Friday, November 30, 2018

An open letter to a West of Ireland Senator

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year 2018 

An Irish flag flying in occupied Palestine

Dear Senator O'Mahony,

I would consider you to be one of my sporting heroes. The wonderful, dignified way you went about delivering two All-Ireland football titles to Galway in 1998 and 2001 left a lasting impression with me and were among the highlights of my 22 year career in provincial journalism.

I am writing to say how saddened I was to see you and members of your party, Fine Gael, sit in the Seanad this week to oppose a bill which will give huge hope to people living under an appalling occupation. I come from a "Fine Gael family" and I am truly appalled by the party's stance on Senator Frances Black's Occupied Territories Bill.

How would Michael Collins have voted on Wednesday night?

You are something of a hero in the GAA (especially West of Ireland GAA), an organisation which knows more than a thing or two about oppression, colonisation, and the brutality of an occupying army.

When the British Army murdered 14 people and injured 60 during a football game in Croke Park in 1920, the GAA and the people of Ireland really could have done with international solidarity and support.

I remember a famous photo which went viral all over the world when your Galway team were All-Ireland champions. It showed your team, the champions, playing Armagh next to a British Army base, where helicopters were taking off and landing, in a National Football League game in South Armagh.

The GAA has a long and noble history of standing up to oppression.

I am astounded that your party, Fine Gael, sees no merit in a former colony leading the way for the rest of the world by banning goods from 'settlements' which have been built on land which was colonised illegally in 1967.

The people of the West Bank have lived under a brutal occupation for 51 years, which is more than all of my lifetime, and they are in desperate need of hope. Ireland can give them some hope.

Members of the Al-Helal football team in Kinvara in 2016,
Photo: John Kelly, The Clare Champion.

I have travelled extensively in the Middle East and I believe a monstrous injustice has been caused to the people of Palestine. I'm also aware that they look up to Ireland and the Irish, due to our own struggle against colonisation.

It seems clear to me now that the people of Palestine will not get any solidarity from Irish politicians who are more concerned about cozying up to our European and American 'masters' than standing up for human rights.

We seem to have forgotten where we came from.

Your party's line about the European Union leading the way on foreign policy doesn't wash. The West Bank settlements are illegal according to international law. Buying goods from them, on land which has been stolen from the people of Palestine, should be a 'no brainer' in a former colony like Ireland.

This bill is not a full boycott of Israel and Israeli goods. It's merely calling on the Irish Government to uphold international law. I believe that Fine Gael is now on the wrong side of history, just as those who opposed the Dunnes Stores strikers in 1981 were proved to be wrong after their actions helped lead to the collapse of the appalling Apartheid regime.

The Seanad voted 30-13 in favour of the bill on Wednesday,
despite opposition from the Fine Gael party

Nelson Mandela sought out and thanked those women years later when he came to Dublin. I can't see a future Nelson Mandela of Palestine wanting to have anything to do with Simon Coveney and the members of Fine Gael if he or she comes to visit Ireland.

Yes, my interest in this is personal. This summer, I helped to raise €4,350 during a night out in Galway to bring a Gaza football team to Ireland. Those little underage boys, crying out for hope, were not even allowed out of Gaza, due to the appalling siege imposed on them by the Governments of Israel and Egypt.

I was so inspired by the joy on the young boys’ faces when they came to Galway in 2016 and 2017.

It felt so embarrassing to have to tell the people of Galway, who gave their money so generously, that we could not do anything for the young footballers of the Al-Helal Academy for another year.

Those kids so badly need the kind of experiences they get from playing in places like Kinvara and escaping the stifling atmosphere of Gaza for even a few days.

I know journalists who have been shot at by Israeli soldiers just for filming their actions. I know a wonderful human rights lawyer who has been branded a terrorist for chronicling the crimes which have been committed against the people of his village.

I know people who have had raw sewage thrown down on their villages by 'settlers' who should not even be living beyond the 1967 borders.

In the refugee camps of Jordan, years ago, I met people who still have the keys for their homes – even though they haven’t been able to go home in decades.

