Thursday, December 14, 2017

Do the Irish really need to "get over themselves"?

In Derry, most people can't forget the past.
In Britain, some people don't even know it. 

Are the Irish an over-sensitive lot?

Is it really worthy of a national debate – and even a Twitter tag – when a British TV presenter goes on social media to tell us that some of us “need to get over ourselves”?

And all because he described a row between the British and the Irish over the impact ‘Brexit’ will have on the Irish border as a “kerfuffle” in an interview with the Irish Tanaiste (or Deputy Prime Minister)!

The online reaction to a Twitter outburst by Sky News presenter Adam Boulton might have been something of a storm in a tea-cup this week, but it comes at a time when Irish people are deeply alarmed by the attitudes they are hearing from some people on the other side of the Irish Sea.

Not to mention general disquiet over the impact Brexit will have on the Irish economy, particularly in border communities which were devastated by 30 years of The Troubles until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement brought wonderful changes to all of our lives.

The Republic exports €15.6 billion worth of goods to the United Kingdom each year and will have the only land border between the UK and the European Union once the Brexit divorce proceedings are completed.

As is often the case when a small country is located next to a much bigger neighbour, the Irish know far more about the British than the people on the bigger island do about the Emerald Isle.

Thousands of Irish people make the short journeys to Britain each week to cheer on the footballers of Liverpool, Manchester United, or Arsenal, often to the detriment of their local soccer clubs.

Thousands more love soap operas such as ‘Coronation Street’ and ‘East Enders’ and follow the gossip involving British celebrities through tabloid newspapers and magazines which circulate widely in Ireland.

It might be hard to believe, but some people even talk about the British ‘royal family’ around the water coolers at their workplaces.

Adam Boulton's remarks about the Irish kicked up a storm

The engagement of a British prince can generate headlines in Irish newspapers, without a hint of irony, whereas many people in the UK would struggle to identify the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, if his photo appeared in a glossy magazine.

Given the vast differences in population between the two countries, Britain has 65 million citizens compared to 4.7 million in the Republic, it is no surprise that British TV is widely watched on the other side of the Irish Sea.

Until the recent “kerfuffle” over the impact Brexit will have on the Irish border, it’s fair to say that relationships between the two countries were never better than we have seen over the past two decades ago.

The Good Friday Agreement brought peace, respect for diversity, and guarantees for the Unionist population in the north-east of the island that they won’t be steamrolled into a United Ireland against their will.

It also brought about the demolition of the hated border posts and checkpoints, opening up the joys of the North to tourists for the first time.

Until the mid-1990s, tourists were virtually unheard of in Northern Ireland. Now Belfast is seen as one of the best cities to visit in the world and thousands visit to explore the landscapes made famous by 'Game of Thrones'.

Times have changed since the only time Northern Ireland made the UK news was for bombings or shootings and people in London used to warn tourists to stay well clear of the province.

Relationships have changed beyond all recognition. How much things have improved was evident in the State visit by Queen Elizabeth to Ireland in 2011.                         
Northern nationalists feel they have been
forgotten or abandoned post-Brexit

People were surprised, shocked even, by the warm welcome the British monarch received during her three day visit, given the symbolism attached to royalty throughout hundreds of years of colonisation.

But the relationship between Britain and Ireland has never been black and white and up to six million people in the UK have at least one Irish grandparent.

Like the US, Canada, and Australia, Britain has often provided a ‘safety valve’ for a land which has seen so many of its children emigrate to forge out brighter futures.

In the 1950s and again in the 1980s, when Ireland failed to provide hope to so many of its people, thousands upon thousands of Irish people poured into British cities in search of new lives.

Almost everyone on the island of Ireland has some family connections to Britain. In the European Union, the British were often the Irish people’s closest allies as two English-speaking islands on the western periphery of the continent.

But, since the shock of the Brexit vote in June of last year, many Irish people have become alarmed by some of the language they are hearing from across the Irish Sea.

Throughout the Brexit debate, there seemed to be barely a mention in the British media over the implications there would be for communities along the Irish border if the UK was to leave the EU.

A tabloid editor told our Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, recently to “shut his gob” even though this issue has massive implications for Ireland for generations to come.

We have heard people wonder why Ireland does not also leave the EU, or even why we don’t rejoin the UK – as if they are totally oblivious to the terrible history of conflict, oppression, and suspicion between the two countries going back over 800 years.

We have been shocked to hear people celebrate our common language, with not a semblance of understanding of the way in which the British authorities went about killing off the Irish language over two centuries.

A graphic illustrating the decline of the Irish language.

Not many British people would be aware that, under the Penal Laws, it was illegal for Catholics to teach in schools between 1695 and 1782. Education through Irish was confined to 'hedge schools' until the 1840s, when the Great Famine took the lives of a million Irish people.

Just this week, 200 nationalists across Northern Ireland wrote a letter to the Irish News to express how alienated and abandoned they feel in the era of a Brexit vote which was rejected by 56% of voters in the province.

At a time when the Democratic Unionist Party holds the balance of power in London, their letter came as a grim reminder of the sectarian state which treated Catholics as second class citizens from partition in the 1920s until the eruption of the Troubles in the late 1960s.

Nobody wants to see a return to those dark days and perhaps it is true that the Irish cannot forget their history of famine, deprivation, and emigration.

