Thursday, February 24, 2011

Downturn puts N Ireland peace under fire

By John Murray Brown - February 24 2011 – Financial Times

A large steel plate covers the spot where an IRA rocket embedded itself in the gable end of Dicky Magill’s grocery shop in the hard-bitten Kilwilkie estate in Lurgan, County Armagh.

“In the 1970s it was wild here,” says Martin Casey, who lives nearby. “There were gun battles all the time.”

Senior security officials are concerned that paramilitary activity may be on the rise again at a time of severe public spending cuts and a downturn in the local economy. They fear disaffected youths are being thrust into the arms of militant dissident groups that broke away from the mainstream IRA in protest at the peace strategy pursued by Gerry Adams, the Sinn Féin president, and Martin McGuinness, the former IRA leader who is now deputy first minister in the power-sharing executive.

“Of course there are kids who end up in gangs in Liverpool and Manchester and Dublin but they don’t have the potential to plant a 200lb bomb in a town centre,” says Peter Sheridan, a former senior policeman who heads Co-operation Ireland, a charity involved in an innovative project to help young people on the estate find work placements.

“We’re trying to pick the people who might be the Martin McGuinness or the Jackie McDonald [an infamous loyalist leader] of the future. The natural leaders,” he says.

Economists question the direct link between paramilitary violence and public spending, arguing that Northern Ireland throughout the Troubles received a much higher level of public spending – and is still a third higher – than the UK average and yet the IRA campaign went on.

Today the problem is exacerbated by the splitting of responsibility for the security response to the dissident threat between London and the devolved administration at Stormont, which since last year has been in charge of policing.

The voluntary sector and other outreach services provided to those communities affected comes from the devolved budget, which has been cut by 11 per cent, although this is considerably less than many Whitehall departments.

Nonetheless, local politicians believe there is a danger essential community work could be undermined. Alex Attwood, social development minister, says: “It is essential that community and voluntary sector groups that do the hard work in areas where other government agencies don’t go are protected.”

He says the dissidents are “targeting those groups who feel they did not get a dividend from peace”.

A senior police officer who prefers to remain anonymous says the young men joining the splinter terrorist groups “don’t have a memory of the awfulness of what happened before but they think it’s exciting and they have nothing better to do”. He adds that the current crop have no support from the wider republican community.

Mr Sheridan points to the 17-year-old youth from Lurgan at present on remand for the murder of Stephen Carroll, an officer with the Police Service of Northern Ireland who was shot dead while on patrol in nearby Craigavon in January 2009 – the last security service person to be killed.

“That boy was only three years old when the IRA declared its ceasefire,” he says.

Mr Sheridan believes successive governments have not been active enough in promoting what he calls “peace building”, part of which is fostering reconciliation between communities. “Government isn’t particularly good at looking at the long term. But if we don’t do something the danger is we’ll be settling for segregation as a solution, which it isn’t.”

He reels off a depressing list of statistics to illustrate Northern Ireland’s community divisions. Since the ceasefires the number of “peace walls” erected by the authorities to separate rival Protestant and Roman Catholic neighbourhoods in Belfast has grown from 18 to 88. Social housing is now almost totally segregated. Integrated education, in spite of government support, covers just 9 per cent of schoolchildren.

“I don’t think people will ever live together,” says Mr Casey, the Kilwilkie resident. The problem is not lack of funding for community proj­ects, he believes. “That’s appeasement money, I call it. Sinn Féin are given that money so they’ll not come back to the Troubles.”

Dolores Kelly, local assembly member for the Social Democratic and Labour party, also says it is “simplistic” to link dissident activity with economic deprivation. She recalls the son of one of her constituents, a well-paid civil servant, who was arrested while rioting.

She says one of the biggest problems is the continuing “glorification” by Sinn Féin of the events of the Troubles.

Others, however, insist it is wrong to discount the positive impact of the recently truncated economic boom, which did much to keep young men out of the clutches of the terrorist gangs.

Richard Ramsey, chief economist at Ulster Bank in Belfast, says the growth in construction during the property bubble “worked a little like a good social policy, mopping up skilled but also unskilled labour on both sides of the border”.

“There were clear benefits from the Celtic Tiger,” says the unnamed senior police officer. “There is no question about that.”


I am very familiar with the Kilwilkie housing estate as I have many friends in Lurgan. This article solidifies a long held theory of mine that the ultimate success or failure of the peace process in Ireland lies not with this generation or past ones, but rather with the upcoming generation and future ones. Crucial to the effort to sustain the very fragile peace is supporting and nurturing cross community youth oriented programs. Ex-prisoner retraining programs, which at their inception were very commendable, have long since served their purpose. It is time not to forget the past, but to apply the mistakes learned from it and move on toward the future. As stated in the article, erecting more “peace walls” and glorifying the violence of the past is not the pathway to a peaceful and secure future. The youth of Ireland deserve much more. Is it any wonder that they are emigrating by the thousands?

