March 20th, 2017

(While I’d originally intended to publish this on 8th March, for International Women’s Day, various events intervened. Still, it’s never a bad day to celebrate the work of women, as they bend the arc of history towards justice.)

Several recent news stories have caused me to reflect on women in my life who have been working, in different ways, for social justice.

Over the last several weeks, news has spread globally about the finding of the remains of infants and children (with age estimates ranging 35 weeks gestational age to three years old) in what appears to be a septic tank on the grounds of a former ‘mother and babies’ home in Tuam. While the location and method of burial – an unofficial, unmarked cemetery, perhaps a mass grave – has attracted particular attention, this development draws attention (again) to broader questions, which have surfaced repeatedly over the last several decades. It draws attention to the way we treated women, particularly those who got pregnant outside of marriage – something that has been dealt with episodically in Irish current affairs, but each time tucked back into the recesses of public space. One particular piece, in The Guardian, drew attention to the treatment of children of mixed race – something that made them less likely to be adopted by American Catholic families seeking ‘authentic’ Irish Catholic children. My aunt published a wonderful collection documenting the experiences of mixed-race children who grew up in Ireland, largely over a slightly later period, My Eyes Only Look Out. It’s an important piece of journalism that gives a space for these people to tell their own stories.

Another piece of social justice news – this a bit more cheerful – was the recognition, by the Irish government, of the Travelling Community as an ethnic group. It has been a key goal of Traveller activists for quite some time, as part of a broader campaign seeking to defend their human rights. My mother’s PhD thesis, completed in 2014, focused on parental involvement in Traveller Preschools, and identified the manner in which these schools were viewed as ‘protected enclaves’ by parents, places where young Travellers could start their educations, grounded in their own communities. A big part of what stands out for me in the work is the pride parents have in their identity as Travellers, and how this ties into their experiences of, and relationships to, education. It’s another example of story-telling, of giving space for voice. As Nick Couldry argues, “the offer of effective voice is crucial to the legitimacy of modern democracies.” It is important that people get to give voice to their own experiences, and for such narratives to be woven into the reflective and analytical pieces that can integrate them into policy, into cultural form, into history.

Here’s some of what the parents my mother spoke with had to say about being Travellers:

Parents said they were proud to be members of the Traveller community. Even in the face of discrimination and marginalisation, they were proud of their identity. They had a strong sense of being the bearers of a long and rich tradition. They had survived adversity and they saw themselves as a distinct group with cultural norms which they held in high regard. This pride was expressed by Sally (parent, Cuanmara) when she said: “I’m proud of who I am and would never change that for anything in the world … But I’m happy.” Lucy (parent, Lisnashee) also expressed pride in being a Traveller: “I feel very proud, it doesn’t bother me who I am to be honest … I am who I am.”

Although they spoke with pride in their Traveller identity, many qualified their feeling of pride with a fatalism which indicated that, whether or not it was convenient, they were Travellers and this could not be changed. Deirdre (parent and childcare worker, Liosbeag) was emphatic in saying, “you are what you are and that’s it … you are born what you are and you die what you are,” while Sara (parent, Castletown) declared: “Everyone is happy with their own culture and we can’t change it no matter what we are.” Similarly, Lisa (parent, Seanbaile) stated: “You are what you are. I like my children to know they are Travellers, ‘cause you cannot make yourself something you are not”, while Tara (parent, Avonard) said in relation to her children that “if they found out they are Travellers, what can they really do about it, like”.

Some of the fatalism seemed to be linked to an awareness of the negative view of Travellers often held by settled people. When talking about their identity as Travellers some did introduce the notion of shame, to deny that they themselves felt any shame. Tom (parent, Seanbaile) said: “I’ve never been ashamed, like, of who I am or what I am” and Deirdre (parent and childcare worker, Liosbeag), when referring to the possibility that her son might follow the traditional trade of his father and grandfather, said: “It’s not that I’d be ashamed of that”.

Some respondents reflected on their continued identity as a community, even as some of the traditional trappings of Traveller life – nomadism, living in tent or wagon, for example – are dropped:

Many Travellers nowadays live side-by-side with settled people in standard housing, especially in towns and cities. To the outside observer there might appear to be few differences between Travellers and the settled community. Although large numbers of Travellers have outwardly assumed aspects of the settled population’s way of life, they regard themselves as a distinct community. As Sara (parent, Castletown) put it: “You are in a house like a settled person, your kids go to school like a settled person’s … [but] both communities are different.” The difference is one’s identity and sense of belonging to a distinct culture. Tara (parent, Avonard) described how an awareness of the difference between Travellers and the settled community first occurred to her:

I was eight or nine before I even copped on that I was one … I knew that they were all my people. I knew still I wouldn’t let anyone say anything about them; but you know from an early age, are you a buffer [Traveller term for ‘settled people’] or are you a Traveller.

