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Mourned and scorned

POSTED ON April 10th  - POSTED IN News & Views

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By Anthony Neeson

Just as in life, former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher has divided opinion after news of her death.

The Iron Lady died on Monday after suffering a stroke while staying in the Ritz Hotel in London. She was 87.

In power during the years of the 1981 hunger-strike – which made her a hate figure with republicans – she also signed the Anglo-Irish agreement which saw unionist MPs resign their seats at Westminster and campaign against Irish government “interference” in Northern Ireland. Thatcher also survived an IRA murder bid at the Grand Hotel in Brighton in October 1984 during the Conservative Party conference, which killed five people.

While some people thought news of her death deserved a street party, as in Belfast and Derry – as well as parts of Britain – others were hailing her as the woman who saved modern Britain.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams wasn’t one of those, however. He said her handling of the 1981 hunger-strike prolonged the Troubles.

“Here in Ireland her espousal of old draconian militaristic policies prolonged the war and caused great suffering,” Adams said.

“She embraced censorship, collusion and the killing of citizens by covert operations, including the targeting of solicitors like Pat Finucane, alongside more open military operations and refused to recognize the rights of citizens to vote for parties of their choice.”

Adams added: “It should be noted that in complete contradiction of her public posturing, she authorized a back channel of communications with the Sinn Féin leadership but failed to act on the logic of this.

“Unfortunately, she was faced with weak Irish governments who failed to oppose her securocrat agenda or to enlist international support in defense of citizens in the North.

“Margaret Thatcher will be especially remembered for her shameful role during the epic hunger strikes of 1980 and ’81. Her Irish policy failed miserably.”

By contrast, DUP leader and Northern Ireland First Minister, Peter Robinson, called Thatcher “one of the greatest political figures of post-war Britain.”

Robinson described Lady Thatcher as “transformative and powerful” and said she had “changed the face of our United Kingdom forever.”

“As our first female prime minister, she made history and as ‘The Iron Lady’ she was at the frontline of winning The Cold War as well as ensuring the freedom of the Falklands Islands.

“Whilst we disagreed over the Anglo-Irish Agreement, Mrs. Thatcher was committed to the union and later described the Anglo-Irish Agreement as one of her greatest regrets.”

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said Margaret Thatcher was “a controversial and divisive figure in the political landscape on our shores.”

“Her politics and approach left her a hostile figure within nationalism,” he said.

“The SDLP disagreed fundamentally with Baroness Thatcher’s politics and approach to the North and my colleagues clashed many times with her. However, with significant assistance from America, she helped deliver the Anglo Irish Agreement which set the scene for the Good Friday Agreement and the much improved circumstances we find ourselves in today.”

Former SDLP Deputy Leader, Seamus Mallon, said the way that Margaret Thatcher dealt with the 1981 hunger strike affects the politics of Northern Ireland to the present day.

At Stormont, Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt said Thatcher was “a colossus of conviction politics.” “Whilst we in the Ulster Unionist Party would not have agreed with her on everything, particularly the Anglo-Irish Agreement, Northern Ireland has reason to be eternally grateful for her stance against terrorism, not least during the hunger strikes when Northern Ireland was on the edge of something catastrophic,” he added.

President Michael D. Higgins said Thatcher “will be remembered as one of the most conviction-driven British Prime Ministers.”

“The policies of Mrs. Thatcher’s government in regard to Northern Ireland gave rise to considerable debate at the time,” he said.

“However, her key role in signing the Anglo-Irish Agreement will be recalled as a valuable early contribution to the search for peace and political stability.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said Thatcher was a “formidable political leader who had a significant impact on British, European and world politics.”

He stated: “While her period of office came at a challenging time for British-Irish relations, when the violent conflict in Northern Ireland was at its peak, Mrs. Thatcher signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement which laid the foundation for improved North-South cooperation and ultimately the Good Friday Agreement.”

As opinion divided on Thatcher and her legacy, Deputy First Minister for Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness, called on the street parties in nationalist areas of the North to end.

In a tweet, he said people should “resist celebrating the death of Margaret Thatcher.”

McAleese is heading to Boston College

POSTED ON April 3rd  - POSTED IN News & Views

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By Irish Echo Staff

Former Irish president Mary McAleese will be heading to Boston College this fall to take up the position of Burns Library Visiting Scholar in Irish Studies, the university has announced

As Burns Scholar, McAleese – now studying for a doctoral degree in canon law at the Gregorian University in Rome – will teach a course and present public lectures during the fall semester while pursuing research in the Burns Library Irish Book and Manuscript Collection, the university said in a release.

