February March 2006 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 Galway’s American Tour https://irishamerica.com/2017/04/galways-american-tour/ https://irishamerica.com/2017/04/galways-american-tour/#respond Fri, 28 Apr 2017 21:22:14 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=30056 Read more..]]> Flutist Sir James Galway is internationally regarded as both a matchless interpreter of classical music and a consummate entertainer whose charismatic appeal crosses all musical boundaries. During his 50-year career, the Belfast-born Galway has sold more than 30 million albums and recorded more than 60.

Starting February 22, Sir James will embark on a 22-U.S.-city tour with the Polish Chamber Orchestra as soloist and conductor with his wife Lady Jeanne Galway, also a flutist. Patricia Harty caught up with Sir James by phone from his home in Lucerne, Switzerland just before Christmas.


Are you a flutist or a flautist?

Flutist. I don’t play a flaute. I play a flute!

You’ve been traveling, where?

I just got back right today. I was on a tour of the U.K. I did three big Christmas concerts and three charity concerts — one of them was with Sir Cliff Richards, who is involved in an organization that teaches underprivileged kids and kids with Down Syndrome to play tennis. It was very touching. You’ve got to see the looks on these kids’ faces when they just manage to hit a ball. I also did a concert for cancer research and a concert for the Salvation Army.

Do you feel you have an obligation to give back?

I don’t feel I have an obligation but I just feel it’s something I want to do.

On your upcoming American tour you will be conducting as well as playing. When did you decide to take up the baton?

I’ve been conducting for 25 years. There is a picture of me in New York in 1980 conducting a Mostly Mozart concert. The reason I got into conducting is because I get hired by a lot of conductors who use me to fill the hall, and what happens is that on the day of the performance, I would get 20 minutes to rehearse my piece that takes 20 minutes to play. Meanwhile, they’re rehearsing for six hours the day before — the Beethoven symphony or whatever it is — because they want to make sure it’s a big success. So I got fed up with this. You see, it is a question of getting the thing right. I know the speed I’m comfortable playing at, and when it’s over I don’t want to have to tell the conductor, `Well, it was nice,’ when I know darn well it was not okay.

So, I’m a conductor not because I want to conduct pieces. Although there are orchestras who ask me to do symphony concerts and I do them. I just conducted in Norway. I’m a conductor who conducts because I want to do my own thing.

This wanting to do your own thing — it seems that you are up for anything musically?

You don’t want to be taken in by that. What happened in the early days is that RCA saw what a runaway hit me playing crossover was. [Galway’s version of “Annie Song” written by John Denver sold millions.] So we made a deal; four crossovers and three classical and we kept doing that. So when you look at my output it does look like it’s a bit pop and crossover orientated. But in fact, in my recordings are some of the best flute concertos of all times. Last season I only played two crossover concerts, and they were with the Cincinnati Pops, otherwise I just play and conduct classical music.

Who would you say is your favorite composer?

That’s very difficult to say, very difficult indeed. It’s like asking an actor `who’s your favorite playwright?’ You’ve got to say Shakespeare. And you’ve got to say Mozart, Beethoven, Schuman, Schubert, Hayden, Vivaldi, Bach, all these guys. I mean they all wrote tremendous music.

Have you ever played anything by Northern Ireland composer Hamilton Harty?

No. I do know the flute solo he wrote but I haven’t played it in public.

We haven’t had many great Irish classical composers.

Well, there’s Charles Viller Stanford, born in Dublin, son of a Protestant lawyer, and he became very famous in his time. I actually conducted one of his symphonies, twice in America, once with the Columbia Symphony and once with the Washington Symphony.

So, what’s the best thing about being famous?

I don’t know if you are any better off being famous. Today when I was checking in at the airport, because I had eight bags to check in, the guy behind me was giving me grief and said I should step aside so he could check his four.

How many flutes did you have in your bags?

