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Sunday, February 25, 2018

The great mass starvation of 1847

There is always a certain sense when writers write about the great famine, which is sometimes called the ‘great hunger’, in Ireland of 1847 starting with the word ‘great’ in order to draw a particular picture. It is words that either add description to something or detract from its reality by their economy and form. Of course there is or was nothing great about hunger or that it was a famine in the true sense of the word; It was mass starvation on a national scale perfected by, at least at that time, one of the most powerful countries in the world, Great Britain. Again, there was nothing ‘great’ about Britain either unless you factor in a monstrous tyranny against people of every race and culture across the globe starting with their nearest neighbour, us. 

                                                       Digging their own graves

When the biggest mass starvation raged in Ireland, it was just another one in the long catalogue of others that went before it. Four raged in that century alone while none has happened in our near century of freedom. Writers have for generations tried to label that last attempt at mass starvation as more to do with neglect, mixed in with officialdom and bureaucracy, as being heavily to blame because of a mere potato blight. In Ireland today if every single potato died in the ground no free citizen would die with it. There lies the only difference and evidence that ever mattered. During every year of every mass starvation in Ireland, record exports of wheat and cattle, that benefitted only the British landlord and the government that protected them, left for other lands except ours. 

How Britain saw us as a country historically is the undercurrent as to how they see us now, even though it is edging toward a more positive change than ever before. The writer, Niamh O’ Sullivan recently wrote in the Irish Times that: “The racialisation of poverty justified government policy then, leading the Times to condemn the ‘wretched, indolent, half-starved tribe of savages who never approached the standard of the civilised world.’ Even Niamh could not resist labelling in part this historic mass starvation of a people as: "…..the outcome of a systematic neglect by the richest empire in the world." I can neglect or forget to feed a child or myself but neither of us will ever starve as a result.

There is some residue from a historical sentiment and argument still used against refugees today, even by former refugees and migrants who have pulled themselves up from abject poverty a couple of thousand years ago. Positively tribal I say. Cheery picked amnesia is easy for the beggar who has found himself a horse in order to ride over those still starving on the ground. Yet many slaves of the 1800's, free and indentured, along with tribes of indigenous peoples in America and elsewhere, sent money to relieve the appalling suffering of the Irish people as it even outweighed their own. We must not try to cover up our past or compromise on its horrors for political and commercial gain, for our shared past with England and the world is at least a moral blueprint for the helping hand that means freedom rather than the jackboot that represents oppression.       

I leave you with a quote or two from one infamous landlord at that 'never to be forgotten time', Sir Charles Trevelyan, who considered the ‘famine’ and said: “the judgement of God sent this calamity to teach the Irish a lesson.” He also added: “It was an effective mechanism for reducing surplus population.” He must have read Charles Dickens character ‘Scrooge’ sentiments on the matter.

Barry Clifford

Thursday, February 15, 2018

"The law must take its course."

From the rear of the courthouse on all of the first floor rooms, the views from the windows would be of the impressive looking cathedral just the other side of the bridge that spans the river Corrib and joins them both. This cathedral replaced an old prison that closed for good in 1939 that ended a chapter in history that most people back then would have preferred to forget. For the rest of us it should not never be forgotten. It was a pitiless building from a pitiless time where the grim and unjust sentences and miscarriages of justice of the Galway courthouse rendered many a man and woman to die there slowly from a living hell. Others were dispatched more quickly where their innocence was just a moot point afterwards. 

                                                          Myles Joyce

One of them was a man named Myles Joyce who was to be hanged in 1882 along with two more innocent men because they had been implicated falsely in the Connemara Maamtrasna murders. The family that were slaughtered there that fateful night were a man, his mother and his wife  including their daughter and son. Another nine -year old son was badly injured but survived and his older brother was lucky to have been away that night. Because of the murders, these two newly orphaned boys ended up later in a children's prison: the Artane Industrial reformatory Institution in Dublin.

