February March 2002 Issue – Irish America https://irishamerica.com Irish America Magazine Mon, 15 Jul 2019 20:00:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.10 82361074 Denis Leary Honors New York’s Heroes https://irishamerica.com/2002/02/denis-leary-honors-new-yorks-heroes/ https://irishamerica.com/2002/02/denis-leary-honors-new-yorks-heroes/#respond Fri, 01 Feb 2002 09:00:39 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=43075 Read more..]]> It’s an unseasonably balmy October night a little ever a month since the tragedy of September 11 and a well-heeled crowd has gathered at the trendy Park restaurant in Manhattan for a benefit organized by Denis Leary’s Firefighter’s Foundation to raise money for the families of the 343 firefighters who lost their lives on that terrible day.


To the backdrop of Celtic tunes played by the Mount Kisco Scottish Pipe and Drum Band, handsome firemen in their dress blue uniforms mingle with celebrities, including James Gandolfini and the cast of The Sopranos, Liam Neeson, Robert de Niro, Harrison Ford, Penny Marshall, Richard Gere, Julianne Moore and Jon Stewart. Waiters float around with Cosmopolitans and platters of fried calamari and chicken satay, and giggly girlfriends take turns snapping photos of each other with hunky firemen. The World Trade Center disaster is never far from anyone’s thoughts but this night is a chance for New York’s Bravest to get their minds off the horrors they now face on a daily basis, particularly the daunting task of searching for their brothers, fathers, friends in that still-smoldering mass of rubble known as Ground Zero. In keeping with the festive spirit, actress Patti D’Arbanville, wife of New York City firefighter Terry Quinn and event co-coordinator, even ran a “Kiss a Fireman” booth. There were many takers.

“We’re looking to bring a smile to their faces and raise a lot of money in one shot,” says actor/comic Denis Leary, 43, who started The Leary Firefighters Foundation a year ago when six firefighters including his cousin were killed on the job in his hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts. Just a few weeks prior to this event he hosted a charity hockey game in that city (attended by Michael J. Fox, Conan O’Brien and former Boston Bruins) and as the enormity of the loss of life in Manhattan began to sink in he knew he had to take action. “A lot of the New York guys came up to our event in Worcester. It was the first time they had taken a break since September 11 and it really gave them a boost to have a few days where they were just laughing and enjoying themselves. So we’re looking to do the same thing here.” When he takes the stage, he tells the audience, “Please open your wallets, be nice to the firemen, say hello. Let’s show them a good time. If I had a pair of tits, I’d be showing them tonight!” The crowd goes wild. The revelry continues when Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick belt out a number from the musical Oklahoma!

Left to Right: Liam Neeson with wife Natasha Richardson, Denis Leary and Edie Falco at the Leary Firefighters Foundation Benefit at The Park restaurant, to support the families of the NY firefighters lost in the WTC tragedy on 9/11/01.

The mood turns somber when an emotional Steve Buscemi, a former firefighter with Engine Company 25, begins a heartbreaking eulogy to his many slain friends but can’t be heard above the din. James Gandolfini suddenly grabs the mike. “Will you please shut up?” he yells. “Can you please just be quiet for five minutes? Let’s remember why we are here.” With that the room falls silent. And not just because it’s Tony Soprano. Reminders of exactly why we are here are scattered throughout the room — crayon drawings by children of the fallen firefighters depicting the burning buildings and their hero dads running into them (some 1,000 kids will grow up without their fathers). The main event, a live auction of items like tickets to The Producers, a Derek Jeter jersey, and a signed guitar from Sting, were scooped up in record time. Amid joy and sorrow, an estimated $325,000 was raised for the foundation.

“No matter how much we make it’s just a drop in the bucket compared with what we are going to need,” says Leary, as he loosens his tie. It’s a few days before the Park event and we are on the set of his ABC show The Job, a comedy about a street-smart New York City detective named Mike McNeil. In addition to playing the lead role, Leary co-created the series (filmed in locations around the city and in a Long Island City studio) and co-writes it with Peter Tollan. He is dressed in a charcoal gray suit with a light gray shirt and silvery tie with blue flecks which bring out the color of his intense blue eyes. Though his schedule is incredibly busy, he has agreed to sit down with Irish America because he is so passionate about his cause and eager to get the word out. “One of the things I wanted to make certain when I formed the foundation was that the money would go directly into the hands of the firefighters and their families. It’s one of the troubling aspects of watching this money float in that, due to the nature of the beast, not all of it is going to make it where it’s meant to go. Our immediate goal is to get as much money in their hands as possible — each of these 343 families will receive an individual check. The long-range goal is to get them better pay and better equipment.”

Robert DeNiro and Denis Leary with two NY firefighters at the benefit organized by Leary to raise money for firefighters families.

He pauses to light a Marlboro Light.

“Firefighters don’t get paid much to begin with. Their starting salary is $32,000 a year before taxes. People don’t realize that almost every single one of those guys has a second and third job. My cousin worked in construction and carpentry, a lot of them are electricians. I’d like to see them in a position where this job is all they have to worry about and not about feeding their kids and paying their mortgages,” he says “Everyone is talking about how great they were and how much they admire them, but not one politician — and I spoke to Senator Kerry about this when he was at the event in Worcester — not one politician has stepped forward and said `Hey, don’t you think that maybe we should pay these guys a little more?’ I mean, we’re sending $320 million in federal aid to Afghanistan. These guys have been at the bottom of the totem pole from day one…we’re going to make the noise for them.”