Only two. But because we were on tour, and it’s Christmas and all the kids give you teddy bears, and someone gives you a book of famous quotations, and another one gives you a book on the streets of Cork — these are all gifts from people and I’m not going to throw them away. I’m taking them home and I’m going to enjoy reading these books and I’m going to enjoy this teddy bear that this little girl gave me in Wales. Because you look around your room and you see all these things and it brings back memories of what you’ve done.

As a Christmas present last year you commissioned a new piece of music by Lowell Libermann for your wife. What did you get her this year?

I bought her a nice necklace from Cartier with earrings to go with it. Don’t even mention the price.

Does it seem unreal to you sometimes — the contrast of growing up poor in Belfast with an outside toilet, and the fact that you can now shop at Cartier?

It does. I sometimes sit here and think that if my parents were alive and were to walk into my house, they would think I was babysitting the house.

Were you aware that you were poor growing up?

No. When you are poor you are not aware of it, but things actually matter when you are poor. It matters if you have a pair of shoes with holes in them or a pair of shoes with less holes in them. When I was a kid I was like a model for Angela’s Ashes. We were so dirty you couldn’t believe it. If we walked into a church they would think we were there to steal the Bible.

Have you been back to Belfast lately?

Oh yes, I played two concerts there, one with the Belfast Youth Orchestra to celebrate its 50 years, and 25 years of the Belfast School of Music, which was a big, big success. We had about 350 kids on stage singing and 100 kids playing the flute! It was great, completely sold out. And two nights later I did a concert for the Salvation Army. I am good friends with the Salvation Army because they do an incredible amount to help the poor. Phil Coulter [singer/composer from Derry] told me that there were several people on his street growing up who wouldn’t have made it if it wasn’t for the Salvation Army.

What’s it like living with another flute player?


Do you practice together?

No. We have a rather large house, so when Jeanne is practicing in the house I can’t even hear her. We do play together from time to time for fun. We play duets. We’ve been married for 21 years, and we’ve been at it for 23 years. We met in New York when I was giving a master class. Jeanne is American-born. She loves Ireland. She thinks Belfast’s great. I showed her where I used to play football, and took her to meet Mrs. Beggs, a neighbor who is now a hundred years old and she remembered me like it was yesterday.

What’s your greatest joy?

Working with students. I’m developing a new website, The Galway Network (www.thegalwaynetwork.com) for serious students and teachers that will include my interviews with soloists, flute exercises and demonstrations. It’s an extension of my organization Flutewise, which is a volunteer-based non-profit organization, which encourages young flute players.

Do you ever have stage jitters?

Never. I say to kids, you have to be able to jump out of bed, pick up your flute and play that thing dead. There’s no working up to it. Know your instrument. Know your music.

So, it takes more than talent?

Yes. You actually have to practice and do a hell of a lot of hard work because the standard is very high and you really need to be very well equipped to enter this profession. And it’s not just a question of talent or how much you practice; it’s a whole lot of things together — endurance, physical strength, concentration.

It’s like the parable in the Bible where the man gives money to his slaves. Two of them went off right away and put their money to work and gained more. But one went out and dug a hole in the ground and hid his money in it. What a waste! ♦

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From Doubt to Defiance https://irishamerica.com/2006/02/from-doubt-to-defiance/ https://irishamerica.com/2006/02/from-doubt-to-defiance/#respond Wed, 01 Feb 2006 14:59:25 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=29978 Read more..]]> “The guy who makes coffee for me I every morning in my local coffee shop in Brooklyn congratulated me when I won the Pulitzer,” recounts John Patrick Shanley with a big grin. “Then, when I won the Tony, the guy says, `This cuppa coffee’s on me.'”

Shanley, the Irish-American playwright and screenwriter, lets out a hoot of laughter. “God knows what I have to do to get a free sandwich!”

His play Doubt, as frugally acknowledged by the proprietor of his local coffee shop, not only won Shanley the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play, but since opening at the Walter Kerr Theatre, it has become the largest grossing play in the history of Broadway. A major accomplishment even allowing for the fact that the price of tickets is at an all-time high and we are talking about straight plays, not musicals.

