Category Archives: International

First Ever GAA World Games Take Place

The first ever Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) World Games took place in Abu Dhabi last weekend.

Twenty-five teams from across the globe gathered to compete in games of traditional Irish sports, including Gaelic football, hurling, camogie and rounders.

The competition, played over two days, started on Friday 6 March and ended with a day of semi-finals and finals on Saturday 7 March. The event was hosted by Abu Dhabi Na Fianna at the Zayed Sports City, which has hosted major sporting events, such as the Fifa Club World Cup.

Trevor Buckley, chairperson of Abu Dhabi Na Fianna said, “It reflects the globalisation of the games and is representative of the amount of Irish people worldwide who’ve had to emigrate for various reasons. The fact we’re trying to promote the games and keep everyone involved is very special to us and a great honour.”

He went on to say, “The response has been very positive, especially since it’s the first Games and a lot of teams have travelled huge distances to take part. That shows its appeal. And even though the numbers are quite large already, we hope they will continue to grow in the future.”

Erin Loughnana travelled from Toronto to represent Canada in the games. She said the diversity of the teams was clear when they were discussing the training preparation of the different teams. The Middle East team was accustomed to training in the desert climate of Abu Dhabi, while the Canadian national team held their preparation training indoors, due to the -3 degrees weather in Toronto.

The competition has been hailed as a forward step in the globalisation of Gaelic games with male and female athletes from North America, South America, Canada, the United Kingdom, Mainland Europe, South Africa, Asia, Australasia and the Middle East all taking part. The World Games hopes to follow the path made by other international fixtures such as the International Rules Series between Ireland and Australia, and the All Stars game, played in Boston.

The winners of the tournament was dominated by the Middle East teams. The men’s finalists were the both of the Middle East’s entrants, with the seconds’ team coming out as the victors.

For more information on the GAA World Games follow the event on Facebook or Twitter.

Return of the Mac: CD Review

The world rejoiced earlier this year when legendary rock group Fleetwood Mac announced a 2013 world tour. Jayne McCormack takes a trip down nostalgia lane to explain why ‘Rumours’ is still one of the best albums of all time.

Fleetwood Mac's 35th anniversary edition of 'Rumours'
Fleetwood Mac’s 35th anniversary edition of ‘Rumours’

Music lovers everywhere are ecstatic that the band responsible for classics including ‘Little Lies’, ‘Everywhere’ and ‘Tusk’ is hitting the road once more to please millions of Fleetwood fans worldwide.

This year marks the re-release of their greatest album ‘Rumours’ (1978), which has been repackaged for a 35-year anniversary edition (a year too late, strangely) with an additional two discs of previously unreleased material so that hardcore fans can truly appreciate the band’s brilliance.

‘Rumours’ is timeless – it’s an aural delight and one album that every music enthusiast should own. It has sold over 40 million copies worldwide, and was infamously recorded while tensions within the band were reaching boiling point.

Drummer Mick Fleetwood even called Rumours “the most important album we ever made.” It flows so beautifully that each track that compliments another. From the opening rustic guitar in ‘Second Hand News’, to the hopeful, upbeat tune of ‘Don’t Stop’ and the wonderfully romantic ‘Songbird’, there has simply never been another album like this.

‘Dreams’, sung by the sultry Stevie Nicks and surprisingly enough, Fleetwood Mac’s only Number 1, is her attack upon guitarist Lindsay Buckingham after their poisonous relationship and subsequent break-up, to which Buckingham responds with ‘Go Your Own Way’. The two songs are not only fantastically well written but the emotional baggage that accompanies the tracks is so raw that you can actually feel their tumultuous history being captured throughout the album.

Add to the track list ‘The Chain’, probably one of their best-known hits and also the famous Formula One theme tune, and two lesser-known tracks ‘I Don’t Want to Know’ and ‘Silver Springs’, which show off the band’s ability to harmonise that has never been replicated as well by any other band. It’s simply a perfect album from start to finish.

Disc Two includes previously unreleased live tracks, recorded at various shows during the band’s 1977 ‘Rumours’ tour, while the final disc includes ‘More from the Recording Sessions’ – songs that didn’t make it into the 2004 double-disc re-mastered edition. Notable tracks include the unrecognisably slow demo version of ‘The Chain’ and the early recording of ‘Oh, Daddy.’

This repackaged edition of ‘Rumours’ is a must-have for any true Fleetwood fan. It gives listeners a magnificent insight into Fleetwood Mac during the creation of an album that continues to amaze generation after generation, and sits on a musical pedestal that few bands can emulate.

For more info and tour dates visit Fleetwood Mac’s website here.

