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. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Compounding the injustice of Tuam

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year 2018

Standing together on the weekend of the Pope's visit last year

Why bother writing about the struggle for justice of those who were treated so appallingly by the Irish State?

Why not move on?

Why bother going to events organised by the families and survivors of the "Tuam Babies" when many media outlets don’t bother?

Why spend an hour or two with them on a Sunday afternoon when a news editor shrugs and proclaims, “Arragh, sure, didn’t we cover that event last year?”

(Even though they didn’t – as you can remember how few journalists there were among the small number of people who congregated in that lonely graveyard 12 months ago).

One of the most striking aspects of the scandal of the 796 ‘Tuam Babies’ is the widespread belief among survivors and family members that “official Ireland” has no interest in granting them the truth and justice they crave.

And the story of Tuam is replicated for the survivors and children of those who were incarcerated in dozens of other institutions all across the island of Ireland.

In Tuam, business people express regret that the scandal unearthed by local  historian Catherine Corless has damaged the image or reputation of the town. They have made it known to her, via third parties, that they wish she would have left well enough alone.

It’s not good for business, you see, to be the subject of scandalous headlines from San Francisco to Sydney when the economy is in “recovery” and there’s money to be made.

People whisper to Catherine on the street when they talk about "the home", and she can sense shame, fear, or guilt in their voices when they approach her to applaud her for the research which has made headlines across the globe.

Only for her determination, the story might never have been known.

Catherine Corless: her research was "not good for business" in Tuam

When it comes to the victims, though, the perception in some quarters is that these people are getting old now and it’s time to move on.

Forget about the fact that the mortality rate in the Tuam Home – where up to 796 babies may or may not be buried in a cesspit – was five times that of the general Irish population or that 126 of the 796 babies died within the first six months of life.

Forget about the fact that 35,000 women and girls were locked up in Mother and Baby Homes between 1904 and 1996 – hardly ancient history – and that those who are still living have never received a proper apology for how they were imprisoned for their “crimes”.

Or that some of them were asked to produce time sheets for the hours they worked in laundries where they were imprisoned and forced to work as slaves, with the collusion of the state, by cruel and judgemental nuns.

Forget about the fact that some older people still know what went on in these institutions, but are too afraid or too ashamed to come forward.

Or that a local councillor in Tuam, Cllr Donagh Killilea, has berated the current Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone TD, for daring to suggest that people with some memory of what happened should come forward with information, even at this late stage.

He's offended by the idea that anyone in the town might still know why these bodies were discarded or disposed of in such a heartless fashion.

Forget about the fact that the Bon Secours nuns, in their infinite wisdom, hired a prominent PR person and paid her handsomely when the scandal of the “Tuam Babies” first broke in the Irish media.

“If you come here, you’ll find no mass grave, no evidence that children were ever so buried, and a local police force casting their eyes to heaven,” wrote Terry Prone, still the Goddess in Chief of “communications” for “official Ireland”.

And still she coaches or grooms our richest and most powerful politicians in terms of how to deal with our media.

And still she hasn't apologised to the families for the hurt she has caused.

A sign erected in North Galway this week

Forget about the fact that the Bon Secours nuns run private hospitals for a handsome profit and have never dealt directly with the families of their victims.

Forget that the pain of the survivors was compounded by a Fianna Fail TD, Anne Rabbitte, when she stated that the estimated €13 million cost of excavating the site of the “Tuam Babies” home could not be justified when it could be spent on the children of today.

“It’s a wilful waste of public money that could be spent on the children of today,” Deputy Rabbitte told The Sunday Business Post last weekend.

The FF spokesperson on children, who is running for the European Parliament this month, seemed to have little concept of the anger these remarks would ignite among survivors and family members who are finding it so hard to obtain the truth from “official Ireland”.

For them, the story of the "Tuam Babies" is very much alive.

