I am delighted to confirm that my personal blog has reached the finals of the 2018 Blog Awards Ireland in two categories.
This week the organisers of the awards contacted me to confirm that I am a finalist in both the Blog Post and Current Affairs / Political Categories.
I received the silver medal in the second category in Dublin last year.
I am particularly thrilled by the first nomination as it relates to a piece I wrote about Tuam Home survivor Peter Mulryan back in March.
I decided to write the blog post after meeting Peter at the wonderful Flowers for the Magdalenes ceremony in Galway.
It takes place at the Bohermore Cemetery in the city each year, with a small group coming together to honour the women who died in the Magdalene Laundry in Forster Street in the city.
This beautiful ceremony gives the women – including Peter’s mother – a dignity which was denied them in life.
His mother died at the Galway city laundry and it was only after her death that Peter discovered he had a little sister, who was one of the 796 ‘Tuam Babies’.
He has been campaigining for justice and the truth ever since. I felt compelled to write the piece after noticing that I was the only print journalist at the ceremony, although some photographers did attend.
Throughout the past year I have also continued to write an occasional political blog which examines issues such as corruption, neutrality, homelessness, and racism, which are not always covered by the mainstream media here in Ireland.
The awards ceremony takes place at the Tramline in Dublin on Thursday, October 25.
Please note that I am also available for ‘ghost’ or ‘business’ blogging. If your company is not getting your story out to your online community, why not consider hiring a professional journalist to write a blog on your behalf every week or every month?
You don’t even have to be based in Galway. We could chat via Skype and I could then write blog posts depending on your story.
During a tough climate for journalism in Ireland, blogging can be a great way of reaching out to a wide audience and covering issues which do not always reach the mainstream.
In 2014, before I left the newspaper industry, I set up a personal blog which allows me to write regularly about issues I feel passionate about.
Issues I have covered over the past year include homelessness in Galway, the rights of clerical abuse victims, racism and injustice, sexual abuse in a meditation group, and the monthly peace demonstration at Shannon Airport.
In 2018, I have been particularly touched by the families of the ‘Tuam Babies’ and their campaign for justice, plus those who felt a need to demonstrate during the visit by Pope Francis to Ireland last month.
The Shannonwatch protests, for example, get very little coverage in the mainstream Irish media.
This week I was delighted to be informed that I have made the shortlist for the 2018 Irish Blog of the Year awards.
The awards ceremony takes place in Dublin in October and I was delighted to pick up a silver medal after reaching the final last year.
An underage soccer team from Gaza are on their way to Ireland this summer and you can play your part in getting them here by joining a late night party with members of The Stunning in Galway on Sunday, July 22 (11pm).
Fresh from their Galway International Arts Festival gig at the Big Top on the same night, the members of the band are putting on a night of tunes and nostalgia to celebrate with their fans and friends into the early hours.
All proceeds from the gig at Massimo, William Street West, go to the Gaza Kids to Ireland project and there is a suggested donation of €10 on the door.
The boys from the Al-Helal Football Academy captured the hearts of many Galway people when they visited Kinvara over the past two summers and it would be incredible if their trip to Ireland could become an annual event.
The boys were also delighted to meet the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, when they attended a game between Galway United and Dundalk FC at Eamonn Deacy Park in 2016, when the entire main stand gave them a sustained round of applause.
The Stunning were formed in Galway in 1987. Lead singer Steve Wall recalls his formative student years in the city when he got involved in various causes, including the divorce referendum, a protest against US President Ronald Reagan, and the global boycott of South Africa during the Apartheid years.
“In many ways, Galway formed us. There was a sense of creative freedom and artistic adventure in the place that definitely had an effect on the band we became. Galway was also home to a lot of misfits, which I loved,” says Steve.
“Galway students were very outspoken. I saw the importance of making your voice heard and saw the changes that were made possible in doing so. Look at the recent referendums and how people rallied together. I believe that if you feel something is wrong, then you need to do something about it instead of expecting others to do it on your behalf.”
Steve says he has been appalled by the disregard for human rights and international law which has gone on in Palestine over the years. He feels it’s important to use his platform as a musician to speak out against injustice.
“The blatant ethnic cleansing of a nation is happening before our eyes and the silence of the world is a disgrace. So I try to do whatever I can to keep their plight visible and to highlight what’s going on,” he says.
“Even if it means just letting my friends know on social media that a local supermarket is selling Israeli potatoes then it’s something. The international boycott of South African goods had a huge effect on the ending of Apartheid, but it seems harder to get the world to react to the destruction of Palestine.”
