Villagers: Letters to the Editor 2006-04-06
Paradoxical Government - Promoting diversity while driving inequality
Currently there is a radio and television campaign promoting diversity and interculturalism. This was preceded by billboard ads warning of racism in the workplace. There is also the ongoing campaign by the majority of Dáil politicians who are trying to condition the public to believe that immigration is a matter in which it has no legitimate say, other than to accept that if anyone wants to locate themselves in the country then they have a right to be here. These campaigns benefit big business and are designed to silence anyone who questions the Government's policy to fuel economic growth with cheap migrant labour.
Of course there are economic advantages to less expensive labour for business and this should in turn filter through the economy and benefit society at large. Whatever benefits were gained were more than offset by the Government's irresponsibility in opening this small, poorly regulated labour market to a huge increase of cheap migrant labour from the new EU countries which had low wage economies and high unemployment.
This Tower of Babel experiment in economy has created thousands of very low wage jobs for people from abroad and has turned sectors of the economy into an exploiters' paradise. It has also had negative effects on a growing number of Irish workers.
At present, of the two million workforce, the CSO reports that 700,000 are engaged in the low wage secto. This figure excludes those in the black market. Wage degradation, the casualisation of labour, longer working hours, meagre safety standards and witholding of legal entitlements are all consequences of this policy. Displacement of Irish workers has now become commonplace and can no longer be dismissed as anecdotal. For many workers a job is no longer a sure way out of poverty and the maximum wage is the minimum wage.
Wage degradation in the construction and hospitality industries, where the percentage of migrant workers is at its highest, has increased profits for employers but has not benefited the consumer. The average house price continues to rise and is not even included in the rate of inflation index. As a result, working couples on two reasonable salaries are forced to become long distance commuters, to remain in high rent accommodation and hope that the semi-abandoned social housing programme is revamped or spend years in penury repaying massive borrowings. While at the same time the rebranding of thousands of migrant workers in the building industry as "sub contractors" cheats the exchequer of due taxes.
The Government shows little concern for the increasing inequalities in society, which are sharpened by its open-borders approach to immigration. It seems unaware that the market ignores well-being and does not take into account our quality of life as Irish citizens, nor how it affects us as a small population on a small island.
Seventy-eight percent of the public as surveyed in the recent Irish Times TNS MRBI poll (23 January) want immigrant numbers frozen or reduced and favour the introduction of a work permit scheme to control immigration into Ireland. The Government's response to this unease is to promise an increase in the paltry number of labour inspectors. As long as the open borders policy of the Government remains, this would be a futile exercise and merely cosmetic.
Many TDs are sitting as mere agents for the neoliberal agenda whose ultimate aim is to open up all sections of the public services under EU directives to compulsory competitive tendering. This will inevitably drive down wages and impose harsher working conditions for Irish workers. Soon TDs of all parties will be appealing to the Irish electorate for their votes so that they can represent their best interests. The only candidates qualified to deliver on this are those who will commit their party programme to restricting immigration to be used only as a last resort to fill vital labour shortages in the economy and not as a device to threaten the living standards of Irish workers.
Simon O'Donnell, Rathmines, Dublin 6
Polls analysis - Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael coalition
There was one glaring omission in the list of coalition options in Colin Murphy's article. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael: 57.4 per cent. Is this the coalition that dare not speak its name? It is an unlikely combination, but why is it ruled out without even a passing comment. None of the options mentioned has a majority of the popular vote: why exclude the one that has. The manner in which the Dáil is increasingly used as a rubber stamp by the executive means that the size of its majority is less important than the passivity of its backbenchers. Both parties are centre-right populist in ideology so that is not an issue. Some might see as a problem that there would be no obvious alternative government to a Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael coalition. What would be obvious was that they were never real alternatives to each other.