But sometimes Irish people get the feeling that their counterparts in the UK are totally oblivious to their own country’s history of oppression and occupation in Ireland.

Respect works both ways. One land cannot seem to forget its past, and the other sometimes shows that it knows nothing about it.

A throwaway remark by a Sky News TV presenter might have generated an over-reaction and, yes, perhaps Irish people need to lighten up a bit and leave our sense of victimhood behind.

But the loudest Brexit supporters in Britain, who did not seem to have a concrete plan for life after leaving the EU, should not be so surprised that people in Ireland have massive concerns over the impact which their vote will have on all of our lives.

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Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. Find him on Facebook at

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Bluster over Brexit shows many wounds have yet to be healed

Irene from Manchester, England, was very upset.                                 
Nobody wants a return to border checkpoints

She thought it was terrible that a small little island has been holding up those important Brexit negotiations.

She wrote to a newspaper this week to say that the island next door to Britain was “too small to have a border” and “causes everybody a headache”.

In her opinion, Ireland “should never have been split”.

She said it was about time the Irish made up their minds, to decide whether they were “in or out” of the wonderful United Kingdom.

It seemed to have escaped her attention that the Irish pretty much made their minds up about the British Empire a long time ago.

They spent hundreds of years trying to break free; issues such as the Plantation of Ulster, the Great Famine, the Penal Laws, and the attempted destruction of their native language might just have helped the pesky peasants to “make up their minds”.

Irene was quite shocked to discover that this little island to the west had a border, the only land frontier between the departing Great Britain and its former partners in the European Union – apart from that wonderful piece of Britain down on the Rock of Gibraltar.

Presumably, when she voted for Brexit last year, Irene did not think too much about the niceties or the consequences for the farmers or commuters dotted along the border in Tyrone, Fermanagh, or South Armagh.

She wasn't alone. How many times did the 300 border crossings feature in the Brexit debate in Britain last year?

It might have been news to Irene that few of the Irish were too happy about the border when it was invented back in 1922.

She had probably never heard of Michael Collins, sent to London to negotiate a peace deal for the Irish ‘terrorists’ at the cost of a border, a terrible civil war, and the loss of his own life.

The editor of The Sun was pretty upset last week, too.

His newspaper, owned by Rupert Murdoch, has longed for the day when “floods” of immigrants would no longer be able to access Great Britain via the port of Dover.

The tabloid campaigned vigorously for Britain to leave the European Union and how darn annoying it was in recent weeks to see a former colony delay the Brexit negotiations because of an inconvenient land border.

Papers like The Sun and The Daily Mail were gung-ho in their calls for a Brexit vote last year and one of the London tabloid’s columnists, Katie Hopkins, compared migrants to cockroaches at the height of the debate.

It's pretty hard to have a rational debate with someone who compares human beings fleeing wars to cockroaches.

“Rescue boats? I’d use gunships to stop migrants,” was the headline on one of Katie’s pieces, before she referred to migrants who try to board trucks heading to Britain as “a plague of feral humans” in The Sun.

The Sun in 2017 is the modern equivalent of the 18th and 19th century British publications which referred to Irish people as less than human, even as a million of them starved under the British Empire and poverty drove a further two million to emigrate to North America.

Irony and respect for the neighbours is lost on The Sun, who advised the Irish Taoiseach to “shut your gob and grow up” when he expressed concerns over the impact a ‘hard’ Brexit would have on communities either side of the Irish border.

An Taoiseach: told to "shut his gob" about Brexit

The Sun let An Taoiseach know, in no uncertain terms, that 17.4 million people voted for Britain to leave the European Union and reminded him that British billions “stopped Ireland going bust” as recently as seven years ago.

Arlene from Fermanagh was also upset.

On Monday, she put a spanner in the works of the Brexit negotiations.

Arlene is more British than Irish and the party she leads, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), has the balance of power at Westminster.

She found a deal which made a distinction between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, to prevent a hard border, unacceptable.

She’d rather have massive inconvenience for people in her region who regularly cross the border than any “divergence” which might separate Fermanagh from London or Liverpool.

Many people in Ireland find it ironic that the DUP see themselves as more British than Irish, yet do not want to bring in the kind of legislation which would bring the province’s abortion or marriage equality legislation in line with the rest of the United Kingdom.

When it comes to the relationships between the two islands, perhaps Irene is right after all and the smaller island really does “cause everybody a headache”.

Always has.

Murals in Belfast depict the long struggle
for Irish freedom from the British Empire
In 1847, for example, 15,000 Great Famine refugees were deported from England back to Ireland. Even though Ireland was part of the British Empire, it was made very clear by the authorities that the deaths of over a million people were an Irish – not a British – problem.

Relations have improved considerably between the two islands over the century which has passed since the 1916 Easter Rising and the executions of the Irish rebel leaders which eventually led to independence for most of Ireland.

Things have particularly improved over the past 20 years, since the Good Friday Agreement brought peace, joy, and prosperity to both parts of the island and the removal of the despised observation posts and military checkpoints along the border.

The ugly tower blocks have been removed and there are no longer British Army soldiers pointing guns at passing motorists but, clearly, less visible wounds remain.

