31 March 2008

Harney and HSE ignore Dublin Protest

The Health Service Executive (HSE) has announced that it will "review a small number of cases" following reports about possible cancer mis-diagnosis at hospitals in the northeast of the country.

In its statement the HSE calls media reports "exaggerated and speculative" and says that the media "were likely to cause unnecessary anxiety for some patients and their families".
It says that the tests under consideration were carried out "over the last number of years" and were "not related to breast services, mammograms, ultrasounds, CT scans or MRI scans".

So here we go again. All is fine in HSE land, no one has anything to worry about, and the only ones who get things wrong are the media. One really wonders if those people inside the HSE live entirely on a different planet, or if they have the same attitude towards the common people as Robert Mugabe. As long as they deny problems, they don't exist. And if there is something not right, it is always only "a small number of cases".

Everyone in this country knows that our Health Service is shambolic and worse than equivalent services in many much poorer countries.
The government and the HSE waste huge amounts of money, but most of it ends in the pockets of bureaucrats and consultants, while Irish patients are condemned to more and more suffering and third world medical standards.

This country is now awash with money, and even though there is certainly a slowdown of the economy in sight, the government's coffers are still full. What is missing is not money, but people who are able to spend it well, manage budgets properly and put the emphasis on what the Health Service is supposed to do: to care for the sick, disabled and needy.

On Saturday thousands of angry and concerned people from all over Ireland met in Dublin and joined a protest march, which was organised by the Dublin Council of Trade Unions, medical and nursing organisations and families affected by the superbug MRSA. They made it very clear how they feel about the HSE and the state of medical services on the Emerald Isle.
They also vented loudly their anger with Health Minister
Mary Harney and her permanent incompetence.

But did it make one bit of a difference? Probably not. For that the number of demonstrators for a decent health service and against the shambolic HSE and incompetent and cynical government would have to be much larger. 100,000 demonstrators on the streets could have caused a real stir in the warm and safe offices of ministers and TDs. But this is Ireland, and no matter how bad things are, few people are bothered to stand up and be counted.

If this were France, there would have been at least 100,000 people demonstrating in Dublin on Saturday, and thousands would gather outside Leinster House and various hospitals around the country in protest every day, until something real is done and conditions improve. So, sadly, the Dublin rally will not change anything. As good and proper as it was, and as much one has to salute everyone who turned out despite the weather, one march alone is not enough. There need to be many more, in Dublin and other places, and they have to convey the message that we are not going away until we get a proper Health Service.

Mary Harney was not even in Dublin on Saturday. She went instead to the Irish Medical Organisaton's annual conference in Killarney.
There she did not have a very friendly reception either, but with her usual habit to ignore facts and public opinion, she just rambled on with her old mantra that "everything is going to be better soon".
And reacting to Saturday's protest march in Dublin, one of Harney's ministerial PR people said that "€ 1 billion of extra money will be spent on the Health Service this year".

Is that all she has to say? Money does not cure people, and it does not reduce waiting lists. Only if it is spent properly and managed well it will have a positive impact. Going by the experience of previous years, there is no chance for that. We still have the same under-staffed hospitals with a shortage of beds, the same people running the over-staffed HSE, and the same incompetent and arrogant Minister for Health who can and will not accept the facts. So if we want to see a change, we will need to have a lot more protest marches, with a lot more people taking part. I am waiting already for the next one, but somehow I am not too optimistic.

The Emerald Islander

Apologies for my Absence

Earlier today a friend and regular reader of this weblog called and told me she was missing my entries here. And I also had two e-mails asking me if I am alright.

I very much appreciate the interest in my writing, and I just want to take this opportunity to tell everyone who might have missed entries for the past three days that I have not given up blogging.
However, I am currently battling with a very bad cold and had to spend some time in bed. I also did not have much concentration, which explains that I did not write an entry since last Thursday.

My apologies for this absence to all who care and missed me. And thank you for your concern. I am feeling a little better now and will resume normal service shortly.

The Emerald Islander

27 March 2008

HSE Cutbacks dominate IMO Conference

The imposition of cutbacks by the Health Service Executive (HSE) is expected to dominate the three-day-long annual conference of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), which is held in Killarney, Co Kerry.

More than 200 motions will be debated, including a call for 1200 more hospital beds to be put in place.
Delegates will of course also address the delay in agreeing new contracts for hospital consultants, but the IMO says that no document has been finalised for consultants to ballot on.

There is growing unrest over plans by the HSE to save € 300 million this year, despite constant gaps in the service and ever longer waiting lists for out-patients. And there are fears that severe cuts will be implemented as the year progresses, since the HSE gives hospitals a fixed budget instead of letting the money follow the patient, as it is the practice in most other countries. This could lead to the bizarre situation that a hospital might run out of money by - let's say - November, and then be no longer able to function or accept any new patients until January.

Doctors will also have an opportunity to let the Minister for Health know of their frustration over service cutbacks, as Mary Harney will attend the conference on Saturday evening.

It might not be a complete coincidence that Ms. Harney is away from Dublin on Saturday, as in the afternoon a demonstration against her - and for a decent health service - will take place in the capital, leaving Parnell Square at 3 p.m. for Molesworth Street. (For details see my entry from yesterday)

The Emerald Islander

A Poet in Hiding and in Denial

For the past two weeks, ever since RTÉ television showed the documentary film "Fairytale of Kathmandu" (on March 11th), many people on the Emerald Isle are loudly discussing the life - and especially the sex life - of Cathal Ó Searcaigh (photo), a 51-year-old poet from County Donegal who writes exclusively in the Irish language.

From what I hear and read about him, he appears to be a quite gifted wordsmith, probably even following in the footsteps of the ancient bards of this island. But since I am not a great enthusiast of
Us Gaelge (the Irish language), I had never before even heard of the man. (I should mention that I am an avid reader of all sorts of books, including poetry.)

But here lays the problem. Since
Cathal Ó Searcaigh only writes in Irish, access to his work is very limited. Of the ca. four million people living in the Republic of Ireland, perhaps 1% are fluent speakers and readers of Irish, and the number of those among them who read poetry must be minimal.

All this despite the fact that every child in the Republic is forced to learn the language in school. That means for most pupils 13 long years of compulsory Irish, from the begin of infant school to the leaving certificate at the end of secondary education.
Very few speak Irish at home or with their peers, so the whole exercise - which began as a purely political gesture in 1922 - is pretty useless and futile, costing millions of taxpayers' money every year with hardly anything to show for.

To make things even worse, there is not just "Irish". Each of our four provinces (Connaught, Leinster, Munster and Ulster) has its own version of the language with differences in spelling and pronunciation. As
Cathal Ó Searcaigh comes from County Donegal, his Irish is of the Ulster variety, the least common version in today's Ireland. This explains why he was completely unknown to me, and to many others as well, I am sure.

The sudden prominence he has achieved throughout the country has however nothing to do with his poetry.
Cathal Ó Searcaigh is the subject of discussion because he is homosexual and strongly attracted to "young men" (some would call them boys).
As this might not be anyone else's business, it entered the public realm when the now well-known documentary "Fairytale of Kathmandu" revealed a side of Cathal that was previously known only to very few people.