Paul Hurley, Dublin 6
Democracy and power - Power corrupts
Desmond Traynor raises very important questions (Villagers 30 March - 5 April) about the integrity of our elected politicians. He puts forward the view that public representatives are motivated by "their own personal interests". He also proclaims the impossibility of politicians who care about ordinary people getting elected because of the power and influence of "media moguls and corporations". All of these are very valid points.
But it is precisely because our democratic institutions are continually under threat from other powerful influences in society that we the great unwashed should use the electoral system every four or five years to make our presence felt and our views known. Contrary to what Desmond Traynor says the choice is between an essentially imperfect democracy in which ordinary people have some say and some form of totalitarian hegemony in which ordinary people have no say.
I am not arguing that democracies are "benevolent". Power corrupts no matter what system of government is in operation. The examples that Desmond Traynor gives of the inadequacies of the Irish, British and American democracies are well made. I am arguing, however, that we the ordinary people, as participants in a democratic system of government, have a power that is separate from that of the media and business corporations. I am also arguing that we should use that power effectively when we get the opportunity at election time to remove those politicians who are pursuing their own or other vested interests at our expense.
Anthony Leavy, Sutton, Dublin 13
'Forgive those who trespass against us' - Vincent Browne: one-man demonising machine
In the issue of 23 March Vincent Browne dedicated a number of pages to a critique of Michael McDowell's recent intemperate outbursts, while his editorial on Lourdes Hospital included the line that "the demonisation of Michael Neary is both unfair and diversionary".
Both these items reminded me that recently, is his weekly opinion piece in the Sunday Business Post titled, "Let us forgive those who trespass against us", Vincent sought to strike a balance in the debate, mainly driven by the media, of the cases of disgraced judge Brian Curtin and obstetrician Michael Neary.
Vincent posed the following question: "Why is it not allowable to acknowledge that, in spite of the wrongs persons have perpetrated, they may also have done good in their lives otherwise?"
In response one might reasonably ask Vincent who he thinks this question should be addressed to and does he ever review his own output?
Using his multiple media outlets (Irish Times, Sunday Business Post, Village magazine, Tonight with VB on RTÉ Radio One etc), Vincent is himself a one-man demonising machine, vilifying and castigating those he disapproves of, disagrees with or simply are available to alleviate his boredom or his need to indulge in a little bear-baiting to keep himself and his listeners/readers awake.
A few mirrors around the house might not go amiss when Vincent is next looking for culprits in his tale of forgiveness foregone.
Peter Molloy, Glenageary, Co Dublin
Abbeylara report - The killing of John Carty
It is a national disgrace that it has taken six years for a report to be compiled on this incident. Surely it is a damming indictment of our Government and the Garda.
Paul Doran, Dublin 22
Garda corruption - My experience of Garda harassment
Listening to, and reading about, the Morris Tribunal, you would get the impression that there is something intrinsically wrong with Donegal people in general; and Donegal gardaí in particular. As if abuses, or alleged abuses by gardaí, were phenomena unique to the north-western portion of our island. The Tribunal certainly brought back many unhappy memories for me. But none of these related to dear old Donegal. I am reminded as I listen to the daily reports from Dublin Castle of events in my own life 20 years ago.
When I heard about the chair that was allegedly thrown across an interrogation room, I remembered a night back in 1986 when I sat before a desk in a Garda Station facing two plainclothes detectives. I had been arrested under the Offences against the State Act (Section 30) on suspicion of having released hares from a coursing compound, threatening coursing club officials via postcards, and having caused malicious damage to a coursing field.
I had no involvement in the alleged offences and I should mention that I have never in my life been convicted of any crime in a court of law. But the interrogators appeared to be convinced that I was guilty... My high profile association with a campaign to ban hare coursing made me a suspect, or so I was told at the outset of what turned out to be a 36-hour ordeal of psychological torture. When I refused to sign a prepared statement admitting guilt – not one that I had given or dictated – the chair I was sitting on was kicked from under me. My continued refusal to admit to offences of which I had no knowledge whatsoever, never mind being guilty of, resulted in further aggressive and humiliating acts that well and truly pushed me to the limits of my endurance.