And I'm sickened when Simon Coveney, who I believe to be a good man, tells me and other Irish people that we cannot lead the way on this by taking a principled stand.

Asking Senators to support the Occupied Territories Bill in Galway

Last Saturday, a small group of us organised a stall in Shop Street in Galway. Over the course of five hours, almost 600 people signed postcards calling on Senators in our region to support the Occupied Territories Bill. Every one of them thanked us, warmly, for standing in solidarity with the Palestinians on a cold November Saturday.

Two weeks earlier, more than a hundred people turned up in a Galway hotel to support Senator Black and her bill.

It was amazing to see how many Galway people related so much to this issue, perhaps due to our own island's troubled history. it's not as though Palestine is as directly relevant to them as issues such as homelessness and the housing crisis.

I believe the people who thanked us in Galway city centre last Saturday showed how out of touch Fine Gael are with ordinary people when it comes to human rights.

Here in the West of Ireland, people really do understand.

But it seems that the Fine Gael party members in this part of Ireland have forgotten their roots. They see no parallels at all between Oliver Cromwell and ‘To Hell Or To Connacht’ and the mass forced migration of Palestinians into the tiny strip of land called Gaza.

And I believe that Senator Frances Black has shown great courage in the face of hostile international pressure by moving this bill.

It’s not always easy to stand up for what you believe is right, especially when the might and the power are on the other side.

Collecting signatures to support the Occupied Territories Bill in Galway

So I guess I'm just writing this to express how disappointed I am by both you and your party, due to your decision to oppose a bill which would actually give huge hope to a people who are crying out for hope.

If only others had given some hope to the Irish throughout the 19th century. It's so easy to dismiss gestures such as Senator Black's and to forget that the Irish have a huge place in the world.

We inspire Palestinians precisely because we were once a colonised people ourselves.

After 51 years of being occupied and having their land stolen, the people of Palestine need more meaningful gestures than our Government deflecting the issue to the European Union.

What was the point of our own noble and often fruitless struggle for independence if we don't have the courage to take our true place in the world?

Are we so willing to sell our souls because it’s more “convenient” than standing up for human rights?

Thank you for reading.

* Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year award at the Tramline, Dublin, last month. Find him on Facebook  or Twitter here. Visit his website here -

Friday, November 23, 2018

Signs of hope by the seaside in Salthill

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year 2018 

Coming together to highlight extincition rebellion in Galway

I live in a city which is choking to death because of a lack of imagination, because so many people rely so much on the car. They feel they have no choice.

I see it every day.

The cycle lanes blocked by motorists who cannot imagine that they should even have to share the roads with people who opt to cycle or walk to school in the mornings.

I have seen a road along my daily commute being redesigned over the past year, because so many parents were literally parking up right outside the front door of a primary school.

Instead of anyone challenging them, the easier option was to add new ‘drop off zones’ to the road than ask people to let their children walk or consider leaving their precious cars at home.

I have a friend who works in Mullingar, two hours away. It takes him as long to make the journey across the city as it does to drive from Mullingar to the western fringes every day. He is constantly in despair.

And the solution we are being given is a new ring road. A decade after I wrote a series of reports, researched and costed, for a local newspaper about the huge difference a light rail system would make to a city of just 80,000 souls.

Communting in Galway. Photo: @cosaingalway on Twitter

People get angry, people get stressed, people spend a couple of hours a day stuck in their cars and so few people ever consider buying a bicycle, taking a bus, or walking.

This is at a time when fossil fuels are destroying our planet and we have no idea whether we will even still have petrol in 50 or 100 years.

Our ruling politicians don’t seem to care. They see jobs and publicity coming from a giant ring road as it tears through suburban communities and the long-term future of our planet pales into insignificance when they have elections to fight next year.

In Ireland, we laugh with derision at US President Donald Trump and the way in which he’s so quick to dismiss climate change. As long as he’s reopening the mines or putting trucks back on the roads, who cares?

We celebrate the budget airline which announces millions of extra bums on seats every year, instead of asking whether people really need to fly to Berlin or Birmingham for a stag weekend.

We somehow turn a collective blind eye to the biggest crisis our species has ever seen.

