Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Banned from the land that made us refugees ...

“Where e’er we go, we celebrate
The land that makes us refugees
From fear of priests with empty plates
From guilt and weeping effigies"

‘Thousands Are Sailing’, The Pogues

Between 1847 and 1850, a hundred ‘coffin’ ships sailed out from Galway Bay. The people who made it onto those ships were desperately impoverished and full of fear, and yet they saw themselves as hugely fortunate compared to those who were forced to stay behind.

They were the equivalent of today’s Syrian or Iraqi refugees. Their land had been stolen, the crops had failed, and they dreamed of new lives far removed from the conflict and turmoil which raged across their homeland.

Many were less fortunate, such as little Celia Griffin, aged six, from Connemara. Celia never had a chance in life and was found lying on the side of a road, just one of hundreds of thousands to die of starvation.

The ships were destined for the ‘New World’.                    
Not much empathy for the children of Syria
in President Donald Trump's USA

Poor country people from villages and townlands across the West of Ireland, many of whom could barely muster a word of English between them, sailed across the western ocean in search of a chance in life which had been denied them under the British Empire.

I think about those people most weeks when I bring foreign English students on a walking tour of Galway. I think of how forgotten they were for decades in Galway City, their point of embarkation.

It was only when a returned emigrant, the late Mark Kennedy, kicked up a fuss that the city and region honoured them with a wonderful Famine Memorial Park which opened eight years ago.

For many, the collective memories are still too painful … of poverty, of families torn apart, of the pain of long-term emigration. Most of those who made it to the other side – many died during the lengthy crossing – never got the opportunity to go home and visit their loved-ones again.

The Irish fugitives were near the bottom of the barrel in 19th century America. As they flocked into the Bronx, Hell’s Kitchen, or South Boston, it would have been unthinkable to imagine how their lives would have turned out if they had been denied entry at the US border.

Had the US president taken a hardline on emigration, had there been 19th century equivalents of Donald Trump and his “extreme vetting”, then countless Irish would have been turned back as soon as they reached the east coast of America.

They wouldn’t have had enough food to survive the return journey and, if they did, the numbers who died in the Great Famine would have been vastly higher.

Given our terrible history, it was shocking to wake up this weekend to discover that “extreme vetting” – bordering on fascism – has now been introduced just an hour’s drive south of where those coffin ships departed from Galway Bay.

Last October marked the 15th anniversary of Shannon Airport’s complicity in the US ‘war on terror’
At the stroke of a president’s pen, Muslims from seven countries have been banned from entering the US.

Marking 15 years of Shannon Airport's use
as a US military base last October
Persecuted in their own country and no longer welcome at the end of an arduous journey, Syrians refugees in 2017 have quite a lot in common with the Irish who escaped from the discrimination and hardship imposed by the British Empire.

The Irish died in their thousands on coffin ships in the 1840s and now Syrians are dying on makeshift boats as they make their way across the Mediterranean.

Back then, the Irish were seen as a threat, deeply unpopular, rebellious spirits, who could not be trusted on the streets of New York or Boston.

Today, Muslims are the new “enemies”, even though, strangely enough, Saudi Arabia (who provided the vast majority of the 9/11 bombers) is not on Trump’s list of seven banned countries.

Amazing, too, how Yemen is on the list, considering it has been bombed to bits by US “ally” Saudi Arabia over the past two years. Yemen is on the verge of famine, but any Yemeni who turns up at a US border will be deported and sent back home.

The targeting of an entire race, nation, or religion has brought up understandable comparisons with 1930s Germany.

Back then, good people were afraid to speak out while their Jewish neighbours were being forced to wear yellow stars to make them more identifiable in a growing climate of hatred and intolerance.

Given our own troubled history, it’s incredible to think that racial profiling is now taking place on Irish soil.

The US ‘pre-clearance’ at Shannon was supposed to make travelling easier when it was introduced in 2009, but now it could lead to people being discriminated against for no other reason than their country of birth.

