Thursday, September 26, 2019

With friends like Katie ...

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year 2018

The Connemara Gateway Hotel in Oughterard

Katie Hopkins cares deeply about the people of Oughterard. She said so in a Tweet, which she posted with a video from a protest in the Connemara town.

“Bless these lovely people in Oughterard,” she wrote. “Silently protesting against the imposition of African migrants into a converted hotel in their quiet Irish town. Will Ireland follow Germany? Do we never learn?”

Hopkins is British. She’s a far-right extremist who despises immigrants, whether they are asylum-seekers fleeing persecution or economic migrants in search of better lives. If she had been writing for the British tabloids in the 1950s or 1980s, I doubt she would have had too many good things to say about the Irish.

Hopkins has been re-tweeted by US President Donald Trump and, bizarrely, given a platform by Ryan Tubridy to express how much she despises foreigners on RTE’s ‘Late Late Show’.

I very much doubt she would have been able to locate Oughterard on a map of Ireland three weeks ago. But somebody here in Ireland was compelled to send her a video of a protest against plans to locate a Direct Provision centre in the Co Galway town.

Why would she suddenly be concerned about the 1,300 residents of a small town in the West of Ireland? Could it have anything to do with the fact that the kind of fascist rhetoric used by Hopkins in the UK and ‘alt-right’ groups in the USA is beginning to take a foothold here?

Why would it bother her if there are plans to locate up to 250 asylum-seekers in a Co Galway town?

When it comes to migrants, Hopkins has form. It is quite possible that her sudden concern for the people of Oughterard is motivated far more by a hatred of immigrants – and links to like-minded Irish groups – than any real concern for the welfare of the town’s residents.

“Rescue boats? I’d use gunships to stop migrants,” she wrote in her column in The Sun in 2015, before referring to migrants in Calais, France, as a “plague of feral humans” as they tried to board trucks to gain access to her beloved United Kingdom.

Not for her any concerns for nice Syrian Christians fleeing persecution as they make their way across the Mediterranean Sea in search of new lives in Britain or Ireland.

“Make no mistake, these migrants are like cockroaches. They might look a bit “Bob Geldof’s Ethiopia circa 1984”, but they are built to survive a nuclear bomb. They are survivors,” she also wrote four years ago.

Just the kind of person the people of Oughterard need on their side right now.

A heated public meeting about Direct Provision in Oughterard

Rowan Croft, who tweets as Grand Torino, says he cares deeply about the people of Oughterard.

“We are not the land of milk and honey for economic migrant window shoppers who, skip through European countries till they find one with weak politicians and a generous welfare system to sponge off,” he tweeted recently, using the hashtag #Oughterard.

“We are full. Ireland and Irish first.”

His message echoes the ‘America First’ rhetoric of Donald Trump or the ‘Britain First’ language of far-right British fascists who have been emboldened by the Brexit vote across the water.

Croft describes himself as an “Irish patriot”, even though he once served in the British Army and swore an oath of loyalty to the Queen of England.

Apparently, Hermann Kelly of the Irish Freedom Party cares deeply about the people of Oughterard, too.

He must do, because he was invited onto ‘Drivetime’ on RTE Radio One this week to talk about the campaign to keep a Direct Provision centre out of the town.

To the best of my knowledge, Kelly has no strong connections to the Connemara town. His main claim to fame, so far, is that he has worked as Director of Communications for Nigel Farage’s group in the European Parliament.

But people like him have been stirring up legitimate concerns in Oughterard, where local people have a right to ask questions about plans to house up to 250 ayslum-seekers in a disused hotel in the town.

Gearoid Murphy also cares about the people of Oughterard. So much so he travelled up from Cork on a Wednesday night to attend the now infamous meeting in the community centre; where concerns were raised about the prospect of turning the Connemara Gateway Hotel into a Direct Provision centre.

It was Murphy who filmed Deputy Noel Grealish, the Independent TD, claiming that African migrants were “sponging” off the system in Ireland.

Noel Grealish is concerned about the people of Oughterard. There is an election looming within the next year and he probably figures his comments have done him no harm.

He saw how presidential election candidate Peter Casey experienced a surge in support after making comments about Travellers last year. Two weeks have passed and there is no sign of an apology or retraction from the Galway West TD.

Presumably, he has never met the Nigerian woman I spoke to two years ago, who was captured and held captive by Boko Haram, who wanted to use her as a sex slave.

Trapped in a small room in a disused hotel with her daughter in Galway, she could not afford the price of a text message when she needed to postpone our interview.

There is no way she dreamed of "sponging off the system" in a disused Salthill hotel, struggling to get by on €38.80 per week, when she arrived in Ireland eight years ago.

She doesn’t fit Grealish's narrative of “good Christian Syrians” fleeing ISIS in order to make a new life, because he believes all Africans coming here are spongers.

The language Grealish came out with in Oughterard that night was exactly the kind of rhetoric being spread by the far-right in the United States in the lead-up to the election of Donald Trump in November 2017.

He has normalised the kind of language which allows us to look at Syrians or Brazilians as “good” immigrants while those who come here from Africa are “bad”.

