America, Palestine and Israel: is there hope?

This is nothing to do with Irish politics, but I thought it was interesting anyway.

I'm in America at the moment, and I spent a couple days this week in NYC. I lived there for a year and a half in the early 90s, and in upstate New York for a couple years after that, so my reflections in the following paragraph are based entirely upon experience.

As most people will be aware, there is a huge Jewish population in New York - such that Rosh Hashanah is a state holiday. This population is, by and large, fiercely Zionist, and its political influence is strong enough to have effectively cut off any debate on the subject - at least that was the case when I was living there. Outside of the (extremely marginalised) far left, and the unfortunately slightly less marginalised Nation of Islam, there was simply nobody arguing the Palestinian cause; to do so was to be labelled an 'anti-Semite' and, most likely, a sympathiser of those towelheads that had bombed the World Trade Centre shortly after my move to the city (merely a coincidence, I assure you).

So I was pleasantly stunned at a couple things I saw there this week. Things like Palestinian scarves on display for sale by the city's ubiquitous street vendors, and young, distinctively non-Arab people wearing them; and at every bookstore I visited, former President Jimmy Carter's extraordinary new book about the conflict, Peace not Apartheid (extraordinary in the fact that it exists, I mean; I haven't read it yet), was in the 'best sellers' section. These may seem fairly minor, and maybe they are, but they would have been absolutely unheard of a decade or so ago. Let's hope they're an indication of a loosening of the stranglehold the Israel lobby has had on American politics for decades - because as long as it persists, there can never be hope for peace in the Middle East and, increasingly, the world.

On the Nally verdict

I remember waking up one morning in 1992 to the news that an all-white jury in suburban Los Angeles had acquitted four white police officers who were caught on videotape beating the living daylights out of a black man. I remember feeling completely disgusted, sickened and appalled that such a clearly racist verdict could have been handed down. I remember sympathising completely with the anger and outrage expressed by the black community and, finally, I remember profound depression sinking in that things like this could still happen in today's world.

And Rodney King had only been beaten, not killed.

There's no justification for this decision. None. Shooting a retreating, already-wounded man in the back and then beating him with a stick as he lies dying does not fall under any conceivable definition of "defending one's property", nor is it reasonable to believe that such a completely OTT reaction was motivated entirely by fear. It was an act of revenge, it was criminal and it should have been held as such.

And I see once again that Fine Gael, the "law and order" party, have come out in support of Padraig Nally. This of course is the same bunch of hypocrites who never miss an opportunity to accuse republicans of carrying out "vigilante justice". Only this week Enda Kenny was parroting some fantasy, no doubt fed to him by Paul Williams, about "IRA involvement" in the recent shooting of a Finglas drug dealer (who, you'd have to admit, was almost certainly responsible for bringing much more misery into this world than John Ward ever did).

My condolences to the Ward family and the Travelling community as a whole.

Budget 2007 - What's wrong with this picture?

The image below is taken from the new budget document. Have a close look at the figures.

The average industrial wage is just over €30,000. Why is a worker on that wage benefitting least from the budget measures?

And no, I'm not just annoyed about this because I'm on the AIW myself - I genuinely don't understand the reasoning.

By the way, I noticed that during the budget debate today, the full compliment of Fine Gael TDs was in the Dáil chamber to listen to Enda Kenny's speech. Within 90 seconds of Pat Rabbitte standing up, however, all but two or three of them were gone. I don't think even they are taking this 'coalition' seriously anymore.

On the collusion report

I see in today's Examiner that Enda Kenny thinks the Taoiseach "should demand of Mr Blair that he give the necessary co-operation" into the investigations of crown force collusion in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.


Equally, Enda Kenny should demand of his former party leader, Liam Cosgrave, that he give the necessary co-operation into what the Brits were up to in the 26 Counties under his watch. Cosgrave has consistently refused to do so.

If Fine Gael want to be in Government it is essential that they give their full backing to investigations of this nature, including calling on all their members and supporters to come forward with any information they have that may be of use in solving these heinous crimes.

Isn't it?

Unionism gets cold feet ... again

Is anyone surprised? It's only the third time in as many years that we've been on the brink of an agreement, only to have the unionist leader announce at the last minute that republicans haven't done enough. It's beginning to look like a bit of a pattern!

I have increasingly little doubt that when SF finally endorses policing there will be some other excuse. It really doesn't bear thinking about what we might be required to do next - the one thing you can say for certain is that the Governments and the so-called 'nationalist' parties on this island will fall into step behind the unionists to insist that progress depends upon our doing it. Anyone who thinks otherwise should consider that back when I made this prediction, Peter Hain was still saying that policing wasn't a prerequisite.

I wonder if we mightn't be better off if the Governments just pulled the plug on this charade now.

The failures of 'Affordable Housing'

Readers in Ireland may have seen yesterday's Irish Times story (paid registration required) in which the head of Dublin City Council's housing unit branded the Affordable Housing strategy a failure.

Having been on the Council's affordable housing waiting list for a couple years now, I'm inclined to agree, although for rather different reasons than those Mr Kenny gives. I'll take the article's points individually:

Affordable housing was developed by the Government to allow families and workers such as teachers, gardaí and nurses who had been priced out of the housing market to buy their own homes at a reduced price with the assistance of local authorities.

However Mr Kenny, the council manager with responsibility for housing, said that these "key workers" are not applying for affordable housing and up to 85 per cent of people on the waiting list were single.

I can't speculate on the "key workers" issue. But in the latest list of affordable properties available from the Council, roughly 85% are one- or two-bedrooms. Hello? Any wonder families aren't applying?

Applicants were frequently "too fussy" about the locations of the housing schemes.

I wonder what exactly Mr Kenny means by this. If it's postcode snobbery that's one thing. But it's not for nothing that the real estate agency's mantra is "location, location, location". You really cannot overestimate the importance of this factor in the suitability of a property.

Take my own situation. I work in the city centre; I don't drive; I come and go quite a bit outside normal Dublin Bus hours. Thus it would obviously not be suitable for me to live way out in the suburbs. I resent the implication that that's me being "fussy" - I think it's me being realistic about the impact that location would have on my life. I'm willing to make the sacrifice of paying a bit more for a smaller place in town, which would not be appropriate for all other applicants. It's horses for courses really, and what is Mr Kenny's problem with that?

Of course it also goes without saying that if we had anything approaching an adequate public transport system here, this wouldn't matter so much. And there are also serious issues with infrastructure around a lot of the new developments going up - is it "fussy" to not want to move to an area where there are virtually no essential resources or local amenities? Why doesn't the Council make more of an effort to deal with those issues?

It's also worth pointing out that this so-called fussiness isn't preventing people applying for all these properties. According to the Council, in the last draw there were roughly ten times as many applicants as there were properties available. The least popular location attracted 141 times more applicants than it could accommodate. Obviously we're not really that fussy after all.

The homes on offer were also generally apartments and "key workers tend to want to live in houses", Mr Kenny said.

Personally I'm grand with apartments but whose fault is it if they're the only properties being built within city limits? Not ours surely!

People were backing out when they realised that there was a "claw-back" in place to allow the council to recover money if the house was sold within a 20-year period, he said.

"This raises the question of why some people are getting into this: is it because they need a home or they want to get into the business of property development?"

Or a third reason: because most single people don't expect to be single forever and have genuine concerns that they may have a need to "trade up" within 20 years - and there is no provision to trade up to a larger affordable unit (as affordable housing is only available for first-time home-buyers).

"They apply for the affordable housing, then they don't have the money for the mortgage"

Not really "affordable" then is it?

"a lot of them might be better fared concentrating on the private rental sector."

Translation: "It's your problem, not ours".

The council previously had a weighted system that allocated a priority to people according to their circumstances. For example, those with children were placed high on the waiting list. However, this was discontinued last year in favour of a lottery system.Mr Kenny said it may be time to reintroduce a system that would give greater priority to couples, households or older applicants.

I cannot fathom the logic of de-prioritising the group that makes up 85% of those on the list. Maybe one of my readers can explain this to me.

