News From Ireland

By Frank Shouldice, Contributor
December / January 2006

Recent news pieces of Irish and Irish American interest.

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Sean Óg Is a Winner

The captain of the Cork hurling team, Sean Óg ÓhAilpín, is an inspiration in more ways than one.

Captain Sean Óg ÓhAilpín’s Cork hurling team defended its All-Ireland crown on September 11, after an enthralling encounter with Galway.

After dusting himself off and accepting the Liam McCarthy Cup, Sean Óg delivered his victory speech in perfect Irish. The speech began with the line, “Is mór an bóthar o Fiji go Corcaigh agus is mór an bóthar o Core go Pairc an Crocaigh.” This translates, “It’s a long road from Fiji to Cork and a long road from Cork to Croke Park.”

The revered GAA commentator Micheal O Muircheartaigh captured the Cork captain best when he said, “Sean Óg ÓhAilpín: his father’s from Fermanagh, his mother’s from Fiji, neither a hurling stronghold.”

Sean Óg’s mother Emeli comes from Rotuma in Fiji. She met and married Sean Óg’s father Sean and they have four sons, Sean Óg, Setanta, Teu and Aisake (two sons named after their Irish heritage and two named after their Fijian background). Sean Óg spent the first 10 years of his life in Sydney before the family moved to Cork. A dual footballer and hurler, ÓhAilpín won his third All-Ireland hurling medal this year. His winning speech was a throwback to a time when it was the norm for speeches to be made in Irish and not, unfortunately these days the exception.

Sinn Féin were so impressed with the clean-cut Gaelgoir that they tried to persuade him to run as a candidate in the forthcoming general election but ÓhAilpín declined, saying he wanted to concentrate on his sporting and professional responsibilities.

In other Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) news, the GAA will have to rethink the future of the international rules series.

The Irish team, boasting names such as the aforementioned Sean Óg ÓhAilpín, team captain Padraig Joyce and five of the triumphant Tyrone football team, came off second best against the Australian players in recent games in Melbourne and Perth.

Australia defeated Ireland comprehensively by 163 to 106 points in this two-match series, which combines Aussie Rules football with Gaelic football. However, the second match in Melbourne was seriously marred by a litany of dangerous tackling and fist-fighting off the ball, culminating when Australian captain Chris Johnson was sent off for assaulting Tyrone’s Philip Jordan.

Team manager Pete McGrath accepted being beaten by a superior team but condemned the behavior which throws the whole future of the hybrid game into question. “I can’t say strongly enough that what happened out there in certain instances is unacceptable in any sport,” he said. “It goes outside the parameters, putting life and limb at serious risk.” Following the debacle that incensed Irish players and supporters, many are now following Tyrone boss Mickey Harte’s call that the whole experiment should be scrapped.

Dublin Journalist Freed in Iraq

Ahmed Chalabi, the deputy prime minister of Iraq, played a role in the release of Dublin journalist Rory Carroll. The 33-year-old reporter was abducted in Baghdad while covering Saddam Hussein’s televised trial for The Guardian newspaper. He was held for 36 hours but following intense diplomatic efforts between Dublin, London and Baghdad his captors released him unharmed.

“I don’t know who took me,” said Carroll, who added he had been treated “reasonably well” throughout his ordeal. Nobody claimed responsibility for the kidnap but in a time when abduction is an everyday occurrence in Iraq, local criminal gangs are suspected. The correspondent returned to Dublin afterwards but intimated he would like to return to his post in Baghdad. His father Joe Carroll is former U.S. correspondent for the Irish Times.

Slow Progress Despite IRA Compliance

The Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) reported “encouraging” signs that IRA had complied with a July 28 declaration that it would cease paramilitary operations.

The IMA’s report covers the March-August 2005 period and notes a very dramatic fall in IRA activity. The Commission described the downturn as “potentially very significant” but conceded that its next assessment in January will indicate how steady this progress actually may be.

In contrast, loyalist paramilitaries, such as the UVF, LVF and UDA — and dissident republicans (Real IRA and Continuity IRA) — now present the main threat to peace in Northern Ireland. It is against this backdrop that (British) government travel allowances to Sinn Féin, in the sum of £700,000 have been restored by Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain.

Unionist parties have been skeptical of the IMC findings and have also questioned positive soundings from the decommissioning body. “The IRA have proven in the past that they can tactically turn their violence off and on,” responded North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds of the Democratic Unionist Party. “It is clear that the Provisional IRA has much, much more to do to prove that it really has given up all forms of terror and criminality for good.”

Unionists were equally unenthusiastic when Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern announced in Dublin that the traditional 1916 Easter Parade will resume next year. The parade, which had been discontinued in 1970, will bring the Irish Army down O’Connell Street past the General Post Office (GPO), original headquarters of the 1916 Rising.

“The Irish people need to reclaim the spirit of 1916, which is not the property of those who have abused and debased the title of republicanism,” said Ahern, adding that the Irish Army is “the only legitimate army of the Irish people.”

The move was seen as an attempt by Fianna Fáil to reclaim its republican identity on the eve of the 90th anniversary of the Rising. Supported by coalition partners the Progressive Democrats, reinstating the parade also reflects government concern that Sinn Féin will make further electoral gains at the next general election south of the border.

Irish Soccer Boss Axed

Ireland soccer manager Brian Kerr was released by the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) following the team’s failure to qualify for the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany. Kerr’s last game in charge was against Switzerland in Dublin. Ireland needed to beat the Swiss to have any chance of making the finals but a poor display ended in a scoreless draw, dashing any remaining hopes of qualification.

The 52-year-old Dubliner had come under increased pressure after tactical setbacks against Israel, a home defeat to France and a spiritless performance in Cyprus. Kerr succeeded Mick McCarthy as manager of the Irish team, and his ability to coax estranged former Irish captain Roy Keane back into international football earned him widespread praise.

