Thursday, 17 November 2016

Cutting through the nonsense: RTÉ's report on Syria

“In Aleppo alone 2002 people have been killed... and that's with a truce in place”. 

That was the introduction to an extremely sub-par piece of journalism we were subjected to on RTÉ's Drivetime on Wednesday afternoon as the state broadcaster bombarded rush hour listeners with a half-truths, bias and blatant falsehoods in what was supposed to be a report on how Donald Trump's election as US President will affect the ongoing Syrian Civi War.

Despite what RTÉ claims, there is no truce in Aleppo. There was a unilateral ceasefire by the Syrian Military and Russian Air Force to allow humanitarian aid into the jihadist-occupied parts of the city.[1] In response, the so-called “rebels” launched what was described as a “new offensive” on Government districts “unleashing a series of deadly car bombings and mortar attacks”.[2]

RTÉ's then quotes the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) who it says have “documented 733 civilians... being killed by Russian and Assad air strikes” adding “41 civilians have been killed by Assad's artillery shells in that time”.

Aside from such blatantly biased terminology (can we expect reports from Mosul to refer to “Obama air strikes” or “Obama artillery strikes”?) what RTÉ doesn't tell us is that the loftily-named Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is in fact just one individual, Rami Abdel Rahman, a pro-Opposition former prisoner who runs SOHR out of his home in Coventry, England, and claims he relies on an anonymous network of sources across Syria for his reports. [3][4] Russia has described the information from SOHR as “fake” adding that the “group” is “no more reliable than a waiter in a pizzeria”[5] while the UN has stopped using reports from SOHR as they cannot be verified.

Next, the listener hears a snippet of an interviewee, whom RTÉ identifies as “Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – who appears to have resumed dropping chlorine on the population of Aleppo.”

Again, when will we hear US President Obama accused of “dropping white phosphorus on the population of Mosul?”

Earlier this year the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed its latest disposal operation “completes [the] destruction of all chemical weapons declared by the Syrian Arab Republic.” [6] In fact, the only suggestion in recent days of chemical weapons use has been on the part of the Al-Qaeda aligned rebel fighters.

On Tuesday the Syrian Foreign Ministry requested the OPCW investigate the use of chemical weapons by armed groups in Aleppo.[7] Meanwhile, the Russian Ministry of Defence also accused rebels of using chemical weapons in Aleppo and said it had uncovered a chemical weapons factory in the 1070 Apartment Complex in south-west Aleppo, which was recently retaken by the Syrian Army [8][9].

No reference is made to either of these allegations by RTÉ.

RTÉ then continues from perpetuating bias and half-truths into a full scale misinformation campaign:

“He [Trump] must have been briefed that Russia is in fact, not targeting ISIS”, we are told.  

This is untrue. The Russian Air Force is currently supporting Syrian ground forces in Homs Province – around the city of Palmyra which was retaken from ISIS in March – and also east of Salamiyah in northern Homs and southern Hama Provinces. The Russians have also been aiding in the defence of the city of Deir Ezzor, which has been surrounded by ISIS for several years.[10]

This same myth has been peddled by other mainstream media outlets. In October, The Associated Press made a similar claim which it was forced to retract and clarify when it was shown its own reporting directly contradicted the claim. One AP story spoke of how: “The [Syrian Army] push into the town of Qaryatain took place under the cover of Russian airstrikes and dealt another setback to the IS extremists in Syria”. [11]

So, why is Ireland's state broadcaster peddling blatant mistruths?

We are then treated to an unnamed spokesperson for the so-called “Syrian Opposition” who accuses Trump of being misinformed, and goes on to claim “the US has been helping the Syrian people and at the end of the day the US respects international law, Russia does not”. 

At no point is this unnamed individual challenged on these assertions.

The idea that the US respects international law in Syria is certainly not based in fact. It must be recognised that Russia is the only foreign actor operating within the law in Syria. 

“Forcible action at the request of a government is permissible in international law. States can use force within the territory of another state if the government of that state has agreed to it”. [12] Whether RTÉ likes it or not, the United Nations recognises the Syrian Government of Bashar al-Assad as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people.[13] Therefore, only actions permitted by that Government are considered legal.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem told the United Nations Assembly in New York in September: “Without such coordination [with the Syrian Government], any action [by external forces] would be considered a breach of sovereignty, a flagrant interference, and a violation of the principles and purposes of the [UN] Charter. [14]

The report then goes on to claim that 32 people were killed when Russia “bombed a hospital and a blood bank” in Aleppo. 