His eyes are as focused as laser beams. If Denis Leary was determined before September 11, now he’s truly a man on a mission. Like the rest of the city and, indeed, the world, he was shocked and stunned by what happened on that clear September morning. “I was on my way to play hockey at Chelsea Piers with a friend. We turned a corner and saw the smoke and thought, `What the fuck is that?’ We didn’t know it was a plane that hit the second building, we thought it just looked like an explosion. We stood in the median in the middle of the West Side Highway, watching both buildings burn. The fire trucks and ambulances were racing past us. We got stuck down there for several hours because they turned the Chelsea Piers rink into a triage center. Once the buildings collapsed, all hell broke loose. The phones weren’t working so I couldn’t get through to anybody. It was only on Wednesday that we were able to find out who was missing and who was not. Two firefighters that I knew were gone, and Ace Bailey, a former Boston Bruin and now a scout for the L.A. Kings, was on the second plane. For Terry and Patti it was 60 guys gone, including the godfather of one of their kids. It’s just astonishing.”

Pictured at Denis Leary’s Celebrity Hat Trick hockey game to benefit The Firefighter Foundation are (left to right) comedian Conan O’Brien, actress Elizabeth Hurley, Denis Leary’s mother Nora and Denis Leary, Sept. 30, 2001.

I ask if he’s been to Ground Zero. “Yeah, I did go, early on. A couple of guys that I knew were down there digging. It’s not a pretty place. It’s a big celebrity thing now to go down there. I would tell people, be happy if you don’t have to go down there. The smell alone is terrible. It’s mind-boggling when you think about the magnitude of it all. This is the biggest and best fire department in the world. You ask any firefighter from anywhere in the country, they talk about New York. They talk about the training these guys have and the experience these guys have. The last thing they want to worry about is their paycheck. If my celebrity can open doors and help raise money, then that is what it should be used for.”

As a child growing up in an Irish-Catholic family in working-class Worcester, Leary probably never imagined that he’d ever be in a position to give back in such a positive way, but community and family have always been a constant in his life. His mother, Nora, a homemaker, and father, John, who worked a series of blue-collar jobs to support Denis and his three siblings, always made sure that family came first. “My parents were always around, and if they weren’t around because of work, you were stuck in your cousin’s house. It was one of those neighborhoods where everybody knows everybody, so there was always someone watching you and you couldn’t get away with anything. One of my uncles was on the police force. It was ridiculous. If you got caught you’d prefer to be held in jail than go home, it was the worst beating you could get,” he says with a smile.

As in so many Irish families, humor was a way of dealing with tough times in the Leary household. “My father was a really funny guy. Sarcastically funny and just funny in general. We grew up laughing at adversity and laughing at people in the family. It was just always there. If you did something stupid it was going to be brought back over and over again, the most embarrassing moments.” In addition to his knack for comedy, Denis was also a gifted writer and possessed a strong stage presence. “I was a really bad student. I wanted to be a professional hockey player. Luckily, I stumbled upon theater. Some nun stuck me in a play in grammar school. I met girls and I was like, wow! She saw something in me and thank God she did because I’d be screwed right now if she hadn’t. She knew some people at Emerson College in Boston, so she set up an audition for me. Her name was Sr. Rosemary Sullivan; she died just this past summer. She was an extraordinary person. She saved my life.” He takes another drag of his cigarette.

Denis Leary backstage at a comic edition of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Left to right: Regis Philbin, host of Millionaire and former Irish America Top 100 honoree, Leary’s children Jack and Devon, and Jack’s friend Nick, September, 2001.

“Denis, we’re ready for you now.”

I turn to find an assistant director, who looks all of 25, summoning Denis to the fictional precinct room to do a few scenes. He disappears for a half hour, and when he returns he has ditched the suit for a more casual short-sleeved cream button-up shirt and slacks. You can’t help noticing that he is taller and leaner than you expect, and that rugged Irish charm and no-bull-shit attitude that comes across on screen is much more potent in person. It’s that gruff disposition — well, he’s lightened up a bit from the days when he chewed out anyone who didn’t smoke five packs a day, drink whisky and eat red meat — that helped propel Leary to stardom. In 1992, his hilarious one-man show No Cure for Cancer (which he says came from “family experiences and my observations and my take on things”) introduced his singular brand of comedy to New York audiences, and his career has been on the rise ever since. Film credits include The Ref, Wag the Dog, Demolition Man, and The Thomas Crown Affair with two more on the way — Final with Hope Davis in December and Double Whammy with Elizabeth Hurley in February. Though he would love to do another comedy special for HBO (Lock `n’ Load followed No Cure), his main focus right now is The Job which begin its second season in January.

“I developed this series for my production company, Apostle, based on the true life of a friend of mine who is a detective named Mike Charles, but when Peter and I got the script together I thought to myself, this is going be a great character. I would be an idiot to let someone else play it. Plus, all the actors are so good it’s easy to write for them. It’s really been a dream job.” He also says that he prefers television to feature films because he has more control over the product. “On location, you may not like the people you’re working with and you’re stuck under somebody else’s vision. For any actor, eight out of ten films you make are going to suck and I don’t want to be stuck in Toronto or Utah for three months. I don’t like being away from New York.”

Denis Leary and co-star Bill Nunn on the set of his hit TV series The Job.

