Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The great Galway 'busker war' of 2017!

This is Emma.                                                                           
Busking in Galway. Photo: galwaywalks.com

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
Photo: galwaywalks.com
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 environment@galwaycity.ie 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 https://www.facebook.com/events/762426843882021/

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

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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 http://facebook.com/ciarantierneymedia

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