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Film documents the legacy of Project Children

POSTED ON April 28th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

Mulcahy jpg
Denis Mulcahy Project Children photo.

By Kevin Brady
letters@irishecho.com

A major documentary on the impact of Project Children, a charity that has brought thousands of Catholic and Protestant youngsters to America for a break from Northern Ireland’s Troubles, will hit the big screen in the U.S. and Ireland this year if filmmakers can raise enough funds to finish the film.

Originally planned as a small documentary for BBC Northern Ireland, the film’s producers believe the story has such a potential appeal to a wider audience that they now plan to create a feature-length film.

Documenting the program’s growth seemed an overwhelming task at first, said producer/director Des Henderson of Alley Cat TV, an award-winning independent film production company based in Derry.

The film, which Henderson hopes to screen at film festivals towards the end of the year, is supported by BBC and Northern Ireland Screen (the same group backs “Game Of Thrones”) and has an international distribution deal in place.

What they don’t have are funds to finish the film.

“This is our final push to raise funds to finish the film to the standard we think the story deserves,” said Henderson.

Producers have launched a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter.com to help finish the project.

They hope the campaign will spread the word about the film to the wider Project Children community and raise some much-needed cash.

“We have always thought of this as a big film, as a feature documentary, unfortunately with that goes crazy finance and we need to act fast so we are,” Henderson said.

The Kickstarter.com campaign is trying to raise $220,000 and it went live on April 13. Search for “Project Children” on the site or follow the link www.kickstarter.com/profile/projectchildren.

Donors will have a chance to see some of their own stories on the big screen through links on the site that allow host families and Project Children alumni to upload videos of themselves talking about their experiences.

There are also “all sorts of rewards built in to the campaign that people can buy in return for a donation to the film,” Henderson said.

These include rights to stream the finished film online to prints, t-shirts, an associate producer credit in the film, and tickets to the premiere as well as a chance to meet with Denis and the film’s producers and director.

Project Children was founded in 1975 during the height of The Troubles when Denis Mulcahy, his brother, Pat, Duke Hoffman and a few friends sat around a table in Greenwood Lake, a small town in upstate New York, lamenting the lives of youngsters growing up on the violent streets of Belfast.

The Mulcahy brothers had grown up in County Cork and immigrated to New York where they joined the New York Police Department.

Determined to do something to help, they held a fundraiser at the local American Legion post, raising $1,600 to bring six youngsters, three Catholic and three Protestant, to Greenwood Lake, for a six-week vacation away from the bombs and bullets.

“It was amazing the amount of young kids that were getting hurt getting hit by plastic bullets. There was a great need to get kids out of Northern Ireland at that time,” said Denis, a former New York City bomb squad detective who would go on to became the reluctant face of the program.

“So we came up with this idea that bringing these kids out might have some kind of effect on them.”

Lauded by presidents, prime ministers and movie stars, the program expanded across the U.S in the years that followed, flying more than 23,000 children across the Atlantic to stay with 16,000 host families in the U.S.

The program was nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize.

“Project Children smoothed the way for the peace process in Northern Ireland before there was a peace process in Northern Ireland,” said Congressman Joe Crowley.

“There were a lot of grudges being built on that shed blood (during The Troubles) and he (Denis Mulcahy) knew then that it was the right thing to do for the children and he knew then that if he did it enough he would not only save some individual lives and create some different futures but it might move the country,” said former President Bill Clinton in an interview for the film.

“He would probably never admit it. He was just a good man doing a good thing to help children.”

Henderson’s former teacher, Barry Lynch, first planted the idea for the film.

“Barry, who was basically responsible for me perusing a career in television, called me and starts telling me the story of Project Children and Denis,” Henderson said.

Lynch had done some fundraising for the charity.

“The story was incredible. I never knew any of it. I assumed Project Children was a church or governmental organization. I never had any idea of the backstory.”

Pat Mulcahy said that although some did not want Project Children to succeed in the beginning, its success in opening dialogue is an enduring legacy.

“Isn’t it better to light a penny candle than curse the darkness and when you light 23,000 penny candles you have a massive light,” Mulcahy said.
A trailer for the fledgling film is available on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BP8OfL3DB-o).

Search for “Project Children Documentary” on the site to watch the five-minute preview.
Although Project Children is entering its final year, the program’s internship program, which sees Northern Ireland students spend eight weeks in the U.S. gaining experience in their field of study, will continue.

Editor’s Note: Reporter Kevin Brady was one of the first six children involved in the Project Children program. Brady started his career in journalism at the Irish Echo and today works as a reporter in Florida.