There's two issues here. First, this claim is again made by the Coventry-based SOHR with zero supporting evidence. Secondly, Russia is not conducting operations in Aleppo – the Syrian Arab Air Force is.[15] 

Thirdly, even Reuters – whom RTÉ claims its report was fact-checked with [16] – notes that the hospital itself was not bombed, instead it reports how a “bombing struck next to a children's hospital and blood bank in the Shaar district”. [17] 

This would imply the airstrikes were targeting something or someone in the vicinity of hospital, but not the medical facility itself. 

It should be noted that Médecins Sans Frontieres admits to withholding the locations of its facilities from Syria and Russia, making it impossible for either air force to differentiate between medical facilities and other buildings.[18] 

Families who have fled eastern Aleppo have confirmed to reporters, including renowned British Journalist Robert Fisk (whose dedication to human rights in journalism won him numerous awards including Best Print Journalist at the Amnesty International Media Awards) that “all these hospitals are also bases for militias and their weapons. The hospitals have some patients, but lots of rockets are on the top of hospitals where they use them to rocket the west of the city”. [19]

Regardless of RTÉ's position on the horrific conflict in Syria, listeners are entitled to unbiased and non-partisan coverage. The Drivetime piece might as well have come directly from the press office of  the US State Department.

Friday, 4 November 2016

St Enda's and the Hermitage

NESTLED in the foothills of Dublin’s Kilmashogue Mountains, in the village of Rathfarnham, sits ‘The Hermitage’, a grand 18th century house and gardens with a history deeply intertwined with Ireland’s freedom struggle. In the late 1790s, as the finishing touches were being placed on the house which would become home and practice to dentist Edward Hudson, a short distance away the British military was embarking on a construction project of its own. 
Despite the defeat of most of the United Irishmen forces following the Battle of Vinegar Hill, the Wicklow Mountains remained a hotbed of Irish rebel resistance. Michael Dwyer, known as “The Wicklow Chief”, and his forces struck repeatedly against isolated British garrisons, local loyalists and allied yeomanry before melting away in a formidable guerrilla campaign that caused deep concern in Britain and tied down thousands of troops. Other rebel leaders (such as Joseph Holt) had taken an amnesty offer from the British. Dwyer’s men included many Irishmen who had deserted from the British Army. They faced execution for treason if they were captured or surrendered, and therefore formed the strong backbone of his fighters.
British military leaders sitting in Dublin Castle were said to stare out in trepidation at the mountains overlooking the capital, which they believed to be swarming with rebels ready to descend upon the city. This fear prompted the construction of the Military Road in 1800 – which would run along the spine of the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains and allow the British forces to flush out the rebels from the inaccessible interior. 
At this time, “The Wicklow Chief” made contact with young revolutionary Robert Emmet – a wealthy Anglo-Irish Protestant who deeply sympathised with the Irish Catholic population. He had worked in France to secure support during the 1798 Rebellion and returned to Ireland after the defeat, despite being wanted by authorities, to reorganise the United Irishmen and launch another uprising. 
During this time he frequently visited the Hermitage, staying in a fortified lodge on the outer perimeter wall which is now known as “Emmet’s Fort”. From here he would rendezvous with his sweetheart and fiancée, Sarah Curran, who lived nearby in The Priory. 
Emmet and Curran had been engaged in secret as her father (John Philpot Curran, a liberal nationalist) deeply disapproved of Emmet’s political views. Emmet was executed just months later for his leadership of the rebellion of 1803. Sarah Curran was disowned by her father and had to move to Cork with relatives and later to Sicily, where she died five years later. Her final request was that she be buried in the garden of The Priory, next to the small grave of her sister Gertrude who had died in a falling accident as a child. Her last wish was refused by her father. 
The resting place of Robert Emmet has long been a source of speculation. Local rumours have it that his body was smuggled to Rathfarnham shortly after his beheading on Thomas Street and buried beside the body of little Gertrude. The story of Robert and Sarah inspired Thomas Moore’s poem, ‘Sarah Curran’:
She is far from the land where her young hero sleeps, 
And lovers around her are sighing: 
But coldly she turns from their gaze and weeps, 
For her heart in his grave is lying.
Emmet's Fort on the perimeter of The Hermitage, where Robert Emmet would stay during his secret visits to his fiancée, Sarah Curran