Thatcher’s ghost will continue to haunt Britain’s EU relations

150346380-1Europe may have been the issue that led to Baroness Thatcher’s political downfall in 1990, but 23 years later, in the wake of her recent death, it appears that she might just yet win in her fight against an United States of Europe.

When news broke of her death, David Cameron was on a European tour to assure leaders that the UK would stay within a reformed EU when it comes referendum time.  

The audacity of Britain negotiating its membership and, worse, subjecting it to a popular referendum, irks EU leaders. They realize British independence and European integration are simply not compatible.  Either power ultimately resides in the peoples of Europe through their national parliaments or in the ministers and bankers.

A more centralised Europe might be more efficient in governance than the current mess but it certainly will not advance the cause of democracy. Even if the commissioners are popularly elected, the EU is too large and diverse to have a common public sphere where ideas can be debated and decisions made between the European peoples.

Unlike the pro-EU reading of history, which blames European wars on nationalism, Thatcher laid the blame on attempts to unite the continent and correctly saw the EU as another artificial empire.

In its pursuit for more control, the modern nation-state is naturally inclined to curb human freedom at every chance it gets, but national governments are still accountable to the public to an extent that the EU could never be.

“We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed on a European level,” Thatcher said in her 1988 Bruges speech.

Two years later, in her final speech as Prime Minister, she recognised that “a single currency is … a Federal Europe by the back door.”

While the European Central Bank would be “accountable to no one, least of all to national parliaments.  Because the point of that kind of European Central Bank is no democracy; taking powers away from every single parliament and being able to have a single currency and a monetary policy and an interest rate, which takes all political power away from us.”

Thatcher defined the UK’s relationship first with the European Economic Community, then secured the British rebate and when the EEC was superseded by the EU, she drew the battle lines in the public opinion that has defined the debate of EU membership ever since.

It’s little wonder that when the time comes for the UK to decide on the EU, the British people’s response might very well echo Thatcher’s last speech as Prime Minister of “No. No. No.”

N Ireland debates EU exit but unites to lobby Irish Presidency on CAP reform

EUUN0001As the UK eyes the EU exit door, Northern Ireland is looking to the Irish Presidency of the European Council as an opportunity to lobby on behalf of farmers in upcoming Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) negotiations.

At a Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister Committee report meeting Monday, Members of the Assembly (MLAs) debated EU membership while voicing support of having a strong, unified front in CAP reform.

Stephen Moutray, DUP – Upper Bann, expressed his party’s support for an UK exit but was more concerned about the “single biggest issue facing us from Europe.”

“Europe cannot be discussed without immediately thinking of the rural dwellers and particularly rural families who very much depend on their Single Farm Payments especially at this very difficult time when banks are not lending as they once did.”

Moutray said the Dept of Regional Development, having consulted with farmers and become familiarised with CAP, “are at a strong position to fight the corner of our farming community.”

CAP accounts for half of the EU annual budget. Its average annual subsidy per farm is roughly €12,200 (£10,374) – providing almost half of farmers’ income in the EU. Based on hectares of land, small traditional farmers feel discriminated as 80 per cent of subsidies go to a quarter of farmers – those with the largest holdings.

Proposed reforms would subsidise acreage farmed instead of production totals and limit the amount a farm can receive at €300,000. A third of these “direct payments” would be dependent on meeting environmentally-friendly criteria such as permanently leaving pastures unploughed.

Many small farmers believe these regulations will put their families out of business, stressed Joe Byrne, SDLP – West Tyrone.

“The current negotiations on CAP reform are crucial for Northern Ireland agriculture in particular and indeed, the Northern Ireland regional economy,” said Byrne whose party has been pro-Europe for decades.

“We are lucky at this stage that Ireland has started the six months hosting of the Presidency and hopefully the negotiations can go in favour of our interests.”

Byrne said the Single Farm Payment subsidy is crucial for farmers and many are dependent on it – especially those in higher elevations and less productive land. 

“This CAP support needs to be tailored and tweaked in the interests of the Northern Ireland farming community as a whole across the region.”

“Agriculture contributes £378 million directly into our local economy – worth double the UK GDP average for the region. Nearly 47,000 people are employed directly in agriculture,” said Byrne.

“The agri-food sector is central to this economy. It is the biggest contributor to our local economy. The agri-food industry overall totals £4 billion.”

The Youth Acting to Stop ACTA in Europe

The youth acting to stop ACTA in Europe

 

With almost 3 million signatories in protest against a bill that is still to be ratified by the European Parliament, one would assume the bill in question would be fairly well known amongst the public.Ethan Loughrey considers why two surveys on this very question  presented very different answers.

