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Cycling the world for a cause

POSTED ON April 27th  - POSTED IN News

Breifne Earley
Breifne Earley stopped off in New York during his round the world cycle.

PHOTO: PETER MCDERMOTT

By Peter McDermott
pmcdermott@irishecho.com

Breifne Earley is not counting his chickens exactly, but, all going well, he will win the World Cycle Race toward the end of June in Greenwich, London. He started out from the same place on March 1 of last year with six others, all of who dropped out or were disqualified.

“I’m not an athlete, and I’m never going to be an athlete, but this will be a nice accolade,” he said.

By any measure, though, Earley, a native of the small village of Leitrim in County Leitrim, is already a winner. He successfully battled low-esteem and depression, which led him to the brink of suicide four and a half years ago, and now has an increasingly high profile as a campaigner on suicide prevention.

He is flying back to Ireland today, after completing the North American stages of the World Cycle Race, and begins the Cycle Against Suicide in Belfast, which goes north to Malin Head, then heads south to Mizen Head and turns back for the finish in Dublin. Along the way, Earley and other speakers will bring a message to young people: “It’s okay not to feel okay. And it’s more than okay to ask for help.”

“We’re encouraging people to talk about how they feel,” Earley said. And a more general message to all is: “Basically talk to people and listen to their response.”

Earley’s own personal crisis came to a head on the first weekend of October 2010. He had been struggling with depression for over two years. “My relationship with a very nice girl had broken up,” he said. “The only thing I ever talked about was my negative work environment. I was somebody that nobody wanted to be around. And I felt people would be better off without me.”

He contemplated ending his own life, but three things, he believes, combined to make him change course. The first was a text from an uncle who’d lost a child to leukemia, reminding him of the anniversary. “I remembered the devastation that that had caused,” he said. The second was an idea from a cousin from the other side of his family. He’d attended her wedding without a date the previous day and so she recommended he go to cookery classes. “It’s a great way to meet women,” she told him. And the third came to him alone in his Dublin apartment on the Sunday watching “The Bucket List,” starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. He vowed to write his own bucket list.

Earley, who is of medium height, weighed 277 pounds at the time. So top of his list was a plan to reduce to 210 pounds. He succeeded. “I’m 220 now, but the extra is muscle,” he said. The list also included: visit 10 countries, learn to swim, learn to cook and cycle 50 kilometers a week.

A singer, if a painfully shy one, in his childhood and youth, he undertook to participate in 10 public open-mic performances. Among the 10 sporting events he planned was a triathlon and a cycle around New Zealand. And he pledged to go on 50 dates and apply for 10 “dream jobs.”

He posted his plan on Facebook a week later, on Oct. 10 (10/10/2010), vowing to complete it by Nov. 11 the following year (11/11/2011).

“I was derided,” Earley said. It was if he’d suggested an absurd list of New Year’s resolutions in the wrong season.

After four or five weeks, he recalled, he began to feel positive effects. But he argued that every case is different. “I was lucky in that I didn’t need professional help,” said Earley, who has a computer science degree from Dublin City University.

And eventually people rallied, by, for instance, offering all sorts of free stuff, like swimming and cookery lessons. One hundred people were involved in helping him one way or another, he estimated.

As for the 50 dates – that was the item that inevitably got the most attention. He met people through online dating sites, agencies and friends’ recommendations. “The one rule was I wasn’t allowed to say no to anyone,” he said.

In six or seven instances, there was more than one date, and he is in contact still with a few of his new women friends.

He didn’t quite get his dream job, but he did find interesting work and was even head-hunted by a prominent media organization. He said he is now focused on a career in media.

Earley discovered that he wasn’t a natural at the triathlon or anything involving running, but he liked cycling. So the last part of his life “redesign,” the tour of New Zealand, was particularly enjoyable.

He cited New Zealand, Malaysia, India and parts of the United States as the highlights of his most recent travel adventure.