It is unthinkable to imagine the kind of hostility a Yemeni or Syrian would have to deal with if he or she was to try to board a flight to the US at Shannon.

Imagine, the land where hundreds of thousands of people were made refugees is now about to let a powerful nation, motivated by xenophobia and fear, discriminate against refugees on Irish soil.

Of course, Irish people have already been turning a blind eye to what’s being going on at Shannon Airport for the past 15 years.

President Donald Trump's anti-Muslim measure has
caused huge controversy in Irealnd

Last July, for example, 85 civilians – among them almost a dozen children – lost their lives in a bombing in a small Syrian village.

Combatants had targeted a village in Northern Syria which had been held by Islamic State (IS) or Daesh fighters.

The combatants or “terrorists” who carried out this attack on Tokhar stop almost daily in Shannon to refuel their aircraft.

The terrorists were US soldiers. But there was no minute’s silence, no protest, and the bombing did not even merit a mention on BBC or RTE news.

People in Ireland or the UK only found out about it thanks to RT, the Russian channel, and Britain’s Channel 4.

How can we care about the loss of innocent lives when we are not even told about them by many segments of our media?

Most of us just shrug when we hear that over 2.5 million US soldiers have landed in ‘neutral’ Shannon Airport since the beginning of the ‘war on terror’ in 2001.

We didn’t protest when US soldiers who pass through Shannon murdered hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq and Syria over the past decade.

We didn’t protest when planes carrying munitions, helicopters, and even deadly chemical weapons to aid the Israeli occupation of Palestine passed through Shannon.

We didn’t protest when prisoners were renditioned through Shannon on their way to be tortured at Guantanamo Bay.

Mind you, we can’t be sure about that one … because not one person in authority in Ireland has ever searched a US military plane during 15 years of Shannon’s use as a military base.

But surely, finally, it’s time to protest now. Is it acceptable that people in uniforms standing in Co Clare can now prevent people from getting onto a ‘plane on the basis of their nationality alone?

The Americans have made a mockery of international law by effectively turning a civilian airport into a military base. Now they want to discriminate against refugees before they even leave Ireland.

In light of our own terrible history, can Irish people really stand idly by when we hear that racial profiling has become a fact of life just an hour south of where the ‘coffin’ ships once set sail from Galway Bay?

Shannonwatch, who have monitored the US military use of ‘neutral’ Shannon Airport for the past 15 years, have organised a protest at the airport this coming Thursday (6pm)

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Bring on the clown

On Saturday, in cities all across the world, people are set to gather to protest against the election of US President Donald Trump.

At first, when I heard about the Galway protest, I decided I would not bother to attend.

I felt it was time to bite the bullet and accept a democratic vote as, after all, more than 62 million Americans voted for the New York businessman and reality TV star.
The 45th President of the USA.

Never mind the fact that Hillary Clinton polled over 64 million votes – I wasn’t a great fan of hers either – Trump was the legitimate winner of the US election.

I felt the Galway march would be organised and attended by the “protest against everything” brigade, the kind of people who condemned An Taoiseach (the Irish Prime Minster) Enda Kenny for congratulating Trump on his election victory in November.

Some of these people are never happy.

Whether they like it or not, they conveniently forget that the tiny Irish economy is over-reliant on American jobs in a globalized world.

They forget or ignore that sometimes in politics it’s important to play the game.

Kenny may have called Trump a racist during the election campaign, but it would be political suicide for an Irish leader to antagonize an incoming US President before he has even taken up office.

The US has always been close to the hearts of Irish people. It was an escape valve during tough times, when the ‘coffin ships’ set sail from Cork or Galway to allow people on one-way trips to flee from persecution and famine.

There are 40 million Irish-Americans and few countries as small as ours have such a big influence at the White House, where the Taoiseach gets to socialise with the President every year on our national holiday.

So I decided I would find something better to do this Saturday afternoon.