The problem with the Affordable Housing Scheme is simple: there aren't enough affordable properties available. Everything else flows from this one fundamental issue. Now it's not entirely the Council's fault. The Government bears a large share of the responsibility - for giving into its developer friends and gutting Part V of the Planning and Development Act, which required that 20% of all units in new developments be set aside for social and affordable housing; and for grossly underfunding local authorities such that they cannot afford to build anywhere near the number of units needed. But there is clearly also a lack of real commitment at local authority level to fixing this problem. You can't hide this fact by trying to shift the blame onto those thousands of us competing for the relative handful of properties on offer, Mr Kenny.
The first thing that has to be acknowledged is that the Baby Ann case is a terrible one whichever way you look at it. All participants in it deserve sympathy and recognition of the difficulties they have faced, and will continue to face, because of it.

That said, I am going to break the consensus that’s emerged and say that I think the Supreme Court made the correct decision.

From a legal perspective it was really the only choice the Court could have made. The previous High Court decision, however logical it may have appeared, was clearly in contradiction of the 1937 constitution. But that’s not my argument. I don’t believe that those who sided with the adoptive parents proved the case that it was in Ann’s best interest to remain with them, and particularly not to the extent where it should have overridden their rights as her parents.

The argument for her staying where she was was that it would be disruptive to her life to remove her from the only parents she’s ever known. Undoubtedly this is true, in the short term. But two-year-old children are remarkably adaptable and it seems unlikely to me that she will suffer ill effects from the change in the long run. It’s just as possible that she would have suffered from knowing that her birth parents wanted her back and were not allowed to have her back.

I’m also not convinced that those who supported the adoptive parents were entirely motivated by the “best interests of the child” argument. Let’s consider a scenario in which the birth parents hadn’t willingly given her up at birth, but lost her through, say, a kidnapping. Assume that the adoptive parents knew nothing of the kidnapping and believed they were adopting through proper legal means. Would there still be a consensus that the child should remain with them? I very much doubt it. Many would agree that the birth parents should regain custody on the basis that they hadn’t chosen to give the child up – although this would hardly make removing the child from her adoptive home any less disruptive. Now admittedly I’m only making an assumption here on how people would react to this scenario but it’s an assumption I strongly believe is correct and if it is, it demonstrates that there is more than the mere “best interests” argument at work here (in much the same way that many people who claim to oppose abortion on the basis that they believe it is murder are nonetheless willing to make exceptions when women don’t choose to have sex).

And what that points to is an issue I raised earlier in this blog at the time of the Jehovah’s Witness transfusion case – the risk of the “best interests of the child” being used as a convenient cover to pursue a different, sometimes more sinister agenda. Such cases have already emerged in the US, where right-wing judges have used that excuse to deny custody to lesbian mothers or practitioners of minority religions, or where women have been jailed for not adhering to prescribed standards of behaviour during pregnancy. If you recall the Elián Gonzáles case, his uncles were only prevented using that argument in their custody battle by a Florida law which states that the “best interests of the child” are relevant only in a battle between two fit parents, not between a fit parent and a non-parent. You can bet that if it wasn’t for that law, the anti-Castro mafia which controls the state of Florida would have ruled that the boy’s best interests lay outside of Cuba.

Which is why I’m also hesitant to join in the consensus over the upcoming referendum to enshrine the rights of children in the Constitution. I support it in theory, because I have no basic disagreement with the notion that children should be given more constitutional protection - not least from this Government giving its appalling record on many children's issues (poverty, education etc). But I do think we need to recognise that there is negative potential in this constitutional amendment as well – potential for children to be turned into political footballs and for “children’s rights” to become just another vehicle by which reactionary forces can exert control over adults’, and in particular over women’s, lives. The wording of the proposed amendment will be extremely important and needs to be given due attention by the progressive parties in this State. We should not simply be falling over ourselves to welcome the referendum without any reference to this very real concern.

St Andrews, again

I know it's almost too easy to attack the Indo for its sloppy reporting but even by its own standards, its report yesterday that SF "fully" support the St Andrews agreement is appalling. So appalling that one must suspect a deliberate attempt to unsettle our base. Wouldn't be the first time.

My reading of the actual SF position on the matter is fairly simple: we've agreed to the good parts and will continue to negotiate on the rest.

My position hasn't changed, but I think this is a fairly accurate reflection of what the grassroots have been saying. Most of the membership want "progress" as it's come to be defined - i.e. restoration of the institutions - but aren't happy with a lot of the details in the proposals. So it is important that work continues on ironing out those issues.

In the meantime, attention needs to be drawn to the findings by a panel of international investigators of widespread collusion in loyalist murders, including the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.

It is really past time for the Dublin Government to take action against London for its continuing refusal to co-operate in the investigations.

On Bulgaria and Romania

First of all, let's make something clear. The Irish Government's decision to deny Bulgarians and Romanians the right to work here was not necessary to preserve our common travel area with Britain. From 1 January, Romanians and Bulgarians will have the right to travel freely throughout the EU, a consequence of their status as EU citizens. Their labour market status has nothing to do with this. Sweden, as a signatory to the Schengen Agreement, shares a common travel area with nearly every other country in the EEA and that didn't prevent them granting employment rights to the accession states in 2004, nor will it keep Finland and Slovakia from opening their labour markets to the 2007 states. It's a complete red herring and I suspect deliberate disingenuity on the part of some of those propagating it.

Now then. It's reported today in the Sindo (free registration required) that the decision was in fact motivated by fears of a "growing black market" in Ireland. If true, and given the source the odds are only about even, it demonstrates a Government thinking that borders on the moronic. Denying employment rights to people that you cannot deny entrance to - yes, that's the way to put a stop to the black market all right. Jesus. How much do we pay these people to decide public policy for us?

While first year logic ought to tell you that such a move will most likely encourage rather than discourage the underground economy, there's evidence for this as well. The European Commission released two reports this year which examined the effects of the transitional arrangements imposed by most EU countries in 2004. Sure enough, the black economy increased in those countries as did the number of low-skilled migrants, while Ireland, Britain and Sweden got most of the migrants at the higher end of the skills spectrum. Ireland and Britain more so than Sweden, which suggests that our increase was influenced by factors other than the lack of labour restrictions here, language and the availability of jobs in key sectors being identified as the two most important. The implication of all this is that Ireland and Britain will continue to be disproportionately attractive compared to other countries with similar labour laws - only now the migrants we'll be competing for will be those who aren't skilled enough to get legitimate work.

It's a recipe for trouble.

The issue that underlies all of this is one that migration analysts have long known but that xenophobes and governments continue against all reason to try to deny: immigration happens. It happens whether the receiving countries want it or not and it happens in spite of all their attempts to limit it. The Irish of all people ought to know this. Legal barriers do have some deterrent effect, but they also have the inevitable consequence of encouraging irregular migration. Indeed, the recent NESC reports on migration theorised that the relative lack of an underground economy in Ireland, compared to Britain and the US, is due in significant part to the relatively open work permit system that existed in this country up until a few years ago. And see where that Sindo article comments on the "growing black market" in Ireland? Is it any coincidence that that growth has occurred since the work permit requirements were tightened? Of course it isn't (and nor is it coincidental that human trafficking to Ireland has increased over the same period, but that's a subject for another day).

Now I'm not saying that there isn't a need for restrictions of some kind. Although I'm ideologically in favour of open borders, based upon my strong belief in the fundamental right of workers to control their own labour, as a practical matter I recognise the impossibility of Ireland or any other country making such a move unilaterally. But the point here is that the borders will be open anyway to migrants from Bulgaria and Romania. The reason that border controls are so strict for nationals of third world and Eastern European countries is precisely because governments know that the only way to keep those people from working here is by preventing them coming here in the first place and once they've achieved the right to unrestricted entry, as is guaranteed to all EU citizens, that's most of the battle lost. If the European nations are genuinely committed to the right to free movement of persons, they must acknowledge that the movement of labour goes hand in hand with it, and it's of no benefit to anyone to pretend the two can be separated by silly transitional arrangements.

St Andrews (2)

I've been noticing that a lot of people, including a lot of panicked Shinners (and a lot of gleeful dissidents), seem to think that the St Andrews proposals were agreed amongst all the participants at the St Andrews negotiations.

