Villagers: Letters to the Editor 2006-03-02

Criticising the critics - Chorus about himself

I had imagined that John Waters, a columnist I admire, would not have been capable of writing such a mawkish piece as that headed "Cornerboy radio in modern Ireland", (Chorus, Village, 23 February). In doing so, he has merely joined the ranks of that other small and apparently shameless chorus of Irish writers who use their columns in Irish newspapers to defend, or in some cases promote, their own creative work. Some more valid points in his piece, are, therefore, set adrift.

Certainly, it is true that the Irish Times, who once could and did defend their literary reviewers on the grounds that the paper supported "robust" criticism, has ejected and banned (let's call things by their proper names) from book reviewing some of their more robust contributors, myself among them, opting instead for a policy of insipid and "friendly" reviewing by safer and more consensus-bound scribes. This is a shame. But it is fashionable.

John Waters, however, seems to have no problem signing up as a certain kind of Irish writer who believes that everything he produces is deserving only of praise, and that no negative criticism is permissible. How much this kind of view has shaped current Irish Times critical policy is open to question.

Let's be clear on this: any writer – of novels, plays, poems or songs – who offers his work for publication to the world is up for critical grabs; he has no right whatever to insist on a positive review. And no right to whine, if he doesn't get the kind of review he wants, in a column generously allowed him by a newspaper. There are many issues upon which I would eagerly read John Waters, but a defence of his own work is not one of them. One does not reply to criticism of one's work; one takes the knock with dignity.

To suggest somehow that creative writers are more sensitive souls than other types of writer invites the response: if you don't want criticism, don't publish. If you can't take the heat and so forth.

We live on an island with a small creative community and doubtless some critics will use their review of a book, for instance, to get their own back on the book's author. This is not fair, but it happens. But when it comes to censoring the views of critics, whatever they may be, we are treading upon dangerous ground.

John Waters concludes, rather lamely, that "real" writers do not "contribute to public debate" because of the nature or level of cultural discussion. Not so. The reasons are much less complex and have to do with maintenance of good relations, politically and critically, in a conservative society where publication or even making a living may often depend on projecting a conservative, non-involved image. Now this is a contentious bone upon which John Waters might do better to fix his sturdy critical teeth, rather than using up your column inches to fret publicly that some uncouth types in RTÉ had the temerity not to praise his lyrics.

Fred Johnston, Circular Road, Galway

Dublin riots - Reliving 1916

The violent events in Dublin on Saturday 25 February shocked the political establishment, however the actions of around 300 nationalist fascists, pale almost into nothingness, when compared with the actions of their progenitors in 1916.

Will this dose of reality affect even one of those who want not only to commemorate, but to celebrate something far worse that occurred almost 90 years ago. Will Martin Mansergh relinquish his role as party spin doctor for the Rising? Will President Mary McAleese apologise for making, if I may borrow a phrase from not so long ago, a thundering disgrace of herself, by waxing poetical in her searing proto-fascist panegyric of 1916? Will Liz McManus and the Labour Party grow up, and drop their plans from the Liberty project, to "celebrate" this event? Will Jack Lane study history for a change, instead of churning out his usual nationalist spiel? Will Michael McDowell realise that the tricolour was first hoisted in Dublin in conditions of national defilement and treachery by people he regards as patriots? Will Bertie Ahern open a history book? Will the silent majority speak out about what Maurice O'Connell correctly identifies as the "hijacking of our history," by "a self-appointed elite"?

The answer to all these questions is of course, No. We prefer to be told what to think by authority figures, whilst at the same time romantically pretending to be, at heart, free-spirited and naturally rebellious rather than, in truth, the brainwashed Stepford-like conformers, sentimentally attached to a natives-versus-imperialists version of our history. Why else would we tolerate, in our supposed liberal democracy, the "celebration" of an event like the 1916 insurrection.

Someone recently commented that Irish history is only in its infancy, or perhaps more correctly our perception of it is. The time to leave the nursery has long since past; perhaps the fear of leaving nurse, for fear of something worse, is why in part, at least, this political establishment cannot bring itself, in heart and mind, to do the right thing, and disown the 1916 insurrection, and set about building a truly liberal republic, free of the historic connection of the gunmen, and their fellow travellers, who tried, by all accounts, to turn the centre of Dublin into a war zone last Saturday.

Pierce Martin, Celbridge, Co Kildare

Replying to Pierce Martin - 1916 Rising and historical context

Pierce Martin says (Village, 23 February): "The 1916 insurrection can only be defended as a preternatural act." That means as a supernatural act. This is a very curious example of someone attributing his own conceptions to others.