It was this connection to Irish history and its idyllic location that prompted Pádraig Pearse to relocate his St Enda’s School (Scoil Éanna) – opened in 1908 in the Dublin suburb of Ranelagh – to The Hermitage in 1910. 
Speaking of his new home, Pearse said:
“I live in a place that is very full of heroic memories. In the room in which I work at St Enda’s College, Robert Emmet is said often to have sat; in our garden is a vine which they call Emmet’s Vine and from which he is said to have plucked grapes; through our wood runs a path which is called Emmet’s Walk – they say that he and Sarah Curran walked there; at an angle of our boundary wall is a little fortified lodge called Emmet’s Fort . . . It is easy to imagine his figure coming out along Harold’s Cross Road to Rathfarnham, tapping the ground with his cane, as they say was his habit; a young, slight figure, with how noble a head bent a little upon the breast, with how high a heroism sleeping underneath that quietness and gravity!”
Inside the lobby of the old schoolhouse, beneath a painting of the crucified Jesus Christ, sits a block with a small brass plate bearing the inscription: “Robert Emmet was beheaded on this block – 20th Sept 1803.” 
If the block and the old facade and steps of the former schoolhouse are familiar it is because some of the only film footage that exists of Michael Collins was recorded on the steps of the building. In 1919, the Dáil began selling Republican Loan Bonds to support Ireland’s struggle for independence. The launch of this event took place on the steps of St Enda’s and Collins, as Minister for Finance, signed the Bonds on Emmet’s block.
Pádraig Pearse was an educational pioneer. His desire for a new education system was expressed in his 1913 essay ‘The Murder Machine’, in which he eviscerated the English system as “the most grotesque and horrible of their English inventions for the debasement of Ireland”.
Pearse’s school was firmly rooted in the Gaelic tradition, the Irish language and the promotion of Irish nationalist thought.
“The story of Joan of Arc or the story of young Napoleon means more for boys and girls than all the algebra in all the books. What the modern world wants more than anything else, what Ireland wants beyond all other modern countries, is a new birth of the heroic spirit,” wrote Pearse.
Inside, the rooms are kept much as they were during Pearse’s time. An impressive collection of weapons from previous rebellions was purchased by the school and put on display. Portraits of Irish patriots and martyrs adorn the walls, while beautiful sculptures by Pádraig’s brother, Willie, are on display.
St Enda’s School won praise from across nationalist Ireland, including from W. B. Yeats, Roger Casement and Constance Markievicz. It even prompted Indian nationalist Rabindranath Tangore to open a similar institution in Bengal.
Speaking at the school in 1914, Douglas Hyde (the first President of Ireland from 1938 to 1945) said: 
“Pearse’s philosophy is the philosophy of all who are concerned with the creation of what might be called an Irish Ireland, as distinct from an imitation English Ireland.” He said schools like St Enda’s are “bringing back again the consciousness of belonging to a nation”.
Pearse fostered a love of everything Irish in his students. He was also a nature-lover, and The Hermitage, set amidst woods, fields and streams, allowed the boys to explore nature with emphasis placed on classes such as horticulture. Old display cases contain small animals, seeds and plant specimens collected by the students, while Pearse’s notes alongside them explain how students were under “geasa” not to kill wild things and any specimens captured for study were to be released unharmed. Sports, Irish dancing, and drama were core subjects and St Enda’s provided a beautiful backdrop for plays such as ‘Fionn: A Dramatic Spectacle’ – the performance wonderfully captured in photographs at the time.
A group of former St Enda's students known as 'The Dogs' pose for a photo on Easter Sunday 1916 before heading into battle alongside the Irish Volunteers and Citizen Army
The Irish Volunteers would frequently drill in the grounds of St Enda’s and, in the lead-up to the 1916 Rising, a group of former students known as “The Dogs” continued to lodge in the building while attending university. In the evenings they would meet in secret in the school basement, which they had transformed into a bomb factory. Fifteen of “The Dogs” would go out to fight during the Easter Rising.
As the dust settled after the Easter Rising, five of St Enda’s teachers – Pádraig Pearse, Willie Pearse, Joseph Plunkett, Thomas MacDonagh and Con Colbert – were executed by British Army firing squads. The school closed and was occupied by British forces. It was reopened at its old home in Cullenswood House before returning to the Hermitage in 1920.
Pádraig Pearse
Margaret Pearse never recovered from the execution of her two sons. Committed to keeping the memory of her sons alive, she and her daughter, Margaret Mary, continued to run the school. In 1921, Margaret Pearse was elected to the Dáil as a Sinn Féin TD for Dublin County. She opposed the Treaty that partitioned Ireland, telling the Dáil:
“It has been said here on several occasions that Patrick Pearse would have accepted this Treaty. I deny it. As his mother, I deny it, and on his account I will not accept it.”
She added that if she voted to support it:
“I feel in my heart – and I would not say it only I feel it – that the ghosts of my sons would haunt me.”
Mrs Pearse died in 1932 and St Enda’s closed three years later. In 1968, in accordance with her mother’s wishes, Margaret Mary left it to the state to be used as a memorial to the Pearse brothers on condition that it opened every day and entry be free.
In contrast to the carefully-maintained house and grounds in what is now St Enda’s Park and the Pearse Museum, Sarah Curran’s home at The Priory suffered a very different fate.
The deaths of his two daughters left John Philpot Curran a broken man. A news report recounted how the once well-maintained grounds deteriorated and locals would observe “a lonely grave over which an old man lies sobbing . . . every day the same sad sight would have met our gaze: the broken figure of John Curran crying like a child for his youngest and favourite daughter”.
The ruins of The Priory now sit overgrown in a small green at the centre of a nearby housing estate with no markers or plaque to remember its historic importance. Gertrude’s (and if rumour is to be believed, Robert Emmet’s) grave has been lost to time and in the construction of the housing estate in the 1970s.
• The Pearse Museum and St Enda’s Park are now managed by the Office of Public Works. They are open every day and entry is free.
  • This article first appeared in the October 2016 edition of An Phoblacht

