Deal reached for new government in Ireland

Two months after the inconclusive general election in Ireland, the Republic’s two main political parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, reached a deal 29 April that will lead to a new coalition.

Fianna Fáil has agreed to facilitate a Fine Gael minority government in a ‘political ceasefire’ between the two dominant (and historically antagonistic) political forces in the state,” The Guardian reported. “But Fianna Fáil will remain on the opposition benches in the Dáil, the Irish parliament.”

Fianna Fáil will allow Fine Gael to govern until a review of the coalition’s performance in September 2018. …

In the February election, Fine Gael, led by taoiseach Enda Kenny, lost 26 seats but it remains the largest party in the Dáil with 50 seats. Fianna Fáil made a stunning recovery from a historic low of 21 seats in the 2011 general election to 44 seats this year.

Formal ratification of the deal could come at the weekend or early next week. The agreement is likely to return Kenny to his post, making him the first Fine Gael leader returned to power.

The Irish Times offers an analysis of “the realities facing Ireland’s next government.”

The two center-right parties emerged from the divide over the Anglo-Irish treaty in 1921, which partitioned Ireland into two states and caused a bitter civil war. Fianna Fáil has historically been the dominant of the two parties, but was severely punished by voters in 2011 for the country’s economic collapse. The rise of smaller parties and independent candidates also has skimmed votes from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. 

Guest post: Witnessing Irish history over 30 years

I’m always happy to publish a guest post from people visiting or just returned from Ireland. My good friend Sister Cathy Cahill, OSF, a veteran retreat leader and spiritual director, sent this correspondence from Dublin. MH

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When I visited Ireland the first time in the spring of 1986, the talk on the radio and on the streets was all about the divorce referendum. It didn’t pass that year, but narrowly prevailed 10 years later by 50.3 percent to 49.7 percent.

When I was here last year, all the buzz was around the marriage equality referendum. I was part of the rejoicing when the “YES” vote succeeded 62.1 percent to 37.9 percent, making Ireland the first nation to do so by referendum rather than legislation.

This year, the big concern is that Ireland is without a government because of an inconclusive election (the incumbent party got only 25.5 percent of the vote) and the inability of politicians, so far, to form a coalition. Sound familiar: elected officials having trouble finding agreeable solutions to problems?

Parading in Dublin with images of Easter Rising patriots. Photo courtesy of Sr. Cathy Cahill.

Parading in Dublin with images of Easter Rising patriots. Photo courtesy of Sr. Cathy Cahill.

Of course, this year is also the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising, when brave Irishmen and Irishwomen said “No More!” to English rule. I arrived a few weeks after the official commemoration on Easter Sunday. Imagine my delight when I happened upon the “Citizens’ Centenary Celebration” in front of the GPO on Sunday, 24 April, the actual 100th anniversary of the event that change Ireland forever.

I was surprised at the tears that welled up as I listened to the speeches, the songs, and reading of the great proclamation. I wondered about my grandfather, who left County Roscommon in 1895 and settled in Providence, Rhode Island. What were his reactions when the news of the insurrection made its way across the Atlantic? I’m sure he was a nationalist sympathizer.

When the names of the proclamation signers were read and I heard “Joseph Mary Plunkett,” I immediately thought of his poem,  “I See His Blood Upon the Rose.” It’s been 60 years since Irish nuns in America had us memorize it!

There also were songs about the women who took part in the Rising and then written out of history. There were songs bemoaning the divisions that still exist and songs celebrating the strides toward unity that have been made. The variety of groups taking part in a parade reflected the needs of today’s Ireland. Labor unions, refugees, Travellers, homeless, and many others.

As an Irish American, I am grateful to be here at this time. I pray for the day when striving for liberty and independence does not involve violence.

One hundred years…and counting

Sunday, 24 April marked the “calendar centenary” of the start of the 1916 Easter Rising, though commemorations of the historical event have been on for more than a month. Sunday also was Census Day in Ireland.

Marking the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising on 24 April 2016...Census Day in Ireland. Photo courtesy of Sr. Cathy Cahill.

Crowds outside the General Post Office in Dublin commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. 24 April 2016 also was Census Day in Ireland. Photo courtesy of Sr. Cathy Cahill.

