Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Tale of Two Reports

Something that has served to blight life in Ireland in recent weeks has been the release of two harrowing commission reports. The first was the Monageer Report on the death of a family in Wexford two years ago in tragic circumstances. This report was non-statutory and as a result had large portions "redacted" - a new word in the national lexicon that involved blacking out large portions of text and testimony of witness statements and is censorship by another Orwellian name. This led to much speculation and conspiracy theorising about what was concealed and why there wasn't full disclosure in such a case of public interest. That is not merely prurient interest, as there are major unanswered questions arising about our social services and the gaps therein, whereby there is no social work cover at weekends and if a family crisis emerges it has to be dealt with by the Gardaí (police).

Also the lack of inter-departmental communication leaves a lot to be desired with no feedback between professionals involved in the same case. In an infamous case over 15 years ago, known as the Kilkenny Incest Case, there were over 60 visits by social workers and public health nurses yet there was no communication of concerns between both disciplines. Child protection guidelines were amended and laws introduced to prevent recurrence but it sometimes seems little has changed on the ground. It is a damning indictment of our priorities that resources are not put into resolving the staffing levels and ensuring 24/7 cover for such situations. There will never be a way to prevent some tragedies, but at least you could say that all that could have been done was done.

This family were actually on a Garda watch after a diligent undertaker reported concerns after the family visited enquiring about family funeral arrangements should they all be killed in a car crash. The Gardaí watched the house over the weekend and once the car was seen to be there they didn't intervene. The Parish Priest visited and left once reassured by the father who was apparently very manipulative and convincing. There were numerous missed hospital and health appointments detailed in the commission report which alone mightn't be picked up but collectively would show a pattern and raise concern about the family's commitment to engaging with the services and their welfare. We are all questioning our professional practice and trying to plug gaps to ensure tragedies like this can be averted and prevented in the future.

The other report is the Ryan Commission Report - an enquiry into institutional child abuse in religious-run institutions from 1930-1990. The full report runs to 5 volumes and about 3000 pages. I have linked to the Executive Summary here It has been years in the making and has opened the Pandora's Box on this dreadful issue. It is another damning indictment on our society's attitude to poverty and to children, and the power the church as a body had over the entire country and especially the government. Since child sex abuse came to light in the past 10-15years this stranglehold has been loosened forever, and FOI (freedom of information) has revealed the extent to which this power was abused through much of the life of the Irish State. Government and societal collusion ensured that the perpetrators could act with impunity, as these children were already abandoned by a society that was happy to have them locked up and not be a burden or embarrassment on the country.

The report has shaken the whole country in its graphic portrayal of the abuse these children suffered, and the deal the government struck with the religious bodies to cap their financial liability to compensation at a paltry €127 million has been pilloried. They are being shamed into offering further compensation to the victims who had to go through a court-like redress board to get their claims recognised, and were bound up by all kinds of confidentiality clauses. It is clear from the Ryan report that the religious challenged and denied the allegations of abuse right to the bitter end, and it was only following irrefutable evidence and realising that the Ryan commission members were getting to the heart of the matter and believing the victims, that they climbed down and showed some latter-day humility. This is despite the promise that the redress board would be a non-adversarial forum for the victims to get justice. A former inmate of Ferryhouse in Clonmel, Michael O'Brien, spoke eloquently on Questions and Answers(, RTÉ's flagship topical issues programme, about his experiences of the same board. He went on to become Mayor of Clonmel and was a staunch government supporter and felt very let down by their deference to the religious orders. He refuted any illusion that the government or the public may have had about the impartiality of the hearings of this board.