Bad enough to discover only in your 70s that you had a brother or sister you never heard about, only to find it next to impossible to find out what happened to them.

Forget about the fact that Ms Rabbitte's party, Fianna Fail, was in power for most of the lifespan of the Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries, when a harsh and judgmental Irish State asked religious orders to imprison and enslave thousands of Ireland’s most vulnerable women.

Let's just forget that these poor women were locked up with the full knowledge of both the Irish State and their own families.

Or that the fathers of these children could get on with their lives while the mothers spent decades washing the dirty laundry of the elite of Irish society.

Wtih Peter Mulryan at his mother's grave in Galway 

Peter Mulryan, Chairman of the Tuam Home Survviors Network, contrasts the reverence of the Bon Secours nuns for their own members, removing their bodies from the Grove private hospital before being re-interred with dignity, with how callously the bodies of up to 796 babies and children were discarded at the home.

They sold the building for €4.1 million in 2001 but, as so many survivors have discovered, religious institutions in Ireland have no interest in compensating victims and their families for the terrible times they put them through.

Mr Mulryan claims the “full horror” of what happened in Tuam has yet to be exposed.

Forget about the fact that survivors and family members, including Peter and Dublin woman Anna Corrigan, have no idea what happened to their siblings.

They still believe, rightly or wrongly, that their brothers and sisters could have been adopted (illegally) by families in the United States and cannot be persuaded otherwise until they have some proof of what happened to these children and babies.

Criminal acts were carried out to their family members and now they feel that there can be no closure to this terrible story until the full truth of what happened to the “Tuam Babies” is revealed to the world.

If the families believe that this can only be achieved through a full Inquest, isn’t it time “official Ireland” gives them the truth and the justice they have been calling out for?

Otherwise, we are compounding a terrible injustice and we are still betraying the dead children of Tuam (and their mothers and surviving family members) in the much more “enlightened” Ireland of 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. 

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Monday, April 29, 2019

Is this the Ireland we really want?

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year 2018

The number of homeless people in Ireland has passed the 10,000 mark for the first time

A friend of mine is a volunteer coach with his local hurling club.

Like many parents all across Ireland, he only got involved with the GAA once his son began to play our national games, as he grew up many miles away, in another county.

He finds that he loves helping out at the sprawling rural club just outside the city, even though the early morning sessions can curtail his social life at the weekends.

On Saturday, I met him at a 50th birthday party.

He was bothered. He wanted to talk politics. He asked me why I wasn’t running for the local elections. And he voiced a question which I hear many people asking these days, in the midst of a so-called boom.

“Is this the kind of Ireland we really want?”

In recent weeks, he has discovered that a huge proportion of the families in his parish cannot afford helmets for their kids.

Faced with crippling mortgages, high rents, or insecure and low-paying jobs, many of the parents are living ‘hand to mouth’ every week and month. They hate to admit it publicly, but they confide in the coaches, privately, that they simply cannot afford new jerseys, helmets, or hurls.

An unexpected expense of €60 or €70 is simply beyond their means. And this is in a relatively affluent rural parish, just outside one of Ireland’s major cities.

It’s the kind of thing you would never hear An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, mention when he boasts about the Republic’s remarkable “recovery”. Most of these people are working, but they are the new working poor.

So many of them have confided in my friend and the other coaches that helmets and hurls are beyond them that the club has been forced to change its policy in relation to equipment for the youngsters.

Now, after a fundraising drive, each child is provided with a helmet.

Otherwise, their embarrassed parents would be unable to send them to the training sessions.

A child's hurling helmet is now too expensive for many struggling parents

Perhaps it’s a small thing.

But it has left my friend and the other coaches in shock.

In this “booming” Ireland, with such a low unemployment rate, how come so many people have so little money to spend every month?

How come an expense of €60 could cause a family emergency? Or force parents to withdraw their children from participating in the sport they love?

It’s a theme which seems to be popping up more and more. If this country really is in "recovery" how come so many people I meet every day are struggling to survive?