And then I began to read the comments on-line in response to the Galway protest, in which people felt free to vent their hatred towards immigrants, Muslims, or liberals.

They defended, and tried to justify, a presidential candidate who mocked a disabled reporter in front of millions of TV viewers. And claimed we had not seen the evidence we had witnessed with our own eyes.

Some of them genuinely believe that this billionaire businessman, whose father famously gave him a “small loan” of a million dollars to give him a start in life, is the answer to America’s problems.

This is a man who tweets with venom when he dislikes a piece of brilliant Alec Baldwin satire on ‘Saturday Night Live’.

Or who takes the time to send out a vitriolic reply to Hollywood actress Meryl Streep after she dares to criticise his views, at a time when he should be focused on putting his new Government together.

If Trump can take such offence when actors express concern about what he’s about to do to their country, how’s he going to behave in the Oval Office if he feels slighted by the Russians or the Chinese?

Presidential? Protests will take place across the globe on Saturday
Unfortunately, he will have access to a lot more damage than the Tweet machine.

To judge by so much bile and hatred on-line in recent weeks, the election of this man seems to have emboldened people who think it’s ok to spread hatred of immigrants, or Muslims, or Mexicans on-line.

It’s scary that 62 million people felt so angry or disillusioned that they voted for a man who boasted about "grabbing" women "by the pussy". Because he was rich and famous, he could act as he pleased.

It’s even scarier that Trump is a buffoon and a liar when it comes to climate change.

He has surrounded himself with people who have a vested interest in fossil fuel industries at a time when the very future of our planet is under threat.

Senior members of his Government have already admitted that short-term gain is more important than the state of our planet over the next 50 years.

The ice cap is melting, the oceans are rising, but Trump wants to reopen the mines and to "make America great" again by building gas-guzzling cars.

We can see it everywhere … global warming is no longer an abstract concept. We can see it in rising temperatures or freak storms, or the terrible air quality in big Asian cities which threatens the health of millions of people.

His treatment of a CNN reporter at a press conference last week brought to mind the way tyrants like Hitler or Stalin went out of their way to suppress and silence a free press in the 20th century.

But who cares what CNN say when you can get updates from Breitbart or Fox News?

This week, I've had people argue with me that Trump is not a racist, a sexist, or Islamophobic. They send me to obscure extreme right wing websites in a bid to discount what I've actually seen with my own eyes.

They'd rather keep the Mexicans out than look at the uneqaul power structures in this desperately unfair world. They'd rather build walls than bridges, when it was the immigrant experience which made America "great" in the first place.

It’s astounding that a property speculator with racist views is now seen as the salvation for so many people who are angry at the state of the world.

The people who pour scorn and venom at "illegal" immigrants see no irony in the fact that their own ancestors, many of them impoverished, set sail for the Americas in search of new and better lives.

Few of the people I have heard ranting about the Islamification of Europe and America seem to have spent much time in the Muslim world, where most people just want to get on with living happy and peaceful lives.

It’s simply absurd to condemn all Muslims – there are 1.6 billon of them across the world. It’s frightening, rather than absurd, that people still voted for Trump after he threatened to tag Muslims in America with special IDs just as Hitler targeted the Jews in 1930s Germany.

By voting for Trump, people chose ignorance over understanding and hatred over love. And I don’t want to live in that kind of world.

Like millions of others, I really hope that Trump will be a success, that he will shock the “lefty liberals”, and that he won’t destroy America and the world.

But he has said too much before and since the November election for people to face the future with anything other than concern or trepidation.

Which is why I feel it’s important to attend the protest against his inauguration on Saturday.

Not because we don’t accept the result of the election, but because Trump’s message of fear, loathing, and division is capable of destroying the entire world.

