Irish Water protests changing Irish politics?

“People are no longer afraid of the Government. They’re increasingly aware that the Government is afraid of them.” — Paul Murphy, Irish Socialist Party

Months of protest over proposed water changes in Ireland have forced a major U-turn by the government. Here’s news coverage from IrishCentral, plus a background piece from the BBC.

But below the surface of water charges are deeper political issues.

Some protests were violent and represent “an anarchic campaign being fomented by extreme left-wing factions across the country to undermine democratic politics,” Stephen O’Byrnes writes in the Irish Times.

But Conor Pope suggests Irish protesters “should pat themselves on the back … for putting manners on the Government like never before.” He wonders if “had they done a little bit more, a little bit sooner, could the worst ravages of the austerity age have been avoided?”

A recent Irish Times‘ “Inside Politics” podcast explores the present and future state of Irish politics. Click on “Fractured Democracy” from this link.

Irish scientist was climate change pioneer

I discovered a connection to Ireland in a New York Times op-ed about the environmental impact of the Civil War. It’s also a reminder of how the past continues to influence the present.

[The Civil War] was an environmental catastrophe of the first magnitude, with effects that endured long after the guns were silenced. It could be argued that they have never ended. … The overwhelming need to win the war was paramount, and outweighed any moral calculus about the [environmental] price to be borne by future generations. Still, that price was beginning to be calculated – the first scientific attempt to explain heat-trapping gases in the earth’s atmosphere and the greenhouse effect was made in 1859 by an Irish scientist, John Tyndall.

John Tyndall from europena blog.

John Tyndall from europena blog.

Tyndall was born in 1820 in County Carlow. He life spanned from Catholic Emancipation through the Great Famine and up the second Home Rule Bill of 1893. Here’s a fuller biography from the Tyndall National Institute, a namesake scientific research center based at University College Cork. There’s also a Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research based in England (plus a mountain in California and a glacier in Colorado.)

This BBC piece by Richard Black details Tydall’s  “far-from-snappy title[d]” study, “On the Absorption and Radiation of Heat by Gases and Vapours, and on the Physical Connexion of Radiation, Absorption, and Conduction.”

What Tyndall had demonstrated for the first time was that gases in the atmosphere absorb heat to very different degrees; he had discovered the molecular basis of the greenhouse effect. … Tyndall’s lab experiments do not prove that humanity’s CO2 emissions are warming the planet … because in the real world, other factors can influence and outweigh those lab findings. But Tyndall did show how man-made global warming can work; and he did so 150 years ago.

Gerry Adams’ poor history threatens all journalists

What to make of Gerry Adams’ recent observations about Michael Collins’ tactics with the critical media of nearly 100 years ago? Speaking at a $500-a-plate Friends of Sinn Féin fundraiser in New York City, he said:

He [Collins] went in, sent volunteers in, to the [newspaper] offices, held the editor at gunpoint, and destroyed the entire printing press. That’s what he did. Now I can just see the headline in the Independent tomorrow, I’m obviously not advocating that.

As context, Adams and the Irish Independent have feuded for years. Now Adams is feeling extra pressure related to the Mairia Cahill abuse scandal.

According to the Independent:

…there is no evidence that Michael Collins or any of his followers held a gun to the editor of the Irish Independent/Freeman’s Journal. In 1919, a crowd of IRA men smashed the printing presses because of the newspaper’s criticisms; in 1922, Rory O’Connor, a Republican leader, smashed the presses because the newspaper was pro-Michael Collins.

Regardless the historical inaccuracy of Adams’ remark, the Independent‘s editors and other journalists in Ireland and elsewhere are outraged by the comment. An Independent editorial said:

If Mr Adams knew a little bit more about the Republic, he might understand the sensitivities of the Irish media about journalists being held at gunpoint. Someone might tell Mr Adams that Veronica Guerin, a crusading journalist, wife and mother, was murdered at gunpoint.Mr Adams might also recall that the courageous journalist Martin O’Hagan, who was kidnapped by the IRA, was shot by their terrorist kissing cousins the LVF.

The National Union of Journalists’ Irish organizer Seamus Dooley told the Independent his group opposes threats to journalist from politicians.

The price of seeking election is accepting that you will be held to account. Mr Adams is free to dislike the Sunday Independent but he is not free to threaten or use bullying language towards journalists. It is ironic that he should make his comments in America, where freedom of expression is prized. I also would remind Mr Adams that journalists are workers who deserve the right to be treated with dignity in the conduct of their job. If he has a complaint, let him lodge a complaint with the Press Ombudsman.

Joel Simon of the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists told the Independent:

While we realize Gerry Adams was joking when he made a remark about ‘holding an editor at gunpoint’, we are not amused. We are living through a period of record violence against journalists around the world. Quite simply this is not a laughing matter.

To date, neither of the media organizations has issued statements on their websites to bolster their comments reported by the Independent. And other than IrishCentral‘s coverage of the dinner, I haven’t seen any U.S. media reaction to Adams’ remarks.