This report came out in late May and it is still headline news with daily revelations of the lasting impact of such horror, on the victims, their families, frequently hugely dysfunctional, and the stigma that led many of them to alcoholism, homelessness, suicide, and ultimately destroyed their lives by ruining their childhood. It makes for sobering reading albeit in very small doses, as it is so hard to read. Letterfrack and Artane were among the most notorious industrial schools, and one of the Industrial schools was in Cappoquin, only 4 miles from Lismore, on our own doorstep. Paddy Doyle, who was abused there, wrote one of the first of many first-hand accounts of life there in The God Squad. Everyone of a certain vintage, myself included, has a memory of the crocodiles of scared boys on Sunday walks, heads downcast and looking gaunt and miserable. It turned out that many had stunted growth from virtual starvation, as the capitation from the government was often diverted into other "more deserving" schools, like the mainstream day schools.
There is a huge national and public guilt at all the years of turning a blind eye and as recently as last week one priest outraged his flock by seemingly justifying some of the treatment by suggesting in his Sunday sermon that the boys at one reformatory, Daingean in Co. Offaly, were "ruffians", as if this made them deserving of whatever abuse was meted out to them. There are those church members who still think the people and government will respond to a "belt of the crozier" if they have the temerity to speak critically on chuch issues - thankfully those days are gone and it can only be for the good of the country. The younger generation cannot credit how church-ridden the governments of the past were, and yet we had this deal struck as recently as 2002 by then Minister Michael Woods in the closing hours of a government on the eve of a general election.

I hope the publication of these reports will serve to prevent any authority from losing the run of themselves in the future, we can all hang our heads at the collective shame of the treatment shown to vulnerable sectors of society and be vigilant to ensure no recurrence. It wouldn't be the first time that we hear "never again", and history repeats itself yet again.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Lismore Festival of Travel Writing - another great weekend

The Immrama Festival of Travel Writing has just finished and it was another terrific success. It is now in its seventh year and is growing from strength to strength, and we say this every year! I am involved vicariously and directly, as hubby Jan is the Administrator and has to ensure that things go alright on the night - and day. I am on-site at every event run under the direct auspices of the Immrama committee as a First-Aid person as required under the Health and Safety rules for such events. Thankfully there were no major incidents apart from a grazed elbow in the park yesterday, which responded well to a bit of TLC and a nice plaster!

The Mayor, Kate Adie and photographer me!

I have written about the run-up events prior to the Festival weekend, in the post on Devonshire Day and also the Immrama Launch party. So regular readers will know about the background already and newcomers can follow the links! Suffice to say in this post that the particular line-up of presenters this year followed an equally illustrious A-list in previous years, as we have had well-known writers in the travel genre in diverse settings since its inception. Some that come to mind are Michael Palin, Brian Keenan, Tim Butcher, Nick Danziger, Robert Fisk, Jung Chang, Charlie Bird, and many more, all over the course of a long weekend in June. There are many fringe events, and these bring a crowd to town, as well as those who come from far and wide for the main Immrama programme.

This year we were privileged to have another great line-up, with a double header for the keynote event as it was impossible to chose one main speaker over another. Kate Adie and Fergal Keane drew a packed auditorium in the Blackwater Community School hall on Saturday afternoon and again on Saturday night. Both spoke eloquently and passionately about their lives and their profession of journalism and reporting from chiefly conflict zones like Iraq, South Africa, Rwanda and other troubled places.

Two Catherines - me and C. de Courcy

They also shared a lot of personal information on their lives and their childhood years, and Fergal read some beautiful poetry that he had never read for an audience before Immrama. This was deeply moving writing, outside the autobiographies that the majority of the audience would have been familiar with, and it is something that Lismore seems to bring out in the speakers. There is invariably an incredible atmosphere in the town during the weekend, and the speakers all seem to love being here, with such a welcoming responsive audience, who really engage with them, and the Q&A session after the talks become a forum for debate and animated discussion. There is usually a book-signing session after the talk, which must lead to writers' cramp but they are invariably patient and attentive to all comers, posing for photos and writing personalised dedications as requested.

All the speakers seem genuinely delighted to get such a warm Lismore welcome and over the years many have favourably compared the reception they receive here with that in other literary festivals. Perhaps that is the advantage of a small festival where we have a good committee, and assign people to hospitality whose role is to ensure that the speakers are well cared for. They were brought to and from the venue, and entertained with trips to the local beauty spots like the Vee where there was time to do so, and then they have a chance to meet the locals in the pub each evening. A different hostelry is designated as the Festival Club each evening, and all repair there for a bit of relaxation, chat and music and "craic". The latter is a peculiarly Irish form of fun, which has nothing to do with mind-altering substances other than that which a drop of alcohol may confer on the imbiber!