Higgins, Flanagan for Gallipoli ceremonies

POSTED ON April 24th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

5/4/2015. Easter Rising Commemorations
President Michael D. Higgins inspecting an Irish army guard of honor during last month’s Easter 1916 commemorations in Dublin. Photocall

By Ray O’Hanlon
rohanlon@irishecho.com

Gallipoli is long associated with the horrific losses suffered by the ANZACS, soldiers from Australia and New Zealand.
But more than 3,000 Irish soldiers were lost in what was one of the bloodiest campaigns of World War I.

And the sacrifice of those Irishmen, who came from every corner of a pre-partition Ireland, will be remembered this weekend when President Michael D. Higgins and Ireland’s Foreign Minister, Charlie Flanagan, travel to Turkey for the opening of centenary commemorations marking the start of what was, in broader terms, known as the Dardanelles campaign.

The campaign against the Ottoman Turks – who were allied with Germany and Austria Hungary – opened on April 25, 1915 and was centered in the Gallipoli peninsula, part of modern day Turkey.
It lasted until January, 1916 when allied forces that included British, French, Australian, and New Zealand troops were withdrawn to Egypt.

The Irish soldiers were attached to Irish regiments in the British army and they played a significant role in the fighting – with casualties to match.

Most of the Irish were killed in the bitter battles that took place in August and September 1915.

But their deaths were virtually scrubbed from the Irish historical record in the years after the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence.

In recent years, their role in what was a disastrous campaign from the allied perspective has been highlighted in a number of ways, not least by a critically acclaimed book, “Field of Bones,” by Irish author Phillip Orr.

Prior to President Higgins and Minister Flanagan traveling to Turkey, a ceremony was held earlier this week at the War Memorial Gardens in Islandbridge, Dublin.

The event, according to an Irish Times report, was to mark the completion of the conservation work on memorial books listing the World War I Irish war dead.

Minister of State Simon Harris represented the Irish government at the ceremony.

In honor of the minister, said the Times report, pages containing the names of young men called Harris who died in the war were left open for him to read. Three Irish soldiers named Harris perished in the Gallipoli campaign and in fighting that continued afterwards in the Balkans.

Private John Harris of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers was listed as killed in action in the Balkans on September 23rd, 1916. Another private John Harris of the Royal Munster Fusiliers was killed in action in Greek Macedonia on October 3rd, 1916, while Norman Harris, corporal with the Australian Imperial Fusiliers, was killed in action in the Dardanelles.

Sean Connolly of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association stated that 3,400 Irish men died in the campaign, which cost the lives of 7,000 Australians and 2,000 New Zealanders.

Historians point to the ANZAC losses as the cause of an awakening, in the years after the war, of a new national consciousness in both Australia (where roughly a third of the population has Irish ancestral links) and New Zealand.

Connolly said an aspect of the campaign that was overlooked was that after their evacuation from Gallipoli, the soldiers of the 10th Irish Division were involved in fighting with the Serbs against the Bulgarians, and also in Salonika (now northern Greece).

A memorial cross in honor of the division today stands at Rabrovo, in what is now the independent country of Macedonia.

Minister Harris said that for too long the Irishmen who died in the First World War had not been properly remembered, or their sacrifice understood, but this had, thankfully, started to change in recent years.

It’s Mayo Day….in Buffalo

POSTED ON April 23rd  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

Mayo jpg
Assemblyman Michael Kearns and Padraic Walsh showing the Mayo colors as they look forward to “International Mayo Day” on May 2.

By Ray O’Hanlon
rohanlon@irishecho.com

Buffalo might not be the first U.S. city to come to mind in the context of Irish immigration to America.

But it should come to mind.

The second largest city in New York State has a rich Irish history, a slice of it laid bare in the recently published book “Against the Grain: The History of Buffalo’s First Ward,” by Tim Bohen.

The links between Buffalo in particular, and Western New York in general, and the island of Ireland, are many and varied.

But it’s the specific tie between Buffalo and County Mayo that that have lately come into focus with the announcement, by New York State Assemblyman Michael Kearns, that links have been established between Irish Network Buffalo, and Mayo County Council Enterprise and Investment Unit.

Suffice it to say, the flow of good will between the western reaches of the American state and Irish county is going to be a strong one – literally.

Assemblyman Kearns, whose roots trace back to Westport in Mayo, is a member of the New York State Assembly and represents the 142nd Assembly District, which spans South Buffalo, half of the city of Lackawanna, West Seneca and Orchard Park, all within the state of New York.

