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Friday, January 13, 2017

John Waters is the man off the hour (well two)

(This article was written back in September 2013 by Michael Clifford about  curmudgeon Irish journalist, John Waters, who thinks he is a humorist and could not resist putting it up here again for the sheer humour of it (Barry Clifford)

                                                                    This is John

THE first move of a totalitarian regime is to lock up the writers and intellectuals. They came for John Waters in the dead of night. Well, they didn’t, but they might as well have.

It was noon, high noon, when he surrendered to the police, after months on the run. A warrant had been issued for his detention, earlier in the year, but, in the grand tradition of a police state, it wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.

Waters’ writer’s eye had spotted that the warrant was out of date and defective. Clinging to this legal nicety, as the jackboot drew back for another kick, he went on the run. 

Thereafter, the State relentlessly gave chase. Like Michael Collins before him, Waters didn’t allow this pursuit to interfere with his speechifying. He was seen in public, and heard on the airwaves in the weeks and months that followed, but after every event, adoring crowds swallowed him up, determined to protect him from parking attendants and other nefarious agents of the State. 

Then, last Tuesday, exhausted and resigned to donning the martyr’s clothes, he gave himself up. A small band of brave supporters came out from their safe houses, and bore witness to the surrender. Fittingly, one of their number, poet Liam Muirthile, stepped forward and handed Waters a book, presumably of verse, as if that alone might fortify him against the hell that awaited. 

He stoically accepted his fate as they took him into custody. He was dispatched, under guard, to his very own ‘Robben Island’, a ‘Mandela’ wearing a suit that could have been a hand-me-up from Bono beag. 

Waters was processed at Wheatfield prison, like a common criminal. He emptied his pockets, handing over the three cents that was all he had to his name. Then, he was thrown into a cell with two other inmates. 

There was no special treatment for this enemy of the state. Across the world, in Brazil, his fellow detainee, Michael Lynn, managed, last week, to wrangle a prison upgrade, as a result of his university degree. Waters had no such parchment to present. Instead, he was flung into the cauldron of the general prison population. 

Later, much later, when it was all over, Waters revealed that he had “bonded” with his two fellow inmates. One of them recognised him from the telly. This inmate told Waters that he was a bit “overdressed” for prison. 

Once the door slammed shut, he was left to adapt to the mind-numbing tedium of life behind bars. Seconds passed slowly, but mounted into minutes like the turning of seasons. 

What demons danced around his consciousness in the depths of incarceration? 

Did he rewind to the fateful day when he had found a parking ticket affixed to his vehicle in downtown Dun Laoghaire? 

Did he, in his darkest hour, regret not just coughing up and paying the damn fine? 

Did he despair that he might never again write a song for the Eurovision? 

How close did he come to breaking? 

Johnny held tough. He did his time with little fuss, but he wouldn’t yield to their entreaties, refusing to accept the prison dosh that was pushed his way. 

Eventually, with the eyes of the world on Wheatfield, the authorities blinked first. 

In just under two hours — that’s 7,200 seconds — they threw open the gates. Before he stepped into freedom, they tried, once more, to quench the spirit of resistance. As a peace token, they offered him a bus ticket to anywhere in the country, but he refused, determined to travel by shank’s mare, in the footsteps of Martin Luther King, free at last. 

So ended his long minutes of incarceration. Afterwards, he hot-footed to the studio of Newstalk FM, to relate his prison diaries. If he had, like so many others, been brutalised by prison, he hid it well, as George Hook put him through his paces. 

“It’s a small cell,” he told Hookie. “A very dirty cell. It’s about six foot by 12 foot. There’s a bench at the back of it. It’s like a bus shelter with bars on the front of it. To be in that room, and know that your ability to move outside of a short space is in the hands of another human being, that’s frightening.” 

Then, before Waters could get into his stride, Hook dropped a bombshell. He also had done time. About 40 years ago, when the State was shrouded in darkness, he had been banged up. 

“What were you in for, George?” Waters asked, and suddenly the drivetime show transmogrified into a pow-wow between aging lags about how they’d fought the law, and the law had won. 

So, what civil disobedience had Hookie engaged in? Or was he once on the fringes of gangland, en route to a life of crime, before incarceration saved him from himself? 

“I found it terrifying,” Hook recalled.

“I was in for urinating in the street, near Fitzwilliam Square, and I got caught short. I was in my 30s. They left me there for about three hours.” 

This was riveting radio, a glimpse at the dark side of humanity, where media types usually fear to tread. This was the real deal, Love/Hate without the pretty boys. 

Beyond Waters’ immediate orbit, his sacrifice was acknowledged. 

In the letters pages of newspapers and on radio phone-in shows, it became apparent that he had lit a fuse. 