Prior to the Brexit referendum in June 2016, when 51.9% of UK voters chose to leave the European Union, there was a long and lengthy debate about issues such as immigration, free movement, trade deals, and British sovereignty.                                             

Looking back now, the Irish border and the implications for people living and working in border counties barely featured in the debates across England.

If Ireland isn’t causing everybody a headache, it’s pretty much an afterthought for voters throughout Britain - pretty much how it has always been throughout centuries of animosity, misunderstanding, occupation, and suspicion.

Thankfully, the dispute over the border has been resolved and Irish people are delighted they will not see a return to British Army checkpoints when travelling from Letterkenny to Derry or Dundalk to Newry.

In standing up to the sabre-rattling Unionists this week, and achieving a deal which will not plunge border communities into disarray, An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has done Ireland proud.

But, if nothing else, the tempestuous ‘hard’ Brexit negotiations managed to remind Irish people that there are still some appalling attitudes to Ireland and the Irish among some politicians and commentators on the other side of the Irish Sea.

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway. Ireland. Find him on Facebook at

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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The great Galway 'busker war' of 2017!

This is Emma.                                                                           
Busking in Galway. Photo:

Emma’s a gem.

Emma and people like her add so much to the vibrancy of my city.

Throughout the year, she’s a huge hit with tourists and locals alike. She takes up her spot at the top of High Street, puts on a backing track, and dances to the best of Irish music.

Shoppers take a break to enjoy her superb skills as a traditional Irish dancer, while visitors soak up this perfect taste of the vibrant native culture in Galway.

A few yards up the street, more visitors are captivated by the Galway Street Club. A ‘raggle-taggle’ collection of performers from all over the world, they entertain the masses for free on Shop Street and their act has become so successful that they are now invited to play decent-sized venues all over Ireland.

When they are not pumping out the sounds outside Eason’s, their perch is often taken up by James.

Gifted with a voice akin to Luke Kelly, one of his sessions on the street is as much a part of the fabric of the city as a tour of the nearby St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, where Oliver Cromwell's forces once insulted the locals by taking over the cathedral to use it as a stable for his horses.

Now Emma, James, the Street Club and others feel that their livelihoods are under threat, that proposed new city byelaws will put them off the streets or force them to abandon doing what they love, playing outdoors in the heart of a medieval city.

Galway City Council want to bring in new bye-laws to regulate busking in the city centre and buskers say they are vague, restrictive, and unenforceable.

In recent weeks, a war of words seems to have opened up in the local media between the buskers and the city centre traders, who rightly point out that they pay rates and that they shouldn’t have to listen to terrlble cover versions being blasted out through amplified sound systems every day.

How did it come to this? That a city famed for its culture and vibrant street life, despite enduring so much rainfall, could be on the verge of losing the wonderful street entertainment which has helped spread Galway’s popularity all across the globe.

The buskers are angry. The new laws stipulate that they must move on if they attract a crowd, without any stipulation as to what a crowd is.

Galway buskers have come together to fight the new bye-laws

They will be required to move on every two hours, even though they already have their own voluntary Code of Conduct which allows one act to take over from another.

If the laws are passed, they won’t be allowed “act, say, do or sing anything that is likely to cause alarm, distress or offence to any member of the public”.

That sounds alarmingly like censorship, in an era when the likes of street theatre group Macnas often provide a huge favour to the public by poking fun at the great and the good in our society.

Street theatre will effectively be banned on the city’s narrow streets during peak hours, confining ‘circle acts’ to areas such as Eyre Square and Spanish Parade which don’t tend to attract the same volume of visitors.

There is no doubt that staff in some city centre retail outlets have to put up with some terrible music from poor quality performers using amplification during working hours.

There is also no doubt that some premises experience difficulties when huge crowds gather outside their doors to enjoy the more popular street entertainers.

But it seems insane that the city authorities would attempt to introduce bye-laws which have enraged the very people who have done so much to boost the image of the city which will become European Capital of Culture in 2020.

According to the buskers, the bye-laws could kill off street entertainment in the city just in time for Galway 2020.

It seems such a shame that the local authority has come up with bye-laws which seem to have enraged Galway’s street artists at a time when the importance of culture to the image and prosperity of the city has never been more important.

It surely would not involve rocket science for the traders, politicians, and street artists to come together and iron out a compromise which would keep everyone happy.

For it’s also clear, from talking to a number of people last week, that the genuine stress and inconvenience caused to staff by a minority of buskers has to be addressed by the city’s authorities.

Tourists love Galway's vibrant street life
Meanwhile, I also heard on local radio last week that there are now approximately 40 people sleeping rough on the streets of the city.

That seems an incredible number, given the population of Galway City is under 80,000 and how inhospitable the climate is, particularly at this time of year.

That would seem to be a far more important issue for the city officials to deal with than what buskers act, sing or talk about as they entertain visitors from all over the world, who return to Galway precisely because it has such a vibrant street culture.

How ironic it would be if the buskers who played some part in securing European Capital of Culture status for the city were cleared off the streets by the time 2020 rolls around.

If you want to have your say regarding the new city bye-laws, you can email by December 20.

The Galway Busking Community is holding a one day protest to raise awareness of the restrictive new bye-laws on December 10. You can find details of the Facebook event at

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. You can contact him via

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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

No poppy for the innocent victims

For an Irish footballer who lives in England, it’s a source of annual abuse. 

