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Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Obamas: Refusing to give in to the haters

And one of the most popular targets is President Obama, the country’s first African American commander-in-chief.
It’s no secret that America’s first family has received an unprecedented number of threats over the past seven years.
But the fever pitch of hate and bile toward the president and his family have taken an even sharper tone thanks to the primordial swamp that is the current presidential campaign.

It’s impossible to utter a single word about the White House, the first family or the president without a blast from the fire hose of haterade.
I can see it in my email inbox.
A column about the White House Easter egg roll?

“Go back to Kenya,” a reader (one of scores who said similar things) spat in response.
“So when is Obama to be killed?” another emailer wondered.
This was in response to Easter eggs, remember.


President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama hosted their last White House Easter Egg Roll on March 28, complete with stormtroopers, a book reading and lots of games. (AP)

But that doesn’t matter. It can be school lunches, children’s books, dresses or kids going off to college. The trolls are there, ripping everything Obama to shreds.
A USA Today story about plans for their younger daughter’s school days prompted this gem:

“The first thing that Trump needs to do is call an exterminator and someone to cleanse the Whitehouse of their presence,” spewed a citizen of Hateville.
Ah, there’s the name. Donald Trump.
The front-runner for the GOP nomination may have something to do with the ramping up of the hate-o-meter.
His drumbeat as a birther from way back — demanding the president’s birth certificate long after the issue had been settled and re-settled — and his racially charged, violence-tinged rallies have given a strain of Americans license to hate out loud.

Disagree with Obama’s politics and policies, sure. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
But there is a viciousness, a racist edge to the hate-speak that echoes the darkest days of American history.

And as Trump publicly mulls punishing women who have abortions, prattles on about his hand size and stages a nasty fight with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) over who has the hotter wife, he’s reminding a lot of Americans of what they admire about Obama.
Last week, Obama’s approval rating edged up to 53 percent, according to Gallup. His predecessor had a 32 percent rating at this time in his presidency.
For someone who has been attacked the way Obama has, for a father and husband who has endured verbal assaults and physical threats to his family, the president’s demeanor has been dignified.

There have been dozens of people indicted on charges of threatening to harm him since he took office. In 2011, a gunman fired at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. from Constitution Avenue and at least seven bullets struck the White House when Sasha Obama and her grandmother, Marian Robinson, were home. Three years later, a fence jumper armed with a knife actually made it inside the mansion before being tackled by an off-duty Secret Service agent.

Sources in the security community said that when he took office, Obama received triple the number of threats that previous presidents faced during the election and his first year in office.
Both the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center have seen huge jumps in threats against the president and the formation of hate groups during the past seven years.

Scary stuff. Yet while partisan politics deadlocks a crucial Supreme Court nomination and election-season rancor flares on both sides of the aisle, the Obamas refuse to give in to the ugly behavior and rhetoric around them.
The insults aren’t met with insults. The bile is not returned with vile responses.

The first family looks forward, past the haters. They embody the respect that the highest office in the land deserves. And they are teaching a powerful lesson in class and civility to a country that sorely needs it.
Petula Dvorak

This buffalo lived to fight another day






‘You don’t just photograph a man like Samuel Beckett.


 Irish photographer John Minihan in Paris on Monday, 14th March, 2016, five days before his 70th birthday. Photograph: Andrew Macleish.

It is one of the great photographs of the 20th century, the work that secured John Minihan’s place in history. Late one Sunday afternoon in December 1985, Samuel Beckett, seated at a café table, stares into space with what his publisher, John Calder, called “the introspective, infinitely sad gaze of a man looking into the abyss of the world’s woes”.
Minihan remembers every moment he spent with Beckett, but none so clearly as taking that photograph in Le Petit Café on the ground floor of the PLM Hotel in the boulevard Saint Jacques.
Beckett and Minihan had consumed coffees and brandies the previous morning. “I’d found a traditional Paris café, but he wouldn’t have it,” Minihan recalls. “He took me to the PLM St Jacques and it was full of Japanese tourists and American airline pilots – not the sort of place where you would expect to find Samuel Beckett.”