Among the other enticements and persuasive actions used in an effort to coerce me into "confessing" to one or other of the offences were the following: a baton was repeatedly beaten against the desk in front of me, pounding fists on the desk greeted every denial. A small crate of stout was taken into the interrogation room by a third plainclothes garda, and the two interrogators offered me bottles of this.
"While you make up your mind about whether to cooperate, John, you might like to have an auld drink," a smiling guardian of the peace guffawed. His colleague put the bottle in front of me and gave me an opener. I was not a drinker at the time, which is just as well, because I have no idea what effect the alcohol would have had on my state of mind or behaviour.
It was suggested to me that my father, who had suffered a stroke some years earlier, would be out of his mind worrying and might not be alive when I got home if I was detained for much longer. That comment or threat was especially troubling, and it came back to me very forcibly when I read about that alleged threat by a Donegal Garda to have a woman's children "taken into care" if she didn't co-operate with her interrogators.
A fish sandwich was flung at a wall of the interrogation room when I expressed the view that all of the anti-coursing campaigners I knew were decent and law-abiding people.
The opinion was expressed by one witness at the Morris Tribunal that foul language was the norm during serious interrogations.
A murder investigation is certainly serious. But I was being interviewed about anti-coursing activities. So you might expect at least the language to be a bit less offensive than when matters of life and death were at stake.
I was subjected to questions like "Who released those f***ing hares?", "Do you not think now that you people are just a crowd of misfit bastards who should have been shot years ago?", and "If I had a f***ing hares in my hand here instead of an arrest warrant would you play ball with us?"
Towards the end of the interrogation, I was warned by the two public servants that they would "probably roll over every bastard c*** of a hare on the road for evermore" after listening to a "complete f***ing spacer for two days".
I hope, in time, to write a book detailing my experience at the hands of these men. I will not, however, be giving interviews to the media before the publication of the book.
Good detective and forensic work will serve our society better than the kind of bullyboy tactics that should have died with the Gestapo.
John Fitzgerald, Callan, Co Kilkenny
'Remembering Micheal Hartnett' - Hartnett, an ignored Irish poet
I read with interest Eamon Maher's review of Remembering Micheal Hartnett under the strange heading of "Reclaiming a lost Irish poet" (Village, 30 March - 5 April).
Hartnett was never lost; he was ignored.
Whereas I can only applaud any attempt to draw attention to Hartnett, whom I knew, and his work, I think the book raises some questions. And I am flabbergasted at Maher's obvious belief that the academic opinion in the book is weightier than that of mere fellow-poets such as Rosenstock as Fitzmaurice; of the essays, he says "They are written by well-known academics such as Declan Kiberd... but it is good to observe also the inclusion of pieces by fellow poets like Gabriel Rosenstock." Nice patronising touch, there. There is no "but", Mr Maher. And one can only imagine Hartnett's response to finding himself discussed in terms of that linguistic quack, Derrida.
Truth be told, Hartnett was a raw and uncompromising spirit, the antithesis of the kind of order – and conservatism – academics crave; much nonsense will be spoken and written about him now that he can't contradict or ridicule any of it. Now that he's dead, of course, small critical industries might safely be erected over his grave. When he was alive, few arts groups or organisations would give him a reading, their inherent "respectability" preventing it; Hartnett was too wild, too spontaneous, too unpredictable for the savage middle-class smugness of the Irish literary world. Least of all would academics give him a look-in; defused now, no doubt they think he's safe to handle. Irish academics are neither rebels nor upholders of any rebel spirit and, career-wise, cannot afford to be; Hartnett would not have suited them. Nor would he have suffered them.
I was one of the few who offered him a reading – at Galway's An Taibhdhearc. He gave a great reading, diligent and humorous and caustic as a poet should be. No genteel refinements for him, in Irish or English. He reminded us – and should continue to remind us – that poetry is neither for the classroom nor the Board room, it smothers in either tomb and its soul will be up for sale. Many's a terrified arts organiser whispered of Hartnett that he was difficult, that wonderful word employed so usefully by Ireland's anally-retentive when confronted by honest passion and uncontrollable creative wrath.
It doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone that Hartnett changed from writing in Irish to working in English and back again because he fancied doing it and he could do it. Like the poets of Corkery's Hidden Ireland, Micheal Hartnett tried to continue a ribald and critical poetic tradition and was conscious that, for some time, the poetic canon in Ireland had been established in two languages.
Let the real poets speak of Hartnett, and ordinary people who enjoyed his work. Keep the academics back behind the fence. Let us remember that we turned our backs on him when he was alive. Were he still among us, there is no university in the Republic that would give such a free and anarchic man a writer's residency. Now that he's dead, we all want to shake hands with his ghost.
Fred Johnston, Galway
'Tara: a mirror of the heavens' - Astronomical alignments in Boyne region
Martin Dier's observations about the astronomy of Tara have interesting crossovers into research carried out over the past six years by myself and artist Richard Moore into the astronomical alignments and sky mythology of the Boyne region.
The cow and calf, as Martin points out, are important icons at many sites in the region. We meet them at the Rockabill islands, which themselves form part of a unique Winter Solstice sunrise alignment with the standing stones at Baltray, which overlook the estuary of the Boyne river. This alignment was discovered by Michael Byrne, Richard Moore and myself in 1999.
The Hill of Tara has a very important astronomical link with the Millmount monument in Drogheda, which is said in folklore to be the burial place of the Milesian warrior/poet/astronomer Amergin.
The site of a Martello tower constructed as part of a military barracks in the early 1800s by the British, the mound under Millmount is believed locally to be a passage-tomb similar to those at Brú na Bóinne, and in fact local folklore, and a passage in the annals, record that it was indeed once part of the Brú na Bóinne complex.
From Millmount, there are interesting alignments involving key sunsets. At midsummer, the sun sets in the direction of Mount Oriel at Collon, once the site of a great cairn. At equinox, the sun viewed from Millmount sets over the Hill of Slane, famous for the Paschal Fire of St. Patrick and less famous for having another ancient structure on its peak, a large motte similar to that at Millmount.
At the time of Winter Solstice, the sun viewed from Millmount sets in the direction of Tara. All of this has been documented on our website, www.mythicalireland.com
The cow is found again at Millmount, which, according to the annals, is the burial place of the wife of the Gobhan Saor, the articifer or smith of the ancient Irish pantheon. We have suggested a link between the smith's wife and the Glas Goibhniu, the magical cow mentioned in the folklore of Rockabill.
Amergin, the astronomer, was the Milesian bard who chose the Hill of Tara as the place from which Eremon and his descendants would rule Ireland, so the link between the sites is not just astronomical, but mythological as well.
Tara is the subject of another important astronomical alignment with the Brú na Bóinne complex, where the central axis of the southern passage and chamber at Dowth points towards Tara.
This is the chamber which is illuminated by the light of the setting sun at Winter Solstice (although sadly in recent years a line of evergreen trees has blocked out much of the sunlight).
Because of its short passage and wide chamber, Dowth admits sunlight for a much larger range of dates than Newgrange, and this Dowth-Tara axis is most likely (according to our most reliable calculations) aligned towards setting Moon at the time of the Lunar Major Standstill.
On Tara itself, the short undifferentiated passage of the Mound of the Hostages is aligned on the November/February cross-quarter day sunrise, and, again because of its short length and the proximity of lunar standstill risings to the cross-quarter day risings, most likely would align on the Minor Standstill rising of the moon.
What Martin Dier states is that we do not yet fully understand the archaeological landscape, and with that I completely concur.
In our research, we have been seeing a consistent pattern of astronomical alignments from site to site, some of which span huge distances across the land. Certain alignments, such as that between Newgrange and Fourknocks (again documented at www.mythicalireland.com) demonstrate how the ancient stone-building astronomers were adept in surveying and engineering because Fourknocks is not visible from Newgrange (and vice-versa) due to intervening hills.