“It was the land that cultivated the people, before the people cultivated the land,” said a wise elder of the Warlpiri people in Australia, recalling simpler times when people felt far more of a connection to the natural world.

They weren’t locked up inside motorised boxes, unable to move, and screaming at other people in motorised boxes because they weren’t able to get to work on time.

Children at the Extinction Rebellion protest in Galway

And yet last weekend in Galway I attended one of the most inspiring events I have been to in years.
About 200 people gathered by the Salthill promenade on a cold November day for a day of action to protest against climate change.

They reminded us that life, or progress, is not just about roads, and factories and air miles, and that, by working together, we can give some hope to our children, that we do not have to carry out untold violence to the planet which sustains us.

It was amazing to see so many political and environmental groups come together to show that people can work together and that so many of us actually care.

The ‘day of action’ was called to highlight the destruction of our planet and the extinction crisis which has wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970.

The people of Ireland have huge issues to face in terms of inequality, injustice, homelessness, and the crisis in the health service, but the environmental crisis dwarfs all of them given the catastrophe on the horizon if we don't change.

Calling out the names of extinct aniimals in Salthill 

Imagine what Galway will be like if we build a city bypass, turning a beautiful coastal city into a glorified motorway, only to find out that cars don’t exist in 50 years.

And is an outer bypass really the solution when our over-reliance on the car as a means of getting around is contributing to the destruction of our natural world? Not to mention a childhood obesity epidemic.

It felt like a key moment, as though people were finally waking up to the reality of what faces us on Saturday. It was so refreshing to see rival groups come together with common cause.

After some short, but brilliant, speeches the 200 people gathered on the prom participated in a little direct action which showed great imagination.

People stood in a long line at the seafront and then, one by one, they fell to their feet in memory of so many animals who have been wiped out by human beings and fossil fuels.

Pauline O'Reilly of the Green Party called out the names of animals who are no longer with us and the gesture really brought the gravity of the situation home for the many children in the crowd.

The Salthill event was part of a global day of action, with protests also happening in London, Dublin, Belfast, Cork, and other cities across the world.

It was truly an imaginative display, which brought the message home to the assembled children that modern human life, when motivated by greed and the pillaging of natural resources, is destroying the planet we love.

With the Irish Blog of the Year award last month

It was simple, but effective.

New challenges require new responses and the Extinction Rebellion event was unprecedented in terms of bringing so many groups and individuals together to talk about the daunting global issues we face when the very future of our planet is at stake.

In Salthill on Saturday, a lot of us felt a connection to the people and the planet around us which can never be experienced when you are stuck in traffic inside a car.

The speakers who addressed us like 19th century politicians, standing on top of a wall, told us about the small steps we can all take to combat climate change.

If only our rulers, our leaders, could show the same kind of imagination as the environmentalists did this week in facing up to and highlighting the biggest crisis facing us all.

Ciaran Tierney won the Best Current Affairs Blog in Ireland award in Dublin last month. Find him on Facebook at

If you are looking for a blogger or content writer for your business, please get in touch at (087) 7996290. 

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Thursday, November 15, 2018

Neutrality means nothing when we have dollar signs in our eyes

Remembering a Syrian child, who was murdered in a US airstrike,
during the monthly Shannonwatch protest at Shannon

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year 2018

On a cold Thursday night in November, a few dozen of us congregated in a beautiful but obscure new lecture hall on the western outskirts of the sprawling campus at NUI Galway.

Two Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), four TDs, academics, and peace activists had gathered for a lively and informative three hour discussion which garnered little or no media attention.

I know, because I asked three news editors in advance of the meeting if they would be interested in a piece. Not one of them even replied.

The subject of the meeting was the thorny question of whether or not Ireland is being steamrolled into joining a European Union army since PESCO – Permanent European Security / Military Co-Operation – was rushed through the Dail last December.

In theory at least, Ireland is a “neutral” country. Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, the Independent MEP, called the Galway meeting in response to growing alarm over what PESCO actually means to Ireland.

Are we on our way to becoming part of a European ‘Super State’?

Is our military spending going to increase dramatically to €6 billion per year (or half of what we spend on our desperate health service) because of something our country signed up to with so little debate last year?