“Coming to Boston, using that wonderful Burns Library, talking with students and faculty members from a variety of disciplines, including my beloved Irish Studies will be for me a seminal opportunity to enrich and deepen the insights I can bring to my own research and also hopefully to add a little to the insights of others,” said McAleese, who served two terms as Irish president.

McAleese, according to the BC release, first visited Boston College in 1998 to formally open Connolly House – the headquarters for the University’s Irish programs – and meet with members and friends of the Irish Institute and the Irish Studies Program.

“She praised BC for its various initiatives to aid the peace process, including a program to assist members of the new Northern Ireland Assembly in preparing for their roles as leaders in government, and the economic development of Ireland and Northern Ireland,” said the statement.

“The life of Mary McAleese represents an abundantly appropriate model for Boston College now celebrating its sesquicentennial year,” said Center for Irish Programs Executive Director and university professor, Thomas Hachey.

“Our institution’s journey, from modest Irish immigrant roots to that of a globally distinguished university,” he said, “mirrors Mary’s own life in which she persisted from early adversity to the pinnacle position of head of state in her native country. And in that career she has unfailingly projected the Jesuit focus on being ‘men and women for others.’”

Established in 1989 with a grant from the Burns Foundation of San Francisco, the Burns Chair is held by a person who has made significant contributions to Irish culture or intellectual life. Past holders have represented the fields of history, literature, bibliography, language and art.

Dedicated in honor of John J. Burns, a 1921 graduate of Boston College who rose from humble origins to become a Harvard Law School professor, Massachusetts Superior Court justice, and the first general counsel for the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Honorable John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections opened at Boston College in 1986.

The Irish Collection of Burns Library, the largest and most comprehensive in the United States, includes materials from Nobel laureates William Butler Yeats, Samuel Beckett, George Bernard Shaw and Seamus Heaney. Additional collections include the work of philosopher Thomas Merton; British Catholic authors Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh and John Henry Cardinal Newman; Jesuitica including original letters from Jesuit Saints Francis Xavier, Francis Borgia and Robert Bellarmine; and the papers of the former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr., and Congressman Edward P. Boland, both 1936 graduates of Boston College.

Pilot fatigue a factor in crash?

POSTED ON April 3rd  - POSTED IN News & Views

The captain of an Air France plane which crashed into the sea with the loss of all 228 people on board had only slept one hour the previous night after a romantic jaunt in Brazil with his girlfriend. A damning report also found that his co-pilots appeared dangerously tired.

Three young Irish doctors, Jane Deasy (27) from Dublin, Aisling Butler (26) from County Tipperary and Eithne Walls (28) from County Down were killed when AF447 plunged into the Atlantic Ocean as it traveled from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil to Paris in June, 2009.

The close friends had studied medicine together in Trinity College and remained friends after graduating in 2007.

The new revelations may help shed light on why the pilots took what air accident investigators describe as “inappropriate” action when the Airbus 330 flew into turbulence during a tropical thunderstorm.

Co-pilots Pierre-Cedric Bonin, 32, and David Robert, 37, were unable to bring the plane under control as it rolled from side to side. Black box recorders showed that Captain Marc Dubois, 58, had been asleep when the trouble started and took more than a minute to return to the cockpit when they alerted him.

Analysis of the flight recorders has established that airspeed sensors had malfunctioned – probably because they had frozen up. But a report commissioned by French magistrates investigating the crash said the captain had been recorded as grumbling shortly after take off: “I didn’t sleep enough last night. One hour is not enough.”

The newspaper Le Figaro published a previously unseen email sent by a friend of Captain Dubois showing that he had taken Veronique Gaignard, his girlfriend and an off-duty flight attendant, to Rio.

“I can tell you that he was happy because he told me that he was leaving (for Rio) with Veronique and he was so happy that she was there and accompanying him,” the mail reads.

Le Figaro said Captain Dubois and Ms. Gaignard had driven to see friends an hour from Rio and flown by helicopter over the bay during the weekend. When he reached the cockpit after being roused, Captain Dubois used words that suggested he was not fully awake, this according to French press reports.

 

Into the blue

POSTED ON April 3rd  - POSTED IN News & Views

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By Ray O’Hanlon

It’s not quite a home of their own, but it’s close.

And if you are flying to Ireland with Aer Lingus out of JFK tonight do not go to Terminal 4. Terminal 5 would be the better bet by far.