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Buzzkill – Ireland’s bees are being wiped out

MORE THAN 30% of all fruits and vegetables and as much as 70% of all the world’s food production is heavily reliant on one tiny insect – the honeybee. Its role in pollination is absolutely vital in agriculture but all is not well in Ireland – a third of our wild bee species are in danger of extinction.

Nobel Prize-winning playwright Maurice Maeterlinck famously wrote (although often misattributed to Albert Einstein):
“If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.”
While that may not be entirely true, the disappearance of the planet’s most important little workers could indeed spell the beginning of an ecological Armageddon. 
Across the globe, many bee species are simply vanishing due to a mysterious phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder. So far there has been no single cause identified but the use of pesticides, loss of habitat and the spread of mites are all believed to be factors.
In some parts of the world, particularly in the USA and China, vast swathes of land are essentially devoid of pollinators. Beekeepers have seen a surge across the USA for their services as farmers rent mobile hives in the hopes of pollinating their crops. In some parts of China, where chemicals have all but wiped out bees, workers are paid to climb trees and hedgerows and pollinate flowers by hand.

Irish Wildlife Trust ecologist Billy Flynn says the Irish countryside has been made “inhospitable” to pollinators.
“The need for shelter and food are common to all living things, and we have deprived many of our native invertebrates of both,” Billy says.
He points to the loss of nesting sites, removal of hedgerows, disappearance of small woodlands, the lack of native wildflowers and the constant cutting of park and road verges as soon as dandelions and daisies appear as all contributing to this decline.
The decline, which included an up to 50% reduction in bees in the Six Counties, prompted a debate in the Assembly in 2008 and eventually led to The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan 2015-2020, supported by over 80 public, private and non-governmental bodies.
The Heritage Council’s Michael Starrett said: 
“Gone are the days we can choose to ignore warning signs. Our science is sound. Our concern has to be to get it done. The alternative is not acceptable, and should not be acceptable to anyone. This is about improving the quality of our environment.”

Billy Flynn says there are few plans that mean so much for biodiversity on this island: 
“This is a call for action that may well be critical in saving many of our invertebrate species from extinction. By doing so, we might be able to stave off a calamitous collapse of ecosystems the like of which we have not yet seen.”
As well as engaging with county councils, farmers, and environmental and heritage groups, a new part of the plan aimed at gardeners and homeowners was launched this summer. Simple tips include planting native wildflowers, leaving a patch of the garden to grow wild, manual weeding rather than pesticides, and installing an ‘insect hotel’ nesting site for solitary bees. It also contains a handy list of what plants and shrubs are best to attract pollinators all year round.
There’s already been a great response from local organisations, including Sligo Tidy Towns who are running beekeeping classes in the community gardens. Places like Leighlinbridge in Carlow, Castletownroche in Cork and Galliagh in Derry swiftly incorporated insect corridors – uncut areas of wildflowers – into their Tidy Towns plans and they are now commonplace across Ireland.
In July, scientific research debated at European level conclusively showed that insecticides – as well as killing or seriously weakening bees – are having a detrimental effect on bee fertility. 
Dublin MEP Lynn Boylan, an ecologist, says the temporary ban on three insecticides should be made permanent in light of the evidence and called on the European Commission and Ireland’s Minister for Agriculture to take this into account.

