Monday, February 18, 2019

A secret little mission to Galway

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year 2018

A little boy flies a Palestinian flag in Galway during a
protest last year. Photo: Skye McKee. 

In the West of Ireland, we don’t like to ask too many hard, tough questions or cause too much of a fuss.

We treat our visitors with respect, but a bizarre visit by a prominent diplomat last Friday has raised serious questions about who makes key decisions at a local level and why our elected representatives can be kept completely and utterly in the dark.

Who decides to invite an Ambassador to our city? And who decides that elected city councillors – the people who actually represent us – have no right to know when a diginitary is coming to our beautiful city?

On Wednesday, I was told by someone who works for Galway City Council that the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland, Ophir Kariv, was set to pay an official visit to the city on Friday.

The person who called me had no idea of the schedule involved, but he had heard that there would be engagements at NUI Galway, the Galway Chamber of Commerce, and City Hall.

I’m guessing he contacted me because he was aware of my keen interest in human rights and the fact that I have written extensively about the gross injustice inflicted on the people of Palestine. I sometimes freelance for Electronic Intifada, who are based in the US and work hard to give an English language voice to the oppressed.

So I made a few calls.

I informed members of the Galway Palestine Solidarity Campaign who, in turn, contacted members of the Labour Party and Sinn Fein who have done so much to raise awareness of the Palestinian issue at City Hall over the past few years.

They raised the flag in solidarity, they called on the Irish Government to recognise the state of Palestine, and no city official had seen fit to tell them about the proposed visit by the Israeli Ambassador on Friday.

Even the Mayor, apparently, wasn’t aware of the plans.

Flying the flag in Eyre Square 

A few pro-Palestine activists considered a peaceful and dignified flag protest at City Hall, but it was difficult to get people mobilised at such short notice, especially when nobody knew the exact time of the visit. I heard nothing more about it, but I’m aware that elected members of the City Council could not find out anything about the ambassador’s schedule. So much for local democracy!

On Saturday, a number of people sent me a podcast of a recording on local radio station Galway Bay FM, from the previous day.

As it turned out, Mr Kariv had visited the station’s headquarters on Sandy Road for a pre-arranged interview with current affairs presenter Keith Finnegan.

The people who sent me the podcast were shocked by the nature and tone of the interview.

It is normal practice for a new diplomat to visit provincial cities around the country, but activists in Galway were shocked that they managed to get through an entire interview without once uttering the words ‘Palestine’, ‘West Bank’, ‘Gaza’, ‘occupation’, ‘child prisoners’, or ‘house demolitions’.

On the day I was sent the podcast, an Arab family was expelled from their own home in East Jerusalem and suffered the indignity of seeing it handed over to ‘settlers’ who are deemed to be illegal according to international law.

But there was no mention of that in the fawning local radio interview.

And, yes, I took this local "whitewashing" of the representative of an Apartheid state personally. You can listen to the interview here. (The interview with the Israeli Ambassador begins at the 52 minute mark):

A Palestinian man holds the key to a house
his family can not return to

In July of last year, a friend and I got together with the members of rock band The Stunning to organise a late night gig in Galway which would raise funds to bring members of a children’s football academy in Gaza to the West of Ireland.

These amazing, hugely talented young boys captured the hearts of Galwegians over the previous two summers and represented Palestine with huge pride. They also met the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, at a Galway United game at Eamonn Deacy Park.

The night out at Massimo was a huge success. We raised €4,250 for the little Gaza boys. The figure surpassed all our expectations and the event fully sold out.

Two weeks later, heartbroken, I had to tell the people of Galway who attended the gig via social media that the boys had been forced to cancel their trip. The inhumane siege imposed on the people of Gaza by the governments of Egypt and Israel prevented them from travelling.

The Gaza football team during a visit to Kinvara, Co Galway, in 2016

Something Irish children take for granted, a trip away with a football team, was being denied to the little boys of Gaza. But there was no question about that catastrophic siege for Mr Ambassador.

The money for the young footballers has been left in a bank account for a year. We have no idea if they will be allowed out in 2019.

I thought of those poor little boys, and their broken dreams, when I listened to the podcast of the interview with Mr Kariv.

Not once was Mr Kariv challenged about his Government’s appalling history of human rights abuses and the appalling 52 year occupation of Palestine which has ruled out any prospects of a meaningful ‘peace process’ or ‘two state solution’.

There was no mention of the 600,000 settlers who are living on stolen land.

Perhaps Mr Kariv would like to have been asked about the Occupied Territories Bill, which is currently making its way through the Dail and Seanad, despite huge opposition from Israel, the United States, and the European Union.