“With our region experiencing significant investment, and our young entrepreneurs evolving and being creative, the time could not be better to establish solid links with an international partner such as Mayo County Council,” Kearns said in a statement announcing the new relationship.

“To acknowledge this connection through Irish Network Buffalo, it is with great pleasure that I announce Niagara Falls will turn the green and red of Mayo in celebration of the first ever International Mayo Day on May 2.

“What better way to celebrate than by turning one of the natural wonders of the world, Niagara Falls, to the county colors of our new international partner.”

Kiltimagh native, and chairperson of Irish Network Buffalo, Padraic Walsh, warmly welcomed the new link.

“What fantastic news that Niagara Falls will be illuminated in the green and red of County Mayo so to help us celebrate our connections with Mayo County Council,” Walsh said.

And he continued: “There are 9.3 million people around the world with County Mayo roots, with many of them arriving into Western New York, and Southern Ontario. For Niagara Falls to recognize the contributions of these men and women by lighting up in green and red for Mayo Day is a credit to the Irish Diaspora from around the world.

“Where would Mayo, and Irish people be without the tireless work of Assemblyman Michael Kearns? He embraced this project from the very beginning. For our own economy to remain strong, and to grow, we need to be reaching out across the Atlantic to our friends in Ireland.

“With links established between Mayo County Council, and Irish Network Buffalo, it is a leap in the right direction, and we look forward to many years of international collaboration between Western New York and Co. Mayo.”

Irish Network Buffalo is the local chapter of the umbrella group Irish Network USA.

IN USA is the work of volunteers and helps members of the networks in a number of cities connect with their peers and to develop relationships that will foster success in business, economic, cultural and sports ventures.

Assemblyman Kearns said that the City of Buffalo, and the greater Western New York region, was excited for the future as a result of the new connection with County Mayo.

Padraic Walsh said that Irish Network Buffalo was looking forward to hosting many Mayo events in the future, while helping to promote Mayo business and tourism.

“Our group is also looking forward to welcoming County Mayo dignitaries, businesses, colleagues, friends and, hopefully, an Taoiseach Enda Kenny to our region in the future,” he said.

Consulate hosts LGBT Craic fest

POSTED ON April 22nd  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

liz-crowley
Council Member Elizabeth Crowley.

By Orla O’Sullivan
letters@irishecho.com
After opening the CRAIC LGBT Film Festival in the Irish Consulate last Friday, Consul General Barbara Jones returned to the mike to emphasize that the gathering should not be construed as support for next month’s historic referendum in Ireland to legalize same-sex marriage.
“Anna, Fiona and I, and the rest of the consulate staff would have to go to Ulan Bator [Mongolia] and eat salt if this was in any way understood as an endorsement by the consulate of the referendum,” Jones said. “Please understand that this is a cultural gathering.”
Jones’s footnote followed remarks by Noel Sutton, director of the annual lesbian, bi-sexual, gay and transgender (LGBT) film festival in Ireland, GAZE and by New York City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley.
Sutton urged the 60 or so attendees at the reception and screening to, “send a strong signal… by asking the people you know to come out and vote yes” in the referendum.
On May 22, “Ireland will be the first country in the world to hold a referendum on marriage equality,” he added.
Crowley alluded to the longstanding conflict over whether to allow marchers in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade walk under LGBT banners. “I can’t wait to see what next year’s St. Patrick’s Day will look like, I hope it’s more inclusive,” said the Queens councilwoman.

She added that she’s one of very few women on the New York City Council and, as one of 15 children, “I learned how to fight for what I believe in.” Jimmy Van Bremen the openly gay Majority Leader of the New York City Council was expected to attend the event, now in its fifth year.

However, Terence Mulligan, founder of The Craic Festival, told the Echo that Van Bremen had a scheduling conflict.

