News from Ireland

By Frank Shouldice, Contributor
December / January 2005

Maureen O’Hara Collects an Irish Oscar

Maureen O’Hara brought over 700 guests to their feet at the Irish Film and Television Awards (IFTA) in Dublin when she received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Wearing a bright red dress the 84-year-old actress earned a heartfelt ovation, recalling her illustrious career which included her feisty performance opposite John Wayne in The Quiet Man.

“To be born in Ireland is to have the greatest gift that God could give,” she began, concluding that the IFTA honor was “a wonderful gift from Ireland to an Irishwoman — and she appreciates it!”

Actor James Nesbitt hosted the Oscar-style evening in which awards were given across 27 categories in Irish film and television. High profile awards went to Omagh (best Irish feature film) starring Gerard McSorley (best actor), a powerful dramatization of tragic events when the Real IRA bombed the Co. Tyrone market town. Lenny Abrahamson won best director for Adam &Paul, a gritty new feature about two Dublin heroin addicts, while Eva Birthistle won best actor for her part in Ken Loach’s Ae Fond Kiss.

Pierce Brosnan was also at the ceremony to receive an Outstanding Contribution to Irish Cinema Award presented by English comic actor John Cleese. Speaking to reporters afterwards Brosnan suggested that Dublin star Colin Farrell would be a natural successor in the role of James Bond.

Also announced at the weekend is an upcoming film production on the life of Dublin rock star Phil Lynott. Directed by Robert Quinn My Boy is based on a book by Philomena Lynott, which relates the difficulties of a single mother raising a black child in Dublin through the 1960’s and 1970’s. Lynott went on to front rock band Thin Lizzy and died tragically from a drug overdose in 1986.

American actor Gary Dourdan, who plays police officer Warrick Brown in the TV series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, has been cast in the lead role as Lynott. His mother Philomena will be played by Oscar-winning actress Holly Hunter. Filming will begin in Dublin next year.

All-Ireland Crown For Kingdom

Kerry collected their 33rd All-Ireland championship title with a comprehensive 1-20 to 2-9 win over Mayo in a one-sided football final at Croke Park. In a far closer contest Galway beat Dublin to win their first ever Ladies Football Final.

In hurling Cork produced a stellar second half display to cruise past Kilkenny by 0-17 to 0-9 and claim the Liam McCarthy Cup. Winning manager Donal O’Grady stood down after the win and was later replaced by selector John Allen. “Opportunities like this don’t happen in one’s life very often,” said Allen, when offered the hot seat. “I’m looking forward to trying to emulate what Donal has done.”

In the centenary year for camogie Tipperary continued their dominance of the game, beating Cork to take their fifth championship title in six years. Meanwhile in the International Rules series, Ireland’s GAA stars proved more than a handful for the visiting Australians, romping home to an aggregate 132-82 victory. The next series will take place Down Under next year.

McAleese Begins Second Term

President Mary McAleese was officially appointed to a second term as President of Ireland. An election had been scheduled for October 22 but because prospective candidates failed to secure nominations McAleese was returned to office unopposed.

As Fianna Fáil’s incumbent to the office, McAleese was entitled to nominate herself for reelection to another seven-year term. Several independent candidates, most notably former MEP Rosemary Dana Scallon, attempted to win backing from parliamentarians and county councils to force an election. Michael D. Higgins, a former minister from Galway, also sought nomination from colleagues in the Labour Party.

In each case, however, it was felt that President McAleese’s popularity with the Irish public would make her virtually unbeatable in a national election. Leadership within the Labour Party opted against contesting an expensive campaign. Rosemary Dana Scallon was unable to get the support she required, while Fine Gael, the other main conservative party, decided against taking part in an election they felt they could not win.

President McAleese was duly reapponted. Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern expressed delight that a candidate nominated by his own Fianna Fáil party in 1997 should remain in such a commanding position.

“Mary McAleese has given outstanding and unique service to the Irish people,” said Ahern. “Her re-election today to serve a second term is in the best interests of Ireland. I am delighted that we will continue to have a President of great charisma, strong intellect and exceptional skill for the next seven years.

“Through her own talents and courage and convictions, Mary McAleese has time and again shown herself to be a good President, a caring President and an understanding President. Her huge public satisfaction stems from the inclusive manner in which she has conducted her Presidency. The President has worked tirelessly and diligently to tell the story of Ireland’s economic and social transformation to the world, winning many new admirers, investors and friends for our country,” he said, describing McAleese as “truly a President for all of the people.”