Though he is from Massachusetts he considers himself a New Yorker at heart and keeps an apartment on the Upper West Side. He also has a farm in Connecticut where his wife, screenwriter Ann Lembeck, and his two children Jack, 12, and Devon, 10, reside. “I am pretty much an East Coast person. New York, Boston, London and Pads is pretty much all I need,” he says. And, of course, Ireland. “I am strongly connected to my Irish roots. My mother and father grew up on adjoining farms outside Killarney which is now one big farm. Anywhere you go in that area of Kerry up to the Dingle Peninsula are Learys, O’Sullivans, Burkes — all part of the same clan. Even when we didn’t have any money, we found a way to scrabble something together to get everybody over there. Now, I try to get back there as often as possible with my kids. This past summer I took them and a bunch of my nieces and nephews over there and just let them run around like maniacs. They’d go into Killarney at night as a gang with the big ones in charge of the little ones, just like I used to do with my cousins. Twenty of us would just about raid the town, we’d eat, drink, meet girls, the whole nine yards. It’s important to me that my kids know their family in Ireland.”

It’s unlikely he’ll be taking any extended trips in the near future. Leary’s workload for the show is intense. A typical day of shooting can last up to 15 hours, which doesn’t leave time for much else — except for the occasional hockey game at Chelsea Piers with buddies like Scott Wolf, Michael J. Fox and Tim Robbins. But you can be sure that he will continue to work with The Leary Firefighters Foundation. No doubt, the many men he is helping are thankful to have such a staunch supporter in Denis Leary. I ask if he has ever considered running for political office. “I am passionate about it but that’s not my job. This is my job,” he says as he motions with his hands to the cameras and the lights. “But as I said in Massachusetts and as I will say in New York and say every time I run into a politician of note, I will tell him our message — that our aim is to get firefighters more money on every front. He can tell us it’s not going to happen but we’re not going to take no for an answer.”

Now, just who are you going to put your money on? ♦

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The First Word: Love Lights Up The Darkness https://irishamerica.com/2002/02/the-first-word-love-lights-up-the-darkness/ https://irishamerica.com/2002/02/the-first-word-love-lights-up-the-darkness/#respond Fri, 01 Feb 2002 08:59:23 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=42989 Read more..]]> “We want to tell the people of Afghanistan that we don’t hold them responsible for the actions of a few terrorists…. As Americans, we’re bigger than Sept. 11.”

– Emergency Service Unit Detective Thomas McDonald


The New Year is approaching fast as I write this in late December. Looking back on what started out as such a hopeful year, it is hard to see back past the darkness of September 11. It’s as if all the good times and deeds of several lifetimes got swallowed up in the black smoke of the burning towers.

Yet, as I write this on December 21, the day of Winter Solstice, I know that in Newgrange, Ireland’s ancient burial mound in Country Meath, on this very morning, as it has for thousands of years, the rays of the rising sun pierced the gloom and bathed the inner chamber in a golden light that signaled the season of rebirth and nature’s promise that the darkest days always beget light.

The ancient Celts believed that Solstice is the moment when the old solar year dies and the Goddess gives birth to the Divine child (the new solar year). According to ancient myth, Newgrange, which dates to 3000 BC, older than the Pyramids, is the abode of Aengus, the great god of love.

I have need for such myth now. A need to think on the eternal cycle of birth, death and rebirth. A need to look at the history of my people and all people and the tough road of their passage and know that they have endured. And I have a need to believe in the god of love — for love is the most powerful weapon of all.

Out of the darkness of September 11 has come not only an outpouring of love and compassion but a shift in our perception of what “greatness” means.

This was never more evident than at the fundraiser for Denis Leary’s Firefighter Fund. The event was replete with Hollywood stars, but the firefighters in their dress blues were, as Jill Fergus tells us in her interview with Leary, the main attraction.

It was one of several events that I’ve attended in the last couple of months that lifted my spirits. Another was our Business 100 lunch on November 20, two days before Thanksgiving. Tom Coughlin, the president of Wal-Mart was our keynote speaker. Tom, one of 10 children, exudes warmth and humor. He talked about the best of Irish traits, instilled in him by his Irish grandfather. “Never be a quitter” is one.

Like so many Irish, Tom’s father had been a fireman and then a policeman, and one of the things that made our lunch so special was the presence of members of the Police and Fire Departments.

I think that we Irish have need for such gatherings now. We have need for community. A need to talk about the events.

We know the necessity of friends and family coming together in the best tradition of an Irish wake, not to mourn the dead but celebrate their life.

The American Ireland Fund, which promotes peace and culture in Ireland, held a holiday gathering and announced that it had donated a million dollars to the fund for the victims of Sept. 11. Several of our “Wall Street 50” who had lost colleagues and family were in attendence — a testament to how important Ireland is to Irish Americans.

Another event that lifted all our spirits was the “Healing” concert in Yankee Stadium. As our Irish representative, tenor Ronan Tynan did us proud. In an interview with Siobhan Tracey in this issue, Ronan talks about one of his own proudest moments — being named an honorary fireman.

The firemen and police continue to inspire. On this Winter Solstice day of light, a group of New York City firemen and cops will deliver 45 tons of humanitarian aid to the people of Afghanistan.

Emergency Service Unit Detective Thomas McDonald said, “We want to tell the people of Afghanistan that we don’t hold them responsible for the actions of a few terrorists…. As Americans, we’re bigger than Sept. 11.”