Bilingual Children's workshop - that's Dervla Murphy's bike and books on the shelf!
The weekend began on Thursday - a good time for every weekend to start I think you would all agree - with a moving talk by Catherine de Courcy in the Lismore Courthouse Theatre. Catherine is a Dublin woman who lived in Australia for many years and was married to John, an Australian Vietnam Veteran who had post-traumatic stress disorder, and who sadly took his own life in 2000. It was evident for years prior to his suicide that John was a troubled man and all efforts to help him were futile, and Catherine powerless to prevent him from carrying out his frequent threat to commit suicide. They had a wonderful life together, travelling all over the outback and writing travel books like Desert Tracks and River Tracks. She was many years coming through the grief process following John's death and has written a moving book about this time in An Adventure in Grief.

Catherine had been in Lismore in 2005 for Immrama when she hosted a Creative Writing workshop, which I found really inspiring. So it was great to see her back this time as a speaker and the audience were enthralled by her talk and the lively questions and answers session thereafter. We all went to the Lismore House Hotel for a few drinks after the presentation, the festival club venue for that evening, and had a chat and a few drinks while we braced ourselves for the rest of the weekend.

Friday was a busy day, with the Bilingual Poetry Workshops in the Lismore Library for three groups of primary school children, and hosted by Irish language poet from An Rinn (Ring), Áine Uí Fhoghlú, who awakened the natural creative spirit of the children in the course of the morning. The WLRFM BlasterCaster van was in town for two days live broadcasting and it gave great publicity locally to the Festival, as they interviewed committee members and presenters throughout both Friday and Saturday.

Rory MacLean in an aerial shot

Fergal Keane enthralling the audience

Friday evening saw another speaker in the Courthouse Theatre, Rory MacLean, a Canadian travel writer now living in Berlin, who has travelled beyond the old Iron Curtain and written a semi-fictional account with characters that may be real or simply based on composite characters...who knows but it makes for fascinating reading! He also wrote about his journeys in Burma, where he met Aung San Suu Kyi, and he travelled from Istanbul to Kathmandhu along the old Hippie Trail, and wrote about it in The Magic Bus. He has a distinctly quirky style and I really look forward to reading his books. This is one of the joys of Immrama, stocking up guilt-free on all the books of the speakers, getting them signed and anticipating the pleasure in reading them over the summer. Luckily Easons are the main sponsor, and as they are Ireland's best-known bookshop they manage to get large stocks of the speakers' books, many of which may have been hard to source otherwise. Another night in the pub, this time Foley's on the Mall, which was packed and the ambience was perfect for the festival weekend.

Jan and me - cameras in tow - posing!
Saturday we had a talk from the County Librarian, Donal Brady, on the films of Co. Waterford, which has many associations with the industry. Pat O'Connor the film director is a Lismore native who is also linked to Ardmore where he spent his childhood summers. He has a distinguished body of work that is internationally recognised, and he is widely regarded as one of Ireland's finest contemporary directors. There were a number of films made on location around the county, many I knew of and others were a surprise. Barry Lyndon is probably the best known, and has many well-known locations up the Vee near Lismore, as well as the banks of the Blackwater near Ballinatray, on the road to Youghal.

I have already mentioned the main speakers at the start of the post, and Kate Adie and Fergal Keane certainly got a wonderful welcome, and it was a great privilege to meet such iconic journalists and writers who bring the reports of the conflicts of our contemporary world into our living rooms with such integrity.
Kate Adie and the First Aid steward!
For years when we lived in Tanzania Fergal Keane was a link to home, with his dulcet Irish tones bringing BBC World Service news from Southern Africa in its transition from Apartheid to freedom in the wake of Mandela's release from Robben Island to his election as President of the new South Africa and beyond. He reported for Panorama on Rwanda in the height of the genocide of 1994 and this has left a lasting impression, which he has written about in Seasons of Blood and All of these People, his autobiography.

I still recall watching his Panorama documentary in a refugee area in Western Tanzania at the height of the crisis when someone was sent the video from home. He followed one of the genocidal commune leaders into Benaco Camp in Ngara from the village in Rwanda where he oversaw the massacre in the church at Nyarubuye and it has to be one of the most memorable moments in television documentary history. Justice was eventually done as that leader, and Sylvestre Gacumbitsi was convicted in Arusha on Fergal's evidence. Fergal has Ardmore connections through his grandmother and spends time there every summer with Ann, his wife, and their two children, and many friends came from Ardmore to meet him in Lismore.