For An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, it’s become a new cause for
An Taoiseach brandishes a poppy in the Dail

And for a small, but brave number of high-profile people in Britain, including Channel 4 presenter Jon Snow, not wearing one is a courageous statement in the face of a wave of xenophobia and jingoistic nationalism.

The red poppy.

Is it right to wear one on Remembrance Sunday?

And is it ever right for an Irish person to wear a symbol which honours the members of the British Army?

An Taoiseach broke new ground when he became the first Irish leader to brandish a poppy in the Dail this week.

It hardly came as a huge surprise, given that this is the leader who tweeted about remembering “where he was when Princess Diana died” on the day two homeless people passed away on the streets of Dublin.

The Irish people clearly have a very problematic history with the British Army, even though more than 200,000 men and women from this island served with the crown forces during World War One.

Is it right that we remember their sacrifice?

Others will point out that the same army executed 14 leaders of the Easter Rising, taking out some of the greatest minds of 20th century Ireland, in the midst of that war.

Is it really appropriate that the leader of our land should wear a poppy to commemorate an army which caused so much pain and suffering in Ireland?

Footballer James McClean doesn’t think so. Growing up in the Creggan, he knew all about the 14 innocent people – marching for civil rights – who were gunned down by members of the British Army in his part of Derry City.

On Saturday, the 28-year old Derry native was the target of abuse when he claimed that fans of Huddersfield Town threw bottles, coins, and lighters at him during an English Premier League game. His ‘crime’ was refusing to brandish a red poppy on his team shirt.

James McClean
Just over 48 hours later, he claimed the adoration of Irish fans when he picked up the Confederation of Republic of Ireland Supporters Clubs Player of the Year award for 2016/2017 in Dublin.

On Saturday night, he was dismayed that the most widely watched football programme on British TV, Match of the Day, singled him out for criticism after he picked up a yellow card for a challenge on rival player Tom Ince.

He noted, wryly, that the TV cameras failed to notice the missiles being thrown in his direction after came on as a substitute in his side West Bromwich Albion’s 1-0 defeat at Huddersfield.

“Convenient how match of the day cameras pick up my tackle. But fail to pick up bottles, coins and lighters being throwing in same incident,” he tweeted on Saturday night.

In a separate post on Instragram, he said that those who launch objects from up in the stand were “cowards not hard men”.

He is consistently singled out for abuse during club games in England in the lead up to Remembrance Sunday.

What the abusers fail to grasp or choose to ignore, though, is that McClean grew up within yards of one of the worst atrocities carried out by the British Army during ‘The Troubles’.

He was not even born when 14 unarmed protesters were shot dead by British paratroopers on January 30, 1972, a day which became forever known as ‘Bloody Sunday’ in Derry.

After the initial shock, trauma, and despair, a deep sense of injustice ran through the communities of the Bogside, Brandywell, and the Creggan, where McClean grew up.

People used to say that the massacre was the biggest recruitment drive the Irish Republican Army could have asked for and helped to prolong the conflict for another two decade.

Bloody Sunday in Derry. One of the worst atrocities
of The Troubles in Northern Ireland

The local people had to wait almost 30 years before the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, stood up in the London Parliament and apologised to the people of Derry on behalf of the British people.

“What happened should never, ever have happened. The families of those who died should not have had to live with the pain and the hurt of that day and with a lifetime of loss,” said Cameron in June 2010.

“Some members of our armed forces acted wrongly. The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces and for that, on behalf of the government, indeed, on behalf of our country, I am deeply sorry.”

For anyone who was in the Bogside that day, marching for civil rights in a sectarian state, the idea that anyone among them should wear a poppy to honour the war dead of the British Empire was laughable.

McClean says he is not “anti-British” and he would wear the poppy if it honoured the British dead of World War One and World War Two. But he cannot wear it because it remembers those who died in other conflicts since 1945 and he would find it impossible to honour those who killed innocent people in his neighbourhood in cold blood.

“When you come from Creggan, like myself, or the Bogside or Brandywell or the majority of places in Derry, every person still lives in one of the darkest days in Ireland’s history,” he wrote in 2015.

“Even if, like me, you were born nearly 20 years after the event. It is just a part of who we are, ingrained into us from birth.”

He said it would be an act of disrespect to his own people, the people of Derry City, if he was seen to wear a red poppy on Remembrance Sunday.

McClean’s refusal to wear the poppy comes amid some soul-searching across the UK over the way in which the poppy has been hijacked by some ultra-nationalists who target anyone who dears not to wear one on British TV.

'Crimes of Britain' have released their own version of the poppy

Last weekend, England cricketer Moeen Ali was criticised vehemently because he had not worn a poppy during a team photo. It turned out that he had worn one earlier in the day and that it just fell off his jacket, but that did not wash with those who engaged in Islamophobic criticism on social media.

The original idea behind the wearing of the red poppy was to honour the one million British soldiers who died, and the two million who were seriously wounded, in the First World War.

Remembrance Sunday now includes all British soldiers who fought in all wars, including the paratroopers who committed the atrocities on the streets of Derry in 1972 or those who executed the 1916 rebel leaders in Kilmainham Gaol.