The LGBT films are now one of three components of The Craic Festival, comprised of the main festival of feature films and live music every March, the LGBT festival in April and a shorts’ festival, called the Wee Craic, in September. As yet, the LGBT films are not shown in a movie theatre but Mulligan said he hopes next year to have them included in the Tribeca Film Festival.
This year, five films—all by student film makers—were sent over by Dublin’s GAZE Film Festival organizers to be shown in the Consulate.
GAZE comprises dozens of films and attracts almost 9,000 people every August, its director, Sutton, said. “The festival was founded in 1993, the same year homosexuality was decriminalized in Ireland,” he added.
Leanne Byrne from Dublin, who directed one of this year’s Craic LGBT films, traveled to New York with her girlfriend, Níle Byrne from Lurgan, Co. Armagh for the occasion. Byrne’s film, “Me First” was a work of fiction created by a crew that worked for food: her granny’s Irish stew.
Not that Byrne’s “nana,” who raised her, took well to her coming out. “You’re not a f****** lesbian!” she responded, adding, in reference to a gay couple next door, “Is it running in the water?!” But, Byrne said, “She came around in a couple of weeks.”
The Craic LGBT film documentaries included “Becoming Kinky.” It showcases a young man from a small town in the Midlands who describes his path from Birr, Co. Offaly, (population: 6,000) to becoming a drag queen called Kinky. All the while he is speaking to the camera he is putting on his make-up.
“She does things I would never do and she says things I would never say. Kinky gets away with murder.” And then Kinky steps into the spotlight and up on stage.

Overseas Irish let down again says Daly

POSTED ON April 21st  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

2/10/2008 Irish Financial Banking Crisis
Senator Mark Daly Photocall

By Ray O’Hanlon
rohanlon@irishecho.com

The Irish government is “utterly failing” Irish citizens living abroad when it comes to voting rights, this according to Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson on Irish overseas and diaspora, Senator Mark Daly.
The diaspora will have not an opportunity to vote in the next election for Seanad Éireann, despite Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s promise of a “democratic revolution,” said Daly in a statement.
A working group set up by the government to examine the matter of Seanad voting rights last week recommended that Irish citizens in the North and overseas should have voting rights in Seanad elections.
The Working Group on Seanad Reform was chaired by former leader of the Seanad, and current chancellor of the National University of Ireland, Maurice Manning.
It was set up by Enda Kenny after the proposed abolition of the Seanad/Senate was rejected in a referendum vote. Kenny committed his government to implementing any reforms proposed.
“While there might be a desire to implement the proposals, given that votes for emigrants have been promised for a long time, the sheer logistics of what is involved would probably require a much longer run-in period,’’ the Irish Times, citing a government source, reported.
The seeming lack of urgency in moving towards Irish citizens in the North and overseas voting for a small number of Seanad seats was described as “another big disappointment for Irish citizens living abroad,” by Senator Daly.
“They should not be treated as second-class citizens and should be given a vote and a voice in the election of senators at the time of the next election. Unfortunately, this government has completely disenfranchised this group of people because reforms will not be enacted in time and instead will only apply to elections held after the next Seanad members are voted into office,” he said.
“Following the last general election the government committed to increasing the voice of the Irish diaspora. The Constitutional Convention, which Fianna Fáil was extremely supportive of and participated in, was tasked with examining the possibility of extending voting rights to the diaspora.
The convention decided in September 2013 voting rights should be extended to our diaspora. This was a strong a positive step forward because the members of the convention were drawn largely from the public themselves,” Daly said.
And he added: “In the French Senate there are twelve senators elected to represent French nationals living abroad. In an Irish context a reformed Irish Senate is one way to ensure that Irish citizens who live abroad and in the North have a voice in Leinster House.
“I am urging the government to expedite the reforms needed to secure voting rights for Irish citizens living overseas. Quite frankly they have been waiting long enough and the government should step up to the mark.
“Unfortunately this government has taken little or no action and shown little interest in progressing this. Fianna Fáil recognizes the important contribution our diaspora makes towards Irish life.
“In our reform proposal for Seanad Éireann, published in 2013, we committed to ensuring that the diaspora would be directly represented in Seanad Éireann. This would be an important first step to give our diaspora the recognition that they deserve.”
Sinn Féin spokesman on the diaspora, Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, was critical of the actual proposals from the working group.
He said the proposals for Irish citizens living abroad fell far short of what people wanted and deserved.
“The fact that it won’t even be delivered in time for the next Seanad election gives this the whiff of another Fine Gael/Labour pre-election promise which won’t be delivered upon,” Ó Clochartaigh said.

O’Brien scales back to folk on Villagers’ latest

POSTED ON April 20th  - POSTED IN News & Views

conor o'brien
The Dublin-based band Villagers has taken a stylistic turn with “Darling Arithmetic.”

Musical Notes / By Colleen Taylor

Hot off the presses, the new Villagers album is out. Its intriguing title is “Darling Arithmetic,” and it represents the album’s foray into past unconscious realms of young love. As such, the album moves in two directions—backwards into the mind and its memories, but forward in the sense of the musician’s own progress, as he delves back into the Indie, acoustic songwriting scene in Ireland. Like the past two Villagers albums before it, “Darling Arithmetic” is one-of-a-kind, and most importantly it’s a provocatively emotive experience crafted organically by songsmith Conor O’Brien.