On his own website, Grealish admits that seven members of his own family have been economic migrants. He currently has three siblings living in Boston and one each in Copenhagen, Chicago and Nebraska.

Poster for a protest against Direct Provisin this Saturday

“I can guarantee you it is not the persecuted Christians and Syrians who are coming here,” Deputy Noel Grealish told the Oughterard meeting. “It is the economic refugees that is coming in from Africa that are trying to get across the Mediterranean and ended up in Europe, and ended up in Ireland, and ended up in Oughterard.”

One wonders what kind of persecution his own family members faced in Galway before they left for new lives overseas.

Or is it ok for some people to become economic migrants, but not others?

I have spoken to three people, none of whom know each other, who attended that meeting in Oughterard. Although quite a few locals were present in the crowd of about 800, they saw people spread throughout the hall they had never seen before in their lives.

All of them said that they were shocked and intimidated by the atmosphere in the room, the stoking of fears, the anti-immigrant rhetoric, and the abuse directed at any speakers who went against the prevailing narrative.

People in Oughterard have genuine concerns and they have every right to raise them at a public meeting.

They have a right to know why they have no Garda Station at night, why it’s so hard to get housing, why there is so little information coming from the Government, or what leisure facilities would be put in place to cater for so many asylum-seekers forced to live on €38.80 per week for months on end.

They have a right to ask why it feels as though their town is being left behind while the major cities are booming.

They have a right to ask whether Direct Provision is a humane system and whether it’s right to force up to 250 people to live for years in a disused hotel in a town most of them have never heard of.

What they don’t need are far-right extremists, with links to British, American, or Italian fascists, coming along in order to hijack their protest and exploit their concerns.

Locals are set to stage a peaceful demo in Oughterard

Two protest marches against Direct Provision take place in Co Galway on Saturday. Locals have organised a silent march in Oughterard at 11.30am, while the Galway Anti-Racism Network (GARN) has scheduled a protest for 4pm in the city. The time of the city protest has been changed to accommodate people from Oughterard.

--  * Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year award in October 2018. Find him on Facebook  or Twitter here. Visit his website here - A former newspaper journalist, he is seeking new opportunities in a digital world.

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Friday, August 16, 2019

Sorry, I missed the party

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year

What does it mean to be an Irish "patriot" in 2019?

Dear “patriots” of Ireland,

My apologies. I am sorry I did not get to attend your Dublin street rally last weekend.

It would have been good to travel across the country for three hours to stand in solidarity with a fellow former newspaper journalist who wants to stand up for free speech.

Only she blocked me from following her on Twitter months ago, just for asking a pretty innocuous question about her beliefs.

It would really have been a bold expression in favour of freedom to stand alongside an ex-journalist who, until recently, used to rant on her YouTube channel wondering if white Irish women who sleep with black African men were “fools”, “sluts” and “whores”.

Of course, she was only asking questions. She didn’t say straight out that these women were prostitutes, but she had heard, you see, that “some African guys” were impregnating Irish woman so that they could get residency in Ireland.

It would have been brave to stand beside the woman who described an appalling terrorist attack on two mosques in New Zealand as a “false flag” operation. You see, I’m more inclined to believe a former journalist thousands of miles away in Dublin than the New Zealand police who actually were on the scene and had to investigate the appalling slaughter of 51 people.

By a "terrorist" who also happens to be a white supremacist.

Funny how the protesters didn’t pop down the road to Facebook, to complain that the mass murderer at the Christchurch mosques had been able to video part of the slaughter live on their site. No. Better to lament the closure of the YouTube account of someone who believes that the Irish will become an ethnic minority in their own country in just a few years.

Gemma O'Doherty used her YouTube channel to denounce immigration

Better to lament the closure of a channel which has been consistently used to claim that our country is being “inundated” with migrants who are adding to the crises in our health care and housing sectors.

It would have been "nice" to go along and listen to the leader of a new political party who wants to deport all of the immigrants living in Ireland.

How I would have liked to stand there and watch him ridicule the mental health of a woman he despises, mainly because she is best known for campaigning in favour of vaccinations for Irish children.

This is a man, by the way, who proclaims that the threat of suicide does not justify legal abortion under any circumstances; a man who has admitted attending rallies organised by far-right parties in other counties.

I have actually seen him on social media proclaiming that white Irish Catholics are the “superior” race and that the Irish need to retain their Judeo-Christian heritage.

It would have been interesting to hear him talk, mainly because my work over the past five years has seen me meet many of the survivors of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home and the families of the 796 disappeared (or missing, or dead, or adopted for money, or buried in an unmarked grave) children.

I’d love to know when this superior Catholic Ireland existed.

Survivors of the Tuam Home standing together in solidarity last year

Was it when their mothers and sisters were dragged out of their beds in the dead of night and locked up in inhumane institutions for the crime of having children?

Was it when gay and lesbian people (I have seen them described as “perverts” in videos from the Dublin protests) were so afraid of revealing their true identities that they felt they had no choice but to take their own lives?

Was it back in the days (not so long ago at all) when young female rape victims had to sneak off to London or Liverpool, in shame, because Ireland judged them so harshly even though they had done nothing wrong?

