Monday, September 25, 2017

Deported - for trying to bear witness to degradation

Have a look at this picture of four Irish people arriving back to Dublin after being deported from an international airport. Do they look like terrorists, subversives, or a threat to the State?
Four Irish people arrive  back in Dublin Airport
after beingdeported from Israel

Their “crime” was to attempt to pay a visit to one of the most troubled regions on the planet, in order to bear witness to the terrible reality of daily life for ordinary people on the ground.

They didn’t travel with hatred in their hearts or violent intentions, but to listen to ordinary people and the charities who work among them, show solidarity, and learn from those living and working in a conflict zone.

There was a time when Northern Ireland was a “no-go area” for tourists. If you went to Belfast, according to the prevailing wisdom of the time, you probably needed your head examined.

Nobody ever went there unless they had family or business reasons.

In the early 1990s, I was among a small group of journalists who spent a few days exploring the delights of the beautiful Co Antrim coastline as the area was finally, after so many years of turmoil, beginning to open up to tourism.

Our guide, with typical Northern Irish humour, used to take pleasure from telling us that we were going back to the “most bombed hotel in Europe” every night.

We felt so bad for the staff and management at the Europa Hotel, which had suffered 36 bomb attacks during The Troubles, when another explosion just a few days after our stay greatly hampered the huge strides which were being taken in promoting this wonderful region.

They told us that journalists like us were the only people who ever stayed there, apart from the occasional businessman from the UK or Dublin. They felt we had an important role, to tell their story and the story of their city as it emerged from three decades of conflict.

A journalist colleague told me recently that her mother rang her one day around 1996, to marvel at the fact that she had just seen a couple of Japanese tourists outside City Hall. In its own small way, that was a sign of progress in a divided city

Belfast back then was completely different from the thriving metropolis it is today. The look-out towers, military bases, and armoured tanks ensured that its mean streets were off-limits for all but the bravest of tourists.

Northern Ireland during the Troubles was not quite the equivalent of modern-day Palestine and, even during the worst of the violence, the British authorities did not take measures to prevent international observers or journalists from seeing what was going on.

In Belfast, people on all sides were welcoming towards journalists and international observers in general, happy that we were able to tell the truth we had seen with our own eyes.

International activists at the 'Apartheid Wall' in the
West Bank, 2017. Photo: Ian O Daliagh
But in Palestine, in 2017, it seems that more and more people are being prevented from seeing what’s really happening to those who have been living under an illegal occupation since 1967.

Earlier this month, four Irish people found that they were not welcome at the start of an eight day fact-finding tour.

On their way to meet Israeli and Palestinian NGOs in the West Bank, they never made it to their destination. They were seized by the Israeli Authorities at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, questioned, and deported.

It’s amazing this issue did not receive more coverage in the Irish media.

To look at the photo of the four of them arriving back at Dublin Airport, it’s hard to believe that they were considered such a threat to the Israeli State. Not that we should ever judge anyone by his or her appearance, but Elaine Daly, Fidelma Bonass, Joan Nolan, and Stephen McCloskey hardly fit the profile of “terrorist sympathisers”.

One of them, Elaine, has brought 451 people, mostly Irish citizens, to the West Bank on fact-finding missions over the past 11 years. Her only aim is to show people the reality of life under occupation for Palestinians and to let the visitors speak to NGOs and peace-makers on the ground, including organisations from Israel.

Elaine doesn’t preach. She lets her groups make up their own minds about the kind of conditions Palestinians in the West Bank have been living under for the past 50 years.

Elaine was particularly singled out this month because of her history of bringing Irish groups to Palestine. She was deported on the basis of public safety, public security, or public order considerations.

She has since asked the Israeli Embassy in Dublin for clarification, given her record of bringing almost 20 tour groups to the region on fact-finding missions since 2006.

They only intended to be in the West Bank for eight days. All four were travelling with valid Irish passports and they didn’t kick up a fuss upon their return out of concern for the welfare of the 27 other members of their travelling party who were allowed through to the West Bank.

What did they not want them to see? Was it the humiliation of daily checkpoints or the way in which Israelis and Palestinians have different coloured licence plates on their cars?
A Palestinian family home which has been seized
by Israeli settleers, Hebron 2017

Was it the way in which “settlements” (illegal under international law) are encroaching more and more onto Palestinian land, beyond the 1967 borders?

Was it the daily humiliation of strip-searches, checkpoints, and attacks on farmers trying to tend to their olive trees?