“I met people of all religions, colors and sexualities,” Earley said, reckoning an average of 25 people a day over 400 days. “That’s 10-12,000, and maybe I wouldn’t sit down with four of them for a pint.”

In New York, he was hosted by Irish Network USA and guided around the city by Gerry Flood, a friend of his father’s from Leitrim. The Bergen County resident is also deeply involved in charity work, as his American Special Children’s Pilgrimage Group travels to Lourdes annually.

“They link up there with groups from Ireland and the UK,” Earley said admiringly.

He added: “This year has been a great insight for me into how fundamentally good people are.”

For more information about Breifne Earley, visit www.pedaltheplanet.tv; www.facebook.com/pedaltheplanettv; He is also on Twitter @pedal_planet and Instagram @breifneearley.

When A-listers joined the fray

POSTED ON April 24th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure, News

pw posters 1
A door into the past on Warren Street.
PHOTO: PETER MCDERMOTT

Between the Lines / By Peter McDermott

The novelist Norman Mailer said of Senator Robert Kennedy, “[I]t was incredible to think him of him as President, and yet marvelous, as if only a marvelous country would finally dare have him.”

He only met him once. It was in 1968, during the hectic last weeks of the former attorney general’s life when he was locked in primary combat with Senator Eugene McCarthy. Thinking back, Mailer felt it hadn’t gone well, for he’d suggested that a Kennedy-McCarthy ticket would be very effective in the general election. His reasoning was in part, that “if there were conservative Irishmen who could vote against one of them, where was the Irish Catholic in America who could vote against two?”Kennedy replied he didn’t want to get votes that way. In any case, the two senators loathed each other.

Mailer was in a minority among the liberal intelligentsia in favoring RFK. McCarthy was their anti-war hero. He took on LBJ, and in the New Hampshire Democratic primary of March 12, 1968, damaged the president with a very strong showing. Kennedy announced his candidacy on March 16, and the president ended his reelection bid on the last day of the month.

It’s amazing when we think of those who’ve, in the decades since, considered and dithered about making a challenge for a nomination that seemed theirs for the taking: such as Gov. Mario Cuomo, General Colin Powell and Gov. Chris Christie.

Kennedy, in contrast, seized the moment, ignoring the advice of his brother Ted, who argued that the party would fall into his lap in 1972, and upsetting his parents, who felt he was risking his life. (George McGovern, a liberal whom RFK had liked and promoted, and who’d worked in JFK’s administration, won the party’s nomination in 1972.)

Recently, I spotted a remarkable artifact from those weeks in America’s history at Philip Williams Posters, 52 Warren St., just a short walk west of City Hall in Manhattan. If you visit, be prepared to take a trip into the past in that large, remarkable store, which also has an entrance also on the parallel Chambers Street. It doesn’t just have big, often huge, posters and framed images from many lands, going as far back as the 19th century. Its plastic-wrapped Life magazines each provide its own portal into history. (Life would cease publication as a weekly at the end of 1972, when it still had millions of subscribers.)

The Life cover of May 10, 1968, featured Hollywood superstar Paul Newman sporting a McCarthy campaign button. “The Stars Leap Into Politics,” the magazine said.

The issue of that week had plenty about the tumult of the era: for instance, a photographic feature on the student revolt at Columbia University, a lengthy profile of former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, commentary on the MLK Jr. assassination and a column from Loudon Wainwright (a Life editor and father of the folksinger) on the RFK train in Nebraska.

paul newman-life-cover

The cover story, inside labeled “The Star-spangled ’68 campaign,” declared it a presidential race “full of theater – surprising twists in plot, dramatic exits and entrances, and in supporting roles, a spectacular cast of showbiz stars.”

Richard Nixon had Ginger Rogers and Rudy Vallée (whose mother’s parents were Irish immigrants) in his corner, while it was suggested that many Hollywood Republicans were waiting in the wings ready to back either Governor Reagan or Governor Rockefeller. On the Democratic side, Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Durante indicated support for Vice President Humphrey, and RFK and McCarthy were reportedly vying for Marlon Brando’s nod of approval.