Aer Lingus recently signed a code-share agreement with JetBlue Airways and the deal means that Aer Lingus Ireland-bound passengers will be using the “T5″ JetBlue terminal at Kennedy airport.

The agreement also covers connecting east coast flights to and from JFK airport and Boston’s Logan International Airport.

The new partnership sees Aer Lingus moving out of Kennedy’s crowded Terminal 4 and into Jet Blue’s Terminal 5 with a starting up date for the new partnership from today, April 3.

Aer Lingus customers connecting to one of JetBlue’s destinations across the U.S. will benefit from same terminal connections, one-stop ticketing and baggage check-in for travel on both airlines, from the U.S. to Europe, according to an Aer Lingus release.

The two airlines have been “interline” partners since 2008 with connections to over 40 destinations in the U.S.

From the end of March, Aer Lingus has been offering double daily flights between Dublin and New York, and Dublin and Boston. Flights from Shannon to New York will operate three times weekly, with four weekly departures to Boston, all connecting with JetBlue.

The new code-share agreement means the two airlines will now market and sell each other’s flights as if they were their own.

Aer Lingus has recently been increasing its transatlantic services. The carrier is using an additional aircraft that had been in use by the now defunct service it operated in conjunction with United Airlines between Washington and Madrid.

From March, Aer Lingus has been flying twice a day between Dublin and New York and Dublin to Boston. It will also be operating three flights a week from Shannon to New York, as well as four to Boston.

Available seats to Ireland over the summer months – the peak period for The Gathering 2013 – are not just being increased by Aer Lingus, but also by American Airlines, Delta and United, this according to Tourism Ireland chief, Niall Gibbons.

 

IFI’s Johnston makes his D.C. pitch

POSTED ON March 27th  - POSTED IN News & Views
IFI-Board

Attending the recent IFI board meeting in Dundalk were: Chairman, Dr Adrian Johnston (center) with board members (l-r) Billy Gamble, Siobhan Fitzpatrick, Winston Patterson, Rose Mary Farrell, Dorothy Clarke and David Graham.

By Ray O’Hanlon

The days surrounding St. Patrick’s Day are witness to a large scale movement of Irish politicians, business people and agency chiefs flying westward across the Atlantic with the eastern seaboard of the United States, and the continent beyond it, firmly fixed in their sights.

One among the agency chiefs this past St. Patrick’s Day was Dr. Adrian Johnston, chairman of the International Fund for Ireland, the independent organization formed by the Irish and British governments in 1986 and in the aftermath of the Anglo Irish Agreement reached the previous year.

Dr. Johnston (his doctorate is in engineering) was in the nation’s capital to report on past progress, present realities and future hopes.

Which is to say that after close to three decades, the IFI is still relevant and still needed, most especially in the six counties of Northern Ireland where the IFI is most active and focused.

“St. Patrick’s Day in Washington, D.C. is a great opportunity,” Dr. Johnston, who is from Derry, told the Echo in a phone interview.

“It is a chance to meet with members of Congress and senior officials to discuss the progress made over the last twelve months, and also highlight the significant challenges that are still out there,” he said.

Johnston’s main message during his recent visit focused on current peace building efforts, the challenges to securing a lasting peace, and the importance of continued U.S. support, not just political, but also financial and economic.

Current peace building efforts are most evident in larger cities and towns such as Belfast, Derry, Coleraine, Lurgan, and across the border in Dundalk (the IFI works in six border counties of the Republic as well as the North six).

But it is in Belfast, with its “interfaces” and “peace walls” that much of the current IFI work is concentrated.

“We’re very focused on the interfaces and peace walls. We are working on a project of community transformation in those areas,” said Johnston, who took up his position as chairman last year.

This has entailed paying particular attention to those who have become disengaged from the peace process, or those who have never engaged in the process of reconciliation to begin with.

“We have a particular focus on young people who might be attracted to paramilitary activity,” said Johnston.

Johnston is quick to praise the “valuable support” from the United States over the past 26 years. This support, he said, had been reflected in succeeding presidential administrations and in bipartisan backing for the IFI on Capitol Hill which, in most recent years, has been made manifest in an annual $15 million contribution.

As well as the U.S., the IFI gets backing from the European Union, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The financial total committed by these backers to date amounts to €890 million, or roughly $1.150 billion.