One caller to RTÉ’s Liveline laid out for Philip Boucher Hayes how serious the situation over parking had become in Dun Laoghaire. 

“It’s like a war zone down there,” she said. (The statement immediately gave rise to an image of two hardened fighters in war-torn Syria, looking down from a hilltop at havoc being wreaked in an urban centre, one turning to the other and declaring: “It’s like Dun Laoghaire down there.”) And so ended a week when the spirit of resistance against oppression was given new life. As the loan sharks in suits appeared before an Oireachtas committee, taunting the elected tribunes with their power, out in the battlefield of the Republic a fresh avenue of hope was opening up. 

Throughout history, Ireland, in its darkest hours, has looked for a leg-up from selfless patriots. Robert Emmet, in 1798, Pearse, in 1916, Dana, in 1970, Ray Houghton, in 1988, and now John Waters. The ideal of sacrifice endures when all else is lost. 

In a country that’s gone to pot, we must reserve a pantheon for the freedom fighters who can transcend the mundane obsessions of Joe and Josephine Public. For what use is life, at all, if you’re not free to park where you want of a lazy afternoon, in a town of your choice? An Ireland shackled to parking restrictions will never be free. 

So, arise now and join the battle. We must forcefully impress on these parking attendants, with their peaked caps and watery smiles, that they will never grind the Irish people into submission. Otherwise, freedom’s just another word for nowhere left to park. 

Take note clampers, or you’ll be next.

Michael Clifford

Majority of Americans are one medical emergency away from financial ruin

In the United States, Wanda Battle, a registered nurse for four decades, was recently hit with a $100,000 medical bill. She has visited her local emergency room on more than one occasion due to severe migraines and mini-strokes. Battle managed to reduce her latest hospital bill to $32,000 based on her relatively low income, but still faces $650 monthly payments for a previous $22,000 medical bill. “There were times I couldn’t work,” says Battle, 61. “I have not held a job that is continuous.” She has had choppy health care coverage during her career. “One agency told me I hadn’t worked enough hours to qualify for health insurance. But I worked three 12-hour shifts per week in that job.”

Although her case is particularly unfortunate — she did not take out Obamacare — she is not alone in facing the prospect of a disastrous financial situation after a hospital bill. A majority of Americans (59%) don’t have enough available cash to pay for $1,000 emergency room bill or even a $500 car repair, according to the results of annual survey released Thursday by the personal finance site Indeed, some studies have suggested that medical bills are the No. 1 cause of personal bankruptcies and, early Thursday morning, the Republican-controlled Senate narrowly passed a budget resolution to repeal the Affordable Care.Act. 

“It’s not a matter of if, but when an unexpected expense will pop up,” says Jill Cornfield, a retirement analyst on Half of those surveyed said they actually knew someone who faced a surprise expense of $500 or more in the last year. The good news: The number of those who say they could not afford to meet that unexpected expenses is down from 62% two years ago. When faced with an unexpected expense, 41% who said they would dip into their savings, one-fifth would finance the expense on a credit card, another one-fifth would reduce spending on other things like groceries and entertainment, and 11% said they would borrow from family or friends.

While savings predictably increase with income and education, almost half of the highest-income households — those earning $75,000 per year — and college graduates don’t have enough to pay for these unexpected expenses. However, 47% of those aged 18 to 29 said they would use their savings to cover such a burden, up from 33% in 2014. (Princeton Survey Research Associates International conducted a survey for Bankrate of a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults, half over land lines and half over cellphone.)

“A key consideration regarding household finances and overall economic well-being is the ability to withstand financial disruptions, according to a separate 2016 report  released by the U.S. Federal Reserve, which surveyed nearly 9,000 adults. Many individuals who experienced a financial hardship in the prior year indicated that they drew down savings, undertook some form of borrowing, or both. Some 20.5% of those who reported a financial hardship and earn less than $40,000 per year did just that. (The percentage was 11% for those earning between $40,000 and $100,000 and 9.3% for those earning over $100,000 per year.)

When asked if they have set aside an emergency or rainy day fund that would cover three months of expenses, nearly half of respondents (47%) indicate that they do, while just one-third said that they did not, the U.S. Federal Reserve survey found. These figures are virtually unchanged from two years ago when the Fed last carried out that survey. However, an additional 21% said they could use their main source of income — either a job or government benefits — to cover their expenses for three months by either borrowing money, using non-liquid savings accounts like retirement funds, selling assets, or borrowing from friends/family.