Does anybody care?

It is astounding that we hear so much about Brexit on the national airwaves every day, because Britain’s shambolic departure from the EU has such massive implications for Ireland, but we hear little or nothing about the contentious issue of a European Army.

The conference about the EU Army at NUI Galway this week

Are ‘Ming’ and the Independent TDs just alarmist crackpots? Is it really acceptable that unelected EU officials can lead us towards the formation of a ‘super’ army to rival those of the USA and Russia in the future?

And why, oh why, are so few Irish people talking about this?

Perhaps Irish neutrality is a sham, but shouldn’t we at least discuss this issue?

In Shannon last week, the important Shannonwatch peace group noted that a US military plane stopped off in a civilian airport on its way to and from Tel Aviv.

Nobody in authority at Shannon Airport ever checks the contents of the US military machines which have been landing there each and every week since 2001.

Last year, over 61,000 US troops stopped off in Shannon on their way to and from wars in the Middle East.

That might mean a hell of a lot of leprechaun and whiskey sales in the duty free shop, but it also makes a mockery of the concept of Irish neutrality.

A US miltiary supply plane in Shannon this week. It was on its way
'home' from Tel Aviv. Photo via Shannonwatch. 

If it wasn’t so serious, Irish people would be laughing over Brexit and the shambolic way in which pro-Brexit politicians in Britain, in their jingoistic haste to leave the EU, seem to have had no vision for the future.

Perhaps reform, rather than withdrawal, might be the correct response to an undemocratic, unaccountable Europe; but at least in Britain they have had some sort of debate about the EU and their country’s place in it.

The Irish, meanwhile, see ourselves as “model” Europeans even though it was our EU masters who forced us into the “bank bailout”, with devastating implications in terms of the loss of public service jobs, health care and welfare cuts, the privatisation of state assets, and a new wave of emigration at the start of this decade.

Not to mention the huge debt our country has been saddled with for years to come.

Now PESCO, according to the Independent TDs and MEPs, will see Ireland being steamrolled into an EU Army and it is quite amazing how little talk there is about this in Ireland.

“We have to work on a vision of creating a real true European Army,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel this week.

French President Emmanuel Macron called for the formation of a “real” European Army during the Armistice Day commemorations last weekend.

On Tuesday, the European Commission said that a European Army is “likely” to be formed one day.

So the Galway conference this week seemed to be extremely timely.

“Does PESCO damage our neutrality?” asked Catherine Connolly TD. “Yes, it does. We are normalising war and the militarisation of Europe. PESCO was not discussed in our Dail. The good news is that 42 of us voted against it. Language has been stood on its head. We are heading towards a militarised Europe.”

She said that Irish soldiers have to rely on family income supplement in order to survive, in the middle of unprecedented crises in health care and housing.

Deputy Connolly pointed out that the head of the European Commission has never been elected by anyone and spoke of how uncomfortable she felt when he was given a reverential reception in the Dail.

A Fine Gael MEP, Brian Hayes, has called for the “redefinition” of neutrality and both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have denied that PESCO will impact on Irish neutrality.

Independent MEP Flanagan has described the massive global arms industry as an “untapped goldmine” in the eyes of the European Union.

Just as US President Donald Trump feels that punishing human rights abuses by Saudi Arabia would only be foolish if it damaged his country’s $110 billion arms trade with Riyadh, perhaps the Irish should be far more honest with ourselves.

Does our ‘neutrality’ mean anything when we get a chance to cosy up to and find favour with the world’s military powers?

Do we want to stand beside the French and Germans as they, too, aim to become global powers?

Perhaps, ultimately, the vast sums of money to be made from militarisation are far more important than the human rights of children in Syria, Palestine, Yemen or Afghanistan as the US military aircraft land and take off from Shannon Airport with total impunity every week.

“When you question why they are militarising the European Union, you must understand that this is not to protect or defend you,” said Flanagan.

“It is about money . . . and billions of it.”

Is Ireland already facilitating war crimes in the Middle East?
The horror of Syria.