 The Irish men talked about the price of a pint in Dublin, Dr Eoin O’Brien’s book, The Beckett Country, and the work of the Hungarian photographers Brassaï and Kertész. Minihan had run out of gauloises and smoked Beckett’s cigarettes. “He said, ‘Come back tomorrow and bring your camera’.”

Minihan headed for his hotel in the rue de l’Odéon in a state of elation, pausing in front of the reflecting glass window of the Shakespeare and Company bookshop, where Sylvia Beach had mothered Joyce and Hemingway, to shoot a self-portrait. Happy in the knowledge he would photograph Beckett the following day, he sat down to a good bottle of wine.

The next morning, Minihan went to Père Lachaise cemetery to photograph Oscar Wilde’s tomb by Jacob Epstein, so he would have something to tell Beckett. “The appointment with Sam was at 3pm at Le Petit Café. I got there at two o’clock because I wanted to find a space by the window, for the light. Sam walks in at three o’clock and he is actually smiling … because he knew why I was sitting there, at that table.”
They chatted for nearly two hours. “By quarter to five, I don’t think the moment is going to happen,” Minihan recalls. “Suddenly, Sam says to me: ‘Would you like to take a picture here?’”
The photograph
Minihan had chosen a Hasselblad camera with a wide angle lens, to take in the background. “I’m designing the picture because I want a narrative: This is Beckett in Paris. His eyes leave me. The hand is stubbing out another cigarette. There’s only three frames. The artificial lights come on and the natural light is dissipating… I knew how far I could take a roll of film. And when I develop that film and I see this image in the café coming through, it was magic.”

Today, the PLM manager says, hundreds of people call into the hotel to ask where the Beckett photograph was taken.
Minihan had met Beckett five years earlier in London, when Beckett was directing the former US convict Rick Cluchy in Krapp’s Last Tape and Endgame at Riverside Studios. “As an Irish photographer, it was imperative for me to photograph this Irish playwright,” he explains.

But the receptionist at the Hyde Park Hotel had been instructed to lie and say Beckett wasn’t there. “You don’t just photograph a man like Samuel Beckett. You offer him something,” Minihan says. “I knew his aversion to journalism. He wasn’t particularly fond of talking to the press. I knew that photographs might be the entrée.”
Minihan had been photographing his home town of Athy, County Kildare, since 1962. “My grainy, black and white photos of two men waiting at a bus stop in Emily Square could have been Vladimir and Estragon.” He guessed correctly that his images of Katie Tyrrell’s wake would interest the great writer.

“She looked like an American Indian, with her long hair, lying dressed in her Legion of Mary burial shroud… To me, it had Samuel Beckett stamped all over it.” He quotes Beckett in Waiting for Godot: “one day we were born, one day we shall die… They give birth astride of a grave.”

When Minihan called the Hyde Park Hotel again, the switchboard put him through to Beckett’s room. “A very soft Dublin voice came on the phone and said he would like to see the photographs of Athy, and in particular the photographs of the wake.”
Minihan was surprised to be invited up to Beckett’s room. “One of the greatest dramatists of the 20th century sat on the bed, asking me questions like, ‘Who is he?’ I cherished that moment, being in room 604 watching Sam holding my photographs.”
Minihan’s shot of the future Princess Diana in a see-through skirt, holding one of her nursery school charges like a Madonna, was nearly as iconic as his images of Beckett. The poets Seamus Heaney, WH Auden and Alan Ginsburg, the painters Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol, the designer Yves Saint-Laurent all posed for him.

Yet the Athy pictures mean most to Minihan. When he returned home after a five-year apprenticeship with the London Daily Mail, Minihan says, “I realised I had material for a lifetime. I spent 32 years photographing Athy. That’s the canon of my work which I love. That’s my heartbeat.”

Minihan wanted Beckett to meet another Dubliner, Bacon, who he first photographed in the 1960s. “They were from similar backgrounds and they were born within a couple years of each other,” he says. “They had friends in common. Both were in Paris around the same time.”