Many astronomical connections between sites are supported by the myths and folklore.
We are a long way off a complete comprehension of the things that were set down in the Irish landscape around 5,000 years ago. Many of the stories and the sites themselves have survived five millennia.
It is doubtful that the motorcar will last another 50 years, never mind 5,000. What will become of our motorways then? In the meantime, we are in danger of losing the unique connection with the landscape which has been an important part of who we are since the earliest times.
"What land is better than this island of the setting sun?
Who, save I, knows the place where the Sun sets?
Who, save I, knows the ages of the Moon?"
- Amergin, Milesian astronomer poet
Anthony Murphy, www.mythicalireland.com
School places crisis in Dublin West - Need for more school places
Hundreds of local children in Dublin West due to start school this coming September have been told that there is no space for them in local schools, leaving parents extremely frustrated.
The scale of the problem can be gauged from the fact that approximately 100 children who applied to Mary Mother of Hope, National School, Littlepace, Clonee, have been told there is no place for them this September and another 100 children who applied to St Patrick's School, Diswellstown, Castleknock, met the same response.
At the root of the school places crisis are planning decisions to give developers carte blanche to build thousands of new houses in the areas of Littlepace, Clonee, Ongar and Diswellstown, without first making sure that facilities, including proper schools provision, were put in place to serve these new communities. It is outrageous that children living in new communities in Dublin West are now paying the price in terms of their right to education for the greed and bad planning decisions of speculators and their friends in Government.
The Minister for Education must now take immediate action to resolve the school places crisis in Dublin West. Extra resources must be allocated as a matter of urgency for school buildings, facilities and teaching posts to ensure that every child who needs a school place this September can be accommodated locally and that children already at school no longer have to endure large class sizes. Minister of State at the Department of Education Brian Lenihan has a particular responsibility here as a TD for the area.
Joe Higgins TD, Dáil Éireann, Kildare Street, Dublin 2
STATEMENT - Rate of death in northern Uganda is three times higher than Iraq
The current rate of death from the war in northern Uganda is three times higher than in Iraq following the Allied invasion, finds a new report released today. UN Under-Secretary General Jan Egeland is in Kampala with the Ugandan government and other international representatives to address the 20-year conflict in northern Uganda.
Almost two million people have been displaced by the conflict. A staggering 25,000 children have been abducted during 20 years of war. One quarter of children in northern Uganda over ten years old have lost one or both parents.
The report, "Counting the Cost: 20 years of war in northern Uganda" shows the devastating economic cost of the war estimated at US$1.7 billion (GBP £1bn) over the course of the last two decades. This is equivalent to the USA's total aid to Uganda between 1994 and 2002 and is the double the UK's average annual bilateral gross public expenditure on aid to Uganda from 1994 to 2001. The average annual cost of the war to Uganda is US$85 million.
Rates of violent death in northern Uganda are three times higher than those reported in Iraq following the Allied Invasion in 2003. (The violent death rate for northern Uganda is currently at 146 deaths per week, (0.17 violent deaths per 10,000 people per day). This is three times higher than in Iraq, where the incidence of violent death in the period following the allied invasion was estimated to be 0.052 per 10,000 people per day.
20 years of conflict have had a devastating impact on children.
› 25,000 children have been abducted during the course of the war.
› 41 per cent of all deaths in the camps are amongst children under 5.
› 250,000 children in northern Uganda receive no education, despite Uganda's policy of universal primary education.
› An estimated 1,000 children have been born in LRA captivity to girls abducted by the rebel army.
› At the times of heightened insecurity up to 45,000 children "night commute" each evening and sleep in streets or makeshift shelters in town centres to avoid being abducted by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army.