The bill in question is known as ACTA – the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, described by the EU as a step towards “ensuring that the EU’s already high standard of protection for intellectual property rights can be enforced globally.”

Of 100 respondents to an online questionnaire, 86% replied that they had both heard of the bill and knew what it was.

Of these recipients however, nearly all were between the ages of 18 and 24.

A separate survey, also carried out for this piece, questioned 100 members of the public and subsequently showed that than ¼ of the initial estimate, with only 13% of people knowing of ACTA.

The huge disparity seems to be due to what many believe could be the biggest threat if ACTA is ratified; a massive clampdown on internet freedom.

During a recent visit to the EU Parliament in Brussels, I met with the Head of Press for the UK Office of the European Parliament, Paola Buonnadonna. She informed me that the biggest debate of the day would centre on ACTA, and that there was a strong buzz amongst many of the journalists waiting to cover it.

The debate in question was even more fraught following the resignation just prior to the meeting of French MEP, Kader Arif. Mr Arif, who was the chief investigator on ACTA spoke out against it saying that the bill “goes too far”, regarding restricting internet freedom and having the potential to limit access to life saving drugs (on the basis that generic drugs are the intellectual property of somebody and therefore can’t be used without prior permission).

The European Commission who negotiated ACTA, obviously conscious of the damage this could have on the bill, has numerous pages of “common myths of ACTA” on its website, disputing both of these claims.

It reads, “There are no provisions in ACTA that could directly or indirectly affect the legitimate trade in generic medicines or, more broadly, global public health.”

The bill is also available to download in full from the website in every EU language.

Yet despite this defence, ACTA continues to draw controversy, most recently following British MEP David Martin’s outspoken criticism of it.

Mr. Martin was unavailable for comment, however a statement provided by his office said that “the intended benefits of this international agreement are far outweighed by the potential threats to civil liberties.”

This same sentiment was expressed by one of the many millions of online opponents to ACTA, Stephen Donnelly. Mr Donnelly told me that, “any agreement which infringes any person’s human right to freedom of expression is a path not worth going down.”

Similarly, Jordan Foy – another online protestor – explained the severity of the damage to the various elements of the internet that many today take for granted.

“… for me the biggest problem with ACTA is the fact that the copyright laws would be so stringent that comics, reviews or videos that reference anything could so easily be taken down for “violating copyright”… if you can’t say an opinion freely on the internet, where can you say it?”

The next step of voting for ACTA was due to take place on June 12th, for member states to ratify it. It has however hit a snag having been referred to the European Court of Justice. This comes after an open letter, which was signed by numerous multinational European corporations (including Consumers International and the Free Software Foundation), accusing it of restricting, “the fundamental rights and expressions of European citizens, most notably the freedom of expression and communication privacy.”

The bill is the latest in a series of international laws being passed by governments to establish a greater control over the privatised and almost completely restriction-free internet. All of these bills have faced, what many commentators believe is an unprecedented wave of opposition, ironically made possible by the very freedom many feel will be taken away by ACTA and its American counterpart, CISPA.

Whatever the decision taken by the European Court of Justice, ACTA will eventually be determined by a vote, however the recent change to the system had made it more complicated. The European Parliament must vote on whether or not to ratify it, given that all but five of the member states have signed for its support. If accepted by the Parliament, the actual act of ratification will then be passed back to the national authorities who must decide on how best to do so. Any comments made by the European Court of Justice will at that time be taken on board by the governments.

Wide-scale resistance to the household charge in Donegal

 

William Burton investigates public reaction to the imposition of the household charge in Donegal

 

The implementation of the household charge of €100 has been one of the most controversial aspects of the economic collapse in Ireland. With revenue sources depleted after the property crash, the government is seeking additional revenue raising powers, demanded by the European Union, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund after the bail-out in November, 2010.

With the collapse of the property boom in Ireland, the construction reliant tax-base was eroded and government spending increased due to increased unemployment. The household charge and the eventual property tax are to replace the exchequer element of local government finances, set up in 1999 as a source of funding for local services.

Ireland had domestic rates until they were abolished for electoral reasons by a Fianna Fail government in 1979. People are not used to domestic charges on their property in Ireland. Property related revenue funds are greatly diminished from the so-called “Celtic Tiger” period.

An energetic and dedicated Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay Campaign has resulted in over 700,000 households having not paid by the deadline date, 31st March. This in some ways is not surprising. The government rolled out the same TDs, over and over again, to try and persuade people to pay. The message was simple from the government. Local services needed to be paid for and central government can no longer fund local services such as road repairs, libraries and fire and emergency services.