As dusk falls over Times Square on this chilly afternoon, the twinkling lights on Broadway provide the perfect backdrop to catch up with the prolific writer. Taking tea at the Paramount Hotel, Shanley talks about his new play, Defiance, due to premiere in February at the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York.

Dressed casually in a brown leather jacket, beige T-shirt and jeans, Shanley, without blinking, switches from being boyishly funny to being didactical and unnervingly direct.

“When I wrote Doubt I kicked myself out of the play,” he says, meaning that he did not see himself as one of the characters in the play, as he had figured in most of his own scripts in the past. “And I did the same with Defiance,” which will be the second of what he calls his hierarchy plays.

“In Doubt I’m dealing with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and how it deals with a problem that is not really modern, but one that has come to light in a dramatic way only in recent times. In Defiance I’m dealing with a different institution, the United States Marine Corps, and the American military in general,” he explains.

Doubt is set in the 1960s in a Catholic school in the Bronx, where a nun becomes suspicious when a priest begins to take too much interest in the lives of the young male students.

“The Church was an institution that was very accepted by the order in the society of the day, but it now seems antiquated. I wanted to go back and look at what was alive and what was dead about that institution, and reveal both through a dramatic series of events.”

Shanley often delves into his past for source material. The fact that a member of his family was abused by a priest was “the provocation” for writing Doubt, and his own experiences have also inspired his latest play.

Shanley grew up on Archer Street in the Bronx with four siblings in “a very predictable Catholic household where we said the rosary every Friday night on our knees in the living room.” He was taught by the Sisters of Charity at St. Anthony’s School before being sent to the Irish Christian Brothers, who he says were “violent and bigots.” After being expelled from Cardinal Spellman High School, he joined the Marines Corps. His brother Tom was a marine in Vietnam and his brother Jim was in the Navy, “so then it was my turn,” he says.

“It was during the Vietnam War, but I didn’t have to go,” he explains “I was sent to train in jungle warfare in Panama and Guantanamo Bay, and I was stationed in Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.”

Camp Lejeune is where Defiance is set, and central to the play is an incident that happened to a fellow marine there.

“I was in the Marine Corps from 1970 to 1972,” Shanley says. “When I was in advanced training I had a bunk mate, he was 18 or 19 years old, from the deep South. He was married and his wife had come to live in off-base housing. Because we were still in training we were not given any liberty, and I remember him telling me about this terrific staff sergeant who had befriended him, and was looking after them with this off-base housing.

“Then he came to me one day, his face ashen, and said, `The sergeant fucked my wife.’

“He had brought his eighteen-year-old bride to be with him and the sergeant, whom he trusted, had used him to gel close to his wife.

“He was helpless, he couldn’t even get off base. He was married to her, but he couldn’t be there, and this staff sergeant was around all the time to keep her company.”

Shanley recalls the incident with disgust. “I thought it was horrible; it was an unbelievable betrayal of trust under circumstances where somebody was helpless to defend himself.

“We were best friends,” he says, “but after training we were stationed in different places and I lost track of him for over a year.

“Then I ran into him one day, and while he had been this most sweetnatured, straightforward, goodhearted guy, he had become a cynical drug dealer. And I have no doubt that the antecedent of that personality change had been the unbelievable shock and disenchantment he had gone through when that authority figure in the Marines that he had so trusted, betrayed him,” he says.

Another encounter that Shanley had in the Marines also stuck with him.

“They had these `get-to-meet-the-chaplain’ sessions,” he recalls.

“This chaplain had us all sitting around in a circle on the lawn so we could ask him whatever we wanted. Personal problems, how to handle girlfriends giving us trouble long distance, whatever. My question was, `How does it feel to be a man of the cloth, wearing the uniform of a killing machine? And how do you justify that?’