Speaking to An Phoblacht, the MEP said:
“Governments need to stop contradicting themselves. On one hand they are producing detailed plans for protecting bees, which is welcome, yet in Europe they continuously take the side of the big corporate lobbies and chemical companies which have been directly linked to the decline in bee numbers.
“In the absence of Fine Gael ever opposing corporate interests, I’d encourage everybody to do what they can to help bolster the bee population.”
  • This article first appeared in the September 2016 edition of An Phoblacht

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

How Israel is using gay rights to deflect from the Occupation

DUBLIN’S annual Pride Parade parade in June saw signs saying “Queers Against Israeli Pinkwashing” as members of Ireland’s LGBT community showed their anger at Israel using a veneer of acceptance of gay people to gloss over its ongoing brutal occupation of Palestine.

In recent years, Israel has been busy promoting itself as one of the few gay-friendly tourist destinations in the Middle East. Tel Aviv was named “World’s Best Gay City” in 2011. The Israeli Tourist Board has pumped millions of dollars into promoting the country as a gay-friendly destination through billboard advertising, sponsorship of LGBT film festivals and other events.

Same-sex marriages may be conducted in Israel but they have no legal recognition, although if a couple have a marriage certificate from another country where it is legal then their marriage is legally recognised. Despite this, Israel still has the most advanced LGBT rights in the Middle East where in some countries, such as Yemen and Saudi Arabia, homosexuality can result in a death sentence.
Though Israel’s Pinkwashing campaign has been going on for over a decade, not everybody got the message. 

In 2012, Channel 10 News in Israel exposed a communique from former Israeli Deputy Ambassador to Ireland Nurit Tinari-Modai to Israel’s Foreign Office in which she suggests that left-wing and Jewish activists in Ireland who oppose Israel’s occupation should be smeared by claiming their opposition is based on “sexual identity problems”.

Palestinian-American journalist Ali Abunimah said the Deputy Ambassador’s comments “indicate an innate homophobia that is at odds with Israel’s efforts – known as pinkwashing – to portray itself as supportive of the rights of people who identify as LGBTQ”.

A month before Dublin’s Pride Parade was the world-famous Tel Aviv Pride festival. ‘Pinkwatching Israel’ – an organisation created in 2010 to “expose efforts by Israel and its supporters to pinkwash Israeli crimes” – called on those thinking of travelling to Tel Aviv for the festival to take a deeper look at Israel’s gay-friendly persona.

“Gay pride brochures fail to mention that it is also an hour away from the world’s largest open prison, Gaza, and that it is built on stolen land,” the group said. “They forget to mention that the gay soldiers you dance with in the Pride parade check, arrest, and kill Palestinians on a daily basis.
“After your day of Pride, some tour operators will take you to Bethlehem or the Dead Sea, without telling you that you will travel through the illegally Occupied Palestinian Territories, or that the wine you are drinking in the Golan Heights comes from businesses that have been declared illegal under international law.”

Fadi Khoury, an Arab LGBT activist who boycotted the Tel Aviv Pride parade this year, told the AFP news agency:

“Israel wants to rebrand itself as a liberal democracy – despite the Occupation – by claiming that neighbouring societies, especially the Palestinians, aren’t as tolerant towards sexual minorities. A moral human rights struggle cannot be one that is partial. The state is the same source of human rights infringements for both the Israeli LGBT community and the Palestinians under occupation.”
LGBT activist Haneen Maikey, an Arab citizen of Israel, told Israeli newspaper Haaretz that, despite the hype, in reality there are very few gay rights in the country:

“There are specific court cases that, when won, allowed certain individuals for instance to adopt a child. What is worth noting is that these decisions are case-specific, in the sense that they are made for this specific case, for this specific child and for these two mothers. You cannot build a human rights campaign on court cases that are not ratified.”

Attacking Israel's policy of ‘pinkwashing’, she said:

“Stop speaking in my name and using me for a cause you never supported in the first place.