Traveller culture differs from that of the settled community, and is reflected in a distinctive approach to family relations, in the practice of nomadism, in the Cant language, and in the practice of traditional Traveller trades.

Sara (parent, Castletown) described how support from family manifests itself:

It’s the family, like, if you come from the Travelling community and the support when you’re sick or sore. All your family has all that support. They come to you and they comfort you and at least you know that you can turn back to them. Traveller families are very very close to each other when it comes to weddings or comes to deaths or respect or all that kind of way.

Tríona (teacher, Lisnashee) gave an example of where local Travellers had rallied round to bring home for burial a member of their community who had been living abroad and who had died in poor circumstances:

They’d a big funeral there last month. Six thousand they paid for the headstone …They were so happy to bury her, to bring her home and to bury her. I mean, she was an alcoholic but they didn’t deny her. They brought her home.

Indeed, this support from the Traveller community can sometimes give rise to tension and misunderstandings by others, as referred to by John (parent, Cnocard):

Family is the centre and for the burial everyone would chip in for the tombstone and [settled] people say – ‘Ah, Travellers are rotten with money’ and all this. They never see the poor side.

Travellers are expected to provide support to the extended family when needed and they put family loyalty above all else (Bewley 1974, Gmelch 1975, O’Hanlon 2010). As Mac Aonghusa (1993, p.102) put it, “families depend on each other for support in times of trouble and enjoy each other’s company in family celebrations”.

How many jobs does Ireland need?

November 27th, 2013

Drawing on the recent piece by Michael Taft, assessing the proportion of emigration for which the recession/response is responsible, and on some CSO estimates for population, we can see the following:

The Irish population has grown by 108,000 between 2009 and 2013.

Taft estimates a net 136,000 Irish aged 15-29 emigrated due to recession over the period from 2008 to 2013 .

That clearly leaves out those over 29 who emigrated due to the recession, but it gives us a floor.

Thus, to keep up with natural growth, the Irish economy would have to have grown by 244,000 over this period. Instead, FTE employment has dropped by 303,000. That’s a net difference of 547,000 between what would be required and what we actually see. The 300,000 the CSO reports as unemployed only tells a small part of the story. (Note, that’s partly because the FTE figures will capture the ‘underemployed’ figures, which are hidden by the simple employed/unemployed summary.)

It’s great to see increases in net employment – I’ve been seeing for the past week or two the press releases touting an increase of something over 50,000 in the last year. However, let’s not kid ourselves: we need ten times that to get back to pre-recession levels – and that’s not even accounting for the loss in purchasing power of those who are in employment. A back of the envelope estimate – assuming that population growth continues at the same pace – would suggest we’ll need another 250,000 jobs to keep up with upcoming population growth over the next five years. So, if we wanted to get back to ‘normality’ over a five year period, we’d need about 160,000 net jobs a year over that period. To put it another way: 50,000 is just about keeping up with natural population growth. Any fall in unemployment in the past year can be attributed wholly to emigration.

Primary Care Fallout

September 28th, 2012

The scandals around the Irish health minister are a constantly shifting landscape at present, with recent news including the resignation of Labour’s junior health minister, Roisin Shortall. Prior to Shortall’s resignation, I had submitted a letter to the Irish Times. Since they declined to publish it, I’m sharing it here:

A Chara,

It is unusual for a minister to come under such sustained attack, on such a wide range of fronts, as the minister for health has over the past several months. His personal judgement, conflicts of interest, and his competence in managing his brief have each been challenged by significant revelations.

Now we learn that sites in the minister’s constituency have mysteriously jumped up the priority list for primary care centers. This at a time of straitened circumstances, when the government claims to be making hard decisions in the national interest.

As a Labour Party member, too often I find myself gritting my teeth at many of the compromises of coalition. The premise of uno voce means that Labour ministers are implementing and defending decisions that often bear the imprimatur of Fine Gael far more clearly than the trace of social justice and intergenerational solidarity. Such, we are told, is the nature of coalition, of compromise. Perhaps so.

Corruption is of a different nature. The stench of personal self-interest, disguised to a greater or lesser extent, echoes through the scandals emanating from the department of health. The minister should resign. The Tanaiste must insist upon it.