Was it the consequences of living beside a huge wall, which in some cases cuts the West Bank farmers off from their own land?

Veteran broadcaster Mike Murphy was one of the 27 who was allowed through after being questioned at Ben Gurion Airport. He was genuinely shocked by the conditions he saw Palestinians living under over the following week.

“The only resistance open to the Palestinian people in the face of their daily degradation and humiliation is simply to remain. The Israelis patently wish them gone,” he wrote in a moving piece in The Irish Times.

At the airport, he had asked Israeli immigration police why his colleagues had been deported.

He was shown a video of a demonstration which showed a couple of Irish people waving a Tricolour and throwing stones at a huge wall. All four had denied attending the regular demonstrations in the village of Bili’in.

On a visit to a small village in the West Bank last month, Galway activist Ian O Dalaigh was told of the intimidation faced by a Palestinian man, Omar Hajajla, whose house happens to be near an illiegal Israeli settlement on occupied land.

There have been repeated attempts to force Omar off the land and he refuses to leave after taking care of it for more than 40 years. It is hard to imagine how much more difficult his life would be if international observers were unable to visit him and bear witness to the pressures he is subjected to at regular intervals.

In Hebron, international visitors to a refugee camp visited a Palestinian house which had been seized by Israeli settlers. Draped in an Israeli flag, it was clear that the original inhabitants were no longer welcome in their own home. There has been a systemic campaign to remove families from similar homes across the region.

One suspects that, deep down, even the Israeli authorities themselves must feel there is something wrong with the daily humiliations Palestinians are subjected to as a result of the 50 year occupation of their land.

Why else would they prevent four peace activists from Ireland from visiting in order to bear witness to the reality of life on the ground in Palestine?

Millions of people have been abused and humiliated on a daily basis for five decades and the cost of a never-ending conflict has taken a terrible toll on everyone involved.

It’s harder to show solidarity with the oppressed, people who are abused and discriminated against every day, when you are not allowed to even visit them to see the stranglehold the occupiers hold over their daily lives.

* If you wish to protest the unjust deportations of four Irish people from Israel this month, you can contact the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, at

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

Find Ciaran on Twitter, @ciarantierney

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

At least Leo remembers where he was ... !

If you want to see how modern Ireland works, take a look at the media coverage of the devastating floods across India, Bangladesh, and Nepal last week and contrast them with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in Florida.                                                    
Flooding in Bangladesh, September 2017

It may have escaped your attention that more than 1,200 people died in South Asia last week, with more than 40 million affected by the severe flooding, but you would never know that if you received all your news from mainstream Irish media.

In Florida, two people had died as of late Monday night, but you heard a lot more about the hurricane in the US than the 18,000 schools which were destroyed or damaged in South Asia, leaving 1.8 million children unable to attend their classes.

It’s quite clear that some lives are far more important – and worthy of reportage – than others.

And that’s just the way President Donald Trump wants you to think, as he and elements of the media divide the world into “us” and “them” while playing on our fears.

Why should we care about “illegal” Mexicans or Muslims when we don’t see them on our TV screens?

If you want to know how Ireland works, have a look at the way in which the anniversary of the appalling terrorist attacks on 9/11 is marked with tribute pieces and eyewitness recollections every September.

Of course, the attacks in September 2001 shocked the globe. They had a particular resonance here in Ireland, where so many people have connections with the United States, but our media only tell a tiny part of the story.

Irish-Americans were rightly proud when Ireland declared a national day of mourning in response to those terrorist attacks.

In terms of Irish media coverage, Syrian lives don't matter much
People should never forget Ground Zero, but don’t we diminish ourselves as human beings when we make it clear that some lost lives are not even worthy of reportage?

Do we question enough? Do our TV news channels really tell us everything that’s going on?

How often do they ask us to stop and think of the innocent lives lost in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, or Libya as a result of US bombings since 9/11?

How often are we told the human stories behind the estimated 26,000 bombs which were dropped by the US last year? Do they matter?

Or do we not care because these people have been dehumanised by those in comfy offices who plan drone attacks? And by the news editors who decided not to even bother telling us about their bombs?

Take just one example. In July of last year, 85 people lost their lives in the village of Tokhar, in Northern Syria. They were killed by US air strikes, but their deaths did not even merit a mention on the main evening news.

Is it a case that their lives don’t matter? How can we care about them when we aren’t even told about their deaths? Just as we don’t tend to see the victims of the Bangladeshi floods on our TV screens.

If you want to know how modern Ireland works, take a trip down to Shannon Airport on a Sunday afternoon.