Why aren’t more people saving for a rainy day? Millions of Americans are already struggling with student loans ($1.42 trillion and counting), house and auto bills, and other debts. Central bankers hiked their short-term interest rate target for the second time in a decade last month by another quarter percentage point to 0.75% from 0.50%, which is still an historically small return for savings left in bank accounts. In fact, personal savings rates as a percentage of disposable income dropped to 5.8% in the third quarter of 2016 from a recent peak of 9.2% in the fourth quarter of 2012, according to the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

In the meantime, Battle says her first priority is to pay her $3,000 property taxes. She chose not to take out insurance with the Affordable Care Act, which has a maximum out-of-pocket limit of $7,150 for an individual plan and $14,300 for a family plan for 2017. Tennessee has been described as “ground Zero” for premium increases in Obamacare. Last year, the state insurance commissioner, Julie Mix McPeak, approved premium increases of up to 62%. Battle sees the irony in a registered nurse being faced with financial crisis because of unforeseen medical expenses. “I’ve taken care of people for 40 years,” Battle says. “I’ll be dead before these medical bills are paid.” 

Quentin Cottrell

How to Be Civil in an Uncivil World

Americans seem to be forever undergoing a “crisis” of civility. Year after year, we’re told that the norms dictating decent behavior are eroding; that we’ve lost sight of the basic regard we owe our fellow participants in public life; that the contentiousness of our culture threatens to undermine our democracy. Worrisome stuff, of course — but a little vague. If, as any historian will tell you, people in all times and places have been alarmed by this development (the ancient Romans called it pugna verborum, or “the battle of words”), you might wonder how urgent, or even actual, the trouble really is. Then there’s the problem of definition. One man’s civility is another man’s repression. Were the Act Up protesters in the 1980s so indecorous as to disqualify themselves from political conversation, as their critics charged? Or were they the ones demanding civility, in the form of simple recognition of the lives of people with AIDS? Is Donald Trump dangerously boorish? Or is he, too, resisting an ersatz decorum, one he and his supporters call “political correctness,” which they claim honors the feelings of everyone but the beleaguered white working-class male?

One response to these complexities is to abandon the quest for civility, deeming it a historically fanciful, hopelessly imprecise ideal. Another response, exemplified by the political scientist Keith J. Bybee’s slim and artful treatise HOW CIVILITY WORKS (Stanford Briefs/Stanford University, paper, $12.99), is to suggest we continue to fight for civility but learn to think of it less romantically. Given how nasty and intractable the conflicts in our society can be, Bybee argues, it is naïve to imagine we can somehow transcend our clashing sets of values and miraculously agree on what counts as acceptable behavior and tolerable opinion. After all, if we could find common ground on something as fundamental as that, we wouldn’t have the sort of nasty and intractable conflicts we call on civility to manage in the first place. For better or worse, we must accept that civility “does not exist outside of politics as an independent force,” Bybee writes, but rather is just as much the “subject of political struggle” as everything else.

This solution has a paradoxical cast. The whole point of civility, you might think, is to have a consensus, not on any particular issue of debate, but on the manners that govern disagreement. For Bybee, though, that is a misguided belief. Ultimately, civility is about establishing the rules of “social belonging”: Whose views and interests merit consideration? That is a quintessentially contestable question. Bybee himself favors “more inclusive and egalitarian” conceptions of civility. But there are also hierarchical conceptions that require a social pecking order, like that of Warren Farrell’s men’s rights movement. For Bybee, that broader notions of respect aren’t universal is less a sign of civility’s weakness than a reminder that there is political work to be done.

This view is intended to be hardheaded and unsentimental, but the political theorist Teresa M. Bejan would presumably find Bybee’s conception of civility, rooted as it is in ideas of respect, no less idealistic. In her penetrating and sophisticated study MERE CIVILITY: Disagreement and the Limits of Toleration (Harvard University, $45), Bejan champions an even harder-headed view, that of the 17th-century religious radical Roger Williams. His conception of “mere civility” was based on “mutual contempt” rather than mutual respect. As the founder of the famously inclusive colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Williams understood firsthand that a tolerant society was not necessarily “a pleasant, harmonious or particularly peaceful place.” He himself tolerated Jews, American Indian “pagans,” Muslims, Catholics and myriad Protestant sects, but not because, like some proto-multiculturalist, he wanted to celebrate or dignify their differences. Instead, Williams worried that if these groups (which “he found most abhorrent”) were excluded from public life and common conversation, he wouldn’t be able to convert them from their strange and filthy ways.

With civility like this, you might ask, who needs rudeness? But the virtue of Williams’s view comes into focus, Bejan contends, when contrasted with those of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, two other 17th-century thinkers who sought to understand how a tolerant society would work. Hobbes feared that strident expressions of disagreement would threaten the diversity of views in society (much as hate speech is now thought to do), so he advocated an ethic of “civil silence,” or public discretion: People could differ privately in their opinions as much as they wanted but should not openly dispute one another. Locke, by contrast, wanted to preserve public debate, but worried that too much diversity of opinion might jeopardize productive disagreement (the sort of concern campus speech codes now reflect). So he urged an ethic of “mutual charity,” which required people to cultivate at least a minimal appreciation for the views of their opponents, or else be disqualified from debate. Both thinkers, in other words, imagined bringing about a tolerant society via suppression or exclusion — the very forces you would think a tolerant society would want to avoid.