Campaigning is well underway for both the European and local elections and my friend is adamant that people like me (and him, I retort!) should get more involved in local or national politics.

The candidates we haven’t seen for half a decade are suddenly knocking on our doors, making promises, and calling on us to give them our votes.

Isn’t it time we asked them some pertinent questions?

Such as why so many working people are paying so much in rent or on their mortgages that they are literally broke by the end of every month.

Or why are so many of us working in insecure jobs, not knowing if we will earn enough to pay the bills next month?

The true level of poverty in our thriving cities is hidden away from view

Since taking voluntary redundancy from an industry which is in crisis, I have been shocked by how many people I have met who have next to no security in their jobs. A boss can tell them, at just a week’s notice, that there is no work for them and leave them short of money for the rent.

When populist European Parliament candidate Peter Casey generates front page headlines by criticising “freeloader immigrants” how come nobody asks him to direct his ire at “freeloader landlords” who hike the monthly rents up at every opportunity?

We should ask the candidates why so many people in their 20s and 30s are now in despair that they will never be able to own a home.

As rents spiral out of control, how come so many of us are earning so much less than we were a decade ago in the middle of this so-called “boom”?

How come so many people are sleeping on our streets or spending months on end in facilities provided by our homelessness charities?

How come a national emergency wasn’t declared when the number of homeless people in Ireland crossed the 10,000 mark for the first time?

Why is homelessness not a national emergency? 

A sober walk through Galway’s streets, where you can see desperate people lying in doorways on the coldest and wettest nights, would make anyone question how much this economy really is booming in 2019.

We should ask why poor people can be sent to jail for not paying their €160 TV licences while huge multinational corporations can avoid paying billions in taxes.

We should ask why the well-connected at the top of Irish society are still getting lucrative contracts from their friends in Government, even when some of them have cost us millions in tribunals and investigations.

We should ask why properties are being sold off to vulture funds while those of us scraping by on tiny incomes are forced to pay the deeply unpopular Universal Social Charge.

Financial struggles are causing unprecedented levels of stress

Of course, those on “zero hour contracts” or insecure, part-time jobs are still working, and off the live register, so our unemployment rate should be the envy of the world – if only it told the full story.

We should ask why old people like my father, in his 90s, have had to spend 48 hours lying on a trolley in one of our main public hospitals. Or why the Government funds a two-tier health system which allows the richest in our society to live longer, healthier lives.

Our ruling politicians never squirm with embarrassment when they write pleading letters to pop stars or turn up for the opening of private clinics which are built for a tiny fragment of the population.

As former Tanaiste Mary Harney once said, the Irish are “closer to Boston than Berlin” – that’s certainly true when you see how ordinary people suffer when they are forced to attend any of our overcrowded Emergency Departments.

This is the time to ask politicians if they are happy to live in a country, or support a Government party, where people stuck on trolleys for 24 or 48 hours are too afraid of the consequences to complain or speak out.

A candidate for the local or European elections might argue that they have nothing to do with our scandalous health service, but their parties are deliberately running down a broken system and forcing those who can barely afford it to cling on to private health care.

This is the right time to ask sitting City Councillors why some buildings lie empty while our homelessness crisis has spiralled out of control since they last knocked on our doors.

Or why they are threatening to spoil one of the most beautiful parts of my city in order to make way for a new road, at a time when a pending climate catastrophe and a growing obesity epidemic should be forcing all of us to abandon our over-reliance on cars.

In Galway and other Irish cities, it's all about the cars. 

Leave it to the charities?

They might tell us why our most senior city officials “sleep out” for charity every December when it’s actually their job - not that of the charity - to tackle the out of control rate of homelessness in our city.

But they smile for the cameras with the rich businessmen, because they have no concept of shame.

So many working people I know are fed up, living week-to-week, and literally unable to afford a child’s hurling helmet or a meal out at the weekend.