He points out that 1.9 million people are living under siege in Gaza, a tiny strip of land which has been described as an open air prison and is just 6% of the size of Co Galway.
Members of The Stunning will take turns on the decks at Massimo to spin some of their favourite tunes, but they will get the opportunity to mix with old friends following their Big Top show at the Fisheries Field. The Big Top show starts at 8pm.
Support at Massimo comes from acclaimed Galway ‘indie’ DJ Foz, who will start the party while the members of the band are making their way over to the gig from Fisheries Field.
The entire Gaza Kids to Ireland project is organised and funded by volunteers. Given how appalling living conditions are in Gaza, this soccer trip is seen as a huge morale-booster for the talented young soccer players and their families.
Footballers in Gaza are regularly harassed at checkpoints, prevented from travelling, and forced to cancel games. The Al-Helal ground in northern Gaza, where the boys play their home games, was bombed by Israel in 2012 and again in 2014.
Children in Gaza are among the most traumatised in the world. Many of the Al-Helal boys were emotionally scarred by the 2014 Israeli military assault on the Gaza Strip, in which more than 2,250 Palestinians, including 551 children, were killed.
But football coaches and rival teams in Ireland have been amazed by the spirit and skills of the Gaza youngsters, who are looking forward to returning to Ireland to represent their country with pride.
Your €10 donation can help make this trip happen. Doors open at 11pm.
One of the leading advocates for human rights in Palestine is visiting Ireland this week to urge members of the national parliament to support a bill which would ban Israeli ‘settlement’ goods from the country.
Shawan Jabarin, Director General of Al-Haq in the West Bank, is set to tell parliamentarians that they have a legal obligation to ban settlement products under international law.
He believes that the private member’s bill currently before the Seanad could set a precedent for countries all across Europe.
Mr Jabarin will meet members of the Dail and Seanad on Wednesday (tomorrow) to urge them to support Independent Senator Frances Black’s bill which calls for a prohibition on goods and services from illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
“Palestinians have a right to exercise self-determination, just like any other people all over the world. They have a full right to live in peace in their land, to have sovereignty over their natural resources, and I do believe that Palestine is a test for all of the human rights principles of international law,” he said, prior to the Dublin meetings.
“We are not asking anyone to do that for ethical reasons only, but to do it according to their legal obligation. My main purpose in visiting here is to encourage the parliamentarians to vote in favour of the motion before the Irish parliament about the settlement products.”
Senator Black’s bill is set to be opposed by the Government, as Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has said that Ireland would continue to support action at a European Union level which differentiated between ‘settlement’ goods from the West Bank and goods from Israel.
The Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 would make it illegal to purchase goods and services from Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories in the Republic of Ireland.
“It’s not enough to say that Ireland is part of the EU and that we have a common market and common rules. It’s not enough to say that the EU took a decision to label and differentiate the settlement products. Labelling settlement products without a vision to ban them is not enough,” said Mr Jabarin.
“Why do the Governments put the responsibilities on the shoulders of the customers? The governments have a legal obligation, according to international law. According to the European law, these settlements are illegal.
“The Israelis are benefitting, with the settlers expanding their presence, deepening the occupation every day in Palestine, and pillaging our natural resources. This bill means supporting the rule of law, justice, and the legal obligations of Irish parliamentarians.”
Mr Jabarin, who leads the oldest and best-known human rights organisation in the West Bank, studied international law at the Irish Centre for Human Rights (ICHR) in Galway in 2004-5 and feels a deep connection with the Irish people.
He was honoured with a ‘Student of the Decade’ award by NUI Galway in 2008, but was unable to travel due to a travel ban imposed on him by the Israeli authorities from 2006 to 2013.
Instead, he had to accept the award via a video link from Ramallah.
“I am here to advocate for justice, rule of law, the rights of victims, and the principles of international law. Palestinians are suffering now because of the lack of implementation of and respect for all of these principles. There is a lack of political will to proceed and push for the implementation of these principles,” he said.
“Our people are suffering due to double standards and because there is no implementation of these principles. I look at the Irish Government and people as friends, who suffered for centuries from injustice themselves, and they know well what it means to be in a situation like that, what it means to be persecuted.”
Mr Jabarin said that the illegal ‘settlements’ were widely seen as the biggest barrier to peace in Israel and Palestine, which is why the bill currently before the Irish Seanad was so important in terms of setting a precedent for other European countries.