They weren't.

As I understand it, this is what happened. The negotiations were about to collapse and everyone was going home. The governments then pulled out this document and offered it to the parties. The parties said Very well, we'll bring this back and think about it.

Personally my preference would have been to tell the governments where they could stick their document but then, I'm not on the negotiating team and there's probably a reason for that!!

Having read the thing thoroughly, I wouldn't touch it with a bargepole. Quite apart from my concerns about signing up to policing under any circumstances, and particularly under circumstances where it is clear to anyone with a functioning cerebral cortex that we are under the cosh, the details of this particular proposal should rule it out. Party policy, as agreed at our last Ard Fheis, includes a prerequisite for devolution of criminal justice and policing. This document says only that if everything goes according to plan there should be enough cross-community confidence for the Assembly to "request" devolution by May 2008.

That's a DUP wrecker's charter if I've ever seen one.

There's simply no way we can sign up to an agreement which would have us take seats on the policing board well in advance of this devolution and with only the vague promise that we ought to be able to "request" it in 18 months' time.

I also believe that if we're going to take a step of this magnitude we need to get more out of it than the measly morsels on offer. OASA, the remaining POWs, the OTRs ... none of these matters are dealt with in the proposals. The civil rights advances on offer don't seem to me to be much more than what the GFA already calls for. Why should we make more concessions just to get what we're already supposed to be entitled to?

So for all these reasons, I'll be strongly opposing our signing up to these proposals. And I'll stick my neck out and say that we won't. Depth of feeling on this issue is too strong and these proposals are too far from fulfilling the criteria previously agreed upon. Much, much, much too far.

St Andrews

I haven't had a chance yet to look in detail at the "agreement" reached at St Andrews, so I'll reserve comment on it for the time being.

For now I'll just note that I stand 100% by my previous posts on the PSNI, and on the Assembly.

More later.

On Bertiegate (2)

The PDs are in a right mess, aren't they? Pull out of government, and they won't be back in it for years - if not decades. Stay, as they're ostensibly planning to do, and they'll lose all credibility in their role as "Fianna Fáil watchdog" because it will be patently obvious to everyone that they're only doing it for the sake of their own Cabinet seats. Either way they've been seriously damaged - and given the damage they've done to this country over the past nine years, it couldn't happen to a nicer party.

I have to admit, though, I'd really rather see them go.

The IMC report

I had a read through it today and most of it's the usual load of predictable, unsubstantiated, factually sloppy rubbish. But if the Dublin Government is going to treat its assessments as definitive, it must be consistent in the actions it takes on foot of them. Specifically I'm talking about the continued imprisonment of republicans on the charge of "membership of an illegal organisation".

The 1937 Constitution and the ECHR both guarantee the right to form associations, subject only to "necessary" restrictions in the interests of public safety or national security. The new IMC report can only be interpreted as stating that there is no such basis for outlawing the IRA. The report describes the IRA as

firmly set on a political strategy, eschewing terrorism and other forms of crime

Hence there can be no justification for the continued proscription of the IRA nor for the continued imprisonment of these men. They should be released immediately.

On Bertiegate

(Note: For some reason, is linking to this post, which is a year old and not entirely representative of my current view on the subject. Please see my rethink here.)

It's funny what passes for a scandal in this country. I'm no fan of Bertie, and would shed not a tear if he were to walk over all this. But as Fianna Fáil sleaze goes, this episode strikes me as a storm in a teacup. Poor judgement, certainly, but I wouldn't think that was necessarily a resigning matter in and of itself. I also get the sense that this is primarily a media- and FG/Labour-driven controversy; the average punter just doesn't seem to be all that outraged about it.

Of course, that alone says plenty about Fianna Fáil. Can you imagine if, say, Joe Higgins or Trevor Sargent or Gerry A. had taken that money? They'd be ruined politically. But FF? Sure, we're used to much worse than that from them.

Meanwhile a far greater (albeit not entirely unrelated) scandal is going virtually unnoticed: a new Revenue Commissioners report showing that a number of people earning over €1 million per year are not paying one cent in income tax. Now this is truly outrageous - and how much did Six-One news have to say about it? Not one word.
In regards to yesterday's blood transfusion case, I have two questions.

1 - If this woman had been a Catholic, and had refused a medical procedure on the grounds that it violated her religious views, would it have been forced upon her?

2 - If she had been a man, would the Court have decided that his status as "parent" was the overriding factor?

I suspect in both cases the answer would be "no".

The second for me demonstrates the need for a certain amount of caution in the recent trend towards prioritisting "the best interests of the child" in every legal dispute. People do not cease to be individuals with their own needs and rights simply because they have children. It's often women who suffer when we forget that, as Article 41.2 of the 1937 Constitution demonstrates. A balance needs to be struck which respects, to the greatest degree possible, everybody's human rights - and I don't think it has been struck in this case. The patient's decision is not the one I would have made, but it's her body and she should have had the right to make it.

Religious ethos exemption: a licence to discriminate

I'll call her Lily. She's a qualified language support teacher - a skill that is desperately needed in Ireland's schools today, given the large numbers of immigrant children from non-Anglophone countries. Lily loves her work and she's good at it. But she can't get a job. Why not? Well, because she lives in a small village in rural Ireland, where some of the locals just aren't used to people like Lily - dark-skinned and with a foreign (albeit native-English) accent.

The last time that Lily applied for a job, she was turned down without even being interviewed. She later discovered that the successful applicant was far less qualified than she. But he was a native. She filed a FOI request to find out why she wasn't considered. The response made reference to the need to protect the school's "religious ethos". In other words, the school looked at her details, deduced from her ethnic background that she is not a Catholic, and decided not to shortlist her.

And this is perfectly legal, because Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act 1998 allows denominational schools to discriminate against potential employees who are not of the school's religion.

Once again, Lily is a language support teacher. She wouldn't even be teaching religion. How could her mere presence undermine the school's religious ethos? And without having given her an interview, how could they be certain that she wasn't a Catholic in any case?

It seems quite clear to me that in this case the religious ethos exemption was merely an excuse for the school to discriminate against a person of a foreign/minority ethnic background. With increasing numbers of immigrants in the workforce, the likelihood of this being an isolated incident seems slim.

The need for language support teachers in our schools is pressing - far too pressing to allow the exclusion of qualified people on spurious religious grounds. The law needs to be changed urgently. Not only for the sake of Lily and others like her, but for the children, who need teachers who know what they're doing far more than they need people who happen to fit an idealised cultural stereotype.

If you see only one film this year...

... after The Wind That Shakes The Barley, of course, it should be Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. I saw it last night and it was astonishing.

That's all for now.

Labour's coalition partners: "Arrest the strikers"

According to Fine Gael Transport Spokesperson on Newstalk 106 just now, the Gardaí should have arrested the taxi drivers who lined O'Connell Street yesterday to draw attention to their grievances.

I was one of those inconvenienced by the taxi protest yesterday, and I certainly agree that it wasn't the best tactic if they wanted to gain the public's sympathy (although I'm not sure that they did) - but, come on. By "inconvenienced" I mean it added about 15-20 minutes onto my travel time. Hardly something worth arresting people over.

But of course, this is the same Fine Gael Transport Spokesperson who, a few years ago, said that the bus drivers taking part in the "no fares day" protest should have the fares deducted from their wages.

Labour people - for God's sake, what are you thinking???
I've had a glance through the newly-published heads of McDowell's Immigration Bill and, unsurprisingly, it's a depressing read. There can be little doubt that the minister has an eye on the general election and, having been so successful at creating foreign bogeymen via the citizenship referendum, subsequent comments about "cock and bull stories", etc., is now trying to show how tough he is on them.

One unfortunate thing that jumped out at me immediately is the requirement that all foreign nationals carry ID cards. What a recipe for racial profiling and harassment that is. Non-whites are obviously going to be the primary targets - and what happens when a bored Garda looking for something to do challenges a naturalised Irish citizen for their ID? Of course, as a citizen, they won't have one, but how will they prove it? Effectively, if they want to avoid the (inevitable) hassle, they will be forced to carry proof of their citizenship! This will constitute discrimination against Irish citizens on the basis of their race or ethnic origin - which is not only inherently obnoxious but probably also illegal, under the Equal Status Acts.