So many are afraid that they are just one month away from being made homeless by a greedy landlord or in terror of falling ill because our public hospitals are substandard.

Too many are struggling, too few are thriving or living off their backs, and yet if you were to believe these politicians Ireland is in the midst of a remarkable recovery after taking on so much of Europe's banking debt.

Ireland may be “booming” again, but only for the vultures, the bankers, the landlords, and the well-connected businessmen who, funnily enough, seem to be very close to the right wing parties who have divided up the ruling of this country since the foundation of the state.

As my friend put it so succinctly at the weekend . . . is this the Ireland we really want?

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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 opportuniities in a digital world. 

Irish Current Affairs Blogger of the Year 2018

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Irish politicians warned of 'retaliation' for settlement goods ban

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year

Senator Frances Black celebrating with supporters after the Seanad
voted in favour of the Occupied Territories Bill in July of last year

Corporate lobbyists have issued a strong warning about the potential for “retaliation” by the United States if Irish politicians press ahead with a bill to outlaw goods and services from the illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine.

In a document which was “leaked” to me last week, the lobbyists warn that there could be significant consequences for the Irish economy if the Occupied Territories Bill becomes enacted into Irish law.

Although strong majorities in both houses of the Irish parliament have already voted in favour of the bill, members of the Foreign Affairs Committee were warned that there could be severe implications for the Irish economy when they discussed the bill on Thursday afternoon.

The briefing paper, commissioned by members of the Irish parliament, warns that the proposed ban could undermine diplomatic links between Ireland and both the US and Israel.

“Passing the Bill could remove Ireland’s objectivity in discussions on the peace process in the Middle East, as well as undermine the influence of the Irish Government in direct interaction with the Israeli Government,” warn the authors of the document.

“The Bill could undermine economic and diplomatic links to both the US and Israel. Israel has been outspoken in its criticism of any measures taken against the occupied territories. Some form of response by Israel or the US is a possibility.”

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu

The document points out that more than 155,000 people are directly employed by over 700 US-owned businesses in Ireland, while these companies support a further 100,000 jobs – accounting for approximately 20% of all employment in Ireland.

Three of Ireland’s ten largest companies, in terms of annual turnover, are US businesses (Apple, Google and Microsoft) and any form of sanction by the US Government would have a serious impact on the Irish economy, they warn.

However, Gerry Liston of Sadaka Ireland, who drafted the Occupied Territories Bill, told me that it was an “absurd assertion” that the legislation could bring about the withdrawal of US foreign direct investment in Ireland.

He pointed out that the bill only relates to the illegal settlements beyond the internationally recognised 1967 border.

“The authors refer to the presence in Ireland of companies such as Apple, Google and Microsoft but omit to note the critical point that these companies have no dealings whatsoever with Israeli settlements and that the Occupied Territories Bill would therefore be of no concern to them,” he said.

Mr Liston said he was surprised that there was no reference at all to three separate legal opinions, obtained by Sadaka Ireland, which have found that the bill is compatible with EU law.

Indeed, Sadaka strongly assert that Ireland is fully entitled to press ahead with the bill to ban goods from the settlements which are deemed to be illegal according to international law. 

A talk about the Occupied Territories Bill in Galway last year

Israeli Government officials have condemned the legislation and it has attracted lobbying from a group of ten US Congressmen, the German-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group, the Jewish Agency in Israel, and the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland.

Indeed, the briefing document presented to the Irish Foreign Affairs Committee this week echoes claims made by the group of ten US Congressmen, led by Peter King (Republican, New York) in a letter to Irish parliamentarians earlier this year.

The minority Irish Government, led by Fine Gael, has consistently opposed the bill in both the Dail and Seanad, but it has passed through both houses of the Irish Parliament thanks to the support of the main opposition Fianna Fail party, who are keeping the Government in power via a ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement.