The Irish Independent reports:

[F]amilies and individuals all over the country will fill out their census forms. Many will ponder whether they still consider themselves Catholic, and whether they should claim to be able to speak Irish – even if they can only say “slán” and “go raibh maith agat“. …

Despite the recession exodus, the population is still expected to show a five-year increase … to more than 4.6 million. … With a continuing high birth rate also making up for emigration losses, the population increase is now running at 25,000 per year. …

[The] census is likely to show a more cosmopolitan population with a diverse mix of nationalities and creeds. Ireland’s Islamic population has grown tenfold in two decades to more than 50,000 and this trend is likely to be confirmed. At the last census, 3.8 million people still classified themselves as Catholic, but some commentators believe the census should ask how often they attend Mass. …

Even 10 years ago, the possibility of same-sex marriage in Ireland seemed unthinkable, but it has been legalized by a popular vote, against the wishes of the Catholic hierarchy.

A census has been conducted in Ireland since 1821, though original documentation from many of those early surveys has been destroyed by accident or on purpose. The most popular and intact surviving censuses are the household returns and ancillary records for 1901 and 1911. The State has taken a count every five years since 1951.

The Central Statistics Office says it will release the first results of the 2016 Census to the public in July.

The Irish people commemorated the 1916 Rising on 24 April, then went home and completed their census forms. Photo courtesy of Sr. Cathy Cahill.

The Irish people commemorated the 1916 Rising on 24 April, then went home and completed their census forms. Photo courtesy of Sr. Cathy Cahill.

Joining 90th birthday wishes for Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II, who last September became the longest-reigning monarch in British history–64 years and counting–turns 90 on 21 April.

“Through seven decades, she has remained gloriously and relentlessly enigmatic in one of her signature pastel outfits and colorful hats,” writes The New York Times. “The queen could be forgiven for showing emotion when she blows out her candles. But it is unlikely.”

I’m a republican more than any fan of the monarchy, British or otherwise. But I’ve admired this queen since her historic 2011 visit to Ireland. So does Father Matt Malone, S.J., editor in chief of America: The National Catholic Review. In his 18 April “Of Many Things” column, he writes:

[S]he was determined to make the trip, motivated in large part by her sense of Christian duty to reconcile the estranged, to be a healer of the breach. “God sent into the world a unique person—neither a philosopher nor a general (important though they are)—but a Saviour, with the power to forgive,” she said in her Christmas broadcast that year. “Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.”

…the queen’s visit to the republic was not just a moment of reconciliation between two long-estranged peoples, but her personal act of forgiveness. When Lord Louis Mountbatten was killed by agents of the Irish Republican Army in the summer of 1979, the queen suffered the loss of one of the most beloved members of her family … It was a truly extraordinary moment, therefore, when she laid a wreath at a memorial garden in Dublin dedicated to the memory of “all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom.” She had somehow found the courage within her to forgive, to rebuild, to begin anew. …

In the course of a century, the editors of this magazine have unashamedly championed the cause of Irish freedom. In doing so, we have had a few unkind words to say about the British and the queen’s predecessors. As we mark the centenary of the Easter Uprising, we celebrate the fulfillment of our forebears’ dreams, but we also repent of what we too have done and failed to do. Yet in repentance there is hope, the very hope we saw during those mid-May days in 2011.

In June 2012, in Belfast, the queen and former IRA commander Martin McGuinness had one of the world’s most celebrated handshakes. Two years later, McGuinness accepted the queen’s invitation to attend a British state banquet at Windsor Castle. By then, many of us had grown used to seeing soaring sounders of swine.

Earlier this year, a 12-year-old schoolboy from Dublin wrote a letter to the queen asking for “the return of the six counties” of Northern Ireland, which were partitioned from the rest of the island in 1921 and today remain part of the United Kingdom. Buckingham Palace politely replied to the boy that Her Majesty does not intervene in such matters. “As a constitutional Sovereign, the Queen acts on the advice of her Ministers and remains strictly non-political at all times.”

And so a birthday bonfire will burn atop Slieve Donard in County Down, as well as the highest peaks of Scotland, Wales and England, in addition to all the other pomp to mark Elizabeth’s 90th. I’ll just add: Sláinte!

A sad day for the Irish diaspora

Men and women from Ireland are involved in many types of endeavors, big and small, all over the world. The stories of 18 April made that clear in a sad way:

  • Sister Clare Theresa Crockett, 33, of Derry, Northern Ireland, was among more than 350 people killed in the Ecuador earthquake. From The Belfast Telegraph.
  • The speeding motorcade of Irish-born U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power hit and killed a young boy while en route to the front lines of war-torn Cameroon. She later returned to the family to express “grief and heartbreak.” From TheJournal.ie.
  • Joshua Molloy, a 24-year-old from Ballylinan, County Laois, is being detained in Iraq after a spending time fighting with Kurdish forces opposing the Islamic State. From The Irish Times.