Was this mythical Catholic Ireland evident in the priests who beat Irish children so cruelly after branding them as “illegitimate” ... or the whispered tales about men of the cloth who were moved around from one parish to another whenever anyone tried to expose their crimes against Irish children?

Do we really want to go back to that Ireland, in which the Bishop of Galway used to urge his flock to beat their daughters if they dared to venture out late at night?

Funny how we have protests outside the headquarters of Google, but none outside the HQs of the religious institutions who have not paid the victims of their crimes a fraction of the damages they owe?

Remembering the 796 'Tuam Babies' with baby shoes last year

It would have been interesting to be in Barrack Street last weekend, alright, to witness fascist salutes at an Irish protest for the first time in my life.

I’m aware that my country was colonised, that Irish people were second class citizens in their own land, and I’d have found it interesting, no disturbing, to see people associate a far-right salute with our beloved national flag.

How quickly we forget that we were once the despised refugees ourselves. And, if you think we are the "superior race", pity you didn't tell the British in the 1950s when they greeted people in search of accommodation with signs which read 'No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs'.

It would have been interesting to see if the three men who engaged in Nazi salutes last Saturday were ignored or challenged by those who had supposedly gone to Barrack Street to support free speech. Instead of pretending they were "plants" from the other side.

It is clear that Ireland is in a mess, that the gap between the “haves” and “have nots” has never been wider and that the Irish Government have let us down in terms of housing, homelessness, inequality, job security, vulture funds, ‘jobs for the boys’, and the provision of proper health care.

But people are now using social media sites to call for refugees to be burned alive in boarded up Direct Provision centres.

And those who choose hate and fear above love, equality, and justice seem to have little understanding of what generations of Irish people went through when they landed, penniless and full of fear, on the shores of the US, UK, Australia, and Canada.

Some of the protesters in Dublin see nothing wrong with social media posts which call for migrants to be locked up and burnt alive inside their homes.

They want to drag us back to an Ireland which turned a blind eye to the crimes of the Catholic clergy, where gay and lesbian people were “perverted”, and where teenage rape victims or couples given a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormalities had to sneak away to the UK on ferries, as though they were common criminals.

Our country has voted to give gay people equal rights, to give women under duress the right to choose, and we are largely a welcoming people who remember how so many of our people had to flee our homeland in search of better lives.

I could have joined the protest in Dublin, but no thanks.

I don’t want to be dragged back to an Ireland of drawn curtains, squinting windows, harsh judgements, and “disappeared” young women and children, hidden away in homes and industrial schools.

This mythical Ireland beloved of the far-right either never existed in the first place or mistreated its most vulnerable in a way which would be unthinkable to the young people of today.

Freedom of speech? Yes. Tackle corruption? By all means. Deal with the bankers and vulture funds?

Of course.

But there’s no dragging us back to a horrible or non-existent past.

We have come too far from the days when women were locked up for the "crime" of being raped or lesbian and gay people were told they don't belong in their own land.

Yes, dear "patriots" of Dublin, your Ireland is not my Ireland.

Never was.

--  * Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year award at the Tramline, Dublin, in October 2018. Find him on Facebook  or Twitter here. Visit his website here - A former newspaper journalist, he is seeking new opportunities in a digital world.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Struggling to come to terms with a hate crime

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year

Gathering in solidarity at a Galway mosque this week

Apart from the wanton destruction, it was the look of despair and anguish on the young boy’s face which left the most lasting impression.

As an adult member of his community brought me on a guided tour of the vandalised mosque, the little boy – no more than nine or ten years old – expressed his bafflement that such vandalism could occur in such a peaceful place.

Why would anyone want to destroy this place where his parents brought him to worship every weekend?

Why is there such hatred for his people in the city he knows and loves?

The Ahmadi Muslim boy with the strong Galway accent was upset and bewildered. As they showed me the broken windows, the flittered books, and the place where the CCTV panel was ripped from the wall, he could not hide his sense of anguish.

The irony, of course, is that many of Galway’s 200 Ahmadi Muslims came to Ireland to seek refuge after being persecuted in other countries.

They are considered non-Muslims, even considered heretics, by many mainstream Muslims and faced persecution or oppression. In May 2010, 84 of them were murdered in the Lahore massacre – the year in which the Maryam Mosque opened in Galway.

Such details were possibly lost on the people who carried out the attack in Ballybrit either late Sunday night or early on Monday morning.

In Galway, the Ahmadis had found a place of refuge. But now their safe place has been attacked twice by vandals in the space of three years.

Adults expressed fear, terror even, when community leaders and politicians from across Galway gathered to express solidarity with them on Monday night.

A discarded Irish flag at the  Galway mosque

The Imam, Ibrahim Noonan, told me he had received an anonymous call three months ago to warn him that a far-right group was planning an attack.

Locks and windows were broken, security camera equipment had been stolen, many of his 2,000 books had been destroyed, family photos were smashed, and an Irish tricolour was thrown outside.
A native of Waterford, Imam Noonan was heartbroken when he saw the scale of the destruction. There was glass all over the place when the alarm was raised on Monday morning.

Nothing seemed to have been stolen, which led members of the community to believe that this was a hate crime. Gardai said that the violent removal of CCTV material from a separate room showed there had been some element of pre-planning.

