Tag Archives: Ireland

Britain – it’s time to talk

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Pull up a chair, Britain and sit down. We need to have a long overdue chat. And we need to be honest, so shudDUP and let us talk. Yup, pun absolutely intended. Never let it be said that we Irish don’t try and inject a bit of humour into every situation.

But after Friday, and yet another kick to the proverbial nuts, and yet another betrayal, and yet another situation where serious risks could be posed to Ireland as a result of English foolhardiness, the niceties are over. It’s time for the truth bombs. I think many Irish friends living in England feel the same. Hell, even our Taoiseach, Enda-ThirdWay-Kenny, has issued a little slapdown to the British government. So in the interests of inter-island dialogue and a baseline of understanding, and having been asked questions by so many English friends on Friday (which I’m always glad to answer) ranging from ‘Why don’t Sinn Féin do a solid for Corbyn and take up their seats’ to ‘What’s so bad about the DUP’, let me take you through a potted history of Ireland, and in particular recent history, and why this recent move on the part of the Tory party is beyond the Pale (that’s a little joke for Irish readers – British readers, you may have to do a little Googling).

Ok. 800 years of British rule, which was barbaric, unjust and brutal. I’ll skip through most of this section except to say that even dating back to Tudor times, the English have a nasty habit of believing and cultivating xenophobic divide and conquer tactics. The Paul Dacre of his day, Sir Edmund Spenser, described the Irish as savages; a description that stuck while they were being stripped of their lands, their languages, their culture, and even their crops (which caused the ‘potato famine’ of the mid-19th century – the lie is that it was a famine, it was more genocide for profit. No foodbanks at the time, so the native Irish either starved to death or left. The population was halved to 4 million. Some ate stones and grass in a bid to stay alive). Being hung, drawn and quartered was a punishment remembered in Irish songs like Robert Emmett. You get the picture. Being occupied is not fun. Hopefully it explains why we support anyone but the English in football matches.

So we then enter the 20th century, and let’s speed through the 1916 Rising. The Black and Tan lads added to the general jolly japes of the history of the British in Ireland with mass burnings of properties, scalpings, rapes and so forth. We come to the Anglo-Irish Treaty, whereupon the deal was made to leave most of Ulster in the UK and the other 26 counties as the newly-formed Republic of Ireland.

Let’s shoot forward to the 1960s. It was clear that there were civil rights abuses by the mainly Unionist political class against nationalists by this time, which lead to civil rights marches inspired by those in the US at that time. These culminated in Bloody Sunday, whereupon British soldiers shot 28 unarmed civilians in the Bogside in Derry who were involved in a peaceful protest against internment. This led to a cover-up by law-enforcement institutions across Northern Ireland and by the British government. It also led to a huge recruitment drive to the IRA.

British readers will know all about the bombings on their mainland. I’m not condoning the bombings or the killing of innocent lives. They do have to be placed in the context of loss of life on both sides, however. Loyalist terrorists were no slouches in that department either, which is why it is important to understand the DUP, the ‘confidence and supply’ partner of the Tories and their ties to them. So here are some interesting #DUPfacts  that the general British public may not be aware of:

1. Many of their politicians have roots in paramilitary activities – not unusual in Northern Ireland, but after all the Tories’ smear campaign against Corbyn for merely talking to Sinn Féin, this is a bit much.

2. They opposed the Good Friday Agreement.

3. They are the biggest anti-choice, pro-forced pregnancy party in the UK.

4.They are against equal marriage and fought hard against LGBTQ rights. Even David Cameron disagreed with their stance on this. Though he also toyed with the idea of aligning with them in 2015, had he not won a small majority. ‘Compassionate Conservatism’, eh?

5. Jeffrey Donaldson MP, worked with Enoch Powell,  when he was expelled from Tories, and claimed he was one of the ‘great voices of unionism’

6. They are climate change deniers who raked money off biofuels in a ‘cash for ash’ green energy scandal.

7. Accepted a £435k donation from Scottish Tory Richard Cook, from the shady Constitutional Research Council (links with Saudis), and ran pro-Brexit adverts in the Metro free-sheet in the UK.

