The ruling Fianna Fail Party was trounced in the 2011 election. At 17% of the vote they seemed to be on the very edge of oblivion. Fine Gael and Labour had brushed them aside, bolted into power on a wave of optimism about ‘real change’ and ‘burning the bond-holders’ (a reference to not paying back bank loans to unsecured bond-holders in Europe).
For a while it seemed that there might actually be some a change in direction. But alas it is now clear that the current Government has merely assimilated the trappings of power worn with such gusto by Fianna Fail, and in fact is implementing much of the previous Government’s policies.
It is difficult now to see any real difference between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael from a policy standing. The historical civil-war divide between the two parties is now all but irrelevant. Fine Gael have made very few changes to the deal struck with the EU/IMF/ECB troika who are lending Ireland huge sums of money in order to pay back German and French banks (and at a nice interest rate). Even the renegotiation of the Irish Promissory Note Deal is but a scratch on the surface of the mountain of debt facing the country. Heralded as a triumph it actually increases the amount of debt Ireland owes!
The Irish electorate is facing a scenario where there are two big Parties occupying the moderate central section of the Irish political landscape (Fine Gael, Fianna Fail) while the Labour Party vainly attempts to brand itself as the party of the left wing, a space now dominated by Sinn Fein and the Socialist Party. Rumours abound that the vacancy for a more right-of-centre Party may about to be filled with the establishment of a new ‘Progressive Democrats’ style of Party, but it has not happened yet.
The most recent opinion poll shows that Fianna Fail are now the best supported Party in the country at 27% compared to Fine Gael on 25%, 20% for Sinn Fein and Labour at 13%.
How could this happen?
How could the Party that was in Government while the Irish economy imploded be a mere two years later regarded as the best bet to lead Ireland to recovery?
Perhaps it is a sign that the current Government has failed or that the prospect of Sinn Fein in power is just too much for some people. Perhaps it is the disgust with the Labour Party being expressed so openly now by even some of its own membership. Perhaps it is the now five years of austerity and hardship that has been imposed on a relatively docile Irish citizenry by its masters in Government.
Perhaps it is a combination of all of the above – or is it that such are the depths of Irish despondency and cynicism with the Irish body politic that people will now vote for anyone just to get some real change.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny botched the response and unwittingly inflicted more stress and hardship on the victims. The easy and honorable thing to do would have been to immediately apologise to the victims of what were essentially State-Sponsored Labour camps.
Instead of apologising Enda Kenny decided that his Government needed more time to examine and consider the findings of the Report. Now, in respect of putting together a proper financial compensation package for the estimated 1000 still surviving women who were interred in these prisons, a considered approach is certainly appropriate. But quite why an immediate apology did not follow is a source of bafflement to just about everyone outside of the Taoiseach’s close circle of handlers and advisors and prompted severe media criticism.
The backlash had an effect. Enda Kenny finally stood up in Dail Eireann (the Irish Parliament) and apologized to the women, some of whom were in attendance:
“Therefore, I, as Taoiseach, on behalf of the State, the Government and our citizens, apologise unreservedly to all those women for the hurt done to them, and any stigma they suffered, as a result of the time they spent in a Magdalene Laundry”
The Government has also established a fund to provide compensation for the victims of the 10 Magdalene Laundries. Labour leader Eamon Gilmore criticized the four religious orders who ran the Laundries and called on them to help provide compensation for the women.
The apology does not mark the end of the investigation into the running of the Laundries but it is a starting point and hopefully will provide some measure of, if not closure then at least acknowledgment, for the women who suffered so badly in these most terrible of places.
Ok, he was not really Irish but in the true Irish tradition of claiming association to just about anything that is good we Irish are claiming the Saint as our own.
We do have some grounds for this assertion – bear with me.
Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin is the unlikely resting place for the relics of Saint Valentine. That’s right! While desperate men the world over rush to their nearest Garage fore-court to buy half-battered bunches of red roses in the hope that it will get them out of jail, the knowledge that there is an Irish connection to Saint Valentine still escapes the masses.
Pope Gregory XVI presented the remains of Saint Valentine to an Irish Carmelite named John Spratt in the year 1835. He had been visiting Rome and preaching at the famous Jesuit Church there to much acclaim. In 1836 the remains were received by Archbishop Murray of Dublin and have remained in Whitefriar Street Church ever since. An Altar and Shrine were installed in the 1950’s depicting the Saint as a martyr. An inscription on the Altar reads:
This shrine contains the sacred body of Saint Valentinus the Martyr, together with a small vessel tinged with his blood.
The annual mass on February 14th includes a ceremony to bless wedding rings of those betrothed, in the hope that such a blessing will help secure a successful union.
There may have even been two Saints named Valentine. Valentine of Rome died about the year 269 during the persecution of Claudius the Goth. The other Valentine was allegedly Bishop of Terni. It is possible that the two memories are in fact of the same person.