Politicians from across the political spectrum and community leaders gathered later that night in a show of solidarity in response to the attack.

The gathering at the mosque was organised at short notice to allow people to express their outrage and to show the Ahmadiyya Muslims that the act of vandalism did not reflect the feelings of the local community towards them.

“This act of vandalism was committed by cowards,” said Cllr Alan Cheevers (Fianna Fail). “I can assure you that this does not represent the people of the east side of Galway City. Today was a very upsetting day for me, to see the damage here. I will work tirelessly with the city’s Ahmadiyya Muslim community to make sure that this kind of thing never happens again.”

Gardai launched an investigation into the attack which occurred sometime between 10pm on Sunday and 4am. Rocks were used to break the windows and property was destroyed.

The smashed up CCTV system

“This was a clear, deliberate, and vicious attack being delivered to our community. This gathering tonight is the best possible answer to such people, to show that they don’t speak for the Irish. They don’t speak for anyone in Ireland, for that matter,” said Imam Ibrahim Noonan, whose office was damaged in the attack.

“I think that’s what is important. I have been receiving warnings that the mosque was going to be attacked and that I should be careful about my own movements. I have never allowed such people to intimidate me, because I stand for everything that’s good about Ireland, as an Irishman, and I will not back down to such people.”

Imam Noonan urged Irish people to visit the mosque, have a cup of tea and a chat, and to find out about the belief system of the Ahmadiyya Muslims.

Joe Loughnane, of the Galway Anti Racism Network (GARN), recalled that the mosque was also attacked in July 2017, when graffiti was daubed on the walls. Earlier in the day, he had invited people to attend the solidarity gathering to show the Ahmadiyya Muslims that they were not alone.

“When I came here earlier, it was obvious that the people who worship here felt they were alone and under attack. We wanted to prove to them that this wasn’t the case,” said Mr Loughnane.

“People are coming here, drinking cups of tea, and trying to find out more about the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. This is a hate crime. In these situations, the community can come to understand that there is solidarity towards them.”

He asked people to call out hate speech when they see it on-line.

In recent months, there has a significant growth in the number of social media accounts which spread hatred and fear of Muslims in Ireland.

A new member of Galway City Council, Owen Hanley, told the congregation that he had canvassed every house on the east side of the city in the run-up to the local elections in May.

“This act doesn’t represent the east side of the city,” he told the gathering. “Galway is a city of openness and love. Sadly, there is a small but growing number of people in this country who are full of hate. But ‘Peace and Love’ are the first things you hear when you visit this mosque.”

Imam Noonan reminded the congregation that ‘Love for All, Hatred for None’ is the slogan of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. It’s a slogan which attracts a sustained round of applause when his congregation take part in the St Patrick’s Day parade in Galway every year.

A member of the congregation who converted to Islam last year, Roscommon native Alan Kelly, said it had been a traumatic day for the community when word spread that the mosque had been attacked.

He received a call at work, to tell him about the attack, on Monday morning.

“Everyone was so was shocked. We didn’t know how this kind of thing could occur in such a peaceful country. I am Irish and I grew up in this country. We need to join together. Everyone should be united, to create a better life. I don’t see why people have to judge other people or criticise their religion.

“The support we have received today from across Ireland has been amazing, but it is sad to think that there are people out there who want to cause destruction and spread fear without knowing anything about us. I don’t know why anyone would do this to us. There is no reason for any of this.”

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 * Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year award at the Tramline, Dublin, in October 2018. Find him on Facebook  or Twitter here. Visit his website here - A former newspaper journalist, he is seeking new opportunities in a digital world.

Friday, July 19, 2019

How do you like your racism?

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year 2018

Gemma O'Doherty used YouTube to stoke fears about mass immigration

So . . . how do you like your racism?

Do you think it’s all a bit of a laugh when the grandson of a German immigrant and son of a Scottish immigrant tells political opponents who happen to be women of colour that they should “go back” to the countries they “originally came from”?

Even though the man who said this, the President of the United States, happens to be the most powerful person in the world? Or that three of the four women President Trump referred to were actually born in the USA?

Do you think it’s funny or strangely weird that the people of the United States voted for such a buffoon? Or that his language of division and hate has no consequences for people living on this side of the Atlantic Ocean?

Do you fool yourself into thinking that the kind of hate speech emboldened by Trump’s election victory and the Brexit vote in the UK could never take on here?

Or are we living in denial of the hate speech, the fear, the division and demonisation of minorities which has sprung up in Ireland in recent years?

Recently, for example, a lot of people enjoyed a bit of a chuckle when a former British soldier who describes himself as an Irish “patriot” had a milkshake chucked at him while filming a live stream in Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim.

Rowan Croft, who goes by the name Grand Torino, is one of a number of far-right activists who regularly use YouTube to broadcast their thoughts on migrants and asylum-seekers and how “mass immigration” is allegedly destroying the social fabric of Ireland.

Many people laughed at the sight of the former British Army soldier, referred to by some as 'Tan Torino', getting doused in milkshake, but what they may not have picked up on was the kind of thing he was saying during his online broadcast.