“If you want to do me a favour, then stop bombing my friends, end your occupation, and leave me to rebuild my community.”
  • This article first appeared in the August 2016 edition of An Phoblacht

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Roger Casement – A Champion of Human Rights

How a 1916 rebel became a national hero of the Faroe Islands

While the executed 1916 leaders are revered as heroes in most countries with a substantial Irish emigrant population, some have become well-known in rather unexpected locations. One such place is the Faroe Islands,the self-Governing nation north of Scotland and part of the Kingdom of Denmark.

Roger Casement's work in exposing the horrors inflicted on native populations in the Congo and South America made him a hero to many across the world. His report on the horrors inflicted on the people of the Congo was instrumental in forcing Belgium's King Leopold II to relinquish his hold on the territory. Casement also helped organise the Anti-Slavery Society. His report on the treatment of indigenous peoples by the British-registered Peruvian Amazon Company saw him knighted in 1911.

In 1901 Daniel Jacob Danielsen became the first Faroese missionary to serve outside the Faroe Islands as part of the Congo Balolo Mission which operated in some of the most remote regions of the upper Congo.

Before this, Danielson had moved from the Faroe Islands to Scotland to train as an engineer on boats and steamers. He worked throughout the world for 10 years before converting to become a deeply religious man and involved in the Plymouth Brethren Movement after hearing a missionary speak in Glasgow in 1898, aged 27. He was originally based in Bonginda where he was assigned to the SS Pioneer – a gift to the missionaries from the Irish YMCAs.

Around this time word had begun to reach Europe – often via returning missionary workers – of some of the most appalling human rights abuses imaginable taking place in King Leopold's personal colony.

The brutal atrocities perpetrated in the Congo under Belgian rule included the systematic hacking-off of limbs of civilians as punishment for very minor issues. Most of the local population was enslaved to enrich the personal wealth of King Leopold through the exploitation of natural resources – notably rubber. Women were often taken hostage to ensure cooperation by their forced labourer husbands in what Casement described as an “infamous, infamous shameful system”.

The missionaries were not immune to allegations of cruelty either. Danielsen and other members of the Bonginda-based mission were investigated over claims they had whipped natives who were working aboard their boat and at the mission itself. Danielsen was recalled from the mission over the allegations – something he entirely refuted. Eventually his recall was withdrawn after the Mission's standing committee decided the allegations had been either false or grossly exaggerated by a fellow missionary worker with whom there had been a disagreement.

As word of these atrocities reached Europe, diplomat Roger Casement was tasked by the British Government to compile a report on the situation. He had already spent years living in sub-Saharan Africa.

Casement was an unusual character for a British diplomat at the time. He had an obvious sympathy for the native Congolese peoples and lacked the imperialist attitudes which were so prevalent among many Europeans at the time.

When Casement arrived in the Congo, the Belgian authorities tried to hamper his investigations. In order to get around this, Casement hired a small steamer named the SS Henry Reed but needed an engineer. On 17 July 1903, Danielsen, who had been on his way home due to ill health, agreed to take the job. Casement was also reliant on Danielsen to act as an interpreter with local peoples.

Writing to the British Foreign Secretary's office, Casement said of Danielsen:

Mr Danielsen's services were of the greatest value: Indeed without his help I could not have proceeded very far in my journey.” He said it was only down to Danielsen's “skill and hard work” that the aging vessel the Henry Reed managed to make the journey.

Soon after arriving in Congo, the Belgian authorities began a campaign to discredit Casement and accused him of being too close to 'English Protestant missionaries'.

Throughout their journey, Casement's team took photos to illustrate the horrors inflicted upon the natives. Most famous are the 'cut hand' photographs – most likely taken by Danielsen – which show dozens of natives displaying their severed limbs.

Towards the end of the journey Danielson became increasingly unwell and in late 1903 returned to Europe and undertook a speaking tour in Scotland about the horrors he and Casement had witnessed. He also toured his native Faroe Islands. The fact a native from such a tiny community had witnessed these atrocities first hand led to almost universal condemnation of Belgium from the Faroese people and made the rights of natives a cause célebre on the archipelago.

An article in the newspaper Tingakrossur on a talk given by Danielsen says that the Belgian regime in the Congo is “a regime of horror that is caused by capitalistic Belgian interests”.

Speaking at Synod Hall in Edinburgh, Danielson condemned the Congo Free State as nothing but a slave state.

'The Casement Report', published in 1904, and the subsequent high-profile campaign by Edmund Deane Morel's Congo Reform Association were instrumental in forcing King Leopold to relinquish his 'personal property' in the region in 1908.