A few years ago a campaign began to promote the wearing of a white poppy, which would honour all victims of war. That campaign seems to have evaporated in the wave of nationalism which seems to spread across Britain in the wake of last year's Brexit vote.

Money raised via the Poppy Appeal goes to the Royal British Legion, who help out those who have suffered terrible losses and injuries in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

It seems that the British Government would rather ordinary people direct their ire at hate figures such as James McClean than focus on how poorly they look after 21st century veterans when they return home from war.

I’m acutely aware of the sensitivity of publishing this blog on the day a ceremony took place to mark the 30th anniversary of the Enniskillen bomb, in which 11 people were killed and more than 70 injured. That IRA bomb was one of the worst atrocities of ‘The Troubles’ and can never be justified. But the red poppy honours the people who caused so much heartbreak and loss just 50 miles up the road in Derry.

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Thursday, November 2, 2017

Why do the Irish denigrate the truth-seekers?

In Ireland, we tend to denigrate and ridicule those who seek out the truth or shine light on our darkness.                                             
Banking whistleblower Jonathan Sugarman

It’s as though the mirror they hold up to Irish society is too ugly to witness, too painful to face up to, so that it’s easier to assassinate their characters than to acknowledge their search for justice.

Take Jonathan Sugarman.

There are restaurants in Dublin who refuse to accept a reservation upon hearing his name. There are pubs where he’d be shunned, seen as a pariah, if he joined the great and the good as they let their hair down on a Friday night.

Because, for the vast majority of Irish bankers, the party has never stopped.

Why would they disown him? His only ‘crime’ has been to do his job properly and to tell us the truth.

When I spoke to him this week, ten years had passed since he did the right thing, at enormous cost to his finances, his career, and his mental health.

An Israeli citizen living and working in Ireland, he thought he was doing his adopted country a huge favour when he approached the Central Bank of Ireland to tell them an unpalatable truth.

A risk manager at the Dublin branch of a major Italian bank, Sugarman was alarmed to note serious liquidity breaches which could have cost the company severe penalties and Sugarman himself five years in prison.

The bank did not have enough money after giving out so many loans at the height of the ‘Celtic Tiger’.

He stepped forward, he went to the Irish police (the Gardai), he told the truth … and nothing happened. There were no dawn raids on his company’s offices, no consequences at all for his bank for failing to play by the rules. He felt he had no option but to resign.

He had warned the Irish banking watchdog that his bank was living beyond its means, little realising at the time that liquidity breaches were widespread across the industry in 2007. Not one bank in Ireland seemed to have the billions of euros required if their customers were to call in their debts.

A year later, the entire Irish banking system collapsed and the Government provided a blanket guarantee which plunged the economy into crisis and resulted in a €64 billion ‘bailout’ at enormous cost to the Irish tax-payer.

It seemed that virtually every bank in the country was in breach of the liquidity regulations, but not one other risk manager had spoken out.

All of them could have been imprisoned for five years, but not one banker in Ireland has been jailed. In Iceland, the corresponding figure is 25. Yet Sugarman has found himself on the margins, unable to work, because he dared to come forward and speak the truth.

A decade on, the same banks are guilty of defrauding 22,000 mortgage holders; these are ordinary Irish people, some of whom have lost their jobs, their relationships, and their homes.

The same bankers and regulators still enjoy their Friday evening gatherings in a select few Dublin hotels and pubs, but Sugarman is no longer invited to the party and his truth-telling has been at an enormous personal cost.

Yet, had the regulators listened, and acted, the massive collapse in the Irish banking system could have been avoided and generations of Irish people would not now be saddled with an enormous debt.

Take Catherine Corless.                                              
Brave historian Catherine Corless had to overcome
hostility from officials in her quest for the truth

When she began to investigate the deaths of so many babies at the Tuam Mother and Baby Home, business people in the town became alarmed.

When it emerged that 796 babies were buried in unmarked graves, as Catherine strove to give them a dignity denied them in life, officials blocked her attempts to find out the truth at every possible opportunity.

She never imagined the scale of the tragedy when she started to try to find out what happened to the ‘Tuam Babies’. 

But she persisted after hearing the story of how boys in the town stumbled upon the skulls and bones of babies while playing on the site of the former home in 1974.

Catherine worked tirelessly to discover the truth, despite facing hostility or
indifference from the Bon Secours order which ran the home, the Western Health Board, or Galway County Council.

It was a good job she did not socialise much, because as rumours about her research spread there were murmurings that she should leave well enough alone and that her research only served to harm the image of the town.

Her research was bad for Tuam, it seemed, even though it opened the eyes of the entire world to the way children were treated in 20th century Ireland. And she gave a voice to the survivors.

She has been vindicated this year, her findings verified by the Irish authorities, but only after being the subject of harsh and irrational criticism.

She’s deservedly picking up national awards now for her painstaking research but in April of this year, after her findings were lauded by the Irish Government, Catherine faced personalised abuse from the US.

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, described her as a credential-lacking charlatan who was not qualified to carry out her meticulous research in Tuam.

“Contrary to what virtually all news reports have said, Corless is not a historian,” said Donohue. “She not only does not have a Ph.D. in history, she doesn't have an undergraduate degree. She is a typist.”