Besides being a poet who won several prices and is a member of Aosdána (an elite group of artists - limited to 250 members - which is Ireland's version of the Académie française) Cathal Ó Searcaigh organised a private foreign aid programme in Nepal, a country "he fell in love with" and visited many times. He spent some of his own money on the project, but received also large sums of money from public funds and private donations in support of his work in Nepal.

The documentary "Fairytale of Kathmandu" began as a film that was to show how one man could make a difference in this world, a homage to an Irish poet who went half around the world to help poor people in an Asian third-world country. But during the filming, which happened with Cathal's full knowledge and agreement, the female director discovered a different angle to the poet's activity. It appears that the Nepali people receiving help from the Irish bard were mostly very young men (some say boys), who also spent regularly the night with him.

Given the fact that Nepal, a predominantly Hindu country high in the Himalayas, has a very traditional society in which sex is an extremely private matter between married people (and open homosexuality is unknown), this shed an entirely new light on the frequent visits Cathal Ó Searcaigh made to the Nepalese capital Kathmandu.

Since the film was shown on television,
Cathal Ó Searcaigh has gone into hiding and no one seems to know his whereabouts. There are many people in Ireland who are absolutely appalled by his actions and call him a sexual predator who used his position and money for his own personal sexual gratification. But there are also some voices - mostly from fellow artists - who say that he was "set up" and has apparently done nothing wrong.

This position was taken yesterday by the man himself, in an hour-long interview he gave to
Raidió na Gaeltachta, RTÉ's Irish language station. I did not hear it, but even if I had, I would not have been able to follow the conversation. Raidió na Gaeltachta is a minority programme exclusively in Irish, with - at best - perhaps 20,000 listeners a day. However, excerpts of the interview were also broadcast with English translation on RTÉ Radio 1.

The argument for speaking only in Irish was that he wanted to talk "to his people" in particular. Never mind what the remaining 99% of the nation think. As long as the few plain Irish speakers know what
Cathal Ó Searcaigh has to say, that's alright then. This alone shows the enormous arrogance of a man who seems to think very highly of himself, and thus believes he can do as he pleases and can do no wrong.

But he did not leave it at that. He felt it necessary to invoke the spirit of
Oscar Wilde, implying that all the criticism he faces for his predatory behaviour in Nepal was more or less nothing than "homophobia". But, as Wilde wrote, "some of us look up to the stars" even though we are all in the gutter... And he, of course, is one of those few stargazers, he believes.

Now, I am a very tolerant man and try to live without prejudice. For the past two weeks I have refrained from saying or writing anything about
Cathal Ó Searcaigh, because I neither know him nor his work, and there are much more important things and people in this country to analyse and write about.
But the statement he made yesterday about himself and Oscar Wilde made me join the debate.

I don't care if he is homosexual or not, and I cannot comment on his poems, as I am unable to read them. But I am immensely annoyed when I encounter hypocrisy and double standards.
If Cathal Ó Searcaigh were heterosexual (as the vast majority of people) and had slept with Nepali girls aged 16 or 17, he would be branded a "pedophile" and the full force of the Law would come down on him. (Men have been sent to jail for a lot less, even for nothing more than looking at pictures of young girls.)

But obviously there is one law for most of us, and another for homosexuals, who like to call themselves "gay" these days by hijacking a perfectly normal word that means jolly or joyful.
(For example, the well-known operetta "The Gay Hussar" is not about a homosexual in the Cavalry. Quite the opposite!)

Until recently this country was blighted by homosexual priests who abused young boys in their care for many years. Now there are homosexuals in almost every walk of life and profession, and many of them behave as if they were a new kind of priesthood, superior to the rest of us and entitled to do whatever they desire. And whenever anyone says a critical word about them, they immediately cry "homophobia".

I am a psychologist and have no phobias. And I am not afraid of anything, and especially not of homosexuals. But I am not fond of them either. That is my good and proper right. No one can be forced to like everyone and everything. We all make our choices.
This does not mean that I discriminate against homosexuals or wish them any harm. Before the Law everyone should be equal. But this is exactly the problem. After centuries of discrimination and even criminalisation of homosexuality the pendulum is now swinging far in the opposite direction and homosexuals have become virtually untouchable by criticism and the Law.

Being not only homosexual, but also a member of the prestigous Aosdána and a dedicated Irish-speaking poet, makes Cathal Ó Searcaigh - at least in his own opinion - almost untouchable. The Law, he seems to believe, is for the rest of us, the "great unwashed" who speak and write English and do not reside in the illustrious temple of Irish high arts. So he has nothing to feel sorry about, did nothing wrong, and does not even bother to explain himself to the vast majority of the nation in a language that everyone can understand. Some prick, my father would have said, if nothing else.

Well, I am no judge or lawyer, and I do not condemn anyone. But one thing is clear: Cathal Ó Searcaigh is in hiding and in denial.
The whole affair around him and his unusual sex life, as well as its current aftermath, leave a visible stain on the Irish state, its arts establishment and the image of the nation. For me personally it also leaves a very bad taste, to say the least.

As I mentioned above, until two weeks ago I had never even heard his name, despite my regular involvement with literature and the arts. Perhaps he is just another of those highly over-rated artists who live in a world of their own, which cannot be accessed by normal people. In Cathal Ó Searcaigh's case the language barrier does most of that already, and - quite honestly - I am personally glad about that.

Knowing what is now known of the man and his behaviour, I have no time for anything he writes, no matter if it has won him prizes and honours or not. And if I were still in school and would be forced to read and study his poems for the leaving certificate in Irish, I would refuse to work with those texts. If that means that I would fail my Irish exams, so be it.
Who speaks Irish anyway after leaving school?

The Emerald Islander

26 March 2008

Government uses "Flag of Convenience" Ship

The Department of Defence has chartered the cargo ship MV Zeran to carry heavy material and supplies for the (currently about 70-strong) Irish Army contingent serving with the international peace-keeping force in the Republic of Chad in Central-Africa. The ship arrived at Dublin's North Quay yesterday to receive her cargo.

MV Zeran (photo) is owned by Pol-Levant, a Polish cargo shipping company based in the port of Gdansk. But the red-and-white flag that flies on her mast is not that of Poland. It is in fact the flag of Malta, where the Zeran is officially registered. And Malta, despite being now member of the EU, is still a "flag of convenience" country, where merchant ships from any country can register under most favourable conditions (for the owners) and with no questions asked.

Other popular "flag of convenience" countries are Antigua, the Bahamas, Cyprus, Liberia and Panama. Many vessels flying a "flag of convenience" are in bad condition, and on board the standards are generally lower than in ships under their own national flag. Pay and living conditions for the crew - often recruited from the poorest countries in Africa or Asia - are also much lower, and safety regulations are rarely up to the proper international standard, if they are observed at all.