“It seemed to me to be the most obvious question one could ask,” Shanley says explaining further.

“He might have had an answer that would make me burst into tears and have an epiphany that he was right. But this particular chaplain was not the man who could do that. He got out of it by saying something really inane. I don’t think he’d ever really thought about it, so that stayed with me in a special way.

“And now, I see in the press the confluence of the evangelical movement with the military, not just among the chaplains but also amongst the officers who are caught up in this movement. And that raises so many interesting scenarios, and arguments and questions that it all tells me that I have a play.”

Doubt is set in 1963 when the style of the Catholic Church was about to change after Pope John XXIII had called the Second Ecumenical Council. Defiance is set in 1971 and also involves an institution that was about to change.

“The U.S. Marine Corps and the military in general changed a tremendous amount within the two years after the time of this play,” explains Shanley. “For one thing, it switched over to an entirely volunteer force.

“At the time of the play — the dying days of the Vietnam War — the military was manned by the draft, as it had been for many years. But during the time I was in training at Camp Lejeune, the transition of hiring civilians had already begun. And just toward the end of my enlistment, they were switching over from marines doing mess duty, to having hired restaurant personnel taking over.

“This farming out of responsibility has become much greater over the years; a bonanza for companies like Halliburton. Now things have gotten to the point that we are even hiring people to do our killing for us,” Shanley says.

Another factor that Shanley deals with in Defiance is the issue of race and the military.

“In the very early seventies, there were race riots within the military which were deeply destabilizing and disturbing,” he recalls. “It was an incredibly racially explosive atmosphere — on and off the base. There was a lot of racially motivated mayhem, and in part, that is what my play is about.

“When I went back recently to question higher-ups in the Marine Corps, who had been serving as company and battalion commanders at that time, they theorized that all those riots were a direct result of the assassination of Martin Luther King.

“Blacks were widely represented in the military during the Vietnam War and when King was assassinated many said, `We don’t know who these people are that we are fighting; they are racially different, we are racially different. I don’t know what I’m fighting for and they’ve just killed Martin Luther King back home — I’m dropping my rifle — I’m out of here.’

“And we were having race riots in the cities. I remember going to my cousin Mary Anne’s wedding and passing Newark. It was in flames.

“My family had hired a bus to take people to the wedding. And some well-oiled relative was going up and down the aisle serving everyone martinis out of a pitcher. So there we were all sitting on the bus, drinking martinis watching Newark burn. That’s an image I’ll never forget,” he says.

At the time Shanley says he accepted everything that was going on as just part of the fabric of life. But now, he says, “I can look back and see what was so very extraordinary about it, what was going to change, what was going to date, and what was going to seem eternal.”

Shanley’s bio in theater programs reads like a Monty Python sketch. It tells how he was thrown out of St. Helena’s kindergarten, banned from St. Anthony’s hot lunch program for life and expelled from Cardinal Spellman High School; but it ends with a touch of defiance and a tongue-in-cheek assurance that he’s doing just fine!

“I think that being in these institutions helped to define me. And not just in a negative sense, and not in a sense of `this bunch of hypocrites is not what I’m about,'” he says with insight. “But when you are up against something that is incredibly defined and you are young and therefore not well defined, it most certainly helps to define you,” he adds.

“It can define you by telling you flat out who you are, which is the dogmatic route, but it wasn’t my nature to accept that. Or it can make you come up with an answering philosophy, which is a big job for a young guy to take on and it can mean years and years of wrestling with the questions that they posed for you, that you could not answer at the time.

“It’s very good for an artist, so I guess artists should all go into institutions.” He laughs.

“Doubt and Defiance are both about going back and looking at institutions that you have always had a lot of assumptions about, and questioning whether they were good or bad, effective or not effective, antiquated or not antiquated, and making you look at them in a different way,” he says.

“With Defiance I’m asking you to think about what makes you defiant, why you were defiant in the past, what you defied. I’m saying, have a look at what we rebelled against in our culture in the past; how right we were and how wrong we were.