Amazing how a man who earned a reported salary of $474,876 in 2013 could abuse his position to denigrate a woman who has done all of Ireland a service by shining a light on the deplorable treatment of innocent women and children in 20th century Ireland.

Only for Catherine’s painless research, the world would never have known about the 796 babies who were buried in unmarked graves in Tuam after being branded as “illegitimate” by the Irish authorities.

It seems that Corless’ message was so unpalatable to some senior figures in business, Church, and State, that they were prepared to attack and denigrate the messenger.

And then there’s Sergeant Maurice McCabe, a man who faced a personal hell before being vindicated in 2017.

In Garda Stations all around Ireland, the man was a pariah for the past decade, for daring to point out that the Irish police force’s computer system was being abused so that high profile people could evade convictions.

His revelations seem trivial compared to what we know about the Irish police force now.

In the land of the nod and the wink, of calling in connections, McCabe – like Sugarman – was ostracised for trying to obey the rules.

Colleagues made it impossible for him to turn up for work at Garda Stations and, even worse, rumours began to circulate –at the top levels of the force and among senior media personnel – that McCabe was a sex abuser.

Insiders thrived on the vicious rumours, which circulated without his knowledge, and it was only by accident that the most high-profile Garda whistle-blower in the history of the State found out about them.

Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe
The false, vicious, and completely spurious accusations that he had raped a six year old child were used to ridicule his claims that there was widespread abuse of power being carried out by members of the Garda Siochana.

How could anyone believe this honest Garda when there were such terrible rumours about him?

The smears, which circulated widely for two and a half years, were only unearthed when a member of staff at the child protection agency contacted Sgt McCabe in error about a “wrong” file. Otherwise, he might never have known about the unfounded allegations.

In recent weeks, the Irish public has been shocked to discover, via the policing authorities that two million drink-driving breath tests were fabricated by Gardai in a country with a population of 4.7 million.

In addition, 14,700 wrongful traffic convictions occurred.

Gardai, it seemed, were under pressure from management to “massage” their statistics so that they looked better on paper.

A few high-profile people having their convictions overturned now seems like small beer compared to the widespread misreporting of drink-drive figures all across the country.

In Ireland, it seems, there has been criminal negligence in banking, policing, and the way we take care of our most vulnerable children.

But, instead of admiring those who shine lights in the darkness, we vilify them because they are bad for business, the image of a town, industry or police service.

Because God forbid we listen to the brave souls who are prepared to stand up and point out the wrong-doing at the heart of Irish society.

It’s more convenient to persecute them, tie rats to their doors, or smear them with unfounded allegations, than admit they have done us a wonderful service by blowing a whistle on corrupt or criminal behaviour from those in positions of authority.

It’s easier to destroy a reputation or career than admit there’s a need to change an entire rotten, corrupt culture.

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. Find him on Facebook at

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Friday, October 20, 2017

Lessons learned since taking redundancy

Just over three years ago, I found myself in a terrible place. The company I worked for was in serious difficulty, my industry in turmoil, and I was offered an opportunity which seemed like a poisoned chalice at the time. Voluntary redundancy? After more than 22 years in the newspaper industry, I was so fearful of change, even if there had always been a wanderlust and a desire to explore new horizons running through my adult life.                                                 
On my last day at work in the Connacht Tribune.

I had even taken a gap year in 2010 which opened me up to a whole new world. Diving in tropical waters off the coast of south-west Thailand or helping out at an educational project in Nicaragua provided wonderful experiences and rich spiritual rewards, but hardly offered the security and material comfort most human beings crave.

Our own history of famine, eviction, and emigration has given Irish people an understandable sense of anxiety about the need to forge out comfortable lifestyles – there are surely deep-rooted reasons for our obsession with the property market – and I found myself paralysed with fear as I stood at a crossroads in my life.

Three years ago, I wanted to run off and fight for social justice in a far-off corner of Central America. And yet I was gripped by a fear of leaving my family and friends behind. It’s amazing how scary freedom can be when it’s offered to you on a plate, as though life is somehow easier if you are chained to a 9 to 5 job and an all-too-familiar routine.

Three years on, I don’t claim to have all the answers or to have somehow, miraculously, found the meaning of life. And yet it has been a time of deep personal awakening which has forced me to re-evaluate what’s important in life.

Two weeks ago, I stood in Dublin at the Irish Blog of the Year awards and realised I had come so far without having a need to travel the world. I may not be making a fortune, but I feel I have learned so much.

Because too many of us can stay in unhappy or unrewarding situations for years or even decades, understandably so when there are mortgages to pay or children to feed, but it’s really sad when we let our lives by governed by a fear of change.

So here, for what it’s worth, are seven lessons learned since I took voluntary redundancy. Sometimes we don’t measure our lives for what they are really worth and winning second prize at the V by Very Irish Blog Awards is not really an important milestone in itself. But the award got me to ponder on what I’ve grasped since October 2014.

My V by Very blog award (Current Affairs)

Dignity is so important: Often we, as human beings, can be harder on ourselves than anyone else could possibly imagine. My first visit to a Social Welfare office after more than 22 years of working was a huge blow to the ego. As I sat in a lengthy queue, waiting for my number to come up, I wanted the ground to swallow me up. I was judging myself a failure for every second of every day, when I suddenly found myself out of work. I learned a lot during that seven months, the pain of unemployment compounded by a ‘superbug’ I picked up in the local hospital.