Lauren Becall, a Bobby Kennedy supporter, was quoted saying: “When I came out for Stevenson 16 years ago I was told to shut up, honey.” The magazine added: “Nobody tells the stars that today.”

Life said. “There has never been anything like it.

EugeneMcCarthy Senator Eugene McCarthy.

RFK Senator Robert Kennedy.

“So far most of them,” it continued “are involved in the Kennedy-McCarthy battle.” Indeed, all of the stars named below were pictured actively campaigning for or otherwise promoting their guy.

In the RFK camp were: the chairman of First-time Voters for Kennedy Lesley Gore (who’d become famous with the hit “It’s My Party”; she died this past February), Sonny & Cher (one of whom was later a Republican member of Congress), Rod Steiger, Shirely MacLaine, Sammy Davis Jr., Bobby Darin and the candidate’s brother-in-law Peter Lawford.

In addition to Newman, Senator McCarthy had on his side Tony Randall, Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson (who were married 66 years at the time of his death last year), Dustin Hoffman, Robert Ryan, Elaine May, Hal Halbrook and Swedish actress Viveca Lindfors.

There were quotes of 50 or more words from each explaining their choice. Darin said that the other Bobby “has a spiritual understanding of what it means to be poor,” while Davis offered: “No one relates to the black man like Bobby.”

Randall said of McCarthy: “He has the guts to lay things on the line.” Time and again, the Minnesotan’s moral courage was cited.

But for many, just standing up and being counted was the important thing.

“If you don’t participate, you’re not entitled to anything,” said Paul Newman. “Get serious, that’s the keynote. Why McCarthy? Because it was time.”

That was Kennedy’s thinking, too.

 

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.

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.

O’Brien funds Boston College fellowship

POSTED ON April 15th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

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Denis O’Brien.

By Ray O’Hanlon
rohanlon@irishecho.com

Irish businessman Denis O’Brien has established a fellowship at Boston College that will provide two Irish students annually with a fully-funded master’s degree in business administration at the college’s Carroll School of Management in Chestnut Hill.

O’Brien, chairman and principal shareholder of Digicel Group, one of the world’s leading cellular companies, and owner and board member of Communicorp, Ireland’s largest media holding company, has, according to a release, created the Denis O’Brien Fellowship at Boston College to provide an opportunity for aspiring business leaders from Ireland to obtain a world-class graduate education at a premier American university.

O’Brien graduated from Boston College with an MBA in corporate finance in 1982, the release stated.

And it added: The O’Brien Fellowship will cover the full cost of attendance, including tuition, fees, books and living expenses for the duration of the MBA program, as well as international travel to and from Boston. The candidates for the fellowship must be Irish citizens of exceptional academic and/or career achievement, who possess the high personal and professional standards of the program’s namesake.

“Boston College and Ireland have had a long and illustrious association,” said O’Brien.

“I am delighted to continue this with a Scholarship Program for two Irish nationals to have the opportunity to pursue a two-year MBA program in management at Boston College,” he added.

Andy Boynton, dean of the Carroll School of Management, thanked O’Brien for establishing the fellowship.

“We are honored that Denis has created the O’Brien Fellowship at Boston College, as it will provide an invaluable opportunity for Irish students who want to pursue an MBA at one of the top business schools in the United States,” Boynton said.

“He is a person who has brought acclaim to his alma mater as a student, global business leader and generous alumnus. We are grateful for his support.”

Ranked fourth among business schools in the United States by Bloomberg/BusinessWeek, Boston College’s Carroll School of Management is internationally regarded for its graduate programs in entrepreneurial and asset management, corporate finance, marketing and accounting.

The MBA program, said the BC release, attracts top students from diverse backgrounds and experiences who work closely with Boston College faculty in a program that combines sequenced course work with experiential learning. Its alumni are among the top leaders in the corporate, non-profit and finance world.

The release added: “Outside of his extensive business interests, O’Brien chaired the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Ireland, which featured teams from 160 countries and more than 30,000 volunteers, in the first-ever games held outside of the United States.