The Good Friday Agreement, voted for in a referendum in good faith by Irish people both North and South of the border, has been the cause of almost 20 years of peace. The process broke down in March this year over the green energy scandal, in which Arlene Foster was deeply implicated, and which Theresa May would have known about. They’ve lost two of the major poster boys of the GFA, the late Rev. Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness.

Given the history of the British government in Northern Ireland, their support of the interests of the Protestant political class over that of the nationalist community, to have been courting the DUPs since last summer for their support and then to enter into an ad hoc partnership with them beggars belief. It throws any pretence of the stance of neutrality on the part of the British government regarding Northern Ireland out the  window, and contravenes the tenet of neutrality on the parts of the British and Irish governments within the GFA. And it is a major security risk; not just for the people of Britain and Ireland, but most especially for the nationalist community of Northern Ireland. Unionists do not have a history, much like their English ancestors, of wielding power graciously.

The frustration on the part of Irish people like myself is that yet again, the interests of Ireland have been placed as secondary to those of the English, and in particular recently to the internal wranglings of the Tory party. Ireland took a massive hit in 2008 for the British and German bondholders. The pain was certainly not shared on that occasion. There was then the fallout from Brexit, where the impact on exports and the border between Ireland and the North wasn’t even considered. And now this. The most apt description I have come across about the DUP is from George Monbiot, as an organisation that are like ‘UKIP, supercharged by religious fundamentalism’.

The only very small silver lining from this is that it may inadvertently cause more of an understanding of Irish politics, and the politics and history of Ulster in particular. If the peace process doesn’t get shafted completely, we will all be very lucky. Suffice it to say, you have been warned. You think the Tory Party is the ‘Nasty Party?’ You ain’t seen nothing yet.

 

 

 

 

 

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B-Day

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So now B-day has come – and yes, I am naming it as such phonetically, after the French contraption that blows water up one’s arse. Here’s my prediction for what will happen:

There will be a short spike in the markets, which will make the Brexiteers feel smugly justified in their choice. Keep in mind that the markets love stability and decisiveness, so a decision is naturally going to create that hump.

For no apparent reason whatsoever, perhaps on the advice of Sir James Dyson, famous for inventing machines that blow hot air, manufactured in the ‘far East’, Theresa May’s government is heading for a ‘hard Brexit’. Even Thatcher, the much-loathed and excoriated, would never have agreed to this – on this she was very clear. Like her or loathe her, she was an astute politician. Imagine we were in the 1700s and the UK had decided to cut off all ties with Europe and close its trading ports. This is as visceral as what’s about to happen in a less visceral age.
EU migrants will leave – what incentive to stay now? And in fact, countries like Poland are offering their migrants incentives to buy houses, to work and graft in Poland as they have here. As Brexit austerity kicks in for real, in a couple of years, and there is no money to be made, and the mutterings of ‘non-Brits coming in, stealing our jobs’ grows to a roar, there will be no reason to stay. The funny thing is – I’m not sure British people want to be the baristas and builders and NHS staff, having worked on the recruiting side of things once. There’s a reason the Empire went out to conquer the world.

And the UK – or such as shall remain of it – will be screwed over time and time again in trade deals with the US, India and China. I mean, it’s only business, right? To use any advantage available? As one of the former big business centres of the world, you understand that, yes? (Kapow! A gratifying blow for former colonies, at least).

However, to look on the bright side: Brexit has made a united Ireland more probable. An independent Scotland is possible. And the citizens of those countries have Nigel Farage to thank for that. I can’t quite believe I’ve typed that. The caricature of John Bull come to life, Mr. Little England himself. To paraphrase Shakespeare, the denizens of those places will not know whether to praise Farage, or to bury him. Even in Gerry Adams’, Martin McGuinness’, Alex Salmond’s and Nicola Sturgeon’s wet dreams combined would they ever have envisioned that Farage would be the deliverer of independence from England’s yoke. Tiocfaidh ár lá, and in the most unlikely of ways. For Adams at least that won’t matter – ever the political opportunist, a united Ireland by any means available.

And in 30 years time, when the die-hard anti-EUers are dead and the great English poet Donne’s admonishment of no man being an island comes home to roost, and those who are young enough and still alive to remember how some of their elders (and some of their peers) tried to sell the notion of freedom from laws they’d created, border control they’d refused, and the swapping of a relatively benevolent master Europe for the small and petty master England – fearful, isolationist, out only for cronyism of an inner and elite circle – then England will re-apply to be part of a community it should never have left. Prodigal, bowed, chastened. And sometimes, in post-imperial societies, this is how former great empires consign themselves to irrelevance.