These two influential conceptions of civility survive today in various forms. Their internal tensions help us understand why civility’s critics can always accuse its proponents of their own incivility: Tolerance based on intolerance is a hard trick to pull off. For this reason, Bejan laments that nowadays “Williams’s distinctive voice is nowhere to be found.” His central insight — one that emerged from the hard work of building a diverse community — was that the common ground required to support a tolerant society was much thinner than you might think. Williams asked not that everyone keep quiet or respect his or her enemies, but merely that everyone not do anything to stop the conversation from going. From this perspective, Trump is not uncivil because he is insulting but because he threatens to shut up his opponents. Williams’s “mere civility” demands more of us than Locke’s or Hobbes’s civility, in that it requires we have thicker skins about other people’s rudeness or disrespect; but it also demands less of us, in that we no longer have to muster respect for, or mute our criticism of, views we abhor. For liberals in an age of Trump, that might be a fair trade-off.

If all this hardheaded, disenchanted talk is getting you down, consider the refined and rarefied argument in TOLERANCE AMONG THE VIRTUES (Princeton University, $39.50), by the philosopher and ethicist John R. Bowlin. Whereas Bejan notes with disparagement that Locke’s idea of civility involved “a form of toleration so demanding as to approach a requirement for universal Christian charity,” Bowlin, a seminary professor, would no doubt see that as a point in its favor. Bowlin argues for a “perfectionist account of tolerance,” by which he means to defend it not as a modus vivendi for today’s problems of disagreement and difference, but as a timeless moral virtue. In this, his model is the medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas, who developed a systematic account of many virtues, but not, explicitly, of tolerance. Many of Aquinas’s followers today, Bowlin notes, would resist such an effort, because they think of toleration as “a distinctively modern response” — perhaps even a morally relativistic one — to differences of worldview.

Not only does Bowlin resist this objection, but he also suggests that tolerance is related to the Christian notion of “love’s endurance,” which St. Paul called “forbearance.” To treat the two notions as “sibling virtues,” as Bowlin puts it, is to observe they are deeply similar but also importantly different, so that comparing and contrasting them may serve to illuminate both. Even for non-Christians, Bowlin suggests, “secular theory” about tolerance might “benefit from acquainting itself with theological resources” about love. It’s a unifying thought: Perhaps this, or something like it, was what Barack Obama had in mind at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2010, when he urged that “empowered by faith,” we Americans needed to “find our way back to civility.”

James Ryerson 

Officer Steve McDonald never stopped loving, caring for others

Officer Steve McDonald never stopped loving, caring for others
’ What would your worst nightmare be? How about being shot in the highest part of your spine leaving you a paraplegic for the rest of your life?

That's what happened to Police Officer Steven McDonald in June 1986 when a 15-year-old named Shavod Jones shot him three times in Central Park.

Cops who came to the scene called by McDonald’s partner found that partner, Police Officer Peter King, crying helplessly as he cradled the grievously injured McDonald in his arms.

There would be lots of tears in the days, months, and years to come but Steven McDonald was not going to let the small matter of being paralyzed put a halt to his gallop.At his son’s baptism in a chapel at Bellevue in 1987, Officer McDonald forgave his shooter on what must have been one of the toughest days of his life, knowing he would never hold his son. His statement was read by his wife. “I forgive him,” he said, “and hope that he can find peace and purpose in his life.”

This was a remarkable man who wrote, “There is more love in New York than street corners,” despite all that happened to him, all the pain he had to endure.
His great, beating heart finally gave up on Tuesday, January 10, with family and loved ones by his side. It would be a short trip to heaven for him. 
The last time I met him was a few months ago at the wedding of my wife’s cousin, who is a close friend of Conor McDonald, Steve’s son, now also a police officer.
Steve was, as usual, a rock star, holding court, a crowd gathered and lined up to meet him. Occasionally his wheelchair would dip back before becoming upright again. Everyone wanted a selfie. Steve was focused on the people greeting him. His first question was always about you. He was always glad to see a fellow Irishman and it showed in his eyes.

We always talked about Northern Ireland, where Steve had spent time preaching his gospel of peace and reconciliation. Then he would ask me about my sister and her husband who had lost their 12-year old son Rory tragically. Steve never forgot to speak of those in need.