The closest Minihan ever came to introducing Beckett to Bacon was to drive “Sam” past Bacon’s studio in London in his Vauxhall Cavalier late one night. “He is very popular in Paris,” Beckett reflected. “Bacon would throw his arms around and say, ‘I can see absolutely no parallel between my work and Beckett,’” Minihan recalls. “But of course there was.”

Minihan knew Bacon better than Beckett. “I was never drunk with Sam… With Francis Bacon, if anyone understood Soho and the Colony Room in London and the nights that happened there… it was full of mayhem and madness and just wonderful times, which was very much part of the 1960s. Francis Bacon could be outrageous and very cruel at times through drink. You could never say that about Samuel Beckett, who was always courteous. That was the mark of who he was.”
Minihan’s seemingly disconnected stories often link similar images. At Katie Tyrrell’s wake, for example, Beckett noticed the mirror in the background, shrouded by a white sheet. Minihan later saw Film, the silent movie which Beckett had written for Buster Keaton. In it, Keaton shrouds the mirror in his Greenwich Village apartment with a white sheet.

Minihan associates Krapp going through his spools of tape with “the tactile nature of film, of purchasing it, putting it in the camera, processing it.” He keeps a mental catalogue of great artists holding sprocket-holed film. The cover of Faber & Faber’s scenario of Film showed Beckett examining a 35 mm strip. André Kertész, who Beckett and Minihan both knew, photographed the Russian director Sergei Eisenstein in the same pose. “Beckett would have seen the Eisenstein photograph,” Minihan says. “I love all the little messages that come through.”

On March 19th, Minihan celebrated his 70th birthday by returning to Beckett’s Paris, especially the 5th and 14th districts. He delivered a lecture on photography in literature at the École Normale Supérieure, where Beckett taught.
His life has been “a sequential line of snapshots,” Minihan says. He returned to Beckett’s grave in Montparnasse, which he loves because of a line in First Love which he recites: “Personally I have no bone to pick with graveyards.” On an earlier visit, Minihan found a note under a stone on Beckett’s tombstone, promising, “Sam, I will go on.”

“A lot of people regard Beckett as a kind of saint,” Minihan explains. “They thank him because the work has brought something to their lives.” There’s a supernatural element to Minihan’s reverence for Beckett. On December 22nd, 1989, he called his then partner from a London pub. “She said to me, ‘Your photograph of Samuel Beckett has fallen off the wall’. At that moment, I knew Sam had passed away.”

Minihan is a fierce defender of his art form. “A photograph is a truth,” he says. “It’s a replica of life. It’s the now of time. As Proust said, it’s a mirror with a memory.”
Minihan rails against the corporate world, “mass culture,” being “assaulted” in public places by Fox and Sky News. Digital photography is “like cremation,” he says. But he is still cheerful and passionate about his work.


“I see the world in 6cm2 Rolleiflex format. My camera takes only 12 images, which means you have to think to start with… If I photograph somebody, it’s my creation. It doesn’t belong to Google or Getty or anybody else. It belongs to John Minihan, because I am the author of the souls of the people I photograph.”
Lara Marlowe

70-year-old grandfather Denis becomes humanist celebrant

After a working life was dedicated to carefully scrutinising loans, perhaps retired bank manager Denis Hobson is best placed to help couples make the best investment of their lives.


Denis Hobson, humanist celebrant, pictured in Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick. Picture: Brian Gavin Press 22

Denis, a 70-year-old grandfather who lives in Abbeyfeale, was this week accredited by the Humanist Association of Ireland as a celebrant.
As well as weddings he will preside at the ‘naming’ of babies and funerals in an area which includes Kerry, Co Limerick, Clare, Tipperary and a large area of the western side of Co Cork.

Denis, who worked with the Bank of Ireland in Killorglin and Abbeyfeale before he retired in 1999 said: “I am a lapsed Catholic and I got interested in humanism at the naming of one of my grandchildren in Dublin about four yars ago. This ceremony would be like a Christian baptism, but non- religious. I became very interested in humanism as it takes in responsibility, respect and there is also a philosophical side to it.”

After joining the humanist association, he became a regular attender at meetings in Cork and Dublin.
“Somebody then suggested that I should become a celebrant which is done by an apprenticeship. I had three mentors, all of them established celebrants and I would attend ceremonies they were doing and see how they planned ceremonies, meeting with couples who were planning to get married. I then had to do a test,” he said.