Tragedies and triumphs happen every day to people all around the world. The coincidence of these headlines from three continents just happened to catch my eye.

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Sister Clare Theresa Crockett

Remembering the ‘Belfast Blitz’ of 1941

Seventy-five years ago this spring, the German Luftwaffe carried out a series of bombing raids on the industrial heart of Northern Ireland. A total of 955 people were killed and more than 1,500 injured in what came to be called the Belfast Blitz.

The deadliest of four attacks occurred 15 and 16 April 1941. This weekend, the city is unveiling the first in a series of memorial plaques marking key locations of the attacks, plus other commemoration ceremonies.

“It was very frightening — you could hear the drone of the planes and then the bombs exploding and the ground shaking beneath you,” survivor John Kielty, 87, a retired postmaster who was 12 at the time, told The Belfast Telegraph.

The BBC offers a great package of words, images, videos and interactive maps about the events: How did an elephant beat the Belfast Blitz?

The six counties of Northern Ireland were partitioned from the rest of the island in 1921 and remained part of the United Kingdom, which declared war on Germany in 1939. There were also several German bombing attacks on neutral Ireland in 1940 and 1941.

After the bombs dropped on Belfast in 1941.

After the bombs dropped on Belfast in 1941.

 

Interview: Colin Farrell of ‘Stories of 1916,’ Part 2

This is the second part of my interview with Colin Farrell, creative director at Tile Media. The Dublin-based multimedia company produced ‘A Terrible Beauty (Áille an Uafáis),’ a 90-minute docudrama focused on the events of Easter week 1916, and the affiliated website Stories From 1916. If you missed it, here is Part 1. MH

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Q: The Internet has created many new options for researching and telling historical stories. As more archives become digitized and accessible worldwide, more people are bringing fresh perspectives to the material. Digital video and audio production makes it easier to produce and distribute such stories. Do you agree? What are your further thoughts about telling history in 2016?

CF: I completely agree with that point. The reality is that without the digitization of so much material it would be very difficult to research the stories that we cover as quickly as we need to. Similarly, without modern digital and audio production, we would not be able to produce the amount of material that we have done. Also, both the research and production would be a lot more expensive to undertake, meaning that we could not produce a project like ‘Stories from 1916’ in the manner that we have done. That’s why it was important for us to make the project so interactive and bring the idea of how oral history is presented up to date. It’s really exciting to think about what we might do next after going through this process. Technology has opened so many doors for ourselves, and everyone else, to produce really high-quality stuff for a fraction of the cost of what it would have been even a few years ago. It has also opened many new doors for how a story can be told. The possibilities for presenting your work are so broad now, which is really exciting for us.

A Terrible Beauty (Áille an Uafáis) - Irish Volunteer (Noel Whelan) on North King St.

A Terrible Beauty (Áille an Uafáis) – Irish Volunteer (Noel Whelan) on North King St.

Q: “Stories from 1916” says it focuses on “accounts of ‘ordinary’ men and women, involved in the Rising, that have never had their voices heard or their stories told,” and that you’ve been able to tap family archival material. How have any of these stories or material changed the overall narrative to 1916? Has this approach resulted in a particular new insight(s) about Easter 1916?

CF: I don’t think that this approach has necessarily changed the narrative of 1916. Instead, I feel like it has added to it and shown people that what happened during Easter Week went far beyond the seven signatories and the GPO. I think by presenting the ‘ordinary’ men and women’s stories, that it demystifies what happened during the Rising and shows people the power of believing in something and being willing to fight for it. I think that because of the executions of the leaders, the story, for a long time, became all about their blood sacrifice and was mythologized, which definitely served a purpose for a time but now, 100 years later, I think it’s important to look at the story from a new perspective. For us, it’s always important to look at it from an apolitical point of view and to present the true history without “taking sides.”

Q: Reactions from academia and the traditional historian community?  