“Moving Israeli citizens to the occupied territories is a war crime, according to international humanitarian law and the International Criminal Court (ICC) statute. So why let the criminals profit from their crimes? Why open your markets to them?”
“We are seeing what’s going on in Gaza. They are shooting to kill. They are shooting civilians because they are demonstrating peacefully about their rights. Our message is that the international community has a legal obligation to act, to impose sanctions on Israel, to use all political, economic, and diplomatic means.”
Mr Jabarin said he was determined to tell the Irish politicians that every country in Europe had an obligation to cooperate with the ICC.
He has urged them to investigate the spate of shootings in Gaza over the past two and a half months and also to be mindful of the persecution and harassment Palestinians in the West Bank face every day.
“The people of the West Bank feel that everyone has left them, that the Israelis are punishing them and persecuting them. What’s going on in the West Bank is the worst form of Apartheid. It’s worse than what’s happened in South Africa under the Apartheid regime,” he said.
“Just imagine. People cannot visit their city, Jerusalem, as they cut off the city from the rest of the occupied territory. Families are separated. Tens of thousands of families are split up because the Israeli authorities don’t let them get together in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and outside.
“They are targeting the fabric of our society, to destruct the Palestinian communities, and separate them from each other. At the entrance of each city, town, and village, there are military gates which Israel can close off at any time. They are dealing with us as if we are prisoners everywhere.
“They have cut thousands of families off from each other in Gaza and the West Bank. There are families who haven’t seen each other for years and they cannot get a permit just to go and visit family members. They have moving checkpoints for no reason, just to pressure people, to humiliate people. It’s Apartheid and colonisation.”
Mr Jabarin said that the Israeli authorities were trying to silence those who criticise the occupation, including Al-Haq.
But he believed that the smearing of human rights organisations in both Israel and Palestine would not deter them from undertaking their work on the ground.
“Human rights are not a job. We believe strongly in what we do. I know one main thing. We will not give up what we do. We will not step back. We will continue our struggle for justice and the rule of law to the end. Until this occupation ends, we will not give up,” he said.
“I put hope in the international community. My big hope is in the public. The public can make the impossible possible. The public can change everything. Each one of us can do something to stop this oppression and this injustice and this horrible regime and occupation, and to stop these horrible crimes and human rights violations against Palestinians.”
A leading Palestinian human rights activist who was prevented by the Israeli authorities from travelling to Galway to receive an award eight years ago is set to give a talk in the city tomorrow (Friday, 5pm).
In 2010, the Israeli authorities refused permission to Shawan Jabarin to travel to Ireland to collect a “distinguished graduate award” from the Irish Centre for Human Rights (ICHR) at NUI Galway.
Mr Jabarin spent a year studying international human rights law at NUI Galway in 2004-5, but was not allowed leave the West Bank in order to collect the award which was part of the ICHR’s tenth anniversary celebrations.
A director of the Palestinian human rights non-governmental organisation, Al-Haq, he has been subjected to administrative detention without trial, travel bans, torture, and death threats for his work as a human rights defender and activist.
He will speak at NUI Galway tomorrow about the Great March of Return, Israel’s assault on Gaza, and the loss of over 120 Palestinian lives since the protests began more than two months ago.
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been protesting along the border fence with Israel to mark the 70th anniversary of the ‘Nakba’ (‘Catastrophe’), demanding their right to return to the homes and land their families were expelled from 70 year ago.
The establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 saw an estimated 750,000 Arabs being removed from their homes, land, and villages.
The mass demonstrations have taken place every Friday for almost three months. At least 120 Palestinians have been killed and more than 13,000 people wounded by Israeli soldiers in the tiny coastal enclave which is home to 1.9 million people and is smaller than Co Louth.
Mr Jabarin is Director General of Al-Haq, the largest and oldest Palestinian human rights organisation.
He will tell the Galway audience about the mass protests in Gaza and the response of the Israeli military, including the use of lethal force against unarmed protesters.
In what promises to be a fascinating talk, he will also talk about ongoing attempts to hold Israel to account for its violation of international law in the OPT (Occupied Palestinian Territories).
This timely and important talk takes place at the Seminar Room, the Irish Centre for Human Rights, NUI Galway, tomorrow (Friday) at 5pm.
This talk is open to the public and, according to the ICHR, all are welcome!
Over the past few years I have met some amazing people, survivors who have shown how the human spirit can triumph despite so many obstacles placed in their way.