Thomas is the brother of Steven McDonald, who has made three peacekeeping missions to Northern Ireland, though confined to a wheelchair after being shot in the line of duty.

If it takes reminding of what we have to be grateful for this holiday season, the two McDonald brothers do the job. Steven will again travel to Ireland for the January 31 anniversary of Bloody Sunday, which reminds us to be thankful to the Americans who provided the blueprint for the Good Friday Agreement and hopes for a more peaceful future in Northern Ireland.

Of the many messengers of love around this holiday season, one is the aptly named Father “Aengus” Finucane, whose Irish relief organization Concern is to be found in every troubled spot in the world and is presently in Afghanistan, bringing food, shelter, education, hope and love.

As John Lennon sang, “All We Need Is Love,” and sure wasn’t he Irish too. May the god of love shine his light on all of you in the coming year. ♦

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Firefighters Honored by Dublin Counterparts https://irishamerica.com/2002/02/firefighters-honored-by-dublin-counterparts/ https://irishamerica.com/2002/02/firefighters-honored-by-dublin-counterparts/#respond Fri, 01 Feb 2002 08:58:21 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=43087 Read more..]]> Fire fighter Sean Cummins from Dublin, who works out of Squad One in Brooklyn, New York, narrowly escaped death in the Twin Towers disaster on September 11. He was scheduled to work that day, and had traded time off with a colleague because he wanted to drop his mother, Marie, to the airport. She was returning to Ireland after visiting her son, his wife, Maureen, and their three little girls at their home in Queens, New York.

Had he not taken the time off, he most likely would have been one of the first on the scene at Ground Zero, along with most of the men from Squad One. On that horrendous day, 12 of his 26 colleagues died in the inferno. Sean Cummins heard the news as he drove his mother to Kennedy Airport, and he immediately turned around and went straight to work.

The plight of New York’s firemen resonated with their counterparts across the globe, and Ireland was no exception. Sean Cummins’s mother, Marie, lives in Coolmine Close in Dublin, almost directly beside the firehouse in the suburb of Blanchardstown, on Dublin’s north side. All the firefighters know her, and when they heard of Sean’s experiences, they decided they wanted to do something to mark the event and to show their solidarity.

John Halstead, who has been a fireman for almost 20 years, explained what they did. “We knew Sean’s mother was worried about him, with all that he had been through, and we thought it would be nice to get him home for a break. We decided to twin the two fire stations, and organized a memorial for those men from Squad One who died.”

At the beginning of December, Sean Cummins was present when a plaque was unveiled at Blanchardstown Fire Station, bearing the names of both stations and the crest of the Dublin Fire Brigade. He was given an identical plaque to take back to Brooklyn.

“It’s fate that he didn’t end up like the others who died,” said John Halstead. “He was supposed to be working that day. I think he enjoyed his trip home because he could talk to us about his experiences. He could relate to us because we have had some of the same experiences, although obviously nothing like what he saw in New York. It must be incredibly hard to lose half your unit like that. We stayed up until 1.45 a.m. talking to him.”

Speaking in New York on his return from Dublin, Sean Cummins commented that “It was great meeting the guys in Dublin — I spent one night just talking to them. It meant such a lot to know that people 3,000 miles away felt the same way that we did. It was amazing to know that they supported us.” He added that the plaque had already been hung on the wall of the Brooklyn firehouse, albeit in a temporary location, until a planned permanent memorial is erected. ♦

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Dublin Woman Returns Home to Heal After Sept. 11 https://irishamerica.com/2002/02/dublin-woman-returns-home-to-heal-after-sept-11/ https://irishamerica.com/2002/02/dublin-woman-returns-home-to-heal-after-sept-11/#respond Fri, 01 Feb 2002 08:57:55 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=43091 Read more..]]> In December, Dublin woman Angela O’Reilly, 34, who lost her husband, in the World Trade Center attack moved back to Ireland from her previous home in Farmingdale, Long Island. Her husband of twelve years, Police Officer Vincent Danz, driving his Emergency Service Police Truck from the Bronx, reached the World Trade Center soon after the planes hit on September 11 and was last seen entering the Towers. Angela, together with her three young daughters, Winifred, 8, Emily, 5, and Abigail, 8 months, has moved back with her parents where Angela hopes “it will probably be more real.” ♦

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Fury Over Claim That Omagh Bomb Warnings Were Ignored https://irishamerica.com/2002/02/fury-over-claim-that-omagh-bomb-warnings-were-ignored/ https://irishamerica.com/2002/02/fury-over-claim-that-omagh-bomb-warnings-were-ignored/#respond Fri, 01 Feb 2002 08:56:38 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=43094 Read more..]]> A report on the Omagh atrocity has heavily criticized the controversial Special Branch of the Northern Irish police force for allegedly failing to act on an informer’s warning that dissident republicans intended to launch an attack in the County Tyrone town. A wave of disgust greeted the news that the warning had been received 11 days before the massive Real IRA bomb ripped the heart out of the town, killing 29 people, including one woman who was eight months pregnant with twins, on August 15, 1998.

Senior Ulster Unionists have attacked the report’s author, Police Ombudsman (Police Complaints Commissioner) Nuala O’Loan, rather than criticize senior Special Branch members who appeared to have ignored the warning. Mrs. O’Loan refused a request by Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan for a delay in publication to allow a point-by-point reply to be formulated.