Both Roger Casement and Daniel Danielsen would die just a few weeks apart in 1916. It is unlikely that news would have reached Danielsen in Tórshavn before his own death that his employer and friend – with whom he shared an obvious affinity for native people of the Congo – had been executed for attempting to liberate his own island from imperialism. 

The two were reunited almost a century later when, to mark the 110th anniversary of the Casement Report, Danielsen and Casement appeared on the national stamp of the Faroe Islands.

  • This article first appeared in the Special 1916 Centenary Edition of An Phoblacht

Friday, 29 July 2016

More questions over RUC involvement in gun attack on Thierafurth Inn

Peter McCormack died when unionist gunmen opened fire on customers in the Thierafurth Inn
MORE QUESTIONS have been raised about the level of collusion between the RUC and loyalist murder gangs in County Down after a local man revealed how he only became aware of a UVF plot to kill him following the publication of the Police Ombudsman’s report into the Loughinisland Massacre.
On 6 November 1992, a unionist death squad abandoned a plan to kill Peter McCarthy – whose family own the Thierafurth Inn in Kilcoo village – after fearing their murder bid may have been compromised. During the attempt, a car was hijacked and its owners held at gunpoint to stop them reporting the vehicle as stolen. 
The Police Ombudsman report says it believed this was just one of several plots to kill him.
Speaking to The Irish News on Monday, Peter McCarthy said he believes the RUC allowed the UVF gang to operate freely in the County Down area. 
The RUC first became aware of its members’ links with a unionist death squad in the region following the 1988 murder of Dundrum man Jack Kielty, father of TV host and comedian Patrick Kielty. 
Jack’s killing was believed to have been carried out to stop him giving evidence in court on a loyalist protection racket.
In the subsequent RUC investigation, the Orange Hall at Clough was raided and various firearms, balaclavas, ammunition, British Army maps and a UDR album containing photographs and details of suspected republicans were recovered. One of those pictured in the album was Peter McCarthy from Kilcoo.
The Police Ombudsman notes that the investigation into the murder of Jack Kielty “was successful in identifying personalities and associations, including those within and associated with the security forces, within a small, embryonic loyalist paramilitary unit operating mainly in the Newcastle Sub-Division of the RUC’s ‘G’ Division”.
It criticises the RUC, nevertheless, for failing to monitor and investigate this death squad “as a result of which it re-emerged a number of years later as a fully functional UVF unit, embarking on a campaign of murder that would ultimately escalate to the Loughinisland atrocity”.
The Police Ombudsman notes an attempt to murder Peter McCarthy – whose name and photograph were found in Clough Orange Hall – was planned for 6 November 1992 but was abandoned.
Two weeks later, Peter McCarthy’s cousin, Peter McCormack, was murdered in the Thierafurth Bar when a UVF death squad burst in and opened fire indiscriminately, killing Peter and injuring three other customers – including a blind man.
The UVF attack came hours after the IRA had shot dead a British soldier in Portadown. In a phone-call to Downtown Radio, the UVF claimed responsibility for the attack claiming the “IRA commander in South Down was in the pub at the time” and was their intended target. 
The Police Ombudsman’s report found that, by mid-1993, the RUC had extensive intelligence indicating who was responsible for the attack – including a UDR soldier – but this intelligence was not circulated. 
This same UDR soldier's fingerprints had been found on the UDR album containing photographs of suspected republicans which was found during the raid on Clough Orange Hall several years earlier.
A car containing this UDR soldier, accompanied by a suspected UVF member, was stopped on the evening of the Thierafurth Inn murder at a checkpoint in Ballynahinch but allowed to continue. 
This same UDR soldier was later arrested by the RUC investigating the 1994 Loughinisland Massacre.
Loughinisland massacre scene
The Police Ombudsman’s report also said the RUC officer leading the investigation told the Ombudsman investigators that the Thierafurth Inn “had been frequented by ‘bad people’ and queried why Mr McCormack was in the public house that night”.
The Ombudsman noted:
“This commentary by a senior police officer charged with the investigation is considered to be poor practice and suggests a lack of objectivity.”
Peter McCormack’s sister, Mary Sloan, told The Irish News:
“That police officer is the man I would like to speak to, to find out what made him so biased.” 
Gavin Booth, solicitor for KRW Law, says there is a huge amount of unanswered questions in relation to the Thierafurth Inn: 
“The families deserve truth and we will be calling for that process.”
  • This article first appeared in An Phoblacht online on 18 July 2016