I didn't notice anything in the heads of the bill about family reunification, which is frankly unbelievable. As everyone who works in the immigration sector knows, this is a massive issue. At present, only refugees and non-Irish EU nationals have a statutory right to have their spouses and minor children live here with them - even Irish citizens don't have that right! McDowell has consistently fobbed off Parliamentary Questions on the subject, saying that he would deal with all of this in the upcoming legislation - so where is it?


On another note, I was sorry but not altogether surprised to hear the news that Daily Ireland is to cease publication. The truth is that it never lived up to its potential - too parochial, and with frequently baffling editorial decisions. I thought its columnists, its foreign news and its Celtic coverage were good and, of course, it was always refreshing to get through a whole Irish newspaper without the SF bashing that all the others are so fond of. Shame it didn't work out but I have to say that its creators really only have themselves to blame.

No Irish, no blacks, no dogs

Newstalk 106 this morning did a story about immigrant and ethnic minority kids and the troubles some of them are having finding places in their local schools. I got a sort of sick feeling in my stomach as soon as they announced the topic, because I knew that every neanderthal in Dublin would be listening and texting in their views on the matter.

Sure enough. Judging by the comments read out on the air, Dublin is in the company of Jim Crow-era Mississippi and apartheid-era South Africa in terms of its average citizen's enlightenment on racial issues. And listeners were told that those were the milder responses.

One texter said that they spent €7,000 so that their children could attend fee-paying schools with no "minorities". I'm reminded of the expression "a fool and his money are soon parted". What exactly is going to happen to those children when they turn 16 and have to face the real world?

Does anybody seriously think that we can turn the clock back to when Ireland was a monoracial, monoreligious country? (Not that it was ever really either, of course!) Migration and multiculturalism are a fact of life now, all over the world and we cannot possibly be an exception here. People need to learn to deal with this.

I spent my holidays in Africa this year and it really gave me a new perspective on the migration experience. I found it incredibly difficult to be in a place where everyone could tell just by looking at you that you didn't belong, and where you were often the centre of attention just by being there. And this was in a place where my skin colour actually gave me some privileges and where the reaction from people on the street was motivated by curiosity rather than hostility. I really can't imagine how uncomfortable it must be to be on the receiving end of racial attitudes here ... and especially to try to raise children in that sort of environment, to have to try to shield them from the hatred people like the 106 texters were spewing.

When I just wrote that last line, about parents trying to shield their children, my mind flashed back to images from the Holy Cross siege in Ardoyne a few years ago. Most of the 106 texters probably had the same reactions to that as I did - anger, disgust, disbelief. But while they may not be throwing urine-filled condoms at the children - at least, not yet - it is fundamentally the same attitude.

PSNI GAA game – a step too far

Today’s Daily Ireland cover story features Joe Brolly (son of Francie and Anne) explaining why he has no problem with his GAA club playing the PSNI and, furthermore, why Sinn Féin should have no problem with it either.

I won’t attempt to speak for Sinn Féin on the matter, but I personally cannot accept Joe Brolly’s arguments. It’s too much, and too soon. Far too soon.

Of course, my own experience with the northern police has been limited. But it hasn’t been good. A few years ago I was on a bus travelling back from a Celtic game which (rather foolishly in retrospect) made a stop near the Park Centre Roundabout to let a passenger off. A few scumbags in Rangers tops set upon us and hurled a brick through one of our windows, fortunately not hitting anyone until it had bounced off an opposite wall, thus slowing down its trajectory. The brick landed at my feet and I picked it up – had anyone’s head been in its way, they would have been very lucky indeed to escape without serious brain damage.

At that point the bus driver did the sensible thing and drove off as quickly as possible, stopping in Newry to report the incident. Well, to try to report the incident, because as it happened the peelers only wanted to know one thing: Had we been drinking?

Now granted this is only one incident but frankly, when you walk into a police station holding a brick in your hand which has just been thrown through your window, and which very clearly could have caused you very serious injury or death, and the police show not even the slightest bit of concern, it really doesn’t do much for your opinion of them!

And there are plenty of recent events which lead me to suspect that this attitude persists. Take the arrest of Máire Nic an Bháird for speaking Irish, the collusion of the PSNI in the erection of loyalist flags in Lurgan, the Ballymena PSNI chief's disgraceful attempt to portray the Michael McIlveen murder as a tit-for-tat incident - I could go on. On the evidence available to me, the PSNI does not appear to be anywhere near sufficiently reformed for republicans to accept the kind of normalisation of relations that would allow this game to go ahead. It is, of course, the GAA's decision and not ours - but it's a decision I find disappointing.

I also question the wisdom of Daily Ireland highlighting, on its cover, a quote from Joe Brolly in which he used the term "black bastards". Of course most of us reading that would know what he meant, but in a multicultural country I think we need to pay a little more attention to how our words might be misinterpreted by newcomers here. I'm actually a bit surprised that this didn't occur to anyone at Daily Ireland.
I wasn't surprised to read this morning that the CORI report due out tomorrow will show that the gap between rich and poor in this state continues to widen. I see this with my own eyes, walking around the North Inner City.

What I do find absolutely shocking in that report is the statistic that 22.6% of the adult population are functionally illiterate. 22.6%!

Very serious questions have to be asked as to how nearly one out of every four people in this state can go through twelve years of schooling and emerge lacking such a basic skill. There is clearly something very wrong with an education system that allows this to happen. And I have to conclude that primary responsibility for this disaster must rest with those who have primary responsibility for education.

I am not trying to engage in gratuitous Church-bashing. I acknowledge that, in many countries, Catholic schools have superior performance records in comparison with other schools (although that is often due to factors such as self-selection rather than anything inherent to Catholic education itself). But the fact is that the Church has been given a job to do in this state and with an almost one-in-four failure rate, it is clearly not being done. This needs to be recognised.


In other news, I see that Republican Sinn Féin invited POW-turned-right wing ethnonationalist Gerry McGeough to speak at their annual hunger strike commemoration. I find this a bit perplexing. I know that many RSF members share McGeough's reactionary views on reproductive freedom (as, sadly, do too many members of my own party), but I am surprised RSF would want to associate themselves with someone now in the news mostly for his ties to fascist sympathiser Justin Barrett and for his slurs on gays and immigrants.

RSF are already viewed by a lot of people, including those who tend to share their analysis of the national question, as fundamentalist political dinosaurs. From the discussions I have had with republicans of the dissident variety, I know that this reputation is impeding RSF's growth and they are not going to shake it by offering a platform to the likes of Gerry McGeough.

On the Morris Tribunal

We've said this before, but with the most recent revelations about Garda misconduct - a word which scarcely seems adequate to convey the utterly appalling actions of some members of the force - it needs to be said again:

Giving a corrupt police force the powers which the Offences Against The State Act gives them is like giving a blowtorch to a pyromaniac.

The Act needs to go. Now.

A perfect example of border idiocy

Have you ever tried to book a ticket online for the bus from Dublin to Belfast? You can't do it. This is because, as a Bus Éireann person explained to me, their system and Ulsterbus's system are not compatible.

You can book a Eurolines ticket online for anywhere in Britain. You can book a Eurolines ticket online for Poland, even. But you cannot book a Bus Éireann/Ulsterbus ticket online for Belfast... or Newry, or Derry. Want to go to Enniskillen? The bus to Donegal Town stops there. But you'll have to book your seat all the way through.

Somebody needs to sort this stupidity out. It's 2006 for heaven's sake.
I've been back from holidays for most of the past week, but I've really been struggling to find things to write about. What's going in Lebanon just seems to overshadow everything happening here. It's horrifying and I think it's going to get worse before it gets better.

There's been enough posted elsewhere about the situation, and I don't feel I have anything particularly new to offer to the discussion, so I'm just going to register my utter revulsion at Israel's brutality and arrogance, and leave it at that. Hezbollah's tactics are wrong, but the Israeli response has been so exorbitantly out of proportion that one can only conclude they're enjoying themselves.

