her €160 TV licence while one of the biggest corporations in the world, Apple Inc, can get away with not paying over €13 billion in unpaid taxes.

Not only that, our Government is fighting for Apple's right not to pay tax which is owed to the very same Government – and is prepared to take on the European Commission to do so.

They don’t want you to ask why the hard-pressed Irish taxpayer was forced to take on 42% of Europe’s banking debt.                                                                
Burying Irish Water at a protest in Galway

When pressed about this gross injustice, our Government told us that we had to do it because the European authorities said so.

These are the same European authorities we are now fighting tooth and nail to make sure we don’t get the €13 billion-plus windfall.

They don’t want you to ask why we kept getting so many threatening letters, informing us that we had to pay for a new private company called Irish Water.

Most of us were very happy with the way in which our local authorities looked after our water needs.

And we hated the thought that a tiny elite of select individuals could make a "killing" from this precious resource in one of the wettest countries on the planet.

These letters, thankfully discontinued or suspended, kept piling up while the head of Irish Water was getting a nice €300,000 “golden handshake”.

And this at a time when there were such serious questions about the awarding of contracts to those who installed meters in housing estates across the country.

They don’t want you to question how up to a dozen Gardai could miraculously appear to “protect” the water meter installers in our estates.

This, at a time when we are told that Garda resources are stretched to the limit and there is “open warfare” among criminal gangs in Dublin.

They don’t want you to ask why so many greedy speculators were rescued, why bankers on massive bonuses never had to pay for their misdeeds, or why the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) was allowed to lose €223.5m of taxpayers’ money from the sale of its loans portfolio in Northern Ireland.

A water protester who tries to prevent a meter from being installed outside his home can be threatened with jail, but a NAMA executive who grossly undervalues property which was bought with the State’s money is only doing his job.

They don’t want you to ask why people who are scraping a living in unsecure jobs are forced to pay the deeply unpopular Universal Social Charge, while senior executives working on “our” behalf can seemingly make corrupt or secret payments to businessmen and politicians.

Nobody marched when the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank came to Dublin to “bail us out” in 2010, or when the property tax was invented in order to pay off the debts incurred by the toxic banks.

They waited until the formation of Irish Water to take to the streets, not because it was the biggest issue the country faced but because they viewed a sickening quango as the final straw.

And then they were demonised.

They don’t want you to ask why there is a homelessness crisis and a surge in rental prices at a time when there are so many empty properties all across the State.

Or why a single mum living in a hotel for a year can be demonised by sections of the media, because she refuses to take up an offer of a rental home which has no long-term security for her and her daughter.

In my city this week, homelessness charity COPE reported a 23 per cent increase in the number of families who became homeless in Galway last year.

That’s 56 families, including 133 children, who had no place to call their own and had to rely on emergency accommodation in 2015.

Yet if people on the housing list are offered accommodation from a private landlord they can lose their place on the lengthy waiting list and find themselves homeless again in a year or two.

They don’t want you to ask why the corridors in A&E departments have been divided into lettered “zones” because it is now so normal for people to spend entire nights lying on trolleys in our public hospitals.

It’s easier to find your elderly relative if you have been told their trolley is in zone Z of the corridor.

And it’s pretty hard to kick up a fuss about the conditions in the Emergency Department if you are waiting for hours or even days for a bed in a ward.

They don’t want you to ask why millions of euros were spent on security in order to bring gas ashore in North Mayo, in a part of the world where oil and gas companies were shocked by the low tax rates imposed by the Irish Government.

Or to ask why “supertrawlers” trawl Irish coastal waters, while small fishermen on our off-shore islands find fishing limits so restrictive that they are better off leaving their boats at home in the harbours.

NAMA: the subject of a new Irish scandal
They don’t want you to ask why there are such “sweeteners” for multi-nationals while small local businesses can struggle to get off the ground.

Or why asylum seekers have to spend years living under the inhumane Direct Provision system in the country where the pain of forced exile should be more familiar than virtually anywhere else on earth.

Or why US military men can pass with impunity through a civilian airport, perhaps even renditioning prisoners illegally or carrying weapons of mass destruction, in a country which has been “neutral” for decades.

For 15 years now, Shannon Airport has played a key role in the global “War on Terror”, while the security firm which patrols my local University campus has had a presence in Israeli prisons for years.