It was first moved by Independent Senator Frances Black in July 2018 and has received support from a wide range of groups, including Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein, Labour, Independents, plus NGOs Trocaire and Christian Aid Ireland.

The Irish parliament hired consultants John Spicer and Abdul Malik, of Europe Economics; and Mirja Gutheil, Quentin Liger and Harry Heyburn, of Optimity Advisors, to summarise the positives and negatives of the bill before it is scrutinised by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade.

They point out that the immediate economic impact would be quite small, but that the bill could have a “domino effect” and that backers of the bill were inspired by the international boycott campaign which helped to bring about the downfall of the Apartheid regime in South Africa in the 1980s.

“It is likely that the State of Israel would impose retaliatory measures which would have a larger impact,” says the briefing document. “The largest potential negative impact of the Bill would be retaliation by the US. It is unclear whether this would materialise, but if they were to, the impact on the Irish economy would be important.”

Congressman Peter King has warned the Irish not to go ahead with the bill

The Fianna Fail spokesman on Foreign Affairs, Niall Collins TD, accused the authors of the policy document of using “inappropriate language” by claiming that “retaliation” to the Occupied Territories Bill would damage the Irish economy.

“The threats which have already been articulated by US Congressman Peter King and Richard Neal, in terms of how corporate America would act in the future towards Ireland, are overstating it in my opinion. I think they are out of touch with the moral and social responsibilities of corporations, their ethics, and how they have to act,” said Mr Collins.

He said that, despite being the Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman for Ireland’s biggest opposition party, he had not received any correspondence from US multinationals based in Ireland.

“As public representatives, we get lobbied about all sorts of stuff, but nobody from Google, Facebook, or anybody else has contacted me to make their views known.”

With Palestinian cartoonist Mohammad Sabaaneh last week.
He spent five months in prison for his art.

An edited, and shortened, version of this article was published by Electronic Intifada, the largest Palestinian news site (in English) in the world, last week. The article has been shared 950 times on Facebook at the time of publication. The Occupied Territories Bill is due to be discussed again in May. You can find the link to my article at

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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.  

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Expressing the rage of a denigrated people

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year (personal) 2018

What kind of country jails a cartoonist?

Is it the kind of place we should be sending Irish artists to for a celebration of diversity and European pop culture next month?

Those thoughts struck me last week when I hosted a cartoonist in my home for a night during his week-long tour of Ireland.

Mohammad Sabaaneh is no ordinary cartoonist.

He’s a man who spent five months in jail for his art and a household name across the Arab world, particularly in Palestine where he has a cartoon published daily in a national newspaper, al-Hayat al-Jadida. He has more than 500,000 Facebook followers.

Mohammad taught me a lot about the power of art last week and also how a man can use his gifts to highlight the terrible suffering and injustice which has been inflicted upon his people for decades.

He is regularly invited to cartoon festivals and arts events throughout the world and faces a logistical nightmare trying to get to them if and when he travels.

It was returning from one of those work trips six years ago that Mohammad found himself being interrogated about his art by Israeli soldiers.

He spent two months being interrogated about his work, when he was forbidden from drawing or writing. He then spent a further three months in prison, including some time in solitary confinement; time he used to document his experiences in smuggled or hidden drawings which he put together after returning home to Ramallah.

Mohammad spent five months in prison because he had collaborated with his brother on a book about political prisoners, a project which angered those in power.

This terrible experience provided Sabaaneh with inspiration. He vowed to document his feelings about what he witnessed in Israeli prisons and managed to get fellow prisoners to smuggle out his works of art whenever he had the opportunity.

He left blank spaces in all of the drawings, so that the prison authorities could not examine his strong views about life in Israeli prisons if they came across or confiscated them.

“They investigated me about everything, about my activity, about my participation in international exhibitions, and about my opinions,” he recalled.

The irony was that the charges against Mohammad were baseless – his accusers and interrogators did not seem to know or care that his cartoons have also angered the various political factions in Palestine.

