Tag Archives: Republic of Ireland

Rethinking Our Values as a State

Our country, the Republic of Ireland, has traditionally been a country heavily dominated and controlled by the Holy See and its religious values of Roman Catholicism. However, things are now changing profoundly. The rise of secularism in Ireland is an interesting phenomenon to observe, particularly the high velocity at which change is coming. My generation, sometimes referred to as ‘millennials’, are comparatively much more progressive than the preceding so-called ‘baby-boomers.’ Irish society is beginning to take a step back and question the authority of the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil parties and the alternating grip they have had on our country since its establishment. Left-wing politics is becoming more popular among younger people, we see this with the rising membership of Sinn Féin and the dramatic support of Bernie Sanders among youth platforms in the U.S. (Washingtontimes.com, 2016.) The Roman Catholic Church no longer wields immense influence in state affairs and just over a third of Irish Catholics attend Mass on a regular basis (Irishtimes.com, 2012.) Of course, the state can employ cultural and religious values in its education system, but the real question is whether they should – especially while such marked societal changes are taking place.

The ever-changing political landscape has, throughout history, presented innumerable social problems for governments to attempt to alleviate and for the general public to attempt to understand and avoid. Arguably, the largest issue facing Ireland in the twenty-first century, like virtually all other member states of the European Union, is that of the European migrant crisis and the xenophobia surrounding it. This said crisis is multifaceted, the deep-rooted origins of it are indeed complex with certain aspects only loosely interconnected. The vast majority of migrants arriving to our continent are genuine people escaping the horrors of poverty and conflict, who also happen to be mostly Muslim, from nations such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Eritrea. However, the rise of terrorism committed by a narrow minority of Islamic jihadists, albeit a spider’s web of different organisations, has instilled fear and irrationality in a sizable percentage of the Irish population. This fear of not only jihadists, but Muslim people in general, is being perpetuated ever still by far-right politicians, some of whom I will discuss in more detail later on, and their associated media. These individuals firmly point the finger of blame at the likes of the Al-Qaeda, Taliban and Daesh for what they view as unprovoked acts of ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ against western civilisation. While others accuse the Bush administration and the other coalition forces, for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, especially citing the disruption of the Middle East following the violent and perhaps poorly planned ousting of Saddam Hussein’s government. It is thought by some that Hussein, while a brutal authoritarian and undeniable violator of his citizen’s basic human rights, upheld law and order in Iraq and the greater region. Regardless of its origins, the problem is most certainly an increasingly divisive one and one thing must be made clear, the entire Muslim faith cannot be held accountable for the atrocities of an extremist few. It is important, we, as Irish people, separate religion from morality, as they are not synonymous words. It is irrelevant whether or not we are religious, it is, however, important that we have a set of moral values. Daesh, also commonly referred to as the Islamic State, has wreaked havoc across the Arab world and cities closer to home in recent times, such as Paris, Brussels and Nice. Countless innocent lives have been needlessly lost and there is much reason to be infuriated by that fact, though there is evidence to support claims that most victims of jihadist attacks are actually Muslim (Fas.org, 2011.) Therefore, there exists no justification whatsoever for xenophobic attitudes towards Muslim refugees seeking sanctuary in our open-minded country. In my humble view, we must welcome these persecuted people with open arms and treat the war on terrorism as a separate issue to tackle.

Islam is an Abrahamic religion with a traceable common origin with Christianity, lest we forget the fact the religious heritage celebrated by the indigenous population of this island for sixteen centuries started in the Middle East. Thus, Islam should not be regarded as an alien religious movement, it ought to be respected and tolerated if not embraced. Islam is not a terrorist faith, it does not explicitly preach in its holy doctrine, the Qu’ran, the perpetrating of paramilitary combat against non-believers. Seemingly, some people forget that Muslims are fellow human beings with, on the overwhelming most part, respective consciences and compassion in their hearts. In this regard, they are not unlike people of different faiths or people without faith at all. Most Muslims wish to carry on with their everyday lives in peace, without any unnecessary hindrance or petty obstruction from misinformed bigots who oftentimes act as deplorably as the Islamic terrorists they supposedly oppose. Our society is becoming more and more liberal as time progresses, though there is a frightening chance many Irishmen and Irishwomen could swallow the toxic lies spouted by former far-right fringe groups now comfortably in the mainstream. Our closest neighbour, the United Kingdom, boasts xenophobic political leaders such as Nigel Farage of UKIP, and the current Prime Minister Theresa May, who has ambitions of dramatically decreasing Britain’s intake of refugees per annum. It comes as no surprise then that xenophobic and racist attacks are on the rise in the U.K. following their vote to withdraw from the E.U. With the widespread usage of social media and accessibility of diverse news networks, Irish people are no longer sheltered from the prevalence of Islamophobic smearing across the western world. The appalling, racist rhetoric of the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, is unfortunately appealing to far too many ‘ordinary’ people. The equally troubling Marine Le Pen of the National Front in France is also receiving a worrying degree of support from her countrypeople, with her party now the third-largest three months ahead of the general election. Trump proposed the blocking of all non-American Muslims from entering the U.S. (Jeremy Diamond, CNN, 2015), while Le Pen has made a startling comparison between Muslims and Nazi occupiers (BBC.com, 2015.) Trump has since slightly backtracked from his promise and now Muslims from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen are being refused at entry. Nobody from the aforementioned seven states has ever committed a fatal attack in the United States (Huffingtonpost.com, 2017) – it seems oil is much more important to Trump than supposed ‘safety measures.’ Our society must shake off this bitterness and not allow it to poison our nation’s morals. We must not discriminate against an entire religion, as such discrimination, like all forms of discrimination, is without merit or logic.