The bailout by the troika (EU, ECB, IMF) was underpinned by an agreement for Ireland to implement a range of revenue-raising exercises. The household charge, to be followed next year by a progressive property tax, is just one of those exercises.

The Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay campaign is buoyed by members of the United Left Alliance and Sinn Fein who oppose the charge. Pádraig Maclochlainn, Sinn Fein TD for Donegal North East, is urging people to resist paying the household charge which he considers an unfair tax.

“The Government has chosen to implement a household charge that is regressive and clearly unfair. Our choice would have been different. We believe in a fair and progressive taxation system,” said Mr Maclochlainn.

Citizens were confused as to what the charge was for, and, because they did not receive a physical bill, there was no urgency. It is fair to say that for many citizens they felt that there was no tangible benefit in paying this charge. The people did not cause this economic meltdown, so in theory the people should not pay for it.

In County Donegal the Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay Campaign, has been especially successful in persuading people not to pay. When driving anywhere in the county there are placards and signs attached to lampposts urging people to resist and to not register for the charge. By the 31st March, 2012, 70% of homes had still not paid the charge.

Donegal County Council is urging people to pay or otherwise they warn there will be a significant shortfall in revenue for the council to provide services such as road repairs, libraries and crucially, fire and emergency services.

The clergy in Donegal have spoken up about the issue. Gaoth Dobhair priest Father Brian O’Fearraigh has urged people to resist the payment which he calls, “unfair and unjust.”

Father O’Fearraigh recently addressed a large protest in Letterkenny in which he urged people to keep fighting: “We, the people say: No to household charges. We the people say: No to water charges. We the people say: No to septic tank registration fees. We the people say: We Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay.”

The intervention of Father O’Fearraigh in the debate has been met with criticism by a local Labour Senator, Jimmy Harte, who said: “It is totally irresponsible for a member of the Church to say to people not to pay the charge.”

Referring directly to Father O’Fearraigh, Senator Harte suggested he should re-read his scriptures and remember that when the Jews did not want to pay their taxes to Caesar, Jesus said: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God, the things that are God’s.” For Senator Harte, the same principle applies. “If you use the services, you have to contribute to pay for them,” said the Senator.

County Donegal will suffer if people refuse to pay the household charge, Senator Harte has warned. This in turn will put pressure on local business rates as Donegal County Council needs to raise the revenue because central government is cutting their funding for local services. “You cannot be an à la carte citizen and decide what taxes you will pay, and ones you won’t pay,” Senator Harte added.

What is clear from the debate around the household charge is that the government is not changing course like the septic tank charge. The septic tank inspection charge was significantly reduced from €50 for the first three months, to €5, due to pressure from campaign and rural living groups.

The revenue envisioned from a full, progressive property tax next year, it is hoped, will begin to reduce the gap between government spending and tax-take. The state has pledged under the EU, IMF and ECB bailout to implement a range of taxes and the household charge is just the start. Water charges will be the next hurdle for the government to overcome and persuade people that these additional taxes are needed, and will help the state build a sustainable tax-base.

It is doubtful whether the government will be seen to make any u-turn on the first stage of implementation of the €100 household charge. What cannot be in doubt is the public’s hostility towards further taxes and the furore and passion it creates.

Revolutions rage around the world

By  Emma-Kate O’Reilly

December 21, 2012 is the end-date for the ancient Mesoamerican Long Count calendar. Maybe not the apocalypse as we imagine it literally but metaphorically. Maybe the Mayans were playing with the idea of a new collective conscience being born.
Something strange has a hold on the world. It’s palpable to the intuitive; even the not so intuitive are starting to question some things. People are really beginning to think things through rather than accept what the “Ministry of Truth” tells them to think, feel and act. Revolution, rebellion, uprising, usurping are rampant around the world.
Fearful whispers of wrongdoing have metamorphosed into defiant declarations of war against corruption. The streets are alive. The pulse is racing through every protestor. Pushed to the limit, on the edge, they are standing united, brought together in desperation in a crusade against their tyrannical leaders. From under the harsh whip of injustice and oppression, their survival instinct has been ignited. They have discovered a powerful weapon. It’s spreading like wildfire and the intense fire is burning brightly.
Images invoke an innate sense of empathy from within. Boundaries and nationalities have become blurred. Ground-breaking changes of Christians forming protective circles around Muslims at prayer epitomises this raw radicalism. Basic human rights should be the same everywhere. The thirst for change will not be quenched by empty promises.
However, this is not a new concept.