Death toll as of right now:
Israel - 51 deaths, 18 civilians
Lebanon - 523 deaths, mostly civilians

It's a sick joke for the Israelis to describe what they're doing as "self defence". It's gratuitous slaughter, nothing less.
I've been on holiday, in case you hadn't guessed.


Enda Kenny today: "We support the implementation in full of the Good Friday Agreement."

Except for the release of a few of the prisoners covered by its terms, you mean.

Coalition still confused

For the second week running, Labour have abstained on a bill supported by their intended coalition partners.

Bertie is absolutely right when he says that if he did call an early election the "Rainbow" would have a heart attack. Who do they think they are fooling? They have no joint policy programme; they can't even agree on their own legislation, much less Government policies such as the privatisation of Aer Lingus, the erosion of neutrality, etc.

Furthermore, all indications are that if FG and Labour did manage to cobble together a Government, FG would be by far the senior partner. Have Labour ever indicated what their redline issues would be in such a coalition? Does anybody know, even Labour themselves?

I know I go on about this a lot but I'm genuinely baffled that any Labour supporter would be in favour of this agreement.
I've been following with interest the battle between an estranged couple over their frozen embryos.

This is one of those cases that creates strange bedfellows, as I realised this morning when I heard John Waters talking on the radio about it and found myself nodding in agreement. As a feminist and a vocal advocate of women's reproductive freedom, I might be expected to side with the female half of this (former) couple. But while I sympathise with her, I cannot agree that she has the right to have these embryos implanted against the wishes of the father.

For me the fundamental issue of reproductive freedom has always been the right of a woman to control her own body. An embryo inside her is a part of her body, and she has the right to decide whether to carry it to term or not. But in this case, obviously, the embryos are completely and totally separate. A decision not to implant them will not affect her bodily integrity and therefore this decision is not hers and hers alone.

Besides all that, if the court rules in favour of the woman the likely justification will be along the lines of "these embryos are human lives and destroying them is murder". That's obviously not a ruling which supporters of reproductive freedom would welcome.

But I wonder what those who make that argument would do if the partners' wishes were reversed and it was the woman, rather than the man, who wanted the embryos destroyed. Would they argue that she should be forced against her will to have them implanted in her uterus? The thought of that is horrifying, but it seems to me to be the logical conclusion of that line of thinking.

Repatriate Aiden Hulme

Aiden Hulme is a 27-year-old Irishman serving 22 years in an English prison. Since his incarceration he has suffered extreme medical neglect and now faces having his leg amputated. Aiden, who is on 23-hour lockdown, is being denied suitable painkilling medication.

We are calling for Aiden to be returned to serve his sentence in Ireland where he can receive the medical attention he urgently requires close to his family. The decision on whether to repatriate Aiden Hulme rests with the Irish Department of Justice.


The above is taken from a leaflet distributed at a demonstration I attended today. This campaign is supported by all republican organisations as well as by the SDLP. If he were an illegal immigrant in a New York jail no doubt the entire Irish political establishment would be pleading for his repatriation.

For more information and to sign the petition, click here.

Another unsafe OASA conviction

It's reported today that a young man from Dublin's North Inner City has been convicted of "membership of an illegal organisation".

The evidence used to convict him:

* The word of a Garda superintendent, which was "based on confidential information".

* The defendant's decision to remain silent.

* A fingerprint on the back of a van in which a handgun was found.

* And the Óglaigh na hÉireann t-shirt he was wearing, presumably of the kind that can be bought for a few quid at the Sinn Féin shop.

It beggars belief that in the year 2006, in a supposedly advanced democracy, it is still possible to send someone to prison based on such "evidence". This case would have been laughed out of any normal court.

It is further proof of the correctness of Sinn Féin's Ard Fheis decision to make repeal of the Offences Against The State Act a condition of entering any coalition government in the South.

The Rainbow splits again

I see that Fine Gael and Labour have voted different ways on yet another piece of legislation going through the Dáil, this time the Strategic Infrastructure Bill. Fine Gael voted with the Government on this bill (which would make it easier for powerful interests to get planning permission for controversial projects and reduce the ordinary citizen's ability to object).

Further evidence, as if any were needed, that a vote for Labour is a vote to replace one right wing government with another.

RTÉngland again ...

Only six and a half minutes into the World Cup and already we get "It's like Beckham taking a free kick."

I see that the Examiner is today running a story which claims that the purpose of the Adare robbery was to finance Kevin Walsh's new house.

The Examiner's source for this story (which it reports as fact)? "A garda source".

How convincing.


This afternoon I will be joining several of my Dublin Sinn Féin colleagues in the Women's Mini-Marathon to raise money for An Cumann Cabhrach, an organisation providing assistance to republican prisoners and their families.

I haven't been doing any specific training for it, as I'm a pretty fit/active person in general and 10km shouldn't be much problem (particularly as I'm walking it!!). My main concern is that the sunburn I picked up on Saturday doesn't get any worse!

I'm very proud to be taking part in this and I hope the funds we have collectively raised will make a real difference to the families.
God knows it's not often I side with the PDs, but I find myself reluctantly agreeing with them against the accusations Fine Gael and Labour are making today.

The horrific 'A' incident took place in May 2002. This was, I believe, well before the start of the constitutional challenge to the statutory rape law. Even had the Government changed the law immediately upon the instigation of this challenge, 'Mr. A' would still have walked free yesterday. He could only ever have been convicted on the basis of the law that was in place at the time of his offence. No subsequent change in the law could be applied retrospectively.

The current Government is to blame for ignoring the Law Reform Commission's 1990 recommendations and not changing that law before the 'A' offence took place, of course. But so were all other governments from 1990 on - including those which Fine Gael and Labour were part of. Their credibility on this issue is wafer-thin.

Ahern: undocumented Irish "entitled" to remain in US

Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern is quoted in today's Examiner as saying that the undocumented Irish are "entitled" to American residency on the grounds that they have "built up the US".

What an immensely stupid thing to say. Although it may play well at home, the use of such a presumptuous word as "entitled" will do nothing but get the backs up of those Americans not naturally inclined to be sympathetic to the reform proposals. That includes the Republican legislators on whom these proposals depend. Besides which, there is absolutely no objective observer who would consider the Irish undocumented to be any more entitled to US residency than the Chinese undocumented, the Mexican undocumented and all the other ethnic groups who have contributed at least as much to the United States.

I support the campaign for US immigration reform (although not the essentially right-wing McCain/Kennedy Bill, but that's another subject) on the utilitarian basis that there is more to be gained all around by allowing these people to stay than by throwing them out. But to argue that one particular group of immigrants is more deserving than others is asinine, racist, and completely unhelpful to the campaign.

May 21, 1994

Dublin republicans gathered today to mark the 12th anniversary of the death of Vol. Martin Doherty, who was killed in the act of preventing a UVF bomb attack on a Dublin pub.

Despite torrential rain, well over a hundred people turned up to pay their respects - and rightfully so, as many of them were among those whose lives Doco saved.

Had the UVF succeeded they would have caused an atrocity to dwarf Omagh and Dublin-Monaghan in scale. Everyone inside the crowded pub, everyone in adjacent premises, anyone walking by at the time could have been killed. It's important for non-republicans to remember that, when they're tempted to focus in on the "Volunteer" title in front of his name. His actions were heroic and should be viewed as such by all Dubliners regardless of political persuasion.

For all my friends and comrades whose lives you saved, Doco, thank you. Go raibh míle maith agat.

Government admits: Afghanistan too dangerous to go to

At least the Department of Foreign Affairs admits it, if the Minister for Justice won't. From the Foreign Affairs website:

AFGHANISTAN - updated 3/5/06
The Department of Foreign Affairs advises against all non-essential travel to Kabul and against all travel to other parts of Afghanistan. The security situation in Afghanistan remains serious and the threat to Westerners from terrorist or criminal violence, including kidnappings, remains high. Irish citizens travelling to Kabul are urged to exercise extreme caution and vigilance throughout their visit.

RTEngland strikes again!