There are several legends regarding his martyrdom. The first suggests that he was beheaded for illegally marrying young Christians in opposition to Roman rules. Another suggests that Valentine was imprisoned for helping a young blind girl named Julia, again contrary to Roman law. Knowing he was about to die he wrote a final note to the young girl and signed it ‘From Your Valentine’. The note contained a crocus flower and upon opening it for the first time the young girl’s sight was restored. In the year 496 Pope Gelasius I named February 14th as Saint Valentine’s Day and ever since that day has been associated with flowers, note-giving and all things romantic.
So there you have it – Saint Valentine was Irish. Ok, it is not an open and shut case but we do posses his relics and that is good enough for us. Did you know that Saint Nicholas (Santa!) is buried in Kilkenny? More about that in December.
The Irish debt deal did not reduce the amount owed by the country. Ireland still owes in the region of 125BN Euro – a staggering figure that will take decades to pay off. The new debt deal merely allows part of the debt to be paid off over a longer term.
This is not necessarily a bad thing if you are able to ignore the immorality of it. By pushing the debt repayments down the road to the year 2053 the current Government has essentially lumbered today’s toddlers with the task of paying their parents debts. On the other hand, the breathing space that will be created by not having to pay as much as 2BN Euro annually over the next 10 years has given the current generation the opportunity to create jobs and growth to repair the damage sooner.
Under the deal the Central Bank of Ireland swapped high-yielding ‘Promissory Notes’ for longer-term Government Bonds. The original deal was to cost over 3BN Euro annually for the next 10 years. The new deal sees a reduction in the interest rate from 8% to 3% and stretches the loan out to 40 years. This reduces the borrowing requirement of the Government in the short term which it is hoped will free up funds for job creation.
The response in Ireland to the news of the deal has been broadly welcoming although those opposed to the whole concept of the Government bailing out the banks to begin with used the opportunity to demand that a write-down of Irish banking debt be sought immediately.
The Fine Gael and Labour Party coalition Government made the point that the European Central Bank has never agreed to debt write-down before so it would have been pointless to even negotiate on that basis. The more militant of those opposing the Government want to see an immediate default on the debt to force the issue with the ECB, EU and IMF.
This may yet happen.
The level of debt being carried by Irish citizens and small businesses is reaching catastrophic proportions. Although the economy of the country has stabilised it is still quite dreadful. Unemployment in Ireland is stuck at over 14%, Irish emigration is at pre-Famine levels and job creation is barely perceptible. The gamble by Fine Gael that they can soldier on in the hope that the economy recovers may backfire under an avalanche of personal debt and mortgage defaults. In such a scenario a massive default on the loans granted to us by our European ‘partners’ will become a question of ‘when’ and ‘how much’ rather than ‘if’.
Against this backdrop the much vaunted ‘Promissory Note’ deal may become just another footnote in this bizarre period of Irish history.
The Report by the Committee that was established to investigate the role that the Irish Government played in the abuses perpetuated in the notorious ‘Magdalene Laundries’ is to be published.
In the decades that followed the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922 and the Republic in 1948 the Catholic Church had tremendous influence in Ireland. It is only since the 1970’s that this influence has declined. Over the last two decades the litany of abuse carried out in institutions by religious orders and sponsored by the State has been graphically exposed. One such institution was the ‘Magdalene Laundry’ where young girls and women who had a child out of wedlock, or who were prostitutes, or who were even homeless, were basically interned.
The Laundries were state-sponsored workhouses. Although privately owned by religious orders they were subsidised by the Irish State for part of their existence. Thousands of women were forced to work in the Laundries which were run on a for-profit basis by several religious orders. The inmates were imbued with a sense of shame – their first names were changed and their surnames never used. They were often labelled as ‘Maggie’ by those of the public they encountered – a slang-word for a prostitute. It is both an amazing and damning fact that the final Laundry did not close until 1996. Located in Sean McDermott Street it is in the very heart of Dublin city centre.
The survivors of the Laundries – ‘Magdalene Survivors Together’ – have demanded that the Government finally issue an apology for the part it played in the abuse. The instigation of an appropriate compensation scheme is also the very least that can be done now. What compensation can their be for a life destroyed by these terrible places? Many did not even make it out the front gate. At least 988 women were buried within the grounds of the Laundries – likely many more died within the walls.
It is amazing that this new enquiry only took place after prompting from the United Nations Committee Against Torture in 2011. Perhaps now ‘Official Ireland’ will give these women some sense of justice.
RTE report highlighting the Magdalene survivors campaign:
The 2002 feature film ‘The Magdalene Sisters’ is available to view on YouTube:
The recent attempts by the Irish Government to recruit new nurses into the profession at 80% of the usual starting wage has backfired.