The sixties were a turbulent tempestuous time of protests and activism against the tyrannies. There will always be uprisings and always be war waged upon the wrongdoers. People, ideals, minority ethnicities, nations will be beaten down, but they will gather themselves up together and start again. There has been a domino effect unfolding all across North Africa. It echoes the revolutionary wave of 1848 that swept over Europe.

Ordinary men have taken it upon themselves to make a difference. The elderly who have lived in fear under the crack of the oppressive whip seem to admire the raw energy of the younger generation.
But where do we ordinary people who are not from such a place fit in to all of this?
We read about these war ravaged lands, then flick the page and forget about it. We watch coverage of these atrocities on the news, then flick the channel and forget about it. Advertisements come on and are much easier to digest than the destruction that is going on in the world.

Bombarded with so many images of war have we become immune to them? Have you ever wondered what it’s really like to be on the ground working in one of these conflict zones, instead of passively observing it from the safety of our own homes?
I spoke to two people who have to try to get a taste of the reality of living in such a place and to find out what these people do out there.

Kathy Keary was working for a human rights and development organisation based in East Jerusalem called Al-Maqdese in a research and advocacy position.
She said: “My role consisted mostly of writing socio-legal research projects on pressing issues in the city, such as the effects of housing demolitions on the women of East Jerusalem and worker’s rights in the city. It was a Palestinian organisation so it dealt only with Palestinian issues in the city. I was carrying out interviews with effected people and also reviewing available literature on the subject.”
In addition to the research projects she also did a whole myriad of other tasks including, “editing other people’s work (I was the only native English speaker in the office), applying to various human rights networks for membership, submitting documents to various UN special rapporteurs and committees, and attending UN working group meetings and conferences on behalf of the organisation. I also did a little bit of project proposal and development work.”

She spoke about the difficulties she faced in working for the organisation. She said: “Because I speak neither Arabic nor Hebrew I found it very difficult to carry out research without assistance and getting people to provide me with necessary information was almost impossible on some occasions. Also on a couple of occasions I disagreed with policy decisions of the organisation.”

Culture differences are another aspect of working in conflict countries. Things that we take for granted here have to be fought for there, like the freedom to go wherever you want.

“The culture differences between there and here are stark. The most difficult thing to get used to is the Israeli oppression and control. If you decide to travel anywhere you will more than likely have to pass through a checkpoint manned by soldiers and there are constant reminders of the occupation.”

She talked about how challenging it is to try to help the people and how restrained you are in what you can do. She said: “You are also constantly working on stories and cases of grave injustice and this can be quite frustrating when you realise that what you can do to rectify any of these is severely limited.”

When you are on the ground in a conflict zone you can’t flick. You can’t forget. Kathy said: “My office was right beside the wall that divides the West bank from Jerusalem so I was constantly reminded of the conflict.
“The strength and resilience of the Palestinian people is staggering and they are incredibly friendly.”

Michael McCaughan is a journalist who is no stranger to working in unstable societies. He has reported from all over the Americas, North, Central and South. From far flung places like Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, but he spent most of his time in a place called Chiapas in south east Mexico where he lived from 1993 to 2001.

The Zapatista Army of National Liberation is a revolutionary leftist group based there, seeking control of their local resources, especially land. The indigenous people there have, since 1994, declared war “against the Mexican state”. I asked him about what it’s really like to be on the ground working in a country of conflict.

“In a place of armed conflict, despite the chaos, people try to escape it by doing ordinary everyday things. When the Mexican army were on the verge of attacking these villages the people continued with their everyday life. They use normality as a form of resistance to what’s surrounding them.”

He talked about how people want to tell you their stories. He spoke of how harrowing it is to listen to testimony of people getting tortured and hunted down, imprisoned, mistreated and suffering cruel injustices.

He told me of how emotionally difficult it is to hear these people’s stories and yet as a journalist you have to fulfil your duty. “You are the voice of people who have no voice. It’s your responsibility to tell their stories. You are the bridge between what is happening to people in these countries and getting it across to the rest of the world.

“You develop relationships with the local people. They tell you intimate stories about what has happened to them. They have an emotional impact on you”.

He spoke about the strength of people, “the resistance they have against forced conditions of unjust authorities”.

He said, when amongst the locals, “You have to show respect, humility, compassion and just listening to them is terribly important.”

Some people think to help these countries we should just go in and take over. Tell them what to do.

But by speaking to Kathy Keary and Michael McCaughan, it has reaffirmed what I thought.

That by listening to people from conflict zones we can learn, be aware of what’s happening to them and through people going out and working with them, try to find resolutions.
Through this social awareness and coming together in defiance against injustices and oppression, maybe we can try to make the world a better place.