All defenders of the Rising in this debate have made their case on the basis of the historical/political situation at the time, in particular the discrediting of the parliamentary process by the Government succumbing to the Ulster Unionist's extra-parliamentary actions against Home Rule. This changed the "rules of the game", and nationalists, led by the IRB, decided in these circumstances to play by the new rules and organised a revolt as the Unionists had just done so successfully.

Patrick Pearse is the classic personification of this development, evolving from a Redmondite Home Ruler to a militant separatist under the influence of the Government capitulation to the Ulster Unionists.

However, it was Pierce who told us in an earlier letter that "for the 1916 insurrection there was no historic context" (3 November 2005). This is a precise definition of 1916 as a preternatural or supernatural event – it being an event out of history.

Therefore, as it was Pierce who introduced the supernatural into this debate, he should attempt to develop his argument on this, essentially theological, ground. He might have more success with this approach in convincing us of his case than he has had so far with his attempts at historical arguments.

After all, if 1916 had no historic context why does he bring history into the debate at all?

Jack Lane, Millstreet, Co Cork

Mary McAleese and 1916 - Not cherishing all the children equally

I was appalled to read Mary McAleese's jingoistic rant in the Irish Times on 28 January. The appointed President's UCC speech plumbs new depths of hypocrisy and historical revisionism.

She quotes the 1916 Proclamation and claims that independent Ireland fulfilled Pearse's promise to "cherish all the children of the nation equally". What planet is she on?

Queen Mary of Ireland – for that's how she behaves – conveniently forgets that the theocratic police state (cynically called the "Free State") used its kangaroo courts to imprison tens of thousands of legally innocent children in hellhole prisons such as Artane, where they suffered inhuman and degrading treatment. The child prisoners were denied their most basic human and civil rights. Their cries for help were dismissed with contempt. The State wilfully set out to destroy those children, and in all too many cases it succeeded.

I was one child of the nation "cherished" in that manner in 1961 – nearly 50 years after Pearse's fine words were delivered.

And what was my crime? As the child of a "mixed marriage" I was, according to Holy Ireland, the product of a forbidden sexual union and I had to be punished for my inherited sin. A politico-religious kangaroo court decided that I needed to have "the love and fear of God" beaten into me. And so, without a trial or an inquiry of any kind, I was sentenced to nearly three years penal servitude in the notorious Artane gulag. I was abducted from my family to be enslaved and prostituted to Ireland's mullahs. I was a political prisoner of the Free State.

I entered Artane at a peak of fitness. Two years later, I escaped from the prison, and from Ireland, a mental and physical wreck. But Holy Ireland hadn't finished with me yet. The Irish authorities pursued me with a determined vindictiveness that rational people find incomprehensible. While I was in sanctuary abroad, the Irish authorities issued a warrant for my arrest. I managed to evade my pursuers but I lived in constant fear, acutely conscious that I faced torture if recaptured.

Ireland's "powerful and pitiless elite" stole my childhood innocence and my identity. I was falsely labelled a subhuman delinquent and that label remains around my neck to this day. Like thousands of others, I have spent decades in disaffection and forced exile, unable to return to my country because of a well-founded fear of persecution.

I can never return until the illegal detention order issued against me in 1961 is rescinded and the warrant for my arrest is withdrawn.

Mary McAleese has refused to rescind the illegal detention orders and has thus condemned me, and thousands like me, to permanent exile and discrimination. Meanwhile, the glorious Republic has cheerfully varied the court orders on duly convicted IRA terrorists. Clearly, there is one rule for the heroes of the Republic and another for those illegally imprisoned and abused as innocent children by the delinquent Irish State.

Is that what Mary McAleese meant when she spoke of the Republic's "culture of inclusion"?

The President predicted that her UCC speech would incite a row. How right she was! She's got one.

JIM BERESFORD, Former Artane child prisoner 14262, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, England

West Papua - Covering wildlife not people

It appears to be a quirk of fate that a week before scientists announced the discovery of a rare wildlife untouched by humans in West Papua (covered by the media on 8 February), Juan Mendez, the UN Secretary-General's special adviser on the prevention of genocide stated that the territory's indigenous population is at "risk of extinction". Last month, 43 Papuan men, women and children were forced to flee to Australia in fear of their lives to seek asylum from persecution by the Indonesian authorities. Two days later Indonesian troops opened fire on a group of unarmed protesters killing one 13-year-old and seriously wounding two others.

At present two West-Papuans, Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage are serving respectively 15 and 10 years imprisonment for raising the West Papuan flag in a peaceful protest at Abepura in December 2004.

The human rights abuses suffered by the Papuans are gross and widespread; over 100,000 Papuans have died at the hands of the Indonesian security forces since Indonesia took control of the territory in 1963.