Well, long gone are the good old days when we had our own Irish merchant fleet, proudly flying An Bhratach Náisiúnta. Successive Irish governments, involving all our major political parties, have sadly neglected the maritime interests of this island nation and presided over a steady decline of Irish shipping. Since the last general election the government has not even any longer a Department of the Marine. Its responsibilities have been added on to the Department of Transport, currently headed by Noel Dempsey, a TD from landlocked Co. Meath, who has no real interest in - nor any experience with - maritime matters.

I have no problem with the fact that the Department of Defence chartered a foreign ship, as there is probably at present no suitable vessel under Irish flag available. But did it have to be one flying a "flag of convenience"?

In January a representative of the International Transport Federation discussed the matter with Noel Dempsey and received promises that Ireland would be supporting the line adopted by many other EU countries and not use "flags of convenience" for official state business.
And only three weeks ago Taoiseach Bertie Ahern spoke in the Dáil against the widespread practice of using ships flying "flags of convenience".

However, when it comes to practicing what one preaches, our government is found wanting. But given the record Bertie and his ministers have on other matters, this is not really a surprise. Much is rotten on this island, and the fish - as always - starts stinking from its head.

The Emerald Islander

Demonstration for a decent Health Service

The Irish people have suffered enough (in my opinion more than enough) from the inadequate Health Service our government provides (or often rather not). And even though most of us are too complacent and too slow to complain, the boiling point in public opinion has been reached.

So there will be - at last - a major demonstration for a decent Health Service in Dublin this coming Saturday, March 29th. The march will be organised by the trade unions and by a number of patients' groups. Assembly will be at Parnell Square from 2.30 p.m. on, and the protest march will start at 3 p.m., going to Molesworth Street. There will be speeches on both ends of the demonstration.

This is a significant step forward, and it will be important to have large numbers of people taking part. So if you can manage to participate, please do. I have been informed that SIPTU is organising bus transport from outside Dublin, so if you are not in Dublin and have no transport of your own, it would be advisable to contact your local SIPTU branch.

The Emerald Islander

25 March 2008

Gormley concerned with Dungarvan Re-Zoning, but refuses to comment on Garda Investigation

John Gormley, TD (right), Minister for the Environment, Heritage & Local Government, has said he cannot comment directly on current Garda investigations into planning and re-zoning matters in County Waterford.

Gardaí have interviewed all of the elected Waterford county councillors and some council officials, following an allegation of planning irregularities.

This evening senior Gardaí in Dungarvan (the county town of Co. Waterford) have stressed that there is no cloud hanging over the councillors or council officials, and they have done absolutely nothing wrong.
Superintendent Tom O'Grady said the councillors and officials were interviewed as part of their investigations and nothing more.

The Minister has confirmed that his department will be writing to Waterford County Council about the proposal to re-zone 300 acres of land outside Dungarvan (above) from agricultural to industrial use. He said that he is concerned with the scale of the proposed development, adding that he believes there are some problems with the infrastructural capacity in the area. He also said it is not in keeping with the regional planning guidelines and the government's Spatial Strategy.

The Emerald Islander

US Military Death Toll in Iraq reaches 4000

Four US soldiers were killed when a bomb hit their vehicle in south Baghdad late on Sunday evening, bringing the total number of US military personnel killed in Iraq to 4000. (This number does not include five members of the US "Delta" special forces whose death in Iraq was reported in the media, but not confirmed by the Pentagon.)

The grim milestone was reached at about 10 p.m., on a day when also more than 60 Iraqis were killed and dozens more injured in attacks in Baghdad and north of Iraq's capital. It comes shortly after the fifth anniversary of the illegal US invasion of Iraq. (see my entry from March 19th)
The number of American service personnel wounded in Iraq (or invalided out of the military for mental instability and other psychological reasons) is meanwhile close to 65,000.

24 March 2008

40th Anniversary of Tuskar Rock Air Crash

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the tragic air crash at Tuskar Rock off County Wexford. Aer Lingus Flight 712 from Cork to London, using a Vickers Viscount 803 aircraft named "St. Phelim" (photo), went down under uncertain circumstances. 61 people died, but only 14 bodies were ever recovered from the sea.

The victims of the crash were remembered at a special Mass in Cork yesterday and the families of those who died have called for a plaque to be erected in Cork to mark the tragedy.
A memorial park to the air crash and its victims was opened in Rosslare, Co. Wexford in August 2006.

To this day the cause of the crash is unclear, despite two official investigations and various conflicting theories. It is one of the unsolved Irish mysteries of modern times, and I have looked into the matter myself recently. Due to other commitments I have not completed my research yet, but I will write here about my findings as soon as possible.

The Emerald Islander

Farewell to Irish Medium Wave

Today at precisely 3 p.m. GMT (or 1500 hours, as we say in the Navy) an era ended on the Emerald Isle. At that time Ireland's national broadcaster RTÉ switched off its last medium wave transmitter in Tullamore, Co. Offaly. With this last step Ireland's medium wave (MW) radio programmes ended after 82 years of stalwart service. Ten days ago RTÉ has switched off already the Clermont Cairn transmitter near Dundalk, Co. Louth, which had provided Irish radio service for the whole of Ulster, including the six counties of the North, as well as for the large Irish diaspora in England, Scotland and Wales.

So now there will be no more listening with hungry hearts to MW broadcasts, impeded by white noise and interrupted by high sunspot activity. Ireland's medium wave is dead, but long live the radio!

Like many other friends of the good old wireless, I was of course
listening today to the very last MW programme, which began at 1.30 p.m. (1330 h). It was called "Medium Wave, Goodbye" and hosted by Brendan Balfe, one of this country's longest-serving broadcasters, who has been on the air for more than 40 years.
It was a sentimental programme, 90 minutes filled mostly with memories of the "good old times" and with music many of us heard first when we were wearing short trousers. Fittingly the last tune played was "Taking care of you", which had been composed in 1926 - the year
Ireland's MW service began - and played on Irish airwaves many times since.

RTÉ began indeed as 2RN on the MW service in 1926, just four years after the establishment of Saorstát Eireann - the Irish Free State - and only three years after the Civil War had ended. Later known as Radio Athlone (because the transmitters were based since 1933 in Athlone), Radió Éireann and more recently as RTÉ Radio 1, it served the people of Ireland and many Irish ex-pats well for 82 years. RTÉ introduced the superior sound of the FM service in 1966, to counteract the common interference and poor reception on MW, and ever since the importance of MW has declined. According to RTÉ only about 10% of its listeners were still listening regularly on MW at the time when the decision to close down the service was made in February. But this figure might not take into account the large number of Irish ex-pats listening to RTÉ programmes abroad.

FM does undoubtedly produce a better sound quality,
but the range is limited. There should be no problems to receive RTÉ radio programmes inside the Republic, but there might be reception gaps now in the North and in Britain.
Some areas of the North may also experience problems in receiving the Limerick-based Lyric FM, as RTÉ prioritised RTÉ Radio 1 versus Lyric FM for cross-border transmission. Most of the MW coverage will be taken over b
y RTÉ's long wave (LW) service on 252 kHz (1190.4 m) that started in 2002 after the demise of the once popular music station Atlantic 252, which closed in December 2001 after twelve years of broadcasting to Britain and Ireland.