Paul Dunphy, Media and Communications Executive, Oxfam Ireland.www.oxfamireland.org
Remembering 1916 - Progressive legacy of the Rising
Critics of the 1916 rising claim that it led to the backward society which followed the Civil War. Nothing could be further from the truth. The 1916 Proclamation and the Sinn Féin Programme of the First Dail, which was based on it, were very progressive documents and still relevant (and still remain to be implemented) today. The leaders of the Rising were also forward looking visionaries.
Padraig Pearse had radical innovative ideas on education which he promulgated in "The Murder Machine" booklet and put into practice in Scoil Eanna.
Constance Markiewicz campaigned for women, children and the poor, again taking practical action in setting up soup kitchens for starving workers during the 1913 lock-out, founding Fianna Éireann and becoming the first woman minister in the world.
Most visionary of all was James Connolly who, apart from organising workers in Belfast and Dublin and opposing imperialism internationally, accurately predicted that the partition of Ireland would lead to "a carnival of reaction, north and south". And indeed, it was the defeat of the ideals of 1916 caused by partition and the Civil War that led to the imposition of a backward, conservative society in the north and south of Ireland.
Dessie Ellis, Finglas, Dublin 11
Rejecting the Rising as the root of evil
Pierce Martin wants us to celebrate the Somme butchery and to reject the 1916 rebels who, according to him, stabbed the Somme butchers and their victims in the back. How can we begin to understand this pathological preference for slaughter on a mass scale?
What is it about the words "Jewish-Bolshevik world conspiracy" that makes our hair stand on end, while Kipling's phrase "the lesser breeds without the law" puts us in mind of Dad's Army, warm beer, vicars, cups of tea, and old maids cycling to vespers in the summer twilight? How did it come about that a single genocide conducted by a small corps of specialist killers hidden away in obscure corners of a cataclysmic war weighs more heavily on our minds than the numerous genocides openly carried out in peace-time by ordinary, average people who wanted extra grazing for their cattle?
From the hunting down of the woodkerne cowering in the bogs and mountains of Ulster, to the bludgeoning to death of the last of the Tasmanian women and children, to the razing of Fallujah – some sort of mind-bending perversion of morality enables people to stomach all this without turning a hair. Does this mean that Pierce Martin is a monster? No, the real horror is that we have no reason to doubt that Pierce is a good person; perhaps gentle and caring towards women, children and animals. The issue is more fundamental than this. We are dealing with a deep-seated problem which has pervaded all shades of British thought for centuries.
The Fabians Beatrice and Sydney Webb agreed with the South African High Commisioner Lord Alfred Milner that "An advanced, efficient nation or race is entitled ... to crush an inferior race". The Liberal Party Minister Sir Charles Dilke claimed that "The Anglo-Saxon race is the only extirpating race on earth. Up to the commencement of the now inevitable destruction of the Red Indians... of the Maoris and of the aboriginal Australians, no numerous race has ever been blotted out by an invader."
British social-Darwinism of the 20th century emerged from the equally genocidal Calvinist Puritan teaching of Election by Grace. "Some I have chosen of peculiar grace, elected above the rest; so it is My will", proclaimed John Milton. In his first speech to Parliament in 1653, Cromwell declared that England was called upon by God, as had been Judah, to rule with Him and for Him. Carlyle's Might is Right doctrine was postulated in the name of the God of the Old Testament: "Where thou findest Ignorance, Stupidity, Brute-mindedness, yes, there ... were it with mere dungeons and gibbets and crosses, attack it, I say; smite it wisely, unweariedly ... the Highest God ... does audibly so command thee."
Fundamentally that is the reason why Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and their American cousins regard themselves as the infallible arbiters of right and wrong in the world. That is why they have constituted themselves as secular Popes armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons. That is why they feel entitled to send their crusading forces to the far corners of the earth, to disseminate tolerance, decency, human rights and democratic values with tanks, attack helicopters and depleted uranium.
The 1916 rebels challenged this mentality in mid-slaughter. And that is why Pierce Martin and his associates reject the Easter Rising as the root of evil.
Pat Muldowney, Derry