Morning Ireland's coverage of the Champions League Final consisted entirely of Arsene Wenger and some Arsenal player complaining that Barcelona's first goal was offside. Not a mention of the wrongful disallowal of the first Barca goal, or that Arsenal scored from a free kick which should never have been given.

What on earth are the poor souls at RTÉ going to do when England get knocked out of the World Cup?
Whatever one thinks of the Afghani hunger strikers - and I'm of the view that Afghanistan is one of the last countries that anybody should be deported to - it's hard to argue with the logic that their predicament is far more serious than that of the undocumented Irish on whose behalf the Dublin Government has exerted such effort. The Government's position is that to grant these 41 men the right to stay here would undermine the immigration and asylum system. And allowing 40,000 or so undocumented immigrants to stay in America just because they're Irish wouldn't?

Bertie obviously thinks it's hard to argue, too, because yesterday in the Dáil he simply refused to answer the question when Joe Higgins put it to him, twice.

Edit: I've just seen this in today's Indo: "The Government is to give an additional $50,000 (€39,000) to an influential lobby group working to ensure undocumented Irish can stay in the US."

Hypocrisy, pure and simple.

Well, colour me surprised

Paisley has moved the goalposts again, now insisting that there will be no Executive until Sinn Féin accepts the PSNI.

No doubt the SDLP will soon be agreeing with him, followed by the Irish Government (it suits both of them better if we, rather than the DUP, are the obstructionists) and before you know it it'll be those bloody Shinners holding things up again, just as it was when the words of the GFA were mysteriously rearranged to reveal a "prerequisite" of total IRA decommissioning.

None of this is surprising. What I find disappointing, however, is how Sinn Féin are playing right into our opponents' hands by accepting the premise that Stormont actually matters.

Let's cast our memories back to 1998 and the talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement. Who was pushing for a devolved government in the North? Not us. We accepted it because we had to - it was created as a sop to unionism. Now we're going around saying that the Assembly has to be restored, that it must have real powers, that the formation of an Executive is crucial. What, precisely, has changed?

A couple months ago either Adams or McGuinness, can't remember which, said something along the lines of: If we can't get a proper Assembly up and running, we may as well scrap the whole thing and focus on the implementation of the rest of the Agreement. I would agree 100% with that, but I haven't heard any of our party leadership repeat it since. Instead we're giving out about the absence of an institution which we never wanted to begin with.

Now I'm not saying that devolved government is a bad thing, in and of itself. I accept that there were and would be some benefits to it. But I completely disagree with the extent to which we have allowed its restoration to be equated with "progress". First, because I think it's largely irrelevant to our long-term goals and second, because it's the one area where the DUP actually can block progress and of course, as long as they can, they will.

How many more concessions from us is it going to take before we realise this?

Labour supporters - here are your coalition partners!

Fine Gael TD Phil Hogan in the Dáil today singled out trade union members as stirring up anti-immigrant sentiment. Well done Phil.

"I trust the Minister will bring forward new measures and regulations in due course arising from the partnership talks that will not only assist us in regard to the assimilation of migrant workers into our economy but will also contribute to removing some of the prejudice that has built up, particularly due to some union members in recent times ..."

How on earth can any self-respecting Labour Party member vote for a coalition like this?

Immigration rights for gay couples - unless one of them is Irish

On another matter, I see that Michael McDowell has finally signed into law an EU directive on freedom of movement which obliges him to allow the non-EU partner (married or otherwise) of an EU citizen to take up residence here.

This is good news.

However, there's a curious anomaly here which needs to be rectified. "EU citizen" in this context means "citizen of an EU country other than Ireland". Irish citizens are still denied the right to be accompanied by their non-EU partner. How does this make any sense?

This is not the only situation in which this anomaly occurs. Currently, an application for residency on the basis of marriage to an EU citizen (other than a citizen of Ireland) must be processed within six months. Another EU directive, you see. However, Irish citizen marriages are not subject to this directive. Their spouse's application will take approximately 14 months to process.

This is lunacy.

It gets worse. During this processing time, the noncitizen spouse is not allowed to work without a work permit - which are practically impossible for nonskilled workers to obtain these days. However, if the couple are forced to avail of social welfare during this period, the same Minister will use this fact to deny a citizenship application filed by the non-EU spouse, on the grounds that they have been a burden on society. I'm not making this up - we have written confirmation of this from the Minister.

The Minister also says that one of the requirements to grant residency is that the couple are living together. But how are they supposed to do that before he grants the non-EU spouse residency?

It's just one of many examples of how messed up the immigration system here is. It needs fixing as a matter of urgency.

The immediate introduction of legislation or a statutory instrument, as necessary, to put Irish citizens on the same level as non-Irish EU citizens would be a good start.
I was very sorry to wake up to the news that Michael McIlveen lost his fight for life overnight.

Nothing more to say about it. Just RIP, Michael.
...and speaking of hypocrisy, I see Fianna Fáil are at it again with their accusations of SF involvement in voter fraud. In the North Inner City, Fianna Fáil have personation down to an art. Everyone here knows this - and I doubt our constituency is unique.

The Tribune article is ludicrous, anyway. It starts off by announcing "the first direct evidence that Sinn Fein may be involved in electoral fraud" and goes on to provide no such thing. A Fianna Fáil backbencher's allegations that there are names on the register that don't match the council's records, and that three of those people were on the register at the same address as a "Sinn Féin figure" (whatever that means), hardly constitute "direct evidence" of us being involved in fraud.

It is unbelievable sometimes what passes for journalism in this country.

The Fine Gael Ard Fheis

Delegates have just voted to use the tagline "The United Ireland Party" on all their publications. Har!

While it's obviously deeply hypocritical of them, it is nonetheless a move to be welcomed. Not only because it demonstrates Sinn Féin's success in returning the issue to the top of the agenda - and when we've got Fine Gael, of all people, compelled to assert their pro-reunification credentials, we've definitely accomplished something - but because they will either have to (a) start actively promoting reunification, or (b) leave themselves open to even more ridicule. I'm always happy to ridicule Fine Gael, but I genuinely hope they choose the first course.
I was disappointed but not altogether surprised to see that the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform opposed the work stoppage in the US yesterday, which highlighted the contribution of immigrants to the American work force.

This appears to me to be something of a pattern. I was in Washington a couple weeks ago, when close to half a million immigrants, mostly from Latin America, and their supporters rallied in support of legislative reform, and I took part in that demonstration. Obviously with a crowd that size it's not possible to speak definitively about who was or wasn't there - but I walked in and out and all around the crowd a dozen times, over the course of a couple hours, and I didn't see one single bit of evidence for an ILIR presence. In such an important march on the nation's capital, I would have expected all interested groups to be in attendance.

I suspect - and I would love to be proven wrong on this - that this is part of a concerted effort by ILIR to distance themselves from "those" immigrants. To gain support from those segments of American society (and Congress) whose opposition to immigration reform is motivated primarily by anti-Hispanic sentiment. If I am correct about this, and again I would welcome evidence (evidence not assertions!) to the contrary, it is nothing less than a coded appeal to racism. And it is disgraceful.

Irish immigrants should be trying to change the law through solidarity with other immigrants, not by portraying themselves as somehow different or more deserving than the rest.

The Border Fox goes free

INLA prisoner Dessie O'Hare has been freed from prison today under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

This was absolutely the right decision. There can be no question that he was a qualifying prisoner. Under the GFA, anyone held in prison for a scheduled offence (or in the 26 Counties, the equivalent thereof), who is allied to an organisation on ceasefire, qualifies for release. O'Hare clearly met this criteria and should have been released long ago.

But by the same token, so should the Castlerea Five. None of the excuses that the Irish Government has given for keeping the remaining four imprisoned stand up. It doesn't matter whether or not the IRA were on ceasefire at the time of the action (although they weren't); nor whether or not the IRA accepted responsibility for the action at the time; nor whether their conviction was obtained before or after the adoption of the GFA. The GFA does not provide for any of these exceptions. The only exception it provides for is if the prisoner's organisation is not on ceasefire. Even the High Court acknowledged this, although it (wrongly, I believe) found that the Government had discretion to refuse to release certain prisoners anyway.

