Posts categorized “Irish History”

Disgustingly Obvious


There is no doubt about it Irish controversies have a distinctly Irish flavour to them.  Where else would you find it necessary for a slew of cabinet ministers to suggest to the officer in charge of the countries organisation charged with preserving the civil peace An Garda Síochána to act with civility.

Of course Commissioner Callinan should apologise for his ‘disgusting’ remark and of course the performance of minister Shatter was deplorable.

To cut out the crap and obfuscation the plain facts of the matter are that the Minister for Justice and the Garda Commissioner have been engaged in verbal warfare with two sets of responsible people who were acting legally and according to their consciences.

Somebody bugged GSOC and we can take it for granted that he, she or it was not for example acting on behalf of the Ballyfermot Boys’ Brass Band. Neither did the two whistle blowers put a foot wrong. But both GSOC and the whistle blowers were blagarded because they had the temerity to do what they were supposed to do, – act responsibly.

The police should serve the people, not the other way around.

My father, who was the first Deputy Commissioner of the Gardaí, died when I was twelve so I cannot claim to have known him very well but I have an abiding memory of him telling me one day that one of the greatest achievements of this State was the setting up of an unarmed acceptable police force in the middle of a civil war.

I believe he was right and that there are many things about the Gardaí about which both the force and the public can be proud but the recent bout of bullying outrage at the notion that accountability is a word that applies to all of us, even those in uniform, is literally Shattering.

All organisations, be it the Church, political parties, an army or civil service, need to be overhauled from time to time and in recent decades, probably from ‘blue flu’ days onward there have been signs that the Garda could benefit from some outside searchlights being shone on the workings of the force.

To give but one example involving myself, I think that the garda inspectorate’s suggestion that there may be laxity in the serving of summonses may be only too well founded.

In veighing one day against the fact that I had been, as I considered, unjustly served with a parking ticket, I was ‘reassured’ by a garda acquaintance of mine that I needn’t worry, he’d see to it that the summons was torn up. A summons mark you not a parking ticket.

He showed me a satchel of summonses and said ‘that’s my job.  I’ll probably be throwing out a rake of these.’ He told me that he didn’t believe in wasting his time getting, ‘a pain in the face’ trudging up through flats only to be fobbed off by ‘some auld one who’ll tell me that she doesn’t know where yer man is or when he’ll be back or if he’ll be back’.

I shunned his infamous offer of course but I’ve often wondered how come that man superiors didn’t check on what summonses found their marks and what not.  

I won’t go back over cases which have been in the news in recent times where had bench warrants been served or greater garda diligence been deployed, people might not have been at liberty to take life, or to lose it.  But one strange talking point that I came across in Donegal puts even the events described in the Morris Tribunal in the shade.  The rumours began after one Jimmy Curran disappeared from the Dungloe district in July of 2003 and were fanned into fresh life in January of 2005 when Sean Duffy was found dead in his home in the same general area. 

He had died from stab wounds, a bolt from a cross bow and there was an axe wound in the back of his head.  No one was ever charged with his murder but it was rumoured that he had been talking about a pending court case against him, making threats that if he went down others would follow. 

Jimmy Curran’s body was never discovered and the rumours allege that he may have been struck by a garda car, and his corpse disposed of with the help of Duffy who was said to have engaged in a variety of activities ranging from horse dealing, undertaking to garda informant.

All of these rumours could be totally unfounded but I found them to be strongly believed in the Donegal area and obviously it would both quieten gossip and allay public anxiety if the Republic did possess an independent police authority which could investigate the affair and issue its findings publically.

The PSNI benefitted and continues to benefit from the reform process initiated by Chris Patten. The current spate of calls for a police authority along the lines of that which functions in Northern Ireland is however only a partial answer. If that were grafted on to the present police landscape all we would get would be a further spate of GSOC type rows. A public airing of the problems of the Gardaí performed in courageous and responsible fashion, like Chris Patten’s inquiry would clear the air for both police and public and provide a climate in which a police authority could not merely be set up but operate efficiently.

 


Haul in the Bloody Bankers


Haul in the Bloody Bankers!