Villagers is the title of Dublin native O’Brien’s musical persona and project. Officially launched in 2010 under his debut album, “Becoming a Jackal,” for which he enlisted artists Tommy McLaughlin, Danny Snow, James Byrne, and Cormac Curran to form a more sonically comprehensive band, it was enthusiastically received by critics. This initial release was even listed for Mercury Music Prize—an impressive feat for a first album. O’Brien also won the “Best Song Musically and Lyrically Ivor Novello Award” for “Becoming a Jackal” in 2011. The release of Villagers’ sophomore album was equally stellar, as “{Awayland}” made more waves for O’Brien and his band in 2013. Rather than follow up the success of “Becoming a Jackal” with a similar sequel, “{Awayland}”, also nominated for a Mercury Prize, turned the group in a different stylistic direction, incorporating trendy electronic-pop influences into their more natural folk base. Villagers seems dissatisfied with stasis, always looking to alter their stylistic status quo, as their third release evinces. “Darling Arithmetic” is both distinctive and unlike its ancestor albums: it symbolizes yet another stylistic turn, or rather return, for O’Brien’s musical creativity.

Interestingly, “Darling Arithmetic” seems to have come full circle for O’Brien. He started out as a solo folk artist, and this third release honors that original identity in its scaled back, acoustic, more traditional sound. This is an album of romance, and its folk acoustic soloist style reflects that tender sector of human emotion that is the subject matter of “Darling Arithmetic’s” songs. The lyrics address the human complexity and vulnerability of romantic love, so it makes sense that Conor O’Brien has returned to working on a quieter register.

The influence of the American folk revival—the Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, Simon and Garfunkel, and Peter Seeger legacy—is overt in this album. But there’s something distinctly Irish in the “Darling Arithmetic” too. The Irishness is more subtle, but it lingers in what one might label a maritime tenor and theme. That heritage is rhythmically present in the music’s Joyceanesque attention to water flow, the chords ebbing and flowing like waves. One of the best tracks on the album, “The Soul Serene” even opens on a strand: “So I go walking on the shore / And wonder what I’m walking for.” While the overall stylistic arc of the album is rooted in tradition, once again Villagers gives folk music freshness. The collisions of past and present are rendered thematically in the artist’s lyrics and videos as well. In the music video “Everything I Am Is Yours” the musician’s memory of past scorned love overlaps with the music he plays in present day, so that then and now, other and self, become one.

It’s hard to say whether fans and critics will be as pleased with “Darling Arithmetic” as they were with “Becoming a Jackal” and “{Awayland}.” On the surface, it does not appear as ambitious or inventive, but its connections with the folk roots of mid-20th century make it an admirable homage. The Villagers fan will certainly not be displeased with “Darling Arithmetic”—O’Brien’s voice is as interesting, his instrumentation as skilled, and his lyrics as thought-provoking as in his previous work. For someone interested in genre crossover and modern folk invention like me, however, one runs the risk of being underwhelmed. I enjoyed listening to “Darling Arithmetic” but it didn’t excite me the way “{Awayland}’s” energetic electro-folk, sometimes pop-y, sometimes rock-y stylistic explosions did. A song like “Everything I am is Yours” or “Courage” just can’t compete with the energy and seamless, multiple layers of sounds that ignite in “The Bell” or “Earthly Pleasure” in “{Awayland},” or even the title track of “Becoming a Jackal.” Admittedly, “{Awayland}” was a hard act to follow, and it’s possible no artist can be so inventive two times in a row. Perhaps it’s unfair to even compare the two; they are different projects, different albums from different bands. For me, “{Awayland}” remains Villagers’ masterpiece, but “Darling Arithmetic” is a beautiful, calming, tender listening experience that deserves commendation.

Villagers will be busy next month sharing his new music with fans across the Ireland (with a major performance at Dublin’s Olympia Theatre), the UK, and with a stop-off in California in June. “Darling Arithmetic” is now available in the US on iTunes, and you can watch the accompanying music videos online at wearevillagers.com

SEAL hero Michael now honored in Ireland

POSTED ON April 20th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

Murphy jpg
Michael Murphy

By Ray O’Hanlon
rohanlon@irishecho.com

Michael Murphy has been remembered on his homeland American shore.