Denis said his involvement with amateur drama groups in Listowel, Abbeyfeale, Newcastle West and Athea over the years was of great benefit in training to be a celebrant.
He said: “At the weddings there is an element of performance and you have to present yourself in front of the wedding couple and their guests and this involves preparation and scripting yourself. The couple apply for a licence and this is approved by the HSE and they can choose the contents of the ceremony, whether that be the music and poetry. I might give certain suggestions. There can be rings, and it is not dissimilar to church weddings as there are vows specificed by the State and the signing of a register and the usual things you have at weddings. The beauty is that the couples have a big say in what the ceremony entails. In the lead up to the wedding there are meetings with the couple so that all their wishes can be taken on board for the big day.”

There are now 22 humanist celebrants in the country and given the huge area he will cover, Denis expects to be very busy on his new mission in life.
He said: “Humanist weddings are becoming increasingly popular and over my first year, I expect to be celebrant at about 70. Many of my colleagues do in excess of 100 weddings a year. I would expect also to be celebrant at many namings and funerals.”

Denis said as a bank manager he helped many young couples on the road to buying their first home.

“Now I am getting involved at the earlier very more important time, their wedding day. I am very much looking forward to many occasions, celebrating with couples and their families and friends.”
Jimmy Woulfe

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Death of an inspirational Magdalene survivor


Building reportedly used as a Magdelene Laundry on Seán McDermott Street: many levels of Irish society, including the State, failed women who were kept in such places. Photograph: Eric Luke

I have told her story in the past but even in death she would want to remain anonymous. She leaves an important legacy. Her childhood was sad. Her mother died when she was seven. Her father later remarried. The children of the first marriage were neglected, stigmatised and unwelcome.

At 14, her father left her at the Good Shepherd Magdalene Laundry in New Ross, Co.Wexford. Barely a teenager, she worked for nearly five years cleaning society’s dirty laundry. She was denied her right to an education. She was punished for insolence and her hair forcibly cut.

She was sent at 19 to work in a Dublin hospital, also run by nuns. She fled to England. But London was not far enough away. She travelled to Boston, where she worked for most of her life. She never married.

Having rekindled her faith in the Catholic Church, she still demurred when the Good Shepherd congregation offered to meet her in 2010. She keenly felt the stigma attached to her past. She protected her family’s reputation at all cost.

Earlier, in October 2008, I answered my office phone to her, her voice halting as she introduced herself. She had read my book Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries and the Nation’s Architecture of Containments. She was shocked someone knew her story. She asked for help.

Denied redress
Some time earlier she had applied to the Residential Institutions Redress Board for help, but Magdalen Laundries were not covered by it. Friends appealed the decision. Again, she was denied.
In 2010, we applied for a pension on her behalf. She received no wages in the laundry and no “stamps” were paid for her. She fell below the full pension threshold. After bankers’ fees, she received $7.11 a week.

The State apology by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in February 2013 transformed her life. A cloud evaporated, a shadow disappeared. She applied to the Magdalene restorative justice scheme.
She took immense pleasure from her monthly pension thereafter – financially independent for the first time in her life, she enjoyed doing small things for others, no longer living a constrained existence. Unfortunately, her health was already in decline. Enjoyment was short-lived.

With her compensation lump sum, she visited Ireland September 2014. She travelled first-class due to her deteriorating back – a singular indulgence. Pain was now constant but she “offered it up for poor souls less fortunate”.

She toured Leinster House and lunched in the Dáil restaurant, guest of her indefatigable advocate Maureen O’Sullivan, TD. She was thrilled!
She also visited her mother’s grave. The balance of her lump sum was set aside to pay for cremation and the repatriation of her ashes to that same grave – she often worried about being able to pay for a “decent and respectable” burial.