Why was Dessie O'Hare's release delayed for as long as it was? I'm not entirely sure, but I would imagine it was to do with the widely-held view of him as someone who remains dangerous notwithstanding his organisation's ceasefire. I have certainly heard this view expressed by a number of ex-prisoners who knew him. But there are no such concerns about the Castlerea men. Now that O'Hare is out, there can be no excuse for keeping Jerry Sheehy, Michael O'Neill, Pearse McAuley and Kevin Walsh in. They should be released immediately.

Excerpt from yesterday's Dáil debate on the 1916 commemorations

The Taoiseach: It was a good day to pay tribute to Óglaigh na hÉireann, in particular, but it is a matter for everybody whether-----

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I assure the Taoiseach that I did.

Good man Caoimhghín!

The Times hits a new low

The headline piece in the Irish Times today is as bad a piece of gutter journalism as anything I've seen in the tabloids lately (which admittedly isn't much, as I avoid reading the tabloids as much as I can). First it's announced that the ever-reliable "Garda sources" - in Donegal, FFS - suspect that republicans were responsible. Then it admits that they haven't ruled out British involvement. Then it quotes Ahern and Blair as saying the killer was most likely someone opposed to the peace process, but they can't say who either. In other words, nobody really has any idea who killed Denis Donaldson. But sure why waste a good headline on that account?

Fine Gael try to rewrite history - again

Last night the Dáil debated a Green Party motion on the matter of ministerial 'forgetfulness' and corruption. As these things often do, it descended into a slanging match between various deputies, including our own. The mainstream parties lined up to take potshots at Sinn Féin for daring to criticise them. Nothing unusual about that.

What was quite astonishing was Fine Gael TD Fergus O'Dowd asserting that "My party never killed anybody". While that may be technically true (as it is, no less, for Sinn Féin), it is rather ironic given FG's ongoing claim to the legacy of Michael Collins. What exactly does he think the Big Fella was doing during the Easter Rising, Tan and Civil Wars? Throwing stones?

Can't have it both ways lads. Either you have a claim to both Collins himself and the blood he shed, or you have a claim to neither.
I see that Michael McDowell has been forced to apologise to Fine Gael TD Richard Bruton for comparing him to Dr. Goebbels. Well and good.

Now about your comparison of Daily Ireland to the Völkischer Beobachter, Minister McDowell?
Following the media over the past week, you'd think that Bertie's visit to the White House was the biggest thing Washington had seen in years. It's a bit humbling to go onto American media websites and discover that, apparently, nobody over there cares.

Additionally, my sources in D.C. - regular Washington Post readers who take a keen interest in Irish issues - also tell me that the visit by the Rafferty family has gone virtually unnoticed (in fact they haven't noticed it at all; they've never heard of the Raffertys). Certainly the hoopla that surrounded the McCartney family visit is nowhere to be found. And this is only fair, because Joe Rafferty's death had nothing to do with us. At all.

I can say this with absolute certainty. The man who is widely believed to have killed Joe Rafferty lives in my area. There is simply no way he could be a party member without my knowing it. Nor do I recall him taking part in any election campaigns in recent years, as has also been alleged. I can't, of course, speak with certainty about his alleged IRA membership but let's just say that I have no reason to believe he is a member and plenty of reasons to believe he isn't. And I note that even the infamous "garda sources" speaking to the Irish Times say no more than that he was an IRA member at one point. So was Joe Sherlock TD, and nobody would claim that therefore we have a responsibility for everything he does.

I am genuinely of the opinion that the Raffertys' crusade has done their chances of securing a conviction more harm than good. This is for a number of reasons. First, the fact is, and this can be easily ascertained by going back over the media reports they've given, they have changed their story a number of times. The day Joe was shot they told the Times that they "have no idea" why he was targetted. They have since given contradictory accounts of their dealings with the Gardaí and with local Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan (who is one of the most honourable men I know and completely undeserving of the shite he's had to put up with over the past year). If the case ever gets to court, any half-decent lawyer could use this evidence to undermine the family's credibility.

But I also think the family's campaign has played in a role in keeping the case from progressing at all. The adverse publicity Sinn Féin gets every time the family appears in the media first and foremost benefits our political opponents - some of whom are members of the Garda Síochána and the DPP office, and have an incentive to keep the case open and in the spotlight (possibly more of an incentive than they do to solve it, really, because they aren't being blamed for lack of progress). Furthermore, if there are any independent witnesses to the murder, wouldn't they be less likely to come forward if the campaign has convinced them that, doing so, they would risk the wrath of the 'Ra? It stands to reason, anyway.

The family, unfortunately for all concerned, have been getting bad advice on this. I am hopeful that now that the despicable local Fianna Fáil Councillor Gary Keegan has discovered he can't freewheel their case into Leinster House, he will crawl back under his rock and stop leading them down this futile path. But I suspect there will be many willing to take his place, and justice will be the loser.
... and on yet another note, Daily Ireland quotes newly-announced Green Party candidate for Dublin Central, Patricia McKenna, as stating that she will campaign on "such vital issues as public transport, in particular the long overdue need for a direct rail connection to Dublin Airport".

Now I like Patricia. I really do. And I fully agree with the need for a rail connection to the airport. But ... as a primary campaigning issue? In this constituency? She must be joking. I've lived in Dublin Central for many years and cannot remember anyone ever mentioning this as one of the area's most pressing needs. Frankly, I doubt it would even make the top 10.

I guess Patricia still hasn't learned much about the constituency, since the time she showed up at a public meeting in the North Inner City wearing a Save The Wales badge :)
On another matter, I was very sorry to read today that Albert Fullerton, son of the late murdered Sinn Féin Councillor Eddie Fullerton, has been in a serious car accident. I met Albert recently when he came to Dublin to campaign for an inquiry into his father's assassination by a loyalist hit squad, and besides my strong admiration for him, I found him a very pleasant person. It will be a terrible tragedy if he does not live to see justice for his father. Best wishes Albert.

ETA. I've just heard that he has died. This is terrible news.
I see the Mirror is describing one of the thugs responsible for the murder of Donna Cleary as an 'IRA hitman'. Well, I suppose it was only a matter of time before someone blamed this on republicans. As it happens, the person referred to in that article is a neighbour of one of my party colleagues, who assures me that the guy - who he describes as a serious player in the drugs importation business - "couldn't be further removed from us". In fact, his most recent contact with this criminal ended with a brick thrown through his (my colleague's) window.

So another tabloid lie. Big surprise considering that this same Mirror 'journalist' - one Jimmy Cunningham - was the one who claimed, wholly in contradiction to every source on the matter, that Sinn Féin had orchestrated last month's riots.
I have been utterly disgusted, over the past 24 hours, to hear several members of the D4 set say that they hope Love Ulster come back to Dublin, that they would "welcome" them.

For God's sake has this country taken leave of its senses?

It is one thing to believe that Willie the Bigot Frazer and co. have a right to freedom of speech. I agree that they do. I also believe that David Irving has a right to freedom of speech and should not be locked up in prison for denying the holocaust. But I'm not going to fecking invite him to Dublin to do so! And nor, I suspect, would most of those who are now champing at the bit for UVF supporters to march down our streets.

Just because someone has the right to spew their ignorance and hatred does not mean that we have any obligation to encourage them to do so.

The fallout continues

While the primary responsibility for the riots obviously lies with the rioters, it's clear that Saturday was a fuck-up of massive proportions on the part of the Gardaí. Why didn't their intelligence pick up what the dogs in the street knew?

It seems they were talking to the wrong dogs.

Think about it for a minute. In any other European country, whenever there's the potential for crowd trouble, who are the first people the police look out for? The football hooligans, that's who. And in fact, those of us who regularly attend League of Ireland matches have recognised a number of familiar faces in Saturday's crowd shots. But the gardaí seem not to have pursued this angle at all. Why in God's name didn't they?

The fact is that the justice system here, all the way up to the Minister, are so obsessed with what they deem "subversives" that it often blinds them to what nonpolitical offenders are up to. This is how gangland criminals have been able to build up a huge arsenal under the Gardaí's noses, while Special Branch have occupied their time following around Sinn Féin election workers and beating up members of RSF's youth wing.