During the past year, the fund committed £13 million/€16 million to a wide range of what it calls “interventions” in Northern Ireland, and the southern border counties, to promote cross-community and cross-border peace building and reconciliation projects. Case studies of these interventions can be found at www.internationalfundforireland.com.

The IFI board, led by Johnston, is appointed jointly by the British and Irish governments. It is assisted by an advisory committee comprised of senior officials appointed by the two governments. The U.S., EU , Canada, Australia and New Zealand are represented by their international observers at meetings of the board.

According to the IFI, delivering lasting peace on the island of Ireland is a slow process, extending over decades rather than years.

“While enormous progress has been made in recent years, much work is still required to address the sectarian tensions that remain between many Unionists and Nationalists in Northern Ireland,” it states.

Meanwhile, the IFI has announced £1.4m/€1.63 million in financial assistance that will, according to a release, support “peace building, integration and reconciliation projects” in Northern Ireland and the southern border counties. The announcement was made following the IFI’s Board meeting which took place in the Ballymascanlon House Hotel, Dundalk. The financial commitment includes funds within the IFI’s new “Peace Impact Programme” to be shared among four community initiatives, three in Dundalk and one in Derry/Londonderry.

Not in spirit of the big day

POSTED ON March 27th  - POSTED IN News & Views
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Almost there. Senator Charles Schumer, who had crisscrossed Fifth Avenue greeting spectators for most of the parade route, is flagging just a bit as he nears the end of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

By Inside File

IF has been hearing anecdotal evidence – and it follows similar stories that cropped up last year – of some police officers on duty for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York making it difficult for parade marchers to make it to their marching units.

Specifically – and there have been a number of such accounts this year – people attempting to meet up with their units have been asked to produce photo identification and, in some instances, letters from marching organizations that confirm that the individual is expected to show up to march.

Whatever about photo IDs, that sort of correspondence does not exist, never has.

One specific eyewitness account from March 16th relates how two elderly women somehow managed to pass the security barriers on one of the streets in the 40s only to be pulled back for questioning.

Getting to simply see the parade in recent years has become more of a challenge because of increased security, much of it understandable in our post-9/11 world. There are more barriers than there used be, and access is highly restricted in the streets close to the parade’s starting point.

People generally understand the need for security. But there’s a good way and bad way of implementing the rules, and while officers might be simply going by the book and obeying orders, it is clearly the case that some officers – and only some – are not policing the parade in the spirit that the day requires.

Gardai want their Uzis back

POSTED ON March 27th  - POSTED IN News & Views

By Sean Lehane

The murder of a garda during the robbery of a credit union in January has led to calls for gardai to have the Uzi submachine gun – previously withdrawn from service – immediately reissued to detectives.

Garda sergeants and inspectors voted to seek to have the weapon reinstated.

A member of the AGSI national executive claimed that the murder of detective Garda Adrian Donohoe might have been prevented if he had been armed with the weapon.

Detective Adrian Donohoe was shot dead during a robbery at a credit union in Bellurgan, near Dundalk, on January 25.

Delegates at the association’s annual conference this week also rejected any further reductions in their pay and allowances and agreed to take action to oppose the cuts.

On Tuesday, delegates passed a motion calling on Commissioner Callinan to immediately re-issue the Israeli-made Uzi submachine gun to detectives. The weapon was carried by many detectives during the years of the Troubles.

The sergeants and inspectors agreed that the weapon acts as a deterrent because criminals and terrorists are afraid of it.

And garda anger is growing. On Monday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny was confronted by an angry guard as he canvassed for the Meath East by-election.

During the emotionally charged meeting in a supermarket in Ratoath, the Taoiseach told the father-of-three he should contribute his fair share to recovery and he insisted all public sector workers would do the same.

“You’re a guard, which is a very important job. You’re an intelligent man. But what do you think is going to pay for the services that you need?” Mr. Kenny said.

The officer, who didn’t give his name, said he should be compensated for the unsociable hours he works.

“I didn’t cause this economy to collapse but I feel I’m being singled out. I’m being told that I have to accept this because of the state of the economy,” the garda said.

Gaelic Park makeover

POSTED ON March 21st  - POSTED IN News & Views

    By Irish Echo Staff

Dinner for two at Gaelic Park? It could well be date in the near future for many in New York’s Irish/Irish American and Gaelic Games community.

The iconic stadium in the Bronx has been cleared for a $3.2 million makeover, the Riverdale Press was reporting Thursday.