Our Republic has come a tremendous way from the darker days of the past when the population were, en masse, acting as puppets of the papacy, an organisation now so out of touch with the modern world it is truly ludicrous. The former reality of Roman Catholic dominance in state affairs and everyday life is now distant in most people’s memory. Together, we, as a nation, have expanded equality to sexual minorities and have granted those of the LGBT community who wish to marry and adopt the right to do so. The decriminalisation of homosexual activity came just twenty-two years prior to the momentous referendum result that ruled a strong majority in favour of equal marriage. Since then, Irish people have reopened debate on the hot topic of abortion rights and other social issues, such as the legalisation and regulation of prostitution. The liberalisation of our country, to me, can only be a positive advance to society and we have only just begun this journey. As it stands now, a prehuman zygote has more rights than that of a living, breathing refugee with feelings and emotions. Ireland must take in a considerable amount of additional refugees, the current proposals of granting asylum to 4,000 refugees is not satisfactory from my viewpoint. The Irish government should commence special employment programmes, setting up lines of work for able-bodied refugees and in turn, bolstering the economy while indirectly aiding their positions in our society. While most Irish people, 68% according to one poll (Newstalk.com, 2016), are happy to reside in the vicinity of refugees, just under half believe that 4,000 new arrivals will steadily increase crime in our small nation. This attitude is, regrettably, not a rare one, and we have the media’s scaremongering after terrorist attacks to thank for that. But make no mistake, the refugees coming from nations in the Middle East and North Africa were born and raised under differing degrees of sharia law. A law regarded as conservative, restrictive and intensely severe to Irish people who often take for granted the wide range of liberties we are allowed to enjoy. Though refugees are escaping such oppressive regimes, with them they bring values that do not always correspond with our society. Multiculturalism can, undoubtedly, be a nation’s greatest treasure, but for our country to be successful, all peoples under our flag must respect one and another for their differences. For our differences can make us stronger and the envy of other nations, such as the U.K., who will face major problems if they continue down this path of detrimental discord. It is crucial that the refugees understand the way in which our liberal political system works, and I wholeheartedly believe that, if they truly wish to remain, they will do so.

It is often appropriate to look back into the past to see where we are at present, or where we are headed in the future. Ireland, as an island, has experienced unbelievable conflict in the past century, a lot of which was on ethnosectarian grounds. Many church-related scandals have taken place also, such as the Magdalene laundries, the clerical abuses and the marginalisation of LGBT people. Moderate anticlericalism and secularism should be the official policy of government and no religious institution have a special status. The Irish government must remain distant from issues of religion, allowing all of its citizens to practise their own faiths. The public, state-funded educational establishments must not have one religion or denomination on its curriculum, no child must feel that they should be participating in it against their own will. There is a difference between moral values and religious values, one can know the difference between right and wrong, yet not adhere to any religious movement. The government’s utmost duty should be to promote and encourage morality in everyday life and obedience in the justice system, however, not in the form of Catholic, or indeed Islamic, propaganda. The true meaning of a democratic, egalitarian nation is one that allows the freedom of expression to all of its citizens. Many Irish people have been trained by the former governments of the twentieth century to follow Roman Catholic doctrine word for word, though this cannot be acceptable in this day and age. It is commonplace for priests to have a central place on state-funded school’s board of managements, while many teachers, particularly in rural areas, ingrain principles of Catholicism into their students. The state should advocate morality, while simultaneously encouraging equality in the field of religious beliefs or lack thereof. It is also pivotal for the state to discourage and shun those who carry out xenophobic acts, thus delivering continuity in the ultimate goal of an egalitarian society.