Priests Question Celibacy Rule

The Catholic Church’s compulsory rule on clerical celibacy should be reviewed, according to a recent poll of diocesan priests in Ireland. In a wide-ranging survey carried out by the Irish Catholic newspaper, some 1,300 priests outlined their concerns with where the Church currently stands on various issues.

Some 57 percent of respondents said celibacy should not be compulsory for priests; 40 percent favored retaining the celibacy rule. When asked if withdrawing the celibacy rule would attract more vocations, some 60 percent felt it would make no difference to boosting priest numbers.

The survey reflected a similar split on how the Church has reacted to a rapidly modernized society. Some 58 percent of respondents felt the Church has failed to keep pace with changing times, 31 percent said the Church has adjusted well, while, six percent felt the Church had gone too far to accommodate a new society.

There was greater unanimity on other issues. The majority felt the role of women in the Church deserved more recognition. It was also felt that the taking of Holy Communion was a matter of private conscience for churchgoers and that adverse publicity in the media following a spate of clerical abuse cases had damaged the Church’s reputation in Ireland.

Most of the respondents were aged over 55, reflecting the age profile of priests in Ireland. The number of vocations has dwindled, and at present there are 2,949 active diocesan priests with another 575 retired, ill or working abroad.

Report Highlights Lifestyle Changes

Life expectancy in Ireland has increased by six years since the country joined the European Union, according to a new report issued by the Central Statistics Office. The 2004 CSO Report on social and economic conditions reveals huge changes in Ireland since 1973, including a surge in population by almost one million people.

Life expectancy is now 75 years for males and 80 years for females. The vast majority of marriages are still celebrated in Catholic churches but the proportion of civil marriage ceremonies is rising steadily. Ireland’s divorce rate is also increasing since its introduction in 1996 – last year 2,970 divorces were granted.

The number of people in third-level education has increased five-fold. The economic index has changed spectacularly with GDP per capita tripling in real terms, surpassing the average EU income. However this new affluence is reflected in spiralling house prices. In 1973 the average price of a new house was Euro9,206; last year the corresponding figure was Euro291,646.

“Ireland has been transformed from an isolated country with an over-dependence on the UK as a main trading partner to a prosperous member of the European Union,” states the 450-page report. Prior to joining the EU, some 55 percent of Irish exports went to the UK. That figure now stands at 18 percent with a corresponding shift from agricultural goods to computers and chemicals.

The number of motorists on Irish roads has doubled in two decades and Ford is the highest selling car. Last year Sean and Emma were the most popular names for babies in Ireland.

Finucane Family Demands Full Inquiry

The family of murdered solicitor Pat Finucane has reiterated its call for a full inquiry into his 1989 assassination. The British government is due to outline how it intends to investigate the murder, but early indications from Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy suggest that part of the inquiry will be conducted privately because of British security concerns.

The Finucane family rejected any diminution of a public inquiry and said it was not prepared to cooperate with anything less than a full, open investigation. Following an hour-long meeting in Dublin with the Finucanes, Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern said the Irish government would support the family’s position on the matter.

Nationalists have strongly criticized the British government for dragging its feet on the investigation. Canadian Judge Peter Cory has already made recommendations on how an inquiry should proceed, but Cory’s findings have not been made public.

Speaking on behalf of his murdered father, Michael Finucane said the family would withdraw from any investigation short of a full, independent inquiry. He told reporters he was satisfied that the Taoiseach agreed “a proper government inquiry is the only mechanism that will address the killing” and that this position had been “conveyed forcefully” to the British government.

“The Army are involved, the police are involved, MI5 are involved,” he added. “The British establishment is very keen to keep it secret and suppressed and this is why new legislation is being brought in.”

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) supported the call to publish the Cory Report and the Stevens Report (on security forces colluding with loyalist gunmen). The Council has campaigned for an independent judicial inquiry into the murders of Pat Finucane, Rosemary Nelson and others where collusion was suspected between the British security forces and loyalist paramilitaries.

“The Stevens report reaches very damning conclusions on the collusion between security forces and the murder of Patrick Finucane, the involvement of agents in murder and the avoidability of his death. Yet none of this evidence is new,” said ICCL Director Aisling Reidy. “It does not go far enough in providing answers to the murder of Patrick Finucane and other human rights defenders. Nor, importantly, does it address the extent of state responsibility borne by the British Government for collaboration between the RUC, the British Army and loyalist paramilitaries.

“These are not new allegations. They are not new facts. It is no longer acceptable that inquiry after inquiry is conducted and that there is still no accountability for those who were involved in the murder of solicitor Patrick Finucane. The repetitive police investigations are not providing answers for the family, nor are they getting to the core problem of collaboration, impunity and human rights violations which have yet to be addressed.” ♦

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