Final resting place
In hindsight, I now appreciate this concern was about being buried with her mother.
She refused to be defined by her years in the laundry. Loving people surrounded her and she loved them in return – as friend, aunt, grand-mother by proxy. One family, in particular, stepped up in 2010 when unexpectedly she faced homelessness. They moved her from Boston to the mid-west; they paid for an apartment, utilities and more.
For all the ways family, nuns and the State had failed her, and Irish society colluded in that failure, the flipside of her story speaks to the love, friendship and generosity she enjoyed in later life. 
Justice for Magdalen research (JFMR) also mourns her passing. Colleagues acknowledge her as “the heart behind so much of our work” and “the spark that set off the political campaign”. Of course, she would never make such claims for herself.
And yet, the apology finally came. Approximately 500 women now benefit from the redress scheme. If JFMR contributed to bringing these events to pass, this woman inspired our involvement. That too is part of her legacy.

Her final months were marked by illness. She was entitled to healthcare benefits as part of the restorative justice scheme. She waived her legal rights, expecting those entitlements would be forthcoming. She identified a supplementary health insurance policy to bridge out-of-pocket expenses under the US Medicare system.

A number of civil servants made this happen for US-based survivors. In the end, she ran out of time. The Health Service Executive contacted the family on February 15th, four days short of the three-year anniversary of An Taoiseach’s apology. She died on March 3rd last. 

By James M Smith who is associate professor in the English department at Boston College. Author of Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries and the Nation’s Architecture of Containment (2007), he is a member of JFM Research

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

ISME chief criticises ‘over the odds’ Garda pensions


Gardaí are retiring with average lump sums of €100,000 on top of their pensions, which shows taxpayers are paying “over the odds” to fund generous packages.



That’s the view of the chief executive of ISME, Mark Fielding, after it emerged that last year 238 retiring members of the force shared a pension bonanza of €24.1m, or an average of €101,654 each.

The total payout is €1.8m down from 2014 when 249 members retired. The figures show the top 20 retirees from the force shared €2.878m last year, an average of €143,924.
The top payment made in 2014 was €262,000, but the gardaí’s freedom of information unit declined to reveal the rank and county of the top 20 recipients as it may lead to the identity of the individuals concerned.

The 238 members who retired last year included one assistant commissioner, four chief superintendents, 11 superintendents, 13 inspectors, 78 sergeants, and 131 rank-and-file gardaí.
The figures also show that 222 retirements were voluntary, with 14 compulsory and two labelled as “cost-neutral”.

The pension lump sum payments are significantly down on the payments made in 2012 and 2011 when there was a much larger number of members retiring — in 2012, 462 gardaí who retired received a total of €41.94m, with 480 retiring Gardaí in 2011 receiving a total of €46.81m in pension lump sums.

As members of higher ranks made up 45% of those to retire last year, the average retirement lump sum for rank-and-file Gardaí would be well short of the average €101,654 payment.
Gardaí can retire as young as 50 as long as they have accrued 30 years service, while members must retire on reaching the age of 60.

Pay scales go from €25,745 to €45,793 for a garda; €46,229 to €53,119 for a sergeant; €53,404 to €59,178 for an inspector; and €72,841 to €84,909 for a superintendent with chief superintendents enjoying a salary range of €87,259 to €104,457. Assistant commissioners enjoy a salary of €144,213; deputy commissioners receive a salary of €163,365; with the commissioner paid €204,386.

Members who retire on full service receive an annual pension of 50% of their final salary and a one-off gratuity of 150% of their final salary.

Mr Fielding said: “When we hear that our Gardaí can retire at 50 and we see the average lump-sums of €100,000 to the 238 retirees in 2015, on top of their pensions, it does seem that we, the taxpayers, are paying over the odds.”

A spokeswoman for the Garda Representative Association (GRA) said the association could not comment on the figures as they don’t establish how much in lump sum payments were received by rank and file Garda.
Gordon Deegan

Photos Minute: In The Oceans










Photos Minute: Mammy Bear and Baby Bears










Letterfrack Industrial Institution: We should not replace one form of forgetting with another



The former Christian Brothers industrial school at Letterfrack, Co Galway, where Peter Tyrrell was taken in 1924. 