Flanagan said the report “contained so many significant factual inaccuracies, unwarranted assumptions, misunderstanding and material omissions” that a request has been made to the Ombudsman’s office for a reasonable period of time “to respond in detail with what we see as the serious deficiencies in this report.”

Mrs. O’Loan and her investigators began her probe into the police intelligence files on the attack, after newspapers printed an informer’s claim that he had tipped off police about a planned dissident republican bomb attack. The informer did not specify Omagh, but while investigating the claim, the Ombudsman’s team discovered evidence of another, more detailed warning. The second tip-off, made on August 4, 1998 to an Omagh detective constable, lasted more than 10 minutes and revealed that an attack would take place in the town on August 15. The detective constable, who is said in O’Loan’s report to have acted responsibly at all times, passed the information to his superior who then briefed the Special Branch. The highly secretive group, which operates closely with British intelligence agencies, is said not only to have refused to act on the tip-off but also to have failed to link the information about an imminent bombing with the warning of an attack on Omagh. O’Loan’s report stopped short of saying that the attack could have been prevented but did say that increased security patrols and roadblocks in the vicinity of the town on August 15 could have deterred the bombers.

Police Chief Sir Ronnie Flanagan, who is due to retire next May, leapt to the defense of his Special Branch, claiming the August 4 telephone call gave no indication of a forthcoming attack. Flanagan also denied suggestions that the information had been suppressed to protect Special Branch officers. He said that the police enquiry into the bombing “remained current and alive.” He would bring in an outside team “if that is what it would take to reassure victims that no stone will be left unturned in this investigation.”

Ulster Unionist Party former security spokesman Ken Maginnis claimed in a typically blunt comment that “the Ombudsman had walked through police interests and community interests like a suicide bomber.”

Sinn Féin MP Pat Doherty, however, insisted there had been a police cover-up. He said O’Loan’s findings suggested that action could have been taken to try to prevent the attack on Omagh town center. Doherty added that he did not accept that the tip-off had nothing to do with the bomb and called for all information held by the police and intelligence services to be released.

Flanagan issued a statement saying that he may take legal action to have the report quashed. “So gross is this report that legal advice is being taken both on a personal and organisational basis. On an organizational basis we are considering whether it may be appropriate to take legal remedy to have this report quashed.” ♦

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EU Search for Death Smugglers https://irishamerica.com/2002/02/eu-search-for-death-smugglers/ https://irishamerica.com/2002/02/eu-search-for-death-smugglers/#respond Fri, 01 Feb 2002 08:55:30 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=43097 Read more..]]> Police across Europe are trying to find the gang who transported eight asylum seekers to their death in Ireland. The dead, who included three children, were found in Wexford on December 14, when a truck driver opened the sealed steel container of his lorry. Five others, suffering pulmonary and kidney problems caused by low oxygen levels, hypothermia and dehydration, were brought to hospital to recover from the horrific journey.

Those who died included members of two families from eastern Turkey, believed to have been Kurds, a community which has suffered human rights abuses at the hands of the Turkish and Iraqi administrations. The families had paid between $5,000 and $8,000 per person to traffickers and believed they were being brought to Britain. Instead, they were loaded onto the wrong container in Zeebrugge in Belgium and brought to Ireland, a journey which took 54 hours in Gale Force 10 winds.

Belgian police were questioning two men about the smuggling operation. The driver of the lorry which brought the container from Cologne to Zeebrugge was also quizzed as well as a French national who is suspected of having driven some of the group from France to Belgium.

The deaths have shocked the nation. Though it is the first time that someone had died while trying to get into Ireland, in June, 2000, 58 Chinese died trying to get into Britain, via Kent. In that tragedy, there was one survivor and the Dutch driver of the lorry was convicted of conspiracy and manslaughter and received a 14-year sentence.

The recent deaths in Ireland have focused attention on both the Irish government’s and the EU’s attitude toward asylum seekers. A spokesperson for Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Bertie Ahem said that while the EU is not “Fortress Europe,” it had to have emigration controls. Green Party MEP Patricia McKenna criticized the government’s position saying that “Smugglers thrive out of human misery thanks to these tough laws.” She criticized a proposal to have an EU-wide quota system for asylum seekers and urged that a humanitarian approach to be taken.

Irish Minister for Justice John O’Donoghue has said that if the survivors wish to remain in Ireland, their applications would be dealt with sympathetically. ♦

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Irishmen Arrested in Columbia Claim to be Tourtists https://irishamerica.com/2002/02/irishmen-arrested-in-columbia-claim-to-be-tourtists/ https://irishamerica.com/2002/02/irishmen-arrested-in-columbia-claim-to-be-tourtists/#respond Fri, 01 Feb 2002 08:54:26 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=43100 Read more..]]> In August, three Irish men claiming to be tourists, were arrested in Columbia after having apparently taking part in a five week summer training camp with a Columbian terrorist group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (“FARC”).

The three men, Martin McCauley, James Monaghan and Niall Connolly, entered Colombia on false papers claiming to be journalists. They also claimed to be in the demilitarized zone, an area of land under rebel control, to determine the status of peace negotiations between the government and FARC.

Though Sinn Féin sought to distance themselves in the face of Unionist outrage, the three have well-documented links with the Provisional IRA. James Monaghan, convicted in 1971 of planting incendiary bombs in a shop, was included on a Sinn Féin list of “on the run” names during negotiations with the government. He is believed by security forces to be the IRA’s head of engineering. Martin McAuley was wounded by an undercover RUC unit, who shot dead his companion, Michael Tighe, in 1982 — one of the incidents which sparked the shoot-to-kill inquiry. Sinn F?in’s president, Gerry Adams admitted in October that the third man, Niall Connolly, was Sinn Féin’s representative in Cuba.