The heavily pregnant wife of Myles Joyce wrote in part of her appeal for clemency to try and save her husband from the hangman: "I earnestly beg and implore his Excellency the Lord Lieutenant to examine and consider this hard case of an innocent man, which leaves a widow and five orphans to be before a long drift in the world." The response from his Excellency was as cold as the cell that held Myles: "The law must take its course."

The last words spoken by Myles in his only language that was Irish just before the noose was tied around his neck were: "I am going before my God. I was not there at all. I had no hand or part in it. I am as innocent as a child in a cradle. It is a poor thing to take this life away on a stage; but I have my priest with me." Then he stepped onto a platform where the floor dropped beneath him. His life was extinguished slowly and very painfully  for he was not hung but strangled to death because the hangman had not set the stage properly.     

Two years later, one of the three false witnesses against Myles Joyce admitted that he lied in his testimony in a type of public confession to all that attended his local church one morning; but that was long after this liar and the other two with him had been paid the staggering sum of £1,250 between them which is equivalent to around £157,000 (sterling) or over $200,000 American dollars today. An amount simply unheard of before or since for witnesses in Galway or much anywhere else. The man who paid them their blood money was the same Lord Lieutenant. A journalist who wrote about the case in 1885 said: "The British government couldn't contemplate the appalling vista of having to admit to convicting innocent people." There has never been an official apology since.

The now famous cathedral that stands on that site today of the infamous prison is the focal point for locals and tourists alike. Even anyone with no particular religious point of view would be impressed by the external and internal stonework, the reliquaries, the beautiful mosaics and other artwork within; not to mention the feeling of peaceful solitude and community spirit that it all seems to bring. There every Sunday, the main players or priests with a bishop now and again for guest appearance, wear their costumes well for church services that includes weddings, births and deaths for most other weeks of every year. In many ways this building represents the draping over of past injustices for it would be a fitting memorial to all those that died and were buried here if even a plague served as their obituary. But there is none, as it is often an Irish custom to cover up by covering over the wrongs of the past and the present in the hope that they won't be found out in the future.

Back at the court house on that same first floor room, yet another group of actors huddle around tables making deals in secret union with one another. Many of these men and women also wear costume wigs and gowns befitting to their roles; portraying themselves to the public galleries in the building and to their clients, as legal combatants with morals. They call themselves lawyers or solicitors and barristers at law. At any day's end in this trinity of buildings, it is about how well each performances will go down by the actors, and how it was believed by those that it mattered to. Shakespeare wrote: "The worlds a stage and all the men merely players. They have their exits and their entrances..." Oscar Wilde added his spin on it by saying "The world is a stage and the play is badly cast." This Galway courthouse with it's courtroom and stages, badly cast or not, would become a familiar arena for Vincent Coyne. He also happened to hail from the same area as Myles Joyce in Connemara, while his grandmother, who's maiden name was also Joyce, was related to him. Let the play begin......

Barry Clifford 
An excerpt from my forthcoming book: Law, Lawyers and Liars

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Irish Police Ombudsman or GSOC....are useless

The Irish Police Ombudsman or GSOC: Those are the guys that are supposed to be overseeing the rights and more of the wrongs of the Irish police force. Another group, unfortunately, which is also a toothless and seriously gummy lot. Take the pulse system, a police data base that has been accessed illegally by police for their own personal ends and has being the Internet vehicle for destroying people's characters, for wrongful arrests, and has became a feeding tube to the media for the same purpose and much more. The GSOC in all these instances has done little or nothing except do a public wringing of their hands every now and then. Not that the Police themselves, their intended target, have or ever will be of any help to them, and in that it is understandable in any human context for they are hardly going to participate in their own hanging. 

The police too have years of combined experience in holding the glue together on the blue wall of silence even though it has shown a few cracks in recent years. It will take more than a few cracks though to be able to drive a wedge through it. Failure to cooperate with any investigation is a failure itself by virtue of the fact that when it comes to the police doing it, it is not viewed as a serious crime. When it is viewed that way, if ever, that wall of silence will crumble very fast. For now, as with all police forces internationally, we can only live in hope and have a lot of it for the complaints against the police keep on rising year on year.