Senator Frances Black’s bill has created headlines all across the world and could see Ireland lead the way in opposing an Apartheid State, in much the same way as the Dunnes Stores strikers (and subsequently the Irish Government) did in the 1980s when they stood up against the appalling injustice of Apartheid in South Africa.

Those Dunnes Stores strikers were subsequently thanked in person by President Nelson Mandela. Right now, it's hard to see a future leader of Palestine blazing a trail to Sandy Road.

On Friday, it would have been interesting to hear the Ambassador’s take on a bill which is being opposed so vehemently by the Israeli authorities and saw his Irish counterpart in Tel Aviv, Alison Kelly, being called in for a “dressing down” by the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

This is a huge current international news story, as Ireland’s bill is being watched closely by other countries including the Netherlands and Sweden, but it did not merit a mention during the Ambassador’s visit to Galway.

According to B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation, there were more than 200 Palestinian children in Israeli prisons at the end of 2018.

But there was no mention of those children on our local radio station.

The Gaza children met the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins,
during a visit to Galway United FC

No mention of Gaza, where two million people live under an intolerable siege in a tiny piece of land, which is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. Most of them are descendants of refugees from what is now Israel, which might be of interest to listeners of the local radio station.

No mention of the billions in military aid which the USA provides Israel with every year.

To listen to the interview with Mr Kariv, it would be possible to believe that the people of Palestine did not actually exist.

That does a huge disservice to the people of the West Bank, who are living through a daily nightmare in which they are treated as second class citizens while living under a brutal military occupation in their own land.

And to the people of Gaza, who have so little hope when border crossings are closed down and talented little boys cannot even travel to Ireland for a week of football games.

It also does a huge disservice to the hundreds of thousands of Irish people who empathise with the people of Palestine. After all, we understand what it is like to be run out of our homes by “settlers” and forced to be refugees because of injustice in our own land.

They deserve to be told the full story, just as the people we elect to represent us should not be kept in the dark about a secretive visit by a diplomat which someone, somewhere, was afraid would become mired in controversy.

* 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 -
He is available to blog for social media work or to blog for your business. Contact

With Steve Wall of The Stunning during an amazing night out
in aid of the Gaza Kids to Ireland project last year.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

No place for buskers in the City of Bluster

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year 2018

Buskers claim the proposed byelaws will drive them out of Galway

In the City of Bluster, one of our esteemed public representatives donned an immaculate suit and hired a cameraman to make a video about the city’s thriving street culture.

He strolled the streets and persuaded business people to stand at their doorways and express support for his wonderful new byelaws.

The video was about buskers but, funnily enough, he did not actually get around to interviewing any of the buskers.

You know, the people who give the city such a vibrant street life throughout the year.

These are the people who say that they will be forced out of town by the byelaws which are being introduced by the well-dressed councillor.

Councillors voted in favour of his new city laws last year, even though an estimated 95% of submissions were against them. I have been told that people as far away as New York and San Francisco wrote to the local authority to oppose them.

After all, their treasured memories of a trip to Galway are more likely to include furious fiddlers at the top of High Street than photos of British-owned chain stores.

The laws were only rejected on a technicality late last year and the street performers are now alarmed that they are set to be reintroduced by the local authority.

Without any consultations or changes.

“We stand united in opposition to the proposed Galway City Council Busking Bye-Laws, as they were not done in consultation with us, as we were ignored throughout the process, and as we already have our own Buskers’ Guide to Galway and voluntary Code of Conduct,” said a spokesperson who, strangely enough, was not invited to take part in the councillor’s slick (self-promotional) video.

Cartoonist Richard Chapman gives his take on the bye-laws
You can find Richard's work at

Now the street entertainers believe they will leave the blustery city on the Atlantic coast with no music or street entertainment, just in time for us to become the European Capital of Culture in 2020.

In the city of bluster, jolly business people and politicians took to the streets to celebrate that historic designation.

What a wonderful accolade that is for the city and isn’t it going to bring in all those tourists and get the tills buzzing?

But now the local politicians who danced on Mainguard Street are angry, blaming the dreaded media for raising concerns about the lead-up to a project which has caused so much disquiet in the city’s arts community.

Funny how the concerns of the artists, the people who light up our streets and attract so many visitors, seem to be the last to be taken into account when they have so much apprehension about their livelihoods, sponsorship, and programming.

Sure, who wants to listen to penniless artists when there is so much money to be made in the Capital of Culture?

Buskers give Galway a vibrant street life throughout the year

In the city of bluster, the man whose job it is to tackle the homelessness problem likes to take part in an annual photo opportunity for the local papers.

He’s braver than me, sleeping out for a night to support a local homelessness charity.

Yes, his hands are tied by the national Government and perhaps he is trying his best. But does he never experience a modicum of shame as he smiles for the paper alongside the auctioneer who is brilliant at pushing up house prices or the businessman who gives his employees no job security?