It was amazing to see some members of staff treat people as less than human beings. After waiting maybe two hours to see someone, perhaps to report that I’d managed to get a couple of days’ freelance work, it was demoralising to be faced with a scornful civil servant who seemed to look down on everyone they met on the other side of the barrier.

There are no votes in complaining about the length of queues at dole offices, but it would be nice to think people might realise that there are real human beings behind the statistics. I met some lovely people sitting in those endless queues and was struck by how infrequently we hear their stories on the national airwaves.  And, of course, dignity works both ways. It’s important to remember that the person on the other side of the window is a human being, too, even if some of them play the part of faceless bureaucrats far too well at times.

Friends and family are important: It’s a cliché, of course, but if you have a really busy life, as I had in the newspaper business, it can be very easy to take things – and especially people – for granted. In my wanderlust, in my desire for sunnier climes, I never really paid enough attention to the good things I already had in my life. The Irish story is very much one of heartbreak and emigration, but there are very good reasons for staying in your home town, village or city. Plus, teaching foreigners English on a part-time basis has given me a whole new appreciation for my city, when I view it through their eyes.

The people you grew up with are the people who will help you out most in your time of need, even if of course it can be great to take off on new adventures and meet a whole new circle of friends. I remember one call out of the blue, on a wet and windy January night, which really lifted my spirits at a time when I was really feeling blue and so uncertain about what was coming next in my life. That call was from somebody I have known all of my life.

So many people are struggling ... how often do we just walk by?

Learn to accept: I have a friend, a yoga teacher, who has a sign inside his isolated rural cottage which proclaims “Relax: nothing is under control”. So many of us cause ourselves so much suffering by trying to control the people or events which occur in our lives. When a former work-mate let me down recently, I took his stab in the back too much to heart. When I didn’t get a particular job, I might mull on it for weeks. Acceptance is key to a happy life. We sometimes forget that we are all going to die and that we should just make the most of our time on this planet, rather than getting caught up in ego-driven disputes and dramas. It’s not what happens to us, but how we deal with events, that counts.

Don’t isolate yourself: Hours spent on Facebook are no substitute for a cup of tea and a chat shared with a good friend. The sudden blow of finding myself out of work was reduced when I would arrange to meet a friend to catch a movie or a football game. I soon realised that friends were going through, or had gone through, similar experiences to me, but perhaps I had not paid enough attention to them because I had such a busy life. A chat in the sauna in my local gym, at the end of a fruitless day job-hunting, might have meant an awful lot more to me than the person I was talking to realised.               
"Life is so much wiser and kinder than
your mind imagines" - Mooji

So many people are struggling: When you take a huge cut in income, when you get out and have really meaningful conversations with people, you soon realise that so many people are struggling to make ends meet. You take a bus instead of a taxi and you find yourself deep in conversation with a person on the margins. You take a ‘zero hours’ contract job and marvel at the people bringing up families on tiny incomes.

You stop and chat to the homeless person on Shop Street and realise he is a real human being who has experienced real suffering and, there but for the grace of God, you could be in his exact situation if you had been thrown the same roll of the dice. I haven’t had a drink for almost a year and my city looks an awful lot different late at night when viewed through sober eyes.

Look after your mental health: Do whatever it takes to relax, treat yourself, and overcome those fearful, negative thoughts. For me, a meditation group gave real solace in the midst of a personal crisis. A weekly yoga class allows me to switch off, forget my problems, and perhaps have a giggle with some people I hardly know.

A swim in the pool or a walk on the Salthill promenade on a winter’s night is far better than lying on the couch, obsessing over what might have been or the uncertainty of what will come next in this crazy adventure called life. If you look after your body and your mind, the problems which seemed insurmountable a week or a month ago suddenly pale into insignificance and perhaps you can even learn to wake up with a smile on your face and to appreciate all the good things in your life.

‘Career’ is not everything: It takes courage, or perhaps madness, to say goodbye to a job or a career you have had for more than two decades. Even if that career is in terminal decline. But the happiest people I have met don’t drive BMWs, golf in the best clubs, or wear a shirt and tie to work. They may be teaching refugees English, helping out in a Direct Provision centre, or running educational projects in some of the poorest places on earth.

A great quote I disovered in the wilds
of Connemara last year
Some of us spend so much energy trying to get to the top of our chosen fields, we never stop to take stock, to see if that is what really makes us tick or happy with life. My city has a reputation as the “graveyard of ambition”, but that could be a good thing, too. Life is about so much more than promotions, bank balances, or getting one over your colleagues in a mad dash to the top.

Some of the happiest people I’ve met are surviving on $2 a day in the poorest neighbourhoods of Nicaragua and it’s easy to forget that if you spend your life judging yourself, or comparing yourself to the people around you.

Life never was meant to be a competition or a race, but it’s easy to forget that when we get caught up in the “politics” of a particular career. It must be awful to spend your life rushing to get to the top of the ladder, only to realise you never wanted to climb that particular ladder in the first place!