Listeners who did tune into MW specifically for special RTÉ Radio 1 programmes like weekday sports broadcasts and Sunday religious services will find those also on 252 LW (where they have been already for some time), as well as on cable television and the internet. This means of course that listeners outside Ireland will be hearing a Catholic Mass and a Protestant Service on Sunday morning, when they
would probably prefer listening to Diarmaid Ferriter and Marian Finnucane.

Other special broadcasts, like the alternatives to live sports on Saturday and Sunday, including arts programmes, features and drama, are shifted entirely to the internet and also available
as downloadable podcasts. But what about all those who don't yet have a computer and access to the internet? (And there are many, thanks to the incompetence of Eircom...) RTÉ's digital test station, RTÉ Choice, is so far only on air in and around Dublin.

There have been critical and warning voices, arguing against the switch-off of the MW service, in particular with concerns for the Irish living and listening abroad. Despite last year’s broadcasting legislation allowing for license money to be spent on more radio broadcasting for the Irish abroad, RTÉ went ahead with its plans to get rid of the MW service.
Well-known podcaster Brian Greene and the Irish Emigrants Advice Network (EAN) had meetings with the Department of Communications, pointing out the folly of closing down the MW service. But obviously to no avail.

“The shutdown is a reversal of recent trends in which Ireland has acknowledged its debt to the Irish abroad, and the need for maintaining strong links. Both MW and LW are complementary solutions for the Irish abroad. Long wave on its own is rather inadequate and presents problems for the future. The move is premature it will make the transition to digital more difficult,” EAN wrote in a letter to the Irish Emigrant newspaper.
They argue that
RTÉ should be working to improve access to its services for the Irish abroad, particularly the most vulnerable who will experience difficulties in making the transition from medium wave to any other format.
While most people in London could not receive the Irish MW service, there are large parts of cities like Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester that could. They should be allowed to listen to a service that has existed for decades.

Brian Greene also questions
RTÉ's choice of the new DAB broadcasting technology. He says that RTÉ plans to use DAB (digital audio broadcasting), but this is meanwhile an old standard and Ireland should be focusing on world digital radio standards like Digital Radio Mondiale or DAB-plus.
“The French have withdrawn funding for DAB. RTÉ needs to move to DAB-plus rather than an old standard like DAB,” he argues.

I am no engineer, so I could not comment on that debate. But what I have so far heard on DAB did not impress me.
It seems that radio is now following TV technology, where digital technology led to an explosion in channel numbers, but at the same time to a decline in programme quality. Perhaps I am a bit old-fashioned, but I like to listen to traditional radio on MW, LW and on short wave (SW), where one can find many international stations. I prefer that any time to listening over the internet, where the quality is often not good and I encounter frequently brief interruptions of transmissions.
It is also worth mentioning that a digital radio will use a lot more energy than a conventional one. In light of the increasing world energy crisis with ever rising prices for all forms of energy - especially electricity - I am not keen at all to exchange my good and very old radios for a new digital one.

It seems to me that once again a new technology is forced upon us by certain companies - like, for example, mobile phones on which one can watch films and TV (who needs such nonsense, especially on a tiny screen) - without any consultation. But consumers are very powerful (even a lot of them don't realise it) and can say no. This can stop new but senseless technology and gadgets in their tracks (
and many times has already). Maybe it is time to make a stand against digital radio and demand that things are kept as they are. After all - since it ain't broke, why fix it?

The Emerald Islander

My special Easter Wish: Save Tara!

Easter is supposed to be about resurrection and the forgiveness of sins. I therefore think that it is a good time for a fresh start and a complete re-thinking of a project which has so far caused already serious harm to the environment, great damage to one of our most important national heritage sites and even more damage to the reputation of the Green Party and especially its leader, John Gormley, TD, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

I am talking of course about the M 3 motorway project and the irreparable damage it is doing to the Hill of Tara, seat of the Ard Ri, the ancient High King of Ireland. Just before the Easter holiday a temporary agreement between the government and the National Road Authority (NRA) on one side and the anti-motorway protesters on the other has eased the tension for now. But knowing how institutions of the state work, this will not last forever, nor solve the problem.

In the past John Gormley (right) has been a reasonable man and his green credentials should give him a deeper understanding of the matter at hand, as well as for the protest against the proposed new motorway through the Skryne Valley. It is the high privilege of those we put in charge to govern the country that they have power, and that includes the power to change plans and projects as well as their mind.

It would be my special Easter wish that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government remembers his green roots, re-examines the case of the M 3 and have the courage to change its route, thus saving the Hill of Tara. I appeal to his common sense and hope he will be a listening minister who has not lost touch with the will and concerns of the people.

And if anyone would like to help me with this, it would be much appreciated. Ireland, our ancient heritage and we all would benefit greatly from such an action. So if you care - and I hope you do - then please spare a moment of your time, contact the office of John Gormley and let him know how you feel about the M 3 and the ancient Hill of Tara.

You can phone his office under 01-8882403 or - using LoCall - under 1890-202021. You could also send him an e-mail to minister@environ.ie or, if you wish to use the services of An Post, write him a postcard or letter. The address is:
Mr. John Gormley, TD
-= personal =-

Department of the Environment,
Heritage and Local Government

Customs House
Politicians in this country are elected as representatives of the people, and not dictators who can do as they please. So we should use our right to talk to those we put into the Dáil and let them know what we think. Feel free to speak to your local TDs as well about this matter, and in particular to those who represent the government parties. Only then will they know for sure how the people see the barbaric M 3 project, and we have fulfilled our democratic duty of care as citizens of this free country. Easter especially is a time to remember that, and a very good time to repent and make a fresh start for the better.

The Emerald Islander

23 March 2008

Ostara Shona!

As this year the Vernal Equinox (March 21st) and Ostara (March 23rd) are so close together, we have celebrated them together in one large combined ceremony.
To our friends and to the readers of this weblog we like to extend our special greetings and blessings on this occasion, wishing you all
Ostara Shona!

The Emerald Islander

Easter Rising commemorated in Dublin

More than 5000 people have today attended the annual ceremony in front of the General Post Office (GPO) in Dublin's O'Connell Street, marking the anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. Many of those present were relatives of volunteers who lost their lives in the fight for Irish freedom. The event was attended by President Mary McAleese, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, the Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea, and - as a special guest - the North's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

President McAleese arrived with a large motorcycle escort and then inspected a guard of honour. She laid a wreath at the entrance to the GPO (right), which served as the headquarter of Padraig Pearse, commander of the volunteers during the rising.

The Easter commemoration began with prayers, followed by the traditional reading of the original 1916 proclamation - which was today the duty of Captain Ross Dunphy (left) - and a flypast by the Air Corps.

Over 300 members of the Irish Defence Forces took part in the 30 minute ceremony to honour those who died in the Easter Rising 92 years ago. They included contingents from the Naval Service, the Air Corps and Army Reserve.