“I think Defiance will be very enlivening for people,” he adds. “Perhaps it will make them stop and reevaluate. And maybe wake them up to their own past, their own rebellions.”

But one must be careful not to allow emotion to diffuse the experience, Shanley explains.

“I’ve become very, very suspicious of emotions in the last several years. I describe my emotions as children on a school bus that I’m driving.

“They are all acting up and throwing stuff around and I’m like `All right now, settle down and shut up! And I’ll take you where you need to go, to learn.’

“But I’ve got to drive the bus; I can’t let those kids drive the bus. I can like them, I can dote on them, but I cannot let them, my emotions, be in charge.

“It’s hard to get through emotionalism to the truth,” Shanley admits.

“I would say both of my parents were truthful people. My mother was very occasionally in the grip of emotions that she could not control. She was very intelligent but unable to break out of the grip of those, or even see past them in certain key moments; very dispassionate at most other times.

“A hundred people could say a thousand things and then my father would say one word and it would be the truth and everything else would fall to pieces. My father was an Irish farmer who didn’t come to this country until he was twenty-four and he was very rarely caught up in popular follies. Also, he had tremendous self-confidence. He looked in the mirror and he saw there the greatest man he’d ever seen in his life; he was, to put it bluntly, delighted with himself.”

Shanley admits that he has some of that self-confidence, but he says, “I’m more humble than my father. I’ve been made humble probably by having a life that has covered more ground than his did and by having to come up against my own shortcomings over and over again.

“Most of the time, what prevents us from taking or arguing for the right course of action is not a lack of intelligence, but a lack of courage,” he argues.

“Even unjust, stupid laws are obeyed for a long time until somebody says `I’m not doing it; I’ve had it and I’m not doing it. That’s it. Shoot me. Do whatever you want!’

“Consider Rosa Parks, the lady who started the confrontation with stupid segregation laws in the South. When Rosa Parks died she was broke. She was a stubborn woman who refused welfare just as she had refused to sit in the back of the bus.

“And those kind of people are a pain in the ass, and they are the most important people in any society,” Shanley concludes.

At 55, he has garnered a Pulitzer a Tony Award, and an Academy Award (for Moonstruck), but he is not one to rest on his laurels. “Right now I’m doing a lot of stuff, I’m working on a movie as well as this play. But Defiance is what I’m most excited about because this is what I want to say right now!” ♦


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Mortas Cine https://irishamerica.com/2006/02/mortas-cine-2/ https://irishamerica.com/2006/02/mortas-cine-2/#comments Wed, 01 Feb 2006 14:58:34 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=29983 Read more..]]> Is there anything better than cuddling up with a good book? I was fortunate enough to have been brought up without television. Not because my parents were worried about it being a distraction from homework, but because Ireland was a bit behind the times. When we did get the box — I was 12 at the time — it offered one snowy black-and-white channel that only broadcast from 5:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.

Much as I loved the American shows that were the staple in those early days of Radio Telefís Eireann Leave It to Beaver was the first television program I ever saw — books were my favorite form of entertainment.

None of the books I read were by Irish authors. At the time Ireland, languishing in what’s been called its post-colonial condition, had little appreciation for its writers. Just as there were no homegrown television shows, there were very few books by Irish authors available.

In my convent school Wordsworth held sway over Yeats — whom I once heard referred to as “Silly Willie.” John McGahern and Edna O’Brien were banned, and there was nary a mention of Shaw, Wilde, Joyce or Beckett.

Times change. Today Ireland, coming into its own artistically as well as economically, is catching some of the world’s enthusiasm for its authors.

The centenary of James Joyce’s “Bloomsday” in June 2005 was cause for much celebration, and as we go to press Dublin readies itself for the 100th anniversary of the birth of Samuel Beckett in April. We do a little early celebrating in this issue with Mark Axelrod’s account of his meeting with the acclaimed author in Paris.