“Many of the people down in Rosslare said they said they weren’t having it, they were going to burn the hotel down. Pretty much like what had happened back in the day and I’ve no problem saying that,” he said.

Given that three buildings designated as Direct Provision centres have been subjected to arson attacks in recent months, this could be seen as justification for hate crimes.  Direct Provision centres are mostly places, such as disused or run down-hotels, where asylum-seekers can be detained for up to eight years without any right to work or cook for themselves.

The moment a far-right YouTuber got "milkshaked" last week

If you wandered down to Google’s European HQ in Dublin today, you would see a small group of people protesting outside. These are supporters of a former national newspaper journalist who is outraged that her YouTube channel has been shut down permanently due to violations of the tech giant's policies relating to hate speech.

Gemma O’Doherty and her small band of followers have staged protests outside the European headquarters every day this week in a bid to restore her main channel, which has more than 26,000 followers.

Google, which owns YouTube, confirmed  on Tuesday night that her account has been removed for what were described as repeat breaches of its regulations.

Ms O’Doherty staged unsuccessful campaigns to run for the Irish Presidency in October of last year and the European Parliament in May of this year, when she managed to secure just 1.8 per cent of the first preference votes in Dublin.

But her increasing use of social media platforms to criticise ethnic minorities and migrants, as well as controversial views about vaccinations, has prompted growing concerns about the growth of the far-right here in Ireland. Let’s not ridicule those who vote for Trump while ignoring those who spread hatred and division at home.

Ms O’Doherty generated national headlines when she was fired by the Irish Independent, the country’s biggest-selling newspaper, in August 2013 after reporting on widespread wiping of penalty points by the Irish police force or Gardai.

As part of her investigative work, she had called to the home of the former Irish police commissioner, Martin Callinan, to challenge him about the deletion of penalty points from his own record.

She was forced to take redundancy by the newspaper after being referred to as a “rogue reporter” by then editor-in-chief, Stephen Rae. In December 2014, she won an apology and damages from the newspaper.

Many people felt sorry for her and admired her for speaking out against corruption at the time.

What you see if you try to access O'Doherty's YouTube channel today

Few of those who backed her bid to run for the Presidency of Ireland last year had any idea at the time that she harboured views which could be described as “far right” or extremist. She set up a new political party called Anti-Corruption Ireland (ACI) which, so far, has failed to attract any significant support from Irish voters.

But those who monitor far-right activity in Ireland have been alarmed by the kind of language used on her YouTube channel, in which she regularly interviews other activists, including Croft, with extreme anti-immigrant views and stokes up fears.

Indeed, the growth in the popularity of extreme right-wing social media in Ireland over the past year or so is almost an exact replica of the “culture wars” in the United States in the lead-up to the election of President Donald Trump in November 2016.

Right-wingers interview each other again and again, and constantly blame immigrants or minorities for society’s woes.

“We have to reclaim our Irishness,” O’Doherty told viewers earlier this year. “If that’s racist, great. Bring it on. But we are going to make Ireland Irish again and I’m sorry if I sound like Donald Trump.”

Earlier this week, one of Gemma O'Doherty's videos was removed by YouTube after she criticised ethnic minorities in Ireland and her account was suspended for seven days.

She tried to get around this ban by posting new videos under a second account bearing her name, which is a clear violation of YouTube’s rules for users of the video-sharing site.

On Tuesday evening, a Google spokesperson told The Irish Times that it was the policy of the tech giant to terminate the accounts of those who violated policies against hate speech.

Since late last year, O’Doherty has regularly used her YouTube channel to warn viewers that Irish people are set to become a minority in their own country.

Earlier this month, she told her followers that “some African guys” had “some sort of a scheme” which involved getting Irish women pregnant, presumably so that they could stay in the country.

“What sort of fools are these women? What sort of fools? Are they sluts? Are they whores?” she asked her YouTube followers. “They don’t even bloody deserve Irish citizenship, getting involved in dangerous situations like this. It says everything you need to know about the degeneracy of this country at the moment.”

Previous YouTube streams have seen her claim that the country was being “inundated” with migrants who were putting pressure on the health care system and the provision of housing in Ireland.

She still has a Twitter account and a Facebook page, although she does not like to be challenged about her views and tends not to comment when contacted by other journalists.

She was widely condemned after using social media to describe the horrific massacre at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, as a “false flag” or fake – even though 51 people lost their lives in the massacre.

A few weeks ago, she posted a photo of children from a school in the midlands town of Longford. The photo contained a number of black children and she claimed it demonstrated evidence that Irish people were set to become an “ethnic minority” in Ireland.

Hate speech against migrants and minorities has become a regular feature of online debate in Ireland, to such an extent that a man felt it was acceptable to go onto Facebook recently and call on people to  petrol bomb a house with migrants boarded up inside.

O’Doherty's is not the only Irish YouTube channel on which far-right activists rant about global conspiracies, how their land is being “swamped” by migrants and refugees, boast about Islamophobia, or blame minorities for all of the island’s social problems.

Instead of laughing at the idiocy of Trump and his supporters, it’s time for us all to wake up. Adolf Hitler used to be ridiculed as an ignorant buffoon in the 1930s.