Once a month for 16 years now, a small group of peace activists have congregated in rain, wind, or sunshine to highlight the fact that a civilian airport in a ‘neutral’ country has effectively been transformed into a US military base.

You will see special branch Gardai filming the peace activists and jotting down their car registrations.

Funny how they have not once stopped to search one of the US military planes bringing so much death and destruction to towns and cities across Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

But we don’t like to talk about that in Leo Varadkar’s Ireland.

Instead we have a Taoiseach who tweets about where he was when Princess Diana died, 20 years ago, on the day two homeless people died on Irish streets.

We have local politicians who can spend a full meeting arguing over whether nor not they should have prayers before meetings, while the homelessness crisis in their city has reached unprecedented levels.

We have politicians who pay tribute to a retiring Garda Commissioner who was in charge of our police force when a brave, honest whistleblower was branded a sex abuser and almost 1.5 million bogus drink and drug-driving tests were conjured up out of thin air.

US troops at 'neutral' Shannon Airport

We have the retiring managing director of the laughable Irish Water company waving goodbye with €655,000 in salary, severance, and pension contributions in his final year.

This is taxpayers’ money, a reward for leading a venture – mired in controversy from day one – which now won’t even see the light of day.

We have patients lying on trolleys in our public hospitals, makeshift tent villages hidden away behind trees and bushes in our major cities, and an unprecedented rental crisis, but, hell, at least An Taoiseach can remember where he was the day Princess Diana died.

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and content writer, based in Galway, Ireland. He is available for freelance and travel writing. Find him on Facebook here

Find Ciaran Tierney on Twitter, @ciarantierney

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

To win with class ... !

After 29 years of waiting, many a tear was shed. As the final whistle blew I hugged the big, burly Rahoon man in front of me, before dancing up and down with my brother, and running about five seats down to embrace the boys from Turloughmore. Similar scenes were erupting all around us in the 82,000 capacity stadium.                                                      
A joyous Galway homecoming at Pearse Stadium

After 29 years of heartbreak, Galway were champions. We nearly had to pinch ourselves, we were so overjoyed.

I was a young student, squatting in London, the last time Galway won the Liam McCarthy Cup and I consoled myself that there would be plenty more September victories when I declined my father’s offer of a ticket and a fare home.

Our team was the best in Ireland and I figured there were plenty more glory days ahead, so I delayed my return home for a winter of studies at NUI Galway.

I thought of the old man, aged over 90 now, presumably shedding a few tears at home in Galway City. He brought me to Croke Park when I could barely walk and, as an adult, I used to curse him for this strange, seemingly fatal, and beautiful addiction which can arise such passion on summery Sunday afternoons.

He had followed the team long before I was born, with the same sort of fatal pessimism which was common to our Tribe until about 5pm on Sunday.

I remembered 1980. My brother and I were small boys, held aloft by crying adults amid the din of seeing our side become triumphant for the first time in 57 years. Those tears made a lot more sense now, after so many years of heartbreak of our own.

My brother and I had been to every final Galway had lost since a youthful Conor Hayes bounded up the stairs to collect the Liam McCarthy back in 1988. It only added to the drama and excitement that there was so little between the teams in the end on Sunday.

Celebrating under the Cusack Stand after the game

Poor Waterford! If it had been Kilkenny, or Cork, or Tipp, we might have been less emotional and a bit more joyous. All week, we had consoled ourselves that at least we’d be happy to see them win it if the Tribesmen went and broke our hearts again by losing another final.

Hadn’t they been waiting 58 years? Hadn’t we roared on the likes of Tony Browne, John Mullane, and Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh hoping that they, like us, could end their curse against one of the ‘traditional’ powers?

Galway didn’t score a goal, again, but it didn’t matter when we had such supreme marksmen scattered around the field. They tested our nerves by letting in two goals, but was it ever going to be any other way.

In my previous life as a sports reporter, I had been to many All-Ireland finals. But this was different. I had watched Kilkenny and Cork teams pick up the Cup with the casual appearance of people who were out for an afternoon shopping trip. But what’s rare is wonderful and, all around us, people in maroon were shedding tears of joy.

The sun came out in the closing minutes and many of us were thinking of those who had not lived to see this wonderful day.

I thought of friends in London, Sydney, New York, Vietnam, and Brazil, and how joyful they must have been at that very moment, crammed into Irish bars in their maroon jerseys at all sorts of hours. Few things can unite our global diaspora like an All-Ireland final.