The men were initially incarcerated in the notorious La Modela prison, where a regime of torture and terror, allegedly, exists and where riots and killings are routine. After the killing of another prisoner, the men were moved to the Dijin interrogation centre, seen as being marginally safer than La Modela. Unlike most jurisdictions, in Colombia, detainees can be held without formal charges being brought against them and the three currently face the prospect of a year’s detention in difficult conditions before being formally charged.

If it is proven that they were indeed on an IRA mission to FARC, it is likely to harm Sinn Féin’s already weakened US standing. Currently, Sinn Féin raises about $700,000 annually in the US. If convicted, the men face sentences of up to 16 years in prison.

The arrest of a fourth Irishman in Colombia in August ended happily for him when he was released and deported after police found no link between him and the three detainees. Kevin Crennan was in Colombia legally and had a genuine passport. He had last been heard of by his overjoyed family in 1994 and returned to Ireland to a joyful family reunion. ♦

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Sellafield – Round One Goes to Britain https://irishamerica.com/2002/02/sellafield-round-one-goes-to-britain/ https://irishamerica.com/2002/02/sellafield-round-one-goes-to-britain/#respond Fri, 01 Feb 2002 08:53:05 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=43102 Read more..]]> Ireland has lost round one in its fight to close the MOX plant at Sellafield, failing in its bid to get an injunction preventing the opening of the controversial mixed-oxide reprocessing plant.

The controversial nuclear facility recommenced operations in December, clearing the way for armed shipments of nuclear waste to be transported up and down the Irish coast.

A 21-judge UN Law of the Sea tribunal ruled that Britain could go ahead with the plant. The ruling means that in the New Year, shipments of fuel will be transported in heavily armored ships, armed with 30mm cannons and accompanied by armed officers from the UK Atomic Energy Authority through the Irish Sea.

The decision is a major blow to the Irish government and Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahem, who have made great efforts to close down the nuclear facility, just 60 miles off the Irish coast.

The MOX plant will produce nuclear fuel from nuclear waste, some of which will be imported through the Irish Sea from Germany and Japan.

In the wake of the September 11 attacks, there were heightened fears that the plant could be targeted by terrorists and that Ireland would suffer catastrophic consequences. However, Sellafield has long been a source of worry for people living along the East Coast. There have been reports of cancer clusters in Co. Louth which locals believed were caused by the plant.

There is also concern about the ongoing pollution of the Irish Sea. A recent report suggested that an attack on Sellafield would be 50 times worse than the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl and would leave hundreds of thousands of Irish people suffering from cancer.

The government has vowed to fight on. Preparations are underway to bring a case to the European Court of Justice to argue that the MOX plant is economically unviable and therefore illegal un-der the Euratom Treaty. They are also taking a parallel case, through the North Atlantic maritime organization, OSPAR, claiming that the British have refused to give sufficient safety information about the plant and therefore it should be closed.

It was not all bad news from Hamburg either. The court acknowledged for the first time that Ireland has a right under International Law to be involved in developments at Sellafield. It ordered Britain to consult with Ireland and exchange information on the plant’s effect on the Irish Sea as well as to devise measures to prevent marine pollution.

The decision also left the door open for an eleventh-hour appeal. It said Ireland’s plea for an injunction was premature because the British had given assurances that although the plant will be running from December, it will not transport material from the plant until October. It called on both countries to submit further information within a fortnight and if the President of the Court is not satisfied with the information given he could make further orders.

Attorney General Michael McDowell, who led Ireland’s legal team, said the government was “undaunted” by the setback, “Britain can no longer hold back information in the way it has done in the past about the economic justification for Sellafield or the safety risks involved. We are just as entitled as the people of Cumbria, London or anywhere else to know the implications for the safety of the Irish people and the pollution avoidance in the Irish Seas as any of them.” The failure of Britain to consult with Ireland is now “unlawful,” he added. ♦

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Dublin Mayor Launches NYC Campaign https://irishamerica.com/2002/02/dublin-mayor-launches-nyc-campaign/ https://irishamerica.com/2002/02/dublin-mayor-launches-nyc-campaign/#respond Fri, 01 Feb 2002 08:52:23 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=43105 Read more..]]> Dublin’s Lord Mayor Michael Mulcahy has launched a campaign called “Shoulder to Shoulder” in solidarity with the people of New York. The “civic solidarity campaign” will see plaques erected at Dublin fire and garda stations in memory of those who died in the September 11 attacks.

It is also hoped that at least 100 firefighters and police who were injured or traumatized by the events in New York will be given a holiday in Ireland over the summer.

“We are asking Irish sporting organizations to hold events in New York, and we are also organizing that Irish firemen march in the St Patrick’s Day parade there on March 17,” Michael Mulcahy told The Irish Voice. The Mayor has already invited the outgoing Mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, to march in the next St Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin.

A committee was set up in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks to work on the new campaign. “We want to express our solidarity with New York. We would like to repay the people of that city for all that they have given us over the years,” said the Lord Mayor.