 

Bring the bloody bankers before the Public Accounts Committee! There should be three important steps taken as a result of what can only be described as the spectacularly successful hearings of the Public Accounts Committee.

                           One, the lawyers cant about Dáil Committees being an intrusion upon the work of the judiciary and the right of a man to his good name, should be treated as the self-interested rubbish it is and the PAC should do as it has done in the Rehab and penalty points debacle, insist on the principle that it has authority where public monies are concerned and haul before it eh bankers and everyone else involved in the  greatest, most wasteful  expenditure of public money in the history of the State, the infamous bank bailout.

                             The greedy corrupt, and inefficient decision-takers in law, politics, the professions and the financial institution s who indulged in the orgy of reckless trading that brought upon us a crash that has driven people to kill themselves should be treated as those responsible for  the penalty point s debacle and the misuse of charitable funds held up to public scrutiny and condemnation.

                        Public opinion has c hanged since the lawyers helped to sway the referendum which decided again against giving the people, via their elected representatives, the power to  hearings into the causes of the bank crash. The workings of the public accounts committee have helped the change minds for the better and the change should be acted on.

              I say to the PAC: public opinion is with you, strike now while the iron is hot- bring the bloody bankers before you.

 

              The second point which I refer to in my opening paragraph is that, also arising from the PAC deliberations that there should be a thorough going inquiry into the running of the Garda Síochána. We need something on the lines of Chris Patten’s overhaul of the police in the six counties.

              For some time I have been increasingly annoyed at the annual statements by the Garda commissioner and his cohorts about crime statistics. To listen to the official pronouncements one would think that matters were not too bad, or even in some categories that crime is down.

              This is sheer nonsense. This week for example one only had to listen to Valerie Cox’ reports on RTE radio one about the reign of terror endured by elderly people in county Donegal to wonder did the crime statisticians live on the same planet as the rest of us.

              The plain fact is that crime in the Republic has gone to Hell in a hand basket. When I began work in the Evening Press in August 1954 there were two murders that year. Now one would feel lucky to only have two in a week. On top of that Garda stations are being closed down left, right and centre. No matter what anyone says this must have an effect on the crime statistics.

              The guards like the rest of the community are suffering pay cuts and morale in the force is low. There was too much reliance on overtime within the force and like other sections of the community the Gardaí in the good days were able to get loans without much difficulty. That’s not the case now.

              I remember during a previous recession in the seventies when prison warders were known to take their wives to New York for Christmas shopping until the overtime was suddenly axed, Drastic, but secret action had to be taken by the authorities.

              Lending institutions were visited by government representatives issuing warnings against foreclosures without notifying the authorities first. The Department of Justice wanted the opportunity of quietly helping out with loans rather than rendering the warders susceptible to bribery by the Provisionals.

              It’s high time that the whole question of moral in the force, how promotions are affected, how income packages are built up, what is the state of the equipment and why we can’t be told in plain language why we don’t see more guards on the street should be publically aired.

         I‘ve a particular interest in the police force, my father was the first Garda deputy commissioner and I grew up believing, as I still do that the establishment of an unarmed police force in the midst of a Civil War was one of the greatest achievements in the history of the state, it’s a legacy worth preserving – nobody suffers more than the average decent member of the force from bad behaviour on the part of any of their colleagues.

              If an inquiry would show that there is a genuine need for investment in the force, then let us have it, let there be recruitment, let there be more modern car fleets etc, isn’t it a damn sight better to have a top class police force than to pump billions into bank – and before the year is out remember, we may well have to cough up more billions when the Europeans conduct their stress test on our banks

              Already there has been one ominous straw in the wind Michael Noonan has let it be known that the government is looking for some international bank to come in here and help with lending as the economy improves. That’s a fairly clear indication that despite all the billions expended on them the Irish banks are not in a position to do that lending.

              Finally the third point, maybe last but it’s not least, but the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and the Garda Commissioner Mr Martin Callinan should resign, if this were England they’d be gone already. I’ll expand on this topic along with the significance of a very worrying incident concerning Garda oversight which I was personally involved in. Wait for it!

 


Eat, Drink and be Merry, For Tomorrow…..


Eat Drink and be Merry For Tomorrow….