Fergal Keane, Jan and me at the book signing
Kate Adie was equally inspiring, with her strong sense of justice speaking out on the ethics or otherwise of embedded journalism, which is often a byword for control, as in the case of those journalists embedded with the American forces in Iraq, who were able to report what the military wanted them to report, and were constrained in their impartiality. She is more or less retired now, though I love to listen to her on BBC 4 From our own Correspondents programme. It has entered the lexicon to say that things can't be too bad in a conflict zone if Kate Adie hasn't shown up, and that the trouble hasn't yet started if Kate Adie hasn't yet arrived!

She went from Lismore to Althorp, the Earl of Spencer's gaff in England, where there was a Literary Festival taking place, and with only the serendipity of these things, Tim Butcher of Blood River fame who was a speaker at Immrama 2008, was also participating, and the two of them are friends. It was great to be able to send him greetings from Lismore with Kate - who managed to be in both places in the same weekend!

Sunday dawned with the Literary Breakfast in Ballyrafter where Manchán Magan was the speaker. He was very funny, regaling us with tales of his misadventures in Africa when he trucked down the continent in an old ex-army Bedford truck, with a bunch of misfits and escapists who were a far cry from the explorer-type soulmates he'd hoped to meet. He is well-known from his travel programmes on TG4 the Irish-language national TV channel, and has done some great documentaries with his brother Ruán.

Manchan Magan at the Literary Breakfast
More recently he made a programme "No Béarla" where he travelled around Ireland only speaking Irish (Gaeilge) and had some bizarre encounters which demonstrated the abysmal level of knowledge of our mother tongue. He was frequently enjoined to f*** off back to his own country and was barred from a pub or two, but the weirdest stunt was to go busking in Galway, the gateway to the Connemara Gaeltacht - the heartland of the language, where Raidió na Gaeltachta and TG4 are based - singing made-up songs using absolutely filthy language - "as Gaeilge"! If he'd been translated it wouldn't have passed the censor's watershed, and it was hilarious to see him getting praise and small change from little old ladies and gents!
This was the end of the literary part of the festival though there were many fringe events, and other gigs that I didn't have time to attend, like a talk and slide show by climber and mountaineer and broadcaster Dermot Somers, and a creative writing workshop given by Lismore's Annie Rogers and her friend and fellow-poet Mary Branley. There was the Molly Keane Short Story Award, and book launches by both Alan Murphy and Mary Branley. There was a late night Poetry Slam/Open Mic session in the hotel on Friday night, which ran the gamut from mystical to hysterical and all points between as it showcased established and emerging poets at the festival. The Lismore Farmers' Market ran all weekend in the Castle Avenue, adding to the festive ambience of the town.
I hasten to add that my presence at the events saw me tastefully attired in a reflective yellow Hi-Viz vest (check out me in the photo with Kate Adie!) and wielding a First-Aid kit, as required under the stringent Health and Safety guidelines for such events. The family fun day in the Millenium Park on Sunday afternoon was a huge crowd puller. The weather was wonderful all weekend and the Sunday afternoon was a fitting end to a great weekend, as hundreds enjoyed the live music, the Buí Bolg (YellowBelly!) Circus from Wexford, Paul the Wobbly Circus stilt walker from Grange, and BreakBeat Hip-Hop and Break Dancing troupe from Waterford City. Add on face painters and hair braiders and you have a perfect kids' world.
Altogether Immrama in its seventh year proved to be an amazingly successful and fulfilling weekend, once again ensuring Lismore's rightful place in the calender of literary festivals anywhere in the world, and the only one dedicated to the art of Travel Literature. We are already looking forward to 2010 and wondering what delights will be in store.
I will put all the photos in a slide show on the sidebar when I get a chance to upload them, so you can enjoy them at your leisure if you so wish!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Post Election Euphoria and Exhaustion

Phew - what a weeked! It's all over in Lismore for another five years and hubby Jan has been elected and returned to the Town Council! We are delighted and very proud of him, he is thrilled and feels that it was a real baptism of fire to go before the electorate and to get their votes, he will have a busy time now with the issues that are outstanding in the town that he has been lobbied on and that need resolution. This was his first time to canvass and face the electorate as he was co-opted onto the Council in 2006 when the incumbent Labour Councillor resigned his seat. So now he feels vindicated as he got voted in rather than be selected by the Labour Party to be co-opted onto the seat.