#Brexit #A50

My Citizens’ Assembly submission for #Repealthe8th

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Why it is essential to the concept of the Irish Republic that we repeal the 8th

 

It is 100 years since the Easter Rising. An Easter Rising in which women fought, and sacrificed their lives to, the ideal of a nation that ‘….guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally..’. Where the women of the nation have been concerned, however, the idea of civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities have been denied, and, through an unholy alliance of Church and State, betrayed.

It is essential that we no longer betray our forebears who sacrificed so much on our behalf. The suffragettes who risked life and limb, and who had the added burden of not just being revolutionaries on behalf of their fellow citizens, but on behalf of their fellow female citizens. Helena Molony, Madeleine ffrench-Mullen, Dr Kathleen Lynn, Rose McNamara and Elizabeth Farrell, Winnie Carney, Julia Grenan and Elizabeth O’Farrell are names all but unknown now – yet the role that these brave women played in altering the course of Irish history needs to be honoured.

There needs to be reparation for the sins of the past, in particular the sins of the State in colluding with the Church to imprison and enslave generations of Irish women in the Magdalen Laundries. There needs to be reparation for the toxicity of a State that held the rights of its male citizens as paramount and sacrificed its women at their altar. There needs to be reparation for the lack of care given to the women who were unjustly denied abortions: Miss X. Savita Halappanavar. The endangered, unnamed migrant woman in 2014 denied an abortion by our courts. All the unnamed women who, for reasons of their own (which should be their citizens’ right to decide) have had to make the lonely trip to England. Oh the irony that their former colonial masters can provide the medical procedure that their own supposed Free State will not. What a bitter pill to swallow, on top of all the other bitter pills women have endured since the beginning of our nation once again. Same oppression, different master. In modern Ireland, the possession of the Y chromosome is paramount.

Towhit: either all of our citizens are free and autonomous, or none are. For anyone who considers themselves an Irish citizen, true to the values of the Proclamation, no matter one’s personal or religious beliefs, this is the crucial point to understand. To believe otherwise is to dishonor the very tenets upon which the Irish State was created. To believe otherwise is to betray those brave men and women who sacrificed their very lives on our behalves. To believe otherwise is but to ape the tactics of British rule, by which we were but second-class citizens in our own country. It is time to elevate women to first-class citizenship, whereby they have that most basic of human rights: complete bodily autonomy. Let’s finally do the right thing and be a shining example of transformation in the world. #Repealthe8th

Hope

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In the winter of 2005, I met the Clintons. All of them: Bill, Hillary and Chelsea. This came about because I was part of Sir Peter Hall’s second production of As You Like It, which, after a successful first run starring his daughter Rebecca as Rosalind, went for a second run with the then-unknown Dan Stevens as Orlando. After a fairly cold and inauspicious start in the yet-to-be-finished Rose Theatre in Kingston, New York welcomed and embraced us with open, warm arms. It seemed at the time like the whole world had come to see us perform over those few weeks. Lou Reed. Martin Scorsese. And then – the ultimate seal of New York approval at that time as we played deep in the heart of Brooklyn – the Clintons.

I heard about their impending visit 24 hours before the rest of the cast as my cast buddy on tour was our wardrobe mistress. (In theatre, Wardrobe is always ahead of the game).  To say I was excited  was an understatement. We tend to forget it now, after over a year of character assassinations by the Trump campaign and their supporters, and after EmailGate – but the Clintons were political royalty. They had that rock-star edge about them, and they were loved in New York, but adored in Brooklyn. Prior to the actual first African-American president, Bill Clinton was seen as the first honorary African American president. Which seems to say more about those times in retrospect – but that was the way it was.

Suffice it to say – their presence was the highlight of that part of the tour. The reception they received was rapturous – there was a 10-minute standing ovation for them. And afterwards we, the cast and crew, got to meet them.