His heroism in Afghanistan has been recorded in a book and a movie.

A U.S. Navy destroyer bearing his name sails proudly with the Pacific Fleet.
Now Michael Murphy’s name will have a permanent home in Ireland, specifically at a new post for U.S. military veterans in Kinsale, County Cork.

The post has come about as a result of American veterans living in Ireland, and there also being a number of Irish citizens who have served with the U.S. military.

It is being run by the recently formed Irish Veterans organization and the post, the group’s first, was over the weekend formally named in honor of Lieutenant Murphy.

Irish Veterans is open to anyone in Ireland who has served with overseas militaries but, not surprisingly, service in various branches of the the U.S. armed forces is especially prominent in the membership ranks.

Long Islander Murphy lost his life and won the Congressional Medal of Honor fighting in the Afghanistan war that directly followed the 9/11 attack on America.

It was in a 2005 firefight against the Taliban that Lt. Murphy exposed himself to enemy fire in an effort to secure fire support for his vastly outnumbered four-man team.

Two of Murphy’s comrades were also killed that day. One survived. Murphy’s men were all awarded the Navy Cross, thus making the unit the most decorated in the history of the SEALS.

In addition to his Medal of Honor, Murphy was also the recipient of the Silver Star and Purple Heart.

Murphy was the first service member to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan, and the first member of the U.S. Navy to receive the award since the Vietnam War.

The heroism displayed by Murphy and his comrades against overwhelming odds was portrayed in the movie “Lone Survivor.”

Irish veterans asked Murphy’s parents, Dan and Maureen, for permission to name the post after their son. Permission was readily granted and so, with a plaque to tell all who come and visit, the “Navy SEAL LT Michael P. Murphy Irish Veterans Post #1” has come into being.

“This became a big deal and the Navy, Naval Special Operations community, the American Embassy, and the Irish Navy, all became involved,” said Dan Murphy.

A contingent of crewmen from the USS Michael Murphy, the former commanding officer of the Arleigh Burke Class destroyer, Tom Shultz, other naval personnel and the U.S. ambassador to Ireland, Kevin O’Malley, were all expected at the dedication.

The dedication was yet another proud moment for the Murphy family.

“Michael was known as the ‘fiery Irishman from New York,’ said Dan.

The weekend’s events included an inaugural fundraising dinner for Irish Veterans that also benefited the Michael Murphy Foundation.

Now you see them (votes) now you don’t

POSTED ON April 17th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

27/11/2014 American Chamber of Commerce Thanksgiving Lunches
Enda Kenny

 

By Ray O’Hanlon

rohanlon@irishecho.com

 

 

Americans citizens living in Ireland can vote in U.S. elections. Irish citizens living in the United States are barred from voting in Irish elections.

The two counties are both democracies and, fair to say, bask in strong mutual admiration.

So why the extreme dichotomy when it comes to voting?

The answer depends on who you ask.

While few Americans would ever question the right of Americans to vote no matter where in the world they live, quite a few Irish would question the right of the overseas Irish to have a vote in any form of Irish election or vote, be it Dáil, Seanad, presidential or in a referendum.

The lack of voting rights is clear evidence of this antipathy.

At the same time, just about every significant Irish political leader of the last couple of decades has been in favor of granting at least limited voting rights to the overseas Irish.

But that’s while being in opposition.

Something seems to happen to the voting rights idea after the step is made from opposition to government.

And this something spans the party divide.

Back in 1997, Fianna Fáil, then in opposition, went into a general election campaign with a clear cut promise to extend voting rights to the diaspora Irish.

The party, in its election manifesto, “People Before Politics,” stated that it was “Committed to working out the arrangements to give emigrants the right to vote in Dáil, presidential and European Parliament elections, and in referendums. This can be done without amending the Constitution. Initially those who have lived abroad for up to 10 years will be eligible. Our target is to have a voting system for emigrants in place by the year 2000.”

As it turned out, however, politics came before people. The voting rights pledge ended up on the cutting floor when Fianna Fáil won that year’s election.

A few years into government, the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Cowen, ruled out votes for emigrants in what was considered the most likely entity for which voting rights might be awarded – the Seanad, or Senate.

In a submission to the then Seanad sub-committee examining the future role and functions of the upper house of the Oireachtas, Cowen said that from the point of view of the Irish abroad, his view would be that the issue of votes for emigrants was “not a pressing matter.”

If the Irish abroad were to be given a voice in the Seanad, Cowen said, “it would be better to do so through the nomination of a person or persons with an awareness of emigrant issues, as proposed by the Committee on the Constitution, rather than by the election of a formal representative of the Diaspora.”