“Obviously tourism has taken a big hit in New York, and Manhattan has been devastated economically, in terms of its shops and theaters and restaurants, so we would like to do our bit to help them bring back the buzz to Manhattan and New York.” ♦

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The Travelling People https://irishamerica.com/2002/02/the-travelling-people/ https://irishamerica.com/2002/02/the-travelling-people/#respond Fri, 01 Feb 2002 08:51:33 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=43108 Read more..]]> In a small village in County Galway, a group of parents decided to keep their children home from school. Their school has just 12 pupils between four and 12 years old, but parents closed it down for a week last September, because they wanted to keep other children out.

The children they wanted to keep out were also Irish. Their parents had grown up in the area, Ballinruane near Menlough, and wanted to return there after spending ten years abroad. But they were “Travellers” and that was a problem.

Travellers are an ethnic minority with a long and colorful tradition in Ireland. And a lengthy history of discrimination: The stand-off in Co. Galway only ended when the Travellers — four families who had made arrangements for nine of their children to attend St Joseph’s School — decided to move on. It was a bitter parody of the forced evictions of Ireland’s past.

There are an estimated 25,000 Travellers in the Republic of Ireland, and around 1,500 in Northern Ireland.

Most of them live the life of their ancestors, roaming from place to place in caravans they park along the roadside, or in government-built “halting sites,” moving on when farmers and others call the police to evict them.

Years ago, the Travellers were credited with bringing Irish music and storytelling from one community to the next. Many present-day musicians will acknowledge their contribution. Ireland’s famous balladeer, the late Luke Kelly of The Dubliners, sang a song in deference to the Travellers which included the words: “Move along, get along, move along, get along, go, move, shift.”

Although the history of the Travellers is not very well documented, research shows references to them in Ireland as far back as the 12th century. This nomadic group has its own language, known as “cant” or “gammon,” and referred to by academics as “shelta.” But they speak English too, only using their own language among themselves.

In the past, Travellers worked as tinsmiths, seasonal farm laborers, and scrap merchants and were welcomed in rural places where they mended buckets and other farm implements in exchange for food and a place to park. Today, however, many Traveller families depend on social welfare for their existence.

According to the Irish government, which recently set up a National Traveller Health Strategy, Travellers’ life expectancy is 11 years less than that of a settled person in Ireland. Infant mortality rates are more than three times the national average, and Travellers have double the national rate of stillbirth and double the national rate of childbirth. Crib death was found to be 12 times more common among Travellers’ babies.

The Director of Public Health at the Mid-Western Health Board, Dr Kevin Kelleher, said that the statistics are alarming. “If you look at Ireland itself, our life expectancy is below the European average, and then you have a section of the Irish community, whose life expectancy is even below that,” he said at a recent public health conference.

“Traditionally the problem is that the services we provide are not attuned to the needs of the Travelling community,” he said. The health services have much to learn about dealing with Traveller traditions, such as dealing with death. “In a situation of death, the entire family and more will want to be in hospital for the last moments of the patient’s life and in general hospitals are not prepared for this. It creates an unhappiness between both Travellers and hospital staff that can be overcome.”

The health services may be making somewhat of an effort to reach out to the Travellers, but not enough is being done, say the people at Pavee Point, a group set up to promote Travellers’ rights. “Pavee” is a name used by Travellers to describe themselves. The organization says that Travellers’ life expectancy is equivalent to that of settled people in the 1940s, and cites a 1986 Economic and Social Research Institute report which found that only five percent of Travellers live to be 50 years old, while only one percent lives until 65, compared to 11 per cent of the settled population.

A member of Pavee Point’s Travellers Primary Healthcare for Travellers Project visiting Traveller families in a North Dublin site.

But the main problem being faced by Travellers, according to Caoimhe McCabe, a spokeswomen for the organization, is that of accommodation. There are not enough halting sites available, she said. “A lot of people presume that Travellers want to live on the side of the road with no facilities, but that’s not the case. They want access to electricity and sanitation, but they also want to live as they always did [moving on when they want]. They should not have to deny that part of their culture. They are used to living within their immediate family group and moving around a lot. It’s alien to them to be put in a halting site with lots of other families and to be told to stay there.” Pavee Point is campaigning for a system of “transient” halting sites, where a family could move from one to the next when a vacancy arises.

If the accommodation problems are not dealt with, the problem of Travellers moving onto private land will continue,” adds Ms. McCabe. And therein lies the nub of the problem. Travellers protesting at the lack of available serviced halting sites continually move their camps on to private land. They stay a while before being moved on by the police. Then they go a few more miles and park on someone else’s land. Along come the police and the cycle continues.

Travellers are sometimes feared and often despised, blamed for crime, and said to be living off the state, uneducated and unwilling to live in a “normal community.” They are refused service in pubs and shops no matter how much money they may have. When they marry, they must travel the country to find a venue, and when one of their clan dies, they gather in thousands to mourn.

This summer in Ireland a number of newspaper reports dealt with the outrage of local citizens at the piles of rubbish left after an encampment had been cleared. In one case outside Dublin, the damage was so great that the clean-up bill was estimated at 70,000 Irish pounds.

And, as I write this article, a debate is raging on a radio talk show about an illegal Traveller encampment on the banks of the Dodder River in South Dublin. A spokesman for the local Council, which is responsible for providing accommodation for Travellers, said that six of his staff of eight are not in work because of stress-related problems caused by the public who were continuously harangueing the Council about not doing its job. There are complaints about a couch and a burned out car on the river’s banks, allegedly belonging to the Travellers.