Jack Meehan, Past National President

Ancient Order of Hibernians in America

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Unite trade union says Left government can be formed with Sinn Féin

Unite trade union says Left government can be formed with Sinn Féin
THE Unite trade union has urged people to vote to elect a left-wing government for the first time in Irish history. The union, the second largest in the state and a Labour Party affiliate, has also called on Labour to go into coalition with Sinn Féin and other Left parties and “progressive Independents” to make this happen.
“A vote for Fine Gael is a vote for more Fianna Fáil policies,” Unite the Union said. “There is nothing to be gained by helping Fine Gael back into office.”
Unite is encouraging the Labour Party to “look Left for coalition partners rather than to the old order of Fine Gael”, which it described as Fianna Fáil’s “political half-brothers”.
Jimmy Kelly, Regional Secretary of Unite the Union, said:
“The Left has never been stronger. Recent polls put the combined strength of the Labour Party and Sinn Féin at 40%. This is substantially higher than either of the right-wing parties.
“With the support of other Left parties and progressive Independents, a Left government is now a distinct possibility.”
The leading trade union activist added:
“We need to remove Fianna Fáil from government and keep their political half-brothers, Fine Gael, out too.
“A vote for Fine Gael is a vote for more Fianna Fáil policies.
“They will support massive cuts to public services, privatisation, more job losses across all sectors and social welfare cuts.
“There is nothing to be gained by helping Fine Gael back into office.”
The Unite spokesperson said that competition for votes and seats between Left parties is to be expected but:
“We should remember that progressives have more in common with each other than they do with either of the Civil War parties.
“For the first time we have an opportunity to move away from out-of-touch and outdated politics based on history rather than ideology.
“We can produce a legacy of genuine alternative views between Right and Left, social democracy and neo-liberalism.
“Right-wing politics based on the markets has failed utterly.
Unite will be calling on its members, trade unionists and all workers to use their votes to maximize left-wing seats.
We urge them to vote for, and transfer to, left-wing candidates.
“The electorate will decide what the next government will be.
“We all have an opportunity to elect the first Left government in the history of the state.”
Anywhere in this article that you see the words “left wing” you can substitute the word “Socialist”. The last thing in this world that Ireland needs at this time is to become a country whose leadership subscribes to a political ideology that is no different than that of Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, or Vietnam. That is precisely what these radical Socialist political parties are trying to promote. The very thought of Ireland as a "Socialist Republic" should be enough to make any freedom loving person of Irish heritage nauseous.
Jack Meehan, Past National President
Ancient Order of Hibernians in America

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Muslim population growing in Ireland major influence seen as Islamic community expands

CATHY HAYES, Staff Writer
The Muslim community is growing in Ireland.
The Muslim population in Ireland has expanded substantially in the last several years, with 10 times more Muslims living in the country today than lived in Ireland 20 years ago. Islam has become the fastest-growing religion in Ireland, with the number of Muslims increasing nearly 70 percent between 2002 and 2006.
The Muslim community is also becoming more diverse. “This is probably one of the most diverse Muslim populations in Europe,” “The Irish Times” was told by Dr. Oliver Scharbrodt, who is leading a pioneering three-year research project on Islam in Ireland at University College Cork.
“In other European countries you have a particular ethnic group or nationality being dominant because of historical or colonial links, but that is not the case in Ireland. “One could say that Ireland constitutes a microcosm of the global ummah [community of believers], with all the different nationalities, trends and movements present and visible in a fairly small geographic and communal space.”
The Islamic Cultural Center of Ireland [ICCI], in Clonskeagh, Co. Dublin, an institution which has a long-standing relationship with the Irish government, is connected to the Brussels-based Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe.
The iman at the ICCI is the secretary of the European Council for Fatwa and Researchan, an offshoot of the federation. “With the [ICCI] hosting the secretariat of this leading body of Islamic jurisprudence, Ireland has become the center of one of the most influential ideological and intellectual trends of the contemporary Muslim world,” says Scharbrodt.
The ICCI has welcomed President Mary McAleese, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen and his predecessor Bertie Ahern, as well as many ministers.
Many Muslims have said that because of its size and financial resources the ICCI towers above other Muslim organizations as the self-appointed voice of Islam in Ireland, pushing aside diversity. Scharbrodt adds that the Irish government should engage with the diversity of Muslims in Ireland, particularly as the numbers grow and second-generation Muslims come of age.
“Ideally it should try to relate to and establish links with as many mosque groups and organisations as possible,” he said. The 2006 census put the number of Muslim living in Ireland under 33,000, but most observers agree the true figure is over 40,000.
Forgive me for sounding cynical, but isn’t this just wonderful ! The Catholic Church is declining in what was once considered the most Catholic country in Europe and the Muslim “religion” is growing by leaps and bounds. I suppose the next thing we can expect will be a Muslim Brotherhood revolt in Dublin along the lines of what we have just witnessed in Egypt. God Save Ireland!!
Jack Meehan, Past National President
Ancient Order of Hibernians in America

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Fine Gael on course to govern by itself

Silent surge by voters spells drop for Independents and Labour

JOHN DRENNAN - Sunday February 06 2011

A series of constituency polls conducted by the Sunday Independent reveal that Fine Gael is agonisingly close to forming a single-party government for the first time since 1927.