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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Debasing the prize

“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”

In his bleak vision of a totalitarian future, conjured up long before the era of social media and “fake news”, George Orwell depicted with alarming prescience the way in which war could be used to debase the English language.                                               
A little girl takes shelter in war-torn Aleppo

In his dystopian novel, 1984, Orwell did not want to depict his central character, Winston Smith, as a hero, but rather an unfortunate victim who dares to question a terrible system in which language has been twisted far beyond its original meaning.

Political life in Western Europe may not have turned out exactly as Orwell predicted – those who question the authorities are generally not “vaporised” or forced to disappear from sight in 2017 – and yet he would be impressed by the 21st century vocabulary of war.

“How could freedom be slavery or war be peace?” a modern reader might ask.

And yet when you look at terms like “friendly fire”, “carpet bombing”, or “collateral damage” it’s clear that the language we use has been twisted completely to avoid describing the terrible reality of modern warfare.

There is nothing friendly about friendly fire, described as the act of killing people on your “own side”, no carpets involved in carpet bombing, and not much collateral in collateral damage. To those preposterous terms, we might also want to add the term “peace prize”.

In recent years, the notion of a peace prize seems to have lost all meaning.

Last October, for example, the then US Secretary of State, John Kerry, flew into Ireland to collect the Tipperary Peace Award.

Remembering a Syrian child, murdered in a US
air strike, during a protest at Shannon Airport
As he was just two months away from the end of the Obama presidency, you might have thought he had more pressing concerns on his mind. But he was delighted to fly to Ireland to pick up his award.

The then US Secretary of State might have been shocked, even, to get this recognition from the Tipperary Peace Convention as he looked up the tiny village of Aherlow on a map ahead of the awards ceremony.

After Kerry flew into Shannon, effectively a US military base for the past 16 years, before being whisked to Aherlow, it is doubtful that anyone mentioned the seven wars the US had engaged in – and countless lives lost – during the eight years of the Obama administration.

Such talk would hardly have been appropriate in the context of this glittering prize, presented at a star-studded event in rural Tipperary.

There was no mention of the “terror Tuesdays” when President Obama would sit down with his advisers to plan bombings across the globe from the relative comfort of Washington DC.

We tend not to see the victims of those bombings on our TV screens, so their lives don’t matter in the greater scheme of things.

In Tipperary, nobody cared to mention that Obama dropped 26,171 bombs in his last year in office. And it’s doubtful that anyone expressed concern that even a few innocent civilians lost their lives due to these bombings by the administration which won the 2016 Tipperary International Peace Prize.

The Tipperary committee were dazzled to have such a giant on the international stage in their midst last October and Kerry himself was clearly delighted to pick up their award as he came to the end of his term of office.

Local heroes don't make international headlines

It seemed that nobody, apart from a few vocal protesters outside the gates, expressed concern at what it meant to give the representative of such a Government a “peace prize”.

It’s doubtful if the organisers sought feedback from civilians in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, and Syria, where over two million people lost their lives in wars involving the Obama administration.

Just days before John Kerry’s award was announced, 85 people in a tiny Syrian village were murdered in a US air strike in an atrocity which was barely mentioned in the Irish or British media.

John Kerry, the 2016 winner of the controversial
Tipperary Peace Award

Those villagers were not on anyone’s radar when Kerry arrived in Aherlow to collect his prize.

Garnering publicity and rubbing shoulders with the powerful were far more important than showing any understanding of the meaning of the words "peace prize".

So now the Tipperary Peace Award is in the headlines again this month, with Syria’s White Helmets in line to pick up the 2017 prize.

The 3,000 volunteers who constitute the White Helmets are said to have saved more than 60,000 lives since the outbreak of the terrible civil war in Syria in 2011.

An estimated 160 members of the Syria Civil Defence (the 'official' name of the White Helmets), who are based in rebel-held areas, have lost their lives in the civil war.

They have shown great bravery on the front lines in places like Aleppo, a city which faced relentless bombardment from Russian military aircraft last year.

There is no doubt that the men who volunteer for the White Helmets are immensely brave, but does it not devalue their “peace prize” that the 2016 winner was part of an administration which brought so much death and destruction to countries such as Syria and Iraq?

And isn't it amazing that a small committee in Tipperary knows enough about the war in Syria - where the truth is so hard to find - that they can give their coveted "peace prize" to a controversial group which faces questions over its founding, its funding, and even links to radical groups?

Ironically, when John Kerry flew into Shannon in October 2016 he was faced by a small group of protesters who have staged a monthly protest at the airport every month over the past 16 years.

Ireland is supposed to be a “neutral” country and respected academics at Shannonwatch have been highlighting Shannon Airport’s role in the US “war on terror” since 2001.

They have documented every plane carrying US troops and possibly munitions landing at or leaving Shannon over that period, despite indifference or downright hostility from the Irish authorities.

These local heroes give up their free time in a bid to stop bombings in countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

They are kept under surveillance outside the airport fence, while nobody in authority ever stops to search the planes, bringing so much destruction to the Middle East, inside.

Respected academics like Edward Horgan and John Lannon, who are regularly filmed by undercover Gardai just for staging a peaceful monthly protest, might not generate the same international headlines as the White Helmets or John Kerry.

I guess that’s why they are never in the reckoning to pick up a Tipperary “peace prize”.

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. You can check out his Facebook page here

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