CF: The reaction to the project from everyone has been overwhelmingly positive, including the academic world. I think the fact that we are not trying to pretend to be academics or historians helps. We’re coming from a filmmaking background, and that has allowed us to look at the history in a slightly different way I think. Much the same as when we are making a film, it is important for us to make the project interesting and entertaining for the audience, so that’s why we have tried to make it interactive and use different multimedia elements such as mini-docs, podcasts and using touch-screen technology as part of the traveling exhibition.

In this short documentary, the family of Irish Volunteer Patrick Rankin discusses his involvement in the 1916 Easter Rising.

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Q: What’s next? Plans to bring this approach to War of Independence/Civil War centennials? Other Irish (or non-Irish) projects you can talk about?

CF: “Stories from 1916” was never meant to be purely about the Rising and lots of the stories already go beyond Easter Week, 1916. We’re interested in looking at someone’s whole life, not just one week of it. We’ll be continuing to work on the project right up to the end of the year and beyond. We’re lucky that we have a 501(c)(3) fiscal sponsor in the States, the Chicago Irish Brotherhood, so we will be continuing to tell the story of Irish-America’s involvement in the whole revolutionary period. Ultimately, we would like to produce a feature length documentary looking at the story from ‘the other side of the Atlantic’. We’re also working with Fingal County Council in trying to find funding to make a short 20-25 minute documentary on the North County Dublin involvement in 1916, which culminates in the Battle of Ashbourne, the only really successful engagement during the Rising. Again, another really great tale that is less well known.

We also have another project set during the War of Independence, ‘Jubilee Nurse’, which we are currently developing. The whole revolutionary period in Irish history is a goldmine of great stories, so we are definitely looking at telling more of them. Outside of that period, we are working on developing a history/music program with the Irish singer-songwriter Eleanor McEvoy, about the life and work of Irish poet Thomas Moore, who was the ‘rock star’ of his day! In this industry, you have to constantly be on the lookout for new material and be developing ideas so hopefully there will be a lot more to come from Tile Media in the coming years.

Election drama builds in Ireland, north and south

This is an important week in Irish politics on both sides of the border.

In the Republic, negotiators from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil continue their intensive talks on forming a new government. A key leadership vote is tentatively set for 14 April, which is 48 days since the 26 February election.

Ireland’s record for going without a government is 48 days, when a November 1992 election failed to produce a coalition pact until January 1993, according to the Associated Press. Now, if the two major parities and incoming small party and independent members fail to reach a deal soon, calls for a second election are likely to increase. That hasn’t happened since 1982.

Stormont, the Northern Ireland Assembly building in Belfast.

Stormont, the Northern Ireland Assembly building in Belfast.

In Ulster, campaigning is heating up for the 5 May Northern Ireland Assembly election, with the first debate among leaders of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Sinn Féin, Social Democratic and Labor Party (SDLP), Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the Alliance Party set for 13 April.

This is the fifth such election since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 created the historic power-sharing legislature. Voters will cast ballots for 108 members from 18 constituencies in the six counties.

Notably, the generation born in 1998 and a few years earlier will be able to vote for the first time in this election. That could either soften or harden recent electoral trends. In a preview, the London School of Economics and Political Science observes:

In 1998, the (moderate) SDLP was the party with most votes in the Assembly, while the (moderate) UUP was the party with most seats. In the 2003 election, the (stronger pro-British) DUP took the most votes and seats, and (stronger Irish nationalist) Sinn Féin moved from being the fourth largest party, to the second largest party. In 2007 this trend consolidated, when the sum of votes for the DUP and SF reached 56%. By 2011, the DUP and SF were the undisputed largest parties in the system, leaving the SDLP, the UUP, and the Alliance significantly behind.

The northern vote not only comes on the heels of the still-unresolved election outcome in the Republic, but also ahead of the 23 June referendum on whether the U.K. (including Northern Ireland) remains in the E.U. All of which puts the lie to notions that the U.S. is the only place having interesting elections this year.

Interview: Colin Farrell of ‘Stories of 1916,’ Part 1

The 1916 Easter Rising centennial arrived this year with an abundance of books, films, websites and social media dedicated to this seminal event in Irish history. The global content output–from traditional media and academic sources to bloggers, amateur historians and anyone else with a Facebook page or Twitter handle–is particularly extraordinary given all the typesetting troubles of publishing the 1916 Proclamation in the basement of Dublin’s Liberty Hall.