The polls suggest that within the nation's constituencies, where party organisation and name recognition can give bigger parties a bounce, a silent surge to FG is occurring.

And if the swing continues the party will be on the cusp of actually securing an overall majority -- a political holy grail that hasn't been secured since the Jack Lynch era in Fianna Fail.

The Quantum Research poll across eight constituencies, which identifies local variations that would not show up in a national poll, puts Fianna Fail at 24 per cent.

The main government party for the last 15 years is trailing Fine Gael at 42 per cent. Labour is on 17 per cent.

In spite of ongoing issues with Enda Kenny's status as a leader, the party is now in contention to win an astonishing three out of five seats in constituencies like Cavan-Monaghan, Laois-Offaly and even Cork South Central.

The silent surge is not confined to rural areas. In Dublin West, Leo Varadkar is poised to clean up with just under a third of first preferences.

Whilst troubled Labour leader Eamon Gilmore secures a similar vote in Dun Laoghaire, the low first preference vote secured by Ivana Bacik means it is low-profile FG candidates Sean Barrett and Mary Mitchell O'Connor, rather than the Labour dream team, who are poised to win two seats in the constituency.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael, courtesy of Enda Kenny's stunning de Valera-style 25,000-strong vote, is now odds-on to win four out of the five seats in Mayo.

A number of other political heavyweights who are poised to rack up huge personal votes include Eamon Gilmore, Simon Coveney and Fergus O'Dowd, who on today's figures will top the poll in Louth with more than 16,000 first preferences.

The poll suggests that Eamon Gilmore will win a stunning 20,000 votes in Dun Laoghaire, while Simon Coveney is poised to secure more than 16,000 votes in Cork and defeat Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin in the battle of the Cork poll toppers by a margin of almost two to one.

In what would represent a seismic political development, today's poll reveals that the FF deputy leader and recent candidate for the leadership, Mary Hanafin, has lost half of her vote in Dun Laoghaire and admits she is "facing my biggest political battle ever".

But the key factor which may see the most likely future FF female leader lose her seat to the United Left Alliance is the dismal performance of her cabinet colleague Barry Andrews, who is languishing at 7 per cent.

There is more bad news for FF in the party citadel of Laois-Offaly where FG's Charlie Flanagan is poised to inflict a crushing defeat on the Taoiseach's brother Barry Cowen. But while the seat will stay in the Cowen family, sitting Fianna Fail TDs John Moloney and Sean Fleming are in real danger of losing theirs.

The government party will, however, experience some isolated successes as both Brian Lenihan and Willie O'Dea are safe. But when it comes to the battle of the Limerick bruisers Michael Noonan is poised to knock Mr O'Dea off his perch as the designated poll topper in Limerick City for the first time in 20 years.

When it comes to Sinn Fein it may come as a consolation to Willie O'Dea that the former minister's nemesis, Maurice Quinlivan, is floundering miserably at the bottom of the Limerick battlefield as the Sinn Fein tide goes out.

In Louth, Gerry Adams will win a seat but the former British MP is being trounced by a margin of almost two to one by the FG frontbencher Fergus O'Dowd.

According to the polls, Green minister Ciaran Cuffe will struggle to get more than a thousand votes in Dun Laoghaire whilst the high-profile party chairperson and twitterer Dan Boyle is in real danger of experiencing a similar humiliation.

Independents are also faring poorly, with Socialist big hitters such as Joe Higgins and Richard Boyd Barrett struggling to secure what were previously thought to be certain gains.

The rise in FG support detailed by the Sunday Independent's series of polls will also increase tensions between the putative coalition partners of FG and Labour.

It poses a real challenge for Labour strategists since Labour transfers could play a key role in carrying Fine Gael over the threshold where they might no longer require support from Labour to form a government.

FG spokespeople have consistently denied the existence of any plan to secure an overall majority.

But tensions have been increasing between the prospective partners.

One senior FG figure told the Sunday Independent yesterday: "We are starting to worry that FG and Labour together may not be good for the country. We have serious policies, we can do stuff, but how can this happen if we are tethered to a red post?"


They say that a week is an eternity in politics never mind nearly three weeks but it looks like this election is Fine Gael's to lose. They could even form a government without a coalition. It will be very interesting to watch for any new developments.

Jack Meehan, Past National President

Ancient Order of Hibernians in America