There wasn’t much good news from Ireland in January, at least that I found in my reading. The three stories on the future of Dublin linked from the last bullet are interesting. Here’s the monthly roundup:
- The COVID-19 death toll surpassed 3,000 in the Republic of Ireland and approaching 2,000 in Northern Ireland. Quarantine and other restrictions are being extended to March.
- In a month-end poll by the TheJournal.ie, 46 percent surveyed said the Irish government is doing a good job at rolling out vaccines as quickly as possible, while 47 percent disagreed. Willingness to take vaccines hit 85 percent.
- Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin apologized for the state’s “profound failure” in its treatment of unmarried mothers and their babies in a network of Catholic Church-run homes from the 1920s to the 1990s. A government-commissioned report found an “appalling” mortality rate of around 15 percent among children born at the homes, reflecting brutal living conditions. Around 9,000 children died in all.
- Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is taking legal action against the U.K. government over what it calls the failure to provide abortion access in the region. Abortion was legalized in Northern Ireland in October 2019. (Apparently the commission does not believe in “human rights” for unborn children.)
- Norman Houston, who led the Northern Ireland Bureau in Washington, D.C., through late 2019, died in Belfast, age 62. He was a regular guest at Irish Network-DC events. I always appreciated his candor.
- Horse Racing Ireland reported 2020 attendance declined 91 percent compared to 2019, with on-course betting falling by 89 percent to €7.7 million from €68.3 M. “The continued absence of attendance is having a significant impact on racecourses,” HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh told Blood Horse.
- In The Irish Times ended the month with three stories about the future of Dublin: David McWilliams says “Covid-19 and Zoom will not finish off Dublin,” arguing the city needs to change from a shopping and work entrepot to a living, artisanal center”; Frank McDonald charges the capital has “shamelessly surrendered” to market forces and the ‘Planning Industrial Complex’’; and Fintan O’Toole writes the “Georgian core of the city can become a ghost town dotted with a few grand Government buildings and prestige cultural institutions and hotels. Or it can be reimagined and reoccupied as a living and lively public space.”
- See our monthly roundup and annual Best of the Blog archives.
How will the pandemic change Dublin?
My wife and I were pleased to attend and support Irish Network DC’s Third Annual Charity Reception at the Dupont Circle Hotel. Ambassador of Ireland to the U.S. Anne Anderson was among the many guests.
The event helped raise money for Solas Nua (new light), which is dedicated to bringing fresh Irish artistic talent to American audiences, and Co-operation Ireland, an all-island peace-building charity. Read more about each group from the provided hyperlinks, and donate if you can.
Nollaig Shona Dhuit !
Irish Network DC is holding its first members Business Show in Washington on 22 May. Details are available here.
“Learn more about the industries, services and markets represented within our membership while building new connections and socializing with your Irish Network DC friends.”
Northern Ireland has made great strides since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 and institution of the Northern Ireland Executive in 2007. But the six counties of northeast Ireland still have much work to do when it comes to cross-community relations, economic development and tourism.
That was the view of three panelists at Irish Network DC‘s 18 Feb. forum: “Northern Ireland: 7 years since the re-introduction of devolution; triumphs and challenges.” Here are some highlights from each panalist:
Left to right: Metcalfe, Houston, Haughian. Image from Irish Network DC Tweet.
Norman Houston, Washington, D.C.-based Director of the Northern Ireland Bureau:
- Northern Ireland “has changed dramatically” since devolved government began in 2007. It is “safe and productive,” Houston said, “but we are not out of the woods.” The contentious issues of flags, parades and the past remain unresolved. Efforts by Dr. Richard Haass to agree a path forward to resolve these problems fell short at the end of December.
- First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness were critical in landing the fantasy series “Game of Thrones” for Northern Ireland. The power-sharing politicians met with HBO executives in Los Angeles shortly after new outbreaks of violence back home. “They swung the thing,” Houston said.
- A “Yes” vote in Scotland’s referendum on independence could accelerate talk of such a vote in Northern Ireland. But Houston, working for elected officials with disparate views on such a step, diplomatically declined further comment.
- “Significant portions” of the population have not benefited in the post-Good Friday Northern Ireland, especially those who lack education. Mistrust lingers between the Catholic and Protestant communities, but glimmers of hope. In the last six months there have been experiments with daytime openings in the gates of the so-called “peace walls” that divided sectarian neighborhoods. “These are small changes in a difficult situation,” Houston said.
- “There are very few coalition governments that work like a well-oiled engine,” he said. Stormont does better than most. He slyly noted the dysfunction here in Washington.
- It’s crucial to “keep Northern Ireland on the radar” of the U.S. government. “We’ve been lucky for the support we’ve had in the past. We’ve gotten a lot of good PR, maybe more than we deserve.”
Alison Metcalfe, New York-based head of Tourism Ireland/North America:
- About 20 percent of the 1 million U.S. travelers to the island of Ireland visit Northern Ireland. The goal of the tourism group is to make Northern Ireland a “must see” part of their itinerary. “We want Americans to spend three or four of their 10 days [on the island] in Northern Ireland.”
- The organization is trying to coax more airlines to fly direct to Belfast. (Only United offers such service from Newark.) Flights to Dublin “are still a great opportunity,” Metcalfe said, adding visitors should “turn left (north) on their arrival in the Republic’s capital city.
- Tourism Ireland has to create “compelling reasons” to visit like last year’s Gathering in the Republic. Travelers age 25 to 35 are being targeted exclusively through social media.
Andrea Haughian, New York-based Vice President of Business Development at Invest Northern Ireland:
- Northern Ireland offers a well-educated and young workforce. Sixty percent of the population are under 40.
- The G-8 Summit in Fermanagh last June and investment conference in October helped raise the profile of Northern Ireland. “But very few people automatically think of Northern Ireland for their offshore needs,” Haughian said.
- She said Northern Ireland wants to “harmonize” more with the Republic on economic development issues such as corporate tax rates. But the referendum in Scotland could have a big impact because of how it effects the U.K. economy and grants to N.I.
Mark Holan’s Irish-American Blog has relocated to metro Washington, D.C.
I am living about five miles west of the Irish Embassy in the Virginia Square section of Arlington, Va. St. Patrick Catholic Church is less than seven miles to the east. Both places are within easy walking distance of the Orange line Metro stops. (More of a hike from Green line stations.)
My condo is about halfway between Ireland’s Four Courts and Ireland’s Four Provinces. Both pubs are sponsoring fundraising events to support Washington, D.C.’s 43rd Annual St. Patrick’s Parade on March 16.
I have joined Irish Network DC and look forward to making new friends in the Irish-American community here while exploring the many contributions that Ireland’s sons and daughters have made to America.