Adams tells the same story about Collins and the press in his personal blog without the qualification that he is “obviously not advocating that.” He uses the episode and other stories of violence from Ireland’s revolutionary period to expose the hypocrisy of contemporary politicians who praise Collins but “ignore the brutality and the violence the men and women of that generation of the IRA” while condemning the IRA of the late 20th century.

I’ve given Adams the benefit of the doubt more often than not over the years. He played a critical role in helping to end the Troubles, and I general support his party’s goal of reunifying the 32 counties. But as a career journalist I can’t abide casual cracks about holding editors at gunpoint or destroying printing press. Instead of telling the dinner crowd he wasn’t advocating such action against the Independent, Adams should have noted the important role of a free press, even one that’s critical of him, in a free country.

But to me what’s more disturbing than Adams’ remark is reporting about the “laughter” and guffaws it drew from those well-heeled Irish-American supporters of Sinn Féin. Their amusement at threats to the free press scares me more than Adams.

Ireland hit by “forgotten famine” after revolutionary period

There’s a lot of attention being focused on the centennial anniversaries of Ireland’s revolutionary period, 1912 to 1923, which continues to reverberate through the island’s politics, economy and society.

But the death and misery of the period did not subside after the civil war ended in May 1923. A new report by online historian Fin Dwyer at irishhistorypodcasts.ie details the “forgotten famine” of 1924-1925. He writes:

The harvest in 1923 and, in particular, 1924 was nothing short of disastrous. The weather, while not particularly cold, was unusually wet. Crop yields collapsed.  The potato – still the main food source for many rural poor – rotted in the fields. Fodder was impossible to find and animal stocks died in large numbers from hunger related diseases. To compound this crisis, it was not possible to dry out turf – the main fuel source for the rural poor. ….

Even though the government voted through £500,000 in aid, the crisis continued to deepen and by early January 1925, the worst predictions began to materialise in the west. … President W.T. Cosgrave described the situation of distress as “considerably greater than normal, but comparison with 1847 is, I am glad to say not justified. There is no question of famine in that sense.” Using the worst famine in modern European history as a bench mark nevertheless illustrated the depth of crisis.

But Dwyer goes on to detail how the governing Cumann na nGaedheal party engaged in a “callous and dangerous denial and cover up” as news of the starvation, especially in the West of Ireland, began to attract international attention. He writes:

Concerned with the interests of large farmers and their emerging new state, this fear of international rebuke touched a nerve with Irish politicians. After only three years of Independent rule, they were nothing short of hypersensitive about the country’s international image. When faced with a choice of downplaying the starvation or risking their international reputation, the choice was simple for the politicians of Cumann na nGaedhael.

Great piece by Dwyer. Give it a read.

Buying history at “independence sales” in Ireland

Historian Diarmaid Ferriter is calling on wealth collectors to buy up artifacts from Ireland’s revolutionary period and donate them to the Republic.

In an opinion piece for the Irish Times, he writes:

Auction houses have been gleefully trumpeting their “independence sales” in recent times, as they seek to drum up business selling Irish historical memorabilia from the 1916-1923 period. … There is something unseemly about this kind of historical artifact being traded in this way, but it is equally a pity that those who have the wealth to buy them do not see fit to donate them to the State, thereby bringing significant pieces of our heritage into public ownership.

Ferriter is a member of the Expert Advisory Group on Centenary Commemorations, which is focused on recognizing the historical events of 1912 to 1922. Lots of great stuff on the website linked above.

More troubles about the past for Adams; Hart named envoy

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams has new troubles with the past not six months since being released from police questioning about the 1972 abduction and murder of Jean McConville.

This time around Adams and republicans are facing harsh accusations about how they handled, or mishandled, allegations of rape by members of the IRA. Adams claims the charges are being politicized by opponents.

For perspective on IRA justice during the Troubles and the political implications of this scandal, in the North and the Republic, read this piece by Brian Feeney. He is head of history at St Mary’s University College in Belfast, and the author of Sinn Féin: A Hundred Turbulent Years and Insider: Life in the IRA.

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An additional note about the North: former U.S. Senator and two-time presidential candidate Gary Hart has appointed to help jump-start political negotiations in Northern Ireland. As the Belfast Telegraph says with a sigh, Hart is “the latest in a decades-long parade of special U.S. peace process envoys — and a man long off the radar of mainstream American political life.”

But the story also contains this reality check:

One Washington insider with long-time involvement in Irish affairs said that Belfast’s politicians shouldn’t take high-level US governmental attention for granted. “Northern Ireland, like lots of places around the world, tends to think that their problems are the biggest on the board. And they aren’t,” he said.

Can Hart finish the work on “flags, parades and the past” that Richard Haas nearly concluded at the end of 2013? Let’s see.

Former Irish diplomat discusses Northern Ireland

Retired Irish diplomat John Rowan discussed the early years of the Northern Ireland peace process and other topics at a recent Irish Network DC event. Rowan joined Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs in 1974 and was posted to the Embassy in Washington in 1976, during some of the bloodiest days of the Troubles.

John Rowan at Irish Network DC event.

John Rowan at Irish Network DC event.