In just a four year period there was over 10,000 complaints against the 13,000 strong Irish Police force and the main problem with the GSOC is that it is an investigative body/agency only. Any file collected on a suspect or errant policeman is then sent to the Department of Public Prosecution or DPP afterwards, and if an unlikely prosecution is warranted by them it then moves to trial. Ultimately, if any sanctions are deemed necessary against a police man/woman after a guilty verdict then this is reverted back to the boys in blues boss: the Police Commissioner. 

Here are some of the run of the mill police sanctions in Ireland for policemen: turning up drunk at a murder scene or any scene, a policeman will face only a minimum two weeks loss of pay not to exceed 10% of his salary; if he runs over an innocent or guilty citizen with his trusty patrol car while drunk, he 'may' face an internal enquiry by, you guessed it, other policemen. This, in a nut shell, is why it is not a good idea to cooperate with the police at anytime unless it is for a very good cause starting with yourself last and in the first instance.

Barry Clifford
An excerpt from my forthcoming book: Law, Lawyers and Liars

No need for words.......

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Rich man, poor man on lawyer costs

At the prices mentioned below, a rich man will become a poor man very quickly and not knowing the distinction between the word 'or' and the word 'and' can be just one of the reasons why. A lawyer 'middle of the lower road' firm in Ireland today will cost, very conservatively speaking, the following charges for every hour that they are contracted:

The principal owner: €350 per hour
One journeyman lawyer: €250 per hour
Legal secretary: €120 per hour
All these costs can be lumped together as firm or company costs that works out at a grand total of €720 for each hour worked. And that is before they even get to court!

The above rates are exclusive of VAT at 13.5% and any other outlays outside of those charges, such as a barrister or junior counsel while and senior counsel will be more. To put that in perspective: a medical doctor working in an Irish hospital currently receives €35 per hour he works before tax and without contract, pension or other benefits. A lone barrister can cost anywhere from €400 per day to over €7000 and more and junior barrister is €4,752. Subsequent days thereafter can cost €1,562 for each day. Lawyers can cost the same brief fee as the barrister and each day thereafter can be another €750 in addition. 

In the circuit court they are cheaper, if you could really call it that: Senior counsel is €1,716 a day, a refresher fee is €858 with junior counsel and lawyers getting €1,144 per day and €572 and €418 per day respectively. The refresher fee sounds like they are going out for a soda, a massage and a sauna. Maybe they were as long as doleful and unsuspecting clients keep on paying for it. 

Ciara Murphy of the Barristers Law Society thinks those fees are actually quite moderate and only level now with 2002 fees. To soften the blow of that minority opinion in case it might not be compatible with a majority one, she added that 'the work' is now much more complex and demanding. Wait till she decides to go working for a living, though these fees and her comments helps illustrate what planet she and other likewise alien forces think they are on. One lone barrister, Emily Egan SC, earned over €1 million for herself working for state bodies last year (2017) with four more costume figures just like her earning over €500,000 each. These fees, comparatively speaking, are more often than not twice what they are in England. 

Then, to keep all of these fees under wraps the taxing master, that quasi-judicial body, rarely publishes their findings against overcharging by lawyers or barristers and anything in between. Neither does it provide a public register of findings or determinations, and, as always, only questions remain in its wake and never full answers. 

What is a lay litigants time worth in big or small matters? Are these prices not motivation enough to know that what a person can be saving is €750 an hour minimum, which is the same as earning it just by their own research! Belief in oneself is the starting point here and only gets better from there before or after anyone starts researching in earnest. Another way of getting there is engaging a law student who would be happy with just €10 an hour to put a person in the right direction and can be found at any university. Plus, this real time experience can help any student on their academic journey. 