Is mise,

Stephen Colbert’s lawyer, Trevor Potter, analyzes the Citizens United decision

May 27th, 2012

One of the strongest elements of Colbert’s coverage of the post-Citizens United era has been the inclusion of Trevor Potter. It’s been fun seeing just how much Potter clearly enjoys his role as real lawyer to Colbert’s fake-character-having-real-impact. This piece by Potter, originally a speech, shows his deep engagement with these issues:

I do not pretend this is a simple constitutional issue, precisely because this is where two important Constitutional values meet, sometimes head on: the First Amendment, the quintessential individual right to free speech, which we know about, and the important collective right to a functioning, representational government, which we sometimes forget is the whole purpose of the Constitution. But the Supreme Court has until now recognized repeatedly that the legitimacy of government is threatened at its core when it is corrupt, or even appears to most citizens to have a serious conflict of interest.

Compare and contrast

April 20th, 2012

People think I’m completely evil and what I’m doing is completely immoral, but at the end of the day I feel like I’m just educating people on technology.

That’s Hunter Moore, founder of ‘revenge porn’ site IsAnyOneUp, as quoted by the BBC. Compare that with the rationale provided for an ‘art’ exhibition currently showing in London:

Two Italian-born artists are showing off more than 10,000 private photographs they claim to have stolen from random people’s hard drives, part of an exhibit that also features fragments cut, torn or chipped off of iconic works by Andy Warhol, Marcel Duchamp and Jeff Koons.

The loot from the art-minded crime spree is intended to raise questions about what’s private, what’s public, and what makes art “art,” said curator Barbara Rodriguez Munoz, who gave The Associated Press a tour of London’s Carroll/Fletcher gallery on Thursday.

The Moore defense is one of several rather random claims made – that he avoids passing judgement (just as his most recent hosting company claims to ‘remain neutral’ on their clients’ activities), that while some are upset it provides entertainment for others, that if he weren’t doing it someone else would, and that he’s ‘just a businessman’ exploiting a market opportunity.

The artists are making a more targeted claim – that framing the project as ‘art’ with the purpose of ‘making us think’ excuses the illegal and unethical methods used to obtain their content, and the arguably voyeuristic nature of their product. But is there really that much of a difference between their claims and those of Moore, or are they both self-serving excuses for ‘doing what I want, for my benefit’, whether that benefit be advertising revenue or an artistic profile?

From O.J. to Trayvon – NYTimes.com

April 8th, 2012

This isn’t 1995. This is the good fight. This is about restoration of faith. Until there is a trial for George Zimmerman, the whole justice system is on trial.

via From O.J. to Trayvon – NYTimes.com.

Twitter / @markmackinnon: At press conference at her …

April 3rd, 2012

Twitter / @markmackinnon: At press conference at her ….

At press conference at her house, Aung San Suu Kyi was asked where Burma was as a democracy, on scale of 1-10. “On the way to 1,” she said.

Mobile operators seek to block Skype in Sweden – The Local

March 31st, 2012

VoIP software, like Skype, is a challenge for traditional telephony operators, who now have income from providing digital bandwidth, but are losing higher-margin operations, such as voice calls. Good to see the European Commission stand up for network neutrality on this one:

According to the European Commission, maintaining “net neutrality” – whereby all internet traffic is treated equally – is important and companies shouldnt be able to control how customers use the network.

via Mobile operators seek to block Skype in Sweden – The Local.

From the archives – divorce referendum coverage

February 7th, 2012

I’ve been ‘rescuing’ various pieces from my (primarily cassette-based) archive of content from my days at Flirt FM. One little nugget is this compendium of interviews and audio from the count following the divorce referendum in 1995. As a recap (or tutorial for those not in the know), divorce was illegal in Ireland until 1996, and deemed unconstitutional under the language in the 1937 constitution that gives special status to marriage:

The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of Marriage, on which the Family is founded, and to protect it against attack. (Article 41.3.1 (as amended))

A previous attempt to amend the constitution in the 1980s, to allow for divorce, had failed, and the 1995 referendum was carried by a margin of only 9,114 votes, out of 1.6 million cast. The voters in Galway-West voted against the proposal by a margin of about 52:48.

Divorce referendum 1995 – Galway-West Count

New research survey on community radio in Ireland

February 6th, 2012

CRAOL, the Irish community radio organization, has sponsored a survey investigating how the public views the mass media, and exploring their knowledge of community radio. Among the key findings (with both positives and negative implications for the sector):

  • Nearly 80% of all adults in the Republic of Ireland agree that news and current affairs is sometimes biased towards the views of its owners
  • 3 in 4 adults worry that individual people or businesses have too much ownership of the media.
  • 84% feel that community radio would add to the diversity of content available to them as listeners
  • Only 39% of those surveyed were aware that communities can set up their own community radio station.

News – Current Story in Full.