I had never been to an election count prior to this weekend and I really found it fascinating. Jan was keeping a cool exterior though he must have been a nervous wreck like me until it was all over! We voted on Friday in the local primary school, which means the kids have a day off, something good about the democratic process as far as the youth are concerned!

Our son in Spain got a polling card in the post as he is still on the register here, but of course it was no good to him as he couldn't get a postal vote - you must live in the State unless you have a special exemption like being in the Army or other services, and I think Diplomats can vote from abroad as well. I suppose an Embassy is technically Irish territory overseas so is valid. It's a bone of contention for expatriate Irish that they can't vote and I do think there are certain criteria that should be met but some expats should be allowed vote, especially if they are on short stints abroad, and not Irish citizens under the so-called "Granny" rule.
I will briefly explain - the Granny rule is often used by British-based soccer players to enable them to play for Ireland, and there were lots of South Africans who had Irish passports in the heyday of Apartheid under the Granny rule. If you had an Irish-born grandparent you could claim Irish nationality and as many were born to British citizens working here in colonial times the passport would have been purely expedient, and few if any would have had any emotional links to Ireland. I met quite a few of these distant Irish "citizens" in Tanzania who openly acknowledged their total lack of knowledge or interest in Ireland other than the ease of access afforded by the green passport to countries worldwide that deemed South Africa a pariah nation in the apartheid era.

Back to this weekend. We tried to have a normal day on Friday after voting - I had taken the day off - and yet it was foremost in our minds. Saturday dawned dull and cold - a far cry from the lovely weather of last weekend. We were down at the Courthouse for the Count at 9a.m. and it was a very complex structured system which I tried to explain to one of the bloggers who read my previous post on Election Fever. I don't think I'll try here! It is a Proportional Representation system which involves numerous counts after the first preferences are tallied and then eliminations and transfers of surpluses according to mathematical formulae to ensure equity and accuracy, and then the tensions of the counts which can leave a candidate sweating up to a 10th, 14th - even a 16th count as happened today in one electoral area where there were slow transfers.
Blurry pic of two of our sons and ourselves after the final count!
A summary of Lismore's status

The town is small and has a total electorate of 1,138.

There was a total poll of 820, with 8 spoilt votes, leaving a valid poll of 812.

There were 9 seats, and 12 candidates.

Therefore the quota was 82. (= Divide the valid poll by 10 and add 1)

So the count is manual, no electronic voting here in Ireland after a debacle in 2002 which left people determined to stick to what Bertie Ahern called the stupid oul' "peann lua" (= the stupid oul' pencil) with a degree of contempt as he was the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of the day who pushed hard for Ireland to enter the 21st Century with Electronic Voting and not be the "Laughing stock of Europe"! They were trialled in one by-election and people didn't trust them, there was no facility for a re-count and the immediacy of the result ruined the tension of the normal counts and famously left one losing candidate in floods of tears. With the current system the candidates who won't make it have time to regain their composure and prepare gracefully for defeat.

Those infamous machines have become an albatross for the beleaguered government and have cost the taxpayer a fortune in storage costs as well as purchasing costs and perhaps we could flog 'em to Robert Mugabe or some like-minded tinpot dictator who would love the lack of accountablity inherent in these machines. They were made in Holland but the Dutch voters don't use them and it was admitted that there were flaws in the system.
The blackboard for Lismore Electoral Area in the County Council count centre

But I digress. Jan got 57 first preferences and there were 4 candidates exceeding the quota on the first count so it was down to 8 for 5 seats. 4 of these had between 53 and 59 first preferences so it was tight. Jan didn't get transfers from the surplus of those past the quota as they went on party lines, and he was the only Labour candidate. So he struggled to stay ahead and the boys and ourselves couldn't relax till the 7th count when he was likely to be the 8th elected. Even then there was a tension till the final 5 surplus votes were distributed, bringing him to 77, when he was in without reaching the quota - that didn't matter at this stage as all the votes were distributed. There is a weighting formula for the earlier counts which I still don't quite get - maths were never a strong point - but it ensures all transfers are done fairly. It was all over in Lismore by 1.30p.m.