Barry Clifford from my forthcoming book called: Law, Lawyers And Liars

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Recording secretly just about anything

When a person uses a computer they are in effect recording a conversation by their fingerprints or fingertips alone. Using a personnel computer over time brings the relationship between the user and it to a whole new level where people are less guarded in what they write, seek and say. All manner of open and closed secrets are revealed to the machine, and, like an errant lover, it will betray the owner without shedding one tear of emotion sooner or later. One time it took only removing the hard drive from a computer to destroy it but not anymore. The only advise to anyone using a computer is that what you write, seek and say is what you would have no problem to begin with in sharing with one thousand strangers in a room of what exactly that is. The same optics should apply to how you use your phone in what you are recording and who may be recording you whether it is in visual or audio form. The rules that apply to this varies from country to country and is important that anyone learns and knows what they are in regard to them. Let's look at Ireland to at least give an overview of what this means because every armchair or barstool lawyer has an opinion on this one; some qualified lawyers have a few too.

One defense of those who have been recorded is that they feel they were cheated on, violated and a breach of confidence was betrayed; much again like the analogy of an errant lover. Well, that's the emotional defense and the legal one is not much better as it is claimed that the secret recording is illegal or in breach of the constitutional right to privacy. When it comes to visual or the audio recording of another, unfortunately or fortunately, these terms and conditions do not apply here in Ireland and a lot of other countries as well for Irish law requires only "single one party consent." That means the consent of the person doing the recording only!  

Some countries legislation prohibits this of course but in Ireland other parties need not be informed at all whether they would have agreed to being recorded or not. There are a few exceptions to the rule: businesses, both private and public, employers and other marketing type companies, which is why they always have a pre- recorded voice message letting a person know that the call that they are on may well be recording and is being done under the guise for training purposes. It is more likely being recorded as an oral signature or not to an agreement or disagreement, or as evidence of the nature of the call and for various other but common marketing strategies.

As a private citizen one is not bound by these same rules in any shape or form if what they are recording is being kept for their "personal affairs" only and that could be later deemed to be consumption for the "public interest that favors the disclosure of what was recorded". If a man was about to rob a bank and a recording by a friend testified to that intent, then that would easily fall under that heading as the friend automatically is protected by the "whistleblower act" and if that didn't do it then the "confidential recipient" act would have.

In Vincent Coyne's case I was the one doing the recording in court for 'free' and up close and personal to the judge; whether the stenographer at the court was doing the same thing came down to one simple fact of economics and that was her recording, if she had one, was going to cost me €200 for every hour of it. I was legally allowed to record despite the public's overall perception that this was not legal. It is allowed and the law is even more clear here: from policeman to judge and anyone in between that is classed as a public servant or government official in any capacity, then a citizen is allowed to record them to their hearts content by any means necessary. If any confidentiality clause did apply, even in the narrowest definition of what that meant, again, a countervailing public interest that applied to it favors a public disclosure. If someone cries that recordings would have a "harmful effect" on them in order to try and prevent disclosure, this can only apply in cases that involve serious and direct harms that facilities and encourages the planning and commission of a crime against that person. 

It is worth nothing too that in the Galway courthouse, and the only one that I am familiar with, that there are no written warning notices of any kind outside of the various courtrooms stating recording is not allowed. If they were then they are simply not worth the paper they are written on in terms of what the law is in relation to it or its enforceability; much like a sign telling a wheelchair bound person who wants to use the disability ground floor bathroom that it is 'out of order' and to please use the toilet on the second floor instead. That is not just a story because I was there in the building that had no elevator when it happened

I am reliably informed that some courthouses state you must switch off your phone before entering the courtroom. This is a loose and unenforceable rule too by the courts to keep the perception going that recording is not allowed, and of course if a phone is turned off then there is no chance to record in the first place. Turning the ringer tone off and the volume down is all that is needed to be done in this regard and neither action will affect the recording. If the phone is not turned down rather than turned off, the judge could go after the owner on a contempt charge for interrupting the court if it starts ringing during proceedings even once, and several times would only make things worse and he might even confiscate the phone. Any little secrets then will not be a secret for long even if the person gets their phone back later. 