I remember observing them, these smooth political operators, as they glided from person to person, and what struck me is the rarity of people like these. Our Touchstone, Michael Siberry (who later appeared in, among other shows, House of Cards) was costumed with a pair of stripey, colourful socks. Bill Clinton took one at them and said, in that infamous drawl ‘Y’know, if I’d had a pair of them, maybe things would have gone a bit easier for me at the UN sometimes’ – a quick, easy, wonderful, self-deprecating reference to his own position and the verbal acuity of the character. When a fellow cast member pushed me forward to have a photo with him (I’d mentioned I’d love to have it to send to my mum, and said so to Mr. Clinton), he took it graciously. Grace. Ease of character. Whatever his personal peccadilloes and failings, these qualities epitomise his presence.

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But – and this is not with the benefit of hindsight – it was Hillary that impressed me most. She was much softer in person than television had led me to believe. They say you can get a measure of a person by how they treat those who are not as privileged around them. Not only did she seem to know everybody’s name on the staff in the theatre, but she also remembered personal details about them. Even if she’d done a quick spot of revision before coming – what a brain. Encyclopaedic. Astounding.

I remember acutely the first time I voted. It was for the first female president of Ireland, Mary Robinson. Despite her obvious superiority as a politician and campaigner than the favourite, Brian Lenihan, she faced an uphill battle till he was forced to drop out of the race due to scandals surrounding his ‘mature recollections’ of certain political actions. There were those, including women, prior to that, who were vehemently opposed to her and yet she went on to become the greatest, and arguably the most memorable nationally and internationally President the Republic of Ireland has ever seen. As a young woman, growing up in the dark days of theocratic Ireland, this was huge. I look around at that generation of women, my friends, and remember what hope we all had for the state of women in the world. Young. Naive as to how our very existence and ambitions were a threat to some of the men around us.

If we were ever in doubt that misogyny exists in the world, and in Western society, once elevated as a beacon of hope for women among that society itself, this past 6 months of politics has exposed that lie. It has painted, easier than the many posts on Facebook and social media that I’ve written to that effect, to howls of incredulity from men, the picture that women face in society. Almost a quarter of a century on from Mary Robinson and my first vote, I’ve faced down enough misogyny in my own life – sexual, personal, workplace – to know that there is much work to be done before female equity (i.e. equality that truly benefits women) is achieved.

In 2008, while I was sceptical of Obama and his basically undefined policies at that time, I was cognisant of what his very presence in the White House, as the first African American, would mean to the African American community and the country at large. It’s been absolutely vital that he was there, and yet his presidency has exposed the deep racism at that had laid unseen by the wider world as long as white people were in charge. It’s been necessary, if horrifying to witness, in broad daylight, the acceptance of white supremacist dialogue, with all that entails, in political life and wider society.

the-clintonsSo, while I have profound political differences with her, my hope is that Hillary Clinton will prevail today. For women and our current place in society, it is absolutely vital that she does. Even if all she is is a figurehead, that figurehead is necessary in today’s political climate of violent, invasive, rape-culture leanings. She has certainly proven herself to be a political warrior of some mettle in debates with an individual who, quite frankly, should never have progressed farther than his playpen. It is on a knife-edge in many states, and there are many of us this side of the pond suffering PBSD (Post Brexit Stress Disorder), as in political events that seemed inconceivable can now actually happen – but today, I have hope. A person who grew up in the countryside of Ireland and yet may have unwittingly met two US Presidents understands that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. To paraphrase Harvey Milk, for today, I ‘gotta give [myself] Hope’.

 

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Fail Better

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I have David Cameron to thank for this post. No, really – I have.

This morning I awoke at 4.44am after a dream whereby I was serving David Cameron at a Westminster function. My attitude to him was servile, obsequious; he was, as I imagine him to be, loud, bombastic, patronising. Every fibre of my being in the dream hated having to smile and bow and scrape; but smile and bow and scrape I did, in survival instinct mode. And then I woke up.

My first thoughts, in the early morning hours, was that must have been the feeling that, prior to 1916, many Irish people felt towards their English lords and masters. That unsettled feeling of being treated like a second-class citizen – and in one’s own land. The many slings and arrows of imperialist patronising remarks about the ‘savage Irish’. People who are happy with their lot do not lead rebellions, and the bravery of those men and women who cleaved themselves to the ideals of the 1916 Proclamation is but something which this generation can only imagine. Or is it?