Zero hour contracts and mass dismissals are forgotten when there's a photo opportunity for the local papers.

In the city of bluster, plans are in place for a new urban highway.

Never matter that it will cut through one of the most beautiful green areas in the city or ruin the peace and tranquillity around a historic castle.

It’s progress, you see. It’s a state-of-the-art ring road to encourage citizens of the city of bluster to keep driving to work or school on the other side of the city.

No matter that childhood obesity is now an alarming problem. Or that our natural environment is crying out for people to leave their cars at home and cycle to work or use public transport.

Or that the city fathers ruled out any prospect of a tram system to take those cars off the roads a decade ago.

So the cars will continue to clog up the narrow streets around all the schools while the children pile on the pounds in the city of bluster.

The car is king in the City of Bluster

In the city of bluster, outraged listeners contact the morning radio show after hearing a report about members of an ethnic minority who live on a rat-infested site on the edge of the city.

Outraged from Oranmore doesn’t care that these people live right next door to a rubbish dump on a site which was supposed to be “temporary” over a decade ago.

And the texts pour in, with racist abuse and messages about how these people are living off the taxpayers.

With zero compassion or care for how appalling it must be to bring up children right next door to a landfill site.

Their comments were hardly shocking, given that some members of the local authority have been pandering to those kind of prejudices for decades.

They came just a few weeks after members of this minority were effectively accused of ‘’gaming the system’ when it comes to getting social housing in the city of bluster.

It’s far easier to blame minorities than to face the fact that the people who represent us have let us down badly when it comes to tackling a chronic homelessness problem.

Don't we get what we deserve when we elect people who blame minorities for society's problems, see a Capital of Culture designation as nothing more than a chance to make money, or draft busking byelaws without any consultation from the buskers themselves?

There are local elections taking place in May of this year.           

Perhaps it’s time we looked at changing some of our representation on the European Capital of Bluster.

A day long busk-a-thon to oppose the Galway City Council’s proposed Busking Bye-Laws will take place at the top of William Street on Saturday. People have until March 8 to make submissions to the Council.

* 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. 

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Thursday, February 7, 2019

No going back to the horrors of disrupted lives

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year 2018

A mock border post brings of a reminder of more troubled times

It’s never nice to feel that you are an irrelevance, that your very existence does not matter and that your views are better left ignored.

It’s never nice when things most people take for granted – security, safety, the freedom to pop out to the shops or to enjoy a night out on the town – are being threatened by people who are oblivious to the impact their politics have on other people’s lives.

And it’s pretty appalling when the people who threaten your fragile peace have little concern for history or the true consequences of the damage they are about to cause.

In the US, President Donald Trump’s obsession with a wall disrupted the government for weeks and provoked tensions across the land.

In the border communities of Ireland, older people in particular know all too well about the divisions caused by walls and the trouble they cause.

A hard border is the last thing they want to see in the small towns and tight-knit rural communities where life has been utterly transformed, for the better, over the past two decades.

I remember a Belfast lady once telling me, with a sense of wonder in her voice, that her mother had spotted two Japanese tourists in the vicinity of City Hall. That was 1996, hardly a lifetime ago.
But it was a very different land.

Checkpoints dotted the landscape until the 1990s.
Photo: Carly Bailey, via Facebook. 

Local people remember the checkpoints, the watchtowers, the military helicopters, the barbed wire fences, and the soldiers brandishing machine guns along the Irish border.

How a short ten minute drive to the supermarket in Strabane, Crossmaglen, or Newry could turn into a two hour nightmare, with long queues, intolerable delays, guns being brandished and hostile interrogations at the side of the road.

They have to tell their children that a seemingly uneventful or boring life is so much better than a life defined by fear. And remind them that there was a time when 3,600 people lost their lives because of walls, barriers, and the conflict between two opposing tribes; when it was simply too dangerous to cross the city at night.

Back then, a mother in Derry or Belfast could only dream of the carefree attitudes of parents in Donegal or Dublin when they watched their teenage children head out for the night.

As a child, a trip to the shops involved British soldiers pointing machine guns at my dad. The only British people we knew wore military uniforms and mothers cried at night that this was no place to bring up a child.

When I was a youngster, one of my best friends had part of his hand blown up by a British Army grenade. It had been discarded, casually or wrecklessly, in a field near our homes. It prompted my tearful mother to beg my father to move back to Galway. No border community deserves to witness those kind of scenes again.

People remember the celebrations in 1998, when we thought (no, we were sure) we had left all those dark days behind. The Good Friday Agreement guaranteed peace and prosperity to everyone  – for the unionists, there was the guarantee they would not be railroaded into a United Ireland against their will; for the nationalist minority, a guarantee they would never be treated as second class citizens in a sectarian state again.