It is deplorable that the Irish and international media have devoted so much coverage to the discovery of new species of plants and animals in West Papua when it has largely ignored the terrible plight of the indigenous Papuans for more than four decades.

Marzia Baldassari, West Papua Action, Dublin 7

Conflict and poverty - Crisis in Uganda

GOAL's Emergency Assistance programme for displaced people in war-ravaged northern Uganda received a massive boost recently, with the announcement of an additional €1 million cash injection from the European Union.

Over 97% of the 320,000 people living in northern Uganda's Pader District have been displaced by a 20-year brutal insurgency, and now survive in 30 camps, in one of the poorest regions in the world, with some of the worst health and development indicators.

GOAL estimates that some 78,000 internally displaced people will benefit from the new funding. By increasing access to safe potable water, improving sanitation awareness and hygiene practices, the 12-month programme aims to reduce the number of deaths amongst conflict affected and displaced people in six of the established refugee camps.

The programme will also cater for the basic needs of households by increasing their disposable income, as well as improving the general living environment in the camps by training local leaders in the essentials of camp planning and management.

An International Rescue Committee report estimates that nearly 26,000 people in refugee camps in Northern Uganda have died in the first half of 2005 because of the conflict. Of these, more than 10,000 were children.

Sharon Cummins, GOAL, PO Box 19, Dún Laoghaire, Dublin

Children in accommodation centres - Closing centres for asylum seekers

Reports of the pending closure of accommodation centres for asylum seekers are worrying. The Reception and Integration Centre, the State body which is responsible for accommodating asylum seekers, says it hopes to have the closures completed by the summer. I know of one accommodation centre (I am sure there are others) which is to be closed by 4 April and its current residents dispersed to other centres. Some of the people in this centre are preparing for their Leaving Certificate in June, and others are happy and working hard in their local secondary schools. I think that the proposed change to the lives of already vulnerable people is very hard to justify. It will cause damage and hurt.

The Reception and Integration Agency said that it would carry out the downsizing programme in "the most sensitive manner". Be that as it may, I think that the Ministers for Justice and Education and their respective departments must not allow this disruption to the lives of asylum seeker children. If accommodation centres must be closed, they should be closed after the end of the school year, not in the middle. That is the "sensitive manner". Anything else is cruel and unfeeling.

SEÁN Ó RIAIN, Co Bhaile Átha Cliath

Remembering the Holocaust - Irving conviction

Historian David Irving has been imprisoned for his outrageous and easily refutable views on the Third Reich. Surely, a severe public ticking off would have been more apt?

While I abhor Holocaust deniers who allege, against all the evidence, that the organised mass-murder of Jews by the Nazis in World War never happened, I can see no justification for jailing a person who makes such a claim.

In many EU countries people can be jailed for expressing the opinion that Hitler was "not guilty" of genocide, or that the gas chambers and death camps never existed.

But should we really be locking up people within the EU – which supposedly values the democratic right to free speech – for making absurd and clearly false claims about events in history?

The Holocaust is one of the most horrific episodes of man's inhumanity to his fellow beings since time began. Most of us agree on that. But it was not the only one.

There are no fines or jail terms at present in any EU country for denying – as many left-wing activists and politicians do – that the Soviet regime under Stalin murdered millions of Russians, Ukrainians, East Europeans and other "enemies of the state" who fell foul of his dictatorship.

The best way to counteract the kind of revisionist nonsense about the Holocaust that Irving articulates is to engage in reasoned debate with him, and others like him, and expose them for what they are. Even the conference on the Holocaust planned by the crazy Iranian regime should, in my opinion, be attended by experts in the field who can remind the world that this terrible crime did happen, that it was not a myth.

An advocate of free speech who could have vigorously refuted Irving's revisionism was the late Martin Niemoeller, the cleric who was imprisoned by the Nazis for his outspoken criticisms of the regime.

After his arrest by the Gestapo, he bitterly regretted not coming to the aid of the various minorities in Germany that were persecuted before his own demise.

In his cell, he wrote these now famous words:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out–

because I was not a communist;

Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out–

because I was not a socialist;

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out–

because I was not a trade unionist;

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–

because I was not a Jew;

Then they came for me

and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Somehow, I can't imagine the good Pastor Neimoeller wanting the pathetic and misguided David Irving locked up for being wrong about the Holocaust. I suspect he would instead have beaten him fair and square in a wide-ranging, intensive debate on the issue in the best traditions of democracy.

And, though I find the Englishman's views offensive and unacceptable, I have a huge sense of unease when I think of him in that prison cell...

First they came for the crackpots...

John Fitzgerald, Callan, Co Kilkenny

In the public interest - Junior ministers

Well done, Emma and Vincent Browne for their critical analysis of Ministers of State and their roles (Village issue 74). Many taxpayers wonder why we need so many junior ministers.