In the past week I was reminded of how friendship and tragedy, distance and proximity can echo across the world to resound unexpectedly in one’s daily life.

In the same forty eight hours I was most generously entertained by  Nisheeth Ta with members of my family in the best Indian restaurant in Ireland; Rasam in Glasthule, Co Dublin, which for some unfathomable reason has become one of the buzziest and best places to either eat or shop in the Dublin area.

Across the road from Rasam there lies the emporium of a fishmonger extraordinaire, my friend, Peter Caviston, who runs the best fish restaurant, fish shop and delicatessen in the area. Why this tiny strip comprising shops, wine bars and an Undertakers should thrive as it does, staging one of Ireland’s best Bloomsday celebrations annually into the bargain is not easily explained. A few hundred yards up the road the town of Dun Laoghaire is depressingly filled with shops which have either closed or are struggling to stay open.

Presumably the drive and initiative of people like Peter Caviston and Nieesh has a lot to do with it, and these and other worthies of the district have now been joined by some ex rugby players whoa re doing a roaring trade in health foods and have even succeeded in converting me to Goji berry juice!

When the Troika of dire repute descended on Ireland a few years ago, led by the Indian Ajai Chopra, the first place they headed to before consigning Cathleen Ni Houlihan to a diet of bread and water was Rasam.  Nieesh whose wife is Irish is part of an internationally known family of restaurateurs.  He learned his trade in Mumbai in the famous Taj Mahal hotel which was attacked during the 2008 onslaught on Mumbai in which gunmen killed one hundred and sixty four people and wounded hundreds more.

Amongst the dead were some of his close friends and relatives. As we discussed the Crimea over Nieesh’s incredible cuisine I was reminded forcefully by his presence that no longer do events in faraway parts of the world touch us not.  The bell really does toll for all of us.

I can hear it clanging in my ears as this is written because thanks to the initiative of a local Frank Mullins, a former member of an Garda Síochána we are preparing to commemorate the worst domestic fire tragedy in Ireland, which happened approximately a mile from Glasthule in the Village of Dalkey on 9th March 1974.

On that night the mother and family of the Howard family and eleven of their children died in a fire in Carysfort Road, Dalkey.  I can still vividly remember the sight of friends of mine in the local Civil Defence Unit helping to carry out the bodies, through the smoke and the rain. The victims died as much from smoke inhalation as fire. The smoke was generated by smouldering newspapers; the Howards made their living distributing the papers, including The Irish Press, of which I was then the editor.

Over the years their gravestone had become somewhat tarnished by wind and weather and Frank Mullins has organised the refurbishing of their memorial and a mass at which I’ve been invited to address the congregation, which it is hoped, will include the surviving two members of the family who now live in England.

Separate events, separate memories but one inescapable conclusion, we are all human and all mortal.


Scottish Independence Go For it


Whoever thought that the worst nightmare of Belfast Loyalists would be in danger of coming true this year?  But ‘tis true they, and those that think like them are dependent on a TAIG, the loyalist term for a Catholic, to preserve the Union. The Taig, Mr David Cameron of Eton and Westminster has emerged Toff Against Independence Granting (Taig) for Scotland.

Candidly I’ve always believed that the dominant theme in Scotland’s debate on Independence was an unstated one; Oh Lord make me good but not yet. We could go on discussing the symbolism of the fact that a British Prime Minister chose London rather than Edinburgh to deliver his State of the Union message but the point of his recent speech is that we really are getting to the sharp end of the devolution debate.

The ‘not yetters’ have either to make use of that pot or get off it.  I am an unequivocal believer in Independence for Scotland, the unity of Ireland and as much Independence in decision taking as regions emerging from a colonial past can reasonably manage.

I see no virtue in merely declaring independence so that a handful of zealots can do a Mugabe on a once prosperous area and take an oath of poverty which the people not the Zealots have to observe.  I genuinely believe that nationality, the Nation is an extension of the family, the clan and that there is a pride and an energising creativity in being independent which transcends reliance on the crumbs from the rich man’s table in a faraway metropole.

The Republic of Ireland has had its share of calamitous self-inflicted wounds since independence, one of the worst being the recent orgy of reckless trading presided over by government and facilitated by corrupt bankers, civil servants, financial institutions and the professions.