O’Doherty may not be able to spread her disturbing views on YouTube anymore, but the far-right are now sharing views on social media platforms which would have been unthinkable in Ireland just five or ten years ago.

Related post: Is it time to legislate against hate crimes? (March 2019)

--  * Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year award at the Tramline, Dublin, in October 2018. Find him on Facebook  or Twitter here. Visit his website here - A former newspaper journalist, he is seeking new opportunities in a digital world.

** Please note that Ciaran Tierney is available to write business blogs or opinion pieces about Irish politics and society. 

Monday, June 10, 2019

Farewell to a West of Ireland dad

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year 2018

If there is one thing my family learned over the past nine months or so, it’s the amazing public health system we have out in our communities here in Ireland.

A team of nurses, carers, and staff from our local pharmacy were on call every day of the week to give my father as comfortable a life as possible and to fulfil his wish of dying in his own home.

Thanks to our public health care professionals, and the support of a loving family, my dad had the most peaceful death anyone could ever hope for. He had spent an entire Sunday surrounded by people who cared for him, before deciding to leave this world just before 1am on a Monday morning.

Last August, we saw the other side of the Irish health service when, at 93 years of age, he was forced to spend 48 hours on a trolley in an overcrowded Emergency Department after sustaining a fall in the family home.

Never a fan of hospitals, all Micheal Tierney wanted was to get home to his own place. And, thanks to a rota devised by his family, the support of care workers who called twice a day, and an amazing Public Health Nurse, we managed to let him realise his dream of staying in the home and the neighbourhood he adored.

Our public hospitals may be in crisis, but the care provided to our most vulnerable in their own homes and communities is second to none.

Patients lying on trolleys in an Irish public hospital

My dad showed the true spirit of a fighting Irishman.

He lived far longer than the few weeks he was given back in January and even defied the doctors to be still with us when his beloved son, Micheal Junior, flew in from New York 48 hours before he passed away.

Family meant everything to my dad and it was the love of his family which drove him on, confounding the nurses and doctors with his determination and will to live over the past few weeks and months.

After he had been told never to climb the stairs, my sister came into the house one day a few months ago to find him frantically cycling on a gym bike he had installed in an upstairs bedroom. On another day recently he went upstairs to “sort out the bills” because our mother “knew nothing about them”!

His generation, born in the first few years of an independent Ireland, were made of stern stuff. Most of his aunts and uncles had emigrated to the United States in the early part of the 20th century, because of the grinding poverty in Co Galway at the time, and he used to recall trying to pinch bread from the priests in his boarding school in the 1940s.

It was hard for him to see his strength go, to have to get people to put him to bed at night, but amazingly he became firm friends with some of his carers and could be heard laughing and joking with them as they helped him get to bed at night.

How amazing it was for his adult children to see him befriend carers from Malaysia, the Philippines, Holland, or Mayo, after his initial reluctance to even allow them into his home!

Dad with my sister, Mura, at a wedding in Spain in 2006

In the West of Ireland, in particular, we tend to do funerals and dying with great dignity and compassion.

We spent three hours shaking hands as literally hundreds of people made the effort to get to the Funeral Home. Such a tribute to a Civil Engineer, almost three decades on from his retirement from the local authority, would not be deemed unusual in this part of the world.

An amazing priest, Father Martin Downey, brought great peace and comfort to the family home when he made three house calls in the last few weeks of his life, as it began to dawn on my dad that his race was run.

My father only stopped jogging at 84 years of age, after embracing the fitness craze of the 1980s, and the medics were astounded by both his physical stamina and determination to live for as long as possible.

The staff at our local chemist in Galway City made the family feel that our father was the most important man in the world and a gentleman – they would repeatedly offer to call down with medicines, even giving us their mobile phone numbers if we ever needed them when the shop was closed at 3 or 4am.

That kind of personalised service would be unthinkable in many parts of the world.

Showing determination at University College Hospital Galway (UCHG)

And the neighbours rallied around over the past few weeks of his life, repeatedly calling in with cakes or ready-cooked meals. It was impossible not to shed a tear when they formed a Guard of Honour outside his home for his final journey.

His last day on earth was a perfect Sunday in a West of Ireland household.  His adult children did not feel guilty about leaving his bed side to watch a championship hurling game between Galway and Wexford on television, because that’s exactly what Micheal would have wanted.

Indeed, his beloved grandchildren, who gave Micheal so much pleasure in his later years, were dispatched to give him regular updates from the game every five minutes or so.

His six year old grandson, Mateo, would tell him “Ganga, it’s Ireland ten points, Waterford five” (It didn’t seem to matter that it was actually Galway against Wexford!) and granddaughter Sofia would report back that his pulse had settled every time Galway scored.

Like many Irish families, we grew up loving Sunday dinners and GAA games on television during the summer months.

Growing up in tough times, education was very important to my Dad. He might have seemed to be obsessed with education when we were teenagers in the 1980s, but – like many West of Ireland people of his generation – he saw it as a way out of poverty.

So many people from his area and generation were forced to emigrate in search of new lives that he and his friends wanted as many opportunities as possible for their children. They knew all about the heartbreak of people being forced to leave their homeland against their will.