Is it bad manners, in this week of commemoration, to think about a kid born in Ireland in 1916, a real child of the nation? I can’t help thinking of one particular nobody.
He was so much a nobody that when he set himself on fire on Hampstead Heath in London the year after the vainglorious 50th anniversary commemorations of the Rising, there was nobody to claim his body.
He was eventually identified only by a scrap of a postcard addressed to one of the few people in Ireland who ever listened to his story, the dissident senator Owen Sheehy Skeffington.

Peter Tyrell was one of the 1 per cent, which is to say the one child out of every hundred, who ended up in an Irish industrial school. He was born in 1916 on a small farm near Ahascragh, Co Galway.
There were 10 children and they lived in abject poverty in a windowless shack. In January 1924, the infant Irish State took an interest in the family’s plight. The new Garda Siochana came and took away six of the children. Peter and his three older brothers were sent to the notorious industrial school in Letterfrack.
Though the school was run by the Christian Brothers, it is important to remember that Peter was a child of the State. It was the State that used its new independence to send him to hell.

In the letters he sent to Sheehy Skeffington in the 1950s, later edited by Diarmaid Whelan and published as Founded on Fear, Tyrrell recalled his arrival at Letterfrack: “All at once a Christian Brother comes running out, he is chasing the young children with a very long stick and beating them on the backs of the legs. We can now hear the screams of the little boys, some of them are only six years old.”
What struck Tyrrell was how aged the kids looked: “Most of the children are terribly pale, and their faces are drawn and haggard . . .The children of Letterfrack are like old men, most of their eyes are sunk in their heads and are red from crying. Their cheekbones are sticking out.”

In those vivid letters, Tyrrell tried to convey to the authorities of church and State what he had seen and experienced: the constant, routinely savage beatings and floggings for offences such as waking up too early (“It is a crime to be awake before we are called”); the screams of children being assaulted; the Brothers’ habit of grooming some boys as “pets”; the Brother who takes “boys to his room at night to commit improper offences”; the bitter cold in winter; the “disgusting” food.
Tyrrell joined the British army during the second World War and was captured by the Germans. He writes: “Life here in Stalag 11B Fallingsbostel during the last months of the war is hard and unpleasant. Yet it is heaven on Earth compared to my life” at Letterfrack.

Awkward truth
It is comforting to think that none of this would have happened if the idealists who staged the Rising had gone on to run the State. But the awkward truth is that those who ran the State were veterans of the Rising.
In July 1955, when Sheehy Skeffington (whose own father was murdered by a British army officer during Easter Week) raised the question of the vicious beating of children in schools, the minister of education, Richard Murphy, dismissed such concerns as a “disgusting proceeding . . . by people who are not of this country or its traditions . . . people reared in an alien and completely unIrish atmosphere”. Mulcahy, of course, had fought (very effectively) in 1916.

Peter Tyrrell was no more typical of the children of 1916 than were those who grew up with love and security and opportunity. But he was no more untypical either.
For a very significant part of the population, Irish freedom meant the freedom to emigrate, usually to England. For others, of whom Tyrrell was one, it meant the freedom to be locked up in an industrial school, a Magdalene laundry, a mother-and-baby home or a mental hospital.
Free Ireland sustained a vast infrastructure of enslavement for those of its unwanted people who could not or would not do the decent thing and leave.

Noble aspects
And to remember Peter Tyrrell is not to forget the noble aspects of those who staged the Rising: Patrick Pearse’s innovative passion for child-centred education or James Connolly’s war on the poverty that lay behind Tyrrell’s nightmare.
It is just to say that we should not replace one form of forgetting with another. We are, rightly, shrugging off amnesia about the Rising and accepting it is a fact of our history. But we should not do so at the cost of amnesia about the terrible failure of its ideals.

“Free” Ireland was a terrible place for many of the citizens who most needed a real revolution. And an Ireland that has almost doubled consistent child poverty has no right to forget how horribly mocked were the promises of the first Dáil that the physical and spiritual welfare of children would be the first duty of the Republic.
Fintan O' Toole

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter Rising: it is time to apologise to the Irish


One hundred years ago, the Irish people fought for independence from the British. But now bygones are bygones: we have too much in common to quarrel




Irish rebels are executed after the uprising 


All nations make catastrophic mistakes, and one of Britain’s was in its relations with Ireland and the handling of the Easter Rising a century ago. 