Two years ago, on the 90th anniversary, a big military parade with nearly 3000 soldiers was part of the ceremony, but in normal years the event is traditionally held on a modest level.

The Emerald Islander

Fire devastates Roberts-House in Waterford

A major fire has devastated the former house of the famous architect John Roberts in the inner city of Waterford last night. The blaze, which was reported around midnight, did destroy much of the old three-storey building on Cathedral Square, opposite Christchurch Cathedral, right in centre of the most ancient part of the city. The old Roberts-House, which bears a blue plaque in memory of Waterford's great architect, has stood empty for some time, as the area is due for re-development. The adjacent buildings to the left and right are also unoccupied at the present time and might have received some minor damage.

Three units of Waterford City Fire Brigade attended the scene and brought the fire under control. There has been no damage to Christchurch Cathedral, but the Fire Brigade cordoned off the area for the time being and will keep a watch in place, to prevent the fire from reigniting.

The burned-out building used to be the family home of John Roberts (1712-1796), who during the 18th century designed and built most of Waterford's famous landmark buildings, such as City Hall and Theatre Royal, the Bishop's Palace (now motor tax office), the house of William Morris (now seat of the Chamber of Commerce), and of course (the Anglican) Christchurch Cathedral and the Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. Waterford, Ireland's oldest city, is indeed the only place in the world where the same architect designed and built two cathedrals (using different styles) for different religious faith communities.

Last night's blaze, whose cause is at this time unknown, was the second major fire in Waterford's inner city in less than three weeks. On the 6th of the month an even larger and more devastating fire had engulfed and destroyed a commercial building on Thomas Street. (for details see my entry from March 6th)

The Emerald Islander

21 March 2008

What's the good on "Good Friday"?

In the English language (as well as in Dutch) the Christian churches call today "Good Friday". This is a very strange choice of word, since the day commemorates the torture, crucification and death of Jesus. What is good in putting a great man to his death in such a humiliating way? It has puzzled me and made me wonder ever since I learned English as a child.

We should not forget that for the Romans crucification was not only the harshest, but also the most shameful form of legal execution. It was usually reserved for the worst of criminals, but also regularly used as a political punishment for traitors and rebels.
Jesus fell into this last category, as the Romans saw him as the leader of a rebellious movement that threatened the Roman presence in Palestine and thus the stability of the Empire.

Regardless if one might believe the stories told in the New Testament or not, the killing of a man for political reasons - which sadly still happens several times every day on this planet - is not a good thing at all. Quite the opposite. So why did the English, after adopting Christianity, decide to call the day their spiritual leader was killed "Good Friday"?

I have researched this matter for quite some time, but could not find any clear explanation or reason. The more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that something must be wrong with the way English-speakers think and comprehend things, as "Good Friday" is only one of many English words and expressions that are either factually wrong or make no sense. (I will not elaborate on other examples here today, but will revisit the subject at a later time.)

In Irish we call this day Aoine Chéasta (Passion Friday), which describes exactly what it is, the day of Jesus' Passion.
Most of the other major cultures and languages are also doing the same and put the emphasis either on Jesus' suffering or on the sadness about it.

In Russian the day is called
"Passion Friday" (Страстной Пяток or Страстная Пятница) as well, while in German it is known as Karfreitag, which translates as "Friday of Lamentation" (from the medieval German word kara, meaning grief, sadness or lamentation for a dead person). The Germans actually extend their lamentation to Saturday - Karsamstag - as well, while in most other languages the attribute "Holy" is used, as it is also in English.

In French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese the various names for the day Jesus died mean "Holy Friday", which makes sense, and the same is also the case in the Philippines and Vietnam.
The words used in most Eastern European countries, as well as in Greece, Palestine and Malta, translate in a literal way as "Great Friday", but the meaning is the same as "Holy Friday".

In the Scandinavian countries the translation "Long Friday" matches most closely the word used in the various national languages, and the meaning comes from the long suffering of Jesus on the cross.

Even in cultures where Christianity is a small minority religion, the words used for this day are proper and fitting. In Chinese it is - very descriptive - the "Day of Christ's Suffering", while in Arabic the day is known as "Sad Friday".

Only in English (and Dutch) - it appears - is Jesus' suffering and death regarded as "good". I think this is very weird. And despite the fact that the word is in use now for many centuries, it might be a really good idea to change it and use a more appropriate name for this day when speaking English or Dutch.

The Emerald Islander

19 March 2008

Five Years of Lies, Crime and Carnage

Today is the fifth anniversary of the begin of the illegal US invasion of Iraq. Immediately after George W. Bush had declared war on Iraq, a massive air attack began, with indiscriminate bombings of Iraqi cities and military targets. This air war was conducted mostly by the US Airforce, with the British Royal Air Force in a minor support role.

Only after most Iraqi cities were heavily bombed, Allied ground forces entered Iraq, encountering little resistance from the inferior and demoralised Iraqi army. And within six weeks it was all over, at least officially. Even though few people seem to remember the fact, but it is worth to point out that George W. Bush declared on May 1st, 2003 that the war was over and the Allied forces had been victorious. This declaration was spectacularly staged on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72), one of the largest and most modern ships of the US Navy (pictured below).

But five years after the begin of the war US and British troops are still in Iraq, and still fighting. So is the war still going on? Then Bush lied to the world (and not for the first time) on May 1st, 2003.

However, in international law the situation looks a bit different. By declaring the war over, Bush - as head of state of the main belligerent country - made a legally binding statement, which binds not only him, but all US citizens, civilian and military, including all members of the armed forces of the United States.

After this official declaration, the USA (United States of Aggression) had no right to stay in Iraq as a fighting force. They could have stayed on as an occupational security force, but with limited powers, not much different to that of a police force. But this is not what happened. The USA did not only keep a large fighting force (currently 158,000 troops) in Iraq, including heavy battle tanks and helicopter gunships, as well as fighter and bomber aircraft, the US leadership orchestrated a second war - this time against the entire Iraqi population - after their war against Iraq's army and the ruling Baath Party was over and won.

This war is still going on, with no end in sight. And it is even more immoral and illegal than the first one, which started five years ago. Most people are not familiar with military and international law, and so they believe that the current war in Iraq is still the one that began exactly five years ago. But this is not the case. It could be, if George W. Bush had not - very prematurely, as it turned out - declared victory, "mission accomplished" and "combat operations over". Given the low intelligence of George W. Bush, he might not have been aware at the time what his declaration means in international law. However, in his position he has a large team of highly-trained and very well paid experts, advisers and lawyers, and they must surely have known better. Did they not dare telling him? Or were they all enthralled in the same false belief that by invading Iraq, destroying the army of Saddam Hussein and abolishing the Baath Party they would gain complete control of the whole country and its population?

If so, it only shows to the world how naive, inexperienced and incompetent the entire leadership of the sole remaining "super-power" really is.
Everyone knows by now that the Pentagon had absolutely no plans for the occupation, administration and post-war reconstruction of Iraq when they declared war. The then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld saw no need for that, since he firmly believed that the US troops would be "welcomed with open arms by the Iraqi people" and "hailed as liberators".