Bernard Shaw’s dictum that all professions are a conspiracy against the people was only too well borne out by Irish Lawyers, accountants and the stock broking fraternity who advised people to invest their life savings in banks run by their pals from whom they knew very well that a day of reckoning was coming but continued none the less to funnel funds into these financial monsters so as to puff both prices and their commissions.

The result has been a tidal wave of unemployment, bankruptcies, emigration and suicide, the rates for which are currently more than fifty percent above pre-crash levels, all this of course has long term implications for hopes for a united Ireland. But the same ability to make wrong decisions which Independence confers also gives a people the right and the ability to correct mistakes and Irish confidence is currently growing by the month as harsh medicine was taken, lessons were learnt and visibly the economy is starting to take off again.

Scotland has a proud tradition of achievement. Scottish soldiers, scientists and engineers have added to the reputation of Scotland in every corner of the globe. I believe that with independence the creativity and economic drive which is now being syphoned off to the south of the border could really make the Flower of Scotland bloom. Who knows some improvement might even be wrought in the standard of Scots rugby.

North sea Oil reserves are almost certainly far greater than the public has been led to believe and the region attracts colossal revenues both from whisky distilling and tourism. Scotland is literally one of the most beautiful places in the world and the number of its visitors can only grow with the expansion of budget air travel.

The Irish Development Authority (IDA) is recognised worldwide as a leader in the race to attract inward investment to small countries. From my friends in the organisation I know that its Scottish opposite number is regarded by the Irish as a formidable rival and though it would give my own people further competition I have no doubt that the stimulus of independence would increase inward investment to Scotland.

Whatever reasonable period of turbulence the country might expect to undergo after independence I have no doubt that the business acumen of the Scots and their tradition of hard work and study would greatly increase prosperity in the wake of independence.

The only caveat I will enter if I may, based on our dreadful experiences in Northern Ireland on the evils of sectarianism is that political and religious leaders and all sides of the independence debate should always be mindful of the need to avoid stirring up ancient religious passions. Sectarianism, the monster that lurks deep in the psychology of both Ireland and England is a destructive flame only waiting to be fanned into life by the emergence of a demagogue like Ian Kyle Paisley

The scots have nothing to fear from independence but fear itself. After all neither Braveheart nor Robert the Bruce were Englishmen.


Are we Helpless before the Guilty?


Over the New Year I’ve been pondering the implications of a discovery I made while researching my book on the Famine* namely that one of its principal legacies to Ireland was what the psychiatrists called ‘learned helplessness’.  The beliefs that no matter how one tried there was nothing to do in the face of catastrophe save succumb to it or emigrate. There was no possibility of getting back at those who brought about the disaster. In the case of the Famine and in today’s Ireland people are either accepting whatever burdens have been placed upon them with varying degrees of despair or they are getting out.

If one looks at the plight of modern Ireland and comments in astonishment; ‘and nobody is going to jail!’ one can be certain that the automatic knee jerk reaction will be; ‘No! And nobody will go.’  The correct response of course would be for thousands to gather in the streets outside the Dáil demanding the prosecution of the politicians, the policy makers, the regulators who did not regulate, the overseeing civil servants who did not oversee, and the decision takers in the banks and other financial institutions who indulged in spectacularly reckless trading.

The good people, the would be educators of their families, the hard workers are being lashed into carrying the nation’s burdens while the decision takers responsible for their misery ride off unscathed in to the sunset with their pay offs and their pensions and knowing smirks on their faces.

How can we punish the people responsible for Ireland’s present economic and psychological woes? Crime is up, so is unemployment and Irish suicide rates are now acknowledged to be running at 50% above the pre- financial crash levels.  On top of this the country has lost its sovereignty and stands in a Brussels dole queue while it’s young people stand in airport queues to emigrate.

The people are coping bravely and industriously with the threat of unemployment, new taxes and wage cuts but those responsible go Scott free. The government has made no effort to beef up the fraud squad whose good police work is ultimately largely rendered impotent because of a public service embargo necessitated by the credit squeeze which prevents the hiring of essential expertise; forensic accountants, solicitors, senior counsel and so on.  Thus the people who caused the embargo to be instituted escape unscathed and a government reluctant to proceed against key figures in the worlds of law, politics, the Civil service and finance is enabled to shirk its duty of rendering the mighty as well as the meek amenable to the law.