·         * There are two Galway events taking place on Saturday at 2pm. Check out the Facebook pages for Celebrate Diversity https://www.facebook.com/events/559992617530274/and the Women’s March on Washington Galway https://www.facebook.com/womensmarchgalway/

Check out my Facebook page: Ciaran Tierney Digital Storyteller

Check out my website: http://ciarantierney.com/

Thursday, January 5, 2017

A bluffer's guide to an eventful 2017

Check out my Facebook business page

For many people I know, 2016 was a horrible year.

Too many faced job insecurities or even job losses, relationship breakdowns, and financial worries about the future. Many felt they were only a pay cheque away from homelessness, with rents increasing and the prospect of buying a home in Ireland becoming ever more remote for an entire generation.

The crisis in our health service left far too many vulnerable people lying on trollies and all across the globe thousands of people lost their lives in appalling wars.              
The Donald: set to make a big impact in 2017

We saw many of our musical heroes pass away, while the Brexit and Trump votes seemed to suggest that hatred and fear had overcome love and understanding on both sides of the Atlantic.

People began to wake up to the appalling reality of climate change, only to realize that a man who completely denies the reality of pending environmental catastrophe had become the most powerful politician on the planet late in the year.

But the start of January is a time for renewal and change, and perhaps looking forward to a brighter future.

When I used to work in the newspaper business, I often wrote my predictions for the New Year.

So, for what it’s worth, here’s my tongue-in-cheek assessment of what 2017 has in store.

The Irish Times publishes a piece called ‘Why fascism is trendy again’ on the eve of the inauguration of US President Donald Trump in Washington DC. The event itself proves to be something of a damp squid, as Mexicans, Muslims, women, gays, gun-owners and liberals are banned from the ceremony. The only two foreign leaders to attend are from Holland and Northern Ireland, after Trump insists it’s an “orange only” event.

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny: our own wonderful leader

With an unprecedented number of patients on trolleys in Ireland’s public hospitals, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny is accused of gross hypocrisy when he takes a private jet to the United States for emergency heart surgery.

However, the emergency is quickly forgotten as a team of surgeons at a highly rated private clinic in New York fail to find his vital organ. Following his release from hospital, an emotional Mr Kenny calls on President Trump to give an amnesty to the “undocumented” Irish in the US who were unable to go home for Christmas.

After returning to Ireland, Mr Kenny calls for an immediate clampdown on “illegal” immigration to Ireland. “This might be the best little country in the world to do business in, but our small island hasn’t got room for all these niggers,” he tells a Fine Gael function in his native Castlebar. After a reporter from the Mayo Gazette secretly records his speech, he accuses the media of lacking a sense of humour and promises to sell the Gazette to his close friend, Denis O’Brien.

Trump, meanwhile, pledges $100 billion in military aid to Israel, on his first overseas trip since taking office. “It’s simply inhumane to expect Israelis to live on just 78% of Palestinian land,” he says. “I’m very strong on Israel. I’m so strong on Israel, in fact, that I’m gonna kick the UN out of New York for daring to question their policies. I’m gonna make Israel great again.”

Niamh Horan of the Sunday Independent courts controversy by organising a five page “Fascism is Fashionable” feature, with photo shoots of columnists Ian O’Doherty and Brendan O’Connor dressed up in Ku Klux Klan costumes. Controversy rages over the lack of security at Dublin Airport when UK columnist Katie Hopkins disguises herself as a cockroach when flying in for the feature.

Amazingly, security and customs personnel failed to notice any difference and waved Ms Hopkins through without even looking at her passport.

Is this Katie or a cockroach? Who knows?

Shannon Airport is in the news this month when management celebrate the arrival of the 5 millionth US soldier at the ‘neutral’ facility. A proposed party to welcome the soldier, on his way home from Iraq, has to be cancelled when white phosphorous is released from his plane, causing the deaths of 48 Ryanair passengers on their way to London.

Thankfully, no US soldiers were injured in the accident. And Michael O’Leary was presented with an Irish business innovation award when he managed to have his plane back in the air within four hours of the incident.