Cowen said the Emigrant Task Force – which had presented the Irish government with a report on the state of immigrant communities in the U.S. Britain and Australia – found in its consultations with Irish communities abroad that it was notable that very few people raised the question of votes for emigrants.

“Indeed, a majority of those who expressed a view agreed that, given the numbers of Irish emigrants abroad and those born abroad entitled to Irish citizenship, it would be impractical and inappropriate to give the vote to emigrants,” the minister said.

There is something of hint here of the difficulty in nailing down even limited voting rights for the overseas Irish, and it has nothing to do with reluctant politicians or even skeptical emigrants, but rather committees, sub-committees and task forces.

When governments want to pay simply lip service to an issue it is their habit to establish the likes of committees and task forces.

In the Irish case, all these above mentioned entities would be topped up by a Constitutional Convention and, most recently, the Working Group on Seanad Reform.

Back in 2013, the Constitutional Convention recommended an extension of voting rights in Irish presidential elections to the Irish overseas and in Northern Ireland.

And in recent days the Working Group came out with a recommendation that Irish citizens living abroad and in Northern Ireland should be able to vote in Seanad elections.

Promises and recommendations surround the voting issue, but in the end it is political leaders who have the power and thus far they have been most reluctant to wield it on behalf of a disenfranchised diaspora.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is especially notable in this regard.

During the years of Fianna Fáil-led government, from 1997 until 2011, Kenny and his party Fine Gael were in favor of Seanad voting rights for the overseas Irish. Specifically, Kenny and his party backed overseas voting for three seats out of sixty in Seanad.

In outlining his party’s view of the Seanad’s future role in Irish political life, Kenny said that three senators should be elected by “overseas Irish citizens.” At one point he reiterated this view during a visit to New York.

His party’s submission to the aforementioned Seanad sub-committee was broadly in line with a 1996 consultation document – presented to the then “Rainbow” coalition government that included Fine Gael – that proposed Irish citizens living abroad for up to twenty years be entitled to elect three members to the Seanad.

Fianna Fáil – “People Before Politics” now well in the rear view mirror, at least with regard to diaspora voting – said no, though it did respond by suggesting that nomination of emigrant representatives to the senate might be possible.

Brian Cowen, still foreign minister and not yet taoiseach, argued that given the numbers of Irish emigrants abroad, and those born abroad entitled to Irish citizenship, it would be “impractical and inappropriate” to give the vote to emigrants.

Cowen’s successor at foreign affairs, Dermot Ahern, didn’t move from this position. During a U.S. visit he said: “Personally I can’t see that,” referring to the emigrant vote idea.

For those advocating diaspora voting rights there was renewed hope when Enda Kenny led a new coalition government into power after the February, 2011 Irish general election.

Prior to the election, both Fine Gael and Labour had supported a degree of voting rights – or so it seemed.

But even before the election vote there were signs of division between the future government partners.

Labour wanted to extend voting rights to emigrants in local, general and presidential elections for up to five years after they had left Ireland, but Fine Gael’s proposal at the time would have limited voting rights to only presidential elections.

Suddenly the Seanad was out of the picture.

Why this was the case would become apparent in time when Enda Kenny moved to abolish the upper house.

Before even that, and in his role as taoiseach, Kenny had, as was his right as the leader of the government, nominated eleven new members to the Seanad.

None among the eleven was drawn from overseas.

As it turned out, voters in the Republic turned back Mr. Kenny’s bid to cast the Seanad into the dustbin of history, a development which of course kept alive the idea of three senators speaking for the Irish who live in Australia and Arkansas, and everywhere else beyond Ireland’s shores.

But alive or on life support?

The Fine Gael/Labour coalition has run most of its course and there will be general election in 2016.

Clearly, there are many significant issues to be debated and battled over in the run-up to this election, not a few of them more urgent and divisive than granting voting rights to emigrants.

But the voting rights issue will be aired during the 2016 campaign.

It has never gone away.

And despite the political inertia of recent years it could be around for a long time to come.

But just there and going nowhere.

Tom Moran’s new Belfast post

POSTED ON April 16th  - POSTED IN News & Views

Tom jpg
Tom Moran

By Ray O’Hanlon
rohanlon@irishecho.com

Tom Moran, one of Irish America’s most familiar, busiest, and respected business and philanthropic figures, is about to wear yet another new hat.

Not to mention an academic gown.