I thought of men like Ollie Canning, Joe Rabbitte, Eugene Cloonan, Kevin Broderick, and Damien Hayes, so many brilliant Galway hurlers who had put their hearts and souls into winning that elusive Celtic Cross. And, as I looked out towards the Hill and the emotional outpouring all around me on the Cusack Stand, there was no shame in our tears.

And nobody wanted to leave. Why would they, when we had been waiting for 29 long years? Those of us who remembered the glory days of 1987 and 1988 were reminded of our mortality, while the youngsters singing on the Hill must have felt they’d never see those kind of days.

It wasn’t just a victory, it was something wondrous achieved with such class both on and off the field.
To have a captain like David Burke, a man who battled back from injury and knew the pain of losing finals, step forward to collect the cup on behalf of the maroon hordes.

A TOUCH OF CLASS ... Galway captain David Burke and Joe Canning
with Margaret Keady, wife of the late Tony Keady, on Sunday

What a magnificent speech he produced, to remember the late Tony Keady, Man of the Match in 1988 and a man who had roared on among us just a few short weeks ago during the semi-final win over Tipperary.

He hoped that the win would give Tony’s wife and children just a little comfort in the midst of their grief, just as the fans had risen en masse to salute their former centre-back six minutes into the game.

What a wondrous gesture to remember the late Niall Donoghue, whose tragic passing in 2013 devastated an entire rural community. In the absolute joy of what once seemed an impossible victory, he reminded us all of the need to look after our mental health.

What a wonderful platform he used to raise this issue in front of hundreds of thousands of TV viewers. Even at the happiest moment of his life, he gave a shout out to those who struggle with demons and the organisations, like Pieta House, who provide wonderful help in the darkest of times.

There’s a lot wrong with Galway GAA – I know too many loyal fans who failed to get tickets for the final – but our young sportsmen did us so proud on Sunday afternoon.

Down on the pitch, our 28-year old ‘superstar’ showed the kind of humility he never gets enough credit for as he embraced Margaret during his captain’s speech. Without Joe Canning, Galway would never have reached this final and now the nay-sayers can no longer slag off the most gifted player of his generation for not having that elusive All-Ireland medal.          
The Galway hurlers undertake a lap of honour following
a thrilling All-Ireland final victory over Waterford at Croke Park

Did he bask in the glory? Of course he did. But he took time out to hug the newly bereaved widow, shared a tear with his parents at the front of the stand, and embraced children with special needs long before he made his way back to the dressing-room.                              

Such class from a young man who has faced far too much derision and begrudgery since his phenomenal talent began to generate headlines a decade ago.

The Galway hurling community is very much like a big family and the family rallied around the Keady family with absolute class throughout the weekend.

It would have been the perfect weekend if the GAA could sort out the ticketing arrangements which somehow leave some genuine supporters out in the cold.

The single mum from East Galway who takes her son to every game or the club hurler in the city who only missed the final deserve better than the people who attended their first and only game of the year on Sunday.

It was embarrassing to note that Galway fans were outnumbered about 4-1 by their Wexford counterparts at the Leinster final in early July.

The 'Maroon Army' took over Hill 16 on Sunday
Too many Irish sports fans tend to jump on bandwagons and it seems hugely unfair that so many tickets for the showpiece occasion of the year don’t go to the people who actually go out and support the teams in the earlier rounds.

Having said that, the Galway team of 2017 conducted themselves with absolute class, both on and off the pitch, throughout the weekend.

What a moment of pure emotion it was to see their wonderful manager Micheal Donoghue embrace his father, Miko, after bringing the Liam McCarthy Cup across the Shannon for the first time in 29 years.

Micheal surrounded himself with a wonderful backroom team and instilled the kind of self-belief in his players which has been lacking in Galway teams for much of the past three decades.

It was a wonderful championship. My favourite memory of all was of the three Tipperary supporters who embraced us and wished us well for the final in the Upper Hogan Stand at the end of a thrilling semi-final in August.                                        

So magnanimous in defeat, such worthy All-Ireland champions, I thought to myself as I remembered that I used to “hate these guys” when Tony Keady was at his pomp back in the 1980s.

Hatreds can disappear with time, old enemies can embrace and share their love of a brilliant game, and sometimes even the bridesmaids can become champions.          

Thank you, Galway hurlers, for filling an entire county with wonder, joy, and pride. And for showing us that some tales of woe and heartbreak really can have wondrous endings when you mix in belief, hard work, and skill.

The West has awoken from its slumber and the new dawn is a joy to behold.

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. Contact him via his website, http;//

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