The extent of the damage can be gauged by the fact that it has only been in the last five years, with the Queen's visit to Ireland and President Higgin's reciprocal visit here, that anything approaching normal relations has been achieved.
The tragedy of this is that our two countries are interwoven by ties of culture, language, history and, above all, family; and for us to have spent most of the 20th century in deep estrangement when it is clear how much the British and Irish people have in common with each other has harmed us both.

There is nothing more contemptible than politicians seeking approval by apologising for wrongs committed by previous generations: but the wrongs the British did Ireland, and their consequences, require an apology, and the centenary of the Rising is the time to make it.
The Irish are said to have a long memory for grudges: but in my experience of that country over the last 30 years this applies only to a few disaffected bigots.
Like us, most Irish are forward-looking, ambitious and determined. Like us – and this is the great change in recent years – they are an increasingly secular people, having shaken off the domination of the Catholic church, as they proved last year in legalising same-sex marriage.

Irish rebels lying in wait on a roof getting ready to fire during the Easter Rising, 1916

Sadly, too many in Ireland today had their lives and outlooks shaped by the mythology of the Rising, used in the repressive era of de Valera to indoctrinate those not born at the time. Ireland is putting that in perspective, a process for which it deserves the highest respect and congratulation: but we all need to remember the Easter Rising, why it happened, who was to blame, and how we interpret its influence.

A distinguished Irishman said to me not long ago that if we choose to leave the EU, so Ireland would have to, given the volume of trade between us.

Gladstone saw in 1886 that Ireland’s demand for Home Rule was legitimate and unanswerable. That year, and in 1893, Parliament threw the demand out.
There had only been a Union since 1801; but in that period the British Empire had expanded, and the proposal that Ireland might rule itself (though not in foreign or defence policy) was regarded as undermining that project. In 1912 Asquith brought in a third Home Rule Bill: and because the House of Lords had lost its veto, it was certain to pass.
However, its implementation was postponed when the Great War broke out in 1914.
This was not lightly done: but Ulster was on the verge of civil war, since it did not believe assurances that the rights of the Protestant minority would be guaranteed under Home Rule, and the government did not want to fight on two fronts. Also, many Catholic nationalists readily joined the British Army to fight the Kaiser.

Children collect firewood from the ruined buildings damaged in the Easter Rising  Photo: Getty

However a minority, led by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, saw an opportunity to overthrow British rule while the war was on. They were further provoked by the threat of conscription as the war became worse for Britain. Despite some of those in on the secret urging restraint, the rebellion started at Easter 1916, in Dublin and elsewhere.

Loathing of Britain, fostered before independence by the Black and Tans, reached the point in 1945 where de Valera could sign a book of condolence on Hitler’s death and still not outrage his followers.

The war on the Western Front was not going well, and the British were in no mood to treat rebels with leniency when the nation was in peril. Artillery attacked rebel positions, notably in the General Post Office, with ferocity. That much was understandable, but the aftermath was disastrous.
The leaders were tried by court-martial and 14 of them executed by firing squad in early May; another, Sir Roger Casement, was tried for treason and hanged. 

Britain was well aware of the pressure it was under from the war: but it made no allowances for Irish rage at 30 years of being treated like naughty, incompetent children. With hindsight, locking up the rebel leaders and releasing them within 18 months – which is what happened to the rank and file – would have calmed the situation.
Instead, execution made martyrs and encouraged violent republicanism. The brutality of Sinn Fein replaced Moderate Irish nationalism. Instead of Home Rule to keep Ireland within the United Kingdom, a Free State and then a Republic were set up, with Britain as a sworn enemy to many.

Extremists and moderates clashed in Ireland’s own civil war; the country was partitioned; the mood led to Protestants being driven almost out of the Free State, and Catholics being treated as second-class citizens in Ulster. Loathing of Britain, fostered before independence by the Black and Tans, reached the point in 1945 where de Valera could sign a book of condolence on Hitler’s death and still not outrage his followers.
If the idea persists anywhere in Ireland that the British feel happy about the way earlier generations of them patronised, infantilised and sought to control the Irish, then we must disabuse our cousins there of it once and for all.
One should not have to say that we see the Irish as our equals and our blood brothers, but one says it for the avoidance of doubt.