Moran, President and Chief Executive Officer of the New York-based Mutual of America Life Insurance Company, has been appointed Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast.

“Queen’s University today announced the appointment of leading Irish-American businessman and noted humanitarian, Thomas J Moran, as its new Chancellor,” stated the announcement from the university.

A native New Yorker with ancestral roots in counties Fermanagh and Cavan, Moran, according the Queens release, is listed as one of the top 100 Irish-American business people, has been President and Chief Executive Officer of the Mutual of America Life Insurance Company since October 1994, and is the first person to have been appointed president from within the company.

Moran is also chairman of Concern Worldwide, the New York-based international humanitarian relief organization that operates in thirty of the poorest countries of the world.

“He has contributed to several humanitarian and community causes, including acting as one of a group of unofficial peace envoys to Northern Ireland throughout the 1990s,” stated the Queen’s release.

Rotha Johnston, Pro-Chancellor and Chair of Senate, the university’s governing body, said: “I am delighted that Queen’s has chosen Tom Moran to be its new Chancellor.

“Tom is recognized for his steadfast commitment to helping others and for his charitable, philanthropic
and educational work. He joins Queen’s at an exciting time in its development and we very much look forward to the important contribution of our new chancellor.”

Said Tom Moran in accepting the position: “It is a great honor to accept the role of chancellor of this fine institution. Queen’s is known around the world as an innovative, dynamic and exceptional university that helps change lives for the better. I hope, during my time as chancellor, that I can make a positive contribution to the university’s continued success and to increase further its global impact on society.”

Mr. Moran will serve as the university’s chancellor for a period of five years with effect from May 1.

Tom Moran graduated from Manhattan College with a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics. In 2006, Queen’s University awarded him an Honorary Doctorate of Science (Economics) for services to business, commerce and to public service.

He and his wife, Joan, currently live in New York City.

According to the Queens release, the chancellor of the university fulfils three main roles: a ceremonial one which involves presiding at degree congregations, an ambassadorial role, where the office holder helps to open doors for the university as it seeks to fulfil its mission, and as an advisor, available to the vice-chancellor and senior management as a sounding board, and to provide counsel and guidance.

Kirwan & Turner ride again

POSTED ON April 16th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure, News & Views

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Larry Kirwan.

STACEY MCCARTHY PHOTOGRAPHY

By Peter McDermott
Pierce Turner will be joined by his former singing partner Larry Kirwan for one special number tomorrow night (Friday, April 17) at the Donaghy Theatre, Irish Arts Center in Manhattan.

Turner will also be on stage at the venue on Saturday night for a show he calls “Why use two words when 10 will do,” which is also the tentative title of a memoir he’s currently writing.

His story-telling will inevitably bring in the tale of two boys of Wexford who set out for fame and fortune in New York City in the 1970s. They evolved into the Major Thinkers and, among other achievements, came out with an album called “Absolutely and Completely.”

“It’s actually very emotional to finally sit and listen to the music of Turner & Kirwan of Wexford,” Kirwan told the Echo. “Pierce and I were total idealists. We only wrote and played whatever we thought was really good – no concessions to commerciality. That’s what makes some of these songs timeless.”

Kirwan added: “It will be a blast to be onstage at the Irish Arts Center Friday night revisiting the title track of our album, ‘Absolutely and Completely’.”

He has been busier than ever since the fall retirement of Black 47, the extremely popular band he’d fronted since its formation in 1989. Today, (Thursday, April 16), he will perform his one-man show “Foster in the Five Points,” Bergen Community College, Paramus, N.J. at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. (Tickets and information at tickets.bergen.edu.)

And next week, Kirwan will officially launch his “A History of Irish Music,” which promises to tell that extraordinary story “from Medieval Wexford to Midtown Manhattan.”

Meantime, Turner will be joined for this weekend’s shows by Fred Parcells, a Black 47 alumnus, and the singers of Avon Faire.

Turner will take the story from the time he was a Catholic schoolboy and classically-trained musician in Wexford Town to his New York adventures with Kirwan, which included being taken under the wing of folk giant Pete Seeger. When they branched out to separate careers, Turner worked with one of America’s leading composers, Philip Glass, who produced his first solo album. He has also shared the stage with Regina Spektor, Patti Smith, and Iggy Pop.

His music has won critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic, with for instance, New York Magazine calling him “one of this city’s great gems.”

For information about Larry Kirwan, go to www.black47.com. Pierce Turner’s website is www.pierceturner.com. For tickets to the Irish Arts Center shows: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/942466.

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