How remarkable was he? People with his injuries usually survive only five years. He survived 31.
He had a profound, yet simple faith in God – his major friend was Franciscan priest Father Mychal Judge who perished on 9/11.
One of my great privileges was to have them both meet President Clinton in 1996 at our Irish American of the Year award. We were all delighted, too, to welcome his incredible wife Patti and Steve and son Conor into our Irish America Hall of Fame in 2014.

He was a medical miracle, but if you knew him it was no surprise. He was a miracle, period. His passing makes our lives poorer for a great inspiration is gone. His family is fourth-generation policemen, a throwback to the noble idea of service and protection so many Irish brought with them to America. Steve was a protector even in his paralysed state

As the lines from The Minstrel Boy go:
“One sword, at least, thy rights shall guard,
One faithful harp shall praise thee!"
Farewell, Officer McDonald, you did far more than your duty.

Niall O' Dowd


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Never give in and never believe your critics

For those who disagree, read the following comments received by historical figures:
"He is too stupid to learn anything" -- a teacher on Thomas Edison.
"You ain't going nowhere son. Go back to driving a truck" -- a promoter on Elvis Presley.
"We don't like their sound, and their music is on the way out" -- a record producer on the Beatles.

Commenting on themselves:
"I was considered by all my masters and my father, a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard of intellect, and for being lazy and dreamy" -- Charles Darwin.
"Every strike brings me closer to the next home run" -- Babe Ruth, in a response when asked about holding the record on strikeouts for almost two decades (1,330 in total).
"I have missed over 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I was trusted to take the winning shot and I missed. I have failed over and over in my life and that is why I succeed" -- Michael Jordan.

For those that never ever ever gave in:
His early businesses failed and left him broke five times -- that man was Henry Ford.
He struggled in school and failed the sixth grade, and was defeated in every election for public office until he became, at last, the prime minister at the age of 62 -- that man was Winston Churchill.
Almost penniless, severely depressed, divorced and a single mother on welfare, she was, five years later, one of the richest women in the world -- this woman is JK Rowling, author of the 'Harry Potter' books.
So, don't you give in either and believe in yourself first.

Balfour letter on failed 1796 French invasion of Ireland

Balfour letter on failed 1796 French invasion at Bantry estimated to fetch up to €300

An eyewitness account of the failed French invasion at Bantry dated December 31, 1796, comes up at Whyte’s Eclectic Collector sale in Dublin on January 21.

A three-page letter written by Colonel Thomas Balfour of the North Lowland Fencibles to his wife in Orkney reads: “We have been marched here in consequence of an alarm spread by a French fleet appearing off Bantry Bay ... one officer and four seamen ... landed and have been made prisoners”.
“Expedition d’Irlande” was a 15,000 strong invasion force gathered by the French Directory for landing in Ireland in December 1796.
The fleet left France on December 15 and the operation was abandoned in Bantry on December 29. The letter is estimated at €200 to €300.

The auction will include maps, historical manuscripts, medals, militaria, sports memorabilia, advertising, travel, coins, and banknotes.

Couch potatoes 'at highest risk of dementia'

Sedentary over-65s are as likely to develop dementia as those with genetic risk
Inactivity dramatically increased the risk for non-carriers, researchers found
47.5 million live with Alzheimer's now and 115.4 million are expected to by 2050
Experts suggest that physical activity may prevent the onset of the disease

Couch potatoes are just as likely to get dementia as those born with the Alzheimer's gene, a new study claims.
This means that even without any genetic risk factors, over-65s who rarely exercise are among the most likely to develop the disease.
Currently 47.5 million people worldwide are living with dementia and that number is is set to increase to 115.4 million by 2050 due to the aging population.
But experts warn the rising rate of physical inactivity could drive up that figure even more.
With no known cure, scientists are now looking to develop new dementia prevention strategies that focus on increasing physical exercise in older adults.

The recent study followed 1,600 Canadian adults over the course of five years.
Researchers found that although carriers of a variant of the 'apolipoprotein E' genotype are more likely to develop dementia, inactivity dramatically increased the risk for non-carriers.

For those who carried the gene, the odds of developing dementia were not significantly different between exercisers and non-exercisers.
Co-author Jennifer Heisz, an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster University, said: 'The important message here is that being inactive may completely negate the protective effects of a healthy set of genes.

'Given that most individuals are not at genetic risk, physical exercise may be an effective prevention strategy.'
Research has shown that physical exercise may be able to prevent or slow down the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.
Scientists suggest getting 150 minutes or more of exercise each week, adding brain-boosting omega-3 fats such as salmon to your diet and social engagement. 