When it first came into office the government did make an effort to set up Dáil committees of Inquiry which would have brought relevant figures to the Dáil to explain themselves as is done in London and Washington. However the attempt was made valueless by the half-hearted way in which the government went about winning the referendum campaign which would have been necessary under the Irish Constitution to allow these committees to be set up.  The referendum was lost, paradoxically in part because the public had become so mistrustful of the politicians that they shrank from giving them further powers.

Moreover a phalanx of former attorneys general further discouraged the public by signing their names to an open letter stating that the proposed committees would interfere with a man’s right to his good name and the judiciaries’ right to independence.

One of the signatories to that letter Mr Dermot Gleeson, was the chairman of Allied Irish Bank.  Another was Mr Peter Sutherland of Goldman Sachs. Incidentally another referendum called for by the financial crisis was one which was necessitated by the reluctance of judges to accept the same pay cuts which other ordinary citizens had to undergo.

There is a great sense of unfairness abroad in Ireland.  As I write these words people are agonising over where they are to get the money for yet more taxes due later this year, a property tax and a beginning to Water rates with the introduction of meters. The Irish are no less patriotic and hardworking than they ever were and just as willing to accept sacrifice for the public weal, but that sacrifice should not be borne solely by the innocent people who would be far more willing to shoulder their burdens if they felt that the guilty suffered for their crimes along with the innocent. It’s time for the government to either revive their original committees proposal or introduce some new initiative to wipe the smirks off those fat cats’ faces.

Feel free to contact me with any comments, suggestions or ideas through the contact section on this website or through my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/#!/timpat.coogan.3

 

 

Tim Pat Coogan’s new book, ‘The Famine Plot, England’s role in Ireland’s Greatest Tragedy’ published by Palgrave Macmillan is available in bookshops now.

 


Tim Pat at the American Irish Historical Society in New York on 27th Nov [Postponed]


To celebrate the publication of Tim Pat’s new book, The Famine Plot: England’s Role in Ireland’s Greatest Tragedy, a passion project that has been in the pipeline for a number of years, he will be hosted by the American Irish Historical Society in New York for a reading and discussion on 27th November 2012.

» Read details [Event postponed]


Tim Pat interviewed on The Famine Plot by RTÉ Radio 1 and Newstalk FM


There have been two radio slots today, available as podcasts, with Tim Pat interviewed about his new book The Famine Plot

Today with Pat Kenny on RTÉ Radio 1

Sean Moncrieff on Newstalk FM (2 mins 35 into segment)


Tim Pat to speak in Cork on The Famine Plot – Tuesday 20 Nov


Tim Pat Coogan will give a public lecture at UCC on Tuesday 20 November, introduced by UCC historian Dr Larry Geary.

» More information


“Michael Collins & the Bankers” Lecture at Glasnevin Museum


Tim Pat will give a lecture entitled ‘Michael Collins and the Bankers’ on 19 August in the Glasnevin Museum as part of the Glasnevin Trust lecture series. Tickets for the event cost €10. All monies raised will benefit the upkeep of the cemetery.

The lecture, which starts at 2.30pm, will consider what Ireland’s first Minister for Finance might have made of the present day banking crisis.

Within days of being appointed Minister for Finance in 1919, Michael Collins set about raising the funds necessary for Dail Eireann. Writer Frank O’Connnor said of him: “He was a born improvisator, and from the moment he was appointed … the Department of Finance began to function, within a few weeks his mighty Loan was under way and even today when we have forgotten or can no longer imagine the preposterous conditions under which the department worked – censorship, imprisonment, confiscation, murder – one is filled with respect for the variety and thoroughness of the work performed.”


‘Griffith Would Have Jailed Them’ – lecture Wed 28 March


Tim Pat  will be making an address entitled ‘Griffith Would Have Jailed Them’ in Cavan County Museum, Ballyjamesduff, on Wednesday 28 March at 8pm.

This will be the third annual Arthur Griffith Lecture.

» Read More