Among the many websites that I’ve come across in recent months is Stories From 1916.  The multimedia project grew from the production of ‘A Terrible Beauty (Áille an Uafáis),’ a 90-minute docudrama focused on the events of Easter week 1916. (Trailer at bottom.) The 2013 film and ‘Stories’ website are the work of Dublin-based Tile Media. I recently put a few questions to actor and Tile Creative Director Colin Farrell (“No relation to the other fella!”) about the project. I’ll post the interview in two parts. MH

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Q: What’s been the biggest surprise of doing this project, or something you thought you knew about the Rising but now think differently?

CF: To be honest, before I started working on our film ‘A Terrible Beauty’ and the ‘Stories from 1916’ project, my knowledge of the 1916 Rising was fairly limited. I have always been interested in history but I’m not a historian, and as such, what I knew about the events of 1916 was what I had learnt in school…Pearse, Connolly, the GPO, etc. Most people you speak with are probably in a similar situation and that’s why we took the decision to focus on the “ordinary” people involved: Irish rebel, British soldier and civilian caught up in the fighting. The biggest surprise has probably been just how involved Irish-America was in the lead up to the Rising and beyond.

Colin Farrell playing Peader O'Donnell in the Tile Media produced 'Jubilee Nurse' TV pilot.

Colin Farrell playing Peader O’Donnell in the Tile Media produced ‘Jubilee Nurse’ TV pilot.

Q: Stories from 1916 gives more attention to American connections to the Rising than many other websites. How did this come about?

CF: It’s definitely fair to say that we focus on the Irish-American connection to 1916 more than most. The reason for this is that we feel the story isn’t complete without recognizing the massive contribution that Irish-America made to Ireland’s revolutionary period from 1912-22. The vast majority of funding for the rebellion came from the States, but also politically, there was a huge amount of support through organizations like Clan na Gael and the Friends of Irish Freedom. That link is one which we feel hasn’t been fully explored up to now, outside of the purely academic world, so it’s one we’re very interested in. Ultimately, we’d like to produce a 70-80 minute online documentary that would tell this story, from the foundations laid by the old Fenians, right through to the early days of the Irish Free State and how America played it’s part in it all.

Q: What’s your favorite story from the project thus far, and why?

CF: I think my favorite story so far has been ‘A Courier’s Tale‘, the story of Tommy O’Connor. To me, he really epitomizes what we are trying to do with ‘Stories from 1916’. This is a guy who is almost completely unknown, including in the academic world, but who is so important to the fight for Irish freedom. As the IRB’s Trans-Atlantic courier, he is carrying vast sums of money home to Ireland, millions in today’s currency. Also, some of the most important messages from the U.S. to Ireland. He’s basically a spy, and who doesn’t like a good spy story! As well as his covert work, he fights in the Rising and was involved in the rescue of the Titanic‘s survivors as a crew member of the Carpathia…a ripping yarn altogether!

It’s also one that I like because of the serendipity involved in how we came across it. I had been looking at the Bureau of Military History statements online, searching for names that weren’t listed as Irish Volunteers or Citizen’s Army, and came across Tommy who was listed as a courier for the IRB. I then looked into his pension records and came across the presidential pardon he received from Calvin Coolidge.  Literally the next day, one of his living relatives sent us an email, it was just meant to be! Since then we’ve become great friends with his family, so it is a story that is close to my heart.

Part 2: Telling history in the digital age.

Obama move scuttles merger of U.S. & Irish drug companies

New York drug maker Pfizer and Dublin-based Allergan have called off their proposed $160 billion merger, which would have headquartered the new company in Ireland to slash its U.S. tax bill. The deal collapsed days after the U.S. Treasury Department announced new steps to curb such tax-avoiding maneuvers, called “inversions.”

The outcome is “a major win for President Barack Obama, who has been pushing to curb deals in which companies move overseas to cut taxes,” Reuters reported.

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Obama in Ireland in 2011.

For Ireland, the importance “is more in the signal it sends about the hardening international approach to multinational tax than in the specific implications from the collapse of the deal,” Cliff Taylor writes in The Irish Times. “It demonstrates again that the days of using tax as the main attraction for companies to locate here are coming to an end – and that there may well be significant implications for existing big Irish employers in the changes to come.”

The corporate tax rate in Ireland is 12.5 percent. In the U.S., business taxes range from 15 percent to nearly 40 percent. Northern Ireland plans to cut its business rate to 12.5 percent in 2018 to be more competitive with the Republic. But that’s now said to be threatened by Britain’s potential exit from the European Union in a June referendum.