We are also pleased to carry Marilyn Cole Lownes’ interview with John Patrick Shanley, who is surely the most exciting writer in America today. The ever-topical Shanley, who as a young writer received an Academy Award for Moonstruck, is currently working on Defiance, a play on the U.S. military that will open on Broadway at the end of February. His play Doubt, about the crisis in the Catholic Church, won a Pulitzer Prize and several Tony awards. And as we go to press we are happy to learn that The Abbey, Ireland’s national theatre, plans to stage Doubt.

Perhaps it’s an indication that Ireland is finally recognizing that you don’t have to be born on the island of Ireland to be Irish.

Another great Irish-American writer, Eugene O’Neill, never set foot in Ireland, but a good measure of his identity as a person and an artist was defined by his Irishness, as C.F. Canning, writing in this issue, tells us. Those of us in New York who were lucky enough to catch the recent revival of A Touch of the Poet can attest to that. We were fortunate to witness a dynamic performance by Gabriel Byrne as Cornelius Melody in this most Irish of plays.

At the same time that Ireland was banning most of its writers, there was almost a dictatorial emphasis on learning the Irish language.

In our Irish class we read Peig, the autobiography of Blasket Island woman Peig Sayers. Irish is a most beautiful language to listen to, but it is difficult to learn, and our teachers who were not native speakers made a bad job of it. Many years later, when I visited the Blasket Islands as an adult, I more fully appreciated the state’s reasons for wanting to reintroduce the language, and I was glad of the small smattering that I managed to retain.

For if there are any places left that offer a direct connection to the old way of life and the Gaelic tradition, it’s the islands off Ireland. And we offer two features that reflect on that in this issue. Sharon Ní Chonchúir, concerned with the changing face of modern Irish culture, writes about what the future holds for the Great Blasket Island, off the coast of Kerry. Meanwhile Ann Doherty’s photographs document the islands off the coast of Donegal that were once home to her ancestors.

And finally, while Ireland is somewhat lacking in great classical composers, we do have James Galway. I was pleased to do a phone interview with the internationally recognized flute player and interpreter of classical music, who spoke to me from his home in Switzerland. For what better accompaniment is there for a good book than Sir James playing one of Mozart’s concertos for the flute? Well, perhaps one of the several Irish language music CDs reviewed by Ian Worpole.

Mortas Cine — Pride in our heritage. ♦

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George Best Laid to Rest https://irishamerica.com/2006/02/george-best-laid-to-rest/ https://irishamerica.com/2006/02/george-best-laid-to-rest/#respond Wed, 01 Feb 2006 14:57:37 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=29987 Read more..]]> Belfast was brought to a standstill when the remains of soccer legend George Best were returned to Roselawn Cemetery outside the city. Best, aged 59, widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest ever soccer players, died from multiple organ failure. The ex-footballer had a liver transplant three years ago in an effort to cope with deteriorating health due to alcoholism.

The Belfast man’s wizardry on the field and his playboy lifestyle off it elevated him as the game’s first soccer superstar. He joined Manchester United as a teenager and went on to star in the European Cup-winning side of 1968. However, his career was cut short by injuries and multiple distractions of life as a celebrity. “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars,” he famously remarked. “The rest I just squandered.”

A cortege drove slowly from his family home in Cregagh to a service at Stormont before burial in Roselawn. The hearse was applauded gently by a watching crowd estimated at over 100,000, bringing the tragic star’s short life to a dignified end.

Best’s passing was the second bombshell to hit the Manchester club. Team captain Roy Keane sensationally left the club mid-season to join Glasgow Celtic. Keane’s departure followed a very public falling-out with club manager Alex Ferguson.