In conclusion, the society in which we live is changing, this cannot be argued nor can it be denied, however we ought to preserve the positive aspects at the foundation of our state. We should offer sanctuary to those fleeing from their homelands smothered in turmoil, and I am of the conviction that 4,000 refugees is not enough. Our nation is rearranging its structural perimeters and reevaluating the way governance is conducted. We are progressing, moving forward, and we must continue to move in this direction. Ireland has the potential to be a pillar of equality and an asylum for the persecuted, irrespective of their religion. It is to be expected in our liberal first world society that all people, newcomers or not, respect one and another. It acts as a necessary requirement for us to be a nation with values of tolerance and absence of prejudice. That is the kind of Ireland we should be, that is the kind of Ireland we have to be.

Brexit: An Irish Perspective

The potential exit of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union, more commonly known by the snappy portmanteau ‘Brexit,’ has gotten everyone talking. To me, the concept of the U.K. closing itself off from the remainder of Europe is deeply concerning, both from an economic point of view and a diplomatic one.

President Barack Obama, during his visit to the U.K., has made it abundantly clear that he is staunchly opposed to a British withdrawal from the E.U. Obama sensibly cited the Northern Ireland peace process and how much it has achieved since it was effected in 1999, following the Good Friday Agreement. This lasting peace could not have endured without co-operation on both sides of the border, and now a ‘Brexit’ threatens to undo all of the commendable progress that has been made. I would be more inclined to believe in the words of Barack Obama over the likes of UKIP’s Nigel Farage.

Despite the vast improvements observed in Northern Ireland’s society, once fraught with violent sectarianism, there is still a long way to go. However, no further progress can take place if the British people ill-advisedly vote to leave. ‘Brexit’ would serve only to alienate the Northern Irish nationalists from the Republic, with which they have ethnic, cultural and historical ties. The concept of strict border controls on the N.I.-R.O.I. border will directly affect ten counties and is absolutely appalling. ‘Brexit’ would serve only to afflict trade and business between the U.K. and the Republic. That cannot be emphasised enough. People who possess dual nationality and are employed on the opposite side of the border from where they reside will have immense and unnecessary difficulty in their everyday lives. Border controls along the N.I.-R.O.I. border will be far too reminiscent of the past to be even remotely a good thing.

Perhaps the most insulting and frustrating part of this campaign is the response received from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP.) First Minister Arlene Foster stated back in February that her party would back the ‘Brexiters.’ To me, that is a massive kick in the teeth to the Irish people and the entire peace process. For it undermines the close-knit relationship the 32 counties currently have, and undoubtedly that will come back to haunt her someday. It is also a daily occurrence for people, north and south, to cross the border for recreational purposes without any disturbance. The current Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers is also a Brexiter, which only adds insult to injury.

‘Brexit’ would serve only to stir up trouble in Scotland, with which the U.K. has a fragile relationship. The Scottish National Party (SNP) has 54 out of 59 Scottish seats in the British House of Commons and is experiencing a surge of support among Scots who feel cheated by the DevoMax pledge made by the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, and Labour. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has promised a second independence referendum if there is a “material change” in Scotland’s political situation – ‘Brexit’ would deliver a said material change. Much like the people of the Irish Republic, the vast majority of Scottish people are pro-E.U. and are prepared to accept the many benefits that come with membership and participation. If the U.K. leaves the E.U. it is very likely that Scotland will leave the U.K. – an inevitability in a matter of two years according to former First Minister Alex Salmond.

Admittedly, the quickly deteriorating situation in our backyard is alarming, but surely that is more of a reason to remain part of the E.U. Merciless terrorist attacks in prominent European cities and countless floods of refugees pouring into Europe are major problems to us all. Nobody has denied it, nobody is denying it. The E.U. is designed to foster stronger and healthier relations between its member states, while simultaneously upholding peace across the continent. Membership and active involvement in the E.U. are of the U.K.’s highest national interest. We, as European cousins, must work together and tackle whatever adversities we are faced with. Compromise is the key solution, reform in the E.U is much more preferable than the recklessness of a ‘Brexit.’ It cannot be argued, peace is imperative.

Seldom would I express any form of praise towards a Conservative, but the work Prime Minister David Cameron is carrying out to prevent the U.K.’s citizens from voting to leave the E.U. invokes my approval. Whereas the less said about the former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, the better. The leave campaign is fuelled by xenophobic misinformation and Britain’s delusions of empire. Indeed a British withdrawal will negatively affect the Republic and the mainland member states, however, the U.K. is certainly not the superpower it once was. But let me make this clear, that is not an Anglophobic statement. I harbour no hatred whatsoever towards the U.K. and its people, in fact, the very contrary. Unfortunately one has to clarify such obvious statements in order to avoid a petty onslaught – which is becoming increasingly common among those who support ‘Brexit.’