Subsequently the hastily established Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) under L. Paul Bremer, a former diplomat and Bush cronie, who was totally unprepared, unqualified and unsuited for the job, ran a medieval terror regime while squandering billions of dollars without proper accounts or receipts.
During the twenty months it was in charge of Iraq, each month a huge crate, containing 1 billion dollars in cash (!), was flown from the USA to Baghdad for the day-to-day operations of the CPA. Most of this money has disappeared without trace, and it has been alleged that a large part of it went right back to the USA, into the private pockets of CPA officials and US contractors working for it.

Meanwhile there have been elections and there is an official Iraqi government, complete with a President and Prime Minister, a large cabinet and a complete administration. The problem is that rival parties who hate each other have been forced into an undesired coalition, and they use their limited power predominantly for their own purposes and benefits. The general population of Iraq has no confidence in this government, nor in the newly created Iraqi army and police force, well armed and trained by the USA, but nevertheless still completely useless.
This is not entirely accidental, because as long as the Iraqi politicians and their new armed forces are incapable of ruling and controlling the country, a massive US presence can be justified by the White House. No one in the Bush administration has the slightest interest to leave Iraq, since it is needed as the assembly ground and jumping-off base for a war against Iran, which has long been planned by the Pentagon and is still a possibility, as long as Bush is in charge.

Earlier today Bush made a bullish speech at the Pentagon, praising himself and the war in Iraq. Sometimes I really think he actually believes all the lies and nonsense he tells the world, but in reality he is just a remote-controlled puppet, executing the orders he receives from his father, Vice President Richard "Dick" Cheney (who is the real ruler of the USA) and others who did buy the presidency for him in December 2000. And when he makes a speech, he is repeating words and doctrines his advisers prepare for him. Only when he has to answer ad-hoc questions the real George W. Bush comes to the forefront, a bumbling fool with no idea of politics or the world, a man who is not even in proper command of the English language and often mixes up his metaphores. Once a lazy daddy's boy and alcoholic, he is now a lazy but willing puppet for the unholy alliance of right-wing religious fundamentalists, oil barons and arms manufacturers who took control of the USA in a bloodless coup d'etat in December 2000 and put him into the White House.

Those who write Bush's speeches are professionals and masters in the art of manipulation and propaganda, and even the infamous Dr. Joseph Goebbels could learn from them. In today's war anniversary speech there was only good news and praise. No mention of the "weapons of mass destruction" (WMD) Saddam Hussein never had, but whose apparent existence was used by Bush as the main excuse for the war. No mention of the length of the war, which is meanwhile going on for longer than the First World War. No word either about the astronomical costs for the American taxpayers, which have recently passed the 500 billion dollar line. (for the exact amount at any time have a look at the running cost counter in the information column on the right side of my weblog)
There was of course also no mention of the human costs. Close to 4,000 US soldiers have died in Iraq so far (only 139 of them in the first war against the Iraqi army, the rest in the war against the whole Iraqi nation), and more than 60,000 have been wounded, many of them seriously and to the point that they will never again be fit for active military service.

But these are small numbers, compared with the amount of Iraqis who have lost their lives. As the USA does not even bother counting Iraqi dead and the new government in Baghdad issues only doctored statistics that makes them look good, one has to rely on independent international sources. The lowest estimate - from Britain, which is still the USA's only real ally in Iraq - puts the number of Iraqi civilians killed since March 19th, 2003 at "about 151,000".
The International Red Cross (ICRC) is more realistic and lists 654,965 Iraqi civilians as casualties of the war. But another source, the international ORB survey which has monitored events in Iraq closely from day one of the war, reports a death toll almost twice as high, with 1,220,580 Iraqi civilians and more than 14,000 members of the new Iraqi security forces (army & police) killed since March 2003.

As excuses for the war Bush presented the most ridiculous list of "reasons", well phrased, but only fooling those who were brainwashed beforehand. He said: "1) Because we acted, Saddam Hussein no longer fills fields with the remains of innocent men, women and children. 2) Because we acted, Saddam's torture chambers and rape rooms and children's prisons have been closed for good. 3) Because we acted, Saddam's regime is no longer invading its neighbors or attacking them with chemical weapons and ballistic missiles. 4) Because we acted, Saddam's regime is no longer paying the families of suicide bombers in the Holy Land. 5) Because we acted, Saddam's regime is no longer shooting at American and British aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones and defying the will of the United Nations. 6) Because we acted, the world is better and United States of America is safer."

Well, let's just deal with these examples. Number 1 is true, because Saddam Hussein is dead, hanged by the Iraqi puppet government after being sentenced to death in an US-controlled Iraqi kangaroo court. Now it is US troops who fill Iraqi fields with the remains of innocent men, women and children. Number 2 is true as well, since torture chambers in Iraq are now operated by the CIA and the US Military Police. Number 3 - true also. Bush only forgot to mention that it was the USA who provided Saddam Hussein with those weapons when he was still their friend and ally. Number 4 is of course correct as well, since Saddam is dead and his regime gone. So now families of Palestinian suicide bombers receive their payments from Saudi Arabia, which is America's closest ally in the region. Not surprisingly, number 5 is true also, as no-fly zones no longer exist in Iraq since 2003. Instead the US Airforce is now regularly bombing civilian targets with the excuse that they are "suspected terrorist hideouts", without ever providing any evidence for the claims. And number 6 - well, Mr. Bush, there you have slipped badly. Only someone with absolutely no brain, who is also blind and deaf could believe this outrageous and truly idiotic statement.
If you want to read Bush's whole speech, you can find it through this link: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2008/03/20080319-2.html

Thanks to Bush and his criminal administration the world is in complete economic turmoil, with the Middle East and some other areas also in political chaos. In Iraq the world's one remaining "super-power" has not been able to restore normal supply of drinking water and electricity after five years, not to mention the many other shortfalls that make life in Iraq hell for the Iraqis. No surprise that 4 million Iraqi people (which is 1/7 of the population) fled their homes and are now living as refugees, about half of them in other parts of the country, and the other half fled to foreign countries, the majority to Syria and Jordan.

And America safer? Well, perhaps for Mr. Bush and his cronies, who are constantly surrounded by dozens of body guards from the Secret Service, travel only in armoured limousines and special aeroplanes, and have the whole US security apparatus protecting them. Ordinary Americans pay for all this with their tax dollars, but in return they get ever worsening conditions in every area of their lives, from security and policing to personal freedom and the economy. Not to mention all the other problems people in the USA are only too familiar with...

This is a very sad day for the whole world, and Bush's triumphalist speech makes it even more so. In 2002 and early 2003 I attended numerous anti-war demonstrations, where thousands of Irish people made their voices and views heard, long before the illegal occupation of Iraq started. The build-up to the war was only too clear and visible for us, with many thousands of US troops and their supplies being transported to the Middle East stopping over at Shannon Airport. But no one listened to us and to the millions of people who held similar demonstrations in other countries. While always using the words freedom and democracy very liberally, neither Bush nor his willing vassals Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern paid any heed to the people. While Bush and Blair had their set agenda and just wanted this war, regardless of the costs and public opinion, our Taoiseach simply did not have the spine and moral fibre to say "no" to the use of Irish airspace and Shannon Airport. But in committing war crimes the small helpers are as guilty and responsible as the big leaders and the executers in the field.