Co-author Parminder Raina, professor in the Department of Health Evidence and Impact at McMaster said: 'Although age is an important marker for dementia, there is more and more research showing the link between genetic and lifestyle factors.
'This research shows that exercise can mitigate the risk of dementia for people without the variant of the apolipoprotein genotype. However, more research is needed to determine the implications from a public health perspective.'

In a separate ongoing study, researchers are comparing the possible benefits of high-intensity training (HIIT) versus moderate continuous training (MCT) and stretching in older adults.
'A physically active lifestyle helps the brain operate more effectively,' said Barbara Fenesi, lead author and a postdoctoral fellow at McMaster University. 

She added: 'However, if a physician were to ask us today what type of exercise to prescribe for a patient to reduce the risk of dementia, the honest answer is "We really don't know".'

Mary Kekatos

Cloud set to grow darker over gardaí

A SMALL step is expected to be made today in accessing the truth of how An Garda Síochána deals with whistleblowers.

The High Court is scheduled to hear an application by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) for access to transcripts from the O’Higgins commission, which investigated malpractice in the gardaí. The transcripts are believed to hold the key as to whether there was an attempt to discredit whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.
Last May, following publication of the O’Higgins report, the Irish Examiner revealed there had been an attempt to suggest McCabe had been acting out of a grudge when he blew the whistle on Garda malpractice. If accepted by the commission chair, Judge Kevin O’Higgins, this would have dealt a major blow to McCabe’s credibility, and his claims of malpractice. The suggestion came from counsel acting for the Garda commissioner.

It was comprehensively refuted when McCabe produced a recording of a meeting. Thereafter the suggestion that his motives were impure was never revisited, and the matter did not feature in Judge O’Higgins’ report.
Following the story published in the Irish Examiner, commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan came under scrutiny, and denied she had ever called McCabe’s motives into question. In order to clear up the matter, she requested Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to ask Gsoc to investigate the whole issue.

The gardaí and the department refused to hand over transcripts from O’Higgins to Gsoc as both said they were precluded by law from doing so. Having asked Gsoc to investigate, they were effectively tying the hands of the ombudsman body.
Gsoc applied to the High Court to gain access, and it now appears opposition from both the department and the gardaí has been dropped. The High Court is expected to today grant the application for access to the transcripts. This will allow Gsoc to conduct a proper investigation, but form suggests it will be anything up to two years before a final result emerges.
Meanwhile, there is still no sign of white smoke from the department on a separate scoping inquiry into whether there was a widespread and concerted campaign in Garda headquarters to blacken McCabe’s name.

Judge Iarlaith O’Neill delivered his report on December 7. It was initiated on foot of two protected disclosures, from McCabe, and the former head of the Garda press office, David Taylor.
Taylor is understood to have disclosed that in his former role he was instructed to disseminate scurrilous information to reporters in order to discredit McCabe. He also alleged that this campaign was conducted and sanctioned by senior management, including Nóirín O’Sullivan, who has vehemently denied it. Another prong to the allegations is that politicians were also furnished with untruths about McCabe’s record in the force.
Taylor’s disclosure is a new departure as he is effectively incriminating himself in a campaign of black propaganda.

The Irish Examiner understands that Judge O’Neill has recommended to the justice minister that a more comprehensive inquiry is required. That would most likely involve a statutory commission of investigation.
A question remains as to why O’Neill’s report has not either been published or a decision taken that it cannot be published. Over a month on from receipt of the report, there is no reason why one of these courses has not materialised, opening the way for the more comprehensive inquiry to begin. A spokesman for the Department of Justice said there is no update on the status of the O’Neill report.
While the plethora of reports and controversies around the gardaí and whistleblowers can get confusing, the issue that is currently under consideration is vital to the future development of the police force.

If senior management attempted to bury McCabe, as alleged, then it’s difficult to see how anybody involved could continue in their role. Senior management, both during the tenure of O’Sullivan and that of her predecessor, Martin Callinan, repeatedly stated that whistleblowers were integral to making improvements and eliminating wrongdoing in the force.

If the allegations were proven that management was actually involved in a campaign of black propaganda against McCabe then major reform would be required. Equally, if it were to emerge that the force’s political masters were being fed untruths about a turbulent cop, it would completely change the dynamics of that vital relationship.
As such it is difficult to understand why there is not more urgency from the department in dealing with this matter.

Nóirín O’Sullivan was heralded as somebody who would sweep away the negative aspects of Garda culture that came to the fore in recent years.

Instead, a cloud now hangs over the force. It is certainly not a time to be kicking cans down the road.

Michael Clifford

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

What did the Vikings ever do for us?

We have defamed the Vikings not once, but twice. For the longest time we regarded those people who left their homelands in Scandinavia, between the end of the eighth century and the beginning of the 11th, as barbarians bent on slaughter, rape and pillage.
Having maligned them for about 1,200 years, we then subjected them to a well-intentioned, but strangely anaemic, makeover. During the past 20 years or so it became fashionable to characterise them as nothing more than mild-mannered colonists and traders.