Next time you have a loved-one lying on a hospital trolley for 48 hours, or finding it impossible to find an affordable place to live, remember that PESCO is set to increase Ireland’s military expenditure six times over.

Without any real, meaningful national debate about its implications.

Sometimes, when you look at the stories which are creating headlines, it’s just as informative to check out which stories are being ignored.

When a ‘neutral’ former colony wants to be part of a new global super-power, when arms sales are more important than human lives, language truly has been stood on its head.

Neutrality means next to nothing when we have dollar signs in our eyes.

Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year Award (personal) at the Tramline, Dublin, last month. He is seeking new opportunities in a digital age. Find him on Facebook at

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The first Conference Against US and NATO Military Bases takes place in Dublin this weekend. Details at

Thursday, November 1, 2018

An escape to the city of Irish hopes and dreams

New York offered hope to so many distressed and impoverished Irish

In a crowded hall in Queens last week, it was hard to avoid the feeling that Ireland was a repressive place – a place to escape from – for so much of our island’s recent history.

A hushed silence had descended over the New York Irish Center in Long Island City as an audience of mainly elderly and middle-aged people gathered to watch a documentary about the harrowing scandal of the ‘Tuam Babies’.

And, then . . . the anger, the questions, and the disbelief. How had this happened to ordinary Irish women and children within living memory?

How had 796 babies and infants been discarded like rag dogs, and perhaps even dumped in a septic tank, in a 20th century Western society?

From the 1920s, when the Irish State was founded, to the 1990s, Irish women had been imprisoned for the terrible ‘crime’ of giving birth to a child outside marriage. Their children were branded as “illegitimate”, many taken from them often against their will, and the women themselves were shamed for life.

That’s why they needed to escape, not just from the institutions themselves but from an island which labelled and judged them, and seized them from their family homes in the dead of night.

Where was the justice? Where were the fathers? Why was such cruelty inflicted on these women and these children?

I watched in awe as Galway man Peter Mulryan and his wife Kathleen fielded their questions and told them what it was like to find out, as Peter did in his seventies, that a younger sister he never knew he had could be buried in a septic tank.

Or, for all he knows, Marian could be alive today and walking the streets of New York, Boston, or Chicago, completely unaware of who she really is or where she really is from.

Nobody has any idea yet about the scale of adoptions of Irish children of babies to the United States in the 20th century or the number of women who escaped from 'laundries' and 'baby homes' in order to move there.

Because the story of the ‘Tuam Babies’ is a story of (illegal) adoptions to ‘good’ Catholic families in America and a generation of women who emigrated to America to escape from the shame.

The documentary screened in Queens and Boston, ‘Mother & Baby’, looked at the harsh lives of 20th century Irish women and children . . . and the survivors’ valiant efforts to rebuild their lives.

A packed house at the New York Irish Centre in Queens

In the United States last week, it was astonishing to hear the children of these women stand up and tell their stories. How they knew they had left Ireland, but only found out after they died that they had been imprisoned for having babies long before starting new lives.

One man told me his sister lives just down the road from me in Galway. His mother never talked about her, or the horrors she experienced as a prisoner in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home before she escaped to America.

Where would his family be without America?

And, indeed, where would the Irish be without the great Irish cities of New York and Boston?
They offered hope, a refuge, and a fresh start for so many of us that we take our connections with America, and the Big Apple, for granted at times.

I arranged to meet Peter and Kathleen at the Irish Hunger Memorial in the financial district of Manhattan a few days before the screening of the ‘Mother & Baby’ documentary in Queens.

It felt like the perfect place to ponder on how our little windswept island in the North Atlantic had failed to provide fulfilling lives for so many generations of our people over the past couple of centuries.

The incongruous stone walls and little cottage under the gaze of so many skyscrapers and the One World building was a little reminder that, for so many Irish, this place offered the chance of a life which was impossible back home.

A family from Co Mayo transferred the entire stone cottage across the Atlantic to educate the people of the US about the Great Famine.

Peter and Kathleen Ryan at the Irish Hunger
Memorial in Manhattan, New York, last week

It makes for a remarkable image, and a wonderful quiet haven in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Manhattan.