We didn't have long to celebrate at this point as we had to get to the County Count Centre in Dungarvan to see how the County Council candidate was getting on in his quest for a seat for Labour. John Pratt was running in Lismore Electoral Area and was hot-tipped to get a seat, and he didn't disappoint, though it was after 10p.m. before John was elected, getting the first Labour seat in the Lismore electoral area in fifty years. We stayed until all the Labour seats were secured, as Ger Barron from Kilmacthomas was elected just before John, but it was nearly 1.30a.m. before the final Labour seat was filled in Tramore by Paddy O'Callaghan. Waterford City Council had a good Labour return, as did Dungarvan Town Council, where Labour got a second seat when newcomer Ciara Conway romped home on the first count, a great feat for a first-timer who looks set to have a good political future.

Labour has done very well in the European elections in Ireland with Alan Kelly who got the 3rd and final seat in Ireland South constituency (formerly Munster). Alan defeated a sitting MEP (Member of European Parliament) Kathy Sinnott (Independent - non-party) who was elected in 2004 as a single issues candidate for disabilities and has since lost some of her gloss over dubious expenses in Europe and her open support for Libertas who are allied with some of Europe's most odious far-right political parties, and is trenchantly anti-Lisbon Treaty.

Always a tricky one, to steer clear of the corruption of power. Ironic then that the poll topper in Loughrea electoral area for Galway Co. Council, Michael "Stroke" Fahey, was convicted of fraud last year and is appealing a jail sentence and hefty fine for defrauding the very body to which he was elected - Galway County Council. Also Michael Lowry TD from Thurles keeps topping the poll in General Elections despite having to leave Fine Gael for shady dealing over a decade ago during the height of one of our many Tribunals investigating planning scandals.
Makes you wonder about the electorate, there's definitely "nowt as queer as folk" and in Ireland we often attribute the elevation of the "cute hoor" or maverick who bucks the trend and gets away with it as anti-establishment and something to be lauded - a type of knee-jerk reaction to authority that harks back to the colonial era.

In the European elections in Dublin Prionsias de Rossa MEP was returned, and in Ireland East (formerly Leinster) newcomer Nessa Childers got the 2nd Labour seat in Europe, despite some nasty sniping from Fine Gael's outgoing MEP Avril Doyle who berated her for being a "Foxrock girl" - the ultimate put-down, epitomising the wealthy suburban "ladies who lunch" brigade, and gloating in Nessa's self-confessed lack of knowledge of agricultural affairs. It seems to have backfired spectacularly - the voters aren't stupid and the irony of this coming from plummy-toned Avril's well-heeled horsey background wasn't lost on them, and they showed their contempt at the cheap shots in the polling booth. Avril had form in this, as she showed in 2004 when her party chose another candidate to contest with Avril in the same Euro-constituency, Mairead McGuinness, who also secured a seat then and topped the poll this time around.
Overview of the count in Dungarvan - the tension mounting!
Thankfully the far-right extremist Libertas and Declan Ganley bit the dust and I hope we have seen the back of them. Europe is reeling from the upsurge in neo-fascism in these elections and in national local elections, it's like in the 1930s after the Depression when fascism rose to prominence and dictators flourished, like Franco, Hitler and Mussolini, with Oswald Mosley and Eoin O'Duffy leading Blackshirt and Blueshirt fascistic outfits in the UK and Ireland.
There were two by-elections on Friday also, in Dublin South and Dublin Central, after the deaths of the sitting TDs (MPs) last year. Tony Gregory was an Independent in Dublin Central whose former election agent Maureen O'Sullivan ran and won, and Séamus Brennan was a government TD whose son Shay ran for the seat and lost, breaking the dynastic tradition of children walking into family seats that they feel they own. Labour's Senator Alex White was the hot favourite until a month ago when Fine Gael parachuted in a celebrity candidate in the form of George Lee, who spectacularly resigned his high-profile media post as RTÉ's (the national broadcast station) economics reporter to join the party and apply for the nomination. It was coup for Fine Gael and Lee was a formidable reporter and widely regarded, so it was no surprise when he topped the poll and got in at the first count. As Pat Rabbitte, the former Labour leader renowned for his wittty repartee said on the count morning "Looks like he'll be assumed into Heaven before noon" and he was right - if Heaven has its earthly manifestation in Leinster House!
That's enough reflection on the elections for another five years - though the mood of the opposition and much of the electorate which showed the government what they thought of them could mean there will be a General Election sooner rather than later - certainly before the due date of 2012. I leave you with this funny link to Miriam Lord in the Irish Times with her very own Election Awards!
The count centre in Dungarvan Sport Hall - the count in progress - closely scrutinised by the tallymen and women!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Election Fever - in a heatwave