Nursing Unions have mounted a vocal campaign against the scheme which they regard as an insult to the work done by nursing staff on the front line of the health service. The Irish Health Service Executive (HSE) has been forced to extend the deadline for applications after interest in the jobs was reported as being very low. Should the HSE be forced to abandon the scheme all together it will be seen as a victory for the Unions whose members are increasingly being asked to work longer and harder for less and less pay.
Union leader Liam Doran was scathing of the HSE decision to extend the scheme: ‘The HSE decision also confirms that this was never an educational programme, nor an opportunity to consolidate learning, but was always an overt attempt to introduce cut-price, yellow-pack nursing posts into our health service.’
Under the Government proposals new nurses would earn 22,000 euro (approx 30,000 US$) compared to their colleagues who were recruited at 26,000 euro (approx 35,000 US$). The contracts were to last for only 2 years. The average industrial wage in Ireland in 2012 was just under 42,000 euro (57,000 US$) according to the Central Statistics Office.
By any measure these rates of pay would show nursing to be a very poorly paid job for highly trained graduates to take up in Ireland. Yet their work is crucial to just about every citizen of the country.
The tragedy of Irish emigration continues unabated. Over 46,500 Irish people emigrated from Ireland in the year up to April 2012. The rate of emigration is the highest in Ireland since the Great Famine in the middle of the nineteenth century.
The devastating recession and austerity measures being imposed in Ireland have made work very hard to come by. Unemployment remains above 14% in Ireland and at over 11% in the Eurozone. Little wonder then that so many Irish citizens are flocking to places like Canada, Australia and America.
More than half of the 6,350 working visas to Canada available to Irish people during 2013 have been taken up in the space of just a few days. Demand for the 2-year work-travel visas has been especially high as Canada is crying out for skilled workers in certain parts of the country. The high cost of living in Canada and particularly in the major cities such as Toronto and Vancouver has not put off the hordes of mostly younger Irish people who continue to escape from their recession-hit homeland.
The rate of unemployment in Ireland remains stubbornly high within the 14% to 15% range. This bad news has in part been reduced by an increase in the rate of emigration.
The Central Statistics Office has announced that the number of people ‘signing on’ is just under 430,000, down just over 10,000 since the start of 2012. The figures could not mask the increase in the number of those considered to be ‘long-term’ unemployed. Nearly 190,000 of the total unemployed have been claiming benefits for over a year – a 3.3% increase over the year.
The Irish Central Bank estimates domestic growth of only 0.5% in 2013 with GDP growth of 1.3%, a reduction in previous estimates. These numbers do not encourage any belief that the rate of Irish unemployment will decrease any time soon, putting further strain on an Irish economy already struggling with a huge social welfare bill.
European unemployment continues to be a big issue with Spain at a massive 26%, Portugal at 16%, Italy at 11%, France at over 10%, the UK at under 8% and Germany at just under 7%.
Ok there was no actual Pot but a hoard of 81 coins dating from the 1630’s to the early part of the 1700’s has been discovered by workmen at a County Tipperary Pub that had burned down some years ago.
The hoard includes guineas and half-guineas including 35 Charles II coins, 25 James II coins, 19 William III and two William III and Mary III coins. Cooneys’ pub in Carick-on-Suir was one of the oldest pubs in the County until it was destroyed by fire. The unlikely find by the workmen has been described as perhaps the most significant archeological find in the region since the Derrynaflan Chalice was discovered in nearby Killenaule in 1980.
According to Irish law all artifacts found in such a manner are the property of the State. The coins are likely to be displayed in the National Museum of Ireland for whom a spokesperson said:
No comparable 17th-century hoard of gold coins has been found in Ireland since the discovery in Portarlington, County Laois, around 1947, of a hoard that contained little over 100 gold coins as well as some silver coins,
It remains to be seen if the workmen or the pub-owner will receive any reward for the find.
Two separate opinion polls have confirmed the recent rise in support for Fianna Fail and the continuing decline in the popularity of the Labour Party.
The left-wing Labour Party has been widely criticized by both its rank and file membership and by some of its own Parliamentary members for its conduct while in Government. The primary purpose of the Labour Party was to protect the most vulnerable and poorest sections of Irish society. Their association with the policies of the ruling Fine Gael Party is making a lie of that philosophy.
Already they have signed up to budget cuts and tax increases including the new Property Tax that the Party claims it had no choice but to agree to. Their difficulties are reflected in two recent polls that show the Party now trailing Sinn Fein in several key Dublin constituencies. The results of the two polls are shown below:
Labour Party 11% and 11% (19% in 2011 General Election)
Fianna Fail 24% and 21% (17% in 2011)
Fine Gael 26% and 28% (36% in 2011)
Sinn Fein 13% and 19% (10% in 2011)
The trend is very clear with Labour in decline, Fianna Fail improving, Sinn Fein improving but volatile and a big increase in the ‘worry factor’ for Fine Gael.