According to the revisionist view, the tales of violence and devastation recorded by generations of churchmen and other literate types had been blown out of proportion. Those incomers from Denmark, Norway and Sweden had apparently wanted no more than fresh fields to farm and new markets to exploit. Any mayhem left in their wake was presumably down to medieval clumsiness with axes and torches.

As usual in the case of witness statements from opposite ends of the argument, it turns out that the truth was lost long ago.
During the first half of this year I had the opportunity to go in search of the real Vikings, to visit their homelands as well as some of their distant and unexpected destinations. The traditional picture of the Vikings was easy to find and a reasonable place to start. According to the story we learnt at school, the first of them arrived on the world stage on the tidal islet of Lindisfarne on the Northumbrian coast, on June 8 AD 793, apparently around dawn. The religious community that attracted the attention of those raiders was more than 150 years old by then, having been established by St Aidan in AD 634. By the time the Vikings splashed ashore from their dragon-headed longships, bent on thievery and murder, it was one of the most important and cherished holy places on the world map of Christianity.

The churchman Alcuin of York was a local boy, but far from home in Aachen in an academy established by Charlemagne, when news of the atrocity reached him. Homesick and horrified, he sent letters of sympathy to the survivors. “The pagans have contaminated God’s shrines and spilt the blood of saints in the passage around the altar,” he wrote. “They have laid waste the house of our consolation and in the temple of God they have trampled underfoot the bodies of the saints like ---- in the street.”

The emotion of it all echoes down the years, but Alcuin would not, and could not, have greeted the Vikings’ behaviour any other way. For one thing, he was in thrall to a belief prevalent among Christians all across Europe, as the eighth century gave way to the ninth, that the end of the world was at hand. Jesus Christ would soon return and atrocities like Lindisfarne were surely portents of the doom that would precede the Second Coming.
All across Europe, God-fearing folk moaned the same prayer: “Deliver us, O Lord, from the fury of the Norsemen. They ravage our lands, they kill our women and children.”

But frankly it was all just too one-dimensional. The world of the eighth and ninth centuries was violent, but the Vikings were no crueller than anyone else. Always keen to avoid pitched battle, for which they usually lacked either the tactics or the necessary weight of numbers, they were happier to let their reputation go before them and so prepare the ground for peaceful settlement with terrified locals. That invariably meant demanding money to go away and it was therefore as an early form of protection racketeers that the Vikings excelled.

In truth, the unpardonable sin of the Vikings was to be pagan, still committed to the gods Odin and Thor. The peoples of Scandinavia were the last in Europe to accept Christianity and for as long as they remained heathen their violence against Christians was unclean and unforgivable.

So the grief of Alcuin and the rest of the hand-wringing clerics was nothing more than the holier-than-thou pronouncements religious bigots are wont to make about those they consider unbelievers. Ruthless and violent the newcomers certainly were, but they only gave as good as they got. Monasteries were targeted as vulnerable, and potentially lucrative sites, and Vikings were certainly not the only people to take advantage. In Ireland the monasteries were constantly at the mercy of warring factions of local Christians, and the monks and bishops there learnt to fight with the best of them, as the Vikings would discover.
Many Viking skeletons I examined bore the marks of dreadful violence. For every intact warrior laid to rest in a peaceful grave, surrounded by his finery, I saw many more bodies of Viking men who had been cut down as they fled, or faced sword and spear-wielding attackers while unable to defend themselves. On November 13 1002 King Ethelred the Unready (meaning “ill-advised”) ordered the slaughter of every “Danish” man in England. The resultant frenzied bout of ethnic cleansing is remembered as the St Brice’s Day Massacre; thousands were slaughtered. In Oxford I saw the remains of 39 men butchered that day, all with wounds to the backs of legs, torsos and heads.

The Vikings who caused so much trouble in the southern half of the British Isles and in much of northern and western Europe were predominantly Danish. The Norwegians preferred Scotland and Ireland in the main, although both groups made inroads on the same territories. Some of them penetrated France via the great rivers and became unbearable thorns in the flesh of King Charles the Simple, descendant of Charlemagne. His solution, in AD 911, was to grant them territory around Rouen and the Seine, which in time became known as Normandy – belonging to the Norsemen. William Duke of Normandy – William the Conqueror – was of Viking stock, but by the time he led his Normans across the English Channel in 1066 he was a Frenchman to the marrow.