The 34-year-old Corkman, who retired from international football with Ireland this year, was revered by supporters at Manchester United. The abrupt end to his 12-year club career heightened growing disillusionment among fans since the club was taken over by businessman Michael Glazer earlier this year. ♦

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Irish President Meets Queen Elizabeth https://irishamerica.com/2006/02/irish-president-meets-queen-elizabeth/ https://irishamerica.com/2006/02/irish-president-meets-queen-elizabeth/#respond Wed, 01 Feb 2006 14:56:15 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=29990 Read more..]]> Irish President Mary McAleese and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth held a low-key “private meeting” at Hillsborough Castle, Co. Down. It was the fourth occasion that the two public figures had met but the first time such an encounter took place on Irish soil.

“We both found ourselves in Northern Ireland on the same day coming up to Christmas and it seemed an opportune time to meet and to chat,” President McAleese told reporters, adding that although no date has been set she would welcome the prospect of the Queen visiting Dublin for the first time. ♦

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Minister Targets Watchdog Body https://irishamerica.com/2006/02/minister-targets-watchdog-body/ https://irishamerica.com/2006/02/minister-targets-watchdog-body/#respond Wed, 01 Feb 2006 14:55:00 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=29994 Read more..]]> Minister for Justice Michael McDowell alleged that journalist Frank Connolly traveled on a bogus passport to visit Colombian FARC rebels four years ago. Referring to garda (Irish police) intelligence, the minister spoke under Dáil (parliamentary) privilege, thereby making his assertion without fear of being sued by Connolly.

The journalist, whose brother Niall was one of the so-called “Colombia Three,” denies using a false passport or having traveled to Colombia. Frank Connolly is director of the Center for Public Inquiry (CPI), a privately funded watchdog group which monitors Irish government policy.

Although the minister has yet to prove his allegations, CPI was badly hit by this adverse publicity. CPI’s main benefactor, Atlantic Philanthropies, bankrolled by Chuck Feeney, announced it was suspending funds to the Dublin-based organization. ♦

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Hain’s Reform Plans Draw Fire https://irishamerica.com/2006/02/hains-reform-plans-draw-fire/ https://irishamerica.com/2006/02/hains-reform-plans-draw-fire/#respond Wed, 01 Feb 2006 14:54:40 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=29996 Read more..]]> Northern Secretary Peter Hain drew heavy criticism when he announced wide-ranging plans to shake up local government and public services in Northern Ireland. Referring to a 5,400-square-mile territory populated by 1.7 million people, he declared the North to be “both over-governed and over-administered” with an official system in need of complete overhaul.

The first target is 26 local councils. Hain proposes reducing them to seven larger units. He also proposes restructuring various education and health bodies into single organizations, and although the reforms will lead to job cuts, he estimates annual savings of st.£200 million.

Unionist and nationalist parties reacted angrily to Hain’s proposals, particularly the plan to do away with local councils. DUP leader Rev. Ian Paisley rejected the idea as an effort to “split the province” into east and west by enabling nationalists “to develop their united Ireland policy in the councils that they dominate.”

However, the nationalist SDLP also opposes the reforms. Assembly member Tommy Gallagher agreed it would split the councils outside Belfast along sectarian lines, creating “three green councils and three orange councils and greater segregation in the future.”

The Northern Secretary may not be used to receiving support from republicans but Sinn Féin broadly endorsed Hain’s reform package. Looking ahead to the 2009 elections, the figures suggest that nationalists could overtake the unionist vote in Belfast, thereby clinching four of seven councils.

Hain said the reforms would be phased in over the next four years. Using their expanded powers, the new councils could effectively run local government as an alternative to the stalled Northern Ireland Assembly. Commentators suspect that such a maneuver might be an effort to draw unionists back into dialogue with Sinn Féin so as to restore the Assembly. When asked about a likely backlash to his proposals, Hain responded that if parties “do not like the decisions I have taken, they better get back into government quickly in order to take forward the process of change.” ♦

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Spy Revelations Rock Sinn Féin https://irishamerica.com/2006/02/spy-revelations-rock-sinn-fein/ https://irishamerica.com/2006/02/spy-revelations-rock-sinn-fein/#respond Wed, 01 Feb 2006 14:53:40 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=29998 Read more..]]> Sinn Féin was reeling from revelations that party official Denis Donaldson worked as a British spy for the past twenty years. Donaldson, a senior figure in party president Gerry Adams’ staff, issued a statement admitting to being a secret agent, causing major embarrassment to the republican leadership.