The MTA, which leases the field to Manhattan College, which in turn provides use of the field for Gaelic Games, has approved the Gaelic Athletic Association of Greater New York’s plan to knock down the existing building and construct a banquet hall and bar. It has also approved a new ten-year lease.

Gaelic Park Restaurant and Catering LLC, a new group formed by the athletic association and restaurateurs Paul and Gieto Nicaj, plans to demolish the dilapidated building at the southern end of Gaelic Park to build a new facility that will finally make a permanent home for the New York GAA, the Riverdale Press report stated.

The MTA approved the 10-year lease at its board meeting on March 13.

Gaelic Park dates to 1928, the same year that the Irish Echo was first published.

North celebrates St. Patrick anew

POSTED ON March 20th  - POSTED IN News & Views

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By Anthony Neeson

Ten years ago you would have been hard pressed to find a St Patrick’s Day parade in Northern Ireland, however, as another sign of the cultural changes taking place, it seems that every town and city now has a parade of its own.

As a result, tens of thousands of people celebrated the patron saint’s day with parades and concerts from Derry to Belfast and Enniskillen to Armagh.

One of the biggest parades was in Belfast, where the city council celebrated the St. Patrick’s festival over four days, including dramas, talks, exhibitions, and arts and crafts.

The carnival left the city hall at noon and made its way to Custom House Square for an open air concert headlined by the Amelia Lily. Thousands lined the route waving tricolors.

Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast, Sinn Féin’s Tierna Cunningham, said it was a great day out for everyone.

“Ultimately, it’s about celebrating St. Patrick but it’s also about having fun and that’s what we need in this city; a bit of fun and a bit of vibrancy and a bit of color,” she said.

“It’s just been fantastic, everybody is having a great time.”

In Derry, thousands descended onto the city center for the St. Patrick’s Day parade which has only been in existence for a couple of years. With the city celebrating its year as City of Culture, the streets were buzzing with families enjoying the carnival and later concert.

In Enniskillen, history was turned on its head as St. Patrick arrived in town onboard a Viking long ship.

If St. Patrick was reputed to have expelled snakes from Ireland, he missed one as the parade through the town was led by what organizers described as the “longest snake in Ireland.” It had been decorated and carried by hundreds of children.

This was just the third year volunteers put on a festival in Enniskillen but with the atmosphere around the Fermanagh town it now looks like a permanent fixture.

Thousands of people bedecked in green also took to the streets of Newry, Armagh, Downpatrick, Omagh and Dungannon for their own St. Patrick’s Day festivities.

 

Joe Buckley, proud Kerryman, was 72

POSTED ON March 20th  - POSTED IN News & Views
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Joseph V. Buckley.

 

Joseph V. Buckley, a native of County Kerry and a prominent member of the Irish American community on Long Island, died recently aged 72.

Buckley, born in Moyvane, was a well known bar and restaurant owner. He died peacefully after a short illness.

Buckley was the youngest of 11 brothers and sisters. He was father to Kelly, Michael, Sean, Ryan and a grandfather to Jack and Rylin.

He was the former owner The Jolly Tinker in Rockville Centre, Katie Daly’s Restaurant in Massapequa and was at the time of his death the owner of Molly Malone’s Restaurant in Bayshore.

In 1980, Buckley was named St. Rose of Lima Man of the Year. In 1987 he was Nassau County Police Emerald Society Irishman of the Year. In 1990 he was Grand Council of United Emerald Societies Man of the Year and in 1993 he was Grand Marshal of Glen Cove St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

In 1979, Joe organized the first “Irish Open Golf Tournament” which over the years benefited the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor, St. Mary of the Angels Home, St. Rose of Lima School, and the Holy Ghost Fathers of Dublin and many more worthy causes.

Throughout the years he was a member of the following: Founding Charter Member of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, Long Island Chapter, Knights of Columbus, Ancient Order of Hibernians, Chamber of Commerce, Hempstead Bay Power Squadron (honorary), Nassau County Restaurant Association and Nassau Shores Civic Association.

Joe Buckley first landed in New York in 1963. He loved going home to Ireland every September. He would attend the Listowel Races and the All Ireland Gaelic Football Final. Not surprisingly, he was a passionate fan of the Kerry Football Team and at every opportunity he would proudly tell people that he was from the Kingdom, the Kingdom of Kerry.

“He was more to people than just a business owner. He made people feel that they were part of his family and in turn people opened their hearts to him as well. He’d want to know about your kids and how your vacation was and how things were in your everyday life. He was so good at what he did because he genuinely loved it and got great joy from it,” said his family.

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