There will come a time when the people as well as their leaders will see the Iraq war for what it is: the greatest combination of ordinary crimes, war crimes and carnage in modern times. And when the historians write their books about it, George W. Bush will find his place in eternal infamy, close to Stalin and Hitler. Sadly many more people - Iraqis and Americans alike - will be paying for his crimes and war crimes with their lives before someone will find the courage to end this war, which the US administration calls meanwhile "The Long War".

The Emerald Islander
(sad and sick, but still writing)

P.S. They say that history repeats itself for those who have not bothered learning enough of it. I found this quotation and reading it makes one think deeply and shiver...

18 March 2008

Silent Dick and the Paddy Farce in China

Saint Patrick apparently arrived in Ireland in the year 432 to convert the Pagan population of the Emerald Isle to Christianity. Never mind that he was not the only one doing that, and not even the first (parts of Ireland, especially in the South, were already Christian before he ever set foot on the island), he did succeed in converting many Celts by first converting their kings. And what the ruler believed that became overnight the doctrine in his kingdom. Such were the rather blunt laws in fifth century Ireland.

During the Middle Ages the Church declared Patrick patron saint of Ireland, and Waterford-born Franciscan friar Luke Wadding (1588-1657) was instrumental in establishing his feast as official church holiday. It became the National Day of the Republic of Ireland, but only since the 1990s it is rapidly becoming a global event as well (and an ever larger festival in Ireland, now extending over five days in Dublin).

Our government, inspired by the sudden economic boom known as "Celtic Tiger", is now promoting Irishness, Irish culture and Irish products around the world in similar fashion as Patrick promoted Christianity. Practically the entire cabinet, plus most of the junior ministers, travel abroad for St. Patrick's Day, in order to bring everything Irish to everyone. St. Patrick's Day has become a huge commercial event that makes millions for everyone and every industry that can connect with it.

Every year new countries and cities join the celebration, encouraged by the our government and supported by numerous Irish ex-pats one can find now everywhere.
This year it is the turn of China to jump onto the green band wagon, and since a single day seems no longer enough to celebrate Irishness, Beijing laid on a five-day Patrick's festival (pictured above), copying Dublin.

Although the number of Irish ex-pats in China is small and St. Patrick is as alien to Chinese culture as Moses, Jesus or Mohammed, money talks and anything that brings in more is now very welcome in the officially still Communist People's Republic of China.
There is also an ever growing number of Chinese living, working and studying in Ireland. In fact Chinese students are now an important source of income for Ireland, and China gets in return well-educated academics who speak good English.
One should also not forget the fact that this is the year of the Beijing Olympics, a major project for the Chinese government and used to strengthen ties with western countries.

Since the Chinese leadership decided to allow Irish ex-pats (and anyone else who likes this sort of thing) to roam the streets of Beijing, clad in green, wearing leprechaun hats and getting drunk on the omni-present Guinness, the Irish government felt obliged to dispatch one of its ministers as well to grace the event with his dignified presence. As all cabinet members were already booked for similar missions to places where there are more Irish and St. Patrick's Day is established for longer, the Beijing job was given to Dick Roche, Fianna Fáil TD for Wicklow and Minister of State (in both the Taoiseach's Department and the Department for Foreign Affairs) with special responsibility for Europe. It is rather typical of our government to send the Minister for Europe to a minor fun event in China, while the country is preparing for another EU referendum and there are major matters discussed in the various EU councils.

And yes, a minor fun event it was, and not more. Less generous people might call it a silly farce on which the Irish taxpayer spent a lot of money. And they would be right, too. Obviously neither Mr. Roche nor anyone else in the government bothered to study Chinese culture, mentality and general political practice. Marches and demonstrations are neither popular nor encouraged in China, unless they are organised, orchestrated and tightly controlled by the Communist Party or the state authorities.
And as much as the Chinese try to make "good weather" in the run-up period to the Olympic Games, they remain inflexible bureaucrats who will have things their way - or not at all. The small Irish ex-pat group in Beijing which organised the festival with massive sponsorship from the Irish government, Enterprise Ireland and several other organisations and public bodies, was told the parade down Wangfujing Lu - Beijing's major pedestrianised shopping street - could not exceed 200 people.

So Paddy Taxpayer financed the official trip of a minister to China, to join a bunch of ex-pats going wild for a week and promoting the stereotype that being Irish means oafish, disorganised, noisy and drunk. But it was not just Mr. Roche alone who flew to China. A whole delegation went with him on this very special mission, including blonde Irish dancing girls in embroidered green dresses, government officials and civil servants, representatives of Irish companies, some journalists and a group of "normal" people who went just for the craic.
Some of them came from the Christian Brothers' College in Cork, presumably brought along to tell the Chinese that there is a "People's Republic" in Ireland as well. Taxpayers' money well spent, wouldn't you agree?

In the end the embassy managed to soften up the Chinese bureaucrats. So when China's first ever St. Patrick's Day parade took off on Sunday to start the Irish festival, there were close to 1000 people, a truly motley crew if there ever was one. A satirical caricaturist, out to make the Irish look like bumbling fools, could not have done a better job. It was one of the tackiest events of its kind and included the most ridiculous looking impersonation of Saint Patrick I have ever seen. His alb was way too short, reaching just below the knees, and what was meant to represent a Celtic cross on the chasuble looked more like the targeting cross-hairs of a rifle. (see photo above) Well, we cannot offend the secular Chinese by displaying too many Christian symbols, can we?
To make things worse, the fellow posing as St. Patrick sported the most unreal and idiotic looking false beard ever seen on a man. Not even the tackiest of tacky "Santa" impersonators would sink that low in his choice of fake facial hair!

There was no interaction between marchers and ordinary Chinese people, most of whom had not the slightest idea what was going on. Shoppers and passers-by looked bewildered at the semi-costumed crowd walking down the street, led by a Scottish (!!!) piper and very closely watched and shadowed by about 200 uniformed policemen who did not really know what to do and how to behave towards the "green fools" either.
Yes, all the Paddy's Day friendship and peaceful intentions did not make the Chinese authorities take any risks or even a single chance.
To Chinese minds, formed for 25 centuries by the austere and principled ways of Confucianism and sharpened by now nearly 60 years of Communism, the whole idea of a nation going silly, noisy and getting drunk to celebrate its special greatness is just not comprehensible. Something very odd from the other side of China's Great Wall, to say the least.