Based in London, I’ve been following with interest the various and varied opinions on the commemorations for 1916. Clearly, there’s a section of society that sees it as something to celebrate unreservedly. And in a way, they are right. There’s another section who sees all the failures: the side-lining of women, the subsequent subservience of the Free State to another imperialist power, the Church and its Holy Empire, the enslavement and abuse of women and children, the gombeen politics – the list could go on. And in a way, they are also right. Here’s where I stand.

I grew up in the Ireland of the late 70s/80s. Being of Russian/Ukrainian/American/Irish and God knows what else parentage, I’ve felt connected to Ireland, though not of her. My presiding memories of those days is darkness and gloom. There always felt there was something not quite humane, not quite ‘Irish’ about the stranglehold the Church had over every aspect of society. People’s absolute, unerring, unwavering belief in the teachings of the Church both fascinated and frightened me simultaneously. In retrospect, and to a certain felt extent at the time, it was clear that Ireland had simply exchanged one imperial master for another – and one that was arguably more far-reaching and cruel. It’s one thing to impose oppressive laws of the realm over people; it’s far more insidious when oppressive laws are imposed on the human spirit.

Probably the biggest betrayal of the ideals of 1916 is the way that women have been treated in Ireland, like another second-class caste altogether. The sidelining of women in the life politic not long after the Civil War. The Magdalen Laundries. The fear that every Irish woman of a certain generation must have lived with of being incarcerated in one of these laundries, from any or all crimes ranging from being too pretty and a ‘temptation’ to unmarried pregnancies. Unequal pay and working rights up to the 1970s. The dominion that the State still holds over women’s bodies via the, quite frankly, archaic laws on abortion.

But maybe the biggest lesson that is most obvious to me is that, over the last 100 years – where the State has failed, it has been a failure of our own making. We can claim, to a certain extent, post-colonial trauma; but ultimately, our failures have been our own. We voted in the corrupt politicians, election after election, which led to an unsustainable Tiger economy and its inevitable crash. There are many in Ireland who gave into the venality of that period, based on the shakiest of foundations, and over-invested in property, like characters out of a John B Keane play. There was fear, the type of fear that a post-colonial economy exudes, the grasping for affirmation that we were as good as the rest of the world and could stand as equals. We learned that we couldn’t compete in that way or at that level.

But the good news that I see for Ireland is that we don’t have to. As someone who emigrated to the UK in the late 1990s, I hated coming back to Celtic Tiger Ireland where it seemed as if all people talked about was the latest property they’d invested in, their flash cars, the latest designer label they’d acquired. What has happened to many people since the crash is terrible, and they must be helped, and issues like poverty and homelessness must be addressed.

However, it seems to me that since the crash that the real riches of Irish society are returning. The creativity that has always been a hallmark. That ability to connect with each other on a more profound level. The ability to express ourselves through words, ideas that have not only shaped us, but the world. The spirit of rebellion in many of the protest groups that have sprung up: the water protests, the #WakingtheFeminists movement, Speaking of Imelda. What better way to celebrate rebellion than to engage with and support protest?

The biggest turning point for me however, and a key indicator of something quite unprecedented happening in Irish society was the ‘Yes Equality’ vote. I came home that weekend for my niece’s communion. I was struck equally by the joyousness and change that came about not only through the LGBT community, but also through the recently departed emigrants who returned en masse, with all they had seen and learned abroad, wanting, by their presence, to be part of a more equal and pluralistic Ireland; and by the greatly reduced numbers at the Mass the next day where the Church we attended was only a fifth full. I remember the packed Masses of Ireland of 30 years ago. This was something quite new, the passing of the old, the embracing of a brave new world with brave new ideals.

So on this very special Easter weekend, my stand on the 1916 commemorations is this: Let’s acknowledge the mistakes of the past, learn from them, and let them go. Let’s use our failures as stepping stones to achieve the ideals of the 1916 Proclamation: to ensure the “guarantee of  religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities of all its citizens…”, and renew our “…resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally”. These are lofty and noble ambitions. Like most ideals, they are difficult to attain, and, given our history, it’s also entirely possible that we did our best with the behaviours learned at the time, and it’s entirely possible that we can achieve these ideals, if there is but the will. In the words of one of our great scribes, Samuel Beckett “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better”.  Beannachtaí na Cásca oraibh go léir.