We in Sinn Féin complain a lot, and rightly so, about political policing in the north. But in some respects the south really isn't much better.

And another thing

I can clearly remember the PDs condemning the Make Partition History rally on the grounds it was divisive, sectarian, etc. Now they're getting on their high horse about the loyalists' right to march being denied.

On the riots

I can't say that I'm bothered by the loyalists being prevented from marching, although I remain of the opinion that Sinn Féin had no choice but to ignore them. However, what's going on down on Nassau Street is sheer lunacy. We're destroying our own city, FFS. Willie Frazer & co. are probably laughing all the way back up the M1.

More cracks in the rainbow

Last night, Sinn Féin TDs used their Private Members Time to call for a Department of Labour Affairs separate from the department that oversees enterprise, as the present system has worked to the detriment of workers whose needs have been subordinated by the government to those of their bosses.

The Labour Party, as you'd expect, supported the motion. Fine Gael didn't. They didn't even turn up for the vote.

How on earth are these two supposed to be an alternative government when they can't even agree on what sort of government they want?

Ard Fheis Highs and Lows

* Winning the motion to make repeal of the Offences Against the State Act a condition to entering coalition government in the south. I really didn't think we would win it, because not only the Ard Chomhairle but a couple ordinary punters I spoke to had indicated they would oppose it on the grounds it would "tie our hands". But, my God, if ever there was anything we should tie our hands on, surely imprisoning people just for being republicans is it? The membership did absolutely the right thing here, and I'm delighted.
* Dessie Ellis's speech on migrant workers. He set out our stall clearly, unambiguously, and live on RTÉ that we will not succumb to populist race-baiting. I can honestly say that I haven't been as proud to be a Shinner in ages as I was listening to that speech. The left-wing Labourites watching must have been sick.
* The appearances by Joanne Delaney and Mícheál Ó Seighin, especially when the latter confirmed that yes, Sinn Féin have been raising the Corrib Gas issue for many years (take that, Enda Kenny).
* Barry McElduff. The man is a national treasure.
* All three of the motions/amendments I wrote speeches on were passed. Clearly, my powers of persuasion are greater than I ever imagined :)

* Failure not only to rule out policing and coalition, but even to adopt the motions requiring a two-thirds majority to take part in either. Especially in the case of policing, I think it will be a huge mistake not to ensure we have widespread and not just majority support for such a step.
* Losing the pro-choice motion, although I hadn't really expected otherwise. It still depresses me to think that a revolutionary party like Sinn Féin could hold such a reactionary position on women's reproductive rights.
* The Ard Chomhairle elections - a "southern massacre" as someone put it.
* The stupid catering set-up in which you couldn't get a cup of coffee without queuing behind the people ordering hot food.
* Being skint, again. Why is it that Ard Fheis weekend always falls during a week when I have half a dozen bills to pay?

A pretty good weekend all in all, but we still have much work to do.
The Guardian reports today that a new study has shown that chemical abortions can be safely taken at home before the twelfth week of pregnancy.

This is good news for British women. Unfortunately, because of the draconian laws in this country, many Irish women will be unable to avail of it: the tablets have to be administered over the course of a couple days, making it impossible for women to travel over and back on a weekend.

Of course the lack of availability of these medicines won't prevent Irish women having abortions. Over 6,000 of them will continue to go to Britain, and an unknown (because no statistics are kept) number on top of that to Amsterdam, every year. But unless they can take a few days off they will have to make do with the surgical rather than chemical procedure, which I imagine must be quite a bit more unpleasant.

It is not acceptable for women in Ireland to be denied the benefit of medical advances simply on the basis of a moral belief which not all of us share.

Those who oppose the right to abortion, I ask you this: if women are not being prevented from having abortions (which, clearly, they aren't), but are simply having them later - because they have to make travel arrangements, maybe raise a bit of extra money, etc. - what has your side achieved? If a woman is planning to end her pregnancy anyway, isn't it preferable for all concerned (including the foetus if you insist) that she do it as early as possible?

How long do you suppose it will be before mifepristone and misoprostol are available over the internet, or on Moore Street (if they aren't already) and women are administering them themselves, with all the danger that will entail?

At this weekend's Ard Fheis Sinn Féin will be debating a motion calling for us to support the Irish Family Planning Association's Safe and Legal Campaign. I do not hold high hopes that it will be passed - there are still too many moral conservatives in this party, and too much fear (even among those who themselves are pro-choice) of division. But we are gaining ground. I have seen this in internal debates, and I have seen it in the wider society, and I know we will win this battle someday.
The Taoiseach has just rubbished the last IMC report on the grounds that they only reported what they were told; they didn't do any investigation themselves. Hello, what have we been saying about the IMC since its inception?

How much money is your Government spending on these ridiculous reports Bertie?
The Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, was on the Dunphy show this morning talking about the IMC Report. It was like listening to one of us! "The IICD is the body charged with monitoring decommissioning." "We have to recognise the huge steps the IRA have taken." "The IRA leadership are absolutely committed to the peace strategy." Wonder if the Irish government is starting to have second thoughts about the Frankenstein's Monster they helped to create?
So the latest Independent (sic) Monitoring Commission report will fail to give the IRA a clean bill of health. Dear dear me. Did anyone really not see this coming, after all of the DUP's insistence that they wouldn't work with Sinn Féin anyway? A too-positive IMC report would remove the DUP's last excuse and leave the Governments with no choice but to get on with the business without them. And they just haven't got the courage to do that.
Regarding Suzanne Breen's claims today about a "Stormont Spyring":

First of all it needs to be said that Breen has an agenda and a long history of peddling anti-SF propaganda. She has no credibility among republicans - and that's doubly significant in view of the fact that she's claiming one of us as her source for this article. Why would a Shinner speak to her? If I had a grievance with the party that I wanted to go public with, I wouldn't go to someone like her - not just because I can't stand her, but also because I would know most republicans don't believe anything she writes anyway.

But I'll play along. If these claims are true, they are so much further from the original allegations that they're almost laughable - and the fact that a democratically elected government could be brought down on the basis of them is appalling. There might be legitimate questions about the ethics of such activities, but for jaysus sake does anyone believe the likes of Fianna Fáil aren't up to the same thing?

Well, have a look at the following from Katie Hannon's book The Naked Politician (published in 2004):

There is one such person who is a familiar face around Leinster House. He eats in the self-service restaurant most days and can often be seen enjoying a sociable drink with his colleagues in the Visitors' Bar. And yet most people are vague about what it is he actually does. In fact he works in the Taoiseach's Department in Government Buildings where his post is officially described as that of 'researcher'. But that doesn't come close to describing the highly unusual role this young man plays in the Fianna Fáil political machine. His job involves keeping files on political rivals and media figures, for use when in election mode or in times of crisis. He reports directly to one of the Taoiseach's aides.

I am shocked. Shocked! Isn't it time that Fianna Fáil's Leinster House spyring was investigated, the government collapsed and the culprits brought to justice?
I'm out of the country for a fortnight and return to find the whole country's gone bleeding mad! Allegations against this republican and that republican. It seems that my prediction, made just after the IRA statement, of an increase in black propaganda against us was even more accurate than I'd feared. The usual suspects have obviously decided that their best hope for defeating us lies in turning us against each other. We are going to have to be resolute in our determination not to let them succeed.

On other matters, Pat Rabbitte's proposal to subject EU nationals to work permits simply defies logic (except, of course, when looked at as a cynical pre-election stunt). Anyone with a brain can see that tying workers to permits increases, rather than decreases, their exploitability and therefore makes them more, not less, attractive to unscrupulous employers. The solution to the displacement of Irish workers in favour of cheaper foreign staff is proper enforcement of the laws which make it illegal to pay foreign staff less.

Has Enda Kenny commented on this proposal? One almost wonders if he has told Rabbitte that FG intend to propose restrictions on immigration, and so Rabbitte is coming out with this stuff now so that it will look like a true Labour proposal and not one forced on them by their senior coalition partners.
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