These days, of course, we are connected by technology and the cousins in New Jersey or California don’t seem to live so far away any more.

He gave his children a life-long love of travelling since we used to go camping every Summer on the West coast of France in the 1980s, where he met some amazing life-long friends from throughout Ireland. Before that, virtually nobody he knew could afford to go abroad and our family holidays were spent, often in pouring rain, in Donegal.

He also gave us a love of nature. In Galway we are blessed to live beside Connemara, the Burren, and the wild Atlantic Ocean, and he loved to swim in the chilly waters of Galway Bay.

He has given all of us a love of the outdoors, an appreciation for healthy living, and a sense of justice and fairness which ensures that, like many Irish people, we always seem to root for the oppressed or the underdogs.

The extended Tierney clan assembled for his Requiem Mass

As children in the 1970s, we were thrilled when he allowed us to get up at 3am to watch the Mohammad Ali versus Joe Frazier fights as small kids in the 1970s.

Like virtually every West of Ireland family, America and Americans were always close to his heart. His own father, Martin, had spent five years working as a tram conductor in St Louis, Missouri, a century ago and used to joke that he wished he’d never come home!

There was a lot of heartbreak involved in emigration in those days – none of dad’s uncles or aunts ever made the journey home – but he got great joy in rekindling friendships with the New Jersey first cousins when transatlantic travel became affordable for ordinary Irish and American people.

Ireland is not a perfect country by any means, but the outpouring of affection, love and compassion which surrounds the death of an elderly Irish person after a long illness shows that that we do live life the way it should be lived, when it comes to family, community, and respect for the elderly here in the West of Ireland.

“May he Rest in Peace”

In the last few weeks of my father's life, my family received wonderful support from the Irish Cancer Society which allowed him to stay in his own home. You can find out more here

--  * Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year award at the Tramline, Dublin, in October 2018. Find him on Facebook  or Twitter here. Visit his website here - A former newspaper journalist, he is seeking new opportunities in a digital world.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Beware of shysters bearing promises ... !

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year 2018

Homeless on the streets of Galway, May 2019

In my part of Galway, a young man running for the local elections told one of my neighbours recently that he had never heard of Direct Provision.

The system which the Irish State has used to detain asylum-seekers for almost two decades somehow slipped under his radar.

A system which has made some business people, no doubt many of them supporters of his party, very rich indeed had never entered his consciousness before he began to canvass householders across the city.

But, sure, it doesn’t matter.

He’s a sound lad and he used to be a mighty footballer.

He's the new face of the most popular political party in the land.

He wears a shiny suit and, sure, what more do you want from a local politician? He might even swing a planning application for a member of your family sometime in the future.

Another young(ish) man from his party, who happens to be the Minister for Housing, announced this week that young people in our cities should be “excited” by the prospect of co-living apartment schemes.

The en-suite bedrooms proposed are smaller than the recommended minimum size for a disabled parking space and young workers or students should be delighted to fork out €1,300 per month for these tiny rooms with no kitchen facilities.

As a young man in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I remember being shocked by the tiny bedsits some of my friends were living in on weekend visits to Dublin.

It seems the solution to our appalling housing crisis, with 10,300 people now homeless, is to return to the bedsits of the 20th century or the tenement slums of the 19th century, while business people in suits – the kind of people who vote for Fine Gael – can celebrate the huge profits to be made from other people’s misery.

The scale of the homelessness crisis is unprecedented

But we vote for these people, don’t we?

We vote for the kind of people who left my 93-year old relative lying on a hospital trolley for 48 hours last summer.

As I sat beside him for hours and hours, losing hope, I didn’t dare to complain.

Because that’s not the Irish way, that’s just the way it is, and anyway you might just be punished if you dare to speak out.

You wouldn’t want to be left an extra day without a bed because you made a complaint now, would you?

Third world conditions in an Irish public hospital

We all know there have been crises in health care and housing for a decade and yet here they are again, knocking on our doors, filling us full of promises five years on from the last round of promises which led to very little or no action.

In my city, the men in shiny suits tell us we badly need a bypass.

As the climate teeters on the brink of catastrophe, an urban roadway through one of the most beautiful parts of the city is the solution to the city’s chronic traffic problem.

No talk of buses, trams, or bicycles, when planners cannot think beyond the car, even as some of the children of the city are experiencing an obesity epidemic.

At the primary school I pass every morning, the road was widened on both sides to make more room for the parents’ cars. And yet they still double or treble park when dropping off the youngsters in the mornings.

It never entered the minds of the planners, or the local politicians, to look for alternatives to the car or to point out to parents that it might be a good thing for the youngsters if they could walk, cycle, or take the bus to school.

Plans are in place for a motorway to destroy a green area of Galway

Across the city, in another ward, a councillor in a shiny suit has become adept at making slick videos.

He walked through the city centre last year to make a video about buskers. Only he didn’t actually speak to any of the buskers themselves.

In the Capital of Culture 2020, it’s all about business and not so much about culture. Why bother talking to the artists who give the city such a welcoming atmosphere when there are businessmen to listen to and bucks to be made?

Funny, I have never, ever met a tourist who has told me he or she has left Galway with treasured memories of the British-owned shops along the high street.