Not even the special personal appearance of Ireland's Minister of State for Europe made any impression on the Chinese. His presence only added plain-clothed secret policemen to the 200 already there in uniform. And by the looks of it, Mr. Roche did not enjoy the experience much either, despite several desperate attempts to smile at everyone.
His very smart and rather serious looking black suit was lightened up by a brightly-green tie, but since that seemed not to be enough Irish green for the occasion, the minister also wore a posh lime-green scarf, almost looking like a priest's stole. (see photo below)

Being not a tall man, Dick Roche looked more like a leprechaun missing his hat than the representative of the Irish government. It is not known what the Chinese thought of the rather sad and ridiculous spectacle, but I imagine it did not enhance our nation's image in the Far East.

The parade itself probably qualifies for the Guinness Book of Records in several categories: Not only as the first staged in China and the most tacky, but also as the shortest St. Patrick's Day parade ever. It started in front of the foreign language bookshop on Wangfujing Lu and marched down circa 150 metres to the Oriental Plaza, where it turned around - and ended, still closely watched by 200 uniformed policemen (and who knows how many others in plain cloth). And 1.33 policemen for each metre of the way must also be a record, I am sure.

Apart from his participation in this truly memorable event, the Minister of State for Europe also had meetings and talks with representatives of the Chinese government. Though they took place behind closed doors, it can be assumed that they were mostly about trade and tourism, the two subjects Irish ministers are sent abroad to promote on St. Patrick's Day. However, there was a much more important matter an Irish minister - and especially one from the Department of Foreign Affairs - could and should have raised with his Chinese hosts. While a few hundred Irish wearing green costumes were allowed a heavily supervised walk in central Beijing, thousands of red-robed Buddhist monks were demonstrating in Lhasa, the capital city of Chinese-occupied Tibet, against the Chinese government and its oppression of traditional Tibetan culture. The monks, inspired by western ideas of freedom and liberty, were attacked by Chinese soldiers and police, beaten and shot at. The inofficial number of dead Tibetan civilians stands at about 100 now, but the true figure of casualties could well be larger.

When Dick Roche was asked by an RTÉ reporter in Beijing if he had mentioned the matter of Tibet to his Chinese hosts, the minister declared that he had not, because "this is not what we are here for". Well, well, so that's it then: As long as some Irish ex-pats can fool around in Beijing and have their craic, we don't give a hoot for human rights and do not care for those thousands of monks, nor for the Tibetan people who live under Chinese oppression for nearly fifty years! This is how Ireland is represented abroad, as a paradise for bumbling fools, not the slightest bit interested in real matters such as political clout and human rights.

Shame on you, Mr. Roche, for kowtowing so cowardly to the Chinese! Your silence in Beijing speaks a lot louder than anything you ever said or will say in future. And it will be remembered much longer than the silly parade you led in China.

But maybe we should not be too surprised by the minister's lack of political spine and moral fibre. This is the same Dick Roche who - as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government - messed up the electoral register. And he is also personally responsible for the M 3 project going through the Skryne Valley and destroying the Hill of Tara.
In fact the very last thing he did in this position - before being demoted by Bertie Ahern to junior ministerial rank - was the signing of the extremely controversial building orders for the M 3. And now, when he is back from China, Mr. Roche will try to make us vote for the Lisbon Treaty. Well, we'll see about that...

The Emerald Islander

Getting the Priorities wrong

The Irish word Taoiseach means Chief or Leader. When Ireland gained independence, this word was bestowed on the Prime Minister of the country, and it is a lot more than just his job title. The linguistic connection with the ancient Celtic kings and chieftains who ruled the island for centuries before the arrival of the Normans bridges the historic gap, the time during which the Irish nation was in bondage, the land occupied and its people oppressed.

So when we call our Prime Minister Taoiseach, it includes a degree of general reverence that goes well beyond the individual and far above party-political considerations. In ancient times the chiefs were not only ruling by force and law, they were first and foremost leading the people by personal example.

Sadly, this is no longer the case, especially not with the current Taoiseach. For years he has been trying to lead us up the political garden path, and more recently we have also learned a lot more of his private shortfalls. I have written about this already extensively and there is no need to repeat myself. What I want to highlight in this entry is another point that shows a clear lack of personal leadership in Bertie Ahern.

For many years now the Taoiseach and most of his ministers are fleeing from the country on the one day when they all should be here. As good leaders they should be with and among the people on Ireland's national day, St. Patrick's Day. Sadly cabinet ministers prefer a quick promotional trip to foreign places to joyful celebration at home.

It has been argued that the visits are valuable to promote Irish industry, trade and tourism, but I am not so sure if it is worth the bother any more. We are meanwhile a wealthy and successful country, with more money than common sense, and we need hundreds of thousands of foreign workers to fill all the jobs on the island. The amount of foreign investment is still strong, and there is not a lot for any minister to improve on by visiting a foreign city on March 17th.

With regards to tourism those trips are even more futile.
As long as the US dollar stays weak, many Americans can simply no longer afford holidays in Ireland and will go to some cheaper country, if they go at all. And in order to attract more European tourists we need only to do two things: lower our ridiculously high prices and improve the standard of our services. No ministerial visit on our own National Day can achieve that.

What really annoys me most is that for many years now our Taoiseach seems to be obliged to go to Washington D.C. on St. Patrick's Day, in order to present the President of the USA with a bowl of Irish shamrock. This was not started by Bertie Ahern, so he is only following in the footsteps of his predecessors. But it is nevertheless wrong. And it reminds me strongly of the ancient times when the subordinate rulers of vassal states had to turn up once a year at the court of the king, in order to pay homage and present him with tribute and gifts.

A bowl of Irish shamrock might not have much financial value, but it still is a symbolic tribute of homage, given to the ruler of the country that now controls more or less the whole world, both in political and economical terms. Why is this happening? I always thought that we are a free and sovereign country - at least on paper - and have no need to pay homage to anyone. At least that is the task our ancestors fought and died for, achieving freedom for 26 of our 32 counties at last in 1922.

Neither Éamon de Valera nor John Costello traveled to Washington every year with a bowl of shamrock, and I do not think Seán Lemass, Jack Lynch or Liam Cosgrave did it either. (Since I spent most of the FitzGerald
and Haughey era abroad, I am not sure about the way they behaved on St. Patrick's Day.)
I think that it is about time to end this senseless custom.

When I saw this morning a photo of the Taoiseach handing a bowl of shamrock to the war criminal and torturer George W. Bush, I almost choked. I'm not happy with Bertie Ahern, his policies, practices and personal attitude, and I never voted for him or his party.
But nevertheless he is An Taoiseach, the leader of the Irish nation, and as such he can demand my basic loyalty.

Sadly he is not a true leader and gets his priorities wrong. If he were a real leader, he would spend our National Day at home and hand out bunches of shamrock to ordinary people, to the old and sick, the poor and disabled, soldiers of our Defense Forces and those who give their time and personal commitment to Ireland and to the local community. They would be grateful, happy and proud to receive such a gift from the Taoiseach, and they would deserve it.

Instead our cabinet ministers are flown around the world - at taxpayers' expense - to attend a number of more or less tasteful celebrations, and our leader pays homage to a war criminal. No time and no reason to be proud to be Irish.

The Emerald Islander