“O’Brien is also a director on the U.S. Board of Concern Worldwide and a member of the United Nations Broadband Commission for Digital Development.

“In addition, he is the Chairman and Co-Founder of Frontline, the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. Based in Dublin, Frontline works to ensure that the standards set out in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted in 1998, are known, respected and adhered to worldwide.

“He also established The Iris O’Brien Foundation to identify and assist projects in Ireland and abroad that aim to alleviate disadvantaged communities.”
O’Brien holds a BA degree from University College Dublin, which also honored him with an honorary degree in 2006.

Details on the O’Brien Fellowship are at: http://www.bc.edu/schools/csom/graduate/admissions/scholarships/obrienfellowship.html.

Irish American Democrats back Hillary

POSTED ON April 14th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

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By Ray O’Hanlon
rohanlon@irishecho.com

Hillary Rodham Clinton isn’t Irish American per se, but that matters for naught as far as the lobby group Irish American Democrats is concerned.

IAD said in a statement that Sunday’s announcement by Hillary Clinton that she is running for president was “exciting news for all Americans and for Ireland and Irish Americans in particular.”

“As Irish American Democrats we welcome the announcement,” the statement said.

The statement of welcome, while not actually using the word “endorse,” does effectively read as an endorsement of Clinton’s candidacy, and one issued just hours after it was unveiled in a tweet and online video.

And it leaves no apparent room for endorsing possible rivals to Clinton for the Democratic nomination – even though the most prominent name being mentioned in reports right now is in fact an Irish American: former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley.

The IAD statement, issued jointly by the group’s Washington, D.C.-based president, Stella O’Leary, and New York-based vice president, Brian O’Dwyer, said at the outset that Hillary Clinton needed no introduction to Irish America.

“Few would take issue with the claim that there would be no peace in Northern Ireland, fragile as it may be, without the direct involvement of President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton,” the statement said.

“We, along with many others, worked with President Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton on the Northern Ireland peace process that commenced with the granting of a visa to Gerry Adams, and culminated in the Good Friday agreement.

“Many would claim that the peace was inevitable, but it was not,” added the statement, which pointed to the historical distrust that had to be overcome.
And it continued: “Initially, the parties would not even acknowledge each other’s existence. We worked with First Lady Hillary Clinton and her Vital Voices campaign, enlisting Northern Ireland women, from both sides of the divide, to pressure the negotiators to compromise. Even today the situation in Northern Ireland remains tense and no candidate is more qualified, or committed, than Hillary Clinton to help us sustain that fragile peace.”
The statement does not only deal with the North, but also focuses on immigration and looks to a possible Clinton presidency for solutions to the current immigration impasse.
“This election, however, is not just about repaying debts, but also about looking to the future,” it stated.

And it continued: “Unjust United States immigration laws are in dire need of fixing. Irish America is so adversely affected by the provisions of the present laws that they are tantamount to a sign on the border ‘Irish need not apply.’

“Thousands of Irish are living in the shadows because of these unjust and cruel laws. American corporations are being deprived of the considerable gifts that the graduates of Irish universities are willing and able to provide.

“Despite the almost universal consensus that the immigration policies of the United States are badly broken, no action has been taken to fix the law.

Having visited Ireland numerous times as First Lady, as Senator, and as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton is well aware of the hardships these laws impose on Irish families, on both sides of the Atlantic.

“She will make it a priority to enact comprehensive immigration reform, in particular she is fully supportive of President Obama’s executive action that will allow many of our undocumented to remain in the United States to work and lead productive lives.

“We, as Irish American Democrats, will, throughout this campaign, do our best to ensure that Hillary Clinton is the next president of the United States.

“Her presidency will strengthen the bonds that exist between Ireland and America and will immeasurably help the struggling middle class to achieve equitable wage parity.

“She will break new ground as the first female President of America. Her presidency will benefit not only Ireland and Irish Americans, but will benefit all America. We are proud to support her.”

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