He embodies the true role of an artist who holds the most powerful to account and ridicules those who abuse their power.

Before a packed house in Galway last week, he wanted to talk about the Palestinian prisoners as real people, with mothers, wives, brothers and sisters; with feelings of loneliness and despair.

He wanted to challenge the way in which his people are dehumanised so often in the Irish, European, and American media.

As we listened to him, it was impossible not to understand his rage.

His people have had their land stolen, been treated as second class citizens in their own country, and endure daily harassment at checkpoints where they are faced down by angry, hostile soldiers.

More than 200 of their children (yes, children) are in Israeli prisons, and many of the prisoners are incarcerated in places where their loved-ones can never visit them.

In prison, Mohammad was not allowed to speak to relatives on the telephone or receive visits from family members. His experience awakened him to the gross injustice which is being inflicted on so many men, women and children from his country.

“Everyone deals with Palestinian prisoners as heroes, but I wanted my drawings to show them as real human beings,” he told the captive audience at the Black Gate Cultural Centre in Galway.

“No-one talks about the Palestinian prisoner’s mother, or wife, or kids; or how they try to pass the time, by listening to a football game.”

With Mohammad in Galway last week

Sabaneeh’s work is disturbing, but how else could it be for a man whose people have spent more than half a century being treated as second class citizens under military occupation in their own land?

How can they not be angry, when they see their fate being played out in an election in which they have no say in their own future.

His art work is also brilliant.

It provides a timely reminder of the real motivation behind the staging of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv.

It’s all about whitewashing an Apartheid regime which gave the people of the West Bank no voice at all in terms of the military occupation in this week’s General Election.

During the campaign, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to annex the Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank if he was returned to power.

He promised to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state by “controlling the entire area”, continuing to dominate the lives of more than 2.5 million people who have lived under a brutal occupation for so long.

Where Mohammad lives, there is no peace process.

Hundreds of thousands of people now live in illegal settlements on land which was captured in a war more than half a century ago.

World powers consider those settlements to be illegal under international law and Mohammad’s cartoons capture the daily humiliations faced by his people, at checkpoints, on segregated roads, or through dawn raids by armed soldiers in their homes.

When you hear him talk about the reality of life as an artist in occupied Palestine, you can only be filled with admiration for his bravery in expressing his rage.

How else could he be, as a wonderfully talented artist, when he sees so much suffering and anger around him every day?

A packed house in Galway for Mohammad's talk

Remember Mohammad and his amazing work when artists and TV crews from all across Europe congregate in Tel Aviv next month – or when Madonna turns up to play two songs.

Eurovision 2019 is not a celebration of music and culture – it’s a clear and protracted effort to “normalise” a regime which puts talented artists like Mohammad in prison, just for speaking out about the terrible injustices he sees around him in the West Bank.

Mohammad, like so many artists all across Palestine, wants Ireland and the rest of Europe to boycott Eurovision 2019.

How pathetic it seems to celebrate European pop culture in a place which has so little interest in granting artists anything approaching freedom, justice, or human rights.

The estimated 180 million viewers who watch the Eurovision next month will feast on tourism promotion clips from Israel, but they won’t see images of peaceful protesters being murdered by snipers at the Gaza border fence, families being evicted from their homes in East Jerusalem, or little children being terrorised on their way home from school in Hebron.

The brilliant cartoons of Mohammad Sabaaneh tell the world some bitter home truths about life in Palestine, home truths that won’t be screened on our TV screens on May 18, even though they are considered so subversive they result in artists like him being thrown in prison.

Shame on the Eurovision for white-washing an illegal occupation on behalf of a regime which locks up artists and tramples on human rights.

Mohammad with local artists and activists in Galway 

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My latest for Electronic Intifada: 
Business groups pressure Ireland in relation to settlement goods

At the Irish Blog of the Year awards in October 2018