However, failure to qualify for two successive championships led to the FAI’s decision not to renew his contract after 33 months. Prior to the FAI announcement Kerr appeared on the Late Late Show, a popular TV talk show, to present his case. On hearing the news that he was being stood down he expressed that he was “deeply saddened…that I am not being given the opportunity to continue my work with the senior national team.”

Adding that he felt the decision was “shortsighted,” he had yet to consider his options. “I intend to take some time to consider the next step in my career but I do intend to remain involved in professional football.”

The FAI will now undertake to find a replacement. Derry-born Martin O’Neill, a former Northern Ireland captain and ex-manager of Glasgow Celtic, was tipped as a successor but on a recent visit to Dublin he said he was not interested in taking over.

Outcry Over Reports on Lawlor Death

The funeral of former Fianna Fail minister Liam Lawlor took place in Dublin following a fatal car crash in Moscow. The disgraced politician, who spent three spells in Mountjoy Prison for obstructing a public inquiry into corruption, was in a hired car that lost control on the outskirts of Moscow. The Russian driver was also killed. A second passenger, Lawlor’s legal secretary Julia Kushnir, escaped with minor injuries and shock. No other car was involved.

As one of the leading players in the Flood Tribunal — the state’s ongoing investigation into corruption in planning procedures — Lawlor’s reputation was greatly tainted as a figure who used his political office for personal gain. The former public representative has property interests in Eastern Europe and had just arrived in Moscow on business from Prague when the accident occurred.

As news of the fatal crash reached Dublin just prior to publication of Ireland’s Sunday newspapers, Lawlor’s demise was rashly reported in salacious rumor. It was alleged that the politician was in the company of a teenage prostitute when the car went out of control. Julia Kushnir, 33, a Ukrainian national, is a legal assistant who had worked as an interpreter with Lawlor and other foreign investors.

Editors at the Sunday Independent and Sunday Tribune in Dublin apologized unreservedly to the Lawlor family for their newspapers’ coverage of the crash. The London-based Observer also admitted to error. Their Moscow correspondent Nick Paton Walsh, who had been contacted by the Sunday Independent in connection with the story, insisted that it was a police source who first suggested the presence of a prostitute. “I rang an official police spokesperson and relayed only the content of three conversations with this same person to their (Sunday Independent) newsdesk, stressing at one point that it was only a possibility the girl was a prostitute.”

The Lawlor family has reacted angrily to the way the story was handled. Despite Liam Lawlor’s diminished political record, the affair has also prompted calls for a press council to be set up to ensure greater accuracy and integrity in Irish journalism.

News in Short

CHURCH leaders apologized publicly to victims of sexual abuse following publication of a long-awaited report into 40 years of abuse in the Co. Wexford diocese of Ferns. The report identified 26 priests but only named six — as guilty of abusing children and was highly critical of two bishops — Donal Herlihy and Brendan Comiskey — for failing to intervene when they were made aware of what was going on. Over 100 individuals gave explicit testimony to the Ferns Report, detailing how they were repeatedly victimized by local priests. The scale of abuse and the way in which it was allowed to continue has left the Catholic Church spiraling from adverse publicity yet again. The Ferns Report was commissioned by the Minister of Health in 2003 and despite genuine efforts by Bishop Eamonn Walsh, who succeeded Bishop Comiskey, to deal with the issue, it is doubtful that the Catholic Church will ever regain its previous status in Irish society…

FORMER government minister Jim McDaid was fined 750 and disqualified from driving for two years after being convicted of dangerous driving. Following the incident he was found to have consumed over three times the legal limit of alcohol. On the steps of Naas District Court he told reporters, “For me to get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle in my condition was a disgrace. It is something that I will never forget — or indeed, regretfully, never be allowed to forget.” McDaid was once minister of state with responsibility for road safety…

DESPITE the release from jail of five men (known as The Rossport Five) who campaigned against an onshore gas refinery in north Co. Mayo, the 900 million project remains deadlocked over safety fears. Shell E&P Ireland, who launched the project, plans to pipe gas from the Corrib field offshore to a proposed refinery seven miles inland. The gas would be transported via a high-pressure pipeline passing near residents’ homes in the area. Residents feel this puts them in danger in the event of accident and have campaigned to relocate the refinery offshore. Construction of the controversial pipeline has since been stalled because the company did not have legal permission to build it. The government has demanded that the pipeline be dismantled pending further studies…

DONEGAL publican Frank Shortt was awarded damages of 1.93 million for wrongful conviction. The case taken against Shortt arose from charges that he allowed drug dealing in his nightclub at Inishowen, County Donegal. He was imprisoned for 27 months but a subsequent investigation by the Morris Tribunal revealed that his conviction was based on evidence fabricated by gardai in Buncrana. The case spanned 12 years and lawyers for Shortt, now 70, claimed their client was “destroyed” by what transpired. Frank Shortt and his wife Sally expressed disappointment with the court award “in the light of all that has happened.” The family may yet appeal the compensation figure…

NORTHERN Ireland is to follow Dublin’s initiative on banning smoking in public places. The smoking ban will take effect in 2007 but the Minister for Health in Belfast has yet to finalize whether the ban will be partial or complete.

Since legislation became law in the Republic last April researchers report a decrease in respiratory illnesses among bar staff. “I think the smoking ban has had quite significant health implications,” concluded Dr. Shane Allwright of Trinity College Dublin…

THE last surviving Irish veterans of the International Brigade who served in the Spanish Civil War attended a ceremony in Dublin to commemorate those who fought against fascism. Bob Doyle (89) and Michael O’Riordan (88) were welcomed by President Mary McAleese before laying a wreath outside Liberty Hall. ♦

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