Shane Ross – 'Independent' cog fits neatly in Fine Gael machine

AS the LUAS light rail dispute rumbled on in Dublin City's transport network, new Dáil Transport Minister Shane Ross's unwillingness to weigh in and help find a solution indicated he would be perpetuating Fine Gael's hands-off approach to industrial disputes.
Ross, a former stockbroker, regularly used his position as Business Editor at the Sunday Independent to criticise Ireland's transport system, particularly during the years of the Celtic Tiger, but as Transport Minister bowed out of doing anything to hasten an agreement between workers and company Transdev.
Representing the prosperous Dublin Rathdown constituency, Ross was first elected to the Seanad as an Independent representing UCD in 1981. He was re-elected eight times since, making him the longest-serving senator in Seanad history. He also served as a Fine Gael councillor in Bray from 1991 to 1997 and stood unsuccessfully for the Fine Gael party at a 1992 general election in Wicklow before reverting to being an Independent.
Throughout his political career, Ross has been one of the most conservative politicians in the Dáil. He reserved much of his venom for republicans.
In an interview with the Evening Herald in August 1983, the then senator said he would leave Ireland the minute Margaret Thatcher or any other British Prime Minister announced the withdrawal of Britain from the North.
He went on to say: 
“Pearse and Connolly had no mandate to take up arms . . . They were the original terrorists. The Provos of today are the true inheritors of 1916.”
Ross's dislike of Sinn Féin wasn't helped when he was humiliated in the 1984 European elections. The sitting senator contested the Dublin constituency and finished tenth of 12 candidates with a paltry 2.9% of the vote. Compounding his frustration was the fact that the Sinn Féin candidate – who was banned from TV and radio and censored in the press – finished over 6,000 votes ahead of him.
Ross decried those campaigning for the release of some Irish people imprisoned in Britain, saying the “presumption of the innocence of the Birmingham Six had been taken for granted for too long” and Irish people should “cease their persistent criticisms of the workings of British courts whenever Irishmen are on trial”. 

He added that, too often Irish people from positions of “ignorance and emotion” complain about the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, the Maguire Seven and the Winchester Three:
“I would like to put on record that I do not believe for one moment that all these people – leaving out the Winchester Three for the moment – are automatically innocent. It seems that all you have to be is an Irish person in Britain charged with a terrorist crime for politicians on all sides here to throw up their hands and call 'foul'. This is completely wrong.” 
The Birmingham Six, Maguire Seven, Guildford Four and Winchester Three were all exonerated after being wrongly imprisoned for years.
Tentative moves towards the Peace Process didn't deter Ross from spewing his anti-republican vitriol. In August 1993 he continued:
“Sinn Féin should be proscribed in exactly the same way as the IRA. Membership should carry the same penalties.
“Sinn Féin offices in Parnell Square and throughout Ireland should be closed. An Phoblacht should be banned.
“No statements from either group or its leaders should be allowed to be carried by any national or local newspapers. No public meetings would be permitted under the Sinn Féin banner. The organisation and all its activities would simply cease to exist.”
He added: 
“We could lock up the leaders of Sinn Féin. In a rare display of Irish unity, we could take joint action against them by closing their advice centres. We could extend Section 31 [the broadcasting ban] to all sections of the media. We could simply blot them out of the political consciousness.”
Some letter-writers to the Irish Press were shocked by Ross's comments, saying his “lecture to us to cease our concern for Irish citizens subjected to charges in British courts is pathetic. In effect, he says, don't object to or confront past, present or potential injustice.”
Responding to talks initiatives by Gerry Adams and SDLP leader John Hume in September 1993 that eventually led to the Peace Process and the Good Friday Agreement, Ross said: “I should prefer to see him [Gerry Adams] interned without trial.”
In the 1990s, Ross was a regular at pickets outside Sinn Féin offices alongside arch-reactionary Conor Cruise O'Brien, Pat Rabbitte and Michael Nugent. The group that organised the protests, Families Against Intimidation and Terror, focused almost exclusively on republican violence. It was heavily criticised after it emerged that it was actually funded by the British Government.
In the run-up to this year's general election, Ross was scathing in his criticism of his former comrades in Fine Gael – but was quick to put clear blue water between himself, Sinn Féin and others on the Left. 
Now, after almost 20 years as a populist right-wing voice, Shane Ross is once more back to being a cog that fits neatly in the Fine Gael machine. 
  • This article first appeared in the July 2016 edition of An Phoblacht