Some of them were locked up in Magdalene Laundries.
Others were locked up in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home, had to survive on very little food, and were told they were “bastards” when they went to school.
It’s hard to get a good shot at life if you were branded as “illegitimate” and treated as a second class citizen from the moment you were born.
Others I have met have family members among the 796 “Tuam Babies”.
They are being stonewalled in their search for the truth and denied compensation for the horrific pain and abuse they suffered earlier in life.
These people, and many other Irish people, have been treated appallingly by the Roman Catholic Church.
When Pope Francis visits Ireland, he does so as the head of an international organisation which facilitated the abuse of Irish children and blocked the Irish authorities from finding out the truth afterwards.
Does he owe us an apology?
Not to mention a huge amount of compensation for the survivors?
My latest blog post was used as an opinion piece for Irish Central at the weekend:
They don’t face the taunts, the sideward glances, or comments that they should go back to their own countries from strangers in public places.
They don’t stand out, like immigrants from some of the poorest countries on earth, because of the language they speak or the colour of their skin.
But that doesn’t mean that their lives are not characterised by fear, worries, or regrets that they cannot go home to visit elderly parents without turning their lives upside-down.
It is estimated that there are up to 50,000 of them, the ‘undocumented’ Irish who mostly moved to the United States in the 1980s or 1990s in order to escape a recession and lack of opportunities back home.
Many of the undocumented now have American children, but they would face three- or even ten-year bans now if they left the United States (even on a holiday) and then tried to return.
They try to stay under the radar, avoiding risks such as getting pulled by the police on the roads at night or attracting attention by reporting break-ins at their homes.
This week, for the Irish Central website, I spoke to a leading campaigner for immigration reform who told me about the fear which swept through Irish communities in places like New York, Boston, and Chicago following the election of President Donald J. Trump in November 2016.
As Trump marks the end of his first year in office, it’s impossible for these “illegals” or “undocumented” Irish to avoid the anti-immigrant sentiment sweeping across the US.
Now, more than ever, they see a need to keep their heads down and they are no longer campaigning vocally for a change to their status.
Senator Billy Lawless, the Galway native who represents the Diaspora in the Irish Seanad, fully admitted that the undocumented Irish were in a predicament of their own making.
During the decade after the Great Hunger, almost two million Irish people emigrated to the United States.
One suspects that, if Donald Trump was in power at the time, many of the impoverished Irish immigrants would have been turned away at the ports after their long voyages across the Atlantic.
This week I was commissioned by a US website, Irish Central, to talk to both sides of Ireland’s bitterly divisive abortion debate.
With the country set to go to the polls in a referendum next May or June, campaigning has already begun.
It was a difficult piece to write, as I did not want my own personal views to interfere with the interviews I carried out with activists on both the pro-choice and anti-abortion sides.
The issue is particularly poignant in my native Galway, where the death of Savita Halappanvar five years ago sent shock waves across the globe.
Savita was denied a termination which could have saved her life and who can forget the image of a medic at University Hospital Galway telling her that “Ireland is a Catholic country”?
A veteran pro-choice activist pointed out to me that Ireland was now a completely different country compared to when the current legislation was enacted in the early 1980s.
She said that homosexuality and gay marriage had been legalised, Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby homes had closed, and divorce had also been introduced since then.
“This is something that belongs in a by-gone era,” she said. “Women used to come up to us and cry at our street stall in Galway city centre. Things have changed, but people might still be unwilling to wear ‘Repeal the Eighth’ jumpers in more conservative small towns or villages.”
It is also striking to note the differing demographics at the huge ‘Repeal the Eighth’ and ‘Pro-Life’ marches which took place in recent months in Dublin.
Members of the younger generation seem to be far more in favour of changing the current legislation if one is to judge by the turn-out at the marches.
Yet I was also struck by sincerely views are held by those I spoke to on the anti-abortion side.
Tommy Roddy, who campaigned for Marriage Equality, shows that it’s too easy to stereotype people who campaign to keep the eighth amendment.
“I have even had arguments with friends of mine over this issue,” he said.
“There seems to be this assumption that if you were in favour of gay marriage, for example, that you must be pro-choice. I was criticised for my pro-life views in the General Election, but my view is that there is a pro-life culture here in Ireland.”
Thanks to all four for speaking to me honestly about their convictions.
Given how sensitive this issue is, I really hope there is a clean campaign free of personalised abuse over the next eight months or so.