The Vikings who colonised the Western Isles of Scotland found it suited them to adopt the ways and mores of the Gaels who were their neighbours. What evolved was a hybrid Hiberno-Norse culture, and the MacDonald clan that eventually rose to dominance and led the Lordship of the Isles claimed descent from a Viking named Somerled. Those Norwegians arrived as foreigners during the ninth century, but within just a few generations they had blended seamlessly in with the native population.

Far from being mindless barbarians, the peoples of Denmark, Norway and Sweden set out to make themselves rich, to win new lands and, in time, to take their place at the top table of European royalty. They fought intelligently when they had to, and made territorial and commercial gains at every opportunity. They were pioneers and adventurers without equal. That one of their number – Leif Eiriksson, son of Eirik the Red – set foot on America 500 years before Christopher Columbus is the least of it.

But perhaps in the end the Vikings are most remarkable for the way in which they conspired to disappear. Having cast their shadow east, west and south for over two centuries so that all of Europe and the wider world learnt to fear, or at least respect them, they finally became what they had once beheld. Persuaded of the sense of joining the European club of Christians, they willingly abandoned their old gods and learnt instead to look, sound and perhaps even believe like everyone else.

Their flame burned bright for just over two centuries, and then went out – so that from the point of view of history they seem to vanish, lost in the crowd. Maybe that was their smartest move.

Neil Oliver

Paying tribute to Mary Raftery - Irish journalist who exposed child abuse in Ireland

Today marks five years since Irish journalist, filmmaker, and writer Mary Raftery died of ovarian cancer, aged 54. Nominated in 2011 for "NNI National Journalist of the Year" for her work in exposing the clerical abuse of children in Ireland, Raftery was regarded as one of the country's finest investigative journalists exposing not only clerical abuse but abuse in the Irish childcare system and the appalling conditions within the country's psychiatric units. 

Raftery famously made the 1999 documentary “States of Fear” and the “Cardinal Secrets” in 2002 and her work was widely viewed as having led to the establishment of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. The Commission reported its findings in May of 2009.
Beginning her investigative career with "In Dublin" magazine in the 1970s, Raftery later moved on to "Magill" magazine and then to RTÉ. 

Speaking to RTE radio at the time of her death, Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin paid tribute to journalist and documentary maker, stating, “Bringing the truth out is always a positive thing even though it may be a painful truth. 

“I believe that through her exposition of sins of the past and of the moment that the church is a better place for children and a place which has learned many lessons.” 

The national broadcaster RTÉ, Raftery’s former employer, also paid tribute. Former Director general Noel Curran said, “Mary Raftery's journalism was defined by determination and fearlessness … She has left an important legacy for Irish society, particularly for some of our most vulnerable citizens." 

Abuse survivor Andrew Madden wrote in his blog that Raftery had been an instrumental force in helping victims of abuse find their voice after years of a nationwide silence. 

He said, “Mary understood that the Catholic Church's concealment of the sexual abuse of children was systemic, but that it could best be exposed by helping survivors share personal experience and through her work provided a way for some of us to do that. 

"The Ryan and Murphy reports (which were commissioned in the wake of her investigations) are now part of the public record of this country and will remain there and continue to inform us for many years." 

Miriam Duffy, Director of Rape Crisis MidWest with the Rape Crisis Network Ireland said: “Through her tenacity, integrity and courage, (she) has made an extraordinary contribution to changing Ireland for the better. 

"It is because of her work that survivors in Ireland today live in a community more open, understanding and accepting of survivors and increasingly robust in challenging the tolerance of abuse." 

Ireland’s former Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) Éamon Gilmore praised Raftery’s work saying she had made an outstanding contribution to the area of human rights and justice. 

Her last documentary, “Behind the Walls”, was aired in September 2011. In this documentary, she chartered the history of Ireland’s psychiatric hospitals, their appalling conditions, and the resulting damaged lives.
The Mary Raftery Journalism Fund has since been established to promote in-depth coverage of issues close to her heart, offering the opportunity for journalists to carry out detailed investigations "into these areas of society and to expose any injustices that might exist."

RTE’s “Prime Time” also released a tribute, a retrospective of her work:

Thoughts On Bulls And bullshit

"Bulls at least are not the greatest stylists in English. No bull has ever been a political exile. Bulls don't run reviews. Bulls of 25 don't marry old women of 55 and expect to be invited to dinner. Bulls do not get you cited as co-respondent in divorce trials. Bulls do not borrow money. Bulls do not expect you to marry them and make an honest woman of them. Bulls are edible after they have been killed. Fewer bulls are homosexual. To me bulls ain't exotic. They are normal. And such a goddam relief from all this horseshit about Art etc... To hell with delicate studies of the American scene. Fuck the American scene. Fuck manners, customs, all that horseshit. Let us have more and better fucking, fighting, and bulls."

Ernest Hemingway commenting in July 1925 about bulls