The Irish electorate will vote on Friday June 5th in the local and European elections. The local elections will select Town, City and County Councillors all over the Republic of Ireland for the next five years, and the European elections will select our twelve European MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) also for the next five years. There are two bye-elections in the Dublin Central and Dublin South Constituency which are hotly contested and promise to be an exciting battle between the main parties.

We are in the middle of a heatwave (Irish-style) with glorious sunshine and warm sunny weather that has put the recession and our dwindling paypackets off the headlines for the past week. The June Bank Holiday weekend just gone was one of the best for years we are in a slightly hesitant state of national euphoria, afraid to jinx it in case it all vanishes but enjoying the moment for however long or short it lasts.

Our street in the lovely sunshine - that's our house on the right with the dormer windows.

I have to declare my interest at this stage, as most of you might know, hubby Jan is the current Mayor of Lismore, and he is running for the Town Council elections for the Labour Party. It is his first election, and it is a pretty exciting time, as the last day before polling dawns in a few hours. How can this be his first election if he is already a sitting councillor? The reason is that he was co-opted to the council when his predecessor, Mark, resigned in 2006. He had been a councillor for a number of years and was leaving the town so Jan was delighted to be chosen by the Labour Party's Waterford Constituency as the Lismore Branch candidate for the co-opted seat, which was uncontested.

He has been a high profile mayor as there have been a number of local issues that made headlines locally and some nationally, particularly the fire in the abandoned Recycling plant near the town, in the next road from our street. It has a long history going back a number of years and has been an eyesore for the past few years since the owner declared bankruptcy and now it has burnt to the ground and is an asbestos-contaminated site. He has been struggling to have the issue dealt with since he took office, and it is a key platform of his campaign.

Jan with John Pratt the County Council Labour Candidate and Brian O'Shea, TD (Labour) - that's MP for those of you outside Ireland not familiar with the Irish acronym!) canvassing in the town recently

We were in Dublin a couple of weekends ago and he was on national radio on a Newstalk programme called Global Village which highlights immigrant issues, and had been looking at candidates from the immigrant community running in the local elections. He was on a panel with two Nigerian candidates from other parties who are contesting seats in the same constituency, which made for a lively debate, and another Labour candidate from Moldova running in Limerick. It was my first time in a Radio Station, and it was an interesting experience. Jan had been a number of times on Waterford Local Radio (WLRFM) on various issues and events.

So we are all keeping our fingers crossed for his success on Friday. It is a fascinating campaign nationally as there is vehement anti-government sentiment about and it is a good time to be in opposition. Labour would relish the challenge of a General Election and there is much speculation that the ruling Fianna Fáil/Green party coalition is on the brink of collapse. So you never know what might happen, if they do badly in these local and European elections they might have to call it a day.
Jan outside the Newstalk Studio in Digges Lane, Dublin.

People are incredibly angry at the mismanagement of the various crises and the pandering to the banks has sickened everyone, as they are being bailed out by the taxpayers at huge expense and with little accountability coming from the recipients who seem to see it as their due, that the little people should prop them up. Sadly the government's obsequiousness is reinforcing their arrogance and they are not being penalised for their reckless financial gambling and squandering on developers and over inflated land prices that were all a bubble that has burst with devastating consequences for us "little people".

Perhaps that's what happens when a country has been ruled by the same party for most of the past 3 decades, complacency and arrogance sets in and a sense of entitlement prevails. Time for a change and if it won't happen in a general election then the local and European results on Friday will be a rallying cry for the government to feel the wrath of the country.