They tend to love our city for its street life, for its vagabond performers, but try telling that to our local politicians who are more interested in looking after investor landlords than solving the needs of the hundreds of thousands of people who are struggling to pay the rent on time.

The street performers, the artists, the vagabonds, and the ordinary working class people are being driven out of our cities and out of their homes by politicians who have done so little to provide social housing or control spiralling rents since they last came knocking on our doors five years ago.

It’s actually monstrous that so few people (investors, landlords, bankers, developers) are benefiting so much from the troubles and struggles of so many.

So many people I know have no money at the end of each month.

So many with “zero hour” contracts or par-time work barely earn enough to pay the average rent in Irish cities.

So many people worry at night that they are just a week or two without work, in jobs with no security, away from not having enough money to pay the ridiculously high rents on their homes.

So many people I know believe – sorry, know – they inhabit a different planet from smooth talking Government Ministers like Eoghan Murphy, with his proclamation that the young should be “excited” by paying €1,300 per month to live in a shoebox on the edge of town.

But I guess it’s our own fault.

After all, don’t we vote for these “shysters” with their promises time after time?

--  * Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year award at the Tramline, Dublin, in October 2018. Find him on Facebook  or Twitter here. Visit his website here - A former newspaper journalist, he is seeking new opportunities in a digital world.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Ask them!

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year 2018

When it comes to housing, our politicians are letting us down

Here he comes in his shiny new suit, primed for action and full of the joys of life. He wants your vote and he’s ready and willing to engage with you on your doorstep. As long as you don't delay him for too long!

Funnily enough, you haven’t seen much of him for the last five years or so.

There’s football on the telly or you are engrossed in your favourite soap opera and you wonder if you should bother answering the door.

But you should!

Because this is the one time of the year when your local politicians will truly listen to what you have to say.

They are desperate for your votes and some of them are running scared. It’s your chance to tell them what you think.

Such as your disgust that the beautiful green space next to a historic castle, where you like to take an evening stroll, is about to be turned into a four lane urban motorway.

You haven’t spoken to him in five years and maybe it’s time to ask him why he and his colleagues have no imagination when it comes to transport in your city. The medieval streets are clogged and they can never imagine life beyond the car.

Maybe it’s time to tell him how healthy you feel because you abandoned the car and now you cycle to work or school.

But also how unsafe you feel in the mornings because you are so vulnerable on the road.

It’s time to ask why the roads are so eerily quiet during the school holidays and why so many people are so reliant on their cars.

Our streets are gridlocked with cars

Why, in the past five years, have he and his colleagues done so little to provide your neighbours and friends with viable alternatives to their cars?

And why are we building motorways when the very future of your planet depends on less reliance on our cars?

You could tell him that you wrote articles about wonderful plans for a state-of-the-art tram system a decade ago, only for them to be discounted by the "powers that be" at the time.

You could ask him about the scandalous rent prices and how some of the people you work with are spending more than half their wages just to keep someone else’s roof over their heads.

You can ask why local authority meetings can end in furious arguments over issues as trivial or irrelevant as whether or not they should have a monthly prayer and why his party doesn’t feel ashamed that there are now so many homeless children in this city.

You could ask him why a national emergency wasn’t declared when the number of homeless people in this country passed the 10,000 mark for the first time.

Homeless in Galway, just two minutes from Eyre Square

And you could ask him if he felt even a tiny bit of embarrassment when the man in charge of housing people in this city “slept out” for charity last Christmas. All for a glorious photo opportunity, admittedly for a worthy charity, alongside the auctioneer who thrives on pushing up the prices and the businessman who put half of his staff out of work last year.

He might tell you that health care has nothing to do with the local authority, but you might tell him how I felt when I saw my 93-year old father spend 48 hours on a trolley in the Emergency Department of our local public hospital last summer.

About the despair I witnessed all around me and the fear in the voices of people who felt they would be punished or further delayed if they dared to complain.

Only for you to see a smug, happy, smiling Minister for Health post a photo of his dog on social media the following week, seemingly without a care in the world.

You might tell him how hollow the great national “recovery” seemed as you sat there, hour after hour, watching the stressed out hospital staff struggle to cope with the sheer number of bodies in that overcrowded corridor.

Our public hospitals are crowded as the economy "recovers"

You might ask why so many people you know are frightened, clinging on to private health care they can’t afford in the full knowledge that they are only one pay cheque away from being left without a home.

You might ask why so many of your friends and neighbours are struggling, when it still seems that a tiny elite of select individuals can make a "killing" from lucrative Government contracts which are beyond the reach of 99% of us.

You could ask why those who are scraping a living in insecure jobs are forced to pay the deeply unpopular Universal Social Charge, or why the council doesn’t seem to build any houses while so many people are relying on emergency accommodation.

If it wasn't for those charities, or the kindness of friends, how many people would be forced to sleep out in this city every night?

 . . . Or you could leave the telly on and not bother to answer the door!

Got a story worth investigating or a business blog to be written? Email

--  * Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year award at the Tramline, Dublin, in October 2018. Find him on Facebook  or Twitter here. Visit his website here - A former newspaper journalist, he is seeking new opportunities in a digital world.