“That’s not a common experience,” counters McCabe, pointing out that the media are quick to report negative stories about Travellers and don’t bother looking for positive things to report. “You never hear of cases when they leave an area and it’s clean.”

Traveller children playing in Cara Park, Traveller site North Dublin.

There have also been reports of Travelling families extorting money from businesses, by pulling their caravans on to private land, and refusing to leave unless they are paid to do so. Because it can take some time for the police to get an eviction notice, companies usually pay up rather than wait and risk damaging their business in the meantime.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that this has happened, McCabe admitted, but she thinks that such reports may be exaggerated. “I don’t condone that, and people who do it should be prosecuted,” she said, agreeing that Travellers sometimes contribute to their own bad press by their behavior. “Appearing in a newspaper for fighting brings notoriety, they think that’s great,” she said. “People take the high moral ground, but the `fighting Irish’ is not an uncommon stereotype generally.”

So why are Travellers discriminated against? In song and in story, the “Tinkers,” as they were then known in the days before political correctness, were a cherished part of Irish society. What happened?

“I think discrimination was always there,” said McCabe. “But since other ethnic groups (Ireland is experiencing an influx of refugees) have come to Ireland it’s worse. Attitudes have hardened and become more entrenched. The situation has gotten worse for many Travellers, and the settled community has a responsibility to see that they get their full human rights.”

Since the mid-80s, however, Travellers have been participating, in growing numbers, in groups organized to give them a voice at local and national level and to campaign for better conditions. There are how 40 Travellers’ organizations nationwide, and Travellers are becoming more empowered in terms of community development.

There are currently 17 health care projects where Traveller women are trained by local health boards to work in their own communities on public health issues. They liaise with health boards to set up medical appointments and to ensure that “culturally appropriate treatment” is delivered, McCabe said.

One Traveller who is studying community work is Julie Nevin, currently training as an outreach worker at Maynooth College in County Kildare. She has lived in the neighboring County Laois for 12 years: in a house with her husband, John, and their four daughters, Mary, Jean, Winnie and Catherine, for the last eight years, and in a caravan on a halting site for the four preceding years.

“I love traveling,” Mrs. Nevin said, “but I took a house because it was too hard on the children in the winter. It was lovely [traveling], but we might get a week in a camp and then the guards would run us off and we’d have to drag the kids out of school and start somewhere else. Now we just go away for two or three weeks in the summer.”

Mrs. Nevin and her family, one of just 2,000 Traveller families to live in housing, found it difficult to settle into a house at first, and things were not helped by her neighbors, who didn’t want them there. “It was hell on earth,” Mrs. Nevin recalls. One of her daughters was hit on the forehead by a stone thrown by a neighbor. “When I asked why, I was told: `Because she is a f…ing knacker.’ Then our walls were covered in graffiti calling us names. It was terrible.”

The Nevins stuck it out, however, and finally their neighbors settled into a state of grudging acceptance. The children made friends and eventually things improved. “It was just fear of the unknown on both sides,” Mrs. Nevin said. “Young people hear so much talk from their parents and from other kids at school that they think it’s okay to treat us badly. But there are some good settled people and some bad Travellers. Innocent children just get caught up in the discrimination.” She believes that people should be taught about Travellers’ culture to remove the fear of the unknown. “Kids need a better understanding of the fact that it’s okay to be different,” she opined.

Mrs. Nevin is a remarkably strong woman, a leader in her community who finds time to study for a diploma despite the fact that she dropped out of school at the age of 12, a situation common among Traveller children. “When you are shifted from camp to camp it’s not easy to keep Children in school,” she said.

Referring to the situation in the Galway school, Mrs. Nevin said that Travellers’ children are usually asked to sit at the back of the class and are treated differently than other kids when they are accepted in a school. Schools that agree to teach the children receive extra funding, but take the children out of class for remedial teaching, a situation she condemned. “How are they supposed to mix? If they need extra help they should have homework clubs after class, they should not remove the children during class because then they certainly won’t learn. And the differences are again being played up.” She moved her own daughters out of one school to avoid just such a situation.

Police officers use force to remove Travellers from home.

She has happy memories of her childhood, and a strong appreciation for the values passed on by her parents. “They had a huge respect for each other, for the family, and for marriage. They had a love of nature and a deep community spirit. They supported each other and were deeply religious.”

The way forward for the Travelling community, she believes, is through more integration and more understanding on both sides. “When we want to live in towns people must get used to that. Some people want halting sites, and that’s okay, but they must be serviced. Others want group housing, and that’s okay too.”

Since 1995 the government has introduced a series of Accommodation Consultancy Committees on a regional level designed to deal with the problem. These committees are working with local councils to arrange accommodation for Travellers. It was supposed to be a five-year plan to have all Travellers’ living needs taken care of, but there’s still a long way to go.

In Portlaoise town, where the Nevins live, the local halting site is in the middle of an industrial estate, surrounded by oil factories. The overhead barriers at the entrance are locked at night and there are no fire hoses. If a fire were to occur, Mrs. Nevin says, it only takes a caravan three minutes to burn. The fire department would never get there on time. The local council allegedly refused permission to build a house in the area, saying it is not residential land. But it’s obviously good enough for Travellers, she noted ironically.

“If you haven’t got accommodation with toilets and clean water you can’t have good health,” Mrs. Nevin insisted. “And if you can’t stay somewhere as long as you like, your kids can’t get an education.” ♦

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