At the memorial, there's a quote from Loughrea, Co Galway, a few years before the famine about people who had pawned off all their clothes and were unable to go to Mass.

It brought home to me how close the people of Syria today are to the Irish, and those from Connacht in particular, who fled oppression, conflict, and famine.

The simple, but beautiful, memorial in New York reminded me of our own simple seaside memorial in Salthill, to remind people of the 100 ‘coffin ships’ which set sail from Galway Bay to America between 1847 and 1850.

Thousands of our people set sail for the great cities of New York and Boston at a time when a million people died of starvation.

Without the hundreds of thousands of Irish who found new lives in the Americas, the scale of the disaster back home would have been unthinkable.

Without the money they sent home to loved-ones in Ireland throughout the 19th century, the deprivation experienced would have been off the scale.

Many of those who were “lucky” enough to have a ticket to America never even made it to the other side.

When they poured off the boats and into the crowded slums of the Five Points, they may have encountered criminality, murders, and discrimination, but they had power in numbers, they organised themselves, and they built new lives.

At the Irish Hunger Memorial in Manhattan 

At the wonderful Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side, our informative young Italian-American guide marvelled at how an Irish family had improved their lot by moving out of the ghetto in the 1860s.

She showed us around the small yard they would have shared with 22 other families and showed us the picture of Daniel ‘The Libertor’ O’Connell and the map of Ireland on the wall.

They worked hard to make decent lives for their children and in many respects the impoverished Irish back home had no idea of the struggles their emigrant brothers and sisters had to forge out a decent standard of living in America.

The Irish were still facing discrimination when they moved into that building but, remarkably, she told us that 25% of the people in New York had been born in Ireland at that time. No wonder our people took over City Hall, the police, the fire department, and perhaps even the crime gangs at the time.

Our guide, Chelsea, told us of how the Irish enriched New York with their music, their pubs, and their culture, but not their food, unlike say the Italians or the Chinese.

She knew a lot about the Great Famine, but I didn’t have the heart to tell her that huge swathes of the Irish population had lived solely on the humble potato for over half a century before the Moore family moved to their small tenement in the Lower East Side in 1869.

Out at Ellis Island, a steady stream of tourists is reminded every day that a young Irish girl called Anna ‘Annie’ Moore, aged just 15, was the very first immigrant to be processed at Ellis Island in 1892.

They are asked to imagine the excitement of a young girl upon seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time, after making a 12 day voyage from Co Cork.

At the World Trade Centre site, I came across the memorial to Tuam woman Ann McHugh who lost her life on 9/11, just a five minute walk from the Irish Hunger Memorial.

In Hell’s Kitchen, Mayo women in their 50s and 60s used to serve us tea and coffees in Irish cafes on my first visit to New York two decades ago.

So many of our generation found new lives in the United States in the 1950s and again in the 1980s when the Irish Government could offer them little hope of finding work at home.

Celebrating the Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year award

"Emigration will soon cause it to be said that Ireland is no longer where flows the Shannon, but rather beside the banks of the Hudson River,” says one of the more memorable quotes at the Irish Hunger Museum.

New York is no longer an “Irish” city in the way it was a century ago and the Irish have long since moved out of the Five Points to be replaced by Chinatown.

The distressed migrants of 2018 are no longer crossing the Atlantic on ‘coffin ships’ from Cork and Galway, but joining a caravan from Honduras and El Salvador or paying people traffickers to take them out of the hell of Syria.

For so many of our people, escaping famine and persecution in the 1800s, the shame of a judgemental society in the 1950s, or recession and stagnation in the 1990s, New York – and America – offered the Irish opportunities and dreams which were denied to them at home.

Where would the Irish be without America?

As we look forward, and our lives evolve, we should never forget where we came from.

Ciaran Tierney won the Best Current Affair Blog in Ireland award at the Tramline, Dublin, last week. Find him on Facebook here

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Please note that you can now subscribe to this blog by clicking the button at the top of this page. You will then have to register your email and you may need to check your SPAM or JUNK folder when you receive confirmation. Please note that you will only receive an email when I update this blog (about once a week or so) and I will never share your email address with other parties. Thanks a million for all the support!