The rapprochement of the State visits might, perhaps, continue by Ireland acknowledging our shared heritage and joining the Commonwealth, like many nations for whom the Queen is not head of state, but with whom we share values. Bygones should be bygones: we have too much in common to quarrel.

Many Britons now can understand how the Irish felt a century ago. We, too, want to govern ourselves,and determine our own future without the controls a foreign power. A distinguished Irishman said to me not long ago that if we choose to leave the EU, so Ireland would have to, given the volume of trade between us.


I am not sure that follows: but what we have in common remains so powerful that, if we do leave, our first bilateral deal should be with our Irish cousins. Potentially, we have no better friend on earth: on this sombre centenary, let us recall that apparent paradox above all else.
Simon Heffer

The Gardaí, you either love them or struggle to understand them.




The Gardaí, you either love them or struggle to understand them. The latest gripe is pay, 
isn’t it always, except some new recruits who have joined the brave boys in blue lately are threatening to quit over it, but like any good Garda cover up, the skewed facts presented here are just that and all in the guise of a survey. 

Ciaran ó Neill, the Gardaí Representative Association (GRA) vice president asked the new recruits to fill in a survey on pay and conditions. Out of 24,000 applicants to the Garda last year, 685 were recruited plus there are 150 presently in training, and only 15 actually had a gripe, and this is where a few of them had a flair for the dramatic as well when they chorused loudly that they “were recruited into poverty.” Of course these fantasy stories are anonymous to protect the identities again of the gardaí. But why, oh why??

Are we to set aside the equally but very real and anonymous tens of thousands of people out of work who are forced into real poverty, back to work schemes that have no incentives, and no higher wages or education prospects for any of them to escape that cycle of poverty. Sorry, FETAC done not count for much. What planet is Ciaran on?

The starting pay for Garda is more than €23,000 after the first six months holiday, and that does not include expense allowances for boots, uniform, car mileage. Each year thereafter, the pay scale rapidly escalates leading to the gray age that delivers a fine pension not far below their last years’s pay scale.  And we all have to start somewhere.

One new recruit also said: “It is despicable that I would be better off on the dole. It is rewarding when you make a difference to some people’s lives. It’s just sad now that I will probably have to go back to working in Tesco near home, stacking shelves and making very little difference to anyone - and unfortunately I’d be better off too.” Is this guy quitting but does not actually have a job yet? Tesco would be better off without him in any case for he will make a difference to no-one. What are the chances though that he will quit? About zero. 

Anyway, just when I thought  the fantasist Ciaran ó Neill would go away and just give out parking tickets to people in wheelchairs instead, another actor a few days later from the same guild came on the radio, and this time it was supposed to be one of the new recruits that quit. Of course he wished to remain anonymous as well in order to protect himself from what we will never know. 

Straight off the bat in his interview with a supportive George Hook, this actor in dark clothes, sun glasses, fake beard and digitally altered voice (just kinda kidding at the last part  here) claims that he was speaking on behalf  of his colleagues (note: not former colleagues) who aren't allowed to speak out for themselves. Imagine that: all those boys in blue cannot speak for themselves; pick a fight with one of them and you will know better afterwards. Anyway, it took this guy 3 years to figure that he could not live on the wages of a Gardaí, which by then was a lot better in monetary terms and heading for green pastures. Whatever job he was supposed to return to, let us hope that he is not doing maths addition as someone will be in trouble.


If the Gardaí, like the rest of the nation, think that things are going to change anytime soon, then they would need to get out their investigative tools to search for the economic clues. In the meantime and collectively so, here are just some of those clues and the maths: Ireland is the second most indebted country in the world next to Japan; GDP is an indicator of economic output only and not debt owed; Ireland still borrows money on top of all that is borrowed already just to sustain present everyday running cost for this fair Isle. Happy Easter everyone!! 

Anonymously, Barry Clifford