The horror of Bloody Sunday alienated nationalists in Northern Ireland
and drove many young people into the arms of the IRA in Derry

In just a few months, we have seen so much optimism evaporate.

It is unimaginable that the simplest of journeys could be fraught with danger, bureaucracy, and security concerns again. But people are having to face those fears again.

The majority of the people in Northern Ireland did not vote for Brexit. The people who live along the border are now being told they should have no say in a decision which could have such drastic implications for their lives, by politicians in London who have no understanding of the reality of their lives.

They are being asked to forget that Northern Ireland came into being in order to create an artificial pro-British majority, meandering through villages and rural communities who would be cut off from their own hinterlands.

For 21 years now, they have been able to live peaceful, normal lives. The Queen of England might still appear on their pound notes, but a trip to Donegal, Cavan, or Monaghan is no longer fraught with danger, lengthy interrogations, or fears of exploding bombs.

As British politicians continue to discount and dismiss their fears, people who live and work along the barely visible border are expressing and hearing growing, frantic concerns.

There are farmers who proclaim they would dismantle the hated checkpoints or turn a blind eye if their neighbours took out guns – but their fears, concerns, and frustrations are rarely heard in the corridors of power in London.

In recent weeks, Irish people have had to deal with their elected leader being described as a “liability” in the British press.

A tabloid newspaper, infamous in the past for its anti-Irish venom, said that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar would “deserve much of the blame” for the “misery and chaos” a No Deal Brexit would cause to the Irish people.

Anti-Irish venom is all the rage in the UK tabloids again

All for reflecting the fears of people living all along the border, that a vote which had nothing to do with them would have a drastic impact on the quality of their lives.

People in the Republic had absolutely no say in the Brexit referendum, but they are already being blamed in case it all goes wrong and the British go crashing out of the European Union without any kind of a deal.

People in Fermanagh, Derry, or Tyrone were seen as an afterthought, an irrelevance during the 2016 Brexit campaign.

But the people who have real life experience of a 'hard border' have a right to be frightened that the violence which scarred so many lives could be set to return. Even though they are being told by those who haven’t a clue, or no memory of living through terrible times, that there is no need for concern.

It’s clearer than ever now that many of those who voted for Brexit could not have cared less about the implications for the people who live alongside the 200 border crossings on the 300 mile frontier which divides the island of Ireland.

A protest against Brexit along the Irish border

Pro-Brexit British politicians like Jacob Rees-Mogg, Nigel Farage, and Boris Johnson tell the people living along this invisible line that they are being over the top in their opposition to the prospect of the return of border posts and checkpoints to their small rural communities.

But none of these jingoistic ‘Brexiteers’ has ever explained to those who live along the border how the UK can make new trade deals across the globe, and have different tariffs and agricultural standards, without huge disruption to their lives.

How convenient it is to forget that, for almost a century, the border in Ireland has been an artificial line – designed almost a century ago to maintain a contrived ‘pro-British’ majority in the north-east corner of the island.

How convenient it is to forget that 56% of the people of Northern Ireland voted against Britain leaving the European Union in the shock 2016 poll.

We keep hearing about the 17.4 million who voted for Brexit, but not so much about those on the island of Ireland who had huge concerns about being cut adrift from the rest of the island.

We keep hearing about the pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), who have held the balance of power in London since the last General Election, but far less about the farmers and small businesses whose livelihoods have been placed under a severe threat by the return of walls, checkpoints, and the return of a hard border.

We keep hearing about how the DUP even turned down a special deal for Northern Ireland, because holding on to their British identity seems to be even more important than the economic prospects of the people they represent.

And we hear so little of the alarm in small towns and villages over the threat to a fragile 20-year peace because old divisions and animosities have never really been resolved.

In Belfast, the history of a terrible conflict is painted on the walls
Photo Ciaran Tierney Digital Storyteller. 

Belfast is a great place to visit these days, but they still close off the roads along the ‘peace walls’, which split divided communities, late at night. When tour guides joke that they cannot go for a pint on the other side of those walls at night, they are not really joking at all.

Old tribal divisions and hatreds are still hidden away just behind those walls.

A few miles away, along a once bitterly disputed border, tourists hardly even realise when they are crossing from one part of Ireland into the other.

But the local people know, understand, and remember. With Brexit now less than two months away, there is a growing sense of alarm over the prospect of seeing the hated checkpoints, armed soldiers, and watchtowers return.

There is still a terrible fragility to the Irish peace process, even after 21 years of peace, a fragility which becomes all the more disconcerting the more the fears and concerns of those who are most affected by a hard border are being denigrated and ignored.

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

* If you would like to hire a professional journalist to blog for your website, you can get in touch at

Ciaran Tierney with the Irish Blog of the Year award