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 - CiaranTierney.com. 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@ciarantierney.com

--  * 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 - CiaranTierney.com. 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 - CiaranTierney.com. A former newspaper journalist, he is seeking new opportunities in a digital world. 

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