I was born in northern Wales and have strong familial connections to the U.K., therefore I feel a great sense of warmth towards the nation. I would like to continue to see a robust United Kingdom within the European Union, which is able to have its voice heard and is constructive in its criticisms. The British people have every right to determine their future, as do all communities and peoples – but they must act for the good of all their citizens, in all four constitutional countries of the U.K.

‘Brexit’ would serve only to create trade complications with the United States and the other member states who will remain within the E.U. The Republic of Ireland imported an estimated 43% of goods from the U.K. in 2012, not to mention up to 90% of its petroleum and natural gas is of British origin. But the Republic can turn towards other E.U. states for increasing trade relations, particularly France which is geographically nearby. It wouldn’t be an especially desirable move, but it is feasible.

The U.K. will suffer dramatically if it parts ways with the E.U., and I genuinely do not want to see that happen. I cannot understand why anyone in a sound state of mind would want their nation to suffer. A return to the U.K.’s ‘splendid isolation’ would be economically detrimental. Co-operation in Europe in such dark times is essential.

Egalitarian Renaissance

There is certainly no denying it – our nation, the Republic of Ireland, has changed dramatically. Fortunately, that is something we can all agree upon, as we have all witnessed it, even in a short space of time. Though, it is of my view that this change has mostly been of a negative nature.

The ideals set forth by the provisional government in the 1916 proclamation have neither been honoured nor fulfilled. I am not a dreamer, I do not believe that a purely utopian society is achievable; however, I am pragmatic, and I believe that a dystopian society is most definitely avoidable. I acknowledge the fact great strides have been made on the front of LGBT rights, with the legalisation of equal marriage last year. Our nation may have pulled apart from the authoritarian regime of the Holy See for the most part, but we are now bowing to self-serving corporation big dogs. This needs to change, a new ‘Rising’ is essential in order for Ireland to prosper as it should.

For the vast majority of my life, I have called the remote, and indeed scenic mountains of Arigna my home. As is typical of any community in western Ireland, Arigna has been heavily impacted by the mass movement of its inhabitants to elsewhere. Thousands of people have parted ways from their place of origin through the years, both in the form of immigration to nations such as the U.S., the U.K. and Australia, and migration to larger Irish towns and cities. Every single household in this region has been affected by this in some way or another, my family is no different. My father left Ireland for the U.K. in the late-1970’s at the young age of nineteen years in search of employment opportunities. Whereas my mother’s family has a long history of immigration to the U.K., where she was born, and to far-flung cities in the U.S. such as NYC, Peoria, IL, and Kansas City, MO.

Growing up in such a place is a constant reminder, a place where forestry plantations and wind turbines now dominate the landscape once scattered with countless thatched cottages, smallholdings, and livelihoods. Growing up here reminds you of what once was – the remaining remnants of former cottages, which are striking in their hidden abundance, have been justifiably compared to as mere “piles of stone.” It is rather poignant to think about the lives that were once lived in this dying valley. The extremely crowded conditions in which people lived would undoubtedly be considered a health hazard today. However, in spite of the beautiful surroundings, the Irish countryside was not a pleasant place to live. It is of vital importance for every Irishman and Irishwoman to not forget and to always remember all the hardships our ancestors had to endure and all the adversities they had to face – even after the end of British rule.

It is against this background that I know all about Ireland’s so-called ‘brain drain’ and the consequences of years of negligent governance. “We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland,” reads a memorable sentence of the 1916 Proclamation. Personally, the Corrib gas controversy springs to mind – regardless of the intensely passionate pleas of Irish citizens, Dutch and Norwegian MNCs were granted the right to seize our nation’s resources. The ignominious imprisonment of the innocent Rossport Five must be written in bold in all of Ireland’s history books. From my perspective, it was an infringement of human rights and democracy; the Irish government disrespectfully undermined the likes of Pádraig Pearse and Seán Mac Diarmada.

There is an underlying burning irony behind the government-sponsored 1916 centenary celebrations. Our nation’s people need to launch a ‘New Rising’ by reimagining Ireland and the way in which it is governed. Progressive left-wing politics is needed, I say enough of the never-ending tennis game between the barely-dissimilar Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. It is as if the Irish people are too frightened, or more likely too oblivious and naïve, to realise that we are under no moral obligation to vote for either of the previously mentioned political parties. We are no longer in the 20th century, it is a new millennium and it is time to reshape Ireland from her perimeters right to the very core.

A ‘New Ireland’ – ‘An Éire Nua’ – and a ‘New Rising’ are absolutely crucial for this Republic if we want to move towards a fairer, more equal society. We shouldn’t have to settle for this because we don’t have to. Change is much like a stream, you can halt it temporarily, but eventually the current will overpower you and take you along with it. I say let’s make this inevitable change the right kind of change. An egalitarian renaissance.