G4S are due to pull out of Israel within the coming year, but their presence in so many countries across the world shows how “interconnected” we all are these days.

A lot of people I know are fed up with zero hours contracts, an inequitable tax system, the privatization of water, and the preferential treatment which bankers and businessmen seemed to receive in the wake of the economic crash.

Yet when people speak up about austerity, and attend a march, they are labelled as the “Sinister Fringe”.

Even though they realize that our entire society is built on injustice and inequality; and the system is rotten to the core.

Sometimes it seems as though the Government is running scared. And, yes, they don’t want us to wake up!

For journalism work, social media strategies, content writing, 'ghost' blogging, or public relations, contact Ciaran at

Find me on twitter, @ciarantierney

Thursday, September 8, 2016

An awful shower!

They are an awful shower, those Europeans.

Imagine, the cheek of them! Telling us Irish that poor oul’ Apple owe us €13 billion plus interest in taxes, at a time when we’re doing our best to lure in the multinationals and bring our young people home from the four corners of the earth.

Over €13 billion in unwelcome taxes? No wonder the country is up in arms. People must be enraged.

They must be ringing their TDs all the way from Cork to Donegal to tell them to fight it all the way to the top Court in Europe.

Have those pesky Europeans no idea how we do things in the land of the stroke, the hand-shake, the wink, and the banana?

Have they no idea how important it is for us to provide "sweeteners" to keep the big boys on board in the greatest little country in the world to do business in?
Taoiseach Enda Kenny: doing his best to fight the unwelcome
€13 billion-plus windfall from the European Commissionn

Some eejits are wondering what €13 billion might do to help us tackle our homelessness crisis or our hospital waiting lists, or at least abolish the deeply unpopular water charges, but this time the European Commission have just gone too far.

They can’t just force us to take tax off one of the biggest corporations in the world.

So the Government is up in arms and rightly so. This is a new Emergency, in the only country on earth which had its own name for World War Two.

Our leaders are off to Brussels, or Strasbourg, or wherever these big decisions are made, to fight tooth and nail for Irish sovereignty.

Funny, there were no Government delegations heading off to Brussels to fight for Irish sovereignty in those far off days following the 'bailout', when the toxic banks were taking almost €9,000 from every man, woman, and child in the country.

There weren’t too many calls, from official circles at any rate, for the Europeans to stop meddling in Irish affairs when the State spent €60 billion to stabilise those toxic bankers.

Figures released three years ago showed that the financial crisis cost Ireland 25% of GDP, but there was no talk of forcing the Europeans to change their minds.

Come to us with a €13 billion windfall, however, after Apple set up a global HQ in Cork, and the Europeans are threatening Irish democracy.

There was no talk of bullying within the EU – and not much solidarity from the Irish – when the Greeks were tied into a bailout which seems set to cripple their economy for decades.

It cost us €60 billion to “bail out” the banks and yet I’ve never met a single person who felt that Anglo Irish Bank should have been saved. The net cost has been estimated at about €43 billion, as the Government is set to recoup some of this sum.

But, in all those dark years of austerity since 2008, we never heard the Government challenging the Europeans or telling them that they had to re-think their financial policies.

There was no point in complaining when the offshore Irish were forced to pay for 42% of Europe's banking debt.

Now they are offering us €13 billion, plus interest, and the nation is up in arms.

Apple: their decision to set up a HQ in Cork could
yet have huge implications for the Irish economy
So … impose water charges, force the low-paid to pay the ‘Universal Social Charge’, or bailout the banks to the tune of €60 billion, and our European masters are only doing their jobs.

Sorry, lads, there's nothing we can do, because the lads out in Brussels said so. And we can't change their opinions on anything.

Vote the wrong way in two European referenda and, instead of accepting the result, the little Irish “pixie-heads” have to vote again until they come up with the “right” result.

Demand a return of some of our fisheries rights, or an explanation as to why we gave away our natural resources in the Atlantic at a knock-down price, and you'll be told these decisions were irreversible.

But tell us we are due €13 billion plus interest in unpaid taxes, and those European bullies are suddenly threatening the very fabric of our democracy.

After years of inertia by our leaders in the face of European bullying, it's great to see Enda Kenny out battling on behalf of the Banana Republic ... standing up for the rights of the poor little Irish in the face of this unwelcome windfall.

An awful shower, indeed, those pesky Europeans!

(find me on twitter, @ciarantierney)