Denis Donaldson.

Donaldson’s admission came just one week after the British authorities,   acting “in the public interest,” withdrew all allegations of an IRA spy  ring at  Stormont. A high-profile police raid at Sinn Féin offices in  October 2002  purported to reveal extensive IRA intelligence gathering  at Northern  Assembly offices. In a stunt dubbed “Stormontgate” the  raid prompted  Ulster Unionists to withdraw from the Assembly in  protest at Sinn Féin’s  alleged activities behind the scenes. The unionist  withdrawal collapsed the  power-sharing institutions, and all efforts to revive them have since failed.

It transpires that Donaldson, now outed as a British informant, was the only one who had files confiscated by security forces. “All I know is that the chap who is running the Sinn Féin office up there turned out to be a spy,” remarked Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Bertie Ahern at EU budget negotiations in Brussels. “It stretches my imagination.”

The fallout of the entire affair is likely to rumble on indefinitely. It will certainly test Sinn Féin’s confidence that there are no other informants within its ranks. Within the murky workings of intelligence agencies in Northern Ireland there are serious questions as to what public figures were aware of Donaldson’s covert activities and why Stormontgate occurred at all. And in the long term, it raises distrust at the still suspended Assembly, further jeopardizing the prospects of a return to power-sharing between nationalists and unionists. ♦

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Amnesty Wants CIA Planes Inspected https://irishamerica.com/2006/02/amnesty-wants-cia-planes-inspected/ https://irishamerica.com/2006/02/amnesty-wants-cia-planes-inspected/#respond Wed, 01 Feb 2006 14:52:28 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=30007 Read more..]]> Amnesty International has demanded that the garda siochána (Irish police force) inspect Shannon-bound planes chartered by the CIA. The human rights organization responded to reports that CIA planes may be transporting terrorist suspects to destinations across Europe for detention and torture.

A number of CIA aircraft that frequently stop at Shannon have been sighted in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. None of the CIA planes has ever been searched. If the allegations were found to be true, the planes would be in breach of Ireland’s neutrality policy.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern told opponents that he raised the issue with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and he accepted her assurance that no prisoners were captive aboard the planes. However, the issue has gained wider publicity in Europe where the U.S. secretary may need to provide more convincing evidence of what these planes are used for.♦

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Decentralization Plan “Botched” https://irishamerica.com/2006/02/decentralization-plan-botched/ https://irishamerica.com/2006/02/decentralization-plan-botched/#respond Wed, 01 Feb 2006 14:51:29 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=30009 Read more..]]> Government plans to decentralize civil service employees from Dublin have met with stiff resistance within staff. Only one in nine employees have said they are prepared to relocate with their job. Most government departments are situated in the capital, but the decentralization program aims to move 7,400 workers to a variety of locations around the country.

With just 753 applications received for transfer, the unwillingness of departmental staff to relocate could pose serious problems, particularly in specialized agencies such as the Ordinance Survey of Ireland (marked for Dungarvan, Co. Waterford) and Development Corporation Ireland (with 123 staff earmarked to move to new premises in Limerick).

The proposed transfer of a number of state bodies — Pobail (headed to Clifden, Co. Galway), Bórd Iascaigh Mhara (to Clonakilty, Co. Cork) and Fáilte Ireland (to Killarney, Co. Kerry) — revealed that no staff member had taken up the offer of relocation. “The potential loss of experience and knowledge by these agencies and units is alarming,” claimed Fine Gael finance spokesman Richard Bruton, describing the whole program as “a botched job” that called for immediate review. ♦

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