Billionaire tycoon Denis O’Brien commissions a report which finds that Rupert Murdoch of News International has too much influence on the Irish media. By complete coincidence, Murdoch’s Sunday Times commissions a report which finds that O’Brien has too much influence on the Irish media.

O’Brien buys up every remaining regional newspaper in Ireland, while Murdoch purchases all of the country’s “independent” radio stations. New Minister for Communications Michael Lowry expresses complete satisfaction with both deals.

The five million Native Americans in the US are baffled when President Trump warns them that they will be deported “along with all the Mexicans and Muslims”. A new “Orange Lives Matter” movement is born in the USA to counteract vicious lies about police brutality and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba begins to fill up with environmental scientists after the phrase “climate change” is banned by the US Congress.

Tax exile Bono becomes Freeman of the City after spending three nights “sleeping out” on Grafton Street in Dublin to raise awareness of homelessness. However, he calls the Gardai when a real live homeless person turns up at his occasional Dalkey home. Later in the month, he’s presented with an award for services to humanity by UN Secretary General Ivanka Trump.

“Every day, the poor people of Africa must thank their lucky stars that they have a brilliant, billionaire Irish singer to speak out on their behalf,” she said at the award ceremony at Trump Tower Two, the new name for the UN HQ in New York. Back home, Ireland becomes the first country in Europe to successfully sue the EU in order to make sure that it did not get money owed to it.

Taoiseach Kenny says he’s delighted he won’t have to take €17 billion in taxes owed by Apple Inc, as it would do “enormous damage” to Ireland’s reputation as a great little country to do business in.

Fears that RTE would have to go into liquidation due to financial difficulties are allayed when TV presenter Ryan Tubridy agrees to take a five per cent pay cut. Mayo win the All-Ireland football final (sorry …. That bit is made up!), no, actually, Dublin and Kilkenny win the football and hurling respectively. Hurling fans all over the country come together to hire Dublin drugs gang the Keenihans to ‘take out’ Kilkenny boss Brian Cody.

RTE are faced by a flood of complaints when crime journalist Paul Williams appears on the ‘Late Late Show’ for the 50th time, but lets his fans down badly by failing to utter the word “scumbag” once during his 45 minute appearance with Ryan Tubridy.

Gardai issue an apology after a banker is arrested for drunk driving. An Taoiseach Enda Kenny summons the Garda Commissioner to his office to remind her that no banker is to be arrested for any offence, ever. The Government announces that Irish Water is to be revived and advertises for a new CEO, to be paid €400,000 per year. A demonstration against Irish Water attracts 30,000 people to the streets of the capital, but organisers claim that 100,000 took part and Gardai deny that it even happened.

Promises, promises ... but sure they're only promises!

The Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netyanahu, is awarded the highly prestigious Tipperary Peace Prize. Human rights organisations condemn the prize, pointing out that Israeli soldiers have killed 1,500 people so far in 2017. A spokesman for the committee, Alan Kelly, says that this is a big decrease on the 2016 figure.

“And, anyway, sure, he’ll bring a crowd and he’ll give us a bit of publicity,” say Kelly.

Russian jets bomb 85 civilians to death in Syria on the same day as US fighters murder 85 civilians in Iraq. RT provide excellent coverage of the Iraqi deaths, but say those in Syria never happened. Fox News, now allowed 24/7 access to the White House for a new series called ‘The Don Knows Best’, accuse RT of “fake news” and call for the Russian TV channel to be banned from America.

“Unlike all the others, Fox gets it,” says Trump.

A visit by US President Donald Trump to China turns controversial when the Chinese hosts fail to place a giant mirror in his Shanghai hotel bedroom. Enraged, Trump returns to Washington DC, where he presses the red button to blow the Chinese … and the rest of us … to Armageddon.

So ... that's the coming year for you.

It’s going to be a lot more eventful than 2016.

Happy New Year!


From the archives: An Uncomfortable Truth for Culture Night