Rowan said nationalist leader John Hume was “a hero” of the earliest efforts to bring peace to Northern Ireland through a strategy that “broadened the problem” beyond Ulster’s borders.

In America, it initially was tough getting much interest from the Jimmy Carter Administration, Rowan said, because the president and his top advisers had no connections or interests in Irish affairs. The U.S. State Department was dominated by those who favored the “special relationship” with the United Kingdom, while much of Irish diaspora in America supported the IRA.

Hume’s efforts soon got a boost from four prominent Irish-American politicians: Senators Edward Kennedy and Daniel Moynihan, Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill and New York Governor Hugh Carey. They came to be known as the four horsemen.

“They visited Northern Ireland and they researched,” Rowan said. “They wanted people about a solution, not fighting for a solution.”

By 30 August 1977 Carter was persuaded to issue a key statement on U.S. policy in Northern Ireland, which signaled the start of America playing a more active role in the peace process. The statement said, in part:

The United States wholeheartedly supports peaceful means for finding a just solution that involves both parts of the community of Northern Ireland .and protects human rights and guarantees freedom from discrimination–a solution that the people in Northern Ireland, as well as the Governments of Great Britain and Ireland can support. Violence cannot resolve Northern Ireland’s problems; it only increases them and solves nothing.

“It was a game changer,” Rowan said. “We had another party interested in being our partner, a very powerful partner that would express its views. We also found that the diaspora was not monolithic in its support for armed struggle.”

Of course, it took another 21 years of incremental steps and set backs to reach the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Hume shared the Noble Peace Prize with unionist leader David Trimble. Since then the six counties of Ulster have enjoyed a level of peace and progress, if still imperfect, that was unimaginable in 1977.

Rowan said he expects to see “some derivation” of the Northern Ireland Executive created by the landmark agreement in the years ahead. “There will be some realignment on the nationalist and unions sides,” he said.

It’s possible, Rowan said, that Sinn Fein could eventually hold the position of First Minister instead of Deputy First Minister. He does not expect to see a unification referendum any time soon, nor does he believe the six counties might form their own statelet independent of Britain.

“That would not be viable,” he said, noting that Ulster is too dependent on government help to leave the U.K., which also why it’s unlikely the Republic would want to embrace the region. “The private sector is too fragile.”

O’Malley moves into U.S. Embassy in Ireland, now 50

St. Louis lawyer Kevin O’Malley has moved into the U.S. Embassy in Dublin as America’s new Ambassador to Ireland. All four of his grandparents emigrated from Westport, County Mayo.

In a welcome published in the Irish Independent, he writes:

How fortunate I feel to take up my new role as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland at this auspicious moment – and at a time when the relationship between our peoples and our governments holds such great promise. I am greatly honoured President Barack Obama asked me to represent the United States to a country I hold so dear.

Obama was criticized on both side of the Atlantic for taking 18 months to fill the position. Here’s O’Malley’s official video welcome:

He moves into the unique Ballsbridge building ahead of 50th anniversary celebrations in November. Here’s a video about embassy:

Should the Irish abroad be able to vote back home?

“The Irish abroad should be given a voice by being given a vote in our general elections, as other states allow their citizens,” writes Colum Kenny, professor of communications at Dublin City Universty and author of An Irish-American Odyssey: The remarkable rise of the O’Shaughnessy Brothers.

His op-ed in The Irish Times contends that current proposals to try such an arrangement by giving the diaspora a vote only in presidential polls are “patronizing.”

“And what of catches that deprive emigrants and their children of educational and social welfare benefits if they wish to return after living outside Ireland for some years?”

Be sure to read the lively comments about taxation and representation at the bottom of the post. An online poll was showing nearly 60 percent “yes” to allow overseas voting as of this post, Oct. 4, 2014.

A “dark year” for farm fatalities in Ireland

Farm deaths in rural Ireland have reached 23 as the year nears the three quarter mark. That’s seven more deaths than all last year and five more than the annual average of 18.

The Irish Times reports the surge of fatalities “comes at at time when there has never been a greater focus on farm safety.” The story reports that the Irish Farmers’ Association held the first National Farm Safety Awareness Day in July. A support group called Embrace Farm has also launched a video campaign called “What’s Left Behind” to call attention to the issue.

The primary causes of farm fatalities are, in descending order, tractor and other vehicles, machinery, animals, trips and falls, drowning, collapse of working platforms, wood/forestry related and electrocution, according to a May 2012 report by Teagasc, the agriculture and food development authority in Ireland.

The fatalities mentioned above apply only to the Republic and not the six counties of Northern Ireland. I was curious to see how these figures compared to the Ireland of 100 years ago, before partition, when more people were employed in less mechanized farming. So I uploaded the Annual Report of the Registrar-General for Ireland during the year 1914.

The statistical abstract contains nearly 200 “causes of death in Ireland,” which total 71,345 for the year, but there is not a category for farm fatalities. The report says there were 532 deaths from “injuries.” Assuming 5 percent of the total was related to agricultural work yields nearly 27 fatalities, or four more than the nine month total for the 26 counties.

I suspect the figure was likely much higher.