In the coming General Election, will any party have the courage to put the public interest before political expediency? Will reviewing and culling dear ministerial posts be included on any party manifesto?

Tony Quinn, Dublin

Palestine and Israel - A two-state solution

Dov Wesiglass, a senior prime ministerial adviser in Israel, was quoted the week of 20 February week as saying that his government intends, "to put the Palestinians on a diet but not to starve them". He may find this amusing, as may his US backers, but it's not. Here is a country, with a massive military capability, including nuclear weapons, as well as concentration camps, ghettos and Bantustans as part of its arsenal, talking about starving another country into submission. The US continues to fund this oppression and the rest of the Western world looks on with benign disregard.

Israel has already stated that it intends to withhold $50 million of duties that it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. It is preventing duly elected parliamentarians, including the likely new prime minister, Ismael Haniyeh, from attending a first meeting of the first Palestinian Legislative Council. It is 'not yet' thinking of cutting off water and electricity but probably keeping this as an option. Is this what we would find acceptable behaviour from any other country when they decide that they don't particularly like the election results of another "country". I think not.

Perhaps now people will start to realise the grotesque absurdity of a two-state solution – it is not viable and cannot be. With a one-state solution staring them in the face, perhaps the Israeli government could be persuaded to behave a little better and start respecting the democratic rights of a people whose land they stole. South Africa tried the Bantustan/apartheid policy and it failed horribly. A one-state solution was the only internationally acceptable alternative and the National Party under de Klerk was left with no option but to accede to it, and be grateful that they were allowed to stay and form part of the new government. When is the world going to say the same thing to Israel? And why, in Ireland, do we accommodate the embassy of a country that is practising apartheid?

Paula Leyden, Kilkenny

Responding to Brendan Hogan - Cannabis is detrimental to good health

I wish to take issue with Brendan Hogan's recent letter to Village which was critical of my position on cannabis, and which echoed another by him in the Irish Examiner of 2 February, entitled: "Cannabis use should not concern the State".

The simple facts are that cannabis use should concern the State as it is detrimental to the good health of its citizens and indeed also the safety of many others. Any professional in the mental health or justice fields will testify to the destructive consequences of use of the drug, whether or not it is taken in one's own home, or indeed cultivated by one's own hand.

Perhaps as a society collectively we have tolerated widescale abuse of alcohol and cigarettes for too long, I think this is beginning to change and thankfully so. However, that is not good reason, as Hogan would seem to contend in the Irish Examiner, to release and legalise another even more addictive and dangerous drug upon our society.

Hogan is correct in his contention that serious crime figures rose alarmingly last year, but we should not begin to de-criminalise certain activities to massage the statistics.

Sean McKiernan Jnr, Fine Gael National Executive, Bailieborough, Co Cavan

Fine Gael double standards - Ballyseedy massacre

The vote of no confidence in Kerry mayor, Toireasa Ferris of Sinn Féin, which ultimately failed, clearly illustrated the pettiness and vindictiveness that passes for party politics in this country. I would like to remind those Fine Gael councillors who supported the motion, of the Ballyseedy massacre, outside Tralee, which was perpetrated by Free State forces in 1923. To those who may not have heard of this heinous act of barbarity, nine helpless republican prisoners were taken from the Tralee barracks, they were tied together in a circle around a landmine which was then exploded by the Free State soldiers. Only one of the nine survived the explosion. The predecessors of today's Fine Gael – Cumann na nGaedhael – were the government of the day. They have never condemned this atrocity. Only last year Senator Paul Bradford on the Vincent Brown Show refused to condemn the execution of 77 republican prisoners during that period. Despite Ballyseedy being a premeditated act of murder, a classic war crime, it was never investigated and no one was ever charged or convicted. Hypocrisy and double standards thy name is Fine Gael.

Donal O'Shea, Dromadoon, Skibbereen

STATEMENT - Féile an Earraigh in West Belfast

The Fureys and Davy Arthur are set to play West Belfast, as guests of the Spring Festival, Féile an Earraigh. The concert, to be held at The Devenish Complex on Thursday 9 March, is part of a diverse programme of events celebrating Irish culture and language. This year's festival, which runs from Thursday 9 to Sunday 12 March, has a particular focus on the Travelling community and the programme of events includes exhibitions, workshop and documentaries celebrating their contribution to Irish traditional music and arts. Responsible for some of the most stirring music ever to capture the public imagination, The Fureys have been proud advocates of the Irish travelling culture, throughout their 30-year career, and their opening night concert will set the tone for the weekend events.

More: Tickets: £10 from Teach na Féile and the Devenish Complex, tel: 0(2)48 90313440.