There is no better signature evidence of any event inside a courtroom or outside of one, than a visual or audio recording of what really happened whether it was a public or private matter in the interaction of persons or events by themselves. In insurance matters a recording is the deadbolt lock on a steel door, and what is recorded is the key to opening it to see what's really going on behind it. Everyone in the modern world has a phone with a recording device and comes as standard in a modern car. In short: like what the American Express card advertisement says: "you shouldn't leave home without one".

Barry Clifford in an excerpt from my forthcoming book: Law, Lawyers and Liars

A work in progress.......

The scale of hatred for Gerry Adams is unfair

As the Sinn Féin leader prepares to step down, it is important to recall his many achievements

Three thousand, three hundred and thirty six people were killed during the course of the Northern Ireland conflict from 1966 to 1999. Close to half of these were killed by the Provisional IRA. Thousands more were mutilated for life.
As perhaps the most powerful person in the IRA during most of this conflict – certainly from 1978 to 1994 –Gerry Adams must assume a significant part of the responsibility for this carnage.
It is hardly surprising then that Adams, who officially steps down as Sinn Féin leader next week, is so loathed and distrusted by the unionist population in Northern Ireland, by a large number of people in the South, and by many others elsewhere.
But the scale of such loathing is unfair, for it fails to take into account the crucial, indeed central, part Gerry Adams played in bringing peace to Northern Ireland.
There’s reason to think he did not have a happy childhood in Divismore Park, in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast – contrary to the charmed upbringing described in his book, Before the Dawn. Gerry Adams’s father was a paedophile who abused at least one of Gerry’s siblings and who seems to have been violent and an alcoholic.
The young Gerry Adams was moved out of the family home to live with his paternal grandparents in the Lower Falls Road, perhaps prompted by the arrival of more brothers and sisters in the Divismore Park house, or perhaps to remove him from harm.

Gerry Adams had a stutter in his early years and fared poorly academically – he failed the 11 Plus exam at the first time of trying. For somebody who has been so obviously very clever in his adulthood, there’s something strange here. He quit secondary school prematurely to become the family’s main breadwinner, a role he abandoned within four years when he became a full-time republican “activist”.

Having dithered about which side to join when the IRA split at the end of 1969, he joined the Provisionals.

Significant figure
Though Adams has always denied he was in the IRA, it is believed he quickly became a significant figure in the Provisionals, at first officer commanding (O/C) in Ballymurphy, his home area, and later, O/C of the Belfast brigade. From then until his internment in 1972 (interrupted for few months to enable him partake in negotiations with the British government as part of an IRA delegation) he acquired a reputation as a ruthlessly effective IRA commander.
He was involved in the decisions to execute suspected informers, including the wrongly accused Jean McConville, although, I understand, it was not he who ordered that their bodies be “disappeared”. He has consistently denied any role in the killing of Jean McConville.

During his time as Brigade O/C, an ingenious British secret service operation –Four Square Laundry – was discovered and destroyed. It was also in this period that the bombing of London started – at his direction, though he has also denied this.
Following further spells in prison, he was co-opted to the IRA army council, a position he held almost until the end of the conflict.

He became chief of staff in 1977. He held the position for only 78 days. He was arrested again, this time following one of the most horrific atrocities of the Northern Ireland conflict: the bombing of the La Mon House hotel in Castlereagh, Belfast, on February 17th, 1978.

Though he has many disreputable legacies, Gerry Adams deserves credit for a number of achievements
The IRA attached a device described a blast incendiary to the grill of a window at the hotel’s restaurant. The blast produced a massive fireball, killing 12 people. Their bodies were so badly burnt that when they were discovered it was thought at first they were the bodies of children. All were Protestants. Another 30 people were injured.
In the wake of the atrocity Gerry Adams was arrested. He was not prosecuted in connection with the La Mon conflagration – he has also denied any role in that attack – but was charged with membership of the IRA.

When it was ruled that there was insufficient evidence to support a charge of IRA membership, Adams returned to the IRA fold, this time as chief strategist.
The IRA hunger strikes of 1980 and 1981 were fiercely opposed by Adams, who believed they could not succeed in ameliorating prisoners’ conditions. He also believed that the failure of the hunger strikes would damage the morale and capacity of the IRA. He was wrong on the latter point. The second hunger strike, led by Bobby Sands, won massive popular support for – and recruits to – the IRA.
Bobby Sands’s byelection victory in Fermanagh-South Tyrone in April 1981 upended one of the foundational principles of the Provisional IRA, which until then had opposed participation in electoral politics, and propelled the movement into the political arena.

Adams himself was elected to Westminster in 1983. He lost his seat to the SDLP in 1992 and recovered it in 1997, but it was obvious the party could not build a significant political base while IRA violence persisted. This was one of the considerations that persuaded Adams to seek a way out of the armed conflict. He was encouraged from an early stage by the Redemptorist priest Alec Reid.

In May 1987, based on his conversations with Adams, Reid wrote to then taoiseach Charles Haughey, outlining a path towards peace in Northern Ireland. Haughey got Dermot Ahern and Martin Mansergh to engage in exploratory talks and about the same time John Hume became involved at the instigation of Reid. It was the start of the peace process.

These contacts were made, it seems, unbeknownst to other members of the IRA army council, perhaps with the exception of Martin McGuinness. Had it become generally known within the republican movement what Adams was about, he certainly would not have survived as a member of the army council – and he might not have survived at all.

At some stage around then Martin McGuinness established contact with Michael Oatley of the British secret service – this was done via the Derry businessman, Brendan Duddy, and an associate, Denis Bradley.
Meanwhile the list of IRA atrocities lengthened. The worst of these was the Enniskillen bombing on November 8th, 1987 when 11 people were killed and 63 people injured. A 12th victim, Ronnie Hill, died after 13 years in a coma.
On August 31st, 1994, the IRA announced ceasefire. There is suspicion that Adams got the IRA army council to agree to this by leading members to believe it would be short.
It was always unlikely to have lasted, but the British refusal to allow the republican movement into talks made it almost impossible. On Friday, February 9th 1996, the IRA announced an end to the ceasefire. An hour later a bomb was detonated in London docks, killing two people and injuring 40 others.
Between then and July 19th, 1997, Adams’s position within the IRA was precarious. That he managed to prevail over an IRA convention that was seemingly hostile to him and achieved agreement to another ceasefire would probably have overawed Machiavelli. But he did.
Violence continued for some years on a more minor scale, although still involving a number of murders, punishment beatings, robberies (notably the Northern Bankl Robbery) and other criminality.

There were other embarrassments for him – not least the revelation that his brother, Liam, had sexually abused his own daughter in her childhood. Adams knew about this long before the police did. He also knew his paedophile brother had had access to children in Dundalk and in the Clonard area of Belfast and had done nothing about it. He has acknowledged his culpability on this.
His repeated denial of IRA membership has also done him damage but, I assume he has felt he had to persist with this. Otherwise, he would almost certainly be convicted for membership and would probably be inundated with civil actions by those harmed in the conflict by the IRA.

Southern politics
His entry into Southern politics has caused Sinn Féin to improve radically its electoral performance in the South – or at least his entry coincided with that. In the 2007 general election Sinn Féin won 6.9 per cent of the vote. This increased to 9.9 per cent in 2011, and to 13.8 per cent in 2016.
But to some this success has been accompanied by dismay, as Adams has abandoned a radical socialist manifesto he had a large part in drafting for Sinn Féin in 1979. It proclaimed: “The means of production, distribution and exchange must be controlled by the people . . . The state will have complete control over the import and export of capital . . . No person should have the means economically to exploit his fellow man.”
Now, with Sinn Féin’s programme hardly different from those of the establishment parties, its drive for public office seems insatiable.

Though he has many disreputable legacies, Gerry Adams deserves credit for bringing about the IRA ceasefire in 1994; for persuading the IRA to call a second ceasefire – this time durable – in 1997; for getting the republican movement to accept the Belfast Agreement of 1998, even though it involved the abandonment of its central aim, British withdrawal; and – perhaps most crucially – by bringing about the decommissioning of IRA arms and the eventual disbandment of the IRA.

Vincent Browne